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- The City of Fire - 10/55 -


wondered what kind of a queer noisy guest her father had now.

The minister was gone sometime and the guest grew impatient, stamping up and down the piazza and kicking a porch rocker out of his path. He looked at his watch and frowned, wondering how near he was to the end of his detour, and then he started in pursuit of his man, tramping through the Severn house as if it were a public garage, and almost running into the minister as he swung the door open. Severn was approaching with a lighted lantern in one hand and a plate of brown bread and butter, with a cup of steaming coffee in his other hand.

Laurence Shafton stopped abruptly, a curse on his lips, but something, either the genial face of the minister, or the aroma of the coffee, silenced him. And indeed there was something about Graham Severn that was worth looking at. Tall and well built, with a face at once strong and sweet, and with a certain luminousness about it that almost seemed like transparency to let the spirit shine through, although there was nothing frail about his well cut features.

Laurence Shafton, looking into the frank kind eyes of the minister suddenly became aware that this man had taken a great deal of trouble for him. He hadn't brought any liquor, probably because he did not know enough of the world to understand what it was he wanted, or because he was playing a joke. As he looked into those eyes and noted with his half befuddled senses the twinkle playing at the corners he was not quite sure but the joke was on himself. But however it was the coffee smelled good and he took it and blundered out a brief "Thanks."

Eating his brown bread and butter, the like of which had never entered his pampered lips before, and taking great swoops of the hot strong coffee he followed this strange new kind of a man out to the car in the moonlight, paying little heed to the careful examination that ensued, being so accustomed to ordering all his needs supplied and finding them forthcoming without delay.

Finally the minister straightened up:

"I'm afraid you won't go many miles to-night. You've burned out your bearings!"

"Hell!" remarked the young gentleman pausing before the last swallow of coffee.

"Oh, you won't find it so bad as that, I imagine," answered the steady voice of the minister. "I can give you a bed and take care of you over to-morrow, and perhaps Sandy McPherson can fix you up Monday, although I doubt it. He'd have to make new bearings, or you'd have to send for some to the factory."

But Lawrence Shafton did not wait to hear the suggestions. He stormed up and down the sidewalk in front of the parsonage and let forth such a stream of choice language as had not been heard in that locality in many a long year. The minister's voice, cool, stern, commanding, broke in upon his ravings.

"I think that will be about all, sir!"

Laurence Shafton stopped and stared at the minister's lifted hand, not because he was overawed, simply because never before in the whole of his twenty-four years had any one dared lift voice to him in a tone of command or reproof. He could not believe his ears, and his anger rose hotly. He opened his mouth to tell this insignificant person who he was and where to get off, and a few other common arguments of gentlemen of his class, but the minister had a surprising height as he stood in the moonlight, and there was that something strange and spiritual about him that seemed to meet the intention and disarm it. His jaw dropped, and he could not utter the words he had been about to speak. This was insufferable--! But there was that raised hand. It seemed like some one not of this world quite. He wasn't afraid, because it wasn't in him to be afraid. That was his pose, not afraid of those he considered his inferiors, and he did not consider that anyone was his superior. But somehow this was something new in his experience. A man like this! It was almost as if his mere being there demanded a certain homage. It was queer. The young man passed a hand over his hot forehead and tried to think. Then the minister's voice went calmly on. It was almost as if he had not said that other at all. Perhaps he had not. Perhaps he dreamed it or imagined it. Perhaps he had been taking too much liquor and this was one of the symptoms--! Yet there still ringing in his ears--well his soul anyway,--were those quiet words, "That will be about all, sir!" Sternly. As if he had a _right_ to speak that way _to him_! To Laurence Shafton, son of the great Wilson J. Shafton, of New York! He looked up at the man again and found a sort of respect for him dawning in himself. It was queer, but the man was--well, interesting. What was this he was saying?

"I am sorry"--just as if he had never rebuked him at all, "I am sorry that there seems to be no other way. If I had a car I would take you to the nearest railway station, but there are no trains to-night, not even twenty miles away until six in the morning. There are only four cars owned in the village. Two are gone off on a summer trip, the third is out of commission being repaired, and the fourth belongs to the doctor, who happens to be away on the mountain to-night attending a dying man. You see how it is."

The young man opened his mouth to curse once more, and strangely enough closed it again: Somehow cursing seemed to have lost its force.

"There is just one chance," went on the minister thoughtfully, "that a young man who was visiting his mother to-day may still be here. I can call up and find out. He would take you I know."

Almost humbly the great man's son followed the minister back to the house and listened anxiously while he called a number on the telephone.

"Is that you Mrs. Carter? I'm sorry if I have disturbed you. What? You hadn't gone to bed yet? Oh, waiting for Mark? Then he isn't there? That's what I called up for. There is some one here in trouble, needing to be taken to Monopoly. I was sure Mark would help him out if possible. Yes, please, if he comes soon, ask him to call me. Just leave a note for him, can't you? I wouldn't sit up. Mark will take good care of himself. Yes, of course, that's the mother of it. Well, good-night, Mrs. Carter."

The young man strode angrily out to the door, muttering--but no words were distinct. He wanted to be away from the compelling calmness of those eyes that seemed to search him through. He dashed out the screen door, letting it slam behind him, and down the steps, intending to _make_ his car go on at all odds until he reached another town somewhere. It had gone so far, it could go on a little farther perhaps. This country parson did not know about cars, how should he?

And then somewhere right on the top step he made a false step and slipped, or was it his blindness of rage? He caught at the vines with frantic hands, but as if they laughed at him they slipped from his grasp. His feet clattered against the step trying for footing, but he was too near the edge, and he went down straight into a little rocky nook where ferns and violets were growing, and a sharp jagged rock stuck up and bit him viciously as he slid and struggled for a firm footing again. Then an ugly twist of his ankle, and he lay in a humiliating heap in the shadow of the vines on the lawn, crying out and beginning to curse with the pain that gripped him in sharp teeth, and stung through his whole excitable inflamed being.

The minister was there almost at once, bending over him. Somehow he felt as if he were in the power of somebody greater than he had ever met before. It was almost like meeting God out on the road somewhere. The minister stooped and picked him up, lightly, as if he had been a feather, and carried him like a baby, thrown partly over his shoulder; up the steps, and into that blasted house again. Into the bright light that sickened him and made the pain leap up and bring a mighty faintness.

He laid him almost tenderly upon a soft couch, and straightened the pillows about him, seeming to know just how every bone felt, and how every nerve quivered, and then he asked a few questions in a quiet voice. "What happened? Was it your ankle? Here? Or _here?_ All right. Just be patient a minute, I'll have you all fixed up. This was my job over in France you know. No, don't move. It won't hurt long. It was right here you said. Now, wait till I get my bottle of lotion."

He was back in an instant with bandages, and bottle, and seemed to know just how to get off a shoe with the least trouble.

An hour later the scion of a great New York family lay sleeping in the minister's study, the old couch made up with cool sheets, and the swollen ankle comfortably bandaged with cool wet cloths. Outside in the moonlight the crippled car stood alone, and Sabbath Valley slept, while the bells chimed out a single solemn stroke.

VI

Billy was doing some rapid thinking while he stood motionless in the bushes. It seemed a half hour, but in reality it was but a few seconds before he heard a low whistle. The men piled rapidly into the car with furtive looks on either side into the dark.

Billy gave a wavering glance toward the looming house in the darkness where the motionless figure had been left. Was it a dead man lying there alone, or was he only doped. But what could he do in the dark without tools or flash? He decided to stick with the machine, for he had no desire to foot it home, and anyway, with his bicycle he would be far more independent. Besides, there was the perfectly good automobile to think about. If the man was dead he couldn't be any deader. If he was only doped it would be some time before he came to, and before these keepers could get back he would have time to do something. Billy never doubted his responsibility in the matter. It was only a question of expediency. If he could just "get these guys with the goods on them," he would be perfectly satisfied.

He made a dash for his seat at the back while the car was turning, and they were off at a brisk pace down the mountain, not waiting this time to double on their tracks, but splashing through the Creek only once and on up to the road again.

Like an uneasy fever in his veins meantime, went and came a vision of that limp inert figure of the man being carried into the haunted house as it stood out in the flare of the flash light, one arm hanging heavily. What did that hand and arm remind him of? Oh--h! The time when Mark was knocked cold at the Thanksgiving Day Football game last year. Mark's hand and arm had looked like that--he had held his fingers like that--when they picked him up. Mark had the base-ball hand! Of course that rich guy might have been an athlete too, they were sometimes. And of course Mark was right now at home and in bed, where Billy wished he was also, but somehow the memory of that still dark "knocked cold" attitude, and that hanging hand and arm would not leave him. He frowned in the dark and wished this business was over. Mark was the only living


The City of Fire - 10/55

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