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- The City of Fire - 20/55 -

sweet and unspoiled as when she went away."

"Oh, _her!_ You _couldn't_ spoil her. She's all _spirit_. She's got both her father's and mother's souls mixed up in her and you couldn't get a better combination. I declare I often wonder the devil lets two such good people live. I suppose he doesn't mind as long's he can confine 'em to a little place among the hills. But my soul! If those two visitors didn't need a sermon to-night I never saw folks that did. Do you know, when that man came last night in a broken down car he swore so he woke us all up, all around the neighborhood. If it had been anybody else in town but Mr. Severn he'd been driven out or tarred and feathered. Well, good-night. I guess you aren't afraid to walk the rest of the way alone."

Back in the church Marilyn had lingered at the organ, partly because she dreaded going back to the house while the two strangers were there, partly because it was only at the organ that she could seem to let her soul give voice to the cry of its longing. All day she had prayed while going quietly about her Sabbath duties. All day she steadily held herself to the tasks that were usually her joy and delight, though sometimes it seemed that she could not go on with them. Billy and Mark! Where were they? What had their absence to do with one another? Somehow it comforted her a little to think of them _both_ away, and then again it disquieted her. Perhaps, oh, perhaps Mark had really changed as people said he had. Perhaps he had taken Billy to a baseball game somewhere. In New York or many other places that would not seem an unusual thing, she knew, not so much out of the way. Even church members were lenient about these things in the great world. It would not be strange if Mark had grown lax. But here in Sabbath Valley public opinion on the keeping of the Sabbath day was so strong that it meant a great deal. It amounted to public disgrace to disregard the ordinary rules of Sabbath; for in Sabbath Valley working and playing were alike laid aside for the entire twenty-four hours, the housewives prepared their dinner the day before, an unusually good one always, with some delectable dessert that would keep on ice, and everything as in the olden time was prepared in the home for a real keeping of a day of rest and enjoyment of the Lord. Even the children had special pasttimes that belonged to that day only, and Marilyn Severn still cherished a box of wonderful stone blocks that had been her most precious possessions as a child, and had been used for Sabbath amusement. With these blocks she built temples, laid out cities, went through mimic battles of the Bible until every story lived as real as if she had been there. There were three tiny blocks, one a quarter of a cube which she always called Saul, and two half the size that were David and Jonathan. So vivid and so happy were those Sunday afternoons with mother and father and the blocks. Sabbath devoted to the pursuance of heavenly things had meant real joy to Marilyn. The calm and quiet of it were delight. It had been the hardest thing about her years in the world that there seemed to be so little Sabbath there. Only by going to her own room and fencing herself away from her friends, could she get any semblance of what had been so dear to her, that feeling of leisure to talk and think about Christ, her dearest friend. I grant she was an unusual girl. There is now and then an unusual girl. We do not always hear about them. They are not always beautiful nor gifted. It chanced that Marilyn was all three.

So she sat and played at her dear organ, played sweet and tender hymns. Played gentle, pleading, throbbing themes that almost spoke their words out, as she saw Elder Harricutt leading his file of elders into the session room which was just behind the organ. She knew that in all probability there was to be a time of trial for her father, and that some poor soul would be mauled over and ground up in the mill of criticism, or else some of her father's dearest plans were to be held up for an unsympathetic discussion. She thanked God for the strong homely face of Elder Duncannon as he stalked behind the rest with a look of uplift on his worn countenance, and she played on softly through another hymn, until suddenly somehow, she became aware that the two strangers on the parsonage porch had left their rockers and were coming slowly across the lawn. The woman's hard silvery laugh rang out and jabbed into the tender hymn she was playing, and she stopped short in the middle of a phrase, as if the poor thing had been killed instantly. The organ seemed to hold its breath, and the sudden silence almost made the little church tremble.

She sat tense, listening, her fingers spread toward the stops to push them in and close the organ and be gone before they arrived if they contemplated coming in, for she had no mind to talk to them just now. Then coldly, harshly out from the cessation of great sound came Elder Harricutt's voice:

"But Brother Severn, supposing that it turns out that Mark Carter is a murderer! You surely would not approve of keeping his name on the church roll then, would you? It seems to me that in order to keep the garments of the bride of Christ clean from soil we should anticipate such a happening and show the world that we recognize the character of this young man, and that we do not countenance such doings as she has been guilty of. Now, last night, it is positively stated that he and this person they call Cherry Penning were at the Blue Duck--!"

_Crash!_ The bells!

Lynn had heard so much through the open session-room door, had turned a quick frightened glance and caught the glimpse of two people coming slowly in at the open door of the church peering at her, had made one quick motion which released the bells, and dashed into the first notes that came to her mind, the old hymn, "Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me, Let Me Hide Myself in Thee!" But instead of playing it tenderly, grandly, as she usually did, with all the sweetness of the years in which saints and sinners have sung it and found refuge and comfort in its noble lines, she plunged into it with a mad rush as if a soul in mortal peril were rushing to the Refuge before the gates should be forever closed, or before the enemy should snatch it from the haven. The first note boomed forth so sharply, so suddenly, that Elder Harricutt jumped visibly from his chair, and his gossipy little details were drowned in the great tone that struck. Behind his hand, the troubled minister smiled in spite of his worries, to think of the brave young soul behind those bells defending her own.

Down the aisle just under the tower Opal Verrons paused for an instant startled, thinking of prison walls, and of the dead man lying at Saybrook Inn that night. Suddenly the words of the telegram flashed across her: "What disposition do you want made of the body?" The body! The _body!_ Oh! Her eyes grew wide with horror. She ought to answer that telegram and give them his home address. But why should she? What had she to do with him now? Dead. He was _Dead_. He had passed to another world. She shuddered. She looked around and shrank back toward Shafton, but Laurie was wrapt in the vision of Saint Cecilia seated at the organ under the single electric light that the janitor had left burning over her head. She resembled a saint with a halo more than ever, and his easily excited senses were off chasing this new flower of fancy.

Behind the organ pipes the session sat with the reputation of a man in their ruthless fingers, tossing it back and forth, and deliberating upon their own damning phrases, while the minister sat with stern white face, and sought to hold them from taking an action that might brand a human soul forever. Marilyn needed no more than those harsh words to know that her friend of the years was being weighed in the balance.

Many a Sabbath afternoon in his childhood had Mark Carter spent with her playing the stone block play of David and Jonathan, and then eaten bread and milk and apple sauce and sponge cake with her and heard the evening prayers and songs and said good-night with a sweet look of the Heavenly Father's child on his handsome little face. Many a time as an older boy had he sung hymns with her and listened to her read the Bible, and talked it over with her afterward. He had not been like that when she went away. Could he so have changed? And Cherry Fenner! The little girl who had been but ten years old when she went away to college, Cherry a precocious little daughter of a tailor in Economy, who came over to take music lessons from her. Cherry at the Blue Duck! And with Mark! Could it be true? It could not be true! Not in the sense that Mr. Harricutt was trying to make out. Mark might have been there, but never to do wrong. The Blue Duck was a dance hall where liquor was sold on the quiet, and where unspeakable things happened every little while. Oh, it was outrageous! Her fingers made the bells crash out her horror and disgust, and her appeal to a higher power to right this dreadful wrong. And then a hopeless sick feeling came over her, a whirling dizzy sensation as if she were going to faint, although she never fainted. She longed to drop down upon the keys and wail her heart out, but she might not. Those awful words or more like them were going on behind the organ there, and the door was open--or even if the door was not open they could be heard, for the room behind the organ was only screened by a heavy curtain! Those two strangers must not hear! At all costs they must not hear a thing like this! They did not know Mark Carter of course, but at any rate they must not hear! It was like having him exposed in the public square for insult. So she played on, growing steadier, and more controlled. If only she could know the rest! Or if only she might steal away then, and lie down and bear it alone for a little! So this was what had given her father such a white drawn look during his sermon! She had seen that hard old man go across the lawn to meet him, and this was what he was bringing her father to bear!

But the music itself and the words of the grand old hymns she was playing gradually crept into her soul and helped her, so that when the lame stranger made at last his slow progress up to the choir loft and stood beside her she was able to be coolly polite and explain briefly to him how the organ controlled the action of the bells.

He listened to her, standing in open admiration, his handsome careless face with its unmistakable look of self indulgence was lighted up with genuine admiration for the beautiful girl who could play so well, and could talk equally well about her instrument, quite as if it were nothing at all out of the ordinary run of things that she were doing.

Opal, sitting in the front pew, where she had dropped to wait till her escort should be satisfied, watched him at first discontentedly, turning her eyes to the girl, half wondering, half sneering, till all at once she perceived that the girl was not hearing the hot words of admiration poured upon her, was not impressed in the least by the man, did not even seem to know who he was--or care. How strange. What a very strange girl! And really a beautiful girl, too, she saw, now that her natural jealousy was for the moment averted. How extremely amusing. Laurie Shafton interested in a girl who didn't care a row of pins about him. What a shouting joke! She must take it back to his friends at the shore, who would kid him unmercifully about it. The thing had never been known in his life before. Perhaps, too, she would amuse herself a little, just as a pastime, by opening the eyes of this village maiden to the opportunity she was missing? Why not? Just on the verge of his departure perhaps.

And now, with tender touch, the music grew softer and dropped into the sorrowful melody:

"The mistakes of my life have been many, The sins of my heart have been more, But I come as He has bidden. And enter the open door. I know I am weak and sinful, It comes to me more and more But since the dear Saviour has bid me come in

The City of Fire - 20/55

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