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- The City of Fire - 3/55 -
tunnel toward Monopoly, leaving Sabbath Valley glistening in the sunshine off to the right. With all that money in his pocket what was the use of going back to Sabbath Valley for his lunch and making his trip a good two miles farther? He would beat the baseball team to it.
The thick one stood disconsolately, his grimy cap in his hand and scratched his dusty head of curls in a troubled way.
"Gosh!" he said wrathfully, "The little devil! Now I don't know what he'll do. I wonder--! But what else could I do?"
Over in Sabbath Valley quiet sweetness brooded, broken now and again by the bell-like sound of childish laughter here and there. The birds were holding high carnival in the trees, and the bees humming drowsy little tunes to pretend they were not working.
Most of the men were away at work, some in Monopoly or Economy, whither they went in the early morning in their tin Lizzies to a little store or a country bank, or a dusty law office; some in the fields of the fertile valley; and others off behind the thick willow fringe where lurked the home industries of tanning and canning and knitting, with a plush mill higher up the slope behind a group of alders and beeches, its ugly stone chimneys picturesque against the mountain, but doing its best to spoil the little stream at its feet with all colors of the rainbow, at intervals dyeing its bright waters.
The minister sat in his study with his window open across the lawn between the parsonage and the church, a lovely velvet view with the old graveyard beyond and the wooded hill behind. He was faintly aware of the shouting of the birds in glad carnival in the trees, and the busy droning of the bees, as he wrote an article on Modern Atheism for a magazine in the distant world; but more keenly alive to the song on the lips of his child, but lately returned from college life in one of the great universities for women. He smiled as he wrote, and a light came in his deep thoughtful eyes. She had gone and come, and she was still unspoiled, mentally, physically, or spiritually. That was a great deal to have kept out of life in these days of unbelief. He had been almost afraid to hope that she would come back the same.
In the cool sitting-room his wife was moving about, putting the house in order for the day, and he knew that on her lips also was the smile of the same content as well as if he were looking at her beloved face.
On the front veranda Marilyn Severn swept the rugs and sang her happy song. She was glad, glad to be home again, and her soul bubbled over with the joy of it. There was happiness in the curve of her red lips, in the softly rounded freshness of her cheek and brow, in the eyes that held dancing lights like stars, and in every gleaming tendril of her wonderful bright hair that burst forth from under the naive little sweeping cap that sat on her head like a crown. She was small, lithe, graceful, and she vibrated joy, health, eagerness in every glance of her eye, every motion of her lovely hands.
Down the street suddenly sounded a car. Not the rattling, cheap affairs that were commonly used in those parts for hard work and dress affairs, with a tramp snuffle and bark as they bounced along beneath the maples like house dogs that knew their business and made as much noise about it as they could; but a car with a purr like a soft petted cat by the fire, yet a power behind the purr that might have belonged to a lion if the need for power arose. It stole down the street like a thing of the world, well oiled and perfect in its way, and not needing to make any clatter about its going. The very quietness of it made the minister look up, sent the minister's wife to raise the shade of the sitting-room window, and caused the girl to look up from her task.
The morning flooded her face, the song was stayed, a great light came into her eyes.
The man who was driving the car had the air of not expecting to stop at the parsonage. Even when he saw the girl on the porch he held to his way, and something hard and cold and infinitely sad settled down over his face. It even looked as though he did not intend to recognize her, or perhaps wasn't sure whether she would recognize him. There was a moment's breathless suspense and the car slid just the fraction past the gate in the hedge, without a sign of stopping, only a lifting of a correct looking straw hat that somehow seemed a bit out of place in Sabbath Valley. But Lynn left no doubt in his mind whether she would recognize him. She dropped her broom and sped down the, path, and the car came to an abrupt halt, only a hair's breadth past the gate,--but still--that hair's breadth.
"Oh, Mark, I'm so glad to see you!" she cried genuinely with her hand out in welcome, "They said you were not at home."
The boy's voice--he had been a boy when she left him, though now he looked strangely hard and old like a man of the world--was husky as he answered gravely, swinging himself down on the walk beside her:
"I just got in late last night. How are you Lynn? You're looking fine."
He took her offered hand, and clasped it for a brief instant in a warm strong pressure, but dropped it again and there was a quick cold withdrawing of his eyes that she did not understand. The old Mark Carter would never have looked at her coolly, impersonally like that. What was it, was he shy of her after the long separation? Four years was a long time, of course, but there had been occasional letters. He had always been away when she was at home, and she had been home very little between her school years. There had been summer sessions twice and once father and mother had come to her and they had taken a wonderful trip together. But always there had seemed to be Mark Carter, her old friend and playmate, in the background. Now, suddenly he seemed to be removed to indefinite distances. It was as if she were looking at a picture that purported to be her friend, yet seemed a travesty, like one wearing a mask. She stood in the sunlight looking at him, in her quaint little cap and a long white enveloping house apron, and she seemed to him like a haloed saint. Something like worship shone in his eyes, but he kept the mask down, and looked at her with the eyes of a stranger while he talked, and smiled a stiff conventional smile. But a look of anguish grew in his young face, like the sorrow of something primeval, such as a great rock in a desert.
The minister had forgotten his article and was watching them through the window, the tall handsome youth, his head bared with the glint of the sun on his short cropped gold curls making one think of a young prince, yet a prince bound under a spell and frozen in a block of ice. He was handsome as Adonis, every feature perfect, and striking in its manly beauty, yet there was nothing feminine about him. The minister was conscious of all this as he watched--this boy whom he had seen grow up, and this girl of his heart. A great still question came into the father's look as he watched.
The minister was conscious of Lynn's mother standing in the doorway just behind him, although she had made no noise in entering. And at once she knew he was aware of her presence.
"Isn't that Mark Carter?" she asked just above a breath.
"And she doesn't know! You haven't told her?"
The minister shook his head.
"He will tell her. See, he is telling her now!"
The mother drew a shade nearer.
"But how do you know? See, she is doing the talking. You think he will tell her? _What_ will he tell her, Graham?"
"Oh, he will not tell her in words, but every atom of his being is telling her now. Can't you see? He is telling her that he is no longer worthy to be her equal. He is telling her that something has gone wrong."
"Graham, what do you _think_ is the matter with him? Do you think he is--BAD?" She lifted frightened eyes to his as she dropped into her low chair that always stood conveniently near his desk.
A wordless sorrow overspread the minister's face, yet there was something valiant in his eyes.
"No, I can't think that. I must believe in him in spite of everything. It looks to me somehow as if he was trying to be bad and couldn't."
"Well, but--Graham, isn't that the same thing? If he wants to be?"
The minister shook his head.
"He doesn't want to be. But he has some purpose in it. He is doing it--perhaps--well--it might be for _her_ sake you know."
The mother looked perplexed, and hesitated, then shook her head.
"That would be--preposterous! How could he hurt her so--if he cared. It must be--he does not care--!"
"He cares!" said the man.
"Then how do you explain it?"
"I don't explain it."
"Are you going to let it go on?"
"What can be done?"
"I'd do something."
"No, Mary. That's something he's got to work out himself. If he isn't big enough to get over his pride. His self-consciousness. His--whatever he calls it--If he isn't big enough--Then he isn't _big_ enough--!" The man sighed with a faraway patient look. The woman stirred uneasily.
"Graham," she said suddenly lifting her eyes in troubled question, "When your cousin Eugenie was here, you remember, she talked about it one day. She said we had no right to let Lynn become so attached to a mere country boy who would grow up a boor. She said he had no education, no breeding, no family, and that Lynn had the right to the best social advantages to be had in the world. She said Lynn was a natural born aristocrat, and that we had a great responsibility bringing up a child with a face like hers, and a mind like hers, and an inheritance like hers, in this little antiquated country place. She said it was one thing for you with your culture and your fine
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