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- The City of Fire - 40/55 -
dignity and innocence that makes you forget the day and its doings and undoings and think only, this is a man child, a wonderful creature of God, beloved and strong, a gift of heaven, a wonder in daytime, a creature to be afraid of sometimes, but weak in sleep, _adorable!_
The afternoon train lumbered in with two freight cars behind, and a lot of crates and boxes to manipulate, but Billy slept. The five o'clock train slid in and the evening express with its toll of guests for the Lake Hotel who hustled off wearily, cheerily, and on to the little Lake train that stood with an expectant insolent air like a necessary evil waiting for a tip. The two trains champed and puffed and finally scampered away, leaving echoes all along the valley, and a red stream of sun down the track behind them from a sky aflame in the west preparing for a brilliant sunset. The red fingers of the sun touched the freckles on Billy's cheek lightly as if to warn him that the time had come. The shutters slammed on at the little station. The agent climbed the hill to his shack among the pines. Pat came out the door and stood on the platform looking down the valley, waiting for the agent to get out of sight.
And Billy slept on!
Three days later a pall hung over Sabbath Valley. The coroner's inquest had brought in a verdict of murder, and the day of the hearing had been set. Mark Carter was to be tried for murder--was _wanted_ for murder as Elder Harricutt put it. It was out now and everybody knew it but Mrs. Carter, who went serenely on her way getting her regular letters from Mark postmarked New York and telling of little happenings that were vague but pleasant and sounded so like Mark, so comforting and son like. So strangely tender and comforting and more in detail than Mark's letters had been wont to be. She thought to herself that he was growing up at last. He spoke of a time when he and she would have a nice home together somewhere, some new place where he would get into business and make a lot of money. Would she like that? And once he told her he was afraid he hadn't been a very good son to her, but sometime he would try to make it up to her, and she cried over that letter for sheer joy. But all the rest of the town knew that Mark was suspected of murder, and most of them thought he had run away and nobody could find him. The county papers hinted that there were to be strange revelations when the time of the trial came, but nothing definite seemed to come out from day to day more than had been said at first, and there was a strange lack of any mention of Mark in connection with it after the first day.
Lynn Severn went about the house quiet and white, her face looking like an angel's prayer, one continual petition, but she was sweet and patient, and ready to do anything for anybody. Work seemed to be her only respite from the gnawing horror of her thoughts. To know that the whole village believed that Mark, her life long playmate, had been guilty of a crime so heinous was so appalling that sometimes she just stood at the window and laughed out into the sunshine at the crazy idea of it. It simply could not be. Mark, who had always been so gentle and tender for every living thing, so chivalrous, so ready to help! To think of Mark killing anyone! And yet, they might have needed killing. At least, of course she didn't mean that, but there were circumstances under which she could imagine almost anyone doing a deed--well what was the use, there was no way to excuse or explain a thing she didn't understand, and she could just do nothing but not believe any of it until she knew. She would trust in God, and yes, she would trust in Mark as she always had done, at least until she had his own word that he was not trustable. That haughty withdrawing of himself on Sunday night and his "I am not worthy" meant nothing to her now when it came trailing across her consciousness. It only seemed one more proof of his tender conscience, his care for her reputation. He had known then what they were saying about him, he must have known the day before that there was something that put him in a position so that he felt it was not good for her reputation to be his friend. He had withdrawn to protect her. That was the way she explained it to her heart, while yet beneath it all was the deep down hurt that he had not trusted her, and let her be his friend in trouble as well as when all was well.
She had written him a little note, not too intimate, just as a sister might have written, expressing her deep trust, and her sincere desire to stand by and help in any time of need. In it she begged him to think her worthy of sharing his trouble as he used to share his happiness, and to know always that she was his friend whatever came. She had read it over and over to be sure she was not overstepping her womanly right to say these things, and had prayed about it a great deal. But when it came to sending it she did not know his New York address. He had been strangely silent during the last few months and had not written her. She did not want to ask his mother. So she planned to find it out through Billy. But Billy did not come. It had been two days since Billy had been around, or was it three? She was standing at the window looking down the road toward the Saxon cottage and wondering if she wanted to go down and hunt for Billy when she saw Miss Saxon coming up the street and turning in at the gate, and her face looked wan and crumpled like an old rose that had been crushed and left on the parlor floor all night.
She turned from the window and hurried down:
"Miss Marilyn," Aunt Saxon greeted her with a gush of tears, "I don't know what to do. Billy's away! He hasn't been home for three days and three nights! His bed ain't been touched. He never did that before except that last time when he stayed out to help Mark Carter that time on the mountain with that sick man, and I can't think what's the matter. I went to Miz Carter's, but she ain't seen him, and she says Mark's up to his business in New York, so Billy can't be with him, and I just know he's kilt, Miss Marilyn. I just know he's kilt. I dreamt of a shroud night before last and I can't help thinkin' he's _kilt!_" and the tears poured down the tired little face pitifully.
Marilyn drew her tenderly into the house and made her sit down by the cool window, brought a palm leaf fan and a footstool, and told Naomi to make some iced orangeade. Then she called her mother and went and sat down by the poor little creature who now that somebody else was going to do something about it had subsided into her chair with relief born of exhaustion. She had not slept for three nights and two of those days she had washed all day.
"Now, Miss Saxon, dear, you're not to worry," said the girl taking the fan and waving it gently back and forth, touching the work-worn hand tenderly with her other hand, "Billy is not dead, I'm sure! Oh, I'm quite sure! I think somehow it would be hard to kill Billy. He has ways of keeping alive that most of us don't enjoy. He is strong and young and sharp as a needle. No one can put anything over on Billy, and I have somehow a feeling, Miss Saxon that Billy is off somewhere doing something very important for somebody. He is that way you know. He does nice unusual things that nobody else would think of doing, and I just expect you'll find out some day that Billy has been doing one of those. There's that man on the mountain, for instance. He might be still very sick, and it would be just like Billy to stay and see to him. Maybe there isn't anybody else around to do it, and now that Mark has gone he would feel responsible about it. Of course he ought to have told you before he went, but he wouldn't likely have expected to stay long, and then boys don't think. They don't realize how hard it is not to understand--!"
"Thas'so, Miss Marilyn," sniffed Miss Saxon, "He don't hardly ever think. But he mighta phomed."
"Well, it isn't likely they have phones on the mountain, and you haven't any, have you? How could he?"
"He mighta phomed to you."
"Yes, he might, but you know how boys are, he wouldn't want to bother anybody. And if the man was in a lonely cabin somewhere he couldn't get to a phone."
"Thas'so too. Oh, Miss Marilyn, you always do think up comfort. You're just like your ma and pa. But Billy, he's been so kinda peaked lately, so sorta gentle, and then again sorta crazy like, just like his mother useta be 'fore her husband left her. I couldn't help worryin'."
"Well, now, Miss Saxon, I'll inquire around all I can without rousing any suspicion. You know Billy would hate that."
"Oh, I know he would," flushed the little woman nervously.
"So I'll just ask the boys if they know where he is and where they saw him last, and don't you worry. I'll tell them I have a message for him you know, and you just stop crying and rest easy and don't tell a soul yet till I look around. Here comes mother. She'll help you better than I can."
Mrs. Severn in a cool white dimity came quietly into the room, bringing a restful calm with her, and while Lynn was out on her errand of mercy she slipped a strong arm around the other woman's waist and had her down on her knees in the alcove behind the curtains, and had committed the whole matter to a loving Heavenly Father, Billy and the tired little Aunt, and all the little details of life that harrow so on a burdened soul; and somehow when they rose the day was cooler, and life looked more possible to poor Aunt Saxon.
Presently came Lynn, brightly. She had seen the boys. They had met Billy in Economy day before yesterday. He had said he had a job, he didn't know how long it would last, and he might not be able to come to base ball practice. He told them who to put in his place till he got back.
"There, now, Miss Saxon, you go home and lie down and take a good sleep. You've put this whole thing in the hands of the Lord, now don't take it out again. Just trust Him. Billy'll come back safe and sound, and there'll be some good reason for it," said Mrs. Severn. And Aunt Saxon, smiling wistfully, shyly apologetic for her foolishness, greatly cheered and comforted, went. But Lynn went up to her little white room and prayed earnestly, adding Billy to her prayer for Mark. Where was Billy Gaston?
When Miss Saxon went home she found a letter in the letter box out by the gate addressed to Billy. This set her heart to palpitating again and she almost lost her faith in prayer and took to her own worries once more. But she carried the letter in and held it up to the window, trying her best to make out anything written therein. She justified this to her conscience by saying that it might give a clue to Billy's whereabouts. Billy never got letters. Maybe, it might be from his long lost father, though they had all reason to believe him dead. Or maybe-- Oh, what if Albert Gaston had come back and kidnapped Billy! The thought was too awful. She dropped right down in the kitchen where she stood by the old patchwork rocking chair that always stood handy in the window when she wanted to peel potatoes, and prayed: "Oh, God, don't
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