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- The City of Fire - 50/55 -


Mark's proud possession for several years. "Aw Gee! Ya hadn't oughtta give me this! You might need it yourself."

"No, Kid, I'd rather feel that you have it. I want to leave someone here to kind of take my place--watching--you know. There'll be times--!"

"Sure!" said Billy, a kind of glory overspreading his thin eager face. "_Aw Gee!_ Mark!"

And long after Mark had gone, and the sound of his purring engine had died away in the distance, Billy lay back with the weapon clasped to his heart, and a weird kind of rhythm repeating itself over and over somewhere in his spirit: "Why'n'tchoo show him Yerself, God? Why'n'tchoo show him Yerself? You will! I'll bet You _will_! yet!"

And was that anything like the prayer of faith translated into theological language?

Aunt Saxon went up tiptoe with the broth and thought he was asleep and tiptoed down again to keep it warm awhile. But Billy lay there and felt like Elisha after the mantle of the prophet Elijah had fallen upon him. It gave him a grand solemn feeling, God and he were somehow taking Mark's place till Mark got ready to come back and do it himself. He was to take care of Sabbath Valley as far as in him lay, but more particularly of Miss Marilyn Severn.

And then suddenly, without warning, Miss Marilyn herself went away, to New York she said, for a few weeks, she wasn't sure just how long. But there was something sad in her voice as she said it, and something white about the look she wore that made him sure she was not going to the part of New York where Mark Carter lived.

Billy accepted it with a sigh. Things were getting pretty dry around Sabbath Valley for him. He didn't seem to get his pep back as fast as he had expected. For one thing he worried a good deal, and for another the doctor wouldn't let him play baseball nor ride a bicycle yet for quite a while. He had to go around and act just like a "gurrull!" Aw Gee! Sometimes he was even glad to have Mary Little come across the street with her picture puzzles and stay with him awhile. She was real good company. He hadn't ever dreamed before that girls could be as interesting. Of course, Miss Marilyn had to be a girl once, but then she was Miss Marilyn. That was different.

Then too, Billy hadn't quite forgotten that first morning that Saxy got her arms around him and cried over him glad tears, bright sweet tears that wet his face and made him feel like crying happy tears too. And the sudden surprising desire he felt to hug her with his well arm, and how she fell over on the bed and got to laughing because he pulled her hair down in his awkwardness, and pulled her collar crooked. Aw Gee! She was just Aunt Saxy and he had been rotten to her a lot of times. But now it was different. Somehow Saxy and he were more pals, or was it that he was the man now taking care of Saxy and not the little boy being taken care of himself? Somehow during those weeks he had been gone Saxy had cried out the pink tears, and was growing smiles, and home was "kinda nice" after all. But he missed the bells. And nights before he got into bed he got to kneeling down regularly, and saying softly inside his heart: "Aw Gee, God, please why'n'tcha make Mark understand, an' why'n'tcha bring 'em both home?"

XXVIII

Marilyn had not been in New York but a week before she met Opal. She was waiting to cross Fifth Avenue, and someone leaned out of a big limousine that paused for the congestion in traffic and cried:

"Why, if that isn't Miss Severn from Sabbath Valley. Get in please, I want to see you."

And Lynn, much against her will, was persuaded to get in, more because she was holding up traffic than because the woman in the limousine insisted:

"I'll take you where you want to go," she said in answer to Lynn's protests, and they rolled away up the great avenue with the moving throng.

"I'm dying to know what it is you're making Laurie Shafton do," said Opal eagerly, "I never saw him so much interested in anything in my life. Or is it you he's interested in. Why, he can't talk of anything else, and he's almost stopped going to the Club or any of the house parties. Everybody thinks he's perfectly crazy. He won't drink any more either. He's made himself quite _notorious_. I believe I heard some one say the other day they hadn't even seen him smoking for a whole week. You certainly are a wonder."

"You're quite mistaken," said Lynn, much amused, "I had nothing to do with Mr. Shafton's present interest, except as I happened to be the one to introduce him to it. I haven't seen him but twice since I came to New York, and then only to take him around among my babies at the Settlement and once over to the Orphans' Home, where I've been helping out while an old friend of mine with whom I worked in France is away with her sick sister."

"For mercy's sake! You don't mean that Laurie consented to go among the poor? I heard he'd given a lot of money to fix up some buildings, but then all the best men are doing things like that now. It's quite the fad. But to go himself and see the wretched little things, Ugh! I don't see how he could. He must be quite crazy about you I'm sure if he did all that for you."

"Oh, he seemed to want to see them," said Lynn lightly, "and he suggested many of the improvements that he is making himself. They tell me he has proved a great helper, he is on hand at all hours superintending the building himself, and everybody is delighted with him--!"

"Mmmm!" commented Opal looking at Marilyn through the fringes of her eyes. "You really are a wonder. And now that you are in New York I'm going to introduce you to our crowd. When can you come? Let's see. To-morrow is Sunday. Will you spend the evening with me to-morrow? I'll certainly show you a good time. We're going to motor to--"

But Lynn was shaking her head decidedly:

"I couldn't possibly spare a minute, thank you. I'm only out on an errand now. I'm needed every instant at the Home!"

"For mercy sake! Hire someone to take your place then. I want you. You'll be quite a sensation I assure you. Don't worry about clothes, if you haven't anything along. You can wear one of my evening dresses. We're almost of a size."

"No," said Lynn smiling, "It simply isn't possible. And anyway, don't you remember Sabbath Valley? I don't go out to play Sunday nights you know."

"Oh, but this is New York! You can't bring Sabbath Valley notions into New York."

Lynn smiled again:

"You can if they are a part of you," she said, "Come in and see how nicely I'm fixed."

Opal looked up at the beautiful building before which they were stopping.

"Why, where is this?" she asked astonished, "I thought you were down in the slums somewhere."

"This is a Home for little orphan children kept up by the Salvation Army. Come in a minute and see it."

Following a whim of curiosity Opal came in, and was led down a long hall to a great room where were a hundred tiny children sitting on little chairs in a big circle playing kindergarten games. The children were dressed in neat pretty frocks such as any beloved children would wear, with bright hair ribbons and neckties, and each with an individuality of its own. The room was sunny and bright, with a great playhouse at one end, with real windows and furniture in it and all sorts of toboggan slides and swings and kiddy cars and everything to delight the soul of a child. On a wide space between two windows painted on the plaster in soft wonderful coloring blended into the gray tint of the wall, there glowed a life size painting of the Christ surrounded by little children, climbing upon His knees and listening to Him as He smiled and talked to them.

Opal paused in the doorway and looked at the picture first, shyly, shamedly, as though it were no place for her to enter, then curiously at the little children, with a kind of wistful yearning, as if here were something she had missed of her own fault. Lynn called out a charming baby and made her shake hands and bow and say a few listing smiling words. Opal turned to Lynn with a strangely subdued look and spoke in a moved tone:

"I guess you're right," she said, "You wouldn't fit at my company. You're different! But some day I'm coming after you and bring you home all by yourself for a little while. I want to find out what it is you have that I need."

Then she turned with swift steps and went down the hall and out the door to her waiting limousine, and Lynn smiled wonderingly as she saw her whirled away into the world again.

Lynn had not seen Mark.

Laurie Shafton had called upon her many times since those two trips they had taken around the settlements and looking over his condemned property, but she had been busy, or out somewhere on her errands of mercy, so that Laurie had got very little satisfaction for his trouble.

But Mark had seen Lynn once, just once, and that the first time she had gone with Laurie Shafton, as they were getting out of his car in front of one of his buildings. Mark had slipped into a doorway out of sight and watched them, and after they passed into the building had gone on, his face whiter and sadder than before. That was all.

Marilyn was to spend only a month in New York, as at first planned, but the month lengthened into six weeks before the friend whose place she was taking was able to return, and two days before Marilyn was expecting to start home there came a telephone message from her mother:

"Lynn, dear, Mrs. Carter is very low, dying, we think, and we must find Mark at once! There is not a minute to lose if he wants to see her alive. It is a serious condition brought on by excitement. Mrs.


The City of Fire - 50/55

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