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- The City of Fire - 55/55 -
these bandages, and I want the first thing that my eyes rest upon after my dear wife's face, to be the faces of you two. My beloved children."
* * * * *
Sabbath Valley lay tucked warm and white beneath a blanket of snow. All the week it had been coming down, down, in great white flakes of especially sorted sizes, filling the air mightily with winter clean and deep. Here in the fastnesses of the hills it seemed that the treasure troves of the sky had been opened to make all beautiful and quiet while winter passed that way. Lone Valley was almost obliterated, pierced with sharp pine trees in bunches here and there, like a flock of pins in a pincushion, and the hills rose gently on either side like a vast amphitheatre done in white and peopled thick with trees in heavy white furs.
The Highway was almost impassable for a day or two, but the state snow plow passed over as soon as the snow stopped falling, and left a white pavement with white walls either side. The tunnel through the mountains was only a black dot in the vast whiteness, and Pleasant View Station wore a heavy cap of snow dripping down in lavish fringes edged with icicles. The agent's little shanty up the mountain was buried out of sight behind a snow drift and had to be dug out from the back, and no Lake Train ran any more. The express was five hours late. Stark Mountain loomed white against the sky. And over in Sabbath Valley the night it stopped snowing all the villagers were out shovelling their walks and calling glad nothings back and forth as they flung the white star dust from their shovels, and little children came out with rubber boots and warm leggings and wallowed in the beauty. The milkman got out an old sleigh and strung a line of bells around his horse. The boys and girls hurried up the mountain to their slide with home made sleds and laughing voices, and the moon came up looking sweetly from a sudden clearing sky.
Over in the church the windows shone with light, and the bells were ringing out the old sweet songs the villagers loved. Marilyn was at the organ and Mark by her side. In the body of the church willing hands were working, setting up the tall hemlocks that Tom and Jim had brought in from the mountain, till the little church was fragrant and literally lined with lacey beauty, reminding one of ancient worship in the woods. Holly wreaths were hanging in the windows everywhere, and ropes of ground pine and laurel festooned from every pillar and corner and peak of roof.
Laurie Shafton had sent a great coffer of wonderful roses, and the country girls were handling them with awe, banking them round the pulpit, and trailing them over the rail of the little choir loft, wonderful roses from another world, the world that Marilyn Severn might have married into if she had chosen. And there sat Marilyn as indifferent as if they were dandelions, praising the _trees_ that had been set up, delighting in their slender tops that rose like miniature spires all round the wall, drawing in the sweetness of their winter spicy breath, and never saying a word about the roses. "Roses? Oh, yes, they look all right, Girls, just put them wherever you fancy. I'll be suited. But aren't those trees too beautiful for words?"
When the work was done they trooped out noisily into the moonlight, bright like day only with a beauty that was almost unearthly in its radiance. The others went on down the street calling gay words back and forth, but Mark and Marilyn lingered, bearing a wreath of laurel, and stepping deep into the whiteness went over to the white piled mound where they had laid Mrs. Carter's body to rest and Mark stooped down and pressed the wreath down into the snow upon the top:
"Dear little mother," he said brokenly, "She loved pretty things and I meant to give her so many of them sometime to make up--"
"But she'll be glad--" said Marilyn softly, "We loved each other very much--!"
"Yes, she'll be glad!" he answered. "She often tried to find out why I never went to the parsonage any more. Poor little mother! That was her deepest disappointment--! Yes, she'll be glad--!"
* * * * *
When morning came it seemed as though the very glory of God was spread forth on Sabbath Valley for display. There it lay, a shining gem of a little white town, in the white velvet cup of the Valley, dazzling and resplendent, the hills rising round about reflecting more brightness and etched with fringes of fine branches each burdened with a line of heavy furry white. Against the clear blue sky the bell tower rose, and from its arches the bells rang forth a wedding song. Marilyn in her white robes, with a long white veil of rare old lace handed down through the generations, falling down the back and fastened about her forehead, and with a slim little rope of pearls, also an heirloom, was ringing her own wedding bells, with Mark by her side, while the villagers gathered outside the door waiting for the wedding march to begin before they came in.
The minister and his wife stood back in his little study behind the pulpit, watching their two with loving eyes, and down by the front door stood Billy in a new suit with his hair very wet and licked back from an almost crimson countenance, waiting the word to fling open the door and let the congregation in.
"_Tum_, diddy_dum_--Diddy_dum_--diddy_dum_-- Diddy_dum_--diddy_dum_--Diddydum--_dum_--_dum_-- Dum--Dum--Dum!" began the organ and Billy flung the portals wide and stood aside on the steps to let the throng pass in, his eyes shining as if they would say, "Aw Gee! Ain't this great?"
And just at that moment, wallowing through the snow, with the air of having come from the North Pole there arrived a great car and drew up to the door, and Laurie Shafton jumped anxiously out and flung open the door for his passengers.
"Aw Gee! That Fish! Whadde wantta come here for? The great _chump_! Don't he know he ain't _in it?_"
Billy watched in lofty scorn from his high step and decided to hurry in and not have to show any honors to that sissy-guy.
Then out from the car issued Opal, done in furs from brow to shoe and looking eagerly about her, and following her a big handsome sporty man almost twice her age, looking curiously interested, as if he had come to a shrine to worship, Opal's husband. Billy stared, and then remembering that the wedding march was almost over and that he might be missing something:
"Aw, Gee! Whadduw I care? He ain't little apples now, anyhow. He couldn'ta bought her with _barrels_ of roses, an' he knows it too, the poor stiff. He must be a pretty good scout after all, takin' his medicine straight!"
Then Billy slid in and the quiet little ceremony began.
The organ hushed into nothing. Marilyn arose, took Mark's arm, and together they stepped down and stood in front of the minister, who had come down the steps of the pulpit and was awaiting them, with Marilyn's mother sitting only a step away on the front seat.
It was all so quiet and homey, without fuss or marching or any such thing, and when the ceremony was over the bride and groom turned about in front of the bank of hemlock and roses and their friends swarmed up to congratulate them. Then everybody went into the parsonage, where the ladies of the church had prepared a real country wedding breakfast with Christmas turkey and fixings for a foundation and going on from that. It wasn't every day in the year that Sabbath Valley got its minister's daughter married, and what if the parsonage _was_ small and only fifty could sit down at once, everybody was patient, and it was all the more fun!
The three guests from out of town, self imposed, looked on with wonder and interest. It was a revelation. Marilyn looked up and found big Ed Verrons frankly staring at her, a puzzled pleased expression on his large coarse face. She was half annoyed and wondered why they had come to spoil this perfect day. Then suddenly the big man stepped across the little living room and spoke:
"Mrs. Carter, we came over to-day because Opal said you had something that would help us begin over again and make life more of a success. I want to thank you for having this chance to see a little bit of heaven on earth before I die."
Later, when the city guests were fed and comforted perhaps, and had climbed back into the big car, Billy stood on the front porch with a third helping of ice cream and watched them back, and turn, and wallow away into the deep white world, and his heart was touched with pity:
"Aw, Gee! The poor fish! I'spose it is hard lines! And then it was sorta my faultchu know," and he turned with a joyful sigh that they were gone, and went in to look again at Mary Louise Little, and see what it was about her in that new blue challis that made her look so sorta nice to-day.
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