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   Chapter 5 No.5

The City of Fire By Grace Livingston Hill Characters: 16620

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

The whistle of the Cannery at Sabbath Valley blew a relief blast five minutes ahead of midnight in deference to the church chimes, and the night shift which had been working overtime on account of a consignment of tomatoes that would not keep till Monday, poured joyously out into the road and scattered to their various homes.

The outmost of these homegoers, Tom McMertrie and Jim Rafferty, who lived at the other extreme of the village, came upon a crippled car, coughing and crawling toward them in front of the Graveyard. Its driver, much sobered by lack of stimulant, and frequent necessity for getting out and pushing his car over hard bits of road, called to them noisily.

The two workmen, pleasant of mood, ready for a joke, not altogether averse to helping if this proved to be "the right guy," halted and stepped into the road just to look the poor noble car over. It was the lure of the fine machine.

"Met with an accident?" Jim remarked affably, as if it were something to enjoy.

"Had toire thrubble?" added Tom, punching the collapsed tires.

The questions seemed to anger the driver, who demanded loftily:

"Where's your garage?"

"Garage? Oh, we haven't any garage," said Jim pleasantly, with a mute twinkle in his Irish eye.

"No garage? Haven't any garage! What town is this,-if you call it a town?"

"Why, mon, this is Sawbeth Volley! Shorely ye've heard of Sawbeth Volley!"

"No, I never heard of it!" said the stranger contemptuously, "but from what I've seen of it so far I should say it ought to be called Hell's Pit! Well, what do you do when you want your car fixed?"

"Well, we don't hoppen to hove a cyar," said Tom with a meditative air, stooping to examine the spokes of a wheel, "Boot, ef we hod mon, I'm thenkin' we'd fix it!"

Jim gave a flicker of a chuckle in his throat, but kept his outward gravity. The stranger eyed the two malevolently, helplessly, and began once more, holding his rage with a cold voice.

"Well, how much do you want to fix my car?" he asked, thrusting his hand into his pocket and bringing out an affluent wallet.

The men straightened up and eyed him coldly. Jim turned indifferently away and stepped back to the sidewalk. Tom lifted his chin and replied kindly:

"Why, Mon, it's the Sawbeth, didn't ye know? I'm s'proised at ye! It's the Sawbeth, an' this is Sawbeth Volley! We don't wurruk on the Sawbeth day in Sawbeth Volley. Whist! Hear thot, mon?"

He lifted his hand and from the stone belfry near-by came the solemn tone of the chime, pealing out a full round of melody, and then tolling solemnly twelve slow strokes. There was something almost uncanny about it that held the stranger still, as if an unseen presence with a convincing voice had been invoked. The young man sat under the spell till the full complement of the ringing was finished, the workman with his hand up holding attention, and Jim Rafferty quietly enjoying it all from the curb stone.

When the last sweet resonance had died out, the Scotchman's hand went slowly down, and the stranger burst forth with an oath:

"Well, can you tell me where I can go to get fixed up? I've wasted enough time already."

"I should say from whut I've seen of ye, mon, that yer roight in thot statement, and if I was to advoise I'd say go right up to the parson, His loight's still burnin' in the windo next beyant the tchurtch, so ye'll not be disturbin' him. Not that he'd moind. He'll fix ye up ef anybody cun; though I'm doubtin' yer in a bad wy, only wy ye tak it. Good-night to ye, the winda wi' the leight, mon, roight next beyant the tchurtch!"

The car began its coughing and spluttering, and slowly jerked itself into motion, its driver going angrily on his unthankful way. The two workmen watching him with amused expressions, waited in the shadow of a tree till the car came to a stop again in front of the parsonage, and a tall young fellow got out and looked toward the lighted window.

"Oh, boy! He's going in!" gasped Jim, slapping his companion silently on the back. "Whatt'll Mr. Severn think, Tommy?"

"It'll do the fresh laddie gude," quoth Tom, a trifle abashed but ready to stand by his guns, "I'm thenkin' he's one of them what feels they owns the airth, an' is bound to step on all worms of the dust whut comes in thur wy. But Jim, mon, we better be steppin' on, fer tomorra's the Sawbeth ya ken, an' it wuddent be gude for our souls if the parson shud cum out to investigate." Chuckling away into the silent street they disappeared, while Laurence Shafton stalked angrily up the little path and pounded loudly on the quaint knocker of the parsonage.

* * *

The minister was on his knees beside his desk, praying for the soul of the wandering lad who had been dear to him for years. He had finished his preparation for the coming day, and his heart was full of a great longing. As he poured out his desire he forgot the hour and his need for rest. It was often in such companionship he forgot all else. He was that kind of a man.

But he came to his feet on the instant with the knock, and was ready to go out on any errand of mercy that was needing him. It was not an unusual thing for a knock to come interrupting his midnight devotions. Sometimes the call would be to go far out on the mountain to some one who was in distress, or dying.

The minister swung the door wide and peered into the night pleasantly almost as if to welcome an unexpected guest. In the sudden flood of the porch light his face was illumined, and behind him the pretty living room gave a sweet homely setting. The stranger stood for an instant blinking, half astonished; then the memory of his rendezvous at break of day brought back his irritation at the delay.

"Are you Parsons?" he demanded, just as if "Parsons" were at fault that he had not been on hand before.

"Parsons?" said Mr. Severn reflectively. "I don't recall anyone of that name hereabouts. Perhaps you are on the wrong road. There is a Parsons at Monopoly."

"Parsons is the name. Aren't you Parsons? A couple of men down the road said you were, and that you could fix me up. They said right next the church and that your light was still burning." The visitor's tone was belligerent.

Severn's face cleared with a smile.

"Oh, they must have said 'Parson,' they often call me that. Come in. What can I do for you?"

The young man eyed him coldly and made no move to enter.

"Parson or Parsons, it makes no difference does it? Mr. Parson, if you're so particular then, come out and look at my car. It seems to be in bad shape, and be quick about it. I've got over two hundred miles to make before daybreak, so get a hustle on. I'll pay you well if you don't waste any time."

A queer look descended upon the minister in twinkles of amusement around his eyes and lips much like the smile that Tom MacMertrie had worn, only there was not a rag of hurt pride about it. With entire pleasantness he said:

"Just wait a moment till I get a light."

As he turned to go Shafton called after him:

"Oh, by the way, got anything to drink? I'm thirsty as the devil."

Severn turned, instant hospitality in his face.

"What will you have? Water or milk? Plenty of both."

He smiled and Shafton looked at him in haughty amazement.

"Man! I said I wanted something to drink!" he thundered, "but don't stand there all night doddering. I've got to get started!"

A slight lifting of the chin, a trifle of steel in the kind eyes, a shade of coolness in the voice, as the clear comprehension of heaven had sifted the visitor, and the minister said, almost sternly:

"Oh, I see," and disappeared through a swinging door into the pantry.

It was about this time that Lynn Severn awoke to near consciousness and wondered what kind of a queer noisy guest her father had now.

The minister was gone sometime and the guest grew impatient, stamping up and down the piazza and kicking a porch rocker out of his path. He looked at his watch and frowned, wondering how near he was to the end of his detour, and then he started in pursuit of his man, tramping through the Severn house as if it were a public garage, and almost running into the minister as he swung the door open. Severn was approaching with a lighted lantern in one hand and a plate of brown

bread and butter, with a cup of steaming coffee in his other hand.

Laurence Shafton stopped abruptly, a curse on his lips, but something, either the genial face of the minister, or the aroma of the coffee, silenced him. And indeed there was something about Graham Severn that was worth looking at. Tall and well built, with a face at once strong and sweet, and with a certain luminousness about it that almost seemed like transparency to let the spirit shine through, although there was nothing frail about his well cut features.

Laurence Shafton, looking into the frank kind eyes of the minister suddenly became aware that this man had taken a great deal of trouble for him. He hadn't brought any liquor, probably because he did not know enough of the world to understand what it was he wanted, or because he was playing a joke. As he looked into those eyes and noted with his half befuddled senses the twinkle playing at the corners he was not quite sure but the joke was on himself. But however it was the coffee smelled good and he took it and blundered out a brief "Thanks."

Eating his brown bread and butter, the like of which had never entered his pampered lips before, and taking great swoops of the hot strong coffee he followed this strange new kind of a man out to the car in the moonlight, paying little heed to the careful examination that ensued, being so accustomed to ordering all his needs supplied and finding them forthcoming without delay.

Finally the minister straightened up:

"I'm afraid you won't go many miles to-night. You've burned out your bearings!"

"Hell!" remarked the young gentleman pausing before the last swallow of coffee.

"Oh, you won't find it so bad as that, I imagine," answered the steady voice of the minister. "I can give you a bed and take care of you over to-morrow, and perhaps Sandy McPherson can fix you up Monday, although I doubt it. He'd have to make new bearings, or you'd have to send for some to the factory."

But Lawrence Shafton did not wait to hear the suggestions. He stormed up and down the sidewalk in front of the parsonage and let forth such a stream of choice language as had not been heard in that locality in many a long year. The minister's voice, cool, stern, commanding, broke in upon his ravings.

"I think that will be about all, sir!"

Laurence Shafton stopped and stared at the minister's lifted hand, not because he was overawed, simply because never before in the whole of his twenty-four years had any one dared lift voice to him in a tone of command or reproof. He could not believe his ears, and his anger rose hotly. He opened his mouth to tell this insignificant person who he was and where to get off, and a few other common arguments of gentlemen of his class, but the minister had a surprising height as he stood in the moonlight, and there was that something strange and spiritual about him that seemed to meet the intention and disarm it. His jaw dropped, and he could not utter the words he had been about to speak. This was insufferable-! But there was that raised hand. It seemed like some one not of this world quite. He wasn't afraid, because it wasn't in him to be afraid. That was his pose, not afraid of those he considered his inferiors, and he did not consider that anyone was his superior. But somehow this was something new in his experience. A man like this! It was almost as if his mere being there demanded a certain homage. It was queer. The young man passed a hand over his hot forehead and tried to think. Then the minister's voice went calmly on. It was almost as if he had not said that other at all. Perhaps he had not. Perhaps he dreamed it or imagined it. Perhaps he had been taking too much liquor and this was one of the symptoms-! Yet there still ringing in his ears-well his soul anyway,-were those quiet words, "That will be about all, sir!" Sternly. As if he had a right to speak that way to him! To Laurence Shafton, son of the great Wilson J. Shafton, of New York! He looked up at the man again and found a sort of respect for him dawning in himself. It was queer, but the man was-well, interesting. What was this he was saying?

"I am sorry"-just as if he had never rebuked him at all, "I am sorry that there seems to be no other way. If I had a car I would take you to the nearest railway station, but there are no trains to-night, not even twenty miles away until six in the morning. There are only four cars owned in the village. Two are gone off on a summer trip, the third is out of commission being repaired, and the fourth belongs to the doctor, who happens to be away on the mountain to-night attending a dying man. You see how it is."

The young man opened his mouth to curse once more, and strangely enough closed it again: Somehow cursing seemed to have lost its force.

"There is just one chance," went on the minister thoughtfully, "that a young man who was visiting his mother to-day may still be here. I can call up and find out. He would take you I know."

Almost humbly the great man's son followed the minister back to the house and listened anxiously while he called a number on the telephone.

"Is that you Mrs. Carter? I'm sorry if I have disturbed you. What? You hadn't gone to bed yet? Oh, waiting for Mark? Then he isn't there? That's what I called up for. There is some one here in trouble, needing to be taken to Monopoly. I was sure Mark would help him out if possible. Yes, please, if he comes soon, ask him to call me. Just leave a note for him, can't you? I wouldn't sit up. Mark will take good care of himself. Yes, of course, that's the mother of it. Well, good-night, Mrs. Carter."

The young man strode angrily out to the door, muttering-but no words were distinct. He wanted to be away from the compelling calmness of those eyes that seemed to search him through. He dashed out the screen door, letting it slam behind him, and down the steps, intending to make his car go on at all odds until he reached another town somewhere. It had gone so far, it could go on a little farther perhaps. This country parson did not know about cars, how should he?

And then somewhere right on the top step he made a false step and slipped, or was it his blindness of rage? He caught at the vines with frantic hands, but as if they laughed at him they slipped from his grasp. His feet clattered against the step trying for footing, but he was too near the edge, and he went down straight into a little rocky nook where ferns and violets were growing, and a sharp jagged rock stuck up and bit him viciously as he slid and struggled for a firm footing again. Then an ugly twist of his ankle, and he lay in a humiliating heap in the shadow of the vines on the lawn, crying out and beginning to curse with the pain that gripped him in sharp teeth, and stung through his whole excitable inflamed being.

The minister was there almost at once, bending over him. Somehow he felt as if he were in the power of somebody greater than he had ever met before. It was almost like meeting God out on the road somewhere. The minister stooped and picked him up, lightly, as if he had been a feather, and carried him like a baby, thrown partly over his shoulder; up the steps, and into that blasted house again. Into the bright light that sickened him and made the pain leap up and bring a mighty faintness.

He laid him almost tenderly upon a soft couch, and straightened the pillows about him, seeming to know just how every bone felt, and how every nerve quivered, and then he asked a few questions in a quiet voice. "What happened? Was it your ankle? Here? Or here? All right. Just be patient a minute, I'll have you all fixed up. This was my job over in France you know. No, don't move. It won't hurt long. It was right here you said. Now, wait till I get my bottle of lotion."

He was back in an instant with bandages, and bottle, and seemed to know just how to get off a shoe with the least trouble.

An hour later the scion of a great New York family lay sleeping in the minister's study, the old couch made up with cool sheets, and the swollen ankle comfortably bandaged with cool wet cloths. Outside in the moonlight the crippled car stood alone, and Sabbath Valley slept, while the bells chimed out a single solemn stroke.

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