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   Chapter 28 No.28

The City of Fire By Grace Livingston Hill Characters: 18338

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02


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. Harricutt went there to call yesterday while everybody else was at Ladies' Aid. And Lynn, she told her about Mark! Now, Lynn, can you get somebody to go with you and find Mark right away? Get him to come home at once? Here is the last address he gave, but they have no telephone and we dare not wait for a telegram. See what you can do quickly!"

It was four o'clock in the afternoon when this message came. Lynn put on a uniform of dark blue serge and a poke bonnet that was at her disposal whenever she had need of protection, and hurried out.

She found the address after some trouble, but was told that the young gentleman was out. No one seemed to know when he would return.

Two or three other lodgers gathered curiously, one suggesting a restaurant where he might be found, another a club where he sometimes went and a third laughed and called out from half way up the stairs:

"You'll find him at the cabaret around the corner by ten o'clock to-night if you don't find him sooner. He's always there when he's in town."

Sick at heart Lynn went on her way, trying carefully each place that had been suggested but finding no trace of him. She met with only deference for her uniform wherever she went, and without the slightest fear she travelled through streets at night that she would scarcely have liked to pass alone in the daytime in her ordinary garb. But all the time her heart was praying that she might find Mark before it was too late. She tried every little clue that was given her, hoping against hope that she would not have to search for her old friend in a cabaret such as she knew that place around the corner must be. But it was almost ten o'clock and she had not found Mark. She went back to the first address once more, but he had not come, and so she finally turned her steps toward the cabaret.

Sadly, with her heart beating wildly, hoping, yet fearing to find him, she paused just inside the doors and looked around, trying to get used to the glare and blare, the jazz and the smoke, and the strange lax garb, and to differentiate the individuals from the crowd.

Food and drink, smoke and song, wine and dance, flesh and odd perfumes! Her soul sank within her, and she turned bewildered to a servitor at the door.

"I wonder, is there any way to find a special person here? I have a very important message."

The man bent his head deferentially as though to one from another world, "Who did you want, Miss?"

"Mr. Mark Carter," said Marilyn, feeling the color rise in her cheeks at letting even this waiter see that she expected to find Mark Carter here.

The man looked up puzzled. He was rather new at the place. He summoned another passing one of his kind:

"Carter, Carter?" the man said thoughtfully, "Oh, y

es, he's the guy that never drinks! He's over there at the table in the far corner with the little dancer lady-" The waiter pointed and Lynn looked, "Would you like me to call him, Miss?" Lynn reflected quickly. Perhaps he might try to evade her. She must run no risks.

"Thank you, I will go to him," she said, and straight through the maze of candle lighted tables, and whirling dancers, in her quiet holy garb, she threaded her way hastily, as one might have walked over quicksands, with her eye fixed upon Mark.

She came and stood beside him before he looked up and saw her, and then he lifted his eyes from the face of the girl with whom he was talking, and rose suddenly to his feet, his face gone white as death, his eyes dark with disapproval and humiliation.

"Marilyn!" His voice was shaking. He knew her instantly in spite of poke bonnet and uniform. She was the one thought present with him all the while, perhaps for years wherever he had been. But he did not look glad to see her. Instead it was as if his soul shrank shamedly from her clear eyes as she looked at him:

Marilyn had not known what she was going to say to him when she found him. She did not stop to think now.

"Mark, your mother wants you. She is dying! You must come quick or she will be gone!"

Afterwards she repeated over the words to herself again and again as one might do penance, blaming herself that she had not softened it, made it more easy for him to bear. Yet at the time it seemed the only thing there was to say, at such a time, in such a place. But at the stricken look upon his face her heart grew tender. "Come," she said compassionately, "We will go!"

They went out into the night and it was as if they had suddenly changed places, as if she were the protector and he the led. She guided him the quickest way. There was only a chance that they might catch the midnight train, but there was that chance. Into the subway she dived, he following, and breathless, they brought up at the Pennsylvania station at their train gate as it was being closed, and hurried through.

All through that agonized night they spoke but few words, those two who had been so much to one another through long happy years.

"But you are not going too?" he spoke suddenly roused from his daze as the train started.

"Yes, I am going too, of course, Mark," she said.

He bowed his head and almost groaned:

"I am not worthy,-Marilyn!"

"That-has nothing to do with it!" said Marilyn sadly, "It never will have anything to do with it! It never did!"

Mark looked at her, with harrowed eyes, and dropped his gaze. So he sat, hour after hour, as the train rushed along through the night. And Marilyn, with head slightly bent and meek face, beneath the poke bonnet with its crimson band, was praying as she rode. Praying in other words the prayer that Billy murmured beside his bed every night.

But Billy was not lying in his bed that night, sleeping the sleep of the just. He was up and on the job. He was sitting in the Carter kitchen keeping up the fires, making a cup of tea for the nurse and the doctor, running the endless little errands, up to the parsonage for another hot water bag, down to the drug store for more aromatic spirits of ammonia, fixing a newspaper shade to dull the light in the hall, and praying, all the time praying: "Oh, God, ain'tcha gonta leave her stay till Mark gets here? Ain'tcha gonta send Mark quick? You know best I 'spose, but ain'tcha gonta?" and then "Aw Gee! I wisht Miss Lynn was here!"

In the chill before the dawning the two stepped down from the train at a little flag station three miles from Sabbath Valley on the upper road that ran along the Ridge. They had prevailed upon the conductor to let them off there. Mark had roused enough for that. And now that they were out in the open country he seemed to come to himself. He took care of Lynn, making her take his arm, guiding her into the smooth places, helping her over rough places. He asked a few questions too. How did she know of his mother's condition? How long had she been this way? Had she any idea that his mother's heart was affected? Did she have a shock?

Lynn did not tell all she knew. It was hard enough without that. He need not know that it was the knowledge of his disgrace that had brought her to the brink of death.

So, walking and talking almost as in the old days, they passed into Sabbath Valley and down the street, and Christie McMertrie listening perhaps for this very thing, crept from her bed in her long flannel night gown, and big ruffled night cap, and looked out the window to see them go by. "Bless them!" she breathed and crept back to her bed again. She had nursed all day, and all the night before, and would have been there too to-night, only Mary Rafferty took things in her own hands and had her go to bed, herself taking charge. Mrs. Duncannon was there too. There really was no need of her, but Christie could not sleep, and after they passed she rose and dressed and slipped down the street with a hot porridge that had been cooking on the stove all night, and the makings of a good breakfast in her basket on her arm.

Mark Carter reached home in time to take his mother in his arms and bid her good-bye. That was all She roused at his voice and touch, and reached out her little pretty hands toward him. He took her in his big strong arms and held her, kissed her with tender lips and she drew a beautiful smile of perfect content, and slipped away, with the graying golden hair straying out over Mark's sleeve to the pillow in a long curl, and a quiver of her last smile on the pretty curve of her lips, as if this was all that she had waited for, the little pretty girl that had gone to school so long ago with golden hair and a smile. Billy, standing awed in the doorway whither he had come to say there was more hot water ready, caught the vision of her face, remembered those school days, and felt a strange constriction in his throat. Some day Saxy would have to go like that, and would show the little girl in her face too, and he maybe would have to hold her so and think of how cross he had been. Aw Gee! Whattaqueer thing life was anyhow! Well, hadn't his prayer been answered? Didn't Mark get here in time? Well, anyhow it was likely better for Mrs. Carter to go. But it was rotten for Mark. Aw Gee! Mark! Was this the way he had to learn it? Aw Gee! Well, God would have to show him. He couldn't dope it out anyhow.

During the days that followed Mark hardly stirred from the side of the pretty little clay that had been his mother except when they forced him for a little while. An hour before the service he knelt alone beside the casket, and the door opened and Marilyn came softly in, closing it behind her. She walked over to Mark and laid her hand on his hand that rested over his mother's among the flowers, and she knelt beside him and spoke softly:

"Oh, God, help Mark to find the light!"

Then the soul of Mark Carter was shaken to the depths and suddenly his self control which had been so great was broken. His strong shoulders began to shake with sobs, silent, hard sobs of a man who knows he has sinned, and tears, scalding tears from the depths of his self-contained nature.

Marilyn reached her arm out across his shoulders as a mother would try to protect a child, and lifted her face against his, wet with tears and kissed him on his forehead. Then she left him and went quietly out.

* * *

"Well," said Mrs. Harricutt with satisfaction as she walked home after the funeral with Christie McMertrie, "I'm glad to see that Mark Carter has a little proper feeling at last. If he'd showed it sooner his Ma mighta ben in the land of the living yet."

Christie's stern face grew sterner as she set her teeth and bit her tongue before replying. Then she said with more brrrr than usual in her speech:

"Martha Harricutt, there's na land that's sa livin' as tha land where Mark Carter's mither has ganged tae, but there's them that has mair blame to bear fer her gaein' than her bonny big son, I'm thinkin', an' there's them in this town that agrees with me too, I know full well."

Down in front of the parsonage the minister had his arm around Mark Carter's shoulders and was urging him:

"Son, come in. We want you. Mother wants you, I want you. Marilyn wants you. Come son, come!"

But Mark steadily refused, his eyes downcast, his face sad, withdrawn:

"Mr. Severn, I'll come to-morrow. I can't come tonight. I must go home and think!"

"And you will promise me you will not leave without coming, Mark?" asked the minister sadly when he saw that it was no use.

"Yes, I will promise!" Mark wrung the minister's hand in a warm grip that said many things he could not speak, and then he passed on to his lonely home. But it was not entirely empty. Billy was there, humbly, silently, with dog-true eyes, and a grown up patient look on his tired young face. He had the coffee pot on the stove and hot sausages cooking on the stove, and a lot of Saxy's doughnuts and a pie on the table. Billy stayed all night with Mark. He knew Saxy would understand.

* * *

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