Part 4 out of 6
Saxon's pink damp features and anxious eyes and a possible application
of the same principle to his own life, as in the case of Judas. But he
wasn't considering himself now. There might come a time when he would
have to change his tactics with regard to Aunt Saxon somewhat. She
certainly had been a good sport last night. But this wasn't the time to
consider that. He had a great deal more important matters to think of
now. He had to find out how he could make it perfectly plain to the
world that Mark Carter had not shot a man after twelve o'clock Saturday
night at the Blue Duck Tavern. And as yet he didn't see any way without
incriminating himself as a kidnapper. This cut deep because in the
strict sense of the word he was not a kidnapper, because he hadn't
meant to be a kidnapper. He had only meant to play a joke on the
kidnappers, and at worst his only really intended fault had been the
putting up of that detour on the Highway. But he had an uncomfortable
conviction that he wouldn't be able to make the Chief and the
Constable, and some of those people over at Economy Court House see it
that way. As matters stood he was safe if he kept his mouth shut.
Nobody knew but Mark, and he didn't know the details. Besides, Mark
would never tell. Mark would even go to trial for murder before he
would let himself out by telling on Billy, Billy knew that as well as
he knew that the old mountain on whose feet he lay stretched now would
stand up there for ages and always keep his secret for him. Mark was
that way. That was why it made it worse for Billy. Judas again! Billy
was surprised to find how much Judas-blood there seemed to be in him.
He lay there and despised himself without being able to help himself
out or think of anything he could do. And then quite suddenly as he was
going over the whole circumstance from the time he first listened to
Pat's message into the moss of the mountain, until now, the name
Shafton came to him. Laurence Shafton. Shafton, son of William J., of
Gates and Shafton. Those were the words the telephone had squeaked out
quite plainly. And Shafton. Mr. Shafton. That was the name Mark had
called the guy with the car at the parsonage. Mr. Shafton. The same
guy, of course. Bah! What a mess he had made of it all. Got Mark
kidnapped, landed that sissy-guy on the Severns for no knowing how
long, and perhaps helped to tangle Mark up in a murder case. Aw Gee!
There's the train! What could he do? That rich guy! Well, there wasn't
anything to that. He would get out as soon as Mark got his car fixed up
and never know he had been kidnapped. And what was he, Billy, waiting
here for anyway? Just a chance! Just to see whether Pat and Sam had
found out yet that their quarry had vanished. Just to wonder what had
become of Link and Shorty.
The trains came and went, and the hush settled down once more at the
station. From where he lay, hidden under a ledge, with a thick growth
of laurel and sumac between him and the world, Billy could not see the
station platform, and had no means of telling whether Pat was about or
He had lain still a long time and was beginning to think that his trip
had been in vain, when he heard a soft crackling of the twigs above
him, a heavy tread crashing through the bushes, a puffing snorting
breath from the porpoise-like Pat, and he held his own breath and lay
very still. Suppose Pat should take a new trail and discover his hiding
place? His heart pounded with great dull thuds. But Pat slid heavily
down to the little clearing below him, fumbled a moment with his key,
and then in a gruff guarded voice called:
"Hullo! Hullo! Sam? That you? Yes, aw'right! Yes, aw'right! How's
things? What? Hell's to pay? Whaddaya mean hell? Ain't you gonta put it
over? After all my trouble you ain't a gonta let that million slip
through? What? Oh! Who? The Valet? He's beat it, has he? Whaddaya mean?
_He_ took 'em? _He_ took the pearls an' diamonds? Well, Em'ruls then!
What's tha diffrunce? _We_ ain't gottum have we? Oh, bonds too! Well,
whattya gonta do about it? Move him? What, the rich guy? Move him
where? _Why?_ We ain'ta gonta run no more risks. Link an' Shorty are
sore 'za pup when they come. I don't think they'll stan' for it. Well,
where'll ya move him? Who? Shorty? Oh, Link? Both? Well, I ain't seen
'em. I tol' 'em to keep good an' far away from me. I don't build on
loosin' this job just now, See? What? It's in the papers a'ready?
You don't say! Well, who you figger done that? That Valet? Well,
where's the harm? Can't you work it all the better? We got the guy,
ain't we? _He_ ain't gottim that's certain. We c'n deliver the goods,
so we get the reward. How much reward they offerin? You don't say!
Well, I should say, get in yer work soon 'fore we get caught. Aw'right!
I'm with ya. Well, s'long! I'll be down here at nine sharp. Take a
trip to China with ya next week ef ya pull it off. Aw'right! Goobby!"
and Pat hung up and puffed his way up the hill again, leaving Billy
drenched with perspiration and filled with vague plans, and deep
anxiety. He had got a clue but what good was it? How could he
work it to the salvation of Mark? He could easily put the sissy over
at the parsonage wise, do him a good turn, save his dad some money,
but what good would that do Mark? Mark needed to establish an alibi,
he could see that with half an eye, but how would anything Billy knew
help that along unless--unless he told on himself? For a moment a long
trail of circumstances that would surely follow such a sacrificial
ordinance appeared before him and burned into his soul, most prominent
among them being Aunt Saxon, hard worked and damp-pink-eyed, crying her
heart out for the boy she had tried faithfully to bring up. And Miss
Lynn. How sad her eyes would grow if Billy had to be tried and
sentenced to prison. Not that Billy was afraid to go to prison, in fact
the thought of it as an experience was rather exhilirating than not,
but he was afraid to have those two know he had gone, afraid of their
eyes, their sad eyes! Yes, and he was afraid of the thought of his own
ingratitude, for down deep in his heart he could see a long line of
things Aunt Saxon had done for him that she hadn't been obliged to do.
Going without a new winter coat to get him an overcoat. His old one was
warm, but his arms were out of it too far and he wouldn't wear it.
Sitting up nights the time he drank swamp water and had the fever! That
was fierce! How he did rag her! And how patiently she bore it! The
scare she had when the dog bit him! As if a little dog bite was
anything! Doggone it, why were women such fools!
And now this! Billy sat up with a jerk and shook himself free from the
dead moss and leaves, wending his way sulkily across to where he had
left his wheel, and pondering--pondering. "Shafton!" There ought to be
something there to work on, but there wasn't!
Meantime Marilyn rode hard down the way to Economy, not slowing her
pony till they reached the outskirts of Economy. Her mind was in such a
tumult that she felt as if she were being whirled on with circumstances
without having a will to choose one thing from another. Mark! The
unwelcome guests! Mark and Opal! Mark and Cherry! _Cherry!_ The
Chief of Police! Mark! And yes, Cherry! She was on her way to see
_Cherry!_ But what was she going to do when she got there, and how
was she to excuse her strange visit after almost five years since she
had seen the child? If there was truth in the rumor that she was
connected with a shooting affair at the Blue Duck, and especially if
there was truth in the charge that Mark had been going with her, would
it not seem strange--perhaps be misconstrued by Cherry? By her family?
They had all known of her own intimacy with Mark in the past. She
shrank from the idea. Yet Marilyn Severn had not been brought up to
regard public opinion when it was a question of doing something that
ought to be done. The only question was, was it really something that
ought to be done or was she letting Billy influence her unduly? Billy
was shrewd. He knew Mark. He knew a lot more than he ever told. What
did Billy know? How she wished she had asked her father's advise before
coming, and yet, if she had, he might have been unduly influenced by
dreading to have her put herself in the position of prying into the
As she rode and pondered she came near to the little house on the
village street where Cherry lived, a house set out plumb with the
sidewalk, and a little gate at the side to go round to the back door
where the family lived, the front room being the tailor shop. As she
drew near she looked up and was sure she saw Cherry in a short narrow
skirt and an old middy blouse scurrying through the gate to the back
door, and her heart thumped so hard she was almost tempted to ride on
to the store first before making her call. But something in her that
always held her to a task until it was completed forced her to dismount
and knock at the door.
It seemed long to wait with her heart thumping so, and why did it
thump? She found herself praying, "O God, show me what to say!" and
then the door was open a crack and a sharp wizened face with a striking
resemblance to Cherry's bold little beauty, was thrust at her. It must
be Cherry's mother. Of course it was!
"Mr. Fenner ain't in the shop!" said the woman, "He can't do nothin
to-day. He's sick!"
Marilyn smiled: "But I wanted to see Cherry," she said, "Aren't you her
mother? Don't you remember me? I'm Marilyn Severn, her old music
teacher. Is Cherry in?"
A frightened look passed over the woman's face as she scanned the sweet
face before her, and then a wily expression darted into her eyes:
"Oh," she said with a forced smirk, "Yes, Miss Marilyn. Excuse me fer
not recognizing you. You've grown a lot. Why no, Cherry ain't at home
this morning. She'll be awful sorry not to see you. She thought a lot
of you, she did. She got on so well with you in her music too. I says
to her the other day, I says Cherry, I hear Miss Marilyn is home again,
you'll have to take up yer music again, and she says yes, she guessed
she would. She'll be round some day to see you. Sorry I can't ask you
in, but Mr. Fenner's pretty sick. Oh, just the grip I guess. He'll soon
be all right."
She began to realize that the woman was in a hurry to get rid of her
and she hastened away, relieved yet puzzled at the whole affair. She
rode down into the village mechanically and bought a spool of silk and
the coffee strainer which had been her legitimate errand to the
village, and turning back had scarcely passed the last house before she
saw the Chief's car coming toward her, and Mark, his face white and
haggard, looking out from the back seat. He drew back as he recognized
her, and tried to hide, and she rode on with only a passing bow which
comprehended the whole car; but she was aware of Mark's eyes upon her,
steadily, watching her. She would have known he was watching her from
the darkness of the back seat if her own eyes had been shut. What was
it all about and what were they doing to Mark?
The last house in the village on the road to Economy was the
Harricutt's. It was built of gray cement blocks that the elder had
taken for a bad debt, and had neither vine nor blossom to soften its
grimness. Its windows were supplied with green holland shades, and its
front door-yard was efficiently manned with plum trees and a peach,
while the back yard was given over to vegetables. Elder Harricutt
walked to Economy every day to his office in the Economy bank. He said
it kept him in good condition physically. His wife was small and prim
with little quick prying eyes and a false front that had a tendency to
go askew. She wore bonnets with strings and her false teeth didn't
quite fit; they clicked as she talked. She kept a watch over the road
at all times and very little ever got by her unnoticed.
In wholesome contrast next door was the trim little white cottage where
Tom McMertrie and his mother Christie lived, smothered in vines and
ablaze with geraniums all down the front walk. And below that, almost
facing the graveyard was a little green shingled bungalow. Mary
Rafferty kept her yard aglow with phlox, verbenas and pansies, and
revelled in vines and flowering shrubs.
These two women were wonderful friends, though forty years marched
between them. Mary's hair was black as a crow's wing above her great
pansy-blue eyes with their long curling lashes, while Christie's hair
was sandy silver and her tongue full of brrrs. They had opposite pantry
windows on the neighboring sides of their houses, where they often
talked of a morning while Christie moulded her sweet loaves of bread or
mixed scones and Mary made tarts and pies and cake for Jim's supper.
Somehow without much being said about it they had formed a combination
against their hard little knot of a neighbor behind the holland shades.
The first house on the side street that ran at right angles to the main
thoroughfare, just below Rafferty's, was Duncannon's. A picket fence at
the side let into the vegetable gardens of the three, and the quiet
little Mrs. Duncannon with the rippley brown hair and soft brown eyes
often slipped through and made a morning call under cover of the kindly
pole beans that hid her entrances and exits perfectly from any green
holland shaded windows that might be open that way. Jane Duncannon
formed a third in this little combination.
On the Monday morning following the session meeting Mary Rafferty and
Christie McMertrie were at their respective pantry windows flinging
together some toothsome delicacies for the evening meal, that all might
move smoothly during the busy day.
A neat line of flopping clothes glimmered in each back yard over the
trim "green" that stretched across in front of the back door, and the
irons were on in both kitchens preparing for a finish as soon as a
"piece" should show signs of dry.
"Hev ye haird whut the extra session meetin' was called for, Mary?"
asked the older woman looking up from her mixing bowl. "Tom went to the
mill to tak the place of the noight watchman. His feyther's dyin' ye
ken, and Tom's not come by yet. I thot ye might hev haird."
Mary lifted her eyes with troubled glance:
"Not yet," she said, "but I'm thinkin of running over to Duncannons as
soon as I get these pies in the oven. The clothes won't be dry for a
while, an' I'll take my pan of peas to shell. She'll know of course.
Maybe it's nothing much,--but Jim said they held up Mark Carter and
made him come in. It was ten minutes of ten before he got away--! You
don't suppose anybody's taken the gossip to the session do you?"
"There's one we know well would be full cawpable of the same," affirmed
Christie patting her biscuits into place and tucking the bread cloth
deftly over them, "But I'd be sorry to see a meenister an' a session as
wud be held up by one poor whimperin' little elder of the like of him."
"Mr. Severn won't, I'm sure o' that!" said Mary trustingly, "but there
comes Mrs. Duncannon now, I'll run over and see what's in the wind."
Mrs. Duncannon had grown a smile on her gentle face that was like as
two peas to her husband's wide kindly grin, but there was no smile on
her face this morning as she greeted her two friends, and dropped into
a chair by the door of Christie's immaculate kitchen, and her soft
brown eyes were snapping: She had an air of carrying kindly mysterious
"Did ye hear that the old ferret held up Mark Carter last night and as
good as called him a murderer in the face of the whole session?" she
"And whut said our meenister to thot?" inquired Christie.
Jane Duncannon flashed her a twinkle of appreciation:
"He just clapped the senior elder in the chair as neat as a pin in a
pincushion an' moved an expression of confidence, _utmost_
confidence was the word--!"
"Mmmmmmmm! I thot as much!" commented Christie, "The blessed mon!"
"Oh, I'm so glad!" sighed Mary Rafferty sinking into a chair, "Jim
thinks the sun rises and sets in Mark Carter. They were kids together
you know. He says people don't know Mark. And he said if they turned
Mark down at the church now, if they didn't stand by him in his
trouble, he had no more use for their religion!"
"Don't you believe it, Mary Rafferty! Jim Rafferty loves the very
ground the meenister walks on!"
"What was that?" exclaimed Jane Duncannon running to the side window.
"A strange car! Mary, come here! Is that the Chief of Police from
Mary darted to the window followed by the elder woman:
"Yes, it is!" she exclaimed drawing back aghast, "You _don't_
suppose he's going to Carter's? He _wouldn't_ do that would he?"
"He huz to do his dooty, doesn't he?" mused Christie, "But thot's not
sayin' he _loikes_ it, child!"
"Well, he might find a way not to frighten his mother--!"
Mrs. Duncannon stretched her neck to see if he was really stopping at
the parsonage, and Christie murmured: "Perhaps he will."
The little group lingered a moment, till Mary bethought her of her pies
in the oven and the three drifted thriftily back to their morning
tasks, albeit with mind and heart down in the village.
Presently on the glad morning air sounded again the chug chug of the
motor, bringing them sharply back to their windows. Yes, there was the
Chief's car again. And Mark Carter with white haggard face sat in the
back seat! Apprehension flew to the soul of each loyal woman.
But before the sound of the Chief's motor bearing Mark Carter
Economyward had passed out of hearing, Jane Duncannon in a neat brown
dress with a little round brown ribboned hat set trimly on her rippley
hair, and a little round basket on her arm covered daintily with a
white napkin, was nipping out her tidy front gate between the
sunflowers and asters and tripping down Maple street as if it had been
on her mind to go ever since Saturday night.
Even before Mary Rafferty had turned from her Nottingham laced parlor
window and gone with swift steps to her kitchen door Christie McMertrie
stood on her back step with her sunbonnet on and a glass of jelly
wrapped in tissue paper in her hand:
"She's glimpsed 'em," she whispered briefly, with a nod toward the
holland shades, "an' she's up in her side bedroom puttin' on her Sunday
bunnit. She'll be oot the door in another two meenits, the little black
crow! If we bide in the fields we can mak Carters' back stoop afore she
gets much past the tchurch!"
Mary Rafferty caught up her pan of peas, dashed them into a basket that
hung on the wall by the door, and bareheaded as she was hastened out
through the garden after her friend for all the world as if she were
going to pick more peas. Down the green lane between the bean poles
they hurried through the picket gate, pushing aside the big gray
Duncannon cat who basked in the sun under a pink hollyhock with a
Duncannon smile on its gray whiskers like the rest of the family.
"Jane! Jane Duncannon!" called Christie McMertrie. But the hollow
echoes in the tidy kitchen flung back emptily, and the plate of
steaming cinnamon buns on the white scrubbed table spoke as plainly as
words could have done that no one was at home.
The two hurried around the house, through the front gate, across the
street with a quick glance up and down to be sure that the Petrie
babies playing horse in the next yard were their only observers, and
then ducking under the bars of the fence they scuttled down a slope,
crossed a trickle of a brook that hurried creekward, and up the
opposite bank. Behind Little's barn they paused to glance back. Some
one was coming out the Harricutt door, some one wearing a bonnet and a
black veil. They hurried on. There were two more fences separating the
Mary went over and Christie between. They made quick work of the rest
of the way and crept panting through the hedge at the back of Carter's
just as Jane Duncannon swung open the little gate in front with a
glimpse back up the street in triumph and a breath of relief that she
had won. By only so much as a lift of her lashes and a lighting of her
soft brown eyes did she recognize and incorporate the other two in her
errand, and together the three entered the Carter house by the side
entrance, with a neighborly tap and a call: "Miz Carter, you home?"
Quick nervous steps overhead, a muffled voice calling catchily, "Yes,
I'm coming, just set down, won't you?" and they dropped into three
dining-room chairs and drew 'breath, mopping their warm faces with
their handkerchiefs and trying to adjust their minds to the next move.
Their hostess gave them no time to prepare a program. She came
hurriedly down stairs, obviously anxious, openly with every nerve on
the qui vive, and they saw at once that she had been crying. Her hair
was damp about her forehead as if from hasty ablution. She looked from
one to another of her callers with a frightened glance that went beyond
them as if looking for others to come, as she paused in the doorway
"This is a s'prise party, Miz Carter," began Jane Duncannon laughing,
"We all brought our work along and can't stay but a minute, but we got
an idea an' couldn't keep it till Ladies' Aid. You got a minute to
spare? Go get your knitting and set down. _Now_! It's Miz'Severn's
birthday next Sat'day an' we thought 'twould be nice to get her a
present. What do you think about it?"
Mrs. Carter who had stood tensely in the doorway, her fingers whitely
gripping the woodwork, her face growing whiter every minute, suddenly
relaxed with relief in every line of her body, and bloomed into a
"Oh, why, _is_ it? Of course! What'll it be? Why, couldn't we
finish that sunburst bed quilt we started last year while she was away?
If we all get at it I think we could finish. There's some real fast
quilters in the Aid. Wait, till I get my apples to pare. I promised
Mark I'd have apple sauce for lunch!"
A quick glance went from eye to eye and a look of relief settled down
on the little company. She _expected Mark home for lunch_ then!
They were in full tide of talk about the quilting pattern when a knock
came on the front door, and Mary Rafferty jumped up and ran to open it.
They heard the Harricutt voice, clear, sharp, incisive:
"I came to sympathize--!" and then as Mary swung her face into the
sunlight the voice came suddenly up as against a stone wall with a gasp
and "Oh, it's _you_! Where's Mrs. Carter? I wish to see Mrs.
"She's right back in the dining-room, Mrs. Harricutt. Come on back.
We're talking over how to celebrate Miz Severn's birthday. Do you like
a straight quilting or diamond, Miz Harricutt: It's for the sunburst
coverlet you know!"
"The sunburst coverlet!" exclaimed Mrs. Harricutt irately, as though
somehow it were an indecent subject at such a time as this, but she
followed Mary back to the dining-room with a sniff of curiosity. She
fairly gasped when she saw Mrs. Carter with her small sensitive face
bright with smiles:
"Just take that chair by the window, Mrs. Harricutt," she said affably,
"and _excuse me_ fer not getting up. I've got to get these apples
on the fire, for I promised Mark some apple sauce for lunch, and he
likes it stone cold."
Mrs. Harricutt pricked up her ears:
"Oh, Mark is coming home for _lunch_ then!" Her voice was cold,
sharp, like a steel knife dipped in lemon juice. There was a bit of a
curl on the tip of it that made one wince as it went through the soul.
Little Mrs. Carter flushed painfully under her sensitive skin, up to
the roots of her light hair. She had been pretty in her girlhood, and
Mark had her coloring in a stronger way.
"Oh, yes, he's coming home for lunch," she answered brightly, glad of
this much assurance. "And he has to have it early because he has to
drive that strange young woman from the parsonage back somewhere down
in New Jersey. She came alone by herself yesterday, but the mountain
passes sort of scairt her, and she asked Mark to drive back with her."
"Oh!" There was a challenge in the tone that called the red to Mrs.
Carter's cheek again, But Christie McMertrie's soft burring tongue slid
"What wad ye think o' the briar pattern around the edge? I know it's
some worruk, but it's a bonnie border to lie under, an' it's not so
tedious whan there's plenty o' folks to tak a hand."
They carried the topic along with a whirl then and Mrs. Harricutt had
no more chance to harry her hostess. Then suddenly Mary arose in a
"I left my pies in the oven!" she cried, "They'll be burned to a crisp.
I must go. Miz Harricutt, are you going along now? I'll walk with you.
I want to ask you how you made that plum jam you gave me a taste of the
other day. Jim thinks it is something rare, and I'll have to be making
some or he'll never be satisfied, that is if you don't mind--!" and
before Mrs. Carter realized what was happening Mary had marshalled the
Harricutt vulture down the street, and was questioning eagerly about
measures of sugar and plums and lemon peel and nuts:
"Now," said Christie setting down her jelly glass that she had been
holding all this time, "We'll be ganging awa. There's a bit jar of
raspberry jam for the laddie with the bright smile, an' you think it
over and run up and say which pattern you think is bonniest."
"It was just beautiful of you all to come--" said little Mrs. Carter
looking from one to another in painful gratitude--why it's been just
_dear_ for you to run in this way--"
"Yes, a regular party!" said Jane Duncannon squeezing her hand with
understanding. "See, Mary has left her peas. You'd best put them on to
boil for Mark. He'll be coming back pretty soon. Come, Christie,
wumman, it's time we was back at our worruk!" and they hurried through
the hedge and across the meadows to their home once more, but as they
entered the Duncannon gate they marked Billy Gaston, head down,
pedalling along over on Maple Street, his jaws keeping rhythmic time
with his feet.
One hour later the smooth chug of a car that was not altogether
unfamiliar to their ears brought those four women eagerly to their
respective windows, and as the old clock chimed the hour of noon they
beheld Mark Carter driving calmly down the street toward his own home
in his own car. _His own car!_ and Billy Gaston lounging lazily by
his side still chewing rhythmically.
Mark's Car! Mark! Billy! _Ah Billy!_ Three of them mused with a
note of triumph in their eyes.
And Mrs. Harricutt as she rolled her Sunday bonnet strings mused:
"Now, how in the world did that Mark Carter get his own car down to
Economy when he went up with the Chief? He had it down here this
morning, I know, for I saw him riding round. And that little imp of a
Billy! I wonder why he always tags him round! Miss Saxon ought to be
warned about that! I'll have to do it! But how in the world did Mark
get his car?"
Billy enjoyed his lunch that day, a bit of cold chicken and bread, two
juicy red cheeked apples, and an unknown quantity of sugary doughnuts
from the stone crock in the pantry. He sat on the side step munching
the last doughnut he felt he could possibly swallow. Mark was home and
all was well. Himself had seen the impressive glance that passed
between Mark and the Chief at parting. The Chief trusted Mark that was
plain. Billy felt reassured. He reflected that that guy Judas had been
precipitate about hanging himself. If he had only waited and
_done_ a little something about it there might have been a
different ending to the story. It was sort of up to Judas anyway,
having been the cause of the trouble.
With this virtuous conclusion Billy wiped the sugar from his mouth,
mounted his wheel and went forth to browse in familiar and much
He eyed the Carter house as he slid by. Mrs. Carter was placidly
shaking out the table cloth on the side porch. Mark had eaten his apple
sauce and gone. He passed Browns, Todds, Bateses, chasing a white hen
that had somehow escaped her confines, but in front of Joneses he
suddenly became aware of the blue car that stood in front of the
parsonage. It had come to life and was throbbing. It was backing toward
him and going to turn around. On the sidewalk leaning on a cane stood
the obnoxious stranger for whose presence in Sabbath Valley he, Billy
Gaston, was responsible. He lounged at ease with a smile on his ugly
mug and acted as if he lived there! There was nothing about his
appearance to suggest _his_ near departure. His disabled car still
stood silent and helpless beside the curb. Aw _Gee_!
Billy swerved to the other side of the road to avoid the blue car at a
hair's breadth, but as it turned he looked up impudently to behold the
strange girl with the flour on her face and the green baseball bats in
her ears smiling up into the face of Mark Carter, who was driving.
Billy nearly fell off his wheel and under the car, but recovered his
balance in time to swerve out of the way without apparently having been
observed by either Mark or the lady, and shot like a streak down the
road. Beyond the church he drew a wide curve and turned in at the
graveyard, casting a quick furtive eye toward the parsonage, where he
was glad not to discover even the flutter of a garment to show that
Lynn Severn was about. That guy was there, but Miss Lynn was not
chasing him. That was as it should be. He breathed a sigh from his
heavy heart and stole sadly, back to the old mossy stone where so many
of his life problems had been thought out. Still, that guy _was
there! He_ had the advantage! And Mark and that lady! Bah! He sat
down to meditate on Judas and his sins. It seemed that life was just
about as disappointing as it could be! His rough young hand leaned hard
against the grimy old stone till the half worn lettering hurt his flesh
and he shifted his position and lifted his hand. There on the palm were
the quaint old letters, imprinted in the flesh, "Blessed are the dead--
" Gosh yes! _Weren't_ they? Judas had been right after all. "Aw
Gee!" he said aloud, "Whatta fool I bin!" He glanced down at the stone
as he rubbed the imprint from the fleshy part of his hand. The rest of
the text caught his eye. "Blessed are the dead that die in the Lord!"
There was a catch in that of course. It wasn't blessed if you didn't
_die in the Lord_. "In the Lord" meant that you didn't do anything
Judas-like. He understood. The people who didn't die in the Lord
weren't blessed. They didn't go to heaven, whatever heaven was. They
went to _hell_. Heaven had never seemed very attractive to Billy
when he thought of it casually, and he had taken it generally for
granted that he being a boy was naturally destined for the other place.
In fact until he knew Lynn Severn he had always told himself calmly
that he _expected_ to go to hell sometime, it had seemed the manly
thing to do. Most men to his mind were preparing for hell. It seemed
the masculine place of final destiny, Heaven was for women. He had
ventured some of this philosophy on his aunt once in a particularly
strenuous time when she had told him that he couldn't expect the reward
of the righteous if he continued in his present ways, but she had been
so horrified, and wept so long and bitterly that he hadn't ever had the
nerve to try it again. And since Marilyn Severn had been his teacher he
had known days when he would almost be willing to go to heaven--for her
sake. He had also suspected, at times, that Mr. Severn was fully as
much of a man as Mark Carter, although Mark was _his own_, and if
Mark decided to go to hell Billy felt there could be no other destiny
But now, face to face with realities, Billy suddenly began to realize
what hell was going to be like. Billy felt hell surrounding him. Flames
could not beat the reproach that now flared him in the face and stung
him to the quick with his own sinfulness. He, Billy Gaston, Captain of
the Sabbath Valley Base Ball team, prospective Captain of the Sabbath
Valley Foot Ball team, champion runner, and high jumper, champion
swimmer and boxer of the boy's league of Monopoly County, friend and
often tolerated companion of Mark Carter the great, trusted favorite of
his beloved and saintly Sunday School teacher, was _in hell_! He
could never more hold up his head and walk proud of himself. He was in
hell at fourteen for life, and by his own act! And Gosh hang it! Hell
didn't look so attractive in the near vision stretching out that way
through life, and _then some_, as it had before he faced it. He'd
rather walk through fire somewhere and stand some chance of getting
done with it sometime. "Aw Gee! Gosh! Whatta fool I bin!"
And then he set himself to see just what he had done, while the high
walls of sin seemed to rise closer about him, and his face burned with
the heat of the pit into which he had put himself.
There was that guy Shafton--sissyman!--He had put him in the parsonage
along with his beloved teacher! If he only hadn't taken that ten
dollars or listened to that devil of a Pat, he wouldn't have put up
that detour and Shafton would have gone on his way. What difference if
he had got kidnapped? His folks wouldda bailed him out with their old
jewels and things. Whaddid anybody want of jewels for anyway? Just
nasty little bits of stone and glass! Mark had seen the guy there in
church. Mark didn't like it. He knew by the set of Mark's mouth. Of
course Mark went with Cherry sometimes, but then that was different!
Lynn was--well, Lynn was Miss Marilyn! That was all there was about it.
And if he hadn't put up that detour Mark would have gone home that
night before twelve and his mother would have known he was home, and
likely other people would have seen him, and been able to prove he
wasn't out shooting anybody, and then they wouldn't have told all those
awful things about him. Of course now Mark was safe, _of course,_
but then it wasn't good to have things like that said about Mark. It
was fierce to have a thing like that session meeting to remember! He
wanted to kill that old ferret of a Harricutt whenever he thought about
it. Then he would be a murderer, and be hanged, and he wouldn't care if
he did mebbe. _Aw Gee!_
A meadow lark suddenly pierced the sky with its wild sweet note high in
the air somewhere, and Billy wondered with a sick thud of his soul how
larks dared to sing in a world like this where one could upset a whole
circle of friends by a single little turn of finance that he hadn't
meant anything wrong by at all? The bees droned around the honeysuckle
that billowed over the little iron fence about a family burying lot,
and once Lynn Severn's laugh--not her regular laugh, but a kind of a
company polite one--echoed lightly across to his ears and his face
dropped into his hands. He almost groaned. Billy Gaston was at the
lowest ebb he had ever been in his young life, and his conscience, a
thing he hadn't suspected he had, and wouldn't have owned if he had,
had risen up within him to accuse him, and there seemed no way on earth
to get rid of it. A conscience wasn't a _manly_ thing according to
his code, yet here he was, he Billy Gaston, with a conscience!
It was ghastly!
Laurie Shafton had caught Lynn as she came down the stairs with a bit
of sewing in her hand to give Naomi a direction from her mother, and
had begged her to come out on the porch and talk to him. He pleaded
that he was lonesome, and that it was her duty as hostess to amuse him
for a while.
Lynn had no relish for talking with the guest. Her heart was too sore
to care to talk with any one. But her innate courtesy, and natural
gentleness finally yielded to his pleading, for Laurie had put on a
humility that was almost becoming, and made her seem really rude to
She made him sit down in the hammock at the far end, however, and
insisted on herself taking the little rocker quite near the front door.
She knew her father would soon be returning from some parish calls and
would relieve her, so she settled herself with the bit of linen she was
hemstitching and prepared to make the best of it.
"It's a shame my car is out of commission yet," began Laurie settling
back in the hammock and by some strange miracle refraining from
lighting a cigarette. It wouldn't have entered his head that Lynn would
have minded. He didn't know any girls objected to smoking. But this
girl interested him strangely. He wasn't at all sure but it was a case
of love at first sight. He had always been looking for that to happen
to him. He hoped it had. It would be such a delightful experience. He
had tried most of the other kinds.
"Yes, it is too bad for you to be held up in your journey this way,"
sympathized Lynn heartily, "but father says the blacksmith is going to
fix you up by to-morrow he hopes. Those bearings will likely come
"Oh, but it has been a dandy experience. I'm certainly glad it
happened. Think what I should have missed all my life, not knowing
He paused and looked soulfully at Lynn waiting for an appreciative
glance from her fully occupied eyes, but Lynn seemed to have missed the
"I should think you might have well afforded to lose the experience of
being held up in a dull little town that couldn't possibly be of the
slightest interest to you," she said dryly, with the obvious idea of
"Oh, but I think it is charming," he said lightly! "I hadn't an idea
there was such a place in the world as this. It's ideal, don't you
know, so secluded and absolutely restful. I'm having a dandy time, and
you people have been just wonderful to me. I think I shall come back
often if you'll let me."
"I can't imagine your enjoying it," said Lynn looking at him keenly,
"It must be so utterly apart from your customary life. It must seem
quite crude and almost uncivilized to you."
"That's just it, it's so charmingly quaint. I'm bored to death with
life as I'm used to it. I'm always seeking for a new sensation, and I
seem to have lighted on it here all unexpectedly. I certainly hope my
car will be fixed by morning. If it isn't I'll telegraph for my man and
have him bring down some bearings in one of the other cars and fix me
up. I'm determined to take you around a bit and have you show me the
country. I know it would be great under your guidance."
"Thank you," said Lynn coolly, "But I haven't much time for pleasuring
just now, and you will be wanting to go on your way--"
He flushed with annoyance. He was not accustomed to being baffled in
this way by any girl, but he had sense enough to know that only by
patience and humility could he win any notice from her.
"Oh, I shall want to linger a bit and let this doctor finish up this
ankle of mine. It isn't fair to go away to another doctor before I'm on
my feet again."
He thought she looked annoyed, but she did not answer.
"Did you ever ride in a racer?" he asked suddenly, "I'll teach you to
drive. Would you like that?"
"Thank you," she said pleasantly, "but that wouldn't be necessary, I
know how to drive."
He almost thought there was a twinkle of mischief in her eye:
"You know how to drive! But you haven't a car? Oh, I suppose that young
Carter taught you to drive his," he said with chagrin. He was growing
angry. He began to suspect her of playing with him. After all, even if
she was engaged to that chap, he had gone off with Opal quite willingly
it would appear. Why should he and she not have a little fling?
"No," said Marilyn, "Mr. Carter did not have a car until he went away
from Sabbath Valley. I learned while I was in college."
"Oh, you've been to college!" the young man sat up with interest, "I
thought there was something too sophisticated about you to have come
out of a place like this. You had a car while you were in college I
Lynn's eyes were dancing:
"Why didn't you say 'dump' like this? That's what your tone said," she
laughed, "and only a minute ago you were saying how charming it was.
No, I had no car in college, I was--" But he interrupted her eagerly:
"Now, you are misunderstanding me on purpose," he declared in a hurt
tone. "I think this is an ideal spot off in the hills this way, the
quaintest little Utopia in the world, but of course you know you
haven't the air of one who had never been out of the hills, and the
sweet sheltered atmosphere of this village. Tell me, when and where did
you drive a car, and I'll see if I can't give you one better for a joy
Lynn looked up placidly and smiled:
"In New York," she said quietly, "at the beginning of the war, and
afterward in France."
Laurie Shafton sat up excitedly, the color flushing into his handsome
"Were you in France?" he said admiringly, "Well, I might have known. I
saw there was something different about you. Y. M., I suppose?"
"No," said Lynn, "Salvation Army. My father has been a friend of the
Commander's all his life. She knew, that we believed in all their
principles. There were only a very few outsiders, those whom they knew
well, allowed to go with them. I was one."
"Well," said Laurie, eyeing her almost embarrassedly, "You girls made a
great name for yourselves with your doughnuts and your pies. The only
thing I had against you was that you didn't treat us officers always
the way we ought to have been treated. But I suppose there were
individual exceptions. I went into a hut one night and tried to get
some cigarettes and they wouldn't let me have any."
"No, we didn't sell cigarettes," said Lynn with satisfaction, "That
wasn't what we were there for. We had a few for the wounded and dying
who were used to them and needed them of course, but we didn't sell
"And then I tried to get some doughnuts and coffee, but would you
believe it, they wouldn't let me have any till all the fellows in line
had been served. They said I had to take my turn! They were quite
insulting about it! Of course they did good, but they ought to have
been made to understand that they couldn't treat United States Officers
"Why not? Were you any better than any of the soldiers?" she asked
eyeing him calmly, and somehow he seemed to feel smaller than his
normal estimate of himself.
"An _officer?_" he said with a contemptuous haughty light in his
"What is an officer but the servant of his men?" asked Lynn. "Would you
_want_ to eat before them when they had stood hours in line
waiting? They who had all the hard work and none of the honors?"
Laurie's cheeks were flushed and his eyes angry:
"That's rot!" he said rudely, "Where did you get it? The officers were
picked from the cream of the land. They represent the great Nation. An
insult to them is an insult to the Nation--!"
Lynn began to smile impudently--and her eyes were dancing again.
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Shafton, you must not forget I was there. I
knew both officers and men. I admit that some of the officers were
princely, fit men to represent a great Christian Nation, but some of
them again were well--the scum of the earth, rather than the cream. Mr.
Shafton it does not make a man better than his fellows to be an
officer, and it does not make him fit to be an officer just because his
father is able to buy him a commission."
Laurie flushed angrily again:
"My father did not buy me a commission!" he said indignantly, "I went
to a training camp and won it."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. Shafton, I meant nothing personal, but I
certainly had no use for an officer who came bustling in on those long
lines of weary soul-sick boys just back from the front, and perhaps off
again that night, and tried to get ahead of them in line. However,
let's talk of something else. Were you ever up around Dead Man's Curve?
What division were you in?"
Laurie let his anger die out and answered her questions. For a few
minutes they held quite an animated conversation about France and the
various phases of the war. Laurie had been in air service. One could
see just how handsome he must have looked in his uniform. One would
know also that he would be brave and reckless. It was written all over
his face and in his very attitude. He showed her his "croix de guerre."
"Mark was taken prisoner by the Germans," she said sadly as she handed
it back, her eyes dreamy and faraway, then suddenly seeming to realize
that she had spoken her thoughts aloud she flushed and hurried on to
other experiences during the war, but she talked abstractedly, as one
whose thoughts had suddenly been diverted. The young man watched her
"You seem so aloof," he said all at once watching her as she sewed away
on the bit of linen, "You seem almost as if you--well--_despised
me_. Excuse me if I say that it's a rather new experience. People in
my world don't act that way to me, really they don't. And you don't
even know who I am nor anything about me. Do you think that's quite
Lynn looked at him with suddenly arrested attention:
"I'm sorry," she said, "I didn't mean to be rude. But possibly you've
come to the heart of the matter. I am not of your world. You know
there's a great deal in not being able to get another's point of view.
I hope I haven't done you an injustice. I haven't meant to. But you're
wrong in saying I don't know who you are or anything about you. You are
the son of William J. Shafton--the only son, isn't that so? Then you
are the one I mean. There can't be any mistake. And I do know something
about you. In fact I've been very angry at you, and wished I might meet
you and tell you what I thought of you."
"You don't say!" said Laurie getting up excitedly and moving over to a
chair next to hers regardless of his lame ankle, "This certainly is
interesting! What the deuce have I been doing to get myself in your bad
graces? I better repent at once before I hear what it is?"
"You are the one who owns the block of warehouses down on ---- street and
won't sell at any price to give the little children in all that region
a place to get a bit of fresh air, the grass and a view of the sky. You
are the one who won't pull down your old buildings and try new and
improved ways of housing the poor around there so that they can grow up
decently clean and healthy and have a little chance in this world. Just
because you can't have as many apartments and get as much money from
your investment you let the little children crowd together in rooms
that aren't fit for the pigs to live in, they are so dark and airless,
and crowded already. Oh, I know you keep within the law! You just skin
through without breaking it, but you won't help a little bit, you won't
even let your property help if someone else is willing to take the
bother! Oh, I've been so boiling at you ever since I heard your name
that I couldn't hardly keep my tongue still, to think of that great
beautiful car out there and how much it must have cost, and to hear you
speak of one of your other cars as if you had millions of them, and to
think of little Carmela living down in the basement room of Number 18
in your block, growing whiter and whiter every day, with her great blue
eyes and her soft fine wavy hair, and that hungry eager look in her
face. And her mother, sewing, sewing, all day long at the little cellar
window, and going blind because you won't put in a bigger one; sewing
on coarse dark vests, putting in pockets and buttonholes for a living
for her and Carmela, and you grinding her down and running around in
cars like that and taking it out of little Carmela, and little
Carmela's mother! Oh! How can I help feeling aloof from a person like
Laurie sat up astonished watching her:
"Why, my dear girl!" he exclaimed, "Do you know what you're talking
about? Do you realize that it would take a mint of money to do all the
fool things that these silly reformers are always putting up to you? My
lawyer looks after all those matters. Of course I know nothing about
"Well, you _ought_ to know," said Lynn excitedly, "Does the money
belong to your lawyer? Isn't it yours to be responsible for? Well, then
if you are stealing some of it out of little Carmela and a lot of other
little children and their mothers and fathers oughtn't you to know? Is
your lawyer going to take the responsibility about it in the kingdom of
heaven I should like to know? Can he stand up in the judgment day and
exempt you by saying that he had to do the best he could for your
property because you required it of him? Excuse me for getting so
excited, but I love little Carmela. I went to see her a great deal last
winter when I was in New York taking my senior year at the University.
And I can't help telling you the truth about it. I don't suppose you'll
do anything about it, but at least you ought to know! And _I'm not
your dear girl, either!_"
Marilyn rose suddenly from her chair, and stood facing him with blazing
eyes and cheeks that were aflame. It was a revelation to the worldly
wise young man that a saint so sweet could blossom suddenly into a
beautiful and furious woman. It seemed unreal to find this wonderful,
unique, excitable young woman with ideas in such a quiet secluded spot
of the earth. Decidedly she had ideas.
"Excuse me," he said, and rose also, an almost deprecatory air upon
him, "I assure you I meant nothing out of the way, Miss Severn. I
certainly respect and honor you--And really, I had no idea of all this
about my property. I've never paid much heed to my property except to
spend the income of course. It wasn't required of me. I must look into
this matter. If I find it as you think--that is if there is no mistake,
I will see what I can do to remedy it. In any case we will look after
little Carmela. I'll settle some money on her mother, wouldn't that be
the best way? I can't think things are as bad as you say--"
"Will you really do something about it?" asked Lynn earnestly, "Will
you go up to New York and see for yourself? Will you go around in
_every room_ of your buildings and get acquainted with those
people and find out just what the conditions are?"
"Why--I--!" he began uncertainly.
"Oh, I thought you couldn't stand that test! That would be too much
bother--You would rather--!"
"No, Wait! I didn't say I wouldn't. Here! I'll go if you'll go with me
and show me what you mean and what you want done. Come. I'll take you
at your word. If you really want all those things come on and show me
just what to do. I'm game. I'll do it. I'll do it whether it needs
doing or not, _just for you_. Will you take me up?"
"Of course" said Lynn quickly, "I'll go with you and show you. I expect
to be in New York next month helping at the Salvation Home while one of
their workers is away on her vacation. I'll show you all over the
district as many times as you need to go, if it's not too hot for you
to come back to the city so early."
He looked at her sharply. There was a covert sneer in her last words
that angered him, and he was half inclined to refuse the whole thing,
but somehow there was something in this strange new type of girl that
fascinated him. Now that she had the university, and the war, and the
world, for a background she puzzled and fascinated him more than ever.
Half surprised at his own interest he bowed with a new kind of dignity
over his habitual light manner:
"I shall be delighted, Miss Severn. It will not be too hot for me if it
is not too hot for you. I shall be at your service, and I hope you will
discover that there is one officer who knows how to obey."
She looked at him half surprised, half troubled and then answered
"Thank you. I'm afraid I've done you an injustice. I'm afraid I didn't
think you would be game enough to do it. I hope I haven't been too
rude. But you see I feel deeply about it and sometimes I forget
"I am sure I deserve all you have said," said Laurie as gravely as his
light nature could manage, "but there is one thing that puzzles me
deeply. I wish you would enlighten me. All this won't do _you_ any
good. It isn't for _you_ at all. _Why_ do you care?"
Marilyn brought her lovely eyes to dwell on his face for a moment
thoughtfully, a shy beautiful tenderness softening every line of her
eager young face:
"It's because--" she began diffidently, "It's because they all are
God's children--and I love _Him_ better than anything else in
The swift color made her face lovely as she spoke, and with the words
she turned away and went quickly into the house. The young man looked
after her and dared not follow. He had never had a shock like that in
his life. Girls had talked about everything under heaven to him at one
time or another, but they had never mentioned God except profanely.
Marilyn went swiftly up to her room and knelt down by her bed, burying
her hot cheeks in the cool pillow and trying to pray. She was glad,
glad that she had spoken for her poor city children, glad that there
was a prospect or help perhaps; but beside and beyond it all her heart
was crying out for another matter that was namelessly tugging away at
the very foundations of her soul. Why, Oh _Why_ had Mark gone away
with that queer girl? He must have seen what she was! He must have
known that it was unnecessary! He must have known how it would hurt his
friends, and that the man she came to see could have gone as well as he
and better. Why did he go? She would not, she could not believe
anything wrong of Mark. Yet _why did he go_?
Billy had no appetite for the nice supper that Aunt Saxon had ready
when he came dejectedly home that night. He had passed the parsonage
and seen through the dining-room window that the rich guy was sitting
at the supper table opposite Marilyn laughing and talking with her and
his soul was sick within him. That was his doing! Nobody else but
himself to blame!
Aunt Saxon had apple dumplings with plenty of "goo," black with
cinnamon just the way he loved it, but he only minced at the first
helping and scarcely tasted the second. He chopped a great many
kindling after supper, and filled the woodbox, and thoughtfully wound
the clock. Then instead of going out with his usual "I gotta beat it!"
he sat languidly on the doorstep in the dusk, and when she anxiously
questioned if he were sick he said crossly:
"Aw, Gee! Can't ya let a fella _alone_! I'm all in, can't ya
_see_ it? I'm gonta _bed_!" and knowing he had said the most
alarming thing in the whole category he slammed upstairs to his own
room and flung himself across his bed.
Aunt Saxon filled with vague fears crept softly up after him, tapping
at his locked door:
"Willie, what is the matter? Just tell auntie where the pain is and
I'll get you some medicine that will fix you all up by morning. I'll
get you a hot water bag--!"
"DON'T WANT NO HOT WATER BAGS!" roared the sore hearted Billy. "Can't
ya lemme _alone_?"
Silence a moment while Aunt Saxon pondered tearfully and sighfully,
"Willie, is it the tooth ache?"
"NoooOH!" roared Billy.
A pause, then:
"Billy, you've had a fall off that wheel and hurt yer head or cut yer
knee, I know, I've always thought you'd do that, that old wheel! You
oughtta have a new one. But I'll bring the arnica and bathe it. And
we'll paint it with iodine--where was it Willie? Yer knee?"
Billy's shoes came to the floor with a bang:
"Aw gee! Can't ya keep yer mouth shut an' let a fella have a little
sleep. It ain't _Nowhere_! It ain't _Nothin'_ an' I didn't
have no fall an' I don't want no new bicycle. D'ye hear? I don't want
nothin' 'cept just to be let alone. I wantta go ta sleep. Ain't I ben
tellin' ya fer the last half hour? It ain't _sinful_ fer a fella
to wantta take a little sleep is it when he's been up half the night
before taking care of a fella on the mountain?--But if I ain't allowed,
why then I'll get up an' go out somewheres. I know plenty of places
where they'll lemme sleep--"
"Oh _Wil-lee_!" sobbed Aunt Saxon. "That's all right dear! Just
you lie right down in your bed and take a good sleep. I didn't
understand. Auntie didn't understand. All right Willie. I'll keep it
real still. Now you lie down won't you? You will won't you? You'll
really lie down and sleep won't you Willie?"
"Didn't I say I would?" snapped Willie shamedly, and subsided on his
bed again while Aunt Saxon stole painfully, noiselessly over the creak
in the stair, closed the house for the night and crept tearfully to her
own bed, where she lay for hours silently wiping the steady trickle of
hopeless tears. Oh, Willie, Willie! And she had had such hopes!
But Billy lay staring wide eyed at the open square of his window that
showed the little village nestling among the trees dotted here and
there with friendly winking lights, the great looming mountains in the
distance, and Stark mountain, farthest and blackest of them all. He
shut his eyes and tried to blot it out, but it seemed to loom through
his very eyelids and mock him. He seemed to see Mark, his idol, carried
between those other three dark figures into the blackness of that
haunted house. He seemed to see him lying helpless, bound, on the musty
bed in the deserted room, Mark, his beloved Mark. Mark who had carried
him on his shoulder as a tiny child, who had ridden him on his back,
and taught him to swim and pitch ball and box, Mark who let him go
where even the big boys were not allowed to accompany him, and who
never told on him nor treated him mean nor went back on him in any way!
Mark! _He_ had been the means of putting Mark in that helpless
position, while circumstances which he was now quite sure the devil had
been specially preparing, wove a tangled maze about the young man's
feet from which there seemed no way of extrication.
Billy shut his eyes and tried to sleep but sleep would not come. He
began to doubt if he would ever sleep again. He lay listening to the
evening noises of the village. He heard Jim Rafferty's voice going by
to the night shift, and Tom McMertrie. They were laughing softly and
once he thought he heard the name "Old Hair-Cut." The Tully baby across
the street had colic and cried like murder. Murder! _Murder!_ Now
why did he have to think of that word of all words? Murder? Well, it
was crying like it wanted to murder somebody. He wished he was a baby
himself so he could cry. He'd cry harder'n that. Little's dog was
barking again. He'd been barking all day long. It was probably at that
strange guy at the parsonage. Little's dog never did like strangers.
That creak was Barneses gate with the iron weight hitched on the chain
to make it shut, and somebody laughed away up the street! There went
the clock, nine o'clock! Gee! Was that all? He thought it must be about
three in the morning! And then he must have dozed off for a little, for
when he woke with a start it was very still and dark, as if the moon
had gone away, had been and gone again, and he heard a cautious little
mouse gnawing at the baseboard in his room, gnawing and stopping and
gnawing again, then whisking over the lath like fingers running a scale
on the piano. He had watched Miss Lynn do it once on the organ.
He opened his eyes and looked hard at the window. The dim outline of
Stark mountain off in the distance began to grow into form, and what
was that? A speck of light? It must be his eyes. He rubbed them
sleepily and looked again. Yes, a light. Alert at once with the
alertness that comes to all boys at the sound of a fire bell or some
such alarm, he slid from his bed noiselessly and stole to the window.
It was gone! Aw, Gee! He had been asleep and dreamed it. No, there it
was again, or was it?
Blackness all before his eyes, with a luminous sky dimly about the
irregular mountain top fringed with trees. This was foolish. He felt
chilly and crept back to bed, but could not keep his eyes from the dark
spot against the sky. He tried to close the lids and go to sleep, but
they insisted on flying open and watching. And then came what he had
been watching for. Three winks, and stop, three winks, stop, and one
long flash. Then all was dark. And though he watched till the church
clock struck three he saw no more.
But the old torment came back. Mark and Cherry and Lynn. The guy at the
parsonage and the girl with the floured face and base ball bats in her
ears! Aw Gee! He must have a fever! It was hours since the clock had
struck three. It must be nearly four, and then it would soon be light
and he could get up. There seemed to be a light somewhere down the
street through the trees. Not the street lamp either. Somebody sick
likely. Hark! What was that? He wished he hadn't undressed. He sat up
in bed and listened. The purr of a car! Someone was stealing Mark's
car! Mark was away and everybody knew it. Nobody in Sabbath Valley
would steal, except, perhaps over at the plush mill. There were new
people there--Was that Mark's car? _Some car_!
With a motion like a cat he sprang into the necessary garment which
nestled limply on the floor by the bed, and was at the window in a
trice. A drop like a cat to the shed roof, down the rainwater spout to
the ground, a stealthy step to the back shed where old trusty leaned,
and he was away down the road a speck in the dark, and just in time to
see the dim black vision of a car speeding with muffled engine down the
road toward the church. It was too dark to say it was Mark's car. He
had no way but to follow.
Panting and puffing, pedalling with all his might, straining his eyes
to see through the dark the car that was flying along without lights,
his hair sticking endwise, his sleepy hungry face peering wanly through
the dark, he plodded after. Over the Highway! He slowed down and wasn't
quite sure till he heard the chug of the engine ahead, and a few
seconds later a red light bloomed out behind and he drew a new breath
and pedalled on again, his heart throbbing wildly, the collar of his
pajamas sticking up wildly like his hair, and one pajama leg showing
whitely below his trouser like a tattered banner. The pedals cut his
bare feet, and he shivered though he was drenched with perspiration,
but he leaned far over his handle bars and pedalled on.
Down past the Blue Duck Tavern, and on into the village of Economy the
car went, not rapidly now as though it were running away, but slower,
and steadier like a car on legitimate business and gravely with a
necessary object in view. Billy's heart began to quake. Not for nothing
had he learned to read by signs and actions at the feet of the master
Mark. An inner well-developed sense began to tell him the truth.
The car stopped in front of the Chief's house, and a horn sounded
softly once. Billy dismounted hastily and vanished into the shadows. A
light appeared in the upper window of the house and all was still.
Presently the light upstairs went out, the front door opened showing a
dimmer light farther in, and showing the outline of the Chief in
flannel shirt and trousers. He came down the walk and spoke with the
man in the car, and the car started again and turned in at the Chief's
drive way, going back to the garage.
Billy left his wheel against a hedge and hiked noiselessly after,
slinking behind the garage door till the driver came out. _It was
He went down the drive, met the Chief at the gate and they went
silently down the dark street, their rubber heels making no noise on
the pavement. Economy was asleep and no wiser, but Billy's heart was
breaking. He watched the two and followed afar till they turned down
the side street which he feared. He stole after and saw them enter the
brick building that harbored the County Jail. He waited with shaking
limbs and bleeding heart, waited, hoping, fearing, dreading, but not
for long. The Chief came out alone! It was as he had feared.
Then as if the very devil himself pursued him, Billy turned and fled,
retrieving his bicycle and whirled away noiselessly down the road,
caring not where he was going, ready to hang himself, wild with despair
The dark lay over the valley like a velvet mantel black and soft with
white wreaths of mist like a lady's veil flung aside and blown to the
breeze, but Billy saw naught but red winking lights and a jail, grim
and red in the midnight, and his friend's white face passing in beneath
the arched door. The bang of that door as it shut was echoing in his
He passed the Fenner cottage. There were lights and moving about, but
he paid no heed. He passed the Blue Duck Tavern, and saw the light in
the kitchen where the cook was beginning the day's work just as the
rest of the house had been given over to sleep. There was the smell of
bacon on the air. Some one was going away on the milk train likely. He
thought it out dully as he passed with the sick reeling motion of a
rider whose life has suddenly grown worthless to him. Over bottles and
nails, and bumping over humps old trusty carried him, down the hill to
Sabbath Valley, past the grave yard where the old stones peered eerily
up from the dark mounds like wakened curious sleepers, past the church
in the gray of the morning with a pinkness in the sky behind. Lynn
lying in a sleepless bed listening to every sound for Mark's car to
return, and recognizing Billy's back wheel squeak. On down the familiar
street, glad of the thick maples to hide him, hunching up the pajama
leg that would wave below in the rapidly increasing light, not looking
toward the Carters', plodding on, old trusty on the back porch;
shinning up the water spout, tiptoeing over the shed roof, a quick
spring in his own window and he was safe on his bed again staring at
the red morning light shining weirdly, cheerily on his wall and the
rooster crowing lustily below his window. Drat that rooster! What did
it want to make that noise for? Wasn't there a rooster in that Bible
story? Oh, no, that was Peter perhaps. He turned hastily from the
subject and gave his attention to his toilet. Aunt Saxon was squeaking
past his door, stopping to listen:
"Well." In a low growl, not encouragingly.
"Oh, Willie, you up? You better?"
"Nothin' the matter with me."
"Oh, yes, Willie! I'm so glad you're feeling better." She squeaked on
down the stairs sniffing as if from recent tears! Doggone those tears!
Those everlasting tears! Why didn't a woman know--! Now, what did he
have to do next? Do! Yes, he must do something. He couldn't just sit
here, could he? What about Stark's mountain and the winking light? What
about that sissy-guy making up to Miss Lynn? If only Mark were here now
he would tell him everything. Yes, he would. Mark would understand. But
Mark was in that unspeakable place! Would Mark find a way to get out?
He felt convinced he could, but would he? From the set of his shoulders
Billy had a strong conviction that Mark would not. Mark seemed to be
going there for a purpose. Would the purpose be complete during the day
sometime and would Mark return? Billy must do something before night.
He wished it might be to smash the face of that guy Shafton. Assuredly
he must do something. But first he must eat his breakfast. He didn't
want to, but he had to. Aunt Saxon would raise a riot if he didn't.
Well, there was ham. He could smell it. Ham for breakfast. Aw gee! Saxy
was getting extravagant. Somehow pretty soon if he didn't hang himself
he must find a way to brighten up Saxy and pay her back for all those
And over on Stark's mountain as the morning dawned a heavy foot climbed
the haunted stairs and a blood shot eye framed itself at the little
half moon in the front window that looked out over Lone Valley toward
Economy, and down over Sabbath Valley toward Monopoly commanding a
strategic position in the whole wild lovely region.
Down in the cellar where the rats had hitherto held sway a soft chip,
chip, chipping sound went steadily forward hour by hour, with spaces
between and chip, chip, shipping again, a new kind of rat burrowing
into the earth, over close to the edge of the long deserted scanty coal
pile. While up under the dusty beams in a dark corner various old
parcels were stowed away awaiting a later burial. From the peep hole
where the eye commanded the situation a small black speck went whirling
along the road to Monopoly which might be a boy on a bicycle, but no
one came toward Stark's mountain on that bright sunny morning to
disturb the quiet worker in the dark cellar.
Billy was on his way to Monopoly, his aunt appeased for the time being,
with the distinct purpose of buying the morning paper. Not that he was
given to literature, or perused the dairy news as a habit, but an idea
had struck him. There might be a way of finding out about Mark without
letting any one know how he was finding out. It might be in the paper.
Down at Monopoly no one would notice if he bought a County paper, and
he could stop in the woods and read it.
But when he reached the news stand he saw a pile of New York papers
lying right in front, and the great black headlines caught his eye:
"FATE OF LAURENCE SHAFTON STILL UNKNOWN."
"Son of multimillionaire of New York City who was kidnapped on Saturday
night on his way from New York to a week-end house party at Beechwood,
N. J., not yet heard from. No clew to his whereabouts. Detectives out
with bloodhounds searching country. Mother in a state of collapse. It
is feared the bandits have fulfilled their threats and killed him.
Father frantically offering any reward for news of son!"
Billy read no further. He clapped down a nickel and stuffed the paper
indifferently into his pocket, almost forgetting in his disgust to
purchase the county news. "Aw Gee!" he said to himself. "More o' that
Judas stuff. I gotta get rid o' them thirty pieces!"
He stepped back and bought a County paper, stood idly looking over its
pages a moment with the letters swimming before his eyes, at last
discovering the column where the Economy "murder" was discussed, and
without reading it stuffed it in the pocket on the other side and rode
away into the sunlight. Murder! It was called murder! Then Dolph must
be dead! The plot thickened! Dead! Murder! Who killed him? Surely he
wasn't responsible for that at least! He was out on the road with Mark
when it happened. He hadn't done anything which in the remotest way had
to do with the killing, he thanked his lucky stars for that. And Mark.
But who did it? Cherry? She might be a reason for what Mark did last
At a turn in the road where a little grove began he got off his wheel
and seeking a sheltered spot dropped down under a tree to read his
papers. His quick eye searched through the County paper first for the
sensational account of the murder, and a gray look settled over his pug
countenance as he read. So might a mother have regarded her child in
deep trouble, or a lover his beloved. Billy's spirit was bowed to the
depths. When he had devoured every word he flung the paper aside
wrathfully, and sat up with a kind of hopeless gesture of his hard
young hands. "Aw Gee!" he said aloud, and suddenly he felt a great wet
blob rolling down his freckled cheek. He smashed it across into his
hair with a quick slash of his dirty hand as if it had been a mosquito
annoying him, and lest the other eye might be meditating a like trick
he gave that a vicious dab and hauled out the other paper, more as a
matter of form than because he had a deep interest in it. All through
the description of those wonderful Shafton jewels, and the mystery that
surrounded the disappearance of the popular young man, Billy could see
the word "murder" dancing like little black devils in and out among the
letters. The paragraph about Mrs. Shafton's collapse held him briefly:
"Aw, gee!" he could see pink tears everywhere. He supposed he ought to
do something about that. For all the world like Aunt Saxon! He seemed
to sense her youth through the printed words as he had once sensed Mrs.
Carter's. He saw her back in school, pretty and little. Rich women were
always pretty and little to his mind, pretty and little and helpless
and always crying. It was then that the thought was born that made him
look off to the hills and ponder with drawn brows and anxious mien. He
took it back to his home with him and sat moodily staring at the lilac
bushes, and gave Aunt Saxon another bad day wondering what had come to
Willie. She would actually have been glad to hear him say: "I gotta
beat it! I gotta date with tha fellas!"
That evening the rumor crept back to Sabbath Valley from who knows
where that Dolph was dead and Mark Carter had run away!
Tuesday morning Lynn slipped down to Carters with a little cake she had
made all white frosting and sprinkles of nuts. Her face was white but
brave with a smile, and she said her mother wanted to know how Mrs.
Carter's neuralgia was getting on.
But Mrs. Carter was the only one in the village perhaps who had not
heard the rumor, and she was gracious and pleased and said she wished
Mark was home, he loved nut cake so much.
"You know he was called back to New York suddenly last night didn't
you?" she said. "He felt real sorry to leave so soon, but his partner
wired him there was something he must see to himself, and he just took
his car and went right away as soon as he got back from taking that
girl home. He hoped he'd get back again soon though. Say, who was that
girl? Wasn't she kind of queer to ask Mark to take her home? Seems
somehow girls are getting a little forward these days. I know you'd
never do a thing like that with a perfect stranger, Marilyn."
The girl only stayed a few minutes, and went home with a braver heart.
At least Mark was protecting his mother. He had not changed entirely.
He wouldn't let her suffer! But what was he doing? Oughtn't he to be
told what rumors were going around about him? But how could it be done?
Her father? Perhaps. She shrank from that, Mark had so withdrawn from
them, he might take it as an interference. Billy? Ah, yes, Billy!
But Billy did not appear anywhere, and when she got back she found that
Shafton's car had been finished and was ready to drive, and he wanted
her to take a little spin with him to try it, he said. He warily
invited her mother to go along, for he saw by her face that she was
going to decline, and the mother watching her daughter's white face
said: "Yes, Marilyn we will go. It will do you good. You have been
housed up here ever since you came home." And there was nothing for the
girl to do but succumb or seem exceedingly rude. She was not by nature
rude, so she went.
As they drove by the Saxon cottage Billy was just coming out, and he
stared glumly at the three and hardly acknowledged Marilyn's greeting.
He stared after them scowling.
"Hell!" said Billy aloud, regardless of Aunt Saxon at the front window,
"Yes _Hell_!" and he realized the meaning of his epithet far
better than the young man he was staring after had the first night he
had used it in Sabbath Valley.
"What was that you said Willie?" called Aunt Saxon's anxious voice.
"Aw, nothing!" said Billy, and slammed out the gate, his wheel by his
side. _Now_! Something had to be done. He couldn't have
_that_ going on. He was hurt at Mrs. Severn. She ought to take
better care of her daughter! In sullen despair he mounted and rode away
to work out his problem. It was certain he couldn't do anything with
Saxy snivelling round. And _something had to be done!_
Billy managed to get around the country quite a little that morning. He
rode up to Economy and learned that Mr. Fenner, the tailor, was sick,
had been taken two nights ago, was delirious and had to have two men to
hold him down. He thought everybody was an enemy and tried to choke
them all. He rode past the jail but saw nothing though he circled the
block three times. The Chief stood out in front talking with three
strange men. Billy sized them up for detectives. When there was nothing
further to be gained in Economy he turned his steed toward Pleasant
Valley and took in a little underground telephone communication between
a very badly scared Pat and a very angry Sam at some unknown point at
the end of the wire. It was then, lying hidden in the thick
undergrowth, that a possible solution of his difficulties occurred to
him, a form of noble self sacrifice that might in part do penance for
his guilt. Folded safely in his inner pocket was the thirty pieces of
silver, the blood money, the price of Mark Carter's freedom and good
name. If he had not taken that he might have fixd this Pat so he would
be a witness to Mark's alibi. But according to the code he had been
taught it would not be honorable to squeal on somebody whose money he
had taken. It wasn't square. It wasn't honorable. It was yella, and
yella, he would not be if the sky fell. It was all the religion he had
as yet, not to be "yella." It stood for all the fineness of his soul.
But he had reasoned within himself that if in some way he could get
that money back to Pat, then he would be free from obligation. Then he
could somehow manage to put Pat where he would have to tell the right
thing to save Mark. Just how it could be done he wasn't sure, but that
was another question.
When Pat had trundled away to the train he rolled himself out from
ambush and went on his way across Lone Valley by a little tree-shaded
path he knew that cut straight over to Stark mountain.
Not a ripple of a leaf showed above him as he passed straight up the
mountain to the old house, for the watchful eye looking out to see.
Billy was a great deal like an Indian in his goings and comings, and
Billy was wary. Had he not seen the winking light? Billy was taking no
chances. Smoothly folded in his hip pocket he carried a leaf of the New
York paper wherein was offered a large reward for information
concerning jewels and bonds and other property taken from the Shafton
country home on pretense of setting free the son. Also there was a
stupendous reward offered for information concerning the son, and
Billy's big thought as he crept along under the trees with all the
stealth of a wild thing, was that here was another thirty pieces of
silver multiplied many times, and _he wasn't going to take it!_ He
_could, but he wouldn't!_ He was going to give these folks the
information they wanted, but he wasn't going to get the benefit of it.
That was going to be his punishment. He had been in hell long enough,
and he was going to try to pull himself out of it by his good works.
And he would do it in such a way that there wouldn't be any chance of
the reward being pressed upon him. He would just fix it so that nobody
would particularly know he had anything to do with the clews. That was
Billy all over. He never did a thing half way. But first he must find
out if there was anybody about the old house. He couldn't get away from
those three winks he had seen.
So, feeling almost relieved for a moment Billy left his wheel on guard
and crept around to his usual approach at the back before he came out
in the open. And then he crept cautiously to the cellar window where he
had first entered the house. He gripped Pat's old gun with one hand in
his pocket, and slid along like a young snake, taking precaution not to
appear before the cellar window lest his shadow should fall inside. He
flattened himself at last upon the grass a noticeless heap of gray
khaki trousers and brown flannel shirt close against the house. One
would have to lean far out of a window to see him, and there he lay and
listened awhile. And presently from the depths beyond that grated
window he heard a little scratch, scratch, scratch, tap, tap, tap,
scratch, tap, scratch, tap, steadily, on for sometime like his heart
beats, till he wasn't sure he was hearing it at all, and thought it
might be the blood pounding through his ears, so strange and uncanny it
seemed. Then, all at once there came a puff, as if a long breath had
been drawn, like one lifting a heavy weight, and then a dull thud. A
brief silence and more scratching in soft earth now.
He listened for perhaps an hour, and once a footstep grated on the
cement floor, and coals rattled down as if they were disturbed. Once
too a soft chirrup from up above like the call of a wood bird, only
strangely human and the sounds in the cellar ceased altogether, till
another weird note sounded and they began again.
When he was satisfied with his investigations he began slowly to back
away from his position, lifting each atom of muscle slowly one at a
time till his going must have been something like the motion picture of
a bud unfolding, and yet as silent as the flower grows he faded away
from that cellar window back into the green and no one was the wiser.
An hour later the watchful eye at the little half moon opening in the
shutter might have seen a little black speck like a spider whizzing
along on the Highroad and turning down toward Sabbath Valley, but it
never would have looked as if it came from Stark mountain, for it was
headed straight from Lone Valley. Billy was going home to get cleaned
up and make a visit to the parsonage. If that guy was still there he'd
see how quick he would leave! If there wasn't one way to make him go
there was another, and Billy felt that he held the trick.
But as fate would have it Billy did not have to get cleaned up, for
Miss Severn stood on the front porch looking off toward the mountains
with that wistful expression of hers that made him want to laugh and
cry and run errands for her anywhere just to serve her and make her
smile, and she waved her hand at Billy, and ran down to the gate to
speak to him.
"Billy, I want to ask you,--If you were to see Mark Carter--of course
you mightn't, but then you might--you'll let him know that we are of
course his friends, and that anything he wants done, if he'll just let
"Sure!" said Billy lighting off his wheel with a downward glance at his
dirty self, all leaves and dust and grime, "Sure, he'd know that
"Well, Billy, I know he would, but I mean, I thought perhaps you might
find something we _could do_,--something maybe without letting him
know. He's very proud about asking any help you, know, and he wouldn't
want to bother us. You may discover something he--needs--or wants
done--while--he is away--and maybe we could help him out, Father or
Mother or I. You'll remember, won't you Billy?"
"Sure!" said Billy again feeling the warm glow of her friendliness and
loyalty to Mark, and digging his toes into the turf embarrassedly. Then
he looked up casually as he was about to leave:
"Say is there a guy here named Shafton? Man from n'Yark?"
"Why, yes," said Lynn looking at him curiously, "Did you want to see
"Well, if he's round I might. I got a message for him."
She looked at him keenly:
"You haven't _seen_ Mark to-day, have you, Billy?"
"Aw, naw,'taint from him," he grinned reassuringly, "He's away just
now. But I might see him soon ya know, ur hear from him."
Lynn's face cleared. "Yes, of course. His mother told me he was
suddenly called back to New York."
"Yep. That's right!" said Billy as if he knew all about it, and pulled
off his old cap with a glorious wave as she turned to call the
Billy dropped his wheel at the curb and approached the steps as he saw
Shafton coming slowly out leaning on a cane. He rustled the folded
newspaper out from his pocket with one hand and shook it open as only a
boy's sleight of hand can do, wafting it in front of the astonished
Laurie, and saying with an impudent swag,
"Say, z'your name Shafton? Well, _see that?_ Why don't you beat it
home? Your ma is about t'croke, an' yer dad has put up about all his
dough, an' you better rustle back to where you come from an' tell 'em
not to b'leeve all the bunk that's handed out to 'em! Good night! They
must need a nurse!"
Laurie paused in the act of lighting one of his interminable cigarettes
with which he supplied the lack of a stronger stimulant, and stared at
the boy curiously, then stared at the paper he held in his hand with
the flaring headlines, and reaching out his hand for it began to laugh:
"Well, upon my word, Kid, where'd you get this? If that isn't a joke! I
wonder if Opal's seen it. Miss Severn, come here! See what a joke! I'm
kidnapped! Did you ever hear the like? Look at the flowery sentences.
It's almost like reading one's own obituary, isn't it?"
Marilyn, glancing over his shoulder at the headlines, took in the
import of it instantly. "I should think you'd want to telephone your
mother at once. How she must have suffered!" she said.
Laurie somewhat sobered agreed that it would be a good idea:
"The mater's a good old scout," he said lightly, "She's always helping
me out of scrapes, but this is one too many to give up her emeralds,
the Shafton Emeralds! Gosh but dad will be mad about them! And Oh, say,
call that boy back will you? I want to give him a dollar!"
But Billy had faded down the road with mortal indignation in his
breast. To think of giving up a ten thousand dollar reward and having a
dollar flung at you! It seemed to measure the very depth of the shame
to which he had descended.
The Severns came a few paces out of their indifference to this
self-imposed guest and gathered around the sheet of newspaper
while Laurie held an intensive conversation with his family beginning
with several servants who were too excited at first to identify his
But at last he hung up the receiver and turned toward them:
"Well, I guess there's nothing for it but for me to pull out. The mater
doesn't think she'll be satisfied till she has her hands on me. Besides
I've got to get things started about those jewels. Dad and mother are
too excited to know what they're about. I declare, it's like being dead
and seeing how they feel about it."
There was a boyish eager look about the young man's face that made him
for the first time seem rather loveable, Mrs. Severn thought. The
mother in her rose to appreciation. Lynn was so glad that he was going
away that she was almost friendly during lunch. And when the young man
was about to depart he went to Mr. Severn's study and wrote a check for
five hundred dollars:
"Just in appreciation of your kindness," he said as he held it out to
The minister looked amused but did not offer to take it:
"That's all right," he said pleasantly, "We don't keep boarders you
know. You were welcome to what we could give you."
"But, my dear sir, I couldn't think of not remunerating you," declared
"And I couldn't think of taking it," smiled the minister.
"Well, then take it for your poor people," he insisted.
"From what Lynn tells me you have more of those than we have," answered
The young man looked annoyed:
"Well, then take it for something for your church, another bell or
something, anything you're interested in."
"I can give you an address of a young missionary out West who is having
a hard time of it, and has a very needy parish," said the minister
taking out his fountain pen and writing the address on a card, "but I
should prefer that you would send it to him yourself. He wouldn't take
it from me, but if you'd send it he'll write and tell you what he does
with it, and he'll tell me too, so it will give pleasure all around.
He's a game young chap, and he's given his life. You couldn't help but
Laurie had to be content with this, though he felt annoyed at having to
write a letter to a missionary. He felt he shouldn't know how to
"I'll send it to-night when I get home," he declared, "or no, I'll send
it now," and he sat down at the minister's desk, and scribbled a note.
It read: "Your friend Severn won't take anything himself for kindness
to me, so he's letting me send you this for your work. Here's wishing
you good luck." This he signed and handed to the minister with a
relieved air as if to say: "There! That's that!"
"You see," said Laurie getting up and taking his hat again, "I want to
come back here again and see your daughter. I may as well tell you I'm
crazy about your daughter."
"I see," said the minister gravely, albeit with a twinkle in his eye,
"The fact is I'm somewhat crazy about her myself. But in all kindness I
may as well tell you that you'll be wasting your time. She isn't your
kind you know."
"Oh, well," said Laurie with an assured shrug, "That's all right if I
don't mind, isn't it?"
"Well, no," said the minister smiling broadly now, "You forget that she
might mind, you know."
"I don't get you," said Laurie looking puzzled as he fitted on his
immaculate driving glove, "She might mind, what do you mean?"
"I mean that my daughter minds very much indeed whether her men friends
ask in a certain tone of voice for something to _drink_ at
midnight, and use language such as you used when you first arrived
here, smoke continual cigarettes, and have friends like the young woman
who visited you last Sunday."
"Oh! I see!" laughed Laurie thoroughly amused, "Well, after all, one
doesn't have to keep on doing all those things you know--if it were
worth one's while to change them."
"I'm afraid," said the minister still amused, "that it would have to be
worth your while to change before she would even consider you as a
possibility. She happens to have a few ideas about what it takes to
make a man, her ideal man, you know."
Laurie smiled gaily:
"Perhaps I can change those ideas."
"Help yourself young man. You'll find it a task, I assure you."
"Well, I'm coming back, anyway."
"We shall welcome you," said the minister politely, but not at all
gladly, and Laurie departed without his usual complacency, assuring the
minister that he had found Sabbath Valley the garden spot of the world
and meant to return soon and often.
Billy watched him from the graveyard enclosure whither he had retired
to write a letter, and he made a face and wasted a gesture of defiance
after his departing car. So much Billy felt he had accomplished toward
reparation. He was now attempting a third act.
On the smooth end of the old stone he had a newspaper spread, and upon
that a sheet of letter paper which he had extracted from Aunt Saxon's
ancient box in the old secretary in the corner of the kitchen. Kneeling
beside the stone he carefully inscribed the following words:
"Yoors to cummand,
He folded the paper with his smudgy fingers, and stuffed it into a
soiled envelope on which he wrote Mark's name, and as he had seen Lynn
write down in the corner of a note that he had taken to Monopoly for
her, "Kindness of Billy," so he wrote "Kindnus of Cheef." Then he
mounted his wheel and rode to Economy. After some apparently aimless
riding he brought up at the back of the Chief's garage where he applied
a canny eye to a crack and ascertained just how many and what cars were
inside. He then rode straight to the bank where he was pretty sure the
Chief would be standing near the steps at this hour. Waiting a time of
leisure he handed him the envelope:
"Say, Chief, c'n I trouble you to d'liver that?"
The Chief looked at the envelope and then at Billy and opened his lips
to speak, but Billy forestalled him:
"I know you don't know where he is at all now, Chief, o' course, but I
just thought you might happen to meet up with him sometime soon. That's
all right, Chief. Thank ya." Billy ended with a knowing wink.
The Chief turned the envelope over, noted that it was unsealed, grinned
back and put it in his pocket. They had been good friends, these two,
for several years, ever since Billy had been caught bearing the penalty
for another boy's misdemeanor.
"That's all right Billy," said the Chief affably, "I won't forget it--
if I see him! Seen anything more of those automobile thieves?"
"Nope," said Billy sadly, "but I gotta line on 'em. 'f'I find anythin'
more I'll callyaup!"
"Do!" said the Chief cordially, and the interview was closed.
Billy bought some cakes at the bakery with ten cents he had earned
running an errand from the grocery that morning, and departed on
important business. He had definitely decided to give up his thirty
pieces of silver. No more blood money for him. His world was upside
down and all he loved were suffering, and all because he had been
mercenary. The only way to put things right was to get rid of any gain
that might accrue to himself. Then he would be in a position to do
something. And Pat was his first object now. He meant to give back the
money to Pat! He had thought it all out, and he meant to waste no time
in getting things straight.
He went to the Economy post office and on the back of a circular that
he found in the waste basket he wrote another note:
"Pat. This is blood money an' I can't kep it. I didunt no when I
undertuk the job wot kind of a job it was. Thers only one way fur yoo
to kep yur hid saf, an that is to tel the trooth abot wot hapuned. If
yoo ar wiling to tel the trooth put a leter heer sayin so. If yoo don't
I am havin' you watshed an you will los yoor job an likely be hanged.
We are arumd so be keerful. This aint yella. This is rite.
It was a long job and he was tired when it was finished, for his days
at school had been full of so many other things besides lessons that
literary efforts were always strenuous for him. When he had finished he
went out and carried three parcels for the meat market, receiving in
return thirty cents, which exactly made up the sum he had spent from
his tainted money. With this wrapped bunglingly in his note he
proceeded to ambush near Pleasant Valley. He had other fish to fry, but
not till dark. Meantime, if that underground telephone was being used
at other times in the day he wanted to know it.
He placed the note and money obviously before the little hidden
telephone from which he had cleared the leaves and rubbish that hid it,
and then retired to cover where he settled himself comfortably. He knew
Pat would be busy till the two evening trains had arrived, after that
if he did not come there would likely be no calls before morning again,
and he could go on his way. With a pleasant snack of sugar cookies and
cream puffs he lay back and closed his eyes, glad of this brief respite
from his life of care and perplexity. Of course he couldn't get away
from his thoughts, but what a pleasant place this was, with the scent
of sassafras and winter green all around him, and the meadow lark high
in the air somewhere. There were bees in the wild honeysuckle not far
away. He could hear their lazy drone. It would be nice to be a bee and
fly, fly away from everything. Did bees care about things? Did they
have troubles, and love folks and lose 'em? When a bee died did the
other bees care? Aw Gee! Mark in--j--_No_! He wouldn't say it!
Mark was in New York! Yes, of course he was. It would all come right
some day. He would catch those crooks and put 'em in jail--no, first
he'd use 'em to clear Mark. When he got done here he was going up to
watch the old house and find out about that noise, and he'd see whether
Link and Shorty would put anything more over! Link and Shorty and Pat,
and that sissy Shafton and Sam, whoever Sam was! They were all his
enemies! If Mark were only here how they would go to that old haunted
house together and work this thing out. He ought to have told Mark
everything. Fool! Just to save his own hide! Just to keep Mark from
blaming him! Well, he was done saving himself or getting ill gotten
gains. Him for honesty for the rest of his life.
The bees droned on and the lark grew fainter and fainter. Billy's eyes
drooped closer shut, his long curling lashes lay on his freckled cheeks
the way they lay sometimes when Aunt Saxon came to watch him. That
adorable sweep of lash that all mothers of boys know, that air of
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
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
"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
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
"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
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,