The City of Fire (Chapter 2, page 2 of 8)

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Chapter 2

Down the street suddenly sounded a car. Not the rattling, cheap affairs
that were commonly used in those parts for hard work and dress affairs,
with a tramp snuffle and bark as they bounced along beneath the maples
like house dogs that knew their business and made as much noise about
it as they could; but a car with a purr like a soft petted cat by the
fire, yet a power behind the purr that might have belonged to a lion if
the need for power arose. It stole down the street like a thing of the
world, well oiled and perfect in its way, and not needing to make any
clatter about its going. The very quietness of it made the minister
look up, sent the minister's wife to raise the shade of the sitting-room
window, and caused the girl to look up from her task.

The morning flooded her face, the song was stayed, a great light came
into her eyes.

The man who was driving the car had the air of not expecting to stop at
the parsonage. Even when he saw the girl on the porch he held to his
way, and something hard and cold and infinitely sad settled down over
his face. It even looked as though he did not intend to recognize her,
or perhaps wasn't sure whether she would recognize him. There was a
moment's breathless suspense and the car slid just the fraction past
the gate in the hedge, without a sign of stopping, only a lifting of a
correct looking straw hat that somehow seemed a bit out of place in
Sabbath Valley. But Lynn left no doubt in his mind whether she would
recognize him. She dropped her broom and sped down the, path, and the
car came to an abrupt halt, only a hair's breadth past the gate,--but
still--that hair's breadth.

"Oh, Mark, I'm so glad to see you!" she cried genuinely with her hand
out in welcome, "They said you were not at home."

The boy's voice--he had been a boy when she left him, though now he
looked strangely hard and old like a man of the world--was husky as he
answered gravely, swinging himself down on the walk beside her: "I just got in late last night. How are you Lynn? You're looking fine."

He took her offered hand, and clasped it for a brief instant in a warm
strong pressure, but dropped it again and there was a quick cold
withdrawing of his eyes that she did not understand. The old Mark
Carter would never have looked at her coolly, impersonally like that.
What was it, was he shy of her after the long separation? Four years
was a long time, of course, but there had been occasional letters. He
had always been away when she was at home, and she had been home very
little between her school years. There had been summer sessions twice
and once father and mother had come to her and they had taken a
wonderful trip together. But always there had seemed to be Mark Carter,
her old friend and playmate, in the background. Now, suddenly he seemed
to be removed to indefinite distances. It was as if she were looking at
a picture that purported to be her friend, yet seemed a travesty, like
one wearing a mask. She stood in the sunlight looking at him, in her
quaint little cap and a long white enveloping house apron, and she
seemed to him like a haloed saint. Something like worship shone in his
eyes, but he kept the mask down, and looked at her with the eyes of a
stranger while he talked, and smiled a stiff conventional smile. But a
look of anguish grew in his young face, like the sorrow of something
primeval, such as a great rock in a desert.

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