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   Chapter 3 No.3

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 5061

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


To Natalie, Shenton, and Lewis the scant twenty acres that surrounded Consolation Cottage was a vast demesne. Even on a full holiday one could choose one's excursions within its limits. From the high-plumed wall of bamboos that lined Consolation Street, through the orange-grove, across the hollow where were stable and horses, cows and calves, then up again to the wood on the other hillside-ah, that was a journey indeed, never attempted in a single day. They chose their playground. To-day the bamboos held them, to-morrow the distant grove, where were pungent fruits, birds'-nests, fantastic insects, and elusive butterflies and moths.

Then there was the brier-patch, with its secret chamber. By dint of long hours of toil and a purloined kitchen-knife they had tunneled into a clearing in the center of the thicket. Of all their retreats, this one alone had foiled their watchful overseers. Here was held, undetected, many an orgy over stolen fruit.

Nor did they have to seek far for a realm of terror. Behind the brier-patch was the priest's wall. Over it was wafted the fragrance of unknown flowers and of strange fruits-and the barking of a fierce dog. With the same kitchen-knife they pried loose a brick and slipped it out. They took turns at peeking through this tiny window on a strange world. What ecstasy when first they glimpsed the flat-hatted, black-robed figure strolling in the wondrous garden! Then terror seized them, for the quick-eyed priest had seen the hole, and before they could flee his toe was in it, and his frowning face, surmounted by the flaring hat, popped above the wall and glared down upon them.

"Do you hear my dog?" whispered the priest.

It was Natalie, trembling with fright, who answered, feeling a certain kinship for anything in skirts.

"Yeth, I do."

"Well," whispered the priest, his face twitching in the effort to look stern, "he eats little children." With that he dropped from view.

Lewis and Shenton stared at each other. Natalie began to cry. Lewis picked up the brick and slipped it back into place. Shenton helped him wedge it in with twigs; then all three stole away, to break into giggles and laughter when distance gave them courage.

Natalie and Lewis had another terror, unshared by Shenton. Manoel, the Portuguese gardener, who lived in a little two-room house in the hollow, had nothing but scowls for them. They feared him with the instinctive fear of children, but Shenton was his friend. Did any little tiff arise, Shenton was off to see Manoel.

He knew the others were afraid to follow. Sometimes Manoel took him to his little house.

To Lewis this strange friendship was the one cloud in childhood's happy sky. He could not have defined what he felt. It was jealousy mixed with hurt pride-jealousy of the hated Manoel, hurt pride at the thought that Shenton went where he could not follow.

One day Shenton had been gone an hour. Lewis had seen him with Manoel.

He knew he was in Manoel's house. What were they doing? Lewis turned to

Natalie.

"I am going to Manoel's house. Stay here."

Natalie stared at him with wide eyes.

"O, Lewis," she cried after him, "aren't you 'fraid?"

Lewis crawled stealthily to a back window. He stood on tiptoe and tried to look in. His eyes were just below the level of the window-sill. He dragged a log of wood beneath the window and climbed upon it. For a long time he kept his face glued against one of the little square panes of glass.

He forgot fear. In the room which the window commanded was a broad, rough table, and Manoel was seated on a bench before it, leaning forward, his long arms outstretched along its edge. The table was pushed almost against the wall, and in its center stood Shenton, laughing till the tears ran down his cheeks. His curly hair was damp and clung to his white forehead. His blouse was soiled, his kilt awry. One short stocking had fallen down over his shoe. Manoel was also laughing, but silently.

Lewis did not have to wait long to divine the source of mirth, for Shenton soon essayed to walk the length of the table. Lifting his arm, he pointed along a crack, and swung one leg around to take a first step. But he seemed unable to place his foot as he wished. He reeled and fell in a giggling ball, which Manoel saved from rolling to the floor.

Shrieks of laughter, deadened by the closed window, came from the child, and Manoel's broad shoulders shook with enjoyment. He stood Shenton on his feet, and held him till he got his balance; then the play began again. Now Lewis felt fear steal over him, yet he could not go away. There was something inexpressibly comical in the scene, but it was not this that held him. A strange terror had seized him. Something was the matter with Shenton. Lewis did not know what it was.

Suddenly Shenton's mood changed to sullen stupor, and Manoel, whose gait was also unsteady, picked him up and carried him to a spigot, where he carefully unbuttoned the child's waist and soaked his head in cold water. The charm was broken. Lewis fled.

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