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   Chapter 4 No.4

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 6093

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Routine is the murderer of time. Held by the daily recurring duties of her household, Ann Leighton awoke with a gasp to the day that Natalie's hair went into pigtails and the boys shed kilts for trousers. At the evening hour she gathered the children to her with an increased tenderness. Natalie, plump and still rosy, sat in her lap; Shenton, a mere wisp of a boy, his face pale with a pallor beyond the pallor of the tropics, pressed his dark, curly head against her heart. Her other arm encircled Lewis and held him tight, for he was prone to fidget.

They sat on the west veranda and watched the sun plunge to the horizon from behind a bank of monster clouds. Before them stretched a valley, for Consolation Cottage was set upon a hill. Beyond the valley, and far away, rose a line of hills. Suddenly that line became a line of night. Black night seized upon all the earth; but beyond there arose into the heavens a light that was more glorious than the light of day. A long sea of gold seemed to slope away ever so gently, up and up, until it lost itself beneath the slumberous mass of clouds that curtained its farther shore. Here and there within the sea hung islets of cloud, as still as rocks in a waveless ocean.

Natalie stretched out her hand, with chubby fingers outspread, and squinted between the black bars they made against the light.

"Mother, what's all that?"

Mrs. Leighton was silent for a moment. The children looked up expectantly into her face, but she was not looking down at them. Her gaze was fixed upon the afterglow.

"Why," she said at last, "it's a painting of heaven and earth. You see the black plain that stretches away and away? That's our world, so dark, so full of ruts, so ugly; but it is the rough plain we all must travel to reach the shore of light. When life is over, we come to the end of night-over there. Then we sail out on the golden sea."

"Are those islands?" asked Lewis, pointing to the suspended cloudlets.

"Yes, islands."

"D'you see that biggest one-the one with a castle and smoke and trees?" continued Lewis. "That's the one I'm going to sail to."

"Me, too," said Natalie.

"No, Natalie, you can't. Not to that one, because you're littlest. You must sail to that littlest one 'way, 'way over there." Lewis pointed far to the south.

Natalie shook her head solemnly.

"No. I'll sail to the big island, too."

"And you, dear?" said Mrs. Leighton to Shenton, looking down at his motionless head. Shenton did not answer. He was held by a sudden, still, unhealthy sleep.

Mrs. Leighton let Lewis go, pushed Natalie gently from her lap, and gathered her first-born in her arms.

"Run to mammy, children," she said.

Holding the sleeping Shenton close to her, she turned a troubled face toward the afterglow. The golden sea was gone. There was a last glimmer of amber in the heavens, but it faded suddenly, as though somewhere beyond the edge of the world some one had put out the light. Night had fallen.

Mrs. Leighton carried her boy into the house. She sto

pped at her husband's study door.

"Orme, are you there?" she called. "Please come."

There was the sound of a chair scraping back. The door was flung open.

Leighton looked from Ann's face to her burden, and his own face paled.

"Again?" he asked.

"O, Orme," cried Ann, "I'm frightened. What is it, Orme? Dr. MacDonald must come. Send for him. We must know!"

The Reverend Orme took the boy from her arms and carried him into a spare bedroom. He laid him down. Shenton's head fell limply to one side upon the pillow. The pillow was white, but not whiter than the boy's face.

MacDonald's gruff voice was soon heard in the hall.

"Not one of the bairns, Mammy? Young Shenton, eh?" He came into the room and sat down beside the boy. He felt his pulse, undid his waist, listened to his heart and lungs. The doctor shook his head and frowned. "Nothing extra-ordinary-nothing." Then he brought his face close to the boy's mouth, closer and closer.

The doctor sank back in his chair. His shrewd eyes darted from boy to father, then to the mother.

"Do not be alarmed," he said to Mrs. Leighton; "the lad is pheesically sound. He will awake anon." The doctor arose, and stretched his arms. "Eh, but I've had a hard day. Will ye be sae gude as to give me a glass of wine, Mistress Leighton?"

Ann started as though from a trance.

"Wine, Doctor?" she stammered. "I'm sorry. We have no wine in the house."

"Not even a drop of whisky?"

Ann shook her head.

"Nae whisky in the medicine-chest, nae cooking sherry in the pantry? Weel, weel, I must be gaeing." And without a look at Ann's rising color or the Reverend Orme's twitching face the doctor was gone.

The Reverend Orme fixed his eyes upon his wife.

"When the boy awakes," he said, "not a word to him. Send him to my study." Ann nodded. As the door closed, she fell upon her knees beside the bed.

An hour later the study door opened. Shenton entered. His father was seated, his nervous hands gripping the arms of his chair. On the desk beside him lay a thin cane. He motioned to his son to stand before him.

"My boy," he said, "tell me each thing you have done to-day."

There was a slight pause.

"I have forgotten what I did to-day," answered Shenton, his eyes fixed on his father's face.

"That is a falsehood," breathed Leighton, tensely, "I am going to thrash you until you remember."

Leighton saw his boy's frail body shrink, he saw a flush leap to his cheeks and fade, leaving them dead-white again. Then he looked into his son's eyes, and the hand with which he was groping for the cane stopped, poised in air. In those eyes there was something that no man could thrash. Scorn, anguish, pride, the knowledge of ages, gazed out from a child's eyes upon Leighton, and struck terror to his soul. His boy's frail body was the abiding-place of a power that laughed at the strength of man's hands.

"My boy, O, my boy!" groaned Leighton.

"Father!" cried Shenton, with the cry of a bursting heart, and hurled himself into his father's arms.

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