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   Chapter 7 No.7

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 6013

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Because the road led north, they traveled north. Week after week, month after month, sometimes by hard, long stretches where water was scarce, sometimes lingering where pasturage was good, sometimes halting to let a fever run its course, they pushed northward. The farther they went, the more barren became the wilderness. The feudal mansions of the wealthy coffee-planters gave way to the miserable abodes of a land of drought. But houses were never far between, and wherever there were houses, there was cane rum. It was so cheap it was often given away for a smile.

Twice in the long months Shenton had eluded his watchful father, once by slipping his saddle-cloth and going back to pick it up, and once by riding ahead on a misty morning. Each time he stole back with hanging and drooping shoulders. The look of utter despondency and gloomy despair in his eyes wrung his parents' hearts, held back his father's hand from wrath.

Of them all, Shenton suffered most from fever. There came a time when he could no longer ride. Natalie, grown pale and thin, but strong withal, took his place on the pony and he hers on the wagon. There he lay long hours in his mother's arms.

When all the storms of life had swept over her, Ann Leighton looked back upon those days as the abiding-place of her dearest memories. Safe within the circle of her arms lay her boy. There no evil could reach him, no gnawing temptation ravage his child's will. Her watchful love warded off the gloomy hour. His prattle of childish things warmed her heart until it swelled to an exquisite agony of content.

One day they awoke to a new presence on the flat horizon. Far, far away rose a mountain from the plain. It was wonderfully symmetrical, rising to a single peak. All day long they traveled toward it. All day long Shenton kept his somber eyes fixed upon it. Toward evening he raised his face to his mother's. She leaned over him.

"Mother," he whispered, "I should like to reach the mountain."

Tears welled from her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. She held Shenton's curly head against her face so that he could not see. She stifled a sob and whispered back:

"My boy, you will reach the mountain."

The next day a man of the country joined them. He was dressed in a suit and hat of deerskin. On his feet were sandals. Across one shoulder he carried a stick from which dangled a bundle. His quick, springy stride carried him easily beside the cavalcade.

"The blessing of God be upon your Mercies," was his greeting. "Whence do you come and whither do you go? Tell him who so rudely asks, I beg you. I am John, the Courier."

Ann and the Reverend Orme looked vaguely at each other. They had no answer. But Shenton spoke.

"Friend," he said, "we come from the South. We journey to yonder mountain. What is it called?

"It is called the Sorcerer."

"The Sorcerer?" cried Shenton. "That is a strange-name."

"It is called the Sorcerer," said the man, "because it deceives. It is a landmark in t

he wilderness, but it shows no man the way. So equal are its sides, that it points neither east nor west nor south nor north. Upon, its summit is a single tree, planted by no human hands."

"I see the tree," said Shenton. "Mother, do you see the tree? It is like the steeple on a church." Then he turned to the courier. "Friend, the mountain points upward."

They camped at the foot of the mountain, for fever had laid its final grip upon Shenton. He was too weak to stand the jolting of the wagon. One night, while lying in his mother's arms, he slipped away from life.

Leighton looked upon his boy's face, still alight with content at having reached the mountain, upon his white, blue-veined body, so pitifully frail, and marveled that a frame so weak, so tender, so peaceful, had been only now a mighty battle-field.

He gathered up the body in his arms, and calling roughly to Lewis to bring an ax, he started up the barren mountainside.

Ann, dumb and tearless, stood before the tent, and watched him with unseeing eyes. Natalie, crying, clutched her skirt. At her feet sat mammy, her face upturned, tears flowing, her body swaying to her sobs.

Up and up climbed Leighton with Lewis panting behind him. They reached the towering summit of the mountain.

A great rock stood at the foot of the lonely tree. Beneath it Leighton dug with ax and hands. He tore branches from the tree and spread them within. Upon the fresh, green couch he laid the body of his boy. He fell upon his knees before it and tried to pray, but could not.

"O, Death," he groaned, "to this young soul hast thou been kind." Then with many stones they closed the tomb.

Leighton looked wistfully about him. He was seized by the primitive desire of man to leave some visible sign of overwhelming grief. His eyes rose above the rock to the lonely tree. Grasping the ax, he climbed the tree. High above the mountain-top he cut its stem. Then limb after limb fell crashing to the earth until only two were left. Out one and then the other he clambered and cut them off. The lonely tree was no more; in its place stood a mighty cross.

From far away across the plain, John, the Courier, looked back. His keen eyes fell upon the mountain. He stopped and stared.

"Ah, Sorcerer," he murmured, "hast thou now a heart? What power has crowned thy brow with the holy cross? Behold! one arm points to the rising sun and one to its setting. I shall no longer call thee Sorcerer, for thou art become the Guide."

At the edge of the plain stretched a line of hills. Within them was a little valley that looked toward the distant mountain. Leighton purchased the valley from its owner, Dom Francisco, who prized it lightly beside his vast herds of cattle.

At the top of the valley, and facing the mountain, Leighton built his new abode, four walls and a roof of homemade tiles. When it was finished, he looked upon its ugliness and said, "The Lord hath crushed my heart to infinite depths. Let us call this place Nadir."

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