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   Chapter 8 No.8

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7889

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The Leightons, who settled at Nadir after a long year of pilgrimage, looked, back upon the happy years at Consolation Cottage as the dead might look back upon existence. They were changed indeed. Ann's skin had lost the pale pink of transplanted Northern blood. Her sweet face had almost lost the dignity of sorrow. It was lined, weather-beaten, at times almost vacant. The Reverend Orme's black mane had suddenly turned white in streaks. A perpetual scowl knitted his brows. To mammy's broad countenance, built for vast smiles, had come a look of plaintive despair.

Natalie and Lewis were at the weedy age of nine. It was natural that they should have changed, but their change had gone beyond nature. Upon them, as upon their elders, had settled the silences and the vaguely wondering expression of those who live in lands of drought and hardship, who look upon fate daily.

Both of the children had become thin and hard; but to Lewis had come a greater change. His brown hair and eyes had darkened almost to black, his skin taken on an olive tinge. His face, with its eager eyes sometimes shining like the high lights in a deep pool or suddenly grown slumberous with dreams, began to proclaim him a Leighton of the Leightons. So evident became the badge of lineage that Ann and the Reverend Orme both noticed it. To Ann it meant nothing, but in the Reverend Orme it aroused bitter memories of his own boy. He began to avert his eyes from Lewis.

It was about this time that Natalie and Lewis cut their names to Lew and Nat. The two were inseparable. Each had a pony, and they roved at will until the sad day when a school was first opened in that wilderness.

It happened that Dom Francisco, the cattle king from whom Leighton had purchased Nadir, was a widower twice over and the father of twenty children, many of them still of tender years. When he learned that Leighton had been a schoolmaster, he did not rest until he had persuaded him to undertake the instruction of such of his children as were not already of use on the ranch. The Reverend Orme consented from necessity. His cash from the sale of Leighton Academy was gone; the rents from Consolation Cottage were small and reached him at long intervals.

Once more routine fell upon the Leighton household; once more the years stole by.

Lewis's school days were short. The Reverend Orme found that he could not stand the constant sight of the boy's face. To save himself from the shame of an outburst, he had bought a flock of goats and put Lewis in charge. Sometimes on his pony, sometimes on foot, Lewis wandered with his flock over the low hills. When the rains had been kind and the wilderness was a riot of leaf and bloom above long reaches of verdant young grass, his journeys were short. But when the grass was dry, the endless thorn-trees leafless, and the whole earth, stripped of Nature's awnings, weltered under a brazen sky, the hardy goats carried him far in their search for sustenance.

When he was near, Natalie joined him as soon as school and household duties would let her. Those were happy, quiet hours. Sometimes she brought cookies, hot from mammy's oven, sometimes the richer roly-poly, redolent of cinnamon and spice, a confection prized to this day, openly by the young, secretly by the old. Nor did Lewis receive her with empty hands. One day a monster guava, kept cool under moist leaves, greeted her eyes; the next, a brimming hatful of the tart imbu. If fruit failed, there was some wondrous toy of fingered clay or carved wood, or, perhaps, merely a glimpse of some furry little animal drawn to Lewis's knee by the power of vast stillness.

Lewis could not have told what it was he felt for Natalie. She was not beautiful, as children of the world go. Her little nose was saddled with freckles. Her eyes were brown, with a tinge of gold, but they were too big for her pale face. She was thin and lanky. Her hair, which matched the co

lor of her eyes, might have been beautiful, but hair done in hard, tight braids has no chance to show itself. Lewis only knew that even when most grave Natalie's note was a note of joy-the only note of joy in all Nadir. To hear her cry, panting from her haste, "What is it to-day, Lew? A guava? O, Lew, what a beauty!" was ample reward for the longest search.

But there were days when Lewis and his goats were too far afield for Natalie to come. On those days Lewis carried with him sometimes a book, but more often a lump of clay, wrapped in a wet cloth. He would capture some frolicking kid and handle him for an hour, gently, but deeply, seeking out bone and muscle with his thin, nervous fingers. Then he would mold a tiny and clumsy image of the kid in clay. No sooner was it done than idleness would pall upon him. Back would go the clay into the wet cloth, to be kneaded into a shapeless mass from which a new creation might spring forth, a full-grown goat, his pony, any live thing upon which he could first lay his hands.

Even so, those days were long. The books he had read many, many times. Sometimes the clay would turn brittle under the morning sun, sometimes his fingers forgot what cunning they had, sometimes black thought fell upon him and held him till he felt a vague despair. He stood within the threshold of manhood. Who was he? What was life? Was this life?

About him men married and begat children, goats begat goats, cattle begat cattle, one day begat another. Lewis sat with hands locked about his knees and stared across the low hills out into the wide plain. "The Bible is wrong," he breathed to himself. "The world will never, never end."

Little do we know when our present world will end. A day came when Dom Francisco, the cattle king, whose herds by popular account were as the sands of the desert, asked in marriage the hand of Natalie.

As, toward evening, Lewis headed his flock for home, he saw in the distance a pillar of dust. It came rapidly to him. From it emerged Natalie on her pony. She jumped down, slipped the reins over her arm, and joined him.

"You have come far and fast," he said, glancing at the sweating pony.

"Is anything the matter?"

"No," said Natalie, hesitatingly, and then repeated-"no. I've just come to talk to you."

For some time they walked in silence behind the great herd of nervous goats, which occasionally stopped to pasture, but more often scampered ahead till a call from Lewis checked them. Natalie laid her hand on the sleeve of Lewis's leather coat, a gesture with which she was wont to claim his close attention.

"Lew," she said, "what is marriage?"

Lewis turned and looked down at her. They were both seventeen, but his inch start of her had grown to half a foot.

"Marriage? Why, marriage--" He stopped. A faint color flared in his cheeks. He looked away from her. Then he said calmly: "Marriage, Nat, is just mating-like birds mate. First you see them flying about anyhow; then two fly together. They build a nest; they mate; they have little birds. The little birds grow up and do the whole thing over again. That's-that's marriage."

"So?" said Natalie. A little frown came to her brows. Was that marriage, indeed? Then she shook the frown from her. "Lew," she said gravely, but placidly, "they tell me I'm to marry Dom Francisco. Isn't it-isn't it funny?"

Lewis stopped in his tracks and shook her hand from his arm. His eyes flared.

"What did you say? They tell you-who told you?"

"Why, Lew!" cried Natalie, tears in her eyes and her lips twitching.

"There, there, Nat," said Lewis, softly. He laid his arm across her shoulders in an awkward gesture of affection. "Tell me, Nat. Who was it told you-told you that?"

"Father," sobbed Natalie.

Before she knew what he was doing, Lew had leaped upon her pony and was off at a gallop.

"Lew!" cried Natalie, "Lew! Shall I bring in the goats?"

He did not heed her.

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