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   Chapter 9 No.9

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 6411

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Lewis stopped at Nadir only long enough to learn that the Reverend Orme had remained at the school-house as had been his wont of late. He found him there, idle, sitting at the rough table that served as his desk, and brooding. Lewis walked half the length of the room before Leighton saw him.

"What are you doing here?"

"What have you been telling Nat?"

The questions were almost simultaneous.

"What have I been telling Natalie?" repeated the Reverend Orme. "Well, what have I been telling her?"

Lewis fixed his eyes on Leighton's face.

"Are you really going to marry Nat to that-to that old man?"

The Reverend Orme shifted in his chair.

"Lewis," he said, "I don't know that it's any of your business, but it is probable that Natalie will marry Dom Francisco."

Lewis moved awkwardly from one foot to the other, but his eyes never shifted.

"Does Mother-Mrs. Leighton know about this? Does mammy? Do they agree?"

"Young man," answered Leighton, angrily, "they know that, as this world goes, Natalie is a lucky girl. Dom Francisco is the wealthiest man in the province. Look around you, sir. Whom would you have her marry if not Dom Francisco? Some pauper, I suppose. Some foundling."

Lewis's cheeks burned red.

"You need not go so far as to marry her to a foundling," he answered, "but you might be kinder to her than to marry her to-to that old man. You might choke her to death."

The Reverend Orme leaped from his chair.

"Choke her to death, you-you interloper!" He strode toward Lewis, his trembling hands held before him.

"Hold on!" cried Lewis, his eyes flaming. "I'm no drunkard-no cowardly

Manoel."

The Reverend Orme stopped in his stride. A ghastly pallor came over his face.

"Manoel!" he whispered. "What do you know about Manoel?"

Lewis's heart sank low within him. His unbroken silence of years had been instinctive. Now, when it was too late, he suddenly realized that it had been the thread that held him to Nadir. He had broken it. Never more could he and the Reverend Orme sleep beneath the same roof, eat at the same table. He saw it in the Reverend Orme's face.

Leighton had staggered back to his chair and sat staring vacantly at the floor. Lewis looked at his head, streaked with white, at his brow, terribly lined, and at his vacant, staring eyes. He felt a sudden great pity for his foster-father, but pity had come too late.

"Sir," he said, "I am going away. I shall need some money." He felt no shame at asking for money. For seven years he had tended Leighton's goats-tended them so well that in seven years they had increased sevenfold.

Leighton unlocked the drawer of his table and took out a small roll of bank-notes. He tossed it on the table. Lewis picked out two notes from the roll, and pushed the rest back. He started toward the door. Half-way he paused and turned to his foster-father.

"Good-by, sir. I'm sorry I let you know that-that I knew."

Leighton did not look up.

"Good-by, Lewis," he said quietly.

Lewis hurried to his little room. He took out all his boyish treasures and laid them on the bed. How silly they looked, how childish! He swept them away, and spread a large red handkerchi

ef in their place. He heard Natalie come in and call for him, but he did not answer. In the handkerchief he packed his scanty wardrobe. As he knotted the corners together he heard Mrs. Leighton and mammy chatting lightly with Natalie, helping her to dress.

Lewis, heavy-hearted, looked about his ugly little room, so bare, but as friendly as a plain face endeared by years of kindness. From among his discarded treasures he chose the model in clay of a kid, jumping, the best he had ever made. He tucked it into his bundle; then he picked up the bundle, and walked out into the great room, kitchen, sitting and dining room combined.

Mrs. Leighton and mammy were seated at the table. Beside them stood Natalie. They turned and looked at Lewis, surprised. Lewis stared at Natalie. She wore a dress he had seen but twice before and then on great occasions. It had been a birthday present from her parents. It was a red, pleated dress. Accordion silk, the women called it.

About Natalie's shoulders was a white, filmy scarf. For the first time in her life her hair was loosely piled upon her head. Through it and over it ran a bright ribbon. The gloss of the satin ribbon was as naught beside the gloss of her shining hair. Her neck, and her arms from the elbows, were bare. Her neck was very thin. One could almost see the bones.

"Where are you going, Lewis?" said Mrs. Leighton, listlessly.

Lewis felt the tears rise to his eyes. He was ashamed of them.

"Do not speak to me," he said roughly. "You are a wicked woman. You have sold Natalie." Then he turned fiercely on mammy. "And you," he said-"you have dressed her for the market. You are a bad nigger."

Mrs. Leighton gasped and then began to cry softly. Mammy's eyes stared at Lewis.

"Bad niggah, young Marster?" she mumbled vaguely.

Natalie grasped the table and leaned forward. "Lew!" she cried. "Why, Lew!"

Lewis struck a tear from his cheek, turned, and fled. He went to the rough lean-to that served as a stable and began to saddle his pony.

In all the heavens there was not a cloud. It was what the natives, too often scourged by drought, called an ugly night. The full moon rose visibly into the pale bowl of blue. Above her tropic glare the satellite stars shone wanly and far away.

As Lewis was about to mount, Natalie came running from the house. She held her new dress above her knees. Her white scarf streamed out like two wings behind her.

"Lew!" she called. "Wait! What are you doing?"

Lewis waited for her. She came close to him and laid her hand upon his arm. Her brown eyes, shot with gold, were bigger than ever. They looked their question into his face.

"Nat," he said, "I've quarreled with your dad. There's nothing to talk about. I must go."

"Go, Lew? Go where?"

Lewis shrugged his shoulders.

"I don't know," he said. "Just go."

Natalie laid her head against him. Her two hands gripped his shoulders.

She sobbed as though her heart would break. Lewis put his arm about her.

He felt the twitching bones of her thin, warm body. His face was in her

hair.

"Ah, Natalie," he murmured, brokenly, "don't cry! don't cry!"

They were children. They did not think to kiss.

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