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   Chapter 11 No.11

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8256

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The stranger was accompanied by two muleteers, a cook, a wash-boy, and the guide. Not one of these was a menial, for menials do not breed in open country. When the stranger shouted for one of them, they all gathered round him and stood at ease, smiling at his gestures, guessing genially at what he was trying to say, and in the end calmly doing things their own way.

When Lewis called the guide, they all came, as was their custom.

"Your master," said Lewis to the guide, "wishes to go to the sea. He bids you start for the sea."

The guide stared at Lewis, then at the stranger.

"The sea! What is the sea?"

"The sea," said Lewis, gravely, "is the ocean, the great water where ships sail."

"Bah!" said the guide. "More madness. How shall I guide him to the sea if I know not where it is? Tell him there is no sea."

One of the muleteers broke in.

"Indeed, there is a sea, but it is far, far away. It is thirty days away."

"And how do you go?" asked Lewis.

"I do not know. I only know that one must go to Joazeiro, and from there they say there is a road of iron that leads one to the sea."

"Joazeiro!" exclaimed the guide. "Ah, that is some sense. Joazeiro is a place. It is on the river. Petrolina is on this side, Joazeiro on that. As for this road of iron, hah!" He turned on the muleteer. "Thou, too, art mad."

The stranger listened to what Lewis had to say, then he drew out a map from his pocket, unfolded it, and spread it on the table. "A road of iron, eh? Well, let's see."

The guide grinned at Lewis.

"It is a picture of the world," he said. "He stares at it daily."

"Yes," said the stranger, "here we are-Joazeiro."

Lewis leaned over his shoulder. He saw the word "Joazeiro." From it a straight red line ran eastward to the edge of the map.

The stranger measured distances with a pencil. "We can make Joazeiro in fifteen days," he said. "Tell the men we will rest to-day and to-night. To-morrow we start."

The marvels of that camp were a revelation to Lewis. He kept his mouth shut, but his eyes were open. One battered thing after another revealed its mystery to him. He turned to the stranger.

"You are a great traveler," he said.

The stranger started. He had been day-dreaming.

"A great traveler? Yes. I have been a wanderer on all the faces of the earth. I have lived seven lives. I'll give them to you, if you like."

Lewis smiled, puzzled, but somehow pleased.

"Give them to me-your seven lives?"

The stranger did not answer. Gloom had settled on the face that Lewis had seen only alight. Lewis, too, was silent. His life with Ann and the Reverend Orme had taught him much. He recognized the dwelling-place of sorrow.

Presently the stranger shook his mood from him.

"Come," he said, "let us begin." From one of his bags he took a pack of cards. He sat at the table and shuffled them. "There are many games of patience," he continued. "They are all founded on averages and thousands of combinations, so intricate that the law of recurrence can be determined only by months of figuring. However, one can learn a patience without bothering with the law of recurrence. I shall now teach you a game called Canfield."

Time after time the cards were laid out, played, and reshuffled.

"Now," said the stranger, "do you think you know the game?"

"Yes," said Lewis, "I think so."

He played, with some success.

"You have got out fourteen cards," said the stranger. "You have beaten the game."

"How can that be?" asked Lewis.

"It can be," said the stranger, "because this is one of the few games of patience that has been reduced to a scientific gambling basis. The odds, allowing for the usual advantage to the banker, have been determined at five to one. Say I'm the banker. I sell you the pack for fifty-two pennies, and I pay you five pennies for every card you get out. Five to one. Do you see that?"

Lewis nodded.

"Well," said the stranger. "You got out fourteen cards. If you had paid a penny a card for the pack, how much would you have gained over what you spent?"

"Eighteen pennies," said Lewis, after a mom

ent. "If I had got them all out," he added, "it would have been two hundred and eight pennies."

"Right!" said the stranger. "You have a head for figures. Now, have you any money?"

Lewis colored slightly.

"Yes," he said. He fished out his two bank-notes and laid them on the table.

The stranger picked them up.

"All right," he said. "I'll sell you the pack for one of these. Now, go ahead."

All afternoon Lewis played against the bank with varying fortune. When he was ahead, some instinct made him ashamed to call off; when he was behind, a fever seized him-a fever to hold his own, to win. His eyes began to ache. Toward evening three successive bad hands suddenly wiped out his store of money. A feeling of despair came over him.

"Don't worry," said the stranger. He pushed the two notes and another toward Lewis. "I'll give you those for your pony. Now, at it you go. Win him back."

Lewis played feverishly. In an hour he had lost the three notes.

"Never mind," said the stranger; "I'll give you another chance." He pushed one of the notes toward Lewis. "That for your bundle in the red handkerchief. You may win the whole lot back in one hand."

Lewis played and lost. Despair seized upon him now with no uncertain hand. His money, his pony, even his little bundle gone! This was calamity. He suffered as only the young can suffer. His world had suddenly become a blank. Through bloodshot eyes he looked upon the stranger and tried to hate him, but could not.

"Come," said the stranger, rising and lighting a lantern. "I'm going to make you a foolish offer of big odds against me. I'll wager all I've won from you against one year's service that you can't beat the game in one hand. Eleven cards out of the fifty-two beats the game."

What was a year's service? thought Lewis. He had been willing to give that for nothing. He played and lost. Suddenly shame was added to his despair. To give service is noble, but to have it bought from you, won from you! Lewis fought back his tears desperately. What a fool, what a fool this man, this stranger, had made of him!

The stranger took out his watch and looked at it.

"In seven hours and seven minutes," he remarked, "I have given you one of my seven lives that it took almost seven years to live. Seven, by the way, is one of the mystic numbers."

At his first words Lewis felt a wave of relief-the relief of the diver in deep waters who feels himself rising to the surface. Perhaps all was not lost. Perhaps this man could restore their imperiled friendship, so sudden, already so dear.

The stranger went on:

"Ashamed to stop when you're ahead, too keen to stop when you're behind, you've lost all you possessed, jarred your trust in your fellow-man, and bartered freedom for slavery-mortgaged a year of your life. You've climbed the cliff of greed, got one whiff of sordid elation at the top, and tumbled down the precipice of despair. In short, you've lived the whole life of a gambler-all in seven hours."

He picked up Lewis's two notes and stuffed them into his own well-filled wallet. "They say," he continued, "that only experience teaches. You may gamble all the rest of your life, but take it from me, my friend, gambling holds no emotion you haven't gone through today."

Their eyes met. Lewis's gaze was puzzled, but intent. The stranger's eyes were almost twinkling.

"By the way," he said, "what's in the bundle? Let's see."

Lewis brought his sorry little bundle and laid it on the table. He untied the knots with trembling fingers. The stranger poked around the contents with his finger. He picked out the little kid of clay, already minus a leg.

"Hallo! What's this?"

"A toy," said Lewis, coloring.

"Who made it?"

"I did."

"You did, eh? Well, I'll keep it." The stranger fingered around until he found the missing leg. "You can take the rest of your things away. I'll lend 'em to you, and your pony. Now let's eat."

That night Lewis, too excited to sleep, lay awake for hours smiling at the moon. He was smiling because he felt that somehow, out of the wreck, friendship had been saved.

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