MoboReader> Literature > Through stained glass

   Chapter 13 No.13

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8335

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


They arrived in Petrolina at dawn. Before them swept the vast river. Beyond it could be seen the dazzling walls and restful, brown-tiled roofs of Joazeiro. The distant whistle of a shunting locomotive jarred on the morning stillness.

For the first time Lewis saw the stranger in action. Off came the loads. They were sorted rapidly. Tent, outfit, and baggage were piled into one of the ponderous ferry-canoes that lined the shore. All that was left was handed over to the guide for equal division among the men.

"Now," cried the stranger, "there's always a marketplace. Tell them to take this worn-out bunch along and find the cattle corner." He waved at the ponies and mules.

The market was in full swing. Rubber, goatskins, hides, and orchids from the interior; grain, tobacco, sugar, and rum from the river valley, met, mingled, and passed at this crossways of commerce. The stranger stood beside his mules. The dome of his pith helmet rose above the average level of heads. People gazed upon it in mild wonder, and began to crowd around.

"Now," said the stranger, poking Lewis's thin pony in the ribs, "offer this jack-rabbit for sale, cash and delivery on the minute."

"Offer my-my pony--" stammered Lewis.

The stranger eyed him grimly.

"Your pony?"

Suddenly Lewis remembered. He threw up his head and called out as he was bidden. People nudged one another, but no man spoke. Then a wag on the outskirts of the crowd shouted:

"I'll give thee a penny for what's left of that horse, brother."

There was a ripple of laughter. Lewis colored, and his eyes grew moist.

"He says he will give a penny," he said.

"A penny?" said the stranger, gravely. "Take it. Cash, mind you. Cash on delivery."

The sale was made amid general consternation. As the dazed wag led his purchase away, he trembled as though from a first stroke of paralysis. The marketplace began to buzz, to hum, and then to shout, "A stranger sells horses for a penny, cash on delivery!" They laughed and crowded nearer. Merchants forgot their dignity, and came running from the streets of the town.

"Now, boy, this one," said the stranger, poking a mule; "but be careful.

Be careful to wait for the highest bid."

The stranger's warning came just in time. No sooner had Lewis called the mule for sale than bids rained on him from every side. One after the other, in rapid succession, the animals were sold; but no more went for a penny.

His pockets stuffed with notes and silver, the stranger pushed his way through the crowd, suddenly grown silent. On the way to the river he paid off his men. He climbed into the canoe, and Lewis followed. The boatmen shoved off.

The wag, leading Lewis's pony, had followed them to the river-bank.

"Show me thy hoof, partner," he shouted, laughing, to the stranger. "Thou shouldst deal in souls, not in horses. I would I had shaken thy hand. God go with thee!"

The stranger calmly counted his money.

"Boy," he said, "I have just given you a five-year life in five minutes. Write this down in your mind. In high finance he who knows figures starves on two dollars a day; success comes to him who knows men."

During the long hours in the dirty train that jerked them toward the coat and civilization the stranger began to grow nervous. Lewis looked up more than once to find himself the object of a troubled gaze. They were the only passengers. There were moments when the road-bed permitted snatches of conversation, but it was during a long stop on a side-track that the stranger unburdened himself.

"Boy," he said, "the time is coming when I must tell you my name."

"I know your name," said Lewis.

"What!" cried the stranger.

"I know your name," repeated Lewis; "it is Leighton."

"How? How do you know?" The stranger was frowning.

"No," said Lewis, quietly; "I haven't been looking through your things. One day my-my foster-father and my foster-mother were talking. They did not know I was near. I didn't realize they were talking about me until mammy spoke up. Mammy is-well, you know, she's just a mammy--"

"Yes," said the stranger. "What did mammy say?"

"She said," continued

Lewis, coloring slightly, "that a Leighton didn't have to have his name written in a family Bible because God never forgets to write it in his face."

"Good for mammy!" said the stranger. "So that's what they were talking about." For a moment he sat silent and thoughtful; then he said: "Boy, don't you worry about any family Bible business. Your name's written in the family Bible all right. Take it from me; I know. I'm Glendenning Leighton-your father." His eyes glistened.

"I'm glad about the name," said Lewis, his face alight. "I'm glad you're my dad, too. But I knew that."

"Knew it? How did you know it?"

"The old woman-Old Immortality. Don't you remember? She said, 'The son is the spit of the father.'"

"Did she?" said Leighton. "Do you believe everything as easily as that?"

"The heart believes easily," said Lewis.

"Eh? Where'd you get that?"

"I suppose I read it somewhere. I think it is true. She told me my fortune."

"Told you your fortune, did she? I thought I was missing something when

I snored the hours away instead of talking to that bright old lady.

Fortunes are silly things. Do you remember what she told you?"

"Yes," said Lewis, "I think I remember every word. She said, 'Child of love art thou. At thy birth was thy mother rent asunder, for thou wert conceived too near the heart--'"

"Stop!"

Lewis looked up. His father's face was livid. His breast heaved as though he gasped for air. Then he clenched his fists. Lewis saw the veins on his forehead swell as he fought for self-mastery. He calmed himself deliberately; then slowly he dropped his face in his hands.

"Some day," he said in a voice so low that Lewis could hardly hear the words, "I shall tell you of your mother. Not now."

Gloom, like a tangible presence, filled the car. It pressed down upon Lewis. He felt it, but in his heart he knew that for him the day was a glad day. The train started. He leaned far out of a window. The evening breeze was blowing from the east. To his keen nostrils came a faint breath of the sea. When he drew his head in again, the twinkle he had already learned to watch for was back in his father's eyes.

"What do you smell, boy?"

"I smell the sea," said Lewis.

"How do you know? How old were you when you made your first voyage?"

"Don't you know?"

Leighton shook his head.

Lewis, looking at his father with wondering eyes, regretted the spoken question.

"I was three years old. I suppose I remember the smell of the sea, though it seems as if I couldn't possibly. I remember the funnel of the steamer, though."

"Seems like looking back on a quite separate life, doesn't it?"

"Yes," said Lewis, nodding, "it does."

"Of course it does, and in that fact you've got the germ of an individual philosophy. Every man who goes through the stress of life has need of an individual philosophy."

"What's yours, sir?"

"I was going to tell you. Life, to me, is like this train, a lot of sections and a lot of couplings. When you're through with a car, side-track it and-yank out the coupling. Like all philosophies, this one has its flaw. Once in a while your soul looks out of the window and sees some long-forgotten, side-tracked car beckoning to be coupled on again. If you try to go back and pick it up, you're done. Never look back, boy; never look back. Live ahead even if you're only living a compensation."

"What's a compensation?" asked Lewis.

"A compensation," said Leighton thoughtfully, "is a thing that doesn't quite compensate."

Above the rattle of the train sounded the deep bellow of a steamer's throttle. Lewis turned to the window. Night had fallen.

"Oh, look, sir!" he cried. "We're almost there!"

Leighton joined him. Before them were spangled, in a great crescent, a hundred thousand lights. Along the water-front the lights clustered thickly. They climbed a cliff in long zigzags. At the top they clustered again. Out on the bay they swayed from halyards, their reflections glimmering back from the rippling water like so many agitated moons.

"Right you are-Bahia," said Leighton. "We're almost there, and it's no fishing-hamlet, either."

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