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   Chapter 16 No.16

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 6179

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The Rio of 1888 was seething at the vortex of the wordy battle for emancipation. The Ouvidor, the smart street of the town, so narrow that carriages were not allowed upon it, was the center of the maelstrom. Here crowded politician and planter; lawyers, journalists, and students; conservative and emancipationist.

At each end of the Ouvidor were squares where daily meetings were held the emotional surge of which threatened to lap over into revolution at any moment.

The emotion was real. Youths of twenty blossomed into verse never equaled before or since in the writings of their prolific race. An orator, maddened by the limits of verbal expression, shot himself through the heart to add a fitting period to a thundered phrase. Women forgot their own bondage, and stripped themselves of jewels for the cause.

Leighton and his son, wandering through these scenes, felt like ghosts. They had the certainty that all this had happened before. Their lonely, calm faces drew upon them hostile, wondering stares.

"Got a clean tablet in your mind?" asked Leighton one day as they emerged from an unusually excited scene. "Write this down: Nothing bores one like somebody else's belated emotions. When you've had some woman insist on kissing you after you're tired of her, you'll understand me better. In the meantime, this is bad enough. I can think of only one cure for what we've been through here, and that is a Sunday in London. Let us start."

"London!" breathed Lewis. "Are we going to London?"

"Yes, we are. It's a peculiar fact, well known and long cursed among travelers, that all the steamers in the world arrive in England on Saturday afternoon. We'll get to London for Sunday."

During the long voyage, for the first time since the day on which he met the stranger, and which already seemed of long ago, Lewis had time to think. A sadness settled on him. What were they doing at Nadir on this starry night? Were the goats corraled? Who had brought them in? Was mammy crooning songs of low-swinging chariots and golden stairs? Was Mrs. Leighton still patiently sewing? The Reverend Orme, was he still sitting scowling and staring and staring? And Natalie? Was she there, or was she gone, married? He drew a great, quivering sigh.

Leighton looked around.

"Trying to pick up a side-tracked car?"

Lewis smiled faintly, but understandingly.

"It's not quite side-tracked-yet," he said.

"Ah, boy, never look back," said Leighton. "But, no; do. Do look back.

You're young yet. Tell me about it."

Then for a long time Lewis talked of Nadir: of the life there, of the Reverend Orme, grown morose through unnamed troubles; of Mrs. Leighton, withered away till naught but patience was left; of happy mammy, grown sad; of Natalie, friend, playmate, and sacrifice.

"So they wanted to marry your little pal into motherhood twenty times over, ready-made," said Leighton. "And you fought them, told 'em what you thought of it. You were right, boy; you were right. The wilderness must have turned their heads. But you ought to have stayed with it. Why didn

't you stay with it? You're no quitter."

"There were things I said to the Reverend Orme," said Lewis, slowly-"things I knew, that made it impossible for me to stay."

"Things you knew? What things?"

Lewis did not answer.

* * * * *

It was on a gray Sunday that they entered London. In a four-wheeler, the roof of which groaned under a pyramid of baggage, they started out into the mighty silence of deserted streets. The plunk! plunk! of the horse's shod hoofs crashed against the blank walls of the shuttered houses and reverberated ahead of them until sound dribbled away down the gorge of the all-embracing nothing. Gray, gray; heaven and earth and life were gray.

Lewis felt like crying, but Leighton came to the rescue. He was in high spirits.

"Boy, look out of the window. Is there anywhere in the world a youth spouting verse on a street corner?"

"No," said Lewis.

"Or an orator shooting himself to give point to an impassioned speech?"


"Or women shaking their bangles into the melting-pot for the cause of freedom?"


"I should say not. This is Sunday in London. Take off your hat. You are in the graveyard of all the emotions of the earth."

Up one flight of stairs, over a tobacconist's shop, Leighton raised and dropped the massive bronze knocker on a deep-set door. He saw Lewis's eyes fix on the ponderous knocker.

"Strong door to stand it, eh? They don't make 'em that way any more."

The door swung open. A man-servant in black bowed as Leighton entered.

"Glad to welcome you back, sir. I hope you are well, sir."

"Thanks, Nelton, I'm well as well. So is Master Lewis. Got his room ready? Show him the bath."

Lewis, looking upon Nelton, suddenly remembered a little room in the Sul Americano at Bahia. He felt sure that when Nelton opened his mouth it would be to say, "Will you be wearing the white flannels to-night, sir, or the dinner-jacket?"

By lunch-time Leighton's high spirits were on the decline, by four o'clock they had struck bottom. He kept walking to the windows, only to turn his back quickly on what he saw. At last he said:

"D'you know what a 'hundred to one shot' is?"

"No, sir," said Lewis.

"Well," said Leighton, "watch me play one." He sat down, wrote a hurried note, and sent it out by Nelton. "The chances, my boy, are one hundred to one that the lady's out of town."

When Nelton came back with an answer, Leighton scarcely stopped to open it.

"Come on, boy," he called, and was off. By the time Lewis reached the street, his father was stepping into a cab. Lewis scrambled after him.

"Doesn't seem proper, Dad, to rush through a graveyard this way."

"Graveyard? It isn't a graveyard any more. I'll prove it to you in a minute."

It was more than a minute before they pulled up at a house that seemed to belie Leighton's promise. Its door was under a massive portico the columns of which rose above the second story. The portico was flanked by a parapeted balcony, upon which faced, on each side, a row of French windows, closed and curtained, but not shuttered.

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