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   Chapter 21 No.21

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 10026

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Three weeks to a day from the time he had left Lewis in Paris, as Nelton was serving him with breakfast, Leighton received a telegram that gave him no inconsiderable shock. The telegram was from Le Brux.

"Come at once," it said; "your son has killed me."

Leighton steadied himself with the thought that Le Brux was still alive enough to wire before he said:

"Nelton, I'm off for Paris at once. You have half an hour to pack and get me to Charing Cross."

Nine hours later he was taking the stairs at Le Brux's two steps at a time. As he approached the atelier, he heard sighing groans. He threw open the door without knocking. Stretched on the couch was the giant frame, wallowing feebly like a harpooned whale at the last gasp.

"Matre!" cried Leighton.

The sculptor half raised himself, turned a worn face on Leighton, and then burst into a tremendous laugh-one of those laughs that is so violent as to be painful.

"Ha! ha! ha! Ho! ho! ho!" he roared, and fell back upon his side.

Leighton felt somebody pecking at his arm. He turned, to find the old concierge beside him.

"Oh, sir," she almost wept, "can't you do something? He has been like that all day."

"Go," he said, "bring me a pail of water." He stood watching Le Brux until she returned. "Now," he said, "go out and close the door after you."

"Don't be rough with him," sighed the fat concierge as she waddled toward the door, drying her hands on her apron.

"Le Brux," said Leighton, "Le Brux!"

"Yes, I hear," gasped the sculptor, his eyes tight shut.

"Le Brux, where is your wound?"

"My wound? Ha! my wound! He would know where is my wound! Here, here, my old one, here!" He passed his two hands over his shaking ribs.

"Well, then," said Leighton, "take that!" and he dashed the pail of water over the prostrate giant.

Le Brux gasped, gulped, and then sat up on the couch. He suddenly became very grave. Water trickled off his chin upon his hairy chest. The soaked smock clung to his arms and legs, accentuating the tremendous muscles. "M'sieu' Létonne," he said, with alarming calm, "you have committed an unpardonable impertinence. At the same time you have unwittingly saved my life. You have heard of men, strong men, laughing themselves to death?"

Leighton, who had seated himself, bowed.

"Well," continued Le Brux, "I can assure you that you and your pail of slops arrived only in time to avert a tragedy. That fact entitles itself to recognition, and I am consequently going to tell you all that has happened before we part-definitely."

Leighton bowed again.

"As you prophesied, your boy won his way into my foolish heart. I used him as a model frequently, and let him hang around me in my idle moments. I even gave him clay to play with, and he played with it to some effect, his great fault-and it is a very great one-being a tendency to do things in miniature. I reproved him good-naturedly-for me, and he so far improved as to model a horse-the size of the palm of your hand."

Leighton bowed once more in recognition of the pause.

"One day," continued Le Brux, "the boy rushed in here without knocking. He had something to show me. I did not have the hardihood to rebuke him, but, remembering myself in the quality of wet nurse, I was dismayed, for on this very couch lay Cellette-Cellette simple, without garnishings, you understand. She was lying on her front, her chin in her hand, and reading a book. I let her read a book, when I can, for my own peace.

"Well, the boy showed me what he had to show, and that gave me time to collect my wits. I saw him look at Cellette without a tremor, and just as I was deciding to take the moment by the horns, he did it for me. 'Oh,' he said, 'are you working on her? Mon matre, please let me watch!' A vile tongue, English, to understand, but it was easy to read his eyes. I said, 'Watch away, my child,' and I continued to transmit Cellette to the cloud up there in my big group. The boy stood around. When I glanced at the model, his eyes followed. When I worked, he worked with me.

"My old one, you may believe it or not, but I felt that boy's fingers itching all the time. Finally, I chucked a great lump of clay upon the bench yonder, and I said, 'Here, go ahead; you model her, too.' Then-then-he-he said--" Le Brux showed signs of choking. He controlled himself, and continued-"he said, 'I can't model anything, Ma?tre, unless I feel it first'"

"Létonne, I give you my word of honor that I kept my face. I not only kept my face, but I said to Cellette-she hadn't so much as looked up from her book-I said to her, 'Cellette, this young sculptor would like to model you, but he says he must feel you first.' Cellette looked around at that. You know those gamine eyes of hers that are always sure they'll never see anything new in the world? But you don't. In years Cellette is very young-long after your time. Well, she turned those eyes around, looked the boy over, and said" 'Let the babe feel.' Then she went back

to her book.

"I waved the boy to her, gravely, with a working of my fingers that was as plain as French. It said, 'The lady says you may feel.' The boy steps forward, and I pretend to go on with my work."

Le Brux stopped. "Excuse me, my friend," he said nervously. "Will you kindly send for another pail of water?"

Leighton glanced into the pail.

"There's enough left," he said impatiently. "Go on."

"Ah, yes," sighed Le Brux, "go on. Just like that, go on. Well, your boy went on. He felt her head, her arms, her shoulders; you could see his fingers seeking things out. Cellette is a model born-and trained. She stood it wonderfully until he came to the muscles of her back. You know how we all like to have our backs scratched, just like dogs and cats? Well, I don't suppose Cellette had ever happened on just that feeling before. It touched the cat chord. She began to gurgle and-and wriggle. 'Keep still, please,' says the boy, very grave and earnest. And a minute later, 'Keep still, will you?' Then he came to her ribs."

Le Brux's cheeks puffed out, and he showed other signs of distress, but he controlled himself.

"After that," he continued, "things happened more or less at one and the same time. Cellette giggled and squirmed. Then the boy got angry and cried, 'Will you keep still? and grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her! Shook Cellette till her little head went zig-zag-zigzag. It took her the sixteenth part of a second to get to her feet, and when she slapped him I myself saw stars. At the same time I saw her face, and I yelled, 'Run, boy! Run!' For a second he stood paralyzed with wonder,-just long enough for her to get in another slap,-and then, just as she was curving her fingers, he-he ran. Her nails only took a strip out of his jacket! Oh! oh!"

"Ma?tre," cried Leighton, tears crawling down his cheeks, "don't you dare stop! Go on! Go on Finish now while you have the strength."

"Here they passed and there," groaned Le Brux, pointing at bits of ruin, "then I yelled, 'Boy, don't go out of the door, whatever you do. She'll follow sure, and we'll never hear the last of it.' Then the thought came to me that he was the son of my friend. I lifted up the end of the throne. He shot under it. I let it down quickly. I sat upon it. I laughed-I--"

Le Brux stopped and stared. Leighton, his feet outstretched, his head thrown back, his arms hanging limp, was laughing as he had never laughed before. As quick as a cat, Le Brux reached out for the pail and dashed its remaining contents in Leighton's face.

"I cannot bear an obligation," he said grimly as Leighton spluttered and choked. "Thou savedst my life; I save thine. How is it you say in English? 'One good turn deserves another!'"

"Matre," said Leighton, drying his face and then his eyes, "where is the boy now? He's-he's not still under the throne?"

"I don't know where he is," said Le Brux. "He's not under the throne. I remember, vaguely, it is true, but I remember letting him out. That was this morning. Then I wired to you. Since then I have been laughing myself to death."

Leighton continued to wipe his eyes, but Le Brux had sobered down.

"Talk about my mighty impersonality before the nude?" he cried. "Impersonality! Bah! Mine? Let me tell you that for your boy the nude in the human form doesn't exist any more than a nude snake, fish, dog, cat, or canary exists for you or me. He's the most natural, practical, educated human being I ever came across, and there are several thousand mothers in France that would do well to send their jeunes filles to the school that turned him out. In other words, my friend, your boy is so fresh that I have no mind to be the one to watch him wither or wake up or do any of the things that Paris leads to. I wired for you to take him away."

"We'll have to find him first," said Leighton. "Let's look in his room."

Together they walked down the hall. Leighton opened the door without knocking. He stood transfixed. Le Brux stared over his shoulder. Lewis, with his back to them, was working feverishly at the wet clay piled on a board laid across the backs of two chairs. On Lewis's little bed lay Cellette, front down, her chin in her hand, and reading a book.

"Holy name of ten thousand pigs!" murmured Le Brux.

Lewis turned.

"Why, Dad!" he cried, "I am glad to see you!"

Leighton's heart was in the grip he gave the boy's hand so frankly held out.

"Ma?tre," remarked Cellette from the bed, "believe me if you can: he is still a babe."

"A babe!" cried Le Brux, catching Lewis with finger and thumb and lifting him away from the board. "I should say he is. Here!" He caught up chunks of wet clay and hurled them at Lewis's dainty model of Cellette. He started molding with sweeps of his thumb. A gigantic, but graceful, leg began to take form. He turned and caught Lewis again and shook him till his head rolled. "Big!" he roared, thumping his chest. "Make it big-like me!"

Leighton returned to London alone.

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