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   Chapter 23 No.23

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7264

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"If it's a fine day to-morrow," said Leighton that evening to Lewis, "we'll spend it in the country. Ever been in the country around here?"

Lewis shook his head.

"I don't believe Cellette knows anything about the country. It would be a great thing, Dad, if we could take her with us. She's shown me around a lot. I'd-I'd like to."

Leighton suppressed a grimace.

"Why not?" he replied cheerfully.

The next day was fine and hot. Leighton decided to take a chance on innovation, and revisit a quiet stretch on the Marne. It was rather a journey to get there, but from the moment the three were settled in their third-class carriage time took to wing. As he listened to Lewis's and Cellette's chatter, the years rolled back for Leighton. He became suddenly young. Lewis felt it. For the second time he had the delightful sensation of stumbling across a brother in his father.

Cellette felt it, too. When they left the station and started down the cool, damp road to the river, she linked a hand in the arm of each of her laughing companions, urged them to a run, and then picked up her little feet for mighty leaps of twenty yards at a time. "Ah," she cried, "c'est joli, d'etre trois enfants!"

How strange the earth smelt! She insisted on stopping and snuffling at every odor. New-mown grass; freshly turned loam; a stack of straw, packed too wet and left to ruin; dry leaves burning under the hot sun into a sort of dull incense-all had their message for her. Even of the country Cellette had a dim memory tucked away in her store of experience.

They came to the river. From a farmer they hired a boat. Cellette wanted to drift down with the stream, but Leighton shook his head. "No, my dear, a day on the river is like life: one should leave the quiet, lazy drifting till the end."

Leighton rowed, and then Lewis. They held Cellette's hands on the oars and she tried to row, but not for long. She said that by her faith it was harder than washing somebody else's clothes.

They chose the shade of a great beech for their picnic-ground. Cellette ordered them to one side, and started to unpack the lunch-basket that had come with Leighton from his hotel. As each item was revealed she cast a sidelong glance at Leighton.

"My old one," she said to him when all was properly laid out, "do not play at youth and innocence any longer. It takes an old sinner to order such a breakfast."

It was a gay meal and a good one, and, like all good meals, led to drowsiness. Cellette made a pillow of Lewis's coat and slept. The afternoon was very hot. Leighton finished his second cigar, and then tapped Lewis on the shoulder. They slipped beyond the screen of the low-limbed beech, stripped, and stole into the river.

At the first thoughtless splash Cellette sprang to her feet.

"Ah!" she cried, her eyes lighting, "you bathe, hein?" She started undoing her bodice.

Leighton stared at her from the water. "What do you do?" he cried in rapid French. "You cannot bathe. I won't allow it."

Cellette paused in sheer amazement that any one should think there was anything she could not do. Then deliberately she continued undoing hooks.

"Why can't I bathe?" she asked out of courtesy or merely because she knew the value of keeping up a conversation.

"You can't bathe," said Leighton, desperately, "because you are too tender, too delicate. These waters are-miasmic. They are full of snakes, too. It was just now that I stepped on one."

"Snakes, eh?" said Cellette, pausing again. "I don't believe you. But-snakes!" She shuddered, and then looked as though she were going to cry with disappointm

ent.

"Don't you mind just this once, Cellette," cried Lewis, blowing like a walrus as he held his place against the current. "We'll come alone some time."

Cellette dried the perspiration from her short upper lip with a little cotton handkerchief.

"Mon dieu, but men are selfish!" she remarked.

Once they were in the boat again, drifting slowly down the shadowy river, she forgot her pet, turned suddenly gay, and began to sing songs that were as foreign to that still sunset scene as was Cellette herself to a dairy. Lewis had heard them before. He looked upon them merely as one of Cellette's moods, but they brought a twisted smile to Leighton's lips. He glanced at the pompous, indignant setting sun and winked. The sun did not wink back; he was surly.

In the train, Cellette, tired and happy, went to sleep. Her head fell on Leighton's shoulder. With dexterous fingers he took off her hat and laid it aside, then he looked at Lewis shrewdly. But Lewis showed no signs, of jealousy. He merely laughed silently and whispered, "Isn't she a funny?"

They began to talk. Leighton told Lewis he was glad that he had worked steadily all these months, that Le Brux spoke well of his work, but thought a rest would help it and him.

"What do you say," he went on, "to a little trip all by ourselves again?"

"It would be splendid," said Lewis, eagerly. Then, after a pause: "It would be fun if we could take Cellette along, too. She'd like it a lot, I know."

"Yes," said Leighton, dryly, "I don't doubt she would." He seemed to ponder over the point. "No," he said finally, "it wouldn't do. What I propose is a man's trip-good stiff walking. We could strike off through Metz and Kaiserslautern, hit the Rhine valley somewhere about Dürkheim, pass through Mannheim with our eyes shut, and get to Heidelberg and the Neckar. Then we could float down the Rhine into Holland. That's the toy-country of the world. Great place to make you smile."

Lewis's eyes watered.

"When-when shall we start?"

"We'll start to start to-morrow," said Leighton. "We've got to outfit, you know."

Two days later they were ready. Cellette kissed them both good-by. Leighton gave her a pretty trinket, a heavy gold locket on a chain. She glanced up sidewise at him through half-closed eyes.

"What's this?" she asked in the tone of the woman who knows she must always pay.

"Just a little nothing from Lewis," said Leighton. "Something to remember him by."

"So," said Cellette, gravely. "I understand. He will not come back. It is well."

Leighton patted her shoulder.

"You are shrewd," he said. Then he added, with a smile: "Too shrewd. He will be back in two months."

A fiacre carried them beyond the fortifications. The cabman smiled at the generous drink-money Leighton gave him, spit on it, and then sat and watched father and son as they stepped lightly off up the broad highway. "Eh!" he called, choking down the curses with which he usually parted from his fares, "good luck! Follow the sun around the earth. It will bring you back."

Leighton half turned, and waved his arm. Then they settled down to the business of walking. They dropped into their place as a familiar part of the open road of only a very few years ago, for they were dressed in the orthodox style: knickerbockers; woolen stockings; heavy footwear; short jackets; packs, such as once the schoolboy used for books; and double-peaked caps.

Shades of a bygone day, where do you skulk? Have you been driven,

Up, up, the stony causeway to the mists above the glare,

Where the smell of browsing cattle drowns the petrol in the air?

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