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   Chapter 26 No.26

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 5101

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Natalie and her mother were sitting on the west veranda of Consolation Cottage at the evening hour. Just within the open door of the dining-room mammy swayed to and fro in a vast rocking-chair that looked too big for her.

The years had not dealt kindly with the three. Years in the tropics never do deal kindly with women. Mammy had grown old and thin. Her clothes, frayed, but clean, hung loosely upon her. Her hair was turning gray. She wore steel-rimmed glasses. Mrs. Leighton's face, while it had not returned to the apathy of the years of sorrow at Nadir, was still deeply lined and of the color and texture of old parchment. The blue of her eyes had paled and paled until light seemed to have almost gone from them. To Natalie had come age with youth. She gave the impression of a freshly cut flower suddenly wilted by the sun.

In Mrs. Leighton's lap lay two letters. One had brought the news that

Natalie had inherited from a Northern Leighton aunt an old property on a

New England hillside. The other contained the third offer from a

development company that had long coveted the grounds about Consolation

Cottage.

"It's a great deal of money, dear," said Mrs. Leighton to Natalie. "What shall we do?"

For a moment Natalie did not reply, and when she spoke, it was not in answer. She said:

"Mother, where is Lew? I want him." Her low voice quivered with desire.

Mrs. Leighton put her fingers into Natalie's soft hair and drew the girl's head against her breast. A lump rose in her throat. She longed to murmur comfort, but she had long since lost the habit of words. What was life worth if she could not buy with it happiness for this her only remaining love?

"Darling," she whispered at last, "whatever you wish, whatever you say, we'll do. Do you think-would you like to go back to-to Nadir-and look for Lewis?"

Natalie divined the sacrifice in those halting words. Her thin arms went up around Ann Leighton's neck. She pressed her face hard against her mother's shoulder. She wanted to cry, but could not. Without raising her face, she shook her head and said:

"No, no. I don't want ever to go back to Nadir. Lew is not there. That night-that night after we buried father I went out on the hills and called for Lew. He did not answer. Suddenly I just knew he wasn't there. I knew that he was far, far away."

Ann Leighton did not try to reason against instinct. She softly rocked Natalie to and fro, her pale eyes fixed on the setting sun. Gradually the sunset awoke in her mind a stabbing memory.

Here on this bench she had sat, Natalie, a baby, in her lap, and in the shelter of her arms little Lewis and-and Shenton, her boy. By yonder rail she had stood with her unconscious boy in her arms, and day had suddenly ceased as though beyond the edge of the world somebody had put out the light forever. Her pale eyes grew luminous. The unaccustomed tears welled up in them and trickled down the cheeks that had known so long a drought. They rained on Natalie's head.

"Mother!" cried Natalie, looking up-"Mother!" Then she buried her face again in Ann's bosom, and together they sobbed out all the oppressing pain and grief of life's heavy moment. Not by strength alone, but also by frailty, do mothers hold the hearts of their children. Natalie, hearing and feeling her mother sob, passed beyond the bourn of generations and knew Ann and herself as one in an indivisible, quivering humanity.

Mammy's chair stopped rocking. She listened; then she got up and came out on the veranda. Her eyes fell upon mother and daughter huddled together in the dusk. She hovered over them. Her loose clothes made her seem ample, almost stolid.

"Wha' fo' you chilun's crying?" she demanded.

"We're not crying," sobbed Natalie.

"Huh!" snorted mammy. "Yo' jes come along outen this night air, bof of yo', an' have yo' suppah. Come on along, Miss Ann. Come on along, yo' young Miss Natalie."

"Just a minute, mammy; in just a minute," gasped Natalie. "You go put supper on the table." Then she rose to her feet, and drew her mother up to her. "Kiss me," she said and smiled. She was suddenly strong again with the strength of youth.

Ann kissed her and she, too, almost smiled.

"Well, dear?" she said.

"We're going away," said Natalie, holding protecting arms around her mother. "We're going to sell this place, and then we're just going away into another world. This one's too rough for just women. We'll go see that old house Aunt Jed left to me. I want to live just once in a house that has had more than one life."

Day after day the ship moved steadily northward on an even keel. Upon mammy, Natalie, and Mrs. Leighton a miracle began to descend. Years fell from their straightening shoulders. At the end of a week, Ann Leighton, kneeling alone in her cabin, began her nightly devotions with a paean that sounded strangely in her own ears: "Oh, Thou Who hast redeemed my life from destruction, crowned me with loving-kindness and tender mercies, Who hast satisfied my mouth with good things so that my youth is renewed like the eagle's!"

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