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   Chapter 34 No.34

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8728

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Mlle. Folly Delaires was not born within a stone's throw of the Paris fortifications, as her manager would have liked you to believe, but in an indefinite street in Cockneydom, so like its mates that, in the words of Folly herself, she had to have the homing instinct of a pigeon to find it at all. Folly's original name had been-but why give it away? She was one of those women who are above and beyond a name-of a class, or, rather, of a type that a relatively merciful world produces sparingly. She was all body and no soul.

From the moment that Lewis kissed Folly, and then kissed her several times more, discovering with each essay depths in the art which even his free and easy life had never given him occasion to dream of, he became infatuated-so infatuated that the following dialogue passed over him and did not wake him.

"Why are you crying?" asked Lewis, whom tears had never before made curious.

"I'm crying," gasped Folly, stamping her little foot, "because it's taken so long!"

Lewis looked down at her brown head, buried against his shoulder, and asked dreamily:

"Are you spirit and flower, libertine and saint?"

To which Folly replied: "Well, I was the flower-girl once in a great hit, and I played 'The Nun' last season, you remember. As for spirits, I had the refusal of one of the spirit parts in the first "Blue Bird" show, but there were too many of them, so I turned it down. I'd have felt as though I'd gone back to the chorus. Libertine," she mused finally-"what is a libertine?"

Lewis's father could have looked at Folly from across the street and given her a very complete and charming definition for a libertine in one word. But Lewis had not yet reached that wisdom which tells us that man learns to know himself last of all. He did not realize that your true-born libertine never knows it. Whatever Folly's life may have been, and he thought he had no illusions on that score, he seized upon her question as proving that she still held the potential bloom of youth and a measure of innocence.

To do her justice, Folly was young, and also she had asked her question in good faith. As to innocence-well, what has never consciously existed, causes no lack. Folly's little world was exceedingly broad in one way and as narrow in another, but, like few human worlds, it contained a miracle. The miracle was that it absolutely satisfied her. She dated happiness, content, and birth itself from the day she went wrong.

She had the appearance of being frank, open, and lovable, just as she had that appearance of culture which every woman of her type gets from the cultivated class of men they prey upon. Pet her, and she murmured softly in the king's best English: scratch her, and, like the rock that Moses struck, she burst forth in a surprising torrent. Without making others merry, she was eternally merry. Without ever feeling the agony of thirst, she instilled thirst. A thousand broken-hearted women might have looked on her as an avenging sword, if the sword hadn't been two-edged. She had a motto, a creed, a philosophy, packed into four words: "Be loved; never love."

If both parts of this creed had not been equally imperative, Lewis might have escaped. His aloofness was what doomed him. Like all big-game hunters, Folly loved the rare trophy, the thing that's hard to get. By keeping his distance, Lewis pressed the spring that threw her into action. Almost instinctively she concentrated on him all her forces of attraction, and Folly's forces of attraction, once you pressed the spring, were simply dynamic. Beneath that soft, breathing skin of hers was such store of vitality, intensity, and singleness of purpose as only the vividly monochromatic ever bring to bear on life.

Lewis, unconsciously in very deep waters indeed, reached London in a state of ineffable happiness. Not so Folly. Lewis had awakened in her desire. With her, desire was merely the prelude to a natural consummation. Folly was worried because one of the first and last things Lewis had said to her was, "Darling, when will you marry me?" To which she had replied, but without avail, "Let's think about that afterward."

When Lewis reached the flat on a Saturday night, he did not have to tell his father that something wonderful had happened. Leighton saw it in his face-a face suddenly become more boyish than it had

ever been before. They rushed feverishly through dinner, for Lewis's mood was contagious. Then they went into the living-room, and straight for the two big leather chairs which, had they lacked that necessary measure of discretion which Nelton had assigned to them, might have told of many a battle of the mind with the things that are.

"Well, Boy," said Leighton, "what is it?"

"Dad," cried Lewis, with beaming face, "I've found the woman-the all-embracing woman."

Leighton's mind wandered back to the tales of Lewis's little pal

Natalie.

"Tell me about her-again," he said genially.

"Again!" cried Lewis. "But you've never heard of her-not from me, anyway."

"What's her name?" asked Leighton, half aroused.

"Her name," said Lewis, smiling absently into the fire, "is Folly-Folly

Delaires."

Leighton was a trained stalker of dangerous game. Surprise never startled him into movement. It stilled him. Old Ivory had once said of him that he could make his heart stop beating at the smell of elephant; which is quite a different thing from having your heart stop beating on its own hook. When Lewis said, "Folly-Folly Delaires," Leighton suddenly became intensely still. He remained still for so long that Lewis looked up.

"Well, Dad, what Is it?" he asked, still smiling. "Have you heard of her?"

"Yes," said Leighton, quietly, "I've heard of her. I've even seen her. She's a beautiful-she has a beautiful body. Tell me just how it happened."

Then Lewis talked, and Leighton appeared to listen. He knew all the stages of that via dolorosa too well to have to pay close attention to Lewis's description, of the first emotional step of man toward man's surest tribulation.

There was no outburst from Leighton when Lewis finished. On the contrary, he made an effort to hide his thoughts, and succeeded so well that, had it not been for a touch of bitterness in his smile, Lewis might have been led to think that with this active calm his father would have received the announcement of his son's choice of any woman.

"Dad," said Lewis, troubled, "why do you smile like that?"

"I am smiling," said Leighton, "at the tragedy of philanthropy. Any man can get; it takes a genius to give. There are things I've got that I'd like to give you now-on the eve of your greatest trouble." Lewis threw up his head in amazement. He would have protested but, with a half-raised hand, Leighton stilled him. "No," he went on, "I don't expect you to acquire prescience all in a moment, nor do I expect myself to acquire the genius of giving to a sudden need in half an hour. Let's let things stand this way. You love Folly Delaires; I don't. I don't want to be converted, and you don't. But one of us has simply got to be, because-well-because I like to think we've lived too long together in spirit to take to two sides of a fence now."

Lewis felt a sudden depression fall on him, all the more terible for the exaltation that had preceded it.

"Two sides of a fence, Dad?" he said. "That can never be. I-I've just got to convert you. When you know her, she'll help me."

The two rose to their feet on a common impulse. Leighton laid his hand on Lewis's shoulder.

"Boy," he said, "forgive me for making your very words my own. I have no illusions as to the power of woman. She is at once the supreme source of happiness and of poignant suffering. You think your woman will help you; I think she'll help me. That neutralizes her a bit, doesn't it? It reduces our battle to the terms of single combat-unless one of us is right about Folly."

"But, Dad," stammered Lewis, "I don't want a battle."

Leighton pressed his hand down. Unconsciously Lewis straightened under the pressure.

"Listen to this," said Leighton. "The battles of life aren't served up like the courses at a dinner that you can skip at will. In life we have to fight. Mostly we have to fight people we love for things we love better. Sometimes we fight them for the very love we bear them. You and I are going to fight each other because we can't help it. Let's fight like gentlemen-to the finish-and smile. My boy, you don't know Folly."

"It's you who don't know Folly, Dad," said Lewis, He tried to smile, but his lips twitched treacherously. Not since Leighton had gambled with him, and won all he possessed, had such a blow been dealt to his faith.

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