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   Chapter 35 No.35

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8689

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Both Lewis and his father passed a miserable night, but not even Nelton could have guessed it when the two met in the morning for a late Sunday breakfast. Leighton felt a touch of pride in the bearing of his son. He wondered if Lewis had taken to heart a saying of his: "To feel sullen is human nature; to show it is ill breeding." He decided that he hadn't, on the grounds that no single saying is ever more than a straw tossed on the current of life.

When they had finished breakfast in their accustomed cheerful silence,

Leighton settled down to a long cigar and his paper.

"I suppose you're off to see your lady," he said casually.

Lewis laughed.

"Not yet. She isn't up until twelve ever."

"Doesn't get up until twelve?" said Leighton. "You've found that out, eh?"

"I didn't say 'doesn't get up'; I said 'isn't.' She gets up early enough, but it takes her hours. I've never even heard of a woman that takes such care of herself."

Leighton laid his paper aside.

"By the way," he said, "I've a confession to make to you, one that has worried me for some days. Your little affair drove it out of my mind last night."

"Well, Dad, go ahead," said Lewis. "I won't be hard on you."

"Have you any recollection of what you were working on before you went away?"

For a moment Lewis's face looked blank, then suddenly it flushed. He turned sharp eyes on his father.

"I left the studio locked," he said.

Leighton colored in his turn.

"I forgive you that," he said quietly. "Just after I came back to town Vi called and told me she had been posing for you. She said she had left something in the studio that she wanted to fetch herself. She asked me for the key."

Lewis's hands were clenched.

"Well?" he asked.

"I went with her-to the door. She asked me to wait outside. She was gone a long time. I heard her sobbing--"

"Sobbing? Vi?"

Leighton nodded.

"So-so I went in."

Father and son looked steadily at each other for a moment. Then Lewis said:

"You've forgiven me for my thought, Dad; now I beg your pardon for it. I suppose you saw that that bit of modeling was never intended for the Salon? It was meant for Vi-because-well, because I liked her enough to--"

"I know," interrupted Leighton. "Well, it worked. It worked as such cures seldom do. While Vi was sobbing her heart out on the couch, I smashed up the statue with a mallet. That's my confession."

Lewis did not move.

"Did you hear what I said?" asked Leighton. "I smashed up your model of

Vi."

"I heard you, Dad," said Lewis. "But you mustn't expect me to get excited over it, because it's what I should have done myself, once she had seen it."

"When I did it," continued Leighton, "I had no doubts; but since then I've thought a lot. I want you to know that if that cast had gone into marble or bronze, it would have had the eternal life of art itself."

Lewis flushed with pleasure. He knew that such praise from his father must have been weighed a thousand times before it gained utterance. Only from one other man on earth could commendation bring such a thrill. As the name of Le Brux came to his mind, it fell from his father's lips.

"Le Brux has been giving me an awful talking to."

"Le Brux!" cried Lewis. "Has he been here?"

"Only in spirit," said Leighton, smiling. "And this is what he said in his voice of thunder: 'If I had been here, I would have stood by that figure with a mallet and smashed the head of any man that raised a finger against it. What is the world coming to when a mere life weighs more in the balance than the most trifling material expression of eternity?

"'But, Master,' I said, 'a gentleman must always remember the woman.'

"To which he replied, 'What business has an artist to be anything so small as a mere gentleman? It is not alone for fame and repute that we great have our being. If by the loss of my single soul I can touch a thousand other souls to life, bring sight to the blind and hearing to ears that would not hear, what, then, is my soul? Nothing.'"

Leighton stopped and leaned forward.

"Then he said this, and the thunder was gone from his voice: 'When all the trappings of the world's religions have rotted away, the vicarious intention and example of Christ will still stand and bring a surge to the hearts of unforgetful men. Th

ou child, believe me, what humanity has gained of the best is founded solidly on sacrifice-on the individual ruin of many men and women and little children.'"

Leighton paused. Lewis was sitting with locked hands. He was trying to detach his mind from personalities.

"That's a great sophistry, isn't it?" he said.

"Do you know the difference between a sophistry and a great sophistry?" asked Leighton. "A sophistry is a lie; a great sophistry is merely super-truth."

"I can see," he went on, "that it's difficult for you to put yourself outside sculpture. Let's switch off to literature, because literature, next to music, is the supreme expression in art. I heard one of the keenest men in London say the other day, 'The man who writes a book that everybody agrees with is one of two things: a mere grocer of amusement or a mental pander to cash.'

"You've read Irving's tales of the Catskills and of the Alhambra. Vignettes. I think I remember seeing you read Hawthorne's "Scarlet Letter." I pick out two Americans because to-day our country supports more literary grocers and panders than the rest of the world put together. It isn't the writers' fault altogether. You can't turn a nation from pap in a day any more than you can wean a baby on lobster à la Newburg.

"But to get back. You might say that Irving gives the lie to my keen friend unless you admit, as I do, that Irving was not a writer of books so much as a painter of landscapes. He painted the scenes that were dear to his heart, and in his still blue skies he hung the soft mists of fable, of legend, and of the pageant of a passing race. Hawthorne was his antithesis-a painter of portraits of the souls of men and women. That's the highest achievement known to any branch of art." Leighton paused. "Do you know why those two men wrote as they did?"

Lewis shook his head.

"Because, to put it in unmistakable English, they had something on their chest, and they had to get it off. Irving wrote to get away from life. Hawthorne never wrote to get away from life,-he wrote himself into it forever and forever."

Leighton paused to get his cigar well alight.

"And now," he went on, "we come to the eternal crux. Which is beauty? Irving's placid pictures of light, or Hawthorne's dark portrayals of the varying soul of man?" He turned to Lewis. "What's your idea of a prude?"

"A prude," stammered Lewis-"why a prude's a person with an exaggerated idea of modesty, isn't it?"

"Bah!" said Leighton, "you are as flat as a dictionary. A prude is a far more active evil than that. A prude, my boy, is one who has but a single eye, and that in the back of his head, and who keeps his blind face set toward nature. If he would be content to walk backward, the world would get along more easily, and would like him better the farther he walked. The reason the live world has always hated prudes is that it's forever being stumbled on by them. Your prude clutches Irving to the small of his back and cries, 'This alone is beauty!' But any man with two eyes looks and answers, 'You are wrong; this is beauty alone.'

"And now do you see where we've come out? To make a thing of beauty alone is to bring a flash of joy to a hard-pressed world. But joy is never a force, not even an achievement. It's merely an acquisition. It isn't alive. The man who writes on paper or in stone one throbbing cry of the soul has lifted the world by the power of his single arm. He alone lives. And it is written that you shall know life above all the creatures that are in sea and land and in the heavens above the earth by this sign: sole among the things that are, life is its own source and its own end."

Leighton stopped.

"You see now," he added, "why half of me is sorry that it let the other half smash up that cast. What claim has a puny person against one flicker of eternal truth?"

"Yes," said Lewis, slowly, "I see. I can follow your logic to the very end. I can't answer it. All I know is that I myself-I couldn't have paid the price, nor-nor let Vi pay it."

"And to tell you the truth," said Leighton with a smile, "I don't know that I'm sorry." Lewis rose to his feet.

"Well, Dad," he said, "it's about twelve o'clock."

"Go ahead, my boy," said Leighton. "Bring the lady to lunch to-day or any other day-if she'll come. Just telephone Nelton."

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