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   Chapter 38 No.38

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 9715

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Immediately upon leaving Folly, Leighton called on Lady Derl, by appointment. He had already been to Hélène with his trouble over Lewis. It was she that had told him to see Folly. "In a case of even the simplest subtraction," Hélène had said, "you've got to know what you're trying to subtract from."

As usual, Leighton was shown into Hélène's intimate room. He closed the door after him quickly.

"Hélène," he said, "where's the key?"

"The key? What key?"

"The key to this door. I want to lock myself in here."

"Poor frightened thing!" laughed Hélène. "Turn around and let me look at you. Is your face scratched?"

Leighton pulled out a handkerchief and mopped his brow. He stared at each familiar object in the room as though he were trying to recall a truant mind. Finally his eyes came around to Hélène, and with a quick smile and the old toss of the head with which he was wont to throw off a mood, he brought himself back to the present.

"With time and patience," he said, as he sat down, "anybody can get a grip on a personality, but a mighty impersonality is like the Deluge or-or a steam-roller. Do I look flattened out?"

"You do, rather, for you," said Hélène. "Tell me about it from the beginning." And Leighton did. It took him half an hour. When he got through, she said, still smiling, "I'd like to meet this Folly person."

"I see I've talked for nothing," said Leighton. "It isn't the Folly person that flattened me out. It's what's around her, outside of her."

"That's what you think," said Hélène. "But, still, it's she I'd like to see."

"That's lucky," said Leighton, "because you 're going to."

"When?"

"To-morrow. Lunch."

"What's the idea?"

"The idea is this. I've been looking her up, viewing her cradle and her mother's cradle and that sort of thing. I'd have liked to have viewed her father's as well, but it's a case of cherchez l'homme."

"Well?"

"Well, the young lady's an emanation from sub-Cockneydom. My idea is that that kind can't stand the table and grande-dame test. I'll supply the table, with fixtures, and you're going to be the grande-dame." Leighton's face suddenly became boyishly pleading. "Will you, Hélène? It's more than an imposition to ask; it's an impertinence."

For a moment Hélène was serious and looked it.

"Glen," she said, "you and I don't have to ask that sort of thing-not with each other. We take it. Of course I'll come. I'll enjoy it. But-do you think she's really raw enough to give herself away?"

"I don't know," said Leighton, gloomily. "I couldn't think of anything else. Lunch begins to look a bit thin for the job. At first I'd thought of one of those green-eyed Barbadian cocktails, followed by that pale-eyed Swiss wine of mine that Ivory calls the Amber Witch with the hidden punch. But I've given them up. You see, I told her I'd play fair if she did."

"Yes, I see," said Hélène.

A psychologist would have liked an hour to study the lightning change that came over Folly when, on the following day, she suddenly realized Lady Derl. Folly had blown into the flat like a bit of gay thistledown. For her, to lunch with one man was the stop this side of boredom; but to lunch with two was a delight. If she was allowed to pick the other woman, she could just put up with a partie carrée. But she hadn't picked out Lady Derl. Lady Derl was something that had never touched her world except from a box across the footlights on an occasional première.

One flash of Folly's eyes took in Lady Derl, and then her long lashes drooped before Lady Derl had time to take in Folly. Folly's whole self drooped. She was still a bit of thistle-down, but its pal, the breeze, was gone. She crossed the room, barely touched Hélène's hand, and then fluttered down to stillness on the edge of a big chair.

At lunch Leighton made desperate efforts to start a breeze and failed.

Folly said "Yes" and Folly said "No,"-very softly, too,-and that was

all. Leighton stepped on Hélène's foot several times, but to no avail.

Lady Derl was watching Folly. "Could she keep it up? Yes, she could."

Lady Derl couldn't talk; she wanted to laugh.

Throughout that interminable lunch, Hélène, Leighton, and Lewis saw nothing, thought nothing, but Folly, and, for all any one of them could see, Folly didn't know it. "Oh, you adorable cat!" thought Lady Derl. "Oh, you adorable!" sighed Lewis to himself, and, inwardly, Leighton groaned, "Oh, you you!"

Within twenty minutes of leaving the table, Folly rose from the edge of her chair and crossed to Lady Derl.

"Good-by," she breathed shyly, holding out her hand. "I must go now." Lewis sprang up to accompany her. They could see he was aching to get away somewhere where he could put his arms around her. Leighton crossed to the door and held it open. "Good-by," said Folly to him, holding

out her hand. "I've had such a good time."

At the word "such," Leighton winced and flushed. Then he grinned.

"Good-by, Folly," he said. "I hope you'll come again when you're feeling more like yourself."

He closed the door and then rang for Nelton. Nelton came.

"Bring me the iodine," said Leighton, as with his handkerchief he stanched the blood from a bad scratch on his right wrist.

"Heavens! Glen," cried Hélène, "how did you get that?

"Didn't you see me jump when she said 'such'?" asked Leighton. Then they sat down, and Hélène laughed for a long time, while Leighton tried not to. "Oh," he said at last, "I wish we didn't have to think of Lew!"

"You may ask for my advice now," said Hélène, a little breathlessly.

"I've got it ready."

"Thank God!" said Leighton. "What is it?"

"It's only a plan to gain time, after all," said Hélène; "but that's what you want-time for Lew to get his puppy eyes opened. You can elaborate the idea. I'll just give you the skeleton."

She did, and, soon after, Leighton saw her into a cab. He went back to the flat and waited. He knew that Lewis would not be gone long. He would be too keen to hear his father's and Lady Derl's verdict.

Leighton had just settled down to a book and a second cigar when Lewis came into the room like a breeze that had only a moment to stay.

"Well, Dad," he cried, "what have you got to say now? What has Lady Derl got to say?"

Lewis flung himself into a chair, crossed his arms, and stretched his legs straight out before him. His head hung to one side, and he was so confident of his father's verdict that he was laughing at him out of bright eyes.

Leighton laid his book aside and took his cigar from his mouth. He leaned toward his son, his elbows on his knees.

"Every time I see Miss Delaires," he said slowly, "my opinion of her charms and her accomplishments goes up with a leap."

Lewis nodded, and scarcely refrained from saying, "I told you so."

Leighton's face remained impassive. "She has a much larger repertoire than I thought," he continued; "but there's one r?le she can't play."

"What's that?" asked Lewis.

"Marriage."

"Why?" asked Lewis, his face setting. Then he blurted out: "I might as Well tell you, she says she doesn't believe in marriage. She's too advanced."

"Too advanced!" exclaimed Leighton. "Why, my dear boy, she hasn't advanced an inch from the time the strongest man with the biggest club had a God-given right to the fairest woman in the tribe and exercised it. That was the time for Folly to marry."

"Go easy, Dad," warned Lewis.

"I'm going to, Boy," said Leighton. "You hear a lot of talk to-day on the shortcomings of marriage as an institution. The socialists and the suffragists and a lot of other near-sighted people have got it into their heads that we've outgrown marriage." Leighton puffed at his cigar. "Once I was invited out to dinner, and had to eat cabbage because there was nothing else. That night I had the most terrible dream of my life. I dreamed that instead of growing up, I was growing down, and that by morning I had grown down so far that, when I tried to put them on, I only reached to the crotch of my trousers. I'll never forget those flapping, empty legs."

Lewis smiled.

"You can smile," went on Leighton. "I can't, even now. That's what's happened to this age. We've outgrown marriage downward. Your near-sighted people talk of contractual agreements, parity of the sexes, and of a lot of other drugged panaceas, with the enthusiasm of a hawker selling tainted bloaters. They don't see that marriage is founded on a rock set deeper than the laws of man. It's a rock upon which their jerry-rigged ships of the married state are bound to strike as long as there's any Old Guard left standing above the surge of leveled humanity."

"And what's the rock?" asked Lewis.

"A woman's devotion," said Leighton, and paused. "Devotion," he went on, "is an act of worship, and of prayer as well as of consecration, only, with a woman, it isn't an act at all. Sometime perhaps H lne will talk to you. If she does, you'll see in her eyes what I'm trying to tell you in words."

"And-Folly?" said Lewis. His own pause astounded him.

"Yes, Folly," said Leighton. "Well, that's what Folly lacks-the key, the rock, the foundation. The only person Folly has a right to marry is herself, and she knows it."

Lewis sighed with disappointment. He had been so sure. Leighton spoke again.

"One thing more. Don't forget that to-day you and I-and H lne, received Folly here as one of us."

Lewis looked up. Leighton rose, and laid one hand on his shoulder.

"Boy," he said, "don't make a mistress out of anything that has touched

H lne. You owe that to me."

"I won't, Dad," gulped Lewis. He snatched up his hat and stick and hurried out into the open.

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