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   Chapter 42 No.42

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7355

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

The house that Aunt Jed had left to Natalie stood on the lip of a vast basin. From its veranda one looked down into a peaceful cup of life. The variegated green of the valley proclaimed to the wandering eye,

"All sorts are here that all the earth yields!

Variety without end."

There was a patchwork of fields bordered with gray stone walls, of stray bits of pasture, of fallow meadow and glint of running water, of woodland, orchard, and the habitations of man made still by distance.

Aunt Jed's house was not on the highway. The highway was miles off, and cut the far side of the basin in a long, straight slant. On that gash of white one could see occasional tiny motor-cars hurrying up and down like toys on a taut string. Only one motor, a pioneer car, had struggled up the road that led past Natalie's door, and immediately after, that detour had been marked as impassable on all the best maps.

In fact, the road up to Aunt Jed's looked more like a river-bed than a road. It had a gully and many "thank-you-ma'ams." It was plentifully sown with pebbles as big as your head and hard as flint, which gave tit for tat to every wheel that struck them. Every time Mrs. Leighton ventured in Natalie's cart-and it was seldom indeed except to go to church-she would say, "We really must have this road fixed."

But Natalie would only laugh and say,

"Not a bit of it. I like it that way."

Natalie had bought for a song a little mare named Gipsy. Nobody, man or woman, could drive Gip; she just went. Whoever rode, held on and prayed for her to stop. Gip hated that road down into the valley. If she could have gone from top to bottom in one jump, she would have done it. As it was, she did the next best thing. What made you love Gip was that she came up the hill almost as fast as she went down.

Soon after Gip became Natalie's, she awoke to find herself famous from an attempt to pass over and through a stalled motor-car. After that the farmers used to keep an eye out for her, especially on Sundays, and give her the whole road when they saw her coming. Ann Leighton said it was undignified to go to church like that, to which Natalie replied:

"Think what it's doing for your color, Mother. Besides, think of church. You must admit that church here has gone a bit tough. I really couldn't stand it except sandwiched between two slices of Gip."

Aunt Jed's house-nobody ever called it anything else-was typical of the old New England style, except that a broad veranda had been added to the length of the front by the generation that had outraged custom and reduced the best parlor and the front door to everyday uses. This must have happened many years before Natalie's advent, for a monster climbing rose of hardy disposition had more than half covered the veranda before she came.

The house itself was of clapboards painted white, and stood four square; its small-paned windows, flanked with green shutters, blinking toward the west. It had a very prim air, said to have been absorbed from Aunt Jed, and seemed to be eternally trying to draw back its skirts from contact with the interloping veranda and the rose-tree, which, toward the end of the flowering season, certainly gave it a mussed appearance. At such times, if the great front door was left open on a warm day, the house took on a look of open-mouthed horror, which immediately relapsed to primness once the door was closed.

Natalie was the discoverer of this evidence of personality. Sitting under the two giant elms that were the sole ornament of the soft old lawn, she suddenly caught the look on the face of the house, and called out:

"Mother, come here! Come quickly!"

as though the look couldn't possibly last through Mrs. Leighton's leisurely approach.

"What is it, dear?" asked Mrs. Leighton.

"Why, the house!" said Natalie. "Look at it. It's horrified at something. I think it must be the mess the roses have made. Can't you see what it's saying? It's saying, 'Well, I never!'"

Mrs. Leighton laughed.

"It does look sort of funny," she said.

Just then old mammy put her gray head out of the door to hear what the talk was about. She wore glasses, as becoming to her age, but peered over them when she wanted to see anything.

"What youans larffin' abeout?" she demanded.

"We're laughing at the house," cried Natalie. "It's got its mouth open and the funniest look on its face. Come and see."

"Mo' nonsense," grunted mammy and slammed the door.

Then it was that the house seemed to withdraw suddenly into the primness of virginal white paint.

"That's what it wanted," cried Natalie, excitedly-"just to get its mouth shut. O Mother, isn't it an old dear?"

Stub Hollow had looked upon the new arrivals at Aunt Jed's as summer people until they began to frequent Stub Hollow's first and only Presbyterian church. Natalie, who like all people of charm, was many years younger inside than she was out, immediately perceived that the introduction of mammy in her best Sunday turban into that congregation would do a great deal toward destroying its comatose atmosphere. Like many another New England village church, Stub Hollow's needed a jar and needed it badly. But it wasn't the church that got the jar.

Upon the introduction of Gip into the family circle, it was conceded that there was no longer any reason why mammy should resign the benefits of communal worship. Consequently, with many a grunt,-for good food and better air had well nigh doubled her proportions,-mammy climbed from the veranda to the back seat of the cart and filled it. For a moment it seemed doubtful whether mammy or Gip would hold the ground, but Gip finally won out by clawing rapidly at the pebbly road and getting the advantage of the down grade.

Neither Natalie nor Mrs. Leighton ever knew just where it was they lost mammy, but it couldn't have been far from the gate; for just as they were dipping into the wood half-way down the hill, Mrs. Leighton happened to glance back, missed mammy, and saw her stocky form waddling across the lawn toward the back of the house. Mrs. Leighton was also young inside. She said nothing.

When finally they drew up, with the assistance of three broad-shouldered swains, at the church, Natalie looked back and gasped,

"Mammy! Mother, where's mammy?"

"You don't suppose she could have got off to pick flowers, do you?" asked Mrs. Leighton, softly.

"Why, Mother!" cried Natalie. "Do you know that mammy may be killed?

We'll have to go straight back."

"No, we won't," said Mrs. Leighton, flushing at her levity before the very portals of the church. "She's all right. I looked back, and saw her crossing the lawn."

"Even so," said Natalie, severely, "I'm surprised at you." Then she laughed.

Church seemed very long that day, but at last they were out in the sunshine again and Gip was given her full head. No sooner had Zeke, the hired man, seized the bit than Natalie sprang from the cart and rushed to the kitchen. She found mammy going placidly about her business.

"Doan' yo' talk to me, chile," she burst out at sight of Natalie. "Doan' yo' dast talk to me!"

Natalie threw her arms about her.

"You poor mammy," she murmured. "Aren't you hurt?"

"Hurt!" snorted mammy. "Yo' mammy mought 'a' been killed ef she didn' carry her cushions along wif 'er pu'sson."

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