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   Chapter 43 No.43

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8466

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Six miles away from Aunt Jed's, on the top of a hill overlooking the Housatonic Valley, stood the Leighton homestead, a fine old-fashioned house, now unoccupied save for a care-taking farmer and his wife, who farmed the Leighton acres on shares. The homestead belonged to Lewis's father, and in the natural course of events was destined to become Lewis's property.

Great was the excitement at Homestead Farm when a telegram arrived announcing the imminent arrival of owner and son.

"Land sakes! William," gasped Mrs. Tuck, "in two days! You'll hev to send 'em a telegram tellin' 'em it can't be done nohow. I told you my conscience was a-prickin' me over the spring cleanin'. Seems like Providence was a-jostlin' my elbow all these days, and I was jest too ornery to pay heed."

"In two days, it says," repeated William; "and we can't send no telegram because there ain't no address."

Tuck and his wife had no children. They occupied the kitchen for a living-room and the big bedroom over it at night. The main part of the house was shut up. The hired hands occupied rooms in the barn that had once been the quarters of a numerous stable force, for the Leightons had always gone in for horses, as two or three long-standing trotting records at neighboring county fairs gave evidence.

Mrs. Tuck was not long in facing the inevitable. First of all she commandeered all the labor on the farm; then she sent a call for aid to a couple of neighbors. Within an hour all the green shutters had swung wide on their creaking hinges, and the window-sashes were up. Out of the open windows poured some dust and a great deal of commotion. Before night the big house was spick and span from garret to cellar.

"Does seem to me," said Mrs. Tuck, as she placed a very scrappy supper before William, "like dust is as human as guinea pigs. Where you say it can't get in, it jest breeds."

"Now you sit down and take it easy, Mrs. Tuck," said William, who had married late in life and never got on familiar terms with his wife. "I reckon them men-folks ain't so took with reddin' up as you think they be."

"Oh, I know," said the tired, but by no means exhausted, Mrs. Tuck, "I ain't forgettin' their innards, ef thet's what you're thinkin' of. You just tell Silas to kill four broilers, an' I'll clean 'em to-night. Thet'll give me a start, and to-morow I c'n do a few dozen pies. I hev got some mince-meat, thank goodness! an' you c'n get me in some of them early apples in the morning. Seems like I'm not going to sleep a wink for thinkin'."

Lewis and Leighton did not motor from New York to the Homestead Farm, as ten years later they might have done. Motors, while common, were still in that stage of development which made them a frequent source of revenue to the farmer with a stout team of horses. Consequently it was by train that they arrived at Leighton's home station-a station that had grown out of all recognition since last he had seen it.

However, he himself had not grown out of recognition. A lank figure of a man, red-cheeked, white-bearded, slouch-hatted, and in his shirt-sleeves, stepped forward and held out a horny hand.

"Well, Glen, how be ye? Sure am glad to see ye back."

"Me, too," said Leighton, grinning and flushing with pleasure. "Come here, Lew. Shake hands with Mr. Tuck."

"Well, I swan!" chuckled William as he crushed Lewis's knuckles. "Guess you don't recollec' ridin' on my knee, young feller?"

"No, I don't," said Lewis, and smiled into the old man's moist blue eyes.

"And who he this?" asked William, turning toward Nelton.

"That? Oh, that's Nelton," said Lewis.

"Glad to meet ye, Mr. Nelton. Put it thar!" said William, holding out a vast hand.

For an instant Nelton paused, then, with set teeth and the air of one who comes to grips with an electric battery, he laid his fingers in Mr. Tuck's grasp. "Huh!" remarked William, "ye ain't got much grip. Wait tell we've stuffed ye with buttermilk 'n' pies 'n' victuals 'n' things."

Nelton said not a word, but cast an agonized look at Leighton, who came to his aid.

"Now, William, what have you brought down?"

"Well, Glen, there's me an' the kerryall for the folks, an' Silas here with the spring-wagon f

or the trunks."

"Good," said Leighton. "Here, Silas, take these checks and look after

Mr. Nelton. Lew and I will go in the carryall."

"Fancy your governor a-pullin' of my leg!" murmured Nelton, presumably to Lewis, but apparently to space. "Why don't 'e tell this old josser as I'm a menial, and be done with it."

Old William started, stared at Nelton, then at Leighton. He walked off toward the carryall, scratching his head.

"What is it?" he asked Lewis, in a loud whisper.

"That's dad's valet," said Lewis, grinning.

"Valley, is it?" said William, glancing over one shoulder. "Nice, lush bit o' green, to look at him. What does he do?"

"Looks after dad. Waits on him, helps him dress, and packs his bags for him."

William stopped in his tracks and turned on Leighton.

"Glen," he said, "I don't know ez you c'n stand to ride in the old kerryall. I ain't brought no sofy pillows, ner even a fire-screen to keep the sun from sp'ilin' yer complexion."

Leighton smiled, but said nothing. They had reached the carryall, an old hickory structure sadly in need of paint. Hitched to it were two rangy bays. The harness was a piece of ingenious patchwork, fitted with hames instead of collars. Leighton stepped into the back seat, and Lewis followed. William unhitched the horses and climbed into the cramped front seat. When he had settled down, his knees seemed to be peering over the dash-board. "Gid ap!" he cried, and the bays started off slowly across the bridge.

The road to the homestead followed down the river for three miles before it took to the hills. No sooner had the carryall made the turn into the River Road than the bays sprang forward so suddenly that Lewis's hat flew off backward, and for a moment he thought his head had followed.

"Heh!" he called, "I've lost my hat!"

"Never mind your hat, Son," shouted William. "Silas'll pick it up."

The bays evidently thought he was shouting at them. They let their enormous stride out another link. The carryall plowed through the dust, rattled over pebbles, and, where the road ran damp under overhanging trees, shot four streams of mud from its flying wheels. Old William chewed steadily at the cud of tobacco he had kept tucked in his cheek during the interview at the station. His long arms were stretched full length along the taut reins. If he had only had hand-holds on them, he would have been quite content. As it was, he was grinning.

"Gee, Dad!" gasped Lewis, "d'you know those horses are still trotting!"

Leighton leaned forward.

"Got a match, William?" he shouted above the creak and rattle of the carryall.

"Heh?" yelled William.

The bays let out another link.

"Got a match?" repeated Leighton. "I want to smoke."

William waved his beard at his left-hand pocket.

As they struck a bit of quiet, soft road, Leighton called:

"Why don't you let 'em out? You've gone and left your whip at home. How are we going to get up the hill?"

The grin faded from Old William's face. "Gid ap!" he roared, and then the bays showed what they could really do in the way of hurrying for the doctor. The old carryall leaped a thank-you-ma'am clean. When it struck, the hickory wheels bent to the storm, but did not break. Instead, they shot their load into the air. A low-hanging branch swooped down and swept the canopy, supports and all, off the carryall. William never looked back.

Lewis clung to the back of the front seat.

"D-d-dad," he stuttered, "p-please don't say anything more to him! D-d'you know they're still trotting?"

At last the bays swung off upon the steep Hill Road, and slowed down to a fast, pulling walk. Old William dropped the reins on the dash-board, made a telling shot with tobacco juice at a sunflower three yards off, and turned to have a chat.

"Glen," he said, "I reckon, after all, there's times when you c'n do without sofy pillows."

"Why, William," said Leighton, still pale with fright, "If I'd had a pillow, I'd have gone fast asleep." Then he smiled. "Some of the old stock?"

William nodded.

"I don't mind tellin' you I ain't drove like thet sence the day me'n you-"

"Never mind since when, William," broke in Leighton, sharply. "How's

Mrs. Tuck?"

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