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   Chapter 44 No.44

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8368

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


"Is that the house?" asked Lewis, as they mounted the brow of the hill.

Leighton nodded.

Across a wide expanse of green that was hardly smooth enough to be called a lawn gleamed the stately homestead. It was of deep-red brick, trimmed with white. It stood amid a grove of giant sugar-maples. The maples blended with the green shutters of the house, and made it seem part and parcel of the grove. Upon its front no veranda had dared encroach, but at one side could be seen a vine-covered stoop that might have been called a veranda had it not been dwarfed to insignificance by the size of the house. The front door, which alone in that country-side boasted two leaves, was wide open, and on the steps leading up to it, resplendent in fresh gingham, stood Mrs. Tuck.

With some difficulty William persuaded the bays to turn into the long-unused drive that swept up to the front door. Leighton sprang out.

"Hallo, Mrs. Tuck!" he cried. "How are you?"

"How do you do? I'm very pleased to see you back, Mr. Leighton," said Mrs. Tuck, who read the best ten-cent literature and could talk "real perlite" for five minutes at a stretch. "Come right along in. You'll find all the rooms redded up-I mean-"

"Yes, yes," laughed Leighton, "I know what you mean all right. I haven't even forgotten the smell of hot mince pies. Lew, don't you notice a sort of culinary incense--'

"Land sakes! them pies is a-burnin'!" shrieked Mrs. Tuck as she turned and ran.

William offered to show the way to the bedrooms, but Leighton refused.

"No," he said, "we'll come around and help you put up the team. No use washing up till we get our things."

Silas, with the spring-wagon, duly appeared. On top of the baggage, legs in air, was the discarded canopy of the carryall. Beside Silas sat Nelton. He was trembling all over. In his lap he held Lewis's hat. His bulging eyes were fastened on it.

"There they be," grunted Silas. "Told you they was all right. William be a keerful driver."

Nelton raised his eyes slowly. They lit, with wonder.

"Mr. Leighton," he cried, "Master Lewis, are you safe?'

"Quite safe, Nelton," said Leighton. "Why?"

Nelton mutely held out Lew's hat and jerked his head back at the wrecked canopy.

"Oh, yes," said Leighton, nodding; "we dropped those. Thank you for picking them up. Take the bags up-stairs."

"Lew," said Leighton, as they were washing, "did you use to have dinner at night at Nadir or supper?"

"Supper," said Lewis.

"Well," said Leighton, "that's what you'll get today-at six o'clock, and don't you be frightened when you see it. It has been said of the Scotch that the most wonderful thing about them is that they can live on oats. The mystery of the brawn and muscle of New England is no less wrapped up in pies. But don't hesitate. Pitch in. There's something about this air that turns a nightly mixture of mince-pies, pumpkin-pies, custard-pies, lemon-pies, and apple-pies, with cheese, into a substance as heavenly light as fresh-fallen manna. It is a tradition, wisely fostered by the farmers, that the only thing that can bring nightmare and the colic to a stomach in New England are green apples and stolen melons."

Lewis was in good appetite, as was Leighton. They ate heartily of many things besides pies, went to bed at nine, and would have slept the round of the clock had not a great gong-a bit of steel rail hung on a wire-and all the multitudinous noises of farm headquarters broken out in one simultaneous chorus at half-past five in a glorious morning.

Noisy geese and noisier cocks, whinnying horses and lowing cattle, the rattle of milk-tins, the squeak of the well-boom, the clank of mowing-machines, the swish of a passing brush-harrow, and, finally, the clamoring gong, were too much for Nelton. Lewis, on his way to look for a bath, caught him stuffing what he called "cotton an' wool" into his ears.

"Tork about the streets of Lunnon, Master Lewis," he said. "I calls this country life deafenin'."

Lewis had wanted to telegraph to Natalie, but Leighton had stopped him.

"You've waited too long for that," he had said. "You have apparently neglected Natalie and Mrs. Leighton.

When people think they've been neglected, never give them a chance to think up what they're going to say to you. Just fall on them."

As soon as they had breakfasted, Leighton took Lewis to the top of the hill at the back of the homestead. It was a high hill. It commanded a long stretch of the Housatonic Valley to the east, and toward the west and north it overlooked two ridges, with the dips between, before the eye came up against the barrier of the Berkshire range.

Lewis drew a long breath of the cold, morning air.

"It's beautiful, Dad," he said.

"Beautiful!" repeated Leighton, his eyes sweeping slowly and wistfully across the scene. "Boy, God has made no lovelier land."

Then he turned to the west and pointed across to the second ridge. "Do you see that gleam of white that stands quite alone?"

"Yes, I think I see what you mean," said Lewis. "'Way down, just below it, you can see the tip of a church steeple."

"So you can," said Leighton. "Well, that gleam of white is Aunt Jed's.

Make for it. That's where you'll find Natalie."

"Is it?" said Lewis, straightening, and with a flush of excitement in his cheeks. "Aren't you coming, too?"

"No," said Leighton; "not to-day. We won't expect you back before supper. Tell Mrs. Leighton that I'll be over soon to see her and thank her."

Lewis started off with an eager stride, only to learn that Aunt Jed's was farther away than it looked. He found a road and followed it through the valley and up the first ridge, then seeing that the road meandered off to the right into a village, he struck off across the fields straight for the distant house.

He had passed through the moist bottoms and come upon a tract of rock-strewn pasture land when he saw before him the figure of a girl. Her back was to him. A great, rough straw hat hid her head. She wore a white blouse and a close-fitting blue skirt. She was tall and supple, but she walked slowly, with her eyes on the ground. In one hand she carried a little tin pail.

Lewis came up behind her.

"What are you looking for?" he asked.

The girl started and turned. Lewis stepped forward. They stood and stared at each other. The little tin pail slipped from the girl's hand.

"Strawberries," she stammered. "I was looking for strawberries." Then she added so low that he scarcely heard her, "Lew?"

"Nat!" cried Lewis. "It is Nat!"

Natalie swayed toward him. He caught her by the arms. She looked at him and tried to smile, but instead she crumpled into a heap on a rock and cried-cried as though her heart would break.

Lewis sat down beside her and put one arm around her.

"Why, Nat, aren't you glad to see me? Nat, don't cry! Aren't you glad

I've come?"

Natalie nodded her head hard, but did not try to speak. Not till she had quite finished crying did she look up. Then her tear-stained face broke into a radiant smile.

"That's-that's why I'm crying," she gasped; "because I'm so glad."

So there they sat together and talked about what? About strawberries. Lewis said that he had walked miles across the fields, and seen heaps of blossoms but no berries. He didn't think the wild ones had berries. Which, Natalie said, was nonsense. Of course they had berries, only it was too early. She had found three that were pinkish. She pointed to them where they had rolled from the little tin pail. Lewis picked one up and examined it.

"You're right," he said gravely, "it's a strawberry."

Then silence fell upon them-a long silence, and at the end Lewis said:

"Nat, do you remember at Nadir the guavas-when, you'd come out to where

I was with the goats?"

Natalie nodded, a starry look in her far-away eyes.

"Nat," said Lew, "tell me about it-about Nadir-about-about everything. About how you went back to Consolation Cottage."

Natalie flashed a look at him.

"How did you know we had been back to Consolation Cottage?"

"Why, I went there," said Lewis. "It isn't three months since I went there."

"Did you, Lew?" said Natalie, her face brightening. "Did you go just to look for us?"

"Of course," said Lewis. "Now tell me."

"No," said Natalie, with a shake of her head, "you first."

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