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   Chapter 45 No.45

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7536

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In the innocence of that first hour Lewis told Natalie all. He even told her of Folly, as though Folly, like all else, was something they could share between them. Natalie did not wince. There are blows that just sting-the sharp, quick blows that make us cry out, and then wonder why we cried, so quickly does the pain pass. They are nothing beside the blows that slowly fall and crush and keep their pain back till the overwhelming last.

People wonder at the cruel punishment a battered man can take and never cry out, at the calm that fills the moment of life after the mortal wound, and at the steady, quiet gaze of big game stricken unto death. They do not know that when the blood of man or beast is up, when the heart thunders fast in conflict or in the chase, there is no pain. A man can get so excited over some trifle that a bullet will plow through his flesh without his noticing it. Pain comes afterward. Pain is always an awakening.

Natalie was excited at the sudden presence of Lew and at the wonder of his tale. In that galaxy of words that painted to her a climbing fairy movement of growth and achievement the single fact of Folly shot through her and away, but the wound stayed. For the moment she did not know that she was stricken, nor did Lewis guess. And so it happened that that whole day passed like a flash of happy light.

Natalie, in her wisdom, had gone ahead to warn Mrs. Leighton and mammy of Lewis's coming. Even so, when the two women took him into their long embrace, he knew by the throbbing of their hearts how deeply joy can shake foundations that have stood firm against the heaviest shocks of grief.

Gip and the cart, with Natalie at the helm, whisked Lewis back to the homestead. What memories of galloping ponies and a far, wide world that ride awakened they did not speak in words, but the light that was in their faces when at the homestead gate they said good night was the light that shines for children walking hand in hand in the morning land of faith.

Natalie could not eat that night. She slipped away early to bed-to the little, old-fashioned bed that had been Aunt Jed's. It, too, was a four-poster; but so pompous a name overweighted its daintiness. So light were its trimmings in white, so snowy the mounds of its pillows and the narrow reach of its counterpane, that it seemed more like a nesting-place for untainted dreams than the sensible, stocky little bed it was.

Natalie went to bed and to sleep, but scarcely had the last gleam faded from the western sky when she awoke. A sudden terror seized her. The pillow beneath her cheek was wet. Upon her heart a great weight pressed down and down. For a moment she rebelled. She had gone to sleep in the lap of her happiest day. How could she wake to grief? A single word tapped at her brain: Folly, Folly. And then she knew-she knew the wound her happy day had left; and wide-eyed, fighting for breath, her arms outstretched, she felt the slow birth of the pain that lives and lives and grows with life.

Natalie cried easily for happiness, and so the tears that she could spare to grief were few. Not for nothing had she been born to the note of joy. Through all her life, so troubled, so thinly spread with pleasures, she had clung to her inheritance. Often had her mind questioned her heart: "What is there in this empty day? Why do you laugh? Why do you sing?" And ever her heart had answered, "I laugh and sing because, if not to-day, then to-morrow, the full day cometh."

But to-night her inheritance seemed a little and a cruel thing. Wide-eyed she prayed for the tears that would not come. Dry were her eyes, dry was her throat, and dry the pressing weight upon her heart. Hours passed, and then she put forth her strength. She slipped

from the bed and walked with groping hands toward the open window. In the semi-darkness she moved like a tall, pale light. Down her back and across her bosom her hair fell like a caressing shadow. Her white feet made no sound.

She reached the window and knelt, her arms folded upon the low sill. She tossed the hair from before her face and looked out upon the still night. How far were the stars to-night-as cold and far as on that night of long ago when she had stood on the top of the highest hill and called to the desert for Lew!

She stayed at the window for a long time, and found meager comfort at last in the thought that Lewis could not have guessed. How could he have guessed what she herself had not known? She arose and went back to bed. Then she lay thinking and planning a course that should keep not only Lewis but also Mrs. Leighton and mammy blind to the wound she bore. And while she was in the midst of planning, sleep came and made good its ancient right to lock hands with tired youth.

Leighton was crestfallen to see in what high spirits Lew had come back from his first day with Natalie. He lost faith at once in H lne's cure. Then, as they went to bed, he clutched at a straw.

"Lew," he asked, "did you tell your pal everything?"

"Everything I could think of in the time," said Lewis, smiling. "One day isn't much when you've got half of two lives to go over. Of course there were things we forgot. We'll have them to tell to-morrow."

"Was Folly one of the things you forgot?"

"No," answered Lewis and paused, a puzzled look on his brow. He was wondering why he had remembered Folly. To-night she seemed very far away. Then he threw back his head and looked at his father. "Why did you ask that?"

Leighton did not answer for a moment. Finally he said:

"Because it's the one thing you hadn't a right to keep to yourself. I'm glad you saw that. Always start square with a woman. If you do,-afterward,-she'll forgive you anything."

Lewis went to bed with the puzzled look still on his face. It was not because he had seen anything that he had told of Folly. He had told of her simply as a part of chronology-something that couldn't be skipped without leaving a gap. Now he wondered, if he had had time to think, would he have told? He had scarcely put the question to himself when sleep blotted out thought.

On the next day Leighton had the bays hitched to what was left of the carryall, and with Silas and Lewis drove over to Aunt Jed's to pay his respects to Mrs. Leighton. Natalie and Lew went off for a ramble in the hills. Mammy bustled about her kitchen dreaming out a dream of an early dinner for the company, and murmuring instructions to Ephy, a pale little slip of a woman whom the household, seeking to help, had installed as helper. Mrs. Leighton stayed with Leighton out under the elms. They talked little, but they said much.

It was still early in the day when Leighton said:

"I shall call you Ann. You must call me Glen."

"Of course," answered Mrs. Leighton, and then wondered why it was "of course." "I suppose," she said aloud, "it's 'of course' because of Lew. I feel as though I were sitting here years ahead, talking to Lew when his head will be turning gray."

"Don't!" cried Leighton. "Don't say that! Lew travels a different road."

Mrs. Leighton looked up, surprised at his tone.

"Perhaps you don't see what we can see. Perhaps you don't know what you have done for Lew."

"I have done nothing for Lew," said Leighton, quickly. "If anything has been done for Lew, it was done in the years when I was far from him in body, in mind, and in spirit. Lew would have been himself without me. It is doubtful whether he would have been himself without you. I-I don't forget that."

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