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   Chapter 46 No.46

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8464

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


At four o'clock Leighton sent for Silas.

"Take the team home, Silas," he said. "We're going to walk. Come along,

Lew."

"It's awfully early, Dad," said Lew, with a protesting glance at the high sun.

"The next to the last thing a man learns in social finesse," said Leighton, "and the very last rule that reaches the brain of woman, is to say good-by while it's still a shock to one's hosts."

"And it's still a shock to-day," said Mrs. Leighton, smiling. "But you mustn't quarrel with what your father's said, Lew," she added. "He's given you the key to the heart of 'Come again!'"

"As if Lew would ever need that!" cried Natalie.

Soon after leaving the house, Leighton struck off to the right and up. His step was not springy. His head hung low on his breast, and his fingers gripped nervously at the light stick he carried. He did not speak, and Lewis knew enough not to break that silence. They crossed a field, Leighton walking slightly ahead. He did not have to look up to lead the way.

Presently they came into a lane. It dipped off to the left, into the valley. It was bordered by low, gray stone walls. On its right hung a thick wood of second-growth trees-a New England wood, various beyond the variety of any other forest on earth. It breathed a mingled essence of faint odors. The fronds of the trees reached over and embowered the lane.

On the left the view was open to the valley by reason of a pasture. The low stone wall was topped by a snaky fence of split rails. They were so old, so gray, that they, too, seemed of stone. Beyond them sloped the meager pasture-land; brown, almost barren even in the youth of the year. It was strewn with flat, outcropping rocks. Here and there rose a mighty oak. A splotch of green marked a spring. Below the spring one saw the pale blush of laurel in early June.

Leighton stopped and prodded the road with his stick. Lewis looked down. He saw that his father's hand was trembling. His eyes wandered to a big stone that peeped from the loam in the very track of any passing wheel. The stone was covered with moss-old moss. It was a long time since wheels had passed that way.

Leighton walked on a few steps, and then paused again, his eyes fixed on a spot at the right of the lane where the old wall had tumbled and brought with it a tangled mass of fox-grape vine. He left the roadway and sat on the lower wall, his back against a rail. He motioned to Lewis to sit down too.

"I have brought you here," said Leighton and stopped. His voice had been so low that Lewis had understood not a word. "I have brought you here," said Leighton again, and this time clearly, "to tell you about your mother."

Lewis restrained himself from looking at his father's face.

"Your mother's name," went on Leighton, "was Jeanette O'Reilly. She was a milk-maid. That is, she didn't have to milk the cows, but she took charge of the milk when it came into the creamery and did to and with it all the things that women do with milk. I only knew your mother when she was seventeen. No one seemed to know where Jeanette came from. Perhaps Aunt Jed knew. I think she did, but she never told. I never asked. To me Jeanette came straight from the hand of God.

"I have known many beautiful women, but since Jeanette, the beauty of women has not spoken to the soul of me. There is a beauty-and it was hers-that cries out, just as a still and glorious morning cries out, to the open windows of the soul. To me Jeanette was all sighing, sobbing beauty. Beauty did not rest upon her; it glowed through her. She alone was the prism through which my eyes could look upon the Promised Land. I knew it, and so-I told my father.

"I was only a boy, not yet of age. My father never hesitated. All the power that law and tradition allowed he brought to bear. He forbade me to visit Aunt Jed's or to see Jeanette again. He gave me to understand that the years held no hope for me-that on the day I broke his command I would cut myself off from him and home. To clinch things, he sent me away to college a month early, and put me under a tutor.

"There is a love that forgets all else-that forgets honor. I forged a letter to the authorities and signed my father's name to i

t. It told them to send me back at once-that my mother was ill. I came back to these hills, but not home. Far back in the woods here William Tuck had a hut. He was a wood-cutter. He lived alone. He owed nothing to any man. Many a time we had shot and fished together. I came back to William.

"This lane doesn't lead to Aunt Jed's. This land never belonged to her. Here we used to meet, Jeanette and I. You see the mass of fox-grape over yonder? In that day the wall hadn't tumbled. It stood straight and firm. The fox-grape sprang from it and climbed in a great veil over the young trees. Behind that wall, in the cool dusk of the grapevine, we used to sit and laugh inside when a rare buggy or a wagon went by."

Leighton drew a long breath.

"I used to lie with my head in Jeanette's lap because it was the only way I could see her eyes. Her lashes were so long that when she raised them it was like the slow flutter of the wings of a butterfly at rest. She did not raise them often. She kept them down-almost against the soft round of her cheek-because-because, she said, she could dream better that way.

"How shall I tell you about her hair? I used to reach up and pull at it until it tumbled. And then, because Jeanette's hair never laughed except when it was the playmate of light, I used to drag her to her feet, across the wall, across the lane, down there to the flat rock just above the spring.

"There we would sit, side by side, and every once in a while look fearfully around, so public seemed that open space. But all we ever saw for our pains was a squirrel or perhaps a woodchuck looking around fearfully, too. Jeanette would sit with her hands braced behind her, her tumbled hair splashing down over her shoulders and down her back. The setting sun would come skipping over the hills and play in her hair, and Jeanette's hair would laugh-laugh out loud. And I-I would bury my face in it, as you bury your face in flowers, and wonder at the unshed tears that smarted in my eyes."

Leighton stopped to sigh. It was a quivering sigh that made Lewis want to put out his hand and touch his father, but he was afraid to move. Leighton went on.

"Look well about you, boy. No wheel has jarred this silence for many a year-not since I bought the land you see and closed the road. Man seldom comes here now,-only children in the fall of the year when the chestnuts are ripe. Jeanette liked children. She was never anything but a child herself. Look well about you, I say, for these still woods and fields, with God's free air blowing over them,-they were your cradle, the cradle of your being.

"It was Jeanette that made me go back to college when college opened, but months later it was William that sent for me when Jeanette was too weak to stop him. The term was almost over. Through all the winter I had never mentioned Jeanette to the folks at home, hoping that my father would let me come home for the summer and wander these hills unwatched. Now William wrote. I couldn't make out each individual word, but the sum of what he tried to tell flew to my heart.

"Jeanette had disappeared from Aunt Jed's three months before. They had not found her, for they had watched for her only where I was. She had gone to William's little house. She had been hidden away there. While she was well enough, she had not let him send for me. There was panic in William's letter, for he wrote that he would meet the first train by which I could come, and every other train thereafter.

"You heard William say the other day that he had never driven like that since-and there I stopped him. It was since the day I came back to Jeanette he was going to say. We didn't mind the horses breaking that day. Where the going was good, they ran because they felt like it; where it was bad, they ran because I made them. I asked William if he had a doctor, and he said he had. He had done more than that: he had married Mrs. Tuck to look after Jeanette.

"We stopped in the village for the parson. I was going to blurt out the truth to him, but William was wiser. He told him that some one was dying. So we got the old man between us, and I drove while William held him. He would have jumped out. He thought we were mad."

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