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   Chapter 47 No.47

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 6449

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Leighton paused as he thought grimly over that ride. Then he went on:

"The last thing my father paid for out of his own pocket on my account was that team of horses from the livery stable. They got to William's all right, but they were broken-broken past repair. Poor beasts! Even so we were only just in time. The old parson married me to Jeanette. I would have killed him if he had hesitated. I didn't have to tell him so; he saw it.

"For one blessed moment Jeanette forgot pain and locked her arms about my neck. Then they pushed me out, and William and the parson with me. Mrs. Tuck and the doctor stayed in there. You were born." Leighton gripped his hands hard on his stick. "What-what was it the old Woman-the fortune-teller-said?"

"'Child of love art thou,'" repeated Lewis, in a voice lower than his father's. "'At thy birth was thy mother rent asunder, for thou wert conceived too near the heart.'"

Leighton trembled as though with the ague. He nodded his head, already low sunk upon his breast.

"It was that-just that," he whispered. "They called us in, the old preacher and me. Jeanette stayed just for a moment, her hand in mine, her eyes in mine, and then-she was gone. The old parson cried like a child. I wondered why he cried. Suddenly I knew, and my curses rose above his prayers. I sprang for William's rifle in the corner, and before they could stop me, I shot you.

"Boy, I shot to kill; but the best shot at a hundred yards will miss every time at a hundred inches. The bullet just grazed your shoulder, and at the sting of it you began to gasp and presently to cry. Tears afterward the doctor told me you would never have lived to draw a single breath if it hadn't been for that shot. The shock of it was what started your heart, your lungs. They had tried slapping, and it hadn't done any good."

Leighton paused again, before he went on in a dull voice.

"After that I can tell you what happened only from hearsay. Aunt Jed came and took you and what was left of Jeanette, your mother. Sometime you must stop in the churchyard down yonder under the steeple and look for a little slab that tells nothing-nothing except that Jeanette died a wife before the law and-and much beloved before God.

"They kept me at William's for days until I was in my right mind. The day they took me home was the day father paid for the horses-the day he died. I don't know if he would have forgiven me if he had lived. I never saw him again alive, after he knew. I've often wondered. I would give a lot to know, even to-day, that he would have forgiven. But life is like that. Death strikes and leaves us blind-blind to some vital spring of love, could we but find it and touch it."

Lewis was young. Just to hear the burden that had lain so long upon his father's heart was too much for him. Not for nothing had Leighton lived beside his boy. There, under the still trees, their souls reached out and touched. Lewis dropped his head and arms upon his father's knees and sobbed. He felt as though his whole heart was welling up in tears.

Leighton's hand fell caressingly upon him. He did not speak until his boy had finished crying, then he said:

"I've told you all this because you alon

e in all the world have a right to know, a right to know your full inheritance-the inheritance of a child of love."

Leighton paused.

"I never saw you again," he went on, "until that day when we met down there at the ends of the earth. Aunt Jed had sent you down there to hide you from me. Before she died she told me where you were and sent me to you. She needn't have told me to go after you.

"As you go on and meet a wider world, you will hear strange things of your father. Believe them all, and then, if you can, still remember. Don't waste love. That's a prayer and a charge. I've wasted a lot of life and self, but never a jot of love. Now go, boy. Tell them I've stayed behind for supper."

Lewis did not hurry. When he reached the homestead, it was already late. Mrs. Tuck had kept their supper hot for them. When she saw Lewis come in alone, she rushed up to him with eager questions of his father. Lewis looked with new eyes upon her kindly anxious face.

"It's all right," he said. "Dad stayed behind. He doesn't want any supper."

Mrs. Tuck looked shrewdly at him, and then turned away.

"It ain't never all right," she said half to herself, "when a man full-grown don't want his supper."

Lewis saw nothing more of his father that night. He tried to keep awake, but it was long after sleep had conquered him that Leighton came in. And during the days that followed he saw less and less of his father. Early in the morning Leighton would be up. He would eat, and then wander about the place listlessly with his cigar. His head hanging, he would wander farther and farther from the house until, almost without volition, he would suddenly strike off in a straight line across the hills.

Lewis would have noticed the desertion more had it not been for Natalie. Natalie claimed and held all his days. Together they walked and drove till Lewis had learned all the highways and byways that Natalie had long since discovered. She liked the byways best, and twice she drove through crowding brush to the foot of the lane that was barred.

"I've often come here," she said, "and I've even tried to pull those bars down, but they're solider than they look. I'm not strong enough. Will you help me some day? I want to follow that dear old mossy lane to its end, if it has one. It looks as if it led straight into the land of dreams."

"It probably does," said Lewis. "I'll never help you pull down those bars, because, if you've got any heart, you can look at them and see that whoever put them up owns that land of dreams, and there's no land of dreams with room for more than two people, and they must be holding hands."

"You've made me not want to go in there," said Natalie as she turned Gip around. "How could you see it like that? You're not a woman."

Lewis did not answer, but when, two days later, they were out after strawberries, and Natalie led him through a wood in the valley to the foot of the pasture with the oaks and the spring, Lewis stopped her.

"Don't let's go up there, Nan," he said. "That's part of somebody else's land of dreams. Dad's tip there somewhere, I'm sure."

Natalie looked at him, and he saw in her eyes that she knew all that he had not told in words.

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