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   Chapter 48 No.48

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7075

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Leighton and Lewis made two business trips away from the homestead, and on both occasions, as soon as affairs permitted, hurried back with equal eagerness. Leighton tried to read significance into the fact that Lewis was not chafing at his absence from Folly, but he could not because Lewis wrote to Folly every week, and seemed to revel in telling her everything. Folly's answers were few and far between.

Leighton would have given much to see one of Folly's letters. He wondered if her maid wrote them for her. He used to watch Lewis reading them. They were invariably short-mere notes. Lewis would read each one several times to make it seem like a letter. He seemed to feel that his father would like to see one of the letters, and one day, to keep himself from calling himself coward, he impulsively handed one over.

Leighton read the scant three pages slowly. It was as though Folly had reached across the sea to scratch him again, for the note was well written in a bold, round hand. It was short because Folly combined the wisdom of the serpent with the voice of a dove. She knew the limits of her shibboleth of culture, and never passed them. She said only the things she had learned to write correctly. They were few.

The few weeks at the homestead had changed Leighton. A single mood held him-a mood that he never threw off with a toss of his head. He seemed to have lost his philosophy of cheerfulness at the word of command. Lewis was too absorbed in his long days with Natalie to notice it, but Nelton took it upon himself to open his eyes.

"Larst month," he said, "you and the governor was brothers. Now persons don't have to ask me is he your father. It's written in his fyce. It's this country life as has done it. Noisy, I calls it. No rest."

Lewis felt penitent. He suggested to Leighton a day together, a tramp and a picnic, but Leighton shook his head.

"I don't want to have to talk," he said bluntly.

"Dad," said Lewis, "let's go away."

Leighton started as though the words were something he had too long waited for.

"Go away?" he repeated. How often had he said, "To go away is the sovereign cure." "Yes," he went on, "I believe you are right. I think it's high time-past time-for me to clear. Will you come or stay?"

"I'll come if it's London," said Lewis, smiling.

"London first, of course," said Leighton, gravely. "To-day is Tuesday. Say we start on Thursday. That gives us a day to go over and say good-by."

"One day isn't enough," said Lewis. "Make it two."

"All right," agreed Leighton.

For that afternoon Lewis and Natalie had planned a long tramp, but before they had gone a mile from Aunt Jed's a purling brook in the depths of a still wood raised before them an impassable barrier of beauty. By a common, unspoken consent they sat down beside the gurgling water. They talked much and were silent much.

For the first time Lewis had something in mind which he was afraid to tell to Natalie. He was not afraid for her. It was a selfish fear. He was afraid for himself-afraid to tell her that two short days would close the door for them on childhood. He wondered that mere years had been powerless to close that door. He looked on Natalie, and knew that renunciation would be hard.

Natalie had tossed aside her hat. She sat leaning against the crisp trunk of a silver birch. Her hands were in her lap. Her dress was crumpled up, displaying her crossed feet and the tantalizing line of her slim ankles. Against the copper green of the tree trunk the mass of he

r hair was pressed, gold upon the shadow of gold. Her moist lips were half open. Her eyes were away, playing with memory.

"Bet you can't tell me the first thing you ever said to me," said Lewis.

"My dwess is wumpled," said Natalie, promptly, a single dimple coming and going with her sudden smile. Then she looked down and blushed. She straightened out her skirt, and patted it in place. They looked at each other and laughed.

"Do you remember what came after that?" said Lewis, teasingly. "We kissed each other."

Natalie nodded.

"Nat," said Lewis, "do you remember any kiss after that one?"

"No," said Natalie.

"Funny," said Lewis. "I don't either. Do you want me to kiss you when it comes to saying good-by?"

Natalie turned a wide and questioning look on him.

"No," she said in a tone he had never heard from her before,

Lewis sank back upon one elbow. He had been on the point of telling her that good-by was only two days off. Her tone stopped him. "Do you remember the night of the sunset?" he asked, instead.

Natalie nodded.

"I said I was going to sail to the biggest island. You said you were, too, and I said you couldn't because you were littlest. Do you remember?"

Natalie sank her head slowly in assent. Her lower lip trembled. Suddenly she laughed and sprang to her feet.

"Come on," she cried, "or we'll be late for supper. I'll beat you to the fence." She was off with a rush, but Lewis got to the fence first. He helped her over with mock ceremony. When they came to a wall farther on he helped her over again. This helping Natalie over obstacles was something new. It gave him faint twinges of pleasure.

They came to the foot of the pasture at the back of the house and to the last wall of all. "Come on," said Lewis, smiling and holding out his hand.

"Not this time, silly," said Natalie. "Don't you see the bars are down?"

"Yes, I see," said Lewis, springing into the open gap in the wall, "but you're not coming through here. You're going over."

"Am I?" said Natalie, and rushed at him. With one arm he caught her around the waist and threw her back. She landed on all fours, like a cat. Then, laughing, she sprang up and came at him again, only to be hurled back once more. Lewis was laughing, too, laughing at this last romp in the name of childhood. Natalie was so strong, so stipple, that he handled her roughly without fear of hurting her. They both felt the joy of strength and battle and exulted. Four times Natalie stormed the breach, and four times was she hurled back. Then she stood, panting, and holding her sides, the blood rioting in her cheeks, and fire in her eyes.

"Give up?" asked Lewis.

Natalie shook her head.

"We'll be late for supper."

"I don't care," said Natalie. "I'll never give up; only I'm cold." She shivered.

"Cold, Nat?" cried Lewis. "Here." He started to take off his thick tweed coat. At the exact moment when his arms were imprisoned in the sleeves, Natalie shot by him. She held her skirts above her knees and ran.

Long was the chase before Lewis caught her. He threw his arms around her and held her. Natalie did not struggle.

"You can't carry me back," she gasped. "It's too far." Then suddenly from her eyes a woman looked out-a woman Lewis did not know. His arms dropped to his sides. He felt the blood pumping in his heart-his heart that had been pressed but now against the breast of this strange unknown. By one impulse they turned from each other and walked silently to the house. They were strangers,

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