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   Chapter 49 No.49

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 8490

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


That evening when Natalie was driving him home Lewis told her that to-morrow was good-by. Gip, as usual, was holding Natalie's attention so that she could scarcely pay heed to what Lewis was saying. But the central fact that he and Leighton were going hung in her mind and sank in slowly, so that when they got to the homestead she could say quite evenly:

"Shall we see you again?"

"Of course," said Lewis, "Dad and I will come over to say good-by."

"Come for supper," said Natalie. "I won't be home in the morning. Good night."

Lewis walked slowly to the house, Natalie had not given him time to ask why she would not be at home in the morning. He grudged giving that morning to any foreign interest. He wondered what he could do to kill all that time alone.

The next afternoon he and Leighton drove over to Aunt Jed's in state. Leighton was still held by his mood-a mood that was not morose so much as distant. Lewis himself was in no good humor. The morning had palled on him even more than he had feared. Now he felt himself chilled when he longed to be warmed. Where his spirit cried out for sunshine, his father's mood threw only shadow. How tangible and real a thing was that shadow he never realized until they reached Aunt Jed's and found that it had got there before them.

Despite mammy's art, the supper was a sad affair. It was not the sadness of close-knitted hearts about to part that seized upon the company. Love can thrive on the bitter-sweet of that pain. It was a deeper sadness-the sadness that in evil hours seizes upon the individual soul and says: "You stand alone. From this desert place of the mind you can flee by the road of any trifling distraction, but into it no companion ever enters. You stand alone." "I myself," cries the soul of man, and recoils from that brink of infinite distance. Such was the mood that Leighton had imposed on those he touched that day, for, while he could take no company into his desert place, by simply going there he could drive the rest each to his far wilderness.

After supper they sat long in a silence without communion. It became unbearable. In such an hour bodily nearness becomes a repulsion. Lewis rebelled. He looked indignantly at Natalie. She too was young. Why did not her youth revolt? But Natalie wasn't feeling young that night. She did not answer his look.

"Dad," said Lewis, "I think we'd better go. We have to make an early start."

"All right," said Leighton, listlessly. "Tell Silas."

Lewis rose and turned to Natalie.

"Aren't you coming?" he asked.

Natalie got up slowly, and drew a filmy white scarf-a cloud, she called it-about her shoulders. There seemed an alien chill in the air.

As they walked toward the barn, a memory that had been playing hide-and-seek with Lewis's mind throughout the evening suddenly met him full in the face of thought. He stopped and stared at Natalie. She was dressed in red. What was it they had called that birthday dress of long ago? Accordion silk. The breeze caught Natalie's skirt and played with it, opening out the soft pleats and closing them again. The breeze seized upon the ends of the cloud and lifted them fitfully as though they were wings too tired for full flight.

"Nat," whispered Lewis, "You remember the night I left Nadir. Is it the same dress?"

"Silly," said Natalie, smiling faintly. "I've grown ten inches since then."

Lewis reached out slowly and took her hands. How he remembered that good-by, every bit of it! Natalie's hands gripping his shoulders, his arms about her twitching, warm body, his face buried in her fragrant hair! But to-night her hands were cold and trembling to withdrawal. He felt withdrawal in her whole body, so close to him, so far away. Why was she so far away? Suddenly he remembered yesterday-the moment when the stranger woman had looked out at him from Natalie's eyes. She was far away because they two had traveled far from childhood.

His own hands were hot. They were eager to seize Natalie, to drag himself back, and her with him, into childhood's land of faith. But he knew he had not the strength for that. He had only the strength to drop her cold hands and to turn and shout for Silas.

On the way home Lewis plunged rebe

lliously against his father's mood.

"Dad," he said, "do you think Natalie belongs to the Old Guard?"

"The Old Guard?" repeated Leighton, vacantly. Then a gleam of-light dawned in his eyes. "Your little pal-the Old Guard. No, she doesn't belong in the way of a recruit; she hasn't joined the ranks. Do you want to know why? Because, boy, your little pal and women like her are the foundation, the life's blood, of the Old Guard. She doesn't have to join. She is, was, and always will be the Old Guard itself. In her single heart she holds the seven worlds of women."

"But, Dad," said Lewis, half turning in his seat, "you don't know

Natalie. You've never once talked to her."

Leighton shrugged his shoulders.

"I've met lots of men that know God; I've never seen one that could prove him. I know Natalie better-better--" Then suddenly his mind trailed off to its desert place. He would speak no more that night.

The next day they were off. Action and movement brought a measure of relief from the very start. Leighton glanced almost eagerly from the windows of the hurrying train, watching for the sudden turn and the new view. There remained in his eyes, however, a desperate question. Was "going away" still the sovereign cure?

At New York a cable awaited him. He opened it, read it, and turned bruskly to Lewis.

"I'm not going to London," he said. "I'm going to Naples direct. Old

Ivory will wait for me there. You'll be going to London, I suppose."

For the first time Lewis felt far away from his father. He flushed. He felt like crying, because it came upon him suddenly that he was far away from his father, that they had been traveling different roads for many days. Pride came to his aid.

"Yes," he said, steadily, "I shall go to London."

Leighton nodded and turned to Nelton. He gave him a string of rapid orders, to which Nelton answered with his frequent and unfailing: "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."

"Wait here," said Leighton. "I'm going to answer this."

He hurried away, and Lewis, feeling unaccountably tired, sat down on a divan. Nelton remained on guard beside the bags, repulsing the attacks of too anxious bell-boys. To him came a large, heavy-faced person, pensively plying a toothpick.

"Say, young feller," he said, "how much do you get?"

Nelton stared, dumfounded, at the stranger.

"How much do I get?" he stammered.

"Yep, just that," said the stranger. "What's your pay?"

Helton's face turned a brick red. He glared steadily into the stranger's eyes, but said nothing.

"Well, well, never mind the figure if you're ashamed of it," said the stranger, calmly. "This is my offer. If you'll shake your boss and come to me, I'll double your pay every year so long as you stick to that 'Yes, sir, thank you, sir,' talk and manner. What do you say? Is it a deal?"

"What do I s'y?" repeated Nelton, licking his lips. Lewis, grinning on the lounge, was eavesdropping with all his ears.

"H-m-m," said the stranger, "double your pay every year if you keep it up."

"I s'y this," said Nelton, a slight tremble in his voice, "I've been serving gentlemen so long that I don't think we'd hit it off together, thank you."

The stranger's shrewd eyes twinkled, but he was otherwise unmoved.

"Perhaps you're right," he mumbled, still plying his toothpick. "Anyway, I'm glad you're not a worm." He drew a large business card from his pocket and held it out. "Come to me if you ever want a man's job."

Nelton took the card and held it out as though he had been petrified in the act. His bulging eyes watched the stranger as he sauntered leisurely back to his seat, then they turned to Lewis.

"What do you think of that?" they asked.

Lewis held out his hand for the card and glanced at the name.

"Nelton," he said, "you've made a mistake. Better go over and tell the old boy you've reconsidered his proposition. I'll fix it up with dad. You'll be able to retire in three years."

"Master Lewis," said Nelton, gravely, "there's lots of people besides you and the governor that thinks we serving-men says 'Yes, sir, thank you, sir,' to any one for the syke of a guinea a week and keep. Now you and the stout party eating the toothpick over yonder knows better."

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