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   Chapter 51 No.51

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7799

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The expert surgeon, operating for blindness on the membranes of the eye, is denied the bulwark of an anesthetic. Such a one will tell you that the moment of success is the moment most pregnant with disaster. To the patient who has known only the fraction of life that lies in darkness, the sudden coming of light is a miracle beyond mere resurrection from the dead. But he is warned he must avoid any spasm of joy. Should he cry out and start at the coming of the dawn, in that moment he bids farewell forever to the light of day.

Something of this shock of sudden sight had come to Lewis, but it came to him with no spasm of joy. A man who has been drugged does not awake to joy, but to pain. Liberation and suffering too often walk hand in hand. Lewis had felt no bondage; consequently his freedom was as terrible as it was sudden. It plunged him into depths of depression he had never before sounded.

From the park he went mechanically to the flat, and sat for hours by the window looking out upon the dead Sunday gray of London. Darkness came, and with it Nelton and lights. Nelton remarked that there was nothing to eat in the house.

"I know," said Lewis, and sat on, too abject to dress and go out for dinner. In his depression his thoughts turned naturally to his father. He thought of joining him, and searched time-tables and sailings, only to find that he could not catch up with the expedition. Besides, as he looked back on their last days in America, he doubted whether his father would have welcomed his coming.

The next few days were terrible indeed, for Lady Derl, as he had feared, was out of town. He wrote to her, begging her to let him know where she was and when she would come to London. For three days he waited for an answer, and then the emptiness of the whole world, the despair of isolation, drove him to his studio and to work.

He had had an impulse to write to Natalie, even to go to her; but there was a fineness in his nature that stopped him, a shame born of the realization of his blindness and of the pity in which H lne and Leighton and perhaps even Natalie must have held him.

Suddenly the full import of H lne's intimate sacrifice in the disrobing of the palpitating sorrow of her life and of his father's immolation of his land of dreams struck him. They had done these things to make him see, and he had remained blind. They had struck the golden chords of the paean of mighty love, and he had clung, smiling and unhearing, to his penny whistle.

For the first time, and with Folly farther away than ever before, he saw her as she was. Once he had thought that she and youth were inseparable, that Folly was youth. Now, in the power of sudden vision, he saw as his father had seen all along, that Folly was as old as woman, that she had never been young.

These things did not come to Lewis in a single day, but in long hours of work spread over many weeks. He was laboring at a frieze, a commission that had come to him through Le Brux, and upon which he had done considerable work before going to America. What he had done had not been altogether pleasing to his father. Lewis had felt it, though Leighton had said little beyond damning it to success.

Now Lewis saw the beginning he had made through his father's eyes. He saw the facile riot and exaggerations of youth, and contrasted their quick appeal to a hurried age with the modesty of the art that hides behind the vision and reveals itself not to an age or to ages, but in the long, slow measure of life everlasting. He undid all but the skeleton of what he had done, and on the bare frame built the progression of repressed beauty which was to escape the glancing eye only to find a long abiding-place in the hearts of those who worship seldom, but worship long.

At last he got word from H lne. Has letter had followed her to the Continent and from there to Egypt. She wrot

e that she was tired of travel, and was coming home. In a postscript she mentioned a glimpse of Leighton at Port Said. Lewis was impatient to see her. He had begun to know his liberation.

The revelation that had come to him in the park was not destined to stand alone. Between such women as Folly and their victims exists an almost invariable camaraderie that forbids the spoiling of sport. The inculcation of this questionable loyalty is considered by some the last attribute of the finished adventuress, and by others it is said to be due to the fact that such women draw and are drawn by men whose major rule is to "play fair." Both conclusions are erroneous, as any victim can testify.

The news that Lewis no longer followed in Folly's train permeated his world with a rapidity that has no parallel outside of London except in the mental telegraphy of aboriginal Africa. Men soon began to talk to him, to tell him things. He turned upon the first with an indignant question, "Why didn't you tell me this before?" and the informer stared at him and smiled until Lewis found the answer for himself and flushed. Ten thousand pointing fingers cannot show the sunrise to the blind.

By the time H lne came back, Lewis not only knew his liberation, but had begun to bless Folly as we bless the stroke of lightning that strikes at us and just misses. He complied with H lne's summons promptly, but with a deliberation that surprised him, for it was not until he was on the way to her house that he realized that he had no troubles to pour out to her ear.

Nevertheless, a sense of peace fell upon him as he entered the familiar room of cheerful blue chintzes and light. H lne was as he had ever known her. She gave him a slow, measuring welcome, and then sat back and let him talk. Woman's judgment may err in clinging to the last word, but never is her finesse at fault in ceding the first.

H lne heard Lewis's tale from start to finish with only one interruption. It took her five minutes to find out just what it was Folly had said in her own tongue to the little cockney in his, and even at that there were one or two words she had to guess. When she thought she had them all, she sat up straight and laughed.

Lewis stared at her.

"Do you think it's funny?" he demanded.

"Oh, no, of course not," gasped Lady Derl, trying to gulp down her mirth. "Not at all." And then she laughed again.

Lewis waited solemnly for her to finish, then he told her of some of the things he had heard at the club.

"H lne," he finished, "I want you to know that I don't only see what a fool I was. I see more than that. I see what you and dad sacrificed to my blindness. I want you to know that you didn't do it in vain. Six months ago, if I had found Folly out, I would have gone to the dogs, taken her on her own terms, and said good-by to honor and my word to dad. It's-it's from that that you have saved me."

H lne waved her hand deprecatingly.

"I did little enough for you, Lew. Not half what I would willingly have done. But-but your dad-I wrote you I'd seen him just for an hour at Port Said. Your dad, Lew, he's given you all he had."

"What do you mean?" asked Lewis, troubled.

"Nothing," said H lne, her thoughts wandering; "nothing that telling will show you." She turned back to him and smiled. "Let's talk about your pal Natalie. We're great friends."

"Friends?" said Lewis. "Have you been writing to her?"

"Oh, no," said H lne. "Women don't have to know each other to be friends."

"Why, there's nothing more to tell about Natalie," said Lewis.

H lne looked him squarely in the eyes.

"Tell me honestly," she said; "haven't you wanted to go back to

Natalie?"

Lewis flushed. He rose and picked up his hat and stick.

"'You can give a new hat to a king, but it isn't everybody that will take your cast-off clothes,' That's one of dad's, of course."

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