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   Chapter 52 No.52

Through stained glass By George Agnew Chamberlain Characters: 7416

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Through that winter Lewis worked steadily forward to a goal that he knew his father could not cavil at. He knew it instinctively. His grasp steadied to expression with repression, or, as one of his envious, but honest, competitors put it, genius had bowed to sanity.

It is usual to credit these rebirths in individual art to some great grief, but no great grief had come to Lewis. His work fulfilled its promise in just such measure as he had fulfilled himself. In as much as he had matured, in so much had his art. Man is not ripened by a shock, but by those elements that develop him to the point of feeling and knowing the shock when it comes to him. In a drab world, drab would have been Lewis's end; but, little as he realized it, his world had not been drab.

Three steady, but varying, lights had shone upon him. The influence of Natalie, as soft and still as reflected light; of H lne, worldly before the world, but big of heart; and of Leighton, who had been judged in all things that he might judge, had drawn Lewis up above his self-chosen level, given sight to his eyes, and reduced Folly to the proportions of a little final period to the paragraph of irresponsible youth.

To maturity Lewis had added a gravity that had come to him with the realization that in distancing himself from youth he had also unwittingly drawn away from the hearts that had done most toward bringing him emancipation. He had no psychological turn of mind. He could not penetrate the sudden reserve that had fallen upon his father or the apparent increasing distraction with which H lne met his visits. He did not know that it is in youth and in age that hearts attain their closest contact and that the soul that finds itself, generally does so in solitude.

He was hurt by the long silence of his father-a silence unbroken now in months, and by H lne's withdrawal, which was marked enough to make him prolong the intervals between his visits to her, and baffled him on those rare occasions when they met.

His life became somber and, as lightning comes only to clouds, so to his clouded skies came the flash and the blow of a letter from Africa. It was not from his father, but from Old Ivory. He found it on the breakfast table and started to open it, but some premonition arrested him. He laid it aside, tried to finish his meal, and failed. A thickness in his throat would not let him eat. He left the table and went into the living-room, closing the door behind him.

He opened the letter and read the first few words, then he sat and stared for many a long minute into the fire, the half-crumpled sheets held tightly in his hand.

Nelton opened the door.

"Excuse me, sir," he said; "you have an engagement at ten."

"Break it by telephone," said Lewis. "Don't come in again unless I ring.

I'm out if anybody calls."

When Nelton had closed the door, Lewis spread the letter on his knee and read:

Dear Lew:

All is well with your dad at last. I'm a poor hand to talk and a poorer to write, for my finger is crooked to hold a trigger, not a pen. But he gave me it to do. Don't take it too hard that a man with only plain words is blunt. Your father is gone.

I don't have to tell you that in the last few weeks before he left you your dad grew old. He's grown old before, but never as old as that. The other times, the mere sight and smell of Africa started his blood again. But this time he stayed old-until to-day.

To-day we were out after elephant, and your dad had won the toss for first shot. We hadn't gone a mile from camp when a lone bull buffalo crossed the trail, and your dad tried for him-a long, quick shot. The bullet only plowed his rump. The bull charged up the

wind straight for us, and before the thunder of him got near enough to drown a shout, your dad yelled out "He's mine, Ive! He's mine!" I held my fire, God help me; so did your dad-held it till the bull had passed the death-line. You know with charging buffalo there's more to stop than just life. There's weight and momentum and there's a rage that no other, man or beast, can equal.

Your dad got him-got him with the perfect shot,-but not before the bull had passed the death-line. And so, dear boy, they broke even, a life for a life. And your dad was glad. With the bones of his body crushed to a pulp, he could smile as I've never seen him smile before. He pulled me down close to him and he said: "Bury me here-right here, Ive, and tell my boy I stopped to take on a side-tracked car. That's a part of our language. He'll understand."

Lewis's eyes went blind over his father's words, his father's message. "Tell my boy I stopped to take on a side-tracked car." Half across the world those words carried him back and back over half of life to a rattling train, a boy, and the wondrous stranger, speaking: "Every man who goes through the stress of life has need of an individual philosophy… Life to me is like this train; a lot of sections and a lot of couplings… Once in a while your soul looks out of the window and sees some long-forgotten, side-tracked car beckoning to be coupled on again. If you try to go back and pick it up, you're done."

Not in Africa had his father stopped to take on a side-tracked car, but on a day that was already months ago when, standing in a still, deserted lane, he turned to face forever that moment of his life that had nearest touched divinity.

Lewis sat pondering for hours. It was not grief he was feeling so much as an immeasurable loss. One grieves at death when it seems futile, when it robs youth or racks old age, when it devastates hopes or wrecks a vision. But death had not come so to his father. It had come as a fulfilment. Lewis knew instinctively that thus and thus only would his father have wished to strike into the royal road.

But the loss seized upon his heart and made it ache. He thought despondently, as which one of us has not, face to face with the fact of death, of things undone and of words unsaid. How cruel seemed their last hurried farewell, how hard that his father could not have known that his sacrifice had told for his boy's liberty, that his wisdom had rightly seen the path his art must follow to its land of promise! "Hard for you-only for you," whispered the voice of his new-found maturity.

It was natural that with reaction should come to Lewis a desire to talk, to seek comfort and sympathy, and it was natural that he should turn to H lne. He walked slowly to her house. The doorman turned from him to pick up a note from the hall table. He handed it to Lewis.

"Her ladyship is not in, sir, to-day. Her ladyship told me to give you the note when you called."

Lewis took the note and walked out. He opened it absently and read:

Lew darling, I have heard. They will tell you that I am out. I'm not out, but I am broken. I cannot let you see me. Dear, I have given you all that I had to give.

He stood stock-still and read the words again, then he raised his eyes and looked slowly about him. Street, faces, trees, walls, and towers faded from his view. He stood in the midst of an illimitable void. A terror of loneliness fell upon him. He felt as though his full heart must speak or break, but in all his present world there was no ear to hear. Suddenly the impulse of a lifetime, often felt, seldom answered, came to him with an insistence that would not be denied. Go to Natalie. Tell Natalie.

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