Read CHAPTER II of The Love Story of Abner Stone , free online book, by Edwin Carlile Litsey, on

In the spring of 1860, I was a lodger in a respectable boarding-house on Chestnut Street, in Louisville. My father God rest his soul had passed away ten years before, and I was able to live comfortably upon the income of my modest inheritance, as I was his sole child, and my dear mother was to me but an elusive memory of childhood. Sometimes, in still evenings just before I lit my student’s lamp, and I sat alone musing, I would catch vague glimpses of a sweet, pure face with calm, gray eyes but that was all. No figure, no voice, not even her hair, but sometimes my mind would picture an aureole around her head. I have often wondered why she was taken from me before I could have known her, but I have also striven not to be rebellious. But she must have been an unusual woman, for my father never recovered from her loss, and to the day of his death he wore a tress of her hair in a locket over his heart. I have it now, and I wear it always.

I was of a timid disposition, and retiring nature, and so my acquaintances were few, and of close friends I had not one. My mornings and evenings were spent with my books, and in the afternoons I took solitary walks, often wandering out into the country, if the weather was fine, for the blue sky had a charm for me, and I loved to look at the distant hills, the hazy and purple undulations which marked the horizon. And Nature was never the same to me. Always changing, always some beauty before undiscovered bursting on my sight, and her limitless halls were full of paintings and of songs of which I would never tire. Then, as evening closed in, and I would reluctantly turn back to my crowded quarters, the sordid streets and the cramped appearance of everything would fret me, and almost make me envious of the sparrow perched on the telegraph wire over my head. For he, at least, was lifted above this thoughtless, hurrying throng among which I was compelled to pass, and the piteous, supplicating voice of the blind beggar at the corner did not remind him that even thus he might some day become. And thus, when my feet brought me to the line of traffic, as I returned home, I would unconsciously hasten my steps, for the moil and toil of a city’s strife I could not bear.

In the spring of 1860, these long walks to the country became more frequent. I had been cooped up for four rigorous months, a predisposition to taking cold always before me as a warning that I must be careful in bad weather. And the confines of a fourteen by eighteen room naturally become irksome after weeks and weeks of intimate acquaintance. It is true there were two windows to my apartment. A glance from one only showed me the side of a house adjoining the one in which I stayed, but the other gave me a view of a thoroughfare, and by this window I sat through many a bleak winter day, watching the passers-by. One night there was a sleet, and when I looked out the next morning, everything was covered in a gray coat of ice. A young maple grew directly under my window, and its poor head was bent over as though in sorrow at the treatment it had to endure, and its branches hung listlessly in their icy case, with a frozen raindrop at the end of each twig. The sidewalks were treacherous, and I found some amusement in watching the pedestrians as they warily proceeded along the slippery pavement, most of them treading as though walking on egg-shells. There went an old gentleman who must have had business down town, for I had seen him pass every day. This morning he carried a stick in his hand, and I discovered that it was pointed with some sharp substance that would assist him, for every time he lifted it up, it left a little white spot in the coating of ice. There went a schoolboy, helter-skelter, swinging his books by a strap, running and sliding along the pavement in profound contempt for its dangers. A jaunty little Miss with fur wraps and veiled face, but through the thin obstruction I could plainly see two rosy cheeks, and a pair of dancing eyes. Her tiny feet, likewise, passed on without fear, and she disappeared. Heaven grant they may rest as firm on every path through life!

Next came an aged woman, who moved with faltering feet, and always kept one hand upon the iron fence enclosing the small yard, as a support. Each step was taken slowly, and with trepidation, and I wished for the moment that I was beside her, to lend her my arm. Some errand of mercy or dire necessity called her forth on such a perilous venture, and I felt that, whatever the motive be, it would shield her from mishap. And so they passed, youth and age, as the day wore on. In the afternoon the old gentleman re-passed, and I saw that his back was a little more stooped, and he leaned heavier on his stick. For each day adds weight to the shoulders of age.

And now a miserable cur came sniffing along the gutter on the opposite side of the street. His ribs showed plainly through his dirty yellow coat, the scrubby hair along his back stood on end, and his tail was held closely between his legs. And so he tipped along, half-starved, vainly seeking some morsel of food. He stopped and looked up, shivering visibly as the cold wind pierced him through and through, then trotted to the middle of the street, and began nosing something lying there. A handsome coupe darted around the corner, taking the centre of the road. The starving cur never moved, so intent was he on obtaining food, and thus it happened that a pitiful yelp of pain reached my ears, muffled by the closed window. The coupe whirled on its journey, and below, in the chill, desolate grayness of a winter afternoon, an ugly pup sat howling at the leaden skies, his right foreleg upheld, part of it dangling in a very unnatural manner. A pang of compassion for the dumb unfortunate stirred in my breast, but I sat still and watched. He tried to walk, but the effort was a failure, and again he sat down and howled, this time with his meagre face upturned to my window. The street was empty, as far as I could see, for twilight was almost come, and cheery firesides were more tempting than slippery pavements and stinging winds. The muffled tones of distress became weaker and more despairing, and I could endure them no longer. I quickly arose and cast off my dressing-gown and slippers. In less than a minute I had on shoes, coat, and great-coat, and was quietly stealing down the stairs. Tenderly I took the shivering, whining form up in my arms, casting my eyes around and breathing a sigh of relief that no one had seen, and thanking my stars, as I entered my room, that I had not encountered my landlady, who had a great aversion to cats and dogs.

It was little enough of surgery I knew, veterinary or otherwise, but a simpleton could have seen that a broken leg was at least one of the injuries my charge had suffered. I laid the dirty yellow object down on the heavy rug before the fire, and he stopped the whining, and his trembling, too, as soon as the soothing heat began to permeate his half-frozen body. I knew there was a pine board in my closet, and from this I made some splints and bound up the broken limb as gently as I could, but my fingers were not very deft nor my skill more than ordinary, and as a consequence a few fresh howls were the result. But at last it was done, and then I made an examination of the other limbs, finding them as nature intended they should be, with the exception of a few scars and their unnatural boniness. So I got one of my old coats and made a bed on the corner of the hearth, to which I proceeded to transfer my rescued cur. He was grateful, as dogs ever are for a kindness, and licked my hands as I put him down. And he found strength somehow to wag his tail in token of thankfulness, so I felt repaid for my act of mercy, and very well satisfied. A surreptitious visit to the dining-room resulted in a purloined chunk of cold roast beef, and two or three dry, hard biscuits, which I found in the corner of a cupboard. Thus laden with my plunder, I started back, and in the hall came face to face with my boarding-house mistress.

“Why, Mr. Stone, what in the world!” she began, before I could open my mouth or put my hands behind my back.

“I that is Mrs. Moss, I have a friend with me to-night who is very eccentric. He has been out in the cold quite a while, and he dislikes meeting strangers, so that I thought I would let him thaw out in my room while I came down and got us a little bite. You needn’t expect us at supper, for I have enough here for both.”

“If it pleases you, Mr. Stone, I have no objections. But I should be glad to send your meals to your room as long as your friend remains.”

I had reached the foot of the stair, and was now going up it.

“He leaves to-morrow, Mrs. Moss, I think. Thank you for your kindness,” and I dodged into my room and shut the door.

My charge was waiting where I had left him, with bright eyes of anticipation. I took a newspaper and spread it on the floor close up to him, and depositing the result of my foraging expedition on this, I stood up and watched him attack the beef with a vigor I did not suppose he possessed.

“Enjoy it, you little wretch!” I muttered, as he bolted one mouthful after another. “I came nearer telling a lie for you, than I ever did in my life before.”

Then I made myself comfortable again, drew up my easy-chair, and lit my lamp, and with pipe and book beguiled the hours till bed-time.