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

In due time an answer came. It was with considerable anxiety that I broke the seal, but there was a smile upon my face when I finished reading the short, friendly letter which he had sent me. He knew a place that would suit me exactly. Mr. and Mrs. Grundy were an elderly couple who lived about eight miles north of Springfield. They belonged to the aristocracy of the county, and lived in a two-story brick house on a magnificent farm. They were warm friends of Reuben’s, and he felt no hesitancy in declaring that they would board me throughout the summer and fall. So positive was he of this fact that he wrote me to come whenever I pleased, and he would have everything arranged by the time I got there. He added a postscript, in answer to mine, stating that his friends were childless, and he did not think I would be bothered by any young ladies.

My elation at the success of my plans thus far was so apparent that it was openly remarked upon at the tea-table that evening. And so I told them all then and there of the change I was about to make. Of course there was a chorus of regrets that I was to leave, which I could not believe genuine, since I was so unsociable. But meeting Mrs. Moss in the hall as I started to my room, I explained to her that my health demanded an immediate change of air, and that for no other reason would I have gone. This the good lady accepted smilingly, and wished me much happiness in my new home.

There were not many preparations for me to make. My books and my wardrobe packed, my landlady paid, a modest demand on my bankers, and I was ready. It was in the latter part of April, in the midst of a steady downpour of rain, that I took my seat in the four-horse coach, with Fido between my feet. I remember the feeling which came to me when the huge vehicle started. I felt that I was almost leaving the earth, despite the rumbling and the jolting, when I thought of my destination. The heavy clouds and the swishing rain held no gloom for me. For above the clouds was the broad, blue sky, with the sun somewhere in it, and somewhere beyond the curtain of the rain was light and warmth and blooming fields. My heart was beating riotously, for this trip was really an adventure to me, who had not been anywhere for nearly twenty years. The coach was empty but for us, Fido and me, and it will seem queer to some when I say that I was very thankful for this. But I did not care to talk to people who were nothing to me, and who I might never see again. I much preferred to be in solitude, and muse upon all that my new life would hold for me. The rain stopped all at once, so suddenly that I would have been surprised had it not been April, and through the soiled glass of the coach door, now thickly streaked where the raindrops had run down it, came a blunted arrow of sunshine.

My trip would have been a tiresome one under ordinary circumstances, but I did not feel the least fatigue during all the long journey. I shall never forget the morning we rolled into Springfield, and drew up before a small frame building opposite the court square. A plain board suspended above the doorway of this building bore the simple inscription, “Reuben Walker, Attorney-at-Law.” Here was the place where my friend gave legal counsel in exchange for legal money. I caught sight of his broad, humorous face ere the coach had given its final jolt as it came to a standstill. Directly in front of the office before which we stopped were two large locust-trees, and under these trees that bright spring morning quite a little company had gathered. There was a sudden explosion of laughter as the stage-driver descended from his perch and opened the door for me to alight, and a quick glance showed me that some joker had reached the climax of his narrative just at that moment. Before I could rise from my seat, the coach door was darkened by a figure, a strong hand was thrust into mine, and I was fairly dragged into the arms of Reuben Walker, who gave me hearty greeting. To this I responded quite as heartily. Fido had whisked out of his narrow quarters, and had begun to stretch himself in many wild contortions. I proceeded to reckon with my stage-driver, then Reuben took me by the hand, and leading me up to the men whom he had just left, he made me acquainted with each and every one. Most of them I have forgotten, for they went out of my life as speedily as they entered it; but one I remember yet, for he was afterwards governor of our beloved commonwealth. This was Proctor Knott, and he it was who had exploded the joke just as I arrived. I quietly joined the company, and listened to some more of this gifted young lawyer’s yarns. The ringing of the court-house bell soon after caused a dispersion of the crowd. Some of them went with the lawyers to the court-room, others strolled down town, and Reuben and I were left alone.

“Come in, come in, Abner,” he said, bluffly, and he led the way into his office.

A square table covered with green baize stood in the centre of the room. A box filled with sawdust sat upon the floor to serve as a cuspidor; three or four splint-bottomed chairs completed the office furniture. One of these I occupied, placing my hat upon the table, and Reuben took another, stretching out his short, fat legs, and crossing his hands over his bulging front.

“I’m glad to see you, Abner, ’pon my honor,” he began, smiling so that his rubicund visage glowed with good feeling. “How did you take a notion to come to the woods?”

“I was cramped,” I answered truthfully. “The city’s smoke was stifling me, and I wanted a breath of fresh air.”

“You’ll get enough of that down at Henry Grundy’s. That’s the only cool place in the county in midsummer. And if you’ll take my advice and straddle one of his thoroughbreds once a day, you’ll get some color in your face. I’ve fixed everything for you. You’re to have a front room on the ground floor, and pay twelve dollars a month. That’s cheaper than stealing it. But you don’t want to make a hermit of yourself when you get down there. Come up and spend a week or two with me. Miss ’Pheme [his wife] will be mighty glad to see you. She makes me walk chalk, but she’ll be easy on you. You’re going to be with mighty fine folks, the cream of the county. They were very particular at first, but I vouched for you, and that settled it. Henry said he’d be in this morning after you. He’s a Presbyterian and a Democrat, and talks to you as though you were deaf, but he’s harmless. Why don’t you tell me ’bout yourself?”

I saw at once that my good friend still insisted on doing all the talking, one of the traits of his young manhood, and when I told him that he hadn’t drawn breath for five minutes, he seemed surprised.

“There’s not much to tell about myself, Reuben,” I replied. “I’ve been living alone, reading, smoking, and thinking a little. Then I fancied that I’d like the country, and here I am.”

“Where’d you get that?” He jerked one squat thumb toward my crippled retainer.

“Picked him up out of the street several months ago, after he’d been run over by a carriage.”

“Same soft heart as ever, Abner. Remember when one of the boys at school poked that nest of damned little English sparrows out of the gutter? There was about sixteen of ’em, and you gathered the ugly little devils up into your new hat and tried to raise ’em. Don’t you re-member, Abner?”

His fat sides shook, as he ejaculated the last sentence with difficulty.

“Yes,” I answered, smiling. “My efforts were useless, for the little fellows all died. I felt sorry for them.”

“I wish they were all in hello! yonder’s Henry, by jolly!”

I looked out of the window, and saw an old-fashioned rockaway draw up beside the curbing. The horse which drew it was a high-headed bay; the harness and the vehicle were spotless. A negro lad of near twenty, black as the night before creation, sat on the front seat, and on the rear seat was a man worth looking at twice. As the negro hastily scrambled down and opened the door, this gentleman alighted. He was a trifle over six feet tall; his face was wrinkled and kindly; his brows were gray and shaggy, and his eyes were gray. A patriarchal white beard flowed down over his breast, and his suit was of black broadcloth. Such an evident air of gentility sat upon him, that I mentally congratulated myself that I was to be associated with him. An instant later I heard his stentorian voice in the hall.

“Walker! Walker! Is that fellow Stone here yet? I can’t wait all morning for him, for there’s plenty of ploughin’, and plenty of lazy niggers back at the farm! Hello! Why, is this Stone?”

And the hand that closed over mine was strong with the strength of the soil.