Read CHAPTER VI of The Love Story of Abner Stone , free online book, by Edwin Carlile Litsey, on ReadCentral.com.

“I must get some things for the boss, then we’ll start home,” announced Mr. Grundy, after we were seated side by side in the rockaway. I noticed with gratification that his voice had sunk a few notes. He had looked askance at my yellow pup when I lifted him to a place at our feet, but had only queried, “Is that part of your baggage?” and had not demurred. His next speech was rather mystifying, for I had understood from Reuben that this man was certainly lord of his manor, and presided in a lordly way.

“The boss?” I asked, with a puzzled look, whereat he burst into a laugh that hurt my ears.

“Bless me! I forgot that you were a bachelor,” he replied, when his risibles had subsided sufficiently for him to talk. “If you ever marry, you’ll find out who’s boss. The niggers call me boss and Marse, but Sallie’s boss of our plantation!”

We drove about town for perhaps half an hour, purchasing a supply of groceries, then our horse’s head was turned towards the open country.

“Antony’ll take us home in less than an hour,” said Mr. Grundy, eyeing with pride the easy, far-reaching strides of the big bay. “That’s the best horse in my stables, Stone; there can’t anything in the county catch him. I’ve taken premiums with him at every fair in the circuit ever since he was a yearling. It’s a day’s work for a nigger to drive him to town and back, for he pulls on the lines every inch of the way, and it takes good muscles to hold him in.”

My companion did most of the talking on the road home. I addressed a few polite questions, then fell to viewing the country through which we were being whirled. The world was waking after its annual nap. The odor and charm of spring pervaded the air. Tree-buds were bursting, and tender leaves were spreading their tiny hands to the gentle sky. Immense expanses of green wheat waved by the roadside, and each small blade bowed its head to me in welcome. A pair of bluebirds flitted from stake to stake of a rail fence at our right. Yonder two gentle undulations prepared for corn swelled and fell away. Wherever I looked was freshness and verdure, and the starting into life of green things beneath the magic wand of spring. She holds the key to earth’s resurrection, and she alone can unlock the myriad gateways of the sod. And what a host comes forth when her luring breath falls upon the barren ground! cereals, flowers, mosses, vines, and the thousand little things which have no name. Forth they come exulting, the nightshade and the lily, the thistle and the rose. And on the broad bosom of their mother there is room for each, and from her breast each draws its life.

A gray turret surrounded by evergreens drew my eyes to the left. I pointed to it with the question, “Can you tell me what that is?”

“St. Rose, a convent founded by the Dominicans in the early part of the century. We’ll drive over some day and take a look at it. That’s the church you see, a fine piece of masonry.”

Then I grew silent again, becoming absorbed in the changing landscape. The road now led along the margin of a creek, bounded on the farther side by densely wooded hills. We had been gradually descending for several miles, and had now reached a great basin, wherein lay the fertile lands of my host. A sudden turn to the right, and a beautiful valley stretched before us. Part of it had yielded to the plough, and the brown, friable soil bespoke richness and boundless possibilities for corn. Farther on were meadows, reaching like green carpets close up to the whitewashed fences. And in the distance behold my future home! It sat upon the crest of a gentle eminence back of those verdant lowlands, and was almost hidden by elms and oaks. These trees filled the big yard, too, and some were burdened with tangled grape-vines. Leaving the highway, a curving road led us up to the yard gate. As we drove slowly up the avenue to the large two-story brick house, a sense of unexpected happiness and quiet stole over me. Here was the Mecca of my vague desires. Here, in the midst of pastoral beauty, a kind Providence had sent me, and here, with the blue-grass all around, and peace in my heart, I would be happy.

“Mother!”

The powerful voice at my elbow made me jump. By the time we reached the ground, the double front doors were open, and standing there was one of the sweetest-looking old women I had ever seen. She was clad in dignified black, with a white kerchief at her throat, and her gray hair drawn smoothly back from a kind, broad brow. Hat in hand, I mounted the huge stone steps which led to the porch, while that big voice came from below.

“This is Stone, mother! Show him his room and make him comfortable! I’m off to see ’bout the young lambs that came last night!”

It was a hospitable, friendly greeting which I received from the mistress of the house. Her voice was low and pleasant to the ear, and there was culture in every tone. The room into which she ushered me was delightfully cool and shadowy. The ceiling was high, the windows broad and deep, with green slat-curtains. The rocking-chair and the sofa near one of the windows were covered with haircloth. The centre-table was a beautiful piece of mahogany; sitting in the middle of it was a vase of jonquils. In one corner was a bookcase, empty ready for my treasures. Everything was as it should be. I at once expressed my thanks and my satisfaction, and the good lady retired, saying that I was doubtless weary, and needed to rest a little.

Left alone, I stood still a moment, and looked about me. The paper upon the walls represented red-top clover in bloom, and I was glad of this. Hanging about the room were some old-time portraits in gilt frames, and some pictures representing historical events. Some dried-up cat-tails lifted their brown heads from another vase on one end of the tall mantel. A screen covered with wall-paper stood before the fireplace. Hastily I lifted it aside, and there yes, there was the blackened chimney, the andirons, and the stone-laid hearth. If I have a weak point, it is an old-fashioned fireplace.

Dinner came just as I finished my toilet, and I followed Mrs. Grundy out into the broad hall, onto a latticed porch, and into the dining-room. The good things that were piled upon that table would have fed a regiment, but all who sat down were my host and hostess, and myself. Mr. Grundy asked a blessing, and his voice was just as loud as though he were hallooing to one of his negroes across a field. Surely the Lord heard that petition. In two minutes my plate was heaped high, and I had to put back other dishes till a later moment. When he had fairly settled himself to the business of eating, my host began to talk.

“Walker tells me that you’re not used to mixing with people much, Stone, but I’m afraid it’ll be lonely for you ’way out here. We don’t have much company, and of course the niggers don’t count. You can ride about the farm with me if you want to, and mother can hold her own at talking. When S’lome gets back, things’ll be different. She’s a whole houseful herself.”

I almost dropped the piece of ham I was conveying to my mouth. Had Reuben betrayed me! What did this talk of “mother” and “Salome” mean? When he first spoke the word “mother,” I had paid no particular attention to it; but when coupled with that other name, it took a deeper meaning.

“I I I understood you had no children,” I said, trying to conceal my dismay by bending over my plate.

“Quite true, quite true, Stone. We’ve never had a child born to us. I got in the habit of calling the boss mother, from S’lome.”

“Who is Salome?” I asked, but my voice was so weak that it scarcely conveyed the question.

“Bless me! didn’t Walker tell you? I’ll wring the rascal’s neck for forgettin’ S’lome. Why, man, she’s the pride of this farm, and the queen of every heart on it! S’lome? Who’s S’lome? Ask any nigger or dog in the county, and they’ll tell you. She’s our ’dopted daughter, man, off to Bellwood for her second year, and’ll be home the fifth of June, God bless her!”