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

Like most country folks, my new friends went to bed shortly after sundown. About nine o’clock, I took my pipe and my tobacco-pouch, and crept noiselessly out to the front porch. I had noticed a quaint settee there upon my arrival that morning, and I had no trouble in finding it now, for a ghostly moonlight had settled over everything. My mind was confronted by a question of decidedly more moment than any under which it had at any time before labored, and I had to think it out before I could sleep. If my cherished and faithful pipe, together with solitude and the wondrous silence of a night in spring, could not bring a solution to me, then the question was certainly beyond me.

“ And’ll be home the fifth of June, God bless her!”

I think they were the last distinct words I heard at that meal. I remember mumbling something about the pleasure in store for me, and while my tongue pronounced this statement, my conscience denounced me as a liar. It would be no pleasure. An upstart of a boarding-school girl, with her airy ways, her college slang and her ear-piercing laughter, tearing around the house like a young cyclone, having girl friends and boy friends hanging around continually, the thought was not encouraging, and I groaned in spirit, and puffed away, setting misty shallops afloat upon the sea of moonlight. And these little shallops must have borne away as cargo my fretting and my fears, for presently I fell into a philosophic mood, and the future looked brighter. One thing was sure I could not run away. That would be cowardice, as well as an affront to hospitality. And did the worthy man snoring in a near-by room once know that I thought of leaving because his idol was coming, he would doubtless hasten my departure by turning loose upon me the pack of fox-hounds I had heard clamoring for their supper a few hours before.

And, too, there were five weeks yet before this wonderful being would arrive. During this time I would walk, and accustom myself to riding, and when this paragon did come, I would leave her in full and free possession of the house throughout the day. It was not near so bad as it had looked at first. By eleven o’clock I felt able to sleep, if not entirely reconciled to the new order of things. “Sufficient unto the day ” I thought, with a sigh, and knocking the ashes from my cold pipe into the palm of my hand, I threw them over the railing of the porch, and went to bed.

The days passed for me now like a procession of pleasant dreams. The more I became acquainted with my host and hostess, the more I identified myself with their way of living, and the more I realized that I had fallen among people of exceedingly gentle blood. They were aristocratic, and perhaps a little too high headed for their near neighbors, and had but few callers, and no visitors. The practically limitless farm was under the direct general supervision of old Henry Grundy, and he was consequently a very busy man, and seldom at home except at meal-times. I soon learned that the slaves all loved him, for he was slow to anger, and always just. Out of the thirty negroes on the place, I was given a youth of perhaps eighteen to be my body-servant. He was to black my boots, keep my clothes dusted, hold my stirrup, take care of my horse, and do anything else I wanted him to do. This negro I dubbed Inky, in deference to his pronounced color.

I was allowed to sleep late in the morning, a privilege for which I was grateful. Often I would accompany the master on his tours of inspection, riding a dapple-gray gelding which was placed at my disposal, and which was exceedingly well behaved, as became an animal of his good breeding. Then solitary walks became part of my daily routine. Accompanied only by Fido, and carrying a walking-stick of stout hickory, I explored the hills and valleys which stretched for miles in every direction. Oftentimes I was gone all day, and the good people whom I had begun almost to love were very indulgent to me, never complaining when I was late to a meal, or when my roving spirit kept me out till after nightfall. I had a key to the front door, and was careful to enter noiselessly on these occasions. I had never been back to Springfield, and so had had no opportunity to upbraid Reuben for his treachery. But, indeed, upon rereading his letter, I saw that he had told me the truth, and at the same time had made me the victim of a joke. These people had no children, and my friend had simply forbore mentioning the adopted daughter.

Salome, a beautiful name and an unusual one. I found myself thinking upon it one afternoon, as I lay stretched upon a bed of moss in one of the deepest recesses of the hills. I had never heard it before out of the Scriptures. She who wore it ought to be a beautiful girl. “Salome, Salome,” I caught myself murmuring, gazing dreamily up through the lace-like young foliage above me to where two fluffy clouds were wandering arm in arm along the pathways of the air. What would she look like, this Salome? Would she be fair or dark, and would her ways be gentle or tomboyish? A sudden realization of the trend of my thoughts made my cheeks tingle ever so slightly, and I brought my eyes to bear upon Fido. This ever-restless canine had chased a timid little ground-squirrel into a hole when we first arrived at this spot, and had subsequently torn up enough leaves and dirt to fill a moderate-size grave in his efforts to dislodge his quarry. He did not know that I was watching him, and his antics were therefore perfectly natural. He had dug a slanting ditch perhaps a foot deep in the soft loam, and when my eyes fell upon him had stopped for a moment to get his wind. He stood planted firmly on his four short legs, his tail vibrating incessantly, like the pendulum of a clock. His muzzle was grimy with soil; his head cocked on one side, and his ears pricked, while his beady little eyes narrowly watched the hole before him. His lolling tongue was dripping, and he was panting like a lizard. And I thought to myself, if men would attack an obstacle like that dumb brute, there would be fewer failures in life. All at once, and without warning, the pup leaped to the attack once more, and the way he worked would have done credit to a galley slave. His shoulders undulated with the ferocity of his movements, and dirt flew in a shower from between his hind legs. Now and again he would pause, and thrust his nose as far up in the hole as he could get it. A moment thus, while the wagging tail still moved, then he would draw back, snort the dirt from his nostrils, and with an eager whine renew his efforts.

With the deepening shadows came the thought that I was several miles from home, so I arose reluctantly, picked up my stick, and, with Fido limping at my heels, walked slowly back through the enchanted aisles of Nature.

The Saturday night following, a week before her arrival, I heard the story of Salome.

I was on the old settee after supper, as usual. Here I always came to smoke my pipe after the evening meal. Somewhat to my surprise, Mr. Grundy came out and sat down beside me. Frequently he and his wife came out for a short time in the early evening, but this night it was nearly nine o’clock when I heard the old gentleman’s heavy step in the hall. I made room for him when I saw that it was his intention to sit down, and offered him my tobacco, for I saw that he held a cob pipe in his hands, another unusual thing. He took my tobacco in silence, and in silence filled his pipe and lit it. I felt that he had something to say to me, so I waited patiently, and we both puffed away.

“S’lome’s comin’ a week from to-night,” he said, at last. His voice was softer than I had ever heard it, and a caressing note lurked in it. “Seems a long time to us since she went away last September. S’lome’s comin’ home,” he repeated, as though the very sentence brought joy.

“It’s right for me to tell you ’bout her, Stone, since you’re to be one of us for quite a spell. It’s a sort o’ sad story, but me an’ mother’ve tried to make her forget the beginning of her life. It may be that you don’t like young girls much, seein’ that you’ve never married, but there’ll be a kind spot in your heart for S’lome when you hear ’bout her. You see, it began away back yonder when I was a young fellow at school. Bob Summerton was a classmate of mine, and my best friend. His one prevailin’ weakness was a woman’s pretty face. He was a poor fellow, and had no business marryin’ when he did. His wife, highly connected, but without any near relations, was killed in a railway accident. Their little girl, who had been born six months before, escaped unhurt. Bob was a Kentuckian, from the soles of his feet up, and one day, when S’lome was only three years old, he was shot by a coward for defending a woman’s good name. He telegraphed me to come, and I reached him in time for him to consign to my keepin’ the child soon to be orphaned again. It nearly broke my heart, Stone,” the strong man choked back something in his throat, “but even at that tender age the young thing’s grief was pitiful. I brought her here, and me and mother well, we’ve done what we could to make her happy God bless her!”

The last words were in a husky whisper, and I knew that tears which had started from the heart were glistening in the eyes of that grand old gentleman.

“She’s not so big, and she’s not so little,” he went on, presently, for I knew of nothing to say at this juncture. “Just kind o’ medium size, and as sweet as the Lord’s blessed sunshine. She ain’t ashamed to keep the house clean, and help mother, either. It’s always May-time ’bout the old place when she’s here, Stone. She’s tender-hearted as a lamb, and’ll nuss a chicken with the gapes for half a day. But the horse don’t run on this farm that she’s afraid to ride. And when me or mother are ailin’, she’ll sit by us night and day says she’s ’fraid to trust a nigger with medicine. And she’s got our hearts so ’t they’d almost stop beatin’ if she told ’em to. She’s ridden on a load o’ hay many a time, and has gone to the wheat-field to help us with the thrashin’. And she’s comin’ home next Saturday, Stone.”

He stopped again, and I knew that he was thinking. Presently he arose, and stretched his arms with a yawn.

“You’ll like her, Stone, if you’re a human. Good-night.”

“Good-night,” I answered, and his heavy boots thumped across the porch to the hall door.

That night, for the first time in my life, a girl’s face crept into my dreams.