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

The next week passed more swiftly than any of its predecessors had done since I came to this idyllic spot. House-cleaning began on Monday, and under Mrs. Grundy’s experienced eye the half-dozen negresses employed in the work moved with alacrity and precision. But what with beating carpets, scrubbing floors, and turning things topsy-turvy in general, the task was not accomplished with any considerable despatch. A man is a cumbrous article at house-cleaning time, as any housewife will aver, and Mr. Grundy, recognizing this fact, betook himself to the neighboring Little Beach River to fish, and let “the boss” tear up things to her heart’s content. His request that I should accompany him was almost a warning, so I assented, for my room was not to be spared in the general overhauling. Inky and Jim Mr. Grundy’s factotum went along to pitch our tent and attend to the cooking.

I was not a disciple of Walton, and as a consequence my success was anything but extraordinary; still I derived a hearty enjoyment from the outing.

Did you ever lazy along a river-bank in May, and just live, and fish, and smoke, and do nothing else? If you have not, you have missed a very great pleasure. If you fail to catch many fish, it doesn’t matter much. There is a certain spell in the air which defies ennui, and a kind of tonic steals into your blood which makes it tingle through your veins, much as the rising sap in the young trees, I imagine. You rise in the morning and bathe your eyes open in a near-by spring, whose crystal cool water is like the touch of a healing hand. Then comes breakfast of bacon, coffee, and good, light bread. Then your pipe comes as naturally as a deep breath of the forest-scented air, and you take your rod and minnows and wander up the bank through the weeds and the dewy grass. Under the shadow of that old, half-sunken log is where the bass stay. The water is deep and clear, and your hook sinks with a low gurgle, like an infant’s laughter. What matters it whether a bite comes at once, or not? You sit in a hollow formed by a curving tree-root, rest your back against the tree-trunk, and are very contented. The other side of the stream is lined with endless stretches of trees, sycamore, elm, dogwood with their starry eyes peering in innate vanity over the bank into the mirror beneath them, and underbrush of all descriptions. Where the tide has once been, and receded, is a stretch of yellow clay, now glistening from the dews of night. After a while the sun strikes this, and the wet surface glows like gold. Then your wandering eye for you have forgotten your cork observes a bubble as it rises and bursts midway across the stream, and you idly watch the widening circle which radiates from it. Then in the centre of the circle the tiniest dark spot appears, which gradually assumes the shape of a black, shining head. It remains stationary for a while, then slowly moves to the opposite bank. A disc-like shell is lifted, two broad feet dig their claws into the mud, and Mr. Turtle drags himself up high and dry for a sunning.

The delightful silence is suddenly broken by the harshest of chattering, and a crested kingfisher descends like a shot from some dead limb high up in the very tree under which you are sitting, and, skimming low over the surface of the water, finally disappears without his prey. Then the pole is almost jerked from your careless hands, and, if you have luck, a fine bass is floundering at your feet in a few moments. Then another spell of sitting and dreaming, while you lay your pipe aside for a while, and look up to where a squadron of fleecy argosies are drifting calmly along to some unknown bourn, bearing, mayhap, behind their filmy bulwarks the simple prayers of trusting children.

Dinner-time comes too quickly, but it is over soon, and you seek a new haunt, and stretch your legs out, and thank the Lord that you are alive. Above you and around you is the fragrant new life of blooming things, and the odor of the woods is as rare and sweet as some strange perfume. As the sun goes down slowly, the shadows lengthen across the river. The little wood violets nod on their slender stems by your side, and dusk creeps upon you like a caress. The bird notes grow still, and a gentle rustling comes from the leaves, and falls upon you like a benediction from Nature. After supper you lie upon your bunk in the tent, and drowsily watch the stars wink at you through the open door. Then the bull-frogs’ lullaby begins, and you drift into dreamland listening to that deep chorus from the river banks.

I passed four days like this, elysian days to me. Friday we went back home, and the next day she came.

The household was astir very early that morning, as was natural and proper that it should be, considering the event which was to happen. Contrary to my custom, I was up before the sun, and I smiled, in an amused way, at the extra touches which I almost unconsciously put to my dress. I actually halted over my necktie, but decided at last upon a black string, as most becoming to my age and quiet habits. The gray streaks about my temples seemed to show more plainly than usual, as I carefully brushed my hair. I put on some clean cuffs, too, though the ones I had been wearing were not soiled.

At breakfast everybody was happy. Mrs. Grundy beamed from behind the tea-urn, and put three spoonfuls of sugar into my tea instead of two. Mr. Grundy succeeded in upsetting his cup of black coffee, and laughed at it as though it were a joke, and even the mulatto maid who moved deftly about the table wore a broad grin. One thing was on the mind of each: Salome was coming home.

The carriage was waiting at the front door when breakfast was over. Two darkies had been rubbing on it for an hour, and not a speck could be seen anywhere. There were two horses hitched to it this time, as fitted the occasion. A span of high-strung blacks, with white feet, and they gave the negro at their heads all he could do to keep them from going. They chafed their bits, and stamped, and fretted at the delay, their tiny feet eager to be speeding away. The master was going alone to meet his darling. Springfield had no railway, and Salome was to arrive at Lebanon, eighteen miles distant, by noon. Mr. Grundy came out arrayed in his best, as though he was going to meet the Queen of England. His strong old face was alight with a great happiness, as he bent and kissed his wife, then leaped down the steps like a school-boy. He shouted back his adieus to each of us; the negro on the front seat gathered up his lines, and braced his feet; the negro standing at the head of the team loosened his hold, and stepped swiftly to one side. There was a prancing of slender limbs, a tossing of two black heads, and they were gone. There were tears of joy in the eyes of the good woman at my side when I looked at her.

“She’s coming, Mr. Stone, and we’re all so happy!”

That was all she could say. Her voice broke, and with a smile on her sweet old face she turned away into the house to hide her emotion.

The day was a restless one for me. I took a book, and went down to a rustic seat under an elm tree. But the book lay open on my crossed knees without my eyes ever seeking its pages. I was thinking of Salome of the wonderful charm which made every one love her. Elderly women, married women, I had known and liked, but school-girls were my especial abomination. Truth to tell, I had never known any, and I did not want to know any. Even this paragon I would have gladly escaped had there been a way. But flight was impossible, and since I must meet her, it was quite natural to wonder what she was like, and to brood upon the mystery of her ensnaring all about her. I was ashamed of my restlessness. The rustic chair grew uncomfortable, and I paced up and down. The damp grass deadened the shine of my boots, and I walked back to the house and summoned Inky to put them in shape again. Even this African’s face was beaming like a freshly polished stove, and I became almost irritated.

“What are you grinning about?” I demanded, as he bent to his work with blacking and brush.

“Miss S’lome’s comin’ home, Marse,” he panted, rolling his white eyes at me in ecstasy.

“Are you very glad?” I continued.

“Yas,’r, I is. Miss Salome’s jes’ so sweet that honey can’t tech ’er. She picked a br’ar out ’n my foot once, Marse; out ’n my ugly, black foot. An’ she hel’ it in her lap, too, an’ it nuvver hurt a speck.”

I did not say anything more. I knew now why the birds were singing so sweetly that morning, and why the squirrels in the yard were frisking so gayly. Everything was glad because she was coming home.

The big bell on the tall pole behind the house rang at eleven that day instead of half past. And away out in the fields hearts were quickened in black bosoms. The slaves left the plough in the furrow, and the corn undropped, and hurried home. The summons at this unusual hour meant that something out of the ordinary had happened. It was the master’s order, and as they all came trooping in with inquiring faces, and stood grouped near the back porch, Mrs. Grundy appeared, and told them briefly that their young mistress was coming that afternoon, and that there would be no more work that day. They cheered the news with many a lusty shout, and the pickaninnies rolled over each other, and the youths turned handsprings, while upon each face was a look of high good humor.

About four o’clock Mrs. Grundy and I repaired to the settee to watch the road, which could be seen for perhaps a mile, winding through the valley. Then around the corner of the house began to appear the vassals of this Kentucky lord. The stain of the soil had been washed from their hands and faces, and their cotton shirts were clean, though patched and worn. The negresses, also, appeared, with their kinky hair done up in multitudes of “horns,” and tied with bits of the most extravagant-colored ribbon that their wearers possessed. Every one was attired in his best, as though on a holiday occasion, which, in truth, this was.

“Dar dey come!”

A six-year-old piece of midnight suddenly made this announcement in a shrill treble key, and all eyes were turned at once towards the highway. A carriage and a span of blacks were sweeping up the road. Mrs. Grundy gave some orders in a low, yet positive tone, and in a trice two rows of slaves were standing along each side of the avenue. They were going to give her a royal welcome. Mrs. Grundy stood upon the lowest step, and I modestly remained upon the porch, leaning against one of the massive pillars. I can scarcely describe my feelings at that time now, but I think my nerves were in a condition similar to that of the small boy when he makes his first speech at school. They had reached the meadow, and were coming up the slow incline. I could see nothing as yet but a straw hat, a white blur beneath it, and a brown travelling suit. Through the wide-open yard gate they rolled. Then those who had been called together to welcome her gave cheer after cheer, and waved their hands and hats above their heads.

“Hi, Miss S’lome!” from a sturdy field hand.

“Hi, baby!” from an old mammy.

“Howdy, Missus!” from a housemaid.

“Hi, Mi’ ’Ome!” from a pickaninny in arms.

And so the welcome greetings fell upon her. And from out the pandemonium a high, sweet voice thrilled into my ears.

“Hello, Sambo! Here’s Aunt Cynthy! Look how ’Lindy has grown!”

It was almost like the confused panorama of a dream. The horses stopped; a lithe figure leaped, unaided, to the ground; I heard that dear word “mother,” and Salome was home.