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

I descended the steps, and stood at a respectful distance. I saw a gray head and a brown one side by side, and caught faintly the whispered love of youth and age. Arms were at length unclasped, and Mrs. Grundy presented me. A sudden up-flashing of dark eyes was the first impression I received from the face turned towards me. She made me a low courtesy, and held out her hand, and I took it and bowed over it with the best grace of which I was master.

“I am glad to see you, Miss Salome,” I said, truthfully, for my feelings had undergone a wonderful revulsion, despite my indifference of that morning. Sometimes a moment is long enough to change one’s whole being.

“I am so pleased to find you here.” Her voice was low, well bred, and modulated. “Mother and father are very lonely after I go away. They love me far more than I deserve,” and she smiled back at them as they stood hand in hand watching us. “Now, if you will excuse me, I will shake hands with all of these good friends.”

She nodded pleasantly in response to my bow, and moved away with a certain gliding step. Straight to an old black mammy she went, and threw herself into the good creature’s arms. Then right and left she turned, while they crowded around her, shaking hands with all. Some horny hands she took could have crushed hers like a flower; but everywhere were expressions of love and respect. And she was the gladdest thing there. The genuine affection she felt for all the negroes was shown in her cordial greetings.

The carriage was driven away, the blacks dispersed, and the rest of us retired to “mother’s room,” which was situated back of mine. The two old people hovered about their returned darling like parent birds over a strayed fledgeling which had come back to the nest. I took a seat apart, and, joining in the conversation but rarely, studied the girl who sat in a large rocking chair, and who talked as volubly and as entertainingly as any one could have wished. She was, as Mr. Grundy had said, of medium build. Her form was youthful, but possessed of that subtle roundness which betokens the approach of womanhood. Two dainty feet darted in and out beneath her skirt as she rocked to and fro. Her face was not beautiful, but the features were delicate and fine. Her lips were as red as rich blood could make them, the upper one pouting ever so slightly, and the soft brown hair was parted in the middle and drawn back from an exquisite forehead. The dark brown eyes were the girl’s chief charm. They danced and sparkled in impish mischief, and had a way of shooting sudden glances which made themselves felt as keenly as arrows. And crowning it all was a sweet grace and womanliness which was good to see. From that hour my opinion of a school-girl changed.

After supper all of us gathered on the front porch. Mr. and Mrs. Grundy occupied the settee; Salome and I sat upon the porch at the top of the steps, she leaning against one pillar, and I against the other, across from her. Of course she did the talking, and while most of it was about the things which had happened at school, I found myself listening with increasing interest. I soon discovered that it was the music of her voice which held me, soft, rich, speaking in perfect accents. Her narrative was frequently interrupted by bursts of bubbling laughter, as some amusing incident was remembered and related. Very suddenly she stopped.

“Listen!” she said, and turned her head sideways, holding up one finger.

Through the silence which followed came the twanging notes of a banjo.

“It’s Uncle Zeb!” she announced, in a loud whisper. Then to me, impulsively, “Don’t you like music, Mr. Stone?”

She leaned towards me, as though it was a vital question which she had propounded.

“Very dearly,” I answered promptly. “This is the first that I have heard since coming here.”

“It’s a jig, and he’s playing it for me the old darling! I must go to him, or he would be hurt.”

She arose swiftly, and gathered up her skirts.

“Will you come, Mr. Stone, since you love music? We won’t stay long.”

I mumbled something, and got up, a trifle confused. Such perfect candor and lack of artificiality was a revelation to me. She placed her disengaged hand upon my arm at the bottom of the steps.

“Uncle Zeb almost raised me,” she explained, as we took our way around the house towards the darkey cabins. “He’s taken me to the fields with him many a time, and I was brought up on that tune you hear him playing. He always plays it when I come home look at them now!”

The cabins were all built in a locust grove to the rear of the house. To-night the negroes had lighted a bonfire, and were making merry in the old-time, ante-bellum way. Seated upon broken-down chairs, or strewn upon the grass in various attitudes, these dusky children of misfortune watched the performance of an exceedingly black old uncle, who, sitting upon a bench before his cabin, was picking the strings of a banjo almost as old as himself. His bald head, surrounded by a fringe of gray wool, shone brightly in the firelight, he was rocking his body rhythmically backwards and forwards, and keeping time with one foot upon the hard earth. As we came into the circle of firelight we were discovered, and there was a quick movement, and a deferential giving way. My companion took her hand from my arm, and the action seemed to draw me much nearer the earth than I had been for the past two or three minutes. The musician stopped playing when he became aware of our presence.

“Bress de Lawd, honey chile! Am dat you? ‘Pears to me a’ angel mus’ ‘a’ drapped down frum de sky!”

“This is your little child, Uncle Zeb,” she answered with feeling, “and I have come out here to listen to you play.”

“De ol’ man can’t play ’less de feet’s a-goin’,” he replied, shaking his head solemnly. “You know you’s al’ays danced fur ol’ Zeb.”

A darker color came to her cheeks, and she turned smilingly to me.

“Uncle Zeb taught me a jig when I was a wee thing in pinafores. He will never play for me unless I dance for him. You know he thinks I am still a child of eight or ten. If you think it’s not real nice, I won’t ask you to stay.”

The roguish upcasting of starry eyes, and the deprecating little manner, tied my tongue for the instant.

“I shall be glad to stay, if you will permit me.”

This much I managed to utter, and as she bowed assent, I went and leaned against the cabin wall, by the side of Uncle Zeb. This was done partly to give her all the room she needed, and partly to secure a support for myself, for a strange weakness had begun to assail my limbs.

There was an eager, anticipative move on the part of the negroes. They nudged each other, and whispered, grinned broadly, and shifted their positions to where they could obtain an unobstructed view. Salome stood bareheaded, with arms akimbo, waiting for the music. The travelling suit had been discarded, and she was dressed in a simple blue dimity frock which showed the perfect curves of her figure to charming advantage. Uncle Zeb, with characteristic leisure, was in no hurry to begin. He twisted the screws and thrummed the strings in a very wise manner. At length the instrument was tuned to his satisfaction, and then his claw-like fingers began to move with astonishing rapidity. I looked at Salome. She was standing perfectly still. Then, as the music quickened, I saw her supple body begin to sway, like a lily’s stem when a zephyr breathes upon it. Her hands dropped to her sides, and daintily lifting her gown above her feet, she began to dance. Gently at first, and with such ease that she barely moved. Then the step receded, advanced, and grew faster. Her tiny feet twinkled, and tapped the earth in perfect time and rhythm. Such living grace I had never looked upon! The bending form, the flushed face, and the dancing feet, the grouped negroes and the old musician, the picture was burned into my memory like painting is burned upon china in a kiln. My breath came quicker, and my face grew hot. I scarcely knew when she stopped, but for the wild cheers of the spectators. Then, flushed and laughing, she came and cast herself upon the bench by Uncle Zeb.

“Yo’ do it better eb’ry time, chile!” declared the old fellow, highly delighted that she had danced to his playing.

“And you gave it better than ever before! Did I shock you, Mr. Stone?” She turned to me with a look of deep contrition.

I sat down beside her, and spoke my mind.

“I never saw anything like it. But don’t fear that you shocked me. I wish that I could see the same thing every evening.”

“You’re good not to mind it. Mother and father think it sweet, and I dance for them sometimes. Now, if you don’t mind, we will go back. I’m a little tired to-night from my journey. Good-night, Uncle Zeb,” she patted the old man’s hand. “Good-night, Lindy, Jane, Dinah, Sambo, Tom all of you!” She waved her hand, and, to a chorus of answering good-nights, we moved away.