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

The grandfather’s clock which stood in the hall struck twelve. My eyes seemed loath to close in sleep. It is true I had not gone to bed till half-past eleven, but usually Sleep sat upon my pillow, and proceeded to blindfold me a few minutes after my going to bed. To-night, upon reaching my room, I had read and smoked, and smoked and read, until my nerves had been brought back to their normal state. It fretted me not a trifle to know that a girl from boarding-school had upset me. But the ingenuous frankness of this young being, the unaffectedness which waited upon her every movement, had wrought such demolition to my theories that I was slow in recovering my equipoise of thought. At length I strolled through a mazy vista to oblivion, surrounded by a dancing throng of seraphs.

My rest was untroubled, and when I threw open my window-shutter the next morning, and gazed out with sleep-blurred eyes, my first impression was that things had become topsy-turvy, and that a soft sky studded with stars lay before me. But as reason swiftly dominated my brain, I saw that instead of the phenomenon which had at first seemed apparent, there was only the bluegrass lawn thickly sown with dandelions, as though some prodigal Croesus had strown his wealth of gold broadcast. Perhaps the lowly, modest yellow flowers were but imitating the glittering orbs which had looked down upon them throughout the night who knows? For is not reasoning man oftentimes just as vain, when he seeks to clothe himself with a majesty which is not for mortals?

For several days I adhered to the plans which I had laid out before the coming of Salome. I rode with the master about the farm, took my solitary walks with Fido, as usual, and spent most of each evening in my room, alone. If left to the dictates of my own will, there is no telling how long this would have continued. But one morning, at breakfast, my host surprised me with the words:

“Stone, you remember the old St. Rose church you spoke of? It’s worth looking at, but the Lord knows when I’ll have a chance to go with you. S’lome’s a great favorite with the sisters over at St. Catherine’s, which is about a half mile from St. Rose, and I heard her tell mother yesterday that she was going to ride over to pay her respects this morning. Me and my folks are Presbyterians, but nearly all of our neighbors are Catholics, and good people, and we like them. Now if you’d like to go ‘long, I don’t s’pect S’lome’d mind showin’ you ’bout the place.”

He looked at the daintily clad figure at my side with an interrogative smile.

“It would be a great favor to me,” I put in hastily. “I had been thinking of late I would have to go alone, but if Miss Salome would not object, I should be pleased to go with her.”

“Of course you may,” she answered readily. “I love both places very much, and the sisters are so sweet. Sister Hyacintha is my favorite, a dear old nun with the face of a saint. Do you like old-timey, quiet places, Mr. Stone? St. Rose church is perhaps the oldest building in the county. St. Catherine’s is not half a mile from it, and the sisters conduct a boarding-school there. Had I been a Catholic, I doubtless would have received my education at that place.”

I quickly assured her that I looked forward with much pleasure to our little trip, and asked her if we were to go horseback, or in the carriage.

“Oh, horseback!” she exclaimed, with the delight of a child. “I believe you are a good horseman,” she added archly.

“Only fair,” I responded, smiling. “Still I would much prefer to go that way. I enjoy the exercise so much.”

And so it was arranged. I had no dress for this sort of thing, and I felt a trifle out of place when she joined me on the porch arrayed in a complete riding habit of black. From her gauntlets to her silver-handled whip, her attire was complete. I flushed.

“You know I am not accustomed to riding will you pardon my appearance?”

“It makes no difference whatever!” She laughed merrily. “The feathers don’t make the bird, and I am perfectly satisfied.”

My mount was the same animal I had been used to, and the horse which had been led out for her was a wiry, dapple-gray mare of impatient blood. I knew the correct thing to do, and while I feared that I could not perform the service successfully, I determined to try. So as she walked towards the fretful mare which a negro was with difficulty restraining, I stepped forward, doffed my hat, and with “Permit me, Miss Salome,” I bent, and hollowed my hand for the reception of her foot. With the naturalness and grace of a queen she placed the sole upon my palm, and I lifted her to the spring as though she had been a feather, and she sank into the saddle and grasped the reins, which she proceeded to draw taut with no uncertain hold. With my cheeks burning slightly I was not used to waiting upon women I sought my saddle, and we cantered away.

How well the poet knew when he sang

“What is so rare as a day in June?”

The bright morning sun blessed us with a benison of light; the sweet, cool, scented air laid its thousand tiny hands lightly upon our faces, and the green stretches of country all around us spoke of an earthly paradise. For a while we said nothing, for that sorceress, June, had thrown her web about us, and we were moving as through the vistas of a dream. Once I glanced at my companion, and I saw such a peaceful, happy, yet thoroughly unconscious look upon her face that I stayed the casual remark upon my tongue which I felt that courtesy required. Then it dawned upon me with the suddenness of a revelation that her nature was attuned to mine, and all at once I knew that the sylvan sounds and scenes which were the delight of my soul were as manna to hers as well. And I had shunned her!

“I fear you will think me a poor escort,” she said at length, smiling at me with a trace of sadness. “But I have been away so long, and all these meadows, and trees, and brooks are friends you don’t know how I love them. I have lived with them and in them since I could walk, and it is like seeing dear ones in the flesh to come back and be with them, and hold silent communion with them. Does this sound strange to you?”

“No.” And yet I looked at her half perplexedly. My idols were being shattered one by one. “No, it is not strange to me that such feelings exist, for they are my own. That was why I sought this old-fashioned Kentucky home. I lived in Louisville until I came here, and my soul was being crushed out of me between four brick walls. I have been happy here; I did not know what happiness was until I came here except that derived from books. But that sort of happiness you feel; this sort you live, and your being is broadened by it. But you I confess it sounds strange to me to hear you say such things.”

“Why should I not know them as well as you? My opportunities have been greater.”

“I don’t know; I have no reason to give. In my ignorance and selfishness I had thought that I was alone in this; that no one could listen to Nature’s secrets but myself. I have been wrong, and I am glad that I have been undeceived.”

The congeniality which became quickly established between us made our seven-mile ride very short. Our horses were in good mettle, and the road was fine. Before I knew where we were, we turned into a by-road bordered by locust trees, and cantered down to St. Catherine’s Academy. The lawn before the three-story brick building was beautifully kept. I hitched our horses, and as we strolled up the pavement towards the entrance, I saw two or three figures moving about the premises, clad in the becoming black-and-white garb of the order. Presently one sister espied us, and immediately started our way. She was very old, and moved with slow, short steps. Salome ran to her with a little cry of joy, bent down and kissed the wrinkled face, and, as I came up, introduced me to Sister Hyacintha. I shall never forget the patient, joyful, almost heavenly look on the face of this good woman. She led us to the porch, and gave us chairs, and she and Salome talked, while I listened. As it was nearing the noon hour, we were prevailed upon to stay and take lunch. In the afternoon we were shown through the building, and took a walk over the grounds. Time slipped by stealthily, and the sun was hovering above the western horizon when Salome remembered that St. Rose was yet to be seen.

A short ride over a narrow dirt road winding through masses of verdure brought us to the confines of the old church, which, perched upon a hill, reared its turret aloft in the purple air. I fastened our horses to some of the numerous hitching-posts placed along the roadside for the use of worshippers, and we turned to the iron gate leading into the premises. As this clanged behind us we both felt keenly the jar it created, for everything was so still and peaceful that the slightest noise was irrelevant, and we felt bound to talk in whispers. We found ourselves upon a gravel walk bordered by cedars; to our left was the road, to our right the white stones of a vast burying ground rose up like spectral sentinels of the tomb.

Salome put her hand upon my arm. The path was steep, and I should have offered her assistance, but I had not thought of it. Not a word was spoken until we had reached the end of the path. Here the brow of the hill curved around in the form of a semicircle, and was studded with cedars, like emeralds in a crown. Before us, not a dozen steps away, rose the ancient edifice we had come to view. It was made of solid masonry, and seemed good for hundreds of years to come.

“Here we are.”

Salome was panting a little as she said this, in a barely audible voice. I looked at the gray pile in silent contemplation. Its style suggested massiveness, although the building was not of any great size. The part comprising the vestibule and bell-tower was octagon in shape, and the turret was at least a hundred feet in air. Behind this were the ivy-covered walls of the body of the church. It was at that time when the earth grows still before drawing her night robes about her. In the western sky the sun’s last streamers flared out like a gorgeous fan, and on their tips some shy diamonds glittered evasively. From the fields around us came the sweet breath of the spring, smelling of the richer fragrance of early summer. The birds were still; the stamping of our horses in the road below was the only sound.

“Shall we go in?”

I started, although the tones were low and like the music of rippling water. When I turned my head, the brown eyes looking into mine had a mournful expression. The impressiveness of it all was upon her, too. There must have been a certain look of inquiry upon my face, for she went on, in the same wonderful voice:

“It’s never locked, you know. I like that custom about a Catholic church. So often the soul would enter into a holy place and be alone in prayer. Shall we enter? I think there is enough light for us to see.”

In reply, I drew closer to her, and held out my arm. She took it lightly, and in the deepening twilight we walked to the broad, wooden door. It yielded reluctantly to the pressure of my hand, on account of its size and weight, and together we entered the shadows of the sacred place.