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

Only a few old negroes were astir when I stepped from the house the next morning. Even the master had not arisen. The stars and the sun’s forerunners were having a battle on the broad field overhead; one by one the stars were vanquished and their lamps extinguished. I stood upon the lowest step of the flight in front of the house, and watched the misty, uncertain shapes of trees and bushes gradually evolve themselves into distinguishable outlines. The process was slow, because a kind of vapor lay upon everything, and it resisted strenuously the onslaught of the sun. But it gave way, as darkness ever must before light, and, as if by magic, the curtain which night had placed was rolled away, and little by little the landscape was revealed. Along the creek, which ran just beyond the pike, and parallel with it, hung a dense wall of fog, against which it seemed the arrows of day fell, blunted. The air was cool and fresh, and I drew it deep down into my lungs, feeling the sluggish blood start afresh with each draught.

With the dawning of that day came the dawning of a new life for me. I realized that I had been living in a darkened room, and that a window had suddenly been thrown open, letting in upon me a shower of golden light, with the songs of birds and the incense of flowers. My old life had been a contented one, had known the pleasures to be derived from association with books and God’s great out-door miracles. The new life, whose silver dawn was beginning to tip my soul with a strange radiance, held untold joys which belong rightly to heaven, and which numbed my mind as I strove blindly after comprehension. I was as a little child left all at once alone upon the world. I stood, helpless, trying to centralize my disordered thoughts, with a strange oppressed feeling in my breast which deep respirations could not drive away. I was deeply, deeply troubled, and my mind was in a maze. But one idea possessed me, and that doggedly asserted itself, overriding the tumult in my brain. I was longing, madly longing, to see again her whom I loved. The word in my mind was like the touch of a white-hot iron, and I started as if stung, and fell to pacing nervously up and down. It could not be; it could not be! That child of nineteen, I a man of forty-five! The idea was monstrous! What an old fool I had been! I did not know my own mind, that was all. I would be all right in a day or two. But still that sinking feeling weighed above my heart, and my usually calm pulse was rioting with something other than exercise.

“Let it be love!” I cried at last, in my troubled soul. “The painful bliss of this half hour’s experience is worth the cost of denial, for she shall never know!”

Thus did I, poor worm, commune in my fool’s heaven, recking not, nor knowing, that I was setting at naught the plans of my Creator.

At breakfast I was myself, although my hand trembled when I conveyed food to my mouth, and I felt my cheeks coloring when she came in a little late, arrayed in a pink-flowered, flowing gown, and looking as fresh as though she had just risen, bathed in dew, from the blue-and-crimson cup of a morning-glory.

“How did you rest after your night ride?” she smiled, sitting by me and resting her elbows on the edge of the table, then pillowing her round chin in her pink palms.

“I slept better for my outing,” I answered promptly, lying with the ease of a schoolboy. The truth was, my sleep had been broken and poor.

“It’s a good thing for Stone that you’re back,” thundered Mr. Grundy. “You’re so everlastingly fond of running over all creation, and he has the rovingest disposition I ever saw. Goin’ down to salt those sheep this mornin’, S’lome?”

“Yes, sir. I made a compact with Mr. Stone last night to act as my esquire on all my expeditions. You’ve often said I should have some one to go along with me.”

“Don’t let her impose on you, Stone,” responded the old gentleman, throwing a quick wink in my direction. “She’s young, you know, and don’t know as much as mother. She’ll have you climbing an oak tree to get a young hawk out of its nest likely as not.”

Salome laughed, while I boldly assured them that I would make the effort should she desire such a thing. Mrs. Grundy was quiet, as usual. She contented herself listening to the conversation of the others, and seldom took her eyes off the girl it was plain to see she worshipped.

“Get ready for a walk this morning, Mr. Stone!” called Salome, a short time after breakfast, peeping over the balustrades at the top of the stair. “The lower farm is about two miles, and the walk will be good for us.”

“I’ll get my hat and stick; are you coming now?”

“As soon as I can get in another dress. I’ll meet you in the locust grove. Tell Tom to get you the salt, and I’ll be there before you have missed me.”

She was gone with a pattering of little feet.

I went into my room for my stick and hat with a grim smile upon my face. The steady ground which I had thought beneath me was becoming shifting sand. I went slowly around the house to the negro quarters with bowed head, briefly gave Tom his mistress’ orders, and stood apathetically while the darky hastened away to obey.

A quick scurrying in the grass, and the pressure of two small paws upon my trousers’ leg brought me to myself, and I bent down to pat the yellow head of Fido, who had espied me, and instantly besought recognition.

“You poor, dumb, faithful thing,” I apostrophized, looking at the bright eyes which shone love into mine. “You are spared this agony of soul, and the futile efforts to solve problems which cannot be known. You love me, and I love you; why could we both not be content?”

“Is Fido going, too?”

I composed my face with an effort, and straightened up as the cheery voice hailed me. She was coming towards me like a woodland sprite, floating, it seemed to me, for her gliding step was so free from any pronounced undulation. Her dress of blue checked gingham just escaped the ground, and she wore a gingham sunbonnet with two long strings, which she held in either hand. The sunbonnet was tilted back, and her laughing face, with its rich, delicate under-color of old wine, was fit for a god to kiss.

“Yes, we will take him along if you do not object. He was the companion of my rambles before you came. We will make a congenial three.”

Tom approached with a bucket of salt, which, after an exaggerated scrape of the foot and a pull at his forelock, he handed to me, and we set out.

Our way led through the orchard at the back of the house, where grew, I think, all sorts of apples known to man. Each bough was freighted with its burden of round, green fruit, and here and there an Early Harvest tree was spattered with golden patches, where the ripened apples hung in their green bower. Beyond the orchard lay a woods pasture, formed of a succession of gentle swells, the heavy bluegrass turf soft as an Oriental carpet to the feet, while scattered about were hundreds of magnificent trees, mostly oak and poplar. Dotting the sward were numerous little white balls on long stems, dandelions gone to seed. These Salome plucked constantly, and, filling her cheeks with wind, would blow like Boreas, until her face was purple. When I inquired the purpose of this queer performance, I was shyly informed that it was to tell if her sweetheart loved her. If she blew every one of the pappus off at one breath, he loved her; if she didn’t, he didn’t love her. She was certainly very much concerned about the matter, for every ball she came to she plucked and blew. Sometimes all the pappus disappeared, and sometimes they didn’t, and so she never reached a decided conclusion.

The pasture crossed, a rail fence rose up before us. I at once stepped forward to let down a gap, but Salome halted me.

“The idea!” she declared. “I don’t mind that at all. You stand just where you are, and turn your back; I’ll call you when I’m over.”

I blushed, and obeyed.

A wheat-field of billowy gold stretched before us when I joined her. A narrow path ran through it, curving sinuously, as a path made by chance will. This we followed, Salome going in front. The wheat was ready for the reaper, and the full heads were swelled to bursting. Salome gathered some, threshed them between her hands, blew out the chaff, and offered me part of the grain, eating the other herself. It was pasty, but not unpleasant, and I ate it because it was her gift. We were walking peacefully along, through the waist-high grain, when Salome gave a little scream and jumped back, plump into my arms. Even in my excitement I saw the tail of a black snake vanishing across the path. I released her quickly, of course, but the touch of her figure was like wine in my veins.

“I beg your pardon!” she said humbly; “but the ugly thing frightened me. It darted out so quickly, and I almost stepped upon it. You couldn’t get one of the negroes to follow this path any farther. They are very superstitious, you know, and are firm believers in signs.”

“I’m sorry you were startled so; perhaps I had better go in front,” I ventured.

“No; you sha’n’t. I’m not really afraid of snakes, except when I run upon one unexpectedly. I kill them when I get a chance.”

And so she started out again in advance of me, and began telling the various beliefs of the negroes. I learned from her that their lives were almost governed by “signs,” and that some very trivial thing would deter them from a certain course of action. There were ways to escape the spell of witches, to avoid snakes, and to keep from being led into a morass by jack-o’-lanterns. This folk-lore of the darkies was exceedingly interesting to me, told in the charming manner which characterized the speech of my companion.

The wheat-field ended at the pike, and here another fence was passed in the same manner as the first one. Then we swung down the dusty road together, side by side. To the right and left of us dog-fennel was blooming, and the “Jimpson” weed flared its white trumpets in a brave show. Occasionally a daisy lifted its yellow, modest head, and Salome took great delight in getting me to tell her which was daisy and which was fennel. My ignorance caused many a blunder, to her high amusement; but at last I discovered that the daisy’s head was larger than that of its humble brother. A half-mile’s walk along the pike brought us to an old sagging gate, which I pushed open, and we went through. A grassy hill was before us, sloping down to a cool hollow where a spring bubbled out from beneath a moss-grown old rock.

There were trees and bushes, and a soft green bank, and we joined hands and ran like two school-children till we reached the spring. Of course she must have a drink, so down she knelt, and plunged her pouting lips into the cool water. Her hair, tangled and loosened by our run, fell in wavy strands about her face. When she had drunk her fill, it was my turn, and so I stretched out full length, and carefully put my lips just where hers had been. Never had water tasted so sweet! I was taking it in, in long, cool swallows, when a sudden pressure on the back of my head bobbed my face deep into the spring. I turned my head with a smile, to find her standing back and laughing like a child at the trick she had played.

“You rascal!” I fumed good-naturedly, “I’ll pay you back!”

Another peal of laughter was her only answer, caused, no doubt, by my wet face and the water dripping from my chin.

“Yonder come the sheep,” she said. “Get up, and let’s salt them.”

I arose and picked up the bucket. Coming slowly up the hollow were five or six shabby-looking sheep. Their wool stood on them in patches, and they seemed scarcely able to walk.

“What’s the matter with them?” I queried.

“See how rusty the poor things look!” Her voice told of deep concern. “Father says they have the scab, and it must be a dreadful disease, like leprosy. Let’s go meet them, and save them the trouble of walking so far.”

I could not help smiling at the tender heart this speech betrayed, but I went with her. As we neared the sorry-looking group, Salome took a handful of salt and placed it upon a large flat stone. They rushed at it eagerly, despite their weakened state, and lapped it with their tongues. We put out more salt, at a dozen different places, so that all might have enough, then went back to the bank by the spring, and while she sat down in the shade and held her bonnet in her lap, I reclined by her side, and looked up at her, content.