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

“Do you love the country as much as you seem to?” she asked, gazing blissfully up at the dense foliage of the elm tree under which we were resting.

“I could not love it more; it is a wonder which never ends, and an enduring delight. If I could think that Paradise was like this day, and this place, I would not care when death came.”

“I’m so glad,” she answered, with the simplicity and directness of a child. “I have been in cities, and I don’t see how a soul can live there. It seems to me that mine would cramp and dwindle until it died if I had to live in a big town. Even the large and beautiful places of worship speak more of the human than of the divine. It seems that men go because they must, and that women go to show their clothes. This is my religion and my temple.” She smiled in real joy as she waved her hand about her in a gesture comprehending everything bounded by the horizon. “Look at the roof of my temple. Was there ever one so high built by mortals, and was there ever a pigment mixed that could give it the tint which mine holds? And it is not always the same. To-day it is a pale blue, marked with delicate lines of cloud. At twilight it will darken to azure; to-night it will be studded with a million gems. And no prayer falls back from that roof upon the head of the sender, for the stars are the portholes through which they go to heaven. Do you never think that way?”

I shook my head slowly.

“It is very beautiful,” I said, “and equally true, no doubt, but I had never thought of it in just that way. I love this life because I can’t help but love it. The forests, the meadows, the fields, and the brooks are what my soul craves; yet if you ask me why, I cannot tell you. I have been happier the few short weeks I have spent in your home than I was all the rest of my life. Since you have come, my happiness has deepened.”

I dared not look up, but kept my eyes on the four-leaf clover I was plucking to pieces.

“I’m glad I’ve helped make your visit pleasant.”

Her voice was in the same low sweet tones which she had before employed, and I knew by this she attached no particular significance to my last sentence.

“When mother wrote me that you had come to board with us, I was a little displeased, for I was jealous of the sweet accord in which we all dwelt, and did not want it marred. But when she told me all about you, and your habits, my feelings changed. I do not wish to draw any unjust comparisons, but there are very few people with tastes and inclinations like yours and mine, don’t you think so?”

This naïve frankness almost amused me.

“I think you are right. I never knew any one who would care for just the things we do, and they are certainly the most innocent pleasures which the world affords.”

A sudden darkening of the landscape and a breath of cool air accentuated the silence which fell at this point. We both looked up, and saw the edge of a blue-black cloud peeping over the shoulder of a northwestern hill.

“I’m afraid we’ll get wet,” said Salome, rising hastily, and surveying her airy garments dubiously. “There isn’t even a cabin between here and home. I wouldn’t care a fig, but mother always hates for me to be out in a storm. We can only do our best, and walk rapidly.”

With the salt bucket in my left hand, and her hand in my right, I helped her up the hill the best I could. Fido limped behind. He had been lost nearly all the time since we started, chasing rabbits, doubtless, and had only made his appearance a few moments before the cloud startled us. We gained the pike directly, and as we hurried towards the wheat-field the cloud grew with alarming rapidity, and a scroll-work of flame began to show about its outer edges.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” whispered Salome. “But we’re going to catch it.”

And we did. Half-way across the wheat-field the first big drops splashed against our faces, blown by strong gusts of wind. I gazed around helplessly for shelter. A few yards to our right rose the cumbersome shape of a last year’s straw-rick; it was better than nothing.

“Come!” I said, taking her arm firmly. “I’ll find you shelter.”

She consented silently, and I crushed a path for her through the ripe grain until we reached the rick. The rain was beginning to pelt us sharply. Furiously I went to work, tearing out straw by the handfuls, armfuls, and in a few seconds I had excavated a hole large enough for Salome to enter in a crouching posture.

“Get in!” I commanded. I think she little liked the tone of authority I had assumed, for if there ever was a petted being, it was she, yet she obeyed, and cuddled up in her refuge out of reach of the driving rain.

I sat down by the side of her covert, and rested my back against the rick. I also turned up my coat-collar, and pulled my hat well down upon my head; but I soon saw that a good soaking was in store for me.

“Why don’t you come in, too?” she asked in guileless innocence. “I can make room for you, and you will surely get wet out there. Aren’t you afraid of rheumatism? Father has it if he gets his toe damp.”

“I’ll get along all right,” I replied. “There doesn’t much rain strike me, and I never had the rheumatism in my life.”

I didn’t tell her of the trouble with my breathing, and the attack that would be almost sure to follow this exposure.

We both grew quiet after this, and listened to the swish of the rain and the mighty howling of the wind. It had grown very dark, and the air was chilly. The lightning was incessant, and traced zigzag pathways of fire across the sombre heavens. The thunder was terrific, and often shook the solid earth. I asked Salome if she was not afraid, but she laughed from her snug retreat, and said she loved it all. What manner of girl was this, who feared nothing, and who loved Nature even when she was at war with herself?

The strife of the elements ceased as suddenly as it had begun. The thunder rumbled away in the east; the rain stopped falling, and a rift of blue showed through the dun masses overhead. This was followed by a broad shaft of sunlight, which struck on the golden sea around us with a shimmering radiance. I jokingly called Salome a “hayseed” when she emerged from her shelter, for her brown hair was sprinkled with wisps of straw. She ignored the epithet in her solicitation for my welfare, and proceeded straightway to place her hand upon my shoulders and back to see if I was wet.

“You’re soaking!” she declared in genuine alarm. “You must have a hot whiskey toddy and six grains of quinine the minute you get home!”

I made a wry face; but she only shook her head in a determined way, and announced that she would see to it in person. As for herself, she was as dry as a butterfly which had just emerged from a chrysalis, and I congratulated myself upon the care I had taken of her. But before we reached home she was in a plight almost equal to my own, for the wind had blown the wheat across the path, and it was impossible for me to remove it entirely.

As a consequence, her ladyship was at once hustled off to bed by good Mrs. Grundy, and treated to the same remedy she had prescribed for me. I took a rather stiff toddy, and changed my clothes, and felt no ill effects from my experience.

After the first wild flush which had attended the discovery of the awakening of my affection for this girl had subsided, I became, in a degree, calmer. But it was there, deep in my soul, and I could feel it growing, growing, as steadily as my heart was beating. And I was old enough to know that in time it would conquer me, and drag me to her feet like a fettered slave before his master. My will seemed, in a measure, paralyzed, and I made no effort to escape. Something warned me that it would be useless. And so I drifted, living in a careless sort of lotos dream, which I could have wished would last forever. Now there were scented, joyful days, when we strolled through dales and wooded hollows, listening to Nature’s great orchestra as it played its never-ending symphony. Perfect nights, when the heavy air would be redolent of the honeysuckles’ wafted souls and the breath of sleepy roses. From the cabins in the locust grove would float the tinkling of the banjo, the untrained guffaw of the negro men, and the wild, half-barbaric notes of an old-time melody. And the stars would shine in glory above us, and we would sit on the steps and talk of the things we both loved. The old folks on the settee would get sleepy and go in, and we would sit there by the hour, and still my secret was my own. I think she guessed it, but this blissful existence was too sweet to be ended by some foolish words which had better remain forever in my heart, even though they ate it out.