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

August came. It was half gone ere I realized that she would go back to Bellwood early in September. How and where the days had gone I could not tell. Week after week had slipped by, and, forgetting that time was passing, I lived in my fool’s paradise, and gave no thought to the days that were speeding away on silken wings. Harvest had come and gone; the fierce heat of a Kentucky summer made the days sultry, but the nights were good to live. I had lived through it all as in a kind of waking dream. But in the worship-chamber of my heart I had built an altar, and on it was placed the first and only love of my life. The fire which glowed there was as pure as Easter dawn, yet it was as intense as the still white heat you may see in a furnace. And the time was coming when she would go away.

One night I wandered, restless, down into the tree-grown yard. We had sat together that night, as usual, but my lips had been mute. The time had come when there was but one thing to say, and I had resolved not to say it. And so she had left me early, saying, in her impetuous way, that I was unsociable. Back and forth the long avenue I paced, thinking of the day she came home, of the many, many times we had been together; thinking of the pure, unselfish, Christian womanhood which crowned her with its consecrating light. Back and forth, back and forth, and her sweet young face burned itself into my mind with every step I took. Down the avenue, then up, and I leaned against the corrugated trunk of an oak, and fastened my eyes upon the windows of her room. The blinds were drawn, but she was up, for a light showed through them. Salome! Salome! that was the one thought of my mind, the one bitter cry from my aching heart. There was a shadow on the curtain; a bare, uplifted arm was silhouetted against it. God bless you, Salome! My Salome! Good-night!

The next day I kept to my room, sending word that my head was troubling me. In the afternoon I went out and sat upon the porch, turning my troubled face towards the peaceful west. The sun was sinking, swathed in purple robes. Far stretching on either side were azure seas, with dun-colored islands dotting their broad expanses. Below me wound the dusty pike, like a yellow ribbon, flanked on one side by the half-dry creek, and on the other by a field of tasselled corn. A crow sat upon the dead limb of a sycamore, and cawed, and cawed, in noisy unrest. The weight which had been placed upon my breast two months before seemed like a millstone now. The consciousness of hopelessness made it heavier than before.

“Has your headache gone, Mr. Stone?”

She had come to the doorway without my knowledge, and now advanced towards me with a tender, questioning look upon her face.

“Yes,” I answered in quiet desperation, turning my face from her. “The pain has gone to my heart.”

She stood beside me, silently, and I felt the muscles hardening in my cheeks, as I shut my jaws tight to keep back the flood of words which rushed to my lips, and clamored for utterance. Presently I felt that I could speak rationally.

“How long before you return to school?”

“Three weeks; I wish I did not have to go.”

“Let’s walk down to the grape-vine swing,” I proposed abruptly, turning to her with set face.

She held her sunbonnet in her hand, the same bonnet she always wore out of doors about the farm, and she settled it on her brown, fluffy hair as I arose. The swing was in one corner of the yard, quite away from the house, and it had come to be one of our favorite resorts at twilight. This afternoon she occupied it, as was her custom, and I sat at the base of a walnut tree close by her. Something had fallen upon her usually gay spirits, and checked the outpourings of her mind. She sat silent, holding to the arms of her swing, and looking with earnest eyes out over the varied landscape. I watched her, while the fierce pulsings of my temples blurred my eyes, and made her seem as in a sea of mist. The noises of the day had lulled to echoes. The peace of a summer twilight was stealing stealthily over all the land. From a far-off pasture came the silvery tinkle of a sheep-bell; the unutterably mournful cooing of a dove was borne from the forest. The whispering leaves above us rustled gently before the approach of the Angel of the Dusk. The sylvan solitude became as an enchanted spot where none were living but she and I. Why oh, why could it not last forever, just as it was that moment! But Time does not halt for love or hate, and she was going away, out of my life, to leave it as a barren rock in a burning desert. The intense longing of my gaze caused her to turn towards me. She dropped her eyes, while her cheeks grew rosy as the sunset.

“Salome!”

The sweet name fell in trembling accents from my lips. She caught her breath quickly, but did not look up. I arose and stood before her, with my hands clasped in front of me.

“I love you, Salome!” I said in husky tones, for my voice would barely come. “You have called into life that love which God has given every man. It possesses me as utterly as the winds of heaven possess the earth. It has made me as weak as a child, and, like a child, I have told you. I was not strong enough to keep it from you. Should you detest me for giving way as I have, I would not blame you. I am a middle-aged man; you are a little girl, and I have no right to ask anything from you. Your life is before you; mine is over half spent. But I love you, and I would die for you, Salome Salome, my precious one!”

I turned from her, and set my teeth upon my lip, for my confession had shaken my soul to its uttermost depths. Not for the earth, nor for heaven would I have touched her white hand. Through the swirling blood which benumbed my consciousness I felt a presence near me, her presence. I turned with a low cry. She was standing there, close to me. Her bonnet had fallen off, and in the deep twilight her brown hair glowed like an aureole about a saint. One swift, hurt, appealing glance from her uplifted eyes, and she sank, quivering, upon my breast, sobbing, “Abner! Abner!”

God of mercy, I thank thee! I thank thee!

Once more we sat on the steps. The bewitching beauty of the August night lay around us. The yellow harvest moon sailed on as calmly as though it were used to beholding lovers. I held her hand in a kind of stupefied satisfaction, feeling as though under the spell of some powerful opiate. She was so close to me! the skirt of her gingham gown had fallen over one of my feet. I touched her hair, so tenderly, and smoothed it back from her pure forehead. How could it be? This young creature, so full of life and health, encompassed with all that wealth and love could give to love me! me, a simple bookworm and lover of Nature, who had come into her life by chance. The golden hours of that enchanted night still glow like letters of fire upon the web of memory. It was the one perfect period in my quiet and uneventful existence, the one brief time when life was full, and I held to my lips the cup of all earthly happiness. And the changing years cannot rob me of the recollection.