But it was not until she awoke next morning and looked out between the posts of her high bedstead through the small, wide-open window overlooking the bay that her heart gave the first bound of real gladness. She loved the sky and the dash of salt air, laden now with the perfume of budding fruit trees, that blew straight in from the sea. She loved, too, the stir and sough of the creaking pines and the cheery calls from the barnyard. Here she could get her mind settled; here, too, she could forget all the little things that had bothered her—there would be no more invitations to accept or decline; no promises she must keep. She and her Uncle George could have one long holiday—she needed it and, goodness knows, he needed it after all his troubles—and they would begin as soon as breakfast was over. And they did—the dogs plunging ahead, the two hand in hand, St. George, guide and philosopher, pointing out this and that characteristic feature of the once famous estate and dilating on its past glory.
“Even in my father’s day,” he continued, his face lighting up, “it was one of the great show places of the county. The stables held twenty horses and a coach, besides no end of gigs and carryalls. This broad road on which we walk was lined with flower-beds and shaded by live-oaks. Over there, near that little grove, were three great barns and lesser out-buildings, besides the negro quarters, smoke-houses, and hay-ricks. Really a wonderful place in its day, Kate.”
Then he went on to tell of how the verandas were shaded with honeysuckles, and the halls, drawing-rooms, and dining-room crowded with furniture; how there were yellow damask curtains, and screens, and hair-cloth sofas and a harmonicon of musical glasses which was played by wetting one’s fingers in a bowl of water and passing them over the rims—he had played on it himself when a boy; and slaves galore—nearly one hundred of them, not to mention a thousand acres of tillable land to plough and harrow, as well as sheep, oxen, pigs, chickens, ducks—everything that a man of wealth and position might have had in the old days, and about every one of which St. George had a memory.
Then when Tom’s father, who was the sole heir, took charge (here his voice dropped to a whisper) dissolution proceedings set in—and Tom finished them! and St. George sighed heavily as he pointed out the changes:—the quarters in ruins, the stables falling to pieces, the gates tied up with strings or swinging loose; and the flocks, herds, and live-stock things of the past. Nor had a negro been left—none Tom really owned: one by one they had been sold or hired out, or gone off nobody knew where, he being too lazy, or too indifferent, or too good-natured, to hunt them up. The house, as Kate had seen, was equally neglected. Even what remained of the old furniture was on its last legs—the curtains patched, or in shreds—the carpets worn into holes.