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   Chapter 6 No.6

Westerfelt By Will N. Harben Characters: 21116

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Westerfelt's room at the stable was at the head of a flight of steps leading up from the office. It had only a single window, but it commanded a partial view of several roads leading into the village, and a sparse row of houses on the opposite side of the street. In front of the stable stood a blacksmith shop, and next to it, on the right, the only store in the village. The store building had two rooms, the front being used for dry-goods, groceries, and country produce, the one in the rear as the residence of the storekeeper. Next to the store, in a sort of lean-to, whitewashed shed with green shutters, was a bar-room. Farther on in this row, opposite the jail of the place, and partially hidden by the thinning foliage of sycamore, chestnut, and mulberry trees, was the hotel. It was the only two-storied building in the village. It had dormer windows in the roof and a long veranda in front.

Somehow this building interested Westerfelt more than any of the others. He told himself it was because he intended to get his meals there. Finally he decided, as he was not to dine that day with the Bradleys, that he ought to go over at once and speak to the landlady about his board. As he arranged his cravat before the little walnut-framed mirror, which the stable-boys in placing his furniture had hung on the wall, together with a hairbrush and a comb tied to strings, he wondered, with no little pleasurable excitement, if Harriet Floyd had anything to do with the management of the house, and if he would be apt to meet her that morning.

Descending to the office on his way out, he found a young man writing at a desk. It was William Washburn, the book-keeper for the former owners of the livery-stable, whom Westerfelt had retained on Bradley's recommendation. Washburn was copying accounts from a ledger on to sheets of paper.

"How are they running?" asked Westerfelt, looking over the young man's shoulder.

"Lots of 'em hain't wuth the paper they are on," replied Washburn. "The old firm knowed everybody in creation, an' never could refuse a soul. When you bought the accounts you didn't buy gold dollars."

"I know that, but Bradley said he thought I might collect a good many of them."

"Oh yes; maybe a half, or tharabouts."

"Well," said Westerfelt, indifferently, "we'll do the best we can."

"Thar's a big un that's no good." Washburn pointed to an account he had just copied.

"Who's it on?"

"Toot Wambush."

"How much?"

"Seventy-eight dollars an' fifty cents. It's been runnin' on fer two yeer, an' thar hain't a single credit on it. He never was knowed to pay a cent to nobody."

"Don't let anything out to him till the account is paid."

Washburn looked up with a dubious smile. "He'll raise a' awful row. He never wants to go anywhar tell he's drinkin', an' then he's as ill as a snake an' will fight at the drop of a hat. Nobody in Cartwright dares to refuse 'im credit."

"I will, if he doesn't pay up."

"D' y' ever see 'im?"

"Yes, last night."

"I'd be cautious if I wus you; he's a dangerous man, an' takes offence at the slightest thing."

"If he gets mad at me for refusing to let him drive my horses when he owes a bill like that, and won't pay it, he can do so. I obey the law myself, and I will not let drunkards run my business to suit themselves."

"He's talking 'bout goin' out to his father's this morning, an' wants to drive the same rig he had last night."

"I did not know he had my turnout last night."

"Yes, you wusn't heer, an' I knowed he'd make trouble if I refused him."

"That's all right, but don't let him get in any deeper till the old debt is settled. I'm going over to the hotel a minute."

It was a warm day for October, and the veranda of the hotel was crowded with loungers, homely men in jeans, slouched hats, and coarse brogans. Some of them sat on the benches, supported by the square columns, at the end of the veranda; a few had tilted their chairs against the wall, and others stood in groups and talked county politics.

They all eyed Westerfelt curiously, and some of them nodded and said "Howdy do" as he passed. He entered the parlor on the right of the long hall which ran through the centre of the main wing. A slovenly negro girl was sweeping the hearth. She leaned her broom against the cottage organ and went to call her mistress.

A sombre rag carpet was on the floor, and a rug made of brilliant red and blue scraps of silk lay in front of the fire. On a centre-table, covered with a red flannel cloth, stood a china vase, filled with colored leaves and grasses, and lying near it was a plush photograph album. The rest of the furniture consisted of an ancient hair-cloth sofa, an old rocking-chair, the arms of which had been tied on with twine, and a sewing-machine. The windows had cheap lace curtains, stiff enough to stand alone, and green shades with tinselled decorations. The plastered walls were whitewashed and the ceiling was faded sky-blue.

He heard a door close somewhere in the rear, and then with a light step

Harriet Floyd entered.

"Good-morning," she said, slightly embarrassed. "Mother was busy, and so she asked me to come in."

"I believe we were introduced, in a general way, last night," he said.

"I hope you remember."

"Oh yes, indeed," she made answer.

He thought she was even prettier in the daylight in her simple calico dress and white apron than she had appeared the evening before, and he was conscious that the sharp realization of this fact was causing him to pause unnecessarily long before speaking in his turn. But he simply could not help it; he experienced a subtle pleasure he could not explain in watching her warm, slightly flushed face. Her eyes held a wonderful charm for him. There seemed to be a strange union of forces between her long lashes and the pupils of her eyes, the like of which he believed he had never met before.

"I've come to see if I can get my meals here," he said. "It is near my place of business, and I've heard a lot of good things about your mother's table."

"We always have plenty of room," she answered, simply. "Mother will be glad to have you. Won't you take a seat?" She sat down on the sofa and he took a chair opposite her.

"I suppose you enjoyed the party last night," he said, tentatively.

He fancied she raised her brows a little and glanced at him rather steadily, but she looked down when she replied.

"Yes; Mrs. Bradley always gives us a good time."

"But you were not dancing."

"No, I don't care much for it, and Toot-Mr. Wambush-had sprained his foot and said he'd rather not dance."

"That was very kind of you. Not many girls would be so considerate of a fellow's feelings."

She looked down at a brindled cat that came into the room and rubbed its side against her skirt.

"I don't think girls care enough about the feelings of men," she answered, after a little pause. "If they would treat them nicer they would be better."

"You think women can reform men then?"

"Yes, I do; though a man that drinks is mighty hard to manage. Sometimes they can't help it, and they drink more when women show that they have lost confidence in them."

He liked what she had said, notwithstanding its being an indirect defence of Wambush, but was prevented from answering by hearing his name angrily called in the street. This was followed by heavy footsteps on the veranda.

"Whar is that d--d livery man?" The voice was now in the hall.

"It's Toot Wambush!" cried the girl, rising quickly and turning to the door. "I am afraid he-" Just then the young ruffian entered. His red face and unsteady walk showed that he had been drinking.

"Say, Miss Harriet, have you seed-oh, heer you are!"-he broke off as he noticed Westerfelt. "You are the one man in the United Kingdom that I want to see jest at this present moment. Bill Washburn 'lowed he had orders from you not to let me have anything out'n yore shebang; is that so?"

"I'd rather not talk business here," replied Westerfelt. He rose and coolly looked Wambush in the face. "If you say so, we'll walk across to the stable."

"No," sneered Wambush, "this heer's good enough fur me; I hain't got no secrets frum them mount'in men out thar nur this young lady. I jest want ter know now-right now, by Glory! ef you ever give sech orders."

"Do you think this is a proper place to settle such a matter?" calmly asked Westerfelt.

"D--d you; you are a coward; you are afeerd to say so!"

Harriet Floyd, with a white, startled face, tried to slip between the two men, but Wambush roughly pushed her aside.

"You are afeerd!" he repeated, shaking his fist in Westerfelt's face.

"No, I'm not," replied Westerfelt. The corners of his mouth were drawn down and his chin was puckered. "I have fought some in my life, and sometimes I get as mad as the next one, but I still try to be decent before ladies. This is no place to settle a difficulty."

"Will you do it outside, then?" sneered Wambush.

Westerfelt hesitated, and looked at the crowd that filled the door and stood peering in at the window. Mrs. Floyd was running up and down in the hall, excitedly calling for Harriet, but the crowd was too anxious to hear Westerfelt's reply to notice her.

"If nothing else will suit you, yes," answered Westerfelt, calmly. "I don't think human beings ought to spill blood over a matter of business, and I don't like to fight a man that's drinking, but since you have behaved so in this lady's presence, I'm really kinder in the notion."

"Come on, then," blustered Wambush. "I'm either yore meat or you are mine." He turned to the door and pushed the crowd before him as he stamped out of the hall into the street.

Harriet ran between Westerfelt and the door. She put her hands on his shoulders and looked at him beseechingly. "Don't go out there," she pleaded; "stay here and let him cool off; he is drinking! He's a dangerous man."

He took her hands and held them for an instant and then dropped them. "I'm afraid he's been humored too much," he smiled. "I'd never have any respect for myself if I was to back down now. I've known his kind to be cured by a good, sound thrashing, when nothing else would do any good."

She raised her hands again, but he avoided her gently and went out into the street. Wambush stood on the sidewalk a few yards from the door, one booted foot on the curbstone, the other on the ground. He had thrown his broad-brimmed hat on the ground, and tossed his long hair back over his shoulders. His

left hand rested on his raised knee, his right was in the pocket of his short coat.

"Come on, if you ain't too weak-kneed," he jeered, as Westerfelt appeared on the veranda.

Westerfelt advanced towards Wambush, but when he was within a few feet of him, Wambush suddenly drew a revolver, cocked it, and deliberately raised it. Westerfelt stopped and looked straight into Wambush's eyes.

"I'm unarmed," said he; "I never carry a pistol; is that the way you do your fighting?"

"That's yore lookout, not mine, d--n you!"

Just then Luke Bradley ran up the sidewalk and out on the veranda near Westerfelt. He had a warning on his lips, but seeing the critical situation he said nothing. A white, tigerish look came into the face of Westerfelt. The cords of his neck tightened as he leaned slowly towards Wambush. He was about to spring.

"Don't be a fool, John," cautioned Bradley. "Be ashamed o' yorese'f,

Toot! Drap that gun, an' fight like a man ur not at all!"

Wambush's eye ran along the revolver, following every movement of

Westerfelt's with the caution of a panther watching dangerous prey.

"One more inch and you are a dead man!" he said, slowly.

Mrs. Floyd, who was on the veranda, cried out and threw her arms round Harriet, who seemed ready to run between the two men. No one quite saw how it happened, but Westerfelt suddenly bent near the earth and sprang forward. Wambush's revolver went off over his head, and before he could cock it again, Westerfelt, with a swift sweep of his arm, had sent it spinning through a window-pane in the hotel.

"Ah!" escaped somebody's lips in the silent crowd, and the two men, closely on the alert, faced each other.

"Part 'em, men; what are you about?" cried Mrs. Floyd.

"Yes, part 'em," laughed a man on the edge of the crowd; "somebody 'll get his beauty spiled; Toot kin claw like a pant'er; I don't know what t'other man kin do, but he looks game."

"No, let 'em fight it out fa'r an' squar'," suggested red-faced Buck Hillhouse, the bar-keeper, in the autocratic tone he used in conducting cock-fights in his back yard.

The blood had left Westerfelt's face. Wambush's eyes gleamed desperately; disarmed, he looked less a man than an infuriated beast. Westerfelt was waiting for him to make the attack, but, unlike his antagonist, was growing calmer every second. All at once Wambush sent his right arm towards Westerfelt's face so quickly that the spectators scarcely saw it leave his side, but it was not quicker than Westerfelt's left, which skilfully parried the thrust. Then, before Toot could shield himself, Westerfelt struck him with the force of a battering-ram squarely in the mouth.

Wambush whined in pain, spat blood from gashed lips, and shook his head like a lion wounded in the mouth. He ran backward a few feet to recover himself, and then, with a mad cry, rushed at Westerfelt and caught him by the throat. Westerfelt tried to shake him off, but he was unsuccessful. He attempted to strike him in the face, but Wambush either dodged the thrusts or caught them in his thick hair. It seemed that Westerfelt's only chance now was to throw his assailant down, but his strength had left him, Wambush's claws had sunk into his neck like prongs of steel. He could not breathe.

"Hit 'im in the bread-basket, John!" cried Luke Bradley.

It was a happy suggestion. Westerfelt struck Wambush in the stomach. With a gasp and an oath, Wambush doubled up and released Westerfelt's throat. The two men now clinched breast to breast, and, with arms round each other's bodies, each began to try to throw the other down. They swung back and forth and from side to side, but they were well mated.

Westerfelt suddenly threw his left leg behind Wambush's heels and began to force him backward. In an instant Wambush would have gone down, but seeing his danger he wriggled out of Westerfelt's grasp, drew something from his coat pocket, and sprang towards him.

"Knife! knife! knife!" cried Luke Bradley in alarm. "Part 'em!"

"Yes, part 'em!" echoed the bar-keeper with an oath, as if the edge of his pleasure had been taken off by the more serious turn of affairs. Several men ran towards Wambush, but they were not quick enough. He had stabbed Westerfelt once in the breast and drawn back his arm for another thrust, when Luke Bradley caught his wrist. Wambush struck at Bradley with his left hand, but the bar-keeper caught it, and between him and Bradley, Wambush was overpowered.

"The sheriff's coming!" a voice exclaimed, as a big man rode up quickly and dismounted.

"Hello!" he cried, "I summon you, Buck Hillhouse, and Luke Bradley, in the name o' the law to 'rest Wambush. Take that knife from 'im!"

"Arrest the devil!" came from Wambush's bloody lips. He made a violent effort to free himself, but the two men held him.

"I'll he'p yer, whether you deputize me or not!" grunted Bradley, as he hung to the hand which still held the knife, "I'll he'p yer cut 'is d--d throat, the cowardly whelp!"

"I've got nothin' 'gin nuther party," said the bar-keeper, "but I reckon I'll have to obey the law."

"He's attempted deliberate murder on a unarmed man," Bradley informed the sheriff; "fust with a gun an' then with a knife. Ef you don't jail 'im, Bale Warlick, you'll never hold office in Cohutta Valley agin."

The sheriff stepped up to Wambush.

"Drap that knife!" he ordered. "Drap it!"

"Go to h--!" Toot ceased his struggling and glared defiantly into the face of the sheriff.

"Drap that knife!" The sheriff was becoming angered. He grasped Wambush's hand and tried to take the knife away, but Toot's fingers were like coils of wire.

"I'll see you damned fust!" grunted Wambush, and, powerless to do anything else, he spat in the sheriff's face.

"d--n you, I'll kill you!" roared Warlick, and he struck Wambush on the jaw. Wambush tried to kick him in the stomach, but Bradley prevented it by jerking him backward. It now became a struggle between three men and one, and that one really seemed equal in strength to the other three.

"Drap the knife!" yelled Warlick again, and he drew a big revolver, and with the butt of it began to hammer Toot's clinched fingers. As he did this, Bradley and Hillhouse drew Wambush backward and down to the ground.

"I'll pay you for this, Bale Warlick," he groaned in pain, but he still held to the knife.

"Let go that knife," thundered the sheriff. "Let it a-loose, I tell you, or I'll mash your skull!"

"Not while I hold 'im, Bale," said the bar-keeper, sullenly. "Law or no law, I won't he'p beat no man 'at's down!"

"Let go that knife!" The sheriff spoke the last word almost in a scream, and he beat Wambush's knuckles so furiously that the knife fell to the ground.

He then pinned Toot's legs to the earth with his knees, and held the knife up to a man in the crowd.

"Keep it jest like it is fur evidence," he panted. "Don't shet it up or tetch the blade."

Disarmed, Wambush seemed suddenly overcome with fear. He allowed the sheriff to jerk him to his feet, and walked passively between the three men across the street to the stone jail.

Westerfelt stood alone on the sidewalk. Everybody went to see Wambush locked up except Harriet and her mother. They instantly came out to Westerfelt. Harriet picked up a folded piece of letter paper.

"Did you drop this?" she asked.

He did not reply, but took the paper absently and thrust it into his coat pocket. It had fallen from Wambush's pocket. He was very white and leaned heavily against a sycamore-tree.

"Oh, he's cut your coat; look!" Harriet cried.

Still he did not speak. He looked down at the slit in the cloth and raised his hand towards it, but his arm fell limply and he swayed from side to side.

"Are you hurt?" asked Mrs. Floyd, anxiously.

"I think not," he said; "but maybe I am, a little."

Harriet opened his coat and screamed, "Oh, mother, he's cut! Look at the blood!"

He tried to button his coat, but could not use his fingers. "Only a scratch," he said.

"But your clothes are wet with blood," Harriet insisted, as she pointed to his trousers.

He stooped and felt them. They were damp and heavy. Then he raised his heel in his right boot, and let it down again.

"It's full," he said, with a sickly smile. "I reckon I have lost some blood. Why-why, I didn't feel it."

Martin Worthy, the storekeeper, ran across from the jail ahead of the others. Hearing Westerfelt's remark, he cried:

"My Lord! you must go inside an' lie down; fix a place, Miss Harriet, an' send fer a doctor, quick!"

Harriet ran into the house, and Mrs. Floyd and Worthy supported Westerfelt between them into a room adjoining the parlor. They made him lie on a bed, and Worthy opened his waistcoat and shirt.

"Good gracious, it's runnin' like a wet-weather spring," he said.

"Have you sent fer a doctor?" he asked as Harriet came in.

"Yes; Dr. Lash, but he may not be at his office."

"Send for Dr. Wells," he ordered a man at the door. "That's right," he added to Harriet, who had knelt by the bed and was holding the lips of the wound together, "keep the cut closed as well as you kin! I'll go tell 'im to use my hoss."

As he went out there was a clatter of feet on the veranda. The people were returning from the jail. Westerfelt opened his eyes and looked towards the door.

"They'll crowd in here," said Harriet to her mother. "Shut the door; don't let anybody in except Mr. Bradley."

Mrs. Floyd closed the door in the face of the crowd, asking them to go outside, but they remained in the hall, silent and awed, waiting for news of the wounded man. Mrs. Floyd admitted Luke Bradley.

"My heavens, John, I had no idea he got such a clean sweep at you!" he said, as he approached the bed. "Ef I'd a-knowed this I'd 'a' killed the dirty scamp!"

"I'm all right," replied Westerfelt; "just a little loss of blood." But his voice was faint and his eyelids drooped despite his effort to keep them open. Worthy rapped at the door and was admitted.

"Doc Lash has rid out to Widow Treadwell's," he announced. "He's been sent fer, an' ort ter git heer before long. It'll take a hour to git Wells, even ef he's at home."

Harriet Floyd glanced at her mother when she heard this. Her knees ached and her fingers felt stiff and numb, but she dared not stir.

Once Westerfelt opened his eyes and looked down at her.

"Do I hurt you?" she asked, softly.

"Not a bit." He smiled, and his eyes lingered on her face till their lids dropped over them.

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