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   Chapter 11 No.11

Westerfelt By Will N. Harben Characters: 13052

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


It was a dark night two weeks later. Westerfelt, quite recovered from his illness, was returning from a long ride through the mountains, where he had been in search of a horse that had strayed from the stable.

The road along the mountain-side was narrow and difficult to follow. At times he was obliged to ascend places so steep that he had to hold to the mane of his horse to keep from falling off.

At the foot of a mountain about two miles from Cartwright, he heard voices ahead of him. He stopped, peered through the foliage, and, a few paces farther on, saw a wagon containing a couple of barrels. Near it stood two men in slouched hats and jeans clothing.

"Thought shore I heerd some'n," said one of them.

"Which away?" asked the other.

"Sounded to me like a hoss up on the mount'in."

There was a silence for a moment, then the first voice said:

"No, not that away. Listen! It's somebody comin' up the road on foot.

I reckon it's a friend, but I don't take no resks."

The two men stepped quickly to the wagon and took out a couple of rifles. Then they stood motionless behind the wagon and horse. Westerfelt heard the regular step of some one coming up the road.

"Hello thar!" cried one of the men at the wagon.

"Hello!" was the answer.

"Stand in yore tracks! What's the password?"

"Joe Dill's good 'nough pass-word fer me; I don't try to keep up with all the pop-doodle you fellers git up."

"Joe Dill will do in this case, bein' as yore a good liquor customer.

What'll you have, Joseph?"

"A gallon o' mash-this jug jest holds that amount up to the neck. Gi'me a swallow in a cup, I'm as dry as powder. What do you-uns mean by bein' in the business ef you cayn't send out a load oftener'n this? I'll start to 'stillin' myse'f. I know how the dang truck's made; nothin' but corn-meal an' water left standin' till it rots, an'-"

"Revenue men's as thick through heer as flies in summer-time," broke in the man at the faucet. "Sh! what's that?"

Westerfelt's horse had stepped on a dry twig. There was silence for a moment, then Dill laughed softly.

"Nothin' but a acorn drappin'. You fellers is afeerd o' yore shadders; what does the gang mean by sendin' out sech white-livered chaps?" The only sound for a moment was the gurgling of the whiskey as it ran into the jug. "How's Toot like his isolation?" concluded Dill, grunting as he lifted the jug down from the wagon.

"It's made a wuss devil 'n ever out'n 'im," was the answer. "He don't do a blessed thing now but plot an' plan fer revenge. He's beginnin' to think that hotel gal's gone back on 'im an' tuk to likin' the feller he fit that day. My Lord, that man'll see the day he'll wish he'd never laid eyes on Wambush."

"I hain't in entire sympathy with Toot." It was Dill's voice. "That is to say, not entire!"

"Well, don't say so, ef you know what's good fer you."

"Oh, it's a free country, I reckon."

"Don't you believe it!"

"What's Toot gwine to do?"

"I don't know, but he'll hatch out some'n."

Westerfelt's horse had been standing on the side of a little slope, and the soft earth suddenly gave way beneath his hind feet, and in regaining a firm footing he made a considerable noise. There was nothing now for Westerfelt to do but to put a bold face on the matter.

"Get up," he said, guiding his horse down towards the men.

"Halt!" commanded one of the moonshiners. All three of them were now huddled behind the wagon.

"Hello!" answered Westerfelt, drawing rein; "I'm lookin' for an iron gray, flea-bitten horse that strayed away from the livery-stable this morning; have you fellows seen anything of him?"

"No, I hain't." This in a dogged tone from a slouched hat just above a whiskey barrel.

There was a pause.

"I don't think anybody could have taken him," continued Westerfelt, pleasantly.

"Hain't seed 'im." The speaker struck the wagon-bed with his rifle as he was trying to put it down behind the barrels without being seen.

"The left hand road leads to town, I believe?" said Westerfelt, riding away.

"Yes, but take the right at the next fork."

About half a mile farther on he saw two horsemen, approaching. When quite near they stopped.

"Howdy' do?" said one, eying Westerfelt suspiciously.

"How are you?" answered Westerfelt.

"We are revenue men; we're after a couple o' men and a wagon loaded with whiskey. Seen anything of them?"

Westerfelt was silent. The revenue officer who had spoken rested his elbow on his thigh and leaned towards him.

"Looky' here," he said, deliberately; "we don't know one another, but there may be no harm in tellin' you if you try to throw us off the track you lay yoreself liable to complicity. We've had about as much o' that sort o' treatment round heer as we are going to put up with."

"I'm not on the witness-stand," said Westerfelt, pleasantly; "I'm only looking for a stray horse."

"Let's go on," said the other Officer to his companion. "We are on the right road; he's seed 'em ur he'd a-denied it. Let's not lose time."

"I'm with you," was the reply; then to Westerfelt: "You are right, you hain't on the witness-stand, but ef we wanted to we could mighty easy arrest you on suspicion and march you back to jail to be questioned by the inspectors."

Westerfelt smiled, "You'd have to feed me at the expense of the government, and I'm as hungry as a bear; I've been out all day, and haven't had a bite since breakfast."

The revenue men laughed. "We know who you are," said the one that had spoken first, "an' we know our business, too; so long!"

Two hours later, as Westerfelt was about to go to bed in his room over the stable, he heard a voice calling down-stairs. He went to the window and looked out. Below he saw four men, two saddle horses, and a horse and wagon. He heard Washburn open the office door and ask:

"What do you folks want?"

"Want to put up our beasts an' this hoss an' wagon," was the reply.

"We've got some gentlemen heer we're gwine to jail till mornin'."

"All right. I'll slide open the doors as soon as I git my shoes on. I wus in bed."

"We'll have to leave these barrels o' rotgut with you."

"All right. Plenty o' room." Westerfelt came down-stairs just as

Washburn opened the big doors.

"Hello!" said the revenue officer who had addressed him on the mountain; "you see we made quick time; we found 'em right whar you left 'em."

"I see."

Washburn, who was under the skirt of a saddle unbuckling a girth, glanced at West

erfelt in surprise as he lifted the saddle from the horse and carried it into the stable. The two moonshiners exchanged quick glances and sullenly muttered something to each other. Westerfelt, intent on getting the business over that he might go to bed, failed to observe these proceedings. When the officers had taken their prisoners on towards the jail, Washburn, who, with a lantern, was putting the horses into stalls, turned to Westerfelt.

"My Lord! Mr. Westerfelt," he said, "I hope you didn't give them fellers away."

"Never dreamt of such a thing. What do you mean?"

"I 'lowed you had by what that feller said just now."

"What did he say?"

"Why, he said they'd ketched the men right whar you left 'em, an'-"

"Well, what of that?" Westerfelt spoke impatiently. "I did pass the whiskey wagon. The revenue men asked me if I'd seen them, and I simply refused to answer. They didn't get anything out of me."

"That's just what I'd 'a' done, but I wish you'd 'a' set yorese'f right jest now, fer them fellers certainly think you give 'em away, an' they'll tell the gang about it."

"Well, I didn't, so what does it matter?"

Washburn took out the bowl of his lantern and extinguished the light as they entered the office.

"It makes a man mighty unpopular in the Cohutta Valley to interfere with the moonshiners," he answered. "Whiskey-makin' is agin the law, but many a family gits its livin' out o' the stuff, an' a few good citizens keep the'r eyes shet to it. You see, Mr. Westerfelt, the gang may be a little down on you anyway sence your difficulty with Wambush. Did you know that he wus a sort of a ring-leader amongst 'em?"

"Yes."

"Well, you mark my word, that feller'd swear his chances of heaven away to turn them mount'in men agin you."

"Most of them are good-hearted fellows" replied Westerfelt. "They won't harm me."

Washburn sat down on his bed, pulled off his shoes, and dropped them on the puncheon floor.

"But he's got the'r ear, an' you hain't, Mr. Westerfelt. He'd grab at a chance like this an' you'd never be able to disprove anything. Toot's got some unprincipled friends that 'ud go any length to help him in rascality."

The next morning before the revenue men had left with their prisoners and the confiscated whiskey for the town where the trial before an inspector was to take place, a number of mountaineers had gathered in the village. They stood about the streets in mysterious groups and spoke in undertones, and now and then a man would go to the jail window and confer with the prisoners through the bars. Several men had been summoned to attend the trial as witnesses, and others went out of curiosity or friendship for the accused.

That evening, as John Westerfelt was passing through the hall of the hotel to the dining-room, he met Harriet Floyd. She started when she saw him, and he thought she acted as if she wanted to speak to him, but just then some other boarders entered, and she turned from him abruptly. She sat opposite him at the table a few moments later, but she did not look in his direction.

On his return to the stable after supper, Washburn gave him a letter.

He recognized Sue Dawson's handwriting on the envelope.

"Is it a order?" asked Washburn, thinking it concerned the business.

"No, no; from a-a friend." Westerfelt lighted a candle at the wick of Washburn's lantern and went up to his room. He put the candle on a little table and sat down by it.

"I'll never read another line from that woman," he said. "I can't.

She'll run me crazy! I've suffered enough."

He threw the letter unopened on the table, and clasped his hands over his knee and sat motionless for several minutes. Then he picked up the letter and held one corner of it in the candle-flame. It ignited, and the blue blaze began to spread over the envelope. Suddenly he blew it out and tore the letter open. The margin of the paper was charred, but the contents were intact. It ran:

"JOHN WESTERFELT,-I heard you Come Nigh meeting yore Death. The Lord let you live to make you Suffer. The worst pain is not in the body But in the Soul. You will likely live a long time and never git over yore guilty suffering. The Report has gone out that some gal over thar tuk care of you while you wus down in Bed. Well, it would be jest like you to try yore skill on her. God Help her. I dont know her, nor nothin about her, but she ort ter be warned. Ef she loved you with all Her soul you would pick a Flaw somehow. Mark my words. You will live to See Awful Shapes when nobody else does. Yore Hell Has begun. It will Go on for everlastin and everlastin.

"SUE DAWSON."

He put the letter into his pocket and went to the window and drew down the shade. Then he locked the door and placed the candle on the mantel-piece and stood an open book before it, so that his bed was in the shadow. He listened to hear if Washburn was moving below, then knelt by the bed and covered his face with his hands. He tried to pray, but could think of no words to express his desires. He had never been so sorely tried. Even if he could school himself to forgetting Harriet's old love and the act of deceitfulness into which her love had drawn her, could he ever escape Mrs. Dawson's persecutions? Would she not, even if he won and married Harriet, pursue and taunt him with the girl's old love, as she had Clem Dill? And how could he stand that-he, whose ideal of woman and woman's constancy had always been so high?

He rose, sat on the edge of the bed, and clasped his hands between his knees. The room was in darkness except the spot of light on the wall behind the book. Below he heard the horses crunching their corn and hay. He took from his pocket Sue Dawson's letters and the one from Sally and wrapped them in a piece of paper. Then he looked about for a place to hide them. In a corner overhead he saw a jutting rafter, and behind it a dark niche where the shingles sloped to the wall. It was too high for him to reach from the floor, so he placed the table beneath the spot, and, mounting it, pushed the packet tightly into the corner. Then he stepped down and removed the table, cautiously, that Washburn might not hear him, and sat on the bed again. He remained there motionless for twenty minutes. Suddenly a rat ran across the floor with a scrap of paper in its mouth. He stared at the place where the rat had disappeared as if bewildered, then rose, placed the table back against the wall, secured the packet, and put it into his pocket.

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