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   Chapter 21 No.21

Westerfelt By Will N. Harben Characters: 13145

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Mrs. Dawson reached home the next day about four o'clock in the afternoon. Mrs. Slogan was seated at her great cumbersome hand-made loom in the corner of the kitchen, weaving reddish brown jeans for Peter's clothing. Mrs. Lithicum and her husband were in paying a visit. The latter and Slogan were talking over a joint hog-killing they were going to have to save labor and expense. Peter had put a higher mental valuation on the labor saved than Lithicum. He had discovered, on a former occasion, that the arrangement had saved him some money, and that Ab had done all the work, such as directing the black hands and keeping the water just the proper temperature to remove the bristles without "setting" them.

"You see," Peter had remarked to his wife, "Ab works more'n I do; mebby it's beca'se he's a chawin' man-a smokin' man has to set down to smoke to do any good, while a chawin' man kin use both hands at any job, an' jest squirt when an' whar he wants to."

Peter went to a window, while Ab was watching the movement of the loom, and looked across the fields. Suddenly the others heard him utter an ejaculation of profound astonishment. The loom ceased its monotonous thumping, and all eyes turned on him.

"What's the matter?" asked Mrs. Lithicum, her round, red face full of curiosity.

"I'll bet narry one o' you could make a good guess."

They knew him too well to expect information from him, so they all started for the window. Mrs. Lithicum reached it first. "As I'm alive!" she cried. "Mis' Dawson's got back. She's gettin' out uv a wagon down at 'er cabin."

"Well, I 'lowed she wouldn't always be gallivantin' about heer and yan," said the weaver, as she peered over the shoulder of her guest. "I reckon they've all got tired of 'er over thar an' sent 'er home."

Mrs. Lithicum followed the speaker back to the loom. "Well, I don't know but I'm a leetle grain sorry," she said.

"Sorry!" repeated the sister of the person under discussion. "I don't see what thar railly is to be sorry about."

Mrs. Lithicum looked as if she had got her foot into it, and she flushed, but she had her defence ready. "Well, you see, Mis' Slogan, she's tuck a most unaccountable dislike to Lizzie, an' a pusson like-well, some do think her trouble has sorter turned 'er brain, an' the's no rail tellin' what quar notion may strike 'er."

"Do you think so, Mis' Lithicum?" Mrs. Slogan retained the big smooth shuttle in her hand and eyed the speaker anxiously, her eyelids quivering.

"To be downright plain, yes, I do. Mis' Slogan, ef she is yore sister, an' I've thought many a time 'at ef I wus in yore place I wouldn't feel safe nuther. They say a pusson sometimes gits softenin' o' the brain frum hatin' folks an' livin' alone like she does. I'd be afeerd to leave the house open at night ef I wus you."

"Well!" suddenly broke in Peter, who was the only one remaining at the window. "You may have my overcoat an'"-after a pause-"my best Sunday shirt, too, ef she hain't loaded 'er bed in that wagon an' 's a-comin' this way as big as the side of a house. She's comin' back heer, Clariss, Lordy, Lordy!"

They all ran to the window again and stood breathlessly watching the oncoming wagon. "She's off 'er nut now, I know," said Peter. "I know 'er too well; she never would come back heer ef she wus in 'er right mind."

"Well, I don't want to meet 'er-that's one thing certain," cried Mrs. Lithicum in sudden terror. "She mought pounce upon me on Lizzie's account. I'm a-goin' home by the path through the cotton-patch. Good day to all uv you. Ef I was you-uns," she called back from the door, "I'd have 'er put up!"

Abner mutely followed her, and the Slogans were left to solve the problem for themselves. The wagon drew up at the door, and from their window they saw the little woman step down over the front wheel and direct the white driver-they could not hear her voice, but they read the signs of her hands-to put the few pieces of furniture on the porch. This done, the wagon clattered away, and Mrs. Dawson, with hanging head, came into the passage and went to her old room.

"What in the name o' goodness do you reckon she's goin' to do?" gasped

Mrs. Slogan, quite pale and cold. "I'm nearly skeerd to death."

"She's got a faint idee 'at she's goin' to put up heer with us," answered Peter with considerable concern for a man of his phlegmatic temperament. "They say crazy folks jest natcherly drift back into the'r old ruts, an' the best way is to let 'em alone. Ef she kin feed 'erself we'll be in luck; some crazy folks jest gaum the'rselves from head to foot an' have to have constant attention."

"But you ain't a-goin' to let 'er stay, are you?" cried his wife.

Peter smiled grimly and went to the mantel-piece for his foul-smelling comforter. He also pulled down from a nail on the wall a dry stalk of tobacco and proceeded to crush and crumble some of the crisp leaves in his big palm.

"Me? I don't see 'at I've got a thing to say in the matter," he retorted, with a grimace that bore a slight resemblance to a smile. "You wus tellin' me jest t'other day 'at the lan' an' house wus in yore name an' her'n, an' 'at I had no right to put in. I reckon you'll have to manage 'er, Clariss."

Mrs. Slogan sank back on the bench of the loom, but she didn't set the thing in motion; she had an idea that the slightest sound might draw the attention of the bustling inmate of the room across the passage, and just then she was not prepared to exchange greetings.

Peter stood at the window, his head now enveloped in smoke, and kept peering out at the porch from which Mrs. Dawson was moving the various articles pertaining to her bed, such as slats, posts, railings, mattress, pillows, sheets, and coverings.

"She's as busy as a hoss's tail in fly-time," he observed. "Oh, Lawsy mercy!"

This last ejaculation came out with such startled emphasis that his wife let her mouth fall open as she waited for him to explain. But Peter only stretched his neck towards the window, holding his pipe behind him to keep from setting fire to the curtain.

"Oh, Peter, what is it?"

"She hain't fetched a sign of a thing to cook with," he replied. "I kinder thought I heerd a clatter in that wagon as it driv' off; she's give 'er coffee-pot an' fryin'-pan an' dishes to the feller that fetched 'er over heer an' moved 'er things. She intends to eat with us."

Mrs. Slogan wrung her hands. "Something jest has to be done," she said, "an' the Lord knows I don't know what it is. Do you reckon she's dangerous, Pet

er?"

"She's yore sister, Clariss," he chuckled, in spite of the gravity of the situation, "an' I'd hate to be in yore re'ch ef you wus to lose any more uv yore mind. As it is, you-"

"I wish you'd shet up!" broke in his wife; "this ain't no time fer foolishness."

Then they drew their chairs up to the fireplace and sat down. They could still hear the old woman moving about, setting things to rights in her room. Suddenly there was a great clatter of falling slats. The bed had come down.

"She can't put that thing up by 'erself" suggested Peter. "Go in an' he'p 'er."

"I'll do no sech a thing; do you reckon I want 'er to scratch my eyes out? Huh! She hates me like a rattlesnake, an' has jest come heer so she kin devil me to death. I see it now. She seed she wusn't worryin' me much over thar in 'er ol' cabin, an' she's jest bent on gittin' nigher."

"I reckon that's jest yore-yore conscience a-talkin'," opined Slogan. "Thar's no gittin' round it, Clariss, you did sorter rub it in when Sally wus alive. I often used to wonder how the old creetur managed to put up with it; you kept ding-dongin' at 'er frum mornin' to night. Ef she's cracked, yo're purty apt to have it read out to you frum the Book o' Judgment."

Mrs. Slogan must have felt the truth of this accusation, for she voiced no denial. The room across the passage suddenly became quiet. It was evident that the bed was up; as a further evidence of this, Mrs. Dawson was seen to go out to the wood-pile and fill her apron with chips and return with them.

"She's got located," remarked Slogan. "She's a-goin' to set in now an' make 'erse'f comfortable."

"She'll burn the house down over our heads," whined Mrs. Slogan. "Oh,

Peter, I'm not satisfied! I'm anything but."

The sun went down and night came on. Mrs. Slogan began to prepare supper, casting, the while, frequent glances at the door opening on the passage. Peter smoked pipe after pipe without being able to come to any definite conclusion as to how to surmount the difficulty. Suddenly he looked over his shoulder and tapped the heel of his shoe with his pipe.

"You'd better cook enough fer three," was what he said, "an' make more coffee. Ef she don't he'p us drink it, we'll need it to keep us company through the night. I know in reason 'at you won't close yore eyes till-till we see some way out of the difficulty."

"Peter Slogan," said his wife, in a whisper, as she laid the table-cloth down in a chair and leaned over him, "you skeer the life out o' me when you talk that away. I never seed you look like you minded anything before."

"I'm glad I show some'n'," he grinned, struggling back into his old sardonic mood. "I 'lowed I'd got too hardened to feer man, God, ha'nt, ur devil. Well, I don't keer overly much about havin' a crazy creetur' so nigh me, an' I ain't a-goin' to, ef I kin see any way out of it. We ain't a thousand miles from the State asylum."

Mrs. Slogan moved noiselessly as she unfolded the cloth and spread it. She put the coffee on the table and poured the floating grounds from the top into a tin cup.

"I'll tell you what I'll do," she proposed, timidly. "I'll fix 'er some supper on that piece o' plank thar, an' a big cup o' coffee sweetened jest like she used to like it, ef-" She hesitated.

"Ef what? Out with it!"

"Ef you'll take it in thar whar she's at."

Peter deliberated and cleared his throat.

"She's yore sister," he got out, finally, "an' the last time I went to 'er cabin she wouldn't listen to me no more 'n ef I wus a rat a-squeakin'. You see, a feller's sorter expected to-"

"I don't keer ef she is my sister, I ain't a-goin' in thar, an' that settles it. I declare I'd be ashamed to call myse'f a man ef I wus afeerd uv a weakly, bent-over old woman like she is."

Peter stirred uneasily in his chair.

"I don't keer about holdin' no talk with 'er-ur startin' 'er off by the sight o' me-but I'll go thar-I see 'er door ain't shet-an' I'll put the grub whar she'll see it."

"Well, that'll do," agreed Mrs. Slogan. "Feedin' 'er ain't a-goin' to make 'er any wuss, an' it mought have a quietin' effect."

Peter took the improvised tray when it was brought to him and went out with it, returning in a moment.

"I ketched 'er a-lookin' right at me," he said, "an' so I jest walked bold-faced in an' put the stuff on a table in front of 'er. She looked down in the fire an' didn't speak, an' I didn't nuther. She didn't look one bit dangerous. Now that I've seed 'er, I reckon I'll sleep some. I'm dem glad I did. Ef you'll jest take a peep at 'er you'll feel better."

"Well, I won't close my two eyes," affirmed his wife. "I hain't seed 'er, nur I don't intend to, ef I kin git out of it."

When supper was ready they softly moved their chairs to their places and sat down. Mrs. Slogan didn't eat heartily, but Peter's appetite seemed normal. They had finished eating, Peter had secured his toothpick from the broom, and they had moved back to the fireplace, when they heard a stealthy step on the passage floor near the door. The bolt was turned, the door shutter creaked and moved a few inches. A hand came in sight, and something wrapped in brown paper was tossed into the centre of the room. Then the steps receded, and they heard the widow resume her chair.

Peter rose curiously and picked up the parcel, and bringing it to the fire opened it. Its contents were a pair of woollen socks and a pair of stockings of the same material. On the first had been worked a big red letter "P" and on the other a capital "C."

"Did you ever?" gasped Mrs. Slogan. "I don't believe she's a bit more crazy 'n I am."

"I never 'lowed she wus," said Peter, with a laugh. "I jest thought she mought be harder to manage 'an you, that's all."

"Sister's gone an' had a change o' heart!" declared Mrs. Slogan, ignoring his joke. "Nothin' else could a-made 'er come back an' give us these things. I heerd they had a big revival over thar. Oh, Lordy, I do feel so relieved!"

"Well, I reckon we mought as well go in an' pay 'er our respects an' git started," grumbled Peter. "I'm not a-goin' to tote 'er meals about, I'll tell you that. Slavery day is over."

"No, we'll jest let 'er alone," Mrs. Slogan beamed; "she'll know we mean all right by the supper, an' I reckon she'll move up 'er cheer in the mornin'; ef she don't, I'll blow the field-horn."

Peter lighted another pipe. "I wonder," said he, "how long it'll be 'fore you an' her 'll be clawin' agin. Religion ur no religion, crazy ur no crazy, women is jest the same."

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