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   Chapter 22 No.22

Westerfelt By Will N. Harben Characters: 14174

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05

When Westerfelt went to bed that night after his talk with Mrs. Bradley about the conversion of Mrs. Dawson, it was with a certain lightness of heart and buoyancy of spirits that he had not experienced for a long time. He did not know exactly how his new feeling would show itself in regard to Harriet, but he believed he might, in time, cease to look upon her love for Wambush as such an unpardonable offence. "Surely," he argued, "if Mrs. Dawson can forgive me for all I have done, I ought to pardon the girl I love for what she did before she knew me."

These were admirable intentions, but he was counting on a depth of nature that was not his either by inheritance or cultivation. The inflammable material was still bound up in his breast, and it needed but one spark to fire it. What he was struggling against had come down to him from a long line of ancestors, men who would rather have died than brook the thought of a rival, especially in an inferior; men who would have spurned the love of their hearts if it were stained with falsehood under any circumstances, and when, as it was in Westerfelt's case, the provocation was not only deceit, but ardent love for such a man-ah, there was the rub!

The next morning he watched Bates's office from the stable till he saw the lawyer come down the street and enter. He waited awhile longer, for he saw Bates go out to the wood-pile and return with an armful of wood. Presently blue smoke began to rise from the chimney, and Westerfelt went over and rapped on the door.

"Come in!" Bates called out. Westerfelt found him with his back to the door, sitting over the fire, a leather-bound tome in his lap.

"Hello!" he cried, seeing who it was; "pull up a seat."

Westerfelt drew a rickety chair from beneath a dusty desk and sat down.

"Did you get home all right?" he asked.

"Yes." Bates closed his book, leaving his forefinger in it for a book-mark; he removed his foot from the side of the chimney and cleared his throat. "Miss Harriet asked me to fetch her home early; dang it! I believe she would a-stayed longer, but she was sorry for me."

"Sorry for you-why?"

"Because she couldn't see it my way, I reckon."

"Did she-refuse you?"

Bates threw his book on a table. "Do I look like a man that's goin' to marry the prettiest and the best girl in the world? Westerfelt, I didn't sleep a wink last night."

"That's bad."

"Looky' heer, don't give me any shenanigan; you knowed what she'd do for me. You knowed mighty well."


"Yes, dad burn it; you know she loves you."

"What are you talking about?"

"If you don't know it you are a numskull. She intimated to me that she loved some feller, but that she never intended to marry anybody. I'm no fool. I know who she meant. Look here!" Bates suddenly rose to his feet. His face was both white and red in splotches. He grasped the back of his chair with both his hands and leaned on it. "I've heard o' your doings over the mountain. She hain't no kin to me, but I'll tell you one thing right now, Westerfelt, she's a good girl, an' if you trifle with her feelings you'll have me to whip ur get a licking yorese'f. I'm talking straight now, man to man."

Westerfelt rose, and the two men stood side by side, each staring into the other's face.

"Don't be a fool," said Westerfelt, after a slight pause; "don't meddle with what don't concern you," and he turned and left the room. He had never allowed a man to threaten him in that sort of way, but he was in no frame of mind to quarrel. Besides, there was something in the lawyer's defence of Harriet that made him like the fellow.

He was about to cross the street to the stable when he saw Harriet come out of the hotel and trip along the sidewalk towards the store. She wore no hat or bonnet, but held a handkerchief over her head to protect her face from the sun. He was sure she saw him, but she did not show any sign of recognition. He kept on his way, but when she had disappeared in the store he hesitated, then stopped, recrossed the street, and turned into the store after her. She was standing on the grocery side, tapping the counter with a coin. Martin Worthy was behind the counter, weighing a package of soda for her. She flushed red and then paled a little as Westerfelt entered and held out his hand.

"It's a pretty day," he said. "I'd like to take you to drive after dinner, if you will go with me. I hated like smoke to miss that ride yesterday."

She shook hands with him and then turned to Worthy, who was tying the package with a piece of twine drawn from a ball in a holder at the ceiling. Westerfelt was afraid she was going to ignore his invitation wholly, but she looked round presently and smiled faintly.

"I shall be glad to go," she answered. "Any one else going?"

"No; that is, not that I know of."

She leaned over to give Worthy the money, and waited for the change without glancing again at Westerfelt.

She took her parcel and started to leave. "Then I shall come about two o'clock?" he said, going with her to the door.

She nodded. "Very well; I'll be ready," and he stood aside for her to pass.

She walked briskly back to the hotel and into the kitchen, where her mother was at work.

"Did you get it?" Mrs. Floyd asked.

"Yes, and there's the change." Harriet put down the package and dropped some pieces of silver into a goblet on the table.

"What's the matter?" Mrs. Floyd was kneading dough in a great wooden tray, and she looked at Harriet over her shoulder.


"I know there is." Mrs. Floyd turned and began rubbing the dough from her fingers as a woman puts on a kid glove.

"Mr. Westerfelt has asked me to drive with him after dinner," said the girl. "That's all."

"Harriet!" Mrs. Floyd's eyes sparkled with excitement as she sprinkled some flour over her dough and began to roll the mass back and forth. "I reckon you will acknowledge now that I know something about young men. If you had refused to go with Bascom Bates yesterday, Mr. Westerfelt would have had no respect for you; as it is, he couldn't wait twenty-four hours to see you. For all you do, don't let him see too plain that you care for him. Mind what I say!"

Westerfelt was impatient for two o'clock to arrive. It was one when he left Bradley's after dinner. He went to the stable and ordered Jake to get out his horse and buggy. He would call for her at once; he could not wait any longer. He felt a sort of sinking sensation at his heart as Jake gave him the whip and reins, and he was actually trembling when he stopped at the hotel. Harriet came out on the veranda above and told him she would be down at once. She did not keep him waiting long, and when she came down, prettily flushed and neatly attired, his heart bounded and his pulse quickened. Had she been a queen he could not have felt more respect for her than he did as he stood shielding her skirt from the wheels and helped her get seated. He was just about to get in himself when an old man came down the sidewalk from Worthy's store, headed for the buggy. It

was old John Wambush with a basket of eggs on his arm.

"Howdy' do," he said, nodding to them both. "Miss Harriet, is yore ma needin' any more eggs now? I diskivered another nest this mornin', an' 'lowed she mought be able to use 'em. She's about the only one in the place 'at ever has cash to pay fer produce."

"I don't know, Mr. Wambush," Harriet replied, politely. "She is in the house; you might go in and see her."

The old man shifted his basket to his other arm and hesitated.

Westerfelt got into the buggy and took up the reins.

"I reckon, Miss Harriet, you hain't heerd frum Toot sence I seed you?"

"No, Mr. Wambush." Westerfelt was not looking at her as she spoke, and the saddest part of it lay in the fact that he was trying to save her from what he imagined must be a very embarrassing situation. "No, he has not written me."

"Well"-the old man turned-"as fur as I'm concerned, I'm not one bit afeerd that he'll not be able to take keer o' hisse'f, but his mammy is pestered mighty nigh to death about 'im."

Just then Mrs. Floyd came out on the porch and threw a kiss at Harriet. The act and its accompanying smile reminded Westerfelt of the deception the old lady had played on Bates, and that added weight to the vague convictions once more alive in his brain. Mrs. Floyd's smile implied a certain confidence in his credulity and pliability that was galling to his proud spirit.

His horse was mettlesome, and Westerfelt drove rapidly over a good road which ran along the foot of the mountain. The day was fine, the scenery glorious, but he was oblivious of their charm. His agony had never been so great. He kept his eyes on his horse; his face was set, his glance hard. Once he turned upon her, maddened by the sweet, half-confiding ring in her voice when she asked him why he was so quiet, but the memory of his promise never to reproach her again stopped him. With that came a sudden reckless determination to rid himself of the whole thing by going away, at least temporarily, and then he remembered that he really had some business affairs to attend to in Atlanta.

"I am going away awhile, Miss Harriet," he told her.

"You are, really?"

"Yes; I'm needed down in Atlanta for a while. I reckon I'll get back in a few weeks."

He saw her face change, but he did not read it correctly. At that moment he could not have persuaded himself that she cared very much one way or the other. Surely a girl who had, scarcely six weeks before, sobbed in old Wambush's arms about her love for his son could not feel anything deeply pertaining to another man whom she had known such a short time.

"Let's go back," he proposed, suddenly, and almost brutally. "I reckon we've gone far enough. Night comes on mighty quick here in the valley."

She raised her eyes to his in a half-frightened glance, and said:

"Yes; let's go back."

He turned his horse, and for fifteen minutes they drove along in silence. There was now absolutely no pity in his heart. The vast black problem of his own tortured love seemed to be soaking into him from the very air about him.

He broke the silence.

"So you refused Bates?"

She looked at him again. "How did you know that?"

He laughed bitterly.

"He told me so; he's another fool."

"Mr. Westerfelt!"

"I beg your pardon," he amended, quickly; "but any man is a fool to be simply crazy about a woman, and he is."

He saw her raise her little shapely hand to her twitching mouth and experienced one instant's throbbing desire to catch it and hold it and beg her to have mercy on him and help him throw off the hellish despair that rested on him. It was a significant fact that she said nothing to protract the conversation on the line of Bates's proposal. To her the proposal and rejection of a king by her would have found no place in her thoughts, facing the incomprehensible mood of the man she loved. It was growing dark when they reached the hotel. As he aided her to alight he gave her his hand. "It's good-bye for a while, anyway," he said.

She started; her hand was heavy and cold. She caught her breath.

"When are you going, Mr. Westerfelt?"

"In the morning after breakfast, by the hack to Darley."

That was all. She lowered her head and passed into the house. In the hall she met her mother.

"Great goodness, dear!" exclaimed the old woman; "what on earth did you run away from him so sudden for?"

Harriet pushed past her into the parlor and stood fumbling with the buttons of her cloak.

"Answer me, daughter," pursued Mrs. Floyd; "what did-"

"Oh, God! don't bother me, mother," cried Harriet.

Mrs. Floyd held her breath as she drew her daughter down on a sofa and stared into her face.

"What's the matter, daughter? Do tell me."

"He's going away," said Harriet. "Oh, mother, I don't know what ails him! I never saw anybody act as he did. He had little to say, and when he spoke it looked as if he was mad with me. Oh, mother, sometimes I think he loves me, and then again-"

"He does love you," declared Mrs. Floyd. "I hid behind the curtains in the parlor and watched him on the sly while he was waiting for you to come down. I never saw a man show love plainer; he kept looking up at your window, and his face fairly shone when you come out. You can't fool me. He's in love, but he's trying to overcome it for-for some reason or other. High-spirited men do that way, sometimes. Men don't like to give up their liberty and settle down. But he'll come to time, you see if he don't."

Harriet stood up and started to the door. "Where are you going?" asked her mother.

"Up-stairs," sighed Harriet. "Mother, can you do without my help at supper? I want to lie down and be alone."

"Of course; I won't need you; everything is attended to, and Hettie come while you was away. She fairly danced when she heard you had gone to drive with Mr. Westerfelt. She hopes you will speak to him about Toot. She's heard from him. He wants to come back home and marry her, if Mr. Westerfelt can be persuaded to withdraw the charges. Do you think he would, daughter?"

"Oh, I don't know, mother!" Harriet slowly ascended the stairs to her room, and Mrs. Floyd sat down in the darkening parlor to devise some scheme; she finally concluded that Harriet was too much in love to manage her own affairs, and that she would take them in hand.

"He loves her, that's certain," she mused, "and he is a man who can be managed if he is worked just right." She had evidently arrived at an idea as to what should be done in the emergency, for she put on her cloak and hat and went up to Harriet's room. The girl sat near the bed, her head bent over to a pillow.

"Daughter," Mrs. Floyd said, laying her hand on Harriet's head, "you stay here, and don't come down-stairs to-night for all you do. I'm not going to have people see you looking like that. It will set 'em to talking, after you've been to ride with Mr. Westerfelt. Stay here; I'll have Hettie fetch you something to eat."

Harriet did not look up or reply, and Mrs. Floyd descended to the street.

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