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   Chapter 23 No.23

Westerfelt By Will N. Harben Characters: 9062

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:05


Westerfelt was in the yard back of the stable. He had just started home when he saw a muffled figure enter the front door, and heard Mrs. Floyd asking Washburn if he were in.

"Here I am," he called out; and he approached her as she waited at the door.

"I want to see you a minute, Mr. Westerfelt," she said. "Can you walk back a piece with me?"

"Yes," he replied. "I'm going up to Bradley's to supper."

Outside it was dark; only the lights from the fire in the store and the big lamp on a post in front of the hotel pierced the gloom. A few yards from the stable she turned and faced him.

"Do you intend to kill my child?" she asked, harshly.

"What do you mean?" he answered.

"I mean that you will literally kill her-that's exactly what I mean. You've treated her worse than a brute. What did you do to her this evening? Tell me; I want to know. I have never seen her act so before."

He stopped, leaned against a fence, and stared at her.

"I've done nothing; I-"

"I know better. She fell in a dead faint as soon as she got to her room. I undressed her an' put 'er to bed; but something is wrong. She is out of her head, but she keeps moaning about you, and saying you are going away. Are you?"

"I thought of it, but I won't. I'll stay if-if you think I ought.

I'll do anything, Mrs. Floyd-anything you wish."

"Well, don't go off. She'll not live a week if you do. Spare her-she is all I have left on earth. Think, think how she has suffered. She has not been well since the night she fainted in the blacksmith's shop an' lay so long on the cold ground-that was all for your sake, too."

"I know that, Mrs. Floyd," he said. "I'll stay. Tell her that-tell her I'm coming to see her. Can I see her to-night?"

The old woman hesitated.

"No, she's-she's in bed; but I'll tell her what you said, though. It will do her good. I'm glad I came to see you. I knew you loved her; you couldn't help it. She has been so good to you, and no woman ever loved a man more. When you are married you will both be happy. You'll wonder then how you could be so silly."

"I know I have been a fool." He took her hand and pressed it, almost affectionately. "Take care of her, Mrs. Floyd; don't let her be sick."

She turned to leave him. "She'll be well in the morning, I hope; don't worry. She will get all right when she's had a rest and a night's sleep. Now, let me walk on alone; the people talk so much in this place."

He stopped behind a clump of sycamore bushes and watched her disappear in the gloom. He saw her when she went through the light at the store, and again as she passed under the lamp at the hotel. He followed slowly. He passed the hotel and looked into the wide hall, but saw no one.

A lane led from the street to an open lot behind the hotel. He remembered that Harriet's room looked out that way, and, hardly knowing why he did so, he walked down the lane till he could see her window. There was a light in the room. For several minutes he stood gazing at the window, feeling his feet sink into the marshy soil. He wondered how he could pass the long hours of the night without speaking to her. He had just resolved that he would go to the hotel and implore Mrs. Floyd to let him see Harriet if only for a moment, when he noticed a shadow on the wall of the room. It looked like some one sitting at a table. He decided that it must be Mrs. Floyd watching by Harriet's bed, and in imagination he saw the girl lying there white and unconscious. Suddenly, however, the shadow disappeared. The figure rose into the light and crossed the room. It was Harriet. She wore the same gown she had worn an hour before. She stood for a moment in the light, as if placing something on the mantel-piece, and then resumed her seat at the table. The shadow was on the wall again. He looked at it steadily for twenty minutes. His feet had sunk deeper into the loam and felt wet and cold. Slowly he trudged back through the lane. Mrs. Floyd had lied to him. The girl was not ill. At the street corner he stopped. For an instant he was tempted to go to the hotel and ask Mrs. Floyd if he could see Harriet for a moment, that he might catch her in another lie, and then and there face her in it, but he felt too sick at heart. Harriet had not swooned. Mrs. Floyd had not undressed her and put her to bed. She had made up the story to excite his sympathy and gain a point. He groaned as he started on towards Bradley's. Mrs. Floyd had tried to get Bates to marry the girl, and now was attempting

the same thing with him. And why?

At the gate of Bradley's house he stopped. Through the window he saw Luke and his wife at supper. They had not waited for him. He would not go in. He could not eat or talk to them. He wanted to be alone to decide what course to pursue. He crossed the road and plunged into the densest part of a pine forest. He came to a heap of pine-needles that the wind had massed together, and sank down on it, hugged his knees to his breast, and groaned. He wanted to tell his whole story to some one-any one who would listen and advise him. He could not decide for himself-his power of reasoning was gone. Suddenly he rose to his feet and started up the mountain. Taking a short cut, he reached the Hawkbill road, and, with rapid, swinging strides, began to climb the mountain.

As he got higher among the craggy peaks, that rose sombre and majestic in the moonlight, the air grew more rarified and his breath came short.

He could see the few lights of the village scattered here and there in the dark valley, and hear the clangor of the cast-iron bell at the little church. It was prayer-meeting night.

After a while he left the main road, and without any reason at all for so doing, he plunged into the tangle of laurel, rhododendron bushes, vines, and briers. The soles of his shoes had become slick on the pine-needles and heather, and he slipped and fell several times, but he rose and struggled on. Then he saw the bare brown cliff of a great canyon over the tops of the trees, and suddenly realizing the distance he had come he turned and walked homeward.

He found the Bradley house wrapped in darkness. He could hear Luke snoring out to the gate. He went round the house to the back door. It was unlocked, and he slipped in and gained his own room. Without undressing he threw himself on the bed and tried to sleep, but the attempt was vain. He lay awake all night, and when dawn broke he had not yet decided whether he was going away or not. He really believed he was losing his mind, but he did not care. He rose and sat at his window. The sky along the eastern horizon was turning pale, and the chickens were crowing and flapping their wings. He heard Bradley lustily clearing his throat as he got out of bed. Later he heard him in the kitchen making a fire. Westerfelt knew he would go out to the barn-yard to feed and water his cattle and horses, and he wanted to avoid him and his cheery morning greeting. Buttoning his coat round his neck, he tip-toed from his room across the passage and went down the street to the stable.

One of the big sliding-doors had been pushed aside, and in the back yard he saw Jake washing a buggy, and heard Washburn in one of the rear stalls, rattling his currycomb and brush together as he groomed a horse. He went into the office. The outer door was closed, and it would have been dark there, but for Washburn's lighted lantern which hung on a peg over the desk. He sat down at the desk and tried anew to think. Presently he decided that he would go to Atlanta, and that he would write a note to Mrs. Floyd, telling her of his change of plans. He took up a sheet of paper and began the note, but was interrupted by Washburn's step outside. He crumpled the paper in his hand, quickly thrust it into his pocket, and pretended to be looking over the pages of the ledger which lay open on the desk.

"Hello!" Washburn stood in the doorway. "I didn't know you wus heer.

Anything gone wrong?"

"No; why?"

"It's a little early fer you, that's all." Washburn dropped his brush and currycomb under the desk, and, full of concern, stood looking down at him.

"Thought I'd come down before breakfast" said Westerfelt. "How was business yesterday?"

"Good; nearly everything out, and it wus most all cash-very little booked."

"Wash?"

"Yes, sir."

"How much did I agree to pay you by the month?"

"Thirty dollars." Washburn glanced at the open ledger. "Have I made any mistake?"

"No, but-but I've been making you do all the work. It isn't fair. Credit yourself with forty dollars a month from the start and keep it up."

Washburn flushed. "I'm mighty much obliged, Mr. Westerfelt. I wusn't complainin' as it wus."

"I know it, but you are a good fellow; I'm going to trust the whole business to you. Your judgment's as good as mine; do the best you can. I'm going down to Atlanta for a few days-I don't know for how long, but I will write you from there."

"I'll do the best I can, Mr. Westerfelt, you kin be shore of that."

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