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WESTERFELT

A Novel

by

WILL N. HARBEN







New York and London
Harper & Brothers Publishers
1901
Copyright, 1901, by Harper & Brothers.
All rights reserved.





TO

MY WIFE




Westerfelt


Chapter I

They had had a quilting at the house of the two sisters that day. Six
or seven women of the neighborhood, of middle age or older, had been in
to sew on the glaring, varicolored square. All day long they had
thrust their needles up and down and gossiped in their slow,
insinuating way, pausing only at noon to move their chairs to the
dinner-table, where they sat with the same set curves to their backs.

The sun had gone down behind the mountain and the workers had departed,
some traversing the fields and others disappearing by invisible paths
in the near-by wood. The two sisters had taken the finished quilt from
its wooden frame, and were carefully ironing out the wrinkles
preparatory to adding it to the useless stack of its kind in the corner
of the room.

"I believe, as I'm alive, that it's the purtiest one yet," remarked
Mrs. Slogan. "Leastwise, I hain't seed narry one to beat it. Folks
talks mightily about Mis' Lithicum's last one, but I never did have any
use fer yaller buff, spliced in with indigo an' deep red. I wisht they
was goin' to have the Fair this year; ef I didn't send this un I'm a
liar."

Mrs. Slogan was a childless married woman of past sixty. Her sister,
Mrs. Dawson, had the softer face of the two, which, perhaps, was due to
her having suffered much and to the companionship of a daughter whom
she loved. She was shorter than her sister by several inches, and had
a small, wrinkled face, thin, gray hair, and a decided stoop. Some
people said she had acquired the stoop in bending so constantly over
her husband's bed during his last protracted illness. Others affirmed
that her sister was slowly nagging the life out of her, and simply
because she had been blessed with that which had been denied her - a
daughter. Be this as it may, everybody who knew Mrs. Slogan knew that
she never lost an opportunity to find fault with the girl, who was
considered quite pretty and had really a gentle, lovable disposition.

"Whar's Sally?" asked Mrs. Slogan, when she had laid the quilt away.

"I don't know whar she is," answered Mrs. Dawson. "I reckon she'll be
in directly."

"I'll be bound you don't know whar she is," retorted the other, with
asperity; "you never keep a eye on 'er. Ef you'd a-watched 'er better
an' kept 'er more at home thar never would 'a' been the talk that's now
goin' about an' makin' you an' her the laughin'-stock of the
settlement. I told you all along that John Westerfelt never had
marryin' in the back o' his head, an' only come to see her beca'se she
was sech a fool about 'im."

"I seed 'er down the meadow branch just now," broke in her husband, who
sat smoking his clay pipe on the door-step. "She was hard at it,
pickin' flowers as usual. I swear I never seed the like. That gal
certainly takes the rag off'n the bush. I believe she'd let 'possum
an' taters git cold to pick a daisy. But what's the talk?" he ended,
as he turned his head and looked at his wife, who really was the source
of all his information.

"Why," replied Mrs. Slogan, with undisguised satisfaction in her tone,
"Mis' Simpkins says Westerfelt is goin' with Ab Lithicum's daughter
Lizzie."

"Well," said Slogan, with a short, gurgling laugh, "what's wrong with
that? A feller as well fixed as Westerfelt is ort to be allowed to
look around a little, as folks say in town when they are a-tradin'.
Lord, sometimes I lie awake at night thinkin' what a good time I mought
'a' had an' what I mought 'a' run across ef I hadn't been in sech a
blamed fool hurry! Lawsy me, I seed a deef an' dumb woman in town
t'other day, and, for a wonder, she wasn't married, nur never had been!
I jest looked at that woman an' my mouth fairly watered."

"Yo're a born fool," snorted Mrs. Slogan.

"What's that got to do with John Wester - "

"Sh - " broke in Mrs. Dawson. "I heer Sally a-comin'."

"But I _want_ 'er to heer me," cried the woman appealed to, just as the
subject of the conversation entered the room from the passage which
connected the two parts of the house. "It'll do 'er good, I hope, to
know folks think she has made sech a goose of 'erse'f."

"What have I done now, Aunt Clarissa?" sighed the frail-looking girl,
as she took off her sun-bonnet and stood in the centre of the room,
holding a bunch of wild flowers and delicate maiden-hair fern leaves in
her hand.

"Why, John Westerfelt has done you exactly as he has many a other gal,"
was the bolt the woman hurled. "He's settin' up to Lizzie Lithicum
like a house afire. I don't know but I'm glad of it, too, fer I've
told you time an' time agin that he didn't care a hill o' beans fer no
gal, but was out o' sight out o' mind with one as soon as another un
struck his fancy."

Sally became deathly pale as she turned to the bed in one of the
corners of the room and laid her flowers down. She was silent for
several minutes. All the others were watching her. Even her mother
seemed to have resigned her to the rude method of awakening which
suited her sister's heartless mood. At first it looked as if Sally
were going to ignore the thrust, but they soon discovered their
mistake, for she suddenly turned upon them with a look on her rigid
face they had never seen there before. It was as if youth had gone
from it, leaving only its ashes.

"I don't believe one word of it," she said, firmly. "I don't believe
it. I wouldn't believe it was anything but your mean meddling if you
swore it."

"Did you ever!" gasped Mrs. Slogan; "after all the advice I've give the
foolish girl!"

"Well, I reckon that's beca'se you don't want to believe it, Sally,"
said Slogan, without any intention of abetting his wife. "I don't want
to take sides in yore disputes, but Westerfelt certainly is settin'
square up to Ab's daughter. I seed 'em takin' a ride in his new
hug-me-tight buggy yesterday. She's been off to Cartersville, you
know, an' has come back with dead loads o' finery. They say she's
l'arned to play 'Dixie' on a pyanner an' reads a new novel every week.
Ab's awfully tickled about it. Down at the store t'other day, when
Westerfelt rid by on his prancin' hoss, Clem Dill said: 'Ab, I reckon
it won't be long 'fore you move over on yore son-in-law's big farm,'
an' Ab laughed so hard he let the tobacco juice run down on his shirt.

"'Liz 'll manage his case,' sez he. 'Westerfelt may fly around the
whole caboodle of 'em, but when Liz gits 'er head set she cuts a wide
swathe an' never strikes a snag ur stump, an' cleans out the
fence-corners as smooth as a parlor floor.'"

Sally bent down over her uncle; her face was slowly hardening into
conviction. When she spoke her voice had lost its ring of defiance and
got its strength of utterance only from sheer despair.

"You saw them in his new buggy, Uncle Peter," she asked, "taking a
ride - are you sure?"

Peter Slogan dropped his eyes; he seemed to realize the force of the
blow he had helped to deal, and made no answer.

Mrs. Slogan laughed out triumphantly as she stooped to put her
smoothing-iron down on the hearth.

"Ride together!" she exclaimed. "As ef that was all! Why, he's been
goin' thar twice an' three times a week regular. Jest as he begun
taperin' off with you he tapered on with her. I don't reckon you
hardly remember when he come heer last, do you? Ab Lithicum's as big a
fool as yore mother was in not callin' a halt. Jest let a man have a
little property, an' be a peg or two higher as to family connections,
an' he kin ride dry-shod over a whole community. He's goin' thar
to-night. Mis' Simpkins was at Lithicum's when a nigger fetched the
note. Lizzie was axin' 'er what to put on. She's got a sight o' duds.
They say it's jest old dresses that her cousins in town got tired o'
wearin', but they are ahead o' anything in the finery line out heer."

A look of wretched conviction stamped itself on the girl's delicate
features. Slowly she turned to pick up her flowers, and went with them
to the mantel-piece. There was an empty vase half filled with water,
and into it she tried to place the stems, but they seemed hard to
manage in her quivering fingers, and she finally took the flowers to
her own room across the passage. They heard the sagging door scrape
the floor as she closed it after her.

"Now, I reckon you two are satisfied," said Mrs. Dawson, bitterly.
"Narry one of you hain't one bit o' feelin' ur pity."

Mrs. Slogan shrugged her shoulders, and Peter looked up regretfully,
and then with downcast eyes continued to pull silently at his pipe.

"I jest did what I ort to 'a' done," said Mrs. Slogan. "She ort to
know the truth, an' I tol' 'er."

"You could 'a' gone about it in a more human way," sighed Mrs. Dawson.
"The Lord knows the child's had enough to worry 'er, anyway. She's
been troubled fer the last week about him not comin' like he used to,
an' she'd a-knowed the truth soon enough."

An hour later supper was served, and though her aunt called to her that
it was on the table, Sally Dawson did not appear, so the meal passed in
unusual silence. The Slogans ate with their habitual zest, but the
little bent widow only munched a piece of bread and daintily sipped her
cup of buttermilk.

Presently they heard the rasping sound of Sally's door as it was drawn
open, and then they saw her go through the passage and step down into
the yard. Rising quickly, Mrs. Dawson went to the door and looked out.
She descried her daughter making her way hastily towards the gate.

"Sally!" cried out the old woman, her thin voice cracking on its too
high key, "Sally, wait thar fer me! Stop, I say!"

The girl turned and waited for her mother to approach through the
half-darkness, her face averted towards the road.

"Sally, whar have you started?"

The girl did not move as she answered:

"Nowhere, mother; I - "

The old woman put out her bony hand and laid it on the girl's arm.
"Sally, you are not a-tellin' me the truth. You are a-goin' to try to
see John Westerfelt."

"Well, what if I am, mother?"

"I don't believe I'd go, darlin'. I'd be above lettin' any triflin'
man know I was that bad off - I railly would try to have a little more
pride."

Sally Dawson turned her head, and her eyes bore down desperately on the
small face before her.

"Mother," she said, "you don't know what you'd do if you was in my
place."

"I reckon not, darlin', but - "

"Mother, I'll die if I don't know the truth. Once he told me if I ever
heard one word against him to come to him with it, and I said I would.
Maybe Aunt Clarissa is right about Lizzie an' him, but I've got to get
it straight from him. He went to town to-day, and always drives along
the road about this time."

"Then I'll go out thar with you, Sally, if you will do sech a thing."

"No, you won't, mother. Nobody has any right to hear what I've got to
say to him."

The old woman raised the corner of her gingham apron to her eyes as if
some inward emotion had prompted tears, but the fountains of grief were
dry.

"Oh, Sally," she whimpered, "I'm so miserable! I'll never forgive yore
aunt fer devilin' you so much, right now when you are troubled. I'll
tell you what me 'n' you'll do; we'll git us a house an' move away from
'er."

"I don't care what she says - if it's true," replied Sally. "If - if
John Westerfelt has fooled me, I wouldn't care if it was printed in
every paper in the State. If he don't love me, I won't care for
nothin'. Mother, you know he made me think he loved - wanted me, at
least - that was all I could make out of it."

"I was a leetle afeerd all along," admitted Mrs. Dawson. "I was
afeerd, though I couldn't let on at the time. Folks said he was
powerful changeable. You see, he has treated other gals the same way.
Sally, you must be brave, an' not let on. Why, thar was Mattie
Logan - jest look at her. Folks said she was a rantin' fool about 'im,
but when he quit goin' thar she tuck up with Clem Dill, an' now she's a
happy wife an' mother."

Sally turned towards the gate. "What's that to me?" she said,
fiercely. "I'm not her, and she's not me. Stay here, mother. I'll be
back soon."

"Well, I'm goin' to set right thar on that log outside the gate, an'
not budge one inch till you come back, Sally. If you wait too long,
though, I'll come after you. Oh, Sally, I'm awful afeerd - I don't know
what at, but I'm afeerd."

Together the two passed through the gate, and then, leaving her mother
at the log, Sally hastened through the darkness towards the main road,
several hundred yards away. Mrs. Dawson sat down and folded her hands
tightly in her lap and waited. After a few minutes she heard the heat
of a horse's hoofs on the clay road, and when it ceased she knew her
child was demanding and learning her fate. Fifteen minutes passed.
The beat of hoofs was resumed, and soon afterwards Sally Dawson came
slowly through the darkness, her dress dragging over the dewy grass.
She seemed to have forgotten that her mother was waiting for her, and
was about to pass on to the house, when Mrs. Dawson spoke up.

"Heer I am, Sally; what did he say?"

The girl sat down on the log beside her mother. There was a desperate
glare in her eyes that had never been in eyes more youthful. Her lips
were drawn tight, her small hands clinched.

"It's every bit true," she said, under her breath. "He's goin' with
Lizzie, regular. He admitted he had an engagement with her tonight.
Mother, it's all up with me. He's jest tired of me. I don't deserve
any pity for bein' such a fool, but it's awful - awful - awful!"

Mrs. Dawson caught her breath suddenly, so sharp was her own pain, but
she still strove to console her daughter.

"He's railly not wuth thinkin' about, darlin'; do - do try to forget
'im. It may look like a body never could git over a thing like that,
but I reckon a pusson kin manage to sort o' bear it better, after
awhile, than they kin right at the start. Sally, I'm goin' to tell you
a secret. I'd 'a' told you before this but I 'lowed you was too young
to heer the like. It's about me 'n' yore pa - some'n' you never dreamt
could 'a' happened. Mebby it 'll give you courage, fer if a old woman
like me kin put up with sech humiliation, shorely a young one kin.
Sally, do you remember, when you was a leetle, tiny girl, that thar was
a Mis' Talley, a tall, slim, yaller-headed woman, who come out from
town to board one summer over at Hill's? Well, she never had nothin'
much to occupy 'er mind with durin' the day, an' she used to take 'er
fancy-work an' set in the shady holler at the gum spring, whar yore pa
went to water his hoss. Of course, she never keerd a cent fer him, but
I reckon to pass the time away she got to makin' eyes at him. Anyway,
it driv' 'im plumb crazy. I never knowed about it till the summer was
mighty nigh over, an' I wouldn't 'a' diskivered it then if I hadn't 'a'
noticed that he had made powerful little headway ploughin' in the field
whar he claimed to be at work. She wasn't a bad woman. I give 'er
credit fer that, an' I reckon she never talked to 'im many times, an'
never thought of him except to laugh at him after she went back home,
but he never quit thinkin' about her. She had 'er picture printed in a
paper along with some other church-women in town, an' somehow he got
a-hold of it an' cut it out. He used to keep it hid in a ol'
Testament, in a holler tree behind the cow-lot, an' used to slip out
an' look at it when he 'lowed he wasn't watched. Sally, I never once
mentioned it to him. I seed what had been done couldn't be undone, but
the Lord on High knows well enough how I suffered. Sally, maybe it's
the Lord's will fer you to lose this feller now when you are young an'
able to fight agin it, so you won't suffer the awful humiliation at a
time o' life when a body ort to be easy. Sally, are you a-listenin' to
me?"

"Yes, mother. I heard every word you said about pa an' the woman. I
heard that, and I heard them frogs down there croaking, too, and the
chickens fluttering on their roosts. I heard his horse still
a-trotting. Mother, he was whistling when he drove up just
now - _whistling_!"

The two stared into each other's eyes for a moment, then the old woman
went on:

"It'll go powerful hard with you now, but you'd better have it over
with when you're young 'an to suffer when you're a weak old woman like
me. Ol' age cayn't stand such things so well. No, I never once
mentioned the woman to yore pa. I knowed it would jest make him resort
to lyin', an' at the bottom he was a good, pious man. He jest couldn't
quit thinkin' o' that yaller-headed woman an' her blue eyes an' shiny
store shoes. I jest pitied 'im like he was a baby. It went on till he
got sick, an' many an' many a day he'd lie thar helpless an' look out
towards the cow-lot, wistful like, an' I knowed he was thinkin' o' that
pictur'. He was lookin' that way when he drawed his last breath. It
may 'a' been jest a notion o' mine, fer some said he was unconscious
all that day, but it looked that away to me. I nussed him through his
sickness as well as I could, an' attended to every wish he had till he
passed away. Now, you know some'n' else, Sally. You know why I never
put up no rock at his grave. The neighbors has had a lots to say about
that one thing - most of 'em sayin' I was too stingy to pay fer it, but
it wasn't that, darlin'. It was jest beca'se I had too much woman
pride. When I promised the Lord to love an' obey, it was not expected
that I'd put up a rock over another woman's man if he was dead. Sally,
you are a sight more fortunate than you think you are."

Sally rose, the steely look was still in her eyes, her face was like
finely polished granite. Mrs. Dawson got up anxiously, and together
they passed through the gate. They could see the red fire of Peter
Slogan's pipe, and the vague form of his wife standing over him.

"Now, darlin' - " began Mrs. Dawson, but Sally checked her.

"Don't talk to me any more, mother," she said, impatiently. "I want to
be quiet and think - oh, my God, have mercy on me!"

Mrs. Dawson said nothing more, and with a sinking heart she saw the
stricken child of her breast walk on into her room and close the door.

"Whar's she been?" asked Mrs. Slogan, aggressively.

"She went to git out o' re'ch o' yore tongue," said the widow,
desperately.

To this apt retort Mrs. Slogan could not reply, but it evoked an amused
laugh from her appreciative husband.

"Well, Sally didn't shorely try to do that afoot, did she?" he gurgled.
"Looks like she'd 'a' tuck a train ef sech was her intention."

Mrs. Dawson passed into the house and through the dining-room into her
own small apartment and closed the door. She lighted a tallow-dip and
placed it on the old-fashioned bureau, from which the mahogany
veneering had been peeling for years. Her coarse shoes rang harshly on
the smooth, bare floor. She sank into a stiff, hand-made chair and sat
staring into vacancy. The bend of her back had never been more
pronounced.

"The idee," she muttered, "o' my goin' over my trouble as ef that
amounted to a hill o' beans ur would be a bit o' comfort! My God, ef
some'n' ain't done to relieve Sally I'll go stark crazy, an' - an' - I
could kill 'im in cold blood, freely, so I could. Oh, my pore,
helpless baby! it seems like she never did have any rail friend but me."

She rose and crept to the window, parted the calico curtains, and
peered across the passage at her daughter's door. There was a narrow
pencil of light beneath it. "She's readin' his letters over," said the
old woman, "ur mebby she's prayin'. That's railly what I ort to be
a-doin' instead o' standin' heer tryin' to work out what's impossible
fer any mortal. I reckon ef a body jest would have enough faith - but I
did have faith till - till it quit doin' me a particle o' good. Yes, I
ort to be a-prayin', and I'll do it - funny I never thought o' that
sooner. Ef God fetched a rain, like they claim he did t'other day,
shorely he'll do a little some'n' in a case like this un."

She blew out the tallow-dip and knelt down in the darkness, and
interlaced her bony fingers.

"Lord God Almighty, King of Hosts - my Blessed Redeemer," she began,
"you know how I have suffered an' why I never could put no grave-rock
over my husband's remains; you know how I have writhed an' twisted
under that scourge, but I kin bear that now, an' more an' more of it,
but I jest cayn't have my pore little baby go through the same, an'
wuss. It don't look like it's fair - no way a body kin look at it, for
shorely one affliction of that sort in a family is enough, in all
reason. I stood mine, bein' a ol' woman, but Sally, she'll jest pine
away an' die, fer she had all her heart set on that one man. Oh, God
Almighty, my Redeemer, you that forgive the dyin' thief an' begged fer
help in yore own agony, let this cup pass. Huh! I'd ruther have 'em
stick a speer through my side time an' time agin 'an have it go on with
Sally like it is. You'd better do what I ask, fer it's makin' a
reg'lar devil out o' me. I feel it comin' on, an' I won't be fit fer
no place but hell fire. I jest cayn't see no sense, jestice, nur
reason in my pore little child lyin' in her bed an' twistin' with sech
trouble. You, or some power above or below, tuck Jasper frum me an'
left that yaller-haired sting fer me to brood over day an' night, but
the same ur wuss mustn't come to Sally, kase she don't deserve
it - she's _helpless_! Oh, Lord, have mercy - have mercy - mercy - mercy!"

She rose to her feet, and without undressing threw herself on the bed.
She could hear Slogan and his wife, now barefooted, thumping about in
the next room. Far away against the mountain-side she heard a hunter
calling to his dogs and blowing a horn.




Chapter II

John Westerfelt lived on his own farm in the big two-storied frame
house which had been built by his grandfather, and which came to him at
the death of his father and mother. The place was managed for him by a
maternal uncle, whose wife and daughter kept the house in order. But
all three of them had gone away on a short visit, leaving only the old
negro woman, who was the cook and servant about the house, to attend to
his wants.

The morning following his meeting with Sally Dawson on the road near
her house, Westerfelt arose with a general feeling of dissatisfaction
with himself. He had not slept well. Several times through the night
he awoke from unpleasant dreams, in which he always saw Sally Dawson's
eyes raised to his through the darkness, and heard her spiritless voice
as she bade him good-bye, and with bowed head moved away, after
promising to return his letters the next day.

He was a handsome specimen of physical manhood. His face was dark and
of the poetic, sensitive type; his eyes were brown, his hair was almost
black, and thick, and long enough to touch his collar. His shoulders
were broad, and his limbs muscular and well shaped. He wore
tight-fitting top-boots, which he had drawn over his trousers to the
knee. His face was clean-shaven, and but for his tanned skin and
general air of the better-class planter, he might have passed for an
actor, poet, or artist. He was just the type of Southerner who, with a
little more ambition, and close application to books, might have become
a leading lawyer and risen finally to a seat in Congress. But John
Westerfelt had never been made to see the necessity of exertion on his
part. Things had come easily ever since he could remember, and his
wants were simple, and, in his own way, he enjoyed life, suffering
sharply at times, as he did this morning, over his mistakes, for at
heart he was not bad.

"Poor little girl," he said, as he went out on the front veranda to
wait for his breakfast. "It was just blind thoughtlessness. I really
never dreamt she was feeling that way. I've just got to make it
lighter for her. To begin with, I'll never put my foot inside of
Lithicum's gate, and I'll go over there this morning and try to make
her see what a worthless scamp I really am. I wonder if I couldn't
marry her - but, no, that wouldn't be right to her nor to me, for a man
hasn't the moral right to marry a woman he doesn't really love, even if
she thinks he is the only man on earth. I wonder if I really told her
I loved her?" Here Westerfelt shuddered, and felt a flush of shame
steal over his face. "Yes, I have - I have," he muttered, "and I reckon


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