"You are Going to Love Me Before We Get Through"

The Swinton barbecue was over. The fiddles were silent, the steer was eaten, the barrel emptied, or largely so, and the tapers extinguished; round the house and sunken fire all movement of guests was quiet; the families were long departed homeward, and after their hospitable turbulence, the Swintons slept.

Mr. and Mrs. Westfall drove through the night, and as they neared their cabin there came from among the bundled wraps a still, small voice.

“Jim,” said his wife, “I said Alfred would catch cold.” “Bosh! Lizzie, don’t you fret. He’s a little more than a yearlin’, and of course he’ll snuffle.” And young James took a kiss from his love.

“Well, how you can speak of Alfred that way, calling him a yearling, as if he was a calf, and he just as much your child as mine, I don’t see, James Westfall!” “Why, what under the sun do you mean?” “There he goes again! Do hurry up home, Jim. He’s got a real strange cough.” So they hurried home. Soon the nine miles were finished, and good James was unhitching by his stable lantern, while his wife in the house hastened to commit their offspring to bed. The traces had dropped, and each horse marched forward for further unbuckling, when James heard himself called. Indeed, there was that in his wife’s voice which made him jerk out his pistol as he ran. But it was no bear or Indian--only two strange children on the bed. His wife was glaring at them.

He sighed with relief and laid down the pistol.

“Put that on again, James Westfall. You’ll need it. Look here!” “Well, they won’t bite. Whose are they? Where have you stowed ourn?” “Where have I--” Utterance forsook this mother for a moment. “And you ask me!” she continued. “Ask Lin McLean. Ask him that sets bulls on folks and steals slippers, what he’s done with our innocent lambs, mixing them up with other people’s coughing, unhealthy brats. That’s Charlie Taylor in Alfred’s clothes, and I know Alfred didn’t cough like that, and I said to you it was strange; and the other one that’s been put in Christopher’s new quilts is not even a bub--bub--boy!” As this crime against society loomed clear to James Westfall’s understanding, he sat down on the nearest piece of furniture, and heedless of his wife’s tears and his exchanged children, broke into unregenerate laughter. Doubtless after his sharp alarm about the bear, he was unstrung. His lady, however, promptly restrung him; and by the time they had repacked the now clamorous changelings, and were rattling on their way to the Taylors’, he began to share her outraged feelings properly, as a husband and a father should; but when he reached the Taylors’ and learned from Miss Wood that at this house a child had been unwrapped whom nobody could at all identify, and that Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were already far on the road to the Swintons’, James Westfall whipped up his horses and grew almost as thirsty for revenge as was his wife.

Where the steer had been roasted, the powdered ashes were now cold white, and Mr. McLean, feeling through his dreams the change of dawn come over the air, sat up cautiously among the outdoor slumberers and waked his neighbor.

“Day will be soon,” he whispered, “and we must light out of this. I never suspicioned yu’ had that much of the devil in you before.” “I reckon some of the fellows will act haidstrong,” the Virginian murmured luxuriously, among the warmth of his blankets.

“I tell yu’ we must skip,” said Lin, for the second time; and he rubbed the Virginian’s black head, which alone was visible.

“Skip, then, you,” came muffled from within, “and keep you’self mighty sca’ce till they can appreciate our frolic.” The Southerner withdrew deeper into his bed, and Mr. McLean, informing him that he was a fool, arose and saddled his horse. From the saddle-bag, he brought a parcel, and lightly laying this beside Bokay Baldy, he mounted and was gone. When Baldy awoke later, he found the parcel to be a pair of flowery slippers.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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