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   Chapter 4 No.4

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 28515

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


April passed, the arbutus fragrance was gone, while the maples were putting forth ruddy buds which looked like a prophecy of the distant autumn and made gay with colour the young greenery of spring. Meanwhile, school went on, and John grew stronger and broader in this altogether wholesome atmosphere of outdoor activity and indoor life of kindness and apparently inattentive indifference on the part of his busy uncle.

On an evening late in May, 1856 (John long remembered it), the Squire as usual left their little circle and retired to the library, where he busied himself over matters involving business letters, and then fell to reading in the Tribune the bitter politics of Fremont's contest with Buchanan and the still angry talk over Brooks's assault on Senator Sumner. He foresaw defeat and was with cool judgment aware of what the formation of the Republican Party indicated in the way of trouble to come. The repeal of the Missouri Compromise had years before disturbed his party allegiance, and now no longer had he been able to see the grave question of slavery as Ann his wife saw it. He threw aside the papers, set his table in order, and opening the door called John to come in and pay him a visit. The boy rose surprised. Never once had this over-occupied man talked to him at length and he had never been set free to wander in the tempting wilderness of books, which now and then when James Penhallow was absent were remorselessly dusted by Mrs. Ann and the maid, with dislocating consequences over which James Penhallow growled in belated protest.

John went in, glanced up at the Captain's sword over the mantelpiece, and sat down as desired by the still-needed fire.

"John," said his uncle in his usual direct way, "have you ever been on the back of a horse?"

"Yes, sir, once-in Paris at a riding-school."

"Once! You said 'once'-well?"

"I fell off-mother was with me."

"And you got on again?"

"No, sir."

"Why not?"

John flushed and hesitated, watched by the dark-eyed Squire. "I was afraid!" He would not say that his mother forbade it.

"What is your name?"

"John, sir," he returned astonished.

"And the rest-the rest, sir," added his uncle abruptly.

John troubled by the soldier's impatient tones said: "Penhallow, sir." He was near to a too emotional display.

"And you, John Penhallow, my brother's son, were afraid?"

"I was." It was only in part true. His mother had forbidden the master to remount him.

"By George!" said Penhallow angrily, "I don't believe you, I can't!"

John rose, "I may be a coward, Uncle James, but I never lie."

Penhallow stood up, "I beg your pardon, John."

"Oh! no, Uncle James. I-please not." He felt as if the tall soldier was humiliating himself, but could not have put it in words.

"I was hasty, my boy. You must, of course, learn to ride. By the way, do you ever read the papers?"

"Not often, sir-hardly ever. They are kept in your library or Aunt

Ann's."

"Well, it is time you did read them. Come in here when you want to be alone-or any time. You won't bother me. Take what books you want, and ask me about the politics of the day. The country is going to the devil, but don't discuss this election with your aunt."

"No, sir." He had gathered from the rector enough to make him understand the warning.

John went out with the idea that this business of learning to ride was somewhere in the future. He was a little disturbed when the next day after breakfast his uncle said, "Come, John, the horses are in the training-ring."

Mrs. Ann said, "James, if you are going to apply West Point riding-school methods to John, I protest."

"Then protest, my dear," he said.

"You will kill him," she returned.

"My dear Ann, I am not going to kill him, I am going to teach him to live. Come, John. I am going to teach him to ride." Raising horses was one of the Squire's amusements, and the training-course where young horses were broken usually got an hour of his busy day.

"May I come?" asked Leila.

"Please, not," said John, anticipating disaster and desiring no amused spectators.

"In a week or so, yes, Leila," said Penhallow, "not now."

There were two stable-boys waiting and a pony long retired on grassy pension. "Now," said Penhallow, "put a foot on my knee and up you go."

"But, there's no saddle."

"There are two. The Lord of horses put one on the back of a horse and another under a man. Up! sir." John got on. "Grip him with your legs, hold on to the mane if you like, but not by the reins." The pony feeling no urgency to move stood still and nibbled the young grass. A smart tap of the Squire's whip started him, and John rolled off.

"Come, sir, get on." The boys from the stable grinned. John set his teeth. "Don't stiffen yourself. That's better."

He fell once again, and at the close of an hour his uncle said, "There that will do for to-day, and not so bad either."

"I'd like to try it again, sir," gasped John.

"You young humbug," laughed Penhallow. "Go and console your distracted aunt. I am off to the mills."

The ex-captain was merciless enough, and day after day John was so stiff that, as he confessed to Leila, a jointed doll was a trifle to his condition. She laughed, "I went through it once, but one day it came."

"What came, Leila?"

"Oh! the joy of the horse!"

"I shall never get to that." But he did, for the hard riding-master scolded, smiled, praised, and when at last John sat in the saddle the bareback lessons gave him a certain confidence. The training went on day after day, under the rule of patient but relentless efficiency. It was far into June when, having backed without serious misadventures two or three well-broken horses, Penhallow mounted him on Leila's mare, Lucy, and set out to ride with him.

"Let us ride to the mills, John." The mare was perfectly gaited and easy.

They rode on, talking horses.

"You will have to manage the mills some day," said Penhallow. "You own quite a fifth of them. Now I have three partners, but some day you and I will run them." The boy had been there before with Rivers, but now the Squire presented him to the foreman and as they moved about explained the machinery. It was altogether delightful, and this was a newly discovered uncle. On the way home the Squire talked of the momentous November elections and of his dread of the future with Buchanan in power, while he led the way through lanes and woods until they came to the farm.

"We will cross the fields," he said, and dismounting took down the upper bars of a fence. Then he rode back a little, and returning took the low fence, crying, "Now, John, sit like a sack-loosely. The mare jumps like a frog; go back a bit. Now, then, give her her head!" For a moment he was in the air as his uncle cried, "You lost a stirrup. Try it again. Oh! that was better. Now, once more, come," and he was over at Penhallow's side. He had found the joy of the horse! "A bit more confidence and practice and you will do. I want you to ride Venus. She shies at a shadow-at anything black. Don't forget that."

"Oh, thank you, Uncle James!"

"It is Uncle Jim now, my boy. I knew from the first you would come out all right. I believe in blood-horses and men. I believe in blood." This was James Penhallow all over. A reticent man, almost as tenderly trustful as a woman, of those who came up to his standards of honour, truth and the courage which rightly seemed to him the backbone of all the virtues.

What John thought may be readily imagined. Accustomed to be considered and flattered, his uncle's quiet reserve had seemed to him disappointing, and now of late this abrupt praise and accepting comradeship left the sensitive lad too grateful for words. The man at his side was wise enough to say no more, and they rode home and dismounted without further speech.

After dinner John sought a corner with Leila, where he could share with her his new-born enthusiasm about horses. The Squire called to the rector and Mrs. Ann to come into his library. "Sit down, Mark," he said, "I am rash to invite you; both you and Ann bore me to death with your Sunday schools and the mill men who won't come to church. I don't hear our Baptist friend complain."

"But he does," said Rivers.

"I do not wonder," said Ann, "that they will not attend the chapel."

"If," said Penhallow, "you were to swap pulpits, Mark, it would draw. There are many ways-oh, I am quite in earnest, Ann. Don't put on one of your excommunicating looks. I remember once in Idaho at dusk, I had two guides. They were positive, each of them, that certain trails would lead to the top. I tossed up which to go with. It was pretty serious-Indians and so on-I'll tell you about it some time, rector. Well, we met at dawn on the summit. How about the moral, Ann?"

Ann Penhallow laughed. In politics, morals and religion, she held unchanging sentiments. "My dear James, people who make fables supply the morals. I decline."

"Very good, but you see mine."

"I never see what I do not want to see," which was pretty close to the truth.

"The fact is," said Rivers, "I have preaccepted the Squire's hint. Grace is sick again. I tell him it is that last immersion business. I have promised to preach for him next Sunday, as your young curate at the mills wants to air his eloquence here."

"Not really!" said Mrs. Ann, "at his chapel?"

"Yes, and I mean to use a part of our service."

"If the Bishop knew it."

"If! he would possibly forbid it, or be glad I did it."

Mrs. Ann totally disapproved. She took up her knitting and said no more, while Rivers and Penhallow talked of a disturbance at the works of no great moment. The rector noticed Mrs. Penhallow's sudden loss of interest in their talk and her failure to comment on his statement, an unusual thing with this woman, who, busy-minded as the bee, gathered honey of interest from most of the affairs of life. In a pause of the talk he turned to her, "I am sorry to have annoyed you," he said-"I mean about preaching for Grace."

"But why do you do it?"

"Because," he returned, "my Master bids me. Over and over one finds in His Word that he foreknew how men would differ and come to worship Him and use His revelations in ways which would depend on diversity of temperaments, or under the leadership of individual minds of great force. It may be that it was meant that we should disagree, and yet-I-yet as to essentials we are one. That I never can forget."

"Then," she said quickly, "you are of many creeds."

"No and yes," he returned smiling. "In essentials yes, in ceremonial usage no; in some other morsels of belief held by others charitably dubious-I dislike argument about religion in the brief inadequateness of talk-especially with you from whom I am apt to differ and to whom I owe so much-so very much."

She took up her knitting again as she said, "I am afraid the balance of debt is on our side."

"Then," said Penhallow, who, too, disliked argument on religion, "if you have got through with additions to the useless squabbles of centuries, which hurt and never help, I-"

"But," broke in his wife, "I have had no answer."

"Oh, but you have, Ann; for me, Rivers is right."

"Then I am in a minority of one," she returned, "but I have not had my say."

"Well, dear, keep it for next time. Now I want, as I said, a little counsel about John."

"And about Leila, James. Something has got to be done."

The Squire said ruefully, "Yes, I suppose so. I do not know that anything needs to be done. You saw John's condition before dinner. He had a swollen nose and fair promise of a black eye. I asked you to take no notice of it. I wanted first to hear what had happened. I got Leila on the porch and extracted it by bits. It seems that Tom was rude to Leila."

"I never liked your allowing him to play with the children, James."

"But the boy needs boy-company."

"And what of Leila? She needs girl-company."

"I fear," said Rivers, "that may be the case."

"It is so," said Mrs. Ann decisively, pleased with his support. "What happened, James?"

"I did not push Leila about what Tom did. John slapped his face and got knocked down. He got up and went at Tom like a wildcat. Tom knocked him down again and held him. He said that John must say he had had enough."

"He didn't," said Rivers, "I am sure he didn't."

"No, Mark, he said he would die first, which was what he should have said. Then Billy had the sense to pull the big boy off, and as Leila was near tears I asked no more questions. It was really most satisfactory."

"How can you say that?" said his wife. "It was brutal."

"You do not often misunderstand me, Ann. I mean, of course, that our boy did the right thing. How does it strike you, Mark?"

He had a distinct intention to get the rector into trouble. "Not this time, Squire," and he laughed. "The boy did what his nature bade him. Of course, being a nice little boy, he should have remonstrated. There are several ways-"

"Thanks," said Penhallow. "Of course, Ann, the playing with Tom will end.

I fancy there is no need to interfere."

"He should be punished for rudeness to Leila," said Mrs. Penhallow.

"Oh, well, he's a rough lad and like enough sorry. How can I punish him without making too much of a row."

"You are quite right, as I see it," said Rivers. "Let it drop; but, indeed, it is true that Leila should have other than rough lads as school-companions."

"Oh, Lord! Rivers."

"I am glad to agree with you at least about one thing," said Mrs. Penhallow. "In September John will be sixteen, and Leila a year or so younger. She is now simply a big, daring, strong boy."

"If you think that, Ann, you are oddly mistaken."

"I am," she said; "I was. It was only one end of my reasons why she must go to school. Before John came and when we had cousins here-girls, she simply despised them or led them into dreadful scrapes."

"Well, Ann, we will talk it over another time."

Rivers smiled and Ann Penhallow went out, longing to attend to the swollen face now bent low over a book. The two men she left smoked in such silence as is one of the privileges of friendship. At last Penhallow said,

"Of course, Mark, my wife is right, but I shall miss the girl. My wife cannot ride with me, and now I am to lose Leila. After school come young men. Confound it, rector, I wish the girl had less promise of beauty-of-well, all the Greys have it-attractiveness for our sex. Some of them are fools, but they have it all the same, and they keep it to the end. What is most queer about it is that they are not easily won. The men who trouble hearts for a game do not win these women."

"Some one will suffer," said Rivers reflectively. He wondered if the wooing of Ann Grey by this masterful man had been a long one. A moment he gave to remembrance of his own long and tender care of the very young wife he had won easily and seen fade with terrible slowness as her life let fall its joys as it were leaf by leaf, with bitter sense of losing the fair heritage of youth. Now he said, "Were all these women, Squire, who had the gift of bewitchment, good?"

"No, now and then hurtful, or honest gentlewomen, or like Ann Grey too entirely good for this wicked world-"

"As Westways knows," said Rivers, thinking how the serene beauty of a life of noble ways had contributed spiritual charm to whatever Ann Penhallow had of attractiveness. "But," he went on, "Leila cannot go until the fall, and you will still have the boy. I had my doubts of your method of education, but it has worked well. He has a good mind and is so far ahead of his years in education that he will be ready for college too early."

"Well, I hate to think of these changes. He must learn to box."

"Another physical virtue to be added," laughed Rivers.

"Yes, he must learn to face these young country fellows." After a brief pause he added, "I am looking forward to Buchanan's nomination and election, Mark, with anxiety. Both North and South are losing temper."

"Yes, but shall you vote for him? I presume you have always been a

Democrat, more or less-less of late."

"I shall vote for Fremont if he is nominated; not wholly a wise choice. I am tired of what seems like an endless effort North and South, to add more exasperations. It will go on and on. Each section seems to want to make the other angry."

"It is not Mrs. Penhallow's opinion, I fear. The wrongdoing is all on our side."

Said the Squire gravely, "That is a matter, Mark, we never now discuss-the one matter. Her brothers in Maryland, are at odds. One at least is bitter, as I gather from their letters."

"Well, after the election things will quiet down, as usual."

"They will not, Mark. I know the South. Unhappily they think we live by the creed of day-book and ledger. We as surely misunderstand them, and God alone knows what the future holds for us."

This was unusual talk for Penhallow. He thought much, but talked little, and his wife's resolute attitude of opinions held from youth was the one trouble of an unusually happy life.

"We can only hope for the best," said Rivers. "Time is a great peacemaker."

"Or not," returned his host as Rivers rose. "Just a word, Mark, before you go. I am desirous that you should not misunderstand me in regard to my politics. I see that slavery is to be more and more in question. My own creed is, 'let it alone, obey the laws, return the runaways,-oh! whether you like it or not,-but no more slave territory.' And for me, my friend, the States are one country and above all else, above slave questions, is that of an unbroken union. I shall vote for Fremont. I cannot go to party meetings and speak for him because, Mark, I am in doubt about the man, and because-oh! you know."

Yes, he knew more or less, but knowing did not quite approve. The Squire of Grey Pine rarely spoke at length, but now he longed, as he gave some further clue to his reticence, to make public a political creed which was not yet so fortified by the logic of events as to be fully capable of defence.

"The humorous side of it," he said, "is that my very good wife has been doing some pretty ardent electioneering while I am sitting still, because to throw my weight into the local contest would oblige me to speak out and declare my whole political religion of which I am not quite secure enough to talk freely."

The young rector looked at his older friend, who was uneasy between his uncertain sense of duty and his desire not to go among people at the mills and in the town and struggle with his wife for votes.

"I may, Mark, I may do no more than let it be known how I shall vote.

That is all. It will be of use. I could wish to do more. I think that

here and at the mills the feeling is rather strong for Buchanan, but why

I cannot see."

Mrs. Ann had been really active, and her constant kindness at the mills and in the little town gave to her wishes a certain influential force among these isolated groups of people who in their remoteness had not been disturbed by the aggressive policy of the South.

"Of course, Mark, my change of opinion will excite remark. Whoever wins,

I shall be uneasy about the future. Must you go? Good-night."

He went to the hall door with the rector, and then back to his pipe, dismissing the subject for the time. On his return, he found John in the library looking at the sword hanging over the mantelpiece. "Well, Jack," he said, "a penny for your thoughts."

"Oh; I was thinking what the sword had seen."

"I hope it will see no more, but it may-it may. Now I want to say a word to you. You had a fight with Tom McGregor and got the worst of it."

"I did."

"I do not ask why. You seem to have shown some pluck."

"I don't know, uncle. I was angry, and I just slapped his face. He deserved it."

"Very well, but never slap. I suppose that is the French schoolboy way of fighting. Hit hard-get in the first blow."

"Yes, sir. I hadn't a chance."

"You must take my old cadet boxing-gloves from under the sword. I have spoken to Sam, the groom. I saw him last year in a bout with the butcher's boy. After he has knocked you about for a month, you will be better able to take care of the Penhallow nose."

"I shall like that."

"You won't, but it will help to fill out your chest." Then he laughed,

"Did you ever get that cane?"

"No, sir. Billy found it. Leila gave him twenty-five cents for it, and now she won't give it to me."

"Well, well, is that so? The ways of women are strange."

"I don't see why she keeps it, uncle."

"Nor I. Now go to bed, it is late. She is a bit of a tease, John. Mark

Rivers says she is now just one half of the riddle called woman."

John understood well enough that he was some day expected by his uncle to have it out with Tom. He got two other bits of advice on this matter. The rector detained him after school, a few days later. "How goes the swimming, John?" he asked.

The Squire early in the summer had taken this matter in hand, and as Ann Penhallow said, with the West Point methods of kill or cure. John replied to the rector that he was now given leave to swim with the Westways boys. The pool was an old river-channel, now closed above, and making a quiet deep pool such as in England is called a "backwater" and in Canada a "bogan." The only access was through the Penhallow grounds, but this was never denied.

"Does Tom McGregor swim there?" asked Rivers.

"Yes, and the other boys. It is great fun now; it was not at first."

"About Tom, John. I hope you have made friends with him."

Said John, with something of his former grown-up manner, "It appears to me that we never were friends. I regret, sir, that it seems to you desirable."

"But, John, it is. For two Christian lads like you to keep up a quarrel-"

"He's a heathen, sir. I told him yesterday that he ought to apologize to

Leila."

"And what did he say?"

"He said, he guessed I wanted another licking. That's the kind of

Christian he is."

"I must speak to him."

"Oh, please not to do that! He will think I am afraid." Here were the

Squire and Rivers on two sides of this question.

"Are you afraid, John? You were once frank with me about it."

"I do not think, Mr. Rivers, you ought to ask me that." He drew up his figure as he spoke.

The rector would have liked to have whistled-a rare habit with him when alone and not in one of his moods of depression. He said, "I beg your pardon, John," and felt that he had not only done no good, but had made a mistake.

John said, "I am greatly obliged, sir." When half-way home he went back and met Rivers at his gate.

"Well," said the rector, "left anything?"

"No, sir," said the boy, his young figure stiffening, his head up. "I wasn't honest, sir." And again with his old half-lost formal way, "I-I-you might have thought-I wasn't-quite honourable. I mean-I'll never be able to forgive that blackguard until I can-can get even with him. You see, sir?"

"Yes, I see," said Rivers, who did not see, or know for a moment what to say. "Well, think it over, John. He is more a rough cub than a blackguard. Think it over."

"Yes, sir," and John walked away.

The rector looked after the boy thinking-he's the Squire all over, with more imagination, a gentleman to the core. But how wonderfully changed, and in only eight months.

John was now, this July, allowed to ride with Leila when his uncle was otherwise occupied. He had been mounted on a safe old horse and was not spared advice from Leila, who enjoyed a little the position of mistress of equestrianism. She was slyly conscious of her comrade's mildly resentful state of mind.

"Don't pull on him so hard, John. The great thing is to get intimate with a horse's mouth. He's pretty rough, but if you wouldn't keep so stiff, you wouldn't feel it."

John began to be a little impatient. "Let us talk of something else than horses. I got a good dose of advice yesterday from Uncle Jim. I am afraid that you will be sent to school in the fall. I hate schools. You'll have no riding and snowballing, and I shall miss you. You see, I was never friends with a girl before."

"Uncle Jim would never let me go."

"But Aunt Ann?" he queried. "I heard her tell Mr. Rivers that you must go. She said that you were too old, or would be, for snowballing and rough games and needed the society of young ladies."

"Young ladies!" said Leila scornfully. "We had two from Baltimore year before last. I happened to hit one of them in the eye with a snowball, and she howled worse than Billy when he plays bear."

"Oh, you'll like it after a while," he said, with anticipative wisdom, "but I shall be left to play with Tom. I want you to miss me. It is too horrid."

"I shall miss you; indeed, I shall. I suppose I am only a girl, but I won't forget what you did when that boy was rude. I used to think once you were like a girl and just afraid. I never yet thanked you," and she leaned over and laid a hand for a moment on his. "I believe you wouldn't be afraid now to do what I dared you to do."

He laughed. There had been many such dares. "Which dare was it, Leila?"

"Oh, to go at night-at night to the Indian graves. I tried it once and got half way-"

"And was scalped all the way back, I suppose."

"I was, John. Try it yourself."

"I did, a month after I came."

"Oh! and you never told me."

"No, why should I?"

It had not had for him the quality of bodily peril. It was somehow far less alarming. He had started with fear, but was of no mind to confess. They rode on in silence, until at last she said. "I hope you won't fight that boy again."

"Oh," he said, "I didn't mind it so very much."

She was hinting that he would again be beaten. "But I minded, John. I hated it."

He would say no more. He had now had, as concerned Tom, three advisers. He kept his own counsel, with the not unusual reticence of a boy. He did not wish to be pitied on account of what he did not consider defeat, and wanted no one to discuss it. He was better pleased when a week later the English groom talked to him after the boxing-lesson. "That fellow, Tom, told me about your slapping him. He said that he didn't want to lick you if you hadn't hit him."

"It's not a thing I want to talk about, Sam. I had to hit him and I didn't know how; that's all. Put on the gloves again."

"There, that'll do, sir. You're light on your pins, and he's sort of slow. If you ever have to fight him, just remember that and keep cool and keep moving."

The young boxing-tutor was silently of opinion that John Penhallow would not be satisfied until he had faced Tom again. John made believe, as we say, that he had no such desire. He had, however, long been caressed and flattered into the belief that he was important, and was, in his uncle's army phrase, to be obeyed and respected accordingly by inferiors. His whole life now for many months had, however, contributed experiences contradictory to his tacitly accepted boy-views. Sometimes in youth the mental development and conceptions of what seem desirable in life appear to make abrupt advances without apparent bodily changes. More wholesomely and more rarely at the plastic age characteristics strengthen and mind and body both gather virile capacity. When John Penhallow met his cousin on his first arrival, he was in enterprise, vigour, general good sense and normal relation to life, really far younger than Leila. In knowledge, mind and imagination, he was far in advance. In these months he had passed her in the race of life. He felt it, but in many ways was also dimly aware that Leila was less expressively free in word and action, sometimes to his surprise liking to be alone at the age when rare moods of mild melancholy trouble the time of rapid female florescence. There was still between them acceptance of equality, with on his part a certain growth of respectful consideration, on hers a gentle perception of his gain in manliness and of deference to his experience of a world of which she knew as yet nothing, but with some occasional resentment when the dominating man in the boy came to the surface. When his aunt praised his manners, Leila said, "He isn't always so very gentle." When his uncle laughed at his awkward horsemanship, she defended him, reminding her uncle, to his amusement, of her own early mishaps.

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