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   Chapter 11 No.11

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 27666

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Penhallow himself drove his guest to meet the night express to the East, and well pleased with his day returned to find his wife talking with Rivers and John. He sat down with them at the fire in the hall, saying, "I wanted to keep Woodburn longer, but he was wise not to stay. What are you two talking over-you were laughing?"

"I," said Rivers, "was hearing how that very courteous gentleman chanced

to dine with these mortal enemies who stole his property. I kept quiet,

Mrs. Penhallow said nothing, John ate his dinner, and no one quarrelled.

I longed for Mr. Grey-"

"For shame," said Mrs. Ann. "Tell him why we were laughing-it was at nothing particular."

"It was about poor old Mrs. Burton."

"What about her? If you can make that widow interesting in any way, I shall be grateful."

"It was about her dead husband-"

"Am I to hear it or not?" said Penhallow. "What is it?"

"Why, what she said was that she was more than ever confirmed in her belief in special Providences, because Malcolm was so fond of tomatoes, and this year of his death not one of their tomatoes ripened."

The Squire's range of enjoyment of the comic had limitations, but this story was immensely enjoyed and to his taste. He laughed in his hearty way. "Did she tell you that, Mark, or has it improved in your hands?"

"No-no, I got it from Grace, and he had it from the widow. I do not think it seemed the least bit funny to Grace."

"But after all," said Mrs. Ann, "is it so very comic?"

"Oh, now," said Penhallow, "we are in for a discussion on special Providences. I can't stand it to-night; I want something more definite. My manager says sometimes, 'I want to close out this-here business.' Now I want to close out this abominable business about my poor Josiah. You and your aunt, John, have been, as you may know, breaking the law of your country-"

Rivers, surprised and still partially ignorant, looked from one to another.

"Oh, James!" remonstrated his wife, not overpleased.

"Wait a little, my dear Ann. Now, John, I want to hear precisely how you gave Josiah a warning and-well-all the rest. You ought to know that my little lady did as usual the right thing. The risks and whatever there might have been of danger were ours by right-a debt paid to a poor runaway who had made us his friends. Now, John!"

Rivers watched his pupil with the utmost interest. John stood up a little excited by this unexpected need to confess. He leaned against the side of the mantel and said, "Well, you see, Uncle Jim, I got in at the back-"

"I don't see at all. I want to be made to see-I want the whole story."

John had in mind that he had done a rather fine thing and ought to relate it as lightly as he had heard Woodburn tell of furious battles with Apaches. But, as his uncle wanted the whole story, he must have some good reason, and the young fellow was honestly delighted. Standing by the fire, watched by three people who loved him, and above all by the Captain, his ideal of what he felt he himself could never be, John Penhallow told of his entrance to Josiah's room and of his thought of the cabin as a hiding-place. When he hesitated, Penhallow said, "Oh, don't leave out, John Penhallow, I want all the details. I have my reasons, John."

Flushed and handsome, with his strong young face above the figure which was to have his uncle's athletic build, he related his story to the close. As he told of the parting with the frightened fugitive and the hunted man's last blessing, he was affected as he had not been at the time. "That's all, Uncle Jim. It was too bad-and he will never come back."

"He could," said Rivers.

"Yes-but he will not. I know the man," said Penhallow. "He has the courage of the minute, but the timidity of the slave. We shall see him no more, I fear."

The little group around the fire fell to silence, and John sat down. He wanted a word of approval, and got it. "I want you to know, John," said Penhallow, "that I think you behaved with courage and discretion. It was not an errand for a boy, but no man could have done better, and your aunt had no one else. I am glad she had not."

Then John Penhallow felt that he was shaky and that his eyes were uncomfortably filling. With a boy's dislike of showing emotion, he mastered his feelings and said, "Thank you, Uncle Jim."

"That is all," said the Squire, who too saw and comprehended what he saw, "go to bed, you breaker of the law-"

"And I," said Ann, "a wicked partner. Come, John."

They left the master of the house with the rector. Rivers looked at the clock, "I think I must go. I do not stand late hours. If I let the day capture the night, the day after is apt to find me dull."

"Well, stand it this once, Mark. I hate councils of war or peace without the pipe, and now, imagine it, my dear wife wanted me to smoke, and that was all along of that terrible spittoon and the long-expected cousin of whom I have heard from time to time. Les absens n'out pas toujours tort. Now smoke and don't watch the clock. I said this abominable business was to be closed out-"

"And is it not?" asked Rivers.

"No. I do not talk about Peter Lamb to my wife, because she thinks my helping him so often has done the man more harm than good. It was not Grey alone who was responsible. He told Mrs. Penhallow that Peter had sent him to Josiah's shop. He told Grey too that Josiah must be a runaway slave and that any one would know him by his having lost two fingers. That at once set Grey on this mischievous track."

"I am only too sure that you are right," returned Rivers. "Peter tried a very futile blackmailing trick on Josiah. He wanted to get whisky, and told the poor negro that he must get it for him or he would let his master know where he was. Of course, the scamp knew what we all knew and no more, but it alarmed Josiah, who came to me at once. He was like a scared child. I told him to go home and that Peter had lied. He went away looking as if the old savagery in his blood might become practically active."

"I don't wonder," said Penhallow. "Did it end there?"

"No, I saw Peter next day, and he of course lied to me very cleverly, said it was only a joke on Josiah, and so on. I think, sir, and you will I hope excuse me-I do think that the man were better let alone. Every time you help him, he gets worse. When he was arrested and suspected of burning Robert's hayrick, you pleaded with the old farmer and got the man off. He boasted of it the next time he got drunk."

"I know-I know." The Squire had paid Robert's loss, and aware of his own folly was of no mind to confess to any one. "I have no wish or will to help him. I mean now to drop him altogether, and I must tell him so. But what a pity it is! He is intelligent, and was a good carpenter until he began to drink. I must talk to him."

"You will only make him more revengeful. He has what he calls 'got even' with Josiah, and he is capable of doing it with you or me. Let him alone."

"Not I," said the Squire; "if only for his mother's sake, I must see what

I can do."

"Useless-quite useless," said Rivers. "You may think that strange advice for a clergyman, but I do sometimes despair of others and occasionally of Mark Rivers. Goodnight."

During these days the fugitive floated down the swift little river at night, and at dawn hid his frail boat and himself in the forests of a thinly settled land. He was brave enough, but his ignorance of geography added to his persistent terror. On the third day the broader waters brought him to farms and houses. Then he left his boat and struck out across the country until he came to a railway. In the station he made out that it led to Philadelphia. Knowing that he would be safe there, he bought a ticket and arrived in the city the next day-a free man with money, intelligence, and an honest liking for steady work.

The Squire had the good habit of second thought. His wife knew it well and had often found it valuable and to be trusted. At present he was thoroughly disgusted with the consequences of what he knew to be in some degree the result of his own feeling that he was bound to care for the man whose tie to him was one few men would have considered as in any serious degree obligatory. The night brought good counsel, and he made up his mind next morning simply to let the foster-brother alone. Fate decreed otherwise. In the morning he was asked by his wife to go with her to the village; she wanted some advice. He did not ask what, but said, "Of course. I am to try the barber's assistant I have brought from the mills to shave me, and what is more important-Westways. I have put him in our poor old Josiah's shop."

They went together to Pole's, and returning she stopped before the barn-like building where Grace gathered on Sundays a scant audience to hear the sermons which Rivers had told him had too much heart and too little head.

"What is it?" asked Penhallow.

"I have heard, James, that their chapel (she never called it church) is leaking-the roof, I mean. Could not you pay for a new roof?"

"Of course, my dear-of course. It can't cost much. I will see Grace about it."

"Thank you, James." On no account would she now have done this herself. She was out of touch for the time with the whole business of politics, and to have indulged her usual gentle desire to help others would have implied obligation on the part of the Baptist to accept her wish that he should vote and use his influence for Buchanan. Now the thing would be done without her aid. In time her desire to see the Democrats win in the interest of her dear South would revive, but at present what with Grey and the threat of the practical application of the Fugitive-Slave Act and her husband's disgust, she was disposed to let politics alone.

Presently, as they walked on, Peter Lamb stopped them. "I'd like to speak to you for a moment, Mr. Penhallow." Mrs. Penhallow walked on.

"What is it?" said the Squire.

"I'm all right now-I'll never drink again. I want some work-and mother's sick."

"We will see to her, but you get no more work from me."

"Why, what's the matter, sir?"

"Matter! You might ask Josiah if he were here. You know well enough what you did-and now I am done with you."

"So help me God, I never-"

"Oh! get out of my way. You are a miserable, lying, ungrateful man, and I have done with you."

He walked away conscious of having again lost his temper, which was rare. The red-faced man he left stood still, his lips parted, the large yellow teeth showing. "It's that damned parson," he said.

Penhallow rejoined his wife. "What did he want?" she asked.

"Oh, work," he said. "I told him he could get no more from me."

"Well, James," she said, "that is the first sensible thing you have ever done about that man. You have thoroughly spoiled him, and now it is very likely too late to discipline him."

"Yes-perhaps-you may be right." He knew her to be right, but he did not like her agreement with his decision to be connected with even her mild statement that it had been better if long before he had been more reasonably severe and treated Lamb as others would have treated him. In the minor affairs of life Ann Penhallow used the quick perception of a woman, and now and then brought the Squire's kindly excesses to the bar of common sense. Sometimes the sentence was never announced, but now and then annoyed at his over-indulgent charity she allowed her impatience the privilege of speech, and then, as on this occasion, was sorry to have spoken.

Dismissing his slight vexation, Penhallow said presently, "He told me his mother was sick."

"She was not yesterday. I took her our monthly allowance and some towels I wanted hemmed and marked. He lied to you, James. Did you believe him even for a moment?"

"But she might be sick, Ann. I meant you to stop and ask."

"I will, of course." This time she held her tongue, and left him at

Grace's door.

The perfect sweetness of her husband's generous temperament was sometimes trying to Ann in its results, but now it had helped her out of an awkward position, and with pride and affection she watched his soldierly figure for a moment and then went on her way.

Intent with gladness on fulfilling his wife's errand, he went up the steps of the small two-storey house of the Baptist preacher. He had difficulty in making any one hear where there was no one to hear. If at Westways the use of the rare bells or more common knockers brought no one to the door, you were free to walk in and cry, "Where are you, Amanda Jane, and shall I come right up?" Penhallow had never set foot in the house, but had no hesitation in entering the front room close to the narrow hall which was known as the front entry. The details of men's surroundings did not usually interest Penhallow, but in the mills or the far past days of military service nothing escaped him that could be of use in the work of the hour. The stout little Baptist preacher, with his constant every-day jollity and violent sermons, of which he had heard from Rivers, in no way interested Penhallow. When he once said to Ann, "The man is unneat and common," she replied, "No, he is homely, but neither vulgar nor common. I hate his emotional performances, but the man is good, James." "Then I do wish, Ann, he would button his waistcoat and pull up his socks."

Now he looked about him with some unusual attention. There was no carpet. A set of oddly coloured chairs and settees which would have pleased Ann, a square mahogany table set on elephantine legs, completed the furnishings of a whitewashed room, where the flies, driven indoors by cool weather, buzzed on window glasses dull with dust. The back room had only a writing-table, a small case of theological bo

oks, and two or three much used volumes of American history. Penhallow looked around him with unusually awakened pity. The gathered dust, the battered chairs, the spider-webs in the darker corners, would have variously annoyed and disgusted Ann Penhallow. A well-worn Bible lay on the table, with a ragged volume of "Hiawatha" and "Bunyan's Holy War." There were no other books. This form of poverty piteously appealed to him.

"By George!" he exclaimed, "that is sad. The man is book-poor. Ann must have that library. I will ask him to use mine." As he stood still in thought, he heard steps, and turned to meet Dr. McGregor.

"Come to see Grace, sir?" said the doctor.

"Yes, I came about a little business, but there seems to be no one in."

"Grace is in bed and pretty sick too."

"What is the matter?"

"Oh, had a baptism in the river-stood too long in the water and got chilled. It has happened before. Come up and see him-he'll like it."

The Squire hesitated and then followed the doctor. "Who cares for him?" he asked as they moved up the stairs.

"Oh, his son. Rather a dull lad, but not a bad fellow. He has no servant-cooks for himself. Ever try it, Squire?"

"I-often. But what a life!"

The stout little clergyman lay on a carved four-post bedstead of old mahogany, which seemed to hint of better days. The ragged patch-work quilt over him told too of busy woman-hands long dead. The windows were closed, the air was sick (as McGregor said later), and there was the indescribable composite odour which only the sick chamber of poverty knows. The boy, glad to escape, went out as they entered.

Grace sat up. "Now," he said cheerfully, "this is real good of you to come and see me! Take a seat, sir."

The chairs were what the doctor once described as non-sitable, and wabbled as they sat down.

"You are better, I see, Grace," said the doctor. "I fetched up the Squire for a consultation."

"Yes, I'm near about right." He had none of the common feeling of the poor that he must excuse his surroundings to these richer visitors, nor any least embarrassment. "It's good to see some one, Mr. Penhallow."

"I come on a pleasant errand," said Penhallow. "We will talk it over and then leave you to the doctor. Mrs. Penhallow wants me to roof your church. I came to say to you that I shall do it with pleasure. You will lose the use of it for one Sunday at least."

"Thank you, Squire," said Grace simply. "That's real good medicine."

"I will see to it at once."

The doctor opened a window, and Penhallow drew a grateful breath of fresh air.

"Don't go, sir," said Grace. The Squire sat down again while McGregor went through his examination of the sick man. Then he too rose to leave.

"Must you go?" said Grace. "It is such a pleasure to see some one from the outside." The doctor smiled and lingered.

"I suppose, Squire, you'll get Joe Boynton, the carpenter, to put on the roof? He's one of my flock."

"Yes," said Penhallow, "but he will want to put his old workman, Peter Lamb, on the job, and I have no desire to help that man any further. He gives his mother nothing, and every cent he makes goes for drink."

McGregor nodded approval, but wondered why at last the Squire's unfailing good-nature had struck for higher wages of virtue in the man he had ruined by kindness.

"I try to keep work in Westways," said Penhallow. "Joe Shall roof the chapel, and like as not Peter will be too drunk to help. I can't quite make it a condition with Joe that he shall not employ Peter, but I should like to." McGregor's face grew smiling at Penhallow's conclusion when he added, "I hope he may get work elsewhere." Then the Squire went downstairs with the doctor, exchanging brevities of talk.

"Are you aware, Penhallow, that this wicked business about Josiah has beaten Buchanan in Westways? Come to apply the Fugitive-Slave Act and people won't stand it. As long as it was just a matter of newspaper discussion Westways didn't feel it, but when it drove away our barber, Westways's conscience woke up to feel how wicked it was."

The Squire had had an illustration nearer home and kept thinking of it as he murmured monosyllabic contributions while the doctor went on-"My own belief is that if the November election were delayed six months, Fremont would carry Pennsylvania."

Penhallow recovered fuller consciousness and returned, "I distrust Fremont. I knew him in the West. But he represents, or rather he stands for, a party, and it is mine."

"I am glad to know that," said McGregor. "I am really glad. It is a relief to be sure about a man like you, Penhallow. I suppose you know that you are loved in the county as no one else is."

"Nonsense," exclaimed the Squire, laughing, but not ill-pleased.

"No, I am serious; but it leads up to this: Am I free to say you will vote the Republican ticket?"

"Yes-yes-you may say so."

"It will be of use, but couldn't I persuade you to speak at the meeting next week at the mills?"

"No, McGregor. That is not in my line." He had other reasons for refusal.

"Let us drop politics. What is that boy of yours going to do?"

"Study medicine," he says. "He has brains enough, and Mr. Rivers tells me he is studious. Our two lads fell out, it seems, and my boy got the worst of it. What I don't like is that he has not made up with John."

"No, that is bad; but boys get over their quarrels in time. However, I must go. If I can be of any use to Tom, you know that I am at your service."

"When were you not at everybody's service?" said the doctor, and they went out through the hall.

"Good-bye," said Penhallow, but the doctor stopped him.

"Penhallow, may I take the liberty to bother you with a bit of unasked advice?"

"A liberty, nonsense! What is it?"

"Well, then-let that drunken brute Peter alone. You said that you would not let the carpenter use him, but why not? Then you hoped he would get work. Let him alone."

"McGregor, I have a great charity for a drunkard's son-and the rest you know."

"Yes, too well."

"I try to put myself in his place-with his inheritance-"

"You can't. Nothing is more kind than that in some cases, and nothing more foolish in others or in this-"

"Perhaps. I will think it over, Doctor. Good-bye."

Meanwhile Grace lay in bed thoughtfully considering the situation. While her husband seemed practically inactive in politics, Mrs. Penhallow had been busy, and she had clearly hinted that the roofing of the chapel might depend on how Grace used his large influence in the electoral contest, but had said nothing very definite. He was well aware, however, that in his need for help he had bowed a little in the House of Rimmon. Then he had talked with Rivers and straightened up, and now did the Squire's offer imply any pledge on his own part? While he tried to solve this problem, Penhallow reappeared.

"I forgot something, Grace," he said. "Mrs. Penhallow will send Mrs. Lamb here for a few days, and some-oh, some little luxuries-ice and fresh milk."

The Baptist did not like it. Was this to keep him in the way he had resolved not to go. "Thank you and her," he returned, and then added abruptly, "How are you meaning to vote, Squire?"

"Oh, for Fremont," replied Penhallow, rather puzzled.

"Well, that will be good news in Westways." It was to him, too, and he felt himself free. "Isn't Mrs. Penhallow rather on the other side?"

He had no least idea that the question might be regarded as impertinent. Penhallow said coldly, "My wife and I are rather averse to talking politics. I came back to say that I want you to feel free to make use of my library-just as Rivers does."

"Now that will be good. I am book-starved except for Rivers's help. Thank you." He put out a fat hand and said, "God has been good to me this day; may He be as kind to you and yours."

The Squire went his way wondering what the deuce the man had to do with

Ann Penhallow's politics.

Mrs. Lamb took charge of Grace, and Mrs. Penhallow saw that he was well supplied and gave no further thought to the incorrigible and changeful political views of Westways.

The excitement over the flight of Josiah lessened, and Westways settled down to the ordinary dull routine of a little community dependent on small farmers and the mill-men who boarded at the old tavern or with some of the townspeople.

* * * * *

The forests were rapidly changing colour except where pine and spruce stood darkly green amid the growing magnificence of maple and oak. It was the intermediate season in which were neither winter nor summer sports, and John Penhallow enjoying the pageant of autumn rode daily or took long walks, exploring the woods, missing Leila and giving free wing to a mind which felt the yearning, never to be satisfied, to translate into human speech its bird-song of enjoyment of nature.

On an afternoon in mid-October he saw Mr. Rivers, to his surprise, far away on the bank of the river. Well aware that the clergyman was rarely given to any form of exercise on foot, John was a little surprised when he came upon the tall, stooping, pallid man with what Ann Penhallow called the "eloquent" eyes. He was lying on the bank lazily throwing stones into the river. As John broke through the alders and red willows above him, he turned at the sound and cried, as John jumped down the bank, "Glad to see you, John! I have been trying to settle a question no one can settle to the satisfaction of others or even himself. You might give me your opinion as to who wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. Origen gave it up, and Philo had a theory about Apollos, and there is Tertullian, that's all any fellow knows; and so now I await your opinion. What nobody knows about, anybody's opinion is good about."

John laughed as he said, "I don't think I'll try."

"Did you ever read Hebrews, John? The epistle I mean."

"No."

"Then don't or not yet. The Bible books ought to be read at different ages of a man's life. I could arrange them. Your aunt reads to you or with you, I believe?"

"Yes-Acts just now, sir. She makes it so clear and interesting that it seems as if all might have happened now to some missionaries somewhere."

"That is an art. Some of the Bible stories require such help to make them seem real to modern folk. How does, or how did, Leila take Mrs. Ann's teachings?"

"Oh, Leila," he replied, as he began to pitch pebbles in the little river, "Leila-wriggled. You know, she really can't keep quiet, Mr. Rivers."

"Yes, I know well enough. But did what interested you interest Leila?"

"No-no, indeed, sir. It troubled Aunt Ann because she could not make her see things. Usually at night before bedtime we read some of the Gospels, and then once a week Acts. Every now and then Leila would sit still and ask such queer questions-about people."

"What kind of questions, John?" He was interested and curious.

"Oh, about Peter's mother and-I forget-oh, yes, once-I remember that because aunt did not like it and I really couldn't see why."

"Well, what was it?"

"She wanted to know if Christ's brothers ever were married and if they had children."

"Did she, indeed! Well-well!"

"Aunt Ann asked her why she wanted to know that, and Leila said it was because she was thinking how Christ must have loved them, and maybe that was why He was so fond of little children. Now, I couldn't have thought that."

"Nor I," said Rivers. "She will care more for people-oh, many people-and by and by for things, events and the large aspects of life, but she is as yet undeveloped."

John was clear that he did not want her to like many people, but he was inclined to keep this to himself and merely said, "I don't quite understand."

"No, perhaps I was a little vague. Leila is at the puzzling age. You will find her much altered in a year."

"I won't like that."

"Well, perhaps not. But you too have changed a good deal since you came.

You were a queer young prig."

"I was-I was indeed."

Then they were silent a while. John thought of his mother who had left him to the care of tutors and schools while she led a wandering, unhappy, invalid life. He remembered the Alps and the spas and her fretful care of his very good health, and then the delight of being free and surrounded with all a boy desires, and at last Leila and the wonderful hair on the snow-drift.

"Look at the leaves, John," said Rivers. "What fleets of red and gold!"

"I wonder," said John, "how far they will drift, and if any of them will ever float to the sea. It is a long way."

"Yes," returned Rivers, "and so we too are drifting."

"Oh, no, sir," said John, with the confidence of youth, "we are not drifting, we are sailing-not just like the leaves anywhere the waves take them."

"More or less," added Rivers moodily, "more or less."

He looked at the boy as he spoke, conscious of a nature unlike his own. Then he laughed outright. "You may be sure we are a good deal hustled by circumstances-like the leaves."

"I should prefer to hustle circumstances," replied John gaily, and again the rector studied the young face and wondered what life had in store for this resolute nature.

"Come, let us go. I have walked too far for me, I am overtired, John."

What it felt to be overtired, John hardly knew. He said, "I know a short cut, cater-cornered across the new clearing."

As they walked homeward, Rivers said, "What do you want to do, John? You are more than fit for the university-you should be thinking about it."

"I do not know."

"Would you like to be a clergyman?"

"No," said John decisively.

"Or a lawyer, or a doctor like Tom McGregor?"

"I do not know-I have not thought about it much, but I might like to go to West Point."

"Indeed!"

"Yes, but I am not sure."

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