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   Chapter 13 No.13

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 29627

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In the early days of May the Squire began to rebuild the parsonage, and near by it a large room for Sunday school and town-meetings. Ann desired to add a library-room for the town and would have set about this at once had not her husband resolutely set himself against any addition to the work with which she filled her usefully busy life. She yielded with reluctance, and the library plan was set aside to the regret of Rivers, who living in a spiritual atmosphere was slow to perceive what with the anxiety of a great love James Penhallow saw so clearly-the failure of Ann Penhallow's health.

When at last Penhallow sat down with McGregor in his office, the doctor knew at once that something serious was troubling his friend.

"Well, Penhallow," he said, "what can I do for you?"

"I want you to see my wife. She sleeps badly, tires easily, and worst of all is unwilling to consult you."

"Yes, that's serious. Of course, she does the work of two people, but has it ever occurred to you, Penhallow, that in the isolated life you lead she may be at times bored and want or need society, change?"

"My dear Doctor, if I propose to her to ask our friends from the cities to visit us, she says that entertaining women would only add to her burdens. How could she amuse them?" The Squire had the helplessness of a strong man who has to deal with the case of a woman who, when a doctor is thought to be necessary, feels that she has a right to an opinion as to whether or not it is worth while. She did not believe it to be necessary and felt that there was something unpleasant in this medical intrusion upon a life which had been one of unbroken health. To her husband's annoyance she begged him to wait, and on one pretext or another put off the consultation-it would do in a week, or 'she was better.' Her postponement and lack of decision added to the Squire's distress, but it was mid-June before she finally yielded and without a word to Penhallow wrote to ask McGregor to call.

In a week Leila would be at Grey Pine. The glad prospect of a summer's leisure filled John with happy anticipations. He had his boat put in order, looked after Lucy's condition, and had in mind a dozen plans for distant long-desired rides into the mountains, rides which now his uncle had promised to take with them. He soon learned that the medical providence which so often interferes with our plans in life had to be considered.

Mrs. Penhallow to John's surprise had of late gone to bed long before her accustomed hour, and one evening in this June of 1857 Penhallow seeing her go upstairs at nine o'clock called John into the library.

"Mr. Rivers," he said, "has gone to see some one in Westways, and I have a chance to talk to you. Sit down."

John obeyed, missing half consciously the ever-ready smile of the Squire.

"I am troubled about your aunt. Dr. McGregor assures me that she has no distinct ailment, but is simply so tired that she is sure to become ill if she stays at home. No one can make her lessen her work if she stays here. You are young, but you must have been aware of what she does for this town and at the mills-oh, for every one who is in need or in trouble. There is the every-day routine of the house, the sick in the village, the sewing class, the Sunday afternoon reading in the small hospital at our mills, letters-no end of them. How she has stood it so long, I cannot see."

"But she seems to like it, sir," said John. He couldn't understand that what was so plainly enjoyed could be hurtful.

"Yes, she likes it, but-well, she has a heavenly soul in an earthly body, and now at last the body is in revolt against overuse, or that at least is the way McGregor puts it. I ought to have stopped it long ago." John was faintly amused at the idea of any one controlling Ann Penhallow where her despotic beliefs concerning duties were concerned.

The Squire was silent for a little while, and then said, "It has got to stop, John. I have talked to McGregor and to her. Leila is to meet us in Philadelphia. I shall take them to Cape May and leave them there for at least the two months of summer. You may know what that means for me and for her, and, I suppose, for you."

"Could I not go there for a while?"

"I think not. I really have not the courage to be left alone, John. I think of asking you to spend a part of the day at the mills this summer. You will have to learn the business, for as you know your own property, your aunt's and mine are largely invested in our works. I thought too of an engineering school for you in the fall, and then of the School of Mines in Paris. It is a long look ahead, but it would fit you to relieve me of my work. Think it over, my son. How does it look to you, or have you thought of what you mean or want to do? Don't answer me now-think it over. And now I have some letters to write. Good-night."

John went upstairs to bed with much to think about, and above all else of the disappointing summer before him and the wish he had long cherished, but which his uncle's last words had made it necessary for him to reconsider.

Ann Penhallow had made a characteristic fight against the combined forces of the doctor and her husband. She had declared she would give up this and that, if only she could be left at home. She showed to the doctor an irritability quite new to his experience of her and which he accepted as added evidence of need of change. Her bodily condition and her want of common sense in a matter so clear to him troubled the Squire and drove him to his usual resort when worried-long rides or hard tramps with his gun. After luncheon and a decisive talk with Mrs. Ann, she had pleaded that he ought to remain with them at the shore. She was sure he needed it and it would set her mind at ease. He told her what she knew well enough, how impossible it would be for him to leave the mills and be absent long. She who rarely manufactured difficulties now began to ask how this was to be done and that, until Rivers said at last, "I can promise to read at the hospital until I go away for my August holiday."

"You would not know the kind of things to read."

"No one could do it as well as you," said Rivers, "but I can try."

"Everything will be cared for, Ann," said Penhallow, "only don't worry."

"I never worry," she returned, rising. "You men think everything will run along easily without a woman's attention."

"Oh, but Ann, my dear Ann!" exclaimed Penhallow, not knowing what more to say, annoyed at the discussion and at her display of unnecessary temper and the entire loss of her usual common sense.

She said, with a laugh in which there was no mirth, "I presume one of you will, of course, run my sewing-class?"

"Ann-Ann!" said the Squire.

Rivers understood her now in the comprehending sympathy of his own too frequent moods of melancholy. "Ah!" he murmured, "if I could but teach her how to knit the ravelled sleeve of care."

"I presume," she added, "that I am to accept it as settled," and so went out.

"Come, John," said Penhallow an hour later, "call the dogs-I must have a good hard tramp, and a talk with you!"

John kept pace with, the rapid stride of the Squire, taking note of the reddening buds of the maples, for this year in the hills the spring came late.

"You must have seen your aunt's condition," said Penhallow. "I have seen it coming on ever since that miserable affair of Josiah. It troubled her greatly."

John had the puzzled feeling of the inexperienced young in regard to the matter of illness and its influential effect on temper, and was well pleased to converse on anything else, when his uncle asked, "Have you thought over what I said to you about your future?"

"Well?"

"I should like to go to West Point, Uncle Jim."

To his surprise Penhallow returned, pausing as he spoke, "I had thought of that, but as I did not know you had ever considered it, I did not mention it. It would in some ways please me. As a life-long career it would not. We are in no danger of war, and an idle existence at army-posts is not a very desirable thing for an able man."

"I had the idea, uncle, that I would not remain in the service."

"But you would have to serve two years after you were graduated-and still that was what I did, oh! and longer-much longer. As an education in discipline and much else, it is good-very good. But tell me are you really in earnest about it?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, it is better than college. I will think about it. If you go to the

Point, it should be this coming fall. I wonder what Ann will say."

Then John knew that the Squire favoured what had been for a long time on his own mind. What had made him eager to go into the army was in part that tendency towards adventure which had been a family trait and his admiration for the soldier-uncle; nor did the mere student life and the quiet years of managing the iron-mills as yet appeal to him as desirable.

"I wish, Uncle Jim, that you could settle the matter."

This was so like his own dislike of unsettled affairs that the Squire laughed in his hearty way. "So far as I am concerned, you may regard it as decided; but securing a nomination to the Point is quite another matter. It may be difficult. I will see about it. Now we will let it drop. That dog is pointing. Ah! the rascal. It is a hare."

They saw no more birds, nor did the Squire expect to find anything in the woods except the peace of mind to be secured by violent exercise. He went on talking about the horses and the mills.

When near to the house, Penhallow said, "Your aunt is to go away to-morrow. Every day here seems to add to her difficulty in leaving home. I shall say nothing to her of West Point until it is settled one way or another. I shall, of course, go to the Cape for a day, unless your aunt's brother Charles will take my place when he brings Leila to Philadelphia to meet us. I may be gone a week, and you and Rivers are to keep bachelor's hall and watch the work on the parsonage. I shall ask Leila to write to you and to me about your aunt. Did I say that we go by the 9:30 A.M. express?"

"No, sir."

"Well, we do."

James Penhallow was pleased and amazed when he discovered that Mrs. Ann was quietly submissive to the arrangements made for her comfort on the journey. She appeared to have abruptly regained her good temper and, Penhallow thought, was unnaturally and excessively grateful for every small service. Being unused to the ways of sick women, he wondered as the train ran down the descent from the Allegheny Mountains how long a time was required to know any human being entirely. He had been introduced within two weeks to two Ann Penhallows besides the Ann he had lived with these many years. He concluded, as others have done, that people are hard to understand, and thus thinking he ran over in mind the group they left on the platform at Westways Crossing.

There was Billy-apparently a simple character, abruptly capable of doing unexpected things; useful to-day, useless tomorrow. He called up to mind the very competent doctor; John, and his friend-the moody clergyman-beloved of all men. The doctor had said of him, "a man living in the monastery of himself-in our world, but not of it."

"What amuses you, James?" asked his wife.

This good sign of return to her normal curiosity was familiarly pleasant. "I was recalling, Ann, what McGregor said of Rivers after that horrid time of sickness at Westways. You may remember it."

"No, I do not."

"No! He said that Rivers was a round-shouldered angel."

"That does not seem to me amusing, James."

"Round-shouldered he is, Ann, and for the rest you at least ought to recognize your heavenly fellow-citizens when you meet them."

"Is that your poetry or your folly, James Penhallow?"

"Mine, my dear? No language is expansive enough for McGregor when he talks about you."

"Nonsense, James. He knows how to please somebody. We were discussing

Mark Rivers."

"Were we? Then here is a nice little dose from the doctor for you. Last Christmas, after you had personally sat up with old Mrs. Lamb when she was so ill, and until I made a row about it-"

"Yes-yes-I know." Her curiosity got the better of her dislike of being praised for what to her was a simple duty, and she added, "Well, what did he say?"

"Oh, that you and Rivers were like angels gone astray in the strange country called earth; and then that imp of a boy, John, who says queer things, said that it was like a bit of verse Rivers had read to him. He knew it too. I liked it and got him to write it out. I have it in my pocket-book. Like to see it?"

"No," she returned-and then-"yes," as she reflected that it must have originally applied to another than herself.

He was in the habit of storing in his pocket-book slips from the papers-news, receipts for stable-medicine, and rarely verse. Now and then he emptied them into the waste basket. He brought it out of his pocket-book and she read it:

As when two angel citizens of Heaven

Swift winged on errands of the Master's love

Meet in some earthly guise.

"Is that all of it?"

"No, John could not remember the rest, and I did not ask Mark."

"I should suppose not. Thank you for believing it had any application to me. And, James, I have been a very cross angel of late."

"Oh, my dear Ann, Dr. McGregor said-"

"Never mind Dr. McGregor, James. Go and smoke your cigar. I am tired and

I must not talk any more-talking on a train always tires me."

Two days after the departure of his aunt and uncle, John persuaded Rivers to walk with him on the holiday morning of Saturday. The clergyman caring little for the spring charm of the maiden summer, but much for John Penhallow's youth of promise, wandered on slowly through the woods, with head bent forward, stumbling now and then, lost to a world where his companion was joyfully conscious of the prettiness of new-born and translucent foliage.

Always pleased to sit down, Rivers dropped his thin length of body upon the brown pine-needles near the cabin and settling his back against a fallen tree-trunk made himself comfortable. As usual, when at rest, he began to talk.

"John," he said, "you and Tom McGregor had a quarrel long ago-and a fight."

"Yes, sir," returned John wondering.

"I saw it-I did not interfere at once-I was wrong."

This greatly amused John. "You stopped it just in time for me-I was about done for."

"Yes, but now, John, I have talked to Tom, and-I am afraid you have never made it up."

"No, he was insolent to Leila and rude. But we had a talk about it-oh, a good while ago-before she went away."

"Oh, had you! Well, what then?"

"Oh, he told me you had talked to him and he had seen Leila and told her

he was sorry. She never said a word to me. I told him that he ought to have apologized to me-too."

Rivers was amused. "Apologies are not much in fashion among Westways boys. What did he say?"

"Oh, just that he didn't see that at all-and then he said that he was going away this fall to study medicine, and some day when he was a doctor he would have a chance to get even with me, and wouldn't he dose me well. Then we both laughed, and-I shook hands with him. That's all, sir."

"Well, I am pleased. He is by no means a bad fellow, and as you know he is clever-and can beat you in mathematics."

"Yes, but I licked him well, and he knows it."

"For shame, John. I wish my Baptist friend's boy would do better-he is dull."

"But I like him," said John. "He is so plucky."

"There is another matter I want to talk about. I had a long conversation about you with your uncle the night before he left. I heard with regret that you want to go into the army."

"May I ask why?" said John, as he lay on the ground lazily fingering the pine-needles.

"Is it because the hideous business called war attracts you?"

"No, but I like what I hear of the Point from Uncle Jim. I prefer it to any college life. Besides this, I do not expect to spend my life in the service, and after all it is simply a first rate training for anything I may want to do later-care of the mills, I mean. Uncle Jim is pleased, and as for war, Mr. Rivers, if that is what you dislike, what chance of war is there?"

"You have very likely forgotten my talk with Mr. George Grey. The North and the South will never put an end to their differences without bloodshed."

It seemed a strange opinion to John. He had thought so when he heard their talk, but now the clergyman's earnestness and some better understanding of the half-century's bitter feeling made him thoughtful. Rising to his feet, he said, "Uncle Jim does not agree with you, and Aunt Ann and her brother, Henry Grey, think that Mr. Buchanan will bring all our troubles to an end. Of course, sir, I don't know, but"-and his voice rose-"if there ever should be such a war, I am on Uncle Jim's side, and being out of West Point would not keep me out of the fight."

Rivers shook his head. "It will come, John. Few men think as I do, and your uncle considers me, I suspect, to be governed by my unhappy way of seeing the dark side of things. He says that I am a bewildered pessimist about politics. A pessimist I may be, but it is the habitually hopeful meliorist who is just now perplexed past power to think straight."

John's interest was caught for the moment by the word, "meliorist." "What is a meliorist, sir?" he asked. "Oh, a wild insanity of hopefulness. You all have it. I dislike to talk about the sad future, and I wonder men at the North are so blind."

He fell again to mere musings, a self-absorbed man, while John, attracted by a squirrel's gambols and used to the rector's long silences, wandered near by among the pines, with a vagabond mind on this or that, and watching the alert little acrobat of the forest. As he moved about, he recalled his first walks to the cabin with Leila and the wild thing he had said one day-and her reply. One ages fast, at seventeen, and now he wondered if he had been quite wise, and with the wisdom and authority of a year and a half of mental growth punished his foolish boy-past with severity of reproach. He had failed for a time to hear, or at least to hear with attention, the low-voiced soliloquies in which Mr. Rivers sometimes indulged. McGregor, an observant man, said that Rivers's mind jumped from thought to thought, and that his talk had at times no connective tissue and was hard to follow.

Now he spoke louder. "No one, John, no one sees that every new compromise compromises principles and honour. Have you read any of the speeches of a man named Lincoln in Illinois? He got a considerable vote in that nominating convention."

"No, sir."

"Then read it-read him. A prophet of disaster! He says, 'A house divided against itself cannot stand. This government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free.' The man did not know that he was ignorantly quoting George Washington's opinion. It is so, and so it will be. I would let them go their way in peace, for the sin of man-owning is ours-was ours-and we are to suffer for it soon or late-a nation's debts have to be paid, and some are paid in blood."

The young fellow listened but had no comment ready, and indeed knew too little of the terrible questions for which time alone would have an answer to feel the full force of these awful texts. He did say, "I will read Mr. Lincoln's speeches. Uncle talks to me about Kansas and slavery and compromises, but it is sometimes too much for me."

"Yes, he will not talk of these things to your aunt, and is not willing to talk to me. He thinks both of us are extremists. No, I won't walk any further. Let us go home."

The natural light-mindedness of a healthy lad easily disposes of the problems which disturb the older mind. John forgot it all for a time in the pleasant interest of a letter from Leila, received a day before his uncle's return.

"CAPE MAY, June 21st.

"MY DEAR JOHN: Here at last I am free to write to you when I please, and I have some rather strange news; but first of Aunt Ann. She is very well pleased and is already much better. Uncle Jim left us to-day, and I am to have Lucy here and one of the grooms. If only I could have you to ride with me on this splendid beach and see the great blue waves roll up like a vast army charging with white plumes and then rolling back in defeat."-

John paused. This was not like Leila. He felt in a vague way that she must be changing, and remembered the rector's predictions. Then he read on-

"Now for my adventure: Aunt Ann wanted some hair-wash, and I went to the barber's shop in the town to buy it. There was no one in but a black boy, because it was the bathing-time. He, I mean the boy, said he would call Mr. Johnson. In a moment there came out of a back room who do you think but our Josiah! He just stood still a moment-and then said, 'Good God! Miss Leila! Come into the back room-you did give me a turn.' I thought he seemed to be alarmed. Well, I went with him, and he asked me at once who was with me. I said, Aunt Ann, and that she was not well. Then I got out of him that he had wandered a while, and at last chosen this as a safe place. No one had told me fully about Cousin George Grey and why Josiah was scared and ran away, but now I got it all out of him-and how you warned him-and I do think it was splendid of a boy like you. He was dreadfully afraid of being taken back to be a slave. It seems he saved his money, and after working here bought out the shop when his master fell ill. I did not like it, but to quiet him I really had to say that I would not tell Aunt Ann, or he would have to run away again. I am sure aunt would not do anything to trouble him, but it was quite impossible to make him believe me, and he got me at last to promise him. I suppose there is really no harm in it, but I never did keep anything from Aunt Ann. I got the hair-wash and went away with his secret. Now, isn't that a story!

"I forgot one thing. As the Southern gentlemen come to be shaved and ask where he was born, they hear-think of it-that 'Mr. Johnson' was born in Connecticut! His grandfather had been a slave. I shall see him again.

"This is the longest letter I ever wrote, and you are to feel duly complimented, Mr. Penhallow.

"Good-bye. Love from Aunt Ann.

"Yours truly,

"LEILA GREY.

"P.S. I am sure that I may trust you not to speak of Josiah."

Mr. John Penhallow, as they said at Westways, "going on seventeen," gathered much of interest in reading and re-reading this letter from Miss Grey. To own a secret with Leila was pleasant. To hear of Josiah as "Mr. Johnson" amused him. That he was prosperous he liked, and that he was fearful with or without reason seemed strange. It was and had been hard for the young freeman to realize the ever-present state of mind of a man in terror of arrest without any crime on his conscience. There was perhaps a slight hint of doubt in Leila's request that he would be careful not to mention what she had said of Josiah, "as if I am really a boy and Leila older than I," murmured John. He knew, as he once more read her words, that he ought to tell his uncle, who could best decide what to do about Josiah and his terror of being reclaimed by his old owner.

During the early hours of a summer night Mark Rivers sat on the porch in a rocking-chair, which he declared gave him all the exercise he required. It was the only rocking-chair at Grey Pine, and nothing so disturbed the Squire as Mark Rivers rocking on that unpleasant piece of furniture and smoking as if it were a locomotive. It was an indulgence of Ann Penhallow, who knew that there had been a half-dozen rockers in the burned rectory.

John sat on the steps and listened to the shrill katydids or watched the devious lanterns of the fireflies. A bat darted over the head of Rivers, who ducked as it went by, watching its uncertain flight.

"I am terribly afraid of bats," said the rector. "Are you?"

"I-no. They're harmless."

"Yes, I know that, but I am without reason afraid of them. I think of the demons as being like monstrous bats. But that is a silly use of imagination."

"Uncle Jim doesn't like them, and you once told me that he had very little imagination."

"Yes. One can't explain these dislikes. Your uncle reasons well and has a clear logical mind, but he has neither creative nor receptive imagination."

"Receptive?" asked John.

"Yes, that is why he has none of your aunt's joy in poetry. When I read to her Wordsworth's 'Brougham Castle,' he said that he had never heard more silly nonsense."

"I remember it was that wonderful verse about the 'longing of the shield.'"

"Yes-I forgot you were there. Verse like that is a good test of a person's capacity to feel poetry-that kind, I mean."

"I hear Uncle Jim's horse."

"Yes. I can't see, John, why a man should want to have a horse sent to meet him instead of a comfortable wagon,"-and for emphasis, as usual with Rivers, the rocking-chair was swinging to the limits of its arc of safe motion.

The Squire dismounted and came up the steps with "Good-evening, Rivers,"-and to John, "I have good news for you-but order my supper at once, then we will talk." He was in his boyish mood of gaiety. "How far have you travelled on that rocker, Rivers?"

"Now, Squire-now, really-" It was a favourite subject of chaff.

"Why not have rocking-chairs in church, Mark? Think what a patient congregation you would have! Come, John, I am hungry." He fled laughing.

While the Squire ate in silence, John waited until his uncle said, "Come into the library." Here he filled his pipe and took the match John offered. "There are many curious varieties of man, John. There is the man who prefers a rocking-chair to the saddle. It's queer-very queer; and he is as much afraid of a horse as I am-of-I don't know what."

The Squire's memory failed to answer the call. "What are you grinning at, you young scamp?"

"Oh, Mr. Rivers did say, Uncle Jim, something about bats."

"Yes, that's it-bats-and I do suppose every one has his especial fear. Ah! quite inexplicable nonsense!-fears like mine about bats, or your aunt's about dogs, but also fears that make a man afraid that he will not face a danger that is a duty. When we had smallpox at the mills, soon after Rivers came here, he went to the mill-town and lived there a month, and nursed the sick and buried the dead. At last he took the disease lightly, but it left a mark or two on his forehead. That I call-well, heroic. Confound that rocking-chair! How it squeaks!"

John was too intently listening to hear anything but the speaker who declared heroic the long lean man with the pale face and the eyes like search-lights. John waited; he wanted to hear something more.

"Did many die, uncle?"

"Oh, yes. The men had fought McGregor about vaccination. Many died. There was blindness too. Supplies failed-no one would come in from the farms."

John waited with the fear of defect in his ideal man. Then he ventured,

"And Aunt Ann, was she here?"

"No, I sent her away when I went to Milltown."

"Oh! you were there too, sir?"

"Yes, damn it!" He rarely swore at all. "Where did you suppose I would be? But I lived in terror for a month-oh, in deadly fear!"

"Thank you, sir."

"Thank me, what for? Some forms of sudden danger make me gay, with all my faculties at their best, but not that. I had to nurse Rivers; that was the worst of it. You see, my son, I was a coward."

"I should like to be your kind of a coward, Uncle Jim."

"Well, it was awful. Let us talk of something else. I left your aunt better, went to Washington, saw our Congressman, got your nomination to West Point and a letter from Leila. Your aunt must be fast mending, for she was making a long list of furniture for the new parsonage, and 'would I see Ellen Lamb and'-eleven other things, the Lord knows what else, and 'when could she return?' McGregor said in September, and I so wrote to her; she will hate it. And she dislikes your going to West Point. I had to tell her, of course."

"I have had a letter from Leila, uncle. Did she write you anything about

Josiah?"

"About Josiah! No. What was that?"

"She said I was not to tell, but I think you ought to know-"

"Of course, I should know. Go on. Let me see the letter."

"It is upstairs, sir, but this is what she wrote," and he went on to tell the story.

The Squire laughed. "I must let Mr. Johnson know, as Leila did not know, that it was Ann who really sent you to warn him. Poor fellow! I can understand his alarm, and how can I reassure him? George Grey is going to Cape May, or so says your aunt, and I am sure if Josiah knows that he is recognized, he will drop everything and run. I would run, John, and quickly too. Grey will be sure to write to Woodburn again."

"What then, sir?"

"Oh, he told your Aunt Ann and me that he would not go any further unless he chanced to know certainly where Josiah was. If he did, it would be his duty, as he said, to reclaim him. It is not a pleasant business, and I ought to warn Josiah, which you may not know is against the law. However, I will think it over. Ann did not say when Grey was coming, and he is just as apt not to go as to go. Confound him and all their ways."

John had nothing to say. The matter was in older and wiser hands than his. His uncle rose, "I must go to bed, but I have a word to say now about your examinations for admission. I must talk to Rivers. Good-night!"

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