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   Chapter 14 No.14

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 28680

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


On Saturday the Squire asked John to ride with him. As they mounted, Billy came with the mail. Penhallow glanced at the letters and put them in his pocket.

As the horses walked away, John said, "I was in Westways yesterday, uncle, to get my hair cut. I heard that Pole has had chicken-pox, uncle."

"Funny that, for a butcher!" said the Squire. They chatted of the small village news. "They have quit discussing politics, Uncle Jim."

"Yes, every four years we settle down to the enjoyment of the belief that now everything will go right, or if we are of those who lost the fight, then there is the comfort of thinking things could not be worse, and that the other fellows are responsible."

"Uncle Jim, at Westways people talked about the election as if it were a horse-race, and didn't interest anybody when it was over."

"Yes, yes; but there are for the average American many things to think about, and he doesn't bother himself about who is to be President or why, until, as McGregor says, events come along and kick him and say, 'Get up and think, or do something.'"

"When I talked to Mr. Rivers lately, he seemed very blue about the country. He seems to believe that everything is going wrong."

"Oh, Rivers!" exclaimed Penhallow, "what a great, noble soul! But, John, a half hour of talk with him about our national affairs leaves me tangled in a net of despair, and I hate it. You have a letter, I see."

"Yes, it is from Leila, sir."

"Let's hear it," said Penhallow.

John was inclined, he could hardly have told why, to consider this letter when alone, but now there was nothing possible except to do as he was bid.

"Read it. I want to hear it, John."

As they walked their horses along the road, John read:

"DEAR JOHN": I did not expect to write to you again until you wrote to me, but I have been perplexed to know what was best to do. I wanted-oh, so much-to consult Uncle Jim, or some older person than you, and so I ask you to send this to Uncle Jim if he is absent, or let him see it if he is at home. He is moving about and we do not know how to address him."-

"That's a big preface-go on."

"I did not see Josiah again until yesterday morning. Aunt Ann has been insisting that my hair needs singeing at the ends to make it grow. [It is too long now for comfort.]"-

"That's in brackets, Uncle Jim-the hair, I mean."

"Yes-what next?"

"Well, John, when Aunt Ann keeps on and on in her gently obstinate, I mean resolute, way, it is best to give up and make believe a little that you agree with her. My hair was to be singed-I gave up."-

"Oh, Leila!" exclaimed Penhallow, rocking in the saddle with laughter, while John looked up smiling. "Go on."

"So aunt's new maid got her orders, and while aunt was asleep in her room the maid brought up Josiah. It was as good as a play. He was very civil and quiet. You know how he loved to talk. He singed my hair, and it was horrid-like the smell of singeing a plucked chicken. After that he sent the maid to his shop for some hair-wash. As soon as she was gone, he said, 'I'm done for, Miss Leila. I met Mr. George Grey on the beach this morning. He knew me and I knew him. He said, "What! you here, you rascally runaway horse-thief!" I said, "I wasn't a thief or a rascal." Then he said something I didn't hear, for I just left him and-I can't stay here-he'll do something, and I can't run no risks-oh, Lord!'"-

"I thought," said the Squire, "we were done with that tiresome fool, George Grey. Whether he will write again to Woodburn about Josiah or not, no one can say. Woodburn did tell me that if at any time he could easily get hold of his slave, he would feel it to be a duty to make use of the Fugitive-Slave Law. I do not think he will be very eager, but after all it is uncertain, and if I were Josiah, I would run away."

As he talked, the horses walked on through the forest wood-roads. For a moment he said nothing, and then, "It is hard to put yourself in another man's place; that means to be for the time of decision that man with his inheritances, all his memories, all his hopes and all his fears."

This was felt by the lad to be somehow unlike his uncle, who added, "I heard Mark Rivers say that about Peter, but it applies here. I would run. But go on with your letter. What else does Leila say?"

John read on:

"Josiah was so scared that I could not even get him to listen to me. He gathered up his barber things in haste, and kept on saying over and over, 'I have got to go, missy.' Now he has gone and his shop is shut up. I was so sorry for him, I must have cried, for aunt's maid asked me what was the matter. This is all. It is late. I shall mail this to-morrow. Aunt Ann has been expecting Mr. George Grey, my far-away cousin. I wish he was further away! "-

"Good gracious! Leila. Well, John, any more?"

"Yes, sir."

"He came in this morning, I mean Mr. Grey, and began to talk and was so pleased to see his dear cousin. Aunt Ann went on knitting and saying something pleasant now and then. At last he asked if she knew that runaway horse-thief we called Josiah was the barber here. He said that he must really write to that rascal's owner, and went over and over the same thing. Aunt Ann looked at me when he mentioned the barber. Then she sat up and said, 'If you have done talking, I desire to say a word.' Of course, he was at her service. You know, John, how he talks. Aunt Ann said, 'You made quite enough trouble, George, about this man at Westways. I told you then that he had done us a service I could never forget. I won't have him disturbed here. Mr. Woodburn behaved with discretion and courtesy. If you make any more trouble, I shall never forgive you. I won't have it, George Grey.' I never saw any one so embarrassed, John. He put his hat on the floor and picked it up, and then he sat down in his chair and, I call it, wilted. He said that he had not quite made up his mind. At this Aunt Ann stood up, letting her knitting drop, and said, 'Then you had better; you've got no mind.' After this he got up and said that she had insulted him. Aunt Ann was red and angry. She said, 'Tell James Penhallow that, Mr. Grey.' After this he went away, and Aunt Ann said to me, 'Tell Josiah if you can find him that he need not be afraid; the man will not write to Mr. Woodburn.' After that I told her all about Mr. Johnson and got a good scolding for not having told her before, and that Josiah had gone away scared. She was tired and angry and sent me away. That is all. Let Uncle Jim get this letter.

"Yours truly,

"LEILA.

"P.S. Oh, I forgot. Josiah gave me a letter for Uncle Jim. I enclose it.

I did not give it to Aunt Ann; perhaps I ought to have done so. But it

would have been useless because it is sealed, and you know the rule at

Grey Pine."

"Poor Josiah!" said Penhallow, "I wonder where he has gone."

"He may say in his letter," said John.

"Read it to me, my son. I forgot my glasses."

"It is addressed to Captain Penhallow."

"Yes, I was always that to Josiah-always."

John opened the letter, which was carefully sealed with a large red wafer.

"It is well written, uncle."

"Yes-yes. Rivers taught him-and he speaks nearly as good English as

George Grey."

John looked up from the letter. "Oh, that is funny! It begins,

'Respectable Sir.'"

"My dear John, that isn't funny at all-it's old-fashioned. I have seen a letter from the great Dr. Rush in which the mother of Washington is mentioned as 'that respectable lady.' But now, sir, you will be good enough to let me hear that letter without your valuable comments."

The tone was impatient. John said, "Excuse me, uncle, but I couldn't help it."

"Oh, read it."

"I am driven away again. I write this to thank you for all you done for me at Westways. Mr. Grey he met me here on the beach and I'm afraid-I don't take no chances. I saved money here. I can get on anywhere. It's awful to have to ran away, and that drunkard Peter Lamb all the while safe with his mother. I can't get him out of my mind. I'm a Christian man-and I tried to forgive him. I can't do it. If I am quiet and let alone, I forget. I've got to get up and go and hide, and I curse him that done it. Please, sir, not tell Mr. Rivers what I say. I seen Miss Leila. I always said Miss Leila would be a beauty. There ain't no young lady here can hold a candle to her. I want to say I did have hope to see Mr. John.

"God bless you, Captain.

"Your obedient servant,

"JOSIAH."

The Squire halted in the open pine forest on a wood-road behind the cabin. He threw one leg over the pommel and sat still with the ease of a horseman in any of the postures the saddle affords. "Read me both of those letters again, and slowly."

This time John made no remarks. When he came to the end of Josiah's letter, he looked towards the silent figure seated sideways. The Squire made no comment, but searched his pockets for the flint and steel he always carried. Lighting his pipe he slid to the ground.

"Take the rein, John," he said, "or the mare will follow me."

Penhallow was deep in the story these letters told, and he thought best when walking. John sat in his saddle watching the tall soldierly figure move up the road and back again to the cabin his ancestors had held through one long night of fear. John caught sight of the face as Penhallow came and then turned away on his slow walk, smoking furiously. He sat still, having learned to be respectful of the long silences to which at times Penhallow was given. Now and then with a word he quieted the uneasy mare-a favourite taught to follow the master. At last Penhallow struck his pipe on a stone to empty it, and by habit carefully set a foot on the live coal. Then he came to the off side of his mare and took the rein. Facing John, he set an elbow on the horse's back and a hand on his own cheek. This was no unusual attitude. He did not mount, but stood still. The ruddy good-humoured face, clean-shaven and large of feature, had lost its look of constant good-humour. In fact, the feature language expressed the minute's mood in a way which any one less familiar with the man than John might have read with ease. Then he said, in an absent way, "Are we men of the North all cowards like Josiah? They think so-they do really think so. It is helping to make trouble." Then he lifted himself lightly into the saddle, with swift change of mood and an odd laugh of comment on his conclusion, as he broke into a gallop. "Let us get into the sun."

John followed him as they rode swiftly over a cross-road and out on to the highway. Again the horses were walking, and Penhallow said, "I suppose you may not have understood me. I was suddenly angry. It is a relief sometimes to let off steam. Well, I fancy time will answer me-or that is what I try not to believe-but it may-it may. Let us talk of something else. I must find out from Rivers just how well you are prepared for the Point. Then I mean to give you every night an hour or so of what he cannot teach. You ride well, you know French and German, you box-it may be of service, keep it up once a week at least. I envy you the young disciplined life-the simpleness of it-the want of responsibilities."

"Thank you, sir," returned John, "I hope to like it and to do you credit, uncle."

"You will, I am sure. Let us go to the mills."

John hesitated before he asked, "Could not I have, sir, a few days with

Aunt Ann at the Cape?"

"No, I shall want you here."

John was silent and disappointed. The Squire saw it. "It can't be helped-I do not feel able to be alone. Leila will be away a year more and you will be gone for several years. For your sake and mine I want you this summer. Take care! You lost a stirrup when Dixy shied. Oh! here are the mills. Good morning, McGregor. All well?"

"Yes, sir. Tom has gone to the city. He is to be in the office of a friend of mine this summer. I shall be alone."

"John goes to West Point this September, Doctor."

"Indeed! You too will be alone. Next it will be Leila. How the young birds are leaving the nests! Even that slow lad of Grace's is going. He is to learn farming with old Roberts. He has a broad back and the advantage of not being a thinking-machine."

"He may have made the best choice, McGregor."

"No, sir," said the Doctor, "my son has the best of it."

John laughed. "I don't think I should like either farm or medicine."

"No," returned the Doctor, with his queer way of stating things, "there must be some one to feed the people; Tom is to be trained to cure, and you to kill."

"I don't want to kill anybody," said John, laughing.

"But that is the business you are going to learn, young man." John was silent. The idea of killing anybody!

"Heard from Mrs. Penhallow lately?" asked the doctor.

"No, but from Leila to-day; and, you will be surprised, from Josiah too."

"Is that so?"

"Yes. Give him the two letters, John. Let me have them to-morrow, Doctor.

Good-bye," and they rode on to the mills.

"It is a pity, John, Josiah gave no address," said Penhallow,-"a childlike man, intelligent, and with some underlying temper of the old African barbarian." The summer days ran on with plenty of work for John and without incidents of moment, until the rector went away as was his habit the first of August, more moody than usual. If the rectory were finished, he would go there in September, and Mrs. Ann had written to him about the needed furniture.

On August 20th that lady wrote from Cape May that she must go home, and Leila that her aunt was well but homesick. The Squire, who missed her greatly, unreluctantly yielded, and on August 25th she was met at the station by Penhallow and John. To the surprise of both, she had brought Leila, as her school was not to begin until September 10th.

"My dear James," cried Mrs. Ann, "it is worth while to have been away to learn how good it is to get home again. I thought I would surprise you with Leila." As the Squire kissed her, Leila and the maid came from the car to the platform loaded with bundles.

John stood still. Nature had been busy with her artist-work. A year had gone by-the year of maturing growth of mind and body for a girl nearing sixteen. Unprepared for her change, John felt at once that

this was a woman, who quickly smiling gave him a cordial greeting and her hand. "Why, John Penhallow," she said, "what a big boy you are grown!" It was as if an older person had spoken to a younger. A head taller than the little Mrs. Ann, she was in the bloom of maiden loveliness, rosy, joyous, a certain new stateliness in her movements. The gift of grace had been added by the fairy godmother nature.

John said, with gravity, "You are most welcome home, Leila," and then quickly aware of some coldness in his words, "Oh, I am so very glad to see you!" She had gone by him in the swift changes of life. Without so putting it distinctly into the words of a mental soliloquy, John was conscious that here was another Leila.

"Come, in with you," said the happy master of Grey Pine.

"How well you look, Ann, and how young! The cart will bring your bundles."

John Penhallow on an August afternoon was of Billy's opinion that Leila had "rowed a lot" as she came out upon the porch and gaily laughing cried, "At last,-Aunt Ann has done with me."

They were both suffering from one of those dislocations of relation which even in adult life are felt when friends long apart come together again. The feeling of loss, as far as John was concerned, grew less as Leila with return of childlike joy roamed with him over the house and through the stables, and next day through Westways, with a pleasant word for every one and on busying errands for her aunt. He was himself occupied with study; but now the Squire had said it would be wise to drop his work.

With something of timidity he said to Leila, "I am free for this afternoon; come and see again our old playgrounds. It will be a long while before we can take another walk."

"Certainly, John. And isn't it a nice, good-natured day? The summer is over. Sometimes I wish we had no divisions of months, and the life of the year was one quiet flow of days-oh, with no names to remind you."

"But think, Leila, of losing all the poetry of the months. Why not have no day or night? Oh, come along. What do you want with a sunshade and a veil-we will be mostly in the woods."

"My complexion, Mr. Penhallow," cried Miss Grey gaily.

He watched her young figure as she went upstairs-the mass of darkened gold hair coiled in the classic fashion of the day on the back of her head. She looked around from the stair. "I shall be ready in a minute, John. It rained yesterday-will it be wet in the woods?"

"No," cried John, "and what does it matter?" He had a dull feeling of resentment, of loss, of consciousness of new barriers and of distance from the old comrade.

Their way led across the garden, which was showing signs of feeling the chilly nights of the close of summer in this upland, where the seasons sometimes change abruptly.

"The garden has missed Aunt Ann," said Leila. "Uncle Jim looks at it from the porch, says 'How pretty!' and expects to see roses on his table every day. I do believe he considers a garden as merely a kind of flower-farm."

"Aunt Ann's garden interests her the way Westways does. There are sick flowers and weeds like human weeds, and bugs and diseases that need a flower-doctor, and flowers that are morbid or ill-humoured. That is not my wisdom, Leila, it is Mr. Rivers's."

"No, John, it isn't at all like you."

"Aunt Ann didn't like it, and yet I think he meant it to be a compliment, for he really considers Aunt Ann a model of what a woman ought to be."

"I know that pretty well," said Leila. "When I used to lose my temper over that horrid algebra, I was told to consider how Aunt Ann kept her temper no matter what happened, as if that had anything to do with algebra and equations. If he had seen her when she talked to George Grey about Josiah, he would have known Aunt Ann better. I was proud of her."

"Aunt Ann angry!" said John. "I should have liked to have seen that. Poor

Josiah!"

They talked of the unlucky runaway, and were presently among the familiar pine and spruce, far beyond the garden bounds. "Do put up that veil," said John, "and you have not the least excuse for your parasol."

"Oh, if you like, John. Tell me about West Point. It was such a surprise."

"I will when I am there, if I am able to pass the examinations."

"You will-you will. Uncle Jim told me you would pass easily."

"Indeed! He never told me that. I have my doubts."

"And I have none," she returned, smiling. "Mr. Rivers dislikes it. He wrote to me about it just before he left. Do you know, he did really think that you ought to be a clergyman. He said you were so serious-minded for-for a boy."

John laughed, "nice clergyman I'd have made." Did Leila too consider him a boy? "Oh! here we are at the old cabin. I never forget the first day we came here-and the graves. The older I grow, Leila, the more clearly I can see the fight and the rifle-flashes, and the rescue-and the night-I can feel their terror."

"Oh, we were mere children, John; and I do suppose that it is a pretty well decorated tradition." He looked at her with surprise, as she added, "I used to believe it all, now it seems strange to me, John-like a dream of childhood. I think you really are a good deal of a boy yet."

"No, I am not a boy. I sometimes fancy I never was a boy-I came here a child." And then, "I think you like to tease me, Leila," and this was true, although she was not pleased to be told so. "You think, Leila, that it teases me to be called a boy by your ladyship. I think it is because you remember what a boy once said to you here-right here."

"What do you mean?" She knew very well what he meant, but quickly repenting of her feminine fib, said, "Oh, I do know, but I wanted to forget-I wanted to pretend to forget, because you know what friends we have been, and it was really so foolish."

He had been lying at her feet; now he rose slowly. "You are not like my

Leila to-day."

"Oh, John!"

"No-and it is hard, because I am going away-and-it will not be pleasant to think how you are changed."

"I wish you wouldn't say such things to me, John."

"I had to-because-I love you. If I was a boy when I was, as you say, silly, I was in earnest. It was nonsense to ask you, to say you would marry me some day. It wasn't so very long ago after all; but I agree with you, it was foolish. Now I mean to make no such proposal."

"Please, John." She looked up at him as he stood over her so grave, so earnest-and so like Uncle Jim. For the time she got the fleeting impression of this being a man.

He hardly heard her appeal. "I want to say now that I love you." For a moment the 'boy's will, the wind's will,' blew a gale. "I love you and I always shall. Some day I shall ask you that foolish question again, and again."

She too was after all very young and had been playing a bit at being a woman. Now his expression of passion embarrassed her-because she had no answer ready; nor was it all entirely disagreeable.

He stood still a moment, and added, "That is all-I ask nothing now."

Then she stood up, having to say something and unwilling to hurt him-wanting not to say too much or too little, and ending by a childlike reply. "Oh, John, I do wish you would never say such things to me. I am too young to listen to such nonsense."

"And I am young too," he laughed. "Well-well-let us go home and confess like children."

"Now I know you are a fool, John Penhallow, and very disagreeable."

"When we were ever so young, Leila, and we quarrelled, we used to agree not to speak to one another for a day. Are you cross enough for that now?"

"No, I am not; but I want to feel sure that you will not say such things to me again."

"I make no promise, Leila; I should break it. If I gave you a boy's love, forget it, laugh at it; but if I give you a man's love, take care."

This odd drama-girl and woman, boy and maturing man-held the stage; now one, now the other.

"Take care, indeed!" she said, repeating his words and turning on him with sudden ungraciousness, "I think we have had enough of this nonsense."

She was in fact the more disturbed of the two, and knowing it let anger loose to chase away she knew not what, which was troubling her with emotion she could neither entirely control nor explain later as the result of what seemed to her mere foolishness. If he was himself disturbed by his storm of primitive passion, he did not show it as she did.

"Yes," he said in reply, "we have had for the present enough of this-enough talk, I mean-"

"We!" she exclaimed.

"Leila! do you want me to apologize?"

"No."

"Then-let us get those roses for Aunt Ann-what are left of them."

She was glad to escape further discussion-not sure of her capacity to keep in order this cousin who was now so young and now so alarmingly old. His abrupt use of self-control she recognised-liked and then disliked, for a little wrath in his reply would have made her feel more at ease. With well-reassumed good-humour, she said, "Now you are my nice old playmate, but never, never bother me that way again."

"Yes, ma'am," said John, laughing. "I can hear Aunt Ann say, 'Run, dears, and get me flowers-and-there will be cakes for you.'"

"No, bread and apple-butter, John." They went along merry, making believe to be at ease.

"The robins are gone," said Leila. "I haven't seen one today; and the warblers are getting uneasy and will be gone soon. I haven't seen a squirrel lately. Josiah used to say that meant an early winter."

"Oh, but the asters! What colour! And the golden-rod! Look at it close,

Leila. Each little flower is a star of gold."

"How pretty!" She bent down over the flowers to pay the homage of honest pleasure. "How you always see, John, so easily, the pretty little wild beauties of the woods; I never could." She was "making up" as children say.

"Oh, you were the schoolmaster once," he laughed. "Come, we have enough; now for the garden."

They passed through the paling fence and along the disordered beds, where a night of too early frost had touched with chill fingers of disaster the latest buds. Leila moved about looking at the garden, fingering a bud here and there with gentle epitaphs of "late," "too late," or gathering the more matronly roses which had bloomed in time. John watched her bend over them, and then where there were none but frost-wilted buds stand still and fondle with tender touch the withered maidens of the garden.

He came to her side, "Well, Leila, I'll swap thoughts with you."

She looked up, "Your's first then."

"I was thinking it must be hard to die before you came to be a rose-like some other more human things."

"Is that a charade, John? You will be writing poems about the lament of the belated virgin roses that had not gathered more timely sunshine and were alas! too late."

He looked at her with a smile of pleased surprise. "Thanks, cousin; it is you who should be the laureate of the garden. Shelley would envy you."

"Indeed! I am flattered, sir, but I have not read any of Shelley as yet. You have, I suppose? He is supposed to be very wicked. Get me some more golden-rod, John." He went back to the edge of the wood and came again laden, rejoining her at the porch.

For two days her aunt kept her busy. Early in the week she went away to be met in Philadelphia by her Uncle Charles, and to be returned to her Maryland school.

A day or two later John too left to undergo the dreaded examination at West Point. The two older people were left alone at Grey Pine with the rector, who had returned from his annual holiday later than usual. Always depressed at these seasons, he was now indisposed for the society of even the two people who were his most valued friends. He dined with them the day John went away and took up the many duties of his clerical life, until as was his custom, a week later he came in smiling for the Saturday dinner, saying, "Well, here comes the old house-dog for his bone."

They made him welcome as gaily. "Has the town wickedness accumulated in your absence, Mark?" said Penhallow.

"Mine has," said Ann Penhallow, "but I never confess except to myself."

"Ann Penhallow might be a severe confessor," said Rivers as they sat down. "How you must miss John and Leila. I shall most sadly."

"Oh, for my part," said Ann, "I have made up my mind not to lament the inevitable, but my husband is like a lost dog and-oh!-heart-hungry for Leila, and worried about that boy's examination-his passing."

"Have I said a word?" said the Squire indignantly. "Pass! Of course, he will pass."

"No one doubts that, James; but you are afraid he will not be near the top."

"You are a witch, Ann. How did you know that?"

"How?" and she laughed. "How long have we been married!"

"Nonsense, Ann! What has that got to do with the matter?"

"Well," said Rivers, a little amused, "we shall know in a day or two. He will pass high."

"Of course," said Penhallow.

Then the talk drifted away to the mills, the village and the farm work. When after dinner Rivers declined to smoke with the Squire, Ann walked with the clergyman down the avenue and said presently, "Dine with us on Monday, Mark, and as often as possible. My husband is really worrying about John."

"And you, dear lady?"

"I-oh, of course, I miss them greatly; but Leila needs the contact with the social life she now has in the weekly holiday at Baltimore; and as for John, did it never occur to you that he ought to be among men of his age-and social position-and women too, who will not, I fancy, count for much in the 'West Point education.'

"Yes-yes, what you say is true of course, but ah! I dread for him the temptations of another life than this."

"Would you keep him here longer, if you could?" she asked.

"No. What would life be worth or how could character be developed without temptation? That is one of my puzzles about the world to come, a world where there would be no 'yes and no' would hardly be worth while."

"And quite beyond me," cried Ann, laughing. "We have done our best for them. Let us pray that they will not forget. I have no fear for Leila. I do not know about John. I must go home. Come often. Good-night. I suppose the sermon takes you away so early."

"Yes-more or less, and I am poor company just now. Good-night."

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