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   Chapter 15 No.15

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 28412

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


When at breakfast on a Monday morning Penhallow said, "That mail is late again," his wife knew that he was still eager for news from John.

"The mail is always late on Monday morning, James. If you are in haste to get to the mills, I will send it after you."

"No, it is unimportant, Ann. Another cup, please. Ah! there it is now."

He went out on to the porch. "You are late, Billy."

"I ain't late-it was Mrs. Crocker-she kept me."

Penhallow selected two letters postmarked West Point, and opening one as he went in to the breakfast-room, said, "My dear, it is rather satisfactory-quite as much as could be expected."

"Well, James! What is rather satisfactory? You are really exasperating at times."

"Am I? Well, John has passed in the first half dozen-he does not yet know just where-"

"And are you not entirely contented? You ought to be. What is the other letter?"

He opened it. "It is only a line from the old drawing-master to say that John did well and would have been second or third, they said, except for not being higher in mathematics." As he spoke he rose and put both letters in his pocket. "Now I must go."

"But let me see them, James."

"Oh, John's is only a half dozen lines, and I must go at once-I have an appointment at the mills-I want to look over the letters again, and shall write to him from the office." Ann was slightly annoyed, but said no more until on the porch before he mounted she took a mild revenge. "I know where you are going."

"Well, and where, please?" He fell into her trap.

"First, you will stop at the rectory and read those letters to Mark Rivers; then the belated mail will excuse a pause at the post-office to scold Mrs. Crocker. Tell Pole as you go by that last mutton was atrociously tough. Of course, you won't mention John."

"Well, are you done?" he said, as he mounted Dixy. "I can wait, Ann, until you read the letters."

"Thanks, I am in no hurry." He turned in the saddle and gave her the letters. She put aside her brief feeling of annoyance and stood beside him as she read them. "Thank you, James. What an uneasy old uncle you are. Now go. Oh, be off with you-and don't forget Dr. McGregor." As he rode away, she called after him, "James-James-I forgot something."

He turned, checking Dixy. "Oh, I forgot to say that you must not forget the office clerks, because you know they are all so fond of John."

"What a wretch you are, Ann Penhallow! Go in and repent."

"I don't," and laughing, joyously, she stood and looked after the tall figure as he rode away happy and gaily singing, as he was apt to do if pleased, the first army carol the satisfaction of the moment suggested:

Come out to the stable

As soon as you 're able,

And see that the horses

That they get some corn.

For if you don't do it,

The colonel will know it,

And then you will rue it

As sure as you're born.

"Ah!" said his wife, "how he goes back-always goes back-to the wild army life when something pleases him. Thank God that can never come again." She recalled her first year of married life, the dull garrison routine, the weeks of her husband's absences, and when the troop came back and there were empty saddles and weeping women.

At dinner the Squire must needs drink the young cadet's health and express to Rivers his regret that there was not a West Point for Leila. Mrs. Ann was of opinion that she had had too much of it already. Rivers agreed with his hostess, and in one of his darkest days won the privilege of long silences by questioning the Squire in regard to the studies and life at West Point, while Mrs. Ann more socially observant than her husband saw how moody was Rivers and with what effort he manufactured an appearance of interest in the captain's enthusiasm concerning educative methods at the great army school. She was relieved when he carried off Rivers to the library.

"It is chilly, Mark; would you like a fire?" he asked.

"Yes, I am never too warm."

The Squire set the logs ablaze. "No pipe, Mark?"

"Not yet." He stretched out his lean length before the ruddy birch blaze and was silent. The Squire watched him and made no attempt to disturb the deep reverie in which the young clergyman remained. At last the great grey eyes turned from the fire, and Rivers sat up in his chair, as he said, "You must have seen how inconsiderately I have allowed my depression to dismiss the courtesies of life. I owe you and my dear Mrs. Penhallow both an apology and an explanation."-

"But really, Mark-"

"Oh, let me go on. I have long wanted to talk myself out, and as often my courage has failed. I have had a most unhappy life, Penhallow. All the pleasant things in it-the past few years-have been given me here. I married young-"

"One moment, Mark. Before you came to us the Bishop wrote me in confidence of your life. Not even Mrs. Penhallow has seen that letter."

"Then you knew-but not all. Now I have had a sad relief. He told you of-well, of my life, of my mother's hopeless insanity-and the rest."

"Yes-yes-all, I believe-all."

"Not quite all. I have spent a part at least of every August with her; now at last she is dead. But my family story has left with me the fear of dying like my brothers or of becoming as she became. When I came to you I was a lonely soul, sick in mind and weak in body. I am better-far better-and now with some renewal of hope and courage I shall face my world again. You have had-you will have charity for my days of melancholy. I never believed that a priest should marry-and yet I did. I suffered, and never again can I dream of love. I am doubly armed by memory and by the horror of continuing a race doomed to disaster. There you have it all to my relief. There is some mysterious consolation in unloading one's mind. How good you have been to me! and I have been so useless-so little of what I might have been."

Penhallow rose, set a hand on Rivers's shoulder, seeing the sweat on his forehead and the appeal of the sad eyes turned up to meet his gaze. "What," he said, "would our children have been without you? God knows I have been a better man for your company, and the mills-the village-how can you fail to see what you have done-"

"No-no-I am a failure. It may be that the moods of self-reproach are morbid. That too torments me. Even to-day I was thinking of how Christ would have dealt with that miserable man, Peter Lamb, and how uncharitable I was, how crude, how void of sympathy-"

"You-you-" said Penhallow, as he moved away. "My own regret is that I did not turn him over to the law. Well, points of view do differ curiously. We will let him drop. He will come to grief some day. And now take my thanks and my dear Ann's for what you have told me. Let us drop that too. Take a pipe."

"No, I must go. I am the easier in my mind, but I am tired and not at all in the pipe mood." He went out through the hall, and with a hasty "good-night" to his hostess and "pleasant dreams-or none," went slowly down the avenue.

The woman he left, with her knitting needles at rest a moment, was considering the man and his moods with such intuitive sympathy and comprehension as belongs to the sex which is physiologically the more subject to abrupt changes in the climate of the mind. As her husband entered, she began anew the small steadying industry for which man has no substitute.

"Upon my word, James, when you desire to exchange confidences, you must get further away from me."

"You don't mean me to believe you overheard our talk in the library, with the door closed and the curtain across it." Her acuteness of hearing often puzzled him, and he had always to ask for proof.

She nodded gay assurance, and said again, ceasing to knit, "I overheard too much-oh, not all-bits-enough to trouble me. I moved away so as not to hear. All I care to know is how to be of real service to a friend to whom we owe so much."

"I want you-in fact, Mark wants you-to hear in full what you know in part."

"Well, James, I have very little curiosity about the details of the misfortunes of my friends unless to know is to obtain means of helpfulness."

"You won't get any here, I fear, but as he has been often strange and depressed and, as he says, unresponsive to your kindness, he does want you now to see what cause there was."

"Very well, if he wants it. I see you have a letter."

"Yes, I kept it. It was marked strictly confidential-I hate that-" She smiled as he added, "It seems to imply the possibility of indiscretion on my part."

"Oh, James! Oh, you dear man!" and she laughed outright, liking to tease where she deeply loved, knowing him through and through, as he never could know her. Then she saw that he was not in the mood for jesting with an edge to it; nor was she. "At all events, you did not let me see that letter-now I am to see it."

"Yes, you are to see it. You might at any time have seen it."

"Yes, read it to me."

"When our good Bishop sent Mark Rivers here to us, he wrote me this letter-"

"Well, go on."

"MY DEAR SIR: I send you the one of my young clergy with whom I am the most reluctant to part. You will soon learn why, and learning will be thankful. But to make clear to you why I urge him-in fact, order him to go-requires a word of explanation. He is now only twenty-six years of age but looks older. He married young and not wisely a woman who lived a childlike dissatisfied life, and died after two years. One of his brothers died an epileptic; the other, a promising lawyer, became insane and killed himself. This so affected their widowed mother that she fell into a speechless melancholy and has ever since been in the care of nurses in a farmer's family-a hopeless case. I became of late alarmed at his increasing depression and evident failure in bodily strength. He was advised to take a small country parish, and so I send him to you and my friend, Mrs. Penhallow, sure that he will give as much as he gets. I need not say more. He is well worth saving-one of God's best-with too exacting a conscience-learned, eloquent and earnest, and to end, a gentleman."

"There is a lot more about Indian missions, which I think are hopeless, but I sent him a cheque, of course."

"I supposed, James, that his depression was owing to his want of vigorous health. Now I see, but how very sorrowful it is! What else is there? I did not mean to listen, but something was said about his mother."

"Yes. He has spent with her a large part of every August-he called it his holiday. My God, Ann! Poor fellow! This August she died. It must be a relief."

"Perhaps."

"Oh, surely. This is all, Ann."

"I wish you had been less discreet long ago, James. I think that the Bishop knowing how sensitive, how very reticent Mark is, meant only that he should not learn what was confided to you."

"I never thought of that, Ann. You may be right."

She made no further comment, except to say, "But to know clears the air and leaves me free to talk to him at need." Penhallow felt that where he himself might be a useless confessor, his wife was surely to be trusted.

"If, Ann, the man could only be got on to the back of a horse-" She won the desirable relief of laughter, and the eyes that were full of the tears of pity for this disastrous life overflowed of a sudden with mirth at the Squire's one remedy for the troubles of this earthly existence.

"Oh, I am in earnest," he said. "Now I must write to John."

When after a week or more she did talk to Mark Rivers, he was the better for it and felt free to speak to her as a younger man may to an older woman and can rarely do to the closest of male friends, for, after all, most friendships have their personal limitations and the man who has not both men and women friends may at some time miss what the double intimacies alone can give.

* * * * *

The uneasy sense of something lost was more felt than mentioned that fall at Grey Pine, where quick feet on the stair and the sound of young laughter were no longer heard. Rivers saw too how distinctly the village folk missed these gay young people. Mrs. Crocker, of the shop where everything was to be bought, bewailed herself to Rivers, who was the receiver of all manner of woes. "Mrs. Penhallow is getting to be so particular no one knows where to find her. You would never think it, sir, but she says my tea is not fit to drink, and she is going to get her sugar from Philadelphia. It's awful! She says it isn't as sweet as it used to be-as if sugar wasn't always the same-"

"Which it isn't," laughed Rivers.

"And my tea!-Then here comes in the Squire to get a dog-collar, and roars to my poor deaf Job, 'that last tea was the best we have ever had. Send five pounds to Dr. McGregor from me-charge it to me-and a pound to Mrs. Lamb.' It wasn't but ten minutes later. Do set down, Mr. Rivers." He accepted the chair she dusted with her apron and quietly enjoyed the little drama. The facts were plain, the small influential motives as clear.

Secure of her hearer, Mrs. Crocker went on: "I was saying it wasn't ten minutes later that same morning Mrs. Penhallow came down on me about the sugar and the tea-worst she ever had. She-oh, Lord!-She wouldn't listen, and declared that she would return the tea and get sugar from town."

"Pretty bad that," said Rivers, sympathetic. "Did she send back the tea?"

"No, sir. In came Pole grinning that very evening. He said she had made an awful row about the last leg of mutton he sent. Pole said she was that bad-She didn't show no temper, but she kept on a sort of quiet mad about the mutton."

"Well, what did Pole do?"

"You'd never guess. It was one of the Squire's own sheep. Pole he just sent her the other leg of the same sheep!"

Again the rector laughed. "Well, and what did Mrs. Penhallow do?"

"She told him that was all right. Pole he guessed I'd better send her a pound of the same tea."

"Did you?"

"I did-ain't heard yet. Now what would you advise? Never saw her this way before."

"Well," said Rivers, "tell her how the town misses Leila and John."

"They do. I do wonder if it's just missing those children upsets her so."

Whether his advice were taken or not, Rivers did not learn directly, but Mrs. Crocker said things were better when next they met, and the clergyman asked no questions.

Penhallow had his own distracting troubles. The financial condition which became serious in the spring and summer of 1857 was beginning to cause him alarm, and soon after the new year came in he felt obliged to talk over his affairs and to advise his wife to loan the mill company money not elsewhere to be had except at ruinous interest. She wished simply to give him the sum needed, but he said no, and made clear to her why he required help. She was pleased to be consulted, and showing, as usual, notable comprehension of the business situation, at once did as he desired.

Rivers not aware of what was so completely occupying Penhallow's mind, wondered later why he would not discuss the decision of the Supreme Court in the Dred Scott case and did not share his own indignation. "But," he urged, "it declares the Missouri Compromise not warranted by the Constitution!"

"I can't talk about it, Mark," said Penhallow, "I am too worried by my own affairs."

Then Rivers asked no further questions; he hoped he would read the masterly dissenting opinion of Justices McLean and Curtis. Penhallow returned impatiently that he had no time, and that the slavery question were better left to the decision of "Chief Justice Time."

It was unlike the Squire, and Rivers perplexed and more or less ignorant concerning his friend's affairs left him, in wonder that what was so angrily disturbing the Northern States should quite fail to interest Penhallow.

Meanwhile there were pleasant letters from Leila. She thought it hard to be denied correspondence with John, and wrote of the satisfaction felt by her Uncle Henry and his friends in regard to the Dred Scott decision. She had been wise enough to take her Uncle Charles's advice and to hold her Republican tongue, as he with a minority in Baltimore was wisely doing.

The money crisis came with full force while the affairs of Kansas were troubling both North and South. In August there was widespread ruin. Banks failed, money was held hard, contracts were broken and to avoid a worse calamity the Penhallow mills discharged half of the men. Meanwhile under Governor Walker's just and firm rule, for a brief season 'Bleeding Kansas' was no longer heard of. To add to the confusion of parties, Douglas broke with the Administration and damaged the powerful Democratic machine when he came out with changed opinions and dauntless courage against the new Lecompton constitution.

In June Leila's school life came to a close, and to the delight of her relations she came home. When that afternoon Rivers came into the hall, a tall young woman rose of a sudden and swept him a curtsey, saying, "I am Leila Grey, sir. Please to be glad to see me."

"Good gracious, Leila! You are a woman!"

"And what else should I be?"

"Alas! what? My little friend and scholar-oh! the evil magic of time."

"Oh! Friend-friend!" she exclaimed, "then, now, and always." She gave him both hands.

"Yes, always," he said quickly. "And this," he said to himself, "is the child who used to give me the morning kiss. It is very wonderful!"

"I really think, Aunt Ann, that Mr. Rivers just for a moment did not know me."

"Indeed! That must have amused him."

"Oh, here is James." There was laughter at dinner and a little gay venture into the politics of Leila's school, which appeared to have been disagreeable to Miss Grey.

Rivers watched the animated face as she gave her account of how the school took a vote in the garden and were all Democrats. The Squire a little puzzled by his wife's evident disinclination to interfere with the dinner-table politics got a faint suspicion that here had come into Grey Pine a new and positive influence. He was more surprised that Mrs. Ann asked, "What did you say, Leila?"

"I? Now, Aunt Ann, what would you have done or said?"

"Oh, voted with the Democrats, of course."

"Oh, Mrs. Penhallow!" cried the Rector.

The Squire much amused asked, "Well, Leila, did you run away?"

"I-Oh, Uncle Jim! I said I was a democrat-I voted the Democratic ticket."

"Did you?" exclaimed Rivers.

"So James Penhallow and my brother Charles have lost a Republican vote," laughed Ann.

"But, Aunt Ann, I added that I was a Douglas Democrat."

The Squire exploded into peals of laughter. Ann said, "For shame!"

"They decided to lynch me, but no one of them could catch me before Miss

Mayo appeared on the playground and we all became demure as pussy cats.

She was cross."

"She was quite right," said her aunt. "I do not see why girls should be discussing politics."

Rivers became silently regardant, and Penhallow frowning sat still. The anticipated bolt had fallen-it fell in vain. Leila did not accept the decree, but defended herself gaily. "Aunt Ann," she said, "Douglas is right, or at least half right. And do tell me how old must a girl be before she has a right to think?"

"Think! Oh, if you like, think. But, my dear Leila, your uncle, Mr. Rivers and I, although we think and hold very diverse opinions, feel that on such matters discussion only leaves a sting, and so we tacitly leave it out of our talk. There, my dear, you have my opinion."

There was a moment of silence. Leila looked up. "Oh, my dear Aunt Ann, if you were on the side of old Nick, Mr. Rivers wouldn't care a penny less for you, and I never could see why to differ in talk about politics is going to hurt past anything love could accept. Aunt Helen and Uncle Charles both talk politics and they do love one another, although Aunt Helen is tremendously Democratic."

"My dear Leila!"

"Oh, Aunt Ann! I will not say a word more if you want me to hold my tongue."

"Wouldn't the other way be more wholesome on the whole?" said Rivers.

"I have long thought so," said the Squire. "There are ways and ways-"

"Perhaps," said Ann. "Shall you ride with your uncle tomorrow, Leila?"

"Oh, shall I! I long for it-I dream about it. May I ride Dixy, Uncle

Jim?"

"Yes, if you have a riding-habit you can wear. We will see to that. You have grown a good bit, but I fancy we can manage."

"And how is Pole, aunt; and the doctor and Crocker and his fat wife-oh, and everybody?"

"Oh, much, as usual. We had a skirmish about mutton, but the last Pole sent is good-in fact, excellent. He needs watching."

Then the talk fell on the lessened work at the mills, and there being now four players the Squire had his whist again, and later carried Rivers away to smoke in the library, leaving Ann and Leila.

As the library door closed, Leila dropped on a cushion at her aunt's feet, and with her head in Ann's lap expressed her contentment by a few moments of silence. Then sitting up, she said, "I am so happy I should like to purr. I was naughty at dinner, but it was just because I wanted to make Uncle Jim laugh. He looks-Don't you think he looks worried, aunt? Is it the mills and-the men out of work? Dear Aunt Ann, how can one keep on not talking about politics and things that are next to one's religion-and concerning our country-my country?"

Ann made no direct reply, but went back to what was nearer than any creed of politics. "Yes, dear. When one big thing worries James, then everything worries him. The state of the money market makes all business difficult, and he feels uncomfortable because the mill company is in want of work, and because their debts are overdue and not likely to be paid in full or at all."

"I wish I could do something to help Uncle Jim."

"You can ride with him and I cannot. You can talk to him without limitations; I cannot. He is reasonable about this grave question of slavery. He does not think it right; I do-oh, good for master and best for the black. When, soon after our marriage, we spoke of it, he was positive and told me to read what Washington had said about slavery. We were both young and said angry things which left a pang of remembrance. After that we were careful. But now this terrible question comes up in the village and in every paper. It will get worse, and I see no end to it."

Leila was silent, remembering too her aunt's share in Josiah's escape.

The advice implied in her aunt's frank talk she saw was to be accepted.

"I will remember, Aunt Ann." At least she was free to talk to her uncle.

"Has any one heard of Josiah?" asked Leila.

"No, I was sorry for him. He had so many good traits. I think he would have been more happy if he had remained with his master."

Leila had her doubts, but was self-advised to say no more than, "I often think of him. Now I shall go to bed."

"Yes, you must be tired."

"I am never tired, but to be free to sit up late or go to bed and read what I want to-and to ride! Good-night. I can write to John-now there's another bit of freedom. Oh, dear, how delightful it all is!" She went upstairs thinking how hard it would be to keep off of the forbidden ground, and after all was her aunt entirely wise? Well, there was Uncle Jim and John.

While this talk went on the rector alone with his host said, "You are evidently to have a fresh and very positive factor in your household life-"

"Hush," said the Squire. "Talk low-Ann Penhallow has incredible hearing."

"True-quite true-I forgot. How amazingly the child has changed. She will be a useful ferment, I fancy. How strange it is always-this abrupt leap of the girl into the heritage of womanhood. The boy matures slowly, by imperceptible gradations. Now Leila seems to me years older than John, and the change is really somewhat startling; but then I have seen very little of young women. There is the girl, the maid, the woman."

"Oh, but there is boy, lad, and man."

"Not comparable, Squire; continuously growing in one case, and in the other developmental surprises and, ever after, fall and rise of energy. The general trouble about understanding women is that men judge them by some one well-known woman. I heard a famous doctor say that no man need pretend to understand women unless he had been familiar with sick women."

The Squire recalling the case of Ann Penhallow was silent. The clergyman thinking too of his own bitter experience lapsed into contemplative cleaning of a much valued meerschaum pipe. The Squire not given to morbid or other psychological studies made brief reply. "I hope that Leila will remain half boy."

"Too late, Squire-too late. You've got a woman on your hands. There will be two heads to Grey Pine."

"And may I ask where do I come in?" He was at times almost dull-witted, and yet in danger swift to think and quick to act.

Rivers filling the well-cleaned pipe looked up. There was something of unwonted gaiety in the moving face-lines which frame the eyes and give to them the appearance of change of expression. "My dear friend, you were as dough that is kneaded in the hands of Leila, the girl; you will be no less so now in the hands of this splendid young woman."

"Oh, now-by George! Rivers, you must think me-"

"Think you! Oh, like other men. And as concerns Mrs. Ann, there will sometimes be a firm alliance with Leila before which you will wilt-or-no, I will not venture further."

"You had better not, or you may fail like other prophets."

"No, I was thinking as you spoke of the fact that Leila has seen a good deal of a very interesting society in Baltimore, and has had the chance, and I am sure the desire, to hear more of the wild Southern party-talk than most girls have."

"Yes, she has been in both camps."

"And always was and is, I fancy, eagerly curious in the best sense. More than my dear Mrs. Ann, she has wide intellectual sympathies-and appetites."

"That's a very fine phrase, Mark."

"Isn't it, Squire? I was also comparing in my mind John's want of association with men of his own social accident of position. He lived here with some rough country lads and with you and me. He has had no such chance as Leila's."

"Oh, the Point will mature him. Then two years on the Plains-and after that the mills."

"Perhaps-two years! But, Penhallow, who can dare to predict what God has in store for us. Two years!"

"Yes-too true-who can! Just now we are financially diseased, and men are thinking more of the bread and butter and debts of to-morrow than of Mr. Buchanan in the toils of his Southern Cabinet."

"That's so. Good-night."

Leila took upstairs with her John's last letter to her aunt, and sitting down read it eagerly:

"WEST POINT.

"MY DEAR AUNT: The life here, as I wrote you, is something almost monastic in its systematic regularity, and its despotic claims on one's time. It leaves small leisure for letters except on Sundays; and if a fellow means to be well placed, even then he is wise to do some work. The outside world seems far away, and we read and can read few papers.

"I am of Uncle Jim's politics, but although there are many pretty sensitive cadets from the South, some of them my friends, there is so pleasant a camaraderie among us that there are few quarrels, and certainly none of the bitterness of the two sections.

"I think I may have told you that we have no furlough until we have been here two years, but I hope some time for a visit from Uncle Jim and you, or at least from him and Leila. How she would enjoy it! The wonderful beauty of the great river in the embrace of these wooded mountains, the charm of the heroic lives it has nourished and the romance of its early history are delightful-"

"Enjoy it," murmured Leila, "oh, would I not indeed!" Then she read on:

"Tell Leila to write me all about the horses and the town, and if Josiah has been heard of. Tom McGregor writes me that after he is graduated next year, he means to try for a place in the army and get a year or two of army life before he settles down to help his father. So it takes only two years to learn how to keep people alive and four to learn how to kill them."

"I wonder who John means to kill." She sat in thought a while, and rising to undress said, "He must be greatly changed, my dear boy, Jack. Jack!"

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