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   Chapter 18 No.18

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 17243

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The figure of Lincoln had been set on the by-ways of State politics by his debate with Douglas. His address in New York in February of 1860 set him on the highways of the nation's life. Meanwhile there were no talks about politics at Grey Pine. The Christmas Season had again gone by with unwonted economies.

While Douglas defined his opinions in the Senate and Jefferson Davis made plain that the Union would be dissolved if a radical Republican were elected, it became clear that the Democratic party which in April was to nominate candidates would be other than of one mind. Penhallow in Washington heard Seward in the Senate. Of this memorable occasion he wrote with such enthusiasm to Leila as he rarely showed:

"I may not write to your aunt, and I am moved to write to you by the effect Mr. Seward's speech had on me. He is not much of a man in his make-up. His voice is husky and his gestures are awkward and have no relation to what he says. It seemed a dried-up sort of talk, but he held the Senate and galleries to fascinated attention for two hours, and was so appealing, so moderate. The questions at issue were handled with what Rivers calls and never uses-the eloquence of moderation. I suppose he will be the nominee of the Republican party. It won't please the abolitionists at all. I wish you could have heard it.

"I came here to see two Southern Senators who have been counsel for us in regard to debts owing the mills by Southern railways. I gathered easily that my well-known Republican views made collection difficult. I was about to say something angry-it would have done no good, and I am opposed to useless anger. It is all pretty bad, because the South has hardly felt the panic, or its continued effect on our trade.

"I am wrong to trouble you with my troubles. We shall pull through.

"Yours,

"JAMES PENHALLOW."

"P.S. I should have been prepared for my failure to get fair treatment. I had learned in New York that lists of abolition houses have been published in the South, and Southern buyers warned not to place orders with them. I wonder if I am thus listed. Our agent in Savannah writes that it is quite useless to solicit orders on account of the prevalent sentiment, and he is leaving the town."

Penhallow went home disappointed and discouraged, and called a private meeting of his Pittsburgh partners. He set before them the state of their affairs. There would be no debts collectible in the South. He smiled as he added that he had collected certain vague promises, which could hardly be used to pay notes. These could and would be met, they said, but finally agreed with him that unless they had other orders, it might be necessary to further reduce their small force. His partners were richer than he, but indisposed to take risks until the fall conventions were over. It was so agreed. As they were leaving, Penhallow said, "But there will be our workmen-what will become of them?" They were sure times would get better, and did not feel his nearness of responsibility for workmen he knew so long and so well.

He rode home at a walk. The situation of his firm was like that of many others, and now this April of 1860 business doubts, sectional feeling and love of country seemed to intensify the interest with which all classes looked forward to the Charleston Democratic Convention.

The Convention met on April 23rd. It was grave and able. There were daily prayers in the churches of Charleston for the success of Southern principles. Henry Grey, a delegate, wrote to his sister:

"The Douglas platform was adopted and at once the delegations of six cotton States withdrew. We who cannot accept Douglas meet in Richmond. It means secession unless the Republicans are reasonable when they nominate in Chicago. Mr. Alexander Stephens predicts a civil war, which most men I meet here consider very unlikely."

Ann handed this letter to her husband, saying, "This will interest you."

He read it twice, and then said, "There is at least one man in the South who believes the North will fight-Stephens."

"But will it, James?" A predictive spectre of fear rose before her.

Slowly folding the letter he said, "Yes, the South does not know us." She walked away.

On May 16th the Republicans met in Chicago. The news of the nomination of Lincoln came to the Squire as riding from the mills he met Dr. McGregor afoot.

"What, walking!" he said. "I never before saw you afoot-away from that saint of a mare."

"Yes, my old mare got bit by something yesterday and kicked the gig to smithereens, and lamed her off hind-leg."

"I will lend you a horse and a gig," said Penhallow.

"Thanks," said McGregor simply. "I am sweating through my coat."

"But don't leave my horse half a day tied to a post-any animal with horse-sense would kick."

"As if I ever did-but when the ladies keep me waiting. Heard the good news? No-We have nominated Lincoln-and Hamlin."

"I preferred Seward. You surprise me. What of the platform?"

"Oh, good! The Union, tariff, free soil. You will like it. The October elections in Pennsylvania will tell us who will win-later you will have to take an active part."

"No. Come up to-morrow and get that horse-No, I'll send it."

The Squire met Rivers on the avenue. As he walked beside the horse, he said, "I am going to dine with you."

"That is always good, but be on your guard about politics at Grey Pine.

Lincoln is nominated."

"Thank God! What do you think of it, Squire?"

"I think with you. This is definite-no more wabbling. But rest assured, it means, if he is elected, secession, and in the end war. We will try to avert it. We will invent compromises, at which the South will laugh; at last, we will fight, Mark. But we are a quiet commercial people and will not fight if we can avoid it. They believe nothing will make us fight. The average, every-day Northerner thinks the threat of secession is mere bluff."

"Do you recall, Squire, what Thucydides said of the Greeks at the time of the Peloponnesian War?"

"I-how the deuce should I?-what did he say?"

"He said the Greeks did not understand each other any longer, although they spoke the same language. The same words in Boston and in Charleston have different meanings."

"But," said Penhallow, "we never did understand one another."

"No, never. War-even war-is better than to keep up a partnership in slavery-a sleeping partnership. Oh, I would let them go-or accept the gage of battle."

"Pretty well that, for a clergyman, Mark. As for me, having seen war, I want never to see it again. This may please you." As he spoke, he extracted a slip of paper from his pocket-book, where to Leila's amusement queer bits of all kinds of matters were collected. Now it was verse. "Read that. You might have written it. I kept it for you. There is Ann on the porch. Don't read it now."

Late that evening Rivers sat down to think over the sermon of the next Sunday. The Squire had once said to him, "War brings out all that is best and all that is worst in a nation." He read the verses, and then read them aloud.

"They say that war is hell, the great accursed,

The sin impossible to be forgiven;

Yet I can look beyond it at its worst

And still find blue in Heaven.

"And as I note how nobly natures form

Under the war's red reign, I deem it true

That He who made the earthquake and the storm

Perchance makes battles too.

"The life He loves is not the life of span

Abbreviated by each passing breath;

It is the true humanity of man

Victorious over death."

"No great thing in the way of poetry-but-a thought-a thought. Oh, I should like to preach of men's duty to their country just now. I envy Grace his freedom. If I preached as he does, people would say it was none of a preacher's business to apply Christ's creed of conduct to a question like slavery. Mrs. Penhallow would walk out of the church. But before long men will blame the preacher who does not say, 'Thou shalt love thy country as thyself'-ah, and better, yes, and preach it too."

During the early summer of 1860, James Penhallow guarded an awkward silence about politics. Leila found that her uncle would not talk of what the closing months of Buchanan's administration might contribute to insure peaceful settlement. John Penhallow was as averse to answering her eager questions. Their silence on matters which concerned a nation's possible dismemberment and her aunt's too evident distress weighed heavily upon Leila. The newspapers bewildered her. The Tribune was for peaceful separation, and then later was against

it. Uncle Jim had said he was too worried about the mills to talk politics, "Don't ask me, Leila." At last, an errand to Dr. McGregor's gave her the chance she desired.

"Yes," said the doctor, "I'll come to-day. One of the maids? Well, what else, Leila?" seeing that she still lingered.

"I want to know something about all this tangle of politics. There's Breckinridge, Douglas, Bell and Lincoln-four candidates. Uncle Jim gets almost cross when I ask him what they all stand for. Mr. Rivers told me to be thankful I have no vote. If there is to be war, have I no interest? There is Uncle Jim-and-and John."

The doctor said, "Sit down, Leila. Your uncle could answer you. He won't talk. I don't believe John Penhallow owns any politics except a soldier's blind creed of devotion to the Flag."

"Oh, the Flag, Doctor! But it is a symbol-it is history. I won't write to a man any more who has no certain opinions. He never answers."

"Well, my dear, see how hard it is to know what to think! One State after another is seceding. The old juggle of compromises goes on in that circus we call Congress. The audience is grimly silent. Crittenden's compromise has failed. The President is at last against secession-and makes no vigorous effort to reinforce Fort Sumter. The Cabinet was distinctly with the South-the new men came in too late. You-a girl-may well call it a tangle. It is a diabolical cat's-cradle. My only hope, my dear, is in a new and practically untried man-Abraham Lincoln. The South is one in opinion-we are perplexed by the fears of commerce and are split. There you have all my wisdom. Read the news, but not the weathercock essays called editorials. Oh! I forgot to tell the Squire that Tom, my young doctor, has passed the Army Board and is awaiting orders in Washington. By-bye!"

"Tom as a doctor-and in uniform," Leila murmured, as her horse walked away. "How these boys go on and on, and we women just wait and wait while men dispose of our fates."

In February the Confederacy of the South was organising, and in March of 1861 Mr. Lincoln was President. Penhallow groaned over Cameron as Secretary of War, smiled approval of the Cabinet with Seward and Chase and anxiously waited to see what Lincoln would do.

Events followed fast in those eventful days. On the thirteenth of April Ann Penhallow sat in the spring sunshine on the porch, while Leila read aloud to her with entranced attention "The Marble Faun." The advent of an early spring in the uplands was to be seen in the ruddy colour of the maples. Bees were busy among the young flowers. There was noiseless peace in the moveless infant foliage.

"How still it is!" said Leila looking up from the book. They were far from the madding crowd. "What is it, Billy?"

He was red, breathless, excited, and suddenly broke out in his thin boy-like voice, "Hurrah! They've fired on the flag."

"Who-what flag?"

"Don't know." He had no least idea of what his words meant. "Don't know," and crying "Hurrah! They've fired on the flag," fled away.

Ann said, "Go to the village and find out what that idiot meant."

In a half hour Leila came back. "Well, what is it?"

"The Charleston troops have fired on Fort Sumter-My God! Aunt Ann-on the flag-our flag!"

Ann rose, gathered up her work, hesitated a moment, and saying, "That is bad news, indeed," went into the house.

Leila sat down on the step of the porch and broke into a passion of tears, as James Penhallow coming through the woods dismounted at her side. "What is the matter, my dear child?"

"They have fired on the flag at Sumter-it is an insult!"

"Yes, my child, that-and much more. A blunder too! Mr. Lincoln should

thank God to-day. He will have with him now the North as one man. Colonel

Anderson must surrender; he will be helpless. Alas for his wife, a

Georgia woman!-and my Ann, my dear Ann."

There are few alive to-day who recall the effect caused in the States of the North by what thousands of men and women, rich and poor, felt to be an insult, and for the hour, far more to them than the material consequences which were to follow.

When Rivers saw the working people of the little town passionately enraged, the women in tears, he read in this outbreak of a class not given to sentimental emotion what was felt when the fatal news came home to lonely farms or great cities over all the North and West.

Memorable events followed in bewildering succession during the early spring and summer of 1861. John wrote that Beauregard and all but a score of Southern cadets had left the Point. Robert Lee's decision to resign from the army was to the Squire far more sorrowfully important.

When Lincoln's call to arms was followed in July by the defeat of Bull

Run, James Penhallow wrote to his nephew:

"My Dear John: Your aunt is beyond measure disturbed. I have been more at ease now that this terrible decision as to whether we are to be one or God knows how many is to be settled by the ordeal of battle. I am amazed that no one has dwelt upon what would have followed accepted secession. We should have had a long frontier of custom houses, endless rows over escaping slaves, and the outlet of the Mississippi in the possession of a foreign country. Within ten years war would have followed; better let it come now.

"I am offered a regiment by Governor Curtin. To accept would be fatal to our interests in the mills. It may become an imperative duty to accept; but this war will last long, or I much underestimate the difficulties of overcoming a gallant people waging a defensive war in a country where every road and creek is familiar.

"Yours, in haste,

"JAMES PENHALLOW."

John wrote later:

"MY DEAR UNCLE: Here is news for you! All of my class are ordered to Washington. I shall be in the engineer corps. I see General McClellan is put in command of the army. I will write again from Washington."

Ann Penhallow heard the letter, and saying merely, "It had to come!" made the bitter forecast that it would be James Penhallow's turn next.

John wrote again as he had promised, but now to Leila:

"At last we are in this crowded city. We get our uniforms in a day or two. I am a lieutenant of engineers. We are now in tents. On arrival we were marched to General Scott's headquarters, and while drawn up in line Mr. Lincoln came out. He said a few words to us. His appearance was strange to me. A tall stooping figure, in what our village calls 'store clothes,' but very neat; the face big, homely, with a look of sadness in the eyes. He shook hands with each of us in turn, saying a word of encouragement. Why he spoke specially to me, I do not know. He asked my name. I said 'Penhallow.' 'Oh,' he said, 'a Cornish name-the great iron-works. Do you know the Cornish rhyme? It rings right true.' I said, 'No, sir.' 'Well, it is good. Do your duty. There is a whole creed in the word-man needs no other. God bless you, boys.' It was great, Leila. What is the Cornish rhyme? Ask Uncle Jim. Write me care of the Engineer Camp.

"I put this on a separate slip for you. In Baltimore we were delayed and I had an hour's leave. I called on your uncle, Charles Grey. He is Union through and through. His brother Henry has gone South. While I was walking with Mr. Charles Grey, a lady went by us, drawing away her skirts with quite unmistakable contempt and staring at your uncle in a way which was so singular that I asked what it all meant. He replied, 'It is your United States cadet uniform-and the lady is Mrs. Henry Grey. I am not of their acquaintance.' This, Leila, was my first taste of the bitterness of feeling here. It is the worse for the uprising of union feeling all over Maryland.

"My class-mates are rather jolly about their commissions and the prospect of active war. I have myself a certain sense of being a mere cipher, a dread too of failure. I can say so to you and to no one else. I am going where death is in the air-and there are things which make me eager to live-and-to be able to live to feel that I have done my duty. Thinking of how intensely you feel and how you grieve over being unable to do more than pray, I mean to pet a little the idea that I am your substitute."

At this point she sat a while with the letter on her lap. Then she read on:

"I hoped for a brief furlough, but got none, and so I shall apply to memory and imagination for frequent leave of absence,-from duty.

"Yours,

"JOHN PENHALLOW."

"To pet a little the idea! That is so like John. Well, yes-I don't mind being petted as a substitute and at a distance. It's rather confusing."

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