MoboReader> Literature > Westways

   Chapter 19 No.19

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 26765

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


It was late in October and ten at night, when Leila with her uncle was endeavouring to discover on one of the large maps, then so much in demand, the situation of the many small conflicts which local feeling brought about.

"It all wants a head-one head, Leila. Now it is here, there and everywhere, useless gain or loss-and no large scheme. John left Washington two weeks ago. You saw his letter?"

"No."

"Then I may have told you-I am sure I did. Damn it, Leila! I am so bothered. I did tell Ann, I suppose."

"Why, of course, Uncle Jim. I wish I could help you. Is it the mills?"

"Yes. Your little property, part of John's-your aunt's-are all in the family business. Ann says, 'What's the difference? Nothing matters now.' It isn't like her."

"I'm sure I don't care, Uncle Jim."

"Don't talk nonsense. In a month we shall know if we are bankrupt. I did not mean to trouble you. I did mean to tell you that to my relief John is out of Washington and ordered to report to General Grant at Cairo. See, dear, there is a pin marking it on the map."

"Do you know this General?"

"Yes. He took no special rank at the Point, but-who can tell! Generals are born, not made. I saw a beautiful water-colour by him at the Point. That's all I know of him. Now, go to bed-and don't take with you my worries and fight battles in your dreams."

There was in fact no one on whom he could willingly unload all of his burdens. The need to relieve the hands out of work-two-thirds of his force-was growing less of late, as men drifted off into the State force which the able Governor Curtin was sending to McClellan. Penhallow's friends in Pittsburgh had been able to secure a mortgage on Grey Pine, and thus aided by his partners he won a little relief, while Rivers watched him with increasing anxiety.

On the 17th of January, 1862, he walked into McGregor's office and said to his stout friend, "McGregor, I am in the utmost distress about my wife. Inside my home and at the mills I am beset with enough difficulties to drive a man wild. We have a meeting in half an hour to decide what we shall do. I used to talk to Ann of my affairs. No one has or had a clearer head. Now, I can't."

"Why not, my friend?"

"She will not talk. Henry Grey is in the Confederate service; Charles is out and out for the Union; we have no later news of John. We miserably sit and eat and manufacture feeble talk at table. It is pitiful. Her duties she does, as you may know, but comes home worn out and goes to bed at nine. Even the village people see it and ask me about her. If it were not for Leila, I should have no one to talk to."

A boy came in. "You are wanted, sir, at the mill office."

"Say I will come at once. I'll see you after the meeting, McGregor."

"One moment, Squire. Here's a bit of good news for you. Cameron has resigned, and Edwin Stanton is Secretary of War."

"Stanton! Indeed! Thank Heaven for that. Now things will move, I am sure."

The Squire found in his office Sibley, one of his partners, a heavy old man, who carried the indifferent manners of a farmer's son into a middle age of successful business. He sat with his chair tilted back, a huge Cabana cigar hanging unlighted from the corner of his mouth. He made no movement towards rising, but gave his hand as he sat, and said: "There, Penhallow, just read that!"

As the Squire took the telegram, Sibley scratched a match on the back of his pantaloons and waiting for the sulphur to burn out lit his cigar. Ever after the smell of sulphur brought to the Squire of Grey Pine the sense of some pleasant association and then a less agreeable remembrance.

"Read it-read it out loud, Penhallow! It was a near thing. Wardlow couldn't meet us-be here at noon. Read it-I've read it about ten times-want to hear it again. I've been as near broke as you-but that's an old story. When you're at your last dollar, buy a fast pair of trotters-one thousand-dollar pair-and drive them. Up goes your credit! Told you that once."

Penhallow looked up from the telegram. "Is this certain?"

"Yes, it has been repeated-you can rely on it."

"WASHINGTON, Willard's Hotel.

"Mr. Stanton has given contract for field artillery to the Penhallow

Mills.

"RICHARD AINSELEY."

Penhallow had read it aloud as he stood. Then he sat down.

"Don't speak to me for a moment, Sibley. Thank God!" he murmured, while the care-wrinkled face of the veteran speculator looked at him with a faint smile of affectionate regard.

"Well," said Penhallow, "is this all?"

"No. While Cameron was in office the contract was drawn in favour of the Lancaster Works. We have been urging our own claims, and their Washington agent, your very particular friend, Mr. Swallow, would have had the job in a week more. When Stanton saw our bid and that it was really a more advantageous offer, he sent first for Swallow and then for Ainseley and settled it at once. I believe your name and well-known character did the business. Do you know-do you realize what it means to us?"

"Hardly. I had no hope while Cameron was in office. I left it to you and

Ainseley."

"Well, you will see the contract to-morrow." He wriggled on to one leg of the frail office chair and came down with a crash. He gathered up his two hundred pounds and laughing said, as he looked at the wreck, "That's what we would have been tomorrow but for that bit of yellow paper. In six months you will be a rich man, my friend. Cannon-shells-the whole outfit. We must get to work at once. An ordnance officer will be here to-morrow with specifications, and your own knowledge will be invaluable. I'd like to see Swallow again. He was so darned sure!"

Wardlow turned up by the noon train, and they worked until dusk, when his partners left him to secure hands in Pittsburgh, while the good news spread among the men still at work. Penhallow rode home through the woods humming his old army songs-a relieved and happy man.

The Doctor waited a half-hour in vain, and after his noonday dinner was about to go out when Mrs. Penhallow was driven to his door. Somewhat surprised, he went back with her.

"Sit down," he said. "What can I do for you?"

"Oh, for me nothing! I want to talk about my husband. He is ill, I am sure-he is ill. He eats little, he sleeps badly, he has lost-oh, altogether lost-his natural gaiety. He hardly speaks at all."

The Doctor was silent.

"Well," she said.

"Can you bear a little frank talk?" he asked.

"Yes-why not?"

"Do you know that he is on the verge of complete financial ruin?"

"What does that matter? I can-I can bear anything-give up anything-"

"You have the woman's-the good woman's-indifference about money. Do you talk to him about it?"

"No. We get on at once to the causes of trouble-this unrighteous war-that I can't stand."

"Ah, Mrs. Penhallow, there must be in the North and South many families divided in opinion; what do you suppose they do? This absolute silence is fatal. You two are drifting apart-"

"Oh, not that! Surely not that!"

"Yes! The man is worried past endurance. If he really were to fall ill-a serious typhoid, for instance, the South and your brother and John, everything would be forgotten-there would be only James Penhallow. It would be better to talk of the war-to quarrel over it-to make him talk business-oh, anything rather than to live as you are living. He is not ill. Go home and comfort him. He needs it. He has become a lonely man, and it is your fault. He was here to-day in the utmost distress about you-"

"About me?"

"Yes."

"There is nothing the matter with me!"

"Yes, there is-oh, with both of you. This war will last for years-and so will you. All I have to say is that my friend, James Penhallow, is worth all the South, and that soon or late he will stand it no longer and will go where he ought to be-into the army."

"You are talking nonsense-he will never leave the mills." He had called up her constant fear.

"It is not nonsense. When he is a broken man and you and he are become irritable over a war you did not make and cannot end, he will choose absence and imperative duty as his only relief."

As she stood up, red and angry, she said, "You have only hurt and not helped me." She said no other word as he went with her to the wagon. He looked after her a moment.

"Well, well! There are many kinds of fools-an intelligent fool is the worst. I didn't help her any, and by George! I am sorry."

When at twilight the doctor came home from distant visits to farms, he met Leila near to his door. "I want to see you a minute," she said, as she slipped out of her saddle.

"A woman's minute or a man's minute?"

"A man's."

She secured her mare as he said, "Well, come in. It's rather amusing, Leila. Sit down. I've had James Penhallow here to say his wife's breaking down. I've had Mrs. Penhallow here to say James Penhallow is ill. Except the maids and the cats and you, all Grey Pine is diagnosing one another. And now, you come! Don't tell me you're ill-I won't have it."

"Please don't joke, Doctor. I am troubled about these dear people. I talked to Mr. Rivers about it, and he is troubled and says it is the mills and money. I know that, but at the bottom of it all is the war. Now Aunt Ann is reading the papers again-I think it is very strange; it's confusing, Doctor."

"Here," reflected the doctor, "is at least one person with some sense."

She went on, speaking slowly, "Uncle Jim comes home tired. Aunt Ann eats her dinner and reads, and is in bed by nine. The house is as melancholy as-I feel as if I were in a mousetrap-"

"Why mouse-trap, my dear?"

"It sounds all right. The mouse is waiting for something awful to happen-and so am I. Uncle Jim talked of asking people to stay with us. It's just to please Aunt Ann. She said, 'No, James, I don't want any one.' He wished to please her. She really thinks of nothing but the war and Uncle Jim, and when Uncle Jim is away she will spend an hour alone over his maps. She has-what do you call it-?"

"Is obsession the word you want?"

"Yes-that's it."

"Now, Leila, neither you nor I nor Mark Rivers can help those two people we love. Don't cry, Leila; or cry if it will help you. When you marry, be sure to ask, 'what are your politics, Jeremiah?'" His diversion answered his purpose.

"I never would marry a man named Jeremiah."

"I recommend a well-trained widower."

"I prefer to attend to my husband's education myself. I should like a man who is single-minded when I marry him."

"Well, for perversion of English you are quite unequalled. Go and flirt a bit for relief of mind with Mark Rivers."

"I would as soon flirt with an undertaker. Why not with Dr. McGregor?"

"It would be comparable, Leila, to a flirtation between a June rose and a frost-bitten cabbage. Now, go away. These people's fates are on the lap of the gods."

"Of the god of war, I fear," said Leila.

"Yes, more or less." He sent her away mysteriously relieved, she knew not why. "A little humour," he reflected, "is as the Indians say, big medicine."

Whether the good doctor's advisory prescription would have served as useful a purpose in the case of Ann Penhallow, he doubted. That heart-sick little lady was driven swiftly homeward, the sleigh-runners creaking on the frozen snow: "Walk the horses," she said to Billy, as they entered the long avenue, "and quit talking."

While with the doctor and when angrily leaving him, she was the easy victim of a storm of emotions. As she felt the healthy sting of the dry cold, she began the process of re-adjustment we are wise to practise after a time of passion when by degrees facts and motives begin to reassume more just proportions. He had said, the war would last long. That she had not believed. Could she and James live for years afraid to speak of what was going on? The fact that her much-loved Maryland did not rise as one man and join the Confederacy had disturbed her with her first doubt as to the final result of the great conflict. She thought it over with lessening anger at the terrible thing McGregor had said, "You two are drifting apart." This sentence kept saying itself over and over.

"Stop, Billy." She was back again in the world of everyday. "Get in, Mr. Rivers. We are both late for our Dante." As she spoke, an oppressed pine below which he stood under a big umbrella was of a mind to bear its load no longer and let fall a bushel or so of snow on the clergyman's cover. His look of bewilderment and his upward glance as if for some human explanation routed from Ann's mind everything except amusement over this calamity.

"You must not mind if I laugh." She took for granted the leave to laugh, as he said, "I don't see where the fun comes in. It is most disagreeable." The eloquent eyes expressed calamity. It was really felt as if it had been a personal attack.

"It was a punishment for your utterly abominable politics." For the first time for months she was her unfettered self. His mind was still on his calamity. "I really staggered under it."

"Shake it off and get in to the sleigh. My husband ought to have all the big pines cut down." Rivers's mind had many levels. Sometimes they were on spiritual heights, or as now-almost childlike.

"To stay indoors would be on the whole more reasonable," he said, "or to ha

ve these trees along the avenue shaken."

"I'd like the job," ventured Billy.

"Keep quiet," said Mrs. Ann.

"It is most uncomfortable as it melts," said Rivers.

Ann thought of John Penhallow's early adventure in the snow, and seeing how strangely real was Mark Rivers's discomfort, remarked to herself that he was like a cat for dislike of being wet, and was thankful for her privilege of laughing inwardly.

Billy, who was, as Leila said, an unexpectable person, contributed to Ann Penhallow's sense of there being still some available fun in a world where men were feebly imitating the vast slaughters of nature. He considered the crushed umbrella, the felt hat awry, and the disconsolate figure. "Parson do look crosser than a wet hen."

Then too Rivers's laugh set free her mirth, and Ann Penhallow laughed as she had not done for many a day. "That is about my condition," said Rivers. "I shall go home and get into dry clothes. Billy, you're a poet."

"Don't like nobody to call me names," grunted Billy.

"I wish James had heard that," cried Ann, while Rivers gathered up the remains of his umbrella.

As Billy drove away, Mrs. Penhallow called back, "You will come to dinner to-day?"

"Thank you, but not to-day."

As Ann came down the stairs to the hall, Penhallow was in the man's attitude, with his back to the fire. Leila with a hand on the mantel and a foot on the fender was talking to her uncle, an open letter in her hand. Ann heard him say, "That was in October"-and then-"Why this must be a month old!"

"It must have been delayed. He wrote a note after the fight at Belmont, and that was in October. He did write once since then, but it was hardly worth sending. As a letter writer, John is rather a failure, but this is longer." She laughed gaily as she spread open the letter.

"He has got a new hero, uncle-General Grant. John is strong on heroes-he began with you."

"Stuff and nonsense," said the Squire. "Read it."

Leila hesitated.

"Oh, let's hear it," cried her aunt.

"Go on, dear," said the Squire.

Leila still hesitated. Usually Ann Penhallow carried away John's rare letters to be read when alone. Now she said, with unnatural deliberation. "Read it; one may as well hear his news; we can't always just ignore what goes on."

Leila a little puzzled glanced at her aunt. The Squire pleased and astonished said, "Go on, my dear."

Turning to the candles on the hall table, Leila read the letter:-"Why how long it has been! It is dated November 20th."

"DEAR LEILA: We have been moving from place to place, and although I know or guess why, it is best left out of letters. At Belmont General Grant had a narrow escape from capture. He was the last man on board the boat. He is a slightly built, grave, tired-looking man, middle-aged, carelessly dressed and eternally smoking. I was in the thick of the row-a sort of aide, as there was no engineer work. He was as cool as a cucumber-"

"Why are cucumbers cool?" asked Leila, looking up. "Oh, bother! Go on!" said Penhallow.

"We shall move soon. Good-bye.

"JOHN PENHALLOW."

Ann made no comment. The Squire said, "It might have been longer. Come, there's dinner, and I am hungry."

Ann looked at him. He was gay, and laughed at her account of Rivers's disaster.

"I have some good news for you, Ann. I shall keep it until after dinner.

Then we can talk it over at leisure. It concerns all of us, even John."

"I don't see how I am to wait," said Leila.

"You will have to."

Ann made an effort to meet the tone of gaiety in her husband's talk, and when the wine was set before him, he said, "Now, Ann, a glass-and Leila, 'To our good news and good luck-and to John.'"

They followed him into the library, and being in sacrificial mood, Ann filled a pipe, lighted a match, and said, "I want you to smoke, James."

"Not yet, dear. Sit down."

"No, I want to stand." She stood beside the fire, a little lady, with an arm around the waist of her niece. The Squire seated was enjoying the suspense of his eager audience.

"You know, dear Ann, that for two years or more the mills have been without large orders. We have been in the most embarrassing situation. Our debts"-he was about to say, 'in the South'-"unpaid. I had to ask you to help us."

This was news to Leila. "Why mention that, James?" said her aunt.

"Well, we long ago lessened our force. To shut down entirely was ruin, but when we met to-day we were to decide whether it was honest to borrow more money and stagger on, or as I thought, honourable to close the mills and realize for our creditors all we could."

Ann sat down with some feeling of remorse. Why had she not known all this? Was it her fault? He had borne it for the most part without her knowledge-alone. "My God! It is true," she reflected, "we have drifted apart." He had hopefully waited, not wanting to trouble a woman already so obviously sorrow-laden. He seemed to echo her thought.

"You see, dear," and the strong face grew tender, "I did not mean to disturb you until it became inevitable. I am glad I waited."

Ann, about to speak, was checked by his lifted hand. "Now, dear, all my troubles are over. Mr. Stanton, the new Secretary of War, has signed a contract with our firm for field artillery. It is a fortune. Our bid was low. A year's work-shot, shell-and so on. Congratulate me, Ann."

"My God!" he cried, "what is the matter?"

Ann Penhallow turned quickly, a hand on the table staying herself. "And you-you are to make cannon-you-and I-and with my money!" she laughed hysterical laughter-"to kill my people the North has robbed and driven into war and insulted for years-I-I-" her voice broke-she stood speechless, pale and more pale.

Penhallow was appalled. He ran to catch her as she swayed.

"Don't touch me," she cried. "I feared for-you-the army-but never this-this!" Despite her resistance, he laid her on the lounge.

"Leila," she said, "I want to go upstairs to bed." The face became white; she had fainted.

"Is she dead?" he said hoarsely, looking down at her pale face.

"No-no. Carry her upstairs, uncle." He picked up the slight form and presently laid her on her bed. "Leave her to me, Uncle Jim. I have seen girls in hysterics. Send up a maid-the doctor! No, I will come down when she is undressed. See, her colour is better."

He went downstairs, reluctant to leave her. In the library he sat down and waited. An hour passed by, and at last Leila reappeared. She kissed him with more than her usual tenderness, saying, "She is quiet now. I will lie down on her lounge to-night. Don't worry, Uncle Jim."

This advice so often given was felt by him to be out of his power to follow. He knew very well that this he would have now to consider was not only a mere business affair. It ceased to be that when he heard with the shock of bewilderment his wife's outburst of angry protest. He loved her as few men love after many years of married life, and his affection was still singularly young. His desire to content her had made him unwisely avoid talk about differences of opinion. In fact his normal attitude was dictated by such gentle solicitude as is not uncommon in very virile men, who have long memory for the careless or casual sharp word. To the end of his days he never suspected that to have been less the lover and more the clear-sighted outspoken friend would have been better for her and for him. He sat into the night smoking pipe after pipe, grappling with a situation which would have presented no difficulties to a coarser nature. At last he went upstairs, listened a moment at Ann's chamber door, and having smoked too much spent a thought-tormented night, out of which he won one conclusion-the need to discuss his trouble with some friend. At six he rose and dressed, asked the astonished cook for an egg and coffee, went to the stables, and ordered a groom to saddle horses and follow him.

A wild gallop over perilously slippery roads brought him to McGregor's door, a quarter of a mile from the mills. The doctor was at breakfast, and rose up astonished. "What's wrong now, Penhallow?" he said.

"Oh, everything-everything."

"Then sit down and let us talk. What is it?"

The Squire took himself in hand and quietly related his story of the contract and his wife's reception of what had been to him so agreeable until she had spoken.

"Can you bear-I said it yesterday to Mrs. Penhallow-a frank opinion?"

"Yes, from you-anything."

"Have no alarm about her health, my friend. It is only the hysteria of a woman a little spoiled by too tender indulgence."

The Squire did not like it, but said, "Oh, perhaps! But now-the rest-the rest-what am I to do?" The doctor sat still a while in perplexed thought. "Take your time," said Penhallow. "I have sent the horses to the stable at the mills, where my partners are to meet me early to-day."

The doctor said, "Mrs. Penhallow will be more or less herself to-day. I will see her early. There are several ways of dealing with this matter. You can take out of the business her share of the stock."

"That would be simple. My partners would take it now and gladly."

"What else you do depends on her condition of mind and the extent to which you are willing to give way before the persistency of a woman who feels and does not or can not reason."

"Then I am not now to do anything but tell her that I will take her stock out of the business."

"That may relieve her. So far I can go with you. But, my dear Penhallow, she may be utterly unreasonable about your manufacture of cannon, and what then you may do I cannot say. How long will it be before you begin to turn out cannon?"

"Oh, two months or more. Many changes will be needed, but we have meanwhile an order for rails from the Baltimore and Ohio."

"Then we can wait. Now I am off for Grey Pine. See me about noon. Don't go back home now. That's all."

While the Squire walked away to the mills, McGregor was uneasily moving his ponderous bulk to and fro in the room.

"It's his damn tender, soft-hearted ways that will win in the end. My old Indian guide used to say, 'Much stick, good squaw.' Ann Penhallow has never in her whole life had any stick. Damn these sugar plum husbands! I'd like to know what Miss Leila Grey thinks of this performance. Now, there's a woman!"

When after a night of deep sleep Ann woke to find Leila standing by her bed, she rose on an elbow saying, "What time is it? Why are you here?"

"It is eight, aunt. You were ill last night; I stayed on your lounge."

Now her aunt sat up. "I was ill, you say-something happened." The thing pieced itself together-ragged bits of memories storm-scattered by emotion were reassembled, vague at first, then quickly more clear. She broke into unnaturally rapid speech, reddening darkly, with ominous dilatation of the pupils of her large blue eyes. "And so James Penhallow is to be made rich by making cannon to kill my people-oh, I remember!" It seemed absurdly childlike to Leila, who heard her with amazement. "And with my money-it is easy to stay at home and murder-and be paid for it. Let him go and-fight. That's bad enough-I-"

"God of Heaven, Aunt Ann!" the girl broke in, "don't dare to say that to

Uncle Jim. Are you crazy-to say such things."

"I don't know what I am. Oh, those cannon! I hear them. He shall not do it-do you hear me? Now send me up a cup of tea-and don't come in again. I want James-tell him-tell him."

"He went away to the mills at six o'clock."

"I know. He is afraid to talk to me-I want to see him-send for him at once. I said at once-do you hear! Now go."

As Leila turned to leave, she heard a knock at the door, said "Come in," and to her relief saw enter large and smiling the trusted doctor. As he neared the bed, Ann fell back speechless and rigid.

"Ah, Leila! That makes it all plain. There is no danger. Close the blinds; I want the room darkened. So! Come into the back room-leave the door ajar." He selected a trustworthy chair and sat down with deliberate care. "Now listen to me, my dear. This is pure hysteria. It may last for days or weeks-it will get well. It is the natural result of birth, education, worry, etc.-and a lot of darned et ceteras. When you let loose a mob of emotions, you get into trouble-they smash things, and this is what has become of one of God's sweetest, purest souls."

"It is most dreadful, Doctor; but what shall we do with Uncle Jim. If she has a mere cold in the head, he is troubled."

"Yes-yes." The doctor took counsel with himself. "I will send up old Mrs. Lamb to help you-she is wise in the ways of sick women. Take your rides-and don't fret over this suicide of reason." He was pleased with his phrase. "Let her see Penhallow if she asks for him, but not if you can help it. It is all as plain as day. She has been living of late a life of unwholesome suppression. She has been alarmed by Penhallow's looks, hurt by her brothers' quarrels, and heart-sick about the war and John. Then your uncle springs on her this contract business and there is an explosion."

After giving careful orders, he went away. To Penhallow he said, "When you are at home keep out of her room. If you have to see her, tell her nothing has been done or will be for months. The time will come when you will have to discuss matters."

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares