MoboReader > Literature > Westways

   Chapter 20 No.20

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 20205

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Leila Grey never forgot the month which followed. Penhallow was mercifully spared the sight of the drama of hysteria, and when not at the mills went about the house and farm like a lost dog; or, if Leila was busy, took refuge with Rivers. Even the war maps claimed no present interest until a letter came from John after the capture of Port Donaldson. At evening they found the place on the map.

"Well, now let's hear it. Ann is better, McGregor says," He was as readily elated as depressed. "Does she ask for me?"

"No," said Leila, "at first she did, but not now."

"Read the letter, my dear."

"DEAR LEILA: I wrote to Aunt Ann and Uncle Jim a fortnight ago-"

"Never came," said Penhallow.

"I am called an engineer, but there is no engineering required, so I am any General's nigger. I have been frozen and thawed over and over. No camp fires allowed, and our frozen 15,000 besieged 21,000 men. General S.T. Smith picked me up as an aide, and on the 15th personally led a charge on the Rebel lines, walking quietly in front of our men to keep them from firing. It did not prevent the Rebs from abusing our neutrality. It was not very agreeable, but we stormed their lines and I got off with a bit out of my left shoulder-nothing of moment. Now we have them. If this war goes on, Grant will be the man who will end it. I am too cold to write more. Love to all.

"General Smith desires to be remembered to Uncle Jim, and told me he was more than satisfied with



"Isn't that delightful, Uncle Jim? But every night I think of it-this facing of death. I see battles and storming parties. Don't you see things before you fall asleep? I can see whatever I want to see-or don't want to."

"Never saw anything of the kind-I just go to sleep."

"I thought everybody could see things as I do."

"See John too, Leila? Wish I could."

"Yes," she said, "sometimes." In fact, she could see at will the man who was so near and so dear and a friend to-day-and in that very lonely time when the house was still and the mind going off guard, the something indefinitely more.

The Squire, who had been studying the map, was now standing before the fire looking up where hung over the mantel his sword and the heavy army pistols. He turned away as he said, "Life is pretty hard, Leila. I ought to be here-here making guns. I want to be where my class-mates are in the field. I can't see my way, Leila. When I see a duty clearly, I can do it. Now here I have to decide what is my duty. There is no devil like indecision. What would you do?"

"It is a question as to what you will do, not I-and-oh, dear Uncle Jim, it is, you know, what we call in that horrid algebra the X of the equation."

"I must see your Aunt Ann. Is she"-and he hesitated-"is she herself?"-he would not say, quite, sane.

"She is not at all times."

"How far must I consider her, or be guided by the effect my decision will have on her? There are my partners to consider. The money does not influence me-it is Ann-Ann." Then she knew that he would make any sacrifice necessary to set Ann Penhallow at ease. "I think," she said as she rose, "that we had better go to bed."

"I suppose so," he said. "Wait a moment. Your aunt told me that I had better go where there was war-she could not have guessed that I have lived for months with that temptation. I shall end by accepting a command. Now since her reproach I shall feel that war offers the bribe of ease and relief from care."

"I know, the call of duty-you will have to go. But, oh, my God! it is very terrible."

"The fact is, this sudden good fortune for a time so set me at ease that I lost sight of my honest craving for action. Now I ought to thank Ann for making me see what I ought to do-must do. But how-how? It will clear up somehow. Goodnight."

It was the end of March before McGregor told Penhallow that Mrs. Penhallow insisted on seeing him. "Now, Squire," he said, "you will be shocked at her appearance, but she is really well in body, and this thing has got to be set at rest. She talks of it incessantly."

Penhallow entered the dimly lighted room and passed his old nurse, Mrs. Lamb, as she whispered, "Don't stay long, sir." He was shocked as he won clearer vision in the dim light.

"Oh, James!" she said, "they wouldn't let me see you. Open the shutters." He obeyed, and kneeling kissed the wasted face he loved so well. The commonplaces of life came to his aid as he kissed her again, and she said, "Dear me, James, you haven't shaved to-day."

"No, I am going to stop at the barber's-but I miss Josiah."

She smiled. "Yes, poor Josiah."

Then he took courage, fearfully timid as men are when they confront the illness of women. "I want to say to you, Ann, that having your power of attorney I have withdrawn your fifty thousand dollars you had lent to the mills. My partners were glad to take it." He said nothing of their surprise at the offer.

"Thank you," she returned feebly. "And you are going on with the business?" her voice rising as she spoke.

"We will talk of that later, Ann. I was told not to let you talk long. I shall endeavour to invest your money so as to give you a reasonable return-it will take time."

He did not succeed in diverting her attention. She put out a thin hand and caught his sleeve. "Do you think me unreasonable, James?"

"Yes," he said, and it needed courage.

"I was sure you would say so." The great blue eyes, larger for the wasted setting of nature's wonderful jewels, looked up at him in dumb appeal. "Won't you think a little of how I feel-and-and shall feel?"

"Think a little-a little?" he returned; "I have done nothing else but think."

"You don't answer me, James." There was the old quiet, persistent way he had known in many happy days, reinforced by hysteric incapacity to comprehend the maze of difficulties in which he was caught.

"It is a pity I did not die," she said, "that would have saved you all this trouble."

He felt the cruelty of her words as he broke away and left the room. McGregor had waited, and hearing his story said, "It will pass. You must not mind it-she is hardly sane."

James Penhallow mounted and rode to the village, was duly shaved, and went on to the post-office. Mrs. Crocker rotund and rosy came out and handed him as he sat in the saddle a sheaf of letters. "Yes, Mrs. Penhallow is better, thank you." As he rode away the reins on Dixy's neck, he read his letters and stuffed them in his pocket until he came to one, over which he lingered long. It ran thus:

"MY DEAR SIR: Will you not reconsider the offer of the colonelcy of a regiment? It will not require your presence until July. There is no need to reply at once. There is no one else so entirely fit for such a charge, and the Attorney-General, your friend Meredith, unites with me in my appeal to you. The State and the country need you.

"Yours truly,


He reached but one conclusion as he turned the tempting offer over in his mind, and acting on it wrote the Governor from his office that his wife was at present too ill for him to consider the offer of a command.

As day by day he sat with Ann, to his relief she ceased to dwell on the matter which had so disturbed her, and rapidly regaining health, flesh and strength, began to ask about the house and the village people. It was a happy day when in May he carried her down to a hammock on the porch. A week later she spoke again, "What conclusion have you reached?" she said.

"About the mills?"


"Ask me in a week, Ann. Do you want to read John's letters? There are several-one about a battle at Pittsburgh Landing in Tennessee."

"I want to hear nothing of the war. Is he well?"

"Yes, thank God." The news of McClellan's army was anything but satisfactory, and more and more the soldier longed to be in the field.

Early in June, Penhallow on his way to meet his partners paused at

McGregor's house to ask his opinion of his wife. "How do I find her?

Better every day-more herself. But what of you?"

"Of me? I can stand it no longer, Doctor. I cannot see this war in Virginia go on to the end without taking part in it. I must-do anything-anything-make any sacrifice."

"But your wife-the mills-"

"I have but one answer-my country! I told you I had refused Governor Curtin's offer-what to do about our contract I do not yet know. They are reorganizing the artillery service."

"And you would like that best?"

"Yes. What amuses you?"

The doctor smiled often, but as Mrs. Crocker said, when he did laugh it was as good as a Fourth of July celebration and the house shook. As the Squire watched him, the smile broadened out in circles from the mouth like the ripples cast by a stone on still water; then the eyes grew merrily busy and the big frame shook with laughter.

"Well, now, Squire! To give up making guns and go in for using them-well-well!"

"Don't chaff me, McGregor; I mean to be in it, cost what it may. I am to meet my partners-good-bye."

The doctor wondered what Ann Penhallow would do or say. It was past guessing but he saw clearly that Penhallow was glad of any excuse to get into the field.

"Glad to see you, Ainseley," said Penhallow. "Good morning, Sibley. You will find things moving. Many casting moulds will be ready by this day week."

"Last night," said Sibley, the richer member of the firm, "I had a telegram from Austin, the iron-man. He asks what we would take to transfer our contract. I replied that we did not deal that way with Government contracts. To-day I got this other-read it."

"On what terms will you take me in? My ore, as you know, is not hematite and is better than yours."

Penhallow sat still reading the telegram again and again. Here was an unlooked-for way out of his troubles. At last he looked up, and to their surprise said, "My capital in the business is one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, and you-the firm-pay me a rental of ten thousand."

"Not last year," said Ainseley; "we could not, as you know."

"Yes. Our par

tnership ends this July 1st. Wire Austin that I will sell him my share and go out. You may ask him what bonus you please-I mean, I will sell to you at one hundred and fifty thousand dollars-the rental will go on, of course."

"My heavens!" cried Sibley, "what do you mean? It is throwing away a fortune, man-a fortune."

Penhallow laughed. "And yet I mean to do it. The work is ready to go on.

You will have ordnance officers here-you won't miss me."

They argued with him in vain. Waldron not altogether dissatisfied sat still, wondering how much bonus Austin would stand, while Ainseley and Sibley troubled for their friend and not well pleased, fought his decision. "Are you fully resolved on this, Penhallow?" said Sibley.

"I am. I cannot take out the small amount of money John Penhallow owns.

It must remain, at least for a time, and will be a convenience to you.

My wife's money is already out. It was only a loan."

"But why should not you sell out to Austin," said Sibley, "if you mean to leave us, and get out of him a profit-and why after all this act of supreme folly? Pardon me, it is that-really that"

Penhallow smiled. "I go out of this business because I simply cannot stay out of the army. I could not be a soldier and accept continuous profits from a Government contract. Imagine what would be said! For the same reason I cannot sell to Austin at an advance. That is clear-is it not?"

"Yes," said Ainseley, "and I am sorry. Think it over."

"I have done my thinking. It will take the lawyers and you at least two months to settle it and make out the papers. After July 1st I shall not come to the mills. I mean to leave no occasion for unpleasant comment when I re-enter the service. Of course, you will advertise your new partnership and make plain my position. I am sorry to leave you, but most glad to leave you prosperous. I will put it all on paper, with a condition that at the close of the war-I give it three years-I shall be free to replace Austin-that is, if the Rebs don't kill me."

As he mounted at evening to ride home, he was aware of Leila. "Halloa, Uncle Jim! As Mr. Rivers was reading Dante to Aunt Ann, I begged off, and so here I am-thought I would catch you. I haven't been on a horse for a week. The mare knows it and enjoyed the holiday. She kicked Pole's bull terrier into the middle of next week."

"A notable feat. I wish some one would kick me into the middle of


"What's wrong, Uncle Jim? Aunt Ann is every day better; John is well; you don't look unhappy. Oh, I know when anything really is the matter."

"No, I am happier than I have been for many a day. You know what Rivers says, 'In the Inn of Decision there is rest,'-some oriental nonsense. Well, I am a guest in the Inn of Decision, but I've got to pay the bill."

"Please not to talk riddles, uncle. I have gone through so much this spring-what with aunt and this terrible war-and where John is we don't know. I heard from Aunt Margaret. She says that we escape the endless reminders of war-the extras called at night, heard in church, great battle on the Potomac, lists of killed and wounded. It must be awful. You buy a paper-and find there was no battle."

"Yes, we escape that at least. I have made arrangements to close my partnership on July 1st."

"Oh, Uncle Jim!"

"The President, I hear, will call for three hundred thousand men-I can stand it no longer-I am eating my heart out. I refused a regiment some time ago; now I shall ask for one. I wrote at once to the Governor."

She leaned over, laid a hand on his arm and said, "Is not one dear life enough?"

"My child, John had to go. I could, of course, find some excuse for not going. I set myself free to-day. But now I am to settle with Ann. Except for that I would be supremely contented. You would not keep me here if you had the power, nor would you bring home John if you could, dear."

"No," she said faintly. Some quickly dismissed suspicion rose to consciousness as he stole a glance at her face. "I understand," she added, "it is a question of honour-you must go."

"It is a question of duty, dear; but what Ann will say I do not know-but

I shall go."

She turned. "Uncle Jim, if you did not go and the war went on to-God alone knows what end-she would be sick with shame. I know. You see I am a woman and I know. She will suffer, but she will not break down again and she will not try to hold you back. But this house without you and John will be rather lonely. How did you get out of the mills, uncle?"

He answered her at length as they rode homeward with more to think of than was pleasant. At the avenue gate she said earnestly, "Don't wait too long before telling Aunt Ann."

"Upon my word, I am sorry," returned the Squire, "for the unfortunate man who may become your husband. If you undertake to offer advice at your tender years, what will you do when you are older?"

"My husband-that-is-to-be sends you his compliments," laughed Leila, "and says-I don't know what he says, but it is exactly the right thing, Captain Penhallow. But really, don't wait, uncle."

"You are quite right, my dear." Nevertheless he waited. Decisiveness in affairs and in moments of peril he had, but where Ann was concerned he became easily unsure, and as McGregor said, "wabbled awful." This was to Leila. "What gets the matter with men? The finer they are, the braver-the more can a woman bother their judgment. He wires for a regimental command-gets it; and, by George, throws away a fortune to get the privilege of firing a cannon at Mrs. Ann's beloved Rebels. He mustn't make guns it seems-he tries not to believe her hysterics at all affected by his tossing away this big contract."

"Now, Doctor, you are in one of your cynical moods. I hate you to talk this way about the finest gentleman I ever knew, or ever shall know. You delight to tease me."

"Yes-you are so real. No one could get hysterics out of you. Now why do you suppose James Penhallow wants to plunge into this chaotic war?"

"Or your son, Tom? Why do you get up of a winter night to ride miles to see some poor woman who will never pay you a penny?"

"Pure habit."

"Nonsense. You go-and Uncle Jim goes-because to go is duty."

"Then I think duty is a woman-that accounts for it, Leila. I retire beaten."

"You are very bad to-day-but make Uncle Jim talk it all out to Aunt


"He will, and soon. He has been routed by a dozen excuses. I told him at last that the mill business has leaked out and the village is saying things. I told him it must not come to her except through him, and that he could not now use her health as an excuse for delay. It is strange a man should be so timid."

And still Penhallow lingered, finding more or less of reason in the delays created by the lawyers. Meanwhile he had accepted the command of the 129th Pennsylvania infantry which was being drilled at Harrisburg, so that he was told there was no occasion for haste in assuming charge. But at last he felt that he must no longer delay.

The sun was setting on an afternoon in July when Penhallow, seeing as she sat on the porch how the roses of the spring of health were blooming on his wife's cheeks, said, "I want to talk to you alone, Ann. Can you walk to the river?"

"Yes, I was there yesterday."

The cat-birds, most delightful of the love-poets of summer, were singing in the hedges, and as they walked through the garden Penhallow said, "The rose crop is promising, Ann."

"Yes." She was silent until they sat on the bank above the little river. Then she said, "You are keeping something from me, James. No news can trouble me as much as-as to be sure that I am kept in the dark about your affairs."

"I meant to be frank, Ann, but I have felt so alarmed about your health-"

"You need not be-I can bear anything but not to know-"

"That is why I brought you here, my dear. You are aware that I took out of the business the money you loaned to us."

"Yes-yes-I know."

"I have given up my partnership and withdrawn my capital. The business will go on without me."

"Was this because-I?-but no matter. Go on, please."

He was incapable of concealing the truth from her, however much he might have disguised it from others. "You had your share in causing me to give up, but for a year since this war has gone on from one disaster to another, I have known that as a soldier I must be in it."

She was perfectly calm. "I have long known it would come, James. To have you and John and my brother Henry-all in it, is a hard fate."

"My dear, Charles writes me that Henry has left the army and gone to

Europe on business for the Confederates."

"Indeed." Some feeling of annoyance troubled her. "Then he at least is in no danger."

"None, my dear."

"When do you go?"

"I am to command the 129th Infantry, and I shall leave about August 1st."

"So soon!" She sat still, thinking over what Grey Pine would be without him. He explained as she sat that all details of his affairs would be put for her clearly on paper. He ended by saying, "Ask me any questions you want answered."

"Then, James, there will be no income from the mills-from-from that contract?"

"None, except my rental. With that you may do as you please. There will be also, of course, at your disposal the income from my re-invested capital."

"Thank you, James." She was by far the less moved of the two.

"Have I greatly troubled you?" he asked. He was distressed for her.

"No, James. I knew it would come." As the shadows darkened on the forest floor and gathered overhead, she rose to her feet. "Whatever happens, James-whoever wins-I am the loser. I want you to be sorry for me."

"And, my dear Ann, whichever way this contest ends, I too lose."

She returned with tender sadness, "Yes, I did not think of that. Give me your arm, James-I am-tired."

He wondered that she had said nothing of the immense sacrifice few men would have made; nor did she seem to have realized what urgency of added motives she had contributed to bring about his decision.

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

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top