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   Chapter 21 No.21

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 25173

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Through the great heat of July, 1862, the war went on its inconclusive way. In Westways, as elsewhere, the call of the people's President for three hundred thousand men was felt the more thoughtfully because now it was, of course, known that Penhallow was Colonel of the 129th Infantry; that he had made a great sacrifice of money was also known, but not understood, and Ann Penhallow's half-forgotten politics were again discussed when the village evening parliament met in front of the post-office.

Mrs. Crocker, off duty, stood framed in the door, cooling her round face with a palmetto fan and listening with interest to the talk or taking part in the discussion in so positive a way as was felt to be indiscreetly feminine, but respected on account of her official representation of a husband too deaf to fulfil his duties.

The Doctor got out of his gig. "Any letters from my boy?"

"Yes, two. Wanted to send them by Billy, but he's war-wild and wouldn't go." The Doctor looked over his letters.

"All right, I hope," said Mrs. Crocker.

Pole in his shirt sleeves listening said, "Of course, he is all right-doctors don't fight none."

"Send your son, Pole, before you talk nonsense," said McGregor. "My boy got a ball in his leg at Malvern Hill."

"My son's going along with the Squire," returned Pole, "leaves me short of help, and my wife's about crazy over it."

"What about Mrs. Penhallow?" said Mrs. Crocker. "I guess she's the kind that don't show what she feels."

"Oh, money's a great comforter," returned the butcher. "What I'm to do, I don't know."

"Well, I'm going too," said Joe Grace, "and father says I'm right."

"Oh, here's the parson," said Pole, as Rivers approached. "He's like the rest of them-all for war."

"Well, Pole," said Rivers, "how are you and Mrs. Crocker? I think you are getting thin this hot weather."

"Am I? No such good luck. We are talking war, Mr. Rivers. I do hear that what with the mill-boys and country fellows there's some thirty going into the Colonel's regiment."

"So I hear. On Sunday I mean to talk to them after service. You might say so."

"I will. If I had a boy, he should go," said Mrs. Crocker.

"It's easy talking when you haven't none," said Pole. "We are gettin' licked, and some day Lee will be over the border. It's just useless to spend money and cripple men."

There was a moment of silence, when Mrs. Crocker spoke. "Pole, you aren't ever sure of your legs. You were all for Buchanan, and then all for Lincoln. Now you're uneasy on the top rail of the fence and the rail ain't round." The parliament broke into laughter, and with more talk dissolved after some critical wisdom about the war.

* * * * *

It was July 30th, after ten at night, the day before the final Sunday of the month. The Colonel of the 129th stood with Leila before a big war map. "This fight at Malvern Hill"-he put a pin on the place-"was a mistake on the part of Lee, and yet he is a master of the game. He was terribly beaten-an aggressive general would have attacked at once."

"Would he have won, uncle?"

"I think so-but after a defeat these armies are as dangerous as a cornered cat."

"But, dear Uncle Jim, what is the matter with us?-We have men, money and courage."

"Well, this is how I see it. Neither side has a broad-minded General in command of the whole field of war. Every day sees bits of fights, skirmishes, useless loss of life. There is on neither side any connected scheme of war. God knows how it will end. I do not yet see the man. If Robert Lee were in absolute command of all the effective force of the South, we would have trouble."

"But if he is so good a soldier, why did he make what you call a frontal attack on entrenched troops at Malvern?"

"My dear, when two men spar and neither can quite end the fight, one gets angry or over-confident and loses his head, then he does something wild-and pays for it."

"I see. You leave on Monday?"

"Yes-early."

"Mr. Rivers means to talk after service to the men who are enlisting."

"So he told me. I begged him to be moderate."

"He asked me for a text, uncle."

"Well!"

"I gave him the one about Caesar and God."

"What put that into your head-it does not seem suitable?"

"Oh, do you think so? Some one once mentioned it to me. I could preach on it myself, but texts grow wonderfully in his hands. They glow-oh, they get halos about them. He ought to be in a great city."

"Oh, my dear, Mark Rivers has his limitations like all of us. He would die. Even here he has to be watched. McGregor told him last year that he was suffering from the contagion of other people's wickedness with occasional acute fits of over-conscientiousness. Rivers said it was incomprehensible nonsense; he was almost angry."

"And yet it is true, Uncle Jim."

"I'm glad I haven't the disease. I told McGregor as much. By George! he said my variety of the disorder was about other folk's stupidity. Then, when I said that I didn't understand him, he laughed. He makes me furious when he only laughs and won't answer-and won't explain."

"Why, uncle! I love to see him laugh. He laughs all over-he shakes. I told him it was a mirthquake. That set him off again. Was Tom McGregor badly hurt?"

"No, not badly."

"Will aunt go to church to-morrow?"

"No."

"I thought she would not. I should love to see you in uniform."

"Not here, my dear, but I will send you a daguerreotype."

* * * * *

When on this Sunday long remembered in Westways, the tall figure of Mark Rivers rose to open the service, he saw the little church crowded, the aisles filled, and in the front pews Penhallow, his niece, and behind them the young men who were to join his regiment. Grace had asked his own people to be present, and here and there were the mothers and sisters of the recruits, and a few men on crutches or wasted by the fevers of the Virginia marshes. Mark Rivers read the morning service as few men know how to read it. He rarely needed the prayer-book-he knew it all. He gave to it the freshness of a new message of love and helpfulness. More than ever on this Sunday Leila felt a sense of spiritual soaring, of personally sharing the praises of the angel choir when, looking upwards, he said: "Therefore with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we laud and magnify Thy glorious name." She recalled that John had said, "When Mark Rivers says 'angels and archangels' it is like the clash of silver cymbals."

He gave out at the close his favourite hymn, "Lead, Kindly Light." It was well and sweetly sung by the girl-choir. As the music closed he rose-a figure of command, his spare frame looking larger for his robes. For a silent moment his eloquent eyes wandered over the crowd, gathering the attentive gaze of young and old, then he said: "I want to talk on this unusual occasion for a little while, to you who are answering the call of a man who is like a father calling his sons to a task of danger. My text is: 'Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's.' The wonder of the great texts is that they have many applications as time runs on. You know the familiar story. Payment of the tax meant obedience to the Government, to law, to order. I would that I had the power to make you see with me the scene. It is to me so very distinct. The Pharisees desire to tempt him, a Jew, into a statement treasonable to the Roman rule they had accepted. Was it right for the Jew to pay the tax which sustained this Government? He had, as you may remember, already paid it for Peter and himself. He asks for the penny bearing Caesar's head and answers them in the words of the text, 'Render unto Caesar, therefore, the things which are Caesar's.' He returns the penny. I wonder where that little coin is to-day? It has gone, but the lesson it read remains forever; nor even today is the Pharisee gone with his invidious temptations. You are to-day obeying a greater than Caesar. You are meeting the material obligations of a day of discouragement-and for some a day of doubt.

"The nobler applications which lie within the meaning of the latter part of the text He answers more fully than was asked: 'Render unto God the things which are God's.' What are these things which are at need to be rendered to Him? What larger tax? Ease-comfort-home-the strong bodies which make work safe and pleasant. He asks of you the exercise of unusual qualities-the courage which looks death in the face and will not take the bribe of safety, of life, at the cost of dishonour. Ah! not in battle is my fear for you. In the long idleness of camps will come your hours of temptation. Think then of those at home who believe in you. It is a great thing to have an outside conscience-wife, mother, sister. Those are hours when it is hard to render unto God what he gave.

"We are now, as I said, at a time of discouragement. There are cowards who would yield-who would compromise-men who want peace at any cost. You answer them nobly. Here, in this sacred cause, if He asks it, we render life or the easy competencies of youth in its day of vigour."

The man paused. The strange power of the eyes spoke to them in this moment of silence. "Oh! I said the cause was sacred-an unbroken land. He gave you that, just for wide-world uses. Keep it! Guard it!-with all that Union of the States meant and still means to-day. You are not to blame for this necessity-war. The man who bends unpaid over the master's cotton-field is the innocent cause of all this bloodshed. If there were no slavery, there would have been no war. But let there be no hatred in the brave hearts you carry. God did not slay Saul, the earnest-I might say-the honest persecutor. He made him blind for a time. The awful charity of God is nowhere else so wonderful. These gallant people you are going to meet will some day see that God was opening their eyes to better days and nobler ways. They too are honest in the belief that God is on their side. Therefore, let there be no bitterness.

"Some of you are what we call religious. Do not be ashamed of it. The hardest fighters the world has known were men who went to battle with arms invisible to man. A word more and I have done. I have the hope-indeed the certainty-that I shall be sent to the field on errands of mercy and helpfulness. We may meet again. And now, take with you the earnest will to render unto God what things He gave for His highest uses. Now let us offer the prayer for the volunteers our great Bishop desires the Church to use. Let us pray."

In unusual silence the congregation moved away, a silence shared by Leila and her uncle. At last she said, "Uncle Jim, I wish Aunt Ann could have heard that sermon-it could not have hurt her."

"Perhaps not."

"I wonder why she has so great a respect for him, so real a friendship. He thinks slavery the sin of sins. He has very little charity about it-oh, none-and Aunt Ann is as sure it is a divinely appointed relation."

"They fought it out, my dear, in his early days at Westways, and when they both found that they were clad in the armour of changeless beliefs no arguments could penetrate, they gave up and took of two fine natures what was left for life's uses and became friends. At least, that is how McGregor put it. He sometimes states things well."

"I see," said Leila thoughtfully, and set herself to thinking whether if she had radical differences of opinion with some one, she could settle into a condition of armed neutrality. Then she wondered if war made changes in the character of a man.

Presently she asked, "Why, Uncle Jim, are you suddenly in such haste to go?"

"There is need of haste. I could not tell Ann; I can tell you. We were never worse off since the war began. The Governor asks me to meet him in Harrisburg. What he fears is that in September Lee will cross the Potomac, with the hope of Maryland rising. Our Governor will call out fifty thousand militia. He wants me to take a command; I shall take it, but Lee's veterans would brush our militia away like summer flies. If he finds the Army of the Potomac before him, there may be a different story. I hope, please God, to be with it. There you have all I know, but it is for you alone. My regiment will go to the front before the end of the month."

"You will write to me, uncle."

"Yes, when I can. Your aunt asks me to write often, but not to write about the war, as if-well, no matter. But I can write to you. Good night-and be brave, dear-and Ann! You will wat

ch over her?"

"Yes, surely."

* * * * *

Ann Penhallow having sorrowfully made up her mind that her husband's honour required his return to the army saw to it with her usual efficiency that everything he might need was carefully provided. At bed-time of that Sunday she said quietly, "Good night and good-bye, James. I do not want to be called to-morrow to say good-bye. You will be off by six. Leila will give you your breakfast. Write often." She was to appearance cheerful and even gay, as she paused on the stairs laughing. "These men," she cried, "I wonder how they do without women orderlies. At the last moment I found you had left your razors-good-night!"

The Colonel's eyes followed her slight form a little puzzled and not entirely pleased at this easy dismissal of sentiment, when he knew what he himself would have done if she had flown the least signal of distress. He turned to Leila. "I am very much relieved, my dear, to see that your aunt is taking my departure quietly. I was afraid of another breakdown, and I could not have stayed a day longer."

Leila who had watched this parting with some anxiety said, "I was a little uneasy myself, but really Aunt Ann was great." She could have made the well-loved Colonel miserable by translating for him into the tongue of man the language of the actress on the stairs. "I wonder," she reflected, "if all men are that blind, or only the heroic or unimaginative."

* * * * *

Colonel Penhallow was detained by consultations with the Governor and by regimental work until near the close of August, when his command was hurried forward to join McClellan's army. He followed it a day later. He wrote long notes to his wife almost daily and then in September after the battle of Antietam more freely to Leila:-

"DEAR LEILA: You will be surprised to hear from me as at Washington on this September 19th. I overtook my command at noon, in Philadelphia, where the regiment was being well fed in the big building known as the Cooper Shop. I was pleased with the look of the men, who have been long drilled in camp. After the meal I went outside and mounted Dixy, who was as rebellious as if he knew he was on the side to which his name did not belong. A soldier was vainly trying to mount my mare. He lost his temper and struck her. I saw a black man interfering, and rode forward seeing there was some trouble. By George! it was Josiah. I shook hands with him and said, 'Where did you come from? He said, 'Saw your name, sir, in the paper and just quit my work. I'm goin' along with you-I'm your servant. I've been thinkin' this long while I'd go back to Westways, but I've been doin' well here, and I just kep' a puttin' it off. I'm goin' with you.' I said, 'All right, get on that horse.' He patted the uneasy mare and in a moment was in the saddle and I a well pleased man. Tell your aunt I am well cared for.

"We were hurried forward, and I had the pleasure of seeing my men behave well when we stormed South Mountain-a very gallant affair. Joe Grace was hurt, but not badly, and was left behind. As to the killed, none are from Westways. At Antietam we were with the reserve, which I thought should have been used and was not. It was an attack on an interior line as seems always to be our luck. McClellan will follow Lee, of course. My regiment is to be with the Sixth Corps, but I was ordered by the Secretary of War to report to him in Washington. It is disgusting! But orders are orders. The Lieutenant-Colonel will have my place, and I hope to get back soon. Josiah was caught in the thick of the fight at Fox Gap. He was scared a sort of green. He will get over it-I know the signs. It was pure nervousness. His explanation was very perfect, 'I just laid down flat because I was afraid of gittin' this servant of yours killed.' We grinned mutual approval of the excuse.

"Yours ever,

"JAMES PENHALLOW."

"P.S. You will have found this letter very unsatisfactory, but the fact is that only people of ample leisure make good correspondents. But now to sum up: Yesterday I saw Stanton, had a glimpse of Swallow, saw Mr. Lincoln, and had an adventure so out of the common that it was like one of the stories of adventure in which Jack used to delight. Now I cannot-should not tell it-but some day-yes. Send this P.S., bit of good news, on its way. Read it first."

"Well, that is exasperating? Surely men are most unsatisfactory letter writers. No woman with an interesting subject could be so uninteresting. John is as bad or worse."

She found enclosed a postscript slip for Mr. Grace.

"DEAR SIR: That boy of yours is not badly hurt. He behaved with intelligent courage when for a moment a part of our charging line hesitated. I was proud of him; I have made him a Corporal.

"Yours truly,

"JAMES PENHALLOW."

The order to report to the former counsel of his firm, Secretary Stanton, brought an unhappy Colonel to the War Department. He sent in his card, and was asked to follow an orderly. As he was about to enter the private office of the War Minister, to his amazement Swallow came out. With a curt good morning, Penhallow went by him. The great Secretary rose to greet him, saying, "You are very welcome, Penhallow-never more welcome."

"You look worn out, Stanton," said the Colonel.

"No, not yet; but, my God! Penhallow, my life is one to kill the

toughest. What with army mishaps, inefficiency, contractors backed by

Congressmen-all the scum that war brings to the top. Do you know why

I sent for you?"

"No. It was an order-I ask no questions. I am at your service."

"You were disappointed, of course."

"Yes, I was."

"Well, there were two reasons. One is frankly this. Your firm has a contract for field artillery-and now you are in the service."

"I see! It is not now my firm. I gave up my partnership."

"So I saw, but who of these hungry contractors will believe that you gave up-a fortune-to enter the army! The facts are either not well known or have been misstated."

"Very likely. I gave up what you speak of as a fortune as you gave up a great income at the bar, and for the same reason I withdrew all my capital. Even the rental of my mills will go to the Sanitary Commission. I could not leave a doubt or the least cause for suspicion."

"I was sure of you, but this has been a well-nursed scandal, due to an influential lot of disappointed contractors who would have controlled the giving of that contract had I not come into office. I shall kill it dead. Trust that to me."

"Thank you, Stanton, I could have stood it."

"Yes, but you do not know, my dear Penhallow, what Washington is at present. Well, let it go. It is now my business. Do you know this Mr. Swallow?"

"Know him? Yes-a usurious scamp of a lawyer, who to our relief has left Westways. Do not trust him. I presume that I owe this talk about me to him."

"Well, yes, to him and his associates."

"What does he want now?"

"What he will not get. Let him go. I said I had two reasons for ordering you here. One I have stated. I want some one I can entirely trust, not merely for honesty and loyalty, but also because of business competence. All manner of work for the Government is going on here and elsewhere. I want some one to report on it from time to time. It will keep you here this winter. You do not like it?"

"No, but it was an order."

"Yes, I am sorry to take you for a time out of active service, but trust me this war will last long. This winter I want you for a variety of inspection work here or elsewhere. It will be mere business, dull, unexciting, with unending watchfulness, and advisory technical help and advice. I want not only personal character-I can get that, but not easily the combination of technical training and business capacity." He unrolled a bundle of papers. "There for example, Colonel, are plans for a new form of ambulance and pontoon wagons ready for approval. I want a report on both." He went on to speak of the ambulances with amazing knowledge of the details of their build. Penhallow watched this earnest, overtasked man, and began to comprehend the vastness of his daily toil, the weight of his mighty load of care. As he talked, cards were brought in, messages sent or received, telegrams-the talk was dropped-resumed-and the Colonel simply listened. At last the Secretary said, "That will do for to-day. You have room No. 27, and such clerks and orderlies as you may need. You will find on your table these specifications-and more-others. And now, how is your beautiful Grey Pine and its mistress and Leila? You will assure them of my undiminished affection. And John-where is he?"

"With General Grant, but where just now I cannot say."

As he spoke, the door opened and an officer announced-"The President." The ungainly length of Lincoln appeared. A quiet smile lingered on the large-featured face, with some humorous appreciation of the War Secretary's evident annoyance at this abrupt visit. Mr. Stanton's greeting as he rose was as the Colonel thought coldly civil.

"My friend, Colonel Penhallow, sir."

"Glad to see you," said Lincoln, and then with a certain simplicity explained, "You see, Colonel, sometimes I run away out of the back of the White House-just to get free of the guards. Don't look so bothered, Stanton. I'm too fine a failure for any one to want to kill me. Any news?"

"None," said the secretary, as he stood not too well pleased; "Colonel

Penhallow is to be in my office on inspection duty."

"Indeed! Glad to see you." The huge hand closed on Penhallow's with innocent use of its power. "Name sounds familiar. Yes-there was a cadet of your name last year. Your son, I suppose?"

"No, my nephew-in the engineers with General Grant."

"Tell him I asked for him-handsome fellow. Anything I can do for him?"

"Nothing, sir."

"Anything I can do for you?"

"Nothing, sir."

"Don't let Stanton kill you. He ought to have a brevet, Stanton. He is the only man in Washington don't want anything." Even the weary face of the Secretary smiled under his heavy beard. "Just stepped in to divide growls with you. Come with me, Colonel, or Stanton will have a brigade of officers to escort me. Wait for me at the outer door-I'll join you."

Penhallow pleased and amused, went out taking with him the sense of puzzle felt by so many over this unusual personage. At the main entrance the Colonel came on Swallow.

"A word with you," he said very quietly. "You have been lying about me to the Secretary and elsewhere. Be careful. I am sometimes short of temper. You have hurt yourself, not me, and you will get no contracts here."

"Well, we will see about that," said Swallow, and was about to say more when the President appeared.

"Come, Colonel," he said. Swallow fell back and Penhallow walked away as men touched their hats. For a block or more Lincoln did not speak, and respecting his silence the soldier was as silent. Then, with his amazing frankness, Lincoln spoke.

"Does the Emancipation Proclamation please you?"

"As a war measure, yes."

"And not otherwise?"

"It is none of my business to criticize my Commander-in-Chief."

"Well, I won't make it an order, but I wish McClellan was of your way of thinking." Again there was silence. Penhallow was astonished at this outspoken statement, being aware as few men were of the fact that the General in question had been disinclined to announce the emancipation message to the army until he found that his corps commanders were not cordially with him in opinion.

As they stopped at the gate of the railing around the White House, Lincoln said, "When you don't want anything, come and see me-or if you do." Then, becoming grave, he asked, "What effect will my proclamation of emancipation have in the South? It takes effect in January, you know." It was like Lincoln. He asked this question of all manner of people. "I want to know," he added, as Penhallow hesitated.

"I am not in a position, sir, to have any opinion about how the Rebels will be affected by it."

"Oh, Confederates! Colonel-not Rebels. Calling names only hurts, and don't ever help. Better to be amiable about labels."

"It was a slip of the tongue, Mr. President. I usually say Confederates."

"Quite right-tongue very slippery organ. Reckon my small truant holiday's over. Everybody generally is letting me know what effect that emancipation-thunder will have." A strangely tender smile grew upon the large features. "You see, Colonel, you and I are the only ignorant people in Washington. Good-bye."

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