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   Chapter 22 No.22

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 20775

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


Saluting the Commander-in-Chief, Penhallow turned away in absent mood thinking of the burdened man who had passed from sight into the White House. As he crossed Lafayette Square, he suddenly remembered that the President's request for his company had caused him to forget to look over the papers in his office of which the Secretary had spoken. It was desirable to revisit the War Department. As he walked around the statue of Andrew Jackson, he came suddenly face to face with his wife's brother, Henry Grey. For a moment he was in doubt. The man was in United States uniform, with an army cloak over his shoulders-but it was Grey. Something like consternation possessed the Federal officer. The Confederate faced him smiling, as Penhallow said, "My God! Grey, you here! a spy in our uniform! Many people know you-detection and arrest would mean-"

"Don't talk so loud, James. You are excited, and there is really no reason."

Penhallow said quietly, "I have good reason to be excited. You will walk on in front of me to Willard's Hotel. I will go with you to my rooms, where we can talk freely. Now, sir."

Grey stood still. "And suppose I decline to obey my rather positive brother-in-law."

"You are not a fool. If you were to try to escape me, and you are thinking of it, I would set on you at once any half dozen of the soldiers within call."

"In that case my revolver would settle my earthly accounts-and pleasantly relieve you."

"Don't talk. Go on ahead of me." He would not walk beside him.

"As you please." No more words passed. They moved up Pennsylvania Avenue, now at mid-day crowded with officers, soldiers, and clerks going to lunch. Grey was courteously saluting the officers he passed. This particularly enraged the man who was following him and was hopelessly trying to see how with regard to his own honour he could save this easy-going and well-loved brother of Ann Penhallow. If the Confederate had made his escape, he would have been relieved, but he gave him no least chance, nor was Grey at all meaning to take any risks. He knew or believed that his captor could not give him up to justice. He had never much liked the steady, self-controlled business man, the master of Grey Pine. Himself a light-hearted, thoughtless character, he quite failed to comprehend the agony of indecision which was harassing the federal officer. In fact, then and later in their talk, he found something amusing in the personal embarrassment Penhallow's recognition had brought upon him.

As they approached the hotel, the Confederate had become certain that he was in no kind of danger. The trapper less at ease than the trapped was after his habit becoming cool, competent and intensely watchful. The one man was more and more his careless, rather egotistic self; the other was of a sudden the rare self of an hour of peril-in a word, dangerous. As they reached the second floor, Penhallow said, "This way." Josiah in the dimly lighted corridor was putting the last shine on a pair of riding-boots. As he rose, his master said, "Stay here-I am not at home-to anybody-to any one."

He led the way into his sitting-room; Grey following said, "Excuse me," as he locked the door.

"You are quite safe," remarked his host, rather annoyed.

"Oh, that I take for granted."

James Penhallow said, "Sit down. There are cigars."

"A match please. Cigars are rare luxuries with us."

As the Confederate waited for the sulphur of the match to pass away,

Penhallow took note of the slight, delicate figure, the blue eyes like

Ann's, the well-bred face. Filling his own pipe he sat down with his back

to the window, facing his brother-in-law.

"You are very comfortable here, James. How is my sister, and your beauty,

Leila?"

"Well-very well. But let us talk a little. You are a spy in our uniform."

"That is obvious enough. I am one of many in your Departments and outside of them. What do you propose? I am sorry we met."

"My duty is to turn you over to the Provost-marshal."

"Of course, but alas! my dear James, there is my sister-you won't do it-no one would under the circumstances. What the deuce made you speak to me? You put us both in an awkward position. You became responsible for a duty you can't fulfil. I am really most sorry for you. It was a bit of bad luck."

Penhallow rose to get a match and moved about the room uneasily as Henry

Grey went on talking lightly of the situation which involved for him

possibilities of death as a spy, and for Penhallow a dilemma in which

Grey saw his own safety.

"Rather disagreeable all round, James. But I trust you won't let it worry you. I always think a man must be worried when he lets his pipe go out. There is no need to worry, and after all"-he added smiling-"you created a situation which might have been avoided. No one would have known-in a day or two we would have been talking to General Lee. An excellent cigar, James."

While his brother-in-law chatted lightly, apparently unconcerned, the Union officer was considering this way or that out of the toils woven of duty, affection and honour; but as he kept on seeking a mode of escape, he was also hearing and watching the man before him with attention which missed no word. He was barely conscious that the younger man appeared enough at ease to dare to use language which the Federal officer felt to be meant to annoy. A single word used by Grey stopped the Colonel's mental mechanism as if a forceful brake had been applied. The man before him had said carelessly, "We-we would have been talking to General Lee." The word "we" repeated itself in his mind like an echo. He too lightly despised Grey's capacity as a spy, but he had said "we." There were, it seemed, others; how many?-what had they done? This terribly simplified the game. To arrest Grey would or might be useless. Who were his companions and where were they? Once missing this confident Confederate they might escape. To question Grey would be in vain. To give him any hint that he had been imprudent would be to lose an advantage. He was so intent on the question of how to carry out a decisive purpose that he missed for the moment Grey's easy-minded talk, and then was suddenly aware that Grey was really amusing himself with a cat-and-mouse game. But now he too was at ease and became quietly civil as he filled another pipe, and with an air of despair which altogether deceived Grey said, "I see that I can do nothing, Henry. There is no reason to protract an unpleasant matter."

"I supposed you would reach this very obvious conclusion." Then unable to resist a chance to annoy a man who had given him a needless half hour not free from unpleasant possibilities, Grey rose and remarked, smiling, "I hope when we occupy this town to meet you under more agreeable circumstances."

"Sir," said Penhallow, "the painful situation in which I am placed does not give you the freedom to insult me."

The Confederate was quite unaware that the Colonel was becoming more and more a man to fear, "I beg pardon, James," he said, "I was only anticipating history." As he spoke, he stood securing a neglected button of his neat uniform. This act strangely exasperated the Colonel. "I will see you out," he said. "The buttons of the Massachusetts Third might attract attention."

"Oh, my cloak covers it," and he threw it carelessly over his shoulders.

Penhallow said, "I have confessed defeat-you may thank Ann Penhallow."

"Yes-an unfortunate situation, James. May I have another cigar? Thanks."

"Sorry I have no whisky, Grey."

"And I-How it pours! What a downfall!"

The Colonel was becoming more and more outwardly polite.

"Good-bye, Henry."

"Au revoir," said the younger man.

Penhallow went with his brother-in-law down the long corridor, neither man speaking again. As they passed Josiah, Penhallow said, "I shall want my horse at five, and shall want you with me." At the head of the stairs he dismissed his visitor without a further word. Then he turned back quickly to Josiah and said in a low voice, "Follow that man-don't lose him. Take your time. It is important-a matter of life and death to me-to know where he lives. Quick now-I trust you."

"Yes, sir." He was gone.

Grey feeling entirely safe walked away in the heavy rain with a mind at ease and a little sorry as a soldier for the hapless situation with which Penhallow had had to struggle. When we have known men only in the every-day business of life or in ordinary social relations, we may quite fail to credit them with qualities which are never called into activity except by unusual circumstances. Grey, an able engineer, regarded Penhallow as a rather slow thinker, a good man of business, and now as a commonplace, well-mannered officer. He smiled as he thought how his sister had made her husband in this present predicament what algebraists call a "negligible quantity." He would have been less easy had he known that the man he left felt keenly a sense of imperilled honour and of insult which his relation to Grey forbade him to avenge. He had become a man alert, observant, and quick to see his way and to act.

Josiah, with all his hunting instincts aroused, loitered idly after Grey in the rain, one of the scores of lazy, unnoticeable negroes. He was gone all the afternoon, and at eight o'clock found Penhallow in his room. "Did you find where he lives?" asked the Colonel.

"That man, he lives at 229 Sixteenth Street. Two more live there. They was in and out all day-and he went to shops and carried things away-"

"What kind of shops?"

"Where they sell paper and pens-and 'pothecaries."

"Sit down-you look tired." It was plain that they were soon about to move and were buying what was needed in the South-quinine, of course. But what had been their errand? He said, "Get some supper and come back soon."

Then he sat down to think. An engineer of competence lately back from Europe! His errand-their errand-must be of moment. He took a small revolver out of a drawer, put in shells, placed it in his breast pocket, and secured a box of matches. About nine, in a summer thunder-shower of wind and rain, he followed Josiah and walked to No. 229 Sixteenth Street. As he stood he asked,

"How did those men get in, Josiah?"

"All had keys. Want to get in, Colonel?"

"Yes, I want to get in. Are there any ot

hers in the house-servants-any one?"

"No, sir," Josiah said. "I went round to an alley at the back of the house. There are lights on the second storey. You can get in easy at the back, sir."

Seeing a policeman on the opposite pavement, Penhallow at once changed his plan of entrance, and crossing the street said to the policeman, "Is this your beat?"

"Yes, sir."

"Very good! You see I am in uniform. Here is my card. I am on duty at the War Department. Here is my general pass from the Provost-marshal General. Come to the gas lamp and read it. Here are ten dollars. I have to get into No. 229 on Government business. If I do not come out in thirty minutes, give the alarm, call others and go in. Who lives there?"

"It is a gambling house-or was-not now."

"Very good. This is my servant, Josiah. If I get out safely, come to Willard's to-morrow at nine-use my card-ask for me-and you will not be sorry to have helped me."

"You want to get in!"

"Yes."

"No use to ring, sir," said Josiah. "There ain't any servants and the gentlemen, they ate outside. Lord, how it rains!"

The policeman hesitated. Another ten dollar note changed owners. "Well, it isn't police duty-and you're not a burglar-"

The Colonel laughed. "If I were, I'd have been in that house without your aid."

"Well, yes, sir. Burglars don't usually take the police into their confidence. There are no lights except in the second storey. If your man's not afraid and it's an honest Government job, let him go through that side alley, get over the fence-I'll help him-and either through a window or by the cellar he can get in and open the front door for you."

Josiah laughed low laughter as he crossed the street with the officer and was lost to view. The Colonel waited at the door. In a few minutes the man returning said, "Want me with you? He got in easily."

"No, but take the time when I enter and keep near." They waited.

"Nine-thirty now, sir."

"Give me the full time."

Penhallow went up the steps and knocked at the door. It was opened and he went in. "Shut the door quietly, Josiah-open if the policeman knocks. Now, be quiet, and if you hear a shot, or a big row call the police."

The house below-stairs was in darkness. He took off his shoes and went into a room on the first floor. Striking a match, he saw only ordinary furniture. The room back of it revealed to his failing match a roulette table. He went out into the hall and up the stairs with the utmost caution to avoid noise. On the second floor the door of the front room was ajar. They must be careless and confident, he reflected as he entered. A lighted candle on a pine table dimly illuminated a room in some confusion. On the floor were two small bags half full of clothes which he swiftly searched, without revealing anything of moment. A third, smaller bag lay open on the table. It contained a number of small rolls of very thin paper, and on the table there were spread out two others. As he looked, he knew they were admirably drawn sketches of the forts and the lines of connecting works which defended the city. Making sure no more papers were to be found, he thrust all of them within his waistcoat, buttoned it securely, felt for his revolver, and listened.

In the closed back room there was much mirth and the clink of glasses. He drew near the door and felt certain that Grey was relating with comic additions his interview of the morning. Without hesitation he threw open the door as three men sprang to their feet and Grey covered him with a revolver. He said quietly, "Sorry to disturb you, gentlemen. Put down that toy, Grey."

"No, by Heaven!-not till-"

"My dear Grey, between me and that pistol stands a woman-as she stood for your safety this morning. Men who talk, don't shoot. You are all three in deadly peril-you had better hear me. I could have covered you all with my revolver. Put down that thing!"

"Put it down," said the older of the three. Grey laid the weapon on the table.

"This is not war," said Penhallow, "and you are three to one. Sit down." He set the example. "It is clear that you are all Confederate officers and spies. Let us talk a little. I came on Mr. Grey to-day by accident. It was my duty to have him arrested; but he is my wife's brother. If a pistol is heard or I am not out of this, safe, in a few minutes, the police now on guard will enter-and you are doomed men. I am presumably on Government business. Now, gentlemen, will you leave at once or in an hour or less?"

"I for one accept," said the man who had been silent.

"And I," said the elder of the party.

"On your honour?"

"Yes."

Grey laughed lightly, "Oh, of course. Our work is done. Speed the parting guest!"

"I wish," said the Colonel, rising, "to leave no misapprehension on your minds-or on that of Mr. Grey. Those admirable sketches left carelessly on the table are in my pocket. Were they not, you would all three be lost men. Did you think, Grey, that to save your life or my own I would permit you to escape with your work? Had I not these papers, your chance of death would not weigh with me a moment."

Grey started up. "Don't be foolish, Grey," said the older man. "We have played and lost. There has been much carelessness-and we have suffered for it. I accept defeat, Colonel."

Penhallow looked at the watch in his hand. "You have ten minutes grace-no, rather less. May I ask of you one thing? You are every hour in danger, but I too am aware that if this interview be talked about in Richmond or you are caught, my name may be so used as to make trouble for me, for how could I explain that to save my wife's brother I connived at the escape of Confederate officers acting as spies? I ask no pledge, gentlemen. I merely leave my honour as a soldier in your hands. Good-night, and don't delay."

Grey was silent. The older man said, "I permit myself to hope we may meet some time under more pleasant circumstances-for me, I mean,"-he added, laughing. "Good-night."

Penhallow withdrew quickly and found Josiah on guard. He said, "It is all right-but for sport it beats possum-hunting. Open the door." The rain was still falling in torrents. "All right," he said to the policeman, "come and see me to-morrow early."

"What was the matter, sir? I've got to make my report."

Then Penhallow saw the possibility of trouble and as quickly that to bribe further might only make mischief. "Do not come to the hotel, but at eleven sharp call on me at the War Department on Seventeenth Street. You have my card. By that time I shall have talked the matter over with the Secretary. I am not at liberty to talk of it now-and you had better not. It is a Government affair. You go off duty, when?"

"At six. You said eleven, sir?"

"Yes, good-night. Go home, Josiah."

The Colonel was so wet that the added contributions of water were of no moment. The soldier in uniform may not carry an umbrella-for reasons unknown to me.

Before breakfast next morning Josiah brought him a letter, left at the hotel too late in the night for delivery. He read it with some amusement and with an uncertain amount of satisfaction:

"MY DEAR J: When by evil luck I encountered you, I was sure of three things. First, that I was safe; then, that we had secured what we wanted; and last, that our way home was assured. If in my satisfaction I played the bluff game rather lightly-well, in a way to annoy you-I beg now to apologize. That I should so stupidly have given away a game already won is sufficiently humiliating, and the dog on top may readily forgive. You spoilt a gallant venture, but, by Jove, you did it well! I can't imagine how you found me! Accept my congratulations.

"Yours sincerely,

"G."

"Confound him! What I suffered don't count. He's just the man he always was-brave, of course, quixotically chivalrous, a light weight. Ann used to say he was a grown-up boy and small for his age. Well, he has had his spanking. Confound him!" He went on thinking of this gay, clever, inconsiderate, not unlovable man. "If by mishap he were captured while trying to escape, what then? He would be fool enough to make the venture in our uniform. There would be swift justice; and only the final appeal to Caesar. He was with good reason ill at ease. I might indeed have to ask the President for something."

He reconsidered his own relation to the adventure as he sat at breakfast, and saw in it some remainder of danger. At ten o'clock he was with the Secretary.

"I want," he said, "to talk to you as my old friend. You are my official superior and may order me to the North Pole, but now may I re-assume the other position for a minute and make a confidential statement?"

"Certainly, Penhallow. I am always free to advise you."

"I want to say something and to be asked no questions. Am I clear?"

"Certainly."

"Thank you. I had an extraordinary adventure yesterday. I am not at

liberty to do more than say that it put me in possession of these plans."

He spread on the table well-drawn sketches of the forts around

Washington.

Stanton's grim, bearded face grew stern. "You have my word, Penhallow. If I had not too easily given it we would have been placed in a disagreeable position. I am debarred from asking you how you came into possession of these papers. The spies who made them would have been in my power early this morning-and not even the President's weakness would have saved their necks."

Penhallow was silent, but was anxiously watching the angry Secretary, who swept the papers aside with an impatient gesture, feeling that he had been so dealt with as to be left without even the relief he too often found in outbursts of violent language. Penhallow's quiet attitude reminded him that he could not now take advantage of his official position to say what was on his mind.

"Colonel," he said, "I want a report on some better method of getting remounts for the cavalry."

"I will consider it, sir."

"What about that contract for ambulances?"

"I shall have my report ready to-morrow."

"That is all." It is to be feared that the next visitor suffered what

Penhallow escaped.

With no other orders the Colonel left, rewarded the punctual policeman and went home to write to his wife, infinitely disgusted with the life before him and behind him, and desiring no more adventures.

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