MoboReader> Literature > Westways

   Chapter 34 No.34

Westways By S. Weir Mitchell Characters: 20260

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


In her room she went straight to the long cheval glass and looked at Leila Grey. "So, he will never ask me again?" The mirror reported a quite other answer. "Mark Rivers once said conscience runs down at times like a watch. I must have forgotten to wind up mine. How could I have done it!" She blushed a little at the remembrance. "Well, he will never know." She dressed in white summer garb with unusual care and went down the stairs smiling.

"The Captain is not in yet," said the maid.

She waited long for John Penhallow, who had gone up the back stairs, and now at last came down to dinner.

"Excuse me, Leila. I was so very tired that I fell asleep in the old cabin, but I had a noble tramp, and there are some birds, not many; I shot badly." He said no word of the displaced game-bag, which made her uneasy, but talked of the mills and of some trouble at the mines about wages. She pretended to be interested.

After dinner, she said, "You will want to smoke-come into Uncle Jim's library. I like the pipe smell. How Aunt Ann detests it!"

"Has Uncle Jim gone back to his pipe?" he inquired, as she sat down.

"Yes, and Aunt Ann declares that she likes it now."

"How pleasantly you women can fib," remarked John.

She made no reply except, "Well, sometimes." He did not fill his pipe although he lighted in succession two matches and let them burn out.

"Why don't you smoke, John?" This was a vague effort at the self-defence which she felt might be needed, the mood of the hour not being at all like the mood of two hours ago.

"No," he replied, "not yet. Where did you walk-or did you walk?"

"Oh, I took a little stroll through the woods."

"Did you chance to go by the old cabin?" This was very dreadful.

"Oh, one hardly remembers if one passes places seen every day. Why do you ask, John?"-and then knew she was fatally blundering.

"Why? Oh, I fell asleep, and when I woke up my game-bag had mysteriously hung itself on the wall."

"You might have put it there and forgotten it."

"No, some one must have been in the cabin."

"Oh, John, how stupid of us! Why, of course, it was Josiah."

John was in a state of mind to enjoy the game, and shaking his head in negation said, "No, Josiah passed me long before. He had a lot of frogs he caught in Lonesome Man's Swamp."

Miss Leila having exhausted all the possible explanations, said with sweet simplicity, "Did you ever find out the origin of that name? Who was the lonesome man? You see, John, lonesome seems to stand for lonely and sad, as Mr. Rivers said." This was rather too clever, but the young woman was so near detection as not to think wisely.

John repeated her words, "Lonely and sad." He had been humorously sure of his prey, but the words she used had the effect of bringing into direct speech the appeal she had been trying to evade and knew was near at hand.

He stood leaning against the mantel, his crippled arm caught in his waistcoat. Repeating her word "lonesome" "more than merely alone"-he put aside his pipe, the companion of many camp-fires. His moment of after-silence caused the blue eyes to question timidly with upward glance as their owner sat below him. He was very grave as he said, "I have come, Leila, to a critical time in my life. I loved you in a boy's unmeaning way; I loved you as a lad and a man. I have said so often in one way or another. You told me at West Point pretty plainly that-oh, you made it clear-that I was a boy asking a woman for her heart. It was years ago."

"John, I-want to-"

"Well-later-now I mean to have my say. You were not altogether wrong. I told you that I should ask again when I had more to offer than a boy cadet. Since then I have held my tongue, or said enough to be sure that your reply made clear that my time had not yet come.

"You cannot know how much you have been a part of my life. I went gladly into the war because it was a righteous cause. No man thinks as he goes into action, this is for my country, but-well, Leila, many times when men were falling around me, you have been with me. If a fatal ball had found me, I should have carried with me to another world a thought of you. This is not mere lover's talk. I believe in you-you are a noble-minded woman, worthy of any man's love, but"-and he smiled-"as Josiah put it, you are rather numerous."

"Am I?-I am much obliged by Josiah's study of my character."

"Don't, please, Leila! It is true. I have been as good as my word. I have been through all that can tempt in camps and cities. I was only a young officer, but I have won praise from men whose praise is history. Did you ever think that an honest love may be to a man like a second-an angelic-conscience? By Heaven! Leila, it should make a woman careful."

The woman's eyes had long since been lost to the man's, as with bent head she listened intently, for the first time amazed at what she had been to a man whose ideals were of the highest and his ways beyond reproach. A coy upward lift of the proudly carried head-a mere glance of transient reply-too brief for the man to read-might have meant, "Have not I too been careful of my life!"

He went on slowly. "You and I have not been spared the discipline of responsibility. Action, danger-helps a man. You at home have had the worst of it-you dear, sweet, beautiful thing. It would have made some women peevish or rebellious. You have grown under it in mind and heart, and I think the soul has fed the dear body. To have set you free from Aunt Ann's morbid unreason and the sorrow of Uncle Jim's condition would have been enough to repay my taking over responsibilities which Aunt Ann should have borne."

"John-I-"

"No, dear, let me say a word more. I have at last talked myself out-or almost. It is vain to put me aside again. You do not dare to say you do not love me-"

"You have not asked me," she murmured.

"No, I said I would not yesterday. A tender word would have brought me to your feet-and I was very sore."

"If you were a woman, you would have understood and-"

"Oh, wait a little," he said. "You are going to ask me to marry you, Leila Grey-" She was on her feet. "Take care," he cried, and a smile on the strong battle-tried face arrested her angry outburst.

She said only, "Why?-I ask-you-why indeed?"

"Because, Leila, you owe it to my self-respect-because you have given that which implies love, and all I ask-"

She looked up at him with eyes that implored pity, but all she found herself able to say was, "I don't understand."

"You kissed me in the cabin this afternoon-I was not asleep-I had half risen when I heard you, and I fell back in wondering quiet to see what you would do or say when you should wake me up."

She was silent.

"And then you kissed me-"

"Oh, John! how wicked of you-why did you keep so still?"

"I waited-longing."

"For what?"

"Hoping you would kiss me again."

"What! twice?" she cried. "How could you think I would kiss you twice-I was so ashamed-"

"Well, Leila?"

She began to feel that she was perilously close to tears, as he said softly, "Leila Grey!"

"John Penhallow, will you take me-oh, John! I love you."

He caught her hand and touched it with his lips reverently.

"If," she cried, "if you do not give me back my kiss, I shall die of shame."

He bent over her and kissed her forehead lightly, as though he were in fear of too familiar approach to a thing too sacred for a rude caress. A great surf-like rush of comprehension swept over the woman. "Was I so loved as this-so honoured?" Then she said suddenly, "You are pale-are you in pain?" for she saw him grasp the wounded arm and set his teeth.

"Yes, yes-sometimes-when things happen-it wakes up and reminds me. I shall be better in a moment. Take care"-for her arms were around him-"I think, dear, I am not yet as strong as I shall be-but love is a great tonic, and-I can bear no more to-night. I am in pain. I fear this has been too much for me."

Then he kissed her on lips that took it as a great draft from the fountain of youth and love. "To-morrow, dear, we will ride together-in the morning. Ah, together!"

"Where-Jack?"

"Oh, into fairyland! God bless you! Great Heavens, how beautiful you are!

Good-night!"

She fell into a seat as he went out, and heard his feet on the stair-then he stood beside her again.

"Leila, forgive me-I was hard-uncourteous-to make you say-"

"Hush!" she cried, between tears and laughter, as she put her hand over his mouth, "no one shall abuse my Jack-not even Captain Penhallow. There, sir! I deserved it." She ran by him, and was gone.

I have not the pass-words into fairyland, and where they rode that morning in September is not within my knowledge; nor can I say what adventures they may have met with. The byways of this enchanted land here and there by ill-luck come near to the haunts of men, who may catch glimpses of such as ride through fairyland unsuspicious of other eyes. Billy neglectful of mails this morning, was on the river bobbing for eels. To be long attentive to anything was for him impossible, wherefore his wandering gaze caught sight for a moment through the fringe of willows of two people riding slowly. He saw with amazement that on horseback in fairyland the feat of kissing is possible.

Some hours later, my lovers, feeling as John wickedly quoted, that "the world is too much with us," rode into Westways to get Billy's neglected mail.

Mr. Crocker, lean and deaf, at ease in charge of the grocery counter, sat unoccupied in his shirt sleeves, while Mrs. Crocker bent over the mail she had sorted. There were letters for the little group of village folk, who read them at once as they sat on the step or as they moved away stumbling along the sidewalk.

Mrs. Crocker sallied out with a batch of letters. "Quite a lot, Captain.

Good-morning, Leila."

"Mail these, Mrs. Crocker," said the travellers fresh from fairyland.

"I saw some was from the Squire and some from Mrs. Penhallow-Squire's writing better."

"You wicked Mrs. Crocker," said John, "how much you pick up of folk's secrets,

I should like to know-"

"Secrets!" laughed Leila. "They can't be read on the outside of letters."

Then Mrs. Crocker on the sidewalk to them on horseback began to talk.

John seeing that Leila was interested and amused sat still and listened.

"Secrets," exclaimed the post-mistress, "ain't all inside of letters. They're on the envelopes sometimes. Oh! I've seen 'em in war time, letters that looked like they'd been out in the rain-sort of blistered; and people here in those days just tore open their letters and laughed or cried." Mrs. Crocker caught her breath and paused.

"I know, John," said Leila in a low aside.

"And there used to come back from the front letters marked 'missing' or 'can't be found.' Folks used to come in gay and go away with a letter just crumpled up in a hand. And now it's all over-and up you come right gallant and happy. Here comes old Granny Lamb tottering along. I'd invent a letter from that brute if I could. I tell you, Leila, mother-hope dies hard."

"It is sad-dreadful. Come, John."

"One minute, please," said Mrs. Crocker, "I'm not half done. I tell you, Captain John, there's a heap of human nature comin' and goin' through a post-office. Well, good-bye."

They rode away to Grey Pine exchanging bits from their letters. Their uncle and aunt would be home in a week. "Sooner-if they get the letter I mailed last night," laughed Leila.

"I should like to have seen it."

"No doubt."

At the open avenue gate Josiah was waiting. He saluted in soldier fashion, Penhallow acknowledging the greeting in like manner.

Josiah said, "Wouldn't you just let me have a minute with the Captain?"

Leila laughed. "Certainly." She rode away wondering what Josiah had to report alone to the man who for him was and always would he Captain despite the old custom of the regular army.

"Well, Josiah-nothing wrong, I trust."

"No, sir-everything just entirely right-but first I got to ask your advice. I've had a letter from the Colonel-he just says some things ought to make a man kind of blush."

John had the odd thought that a blush must be the securely private property of a fellow as black as this grey-headed old friend. "What does he say, Josiah?"

"He wants to give me a farm."

"Well, why not-you have earned a dozen."

"I'd like it-but-if you're goin' to marry Miss Leila, I'd rather live with you."

"Good Heavens!" said the traveller out of fairyland, "what put that in your head?"

Josiah smiled. "You'll please to excuse me, Captain-but I thought I ought to tell you about that fool Billy. He was bobbin' for eels-and-he saw you go by-"

"Well, what else?"

"He met me and he said, 'Saw Mr. John kissin' Miss Leila!' He was off like a shot singin' out 'Goin' to get married, sure.' It will be all over Westways by noon, sir."

John laughed. "Well, it's true, Josiah-Confound Billy! Well, what more?"

"Oh, I would rather live with you. The Colonel wants to give me a farm-don't want any farm."

"Well, well-we'll see about it later."

"The trouble would be, sir, who's to shave the Colonel?"

"That's serious," said John, as he rode away to rejoin Leila, who had meant to keep their secret from the village until their aunt's return. Three days went by before Ann Penhallow's letter of reply came to hand.

"Well, any more news, Leila?" said John.

"Yes, but not altogether pleasant-I am to leave early tomorrow. Uncle Jim will meet me in Philadelphia-and, oh! I know Aunt Ann well-there will be no end of shopping."

"I should feel worse about it, Leila, but I see by one of my letters that there is some row in Pittsburgh over our last rails. I am not responsible, but I must go to-night and see about it. Isn't it dreadful, Leila?"

The two having come of late into a great inheritance in fairyland demanding close personal attention were at one as regarded absence.

After dinner Leila said, "My order to report to headquarters from heart-quarters was in the second post-script. I have saved the rest of the letter for you."

"Read it, please."

"MY DEAR CHILDREN: You are a pair of young ostriches-you know what they do. Did you suppose a middle-aged ostrich could not use her eyes? I did think it took a quite needless length of time."

"Isn't that absurd, John, as if-"

"Well, what more?"

She read on-"I dislike long engagements-"

"Now, that is better, Leila."

"Your uncle says you must live at Grey Pine. I said, no-young married people had better be alone. He must build you a house on the river nearer the mills. I am making a list of what furniture you will require-"

"There is more of that-much more, John, and a list of things to be done before her return. Isn't that like what aunt was before the war?"

John laughed. "Well, she will have her way."

"More or less," said Leila. "Oh, there's another postscript!"

"Well?"

"I think you should be married about Christmas week. Of course, Mark Rivers will marry you, and I shall ask the Bishop to assist, when I see him on our way home. Don't fail to write to both your uncles."

"It is certainly complete," said John. He left for Pittsburgh that night.

* * * * *

I have little to add to this long story. The days went by swiftly, and after a week all of the family, except John, were once more together at Grey Pine. Mark Rivers had also returned. He was too evidently in one of his moods of sombre silentness, but his congratulations were warm and as he sat at dinner he made unusual efforts to be at his agreeable best.

When they left the table, he said, "No, Colonel, I shall not smoke to-night. May I have a few minutes of your time, Mrs. Penhallow?"

"Certainly, Mark-I want to talk to you about the Bible Class-I mean to take it up again." She led the way into her own little library. "Sit down-there is so much to talk over. Of course, you will marry these dear children somewhere about Christmas time."

"No," he said, "I shall be far away."

"Away! Oh, Mark! surely you do not mean to leave us."

"Yes, I am going to live as a missionary among the Indians."

"You cannot-you really cannot-where could you be more useful than here?"

"No, I must go. My life on the whole has been most happy here-and how to thank you I fail to be able to say."

"But why," she urged, "why do you go?"

"Oh-I want-I must have an active life, open air, even risks. The war gave me what I need for entire competence of body and mind to use in my Master's service. But now, the war is at an end-"

"Thank God! But all you ask-and more-Mark, except danger, are here-and oh, but we shall miss you, and more than ever when we miss too these children. Think of it-don't make up your mind until James talks to you-"

"No, I go to-morrow."

"But it does seem to me, Mark, that you are making a serious change without sufficient consideration of what you lose and we lose."

"Yes, yes," he returned, "I know-but to remain is for me impossible."

"But why?"

He was silent a moment, looking at this dear friend with the over-filled eyes of a troubled and yet resolute manhood. Then he said, "I did not mean to tell you why in my weakness flight alone will save me from what has been to me unbearable here and ever will be."

"Can I in any way help you?"

"No."

"But what is it-trust me a little-what is it?"

He hesitated, and then said, "It is Leila Grey! God pity my weakness, and you will say good-bye and give the Squire this note and them my love." He was gone.

The woman sat still for an hour, pitiful, and understanding the flight of a too sensitive man. Then she gave her husband the note, with her good-night, and no other word. Of why her friend had gone she said later nothing, except to defend him for his obedience to the call of duty. Late that evening John returned.

When after breakfast next day he and Leila were riding through the wood-roads of the forest, John said, "I cannot or I could not see why Mr. Rivers went away so abruptly."

"Nor I," said Leila. Then there was one of those long silences dear to lovers.

"What are you thinking of, Jack?"

"Uncle Jim told me last night the story of the early life of Mark

Rivers."

"Tell it to me."

He told it-"But," he continued, "that was not all of him. I have heard Mr. Rivers hold at the closest attention a great crowd of soldiers with that far-carrying voice; and then to hear as he led them singing the old familiar hymns-perhaps a thousand men-oh, it was a thing to remember! And they loved him, Leila, because behind the battle line he was coolly, serviceably brave; and in the hospital wards-well, as tender as-well, as you would have been. I wondered, Leila, why he did not marry again. The first was a mistake, but I suppose he knew that for him to marry would have been wrong, with that sad family history. Probably life never offered him the temptation."

"Perhaps not," said Leila, and they rode out of the woods and over the meadows. "Let us talk of something less sad."

"Well, Leila, a pleasant thing to discuss is Tom McGregor. I suspect him of a fortunate love affair with the daughter of the General at Fortress Monroe."

"Indeed-but what else? Oh, our own great debt to him!"

"Uncle Jim is considering that. We may trust him to be more than generous. Yes, surely. Now for a run over this grass. Can you take that fence?"

"Can I, indeed! Follow me, Jack."

"Anywhere. Everywhere, Leila!"

THE END

Books by

Dr. S. Weir Mitchell

Fiction

HUGH WYNNE.

CONSTANCE TRESCOT.

THE YOUTH OF WASHINGTON.

CIRCUMSTANCE.

THE ADVENTURES OF FRAN?OIS.

THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A QUACK.

DR. NORTH AND HIS FRIENDS.

IN WAR TIME.

ROLAND BLAKE.

FAR IN THE FOREST.

CHARACTERISTICS.

WHEN ALL THE WOODS ARE GREEN.

A MADEIRA PARTY.

THE RED CITY.

HEPHZIBAH GUINNESS.

A COMEDY OF CONSCIENCE.

A DIPLOMATIC ADVENTURE.

THE GUILLOTINE CLUB.

JOHN SHERWOOD, IRONMASTER.

WESTWAYS.

Essays.

DOCTOR AND PATIENT.

WEAR AND TEAR.-HINTS FOR THE OVERWORKED.

Poems.

COLLECTED POEMS.

THE WAGER, AND OTHER POEMS.

THE COMFORT OF THE HILLS.

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