In War Time
WHEN Wendell told his sister of the state of things at the Mortons’, she said that he would have been wise to have stayed with them that night, because the first effect of such intelligence was always “so upsetting,” as she phrased it; and besides, with her warmer recognition of the calamities of others, she felt that it was just the moment to add the friend to the doctor, and to do more than was asked. Wendell saw the truth of this, but not so clearly as when he was called from his bed that night to visit his patient, who had become increasingly feverish, and had insisted on having the doctor at once. Then Wendell offered to sleep at the house, until the major grew better, and his offer being gladly accepted, arrangements were made to send the carriage for him every night about ten o’clock.
The constant and familiar intercourse with the Mortons, into which the doctor was thus thrown, became of great use to him. It gentled him, as the old English word has it; and, with the natural quickness of an American, he saw and assimilated a good deal of what was most akin to his tastes, which tended towards easy acceptance of whatever was pleasant or graceful. Moreover, all of these people interested him, and were some of them as novel to his former social experiences as would have been the flora of another planet to his botanical knowledge.
The Mortons, like many other of the older Pennsylvania families, had once, in very early colonial times, been Quakers, or, as they even yet preferred to say, “Friends.” They had, however, long since deserted the following of Penn, or, what was more probable, had in stricter days been cut off from the society for breaches of discipline, and were now, and had long been, “world’s people ” to other Mortons, their kinsfolk, who came to the house at times, and were as well satisfied with their ancestry as with the polish of their old plate, or the ineffable silk of their marvelous bonnets. There came also many visitors representing staid families who had lived since Penn’s settlement in or near the old borough of Germantown, and who had the distinctiveness and individuality of people long hedged about by unchanging circumstances. Their young folks mostly slipped away to the calmly growing city, or went to New York, and were then interiorly and vaguely regarded by aged aunts as lost souls. Those who remained in the ancient homesteads, and lived and died adhesive to the soil, held a certain distinct social place and position, passively yielded rather than demanded. It was not always easy to see why a few of these breeds had won early in colonial life, and held so steadily, their places on the upper levels of society. It may have been sometimes because of the general possession of shrewdness and business capacity, the cumulative quality, or that, among numberless commonplace people of their race, each generation produced one or two who rose to distinction, and thus illustrated a name and sustained its influence.
The little straggling town, with its long main street and outlying lanes, was full of such people as these ; whilst also there were frequent visitors from the city, relatives or friends of the Mortons, — quiet Philadelphians, with set ways, and seemingly as much alike as their marble doorsteps, yet ready with an odd fund of undeveloped enterprise for emergencies, if they were sufficiently important.
To many of these people Wendell was more or less an interesting person, as a new comer and the attendant of a man of social importance and of large fortune, and found this position by no means unpleasant. He amused Morton, who liked people to talk for him, and who himself never talked more than he could help ; so that, had it not been for the occasional breakdowns in his patient’s case, his doctor would have felt, on the whole, that his own life was becoming more and more easy and agreeable.
All this while the war was moving on, and of its fortunes and their influences the little village had its share. There were families whom it tore asunder, and others whom it doomed to mourn their noblest. There were those of the Society of Friends who looked on it as wrong, from beginning to end, but who expended time and money on hospitals and the wounded ; while now and then some resolute young fellow, like the famous Free Quakers of the Revolutionary War, would defy the society and the overseers, and go off to the front. These gallant backsliders from the creed of Penn and Barclay generally made themselves heard of in the struggle, and helped to make up a healthy average of active pugnacity for many a kindly, quiet stock which had struck no blow in anger for a century and a half. Out of it all came an increase of life, a freshening of national vitality, which was felt most in the centres of population, and which, stirring all social classes, developed for good or ill whatever there was susceptible of outgrowth alike in old and young. Certainly, no period in the history of our race was ever more interesting.
“ I am seventeen, and over,” said Arthur Morton; “ and next year, by George, I’d like to see what will keep me out of this war ! I am so big now, I ’m ashamed to have a girl look at me in the street, and I always feel sure that she is saying, ‘There’s a fellow who ought to be at the front.’ ”
“ Bother, Arty ! I don’t believe they think of you at all,” said the elder brother.
“ Well, perhaps not; but I think of myself.”
“ Oh, doubtless.”
“ Come, Ned, don’t chaff me about this. When a Quaker like Fox thinks it his duty to go ” —
“ Must be an awful let-up to a Quaker,” replied Edward. “ But look here, old man,” he went on, as he bent over the table, sketching fancy heads on the margins of a morning paper: “ there are two sides to this question ; and after all, you could n’t go now, the way father is. I am of less and less use every day. Don’t talk about it to mother; and if you are down about it, Arty, just think what I must be. Think what I must be !”
“ That won’t help me,” said the boy. “ Because you can’t go is no reason why I should not. In fact, that is an additional reason why I ought to go. But I suppose there is no use in talking about it now ! ”
“ No, there is no use. And I say, old man, don’t talk to me about it any more ; not till you must, anyhow ! Damn it, Art — I — I can’t stand it ! I hate books. I never read any. I detest this quiet, humdrum life of our great towns. I love a horse and a gun, and — and — Arty, I shall never have them any more, — never ! ” he repeated, throwing down his pencil.
“ Yes, you will, Ned; I am sure you will.”
“ Then you are sure without cause. This war will be over, and I shall have struck no blow in it ; and, Arty, don’t you go to thinking it romantic, but when I look ahead, and know how all the man in me is going to shrivel up by degrees, and that — oh, brother, I might have ridden with Custer, and died man-like in some wild rush of battle ! Oh, by George, old fellow, I am just like a fish on dry land. I think I begin to understand what Mrs. Westerley meant, last week, when she said that there was a certain completeness of calamity that approached the ludicrous. However, I can tell you one thing: you will never hear me complain again. I have said my say. A fellow must have his growl out to somebody.”
“I would stay at home, if I could make it so you could go,” said Arthur, who had a boy’s admiration of the elder brother. “ I wish they had some fellows like you in command of that Potomac army.”
“Pshaw! I can’t command myself, even, as you may see. Don’t spread yourself on me as a hero, and above all not a word to mother. Does n’t it seem, sometimes, as if life were one great muddle, Arty? Give me my stick. Here’s the doctor and Mrs. Westerley, and there comes Mr. Wilmington up the road. What a covey of queer birds! ”
After the doctor had gone upstairs, the young men went out to the porch to join Mrs. Westerley, when Mr. Wilmington rode up on his tall sorrel thoroughbred, which not many people cared to mount.
The slightly built old gentleman, with an uncommonly red face and a nose inclined to purple, was on his feet in an instant, and bowing over the widow’s hand in an antiquated and formal fashion. He immensely admired her when she was present, and entirely disapproved of her when she was absent.
“ Charmed to see you, Mrs. Westerley,” he said, raising his large gray eyes, with something quaintly solemn in their gaze.
“ And how are your nieces ? ” she asked.
“ Very well, thank you.”
“ And is there any afternoon news ? ”
“ None, I believe. But as Mr. Addison says, ‘ The steps of time ’ — Bother ! I wish Susie were here ! She always knows what it is — As Mr. Addison ” —
“ Yes, about Robinson Crusoe, and the footsteps on the sands of time,” said the widow, viciously, while the two lads exchanged a surreptitious smile of amusement.
“No,” ejaculated Wilmington calmly, “ that is n’t it! How is your father, boys ? ”
“ Much the same, sir. He wants to see you when the doctor goes.”
“ Well, I will wait.”
“ What a lovely day ! ” said Mrs. Westerley.
“ Yes, the day seems quite lovely,” assented Wilmington.
“ But vve want rain.”
“ Yes, we want rain very much.”
“ Our wells are nearly dry ” —
“ Indeed, mine is quite dry.”
“ But luckily weather does not affect wine at all, I am told ; at least, not madeira.”
“ No, I don’t think weather affects wine, but the moon does.”
“ And when are you coming over to taste my madeira, Mr. Wilmington ? I am told it is good; but Major Morton said, last spring, that it needed care, — like myself, he was kind enough to add. Come to-morrow, and take care of some of it for me. You know that when we are out of town we dine at three. I don’t want to make a big dinner while the major is ill, but I will ask Doctor Wendell, — I want to ask him. And, Edward, I suppose you won’t care to come ? ”
“ No. Mother’s all the time urging me to leave the house, but I can’t do it ; I really cannot.”
“ Well, then, I must find some one else. Shall it be to-morrow, Mr. Wilmington ? ”
“ Nothing could give me greater pleasure,” said the old gentleman. “ At three to-morrow, madam. At three, you said ? ”
Wendell also received his invitation ; and when the widow added, “ You know they are quite informal, — our summer dinings. Don’t put on a dress-coat,” he thanked her, and went away pleased and a trifle puzzled. To be told what he was to wear struck him as comical.
“ I will walk with you,” said Edward, “ if you are not in a hurry, and will give me your arm.”
“ How are you doing?” asked the doctor, as they moved away.
“ I am worse, doctor. I walk badly, and I try in vain to hide it from mother.” Then pausing a moment, he added, “Shall I go down hill rapidly? You may be sure that I am fully prepared to hear the worst you can tell me ; and frankly, I would rather know what I have to expect. Just answer me two or three questions, will you ? ”
“If you really wish it.”
“Yes, I do wish it. Shall I lose all use of my legs ? ”
“ No, I think not.”
“Will my head suffer? Shall I lose my mind ? That’s not — or at least it was not — as good as my legs; but still, when it is all there is left ” —
“No; that does n’t often happen in these troubles.”
“ Then I shall still be of a little use at home, and no worse off than some ugly girl whom no one wants to marry ! ” After a pause he again spoke ; “ There is, I suppose, not the faintest chance that I shall ever be well enough to sit a horse ? ”
“ Hardly, I think ; but while there is life there is hope.”
Wendell was ashamed of this stupid commonplace of consolation, but in truth he did not know what to say.
“ And to think of all the healthylegged idiots who can go to the front, and are dawdling about Newport and Saratoga ! Oh, doctor — By Heaven, but it’s hard ! ”
“ Yes,” replied Wendell, “it is hard,” and walked in silence. He felt in a vague way for the lad, but did not know what to say. He tried to put himself, mentally, in this young fellow’s place, but neither his experiences nor his intelligence suggested to him just what he ought to say ; for although a dreamily imaginative man, he was possessed of none of that realistic, half-dramatic faculty, which in its highest developments and united with tenderness constitutes the genius of sympathy. With all his love of poetry and of nature, he lacked this precious gift.
“ Yes, it is hard, — it is very hard,” he continued, after a pause ; and so saying regretted the distinctness with which he had answered the young man’s straightforward queries. He had left himself none of the usual vaguely consolatory doubts on which the over-questioned doctor is apt to fall back.
“ I did n’t expect you to say anything to comfort me,” said Edward. “ What I really wanted was the truth.”
“ You asked me to be frank,” returned Wendell, who did not easily recognize a direct nature, and was apt to search his index of human motives under other than the obvious headings for what was plainly to be read on the page before him, and who fancied no one could want a cruel truth set before him in its nakedness. Had he been a true woman, he would have been touched by the manliness and moral courage of the young fellow’s questions. Had he been a more masculine man, he would have met them with sympathetic appreciation.
“ Yes,” repeated Edward, “ I asked you to be frank, and I am really very thankful, sir, that you have told me everything. It must be hard for a doctor to do this,” said the lad, with a slight tremor about his lips, and with a strange and thoughtful gentleness, “ and perhaps I ought to have saved you the annoyance of telling me. In fact, I did think of writing; but it came out, somehow, just now, in spite of my not being quite ready. On the whole, it is just as well.”
“ I thought so, poor boy! He did not really want the truth,” said Wendell to himself ; not seeing how much the lad had considered the doctor’s embarrassing share in the matter, nor how completely he had overrated the doctor’s sympathetic reluctance to be unpleasantly outspoken.
There are delicate overtones of unselfishness which belong only to the purest and sweetest natures refined by the truest good-breeding. They are of the very poetry of social conduct. The lad was full of them; hut Wendell unfortunately was one whose sensibility to moral harmonies failed of hearing-power for these higher notes of the gamut of character.
He answered young Morton with a few phrases of ordinary consolation, to which the latter made no reply, save to drop now and then a simple affirmative. In fact, he was lost to the passing moments, and was sadly looking back upon a world of action, and forward to a world of passive inactivity. Then he suddenly set these thoughts aside for a calmer hour, and, stopping, put out his hand.
“ You have been a good friend to me,” he said. “ Do watch my father well, and keep an eye on mother, too. So far she bears her troubles admirably ; but what with father’s state and my own miserable bothers, it would n’t surprise me to see her break down.”
“ Her power of endurance is certainly remarkable,” returned Wendell. “ Indeed, I was surprised, yesterday, to see how she could turn aside from it all. When I came downstairs, after seeing your father alone, I found her quite amused over Hester’s comments on those queer plant caricatures of Grandville.”
“Yet,” said Edward, “my mother is not very fond of young girls. But I think Hester really delights her. You do not know that years and years ago we lost a little sister, and that ever since then mother has seemed to take no interest at all in girls. It is a thing I never could quite understand. I have seen her put herself out of the way to avoid talking to them, or being long with them. But she appears to take to Hester in a way I cannot see through — I don’t mean — what I mean is that the girl is so gay, and alive, and full of childish surprises, of odd ideas, that any one must like her ; but mother, in my memory, has never shown any pleasure in a little girl. I say all this, doctor, because it may make you feel that Hester is a good person to have in our house.”
“ Thanks,” said Wendell. “ I have sometimes hesitated ” —
“ Well, don’t, then ! She will always be welcome, — as welcome as you ; and that is saying a good deal. Good-night, doctor, and once again, thank you.”
“ Shall I give you my arm back to the house ? ”
“ Oh, no,” replied Edward, laughing. “I shall hobble along slowly. Goodnight.”
Ezra Wendell was gratified at the prospect of dining with Mrs. Westerley, and not less that Mr. Wilmington was to be of the party. He knew that the old gentleman was something of a force in the Morton household, and a man socially well considered everywhere; and the doctor overestimated such influences, as people are apt to overestimate the values, social or other, of taciturn persons. Then also Mrs. Morton, who had now taken Wendell’s fortunes in charge, had told him that Mr. Wilmington had spoken about consulting him in regard to his gout. The doctor was pleased, too, because Morton was somewhat better in the morning; so that altogether his sensitiveness of temperament was agreeably dealt with by events, and he went with more than usual cheerfulness through his day’s work, trying to suppress the feeling that there was anything unusual in the matter of dining with a handsome and sprightly woman.
Mrs. Westerley was a lady by no means given to half measures. She had for the present “ lost her heart to these utterly unconventional people, my dear.”
It was a question how long the loss would continue, but at the time we speak of she had socially adopted the doctor, and meant not only that he should succeed medically, but also that the little aristocracy of the neighborhood should accept him in social relations. All men interested Mrs. Westerley, and this one was to her a quite novel, and therefore a valuable, variety of the genus homo. Moreover, just at present she was somewhat bored, which, to do her justice, was rare, since, as a rule, her means of amusement were as varied as the hours allowed. She had married young, and within a year had lost her husband by an accident. She had mourned him in due fashion, and then had abruptly laid aside her widow’s weeds, and crossed the ocean, to become a favorite in pleasant circles, and to return, after several winters, the same gay, light-hearted woman as before. What lay beneath this joyous masquerade only one woman — Mrs. Morton— knew, and the daws believed that Alice Westerley had no heart to wear upon her sleeve.
At present, she was bent upon attracting as well as helping the new doctor, and she was hardly less inclined to please his sister, as, like some few women, she enjoyed, next to her male conquests, those of her own sex. Of Miss Wendell, she as yet knew nothing, except that Mrs. Morton described her as a “ very nice, plain kind of person, who does n’t wear cuffs, and who, of all women, could not possibly interest you, my dear.”
Nevertheless, Mrs. Westerley ordered her ponies at eleven o’clock, and, with a critical look at groom and harness, she set off on a round of errands, with the intention of calling last upon Miss Wendell. Presently, as she drove down the main street, she pulled up suddenly, with an abruptness to which her ponies were not altogether unused.
“ Mr. Fox ! ” she cried, “ Mr. Fox ! ” An erect, broadly built man, of more than middle height, clean-shaven and of fair color, approached her carriage. “ I should have called you ‘colonel,’” she said. “ I heard you were at home on leave. Come and dine with me at three. As to my human ménu, there is a clever doctor for my piece of resistance, and old Wilmington, and myself.”
The colonel was in undress uniform, and said quietly, “ Yes, I would like it; but may I go away early ? And, by the way, I have n’t the sign of a civilized dress, — only my police uniform,” and he looked round at his shoulderstraps, smiling.
“ As to uniform,” she replied, “ I will try to bear it. I am an awful copperhead, you know. But we dine at three, as we always do in summer. As to going away early, yon may; but I am sure you won’t. And I forgot to say that I have some tremendous madeira.”
The colonel’s brown eyes lifted. “ I will come, even at the risk of storing up awful retributive memories for days in camp, when the fare is beans and bacon.”
“ Three o’clock, then. Good-by,” and she drove away. “ Gracious,” she exclaimed. “what an escape! If I had had to leave my doctor to talk madeira with Wilmington ! What nice eyes the man has ! ”
Her errands done, the ponies drew up beneath the lindens in front of Dr. Wendell’s house. There was no need to ring. Hester Gray was sitting on the stoop at the door, in the warm October sunshine, surrounded by a queer little museum of miscellaneous objects, over which the widow’s eyes passed, amazed. There were two glass preserving jars, with a spray or two of leaves in each, on which some green and gold caterpillars were patiently browsing. In the girl’s lap was a large land turtle and several square paper boxes, as well as an open blank book, in which she was pasting very neatly a brilliant collection of autumn leaves. She looked up pleasantly, and setting aside her work rose to her feet.
“ Why, Hester, what is all this ? ” asked Mrs. Westerley.
“ I just brought out my caterpillars to have some sun,” the girl replied. “ Dr. Wendell says they like it, and this one is making a cocoon. Shall I take out the big green one ? ”
“ Oh, dear, no ! ” returned the widow ; “ it might disturb him. And what is that curious beast doing, on his hind legs ? I really think he must be saying his prayers.”
“ Not he ! ” cried Hester, laughing. “ And do you want to see my leaves, Mrs. Westerley ? ”
“ Not now, my dear. Run and tell your aunt I am here.”
“ Aunt ? Oh, you know she is not my aunt,” returned Hester, tranquilly.
“ Of course, I know. I mean Miss Wendell.”
“ Yes.” And carefully setting aside her menagerie, the child said, “ Please to come in. I will call Miss Ann.”
Mrs. Westerley entered the parlor, and, wandering about, took a pleased survey of its appearance. “ I wonder,” she said to herself, “where that Delft bowl came from. The mark is good,” she added, examining it critically. “ And the books,” she exclaimed, with renewed curiosity, turning to the table,— “ what a droll assortment! Swedenborg, Divine Love and Wisdom, Browning, Hakewill’s Apologia, — gracious heavens, does any one read a book that big ? — Ford’s plays, Edwards on the Will, Quarles’ Emblems. I should like to know who reads which, as Arty says.”
“Oh, Miss Wendell,” she exclaimed, turning to greet Ann with one of her most charming smiles, “ how pleasant to find you at home ! ”
“ Will you sit down ? ” said Ann, composedly. “ My brother told me that you were coming to see me. I am sure you are very kind. It is quite neighborly.”
“ Of course I should come. What a lovely room you have! So much color! You must have studied the effects a good deal.”
“ I am afraid,” rejoined Ann, “ that I don’t think much of the colors. If I can only keep it clean, I am more than satisfied.”
“ But one of you must think a good deal about matters of taste. That Bartolozzi is not only beautiful, but it is a proof and very rare.”
“ My brother Ezra is responsible for these small extravagances. He says that they make life easier; but when I have to dust them, — and I assure you that is very often, — I know he is mistaken in that view of them. If he were the housekeeper, he would find that so many little things make life a good deal harder! I don’t mean it is a matter really to make a fuss over.”
This candid expression of domestic difficulties amused and puzzled the widow a little, but she replied, “ Indeed, I have much the same troubles, and servants do break things. Don’t you find that they break things ? ”
“ No,” said Ann, simply. “ I do all the dusting myself, and I am careful, very careful, because brother values all these prints and bits of china.”
“ And how beautiful and charming they are ! I was looking at that bowl on the mantel, before you came down. It is Delft, and very good Delft.”
“ Yes, that is one of the few things from home. I believe it came to Scituate in the Speedwell. My brother says that it belonged to an ancestress of ours, a Mistress Elizabeth Blossom. There is something about her and her father in a book we have. I think they came over in 1640. How far away it seems ! and now this bowl is all there is left on earth to remember her by.”
Mrs. Westerley was interested. There was a mild flavor of gentility in this ancient Pilgrim breed, keeping, in its insignificant existence on the shores of Cape Cod, some pride of long descent.
“ And you are proud,” said the widow, of your stern Puritan blood. I think I should be.”
“ Oh, but we were not Puritans,” returned Ann ; “ we were Pilgrims, you know. There is a great difference.”
Mrs. Westerley did not know, but she put the matter aside for future reference, saying, —
“ Of course, — yes, of course. But do you know, your brother does n’t seem to me like a New Englander ? ”
“ Does n’t he ? I never thought of it at all, myself. Why does n’t he ? ”
“ Well, really, I could hardly say, but he does not.” She had in her own mind an idea that there was about Wendell a certain softness of manner which was Southern in its character ; but this was not quite the thing she desired to say, and so she added, “ He talks more like a Marylander, I think.”
“ I don’t know that I ever was called on to notice that, but it may be that he does.”
“ Have you heard him say to-day what he thinks of Major Morton? ”
“ No ; I have not seen him since his morning visit.”
“I think you would feel pleased if you could hear how the Mortons speak of him. He has been so good, and so gentle with the major; and perhaps you have little idea of that man’s irritability! Indeed, I can’t understand how any one could get on with him as your brother does. He must have a perfect temper.”
Ann’s face flushed with honest delight. “ No one,” she said, “ knows how good he is.” Then her heart opened to this woman who so intelligently appreciated the brother. “ It is such a pleasure for me to feel that he is living where he has a chance to show what he is; and you know I could n’t expect every one to feel just as I do about him.”
“ But you see you were wrong,” returned Mrs. Westerley ; and then, knowing that she had perhaps dwelt quite enough on Dr. Wendell, she added, “ And how good he is to the child ! It must be rather a grave business to have a girl suddenly left on your hands. Let me say, once for all, that if in any way I can help you about Hester, you must come to me without hesitation. Will you, now ? ” and she took Ann Wendell’s hand.
“ Yes, I will, if there be any need.”
“ And you won’t forget ? I really mean it.”
“ No, I will do as you say ; ” on which Mrs. Westerley rose, feeling that she had achieved the purpose of her visit, and went out to her ponies, with a kiss from the child, who was still at the open door with her pets, in the sunshine.
Mrs. Alice Westerley lived in a modern house on one of the lanes which border the battlefield of Germantown, and her windows looked over the ancient burial-ground, where sleep side by side the heroes of that indecisive day. A few old hemlocks and spruces, and one or two tulip-poplars were grouped about the grounds, which were only a few acres in extent; but the profusion of vines, now splendid in autumn colors, gave a distinct character to what would otherwise have been but one of numberless modern villas, in no other respect very unlike. Within, it remained very much as it was when she bought it, except that it had acquired that peculiar look of easy comfort and of being lived in which some women have the art of diffusing through any dwelling they may choose to inhabit.
Wendell arrived exactly at the hour, and found himself alone with Colonel Fox, the widow being a little late, as was apt to be the case. Fox looked at him with brief attention. He had heard something of him before, and what he had heard was not altogether to his liking; yet despite his preconceptions, the doctor’s face pleased him.
“ Dr. Wendell, I think,” said he. “ I am Thomas Fox, — Colonel Fox, I suppose I should say; but we Friends cling by mere habit to the ways in which we were brought up.”
“ I like them,” returned Wendell ; “ but it must be rare to see people of your creed in the army.”
“ Yes, it is rare,” rejoined the colonel, simply. “ I am glad our being both so early gives me a chance to ask you about Morton. Is he really very ill ? ”
“ I would have said so until quite lately ; but now I feel less uneasy.”
“ I am glad to hear it, and on such good authority. He made an admirable soldier. Do you see any likeness to him in the picture above you, — the one on the left? It is Mrs. Westerley’s great-grandfather. Morton and she are distantly related.”
“Indeed,” said Wendell, “one would hardly suspect it. The major is such a wreck that I did not know the photograph taken two years ago. Pain is a relentless sculptor. But what a fine picture! I see some resemblance in the way the head is carried.”
“ It is a Copley, and the two over the table are Stuarts, and that on the left is by the elder Peale. It was hardly fair to hang it near the Stuarts. If you like good portraits, as I do, you will fancy these, I am sure. Just see how the hands are painted, in the Copley ! ”
“ Yes,” assented Wendell. “ There is character in the way the old fellow grips his sword hilt.”
“ They say he was only too ready with it,” remarked Fox.
“ I can believe that,” said Wendell, smiling. “ But really, we are as unlike these people as we are unlike the English of to-day.”
“ Yes,” returned Fox. “ That is true to some extent. You must go further back for the best type of American face. I should say we are more like the English of Charles the First’s time. In fact, the old Vandyke face has crossed the seas. You don’t see it in England. You do see it with us. But here comes Mrs. Westerley ! ”
“ And of course,” said the widow, “ you were saying that women never are punctual. Upon my word, the other world will be a great comfort to people like myself. Where time does not exist, punctuality will cease to be a virtue.”
“ Mr. Wilmington, at last,” she added, as he entered.
It was a pleasant dinner to the doctor. The quick, alert chat of the hostess, trained in many varied circles, and knowing how to call out whatever there was of good talk in her guests; the reserved, tranquil, old-fashioned ways of Wilmington, with his long silences and occasional bits of sarcasm ; and the grave intelligence of the Quaker colonel, made up a social atmosphere in which Wendell felt that he was appreciated and at his ease. Had he been a keener or more accustomed observer, he would perhaps have noted the momentary attention with which the colonel’s brown eyes dwelt furtively, at odd moments, now upon him, and now upon Mrs. Westerley’s mobile face; but he was too busy with the happiness of a rare social hour to search for what lay beneath. Whether the quick-witted woman herself observed it was quite another matter. Few things escaped her.
There was first the news of the neighborhood, and then the ever-recurrent talk of the war.
“ Do you look for anything from Pope’s advance ? ” asked Mrs. Westerley.
“ You won’t tell,” replied the colonel, smiling, “if I say I do not. He is too confident, and like most of our generals underrates his foe, I think. Lee is not a general to be underrated, and never so little as when beaten. I don’t like these cats in a corner. We shall have to make up our minds to lose man for man until we, who are numerically better off, have enough men left to win with.”
“ Did thee ever play poker very much, Fox ? ” inquired Mr. Wilmington without looking up from his plate. Like many of the descendants of Friends, he was apt to talk to those still of the society in Friends’ language.
The soldier looked up at Mrs. Westerley, and replied demurely, “ I have some dim memory of having heard it described when I was — well, rather young; but as a rule, thee knows it is not largely cultivated in Twelfth Street meeting.”
“ Well,” continued the old gentleman, still pecking at the minutest amount of dinner on which life could be sustained, — “ well, when thee gets some one in command who can play poker, I think Mr. Lee will have to go home and go to work.”
“ How much better,” said Wendell, gayly, “ to have a competitive examination on poker, open to grays and blues, and accept the result as ending the war. General Lee ” —
“ Pardon me, doctor, Mr. Lee,” said Wilmington gravely.
Wendell did not care much whether Robert Lee was given his titular rank or not, and on the whole hated war talk ; but he returned, smiling, “Thanks! Mr. Lee will be beaten, as Colonel Fox said, when we make up our minds to lose enough men in drawn battles to leave us at last with more men than he can meet.”
“ Well,” said Wilmington, tranquilly, ‘“that is poker.”
“ The illustration is faultless,” laughed Fox, “ but it is n’t war.”
“ No,” answered Wendell ; “ but it is the only war a race like ours can wage, when it is fighting against itself.”
“ Do you have all these theories in camp, colonel ? ” asked the widow.
“ Oh, enough, and too many of them ; less now than we had. But camp life is monotonous, and even Mr. Wilmington’s educational resource gets played out, literally I may say, at times.”
“ Do you remember,” said Wendell, “what one of Marlborough’s generals told the London alderman when he asked if fighting was n’t hard work ? ”
“ No,” replied Fox. “ What was it?”
“ The general declared it was n’t very hard, because they fought every morning, and had all the rest of the day to themselves.”
“ Delightful! ” cried Mrs. Westerley, Her doctor was clearly coming on.
“ Who can help wondering,” said the colonel, “ what the alderman answered ! ”
“That is the defect of most good stories,” replied Wendell.
“ I wish that general could regulate our little affair,” returned Fox. “ It is one day’s fighting and six weeks of chasséing east and west. Still, it can end only one way, and it would n’t be worth while betting on as a matter of chance.”
“ I rather think we have all bet pretty heavily,” said Wilmington. “ I ’ve bet a good deal before in my day, but this time I bet more than I liked.”
“Indeed?” exclaimed Wendell, with indiscretion, and rather astonished.
Wilmington looked up, with a little of the tremulousness of age in his face. “ My boy Jack,” he said. Then he looked down at his plate, and there was a brief but perceptible silence, which the widow broke.
“ Few have bet more heavily, — few, indeed. I should never have had the courage to bet anything as nice as my friend Jack Wilmington.”
Wilmington looked up at her with a faint smile of pleasure. He smiled often, but never laughed.
“ What I fear most,” said Wendell, “ is that when we have conquered the South we shall have an endless guerrilla warfare.”
“Oh, no, no,” replied Fox; “the American common sense will stop that.
I don’t fear guerrilla warfare. The negroes will be the great question.”
“ Yes,” assented Mrs. Westerley. “ It is hideous to think of. One can’t but pity the South.”
“ They should have thought of that before,” muttered Wilmington.
“ Unluckily,” said Wendell, “ it will be quite as much our business as theirs.”
“ Yes, exactly,” answered the hostess. “ Oh, there is one of those horrid newsboys ! ‘ Great battle on the Potomac,’ of course. Shall I send for a paper ? ”
“ No, don’t, my dear Mrs. Westerley,” exclaimed Wilmington. “I try to think as little as I can of it all. In fact, I read the papers but once a week, — on Sunday.”
“I wish,” said Fox, “that all the editors could be sent to the front.”
“ With all my heart,” returned the widow ; “ and no doubt you would send the copperheads to reinforce Lee, and so give me a chance of seeing it all.”
“ No, indeed! A brigade of Mrs. Westerleys at the rebel front would be fatal,” cried Fox, laughing.
“ I should desert, or malinger, — is n’t that what you call shamming sick?” she rejoined. “ Gettysburg was quite near enough for me. I was in New York, and do you know my man John buried all the silver; and to this day, if I complain of its want of polish, he puts on an injured air, and says it was ‘ all along of them rebels, ma’am.’ I suppose the excuse will last my time and his ! ”
“ I heard,” said old Wilmington, wickedly, “ that you meant to make Mr. Lee’s visit an excuse to stay in New York.”
“ Now, that is one of Helen Morton’s calumnies! I know by my own experience — I mean that I know of myself
— how little one’s friends are to be trusted! However, I have one consolation : I think I have abused her quite enough in the past to leave me with a good balance in my favor.”
“ But no one believes your abuse,” asserted the colonel.
“ And it was n’t true, then ? ” asked Wilmington, peering under his lazy eyelids with a sense of mild disapproval at the very comfortable dinner the Quaker colonel was making.
“ I did not say it was n’t true,” retorted Mrs. Westerley, “and New York always is a temptation to me.”
“ Then why do you stay here ? ” said Wendell. “ To be able to go where you will, and to live where you wish to live, seems to me the most desirable of human liberties.”
“ Why do I live here ? Oh, because I am better here.”
“ Morally better ? ” asked the colonel.
“ I decline to be catechised ! ” she returned. “ If I were as good as Mr. Wilmington,” she continued, with malice in her eyes, “ I would n’t have to escape temptation by change of residence.”
“ I knew my time would come,” murmured that little old gentleman, remembering with sly satisfaction that he had been rather agreeably naughty in his time, in many localities.
“ As to Gettysburg,” she resumed, “ you were all of you badly enough scared, men and women. For my part, I never believed Lee would get to Philadelphia, — never!”
“ And why ? ” said Wilmington, tumbling into her trap.
“ Why ?” she continued. “ Because, my dear Mr. Wilmington, nothing unusual ever happens in Philadelphia ; and that would have been very unusual, therefore it could not happen. Is n’t that what you call a syllogism, Dr. Wendell ? ”
Every one laughed, and Wilmington exclaimed, “ You always were cross about Philadelphia.”
“ No, no,” she said, “ I like it, and it suits me ; but now and then I do incline to go somewhere else, just, you know, to recover a little my belief in the possibility of the unexpected.”
“ Oh, that is too outrageous ! ” laughed Fox. “ As to New York, it is a pleasant casino, supported by stock gambling.”
“ And is it true, Mrs. Westerley,” said Wilmington, “ that you told Morton that bad New Yorkers, when they die, go to Philadelphia.”
“ I ! ” retorted the widow. “ Impossible ! Somebody in Boston said something like that about Paris. But I always am maligned.”
“ I wish I had said it,” returned Fox.
“ And did it take you long to think of it?” inquired the old gentleman.
“ Oh, really,” complained the widow, “ I see it is full time for me to leave you. I was never so abused in my life ! ” and while speaking she arose, saying to Mr. Wilmington, as the old gentleman, bowing low, held the door open, “ You will take my place, please ; and there are, I think, some madeiras you may like. At least, I have done my best for you ! John, the cigars are in the sideboard. I will give you your coffee in the drawing-room.”
Then Mr. Wilmington shifted his seat to the place she had left, and the servant put in front of him, on silver coasters, four or five tall, slender, antique decanters.
The old gentleman, with his head on one side, looked through massive gold eyeglasses at the silver labels, and very deliberately rearranging the bottles filled his glass, and passed the wine to Wendell. “ With the sun, if you please,” he said. “ A little cold, John, this wine,” upon which, to Wendell’s amazement, he clasped the wine-glass in both hands, and shut his eyes with a tranquil expression of such utter satisfaction at the coming pleasure, and with so much of a look of devotion, that the doctor conceived for a moment the idea that nothing less than a thankful prayer for a good dinner could be in the old man’s mind ; but presently he drank off his wine, and remarked, “ A good grape juice. ’28, I think. I did n’t suppose there was any of it left.”
Wendell certainly found it good.
The second wine was dismissed with, “ I would n’t advise you to take that. It wants a good fining, Colonel Fox.”
The colonel was of like opinion.
“There is no label on this; but women take no care of their wines. Hem,” he said, as he set down his glass, “ I remember that wine well. It is precisely my own age. It’s getting just a little shaky, like myself, it is smoke ! No better wine, Dr. Wendell ; do you know it ? ”
“ I can’t say that I do,” said Wendell, rather puzzled at the appellation. “ I know little or nothing of wines.”
“ Well,” remarked Fox, “ Mr. Wilmington is a good instructor. I advise you to begin your education.”
“ But what on earth is smoke ? ” asked the doctor.
“ Don’t you taste it ? ” returned Wilmington. “ There is no better madeira. I don’t know many as good. A little eggshell would help it.”
“Yes, a little eggshell,” repeated Fox, with equal gravity.
“ I am glad you still like it,” exclaimed the old gentleman; “the taste is going out. I don’t know five lads who can tell sherry from a fine madeira. My Jack says he likes cider. ‘Likes cider,’ — good heavens! Will you take another glass, doctor, or a cigar ? ”
“ Unless you want to be excommunicated vinously,” said Fox, laughing, “ you can’t drink after you smoke ; ” and so the cigars were brought and there was more war talk, during which Fox slipped away to chat with Mrs. Westerley, and the doctor was left alone with Mr. Wilmington.
Wendell very soon found that any discussion which did not involve wine talk was, at this stage of the dinner, quite out of the question, and he therefore wisely yielded, and as a consequence rose many degrees in the old gentleman’s favor. What he learned as to wines it is perhaps not worth while to inquire. “ And when I say wines,” said Mr. Wilmington, “ I mean madeiras, sir. There are other drinks ; but excepting now and then a rare claret, — a very rare claret, — there are no wines except madeira. None, sir ! ” said the old gentleman, with unusual warmth, — “ none, sir! ”
He talked of wines as people talk of other people, of their vices or virtues, their births and decays. His dinners were gossips about wines. Such was the fashion of his day, and he and a very few old friends held to it with the tenacity of age. The friends were dropping fast, but the wines remained, and through them more than in any other way were aroused his pleasantest memories of departed feasts and the comrades at whom he had smiled above some golden south side vintage, in days when manners were more courtly and healths were drunk.
At last, when Wendell timidly remarked that all this care about wines must take up a good deal of time, Mr. Wilmington said, “ Yes. It was quite true ; they were like women and needed a good deal of attention, and that was just why Morton’s wines had all gone to the devil. And a very pretty cellar he might have had, too, if he had only looked after it.”
Sunday afternoon, he added, he himself had found a good quiet time to see to his madeiras ; and, as Wendell learned later, any Sunday the old gentleman was to be found in his wine garret, contemplative and surrounded by demijohns, and eggshells, and what not.
At last, in despair, Wendell suggested that, as the afternoon was wearing on, they might as well have their coffee; upon which Mr. Wilmington reluctantly finished his glass, saying, “ Well, I shall get you to dine with me, when Morton mends. I would like you to taste my pale heriot. That is very high up, sir, — very high up.”
Just before they joined Mrs. Westerley, the colonel had said, “ I do not believe you were really afraid.”
“ No, I was not afraid. I suppose I am like your raw recruits : want of experience makes them courageous. I can’t realize the horrors of war. Were you ever afraid, Colonel Fox ? A stupid question, I suppose ; but were you ever, now, really ? ”
“ Yes,” he replied softly, “ once or twice — of you.”
The widow flushed a little, and was glad as she heard the coming steps of her other guests.
“I mean — you know what I mean, in war,” she said.
“ Yes,” he answered, quietly, “ I have been so afraid, Mrs. Westerley, I have prayed God to help me.”
“ Oh,” she murmured, under her breath, “you are a brave man to say it.”
“ There are things a man will say to a woman — to some women — which he will say to no man,” he rejoined.
“ And you go back to-morrow ? ” she exclaimed, hastily.
At this moment Mr. Wilmington and Wendell entered the room. “ Oh, at last, doctor ! ” she said, “ I thought you were never coming. Won’t you ring that bell in the corner ? But here is John, already ! Coffee, John, if you please.”
S. Weir Mitchell.