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Page 242


An hour before sunset I found myself again on the ridge
overlooking the valley. I was weak and tired, and as I
leaned upon the fence after climbing the long ascent, I was
conscious of the dismal change which had come upon the
beautiful world of three hours before. I saw the same
woods and hills, but the foliage had become hard and black,
the fields dreary in their flat greenness, and the sky seemed
to hold itself aloof in a cold divorce from the landscape to
which it had so lately been softly wedded. Night, or storm,
or winter, would have been less cheerless. An unutterable
sense of loneliness filled my heart. I was still young
enough to suppose that all emotions were eternal simply
because they were emotions. I was sure that my love
would never have faded or changed; now it was violently
torn from me, leaving a pang in its place, to inherit its own
enduring life. The world could give nothing to compensate
me for this loss. Better would it be if I could die, and
so escape the endless procession of dark, blighted, hopeless
days. Then I saw, for the first time, and stood face to face
with that Doubt which suspends us, trembling, over the
abyss of nothingness. I asked that question which no human
mind dare long entertain, — that question, the breath
of which crumbles Good and Evil, Time, Faith, and Providence,
making of life a terror and a despair. The outer
crust of thought, upon which I had lived, gave way, and I
looked shudderingly down into central deeps of darkness
and of fire.


Page 243

The struggle which my nature was undergoing will be
better understood when its mixed character is considered.
Either pure sorrow for a lost love, or vain yearning for a
love which had been withheld, could have been comprehended
by the heart, and therefore so grasped as to be best
borne; but this — what was it? A tumult of love and hate,
— for the habit of a year could not be unlearned in a moment,
— disappointed hope, betrayed faith, devotion ignorantly
given to heartless selfishness, a revelation of the
baseness of human nature shed upon a boundless trust in
its nobility! It assailed all my forms of faith at once, depriving
me not only of love, but of the supports which
might have helped me to bear its loss.

I knew that she, henceforth, would hate me. Even if
some rudimentary hint of a conscience existed in her nature,
and the remembrance of her deception were able to
give it an occasional uneasiness, the blow I inflicted on her
husband, before her eyes, more than cancelled the wrong.
She would now justify herself to herself, as fully as to him.
If the story were ever disclosed, both, of course, would be
considered the aggrieved parties in the eyes of the world,
and I the vain, adventurous miscreant.

I walked slowly and wearily back to Cardiff, keeping a
good lookout for the vehicle of the elder Brattons, which I
discerned far enough in advance to avoid successfully. The
landlord by this time had found out who I was, and tortured
me with stories about the marriage, which I had not
tact enough to escape. It appeared, from what he said,
that Squire Bratton, Mulford, and Rand's father, with some
others, were concerned in a speculation for buying coal-lands,
the profits whereupon were to be realized when a certain
projected railroad had been built. Rand himself was
believed to have a minor share in the enterprise; he was
reckoned to be “a mighty smart business-man,” and the
Squire took to him from the start. He had frequently come
down from Reading during the previous winter, but the


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match had not been talked about until a few weeks before
it took place. They were going to Reading to live, the
landlord said, and the old folks were quite set up about it.

I gave a melancholy groan of relief, when I at last found
myself in bed, and surrounded by congenial darkness. I
tried to compose my thoughts to my accustomed prayer,
but the spectre I had invoked showed a blank where I
had once seen the face of God. Men were nothing but
accidental combinations of atoms, it said; Life was a temporary
condition, and joy, sorrow, duty, love, were things
of education, unreal and perishable; there was neither Virtue
nor Vice but in imagination, — neither happiness nor
misery, nor anything positive but physical sensation — and
that only while it lasted. So far from shrinking from these
suggestions, I took a fearful pleasure in following them to
their common termination, on the brink of that gulf where
all sentient existence melts into nothing, as smoke into air.

The next day I took the stage to Reading, performing
the journey in the same hardened, apathetic mood. There
was even, at times, a grim satisfaction in the thought that I
was now free from every emotion which could attach me to
my fellow-beings, — free from the duties of blood, the tender
allegiance of love, the services of friendship. I saw
nothing but selfishness in the world; I would be selfish too.

Reaching Reading in the evening, I took up my quarters
at the “Mansion House.” I was in no mood to claim my
uncle's hospitality, although the grievance I had borne
against him now seemed a very insignificant thing. I was
neither afraid of him nor his efforts to procure me “a
change of heart.” Nearly two years had elapsed since that
episode of my life, and I was beginning to see how much I
had exaggerated its character. I had no dread of the
approaching interview. Indeed, I so far relented towards
Aunt Peggy as to take a copy of my volume for presentation
to her.

When I went down Penn Street after breakfast, the next


Page 245
morning, to the well-known corner, I saw that a change —
which, nevertheless, did not surprise me — had occurred in
the establishment. The old, weather-beaten sign had disappeared,
and in its place was a new one, white ground and
black letters, shaded with blue: “Woolley and Himpel's
Grocery Store.
” Bolty was not so stupid as his heavy
face and sleepy eyes proclaimed. He had already made
his nest, and would not be long in feathering it comfortably.

There he was, behind the counter, a little more brisk in
his movements than formerly, and with every bit of his
familiar loquacity. He was a trifle taller, and his white hair
was brushed straight up from his forehead instead of being
cut short. His thick, pale lips hung half-open, as usual, and
his eyes expressed the same lazy innocence, but I fancied I
could see the commencement of a cunning wrinkle at their
corners. He wore a short jacket of grass-cloth, buttoned
in front, which arrangement I admired, for I knew that the
bosom of his shirt was not wont to be in a presentable condition.

As I appeared at the door, he recognized me at once.
Catch him, indeed, forgetting any face he had ever known!
I suspect he still retained a sort of phlegmatic liking for
me, or at least was now satisfied that I could no longer
interfere with his plans, for he slipped along the counter
towards me with every appearance of cordiality, stretching
out his fat hand as he cried, “Why, John Godfrey! Is
that you now? And you 've come back to see us, after so
long! I declare I did n't know what had become o' you;
— but you 're lookin' well — wery well — better as ever I
see you. — Yes, ma'am! The `Peruvian Preventative,' did
you say? You could n't take nothin' better; we sells cart-loads
o' boxes — cart-loads, and the more people use 'em
the more they wants 'em!”

He was off and waiting upon the customer, — a woman
from the country, with very few front teeth and a sun-bonnet,


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— before I could say a word. I was so amused at this
exhibition of his old habits, that, for the first time in two
days, I felt the sensation of laughter creeping back to its
accustomed nook. Presently the woman left, and, the store
being now empty, Bolty returned to me.

“You was a little surprised, was n't you?” he asked, “to
see my name over the door. It 's been up sence Easter,
and we 're doin' wery well — wery well, indeed. 'T a'n't
much of an int'rest I 've got, though, — only a quarter, but
it 's a good beginnin'. The customers knows me, you see,
and they stick to me. Mr. Woolley 's got a good deal of
other business on his hands now.”

“Yes,” said I, “I have heard of it.”

“Coal-lands? Yes; you 've heerd right. Not that I
know much about it. He 's awful close, Mr. Woolley is, —
keeps his own counsel, as he says, and Mulford and Rand's
too, I guess. But what have you a-been carryin' on? You
look mighty smart, so I guess it ha'n't been a bad spec.”

I told Bolty as much in reference to my position in New
York as I thought proper, and then asked for my uncle.

“He 's gone down to the canawl,” said Bolty; “but he 'll
be back as soon as the Banks is open.”

“Then I 'll go in and see Aunt Peggy.”

I entered the little back-parlor. The sofa and chairs
were more shiny and slippery than ever, and a jagged abattis
of horse-hair was beginning to project from the edges
of the seats. There was no improvement in the atmosphere
of the room since I had left; — nothing had been
taken away, and nothing added except a mezzotint of the
Rev. Mr. Mellowby, in a flat mahogany frame. My aunt
was not there, but I heard noises in the kitchen, and went
thither without further ceremony.

Aunt Peggy was bending over the stove, with a handkerchief
around her head, an old calico apron over her dress,
a pot-lid in one hand and a pewter spoon in the other.

“Well, Aunt Peggy,” said I, “how do you do by this


Page 247

She was very much surprised, of course; but she transferred
the spoon to the hand which held the pot-lid, and
greeted me with a mixture of embarrassment and affection.
A few tears certainly dropped from her eyes, but I knew
how easily they came, and did not feel encouraged to make
any great show of emotion.

“I 'm glad you 've come to see us, John,” she said, in her
most melancholy tone. “Walk into the settin'-room. I 'd
like to hear that you don't bear malice against your relations,
that meant to do for your good. It seemed hard,
goin' away the way you did.”

“Oh, Aunt Peggy, let bygones be bygones. I dare say
you meant to do right, but it has turned out best as it is.”

“I had mournin' enough,” she said, “that things could n't
have gone as me and your uncle wanted; but I s'pose
we 've all got to have our trials and tribulations.”

That was all we said about the matter. I was well
dressed, and gave a most favorable account of my worldly
prospects, and my aunt seemed considerably cheered and
relieved. I suspect that her conscience had been tormented
by the fear of her sister's son becoming a castaway, and that
she had therefore been troubled with doubts in regard to
the circumstances which drove me from her roof. My success
removed that trouble, at least. Then I presented the
book, in which I had turned down leaves to mark a few
poems of a religious character, which I thought she might
read with some satisfaction. Such things as “The Lament
of Hero,” I knew, would be quite unintelligible to her. She
was greatly delighted with the present, promising to show
it to Mr. Cutler, the new minister.

We were getting on very pleasantly together, when my
uncle entered from the shop. As Bolty had apprised him
of my arrival, his face expressed more curiosity than surprise.
His greeting was cordial, but its cordiality did not
strike me as being entirely natural. His hair had grown
grayer, but there was no shade of difference in the varnished


Page 248
cheeks and the large tight mouth. Intercourse with
his new associates had already given him a more worldly
air. It was certain that neither his unworthiness nor his
fortunate assurance of “grace” occupied his thoughts so
much as formerly. Considering what had passed between
us, I felt more at ease in his presence than I had anticipated.

“You look very well, John,” said he. “I hope you have
been at least successful in temporal things.”

He could not deny himself this insinuation, but I was no
longer sensitive on the point, and did not notice it. Of
course, I represented my affairs to him in the most prosperous
light, setting forth my promising chances for the
future, while feeling in my heart their utter hollowness and

“Well, you 're settled at a business that seems to suit
you,” he said. “That 's a good thing. You 've gone your
way and I 've gone mine, but there need not be any difficulty
between us.”

“No, Uncle Amos,” I replied. “I have learned to take
care of myself. The principal object of my visit is to relieve
you from all further trouble on my account.”

“In what way?” he asked.

“Why,” I exclaimed, a little astonished, “don't you know
that I am twenty-one?”

“Twenty-one! Oh — ah! Yes, I see. Are you sure
of it? I did not think it was so soon.”

Somehow, his words made an unpleasant impression upon
me. I soon convinced him, by the mention of certain dates,
that I knew my own age, and then added, “I am now entitled
to my money, you know. If you put out last year's
interest, there must have been more than eighteen hundred
dollars due to me on the first of April.”

“Yes,” said he, “of course I put it out. But I really
did n't suppose you would want the capital at once. I did n't
— hm, well — make arrangements to have it ready at a


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moment's warning. You see, John, you should have notified
me in the proper way beforehand. This, I may say,
is not notifying me at all. Besides, why should you want
the money now? What will you do with it? You surely
would n't think of speculating in the stock-market; that 'd
be throwing it to the four winds. If you put it in the savings-bank,
you 'll only get five per cent. instead of six, as
you get now. Why not let it be where it is? Use the
interest if you want: I might advance you this year's,
though it 's put out too, — but when you 've got your capital
safe, keep it so.”

“I wish to have my own money in my own hands,” I
answered, rather coldly. “I never supposed a notification
would be necessary, as you knew I was entitled to receive
the money as soon as I came of age. I consider myself
capable of taking care of it, and even if I should lose it,
that is altogether my own business.”

“Oh, no doubt, no doubt,” said my uncle. He rubbed
his shiny cheek and stretched out his lower jaw, as if perplexed.
“You are entitled to the money, that is all right
enough, but — but it 's still out, and I don't see how I
could get it, just now.”

“At any rate, you can transfer the bond — or whatever
it is — to me. That will be equivalent to the money, for
the present.”

Uncle Amos grew very red in the face, and was silent
for a few minutes. His arm-chair seemed to be an uneasy
seat. He looked at me once, but instantly turned his eyes
away on encountering mine. At last he said, “I can't
well do that, John, because it a'n't invested separately —
it 's along with a good deal of my own. You see, it 's this
way, — I 'll tell you all about it, and then I think you 'll be
satisfied to leave things as they are. I 've gone into an
operation with some other gentlemen, — we keep rather
dark about it, and I don't want you to say anything, — and
we 've bought up a big tract of land in Monroe County,


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among the mountains, where there 's sure to be coal. It
a'n't worth much now, but when the railroad is opened,
there 's no telling what we may n't sell out for. The road 's
pretty sure to be put through in a year or two, and then
the loss of interest in the mean time will be nothing in
comparison to the profit we shall make by the operation.
There are ten thousand acres in all, and I was put down
for one thousand; but there were other expenses, surveyors,
and we had to pay a geologist a big price to take a quiet
look at the place; so I had n't enough of my own, without
putting yours with it. I intend you shall go share and
share with me in the profits. You may get six hundred,
or six thousand per cent. instead of six. Don't you see
how much better that will be for you?”

“No, I don't!” I cried. I was again thunderstruck, and
the bitter tumult of my feelings began to rage anew. “I
see only this, that you had no right to touch a cent of my
money. It was put in your charge by my poor mother, to
be returned to me when it should become due, not to be
risked in some mad speculation of yours, about which I
know nothing except that one infernal scoundrel at least
is engaged in it! You to warn me against risking it in
stocks, indeed! If you meant me to go share and share
with you, why did you ask me to be satisfied with six per

My uncle's eyes fell at these words. I saw my advantage,
and felt a wicked delight in thus holding him at my
mercy. His face looked clammy, and his chin dropped,
giving a peculiarly cowed, helpless expression to his mouth.
When he spoke, there was a tone in his voice which I
had never before heard.

“I know, John,” he said, “that you don't like me overly,
and perhaps you won't believe what I say; but, indeed, I
did mean to share the profits with you. I thought, only,
if you 'd leave the money in my hands, I would n't say anything
about the operation yet awhile. It 's done now, and
can't be helped.”


Page 251

“Why not?” I asked. “You can borrow the money, on
your house and store. Give me what belongs to me, and
you may keep all the profits of your `operation,' — if you
ever get any!”

He looked around with an alarmed air, carefully closed
the kitchen-door, and then, resuming his seat, bent forward
and whispered, “I had to do that, as it was. I raised all
I could — all the property would bear. It was 'most too
much for me, and I could n't have turned the corner if I
had n't sold out a quarter interest in the grocery to Bolty.
I wish you could understand it as I do, — you 'd see that
it 's a sure thing, perfectly sure.”

It was enough for me that Bratton, Mulford, and the
Rands were concerned in the business. That fact stamped
it, in my mind, as a cheat and a swindle, and my uncle, it
seemed, was no better than the others. I was fast hardening
into an utter disbelief in human honesty. It was not
so much the loss of the money which I felt, though even
that had a sanctity about it as the double bequest of my
dead father and mother, which I had hoped would bring
me a blessing with its use. I had learned to earn my
living, and knew that I should not suffer; but I was
again the dupe of imposition, the innocent victim of outrage.

I was conscious of a strong bodily chill: the teeth chattered
in my head. I rose from my seat, turned to him for
the last time, and said, “Amos Woolley, you know that
you have acted dishonestly, — that you have broken your
trust, both to my mother and me. I thought once that
you were trying sincerely to serve God in your own blind,
bigoted way; but now I see that Mammon is your master.
Get you a change of heart before you preach it to others.
I will not prosecute and ruin you, by showing to the world
your true character, though you seem to have cared little
whether or not I was ruined by your act. If you should
ever repent and become honest, you will restore me my


Page 252
inheritance; but, until you do it, I shall not call you `uncle,'
I shall not take your hand, I shall not enter your door!”

His chin dropped lower, and his eyes were fixed on me
with a reproachful expression, as he listened to my sharp
words. I put on my hat and turned towards the door.
“John!” he cried, “you are wrong — you will one day be
sorry for what you have said.”

Aunt Peggy at that moment entered from the kitchen.
“You 're not goin' away, John?” she said; “you 'll come
back to dinner at twelve?”

“No, aunt,” I answered; “I shall probably never come
back again to see you. Good-bye!” And I picked up her
hanging hand.

“What ails you? What has happened?”

“Ask your husband.”

I went into the store, closing the door behind me. When
I saw Bolty's face I felt sure that he had been eavesdropping.
He did not seem surprised that I was going away,
and I fancied there was something constrained and artificial
in his parting, “Come back right soon, and see us
again!” Perhaps I wronged him, but I was not in a
mood to put the best construction upon anybody's acts or

I walked up Penn Street at a rapid rate, looking neither
to the right nor left, and found myself, before I knew it,
high up on the side of Penn's Mount, beyond and above
the city. The walk had chased away the chill and stagnation
of my blood. I was flushed and panting, and choosing
a shady bank, I sat down and looked once more upon
the broad, magnificient landscape. I was glad that my
brain, at last, had become weary of thought — that I could
behold the sparkle of the river and the vanishing blue of
the mountains with no more touch of sentiment or feeling
than the ox grazing beside me. I accepted my fortune
with an apathy which, it seemed, nothing could ever break.
If I could but live thus, I said, seeing men as so many


Page 253
black mites in the streets of yonder city, hearing only a
confused hum of life, in which the individual voice of every
passion is lost, and be content myself with the simple
knowledge of my existence and the sensations which belong
to it, I might still experience a certain amount of