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Page 86


As the close of my last term at the Honeybrook Academy
approached, I felt none of the eagerness for change,
of the delight in coming release from study, which would
have been natural to a boy of my age. On the contrary, I
grew more and more reluctant to leave a spot which was
now so familiar, and to give up the advantages of instruction
at a time when I began to understand their importance.
Both Miss Hitchcock and Dr. Dymond were sorry
to lose me, — the former because there was no other Latin
pupil far enough advanced to read her expurgated Horace,
and the latter because my original dialogues and speeches
were beginning to constitute a feature in the semi-annual
exhibitions. If, among the boys, I had contracted no
strong, permanent friendship, I had at least encountered
no more than transient enmities; besides, I was getting to
be one of the older and more conspicuous scholars, and
thus enjoyed a certain amount of authority.

It was hardest of all to part with Penrose. I could talk
with him of my mother, — could ask his counsel, as a relative,
in regard to my proposed plans of life. The latter were
still indefinite, it is true; but they pointed towards teaching
as a preliminary employment. Behind that crowded a
host of ambitious dreams, upon which I secretly fed my
mind. Penrose, however, was to leave the school in the
spring, and I should therefore have lost him six months
later, in any case.


Page 87

On the last Sabbath before my departure, I walked over
to the Cross-Keys, and spent the day with the Niles family.
The shutters of the little cottage were still closed; I was
glad of it. If strange faces had gazed from the windows, I
should have passed with averted head; but I could now
stop and look over the paling, and peer under the boughs
of the plum-tree for a glimpse of the garden in the rear.
Weeds were growing apace, and in the narrow strip of the
“front yard” I missed a dainty little rose-bush — mother's
pet — which used to be covered with diminutive double
crimson blossoms. Neighbor Niles always called it the
“fi'penny-bit rose.” I afterwards found it in the churchyard,
so carefully transplanted that it was already blooming
on mother's grave. It was not necessary to ask whose
pious hand had placed it there.

The good Neighbor and “Dave” gave me an honest and
hearty welcome. She insisted on opening the best room,
though I would have preferred the kitchen, where I could
hear her cheery voice alternately from the vicinity of cookstove,
cupboard, and table. For dinner we had the plain,
yet most bountiful fare of the country, and she heaped my
plate far beyond my powers of eating, saying, with every
added spoonful, “I expect you 're half starved at the

“Dr. Dymond does n't look as if he ett much, anyhow,”
Dave remarked, with a chuckle.

“It seems quite nateral to have you here ag'in, Johnny,”
said the Neighbor. “Dear me! to think how things has
changed in the last two year. Poor Neighbor Godfrey! —
as good a woman as ever lived, though I say it to your face,
— dead and gone, and you movin' away to Readin', like as
not never to come back ag'in. Well, you must n't forgit
your old neighbors, them that 's always wished you well.
Out of sight out of mind, they say; but I guess it don't hold
true with everybody, — leastways not with me. I can't
git over thinkin' about Becky Jane yit: it comes on to me


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powerful hard sometimes. She 'd ha' been sixteen last
August, if she 'd ha' lived. I often go up and scrub off her
tombstone, and scrape the rust out o' the letters.”

“Oh, Neighbor Niles!” I cried, “you asked me once to
write a few lines to put on the stone. I 'll do it yet, before
I leave.”

The good woman's face glowed with gratitude. “I 'll
see that it 's put on — whatever you write,” she said, “if it
takes the vally of every turkey I 've raised!”

I kept my promise. Four lines, containing a simile
about a broken flower being laid beneath this sod, to bloom
above in the garden of God, were sent to Neighbor Niles,
and whoever takes the trouble to visit Cross-Keys churchyard
will find them on Becky Jane's tombstone to this

It was some twenty miles to Reading, and accordingly,
on the day after the closing exhibition at the academy, a
horse and light vehicle, despatched by my uncle, arrived to
convey me to my new home. Nearly all the scholars were
leaving for the autumn vacation, and my departure lost its
solemnity in the hurry and confusion that prevailed. Penrose
promised to correspond with me, and Charley Rand
said, “Don't be astonished if you find me in Reading next
summer.” Mother Dymond gave me something wrapped
up in a newspaper, saying, “Take it, now; you 'll want
them before you get there.” “Them” proved to be six
large and very hard ginger-cakes. My trunk — an old
one, which had once belonged to my father — was tilted
up on end in front of the seat, occasioning much misery
both to my legs and the driver's; and so I left Honeybrook,
the magnificent tin cupola sparkling a final farewell
as we dashed up the “Reading pike.”

The inevitable step having been taken, — the fibres I had
put out during the second stage of my boyhood torn loose,
— I began to speculate, with some curiosity, on the coming
phase of my life. I found this attraction at least: I should


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live in a much larger and more important town than I had
ever visited — a town with a river, a canal, and a new railroad.
At the Cross-Keys, people always spoke of Reading
as being inferior only to Philadelphia, and one of the Honeybrook
boys, Detweiler, hotly and constantly proclaimed
its glories, to the discomfiture of Marsh, who was from Lancaster.
As the afternoon wore away, and the long miles
slowly diminished down the teens, and then more slowly
down the units, and the unsocial driver fell asleep every
ten minutes, of which fact the horse took base advantage,
I grew weary and impatient. My uncle's house became a
less unwelcome terminus to the journey.

At last we approached some bold hills — wonderful, astonishing
mountains, I thought them. Our road stretched
forward through a hollow between; a scattering village
came into view, and a toll-gate barred the road. The
driver awoke with a start. “Here 's Gibraltar!” he said;
“we 'll soon be there, now!”

“Are those the Alleghany Mountains?” I asked.

“Guess you 're green in these parts,” said he: “them
a'n't mountains.”

“Well, what are their names?” I asked again, in much

“This'n ha'n't no proper name, — `Penn's Mount' some
call it. T' other, on the left, is Neversink. You 'll see
Readin' in two minutes.”

We presently emerged upon a slope, whence a glorious
landscape opened upon my eyes. Never had I seen or
imagined anything so beautiful. The stately old town lay
below, stretched at full length on an inclined plane, rising
from the Schuylkill to the base of the mountain; the river,
winding in abrupt curves, disclosed itself here and there
through the landscape; hills of superb undulation rose and
fell, in interlinking lines, through the middle distance,
Scull's Hill boldly detaching itself in front, and far in the
north the Blue Ridge lifted its dim wall against the sky.


Page 90
The sinking sun turned the smokes of the town and the
vapors of the river to golden dust, athwart which faintly
gleamed the autumn coloring of distant woods. The noises
of the scene were softened and mellowed, and above them
all, clear, sweet, and faint, sounded the bugle of a boatman
on the canal. It was not ignorant admiration on my part;
for one familiar with the grandest aspects of Nature must
still confess that few towns on this side of the Atlantic are
so nobly environed.

As we entered the place I could scarcely turn my head
rapidly enough to the right and left, in my inspection of
signs, houses, and people. The brick sidewalks seemed to
be thronged, but nobody paid any particular attention to
us. In Honeybrook every one would have stopped and
looked at us, so long as we were in sight. The driver turned
into the broad main avenue of Penn Street, with its central
line of markets, then downward towards the river, and drew
up, a few blocks further, at a corner. It was a low, old-fashioned
brick house, with a signboard over the front door
and window, upon which was inscribed, in faded letters,
“A. Woolley's Grocery Store.” There were boxes of
candles, some bottles, a rope of onions, half a dozen withered
lemons, and a few other articles in the window; a
woman was issuing from the door with a basket full of
brown paper parcels on her arm. On the other side of the
portly window a narrow door was squeezed into the wall.
The driver, having alighted, jerked my trunk out of the
wagon, brought it down with a crash on the upper step, and
rang the bell. The door was opened by Aunt Peggy, in
person: she had been one of the shadows which had haunted
my mother's funeral, and I therefore recognized her.

My trunk was brought in and stood on end in the narrow
passage, which it almost blocked up. “You won't want
it before bedtime, I reckon,” said my aunt; “so leave it
there, and Bolty will help you carry it up. Come into the


Page 91

Following her I found myself presently in a small room
behind the store. It was comfortably furnished, but somewhat
chill and unfriendly in its atmosphere, — stiff, almost,
although nothing could have been less so than my aunt's
appearance. She wore a limp calico dress, of some dark
pattern, and a cap, the strings of which were untied and
hung over her breast. Her face was long and thin, and her
hair, many shades lighter than my mother's, fell in straight,
lank lines over her ears. There was usually a tuft of it
sticking out somewhere about the back of her neck. Her
eyes were small and gray, her nose long and pointed, and
her lips thin and sunken at the corners, from the loss of
most of her back teeth. Add to this a weak, lamenting
voice, — rather, indeed, a whine, — and it will readily be
conceived that my aunt Peggy was not a person to inspire
a young man with enthusiasm for the female sex. Never
were two sisters more unlike than she and mother. I presume
there must have been a family likeness somewhere,
but I was really unable to discover it.

In a few minutes Uncle Amos came in from the store.
He shook hands with me with more cordiality than I had
anticipated. “We 'll have things fixed, in the course of a
day or two,” he said. “Now, Peggy, I guess you had better
get tea ready: John will be hungry, after his ride. Will
you come into the store, John, and look around a little?”

I preferred that to sitting alone in the back room. After
stumbling over some coffee-bags, — for it was getting dusky,
and the lamps were not yet lighted, — I came forth into the
open space behind the counter, where a boy of my own age
was very busily engaged in weighing and “doing up” various
materials. Uncle Amos stepped forward to assist him,
leaving me to play the spectator. For a little while, both
were actively employed; then, the rush of custom having
suddenly subsided, my uncle said, “Here, Bolty, this is my
nephew, John Godfrey. John, this is my assistant, Bolty


Page 92

Bolty grinned and nodded, but said nothing. He was
larger in every way than myself, but looked younger. His
hair, so blond as to be almost white, was cut close to his
head; his forehead was low, his eyes large, wide apart, and
pale blue; his nose short, thick, and flattened in the middle,
and his mouth larger and partly open. He was of the pure
peasant-blood of Southern Germany, his name, Bolty, being
simply a contraction of Leopold, with a little confusion
of kindred consonants. I was a good deal surprised at my
uncle's choice of an assistant, but I afterwards found that
Bolty understood the business, and nothing else. His
round, unmeaning face was a perpetual advertisement of
simple honesty to the customers. He knew it, and profited
thereby. Besides, he spoke fluently that remarkable language,
the Pennsylvania German, — a useful accomplishment
in a town where many native families were almost
wholly ignorant of English.

In a quarter of an hour my aunt whined out of the
gloom at the back of the store, “Tea, Amos!” and we
obeyed the melancholy summons. The table was set in
the kitchen behind the sitting-room, and so near the stove
that Aunt Peggy could reach the hot water with her right
hand, without rising from her chair. The board looked
very scantily supplied, to my eyes, accustomed to country
profuseness, but there proved to be enough.

After we were seated, Uncle Amos bent, or rather
plunged forward, over his plate, waving his hands with the
palms outward, before bringing them together in the attitude
of prayer. There was a certain ostentation in this
gesture, which struck me at once. It seemed to say,
“Take notice, Lord: I am about to ask Thy blessing.”
This was a very irreverent fancy of mine, I confess; but
there it was: I could n't help it.

Most people — as we find them — would have considered
Uncle Amos a man of imposing presence. He was both
tall and stout, and the squareness in his outlines, both of


Page 93
head and body, suggested a rough, massive strength. His
head was bald from the forehead to the crown, but the
side-hair was combed upwards so as to overlap and partially
conceal it. His eyes were hard, and shot forth a
steely twinkle from under their fat lids; the corners were
channelled with a multitude of short, sly wrinkles. The
skin of his cheeks was unpleasantly threaded here and
there by fine, dark-purple veins, and always had a gloss
like varnish when he was freshly shaven. I half suspect,
now, that part of my instinctive dislike to him arose from
the jar which his appearance occasioned to my sense of
beauty. As a matter of conscience, I tried to like him;
but I am afraid the exertion was not very severe.

After tea, I went back to the sitting-room, while my
uncle took Bolty's place and allowed the latter to get his
meal in turn. Then it was necessary to wait until the
store should be closed for the night, and, to divert the
time, Aunt Peggy brought me the “Life of Henry Martyn,”
which I read with hearty interest. “A good model,” said
my uncle, looking over my shoulder, as he came in, after
the shutters had been duly fastened and bolted.

“Shut it up now,” he continued. “We go early to bed,
and get up early, in this house. Bolty, come here, and
help John up-stairs with his trunk.”

Bolty seized one end of the unwieldy box, and we slowly
bumped and stumbled up two flights of stairs, into a large
room under the roof, with a single window in the gable. I
remarked, with a disagreeable sensation, that there was
only one bed, and that one not remarkably broad. The
big, coarse fellow would be sure to usurp the most of it,
and his broad nose and open mouth indicated an immense
capacity for snoring. Besides, I was always, from a very
child, exceedingly sensitive to what I may call, for want of
a better term, human electricity; that is to say, certain
persons attract me, or impart a sense of comfort, by their
physical nearness, while others repel or convey an impression


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of vague discomfort. This feeling seems to have no
connection with beauty or ugliness, health or disease, or even
affection or enmity. It arises from some subtle affinity of
physical temperament, like that which we occasionally notice
in the vegetable world. There are certain plants which
flourish or droop in the neighborhood of certain others. I
think this delicate, intangible sense is general among cultivated
persons, but I have never found it developed to the
same extent as in my own case.

I could not justly class Bolty Himpel among those
strongly repellant natures whose approach to me was like
that of a poisonous wind, but there was sufficient of the feeling
to make the necessity of lying all night in his “atmosphere”
very distasteful. However, there was no help for
it; he had already asked me, —

“Which side 'll you take?”

I chose that nearest the window, and soon fell asleep,
wearied with the changing excitements of the day. It was
not long, apparently, before the bedstead creaked and
shook, and a loud voice yelled, “Tumble out!”

The dawn was glimmering through the window. Bolty
was already hauling on his trousers, and I rose and looked
out. To my delight I could see the long, majestic outline
of Penn's Mount above the houses, its topmost trees making
a dark fringe against the morning sky. The view became
a part of my garret-furniture, and changed the aspect
of the room at once.

“Boss is pretty sharp,” said Bolty to me, as I commenced
dressing; “he opens half an hour sooner and keeps open
half an hour later than any other grocery in the town.
'T a'n't a bad plan. People get to know it, and they come
to us when they can't go nowhere else. It keeps us on the
go, though. You ha'n't done nothin' at business, ha'n't

“No,” I answered; “I 've been at school. 'T was Uncle
Amos's plan that I should come here, and I don't know
how I 'll like it.”


Page 95

“Oh, you 'll soon git the hang of it. I don't s'pose he 'll
put you to rollin' o' bar'ls and openin' o' boxes. Y' a'n't
built for that.”

Whereupon Bolty deliberately squeezed and twisted the
muscles of my upper arm, in such wise that they were sore
for the rest of the day. “That 's the crow-bar,” said he,
bending and stiffening his own right arm, until the flexor
rose like an arch; “and them 's the death-mauls,” shaking
his clenched fists. These expressions he had evidently
picked up from some canal boatman. Their force and
fierceness contrasted comically with the vacant good-humor
written on his face.

We went down to the shop and opened the shutters.
There was little custom before breakfast, so I lounged
about behind the counter, pulling open drawers of spices
and reading the labels on bottles and jars. After all, I
thought, there are more disagreeable avocations in the
world than that of a grocer, — bricklaying, for instance. I
determined to do my share of the work faithfully, whether
I liked it or not. I was in my nineteenth year, and, at the
worst, would be my own master at twenty-one.

Bolty was right in his conjecture. He had not only more
strenght than myself, but greater mechanical dexterity, and
consequently the heavy work fell to his share. My uncle,
finding that I wrote a neat hand and was a good arithmetician,
gradually initiated me into the mysteries of day-book
and ledger. I also assisted in waiting upon the customers,
and in a few days became sufficiently expert at sliding
sugar or coffee out of the scoop, so as to turn the scale by
the weight of a grain or single bean, settling the contents
in paper bags, and tying them squarely and compactly. My
uncle was too shrewd a business-man to let me learn at the
expense of customers: I was required to cover the counter
with packages of various weights, the contents of which
were afterwards returned to the appropriate bins or barrels.
Thus, while I was working off my awkwardness, the grocery


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presented an air of unusual patronage to its innocent visitors.

Many of our customers were farmers of the vicinity, who
brought their eggs, butter, and cheese, to exchange for groceries.
This was a profitable part of the business, as we
gained both in buying and selling. There was a great demand
among these people for patent medicines, which
formed a very important branch of my uncle's stock, and
he could have found no better salesman than Bolty Himpel.
The latter discovered, in an incredibly short time, from
what neighborhood a new customer came, and immediately
gave an account of the relief which somebody, living in an
opposite direction, had derived from the use of certain pills
or plasters.

“Weakness o' the back, eh?” he would say to some melancholy-faced
countrywoman; “our Balm of Gilead 's the
stuff for that. Only three levies a bottle; rub it in with
flannel, night and mornin'. Mr. Hempson — you know
him, p'r'aps, down on Poplar Neck? —was bent double
with the rheumatiz, and two bottles made him as straight
as I am. Better take some o' the Peruvian Preventative,
while you 're about it, ma'am, — keeps off chills and fevers.
Deacon Dingey sent all the way down from Port Clinton
t' other day for some: they don't keep it there. Lives in
a ma'shy place, right on to the river, and they ha'n't had a
chill in the family since they use 'em. I reckon we 've
sold wheelbarra loads.”

I noticed, in the course of time, that Uncle Amos never
interfered with Bolty's loquacity, unless (which happened
very rarely) his recommendation was overdone and the customer
became suspicious. Sometimes, indeed, he said, with
a gravity not wholly natural, “Rather too strong. Don't
tell more than you know.”

“Oh,” Bolty would answer, “'t won't kill if it don't cure.”

This youth had an astonishing memory of names and
faces, — a faculty in which, probably from want of practice,


Page 97
I was deficient. His German also made him indispensable
to many of the country people. My uncle possessed a
tolerable smattering of the language, and insisted that I
should endeavor to learn it. “It 's more use than the heathenish
Latin you learned in school,” said he.

“Why, Uncle Amos,” I retorted, “I read Sacred History
in Latin.”

“Then it was n't the Word of God, which was inspired
in Hebrew,” he answered.

I had determined to go on alone with my Latin studies,
and his disapprobation of the language troubled me. I
could not, as I proposed, bring the books down to the desk
behind the counter, and devote the end of the evening to
them, without incurring his pious censure. Against German
he would have no such scruples, and I decided, though
with regret, to take that language instead. I remembered
that Grandfather Hatzfeld, who had been educated in
Bethlehem, spoke it habitually, and that my mother retained
her knowledge of it to the last. Among her books
was an old edition of Herder and Liebeskind's “Palmblätter,”
which she had often read to me, as a child, and I had
then understood. This early knowledge, however, had long
since faded to a blank, but it left the desire to be renewed,
and perhaps unconsciously smoothed the first difficulties of
the study.

I saw little of Aunt Peggy, except at meals and on Sundays.
Having never had any children of her own, she
would scarcely have been able to assume a motherly attitude
towards me; but I do not think she tried. Her share
in the conversation was generally of a discouraging cast,
and the subject which most seemed to excite her interest
was a case of backsliding which had recently occurred in
my uncle's church. For several days the latter added to
his tri-daily grace a prayer “that them which have forsaken
the light may be brought back to it, and that them which
wander in darkness may be led to seek it!” He was undoubtedly


Page 98
sincere in this prayer, and I could have joined
in it, had I not been suspicious enough to guess that the
latter clause must be aimed at myself.

On Sundays, Bolty and I went twice to church with my
uncle and aunt, dutifully joining in the hymns, as I had
been accustomed to do with my mother. I declined taking
a class in the Sunday-school, much to my uncle's displeasure;
but, after being confined to the store all the week, I
felt an urgent craving for a mouthful of fresh air and the
freedom of the landscape. Sometimes I climbed high up
the sides of Mount Penn, whence the brown tints of the
coming winter vanished far off in delicious blue; but more
frequently I walked northward to the knoll now covered
by the Cemetery, and enjoyed the luxury of a wide lookout
on all sides. In the evening, Bolty was allowed to visit
his father, an honest, hard-working shoemaker, living on
the eastern edge of the town, and I occasionally accompanied
him. The family conversation was entirely in German,
so that these visits were not much of a recreation,
after all.

I soon saw that the literary performances which had
been my pride and delight at school must be given up, at
least for the winter. There was no fire in the garret bedroom,
and I was not likely to be left in possession of the
sitting-room behind the store more than once a month.