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Page 157


It must not be supposed that my literary ambition had
slumbered during all this time. Some four or five of my
poems had been published, — the last two, to my great satisfaction,
without editorial correction; and moreover, a
story of the Colonial days, entitled “The Wizard of Perkiomen,”
was announced as accepted. My first timidity to
be known as an author was rapidly wearing away. I began
to wish that somebody would suspect me of being “Selim,”
but alas! who was there of sufficient taste and penetration
to make the discovery? Would not Miss Amanda Bratton,
at least, recognize in the “Parable” I had written for her
album the same strings which vibrated in the “Unknown
Bard?” To make assurance doubly sure, however, I attached
to the next poem I forwarded to Philadelphia, after
the signature of “Selim,” the local address, “Yule's Mill,
Berks County, Pa.” This would settle the matter forever.

My mind the more easily habituated itself to literary expression
from the isolation, whether real or imagined, in
which I lived. I learned to confide to paper the thoughts
which I judged no one around me (except, perhaps, one
whom I dared not approach) was worthy to share. My
treasures accumulated much more rapidly than I could dispose
of them; but I looked upon them as so much available
capital, to be used at the proper time. I had no further
doubt of my true vocation, but what rank I should attain in


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it was a question which sometimes troubled me. I lacked
patience to toil for years in obscurity, looking forward to
the distant day when recognition must come, because it had
been fairly earned. My energy was of that kind which
flags without immediate praise.

There was now, as the reader may have suspected, an
additional spur to my impatience. My heart was pitched
to the key of a certain sweet, subdued, even-toned voice.
I was jubilant with the consciousness that the one passion
which is not only permitted to authors, but is considered
actually necessary to their development, had come at last
to quicken and inspire me. It was a vague, misty, delicious
sensation, scorning to be put into tangible form, or to clothe
its yearnings with the material aspects of life. There was
poison in the thought of settlements, income, housekeeping
details; I turned away with an inward shudder, if such
things were accidentally suggested to my mind. My love
nourished itself upon dew, odors, and flute-like melodies.

I took the album back to Miss Amanda with a tremor
of mingled doubt and hope. She read the lines slowly,
and as she approached the bottom of the page I turned
away my eyes and waited, with my heart in my mouth, for
her voice.

“Oh, it is so pretty!” she said; “there is nothing so
nice in the book. You do write beautifully, Mr. Godfrey.
Have you composed anything for Verbena Cuff?”

She put the question in a careless way, which satisfied
me that there was not the least jealousy or selfishness in
her nature. So far as my hopes were concerned, I should
have been better satisfied if she had betrayed a slight
tinge of the former emotion; but, on after-reflection, I decided
that I liked her all the better for the unsuspicious
truth and frankness of her nature.

“I could n't avoid it, you know, after promising,” I said.

“I wish you would let me see it.”

“I have no copy with me,” I replied; “but I have the


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lines in my head. I wrote them for the lily of the valley,
which, you know, means `Humility': —
“`My dwelling is the forest shade,
Beside the streamlet wandering free;
'T is there, in modest green arrayed,
I hide my blossoms from the bee.
“`But thou dost make the garden fair,
Where noonday sunbeams round thee fall;
How should the shrinking Lily dare
To hear the gay Verbena's call?'
You notice the irony?”

“Yes,” she answered, after a pause. “It 's a shame.”
But she smiled sweetly, as she said so.

“Oh, you don't know,” I cried, in transport, — “you don't
know, Miss Bratton, how grateful it is to find a mind that
can understand you! To find intelligence, and poetic feeling,
and — and —”

I paused, not knowing how to make the climax.

“Yes,” she replied, casting down her eyes, and with a
mournful inflection of voice which went to my soul, “I understand
it, from my own experience.”

What more I should have said, with this encouragement,
I know not, for Mrs. Bratton put her head into the room,
announcing, “Tea, 'Manda. Mr. Godfrey, will you set

This was one of her peculiar phrases, which would have
provoked my mirth, had she not been the mother of her
daughter. But, as she was, I thought it quaint and original.
Another expression was, “Take off some o' the butter,”
or whatever dish it might be. I accepted the invitation,
although my pleasure at having my tea “seasoned”
by Miss Amanda was greatly lessened by the presence of
young Sep, in a state of exhilaration. He had just come
up from the Buck Tavern, and was in a humor for any
devilment. It pleased him, in addressing me, to abbreviate
my family-name in a way which made his remarks


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seem shockingly profane. This he thought the perfection
of wit, and he roared every time he uttered it.

Miss Amanda looked pained, as well she might be, and
over and over again exclaimed, “Don't, Sep!” — but to
no purpose. I thought this was bad enough, but worse was
to come.

“I say, —,” (I will not write the syllable he used),
“I saw Tom Cuff at the Buck to-day. He says the lime-kiln
's done burning.” Then he winked at me, and burst
into a hoarse laugh.

I sat, frozen with horror.

“Lime-kiln?” was all I could say, hoping my confusion
might pass for ignorance in the pale, steady eyes which
must certainly be fixed on my face.

“You did n't know they had one, I reckon!” he continued.
“Well, — I won't tell tales out of school, even
against the schoolmaster.”

I caught Miss Amanda's look, which asked, “What does
he mean?” Explanation, however, was impossible at the
time, and I said nothing. Sep's thoughts presently turned
into another channel, and my torment ceased, though not
my apprehensions as to the impression he had produced
on somebody else.

I did not dare to call too frequently, and several days
elapsed before I could make an explanation. I approached
the subject clumsily enough, feeling that my allusion to it
was a half-confession of misdemeanor, yet too disturbed to
take the opposite course, and ignore it. Of course, I omitted
the catastrophe of the evening, making the album account
for my visit, and hinting, as delicately as possible,
that I had expected to meet Miss Bratton at Cuff's. How
I was relieved to find that I had misinterpreted the latter's
glance at the tea-table! She had attached no meaning to
her brother's remark, — had, in fact, forgotten all about it!
Now that I mentioned the matter, she had an indistinct
recollection of something about Tom Cuff and a lime-kiln;


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but Sep had such a way of blurting out everything that
came into his head! She knew, moreover, how “people”
always talked, making mountains out of mole-hills, — but
Verbena Cuff was reckoned to be quite a nice girl, and I
need not object to have it known that I visited her now and

I affirmed, with great earnestness, that I hoped I should
never see her again.

“Why, you seem to have quite a prejudice against her,
Mr. Godfrey,” said Miss Amanda. “She is a good-hearted
creature, I assure you, with, perhaps, a little — though
it may be wrong in me to say it — a little want of polish.
That is a common want in Upper Samaria, however, and
maybe we all have it in your eyes.”

“Oh, Miss Amanda — Miss Bratton!” I remonstrated,
“not all! You are unjust to yourself, and to me, if you
imagine I could think so. Your generosity will not allow
you to admit Verbena Cuff's coarseness and boldness of
manner; you cannot feel the contrast as I do. It is just
because some others are cultivated, and refined, and pure-spirited,
that her ignorance is so repulsive to me!”

She cast down her eyes, and was silent for a minute.
Then she spoke in that gentle, deliberate way which so
charmed me: “Ye-es, there are others who have risen
above those who surround them. You will find them here
and there.”

This was taking up my words altogether too literally. I
had spoken, it is true, in the plural, but my heart meant a
singular. In her perfect modesty, — her ignorance of her
own spiritual value, — she had misunderstood me. I did
not admire her the less for this quality, though I felt that
all my indirect professions, hitherto, must have failed to
reach her maidenly consciousness.

While I was uneasily shifting my cap from one hand to
another, uncertain whether to continue the subject, or give
our conversation another direction, she took up a paper


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which lay on the table beside her, unfolded it, and asked,
with a bewitching air of pleasantry, —

“Mr. Godfrey, do you know who `Selim' is?”

I had not yet received my copy from the post-office
at Cardiff, and was therefore ignorant that my poem, entitled
“The Lament of Hero, after the Drowning of Leander,”
commencing, —

“Ay, howl ye Hellespontic waves!”

had been printed in the number for that week; but a
glance at the first page, as she held it towards me, showed
the success of my stratagem. I was discovered at last.
There, under “Selim,” was the address, “Yule's Mill,
Berks County.” I will not describe my sensations at that
moment. I have understood ever since how a young girl
must feel when the man her heart has chosen unexpectedly
declares his own attachment.

“Have you read it? Do you like it?” I breathlessly

“Yes, indeed, — it is lovely! I knew you must be a
poet, Mr. Godfrey. I saw the Belvidere Bard at Bethlehem.
He visited our school; and he had eyes with the
same expression as you have. There 's something about
poets that distinguishes them from common people.”

My own thought! Was I not, like Byron, not altogether
made of such mean clay as rots into the souls of those
whom I survey? And she, who stood as far above the rest
of her sex in that secluded valley as I stood above mine,
was the first — the only one — to recognize my nobility.
Only the exiled Princess knew, under his rags, the lofty
bearing of the exiled Prince! Oh, could I but woo her to
return my sprouting love, I would immortalize her in future
song, — she should be my Hinda, my Medora, my Astarte,
my Ellen of the Lake! After Burns and his Highland
Mary, should be written the names of Godfrey and his


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There was no end, that night, to my preposterous dreams.
As I recall them, I know not whether to weep or laugh.
The puny lily of my imaginative faculty seemed destined
to fill the world with its fragrance, and I could not see that
it was rooted, no less than the pig-weed, in the common
mud. I had yet to learn that the finer clay, upon which I
congratulated myself, is more easily soiled by the Devil's
fingers than one of coarser grit, — that neither do such
natures as mine monopolize the beauty, the romance, and
the tragedy of life, nor are they exempt from the temptations
which assail the ignorant, the excesses committed by
the vulgar.

The tidings that “the schoolmaster wrote verses for the
papers” were soon spread through the neighborhood. I
cannot, to this day, decide whether it was an advantage to
my reputation among the people, or the reverse. On the
one hand, they had little respect for any talent which did
not take a practical direction; on the other, they vaguely
felt that it was a certain sort of distinction. The Yules,
and others, borrowed my copy of the paper, and, I am
bound to believe, dutifully read the poem. Dan was honest
enough to confess to me: “It 's a pretty jingle, but I can't
say as I know what it all means.” The girls, I did not fail
to observe, were much more impressed by the discovery
than the young men.

By degrees, however, I received encouraging notices of
one kind or another. The shoemaker at the Buck, an old
Scotchman, who knew Burns by heart and sneered at Homer
and Shakspeare, was one of my very first admirers;
but he used to say, “Ye ha'n't got the lilt, lad,” — which
was very true, only I did n't believe him at the time.
Squire Bratton, being one day at Carterstown, brought me
a message from the Rev. Mr. Perego, to the effect that I
would find sublime subjects for my muse in the Scriptures:
he suggested Moses on Pisgah, and the visit of Naaman to
Elisha. I did, indeed, commence a poem on the former


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subject, out of pure gratitude for the clergyman's interest,
— but this was an insufficient inspiration, and the work
was never finished. Then I received many applications to
write obituary verses, made from so evident a piety towards
the dead, and with such sincere good faith in my
powers, that I had not the heart to refuse. I have no
doubt that some of my manuscripts are still preserved between
the leaves of old Family Bibles, in Upper Samaria.
The applications for album poetry, at first so agreeable,
became at last a positive annoyance, because my poetic
apostrophes to Youth and Beauty were always taken in a
literal and personal sense. One day, in sheer desperation,
I wrote in a volume sent to me, through Susan Yule, by a
young lady of Cardiff, —
“Oh, fair Unknown! believe my simple rhyme:
Procrastination is the thief of time.”
The lady, of whose age and circumstances I was utterly
ignorant, happened to be verging on ancient maidenhood,
much to her own disgust, and immediately suspected me
of a malicious insinuation. She tore out and burned the
leaf, and within three days Mrs. Yule picked up a report
that I had written something unmentionably coarse and
profane. It must have been generally believed, for I received
very few albums afterwards.

During this time the number of my pupils had been
gradually increasing, until there were frequently between
forty and fifty present at once, and all my youthful authority
was required to preserve even tolerable order. I had
little trouble with the oldest and the youngest, but the cubs
between twelve and sixteen sometimes drove me nearly to
distraction. Keeping them in after school-hours, was more
of an annoyance to myself than to them; I had a dislike
to bodily punishment, although it was well merited, and
allowed by the custom of the country; and, moreover, to
confess the truth, I did not feel sure of my ability to suppress


Page 165
a well-organized plan of rebellion. Towards the end
of the winter, I had reason to believe that a “barring out”
was really contemplated, and communicated my suspicions
to Dan Yule, who was my confidant in all external matters.

Dan took the matter much more coolly than I did.
“Boys will be boys,” said he; “they do it every winter; —
fact is, I 've had a hand in it myself. But if you want to
fix 'em, I 'll put you up to a trick worth two o' their'n.”

This struck me as better than resistance; so, prompted
by Dan, I procured some large iron spikes, and prepared
oblique holes in the window-frames to receive them. The
window-shutters consisted of a single piece, bolted on the
inside. I also went into the loft and bored a small hole
through the plaster of the ceiling, just over the stove.
Then, with tranquillity of soul, I waited for the event.

On Saturday morning, the closed shutters of the schoolhouse
announced to me that the barring-out had commenced.
I tried to open the door, but found it firmly fastened on the
inner side. Then I went to each of the four windows, pretending
to examine them, but really inserting my spikes.
When this was done, I locked the door from without, and,
with a stone, drove the spikes home. The boys thought I
was attempting to force an entrance: I could hear their
malicious laughter. When all was secure, I took a rail
from the fence and placed it against the gable. It reached
so near the little garret-window that I easily effected an
entrance, and stole quietly along the middle joist to the
hole in the ceiling. The boys were at the windows, trying
to catch a glimpse of me through the cracks under the
shutters. It was a favorable moment. I hastily poured the
contents of a small paper of ground cayenne pepper down
through the hole upon the stove, slipped back again, replaced
the rail, and gave a few more thumps on the window-shutters
by way of farewell.

Dan could not resist the temptation to lurk and listen
after I reported that the work was done, and his description,


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that evening, of the sneezes and cries of distress; the
swagger of some boys and the penitence of others; the
consultations and the final determination to surrender; the
bewilderment and dumb dismay at finding that they had
not only barred the master out, but the master had barred
them in, — occasioned more laughter in the family than I
had heard since I came to live with them. The efforts of
the boys to get out lasted for some time, and was only accomplished
at last by wrenching one of the shutters off its
hinges. Then they scattered to their several homes, very
sheepish and crestfallen.

On the following Monday I opened school as usual.
There was a curious expectancy among the pupils, but I
made not the slightest allusion, then or afterwards, to the
Saturday's performance. Dan told the whole story at the
Buck, and it was some time before the boys heard the last
of it. I had much less difficulty, thenceforth, in preserving

As week after week of the winter passed away, and my
thoughts turned from the memory of autumn to the hope
of spring, the temporary character of my occupation forced
itself more and more upon my attention. In a short time
my engagement would be at an end, and I was less than
ever in the humor to renew it. What the next step should
be, was yet undecided, except that it must be forward and
upward into a wider sphere of action.