Tuesday, February 1, 2011


By Thomas F. O'Neill

The summer of 1828

Jonny Hargrove turned 14 in the summer of 1828 and he was a restless teen who sought adventure.

    “I don’t know what to do with that boy,” said Jonny’s grandfather to his daughter at the Pottsville canal, “I could get more work out of a one eyed coyote. Your boy is lazy as they come.”
    “He’s just an imaginative child still has some grow’n in him,” said Jonny’s Mother.
    “Yea but he’s a waste’n his best work’n years,” said the grandfather.
    Jonny climbed up high in a tree and worked his way out onto one of its large limbs. It was then that he noticed young Sally a bright eyed young scarlet.
    “Ahhhh !!!” yelled Jonny as he lost his balance and fell into the water. A large splash pursued followed by a laugh from Sally. The thirteen year old girl removed a man’s trousers from a potato sack. She ran behind a tree and quickly put on the trousers. She then tied a rope around her waist like a belt. After all the pants were five times her size and she didn’t want to lose her father’s trousers in the canal.
    “What are you boy’s doing in there?” a man yelled.
    “What does it look like,” yelled Sally
    “We’s fish’n,” yelled Jonny.
    “I’ll knock that sassiness out of you boy’s you wait and see,” yelled the Man.
    “I’m not a boy I’m a girl,” yelled Sally.
    “I can vouch for that Mister,” Jonny said, “she goes to my School.”
    “Do I look stupid or something,” yelled the Man.
    “Yep,” said Jonny
    “Since when do girls ware trousers?” yelled the man.
    “I only ware um when I swim,” Sally replied and she was highly insulted by being referred to as a boy.
    “The canal is not for swim’n so get out,” the man said angrily.
    “So what are you the governor or something?” asked Jonny sarcastically.
    Well that certainly ruffled the man’s feathers to the point of jumping in the canal after them. The two belligerent teens never swam so fast, their hearts were pounding with a combination of fear and amusement. Their legs and arms moved faster than they ever had before. When they got to the other side of the canal they ran but Sally quickly noticed something - her trousers were gone.
    She quickly jumped behind a bush, “I got you, you little monkey,” the man said to Sally.
    “Hey Mister please get me my trousers in the water,” said Sally with great embarrassment.
    “What?” the man said with confusion, “you don’t seem so sassy now, now do you.”
    “Please Mister,” she said.
    “Oh all right can’t have you run’n around with no clothes on,” said the man.
    Sometime later he yelled “I found them.”
    Sally popped her head up from behind the bush at the same time an elderly man was riding past her on a mule. He saw the man with the trousers in his hand and the child hiding behind the bush. He then noticed the child had no pants on. The poor fellow holding the trousers never saw the fist that came in his direction from the man on the mule - popping him on the jaw. That elderly man jumped off his mule so fast to aid the trouser less child. He was a bare fisted champion fighter in his youth and it sure showed. The elderly gentleman knocked out the man holding the trousers with a one-two bare knuckle combination punch.
    “Here you are child,” said the elderly man handing her the trousers “that scoundrel will never bother you again.”
    “There you are,” Jonny said to Sally, “I was wonder’n what happened to ya.”
    The elderly man on the mule trotted on past him.
    It was then that Jonny noticed the man lying on the ground.
    “Boy he must really be out of shape if the swimming made him that tired,” Jonny said, “hey there’s a big bump on his head.”
    “It’s a long story, Jonny” said Sally.


Jonny’s Mother spoke often about how her husband was killed in 1814 by the British troops. He was killed in the war of 1812 shortly after the birth of their son. Jonny’s Mother witnessed the burning of the White House. “The devil be with us this night Johnny” she said clutching her infant child tightly to her chest.

Her heart pounding with fear and the sound of the screaming people embedded in her soul. She hid with her parents and prayed for the war’s carnage to end. Her husband never returned home from that war. On many nights Jonny would clutch his mother in his arms as she relived the moment of that harrowing night in her nightmares.

She moved northward with her parents and in 1819 settled in the village of Pottsville. Jonny’s Mother gained employment as a School teacher and her Father owned a small produce store.

Every Friday early in the morning before the sun would rise Jonny and his grandfather would go to the Pottsville canal. They would wait there with many others for the large barge to arrive. They would then load their goods on to a mule drawn carriage to their produce store.

    “I’m going to be a barge captain and travel all over the world on it all the way to China,” said Jonny to Sally.
    “You have to cross a big Ocean to go to China,” Sally told him as they sat on a large tree limb overlooking the canal.
    “Maybe if I make enough money on the barge I could buy my own ship,” said Jonny.
    Friday’s came quickly that summer and Jonny dreaded having to unload the crates.
    “Where is that lazy good for nothing son of yours,” said the grandfather to his daughter.
    “He’s not here,” she said.
    The barge arrived and the produce was loaded on to their mule drawn carriage.
    “No lunch or supper for that lazy boy,” he said to his daughter as they headed home to their store.
    The barge headed southward down the canal.
    The barge Captain heard something it sounded like two large rodents. He started slamming a large stick against the large wooden crates.
    “I’m tired of you dam rats get off me barge!!!!”

Two loud screams broke loose causing the captain to tumble backwards over a large crate.

    “Who the bedevil may you two be?” said the captain.
    “We just wanted to come along that’s all Mister,” said Jonny.
    “Yea” said Sally, “don’t hit us with the stick.”

The Captain had a thick Gaelic sounding accent that they never heard before.

    “Look this is no place for children,” the Captain yelled, “but I can’t take yas back until me finish me rounds and me ain’t pay’n yas none either.”
    “Where are you headed” asked Sally.
    “We’s got a lot of stops along the way to Philadelphia.”
    “Never been there,” said Jonny.
    “This is no Joy ride there’s raiders to look out for,” said the Captain.
    “What’s a Raider?” asked Sally “is that like a big cat or something?”
    “No you stupid child they steal your barge.”
    “What do they do with it,” asked Jonny.
    “Pirates they are dirty Pirates” said the Captain, “they sell the produce for themselves and when they done with their business they set it ablaze.”
    “What do they do with the people?” asked Sally with fear in her voice.
    “They kill um” said the Captain “that’s why this is no place for the likes of you.”

Sally and Jonny stared at the Captain in disbelief wondering if they will ever get home alive. As the barge pulled into the next stop ropes were thrown to them and two mules pulled the barge closer to land. They saw a man struggling with one of the mules because the mule was refusing to pull. An elderly man gave the mule a swat on its rear with a large piece of wood. The mule kicked back with its hind legs knocking another fella clear into the canal.

    “That must hurt,” said Sally to Jonny watching it all from the barge.
    “Well just don’t sit there, unload” the Captain yelled to the two barge mates.

Unloading the barge was no easy task it was hard work and their arms ached and their legs ached and parts of their bodies they never noticed before ached.

    “How many more stops are there?” Jonny asked lying across a crate.
    “Plenty” said the Captain.

Sally fell asleep lying between two crates.

    “You look like a bright young fella so since you’re here you can learn to sail me barge,” said the Captain, ”then you can take your nap like your girl.”
    “She’s not my girl she’s just a friend,” said Jonny.
    “Nightfall,” said the Captain, “that’s when I will let you sail me barge. That way the Raiders can’t get to her. If she’s move’n at night they know we are awake and they will leave us be. The Raiders come and steal when we’s sleep’n not when we’s move’n.”
    “When will I sleep if I’m up all night,” asked Jonny.
    “When you’re not unloading you can sleep like your girl there,” said the Captain.

That night Sally stayed really close to Jonny every sound and thump made them jumpy. They were scared of the darkness that surrounded them. They were mostly scared of the unseen Raiders ready to pounce on their barge at any moment.

    “I wonder what they look like Jonny?” Sally asked in a petrified voice.
    “Those Raiders, those Pirates?” asked Sally
    “I don’t even want to think about it,” Jonny said trying to hide his fear.

Jonny felt a large callused hand come down on his shoulder and he let out the loudest and most gut wrenching scream the Captain ever heard. Sally clutched on to the Captain’s arm during that terrifying moment.

    “What in blazes boy is wrong with you?” asked the Captain.
    “I thought you were a raider,” Jonny said in a frightened voice.
    “You’re doing a good Job sailing me barge we’s be in Philadelphia by morn’n,” said the Captain.

The Captain handed each of them a dried beef-jerky to eat and water to drink. After three days on the barge Jonny was thinking about his mother’s scrambled eggs. He told Sally about his Mother’s cooked ham, her warm fresh milk, and her fresh bread. “Stop it Jonny you’re making me hungrier,” Sally said placing her hand on her stomach.

As the barge approached Philadelphia two small boats pulled up close to them. “Raiders!!!!” screamed Sally. Jonny grabbed a stick to take a swing at the men in the boats.

    “For crying out loud I ought a just leave yas off here,” said the Captain pulling the stick out of Jonny’s hand.

The two high strung teens grabbed the ropes that were thrown their way by the men in the boats. They tied them to the barge good and tight. Mules on shore pulled the barge closer to the harbor. The two barge mates helped to unload and when they thought they were all through they sat down with delight.

    “What are you two rug rats doing over there?” asked the Captain.
    “Everything is off the Barge,” said Jonny proudly.
    “We need to fill our next orders for the trip back so get to work,” said the Captain angrily.
    As they looked at all the crates ready to be loaded on board Jonny’s legs began to feel like two wet noodles. Sally’s arms began to feel like ragweed and tears began to well up in their eyes at the horror of it all.
    “What good are yas?” asked the Captain, “when we get back to Pottsville you two got to go.”

When the barge was reloaded with various produce “well,” said the Captain, “we got to get some food in yas before we head back.”

The Pottsville teens were awe struck by the amount of people on the City streets. They never saw so many stores and taverns. The Captain took the two starving children into the White Horse Tavern for a hot meal and fresh coffee. The Captain drank one mug of beer after another in that character filled place. He seemed to know many people there as he comingled and laughed.

    “Where are you from?” Sally asked the Captain, “I never heard anyone talk like you before.”
    “Me nether,” said Jonny, “sometimes I have a hard time with the way you talk.”
    “Ireland,” came the Captain’s reply.
    “Is it near Philadelphia,” Jonny asked.
    Sally laughed at Jonny’s question and so did the Captain.
    “No” said the Captain, “but there are plenty of Irish here just the same.”
    It wasn’t long before the Captain was filled to the brim with booze and he soon began to sing to the other patrons in Gaelic. Sally shrugged her shoulders at Jonny because they couldn’t sing along. They didn’t know the words to the songs and the songs weren’t even in English. The owner in due time placed the Captain in a small room on the second floor to sleep off his drunken stupor.
    “Hey” said the owner “do you guys have any money.”
    “No” said Jonny.
    “I don’t either” said Sally.
    “Well here is a dime and a nickel for you” he said to Jonny, “and here is a dime and a nickel for you” he said to Sally, “go out and have fun he won’t be going anywhere till morning. You can stay here tonight this is where he normally stays before heading back to Port Carbon. Is that where you two are from?”
    “No we live in Pottsville,” said Sally.
    “Well have fun and come back later I’ll give you guys a room.”

They walked around and visited various stores. They saw beautiful suites and dresses in store windows. They saw men walking around with large top hates and women with beautiful hairpins with fancy designs.

    They came to a large theater, “how much does it cost to get in?” Jonny asked the man in the ticket booth.
    “Ten cents” came the reply.
    “That’s an awful lot of money Jonny,” said Sally.
    “I’ll tell you what,” said the man in the booth, “I’ll let both of you in for ten cents.”
    “Thanks Mister,” said Jonny excitedly.
    They went inside the theater, “I never been in one of these before” said Sally.
    A man and women began to pompously sniffle with hankies up to their noses. It seemed to them that the two young barge workers sitting nearby watching the Opera were in desperate need of a good scrubbing down. “The people they let in here,” said the woman.
    “How much for one of those meat sandwiches?” Jonny asked a street Vender.
    “Two Cents,” came his reply.
    “Two cents for a sandwich” said Sally “everything is so much more expensive here.”
    “Well I’m still hungry so give me one and her one” Jonny said to the vender.
    The next morning the Captain seemed to have a bit of a hangover but he was looking forward to his trip northward to Port Carbon via the various canals and stops along the way.
    “Well you guys need to wash your clothes and take a scrubbing before we head off,” he said to his two young stowaways. He didn’t have the heart to leave them there.
    “We’re not taking a bath together” said Sally
    “Did I say together first you than him,” said the Captain.
    “I had to share a room with Jonny last night. What will people think of me in Pottsville?” Sally grumbled to the Captain and Jonny through a closed door.
    “Hurry up in there” the Captain yelled to Sally.
    “I just got in the water and it’s cold,” said Sally.
    “Oh I boiled that water plenty,” said the Captain.
    “What are we supposed to ware while our clothes are being washed?” Sally asked angrily.
    “Just wrap yourself in a towel,” he said, “now get scrubbing.”

On a Friday morning the barge slowly moved towards the Pottsville canal. Sally and Jonny were so grateful to be back home. They were only gone a week but they never been on such an adventure before especially to a grand place like Philadelphia.

As the mules pulled the barge closer to shore Jonny’s grandfather noticed his grandson on board with his friend Sally.

    “You got a lot of explaining to do” said Jonny’s grandfather, “but first unload our produce. Your Mother hasn’t slept a wink since you two left.”

Jonny gave his Grandfather a big hug.

    “There’s plenty of time for that later just help me unload my produce,” said the Grandfather.
    When Jonny’s Mother seen him she broke down in tears, “where did you go” she asked.
    “Philadelphia,” said Sally excitedly.
    “Do you believe that they went all the way there on the Barge,” said the Grandfather.

Jonny turned and waved goodbye to the barge captain as he sailed off.

The week long disappearance of Jonny and Sally made a huge stir in Pottsville that summer.

The day they went missing someone came forward and reported that a man chased a trouser less child across the Pottsville canal. The incident occurred just a few days before the two teens went missing. That certainly raised the fear level among the Pottsville villagers. Things like that just don’t happen in Pottsville. A description of the man went out and the elderly gentleman on the mule spotted that scoundrel once again near the Pottsville canal. He jumped off his mule and gave that man a one-two bare knuckle combination punch. The suspect was knocked out cold and quickly apprehended. The judge ordered that he be held without bail in the Pottsville jail.

The day the two young barge mates returned home the man in the Pottsville jail was released. It took him a long time to build up enough courage to return to the canal. The two adventurous youth were ordered by the Court to do work for the man accused of their abduction. They had to tend to O’Neill’s farm for each day he was unjustly incarcerated and it served them right.

Sally and Jonny eventually married due to the scandal of them sharing a room in Philadelphia. They took over the produce store in 1849. They had twelve children over the years and their descendants are spread-out across the United State.

We must never lose touch with what filled the heart and soul of those two young teens in the summer of 1828. Their wondrous youth filled imaginations and carefree innocence are within all of us just waiting to be rediscovered.

Always with love from Suzhou, China
Thomas F O?Neill

    Phone: (800) 272-6464
    China Cell: 011-86-15114565945
    Skype: thomas_f_oneill
    Email: introspective7@hotmail.com
    Other articles, short stories, and commentaries by Thomas F. O'Neill can be found on his award winning blog, Link: http://thomasfoneill.blogspot.com

    Click on Thomas F. O'Neill for bio and list of other works published by Pencil Stubs Online.

No comments:

Post a Comment