The Lights and Shadows of Real Life
by T.S. Arthur
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

On the next morning, the father of little Jane went away to his work, and she was left alone with her mother and her younger sister. They were very poor, and could not afford to employ any one to do the house-work, and so, young as she was, while her mother was sick, Jane had everything to do:—the cooking, and cleaning, and even the washing and ironing—a hard task, indeed, for her little hands. But she never murmured—never seemed to think that she was overburdened; How cheerfully would all have been done, if her father's smiles had only fallen like sunshine upon her heart! But that face, into which her eyes looked so often and so anxiously, was ever hid in clouds—clouds arising from the consciousness that he was abusing his family while seeking his own base gratification, and from perceiving the evidences of his evil works stamped on all things around him.

As Jane passed frequently through her mother's room during the morning, pausing almost every time to ask if she wanted anything; she saw, too plainly, that she was not as well as on the day before—that she had a high fever, indicated to her by her hot skin and constant request for cool water.

"I wish I had an orange," the poor woman said, as Jane came up to her bed-side, for the twentieth time, "it would taste so good to me."

She had been thinking about an orange all the morning; and notwithstanding her effort to drive the thought from her mind, the form of an orange would ever picture itself before her, and its grateful flavour ever seem about to thrill upon her taste. At last she uttered her wish—not so much with the hope of having it gratified, as from an involuntary impulse to speak out her desire.

There was not a single cent in the house, for the father rarely trusted his wife with money—he could not confide in her judicious expenditure of it!

"Let me go and buy you an orange, mother," Jane said; "they have oranges at the shop."

"I have no change, my dear; and if I had, I should not think it right to spend four or five cents for an orange, when we have so little. Get me a cool drink of water; that will do now."

Jane brought the poor sufferer a glass of cool water, and she drank it off eagerly. Then she lay back upon her pillow with a sigh, and her little girl went out to attend to the household duties that devolved upon her. But all the while Jane thought of the orange, and of how she should get it for her mother.

When her father came home to dinner, he looked crosser than he did in the morning. He sat down to the table and eat his dinner in moody silence, and then arose to depart, without so much as asking after his sick wife, or going into her chamber. As he moved towards the door, his hat already on his head, Jane went up to him, and looking timidly in his face, said, with a hesitating voice—

"Mother wants an orange so bad. Won't you give me some money to buy her one?"

"No, I will not! Your mother had better be thinking about something else than wasting money for oranges!" was the angry reply, as the father passed out, and shut the door hard after him.

Jane stood for a moment, frightened at the angry vehemence of her father, and then burst into tears. She said nothing to her mother of what had passed, but after the agitation of her mind had somewhat subsided, began to cast about in her thoughts for some plan by which she might obtain an orange. At last it occurred to her, that at the shop where she got liquor for her father, they bought rags and old iron.

"How much do you give a pound for rags?" she asked, in a minute or two after the idea had occurred to her, standing at the counter of the shop.

"Three cents a pound," was the reply.

"How much for old iron?"

"A cent a pound."

"What's the price of them oranges?"

"Four cents apiece."

With this information, Jane hurried back. After she had cleared away the dinner-table, she went down into the cellar and looked up all the old bits of iron that she could find. Then she searched the yard, and found some eight or ten rusty nails, an old bolt, and a broken hinge. These she laid away in a little nook in the cellar. Afterwards she gathered together all the old rags that she could find about the house, and in the cellar, and laid them with her old iron. But she saw plainly enough that her iron would not weigh over two pounds, nor her rags over a quarter of a pound. If time would have permitted, she would have gone into the street to look for old iron, but this she could not do; and disappointed at not being able to get the orange for her mother, she went about her work during the afternoon with sad and desponding thoughts and feelings.

It was summer time, and her father came home from his work before it was dark.

"Go and get me a pint of brandy," he said to Jane, in a tone that sounded harsh and angry to the child, handing her at the same time a quarter of a dollar. Since the day before he had taken a pint of brandy, and none but the best would suit him.

She took the money and the bottle, and went over to the shop. Wistfully she looked at the tempting oranges in the window, as she gave the money for the liquor,—and thought how glad her poor mother would be to have one.

As she was hurrying back, she saw a thick rusty iron ring lying in the street: she picked it up, and kept on her way. It felt heavy, and her heart bounded with the thought that now she could buy the orange for her mother. The piece of old iron was dropped in the yard, as she passed through. After her father had taken a dram, he sat down to his supper. While he was eating it, Jane went into the cellar and brought out into the yard her little treasure of scrap iron. As she passed backwards and forwards before the door facing which her father sat, he observed her, and felt a sudden curiosity to know what she was doing. He went softly to the window, and as he did so, he saw her gathering the iron, which she had placed in a little pile, into her apron. Then she rose up quickly, and passed out of the yard-gate into the street.

The father went back to his supper, but his appetite was gone. There was that in the act of his child, simple as it was, that moved his feelings, in spite of himself. All at once he thought of the orange she had asked for her mother; and he felt a conviction that it was to buy an orange that Jane was now going to sell the iron she had evidently been collecting since dinner-time.

"How selfish and wicked I am!" he said to himself, almost involuntarily.

In a few minutes Jane returned, and with her hand under her apron, passed through the room where he sat into her mother's chamber. An impulse, almost irresistible, caused him to follow her in a few moments after.

"It is so grateful!" he heard his wife say, as he opened the door.

On entering her chamber, he found her sitting up in bed eating the orange, while little Jane stood by her looking into her face with an air of subdued, yet heartfelt gratification. All this he saw at a glance, yet did not seem to see, for he pretended to be searching for something, which, apparently obtained, he left the room and the house, with feelings of acute pain and self-upbraidings.

"Come, let us go and see these cold-water men," said a companion, whom he met a few steps from his own door. "They are carrying all the world before them."

"Very well, come along."

And the two men bent their steps towards Temperance Hall.

When little Jane's father turned from the door of that place, his name was signed to the pledge, and his heart fixed to abide by it. On his way home, he saw some grapes in a window,—he bought some of them, and a couple of oranges and lemons. When he came home, he—went into his wife's chamber, and opening the paper that contained the first fruits of his sincere repentance, laid them before her, and said, with tenderness, while the moisture dimmed his eyes—

"I thought these would taste good to you, Mary, and so I bought them."

"O, William!" and the poor wife started, and looked up into her husband's face with an expression of surprise and trembling hope.

"Mary,"—and he took her hand, tenderly—"I have signed the pledge to-night, and I will keep it, by the help of Heaven!"

The sick wife raised herself up quickly, and bent over towards her husband, eagerly extending her hands. Then, as he drew his arm around her, she let her head fall upon his bosom, with an emotion of delight, such as had not moved over the surface of her stricken heart for years.

The pledge taken was the total-abstinence pledge, and it has never been violated by him, and what is better, we are confident never will. How much of human hope and happiness is involved in that simple pledge!


"DEAR father," said Mary Edwards, "don't go out this evening!" and the young girl, who had scarcely numbered fourteen years, laid her hand upon the arm of her parent.

But Mr. Edwards shook her off impatiently, muttering, as he did so,

"Can't I go where I please?"

"O! yes, father!" urged Mary, drawing up to him again, notwithstanding her repulse. "But there is going to be a storm, and I wouldn't go out."

"Storm! Nonsense! That's only your pretence. But I'll be home soon—long before the rain, if it comes at all."

And, saying this, Mr. Edwards turned from his daughter and left the house. As soon as she was alone, Mary sat down and commenced weeping. There had been sad changes since she was ten years old. In that time, her father had fallen into habits of intemperance, and not only wasted his substance, but abused his family; and, sadder still, her mother had died broken-hearted, leaving her alone in the world with a drunken father.

The young girl's trials, under these painful circumstances, were great. Night after night her father would come home intoxicated, and it was so rare a thing for her to get a kind word from him, that a tone of affection from his lips would move her instantly to tears. Daily the work of declension went on. Drunkenness led to idleness, and gradually Mr. Edwards and his child sunk lower and lower in the scale of comfort. The pleasant home where they had lived for years was. given up, and in small, poorly furnished rooms, in a narrow street, they hid themselves from observation. After this change, Mr. Edwards moved along his downward way, more rapidly; earning less and drinking more.

Mary grew old fast. Under severe trials and afflictions, her mind rapidly matured; and her affection for her father, grew stronger and stronger, as she realized more and more fully the dreadful nature and ultimate tendency of the infatuation by which he was led.

At last, in the anguish of her concern, she ventured upon remonstrance. This brought only angry repulse, adding bitterness to her cup of sorrow. The appearance of a storm, on the evening to which we have alluded, gave Mary an excuse for urging her father not to go out. How her remonstrance was received has been seen. While the poor girl sat weeping, the distant rolling of thunder indicated the approach of the storm to which she had referred. But she cared little for it now. Her father had gone out. She had spoken of it only with the hope that he might have been induced to remain with her. Now that he was away, the agitation within was too great to leave any concern for the turbulent elements without.

On leaving his home, Mr. Edwards, who had not taken any liquor for three or four hours, and whose appetite was sharp for the accustomed stimulus, walked quickly in the direction of a drinking-house where he usually spent his evenings. On entering, he found that there was a little commotion in the bar-room. A certain individual, not over friendly to landlords, had intruded himself; and, his character being known, the inmates were disposed to have a little sport with him.

"Come now, old fellow!" said one, just as Edwards came in,—"mount this table and make us a first rate temperance speech."

"Do; and I'll treat you to the stiffest glass of whisky toddy the landlord can mix," added another. "Or perhaps you'd like a mint julep or gin cocktail better? Any thing you please. Make the speech and call for the liquor. I'll stand the treat."

"What d'ye say, landlord? Shall he make the speech?" said another, who was eager for sport.

"Please yourselves," replied the landlord, "and you'll please me."

"Very well. Now for the speech, old fellow! Here! mount this table." And two or three of the most forward took hold of his arms.

"I'm not just in the humor for making a speech," said the temperance man, "but, if it will please you as well, I'll sing you a song."

"Give us a song then. Any thing to accommodate. But come, let's liquor first."

"No!" said the other firmly, "I must sing the song first, if I sing it at all."

"Don't you think your pipes will be clearer for a little drink of some kind or other."

"Perhaps they would," was replied. "So, provided you have no objection, I'll take a glass of cold water—if such a thing is known in this place."

The glass of water was presented, and then the man, who was somewhat advanced in years, prepared to give the promised song. All stood listening attentively, Edwards among the rest. The voice of the old man was low and tremulous, yet every word was uttered distinctly, and with a pathos which showed that the meaning was felt. The following well-known temperance song was the one that he sung; and while his voice filled the bar-room every other sound was hushed.

"Where are the friends that to me were so dear, Long, long ago—long, long ago? Where are the hopes that my heart used to cheer, Long, long ago—long ago! Friends that I loved in the grave are laid low, Hopes that I cherished are fled from me now, I am degraded, for rum was my foe Long, long ago—long ago!

"Sadly my wife bowed her beautiful head, Long, long ago—long, long ago. Oh! how I wept when I knew she was dead! Long, long ago—long ago. She was an angel! my love and my guide! Vainly to save me from ruin she tried; Poor, broken-hearted! 'twas well that she died Long, long ago—long ago.

"Let me look back on the days of my youth, Long, long ago—long, long ago, I was no stranger to virtue and truth, Long, long ago—long ago. Oh! for the hopes that were pure as the day! Oh! for the joys that were purer than they! Oh! for the hours that I've squandered away Long, long ago—long ago."

The silence that pervaded the room when the old man's voice died, or might rather be said, sobbed away, was as the silence of death. His own heart was touched, for he wiped his eyes, from which tears had started. Pausing scarcely a moment, he moved slowly from the room, and left his audience to their own reflections. There was not one of them who was not more or less affected; but the deepest impression had been made on the heart of Edwards. The song seemed as if it had been made for him. The second verse, particularly, went thrilling to the very centre of his feelings.

"Sadly my wife bowed her beautiful head!"

How suddenly arose before him the sorrow-stricken form of the wife of his youth at these words! and when the old man's voice faltered on the line—

"Poor, broken-hearted! 'twas well that she died!"

the anguish of his spirit was so great, that he only kept himself from sobbing aloud by a strong effort at self-control. Ere the spell was broken, or a word uttered by any one, he arose and left the house.

For many minutes after her father's departure, Mary sat weeping bitterly. She felt hopeless and deserted. Tenderly did she love her parent; but this love was only a source of the keenest anguish, for she saw him swiftly passing along the road to destruction without the power to save him.

Grief wastes itself by its own violence. So it was in this instance. The tears of Mary were at length dried; her sobs were hushed, and she was about rising from her chair, when a blinding flash of lightning glared into the room, followed instantly by a deafening jar of thunder.

"Oh, if father were home!" she murmured, clasping her hands together.

Even while she stood in this attitude, the door opened quietly, and Mr. Edwards entered.

"I thought you would be afraid, Mary; and so I came home," said he in a kind voice.

Mary looked at him with surprise. This was soon changed to joy as she perceived that he was perfectly sober.

"Oh, father!" she sobbed, unable to control her feelings, and leaning her face against his breast as she spoke—"if you would never go away!"

Tenderly the father drew his arm around his weeping child, and kissed her pure forehead.

"Mary," said he, as calmly as he could speak, "for your mother's sake—" but he could not finish the sentence. His voice quivered, and became inarticulate.

Solemnly, in the silence of his own heart, did the father, as he stood thus with his child in his arms, repeat the vows he had already taken. And he kept his vows.

Wonderful is the power of music! It is the heart's own language, and speaks to it in a voice of irresistible persuasion. It is a good gift from heaven, and should ever be used in a good cause.


FROM the time Mr. Andrew Grim opened a low grogshop near the Washington Market, until, as a wealthy distiller, he counted himself worth a hundred thousand dollars, every thing had gone on smoothly; and now he might be seen among the money-lords of the day, as self-complacent as any. He had stock, houses, and lands: and, in his mind, these made up life's greatest good. And had he not obtained them in honest trade? Were they not the reward of persevering industry? Mr. Grim felt proud of the fact, that he was the architect of his own fortunes. "How many had started in life side by side with him; and yet scarcely one in ten of them had risen above the common level."

Thoughts like these often occupied the mind of Mr. Grim. Such were his thoughts as he sat in his luxurious parlor, one bleak December evening, surrounded by every external comfort his heart could desire, when a child not over seven or eight years of age was brought into the room by a servant, who said, as he entered—

"Here's a little girl that says she wants to see you."

Mr. Grim, turned, and looked for a moment or two at the visiter. She was the child of poor parents; that was evident from her coarse and meager garments.

"Do you wish to see me?" he inquired, in a voice that was meant to be repulsive.

"Yes, sir," timidly answered the child.

"Well, what do you want?"

"My mother wants you."

"Your mother! Who's your mother?"

"Mrs. Dyer."

The manner of Mr. Grim changed instantly; and he said—

"Indeed! What does your mother want?"

"Father is sick; and mother says he will die."

"What ails your father?"

"I don't know. But he's been sick ever since yesterday; and he screams out so, and frightens us all."

"Where does your mother live?"

The child gave the street and number.

Mr. Grim walked about the room uneasily for some time.

"Didn't your mother say what she wanted with me?" he asked again, pausing before the little girl, whose eyes had been following all his movements.

"No, sir. But she cried when she told me to go for you."

Mr. Grim moved about the room again for some time. Then stopping suddenly, he said—

"Go home and tell your mother I'll be there in a little while."

The child retired from the room, and Mr. Grim resumed his perambulations, his eyes upon the floor, and a shadow resting on his countenance. After the lapse of nearly half an hour he went into the hall, and drawing on a warm overcoat, started forth in obedience to what was evidently an unwelcome summons—for he muttered to himself as he descended to the pavement—

"I wish people would take care of what they get, and learn to depend on themselves."

Mr. Grim took an omnibus and rode as far as Canal street. Down Canal street he walked to West Broadway, and along West Broadway for a couple of blocks, when he stopped before an old brick house that looked as if it had seen service for at least a hundred years, and examined the number.

"This is the place, I suppose," said he, fretfully. And he stepped back and looked up at the house. Then he approached the door, and searched for a bell or knocker; but of neither of these appendages could the dwelling boast. First, he rapped with his knuckles, then with his cane. But no one responded to the summons. He looked up and saw lights in the window. So he knocked again, and louder. After waiting several minutes, and not being admitted, Mr. Grim tried the door and found it unfastened; but the passage into which he stepped was dark as midnight. After knocking on the floor loudly with his cane, a door opened above, a gleam of light fell on an old stairway, and a rough voice called out,

"Who's there?"

"Does Mr. Dyer live here?"

"Be sure he does!" was roughly answered.

"Will you be kind enough to show me his room?"

"You'll find it in the third story back," said the voice, impatiently. The door was shut again, and all was dark as before.

Mr. Grim stood irresolute for a few moments, and then commenced groping his way up stairs, slowly and cautiously. Just as he gained the landing on the second flight, a stifled scream was heard in one of the rooms on the third floor, followed by a sudden movement, as if two persons were struggling in a murderous conflict. He stopped and listened, while a chill went over him. A long shuddering groan followed, and then all was still again. Mr. Grim was about retreating, when a door opened, and the child who had called for him came out with a candle in her hand. The light fell upon his form and the child saw him.

"Oh! mother! mother!" she cried, "Mr. Grim is here!"'

Instantly the form of a woman was seen in the door. Her look was wild and distressed, and her hair, which had become loosened from the comb, lay in heavy masses upon her shoulders.

"For heaven's sake, Mary! what is the matter?" exclaimed Mr. Grim, as he approached the woman.

"The matter!" She looked sternly at the visiter. "Come and see!" And she pointed into the room.

A cry of unutterable distress broke upon the air, and the woman sprang back quickly into the room. Mr. Grim hurried after her. By the feeble light of a single poor candle, he saw a half-clothed man crouching fearfully in a corner of the room, with his hands raised in the attitude of defence.

"Keep off! Keep off, I say!" he cried, despairingly. "Oh! oh! oh! It's on me, Mary! Mary! Oh! Lord, help me! help me!"

And as these broken sentences fell from his lips, he shrunk closer and closer into the corner, and then fell forward, writhing upon the floor. By this time, his wife was bending down over him, and with her assuring voice she soon succeeded in quieting him.

"They've all gone now, Henry," said she, in a tone of cheerful confidence, assumed at what an effort! "I've driven them away. Come! lie down upon the bed."

"They're under the bed," replied the sufferer, glancing fearfully around. "Yes, yes! There! I see that blackest devil with the snake in his hand. He's grinning at me from behind the bed post. Now he's going to throw his horrible snake at me! There! oh-oh-oh-oh!"

The fearful, despairing scream that issued from the poor creature's lips, as he clung to his wife, curdled the very blood in the veins of Mr. Grim, who now comprehended the meaning of the scene. Dyer and his wife were friends of other days. With the latter he had grown up from childhood, and there were many reasons why he felt an interest in her. Her husband had learned drinking and idleness in his bar-room, many years before; and more than once during the time of his declension, had she called upon Mr. Grim, and earnestly besought him to do something to save the one she loved best on earth from impending ruin. But, he had entered the downward way, and it seemed that nothing could stop his rapid progress. Now he met him, after the lapse of ten years, and found him mad with the drunkard's madness.

The scene was too painful for Mr. Grim. He could not bear it. So, hurriedly drawing his purse from his pocket, he threw it upon the floor, and turning from the room made his way out of the house, trembling in every nerve. When he arrived at home, the perspiration stood cold and clammy on every part of his body. His mind was greatly excited. Most vividly did he picture, in imagination, the horrible fiend, striking the poor drunken wretch with his serpent spear, or blasting him with his terrific countenance. For an hour he walked the floor of his chamber, and then, exhausted in body and mind, threw himself on a bed, and tried to find oblivion in sleep. But, though he wooed the gentle goddess, she came not with her soothing poppies. Too vivid was the impression of what he had seen, and too painful were the accompanying reflections, to admit of sweet repose. At last, however, exhaustion came, and he fell into that half sleeping and waking state—in which the imagination remains active, so painful to endure. In this state, one picture presented by imagination was most vivid of all; it was the picture of poor Dyer, shrinking from the fiend with the serpent, which latter was now as plainly visible to him as it had been to the unhappy drunkard. Presently the fiend began to turn his eyes upon him with a malignant expression; then it glanced from him to the drunkard, and pointing at the latter, said Grim heard the voice distinctly—

"It is your work!"

The distiller closed his eyes to hide from view the grinning phantom. But it did not shut out the vision. The fiend was before him still; and now it swung around its head a horrid serpent with distended jaws, and seemed about to dash it upon him. He cowered and groaned in fear. As he still gazed upon the dreadful form, it slowly changed into a female of stern yet beautiful aspect. In one hand she held a naked sword, and in the other a balance. Her knew her, and trembled still more intensely.

"I am JUSTICE," said the figure. "You have been weighed in the balance and found wanting. The world is sustained by mutual benefits. No man can live wholly for himself. Each must serve the others. What one man produces another enjoys. You have enjoyed, in abundance, the good things produced by others; but what has been your return? Let me show you the work of your hands. Look!"

Suddenly there was a murmur of voices; the sound came nearer and nearer, and a crowd of men and women came eagerly toward the prostrate distiller—all eyes upon him, and all countenances expressive of anger, rebuke, or despair. One poor mother held towards him her ragged, starving child, and cried—

"Your cursed trade has murdered his father. Give him back to us!"

Another marred and degraded wretch called, with clenched hand—

"Where is my money, my good name, my all?" You have robbed me of every thing!"

By his side was a poor drunkard, supporting the pale form of his sick wife, while their starving children stood weeping before them—

"Look at us?" said he. "It is your handy-work!"

And there were dozens of others in the squalid crowd who called to him with bitter execrations, or pointed to their ruined homes and cried—

"It is your work! Your work! Rum—rum has cursed us!"

"Yes, this is your work," said Justice, sternly. "For the good things of life you received on all hands from your fellow-men, you gave them back a stream of fire to consume them. Wealth is the representative of use to society. It comes, or should come, as a reward for serving the common good. So earned, it is a blessing; and he who thus gains it has a right to its possession. But, in your eager pursuit of gain you have cursed every man who brought you a blessing; and now your ill-gotten wealth must be given up. See!"

And, as she spoke, she pointed to an immense bag of gold.

"It is all there!" continued Justice. "Your houses and lands, your stocks and your merchandise, have been converted into gold; and I now distribute it once more among the people, to be gathered by those more worthy to possess it than thou!"

Then a troop of fiends came rushing down through the air, and, seizing the bag, were bearing it off in triumph, when the agonized sleeper sprang towards his gold, and in the effort threw off the terrible nightmare that was almost crushing out his life.

There was no sleep for him during the hours that intervened until the daylight broke. The images he had seen, and the words he had heard, were before him all the time, crushing his heart like the pressure of heavy footsteps. As soon as the day had dawned he started forth and sought the dwelling he had so hastily left on the night before. All was silent as he ascended the stairway. The door of the room where he had been stood partly open. He listened a moment—all was silent. He moved the door, but nothing stirred within. Then he entered. His purse lay upon the floor where he had thrown it; that was the first object which met his sight. The next was the ghastly face of death! The wretched drunkard had passed to his account; and his body lay upon the bed. Close beside was the form of her who had been to Mr. Grim, in early years, as a tender sister. She was in a profound sleep; and on the floor lay the child, also wrapped in deep forgetfulness of the misery with which she was surrounded.—

"And this is the work I have been doing!" sighed the distiller; whose mind could not lose the vivid impression made by his dream.

A little while he contemplated the scene around him, and then taking up his purse he silently withdrew. But ere returning home he made known to a benevolent person the fact of the unhappy death which had occurred, and, placing money in his hand, asked him to do all that humanity required, and to do it at his expense.

Few men went about their daily business with a heavier heart than Mr. Andrew Grim. He felt that he was the possessor of ill-gotten gain; and felt, besides, a sense of insecurity.

"Wealth is the representative of use to society. It comes, or should come, as a reward for serving the common good," he repeated to himself, in the words he had heard in his dream. "And how have I served the common good? What good have I performed that corresponds to the blessings I have received and enjoy? Ah, me! I wish it were otherwise."

With such thoughts, how could the man be happy! When night came round again he feared to trust himself in the arms of sleep; and when exhausted nature yielded, painful dreams haunted him until morning. Weeks elapsed before the vivid impression he had received wore off, and before he enjoyed any thing like a quiet slumber. But, though he had a better sleep, his waking thoughts ceased to be peaceful and self-satisfying. A year went by, and then, fretted beyond endurance at his position of manufacturer of death and destruction, both natural and spiritual, for his fellow men, he broke up his distillery, and invested his money in a business that could be followed with benefit to all.



"HOW beautiful!" ejaculated Mary Graham, as she fixed her eyes intently on the western sky, rich with the many-coloured clouds of a brilliant sunset in June.

"Beautiful indeed!" responded her sister Anna.

"I could gaze on it for ever!" Ellen, a younger and more enthusiastic sister remarked, with fervent admiration. "Look, Ma! was ever anything more gorgeous than that pure white cloud, fringed with brilliant gold, and relieved by the translucent and sparkling sky beyond?"

"It is indeed very beautiful, Ellen," Mrs. Graham replied. But there was an abstraction in her manner, that indicated, too plainly, that something weighed upon her mind.

"You don't seem to enjoy a rich sunset as much as you used to do, Ma," Anna said, for she felt the tone and manner in which her mother had expressed her admiration of the scene.

"You only think so, perhaps," Mrs. Graham rejoined, endeavouring to arouse herself, and to feel interested in the brilliant exhibition of nature to which her daughter had alluded. "The scene is, indeed, very beautiful, Anna, and reminds me strongly of some of Wordsworth's exquisite descriptions, so full of power to awaken the heart's deepest and purest emotions. You all remember this:

"'Calm is the evening air, and loth to lose Day's grateful warmth, though moist with falling dews Look for the stars, you'll say that there are none; Look up a second time, and, one by one, You mark them twinkling out with silvery light, And wonder how they could elude the sight.'"

"And this:

"'No sound is uttered,—but a deep And solemn harmony pervades The hollow vale from steep to steep, And penetrates the glades. Far distant images draw nigh, Called forth by wondrous potency Of beamy radiance, that imbues Whate'er it strikes with gem-like hues! In vision exquisitely clear, Herds range along the mountain-side; And glistening antlers are descried; And gilded flocks appear. Thine is the tranquil hour, purpureal Eve! But long as god-like wish, or hope divine, Informs my spirit, ne'er can I believe That this magnificence is wholly thine! From worlds not quickened by the sun A portion of the gift is won.'"

"How calm and elevating to the heart, like the hour he describes," Ellen said, in a musing tone, as she sat with her eyes fixed intently on the slow-fading glories of the many-coloured clouds.

The influence of the tranquil hour gradually subdued them into silence; and as the twilight began to fall, each sat in the enjoyment of a pure and refined pleasure, consequent upon a true appreciation of the beautiful in nature, combined with highly cultivated tastes, and innocent and elevated thoughts.

"There comes Pa, I believe," Anna remarked, breaking the silence, as the hall door opened and then closed with a heavy jar; and the well-known sound of her father's footsteps was heard along the passage and on the stairs.

None of her children observed the hushed intensity with which Mrs. Graham listened, as their father ascended to the chamber. But they noticed that she became silent and more thoughtful than at first. In about ten minutes she arose and left the room.

"Something seems to trouble Ma, of late," Ellen observed, as soon as their mother had retired.

"So I have thought. She is certainly, to all appearance, less cheerful, "Mary replied.

"What can be the cause of it?"

"I hardly think there can be any very serious cause. We are none of us always in the same state of mind."

"But I have noticed a change, in Ma, for some months past—and particularly in the last few weeks," Anna said. "She is not happy."

"I remember, now, that I overheard her, about six weeks ago, talking to Alfred about something—the company he kept, I believe—and that he seemed angry, and spoke to her, I thought, unkindly. Since that time she has not seemed so cheerful;" Ellen said.

"That may be the cause; but still I hardly think that it is," Anna replied. "Alfred's principal associates are William Gray and Charles Williams; and they belong to our first families. Pa, you know, is very intimate with both Mr. Gray and Mr. Williams."

"It was to William Gray and Charles Williams, I believe, however, that Ma particularly objected."

"Upon what ground?"

"Upon the ground of their habits, I think, she said."

"Their habits? What of their habits, I wonder?"

"I do not know, I am sure. I only remember having heard Ma object to them on that account."

"That is strange!" was the remark of Anna. "I am sure that I have never seen anything out of the way, in either of them; and, as to William Gray, I have always esteemed him very highly."

"So have I," Mary said. "Both of them are intelligent, agreeable young men; and such, as it seems to me, are in every way fitted to be companions for our brother."

But Mrs. Graham had seen more of the world than her daughters, and knew how to judge from appearances far better than they. Some recent circumstances, likewise, had quickened her perceptions of danger, and made them doubly acute. In the two young men alluded to, now about the ages of eighteen and twenty, she had been pained to observe strong indications of a growing want of strict moral restraints, combined with a tendency towards dissipation; and, what was still more painful, an exhibition of like perversions in her only son, now on the verge of manhood,—that deeply responsible and dangerous period, when parental authority and control subside in a degree, and the individual, inexperienced yet self-confident, assumes the task of guiding himself.

When Mrs. Graham left the room, she proceeded slowly up to the chamber into which her husband had gone, where all had been silent since his entrance. She found him lying upon the bed, and already in a sound sleep. The moment she bent over him, she perceived the truth to be that which her trembling and sinking heart so much dreaded. He was intoxicated!

Shrinking away from the bed-side, she retired to a far corner of the room, where she seated herself by a table, and burying her face in her arms, gave way to the most gloomy, heart-aching thoughts and feelings. Tears brought her no relief from these; for something of hopelessness in her sorrow, gave no room for the blessing of tears.

Mr. Graham was a merchant of high standing in Philadelphia, where, for many years, he had been engaged extensively in the East India trade. Six beautiful ships floated for years upon the ocean, returning at regular intervals, freighted with the rich produce of the East, and filling his coffers, until they overflowed, with accumulating wealth. But it was not wealth alone that gave to Mr. Graham the elevated social position that he held. His strong intelligence, and the high moral tone of his character, gave him an influence and an estimation far above what he derived from his great riches. In the education of his children, four in number, he had been governed by a wise regard to the effect which that education would have upon them as members of society. He early instilled into their minds a desire to be useful to others, and taught them the difference between an estimation of individuals, founded upon their wealth and position in society, and an estimation derived from intrinsic excellence of character. The consequence of, all this was, to make him beloved by his family—purely and tenderly beloved, because there was added to the natural affection for one in his position, the power of a deep respect for his character and principles.

At the time of his introduction to the reader, Mr. Graham was forty-five years old. Alfred, his oldest child, was twenty-one; Mary, nineteen; Ellen, eighteen; and Anna just entering her sixteenth year. Up to this time, or nearly to this time, a happier family circled no hearth in the city. But now an evil wing was hovering over them, the shadow from which had already been perceived by the mother's heart, as it fell coldly and darkly upon it, causing it to shrink and tremble with gloomy apprehensions. From early manhood up, it had been the custom of Mr. Graham to use wines and brandies as liberally as he desired, without, the most remote suspicion once crossing his mind that any danger to him could attend the indulgence. But to the eye of his wife, whose suspicions had of late been aroused, and her perceptions rendered, in consequence, doubly acute, it had become apparent that the habit was gaining a fatal predominance over him. She noted, with painful emotions, that as each evening returned, there were to her eye too evident indications that he had been indulging so freely in the use of liquors, as to have his mind greatly obscured. His disposition, too, was changing; and he was becoming less cheerful in his family, and less interested in the pleasures and pursuits of his children. Alfred, whom he had, up to this time, regarded with an earnest and careful solicitude, was now almost entirely left to his own guidance, at an age, too, when he needed more than ever the direction of his father's matured experience.

All these exhibitions of a change so unlooked for, and so terrible for a wife and mother to contemplate, might well depress the spirits of Mrs. Graham, and fill her with deep and anxious solicitude. For some weeks previous to the evening on which our story opens, Mr. Graham had shown strong symptoms almost every day—symptoms apparent, however, in the family, only to the eye of his wife—of drunkenness. Towards the close of each day, as the hour for his return from business drew near her feelings would become oppressed under the fearful apprehension that when he came home, it would be in a state of intoxication. This she dreaded on many accounts. Particularly was she anxious to conceal the father's aberrations from his children. She could not bear the thought that respect for one now so deeply honoured by them, should be diminished in their bosoms. She felt, too, keenly, the reproach that would rest upon his name, should the vice that was now entangling, obtain full possession of him, and entirely destroy his manly, rational freedom of action. Of consequences to herself and children, resulting from changed external circumstances, she did not dream. Her husband's wealth was immense; and, therefore, even if he should so far abandon himself as to have to relinquish business, there would be enough, and more than enough, to sustain them in any position in society they might choose to occupy.

On the occasion to which we have already referred, her heart was throbbing with suspense as the hour drew nigh for his return, when, sooner than she expected him, Mr. Graham opened the hall-door, and instead of entering the parlour, as usual, proceeded at once to his chamber. The quick ear of his wife detected something wrong in the sound of his footsteps—the cause she knew too well. Oh, how deeply wretched she felt, though she strove all in her power to seem unmoved while in the presence of her children! Anxious to know the worst, she soon retired, as has been seen, from the parlours, and went up to the chamber above. Alas! how sadly were her worst fears realized! The loved and honoured partner of many happy years, the father of her children, lay before her, slumbering, heavily, in the sleep of intoxication. It seemed, for a time, as if she could not bear up under the trial. While seated, far from the bed-side, brooding in sad despondency over the evil that had fallen upon them—an evil of such a character that it had never been feared—it seemed to her that she could not endure it. Her thoughts grew bewildered, and reason for a time seemed trembling. Then her mind settled into a gloomy calmness that, was even more terrible, for it had about it something approaching the hopelessness of despair.

Thoughts of her children at last aroused her, as the gathering night darkened the chamber in which she sat, and she endeavoured to rally herself, and to assume a calmness that she was far from feeling. A reason would have to be given for the father's non-appearance at the tea-table. That could easily be done. Fatigue and a slight indisposition had caused him to lie down: and as he had fallen asleep, it was thought best not to awaken him. Such a tale was readily told, and as readily received. The hardest task was to school her feelings into submission, and so control the expression of her face, and the tone of her voice, as to cause none to suspect that there was anything wrong.

To do this fully, however, was impossible. Her manner was too evidently changed; and her face wore too dreamy and sad an expression to deceive her daughters, who inquired, with much tenderness and solicitude, whether she was not well, or whether anything troubled her.

"I am only a little indisposed," was her evasive reply to her children's kind interrogatories.

"Can't I do something for you?" inquired Ellen, with an earnest affection in her manner.

"No, dear," was her mother's brief response; and then followed a silence, oppressive to all, which remained unbroken until the tea things were removed.

"Alfred is again away at tea-time," Mrs. Graham at length said, as they all arose from the table.

"He went out this afternoon with Charles Williams," Mary replied.

"Did he?" the mother rejoined quickly, and with something of displeasure in her tone.

"Yes. Charles called for him in his buggy about four o'clock, and they rode out together. I thought you knew it."

"No. I was lying down about that time."

"You do not seem to like Charles Williams much."

"I certainly do not, Anna, as a companion for Alfred. He is too fond of pleasure and sporting, and I am very much afraid will lead your brother astray."

"I never saw anything wrong about him, Ma."

"Perhaps not. But I have learned to be a much closer observer in these matters than you, Mary. I have seen too many young men at Alfred's age led away, not to feel a deep and careful solicitude for him."

As the subject seemed to give their mother pain, her daughters did not reply; and then another, and still more troubled silence followed.

A chill being thrown thus over the feelings of all, the family separated at an early hour. But Mrs. Graham did not retire to bed. She could not, for she was strangely uneasy about her son. It was about twelve o'clock when Alfred came in. His mother opened her door as he passed it, to speak to him—but her tongue refused to give utterance to the words that trembled upon it. He, too, was intoxicated!

Brief were the hours given to sleep that night, and troubled the slumber that locked her senses in forgetfulness. On the next morning, the trembling hand of her husband, as he lifted his cup to his lips, and the unrefreshed and jaded appearance of her son, told but too plainly their abuse of nature's best energies. With her husband, Mrs. Graham could not bring herself to speak upon the subject. But she felt that her duty as a mother was involved in regard to her son, and therefore she early took occasion to draw him aside, and remonstrate against the course of folly upon which he was entering.

"You were out late last night, Alfred," she said, in a mild tone.

"I was in at twelve, Ma."

"But that was too late, Alfred."

"I don't know, Ma. Other young men are out as late, and even later, every night," the young man said, in a respectful tone. "I rode out with Charles Williams in the afternoon, and then went with him to a wine party at night."

"I must tell you frankly, Alfred, that I like neither your companion in the afternoon, nor your company in the evening."

"You certainly do not object to Charles Williams. He stands as high in society as I do."

"His family is one of respectability and standing. But his habits, I fear, Alfred, are such as will, ere long, destroy all of his title to respectful estimation."

"You judge harshly," the young man said, colouring deeply.

"I believe not, Alfred. And what is more, I am convinced that you stand in imminent danger from your association with him."

"How?" was the quick interrogatory.

"Through him, for instance, you were induced to go to a wine party last night."


"And there induced to drink too much."


"I saw you when you came in, Alfred. You were in a sad condition."

For a few moments the young man looked his mother in the face, while an expression of grief and mortification passed over his own.

"It is true," he at length said, in a subdued tone, "that I did drink to excess, last evening. But do not be alarmed on that account. I will be more guarded, in future. And let me now assure you, most earnestly, that I am in no danger: that I am not fond of wine. I was led to drink too much, last evening, from being in a company where wine was circulated as freely as water. I thought you looked troubled, this morning, but did not dream that it was on my account. Let me, then, urge you to banish from your mind all fears in regard to me."

"I cannot banish such fears, my son, so long as I know that you have dangerous associates. No one is led off, no one is corrupted suddenly."

"But I do not think that I have dangerous associates."

"I am sure you have, Alfred. If they had not been such, you would not have been led astray, last night. Go not into the way of temptation. Shun the very beginnings of evil. Remember Pope's warning declaration:—

"'Vice, to be hated, needs but to be seen,' &c."

"Indeed, indeed, Ma, you are far too serious about this matter."

"No, my son, I cannot be!"

"Well, perhaps not. But, as I know the nature of my associations far better than you possibly can, you must pardon me for thinking that they involve no danger. I have arrived to years of discretion, and certainly think that I am, or at least ought to be, able to judge for my self."

There was that in the words and tone of the young man, that made the mother feel conscious that it would be no use for her to urge the matter further, at that time. She merely replied—

"For your mother's sake, Alfred, guard yourself more carefully, in future."

It is wonderful, sometimes, how rapidly a downward course is run. The barrier, against which the waters have been driven for years, is rapidly washed away, so soon as even the smallest breach is made. A breach had been made in Mr. Graham's resolution to be only a sober drinker of intoxicating liquors; and the consequence was, that he had less power to resist the strong inclination to drink, that had become almost like a second nature to him. A few weeks only elapsed, before he came home so drunk as to expose himself in the street, and before his children and servants, in a most disgusting and degrading manner.

Terrible indeed was the shock to his children—especially to Mary, Ellen and Anna. His sudden death could not have been a more fearful affliction. Then, they would have sorrowed in filial respect and esteem, made sacred by an event that would embalm the memory of their father in the permanent regard of a whole community: now, he stood degraded in their eyes; and they felt that he was degraded in the eyes of all. In his presence they experienced restraint, and they looked for his coming with a shrinking fear. It was, indeed, an awful affliction—such as few can realize in imagination; and especially for them, as they occupied a conspicuous position in society, and were conscious that all eyes were upon them, and that all tongues would be busy with the story of their father's degradation.

It is wonderful, we have said, how rapidly a downward course is sometimes run. In the case of Mr. Graham, many circumstances combined to hasten his ruin. It was nearly a year after he had given way to the regular indulgence of drink, so far as to be kept almost constantly in a state of half-intoxication through the business hours of almost every day, that he received news of the loss of a vessel richly laden with teas from China. At the proper time he presented the requisite documents to his underwriters, and claimed the loss, amounting, on ship and cargo, to one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. On account of alleged improper conduct on the part of the captain, united with informality in the papers, the underwriters refused to pay the loss. A suit at law was the consequence, in which the underwriters were sustained. An appeal was made, but the same result followed-thus sweeping away, at a single blow, property to the amount of over one hundred thousand dollars. During the progress of the trial, Mr. Graham was much excited, and drank more freely than ever. When the result was finally ascertained, he sank down into a kind of morose inactivity for some months, neglecting his large and important business, and indulging, during the time, more deeply than ever in his favourite potations. It was in vain that his distressed family endeavoured to rouse him into activity. All their efforts were met by an irritability and a moroseness of temper so unlike what he had been used to exhibit towards them, that they gave up all idea of influencing him in despair.

A second heavy loss, of nearly equal amount, altogether consequent upon this neglect of business, seemed to awaken up the latent energies of his character, and he returned to himself with something of his former clear-sighted energy of character. But his affairs had already become, to him, strangely entangled. The machinery of his extensive operations had been interrupted; and now, in attempting to make the wheels move on again, it was too apparent that much of it had become deranged, and the parts no longer moved in harmonious action with the whole. The more these difficulties pressed upon him, the deeper did he drink, as a kind of relief, and, in consequence, the more unfit to extricate himself from his troubles did he become. Every struggle, like the efforts of a large animal in a quagmire, only tended to involve him deeper and deeper in inextricable embarrassment.

This downward tendency continued for about three years, when his family was suddenly stunned by the shock of his failure. It seemed impossible for them to realize the truth—and, indeed, almost impossible for the whole community to realize it. It was only three or four years previous that his wealth was estimated, and truly so, at a million and a half. He was known to have met with heavy losses, but where so much could have gone, puzzled every one. It seems almost incredible that any man could have run through such an estate by mismanagement, in so brief a period. But such was really the case. Accustomed to heavy operations, he continued to engage in only the most liberal transactions, every loss in which was a matter of serious moment. And towards the last, as his mind grew more and more bewildered in consequence of is drinking deeper and deeper, he scarcely got up a single voyage, that did not result in loss; until, finally, he was driven to an utter abandonment of business—but not until he had involved his whole estate in ruin.

The beautiful family mansion on Chestnut-street had to be given up—the carriage and elegant furniture sold under the hammer, while the family retired, overwhelmed with distress, to an humble dwelling in an obscure part of the city.

Seven years from the day on which Mrs. Graham and her children were thus thrown suddenly down from their elevation, and driven into obscurity, that lady sat alone, near the window of a meanly-furnished room in a house on the suburbs of the city, overlooking the Schuylkill. It was near the hour of sunset. Gradually the day declined, and the dusky shadows of evening fell gloomily around. Still Mrs. Graham sat leaning her head upon her hand, in deep abstraction of mind. Alas! seven years had wrought a sad change in her appearance, and a sadder one in her feelings. Her deeply-sunken eye, and pale, thin face, told a tale of wretchedness and suffering, whose silent appeal made the very heart ache. Her garments, too, were old and faded, and antiquated in style.

She sat thus for about half-an-hour, when the door of the room was opened slowly, and a young woman entered, carrying on her arm a small basket. She seemed, at first sight, not over twenty-three or four years of age; but, when observed more closely, her hollow cheek, pale face, and languid motions, indicated the passage of either many more years over her head, or the painful inroads of disease and sorrow. Mrs. Graham looked up, but did not speak, as the young woman entered, and, after placing her basket on a table, laid aside her bonnet and faded shawl.

"How did you find Ellen, to-day?" she at length said.

"Bad enough!" was the mournful reply. "It makes my heart ache, Ma, whenever I go to see her."

"Was her husband at home?"

"Yes, and as drunk and ill-natured as ever."

"How is the babe, Mary?"

"Not well. Dear little innocent creature! it has seen the light of this dreary world in an evil time. Ellen has scarcely any milk for it; and I could not get it to feed, try all I could. It nestles in her breast, and frets and cries almost incessantly, with pain and hunger. Although it is now six weeks old, yet Ellen seems to have gained scarcely any strength at all. She has no appetite, and creeps about with the utmost difficulty. With three little children hanging about her, and the youngest that helpless babe, her condition is wretched indeed. It would be bad enough, were her husband kind to her. But cross, drunken and idle, scarcely furnishing his family with food enough to sustain existence, her life with him is one of painful trial and suffering. Indeed, I wonder, with her sensitive disposition and delicate body, how she can endure such a life for a week."

A deep sigh, or rather moan, was the mother's only response. Her daughter continued,

"Bad as I myself feel with this constant cough, pain in my side, and weakness, I must go over again to-morrow and stay with her. She ought not to be left alone. The dear children, too, require a great deal of attention that she cannot possibly give to them."

"You had better bring little Ellen home with you, had you not, Mary? I could attend to her much better than Ellen can."

"I was thinking of that myself, Ma. But you seemed so poorly, that I did not feel like saying anything about it just now."

"O yes. Bring her home with you to-morrow evening, by all means. It will take that much off of poor Ellen's hands."

"Then I will do so, Ma; at least if Ellen is willing," Mary said, in a lighter tone—the idea of even that relief being extended to her overburdened sister causing her mind to rise in a momentary buoyancy.

"Anna is late to-night," she remarked, after a pause of a few moments.

As she said this, the door opened, and the sister of whom she spoke entered.

"You are late to-night, Anna," her mother said.

"Yes, rather later than usual. I had to take a few small articles home for a lady, after I left the store, who lives in Sixth near Spring Garden."

"In Sixth near Spring Garden!"

"Yes. The lad who takes home goods had gone, and the lady was particular about having them sent home this evening."

"Do you not feel very tired?"

"Indeed I do," the poor girl said, sinking into a chair. "I feel, sometimes, as if I must give up. No one in our store is allowed to sit down from morning till night. The other girls don't appear to mind it much; but before evening, it seems as if I must drop to the floor. But I won't complain," she added, endeavouring to rally herself, and put on a cheerful countenance. "How have you been to-day, Ma?"

"If you won't complain, I am sure that I have no right to, Anna."

"You cannot be happy, of course, Ma; that I know too well. None of us, I fear, will ever be again happy in this world!" Anna said, in a tone of despondency, her spirits again sinking.

No one replied to this; and a gloomy silence of many minutes followed—a quiet almost as oppressive as the stillness that reigns in the chamber of death. Then Mary commenced busying herself about the evening meal.

"Tea is ready, Ma and Anna," she at length said, after their frugal repast had been placed upon the table.

"Has not Alfred returned yet?" Anna asked.

"No," was the brief answer.

"Hadn't we better wait for him?"

"He knows that it is tea-time, and ought to be here, if he wants any," the mother said. "You are tired and hungry, and we will not, of course, wait."

The little family, three in number, gathered around the table, but no one eat with an appetite of the food that was placed before them. There were two vacant places at the board. The husband and son—the father and brother—where were they?

In regard to the former, the presentation of a scene which occurred a few weeks previous will explain all. First, however, a brief review of the past seven years is necessary. After Mr. Graham's failure in business, he gave himself up to drink, and sunk, with his whole family, down into want and obscurity with almost unprecedented rapidity. He seemed at once to become strangely indifferent to his wife and children—to lose all regard for their welfare. In fact, he had become, in a degree, insane from the sudden reverses which had overtaken him, combined with the bewildering effects of strong drinks, under whose influence he was constantly labouring.

Thus left to struggle on against the pressure of absolute want, suddenly and unexpectedly brought upon them, and with no internal or external resources upon which to fall promptly back, Mrs. Graham and her daughters were for a time overwhelmed with despair. Alfred, to whom they should have looked for aid, advice, and sustenance, in this hour of severe trial, left almost entirely to himself, as far as his father had been concerned, for some two years, had sunk into habits of dissipation from which even this terrible shock had not the power to arouse him. Having made himself angry in his opposition to, and resistance of, all his mother's admonitions, warnings, and persuasions, he seemed to have lost all affection for her and his sisters. So that a sense of their destitute and distressed condition had no influence over him—at least, not sufficient to arouse him into active exertions for their support. Thus were they left utterly dependent upon their own resources—and what was worse, were burdened with the support of both father and brother.

The little that each had been able to save from the general wreck, was, as a means of sustenance, but small. Two or three gold watches and chains, with various articles of (sic) jewelery, fancy work-boxes, and a number of trifles, more valued than valuable, made up, besides a remnant of household furniture, the aggregate of their little wealth. Of course, the mother and daughters were driven, at once, to some expedient for keeping the family together. A boarding-house, that first resort of nearly all destitute females, upon whom families are dependent, especially of those who have occupied an elevated position in society, was opened, as the only means of support that presented itself. The result of this experiment, continued for a year and a half, was a debt of several hundred dollars, which was liquidated by the seizure of Mrs. Graham's furniture. But worse than this, a specious young man, one of the boarders, had won upon the affections of Ellen, and induced her to marry him. He, too soon, proved himself to have neither a true affection for her, nor to have sound moral principles. He was, moreover, idle, and fond of gay company.

On the day that Mrs. Graham broke up her boardinghouse, Markland, her daughter's husband, was discharged from his situation as clerk, on account of inefficiency. For six months previous, the time he had been married, he had paid no boarding, thus adding himself as a dead weight to the already overburdened family. As he had no house to which he could take Ellen, he very naturally felt himself authorized to share the house to which the distressed family of her mother retired, seemingly regardless of how or by whom the food he daily consumed was provided.

But Mrs. Graham was soon reduced to such extremities, that he was driven off from her, with his wife, and forced to obtain employment by which to support himself and her. As for the old man, he had managed, in the wreck of affairs, to retain a large proportion of his wines, and other choice liquors; and these, which no pressure of want in his family could drive him to sell, afforded the means of gratifying his inordinate love of drink. His clothes gradually became old and rusty—but this seemed to give him no concern. He wandered listlessly in his old business haunts, or lounged about the house in a state of half stupor, drinking regularly all through the day, at frequent periods, and going to bed, usually, at nights, in a state of stupefaction.

When the boarding-house was given up, poor Mrs. Graham, whose health and spirits had both rapidly declined in the past two years, felt utterly at a loss what to do. But pressing necessities required immediate action.

"Anna, child, what are we to do," she said, rousing herself, one evening, while sitting alone with her daughters in gloomy abstraction.

"Indeed, Ma, I am as much at a loss as you are. I have been thinking and thinking about it, until my min—has become beclouded and bewildered."

"I have been thinking, too," said Mary, "and it strikes me that Anna and I might do something in the way of ornamental needlework. Both of us, you know, are fond of it."

"Do you think that we can sell it, after it is done?" Anna asked, with a lively interest in her tone.

"I certainly do. We see plenty of such work in the shops; and they must buy it, of course."

"Let us try, then, Mary," her sister said with animation.

A week spent in untiring industry, produced two elegantly wrought capes, equal to the finest French embroidery.

"And, now, where shall we sell them?" Anna inquired, in a tone of concern.

"Mrs.—would, no doubt, buy them; but I, for one, cannot bear the thought of going there."

"Nor I. But, driven by necessity, I believe that I could brave to go there, or anywhere else, even though I have not been in Chestnut-street for nearly two years."

"Will you go, then, Mary?" Anna asked, in an earnest, appealing tone.

"Yes, Anna, as you seem so shrinkingly reluctant, I will go."

And forthwith Mary prepared herself; and rolling up the two elegant capes, proceeded with them to the store of Mrs.—, in Chestnut-street. It was crowded with customers when she entered, and so she shrunk away to the back part of the store, until Mrs.—should be more at leisure, and she could bargain with her without attracting attention. She had stood there only a few moments,—when her ear caught the sound of a familiar voice—that of Mary Williams, one of her former most intimate associates. Her first impulse was to spring forward, but a remembrance of her changed condition instantly recurring to her, she turned more away from the light, so as to effectually conceal herself from the young lady's observation. This she was enabled to do, although Mary Williams came once or twice so near as to brush her garments. How oppressively did her heart beat, at such moments! Old thoughts and old feelings came rushing back upon her, and in the contrast they occasioned between the past and the present, she was almost overwhelmed with despondency. Customer after customer came in, as one and another retired, many of whose faces were familiar to Mary as old friends and acquaintances. At last, however, after waiting nearly two hours, she made out to get an interview with Mrs.—.

"Well, Miss, what do you want?" asked that personage, as Mary came up before her where she still stood at the counter, for she had observed her waiting in the store for some time. Mrs.—either did not remember, or cared not to remember, her old customer, who had spent, with her sisters, many hundreds of dollars in her store, in times past.

"I have a couple of fine wrought capes that I should like to sell," Mary said, in a timid, hesitating voice, unrolling, at the same time, the articles she named.

"Are they French?" asked Mrs.—, without pausing in her employment of rolling up some goods, to take and examine the articles proffered her.

"No, ma'am; they are some of my own and sister's work."

"They won't do, then, Miss. Nothing in the way of fine collars and capes will sell, unless they are French."

Mary felt chilled at heart as Mrs.—said this, and commenced slowly rolling up her capes, faint with disappointment. As she was about turning from the counter, Mrs.—said, in rather an indifferent tone,

"Suppose you let me look at them."

"I am sure you will think them very beautiful," Mary replied, quickly unrolling her little bundle. "They have been wrought with great care."'

"Sure enough, they are quite well done," Mrs.—said, coldly, as she glanced her eyes over the capes. "Almost equal in appearance to the French. But they are only domestic; and domestic embroidered work won't bring scarcely anything. What do you ask for these?"

"We have set no price upon them; but think that they are richly worth five or six dollars apiece."

"Five or six dollars!" ejaculated Mrs.—, in well feigned surprise, handing back; suddenly, the capes. "O! no, Miss;—American goods don't bring arty such prices."

"Then what will you give for them, Madam?"

"If you feel like taking two dollars apiece for them, you can leave them. But I am not particular," Mrs.—said, in a careless tone.

"Two dollars!" repeated Mary, in surprise. "Surely, Mrs.—, they are worth more than two dollars apiece!"

"I'm not at all anxious to give you even that for them," said Mrs.—. "Not at all; for I am by no means sure that I shall ever get my money back again."

"You will have to take them, then, I suppose," Mary replied, in a disappointed and desponding tone.

"Very well, Miss, I will give you what I said." And Mrs.—took the capes, and handed Mary Graham four dollars in payment.

"If we should conclude to work any more, may we calculate on getting the same money for them?"

"I can't say positively, Miss; but I think that you may calculate on that price for as many as you will bring."

Mary took the money, and turned away. It was only half an hour after, that Mrs.—sold one of them, as "French," for twelve dollars!

Sadly, indeed, were the sisters disappointed at this result. But nothing better offering that they could do, they devoted themselves, late and early, to their needles, the proceeds of which rarely went over five dollars per week; for two years they continued to labour thus.

At the end of that period, Anna sunk under her self-imposed task, and lay ill for many weeks. Especially forbidden by the physician, on her recovery, to enter again upon sedentary employments, Anna cast earnestly about her for some other means whereby to earn something for the common stock. Necessity, during the past two years, had driven her frequently into business parts of the city for the purchase of materials such as they used. Her changed lot gave her new eyes, and her observations were necessarily made upon a new class of facts. She had seen shop-girls often enough before, but she had never felt any sympathy with them, nor thought of gaining any information about them. They might receive one dollar a week, or twenty, or work for nothing—it was all the same to her. Even if any one had given her correct information on the subject, she would have forgotten it in ten minutes. But now, it was a matter of interest to know how much they could make—and she had obtained a knowledge of the fact, that they earned from three to six and seven dollars a week, according to their capacities or the responsibility of their stations.

When, therefore, her shattered health precluded her from longer plying her needle, much as she shrank from the publicity and exposure of the position, she resolutely set about endeavouring to obtain a situation as saleswoman in some retail dry-goods store. One of the girls in Mrs.—'s store, who knew all about her family, and deeply commiserated her condition, interested herself for her, and succeeded in getting her a situation, at four dollars a week, in Second-street. To enter upon the employment that now awaited her, was indeed a severe trial; but she went resolutely forward, in the way that duty called.

The sudden change from a sedentary life to one of activity, where she had to be on her feet all day, tried her feeble strength severely. It was with difficulty that she could sometimes keep up at all, and she went home frequently at night in a burning fever. But she gradually acquired a kind of power of endurance, that kept her up. She did not seem to suffer less, but had more strength, as it were, to bear up, and hold on with unflinching resolution.

Thus she had gone on for two or three years, at the time she was again introduced, with her mother and sister, to the reader.

As for their father, his whole stock of liquors had been exhausted for nearly two years, and, during that time, he had resorted to many expedients to obtain the potations he so much loved. Finally, he became so lost to all sense of right or feeling, that he would take money, or anything he could carry off from the house, for the purpose of obtaining liquor. This system had stripped them of many necessary articles, as well as money, and added very greatly to their distress, as well as embarrassments.

At last, everything that he could take had been taken, and as neither his wife nor daughters would give him any money, his supply of stimulus was cut off, and he became almost mad with the intolerable desire that was burning within him for the fiery poison which had robbed him of rationality and freedom.

"Give me some money!" he said, in an excited tone, to his wife, coming in hurriedly from the street, one day about this time. His face was dark and red, as if there were a congestion of the blood in the veins of the skin, while his hands trembled, and his whole frame was strongly agitated. Those who had been familiar with that old man, years before, would hardly have recognized him now, in his old worn and faded garments.

"I have no money for you," his wife replied. "You have already stripped us of nearly everything."

"Buy me some brandy, then."

"No. I cannot do that either. Brandy has cursed you and your family. Why do you not abandon it for ever?"

"I must have brandy, or die! Give me something to drink, in the name of heaven!"

The wild look that her husband threw upon her, alarmed Mrs. Graham, and she hesitated no longer, but handed him a small piece of money. Quick as thought, he turned away and darted from the house.

It was, perhaps, after the lapse of about half an hour that he returned. He opened the door, when he did so, quietly, and stood looking into the room for a few moments. Then he turned his head quickly from the right to the left, glancing fearfully behind him once or twice. In a moment or two afterwards he started forward, with a strong expression of alarm upon his countenance, and seated himself close beside Mrs. Graham, evidently in the hope of receiving her protection from some dreaded evil.

"What is the matter?" quickly exclaimed Mrs. Graham, starting up with a frightened look.

"It is really dreadful!" he said. "What can it all mean?"

"What is dreadful?" asked his wife, her heart throbbing with an unknown terror.

"There! Did you ever see such an awful sight? Ugh!" and he shrunk behind her chair, and covered his eyes with his hands.

"I see nothing, Mr. Graham," his wife said, after a few moments of hurried thought, in which she began to comprehend the fact that her husband's mind was wandering.

"There is nothing here that will hurt you, father," Mary added, coming up to him, as her own mind arrived at a conclusion similar to her mother's.

"Nothing to hurt me!" suddenly screamed the old man, springing to his feet, and throwing himself backwards half across the room; "and that horrible creature already twining himself about my neck, and strangling me! Take it off! take it off!" he continued, in a wild cry of terror, making strong efforts to tear something away from his throat.

"Take it off'! Why don't you take it off! Don't you see that it is choking me to death! Oh! oh! oh!" (uttered in a terrific scream.)

Panting, screaming and struggling, he continued in this state of awful alarm, vainly endeavouring to extricate himself from the toils of an imaginary monster, that was suffocating him, until he sank exhausted to the floor.

Happily for his alarmed and distressed family, two or three neighbours, who had been startled by the old man's screams,—came hurriedly in, and soon comprehended the nature of his aberration. A brief consultation among themselves determined them, understanding, as they did perfectly, the condition of the family, and his relation to them, to remove him at once to the Alms-House, where he could get judicious medical treatment, and be out of the sight and hearing of his wife and children.

One of them briefly explained to Mrs. Graham, and Mary, the nature of his mental affection, and the absolute necessity that there was for his being placed where the most skilful and judicious management of his case could be had. After some time, he gained their reluctant consent to have him taken to the Alms-House. A carriage was then obtained, and he forced into it, amid the tears and remonstrances of the wife and daughter, who had already repented of their acquiescence in what their judgment had approved. Old affection had rushed back upon their hearts, and feelings became stronger than reason.

It was about four o'clock in the afternoon when this occurred. Early on the next morning, Mrs. Graham, with Mary and Anna, went out to see him. Their inquiries about his condition were vaguely answered, and with seeming reluctance, or as it appeared to them, with indifference. At length the matron of the institution asked them to go with her, and they followed on, through halls and galleries, until they came to a room, the door of which she opened, with a silent indication for them to enter.

They entered alone. Everything was hushed, and the silence that of the chamber of death. In the centre of the room lay the old man. A single glance told the fearful tale. He was dead! Dead in the pauper's home! Seven years before, a millionaire—now sleeping his last sleep in the dead-room of an Alms-House, and his beggared wife and children weeping over him in heart-broken and hopeless sorrow.

From that time the energies of Mary and Anna seemed paralyzed; and it was only with a strong effort that Mrs. Graham could rouse herself from the stupor of mind and body that had settled upon her.

Mrs. Graham and her two daughters had nearly finished their evening meal, at the close of the day alluded to some pages back, when the sound of rapidly hurrying footsteps was heard on the pavement. In a moment after, a heavy blow was given just at their door, and some one fell with a groan against it. The weight of the body forced it open, and the son and brother rolled in upon the floor, with the blood gushing from a ghastly wound in his forehead. His assailant instantly fled. Bloated, disfigured, in coarse and worn clothing, how different, even when moving about, was he from the genteel, well-dressed young man of a few years back! Idleness and dissipation had wrought as great a change upon him as it had upon his father, while he was living. Now he presented a shocking and loathsome appearance.

The first impulse of Mary was to run for a physician, while the mother and Anna attempted to stanch the flow of blood, that had already formed a pool upon the floor. Assistance was speedily obtained, and the wound dressed; but the young man remained insensible. As the physician turned from the door, Mrs. Graham sank fainting upon her bed. Over-tried nature could bear up no longer.

"Doctor, what do you think of him?" asked the mother, anxiously, three days after, as the physician came out of Alfred's room. Since the injury he had received, he had lain in a stupor, but with much fever.

"His case, Madam, is an extremely critical one. I have tried in vain to control that fever."

"Do you think him very dangerous, Doctor?" Mary asked, in a husky voice.

"I certainly do. And, to speak to you the honest truth, have, myself, no hope of his recovery. I think it right that you should know this."

"No hope, Doctor!" Mrs. Graham said, laying her hand upon the physician's arm, while her face grew deadly pale. "No hope!—My only son die thus!—O! Doctor, can you not save him?"

"I wish it were in my power, Madam. But I will not flatter you with false hopes. It will be little less than a miracle should he survive."

The mother and sisters turned away with an air of hopelessness from the physician, and he retired slowly, and with oppressed feelings.

When they returned to the sick chamber, a great change had already taken place in Alfred. The prediction of the physician, it was evident to each, as all bent eagerly over him, was about to be too surely and too suddenly realized. His face, from being slightly flushed with fever, had become sunken, and ghastly pale, and his respiration so feeble that it was almost imperceptible.

The last and saddest trial of this ruined family had come. The son and brother, for whom now rushed back upon their hearts the tender and confiding affection of earlier years, was lingering upon life's extremest verge. It seemed that they could not give him up. They felt that, even though he were neglectful of them, they could not do without him. He was a son and brother; and, while he lived, there was still hope of his restoration. The strength of that hope, entertained by each in the silent chambers of affection, was unknown before—its trial revealed its power over each crushed and sinking heart.

But the passage of each moment brought plainer and more palpable evidence of approaching dissolution. For about ten minutes he had lain so still, that they were suddenly aroused by the fear that he might be already dead Softly did the mother lay her hand upon his forehead. Its cold and clammy touch sent an icy thrill to her heart Then she bent her ear to catch even the feeblest breath—but she could distinguish none.

"He is dead!" she murmured, sinking down and burying her face in the bed-clothes.

The cup of their sorrow was, at last, full—full and running over!



STUNNED by this new affliction, which seemed harder to bear than any of the terrible ones that had gone before, Mrs. Graham sunk into a state of half unconsciousness; but Anna still lingered over the insensible body of her brother, and though reason told her that the spirit had taken its everlasting departure, her heart still hoped that it might not be so,—that a spark yet remained which would rekindle.

The pressure of her warm hand upon his cold, damp forehead, mocked her hopes. His motionless chest told of the vanity of her fond anticipations of seeing his heart again quicken into living activity. And yet, she could not give him up. She could not believe that he was dead. As she still hung over him, it seemed to her that there was a slight twitching of the muscles about the neck. How suddenly did her heart bound and throb until its strong pulsations pained her! Eagerly did she bend down upon him, watching for some more palpable sign of returning animation. But nothing met either her eye or her ear that strengthened the newly awakened hope.

After waiting, vainly, for some minutes, until the feeble hope she had entertained began to fail, Anna stepped quickly to the mantelpiece, and lifted from it a small looking-glass, with which she returned to the bedside. Holding this close to the face of her brother, she watched the surface with an eager anxiety that almost caused the beating of her heart to cease. As a slight mist slowly gathered upon the glass and obscured its surface, Anna cried out with a voice that thrilled the bosoms of her mother and sister—

"He lives! he lives!" and gave way to a gush of tears.

This sudden exclamation, of course, brought Mrs. Graham and Mary to the bedside, who instantly comprehended the experiment which Anna had been making and understood the result. The mother, in turn, with trembling hands, lifted the mirror, and held it close to the face of her son. In a moment or two, its surface was obscured, plainly indicating that respiration, though almost imperceptible, was still going on,—that life still lingered in the feeble body before them.

Gradually, now, the flame that had well-nigh gone out, kindled up again, but so slowly, that for many hours the mother and sisters were in doubt whether it were really brightening or not. The fever that had continued for several days, exhausting the energies of the young man's system, had let go its hold, because scarcely enough vital energy remained for it to subsist upon. In its subsidence, life trembled on the verge of extinction. But there was yet sufficient stamina for it to rally upon; and it did rally, and gradually, but very slowly, gained strength.

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11     Next Part
Home - Random Browse