The Drunkard's Wife
"THINK of your wives and little ones!" said the
President, while making one of his stirring appeals to the crowd that filled the hall at
which meetings of the Washingtonians were held. "Think of the pale, care-worn face of
her you promised, many years ago, to love and to cherish! Think of the dear ones whose
young and innocent affections once twined about your heart, and whose glad voices once
rung in your ears like tones of sweetest music! Think of these, I say,—think of them,
unhappy man! who hast betrayed thy trust: who hast broken thy solemn vow made at
God's altar, and crushed the hopes of her who there confided her all of life to thy
keeping! Would that I had the power to restore to your heart some touches of that deep
tenderness which once pervaded it, when wife and children were named! then would I
feel sure that you would not leave this room to-night without pledging yourself never
again to taste the accursed cup, that has robbed you of every true emotion towards those
who were once so fondly loved—and robbed them of happiness,—I had almost said, of
hope. Come, my friend! Let me reason with you. Is it well for you thus to destroy the
peace of those who love you—to bring shame and sorrow to your wife, to beggar your
children? and all
for a low, selfish, sensual gratification? With all this persevering self-indulgence, are you as happy as you once were? Are the sacred attachments of home—the endearments, the tenderness, the confiding devotion of that hallowed spot, to be compared with that wild delirium of intoxication? I can hear your emphatic No! Come then, and go with us! We will do you good. Come! and there shall be light again in your dwelling. Come! and the smile shall return to the lips, and joy to the heart of that being who has clung to you, changed and degraded as you are, with an affection that nothing could obliterate."
A long, deep silence followed this appeal, broken at intervals by the President's earnest and emphatic,
"Come!—Come along, and we will do you good!"
"Look at Dr. Harper," I heard some one near me say in a low, deep whisper.
I turned my eyes towards the individual who had been named, and saw that tears
were streaming from his eyes, and that his face was agitated by powerful emotions. The
President's appeal had touched his feelings. His thoughts were, evidently, with the almost
broken-hearted, neglected, suffering wife, who had clung to him through long years of
sorrow and privation. For a few moments there seemed to be an air of irresolution about
him. Once or twice he had made a movement to rise, but still hesitated. There was
plainly, a strong conflict going on between shame and the power of an evil habit, and the
clear convictions of right that were presenting themselves to his mind. At last he arose
and went deliberately up to the secretary's table, and subscribed his name to the pledge.
How my heart glowed with pleasure as I witnessed this act! Involuntarily did my
thoughts turn to his wife, whom I met occasionally on the street, the mere shadow of her
former self. Once the happy centre of a gay and happy circle—now the lonely, neglected,
sorrowing wife of a fallen drunkard! How like the awakening from a horrible dream, I
thought, must be her husband's announcement, that he had freed himself from the one
great evil, in which had been included all the rest that had cursed his own ex-
istence and hers! And thus it was to her. But let me not anticipate. The story of her married life, which I am about to offer the reader, is one of touching interest; yet involving scenes of strong and painful trial. How could it be otherwise, and she the wife of a drunkard? A drunkard's wife! What a world of misery is involved in those three words! Who can look at them without a sensation of icy coldness about the heart? But let me pass on to my narrative.
THE DRUNKARD'S WIFE.
"May your fond anticipations be more than realized, Grace," said old Mr. Atherton, laying his hand affectionately upon the head of his beautiful child. "Love your husband, and confide in him, for he is worthy of you. But love not your father the less."
"How can I ever love you less, my dear father?" Grace replied, looking up into his face with an expression of tenderness.
"I am sure you will not, Grace. I uttered but an idle word. Still, in parting with you thus, I cannot feel otherwise than moved at the separation. I cannot but feel that, although you will love me none the less, you will not think of me so often, nor look up to me for counsel and protection as you once did. Another will claim, and justly too, to be your protector and counsellor, and to have the first place in your affections. But I will not speak thus, for I see that it pains you. I feel that it is wrong."
And then followed a silence—painful in some slight degree, yet full of sweet emotions, playing in affectionate reciprocity from heart to heart, in parent and child.
To old Mr. Atherton, now well advanced in life, Grace was an only remaining
child—the last of his household treasures. She had been to him for years a gentle spirit of love
attending him on his way. Without her, he felt that life would be cheerless. With her, he
more to desire. To yield her up then, to another, was indeed a painful trial, notwithstanding he had the fullest confidence in him to whom he resigned his treasure. But it was resigning her—and there was the pang. And what was worse, she would remove with her husband, a young physician of fine talents and acquirements, from the city, to a small town some twenty miles distant.
Doctor Harper, the husband of Grace, was a young man of pure and elevated principles—superior in every way to the mass of those around him who were just entering upon life. And it was this, and this alone, that at all reconciled old Mr. Atherton to the necessity of parting with his child. He was conscious that it was only a feeling of selfishness that opposed this separation—that Grace must be, and would be happier with such a man for her husband, than as the companion of an old man, even though he were her father.
"I know you will be happy, Grace," he said, as he gave her a farewell kiss, a few days after her marriage. "Happier than I could make you. Go, then, and may heaven smile upon you and bless you!"
Under such flattering prospects opened the married life of Mrs. Harper. There were many who envied her lot—many who had looked upon the young, high-minded, talented physician, and sighed for the place in his affections that was occupied by Grace Atherton.
"I have not attended a wedding for years, where the marriage-promise was so bright," remarked one.
"Nor I," was the response. "Doctor Harper is one of a thousand, and Grace is the sweetest girl of my acquaintance. Surely, no cloud can ever darken over them."
"None are free from affliction and misfortune," resumed the first speaker. "But these
can never weigh them to the earth, for with her fond and innocent affections, united to his
elevated principles, they have that within which will ever lift them above all external
circumstances. Give to a married pair full confidence in each other's affection and
rectitude of principle and no affliction, no change of circumstances, can rob them of
internal peace. They will rise in calm and rational superiority above them."
"That pure affection—that high toned principle, as you justly say, are here united, and must produce the happy results described," was the reply.
The first five years of their married life passed away, as might be supposed, in calm tranquillity of mind. Three sweet children blessed their union, and entwined about their hearts new and stronger cords of love. Let us introduce them to the reader more familiarly at this period. Doctor Harper's practice, as a physician, had become quite large, extending to almost all the wealthier families of the place, and widening into a circle of nearly ten miles round. Compelled to answer professional calls at all hours of the night, and at all seasons of the year, he was of course much exposed, and often much fatigued. The hospitality of those days, tendered wine or brandy, with an ill-advised, but sincere spirit of kindness, to all male visitors; but more especially to the country physician. The consequence was, that whenever called beyond the precincts of the town, or at a late hour, or in inclement weather, brandy or wine was uniformly offered to Doctor Harper, and as uniformly accepted. Its present effects were always reviving after a long ride through the bitter cold of winter, or the intense heat of summer, or after having been aroused from sleep at midnight. Of danger he did not, of course, dream. Then strong drink was not known as the seeming friend that woos and delights until it has gained power and influence, when it unmasks itself, and proves the bitterest and most subtle enemy that man has to contend with. He looked upon it as a good, and used it as such.
It was a very cold morning in the winter of 18—, that Doctor Harper received a hurried call to go five miles into the country. The snow was deep, and the wind blew in chilly gusts from the north-west.
"Must you really go so far this bitter morning?" Grace said, with a look of tender concern, as his sleigh came around to the door, and he began to prepare himself for his visit.
"Yes, dear. A physician's duties, you know, cannot be evaded. Others may put off until to-morrow, but we dare not."
"True, true. But I feel troubled, I cannot tell why, when I think of your going so far, and the air so intensely cold. You will wrap yourself up warm, dear."
"There is no reason why you should feel troubled, Grace. I have often been out on even colder days and nights. Don't be uneasy—I shall do well enough," and he kissed her still young and glowing check.
"How soon will you be home?" the wife asked, after a pause.
"Not before evening, I think," was the reply.
"It will not take you all that time to attend to this call."
"No; but I have two or three others to make out of town, and shall cross over the country instead of coming back; but I shall be safely home towards evening. And now, give me a good strong glass of brandy and water. I shall need it."
There were no doubts or misgivings in the heart of the young wife, as she poured out a large portion of strong French brandy, and handed it to her husband, who drank it off at a single draught.
This done, he kissed her again, and then jumping into his sleigh, dashed off merrily, and was soon out of sight.
In spite of every effort to shake it off, Mrs. Harper felt uneasy through the whole day, and that uneasiness was connected with her husband. But her fears were all undefined. She knew of no danger that beset his path. The coldness of the day, she was satisfied, as she pondered that reason, was not the true cause—for she knew that he was well protected, and was, moreover, accustomed to such exposure.
Meanwhile, the Doctor proceeded on his journey, and was at the house of his patient within an hour after he left home.
"We are really indebted for your prompt visit, Doctor," said the gentleman who had
sent for him, meeting him at
the door, and grasping his hand warmly as he entered. "Come in! come in! It is a very cold morning, and you must be chilled through! Here, give me your cloak! Now take a good stiff glass of brandy, and then draw up to the fire and warm yourself."
The glass of brandy was poured out, and a large draught taken. And then the doctor warmed and composed himself before seeing his patient. The case was a critical one, requiring calm investigation and great skill. How far Doctor Harper was able to give both of these, after drinking so much brandy within an hour, we are not able to say. Perhaps it was not more than he could bear. Be that as it may, he spent one hour at the bedside of his patient, and then, after another fortifying glass, departed. The patient died that night.
He proceeded across the country about eight miles, to pay another visit. Here wine was set out for him, and he drank of it freely. This second patient disposed of, he drank again, and then took another circuit. Thus he continued until late in the afternoon, when, after having visited some four or five families, he turned homeward. At each house he drank as a matter of course. First, because liquor was placed before him, and he was expected to drink it; and second, because he felt inclined to drink, and believed that it would do him good.
As evening approached, Mrs. Harper felt her strange, unaccountable concern, increasing. At last the well known sound of his sleigh-bells met her ear, and her heart bounded within her bosom as she sprang to the window, delighted at her husband's safe return.
"O, I am so glad you have come back!' she said, laying her hand upon his arm as he entered. "I have felt all day long a strange uneasiness that I cannot account for—a concern for you. But you are safe home at last, and I have had all my foolish fears for nothing."
"You are a foolish girl sometimes, you know, Grace," he replied, stooping down and
kissing her, with a rude familiar fondness, so unlike him, that Mrs. Harper looked up at
him with an earnest yet doubting glance, while her heart sunk in her bosom, she knew not
why. At that
moment, his breath came strongly in her face. Almost every day she had perceived about him the fumes of liquor, but this had caused her no alarm. She knew that he, like others, was in the habit of drinking moderately, and felt not the slightest apprehension in consequence. But now, there was something so disgusting in the odor of his breath, that she turned her head away with a sickening sensation, at the same time that she painfully realized the conviction that he was partially intoxicated! He—the husband she so loved and honored!
Mrs. Harper did not, for she could not, return his caresses; but shrunk away and busied herself about something that drew her from him. O, how wretched she felt! Not under the idea that her husband would become an abandoned drunkard—that fearful thought did not cross her mind—but because he had suffered the strong clear light of his reason to become dimmed—because he had fallen from his noble, manly character, and became degraded in intellect below the meanest of his kind. She felt that she could no longer regard him with the unalloyed pride and admiration, which had ever made him seem to her, unlike other men, above every human weakness or folly.
During the supper hour he talked almost incessantly but all he said was mere drivelling nonsense, compared to his usual tone of conversation—so calm, so rational, so full of elevating reflections. The evening meal had always been to Mrs. Harper a pleasant season, for she loved to listen to her husband's remarks upon the incidents of the day, from all and each of which he drew some lesson of instruction. He was not a carping cynic, nor a dull, prosing moralizer—he did not lecture her upon her foibles, or assume a superior air, and give out his sentiments dictatorially; but in a kind familiar strain discoursed of men and things, of morals and manners, in a way so pleasing, that Mrs. Harper was never more delighted than when thus listening to him.
But how was all this changed on the evening to which we have just alluded! Instead
of the simple and clear
enunciation of some truth, or the forcible illustration of a sentiment, or some lively description, her husband spoke and acted like an insane man. Not a sentence could he utter coherently; nor think upon the same theme for more than a few moments at a time. O, how pained was the ear and oppressed the heart of his wife! It seemed almost impossible for her to believe that he who thus spoke was her husband!
For a time she almost seemed powerless; but thoughts of duty began to pass through her mind, and these roused her up.
"He must not be seen thus," she said. "He must not go out again to-night."
"Come," she said to him, as he rose from the supper table, laying at the same time her hand upon his arm, and speaking in a tone of affectionate persuasion, "Come, Doctor, you are very much fatigued; hadn't you better go to bed and get a good night's sleep?"
"Go to bed! O no, Grace, not now," he replied, positively. "What could have put that into your head? I am not fatigued—I never felt so fresh in my life. And, besides, have you forgotten that we promised to spend this evening with Mr. and Mrs. Mabury? There is to be company there, you know."
To this, poor Grace did not know what to reply. She could not say that she was indisposed, and therefore must stay at home, nor that she would not go. And as to telling her husband the true reason why she did not, of all things, wish to pay a visit to any one on that evening, that was out of the question. She merely said—
"I do not feel like going out to-night."
"Yes, but we must go. It would never do to stay away from Mr. Mabury's," her husband replied.
With a sinking heart Mrs. Harper prepared herself to go out. She felt more like one going to a funeral, than to a pleasant party. But there was no escape. There was no form of argument in her power to use, that would have prevented her husband from doing as he wished.
It seemed to Mrs. Harper that the culprit awaiting his sentence could not feel worse
than she did, as she paused with
her husband at the door of Mr. Mabury's beautiful dwelling. That gentleman was one of the wealthiest, most influential and intelligent men of the town. Dr. Harper had always been one of his favorites, and he had always taken great pains to forward his interests. He was also a man of great firmness of character, and consistency of principle. Of all others, it was his house, and in his presence, that Mrs. Harper most dreaded her husband to appear in his debased condition. But there was no remedy.
The rooms into which they entered, contained a select company, met for pleasant, social and intellectual intercourse.
"Good evening, Doctor!" said Mr. Mabury, as they came in, extending his hand at the same time with a frank cordiality—"I am very glad you have come. We were just discussing a point upon which your clear views on nearly all subjects will no doubt assist us."
And then, after one or two introductions took place, and a few formalities passed, Mr.
Mabury proceeded to state the subject that had formed the theme of discussion to which
he had alluded, while the Doctor listened with an effort to fix his attention to the different
positions advanced. After Mr. Mabury had concluded, he proceeded very promptly, and
at great length, to give his views. They were, of course, confused and incoherent,
declaring to every one who heard him, that Doctor Harper was intoxicated! To the whole
of his rambling argument, his wife listened with feelings that few, if any, can imagine.
On its conclusion, there was a deep, oppressive, and painful silence, the reason of which
was too apparent to Mrs. Harper. No one attempted to reply, and the subject was at once
dropped by the company. But this did not prevent Dr. Harper from further exposing
himself. Talk he would, and talk he did, on all subjects. The consequence was, that to
every one the whole pleasure of the evening was lost, and the company retired at an
unusually early hour, by a kind of common consent. All this Mrs. Harper saw—all this she
felt. There was one thing that Mr. Mabury did; or, rather, that he omitted to do, which
may be worth mentioning as a hint to those who have not yet
seen reason for abandoning altogether the use of liquors as an ordinary drink. Although a friend, much less a party of friends, never visited his house without being offered wine or brandy, yet that evening he denied all for the sake of one. He would not put the cup to Harper's lips, nor, by presenting it to others, tempt him again to touch it.
Before Doctor Harper and his wife reached home, he was a good deal sobered, and less inclined to talk. He was evidently becoming conscious of his condition—and conscious that he had degraded himself. Silent and thoughtful did he retire to his bed, where sleep soon locked up his senses. But to the eyelids of the distressed wife, the "sweet restorer" brought not, for hours, the calm, refreshing slumber that had for years been her nightly visitant. In vain did she strive to sink away into forgetfulness. That evening had been too full of strange, unlooked for incidents, and she could not banish them from her mind. But at length, as the night waned, overwearied nature gave way, and she sunk into a troubled slumber, full of startling dreams.
It was long after daylight when she awoke from these feeling weary and unrefreshed. Her husband had already arisen and left the chamber. She soon followed, and found him in the breakfast room, reading. He did not look up as she entered, nor make any remark—he was evidently conscious, in some degree, of his condition during the previous evening. The morning meal passed with only a few general, constrained observations. Alas! how different from the usual conversational intercourse at the table, which had always been entered into so freely by Doctor Harper.
Here, then, were the first fruits of conscious degradation. The husband felt humbled
in the presence of his own wife, and could not look her in the face with his usual calm,
affectionate composure, nor speak to her so freely as he had been wont to do. Then came
days of reserve, O, how painful to each! but exquisitely so to Mrs. Harper, for in that
reserve were involved, in spite of all her efforts to overcome the feeling, diminished
respect for, and confidence in, her husband. The being who had, in her eyes, seemed almost perfect, had fallen, and never again, she felt, could she look upon him, no matter how tenderly she might love him, as she had once looked.
At last this reserve, so painful to each, gradually wore off, and, externally, everything presented its usual aspect. But there were doubts and fears, and tremblings in the heart of the wife. Every time she saw her husband use wine or brandy, or any other intoxicating drink, she felt troubled. Formerly, she had sometimes taken wine with him at the dinner table, but now she always refused. This he felt as a tacit rebuke, and, as he had no idea of giving up its use entirely, but only to drink less freely, it annoyed him. Several times he was on the eve of mentioning the subject, but as he was conscious that he felt irritated, and would betray that irritation if he spoke, he remained silent. But, one day, after having drank rather freely during the morning he said, as he handed the wine to Mrs. Harper, at the table,
"Come, Grace, you must take a glass of wine with me."
"Really, you will have to excuse me, dear," she replied, trying to smile, with a pleasant, indifferent air; "I don't think I feel well after taking wine."
"O, that is all nonsense. A little wine at dinner aids digestion. So come, let me fill your glass."
"Indeed, you must excuse me, Doctor," she said, more firmly. "I have made up my mind not to drink wine any more, except in case of sickness."
"And why not, pray?" Doctor Harper asked, in a voice louder than usual, and evidently excited.
"Because, dear, I do not think it does me any good," Mrs. Harper said, speaking in a mild, tender tone, and trying to smile.
"I think, madam, you might permit me to judge of that. As a physician I ought to know a little more about such matters than you do. Allow me, therefore, to say that a little wine at dinner will do you good."
"Madam!" That word! the first time he had ever
used it in speaking to her—the tone in which it was uttered—O, how coldly it fell upon her heart!
"You may give me a little," was her only reply, as she held out her glass and looked up into his face with dimmed eyes.
He poured her the wine, and she drank it off, though it seemed as if it would strangle her, as she did so.
Doctor Harper felt and saw that he had wounded his wife by his words and manner. But he did not attempt to soothe her feelings.
Had his mind not been obscured by drink, this consciousness would have produced an immediate effort to restore her peace. Indeed, had not such been his condition, he would never have violated it. But now, so he reasoned in his own mind, she had wantonly injured him by a reflection on his single instance of over-indulgence, under circumstances of a very peculiar nature. This he might have borne in another; but that his wife should act thus, seemed so unkind, and ungenerous, that he could not tolerate it. He therefore sat, during the meal, in moody silence.
At night, he came home, much more under the influence of liquor. He had been brooding all the afternoon over the incident which had thrown a cloud over them at the dinner table, and the more he thought of it, the more did he feel incensed at his wife.
"To think," he said to himself with indignant warmth, "that she should attempt such a thing with me, as if I were just on the eve of becoming a common drunkard! It is insufferable!"
With such feelings, and still more under the influence of liquor, as has just been said, did Doctor Harper return home that evening. During the few hours which had passed since he went out, it seemed to his wife that she had endured a lifetime of misery. Like the sudden bursting of a fearful storm from a summer sky, the affliction, all unpreluded, had fallen upon her. A few weeks before, and all above and around was to her beauty and brightness. Now, everything was obscured, and dark, and foreboding.
With such feelings, did Mrs. Harper await anxiously the return of her husband. One glance at his face was sufficient to tell her, what his first word confirmed, that he was intoxicated. How her spirit shrunk within her as this painful truth became evident! The loving heart will hope even under the most unpromising circumstances. All through the afternoon, Mrs. Harper had cherished a belief, feeble though it was, that her husband would return home at night in a more rational state of mind. But this hope was at once dashed to the ground on his entrance. Her eager, inquiring look, the peculiar expression of her countenance, and the instant change that passed over it, attracted his attention, and, of course, irritated him.
"What do you mean by looking at me in that way?" he asked, in an angry tone of voice.
His wife did not reply, but turned away quickly, to bide her feelings, and left the room. They did not meet again until tea was announced. Then she appeared with a pale, distressed face, and eyes red and swollen. He observed her closely, but made no remark, until towards the close of the meal, when he said, abruptly—
"I am going to call on Mr. Mabury to-night, and wish you to go with me."
"Don't let us go there to-night, Doctor," Mrs. Harper instantly responded.
"And why not, pray?"
"I do not wish to go out to-night," she said evasively.
"O, yes, that is always the way!" her husband replied in a pettish tone, "you never care about going anywhere when I wish to pay a social visit."
"Indeed, indeed, you do me wrong!" Mrs. Harper said, earnestly, the tears coming to her eyes. "You know, dear, that I am always ready to go with you anywhere; and I would go to-night with you most cheerfully only—"
But her heart failed her—she could not finish the sentence.
"Only what? Speak out plainly, madam!" he said, drawing himself up, and looking
steadily and sternly at
her, for he half imagined the reason she was about to give.
But Mrs. Harper did not reply.
"Why don't you speak out, madam? Say!"
Still the wife was silent, and less inclined than ever to utter what a few moments before had trembled on her tongue.
"It's because you think I'm too drunk to go! That's the reason, madam. Speak out honestly and say yes!"
"I didn't say so, Doctor," was Mrs. Harper's calm reply, while she looked her husband earnestly in the face.
"O no, of course not!" he said in a sneering tone. "But you thought so, and to me there is no difference."
It is one of the phenomena of mind, that, as it enters into the most painful and agitating circumstances, it grows calm and collected. This Mrs. Harper experienced, and she was enabled to say in a firm voice:
"Doctor, I cannot conceal from myself, much as I desire to do so, the fact that you are not in a condition to go into company."
"And pray why not, madam?"
"Because you have been drinking too much."
" O yes, of course! I knew that was the reason. My wife has come to have sharper eyes than other people, and can discover her husband to be intoxicated where others can see no indications."
"You asked my reason for objecting to your going to Mr. Mabury's to-night," Mrs. Harper replied, still in a calm voice, "and I have given it. Most certainly do I wish that it were not the true reason. Let me, then, beg of you, my dear husband, not to go out, and, especially, not to go to Mr. Mabury's. Trust in me, when I say that you are not in a fit condition to be, seen abroad! Surely, your wife can have no selfish end to gain in thus urging you. Most gladly would she close her eyes to the painful truth, were it in her power."
As Mrs. Harper pleaded thus with him, she came to
his side, and laid her hand, tenderly, upon his shoulder. But he turned away with an irritated air.
"Are you going with me, or not? Say yes, or no?" he said, a few moments after, in a stern voice, looking his wife full in the face.
"If you wish me to go with you, I will go, of course," was the reply. "But I cannot feel that I would be doing right to you, without using every reason in my power to induce you to stay away. Had you seen the effect of your appearance and condition on Mr. Mabury and his company, as I saw, on the evening of your last visit, you would not dream of going to-night. Every one's enjoyment was marred, and I felt as if I would gladly have shrunk into nothingness. Do not, then, expose yourself again, nor throw upon your wife, who loves you, a burden so hard to bear! If all this seems strange to you, think why it is that Mr. Mabury sent for Doctor Elwell last week, to attend his little girl. There must be some good reason why he did not call you in."
This brought Doctor Harper to his feet with a look of surprise, concern, and mortification on his countenance.
"You are trifling with me, Grace!" he said, in a voice which showed that the last remark of his wife, had, in part, sobered him.
"I am not, Doctor. I would have mentioned this before, but could not find the heart to do so. Last week his little girl was taken down with scarlet fever, and Doctor Elwell was immediately sent for, and has been in attendance ever since. She has been very ill, but is now considered out of danger. Can you imagine any reason for this withdrawal of the implicit confidence heretofore placed in you by Mr. Mabury?"
Doctor Harper did not reply but commenced pacing the room backwards and forwards, with hasty steps.
"I have performed a painful duty—how painful, no heart but mine can ever
know—and now my lips must be sealed in silence. It is a dangerous and doubtful position, that, in
which a wife becomes the censor of the husband!"
Mrs. Harper said, as she entered her chamber, and threw herself, in tears, upon the bed.
For hours, Doctor Harper continued to pace the floor, every moment becoming more and more sobered, and more and more painfully conscious of his true position.
"I am disgraced! miserably disgraced!" he said, as he paused at last, and sunk into a chair, where he sat, still in painful thought, for a long time.
When he at last retired, towards midnight, to his chamber, he found his wife lying across the bed in a deep slumber.
"How heavy a burden I have laid upon thy heart, poor Grace!" he said, stooping down and pressing his lips to her forehead. As he stood, for some moments, still bending over her, she opened her eyes and looked up into his face.
"Dear husband!" she murmured, "will you still love me, and speak kindly to me?"
"I will, I will, Grace!" he replied, quickly, with emotion. "And now, let us try and forget the past. The future is yet full of happiness and hope."
Thus were they reconciled, after the first open breach, and there came days, and weeks, and months of confidence to the heart of Mrs. Harper. The lesson which her husband had received, she hoped would be sufficient ever after to put him on his guard. But the sunshine of her heart was not that mild, cheerful light, which had for years beamed upon it. The effects of the storm which, though but for a brief period, had desolated her breast, could not be obliterated. The pride she had felt in her husband's stainless reputation, and in the almost unlimited confidence which had been placed in him, had given way to a feeling nearly allied to shame. She cared not to go into company, and when in society, felt humbled on account of the weakness which had overtaken him.
As for Doctor Harper, the withdrawal of Mr. Mabury's confidence and support
wounded him deeply. That gentleman continued to meet him with kindness and attention,
and to respect him as a man of eminent talents and
superior acquirements. But he dare not trust one whom he had seen intoxicated, with the health and life of his family.
"How can I know," he reasoned with himself, while deciding his course of action in reference to a change, "that the very moment he is called upon to prescribe for some member of my family, dangerously ill, he may not be so much under the influence of liquor as to have his perceptions obscured? The risk is too great; I cannot meet it."
Of course the fact that Mr. Mabury had changed his physician, and the reason of it, could not long remain a secret.
A few friends followed his example, and, as the reason of their change became known, others acted in like manner; so that at the end of six months, Doctor Harper had lost nearly every important family in the town of ——.
Conscious of the reason of this, and deeply mortified at it, he yet did not resolve utterly to abandon the fatal cup that had wrought him such deep injury, but continued to use it, as he thought, in moderation. Many weeks had not expired before Mrs. Harper's eyes were opened to the sad truth that her husband was again coming more and more under the influence of liquor.
Before six months had passed away, Doctor Harper often went to bed stupid from
drink. It need not be told how wretched this made his wife; more especially as he became
gloomy, morose, arbitrary and fault-finding. How sad the change which a single year had
made! Twelve months before, there was not a kinder husband nor a happier wife to be
found. Now, but few words of pleasant intercourse passed between them—and there was
too often positive unkind treatment on the part of Harper. Like too many others, when
drunk, he was a devil, and seemed to take a cruel delight in tormenting those whom he
most loved when in his right mind. The consequence was, that his children began to have
a perception of his condition, and would shrink away from him whenever he had been
drinking—while his wife ever trembled when she looked for his return.
Of all this, old Mr. Atherton, the father of Mrs. Harper, knew nothing. Indeed, it was the work of a single year, and there had been no opportunity for his detecting it by observation. Of course his daughter dreamed not of communicating, but sought rather to conceal it.
Once a year, since their marriage, had Mr. Atherton spent with them a short time in summer, when he sought recreation from the cares of business, to which he still continued to devote himself. A few weeks before he was expected, Mrs. Harper's fourth child had been born, and she was sitting with it in her arms, one evening about twilight, when the stage stopped at the door. In a few moments after she was clasped in the arms of her father.
"How much I have wanted to see this sweet little stranger," he said, after they were seated, bending over the babe that lay on its mother's bosom, and kissing it fondly. "Dear little angel! How perfect a miniature image she is of yourself, Grace." And as he said so, he looked into his daughter's face long and attentively.
"How pale and thin you look, my child," he said, after regarding her for a few moments.
The heart of Mrs. Harper was full to overflowing, and it had been with an effort that she had kept the tears from gushing forth from her eyes. His remark completed the overthrow of her self control, and she burst into tears.
"Why do you weep, Grace? You have not been used to receiving me with tears."
"You know I have been sick, father," she said, endeavoring to smile, after the agitation of her mind had subsided a little, "and am yet hardly myself again."
"Where is the Doctor? and the children?" he asked, seemingly satisfied with her answer, although he felt misgivings that all was not right.
"The Doctor has not come home yet. He was called out into the country this
afternoon, and may not be back until towards nine or ten o'clock. The children have just
been put to bed; but I will send for them all down. They must see grandpa to-night."
"No, no, I will go and see them," he said, rising and going up into the chamber, where he spent half an hour with his dear little pets, delighting and delighted. Tea being then announced, he kissed each innocent face, and bade them a tender good-night.
The Doctor had not yet arrived, and he sat down to the table alone with his daughter, into whose face he could not help looking earnestly every now and then. In its expression there was, to him, something new, and strange, and painful—something that sent a chill to his heart. He did not again allude to it, but its effect was evident in a slight degree of embarrassment which he felt, and perceived a like embarrassment in the manner of Grace.
They had finished their meal, but were still sitting at the table, engaged in conversation, when Mrs. Harper turned slightly towards the back window of the room in a listening attitude, while her face grew paler, and a look of alarm passed over it.
"What is the matter, Grace?" her father asked.
"Nothing," she replied, with an effort to smile; "I am a little nervous since I was sick, and am startled at every sound."
The conversation was renewed, but interrupted again, in a few minutes, by the same look of alarm.
"Tell me, Grace, what it is you fear?" Mr. Atherton said, half rising from his chair.
"O, nothing, father! I am foolish sometimes; but I cannot help it. I didn't use to be such a coward."
Mr. Atherton was puzzled. Grace hardly seemed like his own child. Once so cheerful and frank; now starting at an imaginary sound, for he heard nothing; tearful, and studious to conceal the cause of her agitation.
But a brief period passed, when Grace exhibited the same indications of alarm, and this time her father distinctly heard a movement in the yard. He rose instantly to his feet, and said:
"Tell me, Grace, what it is you fear, that I may know
how to protect you. Speak out plainly, my child. This mystery is all as strange as it is painful to me."
"The Doctor ——" but she could say no more.
"What of him, Grace?"
But she uttered not another word.
The old man then took a light, and opening the door that led into the yard, went out, unrestrained by Mrs. Harper. As he held the candle over his head, the first object that met his eye was the figure of a man standing near the window, supporting himself against the fence that enclosed the yard.
"Why, Doctor! what is the matter?" he said, going up and laying his hand upon his son-in-law, whom he instantly recognized.
A drunken exclamation instantly unravelled the mystery of the whole evening! How the old man's heart did bound, and throb, and flutter in his bosom! For a moment his brain reeled, and he felt as if he would fall to the earth. Then recovering himself, he laid firmly hold of Harper's arm, and led him into the house, where he sank down upon a sofa, and was in a few minutes fast asleep.
Who can truly describe the heart-searching misery which was endured by Mr. Atherton and his daughter in that fearful moment when all was thus revealed! When the father became conscious of how bitter a cup had been placed to the lips of his child—and conscious of the hopelessness of her condition. For a long time no word was spoken by either. Grace came and sat down by his side, and leaned her head upon his bosom, while he drew his arm around her and supported her half reclining body. Thus they sat for nearly half an hour, the deep silence of the room broken only by the oppressive breathing of the drunken man. At length Mr. Atherton said, in a half whisper:
"Grace, how long has this been so?"
"Only a few months," was the reply.
"How long as bad as this?"
"Not long. He is hardly ever so bad as this. Not once in a month."
"Have you ever spoken to him about it?"
"Yes: but he cannot bear it."
"Is he unkind to you?"
"Do not deceive me, Grace. I am your father, and care for you, and you ought to tell me all without disguise."
"He is uniformly kind to me, father, except when in liquor. And he is not himself then, you know."
Mr. Atherton sighed heavily, and remained silent for some moments. At length he said:
"Would you rather not have him come to your room to-night, Grace?"
"Yes. But he cannot be prevented father," she said after a brief hesitation.
"Why would you rather not have him come?"
"I don't know that I care much about it, father," the young wife said, after another pause.
"Yes, but Grace, you said just now that you did, Do not deceived me, my child. Speak out plainly. Are you really afraid to have him come into your room tonight?"
"Not on my own account, father."
"Then on whose account?"
"Why on her's?"
"Because he is not himself, you know. And he is a little rough sometimes."
"He shall not enter your chamber to-night, Grace," Mr. Atherton said in a positive tone.
"Do not be harsh with him, father; he will not bear it;" Grace urged.
"Have no fear of that, my child. And now do you go to bed, and lock your door. Leave the rest to me."
After kissing her father tenderly, and bidding him a tearful good-night, Grace retired to her chamber with her babe, but not to sleep. How could she sleep under such circumstances!
Meanwhile, old Mr. Atherton seated himself in a large chair in the adjoining room to
that in which Doctor Harper lay asleep, to await the result. When he awoke, be it
early or late, it was his fixed resolution to prevent him entering his wife's chamber, at any and all hazards. Though well advanced in years, he was yet in the vigor of a green old age, and nerved by his love for his injured child, he felt ready to brave any thing that might oppose his duty to her.
It was nearly twelve o'clock, when a movement in the next room indicated that the Doctor was awake. Mr. Atherton was on his feet in a moment, and met him at the door as he came out into the passage.
"Doctor," he said, laying his hand upon his arm, "I am sorry to find you in this condition."
"What condition do you mean?" he asked, in an offended tone.
"Partially intoxicated," was the calm, distinct answer.
"Do you come here to insult me in my own house, Mr. Atherton? I thought better things of you, sir."
"You are not yourself yet, Doctor," the old man said in reply. "Come back into the parlor, and lie down again on the sofa."
"No, I am going up to bed."
"In my own chamber, of course. Where else did you suppose?"
"Any where else but there. You are not fit to go into your wife's chamber, and she with an infant only a few weeks old."
"And pray, sir, why am I not fit?"
"Because, as I have just said, you are intoxicated."
"If any one but you were to say that, I would strike him to my feet," he said, his eyes flashing as he spoke.
"Such an act would not alter your present condition. It would make you none the less under the influence of liquor," was Mr. Atherton's calm reply.
For a few minutes, the Doctor regarded the old man with a look as fixed and stern as
it was possible for him to give, and then turned and made a movement to ascend the
stairs. But Mr. Atherton's mind was made up as to his course of conduct, and he instantly
laid his hand, with a
firm grasp, upon the arm of his son-in-law, and held him back.
"You cannot go to your wife's chamber to-night, Doctor," he said.
"But I will go!" was the angry, positive, reply.
"Not while I possess the smallest power of resistance"—Mr. Atherton said, still holding his arm tightly.
For a moment or two the drunken man hesitated, and then turned and went into the parlor again, where he threw himself upon a sofa. Mr. Atherton re-entered the adjoining room, and seated himself in a large, stuffed rocking-chair. Nearly an hour passed in profound silence, and Mr. Atherton was about falling away into sleep, when a slight noise attracted his attention, and looking towards the door, he saw the Doctor stealthily gliding up the stairs.
When Mrs. Harper retired, with her babe, to her chamber, it was under the influence of many contending and agitating emotions. For the first time, her father had learned the sad falling away of her husband—that husband whom she had so loved and honored for his deep affection for her, and for his high intellectual and moral worth. And in learning it he had found himself called upon to act as her protector against him who had promised before God and man to love and protect and cherish her at all times. She thought of this, and then of the consequences that might ensue, if her father should be called upon to oppose his entrance to her chamber—he, far advanced in years, and her husband in the vigor of early manhood.—And she trembled at the thought. Sometimes she would resolve to go down stairs and urge her father not to attempt any opposition to his wishes—but when she thought of her helpless babe that lay nestling in her bosom she hesitated. He was a little rough sometimes!
For a long time she lay awake, her mind pained and agitated, but at length she sunk into sleep. From this she was startled by a noise at her door.
"You cannot enter here," she heard her father say, in a mild, but positive tone.
"It is my wife's chamber, and I will enter. There is
not a man on earth who shall prevent me," her husband replied, angrily.
"You cannot go in, Doctor."
"Stand aside, sir!"
"Why will you seek thus to disturb your wife? Remember that it is now midnight, and she asleep with her infant. You are in no condition to enter her chamber. Go into this room, and pass the night—it will be better for you, and better for her."
"Stand aside, I say!" laying his hand, at the same time, upon the shoulder of Mr. Atherton.
"It is useless for you to persist, Doctor," the old man said, his manner becoming still more positive; "you shall not enter this room to-night, unless it be over my body! My child is there, and since you have forfeited all claim to be her protector, I will resume my former right."
"Stand aside, I say!"
"Not while I have life."
For more than a minute did Doctor Harper confront the old man, looking him all the while sternly in the face; but Mr. Atherton's eye blanched not, nor did his purpose waver for a moment. This was felt by the half-sobered man whose purpose he was opposing.
"You will repent this," he said, turning suddenly away, and entering an adjoining chamber, where he threw himself upon a bed, and was soon fast asleep.
To convey an idea of what Mrs. Harper suffered during that brief, but, to her,
frightful interview, is impossible. At one moment she was ready to throw open
the door, and thus end the contest, and even once went so far as to rise and lay her hand
upon the lock. But she hesitated, and in an agony of fear stood listening to the stern,
angry words of her husband and father, expecting every moment to hear the awful sounds
of violence. But she was spared that severest trial. Doctor Harper was not so far lost to all
consciousness of right, as to have any idea of offering personal violence to Mr. Atherton.
When he found that the old man resolved
to maintain his position at all hazards, he gave up the contest.
It would be hard to tell who felt worst on the next morning—or who dreaded most to meet the others at the breakfast table. Doctor Harper was, in a good degree conscious of what had occurred during the evening and part of the night; although, nothing was distinct to his mind. But enough could be remembered to make him aware that he had acted to the eyes of Mr. Atherton a most astonishing part—and one that made him feel the deepest shame and self-condemnation. His pride, however, prevented his exhibiting this, and when his father-in-law came down, he met him with the freedom and frank welcoming that he had ever given him at his annual visit. Mrs. Harper came down soon after, and with an effort at cheerfulness took her position at the table. But her thin, pale face, and look of suffering that she could not conceal, recalled, too vividly, the painful events of the night previous. The conversation that was going on between her husband and father became embarrassed, and continued only with an effort on either side, during the meal that was briefly concluded.
When Mrs. Harper retired from the table, the two men went into the parlor, where
Mr. Atherton at once, and distinctly, alluded to the condition in which he had so
unexpectedly found Doctor Harper. As the fault could neither be concealed nor justified,
it was, at once, acknowledged, with a promise to renounce entirely all use of ardent
spirits. Then followed a full confession to Mr. Atherton of his trials and struggles, and
previous resolutions of reformation, in regard to the habit that was fast ruining his peace
and prospects. To this Mr. Atherton replied with the best advice, and strongest
admonition that he could give. The deep shame and penitence of his son-in-law gave him
hope; and a sojourn with him for three weeks, during which no man was ever more
perfectly sober, confirmed that hope, and made him feel, that in returning home, he might
do so without feeling any great degree of uneasiness for his daughter and her family.
Before parting with Grace, he
conjured her, in the strongest terms, to let him know, immediately, should her husband relapse into his former habits, which she promised to do.
Scarcely two weeks had passed since her father's return to Baltimore, before Grace became conscious that her husband was again indulging himself. Often, when he came home at night, he would be stupid; and, so soon as he retired to bed, fall into a heavy sleep, and oppress the air of their chamber with the fetid odor of his breath. Six months had hardly rolled around, before he had so given himself up to drink, that every night he would come home so under its influence as to be either insensible, or arbitrary and ill-natured. The consequences to his professional standing may readily he supposed. Family after family withdrew their confidence; and the loss of two or three important cases, through inattention, and inability from drink, to properly understand and administer to them, completed his downfall as a physician in the town of ——. It is true, that he was frequently called upon to administer, but not in any families that he cared to retain, nor that were at all desirable to a physician.
The effect of all this was to drive him more frequently to the tavern, where he was now to be found oftener than in his office, or engaged in professional business. Of all this Mr. Atherton was profoundly ignorant. Notwithstanding the promise of Grace, she could not bring herself to communicate to her father intelligence of the dreadful change that had so rapidly followed his return to the city. She was sure that he would require her to come home with her children, and abandon her husband, and this she was not prepared to do. It was for this reason that she kept from him what she had faithfully promised to communicate.
The gradually diminishing income of Doctor Harper made it necessary that there
should be a corresponding reduction of expenses. This his wife saw, and proposed that
they should give up the house in which they lived, one of the handsomest in the town,
and remove to a pleasant little cottage on the suburbs, then vacant. This
was agreed to, and, in due time, they took possession of their new and humbler home. This was a relief to the mind of Mrs. Harper, for now she could shrink from observation, and hide herself away from the curious eyes of those whose pity, no matter how sincere, pained and oppressed her.
As has been intimated, that mortification at the condition of her husband, reduced circumstances, and, worse than all, diminished respect and regard for the man in whose affection had been garnered up all her hopes and happiness, were not all the evils to which she had become subjected. Like too many others, drunkenness did not only make Doctor Harper neglectful of his wife and children, but it made him cruel. It not only debased him to the mere selfish and sensual condition of the brute, but made a devil of him. From one of the tenderest and most affectionate of husbands, he had become irritable, jealous, and fault-finding; and when insane, from intoxication, his wife often suffered from physical abuse. His children had learned to fear him, and his wife to tremble at his coming.
The cottage in which they now lived, stood just on the suburbs of the town, and was
removed to some distance from every other dwelling. Grace often felt very lonely as she
sat, night after night, sometimes until twelve, and sometimes until one o'clock, waiting
for the return of her husband, who now spent every evening at the tavern, having, with a
strange infatuation, almost totally abandoned himself. Sometimes, she would sit,
trembling, hour after hour, a prey to vague fears; and, at other times, shrink amid the war
and strife of the elements. Naturally timid and fearful, in this lonely, and, it seemed to
her, exposed condition, she suffered most intensely. A movement without, that she could
not account for, or a slight sound within, breaking in upon the oppressive stillness that
surrounded her, as she sat, often with her babe in her arms, waiting for her husband's
return, would startle every nerve, and almost paralyze her with strange and uncertain
terrors. In vain did she strive to overcome these fears. She could not throw
them off—she could not grow familiar with her new condition.
One night in the summer of the year after her father, who was still ignorant of her husband's relapse, had visited them, Mrs. Harper observed that a heavy storm was gathering about the horizon. The last few days had been very sultry, and she felt sure that this storm would be accompanied with intense lightning and thunder.
"Do not go out to-night, Doctor," she said, laying her hand upon his arm, as he went towards the door with his hat on, after rising from the tea-table; "we are going to have a heavy storm, and you know how much afraid I am of lightning."
"Do you think it will hurt you any quicker because I am away?" he replied, in a half-contemptuous tone.
"No—but, then, it is so lonely here. I cannot help it—but I always feel dreadfully when I am alone in a storm."
"You have the children."
"Yes—but they are not like you. Come, don't go out, dear!" she said, in a pleading tone. "Stay with me for once. If you knew how strangely I have felt all day, and how I start and tremble at every sound, you would not leave me to-night, and such a storm as that rising."
"I don't believe there will be any storm here to-night," he replied. "It will all go round. So don't give yourself any needless alarm, Grace. I would stay with you if I could, but I have an engagement that I must meet."
And so saying, Doctor Harper stepped from the door, and strode hastily away. His
poor wife sunk into her chair faint and feeble. She was not what she had been a year or
two ago; full of health and confidence, with a bouyant step, and a high flow of spirits.
Her nerves were all shattered, her spirits depressed, and her heart well nigh broken. A
distant roar of thunder startled her, in a few minutes, and she arose and went to the door
to take another survey of the horizon. The dark clouds had become rolled together in
dense masses, flecked here and
there with light, fleecy vapors, that hurried across, moved by stronger currents of air; and the whole storm had reached up towards the zenith, indicating a rapid approach. As she stood looking at it, a fierce line of lightning darted through half the distance from the zenith to the horizon, with intense rapidity, and then a heavy, jarring intonation followed. All this her husband saw and heard, himself but a few hundred yards from the house. But he paused not, nor hesitated in his mind, but walked onward with a quickened pace.
The heart of the poor wife sank in her bosom as it had never sunk before, with a strange fear, for which she could not at all account. Some new affliction seemed pending over her—some new danger to lurk in her way. Mechanically she proceeded to undress her children, four in number, all mere babes, and to place them in their beds. Then lifting her heart upwards in a silent prayer for comfort and protection, she seated herself near a window with a trembling heart to await the approaching tempest. Rapidly did the dark, angry clouds ascend from the horizon, and spread themselves with threatening aspect over the sky, while ever and anon the fierce flash would leap out from their bosom, and the thunder boom heavily in the distance.
At last there came the brooding silence, the deep shadowy darkness of the impending clouds, as the storm hung suspended for a brief period ere it awoke in its strength. To these succeeded a few large drops, touching here and there like the stealthy steps of an approaching enemy. Then, with a sudden wild energy, the storm came down in wind, and hail, and fierce bickering flame, and the crashing of thunder.
Pale and statue like, her heart shrinking and fluttering in her bosom, did Mrs. Harper sit alone for more than an hour, with the sound of the wild, roaring tempest in her ears, and her eyes dazzled with the intense quivering flashes of light that blazed out incessantly in broad sheets of flame, while her husband, with a few drinking friends, lounged in the bar-room of a tavern, scarcely heeding the war of elements.
At last the lightning came less frequently, and with a tempered glare—the thunder began to roll in the distance, and the wild roaring of the storm to subside.
"Thank God, it is over!" she said, glancing upwards, as she arose and paced the room to and fro, her heart relieved from the burden of fear that had oppressed it. Soon all was hushed into oppressive silence, and the hours began to steal away towards midnight, as the lonely wife sat waiting, with her babe in her arms, for the return of her husband.
Time passed on, and the candle that stood upon the little table near which she sat, had burned, unnoted by her, low in the socket, when the distant rumbling of the stage fell upon her ear, indicating the hour of twelve.
"So late, and yet he has not returned!" she murmured, rousing herself, and listening with an interest that appeared to her strange, to the approaching sound that grew louder and nearer every moment. It seemed as if that midnight stage bore something for her.
"Who knows but that father is coming. It is near the time of his regular visit," she said to herself, and then she listened and waited with a new and trembling interest. Presently the stage was almost at the door. It paused—stopped! She sprang to the door, and glanced down the little avenue leading to the main road.
"Here is a letter for Mrs. Harper," the driver said, tossing one to Grace, "I have been requested to deliver it in passing, as it contains news of importance."
Then dashing forward again, the noise of the wheels soon died on the ears of Mrs. Harper, who had re-entered the house, and was breaking, with trembling hands and fluttering heart, the seal of the letter that had come into her possession, it seemed, so strangely.
Its distressing import was soon apparent. Her father had died suddenly on the day before. This much her bewildered senses took in, when her over-tried heart could bear no more. She sank upon the floor insensible.
It was near one o'clock when her husband came in, half-stupified with drink. The
candle had burned out, and all was darkness within his dwelling. Vexed at find-
ing no light, he was groping his way across the room muttering in drunken anger at his wife for the neglect when he stumbled against her body, and came near falling. Stooping down to feel what it was that had obstructed his steps, he passed his hand over her face, and found it strangely cold and clammy to his touch. A sudden feeling of alarm thrilled his heart, and partly sobered him. After groping about for some time, he succeeded in obtaining a light, which was instantly held close to her face. It was pale as ashes, and death-like in its expression. In her hand she still hold the letter she had received. This her husband disengaged from her fingers that were tightly clasped upon it, and read its startling contents. For a moment or two after he had become distinctly conscious of the afflicting event that had so suddenly taken place his brain reeled—then he was as perfectly sober as ever he was in his life.
How keen and heart-searching was the remorse that he felt, as he looked down upon the thin, pale, expressionless face, that was turned towards him, and thought how basely he had betrayed the confidence and trampled upon the affections of the gentle being who had forsaken all to him. Raising her up tenderly, and laying her upon a bed, he assiduously applied such means as he knew would be likely to restore her fleeting senses, and soon perceived the signs of returning animation. At last, as he bent anxiously over her, she opened her eyes, and looked him steadily in the face, with an expression of such hopeless agony, for consciousness had fully returned, that he was affected almost to tears. Then she closed her eyes slowly, while her bosom heaved with a deep oppressive sigh.
But she did not seem to hear her name, though uttered in a tone of unusual tenderness.
She opened her eyes and looked up into the face that bent over her, but her countenance expressed no heartfelt recognition of that voice, once full of power to stir every tender emotion of her nature.
"Grace! Dear Grace!"
Her eyes had again closed, but now they flew open quickly, and a sudden flash passed over her face.
"May I claim," he continued, "to share in your sorrow—to mourn with you? To be again a husband to one I have so madly neglected?" As he spoke thus, Doctor Harper stooped down, and kissed, tenderly, her pale cheek.
Quick as thought her arms were about his neck, clasping it with a strong convulsive effort. Then the pent up waters burst forth, and she wept and sobbed upon his bosom for a long, long time, until exhausted nature at last gave way, when succeeded a deep calm, falling upon her spirits like the gentle and peaceful influence of a happier state than that in which she was really involved.
A quiet sleep soon fell upon her senses, locking all to her in sweet forgetfulness. In the morning came the full realization of her condition. Then came the cold and heart-aching sensation of bereavement. Then she felt the keen smarting of severed ties, that even the gentle efforts of a truly repentant husband had no power to assuage. But she could not have quiet in her grief. The last sad duties were to be performed. A hurried journey was to be taken that she might look her last look upon the dear face of that father whom her heart had loved with such pure and deep affection.
Accompanied by her husband, Mrs. Harper set off early on the morning, and reached Baltimore by the middle of the day. During most of the journey he conversed freely of the past, and solemnly promised her that he would amend. Like assurances he gave her as they returned a few days afterwards, having completed arrangements to remove to the city, where a very handsome property had been left to them. It did not take long to sever the few ties that bound them to ——; the scene of exquisite pain to one, and deep mortification and disgrace to the other. In a few weeks from the time of Mr. Atherton's removal to a world of spirits, his daughter, with her husband and children, were inmates of his late tasteful, and even elegant residence.
A year glided swiftly away, and, as month after month
passed, and still her husband remained true to his resolution, the heart of Grace began to gain strength, and the trembling hope of her bosom to acquire confidence. Gradually Doctor Harper obtained a practice, that was extending itself—and, as a physician of decided ability, he was beginning to assume a position that was both honorable to himself and the profession. But, in his resolution as a reformed drinker, he stood alone. And besides, the total abstinence principle, although it had been declared by some to be the only true principle which to found a reformation, was looked upon as the scheme of ultraism. In this Doctor Harper agreed with the mass, and would, in consequence, occasionally take a glass of ale, or cider, as it came in his way. It may readily be perceived in what a dangerous position he stood; nor will it be thought any thing strange that he again fell.
"I am going to dine out to day, Grace," he said one morning, more than a year after they had removed to the city, "so do not wait for me."
"With whom, dear?" his wife asked, her heart beating with quicker motion, she hardly acknowledged to herself why.
"Doctor S—— gives a dinner-party to-day, and as Doctors M—— and L—— of New York are to be there, I wish particularly to be present."
"Come home early to tea, then, Doctor," Mrs. Harper said.
Her husband promised, and then left his office to attend to his professional duties.
In spite of every effort to throw off what she tried to call an idle concern, Mrs. Harper felt troubled all day long; and towards evening, when the time came for his return, she was nervous and excited, and waited and watched for him with an anxious suspense that she tried in vain to banish from her mind. But he did not come with the twilight, nor for nearly an hour after. Then he returned in a carriage, from which he had to be lifted and supported up to his chamber. He was again intoxicated!
From that hour his course was downward. In one year
he sunk so low, and became so abandoned to drink, that no one would employ him as a physician. One vice usually brings on another. At least so it proved in his case. The association into which he fell led him to the gambling table as a kind of excitement. Here he wasted rapidly the little fortune he had received at the death of Mr. Atherton.
"Grace," he said, one morning, about four years after their removal to the city, "we shall have to sell this house."
The pale, care-worn, and sorrow-stricken creature, the mere shadow of her former self, lifted her eyes to his face, inquiringly, and asked—
"Why sell the house, Doctor?"
"To get something to buy bread with"—was the brief answer, in an impatient tone.
"I think we had better not sell this house, Doctor," she replied, mildly. "If every thing else is gone, and we sell this, where shall we find a shelter for our children?"
"I don't see any sense in starving them in a fine house, if you do," her husband said, angrily. "We must sell it, and thus get something to live on, for every thing else is gone, let me tell you."
"All our bank stock?"
"Certainly. You didn't suppose it was going to last for ever?"
To this Mrs. Harper made no reply. She had long feared that her husband was rapidly wasting their substance; but did not dream that all was gone, except the house in which they lived. And now she was called upon to express a willingness to part with that—to remove with her children she knew not whither.
"I can make a good sale of it," her husband proceed. "Eight thousand dollars are offered for the house and lot."
Then producing the title deeds, he added—
"You will, of course, consent to the sale, and sign away your right in the property?"
"I would rather not do it, Doctor," Mrs. Harper said, looking up into his face, imploringly.
"But you will have to do it, madam. I have already sold it, and the purchaser is now waiting to receive a clear title."
"How could you do so, Doctor, without an intimation of your design to me. You must have known that I could not leave this house without a painful trial," Mrs. Harper said, giving way to tears.
"It's useless to go to crying about it, Grace. The thing can't be helped now. And it's foolish in you to wish to stay here and keep up appearances that we have nothing to sustain. I gave you the last ten dollars we had in the world, besides this house, day before yesterday, and we owe a good many little bills around, which can only be paid out of the proceeds of this sale. So come, put your name to the paper. Eight thousand dollars will last a good while. We can move into a smaller house, and live very comfortably— especially as I am going to open an office again, and give more attention to business."
Grace took the deed in her hand, and ran her eye over it, although she did not comprehend the meaning of a single word, for her mind was altogether abstracted.
"Here's a pen," her husband said.
And she took the pen in her fingers mechanically.
"Sign here," he proceeded, placing his finger opposite to one of the seals printed on the document, and Mrs. Harper bent over the paper which her husband had pressed down upon the table.
"There, sign there," continued Doctor Harper, eagerly and in a kinder tone of voice.
"Sign for what?" Mrs. Harper now said, rousing herself and throwing off the dreamy abstraction under which she had been laboring.
"Why, sign a transfer of this deed to Mr. ——."
"The deed of this house?"
"No, Doctor, I cannot do that," and the pen dropped from her hand.
"But you must sign it."
"You shall sign it!" and her husband's face grew flushed, and his voice was loud and angry.
But neither threats, commands, nor persuasions, could move her. She would not sign away her interest in the property, and the sale could not be made. For months after, her husband pursued a regular course of persecution in order to gain her over to his wishes. But she was firm in her duty to her children. She would not deprive then of a home.
Still it was only a home in name, without some new effort on her part. As her husband had said, every thing else was gone, and there was no means within to buy bread. But his want of money for his own base purposes, joined with her want of money to supply the need of her family, and by a common consent, various articles of furniture were sold: he using part of the proceeds in drinking and gambling. This, Mrs. Harper was aware, could only be a temporary expedient, and she began to cast about in her mind for some employment, in which she could be enabled to supply the wants of her children.
In her education, no care or expense had been spared by her father. While at school, she attained a more than ordinary proficiency in the various branches that were taught; and especially in music, had she acquired a high degree of excellence. For some years, however, she had felt little inclined to give attention to her music, and had consequently lost much of her power over the instruments upon which she had once performed with exquisite skill. But a natural taste for music, united with a very fine ear for musical sounds, soon enabled her, with the practice of a few hours every day, to bring back a large portion of what had been lost, and to add much that was new.
When confidence in her own abilities was restored, she, after consultation with her
husband, who readily consented, advertised to give lessons in music, either at her own
house, or at the houses of her pupils. A few scholars were obtained to whose instruction
she gave all the required attention. But this now demand upon her physical energies soon
made it painfully apparent to her that she was assuming duties beyond her strength. The
her children, and an almost constant devotion to household duties, were enough for her feeble frame, weakened by long-continued mental sufferings, to bear; but when were added to these, new and even severer efforts, she felt that she was taxing a delicate constitution, already much broken, too far. If, in all this wearying toil, she had met the quick sympathy of her husband, she might have borne up. But to see him coming and going every day—a strong, healthy man, except so far as indulgence in drink had weakened his physical frame—eating of the bread she had provided in weariness, and sometimes pain, for her children, and not even giving her a kind look or word, broke down her spirits, and, at times, almost disheartened her. But the sight of her children, and the thought of them, kept her up.
Still she failed gradually; and after the devotion of a few months to her new duties, found herself growing daily weaker and weaker. Every morning on awaking, instead of being refreshed, she experienced a feeling of lassitude that it required an effort to overcome; and frequently, during the day, while standing at the piano, giving lessons, a faintness would come over her, requiring, often, a brief cessation of her labors. Thus she continued for nearly two years, receiving pupils in her own house part of each day, and, during another portion of it, giving lessons at the dwellings of some of her scholars. Her evenings, or rather half of her nights, were regularly given to her family, as she could only afford to keep a single servant, a kind of doer of all work. In this way, she was barely able to provide a scanty support for her children and husband.
How cheerfully would she have performed it all, over-wearying as it was, had the
necessity for such a devotion of herself been a legitimate one—had her husband been in ill
health, or deprived of business by circumstances beyond his control. But to see him
passing to and fro daily, loathsome in appearance, brutalized in mind, unkind, and utterly
regardless of herself or his children; was a trial too severe for her to bear up under. It
seemed almost impossible for her to realize that he was the same kind, affec-
tionate, high-minded, intelligent man to whom, in her brighter days, she had yielded up the affections of her young heart. Yet still she felt that it was, alas! too true—and what was worse, there seemed for her hard condition no remedy.
For more than a year after the effort to induce his wife to sign away her right in the last remnant of their property, Doctor Harper, almost constantly under the influence of liquor, pursued towards her a systematic course of persecution in order to break down her determination. During that time no pleasant word was spoken to her; and her anxious eye sought his face again and again, day after day, for a single look of kindness, but in vain. All of her gentle attentions were received with indifference, an angry coldness, or direct repulsion. Still she continued them, with a persevering sense of duty, that would have won upon any heart but one made callous by the perverting influence of such a low, sensual indulgence as that to which her husband had become addicted. No angry word was met with a like reply. Indifference was not repaid by indifference nor neglect by neglect. In all her relations of a wife, she acted the part of a true wife, in duty—in affectionate attention, if it is possible for a woman's heart to be moved by the holy principle of love for an object so repulsive, none were more faithful than she. And yet, for more than twelve months, her ear never took in a kind word, nor was her heart made to leap under the influence of a pleasant look or smile.
But she was immovable, under a trial that would have broken down the resolution of almost any woman. The deep love she bore for her little ones, kept her ever nerved to endure the trial, and she did endure it to the end.
The selfishness of her husband caused him to change, somewhat, in his manner
towards her at last. Without credit, or the means of procuring money, he found himself
unable to obtain the daily potations his insatiable thirst for strong drink required. There
was no one to whom he could look but his wife: and to her he at last turned with
a semblance of kindness, that fell upon her heart as refreshingly as the gentle dews to the parched ground.
"Can you spare me half a dollar, Grace?" he said one morning, in a mild, conciliatory tone, as he was about to go out.
It was the first time he had spoken to her in kindness for more than a year.
"Certainly, Doctor," she responded, while the tears dimmed her eyes. And she handed him the desired amount.
He returned a grateful look and word. How that look and word lived in her memory through the day, and lightened the toil that she had found so hard to endure.
On the next morning a like request was made, and granted even more cheerfully than the first. Indeed the poor wife had begun to fear that he would not ask again.
Daily now was this new draft made upon her slender resources. But it was met with a degree of pleasure that she hardly acknowledged to herself. It was a sacrifice, and required new efforts, but to her it was a small sacrifice for so great a gain—the pleasant looks and words of her husband, even were they but half sincere.
She now gave renewed attention to his appearance; and tried in every way to make his home a pleasant place. But how vain the effort! Every day he would come home, or be brought home, intoxicated; his clothes, to which she had given so much care, and upon which she would often exhaust her slender means, torn or soiled, and his face frequently disfigured by bruises from having fallen in the street. Only in the morning was he at all rational, but rarely repentant. For the brief pleasure then given, she had to pay dearly; he soon became more exacting, and would frequently want a dollar instead of half, the amount at first solicited. The refusal, no matter upon what ground, of his request, made him angry. Poor Mrs. Harper had endured that anger so long, that no sacrifice seemed too great to turn it aside. She therefore, always gave him the money he asked for if in her power.
But his want of money soon went far beyond her power
to supply, and then succeeded seasons of clouds and gloom, to which her ordinary affliction of mind was but as a passing obscuration. All this tended to break down her health more rapidly. The artificial stimulus, when withdrawn, left her weakened frame to sink into a feebler condition, from which she, in vain, endeavored to rouse herself. At last she broke down suddenly, and had to take to her bed. Over-tasked nature would bear up no longer.
"Can't you stay home with me to-day, Doctor?" she said, lifting her languid eyes to her husband's face, as he saw him preparing to go out on the morning after she was taken suddenly ill with a prostrating fever, and then turning them upon her four children, who were sitting about the room, neglected and spiritless.
The wretched man did not reply, but paced the floor backwards and forwards for a long time. The desire for liquor was on him, and it was overpowering. But he had no money, and he did not believe that his wife had any. And even if she had, some touches of shame and reluctance arose in his mind at the idea of asking for it under such circumstances. Still debating in his own mind whether he should ask her or not, he continued walking the room for full half an hour, when he turned away and went down stairs. There he paced the floor for half an longer before going out. As he was sober, all this brought reflections of no very pleasant character.
"It is too late to mend now," he muttered to himself, as he walked hurriedly along, "I must have something to drink, or it will set me crazy."
"Lend me half a dollar, Mr. —— ," he said, suddenly turning into the shop of a tailor, in whose family he had once practised.
The request came so unexpectedly, and was for so small a sum, that Mr. —— put his hand into his pocket and was about handing out the piece of coin he had been asked for, when he recollected himself and paused.
"What do you want with it, Doctor?" he asked, looking the individual he addressed steadily in the face.
Harper stammered out an incoherent reply, to which
Mr. —— responded by gently admonishing him in regard to his conduct.
"It's no use to talk to me about changing now, Mr. ——. I've tried to do it too often," he said, doggedly.
"But I know that there is use. Come to our Washington meeting to-night at Union Hall, and you will be satisfied that you can reform."
"I don't believe it," was the reply, as he turned away and left the shop.
For at least an hour did Doctor Harper wander about, before he returned. As he came into her chamber again, his wife saw that he had not been drinking. He came to her bed-side, felt her pulse, and wrote a prescription, which he handed to her, and then went down stairs. Mrs. Harper sent her oldest child to the druggist's, and obtained the medicine he had directed, and took it. It was about an hour afterwards when he came up, and again inquired, kindly, how she did. At dinner time he sat down with the children, and ate sparingly. Then he wandered about the house most of the afternoon like one bewildered, and at night, after tea, went out as usual. But not to the tavern. He had thought much of what Mr. —— had said to him about going to Union Hall, and the more he thought about it, the more he felt inclined to go. To the meeting of the Washington Temperance Society he therefore went, and before leaving the Hall signed the pledge, as has been related in the opening of this number.
When he came home, he went up to his wife's bed-side side, and stood for some moments looking down upon her face, now flushed with fever. There was a rapid play of the muscles through every feature, and a restlessness that indicated an activity of mind, although her eyes were closed, and she seemed asleep. Suddenly she opened them, and looked up into his face with a wild staring expression. Her lips moved, and he beat down his head to listen.
"You won't kill me, Doctor, will you?" she said, in a husky whisper.
"Kill you, Grace! Why should I kill you?"
"I haven't another cent in the world. But you won't kill me?"
The bewildered husband did not know how to reply. Could her mind be wandering? He took her hand, and found that her pulse was strong and quick-beating at least one hundred and fifty in the minute. It was too true. The fever had risen so high that delirium had supervened.
"I've given it all to you, Doctor" she added, looking into his face imploringly; "and I'd give you my heart's blood if it would do you any good. Don't speak so coldly to me. Don't look so angry. I have done best, dear;" and the poor creature tried to smile with a look of affection. But it was a faint and ghastly smile indicating the anguish of crushed affection, rather than the play of a living motion.
"I won't be angry any more, dear Grace! I won't look cold nor speak unkindly any more," her husband said, soothingly and tenderly, as he bent down and pressed his lips to her's that were burning with fever. "I will love you again, and care for you, as I once did."
For an instant, the suffering wife looked her husband intently in the face. His words, she scarcely understood, but that act of genuine tenderness towards her, her heart perceived, even in delirium.
"It is all well," she murmured, with a sweet smile, whose genuine expression could not be mistaken, lit up every feature, as she closed her eyes, and sunk away into a gentle sleep.
But the fever abated not. In half an hour she awoke, still unsettled, but with the remembrance of that moment of reconciliation indelibly fixed in her mind. All night long did her husband sit by her bedside, the excitement of the scene compensating for the physical excitement that had been so suddenly withdrawn, and thus keeping his nerves fully strung. Towards morning the fever of his wife abated, and she sunk into a deep sleep. She looked so thin and pale, and death-like as he bent over her, that his heart bounded with an involuntary emotion of fear lest nature had become too much exhausted.
It was long after daylight when she again awoke, an expression of intelligence flitting over her countenance. She found her husband sitting by the bedside, holding her hand in his, and gazing down into her face with a look of subdued tenderness. She closed her eyes for a moment or two, as if to collect her mind, and then opened them again, and gazed intently upon him.
"Was it not all a sweet dream, then?" she murmured, in a doubting tone.
"No, Grace, it is no dream; but a blessed reality!" her husband softly answered, bending over and kissing her. "From this hour I am a changed man—from this hour I will be to you what I was in years long passed away: the remembrance of which is still dear to me. Last night I threw myself within the sphere of the great moral reformation that is now progressing—the temperance reformation—and I feel, I know, that there is in that sphere a sustaining power that will keep me true to my pledge. For the past, I dare not ask you to forgive me. If you can, let its deeds sink as much as possible into oblivion. But for the future, take hope. In the strength of Him whose divine power is present in every good resolution, I will be true to my wife, my children and myself!"
In what better language than that of the following couplet can I describe the effect of this declaration upon the poor wife of Dr. Harper, to whom hope had sprung up suddenly as she had felt herself just entering the caverns of despair.
"She rose—she sprung—she clung to his embrace,
And there she lay, weak as an infant, and full of the innocent, trusting affection of an
infant, for a long, long time. So many years had passed since she could lie there with a
feeling of confidence, that it seemed as if she could never be willing to remove her head
from his. At last, she murmured, lifting herself up, and
sinking back upon her pillow, while the tears lay upon her cheeks,—
"We shall be happy again, dear husband!"
And they were again happy. Doctor Harper was not mistaken in the power of association. Up to this time, he has not only kept his pledge, but is one among the most active members of the temperance society. He has resumed the practice of medicine, and is fast acquiring confidence, and we doubt not will yet rise to eminence in his profession.