Frank Oldfield, or Lost and Found by the Reverend T.P. Wilson, M.A., Rector of Smethcote
Published by T. Nelson and Sons, London, Edinburgh and New York, 1872.
Also by W. Tweedie, 337 Strand, London, and at The Office of the United Kingdom Band of Hope Union, 5 Red Lion Square, London. ___________
The Committee of the United Kingdom Band of Hope Union having offered prizes of One Hundred Pounds, and Fifty Pounds respectively, for the two best tales illustrative of Temperance in its relation to the young, the present tale, "Frank Oldfield," was selected from eighty-four tales as the one entitled to the first prize. The second tale, "Tim Maloney," was written by Miss M.A. Paull, of Plymouth, and will shortly be published. Appended is the report of the adjudicators:—
We the adjudicators appointed by the Committee of the United Kingdom Band of Hope Union, to decide upon the Prize Tales for which premiums of One Hundred Pounds, and Fifty Pounds, were offered by advertisement, hereby declare that we have selected the tale with the motto "Nothing extenuate, or set down aught in malice," as that entitled to the First Prize of One Hundred Pounds; and the tale with the motto "Hope on, Hope ever," as that entitled to the Second Prize of Fifty Pounds.
As witness our hands, Thomas Cash, T. Geo. Rooke, B.A., John Clifford, M.A., Ll.B., &c.
United Kingdom Band of Hope Union Office, 5 Red Lion Square, London. August 3, 1869.
This book was well-written, and generally exciting throughout, although one of the early chapters was a bit lacking in action (people seated round the dinner-table). The action was credible and well described. The whole thing rang very true, and for that reason might be read by someone wishing to gain more knowledge of life two-thirds of the way through the nineteenth century. The Reverend Wilson writes well, and it would be pleasant to seek out and read other books from his pen. N.H. (transcriber) ___________
FRANK OLDFIELD, BY THE REVEREND T.P. YOUNG
"Have you seen anything of our Sammul?" These words were addressed in a very excited voice to a tall rough-looking collier, who, with Davy-lamp in hand, was dressed ready for the night-shift in the Bank Pit of the Langhurst Colliery. Langhurst was a populous village in the south of Lancashire. The speaker was a woman, the regularity of whose features showed that she had once been good-looking, but from whose face every trace of beauty had been scorched out by intemperance. Her hair uncombed, and prematurely grey, straggled out into the wind. Her dress, all patches, scarcely served for decent covering; while her poor half- naked feet seemed rather galled than protected by the miserable slippers in which she clattered along the pavement, and which just revealed some filthy fragments of stockings.
"No, Alice," was the man's reply; "I haven't seen anything of your Sammul." He was turning away towards the pit, when he looked back and added, "I've heard that you and Thomas are for making him break his teetottal; have a care, Alice, have a care—you'll lose him for good and all if you don't mind."
She made him no answer, but turning to another collier, who had lately come from his work, and was sauntering across the road, she repeated her question,—
"Jim, have you seen anything of our Sammul?"
"No, I know nothing about him; but what's amiss, Alice? you're not afraid that he's slipped off to the 'George'?"
"The 'George!' no, Jim, but I can't make it out; there must be summut wrong, he came home about an hour since, and stripped and washed him, then he goes right up into the chamber, and after a bit comes down into the house with his best shoes and cap on. 'Where art going, Sammul?' says I. He says nothing, but crouches him down by the hearth-stone, and stares into the fire as if he seed summat strange there. Then he looks all about him, just as if he were reckoning up the odd bits of things; still he says nothing. 'Sammul,' said I, 'won't you take your tea, lad?' for it were all ready for him on the table. Still he doesn't speak, but just gets up and goes to the door, and then to the hearth- stone, and then he claps his head on his hands as though he were fretting o'er summat. 'Aren't you well, Sammul?' says I. 'Quite well, mother,' says he, very short like. So I just turns me round to go out, when he jumps up and says, 'Mother:' and I could see by the tears in his eyes that he were very full. 'Mother,' says he again, and then he crouches him down again. You wouldn't believe, how strange I felt—you might have knocked me down with a feather; so I just goes across to old Jenny's to ax her to come and look at him, for I thought he mightn't be right in his head. I wasn't gone many minutes, but when I got back our Sammul were not there, but close by where he were sitting I seed summat lapped up in a piece of papper, lying on the table. I opened it, and there were a five-shilling piece and a bit of his hair, and he'd writ on the papper, 'From Sammul, for dear mother.' Oh, what must I do—what must I do? I shall ne'er see our Sammul any more," and the poor woman sobbed as if her heart would break.
Before Jim had time to answer, a coarse-looking man of middle height, his hands thrust deep into his pockets, a pipe in his mouth, and his whole appearance bespeaking one who, in his best moments, was never thoroughly sober, strode up to the unhappy mother, and shouted out,—
"What's up now? what's all this about?"
"Your Sammul's run away—that's what it's about," said Jim.
"Run away!" cried the other; "I'll teach him to run away—I'll break every bone in his body when I get him home again."
"Ay, but you must catch him first," said Jim, drily.
"Alice, what's all this?" said Johnson, for that was the father's name, turning fiercely on his wife.
She repeated her story. Johnson was staggered. Samuel was a quiet lad of fourteen, who had borne with moderate patience many a hard word and harder blow from both parents. He had worked steadily for them, even beyond his strength, and had seen the wages which ought to have found him sufficiency of food and clothing squandered in drink by both father and mother. Johnson was staggered, because he knew that Samuel could have a will of his own; he had felt a force in his son's character which he could not thoroughly understand; he had seen at times a decision which showed that, boy as he was, he could break sooner than bend. Samuel, moreover, was an only son, and his father loved him as dearly as a drunkard's selfishness would let him love anything. His very heart sickened at his wife's story, and not without cause. They had but two children, Samuel and Betty. Samuel worked in the pits; his sister, who was a year younger, was employed at the factory. Poor children! their lot had been a sad one indeed. As a neighbour said, "yon lad and wench of Johnson's haven't been brought up, they've been dragged up." It was too true; half fed and worse clothed, a good constitution struggled up against neglect and bad usage; no prayer was ever taught them by a mother's lips; they never knew the wholesome stimulant of a sober father's smile; their scanty stock of learning had been picked up chiefly at a night-school; in the Sunday school they had learned to read their Bibles, though but imperfectly, and were never more happy than when singing with their companions the hymns which they had practised together. They were specially dear to one another; and in one thing had ever been in the strictest agreement, they would never taste that drink which had made their own home so miserable and desolate.
About a fortnight before our story opens, Langhurst had been placarded with bills announcing that an able and well-known total abstinence advocate would give an address in the parish schoolroom. Many went to hear, and among them Samuel and Betty Johnson. Young and old were urged to sign the pledge. The speaker pictured powerfully a drunkard's home— he showed how the drink enticed its victims to their ruin like a cheating fiend plucking the sword of resistance from their grasp while it smiled upon them. He urged the young to begin at once, to put the barrier of the pledge between themselves and the peculiar and subtle array of tempters and temptations which hedged them in on all sides. In the pledge they had something to point to which could serve as an answer to those who could not or would not hear reason. He showed the joy of a home into which the drink had never found an entrance—total abstinence was safety—"never to taste" was "never to crave." He painted the vigour of a mind unclouded from earliest years by alcoholic stimulants; he pointed to the blessing under God of a child's steady practical protest, as a Christian abstainer, against the fearful sin which deluged our land with misery and crime, and swept away every spark of joy and peace from the hearthstones of thousands of English homes. Every word went deep into the hearts of Samuel and his sister: the drunkard's home was their own, the drink was ever before their eyes, the daily sin and misery that it caused they knew by sharp experience—time after time had they been urged to take the drink by those very parents whose substance, whose strength, whose peace had all withered down to the very ground under its fatal poison. How hard had been the struggle to resist! but now, if they became pledged abstainers, they would have something more to say which could give additional strength to their refusal.
The speaker stood pen in hand when he had closed his address.
"Come—which of you young people will sign?"
Samuel made his way to the table.
"I don't mind if I do," he said; and then turning to Betty, when he had written his name, "come, Betty," he cried, "you'll sign too—come, stick to the pen."
"Well, I might do worse, I reckon," said Betty, and she also signed. A few more followed, and shortly afterwards the meeting broke up.
But a storm was now brewing, which the brother and sister had not calculated for. Johnson and three or four kindred spirits were sitting round a neighbour's fire smoking and drinking while the meeting was going on. A short time after it had closed, a man thrust open the door of the house where Johnson was sitting, and peeping round, said with a grin,—
"I say, Tommy Jacky," (the nickname by which Johnson was familiarly known), "your Sammul and Betty have just been signing Teetottal Pledge."
"Eh! what do you say?" exclaimed Johnson in a furious tone, and springing to his feet; "signed the pledge! I'll see about that;" and hurrying out of the house, he half ran half staggered to his own miserable dwelling. He was tolerably sobered when he got there. Samuel was sitting by the fire near his mother, who was frying some bacon for supper. Betty had just thrown aside on to the couch the handkerchief which she had used instead of a bonnet, and was preparing to help her mother. Johnson sat down in the old rickety rocking-chair at the opposite side of the fire to Samuel, and stooping down, unbuckled his clogs, which he kicked off savagely; then he looked up at his son, and said in a voice of suppressed passion,—
"So, my lad, you've been and signed teetottal."
"Yes, I have," was the reply.
"And you've signed too," he cried in a louder voice, turning fiercely upon Betty.
"Ay, fayther, I have," said Betty, quietly.
"Well, now," said Johnson, clenching his teeth, "you just mind me, I'll have nothing of the sort in my house. I hate your nasty, mean, sneaking teetottallers—we'll have none of that sort here. D'ye hear?" he shouted.
Neither Samuel nor Betty spoke.
"Hush, hush, Tom," broke in his wife; "you mustn't scold the childer so. I'm no fonder nor you of the teetottallers, but childer will not be driven. Come, Sammul—come, Betty, you mustn't be obstinate; you know fayther means what he says."
"Ay that I do," said her husband. "And now, you listen: I'd sooner see you both in your graves, nor have you sticking up your pledge cards about the house, and turning up the whites of your eyes at your own fayther and mother, as if we were not good enough for the likes of you. Me and mine have ever loved our pipe and our pot, the whole brood of us, and we ne'er said 'no' to a chap when he asked for a drop of drink—it shall never be said of me or mine, 'They give 'em nothing in yon house but tea and cold water!'"
"Ay, ay; you're light, Thomas," said his wife; "I'm not for seeing our bairns beginning of such newfangled ways. Come, childer, just clap the foolish bits of papper behind the fire, and sit ye down to your supper."
"Mother," said Betty, in a sad but decided voice, "we have seen enough in this house to make us rue that ever a drop of the drink crossed our door-step. We've toiled hard early and late for you and fayther, but the drink has taken it all. You may scold us if you will, but Sammul and I must keep our pledge, and keep it gradely too."
"And I say," cried her father, striking his hand violently on the table, "I'll make you both break afore ye're a day older; ye've pleased yourselves long enough, but ye shall please me now. I never said nothing afore, though mother nor me didn't like to see ye scowling at the drink as if it were poison; a drop now and then would have done ye no harm, but ye were like to please yourselves—but it's different now. We'll have none of your pledges here, ye may make yourselves sure of that."
"You can't help yourself fayther," said Samuel doggedly: "pledged we are, and pledged we're bound to be, but—"
Before he could say more, Johnson had snatched up one of his heavy clogs and had hurled it at the head of his son, fortunately without striking him; then catching up both clogs, and hastily buckling them, he strode to the door, and pausing for a moment, gasped out, "I've said it, and I'll stick to it; ye shall both break your teetottal afore this time to- morrow, as I'm a living man."
He was gone, and was seen no more at home that night.
This scene occurred the evening before that on which our story commences. We have seen that Johnson, miserable and abandoned drunkard as he was, was utterly staggered at the flight of his son when coupled with his parting gift to his mother. Was he really gone, and gone for ever? Had his own father driven him, by his cruel threats, to desperation, perhaps to self-destruction? Unhappy man! he stood the very picture of dismay. At last he said,—
"Perhaps he mayn't have got very far. I'll just step over, Alice, to your brother John's; maybe he'll have looked in there for a bit."
"Ay, do, Thomas," cried his wife; "and you must just tell him that he mustn't heed what you said to him and Betty last night; it were only a bit of a breeze. Oh, what'll our Betty say when she finds our Sammul gone; she will fret, poor thing. She just stepped out at the edge-o'- dark, [see note 1] and she'll be back again just now. Make haste, Thomas, and tell the poor lad he may please himself about the teetottal."
"Ay, ay, Alice," said poor Johnson dejectedly; "that cursed drink'll be the ruin of us both—body and soul," and he went on his sorrowful way.
Oh, what a crowd of thoughts came crushing into the heart of the wretched man, as he hurried along the path which he supposed his son to have taken. He thought of the day when he was married, and what a bright creature his Alice was then; but even over that day there hung a cloud, for it was begun in intemperance and ended in riot. He thought of the hour when he first looked on his boy, and had felt as proud as if no other man had ever had a bonny bairn but he. He thought with shuddering self-reproach of long years of base neglect and wrong towards the children whose strength and peace his own words and deeds had smitten down as with blows of iron. He thought of the days and years of utter selfishness which had drained away every drop of comfort from the cup which might have overflowed with domestic happiness. He thought how he had ever been his own children's tempters beckoning them on towards hell in every hour's example; and then he thought upon the life beyond the grave, but recoiled with horror from that dark and lurid future, and shuddered back to earth again. Oh, was there in all the world a more miserable wretch than he! But on he went; anything was better than rest. His road lay down a steep brow after he had passed along one field which separated the village from a wooded gorge. Here all had once been green and beautiful in spring and summertime; but now, for many years past, thick clouds of smoke from coal-pit engines and iron furnaces had given to trees and shrubs a sickly hue. Nature had striven in vain against the hot black breath of reeking chimneys. Right down among the stunted trees of this ravine went the foot-track which Johnson followed. Darkness had now gathered all around, yet here and there were wild lights struggling with the gloom. Just on the right, where the path came out on to the dusty road, and a little way down a bank, a row of blazing coke-ovens threw a ghastly glare over the scene, casting fantastic shadows as their waves of fiery vapour flickered in the breeze. A little farther on he passed a busy forge, from whose blinding light and wild uproarious mirth, mingling with the banging of the hammers, he was glad to escape into the darkness beyond—what would he not have given could he have as easily escaped from the stingings of his own keen remorse. On he went, but nothing could he see of his son. A mile more of rapid walking, and he reached his brother-in-law's cottage.
"Eh, Thomas, is it you?" cried John's wife. "Don't stand on the door- step, man, but come in."
"Have you seen our Sammul?" asked Johnson, in an agitated voice.
"Your Sammul? no, he hasn't been here. But what ails you, Thomas?" The other could not speak, but sinking down into a chair, buried his face in his hands.
"Summat ails you, I'm sure," said the kind woman.
"Oh, Jenny," replied the unhappy father, "our Sammul's gone off—gone off for good and all. I black-guarded him last night about yon teetottal chap as come a-lecturing and got our Sammul and Betty to sign the pledge, so just about an hour since he slips out in his Sunday hat and shoes, when Alice were down the yard, and when she comes back she finds a bit of papper on the table with a five-shilling piece and a bit of his hair lapped up in it, and there was writ on it, 'From Sammul, for dear mother.' Oh, Jenny, I'm afraid for my life he's gone off to Americay; or, worse still, he may have drowned or hanged himself."
"Nay, nay; don't say so, Thomas," said Jenny; "he'll think better of it; you'll see him back again in the morning. Don't fret, man; he's a good lad, and he'll turn up again all right, take my word for it. He'd ne'er have taken his Sunday shoes if he'd meant to drown or hang himself; he could have done it just as well in his clogs."
But Johnson could not be comforted.
"I must be going," he said. "I guess there'll be rare crying at our house if Sammul's gone off for good; it'll drive Alice and our Betty clean crazy."
With a sorrowful "good night" he stepped out again into the darkness, and set his face homewards. He had not gone many paces when a sudden thought seemed to strike him, and he turned out of the road by which he had come, and crossing by a little foot-bridge a stream which ran at the bottom of a high bank on his right hand, climbed up some steep ground on the other side, and emerged into a field, from which a footpath led along the border of several meadows into the upper part of Langhurst. Here he paused and looked around him—the darkness had begun to yield to the pale beams of the moon. His whole frame shook with emotion as he stood gazing on the trees and shrubs around him; and no wonder, for memory was now busy again, and brought up before him a life-like picture of his strolls in springtime with his boy, when Samuel was but a tiny lad. 'Twas in this very field, among these very trees, that he had gathered bluebells for him, and had filled his little hands with their lovely flowers. Oh, there was something more human in him then! Drunkard he was, but not the wretched degraded creature into which intemperance had kneaded and moulded him, till it left him now stiffened into a walking vessel of clay, just living day by day to absorb strong drink. Yet was he not even now utterly hardened, for his tears fell like rain upon that moonlit grass—thoughts of the past made his whole being tremble. He thought of what his boy had been to him; he thought of what he had been to his boy. He seemed to see his past life acted out before him in a moving picture, and in all he saw himself a curse and not a blessing—time, money, health, peace, character, soul, all squandered. And still the picture moved on, and passed into the future: he saw his utterly desolate home—no boy was there; he saw two empty chairs—his Betty was gone, dead of want and a broken heart. The picture still moved on: now he was quite alone, the whole hearth-stone was his; he sat there very old and very grey, cold and hunger-bitten; a little while, and a pauper's funeral passed from that hearth into the street—it was his own—and what of his soul? He started as if bitten by a serpent, and hurried on.
The village was soon reached; whither should he go? Conscience said, "home;" but home was desolate. He was soon at the public-house door; he could meet with a rude sympathy there—he could tell his tale, he could cheer him with the blaze and the gas, he could stupify down his remorse with the drink. Conscience again whispered, "Home," but so feebly, that his own footstep forward quenched its voice. He entered, and sat down among the drinkers.
And what of his poor wife and daughter?
Johnson had not left his home many minutes when Betty came in.
"Where's Sammul?" she asked, not noticing her mother's agitation; "and where's fayther? We're like to have weary work in our house just now, I reckon."
"Betty!"—was all that her mother could say, but in such a voice that her daughter started round and cried,—
"Eh, mother, what is't? what ails you?"
"See there," replied the poor woman, pointing to the little packet still lying on the table; "that's what ails me."
Betty took it up; she saw the money and the lock of hair; she read the words—it was all plain to her in a moment. She stood open-mouthed, with her eyes staring on the paper as one spell-bound, then she burst out into a bitter cry,—
"Oh, mother, mother! it cannot be, it cannot be! he wouldn't leave us so! Oh, Sammul, Sammul, what must we do? It's the drink has done it— fayther's drink has done it! I shall never see you, Sammul, any more! Mother," she suddenly added, dropping the apron which she had lifted to her streaming eyes, "where's fayther? Does he know?"
"Yes; he knows well enough; he's off to your Uncle John's. Oh, what shall we do if he doesn't bring our Sammul back? But where are you going, child?" for Betty had thrown her shawl over her head, and was moving towards the door. "It's no use your going too; tarry by the hearth-stone till your fayther comes back, and then, if he hasn't heard anything of Sammul, we'll see what must be done."
"I cannot tarry here, mother; I cannot," was Betty's reply. "Fayther'll do no good; if Sammul sees him coming, he'll just step out of the road, or crouch him down behind summat till he's gone by. I must go myself; he'll not be afraid of me. Oh, sure he'll ne'er go right away without one 'Good-bye' to his own sister! Maybe he'll wait about till he sees me; and, please the Lord, if I can only light on him, I may bring him back again. But oh, mother, mother, you and fayther mustn't do by him as you have done! you'll snap the spring if you strain it too hard; you must draw our Sammul, you mustn't drive him, or maybe you'll drive him right away from home, if you haven't driven him now."
So saying, she closed the door with a heavy heart, and took the same road that her father had gone before her.
Slowly she walked, peering into the darkness on all sides, and fancying every sound to be her brother's step. She lingered near the coke-ovens and the forge, thinking that he might be lurking somewhere about, and might see and recognise her as the fiery glow fell upon her figure. But she lingered in vain. By the time she reached her uncle's, the moon had fairly risen; again she lingered before entering the cottage, looking round with a sickening hope that he might see her from some hiding-place and come and speak to her, if it were but to say a last farewell. But he came not. Utterly downcast, she entered the cottage, and heard that her father had but lately left it, and that nothing had been seen of her brother. To her aunt's earnest and repeated invitation to "tarry a while," she replied,—
"No, Aunt Jenny; I mustn't tarry now. I'm wanted at home; I shall be wanted more nor ever now. I'm gradely [see note 1] sick at heart. I know it's no use fretting, but oh, I must fret! It were bad enough to be without meat, without shoes, without clothes, without almost everything; but it's worse nor all put together to be without our Sammul."
She turned away, and, with a heavy sigh, took her way home again. The moon was now shedding her calm light full on the path the poor girl was treading, leaving in dark shadow a high wooded bank on her left hand. Just a few feet up this bank, half-way between her uncle's house and her own home, was the mouth of an old disused coal-pit-shaft. It had been long abandoned, and was fenced off, though not very securely, by a few decaying palings. On the bank above it grew a tangled mass of shrubs, and one or two fine holly bushes. Betty was just in the act of passing this spot when her eye fell on something that flashed in the moonbeams. She stooped to see what it was; then with a cry of mingled surprise and terror she snatched it from the ground. It was an open pocket-knife; on the buck-horn handle were rudely scratched the letters SJ. It was her brother's knife; there could not be a moment's question of it, for she had often both seen and used it. But what was it that sent a chill like the chill of death through every limb, and made her totter faintly against the bank? There was something trickling down the blade as she held it up, and, even in the moonlight, she could see that it was blood. A world of misery swept with a hurricane force into her heart. Had her brother, driven to desperation by his father's cruelty, really destroyed himself? Perhaps he had first partially done the dreadful deed with his knife, and then thrown himself down that old shaft, so as to complete the fearful work and leave no trace behind. Poor miserable Betty! she groaned out a prayer for help, and then she became more calm. Creeping up close to the edge of the old shaft, she looked into it as far as she dared; the moonlight was now full upon it; the ferns and brambles that interlaced across it showed no signs of recent displacement; she listened in an agony of earnest attention for any sound, but none came up from those dark and solemn depths. Then she began to think more collectedly. Hope dawned again upon her heart. If her brother meant to destroy himself he would scarcely have first used the knife and then thrown himself down the shaft, leaving the knife behind him as a guide to discovery. Besides, it seemed exceedingly improbable that he would have put on his best hat and shoes if bent on so speedy self- destruction. She therefore abandoned this terrible thought; and yet how could the presence of the knife on that spot, and the blood on the blade, be accounted for? She looked carefully about her—then she could trace evident marks of some sort of scuffle. The bank itself near the old shaft was torn, and indented with footmarks. Could it have been that her father had encountered Samuel here as he was returning, that they had had words, that words had led to blows, and that one or both had shed blood in the struggle? The thought was madness. Carefully concealing the knife in her clothes, she hurried home at the top of her speed; but before she quite reached the door, the thought suddenly smote full and forcibly on her heart, "If fayther has killed poor Sammul, what will he be? A murderer!" She grew at once desperately calm, and walked quietly into the house.
"I haven't heard anything of our Sammul," she said sadly, and with forced composure. "Where's fayther?"
"I've been looking for him long since," replied her mother; "but I suppose he's turned into the 'George.'"
"The 'George!'" exclaimed Betty; "what now! surely he cannot—"
Before she could say more, Johnson himself entered. For once in his life he could find no ease or content among his pot companions. They pitied, it is true, the trouble which he poured into their ears, but their own enjoyment was uppermost in their thoughts, and they soon wearied of his story. He drank, but there was bitterness in every draught; it did not lull, much less drown the keenness of his self- upbraidings; so, hastily snatching up his hat, he left the mirth and din of the drinkers and made his way home—ay, home—but what a home! dark at the best of times through his own sin, but now darker than ever.
"Well?" exclaimed both Betty and her mother when he entered—they could say nothing more. He understood too plainly what they meant.
"Our Sammul's not been at your brother John's," he said to his wife; "what must we do now? The Lord help me; I'm a miserable wretch."
"Fayther," said Betty, greatly relieved, spite of her sorrow, for Johnson's words and manner assured her at once that he and her brother had not met. "Fayther, we must hope the best. There's a God above all, who knows where our Sammul is; he can take care of him, and maybe he'll bring him back to us again."
No more was said that night. Betty had a double portion of care and sorrow, but she had resolved to say nothing to any one about the knife, at any rate for the present. She was satisfied that her brother had not laid violent hands on himself; and she trusted that, in a few days, a letter from himself from Liverpool or some other seaport, would clear up the mystery, and give them at least the sad satisfaction of knowing whither their Samuel was bound.
Note 1. "Edge-o'-dark" means "Evening twilight."
Note 2 "Gradely," as an adjective means "sincere," "proper," or "true;" as an adverb, "rightly," "truly," or "properly."
And what sort of a home was that which Samuel had so abruptly forsaken? "There's no place like home;" "Home is home, be it never so homely." Things are said to be true to a proverb; but even proverbs have their exceptions, and certainly no amount of allowance could justify the application of the above proverbs to Johnson's dwelling. But what sort of a home was it? It would be far easier to say what it was not than what it was. Let us follow the owner himself as he comes in from his work, jaded and heart-sore, the night after Samuel's departure.
The house is the worst in the row, for it is the cheapest—the tyrant "Drink" will not let his slave afford a better. The front door opens opposite the high dead wall of another block of houses, so that very little daylight comes in at the sunniest of times—no loss, perhaps, as the sunshine would only make misery, dirt, and want more apparent. A rush-bottomed chair—or rather the mutilated framework of one, the seat being half rotted through, and the two uppermost bars broken off with a jagged fracture—lies sufficiently across the entrance to throw down any unwary visitor. A rickety chest of drawers—most of the knobs being gone and their places supplied by strings, which look like the tails of rats which had perished in effecting an entrance—stands tipped on one side against the wall, one of its legs having disappeared. A little further on is a blank corner, where a clock used to be, as may be traced by the clusters of cobwebs in two straight lines, one up either wall, which have never been swept away since the clock was sold for drink. A couch-chair extends under the window the whole length, but one of its arms is gone, and the stump which supported it thrusts up its ragged top to wound any hand that may incautiously rest there; the couch itself is but a tumbled mass of rags and straw. A table, nearly as dilapidated, and foul with countless beer-stains, stands before the fire, which is the only cheerful thing in the house, and blazes away as if it means to do its best to make up for the very discouraging state of things by which it finds itself surrounded. The walls of the room have been coloured, or rather discoloured, a dirty brown, all except the square portion over the fire-place, which was once adorned with a gay paper, but whose brilliancy has long been defaced by smoke and grease. A broken pipe or two, a couple of irons, and a brass candlestick whose shaft leans considerably out of the perpendicular, occupy the mantelpiece. An old rocking-chair and two or three common ones extremely infirm on their legs, complete the furniture. The walls are nearly bare of ornament; the exceptions being a highly-coloured print of a horse-race, and a sampler worked by Betty, rendered almost invisible by dust. The door into the wash-house stands ajar, and through it may be seen on the slop-stone a broken yellow mug; and near it a tub full of clothes, from which there dribbles a soapy little puddle on to the uneven flags, just deep enough to float an unsavoury-looking mixture of cheese-rinds and potato-parings. Altogether, the appearance of the house is gaunt, filthy, and utterly comfortless. Such is the drunkard's home.
Into this miserable abode stepped Johnson the night after his son's disappearance, and divesting himself of his pit-clothes, threw them down in an untidy mass before the fire. Having then washed himself and changed his dress, he sat him down for a minute or two, while his wife prepared the comfortless tea. But he could not rest. He started up again, and with a deep sigh turned to the door.
"Where are you going?" cried his wife; "you mustn't go without your tea; yon chaps at the 'George' don't want you."
"I'm not going to the 'George,'" replied Thomas; "I just want a word with Ned Brierley."
"Ned Brierley!" exclaimed Alice; "why, he's the bigoted'st teetottaller in the whole village. You're not going to sign the pledge?"
"No, I'm not; but 'twould have been the making on us all if I had signed years ago;—no, I only just want a bit of talk with Ned about our Sammul;" and he walked out.
Ned Brierley was just what Alice Johnson, and scores more too, called him, a bigoted teetotaller, or, as he preferred to call himself total abstainer. He was bigoted; in other words, he had not taken up total abstinence by halves. He neither tasted the drink himself, nor gave it to his friends, nor allowed it an entrance into his house. Of course, therefore, he was bigoted in the eyes of those who could not or would not understand his principles. But the charge of bigotry weighed very lightly on him; he could afford to bear it; he had a living antidote to the taunt daily before his eyes in a home without a cloud, an ever- cheerful wife, healthy, hearty, striving, loving sons and daughters. And, best of all, Ned was a Christian, not of the talk-much-and-do- little stamp, nor of the pot-political-mend-the-world stamp. He loved God, and always spoke of him with a reverential smile, because his very name made him happy. He had a wife, too, who loved the same gracious Saviour, and joined with her husband in training up their children in holy ways. They knew well that they could not give their children grace, but they could give them prayer and example, and could leave the rest to God in happy, loving trust. People who talked about total abstinence as a sour and mopish thing, should have spent an evening at Ned Brierley's when the whole family was at home; why, there was more genuine, refreshing, innocent fun and mirth there in half an hour than could have been gathered in a full evening's sitting out of all the pot- houses in the neighbourhood put together. Ay, there were some who knew this, and could say, "If you want gradely fun that leaves no afterthought, you must go to Ned's for it." Of course Ned had won the respect even of those who abused him most, and of none more truly than Thomas Johnson. Spite of all his swaggering and blustering speeches no man knew better than he the sterling worth of Brierley's character; no man was more truly convinced, down in the depths of his heart, that Ned's principles and practice were right. And so now, restless and wretched, he was coming, he hardly knew exactly why, to ask counsel of this very man whom he had openly abused and ridiculed at the very time when he both envied and respected him.
Could there possibly be a greater contrast than between the house he had just left and the one which he now entered?
Ned Brierley's dwelling was the end house of a row, which had been recently built out of the united savings of himself and children. It was rather larger than the rest, and had one or two out-buildings attached, and also a considerable piece of garden ground belonging to it. In this garden Ned and his sons worked at odd times, and everything about it had a well-to-do air. The neat rows of celery, the flower-beds shaped into various mathematical figures by shining white pebbles, the carefully-pruned apple trees, and the well-levelled cindered paths, all betokened that diligent hands were often busy there.
Johnson opened the little white gate, walked up the path, and hesitatingly raised the latch of the house door. What a sight met his eyes! it was a perfect picture. If the three sisters, Cleanliness, Neatness, and Order, had been looking out for a home, they certainly might have found one there. In some of the neighbours' houses, go when you would, you would find the inmates always cleaning, but never clean; it was just the reverse at Ned's, you always found them clean, and scarcely ever caught them cleaning. Then, what an air of comfort there was about the whole place. The arms and back of the couch-chair shone like mahogany, the couch itself was plump and smooth, like a living thing in good condition. The walls were a bright, lively blue, but there was not very much to be seen of them, so covered were they with all sorts of family-belongings and treasures. Against one wail stood a rather ambitious-looking article, half chest of drawers, half sideboard, the knobs of the drawers being of glass, which flashed in the bright fire-light as if smiling their approbation of the happy condition of their owners. Over the sideboard was a large and elaborate piece of needlework, a perfect maze of doors and windows in green and red worsted, with a gigantic bird on either side preparing to alight. This was the work of the eldest daughter, and purported, in words at the bottom, to be an accurate delineation of Solomon's Temple. Close by stood a clock, tall and stately in its case, the hands of the brightest brass, over which appeared the moving face of a good-tempered looking moon. Then, on the next wall hung two large cases, one of butterflies, which were arranged in patterns to represent griffins, dragons, and other impossible animals; the other, of well-stuffed birds, with shining legs and highly-coloured beaks. Other parts of the walls were adorned with Scripture prints, more remarkable for brilliancy of colouring than correctness of costume; and in a conspicuous place, evidently the pride of the whole collection, was a full-length portrait of the Queen, smiling benignantly down on her subjects. Below the cases of butterflies and birds was a piano—yes, actually, a piano—and by no means a bad one too. Then, near the fire-place, was a snug little book- case, well furnished with books; and over the mantelpiece, in the centre of a warm-looking paper, was the text, in large characters, "The love of Christ constraineth us." The mantelpiece itself glittered with a variety of brass utensils, all brightly polished. Over the middle of the room, suspended by cords from the ceiling, was a framework of wood crossed all over by strings, on which lay, ready for consumption, a good store of crisp-looking oat-cakes; while, to give still further life to the whole, a bird-cage hung near, in which there dwelt a small colony of canaries.
Such was the room into which Johnson timidly entered. By the fire, in his solid arm-chair, sat Ned Brierley, looking supremely content, as well he might, considering the prospect before and around him. On a large table, which was as white as scrubbing could make it, the tea apparatus was duly arranged. The fire was burning its best, and sent out a ruddy glow, which made every bright thing it fell upon look brighter still. Muffins stood in a shining pile upon the fender, and a corpulent teapot on the top of the oven. Around the table sat two young men of about the ages of nineteen and twenty, and three daughters who might range from eighteen to fifteen. Their mother was by the fire preparing the tea for her husband and children, who had all lately come in from their work.
"Why, Johnson, is that you?" exclaimed Ned Brierley; "come in, man, and sit ye down.—Reach him a chair, Esther," he said to his youngest daughter.
"Well, Ned," said Johnson, sitting down, and drawing back his chair as near the door as he could, "I thought, maybe, you could give me a bit of advice about our Sammul. I suppose you've heard how he went off yesternight."
"Ay, Thomas, we've heard all about it. I'm gradely sorry too; but you mustn't lose heart, man: the Lord'll bring him back again; he's a good lad."
"He is a good lad," said Johnson; "and I've been and driven him away from his home. That cursed drink has swept him away, as it's swept almost everything good out of our house. It'll do for us all afore we've done with it; and the sooner it's the death of me the better."
"Nay, nay, Thomas, you mustn't say so," cried the other; "it's not right. God has spared you for summat better; turn over a new leaf, man, at once. He'll give you strength for it if you'll ask him. Come now, draw your chair to the table, and have a cup of tea and a bit of muffin; it'll do you good."
"Ned," said Thomas, sadly, "I can't take meat nor drink in your house. I've abused you behind your back scores of times, and I can't for shame take it."
"Nay, nay, man; never heed what you've said against me. You see you've done me no harm. I'm none the worse for all that folks can say against me; so draw up your chair, you're gradely welcome to your tea."
"Ay, do," chimed in his wife; "doesn't Scripture say, 'If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink:' and I'm sure you must be both hungry and thirsty if you haven't tasted since you came from the pit."
Poor Johnson could not speak. When he was sober he was a feeling man, and a sensible one too. Alas! his sober times were few, but he was sober now. The tears overflowed his eyes, and he brushed them hastily away as he drew his chair near to the bright little circle of happy healthy faces. He ate and drank for a while in silence, and then said with a faltering voice,—
"Ned, you're a true Christian. I'll never say a word against you behind your back any more."
Brierley held out his hand to him, and the other grasped it warmly.
"I'll tell you what," said Ned, in a cheery voice, "I'd give a good deal, Thomas, to see you a total abstainer; it'd be the making of you."
Johnson shook his head sorrowfully.
"I mustn't; Alice wouldn't let me. I can't; the drink's more to me nor meat, and clothes, and everything. I durstn't, for my old pals at the 'George' would chaff me to death with their jeers and their jokes. I couldn't face them for shame."
"Oh, Thomas," cried Ned, "what a slave the drink's made of you:— mustn't! can't! durstn't!—what! ain't you a man? haven't you got a will of your own?"
"No, Ned, that's just it; I haven't a will of my own: the old lad's got it off me long since."
"Ay, but, Thomas, you must get it back again," exclaimed Brierley's wife; "you must go to Jesus, and he'll help you."
Johnson fidgeted uneasily in his chair; at last he said,—
"I can't do without my beer; I haven't strength to work without it."
"You've taken plenty of it, I reckon," remarked Ned, "and you don't seem to thrive much on't."
"I've taken too much," said the other, "but I can't do without a little."
"You can't do with a little, I fear. It's first only a pint, and then it's only a quart, and then it's only a gallon, till at last it's only a fuddled head and an empty pocket. Come, join us, Thomas; take the first step boldly like a man, and then just pray for grace, and you'll not fear what other folks can do to you."
"But I shall never get through my work without a drop of beer to wash dust out of my throat and spirit me up," persisted Johnson. "I feel like another sort of man when I've had my pint."
"Yes, just for a bit," replied Ned. "Now it seems to me just the same as what we might do with our fire. I bid our Esther look to the fire, so she goes and sticks to the poker, and each now and then she pokes away at the fire, and the fire blazes up and blazes up, but very soon there's nothing left to blaze with. The fire'll be out directly, so I says to our Mary, you look after the fire, so our Mary goes to the heap and fetches a shovel of coal, and claps it on the top of the hot cinders, and she won't let our Esther poke it no more, so it burns steady and bright, and throws out a good heat, and lasts a long time. Now, when you take your drop of beer, you're just poking the fire, you're not putting any coal on; you can work like a lion for a bit, but you're only using up the old stock of strength faster and faster, you're not putting on any new. I've helped you to put a little gradely coal on to-night, and I hope it won't be the last time by many."
"Father," broke in Esther, laughing, and highly entertained at the part she bore in her father's illustration, "when you tell your tale again, you must make our Mary stick to the poker, and me clap the coal on."
"Ay, ay, child," said her father, "you shall each take it in turn."
"Well, you may be right," sighed Johnson; "but Jack Barnes says as he's knowed scores of teetottallers that's wasted away to skin and bone for want of the drink; he says beer strengthens the bone, and makes the muscles tight and firm."
"Jack Barnes may say what he likes, but I'll just ask you, Thomas, to think and judge for yourself. You see me and mine; you see seven total abstainers here to-night. Not one of these childer knows the taste of the drink; they work hard, you know, some in the pit, some in the mill: do they look nothing but skin and bone? Where'll you find healthier childer? I'm not boasting, for it's the good Lord that's given 'em health, yes, and strength too, without the drink."
"Ay, and just look at Jack Barnes's own lads, and the company they keep," said John, the eldest son; "you may see them all at the four lane ends, [Note 1], any Sunday morn, with their pigeons, looking more like scarecrows than Christians; and afore night they'll be so weary that they'll scarce know how to bide anywhere. They'll be lounging about, looking as limp as a strap out of gear, till they've got the ale in them, and then they're all for swearing and shouting up and down the lanes."
"I can't deny," said Johnson, "that you teetottallers have the best of it in many ways. It's a bad bringing-up for childer to see such goings- on as is in Barnes's house."
"And, Thomas," said Brierley's wife, "you know how it is with Joe Taylor's lads and wenches. There's a big family on 'em. They're not short of brass in that house, or shouldn't be. There's drink enough and to spare goes down their throats, and yet there's not one of the whole lot but's as lean as an empty bobbin, and as white as a heap of cotton. They're nearly starved to death afore reckoning-day comes; and with all their good wage they cannot make things reach and tie."
"Well, I must wish you good night now," said Johnson, rising to go. "I suppose I can do nothing about our Sammul but have patience."
"Yes, pray for patience, Thomas; and pray to be shown the right way: and give up the drink, man—ay, give it up at once, for Betty's sake, for Alice's sake, and for your own soul's sake."
"I'll try, I'll try; good night."
Johnson walked homewards sorrowful but calm. Should he take the pledge? should he boldly break his chains, and brave the scorn of his ungodly companions? He felt that he ought. He murmured a half prayer that he might have strength to do it. He reached his own home; he entered—what did, he see?
Round the fire, slatternly and dirty, with hair uncombed, dress disordered, shoes down at heel, lolling, lounging, stooping in various attitudes, were some half-dozen women, Alice being nearest the fire on one side. Most of them had pipes in their mouths. On the table were cups and saucers, a loaf and some butter, and also a jug, which certainly did not hold milk; its contents, however, were very popular, as it was seldom allowed to rest on the table, while the strong odour of rum which filled the room showed pretty plainly that it had been filled at the public-house and not at the farm. Every eye was flashing, and every tongue in full exercise, when Johnson entered.
"Well, Thomas," said his wife, "I thought you were down at the 'George.' Our Betty's not so well, so she's gone up into the chamber to lay her down a bit; and I've just been axing a neighbour or two to come in and have a bit of a talk over our Sammul. Come, sit you down, and take a cup of tea, and here's summat to put in it as'll cheer you up."
"I've just had my tea at Ned Brierley's," replied her husband; "I don't want no more."
"Ah, but you must just take one cup. Reach me the jug, Molly. You look as down as if you'd seen a boggart; [see note 2], you must drink a drop and keep your spirits up."
He made no reply, but threw himself back on the couch, and drew his cap over his eyes. Seeing that he was not likely to go out again, the women dropped off one by one, and left him alone with his wife, who sat looking into the fire, comforting herself partly with her pipe and partly with frequent applications to the jug. After a while Thomas rose from the couch, and took his seat by the fire opposite to her. There was a long pause; at last he broke it by saying,—
"Alice, you know I have been up at Ned's. Ned's a quiet, civil man, and a gradely Christian too. I wish our house had been like his; we shouldn't have lost our Sammul then."
"Well, my word! what's come over you, Thomas? Why, sure you're not a- going to be talked over by yon Brierley folk!" exclaimed his wife. "Why, they're so proud, they can't look down upon their own shoes: and as for Brierley's wenches, if a fellow offers to speak to 'em, they'll snap his head off. And Martha herself's so fine that the likes of me's afraid to walk on the same side of the road for fear of treading on her shadow."
"Well, Alice, I've oft abused 'em all myself; but I were wrong all the time. And you're wrong, Alice, too. They've never done us no harm, and we've nothing gradely to say against 'em; and you know it too. They've toiled hard for their brass, and they haven't made it away as we have done; and if they're well off, it's no more nor they deserve."
"Not made away their brass! No, indeed!" said his wife, contemptuously, "no danger of that; they'll fist it close enough. They like it too well to part with it. They'll never spend a ha'penny to give a poor chap a drop of beer, though he's dying of thirst."
"No, 'cos they've seen what a curse the drink has been to scores and hundreds on us. Ah, Alice, if you had but seen the happy faces gathered round Ned's hearth-stone; if you had but heard Ned's hearty welcome— though he can't but know that I've ever been the first to give him and his a bad word—you couldn't say as you're saying now."
"Come, Thomas," said his wife, "don't be a fool. If Ned Brierley likes his teetottal ways, and brings up his lads and wenches same fashion, let him please himself; but he mustn't make teetottallers of you nor me."
"And why shouldn't he make a teetottaller of me?" cried Thomas, his anger rising at his wife's opposition. "What has the drink done for us, I'd like to know? What's it done with my wage, with our Betty's wage, with our poor Sammul's wage? Why, it's just swallowed all up, and paid us back in dirt and rags. Where's there such a beggarly house as this in all the village? Why haven't we clothes to our backs and shoes to our feet? It's because the drink has took all."
"It's not the drink," screamed Alice, her eyes flashing with rage. "You've nothing to blame the drink for; the drink's right enough. It's yourself; it's your own fault. You haven't any conduct in your drink like other folk. You must sit sotting at the 'George' till you can't tell your hand from your foot; and then you must come home and blackguard me and the childer, and turn the house out of the windows. You've driven our Sammul out of the country; and you'll be the death of our Betty, and of me too, afore you've done."
"Death of you!" shouted her husband, in a voice as loud as her own. "And what odds then? No conduct in my drink! And what have you had in yourn? What's there to make a man tarry by the hearth-stone in such a house as this, where there's nothing to look at but waste and want? I wish every drop of the drink were in the flames with this." So saying, he seized the jug, threw the little that was left of the spirits in it into the fire, and, without stopping to listen to the torrent of abuse which poured from the lips of his wife, hurried out of the house. And whither did he go? Where strong habit led him, almost without his being conscious of it—he was soon within the doors of the "George." By this time his anger had cooled down, and he sat back from the rest of the company on an empty bench. The landlord's eye soon spied him.
"What are you for to-night, Thomas?" he asked.
"I don't know," said Johnson, moodily; "I'm better with nothing, I think."
"No, no," said the other; "you're none of that sort. You look very down; a pint of ale'll be just the very thing to set you right."
Johnson took the ale.
"Didn't I see you coming out of Ned Brierley's?" asked one of the drinkers.
"Well, and what then?" asked Johnson, fiercely.
"Oh, nothing; only I thought, maybe, that you were for coming out in the teetottal line. Ay, wouldn't that be a rare game?"
A roar of laughter followed this speech. But Johnson's blood was up.
"And why shouldn't I join the teetottallers if I've a mind?" he cried. "I don't see what good the drink's done to me nor mine. And as for Ned Brierley, he's a gradely Christian. I've given him nothing afore but foul words; but I'll give him no more."
A fresh burst of merriment followed these words.
"Eh, see," cried one, "here's the parson come among us."
"He'll be getting his blue coat with brass buttons out of the pop-shop just now," cried another; "and he'll hold his head so high that he won't look at us wicked sinners."
A third came up to him with a mock serious air, and eyeing him with his head on one side, said,—
"They call you Thomas, I reckon. Ah, well, now you're going to be one of Ned's childer, we must take you to the parson and get him to christen you Jonadab."
Poor Johnson! he started up, for one moment he meditated a fierce rush at his persecutors, the next, he turned round, darted from the public- house, and hurried away he knew not whither.
And what will he do? Poor man—wretched, degraded drunkard as he had been—he was by natural character a man of remarkable energy and decision; what he had fairly and fully determined upon, his resolution grasped like a vice. Brought up in constant contact with drunkenness from his earliest years, and having imbibed a taste for strong drink from his childhood, that taste had grown with his growth, and he had never cared to summon resolution or seek strength to break through his miserable and debasing habit. Married to a woman who rather rejoiced to see her husband moderately intoxicated, because it made him good- natured, he had found nothing in his home, except its growing misery, to induce him to tread a better path. True, he could not but be aware of the wretchedness which his sin and that of his wife had brought upon him and his; yet, hitherto, he had never seen himself to be the chief cause of all this unhappiness. He blamed his work, he blamed his thirst, he blamed his wife, he blamed his children, he blamed his dreary comfortless home—every one, everything but himself. But now light had begun to dawn upon him, though as yet it had struggled in only through a few chinks. God had made a partial entrance for it through his remorse at the loss of his son; that entrance had been widened by his visit to Ned Brierley, yet he was still in much darkness; his light showed him evil and sin in great mis-shapen terrible masses, but was not so far sufficiently bright to let him see anything in clear sharp outline. A great resolve was growing, but it needed more hammering into form, it wanted more prayer to bring it up to the measure of a Christian duty.
And here we must leave him for the present, and pass to other and very different scenes and characters essential to the development of our story.
Note 1. "Four lane ends," a place where four roads meet.
Note 2. "Hoggart", a ghost.
The Reverend Bernard Oliphant, rector of Waterland, was a man of good family and moderate fortune. At the time when this tale opens he had held the living eighteen years. He had three sons and one daughter. The eldest son, Hubert, was just three-and-twenty, and, having finished his course at Oxford with credit, was spending a year or two at home previously to joining an uncle in South Australia, Abraham Oliphant, his father's brother, who was living in great prosperity as a merchant at Adelaide. Hubert had not felt himself called on to enter the ministry, though his parents would have greatly rejoiced had he seen his way clear to engage in that sacred calling. But the young man abhorred the thought of undertaking such an office unless he could feel decidedly that the highest and holiest motives were guiding him to it, and neither father nor mother dared urge their son to take on himself, from any desire to please them, so awful a responsibility. Yet none the less for this did Hubert love his Saviour, nor did he wish to decline his service, or shrink from bearing that cross which is laid on all who make a bold and manly profession of faith in Christ Jesus. But he felt that there were some who might serve their heavenly Master better as laymen than as ministers of the gospel, and he believed himself to be such a one. His two younger brothers, not feeling the same difficulties, were both preparing for the ministry. Hubert had a passionate desire to travel; his parents saw this, and wisely judged that it would be better to guide his passion than to combat it; so, when his uncle proposed to Hubert to join him in Australia, they gave their full consent. They knew that a strong expression of dissuasion on their part would have led him to abandon the scheme at once; but they would not let any such expression escape them, because they felt that they were bound to consult his tastes and wishes, and not merely their own. They knew that his faith was on the Rock of Ages; they could trust his life and fortunes to their God. For Bernard Oliphant and his wife had but one great object set before them, and that was to work for God. The rector was warm and impulsive, the fire would flash out upon the surface, yet was it under the control of grace; it blazed, it warmed, but never scorched, unless when it crossed the path of high-handed and determined sin. She was all calmness and quiet decision; yet in her character there ran a fire beneath the surface, sending up a glow into every loving word and deed. She had never been beautiful, yet always beautified by the radiance of true holiness. In her, seriousness had no gloom, because it was the seriousness of a holy love. She made even worldly people happy to be with her, because they felt the reality and singleness of her religion—it was woven up with every hour's work, with every duty, with every joy. She lived for heaven not by neglecting earth, but by making earth the road to heaven. Her religion was pre- eminently practical, while it was deeply spiritual; in fact, it was the religion of sanctified common sense. The true grace of her character gained the admiration which she never sought. As some simple unadorned column rising in the midst of richly-carved sculptures arrests attention by its mere dignity of height and grace of perfect proportion, so in the unassuming wife of Bernard Oliphant there was a loftiness and symmetry of character which made people feel that in her was the true beauty of holiness.
And the children trod in the steps of their parents. Mary Oliphant was the youngest; she was now just eighteen—slight in make, and graceful in every movement. Her perfect absence of self-consciousness gave a peculiar charm to all that she said and did; she never aimed at effect, and therefore always produced it. You could not look into her face without feeling that to her indifference and half-heartedness were impossible things; and the abiding peace which a true faith in Christ alone can give, was on those lovely features in their stillness. Such was the family of the Reverend Bernard Oliphant.
Waterland was a rural parish in one of the midland counties. The rectory stood near one end of the village, which was like a great many other country villages. There were farm-houses, with their stack-yards and clusters of out-buildings, with their yew-trees and apple-orchards. Cottages, with low bulging white-washed walls and thatched roofs, were interspersed among others of a more spruce and modern build, with slated roofs, and neat little gardens. Then there were two or three shops which sold all things likely to be wanted in everyday village life, eatables and wearables nestling together in strange companionship; and, besides these, were houses which would not have been known to be shops, but for a faded array of peppermints and gingerbread, which shone, or rather twinkled, before the eyes of village children through panes of greenish glass. Of course there was a forge and a wheel-wright's shop; and, equally of course, a public-house—there had been two, there was now but one, which could readily be known by a huge swinging sign-board, on which was the decaying likeness of a "Dun Cow," supposed to be feeding in a green meadow; but the verdure had long since melted away, and all except the animal herself was a chaos of muddy tints. The "Dun Cow," (a sad misnomer for a place where milk was the last beverage the visitors would ever think of calling for), was to many the centre both of attraction and detraction, for here quarrels were hatched and characters picked to pieces. The landlord had long since been dead, of the usual publican's malady—drink fever. The landlady carried on the business which had carried her husband off, and seemed to thrive upon it, for there was never lack of custom at the "Dun Cow." Just a stone's-throw from this public-house, on the crest of the hill along which wound the village street, was the church, a simple structure, with a substantial square tower and wide porch. It had been restored with considerable care and taste by the present rector, the internal appearance being sufficiently in accordance with the proprieties of ecclesiastical architecture to satisfy all but the over-fastidious, and yet not so ornamental as to lead the mind to dwell rather on the earthly and sensuous than on the heavenly and spiritual. Behind the church was the rectory, a quaint old building, with pointed gables, deep bay- windows, and black beams of oak exposed to view. It had been added to, here and there, as modern wants and improvements had made expansion necessary. The garden was lovely, for every one at the rectory loved flowers: they loved them for their own intrinsic beauty; they loved them as God's books, full of lessons of his skill and tender care; they loved them as resting-places for the eye when wearied with sights of disorder and sin; they loved them as ministering comfort to the sick, the aged, and the sorrowful to whom they carried them.
Such was the village of Waterland. The parish extended two miles north and south of the church, a few farms and labourers' cottages at wide intervals containing nearly all the rest of the population that was not resident in the village.
It has been said that there were once two public-houses in Waterland, but that now there was but one. This was not owing to any want of success in the case of the one which had become extinct; on the contrary, the "Oldfield Arms" had been the more flourishing establishment of the two, and was situated in the centre of the village. Its sign, however, had long since disappeared; and it was now in the hands of the rector, its principal apartment having been transformed into a reading-room, and place for holding meetings. And how was this brought about? Simply thus. When Bernard Oliphant first came to Waterland, he found the "Oldfield Arms" doing a most excellent business; so far as that can be an excellent business which builds the prosperity of one upon the ruin of hundreds. People grumbled at the lowness of wages; wives were unable to procure money from their husbands for decent dress; children were half-starved and two-thirds naked; disease and dirt found a home almost everywhere; boys and girls grew up in ignorance, for their parents could not afford to send them to school; the men had no tidy clothes in which to appear at church. Yet, somehow or other, the "Oldfield Arms" was never short of customers; and customers, too, who paid, and paid well, sooner or later, for what they consumed. So the rector went among the people, and told them plainly of the sin of drunkenness, and pointed out the misery it brought, as their own eyes could see. They confessed the truth—such as he could manage to get hold of—and drank on as before. He was getting heart-sick and miserable. Preach as he might—and he did preach the truth with all faithfulness and love—the notices of ale, porter, and spirits, set up in flaming colours in the windows and on the walls of the "Oldfield Arms," preached far more persuasively in the cause of intemperance.
One day he came upon a knot of men standing just at the entrance of the yard that led to the tap-room. They were none of them exactly drunk; and certainly none were exactly sober. There were some among them whom he never saw at church, and never found at home. He was grieved to see these men in high discussion and dispute, when they ought to have been busily engaged in some lawful calling. He stopped, and taking one of them aside whose home was specially miserable, he said,—
"James, I'm grieved to see you here, when I know how sadly your poor wife and children are in need of food and clothing."
The man looked half angry, half ashamed, but hung down his head, and made no reply. The rest were moving off.
"Nay, my friends," said the rector, kindly, "don't go. I just want a word with you all. I want to say a few words of love and warning to you, as your clergyman. God has sent me here to teach and guide you; and oh, do listen to me now."
They all stood still, and looked at him respectfully. He went on:—
"Don't you see that drinking habits are bringing misery into the homes of the people in our parish—ay, into your own homes? You must see it. You must see how drunkenness stores up misery for you here and hereafter. What will become of you when you die, if you go on as you are doing now? What will become of your families? What will—"
At this moment there was a loud shout of "Hoy! hoy!" from the lips of a carter who was coming with a brewer's dray out of the inn-yard. The man had just been depositing several full casks, and was now returning with the empty ones. He did not see the rector at first; but when the group made way for him, and his eyes fell on Mr Oliphant, he touched his hat as he was passing, and said,—
"I beg pardon, sir; I did not know as you was there." Then suddenly pulling up his horse, he added— "Oh, if you please, sir, master bid me say he's very sorry he hasn't any of the ale you've been drinking ready just now, but he hopes you'll let me leave this barrel of stout, it's in prime order, he says."
"Very well," replied Mr Oliphant; "you may leave it."
Then he turned again to the men: they were moving off. He would have taken up his earnest appeal where he left it; but somehow or other he felt a difficulty in speaking, and the deep attention was evidently gone from his hearers. He hesitated. They were already dispersing: should he call them back? He felt as if he could not. He turned sadly towards home, deeply vexed and chafed in his spirit. He blamed the ill-timed interruption of the carter; and yet he felt that there was something else lurking in the background with which he felt dissatisfied— something which wanted dragging out into the light.
"And yet it's so foolish!" he said to himself, as he walked slowly up the street. "My drinking in moderation has nothing in common with their drinking immoderately. Why should my use of intoxicating liquors fetter me in dissuading these poor creatures from their abuse? They ought to see the difference." Then a voice, deeper in the heart, whispered— "They ought; but they do not, and their souls are perishing. They are your people: you must deal with them as they are, not as they ought to be."
That night the rector's sleep was very troubled.
It was about a week later that he was again near the "Oldfield Arms," when a spruce-looking man—his wine-merchant's agent—came out of the inn door, and walked up the street. Two men were standing with their backs to the rector just outside the yard. He was about to pass on; when he heard one say,—
"What a sight of wine some of them parsons drink! Yon fine gent couldn't afford all them gold chains and pins if it warn't for the parsons."
"Ay," said the other, "it's the parsons as knows good wine from bad. I heerd yon chap say only this morning: 'Our very best customers is the clergy.'"
"Well," rejoined the other, "I shouldn't mind if they'd only leave us poor fellows alone, and let us get drunk when we've a mind. But it do seem a little hard that they may get drunk on their wine, but we mustn't get drunk on our beer."
"Oh, but you know, Bill," said the other, "this here's the difference. When they get drunk, it's genteel drunk, and there's no sin in that; but when we poor fellows get drunk, it's wulgar drunk, and that's awful wicked."
Bernard Oliphant was deeply pained; he shrank within himself.
"It's a cruel libel and a coarse slander," he muttered, and hastened on his way. "Am I answerable," he asked himself, "for the abuse which others may make of what I take moderately and innocently? Absurd! And yet it's a pity, a grievous pity, that it should be possible for such poor ignorant creatures to speak thus of any of our holy calling, and so to justify themselves in sin."
Yes, he felt it to be so, and it preyed upon his mind more and more. He mentioned what he had heard to his wife.
"Dear Bernard," she replied, "I have thought a great deal lately on this subject, especially since you told me about your speaking to those men when you were interrupted by the drayman. I have prayed that you and I might be directed aright; and we shall be. But do not let us be hasty. It does seem as though we were being called on to give up, for the sake of others, what does us personally no harm. But perhaps we may be wrong in this view. A great many excellent Christians, and ministers too, are moderate drinkers, and never exceed; and we must not be carried away by a mistaken enthusiasm to brand their use of fermented drinks as sinful because such frightful evils are daily resulting from immoderate drinking. We must think and pray, and our path will be made plain; and we must be prepared to walk in it, cost what it may."
"Yes," said her husband; "I am getting more and more convinced that there is something exceptional in this matter—that we cannot deal with this sin of drunkenness as we deal with other sins. But we will wait a little longer for guidance; yet not too long, for souls are perishing, and ruin is thickening all round us."
They had not to wait long; their path was soon made clear.
It was on a bitter and cheerless November evening that Mr Oliphant was returning to the rectory from a distant part of his parish. He was warmly clad; but the keen wind, which drove a prickly deluge of fine hail into his face, seemed to make its way through every covering into his very bones. He was hurrying on, thankful that home was so near, when he suddenly stumbled upon something in the path which he had not noticed, being half blinded by the frozen sleet. With difficulty he saved himself from falling over this obstacle, which looked in the feeble moonlight like a bundle of ragged clothes. Then he stooped down to examine it more closely, and was horrified at hearing a low moan, which showed that it was a living creature that lay on the path. It was plainly, in fact, some poor, half-frozen fellow-man, who lay coiled together there, perishing of cold in that bitter night. The rector tried to raise the poor wretch from the ground, but the body hung like a dead weight upon him.
"Come," he said, "my poor fellow; come, try and rouse yourself and get up. You'll die if you lie here."
The miserable bundle of humanity partly uncoiled itself, and made an effort to rise, but sunk back again. Mr Oliphant shouted for help. The shout seemed partly to revive the prostrate creature, and he half raised himself.
"Come," said the rector again,— "come, lean on my arm, and try and get up. You'll die of cold if you stay here."
"Die!" said a thick, unearthly voice from out of that half-frozen mass of flesh and blood. "In Adam all die."
"Who and what are you?" cried the rector, in extreme astonishment and distress.
"What am I? Ah, what am I?" was the bewildered, scarce audible reply.
By this time help had arrived. Two men came up, and assisted Mr Oliphant to raise the poor man, and support him to the "Oldfield Arms," where he was immediately put to bed; one of the men being sent off by the rector to fetch the nearest medical man, while he himself gave orders that everything should be done to restore the unhappy sufferer to warmth and consciousness.
"Please, Mrs Barnes," said he to the landlady, "be so good as to send up to the rectory, and let me know, when the doctor comes, if he says that there is any danger. If his report is favourable, I will leave a night's rest to do its work, and will look in again early to-morrow. And pray let the poor man have everything that he needs, and send up to the rectory if you are short of anything."
"Thank you, sir," said Mrs Barnes. "I will see that he is properly looked to."
The rector then went home, and in another hour received a message from the inn that the doctor had been, and that there was no danger of any immediately fatal result; that he would call again on his patient the following morning, and should be glad to meet the rector at the inn.
Accordingly, the following day at the appointed hour Bernard and the doctor went up together into the sick man's room. As they opened the door they were astonished to hear the patient declaiming in a loud voice,—
"If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us."
Bernard's heart grew sick. Could it be? Could this miserable creature be one of his own profession? Were these words the ramblings of one who had been used to officiate as a Church minister? And, if so, what could have brought him to such a state of utter destitution? The doctor seemed to read his thoughts, and shook his head sadly. Then, putting his mouth to his ear, he said,—
"It's the drink; the smell of spirits is still strong on him."
"Poor wretched creature!" said Mr Oliphant. "Can it be that the love of drink has brought a man of position and education to such a state as this? What can be done for him?"
"Not much at present," was the reply, "beyond keeping him quiet, and nursing him well till the fever has run its course. And one thing is clear—we must keep all intoxicants from him. They are downright poison to a man of his constitution; and should he get hold of any spirits before his health is thoroughly established again, I would not answer for his life."
The rector called Mrs Barnes, and told her what the doctor had said, adding,—
"You must find a trustworthy nurse for him—one who will strictly attend to the doctor's orders."
The landlady promised she would do so; and the rector left the sick- chamber with a sorrowful look and troubled heart.
In ten days' time the patient was well enough to sit up in bed and converse with Mr Oliphant.
"My poor friend," said the rector, "I grieve to see you in your present state, especially as I cannot but perceive that you have seen better days, and moved among people of education. However, there is great cause to thank God that he has so far spared your life."
A deep flush overspread the sick man's face as he replied,—
"Yes, indeed, I owe you, my dear sir, a debt of gratitude I can never repay. You say the truth—I have seen better days. I was sought after in good society once, little as you might think it."
"I can believe it," said the rector, quietly. "But do not distress yourself by referring to the past, if it gives you pain."
"As to that," replied the other, "it matters to me little now what I once was; but it may interest you to know, and may serve as a warning. I was a popular preacher once. I was an ordained minister of the Church of England. Crowds flocked to my church. I threw all my energies into my preaching. I was a free man then; at least I believed myself so. While I proclaimed the love of God to sinners, I also preached vehemently against sin. I never felt myself more at home than when I was painting the miserable bondage of those whom Satan held in his chains. I could speak with withering scorn of such as made a profession while they were living in any known wickedness. I was specially severe upon the drunkard's sin. But preaching such as mine, and in a large church, was very exhausting. I found that I wanted support; so I began with an egg beaten up with brandy, and took it just before going into the pulpit. This made me doubly fervent; some of my hearers thought me almost inspired. But the exhaustion was terrible at the end; so I added another glass of egg and spirits after the sermon. Then I found that, somehow or other, I could not preach in the evening after taking much solid food; so I substituted liquids for solids, and lived on Sundays almost entirely on malt liquors and spirits. When these failed to keep me up to the mark, I had to increase the quantity. At last I saw that my churchwarden began to look a little strangely and suspiciously at me; ugly sayings reached my ears; the congregation began to thin. At last I received a letter from a Christian man of my flock, telling me that himself and many others were pained with the fear that I was beginning to exceed the bounds of strict temperance: he urged total abstinence at once; he was a total abstainer himself. I was startled—prostrated— humbled to the very dust. I reflected on the quantity of intoxicants I was now taking daily, and I shuddered. I thanked my friendly adviser with tears, and promised to return to strict moderation. Total abstinence I would not hear of; it was quite out of the question. I could no more do without alcoholic stimulants then than I can do now."
He paused, and fixed a peculiar look on Mr Oliphant; who, however, did not, or would not, understand it. So he went on:—
"I tried moderation; but it would not do. I prayed for strength to be moderate; but I know now that I never really desired what I prayed for. It was too late to be moderate; my lust had got the bit between its teeth, and I might as well have pulled at the wind. I went from bad to worse. Desertion, disgrace, ruin, all followed. Everything has gone—church, home, money, books, clothes—the drink has had them all, and would have them again if they were mine at this moment. For some years past I have been a roaming beggar, such as you found me when you picked me up in the road."
He said all this with very little emotion; and then lay back, wearied with his exertions in speaking.
"And have you any—" The rector did not know how to finish the sentence which he had begun after a long pause.
"Have I any family? you would ask," said the other. "I had once. I had a wife and little child; my only child—a little girl. Well, I suppose she's better off. She pined and pined when there was next to nothing to eat in the house; and they tell me—for I was not at home when she died—that she said at the last, 'I'm going to Jesus; they are not hungry where he is.' Poor thing!"
"And your wife?" exclaimed Bernard, his blood running cold at the tone of indifference in which this account was given.
"Oh, my wife? Ah, we did not see much of one another after our child's death! I was often from home; and once, when I returned, I found that she was gone: they had buried her in my absence. She died—so they said—of a broken heart. Poor thing! it is not unlikely."
Mr Oliphant hid his head in his hands, and groaned aloud. He had never before conceived it possible—what he now found to be too true—that long habits of drunkenness can so utterly unhumanise a man as to reduce him to a mere callous self, looking upon all things outside self as dreamy and devoid of interest, with but one passion left—the passion for the poison which has ruined him.
At last the rector raised his head, and said slowly and solemnly,—
"And if God spares you, will you not strive to lead a new life? Will you not pray for grace to conquer your besetting sin?"
The wretched man did not answer for a while. Then he said,—
"I have only one thing to live for, and that is the drink. I cannot live without it. Oh, I implore you to let me have some spirits! You do not, you cannot, know how I crave them, or in pity you would not withhold them from me."
Mr Oliphant rose.
"Compose yourself, my poor friend," he said. "I dare not grant your request; it might be your death. Farewell for the present. May God, with whom all things are possible, help you through your present trouble, and enable you in the end to conquer."
The wretched man called imploringly after him; but he closed the door, and summoning Mrs Barnes, begged her to look well after him, and to see that the nurse did all in her power to keep him calm, and to soothe him to rest.
Two days after this he called again.
"How is your patient to-day, Mrs Barnes?" he said to the landlady, whom he met on the landing.
"I cannot quite tell you, sir, for I have not been in to see him this morning. He was so much better yesterday that the doctor said Mrs Harper might go home. I went to look at him after he had taken his tea, and I found old Jane Hicks with him. She had called to speak with Mrs Harper, and the poor gentleman got her to go and borrow him a newspaper which he wanted to see. I think I heard her come back twice since Mrs Harper left; but perhaps he wanted something else. He said I had better not wake him very early, as he thought he should sleep well; so I haven't disturbed him yet."
A strange misgiving crept over the rector.
"Let us go in at once," he said.
They knocked at the bed-room door—there was no answer; they opened it softly and went in. The sick man lay on his back, apparently asleep, but when they came closer they saw that he was dead. A stain on the sheet attracted Mr Oliphant's notice; he hastily turned it down, uncovering the hands; in the right was a bottle—it had held spirits; there was nothing in it now.
So died the miserable victim of drink; so died the once flourishing professor; so died the once acceptable preacher.
Mr Oliphant knelt by the bed-side and poured out his heart to God in prayer, entreating to be directed aright, and to be kept from ever in any degree disgracing his profession as this unhappy man had done. He was reminded that he was not alone by the sobs of the landlady, who had fallen on her knees near him.
"Mrs Barnes," he said, on rising, "I have resolved, God helping me, to be a total abstainer from this day forward. I have nothing to do with the consciences of others, but for myself I feel that I shall be a happier and a wiser man if I wholly abstain from those stimulants which have power to make such a shipwreck as this."
She did not answer except by tears and a deep sigh; and he made his way sadly and thoughtfully home.
From that day forward the drink was wholly banished from the rectory; there was no difference of opinion between Bernard and his wife—they would bring up their children without the ensnaring stimulant. Mr Oliphant showed his colours at once; and he preached as well as practised total abstinence, not in the place of the gospel, but as a handmaid to the gospel. And Mrs Barnes was the first who joined him.
"I've long hated selling beer and spirits," she said. "I've seen the misery that the drink has brought even into our little village. But I didn't see my way nor my duty plain before, but I see them now. You've set me the example, sir; and, please God, I'll follow. You know my poor master left me the farm for my life, and I shall be happier there with a little than I could be if I were to stop here and be making ever so much."