TEN NIGHTS IN A BAR ROOM
T. S. ARTHUR
NIGHT THE FIRST—THE "SICKLE AND SHEAF." NIGHT THE SECOND—THE CHANGES OF A YEAR. NIGHT THE THIRD—JOE MORGAN'S CHILD. NIGHT THE FOURTH—DEATH OF LITTLE MARY MORGAN. NIGHT THE FIFTH—SOME OF THE CONSEQUENCES OF TAVERN-KEEPING. NIGHT THE SIXTH—MORE CONSEQUENCES. NIGHT THE SEVENTH—SOWING THE WIND. NIGHT THE EIGHTH—REAPING THE WHIRLWIND. NIGHT THE NINTH—A FEARFUL CONSUMMATION. NIGHT THE TENTH—THE CLOSING SCENE AT THE "SICKLE AND SHEAF."
NIGHT THE FIRST.
THE "SICKLE AND SHEAF."
Ten years ago, business required me to pass a day in Cedarville. It was late in the afternoon when the stage set me down at the "Sickle and Sheaf," a new tavern, just opened by a new landlord, in a new house, built with the special end of providing "accommodations for man and beast." As I stepped from the dusty old vehicle in which I had been jolted along a rough road for some thirty miles, feeling tired and hungry, the good-natured face of Simon Slade, the landlord, beaming as it did with a hearty welcome, was really a pleasant sight to see, and the grasp of his hand was like that of a true friend.
I felt as I entered the new and neatly furnished sitting-room adjoining the bar, that I had indeed found a comfortable resting-place after my wearisome journey.
"All as nice as a new pin," said I, approvingly, as I glanced around the room, up to the ceiling—white as the driven snow—and over the handsomely carpeted floor. "Haven't seen anything so inviting as this. How long have you been open?"
"Only a few months," answered the gratified landlord. "But we are not yet in good going order. It takes time, you know, to bring everything into the right shape. Have you dined yet?"
"No. Everything looked so dirty at the stage-house, where we stopped to get dinner, that I couldn't venture upon the experiment of eating. How long before your supper will be ready?"
"In an hour," replied the landlord.
"That will do. Let me have a nice piece of tender steak, and the loss of dinner will soon be forgotten."
"You shall have that, cooked fit for an alderman," said the landlord. "I call my wife the best cook in Cedarville."
As he spoke, a neatly dressed girl, about sixteen years of age, with rather an attractive countenance, passed through the room.
"My daughter," said the landlord, as she vanished through the door. There was a sparkle of pride in the father's eyes, and a certain tenderness in the tones of his voice, as he said "My daughter" that told me she was very dear to him.
"You are a happy man to have so fair a child," said I, speaking more in compliment than with a careful choice of words.
"I am a happy man," was the landlord's smiling answer; his fair, round face, unwrinkled by a line of care or trouble, beaming with self-satisfaction. "I have always been a happy man, and always expect to be. Simon Slade takes the world as it comes, and takes it easy. My son, sir," he added, as a boy, in his twelfth year, came in. "Speak to the gentleman."
The boy lifted to mine a pair of deep blue eyes, from which innocence beamed, as he offered me his hand, and said, respectfully—"How do you do, sir?" I could not but remark the girl-like beauty of his face, in which the hardier firmness of the boy's character was already visible.
"What is your name?" I asked.
"Frank is his name," said the landlord—"we called him after his uncle. Frank and Flora—the names sound pleasant to the ears. But you know parents are apt to be a little partial and over fond."
"Better that extreme than its opposite," I remarked.
"Just what I always say. Frank, my son,"—the landlord spoke to the boy—"there's some one in the bar. You can wait on him as well as I can."
The lad glided from the room in ready obedience.
"A handy boy that, sir; a very handy boy. Almost as good, in the bar as a man. He mixes a toddy or a punch just as well as I can."
"But," I suggested, "are you not a little afraid of placing one so young in the way of temptation?"
"Temptation!" The open brows of Simon Slade contracted a little. "No, sir!" he replied, emphatically. "The till is safer under his care than it would be in that of one man in ten. The boy comes, sir, of honest parents. Simon Slade never wronged anybody out of a farthing."
"Oh," said I, quickly, "you altogether misapprehend me. I had no reference to the till, but to the bottle."
The landlord's brows were instantly unbent, and a broad smile circled over his good-humored face.
"Is that all? Nothing to fear, I can assure you. Frank has no taste for liquor, and might pour it out for mouths without a drop finding its way to his lips. Nothing to apprehend there, sir—nothing."
I saw that further suggestions of danger would be useless, and so remained silent. The arrival of a traveler called away the landlord, and I was left alone for observation and reflection. The bar adjoined the neat sitting-room, and I could see, through the open door, the customer upon whom the lad was attending. He was a well-dressed young man—or rather boy, for he did not appear to be over nineteen years of age—with a fine, intelligent face, that was already slightly marred by sensual indulgence. He raised the glass to his lips, with a quick, almost eager motion, and drained it at a single draught.
"Just right," said he, tossing a sixpence to the young bar-tender. "You are first rate at a brandy-toddy. Never drank a better in my life."
The lad's smiling face told that he was gratified by the compliment. To me the sight was painful, for I saw that this youthful tippler was on dangerous ground.
"Who is that young man in the bar?" I asked, a few minutes afterward, on being rejoined by the landlord.
Simon Slade stepped to the door and looked into the bar for a moment.
Two or three men were there by this time; but he was at no loss in answering my question.
"Oh, that's a son of Judge Hammond, who lives in the large brick house as you enter the village. Willy Hammond, as everybody familiarly calls him, is about the finest young man in our neighborhood. There is nothing proud or put-on about him—nothing—even if his father is a judge, and rich into the bargain. Every one, gentle or simple, likes Willy Hammond. And then he is such good company. Always so cheerful, and always with a pleasant story on his tongue. And he's so high-spirited withal, and so honorable. Willy Hammond would lose his right hand rather than be guilty of a mean action."
"Landlord!" The voice came loud from the road in front of the house, and Simon Slade again left me to answer the demands of some new-comer. I went into the bar-room, in order to take a closer observation of Willy Hammond, in whom an interest, not unmingled with concern, had already been awakened in my mind. I found him engaged in a pleasant conversation with a plain-looking farmer, whose homely, terse, common sense was quite as conspicuous as his fine play of words and lively fancy. The farmer was a substantial conservative, and young Hammond a warm admirer of new ideas and the quicker adaptation of means to ends. I soon saw that his mental powers were developed beyond his years, while his personal qualities were strongly attractive. I understood better, after being a silent listener and observer for ten minutes, why the landlord had spoken of him so warmly.
"Take a brandy-toddy, Mr. H—?" said Hammond, after the discussion closed, good humoredly. "Frank, our junior bar-keeper here, beats his father, in that line."
"I don't care if I do," returned the farmer; and the two passed up to the bar.
"Now, Frank, my boy, don't belie my praises," said the young man; "do your handsomest."
"Two brandy-toddies, did you say?" Frank made inquiry with quite a professional air.
"Just what I did say; and let them be equal to Jove's nectar."
Pleased at this familiarity, the boy went briskly to his work of mixing the tempting compound, while Hammond looked on with an approving smile.
"There," said the latter, as Frank passed the glasses across the counter, "if you don't call that first-rate, you're no judge." And he handed one of them to the farmer, who tasted the agreeable draught, and praised its flavor. As before, I noticed that Hammond drank eagerly, like one athirst—emptying his glass without once taking it from his lips.
Soon after the bar-room was empty; and then I walked around the premises, in company with the landlord, and listened to his praise of everything and his plans and purposes for the future. The house, yard, garden, and out-buildings were in the most perfect order; presenting, in the whole, a model of a village tavern.
"Whatever I do, sir," said the talkative Simon Slade, "I like to do well. I wasn't just raised to tavern-keeping, you must know; but I am one who can turn his hand to almost any thing."
"What was your business?" I inquired.
"I'm a miller, sir, by trade," he answered—"and a better miller, though I say it myself, is not to be found in Bolton county. I've followed milling these twenty years, and made some little money. But I got tired of hard work, and determined to lead an easier life. So I sold my mill, and built this house with the money. I always thought I'd like tavern-keeping. It's an easy life; and, if rightly seen after, one in which a man is sure to make money."
"You were still doing a fair business with your mill?"
"Oh, yes. Whatever I do, I do right. Last year, I put by a thousand dollars above all expenses, which is not bad, I can assure you, for a mere grist mill. If the present owner comes out even, he'll do well!"
"How is that?"
"Oh, he's no miller. Give him the best wheat that is grown, and he'll ruin it in grinding. He takes the life out of every grain. I don't believe he'll keep half the custom that I transferred with the mill."
"A thousand dollars, clear profit, in so useful a business, ought to have satisfied you," said I.
"There you and I differ," answered the landlord. "Every man desires to make as much money as possible, and with the least labor. I hope to make two or three thousand dollars a year, over and above all expenses, at tavern-keeping. My bar alone ought to yield me that sum. A man with a wife and children very naturally tries to do as well by them as possible."
"Very true; but," I ventured to suggest, "will this be doing as well by them as if you had kept on at the mill?"
"Two or three thousand dollars a year against one thousand! Where are your figures, man?"
"There may be something beyond money to take into the account," said I.
"What?" inquired Slade, with a kind of half credulity.
"Consider the different influences of the two callings in life—that of a miller and a tavern-keeper."
"Well, say on."
"Will your children be as safe from temptation here as in their former home?"
"Just as safe," was the unhesitating answer. "Why not?"
I was about to speak of the alluring glass in the case of Frank, but remembering that I had already expressed a fear in that direction, felt that to do so again would be useless, and so kept silent.
"A tavern-keeper," said Slade, "is just as respectable as a miller—in fact, the very people who used to call me 'Simon' or 'Neighbor Dustycoat,' now say 'Landlord,' or 'Mr. Slade,' and treat me in every way more as if I were an equal than ever they did before."
"The change," said I, "may be due to the fact of your giving evidence of possessing some means. Men are very apt to be courteous to those who have property. The building of the tavern has, without doubt, contributed to the new estimation in which you are held."
"That isn't all," replied the landlord. "It is because I am keeping a good tavern, and thus materially advancing the interests of Cedarville, that some of our best people look at me with different eyes."
"Advancing the interests of Cedarville! In what way?" I did not apprehend his meaning.
"A good tavern always draws people to a place, while a miserable old tumble-down of an affair, badly kept, such as we have had for years, as surely repels them. You can generally tell something about the condition of a town by looking at its taverns. If they are well kept, and doing a good business, you will hardly be wrong in the conclusion that the place is thriving. Why, already, since I built and opened the 'Sickle and Sheaf,' property has advanced over twenty per cent along the whole street, and not less than five new houses have been commenced."
"Other causes, besides the simple opening of a new tavern, may have contributed to this result," said I.
"None of which I am aware. I was talking with Judge Hammond only yesterday—he owns a great deal of ground on the street—and he did not hesitate to say, that the building and opening of a good tavern here had increased the value of his property at least five thousand dollars. He said, moreover, that he thought the people of Cedarville ought to present me with a silver pitcher; and that, for one, he would contribute ten dollars for that purpose."
The ringing of the supper bell interrupted further conversation; and with the best of appetites, I took my way to the room, where a plentiful meal was spread. As I entered, I met the wife of Simon Slade, just passing out, after seeing that every thing was in order. I had not observed her before; and now could not help remarking that she had a flushed, excited countenance, as if she had been over a hot fire, and was both worried and fatigued. And there was, moreover, a peculiar expression of the mouth, never observed in one whose mind is entirely at ease—an expression that once seen is never forgotten. The face stamped itself instantly on my memory; and I can even now recall it with almost the original distinctness. How strongly it contrasted with that of her smiling, self-satisfied husband, who took his place at the head of his table with an air of conscious importance. I was too hungry to talk much, and so found greater enjoyment in eating than in conversation. The landlord had a more chatty guest by his side, and I left them to entertain each other, while I did ample justice to the excellent food with which the table was liberally provided.
After supper I went to the sitting-room, and remained there until the lamps were lighted. A newspaper occupied my time for perhaps half an hour; then the buzz of voices from the adjoining bar-room, which had been increasing for some time, attracted my attention, and I went in there to see and hear what was passing. The first person upon whom my eyes rested was young Hammond, who sat talking with a man older than himself by several years. At a glance, I saw that this man could only associate himself with Willy Hammond as a tempter. Unscrupulous selfishness was written all over his sinister countenance; and I wondered that it did not strike every one, as it did me, with instant repulsion. There could not be, I felt certain, any common ground of association, for two such persons, but the dead level of a village bar-room. I afterward learned, during the evening, that this man's name was Harvey Green, and that he was an occasional visitor at Cedarville, remaining a few days, or a few weeks at a time, as appeared to suit his fancy, and having no ostensible business or special acquaintance with anybody in the village.
"There is one thing about him," remarked Simon Slade, in answering some question that I put in reference to the man, "that I don't object to; he has plenty of money, and is not at all niggardly in spending it. He used to come here, so he told me, about once in five or six months; but his stay at the miserably kept tavern, the only one then in Cedarville, was so uncomfortable, that he had pretty well made up his mind never to visit us again. Now, however, he has engaged one of my best rooms, for which he pays me by the year, and I am to charge him full board for the time he occupies it. He says that there is something about Cedarville that always attracts him; and that his health is better while here than it is anywhere except South during the winter season. He'll never leave less than two or three hundred dollars a year in our village—there is one item, for you, of advantage to a place in having a good tavern."
"What is his business?" I asked. "Is he engaged in any trading operations?"
The landlord shrugged his shoulders, and looked slightly mysterious, as he answered:
"I never inquire about the business of a guest. My calling is to entertain strangers. If they are pleased with my house, and pay my bills on presentation, I have no right to seek further. As a miller, I never asked a customer, whether he raised, bought, or stole his wheat. It was my business to grind it, and I took care to do it well. Beyond that, it was all his own affair. And so it will be in my new calling. I shall mind my own business and keep my own place."
Besides young Hammond and this Harvey Green, there were in the bar-room, when I entered, four others besides the landlord. Among these was a Judge Lyman—so he was addressed—a man between forty and fifty years of age, who had a few weeks before received the Democratic nomination for member of Congress. He was very talkative and very affable, and soon formed a kind of centre of attraction to the bar-room circle. Among other topics of conversation that came up was the new tavern, introduced by the landlord, in whose mind it was, very naturally, the uppermost thought.
"The only wonder to me is," said Judge Lyman, "that nobody had wit enough to see the advantage of a good tavern in Cedarville ten years ago, or enterprise enough to start one. I give our friend Slade the credit of being a shrewd, far-seeing man; and, mark my word for it, in ten years from to-day he will be the richest man in the county."
"Nonsense—Ho! ho!" Simon Slade laughed outright. "The richest man! You forget Judge Hammond."
"No, not even Judge Hammond, with all deference for our clever friend Willy," and Judge Lyman smiled pleasantly on the young man.
"If he gets richer, somebody will be poorer!" The individual who tittered these words had not spoken before, and I turned to look at him more closely. A glance showed him to be one of a class seen in all bar-rooms; a poor, broken-down inebriate, with the inward power of resistance gone—conscious of having no man's respect, and giving respect to none. There was a shrewd twinkle in his eyes, as he fixed them on Slade, that gave added force to the peculiar tone in which his brief but telling sentence was uttered. I noticed a slight contraction on the landlord's ample forehead, the first evidence I had yet seen of ruffled feelings. The remark, thrown in so untimely (or timely, some will say), and with a kind of prophetic malice, produced a temporary pause in the conversation. No one answered or questioned the intruder, who, I could perceive, silently enjoyed the effect of his words. But soon the obstructed current ran on again.
"If our excellent friend, Mr. Slade," said Harvey Green, "is not the richest man in Cedarville at the end of ten years, he will at least enjoy the satisfaction of having made his town richer."
"A true word that," replied Judge Lyman—"as true a word as ever was spoken. What a dead-and-alive place this has been until within the last few months. All vigorous growth had stopped, and we were actually going to seed."
"And the graveyard, too," muttered the individual who had before disturbed the self-satisfied harmony of the company, remarking upon the closing sentence of Harvey Green. "Come, landlord," he added, as he strode across to the bar, speaking in a changed, reckless sort of a way, "fix me up a good hot whisky-punch, and do it right; and here's another sixpence toward the fortune you are bound to make. It's the last one left—not a copper more in my pockets," and he turned them inside-out, with a half-solemn, half-ludicrous air. "I send it to keep company in your till with four others that have found their way into that snug place since morning, and which will be lonesome without their little friend."
I looked at Simon Slade; his eyes rested on mine for a moment or two, and then sunk beneath my earnest gaze. I saw that his countenance flushed, and that his motions were slightly confused. The incident, it was plain, did not awaken agreeable thoughts. Once I saw his hand move toward the sixpence that lay upon the counter; but whether to push it back or draw it toward the till, I could not determine. The whisky-punch was in due time ready, and with it the man retired to a table across the room, and sat down to enjoy the tempting beverage. As he did so, the landlord quietly swept the poor unfortunate's last sixpence into his drawer. The influence of this strong potation was to render the man a little more talkative. To the free conversation passing around him he lent an attentive ear, dropping in a word, now and then, that always told upon the company like a well-directed blow. At last, Slade lost all patience with him, and said, a little fretfully:
"Look here, Joe Morgan, if you will be ill-natured, pray go somewhere else, and not interrupt good feeling among gentlemen."
"Got my last sixpence," retorted Joe, turning his pockets inside-out again. "No more use for me here to-night. That's the way of the world. How apt a scholar is our good friend Dustycoat, in this new school! Well, he was a good miller—no one ever disputed that—and it's plain to see that he is going to make a good landlord. I thought his heart was a little too soft; but the indurating process has begun, and, in less than ten years, if it isn't as hard as one of his old mill-stones, Joe Morgan is no prophet. Oh, you needn't knit your brows so, friend Simon, we're old friends; and friends are privileged to speak plain."
"I wish you'd go home. You're not yourself tonight," said the landlord, a little coaxingly, for he saw that nothing was to be gained by quarreling with Morgan. "Maybe my heart is growing harder," he added, with affected good-humor; "and it is time, perhaps. One of my weaknesses, I have heard even you say, was being too woman-hearted."
"No danger of that now," retorted Joe Morgan. "I've known a good many landlords in my time, but can't remember one that was troubled with the disease that once afflicted you."
Just at this moment the outer door was pushed open with a slow, hesitating motion; then a little pale face peered in, and a pair of soft blue eyes went searching about the room. Conversation was instantly hushed, and every face, excited with interest, turned toward the child, who had now stepped through the door. She was not over ten years of age; but it moved the heart to look upon the saddened expression of her young countenance, and the forced bravery therein, that scarcely overcame the native timidity so touchingly visible.
"Father!" I have never heard this word spoken in a voice that sent such a thrill along every nerve. It was full of sorrowful love—full of a tender concern that had its origin too deep for the heart of a child. As she spoke, the little one sprang across the room, and laying her hands upon the arm of Joe Morgan, lifted her eyes, that were ready to gush over with tears, to his face.
"Come father! won't you come home?" I hear that low, pleading voice even now, and my heart gives a quicker throb. Poor child! Darkly shadowed was the sky that bent gloomily over thy young life.
Morgan arose, and suffered the child to lead him from the room. He seemed passive in her hands. I noticed that he thrust his fingers nervously into his pocket, and that a troubled look went over his face as they were withdrawn. His last sixpence was in the till of Simon Slade!
The first man who spoke was Harvey Green, and this not for a minute after the father and his child had vanished through the door.
"If I was in your place, landlord"—his voice was cold and unfeeling—"I'd pitch that fellow out of the bar-room the next time he stepped through the door. He's no business here, in the first place; and, in the second, he doesn't know how to behave himself. There's no telling how much a vagabond like him injures a respectable house."
"I wish he would stay away," said Simon, with a perplexed air.
"I'd make him stay away," answered Green.
"That may be easier said than done," remarked Judge Lyman. "Our friend keeps a public-house, and can't just say who shall or shall not come into it."
"But such a fellow has no business here. He's a good-for-nothing sot. If I kept a tavern, I'd refuse to sell him liquor."
"That you might do," said Judge Lyman; "and I presume your hint will not be lost on our friend Slade."
"He will have liquor, so long as he can get a cent to buy it with," remarked one of the company; "and I don't see why our landlord here, who has gone to so much expense to fit up a tavern, shouldn't have the sale of it as well as anybody else. Joe talks a little freely sometimes; but no one can say that he is quarrelsome. You've got to take him as he is, that's all."
"I am one," retorted Harvey Green, with a slightly ruffled manner, "who is never disposed to take people as they are when they choose to render themselves disagreeable. If I was Mr. Slade, as I remarked in the beginning, I'd pitch that fellow into the road the next time he put his foot over my door step."
"Not if I were present," remarked the other, coolly.
Green was on his feet in a moment, and I saw, from the flash of his eyes, that he was a man of evil passions. Moving a pace or two in the direction of the other, he said sharply.
"What is that, sir?"
The individual against whom his anger was so suddenly aroused was dressed plainly, and had the appearance of a working man. He was stout and muscular.
"I presume you heard my words. They were spoken distinctly," he replied, not moving from where he sat, nor seeming to be in the least disturbed. But there was a cool defiance in the tones of his voice and in the steady look of his eyes.
"You're an impertinent fellow, and I'm half tempted to chastise you."
Green had scarcely finished the sentence, ere he was lying full length upon the floor. The other had sprung upon him like a tiger, and with one blow from his heavy fist, struck him down as if he had been a child. For a moment or two, Green lay stunned and bewildered—then, starting up with a savage cry, that sounded more bestial than human, he drew a long knife from a concealed sheath, and attempted to stab his assailant, but the murderous purpose was not accomplished, for the other man, who had superior strength and coolness, saw the design, and with a well directed blow almost broke the arm of Green, causing the knife to leave his hand and glide far across the room.
"I'm half tempted to wring your neck off," exclaimed the man, whose name was Lyon, now much excited, and seizing Green by the throat, he strangled him until his face grew black. "Draw a knife on me, ha! You murdering villain!" And he gripped him tighter.
Judge Lyman and the landlord now interfered, and rescued Green from the hands of his fully aroused antagonist. For some time they stood growling at each other, like two parted dogs struggling to get free, in order to renew the conflict, but gradually cooled off. In a little while Judge Lyman drew Green aside, and the two men left the bar-room to other. In the door, as they were retiring, the former slightly nodded to Willy Hammond, who soon followed them, going into the sitting room, and from thence, as I could perceive, upstairs to an apartment above.
"Not after much good," I heard Lyon mutter to himself. "If Judge Hammond don't look a little closer after that boy of his, he'll be sorry for it, that's all."
"Who is this Green?" I asked of Lyon, finding myself alone with him in the bar-room soon after.
"A blackleg, I take it," was his unhesitating answer.
"Does Judge Lyman suspect his real character?"
"I don't know anything about that, but I wouldn't be afraid to bet ten dollars, that if you could look in upon them now, you would find cards in their hands."
"What a school, and what teachers for the youth who just went with them!" I could not help remarking.
"You may well say that. What can his father be thinking about to leave him exposed to such influences!"
"He's one of the few who are in raptures about this tavern, because its erection has slightly increased the value of his property about here, but if he is not the loser of fifty per cent for every one gained, before ten years go by, I'm very much in error."
"It will prove, I fear, the open door to ruin to his son."
"That's bad," said I.
"Bad! It is awful to think of. There is not a finer young man in the country, nor one with better mind and heart, than Willy Hammond. So much the sadder will be his destruction. Ah, sir! this tavern-keeping is a curse to any place."
"But I thought, just now, that you spoke in favor of letting even the poor drunkard's money go into the landlord's till, in order to encourage his commendable enterprise in opening so good a tavern."
"We all speak with covert irony sometimes," answered the man, "as I did then. Poor Joe Morgan! He is an old and early friend of Simon Slade. They were boys together, and worked as millers under the same roof for many years. In fact, Joe's father owned the mill, and the two learned their trade with him. When old Morgan died, the mill came into Joe's hands. It was in rather a worn-out condition, and Joe went in debt for some pretty thorough repairs and additions of machinery. By and by, Simon Slade, who was hired by Joe to run the mill, received a couple of thousand dollars at the death of an aunt. This sum enabled him to buy a share in the mill, which Morgan was very glad to sell in order to get clear of his debt. Time passed on, and Joe left his milling interest almost entirely in the care of Slade, who, it must be said in his favor, did not neglect the business. But it somehow happened—I will not say unfairly—that at the end of ten years, Joe Morgan no longer owned a share in the mill. The whole property was in the hands of Slade. People did not much wonder at this; for while Slade was always to be found at the mill, industrious, active, and attentive to customers, Morgan was rarely seen on the premises. You would oftener find him in the woods, with a gun over his shoulder, or sitting by a trout brook, or lounging at the tavern. And yet everybody liked Joe, for he was companionable, quick-witted, and very kind-hearted. He would say sharp things, sometimes, when people manifested little meannesses; but there was so much honey in his gall, that bitterness rarely predominated.
"A year or two before his ownership in the mill ceased, Morgan married one of the sweetest girls in our town—Fanny Ellis, that was her name, and she could have had her pick of the young men. Everybody affected to wonder at her choice; and yet nobody really did wonder, for Joe was an attractive young man, take him as you would, and just the one to win the heart of a girl like Fanny. What if he had been seen, now and then, a little the worse for drink! What if he showed more fondness for pleasure than for business! Fanny did not look into the future with doubt or fear. She believed that her love was strong enough to win him from all evil allurements: and, as for this world's goods, they were matters in which her maiden fancies rarely busied themselves.
"Well. Dark days came for her, poor soul! And yet, in all the darkness of her earthly lot, she has never, it is said, been anything but a loving, forbearing, self-denying wife to Morgan. And he—fallen as he is, and powerless in the grasp of the monster intemperance—has never, I am sure, hurt her with a cruel word. Had he added these, her heart would, long ere this, have broken. Poor Joe Morgan! Poor Fanny! Oh, what a curse is this drink!"
The man, warming with his theme, had spoken with an eloquence I had not expected from his lips. Slightly overmastered by his feelings, he paused for a moment or two, and then added:
"It was unfortunate for Joe, at least, that Slade sold his mill, and became a tavern-keeper; for Joe had a sure berth, and wages regularly paid. He didn't always stick to his work, but would go off on a spree every now and then; but Slade bore with all this, and worked harder himself to make up for his hand's shortcoming. And no matter what deficiency the little store-room at home might show, Fanny Morgan never found her meal barrel empty without knowing where to get it replenished.
"But, after Slade sold his mill, a sad change took place. The new owner was little disposed to pay wages to a hand who would not give him all his time during working hours; and in less than two weeks from the day he took possession, Morgan was discharged. Since then, he has been working about at one odd job and another, earning scarcely enough to buy the liquor it requires to feed the inordinate thirst that is consuming him. I am not disposed to blame Simon Slade for the wrong-doing of Morgan; but here is a simple fact in the case—if he had kept on at the useful calling of a miller, he would have saved this man's family from want, suffering, and a lower deep of misery than that into which they have already fallen. I merely state it, and you can draw your own conclusions. It is one of the many facts, on the other side of this tavern question, which it will do no harm to mention. I have noted a good many facts besides, and one is, that before Slade opened the 'Sickle and Sheaf,' he did all in his power to save his early friend from the curse of intemperance; now he has become his tempter. Heretofore, it was his hand that provided the means for his family to live in some small degree of comfort; now he takes the poor pittance the wretched man earns, and dropping it in his till, forgets the wife and children at home who are hungry for the bread this money should have purchased.
"Joe Morgan, fallen as he is, sir, is no fool. His mind sees quickly yet; and he rarely utters a sentiment that is not full of meaning. When he spoke of Blade's heart growing as hard in ten years as one of his old mill-stones, he was not uttering words at random, nor merely indulging in a harsh sentiment, little caring whether it were closely applicable or not. That the indurating process had begun, he, alas! was too sadly conscious."
The landlord had been absent from the room for some time. He left soon after Judge Lyman, Harvey Green, and Willy Hammond withdrew, and I did not see him again during the evening. His son Frank was left to attend at the bar; no very hard task, for not more than half a dozen called in to drink from the time Morgan left until the bar was closed.
While Mr. Lyon was giving me the brief history just recorded, I noticed a little incident that caused a troubled feeling to pervade my mind. After a man, for whom the landlord's son had prepared a fancy drink, had nearly emptied his glass, he set it down upon the counter and went out. A tablespoonful or two remained in the glass, and I noticed Frank, after smelling at it two or three times, put the glass to his lips and sip the sweetened liquor. The flavor proved agreeable; for, after tasting it, he raised the glass again and drained every drop.
"Frank!" I heard a low voice, in a warning tone, pronounce the name, and glancing toward a door partly open, that led from the inside of the bar to the yard, I saw the face of Mrs. Slade. It had the same troubled expression I had noticed before, but now blended with anxiety.
The boy went out at the call of his mother; and when a new customer entered, I noticed that Flora, the daughter, came in to wait upon him. I noticed, too, that while she poured out the liquor, there was a heightened color on her face, in which I fancied that I saw a tinge of shame. It is certain that she was not in the least gracious to the person on whom she was waiting; and that there was little heart in her manner of performing the task.
Ten o'clock found me alone and musing in the barroom over the occurrences of the evening. Of all the incidents, that of the entrance of Joe Morgan's child kept the most prominent place in my thoughts. The picture of that mournful little face was ever before me; and I seemed all the while to hear the word "Father," uttered so touchingly, and yet with such a world of childish tenderness. And the man, who would have opposed the most stubborn resistance to his fellow-men, had they sought to force him from the room, going passively, almost meekly out, led by that little child—I could not, for a time, turn my thoughts from the image thereof! And then thought bore me to the wretched home, back to which the gentle, loving child had taken her father, and my heart grew faint in me as imagination busied itself with all the misery there.
And Willy Hammond. The little that I had heard and seen of him greatly interested me in his favor. Ah! upon what dangerous ground was he treading. How many pitfalls awaited his feet—how near they were to the brink of a fearful precipice, down which to fall was certain destruction. How beautiful had been his life-promise! How fair the opening day of his existence! Alas! the clouds were gathering already, and the low rumble of the distant thunder presaged the coming of a fearful tempest. Was there none to warn him of the danger? Alas! all might now come too late, for so few who enter the path in which his steps were treading will hearken to friendly counsel, or heed the solemn warning. Where was he now? This question recurred over and over again. He had left the bar-room with Judge Lyman and Green early in the evening, and had not made his appearance since. Who and what was Green? And Judge Lyman, was he a man of principle? One with whom it was safe to trust a youth like Willy Hammond?
While I mused thus, the bar-room door opened, and a man past the prime of life, with a somewhat florid face, which gave a strong relief to the gray, almost white hair that, suffered to grow freely, was pushed back, and lay in heavy masses on his coat collar, entered with a hasty step. He was almost venerable in appearance; yet there was in his dark, quick eyes the brightness of unquenched loves, the fires of which were kindled at the altars of selfishness and sensuality. This I saw at a glance. There was a look of concern on his face, as he threw his eyes around the bar-room; and he seemed disappointed, I thought, at finding it empty.
"Is Simon Slade here?"
As I answered in the negative, Mrs. Slade entered through the door that opened from the yard, and stood behind the counter.
"Ah, Mrs. Slade! Good evening, madam!" he said.
"Good evening, Judge Hammond."
"Is your husband at home?"
"I believe he is," answered Mrs. Slade. "I think he is somewhere about the house."
"Ask him to step here, will you?"
Mrs. Slade went out. Nearly five minutes went by, during which time Judge Hammond paced the floor of the bar-room uneasily. Then the landlord made his appearance. The free, open, manly, self-satisfied expression of his countenance, which I had remarked on alighting from the stage in the afternoon, was gone. I noticed at once the change, for it was striking. He did not look steadily into the face of Judge Hammond, who asked him, in a low voice, if his son had been there during the evening.
"He was here," said Slade.
"He came in some time after dark and stayed, maybe, an hour."
"And hasn't been here since?"
"It's nearly two hours since he left the bar-room," replied the landlord.
Judge Hammond seemed perplexed. There was a degree of evasion in Slade's manner that he could hardly help noticing. To me it was all apparent, for I had lively suspicions that made my observation acute.
Judge Hammond crossed his arms behind him, and took three or four strides about the floor.
"Was Judge Lyman here to-night?" he then asked.
"He was," answered Slade.
"Did he and Willy go out together?"
The question seemed an unexpected one for the landlord. Slade appeared slightly confused, and did not answer promptly.
"I—I rather think they did," he said, after a brief hesitation.
"Ah, well! Perhaps he is at Judge Lyman's. I will call over there."
And Judge Hammond left the bar-room.
"Would you like to retire, sir?" said the landlord, now turning to me, with a forced smile—I saw that it was forced.
"If you please," I answered.
He lit a candle and conducted me to my room, where, overwearied with the day's exertion, I soon fell asleep, and did not awake until the sun was shining brightly into my windows.
I remained at the village a portion of the day, but saw nothing of the parties in whom the incidents of the previous evening had awakened a lively interest. At four o'clock I left in the stage, and did not visit Cedarville again for a year.
NIGHT THE SECOND.
THE CHANGES OF A YEAR.
A cordial grasp of the hand and a few words of hearty welcome greeted me as I alighted from the stage at the "Sickle and Sheaf," on my next visit to Cedarville. At the first glance, I saw no change in the countenance, manner, or general bearing of Simon Slade, the landlord. With him, the year seemed to have passed like a pleasant summer day. His face was round, and full, and rosy, and his eyes sparkled with that good humor which flows from intense self-satisfaction. Everything about him seemed to say—"All 'right with myself and the world."
I had scarcely expected this. From what I saw during my last brief sojourn at the "Sickle and Sheaf," the inference was natural, that elements had been called into activity, which must produce changes adverse to those pleasant states of mind that threw an almost perpetual sunshine over the landlord's countenance. How many hundreds of times had I thought of Tom Morgan and Willy Hammond—of Frank, and the temptations to which a bar-room exposed him. The heart of Slade must, indeed, be as hard as one of his old mill-stones, if he could remain an unmoved witness of the corruption and degradation of these.
"My fears have outrun the actual progress of things," said I to myself, with a sense of relief, as I mused alone in the still neatly arranged sitting-room, after the landlord, who sat and chatted for a few minutes, had left me. "There is, I am willing to believe, a basis of good in this man's character, which has led him to remove, as far as possible, the more palpable evils that ever attach themselves to a house of public entertainment. He had but entered on the business last year. There was much to be learned, pondered, and corrected. Experience, I doubt not, has led to many important changes in the manner of conducting the establishment, and especially in what pertains to the bar."
As I thought thus, my eyes glanced through the half-open door, and rested on the face of Simon Slade. He was standing behind his bar—evidently alone in the room—with his head bent in a musing attitude. At first I was in some doubt as to the identity of the singularly changed countenance. Two deep perpendicular seams lay sharply defined on his forehead—the arch of his eyebrows was gone, and from each corner of his compressed lips, lines were seen reaching half-way to the chin. Blending with a slightly troubled expression, was a strongly marked selfishness, evidently brooding over the consummation of its purpose. For some moments I sat gazing on his face, half doubting at times if it were really that of Simon Slade. Suddenly a gleam flashed over it—an ejaculation was uttered, and one clenched hand brought down, with a sharp stroke, into the open palm of the other. The landlord's mind had reached a conclusion, and was resolved upon action. There were no warm rays in the gleam of light that irradiated his countenance—at least none for my heart, which felt under them an almost icy coldness.
"Just the man I was thinking about." I heard the landlord say, as some one entered the bar, while his whole manner underwent a sudden change.
"The old saying is true," was answered in a voice, the tones of which were familiar to my ears.
"Thinking of the old Harry?" said Slade.
"True, literally, in the present case," I heard the landlord remark, though in a much lower tone; "for, if you are not the devil himself, you can't be farther removed than a second cousin."
A low, gurgling laugh met this little sally. There was something in it so unlike a human laugh, that it caused my blood to trickle, for a moment, coldly along my veins.
I heard nothing more except the murmur of voices in the bar, for a hand shut the partly opened door that led from the sitting room.
Whose was that voice? I recalled its tones, and tried to fix in my thought the person to whom it belonged, but was unable to do so. I was not very long in doubt, for on stepping out on the porch in front of the tavern, the well remembered face of Harvey Green presented itself. He stood in the bar-room door, and was talking earnestly to Slade, whose back was toward me. I saw that he recognized me, although I had not passed a word with him on the occasion of my former visit, and there was a lighting up of his countenance as if about to speak—but I withdrew my eyes from his face to avoid the unwelcome greeting. When I looked at him again, I saw that he was regarding me with a sinister glance, which was instantly withdrawn. In what broad, black characters was the word TEMPTER written on his face! How was it possible for anyone to look thereon, and not read the warning inscription!
Soon after, he withdrew into the bar-room and the landlord came and took a seat near me on the porch.
"How is the 'Sickle and Sheaf' coming on?" I inquired.
"First rate," was the answer—"First rate."
"As well as you expected?"
"Satisfied with your experiment?"
"Perfectly. Couldn't get me back to the rumbling old mill again, if you were to make me a present of it."
"What of the mill?" I asked. "How does the new owner come on?"
"About as I thought it would be."
"Not doing very well?"
"How could it be expected when he didn't know enough of the milling business to grind a bushel of wheat right? He lost half of the custom I transferred to him in less than three months. Then he broke his main shaft, and it took over three weeks to get in a new one. Half of his remaining customers discovered by this time, that they could get far better meal from their grain at Harwood's mill near Lynwood, and so did not care to trouble him any more. The upshot of the whole matter is, he broke down next, and had to sell the mill at a heavy loss."
"Who has it now?"
"Judge Hammond is the purchaser."
"He is going to rent it, I suppose?"
"No; I believe he means to turn it into some kind of a factory—and, I rather think, will connect therewith a distillery. This is a fine grain-growing country, as you know. If he does set up a distillery he'll make a fine thing of it. Grain has been too low in this section for some years; this all the farmers have felt, and they are very much pleased at the idea. It will help them wonderfully. I always thought my mill a great thing for the farmers; but what I did for them was a mere song compared to the advantage of an extensive distillery."
"Judge Hammond is one of your richest men?"
"Yes—the richest in the county. And what is more, he's a shrewd, far-seeing man, and knows how to multiply his riches."
"How is his son Willy coming on?"
The landlord's eyes fell under the searching look I bent upon him.
"How old is he now?"
"A critical age," I remarked.
"So people say; but I didn't find it so," answered Slade, a little distantly.
"The impulses within and the temptations without, are the measure of its dangers. At his age, you were, no doubt, daily employed at hard work."
"I was, and no mistake."
"Thousands and hundreds of thousands are indebted to useful work, occupying many hours through each day, and leaving them with wearied bodies at night, for their safe passage from yielding youth to firm, resisting manhood. It might not be with you as it is now, had leisure and freedom to go in and out when you pleased been offered at the age of nineteen."
"I can't tell as to that," said the landlord, shrugging his shoulders. "But I don't see that Willy Hammond is in any especial danger. He is a young man with many admirable qualities—is social-liberal—generous almost to a fault—but has good common sense, and wit enough, I take it, to keep out of harm's way."
A man passing the house at the moment, gave Simon Slade an opportunity to break off a conversation that was not, I could see, altogether agreeable. As he left me, I arose and stepped into the bar-room. Frank, the landlord's son, was behind the bar. He had grown considerably in the year—and from a rather delicate, innocent-looking boy, to a stout, bold lad. His face was rounder, and had a gross, sensual expression, that showed itself particularly about the mouth. The man Green was standing beside the bar talking to him, and I noticed that Frank laughed heartily, at some low, half obscene remarks that he was making. In the midst of these, Flora, the sister of Frank, a really beautiful girl, came in to get something from the bar. Green spoke to her familiarly, and Flora answered him with a perceptibly heightening color.
I glanced toward Frank, half expecting to see an indignant flush on his young face. But no—he looked on with a smile! "Ah!" thought I, "have the boy's pure impulses so soon died out in this fatal atmosphere? Can he bear to see those evil eyes—he knows they are evil—rest upon the face of his sister? or to hear those lips, only a moment since polluted with vile words, address her with the familiarity of a friend?"
"Fine girl, that sister of yours, Frank! Fine girl!" said Green, after Flora had withdrawn—speaking of her with about as much respect in his voice as if he were praising a fleet racer or a favorite hound.
The boy smiled, with a pleased air.
"I must try and find her a good husband, Frank. I wonder if she wouldn't have me?"
"You'd better ask her," said the boy, laughing.
"I would if I thought there was any chance for me."
"Nothing like trying. Faint heart never won fair lady," returned Frank, more with the air of a man than a boy. How fast he was growing old!
"A banter, by George!" exclaimed Green, slapping his hands together. "You're a great boy, Frank! a great boy! I shall have to talk to your father about you. Coming on too fast. Have to be put back in your lessons—hey!"
And Green winked at the boy, and shook his finger at him. Frank laughed in a pleased way, as he replied: "I guess I'll do."
"I guess you will," said Green, as, satisfied with his colloquy, he turned off and left the bar-room.
"Have something to drink, sir?" inquired Frank, addressing me in a bold, free way.
I shook my head.
"Here's a newspaper," he added.
I took the paper and sat down—not to read, but to observe. Two or three men soon came in, and spoke in a very familiar way to Frank, who was presently busy setting out the liquors they had called for. Their conversation, interlarded with much that was profane and vulgar, was of horses, horse-racing, gunning, and the like, to all of which the young bar-tender lent an attentive ear, putting in a word now and then, and showing an intelligence in such matters quite beyond his age. In the midst thereof, Mr. Slade made his appearance. His presence caused a marked change in Frank, who retired from his place among the men, a step or two outside of the bar, and did not make a remark while his father remained. It was plain from this, that Mr. Slade was not only aware of Frank's dangerous precocity, but had already marked his forwardness by rebuke.
So far, all that I had seen and heard impressed me unfavorably, notwithstanding the declaration of Simon Slade, that everything about the "Sickle and Sheaf" was coming on "first-rate," and that he was "perfectly satisfied" with his experiment. Why, even if the man had gained, in money, fifty thousand dollars by tavern-keeping in a year, he had lost a jewel in the innocence of his boy that was beyond all valuation. "Perfectly satisfied?" Impossible! He was not perfectly satisfied. How could he be? The look thrown upon Frank when he entered the bar-room, and saw him "hale fellow, well met," with three or four idle, profane, drinking customers, contradicted that assertion.
After supper, I took a seat in the bar-room, to see how life moved on in that place of rendezvous for the surface-population of Cedarville. Interest enough in the characters I had met there a year before remained for me to choose this way of spending the time, instead of visiting at the house of a gentleman who had kindly invited me to pass an evening with his family.
The bar-room custom, I soon found, had largely increased in a year. It now required, for a good part of the time, the active services of both the landlord and his son to meet the calls for liquor. What pained me most, was to see the large number of lads and young men who came in to lounge and drink; and there was scarcely one of them whose face did not show marks of sensuality, or whose language was not marred by obscenity, profanity, or vulgar slang. The subjects of conversation were varied enough, though politics was the most prominent. In regard to politics I heard nothing in the least instructive; but only abuse of individuals and dogmatism on public measures. They were all exceedingly confident in assertion; but I listened in vain for exposition, or even for demonstrative facts. He who asseverated in the most positive manner, and swore the hardest, carried the day in the petty contests.
I noticed, early in the evening, and at a time when all the inmates of the room were in the best possible humor with themselves, the entrance of an elderly man, on whose face I instantly read a deep concern. It was one of those mild, yet strongly marked faces, that strike you at a glance. The forehead was broad, the eyes large and far back in their sockets, the lips full but firm. You saw evidences of a strong, but well-balanced character. As he came in, I noticed a look of intelligence pass from one to another; and then the eyes of two or three were fixed upon a young man who was seated not far from me, with his back to the entrance, playing at dominoes. He had a glass of ale by his side. The old man searched about the room for some moments, before his glance rested upon the individual I have mentioned. My eyes were full upon his face, as he advanced toward him, as yet unseen. Upon it was not a sign of angry excitement, but a most touching sorrow.
"Edward!" he said, as he laid his hand gently on the young man's shoulder. The latter started at the voice, and crimsoned deeply. A few moments he sat irresolute.
"Edward, my son!" It would have been a cold, hard heart indeed that softened not under the melting tenderness of these tones. The call was irresistible, and obedience a necessity. The powers of evil had, yet, too feeble a grasp on the young man's heart to hold him in thrall. Rising with a half-reluctant manner, and with a shamefacedness that it was impossible to conceal, he retired as quietly as possible. The notice of only a few in the bar-room was attracted by the incident.
"I can tell you what," I heard the individual, with whom the young man had been playing at dominoes, remark—himself not twenty years of age—"if my old man were to make a fool of himself in this way—sneaking around after me in bar-rooms-he'd get only his trouble for his pains. I'd like to see him try it, though! There'd be a nice time of it, I guess. Wouldn't I creep off with him, as meek as a lamb! Ho! ho!"
"Who is that old gentleman who came in just now?" I inquired of the person who thus commented on the incident which had just occurred.
"Mr. Hargrove is his name."
"And that was his son?"
"Yes; and I'm only sorry he doesn't possess a little more spirit."
"How old is he?"
"Not of legal age, then?"
"He's old enough to be his own master."
"The law says differently," I suggested.
In answer, the young man cursed the law, snapping his fingers in its imaginary face as he did so.
"At least you will admit," said I, "that Edward Hargrove, in the use of a liberty to go where he pleases, and do what he pleases, exhibits but small discretion."
"I will admit no such thing. What harm is there, I would like to know, in a social little game such as we were playing? There were no stakes—we were not gambling."
I pointed to the half-emptied glass of ale left by young Hargrove.
"Oh! oh!" half sneered, half laughed a man, twice the age of the one I had addressed, who sat near by, listening to our conversation. I looked at him for a moment, and then said:
"The great danger lies there, without doubt. If it were only a glass of ale and a game of dominoes—but it doesn't stop there, and well the young man's father knows it."
"Perhaps he does," was answered. "I remember him in his younger days; and a pretty high boy he was. He didn't stop at a glass of ale and a game of dominoes; not he! I've seen him as drunk as a lord many a time; and many a time at a horse-race, or cock-fight, betting with the bravest. I was only a boy, though a pretty old boy; but I can tell you, Hargrove was no saint."
"I wonder not, then, that he is so anxious for his son," was my remark. "He knows well the lurking dangers in the path he seems inclined to enter."
"I don't see that they have done him much harm. He sowed his wild oats—then got married, and settled down into a good, substantial citizen. A little too religious and pharisaical, I always thought; but upright in his dealings. He had his pleasures in early life, as was befitting the season of youth—why not let his son taste of the same agreeable fruit? He's wrong, sir—wrong! And I've said as much to Ned. I only wish the boy had shown the right spunk this evening, and told the old man to go home about his business."
"So do I," chimed in the young disciple in this bad school. "It's what I'd say to my old man, in double quick time, if he was to come hunting after me."
"He knows better than to do that," said the other, in a way that let me deeper into the young man's character.
"Indeed he does. He's tried his hand on me once or twice during the last year, but found it wouldn't do, no how; Tom Peters is out of his leading-strings."
"And can drink his glass with any one, and not be a grain the worse for it."
"Exactly, old boy!" said Peters, slapping his preceptor on the knee. "Exactly! I'm not one of your weak-headed ones. Oh no!"
"Look here, Joe Morgan!"—the half-angry voice of Simon Slade now rung through the bar-room,—"just take yourself off home!"
I had not observed the entrance of this person. He was standing at the bar, with an emptied glass in his hand. A year had made no improvement in his appearance. On the contrary, his clothes were more worn and tattered; his countenance more sadly marred. What he had said to irritate the landlord, I know not; but Slade's face was fiery with passion, and his eyes glared threateningly at the poor besotted one, who showed not the least inclination to obey.
"Off with you, I say! And never show your face here again. I won't have such low vagabonds as you are about my house. If you can't keep decent and stay decent, don't intrude yourself here."
"A rum-seller talk of decency!" retorted Morgan. "Pah! You were a decent man once, and a good miller into the bargain. But that time's past and gone. Decency died out when you exchanged the pick and facing-hammer for the glass and muddler. Decency! Pah! How you talk! As if it were any more decent to sell rum than to drink it."
There was so much of biting contempt in the tones, as well as the words of the half-intoxicated man, that Slade, who had himself been drinking rather more freely than usual, was angered beyond self-control. Catching up an empty glass from the counter, he hurled it with all his strength at the head of Joe Morgan. The missive just grazed one of his temples, and flew by on its dangerous course. The quick sharp cry of a child startled the air, followed by exclamations of alarm and horror from many voices.
"It's Joe Morgan's child!" "He's killed her!" "Good heavens!" Such were the exclamations that rang through the room. I was among the first to reach the spot where a little girl, just gliding in through the door, had been struck on the forehead by the glass, which had cut a deep gash, and stunned her into insensibility. The blood flowed instantly from the wound, and covered her face, which presented a shocking appearance. As I lifted her from the floor, upon which she had fallen, Morgan, into whose very soul the piercing cry of his child had penetrated, stood by my side, and grappled his arms around her insensible form, uttering as he did so heart-touching moans and lamentations.
"What's the matter? Oh, what's the matter?" It was a woman's voice, speaking in frightened tones.
"It's nothing! Just go out, will you, Ann?" I heard the landlord say.
But his wife—it was Mrs. Slade—having heard the shrieks of pain and terror uttered by Morgan's child, had come running into the bar-room—heeded not his words, but pressed forward into the little group that stood around the bleeding girl.
"Run for Doctor Green, Frank," she cried in an imperative voice, the moment her eyes rested on the little one's bloody face.
Frank came around from behind the bar, in obedience to the word; but his father gave a partial countermand, and he stood still. Upon observing which, his mother repeated the order, even more emphatically.
"Why don't you jump, you young rascal!" exclaimed Harvey Green. "The child may be dead before the doctor can get here."
Frank hesitated no longer, but disappeared instantly through the door.
"Poor, poor child!" almost sobbed Mrs. Slade, as she lifted the insensible form from my arms. "How did it happen? Who struck her?"
"Who? Curse him! Who but Simon Slade?" answered Joe Morgan, through his clenched teeth.
The look of anguish, mingled with bitter reproach, instantly thrown upon the landlord by his wife, can hardly be forgotten by any who saw it that night.
"Oh, Simon! Simon! And has it come to this already?" What a world of bitter memories, and sad forebodings of evil, did that little sentence express. "To this already"—Ah! In the downward way, how rapidly the steps do tread—how fast the progress!
"Bring me a basin of water, and a towel, quickly!" she now exclaimed.
The water was brought, and in a little while the face of the child lay pure and as white as snow against her bosom. The wound from which the blood had flowed so freely was found on the upper part of the forehead, a little to the side, and extending several inches back, along the top of the head. As soon as the blood stains were wiped away, and the effusion partially stopped, Mrs. Slade carried the still insensible body into the next room, whither the distressed, and now completely sobered father, accompanied her. I went with them, but Slade remained behind.
The arrival of the doctor was soon followed by the restoration of life to the inanimate body. He happened to be at home, and came instantly. He had just taken the last stitch in the wound, which required to be drawn together, and was applying strips of adhesive plaster, when the hurried entrance of some one caused me to look up. What an apparition met my eyes! A woman stood in the door, with a face in which maternal anxiety and terror blended fearfully. Her countenance was like ashes—her eyes straining wildly—her lips apart, while the panting breath almost hissed through them.
"Joe! Joe! What is it? Where is Mary? Is she dead?" were her eager inquiries.
"No, Fanny," answered Joe Morgan, starting up from where he was actually kneeling by the side of the reviving little one, and going quickly to his wife. "She's better now. It's a bad hurt, but the doctor says it's nothing dangerous. Poor, dear child!"
The pale face of the mother grew paler—she gasped—caught for breath two or three times—a low shudder ran through her frame—and then she lay white and pulseless in the arms of her husband. As the doctor applied restoratives, I had opportunity to note more particularly the appearance of Mrs. Morgan. Her person was very slender, and her face so attenuated that it might almost be called shadowy. Her hair, which was a rich chestnut brown, with a slight golden lustre, had fallen from her comb, and now lay all over her neck and bosom in beautiful luxuriance. Back from her full temples it had been smoothed away by the hand of Morgan, that all the while moved over her brow and temples with a caressing motion that I saw was unconscious, and which revealed the tenderness of feeling with which, debased as he was, he regarded the wife of his youth, and the long suffering companion of his later and evil days. Her dress was plain and coarse, but clean and well fitting; and about her whole person was an air of neatness and taste. She could not now be called beautiful; yet in her marred features—marred by suffering and grief—were many lineaments of beauty; and much that told of a true, pure woman's heart beating in her bosom. Life came slowly back to the stilled heart, and it was nearly half an hour before the circle of motion was fully restored.
Then, the twain, with their child, tenderly borne in the arms of her father, went sadly homeward, leaving more than one heart heavier for their visit.
I saw more of the landlord's wife on this occasion than before. She had acted with a promptness and humanity that impressed me very favorably. It was plain, from her exclamations on learning that her husband's hand inflicted the blow that came so near destroying the child's life, that her faith for good in the tavern-keeping experiment had never been strong. I had already inferred as much. Her face, the few times I had seen her, wore a troubled look; and I could never forget its expression, nor her anxious, warning voice, when she discovered Frank sipping the dregs from a glass in the bar-room.
It is rarely, I believe, that wives consent freely to the opening of taverns by their husbands; and the determination on the part of the latter to do so, is not unfrequently attended with a breach of confidence and good feeling never afterward fully healed. Men look close to the money result; women to the moral consequences. I doubt if there be one dram-seller in ten, between whom and his wife there exists a good understanding—to say nothing of genuine affection. And, in the exceptional cases, it will generally be found that the wife is as mercenary, or careless of the public good, as her husband. I have known some women to set up grog-shops; but they were women of bad principles and worse hearts. I remember one case, where a woman, with a sober, church-going husband, opened a dram-shop. The husband opposed, remonstrated, begged, threatened—but all to no purpose. The wife, by working for the clothing stores, had earned and saved about three hundred dollars. The love of money, in the slow process of accumulation, had been awakened; and, in ministering to the depraved appetites of men who loved drink and neglected their families, she saw a quicker mode of acquiring the gold she coveted. And so the dram-shop was opened. And what was the result? The husband quit going to church. He had no heart for that; for, even on the Sabbath day, the fiery stream was stayed not in his house. Next he began to tipple. Soon, alas! the subtle poison so pervaded his system that morbid desire came; and then he moved along quick-footed in the way of ruin. In less than three years, I think, from the time the grog-shop was opened by his wife, he was in a drunkard's grave. A year or two more, and the pit that was digged for others by the hands of the wife, she fell into herself. After breathing an atmosphere poisoned by the fumes of liquor, the love of tasting it was gradually formed, and she, too, in the end, became a slave to the Demon Drink. She died at last, poor as a beggar in the street. Ah! this liquor-selling is the way to ruin; and they who open the gates, as well as those who enter the downward path, alike go to destruction. But this is digressing.
After Joe Morgan and his wife left the "Sickle and Sheaf," with that gentle child, who, as I afterward learned, had not, for a year or more, laid her little head to sleep until her father returned home and who, if he stayed out beyond a certain hour, would go for him, and lead him back, a very angel of love and patience—I re-entered the bar-room, to see how life was passing there. Not one of all I had left in the room remained. The incident which had occurred was of so painful a nature, that no further unalloyed pleasure was to be had there during the evening, and so each had retired. In his little kingdom the landlord sat alone, his head resting on his hand, and his face shaded from the light. The whole aspect of the man was that of one in self-humiliation. As I entered he raised his head, and turned his face toward me. Its expression was painful.
"Rather an unfortunate affair," said he. "I'm angry with myself, and sorry for the poor child. But she'd no business here. As for Joe Morgan, it would take a saint to bear his tongue when once set a-going by liquor. I wish he'd stay away from the house. Nobody wants his company. Oh, dear!"
The ejaculation, or rather groan, that closed the sentence showed how little Slade was satisfied with himself, notwithstanding this feeble attempt at self-justification.
"His thirst for liquor draws him hither," I remarked. "The attraction of your bar to his appetite is like that of the magnet to the needle. He cannot stay away."
"He MUST stay away!" exclaimed the landlord, with some vehemence of tone, striking his fist upon the table by which he sat. "He MUST stay away! There is scarcely an evening that he does not ruffle my temper, and mar good feelings in all the company. Just see what he provoked me to do this evening. I might have killed the child. It makes my blood run cold to think of it! Yes, sir—he must stay away. If no better can be done, I'll hire a man to stand at the door and keep him out."
"He never troubled you at the mill," said I. "No man was required at the mill door?"
"No!" And the landlord gave emphasis to the word by an oath, ejaculated with a heartiness that almost startled me. I had not heard him swear before. "No; the great trouble was to get him and keep him there, the good-for-nothing, idle fellow!"
"I am afraid," I ventured to suggest, "that things don't go on quite so smoothly here as they did at the mill. Your customers are of a different class."
"I don't know about that; why not?" He did not just relish my remark.
"Between quiet, thrifty, substantial farmers, and drinking bar-room loungers, are many degrees of comparison."
"Excuse me, sir!" Simon Slade elevated his person. "The men who visit my bar-room, as a general thing, are quite as respectable, moral, and substantial as any who came to the mill—and I believe more so. The first people in the place, sir, are to be found here. Judge Lyman and Judge Hammond; Lawyer Wilks and Doctor Maynard; Mr. Grand and Mr. Lee; and dozens of others—all our first people. No, sir; you mustn't judge all by vagabonds like Joe Morgan."
There was a testy spirit manifested that I did not care to provoke. I could have met his assertion with facts and inferences of a character to startle any one occupying his position, who was in a calm, reflective state; but to argue with him then would have been worse than idle; and so I let him talk on until the excitement occasioned by my words died out for want of new fuel.
NIGHT THE THIRD.
JOE MORGAN'S CHILD.
"I don't see anything of your very particular friend, Joe Morgan, this evening," said Harvey Green, leaning on the bar and speaking to Slade. It was the night succeeding that on which the painful and exciting scene with the child had occurred.
"No," was answered—and to the word was added a profane imprecation. "No; and if he'll just keep away from here, he may go to—on a hard-trotting horse and a porcupine saddle as fast as he pleases. He's tried my patience beyond endurance, and my mind is made up that he gets no more drams at this bar. I've borne his vile tongue and seen my company annoyed by him just as long as I mean to stand it. Last night decided me. Suppose I'd killed that child?"
"You'd have had trouble then, and no mistake."
"Wouldn't I? Blast her little picture! What business has she creeping in here every night?"
"She must have a nice kind of a mother," remarked Green, with a cold sneer.
"I don't know what she is now," said Slade, a slight touch of feeling in his voice—"heart-broken, I suppose. I couldn't look at her last night; it made me sick. But there was a time when Fanny Morgan was the loveliest and best woman in Cedarville. I'll say that for her. Oh, dear! What a life her miserable husband has caused her to lead."
"Better that he were dead and out of the way."
"Better a thousand times," answered Slade. "If he'd only fall down some night and break his neck, it would be a blessing to his family."
"And to you in particular," laughed Green.
"You may be sure it wouldn't cost me a large sum for mourning," was the unfeeling response.
Let us leave the bar-room of the "Sickle and Sheaf," and its cold-hearted inmates, and look in upon the family of Joe Morgan, and see how it is in the home of the poor inebriate. We will pass by a quick transition.
"Joe!" The thin white hand of Mrs. Morgan clasps the arm of her husband, who has arisen up suddenly, and now stands by the partly opened door. "Don't go out to-night, Joe. Please, don't go out."
"Father!" A feeble voice calls from the corner of an old settee, where little Mary lies with her head bandaged.
"Well, I won't then!" is replied—not angrily, nor even fretfully—but in a kind voice.
"Come and sit by me, father." How tenderly, yet how full of concern is that low, sweet voice. "Come, won't you?"
"Now hold my hand, father."
Joe takes the hand of little Mary, that instantly tightens upon his.
"You won't go away and leave me to-night, will you, father? Say you won't."
"How very hot your hand is, dear. Does your head ache?"
"A little; but it will soon feel better."
Up into the swollen and disfigured face of the fallen father, the large, earnest blue eyes of the child are raised. She does not see the marred lineaments; but only the beloved countenance of her parent.
"I wish you'd promise me something."
"Will you promise?"
"I can't say until I hear your request. If I can promise, I will."
"Oh, you can promise—you can, father!"
How the large blue eyes dance and sparkle!
"What is it, love?"
"That you will never go into Simon Slade's bar any more."
The child raises herself, evidently with a painful effort; and leans nearer to her father.
Joe shakes his head, and poor Mary drops back upon her pillow with a sigh. Her lids fall, and the long lashes lie strongly relieved on her colorless cheeks.
"I won't go there to-night, dear. So let your heart be at rest."
Mary's lids unclose, and two round drops, released from their clasp, glide slowly over her face.
"Thank you, father—thank you. Mother will be so glad."
The eyes closed again; and the father moved uneasily. His heart is touched. There is a struggle within him. It is on his lips to say that he will never drink at the "Sickle and Sheaf" again; but resolution just lacks the force of utterance.
"I don't, think I'll be well enough to go out in two or three days. You know the doctor said that I would have to keep very still, for I had a great deal of fever."
"Yes, poor child."
"Now, won't you promise me one thing?"
"What is it, dear?"
"Not to go out in the evening until I get well."
Joe Morgan hesitated.
"Just promise me that, father. It won't be long; I shall be up again in a little while."
How well the father knows what is in the heart of his child. Her fears are all for him. Who is to go up after her poor father, and lead him home when the darkness of inebriety is on his spirit, and external perception so dulled that not skill enough remains to shun the harm that lies in his path?
"Do promise just that, father, dear."
He cannot resist the pleading voice and look. "I promise it, Mary; so shut your eyes now and go to sleep. I'm afraid this fever will increase."
"Oh! I'm so glad—so glad!"
Mary does not clasp her hands, nor show strong external signs of pleasure; but how full of a pure, unselfish joy is that low-murmured ejaculation, spoken in the depths of her spirit, as well as syllabled by her tongue!
Mrs. Morgan has been no unconcerned witness of all this; but knowing the child's influence over her father, she has not ventured a word. More was to be gained, she was sure, by silence on her part; and so she kept silent. Now she comes nearer to them, and says, as she lets a hand rest on the shoulder of her husband:
"You feel better for that promise already; I know you do."
He looks up to her, and smiles faintly. He does feel better, but is hardly willing to acknowledge it.
Soon after Mary is sleeping. It does not escape the observation of Mrs. Morgan that her husband grows restless; for he gets up suddenly, every now and then, and walks quickly across the room, as if in search of something. Then sits down, listlessly—sighs—stretches himself, and says, "Oh dear!" What shall she do for him? How is the want of his accustomed evening stimulus to be met? She thinks, and questions, and grieves inwardly. Poor Joe Morgan! His wife understands his case, and pities him from her heart. But what can she do? Go out and get him something to drink? "Oh, no! no! no! never!" She answered the thought audibly almost, in the excitement of her feelings. An hour has passed—Joe's restlessness has increased instead of diminishing. What is to be done? Now Mrs. Morgan has left the room. She has resolved upon something, for the case must be met. Ah! here she comes, after an absence of five minutes, bearing in her hand a cup of strong coffee.
"It was kind and thoughtful in you, Fanny," says Morgan, as with a gratified look he takes the cup. But his hand trembles, and he spills a portion of the contents as ho tries to raise it to his lips. How dreadfully his nerves are shattered! Unnatural stimulants have been applied so long, that all true vitality seems lost. And now the hand of his wife is holding the cup to his lips, and he drinks eagerly.
"This is dreadful—dreadful! Where will it end? What is to be done?"
Fanny suppresses a sob, as she thus gives vent to her troubled feelings. Twice, already, has her husband been seized with the drunkard's madness; and, in the nervous prostration consequent upon even a brief withdrawal of his usual strong stimulants, she sees the fearful precursor of another attack of this dreadful and dangerous malady. In the hope of supplying the needed tone she has given him strong coffee; and this for the time, produces the effect desired. The restlessness is allayed, and a quiet state of body and mind succeeds. It needs but a suggestion to induce him to retire for the night. After being a few minutes in bed, sleep steals over him, and his heavy breathing tells that he is in the world of dreams.
And now there comes a tap at the door.
"Come in," is answered.
The latch is lifted, the door swings open, and a woman enters.
"Mrs. Slade!" The name is uttered in a tone of surprise.
"Fanny, how are you this evening?" Kindly, yet half sadly, the words are said.
"Tolerable, I thank you."
The hands of the two women are clasped, and for a few moments they gaze into each other's face. What a world of tender commiseration is in that of Mrs. Slade!
"How is little Mary to-night?"
"Not so well, I'm afraid. She has a good deal of fever."
"Indeed! Oh, I'm sorry! Poor child! what a dreadful thing it was! Oh! Fanny! you don't know how it has troubled me. I've been intending to come around all day to see how she was, but couldn't get off until now."
"It came near killing her," said Mrs. Morgan.
"It's in God's mercy she escaped. The thought of it curdles the very blood in my veins. Poor child! is this her on the settee?"
Mrs. Slade takes a chair, and sitting by the sleeping child, gazes long upon her pale sweet face. Now the lips of Mary part—words are murmured—what is she saying?
"No, no, mother; I can't go to bed yet. Father isn't home. And it's so dark. There's no one to lead him over the bridge. I'm not afraid. Don't—don't cry so, mother—I'm not afraid! Nothing will hurt me."
The child's face flushes. She moans, and throws her arms about uneasily. Hark again.
"I wish Mr. Slade wouldn't look so cross at me. He never did when I went to the mill. He doesn't take me on his knee now, and stroke my hair. Oh, dear! I wish father wouldn't go there any more. Don't, don't, Mr. Slade. Oh! oh!"—the ejaculation prolonged into a frightened cry, "My head! my head!"
A few choking sobs are followed by low moans; and then the child breathes easily again. But the flush does not leave her cheek; and when Mrs. Slade, from whose eyes the tears come forth drop by drop, and roll down her face, touches it lightly, she finds it hot with fever.
"Has the doctor seen her to-day, Fanny?"
"He should see her at once. I will go for him"; and Mrs. Slade starts up and goes quickly from the room. In a little while she returns with Doctor Green, who sits down and looks at the child for some moments with a sober, thoughtful face. Then he lays his fingers on her pulse and times its beat by his watch—shakes his head, and looks graver still.
"How long has she had fever?" he asks.
"You should have sent for me earlier."
"Oh, doctor! She is not dangerous, I hope?" Mrs. Morgan looks frightened.
"She's a sick child, madam."
"You've promised, father."—The dreamer is speaking again.—"I'm not well enough yet. Oh, don't go, father; don't! There! He's gone! Well, well! I'll try and walk there—I can sit down and rest by the way. Oh, dear! How tired I am! Father! Father!"
The child starts up and looks about her wildly.
"Oh, mother, is it you?" And she sinks back upon her pillow, looking now inquiringly from face to face.
"Father—where is father?" she asks.
"Oh! Is he? I'm glad."
Her eyes close wearily.
"Do you feel any pain, Mary?" inquired the doctor.
"Yes, sir—in my head. It aches and beats so."
The cry of "Father" had reached the ears of Morgan, who is sleeping in the next room, and roused him into consciousness. He knows the doctor's voice. Why is he here at this late hour? "Do you feel any pain, Mary?" The question he hears distinctly, and the faintly uttered reply also. He is sober enough to have all his fears instantly excited. There is nothing in the world that he loves as he loves that child. And so he gets up and dresses himself as quickly as possible; the stimulus of anxiety giving tension to his relaxed nerves.
"Oh, father!" The quick ears of Mary detect his entrance first, and a pleasant smile welcomes him.
"Is she very sick, doctor?" he asks, in a voice full of anxiety.
"She's a sick child, sir; you should have sent for me earlier." The doctor speaks rather sternly, and with a purpose to rebuke.
The reply stirs Morgan, and he seems to cower half timidly under the words, as if they were blows. Mary has already grasped her father's hand, and holds on to it tightly.
After examining the case a little more closely, the doctor prepares some medicine, and, promising to call early in the morning, goes away. Mrs. Slade follows soon after; but, in parting with Mrs. Morgan, leaves something in her hand, which, to the surprise of the latter, proves to be a ten-dollar bill. The tears start to her eyes; and she conceals the money in her bosom—murmuring a fervent "God bless her!"
A simple act of restitution is this on the part of Mrs. Slade, prompted as well by humanity as a sense of justice. With one hand her husband has taken the bread from the family of his old friend, and thus with the other she restores it.
And now Morgan and his wife are alone with their sick child. Higher the fever rises, and partial delirium seizes upon her over-excited brain. She talks for a time almost incessantly. All her trouble is about her father; and she is constantly referring to his promise not to go out in the evening until she gets well. How tenderly and touchingly she appeals to him; now looking up into his face in partial recognition; and now calling anxiously after him, as if he had left her and was going away.
"You'll not forget your promise, will you, father?" she says, speaking so calmly, that he thinks her mind has ceased to wander.
"No, dear; I will not forget it," he answers, smoothing her hair gently with his hand.
"You'll not go out in the evening again, until I get well?"
"Stoop down closer; I don't want mother to hear; it will make her feel so bad."
The father bends his ear close to the lips of Mary. How he starts and shudders! What has she said?—only these brief words:
"I shall not get well, father; I'm going to die."
The groans, impossible to repress, that issued through the lips of Joe Morgan, startled the ears of his wife, and she came quickly to the bedside.
"What is it? What is the matter, Joe?" she inquired, with a look of anxiety.
"Hush, father. Don't tell her. I only said it to you." And Mary put a finger on her lips, and looked mysterious. "There, mother—you go away; you've got trouble enough, any how. Don't tell her, father."
But the words, which came to him like a prophecy, awoke such pangs of fear and remorse in the heart of Joe Morgan, that it was impossible for him to repress the signs of pain. For some moments he gazed at his wife—then stooping forward, suddenly, he buried his face in the bed-clothes, and sobbed bitterly.
A suggestion of the truth now flashed through the mind of Mrs. Morgan, sending a thrill of pain along every nerve. Ere she had time to recover herself, the low, sweet voice of Mary broke upon the hushed air of the room, and she sung:
"Jesus can make a dying bed Feel soft as downy pillows are, While on His breast I lean my head, And breathe my life out, sweetly, there."
It was impossible for Mrs. Morgan longer to repress her feelings. As the softly breathed strain died away, her sobs broke forth, and for a time she wept violently.
"There," said the child,—"I didn't mean to tell you. I only told father, because—because he promised not to go to the tavern any more until I got well; and I'm not going to get well. So, you see, mother, he'll never go again—never—never—never. Oh, dear! how my head pains. Mr. Slade threw it so hard. But it didn't strike father; and I'm so glad. How it would have hurt him—poor father! But he'll never go there any more; and that will be so good, won't it, mother?"
A light broke over her face; but seeing that her mother still wept, she said:
"Don't cry. Maybe I'll be better."
And then her eyes closed heavily, and she slept again.
"Joe," said Mrs. Morgan, after she had in a measure recovered herself—she spoke firmly—"Joe, did you hear what she said?"
Morgan only answered with a groan.
"Her mind wanders; and yet she may have spoken only the truth."
He groaned again.
"If she should die, Joe—"
"Don't; oh, don't talk so, Fanny. She's not going to die. It's only because she's a little light-headed."
"Why is she light-headed, Joe?"
"It's the fever—only the fever, Fanny."
"It was the blow, and the wound on her head, that caused the fever. How do we know the extent of injury on the brain? Doctor Green looked very serious. I'm afraid, husband, that the worst is before us. I've borne and suffered a great deal—only God knows how much—I pray that I may have strength to bear this trial also. Dear child! She is better fitted for heaven than for earth, and it may be that God is about to take her to Himself. She's been a great comfort to me—and to you, Joe, more like a guardian angel than a child."
Mrs. Morgan had tried to speak very firmly; but as sentence followed sentence, her voice lost more and more of its even tone. With the closing words all self-control vanished; and she wept bitterly. What could her feeble, erring husband do, but weep with her?
"Joe,"—Mrs. Morgan aroused herself as quickly as possible, for she had that to say which she feared she might not have the heart to utter—"Joe, if Mary dies, you cannot forget the cause of her death."
"Oh, Fanny! Fanny!"
"Nor the hand that struck the cruel blow."
"Forget it? Never! And if I forgive Simon Slade—"
"Nor the place where the blow was dealt," said Mrs. Morgan, interrupting him.
"Poor—poor child!" moaned the conscience-stricken man.
"Nor your promise, Joe—nor your promise given to our dying child."
"Father! Father! Dear father!" Mary's eyes suddenly unclosed, as she called her father eagerly.
"Here I am, love. What is it?" And Joe Morgan pressed up to the bedside.
"Oh! it's you, father! I dreamed that you had gone out, and—and—but you won't will you, dear father?"
"Never any more until I get well?"
"I must go out to work, you know, Mary."
"At night, father. That's what I mean. You won't, will you?"
"No, dear, no."
A soft smile trembled over the child's face; her eyelids drooped wearily, and she fell off into slumber again. She seemed not so restless as before—did not moan, nor throw herself about in her sleep.
"She's better, I think," said Morgan, as he bent over her, and listened to her softer breathing.
"It seems so," replied his wife. "And now, Joe, you must go to bed again. I will lie down here with Mary, and be ready to do any thing for her that she may want."
"I don't feel sleepy. I'm sure I couldn't close my eyes. So let me sit up with Mary. You are tired and worn out."
Mrs. Morgan looked earnestly into her husband's face. His eyes were unusually bright, and she noticed a slight nervous restlessness about his lips. She laid one of her hands on his, and perceived a slight tremor.
"You must go to bed," she spoke firmly. "I shall not let you sit up with Mary. So go at once." And she drew him almost by force into the next room.
"It's no use, Fanny. There's not a wink of sleep in my eyes. I shall lie awake anyhow. So do you get a little rest." Even as he spoke there were nervous twitchings of his arms and shoulders; and as he entered the chamber, impelled by his wife, he stopped suddenly and said:
"What is that?"
"Where?" asked Mrs. Morgan.
"Oh, it's nothing—I see. Only one of my old boots. I thought it a great black cat."
Oh! what a shudder of despair seized upon the heart of the wretched wife. Too well she knew the fearful signs of that terrible madness from which, twice before, he had suffered. She could have looked on calmly and seen him die—but, "Not this—not this! Oh, Father in heaven!" she murmured, with such a heart-sinking that it seemed as if life itself would go out.
"Get into bed, Joe; get into bed as quickly as possible."
Morgan was now passive in the hands of his wife, and obeyed her almost like a child. He had turned down the bed-clothes, and was about getting in, when he started back, with a look of disgust and alarm.
"There's nothing there, Joe. What's the matter with you?"
"I'm sure I don't know, Fanny," and his teeth rattled together, as he spoke. "I thought there was a great toad under the clothes."
"How foolish you are!"—yet tears were blinding her eyes as she said this. "It's only fancy. Get into bed and shut your eyes. I'll make you another cup of strong coffee. Perhaps that will do you good. You're only a little nervous. Mary's sickness has disturbed you."
Joe looked cautiously under the bedclothes, as he lifted them up still farther, and peered beneath.
"You know there's nothing in your bed, see!"
And Mrs. Morgan threw with a single jerk all the clothes upon the floor.
"There now! look for yourself. Now shut your eyes," she continued as she spread the sheet and quilt over him after his head was on the pillow. "Shut them tight and keep them so until I boil the water and make a cup of coffee You know as well as I do that it's nothing but fancy."
Morgan closed his eyes firmly, and drew the clothes over his head.
"I'll be back in a few minutes" said his wife going hurriedly to the door. Ere leaving, however she partly turned her head and glanced back. There sat her husband upright and staring fearfully.
"Don't Fanny! don't go away!" he cried in a frightened voice.
Joe! Joe! why will you be so foolish? It's nothing but imagination. Now do lie down and shut your eyes. Keep them shut. There now.
And she laid a hand over his eyes and pressed it down tightly.
"I wish Doctor Green was here," said the wretched man. "He could give me something."
"Shall I go for him?"
"Go Fanny! Run over right quickly"
"But you won't keep in bed"
"Yes I will. There, now" And he drew the clothes over his face "There I'll lie just so until you come back. Now run Fanny, and don't stay a minute."
Scarcely stopping to think Mrs. Morgan went hurriedly from the room and drawing an old shawl over her head started with swift feet for the residence of Doctor Green which was not very far away. The kind doctor understood at a word the sad condition of her husband and promised to attend him immediately. Back she flew at even a wilder speed her heart throbbing with vague apprehension. Oh! what a fearful cry was that which smote her ears as she came within a few paces of home. She knew the voice, changed as it was by terror, and a shudder almost palsied her heart. At a single bound she cleared the intervening space and in the next moment was in the room where she had left her husband. But he was not there! With suspended breath, and feet that scarcely obeyed her will, she passed into the chamber where little Mary lay. Not here!
"Joe! husband!" she called in a faint voice.
"Here he is, mother." And now she saw that Joe had crept into the bed behind the sick child and that her arm was drawn tightly around his neck.
"You won't let them hurt me, will you dear?" said the pool frightened victim of a terrible mania.
"Nothing will hurt you father," answered Mary, in a voice that showed her mind to be clear, and fully conscious of her parent's true condition.
She had seen him thus before. Ah! what an experience for a child!
"You're an angel—my good angel, Mary," he murmured, in a voice yet trembling with fear "Pray for me, my child. Oh ask your father in heaven to save me from these dreadful creatures. There now!" he cried, rising up suddenly and looking toward the door. "Keep out! Go away! You can't come in here. This is Mary's room, and she's an angel. Ah, ha! I knew you wouldn't dare come in here—
"A single saint can put to flight Ten thousand blustering sons of night"
He added in a half wandering way yet with an assured voice, as he laid himself back upon his pillow and drew the clothes over his head.
"Poor father!" sighed the child as she gathered both arms about his neck! "I will be your good angel. Nothing shall hurt you here."
"I knew I would be safe where you were," he whispered—"I knew it, and so I came. Kiss me, love."
How pure and fervent was the kiss laid instantly upon his lips! There was a power in it to remand the evil influences that were surrounding and pressing in upon him like a flood. All was quiet now, and Mrs. Morgan neither by word nor movement disturbed the solemn stillness that reigned in the apartment. In a few minutes the deepened breathing of her husband gave a blessed intimation that he was sinking into sleep. Oh, sleep! sleep! How tearfully, in times past, had she prayed that he might sleep; and yet no sleep came for hours and days—even though powerful opiates were given—until exhausted nature yielded, and then sleep had a long, long struggle with death. Now the sphere of his loving, innocent child seemed to have overcome, at least for the time, the evil influences that were getting possession even of his external senses. Yes, yes, he was sleeping! Oh, what a fervent "Thank God!" went up from the heart of his stricken wife.