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The Broken Pledge by T. S. Arthur

 

"IT is two years, this very day, since I signed the pledge," remarked Jonas Marshall, a reformed drinker, to his wife, beside whom he sat one pleasant summer evening, enjoying the coolness and quiet of that calm hour.

"Two years! And is it, indeed, so long?" was the reply. "How swiftly time passes, when the heart is not oppressed with cape and sorrow!"

"To me, they have been the happiest of my life," resumed the husband. "How much do we owe to this blessed reformation!"

"Blessed, indeed, may it be called!" the wife said, with feeling.

"It seems scarcely possible, Jane, that one, who, like me, had become such a slave to intoxication, could have been reclaimed. I often think of myself, and wonder. A little over two years ago, I could no more control the intolerable desire for liquor that I felt, than I could fly. Now I have not the least inclination to touch, taste, or handle it."

"And I pray Heaven you may never again have!"

"That danger is past, Jane. Two years of total abstinence have completely changed the morbid craving once felt for artificial stimulus, into a natural and healthy desire for natural and healthy aliments."

"It would be dangerous for you even now, Jonas, to suffer a drop of liquor to pass your lips; do you not think so?"

"There would be no particular danger in my tasting liquor, I presume. The danger would be, as at first, in the use of it, until an appetite was formed." Marshall replied, in a tone of confidence.

"Then you think that old, inordinate craving for drink, has been entirely eradicated?"

"O yes, I am confident of it."

"And heartily glad am I to hear you say so. It doubles the guarantee for our own and children's happiness. The pledge to guard us on one side, and the total loss of all desire on the other, is surely a safe protection. I feel, that into the future I may now look, without a single painful anxiety on this account."

"Yes, Jane. Into the future you may look with hope. And as to the past, let it sink, with all its painful scenes,—its heart-aching trials, into oblivion."

Jonas Marshall and his young wife had, many years before the period in which the above conversation took place, entered upon the world with cheerful hopes, and a flattering promise of happiness. They were young persons of cultivated tastes, and had rather more of this world's goods than ordinarily falls to the lot of those just commencing life. A few years sufficed to dash all their hopes to the ground, and to fill the heart of the young wife with a sorrow that it seemed impossible for her to bear. Marshall, from habitual drinking of intoxicating liquors, found the taste for them fully confirmed before he dreamed of danger, and he had not the strength of character at once and for ever to abandon their use. Gradually he went down, down, slowly at first, but finally with a rapid movement, until he found himself stripped of everything, and himself a confirmed drunkard. For nearly two years longer, he surrendered himself up to drink—his wife and children suffering more than my pen can describe, or any but the drunkard's wife and drunkard's children realize.

Then came a new era. A friend of humanity sought out the poor, degraded wretch, in his misery and obscurity, and prevailed upon him to abandon his vile habits, and pledge himself to total abstinence. Two years from the day that pledge was signed, found him again rising in the world, with health, peace, and comfort, the cheerful inmates of his dwelling. Here is the brief outline of a reformed drinker's history. How many an imagination can fill in the dark shadows, and distinct, mournful features of the gloomy picture!

On the day succeeding the second anniversary of Jonas Marshall's reformation, he was engaged to dine with a few friends, and met them at the appointed hour. With the dessert, wine was introduced. Among the guests were one or two persons with whom Marshall had but recently become acquainted. They knew little or nothing of his former life. One of them sat next to him at table, and very naturally handed him the wine, with a request to drink with him.

"Thank you," was the courteous, but firm reply. "I do not drink wine."

Another, who understood the reason of this refusal, observing it, remarked—

"Our friend Marshall belongs to the tee-totallers."

"Ah, indeed! Then we must, of course, excuse him," was the gentlemanly response.

"Don't you think, Marshall," remarked another, "that you temperance men are a little too rigid in your entire proscription of wine?"

"For the reformed drinker," was the reply, "it is thought to be the safest way to cut off entirely everything that can, by possibility, inflame the appetite. Some argue, that when that morbid craving, which the drunkard acquires, is once formed, it never can be thoroughly eradicated."

"Do you think the position a true one?" asked a member of the party.

"I have my doubts of it," Marshall said. "For instance: Most of you know that for some years I indulged to excess in drink. Two years ago I abandoned the use of wine, brandy, and everything else of an intoxicating nature. For a time, I felt the cravings of an intense desire for liquor; but my pledge of total abstinence restrained me from any indulgence. Gradually, the influence of my old appetite subsided, until it ceased to be felt. And it is now more than a year since I have experienced the slightest inclination to touch a drop. Your wine and brandy are now, gentlemen, no temptation to me."

"But if that be the case," urged a friend, "why need you restrict yourself, so rigidly, from joining in a social glass? Standing, as you evidently do, upon the ground you occupied, before, by a too free indulgence, you passed, unfortunately, the point of self-control: you may now enjoy the good things of life without abusing them. Your former painful experience will guard you in that respect."

"I am not free to do so," replied Marshall.

"Why?"

"Because I have pledged myself never again to drink anything that can intoxicate, and confirmed that pledge by my sign-manual—thus giving it a double force and importance."

"What end had you in view in making that pledge?"

"The emancipation of myself from the horrible bondage in which I had been held for years."

"That end is accomplished."

"True. But the obligations of my pledge are perpetual."

"That is a mere figure of speech. You fully believed, I suppose, that perpetual total-abstinence was absolutely necessary for your safety?"

"I certainly did."

"You do not believe so now?"

"No. I have seen reason, I think, to change my views in that respect. The appetite which I believed would remain throughout life, and need the force of a solemn bond to restrain it, has, under the rigid discipline of two years, been destroyed. I now feel myself as much above the enslaving effects of intoxicating liquors, as I ever did in my life."

"Then, it is clear to my mind, that all the obligations of your pledge are fulfilled; and that, as a matter of course, it ceases to be binding."

"I should be very unwilling to violate that pledge."

"It would be, virtually, no violation."

"I cannot see it in that light," Marshall said, "although you may be perfectly correct. At any rate, I am not now willing to act up to your interpretation of the matter."

This declaration closed the argument, as his friends did not feel any strong desire to see him drink, and argued the matter with him as much for argument sake as anything else. In this they acted with but little true wisdom; for the particular form in which the subject was presented to the mind of Marshall, gave him something to think about and reason about. And the more he thought and reasoned, the more did he become dissatisfied with the restrictions under which he found himself placed. Not having felt, for many months, the least desire for liquor, he imagined that even the latent inclination which existed, as he readily supposed, for some time, had become altogether extinguished. There existed, therefore, in his estimation, now that he had begun to think over the matter, no good reason why he should abstain, totally, from wine, at least, on a social occasion.

The daily recurrence of such thoughts, soon began to worry his mind, until the pledge, that had for two years lain so lightly upon him, became a burden almost too intolerable to be borne.

"Why didn't I bind myself for a limited period?" he at last said, aloud, thus giving a sanction and confirmation by word of the thoughts that had been gradually forming themselves into a decision in his mind. No sooner had he said this, than the whole subject assumed a more distinct form, and a more imposing aspect in his view. He now saw clearly, what had not before seemed perfectly plain—what had been till then encompassed by doubts. He was satisfied that he had acted blindly when he pledged himself to total-abstinence.

"Three hundred signed the pledge last night," said his wife to him, a few weeks after the occurrence of the dinner-party, just mentioned.

"Three hundred! We are carrying everything before us."

"Who can tell," resumed the wife, "the amount of happiness involved in three hundred pledges to total-abstinence? There were, doubtless, many husbands and fathers among the number who signed. Now, there is joy in their dwellings. The fire, that long since went out, is again kindled upon their hearths. How deeply do I sympathize with the heart-stricken wives, upon whom day as again arisen, with a bright sun shining down from an unclouded sky!"

"It is, truly, to them, a new era—or the dawning of a new existence.—Most earnestly do I wish that the day had arrived, which I am sure will come, when not a single wife in the land will mourn over the wrong she suffers at the hand of a drunken husband."

"To that aspiration, I can utter a most devout amen," Mrs. Marshall rejoined, fervently.

"A few years of perseverance and well-directed energy, on our part, will effect all this, I allow myself fondly to hope, if we do not create a reaction by over-doing the matter."

"How, over-doing it?" asked the wife.

"There is a danger of over-doing it in many ways. And I am by no means sure that the pledge of perpetual abstinence is not an instance of this."

"The pledge of perpetual abstinence! Why, husband, what do you mean?"

"My remark seems to occasion surprise. But I think that I can make the truth of what I say apparent to your mind. The use of the pledge, you will readily admit, is to protect a man against the influence of a morbid thirst for liquor, which his own resolution is not strong enough to conquer."

"Well."

"So soon, then, as this end is gained, the use of the pledge ceases."

"Is it ever gained? Is a man who has once felt this morbid thirst, ever safe from it?"

"Most certainly do I believe that he is. Most certainly do I believe that a few years of total abstinence from everything that intoxicates, will place him on the precise ground that he occupied before the first drop of liquor passed his lips."

"I cannot believe this, Jonas. Whatever is once confirmed by habit, it seems to me, must be so incorporated into the mental and physical organization, as never to be eradicated. Its effect is to change, in a degree, the whole system, and to change it so thoroughly, as to give a bias to all succeeding states of mind and body—thus transmitting a tendency to come under the influence of that bias."

"You advance a thing, Jane, which will not hold good in practice. As, for instance, it is now two years since I tasted a drop of wine, brandy, or anything else of a like nature. If your theory were true, I should still feel a latent desire, at times, to drink again. But this is not the case. I have not the slightest inclination. The sight, or even the smell of wine, does not produce the old desire, which it would inevitably do, if it were only quiescent—not extirpated—as I am confident that it is."

"And this is the reason why you think the pledge should not be perpetual?"

"It is. Why should there be an external restraint imposed upon a mere nonentity? It is absurd!"

"Granting, for the sake of argument, the view you take, in regard to the extirpation of the morbid desire, which, however, I cannot see to be true," Mrs. Marshall said, endeavouring to seem unconcerned, notwithstanding the position assumed by her husband troubled her instinctively,—"it seems to me, that there still exists a good reason why the pledge should be perpetual."

"What is that, Jane?"

"If a man has once been led off by a love of drink, when no previous habit had been formed, there exists, at least, the same danger again, if liquor be used;—and if it should possibly be true that the once formed desire, if subdued, is latent—not eradicated—the danger is quadrupled."

"I do not see the force of what you say," the husband replied. "To me, it seems, that the very fact that he had once fallen, and the remembrance of its sad consequences, would be a sure protection against another lapse from sobriety."

"It may all be so," Mrs. Marshall said, in a voice that conveyed a slight evidence of the sudden shadow that had fallen upon her heart. And then ensued a silence of more than a minute. The wife then remarked in an inquiring tone—

"Then, if I understand you rightly, you think that the pledge should be binding only for a limited time?"

"I do."

"How long?"

"From one to two years. Two, at the farthest, would be sufficient, I am fully convinced, to restore any man, to the healthy tone of mind and body that he once possessed. And then, the recollection of the past would be an all-sufficient protection for the future."

Seeing that the husband was confirming himself more and more in the dangerous position that he had assumed, Mrs. Marshall said no more. Painfully conscious was she, from a knowledge of his peculiar character, that, if the idea now floating in his mind should become fixed by a rational confirmation, it would lead to evil consequences. From that moment, she began eagerly to cast about in her mind for the means of setting him right,—means that should fully operate, without her apparent agency. But one way presented itself,—(argument, she was well aware, as far as it was possible for her to enter into it with him, would only set his mind the more earnestly in search of reason, to prove the correctness of his assumed positions,)—and that was to induce him to attend more frequently the temperance meetings, and listen to the addresses and experiences there given.

"Come, dear," she said to him, after tea, a few evenings subsequent to the time Marshall had begun to urge his objections to the pledge. "I want you to go with me to-night to this great temperance meeting. Mr.—is going to make an address, and I wish to hear him very much."

"It will be so crowded, Jane, that you will not have the least satisfaction," objected her husband—"and, besides, the evening is very warm."

"But I don't mind that, Jonas. I am very anxious to hear Mr.—speak."

"I am sorry, Jane," Marshall said, after the silence of a few moments. "But I recollect, now, that I promised Mr. Patton to call down and see him this evening. There are to be a few friends there, and he wished me, particularly, to meet them."

Poor Mrs. Marshall's countenance fell at this, and the tears gathered in her eyes.

"So, then, you won't go with me to the temperance meeting," she said, in a disappointed tone.

"I should like to do so, Jane," was the prevaricating reply, "but you see that it is out of my power, without breaking my promise, which you would not, of course, have me do."

"O, no, of course not."

"You can go, Jane. I will leave you at the door, and call for you when the meeting is out."

"No, I do not feel like going, now I should have enjoyed it with you by my side. But to go alone would mar all the pleasure."

"But surely that need not be, Jane. You know that I cannot be always with you."

"No, of course not," was uttered, mechanically; and then followed a long silence.

"So you will not go," Marshall at length said.

"I should not enjoy the meeting, and therefore do not wish to go," his wife replied.

"I am sorry for it, but cannot help it now, for I should not feel right were I not to comply with my promise."

"I do not wish you to break it, of course. For a promise should ever be kept sacred," Mrs. Marshall said, with a strong emphasis on the latter sentence.

This emphasis did not escape the notice of her husband, who felt that it was meant, as it really was, to apply to his state of mind in regard to the pledge. For it was a fact, which the instinctive perception of his wife had detected, that he had begun, seriously, to argue in his own mind, the question, whether, under the circumstances of the case, seeing, that, in taking the pledge, the principle of protection was alone considered, he was any longer bound by it. He did not, however, give expression to the thoughts that he had at the time. The subject of conversation was changed, and, in the course of half an hour, he left to fulfil his engagement, which had not, in reality, been a positive one. As he closed the door after him, Mrs. Marshall experienced a degree of loneliness, and a gloomy depression of feeling, that she could not fully account for, though she could not but acknowledge that, for a portion of it, there existed too certain a cause, in the strange and dangerous position her husband had taken in regard to the pledge.

As Marshall emerged from his dwelling, and took his way towards the friend's house, where he expected to meet a select company, his mind did not feel perfectly at ease. He had partly deceived his wife in reference to the positive nature of the engagement, and had done so in order to escape from an attendance on a temperance meeting. This did not seem right. There was, also, a consciousness in his mind that it would be extremely hazardous to throw off the restraints of his pledge, at the same time that a resolution was already half formed to do so. The agitation of mind occasioned by this conflict continued until he arrived at his friend's door, and then, as he joined the pleasant company within, it all subsided.

"A hearty welcome, Marshall!" said the friend, grasping his hand and shaking it warmly. "We were really afraid that we should not have the pleasure of your good society. But right glad am I, that, with your adherence to temperance men and temperance principles, you do not partake of the exclusive and unsocial character that so many assume."

"I regard my friends with the same warm feelings that I ever did," Marshall replied,—"and love to meet them as frequently."

"That is right. We are social beings, and should cultivate reciprocal good-feelings. But don't you think, Marshall, that some of you temperance folks carry matters too far?"

"Certainly I do. As, for instance, I consider this binding of a man to perpetual total-abstinence, as an unnecessary infringement of individual liberty. As I look upon it, the use of the pledge, is to enable a man, by the power of an external restraint, to gain the mastery over an appetite that has mastered him. When that is accomplished, all that is wanted is obtained: of what use is the pledge after that?"

"Very true," was the encouraging reply.

"A man," resumed Marshall, repeating the argument he had used to his wife, which now seemed still more conclusive, "has only to abstain for a year or two from liquor to have the morbid craving for it which over-indulgence had created, entirely eradicated. Then he stands upon safe ground, and may take a social glass, occasionally, with his friends, without the slightest danger. To bind himself up, then, to perpetual abstinence, seems not only useless, but a real infringement of individual liberty."

"So it presents itself to my mind," rejoined one of the company.

"I feel it to be so in my case," was the reply of the reformed man to this, thus going on to invite temptation, instead of fleeing from it.

"Certainly, if I were the individual concerned," remarked one of the company, "I should not be long in breaking away from such arbitrary restrictions."

"How would you get over the fact of having signed the pledge?" asked Marshall, with an interest that he dared not acknowledge to himself.

"Easy enough," was the reply.

"How?"

"On the plea that I was deceived into signing such a pledge."

"How deceived?"

"Into a belief that it was the only remedy in my case. There is no moral law binding any man to a contract entered into ignorantly. The fact of ignorance, in regard to the fundamental principles of an agreement, vitiates it. Is not that true?"

"It certainly is," was the general reply to this question.

"Then you think," said Marshall, after reflecting for a few moments, "that no moral responsibility would attach to me, for instance, if I were to act independently of my pledge?"

"Certainly none could attach," was the general response; "provided, of course, that the end of that pledge was fully attained."

"Of that there can be no doubt," was the assumption of the reformed man. "The end was, to save me from the influence of an appetite for drink, against which, in my own strength, I could not contend. That end is now accomplished. Two years of total abstinence has made me a new man. I now occupy the same ground that I occupied before I lost my self-control."

"Then I can see no reason why you should be denied the social privilege of a glass with your friends," urged one of the company.

"Nor can I see it clearly," Marshall said. "Still I feel that a solemn pledge, made more solemn and binding by the subscription of my name, is not a thing to be lightly broken. The thought of doing so troubles me, when I seriously reflect upon it."

"It seems to me that, were I in your place," gravely remarked one of the company, heretofore silent, "I would not break my pledge without fully settling two points—if it is possible for you, or any other man, under like circumstances, to settle them."

"What are they?" asked Marshall, with interest.

"They are the two most prominent points in your case;—two that have already been introduced here to-night. One involves the question, whether you are really free from the influence of your former habits?"

"I have not a single doubt in regard to that point," was the positive reply.

"I do not see, Mr. Marshall, how it is possible for you to settle it beyond a doubt," urged the friend. "To me, it is not philosophically true that the power of habit is ever entirely destroyed. All subsequent states of body or mind, I fully believe, are affected and modified by what has gone before, and never lose the impression of preceding states,—and more particularly of anything like an overmastering habit—or rather, I should say, in this case, of an overmastering affection. The love, desire, or affection, whichever you may choose to call it, which you once felt for intoxicating drinks, or for the effects produced by them, never could have existed in the degree that they did, without leaving on your mind—which is a something far more real and substantial than this material body, which never loses the marks and scars of former abuse—ineradicable impressions. The forms of old habits, if this be true, and that it so, I fully believe, still remain; and these forms are in the endeavour, if I may so speak, to be filled with the affections that once made them living and active. Rigidly exclude everything that can excite these, and you are safe;—but, to me it seems, that no experiment can be so dangerous, as one which will inevitably produce in these forms a vital activity."

"That, it seems to me," was the reply of one of the company, "is a little too metaphysical—or rather, I should say, transcendental—for, certainly, it transcends my powers of reasoning to be able to see how any permanent forms, as you call them, can be produced in the mind, as in the body—the one being material, and the other immaterial, and, therefore, no more susceptible of lasting impressions, than the air around us."

"You have not, I presume, given much thought to this subject," the previous speaker said, "or you would not doubt, so fully, the truth of my remark. The power of habit, a fact of common observance, which is nothing but a fixed form of the mind, illustrates it. And, certainly, if the mind retained impressions no better than the air around us, we should remember but little of what we learned in early years."

"I see," was the reply to this, "that my remark was too broad. Still, the memory of a thing is very different from a permanent and inordinate desire to do something wrong, remaining as a latent principle in the mind, and ready to spring into activity years afterwards, upon the slightest provocation."

"It certainly is a different thing; and if it be really so, its establishment is a matter of vital importance. In regard to reformed drinkers, there has been much testimony in proof of the position. I have heard several men relate their experiences; and all have said that time and again had they resolved to conquer the habit that was leading them on headlong to destruction; and that they had, on more than one occasion, abstained for months. But that, so soon as they again put liquor to their lips, the old desire came back for it, stronger and more uncontrollable than before."

"That was, I presume," Marshall remarked, "because they had not abstained long enough."

"One man, I remember to have heard say, that he did not at one period of his life use any kind of intoxicating drink for three years. He then ventured to take a glass of cider, and was drunk and insensible before night! And what was worse, did not again rise superior to his degradation for years."

"I should call that an, extreme case," urged the infatuated man. "There must have been with him a hereditary propensity. His father was, doubtless, a drunkard before him."

"As to that, I know nothing, and should not be willing to assume the fact as a practical principle,"—the friend replied. "But there is another point that ought to be fully settled."

"What is that?"

"No one can, without seriously injuring himself, morally, violate a solemn pledge—particularly, as you have justly said, a pledge made more binding and solemn, by act and deed, in the sign-manual. A man may verbally pledge himself to do or not to do a thing. To violate this pledge deliberately, involves moral consequences to himself that are such as almost any one would shrink from incurring. But when a man gives to any pledge or contract a fulness and a confirmation by the act of subscribing his name to it, and then deliberately violates that pledge or contract, he necessarily separates himself still further from the saving power of good principles and influences than in the other case, and comes more fully under the power of evil principles and evil influences. After such an act, that man's state is worse, far worse than it was before. I speak strongly and earnestly on this subject, because I feel deeply its importance. And I would say to our friend Marshall here, as I would say to my own brother, let these two points be fully settled before you venture upon dangerous ground. Be sure that the latent desire for stimulating drinks is fully eradicated—and be certain that your pledge can be set aside without great moral injury to yourself, before you take the first step towards its violation, which may be a step fraught with the most fatal consequences to yourself and family."

This unlooked-for and serious turn which the discussion assumed, had the effect to make Marshall hesitate to do what he had too hastily made his mind up that he might venture upon without the slightest danger. It also furnished reasons to the company why they should not urge him to drink. The result was, that he escaped through all the temptations of the evening, which would have overcome him, inevitably, had his own inclination found a general voice of encouragement.

But none of the strong arguments why he should not again run madly into the way of evil, which had been so opportunely and unexpectedly urged, had the effect to keep his eye off of the decanters and brim-full glasses that circulated far too freely;—nor to prevent the sight of them from exciting in his mind a strong, almost unconquerable desire, to join with the rest. This very desire ought to have warned him—it should have caused him to tremble and flee away as if a raging wild beast had stood in his path. But it did not. He deceived himself by assuming (sic) hat the desire which he felt to drink with his friends arose from his love of sociality, not of wine.

The evening was lonely and long to Mrs. Marshall, and there was a shadow over her feelings that she endeavoured in vain to dispel. Her husband's knock, which came between ten and eleven o'clock, and for which she had been listening anxiously for at least an hour, made her heart bound and tremble, producing a feeling of weakness and oppression. As she opened the door for him, it was with a vague fear. This was instantly dispelled by his first affectionate word uttered in steady tones. He was still himself! Still as he had been for the blessed two years that had just gone by!

"What is the matter, Jane? You look troubled," the husband remarked, after he had seated himself, and observed his wife's appearance.

"Do I?—If so, it is because I have felt troubled this evening."

"Why were you troubled, Jane?"

"That question I can hardly answer, either to your satisfaction or my own," Mrs. Marshall said. "From some cause or other, my feelings have been strangely depressed this evening; and I have experienced, besides, a consciousness of coming misery, that has cast a shadow over my spirits, even now but half dispelled."

"But why is all this, Jane? There must be some cause for such a change in your feelings."

"I know but one cause, dear husband!" Mrs. Marshall said, in a voice of deep tenderness, laying her hand upon her husband's arm as she spoke, and looking him in the face with an expression of earnest affection.

"Speak out plainly, Jane. What is the cause?"

"Do not be offended, Jonas, when I tell you, that I have not been so overcome by such gloomy feelings since that happy day when you signed the pledge, as I have been this evening. The cause of these feelings lies in the fact of your having become dissatisfied with that pledge. I tremble, lest, in some unguarded moment, under the assurance that old habits are conquered, you may be persuaded to cast aside that impassable barrier, which has protected your home and little ones for so long and happy a time."

"You are weak and foolish, Jane," her husband said, in a half-offended tone.

"In many things I know that I am," was Mrs. Marshall's reply, "but not in this. A wife who loves her husband and children as tenderly as I do mine, cannot but tremble when fears are suddenly awakened that the footsteps of a deadly enemy are approaching her peaceful dwelling."

"Such an enemy is not drawing nigh to your dwelling, Jane."

"Heaven grant that it may not be so!" was the solemn ejaculation.

"To this, Marshall felt no inclination to reply. He had already said enough in regard to his pledge to awaken the fears of his wife, and to call forth from her expressions of strong opposition to his views of the nature of his obligation. His silence tended, in no degree, to quiet her troubled feelings.

On the next morning, Marshall was thoughtful and silent. After breakfast, he went out to attend to business, as usual. As he closed the door after him, his wife heaved a deep sigh, lifted her eyes upwards, and prayed silently, but fervently, that her husband might be kept from evil. And well might she thus pray, for he needed support and sustenance in the conflict that was going on in his bosom—a conflict far more vigorous than was dreamed of by the wife. He had invited temptation, and now he was in the midst of a struggle, that would end in a more perfect emancipation of himself from the demon-vice that had once ruled him with a rod of iron, or in his being cast down to a lower depth of wretchedness and misery than that out of which he had arisen. In this painful struggle he stood not alone. Good spirits clustered around him, anxiously interested in his fate, and endeavouring to sustain his faltering purposes; and evil spirits were also nigh, infusing into his mind reasons for the abandonment of his useless pledge. It was a period in his history full of painful interest. Heaven was moving forward to aid and rescue him, and hell to claim another victim. But neither the one nor the other could act upon him for good or for evil, except through his own volition. It was for him to turn himself to the one, and live, or to the other, and die.

So intense was this struggle, that, after he had entered his place of business, he remained there for only a short time, unable to fix his mind upon anything out of himself, or to bid the tempest in his mind "be still." Going out into the street, he turned his steps he knew not whither. He had moved onwards but a few paces, when the thought of home and his children came up in his mind, accompanied by a strong desire to go back to his dwelling—a feeling that required a strong effort to resist. The moment he had effectually resisted it, and resolved not to go home, his eye fell upon the tempting exposure of liquors in a bar-room, near which he happened to be passing. At the same instant, it seemed as if a strong hand were upon him, urging him towards the open door.

"No—no—no!" he said, half aloud, hurrying forward, "I am not prepared for that. And yet, what a fool I am," he continued, "to suffer myself thus to be agitated! Why not come to some decision, and end this uncertain, painful state at once? But what shall I do? How shall I decide?"

"To keep your pledge," a voice, half audible, seemed to say.

"And be for ever restless under it,—for ever galled by its slavish chains," another voice urged, instantly.

"Yes," he said, "that is the consequence which makes me hesitate. Fool—fool—not to have taken a pledge for a limited period! I was deceived—tricked into an act that my sober reason condemns! And should I now be held by that act? No!—no!—no! The voice of reason says no! And I will not!"

As he said this, he turned about, and walked with a firm, deliberate step, towards the bar-room he had passed but a few moments before, entered it, called for a glass of wine, and drank it off.

"Now I am a free man!" he said, as he turned away, and proceeded towards his place of business, with an erect bearing.

He had not gone far, however, before he felt a strong desire for another glass of wine, unaccompanied by any thought or fear of danger. From the moment he had placed the forbidden draught to his lips, the struggle in his mind had ceased, and a great calm succeeded to a wild conflict of opposite principles and influences. He felt happy, and doubly assured that he had taken a right step. A second glass of wine succeeded the first, and then a third, before he returned to his place of business. These gave to the tone of his spirits a very perceptible elevation, but threw over his mind a veil of confusion and obscurity, of which, however, he was not conscious. An hour only had passed after his return to business, before he again went out, and seeking an obscure drinking-house, where his entrance would not probably be observed, he called for a glass of punch, and then retired into one of the boxes, where it was handed to him. Its fragrance and flavour, as he placed it to his lips, were delightful—so delightful, that it seemed to him a concentration of all exquisite perceptions of the senses.

Another was soon called for, and then another and another, each one stealing away more and more of distinct consciousness, until at last he sunk forward on the table before which he had seated himself, perfectly lost to all consciousness of external things!

Gladly would the writer draw a veil over all that followed that insane violation of a solemn pledge, sealed as it had been by the hand-writing of confirmation. But he cannot do it. The truth, and the whole truth needs to be told,—the beacon-light must be raised on the gloomy shores of destruction, as a warning to the thoughtless or careless navigator.

Sadder and more wretched was the heart of Mrs. Marshall during the morning of that day, than it had been on the evening before. There was an overwhelming sense of impending danger in her mind, that she could not dissipate by any mode of reasoning with herself. As her children came about her, she would look upon them with an emotion of yearning tenderness, while her eyes grew dim with tears. And then she would look up, and breathe a heart-felt prayer that He who tempereth the winds to the shorn lamb, would regard her little ones.

The failure of her husband to return at the dinner hour, filled her with trembling anxiety. Not once during two years had he been absent from home without her being perfectly aware of the cause. Its occurrence just at this crisis was a confirmation of her vague fears, and made her sick at heart. Slowly did the afternoon pass away, and at last the hour came for his return in the evening. But though she looked for his approaching form, and listened for the well-known sound of his footsteps, he did not come.

Anxiety and trembling uncertainty now gave way to an overwhelming alarm. Hurriedly were her children put to bed, and then she went out to seek for him, she knew not whither. To the store in which he had become a partner, she first turned her steps. It was closed as she had feared. Pausing for a few moments to determine where next to proceed, she concluded to go to the house of his partner, and learn from him if he had been to the store that day, and at what time. On her way to his dwelling, she passed down a small street, in which were several drinking-houses, hid away there to catch the many who are not willing to be seen entering a tavern.

In approaching one of these, loud voices within, and the sound of a scuffle, alarmed her. She was about springing forward to run, when the door was suddenly thrown open, and a man dashed out, who fell with a violent concussion upon the pavement, close by her feet. Something about his appearance, dark as it was, attracted her eye. She stooped down, and laid her hand upon him. It was her husband!

A wild scream, that rung upon the air,—a scream which the poor heart-stricken creature could not have controlled if her life had been the forfeit—brought instant assistance. Marshall was taken into a neighbouring house, and a physician called, who, on making an examination, said that a serious injury might, or might not have taken place—he could not tell. One thing, however, was certain, the man was beastly drunk.

O, with what a chill did that last sentence fall upon the ear of his wife! It was the death-knell to all the fond hopes she had cherished for two peaceful years. For a moment she leaned her head against the wall near which she was standing, and wished that she could die. But thoughts of her children, and thoughts of duty roused her.

A carnage was procured and her husband conveyed home, and then, after he had been laid upon a bed, she was left alone with him, and her own sad reflections. It was, to her, a sleepless night—but full of waking dreams, whose images of fear made her heart tremble and shrink, and long for the morning.

Morning at last came. How eagerly did the poor wife bend over the still unconscious form of her husband, reading each line of his features, as the pale light that came in at the windows gave distinctness to every object! He still breathed heavily, and there was an expression of pain on his countenance. A double cause for anxiety and alarm, pressed upon the heart of Mrs. Marshall. She knew not how serious an injury his fall might have occasioned,—nor how utter might be his abandonment of himself, now that he had broken his solemn pledge. As she bent over him in doubt, pain, and anxiety, he suddenly awoke, and, without moving, looked her for a moment steadily in the face, with a glance of earnest inquiry. Then came a distinct recollection of his violated pledge; but all after that was only dimly seen, or involved in wild confusion. His bodily sensations told him but too plainly how deep had been his fall: and the intolerable desire, that seemed as if it were consuming his very vitals, was to him a sad evidence that he had fallen, never, he feared, to rise again. All this passed through his mind in a moment, and he closed his eyes, and turned his face away from the earnest, and now tearful gaze of his wife.

"How do you feel, Jonas?" Mrs. Marshall inquired, tenderly, modifying her tones, so as not to permit them to convey to his ear the exquisite pain that she felt. But he made no reply.

"Say, dear, how do you feel?" she urged, laying her hand upon him, and pausing for an answer.

"As if I were in hell!" he shouted, springing suddenly from the bed, and beginning to dress himself, hurriedly.

"O, husband, do not speak so!" Mrs. Marshall said, in a soothing tone. "All may be well again. One sin need not bring utter condemnation. Let this be the last, as it has been the first, violation of your pledge. Let this warn you against the removal of that salutary restraint, which has been as a wall of fire around you for years."

"Jane!" responded the irritated man, pausing, and looking at his wife, fixedly, while there sat upon his face an expression of terrible despair; "that pledge can never be renewed! It would be like binding a giant with a spider's web. I am lost! lost! lost! The eager, inexpressible desire that now burns within me, cannot be controlled. The effort to do so would drive me mad. I must drink, or die. And you, my poor wife!—and you, my children! what will become of you? Who will give you sufficient strength to bear your dreadful lot?"

As he said this, his voice fell to a low and mournful, despairing expression—and he sunk into a chair, covering his face with his hands.

"Dear husband!" urged his wife, coming to his side, and drawing her arm around his neck, "do not thus give way! Let the love I have ever borne you, and which is stronger and more tender at this moment than it has ever been—let the love you feel for your dear little ones, give you strength to conquer. Be a man! Nerve yourself, and look upwards for strength, and you must conquer."

"No—no—no—Jane!" the poor wretch murmured, shaking his head, mournfully. "Do not deceive your heart by false hopes, for they will all be in vain. I cannot look up. The heavens have become as brass to me. I have forfeited all claim to success from above. As I lifted the fatal glass to my lips, I heard a voice, whose tones were as distinct as yours—'Let us go hence!' and from that moment, I have been weak and unsustained in the hands of my enemies. I am a doomed man!"

As he said this, a shrinking shudder passed through his frame, and he groaned aloud. The silence that then reigned through the chamber was as appalling as the silence of death to the heart of Mrs. Marshall. It was broken at length by her husband, who looked up with an expression of tenderness in her face, as she still stood with her hand upon him, and said—

"Jane, my dear wife! let me say to you now, while I possess my full senses, which I know not that I ever shall again, that you have been true and kind to me, and that I have ever loved you with an earnest love. Bear with me in my infirmity;—if, amid the grief, and wrong, and suffering, which must fall upon you and your children, you can bear with the miserable cause of all your wretchedness. I shall not long remain, I feel, to be a burden and a curse to you. My downward course will be rapid, and its termination will soon come!"

A gush of tears followed this, and then came a stern silence, that chilled the heart of Mrs. Marshall. She longed to urge still further upon her husband to make an effort to restrain the intense desire he felt, but could not. There seemed to be a seal upon her lips. Slowly she turned away to attend to her little ones, upon whom she now looked with something of that hopelessness which the widow feels, as she turns from the grave of her husband, and looks upon her fatherless children.

With a strong effort, Marshall remained in the house until breakfast was on the table. But he could only sip a little coffee, and soon arose, and lifted his hat to go out. His wife was by his side, as he laid his hand on the door.

"Jonas," she said, while the tears sprang to her eyes, "remember me—remember your children!" She could say no more; sobs choked her utterance—and she leaned her head, weak and desponding, upon his shoulder.

Her husband made no reply, but gently placed her in a chair, kissed her cheek, and then turned hastily away, and left the house.

It was many minutes before Mrs. Marshall found strength to rise, and then she staggered across the room, like one who had been stunned by a blow. We will not attempt the vain task of describing her feelings through that terrible day;—of picturing the alternate states of hope and deep despondency, that now made her heart bound with a lighter emotion,—and now caused it to sink low, and almost pulseless, in her bosom. It passed away at last, and brought the gloomy night—fall—but not her husband's return. Eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve o'clock came, and went, and still he was absent.

For an hour she had been seated by the window, listening for the sound of his approaching footsteps. As the clock struck twelve, she started, listened for a moment still more intently, and then arose with a deep sigh, her manner indicating a state of irresolution. First she went softly to the bed, and stood looking down for some moments upon the faces of her little ones, sleeping calmly and sweetly, all unconscious of the anguish that swelled their mother's heart almost to bursting. Then she raised her head, and again assumed a listening attitude. An involuntary sigh told that she had listened in vain. A few moments after she was aroused from a state of deep abstraction of thought, by a strong shudder passing through her frame, occasioned by some fearful picture which her excited imagination had conjured up. She now went hastily to a wardrobe, and took out her bonnet and shawl. One more glance at her children, told her that they were sleeping soundly. In the next minute she was in the street, bending her steps she knew not whither, in search of her husband.

Almost involuntarily, Mrs. Marshall took her way towards that portion of the city where she had, on the night previous, unexpectedly found him. It was not longer before she paused by the door at the same drinking-house from which her husband had been thrust, when he fell, almost lifeless, at her feet. Although it was past twelve o'clock, the sound of many voices came from within, mingled with wild excitement, and boisterous mirth.

Now came a severe trial for her shrinking, sensitive feelings. How could she, a woman, and alone, enter such a place, at such an hour, on such an errand? The thought caused a sensation of faintness to pass over her, and she leaned for a moment against the side of the door to keep from falling. But affection and thoughts of duty quickly aroused her, and resolutely keeping down every weakness, she placed her hand upon the door, which yielded readily to even her light hand, and in the next moment found herself in the presence of about a dozen men, all more or less intoxicated. Their loud, insane mirth was instantly checked by her entrance. They were all men who were in the habit of mingling daily in good society, and more than one of them knew Marshall, and instantly recognised his wife. No rudeness was, of course, offered her. On the contrary, two or three came forward, and kindly inquired, though they guessed too well, her errand there at such an hour.

"Has my husband been here to-night, Mr.—?" she asked, in a choking voice, of one whose countenance she instantly recognised.

"I have not met with him, Mrs. Marshall," was the reply, in a kind, sympathizing tone, "but I will inquire if any one here has seen him."

These inquiries were made, and then Mr.—came forward again, and said, in a low tone,

"Come with me, Mrs. Marshall."

As the two emerged into the street, Mr.—said,

"I would not, if I were you, madam, attempt to look further for your husband. I have just learned that he is safe and well, only a little overcome, by having, accidentally, I have no doubt, drunken a little too freely. In the, morning he will come home, and all will, I trust, be right again."

"What you say, I know, is meant in kindness, Mr.—," Mrs. Marshall replied, in a firmer tone, the assurance that her husband was at least safe from external danger, being some relief to her, "but I would rather see my husband, and have him taken home. Home is the best place for him, under any circumstances—and I am the most fitting one to attend to him. Will you, then, do me the favour to procure a hack, and go with me to the place where he is to be found?"

Mr.—saw that in the manner and tone of Mrs. Marshall which made him at once resolve to do as she wished him. The hack was procured, into which both entered. Directions were given, in a low tone, to the driver, and then they rattled away over the resounding pavement, for a space of time that seemed very long to the anxious wife. At last the hack stopped, the door was opened, and the steps thrown down. When Mrs. Marshall descended, she found herself in a narrow, dark street, before a low, dirty-looking tavern, the windows and doors of which had been closed for the night.

While Mr.—was knocking loudly for admission, her eyes, growing familiar with the darkness, saw something lying partly upon the street and partly upon the pavement a few yards from her, that grew more and more distinct, the more intently she looked at it. Advancing a few steps, she saw that it was the body of a man,—a few paces further, revealed to her eyes the form of her husband. An exclamation of surprise and alarm brought both Mr.—and the hack-driver to her side.

In attempting to raise Marshall to his feet, he groaned heavily, and writhed with a sensation of pain. Something dark upon the pavement attracted the eye of his wife. She touched it with her hand, to which it adhered, with a moist, oily feeling. Hurrying to the lamp in front of the hack, with a feeling of sudden alarm, she lifted her hand so that the light could fall upon it. It was covered with blood!

With a strong effort, she kept down the sudden impulse that she felt to utter a wild scream, and went back to Mr.—and communicated to him the alarming fact she had discovered. Marshall was at once laid gently down upon the pavement, and a light procured, which showed that his pantaloons, above, below, and around the knees, were saturated with blood.

"O, Mr.—! what can be the matter?" Mrs. Marshall said, in husky tones, looking up, with a face blanched to an ashy paleness.

"Some passing vehicle has, no doubt, run over him—but I trust that he is not much hurt. Remain here with him, until I can procure assistance, and have him taken home."

"O, sir, go quickly!" the poor wife replied, in earnest tones.

In a short time, four men, with a litter, were procured, upon which Marshall, now groaning, as if acutely conscious of pain, was placed, and slowly conveyed home. A surgeon reached the house as soon as the party accompanying the injured man. An examination showed that his legs had been broken just above the knees. And one of them had the flesh dreadfully torn and bruised, and both were crushed as if run over by some heavy vehicle. A still further examination showed the fracture to be compound, and extensive; but, fortunately, the knee joint had entirely escaped. Already the limbs had swollen very considerably, exhibiting a rapidly increasing inflammation. This was a natural result flowing from the large quantity of alcohol which he had evidently been taking through the day and evening.

Fortunately, notwithstanding the morbid condition of his body, and the nature and extent of the injury he had sustained, the vital system of Marshall, unexhausted by a long-continued series of physical abuse from drinking, rallied strongly against the violent inflammation that followed the setting of the bones, and dressing of the wounds, and threw off the too apparent tendency to mortification that continued, much to the anxiety of the surgeon, for many days. During this time, he suffered almost incessant pain—frequently of an excruciating character. The severity of this pain entirely destroyed all desire for intoxicating drink. This desire, however, gradually began to return, as the pain, which accompanied the knitting of the bones, subsided. But he did not venture to ask for it, and, of course, it was not offered to him.

With the most earnest attentions, and the tenderest solicitude, did Mrs. Marshall wait and watch by the bedside of her husband, both day and night, wearing down her own strength, and neglecting her children.

At the end of three weeks, he had so far recovered, as to be able to sit up, and to bear a portion of his weight. As fear for the consequences of the injury her husband had received, began to fade from the mind of Mrs. Marshall, another fear took possession of it—a heart-sickening fear, under which her spirit grew faint. There was no pledge to bind him, and his newly-awakened desire for liquor, she felt sure would bear him away inevitably, notwithstanding the dreadful lesson he had received.

About this time, however, two or three of his temperance friends, who had heard of his fall, came to see him. This encouraged her, especially as they soon began to urge him again to sign the pledge;—but he would not consent.

"It is useless," was his steady reply, to all importunities, and made usually, in a mournful tone, "for me to sign another pledge. Having broken one, wilfully and deliberately, I have no power to keep another. I am conscious of this—and, therefore, am resolved not to stain my soul with another sin."

"But you can keep it. I am sure you can," one friend, more importunate than the rest, would repeatedly urge. "You broke your first pledge, deliberately, because you believed that you were freed from the old desire, even in a latent form. Satisfied, from painful experience, that this is not the case, you will not again try so dangerous an experiment."

But Marshall would shake his head, sadly, in rejection of all arguments and persuasions.

"It may all seem easy enough for you," he would sometimes say, "who have never broken a solemn pledge; but you know not how utter a destruction of internal moral power such an act, deliberately done, effects. I am not the man I was, before I so wickedly violated that solemn compact made between myself and heaven—for so I now look upon it. While I kept my pledge, I had the sustaining power of heaven to bear me safely up against all temptations;—but since the very moment it was broken, I have had nothing but my own strength to lean upon, and that has proved to be no better than a broken reed, piercing me through with many sorrows."

To such declarations, in answer to arguments, and sometimes earnest entreaties made by his friends to induce him to renew his pledge, Mrs. Marshall would listen in silence, but with a sinking, sickening sensation of mind and body. All and more than she could say, was said to him, but he resisted every appeal—and what good could her weak persuasions and feeble admonitions do?

Day after day passed on, and Marshall gradually gained more use of his limbs. In six weeks, he could walk without the aid of his crutches.

"I think I must try and get down to the store to-morrow," he said, to his wife, about this time. "This is a busy season, and I can be of some use there for two or three hours, every day."

"I don't think I would venture out yet," Mrs. Marshall said, looking at him, with an anxious, troubled expression of countenance, that she tried in vain to conceal.

"Why not, Jane?"

"I don't think you are strong enough, dear."

"O, yes, I am. And, besides, it will do me good to go out and take the fresh air. You know that it is now six weeks since I have been outside of the front door."

"I know it has. But—"

"But what, Jane?"

"You know what I would say, Jonas. You know the terrible fear that rests upon my heart like a night-mare."

And Mrs. Marshall covered her face with her hands, and gave way to tears.

A long silence followed this. At length Marshall said,

"I hope, Jane, that I shall be able to restrain myself. I am, at least, resolved to try."

"O, husband, if you will only try!" Mrs. Marshall ejaculated eagerly, lifting her tearful eyes, and looking him with an appealing expression in the face—"If you will only try!"

"I will try, Jane. But do not feel too much confidence in my effort. I am weak—so weak that I tremble when I think of it—and remember what an almost irresistible influence I have to contend with."

"Why not take the pledge, again, Jonas?" said his wife, for the first time she had urged that recourse upon him.

"You have heard my reasons given for that, over and over again."

"I know I have. But they never satisfied me."

"You would not have me add the sin of a double violation of a solemn pledge to my already overburdened conscience?"

"No, Jonas. Heaven forbid!"

"The fear of that restrains me. I dare not again take it."

"Do you not deeply repent of your first violation?" the wife asked, after a few moments of earnest thought. "Heaven knows how deeply."

"And Heaven, that perceives and knows the depth and sincerity of that repentance, accepts it according to its quality. And just so far as Heaven accepts the sincere offering of a repentant heart, conscious of its own weakness, and mourning over its derelictions, is strength given for combat in future temptations. The bruised reed he will not break, nor quench the smoking flax. Hope, then, dear husband! you are not cast off—you are not rejected by Heaven."

"O, Jane, if I could feel the truth of what you. say, how happy I should be!—For the idea of sinking again into that hopeless, abandoned, wretched condition, out of which this severe affliction has lifted me, as by the hair of the head, is appalling!" was the reply, to his wife's earnest appeal.

"Trust me, dear husband,—there is truth in what I say. He who came down to man's lowest, and almost lost condition, that he might raise him up, and sustain him against the assaults of his worst enemies, has felt in his own body all the temptations that ever can assail his children, and not only felt them, but successfully resisted and conquered them; so that, there is no state, however low, in which there is an earnest desire to rise out of evil, to which he does not again come down, and in which he does not again successfully contend with the powers of darkness. Look to Him, then, again, in a fixed resolution to put away the evils into which you have fallen, and you must, you will be sustained!"

"O, if I could but believe this, how eagerly would I again fly to the pledge!" Marshall said, in an earnest voice.

"Fly to it then, Jonas, as to a city of refuge; for it is true. You have felt the power of the pledge once-try it again. It will be strength to you in your weakness, as it has been before."

Still Marshall hesitated. While he did so, his wife brought him pens, ink and paper.

"Write a pledge and sign it, dear husband!" she urged, as she placed them before him. "Think of me—of the joy that it will bring to my heart—and sign."

"I am afraid, Jane."

"Can you stand alone?"

"I fear not."

"Are you not sure, that the pledge will restrain you some?"

"O, yes. If I ever take it again, I shall tremble under the fearful responsibility that rests upon me."

"Come with me, a moment," Mrs. Marshall said, after a thoughtful pause.

Her husband followed, as she led the way to an adjoining room, where two or three bright-eyed children were playing in the happiest mood.

"For their sakes, if not for mine, Jonas, sign the pledge again," she said, while her voice trembled, and then became choked, as she leaned her head upon his shoulder.

"You have conquered! I will sign!" he whispered in her ear.

Eagerly she lifted her head, arid looked into his face with a glance of wild delight.

"O, how happy this poor heart will again be!" she ejaculated, clasping her hands together, and looking upwards with a joyous smile.

In a few minutes, a pledge of total abstinence from all kinds of intoxicating drinks, was written out and signed. While her husband was engaged in doing this, Mrs. Marshall stood looking down upon each letter as it was formed by his pen, eager to see his name subscribed. When that was finally done; she leaned forward on the table at which he wrote, swayed to and fro for a moment or two, and then sank down upon the floor, lost to all consciousness of external things.

From that hour to this, Jonas Marshall has been as true to his second pledge, even in thought, as the needle to the pole. So dreadful seems the idea of its violation, that the bare recollection of his former dereliction, makes him tremble.

"It was a severe remedy," he says, sometimes, in regard to his broken legs; "and proved eminently successful. But for that, I should have been utterly lost."

 
 
 

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