Pledge by T. S. Arthur
"I WANT a quarter of a dollar, Jane."
This was addressed by a miserable creature, bloated and disfigured
by intemperance, to a woman, whose thin, pale face, and heart-broken
look, told but too plainly that she was the drunkard's wife.
"Not a quarter of a dollar, John? Surely you will not waste a
quarter of a dollar of my hard earnings, when you know that I can
scarcely get food and decent clothes for the children?"
As the wife said this, she looked up into her husband's face with a
sad appealing expression.
"I must have a quarter, Jane," said the man firmly.
"O, John! remember our little ones. The cold-weather will soon be
here, and I have not yet been able to get them shoes. If you will not
earn any thing yourself, do not waste the little my hard labor can
procure. Will not a sixpence do? Surely that is enough for you to
"Nothing will do but a quarter, Jane, and that I must have, if I
steal it!" was the prompt and somewhat earnest reply.
Mrs. Jarvis laid aside her work mechanically and, rising, went to a
drawer, and from a cup containing a single dollar in small pieces,
her little all, took out a quarter of a dollar, and turning to her
husband, said, as she handed it to him—
"Remember, that you are taking the bread out of your children's
"Not so bad as that, I hope, Jane," said the drunkard, as he
clutched the money eagerly; something like a feeble smile flitting
across his disfigured and distorted countenance.
"Yes, and worse!" was the response, made in a sadder tone than that
in which the wife had at first spoken.
"How worse, Jane?"
"John!" and the wife spoke with a sudden energy, while her
countenance lighted up with a strange gleam. "John, I cannot bear
this much longer! I feel myself sinking every day. And you—you who
Here the voice of the poor woman gave way, and covering her face
with her hands, she bent her head upon her bosom, and sobbed and wept
The drunkard looked at her for a moment, and then turning
hurriedly, passed from the room. For some moments after the door had
closed upon her husband, did Mrs. Jarvis stand, sobbing and weeping.
Then slowly returning to her chair near the window, she resumed her,
work, with an expression of countenance that was sad and hopeless.
In the mean time, the poor wretch who had thus reduced his family
to a state of painful destitution, after turning away from his door,
walked slowly along the street with his head bowed down, as if
engaged in, to him, altogether a new employment, that of
self-communion. All at once a hand was laid familiarly upon his
shoulders, and a well-known voice said—
"Come, John, let's have a drink."
"Jarvis looked up with a bewildered air, and the first thing that
caught his eye, after it glanced away from the face of one of his
drinking cronies, was a sign with bright gold letters, bearing the
words, "EAGLE COFFEE-HOUSE." That sign was as familiar to him as the
face of one of his children. At the same moment that his eyes rested
upon this, creating an involuntary impulse to move towards the
tavern-door, his old crony caught hold of his coat-collar and gave
him a pull in the same direction. But much to the surprise of the
latter, Jarvis resisted this attempt to give his steps a direction
that would lead him into his old, accustomed haunt.
"Won't you drink this morning, Jarvis?" asked the other, with a
look of surprise.
There was evidently a powerful struggle going on in the mind of the
drunkard. This lasted only for a moment or two, when he said, loudly,
And instantly broke from his old boon companion, and hurried on his
A loud laugh followed him, but he heeded it not. Ten minutes' walk
brought him to the store of a respectable tradesman.
"Is Mr. R—in?" he asked, as he entered.
"Back at the desk," was the answer of a clerk.
And Jarvis walked back with a resolute air.
"Mr. R—, I want to sign the pledge!"
"You, Jarvis?" Mr. R—said, in tones of gratified surprise.
"Yes, me, Mr. R—. It's almost a hopeless case; but here goes to
do my best."
"Are you fully sensible of what you are about doing, Jarvis?"
"I think I am, Mr. R—. I've drunk nothing since yesterday
morning, and with the help of Him above, I am determined never to
drink another drop as long as I live! So read me the pledge and let
me sign it."
Mr. R—turned at once to the constitution of the Washington
Temperance Society, and read the pledge thereunto annexed:
"'We, the undersigned, do pledge ourselves to each other, as
gentlemen, that we will not, hereafter, drink any spiritous liquors,
wine, malt, or cider, unless in sickness, and under the prescription
of a physician.'"
Jarvis took the pen in his hand, that trembled so he. could
scarcely make a straight mark on paper, and enrolled his name among
the hundreds of those, who, like him, had resolved to be men once
more. This done, he laid down the quarter of a dollar which he had
obtained from his wife, the admission fee required of all who joined
the society. As he turned from the tradesman's store, his step was
firmer and his head more erect, than, in a sober state, he had
carried it for many a day.
From thence he proceeded to a hatter's-shop.
"Well, Jarvis," was uttered in rather a cool, repulsive tone, as he
"Are you not in want of a journeyman, Mr. Warren?"
"I don't want you, Jarvis."
"If you will give me work, I'll never get drunk again, Mr. Warren."
"You've said that too many times, Jarvis. The last time you went
off when I was hurried with work, and caused me to disappoint a
customer, I determined never to have any thing more to do with you."
"But I'll never disappoint you again," urged the poor man
"It's no use for you to talk to me, Jarvis. You and I are done with
each other. I have made up my mind never again to have a man in my
shop who drinks rum."
"But I've joined the temperance society, Mr. Warren."
"I don't care if you have: in two weeks you'll be lying in the
"I'll never drink liquor again if I die!" said Jarvis, solemnly.
"Look here, you drunken vagabond!" returned the master hatter in
angry tones, coming from behind the counter, and standing in front of
the individual he was addressing—"if you are not out of this shop in
two minutes by the watch, I'll kick you into the street! So there
now—take your choice to go out, or be kicked out."
Jarvis turned sadly away without a reply, and passed out of the
door through which he had entered with a heart full of hope, now
pained, and almost ready to recede from his earnest resolution and
pledge to become a sober man and a better husband and father. He felt
utterly discouraged. As he walked slowly along the street, the fumes
of a coffee-house which he was passing, unconsciously, struck upon his
sense, and immediately came an almost overpowering desire for his
accustomed potation. He paused—
"Now that I try to reform, they turn against me," he sighed
bitterly. "It is no use; I am gone past hope!"
One step was taken towards the tavern-door, when it seemed as if a
strong hand held him back.
"No—no!" he murmured, "I have taken the pledge, and I will stand
by it, if I die!" Then moving resolutely onward, he soon found himself
near the door of another hatter's-shop. Hope again kindled up in his
bosom, and he entered.
"Don't you want a hand, Mr. Mason?" he asked, in a hesitating tone.
"Not a drunken one, Jarvis," was the repulsive answer.
"But I've reformed, Mr. Mason."
"So I should think from your looks."
"But, indeed, Mr. Mason I have quit drinking, and taken the
"To break it in three days. Perhaps three hours."
"Won't you give me work, Mr. Mason, if I promise to be sober?"
"No! For I would not give a copper for your promises."
Poor Jarvis, turned away. When he had placed his hand to the
pledge, he dreamed not of these repulses and difficulties. He was a
good workman, and he thought that any one of his old employers would
be glad to get him back again, so soon as they learned of his having
signed the total-abstinence pledge. But he had so often promised
amendment, and so often broken his promise and disappointed them,
that they had lost all confidence in him; at least, the two to whom
he had, thus far, made application.
After leaving the shop of Mr. Mason, Jarvis seemed altogether
irresolute. He would walk on a few steps, and then pause to commune
with his troubled and bewildered thoughts.
"I will try Lankford," said he, at length, half-aloud; "he will
give me work, surely."
A brisk walk of some ten minutes brought him to the door of a small
hatter's-shop in a retired street. Behind the counter of this shop
stood an old man, busily employed in ironing a hat. There was
something benevolent in his countenance and manner. As Jarvis
entered, he looked up, and a shade passed quickly over his face.
"Good morning, Mr. Lankford," said Jarvis, bowing, with something
like timidity and shame in his manner.
"Are you not afraid to come here, John?" replied the old man,
"I am ashamed to come, but not afraid. You will not harm me, I
"Don't trust to that, John. Did you not steal, ay, that is the
word—did you not steal from me the last time I employed you?" The
old man was stern and energetic in his manner.
"I was so wicked as to take a couple of skins, Mr. Lankford, but I
did very wrong, and am willing to repay you for them, if you will
give me work. I was in liquor when I did it, and, when in liquor, I
have no distinct consciousness of the evil of any action."
"Give you work, indeed! O, no! John; I cannot give you another
chance to rob me."
"But I will not get drunk any more. And you know, Mr. Lankford,
that while I was a sober man, and worked for you, I never wronged you
out of a sixpence worth."
"Won't get drunk any more! Ah! John, I have lived too long in. the
world, and have seen too much, to heed such promises."
"But I am in earnest, Mr. Lankford. I signed the pledge this
"You!" in a tone of surprise.
"Yes, I signed it."
"Ah, John," after a pause, and shaking his head. incredulously, "I
cannot credit your word, and I am sorry for it."
"If I have signed the pledge, and if I am really determined to be a
reformed man, will you give me work, Mr. Lankford!"
The old man thought for a few moments, and then said,
"I am afraid of you, John. You are such an old offender on the
score of drunkenness, that I have no confidence in your power to keep
"Then what shall I do!" the poor wretch exclaimed, in tones
that made the heart of the old man thrill—for nature and pathos were
in them. "Now that I am trying in earnest to do better, no one will
give me a word of encouragement, nor a helping hand. Heaven help
me!—for I am forsaken of man."
Mr. Lankford stood thoughtful and irresolute for some moments. At
length, he said—
"John, if you will bring me a certificate from Mr. R—, that you
have signed the total-abstinence pledge, I will give you another
trial. But if you disappoint me again, you and I are done for ever."
The countenance of Jarvis brightened up instantly. He turned
quickly away, without reply, and hurried off to the store of Mr. R—,
the secretary of the society he had joined. The certificate was, of
"And you have joined, sure enough, John," Mr. Lankford said, in a
changed tone, as he glanced over the certificate.
"Indeed I have, Mr. Lankford."
"And you seem in earnest."
"If I was ever in earnest about any thing in my life, I am in
"Keep to your pledge, then, John, and all will be well. While you
were a sober man, I preferred you to any journeyman in my shop. Keep
sober, and you shall never want a day's work while I am in business."
The poor man was now shown his place in the shop, and once again he
resumed his work, though under a far different impulse than had, for
years, nerved him to action.
Two hours brought his regular dinner-time, when Jarvis, who began
to feel the want of food, returned home, with new and strange feelings
about his heart. One impulse was to tell his wife what he had done,
and what he was doing. But then he remembered how often he had mocked
her new springing hopes—how often he had promised amendment, and once
even joined a temperance society, only to relapse into a lower and
more degraded condition.
"No, no," he said to himself, after debating the question in his
mind, as he walked towards home; "I will not tell her now. I will
first present some fruit of my repentance. I will give such an
assurance as will create confidence and hope."
Mrs. Jarvis did not raise her eyes to the face of her husband, as
he entered. The sight of that once loved countenance, distorted and
disfigured, ever made her heart sick when she looked upon it. Jarvis
seated himself quietly in a chair, and held out his hands for his
youngest child, not over two years old, who had no consciousness of
his father's degradation. In a moment the happy little creature was
on his knee. But the other children showed no inclination to
The frugal meal passed in silence and restraint. Mrs. Jarvis felt
troubled and oppressed—for the prospect before her seemed to grow
more and more gloomy. All the morning she had suffered from a steady
pain in her breast, and from a lassitude that she could not overcome.
Her pale, thin, care-worn face, told a sad tale of suffering,
privation, confinement, and want of exercise. What was to become of
her children she knew not. Under such feelings of hopelessness, to
have one sitting by her side, who could take much of her burdens from
her, were he but to will it—who could call back the light to her
heart, if only true to his promise, made in earlier and happier
years—soured in some degree her feelings, and obscured her
perceptions. She did not note that some change had passed upon him; a
change that if marked, would have caused her heart to leap in her
As soon as Jarvis had risen from the table, he took his hat, and
kissing his youngest child, the only one there who seemed to regard
him, passed quickly from the house. As the door closed after him, his
wife heaved a long sigh, and then rising, mechanically, proceeded to
clear up the table. Of how many crushed affections and disappointed
hopes, did that one deep, tremulous sigh, speak!
Jarvis returned to his work, and applied himself steadily during
the whole afternoon. Whenever a desire for liquor returned upon him,
he quenched it in a copious draught of water, and thus kept himself as
free from temptation as possible. At night he returned, when the same
troubled and uneasy silence pervaded the little family at the
supper-table. The meal was scanty, for Mrs. Jarvis's incessant labor
could procure but a poor supply of food. After the children had been
put to bed, Mrs. Jarvis sat down, as usual, to spend the evening,
tired as she was, and much as her breast pained her, in sewing. A
deep sigh heaved involuntarily her bosom as she did so. It caught the
ear of her husband, and smote upon his heart. He knew that her health
was feeble, and that constant labor fatigued her excessively.
"I wouldn't sew to-night, Jane," he said. "You look tired. Rest for
Mrs Jarvis neither looked up nor replied. There was something in
the tone of her husband's voice that stirred her feelings;—something
that softened her heart towards him. But she dared not trust herself
to speak, nor to let her eye meet his. She did not wish to utter a
harsh nor repulsive word, nor was she willing to speak kindly to him,
for she did not feel kindly,—and kind words and affected
cheerfulness, she had already found but encouraged him in his evil
ways. And so she continued to ply her needle, without appearing to
regard his presence. Her husband did not make another effort to
induce her to suspend her labors; for, under existing circumstances,
he was particularly desirous of not provoking her to use towards him
the language of rebuke and censure. After sitting silent, for,
perhaps half an hour, he rose from his chair, and walked three or
four times backwards and forwards across the room, preparatory to
going out to seek a coffee-house, and there spend his evening, as his
wife supposed. But much to her surprise, he retired to their chamber,
in the adjoining room. While still under the expectation of seeing him
return, his loud breathing caught her quick ear. He was asleep!
Catching up the light, as she arose suddenly to her feet, she
passed, with a hasty step, into the chamber. He had undressed
himself, was in bed, and sound asleep. She held the candle close to
his face; it was calmer than usual, and somewhat paler. As she bent
over him, his breath came full in her face. It was not loaded with
the disgusting fumes that had so often sickened her. Her heart beat
quicker—the moisture dimmed her eye—her whole frame trembled. Then
looking upwards, she uttered a single prayer for her husband, and,
gliding quietly from the room, sat down by her little table and again
bent over her work. Now she remembered that he had said, with
something unusual in his tones—"I would not sew to-night, Jane; you
look tired; rest for one evening"—and her heart was agitated with a
new hope; but that hope, like the dove from the ark, found nothing
upon which to rest, and trembled back again into a feeling of
On the next morning, the unsteady hand of Jarvis, as he lifted his
saucer to his lips at the breakfast-table, made his wife's heart sink
again in her bosom. She had felt a hope, almost unconsciously. She
remembered that at supper-time his hand was firm—now it was unnerved.
This was conclusive to her mind, that, notwithstanding his appearance,
he had been drinking. But few words passed during the meal, for
neither felt much inclined to converse.
After breakfast, Jarvis returned to the shop and worked steadily
until dinner-time, and then again until evening. As on the night
before, he did not go out, but retired early to bed. And this was
continued all the week. But the whole was a mystery to his poor wife,
who dared not even to hope for any real change for the better. On
Saturday, towards night, he laid by his work, put on his coat and hat,
and went into the front shop.
"So you have really worked a week, a sober man, John?" Mr. Lankford
"Indeed, I have. Since last Sunday morning, no kind of intoxicating
liquor has passed my lips."
"How much have you earned this week, John?"
"Here is the foreman's account of my work, sir. It comes to twelve
"Still a fast workman. You will yet recover yourself, and your
family will again be happy, if you persevere."
"O, sir, they shall be happy! I will persevere!"
Another pause ensued, and then Jarvis said, while the color mounted
to his cheek—
"If you are willing, Mr. Lankford, I should like you to deduct only
one-half of what I owe you for those furs I took from you, from this
week's wages. My family are in want of a good many things; and I am
particularly desirous of buying a barrel of flour to-night."
"Say nothing of that, John. Let it be forgotten with your past
misdeeds. Here are your wages—twelve dollars—and if it gives you as
much pleasure to receive, as it does me to pay them, then you feel no
ordinary degree of satisfaction."
Mr. Jarvis received the large sum for him to possess, and hurried
away to a grocery. Here he bought, for six dollars, a barrel of
flour, and expended two dollars more of his wages in sugar, coffee,
tea, molasses, Near to the store was the market-house. Thence he
repaired, and bought meat and various kinds of vegetables, with
butter, These he carried to the store, and gave directions to have
all sent home to him. He had now two dollars left out of the twelve he
had earned since Monday morning, and with these in his pocket, he
returned home. As he drew near the house, his heart fluttered in
anticipation of the delightful change that would pass upon all beneath
its humble roof. He had never in his life, experienced feelings of
such real joy.
A few moments brought him to the door, and he went in with the
quick step that had marked his entrance for several days. It was not
quite dark, and his wife sat sewing by the window. She was finishing a
pair of pantaloons that had to go home that very evening, and with
the money she was to get for them she expected to buy the Sunday
dinner. There was barely enough food in the house for supper; and
unless she received her pay for this piece of work, she had no means
of getting the required sustenance for herself and children—or
rather, for her husband, herself and children. The individual for
whom it was intended was not a prompt pay-master, and usually
grumbled whenever Mrs. Jarvis asked him for money. To add to the
circumstances of concern and trouble of mind, she felt almost ready
to give up, from the excessive pain in her breast, and the weakness
of her whole frame. As her husband came in, she turned upon him an
anxious and troubled countenance; and then bent down over her work
and plied her needle hurriedly. As the twilight fell dimly around,
she drew nearer and nearer to the window, and at last stood up, and
leaned close up to the panes of glass, so that her hand almost
touched them, in order to catch the few feeble rays of light that
were still visible. But she could not finish the garment upon which
she wrought, by the light of day. A candle was now lit, and she took
her place by the table, not so much as glancing towards her husband,
who had seated himself in a chair, with his youngest child on his
knee. Half an hour passed in silence, and then Mrs. Jarvis rose up,
having taken the last stitch in the garment she was making, and
passed into the adjoining chamber. In a few minutes she came out,
with her bonnet and shawl on, and the pair of pantaloons that she had
just finished on her arm.
"Where are you going, Jane?" her husband asked, in a tone of
surprise, that seemed mingled with disappointment.
"I am going to carry home my work."
"But I wouldn't go now, Jane. Wait until after supper."
"No, John. I cannot wait until after supper. The work will be
wanted. It should have been home two hours ago."
And she glided from the room.
A walk of a few minutes brought her to the door of a tailor's-shop,
around the front of which hung sundry garments exposed for sale. This
shop she entered, and presented the pair of pantaloons to a man who
stood behind the counter. His face relaxed not a muscle as he took
them and made a careful examination of the work.
"They'll do," he at length said, tossing them aside, and resuming
his employment of cutting out a garment.
Poor Mrs. Jarvis paused, dreading to utter her request. But
necessity conquered the painful reluctance, and she said—
"Can you pay me for this pair to-night, Mr. Willets?"
"No. I've got more money to pay on Monday than I know where to get,
and cannot let a cent go out."
"But, Mr. Willets, I—"
"I don't want to hear any of your reasons, Mrs. Jarvis. You can't
have the money to-night."
Mrs. Jarvis moved slowly away, and had nearly reached the door,
when a thought of her children caused her to pause.
"I cannot go, Mr. Willets, without the money," she said, suddenly
turning, and speaking in an excited tone.
"You will go, I'm thinking, madam," was the cool reply.
"O, sir," changing her tone, "pay me what you owe me; I want it
"O, yes. So you all say. But I am used to such make-believes. You
get no money out of me to-night, madam. That's a settled point. I'm
angry now—so you had better go home at once; if you don't, I'll
never give you a stitch of work, so help—"
Mrs. Jarvis did not pause to hear the concluding words of the
"What shall I do?" was the almost despairing question that
she asked of herself, as she hurried towards her home. On entering the
house she made no remark, for there was no one to whom she could tell
her troubles and disappointment, with even the most feeble hope of a
word of comfort.
"Does Mr. Jarvis live here?" asked a rough voice at the door.
"Yes, sir," was the reply.
"Well, here is a barrel of flour and some groceries for him."
"There must be some mistake, sir."
"Is not this Mr. Jarvis's?"
"And number 40?"
"Then this is the place, for that was the direction given me."
"Yes, this is the place—bring them in," spoke up Jarvis, in an
The drayman, of course, obeyed. First he rolled in the barrel of
flour; then came a number of packages, evidently containing
groceries; and, finally, one or two pieces of meat, and sundry lots
"How much is to pay?" asked Jarvis.
"Twenty-five cents, sir," responded the drayman, bowing.
The twenty-five cent piece was taken from his pocket with quite an
air, and handed over. Then the drayman went out and that little
family were alone again. During the passage of the scene just
described, the wife stood looking on with a stupid and bewildered
air. When the drayman had departed, she turned to her husband, and
"'John, where did these things come from?"
"I bought them, Jane."
"You bought them?"
"Yes, I bought them."
"And pray, John, what did you buy them with?"
"With the quarter of a dollar you gave me on Monday."
"It is true, Jane. With that quarter I went and joined the
Washington Total-Abstinence Society, and then went to work at Mr.
Lankford's. Here is the result of one week's work, besides this
silver," handing her all that remained, after making the purchases.
"O, John, John," the wife exclaimed, bursting into tears, "do not
again mock my hopes. I cannot bear much more."
"In the strength of Him, Jane, who has promised to help us when we
call upon Him, 'I will not disappoint the hopes I now revive,'" said
Jarvis, slowly and solemnly.
The almost heart-broken wife and mother leaned her head upon the
shoulder of her husband, and clung to his side with a newly-revived
confidence, that she felt would not be disappointed, while the tears
poured from her eyes like rain. But her true feelings we cannot
attempt to describe—nor dare we venture to sketch further the scene
we have introduced. The reader's imagination can do it more justice,
and to him we leave that pleasing task, with only the remark, that
Mrs. Jarvis's newly-awakened joys and hopes have not again been