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The Temperance 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 spend for—"

"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 mouths!"

"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 pledged yourself—"

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 hysterically.

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 emphatically—

"No!"

And instantly broke from his old boon companion, and hurried on his way.

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 entered.

"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 earnestly.

"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 gutter."

"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 pledge."

"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, sternly.

"I am ashamed to come, but not afraid. You will not harm me, I know."

"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 morning."

"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, half-sorrowfully—

"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 the pledge."

"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 course, obtained.

"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 earnest now."

"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 approach.

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 bosom.

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 one evening."

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 despondency.

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 said.

"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 dollars."

"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 very much."

"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 sentence.

"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?"

"Yes."

"And number 40?"

"Yes."

"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 animated tone.

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 of vegetables.

"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 said—

"'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."

"John!"

"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 disappointed.

 
 
 

EBooks - Fiction, Nonfiction 1000s of them ~ Index