Story type: Literature
“HOW beautiful!” ejaculated Mary Graham, as she fixed her eyes intently on the western sky, rich with the many-coloured clouds of a brilliant sunset in June.
“Beautiful indeed!” responded her sister Anna.
“I could gaze on it for ever!” Ellen, a younger and more enthusiastic sister remarked, with fervent admiration. “Look, Ma! was ever anything more gorgeous than that pure white cloud, fringed with brilliant gold, and relieved by the translucent and sparkling sky beyond?”
“It is indeed very beautiful, Ellen,” Mrs. Graham replied. But there was an abstraction in her manner, that indicated, too plainly, that something weighed upon her mind.
“You don’t seem to enjoy a rich sunset as much as you used to do, Ma,” Anna said, for she felt the tone and manner in which her mother had expressed her admiration of the scene.
“You only think so, perhaps,” Mrs. Graham rejoined, endeavouring to arouse herself, and to feel interested in the brilliant exhibition of nature to which her daughter had alluded. “The scene is, indeed, very beautiful, Anna, and reminds me strongly of some of Wordsworth’s exquisite descriptions, so full of power to awaken the heart’s deepest and purest emotions. You all remember this:
“‘Calm is the evening air, and loth to lose
Day’s grateful warmth, though moist with falling dews
Look for the stars, you’ll say that there are none;
Look up a second time, and, one by one,
You mark them twinkling out with silvery light,
And wonder how they could elude the sight.’”
“‘No sound is uttered,–but a deep
And solemn harmony pervades
The hollow vale from steep to steep,
And penetrates the glades.
Far distant images draw nigh,
Called forth by wondrous potency
Of beamy radiance, that imbues
Whate’er it strikes with gem-like hues!
In vision exquisitely clear,
Herds range along the mountain-side;
And glistening antlers are descried;
And gilded flocks appear.
Thine is the tranquil hour, purpureal Eve!
But long as god-like wish, or hope divine,
Informs my spirit, ne’er can I believe
That this magnificence is wholly thine!
From worlds not quickened by the sun
A portion of the gift is won.’”
“How calm and elevating to the heart, like the hour he describes,” Ellen said, in a musing tone, as she sat with her eyes fixed intently on the slow-fading glories of the many-coloured clouds.
The influence of the tranquil hour gradually subdued them into silence; and as the twilight began to fall, each sat in the enjoyment of a pure and refined pleasure, consequent upon a true appreciation of the beautiful in nature, combined with highly cultivated tastes, and innocent and elevated thoughts.
“There comes Pa, I believe,” Anna remarked, breaking the silence, as the hall door opened and then closed with a heavy jar; and the well-known sound of her father’s footsteps was heard along the passage and on the stairs.
None of her children observed the hushed intensity with which Mrs. Graham listened, as their father ascended to the chamber. But they noticed that she became silent and more thoughtful than at first. In about ten minutes she arose and left the room.
“Something seems to trouble Ma, of late,” Ellen observed, as soon as their mother had retired.
“So I have thought. She is certainly, to all appearance, less cheerful, “Mary replied.
“What can be the cause of it?”
“I hardly think there can be any very serious cause. We are none of us always in the same state of mind.”
“But I have noticed a change, in Ma, for some months past–and particularly in the last few weeks,” Anna said. “She is not happy.”
“I remember, now, that I overheard her, about six weeks ago, talking to Alfred about something–the company he kept, I believe–and that he seemed angry, and spoke to her, I thought, unkindly. Since that time she has not seemed so cheerful;” Ellen said.
“That may be the cause; but still I hardly think that it is,” Anna replied. “Alfred’s principal associates are William Gray and Charles Williams; and they belong to our first families. Pa, you know, is very intimate with both Mr. Gray and Mr. Williams.”
“It was to William Gray and Charles Williams, I believe, however, that Ma particularly objected.”
“Upon what ground?”
“Upon the ground of their habits, I think, she said.”
“Their habits? What of their habits, I wonder?”
“I do not know, I am sure. I only remember having heard Ma object to them on that account.”
“That is strange!” was the remark of Anna. “I am sure that I have never seen anything out of the way, in either of them; and, as to William Gray, I have always esteemed him very highly.”
“So have I,” Mary said. “Both of them are intelligent, agreeable young men; and such, as it seems to me, are in every way fitted to be companions for our brother.”
But Mrs. Graham had seen more of the world than her daughters, and knew how to judge from appearances far better than they. Some recent circumstances, likewise, had quickened her perceptions of danger, and made them doubly acute. In the two young men alluded to, now about the ages of eighteen and twenty, she had been pained to observe strong indications of a growing want of strict moral restraints, combined with a tendency towards dissipation; and, what was still more painful, an exhibition of like perversions in her only son, now on the verge of manhood,–that deeply responsible and dangerous period, when parental authority and control subside in a degree, and the individual, inexperienced yet self-confident, assumes the task of guiding himself.
When Mrs. Graham left the room, she proceeded slowly up to the chamber into which her husband had gone, where all had been silent since his entrance. She found him lying upon the bed, and already in a sound sleep. The moment she bent over him, she perceived the truth to be that which her trembling and sinking heart so much dreaded. He was intoxicated!
Shrinking away from the bed-side, she retired to a far corner of the room, where she seated herself by a table, and burying her face in her arms, gave way to the most gloomy, heart-aching thoughts and feelings. Tears brought her no relief from these; for something of hopelessness in her sorrow, gave no room for the blessing of tears.
Mr. Graham was a merchant of high standing in Philadelphia, where, for many years, he had been engaged extensively in the East India trade. Six beautiful ships floated for years upon the ocean, returning at regular intervals, freighted with the rich produce of the East, and filling his coffers, until they overflowed, with accumulating wealth. But it was not wealth alone that gave to Mr. Graham the elevated social position that he held. His strong intelligence, and the high moral tone of his character, gave him an influence and an estimation far above what he derived from his great riches. In the education of his children, four in number, he had been governed by a wise regard to the effect which that education would have upon them as members of society. He early instilled into their minds a desire to be useful to others, and taught them the difference between an estimation of individuals, founded upon their wealth and position in society, and an estimation derived from intrinsic excellence of character. The consequence of, all this was, to make him beloved by his family–purely and tenderly beloved, because there was added to the natural affection for one in his position, the power of a deep respect for his character and principles.
At the time of his introduction to the reader, Mr. Graham was forty-five years old. Alfred, his oldest child, was twenty-one; Mary, nineteen; Ellen, eighteen; and Anna just entering her sixteenth year. Up to this time, or nearly to this time, a happier family circled no hearth in the city. But now an evil wing was hovering over them, the shadow from which had already been perceived by the mother’s heart, as it fell coldly and darkly upon it, causing it to shrink and tremble with gloomy apprehensions. From early manhood up, it had been the custom of Mr. Graham to use wines and brandies as liberally as he desired, without, the most remote suspicion once crossing his mind that any danger to him could attend the indulgence. But to the eye of his wife, whose suspicions had of late been aroused, and her perceptions rendered, in consequence, doubly acute, it had become apparent that the habit was gaining a fatal predominance over him. She noted, with painful emotions, that as each evening returned, there were to her eye too evident indications that he had been indulging so freely in the use of liquors, as to have his mind greatly obscured. His disposition, too, was changing; and he was becoming less cheerful in his family, and less interested in the pleasures and pursuits of his children. Alfred, whom he had, up to this time, regarded with an earnest and careful solicitude, was now almost entirely left to his own guidance, at an age, too, when he needed more than ever the direction of his father’s matured experience.
All these exhibitions of a change so unlooked for, and so terrible for a wife and mother to contemplate, might well depress the spirits of Mrs. Graham, and fill her with deep and anxious solicitude. For some weeks previous to the evening on which our story opens, Mr. Graham had shown strong symptoms almost every day–symptoms apparent, however, in the family, only to the eye of his wife–of drunkenness. Towards the close of each day, as the hour for his return from business drew near her feelings would become oppressed under the fearful apprehension that when he came home, it would be in a state of intoxication. This she dreaded on many accounts. Particularly was she anxious to conceal the father’s aberrations from his children. She could not bear the thought that respect for one now so deeply honoured by them, should be diminished in their bosoms. She felt, too, keenly, the reproach that would rest upon his name, should the vice that was now entangling, obtain full possession of him, and entirely destroy his manly, rational freedom of action. Of consequences to herself and children, resulting from changed external circumstances, she did not dream. Her husband’s wealth was immense; and, therefore, even if he should so far abandon himself as to have to relinquish business, there would be enough, and more than enough, to sustain them in any position in society they might choose to occupy.
On the occasion to which we have already referred, her heart was throbbing with suspense as the hour drew nigh for his return, when, sooner than she expected him, Mr. Graham opened the hall-door, and instead of entering the parlour, as usual, proceeded at once to his chamber. The quick ear of his wife detected something wrong in the sound of his footsteps–the cause she knew too well. Oh, how deeply wretched she felt, though she strove all in her power to seem unmoved while in the presence of her children! Anxious to know the worst, she soon retired, as has been seen, from the parlours, and went up to the chamber above. Alas! how sadly were her worst fears realized! The loved and honoured partner of many happy years, the father of her children, lay before her, slumbering, heavily, in the sleep of intoxication. It seemed, for a time, as if she could not bear up under the trial. While seated, far from the bed-side, brooding in sad despondency over the evil that had fallen upon them–an evil of such a character that it had never been feared–it seemed to her that she could not endure it. Her thoughts grew bewildered, and reason for a time seemed trembling. Then her mind settled into a gloomy calmness that, was even more terrible, for it had about it something approaching the hopelessness of despair.
Thoughts of her children at last aroused her, as the gathering night darkened the chamber in which she sat, and she endeavoured to rally herself, and to assume a calmness that she was far from feeling. A reason would have to be given for the father’s non-appearance at the tea-table. That could easily be done. Fatigue and a slight indisposition had caused him to lie down: and as he had fallen asleep, it was thought best not to awaken him. Such a tale was readily told, and as readily received. The hardest task was to school her feelings into submission, and so control the expression of her face, and the tone of her voice, as to cause none to suspect that there was anything wrong.
To do this fully, however, was impossible. Her manner was too evidently changed; and her face wore too dreamy and sad an expression to deceive her daughters, who inquired, with much tenderness and solicitude, whether she was not well, or whether anything troubled her.
“I am only a little indisposed,” was her evasive reply to her children’s kind interrogatories.
“Can’t I do something for you?” inquired Ellen, with an earnest affection in her manner.
“No, dear,” was her mother’s brief response; and then followed a silence, oppressive to all, which remained unbroken until the tea things were removed.
“Alfred is again away at tea-time,” Mrs. Graham at length said, as they all arose from the table.
“He went out this afternoon with Charles Williams,” Mary replied.
“Did he?” the mother rejoined quickly, and with something of displeasure in her tone.
“Yes. Charles called for him in his buggy about four o’clock, and they rode out together. I thought you knew it.”
“No. I was lying down about that time.”
“You do not seem to like Charles Williams much.”
“I certainly do not, Anna, as a companion for Alfred. He is too fond of pleasure and sporting, and I am very much afraid will lead your brother astray.”
“I never saw anything wrong about him, Ma.”
“Perhaps not. But I have learned to be a much closer observer in these matters than you, Mary. I have seen too many young men at Alfred’s age led away, not to feel a deep and careful solicitude for him.”
As the subject seemed to give their mother pain, her daughters did not reply; and then another, and still more troubled silence followed.
A chill being thrown thus over the feelings of all, the family separated at an early hour. But Mrs. Graham did not retire to bed. She could not, for she was strangely uneasy about her son. It was about twelve o’clock when Alfred came in. His mother opened her door as he passed it, to speak to him–but her tongue refused to give utterance to the words that trembled upon it. He, too, was intoxicated!
Brief were the hours given to sleep that night, and troubled the slumber that locked her senses in forgetfulness. On the next morning, the trembling hand of her husband, as he lifted his cup to his lips, and the unrefreshed and jaded appearance of her son, told but too plainly their abuse of nature’s best energies. With her husband, Mrs. Graham could not bring herself to speak upon the subject. But she felt that her duty as a mother was involved in regard to her son, and therefore she early took occasion to draw him aside, and remonstrate against the course of folly upon which he was entering.
“You were out late last night, Alfred,” she said, in a mild tone.
“I was in at twelve, Ma.”
“But that was too late, Alfred.”
“I don’t know, Ma. Other young men are out as late, and even later, every night,” the young man said, in a respectful tone. “I rode out with Charles Williams in the afternoon, and then went with him to a wine party at night.”
“I must tell you frankly, Alfred, that I like neither your companion in the afternoon, nor your company in the evening.”
“You certainly do not object to Charles Williams. He stands as high in society as I do.”
“His family is one of respectability and standing. But his habits, I fear, Alfred, are such as will, ere long, destroy all of his title to respectful estimation.”
“You judge harshly,” the young man said, colouring deeply.
“I believe not, Alfred. And what is more, I am convinced that you stand in imminent danger from your association with him.”
“How?” was the quick interrogatory.
“Through him, for instance, you were induced to go to a wine party last night.”
“And there induced to drink too much.”
“I saw you when you came in, Alfred. You were in a sad condition.”
For a few moments the young man looked his mother in the face, while an expression of grief and mortification passed over his own.
“It is true,” he at length said, in a subdued tone, “that I did drink to excess, last evening. But do not be alarmed on that account. I will be more guarded, in future. And let me now assure you, most earnestly, that I am in no danger: that I am not fond of wine. I was led to drink too much, last evening, from being in a company where wine was circulated as freely as water. I thought you looked troubled, this morning, but did not dream that it was on my account. Let me, then, urge you to banish from your mind all fears in regard to me.”
“I cannot banish such fears, my son, so long as I know that you have dangerous associates. No one is led off, no one is corrupted suddenly.”
“But I do not think that I have dangerous associates.”
“I am sure you have, Alfred. If they had not been such, you would not have been led astray, last night. Go not into the way of temptation. Shun the very beginnings of evil. Remember Pope’s warning declaration:–
“‘Vice, to be hated, needs but to be seen,’ etc.”
“Indeed, indeed, Ma, you are far too serious about this matter.”
“No, my son, I cannot be!”
“Well, perhaps not. But, as I know the nature of my associations far better than you possibly can, you must pardon me for thinking that they involve no danger. I have arrived to years of discretion, and certainly think that I am, or at least ought to be, able to judge for my self.”
There was that in the words and tone of the young man, that made the mother feel conscious that it would be no use for her to urge the matter further, at that time. She merely replied–
“For your mother’s sake, Alfred, guard yourself more carefully, in future.”
It is wonderful, sometimes, how rapidly a downward course is run. The barrier, against which the waters have been driven for years, is rapidly washed away, so soon as even the smallest breach is made. A breach had been made in Mr. Graham’s resolution to be only a sober drinker of intoxicating liquors; and the consequence was, that he had less power to resist the strong inclination to drink, that had become almost like a second nature to him. A few weeks only elapsed, before he came home so drunk as to expose himself in the street, and before his children and servants, in a most disgusting and degrading manner.
Terrible indeed was the shock to his children–especially to Mary, Ellen and Anna. His sudden death could not have been a more fearful affliction. Then, they would have sorrowed in filial respect and esteem, made sacred by an event that would embalm the memory of their father in the permanent regard of a whole community: now, he stood degraded in their eyes; and they felt that he was degraded in the eyes of all. In his presence they experienced restraint, and they looked for his coming with a shrinking fear. It was, indeed, an awful affliction–such as few can realize in imagination; and especially for them, as they occupied a conspicuous position in society, and were conscious that all eyes were upon them, and that all tongues would be busy with the story of their father’s degradation.
It is wonderful, we have said, how rapidly a downward course is sometimes run. In the case of Mr. Graham, many circumstances combined to hasten his ruin. It was nearly a year after he had given way to the regular indulgence of drink, so far as to be kept almost constantly in a state of half-intoxication through the business hours of almost every day, that he received news of the loss of a vessel richly laden with teas from China. At the proper time he presented the requisite documents to his underwriters, and claimed the loss, amounting, on ship and cargo, to one hundred and twenty-five thousand dollars. On account of alleged improper conduct on the part of the captain, united with informality in the papers, the underwriters refused to pay the loss. A suit at law was the consequence, in which the underwriters were sustained. An appeal was made, but the same result followed-thus sweeping away, at a single blow, property to the amount of over one hundred thousand dollars. During the progress of the trial, Mr. Graham was much excited, and drank more freely than ever. When the result was finally ascertained, he sank down into a kind of morose inactivity for some months, neglecting his large and important business, and indulging, during the time, more deeply than ever in his favourite potations. It was in vain that his distressed family endeavoured to rouse him into activity. All their efforts were met by an irritability and a moroseness of temper so unlike what he had been used to exhibit towards them, that they gave up all idea of influencing him in despair.
A second heavy loss, of nearly equal amount, altogether consequent upon this neglect of business, seemed to awaken up the latent energies of his character, and he returned to himself with something of his former clear-sighted energy of character. But his affairs had already become, to him, strangely entangled. The machinery of his extensive operations had been interrupted; and now, in attempting to make the wheels move on again, it was too apparent that much of it had become deranged, and the parts no longer moved in harmonious action with the whole. The more these difficulties pressed upon him, the deeper did he drink, as a kind of relief, and, in consequence, the more unfit to extricate himself from his troubles did he become. Every struggle, like the efforts of a large animal in a quagmire, only tended to involve him deeper and deeper in inextricable embarrassment.
This downward tendency continued for about three years, when his family was suddenly stunned by the shock of his failure. It seemed impossible for them to realize the truth–and, indeed, almost impossible for the whole community to realize it. It was only three or four years previous that his wealth was estimated, and truly so, at a million and a half. He was known to have met with heavy losses, but where so much could have gone, puzzled every one. It seems almost incredible that any man could have run through such an estate by mismanagement, in so brief a period. But such was really the case. Accustomed to heavy operations, he continued to engage in only the most liberal transactions, every loss in which was a matter of serious moment. And towards the last, as his mind grew more and more bewildered in consequence of is drinking deeper and deeper, he scarcely got up a single voyage, that did not result in loss; until, finally, he was driven to an utter abandonment of business–but not until he had involved his whole estate in ruin.
The beautiful family mansion on Chestnut-street had to be given up–the carriage and elegant furniture sold under the hammer, while the family retired, overwhelmed with distress, to an humble dwelling in an obscure part of the city.
Seven years from the day on which Mrs. Graham and her children were thus thrown suddenly down from their elevation, and driven into obscurity, that lady sat alone, near the window of a meanly-furnished room in a house on the suburbs of the city, overlooking the Schuylkill. It was near the hour of sunset. Gradually the day declined, and the dusky shadows of evening fell gloomily around. Still Mrs. Graham sat leaning her head upon her hand, in deep abstraction of mind. Alas! seven years had wrought a sad change in her appearance, and a sadder one in her feelings. Her deeply-sunken eye, and pale, thin face, told a tale of wretchedness and suffering, whose silent appeal made the very heart ache. Her garments, too, were old and faded, and antiquated in style.
She sat thus for about half-an-hour, when the door of the room was opened slowly, and a young woman entered, carrying on her arm a small basket. She seemed, at first sight, not over twenty-three or four years of age; but, when observed more closely, her hollow cheek, pale face, and languid motions, indicated the passage of either many more years over her head, or the painful inroads of disease and sorrow. Mrs. Graham looked up, but did not speak, as the young woman entered, and, after placing her basket on a table, laid aside her bonnet and faded shawl.
“How did you find Ellen, to-day?” she at length said.
“Bad enough!” was the mournful reply. “It makes my heart ache, Ma, whenever I go to see her.”
“Was her husband at home?”
“Yes, and as drunk and ill-natured as ever.”
“How is the babe, Mary?”
“Not well. Dear little innocent creature! it has seen the light of this dreary world in an evil time. Ellen has scarcely any milk for it; and I could not get it to feed, try all I could. It nestles in her breast, and frets and cries almost incessantly, with pain and hunger. Although it is now six weeks old, yet Ellen seems to have gained scarcely any strength at all. She has no appetite, and creeps about with the utmost difficulty. With three little children hanging about her, and the youngest that helpless babe, her condition is wretched indeed. It would be bad enough, were her husband kind to her. But cross, drunken and idle, scarcely furnishing his family with food enough to sustain existence, her life with him is one of painful trial and suffering. Indeed, I wonder, with her sensitive disposition and delicate body, how she can endure such a life for a week.”
A deep sigh, or rather moan, was the mother’s only response. Her daughter continued,
“Bad as I myself feel with this constant cough, pain in my side, and weakness, I must go over again to-morrow and stay with her. She ought not to be left alone. The dear children, too, require a great deal of attention that she cannot possibly give to them.”
“You had better bring little Ellen home with you, had you not, Mary? I could attend to her much better than Ellen can.”
“I was thinking of that myself, Ma. But you seemed so poorly, that I did not feel like saying anything about it just now.”
“O yes. Bring her home with you to-morrow evening, by all means. It will take that much off of poor Ellen’s hands.”
“Then I will do so, Ma; at least if Ellen is willing,” Mary said, in a lighter tone–the idea of even that relief being extended to her overburdened sister causing her mind to rise in a momentary buoyancy.
“Anna is late to-night,” she remarked, after a pause of a few moments.
As she said this, the door opened, and the sister of whom she spoke entered.
“You are late to-night, Anna,” her mother said.
“Yes, rather later than usual. I had to take a few small articles home for a lady, after I left the store, who lives in Sixth near Spring Garden.”
“In Sixth near Spring Garden!”
“Yes. The lad who takes home goods had gone, and the lady was particular about having them sent home this evening.”
“Do you not feel very tired?”
“Indeed I do,” the poor girl said, sinking into a chair. “I feel, sometimes, as if I must give up. No one in our store is allowed to sit down from morning till night. The other girls don’t appear to mind it much; but before evening, it seems as if I must drop to the floor. But I won’t complain,” she added, endeavouring to rally herself, and put on a cheerful countenance. “How have you been to-day, Ma?”
“If you won’t complain, I am sure that I have no right to, Anna.”
“You cannot be happy, of course, Ma; that I know too well. None of us, I fear, will ever be again happy in this world!” Anna said, in a tone of despondency, her spirits again sinking.
No one replied to this; and a gloomy silence of many minutes followed–a quiet almost as oppressive as the stillness that reigns in the chamber of death. Then Mary commenced busying herself about the evening meal.
“Tea is ready, Ma and Anna,” she at length said, after their frugal repast had been placed upon the table.
“Has not Alfred returned yet?” Anna asked.
“No,” was the brief answer.
“Hadn’t we better wait for him?”
“He knows that it is tea-time, and ought to be here, if he wants any,” the mother said. “You are tired and hungry, and we will not, of course, wait.”
The little family, three in number, gathered around the table, but no one eat with an appetite of the food that was placed before them. There were two vacant places at the board. The husband and son–the father and brother–where were they?
In regard to the former, the presentation of a scene which occurred a few weeks previous will explain all. First, however, a brief review of the past seven years is necessary. After Mr. Graham’s failure in business, he gave himself up to drink, and sunk, with his whole family, down into want and obscurity with almost unprecedented rapidity. He seemed at once to become strangely indifferent to his wife and children–to lose all regard for their welfare. In fact, he had become, in a degree, insane from the sudden reverses which had overtaken him, combined with the bewildering effects of strong drinks, under whose influence he was constantly labouring.
Thus left to struggle on against the pressure of absolute want, suddenly and unexpectedly brought upon them, and with no internal or external resources upon which to fall promptly back, Mrs. Graham and her daughters were for a time overwhelmed with despair. Alfred, to whom they should have looked for aid, advice, and sustenance, in this hour of severe trial, left almost entirely to himself, as far as his father had been concerned, for some two years, had sunk into habits of dissipation from which even this terrible shock had not the power to arouse him. Having made himself angry in his opposition to, and resistance of, all his mother’s admonitions, warnings, and persuasions, he seemed to have lost all affection for her and his sisters. So that a sense of their destitute and distressed condition had no influence over him–at least, not sufficient to arouse him into active exertions for their support. Thus were they left utterly dependent upon their own resources–and what was worse, were burdened with the support of both father and brother.
The little that each had been able to save from the general wreck, was, as a means of sustenance, but small. Two or three gold watches and chains, with various articles of (sic) jewelery, fancy work-boxes, and a number of trifles, more valued than valuable, made up, besides a remnant of household furniture, the aggregate of their little wealth. Of course, the mother and daughters were driven, at once, to some expedient for keeping the family together. A boarding-house, that first resort of nearly all destitute females, upon whom families are dependent, especially of those who have occupied an elevated position in society, was opened, as the only means of support that presented itself. The result of this experiment, continued for a year and a half, was a debt of several hundred dollars, which was liquidated by the seizure of Mrs. Graham’s furniture. But worse than this, a specious young man, one of the boarders, had won upon the affections of Ellen, and induced her to marry him. He, too soon, proved himself to have neither a true affection for her, nor to have sound moral principles. He was, moreover, idle, and fond of gay company.
On the day that Mrs. Graham broke up her boardinghouse, Markland, her daughter’s husband, was discharged from his situation as clerk, on account of inefficiency. For six months previous, the time he had been married, he had paid no boarding, thus adding himself as a dead weight to the already overburdened family. As he had no house to which he could take Ellen, he very naturally felt himself authorized to share the house to which the distressed family of her mother retired, seemingly regardless of how or by whom the food he daily consumed was provided.
But Mrs. Graham was soon reduced to such extremities, that he was driven off from her, with his wife, and forced to obtain employment by which to support himself and her. As for the old man, he had managed, in the wreck of affairs, to retain a large proportion of his wines, and other choice liquors; and these, which no pressure of want in his family could drive him to sell, afforded the means of gratifying his inordinate love of drink. His clothes gradually became old and rusty–but this seemed to give him no concern. He wandered listlessly in his old business haunts, or lounged about the house in a state of half stupor, drinking regularly all through the day, at frequent periods, and going to bed, usually, at nights, in a state of stupefaction.
When the boarding-house was given up, poor Mrs. Graham, whose health and spirits had both rapidly declined in the past two years, felt utterly at a loss what to do. But pressing necessities required immediate action.
“Anna, child, what are we to do,” she said, rousing herself, one evening, while sitting alone with her daughters in gloomy abstraction.
“Indeed, Ma, I am as much at a loss as you are. I have been thinking and thinking about it, until my min–has become beclouded and bewildered.”
“I have been thinking, too,” said Mary, “and it strikes me that Anna and I might do something in the way of ornamental needlework. Both of us, you know, are fond of it.”
“Do you think that we can sell it, after it is done?” Anna asked, with a lively interest in her tone.
“I certainly do. We see plenty of such work in the shops; and they must buy it, of course.”
“Let us try, then, Mary,” her sister said with animation.
A week spent in untiring industry, produced two elegantly wrought capes, equal to the finest French embroidery.
“And, now, where shall we sell them?” Anna inquired, in a tone of concern.
“Mrs.–would, no doubt, buy them; but I, for one, cannot bear the thought of going there.”
“Nor I. But, driven by necessity, I believe that I could brave to go there, or anywhere else, even though I have not been in Chestnut-street for nearly two years.”
“Will you go, then, Mary?” Anna asked, in an earnest, appealing tone.
“Yes, Anna, as you seem so shrinkingly reluctant, I will go.”
And forthwith Mary prepared herself; and rolling up the two elegant capes, proceeded with them to the store of Mrs.–, in Chestnut-street. It was crowded with customers when she entered, and so she shrunk away to the back part of the store, until Mrs.–should be more at leisure, and she could bargain with her without attracting attention. She had stood there only a few moments,–when her ear caught the sound of a familiar voice–that of Mary Williams, one of her former most intimate associates. Her first impulse was to spring forward, but a remembrance of her changed condition instantly recurring to her, she turned more away from the light, so as to effectually conceal herself from the young lady’s observation. This she was enabled to do, although Mary Williams came once or twice so near as to brush her garments. How oppressively did her heart beat, at such moments! Old thoughts and old feelings came rushing back upon her, and in the contrast they occasioned between the past and the present, she was almost overwhelmed with despondency. Customer after customer came in, as one and another retired, many of whose faces were familiar to Mary as old friends and acquaintances. At last, however, after waiting nearly two hours, she made out to get an interview with Mrs.–.
“Well, Miss, what do you want?” asked that personage, as Mary came up before her where she still stood at the counter, for she had observed her waiting in the store for some time. Mrs.–either did not remember, or cared not to remember, her old customer, who had spent, with her sisters, many hundreds of dollars in her store, in times past.
“I have a couple of fine wrought capes that I should like to sell,” Mary said, in a timid, hesitating voice, unrolling, at the same time, the articles she named.
“Are they French?” asked Mrs.–, without pausing in her employment of rolling up some goods, to take and examine the articles proffered her.
“No, ma’am; they are some of my own and sister’s work.”
“They won’t do, then, Miss. Nothing in the way of fine collars and capes will sell, unless they are French.”
Mary felt chilled at heart as Mrs.–said this, and commenced slowly rolling up her capes, faint with disappointment. As she was about turning from the counter, Mrs.–said, in rather an indifferent tone,
“Suppose you let me look at them.”
“I am sure you will think them very beautiful,” Mary replied, quickly unrolling her little bundle. “They have been wrought with great care.”‘
“Sure enough, they are quite well done,” Mrs.–said, coldly, as she glanced her eyes over the capes. “Almost equal in appearance to the French. But they are only domestic; and domestic embroidered work won’t bring scarcely anything. What do you ask for these?”
“We have set no price upon them; but think that they are richly worth five or six dollars apiece.”
“Five or six dollars!” ejaculated Mrs.–, in well feigned surprise, handing back; suddenly, the capes. “O! no, Miss;–American goods don’t bring arty such prices.”
“Then what will you give for them, Madam?”
“If you feel like taking two dollars apiece for them, you can leave them. But I am not particular,” Mrs.–said, in a careless tone.
“Two dollars!” repeated Mary, in surprise. “Surely, Mrs.–, they are worth more than two dollars apiece!”
“I’m not at all anxious to give you even that for them,” said Mrs.–. “Not at all; for I am by no means sure that I shall ever get my money back again.”
“You will have to take them, then, I suppose,” Mary replied, in a disappointed and desponding tone.
“Very well, Miss, I will give you what I said.” And Mrs.–took the capes, and handed Mary Graham four dollars in payment.
“If we should conclude to work any more, may we calculate on getting the same money for them?”
“I can’t say positively, Miss; but I think that you may calculate on that price for as many as you will bring.”
Mary took the money, and turned away. It was only half an hour after, that Mrs.–sold one of them, as “French,” for twelve dollars!
Sadly, indeed, were the sisters disappointed at this result. But nothing better offering that they could do, they devoted themselves, late and early, to their needles, the proceeds of which rarely went over five dollars per week; for two years they continued to labour thus.
At the end of that period, Anna sunk under her self-imposed task, and lay ill for many weeks. Especially forbidden by the physician, on her recovery, to enter again upon sedentary employments, Anna cast earnestly about her for some other means whereby to earn something for the common stock. Necessity, during the past two years, had driven her frequently into business parts of the city for the purchase of materials such as they used. Her changed lot gave her new eyes, and her observations were necessarily made upon a new class of facts. She had seen shop-girls often enough before, but she had never felt any sympathy with them, nor thought of gaining any information about them. They might receive one dollar a week, or twenty, or work for nothing–it was all the same to her. Even if any one had given her correct information on the subject, she would have forgotten it in ten minutes. But now, it was a matter of interest to know how much they could make–and she had obtained a knowledge of the fact, that they earned from three to six and seven dollars a week, according to their capacities or the responsibility of their stations.
When, therefore, her shattered health precluded her from longer plying her needle, much as she shrank from the publicity and exposure of the position, she resolutely set about endeavouring to obtain a situation as saleswoman in some retail dry-goods store. One of the girls in Mrs.–‘s store, who knew all about her family, and deeply commiserated her condition, interested herself for her, and succeeded in getting her a situation, at four dollars a week, in Second-street. To enter upon the employment that now awaited her, was indeed a severe trial; but she went resolutely forward, in the way that duty called.
The sudden change from a sedentary life to one of activity, where she had to be on her feet all day, tried her feeble strength severely. It was with difficulty that she could sometimes keep up at all, and she went home frequently at night in a burning fever. But she gradually acquired a kind of power of endurance, that kept her up. She did not seem to suffer less, but had more strength, as it were, to bear up, and hold on with unflinching resolution.
Thus she had gone on for two or three years, at the time she was again introduced, with her mother and sister, to the reader.
As for their father, his whole stock of liquors had been exhausted for nearly two years, and, during that time, he had resorted to many expedients to obtain the potations he so much loved. Finally, he became so lost to all sense of right or feeling, that he would take money, or anything he could carry off from the house, for the purpose of obtaining liquor. This system had stripped them of many necessary articles, as well as money, and added very greatly to their distress, as well as embarrassments.
At last, everything that he could take had been taken, and as neither his wife nor daughters would give him any money, his supply of stimulus was cut off, and he became almost mad with the intolerable desire that was burning within him for the fiery poison which had robbed him of rationality and freedom.
“Give me some money!” he said, in an excited tone, to his wife, coming in hurriedly from the street, one day about this time. His face was dark and red, as if there were a congestion of the blood in the veins of the skin, while his hands trembled, and his whole frame was strongly agitated. Those who had been familiar with that old man, years before, would hardly have recognized him now, in his old worn and faded garments.
“I have no money for you,” his wife replied. “You have already stripped us of nearly everything.”
“Buy me some brandy, then.”
“No. I cannot do that either. Brandy has cursed you and your family. Why do you not abandon it for ever?”
“I must have brandy, or die! Give me something to drink, in the name of heaven!”
The wild look that her husband threw upon her, alarmed Mrs. Graham, and she hesitated no longer, but handed him a small piece of money. Quick as thought, he turned away and darted from the house.
It was, perhaps, after the lapse of about half an hour that he returned. He opened the door, when he did so, quietly, and stood looking into the room for a few moments. Then he turned his head quickly from the right to the left, glancing fearfully behind him once or twice. In a moment or two afterwards he started forward, with a strong expression of alarm upon his countenance, and seated himself close beside Mrs. Graham, evidently in the hope of receiving her protection from some dreaded evil.
“What is the matter?” quickly exclaimed Mrs. Graham, starting up with a frightened look.
“It is really dreadful!” he said. “What can it all mean?”
“What is dreadful?” asked his wife, her heart throbbing with an unknown terror.
“There! Did you ever see such an awful sight? Ugh!” and he shrunk behind her chair, and covered his eyes with his hands.
“I see nothing, Mr. Graham,” his wife said, after a few moments of hurried thought, in which she began to comprehend the fact that her husband’s mind was wandering.
“There is nothing here that will hurt you, father,” Mary added, coming up to him, as her own mind arrived at a conclusion similar to her mother’s.
“Nothing to hurt me!” suddenly screamed the old man, springing to his feet, and throwing himself backwards half across the room; “and that horrible creature already twining himself about my neck, and strangling me! Take it off! take it off!” he continued, in a wild cry of terror, making strong efforts to tear something away from his throat.
“Take it off’! Why don’t you take it off! Don’t you see that it is choking me to death! Oh! oh! oh!” (uttered in a terrific scream.)
Panting, screaming and struggling, he continued in this state of awful alarm, vainly endeavouring to extricate himself from the toils of an imaginary monster, that was suffocating him, until he sank exhausted to the floor.
Happily for his alarmed and distressed family, two or three neighbours, who had been startled by the old man’s screams,–came hurriedly in, and soon comprehended the nature of his aberration. A brief consultation among themselves determined them, understanding, as they did perfectly, the condition of the family, and his relation to them, to remove him at once to the Alms-House, where he could get judicious medical treatment, and be out of the sight and hearing of his wife and children.
One of them briefly explained to Mrs. Graham, and Mary, the nature of his mental affection, and the absolute necessity that there was for his being placed where the most skilful and judicious management of his case could be had. After some time, he gained their reluctant consent to have him taken to the Alms-House. A carriage was then obtained, and he forced into it, amid the tears and remonstrances of the wife and daughter, who had already repented of their acquiescence in what their judgment had approved. Old affection had rushed back upon their hearts, and feelings became stronger than reason.
It was about four o’clock in the afternoon when this occurred. Early on the next morning, Mrs. Graham, with Mary and Anna, went out to see him. Their inquiries about his condition were vaguely answered, and with seeming reluctance, or as it appeared to them, with indifference. At length the matron of the institution asked them to go with her, and they followed on, through halls and galleries, until they came to a room, the door of which she opened, with a silent indication for them to enter.
They entered alone. Everything was hushed, and the silence that of the chamber of death. In the centre of the room lay the old man. A single glance told the fearful tale. He was dead! Dead in the pauper’s home! Seven years before, a millionaire–now sleeping his last sleep in the dead-room of an Alms-House, and his beggared wife and children weeping over him in heart-broken and hopeless sorrow.
From that time the energies of Mary and Anna seemed paralyzed; and it was only with a strong effort that Mrs. Graham could rouse herself from the stupor of mind and body that had settled upon her.
Mrs. Graham and her two daughters had nearly finished their evening meal, at the close of the day alluded to some pages back, when the sound of rapidly hurrying footsteps was heard on the pavement. In a moment after, a heavy blow was given just at their door, and some one fell with a groan against it. The weight of the body forced it open, and the son and brother rolled in upon the floor, with the blood gushing from a ghastly wound in his forehead. His assailant instantly fled. Bloated, disfigured, in coarse and worn clothing, how different, even when moving about, was he from the genteel, well-dressed young man of a few years back! Idleness and dissipation had wrought as great a change upon him as it had upon his father, while he was living. Now he presented a shocking and loathsome appearance.
The first impulse of Mary was to run for a physician, while the mother and Anna attempted to stanch the flow of blood, that had already formed a pool upon the floor. Assistance was speedily obtained, and the wound dressed; but the young man remained insensible. As the physician turned from the door, Mrs. Graham sank fainting upon her bed. Over-tried nature could bear up no longer.
“Doctor, what do you think of him?” asked the mother, anxiously, three days after, as the physician came out of Alfred’s room. Since the injury he had received, he had lain in a stupor, but with much fever.
“His case, Madam, is an extremely critical one. I have tried in vain to control that fever.”
“Do you think him very dangerous, Doctor?” Mary asked, in a husky voice.
“I certainly do. And, to speak to you the honest truth, have, myself, no hope of his recovery. I think it right that you should know this.”
“No hope, Doctor!” Mrs. Graham said, laying her hand upon the physician’s arm, while her face grew deadly pale. “No hope!–My only son die thus!–O! Doctor, can you not save him?”
“I wish it were in my power, Madam. But I will not flatter you with false hopes. It will be little less than a miracle should he survive.”
The mother and sisters turned away with an air of hopelessness from the physician, and he retired slowly, and with oppressed feelings.
When they returned to the sick chamber, a great change had already taken place in Alfred. The prediction of the physician, it was evident to each, as all bent eagerly over him, was about to be too surely and too suddenly realized. His face, from being slightly flushed with fever, had become sunken, and ghastly pale, and his respiration so feeble that it was almost imperceptible.
The last and saddest trial of this ruined family had come. The son and brother, for whom now rushed back upon their hearts the tender and confiding affection of earlier years, was lingering upon life’s extremest verge. It seemed that they could not give him up. They felt that, even though he were neglectful of them, they could not do without him. He was a son and brother; and, while he lived, there was still hope of his restoration. The strength of that hope, entertained by each in the silent chambers of affection, was unknown before–its trial revealed its power over each crushed and sinking heart.
But the passage of each moment brought plainer and more palpable evidence of approaching dissolution. For about ten minutes he had lain so still, that they were suddenly aroused by the fear that he might be already dead Softly did the mother lay her hand upon his forehead. Its cold and clammy touch sent an icy thrill to her heart Then she bent her ear to catch even the feeblest breath–but she could distinguish none.
“He is dead!” she murmured, sinking down and burying her face in the bed-clothes.
The cup of their sorrow was, at last, full–full and running over!
THE RUINED FAMILY
STUNNED by this new affliction, which seemed harder to bear than any of the terrible ones that had gone before, Mrs. Graham sunk into a state of half unconsciousness; but Anna still lingered over the insensible body of her brother, and though reason told her that the spirit had taken its everlasting departure, her heart still hoped that it might not be so,–that a spark yet remained which would rekindle.
The pressure of her warm hand upon his cold, damp forehead, mocked her hopes. His motionless chest told of the vanity of her fond anticipations of seeing his heart again quicken into living activity. And yet, she could not give him up. She could not believe that he was dead. As she still hung over him, it seemed to her that there was a slight twitching of the muscles about the neck. How suddenly did her heart bound and throb until its strong pulsations pained her! Eagerly did she bend down upon him, watching for some more palpable sign of returning animation. But nothing met either her eye or her ear that strengthened the newly awakened hope.
After waiting, vainly, for some minutes, until the feeble hope she had entertained began to fail, Anna stepped quickly to the mantelpiece, and lifted from it a small looking-glass, with which she returned to the bedside. Holding this close to the face of her brother, she watched the surface with an eager anxiety that almost caused the beating of her heart to cease. As a slight mist slowly gathered upon the glass and obscured its surface, Anna cried out with a voice that thrilled the bosoms of her mother and sister–
“He lives! he lives!” and gave way to a gush of tears.
This sudden exclamation, of course, brought Mrs. Graham and Mary to the bedside, who instantly comprehended the experiment which Anna had been making and understood the result. The mother, in turn, with trembling hands, lifted the mirror, and held it close to the face of her son. In a moment or two, its surface was obscured, plainly indicating that respiration, though almost imperceptible, was still going on,–that life still lingered in the feeble body before them.
Gradually, now, the flame that had well-nigh gone out, kindled up again, but so slowly, that for many hours the mother and sisters were in doubt whether it were really brightening or not. The fever that had continued for several days, exhausting the energies of the young man’s system, had let go its hold, because scarcely enough vital energy remained for it to subsist upon. In its subsidence, life trembled on the verge of extinction. But there was yet sufficient stamina for it to rally upon; and it did rally, and gradually, but very slowly, gained strength.
In an earnest spirit of thankfulness for this restoration of Alfred, did the mother and sisters look up to the Giver of all good, and with tearful devotion pray that there might ensue a moral as well as a physical restoration. For years, they had not felt towards him the deep and yearning tenderness that now warmed their bosoms. They longed to rescue him, not for their sakes, but for his own, from the horrible pit and the miry clay into which he had fallen.
“O, if we could but save him, sister!” Anna said, as she sat conversing with Mary, after all doubt of his recovery had been removed. “If we could only do some. thing to restore our brother to himself, how glad I should be!”
“I would do anything in my power,” Mary replied, “and sacrifice everything that it was right to sacrifice, if, by so doing, I could help Alfred to conquer his besetting evils. I cannot tell you how I feel about it. It seems as if it would break my heart to have him return again into his old habits of life: and yet, what have we to found a hope upon, that he will not so return?”
“I feel just as you do about it, Mary,” her sister said. “The same yearning desire to save him, and the same hopelessness as to the means.”
“There is one way, it seems to me, in which we might influence him.”
“What is that, Mary?”
“Let us manifest towards him, fully, the real affection that we feel; perhaps that may awaken a chord in this own bosom, and thus lead him, for our sakes, to enter upon a new course of life.”
“We can at least try, Mary. It can do no harm, and may result in good.”
With the end of his reformation in view, the two sisters, during his convalescence, attended him with the most assiduous and affectionate care. The moment Anna would come home from the store at night, she would repair with a smiling countenance to his bedside, and although usually so fatigued as to be compelled to rally her spirits with an effort, she would seem so interested and cheerful and active to minister in some way to his pleasure, that Alfred began to look forward every day as the evening approached, with a lively interest, for her return. This Mary observed, and it gave her hope.
Three weeks soon passed away, when Alfred was so far recovered as to be able to walk out.
“Do not walk far, brother,” Mary said, laying her hand gently upon his arm, and looking him with affectionate earnestness in the face. “You are very weak, and the fatigue might bring on a relapse.”
“I shall only walk a little way, Mary,” he replied, as he opened the door and went out.
Neither the mother nor sister could utter the fear that each felt, lest Alfred should meet with and fall in temptation before he returned. This fear grew stronger and stronger, as the minutes began to accumulate, and lengthen to an hour. A period of ten or fifteen minutes was as long as they had any idea of his remaining away. Where could he be? Had he been taken sick; or was he again yielding to the seductions of a depraved and degrading appetite? The suspense became agonizing to their hearts, as not only one, but two, and even three hours passed, bringing the dim twilight, and yet he returned not.
In the meantime, the young man, whose appearance the careful hand of Mary and her sister had been rendered far superior to what it had been for years past, went out from his mother’s humble dwelling, and took his way slowly down one of the streets, leading to the main portion of the city, with many thoughts of a painful character passing through his mind. The few weeks that he had been confined to the house, and in constant association with his mother, and one or both of his sisters, who were at home, had startled his mind into reflection. He could not but contrast their constant and affectionate devotion to him, with his own shameful and criminal neglect of them. Conceal her real feelings as she would, it did not escape his notice, that when Anna came home at night, she was so much exhausted as to be hardly able to sit up; and as for Mary, often when she dreamed not that he was observing her, had he noticed her air of languor and exhaustion, and her half-stifled expression of pain,–as she bent resolutely over her needle-work. Never before had he felt so indignant towards Ellen’s husband for his neglect and abuse of her, his once favourite sister; and, indeed, the favourite of the whole family.
It was, to his own mind, a mystery how he ever could have sunk so low, and become so utterly regardless of his mother and sisters.
“Wretch! wretch! miserable wretch that I am!” he would, sometimes, mentally exclaim, turning his face to the wall as he lay reviewing, involuntarily, his past life. Uniformly it happened, that following such a crisis in his feelings, would be some affectionate word or kind attention from Mary or his mother, smiting upon his heart with emotions of the keenest remorse.
It was under the influence of such feelings that he went out on the afternoon just alluded to. Still, no settled plan of reformation had been formed in his mind, for the discouraging question would constantly arise while pondering gloomily over his condition and the condition of the family.
“What can I do?” To this, he could find no satisfactory answer. Three or four years of debasing drunkenness, had utterly separated him from those who had it in their power to encourage and strengthen his good desires,–and to put him in the way of providing for himself and his family, by an industrious application to some kind of business.
He had walked slowly on, in painful abstraction, for about five minutes, when a hand was laid on his arm, and a familiar voice said–
“Is this you, Graham! Where in the name of Pluto have you been, for the last three weeks? Why, how blue you look about the gills! Havn’t been sick, I hope?”
“Indeed I have, Harry,” Alfred replied, in a feeble voices. “It came very near being all over with me.”
“Indeed! Well, what was the matter?”
Raising his hat, and displaying a long and still angry-looking wound on the side of his head, from which the hair had been carefully cut away, he said–
“Do you see that?”
“I reckon I do.”
“Well, that came very near doing the business for me.”
“How did it happen?”
“I hardly know, myself. I was drunk, I suppose, and quarrelled with some one, or insulted some one in the street–and this was the consequence.”
“Really, Graham, you have made a narrow escape.”
“Havn’t I? It kept me in bed for nearly three weeks, and now, I can just totter about. This is the first time I have been outside of the house since it happened.”
“You certainly do look weak and feeble enough,” replied his old friend and crony, who added, in a moment after,
“But come! take a drink with me at the tavern across here. You stand in need of something.”
“No objection, and thank you,” Alfred rejoined, at once moving over towards a well-known, low tavern, quenching in imagination a morbid thirst that seemed instantly created, by a draught of sweetened liquor.
“What will you take?” asked his friend, as the two came up to the counter.
“I’ll take a mint sling,” Alfred replied.
“Two mint slings,” said his companion, giving his orders to the bar-keeper.
“Hallo, Graham! Is this you?” exclaimed one or two loungers, coming forward, and shaking him heartily by the hand. “We had just made up our minds that you had joined the cold-water army.”
“Indeed!” suddenly ejaculated Graham, an instant consciousness of what he was, where he was, and what he was about to do, flashing over his mind. “I wish to heaven your conclusion had been true!”
This sudden charge in his manner, and his earnestly, indeed solemnly expressed wish, were received with a burst of laughter.
“Here Dan,” said one, to the bar-keeper, “havn’t you a pledge for him to sign.”
“O, yes! Bring a pledge! Bring a pledge! Has no one a pledge?” rejoined another, in a tone of ridicule.
“Yes, here is one,” said a man in a firm tone, entering the shop at the moment. “Who wants to sign the pledge?”
“I do!” Graham said, in a calm voice.
“Then here it is,” the stranger replied, drawing a sheet of paper from his pocket, and unrolling it.
“Give me a pen Dan,” Alfred said, turning to the barkeeper.
“Indeed, then, and I won’t,” retorted that individual, “I’m not going to lend a stick to break my own head.”
“O, never mind, young man, I can supply pen and ink,” said the stranger, drawing forth a pocket inkstand.
Alfred eagerly seized the pen that was offered to him, and instantly subscribed the total abstinence pledge.
“Another fool caught!” sneered one.
“Ha! ha! ha! What a ridiculous farce!” chimed in another.
“He’ll be rolling in the gutter before three days, feeling upwards for the ground,” added a third.
“Why, I don’t believe he can see through a ladder now;” the first speaker said, with his contemptuous sneer. “Look here, mister,” to the stranger who had appeared so opportunely. “This is all gammon! He’s been fooling you.”
“Come along, my friend,” was all the stranger said, drawing his arm within that of the penitent young man, as he did so,–“this is no place for you.”
And the two walked slowly out, amid the laughter, sneers, and open ridicule of the brutal company. Once again in the open air, Alfred breathed more freely.
“O, sir,” he said, grasping the hand of the individual who had appeared so opportunely–“you have saved me from my last temptation, into which I was led so naturally, that I had not an idea of danger. If I had fallen then, as I fear I should have fallen but for you, I must have gone down, rapidly, to irretrievable ruin. How can I express to you the grateful emotions that I now feel?”
“Express them not to me, young man,” the stranger said, in a solemn voice; “but to him, who in his merciful providence, sent me just at the right moment to meet your last extremity. Look up to him, and, whenever tempted, let your conscious weakness repose in his strength, and no evil power can prevail against you. Be true to the resolution of this hour–to your pledge–to those who have claims upon you, for such, I know there must be, and you shall yet fill that position of usefulness in society, which no one else but you can occupy. And now let me advise you to go home, and ponder well this act, and your future course. No matter how dark all may now seem, light will spring up. If you are anxious to walk in a right path, and to minister to those who have claims upon you, the way will be made plain. This encouragement I can give you with confidence; for twelve months ago, I trembled on the brink of ruin, as you have just been trembling. I was once a slave to the same wild infatuation that has held you in bondage. Hope, then, with a vigorous hope, and that hope will be a guarantee for your future elevation!”
And so saying, the stranger shook the hand of Alfred heartily, and, turning, walked hastily away.
The young man had proceeded only a few paces when he observed his old friend and companion, Charles Williams, driving along towards him. No one had done so much towards corrupting his morals, and enticing him away from virtue, as that individual. But he had checked himself in his course of dissipation, long before, while Alfred had sunk rapidly downward. Years had passed since any intercourse had taken place between them, for their condition in life had long been as different as their habits. Charles had entered into business with his father, and was now active and enterprising, increasing the income of the firm by his energy and industry.
His eye rested upon Graham, the moment he came near enough to observe him. There was something familiar about his gait and manner, that attracted the young man’s attention. At first, he did not distinguish, through the disguise that sickness and self-imposed poverty had thrown over Alfred, his old companion. But, suddenly, as he was about passing, he recognised him, and instantly reined up his horse.
“It is only a few minutes since I was thinking about you, Alfred,” he said. “How are you? But you do not look well. Have you been sick?”
“I have been very ill, lately,” Alfred Graham replied, in a mournful tone; former thoughts and feelings rushing back upon him in consequence of this unexpected interview, and quite subduing him.
“I am really sorry to hear it,” the young man said, sympathizingly. “What has been the matter?”
“A slow fever. This is the first time I have been out for weeks.”
“A ride, then, will be of use to you. Get up, and let me drive you out into the country. The pure air will benefit you, I am sure.”
For a moment or two, Alfred stood irresolute. He could not believe that he had heard aright.
“Come,” urged Williams. “We have often ridden before, and let us have one more ride, if we should never go out again together. I wish to have some talk with you.”
Thus urged, Alfred, with the assistance of Charles Williams, got up into the light wagon, in which the latter was riding, and in a moment after was dashing off with him behind a spirited horse.
It was on the morning of a day, nearly a week previous to this time, that Mary Williams, or rather Mrs. Harwood,–for Anna and Mary Graham’s old friend had become a married woman–entered the store of Mrs.–on Chestnut-street, for the purchase of some goods.
While one of the girls in attendance was waiting upon her, she observed a young woman, neatly, but poorly clad, whom she had often seen there before, come in, and go back to the far end of the store. In a little while, Mrs.–joined her, and received from her a small package, handing her some money in return, when the young woman retired, and walked quickly away. This very operation Mrs. Harwood had several times seen repeated before, and each time she had felt much interested in the timid and retiring stranger, a glance at whose face she had never been able to gain.
“Who is that young woman?” she asked of the individual in attendance.
“She’s a poor girl, that Mrs.–buys fine work from, out of mere charity, she says.”
“Do you know her name?”
“I have heard it, ma’am, but forget it.”
“Have you any very fine French worked capes, Mrs.–,” asked Mrs. Harwood, as the individual she addressed came up to that part of the counter where she was standing, still holding in her hand the small package which had been received from the young woman. This Mrs. Harwood noticed.
“O, yes, ma’am, some of the most beautiful in the city.”
“Let me see them, if you please.”
A box was brought, and its contents, consisting of a number of very rich patterns of the article asked for, displayed.
“What is the price of this?” asked Mrs. Harwood, lifting one, the pattern of which pleased her fancy.
“That is a little damaged,” Mrs.–replied. “But here is one of the same pattern,” unrolling the small parcel she had still continued to hold in her hand, “which has just been returned by a lady, to whom I sent it for examination, this morning.”
“It is the same pattern, but much more beautifully wrought,” Mrs. Harwood said, as she examined it carefully. “These are all French, you say?”
“Of course, ma’am. None but French goods come of such exquisite fineness.”
“What do you ask for this?”
“It is worth fifteen dollars, ma’am. The pattern is a rich one, and the work unusually fine.”
“Fifteen dollars! That is a pretty high price, is it not, Mrs.–?”
“O, no, indeed, Mrs. Harwood! It cost me very nearly fourteen dollars–and a dollar is a small profit to make on such articles.”
After hesitating for a moment or two, Mrs. Harwood said–
“Well, I suppose I must give you that for it, as it pleases me.”‘
And she took out her purse, and paid the price that Mrs.–had asked. She still stood musing by the side of the counter, when the young woman who had awakened her interest a short time before, re-entered, and came up to Mrs.–, who was near her.
“I have a favour to ask, Mrs.–,” she overheard her say, in a half tremulous, and evidently reluctant tone.
“Well, what is it?” Mrs.–coldly asked.
“I want six dollars more than I have got, for a very particular purpose. Won’t you advance me the price of three capes, and I will bring you in one a week, until I have made it up.”
“No, miss,” was the prompt and decisive answer–“I never pay any one for work not done. Pay beforehand, and never pay, are the two worst kinds of pay!”
All this was distinctly heard by Mrs. Harwood, and her very heart ached, as she saw the poor girl turn, with a disappointed air, away, and walk slowly out of the store.
“That’s just the way with these people,” ejaculated Mrs.–, in affected indignation, meant to mislead Mrs. Harwood, who, she feared, had overheard what the young woman had said. “They’re always trying in some way or other, to get the advantage of you.”
“How so?” asked Mrs. Harwood, wishing to learn all she could about the stranger who had interested her feelings.
“Why, you see, I pay that girl a good price for doing a certain kind of work for me, and the money is always ready for her, the moment her work is done. But, not satisfied with that, she wanted me, just now, to advance her the price of three weeks’ work. If I had been foolish enough to have done it, it would have been the last I ever should have seen of either money, work, or seamstress.”
“Perhaps not,” Mrs. Harwood ventured to remark.
“You don’t know these kind of people as well as I do, Mrs. Harwood. I’ve been tricked too often in my time.”
“Of course not,” was the quiet reply. Then after a pause,
“What kind of sewing did she do for you, Mrs.–?”
“Nothing very particular; only a little fine work. I employ her, more out of charity, than anything else.”
“Do you know anything about her?”
“She’s old Graham’s daughter, I believe. I’m told he died in the Alms-house, a few weeks ago.”
“What old Graham?” Mrs. Harwood asked, in a quick voice.
“Why, old Graham, the rich merchant that was, a few years ago. Quite a tumble-down their pride has had, I reckon! Why, I remember when nothing in my store was good enough for them. But they are glad enough now to work for me at any price I choose to pay them.”
For a few moments, Mrs. Harwood was so shocked that she could not reply. At length she asked–
“Which of the girls was it that I saw here, just now?”
“That was Mary.”
“Do you know anything of Anna?”
“Yes. She stands in a store in Second-street.”
“Married to a drunken, worthless fellow, who abuses and half starves her. But that’s the way; pride must have a fall!”
“Where do they live?” pursued Mrs. Harwood.
“Indeed, and that’s more than I know,” Mrs.–replied, tossing her head.
Unable to gain any further information, Mrs. Harwood left the store, well convinced that the richly-wrought cape, for which she had paid Mrs.–fifteen dollars, had been worked by the hands of Mary Graham, for which she received but a mere pittance.
Poor Mary returned home disappointed and deeply troubled in mind. She had about three dollars in money, besides the two which Mrs.–had paid her. If the six she had asked for had only been advanced, as she fondly hoped would be the case, the aggregate sum, eleven dollars, added to three which Anna had saved, would have enabled them to purchase a coat and hat for their brother, who would be ready in a few days to go out. They were anxious to do, this, under the hope, that by providing him with clothes of a more respectable appearance than he had been used to wearing, he would be led to think more of himself, seek better company, and thus be further removed from danger. At her first interview with Mrs.–, Mary’s heart had failed her–and it was only after she had left the store and walked some squares homeward, that she could rally herself sufficiently to return and make her request. It was refused, as has been seen.
“Did Mrs.–grant your request?” was almost the first question that Anna asked of her sister that evening, when she returned from the store.
“No, Anna, I was positively refused,” Mary replied, the tears rising and almost gushing over her cheeks.
“Then we will only have to do the best we can with what little we have. We shall not be able to get him a new coat; but we can have his old one done up, with a new collar and buttons,–I priced a pair of pantaloons at one of the clothing-stores, in Market-street, as I came up this evening, and the man said three dollars and a half. They looked pretty well. There was a vest, too, for a dollar. I heard one of the young men in the store say, two or three days ago, that he had sold his old hat, which was a very good one, to the hatter, from whom he had bought a new one–or rather, that the hatter had taken the old one on account, valued at a dollar. I asked him a question or two, and learned that many hatters do this, and sell the old hats at the same that they have allowed for them. One of these I will try to get,–even if a good deal worn; it will look far better than the one he has at present.”
“In that case, then,” Mary said, brightening up, “we can still get him fitted up respectably. O, how glad I shall be! Don’t you think, sister, that we have good reason to hope for him?”
“I try to think so, Mary. But my heart often trembles with fearful apprehensions when I think of his going out among his old associates again. It will be little less than a miracle if he should not fall.”
“Don’t give way to desponding thoughts, sister. Let us hope so strongly for the best, that our very hope shall compass its own fruition. He cannot, he must not, go back!”
Anna did not reply. Her own feelings were inclined to droop and despond, but she did not wish to have her sister’s droop and despond likewise. One reason for her saddened feelings arose from the fact, that she had a painful consciousness that she should not long be able to retain her present situation. Her health was sinking so rapidly, that it was only by the aid of strong resolutions, which lifted her mind up and sustained her in spite of bodily weakness, that she was at all enabled to get through with her duties. This she was conscious could not last long.
On the next morning, when she attempted to rise from her bed, she became so faint and sick that she was compelled to lie down again. The feeling of alarm that instantly thrilled through her bosom, lest she should no longer be able to minister to the wants of her mother, and especially of her brother at this important crisis in his life, acted as a stimulant to exhausted nature, and endowed her with a degree of artificial strength that enabled her to make another and more successful effort to resume her wearying toil.
But so weak did she feel, even after she had forced herself to take a few mouthfuls of food at breakfast time, that she lingered for nearly half an hour longer than her usual time of starting in order to allow her system to get a little braced up, so that she could stand the long walk she had to take.
“Good by, brother,” she said in a cheerful tone, coming up to the bed upon which Alfred lay, and stooping down and kissing him. “You must try and sit up as much as you can to-day.”
“Good by, Anna. I wish you didn’t have to go away and stay so long.”
To this, Anna could not trust herself to reply. She only pressed tightly the hand she held in her own, and then turned quickly away.
It was nearly three quarters of an hour later than the time the different clerks were required to be at the store, when Anna came in, her side and head both paining her badly, in consequence of having walked too fast.
“It’s three quarters of an hour behind the time,” the storekeeper said, with a look and tone of displeasure, as he drew out his watch. “I can’t have such irregularity in my store, Miss Graham. This is the third time within a few days, that you have come late.”
A reply instantly rose to Anna’s tongue, but she felt that it would be useless–and would, perhaps, provoke remarks deeply wounding to her feelings. She paused, therefore, only a moment, with a bowed head, to receive her rebuke, and then passed quickly, and with a meek, subdued air, to her station behind the counter. There were some of her fellow-clerks who felt for and pitied Anna–there were others who experienced a pleasure in hearing her reproved.
All through that day, with only the respite of some ten or fifteen minutes, when she retired to eat alone the frugal repast of bread and cold meat that she had brought with her for her dinner, did Anna stand behind the shop-man’s counter, attending to his customers with a cheerful air and often a smiling countenance. She spoke to no one of the pain in her breast, back, and side; and none of those around her dreamed that, from extreme lassitude, she could scarcely stand beside the counter.
To her, suffering as she did, the hours passed slowly and heavily away. It seemed as if evening would never come–as if she would have to yield the struggle, much as she strove to keep up for the sake of those she loved.
But even to the weary, the heavy laden, and the prisoner, the slow lingering hours at length pass on, and the moment of respite comes. The shadows of evening at last began to fall dimly around, and Anna retired from her position of painful labour, and took her way homeward. But not even the anticipation of speedily joining those she loved, had power so to buoy up her spirits, that her body could rise above its depressed and weakened condition. Her weary steps were slowly taken, and it seemed to her that she should never be able to reach home. Many, very many depressing thoughts passed through her mind as she proceeded slowly on her homeward way. The condition of her sister Ellen troubled her exceedingly. About one-third of her own and Mary’s earnings were required to keep her and her little ones from absolute suffering; and Mary, like herself, she too plainly perceived to be rapidly sinking under her burdens.
“What is to be done when we fail, heaven only knows!” she murmured, as a vivid consciousness of approaching extremity arose in her mind.
As she said this, the idea of her brother presented itself, with the hope that he would now exert for them a sustaining and supporting energy–that he would be to them at last a brother. But this thought, that made her heart leap in her bosom, she put aside with an audible–
“No,–no,–Do not rest on such a feeble hope!”
At last her hand was upon the latch, and she lifted it and entered.
“I am glad to see you home again, Anna,” Alfred said, with an expression of real pleasure and affection; as she came in.
“And I am glad to see you sitting up and looking so well, brother,” Anna replied, her gloomy thoughts at once vanishing. “How do you feel now?”
“O, I feel much better, sister. In a few days I hope I shall be able to go out. But how are you? It seems to me that you do not look well.”
“I do feel very much fatigued, Alfred,” Anna said, while her tone, in spite of her effort to make it appear cheerful, became sad. “We are not permitted in our store to sit down for a moment, and I get so tired by night that I can hardly keep up.”
“But surely, Anna, you do not stand up all day long.”
“Yes. Since I left this morning, I have been standing every moment, with the exception of the brief period I took to eat my dinner.”
This simple statement smote upon the heart of the young man, and made him silent and thoughtful. He felt that, but for his neglect of duty–but for his abandonment of himself to sensual and besotting pleasures, this suffering, this self-devotion need not be.
Anna saw that what she had said was paining the mind of her brother, and she grieved that she had been betrayed into making any allusion to herself. To restore again the pleased expression to Alfred’s countenance, she dexterously changed the subject to a more cheerful one, and was rewarded for her effort by seeing his eye again brighten and the smile again playing about his lips.
Instead of sitting down after tea and assisting Mary with her embroidery, as she usually did, Anna took a book and read aloud for the instruction and amusement of all; but most for the sake of Alfred-that he might feel with them a reciprocal pleasure, and thus be enabled to perceive that there was something substantial to fall back upon, if he would only consent to abandon the bewildering and insane delights to which he had given himself up for years. The effect she so much desired was produced upon the mind of her brother. He did, indeed, feel, springing up within him, a new-born pleasure,–and wondered to himself how he could so long have strayed away from such springs of delight, to seek bitter waters in a tangled and gloomy wilderness.
When the tender good-night was at last said, and Mary stretched her wearied limbs in silent thoughtfulness beside her sister, there was a feeble hope glimmering in the dark and gloomy abyss of doubt and despondency that had settled upon her mind–a hope that her brother would go forth from his sick chamber a changed man. On this hope, fancy conjured up scenes and images of delight, upon which her mind dwelt in pleased and dreamy abstraction, until sleep stole upon her, and locked up her senses.
When she awoke, it was with the same sinking sensation that she had experienced on the morning previous, and, indeed, on every morning for many months past. The remembrance of the rebuke she had received on the day before for being late at her place of business, acted as a kind of stimulant to arouse her to exertion, so as to be able to get off in time. It was, however, a few minutes past the hour when she entered the store, the owner of which looked at his watch, significantly, as she did so.
This day passed, as the previous one had, in pain and extreme weariness–and so did the next, and the next, the poor girl’s strength failing her too perceptibly. During this time, Alfred’s coat had been repaired, a pair of pantaloons and a vest bought for him, and also a second-hand hat of very respectable appearance–all ready so soon as he should be strong enough to venture out. How anxiously, and yet in fear and trembling, did the sisters look forward to that period, which was to strengthen their feeble hopes, or scatter them to the winds!
“I do really feel very ill,” Anna said, sinking back upon her pillow, after making an attempt to rise, one morning some four or five days after that on which Mary has been represented as endeavouring to get an advance from Mrs.–.
“What is the matter?” Mary inquired kindly.
“My head aches most violently–and grows confused so soon as I attempt to rise.”
“Then I would lie still, Anna.”
“No, I must be up, and getting ready to go to the store.”
“I wouldn’t go down to the store, if I were you, Anna. You had better rest for a day.”
“I cannot afford to lose a day,” Anna said, again rising in bed, and sitting upright, until the swimming in her head, that commenced upon the least motion, had subsided. Then she got out upon the floor, and stood for a few moments, while her head seemed reeling, and she every instant about to sink down. In a little while this dizziness went off, but her head throbbed and ached with aggravated violence.
At breakfast, she forced herself to swallow a small portion of food, although her stomach loathed it; and then, with trembling limbs and a feeling of faintness, she went out into the open air, and took her way to the store. The fresh breeze, as it fell coolingly on her fevered forehead, revived her in a degree; but long ere she had reached the store her limbs were sinking under her with excessive fatigue.
“Late again, miss–” said her employer, as she came in, with a look of stern reproof.
“I have not been very well, sir,” Anna replied, lifting her pale, languid face, and looking appealingly into the countenance of the store-keeper.
“Then you should stay at home altogether, Miss,” was is cold response, as he turned away, leaving her to proceed to her accustomed station at the counter.
The day happening to be one of unusual activity in business, Anna was kept so constantly busy, that she could not find a moment in which to relieve the fatigue she felt by even leaning on the counter. Customer after customer came and went, and box after box was taken from, and replaced again upon the shelves, in what seemed to her an endless round. Sometimes her head ached so violently, that it was with difficulty she could see to attend correctly to her business. And sometimes she was compelled to steady herself by holding to the counter to prevent sinking to the floor, from a feeling of faintness, suddenly passing over her. Thus she held bravely on, under the feeble hope that her indisposition, as she tried mentally to term it, would wear off.
It was about four o’clock in the afternoon that the fever which had been very high all through the day, began to subside. This symptom she noticed with an emotion of pleasure, as indicating a healthy reaction in her system.
It was but half an hour after, that she sunk, fainting, to the floor, at her place beside the counter. When the fever abated, exhausted nature gave way.
For nearly an hour she remained insensible. And it was nearly two hours before she had so far recovered as to be able to walk, when she was suffered to go away unattended. It was seven o’clock, when, with a face almost as white as ashes, and nearly sinking to the ground with weakness, she arrived at home, and opening the door, slowly entered.
“O, Anna! What ails you?” exclaimed her mother.
“I feel very sick,” the poor girl replied, sinking into a chair. “But where is Alfred?” she asked, in a quicker tone, in which was a strong expression of anxiety, as she glanced her eye about the room, in a vain search for him.
“He has walked out,” Mary said.
“Has he!” ejaculated Anna. “How long has he been away?”
“It is now nearly four hours,’” Mary said, endeavouring to conceal the distress she felt, in pity for her sister, who was evidently quite ill.
“Four hours!” exclaimed Anna, her face blanching to still whiter hue. “Four hours! And do you not know where he is?”
“Indeed we do not, Anna. He went out to take a short walk, and said he would not be gone more than ten or twenty minutes.”
Anna did not reply, but turned slowly away, and entering her chamber, threw herself exhausted upon her bed, feeling so utterly wretched, that she breathed an audible wish that she might die. In about ten minutes a carriage stopped at the door; and in a moment after, amid the rattling of departing wheels, Alfred entered, looking better and happier than he had looked for a long, long time. A single glance told the mother and sister that all was right.
“O, brother! How could you stay away so long?” Mary said, springing to his side, and grasping tightly his arm.
“I did not expect, when I walked out, that it would be so long before I returned, Mary,” he replied, kissing her cheek affectionately. “But I met with an old, though long estranged friend, who seeing that I had been ill, and needed fresh air, insisted on taking me out into the country in his carriage. I could but consent. I was, however, so weak, as to be obliged to go to bed, when about three miles from the city, and lie there for a couple of hours. But I feel well, very well now; and have some good news to tell you. But where is Anna?”
“She has just come in, and gone up to her chamber. I do not think her at all well to-night,” Mary said.
“Poor girl! She is sacrificing herself for the good of others,” Alfred remarked, with tenderness and interest.
“Shall I call her down?” Mary asked.
“O, yes,–by all means.”
Mary went up and found her sister lying across the bed, with her face buried in a pillow.
“Anna! Anna!” she said, taking hold of her and shaking her gently.
Anna immediately arose, and looking wildly around her, muttered something that her sister could not comprehend.
“Anna, brother’s come home.”
But she did not seem to comprehend her meaning.
The glaring brightness of Anna’s eyes, and her flushed cheeks, convinced Mary that all was not right. Stepping to the head of the stairs, she called to Alfred, who instantly came up.
“Here is Alfred, Anna,” she said, as she re-entered the chamber, accompanied by her brother.
For a moment or two, Anna looked upon him with a vacant stare, and then closing her eyes, sunk back upon the bed, murmuring
“It is all over–all over.”
“What is all over, Anna?” her sister asked.
“What is all over?” the sick girl responded, in a sharp, quick tone, rising suddenly, and staring at Mary with a fixed look. “Why, it’s all over with him! Havn’t I drained my heart’s blood for him? Havn’t I stood all day at the counter for his sake, when I felt that I was dying? But it’s all over now! He is lost, and I shall soon be out of this troublesome world!”
And then the poor half-conscious girl, covered her face with her hands and sobbed aloud.
“Don’t do so, dear sister!” Alfred said, pressing up to the bedside, and drawing his arm around her. “Don’t give way so! You won’t have to stand at the counter any longer. I am Alfred–your brother–your long lost, but restored brother, who will care for you and work for you as you have so long cared for and worked for him. Take courage, dear sister! There are better and happier days for you. Do not give up now, at the very moment when relief is at hand.”
Anna looked her brother in the face for a few moments, steadily, as her bewildered senses gradually returned, and she began to comprehend truly what he said, and that it was indeed her brother who stood thus before her, and thus appealed to her with affectionate earnestness.
“O, Alfred,” the almost heart-broken creature, said–as she bent forward, and leaned her head upon his bosom–“Heaven be praised, if you are really and truly in earnest in what you say!”
“I am most solemnly in earnest, dear sister!” the young man said, with fervency and emphasis. “Since I saw you this morning, I have signed my name to the total abstinence pledge, and I will die before that pledge shall be broken! And that is not all. I met Charles Williams immediately after that act, and have had a long interview with him. He confessed to me that he had often felt that he was much to blame for having first introduced me into dissipated company, and that he now desired to aid me in reforming and assisting my mother and sisters, if I would only try and abandon my past evil courses. I responded most gladly to his generous interest, and he then told me, that if I would enter his and his father’s store as a clerk, he would make my salary at once a thousand dollars per annum. Of course I assented to the arrangement with thankfulness. Dear mother! Dear sisters! There is yet, I trust, a brighter day in store for you.”
“May our Heavenly Father cause these good resolutions to abide for ever, my son!” Mrs. Graham, who had followed her children up stairs, said, with tearful earnestness.
“He will cause them to abide, mother, I know that he, will,” Alfred replied.
Just at that moment some one entered below–immediately after quick feet ascended the stairs, and Ellen bounded into the room.
“O, I have such good news to tell!” she exclaimed, panting for breath as she entered. “My husband has joined the reformers! I felt so glad that I had to run over and let you know. O, aint it good news, indeed!” And the poor creature clapped her hands together in an ecstacy of delight.
“It is truly good news, my child,” Mrs. Graham said, as she drew her arm about the neck of Ellen. “And we too have glad tidings. Alfred has joined them also, and has got a situation at a thousand dollars a year.”
Ellen, who had always loved her brother, tenderly, notwithstanding his vile habit of life, turned quickly towards him, and flinging her arms about his neck, said while the tears gushed from her eyes,
“Dear brother! I have never wholly despaired of this hour. Truly, my cup of joy is full and running over!”
It was about eleven o’clock on the next day, as Mary and her mother sat conversing by the side of the bed upon which lay Anna, now too ill to sit up, that a knock was heard below. Mrs. Graham went down and opened the door, when an elegantly dressed lady entered, calling her by name as she did so, at the same time asking for Anna and Mary.
She was shown up stairs by the mother, who did not recognise her, although both voice and face seemed familiar. On entering the chamber, Mary turned to her and exclaimed–
“Mary Williams! Is it possible!”
“And Mary Graham, is it indeed possible that I see you thus!”–(kissing her)” And Anna–is that pale, worn face, the face of my old friend and companion, Anna Graham?” And she bent down over the bed and kissed the lips and cheek of the sick girl, tenderly, while her eyes grew dim with tears. “How changed in a few short years!” she added, as she took a proffered chair. “Who could have dreamed, seven years ago, that we should ever meet thus!”
In a short time, as the first shock and surprise of meeting passed off, Mary Williams, or rather Mrs. Harwood, entered into a serious conversation with Mrs. Graham, and her daughters, in reference to the past, the present, and the future. After learning all that she could of their history since their father’s failure, which was detailed without disguise by Mary–Anna was too feeble to converse–Mrs. Harwood turned to Mary and asked suddenly–
“Do you know this cape, Mary?” alluding to one she had on.
“O, yes–very well.”
“You worked it, did you not?”
“For what price?”
“Is it possible! I bought it of Mrs.–for French, and paid her for it fifteen dollars.”
“Fifteen dollars!” ejaculated Mary, in surprise. “How shamefully that woman has imposed upon me! During the last two years, I have worked at least one hundred capes for her, each of which brought me in only two dollars. No doubt she has regularly sold them for French goods, at from ten to fifteen dollars apiece.”
“No doubt of it. I, myself, have bought several from her during that time at high prices, all of which may have been worked by you. I saw you in her store a few days ago, but did not recognise you, although your appearance, as it did several times here before, attracted my attention. I had my suspicions, after I had learned from Mrs.–who you were, that you had wrought this cape, and from having overheard you ask her for an advance of six dollars, as the price of three capes, was pretty well satisfied that two dollars was all you received for it. I at once determined to seek you out, and try to aid you in your severe struggle with the world. It was only last evening that I learned from my brother where you lived–and I also learned, what rejoiced my heart, that there was about occurring a favourable change in your circumstances. If, however, your health should permit, and your inclination prompt you to do so, I will take care that you get a much better price for any capes that you may hereafter work. They are richly worth ten and twelve dollars apiece, and at that price, I have no doubt but that I can get sales for many.”
“Bless you, Mary! Bless you!” Anna said, smiling through gushing tears, as she rose up in the bed, and bent over towards her old friend and companion. “Your words have fallen upon my heart like a healing balsam!”
Mrs. Harwood came forward, and received the head of Anna upon her bosom, while she drew an arm round her waist, and bent down and pressed her with tenderness and affection.
A better day had truly dawned upon this ruined and deeply afflicted family. Mrs. Harwood and her brother continued to be their steady friends. For a year Alfred remained in his new situation as an efficient clerk, and at the end of that time had his salary advanced. During that period, Mary, and Anna, whose health had become measurably restored, employed all their spare time in embroidery, which, at the excellent prices which, through the aid of Mrs. Harwood, they were enabled to get for their really beautiful work, brought in a handsome addition to their brother’s earnings, and this enabled them to live in independence, comfort and respectability. As for Ellen, her husband had become truly a reformed man, and provided for her comfortably.
It is now nearly two years since this happy change took place, and there is every appearance that another and a still happier one is about to occur in reference to Anna. Charles Williams is seen very often, of late, riding out with her and attending her to public places. The reader can easily guess the probable result. If there; is not a wedding-party soon, then appearances, in this case at least, are very deceptive.