When Sally Lester gave her hand in marriage to Ralph Lyon, she was a delicate, timid girl of eighteen, who had passed the Springtime of life happily beneath her father’s roof. To her, care, anxiety, and trouble were yet strangers. The first few years of her married life passed happily for Ralph was one of the kindest of husbands, and suffered his wife to lean upon him so steadily, that the native strength of her own character remained undeveloped.
Ralph Lyon was an industrious mechanic, who always had steady work and good wages. Still, he did not seem to get ahead as some others did, notwithstanding Sally was a frugal wife, and did all her own work, instead of putting him to the expense of help in the family. Of course, this being the case, it was evident that there was a leak somewhere, but where it was neither Ralph nor his wife could tell.
“Thomas Jones has bought the piece of ground next to his cottage,” said Ralph one day to Sally, “and says that next year he hopes to be able to put up a small frame-house, big enough for them to live in. He paid sixty dollars for the lot, and it is at least a quarter of an acre. He is going to put it all in garden this spring, and says he will raise enough to give him potatoes, and other vegetables for a year to come. It puzzles me to know how he saves money. He doesn’t get any better wages than I do, and his family is quite as large.”
“I am sure,” returned Sally, who felt that there was something like a reflection upon her in what her husband said, “that Nancy Jones doesn’t spend her husband’s earnings more frugally than I do mine. Every week she has a woman to help her wash, and I do it all myself.”
“I am sure it isn’t your fault, at least I don’t think it is,” replied Ralph; “but something is wrong somewhere. I don’t spend any thing at all, except for a glass or two every day, and a little tobacco; and this, of course, couldn’t make the difference.”
Sally said nothing. A few glasses a day and tobacco, she knew, must cost something, though, like her husband, she did not believe it would make the difference of buying a quarter of an acre of ground, and building a snug cottage in the course of a few years.
Let us see how this is. Perhaps we can find out the leak that wasted the substance of Ralph Lyon. He never drank less than three glasses a-day, and sometimes four; and his tobacco cost, for smoking and chewing, just twelve and a half cents a week. Now, how much would all this amount to? Why, to just sixty-five dollars a year, provided but three glasses a-day were taken, and nothing was spent in treating a friend. But the limit was not always observed, and the consequence was, that, take the year through, at least eighty dollars were spent in drinking, smoking, and chewing. Understanding this, the thing is very plain. In four years, eighty dollars saved in each year would give the handsome sum of three hundred and twenty dollars. Thomas Jones neither drank, smoked, nor chewed, and, consequently, not only saved money enough in a few years to build himself a snug little house, but could afford, during the time, to let his wife have a washer-woman to help her every week, and to dress much more comfortably than Sally Lyon had been able to do.
The difference in the condition of the two families sets Mrs. Lyon to thinking very seriously about the matter, and thinking and calculating soon made the cause quite plain to her. It was the drinking and the smoking. But with a discovery of the evil did not come a cheering consciousness of its easy removal. How could she ask Ralph to give up his glass and his tobacco, to both of which he seemed so strongly wedded? He worked hard for his money, and if he chose to enjoy it in that way, she had no heart to interfere with him. But from the time that Ralph discovered how well his neighbor Jones was getting along, while he, like a horse in a mill, had been toiling and sweating for years, and yet stood in the same place, he became dissatisfied, and often expressed this dissatisfaction to Sally, at the same time declaring his inability to tell where all the money he earned went to.
At length Sally ventured to hint at the truth. But Ralph met it with
“Pooh! nonsense! Don’t tell me that a glass of liquor, now and then, and a bit of tobacco, are going to make all that difference. It isn’t reasonable. Besides, I work very hard, and I ought to have a little comfort with it when I’m tired, a glass warms me up, and makes me bright again; and I am sure I couldn’t do without my pipe.”
“I don’t ask you to do so, Ralph,” replied Sally. “I only said what I did, that you might see why we couldn’t save money like our neighbor Jones. I am sure I am very careful in our expenses, and I haven’t bought myself a new gown for a long time, although I am very bare of clothes.”
The way in which Ralph replied to his wife’s suggestion of the cause of the evil complained of, determined her to say no more; and as he felt some convictions on the subject, which he was not willing to admit, he was ever afterward silent about the unaccountable way in which his money went.
In about the same ratio that the external condition of Thomas Jones improved, did that of Ralph Lyon grow worse and worse. From not being able to save any thing, he gradually began to fall in debt. When quarter-day came round, there was generally several dollars wanting to make up the rent; and their landlord, with much grumbling on his part, was compelled to wait for the balance some two or three weeks beyond the due-day. At length the quarter-day found Ralph with nothing laid by for his rent. Somehow or other, he was not able to earn as much, from sickness, and days lost from other causes; and what he did earn appeared to melt away like snow in the sunshine.
Poor Mrs. Lyon felt very miserable at the aspect of things; more especially, as in addition to the money squandered at the ale-house by her husband, he often came home intoxicated. The grief to her was more severe, from the fact that she loved Ralph tenderly, notwithstanding his errors. When he came home in liquor, she did not chide him, nor did she say any thing to him about it when he was sober; for then he appeared so ashamed and cut down, that she could not find it in her heart to utter a single word.
One day she was alarmed by a message from Ralph that he had been arrested, while at his work, for debt, by his landlord, who was going to throw him in jail. They now owed him over twenty dollars. The idea of her husband being thrown into a jail was terrible to poor Mrs. Lyon. She asked a kind neighbor to take care of her children for her, and then putting on her bonnet, she almost flew to the magistrate’s office. There was Ralph, with an officer by his side ready to remove him to prison.
“You shan’t take my husband to jail,” she said, wildly, when she saw the real aspect of things, clinging fast hold of Ralph. “Nobody shall take him to jail.”
“I am sorry, my good woman,” said the magistrate, “to do so, but it can’t be helped. The debt must be paid, or your husband will have to go to jail. I have no discretion in the matter. Can you find means to pay the debt? If not, perhaps you had better go and see your landlord; you may prevail on him to wait a little longer for his money, and not send your husband to jail.”
“Yes, Sally, do go and see him,” said Ralph; “I am sure he will relent when he sees you.”
Mrs. Lyon let go the arm of her husband, and, darting from the office, ran at full speed to the house of their landlord.
“Oh, sir!” she exclaimed, “you cannot, you will not send my husband to jail.”
“I both can and will,” was the gruff reply. “A man who drinks up his earnings as he does, and then, when quarter day comes, can’t pay his rent, deserves to go to jail.”
“But, sir, consider”
“Don’t talk to me, woman! If you have the money for the rent, I will take it, and let your husband go free; if not, the quicker you leave here the better.”
It was vain, she saw, to strive with the hard-hearted man, whose face was like iron. Hurriedly leaving his house, she hastened back to the office, but her husband was not there. In her absence he had been removed to prison. When Mrs. Lyon fully understood this, she made no remark, but turned from the magistrate and walked home with a firm step. The weakness of the woman was giving way to the quickening energies of the wife, whose husband was in prison, and could not be released except by her efforts. On entering her house, she went to her drawers, and took therefrom a silk dress, but little worn, a mother’s present when she was married; a good shawl, that she had bought from her own earnings when a happy maiden; a few articles of jewelry, that had not been worn for years, most of them presents from Ralph before they had stood at the bridal altar, and sundry other things, that could best be dispensed with. These she took to a pawn-broker’s, and obtained an advance of fifteen dollars. She had two dollars in the house, which made seventeen; the balance of the required sum she borrowed from two or three of her neighbors, and then hurried off to obtain her husband’s release.
For a time, the rigid proceedings of the landlord proved a useful lesson to Ralph Lyon. He worked more steadily, and was rather more careful of his earnings. But this did not last a great while. Appetite, long indulged, was strong; and he soon returned to his old habits.
The shock the imprisonment of her husband produced, awoke Mrs. Lyon to the necessity of doing something to increase their income. All that he brought home each week was scarcely sufficient to buy food; and it was clear that there would be nothing with which to pay rent when next quarter day came round, unless it should be the product of her own exertions. Plain sewing was obtained by Mrs. Lyon, and an additional labor of three or four hours in the twentyfour added to her already overtasked body. Instead of feeling rebuked at this, the besotted husband only perceived in it a license for him to use his own earnings more freely, thus making his poor wife’s condition really worse than it was before.
Things, instead of getting better, grew worse, year after year. The rent Mrs. Lyon managed always to pay; for the fear of seeing her husband carried off to jail was ever before her eyes, stimulating her to constant exertion; but down, down, down they went steadily and surely, and the light of hope faded daily, and grew dimmer and dimmer before the eyes of the much-enduring wife and mother. Amid all, her patience was wonderful. She never spoke angrily to Ralph, but strove, rather, always to appear cheerful before him. If he was disposed to talk, she would talk with him, and humor his mood of mind; if he was gloomy and silent, she would intrude nothing upon him calculated to fret his temper; if he complained, she tried to soothe him. But it availed nothing. The man was in a charmed circle, and every impulse tended to throw him into the centre where ruin awaited him.
At last even the few dollars she had received every week from her husband’s earnings, ceased to come into her hands. The wretched man worked little over half his time, and drank up all that he made. Even the amount of food that the entire product of Mrs. Lyon’s labor would procure, was barely sufficient to satisfy the hunger of her family. The clothes of her children soon began to hang in tatters about them; her own garments were faded, worn, and patched; and every thing about the house that had not been sold to pay rent, was in a dilapidated condition. Still, there had been no unkind word, not even a remonstrance from the much-enduring wife.
Matters at last reached a climax. Poor Mrs. Lyon had not been able to get any thing to do for a week, and all supplies of food, except a little meal, were exhausted. An anxious day had closed, and at night-fall the mother made some hasty-pudding for the children, which was eaten with a little milk. This consumed her entire store. She had four children, the two oldest she put to bed, but kept the two youngest, one five years old, and the other three, up with her. She moved about with a firmer step than usual, and her lips were tightly closed, as if she had made up her mind to do something from which, under ordinary circumstances, she would have shrunk.
After the older children had been put to bed, she made the two younger ones draw near to the hearth, upon which a few brands were burning, and warm themselves as well as the feeble heat emitted by the almost exhausted fire would permit. Then she wrapped each around with a piece of an old shawl, and after putting on her bonnet, took them by the hands and left the house. It was a chilly night in winter. The wind swept coldly along the streets, piercing through the thin garments of the desperate mother, who was leading forth her tender little ones on some strange, unnatural errand. But she shrunk not in the blast, but walked rapidly along, almost dragging the children after her. At length she stopped before the window of an ale-house, and standing on tip-toe, looked over the red curtain that shaded half the window, and concealed the inmates from the view of passers by. Within she saw her husband sitting comfortably by a table, a glass by his side, and a pipe in his mouth. Half a dozen pot-companions were sitting around, and all seemed enjoying themselves well.
Mrs. Lyon remained without only a few moments; then taking hold of the door she walked firmly in, and without appearing to notice her husband, went up to the bar and called for three glasses of brandy. After doing this, she seated herself at a table near by her husband. Great, of course, was the surprise of Lyon at this apparition. He jumped from his chair and stood before his wife, just as she had taken her seat at the table, saying, in an undertone, as he did so...
“For Heaven’s sake, Sally! what brings you here?”
“It is very lonesome at home, Ralph,” she replied, in a calm but sad voice. “Our wood is all gone, and it is cold there. I am your wife, and there is no company for me like yours. I will go anywhere to be with you. I am willing to come even here.”
“But, Sally, to think of your coming to such a place as this.”
“If it is pleasant to you, it shall be so to me. Any where that my husband goes, surely I can go. God hath joined us together as one, and nothing should divide us.”
By this time the three glasses of brandy that Mrs. Lyon had called for were placed before her on the table.
“Bring another glass,” said Mrs. Lyon calmly, “my husband will drink with us.”
“Sally, are you mad?” ejaculated Ralph.
“Mad, to go with my husband? Why should you say that, Ralph? Drink, children,” she added, turning to her two little ones, and placing a glass of unadulterated brandy before them. “It will do you good.” As Sally said this, she lifted her own glass to her lips.
“Surely, you are not going to drink that?” said Ralph.
“Why not? You drink to forget sorrow; and if brandy have that effect, I am sure no living creature needs it more than I do. Besides, I have eaten nothing today, and need something to strengthen me.”
Saying this, she sipped the burning liquid, and smacking her lips, looked up into her husband’s face and smiled.
“It warms to the very heart, Ralph!” she said. “I feel better already.” Then turning to the children, whose glasses remained untouched before them, she said to the astonished little ones,
“Drink, my children! It is very good.”
“Woman! are you mad? My children shall not touch it;” and he lifted the glasses from the table and handed them to one of the company that had crowded around to witness this strange scene.
“Why not?” said his wife, in the calm tone with which she had at first spoken. “If it is good for you, it is good for your wife and children. It will put these dear ones to sleep, and they will forget that they are cold and hungry. To you it is fire and food and bed and clothing, all these we need, and you will surely not withhold them from us.”
By this time Ralph was less under the influence of liquor than he had been for weeks, although he had drank as freely as ever through the day. Taking hold of his wife’s arm, he said, in a kind voice, for he began to think that her mind was really wandering
“Come, Sally, let us go home.”
“Why should we go, Ralph?” she replied, keeping her seat. “There is no fire at home, but it is warm and comfortable here. There is no food there, but here is plenty to eat and to drink. I don’t wonder that you liked this place better than home, and I am sure I would rather stay here.”
The drunken husband was confounded. He knew not what to do or to say. The words of his wife smote him to the heart; for she uttered a stunning rebuke that could not be gainsaid. He felt a choking sensation, and his trembling knees bore heavily against each other.
“Sally,” he said, after a pause, in an altered and very earnest tone - “I know it is more comfortable here than it is at home, but I am going home, and I intend staying there. Wont you go with me, and try to make it as comfortable as it used to be? The change is all my fault, I know; but it shall be my fault no longer. Here, once and forever, I solemnly pledge myself before God never again to drink the poison that has made me more than half a brute, and beggared my poor family. Come, Sally! Let us hurry away from here; the very air oppresses me. Come, in Heaven’s name! come!”
Quickly, as if an electric shock had startled her, did Mrs. Lyon spring from her seat, as her husband uttered the last word, and lay hold of his arm with an eager grasp.
“The Lord in heaven be praised!” she said, solemnly, “for it is his work. Yes, come! Let us go quickly. There will again be light, and fire and food in our dwelling. Our last days may yet be our best days.”
Lifting each a child from the floor, the husband and wife left that den of misery with as hasty steps as Christian’s when he fled from the City of Destruction.
The hopeful declaration of Mrs. Lyon proved indeed true. There was soon light, and fire, and food again in that cheerless dwelling; and the last days of Ralph and his family have proved to be their best days. He has never since tasted the tempting cup, and finds that it is a very easy matter to save one or two dollars a week, and yet live very comfortably.
The scene in the ale-house is never alluded to by either the husband or wife. They take no pleasure in looking back, preferring, rather, to look forward with hope. When it is thought of by either, it is something as a man who has endured a painful operation to save his life, thinks of the intense sufferings he then endured.