The Drunkard's Good Angels
by Timothy Shay Arthur
"Come, Ady and Jane, it's time that you were in bed," said Mrs. Freeman to her two little girls, about nine o'clock one evening. Ady was nine years old, and Jane was a year and a half younger. The two children had been sitting at the worktable with their mother, one of them studying her lesson, and the other engaged on a piece of needlework.
"Papa hasn't come yet," answered Ady.
"No, dear. But it's getting late, and is time you were in bed. He may not be home for an hour."
Ady laid aside her work and left the table, and Jane closed her books and put them away in her school-satchel.
"You can light the little lamp on the mantel-piece," said Mrs. Freeman, after a few minutes, looking around as she spoke, when she saw that the children had both put on their bonnets, and were tying their warm capes close about their necks. She understood very well the meaning of this; and, therefore, did not ask a question, although the tears came to her eyes, and her voice trembled as she said —
"It is very cold out, tonight, children."
"But we won't feel it, mother," replied Ady. "We'll run along very quickly."
And the two little ones went out, before their mother, whose feelings were choking her, could say a word more. As they closed the door after them, and left her alone, she raised her eyes upward, and murmured —
"God bless and reward these dear children!"
It was a bleak, winter night; and, as the little adventurers stepped into the street, the wind swept fiercely along, and almost drove them back against the door. But they caught each other tightly by the hands, and bending their little bodies forward to meet the pressure of the cold, rushing air, hurried as fast as their feet could move. The streets were dark and deserted, but the children were not afraid; love filled their hearts, and left no room for fear.
They did not speak a word to each other as they hastened along. After going for a distance of several blocks, they stopped before a house, over the door of which was a handsome, ornamental gas-lamp, bearing the words "Bill's Barroom." It was a strange place for two little girls like them to enter, and at such an hour; but after standing for a moment, they pushed against the green door, which turned lightly on its hinges, and stepped into a large and brilliantly lighted bar-room.
"Oh dear!" exclaimed a man, who sat reading at a table. "Here are those two children again!"
Ady and Jane stood still, near the door, and looked all around the room. But not seeing the object of their search, they went up to the bar, and said timidly to a man who stood behind it, pouring liquor into glasses —
"Has papa been here tonight?"
The man leaned over the bar, until his face was close to the children, when he said, in an angry way —
"I don't know anything about your father. And don't you girls come here any more. If you do, I'll call my big dog out of the yard, and make him bite you!"
Ady and Jane felt frightened, as well by the harsh manner, as the angry words of the man, and they started walking away from him, and were turning toward the door with sad faces, when the person who had first niticed their entrance called out, loud enough for them to hear him —
"Come here, little girls!"
The children stopped and looked at him, when he beckoned for them to approach, and they did so.
"Are you looking for your father?" he asked.
"Yes, sir," replied Ady.
"What did that man at the bar say to you?"
"He said papa wasn't here; and that if we came any more, he would set his big dog on us to bite us."
The man knit his brows for an instant. Then he said —
"Who sent you here?"
"Nobody," answered Ady.
"Doesn't your mother know you have come?":
"Yes, sir. She told us to go to bed; but we couldn't go to bed until papa was home. And so we came for him, first."
"He is here!"
"Is he?" And the children's faces brightened.
"Yes. He's at the other side of the room asleep. I'll wake him for you."
Half drunk, and sound asleep — it was with some difficulty that Mr. Freeman could be aroused.
As soon, however, as his eyes were fairly opened, and he found that Ady and Jane had each grasped tightly one of his hands — he rose up, and yielding passively to their direction, allowed them to lead him away.
"Oh dear!" exclaimed a man who had looked on with wonder and deep interest. "God bless the little ones!" he added with emotion, "and give them a sober father."
"I guess you never saw them before?" said one of the bar-keepers lightly.
"No; and I never wish to again; at least in this place. Who is their father?"
"Freeman, the lawyer."
"Not the one who, a few years ago, conducted, with so much ability, the case against the Marine Insurance Company?"
"Yes it is."
"Is it possible?"
A little group now formed around the man, and a good deal was said about Freeman and his fall into drunkenness. One who had several times seen Ady and Jane come in, and lead him home as they had just done — spoke of them with much feeling, and all agreed that it was a most touching sight.
"See," said one, "how passively he yields himself to the little girls, when they come for him. I feel, sometimes, when I see them, almost weak enough to shed tears."
"They are his good angels," remarked another. "But I'm afraid they are not strong enough to lead him back to the right paths which he has forsaken."
"You can think what you please about it, gentlemen," spoke up the bar-tender, "but I can tell you my opinion on the subject: I wouldn't give much for the mother who would let two little girls like them go wandering about the street alone, at this time of night!"
One of those who had expressed interest in the children, felt angry at this remark, and he retorted with some bitterness —
"And I would give less for the bar-tender who would make their father drunk!"
"I agree with that!" responded one of the company.
"And here's my hand to that!" said another.
The bar-tender, finding that the majority of his company were likely to be against him, smothered his angry feelings and kept silence. A few minutes afterward, two or three of the people in the bar-room left.
About ten o'clock on the next morning, while Mr. Freeman, who was generally sober in the beginning of the day, was in his office — a stranger entered, and after sitting down, said —
"I must beg your pardon beforehand for what I am going to say. Will you promise not to be offended?"
"If you offer me an insult, then I will resent it," said the lawyer.
"So far from that, I come with the ask to do you a great service."
"Very well. Speak on."
"I was at Bill's Barroom last night."
"And I saw something there that really touched my heart. I could hardly sleep at all last night. I am a father, sir! I have two little girls; and I love them tenderly. Oh, sir! Just the thought of their going outside in the cold winter night, in search of me, in such a vile place, makes the blood feel cold in my veins!"
Words so unexpected, coming upon Mr. Freeman when he was comparatively sober, disturbed him deeply. In spite of all his endeavors to remain calm, he trembled all over. He made an effort to say something in reply; but could not utter a word.
"My dear sir," pursued the stranger, "you have fallen at the hand of the monster, drunkenness; and I feel that I myself am also in great peril. You have not, however, fallen hopelessly. You may yet rise, if you will. Let me, then, in the name of the sweet babes who have shown, in so wonderful a manner, their love for you — implore you to rise superior to this deadly foe. Reward those dear children with the highest blessing their hearts can desire. Come with me and sign the pledge never to drink alcohol again. Let us, though strangers to each other, let us unite in this one good act. Come!"
Half bewildered, yet, with a new hope in his heart, Freeman arose, and allowed the man, who drew his arm within his, to lead him away. Before they separated, both had gone to the town hall and signed the pledge.
That evening, unexpectedly, and to the joy of his family, Mr. Freeman was perfectly sober when he came home. After tea, while Ady and Jane were standing on either side of him, as he sat near their mother, an arm around each of them, he said, in a low whisper, as he bent his head down and drew them closer —
"You will never have to come to the barroom for me again."
The children lifted their eyes quickly to his face, but half understanding what he meant.
"I will never go there again!" he added. "After work, I will always come home to be with you."
Ady and Jane, now comprehending what their father meant, overcome with joy — hid their faces in his lap and wept for gladness.
As low as all this had been said, every word reached the mother's ear; and while her heart yet stood trembling between hope and fear, Mr. Freeman drew a paper from his pocket and placed it on the table by which she was sitting. She opened it hastily. It was a pledge never to drink alcohol again, with his well-known signature signed at the bottom.
With a cry of joy she sprang to his side, and his arms encircled his wife as well as his two precious little ones, in a fonder embrace than they had known for years.
The children's love had saved their father! They were, indeed, his good angels.