The Fair Tempter
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"What will you drink, Haley?"
"A glass of water."
"Nonsense! What will you drink?"
"A glass of water. I don't drink anything stronger."
"Not a teetotaler? Ha! ha! ha!" rejoined the young man's companion, laughing in mingled mirth and ridicule.
"Yes, a teetotaler, if you please," replied the one called
Haley. "Or anything else you choose to denominate me."
"You're a member of a temperance society, then? ha! ha!"
"No, I am not."
"Don't belong to the cold-water men?"
"Then come along and drink with me! Here, what will you take?"
"Nothing at all, unless it be a glass of water. As I have just said,
I drink nothing stronger."
"What's the reason?"
"I feel as well — indeed, a great deal better without it."
"That's all nonsense! Come, take a mint julep, or a brandy-punch with me."
"No, Loring, I cannot."
"I shall take it as an offence, if you do not."
"I mean no offence, and shall be sorry, if you construe into one an act not so intended. Drink if you wish to drink, but leave me in freedom to decline tasting liquor if I choose."
"Well, you are a strange kind of a genius, Haley — but I believe I like you too well to get mad with you, although I generally take a refusal to drink with one as an insult, unless I know the person to have joined a temperance society — and then I would deem the insult on my part, were I to urge him to violate his pledge. But I wonder you have never joined yourself to some of these ultra reformers — these teetotalers, as they call themselves."
"I have never done so — and never intend doing so. It is sufficient for me to decline drinking, because I do not believe that stimulating beverages are good for the body or mind. I act from principle in this matter, and therefore, need no external restraints."
"Then you are determined not to drink with me?"
"O, yes, I will drink with you."
"One julep, and a glass of Adam's-ale," said Loring, turning to the bar-keeper.
They were soon presented, glasses touched, heads bobbed, and the contents of the two tumblers poured down their respective gullets.
"It makes a chill go over me to see you drinking that stuff," Loring said, with an expression of disgust on his face.
"Everyone to his taste, you know," was Haley's half-indifferent response.
"You'll be over tonight, I suppose?" said a young man, stepping up to him, as the two emerged from the tavern.
"O, yes — of course."
"You'd better not come."
"Clara's got a bottle of champaign that she says she's going to make you taste this very night."
A slight shadow flitted quickly over the face of Haley, as the young man said this. But it was as quickly gone, and he replied with a smile,
"Tell Clara it's no use. I'm an incorrigible cold-water man."
"She'll be too much for you."
"I'm not afraid."
"You'd be, if you were as well acquainted with her as I am. I never knew that girl to set her head about anything in my life that she didn't accomplish it. And she says that she will make you drink a glass of wine with her, in spite of all your opposition."
"She'll find herself foiled once in her life," was the laughing reply; "and so you may as well tell her that all her efforts will be in vain, and thus save further trouble."
"No, I won't, though. I'll tell her to go on, while I stand off and look at the fun. I'll bet on her, into the bargain, for I know she'll beat you."
"So will I, two to one!" broke in Loring —
"Don't be so certain of that."
"We'll see," was the laughing response, and then the young men separated.
Manley, the individual who had met Loring and Haley at the tavern door, was the brother of Clara, and Haley was her accepted lover. The latter had removed to the city in which all the parties resided, some two years before, from the east, and had commenced business for himself. Nothing was known of his previous life, or connections. But the pure gold of his character soon became apparent, and guarantied him a reception into good society. All who came into association with him, were impressed in his favor.
Steadily, however, during that time, had he persisted in not tasting any kind of stimulating drinks. All kinds of stimulating condiments at table, were likewise avoided. The circle of acquaintances which had gradually formed around him, or into which, rather, he had been introduced, was a wine and brandy-drinking set of young men, and he was frequently urged to partake with them; but neither persuasion, ridicule, nor pretended anger, could, in the least move him from his fixed resolution. Such scenes as that just presented, were of frequent occurrence, particularly with recent acquaintances, as was the case with Loring.
Within a year he had been paying attention to Clara Manley, a happy-hearted young creature, over whose head scarce eighteen bright summers had yet passed. Esteem and admiration of her mind and person, had gradually changed into a pure and permanent affection, which was tenderly and truly reciprocated.
Wine, in the house of Mr. Manley, was used almost as freely as water. It was, with brandy, an invariable accompaniment of the dinner-table, and no evening passed without its being served around. Haley's refusal to touch it, was at first thought singular by Clara; but she soon ceased to observe the omission, and the servant soon learned in no case to present him the decanter. George Manley, however, could not tolerate Haley's temperate habits, because he thought his abstinence a mere whim, and bantered him upon it whenever occasion offered. At last, he aroused Clara's mind into opposition, and incited her to make an effort to induce her lover to drink.
"What's the use of my doing it, brother?" she asked, when he first alluded to it. "His not drinking does no harm to anyone."
"If it doesn't, it makes him appear very singular. No matter who is here — no matter on what occasion, he must adhere to his foolish resolution. People will begin to think, after a while, that he's some reformed drunkard, and is afraid to taste a drop of any kind of liquor."
"How can you talk so, George?" Clara said, with a half-offended air.
"So it will appear, Clara; and you can't help it, unless you laugh him out of his folly."
"I don't wish to say anything to him about it."
"No, I am not, George."
"Yes, you are."
"What am I afraid of?"
"Why, you're afraid that you won't succeed."
"Indeed, then, and I am not. A mere notion like that, I could easily prevail on him to give up. I would be sorry, indeed, if I had not that much influence over him."
"You'll find it a pretty hard notion to beat out of him, I can tell you. I've seen half a dozen young men try for an hour by all kinds of means to induce him to taste wine; but it was no use. He was immovable."
"I don't care — he couldn't refuse me, if I set myself about it."
"He could, and he would, Clara."
"I don't believe a word of it."
"Try him, then."
"I don't see any use in it. Let him enjoy his total-abstinence if he wishes to."
"I knew you were afraid."
"Indeed, I am not, then."
"Yes, you are."
"It's no such thing."
"Try him, then."
"I will, then, since it's come to that."
"He'll be too much for you."
"Don't flatter yourself. I'll manage him."
"Why, I'll insist on his taking a glass of that delightful champaign with me, which you sent home yesterday."
"Suppose he declines?"
"I won't take his refusal. He shall take a glass with me."
"We'll see, little sis'. I'll bet on Haley." — And so saying, the young man turned away laughing at the success of his scheme.
That evening, towards nine o'clock, as Haley sat conversing with
Clara, a servant entered the room as usual with bottles and glasses. George Manley was promptly on his feet, to cut the cork and "pop" the champaign, which he did, while the servant stood just before Clara and her lover.
"You must take a glass of this fine champaign with me, Mr. Haley," the young tempter said, turning upon him a most winning smile.
"Indeed, Clara — "
"Not a word now. I shall take no refusal."
"I must be — "
"Pour him out a glass, George."
And George filled two glasses, one of which Clara lifted, with the sparkling liquor at the height of its effervescence.
"There's the other; take it quick, before it dies," she said, holding her own glass near her lips.
"You must excuse me, Clara. I do not drink wine," Mr. Haley said, as soon as he was permitted to speak, in a tone and with a manner that settled the question at once.
"Indeed, it is too bad, Mr. Haley!" Clara responded, with a half-offended air, putting her untasted glass of wine back upon the waiter — "to deny me so trifling a request. I must say, that your refusal is very ungallant. Whoever heard of a gentleman declining to take wine with a lady?"
"There certainly is an exception to the rule tonight, Clara," the young man said. "Still, I can assure you, that nothing ungallant was meant. But that you know to be out of the question. I could not be rude to any lady, much less to you."
"O, as to that, it's easy to make fine speeches — but acts, you know, speak louder than words" — Clara said, half-laughing — half-serious.
The servant had, by this time, passed on with the untasted wine; and, of course, no further effort could be made towards driving the young man from his position. His positive refusal to drink, however, under the circumstances, very naturally disappointed Clara. He observed the sudden revulsion of feeling that took place in her mind, and it pained him very much.
As for her, she felt herself positively offended. She had set her heart upon proving to her brother her power over Haley, but had signally failed in the effort. He had proved to her immovable in his singular position.
From that time, for many weeks, there was a coldness between him and Clara. She did not receive him with her accustomed cordiality; but seemed both hurt and offended. To take a simple glass of champaign with her was so small a request, involving, as she reasoned, no violation of principle, that for him to refuse to do so, under all the circumstances, was almost unpardonable.
Affection, however, at last triumphed over wounded pride, but not until he had begun, seriously, to debate the question of proposing to her a dissolution of the contract existing between them.
Everything again went on smoothly enough, for there was no further effort on the part of Clara to drive her lover from his resolution. But she still entertained the idea of doing so — and still resolved that she would conquer him.
At last the wedding-day was set, and both looked forward to its approach with feelings of pure delight. Their friends, without an exception, approved the match; and well they might, for he was a man of known integrity, fine intellect, and cultivated tastes; and she a young woman in every way fitted to unite with him in marriage bonds.
Finally came the long anticipated evening. Never before was there assembled in the old mansion of Mr. Manley a happier company than that which had gathered to witness the marriage of his daughter, whose young heart trembled in the fullness of its delight, as she uttered the sealing words of her union with one who possessed all her heart.
"May kind Heaven bless you, my child!" murmured the mother, as she pressed her lips to those of her happy child.
"And make your life glide on as peacefully as a quiet stream," added the father, kissing her in turn, scarcely refraining, as he did so, from taking her in his arms and folding her to his bosom.
Then came crowding upon her the sincere congratulations of friends. O, how happy she felt. Joy seemed to have reached a climax. The cup was so full, that a drop more would have overflowed the brim.
A few minutes sufficed to restore again the order that had reigned through the rooms, and the servants appeared with the bride's cake. All eyes were upon the happy couple.
"You won't refuse me now, James?" the bride said, in a low tone; but with an appealing look, as she reached out her hand and lifted a glass of wine.
There was a hesitation in the manner of Haley, and Clara saw it. She knew that all eyes were upon them, and she knew that all had observed her challenge. Her pride was roused, and she could not bear the thought of being refused her first request after marriage.
"Take it, James, for my sake, even if you only place it to your lips without tasting it," she said, in a low, hurried whisper.
The young husband could not stand this. He took the glass, while the heart of Clara bounded with an exulting throb. Of course, having gone thus far, he had to go through the form of drinking with her. In doing so, he sipped but a few drops. These thrilled on the nerve of taste with a sensation of exquisite pleasure. Involuntarily he placed the glass to his lips again, and took a slight draught.
Then a sudden chill passed through his frame as consciousness returned, and he would gladly have dashed the glass from him as a poisoning serpent that was preparing to sting him, but for the company that crowded the rooms. From this state he was aroused by the sweet voice of his young wife, saying, in happy tones —
"So it has not poisoned you, James."
He smiled an answer, but did not speak. The peculiar expression of that smile, Clara remembered for many years afterwards.
"Come! you must empty your glass with me," she said, in a moment after. "See! you have scarcely tasted it yet. Now — "
And she raised her glass, and he did the same. When he withdrew his own from his lips, it was empty.
"Bravo!" — exclaimed Clara, in a low, triumphant tone.
"Now, isn't that delightful wine?"
"Did you ever taste wine before, James?" the bride laughingly said —
"O, yes, many a time. But none so exquisitely flavored as this."
"Long abstinence has sweetened it to your taste."
"Clara has been too much for you tonight, Haley," George Manley said, coming up at this moment, and laughing in great glee.
"He couldn't refuse me on such an occasion" — the bride gaily responded. "I set my heart on making him drink wine with me on our wedding-night, and I have succeeded."
"Are you sure he hasn't poured it slyly upon the floor?"
"O, yes! I saw him take every drop. And what is more; he smacked his lips, and said it was exquisitely flavored."
"Here comes the servant again," George said, at this moment. "Come, James! let me fill your glass again. You must drink with me tonight. You've never given me that pleasure yet. Come! As well be hung for a sheep, as for a lamb." Thus importuned, Haley held up his glass which George Manley filled to the brim.
"Health and happiness!" the young man said, bowing.
Haley bowed in return, placed the glass to his lips, and took its contents at a draught.
"Bravely done! Why, it seems to go down quite naturally. You were not always a total-abstinence man?"
"No, I was not." While a slight shadow flitted over his face.
"Welcome back again, then, to a truly social, and convivial spirit!
After this, don't let me ever see you refuse a generous glass."
"What! An empty wine-glass in the hand of young Mr. Incorrigible! Upon my word!" ejaculated old Mr. Manley, coming up at this moment.
"O, yes, father! I've conquered him tonight! He couldn't refuse to take a glass of wine with me on this occasion!" the daughter said, in great glee.
"He must take one with me, too, then."
"You must excuse me, indeed, sir," Haley replied — rallying himself, and bracing up into firmness his broken and still wavering resolutions.
"Indeed, then, and I won't."
"O, no. Don't excuse him at all, father! He drank with me, and then with brother, and now to refuse to drink with you would be a downright shame."
"He has taken a glass with George, too, has he? And now wants to be excused when I ask him. Upon my word! Here, George, tell the servant to come over this way."
The servant came, of course, in a moment or two, with the wine.
"Fill up his glass, George," the father said.
Haley's glass was, of course, filled again.
"Now, my boy! — Here's a health to my children! May this night's happiness be but as a drop to the ocean of delight in reserve for them."
"And here's to our father! May his children never love him less than they do now," said Haley.
"Thank you, my boy!"
"And thank you in return, for your kind wishes."
"That wine didn't seem to taste unpleasantly, James?"
"O, no, sir. It is rich and generous."
"How long is it since you tasted wine?"
"About three years."
"Are you not fond of it?"
"O, yes. I like a good glass of wine."
"Then what in the world has made you act so singularly about it?"
"A mere whim of mine, I suppose you will call it. And perhaps it was. I thought I was just as well without it."
"Nonsense! Don't let me ever again hear of this foolishness."
And then the old man mingled with the happy company.
"Come, James, you must drink with me, too," the mother said, a little while afterward.
Haley did not seem unwilling, but turned off a glass of wine with an air of real pleasure.
"You must drink with me, too," went through the room. Every little while someone, with whom the young man had on former occasions refused to drink, finding out that he had been driven from his cold-water resolutions, insisted upon taking a glass with him. Such being the case, it is not to be wondered at that a remark like this should be made before the passage of an hour.
"See! As I live, Haley's getting lively!"
"I think that 'rich and generous wine' is beginning to brighten you up a little," Mr. Manley said, about this time, slapping his son-in-law familiarly upon the shoulder.
"I feel very happy, sir," was Haley's reply.
"That's right. This is a happy occasion."
"I never was so happy in my life! I hardly know what to do with myself. Come! Won't you take some wine with me. I drank with you a little while ago."
"Certainly! Certainly! My boy! Or, perhaps you would try a little brandy."
"No objection," said the young man. And then the two went to the side-board, and each took a stiff glass of brandy.
"That's capital! It makes me feel good!" ejaculated Haley, as he set his empty glass down.
Cotillions were now formed, and the bride and groom took the floor in the first set. Clara felt very proud of her husband as she leaned upon his arm, waiting for the music to begin, and glanced around upon her maiden companions with a look of triumph. But she soon had cause to abate her exultation, for when the music struck up, and the dancers commenced their intricate movements, she found that her husband blundered so as to throw all into confusion. The reason of this instantly flashed upon her mind, for she knew him to be a fine and graceful dancer. He was too much intoxicated to dance! Her woman's pride caused her to make the effort to guide him through the figures. But it was of no use. The second attempt failed signally by his breaking the figures, and reeling with a loud, drunken laugh, through and through, and round and round the astonished group of dancers, thrown thus suddenly into confusion.
Poor Clara, overwhelmed with mortification, retired to a seat, while her husband continued his antics, ending them finally with an Indian whoop, such as may often be heard late at night in the streets, from a company of drunken revelers — when he sought her out, and came and took a seat by her side.
"Aren't you happy tonight, Clara! Aren't you, old girl!" he said, in a loud voice, striking her with his open hand upon the shoulder. "I'm so happy that I feel just ready to jump out of my skin! Whoopy! — Now see how beautifully I can cut a figure."
And he sprang from his seat, and commenced describing the elegant figure he had named, with industrious energy, much to the amusement of one portion of the company, but to the painful mortification of another. A circle was soon formed around him, to witness his ungraceful movements, which strongly reminded those present who had witnessed the performances, of a corn-field negro's Juba, or the double-shuffle.
"Come," old Mr. Manley said, interrupting the young man in his evolutions, by laying his hand upon his arm.
"Come! I want you a moment."
"Hel-lel-lel-lo, o-o, there! What's wanting? ha!" he said, pausing, and then staggering forwards against Mr Manley. "Who are you, sir?"
"For shame, sir!" the old man replied in a stern voice. "Come with me, I wish to speak to you."
"Speak here, then, will you? I've no se-se-secrets. I'm open and above board! Jim Haley's the boy that knows what he's about! Who-o-o-oopy! Clear the track there!"
And starting away from the old man, he ran two or three paces, and then sprang clear over the head of a young lady, frightening her almost out of her wits.
"There! Who'll match me that? Jim Haley's the boy that's hard to beat! Whoo-oo-oop, hurrah! But where's Clara? Where's my dear little wifie? Ah! there — No, that isn't her, neither. Wh-wh-where is the little jade?"
The whole of this passed in a few moments, with all the drunken gestures required to give it the fullest effect.
Poor Clara, at first mortified, when she saw what a perfect madman her husband had become, was so shocked that her feelings overcame her, and she was carried fainting from the room. O, how bitter was her momentary repentance of her blind folly, before her bewildered senses forsook her.
As for Haley, he grew worse and worse, until the brandy which he continued to pour down, had completely stupified him, when he was carried off to bed in a state of drunken insensibility; after which, the company retired in oppressive and embarrassed silence.
Sad and lonely was the bridal chamber that night, and the couch of the young bride was wet with bitter, but unavailing tears.
On the next morning, those who first entered the room where Haley had slept, found it empty. Towards the middle of the day, a letter was left for Clara by an unknown hand. It ran thus:
"DEAR CLARA — For you are still dear to me, although you have robbed me of happiness forever, and crushed your own hopes with mine. For years before I came to this place, I had been a slave to intoxication — a slave held in a fearful bondage. At last, I resolved to break loose from my thraldom. One vigorous effort, and I was free. There yet remained to me a small remnant of a wrecked fortune. With this I abandoned my early home, and fixed my residence here, determined once more to be a man. Temptations beset me on every hand; but while I touched not, tasted not, handled not — I knew that I was safe. But alas for the hour when you became my tempter! O, that the remembrance of it could be blotted from my memory forever! When, for your sake, I raised that fatal glass to my lips, and the single drop of wine that touched them thrilled wildly through every nerve, I felt that I was lost. Horrible were my sensations, but your tempting voice lured me to sip the scarcely tasted poison — I did so, and my resolution was gone! All that occurred after that, is only dimly written on my memory. But I was a madman. That I can realize. When drunk, I have always acted the madman. And now we part forever! I am a proud man, and cannot remain in the scene of my disgrace. My property I leave for you, and go I know not, and care not, whither — perhaps to die, unlamented, and unknown, and sink into a drunkard's grave. Farewell!"
This letter bore neither name nor date. But they were not needed.
Five years from that sorrowful morning Clara sat by a window in her father's house, near the close of day, looking dreamily up into the serene and cloudless sky. Her face was pale, and had a look of hopeless suffering. Five years! — It seemed as if twenty must have passed over her head, each burdening her with a heavy weight of affliction. O, what a wreck did she present! Five years of such a life! Who can tell their history? She was alone; and sat with her head upon her hand, and her eyes fixed, as if upon some object. But, evidently, no image touched the nerve of vision. Presently her lips moved, and a few mournful words were uttered aloud, almost involuntarily.
"O, that I knew where he was! O, that I could but find him, if alive!"
A slight noise startled her, and she turned quickly. Was it a vision? Or did her long-lost husband stand before her, the shadow of what he had been?
"Clara! Dear Clara!"
In a moment she was clinging to him with a trembling, eager, convulsive grasp. Tenderly did he fold her in his arms, and press his lips to hers fervently.
"Clara! Dear Clara!"
"My own dear husband!" was all she could utter, as she sank like a helpless child on his bosom.
For four years from the night of his wedding, Haley had been a common drunkard, with no power over himself. On the brink of the grave, he was rescued, signed a pledge of total abstinence, and set himself eagerly to work to elevate his condition. One year had sufficed to efface many sad tokens of his degradation, but time could not restore the freshness to his cheek, nor the light to his eye. Then he returned and sought his bride, who still mourned him with an inconsolable grief. A few months produced a happy change in both. But they cannot look back. Over the past they throw a veil — the future is theirs, and it is growing brighter and brighter. May its clear sky never be darkened!
"Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise." Proverbs 20:1
"Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes? Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine. Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly! In the end it bites like a snake and poisons like a viper!" Proverbs 23:29-32