Flushed with Wine
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Wasn't that Ernestine Lee who we passed this moment?" asked Harvey Lane, a young M.D., of his friend James Everett, in a tone of surprise.
"Yes, I believe it was — " Everett returned, rather coldly.
"You believe it was! Surely, James, nothing has occurred to destroy the intimacy that has for some time existed between you."
"You saw that we did not speak."
"And, probably, shall never be on terms of friendship again."
"What you say pains me very much, James. Of course there is a reason for so great a change. May I ask what it is?"
"It is, no doubt, a good deal my own fault. But still, I cannot help thinking that she has taken offence too suddenly, where no offence was intended. You know that I have been long paying attentions to her?"
"If I remember rightly, I told you last week, that my intentions towards her were of a serious character. In a word, that I had fully made up my mind to ask her hand in marriage."
"O, yes — I remember it very well. And that is the reason why I felt so much surprised at seeing you pass each other, without speaking."
"Well, a few evenings ago, I called, as usual, intending, if a good opportunity offered, to make known my true feelings towards her. Unfortunately, I had dined out that day with some young friends. We sat late at table, and when I left, I was a little flushed with wine. It was a very little, for you know that I can drink pretty freely without its being seen. But, somehow or other, I was more elated than is usual with me on such occasions, and when I called on Ernestine, felt as free and easy as if everything was settled, and we were to be married in a week. For a time, we chatted together very pleasantly; then I asked her to play and sing for me. She went to the piano, at my request, and played and sung two or three very sweet tunes. I don't know which it was that elated my feelings so much — the wine, or the delightful music. Certain it is, that at the conclusion of a piece, I was in such rapture, that I threw my arms around her neck, drew back her head, and kissed her with emphatic earnestness."
"You may well be surprised at the commission of so rude and ungentlemanly an act. But, as I have said, I was flushed with wine."
"How did Ernestine act?"
"She was, of course, deeply indignant at the unwarrantable liberty. Springing from the piano-stool, her face crimsoned over, she drew herself up with a dignified air, and ordered me instantly to leave her presence. I attempted to make an apology, but she would not hear a word. I have since written to her, but my letter has been returned unopened."
"Really, that is unfortunate," the friend of Everett said, with concern. "Ernestine is a girl whom any man might be proud to gain as a wife. And, besides her personal qualifications, a handsome fortune will go with her hand."
"I know all that too well, Harvey. Fool that I have been, to mar such prospects as were mine! But she must have known that I was not myself — and ought to have charged the fault upon the wine, and not upon me."
"Such a discrimination is not usually made."
"I know that it is not. And for not making it in my case, I certainly cannot help blaming Ernestine a little. She must have known, that, had I not been flushed with wine, I never would have taken the liberty with her that I did. As it is, however, I am not only pained at the consequences of my foolishness, but deeply mortified at my conduct."
"Is there no hope of a reconciliation?"
"I do not think there is any. If she had accepted my written apology for the act, there would have been some hope. But the fact of her returning my letter unopened, is conclusive as to the permanency of the breach. I can now make no further advances."
"Truly, it is mortifying!" the friend remarked. Then, after a pause, he added, with emphasis —
"What fools this wine does make of us, sometimes!"
"Doesn't it? Another such a circumstance as this, would almost drive me to join a temperance society."
"O, no, hardly that, James."
"Well, perhaps not. But, at least, to shun wine forever."
"Wine is good enough in its place; but, like fire, is rather a bad master. Like you, I have injured my prospects in life by an over-indulgence in the pleasures of the cup."
"When did that happen?"
"Since I last saw you."
"Indeed! I am sorry to hear you say so. But how was it? — tell me."
"You know, that as a young physician, I shall have to struggle on in this city for years before I can rise to any degree of distinction, unless aided by some fortunate circumstance, that shall be as a stepping-stone upon which to elevate me, and enable me to gain the public eye. I am conscious that I have mastered thoroughly the principles of my profession — and that, in regard to surgery, particularly, I possess a skill not surpassed by many who have handled the knife for years. Of this fact, my surgical teacher, who is my warm friend, is fully aware. At every important case that he has, I am asked to be present, and assist in the operation, and once or twice, where there were no friends of the patient to object, I have been permitted to perform the operation myself, and always with success. In this department of my profession, I feel great confidence in myself — and it is that part of it, in which I take the most interest."
"And in which, I doubt not, you will one day be distinguished."
"I trust so; and yet, things look dark enough just now. But to go on. A few days ago, I dined with some friends. After dinner, the bottle was circulated pretty freely, and I drank as freely as the rest, but was not aware of having taken enough to produce upon me any visible effects. It was about an hour after the table had been cleared for the wine, that an unusually loud ringing of the door-bell attracted our attention. In a few moments after, I heard a voice asking, in hurried tones, for Doctor Lane. Going down at once to the hall, I found old Mr. Camper there, the rich merchant, in a state of great agitation.
"'Doctor,' said he, grasping my arm — 'a most terrible accident has happened to my daughter! — thrown from a carriage! — My physician cannot be found, and as I have often heard your skill warmly alluded to by him, I desire your instant attendance. My carriage is at the door — Come along with me, quickly!'
"Catching up my hat, I attended him at once, and during our rapid drive to his princely residence, learned that his only daughter had been thrown from a carriage, and dreadfully injured; but in what way, could not ascertain. Unaccountably to myself, I found my mind all in confusion — and I forgot to request that I be driven first to my office for my case of instruments. We had not proceeded half the distance to Mr. Camper's residence, before I noticed that the old man became silent, and that his eye was fixed upon me with a steady, scrutinizing gaze. This added to the confusion of mind which I felt. At length the carriage stopped, and I accompanied Mr. Camper to his daughter's chamber, hurriedly, and in silence. As I paused by the bed upon which she lay, I again noticed that he was regarding me with a steady searching look, and an expression of face that I did not like, and could not understand.
"I proceeded, however, at once, to examine the condition of my patient, who lay in a kind of stupor. There was a deep gash on the side of her face, from which the blood had issued profusely. By the aid of warm-water, I soon cleared the wound from a mass of coagulated blood that had collected around it, and was glad to find that it was not a serious one. I then proceeded to examine if there were any fractures. All this time my hands were unsteady, my face burned, and my mind was confused. I was conscious that I had taken too much wine.
"'There is no apparent injury here,' I at length said, after examining the arms and chest. 'She is probably only stunned by the concussion.'
"'But she could not stand on her feet when first lifted after the fall, and fainted immediately upon attempting to sustain her own weight,' Mr. Camper replied.
"I then made further examination, and found sad indications of her fall, in a fractured patella. The knee was, however, so swollen, that I could not ascertain the nature, nor extent of the fracture.
"'What do you find the matter there, doctor?' Mr. Camper asked, after I had finished my examination.
"'A very serious injury, sir, I am sorry to say,' was my reply.
"'Of what nature?' was his somewhat stern inquiry.
"'Her knee is fractured, sir; but so much swollen, that I cannot, now, fully ascertain the extent of the injury.'"
"Henry!" cried the old man in a quick, eager tone to an attendant, "go again for doctor Lapointe; and if he is not in, go for doctor Raleigh ; and if you cannot find him, call on doctor Thompson, and ask him to come instantly."
The attendant hurriedly departed, when Mr. Camper turned slowly towards me, with a mingled expression of anger, pain, and contempt, upon his face, and said, in a stern voice,
"'Go home young man! and quit drinking wine, or quit the profession! You are in no fit state to undertake a case like this.'
"It came upon me like a peal of thunder from an unclouded summer sky. It was the knell of newly-awakened hopes — the darkening of newly-opening prospects. Silently I turned away under the cutting rebuke, and left the house."
"Really, that was most unfortunate!" his friend Everett remarked, with earnest sympathy.
"Could anything have been more unfortunate, or more mortifying. Her case was one that I fully understood; and could have treated successfully. It would have brought me into contact with the family for six months, or more; and the acclaim which I would have derived from the case, would have given me a prominence as a young surgeon. But I am afraid the fact of my losing the case under such mortifying circumstances, will prevent me ever attaining in this city."
"Really, Harvey, I do feel exceedingly pained at what you have told me. Confound this wine! I believe it does more harm than good."
"Too free an indulgence of it does, no doubt. Our error has lain in this. We must be more prudent in future."
"Suppose we swear off forever from touching it."
"No, I will not do that. Wine is good in its place, and I shall continue to use it, but more moderately. A physician never knows the moment he may be called upon, and should, therefore, always be in a state to exercise a clear head and a steady hand."
"Certainly, we have both of us had lessons not soon to be forgotten," was the reply; and then the two young men separated.
Two weeks from the day this conversation took place, doctor Lane and his friend James Everett met at a supper-party, where all kinds of liquors were introduced, and every kind of inducement held out for the company to drink freely. Both of the young men soon forgot their resolutions to be guarded in respect to the use of wine. As the first few glasses began to take effect, in an elevation of spirits, each felt a kind of pride in the thought that he could bear as much as anyone there, and not show signs of intoxication.
By eleven o'clock, there was not one at the table who was not drunk enough to be foolish. The rational and intelligent conversation that had been introduced early in the evening, had long since given place to the obscene jest — the vulgar story — or the bacchanalian song. Gayest of the mirthful were our young men, who had already, one would think, received sufficient lessons of prudence and temperance.
"Take care, James!" cried Lane, across the table to his friend Everett, familiarly, late in the evening. "You are pouring the wine on the table, instead of in your glass!"
"You are beginning to see double!" was Everett's reply, lifting his head with a slight drunken air, and throwing a half-angry glance upon his friend.
"That is more than you can do!" was the retort, with a meaning toss of the head.
"I don't understand you," Everett said, pausing with the decanter still in his hand, and eyeing his friend, steadily.
"Don't you, indeed — ha!"
"Look here, James — you are my friend. But there are things that I will not allow even a friend to utter. So take care now!"
"Ha! ha! There comes the threat. Do I rub you a little too hard, my boy?"
"You 're drunk, and a fool into the bargain!" was the angry retort of Everett.
"Not so drunk as you were when you hugged and kissed Ernestine Lee! How do you like — ?"
Lane could not finish the sentence, before the decanter which Everett had held in his hand glanced past his head with fearful velocity, and was dashed into fragments against the wall behind him. The instant interference of friends prevented any further acts of violence.
It was about ten o'clock on the next morning, that young doctor Lane sat in his office, musing on the events of the previous night, of which he had only a confused recollection, when a young man entered, and presented a note. On opening it, he found it to be a challenge from Everett for a duel.
"Leave me your card, and I will answer it," was his reply, with a cold bow, as he finished reading the note. The card was left, and the stranger, with a frigid bow in return, departed.
"Fool, fool that I have been!" ejaculated Lane, rising to his feet, and pacing the floor of his office backwards and forwards with hurried steps. This was continued for nearly half an hour, during which time his countenance wore a painful and gloomy expression. At last, pausing, and seating himself at a table, he murmured, as he lifted a pen,
"It is too late now for vain regrets."
He then wrote a note with a hurried air, and dispatched it by an attendant. This done, he again commenced pacing the floor of his office, but now with slower steps, and a face expressive of sad determination. In about twenty minutes a young man entered, saying, as he did so —
"I'm here at a word, Harvey — and now what is this important business which I can do for you, and for which you are going to be so everlastingly obliged?"
"That will tell you," Lane briefly said, handing him the challenge he had received.
The young man's face turned pale as he read the note.
"Harvey!" he ejaculated, as he threw the paper upon the table. "This is a serious matter, truly! Why how have you managed to offend Everett? I always thought that you were friends of the warmest kind."
"So we have been, until now. And at this moment, I have not an unkind thought towards him, notwithstanding he threw a bottle of wine at my head last night, which, had it hit me, would have, doubtless, killed me instantly."
"How in the world did that happen, doctor?"
"We were both flushed with wine at the time. I said something that I ought not to have said — something which, had I been myself, I would have cut off my right hand before I would have uttered — and it roused him into instant passion."
"And not satisfied with throwing the bottle of wine at your head, he now sends you a challenge?"
"Yes. And I must accept it, notwithstanding I have no angry feelings against him; and, but for the hasty step he has now taken, would have most willingly asked his pardon."
"That, of course, is out of the question now," the friend replied. "But I will see his brother; and endeavor, through him, to bring about a reconciliation, if I can do so, honorably, to yourself."
"As to that," replied Lane, "I have nothing to say. If he insists upon a duel, I will give him the satisfaction he seeks."
It was about half an hour after, that the friend of Lane called upon the brother of Everett. They were old acquaintances.
"You represent Everett, I believe, in this unpleasant affair between him and doctor Lane," the latter said.
"I do," was the grave reply.
"Surely we can prevent a meeting!" the friend of Lane said, with eagerness.
"I do not see how," was the reply.
"They were flushed with wine when the provocation occurred, and this ought to prevent a fatal meeting. If Lane insulted Everett, it was because he was not himself. Had he been perfectly sober, he would never have uttered an offensive word."
"Perhaps not. But with that I have nothing to do. He has insulted my brother, and my brother asks a meeting. He can do no less than grant it — or prove himself a coward."
"I really cannot see the necessity that this should follow," urged the other. "It seems to me, that it is in our power to prevent any hostile meeting."
"By representing to the principals in this unhappy affair, the madness of seeking each other's lives. You can learn from your brother what kind of an apology, if any, will satisfy him, and then I can ascertain whether such an apology will be made."
"You can do what you please in that way," the brother of Everett replied. "But I brother know that, as far as my brother is concerned, no apology will be accepted. The insult was outrageous, involving a breach of confidence, and referring to a subject of the most painful, mortifying, and delicate nature."
"I am really sorry to hear that both you and your brother are determined to push this matter to a fatal outcome, for I had hoped that an adjustment of the difficulty would be easy."
"No adjustment can possibly take place. Doctor Lane must fight, or be posted as a coward, and a scoundrel."
"He holds himself ready to give your brother all the satisfaction he requires," was the half-indignant reply.
"Then, of course, you are prepared to name the weapons; and the time and place of meeting?"
"I am not. For so confident did I feel that it would only be necessary to see you to have all difficulties put aside, that I did not confer upon the subject of the preliminaries of the meeting. But I will see you again, in the course of an hour, when I shall be ready to name them."
"If you please." And then they parted.
"I am afraid this meeting will take place in spite of all that I can do," the friend of doctor Lane said, on returning after his interview with Everett's brother. "The provocation which you gave last night is felt to be so great, that no apology can atone for it."
"My blood probably will — and he can have that!" was the gloomy reply.
A troubled silence ensued, which was at last broken by the question,
"Have you decided, doctor, upon the weapons to be used?"
"Pistols, I suppose," was the answer.
"Have you practiced much?"
"Me! No. I never fired a pistol in my life."
"But Everett is said to be a good shot."
"So much the worse for me. That is all."
"You have the liberty of choosing some other weapon. One with which you are familiar."
"I am familiar with no kind of deadly weapons."
"Then you will stand a poor chance, my friend; unless you name the day of meeting next week, and practice a good deal in the meantime."
"I shall do no such thing. Do you suppose, that if I fight with Everett, I shall try to kill him? No. I would not hurt a hair of his head. I am no murderer!"
"Then you go out under the existence of a fatal inequality."
"I cannot help that. It is my misfortune. I did not send the challenge."
"That is no reason why you should not make an effort to preserve your own life."
"If we both fire at once, and both of our balls take effect, the fact that my ball strikes him will not benefit me any. And suppose he should be killed, and I survive — do you think I could ever know a single hour's happiness? No — no — I choose the least of two evils. I must fight. But I will not kill."
"In this you are determined?"
"I certainly am. I have weighed the matter well, and come to a positive decision."
"You choose pistols, then?"
"Yes. Let the weapons be pistols."
"When shall the meeting take place?"
"Let it be tomorrow morning, at sunrise. The quicker it is over, the better."
This determined upon, the friend went again to the brother of
Everett, and completed all necessary arrangements for the duel.
It was midnight, and young doctor Lane sat alone in his chamber, beside a table, upon which were ink and paper. He had, evidently, made several attempts to write; and each time failed from some cause to accomplish his task. Several sheets of paper had been written upon, and thrown aside. Each of these bore the following words:
"My Dear Parents: When these lines are read by you, the hand that penned them will be cold and nerveless — "
Thus far the unhappy young man could go, but no farther. Imagination pictured too vividly the heart-stricken father who had so often looked down upon him when a boy with pride and pleasure, and the tender, but now agonized mother, as that appalling announcement met their eyes.
Again, for the fifth time, he took up his pen, murmuring in a low tone, yet with a resolute air,
"It must be done!"
He had again written the words:
"My Dear Parents — "
When his ear caught the sound of steps, strangely familiar to his ear, ascending the stairs, and approaching his chamber. He paused, and listened with a heart almost stilled in its pulsations. In a brief space, the door of his room opened, and a grey-haired, feeble old man came slowly in.
"My father!" exclaimed Harvey, starting to his feet in astonishment — scarcely, for the moment, being able to realize whether it were indeed his father, or, only an apparition.
"Thank Heaven! that I have found my son alive!" ejaculated the old man, uncovering his head, and lifting his eyes upward. "O, Harvey, my child!" he then said, with an earnest pathos, that touched the young man's heart — "how could you so far forget us as to think even for a single moment of the dreadful act you are preparing to commit?"
"I had hoped to be spared this severest trial of all," the young man said, rising and grasping the hand of his father, while the tears sprang to his eyes. "What meddlesome friend has taken the pains to disturb both your peace and mine — dragging you thus away from your home, in the vain effort to prevent an act that must take place."
"Speak not so rashly, my son! It cannot, it must not, it shall not take place!"
"I have no power to prevent it, father."
"You are a free agent."
"Not to do a deed of dishonor — or, rather, I am not free to suffer dishonor."
"There is no honor in wantonly risking or taking life, Harvey."
"I insulted a friend, in the grossest manner."
"That was dishonorable. But why did you insult him?"
"I was flushed with wine."
The old man shook his head, sadly.
"I know it was wrong, father. But it can't be helped now. Well, as I said; I insulted him, and he has demanded satisfaction. Can I do less than give it to him?"
"If you insulted him, you can apologize. And, from what I know of
James Everett, he will at once forgive."
"I cannot do that now, father. He threw a bottle of wine at my head, and then precipitately challenged me. I owe at least something to myself."
"And something, I should think, to your mother, if not to me," replied the old man, bitterly. "How do you think that she will receive the news of your death, if the combat should terminate fatally for you? Or, how, if your hands should become stained with the blood of your friend?"
"Talk not thus, father! Talk not thus!" ejaculated the young man, rising up quickly, and beginning to pace the floor of his chamber with hurried steps. "Is not my situation dreadful enough viewed in any light? Then why seek to agonize my heart with what I would gladly forget? I am already racked with tortures that can scarcely be endured — why seek to run my cup of misery over?"
"I seek but to save you, my child," the father replied, in a voice that suddenly became low and tremulous.
"It is a vain effort. There is but one course for me, and that is to go on, and meet whatever consequences ensue. The result may not be so bad as feared."
"Harvey!" old Mr. Lane said, in a voice that had somewhat regained its steadiness of tone. "This meeting must not take place. If you persist in going out tomorrow morning, I must take measures to prevent it."
"And thus dishonor your son."
"All dishonor that will appertain to you, Harvey, appertains to you now. You insulted your friend. Neither your death nor his, can atone for that offence. If reparation is truly made, it will come in some other form."
"It is vain to urge that matter with me," was the reply to this. "I must give James Everett the satisfaction he requires tomorrow morning. And now, father, if I should die, which Heaven forbid for others' sakes more than my own," and the young man's voice quivered, "break the matter to mother as gently as possible — tell her, that my last thoughts were of her, and my last prayer that she might be given strength from above to bear this heavy affliction."
It was a damp, drizzly morning, just at break of day, when Harvey Lane, accompanied by his friend, and a young physician, entered a carriage, and started for the duelling-ground, which had been selected, some four miles from the city. Two neat mahogany cases were taken along, one containing a pair of duelling pistols, and the other a set of surgical instruments. As these were handed in, the eye of Lane rested upon them for a moment. They conjured up in his mind no very pleasant thoughts. He was very pale, and silent. Nor did his companions seem in much better condition, or much better spirits. A rapid drive of nearly three quarters of an hour brought them upon the ground.
The other party had not yet arrived, but came up in a few minutes afterwards. Then commenced the formal preparations. The ground was measured off — ten paces. The deadly weapons were prepared which were to heal the honor that had been so dreadfully wounded, and arranged all the minor provisions of the duel.
During all this time, neither of the young men looked towards each other, but each paced rapidly over a little space of ground, backwards and forwards, with agitated steps — though evidently with an effort to seem composed.
"Ready," said Lane's friend, at length, close to his ear.
The young man startled, and his cheek blanched to a pale hue. He had been thinking of his father and mother. With almost the vividness of reality had he seen them before him, and heard their earnest, tearful pleadings with him to forbear for their sakes, if not for his own. But he took the deadly weapon in his hand mechanically, and moved to the position that had been assigned him. The arrangement was, that a neutral person should give the words — one — two — three — in slow succession, and that the parties should fire as soon after "three" was uttered, as they chose.
Their positions taken, the young men's eyes met for the first time — and for the first time they looked again upon each other's faces. The word ONE had been given, at which each raised his pistol — TWO was uttered — and then another individual was suddenly, and unexpectedly added to the party, who threw himself in front of Harvey Lane, in range of both the deadly weapons. Turning, then, towards Everett, he said, lifting his hat, and letting his thin grey hairs fall about his forehead —
"We cannot spare our son, yet, James! We are growing old, and he is our only child. If he were taken thus away from us, we would not be able to bear it. For our sakes, then, James, if he has injured you, forgive him."
Already had the face of his old and long-tried friend, as he met its familiar expression, softened in some degree the feelings of Everett, and modified the angry vindictiveness which he still continued to nourish. The apparition of the father, and his unexpected appeal, completely conquered him, and he threw, with a sudden effort, his pistol away some twenty yards.
"I am satisfied!" he said, in a low tone, advancing, and taking the old man's hand. "You have conquered the vindictive pride of a foolish heart."
"I know that I grossly insulted you, James" — Harvey Lane said, coming quickly forward, and offering his hand. "But would I, could I have done it — if I had been myself?"
"No, Harvey, you would not! And I was mad and blind that I would not see this" — Everett replied, grasping the hand of his friend. "We were both flushed with wine, and that made both of us fools. Surely, Harvey, we have had warning enough, of the evil of drinking. Within the last two weeks, it has seriously marred our prospects in life, and now it has brought us out here with the deliberate intent of taking each other's lives."
"From this hour, I solemnly declare, that I will never again touch, taste, or handle the accursed thing!" Lane said, with strong emphasis.
"In that resolution I join you," replied Everett, with a like earnest manner. "And let this resolution be the sealing bond of our perpetual friendship."
"Amen!" ejaculated Harvey Lane, solemnly — and, "Amen!" responded the old man, fervently, lifting his eyes to Heaven.
"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