Jim Braddock's Pledge
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"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
"You'll sign it, I'm sure," said a persevering Temperance man, who had found his way into a little village saloon, and had there presented the pledge to some three or four of its half-intoxicated inhabitants. The last man whom he addressed, after having urged the others to no effect, was apparently about thirty years of age, and had a sparkling eye, and a good-humored countenance, that attracted rather than repelled. The marks of the destroyer were, however, upon him, showing themselves with melancholy distinctness.
"You'll sign, I'm sure, Jim."
"O, of course," replied the individual addressed, winking, as he did so to the company, as much as to say — "Don't you want to see some fun?"
"Yes, but you will, I know?"
"Of course I will. Where's the document?"
"Here it is," — displaying a sheet of paper, upon which was printed in conspicuous letters,
"We whose names — ," etc.
"That's very pretty, isn't it, Ike?" said Jim, or James Braddock, with a mock seriousness of tone and manner.
"O, yes — very beautiful!"
"Just see here," ran on Jim, pointing to the vignette over the pledge — "This spruce chap, swelled out with cold-water until just ready to burst, and still pouring in more, is our friend Malcom here, I suppose."
A loud laugh followed this little hit, which seemed exceedingly humorous to the company . But Malcom took it all in good part, and retorted by asking Braddock who the wretched looking creature was with a bottle in his hand, and three ragged children, and a pale, haggard, distressed woman, following after him.
"Another cold-water man, I suppose," Jim Braddock replied; but neither his laugh nor the laugh of his cronies was so hearty as before.
"O, no. That's a little mistake into which you have fallen," Malcom said, smiling. "He is one of your fire-water men. Don't you see how he has been scorched with it, inside and out. Now, did you ever see such a miserable looking creature? And his poor children — and his wife! But I will say nothing about them. The picture speaks for itself."
"Here's a barrel, mount him up, and let us have a temperance speech!" cried the tavern-keeper, coming from behind his counter, and mingling with the group.
"O, yes — Give us a temperance speech!" rejoined Jim Braddock, not at all sorry to get a good excuse for giving up his examination of the pledge, which had revived in his mind some associations of not the pleasantest character in the world.
"No objection at all," replied the ready Malcom, the Temperance man, mounting the rostrum which the tavern-keeper had indicated, to the no small amusement of the company, and the great relief of Jim Braddock, who began to feel that the laugh was getting on the wrong side of his mouth, as he afterwards expressed it.
"Now for some rare fun!" ejaculated one of the group that gathered around the whiskey-barrel upon which Malcom stood.
"This is grand sport!" broke in another.
"Take your text, Mr. Preacher!" cried a third.
"O yes, give us a text and a Hell-fire sermon!" added a fourth, rubbing his hands with great glee.
"Very well," Malcom replied, with good humor. "Now for the text."
"Yes, give us the text," ran around the circle.
"My text will be found in Harry Arnold's tavern. It is in these words: 'Whiskey-barrel.' Upon this text I will now, with your permission, make a few remarks."
Then holding up the pledge card and laying his finger upon the wretched being there represented as the follower after strong drink, he went on —
"You all see this poor creature here, Jim Braddock, and his wife and children's happiness and respectability — are inseparably united, I will, instead of giving you a dry discourse on an empty whiskey-barrel, narrate this man's history, which involves the whiskey-barrel, and describes how it became empty, and finally how it came here.
"Well, this James Braddock was a house-carpenter — I say was — for although still living, he is no longer an industrious house-carpenter, but a very industrious alcohol drinker — he has changed his occupation. About five years ago, I went to his house on some business. It was about dinner-time, and the table was set, and the dinner on it.
"'Come, take some dinner with me,' Mr. Braddock said, in such a kind earnest way, that I could not resist, especially as his wife looked so happy and smiling, and the dinner so neatly served, plentiful and inviting. So I sat down with Mr. and Mrs. Braddock, and two sweet, chubby-faced children; and I do not think I ever enjoyed so pleasant a meal in my life.
"After dinner was over, Mr. Braddock took me all through his house, which was new. He had just built it, and furnished it with every convenience that a man in moderate circumstances could desire. I was pleased with everything I saw, and praised everything with a hearty good will. At last he took me down into the cellar, and showed me a barrel of flour that he had just bought — twenty bushels of potatoes and turnips laid up for the winter, five large fat hogs, and I can't remember what all. Beside these, there was a barrel of something lying upon the cellar floor.
"'What is this?' I asked.
"'O, that is a barrel of whiskey that I have laid up also.'
"'A barrel of whiskey!' I said, in surprise.
"'Yes. I did some work for Harry Arnold the tavern-keeper, and the best I could do was to take this barrel of good old 'rye' in payment. But it is just as well. It will be a saving in the end.'
"'How so?' I asked.
"'Why, because there more worth in this barrel of whiskey, than I could get for what I earned.'
"'But have you taken into your calculation the fact, that, in consequence of having a barrel of whiskey so handy, you will drink about two glasses to each one that you would want, if you had to go down to Harry Arnold's tavern for it every time!'
"'O yes, I have,' Braddock replied. 'But still I calculate on it being a saving, from the fact that I shall not lose so much time as I otherwise would do. A great deal of time, you know, is wasted in these drinking-shops.'
"'All true. But have you never considered the danger arising from the habitual free use of liquor — such a free use as the constant sight of a whole barrel of whiskey may induce you to make?'
"'Danger?' ejaculated Mr. Braddock in surprise.
"'Yes, danger!' I repeated.
"'Of what?' he asked.
"'Of becoming too fond of liquor,' I replied.
"'I hope you do not wish to insult me in my own house, Mr. Malcom,' the carpenter said, rather sternly.
"'O no,' I replied. 'Of course I do not. I only took the liberty that a friend feels entitled to use — to hint at what seemed to me a danger that you might be running into blindly.'
"Mrs. Braddock, who had gone through the house with us, enjoying my admiration of all their comfortable arrangements, seemed to dwell with particular interest on what I said in reference to the whiskey-barrel. She was now leaning affectionately upon her husband's arm — her own drawn through his, and her hands clasped together — looking up into his face with a tender and confiding regard. I could not help noticing her manner, and the expression of her countenance. And yet it seemed to me that something of concern was on her face, but so indistinct as to be scarcely visible. Of this I was satisfied, when she said,
"'I don't think there is much use in drinking liquor, do you, Mr.
"'I cannot see that there is,' I replied, of course.
"'Nor can I. Of one thing I am certain, and that is, that
James would be just as comfortable and happy without it, as with it.'
"'You don't know what you are talking about, Sally,' her husband replied good-humoredly, for he was a man of excellent temper, and a little given to jesting. 'But I suppose you thought it good for you last Christmas, when you got boozy on egg-nog.'
"'O James, how can you talk so!' his wife exclaimed, her face reddening. 'You know that you served me a shameful trick then.'
"'What do you think he did, Mr. Malcom?' she added, turning to me, while her husband laughed heartily at what she said. 'He begged me to let him make me a little wine egg-nog, seeing that I wouldn't touch that which had brandy in it, because liquor always flies to my head. To please him, I consented, though I didn't want it. And then, the rogue fixed me a glass as strong again with brandy as that which I had refused to take. I thought while I was drinking it, that it did not taste like wine, and told him so. But he declared that it was wine, and that it was so sweet that I could not clearly perceive its flavor. Of course I had to go to bed, and didn't get fairly over it for two or three days. Now, wasn't that too bad, Mr. Malcom!'
"'Indeed it was, Mrs. Braddock,' I said in reply.
"'It was a capital joke, though, wasn't it?' rejoined her husband, laughing immoderately.
"'I'll tell you a good way to repay him,' I said, jestingly.
"'How is that, Mr. Malcom?'
"Pull the tap out of his whiskey-barrel.'
"'I would, if I dared.'
"'She'd better not try that, I can tell her!'
"'What would you do, if I did?' she asked.
"'Buy two more in its place, and make you drink one of them!'
"'O dear! I must beg to be excused from that. But, indeed, James, I wish you would let it run. I'm really ashamed to have it said, that my husband keeps a barrel of whiskey in the house.'
"'Nonsense, Sally! you don't know what you are talking about.'
"'Well, perhaps I don't,' the wife said, and remained silent, for there was a half-concealed rebuke in her husband's tone of voice.
"I saw that I could say no more about the whiskey-barrel, and so I dropped the subject, and, in a short time, after having finished my business with Mr. Braddock, went away.
"'Well, how is the whiskey-barrel doing?' I said to him, about a month after, as we met on the road.
"'First-rate,' was his reply. 'It contains prime good old 'rye,' I can tell you. The best I have ever tasted. Come, won't you go home with me and try some?'
"'No, I believe not.'"
"'Do now — come along,' and he took me by the coat, and pulled me gently. 'You don't know how fine it is. I am sure there is not another barrel like it in the town.'
"'You must really excuse me, Braddock,' I replied, for I found that he was in earnest, and what was more, had a watery look about the eyes, that argued badly for him, I thought.
"'Well, if you won't, you won't,' he said. 'But you always were an unsocial kind of a fellow.'
"And so we parted. Six months had not passed before it was rumored through the neighborhood, that Braddock had begun to neglect his business; and that he spent too much of his time at Harry Arnold's tavern. I met his wife one day, about this time, and, really, her distressed look gave me the heart ache. Something is wrong, certainly, I said to myself. It was only a week after, that I met poor Braddock intoxicated.
"'Ah, Malcom — good day — How are you?' he said, reeling up to me and offering his hand. 'You haven't tried that good old rye of mine yet. Come along now, it's most gone.'
"'You must excuse me, Mr. Braddock,' I replied, trying to pass on.
"But he said I would not get off this time — that home with him I must go, and take a drink from his whiskey-barrel. Of course, I did not go. If there had been no other reason, I had no desire, I can assure you, to meet his wife while her husband was in so sad a condition. After awhile I got rid of him, and right glad was I to do so."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"I think that'll do for one day!" broke in Harry Arnold, the tavern-keeper, at this point, not relishing too well the allusions to himself, nor, indeed, the drift of the narrative, which he very well understood.
"No — no — go on! go on!" urged two or three of the group. But Jim
Braddock said nothing, though he looked very thoughtful.
"I'll soon get through," replied the Temperance man, showing no inclination to abandon his text. "You see, I did not, of course, go home with poor Braddock, and he left me with a drunken, half-angry curse. That night he went down into his cellar, late, to draw some whiskey, and forgot his candle, which had been so carelessly set down, that it set fire to a shelf, and before it was discovered, the fire had burned through the floor above.
"Nearly all their furniture was saved, whiskey-barrel and all, but the house was burned to the ground. Since that time, Braddock will tell you that luck has been against him. He has been going down, down, down, every year, and now does scarcely anything but lounge about Harry Arnold's tavern and drink, while his poor wife and children are in poverty and suffering, and have a most wretched look, as you may see by this picture on the pledge. As for the empty whiskey-barrel itself — that was rolled down here about a month ago, and sold for half a dollar's worth of liquor, and here I now stand upon it, and make it the foundation of a temperance speech.
"Now, let me ask you all seriously, if you do not think that James Braddock owes his rapid downfall, in a great measure, to the fact that Harry Arnold would not pay him a just debt in anything but whiskey? Is Harry Arnold really your friend — that you are so willing to beggar your wives and children to put money in his till? I only ask the questions. You can answer then at your leisure. So ends my speech."
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"You are an insulting fellow, let me tell you!" the tavern-keeper said, as he turned away, angrily, and went behind his counter.
The Temperance man took no notice of this, but went to Jim Braddock, who stood in a musing attitude near the door, and said —
"You will sign now, won't you, Jim?"
"No, I will not!" was his gruff response.
"I am not going to sign away my liberty for you or anybody else. So long as I live, I'll be a free man."
"That's right, Jim! Hurrah for liberty!" shouted his companions.
"Yes, hurrah for liberty! say I," responded Braddock, in the effort to rally himself, and shake off the thoughts and feelings that Malcom's narrative had conjured up a narrative which proved to be too true a history of his own downfall.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"It was a shame for you to do what you did down at Harry Arnold's," Braddock said to the Temperance man about half an hour afterwards, meeting him on the street.
"Do what, Jim!"
"Why, rake up all my past history as you did, and insult Harry in his own house into the bargain."
"How did I insult Harry Arnold?"
"By telling about that confounded whiskey-barrel that I have wished a hundred times had been in the bottom of the sea, before it ever fell into my hands!"
"I told the truth, didn't I?"
"O yes — it was all true enough, and a great deal too true."
"He owed you money?"
"And you needed your money?"
"But Harry wouldn't pay you in anything but whiskey?"
"No, he would not."
"And so you took a barrel of whiskey, that you did not want, in payment?"
"But would much rather have had the money?"
"Of course, I would."
"And yet, you are so exceedingly tender of Harry Arnold's feelings, notwithstanding his agency in your ruin, that you would not have him reminded of his original baseness — or rather his dishonesty in not paying you in money, according to your understanding with him, for your work?"
"I don't see any use in raking up these old things."
"The use is, to enable you to see your folly so clearly as to cause you to abandon it. I am sure you not only see it now, but feel it strongly."
"Well, suppose I do? — what then?"
"Why, sign the pledge, and become a sober man."
"I've made up my mind never to sign a pledge," was the emphatic answer.
"Because, I am determined to live and die a free man. I'll never sign away my liberty. My father was a free man before me, and I will live and die a free man!"
"But you're a slave now."
"It is not true! I am free! Free to drink, or free to let it alone, as I choose."
"You are mistaken, Jim. You have sold yourself into slavery, and the marks of the chains which still bind you, are upon your body. You are the slave of a vile passion which is too strong for your reason."
"I deny it. I can quit drinking if I choose."
"Then why don't you quit?"
"Because I love to drink."
"And love to see your wife's cheek growing paler and paler every day — and your children ragged and neglected and hungry?"
"I only asked the question, Jim."
"But you know that I don't love to see them in the condition they are."
"And still, you say that you can quit drinking whenever you choose, but will not do so, because you love the taste, or the effect of the liquor, I don't know which?"
Braddock's feelings were a good deal touched, as they had been, ever since Malcom's temperance speech in the tavern. He stood silent for some time, and then said —
"I know it's too bad for me to drink as I do, but I will break it off."
"You had better sign the pledge then."
"No, I will not do that. As I have told you, I am resolved never to sign away my liberty."
"Very well. If you are fixed in your resolution, I suppose it is useless for me to urge the matter. For the sake, then, of your wife and children — break away from the fetters which bind you, and be really free. Now you are not only a slave — but a slave in the most debasing bondage."
The two then separated, and Jim Braddock — in former years it was Mr. Braddock — returned to his house; a very cheerless place, compared to what it had once been. Notwithstanding his abandonment of himself to drink and idleness — Braddock had no ill-nature about him. Though he neglected his family, he was not quarrelsome at home. Though his wife may talk hard to him, he never retorted, but always turned the matter off with a laugh or a jest. With his children, he was always cheerful, and frequently joined in their sports, when not too drunk to do so. All this cool indifference, as it seemed to her, frequently irritated his wife, and made her scold away at him with might and main. He had but one reply to make whenever this occurred, and that was —
"There — there — Keep cool, Sally! It will all turn out right, darling!"
As he came into the house after the not very pleasant occurrence that had taken place at Harry Arnold's tavern, he saw by Sally's excited face and sparkling eyes that something was wrong.
"What's the matter, Sally?" he asked.
"Don't ask me what's the matter, if you please!" was her tart reply.
"Yes, but I want to know? Something is wrong."
"Something is always wrong, of course," Sally rejoined — "and something always will be wrong, while you act as you are always drunk! It's a burning shame for any man to abuse his family as you are abusing yours. Jim — "
"There — there. Keep cool, Sally! It will all turn out right, darling!" Jim responded, in a mild, soothing tone.
"O yes — It's very easy to say 'keep cool!' But I'm tired of this everlasting 'keep cool!' Quit drinking and go to work, and then it'll be time to talk about keeping cool. Here I've been all the morning scraping up wood-chips to make the fire burn. Not a stick in the wood-pile, and you lounging around down at Harry Arnold's. I wish to goodness he was hung! It's too bad! I'm out of all manner of patience with you!"
"There — there. Keep cool, Sally! It'll all turn out right — "
"Hush, will you!" ejaculated Sally, stamping her foot, all patience having left her over-tried spirit. "Keep away from Harry Arnold's tavern! Quit drinking, and then it'll be time for you to talk to me about keeping cool!"
"I'm going to quit, Sally," Jim replied, altogether unexcited by her words and manner.
"Nonsense!" rejoined Sally. "You've said that fifty times!"
"But I'm going to do it now."
"Have you signed the pledge?"
"No. I'm not going to sign away my liberty, as I have often said.
But I'm going to quit!"
"Fiddle-de-de! Sign away your liberty! You've got no liberty to sign away! You're a slave to alcohol — and only talk of liberty!"
"Look here, Sally," her husband said, good-humoredly, for nothing that she could say ever made him get angry with her — "you're a hard-mouthed woman, and it would take a strong hand to hold you in. But as I like to see you go at full gallop, darling, I never draw a tight rein. Aren't you almost out of breath yet?"
"You're a fool, Jim!"
"There's many a true word spoken in jest, Sally," her husband responded in a more serious tone. "I have been a most detestable fool — but I'm going to try and act the wise man, if I haven't forgotten how."
Suddenly his wife felt that he was really in earnest, and all her angry feelings subsided —
"O James!" she said — "if you would only be as you once were — how happy we might all again be!"
"I know that, Sally. And I'm going to try hard to be as I once was. There's a little carpenter job to be done over at Jones', and I promised him that I would do it for him today. But I got down to Harry Arnold's, and there wasted my time until I was ashamed to begin a day's work. But tomorrow morning I'll go over, and stick at it until it's done. It'll be cash payment, and you shall have every cent it comes to, my old girl!" patting his wife on the cheek as he said so.
Mrs. Braddock, of course, felt a rekindling of hope in her bosom. Many times before had her husband promised amendment, and as often had he disappointed her fond expectations. But still she allowed her heart to hope again.
On the next morning, James Braddock found an early breakfast ready for him when he got up. His hand trembled a good deal as he lifted his cup of coffee to his lips, which was insipid without the usual morning-alcohol to put a taste in his mouth. He did not say much, for he felt an almost intolerable craving for liquor, and this made him serious. But his resolution was strong to abandon his former habits.
"You won't forget, James?" his wife said, laying her hand upon his arm, and looking him earnestly and with moistened eyes in the face, as he was about leaving the house.
"No, Sally, I won't forget. Take heart, my good girl. Let what's past, be past. It will all turn out right."
And so saying, Braddock turned away, and strode off with a resolute bearing. His wife followed with her eyes, the form of her husband until it was out of sight, and then closed the door with a long-drawn sigh.
The way to Mr. Jones' house was past Arnold's saloon, and as Braddock drew nearer and nearer to his accustomed haunt, he felt a desire, growing stronger and stronger every moment, to enter and join his old associates over a glass of liquor. To this desire, he opposed every rational objection that he could find. He brought up before his mind his suffering wife and neglected children, and thought of his duty to them. He remembered that it was drink, and drink alone — which had been the cause of his downfall. But with all these auxiliaries to aid him in keeping his resolution — it seemed weak when opposed to desires, which long continued indulgence had rendered inordinate. Onward he went with a steady pace, fortifying his mind all the while with arguments against drinking, and yet just ready at every moment to yield the contest he was waging against habit and desire. At last the tavern was in sight, and in a few minutes he was almost at the door.
"Hurrah! Here's Jim Braddock, bright and early!" cried one of his old cronies, from among two or three who were standing in front of the shop.
"So the cold-water-men haven't got you yet!" broke in another. "I knew Jim Braddock was made of better stuff!"
"Old birds aren't caught with chaff!" added a third.
"Come! Hallo! Where are you off to in such a hurry, with your tools on your back?" quickly cried the first speaker, seeing that Braddock was going by without showing any disposition to stop.
"I've got a job to do that's in a hurry," replied Braddock, pausing — "and have no time to stop. And besides, I've sworn off alcohol."
"Sworn off alcohol! Ha! ha! Have you taken the pledge?"
"No, I have not. I'm not going to bind myself down not to drink anything. I'll be a free man. But I won't touch another drop — see if I do."
"O yes — we'll see. How long do you expect to keep sober?"
"You'll be drunk by night!"
"Why do you say so?"
"I say so — and I know so."
"But why do you say so? Come, tell me that."
"O, I've seen too many swear off in my time — and I've tried it too often myself. It's no use. Not over one in a hundred, ever sticks to it; and I'm sure that Jim Braddock is not that exception."
"There are said to be a hundred reformed men in this town now. I am sure, I know a dozen," Braddock replied.
"O yes. But they've all signed the pledge."
"Nonsense! I don't believe a man can keep sober any the better by signing the pledge, than by resolving never again to drink a drop."
"Facts are stubborn things, you know. But come, Jim, as you haven't signed the pledge, you might as well come in and take a glass now, for you'll do it before night, take my word for it."
It was a fact, that Braddock began really to debate the question with himself, whether he should or not go in and take a single glass, when he became suddenly conscious of his danger, turned away, and hurried on, followed by the loud, jeering laugh of his old alcohol companions.
"Up-hill work," he muttered to himself, as he strode onward.
An hour's brisk walking brought him to the residence of Mr. Jones, nearly four miles away from the little town in which he lived, where he entered upon his day's work, resolved that, henceforth, he would be a reformed man. At first he was nervous, from lack of his accustomed alcoholic stimulus, and handled his tools awkwardly. But after awhile, as the blood began to circulate more freely, the tone of his system came up to a healthier action.
About eleven o'clock Mr. Jones came out to the building upon which Braddock was at work, and after chatting a little, said —
"This is alcohol time, isn't it, Jim?"
"Yes sir, I believe it is," was the reply.
"Well, knock off your work for a little while, and come into the house and take a drink."
Now Mr. Jones was a very moderate drinker himself, scarcely touching liquor for weeks at a time, unless in company. But he always kept it in the house, and always gave it to his workmen, as a matter of course, at eleven o'clock. Had he been aware of Braddock's effort to reform himself, he would as soon have thought of offering him poison to drink as whiskey. But, knowing his habits, he concluded, naturally, that the alcohol was indispensable, and offered it to him as he had always done before, on like occasions.
"I've signed the pledge," were the words that instantly formed themselves in the mind of Braddock — but were instantly set aside, as that reason for not drinking would not have been the true one. Could he have said that — then all difficulty would have vanished in a moment.
"No objection, Mr. Jones," was then uttered, and off he started for the house, resolutely keeping down every reason that struggled in his mind to rise and be heard.
The image of Mr. Jones, standing before him, with a smiling invitation to come and take a glass of alcohol, backed by his own instantly aroused inclinations, had been too strong an inducement. He felt, too, that it would have been rudeness to decline the offered hospitality.
"Thanks, Mr. Jones!" he said, smacking his lips, after draining off a stiff glass.
"That's as fine an article of whiskey as I've ever seen," Mr. Jones replied, a little flattered at Braddock's approval of his liquor. "You're a good judge of such matters."
"I ought to be." And as Jim said this, he drained off another glass.
"That's right — help yourself," was Mr. Jones' encouraging remark, as he saw this.
"I never was backward at that, you know, Mr. Jones." After eating a cracker and a piece of cheese, and taking a third drink, Braddock went back and resumed his work, feeling quite happy.
After dinner Mr. Jones handed him the bottle again, and did the same when he finished in the evening. Of course, he was very far from being sober when he started for home. As he came into town, his way was past Harry Arnold's tavern, whose shop he entered, and was received with a round of applause by his old associates, who saw at a glance that Jim was "a little tipsy." Their jokes were all received in good part, and deflected off by Jim's treating all around.
When her husband left in the morning, Mrs. Braddock's heart was lightened with a new hope, although a fear was blended with that hope, causing them both to tremble in alternate preponderance in her bosom. Still, hope would gain the ascendency, and affected her spirits with a degree of cheerfulness unfelt for many months. As the day began to decline towards evening, after putting everything in the house in order — she took her three children, washed them clean, and dressed them up as neatly as their worn and faded clothes would permit. This was in order to make home present the most agreeable appearance possible to her husband when he returned. Then she killed a chicken and dressed it, ready to broil for his supper — made up a nice short-cake, and set the table with a clean, white table-cloth. About sundown, she commenced baking the cake, and cooking the chicken, and at dusk had them all ready to put on the table the moment he came in.
"Your father is late," she remarked to one of the children, after sitting in a musing attitude for about five minutes, after everything was done that she could do towards getting supper ready. As she said this, she got up and went to the door and looked long and intently down the street in the direction that she expected him, calling each distant, dim figure, obscured by the deepening twilight, his — until a nearer approach dispelled the illusion. Each disappointment like this, caused her feelings to grow sadder and sadder, until at length, as evening subsided into night, with its veil of thick darkness, she turned into the house with a heavy oppressive sigh, and rejoined the children who were impatient for their supper.
"Wait a little while," was her reply to their importunities. "Father will soon be here now."
She was still anxious that their father should see their improved appearance.
"O no" — urged one. "We want our supper now."
"O yes. Give us our supper now. I'm so sleepy and hungry," whined another.
And to give force to these, the youngest began to fret and cry. Mrs. Braddock could delay no longer, and so she set them up to the table and gave them as much as they could eat. Then she undressed each in turn, and in a little while, they were fast asleep.
When all was quiet, and the mother sat down to wait for her husband's return, a feeling of deep despondency came over her mind. It had been dark for an hour, and yet he had not come home. She could imagine no reason for this, other than the one that had kept him out so often before — drinking and bad company. Thus she continued to sit, hour after hour — the supper untasted. Usually, her evenings were spent in some kind of work — in mending her children's clothes, or knitting them stockings. But now she had no heart to do anything. The state of gloomy uncertainty that she was in, broke down her spirits, for the time being.
Bedtime came — and still Braddock was away. She waited an hour later than usual, and then retired, sinking back upon her pillow as she did so, in a state of hopeless exhaustion of mind and body.
In the meantime, her husband had spent a merry evening at Harry Arnold's tavern, drinking with more than his usual freedom. He was the last to go home, the thought of meeting his deceived and injured wife, causing him to linger. When he did leave, it was past eleven o'clock. Though more than half-intoxicated on going from the tavern, the cool night air, and the thought of Sally, sobered him considerably before he got home. Arrived there, he paused with his hand on the door for some time, reluctant to enter. At last he opened the door, and went quietly in, in the hope of getting up to bed without his wife's discovering his condition. The third step into the room brought his foot in contact with a chair, and over he went, jarring the whole house with his fall! His wife heard this — indeed her quick ear had detected the opening of the door — and it caused her heart to sink like a heavy weight in her bosom.
Gathering himself up, Braddock moved forward again as steadily as he could, both hands extended before him. A smart blow upon the nose from an open door, which had insinuated itself between his hands, caused him, involuntarily, to dash aside the door which shut with a heavy slam. Pausing now, to recall his bewildered senses, he resolved to move forward with more caution, and so succeeded in gaining the stairs, up which he went, his feet, as softly as he tried to put them down, falling like heavy lumps of lead, and making the house echo again. He felt strongly inclined to grumble about all the lights being put out, as he came into the chamber — but a distinct consciousness that he had no right to grumble, kept him quiet, and so he undressed himself with as little noise as possible — which was no very small task, for at almost every moment he stepped on something, or banged against something loudly — and then crept softly into bed.
Mrs. Braddock said nothing, and he said nothing. But long before her eyelids closed in sleep, he was loudly snoring by her side. When he awoke in the morning, Sally had arisen and gone down. A burning thirst caused him to get up immediately and dress himself. There was no water in the room, and if there had been, he could not have touched it while there was to be had below a cool draught from the well. So he descended at once, feeling very badly, and resolving over again that he would never touch another drop of liquor as long as he lived. Having quenched his thirst with a large bowl of cool water drawn right from the bottom of the well, he went up to his wife where she was stooping at the fire, and said —
"Sally, look here — "
"Go way, Jim," was her angry response.
"No, but Sally, look here, I want to talk to you," persisted her husband.
"Go away, I say — I don't care if I never see you again!"
"So you've said a hundred times, but I never believed you, or I might have taken you at your word."
To this his wife made no reply.
"I was drunk last night, Sally," Jim said, after a moment's silence.
"You needn't take the trouble to tell me that."
"Of course not. But an open confession, you know, is good for the soul. I was drunk last night, then — drunk as a fool, after all I promised — but I'm not going to get drunk again, so — "
"Don't swear any more false oaths, Jim — you've sworn enough already."
"Yes, but Sally, I am going to quit now, and I want you to talk to me like a good wife, and advise with me."
"If you don't go away and let me alone now, I'll throw these tongs at you!" the wife rejoined, angrily, rising up and brandishing the article she had named. "You are trying me beyond all manner of patience!"
"There — there — keep cool, Sally. It'll all go fine in the end, darlin'" Jim replied, good-humoredly, taking hold of her hand, and extricating the tongs from them, and then drawing his arm around her waist, and forcing her to sit down in a chair, while he took one just beside her.
"Now, Sally, I'm in dead earnest, if ever I was in my life," he began, "and if you'll tell me any way to break off from this wretched habit into which I have fallen, I'll do it."
"Go and sign the pledge, then;" his wife said promptly, and somewhat sternly.
"And give up my liberty?"
"And regain it, rather. You're a slave to alcohol now!"
"I'll do it, then, for your sake."
"Don't trifle with me, any more, James; I can't bear it much longer, I feel that I can't — " poor Mrs. Braddock said in a plaintive tone, while the tears came to her eyes.
"I won't deceive you any more, Sally. I'll sign, and I'll keep my pledge. If I could only have said — 'I've signed the pledge,' yesterday, I would have been safe. But I've got no pledge, and I'm afraid to go out to hunt up Malcom, for fear I shall see a tavern."
"Can't you write a pledge?"
"No. I can't write anything but a bill, or a label for one of your pickle-pots."
"Well, give me a pen, some ink, and a piece of paper."
But there was neither pen, ink, nor paper, in the house. Mrs. Braddock, however, soon mustered them all in the neighborhood, and came and put them down upon the table before her husband.
"There, now, write a pledge," she said.
"I will." And Jim took up the pen and wrote — "Tar an feather me — if ever I drink another drop of alcohol! Sincerely, JIM BRADDOCK."
"But that's a strange pledge, Jim."
"I don't care if it is. I'll keep it."
"It's just no pledge at all."
"You're an old goose! Now give me a hammer and four nails."
"What do you want with a hammer and four nails?"
"I want to nail my pledge up over the mantelpiece."
"But it will get smoky."
"So will your aunty. Give me the hammer and nails."
Jim's wife brought them as desired, and he nailed his pledge up over the mantelpiece, and then read it off with a proud, resolute air.
"I can keep that pledge, Sally, my old girl! And what's more, I will keep it, too!" he said, slapping his wife upon the shoulder. "And now for some breakfast in double quick time, for I must be at Jones's early this morning."
Mrs. Braddock's heart was very glad, for she had more faith in this pledge than she had ever felt in any of his promises. There was something of confirmation in the act of signing his name, which strengthened her hopes. It was not long before she had a good warm breakfast on the table, of which her husband ate with a better appetite than usual, and then, after reading his pledge over, Jim started off for work.
As before, he had to go past Harry Arnold's tavern, and early as it was, there were already two or three of his cronies there for their morning drink. He saw them around the door while yet at a distance, but neither the tavern nor his old companions had now any attraction for him. He was conscious of standing on a plain which lifted him above their influence. As he drew near, they observed him, and awaited his approach with pleasure, for his fine flow of spirits made his company always desirable. But as he showed no inclination to stop, he was hailed, just as he was passing, with,
"Hallo, Jim! Where are you off to in such a hurry?"
"Off to my work like an honest, sober man," Jim replied, pausing to return his answer. "I've taken the pledge, my hearties, and what's more, I'm going to keep it. It's all down in black and white, and my name's to it in the bargain — so there's an end of the matter, you see! Good bye, boys! — I'm sorry to leave you — but you must go my way — if you want my company. Good bye, Harry! You've got the old whiskey-barrel, and that's the last penny you'll ever get of mine. I never had any good luck while it was in my house, and I am most heartily glad it's out, and in your whiskey-shop, where I hope it will stay. Good bye, old cronies!"
And so saying, Jim turned away, and walked off with a proud, erect bearing. His old companions raised a laugh, but according to Jim's account, the laugh was so much on the wrong side of their mouths, that it didn't seem to him anything like a laugh.
At eleven o'clock, Mr. Jones came out as usual, and said —
"Well, Jim, I suppose you begin to feel a little like it was drink-time?"'
"No, sir," Jim replied. "I'm done with alcohol."
"Done with alcohol!" ejaculated Mr. Jones, in pleased surprise.
"Why, you didn't seem at all afraid of it, yesterday?"
"I did drink pretty hard, yesterday; but that was all your fault."
"My fault! How do you make that out?"
"Clear enough. Yesterday morning, seeing what a poor miserable wretch I had got to be, and how much my wife and children were suffering, I swore off from ever touching another drop. I wouldn't sign a pledge, though, because that, I thought, would be giving up my freedom. In coming here, I got past Harry Arnold's tavern pretty well, but when you came out so pleasantly at eleven o'clock, and asked me to go over to the house and take a drink, I couldn't refuse for the life of me — especially as I felt as dry as a bone. So I drank pretty freely, as you know, and went home, in consequence, drunk at night, notwithstanding I had promised Sally, solemnly, in the morning, never to touch another drop again as long as I lived. Poor soul! Bad enough, and discouraged enough, she felt last night, I know.
"So you see — when I got up this morning, I felt half-determined to sign the pledge, at all hazards. Still I didn't want to give up my liberty, and was arguing the points over again, when Sally took me right aback so strongly that I gave up, wrote a pledge, signed it, and nailed it up over the mantelpiece, where it has got to stay."
"I am most heartily glad to hear of your good resolution," Mr. Jones said, grasping warmly the hand of Braddock — "and heartily ashamed of myself for having tempted you, yesterday. Hereafter, I am resolved not to offer liquor to any man who works for me. If my money is not enough for him, he must go somewhere else. Well," he continued — "you have signed away your liberty, as you called it. Do you feel any more a slave than you did yesterday?"
"A slave? No, indeed! I'm a free man now! Yesterday I was such a slave to a debased appetite, that all my good resolutions were like cobwebs. Now I can act like an honest, rational man. I am in a state of freedom. You ask me to drink now — and I say 'no'. Yesterday I could not say no, because I was not a free man. But now I am free to choose what is right, and to reject what is wrong. I don't care for all the taverns and whiskey-bottles from here to sun-down! I'm not afraid to go past Harry Arnold's — nor even to go in there and make a temperance speech, if necessary. Hurrah for real freedom!"
It cannot be supposed that Jim's wife, after her many sad disappointments, could feel altogether assured that he would stand by his pledge, although she had more confidence in its power over him than in anything else, and believed that it was the only thing that would save him, if he could be saved at all. She was far more cheerful, however, for her hope was stronger than it had ever been; and went about her house with a far lighter step than usual.
Towards evening, as the time began to approach for his return, she proceeded, as she had done on the day before, to make arrangements for his comfortable reception. The little scene of preparation for supper, and dressing up the children, was all acted over again, and with a feeling of stronger confidence. Still, her heart would beat at times oppressively, as a doubt would steal over her mind.
At last, the sun was just sinking behind a distant hill. It was the hour to expect him. The children were gathered around her in the door, and her eyes were afar off, eagerly watching for his well-known form in the distance. As minute after minute passed away, and the sun at length went down below the horizon, her heart began to tremble. Still, though she strained her eyes, she could see nothing of him — and now the twilight began to fall, dimly around, throwing upon her oppressed heart a deeper shadow than that which mantled, like a thin veil, the distant hills and valleys. With a heavy sigh, she was turning away from the door, when a slight noise caused her to turn quickly, and with a startle.
"Back again, safe and sound, old girl!" greeted her glad ear, as the form of her husband caught her eye, coming in at the back door.
"O, Jim!" she exclaimed, her heart bounding with a wild, happy pulsation. "How glad I am to see you!"
And she flung herself into his arms, giving way, as she did so, to a gush of joyful tears.
"And I'm glad enough to see you, too, Sally! I've thought about you and the children all day, and of how much I have wronged you. But it's all over now. That pledge has done it!" pointing up as he spoke to his pledge nailed over the mantelpiece. "Since I signed that, I've not had the first wish to touch the accursed thing which has ruined me. I'm free, now, Sally! Free to do as I please. And that's what I haven't been for a long time. As I told Mr. Jones, I don't care now for all the taverns, whiskey-bottles, and Harry Arnolds, from here to sun-down."
"I told you it was all nonsense, Jim, about signing away your liberty!" Sally said, smiling through her tears of joy.
"Of course it was. I never was free before. But now I feel as free as air. I can go in and come out and care no more for the sight of a tavern, than for a hay-stack. I can take care of my wife and children, and be just as kind to them as I please. And that's what I couldn't do before. Hurrah for the pledge, say I!
"Tar and feather me if ever I drink another drop of alcohol!"
That evening Jim Braddock sat down to a good supper with a smiling wife, and three children, all cleanly dressed, and looking as happy as they could be. The husband and father had not felt so light a heart bounding in his bosom for years. He was free — and felt that he was free to act as reason dictated — to work for and care for his household treasures.
Nearly a year has passed, and Mr. James Braddock has built himself a neat little frame house, which is comfortably furnished, and has attached to it a well-cultivated garden. In his parlor, there hangs, over the mantelpiece, his original pledge, handsomely framed. Recently in writing to a friend, he says —
"You will ask, where did I get them?" (his new house, furniture, etc.) "I'll tell you. These are part payment for my liberty that I signed away. Didn't I sell it at a bargain? But this is not all. I've got my shop back again, with a good run of custom — am ten years younger than I was a year ago — have got the happiest wife and the smartest boy in all creation — and don't care a snap for anybody! So now, come down here and visit us; bring your wife, and all the responsibilities, and I'll tell you the whole story — but I can't write. Hurrah for freedom! Good bye to alcohol! JIM BRADDOCK."