The Touching Reproof
Timothy Shay Arthur, 1851
"Here, Jane," said a father to his little girl not over eleven years of age, "go over to the store and buy me a pint of brandy."
At the same time he handed her a quarter. The child took the money and the bottle, and as she did so, looked her father in the face with an earnest, sad expression. But he did not seem to observe it, although he perceived it, and felt it; for he understood its meaning. The little girl lingered, as if reluctant, from some reason, to go on her errand.
"Did you hear what I said!" the father asked, angrily, and with a frowning brow, as he observed this.
Jane glided from the room and went over to the store, hiding, as she passed through the street, the bottle under her apron. There she obtained the liquor, and returned with it in a few minutes. As she handed the bottle to her father, she looked at him again with the same sad, earnest look, which he observed. It annoyed and angered him.
"What do you mean by looking at me in that way? Ha!" he said, in a loud, angry tone.
Jane shrank away, and passed into the next room, where her mother lay sick. She had been sick for some time, and as they were poor, and her husband given to drink, she had sorrow and privation added to her bodily sufferings. As her little girl came in, she went up to the side of her bed, and, bending over it, leaned her head upon her hand. She did not make any remark, nor did her mother speak to her, until she observed the tears trickling through her fingers.
"What is the matter, my dear?" she then asked, tenderly.
The little girl raised her head, endeavoring to dry up her tears as she did so.
"I feel so bad, mother," she replied.
"And why do you feel bad, my child?"
"Oh, I always feel so bad when father sends me over to the store for brandy; and I had to go just now. I wanted to ask him to buy you some nice grapes and oranges with the quarter of a dollar — they would taste so good to you — but he seemed to know what I was going to say, and looked at me so cross that I was afraid to speak. I wish he would not drink any more brandy. It makes him very cross; and then how many nice things he might buy for you with the money it takes for liquor."
The poor mother had no words of comfort to offer her little girl, older in thought than in years; for no comfort did she herself feel in view of the circumstances that troubled her child. She only said — laying her hand upon the child's head —
"Try and not think about it, my dear; it only troubles you, and your trouble cannot make it any better."
But Jane could not help thinking about it, try as hard as she would. She went to a Sabbath school, in which a Temperance society had been formed, and every Sabbath she heard the subject of intemperance discussed, and its dreadful consequences detailed. But more than all this, she had the daily experience of a drunkard's child. In this experience, how much of heart-touching misery was involved! — how much of privation — how much of the anguish of a bruised spirit. Who can know the weight that lies, like a heavy burden, upon the heart of a drunkard's child! None but the child — for language is powerless to convey it.
On the next morning, the father of little Jane went away to his work, and she was left alone with her mother and her younger sister. They were very poor, and could not afford to employ anyone to do the house-work, and so as young as she was, while her mother was sick, Jane had everything to do — the cooking, and cleaning, and even the washing and ironing — a hard task, indeed, for her little hands. But she never murmured — never seemed to think that she was over-burdened; How cheerfully would all have been done, if her father's smiles had only fallen like sunshine upon her heart! But that face, into which her eyes looked so often and so anxiously, was ever hid in clouds — clouds arising from the consciousness that he was abusing his family while seeking his own base gratification, and from perceiving the evidences of his evil works stamped on all things around him.
As Jane passed frequently through her mother's room during the morning, pausing almost every time to ask if she wanted anything; she saw, too plainly, that she was not as well as on the day before — that she had a high fever, indicated to her by her hot skin and constant request for cool water.
"I wish I had an orange," the poor woman said, as Jane came up to her bed-side, for the twentieth time, "it would taste so good to me."
She had been thinking about an orange all the morning; and notwithstanding her effort to drive the thought from her mind, the form of an orange would ever picture itself before her, and its grateful flavor ever seem about to thrill upon her taste. At last she uttered her wish — not so much with the hope of having it gratified, as from an involuntary impulse to speak out her desire.
There was not a single cent in the house, for the father rarely trusted his wife with money — he could not confide in her judicious expenditure of it!
"Let me go and buy you an orange, mother," Jane said; "they have oranges at the store."
"I have no money, my dear; and if I had, I would not think it right to spend four or five cents for an orange, when we have so little. Get me a cool drink of water — that will do now."
Jane brought the poor sufferer a glass of cool water, and she drank it off eagerly. Then she lay back upon her pillow with a sigh, and her little girl went out to attend to the household duties which devolved upon her. But all the while Jane thought of the orange, and of how she should get it for her mother.
When her father came home to dinner, he looked crosser than he did in the morning. He sat down to the table and eat his dinner in moody silence, and then arose to depart, without so much as asking about his sick wife, or going into her chamber. As he moved towards the door, his hat already on his head, Jane went up to him, and looking timidly in his face, said, with a hesitating voice —
"Mother wants an orange so bad. Won't you give me some money to buy her one?"
"No, I will not! Your mother had better be thinking about something else, than wasting money for oranges!" was the angry reply, as the father passed out, and shut the door hard after him.
Jane stood for a moment, frightened at the angry vehemence of her father, and then burst into tears. She said nothing to her mother of what had passed, but after the agitation of her mind had somewhat subsided, began to cast about in her thoughts for some plan by which she might obtain an orange. At last it occurred to her, that at the store where she got liquor for her father, they bought rags and old iron.
"How much do you give a pound for rags?" she asked, in a minute or two after the idea had occurred to her, standing at the counter of the store.
"Three cents a pound," was the reply.
"How much for old iron?"
"A cent a pound."
"What's the price of those oranges?"
"Four cents apiece."
With this information, Jane hurried back. After she had cleared away the dinner-table, she went down into the cellar and looked up all the old bits of iron that she could find. Then she searched the yard, and found some eight or ten rusty nails, an old bolt, and a broken hinge. These she laid away in a little nook in the cellar. Afterwards she gathered together all the old rags that she could find about the house, and in the cellar, and laid them with her old iron. But she saw plainly enough that her iron would not weigh over two pounds, nor her rags over a quarter of a pound. If time would have permitted, she would have gone into the street to look for old iron, but this she could not do; and disappointed at not being able to get the orange for her mother, she went about her work during the afternoon with sad and desponding thoughts and feelings.
It was summer time, and her father came home from his work before it was dark.
"Go and get me a pint of brandy!" he said to Jane, in a tone that sounded harsh and angry to the child, handing her at the same time a quarter of a dollar. Since the day before, he had taken a pint of brandy, and none but the best would suit him.
She took the money and the bottle, and went over to the store. Wistfully she looked at the tempting oranges in the window, as she gave the money for the liquor — and thought how glad her poor mother would be to have one.
As she was hurrying back, she saw a thick rusty iron ring lying in the street: she picked it up, and kept on her way. It felt heavy, and her heart bounded with the thought that now she could buy the orange for her mother. The piece of old iron was dropped in the yard, as she passed through. After her father had taken a drink, he sat down to his supper. While he was eating it, Jane went into the cellar and brought out into the yard her little treasure of scrap iron. As she passed backwards and forwards before the door facing which her father sat, he observed her, and felt a sudden curiosity to know what she was doing. He went softly to the window, and as he did so, he saw her gathering the iron, which she had placed in a little pile, into her apron. Then she rose up quickly, and passed out of the yard-gate into the street.
The father went back to his supper, but his appetite was gone. There was that in the act of his child, as simple as it was, that which moved his feelings, in spite of himself. All at once he thought of the orange she had asked for her mother; and he felt a conviction that it was to buy an orange, that Jane was now going to sell the iron she had evidently been collecting since dinner-time.
"How selfish and wicked I am!" he said to himself, almost involuntarily.
In a few minutes Jane returned, and with her hand under her apron, passed through the room where he sat into her mother's chamber. An impulse, almost irresistible, caused him to follow her in a few moments after.
"I am so grateful to you!" he heard his wife say, as he opened the door.
On entering her chamber, he found her sitting up in bed eating the orange, while little Jane stood by her looking into her face with an air of subdued, yet heartfelt gratification. All this he saw at a glance, yet did not seem to see, for he pretended to be searching for something, which, apparently obtained, he left the room and the house, with feelings of acute pain and self-upbraidings.
"Come, let us go and see these Temperance men," said a companion, whom he met a few steps from his own door. "They are carrying all the world before them."
"Very well, come along."
And the two men bent their steps towards Temperance Hall.
When little Jane's father turned from the door of that place, his name was signed to the pledge, and his heart fixed to abide by it. On his way home, he saw some grapes in a window — he bought some of them, and a couple of oranges and lemons. When he came home, he went into his wife's chamber, and opening the paper that contained the first-fruits of his sincere repentance, laid them before her, and said, with tenderness, while the moisture dimmed his eyes —
"I thought these would taste good to you, Mary, and so I bought them."
"O, William!" and the poor wife started, and looked up into her husband's face with an expression of surprise and trembling hope.
"Mary," — and he took her hand, tenderly — "I have signed the pledge tonight, and I will keep it, by the help of Heaven!"
The sick wife raised herself up quickly, and bent over towards her husband, eagerly extending her hands. Then, as he drew his arm around her, she let her head fall upon his bosom, with an emotion of delight, such as had not moved over the surface of her stricken heart for years.
The pledge taken was the total-abstinence pledge, and it has never been violated by him, and what is better, we are confident never will. How much of human hope and happiness is involved in that simple pledge!
"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