Part 2 out of 5
Dr. Hillhouse was deeply moved at this. He had felt stern and angry,
ready each moment to accuse and condemn, but the intense emotion
displayed by the husband shocked, subdued and changed his tone of
"You must calm, yourself, my dear sir," he said. "The case looks
bad, but I have seen recovery in worse cases than this. We will do
our best. But remember that you have duties and responsibilities
that must not fail."
"Whatsoever in me lies, doctor," answered Mr. Ridley, with a sudden
calmness that seemed supernatural, "you may count on my doing. If
she dies, I am lost." There was a deep solemnity in his tones as he
uttered this last sentence. "You see, sir," he added, "what I have
"Just for the present little more can be done than to follow the
prescriptions we have given and watch their effect on the patient,"
returned Dr. Hillhouse. "If any change occurs, favorable or
unfavorable, let us know. If your presence in her room should excite
or disturb her in any way, you must prudently abstain from going
The two physicians went away with but little hope in their hearts
for the sick woman. Whatever the exciting cause or causes might have
been, the disease which had taken hold of her with unusual violence
presented already so fatal a type that the issue was very doubtful.
"IT is too late, I am afraid," said Dr. Hillhouse as the two
physicians rode away, "The case ought to have been seen last night.
I noticed the call when I came home from Mr. Birtwell's, but the
storm was frightful, and I did not feel like going out again. In
fact, if the truth must be told, I hardly gave the matter a thought.
I saw the call, but its importance did not occur to me. Late hours,
suppers and wine do not always leave the head as clear as it should
"I do not like the looks of things," returned Dr. Angier. "All the
symptoms are bad."
"Yes, very bad. I saw Mrs. Ridley yesterday morning, and found her
doing well. No sign of fever or any functional disturbance. She must
have had some shock or exposure to cold."
"Her husband was out all night. I learned that much from the nurse,"
replied Dr. Angier. "When the storm became violent, which was soon
after ten o'clock, she grew restless and disturbed, starting up and
listening as the snow dashed on the windowpanes and the wind roared
angrily. 'I could not keep her down,' said the nurse. 'She would
spring up in bed, throw off the clothes and sit listening, with a
look of anxiety and dread on her face. The wind came in through
every chink and crevice, chilling the room in spite of all I could
do to keep it warm. I soon saw, from the color that began coming
into her face and from the brightness in her eyes, that fever had
set in. I was alarmed, and sent for the doctor.'"
"And did this go on all night?" asked Dr. Hillhouse.
"Yes. She never closed her eyes except in intervals of feverish
stupor, from which she would start up and cry out for her husband,
who was, she imagined, in some dreadful peril."
"Bad! bad!" muttered Dr. Hillhouse. "There'll be a death, I fear,
laid at Mr. Birtwell's door."
"I don't understand you," said his companion, in a tone of surprise.
"Mr. Ridley, as I have been informed," returned Dr. Hillhouse, has
been an intemperate man. After falling very low, he made an earnest
effort to reform, and so far got the mastery of his appetite as to
hold it in subjection. Such men are always in danger, as you and I
very well know. In nine cases out of ten--or, I might say, in
ninety-nine cases in a hundred--to taste again is to fall. It is
like cutting the chain that holds a wild beast. The bound but not
dead appetite springs into full vigor again, and surprised
resolution is beaten down and conquered. To invite such a man to, an
entertainment where wines and liquors are freely dispensed is to put
a human soul in peril."
"Mr. Birtwell may not have known anything about him," replied Dr.
"All very true. But there is one thing he did know."
"That he could not invite a company of three hundred men and women
to his house, though he selected them from the most refined and
intelligent circles in our city, and give them intoxicating drinks
as freely as he did last night, without serious harm. In such
accompany there will be some, like Mr. Ridley, to whom the cup of
wine offered in hospitality will be a cup of cursing. Good
resolutions will be snapped like thread in a candle-flame, and men
who came sober will go away, as from any other drinking-saloon,
drunk, as he went out last night."
"Drinking-saloon! You surprise me, doctor."
"I feel bitter this morning; and when the bitterness prevails, I am
apt to call things by strong names. Yes, I say drinking-saloon,
Doctor Angier. What matters it in the dispensation whether you give
away or sell the liquor, whether it be done over a bar or set out
free to every guest in a merchant's elegant banqueting-room? The one
is as much a liquor-saloon as the other. Men go away from one, as
from the other, with heads confused and steps unsteady and good
resolutions wrecked by indulgence. Knowing that such things must
follow; that from every fashionable entertainment some men, and
women too, go away weaker and in more danger than when they came;
that boys and young men are tempted to drink and the feet of some
set in the ways of ruin; that health is injured and latent diseases
quickened into force; that evil rather than good flows from
them,--knowing all this, I say, can any man who so turns his house,
for a single evening, into a drinking-saloon--I harp on the words,
you see, for I am feeling bitter--escape responsibility? No man goes
blindly in this way."
"Taking your view of the case," replied Dr. Angier, "there may be
another death laid at the door of Mr. Birtwell."
"Whose?" Dr. Hillhouse turned quickly to his assistant. They had
reached home, and were standing in their office.
"Nothing has been heard of Archie Voss since he left Mr. Birtwell's
last night, and his poor mother is lying insensible, broken down by
"Oh, what of her? I was called for in the night, and you went in my
"I found Mrs. Voss in a state of coma, from which she had only
partially recovered when I left at daylight. Mr. Voss is in great
anxiety about his son, who has never stayed away all night before,
except with the knowledge of his parents."
"Oh, that will all come right," said Dr. Hillhouse. "The young man
went home, probably, with some friend. Had too much to drink, it may
be, and wanted to sleep it off before coming into his mother's
"There is no doubt about his having drank too much," returned Dr.
Angier. "I saw him going along the hall toward the street door in
rather a bad way. He had his overcoat on and his hat in his hand."
"Was any one with him?"
"I believe not. I think he went out alone."
"Into that dreadful storm?"
The countenance of Dr. Hillhouse became very grave:
"And has not been heard of since?"
"Have the police been informed about it?"
"Yes. The police have had the matter in hand for several hours, but
at the time I left not the smallest clue had been found."
"Rather a bad look," said Dr. Hillhouse. "What does Mr. Voss say
"His mind seems to dwell on two theories--one that Archie, who had a
valuable diamond pin and a gold watch, may have wandered into some
evil neighborhood, bewildered by the storm, and there been set upon
and robbed--murdered perhaps. The other is that he has fallen in
some out-of-the-way place, overcome by the cold, and lies buried in
the snow. The fact that no police-officer reports having seen him or
any one answering to his description during the night awakens the
"Still," replied Dr. Hillhouse, "it may all come out right. He may
have gone to a hotel. There are a dozen theories to set against
those of his friends."
After remaining silent for several moments, he said:
"The boy had been drinking too much?"
"Yes; and I judge from, his manner, when I saw him on his way to the
street, that he was conscious of his condition and ashamed of it. He
went quietly along, evidently trying not to excite observation, but
his steps were unsteady and his sight not true, for in trying to
thread his way along the hall he ran against one and another, and
drew the attention he was seeking to avoid."
"Poor fellow!" said Dr. Hillhouse, with genuine pity. "He was always
a nice boy. If anything has happened to him, I wouldn't give a dime
for the life of his mother."
"Nor I. And even as it is, the shock already received may prove
greater than her exhausted system can bear. I think you had better
see her, doctor, as early as possible."
"There were no especially bad symptoms when you left, beyond the
state of partial coma?"
"No. Her respiration had become easy, and she presented the
appearance of one in a quiet sleep."
"Nature is doing all for her that can be done," returned Dr.
Hillhouse. "I will see her as early as practicable. It's unfortunate
that we have these two cases on our hands just at this time, and
most unfortunate of all that I should have been compelled to go out
so early this morning. That doesn't look right."
And the doctor held up his hand, which showed a nervous
"It will pass off after you have taken breakfast."
"I hope so. Confound these parties! I should not have gone last
night, and if I'd given the matter due consideration would have
remained at home."
"You know what that means as well as I do;" and Dr. Hillhouse held
up his tremulous hand again. "We can't take wine freely late at
night and have our nerves in good order next morning. A life may
depend on a steady hand to-day."
"It will all pass off at breakfast-time. Your good cup of coffee
will make everything all right."
"Perhaps yea, perhaps nay," was answered. "I forgot myself last
night, and accepted too many wine compliments. It was first this one
and then that one, until, strong as my head is, I got more into it
than should have gone there. We are apt to forget ourselves on these
occasions. If I had only taken a glass or two, it would have made
little difference. But my system was stimulated beyond its wont,
and, I fear, will not be in the right tone to-day."
"You will have to bring it up, then, doctor," said the assistant.
"To touch that work with an unsteady hand might be death."
"A glass or two of wine will do it; but when I operate, I always
prefer to have my head clear. Stimulated nerves are not to be
depended upon, and the brain that has wine in it is never a sure
guide. A surgeon must see at the point of his instrument; and if
there be a mote or any obscurity in his mental vision, his hand,
instead of working a cure, may bring disaster."
"You operate at twelve?"
"You will be all right enough by that time; but it will not do to
visit many patients. I am sorry about this case of child-bed fever;
but I will see it again immediately after breakfast, and report."
While they were still talking the bell rang violently, and in a few
moments Mr. Ridley came dashing into the office. His face wore a
look of the deepest distress.
"Oh, doctor, he exclaimed can't you do something for my wife? She'll
die if you don't. Oh, do go to her again!"
"Has any change taken place since we left?" asked Dr. Hillhouse,
with a professional calmness it required some effort to assume.
"She is in great distress, moaning and sobbing and crying out as if
in dreadful pain, and she doesn't know anything you say to her."
The two physicians looked at each other with sober faces.
"You'd better see her again," said Dr. Hiilhouse, speaking to his assistant.
"No, no, no, Dr. Hillhouse! You must see her yourself. It is a case
of life and death!" cried out the distracted husband. "The
responsibility is yours, and I must and will hold you to that
responsibility. I placed my wife in your charge, not in that of this
or any other man."
Mr. Ridley was beside himself with fear. At first Dr. Hillhouse felt
like resenting this assault, but he controlled himself.
"You forget yourself, Mr. Ridley," he answered in a repressed voice.
We do not help things by passion or intemperance of language. I saw
your wife less than half an hour ago, and after giving the utmost
care to the examination of her case made the best prescription in my
power. There has not been time for the medicines to act yet. I know
how troubled you must feel, and can pardon your not very courteous
bearing; but there are some things that can and some things that
cannot be done. There are good reasons why it will not be right for
me to return to your house now--reasons affecting the safety, it may
be the life, of another, while my not going back with you can make
no difference to Mrs. Ridley. Dr. Angier is fully competent to
report on her condition, and I can decide on any change of treatment
that may be required as certainly as if I saw her myself. Should he
find any change for the worse, I will consider it my duty to see her
"Don't neglect her, for God's sake, doctor!" answered Mr. Ridley, in
a pleading voice. His manner had grown subdued. Forgive my seeming
discourtesy. I am wellnigh distracted. If I lose her, I lose my hold
on everything. Oh, doctor, you cannot know how much is at stake. God
help me if she dies!"
"My dear sir, nothing in our power to do shall be neglected. Dr.
Angier will go back with you; and if, on his return, I am satisfied
that there is a change for the worse, I will see your wife without a
moment's delay. And in the mean time, if you wish to call in another
physician, I shall be glad to have you do so. Fix the time for
consultation at any hour before half-past ten o'clock, and I will
meet him. After that I shall be engaged professionally for two or
Dr. Angier returned with Mr. Ridley, and Dr. Hillhouse went to his
chamber to make ready for breakfast. His hands were so unsteady as
he made his toilette for the day that, in the face of what he had
said to his assistant only a little while before, he poured himself
a glass of wine and drank it off, remarking aloud as he did so, as
if apologizing for the act to some one invisibly present:
"I can't let this go on any longer."
The breakfast-bell rang, and the doctor sat down to get the better
nerve-sustainer of a good meal. But even as he reached his hand for
the fragrant coffee that his wife had poured for him, he felt a
single dull throb in one of his temples, and knew too well its
meaning. He did not lift the coffee to his mouth, but sat with a
grave face and an unusually quiet manner. He had made a serious
mistake, and he knew it. That glass of wine had stimulated the
relaxed nerves of his stomach too suddenly, and sent a shock to the
exhausted brain. A slight feeling of nausea was perceived and then
came another throb stronger than the first, and with a faint
suggestion of pain. This was followed by a sense of physical
depression and discomfort.
"What's the matter, doctor?" asked his wife, who saw something
unusual in his manner.
"A feeling here that I don't just like," he replied, touching his
temple with a finger.
"Not going to have a headache?"
"I trust not. It would be a bad thing for me today."
He slowly lifted his cup of coffee and sipped a part of it.
"Late suppers and late hours may do for younger people," said Mrs.
Hillhouse. "_I_ feel wretched this morning, and am not surprised
that your nerves are out of order, nor that you should be threatened
The doctor did not reply. He sipped his coffee again, but without
apparent relish, and, instead of eating anything, sat in an
unusually quiet manner and with a very sober aspect of countenance.
"I don't want a mouthful of breakfast," said Mrs. Hillhouse, pushing
away her plate.
"Nor I," replied the doctor; "but I can't begin to-day on an empty
And he tried to force himself to take food, but made little progress
in the effort.
"It's dreadful about Archie Voss," said Mrs. Hillhouse.
"Oh he'll come up all right," returned her husband, with some
impatience in his voice.
"I hope so. But if he were my son, I'd rather see him in his grave
than as I saw him last night."
"It's very easy to talk in that way; but if Archie were your son,
you'd not be very long in choosing between death and a glass or two
of wine more than he had strength to carry."
"If he were my son," replied the doctor's wife, "I would do all in
my power to keep him away from entertainments where liquor is served
in such profusion. The danger is too great."
"He would have to take his chances with the rest," replied the
doctor. "All that we could possibly do would be to teach him
moderation and self-denial."
"If there is little moderation and self-denial among the full-grown
men and women who are met on these occasions, what can be expected
from lads and young men?"
The doctor shrugged his shoulders, but made no reply.
"We cannot shut our eyes to the fact," continued his wife, "that
this free dispensation of wine to old and young is an evil of great
magnitude, and that it is doing a vast amount of harm."
The doctor still kept silent. He was not in a mood for discussing
this or any other social question. His mind was going in another
direction, and his thoughts were troubling him. Dr. Hillhouse was a
surgeon of great experience, and known throughout the country for
his successful operations in some of the most difficult and
dangerous cases with which the profession has to deal. On this
particular day, at twelve o'clock, he had to perform an operation of
the most delicate nature, involving the life or death of a patient.
He might well feel troubled, for he knew, from signs too well
understood, that when twelve o'clock came, and his patient lay
helpless and unconscious before him, his hand would not be steady
nor his brain, clear. Healthy food would not restore the natural
vigor which stimulation had weakened, for he had no appetite for
food. His stomach turned away from it with loathing.
By this time the throb in his temple had become a stroke of pain.
While still sitting at the breakfast-table Dr. Angier returned from
his visit to Mrs. Ridley. Dr. Hillhouse saw by the expression of his
face that he did not bring a good report.
"How is she?" he asked.
"In a very bad way," replied Dr. Angier.
"Intense pain, rigors, hurried respiration and pulse up to a hundred
and twenty. It looks like a case of puerperal peritonitis."
Dr. Hillhouse started from the table; the trouble on his face grew
"You had better see her with as little delay as possible," said Dr.
"Did you make any new prescription?"
Dr. Hillhouse shut his lips tightly and knit his brows. He stood
irresolute for several moments.
"Most unfortunate!" he ejaculated. Then, going into his office, he
rang the bell and ordered his carriage brought round immediately.
Dr. Angier had made no exaggerated report of Mrs. Ridley's
condition. Dr. Hillhouse found that serious complications were
rapidly taking place, and that all the symptoms indicated
inflammation of the peritoneum. The patient was in great pain,
though with less cerebral disturbance than when he had seen her
last. There was danger, and he knew it. The disease had taken on a
form that usually baffles the skill of our most eminent physicians,
and Dr. Hillhouse saw little chance of anything but a fatal
termination. He could do nothing except to palliate as far as
possible the patient's intense suffering and endeavor to check
farther complications. But he saw little to give encouragement.
Mr. Ridley, with pale, anxious face, and eyes in which, were
pictured the unutterable anguish of his soul, watched Dr. Hillhouse
as he sat by his wife's bedside with an eager interest and suspense
that was painful to see. He followed him when he left the room, and
his hand closed on his arm with a spasm as the door shut behind
"How is she, doctor?" he asked, in a hoarse, panting whisper.
"She is very sick, Mr. Ridley," replied Dr. Hillhouse. "It would be
wrong to deceive you."
The pale, haggard face of Mr. Ridley grew whiter.
"Oh, doctor," he gasped, "can nothing be done?"
"I think we had better call in another physician," replied the
doctor. "In the multitude of counselors there is wisdom. Have you
But Mr. Ridley had none.
"Shall it be Dr. Ainsworth? He has large experience in this class of
"I leave it entirely with you, Dr. Hillhouse. Get the best advice
and help the city affords, and for God's sake save my wife."
The doctor went away, and Mr. Ridley, shaking with nervous tremors,
dropped weak and helpless into a chair and bending forward until his
head rested on his knees, sat crouching down, an image of suffering
"ELLIS, my son."
There was a little break and tremor in the voice. The young man
addressed was passing the door of his mother's room, and paused on
hearing his name.
"What is it?" he asked, stepping inside and looking curiously into
his mother's face, where he saw a more than usually serious
"Sit down, Ellis; I want to say a word to you before going to Mrs.
The lady had just completed her toilette, and was elegantly dressed
for an evening party. She was a handsome, stately-looking woman,
with dark hair through which ran many veins of silver, large,
thoughtful eyes and a mouth of peculiar sweetness.
The young man took a chair, and his mother seated herself in front
The tremor still remained in her voice.
"Well, what is it?"
The young man assumed a careless air, but was not at ease.
"There is a good old adage, my son, the remembrance of which Has
saved many a one in the hour of danger: _Forewarned, forearmed_."
"Oh, then you think we are going into danger to-night?" he answered,
in a light tone.
"I am sorry to say that we are going where some will find themselves
in great peril," replied the mother, her manner growing more
serious; "and it is because of this that I wish to say a word or two
"Very well, mother; say on."
He moved uneasily in his chair, and showed signs of impatience.
You must take it kindly, Ellis, and remember that it is your mother
who is speaking, your best and truest friend in all the world."
"Good Heavens, mother! what are you driving at? One would think we
were going into a howling wilderness, among savages and wild beasts,
instead of into a company of the most cultured and refined people in
a Christian city."
"There is danger everywhere, my son," the mother replied, with
increasing sobriety of manner, "and the highest civilization of the
day has its perils as well as the lowest conditions of society. The
enemy hides in ambush everywhere--in the gay drawing-room as well as
in the meanest hovel."
She paused, and mother and son looked into each other's faces in
silence for several moments. Then the former said:
"I must speak plainly, Ellis. You are not as guarded as you should
be on these occasions. You take wine too freely."
"Oh, mother!" His voice was, half surprised, half angry. A red flush
mounted to cheeks and forehead. Rising, he walked the room in an
agitated manner, and then came and sat down. The color had gone out
of his face:
"How could you say so, mother? You do me wrong. It is a mistake."
The lady shook her head:
"No, my son, it is true. A mother's eyes rarely deceive her. You
took wine too freely both at Mrs. Judson's and Mrs. Ingersoll's, and
acted so little like my gentlemanly, dignified son that my cheeks
burned and my heart ached with mortification. I saw in other eyes
that looked at you both pity and condemnation. Ah, my son! there was
more of bitterness in that for a mother's heart than you will ever
Her voice broke into a sob.
"My dear, dear mother," returned the young man, exhibiting much
distress, "you and others exaggerated what you saw. I might have
been a trifle gay, and who is not after a glass or two of champagne?
I was no gayer than the rest. When young people get together, and
one spurs another on they are apt to grow a little wild. But to call
high spirits, even noisy high spirits, intoxication is unjust. You
must not be too hard on me, mother, nor let your care for your son
lead you into needless apprehensions. I am in no danger here. Set
your heart at rest on that score."
But this was impossible. Mrs. Whitford knew there was danger, and
that of the gravest character. Two years before, her son had come
home from college, where he had graduated with all the honors her
heart could desire, a pure, high-toned young man, possessing talents
of no common order. His father wished him to study law; and as his
own inclinations led in that direction, he went into the office of
one of the best practitioners in the city, and studied for his
profession with the same thoroughness that had distinguished him
while in college. He had just been admitted to the bar.
For the first year after his return home Mrs. Whitford saw nothing
in her son to awaken uneasiness. His cultivated tastes and love of
intellectual things held him above the enervating influences of the
social life into which he was becoming more and more drawn. Her
first feeling of uneasiness came when, at a large party given by one
of her most intimate friends, she heard his voice ring out suddenly
in the supper-room. Looking down the table, she saw him with a glass
of champagne in his hand, which he was flourishing about in rather
an excited way. There was a gay group of young girls around him, who
laughed merrily at the sport he made. Mrs. Whitford's pleasure was
gone for that evening. A shadow came down on the bright future of
her son--a future to which her heart had turned with such proud
anticipations. She was oppressed by a sense of humiliation. Her son
had stepped down from his pedestal of dignified self-respect, and
stood among the common herd of vulgar young men to whom in her eyes
he had always been superior.
But greater than her humiliation were the fears of Mrs. Whitford. A
thoughtful and observant woman, she had reason for magnifying the
dangers that lay in the path of her son. The curse of more than one
member of both her own and husband's family had been intemperance.
While still a young man her father had lost his self-control, and
her memory of him was a shadow of pain and sorrow. He died at an
early age, the victim of an insatiable and consuming desire for
drink. Her husband's father had been what is called a "free
liver"--that is, a man who gave free indulgence to his appetites,
eating and drinking to excess, and being at all times more or less
under the influence of wine or spirits.
It was the hereditary taint that Mrs. Whitford dreaded. Here lay the
ground of her deepest anxiety. She had heard and thought enough on
this subject to know that parents transmit to their children an
inclination to do the things they have done from habit--strong or
weak, according to the power of the habit indulged. If the habit be
an evil one, then the children are in more than common danger, and
need the wisest care and protection. She knew, also, from reading
and observation, that an evil habit of mind or body which did not
show itself in the second generation would often be reproduced in
the third, and assert a power that it required the utmost strength
of will and the greatest watchfulness to subdue.
And so, when her son, replying to her earnest warning, said, "I am
in no danger. Set your heart at rest," she knew better--knew that a
deadly serpent was in the path he was treading. And she answered him
with increasing earnestness:
"The danger may be far greater than you imagine, Ellis. It _is_
greater than you imagine."
Her voice changed as she uttered the last sentence into a tone that
was almost solemn.
"You are talking wildly," returned the young man, "and pay but a
poor compliment to your son's character and strength of will. In
danger of becoming a sot!--for that is what you mean. If you were
not my mother, I should be angry beyond self-control."
"Ellis," said Mrs. Whitford, laying her hand upon the arm of her son
and speaking with slow impressiveness, "I am older than you are by
nearly thirty years, have seen more of life than you have, _and know
some things that you do not know._ I have your welfare at heart more
deeply than any other being except God. I know you better in some
things than you know yourself. Love makes me clear-seeing. And this
is why I am in such earnest with you to-night. Ellis, I want a
promise from you. I ask it in the name of all that is dearest to
you--in my name--in the name of Blanche--in the name of God!"
All the color had, gone out of Mrs. Whitford's face, and she stood
trembling before her son.
"You frighten me, mother," exclaimed the young man. "What do you
mean by all this? Has any one been filling your mind with lies about
"No; none would dare speak to me of you in anything but praise, But
I want you to promise to-night, Ellis. I must have that, and then my
heart will be at ease. It will be a little thing for you, but for me
rest and peace and confidence in the place of terrible anxieties."
"Promise! What? Some wild fancies have taken hold of you."
"No wild fancies, but a fear grounded in things of which I would not
speak. Ellis, I want you to give up the use of wine."
The young man did not answer immediately. All the nervous
restlessness he had exhibited died out in a moment, and he stood
very still, the ruddy marks of excitement going out of his face. His
eyes were turned from his mother and cast upon the floor.
"And so it has come to this," he said, huskily, and in a tone of
humiliation. "My mother thinks me in danger of becoming a
drunkard--thinks me so weak that I cannot be trusted to take even a
glass of wine."
"Ellis!" Mrs. Whitford again laid her hand upon the arm of her son.
"Ellis," her voice had fallen to deep whisper, "if I must speak, I
must. There are ancestors who leave fatal legacies to the
generations that come after them, and you are one accursed by such a
legacy. There is a taint in your blood, a latent fire that a spark
may kindle into a consuming flame."
She panted as she spoke with hurried utterance. "My father!"
exclaimed the young man, with an indignant flash in his eyes.
"No, no, no! I don't mean that. But there is a curse that descends
to the third and fourth generation," replied Mrs. Whitford, "and you
have the legacy of that curse. But it will be harmless unless with
your own hand you drag it down, and this is why I ask you to abstain
from wine. Others may be safe, but for you there is peril."
"A scarecrow, a mere fancy, a figment of some fanatic's brain;" and
Ellis Whitford rejected the idea in a voice full of contempt.
But the pallor and solemnity of his mother's face warned him that
such a treatment of her fears could not allay them. Moreover, the
hint of ancestral disgrace had shocked his family pride.
"A sad and painful truth," Mrs. Whitford returned, "and one that it
will be folly for you to ignore. You do not stand in the same
freedom in which many others stand. That is your misfortune. But you
can no more disregard the fact than can one born with a hereditary
taint of consumption in his blood disregard the loss of health and
hope to escape the fatal consequences. There is for every one of us
'a sin that doth easily beset,' a hereditary inclination that must
be guarded and denied, or it will grow and strengthen until it
becomes a giant to enslave us. Where your danger lies I have said;
and if you would be safe, set bars and bolts to the door of
appetite, and suffer not your enemy to cross the threshold, of
Mrs. Whitford spoke with regaining calmness, but in tones of solemn
A long silence followed, broken at length by the young man, who
said, in a choking, depressed voice that betrayed a quaver of
"I'm sorry for all this. That your fears are groundless I know, but
you are none the less tormented by them. What am I to do? To spare
you pain I would sacrifice almost anything, but this humiliation is
more than I am strong enough to encounter. If, as you say, there has
been intemperance in our family, it is not a secret locked up in
your bosom. Society knows all about the ancestry of its members, who
and what the fathers and grandfathers were, and we have not escaped
investigation. Don't touch wine, you say. Very well. I go to Mrs.
Birtwell's to-night. Young and old, men and women, all are
partakers, but I stand aloof--I, of all the guests, refuse the
hospitality I have pretended to accept. Can I do this without
attracting attention or occasioning remark? No; and what will be
said? Simply this--that I know my danger and am afraid; that there
is in my blood the hereditary taint of drunkenness, and that I dare
not touch a glass of wine. Mother, I am not strong enough to brave
society on such an issue, and a false one at that. To fear and fly
does not belong to my nature. A coward I despise. If there is danger
in my way and it is right for me to go forward in that way, I will
walk steadily on, and fight if I must. I am not a craven, but a man.
If the taint of which you speak is in my blood, I will extinguish
it. If I am in danger, I will not save myself by flight, but by
conquest. The taint shall not go down to another generation; it
shall be removed in this."
He spoke with a fine enthusiasm kindling over his handsome face, and
his mother's heart beat with a pride that for the moment was
stronger than fear.
"Ask of me anything except to give up my self-respect and my
manliness," he added. "Say that you wish me to remain at home, and I
will not go to the party."
"No. I do not ask that. I wish you to go. But--"
"If I go, I must do as the rest, and you must have faith in me.
Forewarned, forearmed. I will heed your admonition."
So the interview ended, and mother and son went to the grand
entertainment at Mr. Birtwell's. Ellis did mean to heed his mother's
admonition. What she had said, about the danger in which he stood
had made a deeper impression on him than Mrs. Whitford thought. But
he did not propose to heed by abstinence, but by moderation. He
would be on guard and always ready for the hidden foe, if such a foe
really existed anywhere but in his mother's fancy.
"Ah, Mrs. Whitford! Glad to see you this evening;" and the Rev. Mr.
Brantley Elliott gave the lady a graceful and cordial bow. "Had the
pleasure of meeting your son a few moments ago--a splendid young
man, if you will pardon me for saying so. How much a year has
Mrs. Whitford bowed her grateful acknowledgment.
"Just been admitted to the bar, I learn," said Mr. Elliott.
"Yes, sir. He has taken his start in life."
"And will make his mark, or I am mistaken. You have reason to feel
proud of him, ma'am."
"That she has," spoke out Dr. Hillhouse, who came up at the moment.
"When so many of our young men are content to be idle drones--to let
their fathers achieve eminence or move the world by the force of
thought and will--it is gratifying to see one of their number taking
his place in the ranks and setting his face toward conquest. When
the sons of two-thirds of our rich men are forgotten, or remembered
only as idlers or nobodies, or worse, your son will stand among the
men who leave their mark upon the generations."
"If he escapes the dangers that lie too thickly in the way of all
young men," returned Mrs. Whitford, speaking almost involuntarily of
what was in her heart, and in a voice that betrayed more concern
than she had meant to express.
The doctor gave a little shrug, but replied:
"His earnest purpose in life will be his protection, Mrs. Whitford.
Work, ambition, devotion to a science or profession have in them an
aegis of safety. The weak and the idle are most in danger."
"It is wrong, I have sometimes thought," said Mrs. Whitford speaking
both to the physician and the clergyman, "for society to set so many
temptations before its young men--the seed, as some one has forcibly
said, of the nation's future harvest."
"Society doesn't care much for anything but its own gratification,"
replied Dr. Hillhouse, "and says as plainly as actions can do it
'After me the deluge.'"
"Rather hard on society," remarked Mr. Elliott.
"Now take, for instance, its drinking customs, its toleration and
participation in the freest public and private dispensation of
intoxicating liquors to all classes, weak or strong, young or old.
Is there not danger in this--great danger? I think I understand you,
"Yes, doctor, you understand me;" and dropping her voice to a lower
tone, Mrs. Whitford added: "There are wives and mothers and sisters
not a few here to-night whose hearts, though they may wear smiles on
their faces, are ill at ease, and some of them will go home from
these festivities sadder than when they came."
"Right about that," said the doctor to himself as he turned away, a
friend of Mrs. Whitford's having come up at the moment and
interrupted the conversation--" right about that; and you, I greatly
fear, will be one of the number."
"Our friend isn't just herself to-night," remarked Mr. Elliott as he
and Dr. Hillhouse moved across the room. "A little dyspeptic, maybe,
and so inclined to look on the dark side of things. She has little
cause, I should think, to be anxious for her own son or husband. I
never saw Mr. Whitford the worse for wine; and as for Ellis, his
earnest purpose in life, as you so well said just now, will hold him
above the reach of temptation."
"On the contrary, she has cause for great anxiety," returned Dr.
"You surprise me. What reason have you for saying this?"
"A professional one--a reason grounded in pathology."
"Ah?" and Mr. Elliott looked gravely curious.
"The young man inherits, I fear, a depraved appetite."
"Oh no. I happen to be too well acquainted with his father to accept
that view of the case."
"His father is well enough," replied Dr. Hillhouse, "but as much
could not be said of either of his grandfathers while living. Both
drank freely, and one of them died a confirmed drunkard."
"If the depraved appetite has not shown itself in the children, it
will hardly trouble the grandchildren," said Mr. Elliott. "Your fear
is groundless, doctor. If Ellis were my son, I should feel no
particular anxiety about him."
"If he were your son," replied Dr. Hillhouse, "I am not so sure
about your feeling no concern. Our personal interest in a thing is
apt to give it a new importance. But you are mistaken as to the
breaking of hereditary influences in the second generation. Often
hereditary peculiarities will show themselves in the third and
fourth generation. It is no uncommon thing to see the grandmother's
red hair reappear in her granddaughter, though her own child's hair
was as black as a raven's wing. A crooked toe, a wart, a
malformation, an epileptic tendency, a swart or fair complexion, may
disappear in all the children of a family, and show itself again in
the grand-or great-grandchildren. Mental and moral conditions
reappear in like manner. In medical literature we have many curious
illustrations of this law of hereditary transmission and its strange
freaks and anomalies."
"They are among the curiosities of your literature," said Mr.
Elliott, speaking as though not inclined to give much weight to the
doctor's views--"the exceptional and abnormal things that come under
"The law of hereditary transmission," replied Dr. Hillhouse, "is as
certain in its operation as the law of gravity. You may disturb or
impede or temporarily suspend the law, but the moment you remove the
impediment the normal action goes on, and the result is sure. Like
produces like--that is the law. Always the cause is seen in the
effect, and its character, quality and good or evil tendencies are
sure to have a rebirth and a new life. It is under the action of
this law that the child is cursed by the parent with the evil and
sensual things he has made a part of himself through long
There came at this moment a raid upon Mr. Elliott by three or four
ladies, members of his congregation, who surrounded him and Dr.
Hillhouse, and cut short their conversation.
Meanwhile, Ellis Whitford had already half forgotten his painful
interview with his mother in the pleasure of meeting Blanche
Birtwell, to whom he had recently become engaged. She was a pure and
lovely young woman, inheriting her mother's personal beauty and
refined tastes. She had been carefully educated and kept by her
mother as much within the sphere of home as possible and out of
society of the hoydenish girls who, moving in the so-called best
circles, have the free and easy manners of the denizens of a public
garden rather than the modest demeanor of unsullied maidenhood. She
was a sweet exception to the loud, womanish, conventional girl we
meet everywhere--on the street, in places, of public amusement and
in the drawing-room--a fragrant human flower with the bloom of
gentle girlhood on every unfolding leaf.
It was no slender tie that bound these lovers together. They had
moved toward each other, drawn by an inner attraction that was
irresistible to each; and when heart touched heart, their pulses
took a common beat. The life of each had become bound up in the
other, and their betrothal was no mere outward contract. The manly
intellect and the pure heart had recognized each other, tender love
had lifted itself to noble thought, and thought had grown stronger
and purer as it felt the warmth and life of a new and almost divine
inspiration. Ellis Whitford had risen to a higher level by virtue of
They were sitting in a bay-window, out of the crowd of guests, when
a movement in the company was observed by Whitford. Knowing what it
meant, he arose and offered his arm to Blanche. As he did so he
became aware of a change in his companion, felt rather than seen;
and yet, if he had looked closely into her face, a change in its
expression would have been visible. The smile was still upon her
beautiful lips, and the light and tenderness still in her eyes, but
from both something had departed. It was as if an almost invisible
film of vapor had drifted across the sun of their lives.
In silence they moved on to the supper-room--moved with the light
and heavy-hearted, for, as Dr. Hillhouse had intimated, there were
some there to whom that supper-room was regarded with anxiety and
fear--wives and mothers and sisters who knew, alas! too well that
deadly serpents lie hidden among the flowers of every
How bright and joyous a scene it was! You did not see the trouble
that lay hidden in so many hearts; the light and glitter, the flash
and brilliancy, were too strong.
Reader, did you ever think of the power of spheres? The influence
that goes out from an individual or mass of individuals, we
mean--that subtle, invisible power that acts from one upon another,
and which when aggregated is almost irresistible? You have felt it
in a company moved by a single impulse which carried you for a time
with the rest, though all your calmer convictions were in opposition
to the movement. It has kept you silent by its oppressive power when
you should have spoken out in a ringing protest, and it has borne
you away on its swift or turbulent current when you should have
stood still and been true to right. Again, in the company of good
and true men, moved by the inspiration of some noble cause, how all
your weakness and hesitation has died out! and you have felt the
influence of that subtle sphere to which we refer.
Everywhere and at all times are we exposed to the action of these
mental and moral spheres, which act upon and impress us in thousands
of different ways, now carrying us along in some sudden public
excitement in which passion drowns the voice of reason, and now
causing us to drift in the wake of some stronger nature than our own
whose active thought holds ours in a weak, assenting bondage.
You understand what we mean. Now take the pervading sphere of an
occasion like the one we are describing, and do you not see that to
go against it is possible only to persons of decided convictions and
strong individuality? The common mass of men and women are absorbed
into or controlled by its subtle power. They can no more set
themselves against it, if they would, than against the rush of a
swiftly-flowing river. To the young it is irresistible.
As Ellis Whitford, with Blanche leaning on his arm, gained the
supper-room, he met the eyes of his mother, who was on the opposite
side of the table, and read in them a sign of warning. Did it awaken
a sense of danger and put him on his guard? No; it rather stirred a
feeling of anger. Could she not trust him among gentlemen and
ladies--not trust him with Blanche Birtwell by his side? It hurt his
pride and wounded his self-esteem.
He was in the sphere of liberty and social enjoyment and among those
who did not believe that wine was a mocker, but something to make
glad the heart and give joy to the countenance; and when it began to
flow he was among the first to taste its delusive sweets. Blanche,
for whom he poured a glass of champagne, took it from his hand, but
with only half a smile on her lips, which was veiled by something so
like pain or fear that Ellis felt as if the lights about him had
suddenly lost a portion of their brilliancy. He stood holding his
own glass, after just tasting its contents, waiting for Blanche to
raise the sparkling liquor to her lips, but she seemed like one
under the influence of a spell, not moving or responding.
BLANCHE still held the untasted wine in her hand, when her father,
who happened to be near, filled a glass, and said as he bowed to
"Your good health, my daughter; and yours, Mr. Whitford," bowing to
her companion also.
The momentary spell was broken. Blanche smiled back upon her father
and raised the glass to her lips. The lights in the room seemed to
Ellis to flash up again and blaze with a higher brilliancy. Never
had the taste of wine seemed more delicious. What a warm thrill ran
along his nerves! What a fine exhilaration quickened in his brain!
The shadow which a moment before had cast a veil over the face of
Blanche he saw no longer. It had vanished, or his vision was not now
clear enough to discern its subtle texture.
"Take good care of Blanche," said Mr. Birtwell, in a light voice.
"And you, pet, see that Mr. Whitford enjoys himself."
Blanche did not reply. Her father turned away. Eyes not veiled as
Whitford's now were would have seen that the filmy cloud which had
come over her face a little while before was less transparent, and
sensibly dimmed its brightness.
Scarcely had Mr. Birtwell left them when Mr. Elliott, who had only a
little while before heard of their engagement, said to Blanche in an
undertone, and with one of his sweet paternal smiles:
"I must take a glass of wine with you, dear, in, commemoration of
the happy event."
Mr. Elliott had not meant to include young Whitford in the
invitation. The latter had spoken to a lady acquaintance who stood
near him, and was saying a few words to her, thus disengaging
Blanche. But observing that Mr. Elliott was talking to Blanche, he
turned from the lady and joined her again. And, so Mr. Elliott had
"We are going to have a glass of wine in honor of the auspicious
Three glasses were filled by the clergyman, and then he stood face
to face with the young man and maiden, and each of them, as he said
in a low, professional voice, meant for their ears alone, "Peace and
blessing, my children!" drank to the sentiment. Whitford drained his
glass, but Blanche only tasted the wine in hers.
Mr. Elliott stood for a few moments, conscious that something was
out of accord. Then he remembered his conversation with Dr.
Hillhouse a little while before, and felt an instant regret. He had
noted the manner of Whitford as he drank, and the manner of Blanche
as she put the wine to her lips. In the one case was an enjoyable
eagerness, and in the other constraint. Something in the expression
of the girl's face haunted and troubled him a long time afterward.
"Our young friend is getting rather gay," said Dr. Hillhouse to Mr.
Elliott, half an hour afterward. He referred to Ellis Whitford, who
was talking and laughing in a way that to some seemed a little too
loud and boisterous. "I'm afraid for him," he added.
"Ah, yes! I remember what you were saying about his two
grandfathers," returned the clergyman. "And you really think he may
inherit something from them?"
"Don't you?" asked the doctor.
"Well, yes, of course. But I mean an inordinate desire for drink, a
craving that makes indulgence perilous?"
"Yes; that is just what I do believe."
If that be so, the case is a serious one. In taking wine with him a
short time ago I noticed a certain enjoyable eagerness as he held
the glass to his lips not often observed in our young men."
"You drank with him?" queried the doctor.
"Yes. He and Blanche Birtwell have recently become engaged, and I
took some wine with them in compliment."
The doctor, instead of replying, became silent and thoughtful, and
Mr. Elliott moved away among the crowd of guests.
"I am really sorry for Mrs. Whitford," said a lady with whom he soon
became engaged in conversation.
"Why so?" asked the clergyman, betraying surprise.
"What's the matter? No family trouble, I hope?"
"Very serious trouble I should call it were it my own," returned the
"I am pained to hear you speak so. What has occurred?"
"Haven't you noticed her son to-night? There! That was his laugh.
He's been drinking too much. I saw his mother looking at him a
little while ago with eyes so full of sorrow and suffering that it
made my heart ache."
"Oh, I hope it's nothing," replied Mr. Elliott. "Young men will
become a little gay on these occasions; we must expect that. All of
them don't bear wine alike. It's mortifying to Mrs. Whitford, of
course, but she's a stately woman, you know, and sensitive about
Mr. Elliott did not wait for the lady's answer, but turned to
address another person who came forward at the moment to speak to
"Sensitive about proprieties," said the lady to herself, with some
feeling, as she stood looking down the room to where Ellis Whitford
in a group of young men and women was giving vent to his exuberant
spirits more noisily than befitted the place and occasion. "Mr.
Elliott calls things by dainty names."
"I call that disgraceful," remarked an elderly lady, in a severe
tone, as if replying to the other's thought.
"Young men will become a little gay on these occasions," said the
person to whom she had spoken, with some irony in her tone. "So Mr.
"Mr. Elliott!" There was a tone of bitterness and rejection in the
speaker's voice. "Mr. Elliott had better give our young men a safer
example than he does. A little gay! A little drunk would be nearer
"Oh dear! such a vulgar word! We don't use it in good society, you
know. It belongs to taverns and drinking-saloons--to coarse, common
people. You must say 'a little excited,' 'a little gay,' but not
drunk. That's dreadful!"
"Drunk!" said the other, with emphasis, but speaking low and for the
ear only of the lady with whom she was talking. "We understand a
great deal better the quality of a thing when we call it by its
right name. If a young man drinks wine or brandy until he becomes
intoxicated, as Whitford has done to-night, and we say he is drunk
instead of exhilarated or a little gay, we do something toward
making his conduct odious. We do not excuse, but condemn. We make it
disgraceful instead of palliating the offence."
The lady paused, when her companion said:
"Look! Blanche Birtwell is trying to quiet him. Did you know they
"Then I pity her from my heart. A young man who hasn't self-control
enough to keep himself sober at an evening party can't be called a
very promising subject for a husband."
"She has placed her arm in his and is looking up into his face so
sweetly. What a lovely girl she is! There! he's quieter already; and
see, she is drawing him out of the group of young men and talking to
him in such a bright, animated way."
"Poor child! it makes my eyes wet; and this is her first humiliating
and painful duty toward her future husband. God pity and strengthen
her is my heartfelt prayer. She will have need, I fear, of more than
human help and comfort."
"You take the worst for granted?"
The lady drew a deep sigh:
"I fear the worst, and know something of what the worst means. There
are few families of any note in our city," she added, after a slight
pause, "in which sorrow has not entered through the door of
intemperance. Ah! is not the name of the evil that comes in through
this door Legion? and we throw it wide open and invite both young
and old to enter. We draw them by various allurements. We make the
way of this door broad and smooth and flowery, full of pleasantness
and enticement. We hold out our hands, we smile with encouragement,
we step inside of the door to show them the way."
In her ardor the lady half forgot herself, and stopped suddenly as
she observed that two or three of the company who stood near had
Meantime, Blanche Birtwell had managed to get Whitford away from the
table, and was trying to induce him to leave the supper-room. She
hung on his arm and talked to him in a light, gay manner, as though
wholly unconscious of his condition. They had reached the door
leading into the hall, when Whitford stopped, and drawing back,
"Oh, there's Fred Lovering, my old college friend. I didn't know he
was in the city." Then he called out, in a voice so loud as to cause
many to turn and look at him, "Fred! Fred! Why, how are you, old
boy? This is an unexpected pleasure."
The young man thus spoken to made his way through the crowd of
guests, who were closely packed together in that part of the room,
some going in and some trying to get out, and grasping the hand of
Whitford, shook it with great cordiality.
"Miss Birtwell," said the latter, introducing Blanche. "But you know
each other, I see."
"Oh yes, we are old friends. Glad to see you looking so well, Miss
Blanche bowed with cold politeness, drawing a little back as she did
so, and tightening her hold on Whitford's arm.
Lovering fixed his eyes on the young lady with an admiring glance,
gazing into her face so intently that her color heightened. She
turned partly away, an expression of annoyance on her countenance,
drawing more firmly on the arm of her companion as she did so, and
taking a step toward the door. But Whitford was no longer passive to
Any one reading the face of Lovering would have seen a change in its
expression, the evidence of some quickly formed purpose, and he
would have seen also something more than simple admiration of the
beautiful girl leaning on the arm of his friend. His manner toward
Whitford became more hearty.
"My dear old friend," he said, catching up the hand he had dropped
and giving it a tighter grip than before, "this is a pleasure. How
it brings back our college days! We must have a glass of wine in
memory of the good old times. Come!"
And he moved toward the table. With an impulse she could not
restrain, Blanche drew back toward the door, pulling strongly on
"Come, Ellis; I am faint with the heat of this room. Take me out,
Whitford looked into her face, and saw that it had grown suddenly
pale. If his perceptions had not been obscured by drink, he would
have taken her out instantly. But his mind was not clear.
"Just a moment, until I can get you a glass of wine," he said,
turning hastily from her. Lovering was filling three glasses as he
reached the table. Seizing one of them, he went back quickly to
Blanche; but she waved her hand, saying: "No, no, Ellis; it isn't
wine that I need, only cooler air."
"Don't be foolish," replied Whitford, with visible impatience. "Take
a few sips of wine, and you will feel better."
Lovering, with a glass in each hand, now joined them. He saw the
change in Blanche's face, and having already observed the
exhilarated condition of Whitford, understood its meaning. Handing
the latter one of the glasses, he said:
"Here's to your good health, Miss Birtwell, and to yours, Ellis,"
drinking as he spoke. Whitford drained his glass, but Blanche did
not so much as wet her lips. Her face had grown paler.
"If you do not take me out, I must go alone," she said, in a voice
that made itself felt. There was in it a quiver of pain and a pulse
Lovering lost nothing of this. As his college friend made his way
from the room with Blanche on his arm, he stood for a moment in an
attitude of deep thought, then nodded two or three times and said to
"That's how the land lies. Wine in and wit out, and Blanche troubled
about it already. Engaged, they say. All right. But glass is sharp,
and love's fetters are made of silk. Will the edge be duller if the
glass is filled with wine? I trow not."
And a gleam of satisfaction lit up the young man's face.
With an effort strong and self-controlling for one so young, Blanche
Birtwell laid her hand upon her troubled heart as soon as she was
out of the supper-room, and tried to still its agitation. The color
came back to her cheeks and some of the lost brightness to her eyes,
but she was not long in discovering that the glass of wine taken
with his college friend had proved too much for the already confused
brain of her lover who began talking foolishly and acting in a way
that mortified and pained her exceedingly. She now sought to get him
into the library and out of common observation. Her father had just
received from France and England some rare books filled with art
illustrations, and she invited him to their examination. But he was
feeling too social for that.
"Why, no, pet." He made answer with a fond familiarity he would
scarcely have used if they had been alone instead of in a crowded
drawing-room, touching her cheek playfully with his fingers as he
spoke. "Not now. We'll reserve that pleasure for another time. This
is good enough for me;" and he swung his arms around and gave a
little whoop like an excited rowdy.
A deep crimson dyed for a moment the face of Blanche. In a moment
afterward it was pale as ashes. Whitford saw the death-like change,
and it partially roused him to a sense of his condition.
"Of course I'll go to the library if your heart's set on it," he
said, drawing her arm in his and taking her out of the room with a
kind of flourish. Many eyes turned on them. In some was surprise, in
some merriment and in some sorrow and pain.
"Now for the books," he cried as he placed Blanche in a large chair
at the library-table. "Where are they?"
Self-control has a masterful energy when the demand for its exercise
is imperative. The paleness went out of Blanche's face, and a tender
light came into her eyes as she looked up at Whitford and smiled on
him with loving glances.
"Sit down," she said in a firm, low, gentle voice.
The young man felt the force of her will and sat down by her side,
close to the table, on which a number of books were lying.
"I want to show you Dore's illustrations of Don Quixote;" and
Blanche opened a large folio volume.
Whitford had grown more passive. He was having a confused impression
that all was not just right with him, and that it was better to be
in the library looking over books and pictures with Blanche than in
the crowded parlors, where there was so much to excite his gayer
feelings. So he gave himself up to the will of his betrothed, and
tried to feel an interest in the pictures she seemed to admire so
They had been so engaged for over twenty minutes, Whitford beginning
to grow dull and heavy as the exhilaration of wine died out, and
less responsive to the efforts made by Blanche to keep him
interested, when Lovering came into the library, and, seeing them,
said, with a spur of banter in his voice:
"Come, come, this will never do! You're a fine fellow, Whitford, and
I don't wonder that Miss Birtwell tolerates you, but monopoly is not
the word to-night. I claim the privilege of a guest and a word or
two with our fair hostess."
And he held out his arm to Blanche, who had risen from the table.
She could do no less than take it. He drew her from the room. As
they passed out of the door Blanche cast a look back at Whitford.
Those who saw it were struck by its deep concern.
"Confound his impudence!" ejaculated Ellis Whitford as he saw
Blanche vanish through the library door. Rising from the table he
stood with an irresolute air, then went slowly from the apartment
and mingled with the company, moving about in an aimless kind of
way, until he drifted again into the supper-room, the tables of
which the waiters were constantly replenishing, and toward which a
stream of guests still flowed. The company here was noisier now than
when he left it a short time before. Revelry had taken the place of
staid propriety. Glasses clinked like a chime of bells, voices ran
up into the higher keys, and the loud musical laugh of girls mingled
gaily with the deeper tones of their male companions. Young maidens
with glasses of sparkling champagne or rich brown and amber sherry
in their hands were calling young men and boys to drink with them,
and showing a freedom and abandon of manner that marked the degree
of their exhilaration. Wine does not act in one way on the brain of
a young man and in another way on the brain of a young woman. Girls
of eighteen or twenty will become as wild and free and forgetful of
propriety as young men of the same age if you bring them together at
a feast and give them wine freely.
We do not exaggerate the scene in Mr. Birtwell's supper-room, but
rather subdue the picture. As Whitford drew nigh the supper-room the
sounds of boisterous mirth struck on his ears and stirred him like
the rattle of a drum. The heaviness went out of his limbs, his pulse
beat more quickly, he felt a new life in his veins. As he passed in
his name was called in a gay voice that he did not at first
recognize, and at the same moment a handsome young girl with flushed
face and sparkling eyes came hastily toward him, and drawing her
hand in his arm, said, in a loud familiar tone:
"You shall be my knight, Sir Ellis."
And she almost dragged him down the room to where half a dozen girls
and young men were having a wordy contest about something. He was in
the midst of the group before he really understood who the young
lady was that had laid such violent hands upon him. He then
recognized her as the daughter of a well-known merchant. He had met
her a few times in company, and her bearing toward him had always
before been marked by a lady-like dignity and reserve. Now she was
altogether another being, loud, free and familiar almost to
"You must have some wine, Sir Knight, to give you mettle for the
conflict," she said, running to the table and filling a glass, which
she handed to him with the air of a Hebe.
Whitford did not hesitate, but raised the glass to his lips and
emptied it at a single draught.
"Now for knight or dragon, my lady fair. I am yours to do or die,"
he exclaimed, drawing up his handsome form with a mock dignity, at
which a loud cheer broke out from the group of girls and young men
that was far more befitting a tavern-saloon than a gentleman's
Louder and noisier this little group became, Whitford, under a fresh
supply of wine, leading in the boisterous mirth. One after another,
attracted by the gayety and laughter, joined the group, until it
numbered fifteen or twenty half-intoxicated young men and women, who
lost themselves in a kind of wild saturnalia.
It was past twelve o'clock when Mrs. Whitford entered the
dining-room, where the noise and laughter were almost deafening. Her
face was pale, her lips closely compressed and her forehead
contracted with pain. She stood looking anxiously through the room
until she saw her son leaning against the wall, with a young lady
standing in front of him holding a glass in her hand which she was
trying to induce him to take. One glance at the face of Ellis told
her too plainly his sad condition.
To go to him and endeavor to get him away Mrs. Whitford feared might
arouse his latent pride and make him stubborn to her wishes.
"You see that young man standing against the wall?" she said to one
of the waiters.
"Mr. Whitford do you mean?" asked the waiter.
"Yes," she replied. "Go to him quietly, and say that his mother is
going home and wants him. Speak low, if you please."
Mrs. Whitford stood with a throbbing heart as the waiter passed down
the room. The tempter was before her son offering the glass of wine,
which he yet refused. She saw him start and look disconcerted as the
waiter spoke to him, then wave the glass of wine aside. But he did
not stir from him place.
The waiter came back to Mrs. Whitford:
"He says don't wait for him, ma'am."
The poor mother felt an icy coldness run along her nerves. For some
moments she stood irresolute, and then went back to the parlor. She
remained there for a short time, masking her countenance as best she
could, and then returned to the dining-room, where noise and
merriment still prevailed. She did not at first see her son, though
her eyes went quickly from face to face and from form to form. She
was about retiring, under the impression that he was not there, when
the waiter to whom she had spoken before said to her:
"Are you looking for Mr. Whitford?"
There was something in his voice that made her heart stand still.
"Yes," she replied.
"You will find him at the lower end of the room, just in the
corner," said the man.
Mrs. Whitford made her way to the lower end of the room. Ellis was
sitting in a chair, stupid and maudlin, and two or three thoughtless
girls were around his chair laughing at his drunken efforts to be
witty. The shocked mother did not speak to him, but shrunk away and
went gliding from the room. At the door she said to the waiter who
had followed her out, drawn by a look she gave him:
"I will be ready to go in five minutes, and I want Mr. Whitford to
go with me. Get him down to the door as quietly as you can."
The waiter went back into the supper-room, and with a tact that came
from experience in cases similar to this managed to get the young
man away without arousing his opposition.
Five minutes afterward, as Mrs. Whitford sat in her carriage at the
door of Mr. Birtwell's palace home, her son was pushed in, half
resisting, by two waiters, so drunk that his wretched mother had to
support him with her arm all the way home. Is it any wonder that in
her aching heart the mother cried out, "Oh, that he had died a baby
on my breast"?
AMONG the guests at Mr. and Mrs. Birtwell's was an officer holding a
high rank in the army, named Abercrombie. He had married, many years
before, a lady of fine accomplishments and rare culture who was
connected with one of the oldest families in New York. Her
grandfather on her mother's side had distinguished himself as an
officer in the Revolutionary war; and on her father's side she could
count statesmen and lawyers whose names were prominent in the early
history of our country.
General Abercrombie while a young man had fallen into the vice of
the army, and had acquired the habit of drinking.
The effects of alcohol are various. On some they are seen in the
bloated flesh and reddened eyes. Others grow pale, and their skin
takes on a dead and ashen hue. With some the whole nervous system
becomes shattered; while with others organic derangements, gout,
rheumatism and kindred evils attend the assimilation of this poison.
Quite as varied are the moral and mental effects of alcoholic
disturbance. Some are mild and weak inebriates, growing passive or
stupid in their cups. Others become excited, talkative and
intrusive; others good-natured and merry; not a few coarse,
arbitrary, brutal and unfeeling; and some jealous, savage and
Of the last-named class was General Abercrombie. When sober, a
kinder, gentler or more considerate man toward his wife could hardly
be found; but when intoxicated, he was half a fiend, and seemed to
take a devilish delight in tormenting her. It had been no uncommon
thing for him to point a loaded pistol at her heart, and threaten to
shoot her dead if she moved or cried out; to hold a razor at his own
throat, or place the keen edge, close to hers; to open a window at
midnight and threaten to fling himself to the ground, or to drag her
across the floor, swearing that they should take the leap together.
For years the wretched wife had borne all this, and worse if
possible, hiding her dreadful secret as best she could, and doing
all in her power to hold her husband, for whom she retained a strong
attachment, away from temptation. Friends who only half suspected
the truth wondered that Time was so aggressive, taking the flash and
merriment out of her beautiful eyes, the color and fullness from her
cheeks, the smiles from her lips and the glossy, blackness from her
"Mrs. Abercrombie is such a wreck," one would say on meeting her
after a few years. "I would hardly have known her; and she doesn't
look at all happy."
"I wonder if the general drinks as hard as ever?" would in all
probability be replied to this remark, followed by the response:
"I was not aware that he was a hard drinker. He doesn't look like
"No, you would not suspect so much; but I am sorry to say that he
has very little control over his appetite."
At which a stronger surprise would be expressed.
General Abercrombie was fifty years old, a large, handsome and
agreeable man, and a favorite with his brother officers, who deeply
regretted his weakness. As an officer his drinking habits rarely
interfered with his duty. Somehow the discipline of the army had
gained such a power over him as to hold him repressed and
subordinate to its influence. It was only when official restraints
were off that the devil had power to enter in and fully possess him.
A year before the time of which we are writing General Abercrombie
had been ordered to duty in the north-eastern department. His
headquarters were in the city where the characters we have
introduced resided. Official standing gave him access to some of the
wealthiest and best circles in the city, and his accomplished wife
soon became a favorite with all who were fortunate enough to come
into close relations with her. Among these was Mrs. Birtwell, the
two ladies drawing toward each other with the magnetism of kindred
A short time before coming to the city General Abercrombie, after
having in a fit of drunken insanity come near killing his wife,
wholly abandoned the use of intoxicants of every kind. He saw in
this his only hope. His efforts to drink guardedly and temperately
had been fruitless. The guard was off the moment a single glass of
liquor passed his lips, and, he came under the influence of an
aroused appetite against which resolution set itself feebly and in
Up to the evening of this party at Mr. Birtwell's General
Abercrombie had kept himself free from wine, and people who knew
nothing of his history wondered at his abstemiousness. When invited
to drink, he declined in a way that left no room for the invitation
to be repeated. He never went to private entertainments except in
company with his wife, and then he rarely took any other lady to the
The new hope born in the sad heart of Mrs. Abercrombie had grown
stronger as the weeks and months went by. Never for so long a time
had the general stood firm. It looked as, if he had indeed gained
the mastery over an appetite which at one time seemed wholly to have
With a lighter heart than usual on such occasions, Mrs. Abercrombie
made ready for the grand entertainment, paying more than ordinary
attention to her toilette. Something of her old social and personal
pride came back into life, giving her face and bearing the dignity
and prestige worn in happier days. As she entered the drawing-room
at Mr. and Mrs. Birtwell's, leaning on her husband's arm, a ripple
of admiration was seen on many faces, and the question, "Who is
she?" was heard on many lips. Mrs. Abercrombie was a centre of
attraction that evening, and no husband could have been prouder of
such a distinction for his wife than was the general. He, too, found
himself an object of interest and attention. Mr. Birtwell was a man
who made the most of his guests, and being a genuine _parvenu_, did
not fail through any refinement of good breeding in advertising to
each other the merits or achievements of those he favored with
introductions. If he presented a man of letters to an eminent
banker, he informed each in a word or two of the other's
distinguished merits. An officer would be complimented on his rank
or public service, a scientist on his last book or essay, a leading
politician on his statesmanship. At Mr. Birtwell's you always found
yourself among men with more in them than you had suspected, and
felt half ashamed of your ignorance in regard to their great
General Abercrombie, like many others that evening, felt unusually
well satisfied with himself. Mr. Birtwell complimented him whenever
they happened to meet, sometimes on his public services and
sometimes on the "sensation" that elegant woman Mrs. Abercrombie was
making. He grew in his own estimation under the flattering
attentions of his host, and felt a manlier pride swelling in his
heart than he had for some time known. His bearing became more
self-poised, his innate sense of strength more apparent. Here was a
man among men.
This was the general's state of mind when, after an hour, or two of
social intercourse, he entered the large supper-room, whither he
escorted a lady. He had not seen his wife for half an hour. If she
had been, as usual on such occasions, by his side, he would have
been on guard. But the lady who leaned on his arm was not his good
angel. She was a gay, fashionable woman, and as fond of good eating
and drinking as any male epicure there. The general was polite and
attentive, and as prompt as any younger gallant in the work of
supplying his fair companion with the good things she was so ready
"Will you have a glass of champagne?"
Of course she would. Her eyebrows arched a little in surprise at the
question. The general filled a glass and placed it in her hand. Did
she raise it to her lips? No; she held it a little extended, looking
at him with an expression which said, "I will wait for you."
For an instant General Abercrombie felt as if be were sinking
through space. Darkness and fear were upon him. But there was no
time for indecision. The lady stood holding her glass and looking at
him fixedly. An instant and the struggle was over. He turned to the
table and filled another glass. A smile and a bow, and then, a
draught that sent the blood leaping along his veins with a hot and
Mrs. Abercrombie, who had entered the room a little while before,
and was some distance from the place where her husband stood, felt
at the moment a sudden chill and weight fall upon her heart. A
gentleman who was talking to her saw her face grow pale and a look
that seemed like terror come into he eyes.
"Are you ill, Mrs. Abercrombie?" he asked, in some alarm.
"No," she replied. "Only a slight feeling of faintness. It is gone
now;" and she tried to recover herself.
"Shall I take you from the room?" asked the gentleman, seeing that
the color did not come back to her face.
"Oh no, thank you."
"Let me give you a glass of wine."
But she waved her hand with a quick motion, saying, "Not wine; but a
little ice water."
She drank, but the water did not take the whiteness from her lips
nor restore the color to her cheeks. The look of dread or fear kept
in her eyes, and her companion saw her glance up and down the room
in a furtive way as if in anxious search for some one.
In a few moments Mrs. Abercrombie was able to rise in some small
degree above the strange impression which had fallen upon her like
the shadow of some passing evil; but the rarely flavored dishes, the
choice fruits, confections and ices with which she was supplied
scarcely passed her lips. She only pretended to eat. Her ease of
manner and fine freedom of conversation were gone, and the gentleman
who had been fascinated by her wit, intelligence and frank womanly
bearing now felt an almost repellant coldness.
"You cannot feel well, Mrs. Abercrombie," he said. "The air is close
and hot. Let me take you back to the parlors."
She did not reply, nor indeed seem to hear him. Her eyes had become
suddenly arrested by some object a little way off, and were fixed
upon it in a frightened stare. The gentleman turned and saw only her
husband in lively conversation with a lady. He had a glass of wine
in his hand, and was just raising it to his lips.
"Jealous!" was the thought that flashed through his mind. The
position was embarrassing. What could he say? In the next moment
intervening forms hid those of General Abercrombie and his fair
companion. Still as a statue, with eyes that seemed staring into
vacancy, Mrs. Abercrombie remained for some moments, then she drew
her hand within the gentleman's arm and said in a low voice that was
little more than a hoarse whisper:
"Thank you; yes, I will go back to the parlors."
They retired from the room without attracting notice.
"Can I do anything for you?" asked the gentleman as he seated her on
a sofa in one of the bay-windows where she was partially concealed
"No, thank you," she answered, with regaining self-control. She then
insisted on being left alone, and with a decision of manner that
gave her attendant no alternative but compliance.
The gentleman immediately returned to the supper-room. As he joined
the company there he met a friend to whom he said in a
half-confidential way: "Do you know anything about General
Abercrombie's relations with his wife?
"What do you mean?" inquired the friend, with evident surprise.
"I saw something just now that looks very suspicious."
"I came here with Mrs. Abercrombie a little while ago, and was
engaged in helping her, when I saw her face grow deadly pale.
Following her eyes, I observed them fixed on the general, who was
chatting gayly and taking wine with a lady."
"What! taking wine did you say?"
The gentleman was almost as much surprised at the altered manner of
his friend as he had been with that of Mrs. Abercrombie:
"Yes; anything strange in that?"
"Less strange than sad, was replied. "I don't wonder you saw the
color go out of Mrs. Abercrombie's face."
"Why so? What does it mean?"
"It means sorrow and heartbreak."
"You surprise and pain me. I thought of the lady by his side, not of
the glass of wine in his hand."
The two men left the crowded supper-room in order to be more alone.
"You know something of the general's life and habits?"
"He has not been intemperate, I hope?"
"Oh, I am pained to hear you say so."
"Drink is his besetting sin, the vice that has more than once come
near leading to his dismissal from the army. He is one of the men
who cannot use wine or spirits in moderation. In consequence of some
diseased action of the nutritive organs brought on by drink, he has
lost the power of self-control when under the influence of alcoholic
stimulation. He is a dypso-maniac. A glass of wine or brandy to him
is like the match to a train of powder. I don't wonder, knowing what
I do about General Abercrombie, that his wife grew deadly pale
to-night when she saw him raise a glass to his lips."
"Has he been abstaining for any length of time?"
"Yes; for many months he has kept himself free. I am intimate with
an officer who told me all about him. When not under the influence
of drink, the general is one of the kindest-hearted men in the
world. To his wife he is tender and indulgent almost to a fault, if
that were possible. But liquor seems to put the devil into him.
Drink drowns his better nature and changes him into a half-insane
fiend. I am told that he came near killing his wife more than once
in a drunken phrensy."
"You pain me beyond measure. Poor lady! I don't wonder that the life
went out of her so suddenly, nor at the terror I saw in her face.
Can nothing be done? Has he no friends here who will draw him out of
the supper-room and get him away before he loses control of
"It is too late. If he has begun to drink, it is all over. You might
as well try to draw off a wolf who has tasted blood."
"Does he become violent? Are we going to have a drunken scene?"
"Oh no; we need apprehend nothing of that kind. I never heard of his
committing any public folly. The devil that enters into him is not a
rioting, boisterous fiend, but quiet, malignant, suspicious and
"Suspicious? Of what?"
"Of everybody and everything. His brother officers are in league
against him; his wife is regarded with jealousy; your frankest
speech covers in his view some hidden and sinister meaning. You must
be careful of your attentions to Mrs. Abercrombie to-night, for he
will construe them adversely, and pour out his wrath on her
defenceless head when they are alone."
"This is frightful," was answered. "I never heard of such a case."
"Never heard of a drunken man assaulting his wife when alone with
her, beating, maiming or murdering her?"
"Oh yes, among the lowest and vilest. But we are speaking now of
people in good society--people of culture and refinement."
"Culture and social refinements have no influence over a man when
the fever of intoxication is upon him. He is for the time an insane
man, and subject to the influx and control of malignant influences.
Hell rules him instead of heaven."
"It is awful to think of. It makes me shudder."
"We know little of what goes on at home after an entertainment like
this," said the other. "It all looks so glad and brilliant. Smiles,
laughter, gayety, enjoyment, meet you at every turn. Each one is at
his or her best. It is a festival of delight. But you cannot at this
day give wine and brandy without stint to one or two or three
hundred men and women of all ages, habits, temperaments and
hereditary moral and physical conditions without the production of
many evil consequences. It matters little what the social condition
may be; the hurt of drink is the same. The sphere of respectability
may and does guard many. Culture and pride of position hold others
free from undue sensual indulgence. But with the larger number the
enticements of appetite are as strong and enslaving in one grade of
society as in another, and the disturbance of normal conditions as
great. And so you see that the wife of an intoxicated army officer
or lawyer or banker may be in as much danger from his drunken and
insane fury, when alone with him and unprotected, as the wife of a
street-sweeper or hod-carrier."
"I have never thought of it in that way."
"No, perhaps not. Cases of wife-beating and personal injuries, of
savage and frightful assaults, of terrors and sufferings endured
among the refined and educated, rarely if ever come to public
notice. Family pride, personal delicacy and many other
considerations seal the lips in silence. But there are few social
circles in which it is not known that some of its members are sad
sufferers because of a husband's or a father's intemperance, and
there are many, many families, alas! which have always in their
homes the shadow of a sorrow that embitters everything. They hide it
as best they can, and few know or dream of what they endure."
Dr. Angier joined the two men at this moment, and heard the last
remark. The speaker added, addressing him:
"Your professional experience will corroborate this, Dr. Angier."
"Corroborate what?" he asked, with a slight appearance of evasion in
"We were speaking of the effects of intemperance on the more
cultivated and refined classes, and I said that it mattered little
as to the social condition; the hurt of drink was the same and the
disturbance of normal conditions as great in one class of society as
in another, that a confirmed inebriate, when under the influence of
intoxicants, lost all idea of respectability or moral
responsibility, and would act out his insane passion, whether he
were a lawyer, an army officer or a hod-carrier. In other words,
that social position gave the wife of an inebriate no immunity from
personal violence when alone with her drunken husband."
Dr. Angier did not reply, but his face became thoughtful.
"Have you given much attention to the pathology of drunkenness?"
asked one of the gentlemen.
"Some; not a great deal. The subject is one of the most perplexing
and difficult we have to deal with."
"You class intemperance with diseases, do you not?"
"Yes; certain forms of it. It may be hereditary or acquired like any
other disease. One man may have a pulmonary, another a bilious and
another a dypso-maniac diathesis, and an exposure to exciting causes
in one case is as fatal to health as in the other. If there exist a
predisposition to consumption, the disease will be developed under
peculiar morbific influences which would have no deleterious effect
upon a subject not so predisposed. The same law operates as
unerringly in the inherited predisposition to intemperance. Let the
man with a dypso-maniac diathesis indulge in the use of intoxicating
liquors, and he will surely become a drunkard. There is no more
immunity for him than for the man who with tubercles in his lungs
exposes himself to cold, bad air and enervating bodily conditions."
"A more serious view of the case, doctor, than is usually taken."
"I know, but a moment's consideration--to say nothing of observed
facts--will satisfy any reasonable man of its truth."
"What do you mean by dypso-mania as a medical term?"
"The word," replied Dr. Angier, "means crazy for drink, and is used
in the profession to designate that condition of alcoholic disease
in which the subject when under its influence has no power of
self-control. It is characterized by an inordinate and irresistible
desire for alcoholic liquors, varying in intensity from a slight
departure from a normal appetite to the most depraved and entire
abandonment to its influence. When this disease becomes developed,
its action upon the brain is to deteriorate its quality and impair
its functions. All the faculties become more or less weakened.
Reason, judgment, perception, memory and understanding lose their
vigor and capacity. The will becomes powerless before the strong
propensity to drink. The moral sentiments and affections likewise
become involved in the general impairment. Conscience, the feeling
of accountability, the sense of right and wrong, all become
deadened, while the passions are aroused and excited."
"What an awful disease!" exclaimed one of the listeners.
"You may well call it an awful disease," returned the doctor, who,
under the influence of a few glasses of wine, was more inclined to
talk than usual. "It has been named the mother of diseases. Its
death-roll far outnumbers that of any other. When it has fairly
seized upon a man, no influence seems able to hold him back from the
indulgence of his passion for drink. To gratify this desire he will
disregard every consideration affecting his standing in society, his
pecuniary interests and his domestic relations, while the most
frightful instances of the results of drinking have no power to
restrain him. A hundred deaths from this cause, occurring under the
most painful and revolting circumstances, fail to impress him with a
sense of his own danger. His understanding will be clear as to the
cases before him, and he will even condemn the self-destructive acts
which he sees in others, but will pass, as it were, over the very
bodies of these victims, without a thought of warning or a sense of
fear, in order to gratify his own ungovernable propensity. Such is
the power of this terrible malady."
"Has the profession found a remedy?"
"No; the profession is almost wholly at fault in its treatment.
There are specialists connected with insane and reformatory
institutions who have given much attention to the subject, but as
yet we have no recorded line of treatment that guarantees a cure."
"Except," said one of his listeners, "the remedy of entire
abstinence from drinks in which alcohol is present."
The doctor gave a shrug:
"You do not cure a thirsty man by withholding water."
His mind was a little clouded by the wine he had taken.
"The thirsty man's desire for water is healthy; and if you withhold
it, you create a disease that will destroy him," was answered. "Not
so the craving for alcohol. With every new supply the craving is
increased, and the man becomes more and more helpless in the folds
of an enslaving appetite. Is it not true, doctor, that with few
exceptions all who have engaged in treating inebriates agree that
only in entire abstinence is cure possible?"
"Well, yes; you are probably right there," Dr. Angler returned, with
some professional reserve. "In the most cases isolation and
abstinence are no doubt the only remedies, or, to speak more
correctly, the only palliatives. As for cure, I am one of the
skeptics. If you have the diathesis, you have the danger of exposure
always, as in consumption."
"An occasion like this," remarked the other, "is to one with a
dypso-maniac diathesis like a draft of cold, damp air on the exposed
chest of a delicate girl who has the seeds of consumption in her
lungs. Is it not so, doctor?"
"There are over three hundred persons here to-night."
"In so large a company, taking society as we have it to-day, is it