Chapter III. {XXVI}

“Who comes here?” As You Like It.

{William Shakespeare, As You Like It, II.vii.87 or III.iv.46}

THERE was to be a Temperance meeting at Longbridge, one of more importance than usual, as a speaker of note was to be heard on the occasion.

“Are you ready, Catherine?” inquired Mr. Clapp of his wife, appearing at the parlour-door, holding his hat and cane in one hand, and running the other through his brown curls.

“Wait one minute, dear, until I have put a clean collar on Willie.”

Little Willie, who had been hopping about the room, delighted with the importance of sitting up later than his younger brothers and sisters, was persuaded to stand still for a few seconds, while his mother tied on the clean collar; when Mr. Clapp, his wife, and eldest boy set out for the meeting-house, which they found already half-filled. They were beckoned into a pew near to one already occupied by the Van Hornes, Miss Patsey, and Charlie. As the evening was very pleasant, men, women, and children crowded in, until a large audience was brought together, urged, as usual, by different motives; some came from curiosity, others from always preferring an evening in public to an evening at home; some, from sincere respect for the object of the meeting, many for the sake of the speeches, and many others merely because they were ever ready to follow the general example. Mr. Clapp had no sooner found seats for his wife and child, than he began to look about him; his eye wandered over the heads around, apparently in quest of some one; at length his search seemed successful; it rested on a man, whose whole appearance and dress proclaimed him to be a sailor.

The meeting was opened by prayer, two different ministers officiating on the occasion; one, a venerable-looking old man, offered a simple, fervent, Christian prayer; the second, a much younger person, placing one hand in his waistcoat pocket, the other under the flaps of his coat, advanced to the front of the staging, and commenced, what was afterwards pronounced one of the “most eloquent prayers ever addressed to a congregation.”

The speeches then followed. The first speaker, who seemed the business-man of the evening, gave some account of the statistics of the Society, concluding with a short address to those present, hoping they would, upon that occasion, enrol their names as Members of the Longbridge Temperance Society.

The principal orator of the evening, Mr. Strong, then came forward; he made a speech of some length, and one that was very impressive. Nothing could be more clear, more just, more true, than the picture he drew of the manifold evils of intemperance; a vice so deceitful in its first appearance, so treacherous in its growth; so degrading, so brutalizing in its enjoyments; so blasting and ruinous in its effects — ruinous to body and mind, heart and soul — blasting all hopes for this life and for the next, so long as it remains unconquered. He entreated his friends to count the cost of indulgence in this vice; loss of property, loss of health, loss of character, loss of intellect and feeling, loss of conscience, until roused in those fearful moments of terror and fury, the peculiar punishment of drunkenness. He begged his hearers to look at this evil under all its aspects, from the moment it destroys the daily peace of its miserable victims and all connected with them, until it leaves them, in death, without a hope, exposed to the fearful penalty of sin. As he went on, the heart of many a wretched wife and mother acknowledged the bitter truth of his observations; many a guilty conscience shrunk under the probe. He then made a just and reasonable estimate of the difficulties to be resisted in conquering this evil; he did not attempt to deny that there were obstacles to be overcome; he showed all the force of bad habit, all the danger of temptation — but if there were difficulties in the way, it was equally true that the power to subdue them was fully within the reach of every man. He went on to represent the happy effects of a change from evil to good; a restoration to usefulness, peace, comfort, and respectability, which has happily been seen in many an instance. He concluded by appealing to his hearers as men, to shake off a debasing slavery; as Christians, to flee from a heinous sin; and he entreated them, if they had not done so before, to take, on that evening, the first step in the cheering, honourable, blessed course of temperance.

Mr. Strong’s speech was, in fact, excellent; all he said was perfectly true, it was well-expressed, and his manner was easy, natural, and dignified.

He was followed by William Cassius Clapp; the lawyer had been very anxious to speak at this meeting. Temperance societies were very popular at that time in Longbridge, and he was, of course, desirous of not losing so good an opportunity of appearing before the public on such an occasion; he thought it would help him on in his road towards the Assembly. Running his fingers through his curls, he took his place on the stage, and commenced. He was very fluent by nature, and in animation, in fanatical zeal for the cause, he far surpassed Mr. Strong: any other cause, by-the-bye, had it been popular, would have suited him just as well. In assertion, in denunciation, he distinguished himself particularly; he called upon every individual present to come forward and sign the pledge, under penalty of public disgrace; it was the will of the community that the pledge should be signed, public opinion demanded it, the public will required it; every individual present who neglected to sign the pledge of total abstinence, he pronounced to be “instigated by aristocratic pride,” and would leave that house, stigmatized as “anti-Christian, and anti-republican;” and in conclusion he threw in something about “liberty.”

Mr. Clapp sat down amid much applause; his speech was warmly admired by a portion of his hearers. All did not seem to agree on the subject, however, to judge, at least, by their manner and expression; for, during the delivery of their brother-in-law’s oration, Miss Patsey Hubbard seemed to be generally looking down at the floor, while Charlie was looking up at the ceiling: and there were many others present, who thought Mr. Clapp’s fluency much more striking than his common sense, or his sincerity. It is always painful to hear a good cause injured by a bad defence, to see truth disgraced by unworthy weapons employed in her name. It would have been quite impossible for Mr. Clapp to prove half his bold assertions, to justify half his sweeping denunciations. Still, in spite of the fanatical character of some of the advocates of Temperance, who distort her just proportions as a virtue — lovely in her own true character — yet drunkenness is a vice so hateful, that one would never wish to oppose any society, however imperfectly managed, whose object is to oppose that dangerous and common evil. Let it not be forgotten, however, that total abstinence from spirituous liquors is not the one great duty of man; intemperance is not the only sin to which human nature is inclined.

Mr. Clapp’s speech was the last for the evening.

“I wish you joy, Mrs. Clapp,” said Mrs. Tibbs, leaning forward from the seat behind the lawyer’s pretty little wife, and nodding as she spoke.

“I really congratulate you; Mr. Clapp has surpassed himself; such animation, such a flow of eloquence!” added Mrs. Bibbs.

Kate smiled, and looked much gratified; she evidently admired her husband’s speeches as much as she did his hair.

The moment for enrolling new names had now come; numbers of the audience went forward to sign the Total Abstinence Pledge. There was one worthy woman, a widow, sitting near Miss Patsey, whose only son had, during the last year or two, fallen into habits of intemperance; his attention had quite lately been attracted to the Temperance Societies, he had read their publications, had been struck by a short speech of Mr. Strong on a former occasion; and his mother’s joy may possibly be imagined, as she saw him rise and add his name to the list of members engaging to abstain from intoxicating liquors. There were several others whose hearts were cheered, on the same occasion, by seeing those they loved best, those over whom they had often mourned, take this step towards reformation. Among the rest, a man dressed as a sailor was seen approaching the table; when his turn came he put down his name, and this was no sooner done, than Mr. Clapp advanced and shook him warmly by the hand.

“Who is that man, Catherine, speaking to Mr. Clapp? — he looks like a sailor,” inquired Miss Patsey.

“I don’t know who it is; some client I suppose; William seemed very much pleased at his signing.”

Mr. Clapp, after shaking hands with his friend, the sailor, made his way through the crowd, until he reached the pew where his wife and little boy were sitting. Taking Willie by the hand, he led him to the table, placed the pen in his fingers, and left him to write William C. Clapp, jr. as well as he could — no easy matter, by-the-bye, for the child was not very expert in capital letters. As Willie was the youngest individual on the list, his signature was received by a burst of applause. The little fellow was extremely elated by being made of so much consequence; to tell the truth, he understood very little of what he was about. If respect for temperance were implanted in his mind on that evening, it was also accompanied by still more decided ideas of the great importance of little boys, with the germ of a confused notion as to the absolute necessity of the approbation of a regularly organized public meeting, to foster every individual virtue in himself, and in the human race in general. Miss Patsey very much doubted the wisdom of making her little nephew play such a prominent part before the public; she had old-fashioned notions about the modesty of childhood and youth. The mother, her sister Kate, however, was never disposed to find fault with anything her husband did; it was all right in her eyes. Mr. Clapp himself took the opportunity to thank the audience, in a short but emphatic burst, for their sympathy; concluding by expressing the hope that his boy would one day be as much disposed to gratitude for any public favours, and as entirely submissive, body and soul, to the public will of his own time, as he himself — the father — was conscious of being at that moment — within a few weeks of election.

The meeting was shortly after concluded by a temperance song, and a good prayer by the elder minister.

As the audience crowded out of the door, Mr. Clapp nodded again to the sailor, when passing near him.

“Who is that man, William?” asked Mrs. Clapp, as they reached the street.

“It is a person in whom I am warmly interested — an injured man.”

“Indeed! — one of your clients I suppose.”

“Yes; I am now pledged to serve him to the best of my ability.”

“He looks like a sailor.”

“He is a sailor, just returned from a three years’ whaling voyage. You will be surprised, Catherine, when you hear that man’s story; but the time has come when it must be revealed to the world.”

“You quite excite my curiosity; I hope you will tell me the story?”

“Yes; you shall hear it. But where are your sister and Charles; are they going home with us?”

“No; I am very sorry; but they told me at the meeting they could not stay, as they had come over in Mrs. Van Horne’s carriage. It is a pity, for I had made some ice-cream, and gathered some raspberries, expressly for them; and we have hardly seen Charles since he arrived. But Patsey wants us to spend the day at the grey house, to-morrow, children and all.”

Mr. Clapp assented to this arrangement; although he said he should not be able to do more than go over himself for his family in the evening, on account of business.

Kate had only her husband and Willie to share her excellent ice-cream and beautiful raspberries, on that warm evening; the trio did justice, however, to these nice refreshments; and little Willie only wished he could sign a temperance pledge every evening, if he could sit up later than usual, and eat an excellent supper after it.

After the little fellow had been sent to bed, and his mother had taken a look at her younger children, who were sleeping sweetly in their usual places, the lawyer and his wife were left alone in the parlour. It was a charming moon-light evening, though very warm; and Kate having lowered the lamp, threw herself into a rocking-chair near the window; while Mr. Clapp, who had had rather a fatiguing day, was stretched out on the sofa.

“It is early yet, William; suppose you tell the story you promised me, about your client, the sailor.”

“I don’t much like to tell it, Catherine; and yet it is time you knew something about it, for we must proceed to action immediately.”

“Oh, tell me, by all means; you have really made me quite curious. You know very well that I can keep a secret.”

“Certainly; and I request you will not mention the facts I shall relate, to any one, for some time; not until we have taken the necessary legal steps.”

“Of course not, if you wish it; and now for the story. You said this poor man had been injured.”

“Grossly injured.”

“In what manner?”

“He has been treated in the most unjustifiable manner by his nearest relatives. His reputation has been injured, and he has been tyrannically deprived of a very large property.”

“Is it possible! — poor fellow! Can nothing be done for him?”

“That is what we shall see. Yes, I flatter myself if there is law in the land, we shall yet be able to restore him to his rights!”

“Does he belong to this part of the country?”

“He does not himself; but those who are revelling in his wealth do.”

“What is his name? — Do I know his family?”

“You will be distressed, Catherine, when you hear the name; you will be astonished when you learn the whole story; but the time for concealment has gone by now. Several years ago that poor sailor came to me, in ragged clothing, in poverty and distress, and first laid his complaint before me. I did not believe a word of what he told me; I thought the man mad, and refused to have anything to do with the cause. He became disgusted, and went to sea again, and for some time gave up all hope of being reinstated in his rights; the obstacles seemed too great. But at length a very important witness in his favour was accidentally thrown in his way: at the end of his cruise he came to me again, and I confess I was astounded at the evidence he then laid before me. It is conclusive, beyond a doubt, to any unprejudiced mind,” said Mr. Clapp, rousing himself from his recumbent position.

“But you have not told me the man’s name.”

“His name is Stanley — William Stanley.”

“You said I knew him; but I never heard of him; I don’t know the family at all.”

“Yes, you do; you know them only too well; you will be as much surprised as I was myself — as I am still, whenever I allow myself to dwell on the subject. Mr. Stanley is the cousin-german of your friend, Miss Elinor Wyllys. Mr. Wyllys himself, Mrs. Stanley, the step-mother, and young Hazlehurst, are the individuals who stand between him and his rights,” continued Mr. Clapp, rising, and walking across the room, as he ran his fingers through his brown curls.

“Impossible!” exclaimed Kate, as the fan she held dropped from her hand.

“Just what I said myself, at first,” replied Mr. Clapp.

“But surely you are deceived, William — how can it be?” continued the wife, in amazement. “We always thought that Mr. Stanley was lost at sea, years ago!”

“Exactly — it was thought so; but it was not true.”

“But where has he been in the mean time? — Why did he wait so long before he came to claim his inheritance?”

“The same unhappy, reckless disposition that first sent him to sea, kept him roving about. He did not know of his father’s death, until four years after it had taken place, and he heard at the same time that he had been disinherited. When he came home, after that event, he found that he was generally believed to have been lost in the Jefferson, wrecked in the year 18 — . He was, in fact, the only man saved.”

“How very extraordinary! But why has he never even shown himself among his friends and connexions until now?”

“Why, my dear, his habits have been unhappily very bad in every way for years; they were, indeed the cause of his first leaving his family. He hated everything like restraint — even the common restraints of society, and cared for nothing but a sailor’s life, and that in the worst shape, it must be confessed. But he has now grown wiser — he has determined to reform. You observed he signed the temperance pledge this evening?”

“It all sounds so strangely, that I cannot yet believe it, William.”

“I dare say not — it took me four years to believe it.”

“But what do you mean to do? I hope you are not going to undertake a law-suit against two of our best friends, Mr. Wyllys and Mr. Hazlehurst?”

“That must depend on Mr. Wyllys and Mr. Hazlehurst, themselves. I have undertaken, Catherine, to do my best towards restoring this injured man to his property.”

“Oh, William; suppose this man is in the wrong, after all! Don’t think of having anything to do with him.”

“My dear, you talk like a woman — you don’t know what you say. If I don’t act in the premises, do you suppose he won’t find another lawyer to undertake his cause?”

“Let him have another, then: but it seems too bad that we should take sides against our best friends; it hardly seems honourable, William, to do so.”

“Honour, alone, won’t make a young lawyer’s pot boil, I can tell you.”

“But I had rather live poorly, and work hard all my life, than that you should undertake a dishonest cause.”

“It is all very pretty talking, but I have no mind to live poorly; I intend to live as well as I can, and I don’t look upon this Stanley cause as a bad one at all. I must say, Catherine, you are rather hard upon your husband, and seem to think more of the interests of your friends, than of his own.”

“How can you talk so, William, when you know you can’t think it,” said the wife reproachfully, tears springing to her eyes.

“Well, I only judge from what you say yourself. But in my opinion there is no danger of a law-suit. As Mr. Stanley’s agent, I shall first apply to Mrs. Stanley and Mr. Hazlehurst to acknowledge his claim; and when the evidence is laid before them, I have no kind of doubt but they will immediately give up the property; as they are some of your very honourable people, I must say I think they are bound to do so.”

“Certainly, if the evidence is so clear; but it seems to me, from all I have heard since I have been a lawyer’s wife, that evidence never is so very clear, William, but that people disagree about it.”

“Well, I flatter myself that people will be staggered by the proofs we can bring forward; I feel sure of public opinion, at least.”

Kate was silenced; but though she could think of nothing more to urge, she was very far from feeling easy on the subject.

“I hope with all my heart it will be settled amicably,” she added at length.

“There is every probability that it will. Though the story sounds so strangely to you now — just as it did to me, at first — yet when you come to hear all the facts, you will find there is scarcely room for a shadow of doubt.”

“How sorry mother and Patsey will be when they hear it!”

“I can’t see why they should be sorry to see a man reinstated in his rights, after having been deprived of them for eighteen years. If they are not blinded by their partiality for the Wyllyses and Hazlehursts, they cannot help being convinced by the evidence we can show.”

“How old is this man — this sailor — this Mr. Stanley?”

“Just thirty-six, he tells me. Did you remark his likeness to Mr. Stanley’s portrait at Wyllys-Roof? that was the first thing that struck me.”

“No; I hardly looked at him.”

“You must expect to see him often now; I have invited him to dinner for to-morrow.”

“For to-morrow? Well, Uncle Dozie has sent me this afternoon a beautiful mess of green peas, and you will have to get something nice from market, in the way of poultry and fish. Though, I suppose as he has been a common sailor so long, he won’t be very particular about his dinner.”

“He knows what is good, I can tell you. You must give him such a dinner as he would have had at his father’s in old times.”

“Well, just as you please, William; only, if you really care for me, do not let the man deceive you; be sure you sift the matter thoroughly — what you call cross-examine him.”

“Never you fear; I know what I am about, Katie; though if I was to follow your advice in law matters, I reckon we should all of us starve together.”

“I hope it will all turn out well, but I seem to feel badly about it,” said Kate with a sigh, as she rose to light a candle; “only don’t be too hasty — take time.”

“We have taken time enough I think, as it is. We are only waiting now for Mr. Hazlehurst to arrive in Philadelphia, when we shall put forward our claim.”