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- From Wealth to Poverty - 3/45 -
This, however, was not the worst feature of the case; there was another and a stronger motive power to accelerate his already rapid descent. He, with many more of the prominent members of the "Liberal Club," was also among those who are called liberals in their religious views. This could not be tolerated for a moment by those among his customers who were decided in their religious convictions, for they were fully convinced that a person who held such opinions was a dangerous man in any community. They therefore withdrew their patronage, which completed the ruin of his formerly prosperous business, for it did not afterwards pay running expenses.
This state of things greatly alarmed Ruth, and was the source of much sorrow. But there were greater sorrows to follow.
When we are struggling with difficulties and environed by circumstances which have a tendency to make us miserable, we must not imagine that we have sounded the deepest depths of the abyss of woe, for if we do we may discover there are depths we have not yet fathomed. This Ruth Ashton soon bitterly realized, for her husband had of late frequently returned from the Club so much under the influence of liquor as to be thick in his speech and wild, extravagant and foolish in his actions, which caused her many hours of unutterable anguish.
When he first began to drink she was not seriously alarmed, it being the custom in England, at their convivial parties, to pledge each other in wine; and since on such occasions it frequently happened that they imbibed, enough, not only to make them a little exuberant but also quite intoxicated, she thought she must not expect her husband to be different from other men in this respect, as it was at most only a venial offence. But now when his troubles thickened, and his friends one after another left him, and he began to drink more deeply to drown his cares and to stimulate him to meet his difficulties, her partial anxiety deepened into agony, strong and intense. She made loving remonstrance, appealing to him if he loved wife and children to leave the "Club," and not destroy his business and thus involve them all in ruin. Also, frequently, when the children were fast asleep in their little cot, as she looked with a mother's tenderness and pride upon them, thinking what a picture of innocence and beauty they presented as their heads nestled lovingly together on the pillow--the raven-black and gold mingling in beautiful confusion--she would kneel beside them, and as the deepest, holiest feelings of her heart were stirred, she would pray that the one who was so dear to them all might be redeemed from evil and become again a loving husband, a kind father, and a child of God.
Richard at first received her gentle remonstrance with good-natured banter, and generally turned it off with a playful witticism. He asked her if she had not enough confidence in him to believe he was sufficiently master of himself to take a glass with a friend without degenerating into a sot, and he used very strong expletives when speaking of those who were so weak as not to be able to take a glass without making fools of themselves.
But he would not allow even Ruth to influence him in regard to his political predilections, for, when she tried to persuade him to take a more moderate course, he sternly replied he would not desist from exercising what he believed to be his right, not even for her, much as he loved her. He said it was his proud boast that he was a Briton, and as such he would be free--free not only to hold his opinions, but to act upon his convictions, and any man who would withdraw his support from him because he would not be a slave was a petty tyrant, and if such an one was not a Nero it was because he lacked the power, not the spirit.
So matters went from bad to worse with Richard Ashton, not only in regard to the moral, but, also, in the financial aspect of the case. In fact he had soon to draw so largely on his banker that the money his father had left him, outside of the business, began to be seriously diminished. Josh Billings says, "When a man begins to slide down hill he finds it greased for the occasion." And certainly the case of Richard Ashton illustrated the truth of the aphorism, for when he once began to go down hill his descent was so rapid that he soon reached the bottom; and became bankrupt in capital and character. He now began to talk of selling out and going to America: "There," he said, with much emphasis, "I shall be free."
SAILS FOR AMERICA, AND MEETS A KINDLY WELCOME.
Ruth was now suffering keenly. She loved her husband with such an intense passion that even his folly did not cool its ardor, and when others denounced him in the harshest terms she spoke only in tenderness. And when many of her friends went so far as to advise her to leave him, and so save to herself and children some remnant of her fortune, she indignantly protested against their giving her any such advice. She said she would remain faithful to her marriage vow, no matter what suffering and obloquy it might involve. Not but her idol had fallen very low. She had been so proud of him, proud of his manly bearing, his strength of character. Proud of his ability, which, to her, seemed to enter the regions of genius. "Oh!" she said, as she mourned over her blasted hopes, her vanished dream of bliss, "I never expected this." She suffered as only such a sensitive, noble, cultured woman could suffer, and suffered the more because she would give voice to no complaint. The heart was at high pressure, and the valve was close shut.
But she did not give up her endeavors to save him. She tried by gentle endearing tenderness to win him from destruction; and when she found this did not avail she passionately appealed to him to stop ere he had involved them all in ruin.
"Oh Richard!" she would say, "Why do you drink? You know your business is now nearly ruined. Your friends have nearly all deserted you. You are fast losing your self-respect, wrecking your health, and dragging your wife and children down with you. Consider, my darling, what you are sacrificing, and don't be tempted to drink again!"
She might have reminded him of how he formerly boasted of his strength, and denounced the weakness of the habitual drunkard, but she refrained from so doing. She determined, no matter what she suffered, never to madden him by a taunt or unkind word, but to save him if possible by love and gentleness. He as yet, though harsh and peevish to others, had never spoken an unkind word to her. He had once or twice been unnecessarily severe to the children, which caused pain to her mother's heart, but she had by a quiet word thrown oil upon the troubled waters of her husband's soul, and applied a balm to the wounded hearts of her children.
Sometimes, when she with tears in her eyes appealed to him, he would promise not to drink again. There is no doubt but it was his intention to keep his word, but yet it was invariably broken. The fact was he had become a slave to drink, such a slave that neither what he owed to wife, nor children, nor man, nor God, could restrain him. His word was broken; his honor stained, his wife and children ruined, his God sinned against, and he had become that thing which formerly he so despised--a poor, miserable drunkard.
His friends had seen this for some time, and now he himself could not fail to recognize his awful situation; for his thirst for spirituous liquor had become so strong that he would sacrifice everything he held dear on earth to obtain it--in fact, it had become a raging, burning fever, which nothing but rum could allay.
Reader, do not be too strong in your words of scorn and condemnation. You may never have been tried. People who boast of their purity and strength may never have been environed by temptation. "Let him that is without fault cast the first stone."
A few weeks after he had expressed to his wife his determination to sell out and go to America, two men, who were mutual friends of his, and who were members of the "Liberal Club," casually met on the street. After the usual compliments, one said to the other: "By-the-bye, Saunders, did you hear that Ashton had sold out to Adams and was going to sail for America next week?"
"No; is that so? Well, I expected something would happen. The poor fellow has been going to the bad very rapidly of late. Who would have thought he was so weak? I take it that a man who cannot drink a social glass with a friend without degenerating into a sot has very little original strength of character."
"It is all very well to talk, Bell; I have frequently heard Ashton express himself in the same manner, and yet you see what he is to-day. There was not a member of the Club his equal when it was first formed. In fact, he was the master spirit of the society. Not one of all the members could approach him in culture, in brilliancy, or in legislative ability. You remember that in a former conversation we thought it strange he should associate with us, when he would be welcomed as a peer by those who, at least, consider themselves our betters; and you expressed it as your opinion that he, like Milton's Satan, would rather reign in hell than serve in heaven."
"But, Charley, is he completely bankrupt?"
"Well, I guess I might almost say so, for it is reported he has used up all the capital which was left him by his father and has drawn heavily on his wife's means. From what I hear, I would conclude he has but a few hundred pounds left to take him to America. I pity his wife. She was a charming girl, so beautiful, so clever, and yet so modest. Many a man envied Ashton his prize. And you know that many an eligible girl would like to have stood in her shoes and been the bride of Richard Ashton, for he was considered one of the best catches in the matrimonial market. Such is life; then it was high noon with him, and all smiled upon him; now, none so poor as to do him reverence."
This conversation gives a true outline of the actual state of affairs. Richard Ashton, at the date of which we are speaking, found absolute ruin staring him in the face, and he now knew he must either sell or be sold out. He wisely chose the former alternative, while there was some chance of saving a little for himself.
Poor Ruth, it almost broke her heart. Her guardian had died before her husband had so utterly fallen, and his wife had preceded him to the grave. She had now lost every near relative, with the exception of her husband and children. But every one who had been
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