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- From Wealth to Poverty - 5/45 -
He soon found, as he sententiously expressed it, that it was not agreeable for him to remain under the kindly shelter of the paternal mansion; so he, prodigal like, took the portion his father gave him and spent it in riotous living. But he was determined not to feed on husks, if unmitigated cheek and unblushing effrontery could bring him better fare.
It was while he was a gentleman lounger about town he first met Richard Ashton, who, at that time, had become too much demoralized to be very choice in the selection of his associates. And Ginsling was rather intelligent--had a fine person and pleasing address, and had it not been for his moral depravity and lack of every noble instinct, he might have made his mark in society.
So Ashton, the ultra radical, and Ginsling, the young scion of extreme toryism, used to fraternize in their drinking bouts, and though they would, when sufficiently stimulated, boozily wrangle over their cups, there was in their common dissipation a ground for mutual understanding. But in his sober moments the radical had the most supreme contempt for his tory associate, and, sometimes, could not suppress its manifestation. The other, however, was too great a toady to be too thin skinned. It was not convenient for him to be over-sensitive. In fact he was willing to swallow such insults _ad infinitum_ if their donors would only furnish the wherewithall to wash them down.
After Ashton left England he felt somewhat lonely, and then his father had become so utterly estranged from him because of his conduct, that his situation became unpleasant even for him; so he determined to sail for America. Learning that Ashton had settled in Rochester, he made his way to that city. He arrived there at the latter part of the year 1864, towards the close of the American War; and shortly after his arrival, meeting with his old comrade, as we have informed the reader, the latter, strange to say, had power enough over him to seduce him to his fall. And now, when Ashton was leaving Rochester in order to get away from his old associates, and was making resolutions of reform, here he was again as his tempter to lead him astray.
At his salute Ashton looked up with a dazed, faraway look upon his face, and then, as he slowly realized his position, he thought how foolish he must have appeared to another who had witnessed his fierce gesticulations and heard his wild and incoherent murmurings. The thought covered him with confusion, and he did not for a moment gain sufficient control of his faculties to answer his interlocutor in a rational manner.
The other, however, relieved his embarrassment by continuing in a bantering tone: "Why, Ashton, one would suppose by your actions you were the principal of some terrible tragedy, and that just now you were suffering from the "pricks of an outraged conscience." I declare you have mistaken your calling; you would have made your fortune on the stage. Why, your looks just now would have done for either Hamlet in the crazy scene, or Macbeth when talking to Banquo's ghost. But if you are suffering I have something which will reach the seat of the ailment; as the Scripture puts it, it is "A balm for all our woes, and a cordial for our fears." Here it is, Ashton. I have just been up to Charley's to have this dear little friend of mine replenished. How do you like the looks of it?" And suiting the action to the word he held up before him a beautiful little brandy flask. Then detaching the silver cup from the bottle it partially covered, he filled it full to the brim. "Here, Ashton, take this potheen," he said, "it will settle your perturbed spirits, comfort your soul, and drive dull care away."
Ashton's hand shot forward mechanically to take the proffered glass, and then he drew it hastily back.
"No, Quisling," he said, "I will not touch it. Curse the stuff; it has wrought enough ruin with mine and me. I was just swearing I would never drink again, and I was in earnest. I know I must have appeared to you as some gibbering maniac, but I was fighting my craven appetite for strong drink. Oh how hard the struggle has been; its fierceness is only known to God and myself. It comes upon me when I am least prepared to defend myself, and tortures me with the cruel malignity of a devil. And then I beat it back, and it comes upon me again. But I must triumph or go under; for if it is not liberty with me it will soon be death."
He then turned fiercely upon Ginsling, and said--
"Why do you dog my footsteps like a shadow? Have you not wrought ruin enough? Curse you; it was an evil day for me when you crossed the Atlantic, for had you not done so, I would have been a respectable and happy man to-day. It was you who urged me to drink, and, listening to you, brought me down from the happy and prosperous man that you found, to the miserable wreck you now look upon! A thing for angels and good men to pity, and for devils and evil men to despise. Leave me, if you have any pity, and do not tempt me more."
If there had been the slightest instinct of honor in the creature to whom these words were addressed, the appeal would not have been in vain. But his original stock of this attribute had been limited, and he had long since disposed of the little he once possessed. Such an attribute as honor or pity was viewed by him as a useless incumbrance, for he was a miserable, heartless wretch, seeking the gratification of his own depraved appetite, and careless of who might suffer.
He laughed with a seeming bluff heartiness when Ashton had finished speaking, but the laugh sounded hollow and insincere.
Novelists are ever introducing upon their pages, as the villain of the story, the smooth, oily rogue: as if they considered such ones were alone capable of cunning roguery and subtle diabolism. But there is many a mean soul disguised by a bluff, hearty exterior, and the mask is much the more difficult to penetrate. It is said of such an one--"He says hard things, but you always see the worst of him, for he puts his worst side out." Shakespeare's rogue, honest Jack Falstaff, was brusk and blunt, but he carried a rascal's heart, and there are many now living who are just as great blusterers, and are equally as cowardly and as base.
"Ha, ha! Ashton! this is too good to last! You know you have assumed the role of the Prodigal Son before, but you have come back to the riotous living again." Come, old fellow, take a little; it will do you good. I believe you used to be an orthodox Methodist, and, therefore, must be considerably versed in Scripture, and you know that Paul advised Timothy to "take a little wine for his stomach's sake, and for his oft infirmities."
When Ginsling had finished speaking, a look of unutterable scorn passed over the face of Ashton, and he glared at the former with fierce contempt, and once or twice he seemed as if about to reply, but, though his quivering lips and the contortions of his face showed violent emotion, he for a time uttered no response, as if he could not find words adequate to express his burning thoughts, till suddenly starting he said--"Pshaw! you miserable rascal, it was an evil day for me when I first met you. Have you not wrought ruin enough? Why do you come again to tempt me? Leave me or I will not be responsible for the consequences." And, turning upon his heel, he abruptly left him.
"Whew--but that's cool," whispered Ginsling, "but old fellow you are not going to escape me that easily. I have come down here for a purpose, and I am going to succeed in my undertaking, or my name is not Stanley Ginsling."
And I might here give the reader to understand that it was not mere accident which brought Ginsling to Charlotte that day, he had come with a fixed purpose of meeting Ashton, enticing him to drink, and then accompanying him upon his journey and getting as much out of him as possible. He had heard Ashton say it was his intention to start for Canada, and he concluded that he was too good a quarry for an old hunter like himself to lose. And as it did not matter to him whether he spent the instalments, which were regularly forwarded from home, in the United States or in Canada; he resolved to meet Ashton at Charlotte, and be the companion of his voyage. This accounts for his coming upon the latter as we have just narrated.
He did not allow Ashton, who was walking rapidly away after he had done speaking, to proceed far before he called after him, "Stop!"
The latter turned to learn what he wanted, for he began to have a little compunction of conscience, because he had treated him so rudely, and under the impulse of the new change of feeling waited until Ginsling had caught up.
"Now Ashton," he said, "I think you have treated me in a manner which is very hard for a gentleman of spirit to endure." As he said this he saw the faint outline of a sneer curling the lip of his companion. But taking no notice he hastily continued, "But I have known you too long to be over-sensitive at what you say or do, I would endure more from you, old fellow, than from any man on earth. Let us be friends, Ashton, for the sake of our friendship in 'Merry England.'"
"I am sure, Ginsling, I don't want to part with you in anger, and if I have wounded your feelings you must remember it was under strong provocation. Drink has been my ruin, and the ruin of those I love best on earth. It has certainly been 'Our Curse,' and through it I have been most cruel to those I love best and for whom, when I am myself, I would sacrifice my life to defend from evil or danger. This morning I promised my wife, as I have at least a score of times before, that I would keep sober, and, while struggling against my appetite, and determined to conquer, no matter how much suffering the struggle might entail, you came up, as my evil genius, to tempt me to my ruin, I could scarcely endure your solicitations, but your rough banter drove me wild."
"Well, old fellow, let it all pass, I was not aware of the mood you were in, or I would have been more careful how I addressed you. I am sure I would be the last man in the world who would knowingly cause you pain. And to lead you astray, I can assure you, is far from my purpose. I would rather do what I could to help you. And, in my opinion, if I can prevail upon you to take a few spoonfuls of brandy I will do this most effectively; why, man, a glass is just what you want. A little, under certain circumstances, will benefit any one who takes it; especially is this the case with one who is as you are now. Why, you are all unnerved--see how your hands tremble, and your whole system seems as if it wanted toning up. Now if you break off too suddenly it may be serious for you, while if you take a little, to brace you up, such disagreeable consequences will not follow. I hate a man to drink too much, for, if he does, he is sure to make a fool of himself, but a little will do any man good."
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