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- From Wealth to Poverty - 6/45 -
The tone and manner of Ginsling when he thus addressed Ashton was subdued and gentlemanly, for he had not so far degenerated as to have lost altogether the grace and polish which the refined associations of his youth had given to him. His language, also, sounded reasonable to the one to whom it was addressed, for, though Ashton had become an awful example of the ultimate issue of moderate drinking, at least in some cases, he would still argue in its favor, and when the advocates of prohibition would point to those who had fallen victims to the pernicious habit, he would answer that it was the abuse and not the use of intoxicating liquor which produces the evil.
So Ginsling, who had frequently heard him thus argue, adroitly stole an arrow out of his own quiver, and addressed him as he had frequently heard him address others. And there was just enough truth mixed with the sophistry of his argument to carry conviction to the mind of one as unstable as Ashton; for he did feel all unnerved. He had broken off suddenly from a long-continued drunken spree, and was beginning to have premonitions of something which he dreaded only second to death. He had already twice suffered the horrors of delirium tremens, and he now had good cause for fearing another attack. It was to this Ginsling referred when he said if he broke off suddenly it might lead to serious consequences. So, after what seemed to be a desperate struggle--the better instincts of his nature endeavoring to overcome the craving of his appetite and the sophistry of his tempter--he concluded he would just take a little now to help him over this one trouble, and then he would give it up forever. He argued to himself, "I could not live through another attack, for I am sure the dreadful suffering is akin to the horrors of the host."
"Well, Ginsling," he said, "I think I will take your advice." He was half ashamed thus to speak, because he was about to do something for which his conscience strongly condemned him, and also because he felt he was manifesting weakness and vacillation in the presence of one whom he, in his heart, despised, and who, after this, would hold similar sentiments in regard to himself. "I do feel a little unlike myself this morning, and as the wind is rather squally, and the captain says when we shoot out beyond the point the lake will be wild, I need a little something to settle my stomach; I have a fearful dread of sea-sickness." He said this partly to justify his conduct to his companion, but more to convince himself he was about to take a step which was not only perfectly justifiable, but, under the circumstances, a manifestation of wisdom.
If a man is about to perform an action of doubtful propriety, he is never at a loss to find arguments to defend the course he is about to pursue, and though he may not be able to satisfy his conscience, he can, at least to some extent, deaden the acuteness of its pangs. Richard Ashton endeavored to justify his present action to himself, in the moment which intervened between his new-formed resolution and its consummation. The reader is no doubt aware, from experience, that a great deal will pass through the mind in the space of a single moment, and that sometimes a man's weal or woe, for time, yea, and for eternity, depends upon a decision which has to be thus hastily given. It was one of these crucial moments which Ashton was now passing through. Alas! his decision was far from being a wise one, and he could not deceive himself so completely as not to partially feel this; for, try how he would, he could not banish the thought that yielding to the tempter might entail a train of misery horrible to contemplate. Then Ruth's pale, pleading face, all suffused with tears, came up vividly before him, as he last saw her, and as he remembered the promise given, for a moment he hesitated, but finally he subdued every better feeling, and reaching forth his hand, took the glass which Ginsling temptingly offered, and drained it to the dregs.
One glass such as he had thus taken was sufficient to make Ashton regardless of consequences, and, therefore, it was not long before it was followed by another and more copious one. In short, in half an hour after he had met Ginsling he was wild and reckless, and the latter had accomplished his purpose, for Ashton was spending his money as freely as though he had the coffers of a Rothschild or an Astor. In short, ere the steamboat had started he had to be helped on board, for he was utterly helpless.
ARRIVAL IN CANADA: A FRIENDLY HOST APPLIES FOR A SITUATION.
It was a beautiful morning when the boat landed at the picturesque little Canadian town of L----. The first that Ashton knew of the arrival was when he was awakened from his drunken stupor by being violently shaken by Ginsling; and, as he gained consciousness, he heard that worthy saying, with a subdued voice: "Come, wake up, Ashton, for we are again on British soil. Why, is not that strain enough to cause any true Briton to rise from the dead?"
He was at last aroused, and his first sensation was that he had a terrible pain in his head, a horrible thirst, and a certain vague realization that he heard the strains of "Rule Britannia." He staggered out to the bar, for he felt he must soon have a drink, or he could not live. Ginsling also stepped up without being invited; for that worthy could not righteously be charged with too much modesty, as he never was backward in helping himself at a friend's expense.
They immediately, after securing their luggage, stepped out upon the wharf, where there was a large crowd gathered, listening to the music of a band--each member of which was dressed in the garb of a British soldier--as it played patriotic airs, such as "Rule Britannia," "God Save the Queen," etc. The reason of this manifestation of patriotism will be readily understood when we inform the reader that it was the Queen's Birthday.
Ashton, for a moment or two, almost thought he was back in Old England again, and he was so carried away by the grand old airs that if a recruiting sergeant had presented himself just then he might have taken a step in haste of which he would have repented at leisure.
"Come, Ashton, don't stand there in that daft fashion, or the Canucks will imagine you are one of the irresponsibles who lately arrived in New York from Europe, and that the cute Yankees have quietly shipped you over to John Bull's domains."
He was aroused by the voice of Ginsling out of his day-dream to realize that several cabbies were exerting the utmost of their lung power in crying up the merits of their respective hotels.
"British American, sir--the best house in town. Won't cost you a cent to ride there, sir."
"Don't you believe that fellow," shouted another. "Come to the Tarlton; it is the only house in town which is fit to kape a gentleman like you, sir." And then several others shouted out in full chorus, each endeavoring to say something more witty than the other; and if push, rough bantering wit, and imperturbable good nature could secure success, certainly each would have had a bus full.
But Ashton had caught the name "British American," and as he, just then, was feeling intensely loyal, he determined to put up there, and he intimated to the runner his resolution. Ginsling, who was waiting for him to decide, jumped aboard also, and they were soon quartered at the aforementioned hotel, which they found, if not of the very highest grade, at least eminently respectable. The charges, also, were exceedingly moderate.
The room he had given to him looked out upon the blue waters of noble Ontario, which swept far away to the south, until it laved the shores he had left but a few hours before--a land now associated in his mind with so much of happiness and of misery, and which yet contained those who were inexpressibly dear to him.
He had no sooner secured a room than he sat down to write a note to Ruth; for, demoralized as he was, he did not forget his promise. He found, however, that his head was in a perfect whirl, and that his hand was so unsteady as to make the accomplishment of the task almost an impossibility; but he managed, in an almost illegible scrawl, to inform her of his safe arrival. He asked her to excuse the brevity of his communication, as he was still suffering from the effects of his stormy voyage across the lake, which had shattered, for the time being, his nervous system. He ended by sending his love to her and the children, and asking her to write immediately, as he was anxious to hear from his darlings at home.
The next two weeks were passed in continuous drunkenness. He would awaken each morning feeling, as those who have passed through the ordeal say has to be experienced in order to have the faintest idea of what it is; his lips and throat were as dry as withered leaves; his brain seemed on fire, and his bloodshot eyes, gleaming out from his pale, emaciated face, appeared as though they might have belonged to one of Canada's dark-visaged aborigines in the savage state rather than to their present intellectual, though dissipated, owner.
In his sober moments he would think of his wife and children, and there was in the thought a mingling of shame and agony which almost drove him wild; then he would remember the purport of his journey, for which he had not yet made the slightest endeavor; and when, on examination, he found his stock of money was almost gone, and that he would soon have either to secure a situation or be a penniless vagrant in a strange land, it added to his despair.
"I say, Mr. Ashton," said the polite landlord of the hotel one morning, as he was about to take his first drink, "did you not give me to understand you were looking for a situation in some dry goods or clothing establishment?"
"Yes, Mr. Rumsey, that is what I am after; but God knows how I will succeed; for I have done nothing, nor am I, as I am now, in a fit state to do anything; for who would engage such a wretch as I am?"
Rumsey pitied him; for he was a man who was too good for the business in which he was engaged.
"I will give you a light glass, Ashton," he said; "but you must sober off. I like you, and therefore will not let you kill yourself with drink at this establishment; so for your sake, and also to keep up the reputation of my house, I must limit you to-day to two more glasses. And if you will excuse me for presuming to interfere with your business, I would advise you to cut the
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