“We shall have to give them a wedding party,” said Mrs. Eldridge to her husband.
Mr. Eldridge assented.
“They will be home to-morrow, and I think of sending out of invitations for Thursday.”
“As you like about that,” replied Mr. Eldridge. “The trouble will be yours.”
“You have no objections?”
“O, none in the world. Fanny is a good little girl, and the least we can do is to pay her this compliment on her marriage. I am not altogether satisfied about her husband, however; he was rather a wild sort of a boy a year or two ago.”
“I guess he’s all right now,” remarked Mrs. Eldridge; “and he strikes me as a very kind-hearted, well-meaning young man. I have flattered myself that Fanny has done quite well as the average run of girls.”
“Perhaps so,” said Mr. Eldridge, a little thoughtfully.
“Will you be in the neighborhood of Snyder’s?” inquired the lady.
“I think not. We are very busy just now, and I shall hardly have time to leave the store to-day. But I can step around there to-morrow.”
“To-morrow, or even the next day, will answer,” replied Mrs. Eldridge. “You must order the liquors. I will attend to everything else.”
“How many are you going to invite?” inquired Mr. Eldridge.
“I have not made out a list yet, but it will not fall much short of seventy or eighty.”
“Seventy or eighty!” repeated Mr. Eldridge.
“Let me see. Three dozen of champagne; a dozen of sherry; a dozen of port; a dozen of hock, and a gallon of brandy,–that will be enough to put life into them I imagine.”
“Or death!” Mrs. Eldridge spoke to herself, in an undertone.
Her husband, if he noticed the remark, did not reply to it, but said, “Good morning,” and left the house. A lad about sixteen years of age sat in the room during this conversation, with a book in his hand and his eyes on the page before him. He did not once look up or move; and an observer would have supposed him so much interested in his book as not to have heard the passing conversation. But he had listened to every word. As soon as Mr. Eldridge left the room his book fell upon his lap, and looking towards Mrs. Eldridge, he said, in an earnest but respectful manner,–
“Don’t have any liquor, mother.”
Mrs s Eldridge looked neither offended nor irritated by this remonstrance, as she replied,–
“I wish it were possible to avoid having liquor, my son; but it is the custom of society and if we give a party it must be in the way it is done by other people.”
This did not satisfy the boy, who had been for some time associated with the Cadets of Temperance, and he answered, but with modesty and great respect of, manner,–“If other people do wrong, mother–what then?”
“I am not so sure of its being wrong, Henry.”
“O, but mother,” spoke out the boy, quickly, “if it hurts people to drink, it must be wrong to give them liquor. Now I’ve been thinking how much better it would be to have a nice cup of coffee. I am sure that four out of five would like it a great deal better than wine or brandy. And nobody could possibly receive any harm. Didn’t you hear what father said about Mr. Lewis? That he had been rather wild? I am sure I shall never forget seeing him stagger in the street once. I suppose he has reformed. But just think, if the taste should be revived again and at our house, and he should become intoxicated at this wedding party! O, mother! It makes me feel dreadfully to think about it. And dear Cousin Fanny! What sorrow it would bring to her!”
“O, dear, Henry! Don’t talk in that kind of a way! You make me shudder all over. You’re getting too much carried away by this subject of temperance”
And Mrs. Eldridge left the room to look after her domestic duties. But she could not push from her mind certain uneasy thoughts which her son’s suggestions had awakened. During the morning an intimate lady friend came in to whom Mrs. Eldridge spoke of the intended party.
“And would you believe it,” she said, “that old-fashioned boy of mine actually proposed that we should have coffee instead of wine and brandy.”
“And you’re going to adopt the suggestion,” replied the lady, her face lighten up with a pleasant smile.
“It would suit my own views exactly; but then such an innovation upon a common usage as that; is not to be thought of for a moment.”
“And why not?” asked the lady. “Coffee is safe, while wine and brandy are always dangerous in promiscuous companies. You can never tell in what morbid appetite you may excite an unhealthy craving. You may receive into your house a young man with intellect clear, and moral purposes well-balanced, and send him home at midnight, to his mother, stupid from intoxication! Take your son’s advice, my friend. Exclude the wine and brandy, and give a pleasant cup of coffee to your guests instead.”
“O, dear, no, I can’t do that!” said Mrs. Eldridge. “It would look as if we were too mean to furnish wines and brandy. Besides, my husband would never consent to it.”
“Let me give you a little experience of my own. It may help you to a right decision in this case.”
The lady spoke with some earnestness, and a sober cast of thought in her countenance. “It is now about three years since I gave a large party, at which a number of young men were present,–boys I should rather say. Among these was the son of an old and very dear friend. He was in his nineteenth year,–a handsome, intelligent, and most agreeable person–full of life and pleasant humor. At supper time I noticed him with a glass of champagne in his hand, gayly talking with some ladies. In a little while after, my eyes happening to rest on him, I saw him holding, a glass of port wine to his lips, which was emptied at a single draught. Again passing near him, in order to speak to a lady, I observed a tumbler in his hand, and knew the contents to be brandy and water. This caused me to feel some concern, and I kept him, in closer observation. In a little while he was at the table again, pouring out another glass of wine. I thought it might be for a lady upon whom he was in attendance; but no, the sparkling liquor touched his own lips. When the company returned to the parlors, the flushed face, swimming eyes, and over-hilarious manner of my young friend, showed too plainly that he had been drinking to excess. He was so much excited as to attract the attention of every one, and his condition became the subject of remark. He was mortified and distressed at the occurrence, and drawing him from the room, made free to tell him the truth. He showed some indignation at first, and intimated that I had insulted him but I rebuked him sternly, and told him he had better go home. I was too much excited to act very wisely. He took me at my word, and left the house. There was no sleep for my eyes on that night, Mrs. Eldridge. The image of that boy going home to his mother at midnight, in such a condition, and made so by my hand haunted me like a rebuking spectre; and I resolved never again to set out a table with liquors to a promiscuous company of young and old, and I have kept that word of promise. My husband is not willing to have a party unless there is wine with the refreshments, and I would rather forego all entertainments than put temptation in the way of any one. Your son’s suggestion is admirable. Have the independence to act upon it, and set an example which many will be glad to follow. Don’t fear criticism or remark; don’t stop to ask what this one will say or that one think. The approval of our own consciences is worth far more than the opinions of men. Is it right? That is the question to ask; not How will it appear? or What will people say? There will be a number of parties given to your niece, without doubt; and if you, lead off with coffee instead of wine, all the rest of Fanny’s friends may follow the good example.”
When Mr. Eldridge came home at dinner-time, his wife said to him,–
“You needn’t order any liquors from Snyder.”
“Why not?” Mr. Eldridge looked at his wife with some surprise.
“I’m going to have coffee, instead of wine, and brandy,” said Mrs. Eldridge, speaking firmly.
“Nonsense!” You’re jesting.”
“No, I’m in earnest. These liquors are not only expensive, but dangerous things to offer freely in mixed companies. Many boys get their first taste for drink at fashionable parties, and many reformed men have the old fiery thirst revived by a glass of wine poured out for them in social hospitality. I am afraid to have my conscience burdened with the responsibility which this involves.”
“There is no question as to the injury that is done by this free pouring out of liquors at our fashionable entertainments. I’ve long enough seen that,” said Mr. Eldridge; “but she will be a bold lady who ventures to offer a cup of coffee in place of a glass of wine. You had better think twice on this subject before you act once.”
“I’ve done little else I but think about it for the last two hours, and the more I think about it the more settled my purpose becomes.”
“But what put this thing into your head?” inquired Mr. Eldridge. “You were in full sail for party this morning, liquor and all; this sudden tacking for a new course is a little surprising. I’m puzzled.”
“Your son put it into my head,” replied Mrs. Eldridge.
“Henry? Well, that boy does beat all!” Mr. Eldridge did not speak with disapprobation, but with a tone of pleasure in his voice. “And so he proposed that we should have coffee instead of wine and brandy?”
“Bravo for Henry! I like that. But what will people say, my dear? I don’t want to become a laughing stock.”
“I’d rather have other people laugh at me for doing right,” said Mrs. Eldridge, “than to have my conscience blame me for doing wrong.”
“Must we give the party?” asked Mr. Eldridge, who did not feel much inclined to brave public opinion.
“I don’t see that we can well avoid doing so. Parties will be given, and as Fanny is our niece, it will look like a slight towards her if we hold back. No, she must have a party; and as I am resolved to exclude liquor, we must come in first. Who knows but all the rest may follow our example.”
“Don’t flatter yourself on any such result. We shall stand alone, you may depend upon it.”
The evening of the party came and a large company assembled at the house of Mr. and Mrs. Eldridge. At eleven o’clock they passed to the supper-room. On this time the thoughts of the host and hostess had passed, ever and anon, during the whole evening, and not without many misgivings as to the effect their entertainment would produce on the minds of the company. Mr. Eldridge was particularly nervous on the subject. There were several gentlemen present whom he knew to be lovers of good wine; gentlemen at whose houses he had often been entertained, and never without the exhilarating glass. How would they feel? What would they think? What would they say? These questions fairly haunted him; and he regretted, over and over again, that he had yielded to his wife and excluded the liquors.
But there was no holding back now; the die was cast, and they must stand to the issue. Mr. Eldridge tried to speak pleasantly to the lady on his arm, as he ascended to the supper-room; but the words came heavily from his tongue, for his heart was dying in him. Soon the company were around the table, and eyes, critical in such matters, taking hurried inventories of what it contained. Setting aside the wine and brandy, the entertainment was of the most liberal character, and the whole arrangement extremely elegant. At each end of the table stood a large coffee-urn, surrounded with cups, the meaning of which was not long a mystery to the company. After the terrapin, oysters, salad, and their accompaniments, Mr. Eldridge said to a lady, in a half-hesitating voice, as if he were almost ashamed to ask the question,–
“Will you have a cup of coffee?”
“If you please,” was the smiling answer. “Nothing would suit me better.”
“Delicious!” Mr. Eldridge heard one of the gentlemen, of whom he stood most in dread, say. “This is indeed a treat. I wouldn’t give such a cup of coffee for the best glass of wine you could bring me.”
“I am glad you are pleased,” Mr. Eldridge could not help remarking, as he turned to the gentleman.
“You couldn’t have pleased me better,” was replied.
Soon the cups were circling through the room, and every one seemed to enjoy the rich beverage. It was not the ghost of coffee, nor coffee robbed of its delicate aroma; but clear, strong, fragrant, and mellowed by the most delicious cream. Having elected to serve coffee, Mrs. Eldridge was careful that her entertainment should not prove a failure through any lack of excellence in this article. And it was very far from proving a failure. The first surprise being over, one and another began to express an opinion on the subject to the host and hostess.
“Let me thank you,” said a lady, taking the hand of Mrs. Eldridge, and speaking very warmly, “for your courage in making this innovation upon a custom of doubtful prudence. I thank you, as a mother, who has two sons here to-night.”
She said no more, but Mrs. Eldridge understood well her whole meaning.
“You are a brave man, and I honor you,” was the remark of a gentleman to Mr. Eldridge. “There will be many, I think, to follow your good example. I should never have had the courage to lead, but I think I shall be brave enough to follow, when it comes my turn to entertain my friends.”
Henry was standing by his father when this was said listening with respectful, but deeply gratified attention.
“My son, sir,” said Mr. Eldridge.
The gentleman took the boy by the hand, and while he held it, the father added,–
“I must let the honor go to where it really is due. The suggestion came from him. He is a Cadet of Temperance, and when the party was talked of, he pleaded so earnestly for the substitution of coffee for wine and brandy, and used such good reason for the change, that we saw only one right course before us, and that we have adopted.”
The gentleman, on hearing this, shook the lad’s hand warmly, and said,–
“Your father has reason to be proud of you, my brave boy! There is no telling what good may grew out of this thing. Others will follow your father’s example, and hundreds of young men be saved from the enticements of the wine cup.”
With what strong throbs of pleasure did the boy’s heart beat when these words came to his ears! He had scarcely hoped for success when he pleaded briefly, but earnestly, with his mother. Yet he felt that he must speak, for to his mind, what she proposed doing was a great evil. Since it had been resolved to banish liquor from the entertainment, he had heard his father and mother speak several times doubtfully as to the result; and more than once his father expressed result that any such “foolish” attempt to run in the face of people’s prejudices had been thought of. Naturally, he had felt anxious about the result; but now that the affair had gone off so triumphantly, his heart was outgushing with pleasure.
The result was as had been predicted. Four parties were given to the bride, and in each case the good example of Mrs. Eldridge was followed. Coffee took the place of wine and brandy, and it was the remark of nearly all, that there had been no pleasant parties during the season.
So much for what a boy may do, by only a few right words spoken at the right time, and in the right manner. Henry Eldridge was thoughtful, modest, and earnest-minded. His attachment to the cause of temperance was not a mere boyish enthusiasm, but the result of a conviction that intemperance was a vice destructive, to both soul and body, and one that lay like a curse and a plague-spot on society, He could understand how, if the boys rejected, entirely, the cup of confusion, the next, generation of men would be sober; and this had led him to join the Cadets, and do all in his power to get other lads to join also. In drawing other lads into the order, he had been very successful; and now, in a few respectfully uttered, but earnest words, he had checked the progress of intemperance in a circle far beyond the ordinary reach of his influence.
Henry Eldridge was a happy boy that night.