William Chambers.

Chambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) online

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" Like IMick Brady's wife, who, whenever she thrashed him,
cried over the blows, and said they were all for his good,"
observed her brother slyly.

" Nonsense ! — listen to me, I say, and I'll tell jou why I am
so resolute. ^ It's many a long day since, going to school, I used
to meet — Michael minds her too, I'm sure — an old bent woman ;


it's only a drop.

they used to call her the Witch of Ballag-hton. Stacy was, as I
have said, very old intirely, withered and white-headed, bent
nearly double with age, and she used to be ever and always
muddling about the strames and ditches, gathering herbs and
plants, the girls said to work charms with ; and at first they used
to watch, rather far off, and if they thought they, had a good
chance of escaping her tongue and the stones she flung at them,
they'd call her an ill name or two; and sometimes, old as she
was, she'd make a spring at them sideways like a crab, and howl,
and hoot, and scrame, and then they'd be off like a flock of
pigeons from a hawk, and she'd go on disturbing the green-
coated waters with her crooked stick, and muttering words which
none, if they heard, could understand. Stacy had been a well-
rared woman, and knew a dale more than any of us ; when not
tormented by the children, she was mighty well-spoken, and the
gentry thought a dale about her more than she did about them ;
for she'd say there wasn't one in the country fit to tie her shoe,
and tell them so too, if they'd call her anything but Lady Stacy,
which the rale gentry of the place all humoured her in 5 but the
upstarts, who think every civil word to an inferior is a pulling
down of their own dignity, would turn uj) their noses as they
passed her, and maybe she didn't bless them for it.

One day Mike had gone home before me, and, coming down
the back bohreen, who should I see moving along it but Lady
Stacy ; and on she came, muttering and mumbling* to herself, till
she got near me, and as she did, I heard Master Nixon (the dog-
man*)'s hound in full cry, and seen him at her heels, and he over
the hedge encouraging the baste to tear her in pieces. The dog
soon was up with her, and then she kept him off as well as she
could with her crutch, cursing the entire time, and I was very
frightened ; but I darted to her side, and, with a wattle I pulled
out of the hedge, did my best to keep him off her.

Master Nixon cursed at me with all his heart; but I wasn't
to be turned off that way. Stacy herself laid about with her
staff; but the ugly brute would have finished her, only for me.
I don't suppose Nixon meant that ; but the dog was savage, and
some men, like him, delight in cruelty. AVell, I bate the dog
off ; and then I had to help the poor fainting woman ; for she
was both faint and hurt. I didn't much like bringing her here,
for the people said she wasn't lucky ; however, she wanted help,
and I gave it. When I got her on the floor,t I thought a drop
of whisky would revive her, and accordingly I offered her a
glass. I shall never forget the venom with which she dashed
it on the ground.

' Do you want to poison me,' she shouted, ' afther saving my
life ? ' When she came to herself a little, she made me sit down
by her side, and fixing her large gray eyes upon my face, she

* Tax-gatherers were so called some time ago in Ireland, because they collected
the duty on dogs. t In the house.



kept rocking her body backwards and forwards, while she spoke,
as well as I can remember — what I'll try to tell you — ^but I can't
tell it as she did — that wouldn't be in nature. ' Ellen,' she
said, and her eyes fixed m my face, ' I wasn't always a poor
lone creature, that every ruffian who walks the country dare
set his cur at. There was full and plenty in mj' father's house
when I was young ; but before I grew to womanly estate, its
walls were bare and roofless. What made them so ? — drink I
• — whisky ! My father was in debt : to kill thought, he tried
to keep himself so that he could not think; he wanted the
courage of a man to look his danger and difficulty in the face,
and overcome it ; for, Ellen, mind my words — the man that will
look debt and danger steadily in the face, and resolve to over-
come them, ca7i do so. He had not means, he said, to educate
his children as became them : he grew not to have means to
find them or their poor jjatient mother the proper necessaries of
life, yet he found the means to keep the whisky cask flowing,
and to answer the baihfi''s knocks for admission by the loud
roar of drunkenness, mad, as it was wicked. They got in at
last, in spite of the care taken to keep them out, and there was
much fighting-, ay, and blood spilt, but not to death ; and while
the riot was a-foot, and we were crjang round the deathbed of
a dying mother, where was he ! — they had raised a ten-gaUon
cask of whisky on the table in the j)arlour, and astride on it sat
my father, flomishing the huge pcAvter funnel in one hand, and
the black jack streaming with whisky in the other; and amid
the fumes of hot punch that flowed over the room, and the cries
and oaths of the fighting- drunken company, his voice was heard
swearing " he had lived like a king, and would die Hke a

' And your poor mother?' I asked. "^

'Thank God! she died that night — she died before worse
came ; she died on the bed that, before her corpse was cold, was
dragged from under her — through the strong drink — through
the badness of him who ought to have saved her — not that he
was a bad man either, when the whisky had no power over
him, but he could not bear his own reflections. And his end
soon came. He didn't die like a king' ; he died smothered
in a ditch, where he fell ; he died, and was in the presence of
God — how? Oh, there are things that have had whisky as
their beginning' and their end, that make me as mad as ever it
made him! The man takes a drop, and forgets his starving-
family; the woman takes it, and forgets she is a mother and- a
wife. It's the curse of Ireland — a bitterer, blacker, deeper curse
than ever was put on it by foreign power or hard-made laws !'"

" God bless us!" was Larry's half-breathed ejaculation.

" I only repeat ould Stacy's words," said Ellen ; " you see I
never forgot them. 'You might think,' she continued, 'that
I had had warning enough to'keep me from having anything


it's only a drop.

to say to those who war too fond of drink ; and I thought I had ;
but somehow Edward Lambert got round me with his sweet
words, and I was lone and unprotected. I knew he had a little
fondness for the drop ; but in him, young", handsome, and gay-
hearted, with bright eyes and sunny haii^, it did not seem like
the horrid thing which had made me shed no tear over my
father'' s grave. Think of that, young girl : the drink doesn't
make a man a beast at Jirst, but it will do so before it's done
with him — it will do so before it's done with him. I had enough
power over Edward, and enough memory of the past, to make
him swear against it, except so much at such and such a time ,*
and for a while he was very particular ; but one used to entice
him, and another used to entice him, jand I am not going to say
but I might have managed him differently ; I might have got
him off it — gently, maybe ; but the pride got the better -of me,
and I thought of the line I came of, and how I had married
him who wasn't my equal, and such nonsense, which always
breeds disturbance betwixt married people ; and I used to rave,
when, maybe, it would have been wiser if I had reasoned.
Anyway, things didn't go smooth — not that he neglected his
employment : he was industrious, and sorry enough when the
fault was done ; still he would come home often the worse for
drink — and now that he's dead and gone, and no finger is
stretched to me but in scorn or hatred, I think maybe I might
have done better ; but, God defend me, the last was hard to
bear.' Oh, boys ! " said Ellen, " if you had only heard her
voice when she said that, and seen her face. Poor ould Lady
Stacy ! no wonder she hated the drop ; no wonder she dashed
down the whisky."

" You kept this mighty close, Ellen," said Mike ; " I never
heard it before."

" I did not like coming over it," she replied ; " the last is hard
to tell." The girl turned pale while she spoke, and Lawrence
gave her a cup of water. " It must be told," she said ; " the
death of her father proved the eifects of deliberate drunkenness.
What I have to say, shows what may hajDpen from being even
once unable to think or act.

' I had one child,' said Stacy ; ' one, a darlint, blue-eyed,
laughing child. I never saw any so handsome, never knew any
so good. She was almost three years ould, and he was fond of
her — he said he was ; but it's a quare fondness that destroys what
it ought to save. It was the Pattern of Lady-day, and well I
knew that Edward would not return as he went: he said he
would ; he almost swore he would ; but the promise of a man
given to drink has no more strength in it than a rope of sand.
I took sulky, and wouldn't go ; if I had, maybe it would not
have ended so. The evening came on, and I thought my baby
breathed hard in her cradle ; I took the candle and went over to
look at her 5 her little face was red ; and when I laid my cheek


it's only a drop.

close to her lips so as not to t^uch them, but to feel her hreath, it
was hot — very hot ; she tossed her arms, and they were dry and
burning-. The measles were about the country, and I was
frightened for my child. It was only half a mile to the doctor's ;
I knew every foot of the road ; and so, leaving the door on the
latch, I resolved to tell him how my darlint was, and thought I
should be back before my husband's return. Grass, you may be
sure, didn't grow under my feet. I ran with all sjjeed, and
wasn't kept long", the doctor said-rthough it seemed long* to me.
The moon was down when I came home, though the night was
fine. The cabin we lived in was in a hollow ; but when I was
on the hill, and looked down where I knew it stood a dark mass,
I thought I saw a white lig-ht fog coming out of it ; I rubbed my
eyes, and dartecf forward as a wild bird flies to its nest when it
hears the scream of the hawk in the heavens, When I reached
the door, I saw it was open 5 the fume cloud came out of it, sure
enough, white and thick. Blind with that and terror together,
I rushed to my child's cradle. I found my way to that, in spits
of the burning and the smothering. But, Ellen — Ellen Murphy,
my child, the rosy child whose breath had been hot on my cheek
only a little while before, she was nothing but a cinder. Mad as
I felt, I saw how it was in a minute. The father had come
home, as I expected ; he had gone to the cradle to look at his
child, had dropt the candle into the straw, and, unable to speak
or stand, had fallen down and asleep on the floor not two yards
from my child. Oh, how I flew to the doctor's with what had
been my baby ; I tore across the country like a banshee ; I laid
it in his arms ; I told him if he did not put life in it, I'd de-
stroy him in his house. He thought me mad ; for there was no
breath, either cowld or hot, coming from its lips then. I couldn't
kiss it in death ; there was nothmg left of my child to kiss —
think of that ! I snatched it from where the doctor had laid it ;
I cursed him, for he looked with disgust at my purty child.
The whole night long I wandered in the woods of Newtownbarry
with that burden at my heart.' "

" But her husband — her husband?" inquired Larry in accents
of horror ; " what became of him ; did she leave him in the
burning without calling him to himself ? "

" No," answered Ellen ; " I asked her, and she told me that
her shrieks she supposed roused him from the suffocation in
which he must but for them have perished. He stag'gered out of
the place, and was found soon after by the neighbours, and lived
long after, but only to be a poor heart-broken man ; for she was
mad for years through the country ; and many a day after she
told me that story, my heart trembled like a willow leaf. ' And
now, Ellen Murphy,' she added, when the end was come, ' do ye
wonder I threw from yer hand as poison the glass you offered
me ? And do you know why I have tould you what tares my
heart to come over ? — because I wish to save you, who showed


it's only a drop.

me kindness, from what I have gone through. It's the only
good I can do ye, and indeed it's long since I cared to do good.
Never trust a drinking man ; he has no guard on his words, and
will say that of his nearest friend that would destroy him, soul
and body. His breath is hot as the breath of the plague ; his
tongue is a foolish, as well as a fiery serpent. Ellen, let no
drunkard become your lover ; and don't trust to promises ; try
them, prove them all before you marry.' "

" Ellen, that's enough," interrupted Larry. " I have heard
enough — the two proofs are enough without words. Now, hear
me. What length of punishment am I to have ? I wont say
that, for, Nelly, there's a tear in your eye that says more than
words. Look — I'll make no promises — but you shall see; I'll
wait yer time ; name it ; I'll stand the trial."

Ellen named the period, and Lawrence, of course, declared it
was the next thing to murder — it was murder itself to keep him
so long— but he'd "put up with it"— he'd "brave it !"— he'd "walk
straight into a sea of boiling hot whisky punch until it touched
his lips — flowed over his lips. And see! look there now! he'd
never let it pass them — never, barring the one tumbler. She
wouldn't say against one tumbler, would she ?"

Ellen shook her head. Though this occurred before Father
Mathew regenerated his country, she knew that the only safe-
guard, where there is a tendency to habits of intoxication, or
even to take " only a drop" — where " the drop" is more than the
head will bear — is total abstinence. She knew that the liquid
fire was as dangerous to sport with as the fire which destroyed
the sleeping chifd; and she told him so; and he, lover-like, vowed
that, though it would be "mighty hard," and very unneigh-
bourly, to drink "could wather" — fornint a "hot tumbler" of the
"mountain-dew," still, if it was her wish, he'd do it — he'd do anj^-
thing for a " short day." But Ellen had more forethought than
belongs to her countrywomen in general, and she remained firm.

"You've wonderful houlding' out in you, sister dear," said
Michael : " I'm sure he'll never touch another drop."

" I wish I felt assured of it, Michael," replied Ellen. " Even
while the story I told him was beating about his heart, he
wouldn't give me the promise. Sure it's woful to see how hard
the habit is — he would not give the promise only for a short day
— though, before I told him of Lady Stacy, he said he would.
The grip it takes, the hoult it gets after a while, is wonderful ;
and sure it's so with other habits that people can't get shut of.
Why, there's yourself, Micky, has a wonderful fidgetty way with
you — notching the table with a knife, or churning the salt, or
twisting the buttons oif yer shirt sleeves — anything on earth to
fiddle with — never can keep jev fingers aisy one single minute :
it's Saint Vitus's dance you have in them ; oh ! then dear, that
saint must have been mighty unaisy in himself, to be so shak-
ing ever and always."



^' There/' said her brother, throwing- down the- knife and push-
ing away the salt, " anything- for peace and quietness. I wonder
will Larry be as aisy with you as I am. I often take pride in
myself for being such an angel. Ellen, I wonder how Larry
will behave at the fair of Birr — will he hoidd out there 1 "

" He will," answered Ellen ; " I'm not fearful of Larry in a
great temptation, but I doubt him in little ones. I wish masters
would pay their men at twelve o'clock on Saturdaj^s instead of
in the evening', and let them take their money where they work,
instead of paying* them in public-houses : that^s the ruin of many
a fine boy ; for it's counted mean to go into the pubhc and not
take something ; and the boys hate meanness as bad as murder."

" Oh ! save us ! " ejaculated Michael.

" Some of them do, anyhow," said Ellen.

" Set a case," commenced IMichael with a very wise look —
" that Larry really did break out once or twice — only now and
then — would you give him up 1 "

Ellen became pale, then red ; but after a pause, she replied, " I
think I would — / thi?ik I could not make a drunkard happy — no
woman could — it would be impossible ; and whatever love he has
for me would wear out, and soon ; for though I hope I should
never forget the duty I owed as a wife, one of her duties is to
seek a husband's good in all things, and the hig'hest step to-
wards a man's earthly good is — sobriety."

" Bedad ! " replied her brother, " jow. did not go to school for
nothing, I see that."

" It was you, dear, that sent me there," she said 5 " and I owe
to you what I can never repay."

The fair of Birr came and went, and Larry behaved like a hero.
His "big-coat" was thrown back with an air of determined self-
confidence (the most dangerous confidence in the world — certain
in the long*-run to get a man into trouble) ; his hat put on vnth.
a jaunty air; his crimson-silk " Barcelona" tied with a knot and
floating ends ; his scarlet-cloth waistcoat peeped from beneath the
body-coat of blue, whose brass buttons g'littered like gold.
"Brogues!" Larry disdained them ! — his "wm^" feet were en-
cased in black shining leather, so that he was ready for a jig — if
he could only get Ellen to dance one, but she would not : she
did not like dancing in " a tent ;" nor was she foohshly jealous
or angry when her betrothed attended to the curtsey of a " little
cousin of her own," and danced him down, amid the vigorous
applause of the company. On that occasion Lawrence certainly
behaved like a very hero ! not a drop would he touch " beyant"
the one tumbler ; and when he walked home with Ellen in the
evening', he felt almost inclined to quarrel with her, because she
remained firm to the time she had originally named for their

The victory Lawrence achieved at Birr uplifted him sadly. He
had hitherto kept a wakeful guard over himself; and whenever in*-


it's only a drop.

clination put in its plea for another " drop," resolution said " No,"
and fidelity whispered " Ellen ; " but Birr " birred " in his ears.
" Think of me there," thought Lawrence ; "just look at me, when
every boy in the fair was ' blind' or ' reeling,' able to walk a
chalked line from this to Bantry ; up before the lark, and work-
ing" alone at my trade in the morning." Perhaps Lawrence had
never read, " Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he
fall ;" or if he had, he had forgotten ! It was within a week of ^
his "statute of limitation" — one single week! Saturday came
as usual, and Lawrence went to receive his wages at the public-
house. Some of his old friends were there, steady-headed men,
who could drink " a deal" without showing it, and made a boast
that they could do so — a strange boast, is it not 1 — and often
made by men whose families, if not absolutely clotheless and
foodless, are without the comforts of life : yet their husbands and
fathers, those who are bound by every law human and divine to
protect them, can make a boast — of what? — of drinking ; that is,
of absolutely swallov/ing the pence, shillings, and pounds which
would feed, clothe, and educate them respectably; a strange
boast ! Such a man might just as well say, " My wife has no
shoes, my baby no clothes, the fire on my hearth burns low, there
is little food for oiu'selves, and if our neighbour wants, there is
none to give him ; yet I am a good workman, I earn good wages,
I could give my wife good shoes, and my baby clothes ; they
might warm themselves at a cheerful fire, that would join them
in giving me a welcome those dreary nights ; there would be
abundant food for ourselves, and something to spare for a
poor neighbour or a houseless wanderer, so that the blessings
they returned might be treasured up in heaven, a dower for me
and my children hereafter ! But if I did this, I should not be
able to show that I could drink ten or twelve tumblers with a
steady eye and a steady hand. Yet, let me think ! my hand is
Qiot steady ; and though my eyes are steady enough, I can't see
much out of them ; but then I can drink the ten tumblers
without a reeling head ; though it may be bothered, it doesn't
reel. Hurra ! — isn't that a glorious thing ? I can swallow wife's
shoes, baby's clothes, blazing fire, plenty of unblest food, and
my own credit, in ten strong tumblers of punch. Hurra! —
there's a head! — isn't that a fine thing?"

Lawrence met one or two of these very tremendous ten and
twelve tumbler men, and other poor weak-headed fellows, who
reeled and staggered, and made fools of themselves upon the
value of a single shoe, or a new apron, while the mighty drinkers
sneered and laughed at them. And then Lawrence was induced
to boast that his head was as hard and as strong as ere a head
there. His companions did not at all doubt its" hardness, but
they doubted its strength ; and they told him so : they were sure
a wine-glassful beyond his quantity — ^his stint — would "knock
him over ;" and to iDrove it would not, Lawrence took another


it's only a drop.

■^vine-g'lassfiil ; and those who were anxious he should be over-
thrown hke themselves, pushed the jug- of punch close to him ;
and the talking- and sino:ing', the increased stimulant of the
glass, led him to j^our out another unconsciously; then, as his
spirit mounted, companioned by the other spirit he had imbibed,
he declared that he could drink as much as any of them without
being' touched or " staggered.''

There are always, unfortunately, a number of persons who
take a mischievous' pleasure in setting, not wrong right, but right
wrong ; and such were delighted at making Lavrrence — " steady
Lawrence, sober Lawrence" — the same as themselves. His was
precisely a case where it was easier to ahsiairi than to refrain ;
he could do the one, but not the other ; he lacked that greatest
of all commands — sELr-coiiMAXD. If roused, like all his coun-
trymen he was equal to anything — brave, earnest, self-denying*,
silent, strong -hearted; but when once the watch and ward
slumbered, he sunk. Once thrown oif his guard, Lawrence
plunged still more deeply into the pit. Drop by droj) he went
on until his head turned — and amid the uproarious mirth, little
remained of his real nature. He was angry with himself; the
hour was past Avhen he had promised to meet Ellen ; and when,
having stood up to ascertain, with a species of drunken stupidity,
if he could walk, he was hailed with a shout of triumphant
laughter, he turned upon his tempters like a baited lion, fierce
and desperate, and a violent conflict ensued. Larry, from the
-circumstance of being from a distant part of the country, had
no " faction" to take his part, and so stood a chance of being'
murdered ; but Michael Murphy, who, astonished at his intended
brother-in-law's loitering, had come to the public-house to inquire
why he tarried, hearing' the riot within, rushed forward, and,
but for his raising the well-known cry, " A jNIurphy, a Murphy,
hirroo ! here's for a Murphy ! " there is little doubt that Law-
rence would have been sent, unprepared and unrepentant, out of
the world, whose peace and harmony is destroyed by the vices
and intemperance of those whom the Almighty created for far
different purposes.

"I could," said Ellen on the following morning — "I could
have followed him with a less heart-broken feeling in poverty
through the world : I could have beg'ged with him, begg'ed for
him, worked my fingers to the bone, and at the last, if it had
been the will of Heaven, have sat a mourning widow on his
grave — ay, to the end of my own days — rather than have seen
him as I did last night ; not so crushed in body as in mind ; un-
able to speak three plain words, or call me by my own name,
while every drunkard in the parish shouted at his disgrace.
Och, Michael dear, your poor sister's heart is broken intirely !
I took too much pride out of him ! I thought at the fair of Birr
how grand he looked, taking' the shine out of every one ; and he-
so sober, his eyes as pure as crvstal, his head strong, and his


it's only a drop.

hand ready to save others from the usage which every spalpeen

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of useful and entertaining tracts (Volume v.5-6) → online text (page 48 of 59)