Everything is Possible to Will.
Chapter XIX. Ten Years After
Chapter XIX. Ten Years After.
Blessed sunshine! But few words are needed to tell that the sun shines—to tell that Wrax is a new man, so entirely new that to Zee he is more handsome now, within and without, than he ever was before. Many and various were the determining causes producing the desired result. The frequent recurrence of epileptic fits quite unnerved him, for one thing, and for another thing, Zee had grown desperate. Wrax having recovered from an attack of gout unusually severe and protracted, she told him, with unmistakeable emphasis, that, “if he went back to the drink again, she would never nurse him through another illness—never.” A resolution she ought to have arrived at many years earlier.
During his long illness Wrax closely studied the Good Templar constitution; but Zee hoped nothing from that. She had so often trusted his professed repentance, that her whole soul—oh! and body, too—were alive with distrust, however successfully concealed. But, instead of returning to the public-house as usual, when able to walk that length, he announced his intention of becoming a Templar, and himself and wife joined the Order as soon as Wrax was equal to the effort; and, without one single lapse, he has faithfully served an eight years' apprenticeship to truth, honor, manliness; and this 24th of May, 1880, he stands forth a man. There never was a moment in his history that he could not, if he would, have stood as firmly as he has done for the past eight years—there never was a moment when he was less strong of head, of will, and of lungs; but the body is now a total wreck. To undo the past is impossible, but to redeem it his whole soul is pledged. page 218 He has held for years, and still holds, a prominent and responsible position in the Templar Order with general satisfaction. Indeed, he has most completely won the confidence of his fellow-men—of those, at least, whose good opinion is worth possessing.
It was years before Zee could dare to entirely believe in and welcome the marvellous change in Wrax—not, indeed, until the old imperious temper reasserted itself, which, at its worst, was better than the demented creature he had become. Rank, very rank, was the soil Zee was ploughing, both within herself and in Wrax. Oh, how the vice-stumps, as old as one's being, resisted the uprooting. A deal of flesh came away with some of the stumps; but they yielded at length—then victory! It is heaven to know that progress is made—that Christ is “lifted up.” Stump No. 1 was the difficulty Wrax ever found in comprehending a mine and thine between himself and wife. It was all and always mine—I am lord of all. Some additions having been made to their house, Wrax fixed a dozen hat and coat pegs in the lobby, and to the use of two at least of those pegs Zee, not unnaturally, felt herself entitled; but she was to have no peg, so if she presumed to hang her cloak on one of the many unoccupied pegs, Wrax invariably threw it down. Telling him quietly, but without effect, how selfish it was of him to do so, the next time he threw her cloak down, Zee, after much painful deliberation, served his coat (his best overcoat, the only one that chanced to be hanging on the pegs) precisely as he had served her cloak; and there lay the coat for days, and there she knew it might lie as far as Wrax was concerned; so as it was in the way, Zee placed it on the outside balustrade leading to the front door, and there it remained for weeks; so long, indeed, that Zee knew not when it disappeared. It had never once been mentioned between them; and at last Wrax took pity on the coat and brought it indoors, and thenceforward ceded the two pegs claimed by his wife, thus tacitly acknowledging himself to have been in the wrong. Bravo, Wrax!
Stump No. 2 hung likewise on the principle, so dear to Wrax, of: “What is yours is mine, and what is mine page 219 is my own.” Hence he fully expected to appropriate a legacy left to his wife some years since. But, although he was then to be trusted with money to any amount, he had not made a good use of Zee's money in the past. She therefore resolved he should have no more of it; and on finding that she preferred to exercise her own judgment in the use of it to giving it to him, Wrax's fury was so ungovernable that Zee, for the first time, proposed a judicial separation between them (he was strong enough at that time to stand alone), to which end she consulted a lawyer, to find that, since Wrax opposed the separation, and Zee was unable to swear that her life was in danger from his violence, the law would allow her nothing—absolutely nothing. She must leave him in full possession of everything. But she would not do that. She had not promised to “endow” him with her all; so, keeping tight hold of the legacy, she allowed Wrax's temper to cool off at pleasure.
On the strength of his “goods-and-chattels” creed, Wrax had often said to his wife: “I bought you.” And it is certain he really did believe even then, in the possession of his reason, that he had bought her body and soul. Given an inch, he must take an ell. The law regards the wife as the property of the husband. Consequently all she might, could, would, or should possess—moral rights into the bargain—are the husband's also; so reasoned Wrax. But Zee knew that her soul was her own if she possessed nothing else; and believing herself to be responsible for its cultivation, she has endeavored of late years to educate herself. Slowly, in the teeth of all but unexampled difficulties respecting her powers of acquiring knowledge, a little light has dawned upon her dark soul, Wrax fiercely opposing her attempts at self-culture mean while.
Believing that they could “get on well enough without it,” he has no less fiercely resisted inch by inch—on his wife's account, he fancied, no less, than on his own—Zee's method of training jointly their inner being. But, taking care that good sense should be her right-hand counsellor (better sense, at least, than Wrax page 220 opposed), she has triumphed. Wrax has yielded the ground, more or less ungraciously it is true, still he has yielded, and has learnt at length that two heads are better than one—the hardest lesson married men have to learn, so jealous are many of them of their rights, trembling lest they should be infringed. But dignity is mere bounce, a soap bubble, unless supported by the quiet consistency of a beautiful life—then it is impregnable.
Giving rightful supremacy to the disciplined will makes everything possible to him. His “principles” now are no less steadfast than are his wife's, and, helpful of each other, the newly-wedded pair walk hand-in-hand and see eye to eye almost—mutual friends in the best sense. Careful only that her every word and deed shall appeal directly to Wrax's honor and conscience, Zee leaves conviction to do its own work; and it has done its work with marvellous results. He can now do justice to his own family each and all, and is devoted to his boy's interests with an enthusiasm almost unparalleled. Verily, Zee's faith has entirely removed the Wrax mountain. Wrax is no longer Wrax. Zee can speak of him now most sincerely as my dear old Wrax.
Templary has done much for him without doubt, and to its advancement husband and wife have given themselves heartily. The lodge meetings, affording a counter-attraction to the public-house, were of great use to Wrax, until the rowdy element within them disgusted him as it has disgusted Templary's best friends everywhere. Working for numbers rather than for principles, numbers have, of course, ruined the Order, and proved how unfit men are to be trusted with power. Yet trusted they must be in order to become fit, but it ought not to be possible for numbers to bear down the intelligence which has the good of the Order at heart. Yet so it is.
Worse punishment cannot be merited by the vilest of women than to become the property of the drunkard; he will perfect his reign of terror over her. But in mercy protect, defend the good wife; set her free to labor for herself and children; but do not, for pity's page 221 sake, leave her to beat off her idle, dissolute husband. She is powerless alone. Or if, on being driven to leave him, she trusts to his professed repentance and returns to live with him, what then?
The drunkard's wife, on whom the curse of drunkenness—the worst of woman's wrongs—falls with crushing force, seeks not to be lionised; and in asking that her right to consideration be acknowledged, she may find herself nearer to the hearts of her more favored brothers and sisters than is imagined. She complains not of her daily toil, would shirk none of its duties; but she would be delivered from torture cruel as needless, from the stolid indifference, perhaps hate, of a brutalised, irresponsible man, who should shield and bless—the man on whose soul her long-suffering gentleness falls but to harden, because the strong are protected against the weak by the strength of law and an unhealthy public opinion.
Why permit this woman-slavery, drink-slavery, to mar God's fair creation? American slavery was black and base enough, but it was innocence itself compared to the devastation, social, physical and moral, the bottle occasions. Negroes living and dying on the worst of Southern plantations, would feel themselves to be princes compared with the degraded modern sot. What then, with a woman on the throne, is the black slave more precious than the white slave, that the negro must be emancipated at all costs, while England's fame is blurred with a woman-slavery, drink-slavery, boasting a holocaust of helpless victims, thrown like logs on England's vice-dedicated altar? The burning of Indian widows in India raised a storm of righteous indignation in England; but what bloody sacrifices are permitted, nay encouraged, under English laws? The Indian widow is denied the grand distinction of sacrificing herself on her husband's funeral pyre; the English wife may, nay must, voluntarily sacrifice herself beneath the wheels of a not less senseless, not less bloody Juggernaut, in order that her husband may be at liberty to do as he likes, though he kill himself in so doing. O England!
Weeping readily over fictitious woes, the public page 222 mind will scan the subjoined story with callous indifference; and yet does “Uncle Tom's Cabin” tell a more harrowing tale than this?—
“Horrible Effects of Drink: A Wife and Little Ones Frozen to Death.—A few years ago a man was living with his young wife in Mankato, Minnesota. He was intelligent and successful in business, until the passion for drink enslaved him, and his business and reputation were both wrecked by its satanic influence. He was forced to seek a new home for his little family, and his wife, bred to luxury, accompanied him to the frontier in the hope that the removal from temptation would free him from the grip of the habit which cursed him. Here they lived for several years, his abstinence from drink being broken only by an infrequent and occasional debauch when he visited some of the nearest towns. Early in December he told his wife that business compelled him to go to * * *, and that he would be absent several days. She, about to be confined, with several helpless children and a scanty supply of wood, fearing that the insatiate clamour of appetite was the motive which drew him away, entreated him to stay, but in vain. He left. Soon after, one of those severe storms of December—doubly severe on the unsheltered prairie—came on. Before its close she was entirely destitute of wood, and the dreadful alternative was presented to her of passively freezing to death with her little ones, or seeking assistance from her nearest neighbor, three miles distant. She courageously chose the latter, and, leaving her three shivering little ones with nothing but a mother's yearning love and a prayerful blessing, she started out to seekrelief. The next day she was found half-buried in the snow, dead, a new-born infant at her side. The three children were found dead in the house. This, whilst the once-fond husband and protecting father was away revelling in the delirium or dosing in the stupor of drink. No words can add to the horror of this tale; but beside the unspeakable agony of that dying wife and mother, how trivial our common losses, griefs, and sorrows seem!”
It is fresh in the minds of all men how England, inspired by a thrilling picture of American slavery, rose as one man and pronounced its doom. Heaven shall witness the response England makes now that one of the least of her children, for England's sake, craves mercy, salvation from her besotted sons. If it be true that the national heart to the cry of distress is like touch wood that any spark can fire, the very weakness of the present appeal, strong only in its invinciblepage 223
truthfulness, may startle the nation to its depths, and evoke an active sympathy which shall stir it to its centre. Public opinion can, if it will, strike the chains of slavery from woman's intellect and heart, and make woman's emancipation the grandest trophy of Victoria's reign. Everything is possible to whole-souled men and women loyal to truth.
Victoria! Queen and mother! thy lot is lofty as Zee's is lowly; yet has she tried, as thou hast, to do well her part, and she claims with thee a common sisterhood; for in the presence of the Infinite, where all are alike poor, thou wouldst claim to be no more than woman. And if Zee's small voice, as herein expressed, could reach thee, thou wouldst, perchance, love to take her hand and call her sister. From thy feeble and voiceless daughters she would fain present to thee a petition; no loud, flaunting, illuminated scroll; no, it is written in tears and blood by those whose heads are bowed with shame and pain, not guilt; who know not whence help can come, look for it only in the grave which covers all of mortal woe. If thou couldst hear a tithe of what there is to tell of misery endured by good wives from husbands maddened by drink, thou wouldst start to thy feet with horror, exclaiming: “What! is my reign disgraced by these vices—drink, slavery, wife-slavery, greed of gold—are these scars on my brow? Why has this cry not reached me ere now? let me know the worst; it shall never be said that Victoria trifled with the sins and sorrows of her people. God forbid that I should hand down a craven soul to posterity, a constitution socially and physically leprous through the slavery of vice engendered by the selfish domination of passions indulged and sanctioned by law. Help me, my sons, England's future kings! to cleanse our loved flag from such foul and impious rust, from this evil-eyed canker-worm slavery.”
An insult offered to thy sex is an insult offered to thee; woman is to be trusted with responsibility, secure it to her. In memory of Albert the Good make woman's legal freedom, full and unconditional, the crowning glory of thy reign. Oh, leave her not where thou hast found her, the slave of man's passions, thepage 224
creature of his convenience. By making thy moral power exceed thy money power, thou canst, if thou wilt, take suffering woman to thy bosom and still have room. Be thou God's gentle voice to all peoples, then shalt thou never be shorn of thy strength by a guilty dalliance with evil; but age shall find thy power undimmed and undiminished, because of a succoring hand full of compassion, not money, that thou holdest out to suffering innocence.
Save the nation from sinking lower and lower, drifting farther and farther into a whirlpool of vice, whose awful eddies are fast sucking up wealth untold, material, physical, and intellectual. Teach, oh teach, by precept and example, that there is something infinitely better than gold—truth, honor—in the word, love. There is an arm at thy side strong to save, strong to rid our loved country of her deadliest foe. Wait not till the nation's sense of right has become so embruted there is no desire to break its chains; to this we are tending, until thy throne, which should be a source of strength to its feeblest supporter, totters visibly to the far-seeing.
England's Queen! think of the little ones, that army of martyr children ever going up to God with their pitiful history. With them it is well; but what of the living, whose little hands are held up to thee appealingly? Think what impression the one word home conveys to the minds of such unhappy vestiges of creation! It would be one of the saddest sights ever witnessed if one dared to pick up at random, and present before thee, one hundred of the waifs under five years of age, found in any of our large cities, waifs made what they are directly or indirectly through drink and the no less culpable love of gold. No one save the drunkard and the publican, probably, would be callous enough to look on the group and not weep genuine tears. Oh, for the sake of the little ones, make woman's cause thine own, good Queen! her low, deep wail of agony must enter thy very palace.
Beside us is a raised glass dish of early spring violets, purple and white; very beautiful they are half hidden in their own green leaves. Never did shady nook page 225 grow violets of sweeter perfume; they are to us an earnest of coming blessing. Some flowers send forth sweetest fragrance when crushed; in like manner, the hallowing influence of silent endurance may have inspired every manly heart with the firm resolve that its necessity shall cease. But if Queen and people fail us, truth is omnipotent and shall prevail. God is stronger than the devil. The superficial may incline to say how glad Zee must be to have saved her husband; but one moment's thought will convince the reader that all self-gratulation is closed against her. A thousand influences were found working together for his good the instant he chose to turn them to good account. Had Zee been faithful to her God, she would have brought those influences to bear upon him before her marriage, and have saved him to some purpose. Human nature is eminently improvable if you go to work in the right way. Good men and bad must be taught to stand alone, strong to bear the consequences of their own acts, good and bad, because you cannot,cannot save man or woman from the consequences of his or her own wrong-doing. All nature's laws impress this fact on the mind of man, too vain, alas, to learn the lesson. Besides which, if life duties are faithfully discharged, they are too fully apportioned to each being to permit anyone to do so great a wrong to another as to take his responsibilities upon himself. Thrown upon his own resources Wrax would have become a man twenty years ago; to which end Zee's friends should have united to separate her from Wrax, by putting her in the way of earning a living for herself and children when Wrax broke up his home—protecting her in so doing, of course; or if, knowing to what she committed herself, she preferred to live with Wrax (which she never would have done had a healthy public opinion prevailed on the subject), she must have accepted the consequences thereof.
The reader parts from husband and wife in exceptionally happy circumstances; they are rich in each other, and in their son, if in nothing else. As strong to bear good report as evil report, it may be told of Rex, that in building up an extensive business from page 226 small beginnings, he has acquired a reputation in the doing of it that a prince might envy; and his one regret is that he was “not born a New Zealander” instead of an Englishman. He prefers the country to the town, but love spans the distance between himself and his parents. But full of promise as is the foreign land, true as the needle to the Pole, Zee turns ever to Albion as home; loving it the better for having wandered far from its shores. Still asking to die in harness, Wrax is striving so unweariedly to change the ugly inner nature into the heavenly as to fully realise the afternoon glory of a clouded noontide. Each day finds husband and wife growing nearer and dearer to each; more and more devoted to the work in hand, viz., to prove that the lions, tigers and snakes, in nature and in man, are to be trodden under foot of man by the joint discipline of health and its shadow disease; joy and its shadow sorrow—that the wisely-disciplined will, the only legitimate rule of moral government, will rejoice in free trade in all good, no less than in protection against all evil; reform yielding to the claims of right and justice rather than to brute force as heretofore.
Catching the key-note of a diviner state of being, have Zee's life-lessons, reader, helped to make your life better worth the living? If they have you will take up your cross with renewed energy and hope, and perhaps place the book itself (which should be sufficiently travel-stained to possess a salt-sea freshness, since the breezes of many lands have wafted it onwards as it kissed their shores in passing) under your pillow, with better results than Zee once did with those dog's-eared lesson-books of hers.