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Everything is Possible to Will

Chapter XV. Strong to do Right

page 182

Chapter XV. Strong to do Right.

Practising abstinence once more, Wrax busied himself about the completion of the new home with delightful animation. Glad days those, little short of enchantment, from which Zee reaped a full harvest of satisfaction; no need to tell her honey was sweet; wordy love she abhorred; Wrax's every word and deed were eloquent thanks. The pair, in truth, were “nesting” with more than the ardour of early youth; for since Wrax could not bear to be alone, Zee went with him at his request, ever ready to lend a helping hand, taking lunch for both, and book and work to beguile odd moments.

Notwithstanding that bricklayers and carpenters were still rampaging therein, the October following the May in which Zee landed the second time in Auckland found them moving into the new home; and being consecrated by abstinence it possessed in itself a lost yet found sacredness, filling each heart with supreme content, although flint broth alternated with tea-kettle soup in their daily bill-of-fare; such matters Wrax left uncomplainingly to his wife, who was still occupied in wiping off old scores.

Better die than live a debased sot. The sudden change in Wrax's habits—a change wholly right even though death should result—occasioned him a severe attack of his old enemy, rheumatic gout, which confined him to his bed for weeks, and the frightful pain he endured, together with the incessant attention he required, made nursing work most trying. Still Zee grudged no reasonable service. As convalescence progressed the, till now, quite strange sight might be seen —husband and wife strolling together most pleasantly, page 183 calling now on this friend, now on that, by whom they were kindly received, and not a semblance of patronage wounded the sensitiveness of the once prodigal Wrax.

But inwardly noting a growing restlessness and irritability, which told plainer than words that Wrax was nursing the desire for drink, courting an excuse to indulge, Zee asks of herself, tremblingly: How will Christmastide and its hideous drunkenness affect him? The day itself they spent together at a picnic, and Zee was thankful for that much. But ere the year was numbered with the dead, Wrax was his baser self again, and his wife would fain have clung to the clay-cold skirts of the bearded year and have gone with him out into the darkness. What a hansel for the new year! For nearly three months all had been unclouded sunshine; now an impenetrable fog made all things grisly and grey. Again Wrax thrust aside his one true friend for the mocking fiend, which at once lured him astray and derided his gullibility. Even in his path God had dropped a “lily,” but Wrax trampled it to dust.

O reader! is it necessary to enlarge on the wife's misery—can you not forgive her tears? It was foolish to trust him; but until his head or hers is laid low, “fool” in the matter of trust will be written against Zee's name. He was meanly drinking other people's money, too; he hadn't a penny he could honestly call his own. How base was his conduct! A man is a man if he possess the liberty to do as he likes, no matter to what it may lead; and on the strength of that devil's lie men are “so easily led away” as to have become a byword and a derision to the weaker (?) sex.

Zee had been recently introduced to a lady of education and refinement, who was said to have saved her husband from the drunkard's fate by following him nightly to the one public-house of the village, and sitting with him there until he chose to return home. A right brave thing to do; but few women are equal to such a fiery ordeal, and certainly only a lady could pass through it effectively—a lady in refinement, if not by birth and educatipn. Wrax would have murdered page 184 his wife, probably, had she practised any such coercion on him. Supposing Zee could have found him—a doubt ful supposition at best—and he would have endured her vigilance, think what it would have been to a woman, naturally retiring as Zee then was, to hunt up a man as secret as Wrax, and to sit, an unwelcome guest, in a room reeking of beer and tobacco-fumes, with coarse men, herself the subject of their coarser jokes, as they made her the town-talk—to be sneered at by simpering women, who like to pat men on the back! Why, crossing Niagara on a rope would be child's-play compared to the moral heroism such a course as the above would demand. Ought it to be required of any wife, even if it saved her husband?

If wives and mothers did as that lady did by a concerted plan, they would soon make the midnight debauch unpalatable. But there, the men who fear not God nor regard man, possessing all power, would render futile all such attempts to save them from the awful death in life resulting from vicious habits indulged. Every man even in his sins is equal to all the law requires of him, else where is his responsibility? Desperate diseases demand desperate remedies. If, then, the weakest, however demoralised by drink, is strong enough, as he unquestionably is, to say no, if he will, to the drink, yet of his own free will deliberately turns himself into a pig, provide a public stye for him; he is unfit to be treated as a rational being. Yes, ostracise the drunkard, man and woman; treat them as responsible but irrational beings, but make their return to rationality easy and desirable. That man shall suffer the penalty of his own wrong-doing is stamped on every law of God, and that the innocent suffer with the guilty is to some extent inevitable; it is possible nevertheless greatly to limit such suffering.

The drunkard knows right well that he is as strong to resist the drink as he is strong to sacrifice himself, his all, to the love of drink. Hence he, above all men, despises the “poor-weak-man” cant, even while, to his own hurt, he draws largely upon it, saying,1 with a page 185 whine of impudent audacity: “I am so weak when the Lord leaves me to stand alone, that if I saw a glass of wine”—or whatever his favorite beverage may be—“standing before me, and knew that by drinking it I should lose my soul, I should drink it.” Of course ho would, because his scepticism as to the soul goes deeper than his love of the drink; and this scepticism is all but universal. Get men to believe in the soul, i.e., in true manliness, and the force of temptation is gone. Good cannot be overcome of evil, though counterfeit goodness can be and is. The man has been taught to cast his burden upon the Lord, and he does it with a will; but if he had nothing to gain by trading on the sickly sentimentality of the unreflecting, his words would correspond with his deeds, and he would say: “The drink I see, I believe in; the soul I don't see, I don't believe in; so if I had a thousand souls to lose, they might all go for a drink of good beer.” He will never be frightened or cajoled out of the hell of his own choice into heaven by vivid representations of hell-fire, however material; but by all that is reasonable let him enjoy his hell alone, with kindred spirits, that is.

With the consistency that marks many legislative enactments, the would-be suicide by water, knife, or poison, is treated as a criminal; but the sot, who kills himself and others by slow degrees, is a respectable member of society, encouraged to do as he likes so long as his means last. Well men know there is nothing of God in the fatal glass, but the perversion of his good gifts; and yet the Church has sheltered the iniquitous traffic, by permitting her office-bearers, etc., to trade on the vices of their fellows, while she talked feebly of “moderation.” Moderation, indeed! Ever since the flood all sorts and conditions of men have tried moderation; when, when are they going to grow strong on it? The Bishop of Peterborough would rather have England “free than sober.”87 Why not free and sober? Is it too high a standard for a Christian prelate? If a working bishop, he will know that the love of drink, and its twin sister the love of gold, are well-nigh omnipresent; weakening perceptibly every stronghold of page 186 purity and truth, eating to the core of England's honor till it is no longer stainless; the nation's strength dwindles, her intellect is beclouded; her sons are her betrayers, the enemy (by no means confined to the “unwashed” and to back-slums) within her gates is mightier than the foe without; and if the tidal-wave of her debasement be not speedily turned aside, drunken, gold-crazed Christendom will become the scorn and derision of the whole earth.

It is to be hoped that there is no profanity in assuming that his grace of Peterborough is a little, just a little, wiser than his great-great-great grandfather; if he is lie will see that England sober is England free, because man is free to do the right, and the right only. The instant he puts himself in the power of any vice he becomes a slave, and must accept the slave's penalty, even while trying vainly, as he does on the plea of “necessary evil,” to exculpate himself by throwing his responsibility upon God. By preaching up man's supremacy and woman's subserviency, irrespective of all rights and duties, the Church has so wickedly played into the drunkard's hands as to be accessory to making him what he is. But just as preaching in favor of slavery so outraged the common-sense, the common humanity of the people, that it dealt its death-blow; in like manner, preaching up our vile drinking customs, entailing untold misery on the innocent, the unborn, will help their overthrow. Men despise cant.

And perceiving that so long as woman's nonentity is established by law, man will in a measure despise her co-operation, the enlightenment of the present century will, it is hoped, prompt the bishop to work to the death for woman's emancipation; unless, indeed, he would rather England should be enslaved than woman should be free. But nay, constituting himself her knight-errant, he will demand the release of England's state prisoners, the greater, the feminine half, of her population, and thus atone for any injustice those state prisoners may have received at his hands. Once recognise woman's right to a will of her own, and permit its legitimate exercise, she will magnanimously forgive the injustice of the past, and prove beyond page 187 question that being essentially practical and radically reforming, her administrative ability is of the highest order. This is abundantly substantiated by what intelligent women have done, and are now doing, despite the physical, intellectual, and moral disabilities, consequent on their ignominious social position. Taking an intelligent interest in the practical details of all questions affecting the public weal, when once woman, with a definite purpose, stands shoulder to shoulder with man, there will not, it is believed, be found a licensed word or a spot in print or in public on which a pure womanly woman may not look. What is wrong for woman is equally wrong for man.

English friends had taken care that the new home should be replete with comfort; its simple necessaries had travelled with Zee direct from the old world, and so trimly and cosily did each article of furniture settle itself, that the nest was pretty enough to set Zee crooning over it like a month-old bride. Inviting in itself, she had nothing more wherewith to gladden it, save the sunshine of the heart; but that possessed no intrinsic value for Wrax. She loved her home, and could have forgiven him many a fault had he loved it likewise. The home was not at fault, it seldom is in the case of the drunkard, whose wife dare not be other than good; it is that blackest of black ills, a truant will, that lays waste the home, the man, his all.

Revelling again in frightful excesses after the three months' honeymoon, Wrax saw all things backwards; where his sanity began or ended, it were hard to tell. Still, had he but given sufficient attention to business to pay his debts and to keep the pot boiling, Zee's life would have been comparatively happy; in fact, she did live under a brighter sky than of old. Wrax had at once drawn his own wisdom tooth, and helped his wife to cut hers by allowing her to take the children home; he had set her at liberty, she might take herself off at any moment. Having thus turned the tables upon himself, his treatment of Zee, queer at best, had undergone a corresponding change, and paradoxical though it appear, from the instant she could look him in the face, half defiantly, he respected her. Of course page 188 he did; we respect our equals, not our inferiors. But to have stood on an independent footing with him had been impossible, save for the merciful kindness (shame that it must be written) of his brother, who relieved her of the care of her boy. Even now it was hard to see the big, strong Wrax lying in bed to all hours of the day, when he ought to have been usefully employed; but better there than in the public house, reasoned Zee; so she let him lie in peace.

He soon drifted into another difficulty, causing a sharp passage of arms between himself and his wife. Becoming bond for a publican for a considerable amount, the bond, for which Wrax had received nothing except perhaps “drinks,” was forfeited, and he was expected to pay it. Resolved, however, not to pay the money, he immediately secured his “effects” by giving a bill of sale thereon to one to whom he was under some obligation. Telling Zee what he had done when unpleasant consequences were likely to ensue, he forgot to prepare her for a visit from wolves in sheep's clothing. Hence, some weeks later on, in walked two bailiffs, before Zee had had time to answer their modest knock at the door. The men politely offered to show her their authority for the distraint, but she waived it aside with: “I won't trouble you,” and donning bonnet and cloak, walked out of the house, leaving them in full possession.

Having forgotten about the bond and the bill of sale, she expected some fresh calamity had overtaken them, and hurried in distress to the house of a kind friend, where Wrax presently found his wife, having first learned that his home was in the possession of the enemy; and telling her there was “nothing whatever to be alarmed about,” he positively wanted her to go home and cook supper for those bailiffs! What next, and next? Zee told him, to his intense chagrin, “that she would not enter the house again until she knew those men had gone.” They had surprised her in the midst of cooking operations; there were any number of apple puffs for them to gobble up, so they would not starve. Having assured themselves that the bill of sale was duly registered, they decamped. Wrax then page 189 sought his wife, and rudely intimated that she could return home by throwing the house-key towards her; and then, without a word, went his way, a bad one, of course. No greater offence could be offered him than that outsiders should doubt, whether he was absolute Czar in his own house. He sulked awhile, but came round of his own accord. Zee made no attempt to let him down easy, as she was too prone to do.

Zee had now a garden, and she was the busy bee; she had pure clay on which to spend her surplus energies; but even clay is so grateful for sun and shower, that with a little courting, it bubbles up in blessings. Her garden, the admiration of neighbors, was the work of her own hands, and husbands held Zee up to their wives as a model. Remembering how often she had been diverted from low-thoughtcd cares, and reminded of the all-pervading presence of goodness unseen, but everywhere felt, by unexpectedly inhaling the fragant mignonette in this and that fair garden, she planted it profusely in her own, that it might be a glad good morning to the downcast, to whom its sweetness is specially sweet. So blythely indeed did the pretty flowers hold up their heads that Zee went to them for kisses, Wrax's were sparse, you know; besides it isn't pleasant to kiss a beer barrel.

Having been successful in her budding operations she now grows her own peaches, and although they have not quite reached the melting deliciousness of the delicately nurtured hot-house peach, it is pleasant, nevertheless, to lie under the trees and let the luscious fruit drop into your mouth almost. Of peaches one can eat to repletion, and repeat the dose at least three times a day with renewed enjoyment. And if you, reader, in due season (March and April), should pop in on Zee without ceremony, she will bid you pluck for yourself from trees of her own planting, or set before you a basket of blooming peaches and bid you eat without stint; nor shall white man or Maori dash the peach nectar from your lips.

Disregarding the injunction, “Keep your hands from picking and stealing,” in her haste to stock her waste ground, Zee, naughty Zee, in conjunction with a friend page 190 planting a garden likewise, who like Zee was denied the pleasure of purchasing plants, etc.—neither lady possessing pin-money—they together begged, borrowed, and—yes, it must be written—stole, stole flowers, slips, etc., of no great value, and chiefly from government gardens—still they stole. There was no luck in it, a guilty spirit bending over the flowers withered them all up. Their picking-and-stealing exploits were performed in broad daylight, and boastfully recounted; they were wrong, nevertheless. Eve's daughters, both ladies! And Zee, at least, who never perhaps committed a meaner, less excusable action, learned, as she never did before, how easy it is to fall, if one permits oneself to hanker after any “forbidden” thing; and the lesson has made her less severe towards the erring than she otherwise might have been. Covet nothing but goodness. Keep the conscience clear respecting mine and thine. Dare to be poor with honor, and patiently wait till good times come.

Then Zee felt and saw only the mortification to pride which makes wrong-doing a hard road to travel; now she rises superior to the humiliation, and with all the energy of which she is capable, sets to work to mend her ways. And, incomprehensible though it appear to those who have not yet begun to form their own minds, she is never more thankfully happy than when she has to bite the dust on her own account; not that she rejoices in her sins, but in the wisdom they bring. Her conceit and selfishness are vulnerable; every wrong word and deed comes home to roost. Of a truth, the orthodox devil is less black than he's painted; Zee never shelters behind the devil; she knows her sins are her own, not his.

Zee's bride friend of the ship, Gilpin-like, “no holiday had seen” since she started in quest of wedded love in a bush cottage some two years past; and as business would take Wrax from home for awhile, Zee resolved to make one long gala day of his absence by inviting the lady aforesaid to a process of rejuvenation in town, lest she should become seedy and moth-eaten by overmuch rustication. Her wants were few and simple, or Zee would have shrunk from exposing her page 191 sparsely-furnished larder; good spirits would keep them jubilant; they were indifferent to good cheer. Happiness was consequent on the life each led, not something to be sought after; difficulties, hardship, drudgery, were words without meaning to them. There would be no complaining in our streets if men and women were like that lady, whose lot has been singularly hard, notwithstanding her native shrewdness and untiring energy. She is none too well mated.

She came, and laughed, and conquered; after having spent a week or two with Zee, as quietly as pleasantly, the lady was now visiting a mutual friend, with whom Zee, too, proposed spending a day; and wending her way thitherward she called at the post-office for letters, the English mail having arrived (at this date, be it known, the suburbs of Auckland possess two postal deliveries daily). The deep border to one of her letters advised her to meet death within.88 Who could it be? She was apprehensive of danger to no one, although amid the circle of her blood-relations were counted several shocks of corn fully ripe. Hastening to meet the blow she broke the seal and read. O Zee! a stroke of the pen had blotted out the sun, and she groped her way amid gathering darkness. The first to keep, the last to lose; the best beloved was gone—gone! His love had been a benediction; possessing it she was rich, but he had taken it to heaven with him, and left her poor indeed. What could she do, where could she go? She hadn't courage to turn back to her desolate home.

“What's the matter?” queried her friends in alarm, when Zee presented herself. The letter told them all; they had heard enough of the lost friend, Wrax's eldest brother, to know that Zee's loss was irreparable. She covered up her wound for the time being; but oh, how oppressive was her sense of loneliness on returning to her home at night; the bitterness of death must be passed alone, and she could but cry: “My brother, O my brother, would God I had died for thee!” Loving him for his own sake, not for what he had done for her, much though that had been, her love for him enriched, ennobled her; it could not die; he was still her wisdom and strength, life itself almost. Having page 192 formed no close ties of his own, he was free to bless Zee, whose dearth of domestic affection called his native kindliness into active exercise; they would have been to each other just brother and sister of the ordinary type had Wrax been what he ought to have been; but Zee's poverty and isolation, coupled with her untiring efforts to rise above them, pleaded irresistibly with a heart brave and manly as his. The purest, most unselfish, most cultured man Zee had as yet ranked among her friends.

Rex, too, lost his all in the death of that uncle, whose loving interest in the boy was scarcely less than in the mother, who sorrowed on the boy's account even more than on her own, perhaps. Glad to have loved, though she had lost, she was thankful to be at the Antipodes. England's glory had departed until she could turn herself round and take a fresh look at life. Never till then did she know how much she owed that brother; no cloud ever came between them; she holds his love in everlasting remembrance; he was the only man who had stirred to its depths her strong woman's heart. With all a woman's tenderness he was yet one of the bravest of men; it is not given to one person, perhaps, to know two such men in a lifetime. What a contrast the brothers presented, the eldest and youngest sons of the same parents; and being the youngest child of thirteen, fair to look upon (as, indeed, were the entire family, the parents themselves are said to have been “the handsomest couple that ever entered H—-y church”) and of good parts, Wrax was “spoilt” to some extent—trained to weakness, not strength.

The brother's last conscious thought was of Zee, and to secure her happiness he hastened to forward £350 to release other property of Wrax on which the mortgagee was compelled to foreclose in consequence of the ever-deepening commercial stagnation. Thus his last generous act, for Zee's sake alone and on her representation, saved Wrax from the ruin which a second time threatened to overtake him. That brother's generosity soothed, not wounded; the recipient, not himself, conferred the favor.

Another great sorrow for Zee to bear, and it was page 193 borne so as to make peacefully happy the months of Wrax's absence, concerning whom “out of sight” meant “out of mind,” and that was happiness enough for Zee, who hadn't much to glory in. Her house, moreover, stood alone; and having no cat, the hermit was pleased with the company of a real, live mouse, since for days together in the rainy season she had no opportunity of exchanging a word with any one except, perhaps, the milkman or baker. Even men have remarked to her: “I could not live alone as you do;” and her answer always was: “You haven't been broken in, as I have.”

Never before had the meal and oil so nearly failed, or famine looked so ugly as when her cousin one day popped in upon her to take “pot-luck”; the pot was there, the luck was missing; and Zee was “too much the broke” in confessing that she had not a particle of meat, butter, or sugar in the house, nor a penny wherewith to buy them. The “skeleton” explained everything; the cousin was not much surprised, and gulping down his indignation, he seized his hat, jerked himself off, and ere long returned with necessaries for a jollification. Her cupboard, however, would not have been “bare” had she possessed second sight; for a letter for her from Wrax had been lying at the post-office for days containing a whole pound note! How rich she must have felt, and glad too, that he had not forgotten her. He himself professed to be “hard up;” still he contrived to exist somehow.

1 Uttered in a Templar lodge.

87 The Bishop of Peterborough’s [William Magee] famous 1872 declaration was recorded in many newspapers of the time, including in the New Zealand Herald : “The Bishop of Peterborough once said that he 'would rather see England free than sober,' which amounted to declaring that he would rather men conquered temptation for themselves than have it removed from their way by legislation which might be oppressive to sober people” (New Zealand Herald. 2 April 1877: 2.). He was however, misquoted, and originally said: “I should say it would be better that England should be free than that England should be compulsorily sober. I would distinctly prefer freedom to sobriety, because with freedom we might in the end attain sobriety; but in the other alternative we should eventually lose both freedom and sobriety” (Magee 1872).

88 A mourning border : a black border on notepaper and envelopes was used to indicate notice of a death within, as well as to signify a period of mourning. The wider the border, the more significant the death to the recipient.