Without a Home by Edward Payson Roe
Chapter XII. Viewless Fetters
Although Mr. Jocelyn had retired so early and slept heavily until an hour that at the farmhouse was late, the reader knows that his sleep was not the natural repose which brings freshness and elasticity. His wife and Mildred, however, did not know this, and his languor, continued drowsiness, and depression, which even much effort could not disguise, confirmed their dread of an impending illness. He saw their anxiety, and took advantage of their fears to hide his weakness.
"Yes," he sighed, in response to their gentle solicitude as he pushed away his almost untasted breakfast, "I suppose my health has been impaired by worry of mind and the heat in town. I'm better, though, than I have been. I don't see how you are going to endure the city."
They both assured him, however, that they would not even consider any other arrangement except that already agreed upon, and urged that he should return to town that very day, his wife adding that just as soon as he had secured rooms within their means she would join him and prepare them for the family.
"Oh, Nan," he again said dejectedly, "it's a cruel fate which compels me to take you to a tenement-house in August."
"It would be far more cruel to leave me here," his wife answered earnestly. "I could be happy anywhere if you were your old natural self once more. Millie and I can both see that struggling alone and brooding by yourself over your troubles is not good for you," and her gentle but determined purpose carried the day.
Mr. Jocelyn was then directed to a somewhat distant field, where he found Roger, who readily agreed to take him to the steamboat landing in the afternoon. Lifting his eyes from his work a few moments afterward, the young man saw that his visitor, instead of returning to the house, had sat down under a clump of trees and had buried his face in his hands.
"There's a screw loose about that man," he muttered. "He's too uneven. Yesterday at dinner he was the most perfect gentleman ever I saw; in the afternoon he had a fit of pompous hilarity and condescension; then came abstraction, as if his mind had stepped out for a time; and now, after twelve hours of sleep, instead of feeling like a lark, he looks as though he might attend his own funeral before night, and walks as if his feet were lead. He mopes there under the trees when he has but a few more hours with his family. If I had such a wife and such a daughter as he has, I'd cut a swath for them, no matter what stood in the way."
But Roger's censure was slight compared with that which Mr. Jocelyn visited upon himself; and in order to understand his feelings and conduct, it will be necessary to relate some experiences which occurred after the departure of his family to the country. Throughout the entire winter he had been under a severe strain of business anxiety, and then had come the culminating scenes of failure, loss of income, and enforced and unhappy separation. His natural depression had been so increased by the meagre prospect of finding employment which would yield his family an adequate support, that even his increased and more frequent indulgence in his morphia powders failed to give sufficient hopefulness and courage, while at the same time they began to produce some serious disorders in his system. There is a class of diseases which rarely fails to attack one whose system is reduced and enfeebled, and neuralgia began to bind across his forehead a daily pressure of pain that at last became intolerable. Ordinary remedies not giving speedy relief, his physician injected into his arm a few drops of the solution of morphia. Thus far he had never used the drug in solution hypodermically, and he was much surprised by the agreeable effects of a very much smaller quantity than he had been accustomed to use on any one occasion, and his morphia hunger--already firmly established--immediately suggested that the little syringe might become a far more potent agent than the powders. Therefore he induced the physician to give him an order for the instrument, and to explain more fully the methods of its use, saying that attacks of neuralgia were generally rather obstinate in his case, and that he had neither the time nor the means to seek his services very often.
The physician's few words of warning made but slight impression upon the infatuated man at the time. Mr. Jocelyn remembered only that he had an intolerable pain in his head and a heavy weight upon his heart. Many a time during the long civil war he had smilingly led charges wherein the chances of death were greater than those of life, but neither then nor since had he ever displayed any great aptitude for quiet endurance and self-control. Now every day was precious, and he felt he could not give himself up to pain and patient waiting until the disease could be conquered in a slow, legitimate way, when by a wound no more than a pin-prick he could obtain courage, happiness, and prospects illimitable.
Having obtained the syringe and a vial of the solution of morphia, he injected into his arm a much larger quantity than the physician would have dreamed of employing. Not only did the unendurable anguish pass away within a few brief moments, but the world was transfigured; life's grim outlook became full of the richest promise, and discouragement and dread vanished utterly. So far from fearing that he could not provide for his family, he was sure that he could win for them abundance and luxury. A dozen avenues to fortune opened before him, and he felt that his only task was to choose, believing that in some indefinite yet easily discerned way he would achieve more than falls to the lot of most men to accomplish. Instead of a long, sleepless night like those which had preceded, his waking dreams ended in quiet and equally pleasant visions--then oblivion, which did not pass away until the morning sun was shining. But with the new day came a new access of pain and gloom, and the aid of the magic little instrument was invoked once more. Again within a few moments the potent drug produced a tranquil elysium and a transformed world of grand possibilities. With a vigor which seemed boundless, and hopes which repeated disappointments could not dampen, he continued his quest for employment until in the declining day his spirits and energy ebbed as strangely as they had risen in the morning, and after another night of dreams and stupor he awoke in torture. The powerful stimulant enabled him to repeat the experiences of the previous day, and for two or three weeks he lived in the fatal but fascinating opium paradise, gradually increasing the amount of morphia that his system, dulled by habit, demanded. In the meantime, by the lavish use of quinine he gradually banished his neuralgia with its attendant pain.
It is well known to those familiar with the character of opium that its effects are greatly enhanced at first by any decided change in the method of its use; also that its most powerful and immediate influences can be produced solely by the hypodermic needle, since by means of it the stimulant is introduced at once into the system. When taken in powders, the glow, the serenity, and exaltation come on more slowly, and more gradually pass away, causing alternations of mood far less noticeable than those produced by immediate injection of the poison. Therefore it was not at all strange that Mr. Jocelyn's family should remain in complete ignorance of the habit which was enslaving him, or that his behavior failed to excite the faintest suspicion of the threatening influences at work. There is no vice so secret as that of the opium slave's, none that is in its earlier stages more easily and generally concealed from those who are nearest and dearest. The changes produced in Mr. Jocelyn were very gradual, and seeing him daily even his loving wife did not note them.
During the period of unnatural exaltation that has been described he had accepted agencies which promised thousands if he could sell millions of dollars' worth of goods, and after the subtle morphia had infused itself through his system nothing seemed easier; but dreams are not realities, and after grand hopes unfulfilled, and futile efforts, he would sink into a despondency from which nothing could lift him save the little syringe that he carried hidden next to his heart. As its magic never failed him, he went on for a time, blind to the consequences. At last he began to grow more alarmed than ever before at the ascendency of the drug and his dependence upon it, but when he tried to discontinue its use he found that he had been living so long under the influence of a powerful stimulant that without it he sank like a stone. Then came the usual compromise of all weak souls--he would gradually decrease the amount and then the frequency of its use; but, as is generally the case, he put off the beginning of sturdy self-denial until the morrow, and almost every day he poisoned his system with that which also poisoned and demoralized his soul. He dimly saw his danger, but did not realize it. With the fatuity of all self-indulgent natures he thought the day would come when, with better prospects and health renewed, he would throw away the spell which bound him and become a free man, but day after day passed and he did not; his appetite began to flag and his energy also; he would sit dreaming for hours when he might have been at work. At best his agencies would give him but a scanty revenue, although pushed with extraordinary skill and vigor. As it was, they yielded him little more than personal support, and he began to entertain the hope that if he could only obtain regular employment he could then resume his old regular habits. Therefore he had agreed to accept a position which was little more than a foothold, and yet if he would go to work with a determined and patient industry he might, by means of it, win more than he had lost.
Could he do this? The Sunday he had just spent with his family had awakened him as never before to a sense of his bondage. Even with the society of those he loved to enliven and sustain he had felt that he could not get through the day without the help of the stimulant upon which he had grown so dependent. While at church it was not the clergyman's voice he heard, but a low yet imperious and incessant cry for opium. As he rode home, smiling upon his wife and children, and looking at the beautiful and diversified country, between them and the landscape he ever saw a little brass instrument gauged at four or five times the amount that the physician had at first inserted in his arm. At the dinner table he had spoken courteously and well on many subjects, and yet ever uppermost in his mind was one constant thought--opium. The little diabolical thing itself seemed alive in his pocket, and made its faint yet potent solicitation against his heart. At last he had muttered, "I will just take a little of the cursed stuff, and then I must begin to break myself in dead earnest."
The reader knows what followed. Moreover, he was led to fear that the alternations of mood caused by injections of morphia would be so great that they could not fail to excite remark. Although the new day brought every motive which can influence a man, Mr. Jocelyn found the path to freedom so steep and difficult that the ascent seemed well-nigh impossible. His muscles were relaxed, his whole frame so weary and limp that he even dreaded the effort required to return to the house where his family was waiting for him. But the physical oppression was nothing to that which weighed upon his mind. The sense of misery and discouragement was paralyzing, and he was fairly appalled by his lack of energy. And yet he felt his need of power and resolution as keenly as he realized his feebleness. He knew that he had appeared unnatural to his wife and children, and that while they now ascribed his behavior to the long strain he had been under, their loving and charitable blindness could not last if he often exhibited before them such variable moods and conditions. Therefore he felt that he must overcome the habit before they were together permanently, for to permit them to discover his vile weakness in this time of their great need would be a mortal wound to his pride. All his manhood revolted at the bare thought. Their trust, their love, their dependence and unrepining courage in meeting poverty and privation with him imposed the strongest and most sacred of obligations, and his high sense of honor--which hitherto had been his religion--made failure to meet these obligations the most awful disaster that could overwhelm him. The means of escaping from his wretchedness and dejection--from the horrible lassitude of body and soul--could be grasped in a moment, and the temptation to use them and become within a few minutes a strong, sanguine, courageous man was almost irresistible; but he knew well that such an abrupt change from the heavy, dull-eyed condition in which they had seen him at the breakfast table could not fail to arouse suspicion; and should they once discern his crime--for crime he now regarded it--he feared his self-respect would be so destroyed that he would never have the pride and strength for the struggle now clearly foreseen; therefore, with the instinct of self-preservation, and from the impulse of all his native and long-fostered Southern pride, he resolved that they must never know his degradation. He must rally his shattered forces, spend the few hours before his departure with his family in a way to lull all fears and surmises; then when away by himself he would tug at his chain until he broke it. Summoning the whole strength of his will he returned to the house, and succeeded fairly well.
Could he break his chain? The coming pages of this book will reveal his struggle and its termination. Alas! it is no fancy sketch, but a record of human experience that is becoming sadly frequent. The hunger for opium had grown upon Mr. Jocelyn by its almost constant use for nearly two years. During weeks of pain he had almost lived upon the drug, saturating his system with it. It had come to him like an angel of light, lifting him on buoyant pinions out of suffering and despondency, but the light was fading from the wings and brow of this strong spirit, and it was already seen to be an angel of darkness.
At this time Mr. Jocelyn might have escaped from his thraldom, but would he? The world is full of people who are proud and self-respecting in the extreme, who are honorable and virtuous, good and kindly at heart, but whose wills are nerveless, though they may go safely through life without suspecting the truth; but if they fall under the influence of an evil habit--if they pass under this mightiest and darkest of all spells, opium hunger--they may learn their weakness in despair.
Mr. Jocelyn, however, had no thought of despair; he was only surprised, humiliated, and somewhat alarmed; he was satisfied that he must drift no longer, and in perfect sincerity resolved to make the most of his brief separation from his family, hoping that with a physician's advice he could speedily overcome his morbid craving and distressing need. He left the farmhouse with the resolution that he would never touch the drug again, believing that before a week expired the horrible depression, both mental and physical, would so far pass away as to excite no further suspicion.
For an hour he rode at Roger's side, rigid, taciturn, and pale; for except when heated by exercise his wonted ruddy color was passing away from the effects of the poison. Roger drove around to the large hotel, which was not much out of their way, and said, "Mr. Jocelyn, will you please take the lines a few moments? I have an errand here, but it won't keep me long."
Having transacted his business he stood in the office door watching a young man who sauntered toward him. The stranger was almost as tall as himself, but much slighter. While his carriage was easy and graceful, it was marked by an air of lassitude and weariness, and his step lacked firmness. A heavy mustache relieved his face from effeminacy, but his large, dark eyes were dull and apathetic. Suddenly they lighted up with recognition; he hesitated, and then hastily advanced toward Mr. Jocelyn, but his steps were speedily checked, for the moment the gentleman recognized him he bowed very coldly and turned haughtily away. The young man flushed deeply, stood still a moment in irresolution, and then with a swift glance into Roger's interested face turned and quickly disappeared. Before Roger could resume his place in the wagon the proprietor of the hotel came out and called him back; something had been forgotten.
This interruption was fatal to Mr. Jocelyn's good resolutions. Vinton Arnold, who had won his daughter's affection, but who seemingly had not the manhood to be faithful in her adversity, was the one whom he had repulsed, and the thought of his wealth and luxury, while he was on his way to seek a home in a tenement for his beautiful child, so maddened him that he drove recklessly to an adjacent shed, which shielded him from observation, snatched out his fatal syringe, and in a moment the poison was diffusing itself through all his system. He had returned again before Roger, who had been detained some moments, reappeared, but now his heavy eyes were bright and fiery, and his tongue unloosed.
"Did you see that young man to whom I refused to speak?" he asked as they drove away.
"Well, he's a white-livered scoundrel. He's a type of your Northern gentlemen. A Southern man would starve rather than act so pusillanimously. Of course I'm not going to talk of family secrets, or say anything not befitting a high-toned gentleman, but I taught that snob how a man of honor regards his cowardice and cold-bloodedness. He was one of our fair-weather friends, who promptly disappeared when the sky clouded. Here he is, dawdling around a high-priced hotel, while I'm on my way to seek rooms in a tenement for those to whom he is not worthy to speak; but the time shall come, and speedily, too, when even on the base plane of money--the sole claim of his proud family for consideration--we shall meet him and scorn him as his superiors. I have plans, business prospects--"and he launched forth into such a vague, wild statement of his projects that Eoger looked at him in silent amazement, half doubting his sanity.
In his haste Mr. Jocelyn had not carefully gauged his syringe, and the over-amount of morphia thrown into his system so stimulated him that his words appeared exceedingly irrational to the young man, whose judgment was based on unusual shrewdness and common-sense. He was greatly puzzled by the sudden change in his companion. It was evident that he had not been drinking, for his breath was untainted and his utterance was natural. But his face was flushed, and he seemed possessed by a strange, unbalanced mental exaltation which led him to speak as no sensible man ought in any circumstances, and certainly not to a stranger. Roger therefore interrupted him saying, "I shall respect your confidence, Mr. Jocelyn, and will never repeat what you have said. Please let me suggest, however, that it would be wise not to speak so frankly to others, since they might take advantage of you."
"Please let me assure you," resumed Mr. Jocelyn, with the most impressive dignity, "that I am a man of the world, and that I have seen a great deal of the world. I can read men as you would read a book. If you were not trustworthy I should know it at a glance. Did you not see how I treated that young jackanapes? His wealth and elegance did not impose upon me in the least. You are trustworthy. You have a large, aspiring mind, and yet you know your station; you would not dream of presuming. What does it signify that we are poor for the moment? True Southern blood is in our veins, and I have a dozen plans for securing large wealth. When that day comes I shall remember those who basely turned their backs on us in our brief obscurity;" and thus he rambled on, while Roger listened coldly and in silence.
"There is method is his madness," he said to himself; "he is not so daft but that he hints broadly I must keep my station and not be 'presuming.' His proud daughter hints as much still more plainly. Well, we'll see whose dreams find the larger fulfilment--his or mine."
By the time they reached the landing the sun was low in the west, and his companion had become comparatively silent, dreamy, and abstracted. Half an hour later Roger went on board of the boat with some solicitude to see how he was faring. Mr. Jocelyn started out of what appeared a deep reverie as Roger addressed him, and said, after a moment's thought, "Please say to my family that you left me well, and safely on my way," and with a quiet and rather distant bow he resumed his absorbing thoughts.
The steamer moved away, but instead of returning directly home Roger went back to the hotel. Even amid the hallucinations of opium the father had too much instinctive delicacy to mention Mildred's name or to make any reference to Arnold's intentions; but the quick-witted fellow gained the impression that the elegant young stranger had been a welcome and favored suitor in the past better days, and he had a consuming wish to see and study the kind of man that he surmised had been pleasing to Mildred. As he rode along, pity for the girl took the place of resentment. "Not our plain little farmhouse, but the fashionable hotel, is the place where she would feel the most at home," he thought. "And yet she is going to a tenement-house! There, too, she'll stay, I fear, for all that her father will ever do for her. If he's not off his balance, I never saw a man that was."