[from Hall Caine Drink]
NEXT day I was back at the Temple, yet before leaving Cumberland I heard the whole pitiful story from the nurse. Until after her return from London, Lucy had never touched intoxicating drink. But London had exhausted her. The new scene, the new life, our engagement and our parting had played upon her nerves, and she had begun to show symptoms of hysteria. Then the doctor had ordered egg-and-brandy twice daily, to build up the burntout nervous system. The nurse had been horrified. She had reminded him of the death of Lucy's father and grandfather, and of the curse that hung over the family. The doctor had only smiled. Did she expect any sensible man of modern ideas to be influenced in his practice by such foolish superstitions ? The young lady required a stimulant, and she must have it.
Within a fortnight Lucy had become the slave of her medicine. She took it, not twice daily, but four times, six times, ten times. An unquenchable thirst possessed her, a burning fever, an insatiable craving. The doctor had begun to talk of latent alcoholism in the blood, and to treat his patient as if she had been a inad woman. An acute attack of two days' duration had ended in convulsions, and then my darling had been herself again. The thirst, the fever, the crave had gone, leaving her well, though weak and faint.
But the poison had been subdued, not expelled. Three months later the craving had returned, the former symptoms had been renewed, and the same agony gone through. The attack had lasted longer this time, and the prostration that followed had been greater.
When the crave came back for the third time it was within two months of the second attack, and that was the hapless period into which my visit had fallen. Such was the miserable story of my dear one's abject condition, of the narrowing circle of her doom ; and in horror, and the cowardice of horror, I had fled away.
There was a letter waiting for me at the Temple. It was from my father, and it was full of heart- breaking good spirits. " Since I wrote last I have been thinking that, as I have only one son in the world, and am soon to lose him in that old cruel battle of father's love against woman's love, the least I can do is to show my front to the enemy and die with a brave face. So please take warning that, having asked and obtained six months' leave of absence, I intend to present myself at your wedding in the spring, when, if my foe is only good and sweet to me, I may perhaps capitulate without much struggle. My affectionate remembrances to her in the meantime, and this message for my Christmas greeting-that my boy's letters have made an old man more than half in love with her already."
The same night I found my way to Cheyne Walk, where I told the whole story to Sir George. Under the quiet manner of a man familiar with shocking stories and self-trained to betray no surprise, I saw his strange and painful emotion. As I sat with head down before the fire, my old friend laid an affectionate hand on my shoulder and said, " I'm sorry, my boy, very sorry ; but there's no help for it:" You mean that Lucy's case is hopeless ?"
" I'm afraid it is. Whatever the cause -hereditary taint or hereditary curse--the poor child is under the ban."
"For mercy's sake don't say so ! Is there nothing I can do ? "
" Yes, there is one thing one only."
" What's that? "
Take your discharge, and -thank God for your escape. You are on the threshold of life-think what it would be to drag at your heels a drunken woman.
The word struck me like a blow in the face, and I cried out with the pain. " She may be saved yet," I said. " Who shall say she may not?"
Ask the doctors," said Sir George; "they'll tell you there's hardly a recorded instance of the reformation of a woman who has once fallen under the curse of drink."
When I got up to go, I showed Sir George the letter from my father. "Telegraph," he said; "you must stop him. Telegraph immediately."
I walked home by way of the Strand. It was Boxing Night, and some of the later theatres were discharging their dense crowds into the streets. "The people were talking loudly and laughing. Many of them were making with all haste for the public-houses. There were only a few minutes left before closing time. Drink, drink-during the next few days it seemed to pursue and haunt me. I saw it everywhere-its wrecks and ruins dogged my footsteps. Oh ! if I could have wiped it out in one night, how sure I was that the world would awake to a new life in the morning such as it can never know under the worst tyranny, the most abject slavery, the most degrading curse that has yet, beset humanity!
Towards the end of the week a letter came from Lucy. The attack was over, and she was herself again; but she saw more plainly than before in what direction her duty lay. Our engagement must be considered off, at once and for ever. "It is only right," she wrote, "and even if you, in your love or your pity-and I am sure of both- desired to continue it, nothing would prevail with me to agree." ].'here were words of tenderness, too, very hard to bear, and only to be read with half - blinded eyes. But the one deep impression left by the letter was that of a poor human soul - a soul so dear to me-struggling under the domination of the drink crave.
"Dear Robert, if you only knew (but God keep you from all such dreadful knowledge) how much I suffer when these periods approach, you would not, as I fear you may, pity me for my weakness or reproach me for not conquering it. Oh! the terror of the time when I feel this - craving come upon me! I give up all work, I write postponing all engagements, I excuse myself to everybody, I lock myself up from every eye. This is before it comes ; but when I know it is near, and when the dreadful thing falls upon me-oh ! the pain, the shame, the horror! Cheating myself, deceiving everybody about me, bribing the -servants, and stealing in and out of my own house like a thief. Heaven save me from this fiend that takes hold of me and possesses me! But Heaven will not save me ; I must end as my father ended. And, after all, I ought to be thankful that I have found my fate in time. If it had fallen on me after we had married, and, perhaps, after I had become a mother . . . but that is too painful to think of. Good-bye, dear Robert! Think of me as tenderly as you can. Though it is so hard to put away the thought of the happiness we dreamt of, it will be a comfort to me in my darkest hours to remember the joy you snatched for me out of my doomed and fated life."
Sir George was right-there was no help for it. - I remembered my father, and went out to send him a telegram. At the telegraph-office in Fleet Street
I wrote my message : " Don't come-marriage postponed am writing." I held the message a long time in. my hand, and could not bring myself to hand it to the clerk. At length I tore it up and left the office.
It was the same as if it had been Lucy's death- warrant, and I could not deliver it. I could not give her up. I would not abandon hope of her.
The thought of that beautiful young life being slowly encircled as by a serpent that was to destroy it was too horrible. Some angel there must be in God's good world to slay this demon, if one could only find it out.
It was Saturday night, and the streets were thronged. I walked aimlessly along until I found myself in front of a place of popular entertainment,
which had a gigantic placard on the face of it. The placard announced that, at half-past ten that night, a certain " Professor" La Mothe, a hypnotist, would awaken a man who had been lying ten days in a trance. In sheer weariness of soul, and only with a desire for distraction from painful thoughts, J went in to see.
It was still an hour earlier than the time appointed for the experiment, but I found my way to the sleeper. He was kept in a small room apart, and lay in a casket, which at first sight suggested a coffin. There were raised platforms at either side, from which the spectator looked down at the man as into a grave. But nothing in his own appearance gave any hint of death. His face was composed and healthful; his eyes were closed, his lips lightly pressed together, his breathing was noiseless, and his breast rose and fell with the gentlest motion.
The sleep of a child was never more soft and sweet and peaceful.
I was alone in the room and I could not leave it. Unless this exhibition were a palpable imposture here was a great and wondrous mystery-the power of producing sleep. It had wiped out ten days of this man's life-ten days, perhaps of sorrow and pain. The world had gone by him and left no mark. His temptations, his troubles, his besetting sins, they had touched him not.
Oh ! sleep, it is a gentle thing, Beloved from pole to pole.
To Mary Queen the praise be given ! She sent the gentle sleep from heaven That slid into any soul.
I sat on a chair on the platform and looked down at the sleeper. And as I looked it seemed at last that it was not a strange man's face I was gazing into, but the beautiful face that was the dearest to me in all the world. Suddenly a thought struck me that made me quiver from head to foot. What if Lucy could sleep through the days of her awful temptation ? What if she could be put into a trance when the craving was coming upon her? Would she bridge over the time of the attack ? Would she elude the fiend that was pursuing her? Would she awake with the burning fever gone?
The hour of the experiment arrived, and spectators came trooping into the room. They were chiefly fashionable young men with their women, and they chatted and laughed and smoked their cigars throughout the proceedings. The hypnotist was a man of five-and-thirty, with prepossessing manners, a clear-cut face, and a heavy chin, but a smile like sunshine, and a voice that was at once sharp and caressing. He pressed the brows of the sleeper, opened his eyes and blew into them, then called to him, and he seemed to awake. In less than sixty seconds the man who, according to report, had lain ten days asleep, dead to himself and to all knowledge of life, had vaulted lightly out of the casket and was putting on his coat.
I stepped down and. spoke to him. " Are you hungry?" I asked.
" No, sir," he answered. "Nor thirsty ? " - "No."
"You feel quite well? " " Quite."
I followed the hypnotist into his retiring; room. "Mr. La Mothe," I said, "has artificial sleep ever been used for the cure of intemperance ? "
He was a Parisian, and I had to repeat my question in French. "In the school of Nancy," he said, "the cure of alcoholism by suggestion is not unknown."
" That is more than I meant. You know the form of mania in which the crave is periodical?" " Certainly."
"Do you think if a patient were put under artificial sleep when the period is approaching, and kept there as long as it is usual for it to last, the crave would be gone when the time came to awaken him?".
I could see that the idea, had never occurred to the hypnotist before, and that it startled and fascinated him. " With a proper subject it mightbe - I cannot say-I think it would -- I should like to try:"
Before leaving him I had arranged everything. He was to hold himself in readiness to go with me to Cumberland at, any moment that I might summon him on that errand.
Is it too much to say that I went home that night with the swing and step of a man walking on the stars ? If I had f˘und a cure for the deadliest curse of humanity, if I had been about to wipe out the plague of all races, all nations, all climes, all ages, I could not have been more proud and con- fident. Hypnotism! Animal magnetism!, Eleetro-biology ! Call it what you will. To me it had one name only-sleep. Sleep, the healer, the soother, the comforter-
Sleep, that knits up the ravell'd sleeve of care,
Great Nature's second course, chief uourisher in life's feast- And sleep was the good angel that was to snatch my. dear one from the grasp of the deadliest fiend out of hell.