Only A Husk.
Tom Darcy, yet a young man, had grown to be a very hard one. Although naturally kind hearted, active, and intelligent, he lacked strength of will to resist temptation, and had therefore fallen a victim of intemperance. He had lost his place as foreman of the great machine-shop, and what money he now earned came from odd jobs of tinkering which he was able to do here and there at private houses; for Tom was a genius as well as a mechanic, and when his head was steady enough, he could mend a clock or clean a watch as well as he could set up and regulate a steam-engine, and this later he could do better than any other man ever employed by Scott Falls Manufacturing company.
One day Tom was engaged to mend a broken mowing-machine and reaper, for which he received five dollars; and on the following morning he started for his old haunt, the village tavern. He knew that his wife sadly needed the money, and that his two little children were absolutely suffering for want of clothing, and that morning he had held a debate with the better part of himself, but the better part had become weak, and the demon of appetite carried the day.
So away to the tavern Tom went, where, for two or three hours, he felt the exhilarating effects of the alcoholic draught, and fancied himself happy, as he could sing and laugh, but, as usual, stupefaction followed, and the man died out. He drank while he could stand, and then lay down in a corner, where his companions left him.
It was almost midnight, when the landlord’s wife came to the barroom to see what kept her husband up, and she quickly saw Tom.
”Peter,” said she, not in a pleasant mood, "why don’t you send that miserable Tom Darcy home? He’s been hanging around here long enough.”
Tom’s stupefaction was not sound sleep. The dead coma had left his brain, and the calling of his name stung his senses to keen attention. He had an insane love of rum, but he did not love the landlord. In other years Peter Tindar had wooed the same maiden,--Ellen Goss,--and he had won her, leaving Peter to take up with the sharp tempered damsel who had brought him the tavern, and Tom knew that lately the tapster had gloated over the misery of the woman, who had once discarded him.
"Why don’t you send him home?” demanded Mrs. Tindar, with an impatient stamp of her foot.
“Hush, Betsey, he’s got money. Let him be, and he’ll be sure and spend it before he goes home. I’ll have the kernel of that nut, and his wife can have the husk.”
Betsey turned away, and shortly afterward Tom Darcy lifted himself up on his elbow.
“Ah, Tom, are you awake?”
“Then rouse up and have a warm glass.”
Tom got up on his feet and steadied himself.
“No; I won’t drink any more tonight.”
“It won’t hurt you, Tom—just one glass.”
“I know it won’t!” said Tom, buttoning up his coat by the solitary button left. "I know it won’t!”
And with this he went out into the chill air of midnight. When he got away from the shadow of the tavern, he stopped and looked up at the stars, and then he looked down on the earth.
“Aye,” he muttered, grinding his heel in the gravel, “Peter is taking the kernel, and poor Ellen the worthless husk,--a husk more than worthless! And I am helping him do it. I am robbing my wife of joy, robbing my dear children of honor and comfort, and robbing myself of love and life—just that Peter Tindar may have the kernel, and Ellen the husk! We’ll see!”
It was a revelation to the man. The tavern-keeper’s speech, not meant for his ears, had come to his senses as the voice of the Risen One upon Saul of Tarsus.
“We’ll see!” he said putting his foot firmly upon the ground; and then he wended his way homeward.
On the following morning he said to his wife, “Ellen, have you any coffee in the house?”
“Yes Tom.” She did not tell him that her sister had given it to her. She was glad to hear him ask for the coffee, instead of the old, old cider.
“I wish you would make me a cup, good and strong.”
There was really music in Tom’s voice, and the wife set about her work with a strange flutter in her heart.
Tom drank two cups of the strong fragrant coffee, and then went out, with a resolute step, and walked straight to the great manufactory, where he found Mr. Scott in his office.
“Mr. Scott, I want to learn my trade over again.”
“Eh, Tom, what do you mean?”
“I mean that its Tom Darcy come back to the old place, asking forgiveness of the past, and hoping to do better in the future.”
“Tom,” cried the manufacturer, starting forward and grasping his hand, “are you in earnest? Is it really the old Tom?”
“It’s what’s left of him, sir, and we’ll have him whole and strong very soon, if you’ll only set him at work.”
“Work! Aye, Tom, and bless you, too. There is an engine to be set up and tested today. Come with me.”
Tom’s hands were weak and unsteady, but his brain was clear, and under his skilful supervision the engine was set up and tested; but it was not perfect, there were mistakes which he had to correct, and it was late in the evening when the work was complete.
“How is it now, Tom?” asked Mr. Scott, as he came into the testing-house and found the workman ready to depart.
“She’s all right, sir. You may give your warrant without fear.”
“God bless you, Tom! You don’t know how like music the old voice sounds. Will you take your old place again?”
“Wait till Monday morning sir. If you will offer it to me then, I will take it.”
At the little cottage, Ellen Darcy’s fluttering heart was sinking. That morning, after Tom had gone, she found a dollar bill in the coffee-cup. She knew that he had left it for her. She had been out and bought tea and sugar, and flour and butter, and a bit of tender steak; and all that day a ray of light had been dancing and glimmering before her,--a ray from the blessed light of other days. With prayer and hope she set out the tea-table, and waited; but the sun went down and no Tom came. Eight o’clock—and almost nine.
Hark! The old step! quick, strong, eager for home. Yes, it was Tom, with the old grime upon his hands, and the odor of oil upon his garments.
“I have kept you waiting, Nellie.”
“I did not mean to, but the work hung on.”
“Tom! Tom! You have been to the old shop!”
“Yes, and I’m bound to have the old place, and-----“
And she threw her arms around his neck, and pressed a kiss upon his lips.
“Nellie, darling, wait a little, and you shall have the old Tom back again.”
“Oh, I have him now! God bless you, my husband!”
It was a banquet, that supper—with the bright angels of peace, and love and joy, spreading their wings over the board.
On the following Monday morning, Tom resumed his place at the head of the great machine-shop, and those who thoroughly knew him had no fear of his going back into the slough of joylessness.
A few days later, Tom met Peter Tindar on the street.
“Eh, Tom, old boy, what’s up?”
“I am up, right side up.”
“Yes, I see: but I hope you haven’t forsaken us, Tom.”
“I have forsaken only the evil you have in store, Peter. The fact is, I have concluded that my wife and little ones had fed on husks long enough, and if there was a good kernel left in my heart, or in my manhood, they too should have it.”
“Ah, you heard what I said to my wife that night.”
“Yes, Peter; and I shall be grateful to you for it as long as I live. My remembrance of you will always be relieved by that tinge of warmth and brightness.”
SONG OF THE RYE
I was made to be eaten
And not to be drunk
To be thrashed in the barn
Not soaked in a tank.
I came as a blessing
When put through a mill
As a blight and a curse
When run through a still.
Make me up into loaves
And the children are fed
But into a drink
I’ll starve them instead.
In bread I’m a servant
The eater shall rule
In drink I am master
The drinker a fool.