MoboReader> Literature > Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic

   Chapter 10 IN WHICH PHIL LISTENS TO A VERY IMPRESSIVE TEMPERANCE LECTURE.

Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic By Oliver Optic Characters: 10847

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Farringford was very chipper when he returned to me. He had drank half a tumbler of whiskey, and appeared to be prepared, to his own satisfaction, for any business which might be presented to him.

"Now, my lad, I'm ready. I'm refreshed. I'm invigorated. I'm inspired. In a word, I'm prepared for the consideration of the important matter you proposed to bring before me," said he.

"I am very glad to hear it, sir; I wish to tell you-"

"Stop a moment, my lad. You have a name, doubtless. Do you happen to remember what it is?"

"Very distinctly, Mr. Farringford. You may call me Phil."

Phil meets a seedy Individual named Farringford. Page 109.

"Phil; that is very good as far as it goes. Phil may stand for Philip, Phillimore, Philippians, Philosophy."

"It stands for Philip with me, sir."

"Philip; I had a brother once of that name, but he is no longer living. If he were, he would blush to own his brother. But no matter; that is all past and gone. You can proceed with your business, Philip."

Placing his elbows upon the little table between us, he rested his chin upon his trembling hands, and fixed his gaze upon me. He was a singular man, and, tipsy as he was, I was deeply interested in him.

"You know Lynch, the person you met opposite the Planters' Hotel to-day noon."

"I know him, Philip; but, in a word, I don't know any good of him. Go on."

"That man robbed me of all the money I had, except thirty cents-nearly a hundred dollars."

"Philip, you told me you were in the habit of speaking the truth; or rather that you endeavored to speak the truth."

"Yes, sir; I do endeavor to speak the truth. I am willing to go a point farther, and say that I have thus far been very successful."

"The statement that Lynch robbed you of nearly a hundred dollars implies the statement that you had nearly a hundred dollars," said he, with his tipsy solemnity, which was amusing. "It is self-evident that he could not have robbed you of this money, if you had not had it."

"Certainly not sir. I did have it."

"Where and by what means should a boy of your tender years obtain nearly a hundred dollars? In a word, Philip, where did you get your money?"

"It was a part of what was left me by my foster-father, who died last spring. I had it with me to pay my expenses till I could get into business and pay my way. I expect my friends will be in St. Louis in a few days, and then I shall be able to prove all I say. In the mean time I refer to Captain Davis, of the steamer Fawn."

"That's all straightforward, Philip, and for the present I accept your statement as true. You were robbed of nearly a hundred dollars by this man, Lynch, of whom I know no good thing, except that he lent me a dollar to-day, which I shall return to him when I pay the rest of my creditors."

"Could you find this man, Mr. Farringford?" I asked.

"Doubtless I could. He may be seen, almost any night, at the gambling-houses."

"Will you help me get my money back?"

"Wherefore should I soil the dignity of a gentleman by becoming a thief-taker?"

"Because you will do me a favor, and promote the ends of justice by doing so."

"Very true, Philip; you rightly apprehend the character of the gentleman you address. Whatever I may seem to be, no man can say that Edward Farringford ever soiled his soul by a dishonorable or a dishonest act."

"If you can induce Lynch to give me back my money, I will pay you twenty-five dollars."

"Twenty-five dollars!" exclaimed he. "Two hundred and fifty drinks! Philip, I will do the best I can for you; not for the sake of the money, but to subserve the ends of justice, and to save a deserving young man from want and hardship. The cause is a good one."

"It is, sir. If you do not succeed, I shall call upon the police as soon as my friends arrive."

"It is well, Philip. Lynch will return the money rather than be driven from St. Louis."

"You understand that he must pay the money to me," I added, as it occurred to me that I should never see it if it came into the hands of the dilapidated gentleman before me.

"Wouldn't it be just as well that he should pay it over to me, and I will pass it to you?"

"Just as well, sir; but he will want some assurance from me that this is the end of the matter. I prefer that he should pay it to me."

"You are right, Philip. It shall be paid to you. Stop!" exclaimed he, with a sudden start.

"What is the matter, Mr. Farringford?"

"This business is wrong."

"Wrong?"

"Wrong! No living man has been, or shall ever be, able to say that Edward Farringford stained his soul with a foul, dishonorable act."

"Do you think it would be wrong, sir?"

"It would be compounding a felony," he added, solemnly.

I did not know what he meant by this technical phrase, but I could not see that it was wrong for me to get my money if I could. Mr. Farringford asked me when, where, and in what manner I had been robbed; and I related my adventure on the night I was at Leavenworth.

"You are the only witness, Philip, and it would be difficult to prove the crime. I will see Lynch. I will charge him with the base deed, and be governed, in my further proceedings, by the circumstances of the case. Where do you live, Philip?"

I gave him the address of Mrs. Greenough, and told him where I was at work. I was satisfied that the promised reward would stimulate him to great activity in

the pursuit of Lynch, and I had some hope that he would be successful. Having disposed of the important part of my business with my seedy companion, I was rather curious to know more about him. I almost dared to believe that he could give me some information in regard to the steamer which had been burned on the upper Missouri, and from which I had been saved by my foster-father.

That steamer had borne the name of this man, and he had been her owner. Of course he knew all about her, and it was possible, even probable, that he knew who had lost a little child in the fearful calamity. I actually trembled when I thought of it, when I considered that, at the opening of this singular man's lips, I might be told who and what my father was, and whether my parents had perished or not. It was an anxious moment, and my heart was in my throat. I had not the courage to ask the momentous question, and Farringford rose unsteadily from his chair, to leave me.

"Stop a moment, Mr. Farringford, if you please," I interposed; and he dropped back into his chair.

"Isn't our business finished, Philip?"

"Yes, sir; but I have been told that you were formerly a large steamboat owner."

"Who told you so?"

"You did, for one. If you don't object, I should like to ask you something about those steamers," I continued, with much embarrassment.

"Do you wish to go into the steamboat business, Philip? If you do, some of my old captains are still on the river, and I can get you a situation. But I must have one more drink before I say anything."

"I wouldn't take any more, sir," I ventured to say.

"It is a necessity of my being, Philip."

He rose from his chair, and went to the bar. I saw him drink another half tumbler of whiskey. He tottered back to the table where I sat. Such a wreck of a man I had never seen. Though his step was unsteady, he was not overcome by the potions he had taken. His nerves, rather than his brain, seemed to be affected.

"I haven't drank much to-day, Philip. I wasted half the dollar I borrowed in getting something to eat," said he, dropping into his chair. "It is a bad habit, my boy. Never take any whiskey, Philip: in a word, never begin to drink liquor, and you will never have to leave off; for it is a great deal harder to leave off than it is to begin. This is disinterested advice: in a word, it is the counsel of one who knows all about drinking."

"I would stop it if I were you, Mr. Farringford."

"If you were Edward Farringford, you could no more leave off drinking liquor, and drinking all you could get, than you could leave off eating. I can live without eating much, but I can't live without drinking."

"I think you can leave off, sir; I hope you will try."

"You speak like a boy. You never drank any whiskey. You don't know what a fiend it is. You don't know what a horrible necessity it is to a man whose nerves are shaken, only to be steadied by this liquid fire; whose stomach, chilled and frozen, can only be warmed by this blast from Tartarus. You don't know anything about it. I hope you never will. Philip, I hope you never will."

He covered his face with his hands, and when he raised his head, I saw that he had been weeping. His eyes were filled with tears, and I pitied him from the deepest depths of my heart.

"Beware, Philip! Beware!" said he, solemnly. "Never touch a drop of whiskey, wine, or even ale,-not the tenth part of a drop,-if you are dying for the want of it. Die, but don't touch it."

"I hope I never shall."

"Hope! Don't hope! Sign the pledge; swear on the Holy Bible; go down on your knees, every morning and every night, and pray that Almighty God will help you, and save you from the curse. Don't trifle with it, Philip. Be in earnest, and when you feel weak, commend yourself to God, and think of Edward Farringford."

He covered his face with his hands again, and wept so bitterly, that the little table danced under the convulsive agony which shook his frame.

"Look at me, Philip!" said he, raising his head again. "Behold the wreck of a man! If there had been no whiskey in the world, or if I had never tasted it, I could have welcomed you to the most elegant mansion in St. Louis. I could have pointed you to a dozen steamers, on the Missouri and Mississippi, which were all mine. I could have presented you to my wife, the most beautiful and accomplished woman in the city, now driven out from my presence. More than this, Philip, I could have pointed you to my boy, my son, my only child, who perished in the cold waters of the Missouri, because I was too drunk to save him!"

I need not say how startled, how thrilled I was by this agonizing narrative. The bar-room was crowded, and noisy with the violent debates of excited politicians, and the gabble of men warmed by their cups into unusual hilarity, so that no one appeared to notice Farringford, though he uttered his impressive warnings in a loud tone. But I was too much moved and thrilled myself to heed what others said or did. The toper wept, and then tried to shake off the remembrance of the past.

"Where was your son lost, Mr. Farringford?" I asked, choking with emotion.

"On the upper Missouri. He was a child under three. His name was Philip, like yours. He was named after my brother, who died ten years ago. Enough of this. I am almost crazy When I think of it."

The broken-down toper was my father!

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