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Plane and Plank; or, The Mishaps of a Mechanic By Oliver Optic Characters: 11128

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

My father! I had found him; but the finding of him in such a miserable, degraded, besotted being as he who was before me seemed to be the greatest mishap, the most overwhelming misfortune, that could possibly have overtaken me. He was the first white man I had ever seen really intoxicated. I was mortified and disheartened as I looked at his pale, thin face, and regarded his trembling limbs.

What should I do? I could not tell him that I was his son. I could not throw myself into his arms and weep tears of joy, as I had imagined the impressive scene, in case I should ever find either of my parents. I wanted to weep; I wanted to give myself up to a transport of grief, if not despair, as I realized the terrible truth that the degraded being before me was my father.

"Philip, I've told you more than I ever uttered before. You looked into my face, and seemed so interested that I was tempted to tell more than I intended," said he, wiping away with his coat sleeve the tears that stained his sunken cheeks. "No matter; we will be jolly now. I can get another drink in a cheap grog-shop for the half dime I have in my pocket."

To my surprise he laughed as easily as he had wept, and shook off, with astonishing facility, the burden which had weighed him down. He rose from his chair, and tottered towards the door. I followed him out into the street.

"Where are you going now?" I asked.

"Going to get a cheap drink," he replied, with a kind of chuckle. "I shall be all right then; and we'll go and look for Lynch."

"Don't drink any more to-night, Mr. Farringford," I pleaded, taking his arm.

"I must!" said he, vehemently. "I might as well tell you not to eat after you had been without food for a week, as you tell me not to drink. I must have whiskey, or die."

"Then die!" I added, using his own words.


"That's what you said to me."

"I might do that, Philip," he replied, stopping suddenly in the street, as if the idea impressed him favorably.

"Of course I did not mean that, sir," I interposed.

"But it would be better to die than live as I live. I have only one cheap drink left-one glass of camphene whiskey, which seems to burn my very soul. In a word, it is better to die than to live, for such as I am."

"No; there is hope for you," I pleaded, leading him along through the street.

"Hope? No more than for a man who is already dead, Philip. I shall take my cheap drink, and then I shall be penniless again. It may be twenty-four hours, perhaps forty-eight, before I can raise another dollar or another drink. Then I shall suffer with horrors I cannot describe, till I can get more whiskey."

"Where do you live?"


"Where do you board?"

"I don't board," he replied, with his usual chuckle.

"Where do you sleep?"

"Wherever I happen to drop. In the police station; on board a steamboat; in a shed; anywhere or nowhere."

"But where were you going to-night?" I asked, shocked at this revelation of misery, so horrible and strange to me.

"I was going to the gambling-houses to find Lynch."

"But after that?"

"Anywhere that my fancy leads me."

"Come with me," said I, unwilling to abandon him.


"To my house-where I board."

"No, Philip."

"You shall sleep with me to-night."

I knew that Mrs. Greenough would not wish such a lodger as he, but I was determined to do what I could for him; and, if she would not permit him to sleep with me, I would go out with my miserable parent. I wanted to see him when he was sober. He had told me that his wife had deserted him, and I wished to learn more about her. I could not allude to a theme so sacred while he was in his present condition. Hopeless as the task seemed to be, I intended to use all the powers which God had given me in reforming him.

I led him in the direction of my boarding-house, and he seemed to be as willing to go one way as another. After he had delivered himself of the emotions which crowded upon him at the bar-room, he spoke lightly of his misfortunes, and chuckled whenever he alluded to any circumstance which was particularly degrading in his condition.

"Where do you obtain your meals, Mr. Farringford?" I asked, as much to keep his attention occupied as to gratify my own curiosity.

"I don't obtain many," he replied, lightly.

"But you must eat."

"Not when I can drink. I don't average more than one meal a day. I can't afford to waste my money, when I have any, in eating."

"Do you live on one meal a day?"

"I don't get that always."

"Where do you get that one?"

"Anywhere I can. They have meals on board the steamers lying at the levee and waiting to start. They never turn me off when I sit down to the table. If I'm very drunk, they give me my meal at a side-table; but that don't happen often, for I don't want to eat when I can get plenty to drink."

How insufferably miserable and degrading was the life he led! And he was my father!

"How long have you led such a life?" I inquired, with a shudder.

"Not long, Philip. Do you know, my lad, that I'm telling you all this to save you from whiskey? I'm not drunk now. I know what I'm about; and I would go ten miles to-night to save any fellow-creature, even if it was a nigger, from being as bad as I am. I would, Philip; upon my honor and conscience I would."

"That proves that you have a kind heart," I replied; and even as he revelled in his shame and misery, I was glad often to observe these touches of fine feeling, for they assured me that, in his better days, he had be

en a noble and generous man.

Phil introduces the elder Farringford to his Landlady. Page 130.

"My heart is right, my boy. Like all drunkards-Yes, Philip, I'm a drunkard. I know it; and I call things by their right names. Like all drunkards, I've been growing worse and worse; but it's only a few months since I went into the street, and had no home, no place to lay my head at night."

I led him to Mrs. Greenough's house. He said nothing more about the "cheap drink," for I had kept his mind busy on the way. I had a night key, and I admitted him to the entry, where I asked him to wait until I spoke with my landlady. In as few words as possible I informed her of the discovery I had made, and distinctly added that my father was intoxicated.

"Will you allow me to take care of him in my room, Mrs. Greenough?" I asked.

"Yes, indeed!" she replied, with unexpected readiness. "Bring him into the kitchen, and I will do everything I can for him."

"Thank you, Mrs. Greenough. You are very kind. I had no right to expect this of you."

"I know how to pity such poor people, Phil," said she, shaking her head sadly; and I afterwards learned that her late husband had been a drunkard for a number of years, and had been saved by the great Washingtonian movement.

"My father does not yet suspect that I am his son. Will you be so kind as not to mention the fact to him?" I continued.

"Just as you wish, Phil," she answered, as I hastened down stairs.

Mrs. Greenough held the lamp in the entry while I conducted my tottering companion up the stairs. I introduced him in due form to her.

"Madam, I am your very obedient servant," said he. "I am happy to make your acquaintance-more happy than you can be to make mine."

"I'm very glad to see you; come in," she added, placing her rocking-chair before the fire for him.

He seated himself, and glanced around the room. Mrs. Greenough asked if he had been to supper. He had not, and he did not wish for any; but the good lady insisted that he should have a cup of tea. In spite of his answer, he ate heartily of the food set before him, and seemed to be refreshed by it. For an hour he talked about indifferent subjects, and then I took him to my room. Mrs. Greenough gave me some clean clothes for him, which had belonged to her husband, declaring that she was glad to have them put to so good use. He intimated, as he glanced at the neat bed, that he should like to wash himself. I carried up a pail of warm water, and leaving him to make his ablutions, I went down to the kitchen again.

"I hope you will excuse me for bringing him here, Mrs. Greenough," said I, feeling that I had been imposing upon her good nature.

"You did just exactly right, Phil. You had no other place to take him to; and you didn't want to leave the poor creature in the street. I will do everything I can for him."

"I am very much obliged to you, and as soon as Mr. Gracewood comes, I will have something done for him."

"Are you sure he is your father?"

"I have no doubt of it, Mrs. Greenough. What he said assured me of the fact; but he thinks I am dead."

"Where is your mother? Was she lost?"

"No; he says she was driven away from him by his bad conduct. I don't know where she is."

My landlady was willing to take care of the sufferer for a few days, if he could be induced to stay at the house; and we talked about the matter till I thought he had gone to bed, when I went to my room. By this time the effects of the liquor he had drank were hardly perceptible; but his nerves were terribly shaken. Mrs. Greenough had given me a dose of valerian, which she said would do him good. He drank it without an objection, and soon went to sleep. I was tired enough to follow his example, after I had put the room in order.

When I awoke in the morning, my father had dressed himself, and was pacing the room, in the gloom of the early morning. He was entirely sober now, and his frame shook as though he had been struck with palsy. I was alarmed at his condition. He told me he must have whiskey, or he should shake himself to pieces.

"Don't take any more, sir," I pleaded.

"Nothing but whiskey will quiet my nerves," said he, in trembling tones.

"You shall have some strong tea or coffee; or perhaps Mrs. Greenough can give you something better."

"I don't want to drink, Philip; no, I don't," he replied, in piteous tones; "but you cannot understand the misery of my present condition. It is worse than death."

"But you will be better soon if you let liquor alone."

"I can't let it alone. Every instant is an hour of agony. Have you any money?"

"Only five cents."

"I have five cents. I will get a cheap drink."

"No, don't!" I pleaded. "Wait here a little while. I will make a fire, and see what can be done for you."

I went down stairs, and by the time I had made the fire Mrs. Greenough appeared. I told her how much my poor father was suffering. She seemed to understand the case exactly; and as soon as the tea-kettle boiled, she made some strong wormwood tea, which I gave to our patient. I had some hope when he declared that it had helped him. He ate a very light breakfast, and appeared to have no appetite. My good landlady spoke words of hope to him, and said she had taken care of one who was precisely in his condition. If he would only be patient, and trust her, she would cure him. He promised to stay in the house during the forenoon; and I went to my work, hoping, but hardly expecting, to find him there when I came home to dinner.

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