I will Never Touch that

Stuff Again

    Carter Brassfield!…Carter Brassfield!…

     I was shocked when I heard my name repeated by a stranger who was talking to the grocer.  He asked me if I was Carter Brassfield, and when I said yes he pulled a gold ring out of his pocket, turned it around carefully in the light, and read the name inscribed on the inside.

     “Is your mother’s name Alice?” he asked. 

    I told him that it was.

     “And your father’s name Carter?”

     “Yes, sir,” said I.

     Then he showed the ring to me and asked if I had seen it before.

     At that time my father was out of work and, to while away his time, he took to drinking beer with his new friends.  As a consequence, our funds were exhausted in a short time.  So, to meet the emergency situation, mother became the bread-winner by doing some sewing.

     One day she gave me a small amount of money and sent me to the grocer to purchase some supplies.  That’s where I met the stranger.

     Of course, I recognized the ring as my mother’s, and showing great surprise, I asked him how it had come into his possession.

     “Your father put it up in a little game the other day,” said he, “and it fell into my possession.”  He dropped the ring into his purse, which he then closed with a snap.  I have been trying for several days to see your father and give him a chance at the ring before I turned it in to the pawnbroker’s.  If your mother has any feeling in the matter, tell her she can get the ring for ten dollars.”

     I did not know what to do.  I was so ashamed and hurt to think that my father, whom I loved and in whom I had such implicit confidence, should have gambled away my mother’s ring, the very ring—I was old enough to appreciate—he had given her in pledging to her his love.  His eyes filled with tears, and when I saw Mr. Blodget, the grocer, coming toward me.  I turned my face the other way, for shame of crying.  At any rate, he put his hand on my shoulder and said very kindly:--

     “It’s pretty tough, Carter, my boy, isn’t it?”

     He referred, I thought, to my father, for father was uppermost in my thoughts.  Then, lowering his voice, he said:--

     But I will help you out, son.  I will help you out.”

     I forgot all about hiding my tears, and faced about, attracted by his kindness.

     I will redeem the ring, and keep it for you until you get the money.  What do you say?  You can rest easy then, knowing that it is safe, and you can take your time.  What do you say?”

     With some awkwardness I acquiesced to his plan.  Then he called the stranger, and, leading the way back to his desk, paid to him the ten dollars, requiring him to sign a paper, though I did not understand why.  He then placed the ring carefully in his safe.

     “There, Carter,” said he, rubbing his hands together, “it is safe now, and we need not worry.”

     I held out my hand to him, then without a word took my parcels and started on a run for home.

     That evening father was more restless than usual.  He repeatedly lamented his long-enforced idleness.  After retiring that night, I lay awake for a long time evolving in my mind plans whereby I might earn ten dollars to redeem the ring.  Finally, with my boyish heart full of hope and adventure, I fell asleep in the wee hours of the morning.

     After breakfast I took my books, as usual, but, instead of going to school, I turned my steps toward a box factory where I knew a boy of about my age to be working.  I confided to him as much of my story as I thought advisable, and he took me to the superintendent’s office and introduced me.  I was put to work, at five dollars a week, with the privilege of stopping at four each day.  Every afternoon I brought my schoolbooks home and studied as usual till bedtime, and took them with me again in the morning.

     During the two weeks I was employed at the factory, neither father nor mother suspected that I had not been to school each day.  In fact I studied so assiduously at night that I kept up with my classes.  But my mother observed that I grew pale and thin.

     At the end of two weeks, when I told the manager I wanted to stop work, he seemed somewhat disappointed.  He paid the two crisp five-dollar notes, and I went very proudly to Mr. Blodget with the first ten dollars I had ever earned, and received the gentleman’s hearty praise, and my mother’s ring.  That evening father was out as usual, and I gave the ring to mother, telling her all about it, and what I had done.  She kissed me, and, holding me close in her arms for a long time, cried, caressing my hair with her hand, and told me that I was her dear, good boy.  Then we had along talk about father, and agreed to say nothing to him, at present, about the ring.

     The next evening, when I returned from school, father met me at the hall door, and asked if I had been to school.  I saw that he had been drinking, and was not in a very amiable mood.

     “I met Clarence Stevenson just now,” he said, “and he inquired about you.  He thought you were sick, and said you had not been to school for two weeks, unless you had gone today.” I stood for a moment without answering. “What do you say to that?” he demanded.

     “Clarence told the truth, father,” I replied.

     “He did, eh? What do you mean by running away from school in this manner?”  he grew very angry, and, catching me by the shoulder, gave me such a jerk that my books, which I had under my arm, went flying in all directions.  “Why have you not been to school?” he said thickly.

     “I was working, but I did not intend to deceive you, father.”

     “Working! Working!  Where have you been working?”

     “At Mr. Hazleton’s box factory.”

     “At what factory?”

     “Box factory.”

     “How much did you earn?” he growled, watching me closely to see if I told the truth.

     “Five dollars a week,” I said timidly, feeling all the time that he was exacting from me a confession that I wished, on his account, to keep secret.

     “Five dollars a week!  Where’s the money?  Show me the money!” he persisted incredulously.

     “I cannot, father, I do not have it.”

     I was greatly embarrassed and frightened at his conduct.

     “Where is it?” he growled.

     “I—I—spent it,” I said, not thinking what else to say.

     A groan escaped through his shut teeth as he reeled across the hall and took down a short rawhide whip that had been mine to play with.  I had on no coat, only my waist, and I am sure a boy never received such a whipping as I did.

     I did not cry at first.  My heart was filled only with pity for my father.  Something lay so heavy in my breast that it seemed to fill up my throat and choke me.  I shut my teeth tightly together, and tried to endure the hurt, but the biting lash cut deeper and deeper until I could stand it no longer.  I could feel something wet running down my back, and my face was slippery with blood, when I put up my hand to protect it.  I thought I should die; everything began to go round and round.  The strokes did not hurt any longer; I could not feel them now.  The hall suddenly grew dark, and I sank upon the floor.  Then I suppose he stopped.

     When I returned to consciousness, I was lying on the couch in the dining-room, with a wet cloth about my forehead, and mother was kneeling by me, fanning me and crying, I put my arms about her neck, and begged her not to cry, but my head ached so dreadfully that I could not keep back my own tears.  I asked where father was, and she said he went downtown when she came.  He did not return at suppertime nor did we see him again until the following morning.

     I could eat no supper that night before going to bed, and mother came and stayed with me.  I am sure she did not sleep, for as often as I dropped off from sheer exhaustion.  I was awakened by her sobbing.  Then, I, too, would cry.  I tried to be brave, but my wounds hurt me so, and my head ached.  I seemed to be thinking all the time of father.  My poor father!  I felt sorry for him, and kept wondering where he was.  All through the night it seemed to me that I could see him drinking and drinking and betting and betting.

     It was late in the morning when I awoke, and heard mother and father talking downstairs.  With great difficulty, I climbed out of bed and dressed myself.  When I went down, mother had a fire in the dining-room stove, and father was sitting, or rather lying, with both arms stretched out upon the table, his face buried between them.  By him on a plate were some slices of toast that mother had prepared.

     I went over by the stove and stood looking at father.  I had remained there but a moment, my heart full of sympathy for him, and wondering if he were ill, when he raised his head and looked at me.  I had never before seen him look so haggard and pale.  As his eyes rested on me, the tears started down my cheeks.

     “Carter, my child,” he said hoarsely. “I have done you a great wrong.  Can you forgive me?”

     In an instant my arms were about his neck—I felt no stiffness nor soreness now.  He folded me to his breast, and cried, as I did.  After a long time he spoke again:

     “If I had only known—your mother has just told me.  It was the beer, Carter, the beer.  I will never touch the stuff again, never,” he said faintly.  Then he stretched out his arms upon the table, and bowed his head upon them.  I stood awkwardly by, the tears streaming down my cheeks, but they were tears of joy.

     Mother, who was standing in the kitchen doorway with her apron to her eyes, came and put her arm about him, and said something, very gently, which I did not understand.  Then she kissed me several times.  I shall never forget the happiness of that hour.

     For a long time after that father would not go downtown in the evening unless I could go with him.  He kept his promise always.


     “For thou, Lord, art good, and ready to forgive; and plenteous in mercy unto all them that call upon thee.”  Psalms 86:5