“That may be the cause; but still I hardly think that it is,” Anna replied. “Alfred’s principal associates are William Gray and Charles Williams; and they belong to our first families. Pa, you know, is very intimate with both Mr. Gray and Mr. Williams.”
“It was to William Gray and Charles Williams, I believe, however, that Ma particularly objected.”
“Upon what ground?”
“Upon the ground of their habits, I think, she said.”
“Their habits? What of their habits, I wonder?”
“I do not know, I am sure. I only remember having heard Ma object to them on that account.”
“That is strange!” was the remark of Anna. “I am sure that I have never seen anything out of the way, in either of them; and, as to William Gray, I have always esteemed him very highly.”
“So have I,” Mary said. “Both of them are intelligent, agreeable young men; and such, as it seems to me, are in every way fitted to be companions for our brother.”
But Mrs. Graham had seen more of the world than her daughters, and knew how to judge from appearances far better than they. Some recent circumstances, likewise, had quickened her perceptions of danger, and made them doubly acute. In the two young men alluded to, now about the ages of eighteen and twenty, she had been pained to observe strong indications of a growing want of strict moral restraints, combined with a tendency towards dissipation; and, what was still more painful, an exhibition of like perversions in her only son, now on the verge of manhood,–that deeply responsible and dangerous period, when parental authority and control subside in a degree, and the individual, inexperienced yet self-confident, assumes the task of guiding himself.
When Mrs. Graham left the room, she proceeded slowly up to the chamber into which her husband had gone, where all had been silent since his entrance. She found him lying upon the bed, and already in a sound sleep. The moment she bent over him, she perceived the truth to be that which her trembling and sinking heart so much dreaded. He was intoxicated!
Shrinking away from the bed-side, she retired to a far corner of the room, where she seated herself by a table, and burying her face in her arms, gave way to the most gloomy, heart-aching thoughts and feelings. Tears brought her no relief from these; for something of hopelessness in her sorrow, gave no room for the blessing of tears.
Mr. Graham was a merchant of high standing in Philadelphia, where, for many years, he had been engaged extensively in the East India trade. Six beautiful ships floated for years upon the ocean, returning at regular intervals, freighted with the rich produce of the East, and filling his coffers, until they overflowed, with accumulating wealth. But it was not wealth alone that gave to Mr. Graham the elevated social position that he held. His strong intelligence, and the high moral tone of his character, gave him an influence and an estimation far above what he derived from his great riches. In the education of his children, four in number, he had been governed by a wise regard to the effect which that education would have upon them as members of society. He early instilled into their minds a desire to be useful to others, and taught them the difference between an estimation of individuals, founded upon their wealth and position in society, and an estimation derived from intrinsic excellence of character. The consequence of, all this was, to make him beloved by his family–purely and tenderly beloved, because there was added to the natural affection for one in his position, the power of a deep respect for his character and principles.
At the time of his introduction to the reader, Mr. Graham was forty-five years old. Alfred, his oldest child, was twenty-one; Mary, nineteen; Ellen, eighteen; and Anna just entering her sixteenth year. Up to this time, or nearly to this time, a happier family circled no hearth in the city. But now an evil wing was hovering over them, the shadow from which had already been perceived by the mother’s heart, as it fell coldly and darkly upon it, causing it to shrink and tremble with gloomy apprehensions. From early manhood up, it had been the custom of Mr. Graham to use wines and brandies as liberally as he desired, without, the most remote suspicion once crossing his mind that any danger to him could attend the indulgence. But to the eye of his wife, whose suspicions had of late been aroused, and her perceptions rendered, in consequence, doubly acute, it had become apparent that the habit was gaining a fatal predominance over him. She noted, with painful emotions, that as each evening returned, there were to her eye too evident indications that he had been indulging so freely in the use of liquors, as to have his mind greatly obscured. His disposition, too, was changing; and he was becoming less cheerful in his family, and less interested in the pleasures and pursuits of his children. Alfred, whom he had, up to this time, regarded with an earnest and careful solicitude, was now almost entirely left to his own guidance, at an age, too, when he needed more than ever the direction of his father’s matured experience.