All these exhibitions of a change so unlooked for, and so terrible for a wife and mother to contemplate, might well depress the spirits of Mrs. Graham, and fill her with deep and anxious solicitude. For some weeks previous to the evening on which our story opens, Mr. Graham had shown strong symptoms almost every day–symptoms apparent, however, in the family, only to the eye of his wife–of drunkenness. Towards the close of each day, as the hour for his return from business drew near her feelings would become oppressed under the fearful apprehension that when he came home, it would be in a state of intoxication. This she dreaded on many accounts. Particularly was she anxious to conceal the father’s aberrations from his children. She could not bear the thought that respect for one now so deeply honoured by them, should be diminished in their bosoms. She felt, too, keenly, the reproach that would rest upon his name, should the vice that was now entangling, obtain full possession of him, and entirely destroy his manly, rational freedom of action. Of consequences to herself and children, resulting from changed external circumstances, she did not dream. Her husband’s wealth was immense; and, therefore, even if he should so far abandon himself as to have to relinquish business, there would be enough, and more than enough, to sustain them in any position in society they might choose to occupy.
On the occasion to which we have already referred, her heart was throbbing with suspense as the hour drew nigh for his return, when, sooner than she expected him, Mr. Graham opened the hall-door, and instead of entering the parlour, as usual, proceeded at once to his chamber. The quick ear of his wife detected something wrong in the sound of his footsteps–the cause she knew too well. Oh, how deeply wretched she felt, though she strove all in her power to seem unmoved while in the presence of her children! Anxious to know the worst, she soon retired, as has been seen, from the parlours, and went up to the chamber above. Alas! how sadly were her worst fears realized! The loved and honoured partner of many happy years, the father of her children, lay before her, slumbering, heavily, in the sleep of intoxication. It seemed, for a time, as if she could not bear up under the trial. While seated, far from the bed-side, brooding in sad despondency over the evil that had fallen upon them–an evil of such a character that it had never been feared–it seemed to her that she could not endure it. Her thoughts grew bewildered, and reason for a time seemed trembling. Then her mind settled into a gloomy calmness that, was even more terrible, for it had about it something approaching the hopelessness of despair.
Thoughts of her children at last aroused her, as the gathering night darkened the chamber in which she sat, and she endeavoured to rally herself, and to assume a calmness that she was far from feeling. A reason would have to be given for the father’s non-appearance at the tea-table. That could easily be done. Fatigue and a slight indisposition had caused him to lie down: and as he had fallen asleep, it was thought best not to awaken him. Such a tale was readily told, and as readily received. The hardest task was to school her feelings into submission, and so control the expression of her face, and the tone of her voice, as to cause none to suspect that there was anything wrong.
To do this fully, however, was impossible. Her manner was too evidently changed; and her face wore too dreamy and sad an expression to deceive her daughters, who inquired, with much tenderness and solicitude, whether she was not well, or whether anything troubled her.
“I am only a little indisposed,” was her evasive reply to her children’s kind interrogatories.