Inscribed To The Ladies
Mr. Lionel Lightfoot, a man, you must know,
Whose life had been upright and blameless,
To the capital's chamber came three years ago
From a county that here shall be nameless.
He was loyal at heart, but all tyranny spurned,
And, when comrades endeavored to prove him,
Allegiance to Alcohol's power he spurned,—
Neither jeers nor persuasions could move him.
Though at club-room or bar they would oftentimes meet,
He ne'er treated, nor could be entreated to treat.
And now 'twas mid-winter, —the question was up
To legally sanction or banish the cup.
The ladies had come, with their beauty and grace,
To cheer the desponding and brighten the place.
Discussions grew warm, but all pleading was vain,
For Alcohol triumphed, and Whisky again
Would desolate hearthstones, —bring Want and Despair
To dear ones once guarded with tenderest care.
And Lightfoot lamented, —his mother's calm smile
Seemed resting upon him, —her voice, too, the while,
Those soft, tender tones to remembrance so dear,
Sweet, earnest, and true, floated back to his ear :
' My son, if they sanction this blight of the soul,
Forget not my teachings —beware of the bowl !'
The day had departed, the twilight had fled,
At the still hour of midnight the Old Year lay dead.
The breeze sighed its requiem, the ocean its moan,
For the aged and mighty who perished alone ;
But the sun of the morning rose fair o'er the scene
Where, in night's fearful silence, the death-pall had been.
And now it was New Year, —'a happy New Year,'—
And young Lightfoot were guilty of treason
If he failed to the fair ones in person to pay
His dues, with the dues of the season.
So, calling on Fairface, an exquisite dandy,
An ardent believer in spirits —of brandy,
He found him perturbed —in a barbarous passion,—
His moustache had been trimmed quite too close for the fashion ;
His head, too —oh, shocking to add to the list !—
Two hairs on the left the Macassar had missed.
But Lightfoot restored him : ' The former,' he said,
'Looked so foreign —distangué '(a beautiful red
He fain would have added, but paused, lest the ire
Of his comrade might set his adornment on fire.)
Then, waiting till Fairface made smooth as a die
For the fiftieth time his ' miwaculous tie,'
With assurance his collar just touched his goatee
Without varying, in distance, the slightest degree,
With cane between gloves of invisible green,
They called on Miss Mabel —society's queen ;
And, listening the while to the lively narrations
Of her numerous calls and her morning libations,
' Your health !' cries ma belle; returns Lightfoot, ' Ex-cuse me,
I never indulge.' ' What ! on New Year's refuse me !
Politeness demands it; beside' (soft and low),
' Champagne is so perfectly harmless, you know.'
Ah, woman, fair temptress, thou knew'st not the while
The doom that was sealed by that innocent smile;
Or how fatal the spell in that voice, that was given
To lure man from vice And direct him to heaven.
Thou saw' st not the phantoms that clutched at the bowl,
Nor the serpents that fastened their fangs in his soul ;
Thou heardst not the clank of the chains that were wound
By fiends that kept mocking the spirit they bound.
So Lightfoot was tempted, and yielded at last,
Beguiled by this siren of beauty ;
And, quitting her presence, he carried away
Her smile of approval as booty.
A dangerous trophy, these smiles of the fair;
They melted his good resolutions to air ;
For though he had reasoned, 'I'll only partake
This once of the wine, for the fair charmer's sake,'
He was sadly mistaken, —the breach had been made,
The fortress surrendered, its inmates betrayed ;
The noble resolves that had guarded the tower
Where Faith held her torch in temptation's dark hour,
The purposes high that had stamped on his brow
The glory of manhood, oh, where were they now?
But why follow on with the twain as they flit
From bower to bower, partaking?
Or tell how the feeble resolves of the one
Were seized with an ague of shaking?
How, long before night-fall, he fancied his brain
Was dancing a reel on a circular plain ?
How houses inverted, in warlike array,
Wheeled backward and forth in an endless chasse ?
We pass these sad pictures, nor linger to tell
How, step after step, from true manhood he fell.
How at first he took naught but the choicest of wine,—
Some ancient Madeira, or rum superfine ;
How he drank but with gentlemen, such as would deign
To touch no cheap brandy nor third-rate champagne.
Behold him, at last, in some vice-crowded den,
Where skulk the crouched forms of what once ranked as men;
Where the pestilent fumes from each whisky-scorched throat
The pure air of heaven with plague-spots have smote ;
Where Malice, Pollution, and Wretchedness teem,
And Guilt stalks among them to mock and blaspheme.
There see him, the victim of Woman's soft smile,
Debauched and corrupted, degraded and vile.
Years pass, and again with our 'pillars of State'
Is the same question pending in earnest debate ;
The fair ones are listeners ; Miss Mabel has come
To hear of the darkness in many a home,—
Of the desolate hearthstones the rum-fiend has made,
Of promises broken and loved ones betrayed,
She listens —grows weary— departing, at last,
She hastes to her chamber to think of the Past.
Though languid, she wooes a calm slumber in vain,
For the sleep that should soothe her but frenzies her brain.
She dreams —'tis of Lightfoot : she tempts him to drink.
He quaffs at her bidding, then ceases to shrink
From frequent indulgence of evils the worst;
His hopes are all blasted, his life is accurst ;
She sees him descending from honor —renown—
And sinking to ruin —down— hopelessly down.
There, wrestling with rum-fiends, in fury he raves,
Like a soul reft of reason, on life's maddening waves.
Half palsied with fright, 'mid the demons he stands,
And wards off their blows with his skeleton hands.
His eyes start with horror, and fearfully gloat
On blades, newly whetted, that point at his throat.
He shudders and cringes from serpents that hiss
And dart their forked tongues from their slimy abyss ;
And, reeling from terror, he howls in his pains,
As devils incarnate stand welding his chains;
While one, a' pale imp, the grim valet of Death,
With fagots of sulphur is firing his breath.
O horror ! it blazes ! it seethes to his brain !
His heart-strings have cracked —the blood boils in each vein !
A shudder —a gasp— a wild effort to speak—
And Miss Mabel awakes with a hideous shriek.
O ladies ! dear ladies ! when next round the wine
Your delicate fingers caressingly twine,
When, like a soft blessing, the breath of your lips
Floats over and hallows the juice ere he sips,
Just call the crouched form of poor Lightfoot to view,
And know that the dream of Miss Mabel was true.
Then, by your allurements, teach man to refrain,
And prove that your charms were bestowed not in vain ;
Let your spotless example illustrate the plan
That woman was made as a help-meet for man,
To warn him from treading the pathway of sin
By the beautiful love-light that glows from within.
And, oh ! as ye muse oti that Eden above,
Whence spirits departed are gazing in love,
And guarding their kindred, who, chained by the clay,
Are prone by the tempter to wander astray,
A father's fond blessing may greet you, the while,
A sister bend over your couch with a smile,
A mother, in accents of rapturous joy,
May sing how your warnings have rescued her boy.
Then woman, O woman ! thy mission fulfill !
Know man is the subject —the slave to thy will!
Thou wast given to guide him, —his beacon and star
To cheer when beside him and gleam from afar.
Then keep thy soul white, for one shadow of sin
May dim the bright taper that burneth within ;
And vain are his struggles life's billows above,
When the beacon goes out in the light-house of love.