"Are you ready, Catherine?" inquired Mr. Clapp of his wife, appearing at the parlour-door, holding his hat and cane in one hand, and running the other through his brown curls.
"Wait one minute, dear, until I have put a clean collar on Willie."
Little Willie, who had been hopping about the room, delighted with the importance of sitting up later than his younger brothers and sisters, was persuaded to stand still for a few seconds, while his mother tied on the clean collar; when Mr. Clapp, his wife, and eldest boy set out for the meeting-house, which they found already half-filled. They were beckoned into a pew near to one already occupied by the Van Hornes, Miss Patsey, and Charlie. As the evening was very pleasant, men, women, and children crowded in, until a large audience was brought together, urged, as usual, by different motives; some came from curiosity, others from always preferring an evening in public to an evening at home; some, from sincere respect for the object of the meeting, many for the sake of the speeches, and many others merely because they were ever ready to follow the general example. Mr. Clapp had no sooner found seats for his wife and child, than he began to look about him; his eye wandered over the heads around, apparently in quest of some one; at length his search seemed successful; it rested on a man, whose whole appearance and dress proclaimed him to be a sailor.
The meeting was opened by prayer, two different ministers officiating on the occasion; one, a venerable-looking old man, offered a simple, fervent, Christian prayer; the second, a much younger person, placing one hand in his waistcoat pocket, the other under the flaps of his coat, advanced to the front of the staging, and commenced, what was afterwards pronounced one of the "most eloquent prayers ever addressed to a congregation."
The speeches then followed. The first speaker, who seemed the business-man of the evening, gave some account of the statistics of the Society, concluding with a short address to those present, hoping they would, upon that occasion, enrol their names as Members of the Longbridge Temperance Society.
The principal orator of the evening, Mr. Strong, then came forward; he made a speech of some length, and one that was very impressive. Nothing could be more clear, more just, more true, than the picture he drew of the manifold evils of intemperance; a vice so deceitful in its first appearance, so treacherous in its growth; so degrading, so brutalizing in its enjoyments; so blasting and ruinous in its effects--ruinous to body and mind, heart and soul--blasting all hopes for this life and for the next, so long as it remains unconquered. He entreated his friends to count the cost of indulgence in this vice; loss of property, loss of health, loss of character, loss of intellect and feeling, loss of conscience, until roused in those fearful moments of terror and fury, the peculiar punishment of drunkenness. He begged his hearers to look at this evil under all its aspects, from the moment it destroys the daily peace of its miserable victims and all connected with them, until it leaves them, in death, without a hope, exposed to the fearful penalty of sin. As he went on, the heart of many a wretched wife and mother acknowledged the bitter truth of his observations; many a guilty conscience shrunk under the probe. He then made a just and reasonable estimate of the difficulties to be resisted in conquering this evil; he did not attempt to deny that there were obstacles to be overcome; he showed all the force of bad habit, all the danger of temptation--but if there were difficulties in the way, it was equally true that the power to subdue them was fully within the reach of every man. He went on to represent the happy effects of a change from evil to good; a restoration to usefulness, peace, comfort, and respectability, which has happily been seen in many an instance. He concluded by appealing to his hearers as men, to shake off a debasing slavery; as Christians, to flee from a heinous sin; and he entreated them, if they had not done so before, to take, on that evening, the first step in the cheering, honourable, blessed course of temperance.
Mr. Strong's speech was, in fact, excellent; all he said was perfectly true, it was well-expressed, and his manner was easy, natural, and dignified.
He was followed by William Cassius Clapp; the lawyer had been very anxious to speak at this meeting. Temperance societies were very popular at that time in Longbridge, and he was, of course, desirous of not losing so good an opportunity of appearing before the public on such an occasion; he thought it would help him on in his road towards the Assembly. Running his fingers through his curls, he took his place on the stage, and commenced. He was very fluent by nature, and in animation, in fanatical zeal for the cause, he far surpassed Mr. Strong: any other cause, by-the-bye, had it been popular, would have suited him just as well. In assertion, in denunciation, he distinguished himself particularly; he called upon every individual present to come forward and sign the pledge, under penalty of public disgrace; it was the will of the community that the pledge should be signed, public opinion demanded it, the public will required it; every individual present who neglected to sign the pledge of total abstinence, he pronounced to be "instigated by aristocratic pride," and would leave that house, stigmatized as "anti-Christian, and anti-republican;" and in conclusion he threw in something about "liberty."
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