by Charlotte Maria Tucker
“Oh! try again, father, try again!” What a sad, pleading voice uttered the words, what a pale little face was turned towards Peter Parsons, as he sat, his elbows resting on the beer-stained table, with haggard cheek and blood-shot eyes, which told too well the tale of how the last night had been spent.
“It’s no use trying to give it up, I have tried and I can’t do it,” was the father’s dogged, despairing reply. “I know the drink will be my ruin, but if it were poison, I must have it! There’s Mr. Barker, my employer, he gave me warning yesterday. He said he couldn’t stand my habits longer, that he was sorry to give me up, but could have none but steady men to serve him. There’s the third place I’ve lost in the same way. I know the road I’m treading. I know what lies at the end on’t. I’m going to ruin with my eyes wide open, but I can’t help it, I must have the drink!” And Peter Parsons let his chin sink on his breast and looked the picture of a wretched, degraded sinner. No wonder that he shrunk from looking around him at what had once been a comfortable home! Where was the clock that had ticked so cheerily, given as a wedding present to his wife? Where was the neat mahogany desk, in which he had taken such pride, bought with the savings of months of toil? Where was the valued old Family Bible, which his father and grandfather had used before him? All at the pawnbroker’s, pledged for drink!
And if it pained the wretched drunkard to look at bare walls and fireless grates, yet more it pained him to see the effects of his sin in the pale sad face of his sweet little Esther, her clothes so patched and threadbare, the tearful eyes that, but for him, would have been bright with the sunshine of childhood.
“I have tried,” Peter muttered to himself, without raising his drooping head, “the teetotalers, they spoke to me and urged me, and they made it as clear as day that half the misery in the city came all along of the drink. That with every penny which I threw down at the bar of the public house, I was paying my fare to the workhouse or buying the nails for my coffin! They got me to take the pledge and I thought that the danger was over. I’d given my word and I’d keep it. And for weeks all went on straight enough. Money came in, comfort came back, and my poor wife looked happy again! But then I fell into sore temptation and it seemed as if I’d no more strength than a babe in the claws of a lion. I woke one morning—one wretched morning—to find my pledge broken, my character disgraced, and the habit of hard drinking fifty times stronger on me than ever.
“And I tried again,”—thus the miserable man continued muttering to himself, scarcely conscious of the presence of the poor little girl at his side—“’twas when my Sarah lay a-dying and I couldn’t a-bear to drink away the comfort she needed so much. Two days I abstained, but on the third—” Memory was like a barbed arrow in the heart of the miserable widower, his words were choked in his throat, and instead of finishing his sentence, he uttered a heavy groan.
Esther did not venture for several moments to speak. Tears were fast flowing down her pale cheeks. She, like her unhappy parent, was tempted to give way to despair, but the child had learned in her Bible always to pray and never to faint, and though her prayers had as yet seemed unanswered, faith whispered to her, “Try again.”
“Child!” said Peter, suddenly raising his head and fixing his bleared eyes on his daughter, “when once a man has got into the reg’lar habit of drinking, there’s nothing as can keep him from it. It’s like a fever, like a madness! Interest can’t do it, resolves can’t do it, even care for a family can’t do it, for no one on earth loved a wife or child better than I have done!”
“Can’t God’s grace do it?” faltered Esther, almost afraid to speak out the words.
“Don’t talk to me of such matters!” cried Peter, starting from his seat and pacing up and down the room, like one who is restless from pain. “I used to think on God once, but I dare not think on Him now. It’s like going to judgment before the time, to think on the anger of God!”
“But mayn’t we think on the love of God?” murmured Esther, with trembling earnestness in her tone. “O father! Dear, dear father! Let me say one verse—only one little verse that the teacher gave me yesterday to learn—I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. She said we could overcome temptations through Him, have our sins forgiven through Him, and that if He give us His Spirit, we shall be more than conquerors through Him!”
“Go to your school, child. Go to your school!” cried Peter, half in anger and half in sorrow. “Such words may do well enough for such as ye. I’m too old to be learning them now!” And seeing that his little girl paused, he motioned impatiently for her to leave him.
Esther dared speak no more to her father, but she could pray for him still to her God. As she slipped on her rusty black bonnet and shabby cloak, preparing to go to the school, her whole heart was full of prayer. “O God! for the sake of Thy blessed Son, help my poor father, save my poor father, don’t let the enemy tempt him away,” and before Esther quitted the house, with a trembling hand, she placed her little Testament on the table. Esther had often done so before, in hopes that her father might read it, as he once used to read the great Bible. Esther had always found her Testament lying exactly where she had put it, unopened and untouched, but in a spirit of faith and hope she determined to “try again.”
And this time, Peter Parsons took up the book. He could scarcely have said why he did so. Perhaps it was because he found any kind of employment more tolerable than thinking. Perhaps he was scarcely conscious of what he was doing, as he carelessly turned over the leaves. His eye was first attracted by a name like his own. It rested on the account of the Lord appearing to Peter and other disciples, walking on the waves of the sea.
“Ah, he was a different Peter, indeed, who saw that sight!” thought the man, “He was a great apostle and a holy martyr besides, and yet, if I mind me right of his story, ‘twas more than once that he failed and fell. I’ll just look again at what is said in the Bible about it.” And seating himself at the table, Peter read out, half aloud, making his comments as he proceeded—
“Jesus spake unto them, saying, Be of good cheer; it is I; be not afraid. And Peter answered Him and said, Lord, if it be Thou, bid me come unto Thee on the water. And He said, Come. And when Peter was come down out of the ship, he walked on the water, to go to Jesus.”
“Ay,” observed the reader, half closing the book, “he was a bold man, Peter! He could walk on the sea, just as I’ve known some men go on straight and steady over temptations, never stumbling nor sinking, firm as a rock amid all! I’ve known them as have taken the pledge and never broken it once. Nothing would tempt them to drink. But it isn’t every man as can walk on a sea of temptation like that—it ain’t in human nature!” And again the poor victim of intemperance turned to the Holy Book.
“But when he saw the wind boisterous, he was afraid; and beginning to sink, he cried, saying, Lord, save me!”
Parsons stopped for some moments and remained with his eyes resting on the last sentence, and his mind buried in thought. “What!” he muttered to himself, “Peter began to sink. He had not strength to stand by himself, he—a saint—an apostle—had to cry out aloud, Lord save me! It seems that, full of faith and zeal as he was, he was but flesh and blood after all. I’ll read on. I’ll see if the Lord came at once to the drowning man’s help.
“And immediately Jesus stretched forth His hand and caught him, and said unto him, O thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt?”
Parson closed the book, rose from his seat, and again paced up and down the room. He did not utter a word aloud, but if the thoughts of his heart could have been read, they would have been something like this:
“The Lord heard him. The Lord cared for him. The Lord stretched out His hand to save him when he had no strength to save himself. There was mighty love shown and mighty power! Is not the same Savior able still to save to the uttermost? I don’t know where to turn to these words, but I’m sure that I read them long ago in my Bible. Able to save. Ay, but is He willing? What was it that the Lord said to Peter, Thou of little faith, wherefore didst thou doubt? What if I went to Him straight and asked Him to save me from sinking, going lower and lower down in the depths of sin! Would the Lord stretch out His hand to me, to me whom all the world despises, to me whom everyone else gives up?” Again Peter went to the table and opened the little Testament left by his praying child. The first verse on which his glance fell seemed to him almost like a message sent to him direct from God, "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.”
“I’ll hold by this promise!” exclaimed Parsons, grasping the little book as he spoke. “I’ve tried to go right, but I’ve failed. I’ve wished to give up sin, but the habit was too strong for me. Now I’ll cast myself, just as Peter did, on the mercy and strength of my Lord, and hoping for the help of His grace, I’ll try again—I’ll try yet again!”
While Parsons’ pale little girl, as she walked along the gloomy streets, was silently praying all the way for her father, another little girl, in a comfortable home, was pleading the cause of poor Peter. Mr. Barker, his late employer, sat in his large red-leather armchair, with his feet on the fender, before a blazing fire, with Clara, his youngest daughter, seated upon his knee.
“Oh, papa, I wish that you would try him again, only once!” said the gentle little lady, holding her father’s hand fast imprisoned between both of her own.
“And why should I try him again?” said Mr. Barker, amused at the earnest tone of the little pleader.
“Oh, because of his poor little girl—the best girl, mama says, in the school. She looks so pale and thin, and sad, and I’ve heard that when her mother was dying, Esther watched and nursed her so fondly. It is not her fault that her father drinks. It is enough to break her heart.”
“We will look after her,” said Mr. Barker, “the man may ruin himself, but he shall not ruin his child. I should think that she is almost old enough to go out into service, if mama could find her a nice easy place.”
“But she would not be happy, papa. How could she be happy in any place when she knew that her own father was going down—down—down to ruin? Oh, try him again, papa! Just give him one other chance. If he knows that it is his very last, perhaps he may turn and repent.”
Clara pleaded, urged, and entreated, and at length won her parent to consent to overlook for this once the offence of Parsons. Mr. Barker was a kind-hearted master and he was himself unwilling by severity to drive an unhappy man to despair. Though shaking his head doubtfully and expressing his belief that no good would result from the trial, he agreed to send word to Parsons to call at his office on the following morning.
Thus, at the same hour, faith bade a wanderer “try again” to wrestle with his besetting sin, believing that a gracious God was willing and able to help him, hope bade poor Esther “try again” to bring down by earnest prayer a blessing upon her father, and charity bade the Barkers “try again” to aid an erring fellow creature by giving him an opportunity of winning back the good name which he had lost.
I will not describe all the inward struggles of Parsons, nor the difficulties which he encountered from the power of an evil habit. Often was he tempted, often discouraged, often did he almost give up in despair. But he now used the Word of God as his weapon, and faith in God as his shield, and he found in the end that he who resists the devil will make him turn and flee!
When the long bright summer days had returned, again the old clock ticked cheerily in its place behind the door, and once more upon the table lay the valued Family Bible. Peter Parsons sat with his child, as he had done on the morning on which my story opened, but how changed was the appearance of each from what it then had been! Parsons no longer hung down his head, as if ashamed to look his fellow man in the face. His eye was clear and steady. His dress decent and clean, and instead of bitter tears, there were roses on Esther’s cheek!
“Oh, father, are we not happy?” she exclaimed, as the bright glow of the setting sun bathed the room in light.
“If I be happy here,” said Parsons, looking with earnest thought into the golden clouds above, “or if I’ve a hope of being happy in the better world that’s to come, I think, my Esther, that under God I owe it all to you. I was going fast on the downhill road, I was giving up all effort to stop, when your prayers—and your words—and your tears—and the blessed Book which you put in my way, made me see that there was hope even for me! They led me to try again to get back to the straight, safe path, to be a good father to you, my child, and a faithful servant to my God!”
Edited by Pam Takahashi
Proofed by Deborah Gardner
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