All these facts were known to the public; yet they countenanced the traffic in which Messrs. Laneville & Co. were engaged. They were merchants, they were wealthy; for these reasons, it would seem, the many-headed public looked up to them with a feeling bordering on reverence, somewhat awed by their presence, as though wealth had made them worthy, while many a less rich but ten-fold more honest man walked in the shadow of the mighty Magog, unseen,—uncared for, if seen. Messrs. Laneville & Co. knew that the law was against their business; they knew, also, that public opinion, if not actually in favor of it, willingly countenanced it.
Perchance the cry of some unfortunate widow might at times reach their ears; but it was speedily hushed by the charmed music of the falling dollar, as it was exchanged for their foul poison. Forgetting they were men, they acted as demons, and continued to deal forth their liquid death, and to supply the thousand streams of the city with the cause of the crime it was obliged to punish, and the pauperism it was obliged to support.
The “Vincennes” had just arrived at the wharf as James entered the store. It had been the custom of the owners, on the annual arrival of this vessel, to have a party on board. On this occasion, they made the usual arrangements for the festivity. Cards of invitation were speedily written, and distributed among members of the city government, editors, clergymen, and other influential persons. James was free to invite such of his friends as he chose, and in doing so the question arose whether he should ask George Alverton to be present. It was known to him that George was a teetotaller, and had that morning invited him to sign the pledge. He knew that at the entertainment wine would circulate. He knew that some would indulge rather freely, and that the maintenance of a perfect equilibrium by such would be very difficult. Suppose he, himself,—that is, James,—should be among these last mentioned, and that, too, before his friend George; would it not demolish his favorite argument, which he had a thousand times advanced, that he knew right from wrong,—when to drink and when to stop drinking? yet, thought he, I may not indulge too freely. Yes; I will maintain my position, and show by practice what I teach by preaching. Besides, it would be very impolite, as well as uncourteous, in me, not to invite one whose character I value so highly as his,—one whose friendship I so much esteem. I will invite him. He shall be present, and shall see that I can keep sober without being pledged to do so.
George Alverton was the son of a nobleman. Start not, republican reader, for we mean not a stiff-starched branch of English nobility, but one of America’s noblemen,—and hers are nature’s! He was a hard-working mechanic; one of God’s noblest works,—an honest man! Americans know not, as yet, the titled honors of the Old World; and none, save a few, whose birth-place nature must have mistook, would introduce into a republican country the passwords of a monarchical one.