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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 4

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DURING the day on which our story opened, Henry Ellis had obtained from a friend the first volume of Prescott's History of Mexico, then just from the press. An hour's perusal of its fascinating pages awakened in his mind a deep interest.

"Just the book to read to Cara," said he to himself, closing the volume, and laying it aside. "She's too much taken up with mere fiction. But here is that truth which is stranger than fiction; and I am sure she will soon get absorbed in the narrative."

With his new book, and this pleasant thought in his mind, Ellis took his way homeward, after the business of the day was over. As he walked along, a friend overtook him, and said, familiarly, as he touched him on the shoulder,

"I'm glad to overhaul you so opportunely. Half a dozen times, to-day, I have been on the eve of running round to see you, but as often was prevented. All in good time yet, I hope. I want you to come over to my room, this evening. There are to be three or four of our friends there, and some good eating and drinking into the bargain."

"A temptation certainly," replied Ellis. "No man likes good company better than I do; but, I rather think I must forego the pleasure this time."

"Why do you say that?"

I've promised myself another pleasure."

"Another engagement?"

"Not exactly that. Barker has loaned me the first volume of Prescott's Mexico; and I'm going to spend the evening in reading it to my wife."

"Any other evening will do as well for that," returned the friend. "So promise me to come around. I can't do without you."

"Sorry to disappoint you," said Ellis, firmly. "But, when I once get my mind fixed on a thing, I am hard to change."

"Perhaps your wife may have some engagement on hand, for the evening, or be disinclined for reading. What then?"

"You will see me at your room," was the prompt answer of Ellis; and the words were uttered with more feeling than he had intended to exhibit. The very question brought unpleasant images before his mind.

"I shall look for you," said the friend, whose name was Jerome. Good evening!"

"Good evening! Say to your friends, if I should not be there, that I am in better company."

The two men parted, and Ellis kept on his way homeward. Not until the suggestion of Jerome that his wife might be disinclined to hear him read, did a remembrance of Cara's uncertain temper throw a shade across his feelings. He sighed as he moved onward.

"I wish she were kinder and more considerate," he said to himself. "I know that I don't always do right; yet, I am not by any means so bad as she sometimes makes me out. To any thing reasonable, I am always ready to yield. But when she frowns if I light a cigar; and calls me a tippler whenever she detects the smell of brandy and water, I grow angry and stubborn. Ah, me!"

Ellis sighed heavily. A little way he walked on, and then began communing with himself.

"I don't know"--he went on--"but, may be, I do take a little too much sometimes. I rather think I must have been drinking too freely when I came home last week: by the way Cara talked, and by the way she acted for two or three days afterwards. There may be danger. Perhaps there is. My head isn't very strong; and it doesn't take much to affect me. I wish Cara wouldn't speak to me as she does sometimes. I can't bear it. Twice within the last month, she has fairly driven me off to spend my evening in a tavern, when I would much rather have been at home. Ah, me! It's a great mistake. And Cara may find it out, some day, to her sorrow. I like a glass of brandy, now and then; but I'm not quite so far gone that I must have it whether or no. I'm foolish, I will own, to mind her little, pettish, fretful humours. I ought to be more of a man than I am. But, I didn't make myself, and can't help feeling annoyed, and sometimes angry, when she is unkind and unreasonable. Going off to a tavern don't mend the matter, I'll admit; but, when I leave the house, alone, after nightfall, and in a bad humour, it is the most natural thing in the world for me to seek the pleasant company of some of my old friends--and I generally know where to find them."

Such was the state of mind in which Ellis returned home.

A word or two will give the reader a better idea of the relation which Henry Ellis and his wife bore to each other and society. They had been married about six years, and had three children, the oldest a boy, and the other two girls. Ellis kept a retail dry-goods store, in a small way. His capital was limited, and his annual profits, therefore, but light. The consequence was, that, in all his domestic arrangements, the utmost frugality had to be observed. He was a man of strict probity, with some ambition to get ahead in the world. These made him careful and economical in his expenditures, both at home and in the management of his business. As a man, he was social in his feelings, but inclined to be domestic. While unmarried, he had lived rather a gay life, and formed a pretty large acquaintance among young men. His associations led him into the pretty free use of intoxicating drinks; but the thought of becoming a slave of a vicious appetite never once crossed his mind with its warning shadow.

The first trial of Henry Ellis's married life was the imperative necessity that required him to lay a restraining hand upon his wife's disposition to spend money more freely than was justified by their circumstances. He had indulged her for the period of a whole year, and the result was so heavy a balance against his expense account, that he became anxious and troubled. There must be a change, or his business would be crippled, and ultimate ruin follow. As gently as he could, Ellis brought the attention of his wife to this matter. But, she could not comprehend, to its full extent, the point he urged. It then became necessary for Ellis to hold the purse-strings more tightly than he had formerly done. This fretted the mind of his wife, and often led her, in the warmth of the moment of disappointment, to utter unkind expressions. These hurt Ellis; and, sometimes, made him angry. The cloud upon Cara's brow, consequent upon these occasional misunderstandings, was generally so unpleasant to Ellis, whose heart was ever wooing the sunshine, let the rays come through almost any medium, that he would spend his evenings abroad. Temptation, as a natural consequence, was in his way. His convivial character made him seek the company of those who do not always walk the safest paths. How anxious should be the wife of such a husband to keep him at home; how light the task would have been for Cara. Alas! that she was so selfish, so self-willed--so blind! The scene that occurred on the evening of Ellis's return home with the book he wished to read for his wife, will give a fair view of Mrs. Ellis's manner of reacting upon her husband; and his mode of treating her on such occasions.

It has been seen in what state of feeling the husband returned home. Remembrances of the past brought some natural misgivings to his mind. His face, therefore, wore rather a more subdued expression than usual. Still, he was in a tolerably cheerful frame of mind--in fact, he was never moody. To his great relief, Cara met him with a smile, and seemed to be in an unusually good humour. Their sweet babe was lying asleep on her lap; and his other two children were playing about the room. Instantly the sunshine fell warmly again on the heart of Ellis. He kissed mother and children fervently, and with a deep sense of love.

"I called to see the bride this afternoon," said Mrs. Ellis, soon after her husband came in.

"Ah, did you?" he answered. "At her new home?"


"She is well and happy, of course?"

"Oh, yes; happy as the day is long. How could she help being so in such a little paradise?"

"Love makes every spot a paradise," said Ellis.

"Beg your pardon," replied the wife, with some change in her tone of voice. "I'm no believer in that doctrine. I want something more than love. External things are of account in the matter; and of very considerable account."

"They have every thing very handsome, of course," said Ellis; who was generally wise enough not to enter into a discussion with his wife on subjects of this kind.

"Oh, perfect!" replied his wife, "perfect! I never saw a house furnished with so much taste. I declare it has put me half out of conceit with things at home. Oh, dear! how common every thing did look when I returned."

"You must remember that our furniture has been in use for about six years," said Ellis; "and, moreover, that it was less costly than your friend's, in the beginning. Her husband and your's are in different circumstances."

"I know all about that," was returned, with a toss of the head. "I know that we are dreadfully poor, and can hardly get bread for our children."

"We are certainly not able to furnish as handsomely as Mr. and Mrs. Beaumont. There is no denying that, Cara. Still, we are able to have every real comfort of life; and therewith let us try to be content. To desire what we cannot possess, will only make us unhappy."

"You needn't preach to me," retorted Mrs. Ellis, her face slightly flushing. "When I want to hear a sermon, I'll go to church."

Mr. Ellis made no answer, but, lifting his babe from its mother's lap, commenced tossing it in the air and singing a pleasant nursery ditty. Caroline sat in a moody state of mind for some minutes, and then left the room to give some directions about tea. On her return, Ellis said, in as cheerful a voice as if no unpleasant incident had transpired,

"Oh! I had forgotten to say, Cara, that Mr. Hemming and his wife have returned from Boston. They will be around to see us some evening this week."

"Hum-m--well." This was the cold, moody response of Mrs. Ellis.

"Mr. Hemming says that his wife's health is much better than it was."

"Does he?" very coldly uttered.

"He seemed very cheerful."

Mrs. Ellis made no comment upon this remark of her husband, and the latter said nothing more.

Tea was soon announced, and the husband and wife went, with their two oldest children, to partake of their evening meal. A cloud still hung over Caroline's features. Try as Ellis would to feel indifferent to his wife's unhappy state of mind, his sensitiveness to the fact became more and more painful every moment. The interest at first felt in his children, gradually died away, and, by the time supper was over, he was in a moody and fretted state, yet had he manfully striven to keep his mind evenly balanced.

On returning to the sitting-room, the sight of the book he had brought home caused Ellis to make a strong effort to regain his self-possession. He had set his heart on reading that book to Cara, because he was sure she would get interested therein; and he hoped, by introducing this better class of reading, to awaken a healthier appetite for mental food than she now possessed. So he occupied himself with a newspaper, while his wife undressed the children and put them to bed. It seemed to him a long time before she was ready to sit down with her sewing at the table, upon which the soft, pleasant light of their shaded lamp was falling. At last she came, with her small work-basket in her mind. Topmost of all its contents was a French novel. When Ellis saw this, there came doubts and misgivings across his heart.

"Cara," said he quickly, and in a tone of forced cheerfulness, taking up, at the same time, his volume of Prescott,--"I brought this book home on purpose to read aloud. I dipped into it, to-day, and found it so exceedingly interesting, that I deferred the pleasure of its perusal until I could share it with you."

Now, under all the circumstances, it cost Ellis considerable effort to appear cheerful and interested, while saying this.

"What book is it?" returned Cara, in a chilling tone, while her eyes were fixed upon her husband's face, with any thing but a look of love.

"The first volume of Prescott's History of Mexico, one of the most charming"--

"Pho! I don't want to hear your dull old histories!" said Cara, with a contemptuous toss of the head.

"Dull old histories!" retorted Ellis, whose patience was now gone. "Dull old histories! You don't know what you are talking about. There's more real interest in this book than in all the French novels that ever were invented to turn silly women's heads."

Of course, Mrs. Ellis "fired up" at this. She was just at the right point of ignition to blaze out at a single breath of reproof. We will not repeat the cutting language she used to her husband. Enough, that, in the midst of the storm that followed, Ellis started up, and bowing, with mock ceremony, said--

"I wish you good evening, madam. And may I see you in a better humour when we meet again."

A moment afterwards, and Caroline was alone with her own perturbed feelings and unpleasant, self-rebuking thoughts. Still, she could not help muttering, as a kind of justification of her own conduct--

"A perfect Hotspur! It's rather hard that a woman can't speak to her husband, but he must fling himself off in this way. Why didn't he read his history, if it was so very interesting, and let me alone. I don't care about such things, and he knows it."

After this, Mrs. Ellis fell into a state of deep and gloomy abstraction of mind. Many images of the past came up to view, and, among them, some that it was by no means pleasant to look upon. This was not the first time that her husband had gone off in a pet; but in no instance had he come home with a mind as clear as when he left her. A deep sigh heaved the wife's bosom as she remembered this; and, for some moments, she suffered from keen self-reproaches. But, an accusing spirit quickly obliterated this impression. In her heart she wrote many bitter things against her husband, and magnified habits and peculiarities into serious faults.

Poor, unhappy wife! How little did she comprehend the fact that her husband's feet were near the brink of a precipice, and that a fearful abyss of ruin was below; else would she have drawn him lovingly back, instead of driving him onward to destruction. _

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