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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 5

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ELLIS, excited and angry, not only left his wife's presence, but the house. Repulsed by one pole, he felt the quick attraction of another. Not a moment did he hesitate, on gaining the street, but turned his steps toward the room of Jerome, where a party of gay young men were to assemble for purposes of conviviality.

We will not follow him thither, nor describe the manner of his reception. We will not picture the scene of revelry, nor record the coarse jests that some of the less thoughtful of the company ventured to make on the appearance of Ellis in their midst--for, to most of his friends, it was no secret that his wife's uncertain temper often caused him to leave his home in search of more congenial companionship. Enough, that at eleven o'clock, Ellis left the house of Jerome, much excited by drink.

The pure, cool night air, as it bathed the heated temples of Henry Ellis, so far sobered him by the time he reached his own door, that a distant remembrance of what had occurred early in the evening was present to his thoughts; and, still beyond this, a remembrance of how he had been received on returning at a late hour in times gone by. His hand was in his pocket, in search of his dead-latch key, when he suddenly retreated from the door, muttering to himself--

"I'm not going to stand a curtain lecture! There now! I'll wait until she's asleep."

Saying which, he drew a cigar and match-box from his pocket, and lighting the former, placed it between his lips, and moved leisurely down the street.

The meeting with Wilkinson has already been described.

Scarcely less startled was Ellis at the sudden apparition of Mrs. Wilkinson than her husband had been. He remained only a few moments after they retired. Then he turned his steps again homeward, with a clearer head and heavier heart than when he refused to enter, in fear of what he called a "curtain lecture."

Many painful thoughts flitted through his mind as he moved along with a quick pace.

"I wish Cara understood me better, or that I had more patience with her," he said to himself. "This getting angry with her, and going off to drinking parties and taverns is a bad remedy for the evil, I will confess. It is wrong in me, I know. Very wrong. But I can't bear to be snapped, and snubbed up, and lectured in season and out of season. I'm only flesh and blood. Oh dear! I'm afraid evil will come of it in the end. Poor Wilkinson! What a shock the appearance of his wife must have given him! It set every nerve in my body to quivering. And it was all my fault that he wasn't at home with his watching wife and sick child. Ah me! How one wrong follows another!"

Ellis had reached his own door. Taking out his night-key, he applied it to the latch; but the door did not open. It had been locked.

"Locked out, ha!" he ejaculated quickly; and with a feeling of anger. His hand was instantly on the bell-pull, and he jerked it three or four times vigorously; the loud and continued ringing of the bell sounding in his ears where he stood on the doorstep without. A little while he waited, and then the ringing was renewed, and with a more prolonged violence than at first. Then he listened, bending his ear close to the door. But he could detect no movement in the house.

"Confound it!" came sharp and impatiently from his lips. "If I thought this was designed, I'd--"

He checked himself, for just at that instant he saw a faint glimmer of light through the glass over the door. Then he perceived the distant shuffle of feet along the passage floor. There was a fumbling at the key and bolts, and then the half-asleep and half-awake servant admitted him.

"I didn't know you was out, sir," said the servant, "or I wouldn't have locked the door when I went to bed."

Ellis made no reply, but entered and ascended to his chamber. Cara was in bed and asleep, or apparently so. Her husband did not fail to observe a certain unsteady motion of the lashes that lay over her closed eyes; and he was not far wrong in his impression that she was awake, and had heard his repeated ringing for admission. His belief that such was the case did not lessen the angry feelings produced by the fact of having the key of his own door turned upon him.

But slumber soon locked his senses into oblivion, and he did not awake until the sun was an hour above the horizon.

The moment Mrs. Wilkinson emerged, with her husband, from the bar-room of Parker's tavern, she fled along the street like a swift gliding spirit, far outstripping in speed her thoroughly sobered and alarmed husband, who hurried after her with rapid steps. The door of the house had been left open when she came forth in the anguish of her wild alarm to summon her husband, and she re-entered and flew up-stairs without the pause of an instant. Wilkinson was but a moment or two later in reaching the house, and in gaining their chamber. The sight that met his eyes sent the blood coldly to his heart. The mother had already snatched the child from the crib in which she had left her, and was standing with her close to the lamp, the light from which fell strongly upon her infantile face, that was fearfully distorted. The eyes were open and rolled up, until the entire pupil was hidden. The lips were white with their firm compression; and yet they had a quick nervous motion.

"Oh, John! John! what is the matter?" cried Mrs. Wilkinson, as she looked first upon the face of her child, and then into that of her husband, with a most anxious and imploring glance. "Is she dying?"

"No, dear, I think not," returned Wilkinson, with a composure of voice that belied the agitation of his feelings.

"Oh! what is the matter? Yes! Yes! I'm sure she's dying. Oh! run quick! quick! for the doctor."

"First," said Wilkinson, who was becoming, every moment, more self-possessed, and who now saw that the child, who was teething, had been thrown into spasms, "let us do what we can for her. She is in convulsions, and we must get her into a bath of hot water as quickly as possible. I will call up Anna. Don't be alarmed," he added, in a soothing voice: "there is no immediate danger."

"Are you sure, John? Are you sure? Oh! I'm afraid she is dying! My precious, precious babe!" And the mother clasped her child passionately to her bosom.

In the course of ten or fifteen minutes, a vessel of hot water was ready, and into this the still writhing form of the convulsed child was placed. Then Wilkinson hurried off for their physician. Half an hour afterwards he returned with him. The good effects of the hot-bath were already perceptible. The face of the child had resumed its placid sweetness of expression, and there was but slight convulsive twitching in the limbs. The doctor remained with them, applying, from time to time, appropriate remedies, until all the painful signs which occasioned so much alarm had vanished, and then left, promising to call early on the next morning.

It was past one o'clock. The physician had left, and the domestics retired to their own apartment. Mr. and Mrs. Wilkinson were alone with their still unconscious child, that lay in a deep, unnatural slumber. They were standing, side by side, and bending over the bed on which little Ella lay. Wilkinson had drawn his arm around his wife, and she had laid her head upon his shoulder. Each heard the beating of the other's heart, as thus they stood, silent, yet with troubled thoughts and oppressed feelings.

A tear fell upon the hand of Wilkinson, and the warm touch, coming as it did in that moment of intense excitement, caused a quick thrill to pass through his nerves; and he started involuntarily. Words of confession and promises for the future were on his tongue; but, their utterance, just at that moment, seemed untimely, and he merely answered the mute appeal of tears with a fervent, heart-warm kiss, that, if the power of his will could have gone with it, would have filled the heart of his wife with joy unspeakable. Scarcely had his lips touched hers, ere she started up, and flung her arms around his neck, sobbing--

"Oh, my husband! My husband!"

If she had designed to say more, utterance failed, or was checked; for she hid her face on his bosom, and wept like a heart-broken child.

How sincere was Wilkinson's repentance for past errors in that solemn hour! and how fervent was the promise of future amendment!

"I were worse than an evil spirit, to lay grief upon that gentle heart, or to make of those loving eyes a fountain of tears!"

Such was the mental ejaculation of Wilkinson, and he meant all that he said.

"God bless you, dearest!" he murmured in her ear.--"God bless you, and take this shadow quickly from your heart! Believe me, Mary, that no act of mine will ever dim its bright surface again."

Mrs. Wilkinson slowly raised her pale, tear-moistened face, and fixed, for a few moments, her eyes in those of her husband's. There was more of confidence and hope in them than pages of written language could express. Then her face was again hid on his bosom; while his arm clasped her slender form with a more earnest pressure. _

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