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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 10

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THE morning of the day came on which Wilkinson had to make his last payment on account of the due-bills given to Carlton. He had nothing in bank, and there were few borrowing resources not already used to the utmost limit. At ten o'clock he went out to see what could be done in the way of effecting further temporary loans among business friends. His success was not very great, for at twelve o'clock he returned with only two hundred dollars. Carlton's agent had called twice during the time, and came in a few minutes afterwards.

"You're too soon for me," said Wilkinson, with not a very cheerful or welcome expression of countenance.

"It's past twelve," returned the man.

"All the same if it were past three. I haven't the money."

The collector's brow lowered heavily.

"How soon will you have it?"

"Can't tell," replied Wilkinson, fretfully.

"That kind of answer don't just suit me," said the man, with some appearance of anger. "I've been remarkable easy with you, and now"--

"Easy!" sharply ejaculated Wilkinson. "Yes; as the angler who plays his trout. You've already received fifteen hundred dollars of the sum out of which I was swindled, and with that I should think both you and your principal might be content. Go back to him, and say that he is about placing on the camel's back the pound that may break it."

"I have before told you," was replied, "that Mr. Carlton has no longer any control in this matter. It is I who hold your obligations; they have been endorsed to me, and for a valuable consideration; and be assured that I shall exact the whole bond."

"If," said Wilkinson, after some moments' reflection, and speaking in a changed voice and with much deliberation, "if you will take my note of hand for the amount of your due-bills, at six months from to-day, I will give it; if not"--

"Preposterous!" returned the man, interrupting him.

"If not," continued Wilkinson, "you can fall back upon the law. It has its delays and chances; and I am more than half inclined to the belief that I was a fool not to have left this matter for a legal decision in the beginning. I should have gained time at least."

"If you are so anxious to get into court, you can be gratified," was answered.

"Very well; seek your redress in law," said Wilkinson, angrily. "Occasionally, gamblers and pickpockets get to the end of their rope; and, perhaps, it may turn out so in this instance. My only regret now is, that I didn't let the matter go to court in the beginning."

The man turned off hastily, but paused ere he reached the door, stood musing for a while, and then came slowly back.

"Give me your note at sixty days," said he.

"No, sir," was the firm reply of Wilkinson. "I offered my note at six months. For not a day less will I give it; and I don't care three coppers whether you take it or no. I had about as lief test the matter in a court of justice as not."

The man again made a feint to retire, but again returned.

"Say three months, then."

"It is useless to chaffer with me, sir." Wilkinson spoke sternly. "I have said what I will do, and I will do nothing else. Even that offer I shall withdraw if not accepted now."

The man seemed thrown quite aback by the prompt and decisive manner of Wilkinson, and, after some hesitation and grumbling, finally consented to yield up the balance of the due-bills for a note payable in six months.

"Saved as by fire!" Such was the mental ejaculation of Wilkinson, as the collector left the store. "I stagger already under the extra weight of fifteen hundred dollars. Five hundred added now would come nigh to crushing me. Ah! how dearly have I paid for my folly!"

While he still sat musing at his desk, his friend Ellis came in, looking quite sober.

"I know you've been pretty hard run for the last week or ten days," said he, "but can't you strain a point and help me a little? I've been running about all the morning, and am still two hundred dollars short of the amount to be paid in bank to-day."

"Fortunately," replied Wilkinson, "I have just the sum you need."

"How long can you spare it?"

"Until day after to-morrow."

"You shall have it then, without fail."

The money was counted out and handed to Ellis, who, as he received it, said in a desponding voice--

"Unless a man is so fortunate as to be born with a silver spoon in his mouth, he finds nothing but up-hill work in this troublesome world. I declare! I'm almost discouraged. I can feel myself going behindhand, instead of advancing."

"Don't say that. You're only in a desponding mood," replied Wilkinson, repressing his own gloomy feelings, and trying to speak encouragingly.

"I wish it were only imagination. It is now nearly ten years since I was married, and though my business, at the time, was good, and paying a fair profit on the light capital invested, it has, instead of getting more prosperous, become, little and by little, embarrassed, until now--I speak this confidently, and to one whom I know to be a friend--were every thing closed up, I doubt if I should be worth five hundred dollars."

"Not so bad as that. You are only in a gloomy state of mind."

"I wish it were only nervous despondency, my friend. But it is not so. All the while I am conscious of a retrograde instead of an advance movement."

"There must be a cause for this," said Wilkinson.

"Of course. There is no effect without a cause."

"Do you know what it is?"


"A knowledge of our disease is said to be half the cure."

"It has not proved so in my case."

"What is the difficulty?"

"My expenses are too high."

"Your store expenses?"

"No, my family expenses."

"Then you ought to reduce them."

"That is easily said; but, in my case, not so easily done. I cannot make my wife comprehend the necessity of retrenchment."

"If you were to explain the whole matter to her, calmly and clearly, I am certain you would not find her unreasonable. Her stake in this matter is equal to yours."

"Oh, dear! Haven't I tried, over and over again?"

"If Cara will not hear reason, and join with you in prudent reforms, then it is your duty to make them yourself. What are your annual expenses?"

"I am ashamed to say."

"Fifteen hundred dollars?"

"They have never fallen below that since we were married, and, for the last three years, have reached the sum of two thousand dollars. This year they will even exceed that."

Wilkinson shook his head.

"Too much! too much!"

"I know it is. A man in my circumstances has no right to expend even half that sum. Why, five hundred dollars a year less in our expenses since we were married would have left me a capital of five thousand dollars in my business."

"And placed you now on the sure road to fortune."


"Take my advice, and give to Cara a full statement of your affairs. Do it at once--this very day. It has been put off too long already. Let there be no reserve--no holding back--no concealment. Do it calmly, mildly, yet earnestly, and my word for it, she will join you, heart and hand, in any measure of reform and safety that you may propose. She were less than a woman, a wife, and a mother, not to do so. You wrong her by doubt."

"Perhaps I do," said Ellis in reply. "Perhaps I have never managed her rightly. I know that I am quick to get out of patience with her, if she oppose my wishes too strongly. But I will try and overcome this. There is too much at stake just now."

The two men parted. Henry Ellis pondered all day over the present state of his affairs, and the absolute necessity there was for a reduction of his expenses. The house in which he lived cost four hundred and fifty dollars a year. Two hundred dollars could easily be saved, he thought, by taking a smaller house, where, if they were only willing to think so, they might be just as comfortable as they now were. Beyond this reduction in rent, Ellis did not see clearly how to proceed. The rest would have mainly to depend upon his wife, who had almost the entire charge of the home department, including the expenditures made on account thereof.

The earnestness with which Ellis pondered these things lifted his thoughts so much above the sensual plane where they too often rested, that he felt not the desire for stimulating drink returning at certain hours, but passed through the whole of the afternoon without either thinking of or tasting his usual glass of brandy and water. On coming home to his family in the evening, his mind was as clear as a bell. This, unhappily, was not always the case.

And now for the task of making Cara comprehend the real state of his affairs; and to produce in her a cheerful, loving, earnest co-operation in the work of salutary reform. But how to begin? What first to say? How to disarm her opposition in the outset? These were the questions over which Ellis pondered. And the difficulty loomed up larger and larger the nearer he approached it. He felt too serious; and was conscious of this.

Unhappily, Cara's brow was somewhat clouded. Ellis approached her with attempts at cheerful conversation; but she was not in the mood to feel interested in any of the topics he introduced. The tea hour passed with little of favourable promise. The toast was badly made, and the chocolate not half boiled. Mrs. Ellis was annoyed, and scolded the cook, in the presence of her husband, soundly; thus depriving him of the little appetite with which he had come to the table. Gradually the unhappy man felt his patience and forbearance leaving him; and more than once he said to himself--

"It will be worse than useless to talk to her. She will throw back my words upon me, in the beginning, as she has so often done before."

Tea over, Mr. and Mrs. Ellis returned with their children to the sitting-room. The former felt an almost irrepressible desire for the cigar, which habit had rendered so nearly indispensable; but he denied himself the indulgence, lest Cara should make it the occasion of some annoying remark. So he took up a newspaper, and occupied himself therewith, until his wife had undressed and put their two oldest children to bed. As she returned from the adjoining room, where they slept, Ellis looked earnestly into her face, to see what hope there was for him in its expression. Her lips were drawn closely together, her brows slightly contracted, and her countenance had a fretful, discontented expression. He sighed inwardly, and resumed the perusal of his newspaper; or, rather, affected to resume it, for the words that met his eyes conveyed to his mind no intelligible ideas.

Mrs. Ellis took her work-basket, and commenced sewing, while her husband continued to hold the newspaper before his face. After some ten minutes of silence, the latter made a remark, as a kind of feeler. This was replied to with what sounded more like a grunt than a vocal expression.

"Cara," at length said Ellis, forcing himself to the unpleasant work on hand, "I would like to have a little plain talk with you about my affairs." He tried, in saying this, to seem not to be very serious; but his feelings, which had for some time been on the rack, were too painfully excited to admit of this. He both looked and expressed, in the tones of his voice, the trouble he felt.

Now, just at the moment Ellis said this, his wife was on the eve of making the announcement, in rather a peremptory and dogmatic way, that if he didn't give her the money to buy new parlour carpets, for which she had been asking as much as a year past, she would go and order them, and have the bill sent in to him. All day this subject had been in her mind, and she had argued herself into the belief that her husband was perfectly able, not only to afford her new carpets, but also new parlour furniture; and that his unwillingness to do so arose from a penurious spirit. Such being her state of mind, she was not prepared to see in the words, voice, and look of her husband the real truth that it was so important for her to know. From the beginning of their married life, she had been disposed to spend freely, and he to restrain her. In consequence, there was a kind of feud between them; and now she regarded his words as coming from a desire on his part to make her believe that he was poorer, in the matter of this world's goods, than was really the case. Her reply, therefore, rather pettishly uttered, was--

"Oh! I've heard enough about your affairs. No doubt you are on the verge of bankruptcy. A man who indulges his family to the extent that you do must expect shipwreck with every coming gale."

The change of countenance and exclamation with which this heartless retort was made startled even Cara. Rising quickly to his feet, and flinging upon his wife a look of reproach, Ellis left the room. A moment or two afterwards, the street-door shut after him with a heavy jar.

It was past midnight when he came home, and then he was stupid from drink. _

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