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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 13

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ON the morning that followed the fruitless attempt of Henry Ellis to make his wife comprehend the necessity that existed for an immediate reduction in their household expenditures, he did not get up until nearly ten o'clock. For at least an hour before rising, he was awake, suffering in both body and mind; for the night's debauch had left him, as was usually the case, with a most violent headache. During all the time he heard, at intervals, the voice of Cara in the adjoining, talking to or scolding at the children; but not once during the time did she come into the chamber where he lay. He felt it as a total want of interest or affection on her part. He had done wrong; he felt that; yet, at the same time, he also felt that Cara had her share of the blame to bear. If she had only manifested some feeling for him, some interest in him, he would have been softened; but, as she did not, by keeping entirely away, show that she thought or cared for him, the pure waters of right feeling, that were gushing up in his mind, were touched with the gall of bitterness.

Rising at length, Ellis began dressing himself, purposely making sufficient noise to reach the ears of his wife. But she did not make her appearance.

Two doors led from the chamber in which he was. One communicated with the adjoining room, used as a nursery, and the other with the passage. After Ellis had dressed and shaved himself, he was, for a short time, undecided whether to enter the nursery, in which were his wife and children, or to pass through the other door, and leave the house without seeing them.

"I shall only get my feelings hurt," said he, as he stood debating the point. "It's a poor compensation for trouble and the lack of domestic harmony, to get drunk, I know; and I ought to be, and am, ashamed of my own folly. Oh dear! what is to become of me? Why will not Cara see the evil consequences of the way she acts upon her husband? If I go to destruction, and the chances are against me, the sin will mainly rest upon her. Yet why should I say this? Am I not man enough to keep sober? Yes"--thus he went on talking to himself--"but if she will not act in some sort of unity with me, I shall be ruined in my business. It will never do to maintain our present expensive mode of living; and she will never hear to a change."

Just at this moment an angry exclamation from the lips of Mrs. Ellis came sharply on the ears of her husband, followed by the whipping and crying of one of the children, who had, as far as Ellis could gather, from what was said, overset his mother's work-basket.

"No use for me to go in there," muttered the unhappy man. "I shall only increase the storm; and I've had storms enough!"

So he went from the chamber by way of the passage, descended to the entry below, and, taking up his hat, left the house.

Now, of all things in the world, in the peculiar state of body and mind in which Ellis then was, did he want a good strong cup of coffee at his own table, and a kind, forbearing, loving wife to set it before him. These would have given to his body and to his mind just what both needed, for the trials and temptations of the day; and they would have saved him, at least for the day, perhaps for life; for the pivot upon which the whole of a man's future destiny turns is often small, and scarcely noticed.

As Ellis stepped from his door, and received the fresh air upon his face and in his lungs, he was instantly conscious of a want in his system, and a craving for something to supply that want. Having taken no breakfast, the feeling was not to be wondered at. Ellis understood its meaning, in part, and took the nearest way to an eating-house where he ordered something to eat. For him, it was the most natural thing in the world, under the circumstances, to call for something at the bar while his breakfast was preparing. He felt better after taking a glass of brandy.

Ellis had finished his breakfast, and was standing at the bar with a second glass of liquor in his hand, when he was accosted in a familiar manner by the same individual who had lured Wilkinson to the gaming-table.

"Ah, my boy! how are you?" said Carlton, grasping the hand of Ellis and shaking it heartily.

"Glad to see you, 'pon my word! Where do you keep yourself?"

"You'll generally find me at my store during business hours," replied Ellis.

"What do you call business hours?" was asked by Carlton.

"From eight or nine in the morning until six or seven in the evening."

"Yes--yes--yes! With you as with every other 'business' man I know. Business every thing--living nothing. You'll get rich, I suppose; but, by the time your sixty or a hundred thousand dollars are safely invested in real estate or good securities, health will have departed, never to return."

"Not so bad as that, I presume," returned Ellis.

"How can it be otherwise? The human body is not made of iron and steel; and, if it were, it would never stand the usage it receives from some men, you among the number. For what are the pure air and bright sunshine made? To be enjoyed only by the birds and beasts? Man is surely entitled to his share; and if he neglects to take it, he does so to his own injury. You don't look well. In fact, I never saw you look worse; and I noticed, when I took your hand, that it was hot. Now, my good fellow! this is little better than suicide on your part; and if I do not mistake, you are too good a Christian to be guilty of self-murder. Why don't you ride out and take the air? You ought to do this daily."

"Too expensive a pleasure for me," said Ellis. "In the first place, with me time is money, and, in the second place, I have no golden mint-drops to exchange for fast horses."

"I have a fine animal at your service," replied the tempter. "Happy to let you use him at any time."

"Much obliged for the offer; and when I can run away from business for a few hours, will avail myself of it."

"What do you say to a ride this morning? I'm going a few miles over into Jersey, and should like your company above all things."

"I hardly think I can leave the store to-day," replied Ellis. "Let me see: have I any thing in the way of a note to take up? I believe not."

"You say yes, then?"

"I don't know about that. It doesn't just seem right."

"Nonsense! It is wonderful how this business atmosphere does affect a man's perceptions! He can see nothing but the dollar. Every thing is brought down to a money valuation."

We will not trace the argument further. Enough that the tempter was successful, and that Ellis, instead of going to his store, rode out with Carlton.

He was not, of course, home at his usual dinner-hour. It was between three and four o'clock when he appeared at his place of business, the worse for his absence, in almost every sense of the word. He had been drinking, until he was half stupid, and was a loser at the gaming-table of nearly six hundred dollars. A feeble effort was made by him to go into an examination of the business of the day; but he found it impossible to fix his mind thereon, and so gave up the attempt. He remained at his store until ready to close up for the day, and then turned his steps homeward.

By this time he was a good deal sobered, and sadder for his sobriety; for, as his mind became clearer, he remembered, with more vividness, the events of the day, and particularly the fact of having lost several hundred dollars to his pretended friend, Carlton.

"Whither am I going? Where is this to end?" was his shuddering ejaculation, as the imminent peril of his position most vividly presented itself.

How hopelessly he wended his reluctant way homeward! There was nothing to lean upon there. No strength of ever-enduring love, to be, as it were, a second self to him in his weakness. No outstretched arm to drag him, with something of super-human power, out of the miry pit into which he had fallen; but, instead, an indignant hand to thrust him farther in.

"God help me!" he sighed, in the very bitterness of a hopeless spirit; "for there is no aid in man."

Ah! if, in his weakness, he had only leaned, in true dependence, on Him he thus asked to help him; if he had but resisted the motions of evil in himself, as sins against his Maker, and resisted them in a determined spirit, he need not have fallen; strength would, assuredly, have been given.

The nearer Ellis drew to his home, the more unhappy he felt at the thought of meeting his wife. After having left the house without seeing her in the morning, and then remaining from home all day, he had no hope of a kind reception.

"It's no use!" he muttered to himself, stopping suddenly, when within a square of his house. "I can't meet Cara; she will look coldly at me, or frown, or speak cutting words; and I'm in no state of mind to bear any thing patiently just now. I've done wrong, I know--very wrong; but I don't want it thrown into my face. Oh, dear! I am beset within and without, behind and before and there is little hope for me."

Overcoming this state of indecision, Ellis forced himself to go home. On entering the presence of his wife, he made a strong effort to compose himself, and, when he met Cara, he spoke to her in a cheerful tone of voice. How great an effort it cost him to do this, considering all the circumstances by which he was surrounded, the reader may easily imagine. And what was his reception?

"Found your way home at last!"

These were the words with which Cara received her husband; and they were spoken in a sharp, deriding tone of voice. The day's doubt, suspense, and suffering, had not quieted the evil spirit in her heart. She was angry with her husband, and could not restrain its expression.

A bitter retort trembled on the tongue of Ellis; but he checked its utterance, and, turning from his wife, took one of his children in his arms. The sphere of innocence that surrounded the spirit of that child penetrated his heart, and touched his feelings with an emotion of tenderness.

"Oh, wretched man that I am!" he sighed, in the bitterness of a repentant and self-upbraiding spirit. "So much dependent on me, and yet as weak as a reed swaying in the wind."

How much that weak, tempted, suffering man, just trembling on the brink of destruction, needed a true-hearted, forbearing, long-suffering wife! Such a one might--yes, would--have saved him. By the strong cords of love she would have held him to her side.

Several times Ellis tried to interest Cara in conversation; but to every remark she replied only in monosyllables. In fact she was angry with him, and, not feeling kindly, she would not speak kindly. All day she had suffered deeply on his account. A thousand fears had harassed her mind. She had even repented of her unkindness towards him, and resolved to be more forbearing in the future. For more than an hour she kept the table waiting at dinner time, and was so troubled at his absence, that she felt no inclination to touch food.

"I'm afraid I am not patient enough with him," she sighed, as better feelings warmed in her heart. "I was always a little irritable. But I will try to do better. If he were not so close about money, I could be more patient."

While such thoughts were passing through the mind of Mrs. Ellis, a particular friend, named Mrs. Claxton, called to see her.

"Why, bless me, Cara! what's the matter?" exclaimed this lady, as she took the hand of Mrs. Ellis. "You look dreadful. Haven't been sick, I hope?"

"No, not sick in body," was replied.

"Sick in mind. The worst kind of sickness. No serious trouble, I hope?"

There was a free, off-hand, yet insinuating manner about Mrs. Claxton, that, while it won the confidence of a certain class of minds, repulsed others. Mrs. Ellis, who had no great skill in reading character, belonged to the former class; and Mrs. Claxton was, therefore as just said, a particular friend, and in a certain sense a confidante.

"The old trouble," replied Mrs. Ellis to the closing question of her friend.

"With your husband?"

"Yes. He pinches me in money matters so closely, and grumbles so eternally at what he calls my extravagance, that I'm out of all patience. Last evening, just as I was about telling him that he must give me new parlour carpets, he, divining, I verily believe, my thoughts, cut off every thing, by saying, in a voice as solemn as the grave--'Cara, I would like to have a little plain talk with you about my affairs.' I flared right up. I couldn't have helped it, if I'd died for it the next minute."

"Well; what then?"

"Oh! the old story. Of course he got angry, and went off like a streak of lightning. I cried half the evening, and then went to bed. I don't know how late it was when he came home. This morning, when I got up, he was sleeping as heavy as a log. It was near ten o'clock when I heard him moving about in our chamber, but I did not go in. He had got himself into a huff, and I was determined to let him get himself out of it. Just as I supposed he would come into the nursery, where I was sitting with the children, awaiting his lordship's pleasure to appear for breakfast, he opens the door into the passage, and walks himself off."

"Without his breakfast?"

"Yes, indeed. And I've seen nothing of him since."

"That's bad," said the friend. "A little tiff now and then is all well enough in its place. But this is too serious."

"So I feel it. Yet what am I to do?"

"You will have to manage better than this."


"Yes. I never have scenes of this kind with my husband."

"He's not so close with you as Henry is with me. He isn't so mean, if I must speak plainly, in money matters."

"Well, I don't know about that. He isn't perfect by many degrees. One of his faults, from the beginning, has been a disposition to dole out my allowance of money with a very sparing hand. I bore this for some years, but it fretted me; and was the source of occasional misunderstandings that were very unpleasant."

Mrs. Claxton paused.

"Well; what remedy did you apply?" asked Mrs. Ellis.

"A very simple one. I took what he was pleased to give me, and if it didn't hold out, I bought what I needed, and had the bills sent in to the store."

"Capital!" exclaimed Mrs. Ellis. "Just what I have been thinking of. And it worked well?"

"To a charm."

"What did Mr. Claxton say when the bills came in?"

"He looked grave, and said I would ruin him; but, of course, paid them."

"Is that the way you got your new carpets?"


"And your new blinds?"


"Well, I declare! But doesn't Mr. Claxton diminish your allowances of money?"

"Yes, but his credit is as good as his money. I never pay for dry goods, shoes, or groceries. The bills are all sent in to him."

"And he never grumbles?"

"I can't just say that. It isn't a week since he assured me, with the most solemn face in the world, that if I didn't manage to keep the family on less than I did, he would certainly be ruined in his business."

"The old story."

"Yes. I've heard it so often, that it goes in at one ear and out at the other."

"So have I. But I like your plan amazingly, and mean to adopt it. In fact, something of the kind was running through my head yesterday."

"Do so; and you will save yourself a world of petty troubles. I find that it works just right."

This advice of her friend Mrs. Ellis pondered all the afternoon, and, after viewing the matter on all sides, deliberately concluded to act in like manner. Yet, for all this, she could not conquer a certain angry feeling that rankled towards her husband, and, in spite of sundry half formed resolutions to meet him, when he returned, in a kind manner, her reception of him was such as the reader has seen. _

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