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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 14

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THE turning-point with Ellis had nearly come. It required, comparatively, little beyond the weight of a feather to give preponderance to the scale of evil influences. Cara's reception, as shown in the last chapter, was no worse than he had anticipated, yet it hurt him none the less; for unkind words from her were always felt as blows, and coldness as the pressure upon his heart of an icy hand. In the love of his children, who were very fond of him, he sought a kind of refuge. Henry, his oldest child, was a bright, intelligent boy between eight and nine years of age; and Kate, between six and seven, was a sweet-tempered, affectionate little girl, who scarcely ever left her father's side when he was in the house.

At the tea-table, only the children's voices were heard: they seemed not to perceive the coldness that separated their parents. After supper, Mr. Ellis went up into the nursery with Henry and Kate, and was chatting pleasantly with them, when their mother, who had remained behind to give some directions to a servant, came into the room.

"Come!" said she, in rather a sharp voice, as she entered, "it is time you were in bed."

"Papa is telling us a story," returned Kate, in a pleading tone: "just let us wait until he is done."

"I've got no time to wait for stories. Come!" said the mother, imperatively.

"Papa will soon be done," spoke up Henry.

"It's early yet, mother," said Ellis; "let them sit up a little while. I'm away all day, and don't see much of them."

"I want them to go to bed now," was the emphatic answer. "It's their bed-time, and I wish them out of the way, so that I can go to work. If you'd had their noise and confusion about you all day, as I have, you'd be glad to see them in their beds."

"You'll have to go," said Mr. Ellis, in a tone of disappointment that he could not conceal. "But get up early to-morrow morning, and I will tell you the rest of the story. Don't cry, dear!" And Mr. Ellis kissed tenderly his little girl, in whose eyes the tears were already starting.

Slowly, and with sad faces, the children turned to obey their mother, who, not for a moment relenting, spoke to them sharply for their lack of prompt obedience. They went crying up-stairs, and she scolding.

The moment the door of the nursery closed upon the retiring forms of the children, Mr. Ellis started to his feet with an impatient exclamation, and commenced pacing the room with rapid steps.

"Temptations without and storms within," said he, bitterly. "Oh, that I had the refuge of a quiet home, and the sustaining heart and wise counsels of a loving wife!"

By the time Mrs. Ellis had undressed the children and got them snugly in bed, her excited feelings were, in a measure, calmed; and from calmer feelings flowed the natural result--clearer thoughts. Then came the conviction of having done wrong, and regret for a hasty and unkind act.

"He sees but little of them, it is true," she murmured, "and I might have let them remain up a little while longer, I'm too thoughtless, sometimes; but I get so tired of their noise and confusion, which is kept up all day long."

And then she sighed.

Slowly, and with gentler feelings, Mrs. Ellis went down-stairs. Better thoughts were in her mind, and she was inwardly resolving to act towards her husband in a different spirit from that just manifested. On entering the nursery, where she had left him, she was not a little disappointed to find that he was not there.

"It isn't possible that he has gone out!" was her instant mental ejaculation; and she passed quickly into the adjoining chamber to see if he were there. It was empty.

For some time Mrs. Ellis stood in deep abstraction of mind; then, as a sigh heaved her bosom, she moved from the chamber and went down-stairs. A glance at the hat-stand confirmed her fears; her husband had left the house.

"Ah, me!" she sighed. "It is hard to know how to get along with him. If every thing isn't just to suit his fancy, off he goes. I might humour him more than I do, but it isn't in me to humour any one. And for a man to want to be humoured! Oh, dear! oh, dear! this is a wretched way to live; it will kill me in the end. These men expect their own way in every thing, and if they don't get it, then there is trouble. I'm not fit to be Henry's wife. He ought to have married a woman with less independence of spirit; one who would have been the mere creature of his whims and fancies."

Mrs. Ellis, with a troubled heart, went up to the room where so many of her lonely evening hours were spent. Taking her work-basket, she tried to sew; but her thoughts troubled her so, that she finally sought refuge therefrom in the pages of an exciting romance.

The realizing power of imagination in Ellis was very strong. While he paced the floor after his wife and children had left the room, there came to him such a vivid picture of the coldness and reserve that must mark the hours of that evening, if they were passed with Cara, that he turned from it with a sickening sense of pain. Under the impulse of that feeling he left the house, but with no purpose as to where he was going.

For as long, perhaps, as half an hour, Ellis walked the street, his mind, during most of the time, pondering the events of the day. His absence from business was so much lost, and would throw double burdens on the morrow, for, besides the sum of two hundred dollars to be returned to Wilkinson, he had a hundred to make up for another friend who had accommodated him. But where was the money to come from? In the matter of borrowing, Ellis had never done much, and his resources in that line were small. His losses at the gaming-table added so much to the weight of discouragement under which he suffered!

"You play well." Frequently had the artful tempter, Carlton, lured his victim on by this and other similar expressions, during the time he had him in his power; and thus flattered, Ellis continued at cards until repeated losses had so far sobered him as to give sufficient mental resolution to enable him to stop.

Now, these expressions returned to his mind, and their effect upon him was manifested in the thought,--

"If I hadn't been drinking, he would have found in me a different antagonist altogether."

It was an easy transition from this state of mind to another. It was almost natural for the wish to try his luck again at cards to be formed; particularly as he was in great need of money, and saw no legitimate means of getting the needed supply.

The frequency with which Ellis had spent his evenings abroad made him acquainted with many phases of city life hidden from ordinary observers. Idle curiosity had more than once led him to visit certain gambling-houses on a mere tour of observation; and, during these visits, he had each time been tempted to try a game or two, in which cases little had been lost or won. The motive for winning did not then exist in tempting strength; and, besides, Ellis was naturally a cautious man. Now, however, the motive did exist.

"Yes, I do play well," said he, mentally answering the remembered compliment of Carlton, "and but for your stealing away my brains with liquor, you would have found me a different kind of antagonist."

Ellis had fifty dollars in his pocket. This sum was the amount of the day's sales of goods in his store. Instead of leaving the money in his fire-closet, he had taken it with him, a sort of dim idea being in his mind that, possibly, it might be wanted for some such purpose as now contemplated. So he was all prepared for a trial of his skill; and the trial was made. To one of the haunts of iniquity before visited in mere reprehensible curiosity, he now repaired with the deliberate purpose of winning money to make up for losses already sustained, and to provide for the next day's payments. He went in with fifty dollars in his pocket-book; at twelve o'clock he left the place perfectly sober, and the winner of three hundred dollars. Though often urged to drink, he had, knowing his weakness, firmly declined in every instance.

Cara, he found, as usual on returning home late at night, asleep. He sought his pillow without disturbing her, and lay for a long time with his thoughts busy among golden fancies. In a few hours he had won three hundred dollars, and that from a player of no common skill.

"Yes, yes, Carlton said true. I play well." Over and over did Ellis repeat this, as he lay with his mind too much excited for sleep.

Wearied nature yielded at last. His dreams repeated the incidents of the evening, and reconstructed them into new and varied forms. When he awoke, at day-dawn, from his restless slumber, it took but a short time for his thoughts to arrange themselves into a purpose, and that purpose was to seek out Carlton as the first business of the day, and win back the evidence of debt that he had against him.

The meeting of Ellis and his wife at the breakfast-table had less of coldness and reserve in it than their meeting at tea-time. No reference was made to the previous evening, nor to the fact of his having remained out to a late hour.

It was the intention of Ellis, on leaving his house after breakfast, to repair to his store and make some preliminary arrangements for the day before hunting up Carlton; but on his way thither, his appetite constrained him to enter a certain drinking-house just for a single glass of brandy to give his nerves their proper tension.

"Ah! how are you, my boy?" exclaimed Carlton, who was there before him, advancing as he spoke, and offering his hand in his usual frank way.

"Glad to meet you!" returned Ellis. "Just the man I wished to see. Take a drink?"

"I don't care if I do."

And the two men moved up to the bar. When they turned away, Carlton drew his arm familiarly within that of Ellis, and bending close to his ear, said--"You wish to take up your due-bills, I presume?

"You guess my wishes precisely," was the answer.

"Well, I shall be pleased to have you cancel them. Are you prepared to do it this morning?"

"I am--in the way they were created."

A gleam of satisfaction lit up the gambler's face, which was partly turned from Ellis; but he shrugged his shoulders, and said, in an altered voice--"I'm most afraid to try you again."

"We're pretty well matched, I know," said the victim. "If you decline, of course the matter ends."

"I never like to be bantered," returned Carlton. "If a man were to dare me to jump from the housetop, it would be as much as I could do to restrain myself."

"I've got three hundred in my pocket," said Ellis, "and I'm prepared to see the last dollar of it."

"Good stuff in you, my boy!" and Carlton laid his hand upon his shoulder in a familiar way. "It would hardly be fair not to give you a chance to get back where you were. So here's for you, win or lose, sink or swim."

And the two men left the tavern together. We need not follow them, nor describe the contest that ensued. The result has already been anticipated by the reader. A few hours sufficed to strip Ellis of his three hundred dollars, and increase his debts to the gambler nearly double the former amount. _

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