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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 15

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MRS. ELLIS knew, by the appearance of her husband, that he had not been drinking on the night previous, late as he had remained away. This took a weight from her feelings, and relieved her mind from self-upbraidings that would have haunted her all the day. After breakfast her mind began to ponder what Mrs. Claxton had said on the day previous, and the more she thought of her advice and example, the more she felt inclined to adopt a similar course of action. On new Brussels carpets she had, long ago, set her heart, and already worried her husband about them past endurance. To obtain his consent to the purchase, she felt to be hopeless.

"I must get them in this way, or not at all. So much is clear." Thus she communed with herself. "He's able enough to pay the bill; if I had any doubts of that, the matter would be settled; but I have none."

With the prospect of getting the long coveted carpets, came an increased desire for their possession.

In imagination Mrs. Ellis saw them already on the floor. For some hours there was a struggle in her mind. Then the tempter triumphed. She dressed herself, and went out for the purpose of making a selection. From this moment she did not hesitate. Calling at a well-known carpet warehouse, she made her selection, and directed the bill, after the carpet was made and put down, to be sent in to her husband. The price of the carpet she chose was two dollars and a quarter a yard; and the whole bill, including that of the upholsterer, would reach a hundred and sixty dollars.

When Mrs. Ellis returned home, after having consummated her purpose, the thought of her beautiful carpet gave her far less pleasure than she had anticipated. In every wrong act lies its own punishment. Uneasiness of mind follows as a sure consequence. From the idea of her beautiful parlours, her mind would constantly turn to her husband.

"What _will_ he say?"

Ah! if she could only have answered that question satisfactorily!

"I will be so good, I will disarm him with kindness. I will humour him in every thing. I will not give him a chance to be angry."

For a while this idea pleased the mind of Mrs. Ellis. But it only brought a temporary respite to the uneasiness produced by her wrong act.

"I'll tell him just what I have done," said she to herself, as the dinner hour approached, and Cara began to look for her husband's return. "He might as well know it now, as in a week; and, besides, it will give him time to prepare for the bill. Yes, that is what I will do."

Still, her mind felt troubled. The act was done, and no way of retreat remained open. The consequences must be met.

The hour for Mr. Ellis to return home at length arrived, and his wife waited his coming with a feeling of troubled suspense such as she had rarely, if ever, before experienced. Smiles, ready to be forced to her countenance, were wreathing themselves in her imagination. She meant to be "_so_ good," so loving, so considerate. A particular dish of which he was so fond had been ordered,--it was a month since it had graced their table.

But time moved on. It was thirty minutes past the dinner hour, and he was still away. At last Mrs. Ellis gave him up. A full hour had elapsed, and there was little probability of his return before the close of business for the day. So she sat down with her children to eat the meal which long delay had spoiled, and for which she had now but little appetite.

Wearily passed the afternoon, and, as the usual time for Ellis's appearance drew near, his wife began to look for his coming with feelings of unusual concern. Not concern for him, but for herself. She had pretty well made up her mind to inform him of what she had done, but shrank from the scene which she had every reason to believe would follow.

The twilight had just begun to fall, and Mrs. Ellis, with her babe in her arms, was sitting in one of the parlours, waiting for and thinking of her husband, when she heard his key in the door. He came in, and moving along the entry with a quicker step than usual, went up-stairs. Supposing that, not finding her above, he would come down to the parlours, Mrs. Ellis waited nearly five minutes. Then she followed him up-stairs. Not finding him in the nursery, she passed into their chamber. Here she found him, lying across the bed, on which he had, evidently, thrown himself under some strong excitement, or abandonment, of feeling, for his head was not upon a pillow, and he lay perfectly motionless, as if unconscious of her presence.

"Henry!" She called his name, but he made no answer, nor gave even a sign.

"Henry! Are you sick?"

There was a slight movement of his body, but no reply.

"Henry! Henry!" Mrs. Ellis spoke in tones of anxiety, as she laid her hand upon him. "Speak! What is the matter? Are you sick?"

A long deep sigh was the only answer.

"Why don't you speak, Henry?" exclaimed Mrs. Ellis. "You frighten me dreadfully."

"Don't trouble me just now, if you please," said the wretched man, in a low, half-whispering voice.

"But what ails you, Henry? Are you sick?"


"How? Where? What can I do for you?"

"Nothing!" was faintly murmured.

By this time, Cara began to feel really alarmed. Leaving the room hurriedly, she gave the babe she held in her arms to one of her domestics, and then returned. Bending, now, over her husband, she took one of his hands, and clasping it tightly, said, in a voice of earnest affection that went to the heart of Ellis with electric quickness--

"Do, Henry, say what ails you! Can't I get something for you?"

"I'll feel better in a little while," whispered Ellis.

"Let me send for the doctor."

"Oh, no! no! I'm not so sick as that," was answered. "I only feel a little faint, not having taken any dinner."

"Why did you go without a meal? It is not right to do so. I waited for you so long, and was so disappointed that you did not come."

There was more of tenderness and wife-like interest in Cara's words and manner than had been manifested for a long time, and the feelings of Ellis were touched thereby. Partly raising himself on his elbow, he replied--

"I know it isn't right; but I was so much engaged!"

The twilight pervading the room was too feeble to give Mrs. Ellis a distinct view of her husband's countenance. Its true expression, therefore, was veiled.

"You feel better now, do you?" she inquired tenderly.

"Yes, dear," he answered, slightly pressing the hand she had laid in his.

"I will order tea on the table immediately."

And Mrs. Ellis left the room. When she returned, he had risen from the bed, and was sitting in a large chair near one of the windows.

"Are you better, dear?" tenderly inquired Mrs. Ellis.

"Yes, a good deal better," was answered. And the words were truly spoken; for this unlooked-for, kind, even tender reception, had wrought an almost instantaneous change. He had come home with a feeling of despair tugging at his heart. Nothing appeared before him but ruin. Now the light of hope, feeble though were the rays, came glimmering across the darkness of his spirit.

"I am glad to hear it!" was the warm response of Cara. "Oh! it is so wrong for you to neglect your meals. You confine yourself too closely to business. I wanted you to come home to-day particularly, for I had prepared for you, just in the way you like it, such a nice dish of maccaroni."

"It was very thoughtful in you, dear. I wish I had been at home to enjoy it with you."

Tea being announced, Mrs. Ellis arose and said:

"Come; supper is on the table. You must break your long fast."

"First let me wash my hands and face," returned Ellis, who wished to gain time, as well as use all the means, to restore his countenance to a better expression than it wore, ere meeting Cara under the glare of strong lamp light.

A basin was filled for him by his wife, and, after washing his hands and face, he left the chamber with her, and went to the dining-room. Here Cara got a distinct view of her husband's countenance. Many lines of the passion and suffering written there during that, to him, ever-to-be-remembered day, were still visible, and, as Cara read them without comprehending their import, a vague fear came hovering over her heart. Instantly her thoughts turned to what she had been doing, and most sincerely did she repent of the act.

"I will confess it to him, this very night," such was her mental resolution,--"and promise, hereafter never to do aught against his wishes."

Notwithstanding Ellis had taken no dinner, he had little appetite for his evening meal; and the concern of his wife was increased on observing that he merely tasted his food and sipped his tea.

The more than ordinary trouble evinced, as well in the whole manner of Ellis as in the expression of his face and in the tones of his voice, oppressed the heart of Cara. She felt that something more than usual must have occurred to disturb him. Could it be possible that any thing was wrong in his business? The thought caused a low thrill to tremble along her nerves. He had frequently spoken of his affairs as not very prosperous; was always, in fact, making a "sort of a poor mouth." But all this she had understood as meant for effect--as a cover for his opposition to her wish to spend. What if it were all as he had represented?

Such thoughts could not but sober the mind of Mrs. Ellis, and caused her manner towards her husband to assume an air of tenderness and concern to which it had too long been a stranger. How quickly was this felt by Ellis! How gratefully did his heart respond to his wife's gentler touches on its tensely strung chords!

That evening Henry Ellis spent at home. Not much conversation passed between him and his wife; for the mind of each was too heavily burdened with thoughts of its own to leave room for an interchange of ideas. But the manner of Cara towards her husband was subdued, and even tender; and he felt it as the grateful earth feels the strength-giving impression of the gentle rain. Leaving the past, to the future both their thoughts turned; and both strengthened themselves in good resolutions.

Cara resolved to be a better wife--to be more considerate and more yielding towards her husband. And Ellis resolved to abandon, at every sacrifice the vicious habits he had indulged,--habits which, within a day or two, had led him aside from the path of safety, and conducted him to the brink of a precipice, from which he now started back with a thrilling sense of fear.

More than twenty times during that evening was Cara on the eve of telling her husband about the carpet. But she shrank from the confession.

"In the morning I will do it," was her final conclusion; thus putting off the evil hour. But morning found her no better prepared for the task. _

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Read previous: Chapter 14

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