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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 16

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ALL through the night, the mind of Ellis was haunted with troubled dreams; but, on waking, he felt calm, and good purposes were in his heart. The manner of Cara still being tender and considerate, he went forth feeling the strength of her love, and resolving, for her sake, and the sake of his children, to free himself from his present entanglements, cost what it would.

Seven hundred dollars was the sum he had lost at the gaming-table and for over five hundred of this, Carlton held his obligations, payable on demand. Besides this, he owed on account of temporary loans, from business friends, about an equal amount. Moreover, on that day, a note of three hundred dollars fell due; and in the coming ten days, about a thousand dollars had to be paid into bank. The aggregate of all these obligations, to be met within two weeks, was two thousand three hundred dollars.

As Ellis looked at this formidable amount, and calculated his resources, he felt, for a time, utterly discouraged. But a reaction from this state of feeling came, and he set his mind vigorously to work in devising means for the pressing emergency.

"There is one thing certain," said he to himself, as he pondered the matter. "Carlton will have to wait. So there are five hundred dollars pushed ahead. I received no value in the case, and shall not hurry myself to make payment."

Even while Ellis thus spoke, a man called and presented the due-bills he had given to the gambler.

"I can't take these up now," was the prompt reply.

"My directions are to collect them forthwith," said the man.

"Mr. Carlton will have to wait my convenience." Ellis spoke with considerable irritation of manner.

"Shall I say so to him?" was asked, in a tone that involved a warning of consequences.

"You can say to him what you please," answered Ellis, sharply.

"Oh! very well!"

The man turned away, and walked towards the door. He paused, however, after going a short distance; stood, as if reflecting, for some moments, and, then came back.

"You had better think over this a little;" said he, in a conciliatory voice. "The debt is, I need not remind you, one of _honour_; and it is neither wise nor safe for a man of business to let such a debt be handed over for legal collection. You understand, I presume?"

The suggestion caused Ellis to start, involuntarily. He saw, at a glance, the dangerous position in which he stood. Only by retaining a fair credit would it be possible for him to surmount his present difficulties; and his credit would be instantly blasted if a suit were brought against him by a man he had now good reasons to believe was known in the community as a gambler.

"You understand me?" repeated the collector, in a tone of marked significance.

Ellis tried to regain his self-possession, and affect indifference. But his feelings were poorly disguised.

"Just say to Mr. Carlton," he replied, "that it is not my purpose to give him any trouble about this matter. I will take up the due-bills. But I have some heavy payments to make, and cannot do it just now."

"When will it be done?"

"That I am unable, just now, to say."

"Can't you give me a part of the money today?"

Ellis shook his head.

"I have notes in bank, and they must take the precedence of all other payments."

"To-morrow, then?"

"I have five hundred dollars to pay to-morrow."

The man's countenance began to lower.

"Just go to Mr. Carlton, if you please, and tell him what I say. He's a man of common sense;--he will listen to reason."

"My orders to collect were imperative," persisted the man.

"Tell him that you can't collect to-day. That I must and will have time. There now! Go! I've something else to do besides arguing this matter fruitlessly."

The collector turned off with an angry, threatening look. A few minutes after he was gone, and ere the mind of Ellis had recovered its balance, a customer called in and paid a bill of a hundred dollars. This awakened a feeling of confidence; and, in a hopeful spirit, Ellis went forth to make arrangements for the balance of what was wanted for the day. He found no difficulty in procuring the sum he needed, which was four hundred dollars. After taking up his note, he called upon his friend Wilkinson with the two hundred dollars he had failed to return the day before, when, after apologizing for his neglect, he asked him how he would be off in regard to money matters during the ensuing two weeks.

"Tight as a drum," was answered.

"I'm sorry to hear that," replied Ellis, showing more disappointment than he wished to appear; "for I have made some calculation on you. I have nearly two thousand dollars to take care of in the next ten days."

"I wish I could help you. But, indeed, I can not," said Wilkinson, looking serious. "I have been a good deal crowded of late, and shall have my hands full, and more than full for some time to come. I never knew money so tight as it is just now."

"Nor I neither. Well, I suppose we shall get through somehow. But I must own that things look dark."

"The darkest hour is just before the break of day," said Wilkinson, with an earnestness that expressed his faith in what he said. His faith was born of a resolution to separate himself from all dangerous companionship and habits, and a deeply felt conviction of the all-sustaining strength of his wife's self-denying affection.

"Yes--yes--so the proverb says, and so the poet sings," returned Ellis, thoughtfully. "This seems to be my darkest hour. God grant it be only the precursor of day!"

"Amen!" The solemn response of Wilkinson was involuntary.

"And so you can't help me?" said Ellis, recovering himself, and speaking in a more cheerful voice.

"Indeed I cannot."

"Well, help will come, I suppose. There is nothing like trying. So good morning. Time is too precious to waste just now."

Between the store of Wilkinson and that of Ellis was a refectory, where the latter often repaired for a lunch and something to drink about eleven or twelve o'clock. It was now twelve, and, as Ellis had taken only a light breakfast, and omitted his morning dram, he felt both hungry and dry. Almost as a matter of course, he was about entering this drinking-house, when, as he stepped on the threshold, his eyes rested on the form of Carlton, standing by the bar with a glass in his hand. Quickly he turned away, and kept on to his store, where he quenched his thirst with a copious draught of ice-water. Not a drop of liquor had passed his lips when he went home at dinner-time. And he was as free from its influence when he joined his family at the close of day. Cara received him with the kindness and consideration that were so grateful to his feelings; and he spent the evening, safe from all dangers, at home. _

Read next: Chapter 17

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