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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 18

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TO Ellis the trials of the next two weeks were of the severest character. Yet, he kept himself away from drinking-houses, and struggled manfully to retain his feet under him. In this he was only sustained by the kindness of his wife's manner, and the interest she seemed to feel in him. Had she acted towards him with her usual want of affectionate consideration, he would have fallen under the heavy burdens that rested upon him. Scarcely a day passed in which he was not visited by Carlton's agent, and fretted almost past endurance by his importunities. But he steadily refused to take up any of the due-bills; at the same time that he promised to cancel them at some future period. This did not, of course, suit the gambler, who sent threats of an immediate resort to legal proceedings.

Of all this Cara knew nothing; yet she could not help seeing that her husband was troubled, and this caused her to muse on what she had done with increasing uneasiness. She no longer took any pleasure in the thoughts of new parlour carpets. But it was too late, now, to retrace her steps of error. The carpets were already in the hands of the upholsterers, and a few days would see them on the floor.

"I must tell him about them," said Cara to herself, about a week after her act of folly, as she sat, towards the close of day, brooding over what she had done. "To be forewarned is to be forearmed. In a few days the carpets will be sent home, and then"--

A slight inward shudder was felt by Cara, as she paused, with the sentence unfinished.

"But I'm foolish," she added, recovering herself, "very foolish. Why need I be so afraid of Henry? I have some freedom of action left--some right of choice. These were not all yielded in our marriage. His will was not made the imperative law of all my actions. No--no. And here lies the ground of difference between us. The fact is, he is to blame for this very thing, for he drove me to it."

But such thoughts did not satisfy the mind of Mrs. Ellis, nor remove the sense of wrong that oppressed her spirit. So, in a little while, she came back to her resolution to tell her husband, on that very evening, all about what she had done. This was her state of mind, when her friend Mrs. Claxton called in. After the first pleasant greeting, the lady, assuming a slight gravity of manner, said--

"Do you know, Mrs. Ellis, that I've thought a good deal about the matter we talked of the last time I saw you?"

"To what do you allude?" asked Cara.

"To running up bills without your husband's knowledge. All men are not alike, and Mr. Ellis might not take it so easily as Mr. Claxton has done. The fact is, I have been checked off a little, so to speak, within a day or two, and it has rather set me to thinking"

"In what way?" inquired Mrs. Ellis.

"I will tell you--but, remember, this is in the strictest confidence. It might injure my husband's business if it got out. In fact, I don't think I have any right to tell you; but, as I advised you to follow my example, I must give you convincing proof that this example is a bad one. Last evening, when Mr. Claxton came home, he looked unusually serious. 'Is any thing wrong?' I asked of him, manifesting in my voice and manner the concern I really felt. 'Yes,' said he, looking me fixedly in the eyes--'there is something wrong. I came within an ace of being protested to-day.' 'Indeed! How?' I exclaimed. 'Listen,' said he, 'and you shall hear; and while you hear, believe, for I solemnly declare that every word I utter is the truth, and nothing but the truth. I could not spare the cash when your new carpet and upholstery bill came in, so I gave a note for the amount, which was over two hundred dollars. The note was for six months, and fell due to-day. I also gave a note for your new sofa, chairs, and French bedstead, because I had no cash with which to pay the bill. It was two hundred and fifty dollars, and the note given at four months. That also fell due to-day. Now, apart from these, I had more than my hands full to take up business paper, this being an unusually heavy day. At every point where I could do so I borrowed; but at half-past two o'clock I was still short the amount of these two notes. While in the utmost doubt and perplexity as to what I should do in my difficulty, two notes were handed in. One contained a dry goods bill which you had run up of over a hundred and fifty dollars, and the other a shoe bill of twenty-five. I cannot describe to you the paralyzing sense of discouragement that instantly came over me. It is hopeless for me to struggle on at such a disadvantage, said I to myself--utterly hopeless. And I determined to give up the struggle--to let my notes lie over, and thus end the unequal strife in which I was engaged; for, to this, I saw it must come at last. Full twenty minutes went by, and I still sat in this state of irresolution. Then, as a vivid perception of consequences came to my mind, I aroused myself to make a last, desperate effort. Hurriedly drawing a note at thirty days for five hundred dollars, I took it to a money-lender, whom I knew I could tempt by the offer of a large discount. He gave me for it a check on the bank in which my notes were deposited, for four hundred and fifty dollars. Just as the clock was striking three, I entered the banking-house.'

"My husband paused. I saw by the workings of his face and by the large beads of perspiration which stood upon his forehead, that he was indeed in earnest. I never was so startled by any thing in my life. It seemed for a time as if it were only a dream. I need not say how sincerely I repented of what I had done, nor how I earnestly promised my husband never again to contract a debt of even a dollar without his knowledge. I hope," added Mrs. Claxton, "that you have not yet been influenced by my advice and example; and I come thus early to speak in your ears a word of caution. Pray do not breathe aught of what I have told you--it might injure my husband--I only make the revelation as a matter of duty to one I tried to lead astray."

The thoughts of Mrs. Ellis did not run in a more peaceful channel after the departure of her friend. But she resolved to confess every thing to her husband, and promise to conform herself more to his wishes in the future.

"What," she said, "if he should be in like business difficulties with Mr. Claxton? He has looked serious for a week past, and has remained at home every evening during the time--a thing unusual. And I don't think he has used liquor as freely as common. Something is the matter. Oh, I wish I had not done that!"

While such thoughts were passing through the mind of Mrs. Ellis, her husband came home. She met him with an affectionate manner, which he returned. But there was a cloud on his brow that even her smile could not drive away. Even as she met him, words of confession were on the tongue of Mrs. Ellis, but she shrank from giving them utterance.

After tea she resolved to speak. But, when this set-time of acknowledgment came, she was as little prepared for the task as before. Mr. Ellis looked so troubled, that she could not find it in her heart to add to the pressure on his mind an additional weight. And so the evening passed, the secret of Mrs. Ellis remaining undivulged. And so, day after day went on.

At length, one morning, the new carpet was sent home and put down. It was a beautiful carpet; but, as Mrs. Ellis stood looking upon it, after the upholsterer had departed, she found none of the pleasure she anticipated.

"Oh, why, why, why did I do this?" she murmured. "Why was I tempted to such an act of folly?"

Gradually the new carpet faded from the eyes of Mrs. Ellis, and she saw only the troubled face of her husband. It was within an hour of dinner-time, and in painful suspense she waited his arrival. Various plans for subduing the excitement which she saw would be created in his mind, and for reconciling him to the expense of the carpets, were thought over by Mrs. Ellis: among those was a proposition that he should give a note for the bill, which she would pay, when it matured, out of savings from her weekly allowance of money.

"I can and will do it," said Mrs. Ellis, resolutely: her thought dwelt longer and longer on this suggestion. "I hope he will not be too angry to listen to what I have to say, when he comes home and sees the carpet. He's rather hasty sometimes."

While in the midst of such thoughts, Mrs. Ellis, who had left the parlour, heard the shutting of the street-door, and the tread of her husband in the passage. Glancing at the timepiece on the mantel, she saw that it was half an hour earlier than he usually came home. Eagerly she bent her ear to listen. All was soon still. He had entered the rooms below, or paused on the threshold. A few breathless moments passed, then a smothered exclamation was heard, followed by two or three heavy foot-falls and the jarring of the outer door. Mr. Ellis had left the house!

"Gone! What does it mean?" exclaimed Mrs. Ellis, striking her hands together, while a strange uneasiness fell upon her heart. A long time she sat listening for sounds of his return; but she waited in vain. It was fully an hour past their usual time for dining, when she sat down to the table with her children, but not to partake of food herself. Leaving Mrs. Ellis to pass the remainder of that unhappy day with her own troubled and upbraiding thoughts, we will return to her husband, and see how it fares with him. _

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