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Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 19

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FOR hours after his wife had sunk into the forgetfulness of sleep, Ellis lay awake, pondering over the ways and means by which he was to meet his engagements for the next day, which, exclusive of Carlton's demand, were in the neighbourhood of a thousand dollars. During the previous two weeks, he had paid a good deal of money, but he was really but little better off therefor, the money so paid having been mainly procured through temporary loans from business friends. Most of it he had promised to return on the morrow. Earnestly as the mind of Ellis dwelt on the subject, he was not able to devise the means of getting safely through the next day.

"And what if I do get over the difficult place?" was the desponding conclusion of his mind--"ultimate failure is inevitable, unless a great reduction can be made in expenses. At present, our living exceeds the profits on my business. Ah! if I could only make Cara understand this! She has been more considerate and wife-like of late; but I fear to say one word about the embarrassed state of my affairs, lest the sunshine of love be again darkened with clouds and storms."

With such thoughts in his mind, Ellis fell asleep.

On the next morning, he repaired early to his place of business, in order to have time fully to digest his plan of operations for the day. He had many doubts as to his ability to get through, but was resolute not to yield without a vigorous struggle. Of the amount to be paid, only four hundred was for notes in bank. The rest was on borrowed money account. Fully an hour and a half was spent in drawing off certain accounts, and in determining the line of operations for the morning. On receiving two hundred dollars for these accounts, Ellis thought he might with safety calculate; and a lad was sent out to see to their collection. Then he started forth himself. First in order, he deemed it best to see if he could not get a little more time on some of his borrowed money. This was a delicate operation, and its attempt could only, he felt, be justified by the exigencies of the case. The largest sum to be returned was three hundred dollars. He had borrowed it from a merchant in good circumstances, who could at any time command his thousands, and to whose credit there usually remained heavy balances in bank. But he was exceedingly punctilious in all business matters.

Both these facts Ellis knew. It would put the merchant to no inconvenience whatever to continue the accommodation for ten days longer; but the policy of asking this was felt to be a very questionable one, as it would be most likely to create in his mind a doubt of Ellis's standing, and a doubt in that quarter would be injurious. Still, the case was so pressing, that Ellis determined to see him. So, assuming a pleasant, partly unconcerned air, he called upon the merchant.

"Good morning, Mr. A--," said he, in a cheerful tone.

"Good morning, friend Ellis," returned the merchant, pushing his spectacles above his forehead, and fixing his eyes upon the face of his visitor, with a sharp, penetrating look which rather belied the smile that played about his lips.

"Let me see! Isn't it to-day that I am to return you the three hundred dollars borrowed last week?"

"I don't remember, but can tell you in a moment," replied A--, replacing his glasses, and taking from a pigeon-hole in the desk before which he sat a small memorandum-book. After consulting this, he replied--

"Yes: you are right. It is to be returned to-day."

"So I thought. Very well. I'll send you a check around during the morning. That will answer, I presume?"

"Oh, certainly--certainly."

So far, nothing was gained. A hurried debate, as to the policy of asking a few days more on the loan, took place in the mind of Ellis. He then said--

"If just the same to you, it will be more convenient for me to return this money on the day after to-morrow."

There was a slight contraction of brow on the part of Mr. A--, who replied, rather coldly--

"I shall want it to-day, Mr. Ellis."

"Oh, very well--very well," said Ellis, hiding artfully his disappointment. "It will be all the same. I will send you around a check in a little while."

As he left the store, A--said to himself--

"Of all things, I like to see punctuality in the matter of engagements. The man who promises to return in an hour the money he borrows from you should keep his word to the minute."

The failure to get a few days' extension of time on so important a sum had the effect to dispirit Ellis a good deal. He left the store of the merchant in a despondent mood, and was returning towards his own place of business, when he met Wilkinson. Grasping the hand of the latter with the eagerness of one who knows, in a great extremity, that he is face to face with a real friend, he said--

"You must help me to-day."

"I don't see that it is possible, Ellis," was replied. "What amount do you want?"

"I must have a thousand dollars."

"So much?"

"Yes. But where the sum is to be obtained is more than I can divine."

"Is all to go into bank?"

"No. Six hundred is for borrowed money."

"To whom is the latter due?"

"I must return three hundred to A--."

"He can do without it for a few days longer."

"I have just seen him; but he says it must be returned to-day."

"He does?"

"Yes. He wants to use it."

Wilkinson stood thoughtfully for some time.

"Can you return the sum in a week?" he then asked.

"O yes; easily."

"Very well I'll go and ask him to loan me three hundred for a week. He'll do it, I know. You shall have the use of it for the time specified."

"If you can get me that sum, you will place me under an everlasting obligation," said Ellis, with more feeling than he wished to display.

Twenty minutes afterward the money was in his hands. It had been obtained from A--, and during the morning returned to him in payment of Ellis's loan.

So much accomplished, Ellis turned his thoughts towards the ways and means for raising the seven hundred dollars yet required for the day's business. By twelve o'clock all of his borrowed money was returned; but his notes still remained in bank. In view of the difficulties yet to be surmounted, he felt that he had erred in not making it the first business of the day to take up his notes, and thus get beyond the danger of protest. But it was too late now for regrets to be of any avail. Four hundred dollars must come from some quarter, or ruin was certain.

But from whence was aid to come? He had not spent an idle moment since he came to his store in the morning, and had so fully passed over the limits within which his resources lay, that little ground yet remained to be broken, and the promise of that was small.

While Ellis stood meditating, in much perplexity of mind, what step next to take, a man entered his store, and, approaching him, read aloud from a paper which he drew from his pocket, a summons to answer before an alderman in the case of Carlton, who had brought separate suits on his due-bills, each being for an amount less than one hundred dollars.

"Very well, I will attend to it," said Ellis in a voice of assumed calmness, and the officer retired.

Slowly seating himself in a chair that stood by a low writing-desk, the unhappy man tried to compose his thoughts, in order that he might see precisely in what position this new move would place him. He could bring nothing in bar of Carlton's claim unless the plea of its being a gambling debt were urged; and that would only ruin his credit in the business community. A hearing of the case was to take place in a week, when judgment would go against him, and then the quick work of an execution would render the immediate payment of the five hundred dollars necessary. All this Ellis revolved in his thoughts, and then deliberately asked himself the question, if it were not better to give up at once. For a brief space of time, in the exhausted state produced by the un-equal struggle in which he was engaged, he felt like abandoning every thing; but a too-vivid realization of the consequences that would inevitably follow spurred his mind into a resolution to make one more vigorous effort to overcome the remaining difficulties of the day. With this new purpose, came a new suggestion of means, and he was in the act of leaving his store to call upon a friend not before thought of, when a carpet dealer, whom he knew very well, came in, and presented a bill.

"What is this?" asked Mr. Ellis.

"The bill for your parlour carpets," was answered.

"What parlour carpets? You are in an error. We have no new parlour carpets. The bill is meant for some one else."

"Oh, no," returned the man, smiling. "The carpets were ordered two weeks ago; and this morning they were put down by the upholsterer."

"Who ordered them?"

"Mrs. Ellis."

"She did!"

"Yes; and directed the bill sent in to you?"

"What is the amount?"

"One hundred and sixty-eight dollars."

"Very well," said Ellis, controlling himself, "I will attend to it."

The man retired, leaving the mind of Ellis in a complete sea of agitation.

"If this be so," he muttered in a low, angry voice, "then is all over! To struggle against such odds is hopeless. But I cannot believe it. There is--there must be an error. The carpets are not mine. He has mistaken some other woman for my wife, and some other dwelling for mine. Yes, yes, it must be so. Cara would never dare to do this! But all doubt may be quickly settled."

And with, this last sentence on his lips, Ellis left his store, and walked with hurried steps homeward. Entering his house, he stood for a moment or two in one of the parlour doors. A single glance sufficed. Alas! it was but too true.

"Mad woman!" he exclaimed, in a low, bitter tone. "Mad woman! You have driven me over the precipice!"

Turning quickly away, he left the house--to return to his store?--Alas! no. With him the struggle was over. The manly spirit, that had, for nearly two weeks, battled so bravely with difficulty without and temptation within, yielded under this last assault. In less than an hour, all sense of pain was lost in the stupor of inebriation! _

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