Short Stories
All Titles

In Association with Amazon.com

Home > Authors Index > T. S. Arthur > Two Wives > This page

Two Wives, a fiction by T. S. Arthur

Chapter 20

< Previous
Table of content
Next >

WE will not trace, minutely, the particulars attendant on the headlong downward course of Henry Ellis. The causes leading thereto have been fully set forth, and we need not refer back to them. Enough, that the fall was complete. The wretched man appeared to lose all strength of mind, all hope in life, all self-respect. Not even a feeble effort was opposed to the down-rushing torrent of disaster that swept away every vestige of his business. For more than a week he kept himself so stupefied with brandy, that neither friends nor creditors could get from him any intelligible statement in regard to his affairs. In the wish of the latter for an assignment, he passively acquiesced, and permitted all his effects to be taken from his hands. And so he was thrown upon the world, with his family, helpless, penniless, crushed in spirit, and weak as a child in the strong grasp of an over-mastering appetite, which had long been gathering strength for his day of weakness.

Over the sad history of the succeeding five years let us draw a veil. We have no heart to picture its suffering, its desolation, its hopelessness. If, in the beginning, there was too much pride in the heart of Mrs. Ellis, all was crushed out under the iron heel of grim adversity. If she had once thought too much of herself, and too little of her husband, a great change succeeded; for she clung to him in all the cruel and disgusting forms his abandonment assumed, and, with a self-sacrificing devotion, struggled with the fearful odds against her to retain for her husband and children some little warmth in the humble home where they were hidden from the world in which they once moved.

From the drunkard, angels withdraw themselves, and evil spirits come into nearer companionship; hence, the bestiality and cruelty of drunkenness. The man, changing his internal associates, receives by inflex a new order of influence, and passively acts therefrom. He becomes, for the time, the human agent by which evil spirits effect their wicked purposes; and it usually happens that those who are nearest allied to him, and who have the first claims on him for support, protection, and love, are they who feel the heaviest weight of infernal malice. The husband and father too often becomes, in the hands of his evil associates, the cruel persecutor of those he should love and guard with the tenderest solicitude. So it was in the case of Henry Ellis. His manly nature underwent a gradually progressing change, until the image of God was wellnigh obliterated from his soul. After the lapse of five miserable years, let us introduce him and his family once more to the reader.

Five years! What a work has been done in that time! Not in a pleasant home, surrounded with every comfort, as we last saw them, will they be found. Alas, no!

It was late in the year. Frost had already done its work upon the embrowned forests, and leaf by leaf the withered foliage had dropped away or been swept in clouds before the autumnal winds. Feebler and feebler grew, daily, the sun's planting rays, colder the air, and more cheerless the aspect of nature.

One evening,--it was late in November, and the day had been damp and cold,--a woman, whose thin care-worn face and slender form marked her as an invalid, or one whose spirits had been broken by trouble, was busying herself in the preparation of supper. A girl, between twelve and thirteen years of age, was trying to amuse a child two years old, who, from some cause, was in a fretful humour; and a little girl in her seventh year was occupied with a book, in which she was spelling out a lesson that had been given by her mother. This was the family, or, rather, a part of the family of Henry Ellis. Two members were absent, the father and the oldest boy. The room was small, and meagerly furnished, though every thing was clean and in order. In the centre of the floor, extending, perhaps, over half thereof, was a piece of faded carpet. On this a square, unpainted pine table stood, covered with a clean cloth and a few dishes. Six common wooden chairs, one or two low stools or benches, a stained work-stand without drawers, and a few other necessary articles, including a bed in one corner, completed the furniture of this apartment, which was used as kitchen and sitting-room by the family, and, with a small room adjoining, constituted the entire household facilities of the family.

"Henry is late this evening," remarked Mrs. Ellis, as she laid the last piece of toast she had been making on the dish standing near the fire. "He ought to have been here half an hour ago."

"And father is late too," said Kate, the oldest daughter, who was engaged with the fretful child.

"Yes--he is late," returned Mrs. Ellis, as if speaking to herself. And she sighed heavily.

Just then the sound of feet was heard in the passage without.

"There's Henry now," said Kate.

And in a moment after the boy entered. His face did not wear the cheerful expression with which he usually met the waiting ones at home. His mother noticed the change; but asked no question then as to the cause.

"I wish father was home," said Mrs. Ellis. "Supper is all ready."

"I don't think it's any use to wait for him," returned Henry.

"Why not?" asked the mother, looking with some surprise at her son, in whose voice was a covert meaning.

"Because he won't be home to supper."

"Have you seen him, Henry?"

Mrs. Ellis fixed her eyes earnestly upon her son.

"Yes, mother. I saw him go into a tavern as I was coming along. I went in and tried to persuade him to come home with me. But he was angry about something, and told me to go about my business. I then said--'Do, father, come home with me,' and took hold of his arm, when he turned quickly around, and slapped me in the face with the back of his hand."

The boy, on saying this, burst into tears, and sobbed for some time violently.

"Oh, Henry! did he do that?"

Such was the mother's exclamation. She tried to control her feelings, but could not. In a moment or two, tears gushed over her face.

The only one who appeared calm was Kate, Henry's oldest sister. She uttered no expression of pain or surprise, but, after hearing what her brother said, looked down upon the floor, and seemed lost in meditation.

"My poor children!" such were the thoughts that passed through the mind of Mrs. Ellis. "If I could only screen you from these dreadful consequences! If I only were the sufferer, I could bear the burden uncomplainingly. Ah! will this cup never be full? Is there no hope? How earnestly I have sought to win him back again, Heaven only knows."

From these reflections Mrs. Ellis was aroused by the voice of Kate, who had arisen up and was taking from a nail in the wall her bonnet and an old merino coat.

"Where is the tavern, Henry?" said she.

"What tavern?" answered the boy.

"The tavern where you saw father."

"In Second street."

"Why do you wish to know?" inquired Mrs. Ellis.

"I will go for him. He'll come home for me."

"No--no, Kate. Don't think of such a thing!" said Mrs. Ellis, speaking from the impulse of the moment.

"It won't be of any use," remarked Henry. "Besides, it's very dark out, sister, and the tavern where I saw him is a long distance from here. Indeed I wouldn't go, Kate. He isn't at all himself."

The young girl was not in the least influenced by this opposition, but, rather, strengthened in her purpose. She knew that the air was damp and chilly, from an approaching easterly storm; and the thought of his being exposed to cold and rain at night, in the streets, touched her heart with a painful interest in her erring, debased, and fallen parent.

"It will rain to-night," said she, looking at her brother.

"I felt a fine mist in the driving wind just as I came near the door," replied Henry.

"If father is not himself, he may fall in the street, and perish in the cold."

"I don't think there is any danger of that, sister. He will be home after awhile. At any rate, there is little chance of your finding him, for he won't be likely to remain long at the tavern where I left him."

"If I can't find him, so much the worse," replied the girl, firmly. "But, unless mother forbids my going, I must seek him and bring him home."

Kate turned her eyes full upon her mother's face, as she said this, and, in an attitude of submission, awaited her reply.

"I think," said Mrs. Ellis, after a long silence, "that little good will come of this; yet, I cannot say no."

"Then I will find him and bring him home," was the animated response of Kate.

"You must not go alone," remarked Henry, taking up the cap he had a few minutes before laid off.

"Wait for supper. It is all ready," said Mrs. Ellis. "Don't go out until you have eaten something."

"No time is to be lost, mother," replied Kate. "And, then, I haven't the least appetite."

"But your brother has been working hard all day, and is, of course, tired and hungry."

"Oh, I forgot," said Kate. "But Henry needn't go with me. If he will only tell me exactly where I can find father, that will be enough. I think I'd better see him alone."

"Food would choke me now." Henry's voice was husky and tremulous. "Come, sister," he added, after a pause, "if this work is done at all, it must be done quickly."

Without a word more on either part, the brother and sister left the room, and started on their errand. _

Read next: Chapter 21

Read previous: Chapter 19

Table of content of Two Wives


Post your review
Your review will be placed after the table of content of this book