The Lights and Shadows of Real Life
Part 9 out of 11
Mr. Carroll found himself, with his wife still unable to leave her
room--in fact, scarcely able to sit up--penniless and almost
hopeless.--His faith had grown weak--his confidence was gone--his
spirits were broken. Daily he prayed for strength to bear up; for a
higher trust in Providence; for light upon his dark pathway.--But no
strength came, no confidence was created, no light shone upon his
way. And for this we need not wonder. It was no day of miracles, as
his wife had forewarned him. He had, as too many do, hoped for
sustenance in a field of labor where reason could find no
well-grounded hope. He knew that he could not live on three hundred
a year; yet he had accepted the offer, in the vain hope that all
would come out well!
The last shilling left the hand of the unhappy minister, and at
least six weeks remained before another quarter's salary became due.
He could not let his family starve; so, after much thought, he
finally determined to call the vestry together, frankly state his
case, and tell his brethren that it was impossible for him to live
on the small sum they allowed.
A graver meeting of the vestry of Y--parish had not for a long
time taken place. As for an increase of salary, that was declared to
be out of the question entirely. They had never paid any one over
three hundred dollars, which, with the parsonage, had always been
considered a very liberal compensation. They were very sorry for Mr.
Carroll, and would advance him a quarter's salary. But all increase
was out of the question. They knew the people would not hear to it.
The meeting then broke up, and the official members of the church
walked gravely away, while Mr. Carroll went home, feeling so sad and
dispirited, that he almost wished that he could die.
The Parish of Y--was not rich; though six hundred dollars could
have been paid to a minister with as little inconvenience to the
members as three hundred. But the latter sum was considered ample;
and much surprise was manifested when it was found that the new
minister asked for an increase, even before the first year of his
engagement had expired.
The face of his wife had never looked so pale, her cheeks so thin,
nor her eyes so sunken, to the minister, as when he came home from
this mortifying and disheartening meeting of the vestry. One of
those present was the very person he had gone a mile to visit on the
night of the snow-storm; and he had more to say that hurt him than
any of the rest.
"Edith," said Mr. Carroll, taking the thin hand of his wife, as he
sat down by her and looked sadly into her face, "we must leave
"Must we? Why?" she asked, without evincing very marked surprise.
"We cannot live on three hundred a year."
"Where will we go?"
"Heaven only knows! But we cannot remain here!"
And as the minister said this, he bowed his head until his face
rested upon the arm of his wife. He tried to hide his emotion, but
Edith knew that tears were upon the cheeks of her husband.
JUST one year has elapsed, since Mr. Carroll accepted the call from
Y--. It has been a year of trouble, ending in deep affliction.
When the health of Mrs. Carroll yielded under her too heavy burdens,
it did not come back again. Steadily she continued to sink, after
the first brief rallying of her system, until it became hopelessly
apparent that the time of her departure was near at hand. She was
too fragile a creature to be thrown into the position she occupied.
Inheriting a delicate constitution, and raised with even an unwise
tenderness, she was no more fitted to be a pastor's wife, with only
three hundred a year to live upon, than a summer flower is to take
the place of a hardy autumn plant. This her husband should have
known and taken into the account, before he decided to accept the
call from Y--.
When it was found that Mrs. Carroll, after partially recovering from
her first severe attack, began, gradually to sink; a strong interest
in her favor was awakened among the ladies of the congregation, and
they showed her many kind attentions. But all these attentions, and
all this kindness, did not touch the radical disability under which
she was suffering. They did not remove her too heavy weight of care
and labor. All the help in her family that she felt justified in
employing, was a girl between fourteen and fifteen years of age, and
this left so much for her to do in the care of her children, and in
necessary household duties that she suffered all the time from
extreme physical exhaustion.
In the just conviction of the error he had committed, and while he
felt the hopelessness of his condition, Mr. Carroll, as has been
seen, resolved to leave Y--immediately. This design he hinted to
one of the members of his church.
"You engaged with us for a year, did you not?" enquired the member.
That settled the question in the mind of the unhappy minister. He
said no more to any one on the subject of his income, or about
leaving the parish. But his mind was made up not to remain a single
day, after his contract had expired. If in debt at the time, as he
knew he must be, he would free himself from the incumbrances by
selling a part of his household furniture. Meantime his liveliest
fears were aroused for his wife, as symptom after symptom of a rapid
decline, showed themselves. That he did not preach as good sermons,
nor visit as freely among his parishioners during the last three
months of the time he remained at Y--, is no matter of surprise.
Some, more considerate than the rest, excused him; but others
complained, even to the minister himself. No matter. Mr. Carroll had
too much at home to fill his heart to leave room for a troubled
pulsation on this account. He was conscience-clear on the score of
obligation to his parishioners.
At last, and this before the year had come to its close, the
drooping wife and mother took to her bed, never again to leave it
until carried forth by the mourners. We will not pain the reader by
any details of the affecting scenes attendant upon the last few
weeks of her mortal life; nor take him to the bed-side of the dying
one, in the hour that she passed away. To state the fact that she
died, is enough--and painful enough.
For all this, it did not occur to the people of Y--that, in
anything they had been lacking. They had never given but three
hundred a year to a minister, and, as a matter of course, considered
the sum as much as a reasonable man could expect. As for keeping a
clergyman in luxury, and permitting him to get rich; they did not
think it consistent with the office he held, which required
self-denial and a renouncing of the world. As to how he could live
on so small a sum, that was a question rarely asked; and when
presented, was put to rest by some backhanded kind of an answer,
that left the matter as much in the dark as ever.
Notwithstanding the deep waters of affliction through which Mr.
Carroll was required to pass, his Sabbath duties were but once
omitted, and that on the day after he had looked for the last time
upon the face of his lost one. Four Sabbaths more he preached, and
then, in accordance with notice a short time previously given,
resigned his pastoral charge. There were many to urge him with great
earnestness not to leave them; but a year's experience enabled him
to see clearer than he did before, and to act with greater decision.
In the hope of retaining him, the vestry strained a point, and
offered to make the salary three hundred and fifty dollars. But much
to their surprise, the liberal offer was refused.
It happened that the Bishop of the Diocese came to visit Y--a week
before Mr. Carroll intended taking his departure with his motherless
children, for his old home, where a church had been offered him in
connexion with a school. To him, three or four prominent members of
the church complained that the minister was mercenary, and looked
more to the loaves and fishes than to the duty of saving souls.
"Mercenary!" said the Bishop, with a strong expression of surprise.
"Yes, mercenary," repeated his accusers.
"So far from it," said the Bishop, warmly, "he has paid more during
the year, for supporting the Gospel in Y--, than any five men in
the parish put together."
"Mr. Carroll has!"
"How much do you give?" addressing one.
"I pay ten dollars pew rent, and give ten extra, besides," was the
"And you," speaking to another.
"Thirty dollars, in all."
"While," said the Bishop, speaking with increased warmth, "your
minister gave two hundred dollars."
This, of course, took them greatly by surprise, and they asked for
an explanation. "It is given in a few words," returned the Bishop.
"It cost him, though living in the most frugal manner, five hundred
dollars for the year. Of this, you paid three hundred, and he two
"I don't understand you, Bishop," said one.
"Plainly, then; he was in debt at the end of the year, two hundred
dollars, for articles necessary for the health and comfort of his
family, to pay which he has sold a large part of his furniture. He
was not working for himself, but for you, and, therefore, actually
paid two hundred dollars for the support of the Gospel in Y--,
while you paid but twenty or thirty dollars apiece. Under these
circumstances, my friends, be assured that the charge of being
mercenary, comes with an exceeding bad grace. Nor is this all that
he has sacrificed. An insufficient income threw upon his wife,
duties beyond her strength to bear; and she sunk under them. Had you
stepped forward in time, and lightened these duties by a simple act
of justice, she night still be living to bless her husband and
children!--Three hundred a year for a man with a wife and three
children, is not enough; and you know it, my brethren! Not one of
you could live on less than double the sum."
This rebuke came with a stunning force upon the ears of men who had
expected the Bishop to agree with them in their complaint, and had
its effect. On the day Mr. Carroll left the village, he received a
kind and sympathetic letter from the official members of the church
enclosing the sum of two hundred dollars. The first impulse of his
natural feelings was to return the enclosure, but reflection showed
him that such an act would be wrong; and so he retained it, after
such acknowledgments as he deemed the occasion required.
Back to his old home the minister went, but with feelings, how
different, alas! from those he had experienced on leaving for Y--.
The people among whom he had labored for a year, felt as if they had
amply paid him for all the service he had rendered; in fact had
overpaid him, as if money, doled out grudgingly, could compensate
for all he had sacrificed and suffered, in his effort to break for
them the Bread of Life.
Here is one of the phases of ministerial life, presented with little
ornament or attractiveness. There are many other phases, more
pleasant to look upon, and far more flattering to the good opinion
we are all inclined to entertain of ourselves. But it is not always
best to look upon the fairest side. The cold reality of things, it
is needful that we should sometimes see. The parish of Y--, does
not, by any means, stand alone. And Mr. Carroll is not, the only man
who has suffered wrong from the hands of those who called him to
minister in spiritual things, yet neglected duly to provide for the
natural and necessary wants of the body.
I'LL SEE ABOUT IT.
MR. EASY sat alone in his counting room, one afternoon, in a most
comfortable frame, both as regards mind and body. A profitable
speculation in the morning had brought the former into a state of
great complacency, and a good dinner had done all that was required
for the repose of the latter. He was in that delicious, half asleep,
half awake condition, which, occurring after dinner, is so very
pleasant. The newspaper, whose pages at first possessed a charm for
his eye, had fallen, with the hand that held--it, upon his knee. His
head was gently reclined backwards against the top of a high,
leather cushioned chair; while his eyes, half opened, saw all things
around him but imperfectly. Just at this time the door was quietly
opened, and a lad of some fifteen or sixteen years, with a pale,
thin face, high forehead, and large dark eyes, entered. He
approached the merchant with a hesitating step, and soon stood
directly before him.
Mr. Easy felt disturbed at this intrusion, for so he felt it. He
knew the lad to be the son of a poor widow, who had once seen better
circumstances than those that now surrounded her. Her husband had,
while living, been his intimate friend, and he had promised him, at
his dying hour, to be the protector and adviser of his wife and
children. He had meant to do all he promised, but, not being very
fond of trouble, except where stimulated to activity by the hope of
gaining some good for himself, he had not been as thoughtful in
regard to Mrs. Mayberry as he ought to have been. She was a modest,
shrinking, sensitive woman, and had, notwithstanding her need of a
friend and adviser, never called upon Mr. Easy, or even sent to
request him to act for her in any thing, except once. Her husband
had left her poor. She knew little of the world. She had three quite
young children, and one, the oldest, about sixteen. Had Mr. Easy
been true to his pledge, he might have thrown many a ray upon her
dark path, and lightened her burdened heart of many a doubt and
fear. But he had permitted more than a year to pass since the death
of her husband, without having once called upon her. This neglect
had not been intentional. His will was good but never active at the
present moment. "To-morrow," or "next week," or "very soon," he
would call upon Mrs. Mayberry; but to-morrow, or next week, or very
soon, had never yet come.
As for the widow, soon after her husband's death, she found that
poverty was to be added to affliction. A few hundred dollars made up
the sum of all that she received after the settlement of his
business, which had never been in a very prosperous condition. On
this, under the exercise of extreme frugality, she had been enabled
to live for nearly a year. Then the paucity of her little store made
it apparent to her mind that individual exertion was required
directed towards procuring the means of support for her little
family. Ignorant of the way in which this was to be done, and having
no one to advise her, nearly two months more passed before she could
determine what to do. By that time she had but a few dollars left,
and was in a state of great mental distress and uncertainty. She
then applied for work at some of the shops, and obtained common
sewing, but at prices that could not yield her any thing like a
Hiram, her oldest son, had been kept at school up to this period.
But now she had to withdraw him. It was impossible any longer to pay
his tuition fees. He was an intelligent lad--active in mind, and
pure in his moral principles. But like his mother; sensitive, and
inclined to avoid observation. Like her, too, he had a proud
independence of feeling, that made him shrink from asking or
accepting a favor, putting himself under an obligation to any one.
He first became aware of his mother's true condition, when she took
him from school, and explained the reason for so doing. At once his
mind rose into the determination to do something to aid his mother.
He felt a glowing confidence, arising from the consciousness of
strength within. He felt that he had both the will and the power to
act, and to act efficiently.
"Don't be disheartened, mother," he said, with animation. "I can and
will do something. I can help you. You have worked for me a great
many years. Now I will work for you."
Where there is a will, there is a way. But it is often the case,
that the will lacks the kind of intelligence that enables it to find
the right way at once. So it proved in the case of Hiram Mayberry.
He had a strong enough will, but did not know how to bring it into
activity. Good, without its appropriate truth, is impotent. Of this
the poor lad soon became conscious. To the question of his mother--
"What can you do, child!" an answer came not so readily.
"Oh, I can do a great many things," was easily said; but, even in
saying so, a sense of inability followed the first thought of what
he should do, that the declaration awakened.
The will impels, and then the understanding seeks for the means of
affecting the purposes of the will. In the case of young Hiram,
thought followed affection. He pondered for many days over the means
by which he was to aid his mother. But, the more he thought, the
more conscious did he become, that, in the world, he was a weak boy.
That however strong might be his purpose, his means of action were
limited. His mother could aid him but little. She had but one
suggestion to make, and that was, that he should endeavor, to get a
situation in some store, or counting room. This he attempted to do.
Following her direction, he called upon Mr. Easy, who promised to
see about looking him up a situation. It happened, the day after,
that a neighbor spoke to him about a lad for his store--(Mr. Easy
had already forgotten his promise)--Hiram was recommended, and the
man called to see his mother.
"How much salary can you afford to give him?" asked Mrs. Mayberry,
after learning all about the situation, and feeling satisfied that
her son should accept of it.
"Salary, ma'am?" returned the storekeeper, in a tone of surprise.
"We never give a boy any salary for the first year. The knowledge
that is acquired of business is always considered a full
compensation. After the first year, if he likes us, and we like him,
we may give him seventy-five or a hundred dollars."
Poor Mrs. Mayberry's countenance fell immediately.
"I wouldn't think of his going out now, if it were not in the hope
of his earning something," she said in a disappointed voice.
"How much did you expect him to earn?" was asked by the storekeeper.
"I didn't know exactly what to expect. But I supposed that he might
earn four or five dollars a week."
"Five dollars a week is all we pay our porter, an able bodied,
industrious man," was returned. "If you wish your son to become
acquainted with mercantile business, you must not expect him to earn
much for three or four years. At a trade you may receive for him
barely a sufficiency to board and clothe him, but nothing more."
This declaration so dampened the feelings of the mother that she
could not reply for some moments. At length she said--
"If you will take my boy with the understanding, that, in case I am
not able to support him, or hear of a situation where a salary can
be obtained, you will let him leave your employment without hard
feelings, he shall go into your store at once."
To this the man consented, and Hiram Mayberry went with him
according to agreement. A few weeks passed, and the lad, liking both
the business and his employer, his mother felt exceedingly anxious
for him to remain. But she sadly feared that this could not be. Her
little store was just about exhausted, and the most she had yet been
able to earn by working for the shops, was a dollar and a half a
week. This was not more than sufficient to buy the plainest food for
her little flock. It would not pay rent, nor get clothing. To meet
the former, recourse was had to the sale of her husband's small,
select library. Careful mending kept the younger children tolerably
decent, and by altering for him the clothes left by his father, she
was able to keep Hiram in a suitable condition, to appear at the
store of his employer.
Thus matters went on for several months. Mrs. Mayberry working late
and early. The natural result was, a gradual failure of strength. In
the morning, when she awoke, she would feel so languid and heavy,
that to rise required a strong effort, and even after she was up,
and attempted to resume her labors, her trembling frame almost
refused to obey the dictates of her will. At length, nature gave
way. One morning she was so sick that she could not rise. Her head
throbbed with a dizzy, blinding pain--her whole body ached, and her
skin burned with fever. Hiram got something for the children to eat,
and then taking the youngest, a little girl about two years old,
into the house of a neighbor who had showed them some good will,
asked her if she would take care of his sister until he returned
home at dinner time. This the neighbor readily consented to
do--promising, also, to call in frequently to see his mother.
At dinner time Hiram found his mother quite ill. She was no better
at night. For three days the fever raged violently. Then, under the
careful treatment of their old family physician, it was subdued.
After that she gradually recovered, but very slowly. The physician
said she must not attempt again to work as she had done. This
injunction was scarcely necessary. She had not the strength to do
"I don't see what you will do, Mrs. Mayberry," a neighbor who had
often aided her by kind advice, said, in reply to the widows
statement of her unhappy condition. "You cannot maintain these
children, certainly. And I don't see how, in your present feeble
state, you are going to maintain yourself. There is but one thing
that I can advise, and that advice I give with reluctance. It is to
endeavor to get two of your children into some orphan asylum. The
youngest you may be able to keep with you. The oldest can support
himself at something or other."
The pale cheek of Mrs. Mayberry grew paler at this proposition. She
half sobbed, caught her breath, and looked her adviser with a
strange, bewildered stare in the face.
"O, no! I cannot do that! I cannot be separated from my dear little
children. Who will care for them like a mother?"
"It is hard, I know, Mrs. Mayberry. But necessity is a stern ruler.
You cannot keep them with you--that is certain. You have not the
strength to provide them with even the coarsest food. In an asylum,
with a kind matron, they will be better off than under any other
But Mrs. Mayberry shook her head.
"No--no--no," she replied--"I cannot think of such a thing. I cannot
be separated from them. I shall soon be able to work again--better
able than before."
The neighbor who felt deeply for her, did not urge the matter. When
Hiram returned at dinner time, his face had in it a more animated
expression than usual.
"Mother," he said, as soon as he came in, "I heard today that a boy
was wanted at the Gazette office, who could write a good hand. The
wages were to be four dollars a week."
"You did!" Mrs. Mayberry said, quickly, her weak frame trembling,
although she struggled hard to be composed.
"Yes. And Mr. Easy is well acquainted with the publisher, and could
get me the place, I am sure."
"Then go and see him at once, Hiram. If you can secure it, all will
be well, if not, your little brothers and sisters will have to be
separated, perhaps sent to an orphan asylum."
Mrs. Mayberry covered her face with her hands and sobbed bitterly
for some moments.
Hiram eat his frugal meal quickly, and returned to the store, where
he had to remain until his employer went home and dined. On his
return he asked liberty to be absent for half an hour, which was
granted. He then went direct to the counting room of Mr. Easy, and
disturbed him as has been seen. Approaching with a timid step, and a
flushed brow, he said in a confused and hurried manner--
"Mr Easy there is a lad wanted at the Gazette office."
"Well?" returned Mr. Easy in no very cordial tone.
"Mother thought you would be kind enough to speak to Mr. G--for
"Havn't you a place in a store?"
"Yes sir. But I don't get any wages. And at the Gazette office they
will pay four dollars a week."
"But the knowledge of business to be gained where you are, will be
worth a great deal more than four dollars a week."
"I know that, sir. But mother is not able to board and clothe me. I
must earn something."
"Oh, aye, that's it. Very well, I'll see about it for you."
"When shall I call, sir?" asked Hiram.
"When? Oh, almost any time. Say to-morrow or next day."
The lad departed, and Mr. Easy's head fell back upon the chair, the
impression which had been made upon his mind passing away almost as
quickly as writing upon water.
With anxious trembling hearts did Mrs. Mayberry and her son wait for
the afternoon of the succeeding day. On the success of Mr. Easy's
application, rested all their hopes. Neither she nor Hiram eat over
a few mouthfuls at dinner time. The latter hurried away, and
returned to the store, there to wait with trembling eagerness until
his employer should return from dinner, and he again be free to go
and see Mr. Easy.
To Mrs. Mayberry, the afternoon passed slowly. She had forgotten to
tell her son to return home immediately, if the application should
be successful. He did not come back, and she had, consequently, to
remain in a state of anxious suspense until dark. He came in at the
usual hour. His dejected countenance told of disappointment.
"Did you see Mr. Easy?" Mrs. Mayberry asked, in a low troubled
"Yes. But he hadn't been to the Gazette office. He said he had been
very busy. But that he would see about it soon."
Nothing more was said. The mother and son, after sitting silent and
pensive during the evening, retired early to bed. On the next day,
urged on by his anxious desire to get the situation of which he had
heard, Hiram again called at the counting room of Mr. Easy, his
heart trembling with hope and fear. There were two or three men
present. Mr. Easy cast upon him rather an impatient look as he
entered. His appearance had evidently annoyed the merchant. Had he
consulted his feelings, he would have retired at once. But that was
too much at stake. Gliding to a corner of the room, he stood, with
his hat in his hand, and a look of anxiety upon his face, until Mr.
Easy was disengaged. At length the gentlemen with whom he was
occupied went away, and Mr. Easy turned towards the boy. Hiram
looked up earnestly in his face.
"I have really been so much occupied my lad," the merchant said, in
a kind of apologetic tone, "as to have entirely forgotten my promise
to you. But I will see about it. Come in again, to-morrow."
Hiram made no answer, but turned with a sigh towards the door. The
keen disappointment expressed in the boy's face, and the touching
quietness of his manner, reached the feelings of Mr. Easy. He was
not a hard hearted man, but selfishly indifferent to others. He
could feel deeply enough if he would permit himself to do so. But of
this latter failing he was not often guilty.
"Stop a minute," he said. And then stood in a musing attitude for a
moment or two. "As you seem so anxious about this matter," he added,
"if you will wait here a little while, I will step down to see Mr.
The boy's face brightened instantly. Mr. Easy saw the effect of what
he said, and it made the task he was about entering upon
reluctantly, an easy one. The boy waited for nearly a quarter of an
hour, so eager to know the result that he could not compose himself
to sit down. The sound of Mr. Easy's step at the door at length made
his heart bound. The merchant entered. Hiram looked into his face.
One glance was sufficient to dash every dearly cherished hope to the
"I am sorry," Mr. Easy said, "but the place was filled this morning.
I was a little too late."
The boy was unable to control his feelings. The disappointment was
too great. Tears gushed from his eyes, as he turned away and left
the counting-room without speaking.
"I'm afraid I've done wrong," said Mr. Easy to himself, as he stood,
in a musing attitude, by his desk, about five minutes after Hiram
had left. "If I had seen about the situation when he first called
upon me, I might have secured it for him. But it's too late now."
After saying this the merchant placed his thumbs in the arm-holes of
his waistcoat, and commenced walking the floor of his counting room
backwards and forwards. He could not get out of his mind the image
of the boy as he turned from him in tears, nor drive away thoughts
of the friend's widow whom he had neglected. This state of mind
continued all the afternoon. Its natural effect was to cause him to
cast about in his mind for some way of getting employment for Hiram
that would yield immediate returns. But nothing presented itself.
"I wonder if I couldn't make room for him here?" he at length
said--"He looks like a bright boy. I know Mr.--is highly pleased
with him. He spoke of getting four dollars a week. That's a good
deal to give to a mere lad. But, I suppose I might make him worth
that to me. And now I begin to think seriously about the matter, I
believe I cannot keep a clear conscience and any longer remain
indifferent to the welfare of my old friend's widow and children. I
must look after them a little more closely than I have heretofore
This resolution relieved the mind of Mr. Easy a good deal.
When Hiram left the counting room of the merchant, his spirits were
crushed to the very earth. He found his way back, how he hardly
knew, to his place of business, and mechanically performed the tasks
allotted him, until evening.
Then he returned home, reluctant to meet his mother, and yet anxious
to relieve her state of suspense, even, if in doing so, he should
dash a last hope from her heart. When he came in Mrs. Mayberry
lifted her eyes to his, inquiringly; but dropped them instantly--she
needed no words to tell her that he had suffered a bitter
"You did not get the place?" she at length said, with forced
"No--It was taken this morning. Mr. Easy promised to see about it.
But he didn't do so. When he went this afternoon, it was too late."
Hiram said this with a trembling voice and lips that quivered.
"Thy will be done!" murmured the widow, lifting her eyes upwards.
"If these tender ones are to be taken from their mother's fold, oh,
do thou temper for them the piercing blast, and be their shelter
amid the raging tempests."
A tap at the door brought back the thoughts of Mrs. Mayberry. A
brief struggle with her feelings enabled her to overcome them in
time to receive a visitor with composure. It was the merchant.
"Mr. Easy!" she said in surprise.
"Mrs. Mayberry, how do you do!" There was some restraint and
embarrassment in his manner. He was conscious of having neglected
the widow of his friend, before he came. The humble condition in
which he found her, quickened that consciousness into a sting.
"I am sorry, madam," he said after he had become seated and made a
few inquiries, "that I did not get the place for your son. In fact,
I am to blame in the matter. But, I have been thinking since that he
would suit me exactly, and if you have no objections, I will take
him and pay him a salary of two hundred dollars for the first year."
Mrs. Mayberry tried to reply, but her feelings were too much excited
by this sudden and unlooked for proposal, to allow her to speak for
some moments. Even then her assent was made with tears glistening on
Arrangements were quickly made for the transfer of Hiram from the
store where he had been engaged, to the counting room of Mr. Easy.
The salary he received was just enough to enable Mrs. Mayberry, with
what she herself earned, to keep her little together, until Hiram,
who proved a valuable assistant in Mr. Easy's business, could
command a larger salary, and render her more important hid.
THE FIERY TRIAL.
"THE amount of that bill, if you please, sir."
The man thus unceremoniously addressed, lifted his eyes from the
ledger, over which he had been bending for the last six hours, with
scarcely the relaxation of a moment, and exhibited a pale, care-worn
countenance--and, though still young, a head over which were thickly
scattered the silver tokens of age. A sad smile played over his
intelligent features, a smile meant to shake the sternness of the
man who was troubling his peace, as he replied in a low, calm
"To-day, it will be impossible, sir."
"And how many times have you given me the same answer. I cannot
waste my time by calling day after day, for so paltry a sum."
A flush passed over the fine countenance of the man thus rudely
addressed. But he replied in the same low tone, which now slightly
"I would not ask you to call, sir, if I had the money But what I
have not, I cannot give."
"And pray when _will_ you have the money?" The man paused for some
time, evidently calculating the future, and after a long-drawn sigh,
as if disappointed with the result, said:--
"It will be two or three months, before I can pay it and even then,
it will depend on a contingency."
"Two or three months?--a contingency? It must come quicker and surer
than that, sir."
"That is the best I can say."
"But not the best I can do, I hope.--Good-morning." After the
collector had gone, the man bent his head down, until his face
rested even upon the ponderous volume over which he had been poring
for hours. He thought, and thought, but thought brought no relief.
The most he could earn was ten dollars a week, and for his children,
two sweet babes, and for the comfort of a sick wife, he had to
expend the full sum of his wages. The debt for which he was now
troubled, was a rent-bill of forty dollars, held against him by a
man whose annual income was twenty thousand dollars. Finally, he
concluded to go and see Mr. Moneylove, and try to prevail upon him
to stop any proceedings that the collector might institute against
him. In the evening, he sought the dwelling of his rich creditor,
and after being ushered into his splendid parlour, waited with a
troubled heart for his appearance. Mr. Moneylove entered.
"How do you do, sir?"
"How do you do?" replied the debtor, in a low, troubled voice. The
manner of Mr. Moneylove changed, the moment he heard the peculiar
tone of his voice, although he did not know him. There was an
appealing language in its cadence that whispered a warning to his
ear, and he closed his heart on the instant.
"Well, sir," were his next words, "what is your will?"
"You hold a bill against me for rent."
"Well, sir, go to my agent."
"I have seen Mr.--."
"That will do, sir. He knows all about my business, and will arrange
to my entire satisfaction."
"But, sir, I cannot pay it now, and he threatens harsh measures."
"I have entire confidence in his judgment, sir, and am willing to
leave all such matters to his discretion."
"I am in trouble, sir, and in poverty beside, for the demands on me
are greater than I can meet."
"Your own fault, I suppose," retorted the landlord, with a sneer.
"That, any one might know, who took half a glance at you."
This remark caused the blood to mount suddenly to the face of the
"Let me be judged by what I am, not by what I have been," was the
meek reply, after the troubled pause of a few moments. Then in a
more decided tone of voice, he said:--
"Will you not interfere?"
"Will I? _No!_ I never interfere with my agent. He gives me entire
satisfaction, and while he does so, I shall not interfere." And Mr.
Moneylove smiled with self-satisfaction at the idea of his careful
and thrifty agent, and his own worldly policy.
The petitioner slowly left the house--murmuring to himself:
"_Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors._" It was more than
an hour before he could compose his mind sufficiently to be able to
meet his wife with a countenance that was not too deeply shadowed
She was ill, and besides, under the pressure of many causes, was
suffering from a nervous lowness of spirits. Against this
depression, her husband saw that she was striving with all the
mental energy she possessed, but striving almost in vain. To know
that she even had cause for the exercise of such an internal power,
was, to him, painful in the extreme; and he was bitter in his
self-reproaches for being the cause of suffering to one he loved
with a pure and fervent love.
Turning, at last, resolutely towards his dwelling, and striving with
a strong effort to keep down the troubles that were sweeping in
rough waves over his spirit; it was not long before he set his foot
upon his own doorstone.
To give force to this scene, and to throw around what follows its
true interest, it will be necessary to go back and sketch some
things in the history of the individual here introduced.
His name was Theodore Wilmer. In earlier years, he was clerk in the
large mercantile house of Rensselaer, Wykoff & Co., in New York.
Being a young man of intelligence, good address, and good
principles, he was much esteemed, and valued by his employers, who
took some pains to introduce him into society. In this way he was
brought into contact with some of the first families in New York,
and, in this way, he became acquainted with Constance Jackson, the
daughter of a wealthy merchant. Constance was truly a lovely girl,
and one for whom Theodore soon began to entertain feelings akin to
Mr. Jackson, (the father of Constance,) was the son of a man who had
begun life in New York, at the very bottom of fortune's wheel. He
was a native of Ireland, and came to this country very poor. For
some years, with his pack on his back, he gained a subsistence by
vending dry-goods, and unimportant trifles, through the counties and
small towns in the vicinity of New York. Gradually he laid up dollar
after dollar, until he was able to open a very small shop in Maiden
Lane, a kind of thread-and-needle store. Careful in his purchases,
and constant in his attendance on business, he soon began to find
his tens counting hundreds; and but few years rolled away, before
his hundreds began to grow into thousands. After a while he took a
larger store, and suddenly became known. and respected as "a
merchant." At the end of twenty years from the time he carried his
pack out of New York, he could write himself worth fifty thousand
dollars. Success continued to crown his efforts in business, and
when his children came on the stage of active life, they were raised
to consider themselves as far superior to mere mechanics, or those
who had to labour for their daily bread.
The father of Constance was the eldest son of old Mr. Jackson, and
inherited from him a large share of haughty pride. His wife was out
of a family with notions equally aristocratic. Constance was their
only child, and they had bestowed no little care in endeavouring to
make her the most accomplished young lady in New York. They loved
her tenderly, but pride divided with affection their interest in
her. She had already declined the hands of two young men of the
first families in the city, much to the displeasure of both her
parents, when she met Theodore Wilmer, who resided in the family of
Mr. Wykoff, partner in the house that employed the young man in the
capacity of clerk. In this family, Constance visited regularly, and
the intimacy which sprung up between the young couple, had a chance
of maturing into a more permanent affection, before Mr. or Mrs.
Jackson had the slightest suspicion of such an event. Indeed, the
first knowledge they had of the real state of affairs was obtained
through Wilmer himself, in the form of an application for the hand
of their daughter. It was made to Mr. Jackson, on whom it fell with
the unexpected suddenness of a flash from a clear sky in June.
"And pray, sir, who are you?" was his hasty and excited answer.
"Theodore Wilmer, clerk in the house of Rensselaer, Wykoff & Co."
"Are you really in earnest, young man?" said Mr. Jackson, in a
calmer voice, though his lips trembled with suppressed anger.
"Never more so in my life, sir."
"And does my daughter know of this application?"
"And is it made by her consent?"
The calm, and "of course" manner of the young man was more than the
patience of Jackson could withstand. Hardly able to contain the
indignation that swelled within him, at the presumption of an
unknown clerk, thus to ask the hand of his daughter, he paused but a
moment, and then seizing Wilmer by the shoulder, and looking him
steadily in the face, while he almost foamed with anger, replied
thus to his last admission:--
"If that headstrong girl has dared to place her thoughts on you,
obscure underling! and dared, as you say, to consent to accept you,
I will cut her off this hour from fortune and affection. I will cast
her loose upon the world as unworthy. Go--go--and never presume to
come again into my presence!"
Opposition, denial, he had expected; but nothing like this. He had
hoped that when the parents saw a fixed resolution on the part of
Constance to accept none other, that gradually opposition would be
worn away. Such a termination he now saw to be hopeless. The father
did not seek an immediate interview with his child. Before meeting
her, he had found time to reflect upon the real position of affairs.
He was well enough taught in the theory, at least, of a woman's
affections. He had heard of instances where opposition in a love
affair had only added fuel to the flame; and one or two such cases
had fallen under his own eye. He, therefore, decided to make no
present show of opposition, and on no consideration to allow her to
know of the interview that had occurred between her lover and
himself. Mrs. Jackson, entering into her husband's view and
feelings, took upon herself the task of watching and silently
controlling all the movements of her daughter. Particular care was
taken to prevent her visiting the family of Mr Wykoff.
"Where are you going, love?" said her mother, to her the next day
after that of the interview, as Constance came out of her room,
dressed for a walk.
"I promised to walk with Laura Wykoff, ma, and am going to call for
"I was just going to send for you to dress for a walk with me; I
want to make a call to-day on Madame Boyer. And this afternoon I am
to spend with Mrs. Claxton and her five daughters, and you must go
along, of course. So you will have to postpone your walk with Laura
If it had only been the walk with Laura Wykoff, Constance would not
have hesitated a moment, but her heart almost ached with suspense to
know from Theodore the result of his interview with her father. He
had promised to leave a note for her with Laura, who was their
mutual confidante. The mother, of course, noticed an air of regret
at her disappointment, and ingeniously remarked--
"So you would rather walk with Miss Wykoff, than your mother?"
The tears started into the eyes of Constance, and twining her arms
around the neck of her mother, she murmured,
"No, no, dear mother! How could you think so?"
Hiding her anxious desire to know the result of that interview upon
which hung her fate, she passed with apparent cheerfulness through
the weary day; and late at night sought her pillow from which sleep
had fled. On the next morning, much to her distress of mind, she
learned that a visit of a few weeks to a relation in Albany had been
suddenly determined upon, and that in company with her mother she
had to set off in the first boat that day. Her suspicions were at
once roused as to the real cause for this hasty movement, and she
determined to write to Theodore immediately on her arrival at
The beautiful scenery of the Hudson was unappreciated by one eye of
the many brilliant ones that looked out from the majestic boat,
that, in the language of Carlyle, "travelled on fire-wings," through
the looming highlands. The watchful mother strove hard to divert the
mind of her child, but in vain. Her heart was away from the present
reality; and no effort of her own could bring it back. It was night
when the boat arrived, and no chance offered for writing before
retiring to bed. It seemed, indeed, as if the mother, suspicious
that some communication would be made in this way, kept so about
Constance all the next day, that she had no chance of dropping
Theodore even a line to say where she was, and that she still
remembered him with affection. And the next day passed in the same
way; not an hour, not a moment could she get for privacy or
uninterrupted self-communion. At last she determined to write to
Laura Wykoff, to which, of course, her mother could make no
objection. But she dared not mention the name of Theodore, or allude
to her present restrained condition, except remotely, for fear that
her mother would ask to see the letter. This letter was given to a
servant to convey to the post-office, in the presence of her mother.
It never reached its destination. And the mother knew well the
reason why. In it, she asked an immediate answer. Day after day
passed, and no answer came. She wrote again, and with the same
success. Finally, she gained a few minutes to pen a line or two to
Theodore, which she concealed, suspecting that there was something
wrong about the transmission of the letters, until a chance offered
for having it certainly placed in the right channel of conveyance.
This note reached Theodore, and removed a mountain from his
feelings. He had learned of her hasty journey to Albany, but this
was all he could ascertain, and suspecting the cause, his mind was
in a state of racking and painful suspense.
Day after day passed, until a month had expired, and still there was
no indication of a movement to return home. Once or twice a week her
father would come up from New York, and to the persuasions of the
relatives at whose house they were visiting, half-consented that
Constance and her mother should stay all summer. Finally, it was
decided, that Albany should be their place of residence for some
Things assuming this decided appearance, Constance now set herself
resolutely to work to circumvent her mother's careful surveillance.
It was the first time in her life that she had seriously determined
to act towards the parent she had so long and so tenderly loved,
with duplicity. All at once she became more cheerful, and seemed to
enter with a joyful spirit into every plan proposed for spending the
time pleasantly. With a sprightly cousin, a young girl of her own
age, she cultivated a close intimacy, and finding her somewhat
romantic and independent, finally confided to her the secret that
was wearing into her heart from concealment. Readily did Ellen
Raymond enter into the scheme she at last proposed, which was to
write to Theodore, and give the letter into her charge. It was
promptly conveyed to the post-office. Theodore was directed to
address Ellen, and in the envelope to enclose a letter for
Constance. On the third day, the young ladies took a walk, and in
their way called at the post-office. A letter was handed out to
Ellen, and on breaking the seal, another appeared addressed to
Constance. She did not dare to open it in the street, but retired to
a confectioner's, and while Ellen was tasting an ice-cream,
Constance was devouring, with eager eyes, the first love-token she
had ever received from Theodore Wilmer.
This was the beginning of a correspondence which was regularly kept
up through the summer, of all of which both father and mother
remained profoundly ignorant. They were delighted to see their
daughter so soon recover from the first deep depression of spirits
which was occasioned by their sudden removal from New York, but
little suspected the cause. Less and less carefully did the mother
watch her daughter, and more frequently were the two young friends
alone in their chambers, even for hours together. Such times were
not spent idly by Constance. Thus the very
means--separation--resorted to by Mr. Jackson and his wife, to wean
the mind of their daughter from the "low-born" Wilmer, only proved,
from not having been thoroughly carried out, that which bound them
together in heart for ever. Give two lovers, pen, ink, and paper,
and their love will defy time and distance. The thousand expressed
fond regards, and weariness of absence, endear each to each; and
imagination, from affection, invests each with new and undiscovered
perfections. Three months had passed away since the hasty journey
from New York, and supposing Constance to be thoroughly weaned from
her foolish preference for a poor clerk, for she was now cheerful,
and expressed no wish to return--the parents proposed to go back to
the city. Preparation was accordingly made, and in a few days
Constance found herself, with a yearning desire to get home again,
gliding swiftly along the smooth surface of the Hudson. She had not
failed to inform Theodore of her return, and as the boat swept up to
the wharf, her quick eye caught his eager face bending over towards
her. A glance of glad, and yet painful recognition passed between
them, and in the next moment he had disappeared in the living mass
of human beings. For some time she was closely watched; but she
carefully lulled suspicion, and at last succeeded in managing to get
short and stolen interviews with Wilmer. Their first meeting was at
a young friend's, to whom she had confided her secret: this was not
Laura Wykoff, for her mother had managed to fall out with her
family, so as to have a good plea for denying to Constance the
privilege of visiting her. Regularly did the lovers meet, about once
every week, at this friend's; and, encouraged by her, they finally
took the hazardous and decisive step of getting married
Three days after this event, Wilmer entered the store of the
merchants in whose service he had been for years, for the purpose of
resuming his regular duties which had been briefly interrupted. He
was met by the senior partner, with a manner that chilled him to the
"Is Mr. Wykoff in?" he asked.
"No," was the cold reply.
"He has not left town?"
"Yes. He went to New Orleans yesterday, and will not return for two
or three months."
"Did he leave a letter for me?"
Then came an embarrassing silence of some moments which was broken
by Wilmer's saying--
"I suppose that I can resume my duties, as usual?"
"We have supplied your place," was the answer to this.
Quick as thought, the young man turned away, and left the store, his
mind all in confusion. In marrying Constance in opposition to her
parents' wishes, he did so with a feeling of pride in the internal
power, and external facilities, which he possessed for rising
rapidly in the world, and showing ere long to old Mr. Jackson, that
he could stand upon an equal social eminence with himself. How
suddenly was this feeling of proud confidence dashed to the earth!
The external facilities upon which he had based his anticipations
were to be found in the friendship and ample means of the house of
Rensselaer, Wykoff & Co. That friendship had been suddenly
withdrawn, evidently in strong disapprobation of what he had done.
As he turned away, and walked slowly along, he knew not and scarcely
cared whither, a feeling of deep despondency took possession of his
mind. From a proud consciousness of ability to rise rapidly in the
world, and show to the friends of Constance that she had not chosen
one really beneath her, he sunk into that gloomy and depressing
state of mind in which we experience a painful inability to do
anything, while deeply sensible that unusual efforts are required at
our hands. The thought of not being able to lift his wife above the
obscure condition in which he must now inevitably remain, at least
for a long time, seemed as if it would drive him mad. Passing slowly
along, wrapped thus in gloomy meditations, he was suddenly aroused
by a hand upon his arm, and a cheerful voice, saying--
"Give us your hand, Theodore! Here's a hearty shake, and a hearty
congratulation at the same time! Run off with that purse--proud old
curmudgeon's daughter Ha! ha! I like you for that! You're a man of
mettle. But, halloo! What's the matter? You look as grave as a
barn-door, on the shady side. Not repenting, already, I hope?"
"Yes, Henry, I am repenting of that rash act from the very bottom of
"O, no! Don't talk in that way, Theodore. Constance is one of the
sweetest girls in the city, and will make you a lovely wife. There
are hundreds who envy you."
"They need not; for this is the most wretched hour of my life."
"Why, what in the world is the matter, Wilmer?" his friend replied
to this. "You look as if you had buried instead of married a wife.
But come, you want a glass of something to revive you. Let us step
in here. I am a little dry myself."
Without hesitation or reply, Wilmer entered a drinking-house, with
the young man, where they retired to a box, and ordered brandy and
water. After this had been taken in silence, the friend, whose name
was Wilbert Arnold, said--
"The state of mind in which I find you, Theodore, surprises and
pains me greatly. If it is not trespassing too far upon private
matters, I should like very much to know the reason. I ask, because
I feel now, and always have felt, much interest in you."
It was some time before Wilmer replied to this. At length, he said--
"The cause of my present state of mind is of such recent occurrence,
and I have become so bewildered in consequence of it, that I can
scarcely rally my thoughts sufficiently to reply to your kind
inquiries. Suffice it to say, that, in consequence, I presume, of my
having run off with Mr. Jackson's daughter, I have lost a good
situation, and the best of friends. I am, therefore, thrown upon the
world at this very crisis, like a sailor cast upon the ocean, with
but a plank to sustain himself, and keep his head above the waves.
When I married Miss Jackson, it was with the resolution to rise
rapidly, and show to the world that she had not chosen
thoughtlessly. Of course, I expected the aid of Rensselaer, Wykoff &
Co. Their uniform kindness towards me seemed a sure guarantee for
this aid. But the result has been, not only their estrangement from
me, but my dismissal from their service. And now, what to do, or
where to turn myself, I do not know. Really I feel desperate!"
"That is bad, truly," Arnold rejoined, musingly, after Wilmer had
ceased speaking. Then ringing a little hand-bell that stood upon the
table, he ordered the waiter, was obeyed the summons, to bring some
more brandy. Nothing further was said until the brandy was served,
of which both of the young men partook freely.
"What do you intend doing?" Arnold at length asked, looking his
friend in the face.
"I wish you would answer that question for me, for it's more than I
can do," was the gloomy response.
"You must endeavour to rise in the world. It will never do to bring
Constance down to the comparatively mean condition in which a clerk
with a small salary is compelled to live."
"That I know, too well. But how am I to prevent it? That is what
drives me almost beside myself."
"You must hit upon some expedient for making money fast."
"I know of no honest expedients."
"I think that I do."
"Do you know Hardville?"
"He came as near failure as could possibly be, last week."
"And how did he get through?"
"It is the answer to that question which I wish you to consider. He
was saved from ruin in the last extremity, and by what some would
call a desperate expedient. Your case is a desperate one, and, if
you would save yourself, you must resort to desperate expedients,
"Name the expedient."
"Hardville had one thousand dollars to pay, more than he could
possibly raise. He tried everywhere, but to no purpose. He could
neither borrow nor collect that sum. In a moment of desperation, he
put one hundred dollars into his pocket, and went to a regular
establishment near here, and staked that sum at play. In two hours
he came away with twelve hundred dollars in his pocket, instead of
one hundred. And thus he was saved from ruin."
When Arnold ceased speaking, Wilmer looked him in the face with a
steady, stern, half-angry look, but made no reply.
"Try another glass of this brandy," the former said, pouring out a
pretty liberal supply for each. Mechanically, Wilmer put the glass
to his lips, and turned off the contents.
"Well, what do you think of that plan?" asked the friend, after each
had sat musing for some time.
"I am not a gambler!" was the reply.
"Of course not. But your case, as I said, and as you admit, is a
desperate one; and requires desperate remedies. The fact of your
going to a regular establishment, and gaining there, in an
honourable way, something, as a capital to begin with, does not make
you a gambler. After you have got a start, you needn't go there any
more. And all you want is a start. Give you that, and, my word for
it, you will make your way in the world with the best of them."
"O, yes! Give me a start, as you say, and I'll go ahead as fast as
anybody. Give me that start, and I'll show old Mr. Jackson in a few
years that I can count dollars with him all day."
"Exactly. And that start you must have. Now, how are you going to
get it, unless in the way that I suggest?"
"I am not so sure that I can get it in that way."
"I am, then. Only make the trial. You owe it to your wife to do so.
For her sake, then, let me urge you to act promptly and
Thus tempted, while his mind was greatly obscured by the strong
potations he had taken, Theodore Wilmer began to waver. It did not
seem half so wrong, nor half so disgraceful, to play for money, as
it did at first. Finally, he agreed to meet his friend that evening,
and get introduced to some one of the many gambling establishments
that infest all large cities.
A reaction in his feelings now took place. The elation of mind
caused by the brandy, made him confident of success. He saw before
him a rapid elevation to wealth and standing in society, and,
consequently, a rapid restoration of Constance to the circle in
which she had moved.
Before marriage, he had rented a handsome house, and had it
furnished in very good style, upon means which he had prudently
saved from a liberal salary. Into this, he at once introduced his
young wife, who had already begun to feel her heart yearning for her
mother's voice, and her mother's smile. One young friend had been
with her all the morning, but had left towards the middle of the day
Alone, for the first time, since her hurried marriage, her feelings
became somewhat saddened in their hue. But as the hour approached
for her husband to come home, those feelings gate place, in a
degree, to an ardent desire for his return, the result of deep and
fervent love for him. She had sat for some moments, expecting to
hear him at the door, when the bell rung, and she started to her
feet, and stood on the floor, ready to spring forward the moment he
should enter the room. No one, however, came in, and her heart sunk
in her bosom with the disappointment. In a moment after, the servant
handed her a note, the seal of which she broke hastily. It was from
her husband, and ran thus:--
"DEAR CONSTANCE:--An accumulation of business in my absence so
presses upon me now, that I cannot possibly come so great a distance
to dinner, at least for this day. It may likewise keep me away until
eight or nine o'clock this evening. But keep a good heart, dear; our
meeting will be pleasanter for the long absence--Adieu,
The note dropped from her hand, and she sank into a chair, overcome
with a feeling of strong disappointment. To wait until eight or nine
o'clock in the evening, before she should see him, when the morning
had appeared lengthened to a day! O, it seemed as if she could not
endure the wearisome interval!
As for Wilmer, the truth was, he found himself so much under the
influence of the liberal quantity of brandy which he had taken, that
he dared not go home to Constance. He would not have appeared before
her as he was, for the world. It was under the consciousness of his
condition, that he wrote the billet, which his young wife had
received. After doing so, he went to bed at a public house, and
slept until towards evening. When he awoke, Arnold was sitting in
the chamber. Some feelings of bitter regret for the pains which his
absence must have caused his young wife, passed through his mind, as
he aroused himself. These were soon drowned by a few glasses of
wine, which his friend had already ordered to be sent up. That
friend, let it here be remarked, was not a professed gambler--nor
had he any sinister designs in urging on Wilmer as he was doing. But
he was a man of loose morals, and, therefore, really believed that
he was doing him a service in urging him to make an effort to get
upon his feet by means of the gambling-table. Knowing the young
man's high-toned feelings--and how utterly he must, from his
character, condemn anything like play, he had purposely sought to
obscure his perceptions by inducing him to drink freely. In this, he
As soon as night had thrown her dark shadows over the city, the two
young men took their steps towards one of those haunts, known, too
appropriately, by the name of "hells." At eight o'clock, Theodore
went in, with two hundred dollars in his pocket--all the money he
possessed;--and at ten o'clock, came out penniless.
Lonely and long was the afternoon to the young bride, giving
opportunity to many thoughts of a sober, and even saddening nature.
Evening came at last, and then night with its deeper gloom. Eight
o'clock arrived, and nine, but her husband did not return. And then
the minutes slowly passed, until the clock struck ten.
"O, where can he be!" Constance ejaculated, rising to her feet, and
beginning to pace the room to and fro, pausing every moment to
listen to the sound of passing footsteps. Thus she continued for the
space of something like half an hour, when she sunk exhausted upon a
chair. It was twelve o'clock when he at length came in. As he opened
the door, his young wife sprung to his side, exclaiming--
"O, Theodore! Theodore! Why have you staid away so very long?"
As she said this, he staggered against her, almost throwing her
over, and then passed on to the parlors without a word in return to
her earnest and affectionate greeting.
Poor Constance was stunned for the moment. But she quickly
recovered, her woman's heart nerving itself involuntarily, and
followed after her husband. He had thrown himself upon a sofa, and
sat, half-reclining, with his head upon his bosom.
"Are you sick, dear Theodore?" his young wife asked, in a tone of
deep and earnest affection, laying her hand upon him, and bending
down and kissing his forehead.
"Yes, I am sick, Constance," was the half-stupid reply--
"Come, then, let me assist you up to bed. A good night's rest will
do you good," she said, gently urging him to rise.
She understood perfectly his condition. She knew that it was
intoxication. But while it pained her young heart deeply, it awoke
in her bosom no feelings of alarm. She felt convinced that it was
the result of accident, and had no expectation of ever again seeing
its recurrence. She asked him if he were sick, to spare him the
mortification of knowing that she perceived the true nature of his
Thus urged, he at once arose, and supported by the weak arm of his
young wife, slowly ascended the stairs, and entered his chamber. It
was not many minutes before his senses were locked in profound
Not so, however, Constance. The earnestness with which she had
looked for evening to come, that she might again see the face, and
hear the voice of her husband, had greatly excited her mind. This
excitement was increased by the condition in which he had so
unexpectedly returned. The effect was, to keep her awake, in spite
of strong efforts to sink away into sleep. Many sad and desponding
thoughts forced themselves upon her, as she lay, hour after hour, in
a state of half-waking consciousness. It was nearly day-dawn, when,
from all this, she found relief in a deep slumber.
The next day was one of heart-aching reflections to Theodore Wilmer.
In his eager, but half-insane effort to elevate himself rapidly for
the sake of his young wife, he had sunk into actual want, and not
only forfeited his own self-respect, but degraded himself, he felt,
in the eyes of her whose love was dearer to him than life.
The events of two years must now be passed over, with but a brief
notice. There will be enough in the after history of Wilmer and his
young wife, to awaken the reader's keenest sympathies, without
unveiling the particular incidents of this period.
Suffice it, then, to say,--that the first night's experience at the
gambling-table was not enough to satisfy Wilmer, that it was neither
the right way, nor the most successful way of elevating himself in
the world. So anxious did he feel on account of Constance, that be
borrowed money of his false friend Arnold, on the evening of the
very next day, and after drinking, freely, to nerve himself up,
sought again the gambling-table. At ten o'clock, he left, the winner
by fifty dollars. He left thus early on account of his wife, who
would be, he knew, anxiously looking for his return. This encouraged
him to go on, and he did go on. But he could never feel sanguine of
success, or be able to still the troubled whispers within, until he
had drunken freely. Of course, he was every day more or less under
the influence of liquor. For a year, he managed, in this way, to
keep up the style of living in which he had commenced, but he could
get nothing ahead. None could imagine how this was done, for the
young man was exceedingly cautious. He looked to some good turn of
fortune by which he should be enabled to abandon for ever a course
of life that he hated and despised. No such lucky turn, however, met
his anxious expectations. After the first year of this course of
life, his health, which had never been very good, began rapidly to
fail. His cheeks became hollow, and a racking cough began to show
itself. Still he went on keeping late hours, and drinking more and
more freely, while his mind was all the time upon the rack. Towards
the close of the second year, he was taken down with a severe
illness, the result of all this abuse of mind and body. He lingered
long upon the brink of the grave; but the little energy which his
system retained, rallied at last, and he began slowly to recover.
During convalescence, he had full time for reflection. For full two
years, he had been almost constantly so much under the influence of
brandy, as really to be unable to think rationally upon any subject,
and he had, in consequence, pursued a course of life, injurious,
both to his own moral and physical health, and to the happiness of
her for whom he would, at any moment of that time, have sacrificed
everything, even life itself. In rising from that bed of sickness,
it was with a solemn vow never again to enter a gaming-house, and
never again to touch the bewildering poison that had been the
secondary, if not, indeed, the primary cause of two years'
And Constance, what of her, all that time? the reader asks. It would
be a difficult task to give even a feeble idea of all she patiently
endured, and of all she suffered. Not once in that long period did
she either see, or hear from her parents. Three or four times had
she written to them, but no answer was returned. At last she
ventured under the yearning anxiety that she felt once more to see
her mother, and to hear the voice that lingered in her memory like
old familiar music to go to her, and ask her forgiveness and her
love. But she was coldly and cruelly repulsed--not even being
permitted to gain her mother's presence.
In regard to her husband, her love was like a deep, pure stream. Its
course was never troubled by passion, or obstructed in its onward
course. Though he would come home often and often in a state of
stupor from drink--though it was rarely earlier than midnight when
he returned to make glad with his presence her watching and waiting
heart, she never felt a reproaching thought. And to her, his words
and tones, and manner, were ever full of tenderness. Deeply did he
love her--and for her sake more than for his own, was he struggling
thus against a powerful current daily exhausting his strength,
without moving onward.
Thus much, briefly, of those two years of toil, and struggle, and
pain. On recovering, with a shattered constitution, from the serious
attack of illness that had resulted from the abuse of himself during
that period, Wilmer felt compelled to give up his fondly-cherished
ideas of rising with Constance to the position from which he had
dragged her down, and to be content with a humbler lot. He,
therefore, sought, and obtained a situation as a clerk at a salary
of eight hundred dollars per annum. Already he had been compelled to
move into a smaller house than the one at first taken, and in this
he was now able to remain.
But seeing, with a clearer vision than before, Wilmer perceived that
much of the bloom had faded from his wife's young cheek, and that
her heart had not ceased to yearn for the home and loved ones of her
Another year passed away, and during the whole of that time not one
word of kindness or censure reached the ears of Constance from her
parents. They seemed to have not only cast her off, abut to have
forgotten the fact of her existence. To a mind like that of Theodore
Wilmer's, any condition in which a beloved one was made to suffer
keenly, and as he believed, alone through him, could not be endured
without serious inroads upon a shattered constitution; and much to
his alarm, by the end of the year he found that he was less able
than usual to attend through the whole day to the fatiguing duties
of the counting-room. Frequently he would return home at night with
a pain in his breast, that often continued accompanied by a
troublesome cough through a greater part of the night. The morning,
too, often found him feverish and debilitated, and with no appetite.
The engrossing love of a mother for her first-born, relieved, during
this year, in a great degree, the aching void of Constance Wilmer's
breast. The face of her sweet babe often reflected a smile of deep,
heart-felt happiness, lighting up, ere it faded away into the sober
cast of thought, a feeble ray upon the face of her husband. The
steady lapse of days, and weeks, and months, brought a steady
development of the mind and body of their little one. He was the
miniature image of his father, with eyes, in which Wilmer could see
all the deep love which lay in the dark depths of those that had won
his first affections. Happy would they have been but (who would not
be happy were it not for that little word?) for one yearning desire
in the heart of Constance for the lost love of her mother--but for
the trembling fear of want that stared Theodore daily in the face.
His salary as clerk was small, and to live in New York cost them no
trifle. At last, owing to the failure of the house by which he was
employed, the dreaded event came. He was out of a situation, and
found it impossible to obtain one. the failure had been a very bad
one, and there was a strong suspicion of unfair dealing. The
prejudice against the house, extended even to the clerks, and
several of them, finding it very difficult to get other places that
suited them, left New York for other cities. One of them, a friend
to Wilmer, came to Baltimore, and got into a large house; a vacancy
soon occurring, he recommended Wilmer, who was sent for. He came at
once, for neither to him nor his wife was there anything attractive
in New York. His salary was to be five hundred dollars.
In removing to Baltimore, he took with him the greater part of the
furniture that he had at first purchased, some of which was of a
superior quality. There he rented a small house, and endeavoured by
the closest economy to make his meagre salary sufficient to meet
every want. But this seemed impossible.
Gradually, every year he found himself getting behind-hand, from
fifty to sixty dollars. The birth of a second child added to his
expenses; and, the failing health of his wife, increased then still
more. Finally, he got in arrears with the agent of Mr. Moneylove,
his landlord. At this time, an apparently rapid decline had become
developed in the system of his wife, and on the night on which he
had appealed to this person's feelings of humanity, as mentioned in
the opening of the story, he found her, on his return, extremely
ill. A high fever had set in, and she was suffering. much from
difficult respiration. The physician must, of course, be called in,
even though but the day before he had put off his collector for the
tenth time. Sad, from many causes, he turned again from the door of
his dwelling, and sought the physician.
He rang the bell, and waited with a throbbing heart, for the
appearance of the man he earnestly desired, and yet dreaded to; see.
When he heard his step upon the stairs, his cheek began to burn, and
he even trembled as a criminal might be supposed to tremble in the
presence of his judge. For a moment he thought only of his unpaid
bill, in the next of his suffering wife. The physician entered.
Theodore hesitated, and spoke in a low, timid voice, as he requested
a call that night upon his wife.
"Is Mrs. Wilmer very ill?" inquired the physician, in a kind voice.
"I fear seriously so, sir."
"How long has she been sick?"
"It has been several weeks since she complained of a pain in her
side; and all that time she has been troubled with a hard cough. For
the last few days she has hardly been able to move about, and
to-night she is in a high fever, and finds great difficulty in
"Then she must be attended to, at once. Why did you not call before,
Mr. Wilmer? Such delays, you know, are very dangerous."
"I do--I do--but"--Wilmer hesitated, and looked troubled and
"But what, Mr. Wilmer?" urged the physician in the kindest manner.
"I--I--I have not been able to pay your last bill, much as I have
desired it. My salary is small, and I find it very difficult to get
"Still, my dear sir, health and life are of great value. And
besides, if you had called in a physician at the earliest stage of
Mrs. Wilmer's illness, you might have saved much expense, as well as
spared her much suffering. But cheer up, sir; bright sunshine always
succeeds the cloud and the storm. I shall be glad to have my bill
when it is convenient, and not before. Don't let it cause you an
The kind manner of the physicians soothed his feelings, and the
prompt visit, and prompt relief given softened the stern anguish of
his troubled spirit. The bruised reed is never broken. When the
stricken heart is tried, it is never beyond the point of endurance.
In no instance had Wilmer drawn from his employers more than his
regular salary, no matter how pressing were his necessities. Beyond
the contract he had entertained no desire to go, but strove, in
everything, to keep down his expenses to his slender income. Now,
however, in view of the threat made by the collector of rents, after
having thought and thought about it until bewildered with a
distressing sense of his almost hopeless condition, he came to the
resolution to ask an advance of fifty dollars, to be kept back from
his regular wages, at the rate of five dollars a month. For some
hours he pondered this plan in his mind, and obtained much relief
from the imaginary execution of it, But when the moment came to ask
the favour, his heart sank within him, and his lips were sealed. In
alternate struggles like this, the morning of the first day passed,
after his interview with Mr. Money. love, and still he had not been
able to prefer his humble request. When he went home to dine, in
consequence of the continued perturbation of his mind for hours, he
was pale and nervous, with no inclination for food. To add to his
distress of mind, his oldest child, now a fine boy of four summers,
had been taken extremely ill since morning, and the anxiety
consequent upon it, had painfully excited the feeble system of his
wife. Another visit from the physician became necessary, and was
Frequently, in consequence of pressing calls at home, he had been
almost forced to remain longer away from his place of business at
dinner-time, than was customary for the clerks. On this day, two
hours had glided by when his hasty foot entered the store, on his
return from dinner. His fears of a distraint for rent were greatly
heightened in consequence of the increased illness of his family,
and as the only way to prevent it that had occurred to his mind, was
to obtain from his employers a loan of fifty dollars as just
mentioned, he had fully made up his mind to waive all feeling and at
once name his request. Two hours we have said had expired since he
went home to dine. On his entering the counting-room, the senior
partner of the house drew out his watch, and remarked, rather
angrily, that he could not permit such neglect of duty in a clerk,
and that unless he kept better hours, he must look for another
It was some time before the confusion of his mind, consequent upon
this censure and threat, subsided sufficiently to allow him to feel
keenly the utter prostration of the last expectation for help, that
had arisen like an angel of hope, in what seemed the darkest hour of
his fate. And bitter indeed, were then his thoughts. Those who have
never felt it, cannot imagine the awful distress which the mind
feels, while contemplating the wants of those who are dearer than
all the world, without possessing the means of relieving them. At
times, there is a wild excitement, an imaginary consciousness of
power to do all things; too quickly, alas! succeeded by the chilling
certainty that honestly and honourably it _can do nothing_.
Slowly and painfully passed the hours until nightfall, and then
Wilmer again sought with hasty steps the nest that sheltered his
beloved ones. Alas! the spoiler had been there. True to his threat,
the agent of Mr. Moneylove had taken quick means to get his own. All
of his furniture had been seized, and not only seized, but nearly
everything, except a bed and a few chairs, removed in his absence.
"O, Constance, _what_ is the meaning of this?" was his agonized
question, to his weeping wife, who met him ill as she was at the
door, and hid her face in his bosom, like a dove seeking protection.
"I cannot tell, Theodore. Everything has been carried off under
distraint for rent, so they said, who came here. But you do not owe
any rent, do you? I am sure you never mentioned it."
"It is too true--too true," was his only answer. Carefully had
Wilmer concealed from his wife all his troubles. He could not think
of adding one pang more to the heart that had already suffered so
much on his account. Wisely he did not act in this, but few can
blame the weakness that shrunk from giving pain to a beloved object.
There are few who have not, sometime in life, found themselves in
situations of trial and distress, in which nothing was left them but
submission. In that very condition did this lonely family, strangers
in a strange place, find themselves on this night of strong trial.
They experienced a ray of comfort, and that was the apparent health
re-action in the system of their sick child. With this to cheer
them, they gathered their two little ones with them in their only
bed, and slept soundly through the night.
Their servant had left them the day before, and they were spared the
mortification of having such a witness of their humiliation. Mrs.
Wilmer found it somewhat difficult to prepare their food on the next
morning, as even her kitchen furniture had nearly all shared the
fate of the rest, and she found herself very feeble. Something like
three hundred dollars worth had been taken for a debt of forty or
fifty. The slender breakfast over, with the reprimand of the day
before painfully fresh in his mind, Wilmer hastened away to the
counting-room. He had only been a few moments at the desk, when the
partner who had spoken to him the day before, came up with the
morning's paper in his hand, and pointing to an advertisement of a
sale of furniture seized for rent due by Theodore Wilmer, asked him
if he was the person named. Wilmer looked at him for some moments,
vainly attempting to reply, his face exhibiting the most painful
emotions--finally, he laid his head upon the desk without a word,
and gave way to tears. It was a weakness, but he was not then
superior to it.
"How much do you owe for rent?"
"Forty dollars! And is it for this sum alone that your furniture has
"That is all I owe for rent."
"Then why did you not let us know your condition? You should have
had more consideration for your family."
"Yesterday, sir," Wilmer replied, somewhat bitterly, "I came here
from dinner, after having been unavoidably detained with a sick
child, resolved to conquer my reluctance, and ask for the loan of
fifty dollars, to be deducted from my salary, at the rate of five
dollars a month. But your reproof for remissness deterred me. And
when I returned home, the work had been done. They have left us but
a bed, a few chairs, and a common table. Oh, sir, it seems as if it
would kill me!"
"But, my dear sir, when I complained, you owed it to yourself, and
you owed it to me, to explain. How could I know your peculiar
"Have you ever felt, sir, that no one cared for you? As if even
Heaven had forgotten you? If not, then you cannot understand my
feelings. It may be wrong, but always meaning to act justly towards
every one, I feel so humbled by accusation, that I have no heart to
explain. It seems to me that others should know that I would not
"It certainly is wrong, Mr. Wilmer. Suppose you had simply mentioned
yesterday the illness of your child; I should at once have withdrawn
my censure, and probably have made some kind inquiry; you would then
have been more free to prefer your request, which would have been at
once granted. See what it would have saved your family."
"I see it all. Feeling always obscures the judgment."
"To one in your particular situation, a right knowledge of the truth
you have just uttered is all-important. No matter what may be your
condition, never suffer feeling to become so acute as to dim your
sober thoughts, and paralyze your right actions. But here are a
hundred dollars. Redeem your things, and get on your feet again.
Take them as an advance on your salary for the last year; and draw
six hundred instead of five, in future."
A grateful look told the joy of his heart, as he hastened away. In
one hour the furniture which the day before had been forcibly taken
away, was at his own door.
Relief from present embarrassment, and a fair prospect of a full
support for the future, gave Wilmer a lighter heart than he had
carried in his bosom for many months. The reaction made him for a
time happy. But, while our hearts are evil, we cannot be happy,
except for brief periods. The disease will indicate by pain its
The drooping form of his wife soon called his thoughts back to
misery. Health had wandered away, and the smiling truant strayed so
long, that hope of her return had almost forsaken them.
Nearly five years had passed since Constance turned away, almost
broken-hearted, from the door-stone of her father's house; and
during all that long, long time, she had received no token of
remembrance. She dared not suffer herself to think even for a moment
on the cruel fact. The sudden, involuntary remembrance of such a
change from the fondest affection to the most studied disregard,
would almost madden her.
As for Wilmer, the recollection of the past was as a thorn in his
pillow, too often driving sleep from a wearied frame, that needed
its health-restoring influence. And often, deep and bitter were his
self-reproaches. But for his fatal and half-insane abandonment of
himself to the vain hope of gaining a foothold by which he might
rapidly elevate his condition for the sake of Constance, he was now
conscious that, slowly, but surely, he would have risen, by the
power of an internal energy of character. And more deeply conscious
was he, that, but for the half-intoxicated condition in which he was
when he consented to go to a gaming-house, he never would have
abandoned himself to gaming and drinking as he did for two long
years of excited hopes, and dark, gloomy despondency. Two years,
that broke down his spirits, and exhausted the energies of his
physical system. Two years, from whose sad effects, neither mind nor
body was ever again able to recover.
But now let us turn from the cast-off, from the forsaken, to the
parents who had estranged themselves from their child.
A foreign arrival had brought letters from Mr. Jackson's agent in
Holland, containing information of a great fall in tobacco. Large
shipments had been made by several houses, and especially by that of
Mr. Jackson, in anticipation of high prices resulting from a
scarcity of the article in the German markets. But the shipments had
been too large, and a serious decline in price was the consequence.
Any interruption of trade, by which the expectation of profits
entertained for months is dashed to the ground in a moment, has,
usually, the effect to make the merchant unhappy for a brief period.
It takes some time for the energies of his mind, long directed in
one course, to gather themselves up again, and bend to some new
scheme of profit. The "tobacco speculation" of 18--, had been a
favourite scheme of Mr. Jackson's, and he had entered into it more
largely than any other American house. Its failure necessarily
involved him in a heavy loss.
As evening came quietly down, sobering into a browner mood the
feelings of Mr. Jackson, the merchant turned his steps slowly
towards his home. Naturally, the smiling image of his daughter came
up before his mind, and he quickened his pace instinctively. He
remembered how nearly he had lost even this darling treasure, and
chid himself for being troubled at the loss of a few thousand
dollars, when he was so rich in the love of a lovely child. He rang
the bell with a firmer hand, and stepped more lightly as he entered
the hall, in anticipation of the sweet smile of his heart's darling.
He felt a little disappointed at not finding her in the
sitting-room, but did not ask for her, in expectation of seeing her
enter each moment. So much was he engrossed with her image that he
almost forgot his business troubles. Gradually his mind, from the
over-excitement of the day, became a little fretted, as he listened
in vain for her light foot-fall at the door. When the bell rung for
tea, he started, and asked,--
"Where is Constance?"
"In her room, I suppose," replied Mrs. Jackson, indifferently. They
seated themselves at the tea-table, and waited for a few moments;
but Constance did not come.
"John, run up and call Constance; perhaps she did not hear the
John returned in a moment with the intelligence that his young
mistress was not there.
"Then, where is she?" asked both the parents at once.
"Don't know," replied John, mechanically.
"Where is Constance?"
"I don't know, ma'am."
"Did she go out this afternoon?"
"Yes, ma'am. She went out about two hours ago, ma'am."
"That's strange," said her mother. "She always tells me where she is
Both parents left the tea-table, each with a heavy presentiment of
coming trouble about the heart. They went, as by one consent, to
Constance's chamber. The mother proceeded to look into her drawers,
and found to her grief and astonishment that they were nearly all
For some time, neither spoke a word. The truth had flashed upon the
mind of each at the same moment.
"It may not yet be too late," were the first words spoken, and by
"_It is too late,_" was the brief, but meaning response.
From that time her name was not mentioned, and even her portrait was
taken down and thrown into the lumber-room. Her few letters, after
her hasty and imprudent marriage, were burned up without being
opened. So much for wounded family pride! But think not that her
image was really obliterated from their minds. No--no. It was there
an ever constant and living presence.--
Though neither of the parents spoke of, or alluded to her, yet they
could not drive away her spiritual presence.
Year after year glided away, and though the name of Constance had
never passed their lips, and they knew nothing of her destiny; yet
as year after year passed, her image, now a sad, tearful image, grew
more and more distinct before their eyes. In their dreams they often
saw her in suffering and nigh unto death, and when they would
stretch forth their hands to save her, she would be snatched out of
their sight. Still they mentioned not her name; and the world
thought the cold-hearted, unnatural parents had even forgotten their
But what had they now to live for? To such as they, no happiness
resulted from doing good to others, for the love of self had
extinguished all love of the neighbour. The passion for
accumulating, it is true, still remained with the merchant; but
trade had become so broken up and diverted from its old channels,
that he realized small profits, and frequent losses. Finally, he
retired from business, and from the city.
After the marriage of Constance, Mrs. Jackson found herself of far
less consideration in company. Few in high life are altogether
heartless, and all are ready to censure any exhibition of family
pride, which is carried so far as to alienate the parent from the
child. This feeling the mother of Constance found to prevail
wherever she went, and she never attributed the coolness of
fashionable acquaintances, nor the gradual falling away of more
intimate friends, to any other than the right cause. How could she?
In her case the adage was true to the letter--"A guilty conscience
needs no accusation."
Nearly ten years had passed away since the parents became worse than
childless. They were living at their country residence near Harlaem,
enduring, but not enjoying life. They had wealth, and every comfort
and luxury that wealth could bring. But the slave who toiled in the
burning sun, and prepared his own coarse food at night in a dirty
hovel, was happier than they. Even unto this time had they not
spoken together of their child, since the day of her departure.
One night in August, a terrible storm swept over New York and its
neighbourhood. Flash after flash of keen lightning blazed across the
sky, and peal after peal of awful thunder rent the air. It came up
about midnight, and continued for more than an hour. Mr. and Mrs.
Jackson were roused from slumber by this terrible war of the
elements. Its noise had troubled their sleep ere it awoke them, and
their dreams were of their child. During its awful continuance,
while they felt themselves more intimately in the hands of the
All-Powerful, their many sins passed rapidly before them, but the
stain that darkened the whole of the last ten years, the one crime
of many years, which made their hearts sick within them with a
strange fear, was their conduct towards their child. But neither
spoke of it. Upon this subject, for several years, they had been
afraid of each other.
The storm passed away, but they could not sleep. Wearied nature
sought, but could find no repose. Each tossed and turned and wished
for the morning, and when the morning began to dawn they closed
their eyes, and almost wished the darkness had continued. A troubled
sleep fell upon the husband, and in it he murmured the name of his
child. The quick ear of the mother caught the word, and it thrilled
through every nerve. Tears stole down her cheeks, and her heart
swelled near to bursting with maternal instincts. The vision of his
child that passed before him had been no pleasant one, and with the
murmur of her name he awoke to consciousness. Lifting himself up, he
saw the tearful face of his wife. He could not mistake the cause.
Why should she weep but for her child? He looked at her for a
moment, when she pronounced the name of Constance, and hid her
tearful face on his breast.
The fountain was now unsealed, and the feelings of the parents
gushed out like the flow of pent-up waters. They talked of
Constance, and blamed themselves, and wept for their lost one. But
where was she? how could they find her?
The sun had scarcely risen, when Mr. Jackson set out to seek for his
child, while his wife remained at home in a state of agonizing
suspense. He knew not whether she were alive or dead; in New York or
elsewhere. The second day brought Mrs. Jackson a letter, it ran as
"I have searched in vain for our Constance. But how could it be
otherwise? Who should know more about her than myself? I have asked
some of our old acquaintances if they ever heard of her since her
marriage. They shake their heads and look at me as though they
thought me demented. Laura Wykoff, you know, married some years ago.
I called upon her. She knew little or nothing; but said, she had
heard that her husband who had become dissipated had left her and
gone off to Baltimore. She thought it highly probable that she had
been dead some years. She treated me coldly enough. But I feel
nothing for myself. Poor, dear child! where can thy lot be cast?
Perhaps, how dreadful the thought! she may have dragged her
drooping, dying form past our dwelling, once her peaceful home, and
looked her last look upon the door shut to her for ever, while the
cold winds of winter chilled her heart in its last pulsations. Oh, I
fear we have murdered our poor child! Every meagre-looking,
shrinking female form I pass on the street, makes my heart throb.
'Perhaps that is Constance,' I will say, and hasten to read the
countenance of the forlorn one. But I turn away, and sigh; 'where,
where can she be?'
"Since writing this, I have seen a young man who knew her husband.
He says, that after the failure of a house in which Wilmer was
employed, he went to Baltimore and took Constance with him. He says,
he knows this to be so, because he was well acquainted with Wilmer,
and shook hands with him on the steamboat when he went away. I
hinted to him what I had heard about Wilmer's leaving her. He
repelled the insinuation with warmth, and said, that he, Wilmer,
would have died rather than cause Constance a painful feeling--that
she certainly did go with him, for when he parted with Wilmer,
Constance was leaning on his arm. He says, she looked pale and
troubled; and mentioned that they had with them a sweet little baby.
Oh, how my heart yearns after my child!
"I have since learned the name of the firm in Baltimore in whose
employment he was, shortly after he went there. To-morrow morning I
shall go to that city. You shall hear from me on my arrival."
Nearly a week passed before Mrs. Jackson received further
intelligence from her husband. I will not attempt to describe her
feelings during that long time. In suffering or joy we discover how
relative and artificial are all our ideas of time.
The next letter ran thus:--
"Here I am in Baltimore, but it seems no nearer finding our child
than when I was in New York. The firm in whose employment Wilmer was
shortly after his arrival in Baltimore, has been dissolved some
years; and I am told that neither of the partners is now in this
city. I have not been able to learn the name of a single clerk who
was in their store. I feel disheartened, yet more eager every day to
find our lost one. Where can she be?
"A day more has passed since my arrival here, and I have a little
hope. I have found one of his former fellow-clerks. He says, that he
thinks Wilmer is still in town. I do not want to advertise for him,
if I can help it, but shall do so before I leave the city, if other
means fail. This young man tells me, that when he knew him he had
three children. He never saw our Constance. He represents Wilmer as
having been in bad health, and as generally appearing dejected. He
says, all his furniture was once seized and sold by the sheriff for
rent, but that it was redeemed next day by his employers, who
treated him very kindly on the occasion. I have heard nothing of the
poor boy that has not prepossessed me in his favour. I fear he has
had a hard time of it. How much happiness have we lost--how much
misery have we occasioned!--Surely we have lived in vain all our
lives! I feel more humbled every day since I left home.
"Since yesterday I have learned that he was in the city less than a
year ago--and that Constance was living. How my heart throbs! Shall
I see my own dear child again? Theodore, I fear, is in very bad
health, if still alive. He had to give up a good situation about a
year ago, as book-keeper in a large establishment here, where he was
much esteemed, on account of his health giving way so fast under the
confinement. I believe he took another situation as salesman in a
retail store, on a very small salary. Some one told me that
Constance had been under the necessity of taking in sewing, to help
to get a living--and all this time we had abundance all around us! I
call myself, 'wretch,'--and so I would call any other man who would
cast off his child, as I have done--a tender flower to meet the cold
winds of autumn.
"I have seen my child! my poor dear Constance! But oh, how changed!
While passing along the street to-day, almost in despair of ever
finding her--a slender female, about the same height of Constance,
passed me hastily. There was something peculiar, I thought, about
her, and I felt as I had never yet felt, while near a stranger. I
followed her, scarce knowing the reason why. She entered a
clothing-store, and I went in after her, and asked to look at some
article, I scarce knew what. Her first word startled me as would a
shock of electricity. It was my own child. But I could not make
myself known to her there. She laid down upon the counter three
vests, and then presented a small book. in which to have the work
entered. The entry was made, and the book handed back.
"'There are just three dollars due you,' said the man.
"'Three-and-a-half, I believe it is, sir.'
"'No, it's only three.'
"'Then I have calculated wrong. I thought it was three-and-a-half.'
"How mournful and disappointed was her tone!
"After standing for some time looking over her book, she said in a
lighter voice, 'well, I believe I _am_ right. See here; I have made
twenty-eight vests, and at twelve-and-a-half cents each, that is
three dollars and a half.'
"'Well, I believe you are right,' said the man, in a changed tone,
after looking over the book again.
"'Can you pay me to-day? I am much in want of it.'
"'No, I can't. I have a thousand dollars to pay in bank, and I
cannot spare anything before two or three days.'
"She paused a moment, and then went slowly towards the door;
lingered for a short time, and then turned to the man again. I then
saw for the first time, for ten long years, her face. How thin and
pale it was! how troubled its expression!--But it was the face of
our dear Constance. She did not look towards me; but turned again to
the shop-keeper, and said,
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