The Married Sisters
"Come, William, a single day, out of three hundred and sixty-five, is not much,"
"True, Henry Thorne. Nor is the single drop of water, that first finds its way through the dyke, much; and yet, the first drop but makes room for a small stream to follow, and then comes a flood. No, no, Henry, I cannot go with you, to-day; and if you will be governed by a friend's advice, you will not neglect your work for the fancied pleasures of a sporting party."
"All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy, We were not made to be delving forever with tools in close rooms. The fresh air is good for us. Come, William, you will feel better for a little recreation. You look pale from confinement. Come; I cannot go without you."
"Henry Thorne," said his friend, William Moreland, with an air more serious than that at first assumed, "let me in turn urge you to stay."
"It is in vain, William," his friend said, interrupting him.
"I trust not, Henry. Surely, my early friend and companion is not deaf to reason."
"No, not to right reason."
"Well, listen to me. As I said at first, it is not the loss of a simple day, though even this is a serious waste of time, that I now take into consideration. It is the danger of forming a habit of idleness. It is a mistake, that a day of idle pleasure recreates the mind and body, and makes us return and necessary employments with renewed delight. My own experience is, that a day thus spent, causes us to resume our labors with reluctance, and makes irksome what before was pleasant. Is it not your own?"
"Well, I don't know; I can't altogether say that it is; indeed, I never thought about it."
"Henry, the worst of all kinds of deception is self-deception. Don't, let me, beg of you, attempt to deceive yourself in a matter so important. I am sure you have experienced this reluctance to resuming work after a day of pleasure. It is a universal experience. And now that we are on this subject, I will add, that I have observed in you an increasing desire to get away from work. You make many excuses and they seem to you to be good ones. Can you tell me how many days you have been out of the shop in the last three months?"
"No, I cannot," was the reply, made in a tone indicating a slight degree of irritation.
"Well, I can, Henry."
"How many is it, then?"
"It is true, for I kept the count."
"Indeed, then, you are mistaken. I was only out a gunning three times, and a fishing twice."
"And that makes five times. But don't you remember the day you were made sick by fatigue?"
"Yes, true, but that is only six."
"And the day you went up the mountain with the party?"
"And the twice you staid away because it stormed?"
"But, William, that has nothing to do with the matter. If it stormed so violently that I couldn't come to the shop, that surely is not to be set down to the account of pleasure-taking."
"And yet, Henry, I was here, and so were all the workmen but yourself. If there had not been in your mind a reluctance to coming to the shop, I am sure the storm would not have kept you away. I am plain with you, because I am your friend, and you know it. Now, it is this increasing reluctance on your part, that alarms me. Do not, then, add fuel to a flame, that, if thus nourished, will consume you."
"Don't make excuses, Henry. Think of the aggregate of ten lost days. You can earn a dollar and a half a day, easily, and do earn it whenever you work steadily. Ten days in three months is fifteen dollars. All last winter, Ellen went without a cloak, because you could not afford to buy one for her; now the money that you could have earned in the time wasted in the last three months, would have bought her a very comfortable one--and you know that it is already October, and winter will soon be again upon us. Sixty dollars a year buys a great many comforts for a poor man."
Henry Thorne remained silent for some moments. He felt the force of William Moreland's reasoning; but his own inclinations were stronger than his friend's arguments. He wanted to go with two or three companions a gunning, and even the vision of his young wife shrinking in the keen winter wind, was not sufficient to conquer this desire.
"I will go this once, William," said he, at length, with a long inspiration; "and then I will quit it. I see and acknowledge the force of what you say; I never viewed the matter so seriously before."
"This once may confirm a habit now too strongly fixed," urged his companion. "Stop now, while your mind is rationally convinced that it is wrong to waste your time, when it is so much needed for the sake of making comfortable and happy one who loves you, and has cast her lot in life with yours. Think of Ellen, and be a man."
"Come, Harry!" said a loud, cheerful voice at the shop door; "we are waiting for you!"
"Ay, ay," responded Henry Thorne. "Good morning, William! I am pledged for to-day. But after this, I will swear off!" And so saying, he hurried away.
Henry Thorne and William Moreland were workmen in a large manufacturing establishment in one of our thriving inland towns. They had married sisters, and thus a friendship that had long existed, was confirmed by closer ties of interest.
They had been married about two years, at the time of their introduction to the reader, and, already, Moreland could perceive that his earnings brought many more comforts for his little family than did Henry's. The difference was not to be accounted for in the days the other spent in pleasure taking, although their aggregate loss was no mean item to be taken from a poor man's purse. It was to be found, mainly, in a disposition to spend, rather than to save; to pay away for trifles that were not really needed, very small sums, whose united amounts in a few weeks would rise to dollars. But, when there was added to this constant check upon his prosperity the frequent recurrence of a lost day, no wonder that Ellen had less of good and comfortable clothing than her sister Jane, and that her house was far less neatly furnished.
All this had been observed, with pain, by William Moreland and his wife, but, until the conversation recorded in the opening of this story, no word or remonstrance or warning had been ventured upon by the former. The spirit in which Moreland's words were received, encouraged him to hope that he might exercise a salutary control over Henry, if he persevered, and he resolved that he would extend thus far towards him the offices of a true friend.
After dinner on the day during which her husband was absent, Ellen called in to see Jane, and sit the afternoon with her. They were only sisters, and had always loved each other much. During their conversation, Jane said, in allusion to the season:
"It begins to feel a little chilly to-day, as if winter were coming. And, by the way, you are going to get a cloak this fall, Ellen, are you not?"
"Indeed, I can hardly tell, Jane," Ellen replied, in a serious tone; "Henry's earnings, somehow or other, don't seem to go far with us; and yet I try to be as prudent as I can. We have but a few dollars laid by, and both of us want warm underclothing. Henry must have a coat and pair of pantaloons to look decent this winter; so I must try and do without the cloak, I suppose."
"I am sorry for that. But keep a good heart about it, sister. Next fall, you will surely be able to get a comfortable one; and you shall have mine as often as you want it, this winter. I can't go out much, you know; our dear little Ellen, your namesake, is too young to leave often."
"You are very kind, Jane," said Ellen, and her voice slightly trembled.
A silence of some moments ensued, and then the subject of conversation was changed to one more cheerful.
That evening, just about nightfall, Henry Thorne came home, much fatigued, bringing with him half a dozen squirrels and a single wild pigeon.
"There, Ellen, is something to make a nice pie for us to-morrow," said he, tossing his game bag upon the table.
"You look tired, Henry," said his wife, tenderly; "I wouldn't go out any more this fall, if I were you."
"I don't intend going out any more, Ellen," was replied, "I'm sick of it."
"You don't know how glad I am to hear you say so! Somehow, I always feel troubled and uneasy when you are out gunning or fishing, as if you were not doing right."
"You shall not feel so any more, Ellen," said Thorne: "I've been thinking all the afternoon about your cloak. Cold weather is coming, and we haven't a dollar laid by for anything. How I am to get the cloak, I do not see, and yet I cannot bear the thought of your going all this winter again without one."
"O, never mind that, dear," said Ellen, in a cheerful tone, her face brightening up. "We can't afford it this fall, and so that's settled. But I can have Jane's whenever I want it, she says; and you know she is so kind and willing to lend me anything that she has. I don't like to wear her things; but then I shall not want the cloak often."
Henry Thorne sighed at the thoughts his wife's words stirred in his mind.
"I don't know how it is," he at length said, despondingly; "William can't work any faster than I can, nor earn more a week, and yet he and Jane have every thing comfortable, and are saving money into the bargain, while we want many things that they have, and are not a dollar ahead."
One of the reasons for this, to her husband so unaccountable, trembled on Ellen's tongue, but she could not make up her mind to reprove him; and so bore in silence, and with some pain, what she felt as a reflection upon her want of frugality in managing household affairs.
Let us advance the characters we have introduced, a year in their life's pilgrimage, and see if there are any fruits of these good resolutions.
"Where is Thorne, this morning?" asked the owner of the shop, speaking to Moreland, one morning, an hour after all the workmen had come in.
"I do not know, really," replied Moreland. "I saw him yesterday, when he was well."
"He's off gunning, I suppose, again. If so, it is the tenth day he has lost in idleness during the last two months. I am afraid I shall have to get a hand in his place, upon whom I can place more dependence. I shall be sorry to do this for your sake, and for the sake of his wife. But I do not like such an example to the workmen and apprentices; and besides being away from the shop often disappoints a job."
"I could not blame you, sir," Moreland said; "and yet, I do hope you will bear with him for the sake of Ellen. I think if you would talk with him it would do him good."
"But, why don't you talk to him, William?"
"I have talked to him frequently, but he has got so that he won't bear it any longer from me."
"Nor would he bear it from me, either, I fear, William."
Just at that moment the subject of the conversation came in.
"You are late this morning, Henry," said the owner of the shop to him, in the presence of the other workmen.
"It's only a few minutes past the time," was replied, moodily.
"It's more than an hour past."
"Well, if it is, I can make it up."
"That is not the right way, Henry. Lost time is never made up."
Thorne did not understand the general truth intended to be expressed, but supposed, at once, that the master of the shop meant to intimate that he would wrong him out of the lost hour, notwithstanding he had promised to make it up. He therefore turned an angry look upon him, and said--
"Do you mean to say that I would cheat you, sir?"
The employer was a hasty man, and tenacious of his dignity as a master. He invariably discharged a journeyman who was in the least degree disrespectful in his language or manner towards him before the other workmen. Acting under the impulse that at once prompted him, he said:
"You are discharged;" and instantly turned away.
As quickly did Henry Thorne turn and leave the shop. He took his way homeward, but he paused and lingered as he drew nearer and nearer his little cottage, for troubled thoughts had now taken the place of angry feelings. At length he was at the door, and lifting slowly the latch, he entered.
"Henry!" said Ellen, with a look and tone of surprise. Her face was paler and more care-worn than it was a year before; and its calm expression had changed into a troubled one. She had a babe upon her lap, her first and only one. The room in which she sat, so far from indicating circumstances improved by the passage of a year, was far less tidy and comfortable; and her own attire, though neat, was faded and unseasonable. Her husband replied not to her inquiring look, and surprised ejaculation, but seated himself in a chair, and burying his face in his hands, remained silent, until, unable to endure the suspense, Ellen went to him, and taking his hand, asked, so earnestly, and so tenderly, what it was that troubled him, that he could not resist her appeal.
"I am discharged!" said he, with bitter emphasis. "And there is no other establishment in the town, nor within fifty miles!"
"O, Henry! how did that happen?"
"I hardly know myself, Ellen, for it all seems like a dream. When I left home this morning, I did not go directly to the shop; I wanted to see a man at the upper end of the town, and when I got back it was an hour later than usual. Old Ballard took me to task before all the shop, and intimated that I was not disposed to act honestly towards him. This I cannot bear from any one; I answered him in anger, and was discharged on the spot. And now, what we are to do, heaven only knows! Winter is almost upon us, and we have not five dollars in the world."
"But something will turn up for us, Henry, I know it will," said Ellen, trying to smile encouragingly, although her heart was heavy in her bosom.
Her husband shook his head, doubtingly, and then all was gloomy and oppressive silence. For nearly an hour, no word was spoken by either. Each mind was busy with painful thoughts, and one with fearful forebodings of evil. At the end of that time, the husband took up his hat and went out. For a long, long time after, Ellen sat in dreamy, sad abstraction, holding her babe to her breast. From this state, a sense of duty roused her, and laying her infant on the bed,--for they had not yet been able to spare money for a cradle,--she began to busy herself in her domestic duties. This brought some little relief.
About eleven o'clock Jane came in with her usual cheerful, almost happy face, bringing in her hand a stout bundle. Her countenance changed in its expression to one of concern, the moment her eyes rested upon her sister's face, and she laid her bundle on a chair quickly, as if she half desired to keep it out of Ellen's sight.
"What is the matter, Ellen?" she asked, with tender concern, the moment she had closed the door.
Ellen could not reply; her heart was too full. But she leaned her head upon her sister's shoulder, and, for the first time since she had heard the sad news of the morning, burst into tears. Jane was surprised, and filled with anxious concern. She waited until this ebullition of feeling in some degree abated, and then said, in a tone still more tender than that in which she had first spoken,--
"Ellen, dear sister! tell me what has happened?"
"I am foolish, sister," at length, said Ellen, looking up, and endeavoring to dry her tears. "But I cannot help it. Henry was discharged from the shop this morning; and now, what are we to do? We have nothing ahead, and I am afraid he will not be able to get anything to do here, or within many miles of the village."
"That is bad, Ellen," replied Jane, while a shadow fell upon her face, but a few moments before so glowing and happy. And that was nearly all she could say; for she did not wish to offer false consolation, and she could think of no genuine words of comfort. After a while, each grew more composed and less reserved; and then the whole matter was talked over, and all that Jane could say, that seemed likely to soothe and give hope to Ellen's mind, was said with earnestness and affection.
"What have you there?" at length asked Ellen, glancing towards the chair upon which Jane had laid her bundle.
Jane paused a moment, as if in self-communion, and then said--
"Only a pair of blankets, and a couple of calico dresses that I have been out buying."
"Let me look at them," said Ellen, in as cheerful a voice as she could assume.
A large heavy pair of blankets, for which Jane had paid five dollars, were now unrolled, and a couple of handsome chintz dresses, of dark rich colors, suitable for the winter season, displayed. It was with difficulty that Ellen could restrain a sigh, as she looked at these comfortable things, and thought of how much she needed, and of how little she had to hope for. Jane felt that such thoughts must pass through her sister's mind, and she also felt much pained that she had undesignedly thus added, by contrast, to Ellen's unhappy feelings. When she returned home, she put away her new dresses and her blankets. She had no heart to look at them, no heart to enjoy her own good things, while the sister she so much loved was denied like present comforts, and, worse than all, weighed down with a heart-sickening dread of the future.
We will not linger to contrast, in a series of domestic pictures, the effects of industry and idleness on the two married sisters and their families,--effects, the causes of which, neither aided materially in producing. Such contrasts, though useful, cannot but be painful to the mind, and we would, a thousand times, rather give pleasure than pain. But one more striking contrast we will give, as requisite to show the tendency of good or bad principles, united with good or bad habits.
Unable to get any employment in the village, Thorne, hearing that steady work could be obtained in Charleston, South Carolina, sold off a portion of his scanty effects, by which he received money enough to remove there with his wife and child. Thus were the sisters separated; and in that separation, gradually estranged from the tender and lively affection that presence and constant intercourse had kept burning with undiminished brightness. Each became more and more absorbed, every day, in increasing cares and duties; yet to one those cares and duties were painful, and to the other full of delight.
Ten years from the day on which they parted in tears, Ellen sat, near the close of day, in a meanly furnished room, in one of the southern cities, watching, with a troubled countenance, the restless slumber of her husband. Her face was very thin and pale, and it had a fixed and strongly marked expression of suffering. Two children, a boy and a girl, the one about six, and the other a little over ten years of age, were seated listlessly on the floor, which was uncarpeted. They seemed to have no heart to play. Even the elasticity of childhood had departed from them. From the appearance of Thorne, it was plain that he was very sick; and from all the indications the room in which he lay, afforded, it was plain that want and suffering were its inmates. The habit of idleness he had suffered to creep at a slow but steady pace upon him. Idleness brought intemperance, and intemperance, reacting upon idleness, completed his ruin, and reduced his family to poverty in its most appalling form. Now he was sick with a southern fever, and his miserable dwelling afforded him no cordial, nor his wife and children the healthy food that nature required.
"Mother!" said the little boy, getting up from the floor, where he had been sitting for half an hour, as still as if he were sleeping, and coming to Ellen's side, he looked up earnestly and imploringly in her face.
"What, my child?" the mother said, stooping down and kissing his forehead, while she parted with her fingers the golden hair that fell in tangled masses over it.
"Can't I have a piece of bread, mother?"
Ellen did not reply, but rose slowly and went to the closet, from which she took part of a loaf, and cutting a slice from it, handed it to her hungry boy. It was her last loaf, and all their money was gone. The little fellow took it, and breaking a piece off for his sister, gave it to her; the two children then sat down side by side, and ate in silence the morsel that was sweet to them.
With an instinctive feeling, that from nowhere but above could she look for aid and comfort, did Ellen lift her heart, and pray that she might not be forsaken in her extremity. And then she thought of her sister Jane, from whom she had not heard for a long, long time, and her heart yearned towards her with an eager and yearning desire to see her face once more.
And now let us look in upon Jane and her family. Her husband, by saving where Thorne spent in foolish trifles, and working when Thorne was idle, gradually laid by enough to purchase a little farm, upon which he had removed, and there industry and frugality brought its sure rewards. They had three children: little Ellen had grown to a lively, rosy-cheeked, merry-faced girl of eleven years; and George, who had followed Ellen, was in his seventh year, and after him came the baby, now just completing the twelfth month of its innocent, happy life. It was in the season when the farmers' toil is rewarded, and William Moreland was among those whose labor had met an ample return.
How different was the scene, in his well established cottage, full to the brim of plenty and comfort, to that which was passing at the same hour of the day, a few weeks before, in the sad abode of Ellen, herself its saddest inmate.
The table was spread for the evening meal, always eaten before the sun hid his bright face, and George and Ellen, although the supper was not yet brought in, had taken their places; and Moreland, too, had drawn up with the baby on his knee, which he was amusing with an apple from a well filled basket, the product of his own orchard.
A hesitating rap drew the attention of the tidy maiden who assisted Mrs. Moreland in her duties.
"It is the poor old blind man," she said, in a tone of compassion, as she opened the door.
"Here is a shilling for him, Sally," said Moreland, handing her a piece of money. "The Lord has blessed us with plenty, and something to spare for his needy children."
The liberal meal upon the table, the mother sat down with the rest, and as she looked around upon each happy face, her heart blessed the hour that she had given her hand to William Moreland. Just as the meal was finished, a neighbor stopped at the door and said:
"Here's a letter for Mrs. Moreland; I saw it in the post-office, and brought it over for her, as I was coming this way."
"Come in, come in," said Moreland, with a hearty welcome in his voice.
"No, I thank you, I can't stop now. Good evening," replied the neighbor.
"Good evening," responded Moreland, turning from the door, and handing the letter to Jane.
"It must be from Ellen," Mrs. Moreland remarked, as she broke the seal. "It is a long time since we heard from then; I wonder how they are doing."
She soon knew; for on opening the letter she read thus:--
SAVANNAH, September, 18--.
MY DEAR SISTER JANE:--Henry has just died. I am left here without a dollar, and know not where to get bread for myself and two children. I dare not tell you all I have suffered since I parted from you. I----
My heart is too full; I cannot write. Heaven only knows what I shall do! Forgive me, sister, for troubling you; I have not done so before, because I did not wish to give you pain, and I only do so now, from an impulse that I cannot resist.
Jane handed the letter to her husband, and sat down in a chair, her senses bewildered, and her heart sick.
"We have enough for Ellen, and her children, too, Jane," said Moreland, folding the letter after he had read it. "We must send for them at once. Poor Ellen! I fear she has suffered much."
"You are good, kind and noble-hearted, William!" exclaimed Jane, bursting into tears.
"I don't know that I am any better than anybody else, Jane. But I can't bear to see others suffering, and never will, if I can afford relief. And surely, if industry brought no other reward, the power it gives us to benefit and relieve others, is enough to make us ever active."
In one month from the time Ellen's letter was received, she, with her children, were inmates of Moreland's cottage. Gradually the light returned to her eye, and something of the former glow of health and contentment to her cheek. Her children in a few weeks, were as gay and happy as any. The delight that glowed in the heart of William Moreland, as he saw this pleasing change, was a double reward for the little he had sacrificed in making them happy. Nor did Ellen fall, with her children, an entire burden upon her sister and her husband;--her activity and willingness found enough to do that needed doing. Jane often used to say to her husband--
"I don't know which is the gainer over the other, I or Ellen; for I am sure I can't see how we could do without her."