The Married Sisters by T. S. Arthur
"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
"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
"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
"You are very kind, Jane," said Ellen, and her voice slightly
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
"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
"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
Henry Thorne sighed at the thoughts his wife's words stirred in his
"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
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
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
"Where is Thorne, this morning?" asked the owner of the shop,
speaking to Moreland, one morning, an hour after all the workmen had
"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
"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 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
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
"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
"No, I thank you, I can't stop now. Good evening," replied the
"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
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.
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
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."