The Fiery Trial
by T. S. Arthur
"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 voice—
"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 love.
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
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
"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 Albany.
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 clandestinely.
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 my heart."
"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
"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 efficiently."
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
"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 had succeeded.
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 place.
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
"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 been taken?"
"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
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
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
"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
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 child.
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
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
"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
"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,
"'Be kind enough, sir, to let me have one dollar. I want it very
"'You give me more trouble about your money than any other workman
I have,' said the man roughly, as he handed her a dollar.
"She took it, unheeding the cruel remark, and before I could make
up my mind how to act, glided quickly away. I followed as hastily, and
continued to walk after her, until I saw her enter a large,
old-fashioned brick building. About this dwelling, there was no air
of comfort. In the door sat a little girl, and two boys, pale, but
pleasant-looking children. One of them clapped his little hands as
Constance passed them, and then got up and ran after her into the
house. They all had her own bright eyes. I would have known them for
(sic) her's anywhere.
"Does it not seem strange that I hesitated to go in at once to my
child. But I am at a loss what to do. Sometimes I think that I will
wait until you come on, and make her heart glad with the presence of
both at once. To-morrow I will write you again. The mail is just
closing; and I must send this."
After Wilmer had received the kindly proffered relief from his
employers, in an increase of salary, he was less troubled about the
daily wants of his family. But other sources of keen anxiety soon
presented themselves. His own health began to give way so rapidly as
to awaken in his mind, fearful apprehensions of approaching inability
to support his family; and Constance was not strong. Too often, the
pain in his breast and side was so severe as to make his place at the
desk little less than torture. A confirmed, short, dry cough, not
severe, but constant, also awakened his liveliest fears.
At the end of a year from the time when his employers began to feel
a kind interest in him, he was removed from the desk, and given more
active employment as salesman and out-of-door clerk. The benefit of
this change was soon felt. The pain in his breast and side gradually
gave way, his appetite increased, and his cough became less and less
irritating. But this improvement was only temporary. The disease had
become too deeply rooted. True, he suffered much less than while
confined at the desk, but the morbid indications were too constant to
leave him much of the flattery of hope.
Another year gradually rolled away, and with it came more changes,
and causes of concern. A little stranger had come into his family,
making three the number of his babes, and adding to the list of his
cares and his expenses; and it must also be said, to his pleasures.
For what parent, with the heart of a parent, be his condition what it
may, but rejoices in the number of the little ones whose eyes brighten
at his coming? But there was a change of greater importance in his
prospects. The firm in whose service he was, became involved and had
to wind up their business. All the clerks were in a short time
discharged, and Wilmer among the rest. The time was one of great
commercial pressure, and many long-established houses were forced to
yield; others were driven to great curtailment of expenses. The
consequence was that few were employing clerks, and many dispensing
with their services. Under the circumstances, Wilmer found it
impossible to obtain employment. Daily did he call at the various
stores and counting-rooms in the hope of meeting with a situation,
only to return to his dwelling more depressed and disheartened.
By great economy, in view of approaching ill health, he had managed
to lay up, since the increase in his wages, nearly the amount of that
increase. He had done this, by living upon the same amount that he
before found to be inadequate to the support of his family. How this
was done, they only can know who have resolutely, from necessity, made
the same experiment, and found that the real amount necessary to live
upon is much smaller than is usually supposed. This sum, about one
hundred dollars, he had when he was thrown out of employment scarcely
enough to last for three months, under their present expenses. It was
with painful reluctance that Wilmer trespassed upon this precious
store, but he found necessity a hard task-master.
Amid the gloom and darkness of his condition and prospects, there
was one bright star shining upon him with an ever-constant light. No
cloud could dim or obscure it. That light, that cheerful star, was
the wife of his bosom. The tie that bound her to her husband was not
an external one alone; she was wedded to him in spirit. Her affection
for him, as sorrow, and doubt, and fearful foreboding of coming evils
gathered about him, assumed more and more of the mother's careful and
earnest love for the peace of her child. She met him with an
ever-cheerful countenance; gently soothed his fears, and constantly
referred him to the overruling care of Divine Providence. Affliction
had wrought its proper work upon her affections, and as they became
gradually separated from the world, they found a higher and purer
source of attraction. From a thoughtless girl, she had become a
reflecting woman, and with reflection had come. a right understanding
of her duties. An angel of comfort is such a woman to a man of keen
sensibilities, who finds his struggle in the world a hard and painful
Two months passed away in the vain effort to obtain employment.
Every avenue seemed shut against him. The power of endurance was
tried to its utmost strength, when he was offered a situation in an
iron-store, to handle iron, and occasionally perform the duties of a
clerk. Three hundred dollars was the salary. He caught at it, as his
last hope, with eagerness, and at once entered upon his duties. He
found them more toilsome than he had expected. The business was a
heavy one, and kept him at fatiguing labour nearly the whole day.
Never having been used to do hard work, he found on the morning of
the second day, that the muscles of his back, arms, and legs, were so
strained, that he could hardly move himself. He was as sore as if he
had been beaten with a heavy stick. This, however, in a great measure,
wore off, after he began to move about; but he found his strength
giving way much sooner on this day than on the preceding one. At
night, his head ached badly, he had no appetite, and was feverish. On
the next morning, however, he went resolutely to work; but he felt so
unfit for it, that he finally, referring in his own mind to what he
had suffered on a former occasion by not explaining his true
situation, determined to mention to his new employer how he felt. and
ask a little respite for a day or two, until his strength should
return. He, accordingly, left the large pile of iron which he had
commenced assorting, and entered the counting-room. He felt a great
degree of hesitation, but strove to keep it down, while he summoned up
resolution to utter distinctly and mildly his request.
The man of iron was busy over his bill-book when Wilmer sought his
presence, and looked up with a stern aspect.
"I feel quite sick," began Theodore, an older man than his
employer, "from working beyond my strength for the last two days, and
should be very glad if you could employ me at something lighter for as
long a time, until I recover myself, when I will be much stronger than
when I began, and able to keep steadily on. I have never been used to
hard labour, and feel it the more severely now."
Mr.—looked at him with a slight sneer for a moment, and then
"I can't have any playing about me If my work suits you, well; if
not, there are a plenty whom it will suit."
Silently did Wilmer withdraw from the presence of the unfeeling
man, and turned with aching limbs to his toilsome work.
At night he found himself much worse than on the preceding evening;
and on the ensuing morning he was unable to go to the store. It was
nearly a week before he could again find his way out, and then he was
in a sadly debilitated state, from the effects of a fever brought on
by over-exertion. He went to the iron-store, and formally declined his
situation. No offer was made to reengage him, and as he turned away
from the door of the counting-room, he heard the man remark, in a
sneering under-tone to a person present, "a poor milk-sop!"
Generally, the unfortunate are stung to the quick by any reflection
upon them by those in a better condition; and few were more alive to
ridicule than Wilmer. Both the condition and the constitutional
infirmity combined, made the remark of Mr.—produce in his bosom a
tempest of agitation; and for a moment he was roused from his usual
calm exterior; but he recovered himself as quick as thought, and
hurried away. He did not go directly home, but wandered listlessly
about for several hours. When he returned at the usual dinner hour,
he found his wife busily engaged in preparing dinner. Her babe was
asleep in the cradle, by which sat the eldest boy, touching it with
his foot, while the other little one, about four years old, was
prattling away to her baby-doll.
"Why Constance, where is Mary?"
"She has gone away," was the smiling reply.
"How comes that? I thought she appeared very well satisfied."
"She was very well pleased with her place, I believe; but as I have
taken it into my head to do without her, and am a very wilful
creature, as you know, why, there was no remedy but to let her get
another place. So I told her as much this morning, and she has
already found a pleasant situation—not so good, however, as this,
she says. Come, don't look so serious about it! Theodore can bring
water for me, and you can cut the wood, and among us we will do very
well. It is a pity if two people can't take care of themselves, and
three other little bodies besides. And just see what we will
save?—Four dollars a month for her wages, and her boarding into the
bargain. And you know, Mary, though a kind, good sort of a body, and
very industrious and obliging, eat almost as much as all the rest of
"Well, Constance, put as good a face upon the matter as you can,
but I feel that stern necessity has brought you to it."
"You must not talk so much about 'stern necessity,' Theodore. It is
surely no great hardship for me to sweep up the house every morning,
and get the little food we eat. I know that our income is cut off,
for I don't suppose you are going back to that iron-store again. But
there will be a way opened, for us. The kind Being who is trying us
for our good will not leave us in our last extremity. It is for us to
do the best we can, with what we can get. Now that our certain
resources are withdrawn, it is for us to limit our expenses to the
smallest possible sum. We have, it is true, lived quite frugally for
the past year. But it is possible for us to live on much less than
the five hundred dollars that it has cost. Our servant's wages and
boarding were at least one hundred dollars; and by the present
retrenchment we save that sum, and shall live just as comfortably,
for now we will all help to take care of each other."
"So far so good, my comforter! But where will the four hundred
dollars come from?"
"Well, let us go on. We pay one hundred and fifty dollars for this
house. By going out upon the suburbs of the town, we can get a
pleasant little house for five dollars a month."
"O, no, Constance, you are too fast."
"Not at all. I have seen just the little place that will suit us.
The house is not old, and everything around is sweet and clean. And
it's plenty big enough for us."
"Well, Constance, suppose by so doing we reduce our expenses to
three hundred and ten dollars. Where is that sum to come from? I
can't get any work."
"Don't despair, Theodore! We shall not be forsaken. But we must do
for ourselves the best we can. I have been turning over a plan in my
head, by which we can live much cheaper and a great deal happier; for
the less it takes us to live, the less care we shall have about it."
"By moving into a smaller house, we can dispense with a great many
things which will then be of no use to us. These will bring us from
two to three hundred dollars, at public sale. Good furniture, you
know, always brings good prices."
"With this money, we can live in a smaller house, without any
servant, for nearly a year; and surely you will get something to do
by next spring, even if you should be idle all winter."
Wilmer kissed the cheek of his wife, now glowing with the
excitement of cheerful hope, with a fervent and heartfelt affection,
and murmuring in a low voice—"My comforting angel!" turned with a
lighter heart than had beat in his bosom for months, to caress the
little girl, who was clamouring for her usual kiss.
That afternoon was spent in discussing the proposed retrenchment,
and in going to look at the little house which Mrs. Wilmer had
mentioned. It was small, but neat, and had a good yard, with a pump
at the door. They decided at once to take it, and obtained possession
of the key.
No time was lost in offering their superfluous furniture at public
sale; and to the satisfaction of both Wilmer and his wife, the
auctioneer returned them, after deducting his commissions, the net
sum of three hundred dollars.
In one week from the time of Mrs. Wilmer's proposition, they were
snugly packed away in their new residence.
Late in the fall, Wilmer obtained a situation as collector for one
of the newspaper offices, on a salary of four hundred dollars. This,
under the reduced expense system, and with the surplus on hand,
afforded them ample means. The exercise in the open air which it
allowed him, was greatly conducive to his health, and he soon showed
considerable improvement in body and mind. Things went on smoothly
and satisfactorily until about Christmas, when he took a violent
cold, on a wet day, which fell upon his lungs, and soon brought him
to a very weak state. From this, his recovery was so slow, and his
prospect of health so unpromising, that he found it a matter of
necessity to decline his situation, which was retained for him as
long as the office could wait.
During the whole of the remaining inclement weather of the winter
season, he found it necessary to keep within doors, as he invariably
took cold whenever he ventured out.
Perceiving the failure of her husband's health to be certainly and
rapidly progressing, Mrs. Wilmer dwelt in her own mind with painful
solicitude upon the probable means of support for them all, when his
strength should so entirely give way, as to render him altogether
unfitted for business. The only child of over-fond parents, rich in
this world's goods, she had received a thorough, fashionable
education, which fitted her for doing no one thing by which she could
earn any money. Her music had been confined to a few fashionable
waltzes and overtures; her French and Spanish were nearly forgotten,
and her proficiency in drawing and embroidery had never been very
great. In her girlish days she could dance gracefully, and talk
fashionable nonsense with a bewitching air when it became necessary to
amuse some sprig of fashion, or wield good plain common sense with
common sense people, when occasion called for it. But as to possessing
resources in herself for getting a living in the world, that was
another matter altogether. But there is a creative power in necessity,
which acts with wonderful skill when the hour of trial comes. That
hour had come with Constance, and she steadily cast about her for the
means of earning money.
Next door to where she lived was a widow woman with three grown-up
daughters, who were always busy working for the clothing-stores, or
"slop-shops," as they were called. She had made their acquaintance
during the winter, and found them kind and considerate of others, and
ever ready with an encouraging word, or serious advice when called
for. The very small compensation which they received for their work,
encouraged her but little, when she thought of obtaining something to
do in the same way. But the more she thought of other means, the less
she found herself fitted for doing anything else, and at last
determined to learn how to make common pantaloons, that she might have
some resource to fly to, when all others failed. She found her kind
neighbours ready to give her all the instruction she needed, and they
also kindly offered to introduce her to the shops whenever she should
determine to take in work. It did not take her long to learn, and soon
after she had acquired the art, as her husband's health still
continued to decline, she began, in odd times, to make common
pantaloons and vests, for which she received the meagre compensation
of twelve-and-a-half cents each. It took her about one-half of her
time, actively engaged, to attend to her family.
During the remaining half of each day and evening, she would make a
vest or a pair of pantaloons, which at the end of the week would
bring her in seventy-five cents. When she looked at this small sum,
the aggregate of a week's labour, during leisure from the concerns of
her family, she felt but little encouraged in prospect of having the
whole of her little family dependent upon her; and for some weeks she
entertained, in the silence of her own heart, a sickening
consciousness of coming destitution, which she might in vain
endeavour to prevent. Gradually her mind reacted from this painful
state, and she gave daily diligence to her employments, entertaining
a firm trust in Divine Providence.
As the spring opened, her husband's health revived a little, and he
found employment at a small compensation in a retail dry-goods store.
This just suited his strength and the state of his health, and he
continued at it for something like three years. During this period
nothing of material interest occurred, and we pass it over in silence.
The long-looked-for, long-dreaded time, when Wilmer's health should
entirely give way, at length came; and although through the kindness
of his employers he had been retained in the store long after he was
able to do his full duty, yet at last he had to give up.
It would require a pen more skilled to portray the workings of the
human heart, than mine, to sketch his real feelings, when he received
his last month's wages; the last that he felt he would ever earn for
his family, and turned his steps homeward. He loved the wife who had
forsaken the wealth and comfort of a father's house, and had been all
in all to him through sunshine and storm, with deep and tearful
affection; he would have sacrificed everything for her; and yet for
years had he been compelled to see her toil for a portion of the bread
that nourished her and her children. He loved his little ones, with a
yearning tenderness; the more fervently and passionately, now that he
could no longer minister to their wants. How could he meet them all on
this evening, and see their dear faces brighten up on his entrance,
when he could no longer earn them food, or provide them with comforts?
It was with a strong effort that he kept down his feelings. as he
entered his home, now comprised in two rooms in the second story of an
old house in Commerce street, where they had removed, to be nearer his
place of business, the long walk having been too fatiguing for him,
after standing behind the counter all day.
Mrs. Wilmer's quick eye at once detected a change in the expression
of her husband's countenance, but she said nothing. After tea, the
children were all put to bed in the next room, and they were then
alone. Wilmer sat in deep thought by the table, shading his face with
his sand when his wife came in from the chamber where she had been
with the children. Twining her arm round his neck, she bent over him,
and said, in a tone of tender concern—
"Why so thoughtful, Theodore?"
He did not reply for some moments, nor lift his head, and Constance
was about to repeat her question in a more earnest voice, when a hot
tear fell upon her hand. She had seen him often sorely tried and
painfully exercised, but had never known him to shed a tear. There
had always been a troubled silence in his manner when difficulties
pressed upon him, but tears moistened not his eyes. Well might her
heart sink down in her bosom at that strange token of intense
"Dear Theodore!" she said, in a changed tone, "tell me what it is
that troubles you!"
A shuddering sob was the only reply, as he leaned his head back
upon her bosom.
"Say, dearest, what has happened?"
The tears now fell from his eyes like rain, and sob after sob shook
his frame convulsively.
Constance waited in silence until the agitation subsided, and then
gently urged him to tell her what it was that troubled him so
"I am broken in spirits now, Constance. I am a weak child. I have
received the last blow, and manhood has altogether forsaken me."
"Tell me! oh, tell me! Theodore, all, all! Do not distress me by
further silence, or mystery!"
A pause of some minutes succeeded, during which Wilmer was making
strong efforts to overcome his feelings.
"Constance," he at length said, mournfully, "I have tried long, and
much beyond my strength, to earn the small sum that it took to
support our little ones; but nature has at last given way. Here is
the last dollar I shall probably ever earn, and now I shall be a
burden upon you, eating the bread of my children, while they, poor
things, will hunger for the morsel that nourishes me. I do not wonder
that manly feelings have passed away with my strength. Constance, what
shall we do?"
An angel of comfort is woman to life's last extremity.
Fragile as a reed, that bends to the passing breeze, when the
sunshine of prosperity is bright above and around, she becomes the
tall oak, deep-rooted and strong-branched, when the wintry storms of
adversity sweep over the earth. No trial subdues her, no privation
brings a murmur of discontent. She will hope to the last, and still
have a smile of assurance for those who, in their despondency, have
even cast away hope. Constance Wilmer was a woman, and as a woman,
her worth was felt more and more, as troubles came thicker and
"Dear husband!" she said, in a steady and cheerful voice, "you have
forgotten that line, so true and so comforting—"'Despair is never
"I see no cause for such painful feelings. Pinching want is not
upon us yet, and I am sure the time will never come when our children
shall ask food at our hands in. vain. Trial, which is always for our
good, will never reach beyond the point of endurance."
"The burden is all upon you, Constance. Heaven grant that you may
have strength to bear it!"
"I fear not for the strength. That will come in due time. Now we
have food and raiment, and therewith let us be content. If God so
clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast
into the oven, will he not clothe us? He that feedeth the young ravens
when they cry, will not turn away from us. Are we not of more value
than many sparrows?"
"Bless you! bless you! Constance."
"Do not, then, dear husband! cast away your confidence. If the
burden is to be all upon me, it will be lightened by your cheerful
countenance and encouraging words. I shall need them both, doubtless;
then do not withhold them."
Her voice lost its steadiness, trembled a moment, and then she hid
her face, in silence and in tears, upon his bosom.
As Wilmer had foreseen, the strength for further labour was gone
for ever. He lingered about for a few weeks, and then took to his bed.
And now came the time for the full trial of Mrs. Wilmer's mental and
Notwithstanding all her close application at the needle, the small
sum that had been saved from former earnings, slowly, but steadily
diminished. Daily she increased her exertions, and encroached further
upon the hours of rest; but still there was a steady withdrawal of the
hoarded treasure. At first, her confidence in the Divine Providence
was measurably shaken; but soon the wavering needle of her faith
turned steadily to its polar star. Her own health, never vigorous,
began also to give way under the increased application which became
necessary for the support of the beloved ones, now entirely dependent
upon her labour for food and raiment. Her appetite, never very good,
failed considerably, and consequently there was a withdrawal instead
of an increase of strength. But none knew of her pain or weakness. Her
pale face was ever a cheerful one, and her voice full of tenderness.
When the next spring opened, Wilmer was not only confined to the
house, but unable to sit up, except for a few hours at a time through
the day. His wife's health had suffered much, and all the hours she
sat at her needle, were hours of painful endurance. Spring passed
away, and summer came. But the milder airs had no kind effect upon the
fast sinking frame of her husband. He was rapidly going down to the
grave, his last hours embittered by the sight of his wife and children
suffering before him.
During the month of August, Wilmer declined so fast, and needed
such constant attention, that his wife could find but little time to
devote to her needle. What she thus lost in the day-time, she had to
make up, as far as possible, by encroaching upon the night hours, and
often the lamp by her side would grow dim before the light of day,
while she still bent in weariness and pain, over the work that was to
give bread to her children.
For some months her work had been confined to one shop, the master
of which was not always punctual in paying her the pittance she
earned. Instead of handing her, whenever she called, the trifle due
her, he made her procure a little book in which he would enter the
work, promising to pay when it would amount to a certain sum. In
anxious hope would Mrs. Wilmer wait until her earnings rose to the
required amount; but not always then could she get her due; there
would too frequently be a part payment, or a request to call in a day
One day towards the first of September, she found that both food
and money were out. She was just finishing a couple of vests for the
clothing-shop, and there were more than three dollars due to her.
While turning over in her own mind the hope that Mr.—would pay her
the small sum due, when she carried in the work, and troubled the
While with fears lest he should deny her, as he had often done before;
her husband, whose bright eye had been upon her for some time, and
whose countenance, unseen by her, had expressed an earnest, yet
hesitating desire to ask for something, said—
"Constance, I don't know whether you are able to get them, but if
you can, I should like, above all things, to have some grapes."
"Then you shall have some," Constance replied, earnestly and
affectionately. "I am sure they will help you. Why did I not think of
this for you long ago?"
Resuming her needle, she plied it with double swiftness, her heart
trembling lest when she asked for her money at the shop, it should be
refused her. At last the work was done and she carried it in. It was
entered, and her book handed back to her. She paused a moment, then
turned to go out, but she could not go home without some money.
Hesitatingly she asked to have her due, but it was refused on some
excuse of having a large payment to make on that very day. Again she
turned to go, but again turned to ask for only a part of what was her
own. One dollar was thrown her with an unkind remark. The first she
seized with avidity, the last passed her ear unheeded.
How swiftly did she hurry home with her little treasure! more
precious than a hundred times the sum had ever been before. It was to
meet the first expressed want of her husband, to gratify which she
would herself have abstained days from food.
The grapes were soon obtained, with some bread, and a small portion
of meat, for the children. They proved very grateful and refreshing
to Wilmer, who, soon after he had eaten a few of them, fell into a
The food which Mrs. Wilmer had bought would last them probably
about two days—not longer. Two months' rent would be due in a week,
amounting to eight dollars. Their landlord had threatened to take
some of their things to satisfy the last months' rent, and she had
little hope of his being put off longer than the expiration of the
two months. There were still two-and-a-half dollars due her by the
keeper of the clothing-store, which she knew it would be almost as
hard to get as to earn.
Not disposed, however, to sit down and brood over her difficulties,
which only made them worse, she went to work in the best spirit
possible to overcome them. She obtained more work, and bent herself
again over her daily employment.
She was sitting with an aching head and troubled heart at her work
on the next morning, having only sought a brief repose through the
night, when a smart tap at the door roused her from her abstraction
"Does Mrs. Wilmer live here, ma'am?" asked a man.
"That is my name."
"Then I am directed to leave this basket,"—and the man deposited
his burden on the floor, and was gone before another word could be
Mrs. Wilmer stood for a moment in mute surprise, and then removed
the covering off the basket. It contained tea, coffee, sugar, rice,
meat, bread, and various other articles of food; and also, a letter
directed to "Constance Wilmer." She broke the seal with an anxious
and trembling heart. It contained a fifty dollar note, and these
"Put by your work—you are cared for—there is help coming, and
now very nigh—be of good cheer!"
The coarse garment she still held in her hand, fell to the floor.
Her fingers released themselves from it by an instinctive effort
which she could not control. Her head reeled for a moment, and she
sunk into a chair, overcome by a tumult of contending feelings. From
this, she was aroused by the voice of her husband, who anxiously
inquired the contents of the letter. He read it, and saw the
enclosure, and the supply of food in the basket, and then clasped his
hands and looked up with mute thankfulness to heaven. Mrs. Wilmer
obeyed, with a confidence for which she could not account, the
injunction of her stranger-friend, and almost hourly for the first day
referred to the characters of the letter, which seemed familiar to her
eye. That she had seen the writing before, she was certain; but where,
or when, she could not tell.
Relieved from daily care and toil, she had more time to give to her
sick husband. She found him nearer the grave than she had supposed.
Four days more passed away, and Wilmer had come down to the very
brink of the dark river of death.
It was night. The two younger children were asleep, and the oldest
boy, just in his tenth year, with his mother, stood anxiously over
the low bed, upon which lay, gasping for breath, the dying husband
and father. The widow, who cannot forget the dear image of her
departed one; the orphan, who remembers the dying agony of a fond
father, can realize in a great degree the sorrows which pressed upon
the hearts of these lone watchers by the bed of death.
The last hours of Wilmer's life were hours of distinct
"Constance," he whispered, in a low difficult whisper, while his
bright eyes were fixed upon her face—"Constance, what will you do
when I am gone? I am but a burden on you now; but my presence I feel
His stricken-hearted wife could make no answer; but the tears
rolled over her face in great drops, and fell fast upon the pillow of
her dying husband.
"I cannot say, 'do not weep,'" continued Wilmer. "O that I could
give a word of comfort! but your cup is full, running over, and I
cannot dash it from your lips:—Dear Constance! you have been to me a
wife and a mother. Let me feel your warm cheek once more against mine,
for it is cold, very cold. Hark! did you not hear voices?" And he
strained his eyes towards the door, half-lifting himself up.
For a few moments he looked eagerly for some one to enter, and then
fell back upon the bed with a heavy sigh, murmuring to himself, in a
low disappointed tone—
"I thought they were coming."
"Who, love?" asked Mrs. Wilmer, eagerly. But her husband did not
seem to hear her question; but lay gasping for breath, the muscles of
his neck and face distorted and giving to his countenance the ghastly
expression of death.
"Who, love?—who were coming?" eagerly asked Mrs. Wilmer again, her
own heart trembling with a recurrence of the vague hopes with which
the mysterious letter and timely supply had inspired her,—hopes that
had never been hinted to her husband. But it seemed that he had given
the incident his own interpretation.
But he heeded not her question. For some time mother and son again
stood over him, in troubled silence. Perhaps half an hour had passed
since he had spoken, when a slight bustle was heard, on the steps
below, and then feet were heard quickly ascending, and hastening
along the passage towards their chamber door.
"They come! They come!" half-shrieked the dying man, springing up
in the bed, and bending over towards the door, which was hastily flung
open. His eyes glared upon the two persons, a man and woman, both
well advanced in life, as they entered. That one anxious gaze was
enough. Looking up into the face of Constance, against whose breast
his head had sunk, his countenance changed into an expression of
intense delight, and he whispered—
"They have come, Constance! they have come. Think of me as at rest
and happy. I die in peace!"
His eye-lids closed naturally—there was no longer any convulsive
play of the muscles, and as an infant sinking into slumber, so
quietly did Theodore Wilmer sleep the sleep of death.
One month from that night of sorrow, the darkest one in the many
gloomy seasons of Mrs. Wilmer's life, might have been seen this child
of many afflictions, with her three little ones, at home in one of the
most pleasant houses in the vicinity of New York. There was something
sad and subdued in the expression of her pale face, but it was from
the recollection of the past. Her mother, who ten years before had
cast her off as unworthy, now gazed upon her with a look of the
intensest affection; and the father, who had sworn never to call her
his child, sat holding her thin white hand in his, and listening to
her first recital of all she had passed through since she left the
home of her childhood, while the tears fell from his eyes in large
drops, upon the hand that lay within his own.