The Two Homes
Timothy Shay Arthur
Two men, on their way home, met at a street crossing, and then walked on together. They were neighbors, and friends.
"This has been a very hard day," said Mr. Freeman in a gloomy voice.
"A very hard day," echoed Mr. Walcott, almost sepulchrally. "Little or no cash coming in — payments heavy — money scarce, and at ruinous rates. What is to become of us?"
"Heaven only knows," answered Mr. Freeman. "For my part, I see no light ahead. Every day come new reports of failures; every day confidence diminishes; every day some prop that we leaned upon is taken away."
"Many think we are at the worst," said Mr. Walcott.
"And others, that we have scarcely seen the beginning of the end," returned the neighbor.
And so, as they walked homeward, they discouraged each other, and made darker the clouds which obscured their whole horizon.
"Good evening," was at last said, hurriedly; and the two men passed into their homes.
Mr. Walcott entered the room, where his wife and children were gathered, and without speaking to anyone, seated himself in a chair, and leaning his head back, closed his eyes. His countenance wore a sad, weary, exhausted look. He had been seated thus for only a few minutes, when his wife said, in a fretful voice,
"More trouble again!"
"What's the matter now?" asked Mr. Walcott, almost starting.
"John has been sent home from school."
"What!" Mr. Walcott partly arose from his chair.
"He's been suspended for bad conduct."
"O dear!" groaned Mr. Walcott — "Where is he?"
"Up in his room. I sent him there as soon as he came home. You'll have to do something with him. He'll be ruined if he goes on in this way. I'm out of all patience with him."
Mr. Walcott, excited as much by the manner in which his wife conveyed unpleasant information, as by the information itself, started up, under the blind impulse of the moment, and going to the room where John had been sent on coming home from school, punished the boy severely, and this without listening to the explanations which the poor child tried to make him hear.
"Father," said the boy, with forced calmness, after the cruel stripes had ceased — "I wasn't to blame; and if you will go with me to the teacher, I can prove myself innocent."
Mr. Walcott had never known his son to tell an untruth; and the words smote with rebuke upon his heart.
"Very well — we will see about that," he answered, with forced sternness, and leaving the room he went downstairs, feeling much worse than when he went up. Again he seated himself in his large chair and again leaned back his weary head, and closed his heavy eyelids. Sadder was his face than before. As he sat thus, his oldest daughter, in her sixteenth year, came and stood by him. She held a paper in her hand —
"Father — " he opened his eyes.
"Here's my quarter school bill. It's twenty dollars. Can I have the money to take to school with me in the morning?"
"I'm afraid not," answered Mr. Walcott, half sadly.
"Nearly all the girls will bring in their money tomorrow; and it mortifies me to be behind the others." The daughter spoke fretfully. Mr. Walcott waved her aside with his hand, and she went off muttering and pouting.
"It is mortifying," spoke up Mrs. Walcott, a little sharply; "and I don't wonder that Helen feels unpleasantly about it. The bill has to be paid, and I don't see why it may not be done as well first as last."
To this Mr. Walcott made no answer. The words but added another pressure to this heavy burden under which he was already staggering. After a silence of some moments, Mrs. Walcott said, "The coal is all gone."
"Impossible!" Mr. Walcott raised his head, and looked incredulous. "I laid aside sixteen tons."
"I can't help it, if there were sixty tons instead of sixteen; it's all gone. The girls had a time of it today, to scrape up enough to keep the fire going."
"There's been a shameful waste somewhere," said Mr. Walcott with strong emphasis, starting up, and moving about the room with a very disturbed manner.
"So you always say, when anything is out," answered Mrs. Walcott rather tartly. "The barrel of flour is gone also; but I suppose you have done your part, with the rest, in using it up."
Mr. Walcott returned to his chair, and again seating himself, leaned back his head and closed his eyes, as at first. How sad, and weary, and hopeless he felt! The burdens of the day had seemed almost too heavy for him; but he had borne up bravely. To gather strength for a renewed struggle with adverse circumstances, he had come home. Alas! that the process of exhaustion should still go on. That where only strength could be looked for, no strength was given.
When the tea bell rang, Mr. Walcott made no movement to obey the summons.
"Come to supper," said his wife, coldly.
But he did not stir.
"Aren't you coming to supper?" she called to him, as she was leaving the room.
"I don't wish anything this evening. My head aches badly," he answered.
"In the dumps again," muttered Mrs. Walcott to herself. "It's as much as one's life is worth to ask for money, or to say that anything is needed." And she kept on her way to the dining-room. When she returned, her husband was still sitting where she had left him.
"Shall I bring you a cup of tea?" she asked.
"No, I don't wish anything."
"What's the matter, Mr. Walcott? What do you look so troubled about, as if you hadn't a friend in the world? What have I done to you?"
There was no answer, for there was not a shade of real sympathy in the voice that made the queries — but rather a querulous dissatisfaction. A few moments Mrs. Walcott stood near her husband; but as he did not seem inclined to answer her questions, she turned off from him, and resumed the employment which had been interrupted by the ringing of the tea bell.
The whole evening passed without the occurrence of a single incident that gave a healthful pulsation to the sick heart of Mr. Walcott. No thoughtful kindness was manifested by any member of the family; but, on the contrary, a narrow regard for self, and a looking to him only to supply the means of self-gratification.
No wonder, from the pressure which was on him, that Mr. Walcott felt utterly discouraged. He retired early, and sought to find that relief from mental disquietude, in sleep, which he had vainly hoped for in the bosom of his family. But the whole night passed in broken slumber, and disturbing dreams. From the cheerless morning meal, at which he was reminded of the school bill that must be paid, of the coal and flour that were out, and of the necessity of supplying Mrs. Walcott's empty purse, he went forth to meet the difficulties of another day, faint at heart, and almost hopeless of success. A confident spirit, sustained by home affections, would have carried him through; but, unsupported as he was, the burden was too heavy for him, and he sank under it. The day that opened so unfavorably, closed upon him, a ruined man!
Let us look in, for a few moments, upon Mr. Freeman, the friend and neighbor of Mr. Walcott. He, also, had come home; weary, dispirited, and almost sick. The trials of the day had been unusually severe; and when he looked anxiously forward to scan the future, not even a gleam of light was seen along the black horizon.
As he stepped across the threshold of his dwelling, a pang shot through his heart; for the thought came, "How slight is the present hold upon all these comforts!" Not for himself — but for his wife and children, was the pain.
"Father's come!" cried a glad little voice on the stairs, the moment his foot-fall sounded in the passage; then quick, pattering feet were heard — and then a tiny form was springing into his arms. Before reaching the sitting-room above, Alice, the oldest daughter, was by his side, her arm drawn fondly within his, and her loving eyes lifted to his face.
"Are you not late, dear?" It was the gentle voice of Mrs. Freeman.
Mr. Freeman could not trust himself to answer. He was too deeply troubled in spirit to assume at the moment a cheerful tone, and he had no wish to sadden the hearts that loved him, by letting the depression from which he was suffering, become too clearly apparent. But the eyes of Mrs. Freeman saw quickly below the surface.
"Are you not well, Robert?" she inquired, tenderly, as she drew his large arm-chair towards the center of the room.
"A little headache," he answered, with slight evasion.
Scarcely was Mr. Freeman seated, before a pair of little hands were busy with each foot, removing the shoes, and supplying their place with a soft slipper. There was not one in the household who did not feel happier for his return, nor one who did not seek to render him some kind office.
It was impossible under such a burst of heart-sunshine, for the spirit of Mr. Freeman long to remain shrouded. Almost imperceptibly to himself, gloomy thoughts gave place to more cheerful ones, and by the time tea was ready, he had half forgotten the fears which had so haunted him through the day. But they could not be held back altogether, and their existence was marked, during the evening, by an unusual silence and abstraction of mind. This was observed by Mrs. Freeman, who, more than half suspecting the cause, kept back from her husband the knowledge of certain matters about which she had intended to speak with him — for she feared they would add to his mental disquietude.
During the evening, she gleaned from something he said, the real cause of his changed aspect. At once her thoughts commenced running in a new channel. By a few leading remarks, she drew her husband into conversation on the subject of home expenses, and the propriety of restriction at various points. Many things were mutually pronounced superfluous, and easily to be dispensed with; and before sleep fell soothingly on the heavy eyelids of Mr. Freeman that night, an entire change in their style of living had been determined upon — a change that would reduce their expenses by at least one-half.
"I see light ahead," were the hopeful words of Mr. Freeman, as he resigned himself to slumber.
With renewed strength of mind and body, and a confident spirit, he went forth on the next day — a day that he had looked forward to with fear and trembling. And it was only through this renewed strength and confident spirit, that he was able to overcome the difficulties that loomed up, mountain high, before him. Weak despondency would have ruined all. Home had proved his tower of strength — his walled city. It had been to him as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. Strengthened for the conflict, he had gone forth again into the world, and conquered in the struggle.
"I see light ahead" gave place to "The morning breaks!"