TO draw blood from a stone, _i.e._ , money from a miserly husband and father, resolves itself into a state of chronic bankruptcy so trying to the wife tha_he really ought to share in the money-getting. That they would “have but on_urse” was a strong point with Wrax on his marriage; and he took care that the “one purse” should be all his own, and so excessive was his love of money tha_he connubial lot with him would not be all honey under favorabl_ircumstances. Contracting no debts, Wrax knew how every farthing o_ousekeeping money was spent; he nevertheless doled it out five shillings at _ime, nor offered a penny till Zee asked for it, then complained, ofte_omplained surlily: “You're always asking for money.” The deeper shame t_imself that she was; he knew she might be trusted with untold gold. It wa_ell that wife and children were indifferent to dainties; Wrax grudged naugh_or himself, his tastes must be studied. The little Piri would look wistfull_t his father's steaming bowl of bread and milk for breakfast, and Zee hope_rax would give the child a little, or give herself an extra sixpence that th_oys might have a treat, but he never did. Such meanness filled Zee wit_ntense disgust. Why, it would have choked her father to have required him, i_ickness, to gobble up the rarest dainties, even on the plea: “They will d_ou good.”
Fortunately for Zee, relatives from time to time kindly forwarded to her som_f their half-worn-out clothing for herself and the boys. Wrax's “blood” wa_onsequently rarely drawn for apparel; but a change of seasons necessitatin_ther changes, he gave Zee a sovereign wherewith to make the desire_urchases, and on her return from town positively asked her for “the change,” notwithstanding that she had told him the sovereign was not half enough to bu_hat was needed. Knowing full well that Zee scorned to procure a favor b_rtful aids, Wrax still repulsed her every caressing word or deed with: “Oh, you want a new dress, do you? then you won't get it!” Zee want a ne_ress—faugh!
It is delightful to have to chronicle one surprisingly generous act on Wrax'_art. The boys unwittingly fell in with a subtle companion, distressingl_btrusive, though wholly unworthy of entertainment, viz., whooping-cough. An_o dislodge the enemy, Wrax permitted mother and children to spend three week_f Rex's summer vacation in the country. A most happy Christmas it proved, although they neither saw nor heard from Wrax until he summoned them home, whither they returned much benefited by the change.
On the occasion of a purse being presented to her minister, the daring Zee'_emerity culminated in her accepting a cunningly-planned I O U for £2, payabl_t two months. The deferred payment quite caught Zee, and she determined, b_orking early and late, to earn the amount in knitting, crochet an_mbroidery. But, sad to tell, pay-day was forthcoming and the money was not, and pride refused to accept defeat; but pride failed to keep her from doing _ean thing. She had repeatedly made the £2 a matter of prayer, but praye_ffered no solution of the difficulty, as, indeed, how should it? the spiri_f true prayer would have saved her from being caught in such a trap, b_iving her the courage to refuse when solicited to give, since she knew tha_rax considered her entitled to nothing beyond necessary food.
The last day of grace had arrived and Zee was at her wits' end about th_oney, the utmost extra work she had accomplished amounting to a mere trifle.
She had had ample proof that in a certain stage of intoxication Wrax could b_lattered into or out of almost anything by those disposed to take advantag_f his weakness. And Zee, for the first and last time in her life, seized upo_uch a moment to gain her ends. As the devil would have it, Wrax returned t_ea that evening “three sheets in the wind,” and in such a jovial mood tha_ee told him with trepidation what she had done, and asked what she should do.
“Do?” returned Wrax, with gushing generosity, “pay the money,” and he thre_wo sovereigns towards her. Zee doubted her senses, and her whole sou_ecoiled from the coins obtained in such a manner; they almost blistered he_ingers when she touched them, and yet her pride was gratified in having the_o give. Had Wrax been himself he would have refused the money point-blank i_ll probability. The deacons of that little church out-devilled the devil i_heir deferred payment scheme. Religion is not served by such tricks, it i_ishonored.
In telling of what Wrax became through the love of drink, the reader will se_hat Zee's unfaithfulness helped to drag him down as much as did the drink.
She should have lived to have secured his good rather than his goodwill; bu_he latter was grateful to selflove, the former demanded self-crucifixion, an_ee kept back part of the price. Those who live truly must be a means o_iscipline to those who do not; there is no choice in the matter.
Unfaithful though she was, she was yet the spring of whatever good there wa_n Wrax; she could prompt him to a kindly deed if mortal could. In truth h_ould be base, act basely, better out of her sight than in it; and had sh_een faithful to her God she might have cheated him out of himself, if no_nto heaven, into a holier life; but a do-evil-that-good-may-come religio_ever could have influenced Wrax, it must be the genuine article. In menta_ust and ashes Zee has learnt precious truths, and all too late mourns th_eglect of her God-given powers, sacrificed on the altar of false teaching.
She is “found wanting,” and though she cannot excuse herself, it were almos_o be wished, knowing what her teachers were, that some excuse could b_ffered for her; but right for right's sake forbids it, she should have use_er brains.
Her minister was just a parrot, nothing more. His mind had become stereotype_y his having adopted certain dogmas early in life which, without variation, he parroted forth, year in year out. With her spiritual instincts keenly aliv_he has gone to the so-called house of God, eagerly scanning the preacher'_ace to see what of divine impulse it reflected, as she begged with a soul- hunger impossible to express for one, just one crumb of the bread of life t_each her how to live day by day, through all the jibes and sneers by whic_rax tried to undermine such faith (credulity he called it) as she possessed.
But she got husks cut and dried, nothing but husks; she had better have bee_ontent with her God and her Bible in her closet.
The circumstances of the preacher's life made Zee's needs incomprehensible t_im; he recognised the needs of the polemic soul, but of no other; the creed- bound man was ever impotently wrestling with an imaginary foe, and enforcin_nconditional submission to man's will on woman. He was content if th_houghtless said of him: “Isn't he a dear man?” “Isn't he nice?” and of hi_ermons that they were “acceptable,” “comforting,” “delicious,” according t_aste, so that his moralising generalities flattered rather than condemned th_anity and conceit of men. Possibly as Zee listened to her parrot, could sh_ave put her thoughts into words, she would have said: “For pity's sake, man, hold your peace, and let me speak from bitter experience. Swallow-like, yo_kim truth's surface, and catch a fly here and there on which your own sou_tarves, as you dish up your unsavoury meat with herbs too flat even to b_itter. Know you not that sheep worried by dogs, in human form, cannot live o_he bleak mountain's brow, they must be led to the green pastures beside stil_aters? You have never dug for hid treasure with half the enthusiasm wit_hich men tear out the bowels of the earth to possess themselves of it_oards; but if you would be about your Master's business you must delve n_ess persistently in this world's vineyard than in the Gospel-mine, where eac_as treasures as inexhaustable as are their source, in either of which nugget_f fine gold are found only at great cost and by those whose feet are in th_ight path.”
Zee had now reached the least anxious period of her colonial experience; ther_as a man at the helm of affairs, and she was happy. Wrax had taken a working- partner into his business relationships, which lay so wide as to necessitat_is spending the summer in the country, whither, to their delight, he remove_is family, who loved the country well. And as it was over-run with Imperia_roops, in consequence of the native war then raging, they resolved to furnis_heir sparse house accommodation with barest necessaries, picnic fashion.
Oh, exquisite relief to Zee! no more fruitless business anxieties, but th_est and quiet of trees and fields. In the country, she found kind friends.
She carried an introduction to one family living in a grand house, reposin_icturesquely in its ample grounds, whose possessors were crowned with well - earned laurels, in the earning of which the lady of the house bore a prominen_art; and she would have contested the point with some spirit, had her husban_resumed to speak of their joint property as “mine”—it was “ours,” as th_ossessions of man and wife ought to be. The imposing dignity of the mansio_omewhat scared Zee, but chancing to cross its mistress's path, the name o_heir mutual friend proved an opening to pleasant intercourse. For the lad_romptly called on Zee, who, in alluding to the narrow limits of her picni_orceries, was made to feel that her make-shifts were infinitesima_xceedingly, by her guest exclaiming: “Why, you have a palace to what we ha_hen we first settled here!” Her path of roses now had been rugged in th_ast, and the fine old dame was justly proud of the useful figure she had cut; and pulling both together with might and main, her lively description of he_wn and husband's efforts to make both ends meet, within doors and without, evidenced a degree of good sense that ought to be appreciated.
With the conservatism of ignorance, English-born colonial youth zealousl_esist all invasion of their supposed rights, as sons of the soil, b_eterminedly beating off intruders. Hence, being a stranger to the countr_outh, Rex, a peculiarly sensitive lad, found to his disgust that for som_ays, go which road he would to school, the boys barred his way in a provokin_anner. Recounting his trials at night and the threats held out for the nex_ay, Piri (that boy was born to fight the Goliaths of the nineteenth century), in allusion to the threats, panted and swelled with defiance as he exclaimed: “Let them! let them! I wouldn't mind!”
The small hero was his mother's sage, philosopher, and friend, and being to_oung to go to school, his artlessness and keen sense of the ridiculous kep_im bubbling over with a merriment most grateful to her in her many (but fo_im) sad and lonely hours. Filled with admiration at the oft-recounte_xploits of a certain “spring-heeled Jack,” the terror of Zee's neighborhoo_n her youthful days, Piri suggested: “If we had but spring-heels, mamma,” as, in strolling along a road bounded on either side by a high hawthorn hedge, they met “a mob” of some 200 wild cattle; and though by no means frightened o_er own account, Zee would have shown the “white feather” for the boy's sak_f the leaping of a stile or a stone wall would have placed the rough-lookin_erd at a safe distance; but as the “spring-heels” were not forthcoming, Ze_njoined silence on Piri as she hid him under her cloak, then passed slowl_hrough the dread phalanx. Hugging the hedge on the opposite side of the road, the cattle eyed Zee askance with vicious eyes, as if a woman were a ne_evelation to them. On nearing the men following on horseback, they exclaime_ith one accord: “You've got some pluck, upon my word, Miss!” The indomitabl_ee looked up in surprise, ignorant of the fact that the cattle had just bee_riven in off the run, and were consequently “dangerous.”
In his leisure hours, Rex had to don his coarse apron and clean knives, boots, etc., work which, according to conventionalism, would not have been require_f a boy occupying the position his father ought to have secured to him; bu_hat did not disturb either the boy or his mother; he would be none the worse, and might be all the better for doing it. The Anglican clergyman, calling on_aturday morning, caught Rex at his work in full trim, and encouraged the la_y saying: “That's right, my boy, work away! I often have such work to do.” The good man, blessed with eighteen children, was passing rich at the rate o_orty pounds a year. Poverty, obtrusive visitor that it is, often peeped in a_is window.
All too soon the charming picnic came to an end, and the family returned t_own to find there was not an empty house; the red-coats swarmed in the tow_ven more than in the country. They naturally turned to their own cottage wit_ sense of proprietorship, but it was tenanted by a lady and her little boy, who were, however, on the eve of starting for San Francisco, and therefor_indly gave up two of their rooms to Wrax and his family, by whom they wer_ratefully appropriated.
The lady, Mrs. H., fell in love with Piri at first sight, and they soon becam_uch friends that she offered, at his request, to buy him for a penny. H_esired above all things to be a sailor, hence his fancy was captivated by th_rospect of going in the ship with her and her son, of Piri's age, an_romising “never to come back to his mother any more,” he begged her to sel_im for the penny, and she readily accepted the terms offered. On giving he_he penny he danced and sung “I'm sold! I'm sold! I'm sold!” with th_iveliest satisfaction. Mamma had no longer any right or title to him; he wa_rs. H.'s boy, and she must put him in his bath, and sharing the bed of hi_ew brother, they discussed their future together with regal independence, until their disjointed syllablings proved that drowsiness was creeping o_pace.
Silence reigned around, until Piri burst into a fit of piteous weeping, screaming: “Mamma, mamma, mamma.” Zee purposely hung back, and Mrs. H. went t_im, which served but to increase his terror; he would neither look at her no_llow her to touch him as he stood on the bed the incarnation of misery Ze_ntering the room on his distress becoming unbearable, he flew with a grea_ound into his mother's arms, and, clinging round her neck, almost choked her, as he cried between his sobs: “Oh, take me back, take me back, take me back, mamma, mamma, mamma!” He was almost convulsed with terror, indeed, lest Mrs.
H. should refuse to give him up; nor could he be pacified until she took bac_he penny she had given for him, and his mother faithfully promised “never t_ell him any more.” He then went tremblingly to his own bed, holding tightl_y his mothers hand as she gently soothed him to rest, and his broken sob_old to the night-watch around his pillow how great his grief had been.
After nearly two years of comparative quietude, the hapless Zee is to b_hrown back on the old adamantine rock. When his best energies were most i_equest, Wrax was so often found lying about “drunk and incapable” that, scandalised by such conduct, his partner, seeing there was no chance fo_ither so long as they remained together, resolved on a dissolution o_artnership. Whatever the cost to herself, Zee could but commend his judgment; but Wrax's fury at the proposed dissolution was ungovernable; he knew bette_han did his wife that the drink was its sole cause; but now, as ever in hi_ifficulties, his wife was his evil genius plotting his ruin, and h_eproached her with cruel injustice. And though to the world he continue_mooth and oily in the extreme, in his home he was fearfully excited an_nhumanly severe, even to his boys, who checked each other with: “Here'_apa!” on hearing his voice or step. His wife, to whom he never addressed _ivil word, thankful only if he did not scold, trembled when he left his home (the word to him had lost its significance), and trembled when he returned t_t.
At length his violent temper reached its climax, and he bolted. Entering th_ouse at midnight, he ordered Zee to get up out of bed and fold the blanket_rom off it, together with his wearing apparel, which he flung to her from hi_rawers, saying: “I'm going away for good.” “Where?” “Never you mind where; I'll take precious good care I never come back again.” And he strapped up hi_undle and dashed out of the house without so much as a look at his boys.
He had gone at last, and Zee let him go without a word, hoping he would never, _never_ return. He had left her without a penny, and her desolation appeare_omplete as she dropped by Rex's bed-side; he was awakened by her half- smothered anguish, and folding his arms around her, wept in mute sympathy.
Prepared for the worst, she succeeded in calming herself and the child, the_ent quietly back to bed to watch for the morning. And behold! the dawn an_he run-away Wrax appeared together. Why he had gone or whither, or why he ha_eturned, he never told, nor did Zee ask. It was one of the “bitter pills” sh_as to swallow.
“Pills” especially “bitter” just then, since pecuniary matters were at thei_orst, which perhaps explained, though it could not excuse Wrax's excessiv_cerbity. Being of a litigious nature, he had been a fortune to lawyers, bot_n the old country and in the new; for he wanted both ends of a stick wort_ossessing, and quarrelled if he met a brother-man who claimed one end of th_aid stick. To collect and discharge the debts of the firm recently dissolve_evolved on Wrax; and in consequence of some legal quibble in the settling o_ccounts, he was unable to meet the demands of his hungry creditors a_romptly as could have been wished. His love of money and the legerdemain h_xercised to keep possession of it (hard nail that he was) often looked to hi_ife like a want of principle; still he had no wish to evade just debts, bu_nly the disagreeables consequent thereon. And in this critical state o_ffairs, with a view to business partly, Wrax left his creditors and thei_ternal dunning to his wife with his blessing, as he hurried off to a lon_istance from home.
Left alone with such a burden, Zee found that she had known only the shallow_f wifely tribulation hitherto; now she was to wade in waters which deepene_s she advanced; yet could she not retrace one step, or if her feet touche_and 'twas but a narrow strip 'twixt two unbounded seas of debt and shame, living by the skin of her teeth meanwhile. _That_ was no great hardship. I_as the debt, debt, debt and the secret—it was the secret that she tried s_erseveringly to hide which crushed her; the former would yield to time an_atience, but there was no rubbing off of shame's score so long as Wrax wa_hat he was.
Acting on her own discretion in reference to the dunning creditors, Zee woul_ave told each man the honest truth, viz., that they would certainly be pai_n full if they would but have patience. But having developed into a stupi_riselda type of woman, she obeyed Wrax implicitly, and was kept alternatel_n the tenter-hooks of hope and despair by making promises as he directed, which he failed to keep, thus needlessly exasperating his creditors and addin_enfold to her misery.
Not to have saved her reason could she have spoken of her wrongs except t_hose as familiar with them as herself; Wrax was bent on hiding his sin, an_he would still help him. Help him! the mountebanks they both were in thei_utile attempts to hide a vice eloquent in its very shamelessness. Its bran_s on the coward brow, the lying lips, the tottering step, the palsied hand.
Who can paint half its hideousness? Who can dare to tell the half of what i_akes of a man? Help him to hide it! Zee might as well have tried to hide th_oonday sun by holding up her hand, as hope to delude anyone as to what wer_er husband's habits.
She felt this, too, in a dim sort of a way, and dreading lest her broke_romises should constrain the angry men to hold her skeleton up to view, sh_nswered each peremptory knock at the door with a gasp that made her look lik_ white-livered thief and liar, as she glanced at the men with furtive, feverish eagerness, believing—so entirely, to her excited sensibilities, di_he skeleton fill her world of vision—that she saw its shadow in the impatien_reditor's clouded brow, or indignant jerk of the body, and almost heard it_ateful echo on the lip. But it came not, they were kind to her. For them t_ave said to her that they were the sport of a drunken rascal would hav_roved too much for Zee, and she would either have flung herself tiger-like i_heir face, or have dropped like lead at their feet.
Yet uttered scorn would not have been harder to bear than expresse_ommiseration; to hang out signs of distress was a too great humiliation, s_ong as a hope of Wrax remained; she therefore avoided almost everyone lest, knowing what her husband was, they should desire to avoid her. Thus sh_lutched at her despair, and it ate in upon her very life. She had lon_xpected that insanity would terminate her husband's career, but now i_ppeared only too likely to terminate her own; reason reeled and was all bu_nseated. She could see naught but the madhouse looming in the distance, an_elt its dungeon-walls closing in upon her on all sides. And to the madhous_he following circumstance seemed to root her.
Mrs. H.'s departure for San Francisco having been somewhat delayed, sh_orrowed a silk umbrella of Zee the day before she sailed, and left it at th_unatic asylum, of all places. The umbrella was too good to lose, and ye_hattered and unstrung as were Zee's nerves, she shrank with instinctiv_orror from going to the asylum for it. But prevailing at length on a lad_riend to accompany her she went, and heard nothing of her lost property o_ourse, but what she did hear of the unearthly yells and shouts of th_sylum's unhappy inmates were not to be forgotten. Furthermore the matron, _ersonal friend of Mrs. H., volunteered the information that there “were mor_omen in the house, deranged through the ill-treatment of their drunke_usbands, than from all other causes put together.” Why did she tell Zee that?
To Zee's morbidly-active fancy it was clear that—knowing as Mrs. H. coul_carcely fail to do, living in the same house, what Wrax was and what hi_reatment of his wife—while enlarging on each subject in confidence to he_riend the matron, she (Mrs. H.) had suggested the probable fatal consequence_o Zee; and the matron, priding herself on her professional sagacity, hal_njoyed hinting obliquely at Zee's possible fate. But it was neither kind no_ise. In some such way barbed arrows are pointed at defenceless breasts.
Day and night those dreadful scenes and yells grated on Zee's nerves, painfully sensitive because out of tune. The horrors were upon her, and d_hat she would she failed to dispel the notion that she too would go to swel_he dismal howlings of the demented. For a season sleep rarely closed he_yes, she was distracted. And as to what would become of those worse tha_atherless boys of hers, now that she felt herself to be in danger of “goin_ark,” as she phrased it, filled her with a thousand anxieties. Would Wra_eliver them up to English friends, or would they be allowed to become cit_rabs? A not unnatural question, acute as were the mother's then discordan_ensibilities.
Wrax had returned to his house, and so great was Zee's unrest, one night, tha_he was constrained to disturb his snoring to tell him she” was certain sh_hould go out of her mind.” But she met with a rebuff so insolently full o_old unconcern that she would never again in her senses have appealed to hi_ympathy. His brutality was precisely the counter-irritation her case at th_oment needed; it made her think less of herself than of him. It brough_ividly before her mind the morning when she, for the first time in her life, asked Wrax to “rise and make her a cup of tea.” Ill or well, how could sh_ave asked it? She ought to have known him better. He growled out: “Rex can d_t.” Another “bitter pill.” She choked back rebellious tears, and raising he_ching head from the pillow, left the big, strong fellow lying there, wholl_ndisturbed by compunctions of conscience.
And yet how she had nursed him through his attacks of gout, day and night fo_eeks together, till she almost dropped from exhaustion! Remembering she was _oman, not an angel (God would have made women angels, and given them wings, but that he knew that they are better fitted as they are for the life tha_s), those who know what gout is, and can imagine a man so selfishly exactin_s Wrax, will understand that there must have been a deal of grit between th_oints and marrow of her constitution, since it was never oiled by kindness.
His wife had looked him through and through for some sign that he was fles_nd blood, not iron; but she never found it. Of course, there was a better an_ worse in his treatment of her, or it would have been insupportable. He ha_evertheless become selfish to the core of his being. In his softer moods Ze_ad tried to win from him just one kind word in response to some special ac_f devotion on her part. But “just what I had you for” was all he muttered.
Ah, there was a world of truth in the reply. The sort of “love” that seek_nly a servant cheap and good in a wife is no compliment, merits no gratitude.
Wrax, moreover, continually outraged his wife's sense of right and justice, b_itting her legal bondage against his freedom, before their children too, saying: “Umph! Who are you? You've got no voice; you are nobody. I bought you; you are only part of my goods and chattels.” Most disgraceful truth, humiliating because true. The truth, and the truth only, wounds.
Despite her Griselda-like proclivities, her high spirit ill brooked th_ndignities he heaped upon her by virtue of his “goods-and-chattel” creed. Sh_as his property now, and he despised himself and Zee, in that he should onc_ave been ever so little her slave, pounding her in memory's mortar for th_istrust of himself which had made him feed on the apples of discord, instea_f the love apples of his choice. By subtle insinuations peculiarly his own h_ade her feel—as he in effect snapped his fingers in her face, expressive o_he exquisite enjoyment her torture gave him—that she was to pay, wit_nterest and compound interest, the pain she had innocently—the fault bein_ll his own—caused him in courting days. He would have his pound of flesh i_othing else. All men save Wrax will exonerate Zee of cruel designs; howeve_apricious, she was too tender-hearted to inflict pain wantonly. Well, strength had been given her to do what she had done, to bear what she ha_orne, and what that doing and bearing implied the drunkard's wife alone ca_nderstand—it may not be put into words.
But an end came to this long night of weeping. Outstanding debts had at las_een cancelled in full. And though far gone in drink, Wrax went home, on_aturday afternoon, very wretched, very repentant, and said to Zee: “If you'l_o down town with me I'll sign the pledge.” Ah, happy words! Of course sh_ould go. But being as he was, she suggested: “Wait til tomorrow.” “No,” objected Wrax, despairingly, “don't put off till to-morrow—I may not fee_nclined to sign to-morrow.” But that the end in view made a man of Wrax, Ze_ertainly would have felt ashamed to have gone out with him in his the_ondition; but waiting only for the friendly twilight, down town they went, boys and all, the latter being fully able to enter into the joyousness of th_ccasion. By way of encouragement Zee added her own signature to that of Wrax, although she, of course, had never broken her first pledge. Here, again, wa_n oasis in the desert to the hotly-pursued, broken-winged bird; things woul_ight themselves, as if by magic, now that Wrax was himself again.
To some extent Zee's all of good and ill were dependent on Wrax's habits, an_er monthly letter home, simply written, now in her gladdest moments, now wit_er heart's blood, clearly told, as much from her gayer as her sadder history, that the burden laid upon her was greater than she could bear. And her dea_riend, Wrax's eldest brother, seeing no sufficient reason why she should b_acrificed for naught, wishing to ease her of a part, at least, of her heav_oad, proposed that she should be invited to take the children to England t_e educated, himself bearing the greater part of the expense incurred, i_hich Zee's father gladly shared, warmly supporting the daring proposition.
And letters from both families, assuming that the above suggestion would mee_er approval, were received by Zee, urging her return home by the first shi_eaving the port, informing her, moreover, that the passage-money for hersel_nd her children was already paid, and an agent appointed to make al_ecessary arrangements for her. Never, even in her darkest hours, had Ze_nticipated salvation except through Wrax, although he had confessed he “onc_hought she had gone from her home with the express purpose of drownin_erself and her children.” An alarming thought to some men, perhaps, but it i_oubtful whether Wrax would have moved an inch to have prevented such _atastrophe, had it been premeditated. A guilty conscience scared the man—no_ee. And to say that she was quite taken aback by what looked like a cover_ttempt to separate her from Wrax fails to express the intense pain an_isgust with which she laid the letters aside on first reading them.
His pledge, of less than two months' standing, was to be sought among the man_roken vows which littered his wayward course; and although he had kept withi_ounds as yet, it was only a question of time. To taste intoxicants was t_uccumb, sooner or later. But for this fact, her strong sense of duty woul_ave forbidden Zee to entertain the tempting offer from home. It was hard t_ive him up, even in thought. Not that she had much restraining influence; sh_elieved, nevertheless, that he would be even worse, wanting her ceaseles_upervision. With his altered habits and circumstances, the fear of insanit_ad faded from her mind. She had been able to cope with her difficultie_itherto, and was still able to do so. How could she desert her post?
Allow Wrax to see the letters, or tell him their purport, she could not. Wha_hould she do? The boys and their future prospects hung on her decision. Ho_ould she best secure their interests, which were so entirely bound up i_erself that, if her life failed, all failed as far as they were concerned?
Oh, how she dreaded lest she should make a false move, either in going t_ngland or in staying with Wrax!
Having overcome the first shock the letters occasioned, Zee found hersel_lmost unconsciously debating the pros and cons of the question; and that Wra_ight share the responsibility of the decision to be arrived at, she at lengt_imply stated the facts of the case before putting the letters into his hand.
Taken as much by surprise as his wife had been, Wrax was gravely silent fo_ome minutes, then said: “It's a strange proposition to make.” No more, n_ess. To elicit his opinion Zee again and again reverted to the subject as th_ays wore on, but he had evidently determined not to commit himself either on_ay or the other. Believing it to be her duty to remain with Wrax, but bein_nwilling that the boys should lose the many advantages thus generousl_ffered them, she proposed they should be sent to England in the charge of _rustworthy woman anxious to return thither. A proposition Wrax negative_bsolutely, assigning no reason for so doing.
Zee plied the needle dexterously, whether the voyage should or should no_ecome an accomplished fact, for Wrax's every word and deed indirectly favore_heir going. The saving to himself of their board, etc., would be his firs_onsideration. He, nevertheless, fully realised the advantage of being able t_ay: “I neither helped nor hindered their going.” At length, however, notwithstanding that Zee would rather have left the matter to the agent'_are, Wrax volunteered to make the necessary arrangements for the voyage, an_he dared not thwart him lest at the last moment he should frustrate he_ntention of leaving by the ship now on the point of sailing; but up to th_ay before it sailed the ever-dilatory man had done nothing but quarrel wit_he agent. Zee consequently went herself to the agent, and having settle_atters satisfactorily, herself and the boys were on the boat by ten o'cloc_ext morning, and set sail for old England within an hour therefrom.
A newly-married couple, glad to accept Wrax as a lodger, entered upon th_enancy of their cottage, furnished precisely as Zee had vacated it; hence hi_omestic comfort was secured. But the doubt his vacillation occasioned as t_hether his family would or would not go by that ship made their last fe_ours on land needlessly busy and exciting. Wrax, however, with much parade, heartily forwarded Zee's every movement, and not only went with them to th_hip, but remained to the last moment. Again she entreated him to redeem th_ast for his honor's sake, and with promises many and exceeding fair, he vowe_e “would be a good boy, make money, and have a fine new house ready for he_gainst her return.” Taking plenty of bottled stout from the ship to sustai_hem during their half-hour's row ashore, Wrax and his comrade in taste_eparted; and as the last stroke of their oars faded away in the distance, Ze_urned to her boys and welcomed the prospect of rest—sweet rest. The millston_f thankless toil rolled off her heart, and she breathed freely, the firs_ime for five years. Of the few friends who questioned the propriety of he_eaving her husband “all alone,” Zee asked: “Have I given you reason to doub_y judgment in the past?” “No.” “Then trust me for the present, and for th_uture.”