Everything is Possible to Will
Chapter XII. “Bitter Pills.”
Chapter XII. “Bitter Pills.”
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 that she really ought to share in the money-getting. That they would “have but one purse” 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 that the connubial lot with him would not be all honey under favorable circumstances. Contracting no debts, Wrax knew how every farthing of housekeeping money was spent; he nevertheless doled it out five shillings at a time, nor offered a penny till Zee asked for it, then complained, often complained surlily: “You're always asking for money.” The deeper shame to himself that she was; he knew she might be trusted with untold gold. It was well that wife and children were indifferent to dainties; Wrax grudged naught for himself, his tastes must be studied. The little Piri would look wistfully at his father's steaming bowl of bread and milk for breakfast, and Zee hoped Wrax would give the child a little, or give herself an extra sixpence that the boys might have a treat, but he never did. Such meanness filled Zee with intense disgust. Why, it would have choked her father to have required him, in sickness, to gobble up the rarest dainties, even on the plea: “They will do you good.”
Fortunately for Zee, relatives from time to time kindly forwarded to her some of their half-worn-out clothing for herself and the boys. Wrax's “blood” was consequently rarely drawn for apparel; but a change of seasons necessitating other changes, he gave page 139 Zee a sovereign wherewith to make the desired purchases, 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 buy what was needed. Knowing full well that Zee scorned to procure a favor by artful 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 new dress—faugh!
It is delightful to have to chronicle one surprisingly generous act on Wrax's part. The boys unwittingly fell in with a subtle companion, distressingly obtrusive, though wholly unworthy of entertainment, viz., whooping-cough. And to dislodge the enemy, Wrax permitted mother and children to spend three weeks of 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's temerity culminated in her accepting a cunningly-planned I O U for £2, payable at two months. The deferred payment quite caught Zee, and she determined, by working early and late, to earn the amount in knitting, crochet and embroidery. 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 a mean thing. She had repeatedly made the £2 a matter of prayer, but prayer offered no solution of the difficulty, as, indeed, how should it? the spirit of true prayer would have saved her from being caught in such a trap, by giving her the courage to refuse when solicited to give, since she knew that Wrax considered her entitled to nothing beyond necessary food.
The last day of grace had arrived and Zee was at her wits' end about the money, 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 be flattered into or out of almost anything by those disposed to take advantage of his weakness. And Zee, for the first and last time in her life, seized page 140 upon such a moment to gain her ends. As the devil would have it, Wrax returned to tea that evening “three sheets in the wind,” and in such a jovial mood that Zee 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 threw two sovereigns towards her. Zee doubted her senses, and her whole soul recoiled from the coins obtained in such a manner; they almost blistered her fingers when she touched them, and yet her pride was gratified in having them to give. Had Wrax been himself he would have refused the money point-blank in all probability. The deacons of that little church out-devilled the devil in their deferred payment scheme. Religion is not served by such tricks, it is dishonored.
In telling of what Wrax became through the love of drink, the reader will see that 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; but the latter was grateful to selflove, the former demanded self-crucifixion, and Zee kept back part of the price. Those who live truly must be a means of discipline 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 was in Wrax; she could prompt him to a kindly deed if mortal could. In truth he could be base, act basely, better out of her sight than in it; and had she been faithful to her God she might have cheated him out of himself, if not into heaven, into a holier life; but a do-evil-that-good-may-come religion never could have influenced Wrax, it must be the genuine article. In mental dust and ashes Zee has learnt precious truths, and all too late mourns the neglect of her God-given powers, sacrificed on the altar of false teaching. She is “found wanting,” and though she cannot excuse herself, it were almost to be wished, knowing what her teachers were, that some excuse could be offered for her; but right for right's sake forbids it, she should have used her brains.page 141
Her minister was just a parrot, nothing more. His mind had become stereotyped by his having adopted certain dogmas early in life which, without variation, he parroted forth, year in year out. With her spiritual instincts keenly alive she has gone to the so-called house of God, eagerly scanning the preacher's face 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 to teach her how to live day by day, through all the jibes and sneers by which Wrax 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 been content with her God and her Bible in her closet.
The circumstances of the preacher's life made Zee's needs incomprehensible to him; 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 enforcing unconditional submission to man's will on woman. He was content if the thoughtless said of him: “Isn't he a dear man?” “Isn't he nice?” and of his sermons that they were “acceptable,” “comforting,” “delicious,” according to taste, so that his moralising generalities flattered rather than condemned the vanity and conceit of men. Possibly as Zee listened to her parrot, could she have 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, you skim truth's surface, and catch a fly here and there on which your own soul starves, as you dish up your unsavoury meat with herbs too flat even to be bitter. Know you not that sheep worried by dogs, in human form, cannot live on the bleak mountain's brow, they must be led to the green pastures beside still waters? You have never dug for hid treasure with half the enthusiasm with which men tear out the bowels of the earth to possess themselves of its hoards; but if you would be about your Master's business you must delve no less persistently in this world's vineyard than in the Gospel-mine, where each has treasures as inexhaustable as are their source, in either of which nuggets of page 142 fine gold are found only at great cost and by those whose feet are in the right path.”
Zee had now reached the least anxious period of her colonial experience; there was 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 necessitate his spending the summer in the country, whither, to their delight, he removed his family, who loved the country well. And as it was over-run with Imperial troops, in consequence of the native war then raging, they resolved to furnish their sparse house accommodation with barest necessaries, picnic fashion.
Oh, exquisite relief to Zee! no more fruitless business anxieties, but the rest 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, reposing picturesquely in its ample grounds, whose possessors were crowned with well - earned laurels, in the earning of which the lady of the house bore a prominent part; and she would have contested the point with some spirit, had her husband presumed to speak of their joint property as “mine”—it was “ours,” as the possessions of man and wife ought to be. The imposing dignity of the mansion somewhat scared Zee, but chancing to cross its mistress's path, the name of their mutual friend proved an opening to pleasant intercourse. For the lady promptly called on Zee, who, in alluding to the narrow limits of her picnic sorceries, was made to feel that her make-shifts were infinitesimal exceedingly, by her guest exclaiming: “Why, you have a palace to what we had when we first settled here!” Her path of roses now had been rugged in the past, 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 her own 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 zealously resist all invasion of their page 143 supposed rights, as sons of the soil, by determinedly beating off intruders. Hence, being a stranger to the country youth, Rex, a peculiarly sensitive lad, found to his disgust that for some days, go which road he would to school, the boys barred his way in a provoking manner. Recounting his trials at night and the threats held out for the next day, 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 too young to go to school, his artlessness and keen sense of the ridiculous kept him bubbling over with a merriment most grateful to her in her many (but for him) sad and lonely hours. Filled with admiration at the oft-recounted exploits of a certain “spring-heeled Jack,” the terror of Zee's neighborhood in 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 on her own account, Zee would have shown the “white feather” for the boy's sake if the leaping of a stile or a stone wall would have placed the rough-looking herd at a safe distance; but as the “spring-heels” were not forthcoming, Zee enjoined silence on Piri as she hid him under her cloak, then passed slowly through 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 new revelation to them. On nearing the men following on horseback, they exclaimed with one accord: “You've got some pluck, upon my word, Miss!” The indomitable Zee looked up in surprise, ignorant of the fact that the cattle had just been driven 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 required of a boy occupying the position his father ought to have page 144 secured to him; but that 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 one Saturday morning, caught Rex at his work in full trim, and encouraged the lad by 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 of forty pounds a year. Poverty, obtrusive visitor that it is, often peeped in at his window.
All too soon the charming picnic came to an end, and the family returned to town to find there was not an empty house; the red-coats swarmed in the town even more than in the country. They naturally turned to their own cottage with a 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 therefore kindly gave up two of their rooms to Wrax and his family, by whom they were gratefully appropriated.
The lady, Mrs. H., fell in love with Piri at first sight, and they soon became such friends that she offered, at his request, to buy him for a penny. He desired above all things to be a sailor, hence his fancy was captivated by the prospect of going in the ship with her and her son, of Piri's age, and promising “never to come back to his mother any more,” he begged her to sell him for the penny, and she readily accepted the terms offered. On giving her the penny he danced and sung “I'm sold! I'm sold! I'm sold!” with the liveliest satisfaction. Mamma had no longer any right or title to him; he was Mrs. H.'s boy, and she must put him in his bath, and sharing the bed of his new brother, they discussed their future together with regal independence, until their disjointed syllablings proved that drowsiness was creeping on apace.
Silence reigned around, until Piri burst into a fit of piteous weeping, screaming: “Mamma, mamma, mamma.” Zee purposely hung back, and Mrs. H. went to him, which served but to increase his terror; he would neither look at her nor allow her to touch him as he stood on the bed the incarnation of misery page 145 Zee entering the room on his distress becoming unbearable, he flew with a great bound 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 back the penny she had given for him, and his mother faithfully promised “never to sell him any more.” He then went tremblingly to his own bed, holding tightly by his mothers hand as she gently soothed him to rest, and his broken sobs told 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 be thrown back on the old adamantine rock. When his best energies were most in request, Wrax was so often found lying about “drunk and incapable” that, scandalised by such conduct, his partner, seeing there was no chance for either so long as they remained together, resolved on a dissolution of partnership. Whatever the cost to herself, Zee could but commend his judgment; but Wrax's fury at the proposed dissolution was ungovernable; he knew better than did his wife that the drink was its sole cause; but now, as ever in his difficulties, his wife was his evil genius plotting his ruin, and he reproached her with cruel injustice. And though to the world he continued smooth and oily in the extreme, in his home he was fearfully excited and inhumanly severe, even to his boys, who checked each other with: “Here's papa!” on hearing his voice or step. His wife, to whom he never addressed a civil 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 to it.
At length his violent temper reached its climax, and he bolted. Entering the house at midnight, he ordered Zee to get up out of bed and fold the blankets from off it, together with his wearing apparel, which he flung to her from his drawers, saying: “I'm going away for good.” “Where?” “Never you mind where; I'll page 146 take precious good care I never come back again.” And he strapped up his bundle 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 appeared complete 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, then went quietly back to bed to watch for the morning. And behold! the dawn and the run-away Wrax appeared together. Why he had gone or whither, or why he had returned, he never told, nor did Zee ask. It was one of the “bitter pills” she was to swallow.
“Pills” especially “bitter” just then, since pecuniary matters were at their worst, which perhaps explained, though it could not excuse Wrax's excessive acerbity. Being of a litigious nature, he had been a fortune to lawyers, both in the old country and in the new; for he wanted both ends of a stick worth possessing, and quarrelled if he met a brother-man who claimed one end of the said stick. To collect and discharge the debts of the firm recently dissolved devolved on Wrax; and in consequence of some legal quibble in the settling of accounts, he was unable to meet the demands of his hungry creditors as promptly as could have been wished. His love of money and the legerdemain77 he exercised to keep possession of it (hard nail that he was) often looked to his wife like a want of principle; still he had no wish to evade just debts, but only the disagreeables consequent thereon. And in this critical state of affairs, with a view to business partly, Wrax left his creditors and their eternal dunning to his wife with his blessing, as he hurried off to a long distance from home.
Left alone with such a burden, Zee found that she had known only the shallows of wifely tribulation hitherto; now she was to wade in waters which deepened as she advanced; yet could she not retrace one step, or if her feet touched land 'twas but a narrow page 147 strip 'twixt two unbounded seas of debt and shame, living by the skin of her teeth meanwhile. That was no great hardship. It was the debt, debt, debt and the secret—it was the secret that she tried so perseveringly to hide which crushed her; the former would yield to time and patience, but there was no rubbing off of shame's score so long as Wrax was what he was.
Acting on her own discretion in reference to the dunning creditors, Zee would have told each man the honest truth, viz., that they would certainly be paid in full if they would but have patience. But having developed into a stupid Griselda type of woman,78 she obeyed Wrax implicitly, and was kept alternately on the tenter-hooks of hope and despair by making promises as he directed, which he failed to keep, thus needlessly exasperating his creditors and adding tenfold to her misery.
Not to have saved her reason could she have spoken of her wrongs except to those as familiar with them as herself; Wrax was bent on hiding his sin, and she would still help him. Help him! the mountebanks they both were in their futile attempts to hide a vice eloquent in its very shamelessness. Its brand is 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 it makes of a man? Help him to hide it! Zee might as well have tried to hide the noonday sun by holding up her hand, as hope to delude anyone as to what were her husband's habits.
She felt this, too, in a dim sort of a way, and dreading lest her broken promises should constrain the angry men to hold her skeleton up to view, she answered each peremptory knock at the door with a gasp that made her look like a white-livered thief and liar, as she glanced at the men with furtive, feverish eagerness, believing—so entirely, to her excited sensibilities, did the skeleton fill her world of vision—that she saw its shadow in the impatient creditor's clouded brow, or indignant jerk of the body, and almost heard its fateful echo on the lip. But it came not, they were kind to her. For them to have said to her that page 148 they were the sport of a drunken rascal would have proved too much for Zee, and she would either have flung herself tiger-like in their face, or have dropped like lead at their feet.
Yet uttered scorn would not have been harder to bear than expressed commiseration; to hang out signs of distress was a too great humiliation, so long as a hope of Wrax remained; she therefore avoided almost everyone lest, knowing what her husband was, they should desire to avoid her. Thus she clutched at her despair, and it ate in upon her very life. She had long expected that insanity would terminate her husband's career, but now it appeared only too likely to terminate her own; reason reeled and was all but unseated. She could see naught but the madhouse looming in the distance, and felt its dungeon-walls closing in upon her on all sides. And to the madhouse the following circumstance seemed to root her.
Mrs. H.'s departure for San Francisco having been somewhat delayed, she borrowed a silk umbrella of Zee the day before she sailed, and left it at the lunatic asylum, of all places. The umbrella was too good to lose, and yet shattered and unstrung as were Zee's nerves, she shrank with instinctive horror from going to the asylum for it. But prevailing at length on a lady friend to accompany her she went, and heard nothing of her lost property of course, but what she did hear of the unearthly yells and shouts of the asylum's unhappy inmates were not to be forgotten. Furthermore the matron, a personal friend of Mrs. H., volunteered the information that there “were more women in the house, deranged through the ill-treatment of their drunken husbands, 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. could scarcely fail to do, living in the same house, what Wrax was and what his treatment of his wife—while enlarging on each subject in confidence to her friend the matron, she (Mrs. H.) had suggested the probable fatal consequences to Zee; and the matron, priding herself on her professional sagacity, half enjoyed hinting obliquely at Zee's possible fate. But it page 149 was neither kind nor wise. 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 do what she would she failed to dispel the notion that she too would go to swell the dismal howlings of the demented. For a season sleep rarely closed her eyes, she was distracted. And as to what would become of those worse than fatherless boys of hers, now that she felt herself to be in danger of “going dark,” as she phrased it, filled her with a thousand anxieties. Would Wrax deliver them up to English friends, or would they be allowed to become city Arabs? A not unnatural question, acute as were the mother's then discordant sensibilities.
Wrax had returned to his house, and so great was Zee's unrest, one night, that she was constrained to disturb his snoring to tell him she” was certain she should go out of her mind.” But she met with a rebuff so insolently full of cold unconcern that she would never again in her senses have appealed to his sympathy. His brutality was precisely the counter-irritation her case at the moment needed; it made her think less of herself than of him. It brought vividly 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 she have asked it? She ought to have known him better. He growled out: “Rex can do it.” Another “bitter pill.” She choked back rebellious tears, and raising her aching head from the pillow, left the big, strong fellow lying there, wholly undisturbed by compunctions of conscience.
And yet how she had nursed him through his attacks of gout, day and night for weeks together, till she almost dropped from exhaustion! Remembering she was a woman, 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 that is), those who know what gout is, and can imagine a man so selfishly exacting as Wrax, will understand that there must have been a deal of grit between the joints page 150 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 flesh and blood, not iron; but she never found it. Of course, there was a better and a worse in his treatment of her, or it would have been insupportable. He had nevertheless become selfish to the core of his being. In his softer moods Zee had tried to win from him just one kind word in response to some special act of 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 seeks only 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, by pitting 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 the indignities he heaped upon her by virtue of his “goods-and-chattel” creed. She was his property now, and he despised himself and Zee, in that he should once have been ever so little her slave, pounding her in memory's mortar for the distrust of himself which had made him feed on the apples of discord, instead of the love apples of his choice. By subtle insinuations peculiarly his own he made her feel—as he in effect snapped his fingers in her face, expressive of the exquisite enjoyment her torture gave him—that she was to pay, with interest and compound interest, the pain she had innocently—the fault being all his own—caused him in courting days. He would have his pound of flesh if nothing else. All men save Wrax will exonerate Zee of cruel designs; however capricious, 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 had borne, and what that doing and bearing implied the drunkard's wife alone can understand—it may not be put into words.
But an end came to this long night of weeping. Out- page 151 standing debts had at last been cancelled in full. And though far gone in drink, Wrax went home, one Saturday afternoon, very wretched, very repentant, and said to Zee: “If you'll go down town with me I'll sign the pledge.”79 Ah, happy words! Of course she would 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 feel inclined to sign to-morrow.” But that the end in view made a man of Wrax, Zee certainly would have felt ashamed to have gone out with him in his then condition; 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 the occasion. 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, was an oasis in the desert to the hotly-pursued, broken-winged bird; things would right 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, and her monthly letter home, simply written, now in her gladdest moments, now with her 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 dear friend, Wrax's eldest brother,80 seeing no sufficient reason why she should be sacrificed for naught, wishing to ease her of a part, at least, of her heavy load, proposed that she should be invited to take the children to England to be educated, himself bearing the greater part of the expense incurred, in which Zee's father gladly shared, warmly supporting the daring proposition.
And letters from both families, assuming that the above suggestion would meet her approval, were received by Zee, urging her return home by the first ship leaving the port, informing her, moreover, that the passage-money for herself and her children was already paid, and an agent appointed to make all necessary arrangements for her. Never, even in her darkest hours, had Zee anticipated salvation except through Wrax, although he had confessed he “once thought she page 152 had gone from her home with the express purpose of drowning herself and her children.” An alarming thought to some men, perhaps, but it is doubtful whether Wrax would have moved an inch to have prevented such a catastrophe, had it been premeditated. A guilty conscience scared the man—not Zee. And to say that she was quite taken aback by what looked like a covert attempt to separate her from Wrax fails to express the intense pain and disgust 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 many broken vows which littered his wayward course; and although he had kept within bounds as yet, it was only a question of time. To taste intoxicants was to succumb, sooner or later. But for this fact, her strong sense of duty would have forbidden Zee to entertain the tempting offer from home. It was hard to give him up, even in thought. Not that she had much restraining influence; she believed, nevertheless, that he would be even worse, wanting her ceaseless supervision. With his altered habits and circumstances, the fear of insanity had faded from her mind. She had been able to cope with her difficulties hitherto, 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. What should she do? The boys and their future prospects hung on her decision. How could she best secure their interests, which were so entirely bound up in herself 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 to England or in staying with Wrax!
Having overcome the first shock the letters occasioned, Zee found herself almost unconsciously debating the pros and cons of the question; and that Wrax might share the responsibility of the decision to be arrived at, she at length simply 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 for some minutes, then said: “It's a strange proposition to make.” No more, no less. To elicit his opinion page 153 Zee again and again reverted to the subject as the days wore on, but he had evidently determined not to commit himself either one way or the other. Believing it to be her duty to remain with Wrax, but being unwilling that the boys should lose the many advantages thus generously offered them, she proposed they should be sent to England in the charge of a trustworthy woman anxious to return thither. A proposition Wrax negatived absolutely, assigning no reason for so doing.
Zee plied the needle dexterously, whether the voyage should or should not become an accomplished fact, for Wrax's every word and deed indirectly favored their going. The saving to himself of their board, etc., would be his first consideration. He, nevertheless, fully realised the advantage of being able to say: “I neither helped nor hindered their going.” At length, however, notwithstanding that Zee would rather have left the matter to the agent's care, Wrax volunteered to make the necessary arrangements for the voyage, and she dared not thwart him lest at the last moment he should frustrate her intention of leaving by the ship now on the point of sailing; but up to the day before it sailed the ever-dilatory man had done nothing but quarrel with the agent. Zee consequently went herself to the agent, and having settled matters satisfactorily, herself and the boys were on the boat by ten o'clock next morning, and set sail for old England within an hour therefrom.
A newly-married couple, glad to accept Wrax as a lodger, entered upon the tenancy of their cottage, furnished precisely as Zee had vacated it; hence his domestic comfort was secured. But the doubt his vacillation occasioned as to whether his family would or would not go by that ship made their last few hours on land needlessly busy and exciting. Wrax, however, with much parade, heartily forwarded Zee's every movement, and not only went with them to the ship, but remained to the last moment. Again she entreated him to redeem the past for his honor's sake, and with promises many and exceeding fair, he vowed he “would be a good boy, make money, and have a fine new house ready for her against her return.” Taking plenty of page 154 bottled stout from the ship to sustain them during their half-hour's row ashore, Wrax and his comrade in tastes departed; and as the last stroke of their oars faded away in the distance, Zee turned to her boys and welcomed the prospect of rest—sweet rest. The millstone of thankless toil rolled off her heart, and she breathed freely, the first time for five years. Of the few friends who questioned the propriety of her leaving her husband “all alone,” Zee asked: “Have I given you reason to doubt my judgment in the past?” “No.” “Then trust me for the present, and for the future.”
77 A person with the skill of deceiving or misleading others in order to achieve their own purpose.
78 A Griselda woman, from folklore, is noted for her patience and obedience.
79 The pledge of abstinence to the Good Templar Society.
80 James Ellis (1811-1869). Ellen Ellis’s biographer, Vera Colebrook (Ellen), believed James and Ellen loved each other, and the reason for James remaining a bachelor was because he loved Ellen, despite knowing the love was hopeless. James paid for Ellen and her sons’ return to England, as well as leaving her a 350 pound legacy in his will. Ellen Ellis certainly admired and loved him greatly, whether romantically or not is unknown.