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- Without a Home - 6/94 -


strictest womanly delicacy did not permit, there are some things which we can do that are very proper indeed. Mr. Arnold has an eye for beauty as well as yourself, and he is accustomed to see ladies well dressed. He noticed your toilet last night as well as your face, and his big brown eyes informed me that he thought it very pretty. I intend that you shall appear as well as the best of them at Saratoga, and what we cannot afford in expensive fabrics we must make up in skill and taste. Luckily, men don't know much about the cost of material. They see the general effect only. A lady is to them a finished picture, and they never think of inventorying the frame, canvas, and colors as a woman does. For quarter of the money I'll make you appear better than his sisters. So get your things, and we'll begin shopping at once, for such nice work requires time."

They were soon in the temples of fashion on Broadway, bent upon carrying out their guileless conspiracy. Nevertheless their seemingly innocent and harmless action was wretched folly. They did not know that it raised one more barrier between them and all they sought and hoped, for they were spending the little money that might save them from sudden and utter poverty.

CHAPTER IV

"PITILESS WAVES"

A deeper shadow than that of the night fell upon Mildred Jocelyn's home after the return of her father. Feeling that there should be no more blind drifting toward he knew not what, he had employed all the means within his power to inform himself of the firm's prospects, and learned that there was almost a certainty of speedy failure. He was so depressed and gloomy when he sat down to dinner that his wife had not the heart to tell him of her schemes to secure his daughter's happiness, or of the gossamer-like fabrics she had bought, out of which she hoped to construct a web that would more surely entangle Mr. Arnold. Even her sanguine spirit was chilled and filled with misgivings by her husband's manner. Mildred, too, was speedily made to feel that only a very serious cause could banish her father's wonted good-humor and render him so silent. Belle and the little ones maintained the light talk which usually enlivened the meal, but a sad constraint rested on the others. At last Mr. Jocelyn said, abruptly, "Fanny, I wish to see you alone," and she followed him to their room with a face that grew pale with a vague dread. What could have happened?

"Fanny," he said sadly, "our firm is in trouble. I have hoped and have tried to believe that we should pull through, but now that I have looked at the matter squarely I see no chance for us, and from the words and bearing of my partners I imagine they have about given up hope themselves."

"Oh, come, Martin, look on the bright side. You always take such gloomy views of things. They'll pull through, never fear; and if they don't, you will soon obtain a better position. A man of your ability should be at the head of a firm. YOU would make money, no matter what the times were."

"Unfortunately, Fanny, your sanguine hopes and absurd opinion of my abilities do not change in the least the hard facts in the case. If the firm fails, I am out of employment, and hundreds of as good--yes, better men than I, are looking vainly for almost any kind of work. The thought that we have laid up nothing in all these years cuts me to the very quick. One thing is now certain. Not a dollar must be spent, hereafter, except for food, and that of the least costly kind, until I see our way more clearly."

"Can't we go to Saratoga?" faltered Mrs. Jocelyn.

"Certainly not. If all were well I should have had to borrow money and anticipate my income in order to spend even a few weeks there, unless you went to a cheap boarding-house. If things turn out as I fear, I could not borrow a dollar. I scarcely see how we are to live anywhere, much less at a Saratoga hotel. Fanny, can't you understand my situation? Suppose my income stops, how much ahead have we to live upon?" Mrs. Jocelyn sank into a chair and sobbed, "Oh that I had known this before! See there!"

The bed was covered with dress goods and the airy nothings that enhance a girl's beauty. The husband understood their meaning too well, and he muttered something like an oath. At last he said, in a hard tone, "Well, after buying all this frippery, how much money have you left?"

"Oh, Martin," sobbed his wife, "don't speak to me in that tone. Indeed I did not know we were in real danger. You seemed in such good spirits last evening, and Mr. Arnold showed so much feeling for Millie, that my heart has been as light as a feather all day. I wouldn't have bought these things if I had only known--if I had realized it all."

Mr. Jocelyn now uttered an unmistakable anathema on his folly.

"The money you had this morning is gone, then?"

"Yes."

"How much has been charged?"

"Don't ask me."

He was so angry--with himself more than his wife--and so cast down that he could not trust himself to speak again. With a gesture, more expressive than any words, he turned on his heel and left the room and the house. For hours he walked the streets in the wretched turmoil of a sensitive, yet weak nature. He was not one who could calmly meet an emergency and manfully do his best, suffering patiently meanwhile the ills that could not be averted. He could lead a cavalry charge into any kind of danger, but he could not stand still under fire. The temptation to repeat his folly of the previous evening was very strong, but it had cost him so dearly that he swore a great oath that at least he would not touch liquor again; but he could not refrain from lifting himself in some degree out of his deep dejection, by a recourse to the stimulant upon which he had so long been dependent. At last, jaded and sober indeed, he returned to a home whose very beauty and comfort now became the chief means of his torture.

In the meantime Mildred and her mother sat by the pretty fabrics that had the bright hues of their morning hopes, and they looked at each other with tears and dismay. If the silk and lawn should turn into crape, it would seem so in accordance with their feelings as scarcely to excite surprise. Each queried vainly, "What now will be the future?" The golden prospect of the day had become dark and chaotic, and in strong reaction a vague sense of impending disaster so oppressed them that they scarcely spoke. Deep in Mildred's heart, however, born of woman's trust, was the sustaining hope that her friend, Vinton Arnold, would be true to her whatever might happen. Poor Mrs. Jocelyn's best hope was, that the financial storm would blow over without fulfilling their fears. She had often known her father to be half desperate, and then there was patched up some kind of arrangement which enabled them to go on again in their old way. Still, even with her unbusiness-like habits of thought and meagre knowledge of the world, she could not see how they could maintain themselves if her husband's income should suddenly cease, and he be unable to find a like position.

She longed for his return, but when he came he gave her no comfort.

"Don't speak to me," he said; "I can tell you nothing that you do not already know. The events of the next few weeks will make all plain enough."

The logic of events did convince even Mrs. Jocelyn that making no provision for a "rainy day" is sad policy. The storm did not blow over, although it blew steadily and strongly. The firm soon failed, but Mr. Jocelyn received a small sum out of the assets, which prevented immediate want. Mildred's course promised to justify Arnold's belief that she could be strong as well as gentle, for she insisted that every article obtained on credit should be taken back to the shops. Her mother shrank from the task, so she went herself and plainly stated their circumstances. It was a bitter experience for the poor child--far more painful than she had anticipated. She could not believe that the affable people who waited on her so smilingly a few days before would appear so different; but even those who were most inclined to be harsh, and to feel aggrieved at their small loss in cutting the material returned, were softened as she said, gently and almost humbly:

"Since we could not pay for it we felt that it would be more honorable to bring it back in as good condition as when received." In every instance, however, in which the goods had been paid for, she found that she could effect no exchange for the money, except at such reduced rates that she might as well give them away.

Even Mrs. Jocelyn saw the need of immediate changes. One of their two servants was dismissed. Belle pouted over the rigid economy, now enforced all too late. Mildred cried over it in secret, but made heroic efforts to be cheerful in the presence of her father and mother; but each day, with a deeper chill at heart, she asked herself a thousand times, "Why does not Mr. Arnold come to see me?"

Vinton Arnold was in even greater distress. He had to endure not only the pain of a repressed affection, but also a galling and humiliating sense of unmanly weakness. He, of course, learned of the failure, and his father soon after took pains to say significantly that one of the members of the iron firm had told him that Mr. Jocelyn had nothing to fall back upon. Therefore Arnold knew that the girl he loved must be in sore trouble. And yet, how could he go to her? What could he say or do that would not make him appear contemptible in her eyes? But to remain away in her hour of misfortune seemed such a manifestation of heartless indifference, such a mean example of the world's tendency to pass by on the other side, that he grew haggard and ghost-like in his self-reproach and self-contempt. At last his parents began to insist that his health required a change of air, and suggested a mountain resort or a trip abroad, and he was conscious of no power to resist the quiet will with which any plan decided upon would be carried out. He felt that he must see Mildred once more, although what he would say to her he could not tell. While there had been no conscious and definite purpose on the part of his parents, they nevertheless had trained him to helplessness in mind and body. His will was as relaxed as his muscles. Instead of wise, patient effort to develop a feeble constitution and to educate his mind by systematic courses of study, he had been treated as an exotic all his days. And yet it had been care without tenderness, or much manifestation of affection. Hot a thing had been done to develop self-respect or self-reliance. Even more than most girls, he was made to feel himself dependent on


Without a Home - 6/94

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