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- Without a Home - 80/94 -


The days pass like years, and the nights are worse. I am dragged here and there for the benefit of my health--what a miserable farce it is! For half the money I am spending here I could live happily with you, and, sustained by your love and sympathy, I might do something befitting my man's estate. One day, when I said as much to my mother, her face grew cold and stern, and she replied that my views of life were as absurd as those of a child! I often wish I were dead, and were it not for the thought of you I half fear that I might be tempted to end my wretched existence. Of course my health suffers from this constant unhappiness, repression, and humiliation. The rumor has reached me that your father has become very poor, and that he is in ill health. The little blood I have left crimsons my face with shame that I am not at your side to help and cheer you. But I fear I should be a burden to you, as I am to every one else. My fainting turns--one of which you saw-are becoming more frequent. I've no hope nor courage to try to get well--I am just sinking under the burden of my unhappy, unmanly lite, and my best hope may soon be to become unconscious and remain so forever. And yet I fully believe that one kind word from you would inspire me with the wish, the power to live. My mother is blind to everything except her worldly maxims of life. She means to do her duty by me, and is conscientious in her way, but she is killing me by slow torture. If you would give me a little hope, if you would wait--oh, pardon the selfishness of my request, the pitiable weakness displayed in this appeal! Yet, how can I help it? Who can sink into absolute despair without some faint struggle--some effort to escape? I have had the happiness of heaven in your presence, and now I am as miserable as a lost soul. You have only to say that there is no hope, and I will soon cease to trouble you or any one much longer.'

"How can I tell him there is no hope?" she murmured. "It would be murder--it would be killing soul and body. What's more, I love him--God knows I love him. My heart just yearns for him in boundless pity and sympathy, and I feel almost as if he were my crippled, helpless child as well as lover. It would be cruel, selfish, and unwomanly to desert him because of his misfortune. I haven't the heart to do it. His weakness and suffering bind me to him. His appeal to me is like the cry of the helpless to God, and how can I destroy his one hope, his one chance? He needs me more than does Roger, who is strong, masterful, and has a grand career before him. In his varied activities, in the realization of his ambitious hopes, he will overcome his present feelings, and become my brother in very truth. He will marry some rich, splendid girl like Miss Wetheridge by and by, and I shall be content in lowly, quiet ministry to one whose life and all God has put into my hands. His parents treat Vinton as if he were a child; but he has reached the age when he has the right to choose for himself, and, if the worst comes to the worst, I could support him. myself. Feeling as I do now, and as I ever shall, now that my heart has been revealed to me, I could not marry Roger. It would be wronging him and perjuring myself. He is too grand, too strong a man not to see the facts in their true light, and he will still remain the best friend a woman ever had."

Then, with a furtive look at Belle to see that she was sleeping soundly, she wrote: "DEAR VINTON: My heart would indeed be callous and unwomanly did it not respond to your letter, over which I have shed many tears. Take all the hope you can from the truth that I love you, and can never cease to love you. You do yourself injustice. Your weakness and ill health are misfortunes for which you are not responsible. So far from inspiring disgust, they awaken my sympathy and deepen my affection. You do not know a woman's heart--at least you do not know mine. In your constant love, your contempt for heartless, fashionable life, and your wish to do a man's part in the world, you are manly. You are right also in believing that if you lived in an atmosphere of respect and affection you would so change for the better that you would not recognize yourself. For my sake as well as your own, try to rally, and make the most of your sojourn abroad. Fix your mind steadily on some pursuits or studies that will be of use to you in the future. Do not fear; I shall wait. It is not in my nature to forget or change." And with some reference to their misfortunes, a repetition of her note which Jotham had lost, and further reassuring words, she closed her letter.

"I am right," she said; "even Roger will say I am doing right. I could not do otherwise."

Having made a copy of the letter that she might show it to Roger, she at last slept, in the small hours of the night. As early as possible on the following day she mailed the letter, with a prayer that it might not be too late.

A day or two later she sought a private interview with her friend, and whispered, "Roger, dear Roger, if you do not fail me now you will prove yourself the best and bravest man in the world. I am going to repose a trust in you that I cannot share at present with any one else--not even my mother. It would only make her unhappy now that she is reviving in our brighter days. It might have a bad influence on papa, and it is our duty to shield him in every way."

She told him everything, made him read the copy of her letter to Arnold. "You are strong, Roger," she said in conclusion, "and it would kill him, and--and I love him. You know now how it has all come about, and it does not seem in my nature to change. I have given you all I can--my absolute trust and confidence. I've shown you my whole heart. Roger, you won't fail me. I love you so dearly, I feel so deeply for you, I am so very grateful, that I believe it would kill me if this should harm you."

He did not fail her, but even she never guessed the effort he made.

"It's all right, Millie," he said with a deep breath, "and I'll be a jolly bachelor for you all my life."

"You must not say that," she protested. "One of these days I'll pick you out a far better wife than I could ever be."

"No," he replied decisively, "that's the one thing I won't do for you, if you picked out twenty score."

He tried to be brave--he was brave; but for weeks thereafter traces of suffering on his face cut her to the heart, and she suffered with him as only a nature like hers was capable of doing. Events were near which would tax his friendship to the utmost.

August was passing with its intense heat. The streets of the locality wherein the Jocelyns lived were shamefully neglected, and the sewerage was bad. Mr. Jocelyn was one of the first to suffer, and one day he was so ill from malarial neuralgia that he faltered in the duties of his business.

"I can't afford to be ill," he said to himself. "A slight dose of morphia will carry me through the day; surely I've strength of mind sufficient to take it once or twice as a medicine, and then plenty of quinine will ward off a fever, and I can go on with my work without any break or loss; meanwhile I'll look for rooms in a healthier locality."

His conscience smote him, warned him, and yet it did not seem possible that he could not take a little as a remedy, as did other people. With the fatuity of a self-indulgent nature he remembered its immediate relief from pain, and forgot the anguish it had caused. He no more proposed to renew the habit than to destroy his life--he only proposed to tide himself over an emergency.

The drug was taken, and to his horror he found that it was the same as if he had kindled a conflagration among combustibles ready for the match. His old craving asserted itself with all its former force. His will was like a straw in the grasp of a giant. He writhed, and anathematized himself, but soon, with the inevitableness of gravitation, went to another drug store and was again enchained. [Footnote: It is a sad fact that more than half of those addicted to the opium habit relapse. The causes are varied, but the one given is the most common: it is taken to bridge over some emergency or to give relief from physical pain or mental distress. The infatuated victim says, "I will take it just this once," and then he goes on taking it until it destroys him. I have talked with several who have given way for the second and third time, and with one physician who has relapsed five times. They each had a somewhat different story to tell, but the dire results were in all cases the same. After one indulgence, the old fierce craving, the old fatal habit, was again fixed, with more than its former intensity and binding power.]

For a few days Mr. Jocelyn tried to conceal his condition from his family, but their eyes were open now, and they watched him at first with alarm, then with terror. They pleaded with him; his wife went down on her knees before him; but, with curses on himself, he broke away and rushed forth, driven out into the wilderness of a homeless life like a man possessed with a demon. In his intolerable shame and remorse he wrote that he would not return until he had regained his manhood. Alas! that day would never come.

CHAPTER XLIII

WAS BELLE MURDERED?

Mrs. Wheaton, Mr. Wentworth, and Roger did what they could for the afflicted family, and Roger spent the greater part of several nights in a vain search for the absent man, but he had hidden himself too securely, and was drowning reason, conscience, his entire manhood, in one long debauch. The young man grew more haggard than ever in his deep sympathy for his friends, for they clung to him with the feeling that he only could help them effectually. He begged them to move elsewhere, since the odors of the place were often sickening, but they all said No, for the husband and father might return, and this now was their one hope concerning him.

In the second fall of her husband Mrs. Jocelyn seemed to have received her death-wound, for she failed visibly every day.

One night Belle was taken with a severe chill, and then fever and delirium followed. When Roger came the ensuing evening, Mildred sobbed on his shoulder.

"Oh, Roger, my heart is paralyzed with dread. The skies you were making so bright for us have become black with ruin. You are the only one who brings me any hope or comfort. Come with me. Look at Belle there. She doesn't know any of us. For the last hour her mind has wandered. Half the time she is thanking you for all that you have done for us; then she calls for papa, or is away in the country. The doctor has been here, and he looked very grave. He says it's all due to the bad sanitary condition of this part of the city, and that there are other cases just like it, and that they are hard to manage. Why didn't we move before? Oh, oh, oh!" and she cried as if her heart would break.


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