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Mark Shelton's Wife

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One cold niorning in December, Mark Shelton, Esq. , and his wife sat down to breakfast in ono of the coziest of i rooms; Mark with a cloud on liis usually pleasant face, and his wife 's placid i tenanco wearing a puzzled and sorrowful look, for when had he been angry with lier bef ore ? He had scarcely spoken to her the previons evening, and ho looked sullen and ! gloomy still. What had she done ? She had pondered the thought over and over, yet she had not dared to ask him. The morning sunlight streamed iuto the room as they silently drank their j coffee and abstractedly nibbled their muffms; and broad stripes of yellow gold lay on the sea-green gronnd of the ' pet, mingling softly with the bright tints of the autunin leaves that sprinkled it; and lighting np the pictures on the nished walls, until they stood out vivifted into life-like perfection in the mellow light. The fire buvned choerfully in the i polished grate; the canary chirruped blithely in his gilded cage, while the trailing vinos tliat festooned the reeesses of evt'ry window tnrned each deüeate I tendril to the warm sunlight, as if J thiuikful for the warmth and comfort i and hallowed glow that filled that .pleasant room. Mr. Shelton finished his breakfast and took up his morning paper. Mrs. ; ton, a palé little womaa, whose chief i beauty lay in her eyes, wMch were so blue and trustful one could not help ! ing their owner, watched his moody face uneasily. Her sniooth, purplish black hair was coiled up in a loóse, doublé twist, with here and there a tiny curl i peeping out, giving her a giilish look that Mark had often adinired. Her ; morning dress was navy blue cashniere, j ■with snowy lace at the throat and wrists, i and simply elegance itself ; and, better than all, was the work of the slim fingere fchat were nervoualy twirling the silver teaspoon in her dainty coffee cup. But Mark was too much engrossed in i hifi own moody thoughts to fmd any ! terest in wife or paper, for, after a vain altempt at reading, he laid t)ie latter down, and sat silently staving into the fire. " Mark, " burst out his wife, who feit as if she were under the influence of a night-mare, " what on earth is the j ter with y ou?" And Mark answered her with that sensible mascuüne evasion, " Nothing." ' I kno w thero is something wrong somewhere," went on Mrs. Shelton, desperately. "Are you angry with me, Mark?" " No, Alice, I'm not angry with you." j ' ' Then teil me your trouble. I never ; saw you so depressed before, and we are married five years to-day, Mark. " "Blessme! So we are! I had I tirely forgotten it. " Mr. Shelton looked ! up for the first time, and glanced across ' the table at the little woman in blue, whose cheeks liad lost the peachy bloom they had worn that day five years ago. But the doar face was as fresh as ever in his partial eyes, and his heart ached more for her than himself, for he knew ! ehe would suffer keenly in the crisis he I was ch-eading so much. "If the ! dren liad been spared to us," he said, mentally, thinking of the two httle j graves in Green wood, "they would have been a comfort to her." But he kept his thoughts to himself, and said, instead : " Will you attend Mrs. Austin's party, Alice ?" "On the 20th? Yes." The uneasy light left Alieo Shelton 's loving eyes, for, : since he was not angry with her, she did not care to pry iuto his secrets. And yet if he only would confide in her, she j would feol so relieved. "Will you go, Mark?" " I think not." A curious smile parted his lips. " Why?" in a tone of surprise. "I shall be otherwise engaged." "Nonsenae, Mark. You must not be snch a slave to business. Few men are as prosperous in tlie world. " " I have been prosperous," dreamüy, "but" he never finished the sentence. "And the panic never affected you in the least," innocently ï-emarked Mrs. Shelton, who knew as much about the subtle workings of the financia] world as she did about the mythical inhabitants of the moon. Mr. Shelton jumped up, slightly i flushed in the face. "What idiots womeu are!" was the complimentary exelamation that met his wife's ears, as he went liurriedly from I the room, heedless of her excited Mark " But Mark was out in the cold, sunlit street, before the little woman had recovered from her astonishment ; his 1 white, rven terth clenohed tightly together, as he hurried down to the dim, mnsty office, where so many arduous ! duties demanded his attention. Many of his business friends who met ! 01 passed him on the streets looked curiously at lus down cast face ; for his ; miud wns too much preocoupied to take ' any interest in passing occurrences. He heard nothing, saw nothing but the blue, '. mimb hands of the street beggars, who '. seemed to Tjeset his path every few roda, for his characteristic chnrity was well ] known, and few were tlie piüms that did i not close on the coveted peuny. i FW Mark was a good mau, Lumaue, charitable and gencrous in all things, . and uu til n year back the worldhad gono : well with him. But the panic swamped j dozens of his debtors ; his business waa ! dead in a ftnancial sense ; and his tors were clamorous for bilis ho could not meet. Ho had never been caroloss, tinwise or extravgant in rilling or discharging contracta, and liis business dif l fieulties had come upon him so swiftly and imperooptibly that tho blow feil heavier tlian if he had been expecting somo such cataetrophe. But Alice Shelton know notliing of all thin. The mental turmoil going on in i her husband's breast never found vent iu a dissatisfied word or look, and uutil tlie previous day he had kept his face , and manner freo fróm all traces of ! ety. But the constant excitement and j worry had been too hard for him, and j the dunniug of a creditor, who i ed tho piuictual payment of a note of j .$-4,000 that feil due on the 21st of i cember, together with other unforeseen debts, had so upset him that he could not cover his mental distress with the maak of carelessness he had worn for : weeks past. His greatest trouble was for Alice. Never very strong - andhe had of ten '. derrated her strength - he had ! ored to surround her with every comfort and had carefully kept all harrassing business details or cares from her ears. Ho had given her money without stint, ! and he supposed she spent it like other women, for she was always well dressed, and lus home was a model of order and good taste. Be that as it may, he never thought of tracing the cause of his failure to home extravagance. For no ! man was more thoroughly econpmioal, without being miserly, than Mrs. ' ton. Her party toilets were always in exceptional taste, and hor dress for Mrs. Austin's party was not designed for any , unusual display of elegance, although ' the gathering was to be one of unusual brilliancy. The night of the 20th carne - a dark, stormy December night, the air tillod with snowflakes and the sky gray and overrast with heavy clouds. " It is going to be a terrible night, Mark," Mrs. Shelton said toher band, who sat before the library fire, i evidently absorbed in tlie contents of the i evening paper. ," I have thought once! or twice since I oommenced dressing that 1 would not go out to-night. " ' ' Go, by all means, Alice ; the í riage is close," her liusbaud replied, glancing up at the trim little figure arrayed in a dark silk, retrimmed, with a palé blufih rose in her purplish-black hair, and at the white throat, half-veiled with a ílimsy lace. He smiled bitterly as he saw her goiug out iu her happy, child-like innocence, as she might never go agaim, among people who had no j sympathy for failing merchants, and who would not give his wife a thought if she were not riek in the world's goods. " I wish you would go," she said, ; seechingly," lingering at the door to adjust her cloak, " Mr. Austin will be ' pecting you." Mr. Shelton smiled, thinking, perhaps, of the forbidding face of a man of whom [ he had begged a loan that afternoon, whose curt " canuot spare a dollar, sir," rang in liis ears yet. He arose from his seat by the fire, and going over to his wife's side, fastcned the warm wmps closer about her tliroat. "Be careful of yourself, little woman," he said with a forced attempt at gayety, "and enjoy yourself, for it is utterly impossible for me to go." He accompanied her to the earriage, ; and as he closed the door on the placid little face he inwardly anathematized the weakness that prompted him to ■ hold the, story of his difliculties from her, I when she dai'ly ran tlie risk of hearing it frorn lips lcss Hable to soften its details. Yet he still hoped that the morrow would bring some chance of redeeming his lost ! credit ; although his efforts to raise the ! $4,000 due on the 21st were still cessful. He was almost worn out with physical and mental labor, yet he put on j his" hat and overcoat, and dragged ly down town through the f ast-falling 1 snow and murky darkness, to spend the j dreary hours of liis wife's absence, poring over ledgers in his counting-room. Meanwhile, Mrs. Mark Shelton, not j quite satisfied with Mark's ' ' strange i freak," as she called her husband's fusal to attond the party, was zealotisly : trying to feel at ease among Mrs. ; tin 's stylish guests. For, somehow, she feit depressed and ill at ease among the fashionables who had hitherto welcomed her as the wife of a prominent young merchant who was steadily rising to emi I nence in the commercial world. Thero ■ was an undercurrent of coldness in their greeting tliat her sensitivo nature I tected instantly, and an angry flush rose ; to her cheek when she overheard a remark relating to "Mrs. Shelton 's old silk." " I suppose my dress is not up to their standard in point of elegance," she muttered, bitterly ; ' ' but 111 never ruin Mark with my extravagance in dress - never!" She slipped out of the gay, : crowded parlors into the library, where ; she found refuge behind the heavy hangings of a bay window. She dropjjed into a low seat, and sat watching the streams of gas-light flickering aoross the streot, now anide deep with snow, wishing that Mark would remembor hor orders and send the earriage early. The heavy sensuous odors of tropical plante fllled the room with a fragrance that almost took her breath away, and in the distnce the music of a popular waltz rose and feil, the soft, voluptuous cadenees soothing her disturbed mind into a calmness that was soon broken by the I entrance of two ladies, whose first words chainedMrs. Sholton to her seat, and held i her in the questionable light of an eaves-dropper. " I was astonished to see Mrs. Mark ! Shelton out to-night," exclaimed the eider of the two ladies, whose diamonds flashed in the gas-light. "Wliyr "Have you not heard? Why, Mrs. ! Lamer ! Shelton is on the verge of bankruptcy." " Mark Shelton ? Impossible! Why, he ia considered one of the staunchest merchants in the city." " He was. But he has lost credit j somehow. He has been on the streets for days trying to raise money to cancel most of his urgent debts ; and I wouldu't be surprised if his wife did have to giye I up hor stylish home before tlie winter is I over." "She is a nobody auyway. Her father was only a soap ehandler and I have of! tn wondered at Mark Shelton's taste in i choosing her fora wife," remarked Mrs. Lamor, -vvlio liad once a decided f a-noy for Mark, herself. " Soap ohandlers are as good as other men, provided Üiey are sobcr, and spectable," retumed tlio lady with üio diamouds, whose father bad ouce been a peanut vender, whilo Mrs. Lamcr's ancestors weie famous for blue blood and reckless dissrpation. " I ikai't pity Mrs. Shelton, though," went on Mra. Lamer, politely ignoring the eider lady's home thrust ; " for I expeet she is juat like other women in the same situation ; Mark made oceans j of money, and slie spent it." "Doubtless. Just givo any woman tiiat never liad anytLing some money to aplurge on, and see how fast she'll go through it," laughed tlie eider lady, as she glided ont of tlie library, her rich , silks frweeping affer üer like purple billows, while Mrs. Lamer followed her ! like a shadow, in lier palé tarletan robes. Poor Alice Shelton had hcard evety word, and sat perfectly still, with hor slim, white flugers clasped tightly together. Every faculty of her nature seemed paralyzed by the intensity of her emotions. Her honest, conscientious ! heart was shocked ftt tlie hypocrisy of two of her most intímate society friends, and with tho bitterness was mingled a feeling of intense pity for Mark, who had kept all this from her ears that she might hear it from so uncharitable lips. Verily, she thought, the world is a vain show, and those who love it but rnoths, j fluttering about its dazzling pleasures, only to have their wings singed by üie ; cruel tongues of flame that leap up from ; envy, malice and deoeit. "Mark shall not faal," she said, rising up, with a white, determined face. "I will show them his wife is worthy of ! hun." Heedless of the gayety and warmth around her, of the blinding snow-storm that was raging without, or tho long, i snow-bound walk that lay between the j Austin mansión and her husband's warehouse, she hurried up to the dressingroom, and, wrapping herself up in cloak and furs, went out into the storm and bravery faced the blinding sheets of snow tliat tho wind dasked into her face - a face almost as ghastly as the snow that feil so swiftly and silently on the half-deserted payements. The gas flared out through murky gas lamps with a dull, : sickly glare; hacks and carriages went whiriing by like sheeted ghosts, and qpce I in a whilo some belated pedestrian almost walked over her; but still Mrs, Shelton walked on, her heart too hard and anxious to think of fear or fatigue. When she rcached the warehouse the ! clock on a distiint steeple was just chiming 11, and Mark was standing in the dimly-lit office, putting on his overeoat. The porter dozed in a chair before the stove in the outer room, and Alico stole softly past him and stood before lier band. "Alice!" His eyes dilated in astoniahment. Alice dropped into a seat and looked up at him with a glitter in her blue eyes that held him spellbound. " ]Iark, do ycra think X'm i i' Her voice had a raspy ring that süirtlcd Mark. He glanced at her snow-covered wraps, and then made a dash for the soaked boots peeping out from under the : edge of her bedraggled silkeu skirts. "Alice?" - one boot carne off with a j jerk - "what insane whim drove you out on the streets such a night as this?" - he flung its mate to the furthest end of the room. "OMavk," Mrs. Shelton's temporary strength and courage was swiftly vanishing, "are you going to fail?" Mark instantly comprehended the situation. She had heard the story of his financial troubles, probably in some distorted form, and the knowledge had almost crazed her. He blamed himself severely for keeping her in ignorance of the truth. He always had a repugnanee to womanly interference in business matters, but feit, in justice to his wife's general worthiness, he should have trusted her in this emergency. "Hush, Alice!" - for she was begiiining to sob hysterically - "you must not be alarmed. If I can raise the money to pay off a note that falla due to-morrow, I may weather the panic yet." "How much will you needí" Her littlc face was uplifted eagerly. 'Tour thousand dollars." "Is that allí" with a little hysterical laugh. ' ' Theji you won't fail; for I have five thousand, all my own, saved out of the money you gave me to spend on the house aud myself. Ah, Mark, you thought I spent it !" "Alice !" - Mark took tho little shivering form in his arms - "you are worth your weight in gold!" "I know it," slyly retorted Alice; "but it has taken you ñve years to thid it out. And, Mark, if you canuot cancel the rest of your debt, we'll sell the house and furniture and live in a room or two until the panic is over; for you shall not f uil." Mark sent for a carriago, and they went home through the white, noiseless streets, Alice recomí ting, as she went, the story she heard in Mr. Austin' s perfumed library. At its conclusión she said: 'It was cruel of you to keep me in j the dark so long, Mark. And never, ■ never treat me like a fooi or a child again. 1 For if I am a soap-chandler's daughter, I have sense, and feeling, and judgment, i and discretian enough to save something for ' rainy days. ' " It is needless to say that Mark redeemed his note, to the chagrín of some of his business rivals, who had secretly gloated over his difficulties; and, al though his affection for lii.s wife was never demonstrative, the care he took of her was wonderful, for he found that the price of a good wife is "above rubies. "


Old News
Michigan Argus