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   Chapter 2 No.2

True Riches; Or, Wealth Without Wings By T. S. Arthur Characters: 13656

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03

"Oh, what a dream I have had!" exclaimed Mrs. Claire, starting suddenly from sleep, just as the light began to come in dimly through the windows on the next morning; and, as she spoke, she caught hold of her husband, and clung to him, frightened and trembling.

"Oh, such a dream!" she added, as her mind grew clearer, and she felt better assured of the reality that existed. "I thought, love, that we were sitting in our room, as we sit every evening-baby asleep, I sewing, and you, as usual, reading aloud. How happy we were! happier, it seemed, than we had ever been before. A sudden loud knock startled us both. Then two men entered, one of whom drew a paper from his pocket, declaring, as he did so, that you were arrested at the instance of Mr. Jasper, who accused you with having robbed him of a large amount of money."

"Why, Edith!" ejaculated Edward Claire, in a voice of painful surprise. He, too, had been dreaming, and in his dream he had done what his heart prompted him to do on the previous evening-to act unfaithfully toward his employer.

"Oh, it was dreadful! dreadful!" continued Edith. "Rudely they seized and bore you away. Then came the trial. Oh, I see it all as plainly as if it had been real. You, my good, true, noble-hearted husband, who had never wronged another, even in thought-you were accused of robbery in the presence of hundreds, and positive witnesses were brought forward to prove the terrible charge. All they alleged was believed by those who heard. The judges pronounced you guilty, and then sentenced you to a gloomy prison. They were bearing you off, when, in my agony, I awoke. It was terrible, terrible! yet, thank God! only a dream, a fearful dream!"

Claire drew his arms around his young wife, and clasped her with a straining embrace to his bosom. He made no answer for some time. The relation of a dream so singular, under the circumstances, had startled him, and he almost feared to trust his voice in response. At length, with a deeply-drawn, sighing breath, nature's spontaneous struggle for relief, he said-

"Yes, dear, that was a fearful dream. The thought of it makes me shudder. But, after all, it was only a dream; the whispering of a malignant spirit in your ear. Happily, his power to harm extends no further. The fancy may be possessed in sleep, but the reason lies inactive, and the hands remain idle. No guilt can stain the spirit. The night passes, and we go abroad in the morning as pure as when we laid our heads wearily to rest."

"And more," added Edith, her mind fast recovering itself; "with a clearer perception of what is true and good. The soul's disturbed balance finds its equilibrium. It is not the body alone that is refreshed and strengthened. The spirit, plied with temptation after temptation through the day, and almost ready to yield when the night cometh, finds rest also, and time to recover its strength. In the morning it goes forth again, stronger for its season of repose. How often, as the day dawned, have I lifted my heart and thanked God for sleep!"

Thus prompted, an emotion of thankfulness arose in the breast of Claire, but the utterance was kept back from the lips. He had a secret, a painful and revolting secret, in his heart, and he feared lest something should betray its existence to his wife. What would he not have given at the moment to have blotted out for ever the memory of thoughts too earnestly cherished on the evening before, when he was alone with the tempter?

There was a shadow on the heart of Edith Claire. The unusual mood of her husband on the previous evening, and the dream which had haunted her through the night, left impressions that could not be shaken off. She had an instinct of danger-danger lurking in the path of one in whom her very life was bound up.

When Edward was about leaving her to go forth for the day, she lingered by his side and clung to him, as if she could not let him pass from the safe shelter of home.

"Ah! if I could always be with you!" said Edith-"if we could ever move on, hand in hand and side by side, how full to running over would be my cup of happiness!"

"Are we not ever side by side, dear?" replied Claire, tenderly. "You are present to my thought all the day."

"And you to mine. O yes! yes! We are moving side by side; our mutual thought gives presence. Yet it was the bodily presence I desired. But that cannot be."

"Good-bye, love! Good-bye, sweet one!" said Claire, kissing his wife, and gently pressing his lips upon those of the babe she held in her arms. He then passed forth, and took his way to the store of Leonard Jasper, in whose service he had been for two years, or since the date of his marriage.

A scene transpired a few days previous to this, which we will briefly describe. Three persons were alone in a chamber, the furniture of which, though neither elegant nor costly, evinced taste and refinement. Lying upon a bed was a man, evidently near the time of his departure from earth. By his side, and bending over him, was a woman almost as pale as himself. A little girl, not above five years of age, sat on the foot of the bed, with her eyes fixed on the countenance of her father, for such was the relation borne to her by the sick man. A lovely creature she was-beautiful even beyond the common beauty of childhood. For a time a solemn stillness reigned through the chamber. A few low-spoken words had passed between the parents of the child, and then, for a brief period, all was deep, oppressive silence. This was interrupted, at length, by the mother's unrestrained sobs, as she laid her face upon the bosom of her husband, so soon to be taken from her, and wept aloud.

No word of remonstrance or comfort came from the sick man's lips. He only drew his arm about the weeper's neck, and held her closer to his heart.

The troubled waters soon ran clear: there was calmness in their depths.

"It is but for a little while, Fanny," said he, in a feeble yet steady voice; "only for a little while."

"I know; I feel that here," was replied, as a thin, white hand was laid against the speaker's bosom. "And I could patiently await my time, but"--

Her eyes glanced yearningly toward the child, who sat gazing upon her parents, with an instinct of approaching evil at her heart.

Too well did the dying man comprehend the meaning of this glance.

"God will take care of her. He will raise her up friends," said he quickly; yet, even as he spoke, his heart failed him.

"All that is left to us is our trust in Him," murmured the wife and mother. Her voice, though so low as to be almost a whisper, was firm. She realized, as she spoke, how much of bitterness was in the parting hours of the dying one, and she felt that duty required her to sustain him, so far as she had the strength to do so. And so

she nerved her woman's heart, almost breaking as it was, to bear and hide her own sorrows, while she strove to comfort and strengthen the failing spirit of her husband.

"God is good," said she, after a brief silence, during which she was striving for the mastery over her weakness. As she spoke, she leaned over the sick man, and looked at him lovingly, and with the smile of an angel on her countenance.

"Yes, God is good, Fanny. Have we not proved this, again and again?" was returned, a feeble light coming into the speaker's pale face.

"A thousand times, dear! a thousand times!" said the wife, earnestly.

"He is infinite in his goodness, and we are his children."

"Yes, his children," was the whispered response. And over and over again he repeated the words, "His children;" his voice falling lower and lower each time, until at length his eyes closed, and his in-going thought found no longer an utterance.

Twilight had come. The deepening shadows were fast obscuring all objects in the sick-chamber, where silence reigned, profound almost as death.

"He sleeps," whispered the wife, as she softly raised herself from her reclining position on the bed. "And dear Fanny sleeps also," was added, as her eyes rested upon the unconscious form of her child.

Two hours later, and the last record was made in Ruben Elder's Book of


For half an hour before the closing scene, his mind was clear, and he then spoke calmly of what he had done for those who were to remain behind.

"To Leonard Jasper, my old friend," said he to his wife, "I have left the management of my affairs. He will see that every thing is done for the best. There is not much property, yet enough to insure a small income; and, when you follow me to the better land, sufficient for the support and education of our child."

Peacefully, after this, he sank away, and, like a weary child falling into slumber, slept that sleep from which the awakening is in another world.

How Leonard Jasper received the announcement of his executorship has been seen. The dying man had referred to him as an old friend; but, as the reader has already concluded, there was little room in his sordid heart for so pure a sentiment as that of friendship. He, however, lost no time in ascertaining the amount of property left by Elder, which consisted of two small houses in the city, and a barren tract of about sixty acres of land, somewhere in Pennsylvania, which had been taken for a debt of five hundred dollars. In view of his death, Elder had wound up his business some months before, paid off what he owed, and collected in nearly all outstanding accounts; so that little work remained for his executor, except to dispose of the unprofitable tract of land and invest the proceeds.

On the day following the opening of our story, Jasper, who still felt annoyed at the prospect of more trouble than profit in the matter of his executorship, made a formal call upon the widow of his old friend.

The servant, to whom he gave his name, stated that Mrs. Elder was so ill as not to be able to leave her room.

"I will call again, then, in a few days," said he. "Be sure you give her my name correctly. Mr. Jasper-Leonard Jasper."

The face of the servant wore a troubled aspect.

"She is very sick, sir," said she, in a worried, hesitating manner. "Won't you take a seat, for a moment, until I go up and tell her that you are here? Maybe she would like to see you. I think I heard her mention your name a little while ago."

Jasper sat down, and the domestic left the room. She was gone but a short time, when she returned and said that Mrs. Elder wished to see him. Jasper arose and followed her up-stairs. There were some strange misgivings in his heart-some vague, troubled anticipations, that oppressed his feelings. But he had little time for thought ere he was ushered into the chamber of his friend's widow.

A single glance sufficed to tell him the whole sad truth of the case. There was no room for mistake. The bright, glazed eyes, the rigid, colourless lips, the ashen countenance, all testified that the hour of her departure drew nigh. How strong, we had almost said, how beautiful, was the contrasted form and features of her lovely child, whose face, so full of life and rosy health, pressed the same pillow that supported her weary head.

Feebly the dying woman extended her hand, as Mr. Jasper came in, saying, as she did so-

"I am glad you have come; I was about sending for you."

A slight tremor of the lips accompanied her words, and it was plain that the presence of Jasper, whose relation to her and her child she understood, caused a wave of emotion to sweep over her heart.

"I am sorry, Mrs. Elder, to find you so very ill," said Jasper, with as much of sympathy in his voice as he could command. "Has your physician been here to-day?"

"It is past that, sir-past that," was replied. "There is no further any hope for me in the physician's art."

A sob choked all further utterance.

How oppressed was the cold-hearted, selfish man of the world! His thoughts were all clouded, and his lips for a time sealed. As the dying woman said, so he felt that it was. The time of her departure had come. An instinct of self-protection-protection for his feelings-caused him, after a few moments, to say, and he turned partly from the bed as he spoke-

"Some of your friends should be with you, madam, at this time. Let me go for them. Have you a sister or near relative in the city?"

The words and movement of Mr. Jasper restored at once the conscious self-possession of the dying mother, and she raised herself partly up with a quick motion, and a gleam of light in her countenance.

"Oh, sir," she said eagerly, "do not go yet. I have no sister, no near relative; none but you to whom I can speak my last words and give my last injunction. You were my husband's friend while he lived, and to you has he committed the care of his widow and orphan. I am called, alas, too soon! to follow him; and now, in the sight of God, and in the presence of his spirit-for I feel that he is near us now-I commit to you the care of this dear child. Oh, sir! be to her as a father. Love her tenderly, and care for her as if she were your own. Her heart is rich with affection, and upon you will its treasures be poured out. Take her! take her as your own! Here I give to you, in this the solemn hour of my departure, that which to me is above all price."

And as she said this, with a suddenly renewed strength, she lifted the child, and, ere Jasper could check the movement, placed her in his arms. Then, with one long, eager, clinging kiss pressed upon the lips of that child, she sank backward on the bed; and life, which had flashed up brightly for a moment, went out in this world for ever.

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