“If it were only for a fixed time, a month or three months, or even six months,” the poor lady said to herself, “I might stand it. It would be hard to do without all the things I want, and be afraid even to pay the money I borrowed to go to South America, but if I knew when the day was certainly coming when I could hold up my head and let everybody know just what I am, and take my proper place in the community, then I might wait. But nobody knows how long it will take the captain to get away with that gold. He may have to make ever so many voyages. He may meet with wrecks, and dear knows what. It may be years before they are ready to tell me I am a free woman, and may do what I please with my own. I may die in poverty, and leave Mr. Cliff’s nephews to get all the good of the draft and the money in my trunk up-stairs. I suppose they would think it came from Valparaiso, and that I had been hoarding it. It’s all very well for Edna. She is going to Europe, where Ralph will be educated, I suppose, and where she can live as she pleases, and nobody will ask her any questions, and she need not answer them, if they should. But I must stay here, in debt, and in actual want of the comforts of life, making believe to pinch and to save, until a sea-captain thousands and thousands of miles away shall feel that he is ready to let me put my hand in my pocket and spend my riches.”
A COMMITTEE OF LADIES
It was about a week after the receipt of Edna’s letter that Willy Croup came to Mrs. Cliff’s bedroom, where that lady had been taking a surreptitious glance at her Californian blankets, to tell her that there were three ladies down in the parlor who wished to see her.
“It’s the minister’s wife, and Mrs. Hembold, and old Miss Shott,” said Willy. “They are all dressed up, and I suppose they have come for something particular, so you’d better fix up a little afore you go down.”
In her present state of mind, Mrs. Cliff was ready to believe that anybody who came to see her would certainly want to know something which she could not tell them, and she went down fearfully. But these ladies did not come to ask questions. They came to make statements. Mrs. Perley, the minister’s wife, opened the interview by stating that, while she was sorry to see Mrs. Cliff looking so pale and worried, she was very glad, at the same time, to be able to say something which might, in some degree, relieve her anxiety and comfort her mind, by showing her that she was surrounded by friends who could give her their heartfelt sympathy in her troubles, and perhaps do a little more.
“We all know,” said Mrs. Perley, “that you have had misfortunes, and that they have been of a peculiar kind, and none of them owing to your own fault.”
“We can’t agree exactly to that,” interpolated Miss Shott, “but I won’t interrupt.”
“We all know,” continued Mrs. Perley, “that it was a great loss and disappointment to you not to be able to get down to Valparaiso and settle your affairs there, for we are aware that you need whatever money is due you from that quarter. And we understand, too, what a great blow it was to you to be shipwrecked, and lose all your baggage except a hand-bag.”