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The Two Homes
by [?]

TWO men, on their way home, met at a street crossing, and then walked on together. They were neighbours, and friends.

“This has been a very hard day,” said Mr. Freeman in a gloomy voice.

“A very hard day,” echoed almost sepulchrally, Mr. Walcott. “Little or no cash coming in–payments Heavy–money scarce, and at ruinous rates. What is to become of us?”

“Heaven only knows,” answered Mr. Freeman. “For my part, I see no light ahead. Every day come new reports of failures; every day confidence diminishes; every day some prop that we leaned upon is taken away.”

“Many think we are at the worst,” said Mr. Walcott.

“And others, that we have scarcely seen the beginning of the end,” returned the neighbour.

And so, as they walked homeward, they discouraged each other, and made darker the clouds that obscured their whole horizon.

“Good evening,” was at last said, hurriedly; and the two men passed into their homes.

Mr. Walcott entered the room, where his wife and children were gathered, and without speaking to any one, seated himself in a chair, and leaning his head back, closed his eyes. His countenance wore a sad, weary, exhausted look. He had been seated thus for only a few minutes, when his wife said, in a fretful voice,

“More trouble again.”

“What’s the matter now?” asked Mr. Walcott, almost starting.

“John has been sent home from school.”

“What!” Mr. Walcott partly arose from his chair.

“He’s been suspended for bad conduct.”

“O dear!” groaned Mr. Walcott–“Where is he?”

“Up in his room. I sent him there as soon as he came home. You’ll have to do something with him. He’ll be ruined if he goes on in this way. I’m out of all heart with him.”

Mr. Walcott, excited as much by the manner in which his wife conveyed unpleasant information, as by the information itself, started up, under the blind impulse of the moment, and going to the room where John had been sent on coming home from school, punished the boy severely, and this without listening to the explanations which the poor child; tried to make him hear.

“Father,” said the boy, with forced calmness, after the cruel stripes had ceased–“I wasn’t to blame; and if you will go with me to the teacher, I can prove myself innocent.”

Mr. Walcott had never known his son to tell an untruth; and the words smote with rebuke upon his heart.

“Very well–we will see about that,” he answered, with forced sternness, and leaving the room he went down stairs, feeling much worse than when he went up. Again he seated himself in his large chair and again leaned back his weary head, and closed his heavy eyelids. Sadder was his face than before. As he sat thus, his oldest daughter, in her sixteenth year, came and stood by him. She held a paper in her hand–

“Father,–” he opened his eyes.

“Here’s my quarter bill. It’s twenty dollars. Can’t I have the money to take to school with me in the morning?”

“I’m afraid not,” answered Mr. Walcott, half sadly.

“Nearly all the girls will bring in their money tomorrow; and it mortifies me to be behind the others.” The daughter spoke fretfully. Mr. Walcott waved her aside with his hand, and she went off muttering and pouting.

“It is mortifying,” spoke up Mrs. Walcott, a little sharply; “and I don’t wonder that Helen feels unpleasantly about it. The bill has to be paid, and I don’t see why it may not be done as well first as last.”

To this Mr. Walcott made no answer. The words but added another pressure to this heavy burden under which he was already staggering. After a silence of some moments, Mrs. Walcott said,

“The coal is all gone.”

“Impossible!” Mr. Walcott raised his head, and looked incredulous. “I laid in sixteen tons.”

“I can’t help it, if there were sixty tons instead of sixteen; it’s all gone. The girls had a time of it to-day, to scrape up enough to keep the fire going.”