The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man/Chapter V
|←Chapter IV. A Poor Man's Journey|| The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man by
Chapter V. Charlotte's Return
|Chapter VI. Showers and Sunshine→|
On the very day she had appointed before leaving home, Charlotte, by dint of arranging for her father, giving him now a hint and now an impulse, returned there. Susan had opened, swept, and garnished the house with plenty of laurels and roses, and Mrs. Aikin and some other kind matrons had sent in a store of provisions, so that Susan spread her tea-table with the abundance and variety that characterize the evening meal in New-England.
Fresh biscuit and cookies, cherry-pie, smoked beef, stewed currants, peppergrass, cheese, and radishes, were on the table—the tea-kettle hissing a welcome over the fire, and Susan and Harry standing at the door and gazing at a turn in the road, where, between two branching elms that imbowered it, appeared Uncle Phil's wagon, and Charlotte was soon folded in the arms of her loving sister, and receiving a welcome nowise less joyful from Harry.
"I declare," said Uncle Phil, after the first salutations were passed, surveying the table with ineffable satisfaction, "you've set out what I call a tea, Susy. You beat 'em all in York—they live dreadful poor down there. To be sure, your Aunt Betsey lives in a brick house, and has a sight of furniture, and a gimcrack of a timepiece on her mantelpiece (it don't go half so true as our old wooden one), and high plated candlesticks, and such knick-knacks; yet she has all her bread to buy by the loaf, and the milk is sky-blue; as to cream, I don't believe they ever heard on't. Cakes and pies are scarce, I tell you. I don't believe peppergrass has come there yet, for I never saw a spear of it on the table, nor a speck of cheese. But the worst of all is the water. Poor Jock would have choked before he would have drank a drop of it; and they live in such a dust and hurra, I tho't when we drove in it was gineral training; but they carried on so every day;—and then there is such a stifled-up feeling—I did pity 'em."
Persons capable of more accurate comparison than Uncle Phil, may well pity those who, when summer is in its beauty, are shut up within the walls of a city, deprived of the greatest of all luxuries, which even the poorest country people enjoy—sweet air, ample space, pure water, and quiet only broken by pleasant sounds.
And often, too, have we felt a pity for the citizen similar to Uncle Phil's, when we have compared the tea-table of those we call poor in the country with the uninviting evening meal of the affluent in town. "Ah, father," replied Susan, "you must remember we don't set out such a table very often here. I am sure I never could if we had not such kind neighbours; but, when they are kind, it don't seem to me to make much difference whether you are rich or poor."
Susan's simple remark had an important bearing on that great subject of inequality of condition, which puzzles the philosopher, and sometimes disturbs the Christian. But did not our happy little friend suggest a solution to the riddle? Has not Providence made this inequality the necessary result of the human condition, and is not the true agrarian principle to be found in the voluntary exercise of those virtues that produce an interchange of benevolent offices? If there were a perfect community of goods, where would be the opportunity for the exercise of the virtues, of justice, and mercy, humility, fidelity, and gratitude? If the rights of the poor of all classes were universally acknowledged, if intellectual and moral education were what they should be, the deaf would hear, and the blind would see; and the rich man would no longer look with fear upon, the poor man, nor the poor man with envy on the rich. This true millennium is on its way. "Blessed are those who wait!"
Our friends were soon seated at their tempting tea-table, where Susan tried to busy herself with her duties, but her eyes continually rested on her sister's pale face, and it was all she could do to repress her tears and speak cheerfully when she saw plain indications that Charlotte had not reaped the advantage from her journey that they had too sanguinely expected. She perceived that Charlotte, instead of tasting the delicacies prepared for her, declined them all, even the warm biscuit and cherry-pie, and the radishes too, which she particularly liked, and made her meal of a cracker she took from her bag, and a glass of water. Susan dared not trust her voice to ask questions; Charlotte made no explanations; Harry's eyes followed Susan's, but he was silent; and Uncle Phil, too happy at getting home to observe the feelings of the parties, merely murmured once when Charlotte refused the cake, "Them New-York doctors are dum notional!"
When the tea was over, Susan could bear it no longer; and the tears streaming from her eyes, she said, "Oh, Lottie, 'tis a comfort to get you home, though you an't cured." The ice was now broken, and Charlotte, much refreshed by her simple meal, proceeded to relate the circumstances of her journey; but, as her narrative was prolonged by digressions, and broken by the comments of her eager listeners, we shall give its purport briefly.
The pleasure of the journey, and the hope of a cure from the far-famed New-York doctor, wrought wonders on Charlotte's feeble frame; and when she arrived at her aunt's, she felt more strength and ease than she had experienced for years; and, but for certain sharp twinges, she said she should have saved Harry's money and not consulted the doctor. The doctor, however, was summoned, and seemed at once inspired with an interest for his humble patient that was hardly to be expected from a man at the head of his profession, and whose attendance was sought at every moment by the first in the land. But Dr. —— was no common man, and was a most rare physician. He studied the mind as well as the body; he endeavoured to comprehend their delicate relations and bearings upon each other, and in his profession he ministered to both. He was a religious man in principle, and earnestly so in feeling; and, by getting into the hearts of his patients—into the inner temple, by addressing them as religious beings, by rousing their faith and fortitude, or their submission and patience, "he was sure," as Charlotte said, to find a medicine that would do them good, if all drugs failed; and, if the case was curable, his prescriptions operated like the old woman's herb, that "with a blessing always cured."
After an examination, he ascertained Charlotte's malady to a certainty, and that it was incurable; but he did not shock her by at once telling her this. He visited her repeatedly, talked patiently over that subject so interesting to all valetudinarians, the long history of her sickness. Thus, by degrees, he learned what he was studying—the constitution of her mind. He found she was judicious, rational, self-denying, steadfast, humble, and patient; and he then proceeded to give his advice, not with the promise of curing her, but with the well-grounded expectation of protracting her life, and rendering it comparatively comfortable to herself and useful to others. After having gradually prepared her for his opinion, he told it, and found, as he expected, that her mind was soon made up to the defeat of her hopes, and to the certainty of enduring through life a very painful disease; and not merely because it was an inevitable calamity, for when she could trust her voice to speak, she said,
"I can yet say, sir, God's will he done! but I am so sorry for Susy's and Harry's disappointment!"
"I am very sorry too," said the kind doctor, wiping his eyes; "but it is better for them, as well as for you, that you should all know the real state of the case."
"Oh, yes, sir, far better; for I know it is much easier to endure when we are certain there is no help for us."
"Your case is not so bad as that, my child; I said there was no cure; there is help, if you will strictly adhere to the directions I give you; but it will be time enough for that to-morrow. I now leave you to rest, and to seek help and consolation where, I am sure, from your prompt submission, you are in the habit of going for it."
"I am, sir, and it never fails me."
"And it never will, my child. Happy is it for doctors and patients, when they are both in habits of dependance on the Great Physician."
The next day Charlotte met the doctor with a peaceful smile on her face. The flush of hope had faded from her cheek, but the sweet light of resignation was there,
"You have been to the unfailing source of strength and peace, my child," said the doctor, "and now sit down, and we will talk over what is best for the future. You have been, as you have told me, all your life in the habit of taking medicines from various doctors—now a sirup is recommended, now a mixture; now these pills, and now those; now some new foreign medicine, and now an Indian doctor's nostrums; and, worse than all, every now and then a course of medicine. Henceforth take no more of it, of any sort; it has no more tendency to remove your disease than it would have to restore your leg if it had been sawn off and thrown away. Medicines, drugs, my child, are all poisons. We are obliged to give them to arrest the progress of acute diseases; but, in chronic diseases, instead of curing, they obstruct and clog the efforts of nature, and confound her operations. They debilitate the stomach, and produce a thousand of what you call 'bad feelings,' evils often worse than the malady they are employed to cure. I'll tell you a secret, my child; the older we doctors grow, the less medicine we give; and, though the world is slow to get wisdom, drugs are much less in fashion than when I was a young man. Don't be persuaded to try this and try that; each dose may do you harm, and cannot possibly do you any good. Poor people do not know what an advantage they have over the rich, in not being able to call the doctor for every finger-ache, or to keep a well-furnished medicine-chest in their houses. I am no wizard, but I can usually tell by the looks of the family whether there are plenty of labelled vials in the cupboard. The poor have many facilities for health over the rich; I speak of the comparatively poor—thank God, there are few in our country that would be called poor in other lands—few who cannot obtain healthful food, and plenty of it. They are not, like the rich, tempted to excess by various and delicately-cooked dishes; but, then, from ignorance or carelessness, they do not properly prepare their food; you have heard the old proverb, my child—its meaning is too true—'the Lord sends meats, but the devil sends cooks.' The poor man's flour is as wholesome as the rich man's, but his wife makes her bread carelessly, and it is sour or heavy, or eaten hot, and about as digestible as brick-bats. A poor woman, for want of a little forethought and arrangement, gets her work into a snarl; meal-time is at hand—her husband coming in from his work—children hungry—she makes a little short-cake, or claps down before the fire in a spider some half-risen dough—is it not so?"
"Dear me! yes, sir—but how should you know it?"
"A physician sees every mode of life, and learns much in his profession by observing them. Such bread as I have described, I have seen accompanied with cucumbers, Dutch cheese, fried cakes, and messes of meat done up in grease. Half the fine gentlemen and nervous ladies in our city would have been thrown into fits or fevers by one such meal. The poor are saved by the invigorating effect of labour in the open air—when they are saved—but sickness and death often ensue.
"Among all our benevolent societies, I wish there was one for teaching the poor the arts of health—to begin with cooking well plain food. Why, if our poor knew how to manage their means of health and comfort, they might live as if they were in paradise. A sound mind in a sound body will make almost a paradise even of this rough-going world."
"I should think so, sir," said Charlotte, with a sigh; "but," she added, modestly, "I hope, doc"tor, you do not think we live at home in the way you have described?"
"Oh no, my child, certainly not, by no means."
"Indeed, we do not, sir; though I was only thirteen, and my little sister, our Susy, nine, when mother died, she had taught us to make her good bread. I mixed it, and Susy, a strong child, kneaded it: we always calculate to have light bread and good butter. We always have meat, for father thinks he can't do without it three times a day. Susy is a hearty eater, too—my appetite is poor, but our neighbours are very considerate, and seldom without pie, or cake, or preserves, or something relishing. You smile, sir—I don't wish to have you think we live daintily—I don't know how it is in cities, but country people are thoughtful of one another, and any one out of health has such things sent in."
"Pies, cakes, and preserves?""Yes, sir; things that taste pleasant, and are kind of nourishing." "Nourishing to the disease, my poor child, not to the patient. Pies, cakes, and sweetmeats are only fit for the healthy, and for those who can labour, or exercise, a name that, as somebody says, the rich give to their labour. Nor; if you mean to enjoy all the comfort your case admits of, you must discard these nice things."
"I can, sir, if it is duty."
"I do not doubt, my child, that you both can and will do whatever you believe to be duty, and I must have great confidence in those whom I believe able to subdue their appetites to perfect obedience in these matters. You will make it a religious duty—most persons are enslaved by their appetites, because they do not bring their religion to bear upon such a small matter as eating or not eating a bit of pie. The light of the sun is as essential to the hut as to the palace; so religion is as necessary to help us through small duties as great; it is easier to suffer martyrdom with its help, than to make a temperate meal without it. But there is no need of all this preaching to you, my child; you, I am sure, will cheerfully do whatever is necessary to preserve the faculties of your mind and body."
"I calculate to try to do what is about right, sir.""And that is the best possible calculation, and will lead to the very best result. There is nothing for me to do but to tell you how, in my opinion, you can best do your duty to your body—a poor infirm casket it is, but it contains an immortal treasure, and must therefore be taken good care It is not necessary to give the doctors directions, in regard to Charlotte's food, in detail. Her diet was to consist of plain food, plainly dressed; and when he finished, Charlotte said, with a smile,
"As to eating, sir, I shall be as well off as if I were the richest lady in the land, for I can easily get the food you think convenient for me."
"As well off, and far better, my dear child; I have many rich patients to whom I make the same prescription; but, surrounded as they are by tempting luxuries, they are for ever transgressing and suffering—they do not enough take to heart the wise saying, that they that do the things that please the Lord shall receive of the fruit of the tree of immortality. But, Miss Charlotte, there are other matters besides eating to which you must be attentive; gentle and regular exercise you must have—riding will not suit you."
"That's a real mercy, sir; for, since father has lost his horse, I have no way to ride."
"You have a little house-keeping, what the women call stirring about, to do—sweeping, washing dishes, setting tables, and so on?"
"Yes, sir, but I have let our Susy do it; and, when I was able, taken in sewing, because that brought us in a little money."
"You must not sit at your needle; none but the strong can bear that. Your little hardy sister must take that part."
"Well, that is a comfort, as Susy would herself say, for I want her to learn the tailoress' trade, and Miss Sally Baker had agreed to teach her for the rent of our back room."
"By all means," said the doctor, entering with the most benevolent interest into Charlotte's plans, "let Miss Sally have the back room; then Susy will be handy to call upon to do the heavier work, for you must not lift, or do any thing that requires strength—but I have observed that you women-folk can keep yourselves busy about what we men can't describe, nor even comprehend. Your housework is a source of contentment—a rich lady of my acquaintance says she envies her servants who have kitchen-work to go to in all their troubles."
"I never thought of that, sir; but it does lighten the heart to stir about, and it is a pleasure to make the most of a little, and have things orderly and comfortable."
"Oh yes, my child; the world is full of these small provisions for our happiness if we had but eyes to see them and hearts to feel them. But let me proceed to my prescriptions. You must wear flannel drawers and a flannel waistcoat with sleeves all the year round. This to an invalid is, in our varying climate, essential, for in no other way can the skin be kept of a warm and regular temperature. Can you procure the flannel, my child?"
"I think I can, sir; Susy and I calculated to get us new woollen gowns next winter, but I guess we can make the old ones do."
"That's right, my dear. If I could only persuade those who can't afford to get every thing, to dispense with new outside garments, and furnish themselves with plenty of flannel, I would promise to save them half their doctors' bills." The doctor then proceeded to a prescription which, at first, seemed very extraordinary to Charlotte; but he urged it so strenuously, and told her that he knew it from experience to be of the first importance in preserving the health of the healthy, and strengthening the invalid, that she resolved, whatever trouble it might cost her, to follow strictly his advice. This advice was, that she should every day bathe her whole person in cold water, and rub her skin till it was dry and warm. He knew she had not conveniences for bathing, but this might be effected with a tub, or even a basin of water, and a sponge. Charlotte afterward, and after long experience, acknowledged that this simple prescription had done her more good than all the medicine she had ever taken. Finally, the doctor charged her not to wear at night the garments she wore in the day; not to make up her bed till it was thoroughly aired; not to be afraid of fresh air; to let plenty of it into the house; and especially, if at any time she was so much indisposed as to be confined to her bed, to have the air of her room constantly changed. He said people suffered more from inattention to cleanliness and fresh air, than from any necessary physical evils. "I cannot," he said, in conclusion, "but observe the goodness of Providence in making those things which are essential to health accessible to all; I mean, to all the native population of our country; for they can have all that I have prescribed for you. Miss Charlotte; abundance of simple, nourishing food, warm garments, plenty of clean water, and pure air; the two last articles, more valuable than all the gold of Peru, are sadly undervalued and neglected."
At first it must be confessed that Charlotte was disappointed that the doctor prescribed no medicine, no plaster, nothing from which she might expect sudden relief; but she soon looked calmly and submissively at the case as it was, and received most thankfully the prospect of alleviation. Dr. —— inspired her with entire confidence; and afterward, in relating the story to Susan and Harry of her long interviews with him, she said it seemed to her mysterious he took such an interest in her. To them it did not, nor could it to any one who knew the sweetly patient sufferer, nor to any one who knew Dr. ——, and knew that he valued his profession chiefly as enlarging his means of doing moral and physical good to his fellow-creatures.
"And only think," said Charlotte, in conclusion, taking from her trunk a note which she had wrapped in her handkerchief, that it might get no spot or blemish on it, "only think, after all, after his coming to see me six times, and staying as long as if he had been a common doctor, and had not any other patient, only think of his sending me this billet at last."
In justice to Charlotte, we shall first give her note to the doctor, as we think it marks the dignity, integrity, and simplicity of her character.
"Honoured Sir—As father and I have concluded to leave to-morrow, will be much obliged if you will send in your bill this afternoon, if convenient. As, from all that's passed, sir, you may conclude that I ain't in circumstances to pay down, I would make bold to say that you need not scruple, as I have a large sum of money by me, given to me by my best friend, father and Susan excepted. Father sends his respectful duty to you, sir, and I mine, with many thanks; but neither money nor thanks can pay your kindness; and daily, respected sir, shall I ease my heart by remembering you in my prayers at the throne of grace, where we must all appear alike poor and needy, but where may you ever come with a sure foundation of hope, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
"I remain, sir, your faithful friend and well-wisher, Charlotte May."
To which note the doctor replied—
"My good friend Charlotte—I shall preface my answer to your note with letting you a little into my professional affairs. I do not make it a rule to attend the poor gratuitously, for many reasons; but principally because I have observed that what is got for nothing is seldom valued. I only take care to charge them according to their ability to pay. You, my child, are an exception to most of my patients—you have given me a lesson of meek and cheerful submission that is inestimable—I am your debtor, not you mine. Besides, strictly, I have no doctor's account against you. I have prescribed no medicine, and given you no advice that any man of sense and experience might not have given; therefore, my good girl, I have no claim on that 'large sum of money' which, God bless your 'best friend' for having given you. But forget not, my friend, your promise to remember me in your prayers; I have much faith in the 'prayers of saints.' My parting regards to your good father, and please deliver the accompanying parcels as directed. They are from my son and daughter, who hastily join me in esteem for you and yours. God bless you, my dear child.
One parcel was directed "To Miss Charlotte May's sister Susy" and the other, "To Miss Charlotte May's 'best friend, father and Susy excepted.'" The contents of Susan's parcel proved to be material for a nice winter dress (which, on measurement, turned out an abundance for two); and Harry's that capital manual for Americans, Selections from the Works of Franklin. Those who have returned from a journey with love-tokens in the trunk for the dear ones at home, can sympathize in the pleasure and gratitude of our humble friends.
One word more, and the affair of the journey is finished. Twenty dollars were left of Harry's gift after all the expenses of the journey were paid. It cannot be doubted that, as Charlotte said, "fifty dollars is a great sum" in the hands of the frugal poor. Charlotte ofiered him the balance as of course his; and, when he declined it, insisted, till he, a little hurt, said—"Why, Lottie, I should feel just as bad as they would in old times, if they had taken back a gift they had laid on the Lord's altar; but I'll take the money to father to put out for you." This was agreed on; and, being fortunately invested, it amounted in a few years to a hundred dollars; the income from it was seven a year, and this little Sum gave to our frugal and liberal Charlotte more of the real enjoyment of property than is often derived from productive thousands. She had the luxury of giving, and the tranquillizing feeling that she had something in reserve for a wet day.
- A friend of mine proposes that New-England artists should paint the goddess of health with flannel drawers in her hand.