The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man/Chapter VII
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Chapter VII. Love-Letters
|Chapter VIII. A Peep into the Poor Rich Man's House→|
Three weeks passed away, and nothing more was heard of Adeline's news, save that once, when Paulina, in Susan's presence, was bantered about the house of "Finley and Aikin," she tittered and bridled her head, and had all the airs of a spoiled girl who is rallied about her lover; and save that, when Paulina, after a month's mourning, doffed her crape bonnet and veil, and put on a pink hat with artificial flowers, the premature transition was imputed to an approaching wedding, and not to the obvious and perfectly sufficient cause—the pretty girl's extravagant love of dress.
At last Uncle Phil brought home that rare blessing to our simple friends, a letter, from the post-office.
"Here's something for you, gals," said he, "as scarce as gold now-a-days—a letter from Harry."
"Oh, better than gold!" said Charlotte, holding out her hand.
"No, no, it's Susy's this time; why don't you jump, Susy?"
Susan moved slowly, and took it with a trembling hand. Her fears, she thought, now were to become certainty.
"What are you afraid of, child?" continued her father; "there can't be any bad news in it, 'cause it's got a red wafer; and besides, Harry writ it himself. Give it to me—no, I have broken my spectacles—you read it, Lottie."
"Yes, so do, Lottie," said Susan; "I want to see if my iron is hot."
"That beats the Dutch," said Uncle Phil; "if I had twenty irons in the fire I should let them burn to hear news from Harry."
Poor Susan! we hope our readers will excuse her for giving a false gloss once in her life. "I can bear any thing," so she thought, "if I am alone with Lottie, and she first sees it." Her sister soon followed her with the open letter.
"Bad news, Susy," she said, "but not what we expected."
"Then it can't be very bad," exclaimed Susan, the clouds vanishing from her face; she seized the letter, and read as follows:—
"My dear Susan—It is a long time since I have written to you; but I have been in much perplexity and anxiety, and have been waiting to see daylight. We have failed, Finley and I, as might have been expected; neither of us having any experience in the business we undertook. As soon as I found we could not meet our notes, I made a thorough examination into our affairs, and found we could just pay our debts and no more. So to-morrow we close the concern. I have many times regretted I did not take Charlotte's advice, and not enter into a business for which I was not qualified. I would now gladly return to my trade, but confinement to business, and anxiety, have had an unfavourable effect on my health, and I am more than ever troubled with that old pain in my breast. I sometimes think, Susan, a sight of your sunny face would cure me; that and all good things I trust will come; in the meantime, patience. In prosperity and adversity, my heart ever turns towards my dear Essex friends, who must believe me their friend and brother, "Harry Aikin."
"I never did fully believe it!" exclaimed Susan, as she closed the letter.
Susan blushed. "You know what, Lottie." Charlotte smiled. "Are you not sorry for Harry's failure?" she asked.
"Oh, yes—sorry? No—no, I am not sorry for any thing just at this moment," and Susan covered her face, and wept for joy. Then, dashing off her tears, she read the letter over again. "After all," she said, "for any thing he writes here, he may be going to marry Paulina; but I know he is not." Susan's happy faith was well founded. Harry's letter gave no details, for he never wrote his own praises, even indirectly. "Not he that commendeth himself is approved."
When, at the close of their second year's partnership, he ascertained the unfavourable condition of their affairs, he insisted on making them known at once to their creditors, that they might suffer the least possible inconvenience from the failure of punctual payment. Morris Finley remonstrated. He saw, or affected to see, flattering prospects ahead; and at last, when Harry absolutely refused to go on, Morris insisted on making a compromise with their creditors. He adduced case upon case where this had been done in similar circumstances, and a pretty penny saved, and no reputation lost. Harry would not listen to his proposition. He said, the frequency of such proceedings was an argument in his mind against them. He would not add his mite to sully the mercantile reputation of his country; and that if, by the arrangement Finley proposed, he did not lose his good name, he should lose his self-respect, which was still dearer to him. The inflexibly honest man is unmanageable, and Finley was at last compelled to yield. They stopped in time to pay every penny of their debts, and retain the respect of their creditors; and Harry began the world anew, with fresh vigour, springing from a conscience void of offence. Morris profited by Harry's firmness. One of their creditors, struck by the honesty of the firm, and giving the parties equal credit for it, offered Finley an employment which, as he afterward said, was the first rung of the ladder on which he mounted to fortune.
Some months passed away, and Paulina continued to be a belle in Essex, and flattered by young men of every degree. The report of her engagement to Harry was found to have arisen from the devotions of his partner, Morris Finley, to her. These devotions were abated by a third marriage of Paulina's mother, by which she put into the hands of a young spendthrift some fifteen thousand dollars, received from her last doting and deluded husband. Paulina seemed at first much affected by Finley's desertion; but, after a while, she turned to other lovers; and, when her mother's young husband deserted and left her penniless, both mother and daughter returned to New-York and opened a milliner's shop: the mother soon after died. It was said that Paulina moved to Philadelphia; but, though unfavourable reports reached Essex concerning her, nothing was certainly known.
In the meantime, save two or three short letters by private opportunities (for our friends could not afford the luxury of post intercourse), the sisters heard nothing from Harry till the following letter arrived.
"Dear Susan—My prospects, since the breakup last spring, are much improved; but particulars in my next. All I want to know is, whether you will share my lot with me? Pray write by return of post, and believe me now, as you well know I have ever been, though I never put it into words before, your friend and true lover, "Harry Aikin.
"P. S.—I know, dear Susan, you are not a person to take or refuse a husband for any thing separate from himself; but I may mislead you by what I said above. I am still what the world calls a poor man—particulars in my next."
Susan's first sensations on reading Harry's letter were those of perfect and unlimited happiness. "I always felt," she said to Charlotte, "as if I knew he loved me; and now I wonder I let Adeline's story trouble me for one moment."
Again and again the sisters read over Harry's letter; Charlotte seeming, in her own quiet way, scarcely less happy than Susan. Early in the evening Charlotte went to her own room. Uncle Phil made it a rule to go to bed when the fowls went to roost; (there was no faint resemblance in their degree of intellectual life), and Susan was left in possession of their little sitting-room to pour out her overflowing heart in a letter to Harry. It was a letter befitting the frank and feeling creature who wrote it; and such a letter as any lover would be enraptured to receive. When she went to her room, Charlotte was not in bed, but just rising from her knees; she smiled as she turned towards Susan, and Susan saw that her cheeks were wet with tears.
"Why, what's the matter, Lottie?" she asked.
"I have been trying, Susy, to get courage to look into the future." Her voice faltered as she added, "The time is coming when we must separate."
"Oh, Lottie, I never thought of that! how could I be so selfish!" All the castles she had been building in the air fell at once to the ground. Her first impulse was to say—" No, I will never leave you, Lottie."
But she had just written a promise to Harry to. be his; and she was silent, and quite as sorrowful as Charlotte at the conviction that, for the first time in their lives, their interests were divided. Hour after hour she was restless and thoughtful; at last she came to a conclusion, sad enough in some of its aspects, but it tranquillized her. She nestled up to her sister, put her arm over her, and fell asleep, repeating to herself, "It's a comfort, any how, to resolve to do right." Well may reflection be called an angel, when it suggest duties, and calls into action principles strong enough to meet them. Before Susan closed her letter, she made the following addition:—
"P. S.—Dear Harry—I wrote this letter last evening, and shall send it; for why should I, if I could, conceal my real feelings from you? Since we were playfellows at school, I have loved you best, and you only, Harry; for the time to come, I must love you only as a brother. Oh, how strange it is, that the black and the white threads are always twisted together in human life. Last evening I was so happy writing this letter; but, when I went into the bedroom, Lottie's face was covered with tears; and she spoke of our separation, and all flashed upon me at once. What could she and father do without me? They do now their full part towards keeping the family together, but they can neither of them bring in any thing, and they would be obliged to look to the town for support. Is not that awful to think of? So you see, dear Harry, I cannot leave them—our path is plain, and, as dear Lottie would say, may we have grace to walk therein. It is very dark now, Harry; but, if we only try to do right, the day will soon break, and grow brighter and brighter. Please don't say one word to persuade me off my resolution, for we are weak creatures at best, and we should stand together, and strengthen and uphold one another. Above all, don't say a word about my reasons to father and Lottie; and believe me, dear Harry, not a bit less your affectionate friend because I can't forsake them. "Susan May."
By return of post came the following answer from Harry:—
"Dearest Susan—Forsake father and Lottie!' that you never shall. When I wrote my last, it was only to get that blessed little word yes from you, for I must make sure of my title before I laid out the future. One thing only I am a little hurt at. Could you think I could leave out Charlotte in my plans?—a dear sister, counsellor, and friend she has ever been to me—and your good father, who so much needs some one to care for him? Ah, Susan, I have had my reflections too; and I think our path is plain before us, and, with good resolution on our part, and Charlotte's prayers to help us, we shall have grace to walk therein. But I must tell you all, and then look for your final answer.
"When I invested my patrimony in the shoe concern with Finley, I expected soon to be in a situation to offer you my hand, and begin house-keeping in New-York with four members to the family, for never once have I thought of dividing you from your father and Lottie. I did not tell you my hopes and plans, because I feared I should not after that have patience to wait as long as prudence required. One thing I am sure of, dear Susan, from my own experience—that a virtuous love is the greatest earthly security a young man can have against the temptations and dangers that beset him. I am sure my affection for you has made me diligent in business, frugal, earnest in my pursuits, and patient in ray disappointments. If I had felt (which, thank God, I never did) any inclination to forbidden pleasures, to dangerous company, to dissipation of any sort, the thought of you would have been a shield to me. Knowing you and Charlotte so well,and the memory of my excellent mother, have given me a reverence for female virtue—a belief in the power and beauty of goodness in a woman—and to this, Susan, love naturally follows—that pure love that is ordained by God to lead to the holy institution of marriage.—But what are my thoughts running to? Don't laugh at me, and I will go back to my business statements.
"When I began business I took lodgings at a carman's. He is a good friend of mine, and with him I could live at a small expense in a quiet family. I have avoided living or associating with those who had more means than I, for that leads to expense. I have never spent a shilling on superfluities, for which I have now much reason to be thankful; for, even if I had escaped that dreadful load, unpaid debts, I might, like many other young men, have acquired habits of expense on the credit of future gains. The gains may not come—the habits remain, like so many tormentors. When I was asked by a friend to go to an oyster-house, or the theatre, or the circus, or to take a bottle of porter, or drink a glass of whiskey, I declined. I knew, if I did it for my friend's sake this time, I might do it for my own the next. I had my treats—my pleasant thoughts of the time when I should have a table of my own, and faces round it that I loved. It is sure we can't have every thing in this world, and the thing is to make up our mind what we must have, and what we can do without. You can guess my must have.
"When I found Finley and I were going behindhand, I determined to stop short, and not, as many do, put off the evil day, plunging deeper and deeper, making enemies, and making plenty of work for repentance. When our affairs were settled up I had a hundred dollars in my pocket, and no one to look me in the face and say I owed him a shilling, or had wronged him of one. The next thing was to determine on what business I should follow. You know my breast was much weakened by sitting over my lapstone when I was growing fast. It is a bad trade to put a growing boy to. I could not return to it. A farm in one of the free western states seemed to me the happiest lot in the world for a poor man; but there were hardships in the beginning, and, though you and I would not have minded them, your father and Lottie could not have stood them. A farm at Essex I dared not think of: a man must have some capital and knowledge, practice and skill, to go ahead in New-England on a farm, and I had none of these. While I was deliberating, my good friend Mr. Loomis, the carman, determined to move to Ohio. He advised me to take up his business, and offered to sell me his horse and cart on very reasonable terms, and to recommend me to his employers. There were many reasons to decide me to take his advice. I find exercise in the open air the best medicine for the pain in my breast. Carting is a sure and regular business. I have observed that the carmen in this city, those whose carts are never seen standing before groceries, are a healthy, cheerful-looking class of men. They go slowly but surely ahead. They can generally manage to take their meals with their families, and to spend all their evenings at home—a great point to a man who loves home faces and home pleasures as I do. Some persons think it is going down a step to go from shop-keeping to carting; but you and I, Susan, have our own notions about going up and down, and both think it is what is in a man, and not what is out of him, that humbles or exalts him. Some think that most genteel which brings them nearest to being idle gentlemen; but, when I am driving through Broadway on my cart, do you think I would change places with those slim-looking young men I see parading up and down the street, looking like tailors' walking advertisements—bringing nothing to pass—doing nothing with the time God gives them in this world, and gives them—for what? Oh, it would take a minister to answer that.
"I might have gone into trade of some kind, but I have not health to be shut up behind a counter; and besides, in my opinion, a shop is a fitting place for women only, they being (don't be affronted, Susy) the weaker sex. You see now how my case stands. I have no debts. I have good health for the business I have chosen, industry, and a faculty I may boast. So I think I may marry in this blessed country of ours, where there is sure employment, and a man is certain of getting his earnings. Besides, dear Susan, if any thing happens to me, you have your trade to depend upon. Give my best love to Charlotte, and tell her, besides being a main comfort, she will be a real help to us; for while she is doing the light work, your needle will be making money. If your father has any scruples about coming, pray tell him the rent of his Essex place will pay for the rent of a room here, and save us from near neighbours we may not like. Am I not calculating, Susan? But is it not better to calculate beforehand than to grumble afterward? I am sure I am right, so far as I can, to secure independence to your father and Charlotte; and if, after all, they must take something from us, those who are so generous in giving will be also generous in receiving, and they will not grudge us the best part, it being more blessed to give than to receive.
"There is one thing I can scarcely bear the thoughts of—taking you all from that pleasant little spot in Essex, where you have riches for the eye that all the money in New-York cannot buy in the city—plenty of sweet air and pure water; and your garden, and your little courtyard, with its rose-bushes, morning-glories, pionies, and marvels of Peru. But, after all, dear Susan, there are feelings worth giving up the very best of outward things for; and if we secure auction, and kindness, and so forth, we sha'n't have made a bad bargain of it, shall we? We may be what the world calls poor, and miscals, in my estimation. Let us begin, in the fear and love of God, with a determination to do our duty—rich in love for one another, and at peace with all men; and if worst comes to worst, why, that will be outside poverty. I do not fear it, do you? Answer this without fail by return of post. Much duty and love to your (my?) father and Charlotte, and believe me, till death, your friend and lover, "Harry Azkin.
"P. S.—I was so taken up with one subject that I forgot to mention that Finley was married last evening to a Miss Nichols. Her father entered into speculation last winter, and is said to be rich. Finley he never gave Paulina Clark reason to expect to marry him; perhaps not in words; but, the old proverb is, 'actions speak loudest.' To my mind, a man who attends to a girl, and then quits her, adds hypocrisy to falsehood. I foresaw how this matter would end when I heard that Paulina's mother had made that third marriage; Finley would have liked a handsome wife, but he must have a rich one. He has set out in the world for what he calls the main chance; I have my main chance too, and that depends on you. Poor Paulina! But I'll not tell bad news (which may not be true) in this letter. H. A."
Morris Finley and Harry Aikin had begun life with objects diametrically opposite, and were destined to illustrate that saying, as true now as when, ages ago, it was first uttered:—"There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing—there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches."
- Has any one ever calculated the amount of wealth and comfort to be produced to the labouring classes by the introduction of pure water into the city of New-York? Health and cleanliness are sources of wealth, and of comfort inappreciable.