The Poor Rich Man, and the Rich Poor Man/Chapter VI

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We pass over several years in the annals of our young friends. The current of their lives had flowed smoothly on. Charlotte, living in rigid obedience to the laws of health, as laid down and expounded by Dr. ——, and to the laws of heaven, as applied by her faithful conscience, had enjoyed a degree of health and comfort that she had not anticipated. Susan, at nineteen, was an accomplished tailoress; and, what is most rare, her health and sunny cheerfulness had been in nowise impaired by her confinement to her needle. She was a singular union of sweet temper and efficiency; and the only seamstress we ever heard of, that, for year after year, so far resisted the effects of sedentary employment as to sing at her work.

"What is the reason, Susan May," said an acquaintance to her, "that you are always so well and light-hearted? Poor Sally Baker did not do as much work as you, and yet the doctors said it was sitting so steadily that brought on her dyspepsy; and only see Jane Mills, she is a sight to behold! and nothing but sewing, the doctors say."

"Nothing but sewing, they may say, Adeline Sally Baker used to sit in her little stove-room from morning till night, and never let in any fresh air any more than if it were poison: poor Jane did get a little walk when she went to her place in the morning, but she was always behindhand with her work; never could say no, and would set up half the night to oblige her customers; and, after all, was tormented to death with reproaches for broken promises; and then, when her appetite failed, she used to live on pies, and cakes, and such trash. As Lottie's doctor told her, God has written laws in our constitutions, and if we break them we must pay for it."

"But how do you manage, Susan—your cheeks are as fresh as roses?"

"I began, Adeline, with an excellent constitution; and Lottie, knowing the value of health, watched over it. She made me follow her New-York doctor's rules about washing myself."

"Washing yourself! I should like to know if everybody don't wash themselves; I am sure Sally Baker, and Jane Mills too, were neat as pinks."

"So they were, Adeline; but few even of neat people know the importance of daily bathing the whole person, and rubbing it smartly with a coarse cloth."

"That's what I call superstition."

"You may call it what you please, Adeline; but I believe that, and changing my clothes, airing the bed, and the house, and room, have kept my cheeks, as you say, fresh as roses. Lottie never lets me sit more than two hours at a time at my needle; she calls me to do a chore, or run of an errand. She will not let me pass one day, rain or shine, without exercise in the open air. Neither cold, wet, nor heat hurts me. As to my lightheartedness, Adeline, that's natural to me; but Lottie has helped to keep that up too, by taking care that I don't get fretted at by my customers. She never would let me make a promise that I was not sure of performing. I often get my work done beforehand, and I take pains to fit and please, and somehow I think our Essex folks are easy to please; and smiles beget smiles, you know—if they are pleased, I am. And then it's such a heart-comfort to keep the family together, now father is getting old and feeble."

"After all, Susan, I guess," said her visiter, with an ominous contraction of the lips, "you'll not always be so lighthearted."

"Maybe not; but I don't believe in borrowing trouble."

"It may come without borrowing—they say it's a bad sign to feel too well."

"I don't believe in signs, Adeline."

"You may—they say everybody believes prophecy after it comes to pass."

"Do you mean any thing in particular?" asked Susan, struck more by her companion's tone than her words; "if you do, pray speak out."

"Have you seen Paulina Clark?"

"Paulina Clark! is she in Essex?"

"Yes; her mother's husband is dead, and they have come back here to live; and they say the old man left the widow a fortune; and Paulina is dressed as if it was true—all in fine bombasin, and a crape veil down to her feet, and a black bead bag, and every thing answerable; though you know she did not scruple to say she hated the old man while he was alive."

"I am sorry she behaves so unbecomingly; she was always fond of outside show, Paulina; but I remember Harry used to say that was natural, she was so handsome."

"Don't you think it strange, Susan, that some people can be so taken up with beauty?"

"Oh, I don't know; I like to look at every thing that is beautiful."

"But should you think that such a person as Harry Aikin would put beauty before every thing?"

"I don't think he does," replied Susan, keeping her eyes steadfastly to her work, and slightly blushing.

"Well, I don't know whether it is the beauty or the fortune; but it must be one or the other, or both—for I am sure, in other respects, you are far enough before Paulina Clark; and everybody thought Harry was paying attention to you before he left Essex."

"Harry was always like a brother to Charlotte and me," replied Susan, her voice a little tremulous.

"Like a brother to Charlotte he might have been; but he was more like something else to you, and everybody thought so."

"Everybody don't know every thing," rejoined Susan, her eyes still riveted to her work, and her heart throbbing so that it seemed to her her companion must hear it.

"Well, now," continued the persevering gossip, "Susan May, be candid, and own, if you should hear that Harry Aikin was going to marry Paulina Clark, should not you feel as if he had deceived you?"

"No," replied Susan, now speaking firmly, and looking her companion full in the face; "if all the world, and Charlotte, thought Harry paid me particular attention—and if I sometimes had thought so too, and if he marries Paulina Clark to-morrow, I should think we were all mistaken, and Harry true-hearted."

"Well, you'll be put to the trial, for Paulina as good as owned to me her expectations; but I am sorry for your disappointment, for you can't but say 'tis a disappointment." Susan said nothing, and her tormentor proceeded. "It's nothing new nor strange; them that has not any interest[1] must expect to be slighted; and I have often heard that when young men get to New-York, all they think of is making money, and getting a wife that will make a show with it; and you say yourself that Harry thought Paulina a beauty."

Susan made no reply, and Adeline, having succeeded in making her uncomfortable, began to feel very much so herself, from the effect of Susan's quiet dignity; and, much to Susan's satisfaction, she cut short her visit and disappeared. When Charlotte entered a few moments after, she found Susan's work had dropped on the floor, and she was leaning her head on the chair and sobbing. This was a strange sight; for, let the clouds be ever so heavy, there was always a glimmering of blue sky where Susan was.

Inquiries and explanations followed. Susan's heart was turned inside out; not a thought, feeling, prostrate hope, or piercing regret, was concealed from Charlotte, who, though in a more subdued manner, was scarcely less grieved than Susan.

When they could talk calmly about it, Susan said, "Come what will, I never shall blame Harry in the least. You know how many times he has said we were just like sisters to him; and it was perfectly natural, when he went to live in New-York, he should like people that had New-York ways."

"But, Susan, it does seem to me strange that Harry should ever fancy Paulina; she has not his ways of thinking, or acting, or feeling."

"Oh, Lottie, Paulina is handsome—they say the best of men are carried away with beauty."

"Not Harry, I am sure; and, besides, I have heard him say—I never told you, because I did not want to flatter you—but I heard him say, when we went to hear Squire Willard's fourth of July oration—the day Paulina wore that new pink satin bonnet—and somebody said Squire Willard never took his eyes from her all the time he was speaking—"

"What did Harry say, Charlotte?"

"Harry whispered to me, and said he liked your looks a thousand times better than Paulina's."

"Did he? did he?—he would not say so now!"

"Maybe not. I shall always think, if he had not gone to New-York, that would have come to pass that we expected; but I believe, Susy, it is very hard to keep from being worldly-minded in a city. When I was in New-York, as I have often told you, the chief conversation was about dress and making money. Oh how I did long to hear something about something profitable. You know I never was in favour of Harry's going there—I never liked his going into partnership with Morris Finley—he'd better have sat over his lapstone the rest of his life."

"But, Lottie, you forget the weakness in his breast."

"I do—that was a good reason for giving up his trade, but not for going to New-York."

"Yes, but you forget what flattering prospects he had; and," she added, with a sigh, "after his parents' death, he had not much to keep him here; and, having all his portion of the estate in money, he thought it would enable him to carry on business to the greatest advantage in New-York. He explained all this to our satisfaction then."

"Yes; and when he told us about his plans, and seemed to be in such a hurry to get ahead, I was sure he was hinting at sharing with you, though he did not seem to think it best to speak out."

"I thought so too, Lottie; but I know I was very much to blame for setting my heart that way, when I had no more reason; and then, his always writing and sending something by every opportunity—to be sure, the letters were directed to you, but somehow they always seemed written to me; and then be was sure to send some present that he knew I should like better than any thing else in the world; but it's now a long, long time since we have heard from him, and yet we never suspected any thing."

"No, Susy, because we never in our lives suspected Harry could do any but the right thing. It will be very hard to make up our minds to see him Paulina's husband."

"Harry Paulina's husband! Oh, it's awful to think of I But, if she were only worthy of him—if she could make him happy, I could be as—happy, I was going to say, but that would not be true—but I could be contented for myself and thankful for him."

Both sisters were silent for a few moments, when Charlotte said—

"If we can't have things right in this world, we can have right feelings; let us kneel down and pray together, Susan."

"Oh, yes, Lottie, that is always a comfort."

The sisters knelt, locked in each other's arms, Charlotte was the organ of both their hearts, and most earnestly did she pray that they might walk together in integrity and thankfulness in whatsoever path it should please the Almighty to mark out for them, even were it through a solitary wilderness; that they might remember that their Lord and Master did not promise his followers their portion in this world; that they might humbly and faithfully do the duty appointed them, and not repine because they could not choose what that duty should be.

She poured forth an earnest petition for their best friend; that he might be directed aright; that he might be delivered from the many evils and temptations that surrounded him; and that she with whom his heart was knit might have the grace as well as the gifts of God.

When their heart-service was over, Susan said she felt as if a load were taken from her. "He," she said to Charlotte, "who commanded us to pray for our enemies, certainly knew what was in us: how differently we feel towards any one we earnestly pray for!"

From this time there was no apparent change in the sisters, except that Susan pursued her labours with even more than usual avidity, and sometimes a remark would escape from her that showed the course of her thoughts; such as, "I am sure, Charlotte, of having enough to do in this world, and that's a real comfort; for one can't be very unhappy while there is enough to do."

That Adeline's prophecy was verified, was obvious; a portion of her lightheartedness was gone, and even Uncle Phil remarked that "she did not sing as she used to;" he "wished she would; he had rather hear her than a bird." Meanwhile Charlotte watched her with a blending of the sister's sympathy, and the mother's tenderness; and daily, as she saw that Susan's resolution was carrying her serenely through the storm, did she offer her humble thanksgiving to Him who she knew was the source of her strength and peace.

  1. Interest is, in rustic sense, property.