Home Lights and Shadows
T. S. Arthur
Part 5 out of 5
period of manhood, we may look back and see our Willie's face when
but a child."
"Every one who is able," remarked Mr. Morton, "should have the
portraits of his children taken. What better legacy could a father
leave to his child, than the image of his own innocent face! Surely,
it were enough to drive away thoughts of evil, and call up old and
innocent affections, for any man, even the man of crime, to look for
but a moment upon the image of what he was in childhood."
"And yet there are some," added Mrs. Morton, "who call portraits,
and indeed, all paintings, mere luxuries--meaning, thereby,
something that is utterly useless."
"Yes, there are such, but even they, it seems to me, might perceive
their use in preserving the innocent features of their children. The
good impressions made in infancy and childhood, are rarely if ever
lost; they come back upon every one at times, and are, frequently,
all-powerful in the influence they exert against evil. How like a
spell to call back those innocent thoughts and affections, would be
the image of a man's face in childhood! No one, it seems to me,
could resist its influence."
One, two, and three years passed away, and every one wrought some
change upon "little Willie," but each change seemed to the fond
parents an improvement,--yet, did they not look back to earlier
years, as they glanced at his picture, with less of tender emotion,
and heart-stirring delight. But now a sad change, the saddest of all
changes that occur, took place. Disease fastened upon the child, and
ere the parents, and fond sisters of a younger and only brother,
were fully sensible of danger, the spirit of the child had fled. We
will not linger to pain the reader with any minute description of
the deep and abiding grief that fell, like a shadow from an evil
wing overspreading them, upon the household of Mr. Morton, but pass
on to scenes more exciting, if not less moving to the heart.
For many weeks, Mrs. Morton could not trust herself to look up to
the picture that still hung in its place, the picture of her lost
one. But after time had, in some degree, mellowed the grief that
weighed down her spirits, she found a melancholy delight in gazing
intently upon the beautiful face that was still fresh and
unchanged--that still looked the impersonation of innocence.
"He was too pure and too lovely for the earth," she said, one day,
to her husband, about two months after his death, leaning her head
upon his shoulder--"and so the angels took him."
"Then do not grieve for him," Mr. Morton replied in a soothing tone.
"We know that he is with the angels, and where they are, is neither
evil, nor sorrow, nor pain. Much as I loved him, much as I grieved
for his loss, I would not recall him if I could. But, our picture
cannot die. And though it is mute and inanimate, yet it is something
to awaken remembrances, that, even though sad, we delight to
cherish. It is something to remind us, that we have a child in
But the loss of their child seemed but the beginning of sorrows to
Mr. Morton and his family. An unexpected series of failures in
business so fatally involved him, that extrication became
impossible. He was an honest man, and therefore, this sudden
disastrous aspect of affairs was doubly painful, for he knew no
other course but the honourable giving up of everything. On learning
the whole truth in relation to his business, he came home, and after
opening the sad news to his wife, he called his family around him.
"My dear children," he said, "I have painful news to break to you;
but you cannot know it too soon. Owing to a succession of heavy
failures, my business has become embarrassed beyond hope. I must
give up all,--even our comfortable and elegant home must be changed
for one less expensive, and less comfortable. Can you, my children,
bear with cheerfulness and contentment such a changed condition?"
The heart of each one had already been subdued and chastened by the
affliction that removed the little playmate of all so suddenly away,
and now the news of a painful and unlooked-for reverse came with a
shock that, for a few moments, bewildered and alarmed.
"Are not my children willing to share the good and evil of life with
their father?" Mr. Morton resumed after the gush of tears that
followed the announcement of his changed fortunes had in a degree
"Yes, dear father! be they what they may," Constance, the eldest, a
young lady in her seventeenth year, said, looking up affectionately
through her tears.
Mary, next in years, pressed up to her father's side, and twining an
arm around his neck, kissed his forehead tenderly. She did not
speak; for her heart was too full; but it needed no words to assure
him that her love was as true as the needle to the pole.
Eliza, but twelve, and like an unfolding bud half revealing the
loveliness and beauty within, could not fully comprehend the whole
matter. But enough she did understand, to know that her father was
in trouble, and this brought her also to his side.
"Do not think of us, dear father!" Constance said, after the pause
of a few oppressive moments. "Let the change be what it may, it
cannot take from us our father's love, and our father's honourable
principles. Nor can it change the true affection of his children. I
feel as if I could say, With my father I could go unto prison or to
The father was much moved. "That trial, my dear children, I trust
you may never be called upon to meet. The whole extent of the
painful one into which you are about to enter, you cannot now
possibly realize, and I earnestly hope that your hearts may not fail
you while passing through the deep waters. But one thought may
strengthen; think that by your patience and cheerfulness, your
father's burdens will be lightened. He cannot see you pained without
suffering a double pang himself."
"Trust us, father," was the calm, earnest, affectionate reply of
Constance; and it was plain, by the deep resolution expressed in the
faces of her sisters, that she spoke for them as well as herself.
And now, the shadow that was obscuring their earthly prospects,
began to fall thicker upon them. At the meeting of his creditors
which was called, he gave a full statement of his affairs.
"And now," he said, "I am here to assign everything. In consequence
of heavy, and you all must see, unavoidable, losses, this assignment
will include all my property, and still leave a small deficiency.
Beyond that, I can only hope for success in my future exertions, and
pledge that success in anticipation. Can I do more?"
"We could not ask for more certainly," was the cold response of a
single individual, made in a tone of voice implying no sympathy with
the debtor's misfortunes, but rather indicating disappointment that
the whole amount of his claim could not be made out of the assets.
Some degree of sympathy, some kind consideration for his painful
condition Mr. Morton naturally looked for, but nearly every kind
emotion for him was stifled by the sordid disappointment which each
one of his former business friends felt in losing what they valued,
as their feelings indicated, above everything else--their money.
"When will the assignment be made?" was the next remark.
"Appoint your trustees, and I am ready at any moment."
Trustees were accordingly appointed, and these had a private
conference with, and received their instructions from the creditors.
In a week they commenced their work of appraisement. After a
thorough and careful examination into accounts, deeds, mortgages,
and documents of various kinds, and becoming satisfied that every
thing was as Mr. Morton had stated it, it was found that the
property represented by these would cover ninety cents in the
"Your furniture and plate comes next," said one of the trustees.
Mr. Morton bowed and said, while his heart sunk in his bosom--
"To-morrow I will be ready for that."
"But why not to-day?" inquired one of the trustees. "We are anxious
to get through with this unpleasant business."
"I said to-morrow," Mr. Morton replied, while a red spot burned upon
The trustees looked at each other, and hesitated.
"Surely," said the debtor, "you cannot hesitate to let me have a
single day in which to prepare my family for so painful a duty as
that which is required of me."
"We should suppose," remarked one of the trustees, in reply, "that
your family were already prepared for that."
The debtor looked the last speaker searchingly in the face for some
moments, and then said, as if satisfied with the examination--
"Then you are afraid that I will make way, in the mean time, with
some of my plate!"
"I did not say so, Mr. Morton. But, you know we are under oath to
protect the interest of the creditors."
An indignant reply trembled on the lips of Morton, but he curbed his
feelings with a strong effort.
"I am ready now," he said, after a few moments of hurried
self-communion. "The sooner it is over the better."
Half an hour after he entered his house with the trustees, and sworn
appraiser. He left them in the parlour below, while he held a brief
but painful interview with his family.
"Do not distress yourself, dear father!" Constance said, laying her
hand upon his shoulder. We expected this, and have fully nerved
ourselves for the trial."
"May he who watches over, and regards us all, bless you, my
children!" the father said with emotion, and hurriedly left them.
A careful inventory of the costly furniture that adorned the
parlours was first taken. The plate was then displayed, rich and
beautiful, and valued; and then the trustees lifted their eyes to
the wall--they were connoisseurs in the fine arts; at least one of
them was, but a taste for the arts had, in his case, failed to
soften his feelings. He looked at a picture much as a dealer in
precious stones looks at a diamond, to determine its money-value.
"That is from Guido," he said, looking admiringly at a sweet
picture, which had always been a favourite of Mr. Morton's, "and it
is worth a hundred dollars."
"Shall I put it down at that?" asked the appraiser, who had little
experience in valuing pictures.
"Yes; put it down at one hundred. It will bring that under the
hammer, any day," replied the connoisseur. "Ah, what have we here? A
copy from Murillo's 'Good Shepherd.' Isn't that a lovely picture?
Worth a hundred and fifty, every cent. And here is 'Our Saviour,'
from Da Vinci's celebrated picture of the Last Supper; and a
'Magdalen' from Correggio. You are a judge of pictures, I see, Mr.
Morton! But what is this?" he said, eyeing closely a large
engraving, richly framed.
"A proof, as I live! from the only plate worth looking at of
Raphael's Madonna of St. Sixtus. I'll give fifty dollars for that,
The pictures named were all entered up by the appraiser, and then
the group continued their examination.
"Here is a Sully," remarked the trustee above alluded to, pausing
before Willie's portrait.
"But that is a portrait," Mr. Morton said, advancing, while his
heart leaped with a new and sudden fear.
"If it is, Mr. Morton, it is a valuable picture, worth every cent of
two hundred dollars. We cannot pass that, Sir."
"What!" exclaimed Mr. Morton, "take my Willie's portrait? O no, you
cannot do that!"
"It is no doubt a hard case, Mr. Morton," said one of the trustees.
"But we must do our duty, however painful. That picture is a most
beautiful one, and by a favourite artist, and will bring at least
two hundred dollars. It is not a necessary article of household
furniture, and is not covered by the law. We should be censured, and
justly too, if we were to pass it."
For a few moments, Mr. Morton's thoughts were so bewildered and his
feelings so benumbed by the sudden and unexpected shock, that he
could not rally his mind enough to decide what to say or how to act.
To have the unfeeling hands of creditors, under the sanction of the
law, seize upon his lost Willie's portrait, was to him so unexpected
and sacrilegious a thing, that he could scarcely realize it, and he
stood wrapt in painful, dreamy abstraction, until roused by the
"Put it down at a hundred and fifty," given to the appraiser, by one
of the trustees.
"Are your hearts made of iron?" he asked bitterly, roused at once
into a distinct consciousness of what was transpiring.
"Be composed, Mr. Morton," was the cold, quiet reply.
"And thus might the executioner say to the victim he was
torturing--_Be composed_. But surely, when I tell you that that
picture is the likeness of my youngest child, now no more, you will
not take it from us. To lose that, would break his mother's heart.
Take all the rest, and I will not murmur. But in the name of
humanity spare me the portrait of my angel boy."
There was a brief, cold, silent pause, and the trustees continued
their investigations. Sick at heart, Mr. Morton turned from them and
sought his family. The distressed, almost agonized expression of his
countenance was noticed, as he came into the chamber where they had
"Is it all over?" asked Mrs. Morton.
"Not yet," was the sad answer.
The mother and daughter knew how much their father prized his choice
collection of pictures, and supposed that giving an inventory of
them had produced the pain that he seemed to feel. Of the truth,
they had not the most distant idea. For a few minutes he sat with
them, and then, recovering in some degree, his self-possession, he
returned and kept with the trustees, until everything in the house
that could be taken, was valued. He closed the door after them, when
they left, and again returned to his family.
"Have they gone?" asked Constance, in a low, almost whispering
"Yes, my child, they have gone at last."
"And what have they left us?" inquired Mrs. Morton somewhat
"Nothing but the barest necessaries for housekeeping."
"They did not take our carpets and--"
"Yes, Mary," said Mr. Morton interrupting her, "every article in the
parlors has been set down as unnecessary."
"O, father!" exclaimed the eldest daughter, "can it be possible?"
"Yes, my child, it is possible. We are left poor, indeed. But for
all that I would not care, if they had only left us Willie's
Instantly the mother and daughters rose to their feet, with blanched
cheeks, and eyes staring wildly into the father's face.
"O no, not Willie's portrait, surely!" the mother at length said,
mournfully. "We cannot give that up. It is of no comparative value
to others, and is all in all to us."
"I plead with them to spare us that. But it was no use," Mr. Morton
replied. "The tenderest ties in nature were nothing to them in
comparison with a hundred and fifty dollars."
"But surely," urged Constance, "the law will protect us in the
possession of the picture. Who ever heard of a portrait being seized
upon by a creditor?"
"It is a cruel omission; but nevertheless, Constance, there is no
law to protect us in keeping it."
"But they shall _not_ have it!" Mary said indignantly. "I will take
it away this very night, where they can never find it."
"That would be doing wrong my child," Mr. Morton replied. "I owe
these men, and this picture, they say, will bring a hundred and
fifty dollars. If they claim it, then, I cannot honestly withhold
it. Let us, then, my dear children, resolve to keep our consciences
clear of wrong, and endeavor patiently to bear with our afflictions.
They can only result in good to us so far as we humbly acquiesce in
them. Nothing happens by chance. Every event affecting us, I have
often told you, is ordered or permitted by Divine Providence, and is
intended to make us better and wiser. This severest trial of all, if
patiently borne, will, I am sure, result in good."
But, even while he tried to encourage and bear up the drooping
spirits of his family, his own heart sunk within him at the thought
of losing the portrait of his child.
One week sufficed to transfer his property into the hands of the
individuals appointed to receive it. He sought to make no
unnecessary delay, and, therefore, it was quickly done. At the end
of that time, he removed his family into a small house at the
northern extremity of the city, and furnished it with the scanty
furniture that, as an insolvent debtor the law allowed him to claim.
Ere he left his beautiful mansion with his wife and children, they
all assembled in the parlour where still hung Willie's sweet
portrait. The calm, innocent face of the child had for their eyes a
melancholy beauty, such as it had never worn before; and they gazed
upon it until every cheek was wet, and every heart oppressed. A sale
of the furniture had been advertised for that day, and already the
house had been thrown open. Several strangers had come in to make
examinations before the hour of sale, and among them was a young
man, who on observing the family in the parlour, instinctively
withdrew; not, however before he had glanced at the picture they
were all looking at so earnestly. Aware that strangers were
gathering, Mr. Morton and his family soon withdrew, each taking a
last, lingering, tearful glance at the dear face looking so sweet,
so calm, so innocent.
Their new home presented a painful and dreary contrast to the one
from which they had just parted. In the parlours, the floors of
which were all uncarpeted there were a dozen chairs, and a table,
and that was all! Bedding barely enough for the family, with but
scanty furniture, sufficed for the chambers; and the same exacting
hands had narrowed down to a stinted remnant the appendages of the
It was an hour after the closing in of evening, and the family
greatly depressed in spirits, were gathered in one of the chambers,
sad, gloomy, and silent, when the servant which they had retained
came in and said that Mr. Wilkinson was below and wished to see Miss
"Indeed, indeed, mother, I cannot see him!" Constance said bursting
into tears. "It is cruel for him to come here so soon," she added,
after she had a little regained her self-possession.
"You can do no less than see him Constance," her mother said. "Do
not lose that consciousness of internal truth of character which
alone can sustain you in your new relations. You are not changed,
even if outward circumstances are no longer as they were. And if Mr.
Wilkinson does not regard these do not you. Meet him my child, as
you have ever met him."
"We have only met as friends," Constance replied, while her voice
trembled in spite of her efforts to be calm.
"Then meet now as friends, and equals. Remember, that, all that is
of real worth in you remains. Adversity cannot rob you of your true
"Your mother has spoken well and wisely," Mr. Morton said. "If Mr.
Wilkinson, whom I know to be a man of most sterling integrity of
character, still wishes your society, or ours, it must not, from any
foolish pride or weakness on our part, be denied."
"Then I will see him, and try to meet him as I should, though I feel
that the task will be a hard one," Constance replied. And her pale
cheek and swimming eye, told but too well, that it would need all
her efforts to maintain her self-possession.
In a few minutes she descended and met Mr. Wilkinson in the parlour.
"Pardon me," he said advancing and taking her hand as she entered,
"for so soon intruding upon you after the sad change in your
condition. But I should have been untrue to the kind feelings I bear
yourself and family, had I, from a principle of false delicacy,
staid away. I trust I shall be none the less welcome now than
"We must all esteem the kindness that prompted your visit,"
Constance replied with a strong effort to subdue the troubled
emotions within, and which were but too plainly indicated, by her
now flushed cheek and trembling lips.
"No other feeling induced me to call, except indeed, one stronger
than that possibly could be--" Mr. Wilkinson said, still holding her
hand, and looking intently in her face--" the feeling of profound
regard, nay, I must call it, affection, which I have long
entertained for you."
A declaration so unexpected, under the circumstances, entirely
destroyed all further efforts on the part of Constance, to control
her feelings. She burst into tears, but did not attempt to withdraw
"Can I hope for a return of like sentiment, Constance?" he at length
A few moments' silence ensued, when the weeping girl lifted her
head, and looked him in the face with eyes, though filled with
tears, full of love's tenderest expression.
"I still confide in my father, Mr. Wilkinson," was her answer.
"Then I would see your father to-night."
Instantly Constance glided from the room, and in a few minutes her
father came down into the parlour. A long conference ensued; and
then the mother was sent for, and finally Constance again. Mr.
Wilkinson made offers of marriage, which, being accepted, he urged
an immediate consummation. Delay was asked, but he was so earnest,
that all parties agreed that the wedding should take place in three
In three days the rite was said, and Wilkinson, one of the most
prosperous young merchants of Philadelphia, left for New York with
his happy bride. A week soon glided away, at the end of which time
"Where are we going?" Constance asked, as they entered a carriage on
landing from the steamboat.
"To our own house, of course!" was her husband's reply.
"You didn't tell me that you had taken a house, and furnished it."
"Didn't I? Well, that is something of an oversight. But you hardly
thought that I was so simple as to catch a bird without having a
cage first provided for it."
"You had but little time to get the cage," thought Constance, but
she did not utter the thought.
In a few minutes the carriage stopped before a noble dwelling, the
first glance of which bewildered the senses of the young bride, and
caused her to lean silent and trembling upon her husband's arm, as
she ascended the broad marble steps leading to the entrance. Thence
she was ushered hurriedly into the parlours.
There stood her father, mother, and sisters, ready to receive her.
There was every article of furniture in its place, as she had left
it but a little over a week before. The pictures, so much admired by
her father, still hung on the wall; and there, in the old spot, was
Willie s dear portrait, as sweet, as innocent, as tranquil as ever!
One glance took in all this. In the next moment she fell weeping
upon her mother's bosom.
A few words will explain all. Mr. Wilkinson, who was comparatively
wealthy, was just on the eve of making proposals for the hand of
Constance Morton, when the sudden reverse overtook her father, and
prostrated the hopes of the whole family. But his regard was a true
one, and not to be marred or effaced by external changes. When he
saw the sale of the house and furniture announced, he determined to
buy all in at any price. And he did so. On the day of the sale, he
bid over every competitor.
On the night of his interview with Constance and her father, he
proposed a partnership with the latter.
"But I have nothing, you know, Mr. Wilkinson," he replied.
"You have established business habits, and extensive knowledge of
the operations of trade, and a large business acquaintance. And
besides these, habits of discrimination obtained by long experience,
which I need. With your co-operation in my business, I can double my
profits. Will you join me?"
"It were folly, Mr. Wilkinson, to say nay," Mr. Morton replied.
"Then I will announce the co-partnership at once," he said.
And it was announced before the day of marriage, but Constance did
not see it.
A happy elevation succeeded of course, the sudden, painful, but
brief depression of their fortunes. Nor was any of that tried family
less happy than before. And one was far happier. Still, neither Mr.
Morton, nor the rest could ever look at Willie's portrait without
remembering how near they had once been to losing it, nor without a
momentary fear, that some change in life's coming mutations might
rob them of the precious treasure, now doubly dear to them.
"WHAT has become of the Wightmans?" I asked of my old friend Payson.
I had returned to my native place after an absence of several years.
Payson looked grave.
"Nothing wrong with them, I hope. Wightman was a clever man, and he
had a pleasant family."
My friend shook his head ominously.
"He was doing very well when I left," said I.
"All broken up now," was answered. "He failed several years ago."
"Ah! I'm sorry to hear this. What has become of him?"
"I see him now and then, but I don't know what he is doing."
"And his family?"
"They live somewhere in Old Town. I havn't met any of them for a
long time. Some one told me that they were very poor."
This intelligence caused a feeling of sadness to pervade my mind.
The tone and manner of Payson, as he used the words "very poor,"
gave to them more than ordinary meaning. I saw, in imagination, my
old friend reduced from comfort and respectability, to a condition
of extreme poverty, with all its sufferings and humiliations. While
my mind was occupied with these unpleasant thoughts, my friend said,
"You must dine with me to-morrow. Mrs. Payson will be glad to see
you, and I want to have a long talk about old times. We dine at
I promised to be with them, in agreement with the invitation; and
then we parted. It was during business hours, and as my friend's
manner was somewhat occupied and hurried, I did not think it right
to trespass on his time. What I had learned of the Wightmans
troubled my thoughts. I could not get them out of my mind. They were
estimable people. I had prized them above ordinary acquaintances;
and it did seem peculiarly hard that they should have suffered
misfortune. "Very poor"--I could not get the words out of my ears.
The way in which they were spoken involved more than the words
themselves expressed, or rather, gave a broad latitude to their
meaning. "VERY poor! Ah me!" The sigh was deep and involuntary.
I inquired of several old acquaintances whom I met during the day
for the Wightmans; but all the satisfaction I received was, that
Wightman had failed in business several years before, and was now
living somewhere in Old Town in a very poor way. "They are miserably
poor," said one. "I see Wightman occasionally," said another--"he
looks seedy enough." "His girls take in sewing, I have heard," said
a third, who spoke with a slight air of contempt, as if there were
something disgraceful attached to needle-work, when pursued as a
means of livelihood. I would have called during the day, upon
Wightman, but failed to ascertain his place of residence.
"Glad to see you!" Payson extended his hand with a show of
cordiality, as I entered his store between two and three o'clock on
the next day.
"Sit down and look over the papers for a little while," he added.
"I'll be with you in a moment. Just finishing up my bank business."
"Business first," was my answer, as I took the proffered newspaper.
"Stand upon no ceremony with me."
As Payson turned partly from me, and bent his head to the desk at
which he was sitting, I could not but remark the suddenness with
which the smile my appearance had awakened faded from his
countenance. Before him was a pile of bank bills, several checks,
and quite a formidable array of bank notices. He counted the bills
and checks, and after recording the amount upon a slip of paper
glanced uneasily at his watch, sighed, and then looked anxiously
towards the door. At this moment a clerk entered hastily, and made
some communication in an undertone, which brought from my friend a
disappointed and impatient expression.
"Go to Wilson," said he hurriedly, "and tell him to send me a check
for five hundred without fail. Say that I am so much short in my
bank payments, and that it is now too late to get the money any
where else. Don't linger a moment; it is twenty five minutes to
The clerk departed. He was gone full ten minutes, during which
period Payson remained at his desk, silent, but showing many signs
of uneasiness. On returning, he brought the desired check, and was
then dispatched to lift the notes for which this late provision was
"What a life for a man to lead," said my friend, turning to me with
a contracted brow and a sober face. "I sometimes wish myself on an
island in mid ocean. You remember C----?"
"He quit business a year ago, and bought a farm. I saw him the other
day. 'Payson,' said he, with an air of satisfaction, 'I haven't seen
a bank notice this twelvemonth.' He's a happy man! This note paying
is the curse of my life. I'm forever on the street
financiering--_Financiering_. How I hate the word! But come--they'll
be waiting dinner for us. Mrs. Payson is delighted at the thought of
seeing you. How long is it since you were here? About ten years, if
I'm not mistaken. You'll find my daughters quite grown up. Clara is
in her twentieth year. You, of course, recollect her only as a
school girl. Ah me! how time does fly!"
I found my friend living in a handsome house in Franklin street. It
was showily, not tastefully, furnished, and the same might be said
of his wife and daughters. When I last dined with them--it was many
years before--they were living in a modest, but very comfortable
way, and the whole air of their dwelling was that of cheerfulness
and comfort. Now, though their ample parlors were gay with rich
Brussels, crimson damask, and brocatelle, there was no genuine home
feeling there. Mrs. Payson, the last time I saw her, wore a
mousseline de lain, of subdued colors, a neat lace collar around her
neck, fastened with a small diamond pin, the marriage gift of her
father. Her hair, which curled naturally, was drawn behind her ears
in a few gracefully falling ringlets. She needed no other ornament.
Anything beyond would have taken from her the chiefest of her
attractions, her bright, animated countenance, in which her friends
ever read a heart-welcome.
How changed from this was the rather stately woman, whose real
pleasure at seeing an old friend was hardly warm enough to melt
through the ice of an imposed formality. How changed from this the
pale, cold, worn face, where selfishness and false pride had been
doing a sad, sad work. Ah! the rich Honiton lace cap and costly
cape; the profusion of gay ribbons, and glitter of jewelry; the
ample folds of glossy satin; how poor a compensation were they for
the true woman I had parted with a few years ago, and now sought
beneath these showy adornments in vain!
Two grown-up daughters, dressed almost as flauntingly as their
mother, were now presented. In the artificial countenance of the
oldest, I failed to discover any trace of my former friend Clara.
A little while we talked formally, and with some constraint all
round; then, as the dinner had been waiting us, and was now served,
we proceeded to the dining-room. I did not feel honored by the
really sumptuous meal the Paysons had provided for their old friend;
because it was clearly to be seen that no honor was intended. The
honor was all for themselves. The ladies had not adorned their
persons, nor provided their dinner, to give me welcome and pleasure,
but to exhibit to the eyes of their guest, their wealth, luxury, and
social importance. If I had failed to perceive this, the
conversation of the Paysons would have made it plain, for it was of
style and elegance in house-keeping and dress--of the ornamental in
all its varieties; and in no case of the truly domestic and useful.
Once or twice I referred to the Wightmans; but the ladies knew
nothing of them, and seemed almost to have forgotten that such
persons ever lived.
It did not take long to discover that, with all the luxury by which
my friends were surrounded, they were far from being happy. Mrs.
Payson and her daughters, had, I could see, become envious as well
as proud. They wanted a larger house, and more costly furniture in
order to make as imposing an appearance as some others whom they did
not consider half as good as themselves. To all they said on this
subject, I noticed that Payson himself maintained, for the most
part, a half-moody silence. It was, clearly enough, unpleasant to
"My wife and daughters think I am made of money," said he, once,
half laughing. "But if they knew how hard it was to get hold of,
sometimes, they would be less free in spending. I tell them I am a
poor man, comparatively speaking; but I might as well talk to the
"Just as well," replied his wife, forcing an incredulous laugh;
"why will you use such language? A poor man!"
"He that wants what he is not able to buy, is a poor man, if I
understand the meaning of the term," said Payson, with some feeling.
"And he who lives beyond his income, as a good many of our
acquaintances do to my certain knowledge, is poorer still."
"Now don't get to riding that hobby, Mr. Payson," broke in my
friend's wife, deprecatingly--"don't, if you please. In the first
place, it's hardly polite, and, in the second place, it is by no
means agreeable. Don't mind him"--and the lady turned to me
gaily--"he gets in these moods sometimes."
I was not surprised at this after what I had witnessed, about his
house. Put the scenes and circumstances together, and how could it
well be otherwise? My friend, thus re-acted upon, ventured no
further remark on a subject that was so disagreeable to his family.
But while they talked of style and fashion, he sat silent, and to my
mind oppressed with no very pleasant thoughts. After the ladies had
retired, he said, with considerable feeling--
"All this looks and sounds very well, perhaps; but there are two
aspects to almost everything. My wife and daughters get one view of
life, and I another. They see the romance, I the hard reality. It is
impossible for me to get money as fast as they wish to spend it. It
was my fault in the beginning, I suppose. Ah! how difficult it is to
correct an error when once made. I tell them that I am a poor man,
but they smile in my face, and ask me for a hundred dollars to shop
with in the next breath. I remonstrate, but it avails not, for they
don't credit what I say. AND I AM POOR--poorer, I sometimes think,
than the humblest of my clerks, who manages, out of his salary of
four hundred a year, to lay up fifty dollars. He is never in want of
a dollar, while I go searching about, anxious and troubled, for my
thousands daily. He and his patient, cheerful, industrious little
wife find peace and contentment in the single room their limited
means enables them to procure, while my family turn dissatisfied
from the costly adornments of our spacious home, and sigh for richer
furniture, and a larger and more showy mansion. If I were a
millionaire, their ambition might be satisfied. Now, their ample
wishes may not be filled. I must deny them, or meet inevitable ruin.
As it is, I am living far beyond a prudent limit--not half so far,
however, as many around me, whose fatal example is ever tempting the
weak ambition of their neighbors."
This and much more of similar import, was said by Payson. When I
returned from his elegant home, there was no envy in my heart. He
was called a rich and prosperous man by all whom I heard speak of
him, but in my eyes, he was very poor.
A day or two afterwards, I saw Wightman in the street. He was so
changed in appearance that I should hardly have known him, had he
not first spoken. He looked in my eyes, twenty years older than when
we last met. His clothes were poor, though scrupulously clean; and,
on observing him more closely, I perceived an air of neatness and
order, that indicates nothing of that disregard about external
appearance which so often accompanies poverty.
He grasped my hand cordially, and inquired, with a genuine interest,
after my health and welfare. I answered briefly, and then said:
"I am sorry to hear that it is not so well with you in worldly
matters as when I left the city."
A slight shadow flitted over his countenance, but it grew quickly
"One of the secrets of happiness in this life," said he, "is
contentment with our lot. We rarely learn this in prosperity. It is
not one of the lessons taught in that school."
"And you have learned it?" said I.
"I have been trying to learn it," he answered, smiling. "But I find
it one of the most difficult of lessons. I do not hope to acquire it
A cordial invitation to visit his family and take tea with them
followed, and was accepted. I must own, that I prepared to go to the
Wightmans with some misgivings as to the pleasure I should receive.
Almost every one of their old acquaintances, to whom I had addressed
inquiries on the subject, spoke of them with commiseration, as "very
poor." If Wightman could bear the change with philosophy, I hardly
expected to find the same Christian resignation in his wife, whom I
remembered as a gay, lively woman, fond of social pleasures.
Such were my thoughts when I knocked at the door of a small house,
that stood a little back from the street. It was quickly opened by a
tall, neatly-dressed girl, whose pleasant face lighted into a smile
of welcome as she pronounced my name.
"This is not Mary?" I said as I took her proffered hand.
"Yes, this is your little Mary," she answered. "Father told me you
Mrs. Wightman came forward as I entered the room into which the
front door opened, and gave me a most cordial welcome. Least of all
had time and reverses changed her. Though a little subdued, and
rather paler and thinner, her face had the old heart-warmth in
it--the eyes were bright from the same cheerful spirit.
"How glad I am to see you again!" said Mrs. Wightman. And she was
glad. Every play of feature, every modulation of tone, showed this.
Soon her husband came in, and then she excused herself with a smile,
and went out, as I very well understood, to see after tea. In a
little while supper was ready, and I sat down with the family in
their small breakfast room, to one of the pleasantest meals I have
ever enjoyed. A second daughter, who was learning a trade, came in
just as we were taking our places at the table, and was introduced.
What a beautiful glow was upon her young countenance! She was the
very image of health and cheerfulness.
When I met Wightman in the street, I thought his countenance wore
something of a troubled aspect--this was the first impression made
upon me. Now, as I looked into his face, and listened to his
cheerful, animated conversation, so full of life's true philosophy,
I could not but feel an emotion of wonder. "Very poor!" How little
did old friends, who covered their neglect of this family with these
commiserating words, know of their real state. How little did they
dream that sweet peace folded her wings in that humble dwelling
nightly; and that morning brought to each a cheerful, resolute
spirit, which bore them bravely through all their daily toil.
"How are you getting along now Wightman?" I asked, as, after bidding
good evening to his pleasant family, I stood with him at the gate
opening from the street to his modest dwelling.
"Very well," was his cheerful reply. "It was up hill work for
several years, when I only received five hundred dollars salary as
clerk, and all my children were young. But now, two of them are
earning something, and I receive eight hundred dollars instead of
five. We have managed to save enough to buy this snug little house.
The last payment was made a month since. I am beginning to feel
And he laughed a pleasant laugh.
"Very poor," I said to myself, musingly, as I walked away from the
humble abode of the Wightmans. "Very poor. The words have had a
On the next day I met Payson.
"I spent last evening with the Wightmans," said I.
"Indeed! How did you find them? Very poor, of course."
"I have not met a more cheerful family for years. No, Mr. Payson
they are not '_very poor_,' for they take what the great Father
sends, and use it with thankfulness. _Those who ever want more than
they possess are the very poor._ But such are not the Wightmans."
Payson looked at me a moment or two curiously, and then let his eyes
fall to the ground. A little while he mused. Light was breaking in
"Contented and thankful!" said he, lifting his eyes from the ground.
"Ah! my friend, if I and mine were only contented and thankful!"
"You have cause to be," I remarked. "The great Father hath covered
your table with blessings."
"And yet we are poor--VERY POOR," said he, "for we are neither
contented nor thankful. We ask for more than we possess, and,
because it is not given, we are fretful and impatient. Yes, yes--we,
not the Wightmans, are poor--very poor."
And with these words on his lips, my old friend turned from me, and
walked slowly away, his head bent in musing attitude to the ground.
Not long afterwards, I heard that he had failed.
"Ah!" thought I, when this news reached me, "now you are poor, VERY
poor, indeed!" And it was so.
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