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The Sorrows Of A Wealthy Citizen Post by :missopportunity Category :Essays Author :T. S. Arthur Date :November 2011 Read :3233

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The Sorrows Of A Wealthy Citizen

AH me! Am I really a rich man, or am I not? That is the question. I am sure I don't feel rich; and yet, here I am written down among the "wealthy citizens" as being worth seventy thousand dollars! How the estimate was made, or who furnished the data, is all a mystery to me. I am sure I wasn't aware of the fact before. "Seventy thousand dollars!" That sounds comfortable, doesn't it? Seventy thousand dollars!--But where is it? Ah! There is the rub! How true it is that people always know more about you than you do yourself.

Before this unfortunate book came out ("The Wealthy Citizens of Philadelphia"), I was jogging on very quietly. Nobody seemed to be aware of the fact that I was a rich man, and I had no suspicion of the thing myself. But, strange to tell, I awoke one morning and found myself worth seventy thousand dollars! I shall never forget that day. Men who had passed me in the street with a quiet, familiar nod, now bowed with a low salaam, or lifted their hats deferentially, as I encountered them on the pave.

"What's the meaning of all this?" thought I. "I haven't stood up to be shot at, nor sinned against innocence and virtue. I haven't been to Paris. I don't wear moustaches. What has given me this importance?"

And, musing thus, I pursued my way in quest of money to help me out with some pretty heavy payments. After succeeding, though with some difficulty in obtaining what I wanted, I returned to my store about twelve o'clock. I found a mercantile acquaintance awaiting me, who, without many preliminaries, thus stated his business:

"I want," said he, with great coolness, "to get a loan of six or seven thousand dollars; and I don't know of any one to whom I can apply with more freedom and hope of success than yourself. I think I can satisfy you, fully, in regard to security.

"My dear sir," replied I, "if you only wanted six or seven hundred dollars, instead of six or seven thousand dollars, I could not accommodate you. I have just come in from a borrowing expedition myself."

I was struck with the sudden change in the man's countenance. He was not only disappointed, but offended. He did not believe my statement. In his eyes, I had merely resorted to a subterfuge, or, rather, told a lie, because I did not wish to let him have my money. Bowing with cold formality, he turned away and left my place of business. His manner to me has been reserved ever since.

On the afternoon of that day, I was sitting in the back part of my store musing on some, matter of business, when I saw a couple of ladies enter. They spoke to one of my clerks, and he directed them back to where I was taking things comfortably in an old arm-chair.

"Mr. G----, I believe?" said the elder of the two ladies, with a bland smile.

I had already arisen, and to this question, or rather affirmation, I bowed assent.

"Mr. G----," resumed the lady, producing a small book as she spoke, "we are a committee, appointed to make collections in this district for the purpose of setting up a fair in aid of the funds of the Esquimaux Missionary Society. It is the design of the ladies who have taken this matter in hand to have a very large collection of articles, as the funds of the society are entirely exhausted. To the gentlemen of our district, and especially to those who leave been liberally blessed with this world's goods"--this was particularly emphasized--"we look for important aid. Upon you, sir, we have called first, in order that you may head the subscription, and thus set an example of liberality to others."

And the lady handed me the book in the most "of course" manner in the world, and with the evident expectation that I would put down at least fifty-dollars.

Of course I was cornered, and must do something, I tried to be bland and polite; but am inclined to think that I failed in the effort. As for fairs, I never did approve of them. But that was nothing. The enemy had boarded me so suddenly and so completely, that nothing, was left for me but to surrender at discretion, and I did so with as good grace as possible. Opening my desk, I took out a five dollar bill and presented it; to the elder of the two ladies, thinking that I was doing very well indeed. She took the money, but was evidently disappointed; and did not even ask me to head the list with my name.

"How money does harden the heart!" I overheard one of my fair visiters say to the other, in a low voices but plainly intended for my edification, as they walked off with their five dollar bill.

"Confound your impudence!" I said to myself, thus taking my revenge out of them. "Do you think I've got nothing else to do with my money but scatter it to the four winds?"

And I stuck my thumbs firmly in the armholes of my waistcoat, and took a dozen turns up and down my store, in order to cool off.

"Confound your impudence!" I then repeated, and quietly sat down again in the old arm-chair.

On the next day I had any number of calls from money-hunters. Business men, who had never thought of asking me for loans, finding that I was worth seventy thousand dollars, crowded in upon me for temporary favours, and, when disappointed in their expectations, couldn't seem to understand it. When I spoke of being "hard up" myself, they looked as if they didn't clearly comprehend what I meant.

A few days after the story of my wealth had gone abroad, I was sitting, one evening, with my family, when I was informed that a lady was in the parlour, and wished to see me.

"A lady!" said I.

"Yes, sir," replied the servant.

"Is she alone?"

"Yes, sir."

"What does she want?"

"She did not say, sir."

"Very well. Tell her I'll be down in a few moments."

When I entered the parlour, I found a woman, dressed in mourning, with her veil closely drawn.

"Mr. G----?" she said, in a low, sad voice.

I bowed, and took a place upon the sofa where she was sitting, and from which she had not risen upon my entrance.

"Pardon the great liberty I have taken," she began, after a pause of embarrassment, and in an unsteady voice. "But, I believe I have not mistaken your character for sympathy and benevolence, nor erred in believing that your hand is ever ready to respond to the generous impulses of our heart."

I bowed again, and my visiter went on.

"My object in calling upon you I will briefly state. A year ago my husband died. Up to that time I had never known the want of anything that money could buy. He was a merchant of this city, and supposed to be in good circumstances. But he left an insolvent estate; and now, with five little ones to care for, educate, and support, I have parted with nearly my last dollar, and have not a single friend to whom I can look for aid."

There was a deep earnestness and moving pathos in the tones of the woman's voice, that went to my heart. She paused for a few moments, overcome with her feelings, and then resumed:--

"One in an extremity like mine, sir, will do many things from which, under other circumstances she should shrink. This is my only excuse for troubling you at the present time. But I cannot see my little family in want without an effort to sustain them; and, with a little aid, I see my way clear to do so. I was well educated, and feel not only competent, but willing to undertake a school. There is one, the teacher of which being in bad health, wishes to give it up, and if I can get the means to buy out her establishment, will secure an ample and permanent income for my family. To aid me, sir, in doing this, I now make an appeal to you. I know you are able, and I believe you are willing to put forth your hand and save my children from want, and, it may be, separation."

The woman still remained closely veiled; I could not, therefore, see her face. But I could perceive that she was waiting with trembling suspense for my answer. Heaven knows my heart responded freely to her appeal.

"How much will it take to purchase this establishment?" I inquired.

"Only a thousand dollars," she replied.

I was silent. A thousand dollars!

"I do not wish it, sir, as a gift," she said "only as a loan. In a year or two I will be able to repay it."

"My dear madam," was my reply, "had I the ability most gladly would I meet your wishes. But, I assure you I have not. A thousand dollars taken from my business would destroy it."

A deep sigh, that was almost a groan, came up from the breast of the stranger, and her head dropped low upon her bosom. She seemed to have fully expected the relief for which she applied; and to be stricken to the earth by my words! We were both unhappy.

"May I presume to ask your name, madam?" said I, after a pause.

"It would do no good to mention it," she replied, mournfully. "It has cost me a painful effort to come to you; and now that my hope has proved, alas! in vain, I must beg the privilege of still remaining a stranger."

She arose, as she said this. Her figure was tall and dignified. Dropping me a slight courtesy, she was turning to go away, when I said,

"But, madam, even if I have not the ability to grant your request, I may still have it in my power to aid you in this matter. I am ready to do all I can; and, without doubt, among the friends of your husband will be found numbers to step forward and join in affording you the assistance so much desired, when they are made aware of your present extremity."

The lady made an impatient gesture, as if my words were felt as a mockery or an insult, and turning from me, again walked from the room with a firm step. Before I could recover myself, she had passed into the street, and I was left standing alone. To this day I have remained in ignorance of her identity. Cheerfully would I have aided her to the extent of my ability to do so. Her story touched my feelings and awakened my liveliest sympathies, and if, on learning her name and making proper inquiries into her circumstances, I had found all to be as she had stated, I would have felt it a duty to interest myself in her behalf, and have contributed in aid of the desired end to the extent of my ability. But she came to me under the false idea that I had but to put my hand in my pocket, or write a check upon the bank, and lo! a thousand dollars were forthcoming. And because I did not do this, she believed me unfeeling, selfish, and turned from me mortified, disappointed, and despairing.

I felt sad for weeks after this painful interview. On the very next morning I received a letter from an artist, in which he spoke of the extremity of his circumstances, and begged me to purchase a couple of pictures. I called at his rooms, for I could not resist his appeal. The pictures did not strike me as possessing much artistic value.

"What do you ask for them?" I inquired.

"I refused a hundred dollars for the pair. But I am compelled to part with them now, and you shall have them for eighty."

I had many other uses for eighty dollars, and therefore shook my head. But, as he looked disappointed, I offered to take one of the pictures at forty dollars. To this he agreed. I paid the money, and the picture was sent home. Some days afterward, I was showing it to a friend.

"What did you pay for it?" he asked.

"Forty dollars," I replied.

The friend smiled strangely.

"What's the matter?" said I.

"He offered it to me for twenty-five."

"That picture?"


"He asked me eighty for this and another, and said he had refused a hundred for the pair."

"He lied though. He thought, as you were well off, that he must ask you a good stiff price, or you wouldn't buy."

"The scoundrel!"

"He got ahead of you, certainly."

"But it's the last time," said I, angrily.

And so things went on. Scarcely a day passed in which my fame as a wealthy citizen did not subject me to some kind of experiment from people in want of money. If I employed a porter for any service and asked what was to pay, after the work was done, ten chances to one that he didn't touch his hat and reply,

"Anything that you please, sir," in the hope that I, being a rich man, would be ashamed to offer him less than about four times his regular price. Poor people in abundance called upon me for aid; and all sorts of applications to give or lend money met me at every turn. And when I, in self-defence, begged off as politely as possible, hints gentle or broad, according to the characters or feelings of those who came, touching the hardening and perverting influence of wealth, were thrown out for my especial edification.

And still the annoyance continues. Nobody but myself doubts the fact that I am worth from seventy to a hundred thousand dollars, and I am, therefore, considered allowable game for all who are too idle or prodigal to succeed in the world; or as Nature's almoner to all who are suffering from misfortunes.

Soon after the publication to which I have alluded was foisted upon our community as a veritable document, I found myself a secular dignitary in the church militant. Previously I had been only a pew-holder, and an unambitious attendant upon the Sabbath ministrations of the Rev. Mr----. But a new field suddenly opened before me; I was a man of weight and influence, and must be used for what I was worth. It is no joke, I can assure the reader, when I tell them that the way my pocket suffered was truly alarming. I don't know, but I have seriously thought, sometimes, that if I hadn't kicked loose from my dignity, I would have been gazetted as a bankrupt long before this time.

Soon after sending in my resignation as vestryman or deacon, I will not say which, I met the Rev. Mr----, and the way he talked to me about the earth being the "Lord's and the fullness thereof;" about our having the poor always with us; about the duties of charity, and the laying up of treasure in heaven, made me ashamed to go to church for a month to come. I really began to fear that I was a doomed man and that the reputation of being a "wealthy citizen" was going to sink me into everlasting perdition. But I am getting over that feeling now. My cash-book, ledger, and bill-book set me right again; and I can button up my coat and draw my purse-strings, when guided by the dictates of my own judgment, without a fear of the threatened final consequences before my eyes. Still, I am the subject of perpetual annoyance from all sorts of people, who will persist in believing that I am made of money; and many of these approach me in, such a way as to put it almost entirely out of my power to say "no." They come with appeals for small amounts, as loans, donations to particular charities, or as the price of articles that I do not want, but which I cannot well refuse to take. I am sure that, since I have obtained my present unenviable reputation, it hasn't cost me a cent less than two thousand, in money given away, loaned never to be returned, and in the purchase of things that I never would have thought of buying.

And, with all this, I have made more enemies than I ever before had in my life, and estranged half of my friends and acquaintances.

Seriously, I have it in contemplation to "break" one of these days, in order to satisfy the world that I am not a rich man. I see no other effectual remedy for present grievances.

(The end)
T. S. Arthur's essay: Sorrows Of A Wealthy Citizen

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