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Very Poor
by [?]

“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 three.”

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 three now.”