صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني


THE man who defined etiquette as 'great among the small and little among the large affairs of life,' spoke like an acute observer. But life has few great things; at least, they are scarce with most people-the occupations, the motives, and even the cares of mankind being, for the greater part, composed of an infinitude of trifles linked and interwoven together till each becomes important by its union with a thousand. Some philosophers have, indeed, argued that nothing of either moral or physical existence could be properly termed greater or less than another, as all were parts of one stupendous whole,' according to Pope; but, whatever truth they may contain, these are abstruse speculations, and very apt to turn absurd also in the setting forth of ordinary minds, for whom it is safer to abide by the common comparatives. A single glance along the course of his daily life will satisfy any man that it is made up, so to speak, of generations of small matters, succeeding each other as regularly and imperceptibly as the minutes, and forgotten as soon as past, till all that memory retains out of a considerable period are some prominent scenes and events, the details of which would not occupy more than a couple of hours or a few printed pages in their relation. On the same principle the history of a mighty kingdom is contained in two or three volumes, and the important facts may be included in still smaller compass. Socially and personally, we live for and by trifles; and truly etiquette is great among them, whether termed a science, an art, or an institute, for by all these designations it has been known. On no subject was there ever more time and labour expended; no branch has had more enthusiastic teachers, more numerous scholars, or greater variety of practice. The volumes that have been written on etiquette would of themselves alone constitute a library; but though instruction might be gleaned out of them by those who could find sermons in stones, it is to be feared they would form what Miss Simper found the acts of Parliament, very genteel reading, but a little dry.' Etiquette has been known to all ages and nations; the highest civilisation and the deepest barbarism have entertained it, though with different variations; and it is remarkable that, however singular in this respect, the latter is by far the most punctilious. A native of New Guinea would consider himself grossly insulted if his acquaintance did not square his fists at him the moment he became visible; and a Nogay widow could have no chance of a second husband if she appeared in public without an oxbladder, inflated to its utmost extent, upon her brow. A pious missionary gives a curious account of his visit to three Indian chiefs, who had come over to London, in order, as they said, to hold a palaver with their great father, George III. The missionary had been among their native forests, and of course thought proper to wait upon them in the English metropolis; but he was obliged to wait from twelve o'clock till three in the afternoon, when the red gentlemen had finished their toilet of paint and feathers, without which they could not present themselves. Did ever Bond Street foppery surpass these children of the woods?

No depth of savagism has yet been discovered in which etiquette is unknown; it is found among tribes possessing scarcely any other vestige of human knowledge or habits; even the New Hollanders have their ceremonies of salutation and leave-taking, though in many respects but little advanced beyond the apes and kangaroos that divide with them the Australian wilds. In short, our subject is one of the social peculiarities of man, which hangs about all the institutions of society, but many and singular are its developments. In some of the Malay tribes it is necessary for two long-parted friends, when they meet, to burst into a strain of mutual abuse, the violence of which is in proportion to their intimacy, and appear on the verge of a fierce battle, which is, however, terminated by sudden reconciliation and a long shaking of hands. The natives of the Friendly Islands were accustomed, on similar occasions, to pull off each other's tappa and clothe themselves with

it in turn. Legal etiquette among ourselves has been ridiculed on account of the barrister's dress and some other ceremonial observances, but the laws of other lands have required still more peculiar displays of deference. In Persia any criminal whose punishment was less than capital was expected to send a letter of thanks to the king, in which he expressed his gratitude that the monarch had remembered him so far as to correct his faults. In the kingdom of Cacongo, in Central Africa, the prince, who generally administers justice in person, is required to take a draught of palm wine on the sentence of every convicted person, dispensing with which would render the proceedings extremely unformal. The bridal occasion gives scope for large displays of etiquette in most nations. When the sure prospect of a wedding is attained in any Turkish family, the mother and all the female relatives of the bride elect, especially if the match be considered very eligible, assemble for the purpose of lamentation, the burden of which is the many excellences of the young lady, and their grief at losing her. Loud cries and other eastern demonstrations of sorrow are thus renewed at intervals till the marriagefeast is prepared, when all become gay as heart could wish over coffee and sherbet. Among the Bedouin Arabs it is necessary for a respectable young lady, when married, to escape out of her husband's tent and not be found for some days, during which the efforts of her female acquaintances for her concealment are only equalled by those of the spouse and his friends for her discovery; and she who cannot be caught till it is her own good will and pleasure to return, which at farthest occurs in a month, is believed to have acquitted herself in the most graceful manner. In Armenia it is not etiquette for the bride to speak at all on her wedding-day, nor in the presence of her mother-in-law for the first year after marriage, but this description of ceremony has never been introduced into Europe. The Chinese are known to exceed most nations in the minutiae and strictness of their etiquette, one dictate of which the French missionaries, who preached so successfully among them in the beginning of the last century, found particularly annoying, for no persuasion could induce a widower, though a nominal convert, to defer a second marriage beyond the funeral of his former spouse-the Chinese always insisting that it was the fashion of the Celestial Empire to furnish the vacancy in his heart and home as soon as possible. Demonstrative and extravagant on every occasion, the Orientals have been remarkable, from the earliest times, for their ritual of exaggerated compliments, but a similar fashion seems to have prevailed in Europe, especially during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, many examples of which remain in the literature of that period, and in the addresses presented to Queen Elizabeth and her contemporaries. In much later days it was practised in the south of Italy to such an extent that a formal though very unreal kind of presentation of anything they happen to admire was made by the more polite classes to their acquaintances; and an anecdote in point records the disappointment of an English nobleman on being refused permission to fish in a lake which the churlish marchesa had presented to him the day before. A curiously kindred custom existed among the Indians of North America. When the English and French were disputing the possession of that great continent, about the middle of the eighteenth century, the red man's etiquette was to present his acquaintance with whatever part of his property the former had dreamt of on the previous night; and the friendly chiefs, by virtue of this regulation, seemed in a fair way of stripping the English officers of every portable article, from brass buttons to watches. A lucky thought at length entered the mind of the Scotch major, and he also commenced dreaming; but his midnight visions comprised such vast quantities of bison meat, honey, and hunting-ground, that the Indians, from sheer terror of further results, agreed to waive the long-established custom of their tribes, and no more dreams were repeated.

The silence regarding ladies' years, so strictly enforced by old European politeness, seems to have had its wellspring in the etiquette of Siam, according to which women,

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

no matter how far advanced in age, are addressed in terms of the most egregious flattery, such as young palm of paradise,' new diamond of unrivalled lustre,' youthful rose of supernal bloom,' and others of like gorgeous strain. In contrast to this, the dames of Negroland consider old grandmother' a salutation implying the highest respect. Mungo Park found considerable difficulty in pacifying a woman who had quarrelled with his servant for giving her what she regarded as the inferior title of old mother.' But, speaking of titles, a king of India is said to have made a remarkable alteration in his court vocabulary some cen. turies ago. Being preserved from assassination by the accidental braying of an ass, which awoke him in time to defeat the murderous intention, he commanded that, in commemoration of the event, and by way of royal reward to the animal, 'ass' should henceforth be employed as the chief title of honour throughout his dominions, and great ass' was always appropriated to foreign ambassadors and his prime ministers. The etiquette of Asia exacts singular demonstrations of respect from the inferior classes in the presence of their superiors. In Persia a servant must sit on his heels when before his master. In Japan the mode of saluting a man of rank by one of the lower orders is to take off his sandal, stoop almost to his knees, cross his hands, and literally waddle past, with a rocking motion and terrified countenance, muttering Augh! Augh!' (Do not hurt me!) The Siamese inferior throws himself flat on the ground while the great man is passing, and the latter, if he considers anything disagreeable in his dress or appearance, notices him with a kick, but if the contrary, sends one of his attendants, who are generally numerous, to lift him up again. Throughout the whole east it is considered most respectful to appear before superiors with the head covered and the feet bare, in direct contradiction to our western usages. From time immemorial etiquette has reigned pre-eminent in courts. It forbids the Emperor of Japan to allow the sun to shine upon him, or his foot to touch the ground. Its ban is laid on asking the number of the Turkish sultan's family, and by its decrees the Great Mogul was never to be seen by mortal eyes to either eat or drink. But perhaps the most striking for the vicinity of a throne is contained in the rules of the Empress Anne of Russia- No lady shall get drunk, nor any gentleman box in the precincts of the palace.' This stands without a parallel, except in the law of the Bohemian gipsies-That neither man nor boy should throw stones at the king.'

Classic etiquette differed in almost every particular from that of modern times: it prescribed that the company should lie at table on a sort of large ottoman, with their heads turned toward the festive board, and it was covered with dishes, the ingredients of which could not now be tolerated; that an elegant soiree must consist of no less than three, and no more than six guests; that the principal room should be nearest the roof; and that the middle seat was the place of honour.

Heraldry was the etiquette of the feudal ages, and its services, in at once embellishing, and in some degree controlling, the ferocity of those turbulent times, are well known to all students of history. Besides being a professional master of ceremonies, the herald acted as a general ambassador, and a decisive authority in all disputed questions of honour or precedence; hence his office was respected next to that of the priest; and the herald's ability and usefulness in cases of threatened disseusion are referred to by Sir Walter Scott in his poem of Marmion,' when describing Sir David Lindsay, himself a celebrated poet, but of distant times, he calls him a king at arms,'

"Whose hand the armorial truncheon held,
That fendal strife had often quell'd,

When wildest its alarms.'

Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, is said to have been the father of modern court etiquette. He was a prince possessed of such royal virtues as were deemed sufficient in his age to entitle him to the truly honourable surname we have quoted; but, like too many of those who are not princes, his pride far exceeded his possessions, and finding it impossible to rival the great sovereigns by whom he was

surrounded, he intrenched his dignity with innumerable ceremonies and observances at home. These gradually spread into the superior courts as manners became more polished and thrones more secure, but nowhere did they' attain to a greater amount and solemnity than around the Spanish throne, especially after the conquest of Granada. ⠀ The kings of Spain and all about them in those days seem to have led a kind of automaton life, of which royal state was the only moving principle. There is a story on record of one of the monarchs of this period, who was such a tyrannical enforcer of etiquette that he refused to pardon a young student condemned to death, as the law then stood, for touching the person of the queen, though it was, done in order to save her majesty's life, when she was about to be thrown from her horse over a precipice. The youth was beheaded, and the king lived to grow old and infirm; but once, when seated before a fire in the chill of his age, a spark caught the royal robes, and as debility was by this time added to etiquette, the orders had to be transmitted through five intervening attendants to the lord chamberlain, who alone dared remove his majesty. That functionary could not be found in time, and the king was so severely burned before he made his appearance that his death took place some days after. The royal confessor is said to have been present, but he absolutely refused to render any assistance, the act being contrary to etiquette, saying he had long ago received a warning to that effect. for the student who saved the queen was his brother. The chroniclers of those times are somewhat confused in their statements; others tell us that the king was only overheated on the occasion, but all agree that it caused his death, and the story of the student is equally authenticated. In the reign of Louis XIV., court etiquette reached its greatest height in France. When that mighty monarch required a drink, the requisition was successively made known to seven different retainers, and the golden salver, in return, came through as many hands to those of the chief lord in waiting, who presented it on his knees to the # king, and as soon as the goblet touched the royal lips, all within his sight immediately knelt down. Could a man so served remember he was mortal? Yet a contemporary writer of memoirs has recorded a lesson to this effect in the remark, that two hours after the great monarch's death he found the palace utterly deserted, much of the bijouterie carried away, and no living creature to be seen but a scul lion, cleaning a grate and singing to himself as if nothing had happened.

In the prosperous days of Marie Antoinette, court ceremonies were scarcely less numerous. The ladies of honour were accustomed to stand round her majesty's morning toilet, each putting on a different article of dress, to which her duties were limited; and the dame who fastened the royal corset would have considered it treason to touch the chemisette. Dignity to this extent is apt to have what the French call its disagreeabilities; and one of her biographers relates that the queen was once obliged to stand undressed nearly an hour, on a winter morning, when the lady of the linen was not forthcoming. It is strange to think that the same luckless queen, before her execution, requested some thread, to repair with her own hands her worn-out garments in the revolutionary prison. But to return to our subject. A niece of Marie Antoinette's mother, the celebrated Maria Theresa, has given us in her journal a specimen of etiquette as maintained at the court of the empress queen. When visiting her aunt, the princess's name and titles, together with those of her family, were announced by three different chamberlains on her entrance to the grand saloon, where upon the empress sent the first lady-in-waiting to conduct her near enough to kiss the tips of her imperial fingers: and, after answering three questions, she was escorted by as many ladies to the chair assigned her, the conductors taking their stations one on either side and the third behind the princess; and the dutiful niece winds up this minute account by noting that her imperial aunt was very fat, and certainly no beauty.'

After such relations, one feels the force of Burns's ex pressive line, What is the lordling's pomp? a cumbreus

[ocr errors]


load.' A judicious writer on this subject observes that those countries in which etiquette among the higher orders has been most rigidly enforced have rarely been free and prosperous, and this artificial splendour and external honour paid to the great have in general been more anxiously exacted by them in proportion as real respect was want ing. The English court was never so completely swayed by ceremony as some of its continental neighbours, but Old Queen Charlotte, as George the Third's queen was popularly called, patronised etiquette in her day with some effect. The diary of the celebrated Madame D'Arblay informs us that the life of one of her maids of honour, which office that lady occupied for many years, was, with regard to actual privation and endurance, something very much inferior to that of a maid-of-all-work in a large family; between standing from five to six hours in one position, curtseying at every royal glance, receiving all manner of draughts, and backing out of rooms of every length, not to mention, what the lady seems to consider worst of all, an injunction to absolute silence in the royal presence, in the | words of Beau Brummel, those well-dressed young people' must have been anything but comfortably situated. However, among many other improvements in modern times, the burdensome ceremonies of almost every court in Europe are now considerably curtailed, and kings and queens tread the round of ordinary life with as little trouble as most of their subjects. In the ranks near to royalty etiquette has lost its ancient power also. No such votaries of ceremony could now be found as the minister and the ambassador, the former of whom considered himself in duty bound to conduct the latter to his carriage; but the ambassador, being equally clear on the point that he should not, anticipated him by smartly locking the door immediately on taking leave. However, his highness was not to be cheated out of politeness, for he jumped out of the window, and, though his thumb was dislocated in the attempt, was actually in waiting at the carriage-door when the astonished ambassador reached it.

[ocr errors]

blime or the ridiculous. Yet etiquette, in its proper place, is not only useful but necessary to society. A desire for respect is inherent in all the human family; it has been observed to survive even the degradation of depravity. Most men prefer, at least, an apparent deference to the contrary, and a sense of justice and propriety teaches every individual over whom it has any influence to do in this respect to others as he would wish to be done by; this is the basis of genuine politeness, of which etiquette is the external symbol. The difference of education, modes of thinking, and even political circumstances, make its demonstrations differ among the various nations of our race. What is ceremoniously polite in one country appears grotesquely rude in another. In Europe,cquaintances generally shake hands when they meet, but the Pelew islander grasps the foot of his friend; the British gentleman takes off his glove for a respectful salutation; the Persian covers his hand with his sleeve. Politeness consists not in the description of ceremony but in the will to do what is considered respectful. The same feeling instructs mankind to hibit special signs of reverence for superior station and authority; and, as we have seen, their methods for that purpose are, if possible, still more various. Arbitrary power and arrogant vanity have indeed done much to build up partition walls of pompous observances between the occupants of thrones and ordinary mortals; yet in ruder times such fences were doubtless needful for the preservation of public order and subordination. In this sense, the formalism of our fathers had its utility also, and company may still be encountered towards whom ceremony is the safer part of neighbourhood. But life is full of exceptions; and etiquette, though always a useful servant, should never be made the master of society.

THE IDIOT BOY'S SUNBEAM. BY CHARLES M. M'LACHLAN. THERE is generally little to interest a boy at school, and particularly if that school be situated in the midst of a pleasant country village, and the time a summer afternoon, when the sun is pouring his glowing beams through the open windows, and every breath of air is laden with the fragrance it has gathered from the gardens which surround the homely temple of learning. There is little, we say, to interest a boy in the dry routine of school-room duties A-either in making bad imitations of round hand copies or overcoming the difficulties of the multiplication-table. Such at least appeared to be the universal feeling of my fellow-schoolmates when, on such an afternoon, we cast wistful looks at the green fields beyond, and prepared, as we had previously arranged, to present a humble petition to the master to be permitted to leave a little earlier than usual.

Etiquette must have sunk deep into the soul of Philip the Second's old servant. The man was on his deathbed, and his master, on whom time, disease, and misfortune, had laid heavy hands, in spite of the fact that he was king of Spain and the Indies, mentioned, when visiting him, by way of consolation, that his own decease could not be far distant. Oh!' groaned the palace-bred, how it grieves me to be obliged to take precedence of your majesty!' somewhat similar idea occasioned those disputes for precedence in private society on which the satirists of the last age delighted to enlarge. The wittiest case of the kind is stated to have occurred between the respective liege ladies of a grocer and a cheesemonger, who, happening to rise together from a morning call at the house of a mutual acquaintance, the latter dame thought proper to lead the way, when the grocer's wife, mindful of her privileges, seized her by the skirt, and, brushing past triumphantly, exclaimed, No, no, madam; you are aware that nothing comes after cheese!' Barrington's mode of arranging a difference of the same nature, when he officiated as master of ceremonies at a Sydney ball, was certainly characteristic of the phase of Australian ton to which that accomplished convict belonged. 'Ladies,' said he, tell me which of you was transported first, and by all means let her take precedence.'

The burlesques that have risen from an over regard to etiquette, in low as well as high places, lie thickly scattered in the byways of history; and even now, when the general diffusion of knowledge and rapidity of communication have comparatively enlarged and corrected the ideas of all classes, there are few readers under whose actual observation some instance of the kind has not fallen. Individuals may still be met with whose social existence is but a succession of ceremonies, and who live in continual dread of infringing either their own or other people's dignity. In our age, such a state of mind approaches the pitiable; lively people are apt to compare its company to the neighbourhood of an iceberg or the descent of a wet blanket, according as their imaginations incline to the su

The schoolmaster-poor old Bray !-was a very worthy person, albeit a strict disciplinarian. He was a remarkably little man, with a very red face, and wore a very wiryhaired wig. He, moreover, never flogged a boy except in the legitimate position, by having him first hoisted on the back of another, and thus, as he used to say, presenting him a 'fair mark.' If anything, Mr Bray was a little too much given to flogging, and although this was considered by the parents of the boys his only fault, it was just such a one as no other virtues could redeem, so far at least as they were concerned.

Master Bray was a good man though, in the common acceptation of the term. He was a local preacher too, and several evenings of the week and three times of a Sunday, the school-room became a temple of worship, and he edified the people of the village with his expoundings of the dark passages of Scripture. As to the amount of light he threw upon the said passages we are not prepared to say; for at that time we were a wilful and a bad boy, and the repugnance we felt to the school-room during the six days of the week was increased to an unholy horror on the seventh; and so we were deprived of Mr Bray's scriptural light. However, we refer to him only as a schoolmaster, and as such we are free to admit that, bating the

floggings, he was a very good, kind, painstaking, patient, old gentleman.

On the afternoon in question I was deputed a committee of one to present the said petition, and, with many inward misgivings, slunk up to the side of his high stool and handed in the important document. If brevity be the soul of excellence as well as of wit, our petition must have been unqualifiedly good, for it contained only the following words: -If you please, it is so fine we should like to leave an hour before the time: and as in duty bound we will ever pray,' &c. We probably intended to say play, and in that case, doubtless, we should have been much nearer the truth.

Mr Bray adjusted his spectacles, and having quickly digested the contents of the petition, cried out in a sharp voice, which was a damper to our hopes, 'Who desires to leave his studies before the proper time?'

There was a general silence for the space of a minute, when Bobby Tremaine rose and replied, faintly, 'The sunbeam is on her grave now; may I go?'

Mr Bray drew forth his pocket handkerchief and blew his nose violently, and, while his lip trembled with emotion, we just caught the words-Go, my poor boy-go.' Bobby disappeared quickly, and a loud rap on the desk gave notice that we were about to know the result of our request.

There are circumstances under which the most repulsive persons will seem if not beautiful at least good-looking, and as we looked at the schoolmaster, who, fixing his feet firmly on one of the rounds of the stool, rose to speak to us, his whole appearance seemed to have undergone a change, as though a sunbeam had shone upon his heart and given to his nature softness and beauty. The tone of his voice was tender and musical, his manner kind and paternal, and with difficulty he prevented the tears from breaking the boundaries he had fixed for them.

'My boys,' he said, 'I will give you the indulgence you desire this time, and I don't think you will take advantage of your old master's kindness, who is moved by the affliction of one of your schoolmates. The poor youth, who is by this time in his favourite place, the graveyard, is deeply to be pitied, but this you cannot understand; the day will come, my boys, when you, like him, may watch for a sunbeam; may it always come when you watch for it. There, go; be good and kind to each other.'"

The simple earnestness of the old man was not lost upon us, but it did not make our shouts the less energetic as soon as we were beyond the threshold of the school-room. His words left an impression upon the hearts of some of us, and the youthful mind recurred again and again to them. They awoke an interest for Bobby Tremaine, whom we regarded therefore as something of a different mould from ourselves; and in truth he appeared to be so, with his pale, thin, sharp features and attenuated form, and large blue eyes glistening with a fitful light, as they mirrored the wild thoughts that flitted over his diseased mind. Poor Bobby! his was a strange and melancholy fate: a boy of sorrows, the season of his life had been unnaturally changed, and winter had taken the place of spring. His existence was the embodiment of a sunbeam, and when it was

darkened life became a blank.

At the time to which we refer Bobby was about thirteen years old. Two years before that he was joyous and happy, and entered with as much spirit into our sports as the veriest mad-cap among the boys of the village; but all at once we missed him, and the only reply to our inquiries was a solemn shake of the head by our mothers-a mournful look and a desire to 'go and play;' a permission we generally improved, so that the mystery did not trouble us much. At length a boy of a more inquiring mind than the rest excited our curiosity by informing us that his disappearance was in some way connected with the death of little Janet Simmonds. Months passed away, however— the cold, dreary months of winter-and spring had begun to brighten the face of nature, when it was rumoured that Bobby had returned home. He did not join us as usual in our games, and we only occasionally got a glimpse of

him at the window of his mother's cottage. We were told that he was ill, and cautioned not to disturb him. As the summer opened he was seen sometimes to leave the house and take his way across the fields, always alone, and carefully avoiding the most frequented paths; but as summer wore away he was seen less frequently, and ere the winter commenced he had again disappeared; and thus for two years had he come and gone like the birds that shape their course with the sun, or as those false friends who in the dark season of adversity fly the home that cherished them in brighter days.

During this time Bobby had been occasionally at school, taking little share in its routine of duties, yet apparently intent upon his book. His disappearance every winter had become so much a matter of course that it had ceased to excite any surprise; and until the afternoon when Mr Bray granted the holiday and exhibited so much emotion when referring to him, we had looked upon him but as a fellow-schoolboy, and his peculiarities, from becoming familiar to us, had ceased to be viewed as such. Now, however, a well-spring of thought had been opened, and Bobby was the subject of our boyish conversation, when, as the twilight darkened into night, we sat together in some unoccupied waggon in the quiet street of the vil lage.

The result of these nightly cogitations was an intense desire on our part to learn the nature of this mystery, and, after much deliberation, we determined to seek the resolution from Mr Bray himself. Accordingly one day, about a week after the opening of our story, we plucked up courage and asked him if he wouldn't be so good as to relate the history of Bobby Tremaine and Janet Simmonds. The old man promised that he would do so on the following Saturday afternoon, when he took us, as he frequently did, for a walk through the fields. He was as good as his word, and, sitting down with his back against the trunk of a tree, and placing us in a semicircle before him, thus commenced:I need not tell you, my boys, what a beautiful girl little Janet Simmonds was, for you all remember her well her graceful form and merry pranks, as she once sported in these fields, her bright eyes sparkling with the exhilaration of exercise, and the ringing laugh so full of joyousness, gave little indication that she would so soon be laid in the cold churchyard. When I think of her as she was, with the health glow on her cheek, and her fair ringlets artlessly curling round her head, and as she is, lying there in her shroud, it seems as though I had awoke from a pleasant dream, and that little Janet was only a being of my imagination. She was a good child—not too good for earth, as some persons are apt to say when children die-no, my boys, there is nothing too good for the earth which God made for us-yet I think Janet was good enough for heaven, for a purer spirit never went back to its Creator. Bobby and Janet were brought up together, for she was an orphan, and became the child of the village; she was adopted by us, as it were, and the special charge of her was given to the widow Tremaine. When she could yet scarcely toddle, they were seen hand in hand visiting the houses of the neighbours, or rolling on the greensward opposite their own door. As they grew up their love of each other seemed to increase, and neither of them ap peared to be so happy as when together they wandered through the fields, plucking the buttercups and daisies, with which Bobby used to form a mimic wreath for her head. Her mild, expressive, free, and full blue eye possessed for him, even then, young as she was, an unaccountable witchery. I remember he said to me one day that, when he thought of Janet, strange ideas entered his mind of heaven and of angels, who he fancied must be beings of exceeding beauty for ever singing there. And then he would ask Janet to sing, for, as she would be an angel, he felt sure hers must therefore be the melody of angels; for Bobby was a very sensible child—too much, so far, for one of his age. How often we have remarked that his head was too old for his shoulders, or his brain too large for his head. Well, Janet was the star of his destiny, and a fatal destiny it has been; he seemed to live only in her, as though her heart

[ocr errors]

governed the throbbing of his own. But little Janet died
-died just when her loveliness began to unfold. We saw
that she drooped that her step lost its lightness-her eye
its brightness. Death had commenced his work near some
vital part, and ere we could discover the cause of the change,
she was gone.
I was with her when she died. Bobby
stood by me with the little hand of Janet in his own, which
was scarcely larger, watching the suffering child. Poor
boy! it was his first introduction to a death-bed, and he
looked bewildered, as though he felt that something dread-
ful was about to happen-but he knew not what. He could
not realise the idea that the loved companion of his child-
hood was about to leave him for ever; and it was only when
she gently drew him toward her and whispered, 'Bobby,
I'm going to die,' that he seemed to suspect the truth.
He then threw himself on the bed in a burst of sorrow,
and when he again looked up she had ceased to suffer.
That was a painful and solemn scene, my children, and I
can't help weeping now when I recall it.'

trimming some and carefully transplanting others. We remarked, too, that many of them had been removed from the grave of Janet and placed by the side of it; we knew not why at the time-but it seemed as though he had a presentiment that he should soon be beneath them. We did not disturb him, but quietly passed in another direction.

It was in the afternoon of a day in the early autumn, and Bobby and I were strolling across the fields; he was leaning on me, for he had become so weak as to be unable to walk far without help. For several weeks he had been confined to the house, from no particular disease, however, but it was evident that he was gradually passing away; and as his physical strength failed, his mind became proportionably stronger. There was no indication of his relapsing into lunacy; but he grew more gentle-more ethereal; so unlike anything earthly that it seemed as though he had prematurely put on immortality.

It is painful to watch the slow approach of death to the young-the buds of hope and promise sinking into the cold embrace of the grave; but in this case regret was lessened by the melancholy circumstances attending his fate. Indeed death was far preferable to the semi-existence he had known. On this day he had asked me to take him near the churchyard-to look once more on the grave of his childhood's love. As we drew near the place a change became visible in his appearance, and, looking up at the sun, he said, The sunbeam will soon be on the grave, and it will very soon be on mine.'

'Why,' I said, 'are you always thinking of sunbeams? It would be better to discourage such thoughts.'

The old man seemed much moved, and it was many minutes before he resumed. We all sat in breathless attention, anxious to hear the remainder of the story, and fearing to change our position lest we should break the charm it had thrown around us. After a while he continued: We had little difficulty in removing Bobby from the room, for he was totally helpless, and remained seemingly unconscious of everything for several weeks after the funeral. He, however, gradually recovered, and one day surprised his mother by asking her to take him to the grave of Janet. She did so, and from that time until the winter had fairly set in he visited it daily, planting flowers around and upon it, and making it the parterre it appears at 'Discourage the thought of Janet!' he said, looking at present. It was remarked, however, as the days shortened, me, reproachfully; she is the sunbeam of my thoughts that a change came over poor Bobby-his mind was not -she is the sunbeam itself-it has been all a night to me right; and, although for several weeks we sought to console without it. They thought me mad, but I was not mad. I his afflicted mother with the assurance that it was not so, felt that it was one weary, weary night—and I longed for it became at length too evident to be concealed. From morn- the morning to break. Are they all mad who watch and ing till night he would sit at the porch of the door as pray for the day-spring? It is coming now. I know itthough watching for something, and as evening came on I feel it. It was whispered to me when I last sat by Janet's would burst into tears, and saying, 'There is no sunbeam grave-it spoke in the sunbeam that, like me, loves the spot on her grave now,' creep to a corner of the room and sigh-the last farewell beam that kisses the rose which blooms himself to sleep. At this time, you remember, Bobby suddenly disappeared; the physician thought it best to send him to an asylum, as by proper treatment he might recover. So he went to a public establishment, where he was kindly treated; but the nature of his lunacy left little hope of a permanent recovery, for it was a melancholy madness, which is seldom cured, and no treatment could restore his reason. Throughout the dull wintry days he watched for sunbeams, and when they came not he wept; but as the spring opened and they became more frequent, he appeared less melancholy, and so continued to improve as the weather brightened. Then he desired to be at home again, and at length his wish was complied with, and he came back, better certainly, but still a poor shattered thing. Poor Bobby! his mind is like the summer flowers-it lives only in the sunshine, and droops when his rays are withdrawn. Such, my children, is the history of your little schoolmate. He is now with us once more, for this is the season of sunbeams; but his health is failing fast, and the flowers he has planted in the churchyard will soon probably bloom over his grave; then the dark shadows of his life will have passed away, and in heaven there is no winter to make poor Bobby crazy.'

The old man ceased, and we all remained silent for several minutes; his eyes were closed and his lips moved as if in prayer. When he at length arose we followed him, and all seemed instinctively to turn toward the churchyard. The grave of Janet was in one corner of it, and for the greater portion of the day lay in the deep shade of some overhanging willows; indeed it was only when the sun had reached a certain part of the heavens in his downward course that a small opening permitted his rays for a short time to brighten the simple mound. Bobby needed no dial to discover the hour when this occurred, and never failed to be there, watching for it with intense anxiety. As we drew near the spot we saw him busily employed with his flowers,

over her heart. Tell me not to think no more of sunbeams; I have lived and I shall die in a sunbeam.'

There was a melancholy tenderness in his voice that went to the heart, and mine was so full that I could not reply. So we walked on in silence until we reached the gate, when he felt exhausted, and sat down completely overcome with fatigue. The change that I had before observed in his looks became more apparent; I was too young to understand the indications, or I might have known that death was placing a mark on his victim. After a few minutes he spoke, but it was scarcely above a whisper. His desire was to reach the grave, and after much difficulty I placed him on his favourite spot, and, becoming alarmed at his increasing weakness, ran back to his mother's cottage, and, having told her where he was, hastened to the house of Mr Bray, and we went back together. His mother was already there, and was sitting on the grave with Bobby's head in her lap. Alas! how great a change had taken place in that short time.

It was proposed to convey him home, but he looked so imploringly as he asked them to let him die there, that a reluctant assent was given, and I was dispatched for the clergyman.

The sun was just descending behind the willow trees and throwing his beams through the opening opposite the grave when I returned with the minister.

The dying boy beckoned me to his side, for his mother was weeping bitterly, and, pointing to the sun and then to a particular spot near him, whispered, 'Move me there.' They did so, and the minister knelt by him and prayed. He seemed to watch him with much anxiety, and once whispered, 'It will soon be there.' At length the shadows on the grave increased, the sunbeams gradually withdrew, and as the last one lingered on the rose that grew above the heart of Janet he gave me one look and faintly smiling died, as he had predicted, 'in a sunbeam."

« السابقةمتابعة »