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tor. He was not the Malade Imaginaire ; he was the invalid who had nothing the matter with him, and was conscious of the fact. His fever was a fam; his cough was a mere “hem !" to carry off the joke; his jaundice was but a colourable pretence ; his gout was quite an affair of gout; and as for getting “ higher than the rheumatism,” he never reached it but in reputation.
When he stepped into the apartment, on the first morning of his arrival, it was with the air and action of a man who had reached, at that spot—who surveyed in that scene-his last home but one. The landlady ushered him in, and sighed with all her lodging-letting soul as she went out of the room. That sigh was heaved half on her own account and half perhaps on his. Her look of pity and vexation quite explained it.
“ Poor gentleman," it said, “ how provoking it is! He will soon want an apartment in the churchyard--it's hardly worth while taking the bill out of the window."
But no sooner had the silly, short-sighted, one-sided observer shut the door, with a confidence in the accuracy of her own calculations, that scorned the very idea of a second glance as requisite for its confirmation, that it became pretty evident that the bill in the window might be taken down at once, without a moment's reflection, and that the notification " to let,” had little chance of figuring again there very speedily. Mr. McSickley surveyed his gay and comfort-breathing quarters, with the air of a man who liked them marvellously, and meant to stop. His thoughts evidently turned on any thing but a notice to quit, as his eyes moved rapidly about, and his head turned briskly on all sides, and his light, springing step crossed the floor in every direction, and his active body dropped into a chair in the easiest of attitudes, so as to enable him at leisure to take in the whole well-furnished scene, at one glance of the fullest satisfaction and approval. If that look did not say in the plainest inaudible language, that he had taken the rooms on a ninety-nine years lease, and was resolved to stay out his full term, it was wholly wanting in any kind of expression. He had evidently health to hold out that little time, at least.
True it was-the creeping, puling, feeble invalid, was, in reality, active as harlequin, sound as a roach, strong as the love of woman, and warranted wind and limb." It was as though a dingy ragged cloak had dropped from him at the door, exhibiting a suit of spangles underneath. He had Aung off all his ailments, as rascal-beggars do their wants, and sham-cripples their crutches, when out of sight and at home. It could hardly be more comical or striking to see the Starved Apothecary change into Fat Jack.
Instead of seeing him, as was reasonably to be expected, stretching languidly his aching bones before the fire, while his bed was being warmed, or barley-water prepared, he cut a little caper in the middle of the room, and began to unpack divers matters with a celerity only equalled in a pantomime. How he smacked his hands together now and then, with a loud vigour, and bustled about as though rioting in the enjoyment of that“ violent, robust, unfeeling health," which the tender Falkland held to be such an offence in his absent mistress.
All this bustle and vigour, however, was confined to his solitary hours. Fat Jack shrank again into the Starved Apothecary when company March.-VOL. LXX. NO. CCLXXIX.
dropped in, or an appearance out of doors was called for. What a breakfast he would make! mustering first every delicacy which the housekeeper could provide from below to tempt his appetite, and adding to these, abundant stores of his own, collected privately at his favourite shops during his rounds of the day before! And then, presently, when the morning visiter came, to hope that he was no worse, how irrecoverably did he fall back upon the sick-list-sigh over his last spasms, enumerate the many well-founded suspicions he entertained as to the nature of his principal maladies, envy every body who was well, and wonder whether he ever should get better-adding that he might-he might-nothing was impossible ! A little walk perhaps would do him good! And out he would creep, in quest of a luncheon, or rather in quest of the first of his two daily dinners.
Mr. McSickley never received a chance-guest, and never invited one, morning or evening, but it would happen as a thing of course, that the whole world told him “he ought at that moment to be in bed ;” and you may be sure, on the other hand, that whenever he went out, he “ hardly knew how to put one foot before the other.”
It is my province to observe facts, and not to speculate upon motives ; else might I philosophize long, if not deeply, on this cherished habit, and endeavour to find out why he persevered, year after year, with such astonishing consistency, in feigning illness and acting the invalid! Was it to excite sympathy—to create an interest in the minds of his acquaintances-to draw attention, at least, if he could not awaken any deeper feeling! If so, it was a plan that might succeed for a time, but could have no permanent success. The asthma that inflicted neither injury nor inconvenience, nobody cared for long; the half a liver that lasted for a lifetime, people ceased to pity; the ossified heart that regularly performed all its natural functions, produced but little softness in other hearts. And then how irksome was the constant assumption! How unfailing was the necessity of getting up piteous looks, putting on an attenuated air in opposition to an insidious tendency to corpulency, and limping on legs not much less than herculean. When Livy Primrose danced, the fine ladies from town, says the Vicar, “strove hard to be as easy." So would Mr. McSickley strive hard to be uneasy. All through life he was making the strongest efforts to seem weak.
When the end arrived, however, and the farce became tragedywhen sickness crept upon him indeed, and he grew visibly ill, and worse-and death was mounting up to his sanctum with sure steps, a stair higher every succeeding hour-then the invalid changed his note. He insisted on being perfectly well; he would not hear of illness, and for the first time in his life proclaimed himself to be thoroughly convalescent. Instead of a prescription, he demanded a bill of health ; and only permitted the physician to come into his sight, as his eyes closed finally on the mockery and masquerading of life.
The fiction thus exhibited within view of death, has been the characteristic of many a long lifetime. In contra-distinction to the prevailing infirmity of McSickley, may be cited the weakness of laying claim to strong health when debility is in possession of the citadel. How many amongst the mask-wearers I have known have been victims
to this delusion; seized with the ambition to be thought vigorous and hearty while conscious of the canker within ! Judge them by their efforts at concealment, and it must be supposed that they confound bodily weakness with moral corruption. By mere strength of will, and in the sensitiveness of their pride, they suppress the show of pain or faintness, and suffer doubly by its working. The writhing limb, the nerveless hand, the face of anguish-of these there has often on a sudden ceased to be any visible trace, as though a cure had been effected by magic. What caused the instantaneous change? The door had opened to admit a friend !-the eye of a stranger had fallen carelessly upon them! The malady is to be hidden from view as if it were a vice. At all hazards the heart must be brought to throb gaily, and the dark spot at the core must be gilded over with smiles. They would die at once rather than acknowledge by word or look a symptom of the secret decay. Thus, when the visiter has arrived, I have found the low moan, the feeble wail, the cry of bitter inward pain uttered in loneliness, changed into the light giddy laugh, or the humming of an air. But at what a cost !
One other spectacle 1 witnessed, which, although not of absolutely unfrequent occurrence, can never be seen without special wonderwithout horror. These emotions, instead of being blunted by custom, must grow in acuteness with the repetition of the object thus awakening them-so shocking, so inexplicable is it.
The principal actors in this little domestic spectacle, were a father and mother, surrounded by a youthful romping family. They were themselves young in look, lively and amiable in manner, and seemed to require no such number of living ties to unite them as one heart and one soul, for it was evident that without any of those irresistible and all-alluring influences to move them, they were tenderly devoted to each other. They were not affluent, but were blessed with every thing that could be comprised in the meaning of comfort ; and the enjoyment of every comfort was to them doubled by being so participated. If there was any one thing in which they were scarcely content to be on perfect equality, in which each felt it would be delightful to excel the other, it was in the display of affection for their children. Never were children more loved for their own sakes; and then they were loved as much again by each parent for the sake of the other. The cup of love and joy was filled to overflowing. They were a united, a happy family. They formed a group hardly to be met with out of a poem or a fable. They would have composed a delightful fireside-circle in a little cottage drawing-room somewhere in Arcadia.
What was it that, after a brief space, made me see in that doating, that devoted pair, a change such as the change upon the cheek of beauty, wben death has frozen up the red spring, and the warm blood lights it no more? What was it that made me think the fair flesh had dropped from their brows, and two bony, eyeless visages were frowning in deeper ghastliness, from the effort to smile and look glad ? What was it that rendered those two beings hateful in my eyes, and made me feel that, in the midst of life, the worm was already' feeding in the foul places of the heart?
I said the family was a happy family; but the circle of happiness was incomplete--there was a gloomy, a horrible gap in it where Misery sat. I said that the father and mother were joined in parental sympathy, the purest, the most fervent, the most beautiful; vieing with each other in cherishing an almost divine zeal, in exercising an unspeakable tenderness for their offspring. I should have said—their offspring, with a solitary exception !
On the children so beloved, the parents' eyes never fell without sparkling with pleasure—the very soul looked out of them in pride and joy. But on one they never fell without darkening into hatred, or gleaming with ungratified malice. It was not cold indifference, contrasting with the sunny affections lavished at the same instant on others—but it was aversion, malignity.
He was a pale boy, about seven or eight years old, sickly in look, and thinner than the rest. He was also prettier, though amazingly like them all, and blending in his expressive countenance the lineaments both of father and mother. There was no possibility of doubting his parentage; yet what dreadful cause was hourly furnished for disputing the melancholy, the monstrous truth!
For the others, from oldest to youngest, it was in the estimation of both parents very difficult to do enough ; for him, the least that could be done in the way of kindness and gentle treatment, was a great deal too much. The only risk any juvenile member of the happy family ran of being checked in the most extravagant wish that could be formed, was when, by some singular chance, it took the direction of humanity to the little outcast. But such whims were very rarely entertained, for true to the lesson and the example of their parents, the happy family thought not of him as of one belonging to it. He was amongst them, but not of them; and they could not pause in their play, or trouble their heads in quieter moments to consider what might be passing in his heart, for they never once thought whether he had one or not.
On the other hand, the pale-cheeked boy had not much clearer ideas on the subject of relationship; he was generally silent and submissive amongst the young revellers, and scarcely seemed to take the liberty of regarding them as brothers and sisters. If a bolder instinct sometimes awoke in his heart, and by making him feel that his blood was as theirs, that their mother was his own, forced upon him a sense of the strange cruelty of his lot in not being loved and cherished as they were, it never rose to his lips, for there was no one to whom he could complain. But a colour would come into his face, or a sickly shadow would fall over it, which, if observed, was attributed to bad temper, and a sharp scolding was the sure result.
If then the suppressed tears rushed hot and blindingly into his eyes, he was beaten and sent to bed in the dark ;-but darkness and solitude, the terrors of most children (so opposite was his fate to theirs), were rather a relief than an aggravation of his sorrows.
The incidents that illustrate his history may seem childish, they are only so because they relate to childhood. Never, for the disliked and disowned, was it permitted to mingle in the general play of the room, except on a dire necessity now and then, when others were in the sulks and refused. It was enough that he was allowed to look on. Indifference was a thing for which he might be thankful-it left him unfretted and quiet. This, with the influence of sorrow, made him a thoughtful boy, with intelligence as well as feelings beyond his years.
But it was very gloomy. The heart must have something when most rejected to attach itself to, and the neglected boy's, a child's own heart as it was, would have played, not quite drearily, with the kitten-but it was forbidden :-and, though ridiculous in sound, this prohibition had to him as grave an import as many weighty troubles of the world, at which nobody ventures to laugh.
When the beloved ones were gathered round the bright fire, he was sure to be somewhere apart, away from the warm, pleasant circle, wherein there was no more room. When the fruit and sweetmeats were brought out, it happened that there was not enough to go quite round-there was always one orange short. When some childish sport at home or abroad was proposed, an awkward number was discovered-all could not go, and somebody must be left out. Worse than all-worse, if possible, a thousand and a thousand times—when the fond kisses and the smiling blessings went round on parting at night, and the happy children going to bed opened their sleepy eyes at the father's whispered promise of some treat in store, or the mother's straining rapturous caress—the sweet words, the golden smiles, the fervent kisses, though showered in such abundance, yet fell short!
For one little forehead even a mother's lip had not a kiss left-for one little mouth, looking like a withered rosebud, there was no love-pressure ; but instead, there was a cold unsmiling “good night,” a quiet admonition to be good and to go to sleep instantly, with an injunction to the maid to report his behaviour in the inorning, especially if he dared to keep awake, and disturb any of those sleepy darlings with his crying and sobbing
What might be the dreams of that forlorn child, whether of cradling arms and warm caresses, of merry play with sisters and brothers, and childish toys and luxuries shared with them all, none knew or cared ; but there was a star in the dark sky, a flower on the dreary waste he was doomed to traverse, which here and there momentarily cheered the despised and desolate little wanderer.
This relief came when a visiter arrived and appearances were to be kept up. He could not always be out of the way when the happy family, even to the youngest squalling member of it, were assembled; and on such occasions, before he could be quietly and decently taken down into the kitchen, his patient mournful face would attract notice, and expressions of pity and interest would, compel the appearance of parental kindness to be put in action. Then the maternal lips would frame soft words of excuse for his sickly looks, and perhaps for his sullen temper—at which soft words, so new to his ears, his heart would heave as if to throw off all its weight of trouble at once—and “ Poor boy!" murmured in a gentle voice, would melt him instantly to tears; when so far from being scolded, an apple, and not the stalest one either, would be good-naturedly brought him by his brother ; who would instantly be rewarded for the generous spirit thus displayed, with the largest and rosiest in the plate.
How little did the careless, thoughtless guest who had thus paid a chance visit there, dreain that in doing so he was fulfilling a merciful end, and playing the part of a good angel! How little could he imagine what a