The other evening I heard a gentle voice reading aloud the story of Maurice, a boy who, deprived of the use of his limbs by paralysis, was sustained in comfort, and almost in cheerfulness, by the exertions of his twin sister. Left with him in orphanage, her affections were centred upon him, and, amid the difficulties his misfortunes brought upon them, grew to a fire intense and pure enough to animate her with angelic impulses and powers. As he could not move about, she drew him everywhere in a little cart; and when at last they heard that sea-bathing might accomplish his cure, conveyed him, in this way, hundreds of miles to the sea-shore. Her pious devotion and faith were rewarded by his cure, and (a French story would be entirely incomplete otherwise) with money, plaudits and garlands, from the by-standers.
Though the story ends in this vulgar manner, it is, in its conduct, extremely sweet and touching, not only as to the beautiful qualities developed by these trials in the brother and sister, but in the purifying and softening influence exerted, by the sight of his helplessness and her goodness, on all around them.
Those who are the victims of some natural blight often fulfil this important office, and bless those within their sphere more, by awakening feelings of holy tenderness and compassion, than a man healthy and strong can do by the utmost exertion of his good-will and energies. Thus, in the East, men hold sacred those in whom they find a distortion or alienation of mind which makes them unable to provide for themselves. The well and sane feel themselves the ministers of Providence to carry out a mysterious purpose, while taking care of those who are thus left incapable of taking care of themselves; and, while fulfilling this ministry, find themselves refined and made better.
The Swiss have similar feelings as to those of their families whom cretinism has reduced to idiocy. They are attended to, fed, dressed clean, and provided with a pleasant place for the day, before doing anything else, even by very busy and poor people.
We have seen a similar instance, in this country, of voluntary care of an idiot, and the mental benefits that ensued. This idiot, like most that are called so, was not without a glimmer of mind.
His teacher was able to give him some notions, both of spiritual and mental facts; at least she thought she had given him the idea of God, and though it appeared by his gestures that to him the moon was the representative of that idea, yet he certainly did conceive of something above him, and which inspired him with reverence and delight. He knew the names of two or three persons who had done him kindness, and when they were mentioned, would point upward, as he did to the moon, showing himself susceptible, in his degree, of Mr. Carlyle's grand method of education, hero-worship. She had awakened in him a love of music, so that he could be soothed in his most violent moods by her gentle singing. It was a most touching sight to see him sitting opposite to her at such tunes, his wondering and lack-lustre eyes filled with childish pleasure, while in hers gleamed the same pure joy that we may suppose to animate the looks of an angel appointed by Heaven to restore a ruined world.
We know another instance, in which a young girl became to her village a far more valuable influence than any patron saint who looks down from his stone niche, while his votaries recall the legend of his goodness in days long past.
Caroline lived in a little, quiet country village—quiet as no village can now remain, since the railroad strikes its spear through the peace of country life. She lived alone with a widowed mother, for whom, as well as for herself, her needle won bread, while the mother's strength, and skill sufficed to the simple duties of their household. They lived content and hopeful, till, whether from sitting still too much, or some other cause, Caroline became ill, and soon the physician pronounced her spine to be affected, and to such a degree that she was incurable.
This news was a thunder-bolt to the poor little cottage. The mother, who had lost her elasticity of mind, wept in despair; but the young girl, who found so early all the hopes and joys of life taken from her, and that she was seemingly left without any shelter from the storm, had even at first the faith and strength to bow her head in gentleness, and say, "God will provide." She sustained and cheered her mother.
And God did provide. With simultaneous vibration the hearts of all their circle acknowledged the divine obligation of love and mutual aid between human beings. Food, clothing, medicine, service, were all offered freely to the widow and her daughter.
Caroline grew worse, and was at last in such a state that she could only be moved upon a sheet, and by the aid of two persons. In this toilsome service, and every other that she required for years, her mother never needed to ask assistance. The neighbors took turns in doing all that was required, and the young girls, as they were growing up, counted it among their regular employments to work for or read to Caroline.
Not without immediate reward was their service of love. The mind of the girl, originally bright and pure, was quickened and wrought up to the finest susceptibility by the nervous exaltation that often ensues upon affection of the spine. The soul, which had taken an upward impulse from its first act of resignation, grew daily more and more into communion with the higher regions of life, permanent and pure. Perhaps she was instructed by spirits which, having passed through a similar trial of pain and loneliness, had risen to see the reason why. However that may be, she grew in nobleness of view and purity of sentiment, and, as she received more instruction from books also than any other person in her circle, had from many visitors abundant information as to the events which were passing around her, and leisure to reflect on them with a disinterested desire for truth, she became so much wiser than her companions as to be at last their preceptress and best friend, and her brief, gentle comments and counsels were listened to as oracles from one enfranchised from the films which selfishness and passion cast over the eyes of the multitude.
The twofold blessing conferred by her presence, both in awakening none but good feelings in the hearts of others, and in the instruction she became able to confer, was such, that, at the end of five years, no member of that society would have been so generally lamented as Caroline, had Death called her away.
But the messenger, who so often seems capricious in his summons, took first the aged mother, and the poor girl found that life had yet the power to bring her grief, unexpected and severe.
And now the neighbors met in council. Caroline could not be left quite alone in the house. Should they take turns, and stay with her by night as well as by day?
"Not so," said the blacksmith's wife; "the house will never seem like home to her now, poor thing! and 't would be kind of dreary for her to change about her nusses so. I'll tell you what; all my children but one are married and gone off; we have property enough; I will have a good room fixed for her, and she shall live with us. My husband wants her to, as much as me."
The council acquiesced in this truly humane arrangement, and Caroline lives there still; and we are assured that none of her friends dread her departure so much as the blacksmith's wife.
"'Ta'n't no trouble at all to have her," she says, "and if it was, I shouldn't care; she is so good and still, and talks so pretty! It's as good bein' with her as goin' to meetin'!"
De Maistre relates some similar passages as to a sick girl in St. Petersburgh, though his mind dwelt more on the spiritual beauty evinced in her remarks, than on the good she had done to those around her. Indeed, none bless more than those who "only stand and wait." Even if their passivity be enforced by fate, it will become a spiritual activity, if accepted in a faith higher above fate than the Greek gods were supposed to sit enthroned above misfortune.