The Last Coat-Button

I AM — or was until one day last week — one of those people who boast, ‘I have only a few real friends, but I think a great deal of them.’ Complacently selective, I had never stopped to wonder whether my happiness and success in life were in any way dependent upon that vast army of casual acquaintances which no one goes about year after year without acquiring: people who do not know one very well perhaps, but who have nothing against one, who even feel a faint thrill of pleasure at a meeting, and impart to one the same faint thrill.

An old knight in the sixteenth century was less exclusive than I.

I found his story in a quaint book in the library, as I was looking up some chivalry data several days ago. It was a stained old folio of parchment, published in sixteen hundred and two, that I was reading, so I surmise that the hero of the little incident lived perhaps in the preceding generation. On the back of the book, hardly legible, are the words, ‘The Book of Honor.’ The rules for honor — in those days — were very curious.

But the one thing in all the book that stood out, like an accusing finger pointing at me, was the incident of the last coat-button.

A ceremonial coat was being made for a certain knight, who, it seemed, had rather original ideas about dressmaking. Perhaps he could not write plays, so he had taken out his longing for symbolism in coat-buttons.

At any rate, he had the garment set with gold buttons, one in honor of each of his friends. But the poor bewildered courtier found that there would be a difficulty — no coat that the tailor could make would have room for all the buttons. Here is the account of it, spelling and all: —

‘I would (quoth hee) that all my friends might have been remembered in these buttons, but there is not room to contain them all: and if I have not them all, then (said hee) those that are left out may take exception.’

There seemed no way out of the difficulty, until one of the gentlemen standing by, said to him, in the words of the book, —

‘ Sir, let as many be placed as can be and cause the last button to be made like the character of &c.’

How a button-maker was to make a button which should be like the character &c was not explained in the Book of Honor.

However, that solved the problem, to the great delight of the man who was to wear the coat.

The story ends: —

‘Now Godamercie with all my heart (quoth the Knight) for I would not have given the cetera of my friends for a million of gold.’

I did not go directly on with my search for data after reading that book. I dawdled. I looked hazily up at the library ceiling for a long time, thinking about many things, and realizing, for the first time in my life, that I would not, either, ‘have given the cetera of my friends for a million of gold,’