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Jack and Jill

Louisa May Alcott

  Produced by An Anonymous Volunteer


  By Louisa May Alcott

  To the schoolmates of ELLSWORTH DEVENS, Whose lovely character will not soon be forgotten, This Village Story is affectionately inscribed by their friend,

  L.M.A. 1880


  Chapter I The Catastrophe Chapter II Two Penitents Chapter III Ward No. I Chapter IV Ward No. 2 Chapter V Secrets Chapter VI Surprises Chapter VII Jill's Mission Chapter VIII Merry and Molly Chapter IX The Debating Club Chapter X The Dramatic Club Chapter XI "Down Brakes" Chapter XII The Twenty-second of February Chapter XIII Jack Has a Mystery Chapter XIV And Jill Finds it out Chapter XV Saint Lucy Chapter XVI Up at Merry's Chapter XVII Down at Molly's Chapter XVIII May Baskets Chapter XIX Good Templars Chapter XX A Sweet Memory Chapter XXI Pebbly Beach Chapter XXII A Happy Day Chapter XXIII Cattle Show Chapter XXIV Down the River


  Jack and Jill went up the hill To coast with fun and laughter; Jack fell down and broke his crown, And Jill came tumbling after.

  Chapter I. The Catastrophe

  "Clear the lulla!" was the general cry on a bright December afternoon,when all the boys and girls of Harmony Village were out enjoying thefirst good snow of the season. Up and down three long coasts they wentas fast as legs and sleds could carry them. One smooth path led into themeadow, and here the little folk congregated; one swept across the pond,where skaters were darting about like water-bugs; and the third, fromthe very top of the steep hill, ended abruptly at a rail fence on thehigh bank above the road. There was a group of lads and lasses sittingor leaning on this fence to rest after an exciting race, and, as theyreposed, they amused themselves with criticising their mates, stillabsorbed in this most delightful of out-door sports.

  "Here comes Frank Minot, looking as solemn as a judge," cried one, asa tall fellow of sixteen spun by, with a set look about the mouth anda keen sparkle of the eyes, fixed on the distant goal with a do-or-dieexpression.

  "Here's Molly Loo And little Boo!"

  sang out another; and down came a girl with flying hair, carrying asmall boy behind her, so fat that his short legs stuck out from thesides, and his round face looked over her shoulder like a full moon.

  "There's Gus Burton; doesn't he go it?" and such a very long boy whizzedby, that it looked almost as if his heels were at the top of the hillwhen his head was at the bottom!

  "Hurrah for Ed Devlin!" and a general shout greeted a sweet-faced lad,with a laugh on his lips, a fine color on his brown cheek, and a gayword for every girl he passed.

  "Laura and Lotty keep to the safe coast into the meadow, and Molly Loois the only girl that dares to try this long one to the pond. I wouldn'tfor the world; the ice can't be strong yet, though it is cold enough tofreeze one's nose off," said a timid damsel, who sat hugging a post andscreaming whenever a mischievous lad shook the fence.

  "No, she isn't; here's Jack and Jill going like fury."

  "Clear the track For jolly Jack!"

  sang the boys, who had rhymes and nicknames for nearly every one.

  Down came a gay red sled, bearing a boy who seemed all smile andsunshine, so white were his teeth, so golden was his hair, so brightand happy his whole air. Behind him clung a little gypsy of a girl, withblack eyes and hair, cheeks as red as her hood, and a face full of funand sparkle, as she waved Jack's blue tippet like a banner with onehand, and held on with the other.

  "Jill goes wherever Jack does, and he lets her. He's such a good-naturedchap, he can't say 'No.'"

  "To a girl," slyly added one of the boys, who had wished to borrow thered sled, and had been politely refused because Jill wanted it.

  "He's the nicest boy in the world, for he never gets mad," said thetimid young lady, recalling the many times Jack had shielded her fromthe terrors which beset her path to school, in the shape of cows, dogs,and boys who made faces and called her "'Fraid-cat."

  "He doesn't dare to get mad with Jill, for she'd take his head offin two minutes if he did," growled Joe Flint, still smarting from therebuke Jill had given him for robbing the little ones of their safecoast because he fancied it.

  "She wouldn't! she's a dear! _You_ needn't sniff at her because she ispoor. She's ever so much brighter than you are, or she wouldn't alwaysbe at the head of your class, old Joe," cried the girls, standing bytheir friend with a unanimity which proved what a favorite she was.

  Joe subsided with as scornful a curl to his nose as its chilly statepermitted, and Merry Grant introduced a subject of general interest byasking abruptly,--

  "Who is going to the candy-scrape to-night?"

  "All of us. Frank invited the whole set, and we shall have a tip-toptime. We always do at the Minots'," cried Sue, the timid trembler.

  "Jack said there was a barrel of molasses in the house, so there wouldbe enough for all to eat and some to carry away. They know how to dothings handsomely;" and the speaker licked his lips, as if alreadytasting the feast in store for him.

  "Mrs. Minot is a mother worth having," said Molly Loo, coming up withBoo on the sled; and she knew what it was to need a mother, for she hadnone, and tried to care for the little brother with maternal love andpatience.

  "She is just as sweet as she can be!" declared Merry, enthusiastically.

  "Especially when she has a candy-scrape," said Joe, trying to beamiable, lest he should be left out of the party.

  Whereat they all laughed, and went gayly away for a farewell frolic, asthe sun was setting and the keen wind nipped fingers and toes as well asnoses.

  Down they went, one after another, on the various coasts,--solemn Frank,long Gus, gallant Ed, fly-away Molly Loo, pretty Laura and Lotty, grumpyJoe, sweet-faced Merry with Sue shrieking wildly behind her, gay Jackand gypsy Jill, always together,--one and all bubbling over with theinnocent jollity born of healthful exercise. People passing in the roadbelow looked up and smiled involuntarily at the red-cheeked lads andlasses, filling the frosty air with peals of laughter and cries oftriumph as they flew by in every conceivable attitude; for the fun wasat its height now, and the oldest and gravest observers felt a glow ofpleasure as they looked, remembering their own young days.

  "Jack, take me down that coast. Joe said I wouldn't dare to do it, so Imust," commanded Jill, as they paused for breath after the long trudgeup hill. Jill, of course, was not her real name, but had been givenbecause of her friendship with Jack, who so admired Janey Pecq's spiritand fun.

  "I guess I wouldn't. It is very bumpy and ends in a big drift; not halfso nice as this one. Hop on and we'll have a good spin across thepond;" and Jack brought "Thunderbolt" round with a skilful swing and anengaging air that would have won obedience from anybody but wilful Jill.

  "It is very nice, but I won't be told I don't 'dare' by any boy in theworld. If you are afraid, I'll go alone." And, before he could speak,she had snatched the rope from his hand, thrown herself upon the sled,and was off, helter-skelter, down the most dangerous coast on thehill-side.

  She did not get far, however; for, starting in a hurry, she did notguide her steed with care, and the red charger landed her in the snowhalf-way down, where she lay laughing till Jack came to pick her up.

  "If you _will_ go, I'll take you down all right. I'm not afraid, forI've done it a dozen times with the other fellows; but we gave it upbecause it is short and bad," he said, still good-natured, though alittle hurt at the charge of cowardice; for Jack was as brave as alittle lion, and with the best sort of bravery,--the courage to doright.

  "So it is; but I _must_ do it a few times, or Joe will plague me andspoil
my fun to-night," answered Jill, shaking her skirts and rubbingher blue hands, wet and cold with the snow.

  "Here, put these on; I never use them. Keep them if they fit; I onlycarry them to please mother." And Jack pulled out a pair of red mittenswith the air of a boy used to giving away.

  "They are lovely warm, and they do fit. Must be too small for your paws,so I'll knit you a new pair for Christmas, and make you wear them, too,"said Jill, putting on the mittens with a nod of thanks, and ending herspeech with a stamp of her rubber boots to enforce her threat.

  Jack laughed, and up they trudged to the spot whence the three coastsdiverged.

  "Now, which will you have?" he asked, with a warning look in the honestblue eyes which often unconsciously controlled naughty Jill against herwill.

  "That one!" and the red mitten pointed firmly to the perilous path justtried.

  "You will do it?"

  "I will!"

  "Come on, then, and hold tight."

  Jack's smile was gone now, and he waited without a word while Jilltucked herself up, then took his place in front, and off they went onthe brief, breathless trip straight into the drift by the fence below.

  "I don't see anything very awful in that. Come up and have another.Joe is watching us, and I'd like to show him that _we_ aren't afraid ofanything," said Jill, with a defiant glance at a distant boy, who hadpaused to watch the descent.

  "It is a regular 'go-bang,' if that is what you like," answered Jack, asthey plowed their way up again.

  "It is. You boys think girls like little mean coasts without any fun ordanger in them, as if we couldn't be brave and strong as well as you.Give me three go-bangs and then we'll stop. My tumble doesn't count, sogive me two more and then I'll be good."

  Jill took her seat as she spoke, and looked up with such a rosy,pleading face that Jack gave in at once, and down they went again,raising a cloud of glittering snow-dust as they reined up in fine stylewith their feet on the fence.

  "It's just splendid! Now, one more!" cried Jill, excited by the cheersof a sleighing party passing below.

  Proud of his skill, Jack marched back, resolved to make the third "go"the crowning achievement of the afternoon, while Jill pranced after himas lightly as if the big boots were the famous seven-leagued ones, andchattering about the candy-scrape and whether there would be nuts ornot.

  So full were they of this important question, that they piled onhap-hazard, and started off still talking so busily that Jill forgot tohold tight and Jack to steer carefully. Alas, for the candy-scrape thatnever was to be! Alas, for poor "Thunderbolt" blindly setting forthon the last trip he ever made! And oh, alas, for Jack and Jill, whowilfully chose the wrong road and ended their fun for the winter! Noone knew how it happened, but instead of landing in the drift, or at thefence, there was a great crash against the bars, a dreadful plunge offthe steep bank, a sudden scattering of girl, boy, sled, fence, earth,and snow, all about the road, two cries, and then silence.

  "I knew they'd do it!" and, standing on the post where he had perched,Joe waved his arms and shouted: "Smash-up! Smash-up! Run! Run!" like araven croaking over a battlefield when the fight was done.

  Down rushed boys and girls ready to laugh or cry, as the case might be,for accidents will happen on the best-regulated coasting-grounds. Theyfound Jack sitting up looking about him with a queer, dazed expression,while an ugly cut on the forehead was bleeding in a way which soberedthe boys and frightened the girls half out of their wits.

  "He's killed! He's killed!" wailed Sue, hiding her face and beginning tocry.

  "No, I'm not. I'll be all right when I get my breath. Where's Jill?"asked Jack, stoutly, though still too giddy to see straight.

  The group about him opened, and his comrade in misfortune was discoveredlying quietly in the snow with all the pretty color shocked out of herface by the fall, and winking rapidly, as if half stunned. But no woundsappeared, and when asked if she was dead, she answered in a vague sortof way,--

  "I guess not. Is Jack hurt?"

  "Broken his head," croaked Joe, stepping aside, that she might beholdthe fallen hero vainly trying to look calm and cheerful with red dropsrunning down his cheek and a lump on his forehead.

  Jill shut her eyes and waved the girls away, saying, faintly,--

  "Never mind me. Go and see to him."

  "Don't! I'm all right," and Jack tried to get up in order to prove thatheaders off a bank were mere trifles to him; but at the first movementof the left leg he uttered a sharp cry of pain, and would have fallen ifGus had not caught and gently laid him down.

  "What is it, old chap?" asked Frank, kneeling beside him, really alarmednow, the hurts seeming worse than mere bumps, which were common affairsamong baseball players, and not worth much notice.

  "I lit on my head, but I guess I've broken my leg. Don't frightenmother," and Jack held fast to Frank's arm as he looked into the anxiousface bent over him; for, though the elder tyrannized over the younger,the brothers loved one another dearly.

  "Lift his head, Frank, while I tie my handkerchief round to stop thebleeding," said a quiet voice, as Ed Devlin laid a handful of soft snowon the wound; and Jack's face brightened as he turned to thank the onebig boy who never was rough with the small ones.

  "Better get him right home," advised Gus, who stood by looking on, withhis little sisters Laura and Lotty clinging to him.

  "Take Jill, too, for it's my opinion she has broken her back. She can'tstir one bit," announced Molly Loo, with a droll air of triumph, as ifrather pleased than otherwise to have her patient hurt the worse; forJack's wound was very effective, and Molly had a taste for the tragic.

  This cheerful statement was greeted with a wail from Susan and howlsfrom Boo, who had earned that name from the ease with which, on alloccasions, he could burst into a dismal roar without shedding a tear,and stop as suddenly as he began.

  "Oh, I am so sorry! It was my fault; I shouldn't have let her do it,"said Jack, distressfully.

  "It was all _my_ fault; I made him. If I'd broken every bone I've got,it would serve me right. Don't help me, anybody; I'm a wicked thing, andI deserve to lie here and freeze and starve and die!" cried Jill, pilingup punishments in her remorseful anguish of mind and body.

  "But we want to help you, and we can settle about blame by and by,"whispered Merry with a kiss; for she adored dashing Jill, and neverwould own that she did wrong.

  "Here come the wood-sleds just in time. I'll cut away and tell one ofthem to hurry up." And, freeing himself from his sisters, Gus went offat a great pace, proving that the long legs carried a sensible head aswell as a kind heart.

  As the first sled approached, an air of relief pervaded the agitatedparty, for it was driven by Mr. Grant, a big, benevolent-looking farmer,who surveyed the scene with the sympathetic interest of a man and afather.

  "Had a little accident, have you? Well, that's a pretty likely place fora spill. Tried it once myself and broke the bridge of my nose," he said,tapping that massive feature with a laugh which showed that fifty yearsof farming had not taken all the boy out of him. "Now then, let's seeabout this little chore, and lively, too, for it's late, and theseparties ought to be housed," he added, throwing down his whip, pushingback his cap, and nodding at the wounded with a reassuring smile.

  "Jill first, please, sir," said Ed, the gentle squire of dames,spreading his overcoat on the sled as eagerly as ever Raleigh laid downhis velvet cloak for a queen to walk upon.

  "All right. Just lay easy, my dear, and I won't hurt you a mite if I canhelp it."

  Careful as Mr. Grant was, Jill could have screamed with pain as helifted her; but she set her lips and bore it with the courage of alittle Indian; for all the lads were looking on, and Jill was proud toshow that a girl could bear as much as a boy. She hid her face in thecoat as soon as she was settled, to hide the tears that would come, andby the time Jack was placed beside her, she had quite a little cisternof salt water stored up in Ed's coat-pocket.

  Then the mournful procession set forth
, Mr. Grant driving the oxen, thegirls clustering about the interesting invalids on the sled, while theboys came behind like a guard of honor, leaving the hill deserted byall but Joe, who had returned to hover about the fatal fence, and poor"Thunderbolt," split asunder, lying on the bank to mark the spot wherethe great catastrophe occurred.