Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font  

Jack and Jill, Page 2

Louisa May Alcott

  Chapter II. Two Penitents

  Jack and Jill never cared to say much about the night which followedthe first coasting party of the season, for it was the saddest and thehardest their short lives had ever known. Jack suffered most in body;for the setting of the broken leg was such a painful job, that it wrungseveral sharp cries from him, and made Frank, who helped, quite weakand white with sympathy, when it was over. The wounded head acheddreadfully, and the poor boy felt as if bruised all over, for he had theworst of the fall. Dr. Whiting spoke cheerfully of the case, and made solight of broken legs, that Jack innocently asked if he should not be upin a week or so.

  "Well, no; it usually takes twenty-one days for bones to knit, and youngones make quick work of it," answered the doctor, with a last scientifictuck to the various bandages, which made Jack feel like a haplesschicken trussed for the spit.

  "Twenty-one days! Three whole weeks in bed! I shouldn't call that quickwork," groaned the dismayed patient, whose experience of illness hadbeen limited.

  "It is a forty days' job, young man, and you must make up your mind tobear it like a hero. We will do our best; but next time, look beforeyou leap, and save your bones. Good-night; you'll feel better in themorning. No jigs, remember;" and off went the busy doctor for anotherlook at Jill, who had been ordered to bed and left to rest till theother case was attended to.

  Any one would have thought Jack's plight much the worse, but thedoctor looked more sober over Jill's hurt back than the boy's compoundfractures; and the poor little girl had a very bad quarter of an hourwhile he was trying to discover the extent of the injury.

  "Keep her quiet, and time will show how much damage is done," was allhe said in her hearing; but if she had known that he told Mrs. Pecq hefeared serious consequences, she would not have wondered why her mothercried as she rubbed the numb limbs and placed the pillows so tenderly.

  Jill suffered most in her mind; for only a sharp stab of pain now andthen reminded her of her body; but her remorseful little soul gave herno peace for thinking of Jack, whose bruises and breakages her livelyfancy painted in the darkest colors.

  "Oh, don't be good to me, Mammy; I made him go, and now he's hurtdreadfully, and may die; and it is all my fault, and everybody ought tohate me," sobbed poor Jill, as a neighbor left the room after reportingin a minute manner how Jack screamed when his leg was set, and how Frankwas found white as a sheet, with his head under the pump, while Gusrestored the tone of his friend's nerves, by pumping as if the house wason fire.

  "Whist, my lass, and go to sleep. Take a sup of the good wine Mrs. Minotsent, for you are as cold as a clod, and it breaks my heart to see myJaney so."

  "I can't go to sleep; I don't see how Jack's mother could send meanything when I've half killed him. I want to be cold and ache and havehorrid things done to me. Oh, if I ever get out of this bed I'll be thebest girl in the world, to pay for this. See if I ain't!" and Jillgave such a decided nod that her tears flew all about the pillow like ashower.

  "You'd better begin at once, for you won't get out of that bed for along while, I'm afraid, my lamb," sighed her mother, unable to concealthe anxiety that lay so heavy on her heart.

  "Am I hurt badly, Mammy?"

  "I fear it, lass."

  "I'm _glad_ of it; I ought to be worse than Jack, and I hope I am. I'llbear it well, and be good right away. Sing, Mammy, and I'll try to go tosleep to please you."

  Jill shut her eyes with sudden and unusual meekness, and before hermother had crooned half a dozen verses of an old ballad, the littleblack head lay still upon the pillow, and repentant Jill was fast asleepwith a red mitten in her hand.

  Mrs. Pecq was an Englishwoman who had left Montreal at the death of herhusband, a French Canadian, and had come to live in the tiny cottagewhich stood near Mrs. Minot's big house, separated only by anarbor-vitae hedge. A sad, silent person, who had seen better days, butsaid nothing about them, and earned her bread by sewing, nursing, workin the factory, or anything that came in her way, being anxious toeducate her little girl. Now, as she sat beside the bed in the small,poor room, that hope almost died within her, for here was the childlaid up for months, probably, and the one ambition and pleasure of thesolitary woman's life was to see Janey Pecq's name over all the highmarks in the school-reports she proudly brought home.

  "She'll win through, please Heaven, and I'll see my lass a gentlewomanyet, thanks to the good friend in yonder, who will never let her wantfor care," thought the poor soul, looking out into the gloom where along ray of light streamed from the great house warm and comfortableupon the cottage, like the spirit of kindness which made the inmatesfriends and neighbors.

  Meantime, that other mother sat by her boy's bed as anxious but withbetter hope, for Mrs. Minot made trouble sweet and helpful by the way inwhich she bore it; and her boys were learning of her how to find silverlinings to the clouds that must come into the bluest skies.

  Jack lay wide awake, with hot cheeks, and throbbing head, and all sortsof queer sensations in the broken leg. The soothing potion he hadtaken did not affect him yet, and he tried to beguile the weary time bywondering who came and went below. Gentle rings at the front door, andmysterious tappings at the back, had been going on all the evening; forthe report of the accident had grown astonishingly in its travels, andat eight o'clock the general belief was that Jack had broken both legs,fractured his skull, and lay at the point of death, while Jill haddislocated one shoulder, and was bruised black and blue from top totoe. Such being the case, it is no wonder that anxious playmates andneighbors haunted the doorsteps of the two houses, and that offers ofhelp poured in.

  Frank, having tied up the bell and put a notice in the lightedside-window, saying, "Go to the back door," sat in the parlor, supportedby his chum, Gus, while Ed played softly on the piano, hoping to lullJack to sleep. It did soothe him, for a very sweet friendship existedbetween the tall youth and the lad of thirteen. Ed went with thebig fellows, but always had a kind word for the smaller boys; andaffectionate Jack, never ashamed to show his love, was often seen withhis arm round Ed's shoulder, as they sat together in the pleasant redparlors, where all the young people were welcome and Frank was king.

  "Is the pain any easier, my darling?" asked Mrs. Minot, leaning over thepillow, where the golden head lay quiet for a moment.

  "Not much. I forget it listening to the music. Dear old Ed is playingall my favorite tunes, and it is very nice. I guess he feels prettysorry about me."

  "They all do. Frank could not talk of it. Gus wouldn't go home to tea,he was so anxious to do something for us. Joe brought back the bits ofyour poor sled, because he didn't like to leave them lying round for anyone to carry off, he said, and you might like them to remember your fallby."

  Jack tried to laugh, but it was rather a failure, though he managed tosay, cheerfully,--

  "That was good of old Joe. I wouldn't lend him 'Thunderbolt' for fearhe'd hurt it. Couldn't have smashed it up better than I did, could he?Don't think I want any pieces to remind me of _that_ fall. I just wishyou'd seen us, mother! It must have been a splendid spill to look at,any way."

  "No, thank you; I'd rather not even try to imagine my precious boy goingheels over head down that dreadful hill. No more pranks of that sort forsome time, Jacky;" and Mrs. Minot looked rather pleased on the whole tohave her venturesome bird safe under her maternal wing.

  "No coasting till some time in January. What a fool I was to do it!Go-bangs always are dangerous, and that's the fun of the thing. Ohdear!"

  Jack threw his arms about and frowned darkly, but never said a word ofthe wilful little baggage who had led him into mischief; he was too muchof a gentleman to tell on a girl, though it cost him an effort to holdhis tongue, because Mamma's good opinion was very precious to him, andhe longed to explain. She knew all about it, however, for Jill had beencarried into the house reviling herself for the mishap, and even in themidst of her own anxiety for her boy, Mrs. Minot understood the state ofthe case without more words. So she now set his mind at rest by

  "Foolish fun, as you see, dear. Another time, stand firm and help Jillto control her headstrong will. When you learn to yield less and shemore, there will be no scrapes like this to try us all."

  "I'll remember, mother. I hate not to be obliging, but I guess it wouldhave saved us lots of trouble if I'd said No in the beginning. I triedto, but she _would_ go. Poor Jill! I'll take better care of her nexttime. Is she very ill, Mamma?"

  "I can tell you better to-morrow. She does not suffer much, and we hopethere is no great harm done."

  "I wish she had a nice place like this to be sick in. It must be verypoky in those little rooms," said Jack, as his eye roved round the largechamber where he lay so cosey, warm, and pleasant, with the gay chintzcurtains draping doors and windows, the rosy carpet, comfortable chairs,and a fire glowing in the grate.

  "I shall see that she suffers for nothing, so don't trouble your kindheart about her to-night, but try to sleep; that's what you need,"answered his mother, wetting the bandage on his forehead, and putting acool hand on the flushed cheeks.

  Jack obediently closed his eyes and listened while the boys sang "TheSweet By and By," softening their rough young voices for his sake tillthe music was as soft as a lullaby. He lay so still his mother thoughthe was off, but presently a tear slipped out and rolled down the redcheek, wetting her hand as it passed.

  "My blessed boy, what is it?" she whispered, with a touch and a tonethat only mothers have.

  The blue eyes opened wide, and Jack's own sunshiny smile broke throughthe tears that filled them as he said with a sniff,--

  "Everybody is so good to me I can't help making a noodle of myself.

  "You are not a noodle!" cried Mamma, resenting the epithet. "One of thesweet things about pain and sorrow is that they show us how well we areloved, how much kindness there is in the world, and how easily we canmake others happy in the same way when they need help and sympathy.Don't forget that, little son."

  "Don't see how I can, with you to show me how nice it is. Kiss megood-night, and then 'I'll be good,' as Jill says."

  Nestling his head upon his mother's arm, Jack lay quiet till, lulled bythe music of his mates, he drowsed away into the dreamless sleep whichis Nurse Nature's healthiest soothing sirup for weary souls and bodies.