Jack and Jill by Louisa May Alcott
Chapter 15. Saint Lucy
Saturday was a busy and a happy time to Jack, for in the morning Mr. Acton came to see him, having heard the story overnight, and promised to keep Bob's secret while giving Jack an acquittal as public as the reprimand had been. Then he asked for the report which Jack had bravely received the day before and put away without showing to anybody.
"There is one mistake here which we must rectify," said Mr. Acton, as he crossed out the low figures under the word "Behavior," and put the much-desired 100 there.
"But I did break the rule, sir," said Jack, though his face glowed with pleasure, for Mamma was looking on.
"I overlook that as I should your breaking into my house if you saw it was on fire. You ran to save a friend, and I wish I could tell those fellows why you were there. It would do them good. I am not going to praise you, John, but I did believe you in spite of appearances, and I am glad to have for a pupil a boy who loves his neighbor better than himself."
Then, having shaken hands heartily, Mr. Acton went away, and Jack flew off to have rejoicings with Jill, who sat up on her sofa, without knowing it, so eager was she to hear all about the call.
In the afternoon Jack drove his mother to the Captain's, confiding to her on the way what a hard time he had when he went before, and how nothing but the thought of cheering Bob kept him up when he slipped and hurt his knee, and his boot sprung a leak, and the wind came up very cold, and the hill seemed an endless mountain of mud and snow.
Mrs. Minot had such a gentle way of putting things that she would have won over a much harder man than the strict old Captain, who heard the story with interest, and was much pleased with the boys' efforts to keep Bob straight. That young person dodged away into the barn with Jack, and only appeared at the last minute to shove a bag of chestnuts into the chaise. But he got a few kind words that did him good, from Mrs. Minot and the Captain, and from that day felt himself under bonds to behave well if he would keep their confidence.
"I shall give Jill the nuts; and I wish I had something she wanted very, very much, for I do think she ought to be rewarded for getting me out of the mess," said Jack, as they'd rove happily home again.
"I hope to have something in a day or two that will delight her very much. I will say no more now, but keep my little secret and let it be a surprise to all by and by," answered his mother, looking as if she had not much doubt about the matter.
"That will be jolly. You are welcome to your secret, Mamma. I've had enough of them for one while"; and Jack shrugged his broad shoulders as if a burden had been taken off.
In the evening Ed came, and Jack was quite satisfied when he saw how pleased his friend was at what he had done.
"I never meant you should take so much trouble, only be kind to Bob," said Ed, who did not know how strong his influence was, nor what a sweet example of quiet well-doing his own life was to all his mates.
"I wished to be really useful; not just to talk about it and do nothing. That isn't your way, and I want to be like you," answered
Jack, with such affectionate sincerity that Ed could not help believing him, though he modestly declined the compliment by saying, as he began to play softly, "Better than I am, I hope. I don't amount to much."
"Yes, you do! and if anyone says you don't I'll shake him. I can't tell what it is, only you always look so happy and contented--sort of sweet and shiny," said Jack, as he stroked the smooth brown head, rather at a loss to describe the unusually fresh and sunny expression of Ed's face, which was always cheerful, yet had a certain thoughtfulness that made it very attractive to both young and old.
"Soap makes him shiny; I never saw such a fellow to wash and brush," put in Frank, as he came up with one of the pieces of music he and Ed were fond of practising together.
"I don't mean that!" said Jack indignantly. "I wash and brush till you call me a dandy, but I don't have the same look--it seems to come from the inside, somehow, as if he was always jolly and clean and good in his mind, you know."
"Born so," said Frank, rumbling away in the bass with a pair of hands that would have been the better for some of the above- mentioned soap, for he did not love to do much in the washing and brushing line.
"I suppose that's it. Well, I like it, and I shall keep on trying, for being loved by everyone is about the nicest thing in the world. Isn't it, Ed?" asked Jack, with a gentle tweak of the ear as he put a question which he knew would get no answer, for Ed was so modest he could not see wherein he differed from other boys, nor believe that the sunshine he saw in other faces was only the reflection from his own.
Sunday evening Mrs. Minot sat by the fire, planning how she should tell some good news she had been saving up all day. Mrs. Pecq knew it, and seemed so delighted that she went about smiling as if she did not know what trouble meant, and could not do enough for the family. She was downstairs now, seeing that the clothes were properly prepared for the wash, so there was no one in the Bird Room but Mamma and the children. Frank was reading up all he could find about some Biblical hero mentioned in the day's sermon; Jill lay where she had lain for nearly four long months, and though her face was pale and thin with the confinement, there was an expression on it now sweeter even than health. Jack sat on the rug beside her, looking at a white carnation through the magnifying glass, while she was enjoying the perfume of a red one as she talked to him.
"If you look at the white petals you'll see that they sparkle like marble, and go winding a long way down to the middle of the flower where it grows sort of rosy; and in among the small, curly leaves, like fringed curtains, you can see the little green fairy sitting all alone. Your mother showed me that, and I think it is very pretty. I call it a 'fairy,' but it is really where the seeds are hidden and the sweet smell comes from."
Jill spoke softly lest she should disturb the others, and, as she turned to push up her pillow, she saw Mrs. Minot looking at her with a smile she did not understand.
"Did you speak, 'm?" she asked, smiling back again, without in the least knowing why.
"No, dear. I was listening and thinking what a pretty little story one could make out of your fairy living alone down there, and only known by her perfume."
"Tell it, Mamma. It is time for our story, and that would be a nice one, I guess," said Jack, who was as fond of stories as when he sat in his mother's lap and chuckled over the hero of the beanstalk.
'We don't have fairy tales on Sunday, you know," began Jill regretfully.
"Call it a parable, and have a moral to it, then it will be all right," put in Frank, as he shut his big book, having found what he wanted.
"I like stories about saints, and the good and wonderful things they did," said Jill, who enjoyed the wise and interesting bits Mrs. Minot often found for her in grown-up books, for Jill had thoughtful times, and asked questions which showed that she was growing fast in mind if not in body.
"This is a true story; but I will disguise it a little, and call it 'The Miracle of Saint Lucy," began Mrs. Minot, seeing a way to tell her good news and amuse the children likewise.
Frank retired to the easy-chair, that he might sleep if the tale should prove too childish for him. Jill settled herself among her cushions, and Jack lay flat upon the rug, with his feet up, so that he could admire his red slippers and rest his knee, which ached.
"Once upon a time there was a queen who had two princes."
"Wasn't there a princess?" asked Jack, interested at once.
"No; and it was a great sorrow to the queen that she had no little daughter, for the sons were growing up, and she was often very lonely.
"Like Snowdrop's mother," whispered Jill.
"Now, don't keep interrupting, children, or we never shall get on," said Frank, more anxious to hear about the boys that were than the girl that was not.
"One day, when the princes were out--ahem! we'll say hunting--they found a little damsel lying on the snow, half dead with cold, they thought. She was the child of a poor woman who lived in the forest--a wild little thing, always dancing and singing about; as hard to catch as a squirrel, and so fearless she would climb the highest trees, leap broad brooks, or jump off the steep rocks to show her courage. The boys carried her home to the palace, and the queen was glad to have her. She had fallen and hurt herself, so she lay in bed week after week, with her mother to take care of her--"
"That's you," whispered Jack, throwing the white carnation at Jill, and she threw back the red one, with her finger on her lips, for the tale was very interesting now.
"She did not suffer much after a time, but she scolded and cried, and could not be resigned, because she was a prisoner. The queen tried to help her, but she could not do much; the princes were kind, but they had their books and plays, and were away a good deal. Some friends she had came often to see her, but still she beat her wings against the bars, like a wild bird in a cage, and soon her spirits were all gone, and it was sad to see her."
"Where was your Saint Lucy? I thought it was about her, asked Jack, who did not like to have Jill's past troubles dwelt upon, since his were not.
"She is coming. Saints are not born--they are made after many trials and tribulations," answered his mother, looking at the fire as if it helped her to spin her little story. "Well, the poor child used to sing sometimes to while away the long hours--sad songs mostly, and one among them which the queen taught her was 'Sweet Patience, Come.'
"This she used to sing a great deal after a while, never dreaming that Patience was an angel who could hear and obey. But it was so; and one night, when the girl had lulled herself to sleep with that song, the angel came. Nobody saw the lovely spirit with tender eyes, and a voice that was like balm. No one heard the rustle of wings as she hovered over the little bed and touched the lips, the eyes, the hands of the sleeper, and then flew away, leaving three gifts behind. The girl did not know why, but after that night the songs grew gayer, there seemed to be more sunshine everywhere her eyes looked, and her hands were never tired of helping others in various pretty, useful, or pleasant ways. Slowly the wild bird ceased to beat against the bars, but sat in its cage and made music for all in the palace, till the queen could not do without it, the poor mother cheered up, and the princes called the girl their nightingale."
"Was that the miracle?" asked Jack, forgetting all about his slippers, as he watched Jill's eyes brighten and the color come up in her white cheeks.
"That was the miracle, and Patience can work far greater ones if you will let her."
"And the girl's name was Lucy?"
"Yes; they did not call her a saint then, but she was trying to be as cheerful as a certain good woman she had heard of, and so the queen had that name for her, though she did not let her know it for a long time."
"That's not bad for a Sunday story, but there might have been more about the princes, seems to me," was Frank's criticism, as Jill lay very still, trying to hide her face behind the carnation, for she had no words to tell how touched and pleased she was to find that her little efforts to be good had been seen, remembered, and now rewarded in this way.
There is more.
"Then the story isn't done?" cried Jack.
"Oh dear, no; the most interesting things are to come, if you can wait for them."
"Yes, I see, this is the moral part. Now keep still, and let us have the rest," commanded Frank, while the others composed themselves for the sequel, suspecting that it was rather nice, because Mamma's sober face changed, and her eyes laughed as they looked at the fire.
"The elder prince was very fond of driving dragons, for the people of that country used these fiery monsters as horses."
"And got run away with, didn't he?" laughed Jack, adding, with great interest, "What did the other fellow do?"
"He went about fighting other people's battles, helping the poor, and trying to do good. But he lacked judgment, so he often got into trouble, and was in such a hurry that he did not always stop to find out the wisest way. As when he gave away his best coat to a beggar boy, instead of the old one which he intended to give.
"I say, that isn't fair, mother! Neither of them was new, and the boy needed the best more than I'd id, and I wore the old one all winter, didn't I?" asked Jack, who had rather exulted over Frank, and was now taken down himself.
"Yes, you did, my dear; and it was not an easy thing for my dandiprat to do. Now listen, and I'll tell you how they both learned to be wiser. The elder prince soon found that the big dragons were too much for him, and set about training his own
little one, who now and then ran away with him. Its name was Will, a good servant, but a bad master; so he learned to control it, and in time this gave him great power over himself, and fitted him to be a king over others."
"Thank you, mother; I'll remember my part of the moral. Now give Jack his," said Frank, who liked the dragon episode, as he had been wrestling with his own of late, and found it hard to manage.
"He had a fine example before him in a friend, and he followed it more reasonably till he grew able to use wisely one of the best and noblest gifts of God--benevolence."
"Now tell about the girl. Was there more to that part of the story?" asked Jack, well pleased with his moral, as it took Ed in likewise.
"That is the best of all, but it seems as if I never should get to it. After Patience made Lucy sweet and cheerful, she began to have a curious power over those about her, and to work little miracles herself, though she did not know it. The queen learned to love her so dearly she could not let her go; she cheered up all her friends when they came with their small troubles; the princes found bright eyes, willing hands, and a kind heart always at their service, and felt, without quite knowing why, that it was good for them to have a gentle little creature to care for; so they softened their rough manners, loud voices, and careless ways, for her sake, and when it was proposed to take her away to her own home they could not give her up, but said she must stay longer, didn't they?"
"I'd like to see them saying anything else," said Frank, while Jack sat up to demand fiercely,
"Who talks about taking Jill away?"
"Lucy's mother thought she ought to go, and said so, but the queen told her how much good it did them all to have her there, and begged the dear woman to let her little cottage and come and be housekeeper in the palace, for the queen was getting lazy, and liked to sit and read, and talk and sew with Lucy, better than to look after things."
"And she said she would?" cried Jill, clasping her hands in her anxiety, for she had learned to love her cage now.
"Yes." Mrs. Minot had no time to say more, for one of the red slippers flew up in the air, and Jack had to clap both hands over his mouth to suppress the "hurrah!" that nearly escaped. Frank said, "That's good!" and nodded with his most cordial smile at Jill who pulled herself up with cheeks now as rosy as the red carnation, and a little catch in her breath as she said to herself,
"It's too lovely to be true."
"That's a first-rate end to a very good story," began Jack, with grave decision, as he put on his slipper and sat up to pat Jill's hand, wishing it was not quite so like a little claw.
"That's not the end"; and Mamma's eyes laughed more than ever as three astonished faces turned to her, and three voices cried out,
"The very best of all. You must know that, while Lucy was busy for others, she was not forgotten, and when she was expecting to lie on her bed through the summer, plans were being made for all sorts of pleasant changes. First of all, she was to have a nice little brace to support the back which was growing better every day; then, as the warm weather came on, she was to go out, or lie on the piazza; and by and by, when school was done, she was to go with the queen and the princes for a month or two down to the sea-side, where fresh air and salt water were to build her up in the most delightful way. There, now! isn't that the best ending of all?" and Mamma paused to read her answer in the bright faces of two of the listeners, for Jill hid hers in the pillow, and lay quite still, as if it was too much for her.
"That will be regularly splendid! I'll row you all about--boating is so much easier than riding, and I like it on salt water," said
Frank, going to sit on the arm of the sofa, quite excited by the charms of the new plan.
"And I'll teach you to swim, and roll you over the beach, and get sea-weed and shells, and no end of nice things, and we'll all come home as strong as lions," added Jack, scrambling up as if about to set off at once.
"The doctor says you have been doing finely of late, and the brace will come to-morrow, and the first really mild day you are to have a breath of fresh air. Won't that be good?" asked Mrs. Minot, hoping her story had not been too interesting.
"Is she crying?" said Jack, much concerned as he patted the pillow in his most soothing way, while Frank lifted one curl after another to see what was hidden underneath.
Not tears, for two eyes sparkled behind the fingers, then the hands came down like clouds from before the sun, and Jill's face shone out so bright and happy it did one's heart good to see it.
"I'm not crying," she said with a laugh which was fuller of blithe music than any song she sung. "But it was so splendid, it sort of took my breath away for a minute. I thought I wasn't any better, and never should be, and I made up my mind I wouldn't ask, it would be so hard for anyone to tell me so. Now I see why the doctor made me stand up, and told me to get my baskets ready to go a-Maying. I thought he was in fun; did he really mean I could go?" asked Jill, expecting too much, for a word of encouragement made her as hopeful as she had been despondent before.
"No, dear, not so soon as that. It will be months, probably, before you can walk and run, as you used to; but they will soon pass. You needn't mind about May-day; it is always too cold for flowers, and you will find more here among your own plants, than on the hills, to fill your baskets," answered Mrs. Minot, hastening to suggest something pleasant to beguile the time of probation.
"I can wait. Months are not years, and if I'm truly getting well, everything will seem beautiful and easy to me," said Jill, laying herself down again, with the patient look she had learned to wear, and gathering up the scattered carnations to enjoy their spicy breath, as if the fairies hidden there had taught her some of their sweet secrets.
"Dear little girl, it has been a long, hard trial for you, but it is coming to an end, and I think you will find that it has not been time wasted, I don't want you to be a saint quite yet, but I am sure a gentler Jill will rise up from that sofa than the one who lay down there in December."
"How could I help growing better, when you were so good to me?" cried Jill, putting up both arms, as Mrs. Minot went to take Frank's place, and he retired to the fire, there to stand surveying the scene with calm approval.
"You have done quite as much for us; so we are even. I proved that to your mother, and she is going to let the little house and take care of the big one for me, while I borrow you to keep me happy and make the boys gentle and kind. That is the bargain, and we get the best of it," said Mrs. Minot, looking well pleased, while Jack added, "That's so!" and Frank observed with an air of conviction, 'We couldn't get on without Jill, possibly."
"Can I do all that? I'd idn't know I was of any use. I only tried to be good and grateful, for there didn't seem to be anything else I could do," said Jill, wondering why they were all so fond of her.
"No real trying is ever in vain. It is like the spring rain, and flowers are sure to follow in good time. The three gifts Patience gave Saint Lucy were courage, cheerfulness, and love, and with these one can work the sweetest miracles in the world, as you see," and Mrs. Minot pointed to the pretty room and its happy inmates.
"Am I really the least bit like that good Lucinda? I tried to be, but I didn't think I was," asked Jill softly.
"You are very like her in all ways but one. She did not get well, and you will."
A short answer, but it satisfied Jill to her heart's core, and that night, when she lay in bed, she thought to herself: "How curious it is that I've been a sort of missionary without knowing it! They all love and thank me, and won't let me go, so I suppose I must have done something, but I don't know what, except trying to be good and pleasant."
That was the secret, and Jill found it out just when it was most grateful as a reward for past efforts, most helpful as an encouragement toward the constant well-doing which can make even a little girl a joy and comfort to all who know and love her.