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Chapter 2 – Two Penitents

Louisa May AlcottNov 04, 2016'Command+D' Bookmark this page

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Jack and Jill never cared to say much about the night which
followed the first coasting party of the season, for it was the
saddest and the hardest 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 wrung several sharp cries from him, and made
Frank, who helped, quite weak and white with sympathy, when it
was over. The wounded head ached dreadfully, and the poor boy
felt as if bruised all over, for he had the worst of the fall. Dr.
Whiting spoke cheerfully of the case, and made so light of broken
legs, that Jack innocently asked if he should not be up in a week or
so.

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

"Twenty-one days! Three whole weeks in bed! I shouldn’t call that
quick work," groaned the dismayed patient, whose experience of
illness had been limited.

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

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

"Keep her quiet, and time will show how much damage is done,"
was all he said in her hearing; but if she had known that he told
Mrs. Pecq he feared serious consequences, she would not have
wondered why her mother cried 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
and then reminded her of her body; but her remorseful little soul
gave her no peace for thinking of Jack, whose bruises and
breakages her lively fancy painted in the darkest colors.

"Oh, don’t be good to me, Mammy; I made him go, and now he’s
hurt dreadfully, and may die; and it is all my fault, and everybody
ought to hate me," sobbed poor Jill, as a neighbor left the room
after reporting in a minute manner how Jack screamed when his
leg was set, and how Frank was found white as a sheet, with his
head under the pump, while Gus restored the tone of his friend’s
nerves, by pumping as if the house was on fire.

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

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

"You’d better begin at once, for you won’t get out of that bed for a
long while, I’m afraid, my lamb," sighed her mother, unable to
conceal the 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’ll
bear it well, and be good right away. Sing, Mammy, and I’ll try to
go to sleep to please you."

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

Mrs. Pecq was an Englishwoman who had left Montreal at the
death of her husband, a French Canadian, and had come to live in
the tiny cottage which stood near Mrs. Minot’s big house,
separated only by an arbor-vitae hedge. A sad, silent person, who
had seen better days, but said nothing about them, and earned her
bread by sewing, nursing, work in the factory, or anything that
came in her way, being anxious to educate 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 child laid up for months,
probably, and the one ambition and pleasure of the solitary
woman’s life was to see Janey Pecq’s name over all the high marks
in the school-reports she proudly brought home.

"She’ll win through, please Heaven, and I’ll see my lass a
gentlewoman yet, thanks to the good friend in yonder, who will
never let her want for care," thought the poor soul, looking out into
the gloom where a long ray of light streamed from the great house
warm and comfortable upon the cottage, like the spirit of kindness
which made the inmates friends and neighbors.

Meantime, that other mother sat by her boy’s bed as anxious but
with better hope, for Mrs. Minot made trouble sweet and helpful
by the way in which she bore it; and her boys were learning of her
how to find silver linings to the clouds that must come into the
bluest skies.

Jack lay wide awake, with hot cheeks, and throbbing head, and all
sorts of queer sensations in the broken leg. The soothing potion he
had taken did not affect him yet, and he tried to beguile the weary
time by wondering who came and went below. Gentle rings at the
front door, and mysterious tappings at the back, had been going on
all the evening; for the report of the accident had grown
astonishingly in its travels, and at 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 had dislocated one shoulder, and was
bruised black and blue from top to toe. Such being the case, it is
no wonder that anxious playmates and neighbors haunted the
doorsteps of the two houses, and that offers of help poured in.

Frank, having tied up the bell and put a notice in the lighted
side-window, saying, "Go to the back door," sat in the parlor,
supported by his chum, Gus, while Ed played softly on the piano,
hoping to lull Jack to sleep. It did soothe him, for a very sweet
friendship existed between the tall youth and the lad of thirteen.
Ed went with the big fellows, but always had a kind word for the
smaller boys; and affectionate Jack, never ashamed to show his
love, was often seen with his arm round Ed’s shoulder, as they sat
together in the pleasant red parlors, where all the young people
were welcome and Frank was king.

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

"Not much. I forget it listening to the music. Dear old Ed is
playing all my favorite tunes, and it is very nice. I guess he feels
pretty sorry 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 of your poor sled, because he didn’t like to leave them
lying round for any one to carry off, he said, and you might like
them to remember your fall by."

Jack tried to laugh, but it was rather a failure, though be managed
to say, cheerfully, –

"That was good of old Joe. I wouldn’t lend him ‘Thunderbolt’ for
fear he’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 wish you’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
going heels over head down that dreadful hill. No more pranks of
that sort for some time, Jacky;" and Mrs. Minot looked rather
pleased on the whole to have 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. Oh
dear!"

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

"Foolish fun, as you see, dear. Another time, stand firm and help
Jill to control her headstrong will. When you learn to yield less and
she more, 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
would have saved us lots of trouble if I’d said No in the
beginning. I tried to, but she would go. Poor Jill! I’ll take better
care of her next time. Is she very ill, Mamma?"

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

"I wish she had a nice place like this to be sick in. It must be very
poky in those little rooms," said Jack, as his eye roved round the
large chamber where he lay so cosey, warm, and pleasant, with the
gay chintz curtains 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 kind
heart about her to-night, but try to sleep; that’s what you need,"
answered his mother, wetting the bandage on his forehead, and
putting a cool hand on the flushed cheeks.

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

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

The blue eyes opened wide, and Jack’s own sunshiny smile broke
through the 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 the sweet things about pain and sorrow is that they show us how
well we are loved, how much kindness there is in the world, and
how easily we can make 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 me
good-night, and then ‘I’ll be good,’ as Jill says."

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

 

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