FictionForest

Chapter 6 – Surprises

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

Light off Small Medium Large

"Is it pleasant?" was the question Jill asked before she was fairly
awake on Christmas morning.

"Yes, dear; as bright as heart could wish. Now eat a bit, and then
I’ll make you nice for the day’s pleasure. I only hope it won’t be too
much for you," answered Mrs. Pecq, bustling about, happy, yet
anxious, for Jill was to be carried over to Mrs. Minot’s, and it was
her first attempt at going out since the accident.

It seemed as if nine o’clock would never come, and Jill, with
wraps all ready, lay waiting in a fever of impatience for the
doctor’s visit, as he wished to superintend the moving. At last he
came, found all promising, and having bundled up his small
patient, carried her, with Frank’s help, in her chair-bed to the
ox-sled, which was drawn to the next door, and Miss Jill landed in
the Boys’ Den before she had time to get either cold or tired. Mrs.
Minot took her things off with a cordial welcome, but Jill never
said a word, for, after one exclamation, she lay staring about her,
dumb with surprise and delight at what she saw.

The great room was entirely changed; for now it looked like a
garden, or one of the fairy scenes children love, where in-doors
and out-of-doors are pleasantly combined. The ceiling was pale
blue, like the sky; the walls were covered with a paper like a rustic
trellis, up which climbed morning-glories so naturally that the
many-colored bells seemed dancing in the wind. Birds and
butterflies flew among them, and here and there, through arches in
the trellis, one seemed to look into a sunny summer world,
contrasting curiously with the wintry landscape lying beyond the
real windows, festooned with evergreen garlands, and curtained
only by stands of living flowers. A green drugget covered the floor
like grass, rustic chairs from the garden stood about, and in the
middle of the room a handsome hemlock waited for its pretty
burden. A Yule-log blazed on the wide hearth, and over the
chimney-piece, framed in holly, shone the words that set all hearts
to dancing, "Merry Christmas!"

"Do you like it, dear? This is our surprise for you and Jack, and
here we mean to have good times together," said Mrs. Minot, who
had stood quietly enjoying the effect of her work.

"Oh, it is so lovely I don’t know what to say!" and Jill put up both
arms, as words failed her, and grateful kisses were all she had to
offer.

"Can you suggest anything more to add to the pleasantness?" asked
the gentle lady, holding the small hands in her own, and feeling
well repaid by the child’s delight.

"Only Jack;" and Jill’s laugh was good to hear, as she glanced up
with merry, yet wistful eyes.

"You are right. We’ll have him in at once, or he will come hopping
on one leg;" and away hurried his mother, laughing, too, for
whistles, shouts, thumps, and violent demonstrations of all kinds
had been heard from the room where Jack was raging with
impatience, while he waited for his share of the surprise.

Jill could hardly lie still when she heard the roll of another
chair-bed coming down the hall, its passage enlivened with cries of
"Starboard! Port! Easy now! Pull away!" from Ralph and Frank, as
they steered the recumbent Columbus on his first voyage of
discovery.

"Well, I call that handsome!" was Jack’s exclamation, when the
full beauty of the scene burst upon his view. Then he forgot all
about it and gave a whoop of pleasure, for there beside the fire was
an eager face, two hands beckoning, and Jill’s voice crying,
joyfully, –

"I’m here! I’m here! Oh, do come, quick!" Down the long room
rattled the chair, Jack cheering all the way, and brought up beside
the other one, as the long-parted friends exclaimed, with one
accord, –

"Isn’t this jolly!"

It certainly did look so, for Ralph and Frank danced a wild sort of
fandango round the tree, Dr. Whiting stood and laughed, while the
two mothers beamed from the door-way, and the children, not
knowing whether to laugh or to cry, compromised the matter by
clapping their hands and shouting, "Merry Christmas to everybody!"
like a pair of little maniacs.

Then they all sobered down, and the busy ones went off to the
various duties of the day, leaving the young invalids to repose and
enjoy themselves together.

"How nice you look," said Jill, when they had duly admired the
pretty room.

"So do you," gallantly returned Jack, as he surveyed her with
unusual interest.

They did look very nice, though happiness was the principal
beautifier. Jill wore a red wrapper, with the most brilliant of all the
necklaces sparkling at her throat, over a nicely crimped frill her
mother had made in honor of the day. All the curly black hair was
gathered into a red net, and a pair of smart little moccasins
covered the feet that had not stepped for many a weary day. Jack
was not so gay, but had made himself as fine as circumstances
would permit. A gray dressing-gown, with blue cuffs and collar,
was very becoming to the blonde youth; an immaculate shirt, best
studs, sleeve-buttons, blue tie, and handkerchief wet with cologne
sticking out of the breast-pocket, gave an air of elegance in spite of
the afghan spread over the lower portions of his manly form. The
yellow hair was brushed till it shone, and being parted in the
middle, to hide the black patch, made two engaging little "quirls"
on his forehead. The summer tan had faded from his cheeks, but
his eyes were as blue as the wintry sky, and nearly every white
tooth was visible as he smiled on his partner in misfortune, saying
cheerily, –

"I’m ever so glad to see you again; guess we are over the worst of
it now, and can have good times. Won’t it be fun to stay here all
the while, and amuse one another?"

"Yes, indeed; but one day is so short! It will be stupider than ever
when I go home to-night," answered Jill, looking about her with
longing eyes.

"But you are not going home to-night; you are to stay ever so long.
Didn’t Mamma tell you?"

"No. Oh, how splendid! Am I really? Where will I sleep? What
will Mammy do without me?" and Jill almost sat up, she was so
delighted with the new surprise.

"That room in there is all fixed for you. I made Frank tell me so
much. Mamma said I might tell you, but I didn’t think she would
be able to hold in if she saw you first. Your mother is coming, too,
and we are all going to have larks together till we are well."

The splendor of this arrangement took Jill’s breath away, and
before she got it again, in came Frank and Ralph with two
clothes-baskets of treasures to be hung upon the tree. While they
wired on the candles the children asked questions, and found out
all they wanted to know about the new plans and pleasures.

‘Who fixed all this?"

"Mamma thought of it, and Ralph and I did it. He’s the man for
this sort of thing, you know. He proposed cutting out the arches and
sticking on birds and butterflies just where they looked best. I put
those canaries over there, they looked so well against the blue;"
and Frank proudly pointed out some queer orange-colored fowls,
looking as if they were having fits in the air, but very effective,
nevertheless.

"Your mother said you might call this the Bird Room. We caught a
scarlet-tanager for you to begin with, didn’t we, Jack?" and Ralph
threw a bon-bon at Jill, who looked very like a bright little bird in
a warm nest.

"Good for you! Yes, and we are going to keep her in this pretty
cage till we can both fly off together. I say, Jill, where shall we be
in our classes when we do get back?" and Jack’s merry face fell at
the thought.

"At the foot, if we don’t study and keep up. Doctor said I might
study sometimes, if I’d lie still as long as he thought best, and
Molly brought home my books, and Merry says she will come in
every day and tell me where the lessons are. I don’t mean to fall
behind, if my backbone is cracked," said Jill, with a decided nod
that made several black rings fly out of the net to dance on her
forehead.

"Frank said he’d pull me along in my Latin, but I’ve been lazy and
haven’t done a thing. Let’s go at it and start fair for New Year,"
proposed Jack, who did not love study as the bright girl did, but
was ashamed to fall behind her in anything.

"All right. They’ve been reviewing, so we can keep up when they
begin, if we work next week, while the rest have a holiday. Oh,
dear, I do miss school dreadfully;" and Jill sighed for the old desk,
every blot and notch of which was dear to her.

"There come our things, and pretty nice they look, too," said Jack;
and his mother began to dress the tree, hanging up the gay horns,
the gilded nuts, red and yellow apples and oranges, and festooning
long strings of pop-corn and scarlet cranberries from bough to
bough, with the glittering necklaces hung where the light would
show their colors best.

"I never saw such a splendid tree before. I’m glad we could help,
though we were ill. Is it all done now?" asked Jill, when the last
parcel was tied on and everybody stood back to admire the pretty
sight.

"One thing more. Hand me that box, Frank, and be very careful
that you fasten this up firmly, Ralph," answered Mrs. Minot, as she
took from its wrappings the waxen figure of a little child. The rosy
limbs were very life-like, so was the smiling face under the locks
of shining hair. Both plump arms were outspread as if to scatter
blessings over all, and downy wings seemed to flutter from the
dimpled shoulders, making an angel of the baby.

"Is it St. Nicholas?" asked Jill, who had never seen that famous
personage, and knew but little of Christmas festivities.

"It is the Christ-child, whose birthday we are celebrating. I got the
best I could find, for I like the idea better than old Santa Claus;
though we may have him, too," said Mamma, holding the little
image so that both could see it well.

"It looks like a real baby;" and Jack touched the rosy foot with the
tip of his finger, as if expecting a crow from the half-open lips.

"It reminds me of the saints in the chapel of the Sacred Heart in
Montreal. One little St. John looked like this, only he had a lamb
instead of wings," said Jill, stroking the flaxen hair, and wishing
she dared ask for it to play with.

"He is the children’s saint to pray to, love, and imitate, for he never
forgot them, but blessed and healed and taught them all his life.
This is only a poor image of the holiest baby ever born, but I hope
it will keep his memory in your minds all day, because this is the
day for good resolutions, happy thoughts, and humble prayers, as
well as play and gifts and feasting."

While she spoke, Mrs. Minot, touching the little figure as tenderly
as if it were alive, had tied a broad white ribbon round it, and,
handing it to Ralph, bade him fasten it to the hook above the
tree-top, where it seemed to float as if the downy wings supported
it.

Jack and Jill lay silently watching, with a sweet sort of soberness
in their young faces, and for a moment the room was very still as
all eyes looked up at the Blessed Child. The sunshine seemed to
grow more golden as it flickered on the little head, the flames
glanced about the glittering tree as if trying to climb and kiss the
baby feet, and, without, a chime of bells rang sweetly, calling
people to hear again the lovely story of the life begun on
Christmas Day.

Only a minute, but it did them good, and presently, when the
pleasant work was over, and the workers gone, the boys to church,
and Mamma to see about lunch for the invalids, Jack said, gravely,
to Jill, –

"I think we ought to be extra good, every one is so kind to us, and
we are getting well, and going to have such capital times. Don’t see
how we can do anything else to show we are grateful."

"It isn’t easy to be good when one is sick," said Jill, thoughtfully. "I
fret dreadfully, I get so tired of being still. I want to scream
sometimes, but I don’t, because it would scare Mammy, so I cry.
Do you cry, Jack?"

"Men never do. I want to tramp round when things bother me; but I
can’t, so I kick and say, ‘Hang it!’ and when I get very bad I pitch
into Frank, and he lets me. I tell you, Jill, he’s a good brother!" and
Jack privately resolved then and there to invite Frank to take it out
of him in any form he pleased as soon as health would permit.

"I rather think we shall grow good in this pretty place, for I don’t
see how we can be bad if we want to, it is all so nice and sort of
pious here," said Jill, with her eyes on the angel over the tree.

"A fellow can be awfully hungry, I know that. I didn’t half eat
breakfast, I was in such a hurry to see you, and know all about the
secrets. Frank kept saying I couldn’t guess, that you had come,
and I never would be ready, till finally I got mad and fired an egg
at him, and made no end of a mess."

Jack and Jill went off into a gale of laughter at the idea of
dignified Frank dodging the egg that smashed on the wall, leaving
an indelible mark of Jack’s besetting sin, impatience.

Just then Mrs. Minot came in, well pleased to hear such pleasant
sounds, and to see two merry faces, where usually one listless one
met her anxious eyes.

"The new medicine works well, neighbor," she said to Mrs. Pecq,
who followed with the lunch tray.

"Indeed it does, mem. I feel as if I’d taken a sup myself, I’m that
easy in my mind."

And she looked so, too, for she seemed to have left all her cares in
the little house when she locked the door behind her, and now
stood smiling with a clean apron on, so fresh and cheerful, that Jill
hardly knew her own mother.

"Things taste better when you have someone to eat with you,"
observed Jack, as they devoured sandwiches, and drank milk out
of little mugs with rosebuds on them.

"Don’t eat too much, or you won’t be ready for the next surprise,"
said his mother, when the plates were empty, and the last drop
gone down throats dry with much chatter.

"More surprises! Oh, what fun!" cried Jill. And all the rest of the
morning, in the intervals of talk and play, they tried to guess what
it could be.

At two o’clock they found out, for dinner was served in the Bird
Room, and the children revelled in the simple feast prepared for
them. The two mothers kept the little bed-tables well supplied, and
fed their nurslings like maternal birds, while Frank presided over
the feast with great dignity, and ate a dinner which would have
astonished Mamma, if she had not been too busy to observe how
fast the mince pie vanished.

"The girls said Christmas was spoiled because of us; but I don’t
think so, and they won’t either, when they see this splendid place
and know all about our nice plans," said Jill, luxuriously eating the
nut-meats Jack picked out for her, as they lay in Eastern style at
the festive board.

"I call this broken bones made easy. I never had a better Christmas.
Have a raisin? Here’s a good fat one." And Jack made a long arm
to Jill’s mouth, which began to sing "Little Jack Horner" as an
appropriate return.

"It would have been a lonesome one to all of us, I’m thinking, but
for your mother, boys. My duty and hearty thanks to you, mem,"
put in grateful Mrs. Pecq, bowing over her coffee-cup as she had
seen ladies bow over their wine-glasses at dinner parties in Old
England.

"I rise to propose a health, Our Mothers." And Frank stood up with
a goblet of water, for not even at Christmas time was wine seen on
that table.

"Hip, hip, hurrah!" called Jack, baptizing himself with a good
sprinkle, as he waved his glass and drank the toast with a look that
made his mother’s eyes fill with happy tears.

Jill threw her mother a kiss, feeling very grown up and elegant to
be dining out in such style. Then they drank every one’s health
with much merriment, till Frank declared that Jack would float off
on the deluge of water he splashed about in his enthusiasm, and
Mamma proposed a rest after the merry-making.

"Now the best fun is coming, and we have not long to wait," said
the boy, when naps and rides about the room had whiled away the
brief interval between dinner and dusk, for the evening
entertainment was to be an early one, to suit the invalids’ bedtime.

"I hope the girls will like their things. I helped to choose them, and
each has a nice present. I don’t know mine, though, and I’m in a
twitter to see it," said Jill, as they lay waiting for the fun to begin.

"I do; I chose it, so I know you will like one of them, any way."

"Have I got more than one?"

"I guess you’ll think so when they are handed down. The bell was
going all day yesterday, and the girls kept bringing in bundles for
you; I see seven now," and Jack rolled his eyes from one
mysterious parcel to another hanging on the laden boughs.

"I know something, too. That square bundle is what you want ever
so much. I told Frank, and he got it for his present. It is all red and
gold outside, and every sort of color inside; you’ll hurrah when
you see it. That roundish one is yours too; I made them," cried Jill,
pointing to a flat package tied to the stem of the tree, and a neat
little roll in which were the blue mittens that she had knit for him.

"I can wait;" but the boy’s eyes shone with eagerness, and he could
not resist firing two or three pop-corns at it to see whether it was
hard or soft.

"That barking dog is for Boo, and the little yellow sled, so Molly
can drag him to school, he always tumbles down so when it is
slippery," continued Jill, proud of her superior knowledge, as she
showed a small spotted animal hanging by its tail, with a red
tongue displayed as if about to taste the sweeties in the horn
below.

"Don’t talk about sleds, for mercy’s sake! I never want to see
another, and you wouldn’t, either, if you had to lie with a flat-iron
tied to your ankle, as I do," said Jack, with a kick of the well leg
and an ireful glance at the weight attached to the other that it
might not contract while healing.

"Well, I think plasters, and liniment, and rubbing, as bad as
flat-irons any day. I don’t believe you have ached half so much as I
have, though it sounds worse to break legs than to sprain your
back," protested Jill, eager to prove herself the greater sufferer, as
invalids are apt to be.

"I guess you wouldn’t think so if you’d been pulled round as I
was when they set my leg. Caesar, how it did hurt!" and Jack
squirmed at the recollection of it.

"You didn’t faint away as I did when the doctor was finding out if
my vertebrums were hurt, so now!" cried Jill, bound to carry her
point, though not at all clear what vertebrae were.

"Pooh! Girls always faint. Men are braver, and I didn’t faint a bit
in spite of all that horrid agony."

"You howled; Frank told me so. Doctor said I was a brave girl, so
you needn’t brag, for you’ll have to go on a crutch for a while. I
know that."

"You may have to use two of them for years, may be. I heard the
doctor tell my mother so. I shall be up and about long before you
will. Now then!"

Both children were getting excited, for the various pleasures of the
day had been rather too much for them, and there is no knowing
but they would have added the sad surprise of a quarrel to the
pleasant ones of the day, if a cheerful whistle had not been heard,
as Ralph came in to light the candles and give the last artistic
touches to the room.

"Well, young folks, how goes it? Had a merry time so far?" he
asked, as he fixed the steps and ran up with a lighted match in his
hand.

"Very nice, thank you," answered a prim little voice from the dusk
below, for only the glow of the fire filled the room just then.

Jack said nothing, and two red sulky faces were hidden in the dark,
watching candle after candle sputter, brighten, and twinkle, till the
trembling shadows began to flit away like imps afraid of the light.

"Now he will see my face, and I know it is cross," thought Jill, as
Ralph went round the last circle, leaving another line of sparks
among the hemlock boughs.

Jack thought the same, and had just got the frown smoothed out of
his forehead, when Frank brought a fresh log, and a glorious blaze
sprung up, filling every corner of the room, and dancing over the
figures in the long chairs till they had to brighten whether they
liked it or not. Presently the bell began to ring and gay voices to
sound below: then Jill smiled in spite of herself as Molly Loo’s
usual cry of "Oh, dear, where is that child?" reached her, and Jack
could not help keeping time to the march Ed played, while Frank
and Gus marshalled the procession.

"Ready!" cried Mrs. Minot, at last, and up came the troop of eager
lads and lasses, brave in holiday suits, with faces to match. A
unanimous "O, o, o!" burst from twenty tongues, as the full
splendor of the tree, the room, and its inmates, dawned upon them;
for not only did the pretty Christ-child hover above, but Santa
Claus himself stood below, fur-clad, white-bearded, and powdered
with snow from the dredging-box.

Ralph was a good actor, and, when the first raptures were over he
distributed the presents with such droll speeches, jokes, and
gambols, that the room rang with merriment, and passers-by
paused to listen, sure that here, at least, Christmas was merry. It
would be impossible to tell about all the gifts or the joy of the
receivers, but every one was satisfied, and the king and queen of
the revels so overwhelmed with little tokens of good-will, that
their beds looked like booths at a fair. Jack beamed over the
handsome postage-stamp book which had long been the desire of
his heart, and Jill felt like a millionaire, with a silver fruit-knife, a
pretty work-basket, and oh! – coals of fire on her head! – a ring from
Jack.

A simple little thing enough, with one tiny turquoise forget-me-
not, but something like a dew-drop fell on it when no one was
looking, and she longed to say, "I’m sorry I was cross; forgive me,
Jack." But it could not be done then, so she turned to admire
Merry’s bed-shoes, the pots of pansies, hyacinths, and geranium
which Gus and his sisters sent for her window garden, Molly’s
queer Christmas pie, and the zither Ed promised to teach her how
to play upon.

The tree was soon stripped, and pop-corns strewed the floor as the
children stood about picking them off the red threads when candy
gave out, with an occasional cranberry by way of relish. Boo
insisted on trying the new sled at once, and enlivened the trip by
the squeaking of the spotted dog, the toot of a tin trumpet, and
shouts of joy at the splendor of the turn-out.

The girls all put on their necklaces, and danced about like fine
ladies at a ball. The boys fell to comparing skates, balls, and
cuff-buttons on the spot, while the little ones devoted all their
energies to eating everything eatable they could lay their hands on.

Games were played till nine o’clock, and then the party broke up,
after they had taken hands round the tree and sung a song written
by one whom you all know, – so faithfully and beautifully does she
love and labor for children the world over.

THE BLESSED DAY

"What shall little children bring

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?

What shall little children bring

On Christmas Day in the morning?

This shall little children bring

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;

Love and joy to Christ their king,

On Christmas Day in the morning!

"What shall little children sing

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day?

What shall little children sing

On Christmas Day in the morning?

The grand old carols shall they sing

On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;

With all their hearts, their offerings bring

On Christmas Day in the morning."

Jack was carried off to bed in such haste that he had only time to
call out, "Good-night!" before he was rolled away, gaping as he
went. Jill soon found herself tucked up in the great white bed she
was to share with her mother, and lay looking about the pleasant
chamber, while Mrs. Pecq ran home for a minute to see that all
was safe there for the night.

After the merry din the house seemed very still, with only a light
step now and then, the murmur of voices not far away, or the jingle
of sleigh-bells from without, and the little girl rested easily among
the pillows, thinking over the pleasures of the day, too wide-awake
for sleep. There was no lamp in the chamber, but she could look
into the pretty Bird Room, where the fire-light still shone on
flowery walls, deserted tree, and Christ-child floating above the
green. Jill’s eyes wandered there and lingered till they were full of
regretful tears, because the sight of the little angel recalled the
words spoken when it was hung up, the good resolution she had
taken then, and how soon it was broken.

"I said I couldn’t be bad in that lovely place, and I was a cross,
ungrateful girl after all they’ve done for Mammy and me. Poor
Jack was hurt the worst, and he was brave, though he did scream.
I wish I could go and tell him so, and hear him say, ‘All right.’ Oh,
me, I’ve spoiled the day!"

A great sob choked more words, and Jill was about to have a
comfortable cry, when someone entered the other room, and she
saw Frank doing something with a long cord and a thing that
looked like a tiny drum. Quiet as a bright-eyed mouse, Jill peeped
out wondering what it was, and suspecting mischief, for the boy
was laughing to himself as he stretched the cord, and now and then
bent over the little object in his hand, touching it with great care.

"May be it’s a torpedo to blow up and scare me; Jack likes to play
tricks. Well, I’ll scream loud when it goes off, so he will be
satisfied that I’m dreadfully frightened," thought Jill, little
dreaming what the last surprise of the day was to be.

Presently a voice whispered, –

"I say! Are you awake?"

"Yes."

"Any one there but you?"

"No."

"Catch this, then. Hold it to your ear and see what you’ll get."

The little drum came flying in, and, catching it, Jill, with some
hesitation, obeyed Frank’s order. Judge of her amazement when
she caught in broken whispers these touching words: –

"Sorry I was cross. Forgive and forget. Start fair to-morrow. All
right. Jack."

Jill was so delighted with this handsome apology, that she could
not reply for a moment, then steadied her voice, and answered
back in her sweetest tone, –

"I’m sorry, too. Never, never, will again. Feel much better now.
Good-night, you dear old thing."

Satisfied with the success of his telephone, Frank twitched back
the drum and vanished, leaving Jill to lay her cheek upon the hand
that wore the little ring and fall asleep, saying to herself, with a
farewell glance at the children’s saint, dimly seen in the soft
gloom, "I will not forget. I will be good!"

 

Leave a Reply