FictionForest

Chapter 15 – Saint Lucy

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

Light off Small Medium Large

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 drove 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 any one 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 every one 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 did, 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, –

"Still more?"

"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 any one 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 didn’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.

 

Leave a Reply