Jack And Jill

Louisa May Alcott

Chapter 20 - A Sweet Memory


Now the lovely June days had come, everything began to look really summer-like; school would soon be over, and the young people were joyfully preparing for the long vacation.

"We are all going up to Bethlehem. We take the seashore one year and the mountains the next. Better come along," said Gus, as the boys lay on the grass after beating the Lincolns at one of the first matches of the season.

"Can't; we are off to Pebbly Beach the second week in July. Our invalids need sea air. That one looks delicate, doesn't he?" asked Frank, giving Jack a slight rap with his bat as that young gentleman lay in his usual attitude admiring the blue hose and russet shoes which adorned his sturdy limbs.

"Stop that, Captain! You needn't talk about invalids, when you know mother says you are not to look at a book for a month because you have studied yourself thin and headachy. I'm all right;" and Jack gave himself a sounding slap on the chest, where shone the white star of the H.B.B.C.

"Hear the little cockerel crow! you just wait till you get into the college class, and see if you don't have to study like fun," said Gus, with unruffled composure, for he was going to Harvard next year, and felt himself already a Senior.

"Never shall; I don't want any of your old colleges. I'm going into business as soon as I can. Ed says I may be his book-keeper, if I am ready when he starts for himself. That is much jollier than grinding away for four years, and then having to grind ever so many more at a profession," said Jack, examining with interest the various knocks and bruises with which much ball-playing had adorned his hands.

"Much you know about it. Just as well you don't mean to try, for it would take a mighty long pull and strong pull to get you in. Business would suit you better, and you and Ed would make a capital partnership. Devlin, Minot, & Co. sounds well, hey, Gus?"

"Very, but they are such good-natured chaps, they'd never get rich. By the way, Ed came home at noon to-day sick. I met him, and he looked regularly knocked up," answered Gus, in a sober tone.

"I told him he'd better not go down Monday, for he wasn't well Saturday, and couldn't come to sing Sunday evening, you remember. I must go right round and see what the matter is;" and Jack jumped up, with an anxious face.

"Let him alone till to-morrow. He won't want any one fussing over him now. We are going for a pull; come along and steer," said Frank, for the sunset promised to be fine, and the boys liked a brisk row in their newly painted boat, the "Rhodora."

"Go ahead and get ready, I'll just cut round and ask at the door. It will seem kind, and I must know how Ed is. Won't be long;" and Jack was off at his best pace.

The others were waiting impatiently when he came back with slower steps and a more anxious face.

"How is the old fellow?" called Frank from the boat, while Gus stood leaning on an oar in a nautical attitude.

"Pretty sick. Had the doctor. May have a fever. I didn't go in, but Ed sent his love, and wanted to know who beat," answered Jack, stepping to his place, glad to rest and cool himself.

"Guess he'll be all right in a day or two;" and Gus pushed off, leaving all care behind.

"Hope he won't have typhoid - that's no joke, I tell you," said Frank, who knew all about it, and did not care to repeat the experience.

"He's worked too hard. He's so faithful he does more than his share, and gets tired out. Mother asked him to come down and see us when he has his vacation; we are going to have high old times fishing and boating. Up or down?" asked Jack, as they glided out into the river.

Gus looked both ways, and seeing another boat with a glimpse of red in it just going round the bend, answered, with decision, "Up, of course. Don't we always pull to the bridge?"

"Not when the girls are going down," laughed Jack, who had recognized Juliet's scarlet boating-suit as he glanced over his shoulder.

"Mind what you are about, and don't gabble," commanded Captain Frank, as the crew bent to their oars and the slender boat cut through the water leaving a long furrow trembling behind.

"Oh, ah! I see! There is a blue jacket as well as a red one, so it's all right.

"Lady Queen Anne, she sits in the sun,
As white as a lily, as brown as a bun,"

sung Jack, recovering his spirits, and wishing Jill was there too.

"Do you want a ducking?" sternly demanded Gus, anxious to preserve discipline.

"Shouldn't mind, its so warm."

But Jack said no more, and soon the "Rhodora" was alongside the "Water Witch," exchanging greetings in the most amiable manner.

"Pity this boat won't hold four. We'd put Jack in yours, and take you girls a nice spin up to the Hemlocks," said Frank, whose idea of bliss was floating down the river with Annette as coxswain.

"You'd better come in here, this will hold four, and we are tired of rowing," returned the "Water Witch," so invitingly that Gus could not resist.

"I don't think it is safe to put four in there. You'd better change places with Annette, Gus, and then we shall be ship-shape," said Frank, answering a telegram from the eyes that matched the blue jacket.

"Wouldn't it be more ship-shape still if you put me ashore at Grif's landing? I can take his boat, or wait till you come back. Don't care what I do," said Jack, feeling himself sadly in the way.

The good-natured offer being accepted with thanks, the changes were made, and, leaving him behind, the two boats went gayly up the river. He really did not care what he did, so sat in Grif's boat awhile watching the red sky, the shining stream, and the low green meadows, where the blackbirds were singing as if they too had met their little sweethearts and were happy.

Jack remembered that quiet half-hour long afterward, because what followed seemed to impress it on his memory. As he sat enjoying the scene, he very naturally thought about Ed; for the face of the sister whom he saw was very anxious, and the word "fever" recalled the hard times when Frank was ill, particularly the night it was thought the boy would not live till dawn, and Jack cried himself to sleep, wondering how he ever could get on without his brother. Ed was almost as dear to him, and the thought that he was suffering destroyed Jack's pleasure for a little while. But, fortunately, young people do not know how to be anxious very long, so our boy soon cheered up, thinking about the late match between the Stars and the Lincolns, and after a good rest went whistling home, with a handful of mint for Mrs. Pecq, and played games with Jill as merrily as if there was no such thing as care in the world.

Next day Ed was worse, and for a week the answer was the same, when Jack crept to the back door with his eager question.

Others came also, for the dear boy lying upstairs had friends everywhere, and older neighbors thought of him even more anxiously and tenderly than his mates. It was not fever, but some swifter trouble, for when Saturday night came, Ed had gone home to a longer and more peaceful Sabbath than any he had ever known in this world.

Jack had been there in the afternoon, and a kind message had come down to him that his friend was not suffering so much, and he had gone away, hoping, in his boyish ignorance, that all danger was over. An hour later he was reading in the parlor, having no heart for play, when Frank came in with a look upon his face which would have prepared Jack for the news if he had seen it. But he did not look up, and Frank found it so hard to speak, that he lingered a moment at the piano, as he often did when he came home. It stood open, and on the rack was the "Jolly Brothers' Galop," which he had been learning to play with Ed. Big boy as he was, the sudden thought that never again would they sit shoulder to shoulder, thundering the marches or singing the songs both liked so well, made his eyes fill as he laid away the music, and shut the instrument, feeling as if he never wanted to touch it again. Then he went and sat down beside Jack with an arm round his neck, trying to steady his voice by a natural question before he told the heavy news.

"What are you reading, Jacky?"

The unusual caress, the very gentle tone, made Jack look up, and the minute he saw Frank's face he knew the truth.

"Is Ed - - ?" he could not say the hard word, and Frank could only answer by a nod as he winked fast, for the tears would come. Jack said no more, but as the book dropped from his knee he hid his face in the sofa-pillow and lay quite still, not crying, but trying to make it seem true that his dear Ed had gone away for ever. He could not do it, and presently turned his head a little to say, in a despairing tone, -

"I don't see what I shall do without him!"

"I know it's hard for you. It is for all of us."

"You've got Gus, but now I haven't anybody. Ed was always so good to me!" and with the name so many tender recollections came, that poor Jack broke down in spite of his manful attempts to smother the sobs in the red pillow.

There was an unconscious reproach in the words, Frank thought; for he was not as gentle as Ed, and he did not wonder that Jack loved and mourned for the lost friend like a brother.

"You've got me. I'll be good to you; cry if you want to, I don't mind."

There was such a sympathetic choke in Frank's voice that Jack felt comforted at once, and when he had had his cry out, which was very soon, he let Frank pull him up with a bear-like but affectionate hug, and sat leaning on him as they talked about their loss, both feeling that there might have been a greater one, and resolving to love one another very much hereafter.

Mrs. Minot often called Frank the "father-boy," because he was now the head of the house, and a sober, reliable fellow for his years. Usually he did not show much affection except to her, for, as he once said, "I shall never be too old to kiss my mother," and she often wished that he had a little sister, to bring out the softer side of his character. He domineered over Jack and laughed at his affectionate little ways, but now when trouble came, he was as kind and patient as a girl; and when Mamma came in, having heard the news, she found her "father-boy" comforting his brother so well that she slipped away without a word, leaving them to learn one of the sweet lessons sorrow teaches - to lean on one another, and let each trial bring them closer together.

It is often said that there should be no death or grief in children's stories. It is not wise to dwell on the dark and sad side of these things; but they have also a bright and lovely side, and since even the youngest, dearest, and most guarded child cannot escape some knowledge of the great mystery, is it not well to teach them in simple, cheerful ways that affection sweetens sorrow, and a lovely life can make death beautiful? I think so, therefore try to tell the last scene in the history of a boy who really lived and really left behind him a memory so precious that it will not be soon forgotten by those who knew and loved him. For the influence of this short life was felt by many, and even this brief record of it may do for other children what the reality did for those who still lay flowers on his grave, and try to be "as good as Eddy."

Few would have thought that the death of a quiet lad of seventeen would have been so widely felt, so sincerely mourned; but virtue, like sunshine, works its own sweet miracles, and when it was known that never again would the bright face be seen in the village streets, the cheery voice heard, the loving heart felt in any of the little acts which so endeared Ed Devlin to those about him, it seemed as if young and old grieved alike for so much promise cut off in its spring-time. This was proved at the funeral, for, though it took place at the busy hour of a busy day, men left their affairs, women their households, young people their studies and their play, and gave an hour to show their affection, respect, and sympathy for those who had lost so much.

The girls had trimmed the church with all the sweetest flowers they could find, and garlands of lilies of the valley robbed the casket of its mournful look. The boys had brought fresh boughs to make the grave a green bed for their comrade's last sleep. Now they were all gathered together, and it was a touching sight to see the rows of young faces sobered and saddened by their first look at sorrow. The girls sobbed, and the boys set their lips tightly as their glances fell upon the lilies under which the familiar face lay full of solemn peace. Tears dimmed older eyes when the hymn the dead boy loved was sung, and the pastor told with how much pride and pleasure he had watched the gracious growth of this young parishioner since he first met the lad of twelve and was attracted by the shining face, the pleasant manners. Dutiful and loving; ready to help; patient to bear and forbear; eager to excel; faithful to the smallest task, yet full of high ambitions; and, better still, possessing the childlike piety that can trust and believe, wait and hope. Good and happy - the two things we all long for and so few of us truly are. This he was, and this single fact was the best eulogy his pastor could pronounce over the beloved youth gone to a nobler manhood whose promise left so sweet a memory behind.

As the young people looked, listened, and took in the scene, they felt as if some mysterious power had changed their playmate from a creature like themselves into a sort of saint or hero for them to look up to, and imitate if they could. "What has he done, to be so loved, praised, and mourned?" they thought, with a tender sort of wonder; and the answer seemed to come to them as never before, for never had they been brought so near the solemn truth of life and death. "It was not what he did but what he was that made him so beloved. All that was sweet and noble in him still lives; for goodness is the only thing we can take with us when we die, the only thing that can comfort those we leave behind, and help us to meet again hereafter."

This feeling was in many hearts when they went away to lay him, with prayer and music, under the budding oak that leaned over his grave, a fit emblem of the young life just beginning its new spring. As the children did their part, the beauty of the summer day soothed their sorrow, and something of the soft brightness of the June sunshine seemed to gild their thoughts, as it gilded the flower-strewn mound they left behind. The true and touching words spoken cheered as well as impressed them, and made them feel that their friend was not lost but gone on into a higher class of the great school whose Master is eternal love and wisdom. So the tears soon dried, and the young faces looked up like flowers after rain. But the heaven-sent shower sank into the earth, and they were the stronger, sweeter for it, more eager to make life brave and beautiful, because death had gently shown them what it should be.

When the boys came home they found their mother already returned, and Jill upon the parlor sofa listening to her account of the funeral with the same quiet, hopeful look which their own faces wore; for somehow the sadness seemed to have gone, and a sort of Sunday peace remained.

"I'm glad it was all so sweet and pleasant. Come and rest, you look so tired;" and Jill held out her hands to greet them - a crumpled handkerchief in one and a little bunch of fading lilies in the other.

Jack sat down in the low chair beside her and leaned his head against the arm of the sofa, for he was tired. But Frank walked slowly up and down the long rooms with a serious yet serene look on his face, for he felt as if he had learned something that day, and would always be the better for it. Presently he said, stopping before his mother, who leaned in the easy-chair looking up at the picture of her boys' father, -

"I should like to have just such things said about me when I die."

"So should I, if I deserved them as Ed did!" cried Jack, earnestly.

"You may if you try. I should be proud to hear them, and if they were true, they would comfort me more than anything else. I am glad you see the lovely side of sorrow, and are learning the lesson such losses teach us," answered their mother, who believed in teaching young people to face trouble bravely, and find the silver lining in the clouds that come to all of us.

"I never thought much about it before, but now dying doesn't seem dreadful at all - only solemn and beautiful. Somehow everybody seems to love everybody else more for it, and try to be kind and good and pious. I can't say what I mean, but you know, mother;" and Frank went pacing on again with the bright look his eyes always wore when he listened to music or read of some noble action.

"That's what Merry said when she and Molly came in on their way home. But Molly felt dreadfully, and so did Mabel. She brought me these flowers to press, for we are all going to keep some to remember dear Ed by," said Jill, carefully smoothing out the little bells as she laid the lilies in her hymn-book, for she too had had a thoughtful hour while she lay alone, imagining all that went on in the church, and shedding a few tender tears over the friend who was always so kind to her.

"I don't want anything to remember him by. I was so fond of him, I couldn't forget if I tried. I know I ought not to say it, but I don't see why God let him die," said Jack, with a quiver in his voice, for his loving heart could not help aching still.

"No, dear, we cannot see or know many things that grieve us very much, but we can trust that it is right, and try to believe that all is meant for our good. That is what faith means, and without it we are miserable. When you were little, you were afraid of the dark, but if I spoke or touched you, then you were sure all was well, and fell asleep holding my hand. God is wiser and stronger than any father or mother, so hold fast to Him, and you will have no doubt or fear, however dark it seems."

"As you do," said Jack, going to sit on the arm of Mamma's chair, with his cheek to hers, willing to trust as she bade him, but glad to hold fast the living hand that had led and comforted him all his life.

"Ed used to say to me when I fretted about getting well, and thought nobody cared for me, which was very naughty, 'Don't be troubled, God won't forget you; and if you must be lame, He will make you able to bear it,'" said Jill, softly, her quick little mind all alive with new thoughts and feelings.

"He believed it, and that's why he liked that hymn so much. I'm glad they sung it to-day," said Frank, bringing his heavy dictionary to lay on the book where the flowers were pressing.

"Oh, thank you! Could you play that tune for me? I didn't hear it, and I'd love to, if you are willing," asked Jill.

"I didn't think I ever should want to play again, but I do. Will you sing it for her, mother? I'm afraid I shall break down if I try alone."

"We will all sing, music is good for us now," said Mamma; and in rather broken voices they did sing Ed's favorite words: -

"Not a sparrow falleth but its God doth know,
Just as when his mandate lays a monarch low;
Not a leaflet moveth, but its God doth see,
Think not, then, O mortal, God forgetteth thee.
Far more precious surely than the birds that fly
Is a Father's image to a Father's eye.
E'en thy hairs are numbered; trust Him full and free,
Cast thy cares before Him, He will comfort thee;
For the God that planted in thy breast a soul,
On his sacred tables doth thy name enroll.
Cheer thine heart, then, mortal, never faithless be,
He that marks the sparrows will remember thee."