Jack And Jill

Louisa May Alcott

Chapter 21 - Pebbly Beach


"Now, Mr. Jack, it is a moral impossibility to get all those things into one trunk, and you mustn't ask it of me," said Mrs. Pecq, in a tone of despair, as she surveyed the heap of treasures she was expected to pack for the boys.

"Never mind the clothes, we only want a boating-suit apiece. Mamma can put a few collars in her trunk for us; but these necessary things must go," answered Jack, adding his target and air-pistol to the pile of bats, fishing-tackle, games, and a choice collection of shabby balls.

"Those are the necessaries and clothes the luxuries, are they? Why don't you add a velocipede, wheelbarrow, and printing-press, my dear?" asked Mrs. Pecq, while Jill turned up her nose at "boys' rubbish."

"Wish I could. Dare say we shall want them. Women don't know what fellows need, and always must put in a lot of stiff shirts and clean handkerchiefs and clothes-brushes and pots of cold cream. We are going to rough it, and don't want any fuss and feathers," said Jack, beginning to pack the precious balls in his rubber boots, and strap them up with the umbrellas, rods, and bats, seeing that there was no hope of a place in the trunk.

Here Frank came in with two big books, saying calmly, "Just slip these in somewhere, we shall need them."

"But you are not to study at all, so you won't want those great dictionaries," cried Jill, busily packing her new travelling-basket with all sorts of little rolls, bags, and boxes.

"They are not dics, but my Encyclopedia. We shall want to know heaps of things, and this tells about everything. With those books, and a microscope and a telescope, you could travel round the world, and learn all you wanted to. Can't possibly get on without them," said Frank, fondly patting his favorite work.

"My patience! What queer cattle boys are!" exclaimed Mrs. Pecq, while they all laughed. "It can't be done, Mr. Frank; all the boxes are brim full, and you'll have to leave those fat books behind, for there's no place anywhere."

"Then I'll carry them myself;" and Frank tucked one under each arm, with a determined air, which settled the matter.

"I suppose you'll study cockleology instead of boating, and read up on polywogs while we play tennis, or go poking round with your old spy-glass instead of having a jolly good time," said Jack, hauling away on the strap till all was taut and ship-shape with the bundle.

"Tadpoles don't live in salt water, my son, and if you mean conchology, you'd better say so. I shall play as much as I wish, and when I want to know about any new or curious thing, I shall consult my Cyclo, instead of bothering other people with questions, or giving it up like a dunce;" with which crushing reply Frank departed, leaving Jill to pack and unpack her treasures a dozen times, and Jack to dance jigs on the lids of the trunks till they would shut.

A very happy party set off the next day, leaving Mrs. Pecq waving her apron on the steps. Mrs. Minot carried the lunch, Jack his precious bundle with trifles dropping out by the way, and Jill felt very elegant bearing her new basket with red worsted cherries bobbing on the outside. Frank actually did take the Encyclopedia, done up in the roll of shawls, and whenever the others wondered about anything - tides, lighthouses, towns, or natural productions - he brought forth one of the books and triumphantly read therefrom, to the great merriment, if not edification, of his party.

A very short trip by rail and the rest of the journey by boat, to Jill's great contentment, for she hated to be shut up; and while the lads roved here and there she sat under the awning, too happy to talk. But Mrs. Minot watched with real satisfaction how the fresh wind blew the color back into the pale cheeks, how the eyes shone and the heart filled with delight at seeing the lovely world again, and being able to take a share in its active pleasures.

The Willows was a long, low house close to the beach, and as full as a beehive of pleasant people, all intent on having a good time. A great many children were swarming about, and Jill found it impossible to sleep after her journey, there was such a lively clatter of tongues on the piazzas, and so many feet going to and fro in the halls. She lay down obediently while Mrs. Minot settled matters in the two airy rooms and gave her some dinner, but she kept popping up her head to look out of the window to see what she could see. Just opposite stood an artist's cottage and studio, with all manner of charming galleries, towers, steps, and even a sort of drawbridge to pull up when the painter wished to be left in peace. He was absent now, and the visitors took possession of this fine play-place. Children were racing up and down the galleries, ladies sitting in the tower, boys disporting themselves on the roof, and young gentlemen preparing for theatricals in the large studio.

"What fun I'll have over there," thought Jill, watching the merry scene with intense interest, and wondering if the little girls she saw were as nice as Molly and Merry.

Then there were glimpses of the sea beyond the green bank where a path wound along to the beach, whence came the cool dash of waves, and now and then the glimmer of a passing sail.

"Oh, when can I go out? It looks so lovely, I can't wait long," she said, looking as eager as a little gull shut up in a cage and pining for its home on the wide ocean.

"As soon as it is a little cooler, dear, I'm getting ready for our trip, but we must be careful and not do too much at once. 'Slow and sure' is our motto," answered Mrs. Minot, busily collecting the camp-stools, the shawls, the air-cushions, and the big parasols.

"I'll be good, only do let me have my sailor-hat to wear, and my new suit. I'm not a bit tired, and I do want to be like other folks right off," said Jill, who had been improving rapidly of late, and felt much elated at being able to drive out nearly every day, to walk a little, and sit up some hours without any pain or fatigue.

To gratify her, the blue flannel suit with its white trimming was put on, and Mamma was just buttoning the stout boots when Jack thundered at the door, and burst in with all sorts of glorious news.

"Do come out, mother, it's perfectly splendid on the beach! I've found a nice place for Jill to sit, and it's only a step. Lots of capital fellows here; one has a bicycle, and is going to teach us to ride. No end of fun up at the hotel, and every one seems glad to see us. Two ladies asked about Jill, and one of the girls has got some shells all ready for her, Gerty Somebody, and her mother is so pretty and jolly, I like her ever so much. They sit at our table, and Wally is the boy, younger than I am, but very pleasant. Bacon is the fellow in knickerbockers; just wish you could see what stout legs he's got! Cox is the chap for me, though: we are going fishing to-morrow. He's got a sweet-looking mother, and a sister for you, Jill. Now, then, do come on, I'll take the traps."

Off they went, and Jill thought that very short walk to the shore the most delightful she ever took; for people smiled at the little invalid as she went slowly by leaning on Mrs. Minot's arm, while Jack pranced in front, doing the honors, as if he owned the whole Atlantic. A new world opened to her eyes as they came out upon the pebbly beach full of people enjoying their afternoon promenade. Jill save one rapturous "Oh!" and then sat on her stool, forgetting everything but the beautiful blue ocean rolling away to meet the sky, with nothing to break the wide expanse but a sail here and there, a point of rocks on one hand, the little pier on the other, and white gulls skimming by on their wide wings.

While she sat enjoying herself, Jack showed his mother the place he had found, and a very nice one it was. Just under the green bank lay an old boat propped up with some big stones. A willow drooped over it, the tide rippled up within a few yards of it, and a fine view of the waves could be seen as they dashed over the rocks at the point.

"Isn't it a good cubby-house? Ben Cox and I fixed it for Jill, and she can have it for hers. Put her cushions and things there on the sand the children have thrown in - that will make it soft; then these seats will do for tables; and up in the bow I'm going to have that old rusty tin boiler full of salt-water, so she can put seaweed and crabs and all sorts of chaps in it for an aquarium, you know," explained Jack, greatly interested in establishing his family comfortably before he left them.

"There couldn't be a nicer place, and it is very kind of you to get it ready. Spread the shawls and settle Jill, then you needn't think of us any more, but go and scramble with Frank. I see him over there with his spy-glass and some pleasant-looking boys," said Mamma, bustling about in great spirits.

So the red cushions were placed, the plaids laid, and the little work-basket set upon the seat, all ready for Jill, who was charmed with her nest, and cuddled down under the big parasol, declaring she would keep house there every day.

Even the old boiler pleased her, and Jack raced over the beach to begin his search for inhabitants for the new aquarium, leaving Jill to make friends with some pretty babies digging in the sand, while Mamma sat on the camp-stool and talked with a friend from Harmony Village.

It seemed as if there could not be anything more delightful than to lie there lulled by the sound of the sea, watching the sunset and listening to the pleasant babble of little voices close by. But when they went to tea in the great hall, with six tables full of merry people, and half a dozen maids flying about, Jill thought that was even better, because it was so new to her. Gerty and Wally nodded to her, and their pretty mamma was so kind and so gay, that Jill could not feel bashful after the first few minutes, and soon looked about her, sure of seeing friendly faces everywhere. Frank and Jack ate as if the salt air had already improved their appetites, and talked about Bacon and Cox as if they had been bosom friends for years. Mamma was as happy as they, for her friend, Mrs. Hammond, sat close by; and this rosy lady, who had been a physician, cheered her up by predicting that Jill would soon be running about as well as ever.

But the best of all was in the evening, when the elder people gathered in the parlors and played Twenty Questions, while the children looked on for an hour before going to bed, much amused at the sight of grown people laughing, squabbling, dodging, and joking as if they had all become young again; for, as every one knows, it is impossible to help lively skirmishes when that game is played. Jill lay in the sofa corner enjoying it all immensely; for she never saw anything so droll, and found it capital fun to help guess the thing, or try to puzzle the opposite side. Her quick wits and bright face attracted people, and in the pauses of the sport she held quite a levee, for everybody was interested in the little invalid. The girls shyly made friends in their own way, the mammas told thrilling tales of the accidents their darlings had survived, several gentlemen kindly offered their boats, and the boys, with the best intentions in life, suggested strolls of two or three miles to Rafe's Chasm and Norman's Woe, or invited her to tennis and archery, as if violent exercise was the cure for all human ills. She was very grateful, and reluctantly went away to bed, declaring, when she got upstairs, that these new friends were the dearest people she ever met, and the Willows the most delightful place in the whole world.

Next day a new life began for the young folks - a very healthy, happy life; and all threw themselves into it so heartily, that it was impossible to help getting great good from it, for these summer weeks, if well spent, work miracles in tired bodies and souls. Frank took a fancy to the bicycle boy, and, being able to hire one of the breakneck articles, soon learned to ride it; and the two might be seen wildly working their long legs on certain smooth stretches of road, or getting up their muscle rowing about the bay till they were almost as brown and nautical in appearance and language as the fishermen who lived in nooks and corners along the shore.

Jack struck up a great friendship with the sturdy Bacon and the agreeable Cox: the latter, being about his own age, was his especial favorite; and they soon were called Box and Cox by the other fellows, which did not annoy them a bit, as both had played parts in that immortal farce. They had capital times fishing, scrambling over the rocks, playing ball and tennis, and rainy days they took possession of the studio opposite, drew up the portcullis, and gallantly defended the castle, which some of the others besieged with old umbrellas for shields, bats for battering-rams, and bunches of burrs for cannon-balls. Great larks went on over there, while the girls applauded from the piazza or chamber-windows, and made a gay flag for the victors to display from the tower when the fight was over.

But Jill had the best time of all, for each day brought increasing strength and spirits, and she improved so fast it was hard to believe that she was the same girl who lay so long almost helpless in the Bird Room at home. Such lively letters as she sent her mother, all about her new friends, her fine sails, drives, and little walks; the good times she had in the evening, the lovely things people gave her, and she was learning to make with shells and sea-weed, and what splendid fun it was to keep house in a boat.

This last amusement soon grew quite absorbing, and her "cubby," as she called it, rapidly became a pretty grotto, where she lived like a little mermaid, daily loving more and more the beauty of the wonderful sea. Finding the boat too sunny at times, the boys cut long willow boughs and arched them over the seats, laying hemlock branches across till a green roof made it cool and shady inside. There Jill sat or lay among her cushions reading, trying to sketch, sorting shells, drying gay sea-weeds, or watching her crabs, jelly-fish, and anemones in the old boiler, now buried in sand and edged about with moss from the woods.

Nobody disturbed her treasures, but kindly added to them, and often when she went to her nest she found fruit or flowers, books or bon-bons, laid ready for her. Every one pitied and liked the bright little girl who could not run and frisk with the rest, who was so patient and cheerful after her long confinement, ready to help others, and so grateful for any small favor. She found now that the weary months had not been wasted, and was very happy to discover in herself a new sort of strength and sweetness that was not only a comfort to her, but made those about her love and trust her. The songs she had learned attracted the babies, who would leave their play to peep at her and listen when she sung over her work. Passers-by paused to hear the blithe voice of the bird in the green cage, and other invalids, strolling on the beach, would take heart when they saw the child so happy in spite of her great trial.

The boys kept all their marine curiosities for her, and were always ready to take her a row or a sail, as the bay was safe and that sort of travelling suited her better than driving. But the girls had capital times together, and it did Jill good to see another sort from those she knew at home. She had been so much petted of late, that she was getting rather vain of her small accomplishments, and being with strangers richer, better bred and educated than herself, made her more humble in some things, while it showed her the worth of such virtues as she could honestly claim. Mamie Cox took her to drive in the fine carriage of her mamma, and Jill was much impressed by the fact that Mamie was not a bit proud about it, and did not put on any airs, though she had a maid to take care of her. Gerty wore pretty costumes, and came down with pink and blue ribbons in her hair that Jill envied very much; yet Gerty liked her curls, and longed to have some, while her mother, "the lady from Philadelphia," as they called her, was so kind and gay that Jill quite adored her, and always felt as if sunshine had come into the room when she entered. Two little sisters were very interesting to her, and made her long for one of her own when she saw them going about together and heard them talk of their pleasant home, where the great silk factories were. But they invited her to come and see the wonderful cocoons, and taught her to knot pretty gray fringe on a cushion, which delighted her, being so new and easy. There were several other nice little lasses, and they all gathered about Jill with the sweet sympathy children are so quick to show toward those in pain or misfortune. She thought they would not care for a poor little girl like herself, yet here she was the queen of the troupe, and this discovery touched and pleased her very much.

In the morning they camped round the boat on the stones with books, gay work, and merry chatter, till bathing-time. Then the beach was full of life and fun, for every one looked so droll in the flannel suits, it was hard to believe that the neat ladies and respectable gentlemen who went into the little houses could be the same persons as the queer, short-skirted women with old hats tied down, and bareheaded, barefooted men in old suits, who came skipping over the sand to disport themselves in the sea in the most undignified ways. The boys raced about, looking like circus- tumblers, and the babies were regular little cupids, running away from the waves that tried to kiss their flying feet.

Some of the young ladies and girls were famous swimmers, and looked very pretty in their bright red and blue costumes, with loose hair and gay stockings, as they danced into the water and floated away as fearlessly as real mermaidens. Jill had her quiet dip and good rubbing each fine day, and then lay upon the warm sand watching the pranks of the others, and longing to run and dive and shout and tumble with the rest. Now that she was among the well and active, it seemed harder to be patient than when shut up and unable to stir. She felt so much better, and had so little pain to remind her of past troubles, it was almost impossible to help forgetting the poor back and letting her recovered spirits run away with her. If Mrs. Minot had not kept good watch, she would have been off more than once, so eager was she to be "like other girls" again, so difficult was it to keep the restless feet quietly folded among the red cushions.

One day she did yield to temptation, and took a little voyage which might have been her last, owing to the carelessness of those whom she trusted. It was a good lesson, and made her as meek as a lamb during the rest of her stay. Mrs. Minot drove to Gloucester one afternoon, leaving Jill safely established after her nap in the boat, with Gerty and Mamie making lace beside her.

"Don't try to walk or run about, my dear. Sit on the piazza if you get tired of this, and amuse yourself quietly till I come back. I'll not forget the worsted and the canvas," said Mamma, peeping over the bank for a last word as she waited for the omnibus to come along.

"Oh, don't forget the Gibraltars!" cried Jill, popping her head out of the green roof.

"Nor the bananas, please!" added Gerty, looking round one end.

"Nor the pink and blue ribbon to tie our shell-baskets," called Mamie, nearly tumbling into the aquarium at the other end.

Mrs. Minot laughed, and promised, and rumbled away, leaving Jill to an experience which she never forgot.

For half an hour the little girls worked busily, then the boys came for Gerty and Mamie to go to the Chasm with a party of friends who were to leave next day. Off they went, and Jill felt very lonely as the gay voices died away. Every one had gone somewhere, and only little Harry Hammond and his maid were on the beach. Two or three sand-pipers ran about among the pebbles, and Jill envied them their nimble legs so much, that she could not resist getting up to take a few steps. She longed to run straight away over the firm, smooth sand, and feel again the delight of swift motion; but she dared not try it, and stood leaning on her tall parasol with her book in her hand, when Frank, Jack, and the bicycle boy came rowing lazily along and hailed her.

"Come for a sail, Jill? Take you anywhere you like," called Jack, touched by the lonely figure on the beach.

"I'd love to go, if you will row. Mamma made me promise not to go sailing without a man to take care of me. Would it spoil your fun to have me?" answered Jill, eagerly.

"Not a bit; come out on the big stones and we'll take you aboard," said Frank, as they steered to the place where she could embark the easiest.

"All the rest are gone to the Chasm. I wanted to go, because I've never seen it; but, of course, I had to give it up, as I do most of the fun;" and Jill sat down with an impatient sigh.

"We'll row you round there. Can't land, but you can see the place and shout to the others, if that will be any comfort to you," proposed Frank, as they pulled away round the pier.

"Oh, yes, that would be lovely!" and Jill smiled at Jack, who was steering, for she found it impossible to be dismal now with the fresh wind blowing in her face, the blue waves slapping against the boat, and three good-natured lads ready to gratify her wishes.

Away they went, laughing and talking gayly till they came to Goodwin's Rocks, where an unusual number of people were to be seen though the tide was going out, and no white spray was dashing high into the air to make a sight worth seeing.

"What do you suppose they are about? Never saw such a lot of folks at this time. Shouldn't wonder if something had happened. I say, put me ashore, and I'll cut up and see," said the bicycle boy, who was of an inquiring turn.

"I'll go with you," said Frank; "it won't take but a minute, and I'd like to discover what it is. May be something we ought to know about."

So the boys pulled round into a quiet nook, and the two elder ones scrambled up the rocks, to disappear in the crowd. Five, ten, fifteen minutes passed, and they did not return. Jack grew impatient, so did Jill, and bade him run up and bring them back. Glad to know what kept them, Jack departed, to be swallowed up in his turn, for not a sign of a boy did she see after that; and, having vainly strained her eyes to discover the attraction which held them, she gave it up, lay down on their jackets, and began to read.

Then the treacherous tide, as it ebbed lower and lower down the beach, began to lure the boat away; for it was not fastened, and when lightened of its load was an easy prize to the hungry sea, always ready to steal all it can. Jill knew nothing of this, for her story was dull, the gentle motion proved soothing, and before she knew it she was asleep. Little by little the runaway boat slid farther from the shore, and presently was floating out to sea with its drowsy freight, while the careless boys, unconscious of the time they were wasting, lingered to see group after group photographed by the enterprising man who had trundled his camera to the rocks.

In the midst of a dream about home, Jill was roused by a loud shout, and, starting up so suddenly that the sun-umbrella went overboard, she found herself sailing off alone, while the distracted lads roared and beckoned vainly from the cove. The oars lay at their feet, where they left them; and the poor child was quite helpless, for she could not manage the sail, and even the parasol, with which she might have paddled a little, had gone down with all sail set. For a minute, Jill was so frightened that she could only look about her with a scared face, and wonder if drowning was a very disagreeable thing. Then the sight of the bicycle boy struggling with Jack, who seemed inclined to swim after her, and Frank shouting wildly, "Hold on! Come back!" made her laugh in spite of her fear, it was so comical, and their distress so much greater than hers, since it was their own carelessness which caused the trouble.

"I can't come back! There's nothing to hold on to! You didn't fasten me, and now I don't know where I'm going!" cried Jill, looking from the shore to the treacherous sea that was gently carrying her away.

"Keep cool! We'll get a boat and come after you," roared Frank, before he followed Jack, who had collected his wits and was tearing up the rocks like a chamois hunter.

The bicycle boy calmly sat down to keep his eye on the runaway, calling out from time to time such cheering remarks as "All aboard for Liverpool! Give my love to Victoria! Luff and bear away when you come to Halifax! If you are hard up for provisions, you'll find an apple and some bait in my coat-pocket," and other directions for a comfortable voyage, till his voice was lost in the distance as a stronger current bore her swiftly away and the big waves began to tumble and splash.

At first Jill had laughed at his efforts to keep up her spirits, but when the boat floated round a point of rock that shut in the cove, she felt all alone, and sat quite still, wondering what would become of her. She turned her back to the sea and looked at the dear, safe land, which never had seemed so green and beautiful before. Up on the hill rustled the wood through which the happy party were wandering to the Chasm. On the rocks she still saw the crowd all busy with their own affairs, unconscious of her danger. Here and there artists were sketching in picturesque spots, and in one place an old gentleman sat fishing peacefully. Jill called and waved her handkerchief, but he never looked up, and an ugly little dog barked at her in what seemed to her a most cruel way.

"Nobody sees or hears or cares, and those horrid boys will never catch up!" she cried in despair, as the boat began to rock more and more, and the loud swash of water dashing in and out of the Chasm drew nearer and nearer. Holding on now with both hands she turned and looked straight before her, pale and shivering, while her eyes tried to see some sign of hope among the steep cliffs that rose up on the left. No one was there, though usually at this hour they were full of visitors, and it was time for the walkers to have arrived.

"I wonder if Gerty and Mamie will be sorry if I'm drowned," thought Jill, remembering the poor girl who had been lost in the Chasm not long ago. Her lively fancy pictured the grief of her friends at her loss; but that did not help or comfort her now, and as her anxious gaze wandered along the shore, she said aloud, in a pensive tone, -

"Perhaps I shall be wrecked on Norman's Woe, and somebody will make poetry about me. It would be pretty to read, but I don't want to die that way. Oh, why did I come! Why didn't I stay safe and comfortable in my own boat?"

At the thought a sob rose, and poor Jill laid her head down on her lap to cry with all her heart, feeling very helpless, small, and forsaken alone there on the great sea. In the midst of her tears came the thought, "When people are in danger, they ask God to save them;" and, slipping down upon her knees, she said her prayer as she had never said it before, for when human help seems gone we turn to Him as naturally as lost children cry to their father, and feel sure that he will hear and answer them.

After that she felt better, and wiped away the drops that blinded her, to look out again like a shipwrecked mariner watching for a sail. And there it was! Close by, coming swiftly on with a man behind it, a sturdy brown fisher, busy with his lobster-pots, and quite unconscious how like an angel he looked to the helpless little girl in the rudderless boat.

"Hi! hi! Oh, please do stop and get me! I'm lost, no oars, nobody to fix the sail! Oh, oh! please come!" screamed Jill, waving her hat frantically as the other boat skimmed by and the man stared at her as if she really was a mermaid with a fishy tail.

"Keep still! I'll come about and fetch you!" he called out; and Jill obeyed, sitting like a little image of faith, till with a good deal of shifting and flapping of the sail, the other boat came alongside and took her in tow.

A few words told the story, and in five minutes she was sitting snugly tucked up watching an unpleasant mass of lobsters flap about dangerously near her toes, while the boat bounded over the waves with a delightful motion, and every instant brought her nearer home. She did not say much, but felt a good deal; and when they met two boats coming to meet her, manned by very anxious crews of men and boys, she was so pale and quiet that Jack was quite bowed down with remorse, and Frank nearly pitched the bicycle boy overboard because he gayly asked Jill how she left her friends in England. There was great rejoicing over her, for the people on the rocks had heard of her loss, and ran about like ants when their hill is disturbed. Of course half a dozen amiable souls posted off to the Willows to tell the family that the little girl was drowned, so that when the rescuers appeared quite a crowd was assembled on the beach to welcome her. But Jill felt so used up with her own share of the excitement that she was glad to be carried to the house by Frank and Jack, and laid upon her bed, where Mrs. Hammond soon restored her with sugar-coated pills, and words even sweeter and more soothing.

Other people, busied with their own pleasures, forgot all about it by the next day; but Jill remembered that hour long afterward, both awake and asleep, for her dreams were troubled, and she often started up imploring someone to save her. Then she would recall the moment when, feeling most helpless, she had asked for help, and it had come as quickly as if that tearful little cry had been heard and answered, though her voice had been drowned by the dash of the waves that seemed ready to devour her. This made a deep impression on her, and a sense of childlike faith in the Father of all began to grow up within her; for in that lonely voyage, short as it was, she had found a very precious treasure to keep for ever, to lean on, and to love during the longer voyage which all must take before we reach our home.