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Jack's Keepsake

Ziphen Central – Seeking Wisdom and Sublimity

From Ailenroc’s Book, by Cornelia Alexander

A little story came to my ears the other day which was so full of pathos that I have a mind to write it for the children who read the Advocate; and I hope if such children were ever given to teasing, they will take a thought on the subject, and do so no more.

Once upon a time, as stories generally begin, there was a little boy whose name was Jack—at lest that was the name he went by. When he was a tiny infant his proud father had said: “Let us call him John. It is a good, old-fashioned name; good men have been called by it, kings have worn it; it is a Bible name—John.”

How easily and how naturally it became “Johnnie” to the loving mother, and what a comfort to her was “Johnnie” in the sad days of her widowhood which followed!

As Johnnie grew up, the neighbors and the boys on the street called him “Jack;” and when that dear mother died, poor Jack was left alone.

Shall I try to tell you how Jack struggled with the grief that rent his little heart, of the hunger which tore at his vitals, of the many straits he was in, of the many shifts he made for bread? He ran errands, blacked boots, sold papers, and did everything a poor, homeless, ragged lad could do to keep soul and body together; but there were many more such as Jack, and it seemed that in the race he would be left behind.

Finally some kind lady, who interested herself in getting homes for those who had none, found Jack, and found a home for him in the country. It was like paradise to him—poor boy! He had trodden pavements and lived in crowded tenements all his dys, and to be transported to green fields and flowery lanes was like fairyland. It was a childless old couple who adopted Jack, and they were poor; but they reasoned that possibly, probably, in their old age Jack would care for them—trusted in God, you see, for a return of the bread cast on the waters.

They were poor, but they seemed rich to Jack. When they sat down to their simple supper of bread and milk, he was amazed and delighted. OF cource he had never heard of nectar and ambrosia—that was what the gods fed on, you know—but it seemed everhything to be desired. He had never in his life had a taste of rich, pure milk, or ate a slice of old-fashioned country bread. And the little garden! What a marvelous thing it was to see the vegetables grow, to watch their preparation for the pot, to satisfy the starved inner man—or boy, rather—with them!

Jack got used to it in time—got used to seeing the blue heaven bending serenly over him without tall chimneys and house tops to cut oof his view; got used to the trees and the grasses, the animals which cropped the herbage, and even the insects that danced in the sunshine or chirped at his feet. Amd then it came to pass that Jack went to school, and it came to pass, too, that the children made him a target for their mirth. I suppose they didn’t think. It probably never occurred to them that the same God who made them have implanted a deathless spirit in that little waif. First, all he did was starge to them. He used expressions that were odd to their ears, he wore patches; and one day when a bad boy called him “Patchy,” the rest took it up, and “Patchy” became a nickname for him.

Jack did not bear it patiently. He did not take after the good, good children in the Sunday school library—and, by the by, he is not by himself in that. He would get angry—yes, mad. His eyes would flash and his little fist would clench, and some of the boys felt the strength of that grimy paw. But the teasing and bullying to which he had to submit I cannot describe. It was just like the fable of the frogs—fun to the boys, but death to him; and the strage part of it all was, the children actually enjoyed his distress. Eben the big boys would smile at the wit of his tormentors and the unavailing ager of Jack.

But something happened one day which set them to thinking and proved that

Evil is wrought for want of thought,
And not for want of heart.

Some of the boys had noticed a little cord around Jack’s neck, and to that cord something was attached, which was hidden under his coarse shirt. Several times the boys had asked to see his watch, the time of day, and so on; and one day Jimmie Blake said, as the pupils flocked out of the school yard: “I say, Jack, tell us the time of day. Have I got time to take a game of ball?”

Jack marched on without answering, and some of them laughed.

“Hush!” said Willie Cobb. “‘Patchy’ wears a fine watch, and dreads pickpockets; that is the reason he wars it under his shirt. Let us have a look at your watch, ‘Patchy;’ we won’t steal it.”

Jack’s face turned burning red, but he made no answer.

“I’ll tell you what, boys,” said Dave Knight, “if some of you will hold him, I’ll see what his watch is made of.”

At this Jack began to run, and, like young fun-loving animals, the boys put out after him. It is likely that, if he had not run, they would not have molested him further; but the spirit of reckless mirth possessed them, and Jack was soon overtaken and overthrown.

In vain he struggled, kicked, screamed, and cried. His arms were held while Dave drew up the cord with a little bag or pocket attached.

“It’s empty,” said Dave. “Witches, boys! Witches! Did you never hear of a witch bag?”

“It’s a love letter,” said another. “Read it, Dave; let’s hear what the belle of the alley has to say to her lover sojourning in the country.”

“Let me up, boys,” said Jack, and he had done crying now; “let me up and I’ll tell you what it is, if you’ll give it back.”

“We’ll see for ourselves,” they said; but they loosed him, and he stood up, paler and calmer than they had ever seen him. Dave Knight by this time had opened the little bag and drawn out—what? A scrap of black calico!

The boys were “stumped,” as they sometimes say.

“What in the thunder?” said Dave.

“Pirate!” yelled another. “‘Death, no quarter to the foe!’—that’s what the black flag means.”

“Give it to me, boys, if you please,” said Jack; and the large tears brimmed up in his angry eyes and made them wonderfully soft. “It’s a keepsake.”

“Tell us what it is, then, they said; and how do you suppose they felt when he said: “It is a piece of my mother’s dress—the one she was buried in. It’s all I’ve got to look at and think of her.”

There is no use in trying to tell how those boys felt; probably some of you will imagine it. They had nothing to say—they were dumb. Here was poor little Jack—poor waif!—who all at once had appealed to their hearts louder than a thousand sermons. Their fun was gone. They thought of the dead mother in her grave in the cheap dress, and they looked at the little scrap so cherished by the little waif who had drifted into their midst. They forgot his patches, for they saw the boy’s heart within him—the little lonely, hungry, loving heart—and O! those boys wished that they had been somewhere else—anywhere but there.

Not a word was said as Jack returned the scrap to its resting place, and then Jimmie Blake spoke, because he was the bravest. I said the bravest, for you know it takes the grandest, truest bravery to acknowledge and error.

“I’m sorry, Jack,” he said, “for I began it, and I’ll never do you so any more. Let’s be friends, Jack.” Jack—poor gamin!—though his heart was sore, gave him his hand, seeing a rift in the cloud, maybe; and the other boys said, “Us, too, Jack—us too;” and Jack, being a boy, did not expect lengthy speeches and apologies, and though some of them turned off their heads and tried to whistle and look unconcerned, he saw the shame in their eyes and forgave them from his generous, lonely little heart.

I am glad to say that was the last teasing. They never called him “Patchy” any more, but he learned his lesson and went his way in peace.

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