Jack’s Queer Ways
Everybody liked Jack. He was a pleasant, manly boy, about fourteen years old, a boy who was on friendly terms with the whole world. His father was a physician, and his family lived in a small country town.
Of course Jack went to school. In the afternoon, when school was over, he always ran up to his mother’s room to tell her, in his bright, boyish way, how the day had passed, and to see if she had any errands for him to do, always glad to help in any way he could. After this little chat with his mother, he would dash off into the yard to play, or to busy himself in some other way. But he was never far away, ready to be called any moment, and generally where he could be seen from some of the many windows of the big, old-fashioned house.
This had always been his custom until the winter of which I am speaking. This winter Jack seemed to have fallen into queer ways. He came home, to be sure, at the usual time, but, after the little visit with his mother, seemed to disappear entirely. For an hour and a half he positively could not be found. They could not see him, no matter which way they looked, and they could not even make him hear when they called.
This all seemed very strange, but he had always been a trusty boy, and his mother thought little of it at first. Still, as Jack continued to disappear, day after day, at the same hour, for weeks, she thought it best to speak to his father about it.
“How long does he stay out?” asked the doctor.
“Very often till the lamps are lighted,” was the answer.
“Have you asked him where he goes?”
“Why, yes,” the mother replied; “and that’s the strangest part of it all! He seems so confused, and doesn’t answer directly, but tries to talk about something else. I cannot understand it, but some way I do not believe he is doing wrong, for he looks right into my eyes, and does not act as if he had anything to be ashamed of.”
“It is quite strange,” said the doctor. Then he sat quiet for a long time. At last he said, “Well, little mother, I think we will trust the lad awhile longer, and say nothing more to him about it; though it is strange!”
Time passed on, and the mother looked anxious many an evening as she lighted the lamps and her boy was not home yet. And when at last he did come in, flushed and tired, and said not a word as to how he had spent his afternoon, she wondered more than ever.
This kept up all winter. Toward spring the doctor was slowly driving home one day just at twilight, when, as he passed a poor, forlorn cottage, he heard a rap on the window. He stopped his horse at once, got out of his gig, and walked to the door. He knocked, but no one opened, only a voice called, “Come in!”
He entered the shabby room, and found a poor old woman, lying on a miserable bed. The room was bare and cheerless except for the bright fire burning in the small stove, beside which lay a neat pile of wood. The doctor did what he could to ease the poor woman s sufferings, and then asked who lived with her to take care of her.
“Not a soul,” she said. “I am all alone. I haven’t a chick nor child in all the wide world!”
The doctor looked at the wood near the stove, and wondered to himself how the sick old woman could chop and pile it so nicely. But he said nothing, and she went on sadly:
“I have had a hard time of it this winter, and I would have died sure if it hadn’t been for that blessed boy.”
“Why, I thought you lived alone, and had no children!” exclaimed the doctor.
“No more I haven’t,” she said. “I am all alone by me lone self, as I told ye, but the good Lord has been a-takin’ care of me; for a bit of a boy, bless his heart! has been a-comin’ here every day this winter for to help me. He chopped the wood the minister sent me, and brought some in here every night, and piled it up like that,” she said, pointing to the sticks in the corner. “And the harder it stormed, the surer he seemed to come. He’d never so much as tell me where he lived, and I only know his name is—”
“Jack?” asked the doctor, with unsteady voice.
“Yes, sir; that’s it. Do ye be knowing him, doctor?”
“I think perhaps I do,” was the husky answer.
“Well, may the Lord bless him, and may he never be cold himself, the good lad!”
The doctor did not speak for a few moments; then he left, promising to send someone to care for the sick woman that night. He drove home very fast, and a strange dimness came into his eyes every now and then, as he thought it all over.
He went to his wife’s room, and began, as usual, to tell her all that had happened during the day. When, at last, he came to his visit at the cottage, he watched his wife’s face, as he told of the lonely, sick old woman, the warm fire, and the young chopper.
When he had finished, tears were in her eyes, but she only said, “Dear Jack!”
Jack’s queer ways were explained at last. And “Jack’s old woman,” as they called her, never wanted from this time for any comfort as long as she lived. So, after all, Jack could not feel so very sorry that his kindness, done in secret, had at last “found him out.”