Poor Jack

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Showing how old nanny fell sick and got well again

Before I fell asleep that night I thought a great deal of what had passed between the widow St. Felix and my father. Why should she have shown such emotion, and why should she request of me not to mention what had passed? I had heard reports about her, as I have before mentioned; I had heard them from old Nanny, but I did not put any confidence in what she said. Thinking of old Nanny reminded me that I had not called upon her for some time, and I resolved that I would visit her the next day.

It was not until late in the evening that I could spare time to call upon her, and, what was not usual, I went empty-handed. I found to my surprise that the door was shut to, and the shutters of the shop not taken down. I tried the latch, the door opened, and I went in.

"Who's there?" screamed old Nanny from the inner room. "What do you want?"

"It's only Poor Jack, mother," replied I, "come to see how you are."

"Come in," replied she; "I'm very bad. Oh! oh! I thought it was some thief or another come to steal all the things in my shop."

I entered the room and found old Nanny in bed; she looked very ill and miserable, and everything was very dirty.

"Are you not well, mother?" said I.

"Well, boy? No, very ill, very ill indeed, haven't left my bed these three days. Reach me a little water, Jack, there's a good boy. I've been dying for water."

I handed her a broken jug which had some water in it. She drank greedily, so as to spill nearly half of it on the coverlid.

"Oh, how good it is!" exclaimed the old woman, as soon as she recovered her breath. "I'm better now. I could not reach it myself. I've the rheumatiz so bad! I've been in such a fright because I could not lock the door; it kept me awake all night long. Oh, my poor back!"

"But why did you not send for the doctor, mother?"

"Doctor! Eh? who's to pay him? I've got no money, Jack."

"Well, but Dr. Tadpole's very kind."

"Yes, yes, kind to the widow; but not to old women like me, without any money."

"But why not have some one to sit up with you, and help you?"

"Sit up with me! Who'd sit up with me? Yes, if I paid them. But I've no money, Jack; and then, I don't know them. They might rob me—there's a great many pretty things in my shop."

"But you might die, mother, lying here without any one to help you."

"Die! Well, and who would care if a poor old woman like me died, Jack?"

"I should care, for one, mother; and so would my sister Virginia, and many others besides."

"You might care, Jack, for you're a good boy, and so might your little sister, for she has a kind heart; but nobody else, Jack—no, not one!"

I could not reply to this remark, as I really did not know anybody who would have cared; so I said, "You must see the doctor, mother. I will go for him."

"No, Jack, I can't afford it, it's no use; besides, I'm better now."

"Well, if you can't afford it, you shall not pay him; and, if he will not come for nothing, I'll pay him myself."

"Will you pay him, Jack? that's a good boy. You promised me bargains, you know; that shall be one of them."

"Well, mother, I'll make the bargain that I'll pay him, if you'll see him—so good-by now. Do you want anything before I go?"

"No, Jack, no; I don't want anything, only just lock the door and take the key with you when you go out, and then no one can rob me, Jack, while you're gone."

I complied with her request, and ran for Dr. Tadpole, whom I found smoking his cigar in the widow's shop.

"Doctor," said I, "old Nanny has been ill in bed these three days, and I want you to go and see her."

"Does she send you to me, or do you ask it yourself?" said the doctor, "for I think she would die rather than pay the doctor."

"As for that, Mr. Tadpole," said the widow, "there are many of your patients who send for the doctor without ever intending to pay him. Perhaps old Nanny may go on the same plan."

"Certainly; that alters the case. Well, Jack, what's the matter with her?"

"Rheumatism, and, I believe, fever; for her hand is hot, and her tongue very white. She was lying in bed with no one to help her, and had not strength to reach a drop of water, until I gave it to her."

"Poor old soul!" said the widow. "And yet they say that she has money?"

"I don't think that she has much," replied I; "for when she lent me the twenty-eight shillings, she had not ten shillings more in the bag. But, doctor, I'll pay you; I will, indeed. How much will it be?"

"Now, doctor, just put on your hat, and set off as soon as you please; for if Poor Jack says he'll pay you, you know that your money is as safe as mine was in the bank—before it failed."

"Well, I'll just finish my cigar."

"Of course you will—as you walk along, Mr. Tadpole," replied the widow; "it's very pleasant to smoke in the air, and just as unpleasant to others your smoking in the house. So, doctor, just be off and see the poor old wretch directly, or—I'll be affronted."

Hereupon the doctor took up his hat, and without reply walked off with me. When we arrived, I unlocked the door and we went in.

"Well, old Nanny, what's the matter now?" said Dr. Tadpole.

"Nothing, doctor, nothing; you've come on a useless message; I didn't send for you, recollect that; it was Jack who would go; I did not send, recollect that, doctor; I can't afford it; I've no money."

"Very well, I shan't look to you for money. Put out your tongue," replied the doctor, as he felt her pulse.

"Recollect, doctor, I did not send for you. Jack, you are witness—I've no money," repeated old Nanny.

"Put out your tongue," repeated the doctor.

"No, I won't, till it's all clearly settled."

"It is, you old fool," said the doctor, impatiently; "put out your tongue."

"Jack, you're witness it's all by force," said Nanny, who at last put out her tongue; "and now, doctor, I'll tell you."

Whereupon Nanny commenced with a narrative of her ills; and by her own account there was not a portion of her body from top to toe which had not some ailment.

"You've a very bad complaint," said the doctor; "what d'ye think it is? It's old age. I hardly know whether I can cure it."

"Can your draw the pain out of my old bones?" said Nanny, groaning.

"Why, I'll try, at all events. I must send you something to take inwardly."

"Who's to pay for it?" said old Nanny.

"I will, mother," said I.

"You're witness, doctor—Jack says he'll pay for it. You're a good boy, Jack."

"Well, that's settled—but now, we must have some one to sit up with you."

"Sit up with me? nobody will sit up with an old thing like me."

"Yes, I will, mother," said I, "and I'll look in upon you in the daytime, and see if you want to drink."

"No, no, Jack! then you'll make no money."

"Yes I will—never mind that."

"Well, at all events," replied the doctor, "Jack will sit up with you this night; and we'll see how you are to-morrow. Now, Jack, come back with me, and I'll give you something for her. Good-night, Nanny," said the doctor, leaving the room.

"Good-night," grumbled old Nanny; and as we were going through the shop I heard her continue: "It's very easy saying 'good-night,' but how can a poor wretch like me, with every bone aching as if it would split, expect to have a 'good night'?"

As the doctor walked home, he appeared not to be in his usual talkative mood. He went to the shop, made up the medicines, and gave me the directions.

"Here, Jack, take these; and it will be a kindness to sit up with her to-night. I will see her to-morrow; and as I can't allow you to be the only good Samaritan in the place, understand, Jack, that I attend the poor old woman and find medicine for nothing."

I thanked him and hastened back. Old Nanny took her draught, and then turned round on her side. I suppose there was opium in it, for she soon fell fast asleep; not, however, until she had said, "Jack, have you locked the door?"

"Yes, mother, I have."

"Well, now, don't you think you could watch without burning a candle? You ain't afraid?"

"No, mother, I'm not afraid; but if I do, I shall fall asleep; and, besides, if you wake and want anything, I shall not be able to find it. I should break the jug and other things, and they would cost more than a candle."

"Very true, Jack. I feel sleepy already"—and old Nanny was soon in a loud snore.

I had stopped at my mother's to say that I intended to stay with old Nanny, so that they might not sit up for me; and now all that I had to do was to keep myself awake. I had forgotten to bring a book with me, so I looked about the room for something to read; but I could find nothing. At last I ventured to open a drawer—it creaked, and old Nanny was roused. "Who's that?" cried she, but she did not wake up, the opiate was too powerful. I went to her; she was in a perspiration, which I knew was what the doctor wished. I put the clothes close up to her head, and left her. I then took the candle and looked into the drawer, and found a book lying in a corner with one side of the cover off. It was very dirty and stained. I took it out, and went again to my chair and opened it. It was Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," and full of plates. I had never heard of the book, and did not know what the title meant. I first looked at all the plates, and then I turned to the opening of the book. On the blank leaf at the commencement, in very neat and lawyer-like handwriting, was "Anna James, on her marriage, from her dear friend Mary Farquhar, Tynemouth, June the 19th, 1738." By this I discovered, as I thought, the married but not the maiden name of old Nanny; and very probably, also, that Tynemouth was her native place. She was married, too, in 1738, that was more than sixty years back—and her age was, therefore, in all likelihood, nearly eighty years. I pondered over this for some time, and then I commenced reading; and so interested was I with the contents that I did not raise my head until the candle had burned to the socket: as I was about to light another, I perceived daylight through the chinks of the window shutter. So I laid down the book, and walking softly out of the room, unlocked the shop door to get a little fresh air; for the room that old Nanny was sleeping in was, from dirt and neglect, very close. I could not, however, unlock the door without waking up Nanny who screamed out "Thieves!—murder! thieves!" until she was wide awake.

"Oh! it is you, Jack?" said she at last. "I dreamed there were thieves breaking in."

"Nothing but day breaking in, mother," said I. "How do you feel this morning?"

"Better, Jack, better; I've not so much pain, but I'm very thirsty; give me some water."

"No, mother; the doctor said you must not drink cold water. If you'll wait a little, I'll run and fetch you something warm. I won't be gone long, so try to go to sleep again."

Old Nanny made no reply, but turned her face away from the light, as if in obedience to my orders. I locked the outer door and hastened home.

I found my mother and Virginia sitting in the nice clean room, the fire blazing cheerfully and the breakfast on the table, and I could not help making the contrast in my own mind between it and the dirty abode I had just left. I ran into the back kitchen to wash my face and hands, and then returned, kissed Virginia, and wished my mother "Good-morning."

Why, I do not know, but she was in one of her worst of humors.

"Don't come near me, or near your sister Virginia," said she sharply; "who knows what vermin you may have brought from where you have been staying all night?"

I did feel that what she said might be true.

"Well, mother," said I, "I won't come near you if you don't like, but I want some tea for poor old Nanny."

"I can't find tea for old Nannies," replied she.

"I'll give her mine, Jack," cried Virginia.

"Indeed, miss, you'll do no such thing," said my mother; "and sit up properly to table, instead of hanging your head down in that way; and don't pour your tea in your saucer—that's vulgar!"

"The tea's so hot, mamma!" said Virginia.

"Then wait till it's cool, miss. Leave the teapot alone, sir!"

"I'll thank you for some tea, mother," replied I. "I shall give my breakfast to old Nanny."

"You'll take no breakfast out of this house," was the reply.

"Why, mother?—for a poor sick old woman."

"Let her go to the parish."

I now became angry myself. I took up the teapot and walked away into the back kitchen. My mother rose and followed me, insisting upon my putting the teapot down; but I would not, and I poured out the tea into a little milk-can. I did not answer her, but I felt that I was right and would not give in, and she was afraid to attempt force. My mother then ran back to the table, caught up the sugar-basin and carried it upstairs, singing as she went, at the highest pitch of her voice:

"What are little girls made of, made of Sugar and spice, and all that's nice; And that's what girls are made of!"

While my mother was away, little Virginia poured her cup of tea, which was already sweetened, into the can. I seized some bread and butter, and before my mother came down I was clear of the house. Old Nanny made a good breakfast; the doctor came, and said that she was much better and would soon be well. The doctor had not left long before Peter Anderson came and told me to go and mind my business, and that he would sit by old Nanny. Old Ben, who had heard of it, also called in, and he sat up with her the next night.

"Did I not tell you that there were others who cared for you, Nanny?" said I, a few days afterward.

"Yes, you did, Jack, but I did not believe you; the world is better than I thought it was. But how will you pay the doctor, Jack?"

"The doctor 'tended you for nothing; he told me so the first night."

"Well, and that widow, too; it's kind of her to send me tea and sugar, and such nice things to eat."

"Yes, mother, it is."

"And your father, to bring your little dear sister, so nice and clean, to come and see an old wretch like me in such a dirty hole. Ah, Jack! now I'm getting well again I like the world better than I did."

In a few days old Nanny had again opened her shop, sitting at the door as usual, and, as the spring was now well advanced, she gradually recovered her strength. When I gave up my office of nurse she did not, however, forget to tell me to bring her good bargains, as I had promised that I would.

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