The Little Lame Angel by S R Crockett

Story type: Literature

In the field so wide and sunny

Where the summer clover is,

Where each year the mower searches

For the nests of wild-bee honey,

All along these silver birches

Stand up straight in shining row,

Dewdrops sparkling, shadows darkling,

In the early morning glow;

And in gleaming time they’re gleaming

White, like angels when I’m dreaming.

There among its handsome brothers

Was one little crooked tree,

Different from all the others,

Just as bent as bent could be.

First it crawl’d along the heather

Till it turn’d up straight again,

Then it drew itself together

Like a tender thing in pain;

Scarce a single green leaf straggled

From its twigs so bare and draggled–

And it really looks ashamed

When I’m passing by that way,

Just as if it tried to say–

“Please don’t look at such a maim’d

Little Cripple-Dick as I;

Look at all the rest about,

Look at them and pass me by,

I’m so crooked, do not flout me,

Kindly turn your head awry;

Of what use is my poor gnarl’d

Body in this lovely world?

Once I wrote[1] about two little, boys who played together all through the heats of the Dry Summer in a garden very beautiful and old. The tale told how it came to pass that one of the boys was lame, and also why they loved one another so greatly.

[Footnote 1: Jiminy and Jaikie ( The Stickit Minister ).]

Now, it happened that some loved what was told, and perhaps even more that which was not told, but only hinted. For that is the secret of being loved–not to tell all. At least, from over-seas there came letters one, two, and three, asking to be told what these two did in the beautiful garden of Long Ago, what they played at, where they went, and what the dry summer heats had to do with it all.

Perhaps it is a foolish thing to try to write down in words that which was at once so little and so dear. Yet, because I love the garden and the boys, I must, for my own pleasure, tell of them once again.

It was Jiminy’s garden, or at least his father’s, which is the same thing, or even better. For his father lived in a gloomy study with severe books, bound in divinity calf, all about him; and was no more conscious of the existence of the beautiful garden than if it had been the Desert of Sahara.

On the other hand, Jiminy never opened a book that summer except when he could not help it, which was once a day, when his father instructed him in the Latin verb.

The old garden was cut into squares by noble walks bordered by boxwood, high like a hedge. For it had once been the garden of a monastery, and the yews and the box were all that remained of what the good monks had spent so much skill and labour upon.

There was an orchard also, with old gnarled, green-mossed trees, that bore little fruit, but made a glory of shade in the dog-days. Up among the branches Jiminy made a platform, like those Jaikie read to him about in a book of Indian travel, where the hunters waited for tigers to come underneath them. Ever since Jaikie became lame he lived at the manse, and the minister let him read all sorts of queer books all day long, if so he wished. As for Jiminy, he had been brought up among books, and cared little about them; but Jaikie looked upon each one as a new gate of Paradise.

“You never can tell,” said Jaikie to Jiminy; “backs are deceivin’, likewise names. I’ve looked in ever so many books by the man that wrote Robinson Crusoe, and there’s not an island in any of them.”

“Books are all stuff,” said Jiminy. “Let’s play ‘Tiger.’”

“Well,” replied Jaikie, “any way, it was out of a book I got ‘Tiger.’”

So Jaikie mounted on the platform, and they began to play ‘Tiger.’ This is how they played it. Jaikie had a bow and arrow, and he watched and waited silently up among the green leaves till Jiminy came, crawling as softly beneath as the tiger goes pit-pat in his own jungles. Then Jaikie drew the arrow to a head, and shot the tiger square on the back. With a mighty howl the beast sprang in the air, as though to reach Jaikie. But brave Jaikie only laughed, and in a moment the tiger fell on his back, pulled up its trouser-legs, and expired. For that is the way tigers always do. They cannot expire without pulling up their trouser-legs. If you do not believe me, ask the man at the Zoo.

Now, as the former story tells, it was Jaikie who used always to do what Jiminy bade him; but after Jaikie was hurt, helping Jiminy’s father to keep his church and manse, it was quite different. Jiminy used to come to Jaikie and say, “What shall we do to-day?” And then he used to wheel his friend in a little carriage the village joiner made, and afterwards carry him among the orchard trees to the place he wanted to go.

“Jiminy,” said Jaikie, “the flowers are bonnie in the plots, but they are a’ prisoners. Let us make a place where they can grow as they like.”

Perhaps he thought of himself laid weak and lonely, when the green world without was all a-growing and a-blowing.

“Bring some of the flowers up to this corner,” said Jaikie, the lame boy. And it was not long till Jiminy brought them. The ground was baked and dry, however, and soon they would have withered, but that Jaikie issued his commands, and Jiminy ran for pails upon pails of water from the little burn where now the water had stopped flowing, and only slept black in the pools with a little green scum over them.

“I can’t carry water all night like this,” said Jiminy at last. “I suppose we must give up this wild garden here in the corner of the orchard.”

“No,” said Jaikie, rubbing his lame ankle where it always hurt, “we must not give it up, for it is our very own, and I shall think about it to-night between the clock-strikes.”

For Jaikie used to lie awake and count the hours when the pain was at the worst. Jaikie now lived at the manse all the time (did I tell you that before?), for his father was dead.

So in the little room next to Jiminy’s, Jaikie lay awake and hearkened to the gentle breathing of his friend. Jiminy always said when he went to bed, “I’ll keep awake to-night sure, Jaikie, and talk to you.”

And Jaikie only smiled a wan smile with a soul in it, for he knew that as soon as Jiminy’s head touched the pillow he would be in the dim and beautiful country of Nod, leaving poor Jaikie to rub the leg in which the pains ran races up and down, and to listen and pray for the next striking of the clock.

As he lay, Jaikie thought of the flowers in the corner of the orchard thirsty and sick. It might be that they, like him, were sleepless and suffering. He remembered the rich clove carnations with their dower of a sweet savour, the dark indigo winking “blueys” or cornflowers, the spotted musk monkey-flowers, smelling like a village flower-show. They would all be drooping and sad. And it might be that the ferns would be dead–all but the hart’s-tongue; which, though moisture-loving, can yet, like the athlete, train itself to endure and abide thirsty and unslaked. But the thought of their pain worked in Jaikie’s heart.

“Maybe it will make me forget my foot if I can go and water them.”

So he arose, crawling on his hands and knees down-stairs very softly, past where Jiminy tossed in his bed, and softer still past the minister’s door. But there was no sound save the creak of the stair under him.

Jaikie crept to the water-pail, and got the large quart tankard that hung by the side of the wall.

It was a hard job for a little lad to get a heavy tin filled–a harder still to unlock the door and creep away across the square of gravel. “You have no idea” (so he said afterwards) “how badly gravel hurts your knees when they are bare.”

Luckily it was a hot night, and not a breath of air was stirring, so the little white-clad figure moved slowly across the front of the house to the green gate of the garden. Jaikie could only reach out as far as his arms would go with the tin of water. Then painfully he pulled himself forward towards the tankard. But in spite of all he made headway, and soon he was creeping up the middle walk, past the great central sundial, which seemed high as a church-steeple above him. The ghostly moths fluttered about him, attracted by the waving white of his garments. In their corner he found the flowers, and, as he had thought, they were withered and drooping.

He lifted the water upon them with his palms, taking care that none dripped through, for it was very precious, and he seemed to have carried it many miles.

And as soon as they felt the water upon them the flowers paid him back in perfume. The musk lifted up its head, and mingled with the late velvety wallflower and frilled carnation in releasing a wonder of expressed sweetness upon the night air.

“I wish I had some for you, dear dimpled buttercups,” said Jaikie to the golden chalices which grew in the hollows by the burnside, where in other years there was much moisture; “can you wait another day?”

“We have waited long,” they seemed to reply; “we can surely wait another day.”

Then the honeysuckle reached down a single tendril to touch Jaikie on the cheek.

“Some for me, please,” it said; “there are so many of us at our house, and so little to get. Our roots are such a long way off, and the big fellows farther down get most of the juice before it comes our way. If you cannot water us all, you might pour a little on our heads.” So Jaikie lifted up his tankard and poured the few drops that were in the bottom upon the nodding heads of the honeysuckle blooms.

“Bide a little while,” said he, “and you shall have plenty for root and flower, for branch and vine-stem.”

There were not many more loving little boys than Jaikie in all the world; and with all his work and his helping and talking, he had quite forgotten about the pain in his foot.

Now, if I were telling a story–making it up, that is–it is just the time for something to happen,–for a great trumpet to blow to tell the world what a brave fellow this friend of the flowers was; or at least for some great person, perhaps the minister himself, to come and find him there alone in the night. Then he might be carried home with great rejoicing.

But nothing of the kind happened. In fact, nothing happened at all. Jaikie began to creep back again in the quiet, colourless night; but before he had quite gone away the honeysuckle said–

“Remember to come back to-morrow and water us, and we will get ready such fine full cups of honey for you to suck.”

And Jaikie promised. He shut the gate to keep out the hens. He crept across the pebbles, and they hurt more than ever. He hung up the tin dipper again on its peg, and climbed the stairs to his bedroom. Jiminy was breathing as quietly and equally as a lazy red-spotted trout in the shadow of the bank in the afternoon. Jaikie crept into his bed and fell asleep without a prayer or a thought.

He did not awake till quite late in the day, when Jiminy came to tell him that somebody had been watering the flowers in their Corner of Shadows during the night.

I think it must have been the angels,” said Jiminy, before Jaikie had time to tell him how it all happened. “My father he thinks so too.”

The latter statement was, of course, wholly unauthorised.

Jaikie sat up and put his foot to the floor. All the pain had gone away out of it. He told Jiminy, who had an explanation for everything. He knew how the foot had got better and how the flowers were watered.

“‘Course it must have been the angels, little baby angels that can’t fly yet–only crawl. I did hear them scuffling about the floor last night.”

And this, of course, explained everything.

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