The Crippled Boy by S. W. Lander

DON’T cry any more, Genevieve; you must get married again,” said a man in the working dress of a slater, just returning from his day’s work, to a poor woman who was sitting at the foot of a camp bed, weeping, and rocking her  baby at the same time. “Your husband is dead; he fell from a ladder, and it killed him. It is a great misfortune for you and your family; but crying won’t help you.”

Saying these words in a rough voice, to hide the emotion caused by the poor woman’s despair, the workman brushed away a tear with his coat sleeve.

“My poor George!” said the woman.

“If your son was only good for anything,” added the workman, rudely, throwing a glance of disdain upon a poor, pale, weak, and crippled boy, who was seated on the floor in a corner of the room; “if that child would ever grow into a man, I would take him with me, and teach him how to clamber over roofs, and to keep his balance upon the beams, and drop from the end of a rope. But no, he grows worse and worse every day; and now he can hardly bear his own weight. He is almost twelve years old, that son of yours; and if they said he was four, it would be a compliment.”

“Is it the fault of Jacques that he came crooked into the world, my brother?”

“No, certainly not. I don’t blame him, poor child, I don’t blame him; but he will always be a useless mouth in the world. Luckily, he will not live long,” he whispered in the ear of his sister. Then he rose, and went out, calling, “Good by till to-morrow,” in a tone of voice which betrayed the anxiety he felt at the situation of his sister and her children.

Luckily I shall not live long,” was repeated by a sweet, sad voice, in an accent which only belongs to those who have suffered deeply.

“What are you saying, Jacques?” inquired Genevieve.

“That I am good for nothing. My uncle was right.”

“Take courage, my son. When you are older, you will grow stronger.”

“Yes, if—” said the boy.

But he left the sentence unfinished, and his mother was too much absorbed in her grief to ask him what he meant. It was late, and in a few minutes the poor family retired. It was hardly light when Jacques went down into the court-yard to see the grooms curry the horses, wash the carriages, and get ready for the day.

It was summer, and very soon a pretty little girl came down into the court. Jacques uttered a loud cry when he saw her.

“Without crutches, Mademoiselle Emilie!”

“So you see, Jacques,” replied the young girl, with a sweet smile. “I shall not use them any more. To be sure, I am a little weak here,” she added, showing her left arm and foot, which were smaller than the right; “and besides,” she said, “I am a little crooked.”

“And mademoiselle believes that she is entirely cured?”

“Certainly, Jacques. Only think, I was worse than you are! Stop, Jacques! I do really believe that you would be cured if you would go with me, and take lessons in gymnastics at the house of Colonel Amoros.”

“I am too poor to do that, mademoiselle. Somebody told my mother that these academies of gymnas—gym—I don’t know what—are very expensive; and besides that, what good would they do me? for my uncle says I shall not live long.”

“Perhaps your uncle does not know any better than our doctor. But really, Jacques, have you not seen sometimes old people crooked and deformed? They have lived long, perhaps, those same old people.”

“But it is not at all likely that they were obliged to earn their living, mademoiselle.”

Jacques, with his crutches, sits on a bench under a tree

THE LITTLE CRIPPLE BOY.

“Poor Jacques!” exclaimed Emilie, in a tone of compassion. “You listen to me. When I am married, and have lots  of money, I promise you that it will give me pleasure to make any sacrifice to pay for your being cured.”

“Ah, I shall be too old then, or dead—who knows?”

“What can be done?” she exclaimed, tapping the toe of her boot on the ground with an air of vexation.

Then seeing an elderly lady come into the court, she ran to meet her, exclaiming,—

“My dear friend, allow Jacques to go with us to the Amoros gymnasium. You gave me one ticket. Say, will you give me two?”

“It is impossible, mademoiselle. I cannot give away your tickets without leave from your father.”

“Leave from my father, who is not here!” cried Emilie. “He is in Martinique. Before we could get an answer—O, dear! O, dear!”

“Do not distress yourself so, my child,” said the governess. “I have heard that they receive free pupils in the gymnasium conducted by M. Amoros. For many years they have taken those unfortunate children who are unable to pay the price of subscription. It is very generous and kind in Colonel Amoros, for it must be very expensive to support an establishment of this kind in the city.”

“It is very good in the colonel; but then I want to pay for Jacques, because if every one went without paying, the school would soon come to an end.”

“But what money have you to pay with?”

“Ah, you shall see, my kind friend.—Jacques,” she added, turning to the poor boy, whose pale and suffering face expressed all the interest he took in this conversation,—“Jacques, you must come with me to the gymnasium.”

“Never, for I cannot walk so far as that, mademoiselle,” said Jacques, sadly.

“But you must ride in my carriage.”

“Just think of that, mademoiselle! No, I am too poorly clothed,” said the poor son of the slater, glancing at his worn-out vest and at his green trousers patched with gray.

“Haven’t you any Sunday clothes?”

“Yes, mademoiselle, but they are very little better.”

“They must be cleaner, certainly. Go and put them on. Hurry!”

Jacques obeyed. A few moments later, he came down, looking a little better dressed; but it was owing to the careful hands of a good workwoman, and not to the quality of the cloth which made his garments.

Emilie was obliged to use all her authority before the servants would allow the little peasant to enter the coach. At last she placed him on the seat before her, and he was much more astonished than delighted at finding himself run away with by a pair of frisky young horses.

In a street named Jean-Goujon you can see a large white building, of a very elegant style of architecture. On the front of it was printed, in large letters, the words Gymnase Civil Orthosomatique, and other inscriptions to explain the object of the edifice.

In 1815 Colonel Amoros made the first effort to introduce gymnastics into France. Messrs. Jomard and Julien not only seconded him fully, but insisted on the importance of these exercises, not alone for physical development, but for moral and intellectual strength.

Colonel Amoros was of Spanish origin, and became distinguished in the Spanish army. He formed two companies of Zouaves, and achieved the most daring exploits with them in Europe and Africa. Then he became private secretary to King Charles IV. He formed a large gymnasium in Madrid, which was destroyed in the war of 1808. But in devoting, his life to the physical training of children in  Paris, Colonel Amoros performed the greatest service to humanity. Though societies decorated him with medals, and France gave him funds for his military gymnasium, he will find in grateful hearts his best reward.

But let us return to little Emilie, when the coach stopped at the gymnasium.

The exercises had not begun. The professors, who were all young and active men, wore the same dress—a white vest and trousers, with a tri-colored belt, and a little blue cap on the head. They only waited for a signal to begin, as they stood in groups in the centre of the court. Very soon a middle-aged gentleman appeared among them. Though he was no longer young, he was still strong and active, and seemed to have a powerful constitution. He wore a blue coat, and a decoration at his button-hole, which was given as a token of bravery. He wore a cap upon his head.

He came forward to speak to Emilie, and his eye fell upon poor Jacques, who was overcome with emotion at seeing a school where children who had been lame from weakness found the use of their limbs on recovering their health.

Before the colonel had time to ask who this boy was,—for he knew Jacques was not one of his scholars,—Emilie seized his hand, and with the coaxing voice that children know how to use so well when they want to ask a favor, she said,—

“I can walk without crutches now, colonel.”

“I am rejoiced to hear it, my child. You ought to be able to do so.”

“And I have grown almost an inch in six months. O, I am so much obliged to you, colonel!”

“You mean to my gymnasium, my dear child.”

“No, to you, colonel, to you. For really I was much worse than Jacques is, and to-day I am better than he is.”

“Who is Jacques?”

“This boy that you see here,” said Emilie, taking the hand of Jacques, who was hiding behind her, and making him come forward before the colonel. “He is the son of a slater. His father is dead. He fell from a roof. Poor man! His mother is very miserable, for she has another child to take care of; so you see yourself, colonel, it is quite necessary that he should be able to stand alone.”

All the time that M. Amoros was examining Jacques, rolling up the sleeves of his jacket to see his arms, turning up his trousers to look at his legs, feeling his spine, and making him stretch out his limbs, Emilie continued, with a coaxing voice,—

“If you are willing, Colonel Amoros, we can make an arrangement. O, you must not refuse me, I beg of you!”

“What?” said the kind man, continuing his examination.

“This boy is very poor—very, very poor. If he is not cured, he will never be able to get his living. He has a mother and sister to support; and see, colonel, I am very sure my poor Jacques will die soon.”

“Will you hold your tongue, you little simpleton?” said the colonel, suddenly turning round at the word “die.”

“He will die soon if you don’t take pity on him, dear Colonel Amoros,” added the little girl, clasping her small hands eagerly before the colonel, who was too much engaged in examining poor Jacques, and considering the best way to cure him, to pay much attention to Emilie’s words.

“Please let Jacques take part in the exercises, and I will pay you out of my savings; or if you are willing to wait, I will pay it when I am married. And besides that, I will write to my father, and tell him to let me come and take lessons here after I am entirely cured.”

The colonel could not restrain his  mirth at the idea of Emilie wishing to pay him for a kind action, which his generous heart prompted him to do without any persuasion.

“It does not require so much eloquence to urge me to do a kindness, my little friend,” he replied. “Do you think I don’t enjoy my practice? I will receive your protégé with pleasure, if he will promise to obey my orders, and if he will resemble his protectress in the love of doing good.”

While speaking these words, the colonel called one of the teachers, and pointing to Jacques,—who did not know whether he was dreaming or not,—he said,—

“Take this boy, give him a belt, and a knot of scarlet ribbon on the left shoulder; that is the side which needs strengthening.”

Then he explained which exercises he should take, and those he ought to avoid.

He then gave a signal for the bell to ring, and the professors and children were soon busy in the centre of the gymnasium.

It was a pretty sight, I can assure you. Such a wonderful combination of poles, ropes, posts, and ladders! You might wonder, at first, what they all meant. But soon every child came along in his turn, without effort, and with such perfect enjoyment, that it explained the mystery.

Gymnastic exercises were practised with great care by the ancients. They formed part of the education of a gentleman. They give that physical beauty and grace which only spring from a fine muscular development. Among the Greeks and Romans, men frequented the gymnasium and the circus. Philosophers, judges, and soldiers took part in these exercises with the citizens, that they might become stronger and more athletic, more active and capable of bearing fatigue.

M. Amoros not only gave health and strength to the pupils of his gymnasium, but he taught them to call only those deeds great which were inspired by bravery, love of humanity, and pure benevolence.

Two years had passed away; spring had arrived at the old chateau on the Loire, and M. Martel, the father of little Emilie, had returned from his voyage to Martinique. He was busy in making many necessary repairs in his family mansion, and many workmen came from Paris for that purpose. The night after their arrival, the chateau was discovered to be on fire. M. Martel awoke in haste; startled by the light of the flames, which suddenly illuminated his room, he ran to see where the fire sprang from, and called aloud for his daughter, whom he could not see anywhere. The spectacle that met his view quite overwhelmed him. The story that was on fire was the place where his daughter slept. It could be reached only from a neighboring roof, that was almost consumed. A single beam connected one building with the other. Notwithstanding his age and the gout, which paralyzed one of his limbs, the poor father wished to climb up and save his daughter, or to die with her. They held him back; he uttered fearful shrieks, when a young man, little more than a boy, was seen on the beam, which tottered with his weight. He walked along without fear. A profound silence succeeded to the cries of terror. The souls of the spectators seemed to look out of their eyes. M. Martel fell upon his knees.

The intrepid youth reached the window, and scaled it. They saw him unroll a long rope, or rope-ladder, and fasten it securely to the iron balcony which ornamented the window; then he disappeared.

Not a sound betrayed the anxiety of the spectators. The unknown man returned; he held a young person supported upon his back. He mounted the iron balcony, and suspended himself with his precious burden upon it, for she was well secured by a strong belt. This horrible suspense was more than M. Martel could bear. He covered his face with his hands. But soon the universal shouts of joy told him that his daughter was safe.

After the first moments of delight, the young girl turned to her deliverer. An exclamation of surprise fell from their lips.

“Jacques!”

“Mademoiselle Emilie!”

Then they gazed at each other in silence by the red light of the fire.

They were no longer two pale, sad children, with haggard little faces, already prematurely old. They had been separated ever since Emilie had left the gymnasium, and, not living in the same place, they hardly recognized each other. Emilie was a tall and beautiful girl, enjoying all the delight of perfect health. Jacques almost had become a man.

M. Martel had not heard without emotion about his daughter’s generous act, and her efforts to have Jacques received as a pupil in the Amoros gymnasium.

“Am I not well rewarded?” she exclaimed, extending her hand to the young man. “You would not have had any daughter without him, papa. The horror of my position, the impossibility of my finding a rope, a ladder, or any way of escape, frightened me so, that I lost my senses, and I should have been burned alive, if it had not been for Jacques.”

“Ah, mademoiselle,” said the slater’s son, with emotion, “it is not life alone that I owe to you; is it not more than life? It is health, the use of my limbs, and the happiness of being able to support my mother. Yes, mademoiselle,” added Jacques, with fervor, “I am a workman, and thanks to the lessons of our excellent professor, Colonel Amoros, I am more skilful than any of my fellow-laborers. I can support my family, and my wages are higher, because I can work harder and work longer than the rest.”

“Brave boy!” exclaimed M. Martel, pressing Jacques in his arms, who was quite overcome at the meeting. “From this day forward you shall be my son. I will take charge of your education and your advancement, of your mother and your sister. Brave boy! My daughter has done much for you, but you deserve it; she understood your heart.”

M. Martel kept his word. And some days after, when Jacques and his uncle met in the small attic of the poor widow, and were rejoicing over the happy change in their fortunes, the poor mother clasped her boy’s head to her heart, and bathed his curls with tears, and covered them with kisses, exclaiming,—

“Now you see, brother, Jacques was not a useless creature. It is owing to him that our fortune is made.”

“Yes, thanks to Colonel Amoros,” said the workman.

“Thanks to Mademoiselle Emilie,” said Jacques, heaving a sigh.