Little Jane by Walt Whitman
"Lift up!" was ejaculated as a signal! — and click! went the
glasses in the hands of a party of tipsy men, drinking one night at the
bar of one of the middling order of taverns. And many a wild gibe was
utter'd, and many a terrible blasphemy, and many an impure phrase
sounded out the pollution of the hearts of these half-crazed creatures,
as they toss'd down their liquor, and made the walls echo with their
uproar. The first and foremost in recklessness was a girlish-faced,
fair-hair'd fellow of twenty-two or three years. They called him Mike.
He seemed to be look'd upon by the others as a sort of prompter, from
whom they were to take cue. And if the brazen wickedness evinced by him
in a hundred freaks and remarks to his companions, during their stay in
that place, were any test of his capacity — there might hardly be one
more fit to go forward as a guide on the road to destruction. From the
conversation of the party, it appear'd that they had been spending the
early part of the evening in a gambling house.
A second, third and fourth time were the glasses fill'd; and the
effect thereof began to be perceiv'd in a still higher degree of noise
and loquacity among the revellers. One of the serving-men came in at
this moment, and whisper'd the bar-keeper, who went out, and in a
moment return'd again.
"A person," he said, "wish'd to speak with Mr. Michael. He waited
on the walk in front."
The individual whose name was mention'd, made his excuses to the
others, telling them he would be back in a moment, and left the room.
As he shut the door behind him, and stepp'd into the open air, he saw
one of his brothers — his elder by eight or ten years — pacing to and
fro with rapid and uneven steps. As the man turn'd in his walk, and
the glare of the street lamp fell upon his face, the youth,
half-benumb'd as his senses were, was somewhat startled at its paleness
and evident perturbation.
"Come with me!" said the elder brother, hurriedly, "the illness of
our little Jane is worse, and I have been sent for you."
"Poh!" answered the young drunkard, very composedly, "is that all?
I shall be home by-and-by," and he turn'd back again.
"But, brother, she is worse than ever before. Perhaps when you
arrive she may be dead."
The tipsy one paus'd in his retreat, perhaps alarm'd at the
utterance of that dread word, which seldom fails to shoot a chill to
the hearts of mortals. But he soon calm'd himself, and waving his hand
to the other:
"Why, see," said he, "a score of times at least, have I been call'd
away to the last sickness of our good little sister; and each time, it
proves to be nothing worse than some whim of the nurse or the
physician. Three years has the girl been able to live very heartily
under her disease; and I'll be bound she'll stay on the earth three
And as he concluded this wicked and most brutal reply, the speaker
open'd the door and went into the bar-room. But in his intoxication,
during the hour that follow'd, Mike was far from being at ease. At the
end of that hour, the words, "perhaps when you arrive she may be dead,"
were not effaced from his hearing yet, and he started for home. The
elder brother had wended his way back in sorrow.
Let me go before the younger one, awhile, to a room in that home. A
little girl lay there dying. She had been ill a long time; so it was no
sudden thing for her parents, and her brethren and sisters, to be
called for the witness of the death agony. The girl was not what might
be called beautiful. And yet, there is a solemn kind of loveliness that
always surrounds a sick child. The sympathy for the weak and helpless
sufferer, perhaps, increases it in our own ideas. The ashiness and the
moisture on the brow, and the film over the eye-balls — what man can
look upon the sight, and not feel his heart awed within him? Children,
I have sometimes fancied too, increase in beauty as their illness
deepens. Besides the nearest relatives of little Jane, standing round
her bedside, was the family doctor. He had just laid her wrist down
upon the coverlet, and the look he gave the mother, was a look in which
there was no hope.
"My child!" she cried, in uncontrollable agony, "O! my child!"
And the father, and the sons and daughters, were bowed down in
grief, and thick tears rippled between the fingers held before their
Then there was silence awhile. During the hour just by-gone, Jane
had, in her childish way, bestow'd a little gift upon each of her
kindred, as a remembrancer when she should be dead and buried in the
grave. And there was one of these simple tokens which had not reach'd
its destination. She held it in her hand now. It was a very small
much-thumbed book — a religious story for infants, given her by her
mother when she had first learn'd to read.
While they were all keeping this solemn stillness — broken only by
the suppress'd sobs of those who stood and watch'd for the passing away
of the girl's soul — a confusion of some one entering rudely, and
speaking in a turbulent voice, was heard in an adjoining apartment.
Again the voice roughly sounded out; it was the voice of the drunkard
Mike, and the father bade one of his sons go and quiet the intruder.
"If nought else will do," said he sternly, "put him forth by
strength. We want no tipsy brawlers here, to disturb such a scene as
For what moved the sick girl uneasily on her pillow, and raised her
neck, and motion'd to her mother? She would that Mike should be brought
to her side. And it was enjoin'd on him whom the father had bade to
eject the noisy one, that he should tell Mike his sister's request, and
beg him to come to her.
He came. The inebriate — his mind sober'd by the deep solemnity of
the scene — stood there, and leaned over to catch the last accounts of
one who soon was to be with the spirits of heaven. All was the silence
of the deepest night. The dying child held the young man's hand in one
of hers; with the other she slowly lifted the trifling memorial she had
assigned especially for him, aloft in the air. Her arm shook — her
eyes, now becoming glassy with the death-damps, were cast toward her
brother's face. She smiled pleasantly, and as an indistinct gurgle came
from her throat, the uplifted hand fell suddenly into the open palm of
her brother's, depositing the tiny volume there. Little Jane was dead.
From that night, the young man stepped no more in his wild courses,
but was reform'd.