“Neglected Children” (from The Youth’s Companion, February 23, 1865; p. 30-31)
Children who have no good homes and no training fall naturally into vice; and it is surprising that the number of criminals is no larger in our great cities, when we think of the number of neglected children. The following incident is suggestive:
It was a winter afternoon in school, the school on Myrtle Hill, where Jerry Fay was learning strange things out of books. It was a pleasant school-room. The sun came in brightly through the large windows, and some of the children who had nothing to do watched the motes that danced in the long beams of sunlight that slanted down the room. There were beautiful pictures on the blackboards—flowers, and birds, and trees; here an old mill with its idle wheel, and there an ivy-grown tower with the rooks sailing round the crumbling battlements.
It was the writing hour, and the room was very still. Little heads were bent over the copy-books, little clumsy fingers were twisting strangely around the pens that would now and then make a big blot and many an odd character on the white page.
And this was Jerry’s school-room, but he was not there, and the teacher said to herself that Jerry was playing truant again, and she wondered what she should do with him. While she was thinking about it, she was summoned to the door, where she found Jerry in charge of a police officer, whose especial business was picking up truants. He had come to report him to the teacher, and then take him away to the “lock-up.”
Poor Jerry! It was enough to make one’s heart ache to see him. His blue eyes were sunken, and his face had a sharp, white look, as though the warmth was all frozen out of his veins. One could not help seeing at a glance that the child had not enough to eat. His clothes were thin and torn, and his bare toes crept from the miserable shoes that had hard work to stay on his frost-bitten feet.
“I must take this boy to the lock-up,” said the officer, after talking a few minutes with the teacher.
Jerry’s white face grew whiter, and he clasped his hands in utter distress. “O, don’t, don’t take me there!” he said, and the tears rolled down his face. “I never had anybody to tell me how to be good, I never had any bringing up, nobody ever cared for me! O, teacher, I’d like to be good, like other boys, but nobody ever showed me how.”
Poor boy! it was all too true. Nobody had tried to teach him to be good. Nobody cared for him, as he said.
His father was dead, and his mother was a wretched, heartless woman, who would have been glad to get rid of him at any time, no matter how. When the nights were bitter cold she would lock the door while Jerry was out, and he would be obliged to wander without shelter till morning. She had even accused him of crime, in hopes of getting him imprisoned; but her plans failed. Think of it! A mother wishing to imprison an innocent child. And so, with blows plenty, and food scarce, so scarce that you could see the hunger written all over his face and staring from his blue eyes, what wonder that Jerry was not always good; that he found evil associates, and was following in their ways?
There were tears in the teacher’s eyes as she listened to the boy’s piteous appeal, and even the hardy policeman was touched. Warning him that
another time he would not escape, he permitted him to go back to the school-room. He has never played truant again, but is not his life a sad one? Nobody to love him, nobody, as he says, “to bring him up,” nobody to teach him to be good like other boys, nobody to care for him. And this is a true story.