I am thirteen years old and Jill is eleven and a quarter. Jill is my brother. That isn’t his name, you know; his name is Timothy and mine is George Zacharias; but they call us Jack and Jill.
Well, Jill and I had an invitation to Aunt John’s this summer, and that was how we happened to be there.
I’d rather go to Aunt John’s than any place in the world. When I was a little fellow I used to think I’d rather go to Aunt John’s than to Heaven. But I never dared to tell.
She invited us to come on the twelfth of August. It takes all day to get there. She lives at Little River in New Hampshire, way up. You have to wait at South Lawrence in a poky little depot, and you get some played out—at least I don’t, but Jill does. So we bought a paper and Jill sat up and read it. When he’d sat a minute and read along—
“Look here!” said he.
“Look where?” said I.
“Why, there’s going to be a comet,” said Jill.
“Who cares?” said I.
Jill laid down the paper, and crunched a pop-corn all up before he answered that, then said he, “I don’t see why father didn’t tell us. I suppose he thought we’d be frightened, or something. Why, s’posing the world did come to an end? That’s what this paper says. ‘It is pre—’ where is my place? Oh! I see—’predicted by learned men that a comet will come into con-conjunction with our plant’—no—’our planet this night. Whether we shall be plunged into a wild vortex of angry space, or suffocated with n-o-x—noxious gases, or scorched to a helpless crisp, or blasted at once, eternal an-ni-hi—'” A gust of wind grabbed the paper out of Jill’s hand just then, and took it out of the window; so I never heard the rest.
“Father isn’t a goose,” said I. “He didn’t think it worth while mentioning. He isn’t going to be afraid of a comet at his time of life.” So we didn’t think any more about the comet till we got to Aunt John’s, where we found company. It wasn’t a relation, only an old school friend, and her name was Miss Togy; she had come without an invitation, but had to have the spare room because she was a lady. That was how Jill and I came to be put in the little chimney bedroom.
That little chimney bedroom is the funniest place you ever slept in. There had been a chimney once, and it ran up by the window, and grandfather had it taken away. It was a big, old-fashioned chimney, and it left the funniest little gouge in the room, so the bed went in as nice as could be. We couldn’t see much but the ceiling when we got to bed.
“It’s pretty dark,” said Jill; “I shouldn’t wonder if it did blow up a storm a little—wouldn’t it scare—Miss—Bogy!”
“Togy,” said I.
“Well, T-o—” said Jill; and right in the middle of it he went off as sound as a weasel.
The next thing I can remember is a horrible noise. I can’t think of but one thing in this world it was like, and that isn’t in this world so much. I mean the last trumpet, with the angel blowing as he blows in my old primer. The next thing I remember is hearing Jill sit up in bed—for I couldn’t see him, it was so dark—and his piping out the other half of Miss Togy’s name just as he had left it when he went to sleep.
“Gy—Bogy!—Fogy!—Soaky!—Oh,” said Jill, coming to at last, “I thought—why, what’s up?”
I was up, but I couldn’t tell what else was for a little while. I went to the window. It was as dark as a great rat-hole out-of-doors, all but a streak of lightning and an awful thunder, as if the world was cracking all to pieces.
“Come to bed!” shouted Jill, “you’ll get struck, and then that will kill me.”
I went back to bed, for I didn’t know what else to do, and we crawled down under the clothes and covered ourselves all up.
“W-would—you—call—Aunt—John?” asked Jill. He was most choked. I came up for air.
“No,” said I, “I don’t think I’d call Aunt John.” I should have liked to call her by that time, but then I should have felt ashamed.
“I s’pose she has got her hands full with Miss Croaky, anyway,” chattered Jill, bobbing up and under again. By that time the storm was the worst storm I had ever seen in my life. It grew worse and worse—thunder, lightning, and wind—wind, lightning, and thunder; rain and roar and awfulness. I don’t know how to tell how awful it was.
In the middle of the biggest peal we’d had yet, up jumped Jill. “Jack!” said he, “that comet!” I’d never thought of the comet till that minute; I felt an ugly feeling and cold all over. “It is the comet!” said Jill. “It is the day of judgment, Jack.”
Then it happened. It happened so fast I didn’t even have time to get my head under the clothes. First there was a creak, then a crash, then we felt a shake as if a giant pushed his shoulder up through the floor and shoved us. Then we doubled up. And then we began to fall. The floor opened, and we went through. I heard the bed-post hit as we went by. Then I felt another crash; then we began to fall again; then we bumped down hard. After that we stopped falling. I lay still. My heels were doubled up over my head. I thought my neck would break. But I never dared to stir, for I thought I was dead. By and by I wondered if Jill were dead too, so I undoubled my neck a little and found some air. It seemed just as uncomfortable to breathe without air when you were dead as when you weren’t.
I called out softly, “Jill!” no answer. “Jill!” not a sound. “O—Jill!” But he did not speak, so then I knew Jill must be dead, at any rate. I couldn’t help wondering why he was so much deader than I that he couldn’t answer a fellow. Pretty soon I heard a rustling noise under my feet, then a weak, sick kind of a voice, just the kind of a noise I always supposed ghosts would make if they could talk.
“Is that you, Jill?”
“I—suppose—so. Is it you, Jack?”
“Yes. Are you dead?”
“I don’t know. Are you?”
“I guess I must be if you are. How awfully dark it is.”
“Awfully dark! It must have been the comet.”
“Yes; did you get much hurt?”
“Not much—I say, Jack?”
“It is the judgment day.”
Jill broke up, so did I; we lay as still as we could. If it were the judgment day—”Jill!” said I.
“Oh, dear me!” sobbed Jill.
We were both crying by that time, and I don’t feel ashamed to own up, either.
“If I’d known,” said I, “that the day of judgment was coming on the twelfth of August, I wouldn’t have been so mean about that jack-knife of yours with the notch in it.”
“And I wouldn’t have eaten your luncheon that day last winter when I got mad at you,” said Jill.
“Nor we wouldn’t have cheated mother about smoking, vacations,” said I.
“I’d never have played with the Bailey boys out behind the barn,” said Jill.
“I wonder where the comet went to?” said I.
“‘Whether we shall be plunged into,'” quoted Jill, in a horrible whisper, from that dreadful newspaper, “‘shall be plunged into a wild vortex of angry space—or suffocated with noxious gases—or scorched to a helpless crisp—or blasted—'”
“When do you think they will come after us?” I interrupted Jill.
That very minute somebody came. We heard a step and then another, then a heavy bang. Jill howled out a little. I didn’t, for I was thinking how the cellar door banged like that. Then came a voice, an awful hoarse and trembling voice as ever you heard.
Then I knew it must be the judgment day and that the angel had me in court to answer him, for you couldn’t expect an angel to call you Jack after you was dead.
“George Zacharias!” said the awful voice again. I didn’t know what else to do, I was so frightened, so I just hollered out “Here!” as I do at school.
“Timothy!” came the voice once more.
Now Jill had a bright idea. Up he shouted, “Absent!” at the top of his lungs.
“George! Jack! Jill! where are you? Are you killed? Oh, wait a minute and I’ll bring a light.”
This did not sound so much like judgment day as it did like Aunt John. I began to feel better. So did Jill. I sat up. So did he. It wasn’t a minute till the light came into sight, and something that looked like a cellar door, the cellar steps, and Aunt John’s spotted wrapper, and Miss Togy in a night-gown, away behind as white as a ghost. Aunt John held the light above her head and looked down. I don’t believe I shall ever see an angel that will make me feel any better to look at than Aunt John did that night.
“O you blessed boys!” said Aunt John—she was laughing and crying together. “To think that you should have fallen through the old chimney to the cellar floor and be sitting there alive in such a funny heap as that!”
And that was just what we had done. The old flooring (not very secure) had given away in the storm; and we’d gone down through two stories, where the chimney ought to have been, jam! into the cellar on the coal heap, and all as good as ever excepting the bedstead.