When little Jem was first brought to the hospital, it was in a carriage with liveried servants.
His father was a mill-owner in Pennsylvania, and Jem was an only child. He had the largest room in the private ward.
His parent’s brought the boy fruit, flowers, and books. “Please take them to that cripple in the next room, and to children in the free wards, with my love—little Jem Bruce’s love,” he would say, raising himself in bed, with flushed cheeks and shining eyes.
In two months he recovered and went away, but two years afterward Mrs. Bruce brought him back. She was dressed in black, and asked for a cheap room. Mr. Bruce, I heard, was dead, and had left his widow little money.
Jem’s knee was worse than ever, but what a cheery, happy fellow he was! He soon learned the story of all the patients in the neighboring rooms, as he had done before. And when his mother brought him a bunch of pinks or a basket of apples, he would eagerly divide them.
“Maybe they will make some one feel happier just for a minute,” he would say, with his rare smile.
His right leg was taken off at the knee. Then I lost sight of Jem for three or four years. Last winter he applied for admission to the free ward. His mother was dead. The disease had appeared in the other leg some months before. Jem had been supporting himself by typewriting, but was now no longer able to work.
He met me as if I had been his old, dear friend, —as indeed, I was, —and then hobbled round the wards to see if he knew any of the patients, stopping to laugh and joke and say some kind word at each bed.
The doctors amputated the other leg that day. It was the only chance for his life, but in a week they knew that it had failed.
“Make the boy comfortable,” the surgeon said to me; “it is all that can be done for him now.”
Jem knew the truth from the first. But he never lost courage. This was his bed (pointing to the middle one of a long row of white cots in the great ward). He learned to know all the men, and took keen interest in each case.
When Johnny Royle died, Jem took out the few dollars remaining in his pocket, and gave them to me. “They’re for his little children,” he whispered. “They have nothing.” And when old Peter was discharged, cured, he came to Jem’s bed to say good-bye as if he had been his brother. Jem wrung his hand, and said: “Take my overcoat, Peter; yours is gone, and—I’ll never need mine again.” He waved his hand, and cheered feebly as Peter went away.
He had nothing left to give now—I think that cut him sharply, but one day he began to sing. He had a remarkable voice, clear and tender; it would force the tears to your eyes. Every head in the ward was turned to listen. That delighted Jem. “I can sing for them occasionally,” he said, “if the doctors will allow it.”
So, whenever it was possible, Jem’s sweet voice was heard, sometimes in a humorous song, sometimes in a hymn. I used to think he was at heaven’s gate when he sang those hymns. But one morning his voice was gone, and before night everyone in the ward knew he was dying. The patients were silent, many of them crying, for they all loved the boy. He died at sundown, sitting up in bed, leaning against my shoulder. He glanced around the ward, and they nodded, and smiled.
“Give them,” he whispered, then stopped, remembering, poor child, that he had nothing to give. Then he said, suddenly, aloud, his eyes brightening, “Give them my love—Jem Bruce’s love.”
Taken from The Youth’s Instructor, January 29, 1903.