Five times Jack Merridew cried and one time Ralph went to comfort him.
Since they'd arrived on the island, the boys had learnt one important rule. Jack Merridew never cried. It was only natural for the head of the choir to never show emotion, he had more important things to worry about now that they were stranded in the middle of nowhere. After a while, the littleuns told themselves that Jack Merridew couldn't cry; they'd been stuck on this island for almost three months and never once had they seen him shed a tear. But Ralph, the quiet twelve year old who'd admired Jack the first day he'd seen him, was the only one who knew that wasn't true.
For Ralph had seen Jack cry before.
Five times in fact.
1. He had cried the first night they arrived on the island. After a long day of nominating chiefs, chasing pigs and getting used to their new surrondings, the boys were tired out. They had not yet found shelter so the sands of the beach were their only bed, under the light of the stars. They'd arranged themselves in groups; the choir boys slept in a huddle together, as did the littleuns and finally Ralph and Piggy. Jack, however, isolated himself from the others and slept alone. This was a strange thing to do as night was cold and it would have been wiser to huddle up together to escape the chilling wind in the air rather then bear it alone. This act of hostility puzzled Ralph as his first impressions of Jack was that he was a feisty, charismatic person who didn't seem to feel awkward about anything. Being the good natured character he was, he'd quietly crawled up to Jack and offered for him to join them.
"There's plently of room for one more. Better then getting cold, don't you think?"
Jack declined the offer "Thanks, but I prefer to be alone"
There was a slight edge to his voice. Ralph noticed but said nothing more on the matter. He knew better than to poke his nose into other people's business and decided it was better to respect the older boy's privacy rather than make an enemy on his first day on the island by prying. Being the light sleeper he was, Ralph was awoken by a small sound in the middle of a night. It was soft and high pitched and at first he thought it may have been a pig. It was close. It was on the sand.
It was the sound of tiny sobs.
Ralph didn't need to ask who it was. He already knew. But he decided not to disturb the red haired boy and instead lay in silence listening to those heart wrenching sobs that ached to be answered.
2. The second time was after the fire incident. Jack had taken his hunters to the forest that day and had managed to corner and slaughter a sow. The killing caused great excitement and the boys returned to the others laughing and chattering and talking a thousand words a second.
"Look, we killed a pig!"
"We got in a circle!"
"The pig squealed"
Jack had never felt so excited. He bounced on the balls of his feet like a hyper infant, then remembered his dignity and stood still grinning. He wiped the blood off his hands and laughed. He couldn't wait to tell Ralph. The sight of the younger boy coming towards him made his heart leap with excitement, but the expression on Ralph's face was anything but happy.
"Ralph! You should have seen it! We actually caught a pig! We cornered it, I cut its throat-"
"You let the fire go out"
Jack stopped, running his tongue over his bottom lip. The other boys suddenly stopped cheering and turned to peer at him. Reality hit and Jack's cheeks flushed redder than his hair.
We…we can light it again. Its only been out for an hour or two. Golly, you should have seen the blood-"
"There was a ship"
Jack, faced at once with too many awful implications, ducked away from them, trying to ignore the sudden tension in the group. He distracted himself by laying a hand on the pig and drawing out his knife. Ralph brought his arm down, fist clenched, and his voice shook.
"There was a ship. Out there. You said you'd keep the fire going but you let it out!"
He took a step toward Jack, who turned and faced him.
"They may have seen us! We might have gone home!"
Every eye fell upon the red head like an ocean, glares that could have frozen water. All of a sudden, he felt like the pig in the ring, trapped and frightened. They all stared at him, blaming him. It was all his fault. He'd jepordised their chances of ever going home. In that moment, Jack felt the tears glass over his eyes and was glad that nobody else could see. Then Piggy's irritable voice made his fists clench.
"You and your blood Jack Merridew! You and your hunting! We might have gone home!"
"Shut up…" Jack growled, his voice vicious with humiliation.
"You didn't ought to have let that fire out! You said you'd keep the smoke going!"
This from Piggy, and the wails of agreement from some of the hunters, drove Jack to violence. The bolting look came into his blue eyes. He took a step forward and smacked Piggy across the head so his glasses flew off and smashed against the rocks.
As soon as he did it, Jack regretted it. The look he received from Ralph made his eyes moisten even more. It felt like they were all against him, like they all hated him. And for a second, he truly believed they did. The critisism from Piggy was more than he could bear and he muttered to them.
"Alright…I'm sorry. About the fire, I mean. There…I apologize" and he walked away from them all, trying to avoid their eyes.
He went down to the beach where lay a pile of leaves that Ralph and Simon were using for shelters. He lay himself upon them and wept, cursing himself for being such a thoughtless idiot, cursing the others, cursing everything on this god damned island. Little did he know, Ralph was listening to his sobs from the concealing forest, but deciding that he didn't deserve any comfort at that moment in time, he turned and walked away.
3. The third time Jack Merridew cried was when he had to leave Ralph. It was his own decision, but he later regretted it and would spend many hours of the night beating himself up over it. He hated himself for being so power hungry, so stubborn. But that was just him and he couldn't change it. It was after they'd seen the beast that Jack decided he wanted to be in charge. It wasn't that Ralph was a bad chief; quite the opposite in fact. But building shelters and lighting fires were not going to keep them alive. They needed meat and Jack was the one to give it to them. He didn't mean for it to end so sourly.
"Ralph said my hunters are no good!"
He didn't know why he said that. It just came out. He usually used lies to get him what he wanted. Ralph stood up in a flurry of anger.
"I never said that!"
Jack ignored this comment, not looking Ralph in the eye in case the younger boy saw his guilt.
"Ralph thinks you're cowards, running away from the boar and the beast. And that's not all. He's like Piggy. He says things like Piggy. He isn't a proper chief." Jack clutched the conch to him as if it were a prize. "He's a coward himself."
He went on, slagging off ralph the best he could whilst trying to keep strong. The pain and betrayal in Ralph's eyes was painful but still he went on, determined.
"All this talk—"
"All this talk!" Ralph shouted. "Talk, talk! Who wanted it? Who called the meeting?"
Jack turned, red in the face, his chin sunk back. He suddenly became nervous and decided it was best to solve the conflict in a more practical way before things got out of hand.
"All right then," he said slowly, "all right..."
He held the conch against his chest with one hand and stabbed the air with his index finger.
"Who thinks Ralph oughtn't to be chief?"
He was shocked when the response was silence. He paused, the loyalty that the others had for Ralph was beginning to show. Still, it was worth a try.
"Hands up," he said strongly, "whoever wants Ralph not to be chief?"
The silence continued, breathless and heavy and full of shame. Ralph folded his arms in triumph and Jack's cheeks suddenly flushed red. He licked his lips and turned his head at an angle, so that his gaze avoided the younger boy's eye.
"All right then."
He laid the conch with great care in the grass at his feet. The humiliated tears were running from the corner of each eye.
"I'm not going to play any longer" he suddenly hissed at Ralph, though he didn't mean to, "Not with you."
Most of the boys were looking down now, at the grass or their feet. Jack cleared his throat again.
"I'm not going to be a part of Ralph's lot—"
He looked along the right-hand logs, numbering the hunters that had been a choir.
"I'm going off by myself. He can catch his own pigs. Anyone who wants to hunt when I do can come too."
He blundered out of the triangle toward the drop to the white sand.
Jack turned and looked back at Ralph and for a moment their eyes met as he silently asked the red head to stay.
Water streamed down his face like a broken dam as he cried out, "No!"
He leapt down from the platform and started storming along the beach, paying no heed to the steady fall of his tears. He sobbed aloud, aware that Ralph was standing behind him but decided to ignore his presence, though he ached to run back and throw his arms around him. He cried the rest of the night, not just because he was tired and lonely. But because he'd lost Ralph. Sweet, good natured Ralph.
He curled up by himself in the darkness of the forest and wept himself to sleep.
4. He doesn't want to remember the fourth time. It's too painful.
For the fourth time Jack cried was when Piggy died. He'd never planned for it to happen. He hated Piggy with passion; he didn't have the slightest idea what Ralph saw in that pathetic lump of fat but only now did he realise it was something valuable. Piggy was by far the wisest of them all – through all the mocking and teasing thrown at him, he still had the good spirit inside him to try and reason with the hunters, to make them see sense. He'd blown the conch and boldly spoken up against them. And they listened as they always did, because that's the effect Piggy had on people. He made them want to listen.
And Jack listened, and it was only then in those scarce few seconds before the fat boy's death did he actually have some respect and appreciation for Piggy. If only he'd been keeping an eye on Roger. It was a horrid sight, that was for certain. He'd never wish that kind of death on anybody, ever. He resisted the tears at first, as they watched the cracked and damaged body wafting away into the sea to join Simon. And then Ralph had glared at him, a single look which threw up all the betrayal and hate he was feeling, and turned tail and ran down the rocks.
Making sure the others couldn't see him, Jack slipped back into the cave, dashed his head against a few of the rocks several times until his forehead stained red and sank to the floor, a broken mess of blood and tears.
And once again, no one was there to comfort him.
5. The fifth time it happened, you would have thought he'd have cried for joy. They'd chased Ralph out onto the beach only to fall upon the naval officer. At the sight of him, he realised that it was all over, that they were saved, they were going home. But it wasn't, it wasn't over. It would never be. He was a murderer, a villain, a savage. And Ralph – his beautiful Ralph was weeping for the loss of innocence and he realised at that moment that it was all down to him. He'd destroyed the innocence within them all. There was no beast, only him.
He wept with the others, though they barely noticed. But Ralph noticed, he heard the guilt and anguish in Jack's sobs. But he didn't go to him, though he desperately wanted to. He didn't deserve to be comforted, none of them did. They were all filthy. Dirty, filthy savages.
Jack was curled up in a cabin all by himself; he'd refused to eat or see anyone, his skin was sore from scratching all the paint and clay off, but nowhere near as sore as his eyes were from crying. A knock came to the door, but he ignored it and hid his face in his pillow, drowning it a little more with his sobs. He could hear it open, hear footsteps coming towards him. Thinking it was the naval officer, he cried harder, thinking it would startle him off.
A hand reached out and ran gently down his back, making him shudder. He choked for a second when he recognised that touch. He turned his head around and met a pair of familiar eyes, warm and forgiving, though forgiveness was the last thing he thought he deserved.
The sight of Ralph made his eyes well up even more. He collapsed against him and the tears resumed as two arms wrapped themselves around him and pulled him into a sitting position. They cradled him as a mother would a sick child as he sobbed out all his guilt and fear and hate for the island which had shown him the darkness of his own heart. He mumbled apologies over and over until his throat was raw but each time they were silenced by a soft kiss against his forehead or a gentle hand brushing through his hair.
Jack cried for a long time that night. But this time, Ralph was there to comfort him.