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Jenny Wren

from Dickens Stories About Children Every Child Can Read





WALKING into the city one holiday, a great many years ago, a gentleman
ran up the steps of a tall house in the neighborhood of St. Mary Axe.
The lower windows were those of a counting-house but the blinds, like
those of the entire front of the house, were drawn down.

The gentleman knocked and rang several times before any one came, but at
last an old man opened the door. "What were you up to that you did not
hear me?" said Mr. Fledgeby irritably.

"I was taking the air at the top of the house, sir," said the old man
meekly, "it being a holiday. What might you please to want, sir?"

"Humph! Holiday indeed," grumbled his master, who was a toy merchant
amongst other things. He then seated himself in the counting-house and
gave the old man--a Jew and Riah by name--directions about the dressing
of some dolls about which he had come to speak, and, as he rose to go,
exclaimed--


"By-the-by, how do you take the air? Do you stick your head out of a
chimney-pot?"

"No, sir, I have made a little garden on the leads."

"Let's look it at," said Mr. Fledgeby.

"Sir, I have company there," returned Riah hesitating, "but will you
please come up and see them?"

Mr. Fledgeby nodded, and, passing his master with a bow, the old man led
the way up flight after flight of stairs, till they arrived at the
house-top. Seated on a carpet, and leaning against a chimney-stack, were
two girls bending over books. Some humble creepers were trained round
the chimney-pots, and evergreens were placed round the roof, and a few
more books, a basket of gaily colored scraps, and bits of tinsel, and
another of common print stuff lay near. One of the girls rose on seeing
that Riah had brought a visitor, but the other remarked, "I'm the person
of the house down-stairs, but I can't get up, whoever you are, because
my back is bad and my legs are queer."

"This is my master," said Riah, speaking to the two girls, "and this,"
he added, turning to Mr. Fledgeby, "is Miss Jenny Wren; she lives in
this house, and is a clever little dressmaker for little people. Her
friend Lizzie," continued Riah, introducing the second girl. "They are
good girls, both, and as busy as they are good; in spare moments they
come up here and take to book learning."

"We are glad to come up here for rest, sir," said Lizzie, with a
grateful look at the old Jew. "No one can tell the rest what this place
is to us."

"Humph!" said Mr. Fledgeby, looking round, "Humph!" He was so much
surprised that apparently he couldn't get beyond that word, and as he
went down again the old chimney-pots in their black cowls seemed to turn
round and look after him as if they were saying "Humph" too.

Lizzie, the elder of these two girls, was strong and handsome, but
little Jenny Wren, whom she so loved and protected, was small and
deformed, though she had a beautiful little face, and the longest and
loveliest golden hair in the world, which fell about her like a cloak of
shining curls, as though to hide the poor little mis-shapen figure.

The Jew Riah, as well as Lizzie, was always kind and gentle to Jenny
Wren, who called him her godfather. She had a father, who shared her
poor little rooms, whom she called her child; for he was a bad, drunken,
worthless old man, and the poor girl had to care for him, and earn
money to keep them both. She suffered a great deal, for the poor little
bent back always ached sadly, and was often weary from constant work but
it was only on rare occasions, when alone or with her friend Lizzie, who
often brought her work and sat in Jenny's room, that the brave child
ever complained of her hard lot. Sometimes the two girls Jenny helping
herself along with a crutch, would go and walk about the fashionable
streets, in order to note how the grand folks were dressed. As they
walked along, Jenny would tell her friend of the fancies she had when
sitting alone at her work. "I imagine birds till I can hear them sing,"
she said one day, "and flowers till I can smell them. And oh! the
beautiful children that come to me in the early mornings! They are quite
different to other children, not like me, never cold, or anxious, or
tired, or hungry, never any pain; they come in numbers, in long bright
slanting rows, all dressed in white, and with shiny heads. 'Who is this
in pain?' they say, and they sweep around and about me, take me up in
their arms, and I feel so light, and all the pain goes. I know when they
are coming a long way off, by hearing them say, 'Who is this in pain?'
and I answer, 'Oh my blessed children, it's poor me! have pity on me,
and take me up and then the pain will go."

Lizzie sat stroking and brushing the beautiful hair, whilst the tired
little dressmaker leant against her when they were at home again, and as
she kissed her good-night, a miserable old man stumbled into the room.
"How's my Jenny Wren, best of children?" he mumbled, as he shuffled
unsteadily towards her, but Jenny pointed her small finger towards him,
exclaiming--"Go along with you, you bad, wicked old child, you
troublesome, wicked old thing, I know where you have been, I know
your tricks and your manners." The wretched man began to whimper like a
scolded child. "Slave, slave, slave, from morning to night," went on
Jenny, still shaking her finger at him, "and all for this; ain't you
ashamed of yourself, you disgraceful boy?"

"Yes; my dear, yes," stammered the tipsy old father, tumbling into a
corner. Thus was the poor little dolls' dressmaker dragged down day by
day by the very hands that should have cared for and held her up; poor,
poor little dolls' dressmaker! One day when Jenny was on her way home
with Riah, who had accompanied her on one of her walks to the West End,
they came on a small crowd of people. A tipsy man had been knocked down
and badly hurt. "Let us see what it is!" said Jenny, coming swiftly
forward on her crutches. The next moment she exclaimed--"Oh,
gentlemen--gentlemen, he is my child, he belongs to me, my poor, bad old
child!"

"Your child--belongs to you," repeated the man who was about to lift the
helpless figure on to a stretcher, which had been brought for the
purpose. "Aye, it's old Dolls--tipsy old Dolls," cried someone in the
crowd, for it was by this name that they knew the old man.

"He's her father, sir," said Riah in a low tone to the doctor who was
now bending over the stretcher.

"So much the worse," answered the doctor, "for the man is dead."

Yes, "Mr. Dolls" was dead, and many were the dresses which the weary
fingers of the sorrowful little worker must make in order to pay for his
humble funeral and buy a black frock for herself. Riah sat by her in her
poor room, saying a word of comfort now and then, and Lizzie came and
went, and did all manner of little things to help her; but often the
tears rolled down on to her work. "My poor child," she said to Riah, "my
poor old child, and to think I scolded him so."

"You were always a good, brave, patient girl," returned Riah, smiling a
little over her quaint fancy about her child, "always good and
patient, however tired."

And so the poor little "person of the house" was left alone but for the
faithful affection of the kind Jew and her friend Lizzie. Her room grew
pretty and comfortable, for she was in great request in her
"profession," as she called it, and there were now no one to spend and
waste her earnings. But nothing could make her life otherwise than a
suffering one till the happy morning when her child-angels visited her
for the last time and carried her away to the land where all such pain
as hers is healed for evermore.





Next: Pip's Adventure

Previous: Little David Copperfield



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