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A short story by Kate Dickinson Sweetser

Morleena Kenwigs

Title:     Morleena Kenwigs
Author: Kate Dickinson Sweetser [More Titles by Sweetser]

The family who went by the designation of "The Kenwigses" were the wife and olive branches of one Mr. Kenwigs, a turner in ivory, who was looked upon as a person of some consideration where he lodged, inasmuch as he occupied the whole of the first floor, comprising a suite of two rooms. Mrs. Kenwigs too, was quite a lady in her manners, and of a very genteel family, having an uncle, Mr. Lillyvick, who collected a water-rate, and who she fondly hoped, would make her children his heirs. Besides which distinction, the two eldest of her little girls went twice a week to a dancing-school in the neighborhood, and had flaxen hair tied with blue ribbons, hanging in luxuriant pigtails down their backs, and wore little white trousers with frills round the ankles;--for all of which reasons Mr. and Mrs. Kenwigs, and the four olive Kenwigses, and the baby, were considered quite important persons to know.

Upon the eighth anniversary of Mrs. Kenwigs' marriage to Mr. Kenwigs, they entertained a select party of friends, and on that occasion, after supper had been served, the group gathered by the fireside; Mr. Lillyvick being stationed in a large arm-chair, and the four little Kenwigses disposed on a small form in front of the company, with their flaxen tails towards them, and their faces to the fire; an arrangement which was no sooner perfected than Mrs. Kenwigs was overpowered by the feelings of a mother, and fell upon Mr. Kenwigs' shoulder, dissolved in tears.

"They are so beautiful!" she said, sobbing. "I can--not help it, and it don't signify! Oh, they're too beautiful to live--much too beautiful!"

On hearing this alarming presentiment of their early death, all four little girls raised a hideous cry, and, burying their faces in their mother's lap simultaneously, screamed until the eight flaxen tails vibrated; Mrs. Kenwigs meanwhile clasping them alternately to her bosom, with attitudes expressive of distraction.

At length, however, she permitted herself to be soothed, and the little Kenwigses were distributed among the company, to prevent the possibility of Mrs. Kenwigs being again overcome by the blaze of their united beauty, after which, Morleena, the eldest olive branch--whose name had been composed by Mrs. Kenwigs herself for the especial benefit of her daughter--danced a dance. It was a very beautiful figure, comprising a great deal of work for the arms, and was received with unbounded applause, as were the various accomplishments displayed by others of the party. The affair was proceeding most successfully when Mr. Lillyvick took offence at a remark made by Mr. Kenwigs, and sat swelling and fuming in offended dignity for some minutes, then burst out in words of indignation. Here was an untoward event! The great man,--the rich relation--who had it in his power to make Morleena an heiress, and the very baby a legatee--was offended. Gracious powers, where would this end!

"I am very sorry, sir," said Mr. Kenwigs humbly, but the apology was not accepted, and Mr. Lillyvick continued to repeat; "Morleena, child, my hat! Morleena, my hat!" until Mrs. Kenwigs sunk back in her chair, overcome with grief, while the four little girls (privately instructed to that effect) clasped their uncle's drab shorts in their arms, and prayed him to remain.

"Mr. Lillyvick," said Kenwigs, "I hope for the sake of your niece that you won't object to being reconciled."

The collector's face relaxed, as the company added their entreaties to those of their host. He gave up his hat and held out his hand.

"There, Kenwigs," he said. "And let me tell you at the same time, to show you how much out of temper I was, that if I had gone away without another word, it would have made no difference respecting that pound or two which I shall leave among your children when I die."

"Morleena Kenwigs," cried her mother, in a torrent of affection; "go down upon your knees to your dear uncle and beg him to love you all his life through, for he's more an angel than a man, and I've always said so."

Miss Morleena, approaching to do homage, was summarily caught up and kissed by Mr. Lillyvick, and thereupon Mrs. Kenwigs herself darted forward and kissed the collector, and all was forgiven and forgotten.

No further wave of trouble ruffled the feelings of the party until suddenly there came shrill and piercing screams from an upper room in which the infant Kenwigs was enshrined, guarded by a small girl hired for the purpose. Rushing to the door, Mrs. Kenwigs began to wring her hands and shriek dismally, amid which cries, and the wails of the four little girls, a stranger ran downstairs with the baby in his arms, explaining hastily that, visiting a friend in a room above, he had heard the cries, and found the baby's guardian asleep with her hair on fire. This explanation over, the baby, who was unhurt, and who rejoiced in the name of Lillyvick Kenwigs, was instantly almost suffocated under the caresses of the audience, and squeezed to his mother's bosom until he roared again. Then, after drinking the health of the child's preserver, the company made the discovery that it was nigh two o'clock, whereat they took their leave, with flattering expressions of the pleasure they had enjoyed, to which Mr. and Mrs. Kenwigs replied by thanking them, and hoping they had enjoyed themselves only half as well as they said they had.

The young man, Nicholas Nickleby by name, who had rescued the baby, made such an impression upon Mrs. Kenwigs that she felt impelled to propose through the friend whom he had been visiting, that he should instruct the four little Kenwigses in the French language at the weekly stipend of five shillings; being at the rate of one shilling per week, per each Miss Kenwigs, and one shilling over until such time as the baby might be able to take it out in grammar.

This proposition was accepted with alacrity by Nicholas, who betook himself to the Kenwigs' apartment with all speed. Here he found the four Miss Kenwigses on their form of audience, and the baby in a dwarf porter's chair, with a deal tray before it, amusing himself with a toy horse, while Mrs. Kenwigs spoke to the little girls of the superior advantages they enjoyed above other children. "But I hope," she said, "that that will not make them proud; but that they will bless their own good fortune which has born them superior to common people's children. And when you go out in the streets, or elsewhere, I desire that you don't boast of it to the other children," continued Mrs. Kenwigs, "and that if you must say anything about it, you don't say no more than 'we've got a private master comes to teach us at home, but we ain't proud, because Ma says its sinful,' Do you hear, Morleena?"

Upon the eldest Miss Kenwigs replying meekly that she did, permission was conceded for the lesson to commence, and accordingly the four Miss Kenwigses again arranged themselves upon their form, in a row, with their tails all one way, while Nicholas Nickleby began his preliminary explanations.

Some months after this, the Kenwigses were thrown into a fever of rage and disappointment, by receiving the cruel news of their Uncle Lillyvick's marriage, which blow was a terrible one to Mrs. Kenwigs, blighting her hopes for her children's future. After weeping and wailing in the most agonized fashion, Mrs. Kenwigs drew herself up in proud defiance, and denounced her uncle in terms direct and plain, stating that he should never again darken her doors. In this terrible state of affairs, it remained for Morleena of the flaxen tails, to bring about a family re-union, and in this way:

It had come to pass that she had received an invitation to repair next day, per steamer from Westminster bridge, unto the Eel-Pie Island at Twickenham, there to make merry upon a cold collation, and to dance in the open air to the music of a locomotive band; the steamer having been engaged by a dancing-master for his numerous pupils, one of whom had extended an invitation to Miss Morleena, and Mrs. Kenwigs rightly deemed the honor of the family was involved in her daughter making the most splendid appearance possible. Now, between the Italian-ironing of frills, the flouncing of trousers, the trimming of frocks, the faintings from overwork and the comings-to again, incidental to the occasion, Mrs. Kenwigs had been so entirely occupied, that she had not observed, until within half an hour before, that the flaxen tails of Miss Morleena were in a manner, run to seed; and that unless she were put under the hands of a skilful hairdresser she never could achieve that signal triumph over the daughters of all other people, anything less than which would be tantamount to defeat. This discovery drove Mrs. Kenwigs to despair, for the hairdresser lived three streets and eight dangerous crossings off, and there was nobody to take her. So Mrs. Kenwigs first slapped Miss Kenwigs for being the cause of her vexation, and then shed tears.

"I can't help it, ma," replied Morleena, also in tears, "my hair will grow!" While they were both still bemoaning and weeping, a fellow lodger in the house came upon them, and hearing of their difficulty, offered to escort Miss Morleena to the barber-shop, and at once led her in safety to that establishment. The proprietor, knowing she had three sisters, each with two flaxen tails, and all good for sixpence apiece a month at least, promptly deserted an old gentleman whom he had just lathered for shaving, and waited on the young lady himself. The old gentleman raising his head, Miss Kenwigs noticed his face and uttered a shrill little scream,--it was her Uncle Lillyvick!

Hearing his name pronounced, Mr. Lillyvick groaned, then coughed to hide it, and consigning himself to the hands of an assistant, commenced a colloquy with Miss Morleena's escort, rather striving to escape the notice of Miss Morleena herself, and so remarkable did this behavior seem to her, that at the imminent hazard of having her ear sliced off, she could not forbear looking round at him some score of times.

The cutting and curling being at last concluded, the old gentleman, who had been finished some time, and simply waiting, rose to go also, and walked out of the establishment with Miss Morleena and her escort, proceeding with them, in profound silence until they had nearly reached Miss Morleena's home, when he asked if her family had been very much overpowered by the news of his marriage.

"It made ma cry when she knew it," answered Miss Morleena, "and pa was very low in his spirits, but he is better now, and I was very ill, but I am better too."

"Would you give your great-uncle Lillyvick a kiss, if he was to ask you, Morleena?" said the collector, with some hesitation.

"Yes, Uncle Lillyvick, I would," returned Miss Morleena with no hesitation whatsoever, whereupon Mr. Lillyvick caught her in his arms and kissed her, and being by this time at the door of the house, he walked straight up into the Kenwigses' sitting-room and put her down in their midst. The surprise and delight that reigned in the bosom of the Kenwigses at the unexpected sight, was only heightened by the joyful intelligence that their uncle's married life had been both brief and unsatisfactory, and by his further statement:

"Out of regard for you, Susan and Kenwigs, I shall to-morrow morning settle upon your children, and make payable to their survivors when they come of age, or marry, that money which I once meant to leave 'em in my will. The deed shall be executed to-morrow!"

Overcome by this noble and generous offer, and by their emotion, Mr. Kenwigs, Mrs. Kenwigs, and Miss Morleena Kenwigs all began to sob together, and the noise communicating itself to the next room where the other children lay a-bed, and causing them to cry too, Mr. Kenwigs rushed wildly in, and bringing them out in his arms, by two and two, tumbled them down in their night-caps and gowns at the feet of Mr. Lillyvick, and called upon them to thank and bless him.

And this wonderful domestic scene,--this family reconciliation was brought about by Miss Morleena, eldest of the four little Kenwigses, with the flaxen tails!

[The end]
Kate Dickinson Sweetser's short story: Morleena Kenwigs