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A short story by Kate Dickinson Sweetser

Jenny Wren

Title:     Jenny Wren
Author: Kate Dickinson Sweetser [More Titles by Sweetser]

Her real name was Fanny Cleaver, but she had long ago dropped it, and chosen to bestow upon herself the fanciful appellation of Miss Jenny Wren, by which title she was known to the entire circle of her friends and business acquaintances.

Miss Wren's home was in a certain little street called Church Street, running out from a certain square called Smith Square, at Millbank, and there the little lady plied her trade, early and late, having for companions her father and a lodger, Lizzie Hexam. Her father had once been a good workman at his own trade, but unfortunately for poor little Jenny Wren, was so weak in character and so confirmed in bad habits that she could place no trust in him, and had come to consider herself the head of the family, and to speak of him as "my child," or "my bad boy," ordering him about as if he were in truth, a child.

When Lizzie Hexam's brother and a friend, Bradley Headstone, paid their first visit to the house on Church Street, they knocked at the door, which promptly opened and disclosed a child--a dwarf, a girl--sitting on a little, low, old-fashioned arm-chair, which had a kind of little working-bench before it.

"I can't get up," said the child, "because my back's bad and my legs are queer. But I'm the person of the house."

"Who else is at home?" asked Charley Hexam, staring?

"Nobody's at home at present," returned the child, with a glib assertion of her dignity, "except the person of the house."

The queer little figure, and the queer, but not ugly little face, with its bright grey eyes, was so sharp that the sharpness of the manner seemed unavoidable.

The person of the house continued the conversation: "Your sister will be in," she said, "in about a quarter of an hour. I'm very fond of your sister. Take a seat. And would you please to shut the street door first? I can't very well do it myself, because my back's so bad and my legs are so queer."

They complied, and the little figure went on with its work of gumming or gluing together pieces of cardboard and thin wood, cut into various shapes. The scissors and knives upon the bench, showed that the child herself had cut them; and the bright scraps of velvet and silk and ribbon also strewn upon the bench showed that when duly stuffed, she was to cover them smartly. The dexterity of her nimble fingers was remarkable, and as she brought two thin edges accurately together by giving them a little bite, she would glance at the visitors out of the corners of her grey eyes with a look that out-sharpened all her other sharpness.

"You can't tell me the name of my trade, I'll be bound," she said.

"You make pincushions," said Charley.

"What else do I make?"

"Penwipers," said his friend.

"Ha, ha! What else do I make?"

"You do something," he returned, pointing to a corner of the little bench, "with straw; but I don't know what."

"Well done, you!" cried the person of the house. "I only make pincushions and penwipers, to use up my waste. But my straw really does belong to my business. Try again. What do I make with my straw?"


"Dinner-mats! I'll give you a clue to my trade in a game of forfeits. I love my love with a B because she's beautiful; I hate my love with a B because she is brazen; I took her to the sign of the Blue Boar; and I treated her with Bonnets; her name's Bouncer and she lives in Bedlam--now, what do I make with my straw?"

"Ladies' bonnets?"

"Fine ladies'," said the person of the house, nodding assent. "Dolls'. I'm a Doll's dressmaker."

"I hope it's a good business?"

The person of the house shrugged her shoulders and shook her head. "No. Poorly paid. And I'm often so pressed for time. I had a doll married last week, and was obliged to work all night. And they take no care of their clothes, and they never keep to the same fashions a month. I work for a doll with three daughters. Bless you, she's enough to ruin her husband!" The person of the house gave a weird little laugh, and gave them another look but of the corners of her eyes. She had an elfin chin that was capable of great expression; and whenever she gave this look, she hitched this chin up, as if her eyes and her chin worked together on the same wires.

"Are you always as busy as you are now?"

"Busier. I'm slack just now. I finished a large mourning order the day before yesterday. Doll I work for lost a canary bird."

"Are you alone all day?" asked Bradley Headstone. "Don't any of the neighboring children--?"

"Ah," cried the person of the house, with a little scream as if the word had pricked her. "Don't talk of children. I can't bear children. I know their tricks and their manners!" She said this with an angry little shake of her right fist, adding:

"Always running about and screeching, always playing and fighting, always skip--skip--skipping on the pavement, and chalking it for their games! Oh--I know their tricks and their manners!" Shaking the little fist as before. "And that's not all. Ever so often calling names in through a person's keyhole, and imitating a person's back and legs. Oh! I know their tricks and their manners. And I tell you what I'd do to punish 'em. There's doors under the church in the Square--black doors leading into black vaults. Well! I'd open one of those doors, and I'd cram 'em all in, and then I'd lock the door and through the keyhole I'd blow in pepper."

"What would be the good of blowing in pepper?" asked Charley Hexam.

"To set 'em sneezing," said the person of the house, "and make their eyes water. And when they were all sneezing and inflamed, I'd mock 'em through the keyhole. Just as they, with their tricks and their manners, mock a person through a person's keyhole!"

An emphatic shake of her little fist, seemed to ease the mind of the person of the house; for she added with recovered composure, "No, no, no. No children for me. Give me grown-ups."

It was difficult to guess the age of this strange creature, for her poor figure furnished no clue to it, and her face was at once so young and so old. Twelve, or at the most thirteen, might be near the mark.

"I always did like grown-ups," she went on, "and always kept company with them. So sensible. Sit so quiet. Don't go prancing and capering about! And I mean always to keep among none but grown-ups till I marry. I suppose I must make up my mind to marry, one of these days!"

At that moment Lizzie Hexam entered, and the visitors after saying farewell to the dolls' dressmaker, took Lizzie out with them for a short walk.

The person of the house, dolls' dressmaker, and manufacturer of ornamental pincushions and penwipers, sat in her quaint little low arm-chair, singing in the dark, until Lizzie came back.

"Well, Lizzie--Mizzie--Wizzie," said she, breaking off in her song. "What's the news out of doors?"

"What's the news indoors?" returned Lizzie playfully, smoothing the bright long fair hair, which grew very luxuriant and beautiful on the head of the dolls' dressmaker. It being Lizzie's regular occupation when they were alone of an evening to brush out and smooth the long fair hair, she unfastened a ribbon that kept it back while the little creature was at work, and it fell in a beautiful shower over the poor shoulders that were much in need of such adorning rain.

Lizzie then lighted a candle, put the room door and the house door open, and turned the little low chair and its occupant toward the outer air. It was a sultry night, and this was a fine weather arrangement when the day's work was done. To complete it, she seated herself by the side of the little chair, and protectingly drew under her arm the spare hand that crept up to her.

"This is what your loving Jenny Wren calls the best time of the day and night," said the person of the house; adding, "I have been thinking to-day what a thing it would be, if I should be able to have your company till I am married, or at least courted. Because when I'm courted, I shall make him do some of the things that you do for me. He couldn't brush my hair like you do, or help me up and downstairs like you do, and he couldn't do anything like you do; but he could take my work home, and he could call for orders in his clumsy way. And he shall too. I'll trot him about, I can tell him!"

Jenny Wren had her personal vanities--happily for her--and no intentions were stronger in her breast than the various trials and torments that were, in the fulness of time, to be inflicted upon "him."

"Wherever he may happen to be just at present, or whoever he may happen to be," said Miss Wren, "I know his tricks and his manners, and I give him warning to look out."

"Don't you think you're rather hard upon him?" asked her friend smiling, and smoothing her hair.

"Not a bit," replied the sage Miss Wren, with an air of vast experience. "My dear, they don't care for you, those fellows, if you're not hard upon 'em?"

In such light and playful conversation, which was the dear delight of Jenny Wren, they continued until interrupted by Mr. Wrayburn, a friend of Lizzie's, who fell to talking playfully with Jenny Wren.

"I think of setting up a doll, Miss Jenny," he said.

"You had better not," replied the dressmaker.

"Why not?"

"You are sure to break it. All you children do."

"But that makes good for trade, you know, Miss Wren," he returned.

"I don't know about that," Miss Wren retorted; "but you'd better by half set up a pen-wiper, and turn industrious, and use it."

"Why, if we were all as industrious as you, little Busy Body, we should begin to work as soon as we could crawl, and there would be a bad thing!"

"Do you mean," returned the little creature with a flush suffusing her face, "bad for your backs and your legs?"

"No, no," said the visitor, shocked at the thought of trifling with her infirmity. "Bad for business. If we all set to work as soon as we could use our hands, it would be all over with the dolls' dressmakers.

"There's something in that," replied Miss Wren, "you have a sort of an idea in your noddle sometimes!" Then, resting one arm upon the elbow of her chair, resting her chin upon that hand, and looking vacantly before her, she said in a changed tone: "Talking of ideas, my Lizzie, I wonder how it happens that when I am working here all alone in the summer-time, I smell flowers. This is not a flowery neighborhood. It's anything but that. And yet as I sit at work, I smell miles of flowers; I smell rose-leaves till I think I see the rose-leaves lying in heaps, bushels, on the floor; I smell fallen leaves, till I put down my hand--so--and expect to make them rustle; I smell the white and the pink May in the hedges, and all sorts of flowers that I never was among. For I have seen very few flowers indeed in my life."

"Pleasant fancies to have, Jenny dear!" said her friend with a glance toward their visitor, as if she would have asked him whether they were given the child in compensation for her losses.

"So I think, Lizzie, when they come to me. And the birds I hear! Oh!" cried the little creature, holding out her hand and looking upward, "How they sing!"

There was something in the face and action for the moment quite inspired and beautiful. Then the chin dropped musingly upon the hand again.

"I dare say my birds sing better than other birds, and my flowers smell better than other flowers. For when I was a little child," in a tone as though it were ages ago, "the children that I used to see early in the morning were very different from any others I ever saw. They were not like me; they were not chilled, anxious, ragged, or beaten; they were never in pain. They were not like the children of the neighbors; they never made me tremble all over, by setting up shrill noises; and they never mocked me. Such numbers of them too! All in white dresses, and with something shining on the borders, and on their heads, that I have never been able to imitate with my work, though I know it so well. They used to come down in long, bright, slanting rows, and say all together, 'Who is this in pain! Who is this in pain!' When I told them who it was, they answered, 'Come and play with us!' When I said 'I never play! I can't play,' they swept about me and took me up, and made me light. Then it was all delicious ease and rest till they laid me down, and said all together, 'Have patience, and we will come again.' Whenever they came back, I used to know they were coming before I saw the long bright rows, by hearing them ask, all together a long way off, 'Who is this in pain! Who is this in pain!' And I used to cry out, 'Oh my blessed children, it's poor me. Have pity on me. Take me up and make me light!'"

By degrees as she progressed in this remembrance, the hand was raised, the last ecstatic look returned, and she became quite beautiful again. Having so paused for a moment, silent, with a listening smile upon her face, she looked round and recalled herself.

"What poor fun you think me, don't you," she said to the visitor. "You may well look tired of me. But it's Saturday night, and I won't detain you."

"That is to say, Miss Wren," observed the visitor, rather weary of the person of the house, and quite ready to profit by her hint, "you wish me to go?"

"Well, it's Saturday night," she returned, "and my child's coming home. And my child is a troublesome, bad child, and costs me a world of scolding. I would rather you didn't see my child."

"A doll?" said the visitor, not understanding, and looking for an explanation.

But Lizzie, with her lips only, shaping the two words, "Her father," he took his leave immediately, and presently the weak and shambling figure of the child's father stumbled in, to be expostulated with, and scolded, and treated as the person of the house always treated him, when he came home in such a pitiable condition.

While they ate their supper, Lizzie tried to bring the child round again to that prettier and better state. But the charm was broken. The dolls' dressmaker had become a little quaint shrew, of the world, worldly; of the earth, earthy.

Poor dolls' dressmaker! How often so dragged down by hands that should have raised her up; how often so misdirected when losing her way on the eternal road and asking guidance! Poor, poor little dolls' dressmaker.

One of Miss Jenny's firmest friends was an aged Jew, Mr. Riah, by name; of venerable aspect, and a generous and noble nature. He was supposedly the head of the firm of Pubsey and Co., at Saint-Mary-Axe, but really only the agent of one Mr. Fledgeby, a miserly young dandy who directed all the aged Jew's transactions, and forced him into sharp, unfair dealings with those whom Mr. Riah himself would gladly have befriended; shielding his own meanness and dishonesty behind the venerable figure of the Jew, and keeping his own connection with the firm a profound secret. Mr. Riah suffered himself to remain in such a position only because once when he had had sickness and misfortune, and owed Mr. Fledgeby's father both principal and interest, the son inheriting, had been merciful and placed him there; and little did the guileless old man realize that he had long since, richly repaid the debt; his age and serene respectability, added to the characteristics ascribed to his race, making a valuable screen to hide his employer's misdeeds.

The aged Jew often befriended the dolls' dressmaker, and she called him, in her fanciful way, "godmother."

On his roof-top garden, Jenny Wren and her friend Lizzie were sitting one day, together, when Mr. Fledgeby came up and joined the party, interrupting their conversation. For the girls, perhaps with some old instinct of his race, the gentle Jew had spread a carpet. Seated on it, against no more romantic object than a blackened chimney-stack, over which some humble creeper had been trained, they both pored over one book, while a basket of common fruit, and another basket of strings of beads and tinsel scraps were lying near.

"This, sir," explained the old Jew, "is a little dressmaker for little people. Explain to the master, Jenny."

"Dolls; that's all," said Jenny shortly. "Very difficult to fit too, because their figures are so uncertain. You never know where to expect their waists."

"I made acquaintance with my guests, sir," pursued the old Jew, with an evident purpose of drawing out the dressmaker, "through their coming here to buy our damage and waste for Miss Jenny's millinery. They wear it in their hair, and on their ball-dresses, and even (so she tells me) are presented at court with it."

"Ah!" said Fledgeby, "she's been buying that basketful to-day, I suppose."

"I suppose she has," Miss Jenny interposed, "and paying for it too, most likely," adding, "we are thankful to come up here for rest, sir; for the quiet and the air, and because it's so high. And you see the clouds rushing on above the narrow streets, not minding them, and you see the golden arrows pointing at the mountains in the sky, from which the wind comes, and, you feel as if you were dead."

"How do you feel when you are dead?" asked the practical Mr. Fledgeby, much perplexed.

"Oh so tranquil!" cried the little creature smiling. "Oh so peaceful and so thankful! And you hear the people, who are alive, crying and working and calling to one another in the close dark streets and you seem to pity them so! And such a chain has fallen from you, and such a strange, good, sorrowful happiness comes upon you!"

Her eyes fell upon the old man, who, with his hands folded, quietly looked on.

"Why, it was only just now," said the little creature, pointing at him, "that I fancied I saw him come out of his grave! He toiled out at that low door, so bent and worn, and then he took his breath, and stood upright and looked all around him at the sky, and the wind blew upon him, and his life down in the dark was over!--Till he was called back to life," she added, looking round at Fledgeby with that lower look of sharpness, "Why did you call him back? But you are not dead, you know," said Jenny Wren. "Get down to life!"

Mr. Fledgeby seemed to think it a rather good suggestion, and with a nod turned round and took his leave. As Mr. Riah followed him down the stairs, the little creature called out to the Jew in a silvery tone, "Don't be gone long. Come back and be dead!" And still as they went down, they heard the little sweet voice, more and more faintly, half calling and half singing, "Come back and be dead. Come back and be dead!" And as the old man again mounted, the call or song began to sound in his ears again, and looking above, he saw the face of the little creature looking down out of the glory of her long, bright, radiant hair, and musically repeating to him like a vision:

"Come up and be dead! Come up and be dead!"

Not long after this, there came a heavy trial to the dolls' dressmaker in the loss from her home of her friend and lodger, Lizzie Hexam. Lizzie, having disagreed with her brother upon a subject of vital interest to herself, and having an intense desire to escape from persons whom she knew would pursue her so long as she remained in London, felt it wisest to quietly disappear from the city, leaving no trace of her whereabouts. With the help of Mr. Riah she accomplished this, and found occupation in a paper-mill in the country, leaving poor Jenny Wren with only the slight consolation of her letters, and with the aged Jew for her sole counsellor and friend. He was frequently with Jenny Wren, often escorting her upon her necessary trips, in returning her fine ladies to their homes in various parts of the city, and sometimes the little creature accompanied him upon his own business trips, as well.

One foggy evening as usual, he set out for Church Street, and, wading through the fog, waded to the doorstep of the dolls' dressmaker.

Miss Wren expected him. He could see her through the window, by the light of her low fire--carefully banked up with damp cinders, that it might last the longer, and waste the less when she went out--sitting waiting for him, in her bonnet. His tap at the glass roused her from the musing solitude in which she sat, and she opened the door, aiding her steps with a little crutch-stick.

"Good evening, godmother!" said Miss Jenny Wren.

The old man laughed, and gave her his arm to lean on. "Won't you come in and warm yourself, godmother?" she asked.

"Not if you are ready, Cinderella, my dear."

"Well!" exclaimed Miss Wren, delighted. "Now you ARE a clever old boy! If we only gave prizes at this establishment you should have the first silver medal for taking me up so quick." As she spake thus, Miss Wren removed the key of the house-door from the keyhole, and put it in her pocket. Satisfied that her dwelling was safe, she drew one hand through the old man's arm, and prepared to ply her crutch-stick with the other. But the key was of such gigantic proportions that before they started, Riah proposed to carry it.

"No, no, no! I'll carry it myself," returned Miss Wren. "I'm awfully lop-sided, you know, and stowed down in my pocket, it'll trim the ship. To let you into a secret, godmother, I wear my pocket on my high side o' purpose."

With that they began their plodding through the fog.

"Yes, it was truly sharp of you, godmother," returned Miss Wren, with great approbation, "to understand me. But, you see, you are so like the fairy godmother in the bright little books! You look so unlike the rest of the people, and so much as if you had changed yourself into that shape, just this moment, with some benevolent object. Bah!" cried Miss Jenny, putting her face close to the old man's, "I can see your features, godmother, behind the beard."

"Does the fancy go to my changing other objects, too, Jenny?"

"Ah! That it does! If you'd only borrow my stick, and tap this piece of pavement, it would start up a coach and six. I say,--Let's believe so!"

"With all my heart," replied the good old man.

"And I'll tell you what I must ask you to do, godmother. I must ask you to be so kind as to give my child a tap, and change him altogether. Oh, my child has been such a bad, bad child of late! It worries me almost out of my wits. Not done a stroke of work these ten days."

"What shall be changed after him?" asked Riah, in a compassionately playful voice.

"Upon my word, godmother, I am afraid I must be selfish next, and get you to set me right in the back and legs. It's a little thing to you with your power, godmother, but it's a great deal to poor, weak, aching me."

There was no querulous complaining in the words, but they were not the less touching for that.

"And then?"

"Yes, and then--you know, godmother. Well both jump into the coach and six, and go to Lizzie. This reminds me, godmother, to ask you a serious question. You are as wise as wise can be (having been brought up by the fairies), and you can tell me this,--Is it better to have had a good thing and lost it, or never to have had it?"

"Explain, goddaughter."

"I feel so much more solitary and helpless without Lizzie now than I used to feel before I knew her." (Tears were in her eyes as she said so.)

"Some beloved companionship fades out of most lives, my dear," said the Jew, "that of a wife, and a fair daughter, and a son of promise, has faded out of my own life--but the happiness was"

"Ah!" said Miss Wren thoughtfully, by no means convinced. "Then I tell you what change I think you had better begin with, godmother. You had better change Is into Was, and Was into Is, and keep them so."

"Would that suit your case? Would you not be always in pain then?" asked the old man tenderly.

"Right!" exclaimed Miss Wren. "You have changed me wiser, godmother. Not," she added, with a quaint hitch of her chin and eyes, "that you need to be a very wonderful godmother to do that, indeed!"

Thus conversing, they pursued their way over London Bridge, and struck down the river, and held their still foggier course that way. As they were going along, Jennie twisted her venerable friend aside to a brilliantly lighted toy-shop window, and said: "Now, look at 'em! All my work!"

This referred to a dazzling semicircle of dolls in all the colors of the rainbow, who were dressed for all the gay events of life.

"Pretty, pretty, pretty!" said the old man with a clap of his hands. "Most elegant taste!"

"Glad you like 'em," returned Miss Wren loftily. "But the fun is, godmother, how I make the great ladies try my dresses on. Though it's the hardest part of my business, and would be, even if my back were not bad and my legs queer."

He looked at her as not understanding what she said.

"Bless you, godmother," said Miss Wren, "I have to scud about town at all hours. If it was only sitting at my bench, cutting out and sewing, it would be comparatively easy work; but it's the trying-on by the great ladies that takes it out of me."

"How the trying-on?" asked Riah.

"What a moony godmother you are, after all!" returned Miss Wren. "Look here. There's a Drawing-room, or a grand day in the Park, or a show or a fete, or what you like. Very well. I squeeze among the crowd, and I look about me. When I see a great lady very suitable for my business, I say, 'You'll do, my dear!' and I take particular notice of her again, and run home and cut her out, and baste her. Then another day I come scudding back again to try on. Sometimes she plainly seems to say, 'How that little creature is staring!' All the time I am only saying to myself, 'I must hollow out a bit here; I must slope away there'; and I am making a perfect slave of her, making her try on my doll's dress. Evening parties are severer work for me, because there's only a doorway for full view, and what with hobbling among the wheels of the carriages and the legs of the horses, I fully expect to be run over some night. Whenever they go bobbing into the hall from the carriage, and catch a glimpse of my little physiognomy poked out from behind a policeman's cape in the rain, I daresay they think I am wondering and admiring with all my eyes and heart, but they little think they're only working for my dolls! There was Lady Belinda Whitrose. I said one night when she came out of the carriage. 'You'll do, my dear!' and I ran straight home, and cut her out, and basted her. Back I came again, and waited behind the men that called the carriages. Very bad night too. At last, 'Lady Belinda's Whitrose's carriage!' Lady Belinda Whitrose coming down! And I made her try on--oh! and take pains about it too--before she got seated. That's Lady Belinda hanging up by the waist, much too near the gas-light for a wax one, with her toes turned in."

When they had plodded on for some time, they reached a certain tavern, where Mr. Riah had some business to transact with its proprietress, Miss Abbey Potterson, to whom he presented himself, and was about to introduce his young companion when Miss Wren interrupted him:

"Stop a bit," she said, "I'll give the lady my card." She produced it from her pocket with an air, and Miss Abbey took the diminutive document, and found it to run thus:


Dolls' Dressmaker..

Dolls attended at their own residences.

So great were her amusement and astonishment, and so interested was she in the odd little creature that she at once asked:

"Did you ever taste shrub, child?"

Miss Wren shook her head.

"Should you like to?"

"Should if it's good," returned Miss Wren.

"You shall try. Put your little feet on the fender. It's a cold, cold night, and the fog clings so." As Miss Abbey helped her to turn her chair, her loosened bonnet fell on the floor. "Why, what lovely hair!" cried Miss Abbey. "And enough to make wigs: for all the dolls in the world. What a quantity!"

"Call that a quantity?" returned Miss Wren. "Poof! What do you say to the rest of it?" As she spoke, she untied a band, and the golden stream fell over herself, and over the chair, and flowed down to the ground. Miss Abbey's admiration seemed to increase her perplexity. She beckoned the Jew towards her, and whispered:

"Child or woman?"

"Child in years," was the answer; "woman in self-reliance and trial."

"You are talking about me, good people," thought Miss Jenny, sitting in her golden bower, warming her feet. "I can't hear what you say, but I know your tricks and your manners!"

The shrub, mixed by Miss Potterson's skilful hands, was perfectly satisfactory to Miss Jenny's palate, and she sat and sipped it leisurely while the interview between Mr. Riah and Miss Potterson proceeded, keenly regretting when the bottom of the glass was reached, and the interview at an end.

There was at this time much curiosity among Lizzie Hexam's acquaintances to discover her hiding-place, and many of them paid visits to the dolls' dressmaker in hopes of obtaining from her the desired address. Among these was Mr. Wrayburn, whom we find calling upon Miss Wren one evening:

"And so, Miss Jenny," he said, "I cannot persuade you to dress me a doll?"

"No," replied Miss Wren snappishly; "If you want one, go and buy it at the shop."

"And my charming young goddaughter," said Mr. Wrayburn plaintively, "down in Hertfordshire--"

("Humbugshire, you mean, I think," interposed Miss Wren)--"is to be put upon the cold footing of the general public, and is to derive no advantage from my private acquaintance with the Court dressmaker?"

"If it's any advantage to your charming godchild, and oh, a precious godfather she has got!" replied Miss Wren, pricking at him in the air with her needle, "to be informed that the Court dressmaker knows your tricks and your manners, you may tell her so, by post, with my compliments."

Miss Wren was busy with her work, by candlelight, and Mr. Wrayburn, half amused and half vexed, stood by her bench looking on, while her troublesome child was in the corner, in deep disgrace on account of his bad behavior, and as Miss Jenny worked, she rated him severely, accompanying each reproach with a stamp of her foot.

"Pay five shillings for you indeed!" she exclaimed in response to his appeal for money. "How many hours do you suppose it costs me to earn five shillings, you infamous boy? Don't cry like that, or I'll throw a doll at you. Pay five shillings fine for you, indeed! Fine in more ways than one, I think! I'd give the dustman five shillings to carry you off in the dust-cart."

The figure in the corner continuing to whine and whimper, Miss Wren covered her face with her hand. "There!" she said, "I can't bear to look at you. Go upstairs and get me my bonnet and shawl. Make yourself useful in some way, bad boy, and let me have your room instead of your company, for one half minute."

Obeying her, he shambled out, and Mr. Wrayburn, pitying, saw the tears exude between the little creature's fingers, as she kept her hand before her eyes.

"I am going to the Italian Opera to try on," said Miss Wren, taking away her hand, and laughing satirically to hide that she had been crying. "But let me first tell you, Mr. Wrayburn, once for all, that it's no use your paying visits to me. You wouldn't get what you want of me, no, not if you brought pincers with you to tear it out."

With which statement, and a further admonition to her father, who had come back, she blew her candles out, and taking her big door-key in her pocket, and her crutch-stick in her hand, marched off.

Not many months later, one day while Miss Wren was waiting in the office of Pubsey and Co., for Mr. Riah to come in and sell her the waste she was accustomed to buy, she overheard a conversation between Mr. Fledgeby, who had apparently happened in, and a friend who was also waiting for Mr. Riah.

This conversation led her to infer that her old friend was both a treacherous and dishonest man, and entirely unworthy to be trusted in any capacity. Seemingly the conversation was not meant for her ears, but Mr. Fledgeby had planned that she should hear it, and that it should have the very effect upon her which it had. This was Mr. Fledgeby's retort upon Miss Wren for the over-sharpness with which she always treated him, and also a pleasant instance of his humor as regarded the old Jew. "He has got a bad name as an old Jew, and he is paid for the use of it, and I'll have my money's worth out of him." Thus ran Mr. Fledgeby's reflections on the subject, and Miss Wren sat listening to the conversation with a fallen countenance, until Mr. Riah came in, when Mr. Fledgeby led the old man to make statements which seemed further to emphasize his hard-heartedness and dishonesty.

Then Mr. Riah filled Miss Wren's little basket with such scraps as she could buy, saying:

"There, my Cinderella dear, the basket's full now. Bless you, and get you gone!"

"Don't call me your Cinderella dear," returned Miss Wren, "Oh, you cruel godmother!"

She shook that emphatic little forefinger of hers in his face at parting, and as he did not attempt to vindicate himself, went on her way, to return no more to Saint Mary Axe; chance having disclosed to her (as she supposed) the flinty and hypocritical character of Mr. Riah. She often moralized over her work on the tricks and the manners of that venerable cheat, but made her little purchases elsewhere, and lived a secluded life. But during several interviews which she chanced to have later with Mr. Fledgeby, the clever little creature made him by his own words, disclose his system of treachery and trickery, and prove that the aged Jew had been screening his employer at his own expense. Thereupon Miss Jenny lost no time in once again proceeding to the place of business of Pubsey and Co., where she found the old man sitting at his desk. In less time than it takes to tell it, she had folded her arms about his neck, and kissed him, imploring his forgiveness for her lack of faith in him, adding: "It did look bad, now, didn't it?"

"It looked so bad, Jenny," responded the old man with gravity, "that I was hateful in mine own eyes. I perceived that the obligation was upon me to leave this service. Whereupon I indited a letter to my master to that effect, but he held me to certain months of servitude, which were his lawful term of notice. They expire to-morrow. Upon their expiration--not before--I had meant to set myself right with my Cinderella."

While they were thus conversing, the aged Jew received an angry communication from Mr. Fledgeby, releasing Mr. Riah at once from his service, to the great satisfaction of the old man, who then got his few goods together in a black bag, closed the shutters, pulled down the office blind, and issued forth upon the steps. There, while Miss Jenny held the bag, the old man locked the house door, and handed the key over to the messenger who had brought the note of dismissal.

"Well, godmother," said Miss Wren, "and so you're thrown upon the world!"

"It would appear so, Jenny, and rather suddenly."

"Where are you going to seek your fortune?" asked Miss Wren. The old man smiled, but gazed about him with a look of having lost his way in life, which did not escape the dolls' dressmaker.

"The best thing you can do," said Jenny, "for the time being, at all events, is to come home with me, godmother. Nobody's there but my bad child, and Lizzie's lodging stands empty."

The old man, when satisfied that no inconvenience could be entailed on any one by this move, readily complied, and the singularly assorted couple once more went through the streets together.

And it was a kindly Providence which placed the child's hand in the aged Jew's protecting one that night. Before they reached home, they met a sad party, bearing in their arms an inanimate form, at which the dolls' dressmaker needed but to take one look.

"Oh gentlemen, gentlemen," she cried, "He belongs to me!" "Belongs to you!" said the head of the party, stopping;--"Oh yes, dear gentlemen, he's my child, out without leave. My poor, bad, bad boy! And he don't know me, he don't know me! Oh, what shall I do?" cried the little creature, wildly beating her hands together, "when my own child don't know me!"

The head of the party looked to the old Jew for explanation. He whispered, as the dolls' dressmaker bent over the still form, and vainly tried to extract some sign of recognition from it; "It's her drunken father."

Then the sad party with their lifeless burden went through the streets. After it, went the dolls' dressmaker, hiding her face in the Jewish skirts, and clinging to them with one hand, while with the other she plied her stick, and at last the little home in Church Street was reached.

Many flaunting dolls had to be gaily dressed, before the money was in the dressmaker's pocket to get mourning for her father. As Mr. Riah sat by, helping her in such small ways as he could, he found it difficult to make out whether she realized that the deceased had really been her father.

"If my poor boy," she would say, "had been brought up better, he might have done better. Not that I reproach myself. I hope I have no cause for that."

"None, indeed, Jenny, I am very certain."

"Thank you, godmother. It cheers me to hear you say so. But you see it is so hard to bring up a child well, when you work, work, work, all day. When he was out of employment, I couldn't always keep him near me. He got fractious and nervous, and I was obliged to let him go into the streets. And he never did well in the streets, he never did well out of sight. How often it happens with children! How can I say what I might have turned out myself, but for my back having been so bad and my legs so queer, when I was young!" the dressmaker would go on. "I had nothing to do but work, so I worked. I couldn't play. But my poor, unfortunate child could play, and it turned out worse for him."

"And not for him alone, Jenny."

"Well, I don't know, godmother. He suffered heavily, did my unfortunate boy. He was very, very ill sometimes. And I called him a quantity of names;" shaking her head over her work, and dropping tears.

"You are a good girl, you are a patient girl."

"As for patience," she would reply with a shrug, "not much of that, godmother. If I had been patient, I should never have called him names. But I hope I did it for his good. And besides, I felt my responsibility as a mother so much. I tried reasoning, and reasoning failed. I tried coaxing, and coaxing failed. I tried scolding, and scolding failed. But I was bound to try everything, with such a charge on my hands. Where would have been my duty to my poor lost boy, if I had not tried everything?"

With such talk, mostly in a cheerful tone on the part of the industrious little creature, the day work and the night work were beguiled, until enough of smart dolls had gone forth to bring in the sombre stuff that the occasion required, and to bring into the house the other sombre preparations. "And now," said Miss Jenny, "having knocked off my rosy-cheeked young friends, I'll knock off my white-cheeked self." This referred to her making her own dress which at last was done, in time for the simple service, the arrangements for which were of her own planning. The service ended, and the solitary dressmaker having returned to her home, she said:

"I must have a very short cry, godmother, before I cheer up for good. Because after all, a child is a child, you know."

It was a longer cry than might have been expected. Howbeit, it wore itself out in a shadowy corner, and then the dressmaker came forth, and washed her face, and made the tea.

"You wouldn't mind my cutting out something while we are at tea, would you?" she asked with a coaxing air.

"Cinderella, dear child," the old man expostulated. "Will you never rest?"

"Oh! It's not work, cutting out a pattern isn't," said Miss Jenny, with her busy little scissors already snipping at some paper; "The truth is, godmother, I want to fix it, while I have it correct in my mind."

"Have you seen it to-day, then?" asked Riah.

"Yes, godmother. Saw it just now. It's a surplice, that's what it is. Thing our clergymen wear, you know," explained Miss Jenny, in consideration of his professing another faith.

"And what have you to do with that, Jenny?"

"Why, godmother," replied the dressmaker, "you must know that we professors, who live upon our taste and invention, are obliged to keep our eyes always open. And you know already that I have many extra expenses to meet. So it came into my head, while I was weeping at my poor boy's grave, that something in my way might be done with a clergyman. Not a funeral, never fear;" said Miss Jenny. "The public don't like to be made melancholy, I know very well. But a doll clergyman, my dear,--glossy black curls and whiskers--uniting two of my young friends in matrimony," said Miss Jenny shaking her forefinger, "is quite another affair. If you don't see those three at the altar in Bond Street, in a jiffy, my name's Jack Robinson!"

With her expert little ways in sharp action, she had got a doll into whitey-brown paper orders, before the meal was over, and displayed it for the edification of the Jewish mind, and Mr. Riah was lost in admiration for the brave, resolute little soul, who could so put aside her sadness to meet and face her pressing need.

And many times thereafter was he likewise lost in admiration of his little friend, who continued her business as of old, only without the burden of responsibility by which her life had heretofore been clouded, and more able to give her imagination free play along the lines of her interests, without the pressure of home care resting upon her poor shoulders.

Our last glimpse of her, is as usual, before her little workbench, at work upon a full-dressed, large sized doll, when there comes a knock upon the door. When it is opened there is disclosed a young fellow known to his friends and employer, as Sloppy.

Sloppy was full private No 1 in the Awkward Squad of the rank and file of life, and yet had his glimmering notions of standing true to his colors, and in instinctive refinement of feeling was much above others who outranked him in birth and education.

"Come in, sir," said Miss Wren, "and who may you be?"

Mr. Sloppy introduced himself by name and buttons.

"Oh, indeed," cried Jenny, "I have heard of you."

Sloppy, grinning, was so glad to hear it that he threw back his head and laughed.

"Bless us!" exclaimed Miss Wren, with a start, "Don't open your mouth as wide as that, young man, or it'll catch so, and not shut again, some day."

Mr. Sloppy opened it, if possible, wider, and kept it open, until his laugh was out.

"Why, you're like the giant," said Miss Wren, "when he came home in the land of Beanstalk, and wanted Jack for supper."

"Was he good looking, Miss?" asked Sloppy.

"No," said Miss Wren. "Ugly."

Her visitor glanced round the room--which had many comforts in it now, that it had not had before--and said:

"This is a pretty place, Miss.

"Glad you think so, sir," returned Miss Wren. "And what do you think of Me?"

The honesty of Mr. Sloppy being severely taxed by the question, he twisted a button, grinned, and faltered.

"Out with it," said Miss Wren, with an arch look. "Don't you think me a queer little comicality?" In shaking her head at him after asking the question, she shook her hair down.

"Oh!" cried Sloppy in a burst of admiration. "What a lot, and what a color!"

Miss Wren with her usual expressive hitch, went on with her work. But left her hair as it was, not displeased by the effect it had made.

"You don't live here alone, do you, Miss?" asked Sloppy.

"No," said Miss Wren with a chop. "Live here with my fairy godmother."

"With;" Mr. Sloppy couldn't make it out; "with, who did you say, Miss?"

"Well!" replied Miss Wren more seriously. "With my second father. Or with my first, for that matter." And she shook her head and drew a sigh. "If you had known a poor child I used to have here," she added, "you'd have understood me. But you didn't and you can't. All the better!"

"You must have been taught a long time, Miss," said Sloppy, glancing at the array of dolls on hand, "before you came to work so neatly, Miss, and with such a pretty taste."

"Never was taught a stitch, young man!" returned the dressmaker, tossing her head. "Just gobbled and gobbled, till I found out how to do it. Badly enough at first, but better now."

"And here have I," said Sloppy, in a self-reproachful tone, "been a-learning and a-learning at cabinet-making, ever so long! I'll tell you what, Miss, I should like to make you something."

"Much obliged, but what?"

"I could make you," said Sloppy, surveying the room, "a handy set of nests to lay the dolls in. Or a little set of drawers to keep your silks and threads and scraps in. Or I could turn you a rare handle for that crutch-stick, if it belongs to him you call your father."

"It belongs to me," said the little creature, with a quick flush of her face and neck. "I am lame."

Poor Sloppy flushed too, for there was an instinctive delicacy behind his buttons. He said perhaps, the best thing in the way of amends that could be said. "I am very glad it's yours, because I'd rather ornament it for you than for any one else. Please, may I look at it?"

Miss Wren was in the act of handing it over to him when she paused. "But you had better see me use it," she said sharply. "This is the way. Hoppetty, kicketty, peg-peg-peg. Not pretty, is it?"

"It seems to me that you hardly want it at all," said Sloppy.

The little dressmaker sat down again, and gave it into his hand, saying with that better look upon her, and with a smile:

"Thank you! You are a very kind young man, a really kind young man. I accept your offer--I suppose He won't mind," she added as an afterthought, shrugging her shoulders; "and if he does, he may!"

"Meaning him you call your father, Miss?" said Sloppy.

"No, no," replied Miss Wren. "Him, him, HIM!"

"Him, HIM, HIM?" repeated Sloppy, staring about, as if for him.

"Him who is coming to court and marry me," returned Miss Wren. "Dear me, how slow you are!"

"Oh! HIM!" said Sloppy, "I never thought of him. When is he coming, Miss?"

"What a question!" cried Miss Wren. "How should I know?"

"Where is he coming from, Miss?"

"Why, good gracious, how can I tell! He is coming from somewhere or other, I suppose, and he is coming some day or other, I suppose. I don't know any more about him, at present."

This tickled Mr. Sloppy as an extraordinarily good joke, and he threw back his head and laughed with measureless enjoyment. At the sight of him laughing in that absurd way, the dolls' dressmaker laughed very heartily indeed. So they both laughed till they were tired.

"There, there, there!" said Miss Wren. "For goodness sake, stop, Giant, or I shall be swallowed up alive, before I know it. And to this minute you haven't said what you've come for?"

"I have come for little Miss Harmonses' doll," said Sloppy.

"I thought as much," remarked Miss Wren, "and here is little Miss Harmonses' doll waiting for you. She's folded up in silver paper, you see, as if she was wrapped from head to foot in new banknotes. Take care of her--and there's my hand--and thank you again."

"I'll take more care of her than if she was a gold image," said Sloppy, "and there's both my hands, Miss, and I'll soon come back again!"

Here we leave the little dolls' dressmaker, under the protecting care of her "godmother," the first real guardian she has ever known, and with a new friendship to supply her life with that youthful intercourse which has never been hers. And so in leaving her our hearts are light, for Miss Jenny Wren is brighter now, and happier now, and younger now, than ever before.

[The end]
Kate Dickinson Sweetser's short story: Jenny Wren