Charles Dickens' Children Stories
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Then Miss Petowker, who could sing and recite in a way that brought tears to Mrs. Kenwigs' eyes, remarked —
"Oh, dear Mrs. Kenwigs, while Mr. Noggs is making that punch to drink happy returns in, do let Morleena go through that figure dance before Mr. Lillyvick."
"Well, I'll tell you what," said Mrs. Kenwigs. "Morleena shall do the steps, if uncle can persuade Miss Petowker to recite us the 'Blood-Drinker's Burial' afterwards."
Everyone clapped their hands and stamped their feet at this proposal, but Miss Petowker said, "You know I dislike doing anything professional at private parties."
"Oh, but not here!" said Mrs. Kenwigs. "You might as well be going through it in your own room: besides, the occasion."
"I can't resist that," interrupted Miss Petowker, "anything in my humble power, I shall be delighted to do."
In reality Mrs. Kenwigs and Miss Petowker had arranged all the entertainment between them beforehand, but had settled that a little pressing on each side would look more natural. Then Miss Petowker hummed a tune, and Morleena danced. It was a very beautiful figure, with a great deal of work for the arms, and gained much applause. Then Miss Petowker was entreated to begin her recitation, so she let down her back hair, and went through the performance with great spirit, and died raving mad in the arms of a bachelor friend who was to rush out and catch her at the words "in death expire," to the great delight of the audience and the terror of the little Kenwigses, who were nearly frightened into fits.
Just as the punch was ready, a knock at the door startled them all. But it was only a friend of Mr. Noggs, who lived upstairs, and who had come down to say that Mr. Noggs was wanted.
Mr. Noggs hurried out, saying he would be back soon, and presently startled them all by rushing in, snatching up a candle and a tumbler of hot punch, and darting out again.
Now, it happened unfortunately that the tumbler of punch was the very one that Mr. Lillyvick was just going to lift to his lips, and the great man – the rich relation – who had it in his power to make Morleena and her sisters heiresses – and whom everyone was most anxious to please – was offended.
Poor Mr. Kenwigs endeavored to soothe him, but only made matters worse. Mr. Lillyvick demanded his hat, and was only induced to remain by Mrs. Kenwigs' tears and the entreaties of the entire company.
"There, Kenwigs," said Mr. Lillyvick, "and let me tell you, 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, "go down on 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."
Just as all were happy again, everyone was startled by a rapid succession of the loudest and shrillest shrieks, apparently coming from the room where the baby was asleep.
"My baby, my blessed, blessed, blessed, blessed baby! My own darling, sweet, innocent Lillyvick! Let me go-o-o-o," screamed Mrs.Kenwigs.
Mr. Kenwigs rushed out, and was met at the door of the bedroom by a young man with the baby (upside down) in his arms, who came out so quickly that he knocked Mr. Kenwigs down; handing the child to his mother, he said, "Don't be alarmed, it's all out, it's all over – the little girl, being tired, I suppose, fell asleep and set her hair on fire. I heard her cries and ran up in time to prevent her setting fire to anything else. The child is not hurt: I took it off the bed myself and brought it here to convince you."
After they had all talked over this last excitement, and discussed little Lillyvick's deliverer, the collector pulled out his watch and announced that it was nearly two o'clock, and as the poor children had been for some time obliged to keep their little eyes open with their little forefingers, the company took leave, declaring they had never spent such a delightful evening, and that they wished Mr. and Mrs. Kenwigs had a wedding-day once a week.
MANY years ago, when people could be put in prison for debt, a poor gentleman, who was unfortunate enough to lose all his money, was brought to the Marshalsea prison. As there seemed no prospect of being able to pay his debts, his wife and their two little children came to live there with him. The elder child was a boy of three; the younger a little girl of two years old, and not long afterwards another little girl was born. The three children played in the courtyard, and were happy, on the whole, for they were too young to remember a happier state of things.
But the youngest child, who had never been outside the prison walls, was a thoughtful little creature, and wondered what the outside world could be like. Her great friend, the turnkey, who was also her godfather, became very fond of her, and as soon as she could walk and talk, he bought a little arm-chair and stood it by his fire at the lodge, and coaxed her with cheap toys to come and sit with him.
One day, she was sitting in the lodge gazing wistfully up at the sky through the barred window. The turnkey, after watching her some time, said: —
"Thinking of the fields, ain't you?"
"Where are they?" she asked.
"Why, they're – over there, my dear," said the turnkey, waving his key vaguely, "just about there."
"Does anybody open them and shut them? Are they locked?"
"Well," said the turnkey, discomfited, "not in general."
"Are they pretty, Bob?" She called him Bob, because he wished it.
"Lovely. Full of flowers. There's buttercups, and there's daisies, and there's – " here he hesitated, not knowing the names of many flowers – "there's dandelions, and all manner of games."
"Is it very pleasant to be there, Bob?"
"Prime," said the turnkey.
"Was father ever there?"
"Hem!" coughed the turnkey. "O yes, he was there, sometimes."
"Is he sorry not to be there now?"
"N – not particular," said the turnkey.
"Nor any of the people?" she asked, glancing at the listless crowd within. "O are you quite sure and certain, Bob?"
At this point, Bob gave in and changed the subject. But after this chat, the turnkey and little Amy would go out on his free Sunday afternoons to some meadows or green lanes, and she would pick grass and flowers to bring home, while he smoked his pipe.
When Amy was only eight years old, her mother died, and the poor father was more helpless and broken-down than ever, and as Fanny was a careless child, and Edward idle, the little one, who had the bravest and truest heart, was inspired by her love and unselfishness to be the little mother of the forlorn family, and struggled to get some little education for herself and her brother and sister. She went as often as she could to an evening school outside, and managed to get her brother and sister sent to a day-school at intervals, during three or four years. At thirteen, she could read and keep accounts. Once, amongst the debtors, a dancing-master came in, and as Fanny had a great desire to learn dancing, little Amy went timidly to the new prisoner, and said,
"If you please, I was born here, sir."
"Oh! You are the young lady, are you?" said he.
"And what can I do for you?"
"Nothing for me, sir, thank you; but if, while you stay here, you could be so kind as to teach my sister cheap."
"My child, I'll teach her for nothing," said the dancing-master.
Fanny was a very apt pupil, and the good-natured dancing-master went on giving her lessons even after his release, and Amy was so emboldened with the success of her attempt that, when a milliner came in, she went to her on her own behalf, and begged her to teach her.
"I am afraid you are so weak, you see," the milliner objected.
"I don't think I am weak, ma'am."
"And you are so very, very little, you see," the milliner still objected.
"Yes, I am afraid I am very little indeed," returned the child, and began to sob, so that the milliner was touched, and took her in hand and made her a clever workwoman.
But the father could not bear the idea that his children should work for their living, so they had to keep it all secret. Fanny became a dancer, and lived with a poor old uncle, who played the clarionet at the small theatre where Fanny was engaged. Amy, or little Dorrit as she was generally called, her father's name being Dorrit, earned small sums by going out to do needlework. She got Edward into a great many situations, but he was an idle, careless fellow, and always came back to be a burden and care to his poor little sister. At last she saved up enough to send him out to Canada.
"God bless you, dear Tip" (his name had been shortened to Tip), "don't be too proud to come and see us when you have made your fortune," she said.
But Tip only went as far as Liverpool, and appeared once more before his poor little second mother, in rags, and with no shoes.
In the end, after another trial, Tip returned telling Amy, that this time he was "one of the regulars."
"Oh! Don't say you are a prisoner, Tip. Don't, don't!"
But he was – and Amy nearly broke her heart. So with all these cares and worries struggling bravely on, little Dorrit passed the first twenty-two years of her life. Then the son of a lady, Mrs. Clennem, to whose house Amy went to do needlework, was interested in the pale, patient little creature, and learning her history resolved to do his best to try and get her father released, and to help them all.
One day when he was walking home with little Dorrit a voice was heard calling, "Little Mother, Little Mother," and a strange figure came bouncing up to them and fell down, scattering her basketful of potatoes on the ground. "Oh Maggie," said Little Dorrit, "what a clumsy child you are!"
She was about eight and twenty, with large bones, large features, large hands and feet, large eyes and no hair. Little Dorrit told Mr. Clennem that Maggie was the grand-daughter of her old nurse, and that her grandmother had been very unkind to her and beat her. "When Maggie was ten years old, she had a fever, and she has never grown older since."
"Ten years old," said Maggie. "But what a nice hospital! So comfortable wasn't it? Such a Ev'nly place! Such beds there is there! Such lemonades! Such oranges! Such delicious broth and wine! Such chicking! Oh, AIN'T it a delightful place to stop at!"
"Then when she came out, her grandmother did not know what to do with her, and was very unkind. But after some time, Maggie tried to improve, and was very attentive and industrious, and now she can earn her own living entirely, sir!"
Little Dorrit did not say who had taken pains to teach and encourage the poor half-witted creature, but Mr. Clennem guessed from the name Little Mother, and the fondness of the poor creature for Amy.
Thanks to Mr. Clennem, a great change took place in the fortunes of the family, and not long after this wretched night, it was discovered that Mr. Dorrit was owner of a large property, and they became very rich.
When, in his turn, Mr. Clennem became a prisoner in the Marshalsea little Dorrit came to comfort and console him, and after many changes of fortune, she became his wife, and they lived happy ever after.
THE BLIND TOY-MAKER
CALEB PLUMMER and his blind daughter lived alone in a little cracked nutshell of a house. They were toy-makers, and their house was stuck like a toadstool on to the premises of Messrs. Gruff & Tackleton, the Toy Merchants for whom they worked, – the latter of whom was himself both Gruff and Tackleton in one.
I am saying that Caleb and his blind daughter lived here. I should say Caleb did, his daughter lived in an enchanted palace, which her father's love had created for her. She did not know that the ceilings were cracked, the plaster tumbling down, and the wood work rotten; that everything was old and ugly and poverty-stricken about her and that her father was a grey-haired stooping old man, and the master for whom they worked a hard and brutal taskmaster; – oh, dear no, she fancied a pretty, cosy, compact little home full of tokens of a kind master's care, a smart, brisk, gallant-looking father, and a handsome and noble-looking Toy Merchant who was an angel of goodness.
This was all Caleb's doings. When his blind daughter was a baby he had determined in his great love and pity for her, that her deprivation should be turned into a blessing, and her life as happy as he could make it. And she was happy; everything about her she saw with her father's eyes, in the rainbow-coloured light with which it was his care and pleasure to invest it.
Bertha sat busily at work, making a doll's frock, whilst Caleb bent over the opposite side of the table painting a doll's house.
"You were out in the rain last night in your beautiful new great-coat," said Bertha.
"Yes, in my beautiful new great-coat," answered Caleb, glancing to where a roughly made garment of sack-cloth was hung up to dry.
"How glad I am you bought it, father."
"And of such a tailor! quite a fashionable tailor, a bright blue cloth, with bright buttons; it's a deal too good a coat for me."
"Too good!" cried the blind girl, stopping to laugh and clap her hands – "as if anything was too good for my handsome father, with his smiling face, and black hair, and his straight figure."
Caleb began to sing a rollicking song.
"What, you are singing, are you?" growled a gruff voice, as Mr. Tackleton put his head in at the door. "I can't afford to sing, I hope you can afford to work too. Hardly time for both, I should say."
"You don't see how the master is winking at me," whispered Caleb in his daughter's ear – "such a joke, pretending to scold, you know."
The blind girl laughed and nodded, and taking Mr. Tackleton's reluctant hand, kissed it gently. "What is the idiot doing?" grumbled the Toy Merchant, pulling his hand roughly away.
"I am thanking you for the beautiful little tree," replied Bertha, bringing forward a tiny rose-tree in blossom, which Caleb had made her believe was her master's gift, though he himself had gone without a meal or two to buy it.
"Here's Bedlam broke loose. What does the idiot mean?" snarled Mr. Tackleton; and giving Caleb some rough orders, he departed without the politeness of a farewell.
"If you could only have seen him winking at me all the time, pretending to be so rough to escape thanking," exclaimed Caleb, when the door was shut.
Now a very sad and curious thing had happened. Caleb, in his love for Bertha, had so successfully deceived her as to the real character of Mr. Tackleton, that she had fallen in love, not with her master, but with what she imagined him to be, and was happy in an innocent belief in his affection for her; but one day she accidently heard he was going to be married, and could not hide from her father the pain and bewilderment she felt at the news.
"Bertha, my dear," said Caleb at length, "I have a confession to make to you; hear me kindly though I have been cruel to you." "You cruel to me!" cried Bertha, turning her sightless face towards him. "Not meaning it, my child! and I never suspected it till the other day. I have concealed things from you which would have given pain, I have invented things to please you, and have surrounded you with fancies."
"But living people are not fancies, father, you cannot change them."
"I have done so, my child, God forgive me! Bertha, the man who is married to-day is a hard master to us both, ugly in his looks and in his nature, and hard and heartless as he can be."
"Oh heavens! how blind I have been, how could you father, and I so helpless!" Poor Caleb hung his head.
"Answer me father," said Bertha. "What is my home like?"
"A poor place, Bertha, a very poor and bare place! indeed as little able to keep out wind and weather as my sackcloth coat."
"And the presents that I took such care of, that came at my wish, and were so dearly welcome?" Caleb did not answer.
"I see, I understand," said Bertha, "and now I am looking at you, at my kind, loving compassionate father, tell me what is he like?"
"An old man, my child, thin, bent, grey-haired, worn-out with hard work and sorrow, a weak, foolish, deceitful old man."
The blind girl threw herself on her knees before him, and took his grey head in her arms. "It is my sight, it is my sight restored," she cried. "I have been blind, but now I see, I have never till now truly seen my father. Father, there is not a grey hair on your head that shall be forgotten in my prayers and thanks to Heaven."
"My Bertha!" sobbed Caleb, "and the brisk smart father in the blue coat – he's gone, my child."
"Dearest father, no, he's not gone, nothing is gone. I have been happy and contented, but I shall be happier and more contented still, now that I know what you are. I am not blind, father, any longer."
THE house was one of those receptacles for old and curious things, which seem to crouch in odd corners of the town; and in the old, dark, murky rooms, there lived alone together an old man and a child – his grandchild, little Nell. Solitary and monotonous as was her life, the innocent and cheerful spirit of the child found happiness in all things, and through the dim rooms of the old curiosity shop little Nell went singing, moving with gay and lightsome step.
But gradually over the old man, to whom she was so tenderly attached, there stole a sad change. He became thoughtful, dejected, and wretched. He had no sleep or rest but that which he took by day in his easy chair; for every night, and all night long, he was away from home.
At last a raging fever seized him, and as he lay delirious or insensible through many weeks, Nell learned that the house which sheltered them was theirs no longer; that in the future they would be very poor; that they would scarcely have bread to eat.
At length the old man began to mend, but his mind was weakened. As the time drew near when they must leave the house, he made no reference to the necessity of finding other shelter. But a change came upon him one evening, as he and Nell sat silently together.
"Let us speak softly, Nell," he said. "Hush! for if they knew our purpose they would say that I was mad, and take thee from me. We will not stop here another day. We will travel afoot through the fields and woods, and trust ourselves to God in the places where He dwells."
The child's heart beat high with hope and confidence. To her it seemed that they might beg their way from door to door in happiness, so that they were together.
When the day began to glimmer they stole out of the house, and passing into the street stood still.
"Which way?" asked the child.
The old man looked irresolutely and helplessly at her, and shook his head. It was plain that she was thenceforth his guide and leader. The child felt it, but had no doubts or misgivings, and putting her hand in his, led him gently away.
They passed through the long, deserted streets, until these streets dwindled away, and the open country was about them. They walked all day, and slept that night at a small cottage where beds were let to travellers. The sun was setting on the second day of their journey, when, following a path which led to the town where they were to spend the night, they fell in with two travelling showmen, bound for the races at a neighboring town.
They made two long days' journey with their new companions. The men were rough and strange in their ways, but they were kindly, too; and in the bewildering noise and movement of the race-course, where she tried to sell some little nosegays, Nell would have clung to them for protection, had she not learned that these men suspected that she and the old man had left their home secretly, and that they meant to take steps to have them sent back and taken care of. Separation from her grandfather was the greatest evil Nell could dread. She seized her opportunity to evade the watchfulness of the two men, and hand in hand she and the old man fled away together.
That night they reached a little village in a woody hollow. The village schoolmaster, attracted by the child's sweetness and modesty, gave them a lodging for the night; nor would he let them leave him until two days more had passed.
They journeyed on when the time came that they must wander forth again, by pleasant country lanes. The afternoon had worn away into a beautiful evening, when they came to a caravan drawn up by the road. It was a smart little house upon wheels, and at the door sat a stout and comfortable lady, taking tea. The tea-things were set out upon a drum, covered with a white napkin. And there, as if at the most convenient table in the world, sat this roving lady, taking her tea and enjoying the prospect. Of this stout lady Nell ventured to ask how far it was to the neighboring town. And the lady, noticing that the tired child could hardly repress a tear at hearing that eight weary miles lay still before them, not only gave them tea, but offered to take them on in the caravan.
Now this lady of the caravan was the owner of a wax-work show, and her name was Mrs. Jarley. She offered Nell employment in pointing out the figures in the wax-work show to the visitors who came to see it, promising in return both board and lodging for the child and her grandfather, and some small sum of money. This offer Nell was thankful to accept, and for some time her life and that of the poor, vacant, fond old man, passed quietly and almost happily.
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