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Little Jack Janitor

James Whitcomb Riley 1849 (Greenfield) – 1916 (Indianapolis)



And there, in that ripe Summer-night, once more
A wintry coolness through the open door
And window seemed to touch each glowing face
Refreshingly; and, for a fleeting space,
The quickened fancy, through the fragrant air,
Saw snowflakes whirling where the roseleaves were,
And sounds of veriest jingling bells again
Were heard in tinkling spoons and glasses then.

Thus Uncle Mart's old poem sounded young
And crisp and fresh and clear as when first sung,
Away back in the wakening of Spring
When his rhyme and the robin, chorusing,
Rumored, in duo-fanfare, of the soon
Invading johnny-jump-ups, with platoon
On platoon of sweet-williams, marshaled fine
To bloomed blarings of the trumpet-vine.

The poet turned to whisperingly confer
A moment with 'The Noted Traveler.'
Then left the room, tripped up the stairs, and then
An instant later reappeared again,
Bearing a little, lacquered box, or chest,
Which, as all marked with curious interest,
He gave to the old Traveler, who in
One hand upheld it, pulling back his thin
Black lustre coat-sleeves, saying he had sent
Up for his 'Magic Box,' and that he meant
To test it there--especially to show
_The Children_. 'It is _empty now_, you know.'--
He humped it with his knuckles, so they heard
The hollow sound--'But lest it be inferred
It is not _really_ empty, I will ask
_Little Jack Janitor_, whose pleasant task
It is to keep it ship-shape.'

Then he tried
And rapped the little drawer in the side,
And called out sharply 'Are you in there, Jack?'
And then a little, squeaky voice came back,--
'_Of course I'm in here--ain't you got the key
Turned on me!_'

Then the Traveler leisurely
Felt through his pockets, and at last took out
The smallest key they ever heard about!--
It,wasn't any longer than a pin:
And this at last he managed to fit in
The little keyhole, turned it, and then cried,
'Is everything swept out clean there inside?'
'_Open the drawer and see!--Don't talk to much;
Or else_,' the little voice squeaked, '_talk in Dutch--
You age me, asking questions!_'

Then the man
Looked hurt, so that the little folks began
To feel so sorry for him, he put down
His face against the box and had to frown.--
'Come, sir!' he called,--'no impudence to _me!_--
You've swept out clean?'

'_Open the drawer and see!_'
And so he drew the drawer out: Nothing there,
But just the empty drawer, stark and bare.
He shoved it back again, with a shark click.--

'_Ouch!_' yelled the little voice--'_un-snap it--quick!--
You've got my nose pinched in the crack!_'

And then
The frightened man drew out the drawer again,
The little voice exclaiming, '_Jeemi-nee!--
Say what you want, but please don't murder me!_'

'Well, then,' the man said, as he closed the drawer
With care, 'I want some cotton-batting for
My supper! Have you got it?'

And inside,
All muffled like, the little voice replied,
'_Open the drawer and see!_'

And, sure enough,
He drew it out, filled with the cotton stuff.
He then asked for a candle to be brought
And held for him: and tuft by tuft he caught
And lit the cotton, and, while blazing, took
It in his mouth and ate it, with a look
Of purest satisfaction.

'Now,' said he,
'I've eaten the drawer empty, let me see
What this is in my mouth:' And with both hands
He began drawing from his lips long strands
Of narrow silken ribbons, every hue
And tint;--and crisp they were and bright and new
As if just purchased at some Fancy-Store.
'And now, Bub, bring your cap,' he said, 'before
Something might happen!' And he stuffed the cap
Full of the ribbons. '_There_, my little chap,
Hold _tight_ to them,' he said, 'and take them to
The ladies there, for they know what to do
With all such rainbow finery!'

He smiled
Half sadly, as it seemed, to see the child
Open his cap first to his mother..... There
Was not a ribbon in it anywhere!
'_Jack Janitor!_' the man said sternly through
The Magic Box--'Jack Janitor, did _you_
Conceal those ribbons anywhere?'

'_Well, yes,_'
The little voice piped--'_but you'd never guess
The place I hid 'em if you'd guess a year!_'

'Well, won't you _tell_ me?'

'_Not until you clear
Your mean old conscience_' said the voice, '_and make
Me first do something for the Children's sake._'

'Well, then, fill up the drawer,' the Traveler said,
'With whitest white on earth and reddest red!--
Your terms accepted--Are you satisfied?'

'_Open the drawer and see!_' the
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Submitted on May 13, 2011

4:01 min read
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James Whitcomb Riley

James Whitcomb Riley was an American writer, poet, and best-selling author. During his lifetime he was known as the "Hoosier Poet" and "Children's Poet" for his dialect works and his children's poetry respectively. more…

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