A few weeks later, as Jessie trudged drearily toward home -- if it could be called that, she thought bitterly -- her slow, plodding steps betrayed her feelings. The words of the last groom still rang in her ears.
"You? A stable boy? You're just a girl! Girls are more trouble than their worth. Go beg at someone else's door, I'm busy."
His words stung as much as the slaps she had recieved from her uncle, but it was not the first time she had heard them. For a week now, Jessie had been looking for work, but no one would hire her. She was too dirty to be a maid, and, well, she was a girl, and that meant that she obviously couldn't do "man's work." The kind man who had let her help at the lumber yard nearby had left, and the new foreman had responded in much the same way as the grrom.
Why did I have to be born a girl? Jessie wondered. Why couldn't I have been a boy? Then I could find work, and-
Jessie's toe caught on something, and the was jolted roughly out of her thoughts. As she picked herself up, Jessie looked around sheepishly to see if anyone had witnessed her clumsiness. The street was deserted.
Bending over the strange-looking bundle that had tripped her, Jessie detected a mild odor, which grew stronger as she unwrapped the cloth. In the middle were the remains of some fish. The outer part of the bundle consisted of a set of clothing.
Jessie briefly wondered who had dropped the foor and clothing, but she didn't waste time thinking about her luck. Glancing around again, she hurried to her shack and closed the door.
Once her breathing slowed down, Jessie unwrapped the bundle again and gathered the fish onto a board that served as a plate. She placed it to one side, telling herself she'd eat it in a minure. First I want to see if the clothes are any good.
Jessie spread out the clothing on her blankets to look it over. The trousers were well-used, but still had plenty of wear left in them. The shirt was dingy white and in much the same condition. Both reeked of fish and were obviously made for a boy somewhat bigger than Jessie.
Jessie looked at the clothing in disgust. To bad it isn't a dress, she thought. The one I have is beginning to fall apart. Oh, how I wish I was a boy!
She hit the wall with her fist, and with a loud CRACK! part of the baord broke off. Jessie muttered a word she had learned from the men at the lumberyard.
As she sat nursing her hand, and idea formed in her head. Maybe if I wore these clothes, I could pretend to be a boy and then I could get a job!
She jumped up an started to dance around the room, but when she got near the bed she was overpowered by the fish smell. Wrinkling her nose, Jessie gingerly rolled up the clothes and carried them outside. She wanted to keep them at arm's length, but at the same time, she was afraid that the previous owner might try to claim the bundle. So she hurried along, holding the clothing as far away from her body as she dared.
When she reached the Thames, Jessie quickly inserted the clothing, doing her best to scrub away the offensive odor which clung to the cloth. After scrubbing for what seemed like hours, she took them from the icy water and wrung then out with her numb hands. Watching the drops hit the warer, she noticed something that made her stop for a moment. Holding the shirt up to her shoulders, she stared at the now smooth surface and looked at her reflection. What isn't right? she asked herself. A piece of hair that had come loose fell in her face, and she unconciously started to push it back. Then she froze.
My hair! That's what isn't right, Jessie realized. I can never look like a boy with this long hair!
Jessie moaned out loud. The long, blonde tresses were the only treasure she posessed, the one part of herself she considered to be beautiful, and they had never been cut. Several times Jessie had been offered money for her hair, but she had always refused.
Slowly she turned and started back to the shack, carrying the shirt and trousers without thinking about it. All of her earlier excitement was gone, and she once again plodded sadly home.
When she reached the shack, Jessie dropped the clothing on her bed and picked up her cracked mirror. She stared at her hair in the reflection, and let out a sob. Laying down the mirror, she picked up her tattered brush and slowly brushed out the long, silken strands as tears trickled down her cheeks. When she had finished, she lay the brush by the mirror and walked our the door and down the alley. Numbly she wandered in the general direction of the better part of town, and she eventually looked up to find herself in front of a wigmaker's shop. She stopped outside the door to wipe her eyes. As she walked in, the owner looked at her with contempt, eyeing Jessie's worn out dress and bare feet. Jessie opened her mouth to speak, but no workd came out, so she just motioned to her hair. The proprieter finally noticed the blonde length, and a greedy look filled his eyes.
"Would you like to sell your hair?" the man asked, reaching out to touch it.
Jessie backed up a step, then nodded her head. The man named a price, and Jessie nodded again. She had been offered more in the past, but it didn't matter now. She place her hands on the back of her head, indicating how much she wanted to sell, and the owner lowered the price by 3 pence. Jessie sighed, then nodded.
Quickly, as if afraid that the girl would change her mind, the owner piched up some scissors and cut of the hair in a few rough chops. Jessie winced, but didn't say anything. She grabbed the money that the wigmaker offered her without counting it, and fled the store.