So again, hand in hand, the two children walked into the big shop together, and looked in wonder, as Dick had done, at the great heaps of goods within it.
"We won't go near that machinery part," whispered Lubin. "One of these big thundering engines would crack my poor head like a nutshell."
"What do you want?" asked the iron-gray man, coming from behind a great pile of coal-scuttles.
Nelly squeezed Lubin's hand to make him speak first, for she was a shy little girl.
"We each want four sum-grates, for four little fireplaces," said Lubin—"the very lightest that you can give us. I should like some no bigger than my shoe."
"You're made of different metal from the young fellow whom we had here yesterday," said Arithmetic, looking down with some scorn at the fat little boy. "You'll never cut your fingers by meddling with problems, I guess."
"You may answer for that," said Lubin.
Mr. Arithmetic, without further delay, produced specimens of his four simplest kinds of sum grates, like those from which Dick had been supplied. Lubin and Nelly soon chose Addition as their first purchase from Arithmetic—a grate so small and so light that even the little girl supported the burden with tolerable ease.
"You must come back to-morrow for something a little heavier," said Mr. Arithmetic. "Addition is simple enough; but Division needs a little greater effort of strength."
"We've done grand things to-day," exclaimed Lubin; "it's time enough to think about to-morrow."
"Oh, I will certainly come back then!" cried Nelly, not a little pleased at her present success.
THE WONDERFUL BOY.
That evening Dick and his dark companion Pride sat in his cottage together. The boy looked out of spirits or out of temper. Perhaps his cut still pained him; perhaps the perpetual patter of the shower which was falling made him gloomy and dull, for a violent rain had come on, which continued during the whole of that night.
"Who would have thought," said Pride, "that lazy Lubin and lame Nelly would have mounted so bravely to the top of Multiplication staircase, and have carried back, safely over Bother, such nice little grates of Addition? You must really look sharp, Dick Desley, or they'll furnish their cottages before you."
"Before me!" exclaimed Dick, with a sneer. "I could do more with my little finger than Lubin with all his fat fist."
"Certainly," observed Pride, "it would be an intolerable disgrace to a clever fellow like you if you let any one get before you. You are not one who would endure to see another winning from you the crown of Success."
"I'll never see that," cried Dick, haughtily. "I should like to know who has a chance against me!"
"No one has the smallest chance against you, if you only exert yourself," said Pride. "If I were you I would put forth my powers, and do something to astonish them all."
"I will!" cried Dick, with decision. "I'll go to Arithmetic to-morrow, and bring back the three remaining sum-grates all at once. But what wretched weather we have this evening!" he exclaimed; "I'm afraid all the brightness of summer is going. And what's that on my wall—that dull stain as of damp, that seems creeping over my paper?"
"It is merely caused by the rain. I should think nothing of it," said Pride.
But Dick did think something of the stain. He saw that it marred the beauty of that upon which he had bestowed much diligent labour.
"I'll cross over to Nelly's cottage," he said, "and see if the damp is staining hers also."
Nelly was busy fixing in her grate. She looked upon her brother with a smile.
"How kind to come and see me through the rain!"
"I did not come to see you, but your paper. How is this?—there is not a damp spot upon it!"
"Nor on Lubin's neither," remarked Nelly. "But I was with Matty just now, and the damp shows sadly on her fairies."
"What on earth can make the difference?" cried Dick.
"I do not know, unless—unless—" Nelly hesitated before she added—"unless it be that both Matty and you used the paste that Pride recommended."
"That has nothing to do with it," said Dick, as he quitted the cottage in displeasure.
But Nelly had been right in her guess. There will be an ugly stain upon any work which we only pursue with zeal because we want to outdo others in it.
Dick did not make his appearance on the following morning at the breakfast-table. The children still took their meals at the house Needful till their cottages should be better prepared.
"I am so glad that it has stopped raining," said Nelly, when she had finished her breakfast. "I have been wishing for the weather to clear, for I promised Mr. Arithmetic that I would go back for the grate of Division. Matty, dear, you will come with us to-day?"
Matty had come down to breakfast in a dress almost as ridiculously fine as that worn by Miss Folly herself. She tossed her head, and replied,—
"I've something better to do than to buy, or carry, or scrub wretched sum-grates of Arithmetic. I'm going out with Miss Folly, to be introduced to some of her friends."
"But, Matty, the grates are quite necessary," urged Nelly. "We are soon to take up our quarters in our cottages, and sleep there as well as work. What shall we do when the cold weather comes if we've no means of having a fire?"
"How shall we cook our dinners?" asked Lubin. "If there's one thing more useful in a house than anything else, I should say it is a grate in the kitchen."
"Oh, Miss Folly tells me never to look forward to winter," cried Matty, "but just enjoy myself while I can. So I am not going to plague myself with either Addition or Division to-day. To look after such vulgar things is only a shopkeeper's business."
"But what will mother say," persisted Nelly, "if she find your cottage unfurnished?"
"Unfurnished, indeed!" cried Matty. "It will be far better furnished than yours. I mean to have French mirrors, and Italian paintings, and German glass and china. I shall get a tambourine also, and perhaps some day a guitar. Miss Folly tells me that Lady Fashion, her most particular friend, has all these; and though they make a fine show, they are not so dear as one would think."
"They are all good and beautiful things, I daresay," began Nelly; "but—"
"But grates must come before mirrors, and carpets before German china," laughed Lubin. "We must buy what is needful first, and think of what is pretty afterwards."
"That may be your way; but it is not my way, and it was never the way of Miss Folly," cried Matty, as she flaunted out of the house.
"I wonder at Dick being so late," observed Nelly; "we ought to be off to the town."
"He is not late, but early," said Lubin. "He had had his breakfast, and started for the town of Education, before I was out of my bed."
"I wish that he had waited for us," cried Nelly; "it is so nice to go through our work all together. You and I had now better set off."
"I'm going presently," replied Lubin. "I've just five minutes to spare; and I'm about to step round to Amusement's bazaar, hard by here, to get a few barley-sugar drops, to refresh me on my wearisome walk."
"I think that you had better delay your visit to the bazaar until you have done your business with Mr. Arithmetic. Our mother's proverb, you know, is, 'Duty first, and pleasure afterwards.' The sky is dark, the weather uncertain; we may be stopped from going altogether if we do not start off at once."
"I should like to be stopped altogether," said Lubin, with a smile. "I should not care if I never took another journey to the town of Education."
"What! after all that you said to Matty about the necessity of grates?"
"Ah, yes; they are needful enough, but they are not needed just at this moment. You may go on if you like it, I'll get my sugar-drops first. Set off now, I'll soon overtake you; I won't spend much time at Amusement's."
Nelly sighed, but she saw that there was no use in further entreaty, so she set forth alone. The path down hill was slippery and wet from the rain that had fallen at night—a sister's kind word, or a brother's strong arm, would have been a real comfort now to the lame little girl. Often and often did Nelly turn and look behind her, to see if Lubin were not following after; but in vain she looked, not a sign appeared on the hill of the fat little sluggard.
Nelly came to the stream of Bother. The brook was muddy and swollen, and went racing on faster than usual. The stepping-stones were scarcely seen above the brown waters that eddied around them.
"Oh dear, oh dear; I wish that Lubin or Dick were with me!" cried poor Nelly, as she gave one more anxious glance behind her. "It is miserable to have to go alone across such a stream as this." She put her little foot upon the first stone, she fancied that it trembled beneath her weight—then on the next, she was almost in the water. It was nothing but a strong sense of duty that made the poor child go on. With trembling steps and dizzy brain she proceeded on her dangerous way, and great was her relief when she reached in safety the farther shore.
"One difficulty is happily past, but how shall I enter the great town all alone? how shall I climb the wearisome stair? how shall I face cold stern Mr. Arithmetic, with no brother or sister to back me?" such were the reflections of Nelly as she made her way slowly along the muddy lane of Trouble. Some of my readers may have experienced what a dull and discouraging thing it is to do business all by one's self in the town of Education.
One difficulty, however, Nelly found less great than she had expected it to be. It is a curious fact, but well known to all, that those who have once mounted Multiplication staircase never complain any more of its steepness. Nelly ascended it without a single stumble, till, when she had almost reached the top, she met her brother Dick coming down from Mr. Arithmetic's. What was her astonishment to see the strong boy laden with three grates fastened together, Division, Subtraction, Multiplication, placed one on the top of another!
"O Dick, you can never carry all that at once!"
"I do carry all at once, as you may see," replied Dick, with a smile of triumph; "I'd advise you to get out of my way, lest I knock you over the staircase."
"Surely, surely you can't bear that great burden across the swollen brook, or up the steep hill."
"Take no fears for me: I can't fail with the crown of Success in my view!" exclaimed Dick, bearing his three grates aloft, as some warrior might carry his banner.
"If you would only wait a few minutes for me," began Nelly, but Dick at once cut her short.
"I wait for nobody!" he cried, pushing past his lame little sister. "If you had been up this morning as early as I was, you might have enjoyed the pleasure of my company." And so saying, Dick and his iron grates went clattering down the staircase.
Alone poor Nelly entered the shop, alone she took up her purchase, and alone she descended the twelve flights of steps, trembling under the weight of Division, which she had found a much more serious burden than little Addition had been.
"How could Dick carry three grates at a time," thought Nelly, "when one is almost more than I can support. But then I'm a poor, stupid, lame, little creature, and Dick—oh, Dick is a wonderful boy!"
THE THIEF OF TIME.
When Lubin had said that he would not spend much Time money at Amusement bazaar, he had fully intended to keep his word. He meant to go steadily on his walk to Education, or, as we might call it, "do his lessons," so soon as he had had a little diversion. But let me advise all my dear young readers to put off their visits to Mrs. Amusement's till they have spent such hours as business requires in the town of Education. Let them count their money before they set out, spend a good portion of it wisely and well, and then, with light hearts and easy consciences, they may go to refresh and enjoy themselves at Mrs. Amusement's bazaar.
Which of us does not know that bazaar? It lies on the further side of hill Puzzle, very near to the cottages of Head, and a beautiful large cherry-tree hangs its branches over the door. The house is not lofty, but low and wide, with a multitude of bright little windows. It is divided within into numerous stalls, each possessing separate attractions. There is one much frequented by boys, where bats and balls, bows and arrows, models of boats, and little brass guns are seen in great profusion. At another stall there are pretty dolls of every size and shape, wooden, wax, and gutta-percha; some made to open and shut their eyes, and some to utter a sound. There are few prettier sights than that of a number of rosy, good-humoured children, who have finished their lessons well, and are going, each with a bright hour or two in his hand, to the bazaar of Mrs. Amusement.
The stall that most attracted fat Lubin was one at which sweetmeats were sold: raspberry, strawberry, pine-apple drops, bull's-eye, pink rock, and chocolate sticks, barley-sugar twisted into shapes more various than I can describe or remember. Lubin had taken his five minutes in his hand, and now spent them easily enough; but there were more, oh, many more things that he thought that he would like from the stall. He went humming on as he examined the sweetmeats a favourite proverb of his, "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy." But the fat little dunce might have added, "All play and no work will make Lubin a duller."
Full of interest in all that he saw, with his eyes greedily fixed on the stall, Lubin did not notice a lean, small figure, which, softly as a serpent on the grass, had stolen up to his side. This was no other than Procrastination, a pickpocket well known to the police, who had often been caught in the very act of robbing her Majesty's subjects of Time, had been tried and sent to prison, but on getting out had always returned to his bad occupation again. The poet Young long ago set up a placard to warn men to take care of their pockets, giving notice to all concerned that "Procrastination is the thief of Time;" but, in spite of this warning, there are few amongst us who must not own with regret that the stealthy hand of Procrastination has robbed us of many an hour.
Have you never suffered from Procrastination, good reader? It is he who makes us put off till to-morrow what ought to be done to-day. It is he who whispers, "It will be time enough," when a duty should be performed directly. If you are aware, at this very moment, while you sit with this book in your hand, that you ought to be busy with Arithmetic, or should write a letter to a friend, or do some little piece of business, start up without an instant's delay, shut this book with a clap; perhaps you may then catch between its leaves the sly fingers of thief Procrastination.
Poor Lubin was not on his guard: he noticed not the form that crept after him as noiselessly as a shadow. Procrastination took the opportunity when the boy's attention was most engaged with the sweetmeats, to draw out Time's fairy purse, and rifle it of its precious contents. Silently then he replaced the purse emptied for that day, in hopes, perhaps, that when the morrow filled it with new hours and minutes, he might rob its possessor again of the treasure which he guarded so badly.
"Well, now," exclaimed Lubin, "I can't stop much longer, for I promised Nelly to follow her quickly, and I know that I ought to be at Mr. Arithmetic's by this time. I'll just spend two or three minutes more on those sugar-plums shaped like marbles, and then away to my business and work like a man."
So Lubin plunged his fat hand into his pocket, and drew forth his purse of Time. In went his fingers, fumbling about to pull out the minutes that he wanted, but he fumbled and felt in vain—not an hour was left—not a single little minute, to pay for what he required.
"It's that rogue Procrastination who has robbed me!" exclaimed the indignant boy, as turning sharply round he caught a glimpse of a slim little figure sneaking round the corner of a counter.
Lubin instantly gave chase. Fat as he was, it was wonderful to see how he dodged the pickpocket, first round this stall, then round that, shouting all the time, "Stop, thief! stop, thief!" as loudly as he could bawl. I need scarcely add that all the boy's efforts were useless. Who ever yet recovered lost Time? Out of breath and out of heart, poor Lubin stopped panting at last; Procrastination had had a fair start, and carried off his spoil in triumph.
"There's no use in attempting to go to Education to-day, I've not a minute left," was Lubin's sorrowful reflection. "Oh, that I had started with my sister, had thought of my business before my play, what useful things I might then have bought with the hours which are now lost to me for ever!"
DUTY AND AFFECTION.
In the meantime, poor Nelly had been wearily wending her way along the lane of Trouble, with her burdensome Division on her shoulder. She felt, as many a little student has felt, quite out of humour for work; her arms ached, and so did her head; the mud in the lane was so deep that she could scarcely keep on her shoes, and she sometimes sank in it almost up to her ankle.
Thus in sorrowful plight the lame girl at last reached the brook of Bother. Its brown turbid waters looked rougher and deeper and dirtier than they ever had done before. The stepping-stones had almost disappeared!
Nelly Desley heaved a long weary sigh as she looked before her, and rubbed her forehead very hard, as puzzled children are wont to do.
"Oh, this tiresome Division, how shall I ever manage it! I never saw Bother so bad. Nine's in fifty-nine"—another violent rub; "I know what will be in, a poor little girl will be in brook Bother!—and what's to be carried? why this grate is to be carried, and a very great vexation it is."
Weary Nelly sat down, almost in despair, on a stone by the bank of the stream. What object attracted her eye, some yards lower down the current of the brook, round which the muddy waves were eddying and rolling?
"Why—can it be?—yes, there are Dick's three grates all together, Division, Multiplication, and Subtraction!" Nelly started up in alarm: "Oh, what can have become of my brother?"
A little reflection soon reassured Nelly. Dick, the most active of boys, and a famous swimmer besides, could not have come to much harm in a brook in which, though many have been ducked, no one has ever yet been quite drowned. It seemed clear that the boy had found the weight which, prompted by Pride, he had tried to carry, somewhat too much for his strength; and, being unable to carry it across the waters of Bother, had flung down his tiresome burden, which, by the force of its own weight, had stuck fast in the mud of the brook.
"Well, if Dick has failed, I need not mind failing," cried Nelly. "I think that I'll do what he has done, and fling away this horrid Division,—oh, what a relief that would be! But still, would it not be foolish—would it not be wrong—to give way so to impatience? My dear mother bade me obey Mr. Learning for her sake, she wishes my cottage to be properly furnished; I must not be a sluggard or a coward. I must do my best to get over this Bother."
"Well resolved—bravely resolved," said a voice on the other side of the brook; and from behind the clump of willows which drooped their long branches in the stream, Nelly saw two beautiful maidens come forth. They were like, and yet unlike, each other. Both were very fair to look on, both of noble height and graceful mien; but the one had an air of more stately dignity, such as might beseem a queen; and her large dark eyes looked graver and more thoughtful than those of her sister. The other had smiling soft blue eyes, beaming with tender love, and the sunlight fell on her golden hair till it seemed like a glory around her.
These lovely maidens were no strangers to Nelly, almost from her infancy she had looked upon them as friends; many sweet counsels and good gifts had the lame little girl received from Duty and Affection.
"Oh, Duty!" exclaimed Nelly, who was rejoiced to find herself no longer alone, "only show me how I can get across, and I will not mind labour or trouble."
Duty retired for a few moments to her retreat behind the willows, and then returned, bearing on her shoulder a narrow plank. With the help of smiling Affection she placed this across the stream.
"This plank, dear child," said calm, stately Duty, "was cut from the tree of Patience, and small as it seems, can well support your weight. Boldly venture upon it; the stream runs fast to-day, you are no longer able to ford it, but on the plank of Patience you safely can pass across."
Giddy and tired as she felt, Nelly instantly obeyed the voice of Duty, and placed her foot on the plank. Duty leant forward, and held out her firm hand to aid her, and soon the trembling child and her wearisome burden were safe on the bank nearest to the cottages of Head.
"Oh, I am so glad to be well over!" exclaimed Nelly, and with exceeding pleasure she looked up in the face of Duty, and smiled.
"And now sit down and rest yourself, dear one," said Affection, spreading a thick mantle on the grass, that its dampness might not hurt the child.
"May I?" asked Nelly timidly of Duty.
The beauteous maiden bowed her head in assent. There was no sternness now in her look; Duty is no enemy to innocent enjoyment—rather should we say that there is no real enjoyment but that which is found by those who take Duty for their guide and their friend.
"See, here is refreshment for you," said Affection, placing before the wearied child a rich cluster of delicious fruit. How sweet is such refreshment given by the hand of Affection, how doubly sweet after efforts made at the call of Duty!
Never, perhaps, had Nelly Desley passed a happier hour than she did now on the bank of that stream which she had crossed with such trouble and fear. She now looked with pleasure at the waves as they rushed so rapidly by her.
One thought only disturbed little Nelly. "Poor Dick! I wish that I knew of his safety," said she.
"He is safe enough," replied Duty; "but there, as you may see, lie his three grates in the mud of the stream."
"If he had only had the plank of Patience," exclaimed Nelly.
"It was offered to him as well as to you," said Duty with a graver air; "and I thought at first that your brother would have gladly accepted my offer. But there came to this shore of the brook a dark, ill-favoured lad—"
"It must have been Pride!" exclaimed Nelly, who knew too well her brother's companion.
"This Pride," continued Duty, "began to taunt and to scoff. 'Holloa!' he shouted across the stream, 'will a genius like you stoop to be directed by a woman! Duty is for slaves, and Patience for donkeys. Kick aside that miserable plank, and clear the brook with a bound, as you've often cleared it before.'"
"Dick is a wonderful boy for jumping," cried Nelly, who greatly admired her brother.
"He jumped once too often," observed Duty; "this time he jumped not over but into the brook, and mighty was the splash which he made!"
Even gentle Affection could scarcely help laughing at the recollection of the scene.
"But he scrambled out!" exclaimed Nelly.
"Yes; very muddy, and wet, and cross, leaving all his three grates behind him. I do not know whether Pride dried Dick's clothes, and wiped off the mud, they both ran off as fast as they could; I think that your brother was ashamed to be seen, after having so scornfully refused the aid of Affection and Duty."
It was now time for Nelly to continue her walk and return to her own little cottage. Her beautiful friends accompanied her all the way up hill Puzzle, and made the steep way quite pleasant by their cheerful, wise conversation. Tiring as her lonely expedition to the town of Education had been, Nelly never in future times remembered without a feeling of enjoyment her little adventure by the brook where she had met with Duty and Affection.
Dick with some trouble recovered his grates from the stream. But he never looked at them with pleasure, for they served to remind him of the day when, prompted by foolish Pride, he had overtasked his powers, and, spurning the plank of Patience, had gone floundering into brook Bother!
I cannot undertake to describe all the expeditions to Education, nor the various purchases made by the children; but I will here mention the first visit made by the Desleys to Grammar's famous bazaar, a place much frequented by all those who dwell in the town.
I need hardly tell my readers that Grammar's Bazaar lies in quite an opposite direction from Mrs. Amusement's, and that the two concerns have no connection whatever with each other. There are no sweetmeats sold in the former; the goods are all called words, and are arranged in perfect order on nine stalls, kept by nine sisters, well known by the name of Parts of Speech. These sisters live and work together in the greatest harmony and comfort, and are highly respected by all the inhabitants of the town of Education. Some indeed call them "slow" and "tiresome," and Miss Folly has been heard to declare that the very mention of them gives her the fidgets; but neither you nor I, dear reader, form our opinions by those of Miss Folly.
It was on a fine morning in summer that Dick, Lubin, Matty, and Nelly paid their first visit to Grammar's Bazaar. They entered it by a low porch, half choked up with parcels of words tied up in sentences ready to be sent to various customers.
"A dull, dark place this is!" exclaimed Lubin; "I would not give Amusement's Bazaar for fifty like this."
"Any chance of having one's pocket picked here?" said Dick, with a malicious wink at his brother.
"Let's visit all the stalls one after another," cried Matty, "before we make any purchase; I like to see all that's to be seen. What a comical little body is standing behind the first counter; she is not as big as Alphabet, I should say."
"She looks like his sister," observed Nelly; "but I suppose that she is one of the Parts of Speech." And she read the name "Article" fastened up at the back of the stall.
"What may you sell here, my little lady?" asked Dick, in his easy, self-confident way; "I see only three hooks on your counter."
Miss Article Part of Speech had to stand upon a stool that her head might peep over the top of her stall. "I'm but a little creature," said she, with a good-humoured smile; "a, an, and the are all the words that I'm trusted to sell. If you want to see a larger assortment, pass on to my sister Noun; she has many thousands of words to show you, models of everything that can be seen, heard, or felt in the world."
Surely enough a most prodigious collection appeared on the counter of Noun, a large portly maiden who presided over the stall next to that of Article. There were cups and saucers, pins and needles, caps and bonnets, models of houses, churches, beasts, birds, and fishes, by far too numerous to describe.
"These are all common," observed Noun, seeing the eyes of Dick fixed admiringly upon the collection; "I have behind me some more curious things that have all names of their own," and she pointed to a row of small figures. "These are not common but, proper," she continued; "you will notice here Wellington, Napoleon, Nelson, and our gracious sovereign Victoria."
"And oh, look here, at Miss Adjective's counter!" cried Matty; "she keeps such a lot of dolls' things to dress up the figures of Noun. A pretty, nice, curious cape—"
"An absurd, ridiculous, preposterous cap," added Dick.
"Observe," said Adjective with a courteous air, "that I arrange my words in three rows, one above another, which I call degrees of comparison—positive, comparative, superlative."
"I see, I see," exclaimed Dick; "here's a bonnet, frightful—that's positive; another more frightful—that's comparative; and this with the superlative yellow tuft, I should call the most frightful of all. So, Nelly's clever—that's positive—"
"I don't think so," murmured Nelly.
"Matty's cleverer—that's comparative."
"And I am superlatively clever—without doubt the cleverest of all!"
"In your own opinion," growled Lubin.
Nelly wandered on to the next stall, which was kept by the maiden Pronoun. Though smaller in size, she was so much like her sister Noun as to be frequently taken for her. As it was a trouble to stout Noun to go far or move fast, she very often sent Pronoun upon various errands in her stead. Pronoun sold not many words; such as she had were mere pictures of such as were kept by her sister. I, thou, he, she, and it, and some others which we need not stop to enumerate.
"Here's a famous big stall!" exclaimed Dick, stopping in front of Verb's, which was a very remarkable one, being covered with clock-work figures all in motion. One could see by them what it is to plough, to sow, to reap, to work, to weep, and to dance. The counter of Verb was almost as extensive as that of her sister Noun.
"How do you make all these things move?" said Dick with some curiosity to Verb.
"I conjugate them; that is, wind them up," she replied, showing a small brass key.
"Is it easy to conjugate them?" asked the boy.
"Easy enough with the regular words," replied Verb, "but a good many of mine are quite irregular in their construction, and it is hard to conjugate them."
"And if one conjugate them carelessly, I suppose," said Dick, "that there would be a great crack or whiz, and the whole affair would go to smash."
"Oh, don't stop there asking such questions!" cried Lubin; "I'm heartily tired of this stupid bazaar—and if you go on so slowly, we shall never get to the end!"
"I like to understand things," said Dick; "there's a great deal to attract one's attention in this curious counter of Verb."
"Adverb, who keeps the next one," observed Nelly, "sells stands for her sister Verb's figures, to display them nicely, prettily, safely!"
"Badly, crookedly, awkwardly!" cried Dick, who was in one of his funny moods. "I don't like the look of Adverb, I think that she's given to lies!"
"The three sisters who have the last stall," whispered Matty to Dick, "seem all but poor little creatures!"
"I should call them small, smaller, and smallest, like the three degrees of comparison," laughed Dick, "but I see their names at the backs of their counters,—Preposition, Conjunction, Interjection."
"Pray, Miss Preposition, what are these?" asked Nelly, as she took up some small labels from that lady's stall, with from, by, of, and such names upon them.
"They are to show in what case Noun's words are to be packed," replied Preposition politely. "You may remark yonder boxes with Nominative, Possessive, and such names painted upon them; it is my business to label my sister's goods, that they may be packed according to rule."
"It must be stupid work to deal in nothing but tickets!" exclaimed Dick; "if I were a Part of Speech, I'd be Noun rather than Preposition! And what has Conjunction to sell?"
"Only little balls of string to tie bundles of words together, such as and, either, or; and scissors to divide the bundles, such as neither, nor, notwithstanding."
"Oh, come here, come here!" cried Matty eagerly; "there's nothing amusing to look at on the counters of Conjunction or Preposition, but Interjection has something very funny! Look at these gutta-percha balls shaped like faces, some showing pleasure—some horror—some surprise; just give them a little squeeze, and hear how you make them squeak!"
Lubin pressed one of the heads between his fat fingers, and oh! ah! squeaked the red lips.
"I'll try one!" cried Dick, catching up another; "it's so like Matty's friend, Miss Folly, that I'm sure that she sat for her likeness!" He thumped it down on the counter, and out came a shrill "lack-a-day!"
"I think," laughed Nelly, "that Interjection sells the funniest words of all!"
"And the ones that we could best do without," said Dick scornfully, throwing down the lack-a-day ball.
The children did not leave the Grammar Bazaar empty-handed. I must just remark that Matty loaded herself most with words from the stall of Adjective, choosing most of them from the Superlative row; and that Lubin, notwithstanding the neat labels of Miss Preposition, never knew how to put one of the words which he got from Noun or Pronoun into its own proper case.
PRIDE AND FOLLY.
One day Mr. Learning, having finished a whole volume of travels for breakfast, made up his mind to pay a visit to his charges at the cottages of Head. He walked, as usual, at a rapid pace, with long strides, looking neither to the right hand nor to the left; his thoughts too busy with researches into the manners and peculiarities of distant lands, for him to notice how autumnal hues were already tinging the trees, or how summer roses were giving place to the convolvulus and the dahlia. Mr. Learning did not go empty-handed; he carried with him as presents to the young Desleys four small hammers of Memory, and four bags of brass nails called Dates.
This time the first cottage which he entered was that of Dick, and he would doubtless have been pleased to see the numerous articles for ornament and use with which it already was furnished, had not the first object which met his eye been the ugly figure of Pride.
Pride was engaged in making a list of all the furniture in Dick's dwelling, very much like an auctioneer's puff. Everything, according to him, was "first-rate," "of superior quality," or, "fit for the residence of any nobleman in the land." Pride sat with his back to the door, and therefore was not aware of the entrance of Learning, till the stately gentleman in spectacles tapped him on the shoulder with one of the hammers.
Up jumped Pride in a moment. He had no time to hide himself, or to beat a retreat, so, being one of the most impudent fellows in the world, he resolved to brave out the matter with the solemn philosopher.
"I did not expect to find you here again," said Mr. Learning in his stiffest and coldest manner.
"Well, I'm surprised to hear that," replied saucy Pride, resting his hand on his hip, and trying to look quite at his ease; "as I go everywhere, and am welcomed by everybody, it's natural enough that I should chance to meet the most potent, grave, and reverend Mr. Learning."
"Where is your master?" asked Learning shortly.
"My master, indeed!" echoed Pride; "Dick never yet mastered me. I should rather say that I am his master!"
"Where has he gone?" inquired Learning, without seeming to notice the insolent remark.
"He has gone to History's shop, to purchase a carpet for his parlour. He is sure to select a pattern of the newest and most elegant design."
"Then I leave these for him," said the grave philosopher; "a bag full of bright brass Dates, and a hammer of Memory to knock them well in."
"If you had brought a sackful instead of a bagful," observed Pride, "it would not have been too much for Dick Desley; and as for the hammer—don't you know that he has a prodigiously fine Memory of his own?"
Without condescending to reply, Mr. Learning put down his gifts, turned round, and, quitting the cottage which harboured so impudent a guest, went to the next one, which was Lubin's. The door, as usual, was wide open, and the place deserted and empty. Mr. Learning did not even cross the threshold, so disgusted was he at the unfurnished, untidy state of the sluggard's home.
"I may as well leave these for him, but he'll never know how to use them," muttered Learning, throwing in the hammer and nails.
He then crossed over to Matty's pretty cottage. Her door was also ajar, and grave Mr. Learning stopped at it for some moments in astonishment at the sight which presented itself to his view.
Miss Folly, in her seven flounces, her beads and flowers, peacock's plume, rouge, ribbons, and all, was half reclining on the uncarpeted floor, engaged in blowing bubbles. As each rose from the bowl of her pipe, swelling and shining, and then mounting aloft, she watched it with a look of affected delight and admiration in her up-turned eyes. No contrast could be imagined greater than that between the stately gentleman clothed in black, with his broad intellectual brow, spectacled eyes, and grave, solemn manner; and light, fantastical, frivolous Miss Folly, clad in the most absurd of styles, but looking as though she thought herself the very pink of perfection.
"Dear, who can that funny old fogie be!" exclaimed Folly, as she caught sight of grave Mr. Learning.
"Who may you be, and what are you doing?" asked Learning, with less politeness than he usually showed to ladies.
"You don't mean to say that you've never heard of me!" cried Folly, her words bubbling out fast like water out of a bottle; "you must be Mr. Ignorance, if you don't know that I'm Mademoiselle Folly, the most particular friend of lovely Lady Fashion, and the inventress of tight-lacing, steel-hoops, hair-powder, masks, periwigs—"
"Flattened heads, blackened teeth, nose-rings, lip-rings, and tattooing," added Mr. Learning, remembering the account of a tribe of savages which he had been reading that morning.
"And as to what I am doing," continued Miss Folly, taking up her pipe, which she had laid down on the entrance of a stranger, "I'm very usefully employed: I'm furnishing the cottage of Miss Matty Desley."
"Furnishing!" exclaimed Mr. Learning in surprise, as Miss Folly, with distended cheeks, commenced blowing another bubble.
Folly was too busy at that moment to reply, even her tongue for a while was silent; but after she had succeeded in filling a big bubble, and had loosened it from the pipe with a gentle shake, she vouchsafed a little explanation.
"Yes, I'm furnishing the cottage with fancies; their poetical name is day-dreams, cheap, elegant bubble-fancies."
"You must take me for an idiot!" exclaimed Mr. Learning; "no one in his senses could ever dream of furnishing a house with bubbles!"
Miss Folly was so intently gazing after the ascending bubble that she seemed to forget even the presence of the sage. As the airy globule ascended, she began pouring forth a stream of disconnected nonsense, seeming to speak merely for her own pleasure, as her words could certainly not be intended for the information of any listener.
"A carriage and four—sleek bays with long tails; no, white horses with pretty pink rosettes, and harness all glittering with silver! Drive through London—up and down Hyde Park—taken for the Queen—bowing—smiling—ah me, the bubble has burst!"
"This is some poor creature that has lost her wits!" thought the astonished Mr. Learning, scarcely knowing whether to regard Miss Folly with pity or with contempt. Already another bubble was swelling on the bowl of her pipe, and in a minute another bright ball was floating aloft in the air.
"Exquisite beauty—great attractions—such a voice—such a manner—such a killing smile! An ode from the poet-laureate; bouquets, sent without end; roses in the middle of winter; a hundred and fifty scented pink notes on Valentine's day; the star of the season; the—lack-a-day! that lovely bubble has gone for ever!"
"It's time that I should go too," said Mr. Learning; "I've heard enough of nonsense to last for a lifetime!"
He was about to depart when Matty suddenly burst into the cottage, in her eager haste almost knocking down her astonished guardian with a roll of goods which she carried on her shoulder. The shock of the collision was great, but not so great as the shock to poor Matty at so suddenly coming upon Mr. Learning when she only expected to find Miss Folly. She dropped her burden with an exclamation of surprise, and then tried to stammer forth an apology, but knew not how to begin. Mr. Learning stood straight before her, more erect and stately than ever, sternly looking down through his steel spectacles at the confused and blushing girl. Miss Folly, however, was quite at her ease, and hastily pushing aside her basin and pipe, began instantly to unroll the large parcel which Matty had dropped in her fright.
"Ah, I knew it would be so! You have chosen the sweetest pattern—the prettiest—most tasteful—most charming little carpet that ever a girl set eyes on!" and she began spreading out on the floor a fabric so thin, that it seemed as if made of rose-leaves.
"Did you buy that trash from Mr. History?" said Mr. Learning sternly to Matty.
"No—why—I own—Miss Folly recommended me rather to try Mr. Fiction, who lives close to Amusement's bazaar. It is a great matter, you know, not to have to cross over brook Bother, or carry a carpet up-hill. And Mr. Fiction has such a magnificent shop, and his wares are so very cheap."
"Cheap and often worthless!" exclaimed the angry guardian, striking the carpet with his heel, and proving the truth of his words by tearing a great hole in the middle. "I brought a gift for you, Matilda Desley, but I have no intention of leaving it here now. My hammer of Memory, my bright brass Dates, are not required to fasten down such miserable trash as this! But," he muttered as he strode away, "it is at any rate all of a piece! a carpet framed by Fiction is just the thing for a cottage papered with fairies, furnished with fancies, and occupied by Miss Folly!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" laughed Folly, the moment that his back was turned, "I'm glad that the old owl has flown off—he looked ready to peck out my eyes!"
I should like, with wise Mr. Learning, to bid farewell to Folly for ever. Perhaps my readers may wonder that I should have introduced them to a creature so very absurd. I should not have done so had I had no suspicion that Folly might intrude herself, without introduction, when they themselves are furnishing their own little cottages of Head. Has no little girl who now gazes on this page, ever sat for hours blowing bubbles of fancies with Folly, listening to worse—more ridiculous nonsense than that which shocked Mr. Learning? Has she not delighted to imagine herself great, rich, beautiful, and admired? has she not consulted Folly about her dress—spent her precious minutes and hours on a looking-glass—or a fanciful garment, or a worthless work of Fiction, when duties had to be performed, when valuable things were to be bought in the good town of Education?
Ah, dear little laughing reader, have I, like grave Mr. Learning, caught some one in the very fact of harbouring Miss Folly? Turn her out—at once turn her out! She is a silly companion, an unsafe guide; she will never make you loved, respected, or happy. Though not quite so dark and dangerous as Pride, she is much more closely related to him than people would at first imagine; there is much of Pride in Folly—and oh, for poor, weak, ignorant beings like ourselves, is not Folly seen in all Pride!
THE CARPET OF HISTORY.
Mr. Learning now stood at the top of hill Puzzle, watching Dick, Lubin, and Nelly, returning laden with carpets from History's shop. Though the carpets, like the rooms, were but small, they were rather heavy burdens for children in wet and slippery weather.
Learning smiled his own quiet smile, to see the different and characteristic movements of his young charges, the Desleys. Dick, the quick and energetic Dick, was half-way up hill Puzzle when his brother and sister were only beginning to ascend. His bright young face was flushed, but rather with pleasure than fatigue; he sped on with a light elastic tread, neither panting nor pausing, but bearing the carpet of History as though he felt not its weight. He moved all the more swiftly for seeing that his guardian's eye was upon him, and on reaching the crown of the hill, saluted Mr. Learning with a very self-satisfied air.
"You make good progress," observed the sage, politely returning his salute.
"Oh, I get over everything with a hop, skip, and jump," replied the laughing boy, forgetting his flounder in Bother, "and you'll soon have the pleasure of presenting me with the silver crown of Success. It's nearly time, I should think, for you to introduce me to all your learned friends the Ologies! But there's one gentleman in Education whom I fancy more than all—the glorious old fellow who keeps a shop filled with jars of different colours, retorts, electric-machines, and bottles of powders and gases; I've heard that he sells such fireworks as would set all the world in a blaze!"
"You mean, of course, Mr. Chemistry," replied the sage; "he is my much valued friend; there is not a more pleasing companion to be found in the whole town of Education than he. But you are yet far too young, Master Dick, to make the acquaintance of so superior and intellectual a man. His goods are not yet for you, though in time you may make them your own. Attend at present to your carpets and your grates; furnish your cottage with facts from General Knowledge; a day perhaps may arrive when you will be ready for things more abstruse, and then I'll introduce you myself both to the Ologies and to Mr. Chemistry, which latter will, I have no doubt, display to you all his magazine of wonders."
"Always putting off!" muttered Dick between his teeth; "always treating one like a mere child. I shall have long enough to wait if I wait for the introduction of slow Mr. Learning. I can do very well without it, and shall certainly try some day whether, by putting a bold face on the matter, I am not able to make my own way to the favour of Mr. Chemistry!"
These last words were only overheard by Pride, for Dick had already entered his cottage. In a few minutes more the sound of his busy hammer told that he was already setting vigorously to work to nail down his History carpet.
"How comparatively slowly the two other children make their way up the hill!" said Learning, who stood watching Lubin and Nelly. "Why, the boy has twice sat down to rest on his bundle; and now, surely my spectacles must be at fault, can he be rolling his carpet up the hill, instead of carrying it on his shoulder! In a fine miry state it will be by the time that he reaches his dwelling!"
Surely enough the lazy boy was getting on with his History carpet in the laziest of ways, pushing instead of bearing, rolling it along as if it were a snowball, and seeming to be quite regardless of the fact that the path was covered with mud! Have none of my readers done the same, been content to get up a task in any way, however slothful and careless?
"Are you not ashamed of that?" exclaimed Mr. Learning, pointing to the dirty roll of carpet, as Lubin gained the top of the hill.
"Oh, sir, the mud will rub off when it is dry," said the boy with an air of unconcern; "the inner side, where the pattern is, cannot be soiled in the least."
"Unroll it and see," said stern Mr. Learning.
Lubin slowly obeyed, and had certainly little cause to be pleased with the condition of his new purchase. The pattern, which was full and rich, represented a hundred different scenes of interest. There was the wooden horse of old Troy; here appeared the gallant sons of Sparta defending the pass of Thermopylae; great men of Greece and of Rome, British monarchs and statesmen in varied costumes and different attitudes, adorned the History carpet. Adorned, did I say? rather once had adorned, for all was now a jumble of confusion! There was a great blot of mud just over the face of Julius Caesar, and not a single Roman emperor stood out clear and distinct. In silent indignation Mr. Learning turned away, leaving Lubin to do the best that he could with his poor soiled History carpet.
Nelly Desley, weary, but cheerful, had just carried her burden home. She was unrolling it now in her simple but beautifully neat little parlour, and surveying with great delight the charming pattern upon it.
"Of all the purchases that I have made, this pleases me most!" she cried. "What a wonderful variety of pictures, so amusing and interesting! Ah, there is good Queen Philippa on her knees, begging for the citizens of Calais; and there brave Joan of Arc leading on her soldiers to battle! And there, oh, there are the holy martyrs tied to the stake for the sake of the truth, looking so calmly and meekly upwards, as though they had no fear of dying! I can never pass a dull evening now with this wonderful carpet before me; it seems as though it would take a lifetime to know all its various scenes."
"Yes," said Mr. Learning, who had entered her parlour unobserved, "that beautiful carpet will serve as a constant feast for the mind. Fiction may boast that his dyes are the brightest; this I utterly deny; no colours are so vivid or so lasting as those that have been fixed by Truth, and these should alone be employed in the carpets which History produces."
Mr. Learning then graciously bestowed upon Nelly the gift of the hammer and nails, and quitted the cottages of Head well satisfied with at least one of his charges.
HAMMERING IN DATES.
Knock—knock—knock! "Oh, this wearisome hammering!" sighed poor Nelly, as stooping over her carpet till the blood swelled the veins of her forehead, she tried to fasten in, one by one, the date-nails which Mr. Learning had given. "I do not see why it is needful to knock in all these tiresome nails! Lubin has thrown his whole stock into a rubbish corner, I know, and says that he never means to prick his fingers again by thrusting them into such a bag!" knock—knock! "Stephen came to the throne in 1145, or 1154, I'm sure I don't know which—and, what's more, I don't care! Ah!" the last exclamation was a cry of pain, for the hammer in the girl's awkward hand had come down with some force on her fingers.
"Well, Nelly, what is the matter?" asked Lubin, showing his jolly fat face at the door.
"I'm tired to death of these dates!" replied Nelly, raising her flushed face at the question.
"So was I with the very first of them; I never got beyond William the Conqueror; my carpet will stick on very well without nails, if no one takes to dancing a jig upon it! You are just wearing your spirits out, Nelly, and I'm sure that I wouldn't do that for any man, least of all for that sour Mr. Learning, who scribbled DUNCE on my wall!"
"I think," said Nelly, "that my friend Duty would tell me to go hammering on with these dates."
"Duty would keep one in tight order," laughed Lubin, "but I prefer following my own pleasure. I'm off to Amusement's bazaar, and I advise you to come with me now."
"Oh, Lubin, not now; not till I have finished my work."
"Then I'll go without you," said the boy, leaving poor Nelly to her troublesome task.
Scarcely had Nelly begun her hammering again, when Matty popped in her pretty little face.
"Why, Nelly, what's the use of tiring yourself like that! You will never manage to knock in all those nails!"
"I am afraid that I will not," sighed poor Nelly.
"Do as I do," continued Matty. "Miss Folly, kind creature, has supplied me with spangles, which are, all the world must own, just as pretty as any brass nails!"
"Spangles!" repeated Nelly in surprise; "no one can fasten down a carpet with spangles!"
"It's the look of the thing that I care for," said Matty, who had evidently become a very apt pupil of Folly. "And now I'll tell you where I'm going, Nelly. I have long thought, you know, that a pretty tambourine would look wonderfully well in my parlour; and I think, if I could buy one cheap, that a French picture would give it a fashionable air. I am going on a purchasing expedition, dear Miss Folly being my guide."
"Oh, Matty!" exclaimed Nelly, "you know that you have not yet bought half the things that you require from Mr. Arithmetic the ironmonger!"
"I wish Mr. Arithmetic at Jericho!" cried Matty peevishly; "his goods are so heavy—so uninteresting; they make no show; I won't plague myself with such things!"
"Matty, Matty, my beauty!" called the shrill voice of Folly from without.
"I'm coming in a moment," cried Matty, as she hastened to join her companion.
Sadly, but with quiet resolution, Nelly took up her hammer again. Not many minutes had passed before she received a visit from Dick.
"How long are you going to keep on knocking in those dates?" exclaimed the boy; "I put in all mine long ago. You see," he added with a merry laugh, as he held up his hands, "I've nails at my fingers' ends!"
Nelly, who did not quite understand the joke, and was too honest to pretend that she did so, bent down again over her work.
"I can't think how you are so slow!" cried Dick. "I've heard you hammer, hammer, hammering for such a time, that I expected when I came in to find your carpet studded all over with dates, and you have not put in more than six!"
"I am sorry that I am so slow and stupid," said Nelly, with a sigh; "it is not my fault but my misfortune."
Dick felt a little repentant for his unkind and thoughtless words. "I must say, Nelly," he observed, "that slow as you are, your cottage is far better furnished than Matty's, though she is so active and bright. What a lot of trash she has stuffed into her rooms! And such a lovely cottage she has! If the inside only matched the outside, it would be charming indeed!"
"Dear Matty would have furnished her house very nicely," said Nelly, "if Miss Folly had not come in the way."
"Ah, yes! Folly is at the bottom of the mischief!" cried Dick. "How absurdly she has made Matty dress; what numbers of good hours has the silly girl spent in making herself look ridiculous!"
"Oh, don't be hard on Matty!" cried her sister.
"Would you believe it!" said Dick, "Miss Folly has persuaded her to get not only her carpet, but her chairs and tables also, from Mr. Fiction! They are as slight as if made of pasteboard, and won't stand a single week's wear! Now my furniture is good and substantial, and was very reasonable in price besides."
"Where did you get it?" asked Nelly.
"Oh, you know, where Mr. Learning recommended us to go. I buy my furniture from the upholsterer, General Knowledge, whose shop adjoins Mr. Reading's."
"The immense warehouse of facts," said Nelly.
"You may well call it immense," cried Dick; "I believe that it would take one a lifetime to go thoroughly over the place. There are vaults below full of furniture facts; rooms beyond rooms stuffed with facts; mount the stairs, and you'll find story upon story all filled with valuable facts! I assure you, Nelly, that it is a very curious and interesting place to visit, and I never go to General Knowledge without carrying back something well worth the having. I'm just on my way to him now."
"I should like to go with you," said Nelly; "I shall want beds, tables, and chairs; and as I can't carry much at once, I shall need to go very often to the warehouse."
"Come then now, and be quick!" cried Dick, who was, as usual, impatient to start.
"I think—indeed I am sure," replied Nelly, "that Duty would advise me first to finish the task which I have begun. If other furniture were brought in just now, I might find it harder to nail down my carpet."
"Good-bye, dear drudge!" cried Dick; "I believe that it would be better for us all if we stuck to the counsels of Duty as steadily as you always do! But you see I'm a quick, sharp fellow, and don't like to be tied down by rules; I get what I will, when I will, and where I will; and depend on't, in the end I'll win the crown of Success, for no cottage of Head will be found so well-furnished as mine!"
And with this somewhat conceited speech on his tongue, off darted our clever young Dick, ran down hill Puzzle at speed, and lightly sprang over brook Bother!
THE PURSUED BIRD.
"There is no doubt but that Dick will be the one to win the crown," was the silent reflection of Nelly; "I work from no hopes of getting that; but it will be quite reward enough for me if my dear mother be pleased with my cottage; and smiles from Duty and Affection would make any labour seem light."
By dint of steady hammering Nelly at last managed to fix in a goodly number of dates. When she was satisfied that enough had been done, she rose from her knees, and relieved herself by a yawn.
"I will go and see after my Plain-work," said she; "the fruit upon it is swelling quite big—I am glad that it will be perfectly ripe when my dear mother comes back. If she be satisfied with it, how little shall I grudge my past trouble—how joyful and happy I shall be!"
Nelly uttered these words as she crossed her threshold, and felt the fresh, pleasant air playing upon her flushed cheek and her aching brow.
At that moment her ear caught a whirring sound, as of wings, and looking upwards, she beheld a beautiful bird pursued by a hawk darting down towards her at the utmost speed that terror could lend it. Scarcely had she seen its danger, when the little fluttering fugitive had sought shelter in the bosom of the child.
"Oh, poor little bird—poor little bird—the hawk shall not catch you!" cried Nelly, putting one hand over the trembling creature, and holding out the other to keep the fierce pursuer away.
The hawk, which was of a species called "Tempers," not altogether unknown in Great Britain (my readers may, perhaps, have seen specimens), wheeled round and round in circles, as if unwilling to give up its prey. Nelly was quite afraid that it might attack her, and still pressing the poor frightened bird to her bosom, she hurried back into her cottage.
"You are safe, pretty creature—quite safe. You need no longer tremble and flutter," said the little girl to the bird. It almost seemed as if the fugitive understood her; it spread its pinions, but not to fly away; lightly it hopped on to her hand, and rubbed its soft head against her shoulder.
"I never saw such a beauty of a bird!" cried the delighted Nelly; "and it seems just as tame as it is pretty. What lovely white silvery wings, what soft eyes that gleam like rubies, the changing tints on its neck and breast are lovelier than anything I ever saw before!"
Still perched on her hand, the bird opened his beak, and began to warble a song of gratitude far sweeter than any nightingale's lay. Little Nelly was enraptured at the sound.
"Oh, how glad I am," she exclaimed, "that I did not leave my hammering before—that I did not go, as I much wished to go, either with Lubin or Dick. This lovely creature would then have been torn to pieces by the cruel hawk, and I should have seen nothing of it, except perhaps a few stained feathers at my door."
"I hear the well-known warble of my bird Content!" cried a voice from without which Nelly at once recognized; and running to open the door as fast as her lameness would let her, she joyfully admitted her two friends, Affection and Duty.
Content fluttered to the hand of his mistress, Duty.
"Ah, truant!" cried the fair maiden, as she caressed her little favourite, "how could you wander from me—how could you ever fancy yourself safe apart from Duty? I saw the hawk wheeling in the air, and I trembled for my beautiful pet; but he has found here a refuge and protector. Nelly, I thank you for your kindness, and it is with pleasure that I reward it. You have saved the bird, and the bird shall be yours. Go, pretty warbler, go; and, warned by former danger, keep close to your new young mistress."
Nelly uttered an exclamation of delight, as, obedient to the word, silver-winged Content flew again into her bosom, and nestled there like a child.
"Oh, thanks, thanks!" she cried; "such a treasure as this will be a constant delight. I would rather have the bird Content, than even the crown of Success."
"You must never part with it," said Duty earnestly, "whoever may tempt you to do so; my gift must never be sold or exchanged. Content is a wonderful bird; joy and happiness breathe in his note. Though I be not visibly present, such a mysterious tie connects Content with Duty, that when you have followed my rules, and acted as I would have you act, my bird will cheer and reward you with one of his sweetest songs."
"I will never, never part with him of my own free will," said Nelly, as she fondled her bird.
Affection now came forward. The reader may remark that the sisters seemed ever to keep close together, as though they scarcely could live apart. They were indeed tenderly attached, and felt a pleasure in each other's society which made them never willingly sundered. Duty felt that without Affection she would find every occupation a weary task; and Affection, who was a little given to extravagance, would often have got into trouble without the quiet counsels of Duty. Each looked fairer and brighter when seen in the company of her sister.
Affection now placed before Nelly a Book, wrapped in a cover of gold. "To my sister's gift," she said, "I must add one yet more precious. However well the head may be furnished, if the highest knowledge be wanting, all other things become worthless and vain. Treasure this Book, dear child; make it your counsellor and guide; you will not prize it less because Duty requires you to study it, and it may be pleasant to you to remember that you first received it from my hand as the best, the noblest gift which even Affection could offer."
Youthful reader, do you know that Book, and do you dearly prize it? It is that volume which gives knowledge compared to which all the inventions of science, all the learning of man, all the wisdom of this world, is but as dust in the balance.
PLANS AND PLOTS.
How happy was little Nelly now, with Content as her constant companion. He was with her when she went on expeditions to the town of Education, flying before her, then stopping to rest on some bush by the wayside to cheer her by his musical song. When she returned home laden with furniture, facts from the warehouse of General Knowledge, or some of Arithmetic's more heavy productions, the way seemed shorter, the burden more light when Content was fluttering near. When the four Desleys at last took up their abode in their four little homes, the presence of beautiful Content made Nelly's as bright as a palace.
It is time that I should say something about the gardens which lay behind the cottages of Head, and which were to be cultivated by the children. These were very curiously laid out, according to the plans given by Geography, the celebrated gardener. Each garden represented a map. There were plots of green grass for the sea, dotted with daisies for tiny islands. There was rich dark mould for the land, and flowers or small bushes were planted wherever the capitals of countries should be. Dick, who was very ingenious, contrived to have some characteristic plant for most of those cities.
"See," he exclaimed, "there is a rose-bush for London, a thistle for bonny Edinburgh, and a patch of green shamrock for Dublin. I'm getting a lily for Paris, as that is the capital of France; and as Holland is famous for tulips, Amsterdam a tulip shall be."
"And what will you give Belgium?" inquired Matty.
"Brussels sprouts, to be sure."
Dick worked early and late at his garden, and it was by far the finest of the four; even in the season of autumn the difference was very marked. Lubin was so often sauntering off to Amusement's bazaar, and spending his hours at one of her counters, that Geography the gardener grew quite out of patience with him. Lubin quite forgot where to put in the tiny box hedges which marked the boundaries of various countries, so that France spread half over Germany, and swallowed up poor little Belgium altogether. "Italy," as Dick laughingly observed, "was shaped like a gouty shoe, instead of a long slender boot;" and so much grass overran the border, that Matty was certain that all Lubin's land would soon be drowned by the sea. London, Edinburgh, and Paris were dying for want of watering, and nothing seemed to flourish in Lubin's Europe but such things as groundsel and chickweed.
Matty at first succeeded far better with her flowers. She had a taste for gardening, she said, and laid out her map very nicely. Whatever accorded with her inclination, Matty did quickly and well; but she worked from no regard to Duty, and whenever she felt a little tired, she threw down her spade, and went to amuse herself with touching her new tambourine, or blowing bubbles of Fancy with Folly. Yet, upon the whole, Matty's garden was fair and pleasant to behold.
Nelly, who was lame, and had little strength for hard work, found gardening a serious task. It took her long to lay out the plots, long to plant the box hedges; and watering the cities, and keeping the ground clear of weeds seemed an endless business to Nelly. Yet cheerfully and bravely she worked, while, perched on a bush beside her, the beautiful bird Content poured forth enlivening lays. The harder she laboured, the louder sang he; and whenever she glanced up from her task, she saw the gleam of his silver wing reflecting the sunshine from heaven.
"Oh, dear little bird!" cried Nelly, "with what a song will you welcome my mother, who will soon return to us now. How she will stroke your soft feathers, and delight in your cheerful lay! Then, perhaps, thoughtful Duty and sweet Affection will come and remain as my guests, and fill my home with peace and with gladness when chill winter darkens around. Oh, how happily shall we all then gather around our blazing Christmas fire!"
It seems strange that so kind and gentle a child as Nelly should ever have an enemy; but she was certainly an object of envy and dislike both to Miss Folly and Pride.
"I hate that sober, sensible little minx, who is always thinking of Affection and Duty," said Miss Folly one day to Pride, as they were walking in a thicket together, just as the damp evening mist was beginning to fall.
"I hate her heartily," muttered Pride between his clenched teeth; "for she not only shuts her own door against me, but tries with all the power that she has to weaken my influence with her brothers and sister. She has not succeeded, and she shall not; but I never forget a wrong, and I'd give anything in the world to be able to spite and vex her."
"It drives me wild to hear that bird of hers always singing so gaily!" cried Folly.
"Could we not wring its neck?" exclaimed Pride.
"We dare not so much as touch it without her leave," said Miss Folly, shaking her peacock plume with vexation; "and yet I'd rather make myself a head-dress of its feathers than of those of any other bird of the air."
"We'll get hold of it, and kill it without mercy!" cried ugly Pride, grinding his teeth as he spoke; "but we must work by cunning, for we dare not use force, the child is under such powerful protection."
"I'll coax Nelly to part with her bird," said Folly; and rolling her goggle eyes, she added, "you know that I'm a rare hand at coaxing."
"There are few who can withstand you," answered the dark one; his words made Folly simper, she knew not how to blush. "And if," continued Pride, "you succeed, you will make Nelly mortally offend both Duty and Affection; and to break with friends such as they are, will make her miserable indeed."
"She'll only need a good big bribe," said Folly. "I believe that Matty would part with the dearest friend that she has for the sake of a few bright ribbons, or a bunch of fine feathers to wear."
"But Matty is not Nelly," observed Pride.
"Oh, Nelly is only a girl!" cried Folly, tossing her frizzled head, "and there never yet was a girl that could not be wheedled by Folly into doing the silliest thing in the world. If I persuaded Matty that Fashion required her to tattoo her nose all over, to dye her hair green, or blue, or mauve, or to walk on all fours like a cat,—don't you suppose that she would do it?"
Pride only shrugged his shoulders in reply.
"Haven't I coaxed Chinese ladies to torture their babies by squeezing their feet into shoes so small, that the half-lamed creatures could never, throughout life, walk except in a waddle? Have I not—"
"You have done all sorts of wonderful things," said Pride; "no one doubts your power of persuading. Try now your arts upon Nelly, get her to give up her bird, and strangle Content as soon as you get it under your dainty fingers. If you shall be baffled, I will try next; 'twill be strange indeed if a simple child like Nelly be able to withstand us both."
"No fear of that!" exclaimed Folly.
So the two conspirators parted, equally resolved, by any possible means, to effect their object. It was not the first time that Folly and Pride had consulted together how to bring sorrow and shame into a young loving heart; not the first time that they had agreed to use their utmost efforts to destroy a bright and beautiful creature, and silence for ever in death the warbling voice of Content.
THE COCKATOO, PARADE.
"Good morning to you, sweet Nelly, dear industrious Nelly!" was the greeting of Folly on the following morning, as she stood with a red cockatoo on her wrist, quite filling up Nelly's doorway with her iron hoop and her flounces.
Nelly was busily engaged in screwing on the legs of a table made of facts from Natural History, which she had bought from General Knowledge. A very curious table it was: the facts were as numerous, and fitted together as closely, as the bits of wood in a Tunbridge-ware box; and the legs were carved all over with figures of birds and beasts. That table had cost many hours, and had been carried home bit by bit; it was one of the prettiest and handsomest pieces of furniture which appeared in the little cottage.
"Good morning," replied Nelly very coldly, in answer to the salutation; she had no good opinion of Miss Folly, and hoped that she did not intend to linger. Folly had, however, come with an object, and did not appear to notice the coldness of the child, indeed no one is slower than Folly in taking a hint to depart.
"I see that you are as fond of creatures as I am," cried Miss Folly, turning her goggle eyes upon her parrot; "I have a fancy, I may say a passion, for them! I keep a regular 'happy family' at home—dogs, cats, mice, parrots, and pigeons, and a little pet alligator, the dearest duck of an alligator, that I've taught to eat out of my hand! You must really come and see them all one day."
"Thank you, but I'm very busy," replied poor Nelly, who wished that her jabbering visitor would leave her in quiet to work.
"But I've no bird like your Content; I really think that I must add it to my collection," said Folly; "it seems to me quite unique!"
Nelly had no notion what unique could mean, but she had a great notion that her Content should never be added to Miss Folly's "happy family."
"Now I've just been thinking," continued the chatterer, "that it would be a nice plan—a most charming plan, for you and me to make a little exchange. You give me your bird Content, which I'll always cherish and coddle, and feed on sugar-plums and strawberry ice, in affectionate remembrance of you"—(O Folly! Folly! how little you care for truth!)—"and you shall have my magnificent cockatoo, Parade, that I've taught to speak myself; he's the finest creature in the world: you shall hear how clever he is!"
Folly coaxed the bird on her wrist, called him by a dozen pretty names, smiled at him, nodded to him, whistled for him, and at length induced him to speak. The cockatoo bobbed his head up and down, shook his wings, puffed out his red feathers, and then in harsh, sharp tones repeated about a dozen times the sentence, "Pretty Poll! ain't I fine? ain't I fine?"
The bird Content, perched on the mantelpiece, seemed listening in wonder to a voice so unlike his own.
"That is a clever cockatoo," said Nelly, with a smile; "but I would not exchange my Content for any other bird in the world."
"Ah, but Parade is a beauty—a real beauty!" cried Miss Folly; "Lady Fashion, my most particular friend, would give anything to possess him! I assure you that when I put him in my window, every passer-by stops to stare at the creature. Only just hear him again."
And again Parade bobbed his head up and down, swelled himself out, and repeated, "Pretty Poll! ain't I fine? ain't I fine?"
"I protest," cried Folly, speaking faster than ever, "he'll sometimes keep repeating over that sentence from morning till night!"
Nelly was too polite to say it aloud, but she thought that one might get very weary of hearing "Pretty Poll! ain't I fine? ain't I fine?"
"I really do not wish to make any exchange," said the lame girl with mild decision; "Parade has very bright colours, it is true, but I love better the silver wings and soft note of my pretty Content."
Even Folly could not but see that this her first effort had failed; but Folly is not easily discouraged. "If this stupid girl do not care for Parade," thought she, "I'll find something else that she cares for;" and putting the cockatoo down on the table, Folly drew a gay jewel-case from her pocket.
"What do you say to these?" she exclaimed, opening the case, and drawing from it a long string of what looked like pearls, with a sparkling clasp which seemed to be made of diamonds.
"They are very pretty indeed!" said Nelly.
"And so becoming—so charmingly becoming! I assure you, my dear, if you would only let me dress up your hair, put it back a l'Imperatrice, and adorn it with these lovely pearls, there's not a creature that would know you again!"
Nelly laughed, and Folly thought that she had now found a vulnerable point; that, like the crow in the fable, the child could be caught by flattery.
"You don't do justice to yourself, my dear; your dress is so common and plain that no one guesses how well you would look if you attended a little to style. If you wore such clothes as Matty now wears, and carried them off with an air, you may depend on't that people would take you for a very grand lady indeed!"
"But why should I wish to be taken for what I am not?" asked Nelly simply.
"My dear, what an absurd question! Does not every one wish to be taken for somebody grander than herself?" cried Folly, jabbering at railroad speed. "The child of the dogs' meat man wears a necklace and hoop; the farmer's daughter cuts out the squire's; the kitchen-maids on Sundays deck out as ladies; each one mimics some one above her, and wants to cut a dash in the world! If any one were content to appear really what she is, I should cut her society at once; I should let the whole world know that she had nothing to do with Folly!"
Sharing the excitement of his mistress, "Ain't I fine? ain't I fine?" cried Parade.
"Now, my dear, I'll tell you what I'll do," continued Folly, lowering her voice to a confidential tone; "you shall give me your bird Content, and, as I told you before, I shall feed him and foster him with the same care as I do my own pet alligator. In return I will not only present you with this charming string of pearls, but will show you how to wear them in a manner the most bewitching."
"I do not think that pearls would suit a plain little girl like me!"
"Plain! if ever I heard such a thing. You've a countenance quite out of the common! You've the prettiest nose—the sweetest little nose; and as for your smile!—" Folly threw up her hands, and cast up her eyes, to denote admiration too great to be expressed by mere words.
Poor little Nelly was rather taken aback by praises to which she had not been accustomed. She certainly placed little confidence in anything said by her visitor; yet flattery has some sweetness in it, even from the lips of Folly. Let no little girl who reads my story despise poor Nelly for smiling and blushing, unless she be quite certain that she never herself has done the same on a similar occasion. But Nelly, though amused, was not caught even by the bait of the pearls and the praises. She remembered many a word of sensible advice given by her faithful friend Duty, and drawing a little back from Folly, who in her eager confidential manner had pressed up quite close to the child, she said in a modest tone, "Whatever our looks may be, a simple and sober dress, such as suits our age and station, is what Duty always recommends."
"Duty—the old horror!" exclaimed Folly, who could not endure the very name; "I don't wonder that you're formal and quiet, if you tie yourself down to her laws. No, no, my pretty Nell, you must break away at once from such a dull, tiresome guide; don't talk to me of Duty again! I'll take you under my charge; I'll show you all my delights; I'll even—" here Folly again lowered her voice to a confidential tone, and leant forward her frizzled head as she whispered, "I'll even manage to introduce you to my most particular friend, Lady Fashion!"
"Nothing on earth would make me give up Duty!" exclaimed Nelly warmly, for she could bear no word spoken against her friend. "I will never forget her, nor part with her gift; and I don't want, indeed I don't, to be introduced to Lady Fashion!"
Miss Folly started back in indignation and horror. "Not want to be introduced to Lady Fashion! the girl must be out of her senses! Not one moment longer shall Folly condescend to stay near one who has the effrontery to own that she does not want to be introduced to Lady Fashion!" and, snatching up her cockatoo, Parade, Miss Folly rushed out of the cottage as fast as her mass of frippery would let her.
Nelly looked after her with a wondering smile, and Content, perched on the shoulder of his young mistress, burst forth into the merriest of songs.
Miss Folly did not stop in her running till she arrived, out of breath, at the spot where Pride was awaiting her return.
"What success?" asked the dark one, though he saw at a glance that Folly had been baffled and defeated.
"I'll never go near her again!" gasped forth Folly; "I'll never put my foot across her threshold! She has disappointed me, rejected me, insulted me; she does not care for my cockatoo, Parade, nor wish to be introduced to my most particular friend, Lady Fashion!" and Folly almost cried with spite and vexation.
"She will not escape me so easily," said Pride; "my arts are deeper than yours. I have resolved that her bird shall die, and die it shall, before to-morrow, let her guard it as well as she may."
"She always keeps Content beside her," observed Folly, "and you know that neither of us are able to take it away by force."
"Not by force," said Pride gloomily, "but by fraud. I know that I cannot with my own hands wring the neck of Content; but I'll do more, I'll make Nelly kill him herself!"
"How can you do that?" exclaimed wondering Folly.
Pride glanced round to see that no one else was listening before he replied, in a voice sunk to a horrible whisper, "I've a poisoned cage, called Ambition, very fair and fine to the eye. Let Content be but once placed in that, and he will swell, and swell, till he burst, like one of your own bubbles, Miss Folly."
Folly looked charmed at the clever idea. "But how to get the bird into the cage?" said she.
"Leave that to me," answered Pride; "I know how to manage these matters. There is many a one who would scorn to listen to the offers of Folly, who cannot turn a deaf ear to Pride. You have power over a weak mind like Matty's, and can turn and mould her at your will; but it needs a more subtle spirit, a more artful lure, to overcome a girl who has been brought up under the guidance of Duty."
THE CAGE OF AMBITION.
"Well furnished, yet simply furnished—all good, plain, solid—that is what I like and approve!"
Nelly looked up on hearing these words, and her glance became one of surprise when she saw by whom they had been uttered. Pride was standing with folded arms not at the door but at the window; his dark, haughty expression was gone, and he looked mildly down at the child.
"Do not fear me, Nelly," he said, "I shall make no attempt to enter. I know that you have been set against me by those who have little acquaintance with me. I blame them not, they act for the best; and I honour you for following the counsels of such friends as Duty and Affection."
"Really," thought Nelly as she listened, "Pride is not so bad as I took him to be."
"Perhaps," continued the cunning deceiver, "were my character better known, even virtuous Duty herself would find me no foe, but a friend. Mr. Learning I often have served, though he will not acknowledge my services. I have spurred on his cleverest pupil to efforts which, without me, he would never have made."
"But have you not brought Dick into some trouble?" suggested Nelly, glancing timidly up at Pride.
"Such troubles as generous natures encounter, the dangers that await the daring—dangers much to be preferred to the inglorious safety of the sluggard. To yourself, Nelly, I appeal, for you are a girl of rare sense; your brave perseverance in labour, your wise use of the bridge of Patience, your attention to the call of Duty, show that you possess a judgment far beyond what might be expected at your age."
"Pride is not half so ugly as I used to fancy that he was," thought Nelly.
"To you I appeal," continued Pride. "Had I possessed the same influence over Lubin as that which I have exercised over his brother, would not the result have been for good? Would not Lubin's cottage have been better furnished, his hours more nobly employed; would he not have scorned to throw away so much money on sweetmeats; would not honest Pride have kept him from the meanness of giving up everything for Amusement?"
"Yes, I believe so," answered Nelly, and she was only speaking the truth; she might have added, however, that no efforts are really noble, no acts really worthy of praise, that are owing, not to a regard for Duty, but to the influence of selfish Pride.
"I could not forbear calling here," continued the deceiver, who felt that his artful words were beginning to make an impression, "to congratulate you, as I do with all my heart, upon your late conduct, so noble and wise."
"When—where?" asked the wondering Nelly.
"I speak of your triumph over Miss Folly—over that weak, silly, frivolous creature who has, unhappily, so much power over the minds of ignorant girls. Wise were you, Nelly, most wise, not to exchange your beautiful Content for false pearls or prating Parade. You have a soul above froth and frippery, you despise both flattery and Folly, no one will catch you blowing bubbles of Fancy to furnish a most empty dwelling!"