Mary Bell and Bella looked at the desk which Mary Erskine had prepared for them, and liked it very much indeed.
“But where are you going to study?” asked Mary Bell.
“I shall study at my work-table, but not now. I can’t study until the evening. I have my work to do, all the day, and so I shall not begin my studies until the evening when you children are all gone to bed. And besides, there is only one pen.”
“Oh, but you will not want the pen,” said Mary Bell. “You are going to learn to read.”
“No,” said Mary Erskine. “I am going to learn to write first.”
“Not first,” said Mary Bell. “We always learn to read, before we learn to write.”
“But I am going to learn to write first,” said Mary Erskine. “I have been thinking about it, and I think that will be best. I have got the plan all formed. I shall want you to set me a copy, and then this evening I shall write it.”
“Well,” said Mary Bell, “I will. The first copy must be straight marks.”
“No,” said Mary Erskine, “the first thing is to learn to write my name. I shall never have any occasion to write straight marks, but I shall want to write my name a great many times.”
“Oh, but you can’t begin with writing your name,” said Mary Bell.
“Yes,” said Mary Erskine, “I am going to begin with Mary: only Mary. I want you to write me two copies, one with the letters all separate, and the other with the letters together.
“Well,” said Mary Bell, “I will.” So she sat down to her desk, taking up her pen, she dipped it into the inkstand. The inkstand had been placed into the chair which Mary Bell’s end of the ironing-board rested upon. It could not stand safely on the board itself as that was sloping.
Mary Bell wrote the letters M—A—R—Y, in a large plain hand upon the top of the paper, and then in a same line she wrote them again, joining them together in a word. Mary Erskine stood by while she wrote, examining very attentively her method of doing the work, and especially her way of holding the pen. When the copy was finished, Mary Erskine cut it off from the top of the paper and pinned it up against the side of the room, where she could look at it and study the names of the letters in the intervals of her work during the day.
“There,” said she in a tone of satisfaction when this was done. “I have got my work before me. The next thing is to give Bella hers.”
It was decided that Bella should pursue a different method from her mother. She was to learn the letters of the alphabet in regular order, taking the first two, a and b, for her first lesson. Mary Bell made copies of those two letters for her, with the chalk, upon the top of the board. She made these letters in the form of printed and not written characters, because the object was to teach Bella to read printed books.