There was one great advantage too which Mary Erskine derived from owning this property, which, though she did not think of it at all when she commenced her prudent and economical course, at the time of her marriage, proved in the end to be of inestimable value to her. This advantage was the high degree of respectability which it gave her in the public estimation. The people of the village gradually found out how she managed, and how fast her property was increasing, and they entertained for her a great deal of that kind of respect which worldly prosperity always commands. The store-keepers were anxious to have her custom. Those who had money to lend were always very ready to let her have it, if at any time she wished to make up a sum for a new investment: and all the ladies of the village were willing that their daughters should go out to her little farm to visit Bella, and to have Bella visit them in return. Thus Mary Erskine found that she was becoming quite an important personage.
Her plan of teaching herself and her children succeeded perfectly. By the time that she had thoroughly learned to write her own name, she knew half of the letters of the alphabet, for her name contained nearly that number. She next learned to write her children’s names, Bella Forester and Albert Forester. After that, she learned to write the names of all the months, and to read them when she had written them. She chose the names of the months, next after the names of her own family, so that she might be able to date her letters if she should ever have occasion to write any.
Mary Bell set copies for her, when she came out to see her, and Mary Erskine went on so much faster than Bella, that she could teach her very well. She required Bella to spend an hour at her studies every day. Thomas made a little desk for her, and her mother bought her a slate and a pencil, and in process of time an arithmetic, and other books. As soon as Mary Erskine could read fluently, Mary Bell used to bring out books to her, containing entertaining stories. At first Mary Bell would read these stories to her once, while she was at her work, and then Mary Erskine, having heard Mary Bell read them, could read them herself in the evening without much difficulty. At length she made such progress that she could read the stories herself alone, the first time, with very little trouble.
Thus things went on in a very pleasant and prosperous manner, and this was the condition of Mary Erskine and of her affairs, at the time when Malleville and Phonny went to pay her their visit, as described in the first chapter of this volume.
THE VISIT TO MARY ERSKINE’S.