After George had gone, they played about happily enough, Jan riding on Abel’s back, and the sandy kitten on Jan’s, in and out among the corn-sacks, full canter as far as the old carved meal-chest, and back to the door again.
Poor Abel, with his double burden, got tired at last, and they sat down and sifted flour for the education of their thumbs. Jan was pinching and flattening his with a very solemn face, in the hope of attaining to a miller’s thumb by a shorter process than the common one, when Abel suddenly said, —
“I tell thee what, then, Jan: ’tis time thee learned thy letters. And I’ll teach thee. Come hither.”
Jan jumped up, thereby pitching the kitten headlong from his shoulders, and ran to Abel, who was squatting by some spilled flour near a sack, and was smoothing it upon the floor with his hands. Then very slowly and carefully he traced the letter A in the flour, keenly watched by Jan.
“That’s A,” said he. “Say it, Jan. A.”
“A,” replied Jan, obediently. But he had no sooner said it, than, adding hastily, “Let Jan do it,” he traced a second A, slightly larger than Abel’s, in three firm and perfectly proportioned strokes.
His moving finger was too much for the kitten’s feelings, and she sprang into the flour and pawed both the A’s out of existence.
Jan slapped her vigorously, and having smoothed the surface once more, he drew A after A with the greatest rapidity, scrambling along sideways like a crab, and using both hands indifferently, till the row stretched as far as the flour would permit.
Abel’s pride in his pupil was great, and he was fain to run off to call his mother to see the performances of their prodigy, but Jan was too impatient to spare him.
“Let Jan do more!” he cried.
Abel traced a B in the flour. “That’s B, Jan,” said he.
“Jan do it,” replied Jan, confidently.
“But say it,” said his teacher, restraining him. “Say B, Jan.”
“B,” said Jan, impatiently; and adding, “Jan do it,” he began a row of B’s. He hesitated slightly before making the second curve, and looked at his model, after which he went down the line as before, and quite as successfully. And the kitten went down also, pawing out each letter as it was made, under the impression that the whole affair was a game of play with herself.
“There bean’t a letter that bothers him,” cried Abel, triumphantly, to the no less triumphant foster-mother.
Jan had, indeed, gone through the whole alphabet, with the utmost ease and self-confidence; but his remembrance of the names of the letters he drew so readily proved to be far less perfect than his representations of them on the floor of the round-house.
Abel found his pupil’s progress hindered by the very talent that he had displayed. He was so anxious to draw the letters that he would not learn them, and Abel was at last obliged to make one thing a condition of the other.