Sublunary art.—Jan goes to school.—Dame Datchett at home.—Jan’s first school scrape.—Jan defends himself.
Even the hero of a tale cannot always be heroic, nor of romantic or poetic tastes.
The wonderful beauty of the night sky and the moon had been fully felt by the artist-nature of the child Jan; but about this time he took to the study of a totally different subject,—pigs.
It was the force of circumstances which led Jan to “make pigs” on his slate so constantly, instead of nobler subjects; and it dated from the time when his foster-mother began to send him with the other children to school at Dame Datchett’s.
Dame Datchett’s cottage was the last house on one side of the village main street. It was low, thatched, creeper-covered, and had only one floor, and two rooms,—the outer room where the Dame kept her school, and the inner one where she slept. Dame Datchett’s scholars were very young, and it is to be hoped that the chief objects of their parents in paying for their schooling were to insure their being kept safely out of the way for a certain portion of each day, and the saving of wear and tear to clothes and shoes. It is to be hoped so, because this much of discipline was to some extent accomplished. As to learning, Dame Datchett had little enough herself, and was quite unable to impart even that, except to a very industrious and intelligent pupil.
Her school appurtenances were few and simple. From one of them arose Jan’s first scrape at school. It was a long, narrow blackboard, on which the alphabet had once been painted white, though the letters were now so faded that the Dame could no longer distinguish them, even in spectacles.
The scrape came about thus.
As he stood at the bottom of the little class which gathered in a semicircle around the Dame’s chair, his young eyes could see the faded letters quite clearly, though the Dame’s could not.
“Say th’ alphabet, childern!” cried Dame Datchett; and as the class shouted the names of the letters after her, she made a show of pointing to each with a long “sallywithy” wand cut from one of the willows in the water-meadows below. She ran the sallywithy along the board at what she esteemed a judicious rate, to keep pace with the shouted alphabet, but, as she could not see the letters, her tongue and her wand were not in accord. Little did the wide-mouthed, white-headed youngsters of the village heed this, but it troubled Jan’s eyes; and when—in consequence of her rubbing her nose with her disengaged hand—the sallywithy slipped to Q as the Dame cried F, Jan brought the lore he had gained from Abel to bear upon her inaccuracy.
“’Tis a Q, not a F,” he said, boldly and aloud.
A titter ran through the class, and the biggest and stupidest boy found the joke so overwhelming that he stretched his mouth from ear to ear, and doubled himself up with laughter, till it looked as if his corduroy-breeched knee were a turnip, and he about to munch it.