For William’s sufferings under that instrument of discipline were not to be measured by his doleful howlings and roarings, nor even by his ready tears.
“What be ‘ee so voolish for as to say nothin’ when her wollops ’ee?” he asked of Jan, in a very friendly spirit, one day. “Thee should holler as loud as ’ee can. Them that hollers and cries murder she soon stops for, does Dame Datchett. She be feared of their mothers hearing ’em, and comin’ after ’em.”
Jan could not lower himself to accept such base advice; but his superior adroitness did much to balance the advantage William had over him, in a less scrupulous pride.
As to learning, I fear that, after the untoward consequences of his zeal for the alphabet, Jan made no effort to learn any thing but cat’s-cradle from his neighbors.
On one other occasion, indeed, he was somewhat over-zealous, and only escaped the strap for his reward by a friendly diversion on the part of his friend. The Dame had a Dutch clock in the corner of her kitchen, the figures on the face of which were the common Arabic ones, and not Roman. And as one of the few things the Dame professed was to “teach the clock,” she would, when the figures had been recited after the fashion in which her scholars shouted over the alphabet, set those who had advanced to the use of slates to copy the figures from the clock-face.
Slowly and sorrowfully did William toil over this lesson. Again and again did he rub out his ill-proportioned fives, with so greasy a finger and such a superabundance of moisture as to make a sort of puddle, into which he dug heavily, and broke two pencils.
“A vive be such an akkerd vigger,” he muttered, in reply to Jan, who had looked up inquiringly as the second pencil snapped. “’Twill come aal right, though, when a dries.”
It did dry, but any thing but right. Jan rubbed out the mass of thick and blotted strokes, and when the Dame was not looking, he made William’s figures for him. Jan was behindhand in spelling, but to copy figures was no difficulty to him.
Having helped his friend thus, he pulled his smock, to draw attention to his own slate. The other children wrote so slowly that time had hung heavy on his hands; and, instead of copying the figures in a row, he had made a drawing of the clock-face, with the figures on it; but instead of the hands, he had put eyes, nose, and mouth, and below the mouth a round gray blot, which William instantly recognized for a portrait of the mole on Dame Datchett’s chin. This brilliant caricature so tickled him, that he had a fit of choking from suppressed laughter; and he and Jan, being detected “in mischief,” were summoned with their slates to the Dame’s chair.
William came off triumphant; but when the Dame caught sight of Jan’s slate, without minutely examining his work, she said, “Zo thee’s been scraaling on thee slate, instead of writing thee figures,” and at once began to fumble beneath her chair.