21. Plans And Plots
How happy was little Nelly now, with Content as her constant companion. He was with her when she went on expeditions to the town of Education, flying before her, then stopping to rest on some bush by the wayside to cheer her by his musical song. When she returned home laden with furniture, facts from the warehouse of General Knowledge, or some of Arithmetic's more heavy productions, the way seemed shorter, the burden more light when Content was fluttering near. When the four Desleys at last took up their abode in their four little homes, the presence of beautiful Content made Nelly's as bright as a palace.
It is time that I should say something about the gardens which lay behind the cottages of Head, and which were to be cultivated by the children. These were very curiously laid out, according to the plans given by Geography, the celebrated gardener. Each garden represented a map. There were plots of green grass for the sea, dotted with daisies for tiny islands. There was rich dark mould for the land, and flowers or small bushes were planted wherever the capitals of countries should be. Dick, who was very ingenious, contrived to have some characteristic plant for most of those cities.
"See," he exclaimed, "there is a rose-bush for London, a thistle for bonny Edinburgh, and a patch of green shamrock for Dublin. I'm getting a lily for Paris, as that is the capital of France; and as Holland is famous for tulips, Amsterdam a tulip shall be."
"And what will you give Belgium?" inquired Matty.
"Brussels sprouts, to be sure."
Dick worked early and late at his garden, and it was by far the finest of the four; even in the season of autumn the difference was very marked. Lubin was so often sauntering off to Amusement's bazaar, and spending his hours at one of her counters, that Geography the gardener grew quite out of patience with him. Lubin quite forgot where to put in the tiny box hedges which marked the boundaries of various countries, so that France spread half over Germany, and swallowed up poor little Belgium altogether. "Italy," as Dick laughingly observed, "was shaped like a gouty shoe, instead of a long slender boot;" and so much grass overran the border, that Matty was certain that all Lubin's land would soon be drowned by the sea. London, Edinburgh, and Paris were dying for want of watering, and nothing seemed to flourish in Lubin's Europe but such things as groundsel and chickweed.
Matty at first succeeded far better with her flowers. She had a taste for gardening, she said, and laid out her map very nicely. Whatever accorded with her inclination, Matty did quickly and well; but she worked from no regard to Duty, and whenever she felt a little tired, she threw down her spade, and went to amuse herself with touching her new tambourine, or blowing bubbles of Fancy with Folly. Yet, upon the whole, Matty's garden was fair and pleasant to behold.
Nelly, who was lame, and had little strength for hard work, found gardening a serious task. It took her long to lay out the plots, long to plant the box hedges; and watering the cities, and keeping the ground clear of weeds seemed an endless business to Nelly. Yet cheerfully and bravely she worked, while, perched on a bush beside her, the beautiful bird Content poured forth enlivening lays. The harder she laboured, the louder sang he; and whenever she glanced up from her task, she saw the gleam of his silver wing reflecting the sunshine from heaven.
"Oh, dear little bird!" cried Nelly, "with what a song will you welcome my mother, who will soon return to us now. How she will stroke your soft feathers, and delight in your cheerful lay! Then, perhaps, thoughtful Duty and sweet Affection will come and remain as my guests, and fill my home with peace and with gladness when chill winter darkens around. Oh, how happily shall we all then gather around our blazing Christmas fire!"
It seems strange that so kind and gentle a child as Nelly should ever have an enemy; but she was certainly an object of envy and dislike both to Miss Folly and Pride.
"I hate that sober, sensible little minx, who is always thinking of Affection and Duty," said Miss Folly one day to Pride, as they were walking in a thicket together, just as the damp evening mist was beginning to fall.
"I hate her heartily," muttered Pride between his clenched teeth; "for she not only shuts her own door against me, but tries with all the power that she has to weaken my influence with her brothers and sister. She has not succeeded, and she shall not; but I never forget a wrong, and I'd give anything in the world to be able to spite and vex her."
"It drives me wild to hear that bird of hers always singing so gaily!" cried Folly.
"Could we not wring its neck?" exclaimed Pride.
"We dare not so much as touch it without her leave," said Miss Folly, shaking her peacock plume with vexation; "and yet I'd rather make myself a head-dress of its feathers than of those of any other bird of the air."
"We'll get hold of it, and kill it without mercy!" cried ugly Pride, grinding his teeth as he spoke; "but we must work by cunning, for we dare not use force, the child is under such powerful protection."
"I'll coax Nelly to part with her bird," said Folly; and rolling her goggle eyes, she added, "you know that I'm a rare hand at coaxing."
"There are few who can withstand you," answered the dark one; his words made Folly simper, she knew not how to blush. "And if," continued Pride, "you succeed, you will make Nelly mortally offend both Duty and Affection; and to break with friends such as they are, will make her miserable indeed."
"She'll only need a good big bribe," said Folly. "I believe that Matty would part with the dearest friend that she has for the sake of a few bright ribbons, or a bunch of fine feathers to wear."
"But Matty is not Nelly," observed Pride.
"Oh, Nelly is only a girl!" cried Folly, tossing her frizzled head, "and there never yet was a girl that could not be wheedled by Folly into doing the silliest thing in the world. If I persuaded Matty that Fashion required her to tattoo her nose all over, to dye her hair green, or blue, or mauve, or to walk on all fours like a cat,--don't you suppose that she would do it?"
Pride only shrugged his shoulders in reply.
"Haven't I coaxed Chinese ladies to torture their babies by squeezing their feet into shoes so small, that the half-lamed creatures could never, throughout life, walk except in a waddle? Have I not--"
"You have done all sorts of wonderful things," said Pride; "no one doubts your power of persuading. Try now your arts upon Nelly, get her to give up her bird, and strangle Content as soon as you get it under your dainty fingers. If you shall be baffled, I will try next; 'twill be strange indeed if a simple child like Nelly be able to withstand us both."
"No fear of that!" exclaimed Folly.
So the two conspirators parted, equally resolved, by any possible means, to effect their object. It was not the first time that Folly and Pride had consulted together how to bring sorrow and shame into a young loving heart; not the first time that they had agreed to use their utmost efforts to destroy a bright and beautiful creature, and silence for ever in death the warbling voice of Content.