10. Dick's Mishap
Messrs. Arithmetic and Mathematics were large manufacturers of ironware and machinery of every kind, of which they kept an immense assortment continually upon sale in a shop attached to the premises. They were said to be near connections as well as partners in business. Mr. Arithmetic had the name of a hard man, who looked sharply after every farthing, though not quite so hard perhaps as his partner Mr. Mathematics. And yet his workmen, who were all called ciphers, One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight and Nine, never complained of their master. They said that they always received their just due, and as long as they kept in their own proper place, had never any reason to grumble.
Mr. Mathematics was a great philosopher, and shut himself up a good deal, that he might have leisure to invent new and curious machines. He did not show himself to customers so often as Mr. Arithmetic, who was the soul of the business, keeping all the workmen in order, scarcely ever out of his shop, and ready to serve all the world.
The Ironmongery establishment was on the top of a steep cliff that rose on the right side of the town of Education, just beyond Mr. Reading's large shop; and thither, on that fine summer's day, Dick and Pride wended their way.
"We must go up here," observed Dick, as they reached a narrow staircase cut in the cliff, and known by the name of the Multiplication stairs. I should not wonder if my readers had run up it many a time; if so, I need not tell them that it consists of twelve flights of steps, with twelve steps in every flight; that the first and second are so easy that a baby might almost toddle up them; that the two next are rather more steep, while the fifth is easier again; that the seventh and eighth are perhaps the worst; while the tenth flight quite tempts one to run, it is so delightfully smooth!
Dick was so active and vigorous a boy, that he mounted up to the top without even stopping to take breath. He had thence a fine view of the distant landscape; but what interested him most was to look down on the town which lay at his feet, and see the gilded names of the different Ologies shining on the fronts of their dwellings. There was Chemistry's beautiful shop too in view, with lovely-coloured glass jars in its windows; and Botany's vast garden not far off, bright with the hues of a thousand flowers. A fine place to look at, and a good place to dwell in, is this town of Education.
An immense building was now before Dick, though rather dull and unattractive in appearance; the names of Messrs. Arithmetic and Mathematics were in large black letters over the door. Dick entered, followed by Pride, and viewed with astonishment the vast variety of iron utensils around him. He could scarcely stop to look at the simple grates, called sums, which were the things that he came for, his eye was attracted by so many articles more curious and more interesting. There were big rules of-three kettles, simple, inverse, and compound; reduction grinding-machines, and tables of weights of every species and size. There were innumerable instruments of various kinds that were known by the name of fractions; Dick did not exactly know their use, but they looked like instruments of torture. In an inner compartment of the place great machines were fizzing and whizzing, pistons rising and falling, wheels rolling and rumbling; that part belonged especially to Mr. Mathematics, and many of his partner's customers never entered that wing of the building.
"What do you require here?" said Mr. Arithmetic, a man dressed in iron-gray clothes, with a face which looked dry and hard as one of his own kettles, above which was a shock of iron-gray hair, which gave him rather a formidable appearance.
"I want to buy four little grates, to put in my house," said Dick, standing with his hand on his hip, and speaking in an easy tone, to show that he was not afraid of Mr. Arithmetic.
"I understand: my four first sums--Addition, Multiplication, Division, and Subtraction;" and the learned ironmonger pointed to a pile of some hundreds of the articles required by Dick.
"They are such simple, light little things," observed the boy, "that I'll carry off a couple with ease."
"As far as mere weight goes," said Pride, "you might bear away all four at once; but they are rather awkward to hold, and, if I understood you aright, you are obliged to carry all your purchases yourself."
"Ay," observed Mr. Arithmetic with a grim smile, "when the Prince of Wales himself came to shop in our town, he was obliged to be his own porter. Governesses and tutors may pack up the loads, but the pupils have the carrying after all."
"I certainly could manage two grates at once," observed Dick.
"I would advise you to be content with one at a time," said Arithmetic, "and come for the second to-morrow."
"Pick me out four good ones, not too small," cried Dick, trying to speak with an air of command; "I'll walk in further with my comrade, and have a look at yonder machines."
"Don't go too near those in work," said Mr. Arithmetic to Dick; "little boys may get into trouble if they meddle with things that they don't understand."
"Perhaps I can understand rather more than he supposes," muttered Dick, walking with head erect, and nose in the air, and a sort of swaggering step, which he probably thought best suited for a genius.
He passed on between rows of strange machines, whose use he could scarcely guess at; but he was ashamed to show any ignorance while Pride was close at his side. At last Dick stopped before a turning-lathe, which had been made by a man called Euclid, and watched with interest and surprise all the curious articles called problems, which a clever workman was every few minutes forming with the circular saw.
"That does not look such hard work after all," said Dick; "the man has only to hold up the wood to that curious whirling machine, and it cuts it right into shape in a second. I think that I could do that myself."
"I should not advise you to try," said the workman, as he stopped his lathe for a short time, to go and look for a piece of hard wood. Pride glanced meaningly at Dick, and the boy's foot was in a minute on the board whose motion turned the circular saw.
"Give me that problem, I'll show you what I can do!" cried the eager Dick to his prompter; the next sound that he uttered was a yell, as the saw cut one of his fingers almost to the bone!
The cry drew Mr. Arithmetic to the spot. "Is the hand off?" was his cold hard question.
Poor Dick held up his bleeding finger.
"You've got your lesson cheaply," said the iron-gray man; "you had better know your own powers a little better before you meddle with matters like this. Wrap up your finger in your handkerchief, take up your grate, and be gone."
Much mortified by his morning's adventure, poor Dick in silence obeyed, not making an attempt to burden himself then with anything but a simple sum of Addition. It would have been well indeed for the boy if the experience of that day had cured him of his foolish presumption, and made him give up the company of Pride.