11. Miss Folly
"Oh, dear! how frightful this great big DUNCE looks upon my wall!" cried poor Lubin; "and how shall I ever get rid of it? It's always staring me in the face, and telling tales of me to every one that comes into the room! What shall I do with the ugly thing?"
"Cover it over, dear Lubin," said Nelly, who felt for her brother's distress.
"Does it not look hideous?" cried Lubin, looking round with a woe-begone face.
"It does look hideous indeed, and, if I were you, I would paper it over directly. No one could see it then."
"It's too high for me to reach," sighed Lubin.
"Yes, unless you were to use--" Nelly hesitated, for she knew Lubin's dislike to the ladder of Spelling.
"I know what you mean," said Lubin gloomily; "but I won't use that ladder just now. Perhaps--there's no saying--perhaps some day I may learn to spell without stumbling, and get rid of that hateful word DUNCE."
"No time like the present," suggested little Nelly, with a smile.
"Not to-day, I say; I'm not in the humour; I've no fancy for a tumble on the floor."
"Have you a fancy, then, to go with me to Mr. Arithmetic's, to get grates for our little fireplaces?"
"That's where Dick cut his finger yesterday?"
"Yes; poor Dick!" exclaimed Nelly; "but we won't go so near to the machines."
"I'll keep at arms' length from all problems," cried Lubin. "Well, if you are going to the ironmonger's shop, we may just as well go together. Is Dick to be of the party?"
"No," replied Nelly; "yesterday's mishap had made him rather dislike Arithmetic, though the accident did not happen in his part of the building. But I hope that Matty will come; I was just going to invite her."
Casting one more vexed glance at the great DUNCE on his wall, Lubin sallied forth from his cottage with Nelly. As they crossed over the little green space to Matty's door, they heard such a jabber of voices within her cottage, that one might have thought that the little dwelling was full of chattering magpies.
In the parlour appeared Matty on her knees, examining with eager praises the contents of a large box of millinery open before her; while, talking so fast that she could hardly be understood, a curious creature stood beside her, whose dress, manner, and appearance, amazed both Lubin and Nelly.
The stranger was by nature very small and mean in appearance; but she had puffed out her dress with crinoline and hoops to a size so immense, that she half filled up Matty's little parlour, and it was hard to imagine how she had contrived to squeeze herself through the doorway. She had seven very full flounces, each of a different colour, adorned with flowers and beads. Her waist had been pulled in very tightly indeed, till it resembled that of a wasp; and a quantity of gaudy jewellery shone on her neck and arms. But the head-dress of Miss Folly--for this was she--was still more peculiar than her figure. An immense plume of peacock's feathers stuck upright in her frizzled red hair, which was all drawn back from her forehead, to show as much as possible of her face. Her great goggle eyes were rolling about with a perpetual motion to match that of her tongue; and her cheeks, rouged till they looked like peonies, were dotted over with black bits of plaster. I don't know, dear reader, whether Miss Folly be an acquaintance of yours; if so, I hope that you will excuse my saying that, notwithstanding her rouge and her jewels, I consider her a perfect fright.
But here let us make no mistake. I know that there are certain persons who confuse between Miss Folly and Miss Fun, and fancy that these are names for one and the same person. I assure you that this is not the case; Folly and Fun are perfectly distinct. I own that laughing, singing, playful little Fun, is rather a pet of my own; she and I have had pleasant hours together; nay, I have actually consulted her when writing this very book. It is true that she needs to be kept in order, for her spirits get sometimes a little too wild; she must be forbidden to do any mischief, or give pain to any creature living. But when under good control, Fun is a bright and charming companion, especially to the young; and I delight in hearing her merry laugh, and in watching her sparkling eyes. But as for Folly, I cannot abide her; her mirth only makes me sad. Perhaps, before they lay down my book, my readers may more clearly distinguish what qualities make Miss Folly unlike that general favourite--Fun.
Miss Folly went jabbering on: "Just try that bonnet on your head."
It was clear that Matty Desley was very well satisfied with her companion, and she turned over the wares with delight, as Miss Folly went jabbering on,--
"There, now; that's something that I can quite recommend; it's decidedly à la mode
, worn by all the duchesses, countesses, baronesses, and lady mayoresses, at all the balls, routs, conversaziones, and concerts given this season! And--yes, just try that bonnet on your head, and look at yourself in this glass"--(Folly always carries a glass)--"doesn't it show off the charming face?--doesn't it suit the pretty complexion?--doesn't it make you look quite bewitching, a lovely little fairy as you are?"
"Matty!" cried Lubin, the moment Folly paused to take breath, "we're going to Arithmetic the ironmonger; will you come with us and buy a new grate?"
"Multiplication is a vexation,
Addition is as bad;
The Rule of Three doth puzzle me,
And Fractions make me mad!"
cried Folly, rolling her goggle eyes, and thinking herself quite a wit.
"Was it not at Arithmetic's factory that Dick hurt himself yesterday?" said Matty.
"Hurt himself, did he?" interrupted Folly, who seemed resolved to take the largest share of the conversation. "Why did he not come to me for a salve? I've the best salve that ever was invented--Flattery salve, warranted to heal all manner of bruises and sores; yes, headaches, and heartaches, and all kinds of aches. It's patronized by all the heads of the nobility and gentry. I've tried it myself many a time, and always find it a perfect cure! When I've the high-strikes (I'm very subject to the high-strikes), I just rub a little on the tip of my ear, and it calms down my nerves like a charm. I wish you would try it!" she cried, turning to Lubin.
"I'm not subject to high-strikes, and don't want Flattery salve," said the boy, in his blunt, simple manner; "all I want is to know whether you, Matty, will go with us to the town of Education."
"I can't go to-day!" cried Matty, annoyed at being interrupted by her brother and sister; "I shall want every minute of Time's money to buy some of Miss Folly's pretty things!"
"Leave Miss Folly, I should say," cried Lubin, who had no want of plain common-sense; "a pleasant, good-humoured smile makes a face look nicer than all that flummery there."
"Dear Matty, the days go fast," said Nelly, "and you know that our mother expects to find our cottages well furnished on her return. I really think that we've no Time money to spare upon what can be of no possible use."
"What would my Lady Fashion, my most particular friend, say if she could hear you?" exclaimed Folly, who had been struggling to get in a word, much talking being very characteristic of Folly; "she--Lady Fashion I mean--is always for the ornamental; the useful she leaves to the vulgar. As for your sister there" (Folly only condescended to speak to Matty), "she knows nothing, I see, of flounces, furbelows, fringes, and flowers; she'd put on a bonnet back part forward, or a shawl wrong side out; and she looks like a whipping-post, or a thread-paper, or a--"
"Oh, stop that jabber, will you!" cried Lubin, putting his hands to his ears.
"Come with us, Matty," entreated Nelly, "and buy something solid and useful. Summer will soon be over, and when cold weather comes, what should we do without grates?"
"I can't come, and I won't come!" cried Matty pettishly; "don't you see that I'm exceedingly busy?"
"Come away, Nelly," said Lubin; "leave her to her fine Miss Folly; let her furnish her head, if she likes it, with fairies, furbelows, and flounces!"
Off went the brother and sister, but they had proceeded some way from the door before they got beyond reach of the sound of Miss Folly's chattering tongue.
Down hill Puzzle, across brook Bother, along Trouble lane, fat little Lubin and Nelly went very sociably together.
"I don't think that you're as lame as you were," said the boy.
"The way seems shorter than it did," observed Nelly; "but one feels the hill most when coming back."
As the children passed Mr. Reading's fine shop, little Alphabet peeped through the grating, to the no small annoyance of Lubin.
"Ha, ha! my brave fellow!" cried the dwarf, "have you mounted the ladder of Spelling, and have you now come to jump over my head?"
Lubin did not answer, but quickened his pace. He and his sister soon found themselves at the bottom of Multiplication stairs.
"I wonder how we shall ever get up to the top?" thought lame Nelly, as, with rather a disconsolate air, she glanced up the twelve flights of steps.