2. Mr Learning At Breakfast
Little Nelly, though weak and lame, was the first of the children to come down to the parlour in the morning to help her mother, Dame Desley, to lay the table for breakfast. The child felt a little frightened at the idea of the stranger guest, and doubted whether with all her best efforts she could ever please Mr. Learning.
White were the round breakfast rolls--and whiter still the table-cloth on which they were laid; and merrily sang the kettle on the hob, as the white steam rose from its spout.
"Why are there two tea-pots?" asked Matty, who had just come into the parlour, dressed out in the finest style, as a visitor was expected.
"The larger one is for us, my dear," said her mother, as she went to the cupboard for tea; "and out of the little square-shaped one I shall help my friend Mr. Learning."
Matty was so curious to know why Mr. Learning should have a whole tea-pot to himself, that she kept hanging about the table, touching the plates, jingling the cups and saucers, and not noticing Dick and Lubin, who had just come into the room.
Dame Desley filled the large tea-pot, first putting in tea, and afterwards hot water, after the usual fashion; she then went again to the cupboard, and bringing out a dumpy stone bottle, to the amazement of Matty filled the little tea-pot with ink.
"Now, my dear," she said, turning to Nelly, who stood behind ready to help her, "bring from my desk a quire of foolscap paper, put it on yonder plate, and place a good steel pen beside it. Mr. Learning has a very peculiar taste; instead of tea, toast and butter, he always breakfasts on paper and ink."
"Paper and ink!" echoed all the children; "what a very funny fellow he must be."
"No wonder he's thin!" cried Lubin, opening his round eyes very wide.
"Hush! here he comes," said Dame Desley, going herself to open the door for her honoured guest.
Mr. Learning entered with a solemn air; he was tall, thin, and grave. He had a forehead very broad and very high, and was bald at the top of his head. Thick bushy brows overhung his eyes, which looked calmly through the spectacles which rested on his nose, and a long beard descended from his chin.
The children received their mother's guest each in a different way. Dick, who had made up his mind that Mr. Learning would procure for him fortune and fame, gave him such a long hearty shake that it seemed as if the boy meant to wring off his hand! Lubin, with a pouting air, held out his fat fist when desired by his mother to bid the gentleman "good-morning." Matty, hanging her head on one side with a very affected air, touched his fingers with the tips of her own. Poor Nelly, who was more shy and timid than the rest, dared not lift up her eyes as she obeyed her mother's command; but she was cheered when the formidable Mr. Learning said in a pleasant voice, "I hope that we shall all be very good friends when we understand each other better."
Then all sat down to breakfast. None of the children--except Lubin, who always thought eating and drinking a very important affair--could attend much to their meal, they watched with such surprise and amusement the movements of Mr. Learning. Helping himself to his inky draught with a pen, which he used instead of a spoon, he then devoured sheet after sheet of foolscap paper with such evident relish, that Dick could hardly help bursting out into a laugh, and Matty was inclined to titter. Mr. Learning used a pen-wiper instead of a napkin, which saved Dame Desley's linen. He ate his breakfast with a thoughtful air, hardly speaking a single word. When the repast was ended, all arose from the table, and the dame, with a sigh, prepared to bid a long good-bye to her children.
"I leave you under good care, my darlings," said she; "and I expect on my return to find you wiser, happier, and better from the instructions of Mr. Learning, who will show you the little homes provided for you, and teach you how to furnish them. Mind that you do all that he bids you do; work with cheerful good-will, you will then have reason all your lives to rejoice that you ever knew such a friend. And one more parting word, my children: beware all of the society of Pride; I know that he is lurking about in this neighbourhood, but keep him ever out of your homes."
The children were sorry to part with their mother; lame Nelly was especially sorry. The tears rose into the little girl's eyes, but she hastily wiped them away, and tried to look cheerful and hopeful, that she might not sadden her mother.