3. The Cottages Of Head
"Come with me, my young friends," said Mr. Learning, as soon as Dame Desley had departed; "I will take you to the four little cottages that have been bought for you by your mother, and which you are, by my help, to furnish with all things needful."
"A cottage all to myself--what fun!" exclaimed Dick, cutting a caper on the grass.
Guided by Mr. Learning, the four children went on their way towards the villas of Head, four tiny dwellings that stood close together on the top of a hill, two looking to the east and two to the west. Nice little cottages they were, each with a small garden behind it. The two that fronted the west were thatched with golden-coloured straw, and the glass in the little windows was almost as blue as the sky. The two that looked to the east had darker thatch and brown glass windows. The first were for Matty and Nelly, the others for Lubin and Dick.
"Mine is the prettiest, much the prettiest cottage!" exclaimed Matty, with a smile of delight; "it has the brightest thatch, and the whitest wall, and the most elegant shape besides!"
"Mine is the biggest!" cried Dick with some pride.
Now each of the cottages of Head had two little doors, the funniest that ever were seen; they were just of the form of ears, and Matty's and Nelly's were almost hidden by the golden thatch above them. The children went in and examined the inside of the dwellings one by one. Each had four little rooms--parlour, bedroom, kitchen, and spare room. But the walls were quite rough and bare; not a scrap of carpet covered the boards; there were chimneys, it is true, but no grates were to be seen in the empty fireplaces.
"Well," cried Dick, as with his companions he returned to the space between the cottages, in which they had left Mr. Learning standing, "I should be mighty sorry to have to live in such an unfurnished house!"
"If it remain unfurnished it will be your own fault," replied Mr. Learning, as he drew from his pocket four purses, yellow, red, and pink, and blue. "These are the magic purses of Time," he continued, "and most valuable gifts are they; each of you shall possess one. Every morning you will find in them a certain number of pieces of silver and copper money,--men name them hours and minutes. A few you will employ in paying for your lodging and food in that large dwelling hard by, called Needful House, in which you may remain for a while until your cottages are fit to be lived in. Some of your hours and minutes you must spend on every week-day in buying furniture for these little Heads in the town of Education."
Dick caught eagerly at the yellow purse, and instantly began to count out the money. Every bright coin had the stamp of a pair of wings on one side, with the motto, "Time flies fast," and on the other side in raised letters the motto, "Use me well."
Lubin and Matty took the red and pink purses with a careless air, as, like too many amongst us, they did not know their value. Lame Nelly very gratefully received the blue purse, with the hours and minutes in it.
"And now," cried Dick, "where is this town of Education, for I'm in a desperate hurry to begin to furnish my Head?"
Mr. Learning moved a few steps to the right, and pointed with his gold-headed cane to a spot where some smoke rising in the valley showed that a large town must be.
"You can see it yonder through the trees," said the sage.
"Oh, dear! it is a good way off!" said Lubin. "I hope that you don't expect us to travel there every day."
"You must not only travel there," replied Mr. Learning, "but you must carry back the things which you purchase, without minding the trouble or fatigue. The way is very straight and direct. You must go down this hill, which is called Puzzle; it is not long, but tolerably steep: you must cross the brook Bother which flows at the bottom, and then the shady lane of Trouble will take you right to the town."
"And what must we do when we get there?" asked Dick.
"Your first care, of course, must be to paper your rooms; each one must do that for himself. The paper you will buy with your money from the decorators, Messrs. Reading and Writing; their house is the first that you will reach when you come to the end of the lane. Then you will doubtless look out for grates, and other needful articles of hardware; they may be had at reasonable prices from Mr. Arithmetic, the ironmonger. Mr. History, the carpet-manufacturer, has a large assortment to show; and General Knowledge, the carpenter, keeps a wonderful variety of beds, tables, and chairs, of every quality and size."
"And our gardens, too, will want looking after," cried Dick.
"Mr. Geography, the nurseryman, will help you to lay them out according to the newest design. You, my young friends," continued Mr. Learning, turning towards the two little girls, "who have garden walls with a western aspect, on which the fruit-trees of needlework can grow, must buy plants from Mrs. Sewing, whose white cottage you plainly can see, just at the other side of the brook, near where those weeping willows are dipping their branches in the stream."
"We shall have lots to do with our money," sighed Lubin.
"But quite enough of money for all that you require, if you only do not throw it away, nor let some quick-fingered thief like Procrastination steal away your treasure of Time," replied Mr. Learning with a smile. "Think of the pleasure which it will give your mother if she find each of you, on her return six months hence, comfortably settled in a well-furnished house of your own! If any additional motive for exertion be needed, know that when your mother comes back, I will present a beautiful silver crown of Success to whichever of you four shall have best employed your money in furnishing your garden and house."
"That crown shall be mine!" thought Dick; "I'll win it and wear it too!"
"I shall certainly never get a crown," said Nelly Desley half aloud; "it is quite enough for me if my mother be pleased with my cottage!" A fear was on the little girl's mind that she should manage her shopping very badly, and she hoped that the brook would be shallow, as she could see no bridge across it.
"I shall take my time about this furnishing," said Lubin, as soon as Mr. Learning had taken his departure, promising to return some day to watch the progress of his charges. Lubin, though not lame like Nelly, was heavy and slow in his movements, and often was laughed at by Dick for his great dislike to trouble.
"My cottage looks so pretty outside," said silly little Matty, shaking her fair locks, "that I almost think it would do without any furnishing at all."