7. The Ladder Of Spelling
"What a jolly pleasant fellow old Reading is!" cried Dick, as they jogged along.
"Well enough," replied Lubin, jerking his shoulder, "if he had not plagued us with this hateful ladder, and did not keep such a covetous, impudent little porter as that ugly old dwarf A B C."
"I did not see much harm in the dwarf," laughed Dick; "the best fun I ever had in my life was seeing you pushing on one side of the gate, and the little chap pushing on the other. Alphabet was too hard for you, Lubin, my boy, though he is such a mite of a man."
The observation made Lubin rather sulky, and he said nothing till, having passed through the lane of Trouble, the party stopped by the brook of Bother.
"I'm afraid, Lubin," observed Dick, "that an awkward fellow like you may miss your footing if attempting to cross while carrying a weight on your shoulder. You go first, unburdened, and then I'll easily stretch out the end of the ladder for you to catch hold of."
Lubin did not wait to be twice invited to put down his tiresome burden. He flung down his end of the ladder, went across the stepping-stones at once, and then, without so much as turning to look at his companion, began to walk fast up the hill.
"Holloa! stop! where are you going?" shouted Dick.
Lubin only quickened his pace.
"The lazy rogue means to leave me to carry this ladder all by myself!" exclaimed Dick, in high indignation.
"I wish that I could help you, dear Dick," said Nelly; "but I'm lame, and--"
"And you've been carrying the can all the way, till your face is quite pale with fatigue. I wonder that that saucy puss Matty is not ashamed of treating you so."
"I was so busy with my fairies that I forgot," began Matty.
"Ah, well; take the can now and remember. And as for the ladder--" Without finishing his sentence, to the surprise of the girls, Dick suddenly turned round, and walked back several paces. His object soon became plain; he was giving himself room for a run. Once more he rushed forward with a bound, and, laden as he was with ladder and with paper, was over the brook in a moment.
"There's a jump!" he exclaimed, his face flushed less with the effect, than with the pride which he felt in having accomplished such a feat; "depend on't, a boy who can leap like that won't soon be turned back in life's long race by any difficulty or trial. I only wish that Mr. Learning could have seen me take that jump."
Nelly's admiration of her brother's remarkable powers was a little damped by a fear that arose in her mind when she saw how he gloried in them. Nelly was very fond of Dick, but she could not help thinking that she would rather have seen him conquer his pride than jump over half-a-dozen Bothers. Slowly and thoughtfully the little girl passed over the brook, and Matty, who was now carrying the can, brought up the rear of the party.
"Dick," said Matty, when she had joined her brother, "I wonder that you did not lay the ladder of Spelling across the stream, and make a bridge of it at once."
"I was too wary a bird for that," laughed Dick. "You know I've not yet mastered that awkward spelling, and if I'd put my foot upon a step, I should just have gone souse into Bother."
"Oh, I quite forgot!" exclaimed Matty.
"You seem to have a trick of forgetting," said her brother; "you forget that your can of Attention is full, and you swing it to and fro as you walk, so that you spill it at every step. You had better give it up again to Nelly."
"How Lubin trots up the hill!" cried Matty. "I never thought that he could get on so fast."
"He knows pretty well what he has to expect when I get up with him!" cried Dick, who was indignant at his brother's desertion; "I mean to give the fat rogue such a thrashing as he never had before in his life!"
"Oh no, dear Dick!" exclaimed Nelly. "I am sure that you had better forgive and forget."
"I don't see why I should," rejoined Dick.
"There are a great many reasons," said Nelly, who never suffered an angry or revengeful feeling to rest in her heart; "we know that it is noble and right to forgive, and to do as we would be done by; and has not dear mother a thousand times told us to live in love and kindness together?"
"But he played me such a shabby trick!" exclaimed Dick.
"You must remember, dear brother, that Lubin is not so strong as you are, and cannot bear a weight with such ease."
"No; you're right there!" cried Dick proudly, raising the ladder of Spelling with one hand above his head, to show the might of his arm.
Nelly saw that her brother was getting into better humour, and ventured to say something more. "There is another reason why you should forgive Lubin. Poor Lubin has also, perhaps, something to forgive and forget."
"I never ran off and left him in the lurch."
"No," replied Nelly, in a very gentle tone; "but when he was in trouble with Alphabet, you burst out laughing instead of helping him. I don't think, dear Dick, that you know what pain you give by your way of joking and mocking at others who can't do as much as yourself."
"Have I ever pained you, Nelly?"
"Sometimes," replied the child.
Dick was silent for a few minutes. He was recalling to mind times when he had ridiculed his gentle little sister for her lameness--the slow pace which she could not avoid. He felt ashamed of his ungenerous conduct, and willing to make some amends.
"It was too bad in me to hurt you, Nelly, who never gave pain to any one; so, for your sake, this time I'll consent to forgive and forget."
While this conversation went on, the brother and sisters had walked half-way up the hill, and, before many minutes had passed, they had all arrived at their group of cottages. Dick kept his word to Nelly, and took no further notice of the desertion of Lubin, than by saying, with a laugh, when first they met, "You went up the hill at such a pace, my fine fellow, that one might have thought that you fancied the terrible Alphabet following close at your heels."
Lubin looked rather sulky, but was glad to be so easily let off; he was not aware that he owed Dick's forbearance to the kindly offices of peacemaker Nelly.
As the day was now far advanced, the children resolved not to begin their papering work till the morrow. They went to the house Needful, where they were to have their board and lodging for a short time, till their cottages should be a little furnished. They were all rather tired with their day's exertions, and none but Dick felt disposed to take a stroll in the evening.