THE DAME'S DEPARTURE.
MERRY life had Dame Desley and her four children led in their rural home. The sound of their cheerful voices, the patter of their little feet, the laugh, the shout, and the song, had been heard from morning till night. I will not stop to tell of all the daisy-chains and cowslip-balls made by the children under the big elm-tree that grew on their mother's lawn; or how they gathered ripe blackberries in autumn; or in the glowing days of summer played about the hay-cocks, and buried one another in the hay. Their lives were thoughtless and gay, like those of the sparrows in the garden, or the merry little squirrels in the wood.
But a time came at last when these careless days must end. Dame Desley had to take a long journey—she would be absent for many a month—and on the evening before her departure she called her four children around her.
"My dear children," she said, "I must leave you; I must give you up for a while to the care of another. But I have chosen a guardian for you who is worthy of all your respect. Mr. Learning is coming to see you to-morrow, just an hour before I start; and I hope that he will find you all good and obedient children during my absence. Whatever he may bid you do, do for the love of me, and when you attend to Mr. Learning, think that you are pleasing your mother."
When the four children were alone together, just before going to rest, they began eagerly to talk over what Dame Desley had told them.
"I wonder whether I shall like this Mr. Learning," said Dick, a merry, intelligent boy, with bright eyes that were always twinkling with fun. None of his age could excel him in racing or running; he could climb a tree like a squirrel, and clear a haycock with a bound. He loved the free careless life which he had led in his mother's home, but still he wished for one more full of adventure and excitement.
"I'm quite sure that I shall not like Mr. Learning," cried Matty; "for I have seen him two or three times, and I did not fancy his looks at all. He is as solemn and as grave as an owl; he wears spectacles, and has a very long nose, and his back is as stiff as a poker." Matty was a pretty little girl, with blue eyes, and golden curls hanging down her neck, but she had a conceited air, which spoiled her looks to my mind.
"I wish that we could stay where we are, and go on as we always have done, without being plagued by Mr. Learning at all," cried Lubin, with a weary yawn. Such a fat little fellow as he was, just the shape of a roly-poly pudding, with cheeks as red as the apples that grew on the trees in the orchard.
"But mother spoke kindly of him," said Nelly, a pale lame child who sat in the corner of the room, stringing buttercups and daisies; "if she likes him, should not we try to like him, and not set our hearts against what mother thinks for our good."
"Perhaps Mr. Learning's company may be pleasant for a change!" cried Dick. "I hear that he gives lots of presents to his friends, and makes them both rich and great. It would be a stupid thing, after all, to spend all one's life in gathering wild-flowers, or kicking up one's heels in the hay....