where there’s pretty sure to be nothing to dive for. Besides, a body can’t dive in a stone pipe like this. I should want weights to sink me, and I mightn’t get them off in time. I want my breakfast dreadful, Willie.”
So saying, he scrambled up the side of the well, and the last of him that appeared, his boots, namely, bore testimony enough to his having reached the water. Willie peered down into the well, and caught the dull glimmer of it through the stones; then, a good deal disappointed, followed Sandy as he strode away towards the house.
“You’ll come and have your breakfast with me, Sandy, won’t you?” he said from behind him.
“No, thank you,” answered Sandy. “I don’t like any porridge but my mother’s.”
And without looking behind him, he walked right through the cottage, and away home.
Before Willie had finished his porridge, he had got over his disappointment, and had even begun to see that he had never really expected to find a treasure. Only it would have been fun to hand it over to his father!
All through morning school, however, his thoughts would go back to the little vault, so cool and shadowy, sheltering its ancient well from the light that lorded it over all the country outside. No doubt the streams rejoiced in it, but even for them it would be too much before the evening came to cool and console them; while the slow wells in the marshy ground up on the mountains must feel faint in an hour of its burning eye. This well had always been, and always would be, cool and blessed and sweet, like–like a precious thing you can only think about. And wasn’t it a nice thing to have a well of your own? Tibby needn’t go any more to the village pump–which certainly was nearer, but stood in the street, not in their own ground. Of course, as yet, she could not draw a bucketful, for the water hardly came above the stones; but he would soon get out as many as would make it deep enough–only, if it was all Sandy could do to get out the big ones, and that with his help too, how was he to manage it alone? There was the rub!
I must go back a little to explain how he came to think of a plan.
After Hector and he had gone as far in Dr Dick’s astronomy as they could understand, they found they were getting themselves into what seemed quite a jungle of planets, and suns, and comets, and constellations.
“It seems to me,” said the shoemaker, “that to understand anything you must understand everything.”
So they laid the book aside for the present; and Hector, searching about for another with which to fill up the remainder of the afternoon, came upon one in which the mechanical powers were treated after a simple fashion.
Of this book Willie had now read a good deal. I cannot say that he had yet come to understand the mechanical power so thoroughly as to see that the lever and the wheel-and-axle are the same in kind, or that the screw, the inclined plane, and the wedge are the same power in different shapes; but he did understand that while a single pulley gives you no advantage except by enabling you to apply your strength in the most effective manner, a second pulley takes half the weight off you. Hence, with the difficulty in which he now found himself, came at once the thought of a block with a pulley in it, which he had seen lying about in the carpenter’s shop. He remembered also that there was a great iron staple or _eye_ in the vault just over the well; and if he could only get hold of a second pulley, the thing was as good as done–the well as good as cleared out to whatever depth he could reach below the water.
As soon as school was over, he ran to Mr Spelman, and found to his delight that he could lend him not only that pulley but another as well. Each ran in a block which had an iron hook attached to it. With the aid of a ladder he put the hook of one of the blocks through the staple, and then fastened the end of his rope to the block. Next he got another bit of rope, and having pulled off his shoes and stockings, and got down into the well, tied it round the largest stone within reach, loosely enough to allow the hook of the second pulley to lay hold of it. Then, as a sailor would say, he rove the end of the long rope through this block, and getting up on the ladder again, rove it also through the first block which he had left hanging to the staple. All preparations thus completed, he stood by the well, and hauled away at the rope. It came slipping through the pulleys, and up rose the stone from the well as if by magic. As soon as it came clear of the edge, he drew it towards him, lowered it to the ground, took off its rope collar, and rolled it out of the doorway. Then he got into the well again, tied the collar about another stone, drew down the pulley, thrust its hook through the collar, got out of the well, and hauled up the second stone.
In this way he had soon got out so many that he was standing far above his ankles in the water, which was so cold that he was glad to get out to pull up every stone. By this time it was perfectly explained how the water made a noise, for he saw it escape by an opening in the side of the well.
He came at last to a huge stone, round which it was with difficulty he managed to fasten the rope. He had to pull away smaller stones from beneath it, and pass the rope through under it. Having lifted it a little way with the powerful help of his tackle, to try if all was right before he got out to haul in earnest, he saw that his knot was slipping, and lowered the stone again so as to set it on one end, leaning against the side of the well–when he discovered that his rope collar had got so frayed, that one of the strands was cut through; it would probably break and let the stone fall again into the well, when he would still more probably tumble after it. He was getting tired too, and it was growing very dusky in the ruins. He thought it better to postpone further proceedings, and getting out of the well, caught up his shoes and stockings, and went into the house.
Early the next morning Mr Macmichael, as he was dressing, heard a laugh of strange delight in the garden, and, drawing up the blind, looked out. There, some distance off, stood Willie, the one moment staring motionless at something at his feet, the other dancing and skipping and singing, but still looking down at something at his feet. His father could not see what this something was, for Willie was on the other side of one of the mounds, and was turning away to finish his dressing, when from another direction a peculiar glitter caught his eye.
“What can this mean?” he said to himself. “Water in the garden! There’s been no rain; and there’s neither river nor reservoir to overflow! I can hardly believe my eyes!”
He hurried on the remainder of his clothes, and went out. But he had not gone many steps when what should he meet but a merry little brook coming cantering down between two of the mounds! It had already worn itself a channel in the path. He followed it up, wondering much, bewildered indeed; and had got to a little turfy hollow, down the middle of which it came bubbling and gabbling along, when Willie caught sight of him, and bounded to meet him with a radiant countenance and almost inarticulate cries of delight.
“Am I awake, Willie? or am I dreaming?” he asked.
“Wide awake, papa,” answered Willie.
“Then what is the meaning of this? _You_ seem to be in the secret: where does this water come from? I feel as if I were in a fairy tale.”
“Isn’t it lovely?” cried Willie. “I’ll show you where it comes from. This way. You’ll spoil your boots there. Look at the rhubarb-bed; it’s turned into a swamp.”
“The garden will be ruined,” said his father.
“No, no, papa; we won’t let it come to that. I’ve been watching it. There’s no soil carried away yet. Do come and see.”
In mute astonishment, his father followed.
As I have already described it, the ground was very uneven, with many heights and hollows, whence it came that the water took an amazing number of twists and turns. Willie led his father as straight as he could, but I don’t know how often they crossed the little brook before they came to where, from the old stone shaft, like the crater of a volcano, it rolled over the brim, an eruption of cool, clear, lucid water. Plenteous it rose and overflowed, like a dark yet clear molten gem, tumbling itself into the open world. How deliciously wet it looked in the shadow I—how it caught the sun the moment it left the chamber, grew merry, and trotted and trolled and cantered along!
“Is this _your_ work, Willie?” asked his father, who did not know which of twenty questions to ask first.
“Mostly,” said Willie.
“You little wizard! what have you been about? I can’t understand it. We must make a drain for it at once.”
“Bury a beauty like that in a drain!” cried Willie. “O papa!”
“Well, I don’t know what else to do with it. How is it that it never found its way out before–somewhere or other?”
“I’ll soon show you that,” said Willie. “I’ll soon send it about its business.”
He had thought, when he first saw the issuing water, that the weight of the fallen stones and the hard covering of earth being removed, the spring had burst out with tenfold volume and vigour; but had satisfied himself by thinking about it, that the cause of the overflow must be the great stone he had set leaning against the side the last thing before dropping work the previous night: it must have blocked up the opening, and prevented the water from getting out as fast as before, that is, as fast as the spring rose. Therefore he now laid hold of the rope, which was still connected with the stone, and, not aware of how the water would help him by partly floating it, was astonished to find how easily he moved it. At once it swung away from the side into the middle of the well; the water ceased to run over the edge, with a loud gurgling began to sink, and sank down and down and down until the opening by which it escaped was visible.
“Ah! now, now I understand!” cried Mr Macmichael. “It’s the old well of the Priory you’ve come upon, you little burrowing mole.”
“Sandy helped me out with the stones. I thought there might be a treasure down there, and that set me digging. It was a funny treasure to find–wasn’t it? No treasure could have been prettier though.”
“If this be the Prior’s Well, and all be true they said about it in old times,” returned his father, “it may turn out a greater treasure than you even hoped for, Willie. Why, as I found some time ago in an old book about the monasteries of the country, people used to come from great distances to drink the water of the Prior’s Well, believing it a cure for every disease under the sun. Run into the house and fetch me a jug.”
“Yes, papa,” said Willie, and bounded off.
There was no little brook careering through the garden now–only a few pools here and there–and its channel would soon be dry in the hot sun. But Willie thought how delightful it was to be able to have one there whenever he pleased. And it might be a much bigger brook too, for, instead of using the stone which could but partly block the water from the underground way, he would cut a piece of wood large enough to cover the opening, and rounded a little to fit the side of the well; then he would put the big stone just so far from the opening that the piece of wood could get through between it and the side of the well, and so be held tight. Then all the water would be forced to mount up, get out at the top, and run through the garden.
Meantime Mr Macmichael, having gone to see what course the water had taken, and how it had left the garden, found that, after a very circuitous route, it had run through the hedge into a surface drain in the field, and so down the hill towards the river.
When Willie brought him the jug, he filled it from the well, and carried the water into his surgery. There he put a little of it into several different glasses, and dropping something out of one bottle into one glass, and something out of another bottle into another glass, soon satisfied himself that it contained medicinal salts in considerable quantities. There could be no doubt that Willie had found the Prior’s Well.
“It’s a good thing,” said his father at breakfast, “that you didn’t flood the house, Willie! One turn more and the stream would have been in at the back-door.”
“It wouldn’t have done much harm,” said Willie. “It would have run along the slabs in the passage and out again, for the front door is lower than the back. It would have been such fun!”
“You mischievous little thing!” said his mother, pretending to scold him,–“you don’t think what trouble you would have given Tibby!”
“But wouldn’t it have been fun? And wouldn’t it have been lovely–running through the house all the hot summer day?”
“There may be a difference of opinion about that, Master Willie,” said his mother. “You, for instance, might like to walk through water every time you went from the parlour to the kitchen, but I can’t say I should.”
Curious to know whether the village pump might not be supplied from his well, Mr Macmichael next analysed the water of that also, and satisfied himself that there was no connection between them. Within the next fortnight Willie discovered that as often as the stream ran through the garden, the little brook in which he had set his water-wheel going was nearly dry.
He had soon made a nice little channel for it, so that it should not get into any of the beds. He laid down turf along its banks in some parts, and sowed grass and daisy-seed in others; and when he found a pretty stone or shell, or bit of coloured glass or bright crockery or broken mirror, he would always throw it in, that the water might have the prettier path to run upon. Indeed, he emptied his store of marbles into it. He was not particularly fond of playing with marbles, but he had a great fancy for those of real white marble with lovely red streaks, and had collected some twenty or thirty of them. He kept them in the brook now, instead of in a calico bag.
The summer was a very hot and dry one. More than any of the rest of the gardens in the village, that of The Ruins suffered from such weather; for not only was there a deep gravel-bed under its mould, but a good part of its produce grew on the mounds, which were mostly heaps of stones, and neither gravel nor stones could retain much moisture. Willie watered it a good deal out of the Prior’s Well; but it was hard work, and did not seem to be of much use.
One evening, when he had set the little brook free to run through the garden, and the sun was setting huge and red, with the promise of another glowing day to-morrow, and the air was stifling, and not a breath of wind stirring, so that the flowers hung their heads oppressed, and the leaves and little buttons of fruit on the trees looked ready to shrivel up and drop from the boughs, the thought came to him whether he could not turn the brook into a little Nile, causing it to overflow its banks and enrich the garden. He could not, of course, bring it about in the same way; for the Nile overflows from the quantities of rain up in the far-off mountains, making huge torrents rush into it faster than its channel, through a slow, level country, can carry the water away, so that there is nothing for it but overflow. If, however, he could not make more water run out of the well, he could make it more difficult for what did come from it to get away. First, he stopped up the outlet through the hedge with stones, and clay, and bits of board; then watched as it spread, until he saw where it would try to escape next, and did the same; and so on, taking care especially to keep it from the house. The mounds were a great assistance to him in hemming it in, but he had hard enough work of it notwithstanding; and soon perceived that at one spot it would get the better of him in a few minutes, and make straight for the back-door. He ran at once and opened the sluice in the well, and away the stream gurgled underground.
Before morning the water it left had all disappeared. It had soaked through the mounds, and into the gravel, but comforting the hot roots as it went, and feeding them with dissolved minerals. Doubtless, also, it lay all night in many a little hidden pool, which the heat of the next day’s sun drew up, comforting again, through the roots in the earth, and through the leaves in the air, up into the sky. Willie could not help thinking that the garden looked refreshed; the green was brighter, he thought, and the flowers held up their heads a little better; the carrots looked more feathery, and the ferns more palmy; everything looked, he said, just as he felt after a good drink out of the Prior’s Well. At all events, he resolved to do the same every night after sunset while the hot weather lasted–that was, if his father had no objection.
Mr Macmichael said he might try it, only he must mind and not go to bed and leave the water running, else they would have a cartload of mud in the house before morning.
So Willie strengthened and heightened his barriers, and having built a huge one at the last point where the water had tried to get away, as soon as the sun was down shut the sluice, and watched the water as it surged up in the throat of the well, and rushed out to be caught in the toils he had made for it. Before it could find a fresh place to get out at, the whole upper part of the garden was one network of lakes and islands.
Willie kept walking round and round it, as if it had been a wild beast trying to get out of its cage, and he had to watch and prevent it at every weak spot; or as if he were a magician, busily sustaining the charm by which he confined the gad-about creature. The moment he saw it beginning to get the better of him, he ran to the sluice and banished it to the regions below. Then he fetched an old newspaper, and sitting down on the borders of his lake, fashioned boat after boat out of the paper, and sent them sailing like merchant ships from isle to blooming isle.
Night after night he flooded the garden, and always before morning the water had sunk away through the gravel. Soon there was no longer any doubt that everything was mightily refreshed by it; the look of exhaustion and hopelessness was gone, and life was busy in flower and tree and plant. This year there was not a garden, even on the banks of the river, to compare with it; and when the autumn came, there was more fruit than Mr Macmichael remembered ever to have seen before.
A NEW ALARUM.
Willie was always thinking what uses he could put things to. Only he was never tempted to set a fine thing to do dirty work, as dull-hearted money-grubbers do–mill-owners, for instance, when they make the channel of a lovely mountain-stream serve for a drain to carry off the filth from their works. If Dante had known any such, I know where he would have put them, but I would rather not describe the place. I have told you what Willie made the prisoned stream do for the garden; I will now tell you what he made the running stream do for himself, and you shall judge whether or not that was fit work for him to require of it.
Ever since he had ceased being night-nurse to little Agnes, he had wished that he had some one to wake him every night, about the middle of it, that he might get up and look out of the window. For, after he had fed his baby-sister and given her back to his mother in a state of contentment, before getting into bed again he had always looked out of the window to see what the night was like–not that he was one bit anxious about the weather, except, indeed, he heard his papa getting up to go out, or knew that he had to go; for he could enjoy weather of any sort and all sorts, and never thought what the next day would be like–but just to see what Madame Night was thinking about–how she looked, and what she was doing. For he had soon found her such a changeful creature that, every time he looked at her, she looked at him with another face from that she had worn last time. Before he had made this acquaintance with the night, he would often, ere he fell asleep, lie wondering what he was going to dream about; for, with all his practical tendencies, Willie was very fond of dreaming; but after he had begun in this manner to make acquaintance with her, he would just as often fall asleep wondering what the day would be dreaming about–for, in his own fanciful way of thinking, he had settled that the look of the night was what the day was dreaming. Hence, when Agnes required his services no longer, he fell asleep the first night with the full intention of waking just as before, and getting up to have a peep into the day’s dream, whatever it might be, that night, and every night thereafter. But he was now back in his own room, and there was nothing to wake him, so he slept sound until the day had done dreaming, and the morning was wide awake.
Neither had he awoke any one night since, or seen what marvel there might be beyond his windowpanes.
Does any little boy or girl wonder what there can be going on when we are asleep? Sometimes the stars, sometimes the moon, sometimes the clouds, sometimes the wind, sometimes the snow, sometimes the frost, sometimes all of them together, are busy. Sometimes the owl and the moth and the beetle, and the bat and the cat and the rat, are all at work. Sometimes there are flowers in bloom that love the night better than the day, and are busy all through the darkness pouring out on the still air the scent they withheld during the sunlight. Sometimes the lightning and the thunder, sometimes the moon-rainbow, sometimes the aurora borealis, is busy. And the streams are running all night long, and seem to babble louder than in the day time, for the noises of the working world are still, so that we hear them better. Almost the only daylight thing awake, is the clock ticking with nobody to heed it, and that sounds to me very dismal. But it was the look of the night, the meaning on her face that Willie cared most about, and desired so much to see, that he was at times quite unhappy to think that he never could wake up, not although ever so many strange and lovely dreams might be passing before his window. He often dreamed that he had waked up, and was looking out on some gorgeous and lovely show, but in the morning he knew sorrowfully that he had only dreamed his own dream, not gazed into that of the sleeping day. Again and again he had worked his brains to weariness, trying and trying to invent some machine that should wake him. But although he was older and cleverer now, he fared no better than when he wanted to wake himself to help his mother with Agnes. He must have some motive power before he could do anything, and the clock was still the only power he could think of, and that he was afraid to meddle with, for its works were beyond him, and it was so essential to the well-being of the house that he would not venture putting it in jeopardy.
One day, however, when he was thinking nothing about it, all at once it struck him that he had another motive power at his command, and the thought had hardly entered his mind, before he saw also how it was possible to turn it to account. His motive power was the stream from the Prior’s Well, and the means of using it for his purpose stood on a shelf in the ruins, in the shape of the toy water-wheel which he had laid aside as distressingly useless. He set about the thing at once.
First of all, he made a second bit of channel for the stream, like a little loop to the first, so that he could, when he pleased, turn a part of the water into it, and let it again join the principal channel a little lower down. This was, in fact, his mill-race. Just before it joined the older part again, right opposite his window, he made it run for a little way in a direct line towards the house, and in this part of the new channel he made preparations for his water-wheel. Into the channel he laid a piece of iron pipe, which had been lying about useless for years; and just where the water would issue in a concentrated rush from the lower end of it, he constructed a foundation for his wheel, similar to that Sandy and he had built for it before. The water, as it issued from the pipe, should strike straight upon its floats, and send it whirling round. It took him some time to build it, for he wanted this to be a good and permanent job. He had stones at command: he had a well, he said, that yielded both stones and water, which was more than everybody could say; and in order to make it a sound bit of work, he fetched a lump of quick-lime from the kiln, where they burned quantities of it to scatter over the clay-soil, and first wetting it with water till it fell into powder, and then mixing it with sand which he riddled from the gravel he dug from the garden, he made it into good strong mortar. When its bed was at length made for it, he took the wheel and put in a longer axis, to project on one side beyond the gudgeon-block, or hollow in which it turned; and upon this projecting piece he fixed a large reel. Then, having put the wheel in its place, he asked his father for sixpence, part of which he laid out on a large ball of pack-thread. The outside end of the ball he fastened to the reel, then threw the ball through the open window into his room, and there undid it from the inside end, laying the thread in coils on the floor. When it was time to go to bed, he ran out and turned the water first into the garden, and then into the new channel; when suddenly the wheel began to spin about, and wind the pack-thread on to the reel. He ran to his room, and undressed faster than he had ever done before, tied the other end of the thread around his wrist, and, although kept awake much longer than usual by his excitement, at length fell fast asleep, and dreamed that the thread had waked him, and drawn him to the window, where he saw the water-wheel flashing like a fire-wheel, and the water rushing away from under it in a green flame. When he did wake it was broad day; the coils of pack-thread were lying on the floor scarcely diminished; the brook was singing in the garden, and when he went to the window, he saw the wheel spinning merrily round. He dressed in haste, ran out, and found that the thread had got entangled amongst the bushes on its way to the wheel, and had stuck fast; whereupon the wheel had broken it to get loose, and had been spinning round and round all night for nothing, like the useless thing it was before.
That afternoon he set poles up for guides, along the top of which the thread might run, and so keep clear of the bushes. But he fared no better the next night, for he never waked until the morning, when he found that the wheel stood stock still, for the thread, having filled the reel, had slipped off, and so wound itself about the wheel that it was choked in its many windings. Indeed, the thread was in a wonderful tangle about the whole machine, and it took him a long time to unwind–turning the wheel backwards, so as not to break the thread.
In order to remove the cause of this fresh failure, he went to the turner, whose name was William Burt, and asked him to turn for him a large reel or spool, with deep ends, and small cylinder between. William told him he was very busy just then, but he would fix a suitable piece of wood for him on his old lathe, with which, as he knew him to be a handy boy, he might turn what he wanted for himself. This was his first attempt at the use of the turning-lathe; but he had often watched William at work, and was familiar with the way in which he held his tool. Hence the result was tolerably satisfactory. Long before he had reached the depth of which he wished to make the spool, he had learned to manage his chisel with some nicety. Burt finished it off for him with just a few touches; and, delighted with his acquisition of the rudiments of a new trade, he carried the spool home with him, to try once more the possibility of educating his water-wheel into a watchman.
That night the pull did indeed come, but, alas before he had even fallen asleep.
Something seemed to be always going wrong! He concluded already that it was a difficult thing to make a machine which should do just what the maker wished. The spool had gone flying round, and had swallowed up the thread incredibly fast. He made haste to get the end off his wrist, and saw it fly through the little hole in the window frame, and away after the rest of it, to be wound on the whirling spool.
Disappointing as this was, however, there was progress in it: he had got the thing to work, and all that remained was to regulate it. But this turned out the most difficult part of the affair by far. He saw at once that if he were only to make the thread longer, which was the first mode that suggested itself, he would increase the constant danger there was of its getting fouled, not to mention the awkwardness of using such a quantity of it. If the kitten were to get into the room, for instance, after he had laid it down, she would ruin his every hope for the time being; and in Willie’s eyes sixpence was a huge sum to ask from his father. But if, on the contrary, he could find out any mode of making the machine wind more slowly, he might then be able to shorten instead of lengthening the string.
At length, after much pondering, he came to see that if, instead of the spool, he were to fix on the axis a small cogged wheel–that is, a wheel with teeth–and then make these cogs fit into the cogs of a much larger wheel, the small wheel, which would turn once with every turn of the water-wheel, must turn a great many times before it could turn the big wheel once. Then he must fix the spool on the axis of this great slow wheel, when, turning only as often as the wheel turned, the spool would wind the thread so much the more slowly.
I will not weary my reader with any further detail of Willie’s efforts and failures. It is enough to say that he was at last so entirely successful in timing his machine, for the run of the water was always the same, that he could tell exactly how much thread it would wind in a given time. Having then measured off the thread with a mark of ink for the first hour, two for the second, and so on, he was able to set his alarum according to the time at which he wished to be woke by the pull at his wrist.
But if any one had happened to go into the garden after the household was asleep, and had come upon the toy water-wheel, working away in starlight or moonlight, how little, even if he had caught sight of the nearly invisible thread, and had discovered that the wheel was winding it up, would he have thought what the tiny machine was about! How little would he have thought that its business was with the infinite! that it was in connection with the window of an eternal world–namely, Willie’s soul–from which at a given moment it would lift the curtains, namely, the eyelids, and let the night of the outer world in upon the thought and feeling of the boy! To use a likeness, the wheel was thus ever working to draw up the slide of a _camera obscura_, and let in whatever pictures might be abroad in the dreams of the day, that the watcher within might behold them.
Indeed, one night as he came home from visiting a patient, soon after Willie had at length taught his watchman his duty, Mr Macmichael did come upon the mill, and was just going to turn the water off at the well, which he thought Willie had forgotten to do, when he caught sight of the winding thread–for the moon was full, and the Doctor was sharp-sighted.
“What _can_ this be now?” he said to himself. “Some new freak of Willie’s, of course. Yes; the thread goes right up to his window! I dare say if I were to stop and watch I should see something happen in consequence. But I am too tired, and must go to bed.”
Just as he thought thus with himself, the wheel stopped. The next moment the blind of Willie’s window was drawn up, and there stood Willie, his face and his white gown glimmering in the moonlight. He caught sight of his father, and up went the sash.
“O papa!” he cried; “I didn’t think it was you I was going to see!”
“Who was it then you thought to see?” asked his father.
“Oh, nobody!–only the night herself, and the moon perhaps.”
“What new freak of yours is this, my boy?” said his father, smiling.
“Wait a minute, and I’ll tell you all about it,” answered Willie.
Out he came in his night-shirt, his bare feet dancing with pleasure at having his father for his midnight companion. On the grass, beside the ruins, in the moonlight, by the gurgling water, he told him all about it.
“Yes, my boy; you are right,” said his father. “God never sleeps; and it would be a pity if we never saw Him at his night-work.”
[Illustration: “ON THE GRASS, BESIDE THE RUINS, IN THE MOONLIGHT, WILLIE TOLD HIS FATHER ALL ABOUT IT.”]
SOME OF THE SIGHTS WILLIE SAW.
I fancy some of my readers would like to hear what were some of the scenes Willie saw on such occasions. The little mill went on night after night–almost everynight in the summer, and those nights in the winter when the frost wasn’t so hard that it would have frozen up the machinery. But to attempt to describe the variety of the pictures Willie saw would be an endless labour.
Sometimes, when he looked out, it was a simple, quiet, thoughtful night that met his gaze, without any moon, but as full of stars as it could hold, all flashing and trembling through the dew that was slowly sinking down the air to settle upon the earth and its thousand living things below. On such a night Willie never went to bed again without wishing to be pure in heart, that he might one day see the God whose thought had taken the shape of such a lovely night. For although he could not have expressed himself thus at that time, he felt that it must be God’s thinking that put it all there.
Other times, the stars would be half blotted out–all over the heavens–not with mist, but with the light of the moon. Oh, how lovely she was!–so calm! so all alone in the midst of the great blue ocean! the sun of the night! She seemed to hold up the tent of the heavens in a great silver knot. And, like the stars above, all the flowers below had lost their colour and looked pale and wan, sweet and sad. It was just like what the schoolmaster had been telling him about the Elysium of the Greek and Latin poets, to which they fancied the good people went when they died–not half so glad and bright and busy as the daylight world which they had left behind them, and to which they always wanted to go back that they might eat and drink and be merry again–but oh, so tender and lovely in its mournfulness!
Several times in winter, looking out, he saw a strange sight–the air so full of great snowflakes that he could not see the moon through them, although her light was visible all about them. They came floating slowly down through the dusky light, just as if they had been a precipitate from that solution of moonbeams. He could hardly persuade himself to go to bed, so fascinating was the sight; but the cold would drive him to his nest again.
Once the wheel-watchman pulled him up in the midst of a terrible thunder-storm–when the East and the West were answering each other with alternate flashes of forked lightning that seemed to split the black clouds with cracks of blinding blue, awful in their blasting silence–followed by great, billowy, shattering rolls of thunder, as loud as if the sky had been a huge kettledrum, on which the clubs of giant drummers were beating a terrible onset; while at sudden intervals, down came the big-dropped rain, pattering to the earth as if beaten out of the clouds by the blows of the thunder. But Willie was not frightened, though the lightning blinded and the thunder deafened him–not frightened any more than the tiniest flower in the garden below, which, if she could have thought about it, would have thought it all being done only that she might feel cooler and stronger, and be able to hold up her head better.
And once he saw a glorious dance of the aurora borealis–in all the colours of a faint rainbow. The frosty snow sparkled underneath, and the cold stars of winter sparkled above, and between the snow and the stars, shimmered and shifted, vanished and came again, a serried host of spears. Willie had been reading the “Paradise Lost,” and the part which pleased him, boy-like, the most, was the wars of the angels in the sixth book. Hence it came that the aurora looked to him like the crowding of innumerable spears–in the hands of angels, themselves invisible–clashed together and shaken asunder, however, as in the convolutions of a mazy dance of victory, rather than brandished and hurtled as in the tumult of the battle.
Another vision that would greatly delight him was a far more common one: the moon wading through clouds blown slowly across the sky–especially if by an upper wind, unfelt below. Now she would be sinking helpless in a black faint–growing more and more dim, until at last she disappeared from the night–was blotted from the face of nature, leaving only a dim memorial light behind her; now her soul would come into her again, and she was there once more–doubtful indeed: but with a slow, solemn revival, her light would grow and grow, until the last fringe of the great cloud swung away from off her face, and she dawned out stately and glorious, to float for a space in queenly triumph across a lake of clearest blue. And Willie was philosopher enough to say to himself, that all this fainting and reviving, all this defeat and conquest, were but appearances; that the moon was her own bright self all the time, basking contented in the light of her sun, between whom and her the cloud could not creep, only between her and Willie.
But what delighted him most of all was to catch the moon dreaming. That was when the old moon, tumbled over on her back, would come floating up the east, like a little boat on the rising tide of the night, looking lost on the infinite sea! Dreaming she must be surely!–she looked nothing but dreaming; for she seemed to care about nothing–not even that she was old and worn, and withered and dying,–not even that, instead of sinking down in the west, into some deep bed of dim repose, she was drifting, haggard and battered, untidy and weak and sleepy, up and up into the dazzling halls of the sun. Did she know that his light would clothe her as with a garment, and hide her in the highest recesses of his light-filled ceiling? or was it only that she was dreaming, dreaming–sweet, cool, tender dreams of her own, and neither knew nor cared about anything around her? What a strange look all the night wore while the tired old moon was thus dreaming of the time when she would come again, back through the vanishing and the darkness–a single curved thread of a baby moon, to grow and grow to a great full-grown lady moon, able to cross with fearless gaze the gulf of the vaulted heavens–alone, with neither sleep nor dreams to protect her!
There were many other nights, far more commonplace, which yet Willie liked well to look out upon, but which could not keep him long from his bed. There was, for instance, the moonless and cloudy night, when, if he had been able to pierce the darkness to the core, he would have found nothing but blackness. It had a power of its own, but one cannot say it had much to look at. On such a night he would say to himself that the day was so sound asleep he was dreaming of nothing at all, and make haste to his nest. Then again there was the cold night of black frost, when there was cloud enough to hide the stars and the moon, and yet a little light came soaking through, enough to reveal how hopeless and dreary the earth was. For in such nights of cold, when there is no snow to cover them, the flowers that have crept into their roots to hide from the winter are not even able to dream of the spring;–they grow quite stupid and benumbed, and sleep outright like a polar bear or a dormouse. He never could look long at such a night.
Neither did he care to look long when a loud wind was out–except the moon was bright; for the most he could distinguish was the trees blowing against the sky, and they always seemed not to like it, and to want to stop. And if the big strong trees did not like it, how could the poor little delicate flowers, shivering and shaking and tossed to and fro? If he could have seen the wind itself, it would have been a different thing; but as it was, he could enjoy it more by lying in bed and listening to it. Then as he listened he could fancy himself floating out through miles and miles of night and wind, and moon-and-star-light, or moony snowflakes, or even thick darkness and rain; until, falling asleep in the middle of his fancy, it would thicken around him into a dream of delight.
Once there was to be an eclipse of the moon about two o’clock in the morning.
“It’s a pity it’s so late, or rather so early,” said Mr Macmichael. “You, Willie, won’t be able to see it.”
“Oh, yes, I shall, father,” answered Willie.
“I can’t let you sit up so late. I shall be in the middle of Sedgy Moor most likely when it begins–and who is to wake you? I won’t have your mother disturbed, and Tibby’s not much to depend upon. She’s too hard-worked to wake when she likes, poor old thing.”
“Oh, I can be woke without anybody to do it!” said Willie.
“You don’t mean you can depend on your water-wheel to wake you at the right time, do you?”
“Yes, I do, father. If you will tell me exactly when the eclipse is going to begin, I will set my wakener so that it shall wake me a quarter-of-an-hour before, that I may be sure of seeing the very first of it.”
“Well, it will be worth something to you, if it can do that!” said Mr Macmichael.
“It’s been worth a great deal to me, already,” said Willie. “It would have shown me an eclipse before now, only there hasn’t been one since I set it going.”
And wake him it did. While his father was riding across the moor, in the strange hush of the blotted moon, Willie was out in the garden beside his motionless wheel, watching the fell shadow of the earth passing over the blessed face of the moon, and leaving her pure and clear, and nothing the worse.
A NEW SCHEME.
I have said that Willie’s father and mother used to talk without restraint in his presence. They had no fear of Willie’s committing an indiscretion by repeating what he heard. One day at dinner the following conversation took place between them.
“I’ve had a letter from my mother, John,” said Mrs Macmichael to her husband. “It’s wonderful how well she manages to write, when she sees so badly.”
“She might see well enough–at least a great deal better–if she would submit to an operation, said the doctor.
“At _her_ age, John!” returned his wife in an expostulatory tone. “Do you really think it worth while–for the few years that are left her?”
“Worth while to see well for a few years!” exclaimed the doctor. “Indeed, I do.”
“But there’s another thing I want to talk to you about now,” said Mrs Macmichael. “Since old Ann’s death, six months ago, she says she has been miserable, and if she goes on like this, it will shorten the few days that are left her. Effie, the only endurable servant she has had since Ann, is going to leave at the end of her half-year, and she says the thought of another makes her wretched. She may be a little hard to please, but after being used to one for so many years, it is no wonder if she be particular. I don’t know what is to be done.”
“I don’t know, either–except you make her a present of Tibby,” said her husband.
“John!” exclaimed Mrs Macmichael; and “John” burst out laughing.
“You don’t think they’d pull together?” he said.
“Two old people–each with her own ways, and without any memories in common to bind them together! I’m surprised at your dreaming of such a thing,” exclaimed his wife.
“But I didn’t even dream of it; I only said it,” returned her husband. “It’s time you knew when I was joking, wifie.”
“You joke so dreadfully like earnest!” she answered.
“If only we had one more room in the house!” said the doctor, thoughtfully.
“Ah!” returned his wife, eagerly, “that would be a blessing! And though Tibby would be a thorn in every inch of grandmamma’s body, if they were alone together, I have no doubt they would get on very well with me between them.”
“I don’t doubt it,” said her husband, still thoughtfully.
“Couldn’t we manage it somehow, John?” said Mrs Macmichael, half timidly, after a pause of some duration.
“I can’t say I see how–at this moment,” answered the doctor, “much as I should like it. But there’s time yet, and we’ll think it over, and talk about it, and perhaps we may hit upon some plan or other. Most things _may_ be done; and everything necessary _can_ be done _some_how. So we won’t bother our minds about it, but only our brains, and see what they can do for us.”
With this he rose and went to his laboratory.
Willie rose also and went straight to his own room. Having looked all round it thoughtfully several times, he went out again on the landing, whence a ladder led up into a garret running the whole length of the roof of the cottage.
“My room would do for grannie,” he said to himself; “and I could sleep up there. A shake-down in the corner would do well enough for me.”
He climbed the ladder, pushed open the trap-door, crept half through, and surveyed the gloomy place.
“There’s no window but a skylight!” he said; and his eyes smarted as if the tears were about to rush into them. “What _shall_ I do? Wheelie will be useless!–Well, I can’t help it; and if I can’t help it, I can bear it. To have grannie comfortable will be better than to look out of the window ever so much.”
He drew in his head, came down the ladder with a rush, and hurried off to school.
At supper he laid his scheme before his father and mother.
They looked very much pleased with their boy. But his father said at once–
“No, no, Willie. It won’t do. I’m glad you’ve been the first to think of something–only, unfortunately, your plan won’t work. You can’t sleep there.”
“I’ll engage to sleep wherever there’s room to lie down; and if there isn’t I’ll engage to sleep sitting or standing,” said Willie, whose mother had often said she wished she could sleep like Willie. “And as I don’t walk in my sleep,” he added, “the trap-door needn’t be shut.”
“Mice, Willie!” said his mother, in a tone of much significance.
“The cat and I are good friends,” returned Willie. “She’ll be pleased enough to sleep with me.”
“You don’t hit the thing at all,” said his father. “I wonder a practical man like you, Willie, doesn’t see it at once. Even if I were at the expense of ceiling the whole roof with lath and plaster, we should find you, some morning in summer, baked black as a coal; or else, some morning in winter frozen so stiff that, when we tried to lift you, your arm snapped off like a dry twig of elder.”
“Ho! ho! ho!” laughed Willie; “then there would be the more room for grannie.”
His father laughed with him, but his mother looked a little shocked.
“No, Willie,” said his father again; “you must make another attempt. You must say with Hamlet when he was puzzled for a plan–‘About my brains!’ Perhaps they will suggest something wiser next time.”
Willie lay so long awake that night, thinking, that _Wheelie_ pulled him before he had had a wink of sleep. He got up, of course, and looked from the window.
The day was dreaming grandly. The sky was pretty clear in front, and full of sparkles of light, for the stars were kept in the background by the moon, which was down a little towards the west. She had sunk below the top of a huge towering cloud, the edges of whose jags and pinnacles she bordered with a line of silvery light. Now this cloud rose into the sky from just behind the ruins, and looking a good deal like upheaved towers and spires, made Willie think within himself what a grand place the priory must have been, when its roofs and turrets rose up into the sky.
“They say a lot of people lived in it then!” he thought with himself as he stood gazing at the cloud.
Suddenly he gave a great jump, and clapped his hands so loud that he woke his father.
“Is anything the matter, my boy?” he asked, opening Willie’s door, and peeping in.
“No, papa, nothing,” answered Willie. “Only something that came into my head with a great bounce!”
“Ah!–Where did it come from, Willie?”
“Out of that cloud there. Isn’t it a grand one?”
“Grand enough certainly to put many thoughts into a body’s head, Willie. What did it put into yours?”
“Please, I would rather not tell just yet,” answered Willie, “–if you don’t mind, father.”
“Not a bit, my boy. Tell me just when you please, or don’t tell me at all. I should like to hear it, but only at your pleasure, Willie.”
“Thank you, father. I do want to tell you, you know, but not just yet.”
“Very well, my boy. Now go to bed, and sleep may better the thought before the morning.”
Willie soon fell asleep now, for he believed he had found what he wanted.
He was up earlier than usual the next morning, and out in the garden.
“Surely,” he said to himself, “those ruins, which once held so many monks, might manage even yet to find room for me!”
He went wandering about amongst them, like an undecided young bird looking for the very best possible spot to build its nest in. The spot Willie sought was that which would require the least labour and least material to make it into a room.
Before he heard the voice of Tibby, calling him to come to his porridge, he had fixed upon one; and in the following chapter I will tell you what led him to choose it. All the time between morning and afternoon school, he spent in the same place; and when he came home in the evening, he was accompanied by Mr Spelman, who went with him straight to the ruins. There they were a good while together; and when Willie at length came in, his mother saw that his face was more than usually radiant, and was certain he had some new scheme or other in his head.
WILLIE’S NEST IN THE RUINS.
The spot he had fixed upon was in the part of the ruins next the cottage, not many yards from the back door of it. I have said there were still a few vaulted places on the ground-level used by the family. The vault over the wood-house was perfectly sound and weather-tight, and, therefore, as Willie and the carpenter agreed, quite safe to roost upon. In a corner outside, and now open to the elements, had once been a small winding stone stair, which led to the room above, on the few broken fragments of which, projecting from the two sides of the corner, it was just possible to climb, and so reach the top of the vault. Willie had often got up to look out through a small, flat-arched window into the garden of the manse. When Mr Shepherd, the clergyman, who often walked in his garden, caught sight of him, he always came nearer, and had a chat with him; for he did not mind such people as Willie looking into his garden, and seeing what he was about. Sometimes also little Mona, a girl of his own age, would be running about; and she also, if she caught sight of Willie, was sure to come hopping and skipping like a bird to have a talk with him, and beg him to take her up, which, he as often assured her, was all but impossible. To this place Mr Spelman and Willie climbed, and there held consultation whether and how it could be made habitable. The main difficulty was, how to cover it in; for although the walls were quite sound a long way up, it lay open to the sky. But about ten feet over their heads they saw the opposing holes in two of the walls where the joists formerly sustaining the floor of the chamber above had rested; and Mr Spelman thought that, without any very large outlay either of time or material, he could there lay a floor, as it were, and then turn it into a roof by covering it with cement, or pitch, or something of the sort, concerning which he would take counsel with his friend Mortimer, the mason.
“But,” said Willie, “that would turn it into the bottom of a cistern; for the walls above would hold the rain in, and what would happen then? Either it must gather till it reached the top, or the weight of it would burst the walls, or perhaps break through my roof and drown me.”
“It is easy to avoid that,” said Mr Spelman. “We have only to lay on the cement a little thicker at one side, and slope the surface down to the other, where a hole through the wall, with a pipe in it, would let the water off.”
“I know!” cried Willie. “That’s what they called a gurgoyle!”
“I don’t know anything about that,” said the carpenter; “I know it will carry off the water.”
“To be sure,” said Willie. “It’s capital.”
“But,” said Mr Spelman, “it’s rather too serious a job this to set about before asking the doctor’s leave. It will cost money.”
“Much?” asked Willie, whose heart sank within him.
“Well, that depends on what you count much,” answered Spelman. “All I can say is, it wouldn’t be anything out of your father’s pocket.”
“I don’t see how that can be,” said Willie. “–Cost money, and yet be nothing out of my father’s pocket! _I’ve_ only got threepence ha’-penny.”
“Your father and I will talk about it,” said the carpenter mysteriously, and offered no further information.
“There seems to be always some way of doing a thing,” thought Willie to himself.
He little knew by what a roundabout succession of cause and effect his father’s kindness to Spelman was at this moment returning to him, one of the links of connection being this project of Willie’s own.
The doctor being out at the time, the carpenter called again later in the evening; and they had a long talk together–to the following effect.
Spelman having set forth his scheme, and the doctor having listened in silence until he had finished–
“But,” said Mr Macmichael, “that will cost a good deal, I fear, and I have no money to spare.”
“Mr Macmichael,” said Spelman solemnly, his long face looking as if some awful doom were about to issue from the middle of it, “you forget how much I am in your debt.”
“No, I don’t,” returned the doctor. “But neither do I forget that it takes all your time and labour to provide for your family; and what will become of them if you set about this job, with no return in prospect but the satisfaction of clearing off of an old debt?”
“It is very good of you, sir, to think of that,” said the carpenter; “but, begging your pardon, I’ve thought of it too. Many’s the time you’ve come after what I’d ha’ called work hours to see my wife–yes, in the middle of the night, more than once or twice; and why shouldn’t I do the same? Look ye here, sir. If you’re not in a main hurry, an’ ‘ll give me time, I’ll do the heavy work o’ this job after six o’clock o’ the summer nights, with Sandy to help me, and I’ll charge you no more than a journeyman’s wages by the hour. And what Willie and Sandy can do by themselves–he’s a clever boy Sandy; but he’s a genius Willie–what they can do by themselves, and that’s not a little, is nothing to me. And if you’ll have the goodness, when I give you the honest time, at fourpence ha’penny an hour, just to strike that much off my bill, I’ll be more obliged to you than I am now. Only I fear I must make you pay for the material–not a farthing more than it costs me at the saw-mills, up at the Grange, for the carriage ‘ll come in with other lots I _must_ have.”
“It’s a generous offer, Spelman,” said the doctor, “and I accept it heartily, though you are turning the tables of obligation upon me. You’ll have done far more for me than I ever did for you.”
“I wish that were like to be true, sir, but it isn’t. My wife’s not a giantess yet, for all you’ve done for her.”
Spelman set to work at once. New joists were inserted in the old walls, boarded over, and covered, after the advice of Mortimer, with some cunning mixture to keep out the water. Then a pipe was put through the wall to carry it off–which pipe, if it was not masked with an awful head, as the remains of more than one on the Priory showed it would have been in the days of the monks, yet did it work as faithfully without it.
When it came to the plastering of the walls, Mr Spelman, after giving them full directions, left the two boys to do that between them. Although there was no occasion to roughen these walls by clearing away the old mortar from between the stones, the weather having done that quite sufficiently, and all the preparation they wanted for the first thin coat was to be well washed down, it took them a good many days, working all their time, to lay on the orthodox three coats of plaster. Mr Spelman had wisely boarded the ceiling, so that they had not to plaster that.
Meantime he was preparing a door and window-frames in the shop. The room had probably been one of the prior’s, for it was much too large and lofty for a mere cell, and had two windows. But these were fortunately small, not like the splendid ones in the chapel and refectory, else they would have been hard to fill with glass.
“I’m afraid you’ll be starved with cold, Willie,” said his father one day, after watching the boys at work for a few minutes. “There’s no fireplace.”
“Oh! that doesn’t signify,” answered Willie. “Look how thick the walls are! and I shall have plenty of blankets on my bed. Besides, we can easily put a little stove in, if it’s wanted.”
But when the windows were fitted and fixed, Mr Macmichael saw to his dismay that they were not made to open. They had not even a pane on hinges.
“This’ll never do, Willie,” he said. “This is far worse than no chimney.”
Willie took his father by the coat, and led him to a corner, where a hole went right through the wall into another room–if that can be called a room which had neither floor nor ceiling.
“There, father!” he said; “I am going to fit a slide over this hole, and then I can let in just as much or as little air as I please.”
“It would have been better to have one at least of the windows made to open. You will only get the air from the ruins that way, whereas you might have had all the scents of Mr Shepherd’s wallflowers and roses.”
“As soon as Mr Spelman has done with the job,” said Willie, “I will make them both to come wide open on hinges; but I don’t want to bother him about it, for he has been very kind, and I can do it quite well myself.”
This satisfied his father.
At length the floor was boarded; a strong thick door was fitted tight; a winding stair of deal inserted where the stone one had been, and cased in with planks, well pitched on the outside; and now Willie’s mother was busy making little muslin curtains for his windows, and a carpet for the middle of the room.
In the meantime, his father and mother had both written to his grandmother, telling her how Willie had been using his powers both of invention and of labour to make room for her, and urging her to come and live with them, for they were all anxious to have her to take care of. But, in fact, small persuasion was necessary, for the old lady was only too glad to accept the invitation; and before the warm weather of autumn was over, she was ready to go to them. By this time Willie’s room was furnished. All the things from his former nest had been moved into it; the bed with the chintz curtains, covered with strange flowers and birds; the old bureau, with the many drawers inside the folding cover, in which he kept all his little treasures; the table at which he read books that were too big to hold, such as Raleigh’s History of the World and Josephus; the old oblong mirror that hung on the wall, with an outspread gilt eagle at the top of it; the big old arm-chair that had belonged to his great-grandfather, who wrote his sermons in it–for all the things the boy had about him were old, and in all his after-life he never could bear new furniture. And now his grandmother’s furniture began to appear; and a great cart-load of it from her best bedroom was speedily arranged in Willie’s late quarters, and as soon as they were ready for her, Mrs Macmichael set out in a post-chaise to fetch her mother.
Willie was in a state of excitement until she arrived, looking for her as eagerly as if she had been a young princess. So few were the opportunities of travelling between Priory Leas and the town where his grandmother lived, that he had never seen her, and curiosity had its influence as well as affection. Great, therefore, was his delight when at last the chaise came round the corner of the street, and began to draw up in order to halt at their door. The first thing he caught sight of was a curious bonnet, like a black coal-scuttle upside down, inside which, when it turned its front towards him, he saw a close-fitting widow’s cap, and inside that a kind old face, and if he could have looked still further, he would have seen a kind young soul inside the kind old face. She smiled sweetly when she saw him, but was too tired to take any further notice of him until she had had tea.
During that meal Willie devoted himself to a silent waiting upon her, watching and trying to anticipate her every want. When she had eaten a little bread and butter and an egg, and drunk two cups of tea, she lay back in her own easy chair, which had been placed for her by the side of the parlour fire, and fell fast asleep for ten minutes, breathing so gently that Willie got frightened, and thought she was dead. But all at once she opened her eyes wide, and made a sign to him to come to her.
“Sit down there,” she said, pushing a little footstool towards him.
Willie obeyed, and sat looking up in her face.
“So,” she said, “you’re the little man that can do everything?”
“No, grannie,” answered Willie, laughing. “I wish I could; but I am only learning to do a few things; and there’s not one of them I can do right yet.”
“Do you know what they call you?”
“The boys at school call me Six-fingered Jack,” said Willie.
“There!” said his grandmother. “I told you so.”
“I’m glad it’s only a nickname, grannie; but if it weren’t, it would soon be one, for I’m certain the finger that came after the little one would be so much in the way it would soon get cut off.”
“Anyhow, supposing you only half as clever a fellow as you pass for, I want to try you. Have you any objection to service? I should like to hire you for my servant–my own special servant, you understand.”
“All right, grannie; here I am!” cried Willie, jumping up. “What shall I do first?”
“Sit down again instantly, and wait till we’ve finished the bargain. I must first have you understand that though I don’t want to be hard upon you, you must come when I call you, and do what I tell you.”
“Of course, grannie. Only I can’t when I’m at school, you know.”
“I don’t want to be told that. And I’m not going to be a tyrant. But I had no idea you were such a silly! For all your cleverness, you’ve positively never asked me what wages I would give you.”
“Oh! I don’t want any wages, grannie. I _like_ to do things for people; and you’re my very own grandmother, besides, you know.”
“Well, I suppose I must settle your wages for you. I mean to pay you by the job. It’s an odd arrangement for a servant, but it will suit me best. And as you don’t ask any, I needn’t pay you more than I like myself.”
“Certainly not, grannie. I’m quite satisfied.”
“Meantime, no engagement of a servant ought to be counted complete without earnest.”
“I’m quite in earnest, grannie,” said Willie, who did not know the meaning of the word as his new mistress used it. They all laughed.
“I don’t see what’s funny,” said Willie, laughing too, however.
But when they explained to him what _earnest_ meant, then he laughed with understanding, as well as with good will.
“So,” his grandmother went on, “I will give you earnest, which, you know, binds you my servant. But for how long, Willie?”
“Till you’re tired of me, grannie. Only, you know, I’m papa and mamma’s servant first, and you may have to arrange with them sometimes; for what should I do if you were all to want me at once?”
“We’ll easily manage that. I’ll arrange with them, as you say. And now, here’s your earnest.”
As she spoke, she put into his hand what Willie took to be a shilling. But when he glanced at it, he found himself mistaken.
“Thank you, grannie,” he said, trying not to show himself a little disappointed, for he had had another scheme in his head some days, and the shilling would have been everything towards that.
“Do you know what grannie has given you, Willie?” said his mother.
“Yes, mother–such a pretty brass medal!”
“Show it me, dear. Why, Willie! it’s no brass medal, child;–it’s a sovereign!”
“No-o-o-o! Is it? O grannie!” he cried, and went dancing about the room, as if he would actually fly with delight.
Willie had never seen a sovereign, for that part of the country was then like Holland–you never saw gold money there. To get it for him, his grandmother had had to send to the bank in the county town.
After this she would often give him sixpence or a shilling, and sometimes even a half-crown when she asked him to do anything she thought a little harder than usual; so that Willie had now plenty of money with which to carry out his little plans. When remonstrated with by her daughter for giving him so much, his grandmother would say–
“Look how the boy spends it!–always _doing_ something with it! He never wastes it on sweets–not he!–My Willie’s above that!”
The old lady generally spoke of him as if she were the chief if not the sole proprietor of the boy.
“I’m sure I couldn’t do better with it,” she would add; “and that you’ll see when he comes to be a man. He’ll be the making of you all.”
“But, mother, you can’t afford it.”
“How do you know that? I can afford it very well. I’ve no house-rent to pay; and I am certain it is the very best return I can make you for your kindness. What I do for Willie will prove to have been done for us all.”
Certainly Willie’s grandmother showed herself a very wise old lady. The wisest old ladies are always those with young souls looking out of their eyes. And few things pleased Willie more than waiting upon her. He had a passion for being useful, and as his grandmother needed his help more than any one else, her presence in the house was an endless source of pleasure to him.
But his father grew anxious. He did not like her giving Willie so much money–not that he minded Willie having or spending the money, for he believed that the spending would keep the having from hurting him; but he feared lest through her gifts the purity of the boy’s love for his grandmother might be injured, and the service which at first had looked only to her as its end might degenerate into a mere serving of her for the sake of her shillings.
He had, therefore, a long talk with her about it. She was indignant at the notion of the least danger of spoiling Willie, but so anxious to prove there was none that she agreed to the test proposed by his father–which was, to drop all money transactions between them for a few months, giving Willie no reason for the change. Grannie, however, being in word and manner, if possible, still kinder to him than ever–and no wonder, seeing she could no more, for the present, let her love out at her pocket-hole–and Willie having, therefore, no anxiety lest he should have displeased her, he soon ceased to think even of the change; except, indeed, sometimes when he wanted a little money very much, and then he would say to himself that he was afraid poor grannie had been too liberal at first, and had spent all her money upon him; therefore he must try to be the more attentive to her now. So the result was satisfactory; and the more so that, for all her boasting, his grandmother had not been able to help trembling a little, half with annoyance, half with anxiety, as she let the first few of his services pass without the customary acknowledgment.
“There!” she said one day, at length, triumphantly, to Mr Macmichael; “what do you think of my Willie now? Three months over and gone, and where are your fears? I hope you will trust my judgment a little better after this.”
“I’m very glad, anyhow, you put him to the trial,” said his father. “It will do him good.”
“He wants less of that than most people, Mr Macmichael–present company _not_ excepted,” said the old lady, rather nettled, but pretending to be more so than she really was.
The first thing Willie did, after getting his room all to himself, was to put hinges on the windows and make them open, so satisfying his father as to the airiness of the room. Finding himself then, as it were, in a house of his own, he began to ask his friends in the village to come and see him in his new quarters. The first who did so was Mrs Wilson, and Mr Spelman followed. Hector Macallaster was unwell, and it was a month before he was able to go; but the first day he could he crawled up the hill to the Ruins, and then up the little winding stair to Willie’s nest. The boy was delighted to see him, made him sit in his great arm-chair, and, as the poor man was very tired with the exertion, would have run to the house to get him something; but Hector begged for a little water, and declared he could take nothing else. Therefore Willie got a tumbler from his dressing-table, and went to the other side of the room. Hector, hearing a splashing and rushing, turned round to look, and saw him with one hand in a small wooden trough that ran along the wall, and with the other holding the tumbler in a stream of water that fell from the side of the trough into his bath. When the tumbler was full, he removed his hand from the trough, and the water ceased to overflow. He carried the tumbler to Hector, who drank, and said the water was delicious.
Hector could not imagine how the running water had got there, and Willie had to tell him what I am now going to tell my reader. His grandmother’s sovereign and his own hydraulics had brought it there.
He had been thinking for some time what a pleasure it would be to have a stream running through his room, and how much labour it would save poor old Tibbie; for it was no light matter for her old limbs to carry all the water for his bath up that steep narrow winding stair to his room. He reasoned that as the well rose and overflowed when its outlet was stopped, it might rise yet farther if it were still confined; for its source was probably in the heart of one of the surrounding hills, and water when confined will always rise as high as its source. Therefore, after much meditation as to how it could be accomplished in the simplest and least expensive manner, he set about it as follows.
First of all he cleared away the floor about the well, and built up the circular wall of it a foot or two higher, with stones picked from those lying about, and with mortar which he made himself. By means of a spirit-level, he laid the top layer of stones quite horizontal; and he introduced into it several blocks of wood instead of stones.
Next he made a small wooden frame, which, by driving spikes between the stones, he fastened to the opening of the underground passage, so that a well-fitting piece of board could move up and down in it, by means of a projecting handle, and be a more manageable sluice than he had hitherto had.
Then he made a strong wooden lid to the mouth of the well, and screwed it down to the wooden blocks he had built in. Through a hole in it, just large enough, came the handle of the sluice.
Next, in the middle of the cover, he made a hole with a brace and centre-bit, and into it drove the end of a strong iron pipe, fitting tight, and long enough to reach almost to the top of the vault. As soon as this was fixed he shut down the sluice, and in a few seconds the water was falling in sheets upon him, and flooding the floor, dashed back from the vault, against which it rushed from the top of the pipe. This was enough for the present; he raised the sluice and let the water escape again below. It was plain, from the force with which the water struck the vault, that it would yet rise much higher.
He scrambled now on the top of the vault, and, examining the ruins, soon saw how a pipe brought up through the breach in the vault could be led to the hole in the wall of his room which he had shown his father as a ventilator. But he would not have a close pipe running through his room. There would be little good in that. He could have made a hole in it, with a stopper, to let the water out when he wanted to use it, but that would be awkward, while all the pleasure lay in seeing the water as it ran. Therefore he got Mr Spelman to find him a long small pine tree, which he first sawed in two, lengthways, and hollowed into two troughs; then, by laying the small end of one into the wide end of the other, he had a spout long enough to reach across the room, and go through the wall on both sides.
The chief difficulty was to pierce the other wall, for the mortar was very hard. The stones, however, just there were not very large, and, with Sandy’s help, he managed it.
The large end of one trough was put through the ventilator-hole, and the small end of the other through the hole opposite; their second ends met in the middle, the one lying into the other, and were supported at the juncture by a prop.
They filled up the two openings round the ends with lime and small stones, making them as tidy as they could, and fitting small slides by which Willie could close up the passages for the water when he pleased. Nothing remained but to solder a lead pipe into the top of the iron one, guide this flexible tube across the ups and downs of the ruins, and lay the end of it into the trough.
At length Willie took his stand at the sluice, and told Sandy to scramble up to the end of the lead pipe, and shout when the water began to pour into the trough. His object was to find how far the sluice required to be shut down in order to send up just as much water as the pipe could deliver. More than that would cause a pressure which might strain, and perhaps burst, their apparatus.
He pushed the sluice down a little, and waited a moment.
“Is it coming yet, Sandy?” he cried.
“Not a drop,” shouted Sandy.
Willie pushed it a little further, and then knew by the change in the gurgle below that the water was rising in the well; and it soon began to spout from the hole in the cover through which the sluice-handle came up.
“It’s coming,” cried Sandy, after a pause; “not much, though.”
Down went the sluice a little further still.
“It’s pouring,” echoed the voice of Sandy amongst the ruins; “as much as ever the pipe can give. Its mouth is quite full.”
Willie raised the sluice a little.
“How is it now?” he bawled.
“Less,” cried Sandy.
So Willie pushed it back to where it had been last, and made a notch in the handle to know the right place again.
So the water from the Prior’s Well went careering through Willie’s bed-chamber, a story high. When he wanted to fill his bath, he had only to stop the run with his hand, and it poured over the sides into it; so that Tibbie was to be henceforth relieved of a great labour, while Willie’s eyes were to be delighted with the vision, and his ears with the sounds of the water scampering through his room.
An hour or so after, as he was finishing off something about the mouth of the well, he heard his father calling him.
“Willie, Willie,” he shouted, “is this any more of your kelpie work?”
“What is it, father?” cried Willie, as he came bounding to him.
He needed no reply when he saw a great pool of water about the back door, fed by a small stream from the direction of the woodhouse. Tibbie had come out, and was looking on in dismay.
“That’s Willie again, sir,” she was saying. “You never can tell where he’ll be spouting that weary water at you.”
[Illustration: TIBBIE, LOOKING ON IN DISMAY, SAID, “THAT’S WILLIE AGAIN.”]
The whole place’ll be bog before long, and we’ll be all turned into frogs, and have nothing to do but croak. That well ‘ll be the ruin of us all with cold and coughs.”
“You’ll be glad enough of it to-night, Tibbie,” said Willie, laughing prophetically.
“A likely story!” she returned, quite cross. “It’ll be into the house if you don’t stop it.”
“I’ll soon do that,” said Willie.
Neither he nor Sandy had thought what would become of the water after it had traversed the chamber. There it was pouring down from the end of the wooden spout, just clearing the tarred roof of the spiral stair, and plashing on the ground close to the foot of it; in their eagerness they had never thought of where it would run to next. And now Willie was puzzled. Nothing was easier than to stop it for the present, which of course he ran at once to do; but where was he to send it?
Thinking over it, however, he remembered that just on the other side of the wall was the stable where his father’s horses lived, close to the parson’s garden; and in the corner, at the foot of the wall, was a drain; so that all he had to do was to fit another spout to this, at right angles to it, and carry it over the wall.
“You needn’t take any water up for me tonight, Tibby,” he said, as he went in to supper, for he had already filled his bath.
“Nonsense, Willie,” returned Tibbie, still out of temper because of the mess at the door. “Your papa says you must have your bath, and my poor old bones must ache for ‘t.”
“The bath’s filled already. If you put in one other pailful, it’ll run over when I get into it.”
“Now, don’t you play tricks with _me_, Willie. I won’t have any more of your joking,” returned Tibbie.
Nettled at the way she took the information with which he had hoped to please her, he left her to carry up her pail of water; but it was the last, and she thanked him very kindly the next day.
The only remaining question was how to get rid of the bath-water. But he soon contrived a sink on the top step of the stair outside the door, which was a little higher than the wall of the stable-yard. From there a short pipe was sufficient to carry that water also over into the drain.
I may mention, that although a severe winter followed, the Prior’s Well never froze; and that, as they were always either empty, or full of _running_ water, the pipes never froze, and consequently never burst.
HECTOR HINTS AT A DISCOVERY.
The next day after Hector’s visit, Willie went to see how he was, and found him better.
“I certainly am better,” he said, “and what’s more, I’ve got a strange feeling it was that drink of water you gave me yesterday that has done it. I’m coming up to have some more of it in the evening, if you’ll give it me.”
“As much of it as _you_ can drink, Hector, anyhow,” said Willie. “You won’t drink _my_ cow dry.”
“I wonder if it could be the water,” said Hector, musingly.
“My father says people used to think it cured them. That was some hundreds of years ago; but if it did so then, I don’t see why it shouldn’t now. My mother is certainly better, but whether that began since we found the well, I can’t be very sure. For Tibbie–she is always drinking at it, she says it does her a world of good.”
“I’ve read somewhere,” said the shoemaker, “that wherever there’s a hurt there’s a help; and when I was a boy, and stung myself with a nettle, I never had far to look for a dock-stalk with its juice. Who knows but the Prior’s Well may be the cure for me? It can’t straighten my back, I know, but it may make me stronger for all that, and fitter for the general business.”
“I will lay down a pipe for you, if you like, Hector, and then you can drink as much of the water as you please, without asking anybody,” said Willie.
“It’s not such a sure thing,” he replied, “as to be worth that trouble; and besides, the walk does me good, and a drink once or twice a day is enough–that is, if your people won’t think me a trouble, coming so often.”
“There’s no fear of that,” said Willie; “it’s our business, you know, to try to cure people. I’ll tell you what–couldn’t you bring up a bit of your work, and sit in my room sometimes? It’s better air there than down here.”
“You’re very kind, indeed, Willie. We’ll see. Meantime, I’ll come up morning and evening, and have a drink of the water, as long at least as the warm weather lasts, and by that time I shall be pretty certain whether it is doing me good or not.”
So Hector went on drinking the water and getting a little better.
Next, grannie took to it, and, either from imagination, or that it really did her good, declared it was renewing her youth. All the doctor said on the matter was, that the salts it contained could do no one any harm, and might do some people much good; that there was iron in it, which was strengthening, and certain ingredients besides, which might possibly prevent the iron from interfering with other functions of the system. He said he should not be at all surprised if, some day or other, it regained its old fame as a well of healing.
Mr Spelman, in consequence of a talk he had with Hector, having induced his wife to try it, she also soon began to think it was doing her good. Beyond these I have now mentioned, no one paid any attention to the Prior’s Well or its renascent reputation.
HOW WILLIE WENT ON.
As soon as Willie began a new study, he began trying to get at the sense of it. This caused his progress to be slow at first, and him to appear dull amongst those who merely learned by rote; but as he got a hold of the meaning of it all, his progress grew faster and faster, until at length in most studies he outstripped all the rest.
I need hardly repeat that the constant exercise of his mind through his fingers, in giving a second existence outside of him to what had its first existence inside him–that is, in his mind, made it far easier for him to understand the relations of things that go to make up a science. A boy who could put a box together must find Euclid easier–the Second Book particularly–than one who had no idea of the practical relations of the boundaries of spaces; one who could contrive a machine like his water-wheel, must be able to understand the interdependence of the parts of a sentence better than one equally gifted otherwise, but who did not know how one wheel could move another. Everything he did would help his arithmetic, and geography, and history; and these and those and all things besides, would help him to understand poetry.
In his Latin sentences he found the parts fit into each other like dove-tailing; finding the terms of equations, he said, was like inventing machines, and he soon grew clever at solving them. It was not from his manual abilities alone that his father had given him the name of Gutta-Percha Willie, but from the fact that his mind, once warmed to interest, could accommodate itself to the peculiarities of any science, just as the gutta-percha which is used for taking a mould fits itself to the outs and ins of any figure.
He still employed his water-wheel to pull him out of bed in the middle of the night. He had, of course, to make considerable alterations in, or rather additions to, its machinery, after changing his bed-room, for it had then to work in a direction at right angles to the former; but this he managed perfectly.
It is well for Willie’s reputation with a certain, and that not a small class of readers, that there was something even they would call useful in several of his inventions and many of his efforts; in his hydraulics, for instance, by means of which he saved old Tibby’s limbs; in his house-building, too, by means of which they were able to take in grannie; and, for a long time now, he had been doing every little repair wanted in the house. If a lock went wrong, he would have it off at once and taken to pieces. If less would not do, he carried it to the smithy, but very seldom troubled Mr Willett about it, for he had learned to do small jobs, and to heat and work and temper a piece of iron within his strength as well as any man. His mother did not much like this part of his general apprenticeship, for he would get his hands so black sometimes on a Saturday afternoon that he could not get them clean enough for church the next day; and sometimes he would come home with little holes burnt here and there in his clothes by the sparks from the red-hot iron when beaten on the anvil. Concerning this last evil, she spoke at length to Hector, who made him a leather apron, like Mr Willett’s, which thereafter he always wore when he had a job to do in the smithy.
It is well, I say, that the utility of such of his doings as these will be admitted by all; for some other objects upon which he spent much labour would, by most people, be regarded as utterly useless. Few, for instance, would allow there was any value in a water-wheel which could grind no corn, and was of service only to wake him in the middle of the night–not for work, not for the learning of a single lesson, but only that he might stare out of the window for a while, and then get into bed again. For my part, nevertheless, I think it a most useful contrivance. For all lovely sights tend to keep the soul pure, to lift the heart up to God, and above, not merely what people call low cares, but what people would call reasonable cares, although our great Teacher teaches us that such cares are unjust towards our Father in Heaven. More than that, by helping to keep the mind calm and pure, they help to keep the imagination, which is the source of all invention, active, and the judgment, which weighs all its suggestions, just. Whatever is beautiful is of God, and it is only ignorance or a low condition of heart and soul that does not prize what is beautiful. If I had a choice between two mills, one that would set fine dinners on my table, and one that would show me lovely sights in earth and sky and sea, I know which I should count the more useful.
Perhaps there is not so much to be said for the next whim of Willie’s; but a part at least of what I have just written will apply to it also.
What put it in his head I am not sure, but I think it was two things together–seeing a soaring lark radiant with the light of the unrisen sun, and finding in a corner of Spelman’s shop a large gilt ball which had belonged to an old eight-day clock he had bought. The passage in which he set it up was so low that he had to remove the ornaments from the top of it, but this one was humbled that it might be exalted.
The very sight of it set Willie thinking what he could do with it; for he not only meditated how to do a thing, but sometimes what to make a thing do. Nor was it long ere he made up his mind, and set about a huge kite, more than six feet high–a great strong monster, with a tail of portentous length–to the top of the arch of which he attached the golden ball. Then he bought a quantity of string, and set his wheel to call him up an hour before sunrise.
One morning was too still, another too cloudy, and a third wet; but at last came one clear and cool, with a steady breeze which sent the leaves of the black poplars all one way. He dressed with speed, and, taking his kite and string, set out for a grass field belonging to Farmer Thomson, where he found most of the daisies still buttoned up in sleep, their red tips all together, as tight and close as the lips of a baby that won’t take what is offered it–as if they never meant to have anything more to do with the sun, and would never again show him the little golden sun they had themselves inside of them. In a few minutes the kite had begun to soar, slowly and steadily, then faster and faster, until at length it was towering aloft, tugging and pulling at the string, which he could not let out fast enough. He kept looking up after it intently as it rose, when suddenly a new morning star burst out in golden glitter. It was the gilt ball; it saw the sun. The glory which, striking on the heart of the lark, was there transmuted into song, came back from the ball, after its kind, in glow and gleam. He danced with delight, and shouted and sang his welcome to the resurrection of the sun, as he watched his golden ball alone in the depth of the air.
He never thought of any one hearing him, nor was it likely that any one in the village would be up yet. He was therefore a good deal surprised when he heard the sweet voice of Mona Shepherd behind him; and turning, saw her running to him bare-headed, with her hair flying in the wind.
“Willie! Willie!” she was crying, half-breathless with haste and the buffeting of the breeze.
“Well, Mona, who would have thought of seeing you out so early?”
“Mayn’t a girl get up early, as well as a boy? It’s not like climbing walls and trees, you know, though I can’t see the harm of that either.”
“No more can I,” said Willie, “if they’re not too difficult, you know. But what brought you out now? Do you want me?”
“Mayn’t I stop with you? I saw you looking up, and I looked up too, and then I saw something flash; and I dressed as hard as I could, and ran out. Are you catching the lightning?”
“No,” said Willie; “something better than the lightning–the sunlight.”
“Is that all?” said Mona, disappointed.
“Why, Mona, isn’t the sunlight a better thing than the lightning?” said philosophical Willie.
“Yes, I dare say; but you can have it any time.”
“That only makes it the more valuable. But it’s not quite true when you think of it. You can’t have it now, except from my ball.”
“Oh, yes, I can,” cried Mona; “for there he comes himself.”
And there, to be sure, was the first blinding arc of the sun rising over the eastern hill. Both of them forgot the kite, and turned to watch the great marvel of the heavens, throbbing and pulsing like a sea of flame. When they turned again to the kite they could see the golden ball no longer. Its work was over; it had told them the sun was coming, and now, when the sun was come, it was not wanted any more. Willie began to draw in his string and roll it up on its stick, slowly pulling down to the earth the soaring sun-scout he had sent aloft for the news. He had never flown anything like such a large kite before, and he found it difficult to reclaim.
“Will you take me out with you next time, Willie?” asked Mona, pleadingly. “I do so like to be out in the morning, when the wind is blowing, and the clouds are flying about. I wonder why everybody doesn’t get up to see the sun rise. Don’t you think it is well worth seeing?”
“That I do.”
“Then you will let me come with you? I like it so much better when you are with me. Janet spoils it all.”
Janet was her old nurse, who seemed to think the main part of her duty was to check Mona’s enthusiasm.
“I will,” said Willie, “if your papa has no objection.”
Mona did not even remember her mamma. She had died when she was such a little thing.
“Come and ask him, then,” said Mona.
So soon as he had secured Sun-scout, as he called his kite with the golden head, she took his hand to lead him to her father.
“He won’t be up yet,” said Willie.
“Oh, yes, long ago,” cried Mona. “He’s always up first in the house, and as soon as he’s dressed he calls me. He’ll be at breakfast by this time, and wondering what can have become of me.”
So Willie went with her, and there was Mr Shepherd, as she had said, already seated at breakfast.
“What have you been about, Mona, my child?” he asked, as soon as he had shaken hands with Willie.
“We’ve been helping the sun to rise,” said Mona, merrily.
“No, no,” said Willie; “we’ve only been having a peep at him in bed, before he got up.”
“Oh, yes,” chimed in Mona. “And he was so fast asleep!–and snoring,” she added, with a comical expression and tone, as if it were a thing not to be mentioned save as a secret.
But Willie did not like the word, and her father was of the same mind.
“No, no,” said Mr Shepherd; “that’s not respectful, Mona. I don’t like you to talk that way, even in fun, of the great light of the earth. There are more good reasons for objecting to it than you would quite understand yet. Willie would not talk like that, I am sure. Tell me what you have been about, my boy.”
Willie explained the whole matter, and asked if he might call Mona the next time he went out with his kite in the morning.
Mr Shepherd consented at once; and Mona said he had only to call from his window into their garden, and she would be sure to hear him even if she was asleep.
The next thing Willie did was to construct a small windlass in the garden, with which to wind up or let out the string of the kite; and when the next fit morning arrived, Mona and he went out together. The wind blowing right through the garden, they did not go to the open field, but sent up the kite from the windlass, and Mona was able by means of the winch to let out the string, while Willie kept watching for the moment when the golden ball should catch the light. They did the same for several mornings after, and Willie managed, with the master’s help, to calculate exactly the height to which the ball had flown when first it gained a peep of the sun in bed.
One windy evening they sent the kite up in the hope that it would fly till the morning; but the wind fell in the night, and when the sun came near there was no golden ball in the air to greet him. So, instead of rejoicing in its glitter far aloft, they had to set out, guided by the string, to find the fallen Lucifer. The kite was of small consequence, but the golden ball Willie could not replace. Alas! that very evening he had added a great length of string–so much, that when the wind ceased the kite could just reach the river, into which it fell; and when the searchers at length drew Sun-scout from the water they found his glory had departed; the golden ball had been beaten and ground upon the stones of the stream, and never more did they send him climbing up the heavens to welcome the lord of day.
Indeed, it was many years before Willie flew a kite again, for, after a certain conversation with his grandmother, he began to give a good deal more time to his lessons than hitherto; and while his recreations continued to be all of a practical sort, his reading was mostly such as prepared him for college.
WILLIE’S TALK WITH HIS GRANDMOTHER.
One evening in winter, when he had been putting coals on his grannie’s fire, she told him to take a chair beside her, as she wanted a little talk with him. He obeyed her gladly.
“Well, Willie,” she said, “what would you like to be?”
Willie had just been helping to shoe a horse at the smithy, and, in fact, had driven one of the nails–an operation perilous to the horse. Full of the thing which had last occupied him, he answered without a moment’s hesitation–
“I should like to be a blacksmith, grannie.”
The old lady smiled. She had seen more black on Willie’s hands than could have come from the coals, and judged from that and his answer that he had just come from the smithy.
An unwise grandmother, had she wished to turn him from the notion, would have started an objection at once–probably calling it a dirty trade, or a dangerous trade, or a trade that the son of a professional man could not be allowed to follow; but Willie’s grandmother knew better, and went on talking about the thing in the quietest manner.
“It’s a fine trade,” she said; “thorough manly work, and healthy, I believe, notwithstanding the heat. But why would you take to it, Willie?”
Willie fell back on his principles, and thought for a minute.
“Of course, if I’m to be any good at all I must have a hand in what Hector calls the general business of the universe, grannie.”
“To be sure; and that, as a smith, you would have; but why should you choose to be a smith rather than anything else in the world?”
“Because–because–people can’t get on without horse-shoes, and ploughs and harrows, and tires for cart-wheels, and locks, and all that. It would help people very much if I were a smith.”
“I don’t doubt it. But if you were a mason you could do quite as much to make them comfortable; you could build them houses.”
“Yes, I could. It would be delightful to build houses for people. I should like that.”
“It’s very hard work,” said his grandmother. “Only you wouldn’t mind that, I know, Willie.”
“No man minds hard work,” said Willie. “I think I should like to be a mason; for then, you see, I should be able to look at what I had done. The ploughs and carts would go away out of sight, but the good houses would stand where I had built them, and I should be able to see how comfortable the people were in them. I should come nearer to the people themselves that way with my work. Yes, grannie, I would rather be a mason than a smith.”
“A carpenter fits up the houses inside,” said his grandmother. “Don’t you think, with his work, he comes nearer the people that live in it than the mason does?”
“To be sure,” cried Willie, laughing. “People hardly see the mason’s work, except as they’re coming up to the door. I know more about carpenter’s work too. _Yes_, grannie, I have settled now; I’ll be a carpenter–there!” cried Willie, jumping up from his seat. “If it hadn’t been for Mr Spelman, I don’t see how we could have had _you_ with us, grannie. Think of that!”
“Only, if you had been a tailor or a shoemaker, you would have come still nearer to the people themselves.”
“I don’t know much about tailoring,” returned Willie. “I could stitch well enough, but I couldn’t cut out. I could soon be a shoemaker, though. I’ve done everything wanted in a shoe or a boot with my own hands already; Hector will tell you so. I could begin to be a shoemaker to-morrow. That is nearer than a carpenter. Yes.”
“I was going to suggest,” said his grannie, “that there’s a kind of work that goes yet nearer to the people it helps than any of those. But, of course, if you’ve made up your mind”–
“Oh no, grannie! I don’t mean it so much as that–if there’s a better way, you know. Tell me what it is.”
“I want you to think and find out.”
Willie thought, looked puzzled, and said he couldn’t tell what it was.
“Then you must think a little longer,” said his grandmother. “And now go and wash your hands.”
A TALK WITH Mr SHEPHERD.
In a few minutes Willie came rushing back from his room, with his hands and face half wet and half dry.
“Grannie! grannie!” he panted–“what a stupid I am! How can a body be so stupid! Of course you mean a doctor’s work! My father comes nearer to people to help them than anybody else can–and yet I never thought what you meant. How is it you can know a thing and not know it at the same moment?”