“Well, now you’ve found what I meant, what do you think of it?” said his grandmother.
“Why, of course, it’s the best of all. When I was a little fellow, I used to think I should be a doctor some day, but I don’t feel quite so sure of it now. Do you really think, grannie, I _could_ be a doctor like papa? You see that wants such a good head–and–and–everything.”
“Yes; it does want a good head and everything. But you’ve got a good enough head to begin with, and it depends on yourself to make it a better one. So long as people’s hearts keep growing better, their heads do the same. I think you have every faculty for the making of a good doctor in you.”
“Do you really think so, grannie?” cried Willie, delighted.
“I do indeed.”
“Then I shall ask papa to teach me.”
But Willie did not find his papa quite ready to take him in hand.
“No, Willie,” he said. “You must learn a great many other things before it would be of much use for me to commence my part. I will teach you if you like, after school-hours, to compound certain medicines; but the important thing is to get on at school. You are quite old enough now to work at home too; and though I don’t want to confine you to your lessons, I should like you to spend a couple of hours at them every evening. You can have the remainders of the evenings, all the mornings before breakfast, and the greater parts of your half-holidays, for whatever you like to do of another sort.”
Willie never required any urging to what his father wished. He became at once more of a student, without becoming much less of a workman–for he found plenty of time to do all he wanted, by being more careful of his odd moments.
One lovely evening in spring, when the sun had gone down and left the air soft, and balmy, and full of the scents which rise from the earth after a shower, and the odours of the buds which were swelling and bursting in all directions, Willie was standing looking out of his open window into the parson’s garden, when Mr Shepherd saw him and called to him–
“Come down here, Willie,” he said. “I want to have a little talk with you.”
Willie got on the wall from the top of his stair, dropped into the stable-yard, which served for the parson’s pony as well as the Doctor’s two horses, and thence passed into Mr Shepherd’s garden, where the two began to walk up and down together.
The year was like a child waking up from a sleep into which he had fallen crying. Its life was returning to it, fresh and new. It was as if God were again drawing nigh to His world. All the winter through He had never left it, only had, as it were, been rolling it along the path before Him; but now had taken it up in His hand, and was carrying it for a while; and that was how its birds were singing so sweetly, and its buds were coming so blithely out of doors, and the wind blew so soft, and the rain fell so repentantly, and the earth sent up such a gracious odour.
“The year is coming to itself again, Willie–growing busy once more,” Mr Shepherd said.
“Yes,” answered Willie. “It’s been all but dead, and has come to life again. It must have had the doctor to it.”
“Eh? What doctor, Willie?”
“Well, you know, there is but One that could be doctor to this big world.”
“Yes, surely,” returned Mr Shepherd. “And that brings me to what I wanted to talk to you about. I hear your father means to make a doctor of you.”
“Yes. Isn’t it good of him?” said Willie.
“Then you would like it?”
“Yes; that I should!”
“Why would you like it?”
“Because I _must_ have a hand in the general business.”
“What do you mean by that?”
Willie set forth Hector Macallaster’s way of thinking about such matters.
“Very good–very good indeed!” remarked Mr Shepherd. “But why, then, should you prefer being a doctor to being a shoemaker? Is it because you will get better paid for it?”
“I never thought of that,” returned Willie. “Of course I should be better paid–for Hector couldn’t keep a horse, and a horse I must have, else some of my patients would be dead before I could get to them. But that’s not why I want to be a doctor. It’s because I want to help people.”
“What makes you want to help people?”
“Because it’s the best thing you can do with yourself.”
“Who told you that?”
“I don’t know. It seems as if everybody and everything had been teaching me that, ever since I can remember.”
“Well, it’s no wonder it should seem as if everything taught you that, seeing that is what God is always doing–and what Jesus taught us as the law of His kingdom–which is the only real kingdom–namely, that the greatest man in it is he who gives himself the most to help other people. It was because Jesus Himself did so–giving Himself up utterly–that God has so highly exalted Him and given Him a name above every name. And, indeed, if you are a good doctor, you will be doing something of what Jesus did when He was in the world.”
“Yes; but He didn’t give people medicine to cure them.”
“No; that wasn’t necessary, because He was Himself the cure. But now that He is not present with His bodily presence–now, medicine and advice and other good things are just the packets in which He wraps up the healing He sends; and the wisest doctor is but the messenger who carries to the sick as much of healing and help as the Great Doctor sees fit to send. For He is so anxious to cure thoroughly that in many cases He will not cure all at once.”
“How I _should_ like to take His healing about!” cried Willie–“just as the doctors’ boys take the medicines about in baskets: grannie tells me they do in the big towns. I _should_ like to be the Great Doctor’s boy!”
“You really think then,” Mr Shepherd resumed, after a pause, “that a doctor’s is the best way of helping people?”
“Yes, I do,” answered Willie, decidedly. “A doctor, you see, comes nearest to them with his help. It’s not the outside of a man’s body he helps, but his inside health–how he feels, you know.”
Mr Shepherd again thought for a few moments. At length he said–
“What’s the difference between your father’s work and mine?”
“A great difference, of course,” replied Willie.
“Tell me then what it is?”
“I must think before I can do that,” said Willie. “It’s not so easy to put things in words!–You very often go to help the same people: that’s something to start with.”
“But not to give them the same help.”
“No, not quite. And yet”–
“At least, I cannot write prescriptions or compound medicines for them, seeing I know nothing about such things,” said Mr Shepherd. “But, on the other hand, though I can’t give them medicine out of your papa’s basket, your papa very often gives them medicine out of mine.”
“That’s a riddle, I suppose,” said Willie.
“No, it’s not. How is it your papa can come so near people to help them?”
“He gives them things that make them well again.”
“What do they do with the things he gives them?”
“They take them.”
“Put them in their mouths and swallow them.”
“Couldn’t they take them at their ears?”
“No,” answered Willie, laughing.
“Because their ears aren’t meant for taking them.”
“Aren’t their ears meant for taking anything, then?”
“Well, if one were to try, mightn’t words be mixed so as to be medicine?”
“I don’t see how.”
“If you were to take a few strong words, a few persuasive words, and a few tender words, mightn’t you mix them so–that is, so set them in order–as to make them a good medicine for a sore heart, for instance?”
“Ah! I see, I see! Yes, the medicine for the heart must go in at the ears.”
“Not necessarily. It might go in at the eyes. Jesus gave it at the eyes, for doubting hearts, when He said–Consider the lilies,–consider the ravens.”
“At the ears, too, though,” said Willie; “just as papa sometimes gives a medicine to be taken and to be rubbed in both.”
“Only the ears could have done nothing with the words if the eyes hadn’t taken in the things themselves first. But where does this medicine go to, Willie?”
“I suppose it must go to the heart, if that’s the place wants healing.”
“Does it go to what a doctor would call the heart, then?”
“No, no; it must go to what–to what a clergyman–to what _you_ call the heart.”
“And which heart is nearer to the person himself?”
Willie thought for a moment, then answered, merrily–the doctor’s heart, to be sure!”
“No, Willie; you’re wrong there,” said Mr Shepherd, looking, as he felt, a little disappointed.
“Oh yes, please!” said Willie; “I’m almost sure I’m right this time.”
“No, Willie; what the clergyman calls the heart is the nearest to the man himself.”
“No, no,” persisted Willie. “The heart you’ve got to do with _is_ the man himself. So of course the doctor’s heart is the nearer to the man.”
Mr Shepherd laughed a low, pleasant laugh.
“You’re quite right, Willie. You’ve got the best of it. I’m very pleased. But then, Willie, doesn’t it strike you that after all there might be a closer way of helping men than the doctor’s way?”
Again Willie thought a while.
“There would be,” he said, at length, “if you could give them medicine to make them happy when they are miserable.”
“Even the doctor can do a little at that,” returned Mr Shepherd; “for when in good health people are much happier than when they are ill.”
“If you could give them what would make them good when they are bad then,” said Willie.
“Ah, there you have it!” rejoined Mr Shepherd. “That is the very closest way of helping men.”
“But nobody can do that–nobody can make a bad man good–but God,” said Willie.
“Certainly. But He uses medicines; and He sends people about with them, just like the doctors’ boys you were speaking of. What else am _I_ here for? I’ve been carrying His medicines about for a good many years now.”
“Then _your_ work and not my father’s comes nearest to people to help them after all! My father’s work, I see, doesn’t help the very man himself; it only helps his body–or at best his happiness: it doesn’t go deep enough to touch himself. But yours helps the very man. Yours is the best after all.”
“I don’t know,” returned Mr Shepherd, thoughtfully. “It depends, I think, on the kind of preparation gone through.”
“Oh yes!” said Willie. “You had to go through the theological classes. I must of course take the medical.”
“That’s true, but it’s not true enough,” said Mr Shepherd. “That wouldn’t make a fraction of the difference I mean. There’s just one preparation essential for a man who would carry about the best sort of medicines. Can you think what it is? It’s not necessary for the other sort.”
“The man must be good,” said Willie. “I suppose that’s it.”
“That doesn’t make the difference exactly,” returned Mr Shepherd. “It is as necessary for a doctor to be good as for a parson.”
“Yes,” said Willie; “but though the doctor were a bad man, his medicines might be good.”
“Not by any means so likely to be!” said the parson. “You can never be sure that anything a bad man has to do with will be good. It may be, because no man is all bad; but you can’t be sure of it. We are coming nearer it now. Mightn’t the parson’s medicines be good if he were bad just as well as the doctor’s?”
“Less likely still, I think,” said Willie. “The words might be all of the right sort, but they would be like medicines that had lain in his drawers or stood in his bottles till the good was all out of them.”
“You’re coming very near to the difference of preparation I wanted to point out to you,” said Mr Shepherd. “It is this: that the physician of men’s _selves_, commonly called _souls_, must have taken and must keep taking the medicine he carries about with him; while the less the doctor wants of his the better.”
“I see, I see,” cried Willie, whom a fitting phrase, or figure, or form of expressing a thing, pleased as much as a clever machine–“I see! It’s all right! I understand now.”
“But,” Mr Shepherd went on, “your father carries about both sorts of medicines in his basket. He is such a healthy man that I believe he very seldom uses any of his own medicines; but he is always taking some of the other sort, and that’s what makes him fit to carry them about. He does far more good among the sick than I can. Many who don’t like my medicine, will yet take a little of it when your father mixes it with his, as he has a wonderful art in doing. I hope, when your turn comes, you will be able to help the very man himself, as your father does.”
“Do you want me to be a doctor of _your_ kind, Mr Shepherd?”
“No. It is a very wrong thing to take up that basket without being told by Him who makes the medicine. If He wants a man to do so, He will let him know–He will call him and tell him to do it. But everybody ought to take the medicine, for everybody needs it; and the happy thing is, that, as soon as anyone has found how good it is–food and wine and all upholding things in one–he becomes both able and anxious to give it to others. If you would help people as much as your father does, you must begin by taking some of the real medicine yourself.”
This conversation gave Willie a good deal to think about. And he had much need to think about it, for soon after this he left his father’s house for the first time in his life, and went to a great town, to receive there a little further preparation for college. The next year he gained a scholarship, or, as they call it there, a _bursary_, and was at once fully occupied with classics and mathematics, hoping, however, the next year, to combine with them certain scientific studies bearing less indirectly upon the duties of the medical man.
HOW WILLIE DID HIS BEST TO MAKE A BIRD OF AGNES.
During the time he was at college, he did often think of what Mr Shepherd had said to him. When he was tempted to any self-indulgence, the thought would always rise that this was not the way to become able to help people, especially the real selves of them; and, when amongst the medical students, he could not help thinking how much better doctors some of them would make if they would but try the medicine of the other basket for themselves. He thought this especially when he saw that they cared nothing for their patients, neither had any desire to take a part in the general business for the work’s sake, but only wanted a practice that they might make a living. For such are nearly as unfit to be healers of the body, as mere professional clergymen to be healers of broken hearts and wounded minds. To do a man good in any way, you must sympathise with him–that is, know what he feels, and reflect the feeling in your own mirror; and to be a good doctor, one must love to heal; must honour the art of the physician and rejoice in it; must give himself to it, that he may learn all of it that he can–from its root of love to its branches of theory, and its leaves and fruits of healing.
He always came home to Priory Leas for the summer intervals, when you may be sure there was great rejoicing–loudest on the part of Agnes, who was then his constant companion, as much so, at least, as she was allowed. Willie saw a good deal of Mona Shepherd also, who had long been set free from the oppressive charge of Janet, and was now under the care of a governess, a wise, elderly lady; and as she was a great friend of Mrs Macmichael, the two families were even more together now than they had been in former years.
Of course, while at college he had no time to work with his hands: all his labour there must be with his head; but when he came home he had plenty of time for both sorts. He spent a couple of hours before breakfast in the study of physiology; after breakfast, another hour or two either in the surgery, or in a part of the ruins which he had roughly fitted up for a laboratory with a bench, a few shelves, and a furnace. His father, however, did not favour his being in the latter for a long time together; for young experimenters are commonly careless, and will often neglect proper precautions–breathing, for instance, many gases they ought not to breathe. He was so careful over Agnes, however, that often he would not let her in at all; and when he did, he generally confined himself to her amusement. He would show her such lovely things!–for instance, liquids that changed from one gorgeous hue to another; bubbles that burst into flame, and ascended in rings of white revolving smoke; light so intense, that it seemed to darken the daylight. Sometimes Mona would be of the party, and nothing pleased Agnes or her better than such wonderful things as these; while Willie found it very amusing to hear Agnes, who was sharp enough to pick up not a few of the chemical names, dropping the big words from her lips as if she were on the most familiar terms with the things they signified–_phosphuretted hydrogen, metaphosphoric acid, sesquiferrocyanide of iron_, and such like.
Then he would give an hour to preparation for the studies of next term; after which, until their early dinner, he would work at his bench or turning-lathe, generally at something for his mother or grandmother; or he would do a little mason-work amongst the ruins, patching and strengthening, or even buttressing, where he thought there was most danger of further fall–for he had resolved that, if he could help it, not another stone should come to the ground.
In this, his first summer at home from college, he also fitted up a small forge–in a part of the ruins where there was a wide chimney, whose vent ran up a long way unbroken. Here he constructed a pair of great bellows, and set up an old anvil, which he bought for a trifle from Mr Willett; and here his father actually trusted him to shoe his horses; nor did he ever find a nail of Willie’s driving require to be drawn before the shoe had to give place to a new one.
In the afternoon, he always read history, or tales, or poetry; and in the evening did whatever he felt inclined to do–which brings me to what occupied him the last hours of the daylight, for a good part of this first summer.
One lovely evening in June, he came upon Agnes, who was now eight years old, lying under the largest elm of a clump of great elms and Scotch firs at the bottom of the garden. They were the highest trees in all the neighbourhood, and his father was very fond of them. To look up into those elms in the summer time your eyes seemed to lose their way in a mist of leaves; whereas the firs had only great, bony, bare, gaunt arms, with a tuft of bristles here and there. But when a ray of the setting sun alighted upon one of these firs it shone like a flamingo. It seemed as if the surly old tree and the gracious sunset had some secret between them, which, as often as they met, broke out in ruddy flame.
Now Agnes was lying on the thin grass under this clump of trees, looking up into their mystery–and–what else do you think she was doing?–She was sucking her thumb–her custom always when she was thoughtful; and thoughtful she seemed now, for the tears were in her eyes.
“What is the matter with my pet?” said Willie.
But instead of jumping up and flinging her arms about him, she only looked at him, gave a little sigh, drew her thumb from her mouth, pointed with it up into the tree, and said, “I can’t get up there! I wish I was a bird,” and put her thumb in her mouth again.
“But if you were a bird, you wouldn’t be a girl, you know, and you wouldn’t like that,” said Willie–“at least _I_ shouldn’t like it.”
“_I_ shouldn’t mind. I would rather have wings and fly about in the trees.”
“If you had wings you couldn’t have arms.”
“I’d rather have wings.”
“If you were a bird up there, you would be sure to wish you were a girl down here. For if you were a bird you couldn’t lie in the grass and look up into the tree.”
“Oh yes, I could.”
“What a comical little bird you would look then–lying on your little round feathery back, with wings spread out to keep you from rolling over, and little sparkling eyes, one on each side of such a long beak, staring up into the tree!–Miaw! Miaw! Here comes the cat to eat you up!”
Agnes sprang to her feet in terror, and rushed to Willie. She had so fully fancied herself a bird that the very mention of the cat had filled her with horror. Once more she took her thumb from her mouth to give a little scream, and did not put it in again.
“O Willie! you frightened me so!” she said–joining, however, in his laugh.
“Poor birdie!” said Willie. “Did the naughty puss frighten it? Stwoke its fedders den.–Stwoke it–stwoke it,” he continued, smoothing down her hair.
“But _wouldn’t_ it be nice,” persisted Agnes, “to be so tall as the birds can make themselves with their wings? Fancy having your head up there in the green leaves–so cool! and hearing them all whisper, whisper, about your ears, and being able to look down on people’s heads, you know, Willie! I do wish I was a bird! I do!”
But with Willie to comfort and play with her, she soon forgot her soaring ambition. Willie, however, did not forget it. If Agnes wished to enjoy the privacy of the leaves up in the height of the trees, why shouldn’t she? At least, why shouldn’t she if he could help her to it. Certainly he couldn’t change her arms into wings, or cover her with feathers, or make her bones hollow so that the air might get all through her, even into her quills; but he could get her up into the tree, and even something more, perhaps. He would see about it–that is, he would think about it, for how it was to be done he did not yet see.
Long ago, almost the moment he arrived, he had set his wheel in order, and got his waking-machine into working trim. And now more than ever he enjoyed being pulled out of bed in the middle of the night–especially in the fine weather; for then, in that hushed hour when the night is just melting into the morn, and the earth looks as if she were losing her dreams, yet had not begun to recognise her own thoughts, he would not unfrequently go out into the garden, and wander about for a few thoughtful minutes.
The same night, when his wheel pulled him, he rose and went out into the garden. The night was at odds with morning which was which. An occasional bat would flit like a doubtful shadow across his eyes, but a cool breath of air was roaming about as well, which was not of the night at all, but plainly belonged to the morning. He wandered to the bottom of the garden–to the clump of trees, lay down where Agnes had been lying the night before, and thought and thought until he felt in himself how the child had felt when she longed to be a bird. What could he do to content her? He knew every bough of the old trees himself, having scrambled over them like a squirrel scores of times; but even if he could get Agnes up the bare bole of an elm or fir, he could not trust her to go scrambling about the branches. On the other hand, wherever he could go, he could surely somehow help Agnes to go. Having gathered a thought or two, he went back to bed.
The very next evening he set to work and spent the whole of that and the following at his bench, planing, and shaping, and generally preparing for a construction, the plan of which was now clear in his head. At length, on the third evening, he carried half a dozen long poles, and wheeled several barrowfuls of short planks, measuring but a few inches over two feet, down to the clump of trees.
At the foot of the largest elm he began to dig, with the intention of inserting the thick end of one of the poles; but he soon found it impossible to get half deep enough, because of the tremendous roots of the tree, and giving it up, thought of a better plan.
He set off to the smithy, and bought of Mr Willett some fifteen feet of iron rod, with a dozen staples. Carrying them home to his small forge, he cut the rod into equal lengths of a little over two feet, and made a hook at both ends of each length. Then he carried them down to the elm, and drove six of the staples into the bole of the tree at equal distances all round it, a foot from the ground; the others he drove one into each of the six poles, a foot from the thick end; after which he connected the poles with the tree, each by a hooked rod and its corresponding staples, when the tops of the poles just reached to the first fork of the elm. Then he nailed a bracket to the tree, at the height of an easy step from the ground, and at the same height nailed a piece of wood across between two of the poles. Resting on the bracket and this piece of wood, he laid the first step of a stair, and fastened it firmly to both. Another bracket a little higher, and another piece of wood nailed to two poles, raised the next step; and so he went round and round the tree in an ascending spiral, climbing on the steps already placed to fix others above them. Encircling the tree some four or five times, for he wanted the ascent easy for little feet, he was at length at its fork. There he laid a platform or landing-place, and paused to consider what to do next. This was on the third evening from the laying of the first step.
From the fork many boughs rose and spread–amongst them two very near each other, between which he saw how, by help of various inequalities, he might build a little straight staircase leading up into a perfect wilderness of leaves and branches. He set about it at once, and, although he found it more difficult than he had expected, succeeded at last in building a safe stair between the boughs, with a hand-rail of rope on each side.
But Willie had chosen to ascend in this direction for another reason as well: one of these boughs was in close contact with a bough belonging to one of the largest of the red firs. On this fir-bough he constructed a landing-place, upon which it was as easy as possible to step from the stair in the elm. Next, the bough being very large, he laid along it a plank steadied by blocks underneath–a level for the little feet. Then he began to weave a network of rope and string along each side of the bough, so that the child could not fall off; but finding this rather a long job, and thinking it a pity to balk her of so much pleasure merely for the sake of surprising her the more thoroughly, he resolved to reveal what he had already done, and permit her to enjoy it.
For, as I ought to have mentioned sooner, he had taken Mona into his confidence, and she had kept Agnes out of the way for now nearly a whole week of evenings. But she was finding it more and more difficult to restrain her from rushing off in search of Willie, and was very glad indeed when he told her that he was not going to keep the thing a secret any longer.
[Illustration: WILLIE CARRIED AGNES UP THE STAIR INTO THE GREAT BRANCHES OF THE ELM TREE.]
HOW AGNES LIKED BEING A BIRD.
But Willie began to think whether he might not give Agnes two surprises out of it, with a dream into the bargain, and thought over it until he saw how he could manage it.
She always went to bed at seven o’clock, so that by the time the other people in the house began to think of retiring, she was generally fast asleep. About ten o’clock, therefore, the next night, just as a great round moon was peering above the horizon, with a quantity of mackerel clouds ready to receive her when she rose a yard or two higher, Willie, taking a soft shawl of his mother’s, went into Agnes’s room, and having wrapped her in the shawl, with a corner of it over her head and face, carried her out into the garden, down to the trees, and up the stair into the midst of the great boughs and branches of the elm tree. It was a very warm night, with a soft breath of south wind blowing, and there was no risk of her taking cold. He uncovered her face, but did not wake her, leaving that to the change of her position and the freshness of the air.
Nor was he disappointed. In a few moments she began to stir, then half-opened her eyes, then shut them, then opened them again, then rubbed them, then drew a deep breath, and then began to lift her head from Willie’s shoulder, and look about her. Through the thick leaves the moon was shining like a great white fire, and must have looked to her sleepy eyes almost within a yard of her. Even if she had not been half asleep, so beheld through the leaves, it would have taken her a while to make up her mind what the huge bright thing was. Then she heard a great fluttering as if the leaves were talking to her, and out of them came a soft wind that blew in her face, and felt very sweet and pleasant. She rubbed her eyes again, but could not get the sleep out of them. As last she said to Willie, who stood as still as a stone–but her tongue and her voice and her lips could hardly make the words she wanted them to utter:
“Am I awake? Am I dreaming? It’s so nice!”
Willie did not answer her, and the little head sunk on his shoulder again. He drew the corner of the shawl over it, and carried her back to her bed. When he had laid her down, she opened her eyes wide, stared him in the face for a moment, as if she knew all about everything except just what she was looking at, put her thumb in her mouth, and was fast asleep.
The next morning at breakfast, her papa out, and her mamma not yet come down, she told Willie that she had had such a beautiful dream!–that an angel, with great red wings, came and took her in his arms, and flew up and up with her to a cloud that lay close by the moon, and there stopped. The cloud was made all of little birds that kept fluttering their wings and talking to each other, and the fluttering of their wings made a wind in her face, and the wind made her very happy, and the moon kept looking through the birds quite close to them, and smiling at her, and she saw the face of the man in the moon quite plain. But then it grew dark and began to thunder, and the angel went down very fast, and the thunder was the clapping of his big red wings, and he flew with her into her mamma’s room, and laid her down in her crib, and when she looked at him he was so like Willie.
“Do you think the dream could have come of your wishing to be a bird, Agnes?” asked Willie.
“I don’t know. Perhaps,” replied Agnes. “Are you angry with me for wishing I was a bird, Willie?”
“No, darling. What makes you ask such a question?”
“Because ever since then you won’t let me go with you–when you are doing things, you know.”
“Why, you were in the laboratory with me yesterday!” said Willie.
“Yes, but you wouldn’t have me in the evening when you used to let me be with you always. What are you doing down amongst the trees _always_ now?”
“If you will have patience and not go near them all day, I will show you in the evening.”
Agnes promised; and Willie gave the whole day to getting things on a bit. Amongst other things he wove such a network along the bough of the Scotch fir, that it was quite safe for Agnes to walk on it down to the great red hole of the tree. There he was content to make a pause for the present, constructing first, however, a little chair of bough and branch and rope and twig in which she could safely sit.
Just as he had finished the chair, he heard her voice calling, in a tone that grew more and more pitiful.
He got down and ran to find her. She was at the window of his room, where she had gone to wait till he called her, but her patience had at last given way.
“I’m _so_ tired, Willie! Mayn’t I come yet?”
“Wait just one moment more,” said Willie, and ran to the house for his mother’s shawl.
As soon as he began to wrap it about her, Agnes said, thoughtfully–
“Somebody did that to me before–not long ago–I remember: it was the angel in my dream.”
When Willie put the corner over her face, she said, “He did that too!” and when he took her in his arms, she said, “He did that too! How funny you should do just what the angel did in my dream!”
Willie ran about with her here and there through the ruins, into the house, up and down the stairs, and through the garden in many directions, until he was satisfied he must have thoroughly bewildered her as to whereabouts they were, and then at last sped with her up the stair to the fork of the elm-tree. There he threw back the shawl, and told her to look.
To see her first utterly bewildered expression–then the slow glimmering dawn of intelligence, as she began to understand where she was–next the gradual rise of light in her face as if it came there from some spring down below, until it broke out in a smile all over it, when at length she perceived that this was what he had been working at, and why he wouldn’t have her with him–gave Willie all the pleasure he had hoped for–quite satisfied him, and made him count his labour well rewarded.
“O Willie! Willie! it was all for me!–Wasn’t it now?”
“Yes, it was, pet,” said Willie.
“It was all to make a bird of me–wasn’t it?” she went on.
“Yes–as much of a bird as I could. I couldn’t give you wings, you know, and I hadn’t any of my own to fly up with you to the moon, as the angel in your dream did. The dream was much nicer–wasn’t it?”
“I’m not sure about that–really I’m not. I think it is nicer to have a wind coming you don’t know from where, and making all the leaves flutter about, than to have the wings of birdies making the wind. And I don’t care about the man in the moon much. He’s not so nice as you, Willie. And yon red ray of the sun through there on the fir-tree is as good nearly as the moon.”
“Oh! but you may have the moon, if you wait a bit. She’ll be too late to-night, though.”
“But now I think of it, Willie,” said Agnes, “I do believe it wasn’t a dream at all.”
“Do you think a real angel carried you really up to the moon, then?” asked Willie.
“No; but a real Willie carried me really up into this tree, and the moon shone through the leaves, and I thought they were birds. You’re my angel, Willie, only better to me than twenty hundred angels.”
And Agnes threw her arms round his neck and hugged and kissed him.
As soon as he could speak, that is, as soon as she ceased choking him, he said–
“You _were_ up in this tree last night: and the wind was fluttering the leaves; and the moon was shining through them”–
“And you carried me in this shawl, and that was the red wings of the angel,” cried Agnes, dancing with delight.
“Yes, pet, I daresay it was. But aren’t you sorry to lose your big angel?”
“The angel was only in a dream, and you’re here, Willie. Besides, you’ll be a big angel some day, Willie, and then you’ll have wings, and be able to fly me about.”
“But you’ll have wings of your own then, and be able to fly without me.”
“But I _may_ fold them up sometimes–mayn’t I? for it would be much nicer to be carried by _your_ wings–sometimes, you know. Look, look, Willie! Look at the sunbeam on the trunk of the fir–how red it’s got. I do wish I could have a peep at the sun. Where can he be? I should see him if I were to go into his beam there–shouldn’t I?”
“He’s shining past the end of the cottage,” said Willie. “Go, and you’ll see him.”
“Go where?” asked Agnes.
“Into the red sunbeam on the fir-tree.”
“I haven’t got my wings yet, Willie.”
“That’s what people very often say when they’re not inclined to try what they can do with their legs.”
“But I can’t go there, Willie.”
“You haven’t tried.”
“How am I to try?”
“You’re not even trying to try. You’re standing talking, and saying you can’t.”
It was nearly all Agnes could do to keep from crying. But she felt she must do something more lest Willie should be vexed. There seemed but one way to get nearer to the sunbeam, and that was to go down this tree and run to the foot of the other. What if Willie had made a stair up it also? But as she turned to see how she was to go down, for she had been carried up blind, she caught sight of the straight staircase between the two boughs, and, with a shriek of delight, up she ran.
“Gently, gently! Don’t bring the tree down with your tremendous weight,” cried Willie, following her close behind.
At the end of the stairs she sprang upon the bough of the fir, and in a moment more was sitting in the full light of the sunset.
“O Willie! Willie! this _is_ grand! How good, how kind of you! You _have_ made a bird of me! What will papa and mamma say? Won’t they be delighted? I must run and fetch Mona.”
So saying she hurried across again, and down the stair, and away to look for Mona Shepherd, shouting with delight as she ran. In a few minutes her cries had gathered the whole house to the bottom of the garden, as well as Mr Shepherd and Mona and Mrs Hunter. Mr Macmichael and all of them went up into the tree, Mr Shepherd last and with some misgivings; for, having no mechanical faculty himself, he could not rightly value Willie’s, and feared that he might not have made the stair safe. But Mr Macmichael soon satisfied him, showing him how strong and firm Willie had made every part of it.
The next evening, Willie went on with his plan, which was to make a way for Bird Agnes from one tree to another over the whole of the clump. It took him many evenings, however, to complete it, and a good many more to construct in the elm tree a thin wooden house cunningly perched upon several of the strongest boughs and branches. He called it Bird Agnes’s Nest. It had doors and windows, and several stories in it, only the upper stories did not rest on the lower, but upon higher branches of the tree. To two of these he made stairs, and a rope-ladder to a third. When the house was finished, he put a little table in the largest room, and having got some light chairs from the house, asked his father and mother and grandmother to tea in Bird Agnes’s Nest. But grannie declined to go up the tree. She said _her_ climbing days were over long ago.
WILLIE’S PLANS BUD.
Either they were over, or were only beginning; for, the next winter, while Willie was at college, grannie was taken ill; and although they sent for him to come home at once, she had climbed higher ere he arrived. When they opened her will, they found that she had left everything to Willie. There was more than a hundred pounds in ready money, and property that brought in about fifty pounds a-year–not much to one who would have spent everything on himself, but a good deal to one who loved other people, and for their sakes would contrive that a little should go a long way.
So Willie was henceforth able to relieve his father by paying all his own college expenses. He laid by a little too, as his father wished him, until he should see how best to use it. His father always talked about _using_ never about _spending_ money.
When he came home the next summer, he moved again into his own old room, for Agnes slept in a little closet off her mother’s, and much preferred that to a larger and more solitary room for herself. His mother especially was glad to have him under the same roof once more at night. But Willie felt that something ought to be done with the room he had left in the ruins, for nothing ought to be allowed to spoil by uselessness. He did not, however, see for some time to what he could turn it.
I need hardly say that he kept up all his old friendships. No day passed while he was at home without his going to see some one of his former companions–Mr Willett, or Mr Spelman, or Mr Wilson. For Hector, he went to see him oftenest of all, he being his favourite, and sickly, and therefore in most need of attention. But he greatly improved his acquaintance with William Webster; and although he had now so much to occupy him, would not be satisfied until he was able to drive the shuttle, and work the treadles and the batten, and, in short, turn out almost as good a bit of linen as William himself–only he wanted about twice as much time to it.
One day, going in to see Hector, he found him in bed and very poorly.
“My shoemaking is nearly over, Mr Willie,” he said. “But I don’t mind much; I’m sure to find a corner in the general business ready for me somewhere when I’m not wanted here any more.”
“Have you been drinking the water lately?” asked Willie.
“No. I was very busy last week, and hadn’t time, and it was rather cold for me to go out. But for that matter the wind blew in through door and window so dreadfully–and it’s but a clay floor, and firing is dear–that I caught a cold, and a cold is the worst thing for me–that is for this poor rickety body of mine. And this cold is a bad one.”
Here a great fit of coughing came on, accompanied by symptoms that Willie saw were dangerous, and he went home at once to get him some medicine.
On the way back a thought struck him, about which, however, he would say nothing to Hector until he should have talked to his father and mother about it, which he did that same evening at supper.
“I’ll tell you what, Hector,” he said, when he went to see him the next day–“you must come and occupy my room in the ruins. Since grannie went home I don’t want it, and it’s a pity to have it lying idle. It’s a deal warmer than this, and I’ll get a stove in before the winter. You won’t have to work so hard when you’ve got no rent to pay, and you will have as much of the water as you like without the trouble of walking up the hill for it. Then there’s the garden for you to walk in when you please–all on a level, and only the little stair to climb to get back to your own room.”
“But I should be such a trouble to you all, Mr Willie!”
“You’d be no trouble–we’ve two servants now. If you like you can give the little one a shilling now and then, and she’ll be glad enough to make your bed, and sweep out your room; and you know Tibby has a great regard for you, and will be very glad to do all the cooking you will want–it’s not much, I know: your porridge and a cup of tea is about all. And then there’s my father to look after your health, and Agnes to amuse you sometimes, and my mother to look after everything, and”–
Here poor Hector fairly broke down. When he recovered himself he said–
“But how could gentle folks like you bear to see a hump-backed creature like me crawling about the place?”
“They would only enjoy it the more that you enjoyed it,” said Willie.
It was all arranged. As soon as Hector was able to be moved, he was carried up to the Ruins, and there nursed by everybody. Nothing could exceed his comfort now but his gratitude. He was soon able to work again, and as he was evidently happier when doing a little towards the general business, Mr Macmichael thought it best for him.
One day, Willie being at work in his laboratory, and getting himself half-stifled with a sudden fume of chlorine, opened the door for some air just as Hector had passed it. He stood at the door and followed him down the walk with his eyes, watching him as he went–now disappearing behind the blossoms of an apple-tree, now climbing one of the little mounds, and now getting up into the elm-tree, and looking about him on all sides, his sickly face absolutely shining with pleasure.
“But,” said Willie all at once to himself, “why should Hector be the only invalid to have this pleasure?”
He found no answer to the question. I don’t think he looked for one very hard though. And again, all at once, he said to himself–
“What if this is what my grannie’s money was given me for?”
That night he had a dream. The two questions had no doubt a share in giving it him, and perhaps also a certain essay of Lord Bacon–“Of Building,” namely–which he had been reading before he went to bed.
[Illustration: WILLIE’S DREAM.]
He dreamed that, being pulled up in the middle of the night by his wheel, he went down to go into the garden. But the moment he was out of the back door, he fancied there was something strange going on in his room in the ruins–he could not tell what, but he must go and see. When he climbed the stairs and opened the door, there was Hector Macallaster where he ought to be, asleep in his bed. But there _was_ something strange going on; for a stream, which came dashing over the side of the wooden spout, was flowing all round Hector’s bed, and then away he knew not whither. Another strange thing was, that in the further wall was a door which was new to him. He opened it, and found himself in another chamber, like his own; and there also lay some one, he knew not who, in a bed, with a stream of water flowing all around it. There was also a second door, beyond which was a third room, and a third patient asleep, and a third stream flowing around the bed, and a third door beyond. He went from room to room, on and on, through about a hundred such, he thought, and at length came to a vaulted chamber, which seemed to be over the well. From the centre of the vault rose a great chimney, and under the chimney was a huge fire, and on the fire stood a mighty golden cauldron, up to which, through a large pipe, came the water of the well, and went pouring in with a great rushing, and hissing, and bubbling. From the other side of the cauldron, the water rushed away through another pipe into the trough that ran through all the chambers, and made the rivers that flowed the beds of the sleeping patients. And what was most wonderful of all–by the fire stood two angels, with grand lovely wings, and they made a great fanning with their wings, and so blew the fire up loud and strong about the golden cauldron. And when Willie looked into their faces, he saw that one of them was his father, and the other Mr Shepherd. And he gave a great cry of delight, and woke weeping.
WILLIE’S PLANS BLOSSOM.
In the morning, Willie’s head was full of his dream. How gladly would he have turned it into a reality! That was impossible–but might he not do something towards it? He had long ago seen that those who are doomed not to realise their ideal, are just those who will not take the first step towards it. “Oh! this is such a little thing to do, it can’t be any use!” they say. “And it’s such a distance off what I mean, and what I should give my life to have!” They think and they say that they would give their life for it, and yet they will not give a single hearty effort. Hence they just stop where they are, or rather go back and back until they do not care a bit for the thoughts they used to think so great that they cherished them for the glory of having thought them. But even the wretched people who set their hearts on making money, begin by saving the first penny they can, and then the next and the next. And they have their reward: they get the riches they want–with the loss of their souls to be sure, but that they did not think of. The people on the other hand who want to be noble and good, begin by taking the first thing that comes to their hand and doing that right, and so they go on from one thing to another, growing better and better.
In the same way, although it would have been absurd in Willie to rack his brain for some scheme by which to restore such a grand building as the Priory, he could yet bethink himself that the hundredth room did not come next the first, neither did the third; the one after the first was the second, and he might do something towards the existence of that.
He went out immediately after breakfast, and began peering about the ruins to see where the second room might be. To his delight he saw that, with a little contrivance, it could be built on the other side of the wall of Hector’s room.
He had plenty of money for it, his grannie’s legacy not being yet touched. He thought it all over himself, talked it all over with his father, and then consulted it all over with Spelman. The end was, that without nearly spending his little store, he had, before the time came for his return to the college, built another room.
As the garret was full of his grandmother’s furniture, nothing was easier than to fit it up–and that very nicely too. It remained only to find an occupant for it. This would have been easy enough also without going far from the door, but both Willie and his father were practical men, and therefore could not be content with merely doing good: they wanted to do as much good as they could. It would not therefore satisfy them to put into their new room such a person–say, as Mrs Wilson, who could get on pretty well where she was, though she might have been made more comfortable. But suppose they could find the sickly mother of a large family, whom a few weeks of change, with the fine air from the hills and the wonderful water from the Prior’s well, would restore to strength and cheerfulness, how much more good would they not be doing in that way–seeing that to help a mother with children is to help all the children as well, not to mention the husband and the friends of the family! There were plenty such to be found amongst the patients he had to attend while at college. The expense of living was not great at Priory Leas, and Mr MacMichael was willing to bear that, if only to test the influences of the water and climate upon strangers.
Although it was not by any means the best season for the experiment, it was yet thoroughly successful with the pale rheumatic mother of six, whom Willie first sent home to his father’s care. She returned to her children at Christmas, comparatively a hale woman, capable of making them and everybody about her twice as happy as before. Another as nearly like her in bodily condition and circumstances as he could find, took her place,–with a like result; and before long the healing that hovered about Priory Leas began to be known and talked of amongst the professors of the college, and the medical men of the city.
WILLIE’S PLANS BEAR FRUIT.
When his studies were finished, Willie returned to assist his father, for he had no desire to settle in a great city with the ambition of becoming a fashionable doctor getting large fees and growing rich. He regarded the end of life as being, in a large measure, just to take his share in the general business.
By this time the reputation of the Prior’s Well had spread on all sides, and the country people had begun to visit the Leas, and stay for a week or ten days to drink of the water. Indeed so many kept coming and going at all hours through the garden, that the MacMichaels at length found it very troublesome, and had a small pipe laid to a little stone trough built into the garden wall on the outside, so that whoever would might come and drink with less trouble to all concerned.
But Willie had come home with a new idea in his head.
An old valetudinarian in the city, who knew every spa in Europe, wanted to try that of Priory Leas and had consulted him about it. Finding that there was no such accommodation to be had as he judged suitable, he seriously advised Willie to build a house fit for persons of position, as he called them, assuring him that they would soon make their fortunes if they did. Now although, as I have said, this was not the ambition of either father or son, for a fortune had never seemed to either worth taking trouble about, yet it suggested something that was better.
“Why,” said Willie to his father, “shouldn’t we restore a bit of the Priory in such a way that a man like Mr Yellowley could endure it for a little while? He would pay us well, and then we should be able to do more for those that can’t pay us.”
“We couldn’t cook for a man like that,” said his mother.
“He wouldn’t want that,” said his father. “He would be sure to bring his own servants.”
The result was that Mr MacMichael thought the thing worth trying, and resolved to lay out all his little savings, as well as what Willie could add, on getting a kitchen and a few convenient rooms constructed in the ruins–of course keeping as much as possible to their plan and architectural character. He found, however, that it would want a good deal more than they could manage to scrape together between them, and was on the point of giving up the scheme, or at least altering it for one that would have been much longer in making them any return, when Mr Shepherd, who had become acquainted with their plans, and consequently with their difficulties, offered to join them with the little he had laid aside for a rainy day–which proved just sufficient to complete the sum necessary. Between the three the thing was effected, and Mr Yellowley was their first visitor.
I am sorry to say he grumbled a good deal at first at the proximity of the cobbler, and at having to meet him in his walks about the garden; but this was a point on which Mr MacMichael, who of course took the old man’s complaints good-humouredly, would not budge, and he had to reconcile himself to it as he best might. Nor was it very difficult after he found he must. Before long they became excellent friends, for if you will only give time and opportunity, in an ordinarily good man nature will overcome in the end. Mr Yellowley was at heart good-natured, and the cobbler was well worth knowing. Before the former left, the two were often to be seen pacing the garden together, and talking happily.
It is quite unnecessary to recount all the gradations of growth by which room after room arose from the ruins of the Priory. When Mr Yellowley went away, after nearly six months’ sojourn, during the latter part of which, so wonderfully was he restored by the air and the water and the medical care of Mr MacMichael, he enjoyed a little shooting on the hills, he paid him a hundred and fifty pounds for accommodation and medical attendance–no great sum, as money goes now-a-days, but a good return in six months for the outlay of a thousand pounds. This they laid by to accumulate for the next addition. And the Priory, having once taken to growing, went on with it. They cleared away mound after mound from the garden, turning them once more into solid walls, for they were formed mainly of excellent stones, which had just been waiting to be put up again. The only evil consequence was that the garden became a little less picturesque by their removal, although, on the other hand, a good deal more productive.
Yes, there was a second apparently bad consequence–the Priory spread as well as grew, until it encroached not a little upon the garden. But for this a remedy soon appeared.
The next house and garden, although called the Manse, because the clergyman of the parish lived there, were Mr Shepherd’s own property. The ruins formed a great part of the boundary between the two, and it was plain to see that the Priory had extended a good way into what was now the other garden. Indeed Mr Shepherd’s house, as well as Mr MacMichael’s, had been built out of the ruins. Mr Shepherd offered to have the wall thrown down and the building extended on his side as well–so that it should stand in the middle of one large garden.
My readers need not put a question as to what would have become of it if the two proprietors had quarrelled; for it had become less likely than ever that such a thing should happen. Willie had told Mona that he loved her more that he could tell, and wanted to ask her a question, only he didn’t know how; and Mona had told Willie that she would suppose his question if he would suppose her answer; and Willie had said, “May I suppose it to be the very answer I should like?” and Mona had answered “Yes” quite decidedly; and Willie had given her a kiss; and Mona had taken the kiss and given him another for it; and so it was all understood, and there was no fear of the wall having to be built up again between the gardens.
So the Priory grew and flourished and gained great reputation; and the fame of the two doctors, father and son, spread far and wide for the cures they wrought. And many people came and paid them large sums. But the more rich people that came, the more poor people they invited. For they never would allow the making of money to intrude upon the dignity of their high calling. How should avarice and cure go together? _A greedy healer of men_! What a marriage of words!
The Priory became quite a grand building. The chapel grew up again, and had windows of stained glass that shone like jewels; and Mr Shepherd, having preached in the parish church in the morning, always preached in the Priory chapel on the Sunday evening, and all the patients, and any one besides that pleased, went to hear him.
They built great baths, hot and cold, and of all kinds–from baths where people could swim, to baths where they were only showered on by a very sharp rain. It was a great and admirable place.
After the two fathers died, Mona had a picture of Willie’s dream painted, with portraits of them as the two angels.
This is the story of Gutta Percha Willie.