Gutta-Percha Willie
George MacDonald

Part 2 out of 3

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,

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

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

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

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

"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

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

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.



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

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

"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

"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."




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

Once there was to be an eclipse of the moon about two o'clock in the

"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

"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.



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

"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

"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,

"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

"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

"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

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

"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

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.



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

"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

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

"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

"This'll never do, Willie," he said. "This is far worse than no

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



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

"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

"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

"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

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

"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."


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

"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.



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

Hector laughed.

"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

"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

"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.



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.



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 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."



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


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