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THE HISTORY OF
WILLIE S HORSE-SHOEING FORGE.
THE HISTORY OF
THE WORKING GENIUS.
GEORGE MAC DONALD, LL.D.
Author of" Ranald Bannerman;" "The Princess and Curdle;"
"At the Back of the North Wind;" &c.
WITH EIGHT ILLUSTRATIONS BY ARTHUR HUGHES.
BLACKIE & SON, LIMITED, .50 OLD BAILEY, E.C.
GLASGOW AND DUBLIN
I. WHO HE WAS AND WHERE HE WAS .
II. WILLIE'S EDUCATION
III. HE IS TURNED INTO SOMETHING HE NEVER WAS
IV. HE SERVES AN APPRENTICESHIP
V. HE GOES TO LEARN A TRADE
VI. HOW WILLIE LEARNED TO READ BEFORE HE KNEW
VII. SOME THINGS THAT CAME OF WILLIE'S GOING TO
VIII. WILLIE DIGS AND FINDS WHAT HE DID NOT
IX. A MARVEL .
X. A NEW ALARUM .
XI. SOME OF THE SIGHTS WILLIE SAW
XII. A NEW SCHEME .
XIII. WILLIE'S NEST IN THE RUINS
XIV. WILLIE'S GRANDMOTHER
XVI. HECTOR HINTS AT A DISCOVERY
XVII. HOW WILLIE WENT ON
XVIII. WILLIE'S TALK WITH HIS GRANDMOTHER
XIX. A TALK WITH MR SHEPHERD
XX. HOW WILLIE DID HIS BEST TO MAKE A BIRD OF
XXI. HOW AGNES LIKED BEING A BIRD
XXII. WILLIE'S PLANS BUD
XXIII. WILLIE'S PLANS BLOSSOM
XXIV. WILLIE'S PLANS BEAR FRUIT.
WILLIE'S HORSE-SHOEING FORGE
MRS. WILSON'S STORIES
WILLIE WITH THE BABY
WILLIE TAKEN TO SEE A WATER-WHEEL
WILLIE TOLD HIS FATHER ALL ABOUT IT
"THAT'S WILLIE AGAIN"
WILLIE MAKES A BIRD OF AGNES
THE HISTORY OF
WHO HE WAS AND WHERE HE WAS.
W HEN he had been at school for about three
weeks, the boys called him Six-fingered-
Jack; but his real name was Willie, for his father/
and mother gave it him-not William, but'Willie,
after a brother of his father, who died young, and
had always been called Willie. His name in full
was Willie Macmichael. It was generally' pro-
nounced Macmickle, which was, by a learned
anthropologist, for certain reasons about to appear
in this history, supposed to have been the original
form of the name, dignified in the course of time
into Macmichael. It was his own father, however,
who gave him the name of Gutta-Percha- Willie,
the reason of which will also show itself by and by.
2 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
Mr Macmichael was a country doctor, living in a
small village in a thinly-peopled country; the first
result"of which was that he had very hard work,
for he had often to ride many miles to see a
patient, and that not unfrequentl] in the middle of
the night; and the second that, for this hard work,
he had very little pay, for a thinly-peopled country
is generally a poor country, and those who live in
it are poor also, and cannot spend much even upon
their health. But the doctor not only preferred a
country life, although he would have been glad to
have richer patients, and within less distances of
each other, but he would say to any one who ex-
pressed surprise that, with his reputation, he should
remain where he was-" What's to become of my
little flock if I go away, for there are very few
doctors of my experience who would feel inclined'
to come and undertake my work. I know every
man, woman, and child in the whole country-side,
and that makes all the difference.' You see,
therefore, that he was a good kind-hearted man,
and loved his work, for the sake of those whom he
helped by it, better than the money he received
Their home was necessarily a very humble one-
a neat little cottage in the village of Priory Leas'
-almost the one pretty spot thereabout. It lay
in a valley in the midst of hills, which did not look
high, because they rose with a gentle slope, and
Who he was and Where he was. 3
had no bold elevations or grand-shaped peaks.
But they rose to a good height notwithstanding,
and the weather on the top of them in the winter-
time was often bitter and fierce-bitter with keen
frost, and fierce with as wild winds as ever blew.
Of both frost and wind the village at their feet
had its share too, but of course they were not so
bad down below, for the hills were a shelter from
the wind, and it is always colder the farther you
go up and away from the heart of this warm ball
of rock and earth upon which we live. When
Willie's father was riding across the great moor-
land of those desolate hills, and the people in the
village would be saying to each other how bitterly
cold it was, he would be thinking how snug and
warm it was down there, and how nice it would be
to turn a certain corner on the road back, and slip
at once out of the freezing wind that had it all its
own way up among the withered gorse and heather
of the wide expanse where he pursued his dreary
For his part, Willie cared very little what the
weather was, but took it as it came. In the hot
summer, he would lie in the long grass and get
cool; in the cold winter, he would scamper about
and get warm. When his hands were as cold as
icicles, his cheeks would be red as apples. When
his mother took his hands in hers, and chafed
them, full of pity for their suffering, as she thought
4 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
it, Willie first knew that they were cold by the
sweet warmth of the kind hands that chafed them:
he had not thought' of it'before. Climbing amongst
the ruins of the Priory, or playing with Farmer
Thomson's boys and girls about the ricks in his
yard, in the thin clear saffron twilight which came
so early after noon, when, to some people, every
breath seemed full of needle-points, so sharp was
the cold, he was as comfortable and happy as if he
had been a creature of the winter only, and found
himself quite at home in it.
For there were ruins, and pretty large ruins too,
which they called the Priory. It was not- often
that monks chose such a poor country to settle in,
but I suppose they had their reasons. And I dare-
say they were not monks at all, but begging friars,
who founded it when they wanted to reprove the
luxury and greed of the monks; and perhaps by
the time they had grown as bad themselves, the
place was nearly finished, and they could not well
move it. They had, however, as I have indicated,
chosen the one pretty spot, around which, for a
short distance on every side, the land was tolerably
good, and grew excellent oats if poor wheat, while
the gardens were equal to apples and a few pears,
besides abundance of gooseberries, currants, and
The ruins of the Priory lay behind Mr Mac-
michael's cottage-indeed, in the very garden-of
Who he was and Where he was. 5
which, along with the house, he had purchased the
feu-that is, the place was his own, so long as he
paid a small sum-not more than fifteen shillings
a year, I think-to his superior. How long it was
since the Priory had come to be looked upon as
the mere encumbrance of a cottage garden, nobody
thereabouts knew; and although by this time I
presume archaeologists have ferreted out every-
thing coincrniinr;g it, nobody except its owner had
then taken the trouble to make the least inquiry
into its history. To Willie it was just the Priory,
as naturally in his father's garden as if every gar-
den had similar ruins to adorn or encumber it,
according as the owner might choose to regard its
The ruins were of considerable extent, with re-
mains of Gothic arches, and carvings about the
doors-all open to the sky except a few places on
the ground-level which were vaulted. These being
still perfectly solid, were used by the family as
outhouses to store wood and peats, to keep the
garden tools in, and for such like purposes., In
summer, golden flowers grew on the broken walls;
in winter, grey frosts edged them against the sky.
I fancy the whole garden was but the space once
occupied by the huge building, for its surface was
the most irregular I ever saw in a garden. It was
up and down, up and down, in whatever direction
you went, mounded with heaps of ruins, over which
6 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
the mould had gathered. For many years bushes
and flowers had grown upon them, and you might
dig a good way without coming to the stones
though come to them you must at last. The
walks wound about between the heaps, and through
the thick walls of the ruin, overgrown-with lichens
and mosses, now and then passing through an
arched door or window of the ancient building. It
was a generous garden in old-fashioned flowers and
vegetables. There were a few apple and pear trees
also on a wall that faced the south, which were re-
garded by Willie with mingled respect and desire,
for he was not allowed to touch them, while of the
gooseberries he was allowed to eat as many as he
pleased when they were ripe, and of the currants
too, after his mother had had as many as she
wanted for preserves.
Some spots were much too shady to allow either
fruit or flowers to grow in them, so high and close
were the walls. But I need not say more about
the garden now, for I shall have occasion to refer
to it again and again, and I must not tell all I know
at once, else how should I make a story of it ?
WILLIE'S EDUCA TION.
WILLIE was a good deal more than nine
years of age before he could read a single
word. It was not that he was stupid, as we shall
soon see, but that he had not learned the good of
reading, and therefore had not begun to wish to
read; and his father had unusual ideas about how
he ought to be educated. He said he would no
more think of making Willie learn to read before
he wished to be taught than he would make him
eat if he wasn't hungry. The gift of reading, he
said, was too good a thing to give him before he
wished to have it, or knew the value of it. "Would
you give him a watch," he would say, "before he
cares to know whether the sun rises in the east or
the west, or at what hour dinner will be ready?"
Now I am not very sure how this would work
with some boys and girls. I am afraid they might
never learn to read until they had boys and girls
of their own whom they wanted to be better off
than, because of their ignorance, they had been
themselves. But it worked well in Willie's case.
8 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
who was neither lazy nor idle. And it must not
be supposed that he was left without any educa-
tion at all. For one thing, his father and mother
used to talk very freely before him-much more
so than most parents do in the presence of their
children; and nothing serves better for teaching
than the conversation of good and thoughtful
people. While they talked, Willie would sit lis-
tening intently; trying to understand what he
heard; and although it not unfrequently took very
strange shapes in his little mind, because at times
he understood neither the words nor the things
the words represented, yet there was much that he
did understand and make a good use of. For in-
stance, he soon came to know that his father and
mother had very little money to spare, and that
his father had to work hard to get what money
they had. He learned also that everything that
came into the house, or was done for them, cost
money; therefore, for one thing, he must not ill-use
his clothes. He learned, too, that there was a great
deal of suffering in the world, and that his father's
business was to try to make it less, and help people
who were ill to grow well again, and be able to do
their work; and this made him see what a useful
man his father was, and wish to be also of some
good in the world. Then he looked about him
and saw that there were a great many ways of
getting money, that is, a great many things for
Willie 's Education.
doing which people would give money; and he saw
that some of those ways were better than others,
and he thought his father's way the very best of all.
I give these as specimens of the lessons he learned
by listening to his father and mother as they talked
together. But he had another teacher.
Down the street of the village, which was.very
straggling, with nearly as many little gardens as
houses in it, there was a house occupied by several
poor people, in one end of which, consisting just of
a room and a closet, an old woman lived who got
her money by spinning flax into yarn for making
linen. She was a kind-hearted old creature-a
widow, without any relation near to help her or
look after her. She had had one child, who died
before he was as old as Willie. That was forty
years before, but she had never forgotten her little
Willie, for that was his name too, and she fancied
our Willie was like him,, Nothing, therefore, pleased
her better than to get him into her little room, and
talk to him. She would take a little bit of sugar-
candy or liquorice out of her cupboard for hin,
and tell him some strange old fairy tale or legend,
while she sat spinning, until at last she had made
him so fond of her that he would often go and stay
for hours with her. Nor did it make much differ-
ence when his mother begged Mrs Wilson to give
him something sweet only now and then, for she
was afraid of his going to see the old woman
10 History of Gutta-Percka Willie.
merely for what she gave him, which would have
been greedy. But the fact was, he liked her stories
better than her sugar-candy and liquorice; while
above all things he delighted in watching the
wonderful wheel go round and round so fast that
he could not find out whether her foot was making
it spin, or it was making her foot dance up and
down in that curious way. After she had explained
it to him as well .as she could, and he thought he
understood it, it seemed to him only the more
wonderful and mysterious; and ever as it went
whirring round, it sung a song of its own, which
was also the song of the story, whatever it was,
that the old woman was telling him, as he sat
listening in her high soft chair, covered with long-
faded chintz, and cushioned like a nest. For Mrs
Wilson had had a better house to live in once, and
this chair, as well as the chest of drawers of dark
mahogany, with brass handles, that stood opposite
the window, was part of the furniture she saved
when she had to sell the rest; and well it was, she
used to say, for her old rheumatic bones that she
had saved the chair at least. In that chair, then,
the little boy would sit coiled up as nearly into a
ball as might be, like a young bird or a rabbit in its
nest, staring at the wheel, and listening with two
ears and one heart to its song and the old woman's
tale both at once.
One sultry summer afternoon, his mother not
"WILLIE LIKED MRS. WILSON'S STORIES BETTER THAN
HER SUGAR CANDY."
Willie's Education. I
being very well and having gone to lie down, his
father being out, as he so often was, upon Scramble
the old horse, and Tibby, their only servant, being
busy with the ironing, Willie ran off to Widow
Wilson's, and was soon curled up in the chair, like
a little Hindoo idol that had grown weary of sitting
upright, and had tumbled itself into a corner.
Now, before he came, the old woman had been
thinking about him, and wishing very much that
he would come; turning over also in her mind, as
she spun, all her stock of stories, in the hope of
finding in some nook or other one she had not yet
told him; for although he had not yet begun to
grow tired even of those he knew best, it was a
special treat to have a new one; for by this time
Mrs Wilson's store was all but exhausted, and a
new one turned up very rarely. This time, how-
ever, she was successful, and did call to mind one
that she had not thought of before. It had not
only grown very dusty, but was full of little holes,
which she at once set about darning up with the
needle and thread of her imagination, so that, by
the time Willie arrived, she had a treat, as she
thought, quite ready for him.
I am not going to tell you the story, which was
about a poor boy who received from a fairy to
whom he had shown some kindness the gift of a
marvellous wand, in the shape of a common black-
thorn walking-stick, which nobody could suspect
12 H.istory of Gutta-Percha Wille.
of possessing such wonderful virtue. By means of
it, he was able to do anything he wished, without
the least trouble; and so, upon a trial of skill,
appointed by a certain king, in order to find out
which of the craftsmen of his realm was fittest to
aid him in ruling it, he found it easy to surpass
every one of them, each in his own trade. He
produced a richer damask than any of the silk-
weavers; a finer linen than any of the linen-
weavers; a more complicated as well as ornate
cabinet, with more drawers and quaint hiding-
places, than any of the cabinet-makers; a sword-
blade more cunningly damasked, and a hilt more
gorgeously jewelled, than any of the sword-makers;
a ring set with stones more precious, more brilliant
in colour, and more beautifully combined, than
any of the jewellers: in short, as I say, without
knowing a single device of one of the arts in
question, he surpassed every one of the competitors
in his own craft, won the favour of the king and
the office .he wished to confer, and, if I remember
rightly, gained at length the king's daughter to boot.
For a long time Willie had not uttered a single
exclamation, and when the old woman looked up,
fancying he must be asleep, she saw, to her dis-
appointment, a cloud upon his face-amounting to
What's the matter with you, Willie, my chick ?"
she asked. Have you got a headache ?"
"No, thank you, Mrs Wilson," answered Willie;
"but I don't like that story at all." -
"I'm sorry for that. I thought I should be
sure to please you this time; it is one I never told
you before, for I had quite forgotten it myself till
this very afternoon. Why don't you like it ?"
"Because he was a cheat. He couldn't do the
things; it was only the fairy's wand that did them."
"But he was such a good lad, and had been so
kind to the fairy."
"That makes no difference. He wasn't good.
And the fairy wasn't good either, or she wouldn't
have set him to do such wicked things."
"They weren't wicked things. They were all
first-rate--everything that he made-better than
any one else could make them."
"But he didn't make them. There wasn't one
of those poor fellows he cheated that wasn't a
better man than he. The worst of them could do
something with his own hands, and I don't believe
he could do anything, for if he had ever tried he
would have hated to be such a sneak. He cheated
the king, too, and the princess, and everybody.
Oh! shouldn't I like to have been there, and to
have beaten him wand and all! For somebody
might have been able to make the things better
still, if he had only known how."
Mrs Wilson was disappointed-perhaps a little
ashamed that she had not thought of this before;
14 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
anyhow she grew cross ; and because she was cross,
she grew unfair, and said to Willie-
"You think a great deal of yourself, Master
Willie! Pray what could those idle little hands
of yours do, if you were to try ?"
"I don't know, for I haven't tried," answered
"It's a pity you shouldn't," she rejoined, "if
you think they would turn out so very clever."
She didn't mean anything but crossness when
she said this-for which probably a severe rheu-
matic twinge which just then passed through her
shoulder was also partly to blame. But Willie took
her up quite seriously, and asked in a tone that
showed he wanted it accounted for-
"Why haven't I ever done anything, Mrs
"You ought to know that best yourself," she
answered, still cross. "I suppose because you
don't like work. Your good father and mother
work very hard, I 'm sure. It's a shame of you to
be so idle."
This was rather hard on a boy of seven, for
Willie was no more then. It made him look very
grave indeed, if not unhappy, for a little while, as
he sat turning over the thing in his mind.
"Is it wrong to play about, Mrs Wilson ?" he
asked, after a pause of considerable duration.
No, indeed, my dear," she answered; for during
Willie's Education. 15
the pause she had begun to be sorry for having
spoken so roughly to her little darling.
"Does everybody work ?"
Everybody that's worth anything, and is old
enough," she added.
Does God work?" he asked, after another
pause, in a low voice.
No, child. What should He work for ?"
"If everybody works that is good and old
enough, then I think God must work," answered
Willie. "But I will ask my papa. Am I old
"Well, you're not old enough to do much, but
you might do something."
"What could I do ? Could I spin, Mrs Wilson ?"
No, child ; that's not an easy thing to do; but
you could knit."
Could I? What good would it do ?"
"Why, you could knit your mother a pair of
"Could I though? Will you teach me, Mrs
Mrs Wilson very readily promised, foreseeing
that so she might have a good deal more of the
little man's company, if indeed he was in earnest;
for she was very lonely, and was never so happy
as when he was with her. She said she would get
him some knitting-needles-wires she called them
-that very evening; she had some wool, and if
16 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
he came to-morrow, she would soon see whether he
was old enough and clever enough to learn to knit.
She advised him, however, to say nothing about it
to his mother till she had made up her mind
whether or not he could learn; for if he could,
then he might surprise her by taking her something
of his own knitting-at least a pair of muffetees to
keep her wrists warm in the winter. Willie went
home solemn with his secret.
The next day he began to learn, and although
his fingers annoyed him a good deal at first by
refusing to do exactly as he wanted them, they
soon became more obedient; and before the new
year arrived, he had actually knitted a pair of
warm white lamb's-wool stockings for his mother.
I am bound to confess that when first they were
finished they were a good deal soiled by having
been on the way so long, and perhaps partly by
the little hands not always being so clean as they
might have been when he turned from play to
work; but Mrs Wilson washed them herself, and
they looked, if not as white as snow, at least as
white as the whitest lamb you ever saw. I will
not attempt to describe the delight of his mother,
the triumph of Willie, or the gratification of his
father, who saw in this good promise of his boy's
capacity; for all that I have written hitherto is
only introductory to my story, and I long to begin
and tell it you in a regular straightforward fashion.
Willie's Education. 17
Before I begin, however, I must not forget to
tell you that Willie did ask his father the question
with Mrs Wilson's answer to which he had not
been satisfied-I mean the question whether God
worked; and his father's answer, after he had sat
pondering for a while in his chair, was something
to this effect:-
"Yes, Willie; it seems to me that God works
more than anybody-for He works all night and
all day, and, if I remember rightly, Jesus tells us
somewhere that He works all Sunday too. If He
were to stop working, everything would stop
being. The sun would stop shining, and the
moon and the stars; the corn would stop growing;
there would be no more apples or gooseberries;
your eyes would stop seeing; your ears would
stop hearing; your fingers couldn't move an inch;
and, worst of all, your little heart would stop
"No, papa," cried Willie; "I shouldn't stop
loving, I'm sure."
"Indeed you would, Willie."
"Not you and mamma."
"Yes; you wouldn't love us any more than if
you were dead asleep without dreaming."
"That would be dreadful."
"Yes it would. So you see how good God is
to us-to go on working, that we may be able to
love each other."
18 History of Gutta-Percha Wilhze.
"Then if God works like that all day long, it
must be a fine thing to work," said Willie.
"You are right. It is a fine thing to work-the
finest thing in the world, if it comes of love, as
God's work does."
This conversation made Willie quite determined
to learn to knit; for if God worked, he would
work too. And although the work he undertook was
a very small work, it was like all God's great works,
for every loop he made had a little love looped up
in it, like an invisible, softest, downiest lining to
the stockings. And after those, he went on knit-
ting a pair for his father; and indeed, although he
learned to work with a needle as well, and to darn
the stockings he had made, and even tried his
hand at the spinning-of which, however, he could
not make much for a long time-he had not left
off knitting when we come to begin the story in
the next chapter.
HE IS TURNED INTO SOMETHING HE NEVER WAS
H ITHERTO I have been mixing up summer
and winter and everything all together,
but now I am going to try to keep everything in
its own place.
Willie was now nine years old. His mother had
been poorly for some time-confined to her room,
as she not unfrequently was in the long cold
winters. It was winter now; and one morning,
when all the air was dark with falling snow, he
was standing by the parlour window, looking out
on it, and wondering whether the angels made it
up in the sky; for he thought it might be their
sawdust, which, when they had too much, they
shook down to get melted and put out of the way;
when Tibby came into the room very softly, and
looking, he thought, very strange.
"Willie, your mamma wants you," she said;
and Willie hastened up-stairs to his mother's room.
Dark as was the air outside, he was surprised to
20 History of Gutta-Percha Wille.
find how dark the room was. And what surprised
him more was a curious noise which he heard the
moment he entered it, like the noise of a hedge-
hog, or some other little creature of the fields or
woods. But he crept gently up to his mother's
Are you better this morning, mamma ?"
And she answered in a feeble sweet voice-
"Yes, Willie, very much better. And, Willie,
God has sent you a little sister."
"O-o-o-oh!" cried Willie. "A little sister!
Did He make her Himself?"
"Yes; He made her Himself; and sent her to
you last night."
"How busy He must have been lately I" said
Willie. "Where is she? I should like to see her.
Is she my very own sister?"
Yes, your very own sister, Willie-to love and
take care of always."
"Where is she?"
Go and ask nurse to let you see her."
Then Willie saw that there was a strange woman
in the room, with something lying on her lap. He
went up to her, and she folded back the corner of
a blanket, and revealed a face no bigger than that
of the big doll at the clergyman's house, but alive,
quite alive-such a pretty little face! He stod
staring at it for a while.
May I kiss her, nurse ?"
Something he never was Before. 21
He kissed her, half afraid, he did not know of
what. Her cheek was softer and smoother than
anything he had ever touched before. He sped
back to his mother, too full of delight to speak.
But she was not yet well enough to talk to him,
and his father coming in, led him down-stairs again,
where he began once more to watch the snow,
wondering now if it had anything to do with baby's
In the afternoon, it was found that the lock of
his mother's room not only would not catch easily,
but made a noise that disturbed her. So his
father got a screwdriver and removed it, making
as little noise as he could. Next he contrived a
way, with a piece of string, for keeping the door
shut, and as that would not hold it close enough
hung a shawl over it to keep the draught out-all
which proceeding Willie watched. As soon as he
had finished, and the nurse had closed the door
behind them, Mr Macmichael set out to take the
lock to the smithy, and allowed Willie to go with
him. By the time they reached it, the snow was
an inch deep on their shoulders, on Willie's cap,
and on his father's hat. How red the glow of the
smith's fire looked It was a great black cavern
with a red heart to it in the midst of whiteness.
The smith was a great powerful man, with bare
arms, and blackened face. When they entered, he
22 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
and two other men were making the axle of a
wheel. They had a great lump of red-hot iron on
the anvil, and were knocking a big hole through
it-not boring it, but knocking it through with a
big punch. One of the men, with a pair of tongs-
like pincers, held the punch steady in the hole,
while the other two struck the head of it with
alternate blows of mighty hammers called sledges,
each of which it took the strength of two brawny
arms to heave high above the head with a great
round swing over the shoulder, that it might come
down with right good force, and drive the punch
through the glowing iron, which was, I should
judge, four inches thick. All this Willie thought
he could understand, for he knew that fire made
the hardest metal soft; but what he couldn't at all
understand was this: every now and then they
stopped heaving their mighty sledges, the third
man took the punch out of the hole, and the smith
himself, whose name was Willet (and will it he
did with a vengeance, when he had anything on
the anvil before him), caught up his tongs in his
hand, then picked up a little bit of black coal with
the tongs, and dropped it into the hole where the
punch had been, where it took fire immediately
and blazed up. Then in went the punch again,
and again the huge hammering commenced, with
such bangs and blows, that the smith was wise
to have no floor to his smithy, for they would
Something he never was Before. 23
surely have knocked a hole in that, though they
were not able to knock the anvil down halfway into
the earth, as the giant smith in the story did.
While this was going on, Mr Macmichael, per-
ceiving that the operation ought not to be inter-
rupted any more than a surgical one, stood quite
still waiting, and Willie stood also-absorbed in
staring, and gradually creeping nearer and nearer
to the anvil, for there were no sparks flying about
to make it dangerous to the eyes, as there would
have been if they had been striking the iron itself
instead of the punch.
As soon as the punch was driven through, and
the smith had dropped his sledge-hammer, and
begun to wipe his forehead, Willie spoke.
Mr Willet," he said, for he knew every man of
any standing in the village by name and profession,
"why did you put bits of coal into the hole you
were making? I should have thought it would
be in the way rather than help you."
So it would, my little man," answered Willet,
with no grim though grimy smile, if it didn't take
fire and keep getting out of the way all the time
it kept up the heat. You see we depend on the
heat for getting through, and it's much less trouble
to drop a bit of coal or two into the hole, than to
take up the big axle and lay it in the fire again,
not to mention the time and the quantity of coal
it would take to heat it up afresh."
24 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
But such little bits of coal couldn't do much ?"
They could do enough, and all that's less after
that is saving," said the smith, who was one of
those men who can not only do a thing right but
give a reason for it. "You see I was able to put
the little bits just in the right place."
I see! I see I" cried Willie. I understand I
But, papa, do you think Mr Willet is the proper
person to ask to set yourlock right ?"
I haven't a doubt of it," said Mr Macmichael,
taking it out of his greatcoat pocket, and unfold-
ing the piece of paper in which he had wrapped it.
"Why do you make a question of it ? "
"Because look what great big huge things he
does How could those tremendous hammers set
such a little thing as that right ? They would knock
it all to pieces. Don't you think you had better
take it to the watchmaker? "
If I did, Willie, do you know what you would
say the moment you saw him at work?"
No, papa. What should I say?"
"You would say, 'Don't you think, papa, you
had better take it back to the smith ?'"
"But why should I say that ? "
"Because, when you saw his tools beside this
lock, you would think the tools so small and the
lock so huge, that nothing could be done between
them. Yet I daresay the watchmaker could set
Something hze never was Before.
the lock all right if he chose to try. Don't you
think so, Mr Willet ?"
"Not a doubt of it," answered the smith.
"Had we better go to him then ?"
Well," answered the smith, smiling, I think
perhaps he would ask you why you hadn't come to
me. No doubt he could do it, but I've got better
tools for the purpose. Let me look at the lock.
I'm sure I shall be able to set it right."
"Not with that great big hammer, then," said
No; I have smaller hammers than that. When
do you want it, sir ?"
"Could you manage to do it at once, and let me
take it home, for there's a little baby there, just
"You don't mean it!" said the smith, looking
surprised. I wish you joy, sir."
"And this is the lock of the room she's in," con-
tinued the doctor.
"And you're afraid of her getting out and flying
off again !" said the smith. "I will do it at once.
There isn't much wrong with it, I daresay. I hope
Mrs Macmichael is doing well, sir."
He took the lock, drew several screws from it,
and then forced it open.
"It's nothing but the spring gone," he said, as
he took out something and threw it away.
Then he took out several more pieces, and
26 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
cleaned them all. Then he searched in a box till
he found another spring, which he put in instead of
the broken one, after snipping off a little bit with a
pair of pincers. Then he put all the pieces in, put
on the cover of it, gave something a few taps with a
tiny hammer, replaced the screws, and said-
Shall I come and put it on for you, sir ?"
No, no; I am up to that much," said Mr Mac-
michael. I can easily manage that. Come, Willie.
I'm much obliged to you for doing it at once. Good-
Then out they went into the snowstorm again,
Willie holding fast by his father's hand.
"This is good," said his father. "Your mother
will have a better day all to-morrow, and perhaps
a longer sleep to-night for it. You see how easy it
is to be both useful and kind sometimes. The smith
did more for your mother in those few minutes than
ten doctors could have done. Think of his great
black fingers making a little more sleep and rest
and warmth for her-and all in those few minutes "
Suppose he couldn't have done it," said Willie.
" Do you think the watchmaker could ? "
"That I can't tell, but I don't think it likely. We
should most probably have had to get a new one."
Suppose you couldn't get a new one ?"
"Then we should have had to set our wits to
work, and contrive some other way of fastening the
door, so that mamma shouldn't take cold by its
Something he never was Before. 27
being open, nor yet be disturbed by the noise of
"It would be so nice to be able to do every-
thing I said Willie.
So it would; but nobody can; and it's just as
well, for then we should not need so much help from
each other, and would be too independent."
Then shouldn't a body try to do as many things
as he can ?"
Yes, for there's no fear of ever being able to do
without other people, and you would be so often
able to help them. Both the smith and the watch-
maker could mend a lock, but neither of them could
do without the other for all that."
When Willie went to bed, he lay awake a long
time, thinking how, if the lock could not have been
mended, and there had been no other to be had, he
could have contrived to keep the door shut properly.
In the morning, however, he told his father that he
had not thought of any way that would do, for
though he could contrive to shut and open the door
well enough, he could not think how a person out-
side might be able to do it ; and he thought the best
way, if such a difficulty should occur, would be to
take the lock off his door, and put it on mamma's
till a better one could be got. Of this suggestion
his father, much to Willie's satisfaction, entirely
HE SERVES AN APPRENTICESHIP.
WILLIE'S mother grew better, and Willie's
sister grew bigger; and the strange nurse
went away, and Willie and his mother and Tibby,
with a little occasional assistance from the doctor,
managed the baby amongst them. Considering
that she had been yet only a short time at school,
she behaved wonderfully well. She never cried
except she was in some trouble, and even then you
could seldom have seen a tear on her face. She did
all that was required of her, grew longer and broader
and heavier, and was very fond of a lighted candle.
The only fault she had was that she wouldn't give
Willie quite so many smiles as he wanted. As
to the view she took of affairs, she seemed for a long
time to be on the whole very well satisfied with life
and its gifts. But when at last its troubles began
to overtake her, she did not approve of them at all.
The first thing she objected to was being weaned,
which she evidently considered a very cruel and
unnecessary experience. But her father said it
He Serves an Apprenticeship.
must be, and her mother, believing him to know
best, carried out his decree. Little Agnes endured
it tolerably well in the daytime, but in the night
protested lustily-was indeed so outrageously in-
dignant, that one evening the following conversa-
tion took place at the tea-table, where Willie sat
and heard it.
Really, my dear," said Mrs Macmichael, I can-
not have your rest disturbed in this way another
night. You must go to Willie's room, and let me
manage the little squalling thing myself."
Why shouldn't I take my share of the trouble?"
objected her husband.
Because you may be called up any moment, and
have no more sleep till next night; and it is not fair
that what sleep your work does let you have should
be so unnecessarily broken. It's not as if I couldn't
manage without you."
But Willie's bed is not big enough for both of
us," he objected.
"Then Willie can come and sleep with
But Willie wants his sleep as much as I do
There's no fear of him: he would sleep though
all the babies in Priory Leas were crying in the
Would I really ?" thought Willie, feeling rather
ashamed of himself.
30 Histbry of Gutta-Percha Willie.
"But who will get up and warm the milk-and-
water for you ? pursued his father.
Oh! I can manage that quite well."
"Couldn't I do that, mamma ? said Willie, very
humbly, for he thought of what his mother had said
about his sleeping powers.
"No, my pet," she answered; and he said no
It seems to me," said his father, "a very clumsy
necessity. I have been thinking over it. To keep
a fire in all night only to warm such a tiny drop of
water as she wants, I must say, seems like using a
steam-engine to sweep up the crumbs. If you
would just get a stone bottle, fill it with boiling
water, wrap a piece of flannel about it, and lay it
anywhere in the bed, it would be quite hot enough
even in the morning to make the milk as warm as
she ought to have it."
If you will go to Willie's room, and let Willie
come and sleep with me, I will try it," she said.
Mr Macmichael consented; and straightway
Willie was filled with silent delight at the thought
of sleeping with his mother and the baby. Nor be-
cause of that only ; for he resolved within himself
that he would try to get a share in the business of
the night: why should his mother have too little
sleep rather than himself? They might at least
divide the too little between them So he went to
bed early, full of the thought of waking up as soon
He Serves an Apprenticeship.
as Agnes should begin to cry, and finding out what
he could do. Already he had begun to be useful in
the daytime, and had twice put her to sleep when
both his mother and Tibby had failed. And al-
though he quite understood that in all probability
he would not have succeeded if they hadn't tried
first, yet it had been some relief to them, and they
had confessed it.
But when he woke, there lay his mother and his
sister both sound asleep; the sun was shining
through the blind; he heard Tibby about the
house; and, in short, it was time to get up.
At breakfast, his father said to him-
"Well, Willie, how did Agnes behave herself last
"So well answered Willie; "she never cried
0 Willie 1 said his mother, laughing, "she
screamed for a whole hour, and was so hungry
after it that she emptied her bottle without stop-
ping once. You were sound asleep all the time,
and never stirred."
Willie was so much ashamed of himself, although
he wasn't in the least to blame, that he could hardly
keep from crying. He did not say another word,
except when he was spoken to, all through break-
fast, and his father and mother were puzzled to
think what could be the matter with him. He
went about the greater part of the morning moodily
32 History of Gutta-Percha WiuWze.
thinking; then for advice betook himself to Mrs
Wilson, who gave him her full attention, and sug-
gested several things, none of which, however,
seemed to him likely to succeed.
"If I could but go to bed after mamma was
asleep," he said, "I could tie a string to my hair,
and then slip a loop at the other end over mamma's
wrist, so that when she sat up to attend to Agnes,
she would pull my hair and wake me. Wouldn't
she wonder what it was when she felt it pulling
He had to go home without any help from Mrs
Wilson. All the way he kept thinking with him-
self something after this fashion-
"Mamma won't wake me, and Agnes can't; and
the worst of it is that everybody else will be just as
fast asleep as I shall be. Let me see-who is there
that's awake all night ? There's the cat: I think
she is, but then she wouldn't know when to wake
me, and even if I could teach her to wake me the
moment Agnes cried, I don't think she would be a
nice one to do it; for if I didn't come awake with a
pat of her velvety pin-cushions, she might turn out
the points of the pins in them, and scratch me
awake. There 's the clock; it's always awake; but
it can't tell you the time till you go and ask it. I
think it might be made to wind up a string that
should pull me when the right time came; but I
don't think I could teach it. And when it came to
He Serves an Apprentwceshp.
the pull, the pull might stop the clock, and what
would papa say then ? They tell me the owls are
up all night, but they're no good, I 'm certain. I
don't see what I am to'do. I wonder if God would
wake me if I were to ask Him ? "
I don't know whether Willie did or did not ask
God to wake him. I did not inquire, for what
goes on of that kind, it is better not to talk much
about. What I do know is, that he fell asleep with
his head and heart full of desire to wake and help
his mother; and that, in the middle of the night,
he did wake up suddenly, and there was little Agnes
screaming with all her might. He sat up in bed
"What's the matter, Willie ?" said his mother.
" Lie down and go to sleep."
Baby's crying," said Willie.
"Never you mind. I'11 manage her."
"Do you know, mamma, I think I was waked
up just in time to help you. I'll take her from
you, and perhaps she will take her drink from me."
"Nonsense, Willie. Lie down, my pet."
"But I've been thinking about it, mamma. Do
you remember, yesterday, Agnes would not take
her bottle from you, and screamed and screamed;
but when Tibby took her, she gave in and drank it
all? Perhaps she would do the same with me."
As he spoke he slipped out of bed, and held out
his arms to take the baby. The light was already
34 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
coming in, just a little, through the blind, for it
was summer. He heard a cow lowing in the fields
at the back of the house, and he wondered whether
her baby had woke her. The next moment he had
little Agnes in his arms, for his mother thought he
might as well try, seeing he was awake,
"Do take care and don't let her fall, Willie."
"That I will, mamma. I 'ye got her tight. Now
give me the bottle, please."
I haven't got it ready yet; for you woke the
minute she began to cry."
So Willie walked about the room with Agnes till
his mother had got her bottle filled with nice warm
milk-and-water and just a little sugar. When she
gave it to him, he sat down with the baby on his
knees, and, to his great delight, and the satisfaction
of his mother as well, she stopped crying, and began
to drink the milk-and-water.
"Why, you're a born nurse, Willie I" said his
But the moment the baby heard her mother's
voice, she forsook the bottle, and began to scream,
wanting to go to her.
"0 mamma! you mustn't speak, please; for of
course she likes you better than the bottle; and
when you speak that reminds her of you. It was
just the same with Tibby yesterday. Or if you
must speak, speak with some other sound, and not
in your own soft, sweet way,"
"WILLIE SAT DOWN WITH THE BABY ON HIS KNEES, AND
SHE STOPPED CRYING."
He Serves an .Ai;i.::;,. 35
SA few moments after, Willie was so startled by
a gruff voice in the room that he nearly dropped
the bottle; but it was only his mother following his
directions. The plan was quite successful, for the
baby had not a suspicion that the voice was her
mother's, paid no heed to it, and attended only to
Mr Macmichael, who had been in the country,
was creeping up the stair to his room, fearful of
disturbing his wife, when what should he hear but
a man's voice as he supposed and what should he
think but that robbers had broken in! Of course
he went to his wife's room first. There he heard
the voice plainly enough through the door, but
when he opened it he could see no one except Willie
feeding the baby on an ottoman at the foot of the
bed. When his wife had explained what and why
it was, they both laughed heartily over Willie's sug-
gestion for leaving the imagination of little Agnes
in repose; and henceforth he was installed as night-
nurse, so long as the process of weaning should
last; and very proud of his promotion he was. He
slept as sound as ever, for he had no anxiety about
waking; his mother always woke him the instant
Agnes began to cry.
"Willie!" she would say, "Willie! here's your
baby wanting you."
And up Willie would start, sometimes before he
was able to open his eyes, for little boys' eyelids
36 History of Gutta-Percha Wille.
are occasionally obstinate. And once he jumped
out of bed crying, "Where is she, mamma? I've
lost her !" for he had been dreaming about her.
You may be sure his mamma let him have a long
sleep in the morning always, to make up for being
disturbed in the night.
Agnes throve well, notwithstanding the weaning.
She soon got reconciled to the bottle, and then
Willie slept in peace.
HE GOES TO LEARN A TRADE,
T IME passed, and Willie grew. Have my
readers ever thought what is meant by
growing? It is far from meaning only that you
get bigger and stronger. It means that you become
able both to understand and to wonder at more of
the things about you. There are people who the
more they understand, wonder the less; but such
are not growing straight; they are growing crooked.
There are two ways of growing. You may be
growing up, or you may be growing down; and if
you are doing both at once, then you are growing
crooked. There are people who are growing up in
understanding, but down in goodness. It is a beau-
tiful fact, however, that you can't grow up in good-
ness and down in understanding; while the great
probability is, that, if you are not growing better,
you will by and by begin to grow stupid. Those
who are growing the right way, the more they
understand, the more they wonder; and the more
they learn to do, the more they want to do. Willie
38 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
was a boy of this kind. I don't care to write about
boys and girls, or men and women, who are not
growing the right way. They are not interesting
enough to write about.
But he was not the only one to grow: Agnes
grew as well; and the more Willie grew capable of
helping her, the more he found Agnes required of
him. It was a long time, however, before he knew
how much ,he was obliged to Agnes for requiring
so much of him.
She grew and grew until she was capable of a
doll; when of course a doll was given her-not a
new one just bought, but a most respectable old
doll, a big one that had been her mother's when she
was a little girl, and which she had been wise
enough to put in her trunk before she left her
mother's house to go home with Mr Macmichael.
She made some new clothes for it now, and Tibby
made a cloak and bonnet for her to wear when she
went out of doors. But it struck Willie that her
shoes, which were only of cloth, were very unfit for
walking, and he thought that in a doctor's family
it was something quite amazing that, while head
and shoulders were properly looked after, the feet
should remain utterly neglected. It was clear that
must be his part in the affair; it could not be any-
body else's, for in that case some one else would
have attended to it. He must see about it.
I think I have said before that Willie knew almost
He Goes to Learn a Trade. 39
everybody in the village, and I might have added
that everybodywithout exception knewhim. Hewas
a favourite-first of all, because his father was much
loved and trusted; next, because his mother spoke
as kindly to her husband's poor patients as to the
richer ones; and last, because he himself spoke to
everybody with proper respect. Some of the
people, however, he knew of course better than
others. Of these Mrs Wilson we know was one,
But I believe I also mentioned that in the house in
which she lived there were other poor people. In
the room opposite to hers, on the ground-floor,
lived and worked a shoemaker-a man who had
neither wife nor child, nor, so far as people knew,
any near relative at all. He was far from being in
good health, and although he worked from morning
to night, had a constant pain in his back, which
was rather crooked, having indeed a little hump on
it. If his temper was not always of the best, I
wonder what cleverest of watches or steam-engines
would go as well as he did with such a twist in its
back? To see him seated on his low stool-in
which, by the way, as if it had not been low enough,
he sat in a leather-covered hole, perhaps for the
sake of the softness and spring of the leather-with
his head and body bent forward over his lapstone
or his last, and his right hand with the quick broad-
headed hammer hammering uip and down on a piece
of sole-leather; or with both his hands now meet-
40 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
ing as if for a little friendly chat about something
small, and then suddenly starting asunder as if in
astonished anger, with a portentous hiss, you might
have taken him for an automaton moved by springs,
and imitating human actions in a very wonderful
manner-so regular and machine-like were his
motions, and so little did he seem to think about
what he was at. A little passing attention, a hint
now and then from his head, was sufficient to keep
his hands right, for they were so used to their work,
and had been so well taught by his head, that they
could pretty nearly have made a pair of shoes of
themselves; so that the shoemaking trade is one
that admits of a great deal of thought going on in
the head that hangs over the work, like a sun over
the earth ripening its harvest. Shoemakers have
distinguished themselves both in poetry and in
prose; and if Hector Macallaster had done so in
neither, he could yet think, and that is what some
people who write both poetry and prose cannot do.
But it is of infinitely more importance to be able
to think well than merely to write ever so well;
and, besides, to think well is what everybody ought
to be or to become able to do.
Hector had odd ways of looking at things, but I
need not say more about that, for it will soon be
plain enough. Ever since the illness from which
he had risen with a weak spine, and ever-working
brain, and a quiet heart, he had shown himself not
He Goes to Learn a Trade.
merely a good sort of man, for such he had always
been, but a religious man; not by saying much,
for he was modest even to shyness with grown
people, but by the solemnity of his look when a
great word was spoken, by his unblamable be-
haviour, and by the readiness with which he would
lend or give of his small earnings to his poor neigh-
bours. The only thing of which anybody could
complain was his temper; but it showed itself only
occasionally, and almost everybody made excuse
for it on the ground of his bodily ailments. He
gave it no quarter himself, however. He said once
to the clergyman, to whom he had been lamenting
the trouble he had with it, and who had sought to
comfort him by saying that it was caused by the
weakness of his health-
"No, sir-excuse me; nobody knows how much
I am indebted to my crooked back. If it weren't
for that I might have a bad temper and never
know it. But that drives it out of its hole, and
when I see the ugly head of it I know it's there,
and try once more to starve it to death. But oh
dear! it's such a creature to burrow! When I
think I 've built it in all round, out comes its head
again at a place where I never looked to see it, and
it's all to do over again!"
You will understand by this already that the
shoemaker thought after his own fashion, which is
the way everybody who can think does think.
42 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
What he thought about his trade and some other
things we shall see by and by.
When Willie entered his room, he greeted him
with a very friendly nod; for not only was he fond
of children, but he had a special favour for Willie,
chiefly because he considered himself gr.. tly in-
debted to him for something he had said to Mrs
Wilson, and which had given him a good deal to
think about. For Mrs Wilson often had a chat
with Hector, and then she would not unfrequently
talk about Willie, of whose friendship she was
proud. She had told him of the strange question
he had put to her as to whether God worked, and
the shoemaker, thinking over it, had come to the
same conclusion as Willie's father, and it had been
a great comfort and help to him.
"What can I do for you to-day, Willie ?" he
said; for in that part of the country they do not
say Master and Miss. "You look," he added, as
if you wanted something."
I want you to teach me, please," answered
"To teach you what ? asked Hector.
"To make shoes, please," answered Willie.
Ah but do you think that would be prudent
of me ? Don't you see, if I were to teach you to
make shoes, people would be coming to you to make
their shoes for them, and what would become of
me then ?"
He Goes to Learn a Trade. 43
"But I only want to make shoes for Aggy's doll.
She oughtn't to go without shoes in this weather,
Certainly not. Well, if you will bring me the
doll I will take her measure and make her a pair."
"But I don't think papa could afford to pay for
shoes for a doll as well as for all of us. You see,
though it would be better, it's not necessary that a
doll should have strong shoes. She has shoes good
enough for indoors, and she needn't walk in the
wet. Don't you think so yourself, Hector ?"
"But," returned Hector, I shall be happy to
make Agnes a present of a pair of shoes for her
doll. I shouldn't think of charging your papa for
that. He is far too good a man to be made to pay
But," objected Willie, "to let you make them
for nothing would be as bad as to make papa pay
for them when they are not necessary. Please,
you must let me make them for Aggy. Besides,
she 's not old enough yet even to say thank you for
Then she won't be old enough to say thank you
to you either," said Hector, who, all this time, had
been losing no moment from his work, but was
stitching away, with a bore, and a twiddle, and a
hiss, at the sole of a huge boot.
"Ah! but you see, she's my own-so it doesn't
44 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
If I were writing a big book, instead of a little
one, I should be tempted to say not only that this
set Hector a thinking, but what it made him think
as well. Instead of replying, however, he laid down
his boot, rose, and first taking from a shelf a whole
skin of calf-leather, and next a low chair from a
corner of the room, he set the latter near his own
seat opposite the window.
"Sit down there, then, Willie," he said; adding,
as he handed him the calf-skin, "There's your
leather, and my tools are at your service. Make
your shoes, and welcome. I shall be glad of your
Having thus spoken, he sat down again, caught
up his boot hurriedly, and began stitching away as
if for bare life.
Willie took the calf-skin on his lap, somewhat
bewildered. If he had been asked to cut out a pair
of seven-leagued boots for the ogre, there would
have seemed to his eyes enough of leather for them
in that one skin. But h6w ever was he to find two
pieces small enough for doll's shoes in such an
ocean of leather? He began to turn it round and
round, looking at it all along the edge, while Hector
was casting sidelong glances at him in the midst of
his busyness, with a curiosity on his face which his
desire to conceal-it caused to look grim instead of
He Goes to Learn a Trade. 45
Willie, although he had never yet considered
how shoes are made, had seen at once that nothing
could be done until he had got the command of a
manageable bit of leather; he found too much only
a shade better than too little; and he saw that it
wouldn't be wise to cut a piece out anywhere, for
that might spoil what would serve for a large pair
of shoes or even boots. Therefore he kept turning
the skin round until he came to a small projecting
piece. This he contemplated for some time, trying
to recall the size of Dolly's feet, and to make up
his mind whether it would not be large enough for
one or even for both shoes. A smile passed over
Hector's face-a smile of satisfaction.
"That's it! he said at last. I think you'll
do. That's the first thing-to consider your stuff,
and see how much you can make of it. Waste is a
thing that no good shoemaker ever yet. could
endure. It's bad in itself, and so unworkmanlike !
Yes, I think that corner vill do. Shall I cut it off
for you ? "
"No, thank you-not yet, please. I think I
must go and look at her feet, for I can't recollect
quite how big they are. I'11 just run home and
"Do you think you will be able to carry the
exact size in your head, and bring it back with
"Yes, I think I shall."
46 History of Gutta-Percka Willie.
"I don't. I never could trust myself so far as
that, nearly. You might be pretty nigh it one way
and all wrong another, for you have to consider
length and breadth and roundabout. I will tell
you the best way for you to do. Set the doll
standing on a bit of paper, and draw a pencil all
round her foot with the point close to it on the
paper. Both feet will be better, for it would be a
,mistake to suppose they must be of the same size.
That will give you the size of the sole. Then take
a strip of paper and see how long a piece it takes
to go round the thickest part of the foot, and cut it
off to that length. That will be sufficient measure-
ment for a doll's shoe, for even if it should not fit
exactly, she won't mind either being pinched a little
or having to walk a little loose."
Willie got up at once to go and do as Hector
had told him; but Hector was not willing to part
with him so soon, for it was not often he had any-
body to talk to while he went on with his work.
Therefore he said-
"But don't you think, Willie, before you set
about it, you had better see how I do ? It would
be a pity to spend your labour in finding out for
yourself what shoemakers have known for hundreds
of years, and which you could learn so easily by
letting me show you."
"Thank you," said Willie, sitting down again.
I should like that very much. I will sit and
He Goes to Learn a Trade.
look at you. I know what you are doing. You are
fastening on the sole of a boot."
"Yes. Do you see how it's done?"
"I 'm not sure. I don't see yet quite. Of course
I see you are sewing the one to the other. I've
often wondered how you could manage with small
shoes like mine to get in your hand to pull the
needle through; but I see you don't use a needle,
and I see that you are sewing it all on the outside
of the boot, and don't put your hand inside at all.
I can't get to understand it."
"You will in a minute. You see how, all round
the edge of the upper, as we call it, I have sewn on
a strong narrow strip, so that one edge of the strip
sticks out all round, while the other is inside. To
the edge that sticks out I sew on the sole, drawing
my threads so tight that when I pare the edges off
smooth, it will look like one piece, and puzzle
anybody who did not know how it was done."
"I think I understand. But how do you get
your thread so sharp and stiff as to go through the
holes you make ? I find it hard enough some-
times to get a thread through the eye of a needle;
for though the thread is ever so much smaller than
yours, I have to sharpen and sharpen it often before
I can get it through. But yours, though it is so
thick, keeps so sharp that it goes through the
holes at once-two threads at once-one from each
48 History of Gutta-Percha Wilide.
"Ah! but I don't sharpen my thread; I put a
point upon it."
"Doesn't that mean the same thing ?"
"Well, it may generally; but I don't mean the
same thing by it. Look here."
"I see! cried Willie; "there is a long bit of
something else, not thread, upon it. What is it?
It looks like a hair, only thicker, and it is so sharp
at the point! "
Can't you guess ? "
"No ; I can't."
"Then I will tell you. It is a bristle out of a
hog's back. I don't know what a shoemaker would
do without them. Look, here's a little bunch of
"That's a very clever use to put them to," said
Willie. Do you go and pluck them out of the
"No; we buy them at the shop. We want a
good many, for they wear out. They get too soft,
and though they don't break right off, they double
up in places, so that they won't go through."
How do you fasten them to the thread ?"
Look here," said Hector.
He took several strands of thread together, and
drew them through and through a piece of cobbler's
wax, then took a bristle and put it in at the end
cunningly, in a way Willie couldn't quite follow;
and then rolled and rolled threads and all over and
He Goes to Learn a Trade. 49
over between his hand and his leather apron, till it
seemed like a single dark-coloured cord.
"There, you see, is my needle and thread all in
"And what is the good of rubbing it so much
with the cobbler's wax?"
"There are several good reasons for doing that.
In the first place, it makes all the threads into one
by sticking them together. Next it would be worn
out before I had drawn it many times through but
for the wax, which keeps the rubbing from wearing
it. The wax also protects it afterwards, and keeps
the wet from rotting it. The waxed thread fills
the hole better too, and what is of as much con-
sequence as anything, it sticks so that the last
stitch doesn't slacken before the next comes, but
holds so tight that, although the leather is very
springy, it cannot make it slip. The two pieces are
thus got so close together that they are like one
piece, as you will see when I pare the joined
I should tire my reader if I were to recount all
the professional talk that followed; for although
Willie found it most interesting, and began to feel
as if he should soon be able to make a shoe him-
self, it is a very different thing merely to read about
it-the man's voice not in your ears, and the work
not going on before your eyes. But the shoemaker
cared for other things besides shoemaking, and
50 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
after a while he happened to make a remark which
led to the following question from Willie:-
Do you understand astronomy, Hector ?"
No. It's not my business, you see, Willie."
But you've just been telling me so much about
the moon, and the way she keeps turning her face
always to us-in the politest manner, as you
"I got it all out of Mr Dick's book. I don't
understand it. I don't know why she does so. I
know a few things that are not my business, just as
you know a little about shoemaking, that not being
your business; but I don't understand them for all
"Whose business is astronomy then?"
"Well," answered Hector, a little puzzled, I
don't see how it can well be anybody's business
but God's, for I 'm sure no one else can lay a hand
"And what's your business, Hector?" asked
Willie, in a half-absent mood.
Some readers may perhaps think this a stupid
question, and perhaps so it was; but Willie was
not therefore stupid. People sometimes appear
stupid because they have more things to think
about than they can well manage; while those who
think only about one or two things may, on the
contrary, appear clever when just those one or two
things happen to be talked about.
He Goes to Learn a Trade.
"What is my business, Willie? Why, to keep
people out of the dirt, of course."
How? asked Willie again.
By making and mending their shoes. Mr Dick,
now, when he goes out to look at the stars through
his telescope, might get his death of cold if his shoe-
maker did not know his business. Of the general
business, it's a part God keeps to Himself to see
that the stars go all right, and that the sun rises
and sets at the proper times. For the time's not
the same any two mornings running, you see, and
he might make a mistake if he wasn't looked after,
and that would be serious. But I told you I don't
understand about astronomy, because it's not my
business. I'm set to keep folk's feet off the cold
and wet earth, and stones and broken glass; for
however much a man maybe an astronomer and look
up at the sky, he must touch the earth with some
part of him, and generally does so with his feet."
And God sets you to do it, Hector?"
Yes. It's the way He looks after people's feet.
He's got to look after everything, you know, or
everything would go wrong. So He gives me the
leather and the tools and the hands-and I must
say the head, for it wants no little head to make a
good shoe to measure-and it is as if He said to me
-' There you make shoes, while I keep the stars
right.' Isn't it a fine thing to have a hand in the
general business ?"
52 History of Gutta-Percha Wzllie.
And Hector looked up with shining eyes in the
face of the little boy, while he pulled at his rosin-
ends as if he would make the boot strong enough to
keep out evil spirits.
I think it's a fine thing to have to make nice
new shoes," said Willie; "but I don't think I
should like to mend them when they are soppy
and muddy and out of shape."
If you would take your share in the general
business, you mustn't be particular. It won't do
to be above your business, as they say: for my
part, I would say below your business. There's
those boots in the corner now. They belong to
your papa. And they come next. Don't you
think it's an honour to keep the feet of such a good
man dry and warm as he goes about from morning
to night comforting people? Don't you think it's
an honour to mend boots for him, even if they
should be dirty? "
Oh, yes-for papa!" said Willie, as if his papa
must be an exception to any rule.
"Well," resumed Hector, look at these great
lace-boots. I shall have to fill the soles of them
full of hobnails presently. They belong to the
best ploughman in the parish-John Turnbull.
Don't you think it's an honour to mend boots for
a man who makes the best bed for the corn to die
I thought it was to grow in," said Willie.
He Goes to Learn a Trade. 53
"All the same," returned Hector. "When it
dies it grows-and not till then, as you will read in
the New Testament. Isn't it an honour, I say, to
mend boots for John Turnbull ?"
"Oh, yes-for John Turnbull! I know John,"
said Willie, as if it made any difference to his
merit whether Willie knew him or not!
"And there," Hector went on, "lies a pair of
slippers that want patching. They belong to
William Webster, the weaver, round the corner.
They're very much down at heel too. But isn't
it an honour to patch or set up slippers for a man
who keeps his neighbours in fine linen all the days
of their lives ? "
"Yes, yes. I know William. It must be nice
to do anything for William Webster."
Suppose you didn't know him, would that make
No," said Willie, after thinking a little. Other
people would know him if I didn't."
"Yes, and if nobody knew him, God would
know him; and anybody God has thought worth
making, it's an honour to do anything for. Believe
me, Willie, to have to keep people's feet dry and
warm is a very important appointment."
Your own shoes aren't very good, Hector,"
said Willie, who had been casting glances from
time to time at his companion's feet, which were
shod in a manner that, to say the least of it, would
54 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
have prejudiced no one in favour of his handiwork.
"Isn't it an honour to make shoes for yourself
"There can't be much honour in doing any-
thing for yourself," replied Hector, so far as I
can see. I confess my shoes are hardly decent,
but then I can make myself a pair at any time;
and indeed I've been thinking I would for the
last three months, as soon as a slack time came;
but I've been far too busy as yet, and, as I
don't go out much till after it's dusk, nobody
But if you should get your feet wet, and catch
"Ah! that might be the death of me !" said
Hector. I really must make myself a pair.
Well now--let me see--as soon as I have
mended those two pairs--I can do them all
to-morrow I will begin. And I'll tell you
what," he added, after a thoughtful pause, "if
you'll come to me the day after to-morrow,
I will take that skin, and cut out a pair of
shoes for myself, and you shall see how I do
it, and everything about the making of them;
- yes, you shall do some part of them your-
self, and that shall be your first lesson in shoe-
"But Dolly's shoes!" suggested Willie.
Dolly can wait a bit. She won't take her death
He Goes to Learn a Trade. 55
of cold from wet feet. And let me tell you it is
harder to make a small pair well than a large pair.
You will do Dolly's ever so much better after you
know how to make a pair for me."
HOW WILLIE LEARNED TO READ BEFORE HE
KNEW HIS LETTERS.
T HE next day his thoughts, having nothing
particular to engage them, kept brooding
over two things. These two things came together
all at once, and a resolution was the consequence.
I shall soon explain what I mean.
The one thing was, that Hector had shown con-
siderable surprise when he found that Willie could
not read. Now Willie was not in the least ashamed
that he could not read: why should he be ? It was
nowhere written in the catechism he had learnt
that it was his duty to be able to read; and if the
catechism had merely forgotten to mention it, his
father and mother would have told him. Neither
was it a duty he ought to have known of himself-
for then he would have known it. So why should
he be ashamed?
People are often ashamed of what they need not
be ashamed of. Again, they are often not at all
ashamed of what they ought to be ashamed of, and
How Willie Learned to Read
will turn up their faces to the sun when they ought
to hide them in the dust. If, for instance, Willie
had ever put on a sulky face when his mother
asked him to hold the baby for her, that would
have been a thing for shame of which the skin of
his face might well try to burn itself off; but not
to be able to read before he had even been made
to think about it, was not at all a thing to be
ashamed of: it would have been more of a shame
to be ashamed. Now that it had been put into
his head, however, to think what a good thing
reading was, all this would apply no longer. It
was a very different thing now.
The other subject which occupied his thoughts
Everybody was so kind to him-so ready to do
things for him-and, what was of far more conse-
quence, to teach him to do them himself; while he,
so far as he could think, did nothing for anybody!
That could not be right; it could not be-for it
was not reasonable. Not to mention his father
and mother, there was Mrs Wilson, who had taught
him to knit, and even given him a few lessons in
spinning, though that had not come to much; and
here was Hector Macallaster going to teach him to
make shoes; and not one thing that he could think
of was he capable of doing in return This must
be looked into, for things could not be allowed to
go on like that. All at once it struck him that
58 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
Hector had said, with some regret in his voice, that
though he had plenty of time to think, he had very
little time to read; also that although he could
see well enough by candlelight to work at his
trade, he could not see well enough to read. What
a fine thing it would be to learn to read to Hectorl
It would be such fun to surprise him too, by all at
once reading him something!
The sun was not at his full height when Willie
received this illumination. Before the sun went
down he knew and could read at sight at least a
For the moment he saw that he ought to lean
to read, he ran to his mother, and asked her to
teach him. She was delighted, for she had begun
to be a little doubtful whether his father's plan of
leaving him alone till he wanted to learn was the
right one. But at that precise moment she was
too busy with something that must be done for his
father to lay it down and begin teaching him his
letters. Willie was so eager to learn, however, that
he could not rest without doing something towards
it. He bethought himself a little-then ran and
got Dr Watts's hymns for children. He knew
" How doth the little busy bee" so well as to be
able to repeat it without a mistake, for his mother
had taught it him, and he had understood it. You
see, he was not like a child of five, taught to repeat
by rote lines which could give him no notions but
How Willie Learned to Read.
mistaken ones. Besides, he had a good know-
ledge of words, and could use them well in talk,
although he could not read; and it is a great thing
if a child can talk well before he begins to learn to
He opened the little book at the Busy Bee, and
knowing already enough to be able to divide the
words the one from the other, he said to him-
"The first word must be How. There it is,
with a gap between it and the next word. I
will look and see if I can find another How any-
He looked a long time before he found one; for
the capital H was in the way. Of course there
were a good many how's, but not many with a big
H, and he didn't know that the little I was just as
good for the mere word. Then he looked for doth,
and he found several doth's. Of the's he found as
great a swarm as if they had been the bees them-
selves with which the little song was concerned.
Busy was scarce; I am not sure whether he found
it at all; but he looked at it until he was pretty
sure he should know it again when he saw it.
After he had gone over in this way every word of
the first verse, he tried himself, by putting his
finger at random here and there upon it, and seeing
whether he could tell the word it happened to
touch. Sometimes he could, and sometimes he
60 History of Gutta-Percha Wzlde.
couldn't. However, as I said, before the day was
over, he knew at least a dozen words perfectly well
Nor let any one think this was other than a
great step in the direction of reading. It would be
easy for Willie afterwards to break up these words
It took him two days more-for during part of
each he was learning to make shoes-to learn to
know anywhere every word he had found in that
Next he took a hymn he had not learned, and
applied to his mother when he came to a word he
did not know, which was very often. As soon as
she told him one, he hunted about until he found
another and another specimen of the same, and
so went on until he had fixed it quite in his
At length he began to compare words that were
like each other, and by discovering wherein they
looked the same, and wherein they looked differ-
ent, he learned something of the sound of the
letters. For instance, in comparing the and these,
although the one sound of the two letters, t and h,
puzzled him, and likewise the silent e, he conjec-
tured that the s must stand for the hissing sound,
and when he looked at other words which had that
sound, and perceived an s in every one of them,
then he was sure of it. His mother had no idea
How Willie Learned to Read.
how fast he was learning; and when about a fort-
night after he had begun, she was able to take him
in hand, she found, to her astonishment, that he
could read a great many words, but that, when she
wished him to spell one, he had not the least notion
what she meant.
Isn't that a b ?" she said, wishing to help him
to find out a certain word for himself.
I don't know," answered Willie. It's not the
busy bee," he added, laughing;-" I should know
him. It must be the lazy one, I suppose."
Don't you know your letters ?" asked his
"No, mamma. Which are they? Are the rest
yours and papa's ?"
Oh, you silly dear !" she said.
Of course I am I" he returned;-" very silly!
How could any of them be mine before I know the
names of them I When I know them all, then
they'll all be mine, I suppose --and everybody
else's who knows them.- So that's Mr B is
"Yes. And that's C," said his mother.
I'm glad to see you, Mr C," said Willie, mer-
rily, nodding to the letter. "We shall know each
other when we meet again.-I suppose this is D,
mamma. How d'e do, Mr D? And what's this
one with its mouth open, and half its tongue cut
62 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
His mother told him it was E.
Then this one, with no foot to stand on, is Fe,
His mother laughed; but whoever gave it the
name it has, would have done better to call it Fe,
as Willie did. It would be much better also, in
teaching children, at least, to call H, He, and
W, We, and Y, Ye, and Z, Ze, as Willie called
them. But it was easy enough for him to learn
their names after he knew so much of what they
What gave him a considerable advantage was,
that he had begun with verse, and not dry syllables
and stupid sentences. The music of the verse re-
paid him at once for the trouble of making it out
-even before he got at the meaning, while the
necessity of making each line go right, and the
rhymes too, helped him occasionally to the pro-
nunciation of a word.
The farther he got on, the faster he got on; and
before six weeks were over, he could read any-
thing he was able to understand pretty well at
By this time, also, he understood all the particu-
lars as to how a shoe is made, and had indeed done
a few stitches himself, a good deal of hammering
both of leather and of hob-nails, and a little patch-
ing, at which last the smallness of his hands was
How Willie Learned to Read. 63
At length, one day, he said to the shoe-
"Shall I read a little poem to you, Hector?"
"You told me you couldn't read, Willie."
I can now though."
Do then," said Hector.
Looking for but a small result in such a short
time, he was considerably astonished to find how
well the boy could read; for he not merely gave
the words correctly, but the sentences, which is far
more difficult; that is, he read so that Hector
could understand what the writer meant. It is a
great thing to read well. Few can. Whoever
reads aloud and does not read well, is a sort of
deceiver; for he pretends to introduce one person
to another, while he misrepresents him.
In after life, Willie continued to pay a good deal
of attention not merely to reading for its own sake,
but to reading for the sake of other people, that is,
to reading aloud. As often as he came, in the
course of his own reading, to any verse that he
liked very much, he always read it aloud in order
to teach himself how it ought to be read; doing
his best-first, to make it sound true, that is, to
read it according to the sense; next, to make it
sound beautiful, that is, to read it according to
the measure of the verse and the melody of the
He now read a great deal to Hector. There
64 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
came to be a certain time every day at which
Willie Macmichael was joyfully expected by the
shoemaker-to read to him for an hour and a half
-beyond which time his father did not wish the
reading to extend.
SOME THINGS THAT CAME OF WILLIE'S GOING
WHEN his father found that he had learned
to read, then he judged it good for him to
go to school. Willie was very much pleased. His
mother said she would make him a bag to carry his
books in; but Willie said there was no occasion to
trouble herself; for, if she would give him the stuff,
he would make it. So she got him a nice bit of
green baize, and in the afternoon he made his bag
-no gobble-stitch work, but good, honest back-
stitching, except the string-case, which was only
run, that it might draw easier and tighter. He
passed the string through with a bodkin, fixed it in
the middle, tied the two ends, and carried the bag
to his mother, who pronounced it nearly as well
made as if she had done it herself.
At school he found it more and more plain what
a good thing it is that we haven't to find out every-
thing for ourselves from the beginning; that people
gather into books what they and all who went be-
66 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
fore them have learned, so that we come into their
property, as it were; and, after being taught of
them, have only to begin our discoveries from where
they leave off. In geography, for instance, what a
number of voyages and journeys have had to be
made, and books to record them written; then
what a number of these books to be read, and the
facts gathered out of them, before a single map
could be drawn, not to say a geography book
printed Whereas now he could learn a multitude
of things about the various countries, their peoples
and animals and plants, their mountains and rivers
and lakes and cities, without having set his foot be-
yond the parish in which he was born. And so
with everything else after its kind. But it is more
of what Willie learned to do than what he learned
to know that I have to treat.
When he went to school, his father made him a
present of a pocket-knife. He had had one before,
but not a very good one; and this, having three
blades, all very sharp, he found a wonderful trea-
sure of recourse. His father also bought him a
nice new slate.
Now there was another handy boy at school, a
couple of years older than Willie, whose father was
a carpenter. He had cut on the frame of his slate,
not his initials only, but his whole name and ad-
dress,-Alexander Spelman, Priory Leas. Willie
thought how nice it would be with his new knife
What came of Willie's going to School. 67
also to cut his name on his slate; only he would
rather make some difference in the way of doing
it. What if, instead of sinking the letters in the
frame, he made them stand up from the frame by
cutting it away to some depth all round them.
There was not much originality in this, for it was
only reversing what Spelman had done; but it was
more difficult, and would, he thought, be prettier.
Then what was he thus to carve ? One would say,
"Why, William amacmichael, of course, and, if he
liked, Priory Leas." But Willie was a peculiar little
fellow, and began to reason with himself whether
he had any right to put his own name on the slate.
"My father did not give me the slate," he said,
"to be my very own. He gave me the knife like
that, but not the slate. When I am grown up, it
will belong to Agnes. What shall I put on it
What's mine's papa's, and what's papa's is his own,"
argued Willie.-" Iknow!" he said to himself at last.
The boys couldn't imagine what he meant to do
when they saw him draw first a D and then an
0 on the frame. But when they saw a C and
a T follow, they thought what a conceited little
prig Willie was!.
Do you think you're a doctor because your
father is, you little ape ? they said.
No, no," answered Willie, laughing heartily,
but thinking, as he went on with his work, that he
might be one some day.
68 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
When the drawing of the letters was finished,
there stood, all round the slate, "Doctor Mac-
michael's Willie, The Ruins, Priory Leas."
Then out came his knife. But it was a long job,
for Willie was not one of those slovenly boys that
scamp their work. Such boys are nothing but soft,
pulpy creatures, who, when they grow to be men,
will be too soft for any of the hard work of the
world. They will be fit only for buffers, to keep
the working men from breaking their heads against
each other in their eagerness. But the carving was
at length finished, and gave much satisfaction-
first to Willie himself, because it was finished; next,
to Alexander Spelman, Priory Leas, because, being
a generous-minded boy, he admired Willie's new
and superior work; third, to Mr and Mrs Mac-
michael, because they saw in it, not the boy's
faculty merely, but his love to his father as well;
for the recognition of a right over us is one of the
sweetest forms love can take. "I am yours" is the
best and greatest thing one can say, if to the right
It led to a strong friendship between him and
Spelman, and to his going often to the workshop
of the elder Spelman, the carpenter.
He was a solemn, long-faced, and long-legged
man, with reddish hair and pale complexion, who
seldom or ever smiled, and at the bench always
looked as if he were standing on a stool, he stooped
What came of Willie's going to School. 69
so immoderately. A greater contrast than that
between him and the shoemaker could hardly have
been found, except in this, that the carpenter also
looked sickly. He was in perfect health, however,
only oppressed with the cares of his family, and
the sickness of his wife, who was a constant invalid,
with more children her husband thought than she
could well manage, or he well provide for. But if
he had thought less about it he would have got on
better. He worked hard, but little fancied how
many fewer strokes of his plane he made in an hour
just because he was brooding over his difficulties,
and imagining what would be the consequences if
this or that misfortune were to befall him-of which
he himself sought and secured the shadow before-
hand, to darken and hinder the labour which might
prevent its arrival. But he was a good man never-
theless, for his greatest bugbear was debt. If he
could only pay off every penny he owed in the
world, and if only his wife were so far better as to
enjoy life a little, he would, he thought, be perfectly
happy. His wife, however, was tolerably happy,
notwithstanding her weak health, and certainly
enjoyed life a good deal-far more at least than
her husband was able to believe.
Mr Macmichael was very kind and attentive to
Mrs Spelman; though, as the carpenter himself
said, he hadn't seen the colour of his money for
years. But the Doctor knew that Spelman was a
70 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
hard-working man, and would rather have given
him a little money than have pressed him for a
penny. He told him one day, when he was lament-
ing that he couldn't pay him even yet, that he was
only too glad to do anything in the least little bit
like what the Saviour did when he was in the
world--"a carpenter like you, Spelman-think of
that," added the Doctor.
So Spelman was as full of gratitude as he could
hold. Except Hector Macallaster, the Doctor was
almost his only creditor. Medicine and shoes
were his chief trials: he kept on paying for the
latter, but the debt for the former went on accumu-
Hence it came that when Willie began to haunt
his shop, though he had hardly a single smile to
give the little fellow, he was more than pleased;-
gave him odds and ends of wood; lent him what-
ever tools he wanted except the adze-that he
would not let him touch; would drop him a hint
now and then as to the use of them; would any
moment stop his own work to attend to a diffi-
culty the boy found himself in; and, in short, paid
him far more attention than he would have
thought required of him if Willie had been his
From the moment he entered the workshop,
Willie could hardly keep his hands off the tools.
The very shape of them, as they lay on the bench
What came of Willie's going to School.
or hung on the wall, seemed to say over and over,
"Come, use me; come, use me." They looked
waiting, and hungry for work. They wanted stuff
to shape and fashion into things, and join into
other things. They wanted to make bigger tools
than themselves-for ploughing the earth, for carry-
ing the harvest, or for some one or other of ten
thousand services to be rendered in the house or in
the fields. It was impossible for Willie to see the
hollow lip of the gouge, the straight lip of the
chisel, or the same lip fitted with another lip, and
so made into the mouth of the plane, the worm-
like auger, or the critical spokeshave, the hammer
which will have it so, or the humble bradawl which
is its pioneer-he could see none of them without
longing to send his life into theirs, and set them
doing in the world-for was not this what their
dumb looks seemed ever to implore ?
At that time young Spelman was busy making
a salt-box for his mother out of the sound bits of
an old oak floor which his father had taken up
because it was dry-rotted. It was hard wood to
work, but Willie bore a hand in planing the pieces,
and was initiated into the mysteries of dovetailing
and gluing. Before the lid was put on by the
hinges, he carved the initials of the carpenter and
his wife in relief upon it, and many years after they
used to show his work. But the first thing he set
about making for himself was a water-wheel.
72 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
If he had been a seaside boy, his first job would
have been a boat; if he had lived in a flat country,
it would very likely have been a windmill; but
the most noticeable thing in that neighbourhood
was a mill for grinding corn driven by a water-
When Willie was a tiny boy, he had gone once
with Farmer Thomson's man and a load of corn to
see the mill; and the miller had taken him all over
it. He saw the corn go in by the hopper into the
trough which was the real hopper, for it kept con-
stantly hopping to shake the corn down through
a hole in the middle of the upper stone, which
went round and round against the lower, so that
between them they ground the corn to meal, which,
in the story beneath, he saw pouring, a solid stream
like an avalanche, from a wooden spout. But the
best of it all was the wheel outside, and the busy
rush of the water that made it go. So Willie
would now make a water-wheel.
The carpenter having given him a short lecture
on the different kinds of water-wheels, he decided
on an undershot, and with Sandy's help proceeded
to construct it--with its nave of mahogany, its
spokes of birch, its floats of deal, and its axle of
stout iron-wire, which, as the friction would not be
great, was to run in gudgeon-blocks of some hard
wood, well oiled. These blocks were fixed in a
frame so devised that, with the help of a few stones
WILLIE IS TAKEN TO SEE A WATER-WHEEL.
What came of Willie's gotng to School. 73
to support it, the wheel might be set going in any
There were many tiny brooks running into the
river, and they fixed upon one of them which
issued from the rising ground at the back of the
village: just where it began to run merrily down
the hill, they constructed in its channel a stone-
bed for the water-wheel-not by any means for it
to go to sleep in !
It went delightfully, and we shall hear more of
it by and by. For the present, I have only to con-
fess that, after a few days, Willie got tired of it-
and small blame to him, for it was of no earthly
use beyond amusement, and that which can only
amuse can never amuse long. I think the reason
children get tired of their toys so soon is just that
it is against human nature to be really interested
in what is of no use. If you say that a beautiful
thing is always interesting, I answer, that a beauti-
ful thing is of the highest use. Is not a diamond
that flashes all its colours into the heart of a poet
as useful as the diamond with which the glazier
divides the sheets of glass into panes for our win-
dows ? Anyhow, the reason Willie got tired of his
water-wheel was that it went round and round, and
did nothing but go round. It drove no machinery,
ground no grain of corn-" did nothing for no-
body," Willie said, seeking to be emphatic. So'
he carried it home, and put it away in a certain
74 History of Gutta-Percka Willie.
part of the ruins where he kept odds and ends of
things that might some day come in useful.
Mr Macmichael was so devoted to his profession
that he desired nothing better for Willie than that
he too should be a medical man, and he was more
than pleased to find how well Willie's hands were
able to carry out his contrivances; for he judged
it impossible for a country doctor to have too much
mechanical faculty. The exercise of such a skill
alone might secure the instant relief of a patient,
and be the saving of him. But, more than this, he
believed that nothing tended so much to develop
common sense-the most precious of faculties-as
the doing of things with the hands. Hence he not
only encouraged Willie in everything he under-
took, but, considering the five hours of school
quite sufficient for study of that sort, requested
the master not to give him any lessons to do at
home. So Willie worked hard during school, and
after it had plenty of time to spend in carpenter-
ing, so that he soon came to use all the common
bench-tools with ease, and Spelman was proud of
his apprentice, as he called him-so much so, that
the burden of his debt grew much lighter upon his
But Willie did not forget his older friend, Hector
Macallaster. Every half-holiday he read to him
for a couple of hours, chiefly, for some time, from
Dick's Astronomy. Neither of them understood
What came ofj Villie's going to School. 75
all he read, but both understood much, and Hector
could explain some of the things that puzzled
Willie. And when he found that everything went
on in such order, above and below and all about
him, he began to see that even a thing well done
was worth a good deal more when done at the
right moment or within the set time; and that the
heavens themselves were like a great clock, order-
ing the time for everything.
Neither did he give up shoemaking, for he often
did a little work for Hector, who had made him a
leather apron, and cut him out bits of stout leather
to protect his hands from the thread when he was
sewing. For twelve months, however, his chief em-
ployment lay in the workshop of the carpenter.
WILLIE DIGS AND FINDS WHAT HE DID NOT
HE had been reading to Hector Sir Walter
Scott's "Antiquary," in which occurs the
narration of a digging for treasure in ruins not
unlike these, only grander. It was of little conse-
quence to Willie that no treasure had been found
there: the propriety of digging remained the
same; for in a certain spot he had often fancied
that a hollow sound, when he stamped hard, indi-
cated an empty place underneath. I believe myself
that it came from above, and not from beneath; for
although a portion of the vaulted roof of the little
chamber had been broken in, the greater part of it
still remained, and might have caused a reverbera-
tion. The floor was heaped up with fallen stones
One Wednesday afternoon, instead of going to
Hector, whom he had told not to expect him, he
got a pickaxe and spade, and proceeded to dig in
the trodden heap. At the first blow of the pickaxe
Digs and Finds what he did not Expect. 77
he came upon large stones-the job of clearing
out which was by no means an easy one-so far
from it, indeed, that, after working for half an hour,
and only getting out two large and half a dozen
smaller ones, he resolved to ask Sandy Spelman
to help him. So he left his pickaxe with one point
fast between two stones, and ran to the shop.
Sandy was at work, but his father was quite willing
to let him go. Willie told them he was digging
for a treasure, and they all laughed over it; but at
the same time Willie thought with himself-" Who
knows ? People have found treasures buried in old
places like that. The Antiquary did not-but he
is only in a story, not in a high story" (for that
was Willie's derivation of the word history). "The
place sounds likely enough. Anyhow, where's the
harm in trying?"
They were both so eager-for Sandy liked the
idea of digging in the ruins much better than the
work he was at-that they set off at full speed the
moment they were out of the shop, and never
slackened until they stood panting by the anchored
pickaxe, upon which Spelman pounced, and being
stronger than Willie, and more used to hard
work, had soon dislodged both the stones which
held it. They were so much larger, however, than
any Willie had come upon before, that they had
to roll them out of the little chamber, instead of
lifting them; after which they got on better, and
78 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
had soon piled a good heap against the wall out-
side. After they had had their tea, they set to
work again, and worked till the twilight grew dark
about them-by which time they had got the heap
down to what seemed the original level of the
floor. Still there were stones below, but what with
fatigue and darkness, they were now compelled to
stop, and Sandy went home, after promising to
come as early as he could in the morning and call
Willie, who was to leave the end of a string hang-
ing out of the staircase window, whose other end
should pass through the keyhole of his door and
be tied to his wrist.
He seemed to have hardly been in bed an hour,
when he woke with his arm at full length, and the
pulling going on as if it would pull him out of bed.
He tugged again in reply, and jumped out.
It was a lovely summer morning-the sun a few
yards up the sky; the grass glittering with dew;
the birds singing as if they were singing their first
and would sing their last; the whole air, even in
his little room, filled with a cool odour as of blessed
thoughts, and just warm enough to let him know
that the noontide would be hot. And there was
Sandy waiting in the street to help him dig for the
treasure I In a few minutes he had opened the
street door and admitted him. They went straight
to the scene of their labour.
Having got out a few more stones, they began
Digs and Finds what he did not Expect. 79
to fancy they heard a curious sound, which they
agreed was more like that of running water than
anything else they could think of. Now, except a
well in the street, just before the cottage, there was
no water they knew of much nearer than the river,
and they wondered a good deal.
At length Sandy's pickaxe got hold of a stone
which he could not move, do what he would. He
tried another, and succeeded, but soon began to
suspect that there was some masonry there. Con-
tenting himself therefore with clearing out only the
loose stones, he soon found plainly enough that he
was working in a narrow space, around which was a
circular wall of solid stone and lime. The sound of
running water was now clear enough, and the earth
in the hole was very damp. Sandy had now got
down three or four feet below the level.
It's an old well," he said. "There can be no
doubt of it."
"Does it smell bad?" asked Willie, peeping
"Not a bit," answered Sandy.
"Then it's not stagnant," said Willie.
You might have told that by your ears without
troubling your nose," said Sandy. "Didn't you
hear it running ?"
How can it be running when it's buried away
down there ? said Willie.
How can it make a noise if it isn't running ?"
80 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
retorted Sandy to which question Willie at-
tempted no reply.
It was now serious work to get the stones up, for
Sandy's head only was above the level of the
ground; it was all he could do to lift some of the
larger ones out of the hole, and Willie saw that he
must contrive to give him some help. He ran
therefore to the house, and brought a rope which
he had seen lying about. One end of it Sandy
tied round whatever stone was too heavy for him,
and Willie, laying hold of the other, lifted along
with him. They got on faster now, and in a few
minutes Sandy exclaimed-
Here it is at last! "
"The treasure?" cried Willie. Oh, jolly !"
Sandy burst out laughing, and shouted-
The water !"
"Bother the water !" growled Willie. "But go
on, Sandy; the iron chest may be at the bottom
of the water, you know."
"All very well for you up there retorted
Sandy. "But though I can get the stones out, I
can't get the water out. And I've no notion of
diving where there's pretty sure to be nothing to
dive for. Besides, a body can't dive in a stone
pipe like this. I should want weights to sink me,
and I mightn't get them off in time. I want my
breakfast dreadful, Willie."
So saying, he scrambled up the side of the well,
Digs and Finds what he did not Expect. 81
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, fol-
lowed Sandy as he strode away towards the
"You 'll come and have your breakfast with me,
Sandy, won't you ? he said from behind him.
No, thank you," answered Sandy. "I don't
like any porridge but my mother's."
And without looking behind him, he walked right
through the cottage, and away home.
Before Willie had finished his porridge, he had
got over his disappointment, and had even begun
to see that he had never really expected to find a
treasure. Only it would have been fun to hand it
over to his father!
All through morning school, however, his thoughts
would go back to the little vault, so cool and
shadowy, sheltering its ancient well from the light
that lorded it over all the country outside. No
doubt the streams rejoiced in it, but even for them
it would be too much before the evening came to
cool and console them; while the slow wells in the
marshy ground up on the mountains must feel faint
in an hour of its burning eye. This well had always
been, and always would be, cool and blessed and
sweet, like--like a precious thing you can only
82 History of Gutta-Percha Wilhe.
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
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,
It seems to me," said the shoemaker, "that to
understand anything you must understand every-
So they laid the book aside for the present; and
Hector, searching about for another with which to
fill up the remainder of the afternoon, came upon
one in which the mechanical powers were treated
after a simple fashion.
Of this book Willie had now read a good deal.
I cannot say that he had yet come to understand
the mechanical power so thoroughly as to see that
Digs and Finds what he did not Expect. 83
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
As soon as school was over, he ran to Mr Spel-
man, 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
84 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
the ladder again, rove it also through the first block,
which he had left hanging to the staple. All pre-
parations 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
Digs and Finds what he did not Expect. 85
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 some-
thing 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
A Marvel. 87
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 de-
"Am I awake, Willie? or am I dreaming?"
"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
88 History of Gutta-Percha Willie.
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 deli-
ciously wet it looked in the shadow !-how it
caught the sun the moment it left the chamber,
grew merry, and trotted and trolled and cantered
"Is this your work, Willie?" asked his father,
who did not know which of twenty questions to
"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 1" cried
Willie. "0 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'11 soon show you that," said Willie. 1 11
soon send it about its business."
He had thought, when he first saw the issuing
water, that the weight of the fallen stones and the
hard covering of earth being removed, the spring
had burst out with tenfold volume and vigour; but
had satisfied himself by thinking about it, that the
cause of the overflow must be the great stone he
had set leaning against the side the last thing
before dropping work the previous night: it must
have blocked up the opening, and prevented the
water from getting out as fast as before, that is, as
fast as the spring rose. Therefore he now laid
hold of the rope, which was still connected with
the stone, and, not aware of how the water would
help him by partly floating it, was astonished to
find how easily he moved it. At once it swung
away from the side into the middle of the well;
the water ceased to run over the edge, with a loud
gurgling began to sink, and sank down and down
and down until the opening by which it escaped
"Ah! now, now I understand !" cried Mr Mac-
michael. "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
"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 monas-
teries of the country, people used to come from
great distances to drink the water of the Prior's