Gutta Percha Willie, the Working Genius

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In a few minutes Willie came rushing back from his room, with his hands and face half wet and half dry.

"Grannie! grannie!" he panted--"what a stupid I am! How can a body be so stupid! Of course you mean a doctor's work! My father comes nearer to people to help them than anybody else can--and yet I never thought what you meant. How is it you can know a thing and not know it at the same moment?"

"Well, now you've found what I meant, what do you think of it?" said his grandmother.

"Why, of course, it's the best of all. When I was a little fellow, I used to think I should be a doctor some day, but I don't feel quite so sure of it now. Do you really think, grannie, I could be a doctor like papa? You see that wants such a good head--and--and--everything."

"Yes; it does want a good head and everything. But you've got a good enough head to begin with, and it depends on yourself to make it a better one. So long as people's hearts keep growing better, their heads do the same. I think you have every faculty for the making of a good doctor in you."

"Do you really think so, grannie?" cried Willie, delighted.

"I do indeed."

"Then I shall ask papa to teach me."

But Willie did not find his papa quite ready to take him in hand.

"No, Willie," he said. "You must learn a great many other things before it would be of much use for me to commence my part. I will teach you if you like, after school-hours, to compound certain medicines; but the important thing is to get on at school. You are quite old enough now to work at home too; and though I don't want to confine you to your lessons, I should like you to spend a couple of hours at them every evening. You can have the remainders of the evenings, all the mornings before breakfast, and the greater parts of your half-holidays, for whatever you like to do of another sort."

Willie never required any urging to what his father wished. He became at once more of a student, without becoming much less of a workman--for he found plenty of time to do all he wanted, by being more careful of his odd moments.

One lovely evening in spring, when the sun had gone down and left the air soft, and balmy, and full of the scents which rise from the earth after a shower, and the odours of the buds which were swelling and bursting in all directions, Willie was standing looking out of his open window into the parson's garden, when Mr Shepherd saw him and called to him--

"Come down here, Willie," he said. "I want to have a little talk with you."

Willie got on the wall from the top of his stair, dropped into the stable-yard, which served for the parson's pony as well as the Doctor's two horses, and thence passed into Mr Shepherd's garden, where the two began to walk up and down together.

The year was like a child waking up from a sleep into which he had fallen crying. Its life was returning to it, fresh and new. It was as if God were again drawing nigh to His world. All the winter through He had never left it, only had, as it were, been rolling it along the path before Him; but now had taken it up in His hand, and was carrying it for a while; and that was how its birds were singing so sweetly, and its buds were coming so blithely out of doors, and the wind blew so soft, and the rain fell so repentantly, and the earth sent up such a gracious odour.

"The year is coming to itself again, Willie--growing busy once more," Mr Shepherd said.

"Yes," answered Willie. "It's been all but dead, and has come to life again. It must have had the doctor to it."

"Eh? What doctor, Willie?"

"Well, you know, there is but One that could be doctor to this big world."

"Yes, surely," returned Mr Shepherd. "And that brings me to what I wanted to talk to you about. I hear your father means to make a doctor of you."

"Yes. Isn't it good of him?" said Willie.

"Then you would like it?"

"Yes; that I should!"

"Why would you like it?"

"Because I must have a hand in the general business."

"What do you mean by that?"

Willie set forth Hector Macallaster's way of thinking about such matters.

"Very good--very good indeed!" remarked Mr Shepherd. "But why, then, should you prefer being a doctor to being a shoemaker? Is it because you will get better paid for it?"

"I never thought of that," returned Willie. "Of course I should be better paid--for Hector couldn't keep a horse, and a horse I must have, else some of my patients would be dead before I could get to them. But that's not why I want to be a doctor. It's because I want to help people."

"What makes you want to help people?"

"Because it's the best thing you can do with yourself."

"Who told you that?"

"I don't know. It seems as if everybody and everything had been teaching me that, ever since I can remember."

"Well, it's no wonder it should seem as if everything taught you that, seeing that is what God is always doing--and what Jesus taught us as the law of His kingdom--which is the only real kingdom--namely, that the greatest man in it is he who gives himself the most to help other people. It was because Jesus Himself did so--giving Himself up utterly--that God has so highly exalted Him and given Him a name above every name. And, indeed, if you are a good doctor, you will be doing something of what Jesus did when He was in the world."

"Yes; but He didn't give people medicine to cure them."

"No; that wasn't necessary, because He was Himself the cure. But now that He is not present with His bodily presence--now, medicine and advice and other good things are just the packets in which He wraps up the healing He sends; and the wisest doctor is but the messenger who carries to the sick as much of healing and help as the Great Doctor sees fit to send. For He is so anxious to cure thoroughly that in many cases He will not cure all at once."

"How I should like to take His healing about!" cried Willie--"just as the doctors' boys take the medicines about in baskets: grannie tells me they do in the big towns. I should like to be the Great Doctor's boy!"

"You really think then," Mr Shepherd resumed, after a pause, "that a doctor's is the best way of helping people?"

"Yes, I do," answered Willie, decidedly. "A doctor, you see, comes nearest to them with his help. It's not the outside of a man's body he helps, but his inside health--how he feels, you know."

Mr Shepherd again thought for a few moments. At length he said--

"What's the difference between your father's work and mine?"

"A great difference, of course," replied Willie.

"Tell me then what it is?"

"I must think before I can do that," said Willie. "It's not so easy to put things in words!--You very often go to help the same people: that's something to start with."

"But not to give them the same help."

"No, not quite. And yet"--

"At least, I cannot write prescriptions or compound medicines for them, seeing I know nothing about such things," said Mr Shepherd. "But, on the other hand, though I can't give them medicine out of your papa's basket, your papa very often gives them medicine out of mine."

"That's a riddle, I suppose," said Willie.

"No, it's not. How is it your papa can come so near people to help them?"

"He gives them things that make them well again."

"What do they do with the things he gives them?"

"They take them."


"Put them in their mouths and swallow them."

"Couldn't they take them at their ears?"

"No," answered Willie, laughing.

"Why not?"

"Because their ears aren't meant for taking them."

"Aren't their ears meant for taking anything, then?"

"Only words."

"Well, if one were to try, mightn't words be mixed so as to be medicine?"

"I don't see how."

"If you were to take a few strong words, a few persuasive words, and a few tender words, mightn't you mix them so--that is, so set them in order--as to make them a good medicine for a sore heart, for instance?"

"Ah! I see, I see! Yes, the medicine for the heart must go in at the ears."

"Not necessarily. It might go in at the eyes. Jesus gave it at the eyes, for doubting hearts, when He said--Consider the lilies,--consider the ravens."

"At the ears, too, though," said Willie; "just as papa sometimes gives a medicine to be taken and to be rubbed in both."

"Only the ears could have done nothing with the words if the eyes hadn't taken in the things themselves first. But where does this medicine go to, Willie?"

"I suppose it must go to the heart, if that's the place wants healing."

"Does it go to what a doctor would call the heart, then?"

"No, no; it must go to what--to what a clergyman--to what you call the heart."

"And which heart is nearer to the person himself?"

Willie thought for a moment, then answered, merrily--the doctor's heart, to be sure!"

"No, Willie; you're wrong there," said Mr Shepherd, looking, as he felt, a little disappointed.

"Oh yes, please!" said Willie; "I'm almost sure I'm right this time."

"No, Willie; what the clergyman calls the heart is the nearest to the man himself."

"No, no," persisted Willie. "The heart you've got to do with is the man himself. So of course the doctor's heart is the nearer to the man."

Mr Shepherd laughed a low, pleasant laugh.

"You're quite right, Willie. You've got the best of it. I'm very pleased. But then, Willie, doesn't it strike you that after all there might be a closer way of helping men than the doctor's way?"

Again Willie thought a while.

"There would be," he said, at length, "if you could give them medicine to make them happy when they are miserable."

"Even the doctor can do a little at that," returned Mr Shepherd; "for when in good health people are much happier than when they are ill."

"If you could give them what would make them good when they are bad then," said Willie.

"Ah, there you have it!" rejoined Mr Shepherd. "That is the very closest way of helping men."

"But nobody can do that--nobody can make a bad man good--but God," said Willie.

"Certainly. But He uses medicines; and He sends people about with them, just like the doctors' boys you were speaking of. What else am I here for? I've been carrying His medicines about for a good many years now."

"Then your work and not my father's comes nearest to people to help them after all! My father's work, I see, doesn't help the very man himself; it only helps his body--or at best his happiness: it doesn't go deep enough to touch himself. But yours helps the very man. Yours is the best after all."

"I don't know," returned Mr Shepherd, thoughtfully. "It depends, I think, on the kind of preparation gone through."

"Oh yes!" said Willie. "You had to go through the theological classes. I must of course take the medical."

"That's true, but it's not true enough," said Mr Shepherd. "That wouldn't make a fraction of the difference I mean. There's just one preparation essential for a man who would carry about the best sort of medicines. Can you think what it is? It's not necessary for the other sort."

"The man must be good," said Willie. "I suppose that's it."

"That doesn't make the difference exactly," returned Mr Shepherd. "It is as necessary for a doctor to be good as for a parson."

"Yes," said Willie; "but though the doctor were a bad man, his medicines might be good."

"Not by any means so likely to be!" said the parson. "You can never be sure that anything a bad man has to do with will be good. It may be, because no man is all bad; but you can't be sure of it. We are coming nearer it now. Mightn't the parson's medicines be good if he were bad just as well as the doctor's?"

"Less likely still, I think," said Willie. "The words might be all of the right sort, but they would be like medicines that had lain in his drawers or stood in his bottles till the good was all out of them."

"You're coming very near to the difference of preparation I wanted to point out to you," said Mr Shepherd. "It is this: that the physician of men's selves, commonly called souls, must have taken and must keep taking the medicine he carries about with him; while the less the doctor wants of his the better."

"I see, I see," cried Willie, whom a fitting phrase, or figure, or form of expressing a thing, pleased as much as a clever machine--"I see! It's all right! I understand now."

"But," Mr Shepherd went on, "your father carries about both sorts of medicines in his basket. He is such a healthy man that I believe he very seldom uses any of his own medicines; but he is always taking some of the other sort, and that's what makes him fit to carry them about. He does far more good among the sick than I can. Many who don't like my medicine, will yet take a little of it when your father mixes it with his, as he has a wonderful art in doing. I hope, when your turn comes, you will be able to help the very man himself, as your father does."

"Do you want me to be a doctor of your kind, Mr Shepherd?"

"No. It is a very wrong thing to take up that basket without being told by Him who makes the medicine. If He wants a man to do so, He will let him know--He will call him and tell him to do it. But everybody ought to take the medicine, for everybody needs it; and the happy thing is, that, as soon as anyone has found how good it is--food and wine and all upholding things in one--he becomes both able and anxious to give it to others. If you would help people as much as your father does, you must begin by taking some of the real medicine yourself."

This conversation gave Willie a good deal to think about. And he had much need to think about it, for soon after this he left his father's house for the first time in his life, and went to a great town, to receive there a little further preparation for college. The next year he gained a scholarship, or, as they call it there, a bursary, and was at once fully occupied with classics and mathematics, hoping, however, the next year, to combine with them certain scientific studies bearing less indirectly upon the duties of the medical man.

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