Gutta Percha Willie, the Working Genius

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I fancy some of my readers would like to hear what were some of the scenes Willie saw on such occasions. The little mill went on night after night--almost everynight in the summer, and those nights in the winter when the frost wasn't so hard that it would have frozen up the machinery. But to attempt to describe the variety of the pictures Willie saw would be an endless labour.

Sometimes, when he looked out, it was a simple, quiet, thoughtful night that met his gaze, without any moon, but as full of stars as it could hold, all flashing and trembling through the dew that was slowly sinking down the air to settle upon the earth and its thousand living things below. On such a night Willie never went to bed again without wishing to be pure in heart, that he might one day see the God whose thought had taken the shape of such a lovely night. For although he could not have expressed himself thus at that time, he felt that it must be God's thinking that put it all there.

Other times, the stars would be half blotted out--all over the heavens--not with mist, but with the light of the moon. Oh, how lovely she was!--so calm! so all alone in the midst of the great blue ocean! the sun of the night! She seemed to hold up the tent of the heavens in a great silver knot. And, like the stars above, all the flowers below had lost their colour and looked pale and wan, sweet and sad. It was just like what the schoolmaster had been telling him about the Elysium of the Greek and Latin poets, to which they fancied the good people went when they died--not half so glad and bright and busy as the daylight world which they had left behind them, and to which they always wanted to go back that they might eat and drink and be merry again--but oh, so tender and lovely in its mournfulness!

Several times in winter, looking out, he saw a strange sight--the air so full of great snowflakes that he could not see the moon through them, although her light was visible all about them. They came floating slowly down through the dusky light, just as if they had been a precipitate from that solution of moonbeams. He could hardly persuade himself to go to bed, so fascinating was the sight; but the cold would drive him to his nest again.

Once the wheel-watchman pulled him up in the midst of a terrible thunder-storm--when the East and the West were answering each other with alternate flashes of forked lightning that seemed to split the black clouds with cracks of blinding blue, awful in their blasting silence--followed by great, billowy, shattering rolls of thunder, as loud as if the sky had been a huge kettledrum, on which the clubs of giant drummers were beating a terrible onset; while at sudden intervals, down came the big-dropped rain, pattering to the earth as if beaten out of the clouds by the blows of the thunder. But Willie was not frightened, though the lightning blinded and the thunder deafened him--not frightened any more than the tiniest flower in the garden below, which, if she could have thought about it, would have thought it all being done only that she might feel cooler and stronger, and be able to hold up her head better.

And once he saw a glorious dance of the aurora borealis--in all the colours of a faint rainbow. The frosty snow sparkled underneath, and the cold stars of winter sparkled above, and between the snow and the stars, shimmered and shifted, vanished and came again, a serried host of spears. Willie had been reading the "Paradise Lost," and the part which pleased him, boy-like, the most, was the wars of the angels in the sixth book. Hence it came that the aurora looked to him like the crowding of innumerable spears--in the hands of angels, themselves invisible--clashed together and shaken asunder, however, as in the convolutions of a mazy dance of victory, rather than brandished and hurtled as in the tumult of the battle.

Another vision that would greatly delight him was a far more common one: the moon wading through clouds blown slowly across the sky--especially if by an upper wind, unfelt below. Now she would be sinking helpless in a black faint--growing more and more dim, until at last she disappeared from the night--was blotted from the face of nature, leaving only a dim memorial light behind her; now her soul would come into her again, and she was there once more--doubtful indeed: but with a slow, solemn revival, her light would grow and grow, until the last fringe of the great cloud swung away from off her face, and she dawned out stately and glorious, to float for a space in queenly triumph across a lake of clearest blue. And Willie was philosopher enough to say to himself, that all this fainting and reviving, all this defeat and conquest, were but appearances; that the moon was her own bright self all the time, basking contented in the light of her sun, between whom and her the cloud could not creep, only between her and Willie.

But what delighted him most of all was to catch the moon dreaming. That was when the old moon, tumbled over on her back, would come floating up the east, like a little boat on the rising tide of the night, looking lost on the infinite sea! Dreaming she must be surely!--she looked nothing but dreaming; for she seemed to care about nothing--not even that she was old and worn, and withered and dying,--not even that, instead of sinking down in the west, into some deep bed of dim repose, she was drifting, haggard and battered, untidy and weak and sleepy, up and up into the dazzling halls of the sun. Did she know that his light would clothe her as with a garment, and hide her in the highest recesses of his light-filled ceiling? or was it only that she was dreaming, dreaming--sweet, cool, tender dreams of her own, and neither knew nor cared about anything around her? What a strange look all the night wore while the tired old moon was thus dreaming of the time when she would come again, back through the vanishing and the darkness--a single curved thread of a baby moon, to grow and grow to a great full-grown lady moon, able to cross with fearless gaze the gulf of the vaulted heavens--alone, with neither sleep nor dreams to protect her!

There were many other nights, far more commonplace, which yet Willie liked well to look out upon, but which could not keep him long from his bed. There was, for instance, the moonless and cloudy night, when, if he had been able to pierce the darkness to the core, he would have found nothing but blackness. It had a power of its own, but one cannot say it had much to look at. On such a night he would say to himself that the day was so sound asleep he was dreaming of nothing at all, and make haste to his nest. Then again there was the cold night of black frost, when there was cloud enough to hide the stars and the moon, and yet a little light came soaking through, enough to reveal how hopeless and dreary the earth was. For in such nights of cold, when there is no snow to cover them, the flowers that have crept into their roots to hide from the winter are not even able to dream of the spring;--they grow quite stupid and benumbed, and sleep outright like a polar bear or a dormouse. He never could look long at such a night.

Neither did he care to look long when a loud wind was out--except the moon was bright; for the most he could distinguish was the trees blowing against the sky, and they always seemed not to like it, and to want to stop. And if the big strong trees did not like it, how could the poor little delicate flowers, shivering and shaking and tossed to and fro? If he could have seen the wind itself, it would have been a different thing; but as it was, he could enjoy it more by lying in bed and listening to it. Then as he listened he could fancy himself floating out through miles and miles of night and wind, and moon-and-star-light, or moony snowflakes, or even thick darkness and rain; until, falling asleep in the middle of his fancy, it would thicken around him into a dream of delight.

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

"It's a pity it's so late, or rather so early," said Mr Macmichael. "You, Willie, won't be able to see it."

"Oh, yes, I shall, father," answered Willie.

"I can't let you sit up so late. I shall be in the middle of Sedgy Moor most likely when it begins--and who is to wake you? I won't have your mother disturbed, and Tibby's not much to depend upon. She's too hard-worked to wake when she likes, poor old thing."

"Oh, I can be woke without anybody to do it!" said Willie.

"You don't mean you can depend on your water-wheel to wake you at the right time, do you?"

"Yes, I do, father. If you will tell me exactly when the eclipse is going to begin, I will set my wakener so that it shall wake me a quarter-of-an-hour before, that I may be sure of seeing the very first of it."

"Well, it will be worth something to you, if it can do that!" said Mr Macmichael.

"It's been worth a great deal to me, already," said Willie. "It would have shown me an eclipse before now, only there hasn't been one since I set it going."

And wake him it did. While his father was riding across the moor, in the strange hush of the blotted moon, Willie was out in the garden beside his motionless wheel, watching the fell shadow of the earth passing over the blessed face of the moon, and leaving her pure and clear, and nothing the worse.

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