SOME OF THE SIGHTS WILLIE SAW.
I fancy some of my readers would like to hear what were some of the
scenes Willie saw on such occasions. The little mill went on night after
night--almost everynight in the summer, and those nights in the
winter when the frost wasn't so hard that it would have frozen up the
machinery. But to attempt to describe the variety of the pictures Willie
saw would be an endless labour.
Sometimes, when he looked out, it was a simple, quiet, thoughtful night
that met his gaze, without any moon, but as full of stars as it could
hold, all flashing and trembling through the dew that was slowly sinking
down the air to settle upon the earth and its thousand living things
below. On such a night Willie never went to bed again without wishing to
be pure in heart, that he might one day see the God whose thought had
taken the shape of such a lovely night. For although he could not have
expressed himself thus at that time, he felt that it must be God's
thinking that put it all there.
Other times, the stars would be half blotted out--all over the
heavens--not with mist, but with the light of the moon. Oh, how lovely
she was!--so calm! so all alone in the midst of the great blue ocean!
the sun of the night! She seemed to hold up the tent of the heavens in a
great silver knot. And, like the stars above, all the flowers below had
lost their colour and looked pale and wan, sweet and sad. It was just
like what the schoolmaster had been telling him about the Elysium of the
Greek and Latin poets, to which they fancied the good people went when
they died--not half so glad and bright and busy as the daylight world
which they had left behind them, and to which they always wanted to go
back that they might eat and drink and be merry again--but oh, so tender
and lovely in its mournfulness!
Several times in winter, looking out, he saw a strange sight--the air so
full of great snowflakes that he could not see the moon through them,
although her light was visible all about them. They came floating slowly
down through the dusky light, just as if they had been a precipitate
from that solution of moonbeams. He could hardly persuade himself to go
to bed, so fascinating was the sight; but the cold would drive him to
his nest again.
Once the wheel-watchman pulled him up in the midst of a terrible
thunder-storm--when the East and the West were answering each other with
alternate flashes of forked lightning that seemed to split the
black clouds with cracks of blinding blue, awful in their blasting
silence--followed by great, billowy, shattering rolls of thunder, as
loud as if the sky had been a huge kettledrum, on which the clubs of
giant drummers were beating a terrible onset; while at sudden intervals,
down came the big-dropped rain, pattering to the earth as if beaten
out of the clouds by the blows of the thunder. But Willie was not
frightened, though the lightning blinded and the thunder deafened
him--not frightened any more than the tiniest flower in the garden
below, which, if she could have thought about it, would have thought it
all being done only that she might feel cooler and stronger, and be able
to hold up her head better.
And once he saw a glorious dance of the aurora borealis--in all the
colours of a faint rainbow. The frosty snow sparkled underneath, and the
cold stars of winter sparkled above, and between the snow and the stars,
shimmered and shifted, vanished and came again, a serried host of
spears. Willie had been reading the "Paradise Lost," and the part which
pleased him, boy-like, the most, was the wars of the angels in the sixth
book. Hence it came that the aurora looked to him like the crowding
of innumerable spears--in the hands of angels, themselves
invisible--clashed together and shaken asunder, however, as in the
convolutions of a mazy dance of victory, rather than brandished and
hurtled as in the tumult of the battle.
Another vision that would greatly delight him was a far more common one:
the moon wading through clouds blown slowly across the sky--especially
if by an upper wind, unfelt below. Now she would be sinking helpless in
a black faint--growing more and more dim, until at last she disappeared
from the night--was blotted from the face of nature, leaving only a dim
memorial light behind her; now her soul would come into her again,
and she was there once more--doubtful indeed: but with a slow, solemn
revival, her light would grow and grow, until the last fringe of the
great cloud swung away from off her face, and she dawned out stately
and glorious, to float for a space in queenly triumph across a lake of
clearest blue. And Willie was philosopher enough to say to himself, that
all this fainting and reviving, all this defeat and conquest, were but
appearances; that the moon was her own bright self all the time, basking
contented in the light of her sun, between whom and her the cloud could
not creep, only between her and Willie.
But what delighted him most of all was to catch the moon dreaming. That
was when the old moon, tumbled over on her back, would come floating up
the east, like a little boat on the rising tide of the night, looking
lost on the infinite sea! Dreaming she must be surely!--she looked
nothing but dreaming; for she seemed to care about nothing--not even
that she was old and worn, and withered and dying,--not even that,
instead of sinking down in the west, into some deep bed of dim repose,
she was drifting, haggard and battered, untidy and weak and sleepy, up
and up into the dazzling halls of the sun. Did she know that his light
would clothe her as with a garment, and hide her in the highest recesses
of his light-filled ceiling? or was it only that she was dreaming,
dreaming--sweet, cool, tender dreams of her own, and neither knew nor
cared about anything around her? What a strange look all the night wore
while the tired old moon was thus dreaming of the time when she would
come again, back through the vanishing and the darkness--a single curved
thread of a baby moon, to grow and grow to a great full-grown lady moon,
able to cross with fearless gaze the gulf of the vaulted heavens--alone,
with neither sleep nor dreams to protect her!
There were many other nights, far more commonplace, which yet Willie
liked well to look out upon, but which could not keep him long from his
bed. There was, for instance, the moonless and cloudy night, when, if he
had been able to pierce the darkness to the core, he would have found
nothing but blackness. It had a power of its own, but one cannot say it
had much to look at. On such a night he would say to himself that the
day was so sound asleep he was dreaming of nothing at all, and make
haste to his nest. Then again there was the cold night of black frost,
when there was cloud enough to hide the stars and the moon, and yet a
little light came soaking through, enough to reveal how hopeless and
dreary the earth was. For in such nights of cold, when there is no snow
to cover them, the flowers that have crept into their roots to hide from
the winter are not even able to dream of the spring;--they grow quite
stupid and benumbed, and sleep outright like a polar bear or a dormouse.
He never could look long at such a night.
Neither did he care to look long when a loud wind was out--except the
moon was bright; for the most he could distinguish was the trees blowing
against the sky, and they always seemed not to like it, and to want to
stop. And if the big strong trees did not like it, how could the poor
little delicate flowers, shivering and shaking and tossed to and fro?
If he could have seen the wind itself, it would have been a different
thing; but as it was, he could enjoy it more by lying in bed and
listening to it. Then as he listened he could fancy himself floating out
through miles and miles of night and wind, and moon-and-star-light, or
moony snowflakes, or even thick darkness and rain; until, falling asleep
in the middle of his fancy, it would thicken around him into a dream of
Once there was to be an eclipse of the moon about two o'clock in the
"It's a pity it's so late, or rather so early," said Mr Macmichael.
"You, Willie, won't be able to see it."
"Oh, yes, I shall, father," answered Willie.
"I can't let you sit up so late. I shall be in the middle of Sedgy Moor
most likely when it begins--and who is to wake you? I won't have your
mother disturbed, and Tibby's not much to depend upon. She's too
hard-worked to wake when she likes, poor old thing."
"Oh, I can be woke without anybody to do it!" said Willie.
"You don't mean you can depend on your water-wheel to wake you at the
right time, do you?"
"Yes, I do, father. If you will tell me exactly when the eclipse is
going to begin, I will set my wakener so that it shall wake me a
quarter-of-an-hour before, that I may be sure of seeing the very first
"Well, it will be worth something to you, if it can do that!" said Mr
"It's been worth a great deal to me, already," said Willie. "It would
have shown me an eclipse before now, only there hasn't been one since I
set it going."
And wake him it did. While his father was riding across the moor, in the
strange hush of the blotted moon, Willie was out in the garden beside
his motionless wheel, watching the fell shadow of the earth passing
over the blessed face of the moon, and leaving her pure and clear, and
nothing the worse.