SOME THINGS THAT CAME OF WILLIE'S GOING TO SCHOOL.
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
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 before 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
beyond 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 treasure 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
address,--Alexander Spelman, Priory Leas. Willie thought how nice it
would be with his new knife 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
Macmichael, 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.--"_I_ know!" 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 O 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?"
"No, no," answered Willie, laughing heartily, but thinking, as he went
on with his work, that he might be one some day.
When the drawing of the letters was finished, there stood, all round the
slate, "_Doctor Macmichael'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 Macmichael, 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 person.
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 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 beforehand, to darken and hinder the labour which
might prevent its arrival. But he was a good man nevertheless, 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
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 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 lamenting 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 accumulating.
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 whatever 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 difficulty 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 apprentice.
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 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
carrying 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
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-wheel.
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 constantly 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.
[Illustration: WILLIE IS TAKEN TO SEE 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 to support it, the wheel might be
set going in any small stream.
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 stonebed 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 confess 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
beautiful 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 windows?
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 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
undertook, 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 carpentering, 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 shoulders.
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 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, ordering 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 employment lay in the workshop of the