WILLIE DIGS AND FINDS WHAT HE DID NOT EXPECT.
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 consequence 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, indicated 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
reverberation. The floor was heaped up with fallen stones and rubbish.
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 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 had soon piled a good heap against the wall
outside. 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 hanging 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! 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 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. Contenting 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 down disappointed.
"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?" retorted Sandy--to which
question Willie attempted 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
"Here it is at last!"
"The treasure?" cried Willie. "Oh, jolly!"
Sandy burst out laughing, and shouted--
"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,
So saying, he scrambled up the side of the well, 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,
followed Sandy as he strode away towards the house.
"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
And without looking behind him, he walked right through the cottage, and
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 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 rub!
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, and constellations.
"It seems to me," said the shoemaker, "that to understand anything you
must understand everything."
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
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 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 the water.
As soon as school was over, he ran to Mr Spelman, 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 the ladder again, rove it also through the
first block which he had left hanging to the staple. All preparations
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
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 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.