Gutta Percha Willie, the Working Genius

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Willie was in a state of excitement until she arrived, looking for her as eagerly as if she had been a young princess. So few were the opportunities of travelling between Priory Leas and the town where his grandmother lived, that he had never seen her, and curiosity had its influence as well as affection. Great, therefore, was his delight when at last the chaise came round the corner of the street, and began to draw up in order to halt at their door. The first thing he caught sight of was a curious bonnet, like a black coal-scuttle upside down, inside which, when it turned its front towards him, he saw a close-fitting widow's cap, and inside that a kind old face, and if he could have looked still further, he would have seen a kind young soul inside the kind old face. She smiled sweetly when she saw him, but was too tired to take any further notice of him until she had had tea.

During that meal Willie devoted himself to a silent waiting upon her, watching and trying to anticipate her every want. When she had eaten a little bread and butter and an egg, and drunk two cups of tea, she lay back in her own easy chair, which had been placed for her by the side of the parlour fire, and fell fast asleep for ten minutes, breathing so gently that Willie got frightened, and thought she was dead. But all at once she opened her eyes wide, and made a sign to him to come to her.

"Sit down there," she said, pushing a little footstool towards him.

Willie obeyed, and sat looking up in her face.

"So," she said, "you're the little man that can do everything?"

"No, grannie," answered Willie, laughing. "I wish I could; but I am only learning to do a few things; and there's not one of them I can do right yet."

"Do you know what they call you?"

"The boys at school call me Six-fingered Jack," said Willie.

"There!" said his grandmother. "I told you so."

"I'm glad it's only a nickname, grannie; but if it weren't, it would soon be one, for I'm certain the finger that came after the little one would be so much in the way it would soon get cut off."

"Anyhow, supposing you only half as clever a fellow as you pass for, I want to try you. Have you any objection to service? I should like to hire you for my servant--my own special servant, you understand."

"All right, grannie; here I am!" cried Willie, jumping up. "What shall I do first?"

"Sit down again instantly, and wait till we've finished the bargain. I must first have you understand that though I don't want to be hard upon you, you must come when I call you, and do what I tell you."

"Of course, grannie. Only I can't when I'm at school, you know."

"I don't want to be told that. And I'm not going to be a tyrant. But I had no idea you were such a silly! For all your cleverness, you've positively never asked me what wages I would give you."

"Oh! I don't want any wages, grannie. I like to do things for people; and you're my very own grandmother, besides, you know."

"Well, I suppose I must settle your wages for you. I mean to pay you by the job. It's an odd arrangement for a servant, but it will suit me best. And as you don't ask any, I needn't pay you more than I like myself."

"Certainly not, grannie. I'm quite satisfied."

"Meantime, no engagement of a servant ought to be counted complete without earnest."

"I'm quite in earnest, grannie," said Willie, who did not know the meaning of the word as his new mistress used it. They all laughed.

"I don't see what's funny," said Willie, laughing too, however.

But when they explained to him what earnest meant, then he laughed with understanding, as well as with good will.

"So," his grandmother went on, "I will give you earnest, which, you know, binds you my servant. But for how long, Willie?"

"Till you're tired of me, grannie. Only, you know, I'm papa and mamma's servant first, and you may have to arrange with them sometimes; for what should I do if you were all to want me at once?"

"We'll easily manage that. I'll arrange with them, as you say. And now, here's your earnest."

As she spoke, she put into his hand what Willie took to be a shilling. But when he glanced at it, he found himself mistaken.

"Thank you, grannie," he said, trying not to show himself a little disappointed, for he had had another scheme in his head some days, and the shilling would have been everything towards that.

"Do you know what grannie has given you, Willie?" said his mother.

"Yes, mother--such a pretty brass medal!"

"Show it me, dear. Why, Willie! it's no brass medal, child;--it's a sovereign!"

"No-o-o-o! Is it? O grannie!" he cried, and went dancing about the room, as if he would actually fly with delight.

Willie had never seen a sovereign, for that part of the country was then like Holland--you never saw gold money there. To get it for him, his grandmother had had to send to the bank in the county town.

After this she would often give him sixpence or a shilling, and sometimes even a half-crown when she asked him to do anything she thought a little harder than usual; so that Willie had now plenty of money with which to carry out his little plans. When remonstrated with by her daughter for giving him so much, his grandmother would say--

"Look how the boy spends it!--always doing something with it! He never wastes it on sweets--not he!--My Willie's above that!"

The old lady generally spoke of him as if she were the chief if not the sole proprietor of the boy.

"I'm sure I couldn't do better with it," she would add; "and that you'll see when he comes to be a man. He'll be the making of you all."

"But, mother, you can't afford it."

"How do you know that? I can afford it very well. I've no house-rent to pay; and I am certain it is the very best return I can make you for your kindness. What I do for Willie will prove to have been done for us all."

Certainly Willie's grandmother showed herself a very wise old lady. The wisest old ladies are always those with young souls looking out of their eyes. And few things pleased Willie more than waiting upon her. He had a passion for being useful, and as his grandmother needed his help more than any one else, her presence in the house was an endless source of pleasure to him.

But his father grew anxious. He did not like her giving Willie so much money--not that he minded Willie having or spending the money, for he believed that the spending would keep the having from hurting him; but he feared lest through her gifts the purity of the boy's love for his grandmother might be injured, and the service which at first had looked only to her as its end might degenerate into a mere serving of her for the sake of her shillings.

He had, therefore, a long talk with her about it. She was indignant at the notion of the least danger of spoiling Willie, but so anxious to prove there was none that she agreed to the test proposed by his father--which was, to drop all money transactions between them for a few months, giving Willie no reason for the change. Grannie, however, being in word and manner, if possible, still kinder to him than ever--and no wonder, seeing she could no more, for the present, let her love out at her pocket-hole--and Willie having, therefore, no anxiety lest he should have displeased her, he soon ceased to think even of the change; except, indeed, sometimes when he wanted a little money very much, and then he would say to himself that he was afraid poor grannie had been too liberal at first, and had spent all her money upon him; therefore he must try to be the more attentive to her now. So the result was satisfactory; and the more so that, for all her boasting, his grandmother had not been able to help trembling a little, half with annoyance, half with anxiety, as she let the first few of his services pass without the customary acknowledgment.

"There!" she said one day, at length, triumphantly, to Mr Macmichael; "what do you think of my Willie now? Three months over and gone, and where are your fears? I hope you will trust my judgment a little better after this."

"I'm very glad, anyhow, you put him to the trial," said his father. "It will do him good."

"He wants less of that than most people, Mr Macmichael--present company not excepted," said the old lady, rather nettled, but pretending to be more so than she really was.

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