WILLIE'S NEST IN THE RUINS.
The spot he had fixed upon was in the part of the ruins next the
cottage, not many yards from the back door of it. I have said there were
still a few vaulted places on the ground-level used by the family. The
vault over the wood-house was perfectly sound and weather-tight, and,
therefore, as Willie and the carpenter agreed, quite safe to roost upon.
In a corner outside, and now open to the elements, had once been a small
winding stone stair, which led to the room above, on the few broken
fragments of which, projecting from the two sides of the corner, it was
just possible to climb, and so reach the top of the vault. Willie had
often got up to look out through a small, flat-arched window into the
garden of the manse. When Mr Shepherd, the clergyman, who often walked
in his garden, caught sight of him, he always came nearer, and had a
chat with him; for he did not mind such people as Willie looking into
his garden, and seeing what he was about. Sometimes also little Mona, a
girl of his own age, would be running about; and she also, if she caught
sight of Willie, was sure to come hopping and skipping like a bird to
have a talk with him, and beg him to take her up, which, he as often
assured her, was all but impossible. To this place Mr Spelman and Willie
climbed, and there held consultation whether and how it could be made
habitable. The main difficulty was, how to cover it in; for although the
walls were quite sound a long way up, it lay open to the sky. But about
ten feet over their heads they saw the opposing holes in two of the
walls where the joists formerly sustaining the floor of the chamber
above had rested; and Mr Spelman thought that, without any very large
outlay either of time or material, he could there lay a floor, as it
were, and then turn it into a roof by covering it with cement, or pitch,
or something of the sort, concerning which he would take counsel with
his friend Mortimer, the mason.
"But," said Willie, "that would turn it into the bottom of a cistern;
for the walls above would hold the rain in, and what would happen then?
Either it must gather till it reached the top, or the weight of it would
burst the walls, or perhaps break through my roof and drown me."
"It is easy to avoid that," said Mr Spelman. "We have only to lay on the
cement a little thicker at one side, and slope the surface down to the
other, where a hole through the wall, with a pipe in it, would let the
"I know!" cried Willie. "That's what they called a gurgoyle!"
"I don't know anything about that," said the carpenter; "I know it will
carry off the water."
"To be sure," said Willie. "It's capital."
"But," said Mr Spelman, "it's rather too serious a job this to set about
before asking the doctor's leave. It will cost money."
"Much?" asked Willie, whose heart sank within him.
"Well, that depends on what you count much," answered Spelman. "All I
can say is, it wouldn't be anything out of your father's pocket."
"I don't see how that can be," said Willie. "--Cost money, and yet
be nothing out of my father's pocket! I've only got threepence
"Your father and I will talk about it," said the carpenter mysteriously,
and offered no further information.
"There seems to be always some way of doing a thing," thought Willie to
He little knew by what a roundabout succession of cause and effect his
father's kindness to Spelman was at this moment returning to him, one of
the links of connection being this project of Willie's own.
The doctor being out at the time, the carpenter called again later in
the evening; and they had a long talk together--to the following effect.
Spelman having set forth his scheme, and the doctor having listened in
silence until he had finished--
"But," said Mr Macmichael, "that will cost a good deal, I fear, and I
have no money to spare."
"Mr Macmichael," said Spelman solemnly, his long face looking as if some
awful doom were about to issue from the middle of it, "you forget how
much I am in your debt."
"No, I don't," returned the doctor. "But neither do I forget that it
takes all your time and labour to provide for your family; and what will
become of them if you set about this job, with no return in prospect but
the satisfaction of clearing off of an old debt?"
"It is very good of you, sir, to think of that," said the carpenter;
"but, begging your pardon, I've thought of it too. Many's the time
you've come after what I'd ha' called work hours to see my wife--yes, in
the middle of the night, more than once or twice; and why shouldn't I do
the same? Look ye here, sir. If you're not in a main hurry, an' 'll give
me time, I'll do the heavy work o' this job after six o'clock o' the
summer nights, with Sandy to help me, and I'll charge you no more than
a journeyman's wages by the hour. And what Willie and Sandy can do by
themselves--he's a clever boy Sandy; but he's a genius Willie--what they
can do by themselves, and that's not a little, is nothing to me. And if
you'll have the goodness, when I give you the honest time, at fourpence
ha'penny an hour, just to strike that much off my bill, I'll be more
obliged to you than I am now. Only I fear I must make you pay for the
material--not a farthing more than it costs me at the saw-mills, up at
the Grange, for the carriage 'll come in with other lots I must have."
"It's a generous offer, Spelman," said the doctor, "and I accept it
heartily, though you are turning the tables of obligation upon me.
You'll have done far more for me than I ever did for you."
"I wish that were like to be true, sir, but it isn't. My wife's not a
giantess yet, for all you've done for her."
Spelman set to work at once. New joists were inserted in the old walls,
boarded over, and covered, after the advice of Mortimer, with some
cunning mixture to keep out the water. Then a pipe was put through the
wall to carry it off--which pipe, if it was not masked with an awful
head, as the remains of more than one on the Priory showed it would have
been in the days of the monks, yet did it work as faithfully without it.
When it came to the plastering of the walls, Mr Spelman, after giving
them full directions, left the two boys to do that between them.
Although there was no occasion to roughen these walls by clearing away
the old mortar from between the stones, the weather having done that
quite sufficiently, and all the preparation they wanted for the first
thin coat was to be well washed down, it took them a good many days,
working all their time, to lay on the orthodox three coats of plaster.
Mr Spelman had wisely boarded the ceiling, so that they had not to
Meantime he was preparing a door and window-frames in the shop. The room
had probably been one of the prior's, for it was much too large and
lofty for a mere cell, and had two windows. But these were fortunately
small, not like the splendid ones in the chapel and refectory, else they
would have been hard to fill with glass.
"I'm afraid you'll be starved with cold, Willie," said his father one
day, after watching the boys at work for a few minutes. "There's no
"Oh! that doesn't signify," answered Willie. "Look how thick the walls
are! and I shall have plenty of blankets on my bed. Besides, we can
easily put a little stove in, if it's wanted."
But when the windows were fitted and fixed, Mr Macmichael saw to his
dismay that they were not made to open. They had not even a pane on
"This'll never do, Willie," he said. "This is far worse than no
Willie took his father by the coat, and led him to a corner, where a
hole went right through the wall into another room--if that can be
called a room which had neither floor nor ceiling.
"There, father!" he said; "I am going to fit a slide over this hole, and
then I can let in just as much or as little air as I please."
"It would have been better to have one at least of the windows made to
open. You will only get the air from the ruins that way, whereas you
might have had all the scents of Mr Shepherd's wallflowers and roses."
"As soon as Mr Spelman has done with the job," said Willie, "I will make
them both to come wide open on hinges; but I don't want to bother him
about it, for he has been very kind, and I can do it quite well myself."
This satisfied his father.
At length the floor was boarded; a strong thick door was fitted tight; a
winding stair of deal inserted where the stone one had been, and cased
in with planks, well pitched on the outside; and now Willie's mother was
busy making little muslin curtains for his windows, and a carpet for the
middle of the room.
In the meantime, his father and mother had both written to his
grandmother, telling her how Willie had been using his powers both of
invention and of labour to make room for her, and urging her to come and
live with them, for they were all anxious to have her to take care of.
But, in fact, small persuasion was necessary, for the old lady was only
too glad to accept the invitation; and before the warm weather of autumn
was over, she was ready to go to them. By this time Willie's room was
furnished. All the things from his former nest had been moved into it;
the bed with the chintz curtains, covered with strange flowers and
birds; the old bureau, with the many drawers inside the folding cover,
in which he kept all his little treasures; the table at which he read
books that were too big to hold, such as Raleigh's History of the World
and Josephus; the old oblong mirror that hung on the wall, with an
outspread gilt eagle at the top of it; the big old arm-chair that had
belonged to his great-grandfather, who wrote his sermons in it--for all
the things the boy had about him were old, and in all his after-life
he never could bear new furniture. And now his grandmother's furniture
began to appear; and a great cart-load of it from her best bedroom was
speedily arranged in Willie's late quarters, and as soon as they were
ready for her, Mrs Macmichael set out in a post-chaise to fetch her