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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGutta-percha Willie - Chapter 13. Willie's Nest In The Ruins
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Gutta-percha Willie - Chapter 13. Willie's Nest In The Ruins Post by :syber Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :3415

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Gutta-percha Willie - Chapter 13. 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 water off."

"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 ha'-penny."

"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 himself.

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 plaster that.

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 fireplace."

"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 hinges.

"This'll never do, Willie," he said. "This is far worse than no chimney."

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 mother.

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CHAPTER XIV. WILLIE'S GRANDMOTHERWillie 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

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CHAPTER XII. A NEW SCHEMEI have said that Willie's father and mother used to talk without restraint in his presence. They had no fear of Willie's committing an indiscretion by repeating what he heard. One day at dinner the following conversation took place between them."I've had a letter from my mother, John," said Mrs Macmichael to her husband. "It's wonderful how well she manages to write, when she sees so badly.""She might see well enough--at least a great deal better--if she would submit to an operation, said the doctor."At _her age, John!" returned his wife in an expostulatory tone. "Do you