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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGutta-percha Willie - Chapter 8. Willie Digs And Finds What He Did Not Expect
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Gutta-percha Willie - Chapter 8. Willie Digs And Finds What He Did Not Expect Post by :avatar Category :Long Stories Author :George Macdonald Date :May 2012 Read :1949

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Gutta-percha Willie - Chapter 8. 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 Sandy exclaimed--

"Here it is at last!"

"The treasure?" cried Willie. "Oh, jolly!"

Sandy burst out laughing, and shouted--

"The water!"

"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, Willie."

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 mother's."

And without looking behind him, he walked right through the cottage, and away home.

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 fashion.

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 the well.

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.

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