Read CHAPTER SIXTEEN - DOINGS IN THE DALE. of Will of the Mill , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

“It’s no use to bother,” said Josh, when the state of affairs was being canvassed.  “Father says there’s only one cure for it.”

“What’s that?” said Will.


“I think,” said Will, speaking seriously, “that your father, as he’s a clergyman, ought to give old Boil O a good talking to.”

“What!” cried Josh.  “Why, he’s been to the cottage nearly every day, trying to get the old man to listen; but it only makes him more wild.  Father says that he shall give it up now, and let him come to his senses.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s best,” said Will.  “Everybody’s been at him.  Old Manners says he got him one evening at the bottom of the garden, but, as soon as he began to speak, old Boil O turned upon him so fiercely that he had to cut away.”

“Oh, yes, of course, I’m going to believe that!” said Josh.  “Manners wouldn’t run away from a dozen of him.”

“Well,” cried Will, “he pretty well startled me when I had a try.  I’m not going to do it any more, I can tell you.”

“My father’s right,” said Josh.  “It only wants time.”

But time went on, and the work-people from the nearest town were hard at work day by day rebuilding and restoring, so that by degrees the traces of the late fire began to disappear, while new woodwork, beams, boards and rafters, bearing ruddy, bright new tiles, gave promise that within another three months the night’s mishap would be a memory of the past.

It was autumn ­a splendid time for fishing; a better time for the painter, the artist declaring that the tints of the trees and bracken, the glow of the skies, and the lovely mists that floated down from the hills and up from the well-charged falls were more glorious than any he had ever seen before.

His white mushroom, as Will called it, was always visible, and the boys spent much time with him when they were not reading with the Vicar up by the church, for Josh had declared that the message that had come from Worksop was about the jolliest piece of news he had ever heard.  Doubtless, the headmaster and his subordinates did not think the same, the news being the breaking out of an exceedingly virulent epidemic of fever, necessitating the closing of the great school about the time when the bulk of the pupils were to return.

Then rumours came that sanitary inspectors had condemned the whole of the arrangements there as being too old-fashioned to be tolerated, and instead of becoming once more a busy hive of study during the autumn term, the whole place had been put in the builders’ hands, and rumour said that the school would not reassemble until the spring, even if the builders were got rid of then.

“Well, I don’t care,” said Will.  “I didn’t want longer holidays, but it is much nicer reading and doing exercises up at the Vicarage than with old Buzfuz’s lexicon over there.  I’m learning twice as much, and quite beginning to like Latin now.”

“Of course,” said Josh, complacently.  “My father used to be a famous college don before the Bishop gave him the living here.”

“Yes, but he’s never been don enough to bring old Boil O back to his senses.  He’s worse than ever now.”

“Bring him back to his senses!  I don’t believe he’s got any senses to bring back,” said Josh.  “It wants a very clever college don to put something straight that isn’t there.”

The boys were right about Drinkwater, for the man was more fiercely morose than ever.  His efforts to avoid all who knew him, and spend the greater part of his time moping in the woodlands and high up the valley towards the headwaters of the stream, were so much waste of time, for all men and women too, and the children, for the matter of that, avoided him now as one who was ogreish and evil.  Master, Vicar, the artist, and the two lads might cast away all idea of his guilt respecting the fire if they liked, but the work-people declared that his was the hand that fired the mill.  Nothing would alter that in their stubborn minds, and no one knew better than James Drinkwater that this was so.

Consequently, he nursed up his blind grudge against the little world in which he dwelt, and became what Will called him ­a regular wild man of the woods.

But a change was coming.  The autumn rains were setting in, the woods were often dripping, the mosses holding the rain like so much sponge, and the shelter of a roof becoming an absolute necessity for the one who had sought it merely of a night.

“Yes,” said Manners, one morning, “the cuckoo’s gone long ago, the swallows are taking flight, and it is getting time for me to pack up my traps and toddle south.”

“Oh, what a pity!” cried Will.

“Humph!  Yes, for you.  What will you chaps do?  No one to play tricks with then.”

“Oh, I say, Mr Manners, play fair!” cried Josh.  “Why, I’m sure that we’ve behaved beautifully lately.”

“Very,” cried the artist.  “Why, you young dogs, I’ve watched you!  You’ve both been sitting on mischief eggs for weeks.  It isn’t your fault that they didn’t hatch.”

“Doing what?” cried Josh.

“Well, trying to scheme some new prank.  Only you’ve used up all your stuff, and couldn’t think one out.”

The boys exchanged glances, and there was a peculiar twinkle in their eyes, a look that the artist interpreted, and knew that he had judged aright.

“But you’ll be down again in the spring, Mr Manners?” cried Will.

“I hope so, my lad.  I’ve grown to look upon Beldale as my second home.  I say, you’ll come and help me pack my canvases?”

“Of course!  Are you going to stick up your toadstool to-day?”

“No; it’s going to rain again.  It has been raining in the night up in the hills.”

“Yes,” said Josh; “the big fall is coming down with a regular roar.”

“But what about the dam?” said the artist.

“Full, as it ought to be; they’re going to open the upper sluice.”

“When?” said Manners.

“This afternoon,” cried Will.

“Ah, I’ll come and see it done.  And about my canvases:  I must have some pieces of wood to nail round and hold them together.”

“As you did last time?” said Will.  “Well, old Boil O did that.  Won’t you let him do it again?”

“I’ve been after him twice, and whenever I spoke he turned away.  Suppose I come down to the mill workshop.  We can cut some strong laths there.”

“Of course,” said Will; “this afternoon, when we’ve seen them open the sluice.”

“Good,” said the artist.  “I will be there; but look here, let’s carry the canvases down; there are only twelve.  Nothing like the present.  I’ll bring them now.”

“You mean, we’ll take them now,” said Will, correctively.

The matter was arranged by their taking four each.

“Going to take them below to the mill to pack, Mrs Drinkwater,” said Manners, as they went down the path.

“Dear, dear, sir,” said the woman, sadly; “it seems so early, and it’ll be very dull when you’re gone.”

“Next spring will soon come, Mrs Drinkwater,” said Manners, cheerily; and the trio strolled on together, to come, at the angle of the second zig-zag, plump upon Drinkwater, with one arm round a birch trunk, his right hand to his shaggy brow, leaning away from the path as far as he could, as if gazing down at the dam.

“Morning, Drinkwater,” cried Manners, cheerily.

The man started violently, stared at the canvases, then at their bearer, and hurried away in amongst the trees.

“Nice cheerful party that to live with, lads,” said the artist, laughingly.  “Only fancy being his wife!”

“Yes,” said Josh; “and now you see if he don’t turn worse than ever.  I know.”

“Know what?” said Will.

“He’ll be as disagreeable as possible, because he’s not going to nail up the canvases, and lay it all on his poor wife.”

“He’d better not let me hear him,” said Manners.  “Surly brute!  Wouldn’t do it himself, and now turns nasty.  I saw his savage looks!  I should just like to shake some of his temper out of him.  Takes a lot of your father’s physic, Josh, to set him right.”

“Time?” cried the boy.  “Ah, he’ll have to have a stronger dose.”