My Well and What Came Out of It
by Frank Stockton
Early in my married life I bought a small country estate which my wife and I looked upon as a paradise. After enjoying its delight for a little more than a year our souls were saddened by the discovery that our Eden contained a serpent. This was an insufficient water-supply.
It had been a rainy season when we first went there, and for a long time our cisterns gave us full aqueous satisfaction, but early this year a drought had set in, and we were obliged to be exceedingly careful of our water.
It was quite natural that the scarcity of water for domestic purposes should affect my wife much more than it did me, and perceiving the discontent which was growing in her mind, I determined to dig a well. The very next day I began to look for a well-digger. Such an individual was not easy to find, for in the region in which I lived wells had become unfashionable; but I determined to persevere in my search, and in about a week I found a well-digger.
He was a man of somewhat rough exterior, but of an ingratiating turn of mind. It was easy to see that it was his earnest desire to serve me.
“And now, then,” said he, when we had had a little conversation about terms, “the first thing to do is to find out where there is water. Have you a peach-tree on the place?” We walked to such a tree, and he cut therefrom a forked twig.
“I thought,” said I, “that divining-rods were always of hazel wood.”
“A peach twig will do quite as well,” said he, and I have since found that he was right. Divining-rods of peach will turn and find water quite as well as those of hazel or any other kind of wood.
He took an end of the twig in each hand, and, with the point projecting in front of him, he slowly walked along over the grass in my little orchard. Presently the point of the twig seemed to bend itself downward toward the ground.
“There,” said he, stopping, “you will find water here.”
“I do not want a well here,” said I. “This is at the bottom of a hill, and my barn-yard is at the top. Besides, it is too far from the house.”
“Very good,” said he. “We will try somewhere else.”
His rod turned at several other places, but I had objections to all of them. A sanitary engineer had once visited me, and he had given me a great deal of advice about drainage, and I knew what to avoid.
We crossed the ridge of the hill into the low ground on the other side. Here were no buildings, nothing which would interfere with the purity of a well. My well-digger walked slowly over the ground with his divining-rod. Very soon he exclaimed: “Here is water!” And picking up a stick, he sharpened one end of it and drove it into the ground. Then he took a string from his pocket, and making a loop in one end, he put it over the stick.
“What are you going to do?” I asked.
“I am going to make a circle four feet in diameter,” he said. “We have to dig the well as wide as that, you know.”
“But I do not want a well here,” said I. “It’s too close to the wall. I could not build a house over it. It would not do at all.”
He stood up and looked at me. “Well, sir,” said he, “will you tell me where you would like to have a well?”
“Yes,” said I. “I would like to have it over there in the corner of the hedge. It would be near enough to the house; it would have a warm exposure, which will be desirable in winter; and the little house which I intend to build over it would look better there than anywhere else.”
He took his divining-rod and went to the spot I had indicated. “Is this the place?” he asked wishing to be sure he had understood me.
“Yes,” I replied.
He put his twig in position, and in a few seconds it turned in the direction of the ground. Then he drove down a stick, marked out a circle, and the next day he came with two men and a derrick, and began to dig my well.
When they had gone down twenty-five feet they found water, and when they had progressed a few feet deeper they began to be afraid of drowning. I thought they ought to go deeper, but the well-digger said that they could not dig without first taking out the water, and that the water came in as fast as they bailed it out, and he asked me to put it to myself and tell him how they could dig it deeper. I put the question to myself, but could find no answer. I also laid the matter before some specialists, and it was generally agreed that if water came in as fast as it was taken out, nothing more could be desired. The well was, therefore, pronounced deep enough. It was lined with great tiles, nearly a yard in diameter, and my well-digger, after congratulating me on finding water so easily, bade me good-by and departed with his men and his derrick.
On the other side of the wall which bounded my grounds, and near which my well had been dug, there ran a country lane, leading nowhere in particular, which seemed to be there for the purpose of allowing people to pass my house, who might otherwise be obliged to stop.
Along this lane my neighbors would pass, and often strangers drove by, and as my well could easily be seen over the low stone wall, its construction had excited a great deal of interest. Some of the people who drove by were summer folks from the city, and I am sure, from remarks I overheard, that it was thought a very queer thing to dig for water. Of course they must have known that people used to do this in the olden times, even as far back as the time of Jacob and Rebecca, but the expressions of some of their faces indicated that they remembered that this was the nineteenth century.
My neighbors, however, were all rural people, and much more intelligent in regard to water-supplies. One of them, Phineas Colwell by name, took a more lively interest in my operations than did any one else. He was a man of about fifty years of age, who had been a soldier. This fact was kept alive in the minds of his associates by his dress, a part of which was always military. If he did not wear an old fatigue-jacket with brass buttons, he wore his blue trousers, or, perhaps, a waistcoat that belonged to his uniform, and if he wore none of these, his military hat would appear upon his head. I think he must also have been a sailor, judging from the little gold rings in his ears. But when I first knew him he was a carpenter, who did mason-work whenever any of the neighbors had any jobs of the sort. He also worked in gardens by the day, and had told me that he understood the care of horses and was a very good driver. He sometimes worked on farms, especially at harvest-time, and I know he could paint, for he once showed me a fence which he said he had painted. I frequently saw him, because he always seemed to be either going to his work or coming from it. In fact, he appeared to consider actual labor in the light of a bad habit which he wished to conceal, and which he was continually endeavoring to reform.
Phineas walked along our lane at least once a day, and whenever he saw me he told me something about the well. He did not approve of the place I had selected for it. If he had been digging a well he would have put it in a very different place. When I had talked with him for some time and explained why I had chosen this spot, he would say that perhaps I was right, and begin to talk of something else. But the next time I saw him he would again assert that if he had been digging that well he would not have put it there.
About a quarter of a mile from my house, at a turn of the lane, lived Mrs. Betty Perch. She was a widow with about twelve children. A few of these were her own, and the others she had inherited from two sisters who had married and died, and whose husbands, having proved their disloyalty by marrying again, were not allowed by the indignant Mrs. Perch to resume possession of their offspring. The casual observer might have supposed the number of these children to be very great,–fifteen or perhaps even twenty,–for if he happened to see a group of them on the door-step, he would see a lot more if he looked into the little garden; and under some cedar-trees at the back of the house there were always some of them on fine days. But perhaps they sought to increase their apparent number, and ran from one place to another to be ready to meet observation, like the famous clown Grimaldi, who used to go through his performances at one London theatre, and then dash off in his paint and motley to another, so that perambulating theatre-going men might imagine that there were two greatest clowns in the world.
When Mrs. Perch had time she sewed for the neighbors, and, whether she had time or not, she was always ready to supply them with news. From the moment she heard I was going to dig a well she took a vital interest in it. Her own water-supply was unsatisfactory, as she depended upon a little spring which sometimes dried up in summer, and should my well turn out to be a good one, she knew I would not object to her sending the children for pails of water on occasions.
“It will be fun for them,” she said, “and if your water really is good it will often come in very well for me. Mr. Colwell tells me,” she continued, “that you put your well in the wrong place. He is a practical man and knows all about wells, and I do hope that for your sake he may be wrong.”
My neighbors were generally pessimists. Country people are proverbially prudent, and pessimism is prudence. We feel safe when we doubt the success of another, because if he should succeed we can say we were glad we were mistaken, and so step from a position of good judgment to one of generous disposition without feeling that we have changed our plane of merit. But the optimist often gets himself into terrible scrapes, for if he is wrong he cannot say he is glad of it.
But, whatever else he may be, a pessimist is depressing, and it was, therefore, a great pleasure to me to have a friend who was an out-and-out optimist. In fact, he might be called a working optimist. He lived about six miles from my house, and had a hobby, which was natural phenomena. He was always on the lookout for that sort of thing, and when he found it he would study its nature and effect. He was a man in the maturity of youth, and if the estate on which he lived had not belonged to his mother, he would have spent much time and money in investigating its natural phenomena. He often drove over to see me, and always told me how glad he would be if he had an opportunity of digging a well.
“I have the wildest desire,” he said, “to know what is in the earth under our place, and if it should so happen in the course of time that the limits of earthly existence should be reached by–I mean if the estate should come into my hands–I would go down, down, down, until I had found out all that could be discovered. To own a plug of earth four thousand miles long and only to know what is on the surface of the upper end of it is unmanly. We might as well be grazing beasts.”
He was sorry that I was digging only for water, because water is a very commonplace thing, but he was quite sure I would get it, and when my well was finished he was one of the first to congratulate me.
“But if I had been in your place,” said he, “with full right to do as I pleased, I would not have let those men go away. I would have set them to work in some place where there would be no danger of getting water,–at least, for a long time,–and then you would have found out what are the deeper treasures of your land.”
Having finished my well, I now set about getting the water into my residence near by. I built a house over the well and put in it a little engine, and by means of a system of pipes, like the arteries and veins of the human body, I proposed to distribute the water to the various desirable points in my house.
The engine was the heart, which should start the circulation, which should keep it going, and which should send throbbing through every pipe the water which, if it were not our life, was very necessary to it.
When all was ready we started the engine, and in a very short time we discovered that something was wrong. For fifteen or twenty minutes water flowed into the tank at the top of the house, with a sound that was grander in the ears of my wife and myself than the roar of Niagara, and then it stopped. Investigation proved that the flow had stopped because there was no more water in the well.
It is needless to detail the examinations, investigations, and the multitude of counsels and opinions with which our minds were filled for the next few days. It was plain to see that although this well was fully able to meet the demands of a hand- pump or of bailing buckets, the water did not flow into it as fast as it could be pumped out by an engine. Therefore, for the purposes of supplying the circulation of my domestic water system, the well was declared a failure.
My non-success was much talked about in the neighborhood, and we received a great deal of sympathy and condolence. Phineas Colwell was not surprised at the outcome of the affair. He had said that the well had been put in the wrong place. Mrs. Betty was not only surprised, but disgusted.
“It is all very well for you,” she said, “who could afford to buy water if it was necessary, but it is very different with the widow and the orphan. If I had not supposed you were going to have a real well, I would have had my spring cleaned out and deepened. I could have had it done in the early summer, but it is of no use now. The spring has dried up.”
She told a neighbor that she believed the digging of my well had dried up her spring, and that that was the way of this world, where the widow and the orphan were sure to come out at the little end.
Of course I did not submit to defeat–at least, not without a struggle. I had a well, and if anything could be done to make that well supply me with water, I was going to do it. I consulted specialists, and, after careful consideration of the matter, they agreed that it would be unadvisable for me to attempt to deepen my present well, as there was reason to suppose there was very little water in the place where I had dug it, and that the very best thing I could do would be to try a driven well. As I had already excavated about thirty feet, that was so much gain to me, and if I should have a six-inch pipe put into my present well and then driven down and down until it came to a place where there was plenty of water, I would have all I wanted.
How far down the pipe would have to be driven, of course they did not know, but they all agreed that if I drove deep enough I would get all the water I wanted. This was the only kind of a well, they said, which one could sink as deep as he pleased without being interfered with by the water at the bottom. My wife and I then considered the matter, and ultimately decided that it would be a waste of the money which we had already spent upon the engine, the pipes, and the little house, and, as there was nothing else to be done but to drive a well, we would have a well driven.
Of course we were both very sorry that the work must be begun again, but I was especially dissatisfied, for the weather was getting cold, there was already snow upon the ground, and I was told that work could not be carried on in winter weather. I lost no time, however, in making a contract with a well-driver, who assured me that as soon as the working season should open, which probably would be very early in the spring, he would come to my place and begin to drive my well.
The season did open, and so did the pea-blossoms, and the pods actually began to fill before I saw that well-driver again. I had had a good deal of correspondence with him in the meantime, urging him to prompt action, but he always had some good reason for delay. (I found out afterwards that he was busy fulfilling a contract made before mine, in which he promised to drive a well as soon as the season should open.)
At last–it was early in the summer–he came with his derricks, a steam-engine, a trip-hammer, and a lot of men. They took off the roof of my house, removed the engine, and set to work.
For many a long day, and I am sorry to say for many a longer night, that trip-hammer hammered and banged. On the next day after the night-work began, one of my neighbors came to me to know what they did that for. I told him they were anxious to get through.
“Get through what?” said he. “The earth? If they do that, and your six-inch pipe comes out in a Chinaman’s back yard, he will sue you for damages.”
When the pipe had been driven through the soft stratum under the old well, and began to reach firmer ground, the pounding and shaking of the earth became worse and worse. My wife was obliged to leave home with our child.
“If he is to do without both water and sleep,” said she, “he cannot long survive.” And I agreed with her.
She departed for a pleasant summer resort where her married sister with her child was staying, and from week to week I received very pleasant letters from her, telling me of the charms of the place, and dwelling particularly upon the abundance of cool spring water with which the house was supplied.
While this terrible pounding was going on I heard various reports of its effect upon my neighbors. One of them, an agriculturist, with whom I had always been on the best of terms, came with a clouded brow.
“When I first felt those shakes,” he said, “I thought they were the effects of seismic disturbances, and I did not mind, but when I found it was your well I thought I ought to come over to speak about it. I do not object to the shaking of my barn, because my man tells me the continual jolting is thrashing out the oats and wheat, but I do not like to have all my apples and pears shaken off my trees. And then,” said he, “I have a late brood of chickens, and they cannot walk, because every time they try to make a step they are jolted into the air about a foot. And again, we have had to give up having soup. We like soup, but we do not care to have it spout up like a fountain whenever that hammer comes down.”
I was grieved to trouble this friend, and I asked him what I should do. “Do you want me to stop the work on the well?” said I.
“Oh, no,” said he, heartily. “Go on with the work. You must have water, and we will try to stand the bumping. I dare say it is good for dyspepsia, and the cows are getting used to having the grass jammed up against their noses. Go ahead; we can stand it in the daytime, but if you could stop the night-work we would be very glad. Some people may think it a well-spring of pleasure to be bounced out of bed, but I don’t.”
Mrs. Perch came to me with a face like a squeezed lemon, and asked me if I could lend her five nails.
“What sort? ” said I.
“The kind you nail clapboards on with,” said she. “There is one of them been shook entirely off my house by your well. I am in hopes that before the rest are all shook off I shall get in some money that is owing me and can afford to buy nails for myself.”
I stopped the night-work, but this was all I could do for these neighbors.
My optimist friend was delighted when he heard of my driven well. He lived so far away that he and his mother were not disturbed by the jarring of the ground. Now he was sure that some of the internal secrets of the earth would be laid bare, and he rode or drove over every day to see what we were getting out of the well. I know that he was afraid we would soon get water, but was too kind-hearted to say so.
One day the pipe refused to go deeper. No matter how hard it was struck, it bounced up again. When some of the substance it had struck was brought up it looked like French chalk, and my optimist eagerly examined it.
“A French-chalk mine,” said he, “would not be a bad thing, but I hoped that you had struck a bed of mineral gutta-percha. That would be a grand find.”
But the chalk-bed was at last passed, and we began again to bring up nothing but common earth.
“I suppose,” said my optimist to me, one morning, “that you must soon come to water, and if you do I hope it will be hot water.”
“Hot water!” I exclaimed. “I do not want that.”
“Oh, yes, you would, if you had thought about it as much as I have,” he replied. “I lay awake for hours last night, thinking what would happen if you struck hot water. In the first place, it would be absolutely pure, because, even if it were possible for germs and bacilli to get down so deep, they would be boiled before you got them, and then you could cool that water for drinking. When fresh it would be already heated for cooking and hot baths. And then–just think of it!–you could introduce the hot-water system of heating into your house, and there would be the hot water always ready. But the great thing would be your garden. Think of the refuse hot water circulating in pipes up and down and under all your beds! That garden would bloom in the winter as others do in the summer; at least, you could begin to have Lima-beans and tomatoes as soon as the frost was out of the air.”
I laughed. “It would take a lot of pumping,” I said, “to do all that with the hot water.”
“Oh, I forgot to say,” he cried, with sparkling eyes, “that I do not believe you would ever have any more pumping to do. You have now gone down so far that I am sure whatever you find will force itself up. It will spout high into the air or through all your pipes, and run always.”
Phineas Colwell was by when this was said, and he must have gone down to Mrs. Betty Perch’s house to talk it over with her, for in the afternoon she came to see me.
“I understand,” said she, “that you are trying to get hot water out of your well, and that there is likely to be a lot more than you need, so that it will run down by the side of the road. I just want to say that if a stream of hot water comes down past my house some of the children will be bound to get into it and be scalded to death, and I came to say that if that well is going to squirt b’iling water I’d like to have notice so that I can move, though where a widow with so many orphans is going to move to nobody knows. Mr. Colwell says that if you had got him to tell you where to put that well there would have been no danger of this sort of thing.”
The next day the optimist came to me, his face fairly blazing with a new idea. “I rode over on purpose to urge you,” he cried, “if you should strike hot water, not to stop there. Go on, and, by George! you may strike fire.”
“Heavens!” I cried.
“Oh, quite the opposite,” said he. “But do not let us joke. I think that would be the grandest thing of this age. Think of a fire well, with the flames shooting up perhaps a hundred feet into the air!”
I wish Phineas Colwell had not been there. As it was, he turned pale and sat down on the wall.
“You look astonished!” exclaimed the optimist, “but listen to me. You have not thought of this thing as I have. If you should strike fire your fortune would be made. By a system of reflectors you could light up the whole country. By means of tiles and pipes this region could be made tropical. You could warm all the houses in the neighborhood with hot air. And then the power you could generate–just think of it! Heat is power; the cost of power is the fuel. You could furnish power to all who wanted it. You could fill this region with industries. My dear sir, you must excuse my agitation, but if you should strike fire there is no limit to the possibilities of achievement.”
“But I want water,” said I. “Fire would not take the place of that.”
“Oh, water is a trifle,” said he. “You could have pipes laid from town; it is only about two miles. But fire! Nobody has yet gone down deep enough for that. You have your future in your hands.”
As I did not care to connect my future with fire, this idea did not strike me very forcibly, but it struck Phineas Colwell. He did not say anything to me, but after I had gone he went to the well-drivers.
“If you feel them pipes getting hot,” he said to them, “I warn you to stop. I have been in countries where there are volcanoes, and I know what they are. There’s enough of them in this world, and there’s no need of making new ones.”
In the afternoon a wagoner, who happened to be passing, brought me a note from Mrs. Perch, very badly spelled, asking if I would let one of my men bring her a pail of water, for she could not think of coming herself or letting any of the children come near my place if spouting fires were expected.
The well-driving had gone on and on, with intermissions on account of sickness in the families of the various workmen, until it had reached the limit which I had fixed, and we had not found water in sufficient quantity, hot or cold, nor had we struck fire, or anything else worth having.
The well-drivers and some specialists were of the opinion that if I were to go ten, twenty, or perhaps a hundred feet deeper, I would be very likely to get all the water I wanted. But, of course, they could not tell how deep they must go, for some wells were over a thousand feet deep. I shook my head at this. There seemed to be only one thing certain about this drilling business, and that was the expense. I declined to go any deeper.
“I think,” a facetious neighbor said to me, “it would be cheaper for you to buy a lot of Apollinaris water,–at wholesale rates, of course,–and let your men open so many bottles a day and empty them into your tank. You would find that would pay better in the long run.”
Phineas Colwell told me that when he had informed Mrs. Perch that I was going to stop operations, she was in a dreadful state of mind. After all she had undergone, she said, it was simply cruel to think of my stopping before I got water, and that after having dried up her spring!
This is what Phineas said she said, but when next I met her she told me that he had declared that if I had put the well where he thought it ought to be, I should have been having all the water I wanted before now.
My optimist was dreadfully cast down when he heard that I would drive no deeper.
“I have been afraid of this,” he said. “I have, been afraid of it. And if circumstances had so arranged themselves that I should have command of money, I should have been glad to assume the expense of deeper explorations. I have been thinking a great deal about the matter, and I feel quite sure that even if you did not get water or anything else that might prove of value to you, it would be a great advantage to have a pipe sunk into the earth to the depth of, say, one thousand feet.”
“What possible advantage could that be?” I asked.
“I will tell you,” he said. “You would then have one of the grandest opportunities ever offered to man of constructing a gravity-engine. This would be an engine which would be of no expense at all to run. It would need no fuel. Gravity would be the power. It would work a pump splendidly. You could start it when you liked and stop it when you liked.”
“Pump!” said I. “What is the good of a pump without water?”
“Oh, of course you would have to have water,” he answered. “But, no matter how you get it, you will have to pump it up to your tank so as to make it circulate over your house. Now, my gravity-pump would do this beautifully. You see, the pump would be arranged with cog-wheels and all that sort of thing, and the power would be supplied by a weight, which would be a cylinder of lead or iron, fastened to a rope and run down inside your pipe. Just think of it! It would run down a thousand feet, and where is there anything worked by weight that has such a fall as that?”
I laughed. “That is all very well,” said I. “But how about the power required to wind that weight up again when it got to the bottom? I should have to have an engine to do that.”
“Oh, no,” said he. “I have planned the thing better than that. You see, the greater the weight the greater the power and the velocity. Now, if you take a solid cylinder of lead about four inches in diameter, so that it would slip easily down your pipe,–you might grease it, for that matter,–and twenty feet in length, it would be an enormous weight, and in slowly descending for about an hour a day–for that would be long enough for your pumping–and going down a thousand feet, it would run your engine for a year. Now, then, at the end of the year you could not expect to haul that weight up again. You would have a trigger arrangement which would detach it from the rope when it got to the bottom. Then you would wind up your rope,–a man could do that in a short time,–and you would attach another cylinder of lead, and that would run your engine for another year, minus a few days, because it would only go down nine hundred and eighty feet. The next year you would put on another cylinder, and so on. I have not worked out the figures exactly, but I think that in this way your engine would run for thirty years before the pipe became entirely filled with cylinders. That would be probably as long as you would care to have water forced into the house.”
“Yes”‘ said I, “I think that is likely.”
He saw that his scheme did not strike me favorably. Suddenly a light flashed across his face.
“I tell you what you can do with your pipe,” he said, “just as it is. You can set up a clock over it which would run for forty years without winding.”
I smiled, and he turned sadly away to his horse; but he had not ridden ten yards before he came back and called to me over the wall.
“If the earth at the bottom of your pipe should ever yield to pressure and give way, and if water or gas, or–anything, should be squirted out of it, I beg you will let me know as soon as possible.”
I promised to do so.
When the pounding was at an end my wife and child came home. But the season continued dry, and even their presence could not counteract the feeling of aridity which seemed to permeate everything which belonged to us, material or immaterial. We had a great deal of commiseration from our neighbors. I think even Mrs. Betty Perch began to pity us a little, for her spring had begun to trickle again in a small way, and she sent word to me that if we were really in need of water she would be willing to divide with us. Phineas Colwell was sorry for us, of course, but he could not help feeling and saying that if I had consulted him the misfortune would have been prevented.
It was late in the summer when my wife returned, and when she made her first visit of inspection to the grounds and gardens, her eyes, of course, fell upon the unfinished well. She was shocked.
“I never saw such a scene of wreckage,” she said. “It looks like a Western town after a cyclone. I think the best thing you can do is to have this dreadful litter cleared up, the ground smoothed and raked, the wall mended, and the roof put back on that little house, and then if we can make anybody believe it is an ice-house, so much the better.”
This was good advice, and I sent for a man to put the vicinity of the well in order and give it the air of neatness which characterizes the rest of our home.
The man who came was named Mr. Barnet. He was a contemplative fellow with a pipe in his mouth. After having worked at the place for half a day he sent for me and said:
“I’ll tell you what I would do if I was in your place. I’d put that pump-house in order, and I’d set up the engine, and put the pump down into that thirty-foot well you first dug, and I’d pump water into my house.”
I looked at him in amazement.
“There’s lots of water in that well,” he continued, “and if there’s that much now in this drought, you will surely have ever so much more when the weather isn’t so dry. I have measured the water, and I know.”
I could not understand him. It seemed to me that he was talking wildly. He filled his pipe and lighted it and sat upon the wall.
“Now,” said he, after he had taken a few puffs, “I’ll tell you where the trouble’s been with your well. People are always in too big a hurry in this world about all sorts of things as well as wells. I am a well-digger and I know all about them. We know if there is any water in the ground it will always find its way to the deepest hole there is, and we dig a well so as to give it a deep hole to go to in the place where we want it. But you can’t expect the water to come to that hole just the very day it’s finished. Of course you will get some, because it’s right there in the neighborhood, but there is always a lot more that will come if you give it time. It’s got to make little channels and passages for itself, and of course it takes time to do that. It’s like settling up a new country. Only a few pioneers come at first, and you have to wait for the population to flow in. This being a dry season, and the water in the ground a little sluggish on that account, it was a good while finding out where your well was. If I had happened along when you was talking about a well, I think I should have said to you that I knew a proverb which would about fit your case, and that is: `Let well enough alone.'”
I felt like taking this good man by the hand, but I did not. I only told him to go ahead and do everything that was proper.
The next morning, as I was going to the well, I saw Phineas Colwell coming down the lane and Mrs. Betty Perch coming up it. I did not wish them to question me, so I stepped behind some bushes. When they met they stopped.
“Upon my word!” exclaimed Mrs. Betty, “if he isn’t going to work again on that everlasting well! If he’s got so much money he don’t know what to do with it, I could tell him that there’s people in this world, and not far away either, who would be the better for some of it. It’s a sin and a shame and an abomination. Do you believe, Mr. Colwell, that there is the least chance in the world of his ever getting water enough out of that well to shave himself with?”
“Mrs. Perch,” said Phineas, “it ain’t no use talking about that well. It ain’t no use, and it never can be no use, because it’s in the wrong place. If he ever pumps water out of that well into his house I’ll do–”
“What will you do?” asked Mr. Barnet, who just then appeared from the recesses of the engine-house.
“I’ll do anything on this earth that you choose to name,” said Phineas. “I am safe, whatever it is.”
“Well, then,” said Mr. Barnet, knocking the ashes from his pipe preparatory to filling it again, “will you marry Mrs. Perch?”
Phineas laughed. “Yes,” he said. “I promised I would do anything, and I’ll promise that.”
“A slim chance for me,” said Mrs. Betty, “even if I’d have you.” And she marched on with her nose in the air.
When Mr. Barnet got fairly to work with his derrick, his men, and his buckets, he found that there was a good deal more to do than he had expected. The well-drivers had injured the original well by breaking some of the tiles which lined it, and these had to be taken out and others put in, and in the course of this work other improvements suggested themselves and were made. Several times operations were delayed by sickness in the family of Mr. Barnet, and also in the families of his workmen, but still the work went on in a very fair manner, although much more slowly than had been supposed by any one. But in the course of time–I will not say how much time–the work was finished, the engine was in its place, and it pumped water into my house, and every day since then it has pumped all the water we need, pure, cold, and delicious.
Knowing the promise Phineas Colwell had made, and feeling desirous of having everything which concerned my well settled and finished, I went to look for him to remind him of his duty toward Mrs. Perch, but I could not find that naval and military mechanical agriculturist. He had gone away to take a job or a contract,–I could not discover which,–and he has not since appeared in our neighborhood. Mrs. Perch is very severe on me about this.
“There’s plenty of bad things come out of that well,” she said, “but I never thought anything bad enough would come out of it to make Mr. Colwell go away and leave me to keep on being a widow with all them orphans.”