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Setting the Brook to Work by William O. Stoddard


The brook had never done a stroke of work in its life. So long, at least, as Mart Benson could remember, it had gurgled across the foot of his father's garden, tumbling heels over head down the little fall in the middle, as if it knew it had got into some place that didn't belong to it, and was in a desperate hurry to get out.

Then it made a dive under the fence, into Squire Spencer's orchard, and then under another fence, and through a low stone archway across the river road.

That was the end of the brook, for the river let it right in without so much as saying, "How do you do?"

"It isn't more'n two feet across anywhere," said Mart to himself. "It isn't so much as that just above the fall, and it's a foot and a half below the top of the bank. I could make a dam there, and a flume."

Mart was a great whittler.

Mr. Jellicombe, the carpenter, used to say of him that when he wasn't whittling, it was because he had had to stop to sharpen his knife.

"Well," said Mart, in reply to that, "what's the fun of whittling with a dull knife? If you want a knife to cut straight and smooth, you've got to have an edge on it."

So there was always a pretty good edge on his, and it was curious what things he managed to carve out with it.

He had made a wooden chain out of a long square stick that Mr. Jellicombe brought to the house to mend a door frame with. He had made kites, walking-sticks, bats, wooden spoons and forks, a little wagon, and any number of other things, of which about all that could be said was that they gave him plenty of good whittling.

But Mart had been to the mill the day before, and had waited there two hours while his father was having a grist of corn ground. All those two hours had been spent by Mart with a shingle in one hand and his knife in the other, but at the end of them there was hardly a notch in the shingle, and Mart shut up his knife, and put it back in his pocket.

He had been watching the great water-wheel and the flume that brought the water to it from the pond. He had studied the dam, too, and had been thinking of the brook in his father's garden.

The more he looked at it now, the clearer he saw that it was high time for that brook to be doing something.

It was easy enough to gather flat stones and pile them in at the narrow place at the top of the fall. That was little more than a foot high, to be sure, but the dam would more than double it.

Then he begged a couple of old raisin boxes at the store where his father traded, and when the ends were knocked out of them, and they were firmly set in the top of the little dam, one behind the other, they made a good enough flume. The end of the foremost one stuck out beyond the stones, and the water came pouring from it beautifully.

It took all the rest of that day for Mart to get the brook penned in and compelled to run through the raisin boxes, for he had to keep on putting stones and sods and dirt behind the dam to strengthen it, as the water rose higher and higher. It would not do to make a pond of the garden, but so long as the brook did not overflow its banks it would do no harm. Sometimes it had run over in the spring, or after very heavy rain-storms.

The next day Mart hardly went near his new dam, and he was a very serious and busy boy indeed, considering that he was only thirteen.

A piece of wood had to be found first two and a half inches square, and about a foot and a half long. It took a great deal of work to shave down the four corners of that piece of wood till it had eight smooth sides all just alike. Then Mart was compelled to go over to Jellicombe's carpenter shop and put his piece of wood in a vise, so it would be held steady, while he took a saw and sawed a long groove, more than half an inch deep, in the middle of each one of those eight faces. Jellicombe told him he had done that job very well.

"Looks like a hub for something. Going to make a wheel this time?"

"I'll show you. May I take your inch auger and bore a hole in each end?"

"Go ahead. If you ain't kerful, you'll split yer timber."

Mart was careful then, but he had trouble before him. He had picked out a number of very straight shingles, and he was whittling away on these now as if he was being paid for it. He cut them down to six inches long, and shaved them at the sides, so that two pieces laid together were just a foot wide. With a little more whittling after that he fitted them all, one by one, into the eight grooves in his "hub," and his "water-wheel" was done. A proud boy was Mart, but he ought to have kept on being "careful."

"Look out!" said Mr. Jellicombe, as Mart rapped hard on one of the shingle pieces, to drive it in more firmly; but it was too late.

"Crack!" the hub was split from end to end.

"Got to go to work and make a new one," said Mart, ruefully.

"Guess I wouldn't. Just take a couple of two-inch screws, and screw that together again. It'll be stronger'n it was before."

That was a capital idea, and it only took a few minutes; to carry it into effect.

"Make your end pins of hard wood," said Mr. Jellicombe; "and shave 'em smooth. Then they'll run easy."'

That was easy enough, but one of those "endpins" was made of an old broom handle, and was more than a foot long.

"I see what you're up to," said the carpenter, with a grin. "You've made a right down good job of it, too. Grease your journals before you let 'em get wet."

Mart's "journals" for his end pins to run in were two holes he bored in a couple of boards. When these were stuck up on each side of the lower end of his flume, and the water-wheel was set in its place, Mart took off his hat and shouted,

"Hurrah! the brook's at work!"

So it was, for it was rushing fiercely through the two old raisin boxes, and down upon the wide "paddles" of Mart's wheel, and this was spinning around at a tremendous rate.

"You've done it!"

"Is that you, Mr. Jellicombe? I didn't know you'd come."

"You've done it. Now what?"

"Why, I'm going to put another wheel on this long end pin, and set another one above it, and put a strap over both of them."

"Oh, that's it. Going to make a pulley and band. All right. It'll run. There's plenty of water-power. But what then? Going to build a mill?"

"Guess not. All I care for is, I've set the brook to work."

"Why don't you make it do something, then, now you've found out how?"

"Don't know of anything small enough for a brook like that."

"I'll tell you, then. There's your mother's big churn, that goes with a crank. You whittle out a wheel twice as large as that, and set it a little stronger, and raise your dam a few inches, and you can run that churn."

"Hurrah! I'll do it!"

There was a good deal of busy whittling before Mart finished that second job, but before two weeks were over there was butter on Mrs. Benson's dinner table which had actually been churned by the brook at the bottom of the garden.