Storm without and within?
So the windmiller might have said, if he had been in the habit of putting his thoughts into an epigrammatic form, as a groan from his wife and a growl of thunder broke simultaneously upon his ear, whilst the rain fell scarcely faster than her tears.
It was far from mending matters that both storms were equally unexpected. For eight full years the miller’s wife had been the meekest of women. If there was a firm (and yet, as he flattered himself, a just) husband in all the dreary straggling district, the miller was that man. And he always did justice to his wife’s good qualities,—at least to her good quality of submission,—and would, till lately, have upheld her before any one as a model of domestic obedience. From the day when he brought home his bride, tall, pretty, and perpetually smiling, to the tall old mill and the ugly old mother who never smiled at all, there had been but one will in the household. At any rate, after the old woman’s death. For during her life-time her stern son paid her such deference that it was a moot point, perhaps, which of them really ruled. Between them, however, the young wife was moulded to a nicety, and her voice gained no more weight in the counsels of the windmill when the harsh tones of the mother-in-law were silenced for ever.
The miller was one of those good souls who live by the light of a few small shrewdities (often proverbial), and pique themselves on sticking to them to such a point, as if it were the greater virtue to abide by a narrow rule the less it applied. The kernel of his domestic theory was, “Never yield, and you never will have to,” and to this he was proud of having stuck against all temptations from a real, though hard, affection for his own; and now, after working so smoothly for eight years, had it come to this?
The miller scratched his bead, and looked at his wife, almost with amazement. She moaned, though he bade her be silent; she wept, in spite of words which had hitherto been an effectual styptic to her tears; and she met the commonplaces of his common sense with such wild, miserable laughter, that he shuddered as he heard her.
Weakness in human beings is like the strength of beasts, a power of which fortunately they are not always conscious. Unless positively brutal, you cannot well beat a sickly woman for wailing and weeping; and if she will not cease for any lesser consideration, there seems nothing for an unbending husband to do but to leave her to herself.
This the miller had to do, anyhow. For he could only spare a moment’s attention to her now and then, since the mill required all his care.
In a coat and hat of painted canvas, he had been in and out ever since the storm began; now directing the two men who were working within, now struggling along the stage that ran outside the windmill, at no small risk of being fairly blown away.