The storm had passed. The wolds lay glistening and dreary under a watery sky, but all was still. The windmiller looked upwards mechanically. To be weatherwise was part of his trade. But his thoughts were not in the clouds to-night. He brought the sample bag, without thinking of it, to the surface of his pocket, and dropped it slowly back again, murmuring, “Ten shilling a week.”
And as he turned again to his night’s work he added, with a nod of complete conviction, “It’ll more’n keep he.”
The windmiller’s words come true.—The red shawl.—In the clouds.— Nursing V. Pig-minding.—The round-house.—The miller’s thumb.
Strange to say, the windmiller’s idea came true in time,—the foster-child was the favorite.
He was the youngest of the family, for the mother had no more children. This goes for something.
Then, when she had once got over her repugnance to adopting him, he did do much to heal the old grief, and to fill the empty place in her heart as well as in the cradle.
He was a frail, fretful little creature, with a very red face just fading into yellow, about as much golden down on his little pate as would furnish a moth with plumage, and eyes like sloe-berries. It was fortunate rather than otherwise that he was so ailing for some weeks that the good wife’s anxieties came over again, and, in the triumph of being this time successful, much of the bitterness of the old loss passed away.
In a month’s time he looked healthy, if not absolutely handsome. The windmiller’s wife, indeed, protested that he was lovely, and she never wearied of marvelling at the unnatural conduct of those who had found it in their hearts to intrust so sweet a child to the care of strangers; though it must be confessed that nothing would have pleased her less than the arrival of two doting and conscientious parents to reclaim him.
Indeed, pity had much to do with the large measure of love that she gave to the deserted child. A meaner sentiment, too, was not quite without its influence in the predominance which he gradually gained over his foster brothers and sisters. There was little enough to be proud of in all that could be guessed as to his parentage (the windmiller knew nothing), but there was scope for any amount of fancy; and if the child displayed any better manners or talents than the other children, Mrs. Lake would purse her lips, and say, with a somewhat shabby pride, —
“Anybody may see ’tis gentry born.”
“I’ve been thinking,” said the windmiller, one day, “that if that there woman weren’t the mother, ’tis likely the mother’s dead.”
“’Tis likely, too,” said his wife; and her kindness abounded the more towards the motherless child. Little Abel was nurse-boy to it, as he had been to his sister. Not much more than a baby himself, he would wrap an old shawl round the baby who was quite a baby, stagger carefully out at the door, and drop dexterously—baby uppermost—on to the short, dry grass that lay for miles about the mill.