The shawl was a special shawl, though old. It was red, and the bright color seemed to take the child’s fancy; he was never so good as when playing upon the gay old rag. His black eyes would sparkle, and his tiny fingers clutch at it, when the mother put it about him as he swayed in Abel’s courageous grasp. And then Abel would spread it for him, like an eastern prayer carpet, under the shadow of the old mill.
Little need had he of any medicine, when the fresh strong air that blew about the downs was filling his little lungs for most of the day. Little did he want toys, as he lay on his red shawl gazing upwards hour by hour, with Abel to point out every change in their vast field of view.
It is a part of a windmiller’s trade to study the heavens, and Abel may have inherited a taste for looking skywards. Then, on these great open downs there is so much sky to be seen, you can hardly help seeing it, and there is not much else to look at. Had they lived in a village street, or even a lane, Abel and his charge might have taken to other amusements,—to games, to grubbing in hedges, or amid the endless treasures of ditches. But as it was, they lay hour after hour and looked at the sky, as at an open picture-book with ever-changing leaves.
“Look ’ee here!” the nurse-boy would cry. “See to the crows, the pretty black crows! Eh, there be a lapwing! Lap-py, lap-py, lap-py, there he go! Janny catch un!”
And the baby would stretch his arms responsive to Abel’s expressive signs, and cry aloud for the vanishing bird.
If no living creature crossed the ether, there were the clouds. Sometimes a long triangular mass of small white fleecy clouds would stretch across half the heavens, having its shortest side upon the horizon, and its point at the zenith, where one white fleece seemed to be leading a gradually widening flock across the sky.
“See then!” the nurse-boy would cry. “See to the pretty sheep up yonder! Janny mind un! So! so!”
And if some small gray scud, floating lower, ran past the far-away cirrus, Abel would add with a quaint seriousness, “’Tis the sheep-dog. How he runs then! Bow-wow!”
At sunset such a flock wore golden fleeces, and to them, and to the crimson hues about them, the little Jan stretched his fingers, and crowed, as if he would have clutched the western sky as he clutched his own red shawl.
But Abel was better pleased when, in the dusk, the flock became dark gray.
“They be Master Salter’s pigs now,” said he. For pigs in Abel’s native place were both plentiful and black; and he had herded Master Salter’s flock (five and twenty black, and three spotted) for a whole month before his services were required as nurse-boy to his sister.
But for the coming of the new baby, he would probably have gone back to the pigs. And he preferred babies. A baby demands attention as well as a herd of pigs, but you can get it home. It does not run off in twenty-eight different directions, just when you think you have safely turned the corner into the village.