Jan was useful in the mill. He swept the round-house, coupled the sacks, received grist from the grist-bringers, and took payment for the grinding in money or in kind, according to custom. The old women who toddled in with their bags of gleaned corn looked very kindly on him, and would say, “Thee be a good bwoy, sartinly, Jan, and the Lard’ll reward thee.” If the windmiller came towards one of these dames, she would say, “Aal right, Master Lake, I be in no manners of hurry, Jan’ll do for me.” And, when Jan came, his business-like method justified her confidence. “Good day, mother,” he would say. “Will ye pay, or toll it?” “Bless ye, dear love, how should I pay?” the old woman would reply. “I’ll toll it, Jan, and thank ye kindly.” On which Jan would dip the wooden bowl or tolling-dish into the sack, and the corn it brought up was the established rate of payment for grinding the rest.
But, though he constantly assured the schoolmaster that he meant to be a windmiller, Jan did not neglect his special gift. He got up with many a dawn to paint the sunrise. In still summer afternoons, when the mill-sails were idle, and Mrs. Lake was dozing from the heat, he betook himself to the water-meads to sketch. In the mill itself he made countless studies. Not only of the ever-changing heavens, and of the monotonous sweeps of the great plains, whose aspect is more changeable than one might think, but studies on the various floors of the mill, and in the roundhouse, where old meal-bins and swollen sacks looked picturesque in the dim light falling from above, in which also the circular stones, the shaft, and the very hoppers, became effective subjects for the Cumberland lead-pencils.
Towards the end of the summer following the fever, Mrs. Lake failed rapidly. She sat out of doors most of the day, the miller moving her chair from one side to another of the mill to get the shade. Master Swift brought her big nosegays from his garden, at which she would smell for hours, as if the scent soothed her. She spoke very little, but she watched the sky constantly.
One evening there was a gorgeous sunset. In all its splendor, with a countless multitude of little clouds about it bright with its light, the glory of the sun seemed little less than that of the Lord Himself, coming with ten thousand of His saints, and the poor woman gazed as if her withered, wistful eyes could see her children among the radiant host. “I do think the Lord be coming to-night, Master Swift,” she said. “And He’ll bring them with Him.”
She gazed on after all the glory had faded, and lingered till it grew dark, and the schoolmaster had gone home. It was not till her dress was quite wet with dew that Jan insisted upon her going indoors.