One evening, a few weeks after Mrs. Lake’s death, Jan had tea, followed by poetry, with the schoolmaster. Master Swift often recited at the windmill. The miller liked to hear hymns his wife had liked, and a few patriotic and romantic verses; but he yawned over Milton, and fell asleep under Keats, so the schoolmaster reserved his favorites for Jan’s ear alone.
When tea was over, Jan sat on the rush-bottomed chair, with his feet on Rufus, on that side of the hearth which faced the window, and on the other side sat Master Swift, with the mongrel lying by him, and he spouted from Milton. Jan, familiar with many a sunrise, listened with parted lips of pleasure, as the old man trolled forth, —
the eastern gate,
Where the great sun begins his state,
Robed in flames and amber light,”
and with even more sympathy to the latter part of ‘Il Penseroso;’ and, as when this was ended he begged for yet more, the old man began ‘Lycidas.’ He knew most of it by heart, and waving his hand, with his eyes fixed expressively on Jan, he cried, —
“Fame is the spur
that the clear spirit doth raise
(That last infirmity of noble minds)
To scorn delights, and live laborious days.”
And tears filled his eyes, and made his voice husky, as he went on, -
“But the fair
guerdon when we hope to find,
And think to burst out into sudden blaze,
Comes the blind Fury with the abhorred shears” —
Master Swift stopped suddenly. Rufus was growling, and Jan was white and rigid, with his eyes fixed on the window.
As in most North countrymen, there was in the schoolmaster an ineradicable touch of superstition. He cursed the “unlucky” poem, and flinging the book from him ran to his favorite. As soon as Jan could speak, he gasped, “The woman that brought me to the mill!” But when Master Swift went to search the garden he could find no one.
Remembering the former alarm, and that no one was to be seen then, Master Swift came to the conclusion that in each case it was a delusion.
“Ye’re a dear good lad, Jan,” said he, “but ye’ve fagged yourself out. Take the dog with ye to-morrow for company, and your sketch-book, and amuse yourself. I’ll not expect ye at school. And get away to your bed now. I told Master Lake I shouldn’t let ye away to-night.”
Jan went to bed, and next morning was up with the lark, and with Rufus at his heels went off to a distant place, where from a mound, where a smaller road crossed the highway to London, there was a view which he wished to sketch under an early light. As he drew near, he saw a small cart, at one side of which the horse was feeding, and at the foot of the mound sat a woman with a pedler’s basket.
When Jan recognized her, it was too late to run away. And whither could he have run? The four white roads gleamed unsheltered over the plains; there was no place to hide in, and not a soul in sight.