Use is second nature, and all the sounds which haunt a windmill were soon as familiar and as pleasant to the little Jan as if he had been born a windmiller’s son. Through many a windy night he slept as soundly as a sailor in a breeze which might disturb the nerves of a land-lubber. And when the north wind blew keen and steadily, and the chains jangled as the sacks of grist went upwards, and the millstones ground their monotonous music above his head, these sounds were only as a lullaby to his slumbers, and disturbed him no more than they troubled his foster-mother, to whom the revolving stones ground out a homely and welcome measure: “Dai-ly bread, dai-ly bread, dai-ly bread.”
For another sign of his being a true child of the mill, his nurse Abel anxiously watched.
Though Abel preferred nursing to pig-minding, he had a higher ambition yet, which was to begin his career as a windmiller. It was not likely that he could be of use to his father for a year or two, and the fact that he was of very great use to his mother naturally tended to delay his promotion to the mill.
Mrs. Lake was never allowed to say no to her husband, and she seemed to be unable, and was certainly unwilling, to say it to her children. Happily, her eldest child was of so sweet and docile a temper that spoiling did him little harm; but even with him her inability to say no got the mother into difficulties. She was obliged to invent excuses to “fub off,” when she could neither consent nor refuse.
So, when Abel used to cling about her, crying, “Mother dear, when’ll I be put t’help father in the mill? Do ’ee ask un to let me come in now! I be able to sweep ’s well as Gearge. I sweeps the room for thee,”—she had not the heart or the courage to say, “I want thee, and thy father doesn’t,” but she would take the boy’s hand tenderly in hers, and making believe to examine his thumbs with a purpose, would reply, “Wait a bit, love. Thee’s a sprack boy, and a good un, but thee’s not rightly got the miller’s thumb.”
And thus it came about that Abel was for ever sifting bits of flour through his finger and thumb, to obtain the required flatness and delicacy which marks the latter in a miller born; and playing lovingly with little Jan on the floor of the round-house, he would pass some through the baby’s fingers also, crying, —
“Sift un, Janny! sift un! Thee’s a miller’s lad, and thee must have a miller’s thumb.”
Black as slans.—Vair and voolish.—The miller and his man.
It was a great and important time to Abel when Jan learned to walk; but, as he was neither precocious nor behindhand in this respect, his biographer may be pardoned for not dwelling on it at any length.
He had a charming demure little face, chiefly differing from the faces of the other children of the district by an overwhelming superiority in the matter of forehead.