“Thee knows more of palaces than the likes of me. Thee manners be so fine,” said Jan; and the repartee drew a roar of laughter, in which the bandy-legged boy joined. “But I’ve lived in a windmill,” Jan added, “and that be more than thee’ve done, I fancy.”
Some of the boys had seen windmills, and some had not; and there was a strong tendency among the boys who had to give exaggerated, not to say totally fictitious, descriptions of those buildings to the boys who had not. There was a quick, prevailing impression, however, that Jan’s word could be trusted, and he was appealed to. “Take it off in a picter,” said the bandy-legged boy. “We heered as you took off a sweet of FURNITUR in the Master’s face. Take off the windmill, if you lived in it.”
There was a bit of chalk in Jan’s pocket, and the courtyard was paved. He knelt down, and the boys gathered round him. They were sharp enough to be sympathetic, and when he begged them to be quiet they kept a breathless silence, which was broken only by the distant roar of London outside, and by the Master’s voice speaking in an adjoining passage.
“I can hardly say, sir, that I fear, but I think you’ll find most of them look too hearty and comfortable for your purpose.”
About Jan the silence was breathless. The bow-legged boy literally laid his hand upon his mouth, and he had better have laid it over his eyes, for they seemed in danger of falling out of their sockets.
Jan covered his for a moment, and then looked upwards. Back upon his sensitive memory rolled the past, like a returning tide which sweeps every thing before it. Much clearer than those roofs and chimney-stacks the windmill stood against the sky, with arms outstretched as if to recall its truant son. If he had needed it to draw from, it was there, plain enough. But how should he need to see it, on whose heart every line of it was written? He could have laid his hand in the dark upon the bricks that were weather-stained into fanciful landscapes upon its walls, and planted his feet on the spot where the grass was most worn down about its base.
He drew with such power and rapidity that only some awe of the look upon his face could have kept silence in the little crowd whom he had forgotten. And when the last scrap of chalk had crumbled, and he dragged his blackened finger over the foreground till it bled, the voice which broke the silence was the voice of a stranger, who stood with the master on the threshold of the court-yard.
Never perhaps was more conveyed in one word than in that which he spoke, though its meaning was known to himself alone, —
“Without character?”—The widow.—The bow-legged boy takes service.- -Studios and painters.