Mrs. Lake had had great hopes that he would differ in another respect also.
Most of the children of the neighborhood were fair. Not fair as so many North-country children are, with locks of differing, but equally brilliant, shades of gold, auburn, red, and bronze; but white-headed, and often white-faced, with white-lashed inexpressive eyes, as if they had been bleaching through several generations.
Now, when the dark bright eyes of the little Jan first came to be of tender interest with Mrs. Lake, she fully hoped, and constantly prophesied, that he would be “as black as a rook;” a style of complexion to which she gave a distinct preference, though the miller was fair by nature as well as white by trade. Jan’s eyes seemed conclusive.
“Black as slans they be,” said his foster-mother. And slans meant sloe-berries where Mrs. Lake was born.
An old local saying had something perhaps to do with her views: —
“Lang and lazy,
Black and proud;
Vair and voolish,
Little and loud.”
“Fair and foolish” youngsters certainly abounded in the neighborhood to an extent which justified a wish for a change.
As to pride, meek Mrs. Lake was far from regarding it as a failing in those who had any thing to be proud of, such as black hair and a possible connection with the gentry. And fate having denied to her any chance of being proud or aggressive on her own account, she derived a curious sort of second-hand satisfaction from seeing these qualities in those who belonged to her. It did to some extent console her for the miller’s roughness to herself, to hear him rating George. And she got a sort of reflected dignity out of being able to say, “My maester’s a man as will have his way.”
But her hopes were not realized. That yellow into which the beefsteak stage of Jan’s infant complexion had faded was not destined to deepen into gipsy hues. It gave place to the tints of the China rose, and all the wind and sunshine on the downs could not tan, though they sometimes burnt, his cheeks. The hair on his little head became more abundant, but it kept its golden hue. His eyes remained dark,—a curious mixture; for as to hair and complexion he was irredeemably fair.
The mill had at least one “vair and voolish” inmate, by common account, though by his own (given in confidence to intimate friends) he was “not zuch a vool as he looked.”
This was George Sannel, the miller’s man.
Master Lake had had a second hand in to help on that stormy night when Jan made his first appearance at the mill; but as a rule he only kept one man, whom he hired for a year at a time, at the mop or hiring fair held yearly in the next town.
George, or Gearge as he was commonly called, had been more than two years in the windmill, and was looked upon in all respects as “one of the family.” He slept on a truckle-bed in the round-house, which, though of average size, would not permit him to stretch his legs too recklessly without exposing his feet to the cold.