He had reefed the sails twice already in the teeth of the blinding rain. But he did well to be careful. For it was in such a storm as this, five years ago “come Michaelmas,” that the worst of windmill calamities had befallen him,—the sails had been torn off his mill and dashed into a hundred fragments upon the ground. And such a mishap to a seventy feet tower mill means—as windmillers well know--not only a stoppage of trade, but an expense of two hundred pounds for the new sails.
Many a sack of grist, which should have come to him had gone down to the watermill in the valley before the new sails were at work; and the huge debt incurred to pay for them was not fairly wiped out yet. That catastrophe had kept the windmiller a poor man for five years, and it gave him a nervous dread of storms.
And talking of storms, here was another unreasonable thing. The morning sky had been (like the miller’s wedded life) without a cloud. The day had been sultry, for the time of year unseasonably so. And, just when the miller most grudged an idle day, when times were hard, when he was in debt,—for some small matters, as well as the sail business,—and when, for the first time in his life, he felt almost afraid of his own hearthstone, and would fain have been busy at his trade, not a breath of wind had there been to turn the sails of the mill. Not a waft to cool his perplexed forehead, not breeze enough to stir the short grass that glared for miles over country flat enough to mock him with the fullest possible view of the cloudless sky. Then towards evening, a few gray flecks had stolen up from the horizon like thieves in the dusk, and a mighty host of clouds had followed them; and when the wind did come, it came in no moderate measure, but brought this awful storm upon its wings, which now raged as if all the powers of mischief had got loose, and were bent on turning every thing topsy-turvy indoors and out.
What made the winds and clouds so perverse, the clerk of the weather best knows; but there was a reason for the unreasonableness of the windmiller’s wife.
She had lost her child, her youngest born, and therefore, at present, her best beloved. This girl-babe was the sixth of the windmiller and his wife’s children, the last that God gave them, and the first that it had pleased Him to take away.
The mother had been weak herself at the time that the baby fell ill, and unusually ill-fitted to bear a heavy blow. Then her watchful eyes had seen symptoms of ailing in the child long before the windmiller’s good sense would allow a fuss to be made, and expense to be incurred about a little peevishness up or down. And it was some words muttered by the doctor when he did come, about not having been sent for soon enough, which were now doing as much as any thing to drive the poor woman frantic. They struck a blow, too, at her blind belief in the miller’s invariable wisdom. If he had but listened to her in this matter, were it only for love’s sake! There was something, she thought, in what that woman had said who came to help her with the last offices,—the miller discouraged “neighbors,” but this was a matter of decency,—that it was as foolish for a man to have the say over babies and housework as it would be for his wife to want her word in the workshop or the mill.