The miller’s man puzzled himself in vain. He could think of no mode of action at once safe and certain of success. He did not even know whether what he possessed had any value, or how or where to make use of it. But a sort of dim hope of seeing his way yet kept him about the mill, and he persevered in the effort to learn to read, and kept his big ears open for any thing that might drop from the miller or his wife to throw light on the history of Jan, with whom his hopes were bound up.
Meanwhile, with a dogged patience, he bided his time.
Visitors at the mill.—A windmiller of the third generation.—Cure for whooping-cough.—Miss Amabel Adeline Ammaby.—Doctors disagree.
One of the earliest of Jan’s remembrances—of those remembrances, I mean, which remained with him when childhood was past—was of little Miss Amabel, from the Grange, being held in the hopper of the windmill for whooping cough.
Jan was between three and four years old at this time, the idol of his foster-mother, and a great favorite with his adopted brothers and sisters. A quaint little fellow he was, with a broad, intellectual-looking face, serious to old-fashionedness, very fair, and with eyes “like slans.”
He was standing one morning at Mrs. Lake’s apron-string, his arms clasped lovingly, but somewhat too tightly, round the waist of a sandy kitten, who submitted with wonderful good-humor to the well-meant strangulation, his black eyes intently fixed upon the dumplings which his foster-mother was dexterously rolling together, when a strange footstep was heard shuffling uncertainly about on the floor of the round-house just outside the dwelling-room door. Mrs. Lake did not disturb herself. Country folk were constantly coming with their bags of grist, and both George and the miller were at hand, for a nice breeze was blowing, and the mill ground merrily.
After a few seconds, however, came a modest knock on the room-door, and Mrs. Lake, wiping her hands, proceeded to admit the knocker. She was a smartly dressed woman, who bore such a mass of laces and finery, with a white woollen shawl spread over it, apparently with the purpose of smothering any living thing there might chance to be beneath, as, in Mrs. Lake’s experienced eyes, could be nothing less than a baby of the most genteel order.
The manners of the nurse were most genteel also, and might have quite overpowered Mrs. Lake, but that the windmiller’s wife had in her youth been in good service herself, and, though an early marriage had prevented her from rising beyond the post of nursemaid, she was fairly familiar with the etiquette of the nursery and of the servants’ hall.
“Good morning, ma’am,” said the nurse, who no sooner ceased to walk than she began a kind of diagonal movement without progression, in which one heel clacked, and all her petticoats swung, and the baby who, head downwards, was snorting with gaping mouth under the woollen coverlet, was supposed to be soothed. “Good morning, ma’am. You’ll excuse my intruding” —