“Not at all, mum,” said Mrs. Lake. By which she did not mean to reject the excuse, but to disclaim the intrusion.
When the nurse was not speaking, she kept time to her own rocking by a peculiar click of her tongue against the roof of her mouth; and indeed it sometimes mingled, almost confusingly, with her conversation. “You’re very obliging, ma’am, I’m sure,” said she, and, persuaded by Mrs. Lake, she took a seat. “You’ll excuse me for asking a singular question, ma’am, but was your husband’s father and grandfather both millers?”
“They was, mum,” said Mrs. Lake. “My husband’s father’s father built this mill where we now stands. It cost him a deal of money, and he died with a debt upon it. My husband’s father paid un off; and he meant to have built a house, mum, but he never did, worse luck for us. He allus says, says he,—that’s my husband’s father, mum,—’I’ll leave that to Abel,’—that’s my maester, mum. But nine year ago come Michaelmas” —
Mrs. Lake’s story was here interrupted by a frightful outburst of coughing from the unfortunate baby, who on the removal of the woollen shawl presented an appearance which would have been comical but for the sympathy its condition demanded.
A very red and utterly shapeless little face lay, like a crushed beet-root, in a mass of dainty laces almost voluminous enough to have dressed out a bride. As a sort of crowning satire, the face in particular was surrounded by a broad frill, spotted with bunches of pink satin ribbon, and farther encased in a white satin hood of elaborate workmanship and fringes.
The contrast between the natural red of the baby’s complexion and its snowy finery was ludicrously suggestive of an over-dressed nigger, to begin with; but when, in the paroxysms of its cough, the tiny creature’s face passed by shades of plum-color to a bluish black, the result was appalling to behold.
Mrs. Lake’s experienced ears were not slow to discover that the child had got whooping-cough, which the nurse confessed was the case. She also apologized for bringing in the baby among Mrs. Lake’s children, saying that she had “thought of nothing but the poor little chirrub herself.”
“Don’t name it, mum,” replied the windmiller’s wife. “I always say if children be to have things, they’ll have ’em; and if not, why they won’t.” A theory which seems to sum up the views of the majority of people in Mrs. Lake’s class of life upon the spread of disease.
“I’m sure I don’t know what’s coming to my poor head,” the nurse continued: “I’ve not so much as told you who I am, ma’am. I’m nurse at the Grange, ma’am, with Mr. Ammaby and Lady Louisa. They’ve been in town, and her ladyship’s had the very best advice, and now we’ve come to the country for three months, but the dear child don’t seem a bit the better. And we’ve been trying every thing, I’m sure. For