On one point Jan was obstinate. He steadily refused to “make Gearge” upon his slate in any capacity whatever. Perhaps it was in this habit of constantly gazing at all things about him, in order to commit them to his slate, which gave a strange, dreamy expression to Jan’s dark eyes. Perhaps it was sky-gazing, or the windmiller’s trick of watching the clouds, or perhaps it was something else, from which Jan derived an erectness of carriage not common among the children about him, and a quaint way of carrying his little chin in the air as if he were listening to voices from a higher level than that of the round-house floor.
If he had lived farther north, he could hardly have escaped the suspicion of uncanniness. He was strangely like a changeling among the miller’s children.
To gratify that old whim of his about the red shawl, his doting foster-mother made him little crimson frocks; and as he wandered over the downs in his red dress and a white pinafore, his yellow hair flying in the breeze, his chin up, his black eyes wide open, with slate in one hand, his pencil in the other, and the sandy kitten clinging to his shoulder (for Jan never lowered his chin to help her to balance herself), he looked more like some elf than a child of man.
He had queer, independent ways of his own, too; freaks,—not naughty enough for severe punishment, but sufficiently out of the routine and unexpected to cause Mrs. Lake some trouble.
He was no sooner firmly established on his own legs, with the power of walking, or rather toddling, independent of help, than he took to making expeditions on the downs by himself. He would watch his opportunity, and when his foster-mother’s back was turned, and the door of the round-house opened by some grist-bringer, he would slip out and toddle off with a swiftness decidedly dangerous to a balance so lately acquired.
Sometimes Mrs. Lake would catch sight of him, and if her hands were in the wash-tub, or otherwise engaged, she would cry to the nurse-boy, “Abel, he be off! Jan’s off.” A comic result of which was that Jan generally announced his own departure in the same words, though not always loud enough to bring detection upon himself.
When his chance came and the door was open, he would pause for half a moment on the threshold to say, in a tone of intense self-satisfaction, “He be off. Abel! Janny’s off!” and forthwith toddle out as hard as he could go. As he grew older, he dropped this form; but the elfish habit of appearing and disappearing at his own whim was not cured.