The Dame dropped her sallywithy and began to feel under her chair.
“Which be the young varment as said a F was a Q?” she rather unfairly inquired.
“A didn’t say a F was a Q”— began Jan; but a chorus of cowardly little voices drowned him, and curried favor with the Dame by crying, “Tis Jan Lake, the miller’s son, missus.”
And the big boy, conscious of his own breach of good manners, atoned for it by officiously dragging Jan to Dame Datchett’s elbow.
“Hold un vor me,” said the Dame, settling her spectacles firmly on her nose.
And with infinite delight the great booby held Jan to receive his thwacks from the strap which the Dame had of late years substituted for the birch rod. And as Jan writhed, he chuckled as heartily as before, it being an amiable feature in the character of such clowns that, so long as they can enjoy a guffaw at somebody’s expense, the subject of their ridicule is not a matter of much choice or discrimination.
After the first angry sob, Jan set his teeth and bore his punishment in a proud silence, quite incomprehensible by the small rustics about him, who, like the pigs of the district, were in the habit of crying out in good time before they were hurt as a preventive measure.
Strangely enough, it gave the biggest boy the impression that Jan was “poor-spirited,” and unable to take his own part,—a temptation to bully him too strong to be resisted.
So when the school broke up, and the children were scattering over the road and water-meads, the wide-mouthed boy came up to Jan and snatched his slate from him.
“Give Jan his slate!” cried Jan, indignantly.
He was five years old, but the other was seven, and he held the slate above his head.
“And who be Jan, then, thee little gallus-bird?” said he, tauntingly.
“I be Jan!” answered the little fellow, defiantly. “Jan Lake, the miller’s son. Give I his slate!”
“Thee’s not a miller’s son,” said the other; and the rest of the children began to gather round.
“I be a miller’s son,” reiterated Jan. “And I’ve got a miller’s thumb, too;” and he turned up his little thumb for confirmation of the fact.
“Thee’s not a miller’s son,” repeated the other, with a grin. “Thee’s nobody’s child, thee is. Master Lake’s not thy vather, nor Mrs. Lake bean’t thy mother. Thee was brought to the mill in a sack of grist, thee was.”
In saying which, the boy repeated a popular version of Jan’s history.
If any one had been present outside Dame Datchett’s cottage at that moment who had been in the windmill when Jan first came to it, he would have seen a likeness so vivid between the face of the child and the face of the man who brought him to the mill as would have seemed to clear up at least one point of the mystery of his parentage.
Pride and wrath convulsed every line of the square, quaint face, and seemed to narrow it to the likeness of the man’s, as, with his black eyes blazing with passion, Jan flew at his enemy.