“And we behindhand in more quarters than one,” continued the miller, prudently ignoring his wife’s tears and remonstrances, “and a dear season coming on, and an uncertain trade that keeps a man idle by days together, and here’s ten shillings a week dropped into our laps, so to speak. Ten shillings a week—regular and sartin. No less now, and no more hereafter, the governor said. Them were his words.”
“What’s ten shilling a week to me, and my child dead and gone?” moaned the mother, in reply.
“What’s ten shillings A week to you?” cried the windmiller, who was fairly exasperated, in tones so loud that they were audible in the dwelling room, where the stranger, standing by the three-legged table, stroked his lips twice or thrice with his hand, as if to smooth out a cynical smile which strove to disturb their decorous and somewhat haughty compression. “What’s ten shilling a week to you? Why, it’s food to you, and drink to you, and firing to you, and boots for the children’s feet. Look here, my woman. You’ve had a sore affliction, but that’s not to say you’re to throw good luck in the dirt for a whimsey. This matter’s settled.”
And the miller strode back into the inner room, whilst his wife sat upon a sack of barley, wringing her hands, and moaning, “I couldn’t do my duty by un, maester, I couldn’t do my duty by un.”
This she repeated at intervals, with her apron over her face, as before; and then, suddenly aware that her husband had left her, she hurried into the inner room to plead her own cause. It was too late. The strangers had gone. The miller was not there, and the baby lay on the end of the press bedstead, wailing as bitterly as the mother herself.
It had been placed there, with a big bundle of clothes by it, before the miller came back, and he had found it so. He found the stranger too, with his hat on his head, and his cloak fastened, glancing from time to time at the child, and then withdrawing his glance hastily, and looking forcedly round at the meagre furnishing of the miller’s room, and then back at the little bundle on the bed, and away again. The woman stood with her back to the press-bed, her striped shawl drawn tightly round her, and her hands folded together as closely as her long lip pressed the heavy one below.
“Is it settled?” asked the man.
“It is, sir,” said the miller. “You’ll excuse my missus being as she is, but it’s fretting for the child we’ve a lost” —
“I understand, I understand,” said the stranger, hastily. He was pulling back the rings of a silk netted purse, which he had drawn mechanically from his pocket, and which, from some sudden start of his, fell chinking on to the floor. Whatever the thought was which startled him, he thought it so sharply that he looked up in fear that he had said it aloud. But he had not spoken, and the miller had no other expression than that of an eager satisfaction on his face as the stranger counted out the gold by the flaring light of the tallow candle.