Jan learned that he had eighteen pence a week for driving the pigs to a wood at some little distance, where they fed on acorns, beech-mast, etc.; for giving them water, keeping them together, and bringing them home at teatime. He allowed that he could drive them as slowly as he pleased, and that they kept pretty well together in the wood; but that, as a whole, the perversity of pigs was such that— “Well, wait till ee tries it theeself, Jan Lake, that’s aal.”
Jan had resolved to do so. He did not return with his foster-brothers to the mill. He slipped off on one of his solitary expeditions, and made his way to the farm-house of Master Salter.
Master Salter and his wife sat at tea in the kitchen. In the cheerful clatter of cups, they had failed to hear Jan’s knock; but the sunshine streaming through the open doorway being broken by some small body, the farmer’s wife looked hastily up, thinking that the new-born calf had got loose, and was on the threshold.
But it was Jan. The outer curls of his hair gleamed in the sunlight like an aureole about his face. He had doffed his hat, out of civility, and he held it in one hand, whilst with the other he fingered the slate that hung at his waist.
“Massey upon us!” said the farmer, looking up at the same instant. “And who be thee?”
“Jan Lake, the miller’s son, maester.”
“Come in, come in!” cried Master Salter, hospitably. “So Master Lake have sent thee with a message, eh?”
“My father didn’t send me,” said Jan, gravely. “I come myself. Do ’ee want a pig-minder, Master Salter?”
“Ay, I wants a pig-minder. But I reckon thee father can’t spare Abel for that now. A wish he could. Abel was careful with the pigs, he was, and a sprack boy, too.”
“I’ll be careful, main careful, Master Salter,” said Jan, earnestly. “I likes pigs.” But the farmer was pondering.
“Jan Lake—Jan,” said he. “Be thee the boy as draad out the sow and her pigs for Master Chuter’s little gel?” Jan nodded.
“Lor massey!” cried Master Salter. “I’ told’ee, missus, about un. Look here, Jan Lake. If thee’ll draa me out some pigs like them, I’ll give ’ee sixpence and a new slate, and I’ll try thee for a week, anyhow.”
Jan drew the slate-pencil from his pocket without reply. Mrs. Salter, who had been watching him with motherly eyes, pushed a small stool towards him, and he began to draw a scene such as he had been studying daily for months past,—pigs at the water-side. He had made dozens of such sketches. But the delight of the farmer knew no bounds. He slapped his knees, he laughed till the tears ran down his cheeks, and, as Jan put a very wicked eye into the face of the hindmost pig, he laughed merrily also. He was not insensible of his own talents, and the stimulus of the farmer’s approbation gave vigor to his strokes.
“Here, missus,” cried Master Salter; “get down our Etherd’s new slate, and give it to un; I’ll get another for he. And there’s the sixpence, Jan; and if thee minds pigs as well as ’ee draas ’em, I don’t care how long ’ee minds mine.”