“There’s a good bit to the doctor for both times,” he murmured; “and there’s the coffin, and something at the Heart of Oak for the bearers, and a couple of bottles red wine there, too, for the missus, when she were so bad. And both the boys had new shoes to follow in,—she would have it they should follow”— And so on, and so on, the windmiller ran up the list of his petty debts, and saw his way to paying them. Then he put the money back into the sample bag, and folded it very neatly, and stowed it away. And then he drew near the inner door, and peeped into the room.
His poor wife seemed to be in no better case than before. She sat on the old rocking-chair, swinging backwards and forwards, and beating her hands upon her knees in silence, and making no movement to comfort the wailing little creature on the bed.
For the first time there came upon the windmiller a sense of the fact that it is an uncertain and a rather dangerous game to drive a desperate woman into a corner. His missus was as soft-hearted a soul as ever lived, and for her to sit unmoved by the weeping of a neglected child was a proof that something was very far wrong indeed. One or two nasty stories of what tender-hearted women had done when “crazed” by grief haunted him. The gold seemed to grow hot at the bottom of his pocket. He wished he had got at the stranger’s name and address, in case it should be desirable to annul the bargain. He wished the missus would cry again, that silence was worse than any thing. He wished it did not just happen to come into his head that her grandmother went “melancholy mad” when she was left a young widow, and that she had had an uncle in business who died of softening of the brain.
He wished she would move across the room and take up the child, with an intensity that almost amounted to prayer. And, in the votive spirit which generally comes with such moments, he mentally resolved that, if his missus would but “take to” the infant, he would humor her on all other points just now to the best of his power.
A strange fulfilment often treads on the heels of such vows. At this moment the wailing of the baby disturbed the miller’s eldest son as he lay in the press-bed. He was only seven years old, but he had been nurse-boy to his dead sister during the brief period of her health,—the more exclusively so, that the miller’s wife was then weakly,—and had watched by her sick cradle with a grief scarcely less than that of the mother. He now crept out and down the coverlet to the wailing heap of clothes, with a bright, puzzled look on his chubby face.
“Mother,” he said, “mother! Is the little un come back?”
“No, no!” she cried. “That’s not our’n. It’s—it’s another one.”
“Have the Lord sent us another?” said the boy, lifting the peak of the little hood from the baby’s eye, into which it was hanging, and then fairly gathering the tiny creature, by a great effort, into his arms, with the daring of a child accustomed to playing nurse to one nearly as heavy as himself. “I do be glad of that, mother. The Lord sent the other one in the night, too, mother; that night we slept in the round-house. Do ’ee mind? Whishty, whishty, love! Eh, mother, what eyes! Whishty, whishty, then! I’m seeing to thee, I am.”