There was something like a sob in the miller’s own throat, but his wife rose, and, running to the bed, fell on her knees, and with such a burst of weeping as is the thaw of bitter grief gathered her eldest child and the little outcast together to her bosom.
At this moment another head was poked up from the bedclothes, and the second child began to say its say, hoping, perhaps, thereby to get a share of attention and kisses as well as the other.
“I seed a lady and genle’m,” it broke forth, “and was feared of un. They was going out of doors. The genle’m look back at us, but the lady went right on. I didn’ see her face.”
Matters were now in a domestic and straightforward condition, and the windmiller no longer hesitated to come in. But he was less disposed to a hard and triumphant self-satisfaction than was common with him when his will ended well. A poor and unsuccessful career had, indeed, something to do with the hardness of his nature, and in this flush of prosperity he felt softened, and resolved inwardly to “let the missus take her time,” and come back to her ordinary condition without interference.
“Shall un have a bit of supper, missus?” was his cheerful greeting on coming in. “But take your time,” he added, seeing her busy with the baby, “take your time.”
By-and-by the nurse-boy took the child, and the woman bustled about the supper. She was still but half reconciled, and slapped the plates on to the table with a very uncommon irritability.
The windmiller ate a hearty supper and washed it well down with home-made ale, under the satisfactory feeling that he could pay for more when he wanted it. And as he began to plug his pipe with tobacco, and his wife rocked the new-comer at her breast, he said thoughtfully, —
“Do ’ee think, missus, that woman ’ud be the mother of un?”
“Mother!” cried his wife, scornfully. “She’ve never been a mother, maester; of this nor any other one. To see her handle it was enough for me. The boy himself could see she never so much as looked back at un. To bring an infant out a night like this, too, and leave it with strangers. Mother, indeed, says he!”
“Take your time, missus, take your time!” murmured the miller in his head. He did not speak aloud, he only puffed his pipe.
“Do you suppose the genle’m be the father, missus?” he suggested, as he rose to go back to his work.
“Maybe,” said his wife, briefly; “I can’t speak one way or another to the feelings of men-folk.”
This blow was hit straight out, but the windmiller forbore reply. He was not altogether ill-pleased by it, for the woman’s unwonted peevishness broke down in new tears over the child, whom she bore away to bed, pouring forth over it half inarticulate indignation against its unnatural parents.
“She’ve a soft heart, have the missus,” said the windmiller, thoughtfully, as he went to the outer door. “I’m in doubts if she won’t take to it more than her own yet. But she shall have her own time.”