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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJan Of The Windmill - Chapter 6. George Goes Courting...
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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 6. George Goes Courting... Post by :Keyser Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :1796

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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 6. George Goes Courting...

CHAPTER VI. GEORGE GOES COURTING.--GEORGE AS AN ENEMY.--GEORGE AS A FRIEND.-- ABEL PLAYS SCHOOL-MASTER.--THE LOVE-LETTER.--MOERDYK.--THE MILLER- MOTH.--AN ANCIENT DITTY.

One day George Sannel asked and obtained leave for a holiday.

On the morning in question, he dressed himself in the cleanest of smocks, greased his boots, stuck a bloody warrior, or dark-colored wallflower, in his bosom, put a neatly folded, clean cotton handkerchief into his pocket,--which, even if he did not use it, was a piece of striking dandyism,--and scrubbed his honest face to such a point of cleanliness that Mrs. Lake was almost constrained to remark that she thought he must be going courting.

George did not blush,--he never blushed,--but he looked "voolish" enough to warrant the suspicion that his errand was a tender one, and he had no other reason to give for his spruce appearance

It was, perhaps, in his confusion that he managed to convey a mistaken notion of the place to which he was going to Mrs. Lake. She was under the impression that he went to the neighboring town, whereas he went to one in an exactly opposite direction, and some miles farther away.

He went to the bank, too, which seems an unlikely place for tender tryst; but George's proceedings were apt to be less direct than the simplicity of his looks and speech would have led a stranger to suppose. When he reached home, the windmiller and his family were going to bed, for the night was still, and the mill idle. George betook himself at once to where his truckle-bed stood in the round- house, and proceeded to light his mill-candlestick, which was stuck into the wall.

From the chink into which it was stuck he then counted seven bricks downwards, and the seventh yielded to a slight effort and came out. It was the door, so to speak, of a hole in the wall of the mill, from which he drew a morocco-bound pocket-book. After an uneasy glance over his shoulder, to make sure that the long dark shadow which stretched from his own heels, and shifted with the draught in which the candle flared, was not the windmiller creeping up behind him, he took a letter out of the book and held it to the light as if to read it. But he never turned the page, and at last replaced it with a sigh. Then he put the pocket-book back into the hole, and pushed in after it his handkerchief, which was tied round something which chinked as he pressed it in. Then he replaced the brick, and went to bed. He said nothing about the bank in the morning nor about the hole in the mill-wall; and he parried Mrs. Lake's questions with gawky grins and well-assumed bashfulness.

Abel overheard his mother's jokes on the subject of "Gearge's young 'ooman," and they recurred to him when he and George formed a curious alliance, which demands explanation.

It was not solely because the windmiller looked favorably upon the little Jan that he and Abel were now allowed to wander in the business parts of the windmill, when they could not be out of doors, to an extent never before permitted to the children. Part of the change was due to a change in the miller's man.

However childlike in some respects himself, George was not fond of children, and he had hitherto seemed to have a particular spite against Abel. He, quite as often as the miller, would drive the boy from the round-house, and thwart his fancy for climbing the ladders to see the processes of the different floors.

Abel would have been happy for hours together watching the great stones grind, or the corn poured by golden showers into the hopper on its way to the stones below. Many a time had he crept up and hidden himself behind a sack; but George seemed to have an impish ingenuity in discovering his hiding-places, and would drive him out as a dog worries a cat, crying, "Come out, thee little varment! Master Lake he don't allow thee hereabouts."

The cleverness of the miller's man in discovering poor Abel's retreats probably arose from the fact that he had so rooted a dislike for the routine work of his daily duties that he would rather employ himself about the mill in any way than by attending to the mill-business, and that his idleness and stupidity over work were only equalled by his industry and shrewdness in mischief.

Poor Abel had a dread of the great, gawky, mischievous-looking man, which probably prevented his complaining to his mother of many a sly pinch and buffet which he endured from him. And George took some pains to keep up this wholesome awe of himself, by vague and terrifying speeches, and by a trick of what he called "dropping on" poor Abel in the dusk, with hideous grimaces and uncouth sounds.

He once came thus upon Abel in an upper floor, and the boy fled from him so hastily that he caught his foot in the ladder and fell headlong. Though it must have been quite uncertain for some moments whether Abel had not broken his neck, the miller's man displayed no anxiety. He only clapped his hands upon his knees, in a sort of uncouth ecstasy of spite, saying, "Down a comes vlump, like a twoad from roost. Haw, haw, haw!"

Happily, Abel fell with little more damage to himself than the mill- cats experienced in many such a tumble, as they fled before the tormenting George.

But, after all this, it was with no small surprise that Abel found himself the object of attentions from the miller's man, which bore the look of friendliness.

At first, when George made civil speeches, and invited Abel to "see the stwones a-grinding," he only felt an additional terror, being convinced that mischief was meant in reality. But, when days and weeks went by, and he wandered unmolested from floor to floor, with many a kindly word from George, and not a single cuff or nip, the sweet-tempered Abel began to feel gratitude, and almost an affection, for his quondam tormentor.

George, for his part, had hitherto done some violence to his own feelings by his constant refusal to allow Abel to help him to sweep the mill or couple the sacks for lifting. He would have been only too glad to put some of his own work on the shoulders of another, had it not been for the vexatious thought that he would be giving pleasure by so doing where he only wanted to annoy. And in his very unamiable disposition malice was a stronger quality even than idleness.

But now, when for some reason best known to himself, he wished to win Abel's regard, it was a slight recompense to him for restraining his love of tormenting that he got a good deal of work out of Abel at odd moments when the miller was away. So well did he manage this, that a marked improvement in the tidiness of the round-house drew some praise from his master.

"Thee'll be a sprack man yet, Gearge," said the windmiller, encouragingly. "Thee takes the broom into the corners now."

"So I do," said George, unblushingly, "so I do. But lor, Master Lake, what a man you be to notice un!" George's kinder demeanor towards Abel began shortly after the coming of the little Jan, and George himself accounted for it in the following manner: -

"You do be kind to me now, Gearge," said Abel, gratefully, as he stood one day, with the baby in his arms, watching the miller's man emptying a sack of grain into the hopper.

"I likes to see thee with that babby, Abel," said George, pausing in his work. "Thee's a good boy, Abel, and careful. I likes to do any thing for thee, Abel."

"I wish I could do any thing for thee, Gearge," said Abel; "but I be too small to help the likes of you, Gearge."

"If you're small, you're sprack," said the miller's man. "Thee's a good scholar, too, Abel. I'll be bound thee can read, now? And a poor gawney like I doesn't know's letters."

"I can read a bit, Gearge," said Abel, with pride; "but I've been at home a goodish while; but mother says she'll send I to school again in spring, if the little un gets on well and walks."

"I wish I could read," said George, mournfully; "but time's past for me to go to school, Abel; and who'd teach a great lummakin vool like I his letters?"

"I would, Gearge, I would!" cried Abel, his eyes sparkling with earnestness. "I can teach thee thy letters, and by the time thee's learned all I know, maybe I'll have been to school again, and learned some more."

This was the foundation of a curious kind of friendship between Abel and the miller's man.

On the same shelf with the "Vamly Bible," before alluded to, was a real old horn-book, which had belonged to the windmiller's grandmother. It was simply a sheet on which the letters of the alphabet, and some few words of one syllable, were printed, and it was protected in its frame by a transparent front of thin horn, through which the letters could be read, just as one sees the prints through the ground-glass of "drawing slates."

From this horn-book Abel labored patiently in teaching George his letters. It was no light task. George had all the cunning and shrewdness with which he credited himself; but a denser head for any intellectual effort could hardly have been found for the seeking. Still they struggled on, and as George went about the mill he might have been heard muttering, -

"A B C G. No! Cuss me for a vool! A B C _D_. Why didn't they whop my letters into I when a was a boy? A B C"--and so persevering with an industry which he commonly kept for works of mischief.

One evening he brought home a newspaper from the Heart of Oak, and when Mrs. Lake had taken the baby, he persuaded Abel to come into the round-house and give him a lesson. Abel could read so much of it that George was quite overwhelmed by his learning.

"Thee be's mortal larned, Abel, sartinly. But I'll never read like thee," he added, despairingly. "Drattle th' old witch; why didn't she give I some schooling?" He spoke with spiteful emphasis, and Abel, too well used to his rough language to notice the uncivil reference to his mother, said with some compassion, -

"Were you never sent to school then, Gearge?"

"They should ha' kept me there," said George, self-defensively. "I played moocher," he continued,--by which he meant truant,--"and then they whopped I, and a went home to mother, and she kept un at home, the old vool!"

"Well, Gearge, thee must work hard, and I'll teach thee, Gearge, I'll teach thee!" said little Abel, proudly. "And by-and-by, Gearge, we'll get a slate, and I'll teach thee to write too, Gearge, that I will!"

George's small eyes gave a slight squint, as they were apt to do when he was thinking profoundly.

"Abel," said he, "can thee read writing, my boy?"

"I think I could, Gearge," said Abel, "if 'twas pretty plain."

"Abel, my boy," said George, after a pause, with a broad sweet smile upon his "voolish" face, "go to the door and see if the wind be rising at all; us mustn't forget th' old mill, Abel, with us larning. Sartinly not, Abel, mun."

Proud of the implied partnership in the care of the mill, Abel hastened to the outer door. As he passed the inner one, leading into the dwelling-room, he could hear his mother crooning a strange, drony, old local ditty, as she put the little Jan to sleep. As Abel went out, she was singing the first verse: -


"The swallow twitters on the barn,
The rook is cawing on the tree,
And in the wood the ringdove coos,
But my false love hath fled from me."


Abel opened the door, and looked out. One of those small white moths known as "millers" went past him. The night was still,--so utterly still that no sound of any sort whatever broke upon the ear. In dead silence and loneliness stood the mill. Even the miller-moth had gone; and a cat ran in by Abel's legs, as if the loneliness without were too much for her. The sky was gray.

Abel went back to the round-house, where George was struggling to fix the candlestick securely in the wall.

"Cuss the thing!" he exclaimed, whilst the skin of his face took a mottled hue that was the nearest approach he ever made to a blush. "The tallow've been a dropping, Abel, my boy. I think 'twas the wind when you opened the door, maybe. And I've been a trying to fix un more firmly. That's all, Abel; that's all."

"There ain't no signs of wind," said Abel. "It's main quiet and unked too outside, Gearge. And I do think it be like rain. There was a miller-moth, Gearge; do that mean any thing?"

"I can't say," said George. "I bean't weatherwise myself, Abel. But if there be no wind, there be no work, Abel; so us may go back to our larning. Look here, my boy," he added, as Abel reseated himself on the grain-sack which did duty as chair of instruction, and drawing, as he spoke, a letter forth to the light; "come to the candle, Abel, and see if so be thee can read this, but don't tell any one I showed it thee, Abel."

"Not me, Gearge," said Abel, warmly; and he added,--"Be it from thy young 'ooman, Gearge?"

No rustic swain ever simpered more consciously or looked more foolish than George under this accusation, as he said, "Be quiet, Abel, do 'ee."

"She be a good scholar, too!" said Abel, looking admiringly at the closely written sheet.

George could hardly disguise the sudden look of fury in his face, but he hastily covered up the letter with his hands in such a manner as only to leave the first word on the page visible. There was a deeply cunning reason for this clever manoeuvre. George held himself to be pretty "cute," and he reckoned that, by only showing one word at a time, he could effectually prevent any attempt on Abel's part to read the letter himself without giving its contents to George. Like many other cunning people, George overreached himself. The first word was beyond Abel's powers, though he might possibly have satisfied George's curiosity on one essential point, by deciphering a name or two farther on. But the clever George concluded that he had boasted beyond his ability, so he put the letter away. Abel tried hard at the one word which George exhibited, and gazed silently at it for some time with a puzzled face. "Spell it, mun, spell it!" cried the miller's man, impatiently. It was a process which he had seen to succeed, when a long word had puzzled his teacher in the newspaper, before now.

"M O E R, mower; D Y K, dik," said Abel. But he looked none the wiser for the effort.

"Mower dik! What be that?" said George, peering at the word. "Do'ee think it be Mower dik, Abel?"

"I be sure," said Abel.

"Or do 'ee think 'tis 'My dear Dick'?" suggested George, anxiously, and with a sort of triumph in his tone, as if that were quite what he expected.

"No, no. 'Tis an O, Gearge, that second letter. Besides, twould be My dear Gearge to thee, thou knows."

Again the look with which the miller's man favored Abel was far from pleasant. But he controlled his voice to its ordinary drawl (always a little slower and more simple sounding, when he specially meant mischief).

"So 'twould, Abel. So 'twould. What a vool I be, to be sure! But give it to I now. We'll look at it another time, Abel."

"I be very sorry, Gearge," said Abel, who had a consciousness that the miller's man was ill-pleased in spite of his civility. "It be so long since I was at school, and it be such a queer word. Do 'ee think she can have spelt un wrong, Gearge?"

"'Tis likely she have," said George, regaining his composure.

"Abel! Abel! Abel!" cried the mother from the dwelling-room. "Come to bed, child!"

"Good-night, Gearge. I'm main sorry to be so stupid, Gearge," said Abel, and off he ran.

Mrs. Lake was walking up and down, rocking the little Jan in her arms, who was wailing fretfully.

"I be puzzled to know what ails un," said Mrs. Lake, in answer to Abel's questions. "He be quite in a way tonight. But get thee to bed, Abel."

And though Abel begged hard to be allowed to try his powers of soothing with the little Jan, Mrs. Lake insisted upon keeping the baby herself; and Abel undressed, and crept into the press-bed. He fell asleep in spite of a somewhat disturbed mind. That mysterious word and George's evident displeasure worried him, and he was troubled also by the unusual fretfulness of the little Jan, and the sound of sorrow in his baby wail. His last waking thoughts were a strange mixture, passing into stranger dreams.

The word Moerdyk danced before his eyes, but brought no meaning with it. Jan's cries troubled him, and with both there blended the droning of the ancient plaintive ditty, which the foster-mother sang over and over again as she rocked the child in her arms. That wail of the baby's must have in some strange manner recalled the first night of his arrival, when Abel found him wailing on the bed. For the fierce eyes of the strange gentleman haunted Abel's dreams, but in the face of the miller's man.

The poor boy dreamed horribly of being "dropped on" by George, with fierce black eyes added to the terrors of his uncouth grimaces. He seemed to himself to fly blindly and vainly through the mill from his tormentor, till George was driven from his thoughts by his coming suddenly upon the little Jan, wailing as he really did wail, round whose head a miller-moth was sailing slowly, and singing in a human voice: -


"The swallow twitters on the barn,
The rook is cawing on the tree,
And in the wood the ringdove coos,
But my false love hath fled from me.

Like tiny pipe of wheaten straw,
The wren his little note doth swell,
And every living thing that flies,
Of his true love doth fondly tell.

But I alone am left to pine,
And sit beneath the withy tree;
For truth and honesty be gone,
And my false love hath fled from me."

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