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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJan Of The Windmill - Chapter 8. Visitors At The Mill...
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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 8. Visitors At The Mill... Post by :Keyser Category :Long Stories Author :Juliana Horatia Ewing Date :May 2012 Read :905

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Jan Of The Windmill - Chapter 8. Visitors At The Mill...

CHAPTER VIII. VISITORS AT THE MILL.--A WINDMILLER OF THE THIRD GENERATION.--CURE FOR WHOOPING-COUGH.--MISS AMABEL ADELINE AMMABY.--DOCTORS DISAGREE.

One of the earliest of Jan's remembrances--of those remembrances, I mean, which remained with him when childhood was past--was of little Miss Amabel, from the Grange, being held in the hopper of the windmill for whooping cough.

Jan was between three and four years old at this time, the idol of his foster-mother, and a great favorite with his adopted brothers and sisters. A quaint little fellow he was, with a broad, intellectual-looking face, serious to old-fashionedness, very fair, and with eyes "like slans."

He was standing one morning at Mrs. Lake's apron-string, his arms clasped lovingly, but somewhat too tightly, round the waist of a sandy kitten, who submitted with wonderful good-humor to the well- meant strangulation, his black eyes intently fixed upon the dumplings which his foster-mother was dexterously rolling together, when a strange footstep was heard shuffling uncertainly about on the floor of the round-house just outside the dwelling-room door. Mrs. Lake did not disturb herself. Country folk were constantly coming with their bags of grist, and both George and the miller were at hand, for a nice breeze was blowing, and the mill ground merrily.

After a few seconds, however, came a modest knock on the room-door, and Mrs. Lake, wiping her hands, proceeded to admit the knocker. She was a smartly dressed woman, who bore such a mass of laces and finery, with a white woollen shawl spread over it, apparently with the purpose of smothering any living thing there might chance to be beneath, as, in Mrs. Lake's experienced eyes, could be nothing less than a baby of the most genteel order.

The manners of the nurse were most genteel also, and might have quite overpowered Mrs. Lake, but that the windmiller's wife had in her youth been in good service herself, and, though an early marriage had prevented her from rising beyond the post of nursemaid, she was fairly familiar with the etiquette of the nursery and of the servants' hall.

"Good morning, ma'am," said the nurse, who no sooner ceased to walk than she began a kind of diagonal movement without progression, in which one heel clacked, and all her petticoats swung, and the baby who, head downwards, was snorting with gaping mouth under the woollen coverlet, was supposed to be soothed. "Good morning, ma'am. You'll excuse my intruding" -

"Not at all, mum," said Mrs. Lake. By which she did not mean to reject the excuse, but to disclaim the intrusion.

When the nurse was not speaking, she kept time to her own rocking by a peculiar click of her tongue against the roof of her mouth; and indeed it sometimes mingled, almost confusingly, with her conversation. "You're very obliging, ma'am, I'm sure," said she, and, persuaded by Mrs. Lake, she took a seat. "You'll excuse me for asking a singular question, ma'am, but WAS YOUR HUSBAND'S FATHER AND GRANDFATHER BOTH MILLERS?"

"They was, mum," said Mrs. Lake. "My husband's father's father built this mill where we now stands. It cost him a deal of money, and he died with a debt upon it. My husband's father paid un off; and he meant to have built a house, mum, but he never did, worse luck for us. He allus says, says he,--that's my husband's father, mum,--'I'll leave that to Abel,'--that's my maester, mum. But nine year ago come Michaelmas" -

Mrs. Lake's story was here interrupted by a frightful outburst of coughing from the unfortunate baby, who on the removal of the woollen shawl presented an appearance which would have been comical but for the sympathy its condition demanded.

A very red and utterly shapeless little face lay, like a crushed beet-root, in a mass of dainty laces almost voluminous enough to have dressed out a bride. As a sort of crowning satire, the face in particular was surrounded by a broad frill, spotted with bunches of pink satin ribbon, and farther encased in a white satin hood of elaborate workmanship and fringes.

The contrast between the natural red of the baby's complexion and its snowy finery was ludicrously suggestive of an over-dressed nigger, to begin with; but when, in the paroxysms of its cough, the tiny creature's face passed by shades of plum-color to a bluish black, the result was appalling to behold.

Mrs. Lake's experienced ears were not slow to discover that the child had got whooping-cough, which the nurse confessed was the case. She also apologized for bringing in the baby among Mrs. Lake's children, saying that she had "thought of nothing but the poor little chirrub herself."

"Don't name it, mum," replied the windmiller's wife. "I always say if children be to have things, they'll have 'em; and if not, why they won't." A theory which seems to sum up the views of the majority of people in Mrs. Lake's class of life upon the spread of disease.

"I'm sure I don't know what's coming to my poor head," the nurse continued: "I've not so much as told you who I am, ma'am. I'm nurse at the Grange, ma'am, with Mr. Ammaby and Lady Louisa. They've been in town, and her ladyship's had the very best advice, and now we've come to the country for three months, but the dear child don't seem a bit the better. And we've been trying every thing, I'm sure. For any thing I heard of I've tried, as well as what the doctor ordered, and rubbing it with some stuff Lady Louisa's mamma insisted upon, too,--even to a frog put into the dear child's mouth, and drawed back by its legs, that's supposed to be a certain cure, but only frightened it into a fit I thought it never would have come out of, as well as fetching her ladyship all the way from her boudoir to know what was the matter--which I no more dared tell her than fly."

"Dear, dear!" said the miller's wife; "have you tried goose-grease, mum? 'Tis an excellent thing."

"Goose-grease, ma'am, and an excellent ointment from the bone- setter's at the toll-bar, which the butler paid for out of his own pocket, knowing it to have done a world of good to his sister that had a bad leg, besides being a certain cure for coughs, and cancer, and consumption as well. And then the doctor's IMPRECATION on its little chest, night and morning, besides; but nothing don't seem to do no good," said the poor nurse. "And so, ma'am,--her ladyship being gone to the town,--thinks I, I'll take the dear child to the windmill. For they do say,--where I came from, ma'am,--that if a miller, that's the son of a miller, and the grandson of a miller, holds a child that's got the whooping-cough in the hopper of the mill whilst the mill's going, it cures them, however bad they be."

The reason of the nurse's visit being now made known, Mrs. Lake called her husband, and explained to him what he was asked to do for "her ladyship's baby." The miller scratched his head.

"I've heard my father say that his brother that drove a mill in Cheshire had had it to do," said he, "but I never did it myself, ma'am, nor ever see un done. And a hopper be an ackerd place, ma'am. We've ground many a cat in this mill, from getting in the hopper at nights for warmth. However," he added, "I suppose I can hold the little lady pretty tight." And finally, though with some unwillingness, the miller consented to try the charm; being chiefly influenced by the wish not to disoblige the gentlefolk at the Grange.

The little Jan had watched the proceedings of the visitors with great attention. During the poor baby's fit of coughing, he was so absorbed that the sandy kitten slipped through his arms and made off, with her tail as stiff as a sentry's musket; and now that the miller took the baby into his arms, Jan became excited, and asked, "What daddy do with un?"

"The old-fashioned little piece!" exclaimed the nurse, admiringly. And Mrs. Lake added, "Let un see the little lady, maester."

The miller held out the baby, and the nurse, removing a dainty handkerchief edged with Valenciennes lace from its face, introduced it as "Miss Amabel Adeline Ammaby;" and Mrs. Lake murmured, "What a lovely little thing!" By which, for truth's sake, it is to be hoped she meant the lace-edged handkerchief.

In the exchange of civilities between the two women, the respective children in their charge were admonished to kiss each other,--a feat which was accomplished by Jan's kissing the baby very tenderly, and with all his usual gravity.

As this partly awoke the baby from a doze, its red face began to crease, and pucker, and twist into various contortions, at which Jan gazed with a sort of solemn curiosity in his black eyes.

"Stroke the little lady's cheeks, love," said Mrs. Lake, irrepressibly proud of the winning ways and quaint grace which certainly did distinguish her foster-child.

Jan leaned forward once more, and passed his little hand softly down the baby's face twice or thrice, as he was wont to stroke the sandy kitten, as it slept with him, saying, "Poor itta pussy!"

"It's not a puss-cat, bless his little heart!" said the matter-of- fact nurse. "It's little Miss Amabel Adeline Ammaby."

"Say it, love!" said Mrs. Lake, adding, to the nurse, "he can say any thing, mum."

"Miss AM--ABEL AD--E--LINE AM--MA--BY," prompted the nurse.

"Amabel!" said the little Jan, softly. But, after this feat, he took a fit of childish reticence, and would say no more; whilst, deeply resentful of the liberties Jan had taken, Miss Amabel Adeline Ammaby twisted her features till she looked like a gutta-percha gargoyle, and squalled as only a fretful baby can squall.

She was calmed at last, however, and the windmiller took her once more into his arms, and Mrs. Lake carrying Jan, they all climbed up the narrow ladder to the next floor.

Heavily ground the huge stones with a hundred and twenty revolutions a minute, making the chamber shake as they went round.

They made the nurse giddy. The simplest machinery has a bewildering effect upon an unaccustomed person. So has going up a ladder; which makes you feel much less safe in the place to which it leads you than if you had got there by a proper flight of stairs. So--very often--has finding yourself face to face with the accomplishment of what you have been striving for, if you happen to be weak-minded.

Under the combined influences of all these causes, the nurse listened nervously to Master Lake, as he did the honors of the mill.

"Those be the mill-stones, ma'am. Pretty fastish they grinds, and they goes faster when the wind's gusty. Many a good cat they've ground as flat as a pancake from the poor gawney beasts getting into the hopper."

"Oh, sir!" cried the nurse, now thoroughly alarmed, "give me the young lady back again. Deary, deary me! I'd no notion it was so dangerous. Oh, don't, sir! don't!"

"Tut, tut! I'll hold un safe, ma'am," said the windmiller, who had all a man's dislike for shirking at the last moment what had once been decided upon; and, as the nurse afterwards expressed it, before she had time to scream, he had tucked Miss Amabel Adeline Ammaby's finery well round her, and had dipped her into the hopper and out again.

In that moment of suspense both the women had been silent, and the little Jan had gazed steadily at the operation. As it safely ended, they both broke simultaneously into words.

"You might have knocked me down with a feather, mum!" gasped Mrs. Lake. "I couldn't look, mum. I couldn't have looked to save my life. I turned my back."

"I'd back 'ee allus to do the silliest thing as could be done, missus," said the miller, who had a pleasant husbandly way of commenting upon his wife's conversation to her disparagement, when she talked before him.

"As for me, ma'am," the nurse said, "I couldn't take my eyes off the dear child's hood. But move,--no thank you, ma'am,--I couldn't have moved hand or foot for a five-pound note, paid upon the spot."

The baby got well. Whether the mill charm worked the cure, or whether the fine fresh breezes of that healthy district made a change for the better in the child's state, could not be proved.

Nor were these the only possible causes of the recovery.

The kind-hearted butler blessed the day when he laid out three and eightpence in a box of the bone-setter's ointment, to such good purpose.

Lady Louisa's mamma triumphantly hoped that it would be a lesson to her dear daughter never again to set a London doctor's advice (however expensive) above a mother's (she meant a grandmother's) experience.

The cook said, "Goose-grease and kitchen physic for her!"

And of course the doctor very properly, as well as modestly, observed that "he had confidently anticipated permanent beneficial results from a persevering use of the embrocation."

And only to the nurse and the windmiller's family was it known that Miss Amabel Adeline Ammaby had been dipped in the mill-hopper.

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