Supper at the Mill

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Well, Frances.

Well, good mother, how are you?
M. I'm hearty, lass, but warm; the weather's warm:
I think 'tis mostly warm on market-days.
I met with George behind the mill: said he,
"Mother, go in and rest a while."

F. Ay, do,
And stay to supper; put your basket down.
M. Why, now, it is not heavy?
F. Willie, man,
Get up and kiss your Granny.  Heavy, no,
Some call good churning luck; but, luck or skill,
Your butter mostly comes as firm and sweet
As if 'twas Christmas.  So you sold it all.
M. All but this pat that I put by for George;
He always loved my butter.
F. That he did.
M. And has your speckled hen brought off her brood?
F. Not yet; but that old duck I told you of,
She hatched eleven out of twelve to-day.

And, Granny, they're so yellow.
M. Ay, my lad,
Yellow as gold - yellow as Willie's hair.
C. They're all mine, Granny, father says they're mine.
M. To think of that!
F. Yes, Granny, only think!
Why father means to sell them when they're fat,
And put the money in the savings-bank,
And all against our Willie goes to school:
But Willie would not touch them - no, not he;
He knows that father would be angry else.
C. But I want one to play with - O, I want
A little yellow duck to take to bed!
M. What! would ye rob the poor old mother, then?
F. Now, Granny, if you'll hold the babe a while;
'Tis time I took up Willie to his crib.
[Exit Frances]
{Mother sings to the infant}

Playing on the virginals,
Who but I!  Sae glad, sae free,
Smelling for all cordials,
The green mint and marjorie;
Set among the budding broom,
Kingcup and daffodilly;
By my side I made him room:
O love my Willie!

"Like me, love me, girl o' gowd,"
Sang he to my nimble strain,
Sweet his ruddy lips o'erflowed
Till my heartstrings rang again;
By the broom, the bonny broom,
Kingcup and daffodilly;
In my heart I made him room:
O love my Willie!

"Pipe and play, dear heart," sang he,
"I must go, yet pipe and play;
Soon I'll come and ask of thee
For an answer yea or nay;"
And I waited till the flocks
Panted in yon waters stilly,
And the corn stood in the shocks:
O love my Willie!

I thought first when thou didst come
I would wear the ring for thee,
But the year told out its sum,
Ere again thou sat'st by me;
Thou hadst nought to ask that day
By kingcup and daffodilly;
I said neither yea nor nay:
O love my Willie!

Enter George.
George. Well, mother, 'tis a fortnight now, or more,
Since I set eyes on you.
M. Ay, George, my dear,
I reckon you've been busy: so have we.
G. And how does father?
M. He gets through his work,
But he grows stiff, a little stiff, my dear;
He's not so young, you know, by twenty years
As I am - not so young by twenty years,
And I'm past sixty.
G. Yet he's hale and stout,
And seems to take a pleasure in his pipe;
And seems to take a pleasure in his cows,
And a pride, too.
M. And well he may, my dear.
G. Give me the little one, he tires your arm;
He's such a kicking, crowing, wakeful rogue,
He almost wears our lives out with his noise
Just a day-dawning, when we wish to sleep.
What! you young villain, would you clench your fist
In father's curls? a dusty father, sure,
And you're as clean as wax.
Ay, you may laugh,
But if you live a seven years more or so
These hands of yours will all be brown and scratched
With climbing after nest-eggs. They'll go down
As many rat-holes as are round the mere;
And you'll love mud, all manner of mud and dirt,
As your father did afore you, and you'll wade
After young water-birds; and you'll get bogged
Setting of eel-traps, and you'll spoil your clothes,
And come home torn and dripping: then, you know,
You'll feel the stick - you'll feel the stick, my lad!

Enter Frances.
F. You should not talk so to the blessed babe -
How can you, George! why he may be in heaven
Before the time you tell of.
M. Look at him:
So earnest, such an eager pair of eyes!
He thrives, my dear.
F. Yes, that he does, thank God!
My children are all strong.
M. 'Tis much to say;
Sick children fret their mother's hearts to shreds
And do no credit to their keep nor care.
Where is your little lass?
F. Your daughter came
And begged her of us for a week or so.
M. Well, well, she might be wiser, that she might;
For she can sit at ease and pay her way;
A sober husband, too - a cheerful man -
Honest as ever stepped, and fond of her;
Yet she is never easy, never glad,
Because she has not children.  Well-a-day!
If she could know how hard her mother worked,
And what ado I had, and what a moil
With my half dozen!  Children, ay forsooth,
They bring their own love with them when they come,
But if they come not there is peace and rest;
The pretty lambs! and yet she cries for more:
Why the world's full of them, and so is heaven -
They are not rare.
G. No, mother, not at all;
But Hannah must not keep our Fanny long -
She spoils her.
M. Ah! folks spoil their children now;
When I was a young woman 'twas not so:
We made our children fear us, made them work,
Kept them in order.
G. Were not proud of them -
Eh, mother?
M. I set store by mine, 'tis true,
But then I had good cause.
G. My lad, d'ye hear?
Your Granny was not proud, by no means proud!
She never spoilt your father - no, not she,
Nor ever made him sing at harvest-home,
Nor at the forge, nor at the baker's shop,
Nor to the doctor while she lay abed
Sick, and he crept up-stairs to share her broth.
M. Well, well, you were my youngest; and, what's more,
Your father loved to hear you sing - he did,
Although, good man, he could not tell one tune
From the other.
F. No, he got his voice from you:
Do use it, George, and send the child to sleep.
G. What must I sing?
F. The ballad of the man
That is so shy he cannot speak his mind.
G. Ay, of the purple grapes and crimson leaves;
But, mother, put your shawl and bonnet of.
And Frances, lass, I brought some cresses in:
Just wash them, toast the bacon, break some eggs,
And let's to supper shortly.

My neighbor White; we met to-day,
He always had a cheerful way,
As if he breathed at ease;
My neighbor White lives down the glade,
And I live higher, in the shade
Of my old walnut-trees.

So many lads and lasses small,
To feed them all, to clothe them all,
Must surely tax his wit;
I see his thatch when I look out,
His branching roses creep about
And vines half-smothered it.

There white-haired urchins climb his eaves
And little watch-fires heap with leaves,
And milky filberts hoard;
And there his oldest daughter stands
With downcast eyes and skilful hands
Before her ironing-board.

She comforts all her mother's days,
And with her sweet obedient ways
She makes her labor light;
So sweet to hear, so fair to see!
O, she is much too good for me,
That lovely Lettice White!

'Tis hard to feel one's self a fool!
With that same lass I went to school;
I then was great and wise;
She read upon an easier book,
And I - I never cared to look
Into her shy blue eyes.

And now I know they must be there
Sweet eyes, behind those lashes fair
That will not raise their rim:
If maids be shy, he cures who can;
But if a man be shy - a man -
Why then the worse for him!

My mother cries, "For such a lad
A wife is easy to be had
And always to be found;
A finer scholar scarce can be,
And for a foot and leg," says she,
"He beats the country round!

"My handsome boy must stoop his head
To clear her door whom he would wed."
Weak praise, but fondly sung!
"O mother! scholars sometimes fail -
And what can foot and leg avail
To him that wants a tongue!"

When by her ironing-board I sit
Her little sisters round me flit,
And bring me forth their store;
Dark cluster grapes of dusty blue,
And small sweet apples, bright of hue,
And crimson to the core.

But she abideth silent, fair,
All shaded by her flaxen hair,
The blushes come and go;
I look, and I no more can speak
Than the red sun that on her cheek
Smiles as he lieth low.

Sometimes the roses by the latch,
Or scarlet vine-leaves from her thatch,
Come sailing down like birds;
When from their drifts her board I clear
She thanks me, but I scarce can hear
The shyly uttered words.

Oft have I wooed sweet Lettice White
By daylight and by candlelight
When we two were apart.
Some better day come on apace,
And let me tell her face to face,
"Maiden, thou hast my heart."

How gently rock yon poplars high
Against the reach of primrose sky
With heaven's pale candles stored!
She sees them all, sweet Lettice White;
I'll e'en go sit again to-night
Beside her ironing-board!

Why, you young rascal! who would think it now!
No sooner do I stop than you look up.
What would you have your poor old father do?
'Twas a brave song, long-winded, and not loud.
M. He heard the bacon sputter on the fork,
And heard his mother's step across the floor.
Where did you get that song - 'tis new to me?
G. I bought it of a peddler.
M. Did you so?
Well, you were always for love-songs, George.
F. My dear, just lay his head upon your arm,
And if you'll pace and sing two minutes more
He needs must sleep - his eyes are full of sleep.
G. Do you sing, mother.
F. Ay, good mother, do;
'Tis long since we have heard you.
M. Like enough;
I'm an old woman, and the girls and lads
I used to sing to sleep o'ertop me now.
What should I sing for?
G. Why, to pleasure us.
Sing in the chimney-corner, where you sit,
And I'll pace gently with the little one.

[M. sings].
When sparrows build, and the leaves break forth,
My old sorrow wakes and cries,
For I know there is dawn in the far, far north,
And a scarlet son doth rise;
Like a scarlet fleece the snow-field spreads,
And the icy founts run free;
And the bergs begin to bow their heads,
And plunge, and sail in the sea.

Oh, my lost love, and my own, own love,
And my love that loved me so!
Is there never a chink in the world above
Where they listen for words from below?
Nay, I spoke once, and I grieved thee sore;
I remember all that I said;
And now thou wilt hear me no more - no more
Till the sea gives up her dead.

Thou didst set thy foot on the ship, and sail
To the ice-fields and the snow;
Thou wert sad, for thy love did not avail,
And the end I could not know.
How could I tell I should love thee to-day,
Whom that day I held not daer?
How could I know I should love thee away,
When I did not love thee anear?

We shall walk no more through the sodden plain
With the faded bents o'erspread;
We shall stand no more by the seething main
While the dark wrack drives o'erhead;
We shall part no more in the wind and the rain,
Where thy last farewell was said;
But perhaps I shall meet thee and know thee again
When the sea gives up her dead.

F. Asleep at last, and time he was, indeed.
Turn back the cradle-quilt, and lay him in;
And, mother, will you please to draw your chair? -
The supper's ready.

© Jean Ingelow