Gateway to the Classics: In Story-land by Elizabeth Harrison
In Story-land by  Elizabeth Harrison

The Discontented Mill Window

A TALL flour mill once stood in the midst of a busy noisy town. Its steep, slanting roof was far above any other roof in the place, and its many windows looked out over the chimney tops, and into the back yards and saw all that was going on in them.

Under the very eaves of this slanting roof was a little round window. Because it was so high above the other windows, from it you could have seen not only all that was being done in the busy city, but the broad, green fields outside of the town, and, on a clear day, you could even have caught a glimpse of the vast ocean which lay shining so mysteriously beyond the end of land. It was because this glimpse of the great ocean could be seen through the little round window that the mill-owner brought many visitors up to the top story to see the beautiful vision. Oftentimes the guests reached the window, panting, and out of breath from having to climb so many steps, but they always exclaimed, "How glad I am that I came! How beautiful it is! How beautiful  it is!"

Every noon some of the tired, dusty workmen would come and look out of the little round window, sometimes almost forgetting to eat the bread and meat they held in their hands. Oftentimes the window would hear them say, "It rests one's tired bones to know that the great ocean is not so far away after all." There was one pale, sad-faced man who used to come every day and lean his elbows on the window sill and gaze, and gaze as if he were never tired of looking out on the view which the little round window presented.

When the mill whistle sounded its shrill, sharp note, telling the men that the noonday rest was over and that they must be back at their work, the pale, sad-faced man would sigh, and as he turned away, would say softly to himself, "I don't believe I could stand the grind of this mill life if I didn't get a breath of ocean air from this window each day!"

Once in a while, a good father would bring his children up to the window and, lifting them in his strong arms, would let them see the green fields and shining ocean. Then the children would clap their hands and shout aloud for joy. Occasionally one would beg that he might be allowed to go away from the noisy, dusty town, through the broad, green fields to the endless ocean beyond.

At night when all the town was hushed in sleep, and even the green fields looked cold and dark, and deep shadows seemed to be on every object, the vision of the great ocean was, if possible, more beautiful than during the bright day. At such hours the little, round window had the gleam of the never sleeping waters all to itself, as very few people have courage to climb much in the night, and none of them knew how beautiful the mighty ocean looked in the midst of darkness. So they lost the gleam of the heavenly stars as they were reflected in its wavelets. Sometimes the broad silver path which the moon spread upon the surface of the water looked as if it might be the shining stairway to the heavenly gates themselves, and the little round window felt quite sure that it saw bright angels ascending and descending this silvery stairway just as they had done in the dream of Jacob of old. At such times the little window would tremble all over with delight.

But alas! alas! now comes the sad part of my story. Time passed on, and so many people came to look through the little, round window that scarcely a day went by in which the window did not hear exclamations of pleasure and admiration escape from their lips. Soon the foolish little window began to think that the people were talking of it, and not of the vision of the great ocean which could be seen through its round window pane. Thus it grew proud and vain, and thought it  somehow, must be superior to ordinary glass windows, and therefore it ought not to be treated like them. So when the wet rain clouds came one day, as usual, to wash the dust off the faces of all the windows in the town, the little round window in the top of the tall mill refused to be washed. "Tut, tut, tut!" said the rain, "what nonsense! A window is good for nothing unless it is washed about once in so often."

However, the vain, little window would not listen, but held on to the grimy soot and yellow dust which had accumulated upon its surface. Even the rattle of the fierce thunder did not frighten it, and when the wind sighed and sobbed and moaned as if to beg the little window to be sensible and take the washing which the rain was trying to give it, the obstinate window merely shook in its frame and answered, "I tell you I am not like other windows. Every body admires me. Why should I have to mind that cold, wet rain, just because other windows do. I am not going to give up my soot and my dust. I am going to do just as I please.  Am I not above all the other windows? It is well enough for them to be slapped in the face by the rain and even sometimes washed and scrubbed from within, but none of that for me."

And thus the vain, foolish little window lost its chance to be made pure and clean again.

Gradually the dust from the street, and the smoke from the neighboring chimneys settled thicker and thicker upon it, and of course the view of the busy, noisy town, of the quiet green fields and of the great, shining ocean, became dimmer and dimmer until at last they were lost sight of altogether and nothing could be seen but the round form of the window, so thick was the grime and dirt upon it.

Now the men ceased coming to the top story at their noon time, and the owner of the mill brought no more guests to its side, and the little round window, left to itself, became sad and lonely. Day after day passed and no one came near it. In fact, people seemed to have forgotten that it was in existence. One day two boys climbed to the attic in which it had been built, and the little round window said eagerly to itself, "Now I shall hear some of the praise that belongs to me." But in a very few moments one of the boys said "Whew! how close and dark it is up here! Let's go down!" "All right," replied the other, and down they scampered without even so much as noticing the dust-covered window.

At first the window was indignant at what it termed their lack of appreciation. However, as day and night succeeded each other and days grew into weeks, and weeks stretched into a month, the little round window had plenty of time to think, and by and by came the thought, "Why did people ever crowd around me, and climb many stairs to get near me?" Then it recalled the words which it had heard, and with the recalling came the realization that the talk had all been about the beautiful view which it presented, and not about itself.

Then, indeed, it would have hung its head in shame if it could have done so, but although a window has a face, it has no head, you know, so that all it could do was to turn itself on its wooden pivots until its round face was ready to catch any drop of rain that might fall. Nor did it have long to wait. The beautiful white clouds which had been drifting dreamily across the blue sky, changed into soft gray, and then their under parts became a heavy, dark gray, and soon they began massing themselves together. The wind arose and hurried the smaller clouds across the sky as a general might marshal his troops for a battle, and in a little while the whole heavens were covered with gray, not even a single spot of blue sky remained, nor could one yellow sunbeam be seen on the whole landscape. The low rumble of thunder could now be heard, and quick flashes of lightning darted from raincloud to raincloud and back again as if they were messengers sent to see if all was in readiness for the storm. Soon down poured the rain.

Not even the thirsty earth itself was more glad to receive the tens of thousands of water-drops than was the little round window in the top story of the tall mill. It not only had its outside face freed from the dust and soot, but with some help from the wind, it managed to turn its inside face out and thus be cleansed within as well as without.

At last the storm passed away; the sun shone again; the trees rustled their fresh, shining, green leaves, and all nature rejoiced in the renewed life which the reviving rain had brought with it. The little round window fairly glistened as its shining face caught the golden radiance of the last beams of the setting sun. "Ah, look at the round mill window!" said the miller's wife, "the rain has washed it bright and clean. See how it reflects the sunset. To-morrow we will go up and get a view of the ocean from it—I had almost forgotten it."

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