Gateway to the Classics: The Seasons: Autumn by Jane Marcet
The Seasons: Autumn by  Jane Marcet

The Windmill

Willy was one morning awakened very early by a loud knocking. He called to Ann, who was asleep, to ask what that noise was. Ann did not like to be disturbed before it was time to rise; so she said,—"It is only the thrashers: turn about and go to sleep again, Willy; it is too early to get up yet." Willy turned about as he was bidden, but it was not so easy to go to sleep again: he heard the knocking still, and he wanted sadly to know who the thrashers were, and what they were doing. He sat up in his bed to peep at Ann; but seeing that her eyes were shut, he did not dare to disturb her again. So he tried to lie quiet, and that made him fall asleep, though the noise was still going on.

When morning came, the first thing that Willy said was, "Now, Ann, that you are quite awake, do tell me all about that noise we heard in the night."

"It was not night," said she, "for it was daylight, but very early in the morning, for the thrashers begin their work before sunrise."

"And what do they do that makes such a noise?"

"You shall see," replied she; and before breakfast she took him to the barn, which was not far from the house, and there he saw four men, with long sticks, beating a quantity of wheat that was spread upon the floor. They struck it as hard as they could, one after the other, which made four blows following one another; and it was the noise these blows made that had awakened Willy so early.

"Well, I am glad the poor corn cannot feel," said Willy; "how sadly they would hurt it. What are they doing that for? is it only to amuse themselves?"

"Oh, no," said Ann; "poor folks do not work so hard for amusement; they are too much tired with working to get money to buy what they want: and your Papa pays them wages for doing this work."

"Wages!" said Willy; "what is that?"

"Wages is the money you pay people when they work for you."

"I think the poor people are always working to get money, Ann; what do they want so much money for?"

"They have no money but what they get by their labour; so if they did not work to earn money, they would have none to pay for their breakfast and dinner, or clothes, or any thing else. The work these men are doing is to beat the corn, to make the grains fall out of the ears."

"But Mamma said, that the reapers took great care the grains should not fall out, for fear they should be lost."

"That was when the corn was in the field," said Ann; "because, if the grains had fallen into the ground, they would have been lost but here there is a nice smooth floor for them to lie on, and you will see, presently, how they will be picked up."

"But why do the men have broken sticks?"

"They are not broken sticks," replied Ann, "but flails, and are made of two sticks fastened together; one of them serves for a handle for the man to lay hold of, and the other strikes the corn like the lash of a whip. I will show you how they are fastened together, when the men have done thrashing, but I do not like you to go near them while they are at work, for if you went within reach of their flails you would be sadly hurt; for you can feel," added she, laughing, "though the corn cannot."

Willy shrunk back, for he thought the flails looked terrible, and he had no wish to feel them. They then went to the cow-house, to get some of Nanny's good milk; and after breakfast they returned to the barn. The thrashers had just finished their morning's work, "So soon!" cried Willy; "why, I have not been up long."

"We have worked a good number of hours," said one of them, "for we began long before you were awake, Master."

"The noise of your flails waked me," replied Willy; "I wanted to get up, and come and see you thrashing, but Ann said it was too early."

One of the men was busy sweeping up the straw which had been thrashed; and when it was cleared away, they saw a great quantity of grains of corn lying on the floor. A thrasher took up a handful, and gave it to Willy to look at.

"This is not all seeds," said he; "there is something else mixed with it."

"That is chaff," said the man; "it is the husks of the corn that are beaten out of the ears with the grain."

"And is that good to make bread?"

"Oh no, Master; we throw away the chaff, and take care only of the grain to make bread."

"What a deal of trouble it must be," said Willy, "to pick out all the grains from the chaff."

"Nothing more easy," replied he; "I will show you how we do it."

He then took up with a shovel a quantity of the grains and chaff, which were mixed together on the floor, and put them into a very large basket, so shallow that it was almost flat. He held it by two handles, which were both on the same side of the basket, and shook it three or four times as hard as he could shake it. This made the grains of corn and the chaff jump up from the basket; but the chaff, being very light, flew up highest, and was blown away by the wind, and fell down on the floor. The grains of corn, which were heavier, and did not jump up so high, fell back again into the basket. "There, Sir," said the man, "the chaff is now blown away, and here are the grains of corn remaining in the basket. You see how well this fan separates the corn from the chaff."

Willy thought it was done very cleverly. "But that basket is not at all like a fan," said he, except that it makes a wind."

"It is the wind that blows the chaff away," said the thrasher.

Willy felt with his little hands whether he could feel any chaff left in the fan, but it was all gone. "And how do you make these grains into bread?" asked Willy.

"Oh, that is not our business, Master. There is a deal to be done before it can be made into bread. It must go to the mill to be ground into flour, and then to the baker's to be made into bread."

Willy did not fail to ask his Mamma to take him to see the mill that ground the corn into flour, and enquired of her what it was like.

"It is the windmill on the hill," replied she, "which you have often seen from a distance."

"Oh, that mill with the great fliers, that the wind pushes round?"

"Yes; and it is called a windmill, because the wind makes it turn."

"But cannot we go into it, Mamma, to see how it grinds corn into flour?"—Mamma consented, and they set off to walk to the mill, which was about a mile from the house, and soon reached the hill on which the mill was built. Willy had never been so near it before: the fliers appeared to him much larger than he had expected; and as they were moving round very fast, he seemed half frightened, and shrinking close to his Mother, asked whether they would not hurt them if they went any nearer.

"If we were within their reach," replied she, "they would hurt us extremely; they might even kill us."

Willy stuck still closer to his Mamma, and held tight by her gown. "Look, Mamma, they come close to the ground sometimes; if they should catch hold of us, they would carry us up there all round, and we should be dashed to pieces."

"Observe," replied she, "that when the fliers come near the ground, it is always to the same place exactly."

Willy looked attentively for some little time, and then replied,—"Yes, just by that little bush."

"Well, then," said she, "if we do not go near that bush, we shall be quite safe."

"But are you sure they always come down to the same place, Mamma?"

"Yes, perfectly sure. You see the fliers are all of the same length, and are fastened together in the middle like a wheel, so that they move round just in the same place every time they turn."

"Yes," said Willy, "they turn round upon a thing like the axle of the wheel of the carriage, only a great deal larger."

"Exactly," said she; "and it is called an axle."

"But the fliers are not called a wheel, are they, Mamma? for there is no hoop round them as a wheel has, and then they are not at all like spokes."

"The fliers move like a wheel, my dear; but it is not called a wheel."

"And the wind pushes it round," said Willy, "instead of horses pulling it as they do carriage wheels."

"Do you not observe," said his Mother, "some pieces of cloth stretched over the fliers? it is the wind blowing against them that pushes the fliers round, just as the wind pushes up your kite."

"But it does not make my kite turn round, Mamma."

"No; because your kite is not fastened to an axle, as the fliers are; they cannot get away from the axle, so the only way they can move is to turn round it."

"Now let us go into the mill; the door is on the other side, so we may walk round without going near those tremendous fliers."

"The inside of the mill appeared all confusion to Willy: he saw one man carrying a sack of flour on his back; another shovelling away grains of wheat, but where they went he could not tell; then the mill turning made a great noise, and every thing looked so strange that he was quite bewildered; his Mamma pointed out to him two very large stones, flat and round; they were placed one over the other, and were turning round.

"Why, they go round like the fliers, Mamma; and what a great axle they have to turn upon!"

"The axle turns with them," said she; "and it is the fliers outside the mill that makes it turn. It is these two great stones that grind the corn into flour." She then showed him a man who was emptying a sack of wheat down a hole, which made the grains fall between the two mill-stones; and these stones turning round crushed them to pieces. Then they went to another part of the mill, where they could see the crushed grains come out from between the stones, and Willy was quite surprised to see that the corn was turned into flour. "This is the wheat so bruised and crushed between the mill-stones that it comes away in tiny bits like powder, and this is called flour."

"Look at the men; how funny the men are, Mamma, all covered with white."

"Yes," said she, "they are covered with flour; it is so light, and blows about so much, that they cannot help it."

"Well, it will not dirty them, Mamma, it looks so nice and clean; it is not like poor Johnny when he was covered all over with black soot."

"No," said she; "and if any of it gets into their mouths, you know it is very good to eat."

As they were walking home, Willy said,—"I think I should like to be a miller, Mamma, if it was not for those great fliers; I should be afraid they would catch me up one day when I was not thinking about it."

"But how would you turn the mill-stones without the fliers?"

"Could not men turn them, Mamma?"

"They would not be strong enough," replied she, "unless there were a great many; and it would cost the miller a great deal of money to pay so many men their wages. Now, he does not pay any thing to the wind for turning the fliers."

"No, to be sure," said Willy, laughing; "the wind does not want any wages; it has got nothing to buy. Well, but, Mamma, why could not horses turn the mill-stones? they are stronger than men, and they do not have wages any more than the wind?"

"But," said his mother, "the horses must be fed, and the hay and corn they eat costs a great deal of money."

"And the wind does not eat or drink," said Willy, laughing still more; "you need not buy hay or corn, or any thing, for the wind."

"Then horses must have a stable to live in," said his Mother, "and men to clean them, and feed them, and take care of them."

"And the wind does not live in a house," replied Willy; "and it does not want any coachmen to take care of it, does it, Mamma?" and he fell a-laughing again with all his heart. Nothing seemed to amuse him so much as comparing the wind with men and with horses; and as soon as his fit of laughter was over, he said,—"Well, and what else, Mamma?"

"Why, Willy, I think you have heard quite enough to convince you that it is better that the wind should turn the mill, than either men or horse's."

"Oh, yes but pray go on, Mamma, it is so funny!"

"Well, then," said his Mother, "the best of all is that the wind is never tired, though it can work all day and all night!"

"No, to be sure," said Willy; "Ha, ha, ha, ha! how could it be tired, for it cannot feel? it is very odd that the wind should be so strong, and work so hard, and yet not feel! How good it is to work so hard, and all for nothing!" then interrupting himself, he added, "Oh no, it is not good, because it does not do it on purpose. But how clever it is!—No, it is not clever neither, because it does it without knowing it."

"It is He who made the wind to work for us, my dear, that is good and wise; and we should thank God for giving us wind to help poor men so much in their work."

Willy then asked how flour was made into bread. His Mamma said she could not tell him then, but that the next time they made bread at home she would show him how it was done.

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