A Christmas Garland Redux

Garland

So. Last Christmas I wrote a twelve sonnet cycle, on the theme of Christmas, and posted them on Living Lantern, a day at a time. I was contemplating another Christmas project for this season, but a Christmas deadline on another project put an end to that, so I’m having a rest.

In the meantime, to make the original cycle easier to read, I have compiled it into an ebook. You can download that here:

A Christmas Garland – mobi format for kindle

A Christmas Garland – epub format for all manner of other readers.

The ebooks are free, but if you feel that you want to pay something for it, you can also buy it on Amazon (that link is to amazon.co.uk, but it’s also available on amazon.com).

The Mill

{So. An apology. I have meant to post this for months. But life has happened. Despite that, I still feel strongly enough to do it now. This is a fable, a folk-story, which anyone can – I hope – enjoy. For any UK readers I only add: RBS.}

The mill sat at the edge of the village by the edge of the Squire’s land. It was an old building which squatted astride the mill stream like a miserable toad. Its wheel turned perpetual under the weight of the water that ran under its arch.

The Miller was a cheerless man, dull-faced and pale from days spent watching the vIllage’s corn being ground to flour. The villagers avoided the Miller and his mill whenever they could: his conversation was as dull as his face and always about his gears and their ratios. The villagers would rather talk of their children, the fields and the woods.

As he grew older the Miller began to go round the village asking the villagers to send all their corn to him for grinding. At first they refused: the Miller took too much as his share for doing a job they could do for nothing with their querns. But the squire was keen for the Miller to succeed; he encouraged the villagers to use the mill, offering them a Christmas pudding if they sent their corn to the mill, but frowning on them if they refused.

But even with more corn coming into the mill the Miller was unhappy. He bought a notebook and began writing numbers in it, which showed how the mill would be the biggest mill in the whole world, if only everyone would send all the corn to him for grinding. He took to prowling the streets of the village (when he should have been watching the mill) to explain his numbers to the villagers. The villagers took to walking through the fields rather than risk meeting the Miller and receiving one of his lectures.

Several years passed. The Miller went from house to house, demanding people send corn to his mill. He began to extend the mill, knocking down the end wall so he could add another wheel to grind more corn.

But there was no more corn.

So the Miller sent his children out to gather grass and wild flowers, which he ground to dust and put into sacks. He piled the sacks high and announced his mill could grind anything in the world. It was then the Miller’s wife went to see the Squire. She told him her husband had gone mad: only last week she had to stop him trying to grind the family cat. She broke down as she described the creature’s howls as its tail was crushed between the millstones. Worse, their house was now open to the wind and the sky, as the Miller had knocked down walls to fit the new wheel.

The Squire went to the mill and found the Miller feeding the fragments of his wall to the millstones. Deeply perturbed, the Squire summoned the villagers. He explained the sad condition of the Miller and announced a solution. They would all buy the mill to keep it running and send the Miller to a quiet place near the sea where he would regain his senses.

The Squire explained that as he did not have enough money to buy the mill he would take up a collection from the villagers. The villagers were dismayed, but, wanting to keep the mill working, paid up from their small stores of silver coin. The Miller went away and the villagers repaired their mill. The mill ground corn again.

After a few years the Miller returned. His face was tanned from his stay by the sea, but his eyes were still dull. The villagers held a little party to welcome him back as they were good friends with his wife and didn’t like to see her unhappy.

The Squire came to the party just as it was ending. He took a glass of wine and stood on a bench to make a speech. This is what he said.

‘Dear, dear friends. It gladdens all our hearts to see our dear Miller returned to us in the best of health. Look how ruddy his face is. He is like a new man.’ (There were cheers.) ‘I know the Miller is grateful for the way you have looked after his Mill and his family while he has been beside the sea.’ (The Miller frowned.) ‘Well, I am glad to announce he is come to his senses and has come back.’ (One or two people gave half-hearted cheers.) ‘So, to mark this, and to help him get back on his feet with milling, we are all giving him back his mill.’

The villagers frowned and talked low among themselves, finally pushing Thomas Buttons to the front. Thomas bowed a couple of times and cleared his throat. ‘Squire, we know you are a wise man, but how can you give the mill back to the Miller when it was us, the people of the village who paid for it?’

The Squire smiled. ‘Ah, Thomas, you know a good deal about raising pigs and cattle, ploughing, sowing and reaping, but do you know much about milling?’

Thomas shuffled. ‘Well, no Squire, I can’t say as I do.’

The Squire’s smile grew even broader. ‘No more you should. But, Thomas, if you don’t understand milling, how can you understand how the mill is paid for?’

Thomas did not back down. ‘But we gave you good silver coin for the mill. And you took it .’

The Squire’s smile nearly split his face in two. ‘And that good silver coin paid for the miller’s holiday and for mending the mill. You didn’t think they had anything to do with buying the mill did you?’

‘Well,’ said Thomas, getting confused. ‘You did say how we were all buying the mill.’

The Squire sighed, stepped off the bench and put his arms around Thomas’ shoulder. ‘Ah, Thomas, Thomas, dear old friend. Don’t trouble yourself with all this bother about the mill. Leave that to the miller and me. All you need to know is that the Miller is ready to take your corn for grinding, and that he will be taking more for his services than he did before. Which is only right, given as how he has got the mill back.’

With that the Squire shook Thomas’ hand and left the party, followed by the Miller and his wife (who dared not look behind her).

And so the Miller went back to milling and his face grew pale again as he spent the days watching the millstones go round and thinking of his ratios. He borrowed money from the Squire and fitted a second wheel. All the while the villagers wondered what exactly had happened to all their good silver coin and what they had thought was their mill.