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The Grey Woman

Portion I
There is a mill by the Neckar-side, to which many people resort for coffee, according to the
fashion which is almost national in Germany. There is nothing particularly attractive in the
situation of this mill; it is on the Mannheim (the flat and unromantic) side of Heidelberg. The
river turns the mill-wheel with a plenteous gushing sound; the out-buildings and the dwelling-
house of the miller form a well-kept dusty quadrangle. Again, further from the river, there is a
garden full of willows, and arbours, and flower-beds not well kept, but very profuse in flowers
and luxuriant creepers, knotting and looping the arbours together. In each of these arbours is a
stationary table of white painted wood, and light moveable chairs of the same colour and
material.
I went to drink coffee there with some friends in 184-. The stately old miller came out to greet
us, as some of the party were known to him of old. He was of a grand build of a man, and his
loud musical voice, with its tone friendly and familiar, his rolling laugh of welcome, went well
with the keen bright eye, the fine cloth of his coat, and the general look of substance about the
place. Poultry of all kinds abounded in the mill-yard, where there were ample means of
livelihood for them strewed on the ground; but not content with this, the miller took out handfuls
of corn from the sacks, and threw liberally to the cocks and hens that ran almost under his feet in
their eagerness. And all the time he was doing this, as it were habitually, he was talking to us,
and ever and anon calling to his daughter and the serving-maids, to bid them hasten the coffee
we had ordered. He followed us to an arbour, and saw us served to his satisfaction with the best
of everything we could ask for; and then left us to go round to the different arbours and see that
each party was properly attended to; and, as he went, this great, prosperous, happy-looking man
whistled softly one of the most plaintive airs I ever heard.
'His family have held this mill ever since the old Palatinate days; or rather, I should say, have
possessed the ground ever since then, for two successive mills of theirs have been burnt down by
the French. If you want to see Scherer in a passion, just talk to him of the possibility of a French
invasion.'
But at this moment, still whistling that mournful air, we saw the miller going down the steps that
led from the somewhat raised garden into the mill-yard; and so I seemed to have lost my chance
of putting him in a passion.
We had nearly finished our coffee, and our Kuchen, and our cinnamon cake, when heavy
splashes fell on our thick leafy covering; quicker and quicker they came, coming through the
tender leaves as if they were tearing them asunder; all the people in the garden were hurrying
under shelter, or seeking for their carriages standing outside. Up the steps the miller came
hastening, with a crimson umbrella, fit to cover everyone left in the garden, and followed by his
daughter, and one or two maidens, each bearing an umbrella.
'Come into the house - come in, I say. It is a summer-storm, and will flood the place for an hour
or two, till the river carries it away. Here, here.'
 
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