A mill on the River Dee is run by an unusual man. He seems to by a contented happy fellow; he sings to himself as he does his work. Yet his habitual song makes a singular claim:
- "I care for nobody, no! not I,
- Since nobody cares for me."
The miller's style of life is consistent with his song: he lives alone, has no friends, and avoids his neighbors. Yet he does not seem a morose man; he simply goes about his work, singing his characteristic song.
One day, the miller sees a big black box floating downstream. He snares it with a pole before it reaches his mill. The box proves to contain a female infant, alive and well. The miller cares for the baby, and adopts her as his own. His neighbors are surprised at finding the miller has a child; but his isolation protects him from inquiries.
He calls the girl Nathalie; she grows up healthy and strong. She calls him Papa. At one point in her young years, she is reduced to tears over the miller's song; and the miller abashedly, and literally, changes his tune.
When Nathalie is a young woman, the local squire begins to court her. The miller is intensely unhappy about this development, fearing that he will lose his daughter; but Nathalie assures him that she will always treasure him as her father. After she and the squire are married, Nathalie continues to visit the miller at his mill every day, as proof that she has not forgotten him.