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Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill
by Alice B. Emerson
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Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill

or

Jasper Parloe's Secret

by Alice B. Emerson, 1913

CHAPTER I

THE RED FLAME IN THE NIGHT

The sound of the drumming wheels! It had roared in the ears of Ruth Fielding for hours as she sat on the comfortably upholstered seat in the last car of the afternoon Limited, the train whirling her from the West to the East, through the fertile valleys of Upper New York State.

This had been a very long journey for the girl, but Ruth knew that it would soon come to an end. Cheslow was not many miles ahead now; she had searched it out upon the railroad timetable, and upon the map printed on the back of the sheet; and as the stations flew by, she had spelled their names out with her quick eyes, until dusk had fallen and she could no longer see more than the signal lamps and switch targets as the train whirled her on.

But she still stared through the window. This last car of the train was fairly well filled, but she had been fortunate in having a seat all to herself; she was glad this was so, for a person in the seat with her might have discovered how hard it was for her to keep back the tears.

For Ruth Fielding was by no means one of the "crying kind," and she had forbidden herself the luxury of tears on this occasion.

"We had all that out weeks ago, you know we did!" she whispered, apostrophizing that inner self that really wanted to break the brave compact. "When we knew we had to leave dear old Darrowtown, and Miss True Pettis, and Patsy Hope, and— and 'all other perspiring friends,' to quote Amoskeag Lanfell's letter that she wrote home from Conference.

"No, Ruth Fielding! Uncle Jabez Potter may be the very nicest kind of an old dear. And to live in a mill— and one painted red, too! That ought to make up for a good many disappointments— "

Her soliloquy was interrupted by a light tap upon her shoulder. Ruth glanced around and up quickly. She saw standing beside her the tall old gentleman who had been sitting two seats behind on the other side of the aisle ever since the train left Buffalo.

He was a spare old gentleman, with a gaunt, eagle-beaked face, cleanly shaven but for a sweeping iron-gray mustache, his iron-gray hair waved over the collar of his black coat— a regular mane of hair which flowed out from under the brim of his well-brushed, soft-crowned hat. His face would have been very stern in its expression had it not been for the little twinkle in his bright, dark eyes.

"Why don't you do it?" he asked Ruth, softly.

"Why don't I do what, sir?" she responded, not without a little gulp, for that lump would rise in her throat.

"Why don't you cry?" questioned the strange old gentleman, still speaking softly and with that little twinkle in his eye.

"Because I am determined not to cry, sir," and now Ruth could call up a little smile, though perhaps the corners of her mouth trembled a bit.

The gentleman sat down beside her, although she had not invited him to do so. She was not at all afraid of him and, after all, perhaps she was glad to have him do it.

"Tell me all about it," he suggested, with such an air of confidence and interest that Ruth warmed more and more toward him.

But it was a little hard to begin. When he told her, however, that he was going to Cheslow, too— indeed, that that was his home— it was easier by far.

"I am Doctor Davison, my dear," he said. "If you are going to live in Cheslow you will hear all about Doctor Davison, and you would better know him at first-hand, to avoid mistakes," and his eyes twinkled more than ever, though his stern mouth never relaxed.

"I expect that my new home is some little way outside of Cheslow," Ruth said, timidly. "They call it the Red Mill."

The humorous light faded out of the dark, bright eyes of the gentleman. Yet even then his countenance did not impress her as being unkindly.

"Jabez Potter's mill," he said, thoughtfully.

"Yes, sir. That is my uncle's name."

"Your uncle?"

"My great uncle, to be exact," said Ruth. "He was mother's uncle."

"Then you," he said, speaking even more gently than before, "are little Mary Potter's daughter?"

"Mother was Mary Potter before she married papa," said Ruth, more easily now. "She died four years ago."

He nodded, looking away from her out of the window at the fast-darkening landscape which hurried by them.

"And poor papa died last winter. I had no claim upon the kind friends who helped me when he died," pursued Ruth, bravely. "They wrote to Uncle Jabez and he— he said I could come and live with him and Aunt Alvirah Boggs."

In a flash the twinkle came back into his eyes, and he nodded again.

"Ah, yes! Aunt Alviry," he said, giving the name its old-fashioned, homely pronunciation. "I had forgotten Aunt Alviry," and he seemed quite pleased to remember her.

"She keeps house for Uncle Jabez, I understand," Ruth continued. "But she isn't my aunt."

"She is everybody's Aunt Alviry, I think," said Doctor Davison, encouragingly.

For some reason this made Ruth feel better. He spoke as though she would love Aunt Alviry, and Ruth had left so many kind friends behind her in Darrowtown that she was glad to be assured that somebody in the new home where she was going would be kind, too.

Miss True Pettis had not shown her Uncle Jabez's letter and she had feared that perhaps her mother's uncle {whom she had never seen nor known much about) might not have written as kindly for his niece to come to the Red Mill as Miss True could have wished. But Miss True was poor; most of the Darrowtown friends had been poor people. Ruth had felt that she could not remain a burden on them.

Somehow she did not have to explain all this to Doctor Davison. He seemed to understand it when he nodded and his eyes twinkled so glowingly.

"Cheslow is a pleasant town. You will like it," he said, cheerfully. "The Red Mill is five miles out on the Lake Osago Road. It is a pretty country. It will be dark when you ride over it to-night; but you will like it when you see it by daylight."

He took it for granted that Uncle Jabez would come to the station to meet her with a carriage, and that comforted Ruth not a little.

"You will pass my house on that road," continued Doctor Davison. "But when you come to town you must not pass it."

"Sir?" she asked him, surprised.

"Not without stopping to see me," he explained, his eyes twinkling more than ever. And then he left her and went back to his seat.

But Ruth found, when he had gone, that the choke came back into her throat again and the sting of unshed tears to her eyes. But she would not let those same tears fall!

She stared out of the plate-glass window and saw that it was now quite dark. The whistle of the fast-flying locomotive shrieked its long-drawn warning, and a group of signal lights flashed past. Then she heard the loud ringing of a gong at a grade crossing. They must be nearing Cheslow now.

And then she saw that they were on a curve quite a sharp curve, for she saw the lights of the locomotive and the mail car far ahead upon the gleaming rails. They began to slow down, too, and the wheels wailed under the pressure of the brakes.

She could see the signal lights along the tracks ahead and then— with a start, for she knew what it meant— a sharp red flame appeared out of the darkness beyond the rushing engine pilot.

Danger! That is what that red light meant. The brakes clamped down upon the wheels again so suddenly that the easily-riding coach jarred through all its parts. The red eye was winked out instantly; but the long and heavy train came to an abrupt stop.

CHAPTER II

RENO

But the Limited had stopped so that Ruth could see along the length of the train. Lanterns winked and blinked in the dark as the trainmen carried them forward. Something had happened up front of more importance than an ordinary halt for permission to run in on the next block. Besides, the afternoon Limited was a train of the first-class and was supposed to have the right of way over all other trains. No signal should have stopped it here.

"How far are we from Cheslow, please?" she asked of the rear brakeman (whom she knew was called the flagman) as he came down the car with his lantern.

"Not above a mile, Miss," he replied.

His smile, and his way of speaking, encouraged her to ask:

"Can you tell me why we have stopped?"

"Something on the track, Miss. I have set out my signal lamp and am going forward to inquire."

Three or four of the male passengers followed him out of the car. Ruth saw that quite a number had disembarked from the cars ahead, that a goodly company was moving forward, and that there were ladies among the curious crowd. If it was perfectly safe for them to satisfy their curiosity, why not she? She arose and hurried out of the car, following the swinging lamp of the brakeman as he strode on.

Ruth ran a little, seeing well enough to pick her way over the ends of the ties, and arrived to find at least half a hundred people grouped on the track ahead of the locomotive pilot. The great, unblinking, white eye of the huge machine revealed the group clearly— and the object around which the curious passengers, as well as the train crew, had gathered.

It was a dog— a great, handsome, fawn-colored mastiff, sleek of coat and well fed, but muddied now along his flanks, evidently having waded through the mire of the wet meadow beside the tracks. He had come under, or through, a barbed wire fence, too, for there was a long scratch upon his shoulder and another raw cut upon his muzzle.

To his broad collar was fastened a red lamp. Nobody had taken it off, for both the train men and the passengers were excitedly discussing what his presence here might mean; and some of them seemed afraid of the great fellow.

But Ruth had been used to dogs, and this noble looking fellow had no terrors for her. He seemed so woebegone, his great brown eyes pleaded so earnestly, that she could only pity and fondle him.

"Look out, Miss; maybe he bites," warned the anxious conductor. "I wager this is some boy's trick to stop the train. And yet—"

Ruth bent down, still patting the dog's head, and turned the great silver plate on his collar so that she could read, in the light of the lanterns, that which was engraved upon it. She read the words aloud:

"'This is Reno, Tom Cameron's Dog.'"

"Cameron?" repeated some man behind her. "That Tom Cameron lives just outside of Cheslow. His father is the rich dry-goods merchant, Macy Cameron. What's his dog doing here?"

"And with a red light tied to his collar?" propounded somebody else.

"It's some boy's trick, I tell you," stormed the conductor. "I'll have to report this at headquarters."

Just then Ruth made a discovery. Wound about the collar was a bit of twisted cloth— a strip of linen— part of a white handkerchief. Her nimble fingers unwound it quickly and she spread out the soiled rag.

"Oh, see here!" she cried, in amazement as well as fear. "See! What can it mean? See what's drawn on this cloth—"

It was a single word— a word smeared across the rag in shaking, uneven letters:

"HELP!"

"By George!" exclaimed one of the brakemen. "The little girl's right. That spells 'Help!' plain enough."

"It— it is written in something red, sir," cried Ruth, her voice trembling. "See! It is blood!"

"I tell you we've wasted a lot of time here," declared the conductor. "I am sorry if anybody is hurt, but we cannot stop for him. Get back to the cars, please, gentlemen. Do you belong aboard?" he added, to Ruth. "Get aboard, if you do."

"Oh, sir! You will not leave the poor dog here?" Ruth asked.

"Not with that red lamp on his collar— no!" exclaimed the conductor. "He will be fooling some other engineer—"

He reached to disentangle the wire from the dog's collar; but Reno uttered a low growl.

"Plague take the dog!" ejaculated the conductor, stepping back hastily. "Whoever it is that's hurt, or wherever he is, we cannot send him help from here. We'll report the circumstance at the Cheslow Station. Put the dog in the baggage car. He can find the place where his master is hurt, from Cheslow as well as from here, it's likely."

"You try to make him follow you, Miss," added the conductor to Ruth. "He doesn't like me, it's plain."

"Come here, Reno!" Ruth commanded. "Come here, old fellow."

The big dog hesitated, stepped a yard or two after her, stopped, looked around and across the track toward the swamp meadow, and whined.

Ruth went back to him and put both arms about the noble fellow's neck. "Come, Reno," she said "Come with me. We will go to find your master by and by."

She started for the cars again, with one hand on the dog's neck. He trotted meekly beside her with head hanging. At the open baggage-car door one of the brakemen lifted her in.

"Come, Reno! Come up, sir!" she said, and the great mastiff, crouching for an instant, sprang into the car.

Even before they were fairly aboard, the train started. They were late enough, indeed! But the engineer dared not speed up much for that last mile of the lap to Cheslow. There might be something ahead on the track."

"You get out at Cheslow; don't you Miss?" asked the conductor.

"Yes, sir," returned Ruth, sitting down with an air of possession upon her old-fashioned cowhide trunk that had already been put out by the door ready for discharging at the next station.

"And you were sitting in the last car. Have you a bag there?"

"Yes, sir, a small bag. That is all."

"I'll send it forward to you," he said, not unkindly, and bustled away.

And so Ruth Fielding was sitting on her own trunk, with her bag in her lap, and the great mastiff lying on the floor of the baggage car beside her, when the train slowed down and stopped beside the Cheslow platform. She had not expected to arrive just in this way at her journey's end.

CHAPTER III

WHAT HAS HAPPENED?

The baggage-car door was wheeled wide open again and the lamps on the platform shone in. There was the forward brakeman to "jump" her down from the high doorway, and Reno, with the little red light still hung to his collar, bounded after her.

The conductor bustled away to tell the station master about the dog with the red light, and of the word scrawled on the cloth which Ruth had found wound around his collar. Indeed, Ruth herself was very anxious and very much excited regarding this mystery; but she was anxious, too, about herself. Was Uncle Jabez here to meet her? Or had he sent somebody to take her to the Red Mill? He had been informed by Miss True Pettis the week before on which train to expect his niece.

Carrying her bag and followed dejectedly by the huge mastiff, Ruth started down the long platform. The conductor ran out of the station, signalled the train crew with his hand, and lanterns waved the length of the train. Panting, with its huge springs squeaking, the locomotive started the string of cars. Faster and faster the train moved, and before Ruth reached the pent-house roof of the little brick station, the tail-lights of the last car had passed her.

A short, bullet-headed old man, with close-cropped, whitish-yellow hair, atop of which was a boy's baseball cap, his face smoothly shaven and deeply lined, and the stain of tobacco at either corner of his mouth, was standing on the platform. He was not a nice looking old man at all, he was dressed in shabby and patched garments, and his little eyes seemed so sly that they were even trying to hide from each other on either side of a hawksbill nose.

He began to eye Ruth curiously as the girl approached, and she, seeing that he was the only person who gave her any attention, jumped to the conclusion that this was Uncle Jabez. The thought shocked her. She instinctively feared and disliked this queer looking old man. The lump in her throat that would not be swallowed almost choked her again, and she winked her eyes fast to keep from crying.

She would, in her fear and disappointment, have passed the old man by without speaking had he not stepped in front of her.

"Where d'ye wanter go, Miss?" he whined, looking at her still more sharply out of his narrow eyes. "Yeou be a stranger here, eh?"

"Yes, sir," admitted Ruth.

"Where are you goin'?" asked the man again, and Ruth had enough Yankee blood in her to answer the query by asking:

"Are you Mr. Jabez Potter?"

"Me Jabez Potter? Why, ef I was Jabe Potter I'd be owing myself money, that's what I'd be doin'. You warn't never lookin' for Jabe Potter?"

Much relieved, Ruth admitted the fact frankly. "He is my uncle, sir," she said. "I am going to live at the Red Mill."

The strange old man puckered up his lips into a whistle, and shook his head, eyeing her all the time so slily that Ruth was more and more thankful that he had not proven to be Uncle Jabez.

"Do you know Mr. Potter?" she asked, undecided what to do.

"Do I know Jabe Potter?" repeated the man. "Well, I don't know much good of him, I assure ye! I worked for him onct, I did. And I tell ye he owes me money yet. You ax him if he don't owe Jasper Parloe money— you jest ax him!"

He began to get excited and did not seem at all inclined to step out of Ruth's path. But just then somebody spoke to her and she turned to see the station master and two or three other men with him.

"This is the girl Mr. Mason spoke to me about, isn't it?" the railroad man asked. "The conductor of the express, I mean. He said the dog would mind you."

"He seems to like me," she replied, turning to the mastiff that had stood all this time close to her.

"That is Tom Cameron's dog all right," said one of the other men. "And that lantern is off his motorcycle, I bet anything! He went through town about dark on that contraption, and I shouldn't wonder if he's got a tumble."

Ruth showed the station master, whose name was Curtis, the bit of handkerchief with the appeal for help traced upon it.

"That is blood," she said. "You see it's blood, don't you? Can't somebody take Reno and hunt for him? He must be very badly hurt."

"Mason said he expected it was nothing but some fool joke of the boys. But it doesn't look like a joke to me," Mr. Curtis said, gravely. "Come, Parloe, you know that patch of woods well enough, over beyond the swamp and Hiram Jennings' big field. Isn't there a steep and rocky road down there, that shoots off the Osago Lake pike?"

"The Wilkins Corners road— yep," said the old man, snappishly.

"Then, can't you take the dog and see if you can find young Tom?"

"Who's going to pay me for it?" snarled Jasper Parloe. "I ain't got no love for them Camerons. This here Tom is as sassy a boy as there is in this county."

"But he may be seriously hurt," said Ruth, looking angrily at Jasper Parloe.

"'Tain't nothin' to me— no more than your goin' out ter live with Jabe Potter ain't nothin' to me," responded the old man, with an ugly grin.

"You're a pretty fellow, you are, Jasper!" exclaimed Mr. Curtis, and turned his back upon the fellow. "I can't leave the station now— Ah! here's Doctor Davison. He'll know what to do."

Doctor Davison came forward and put his hand upon Ruth's shoulder most kindly. "What is all this?" he asked. "And there is the mastiff. They tell me you are a dog tamer, Miss Fielding."

He listened very closely to what Mr. Curtis had to say, and looked, too, at the smeared handkerchief.

"The dog can find him— no doubt of that. Come, boys, get some lanterns and we'll go right along to the Wilkins Corners road and search it." Then to Ruth he said: "You are a brave girl, sure enough."

But when the party was ready to start, half a dozen strong, with Parloe trailing on behind, and with lanterns and a stretcher, Reno would not budge. The man called him, but he looked up at Ruth and did not move from her side.

"I declare for't," exclaimed one man. "That girl will have to go with us, Doctor Davison. You see what the dog means to do."

Ruth spoke to the mastiff, commanded him to leave her and find "Tom." But although the dog looked at her intelligently enough, and barked his response— a deep, sudden, explosive bark— he refused to start without her.

"It's a long way for the girl," objected Doctor Davison. "Besides, she is waiting to meet her uncle."

"I am not tired," she told him, quickly. "Remember I've been sitting all the afternoon. And perhaps every minute is precious. We don't know how badly the dog's master may be hurt. I'll go. I'm sure I can keep up with you."

Reno seemed to understand her words perfectly, and uttered another short, sharp bark.

"Let us go, then," said Doctor Davison, hurriedly.

So the men picked up their lanterns and the stretcher again. They crossed the tracks and came to a street that soon became a country road. Cheslow did not spread itself very far in this direction. Doctor Davison explained to Ruth that the settlement had begun to grow in the parts beyond the railroad and that all this side of the tracks was considered the old part of the town.

The street lights were soon behind them and they depended entirely upon the lanterns the men carried. Ruth could see very little of the houses they passed; but at one spot— although it was on the other side of the road— there were two green lanterns, one on either side of an arched gate, and there seemed to be a rather large, but gloomy, house behind the hedge before which these lanterns burned.

"You will always know my house," Doctor Davison said, softly, and still retaining her hand, "by its green eyes."

So Ruth knew she had passed his home, to which he had so kindly invited her. And that made her think for a moment about Uncle Jabez and Aunt Alvirah. Would she find somebody waiting to take her to the Red Mill when she got back to the station?

CHAPTER IV

THE GATE OF THE GREEN EYES

It was a dark lane, beneath overhanging oaks, that met and intertwined their branches from either side— this was the Wilkins Corners road. And it was very steep and stony— up hill and down dale— with deep ruts in places and other spots where the Spring rains had washed out the gravel and sand and left exposed the very foundations of the world.

It seemed as though no bicyclist, or motor-cyclist would have chosen this road to travel after dark. Yet there was a narrow path at the side— just wide enough for Ruth and Doctor Davison to walk abreast, and Reno to trot by the girl's side which seemed pretty smooth.

"We don't want to go by the spot, Doctor," said one of the men walking ahead with the lights. "Don't the dog show no signs of looking for Tom?"

"Where's Tom, Reno? Where's Tom?" asked Ruth, earnestly, believing that the dog would recognize his master's name.

The mastiff raised his muzzle and barked sharply again, but trotted onward.

"He might have fallen down any of these gullies, and we'd miss him, it's so dark," observed the previous speaker.

"I don't believe the dog will miss the place," responded Doctor Davison.

Just then Reno leaped forward with a long-drawn whine. Ruth hurried with him, leaving the doctor to come on in the rear. Reno took the lead and the girl tried to keep pace with him.

It was not for many yards. Reno stopped at the brink of a steep bank beside the road. This bank fell away into the darkness, but through the trees, in the far distance, the girl could see several twinkling lights in a row. She knew that they were on the railroad, and that she was looking across the great swamp-meadow.

"Hullo!" shouted one man, loudly. "Something down there, old fellow?"

Reno answered with a short bark and began to scramble down the rough bank.

"Here's where somebody has gone down ahead of him," cried another of the searchers, holding his own lantern close to the ground. "See how the bank's all torn up? Bet his wheel hit that stone yonder in the dusk and threw him, wheel and all, into this gulley."

"Wait here, child," ordered Doctor Davison, quickly. "If he is in bad shape, boys, call me and I'll come down. Lift him carefully—"

"He's here, sir!" cried the first man to descend.

And then Reno lifted up his voice in a mournful howl.

"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" murmured Ruth. "I am afraid he is badly hurt."

"Come, come!" returned Doctor Davison. "Be a brave girl now. If he is badly hurt he'll need us both to keep our wits about us, you know."

"Ye needn't fret none, leetle gal," said Jasper Parloe's voice, behind her. "Ye couldn't kill that there Cameron boy, I tell ye! He is as sassy a young'un as there is in this county."

Doctor Davison turned as though to say something sharp to the mean old man; but just then the men below shouted up to him:

"He's hit his head and his arm's twisted under him, Doctor. He isn't conscious, but doesn't seem much hurt otherwise."

"Can you bring him up?" queried the physician.

"That's what we mean to do," was the reply.

Ruth waited beside the old doctor, not without some apprehension. How would this Tom Cameron look? What kind of a boy was he? According to Jasper Parloe he was a very bad boy, indeed. She had heard that he was the son of a rich man. While the men were bringing the senseless body up the steep bank her mind ran riot with the possibilities that lay in store for her because of this accident to the dry-goods merchant's son.

And now the bearers were at the top of the bank, and she could see the limp form borne by them— a man holding the body under the arms and another by his feet. But, altogether, it looked really as though they carried a limp sack between them.

"Fust time I ever see that boy still," murmured Jasper Parloe.

"Cracky! He's pale; ain't he?" said another man.

Doctor Davison dropped on one knee beside the body as they laid it down. The lanterns were drawn together that their combined light might illuminate the spot. Ruth saw that the figure was that of a youth not much older than herself— lean, long limbed, well dressed, and with a face that, had it not been so pale, she would have thought very nice looking indeed.

"Poor lad!" Ruth heard the physician murmur. "He has had a hard fall— and that's a nasty knock on his head."

The wound was upon the side of his head above the left ear and was now all clotted with blood. It was from this wound, in some moment of consciousness, that he had traced the word "Help" on his torn handkerchief, and fastened the latter, with the lamp of his motorcycle, to the dog's collar.

Here was the machine, bent and twisted enough, brought up the bank by two of the men.

"Dunno what you can do for the boy, Doctor," said one of them; "but it looks to me as though this contraption warn't scurcely wuth savin'."

"Oh, we'll bring the boy around all right," said Doctor Davison, who had felt Tom Cameron's pulse and now rose quickly. "Lift him carefully upon the stretcher. We will get him into bed before I do a thing to him. He's best as he is while we are moving him."

"It'll be a mighty long way to his house," grumbled one of the men.

"I believe yeou!" rejoined Jasper Parloe. "Three miles beyond Jabe Potter's mill."

"Pshaw!" exclaimed Doctor Davison, in his soft voice. "You know we'll not take him so far. My house is near enough. Surely you can carry him there."

"If you say the word, Doctor," said the fellow, more cheerfully, while old Parloe grunted.

They were more than half an hour in getting to the turn in the main road where she could observe the two green lights before the doctor's house. There the men put the stretcher down for a moment. Jasper Parloe grumblingly took his turn at carrying one end.

"I never did see the use of boys, noway," he growled. "They's only an aggravation and vexation of speret. And this here one is the aggravatingest and vexationingest of any I ever see."

"Don't be too hard on the boy, Jasper," said Doctor Davison, passing on ahead, so as to reach his house first.

Ruth remained behind, for the old gentleman walked too fast for her. Before the men picked up the stretcher again there was a movement and a murmur from the injured boy.

"Hullo!" said one of the men. "He's a-talkin', ain't he?"

"Jest mutterin'," said Parloe, who was at Tom's head. "'Tain't nothi

But Ruth heard the murmur of the unconscious boy, and the words startled her. They were:

"It was Jabe Potter— he did it! It was Jabe Potter— he did it!"

What did they mean? Or, was there no meaning at all to the muttering of the wounded boy? Ruth saw that Parloe was looking at her in his sly and disagreeable way, and she knew that he, too, had heard the words.

"It was Jabe Potter— he did it!" Was it an accusation referring to the boy's present plight? And how could her Uncle Jabez— the relative she had not as yet seen— be the cause of Tom Cameron's injury? The spot where the boy was hurt must have been five miles from the Red Mill, and not even on the Osago Lake turnpike, on which highway she had been given to understand the Red Mill stood.

Not many moments more and the little procession was at the gateway, on either side of which burned the two green lamps.

Jasper Parloe, who had been relieved, shuffled off into the darkness. Reno after one pleading look into the face of the hesitating Ruth, followed the stretcher on which his master lay, in at the gate.

And Ruth Fielding, beginning again to feel most embarrassed and forsaken, was left alone where the two green eyes winked in the warm, moist darkness of the Spring night.

CHAPTER V

THE GIRL IN THE AUTOMOBILE

The men who had gone in with the unconscious boy and the stretcher hung about the doctor's door, which was some yards from the gateway. Everybody seemed to have forgotten the girl, a stranger in Cheslow, and for the first day of her life away from kind and indulgent friends.

It was only ten minutes walk to the railroad station, and Ruth remembered that it was a straight road. She arrived in the waiting room safely enough. Sam Curtis, the station master, descried her immediately and came out of his office with her bag.

"Well, and what happened? Is that boy really hurt?" he asked.

"He has a broken arm and his head is cut. I do not know how seriously, for Doctor Davison had not finished examining him when I— I came away," she replied, bravely enough, and hiding the fact that she had been overlooked.

"They took him to the doctor's house, did they?" asked Sam.

"Yes, sir," said Ruth. "But—"

"Mr. Curtis, has there been anybody here for me?"

"For you, Miss?" the station master returned, somewhat surprised it seemed.

"Yes, sir. Anybody from Red Mill?"

Curtis smote one fist into his other palm, exclaiming:

"You don't mean to say that you was what Jabe Potter was after?"

"Mr. Jabez Potter, who keeps the Red Mill, is my uncle," Ruth observed, with dignity.

"My goodness gracious me, Miss! He was here long before your train was due. He's kind of short in his speech, Miss. And he asked me if there was anything here for him, and I told him no. And he stumped out again without another word. Why, I thought he was looking for an express package, or freight. Never had an idea he was expectin' a niece!"

Ruth still looked at him earnestly. The man did not suspect, by her appearance, how hard a time she was having to keep the tears from overrunning those calm, gray eyes.

"And you expected to go out to the Red Mill to-night, Miss?" he continued. "They're country folk out there and they'd all be abed before you could get there, even if you took a carriage."

"I don't know that I have enough to pay for carriage hire," Ruth said, softly. "Is— is there any place I can stop over night in the village? Then I can walk out in the morning."

"Why— there's a hotel. But a young girl like you— You'll excuse me, Miss. You're young to be traveling alone."

"Perhaps I haven't money enough to pay for a lodging there?" suggested Ruth. "I have a dollar. It was given me to spend as I liked on the way. But Miss True gave me such a big box of luncheon that I did not want anything."

"A dollar wouldn't go far at the Brick Hotel," murmured the station agent. He still stared at her, stroking his lean, shaven jaw. Finally he burst out with: "I tell you! We'll go home and see what my wife says."

At the moment the station began to jar with the thunder of a coming train and Ruth could not make herself heard in reply to his proposal. Besides, Sam Curtis hurried out on the platform. Nor was Ruth ready to assert her independence and refuse any kind of help the station master might offer. So she sat down patiently and waited for him.

There were one or two passengers only to disembark from this train and they went away from the station without even coming into the waiting room. Then Curtis came back, putting out the lights and locking his ticket office. The baggage room was already locked and Ruth's old trunk was in it.

"Come on now, girl— What's your name?" asked Curtis.

"Ruth Fielding."

"Just so! Well, it's only a step to our house and wife will have supper waiting. And there's nobody else there save Mercy."

Ruth was a little curious about "Mercy"— whether it referred to abounding grace, or was a person's name. But she asked no questions as they came out of the railroad station and Sam Curtis locked the door.

They did not cross the tracks this time, but went into the new part of the town. Turning a corner very soon as they walked up what Curtis said was Market Street, they reached, on a narrow side street, a little, warm-looking cottage, from almost all the lower windows of which the lamplight shone cheerfully. There was a garden beside it, with a big grape arbor arranged like a summer-house with rustic chairs and a table. The light shining on the side porch revealed the arbor to Ruth's quick eyes.

When they stepped upon this porch Ruth heard a very shrill and not at all pleasant voice saying— very rapidly, and over and over again: "I don't want to! I don't want to! I don't want to!" It might have been a parrot, or some other ill-natured talking bird; only Ruth saw nothing of the feathered conversationalist when Sam opened the door and ushered her in.

"Here we are, wife!" he exclaimed, cheerfully. "And how's Mercy?"

The reiterated declaration had stopped instantly. A comely, kind-faced woman with snow-white hair, came forward. Ruth saw that she was some years younger than Curtis, and he was not yet forty. It was not Father Time that had powdered Mrs. Curtis' head so thickly.

"Mercy is— Why, who's this?" she asked espying Ruth. "One of the girls come in to see her?"

Instantly the same whining, shrill voice began:

"I don't want her to see me! They come to stare at me! I hate 'em all! All girls do is to run and jump and play tag and ring-around-a-rosy and run errands, and dance! I hate 'em!"

This was said very, very fast— almost chattered; and it sounded so ill-natured, so impatient, so altogether mean and hateful, that Ruth fell back a step, almost afraid to enter the pleasant room. But then she saw the white-haired lady's face, and it was so grieved, yet looked such a warm welcome to her, that she took heart and stepped farther in, so that Sam Curtis could shut the door,

The father appeared to pay no attention to the fault-finding, shrill declamation of the unhappy voice. He said, in explanation, to his wife:

"This is Ruth Fielding. She has come a long. way by train to-day, expecting to meet her uncle, old Jabe Potter of the Red Mill. And you know how funny Jabe is, wife? He came before the train, and did not wait, but drove right away with his mules and so there was nobody here to meet Ruthie. She's marooned here till the morning, you see."

"Then she shall stay with us to-night," declared Mrs. Curtis, quickly.

"I don't want her to stay here to-night!" ejaculated the same shrill voice.

Mr. and Mrs. Curtis paid no attention to what was said by this mysterious third party. Ruth, coming farther into the room, found that it was large and pleasant. There was a comfortable look about it all. The supper table was set and the door was opened into the warm kitchen, from which delicious odors of tea and toast with some warm dish of meat, were wafted in. But the shrill and complaining voice had not come from the next room.

In the other corner beside the stove, yet not too near it, stood a small canopy bed with the pretty chintz curtains drawn all about it. Beside it stood a wheel-chair such as Ruth knew was used by invalids who could not walk. It was a tiny chair, too, and it and the small bed went together. But of the occupant of either she saw not a sign.

"Supper will be ready just as soon as our guest has a chance to remove the traces of travel, Sam," said Mrs. Curtis, briskly. "Come with me, Ruth."

When they returned from the pleasant little bed-chamber which the good-hearted lady told Ruth was to be her own for that night, they heard voices in the sitting room— the voice of Mr. Curtis and the querulous one. But it was not so sharp and strained as it seemed before. However, on opening the door, Mr. Curtis was revealed sitting alone and there was no sign of the owner of the sharp voice, which Ruth supposed must belong to the invalid.

"Mercy has had her supper; hasn't she, wife?" said the station master as he drew his chair to the table and motioned Ruth to the extra place Mrs. Curtis had set.

The woman nodded and went briskly about putting the supper on the table. While they ate Mr. Curtis told about Reno stopping the train, and of the search for and recovery of the injured Cameron boy. All the time Ruth, who sat sideways to the canopied bed, realized that the curtains at the foot were drawn apart just a crack and that two very bright, pin-point eyes were watching her. So interested did these eyes become as the story progressed, and Ruth answered questions, that more of Mercy Curtis' face was revealed— a sharp, worn little face, with a peaked chin and pale, thin cheeks.

Ruth was very tired when supper was ended and the kind Mrs. Curtis suggested that she go to bed and obtain a good night's rest if she was to walk to the Red Mill in the morning. But even when she bade her entertainers good-night she did not see the child in the canopy bed and she felt diffident about asking Mrs. Curtis about her. The young traveler slept soundly— almost from the moment her head touched the pillow. Yet her last thought was of Uncle Jabez. He had been in town some time before the train on which she arrived was due and had driven away from the station with his mules, Mr. Curtis said. Had he driven over that dark and dangerous road on which Tom Cameron met with his accident, and had he run down the injured boy, or forced him over the bank of the deep gully where they had found Tom lying unconscious?

"It was Jabe Potter— he did it," the injured lad had murmured, and these words were woven in the pattern of Ruth's dreams all night.

The little cottage was astir early and Ruth was no laggard. She came down to breakfast while the sun was just peeping above the house-tops and as she entered the sitting room she found an occupant at last in the little wheel-chair. It was the sharp, pale little face that confronted her above the warm wrapper and the rug that covered the lower part of the child's body; for child Mercy Curtis was, and little older than Ruth herself, although her face seemed so old.

To Ruth's surprise the first greeting of the invalid was a most ill-natured one. She made a very unpleasant face at the visitor, ran out her tongue, and then said, in her shrill, discordant voice:

"I don't like you at all— I tell you that, Miss!"

"I am sorry you do not like me," replied Ruth, gently. "I think I should like you if you'd let me."

"Yah!" ejaculated the very unpleasant, but much to be pitied invalid.

The mother and father ignored all this ill-nature on the part of the lame girl and were as kind and friendly with their visitor as they had been on the previous evening. Once during breakfast time (Mercy took hers from a tray that was fastened to her chair before her) the child burst out again, speaking to Ruth. There were eggs on the table and, pointing to the golden-brown fried egg that Mrs. Curtis had just placed upon Ruth's plate, Mercy snapped:

"Do you know what's the worst wish I'd wish on My Enemy?"

Ruth looked her astonishment and hesitated to reply. But Mercy did not expect a reply, for she continued quickly:

"I'd wish My Enemy to have to eat every morning for breakfast two soft fried eggs with his best clothes on— that's what I'd wish!"

And this is every word she would say to the visitor while Ruth remained. But Mr. Curtis bade Ruth good-bye very kindly when he hurried away to the station, and Mrs. Curtis urged her to come and see them whenever she came to town after getting settled at the Red Mill.

It was a fresh and lovely morning, although to the weather-wise the haze in the West foredoomed the end of the day to disaster. Ruth felt more cheerful as she crossed the railroad tracks and struck into the same street she had followed with the searching party the evening before. She could not mistake Doctor Davison's house when she passed it, and there was a fine big automobile standing before the gate where the two green lanterns were. But there was nobody in the car, nor did she see anybody about the doctor's house.

Beyond the doctor's abode the houses were far apart— farther and farther apart as she trudged on. Nobody noticed or spoke to the girl as she went on with her small bag— the bag that grew heavy, despite its smallness, as she progressed. And so she traveled two miles, or more, along the pleasant road. Then she heard the purring of an automobile behind her— the first vehicle that she had seen since leaving town.

It was the big gray car that had been standing before Doctor Davison's house when she had passed, and Ruth would have known the girl who sat at the steering wheel and was driving the car alone, even had Reno, the big mastiff, not sat in great dignity on the seat beside her. For no girl could look so much like Tom Cameron without being Tom Cameron's sister.

And the girl, the moment she saw Ruth on the road, retarded the speed of the machine. Reno, too, lost all semblance of dignity and would not wait for the car to completely stop before bounding into the road and coming to caress her hand.

"I know who you are!" cried the girl in the automobile. "You are Ruth Fielding."

She was a brilliant, black-eyed, vivacious girl, perhaps a year or more older than Ruth, and really handsome, having her brother's olive complexion with plenty of color in cheeks and lips. And that her nature was impulsive and frank there could be no doubt, for she immediately leaped out of the automobile, when it had stopped, and ran to embrace Ruth.

"Thank you! thank you!" she cried. "Doctor Davison has told us all about you— and how brave you are! And see how fond Reno is of you! He knows who found his master; don't you, Reno?"

"Oh, dear me," said Ruth, breathlessly, "Doctor Davison has been too kind. I did nothing at all toward finding your brother— I suppose he is your brother, Miss?"

"How dare you 'Miss' me?" demanded the other girl, hugging her again. "You're a dear; I knew you must be! And I was running back and intended to stop at the Red Mill to see you. I took father to town this morning, as he had to take an early train to the city, and we wished to see Tom again,"

"He— he isn't badly hurt, then— your brother, I mean?" said Ruth, timidly.

"He is going to stay at the doctor's to-day, and then he can come home. But he will carry his arm in a sling for a while, although no bone was broken, after all. His head is badly cut, but his hair will hide that. Poor Tom! he is always falling down, or getting bumped, or something. And he's just as reckless as he can be. Father says he is not to be trusted with the car as much as I am."

"How— how did he come to fall over that bank?" asked Ruth, anxiously.

"Why— it was dark, I suppose. That was the way of it. I don't know as he really told me what made him do such a foolish thing. And wasn't it lucky Reno was along with him?" cried Tom's sister.

"Now, I see you remained in town over night. They thought somebody had come for yon and taken you out to the mill. Is Jabez Potter really your uncle?"

"Yes. He was my mother's uncle. And I have no other relative."

"Well, dear, I am more than sorry for you," declared the girl from the automobile. "And now we will climb right in and I'll take you along to the mill."

But whether she was sorry for Ruth Fielding's friendlessness, or sorry because she was related to Jabez Potter, the young traveler could not decide.

CHAPTER VI

THE RED MILL

"Now, my name's Helen, and you are Ruth," declared Miss Cameron, when she had carefully started the car once more. "We are going to be the very best of friends, and we might as well begin by telling each other all about ourselves. Tom and I are twins and he is an awful tease! But, then, boys are. He is a good brother generally. We live in the first yellow house on the right— up among the trees— beyond Mr. Potter's mill— near enough so that we can run back and forth and see each other just lots."

Ruth found herself warmly drawn toward this vivacious miss. Nor was she less frank in giving information about herself, her old home, in Darrowtown, that she still wore black for her father, and that she had been sent by her friends to Uncle Jabez because he was supposed to be better able to take care of and educate her. Helen listened very earnestly to the tale, but she shook her head at the end of it.

"I don't know," she said. "I don't want to hurt your feelings, Ruthie. But Jabez Potter isn't liked very well by people in general, although I guess he is a good miller. He is stingy—"

I must say it. He isn't given to kind actions, and I am surprised that he should have agreed to take and educate you. Of course, he didn't have to."

"I don't suppose he did have to," Ruth said, slowly. "And it wasn't as though I couldn't have remained in Darrowtown. But Miss True Pettis—"

"Miss True?" repeated Helen, curiously.

"Short for Truthful. Her name is Rechelsea Truthful Tomlinson Pettis and she is the dearest little old spinster lady— much nicer than her name."

"Well!" ejaculated the amazed Helen.

"Miss True isn't rich. Indeed, she is very poor. So are Patsy Hope's folks— Patsy is really Patricia, but that's too long for her. And all the other folks that knew me about Darrowtown had a hard time to get along, and most of them had plenty of children without taking another that wasn't any kin to them," concluded Ruth, who was worldly wise in some things, and had seen the harder side of life since she had opened her eyes upon this world.

"But your uncle is said to be a regular miser," declared Helen, earnestly. "And he is so gruff and grim! Didn't your friends know him?"

"I guess they never saw him, or heard much about him," said Ruth, slowly. "I'm sure I never did myself."

"But don't you be afraid," said the other, warmly. "If he isn't good to you there are friends enough here to look out for you. I know Doctor Davison thinks you are very brave, and Daddy will do anything for you that Tom and I ask him to."

"I am quite sure I shall get on nicely with Uncle Jabez," she said. "And then, there is Aunt Alvirah."

"Oh, yes. There is an old lady who keeps house for Mr. Potter. And she seems kind enough, too. But she acts afraid of Mr. Potter. I don't blame her, he is so grim."

The automobile, wheeling so smoothly over the hard pike, just then was mounting a little hill. They came over the summit of this and there, lying before them, was the beautiful slope of farming country down to the very bank of the Lumano River. Fenced fields, tilled and untilled, checkered the slope, with here and there a white farmhouse with its group of outbuildings. There was no hamlet in sight, merely scattered farms. The river, swollen and yellow with the Spring rains, swept upon its bosom fence rails, hen-coops, and other flotsam of a Spring flood. Yonder, at a crossing, part of the bridge had been carried away.

"If the dam at Minturn goes, we shall be flooded all through this low land again," Helen Cameron explained. "I remember seeing this valley covered with water once during the Spring. But we live on the shoulder of Mount Burgoyne, and you see, even the mill sets on quite high ground."

Ruth's eyes had already seen and lingered upon the mill. It was a rambling structure, the great, splashing millwheel at the far end, the long warehouse in the middle, and the dwelling attached to the other end. There were barns, corn-cribs and other outbuildings as well, and some little tillable land connected with the mill; and all the buildings were vividly painted with red mineral paint, trimmed with white. So bright and sparkling was the paint that it seemed to have been put on over night.

"Mr. Potter is considered a good miller," said Helen, again; "and he does not neglect his property. He is not miserly in that way. There isn't a picket off the fence, or a hinge loose anywhere. He isn't at all what you consider a miser must be and look like; yet he is always hoarding money and never spends any. But indeed I do not tell you this to trouble you, Ruthie. I want you to believe, my dear, that if you can't stand it at Mr. Potter's you can stand it at Mr. Cameron's— and you'll be welcome there.

"Our mother is dead. We talk of her a good deal, just as though she were living and had gone on a little journey somewhere, and we should see her again soon. God took her when Tom and I were only a few weeks old; but Daddy has made himself our playfellow and dear, dear friend; and there has always been Nurse Babette and Mrs. Murchiston— at least, Mrs. Murchiston has been with us since we can remember. But what Daddy says is law, and he said this morning that he'd like to have a girl like you come to our house to be company for me. It gets lonely for me sometimes, you see, for Tom doesn't want to play with girls much, now he is so big. Perhaps next fall I'll go away to boarding school— won't that be fun?"

"It will be fun for you, I hope, Helen," said Ruth, with rather a wistful smile. "I don't know where I shall go to school."

"There is your uncle now!" exclaimed Miss Cameron. "See that man in the old dusty suit?"

Ruth had already seen the tall, stoop-shouldered figure, who looked as though he had been powdered with flour, coming down the short path from one of the open doors of the mill to the road, where a little, one horse wagon stood. He bore a bag of meal or flour on his shoulder which he pitched into the wagon. The man on the seat was speaking as the automobile came to a stop immediately behind the wagon.

"Jefers pelters! Ef there's one thing yeou know how to do, it's to take toll, Jabe. Let the flour be poor, or good, there's little enough of it comes back to the man that raises the wheat."

"You don't have to bring your wheat here, Jasper Parloe," said the miller, in a strong, harsh voice. "There is no law compels ye."

"Yah!" snarled old Parloe. "We all know ye, Jabe Potter. We know what ye be." Potter turned away. He had not noticed the two girls in the automobile. But now Jasper Parloe saw them. "Ho!" he cried, "here's somebody else that will l'arn ter know ye, too. Didn't know you was ter hev comp'ny; did ye, Jabe? Here's yer niece, Jabe, come ter live on ye an' be an expense to ye," and so, chuckling and screwing up his mean, sly face, Parloe drove on, leaving the miller standing with arms akimbo, and staring at Ruth, who was slowly alighting from the automobile with her bag.

Helen squeezed her hand tightly as she got out "Don't forget that we are your friends, Ruthie," she whispered. "I'm coming by again this afternoon when I drive over to the station for father. If— if anything happens you be out here— now remember!"

What could possibly happen to her, Ruth could not imagine. She was not really afraid of Uncle Jabez. She walked directly to him, as he stood there, staring gloomily, in front of the Red Mill. He was not only tall and stoop-shouldered, and very dusty; but his dusty eyebrows almost met over his light blue eyes. He was lantern-jawed, and it did seem as though his dry, shaven lips had never in all his life wrinkled into a smile. His throat was wrinkled and scraggy and his head was plainly very bald on top, for the miller's cap he wore did not entirely cover the bald spot.

"I am Ruth Fielding, from Darrowtown," she said, in a voice that she controlled well. "I have come to— to live with you, Uncle Jabez."

"Where was you last night?" demanded the miller, without so much as returning her greeting. "Was you with them Camerons?"

"I stayed all night with the station master," she said, in explanation.

"What time did you get to the station?"

Ruth told him. Never once did his voice change or his grim look relax.

"I mistook the time of the train," he said, without expressing any sorrow.

"I— I hope you will be glad to have me come," the said. "Miss True—"

"You mean that old maid that wrote to me?" he asked, harshly.

"Miss True Pettis. She said she thought you would like to have me here as we were so near related."

"Not so near related as some," was all he said in reply to this. After a moment, he added: "You can go along to the house yonder. Aunt Alviry will show you what to do."

Ruth could not have said another word just then without breaking down and weeping, so she only nodded and turned to walk up a path toward the house door.

"One thing," urged the old man, before she had gone far. She turned to look at him and he continued: "One thing I want you to understand, if you live here you have got to work. I don't like no laggards around me."

She could only nod again, for her heart seemed to be right in her throat, and the sting of the tears she wanted to shed, but could not, almost blinded her as she went on slowly to the house door.

CHAPTER VII

AUNT ALVIRAH'S BACK AND BONES

Ruth came to the kitchen door and found that the lower half was closed; but she could see over the upper panel that had been flung wide to let in the sweet Spring air and sunlight. A little old woman was stooping to brush the rag carpet with a whisk broom and dustpan, and as she hobbled around the big stove and around the table, which was already set neatly for dinner, she was crooning to herself:

"Oh, my back and oh, my bones ! Oh, my back and oh, my bones!"

She was a very neat-looking old lady, with a kerchief crossed on her breast in the style of the old-fashioned Quakeresses. She was not much taller than Ruth herself, for when she stood upright— or as upright as she could stand— her eyes were just about on a level with Ruth's eyes looking in over the half door.

But the face of the old lady seemed, to the lonely, tear-filled girl, almost the gentlest, sweetest face she had ever seen, as it slowly smiled upon her. Aunt Alviry's welcome was like the daybreak.

"Bless us and save us!" ejaculated she, rising upright by degrees with her hand upon the back she had been apostrophizing. "If here isn't a pretty little creeter come to see her Aunt Alviry. How-de-do, girl?"

Ruth had set down her bag. Now she opened the door and stepped in. The smile of the old lady broke down every bit of fortitude the girl had left and she walked directly into Aunt Alviry's arms and burst into tears.

"There! there! Deary, deary me!" murmured the little old lady, patting her shoulder. "Somebody has been treating you badly, I know. And you've come right to your Aunt Alviry for comfort. And you've come to the right place, my pretty girl, for I've got tons of comfort for ye."

She found a chair and lowered herself into it, not without the formula which Ruth had heard before, of "Oh, my back and oh, my bones!" Ruth dropped on her knees before her, hid her face in the old lady's lap, and had her cry out. Meanwhile Aunt Alvirah seemed to have taken in several things about her guest that were significant. She touched the stuff of which Ruth's gown was made, and nodded; even the black hair-ribbon did not go unnoticed.

"Now," said Ruth, rising after a few moments, "I guess that's all of that foolishness. I— I don't usually cry, Aunt Alvirah."

"Pshaw, now! I could tell that," said the old lady, comfortably.

"I am going right to work to help you," said the girl. "I can stoop better than you can."

"I expect you can, you pretty creeter," admitted the old lady.

Ruth had already taken the brush and pan and was at work upon the floor. The lady said: "You ain't familiar to me, child. You've lost some folks lately, I see. Do you live 'round here?"

The little girl stopped and looked up at her in surprise. "Why, don't you know about it?" she cried.

"Know about what, child?"

"Didn't you know I had come here to live with you?"

"Bless us and save us!" ejaculated Aunt Alvirah. "How did that happen?"

"Didn't my uncle tell you?" cried Ruth, much more surprised than the old lady.

"Who's your uncle, child?"

"Why, Mr. Potter— Uncle Jabez."

So astonished did the old lady appear to be that she started from her chair and her ejaculation was changed to a moan of pain as she murmured her old formula: "Oh, my back and oh, my bones!"

"Jabez ain't said a word to me about it. Why should he take anybody to help me? Is he struck with the fear o' his latter end?"

She said this in no cross-grained way, but because she was so amazed. She likewise stared harder and harder at her visitor.

"You ain't come from the poor farm, child?" she asked, finally.

The flush upon Ruth's cheek and the expression which came into her face told Aunt Alviry that she was wrong there.

"Not that you look like poorhouse breed— not at all. You're too pretty dressed and you're too well fed. I know what they be there, for I have been there myself. Yes, ma'am! Jabez Potter came after me to the poor farm. I was sickly, too. There's them that said he went to Doctor Davison first to find out if I was goin' to git well before he come arter me; but Jabez ain't never treated me noways but kind. Starn he is— by natur and by practice; an' clost he is in money matters. But he's been good to an old woman without a home who warn't neither kith nor kin to him."

Ruth listened to the first good word she had heard of Uncle Jabez, and the speech comforted her somewhat. Perhaps there was something better within the rough husk of Uncle Jabez, after all.

"I did not live near here," Ruth said, quietly. "But my papa and mama did. I came from Darrowtown."

Aunt Alviry opened wide her bright brown eyes, and still stared in wonder.

"My mother's name was Mary Potter, and she was Mr. Potter's niece. So he is my great-uncle."

"Bless us and save us!" ejaculated Aunt Alviry, again, shaking her head. "I never heard a word of it— never! I 'member Mary Potter, and a sweet, pretty child she was. But Jabez never had no fondness for any of his kin. You— you are all alone in the world, child?"

"All alone save for Uncle Jabez."

She had come near to the old woman again. As she dropped quietly on her knees Aunt Alviry gathered her head close to her bosom; but Ruth did not weep any more. She only said:

"I know I shall love you very, very much, dear Aunt Alvirah. And I hope I shall help your back and your bones a great deal, too!"

CHAPTER VIII

HOARDING UP: PASSIONS— MONEY— WATER

This was Ruth Fielding's introduction to the Red Mill, its occupants, and its surroundings. The spot was, indeed, beautiful, and an hour after she had arrived she knew that she would love it. The Lumano River was a wide stream and from the little window of the chamber that Aunt Alviry said would be her own, she could look both up and down the river for several miles.

Uncle Jabez had a young man to help him in the mill. It was true, Aunt Alviry said, that Jasper Parloe had worked for some time at the Red Mill; but he was quarrelsome and Mr. Potter had declared he was not honest. When the mill owner was obliged to be absent and people had come to have corn or wheat ground, paying for the milling instead of giving toll, Jasper had sometimes kept the money instead of turning it over to Mr. Potter. This had finally resulted in a quarrel between the two, and Mr. Potter had discharged Parloe without paying him for his last month's work.

The young newcomer had learned a great deal about the big mill and the homestead, and about the work Aunt Alviry had to do, before the first meal was prepared. She was of much assistance, too, and when Uncle Jabez came in, after washing at the pump, but bringing a cloud of flour with him on his clothes, the old woman was seated comfortably in her chair and Ruth "dished up the dinner."

At the end of his meal her uncle spoke just once to Ruth. "You have l'arned to work, I see. Your Aunt Alviry has trouble with her back and bones. If you make yourself of use to her you can stay here. I expect all cats to catch mice around the Red Mill. Them that don't goes into the sluice. There's enough to do here. You won't be idle for want of work."

And this was every word of his welcome, in a tone that showed neither interest nor care for the girl. It was what help she could be and how much he could save by her. It was plain enough that Uncle Jabez Potter was as saving as a person could possibly be. There was none too much food on the table, and Ruth watched the ravenous hunger of the hired man, when he came in, with a feeling as though she were watching a half-starved dog at his meal.

Jabez Potter was not like the misers Ruth had read about, save in his personal appearance. He was not well dressed, nor was he very clean. But naturally the mill-dust would stick to him and to his clothing. It seemed to have worked into the very texture of his skin during all the years he had controlled the mill, until he was all of a dead gray.

Sometimes there were half a dozen wagons or buggies waiting at the mill, and not all of them gave toll for their milling. Ruth, in the afternoon, and because it had begun to rain and she could not go out, went into the mill to quench her curiosity regarding it. She saw that there was a tiny office over the water, with a fireproof safe in it. Her uncle brought the money he took from his customers and put it in a little locked, japanned box, which he kept upon a shelf. The safe appeared to be full of ledgers.

Farther down the mill was a wide door and platform overhanging the water (this was below the dam) where flour and meal could be loaded upon barges for transportation to Osago Lake, some miles away. There were great bins of wheat and corn, many elevator pipes, several mills turning all the time, grinding different grains, and a great corn-sheller that went by power, and which the young man fed when he had nothing else to do.

All the time the building trembled and throbbed, and this throbbing was communicated to the house. As she sat with Aunt Alvirah, and sewed carpet-rags for a braided mat, the distant thunder of the mills and the trembling of the machinery made the whole house vibrate.

Late in the afternoon Ruth heard the honking of an auto horn and ran out upon the covered porch. Between the scuds of rain that drove along the valley she saw the gray automobile coming slowly past the mill. There was a man driving it now, and he stopped and let Helen Cameron out so that she could run up to great Ruth under the shelter of the porch.

"Oh, you dear! How are you getting on?" cried Helen, kissing her impulsively and as glad to see Ruth as though they had been separated for days instead of for only a few hours. "Colfax wanted to drive down to the station alone for Daddy— for we won't bring poor Tom home in this rain— but I just couldn't resist coming to see how you were getting on." She looked around with big eyes. "How does the Ogre treat you?" she whispered.

But Ruth could laugh now and did so, saying, cheerfully: "He hasn't eaten me up yet! And Aunt Alvirah is the dearest little lady who ever lived."

"She likes you, then?"

"Of course she does."

"I knew she would, she was bound to love you. But I don't know about the Ogre," and she shook her head. "But there! I must run. We don't want to be late for the train. That will put Daddy out. And I must stop and see Tom at the doctor's, too."

"I hope you will find your brother ever so mach better," cried Ruth, as her friend ran down the walk again.

"You'll see him come by here to-morrow, if it quits raining," returned Helen, over her shoulder.

But it did not stop raining that night, nor for a full week. The scuds of rain, blowing across the river, slapped sharply against the side of the house, and against Ruth's window all night. She did not sleep that first night as well as she had in the charitable home of the station master and his good wife. The evening meal had been as stiff and unpleasant as the noon meal. The evening was spent in the same room— the kitchen. Aunt Alviry knitted and sewed; Uncle Jabez pored over certain accounts and counted money very softly behind the uplifted cover of the japanned cash-box that he had brought in from the mill.

She got in time to know that cash-box very well indeed. It often came into the house under Uncle Jabez's arm at dinner, too. He scarcely seemed willing to trust it out of his sight. And Ruth was sure that he locked himself into his room with it at night.

A loaded shotgun lay upon rests over the kitchen door all the time, and there was a big, two-barreled, muzzle-loading pistol on the stand beside Uncle Jabez's bed. Ruth was much more afraid of these loaded weapons than she was of burglars. But the old man evidently expected to be attacked for his wealth at some time although, Aunt Alvirah told her, nobody had ever troubled him in all the years she had lived at the Red Mill.

So it was not fear of marauders that kept Ruth so wakeful on this first night under her uncle's roof. She thought of all the kind friends she had left in Darrowtown, and her long journey here, and her cold welcome to what she supposed would be her future home. Without Helen, and without Aunt Alvirah, she knew she would have gotten up, put on her clothing, packed her bag, and run away in the rain to some other place. She could not have stood Uncle Jabez alone.

Jabez Potter was hoarding up something besides money, too. Ruth did not understand this until it had already rained several days, and the roaring of the waters fretting against the river banks and against the dam, had become all but deafening in her ears.

Then, during a lull in the storm, and on the afternoon that Tom Cameron was taken home from Dr. Davison's, the old doctor himself stopped at the mill and shouted for Jabez to come out. The doctor drove a very fast red and white mare and had difficulty in holding her in, for she was eager to be moving.

Uncle Jabez came out and seemed to look upon the doctor in no very friendly way. Ruth, standing at the open door of the kitchen, could hear Dr. Davison's voice plainly.

"Jabez," he said, "do you know how the river is at Minturn?"

"No," returned the miller, briefly.

"It's higher than it's ever been. That dam is not safe. Why don't you let your water out so that, if Minturn should break, she'd have free sweep here and so do less damage below? Let this small flood out and when the greater one comes there'll be less danger of a disaster."

"And how do I know the Minturn dam will burst, Dr. Davison?" asked Mr. Potter, tartly.

"You don't know it. I'm only advising that precaution."

"And if it don't burst I'll have my pains for my trouble— and no water for the summer, perhaps. They wouldn't let me have water later, if I needed it."

"But you're risking your own property here."

"And it's mine to risk, Dr. Davison," said Potter, in his sullen way.

"But there are other people to think of—"

I don't agree with you," interrupted the miller. "I have enough to do to attend to my own concerns. I don't bother about other people's business."

"Meaning that I do when I speak to you about the water; eh?" said the old doctor, cheerfully. "Well, I've done my duty. You'll learn some time, Jabez."

He let out the impatient mare then, and the mud spattered from his wheels as he flew up the road toward Cheslow.

CHAPTER IX

THE CREST OF THE WAVE

The rain could not last forever; Nature must cease weeping some time. Just as girls, far away from their old homes and their old friends, must cease wetting their pillows with regretful tears after a time, and look forward to the new interests and new friends to which they have come.

Not that Ruth wept much. But the rainy days of that first week were necessarily trying. On Saturday, however, came a clear day. The sun shone, the drenched trees shook themselves, and the wind came and blew softly and warmly through their branches to dry the tender foliage. The birds popped out of their hiding-places and began to sing and chirp as though they never could be glad enough for this change in the weather.

There was so much to see from the kitchen door at the Red Mill that Ruth did not mind her work that morning. She had learned now to help Aunt Alvirah in many ways. Not often did the old lady have to go about moaning her old refrain:

"Oh, my back and oh, my bones! Oh, my back and oh, my bones!"

The housework was all done and the kitchen swept and as neat as a new pin when the gay tooting of the Cameron automobile horn called Ruth to the porch. There was only Helen on the front seat of the car; but in the tonneau was a bundled-up figure surmounted by what looked to be a scarlet cap which Ruth knew instantly must be Tom's. Ruth did not know many boys and, never having had a brother, was not a little bashful. Besides, she was afraid Tom Cameron would make much of her connection with his being found on the Wilkins Corners road that dark night, after his accident.

And there was another thing that made Ruth feel diffident about approaching the boy. She had borne it all the time in her mind, and the instant she saw Tom in the automobile it bobbed up to the surface of her thought again.

"It was Jabe Potter— he did it."

So, for more reasons than one, Ruth approached the motor car with hesitation.

"Oh, Ruth!" cried Helen, putting out a gauntleted hand to her. "So this horrid rain has not washed you away? You won't like the Red Mill if the weather keeps this way. And how do you get on?" she added, lowering her voice. "How about the Ogre?"

"He has not ground me into bread-flour yet," responded Ruth, smiling.

"I see he hasn't. You're just as plump as ever, so he hasn't starved you, either. Now, Ruth, I want you to know my brother Tom, whom you have met before without his having been aware of it at the time," and she laughed again.

Tom's left arm was in a sling, and the scarlet bandage around his head made him look like a pirate; but he grinned broadly at Ruth and put out his lean brown hand.

"When I heard about you, Miss Fielding, I knew you were a spunky one," he said. "And anybody that Reno takes to, the way she did to you, is all right. Besides, Nell is just spoons on you already, and Nell, like Reno, doesn't take to every girl."

"The doctor said an outing in the car wouldn't hurt Tom," went on Helen, "and we're going to run up the valley road a way. Now Ruth Fielding, you get your hat and coat and come with us."

"I don't know that I may," Ruth said, timidly.

"I'll believe that he is an ogre then, and that you are kept a prisoner in this awful castle," cried Helen.

"I'd love to go," murmured Ruth.

"Then run and ask," urged her friend, while Tom added, good-naturedly:

"Yes, why not come along? Don't be afraid of Nell's driving. She handles the car all right."

Ruth knew that Uncle Jabez had gone to town. She had a feeling that he did not like the Camerons and might oppose her friendliness with them. But he was not at hand now to interfere with her innocent pleasures. She went in and asked Aunt Alvirah if she could take the ride.

"Why not, child? You've been the very best helpmate ever an old woman had— Oh, my back and oh, my bones! Run along and have your fun, deary. You need not be back till supper time. You have earned your little outing, that's sure and sartain."

Before Helen had picked her up on the road to the Red Mill that first day, Ruth had never ridden in a motor car. On that occasion they had traveled very slowly, while the girls talked. But now, when she was seated beside her new friend, Helen ran the auto on its high gear, and they shot away up the level river road at a pace that almost took Ruth's breath away,

"Up here among the foothills is the big Minturn Pond Dam," Tom said, leaning forward to speak to their guest. "It's twenty miles above your uncle's dam and is a deal bigger. And some say it is not safe— Wait, Nell! Slow down so that we can see the face of the dam from the Overlook."

The speed of the car was immediately reduced under Helen's manipulation, and then she swerved it into a short side road running toward the river, and they came out upon a little graveled plaza in the center of a tiny park, which gave a splendid view of the valley in both directions.

But the young people in the motor car turned their eyes to the west. There the face of the Minturn dam could be discerned; and even as they looked at it they seemed to see it changing— dissolving, covered with mist, and spouting geysers of what at first seemed like smoke. But it was Tom who realized the truth.

"She's burst!" he cried. "The old dam's burst! There she goes in a dozen places!"

Although they were several miles down the valley, the thunder of the bursting masonry now echoed in their ears. And up from the bottom of the wall, near its center, a great geyser spouted. In a moment the wall crumbled and they saw tons upon tons of the masonry melt away. The waters of the pond burst through in a solid flood and charged down the valley, spreading wider and wider as it charged on, and bearing upon its crest every light and unstable structure found in its path.

It was a startling— a terrifying sight. No wonder the two girls cried out in alarm and clung together. The sight of the charging flood fascinated them.

But then they were aroused— and that within the first half minute of their terror— by Tom. He was trying, crippled as he was, to climb over into their seat.

"What are you doing, you foolish boy?" cried Helen. "Sit down."

"We've got to get out of here!" muttered the excited youth.

"Why, we are safe here. The water will never rise to this height."

"I know it! I know it!" groaned Tom, falling back in his seat and paling because of the pain from his arm, which he had twisted. "But don't you see? There are many down the valley who won't know of this until too late. Why, they can't see it at the bridge— at Culm Falls— until the flood is right upon them."

"It's true!" gasped Helen. "What shall we do?"

"We must warn them— we can warn them, can't we?" demanded Ruth. "This car runs so fast— you control it so well, Helen. Can't we warn them?"

"Try it, Sis!" shouted Tom. "You can do it!"

And already his sister, setting her teeth hard upon her lower lip, was backing and turning the motor car. In twenty seconds they were dashing off upon the track over which they had so recently come— on the road down the valley with the flood following fast behind them.

CHAPTER X

THE RACE

The two girls on the front seat of the flying automobile were not prepared for racing. Of course, Ruth Fielding had no proper automobile outfit, and Helen had not expected such an emergency when she had started with her crippled brother for this afternoon run. She had no goggles, nor any mask; but she had the presence of mind to raise the wind-shield.

Already they could have heard the steady roaring of the advancing flood had not the racing motor car drowned all other sounds. There was, however, no need to look behind; they knew the wave was there and that it was sweeping down the valley of the Lumano with frightful velocity.

Indeed, they were not at all sure for those first few miles whether they were traveling as fast as the flood, or not. Suppose the wave should reach and sweep away the bridge before they could cross the river? The thought was in the mind of both Helen and Ruth, whether Tom, on the rear seat, considered it or not. When they finally shot out of the woods and turned toward the toll-bridge, all glanced around. From here the upper reaches of the Lumano were plainly revealed. And extending clear across the valley was the foam-crested wave charging down upon the lowlands, but a number of miles away.

Here was the first house, too. They saw a man and woman and several children out front, staring at the automobile as it raced down the road. Perhaps they had been called from the house by the vibration of the bursting dam.

Tom sprang up in the car and pointed behind him, yelling:

"The flood! The flood!"

It is doubtful if they heard what he said; and they, too, were on a knoll and likely out of the reach of the water. But the three in the automobile saw the whole family turn and run for the higher ground behind their house. They understood the peril which menaced the whole valley.

In a flash the auto had turned the bend in the river road, and the occupants saw the toll-bridge and the peaceful hamlet of Culm Falls. There was no stir there. The toll-bridge keeper was not even out of his cottage, and the light and flimsy gates were down across the driveway at either end of the bridge. The bend in the river hid the advancing wall of water. Perhaps, too, it deadened the sound of the bursting dam and the roar of the waters.

There was another house at the bend. Helen tooted the automobile horn as though it had gone crazy. The raucous notes must of a certainty have awakened anybody but the Seven Sleepers. But the three in the car saw no sign of life about the premises. Helen had started to slow down; but Tom stopped her with a hand on her arm.

"Not here! Not here!" he yelled. "Get across the river first, Nell! That wave is coming!"

Indeed it was. And the toll-bridge keeper did not appear, and the gates were shut. But Helen Cameron was excited now and her racing blood was up. She never hesitated at the frail barrier, but drove straight through it, smashing the gate to kindling wood, and smashing their own wind shield as well.

Out ran the toll-man then; but they were half way across the bridge; he could barely have raised the other gate had he set about it instantly. So they went through that, too, leaving him bawling and shrieking after them, but soon to learn by looking up the river what Tom meant by his excited words as the motor car swept by.

Helen slowed down at the smithy. There were several men there and a number of wagons. The trio in the car screamed at them: "The dam has burst! The flood is coming!" and then started up again and swept through the little village, looking back to see the group at the smithy running in all directions to give the alarm

Now the road, clear to the Red Mill and beyond, ran within sight of the river. The mill was all of ten miles away. The valley was low here and as far as they could see ahead it broadened considerably on this side of the Lumano. But the hills arose abruptly on the farther bank and all the force and mass of the flood must sweep across these meadows.

As the car moved on, Helen tooted the horn constantly. Its blasts alone should have warned people of what threatened, without Tom's frantic shouts and gesticulations. They were obliged, however, to slow down before several houses to make the occupants understand their danger.

They were not half way to the Red Mill when the roar of the advancing tidal wave was apparent even above the noise of the auto. Then they saw the crest of the flood appear around the bend and the already heavily burdened waters dashed themselves upon the toll-bridge. It crumpled up and disappeared like a spider-web bridge, and the flood rolled on, the wave widening and overflowing the lowlands behind the automobile.

Ahead of them now upon the road there was a single foot-passenger— a man carrying a heavy basket. He seemed so far from the higher ground, and so determined to keep to the road, that Ruth cried out and laid her hand upon Helen's arm. The latter nodded and shut off the engine so that the automobile ran down and almost stopped by this pedestrian.

"Here, you!" shouted Tom, from the tonneau. "Get in here quick! There's no time to lose!"

Much of what he said was lost in the roaring of the waters; but the fellow understood him well enough, and scrambled into the car with his basket. It was Jasper Parloe, and the old man was shaking as with palsy.

"My goodness gracious!" he croaked, falling back in the seat as the car darted away again. "Ain't this awful? Ain't this jest awful?"

He was too scared, one would have supposed, to think of much else than the peril of the flood sweeping the valley behind them; yet he stared up at Tom Cameron again and again as the auto hurried them on toward the safety of the higher ground about the Red Mill, and there was something very sly in his look.

"Ye warn't hurt so bad then, arter all, was ye, Master Cameron?" he croaked.

"I reckon I shall live to get over it," returned the boy, shortly.

"But no thanks to Jabe Potter— heh? Ha! I know, I know!"

Tom stared in return angrily, but the old man kept shaking his head and smiling up at him slily and in such a significant way that, had the boy not been so disturbed by what was going on behind them, he certainly would have demanded to know what the old fellow meant.

But the car was getting close to the long hill that mounted to the crest on which the Red Mill stood. How much better would it have been for Jabez Potter and all concerned had he taken Doctor Davison's advice and let out the water behind his dam! But now he was not even at home to do anything before the thousands upon thousands of tons of water from the Minturn reservoir swept through the Red Mill dam.

They saw the foaming, yellow water spread over the country behind them; but within half a mile of the mill it gathered into narrower compass again because of the nature of the land, and the wave grew higher as it rushed down upon Potter's dam. The motor car puffed up the hill and halted before the mill door.

"Will we be safe here, Tom?" cried Helen, as pale as a ghost now, but too brave to give way. "Are we safe?"

"We're all right, I believe," said Tom.

Jasper Parloe was already out of the car and ran into the mill. Only the hired man was there, and he came to the door with a face whiter than it was naturally made by the flour dust.

"Come in, quick!" he cried to the young people. "This mill can't go— it's too solid."

Beyond the Red Mill the ground was low again; had the Camerons tried to keep on the road for home the flood would have overtaken the car. And to take the road that branched off for Cheslow would have endangered the car, too. In a few seconds the knoll on which the mill stood was an island!

The girls and Tom ran indoors. They could hardly hear each other shout during the next few minutes. The waters rose and poured over the dam, and part of it was swept out. Great waves beat upon the river-wall of the mill. And then, with a tearing crash of rent timbers and masonry, the front of the little office and the storeroom, built out over the river, was torn away.

From that quarter Jasper Parloe ran, yelling wildly. Ruth saw him dart out of the far door of the mill, stooping low and with his coat over his head as though he expected the whole structure to fall about his ears.

But only that wall and the loading platform for the boats were sliced off by the flood. Then the bulk of the angry waters swept past, carrying all sorts of debris before it, and no farther harm was done to the mill, or to Mr. Potter's other buildings.

CHAPTER XI

UNCLE JABEZ IS EXCITED

So rapidly had all this taken place that the girls had remained in the mill. But now Ruth, crying: "Aunt Alvirah will be frightened to death, Helen!" led the way down the long passage and through the shed into the kitchen porch. The water on this side of the building had swept up the road and actually into the yard; but the automobile stood in a puddle only and was not injured.

Aunt Alviry was sitting in her rocker by the window. The old woman was very pale and wan. She had her Bible open on her knees and her lips trembled in a smile of welcome when the girls burst into the room.

"Oh, my dears! my dears!" she cried. "I am so thankful to see you both safe!" She started to rise, and the old phrase came to her lips: "Oh, my back and oh, my bones!"

Then she rose and hobbled across the room. Her bright little, birdlike eyes, that had never yet known spectacles, had seen something up the Cheslow road.

"Who's this a-coming? For the land's sake, what recklessness! Is that Jabez and his mules, Ruthie? Bless us and save us! what's he going to try and do?"

The two girls ran to the door. Down the hill thundered a farm wagon drawn by a pair of mules, said mules being on the dead run while their driver stood in the wagon and snapped his long, blacksnake whip over their ears. Such a descent of the hill was reckless enough in any case; but now, at the foot, rolled the deep water. It had washed away a little bridge that spanned what was usually a rill, but the banks of this stream being overflowed for yards on either side, the channel was at least ten feet deep.

It was Jabez Potter driving so recklessly down the hill from Cheslow.

"Oh, oh!" screamed the old lady. "Jabez will be killed! Oh, my back and oh, my bones! Oh, deary, deary me!"

She had crossed the porch and was hobbling down the steps. Her rheumatic twinges evidently caused her excruciating pain, but the fear she felt for the miller's safety spurred her to get as far as the fence. And there Ruth and Helen kept her from splashing into the muddy water that covered the road.

"You can do no good, Aunt Alvirah!" cried Ruth.

"The mules are not running away with him, Mrs. Boggs," urged Helen.

"They'll kill him! He's crazy! It's his money— the poor, poor man!"

It was evident that Aunt Alvirah read the miller's excitement aright. Ruth remembered the cash-box and wondered if it had been left in the mill while her uncle went to Cheslow? However that might be, her attention— indeed, the attention of everybody about the mill— was held by the reckless actions of Mr. Potter.

It was not fifteen minutes after the wave had hit the mill and torn away a part of the outer office wall and the loading platform, or wharf, when the racing mules came down to the turbulent stream that lay between the Cheslow road and the Red Mill. The frightened animals would have balked at the stream, but the miller, still standing in the wagon, coiled the whip around his head and then lashed out with it, laying it, like a tongue of living fire, across the mules' backs.

They were young animals and they had been unused, until this day, to the touch of the blacksnake. They leaped forward with almost force enough to break out of their harness, but landing in the deep water with the wagon behind them. So far out did they leap that they went completely under and the wagon dipped until the body was full of water.

But there stood the miller, upright and silent, plying the whip when they came to the surface, and urging them on. Ruth had noticed before this that Uncle Jabez was not cruel to his team, or to his other animals; but this was actual brutality.

However, the mules won through the flood. The turgid stream was not wide and it was not a long fight. But there was the peril of mules, wagon and man being swept out into the main stream of the flood and carried over the dam.

"He is awful! awful!" murmured Helen, in Ruth's ear, as they clung together and watched the miller and his outfit come through and the mules scramble out upon solid ground.

The miller had brought his half-mad team to the mill and pulled the mules down right beside the Cameron's automobile. Already the young fellow who worked for him had flown out of the mill to Jabez's assistance. He seized the frightened mules by their bits.

"How much has gone, boy?" cried Jabez, in a strained, hoarse voice.

"Not much, boss. Only a part of the office an'—"

The miller was already in at the door. In a moment, it seemed, he was back again, having seen the damage done by the flood to his building. But that damage was comparatively slight. It should not have caused the old man to display such profound despair.

He wrung his hands, tore off his hat and stamped upon it on the walk, and behaved in such a manner that it was little wonder Helen Cameron was vastly frightened. He seemed beside himself with rage and despair.

Ruth, herself torn by conflicting emotions, could not bear to see the old man so convulsed with what seemed to be anguish of spirit, without offering her sympathy. During this week that she had been at the Red Mill it could not be said that she had gained Uncle Jabez's confidence— that she had drawn close to him at all. But it was not for a will on her part to do so.

The girl now left Aunt Alvirah and Helen on the porch and walked straight down to the old man. She was beside him, with a hand upon his arm, before he was aware of her coming.

He stared at her so angrily— with such an expression of rage and hopelessness upon his face— that she was held speechless for a moment.

"What do you know about it, girl?" he demanded, hoarsely.

"About what, Uncle?" she returned.

"The box— the cash-box— my money!" he cried, in a low voice. "Do you know anything about it? Was it saved?"

"Oh, Uncle! We only got here in the automobile just in time to escape the flood. The office was wrecked at that very moment. Was the box there?"

"Gone! Gone!" he murmured, shaking his head; and turning on his heel, he strode into the mill.

The boy had taken the mules around to the stable. Ruth hesitated, then followed the old man into the mill. There Jabez confronted Tom Cameron, sitting on a sack of meal and watching the turbid waters falling over the dam.

"Ha! Young Cameron," muttered Uncle Jabez. "You didn't see the cash-box, of course?"

"Where was it?" asked Tom, quietly.

"In that office— on a shelf, with an old coat thrown over it. I believed it to be as safe there as in the house with nobody but an old woman to guard it."

"Better put your money in the bank, sir," said Tom, coolly.

"And have some sleek and oily scoundrel steal it, eh?" snarled Uncle Jabez.

"Well, the water stole it, I reckon," Tom said. "I'm sorry for you if there was much money in the box. But I know nothing about it. Jasper Parloe might have saved the box had be known about it; he was over there by the office when the water tore away the wall."

"Jasper Parloe!" ejaculated Uncle Jabez, starting. "Was he here?"

"He wasn't here long," chuckled Tom. "He thought the mill was going and he lit out in a hurry."

Uncle Jabez made another despairing gesture and walked away. Ruth followed him and her hands closed upon the toil-hardened fist clenched at his side.

"I'm sorry, Uncle," she whispered.

He suddenly stared down at her.

"There! I believe you be, child. But your being sorry can't help it none. The money's gone— hard it come and it's hard to part with in this way."

"Was it a large sum, Uncle?"

"All the ready cash I had in the world. Every cent I owned. That boy said, put it in a bank. I lost money when the Cheslow Bank failed forty year ago. I don't get caught twice in the same trap— no, sir! I've lost more this time; but no dishonest blackleg will have the benefit of it, that's sure. The river's got it, and nobody will ever be a cent the better off for it. All! All gone!"

He jerked his hand away from Ruth's sympathetic pressure and walked moodily away.

CHAPTER XII

THE CATASTROPHE

This was the beginning of some little confidence between Ruth and Uncle Jabez. He had not been quite so stern and unbending, even in his passion, as before. He said nothing more about the lost cash-box— Aunt Alviry dared not even broach the subject— but Ruth tried to show him in quiet ways that she was sorry for his loss.

Uncle Jabez was not a gentle man, however; his voice being so seldom heard did not make it the less rough and passionate. There were times when, because of his black looks, Ruth did not even dare address him. And there was one topic she longed to address him upon very much indeed. She wanted to go to school.

She had always been quick at her books, and had stood well in the graded school of Darrowtown. There was a schoolhouse up the road from the Red Mill— not half a mile away; this district school was a very good one and the teacher had called on Aunt Alvirah and Ruth liked her very much.

The flood had long since subsided and the repairs to the mill and the dam were under way. Uncle Jabez grew no more pleasant, however, for the freshet had damaged his dam so that all the water had to be let out and he might go into midsummer with such low pressure behind the dam that he could not run the mill through the drouth. This possibility, together with the loss of the cash-box, made him— even Aunt Alvirah admitted— "like a dog with a sore head." Nevertheless Ruth determined to speak to him about the school.

She chose an evening when the kitchen was particularly bright and homelike and her uncle had eaten his supper as though he very much enjoyed it. There was no cash-box for him to be absorbed in now; but every evening he made countless calculations in an old ledger which he took to bed with him with as much care as he had the money-box.

Before he opened his ledger on this evening, however, Ruth stood beside him and put a hand upon his arm.

"Uncle," she said, bravely, "can I go to school?"

He stared at her directly for a moment, from under his heavy brows; but her own gaze never wavered.

"How much schoolin' do you want?" he demanded, harshly.

"If you please Uncle Jabez, all I can get," replied Ruth.

"Ha! Readin', writin', an' mighty little 'rithmatic— we called 'em 'the three R's '— did for me when I was a boy. The school tax they put onto me ev'ry year is something wicked. And I never had chick nor child to go to their blamed old school."

"Let me go, Uncle, and so get some of your money back that way," Ruth said, quickly, and smiling in her little, birdlike way with her head on one side.

"Ha! I don't know about that," he growled, shaking his head. "I don't see what I'll be makin' out of it."

"Perhaps I can help you later, if you'll let me learn enough," she urged. "I can learn enough arithmetic to keep your books. I'll try real hard."

"I don't know about that," he said, again, eyeing her suspiciously. "The little money I make I kin keep watch of— when I'm here to watch it, that is. There ain't no book-keeping necessary in my business. And then— there's your Aunt Alviry. She needs you."

"Don't you go for to say that, Jabez," interposed the old woman, briskly. "That child's the greatest help that ever was; but she can do all that's necessary before and arter school, and on Saturdays. She's a good smart child, Jabez. Let her have a chance to l'arn."

"Ain't no good ever come of books," muttered the miller.

"Oh, Uncle! Just let me show you," begged the girl, in her earnestness clinging to his arm with both hands.

He looked down for a moment at her hands as though he would fling off her hold. But he thought better of it, and waited fully a minute before he spoke.

"You know your Aunt Alviry needs ye," he said. "If you kin fix it with her, why I don't see as I need object."

"Will it be too much trouble for you to get my trunk, Uncle, so that I can begin going to school next week?" Ruth asked.

"Ain't you got nothin' to wear to school?" he said. "It's dress; is it? Beginning that trouble airly; ain't ye?"

He seemed to be quite cross again, and the girl looked at him in surprise.

"Dear Uncle! You will get the trunk from the station, won't you?"

"No I won't," he said. "Because why? Because I can't."

"You can't?" she gasped, and even Aunt Alvirah looked startled.

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