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- Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill - 1/26 -


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.


Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill - 1/26

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