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- Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill - 10/26 -
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.
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?"
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