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- Ruth Fielding of the Red Mill - 6/26 -
"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.
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."
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