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- The Mill Mystery - 1/43 -


THE MILL MYSTERY

BY

ANNA KATHARINE GREEN

AUTHOR OF "THE LEAVENWORTH CASE," "A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE," "HAND AND RING," ETC. ETC.

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I-------THE ALARM

II------A FEARFUL QUESTION

III-----ADA

IV------THE POLLARDS

V-------DOUBTS AND QUERIES

VI------MRS. POLLARD

VII-----ADVANCES

VIII----A FLOWER FROM THE POLLARD CONSERVATORY

IX------AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY

X-------RHODA COLWELL

XI------UNDER THE MILL FLOOR

XII-----DWIGHT POLLARD

XIII----GUY POLLARD

XIV-----CORRESPONDENCE

XV------A GOSSIP

XVI-----THE GREEN ENVELOPE

XVII----DAVID BARROWS

XVIII---A LAST REQUEST

XIX-----A FATAL DELAY

XX------THE OLD MILL

XXI-----THE VAT

XXII----THE CYPHER

XXIII---TOO LATE

XXIV----CONFRONTED

XXV-----THE FINAL BLOW

XXVI----A FELINE TOUCH

XXVII---REPARATION

XXVIII--TWO OR ONE

THE MILL MYSTERY

* * * * *

I.

THE ALARM.

Life, struck sharp on death, Makes awful lightning. --MRS. BROWNING.

I had just come in from the street. I had a letter in my hand. It was for my fellow-lodger, a young girl who taught in the High School, and whom I had persuaded to share my room because of her pretty face and quiet ways. She was not at home, and I flung the letter down on the table, where it fell, address downwards. I thought no more of it; my mind was too full, my heart too heavy with my own trouble.

Going to the window, I leaned my cheek against the pane. Oh, the deep sadness of a solitary woman's life! The sense of helplessness that comes upon her when every effort made, every possibility sounded, she realizes that the world has no place for her, and that she must either stoop to ask the assistance of friends or starve! I have no words for the misery I felt, for I am a proud woman, and----But no lifting of the curtain that shrouds my past. It has fallen for ever, and for you and me and the world I am simply Constance Sterling, a young woman of twenty-five, without home, relatives, or means of support, having in her pocket seventy-five cents of change, and in her breast a heart like lead, so utterly had every hope vanished in the day's rush of disappointments.

How long I stood with my face to the window I cannot say. With eyes dully fixed upon the blank walls of the cottages opposite, I stood oblivious to all about me till the fading sunlight--or was it some stir in the room behind me?--recalled me to myself, and I turned to find my pretty room-mate staring at me with a troubled look that for a moment made me forget my own sorrows and anxieties.

"What is it?" I asked, going towards her with an irresistible impulse of sympathy.

"I don't know," she murmured; "a sudden pain here," laying her hand on her heart.

I advanced still nearer, but her face, which had been quite pale, turned suddenly rosy; and, with a more natural expression, she took me by the hand, and said:

"But you look more than ill, you look unhappy. Would you mind telling me what worries you?"

The gentle tone, the earnest glance of modest yet sincere interest, went to my heart. Clutching her hand convulsively, I burst into tears.

"It is nothing," said I; "only my last resource has failed, and I don't know where to get a meal for to-morrow. Not that this is any thing in itself," I hastened to add, my natural pride reasserting itself; "but the future! the future!--what am I to do with my future?"

She did not answer at first. A gleam--I can scarcely call it a glow--passed over her face, and her eyes took a far-away look that made them very sweet. Then a little flush stole into her cheek, and, pressing my hand, she said:

"Will you trust it to me for a while?"

I must have looked my astonishment, for she hastened to add:

"Your future I have little concern for. With such capabilities as yours, you must find work. Why, look at your face!" and she drew me playfully before the glass. "See the forehead, the mouth, and tell me you read failure there! But your present is what is doubtful, and that I can certainly take care of."

"But----" I protested, with a sensation of warmth in my cheeks.

The loveliest smile stopped me before I could utter a word more.

"As you would take care of mine," she completed, "if our positions were reversed." Then, without waiting for a further demur on my part, she kissed me, and as if the sweet embrace had made us sisters at once, drew me to a chair and sat down at my feet. "You know," she naively murmured, "I am almost rich; I have five hundred dollars laid up in the bank, and----"

I put my hand over her lips; I could not help it. She was such a frail little thing, so white and so ethereal, and her poor five hundred had been earned by such weary, weary work.

"But that is nothing, nothing," I said. "You have a future to provide for, too, and you are not as strong as I am, if you have been more successful."

She laughed, then blushed, then laughed again, and impulsively cried:

"It is, however, more than I need to buy a wedding-dress with, don't you think?" And as I looked up surprised, she flashed out: "Oh, it's my secret; but I am going to be married in a month, and--and then I won't need to count my pennies any more; and, so I say, if you will stay here with me without a care until that day comes, you will make me very happy, and put me at the same time under a real obligation; for I shall want a great many things done, as you can readily conceive."

What did I say--what could I say, with her sweet blue eyes looking so truthfully into mine, but--"Oh, you darling girl!" while my heart filled with tears, which only escaped from overflowing my eyes, because I would not lessen her innocent joy by a hint of my own secret trouble.


The Mill Mystery - 1/43

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