THE MILL MYSTERY
THE MILL MYSTERY
ANNA KATHERINE GREEN
ANNA KATHARINE GREEN
AUTHOR OF "THE LEAVENWORTH CASE" "A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE" "HAND
AND RING" ETC. ETC.
II------A FEARFUL QUESTION
V-------DOUBTS AND QUERIES
VIII----A FLOWER FROM THE POLLARD CONSERVATORY
IX------AN UNEXPECTED DISCOVERY
XI------UNDER THE MILL FLOOR
XVI-----THE GREEN ENVELOPE
XVIII---A LAST REQUEST
XIX-----A FATAL DELAY
XX------THE OLD MILL
XXV-----THE FINAL BLOW
XXVI----A FELINE TOUCH
XXVIII--TWO OR ONE
THE MILL MYSTERY
* * * * *
Life struck sharp on death
Makes awful lightning.
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
"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
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
"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
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
"And who is the happy man?" I asked at last rising to pull down
the curtain across a too inquisitive ray of afternoon sunshine.
"Ah the noblest best man in town!" she breathed with a burst of
gentle pride. "Mr. B----"
She went no further or if she did I did not hear her for just
then a hubbub arose in the street and lifting the window I looked
"What is it?" she cried coming hastily towards me.
"I don't know" I returned. "The people are all rushing in one
direction but I cannot see what attracts them."
"Come away then!" she murmured; and I saw her hand go to her heart
in the way it did when she first entered the room a half-hour
before. But just then a sudden voice exclaimed below: "The
clergyman! It is the clergyman!" And giving a smothered shriek she
grasped me by the arm crying: "What do they say? '_The
clergyman_'? Do they say 'The clergyman'?"
"Yes" I answered turning upon her with alarm. But she was already
at the door. "Can it be?" I asked myself as I hurriedly followed
"that it is Mr. Barrows she is going to marry?"
For in the small town of S---- Mr. Barrows was the only man who
could properly be meant by "The clergyman"; for though Mr. Kingston
of the Baptist Church was a worthy man in his way and the
Congregational minister had an influence with his flock that was not
to be despised Mr. Barrows alone of all his fraternity had so won
upon the affections and confidence of the people as to merit the
appellation of "The clergyman."
"If I am right" thought I "God grant that no harm has come to
him!" and I dashed down the stairs just in time to see the frail
form of my room-mate flying out of the front door.
I overtook her at last; but where? Far out of town on that dark and
dismal road where the gaunt chimneys of the deserted mill rise from
a growth of pine-trees. But I knew before I reached her what she
would find; knew that her short dream of love was over and that
stretched amongst the weeds which choked the entrance to the old
mill lay the dead form of the revered young minister who by his
precept and example had won not only the heart of this young
maiden but that of the whole community in which he lived and
A FEARFUL QUESTION.
Nay yet there's more in this:
I pray thee speak to me as to thy thinkings
As thou dost ruminate; and give thy worst of thoughts
The worst of words.
My room-mate was as I have intimated exceedingly frail and
unobtrusive in appearance; yet when we came upon this scene the
group of men about the inanimate form of her lover parted
involuntarily as if a spirit had come upon them; though I do not
think one of them until that moment had any suspicion of the
relations between her and their young pastor. Being close behind
her I pressed forward too and so it happened that I stood by her
side when her gaze first fell upon her dead lover. Never shall I
forget the cry she uttered or the solemn silence that fell over
all as her hand rigid and white as that of a ghost's slowly rose
and pointed with awful question at the pallid brow upturned before
her. It seemed as if a spell had fallen enchaining the roughest
there from answering for the truth was terrible and we knew it;
else why those dripping locks and heavily soaked garments oozing
not with the limpid waters of the stream we could faintly hear
gurgling in the distance but with some fearful substance that dyed
the forehead blue and left upon the grass a dark stain that floods
of rain would scarcely wash away?
"What is it? Oh what does it mean?" she faintly gasped shuddering
backward with wondering dread as one of those tiny streams of
strange blue moisture found its way to her feet.
Still that ominous silence.
"Oh I must know!" she whispered. "I was his betrothed"; and her
eyes wandered for a moment with a wild appeal upon those about her.
Whereupon a kindly voice spoke up. "He has been drowned miss. The
blue----" and there he hesitated.
"The blue is from the remains of some old dye that must have been in
the bottom of the vat out of which we drew him" another voice went
"The vat!" she repeated. "The vat! Was he found----"
"In the vat? Yes miss." And there the silence fell again.
It was no wonder. For a man like him alert busy with no time nor
inclination for foolish explorations to have been found drowned in
the disused vat of a half-tumbled-down old mill on a lonesome and
neglected road meant----But what did it mean? What could it mean?
The lowered eyes of those around seemed to decline to express even a
My poor friend so delicate so tender reeled in my arms. "In the
vat!" she reiterated again and again as if her mind refused to take
in a fact so astounding and unaccountable.
"Yes miss and he might never have been discovered" volunteered a
voice at last over my shoulder "if a parcel of school-children
hadn't strayed into the mill this afternoon. It is a dreadful
lonesome spot you see and----"
"Hush!" I whispered; "hush!" and I pointed to her face which at
these words had changed as if the breath of death had blown across
it; and winding my arms still closer about her I endeavored to lead
But I did not know my room-mate. Pushing me gently aside she turned
to a stalwart man near by whose face seemed to invite confidence
"Take me in and show me the vat."
He looked at her amazed; so did we.
"I must see it" she said simply; and she herself took the first
step towards the mill.
There was no alternative but to follow. This we did in terror and
pity for the look with which she led the way was not the look of
any common determination and the power which seemed to force her
feeble body on upon its fearful errand was of that strained and
unnatural order which might at any moment desert her and lay her a
weak and helpless burden at our feet.
"It must be dark by this time down there" objected the man she had
appealed to as he stepped doubtfully forward.
But she did not seem to heed. Her eyes were fixed upon the ruined
walls before her rising drear and blank against the pale-green
"He could have had no errand here" I heard her murmur. "How then be
drowned here?--how? how?"
Alas! that was the mystery dear heart with which every mind was
The door of the mill had fallen down and rotted away years before
so we had no difficulty in entering. But upon crossing the threshold
and making for the steps that led below we found that the growing
twilight was any thing but favorable to a speedy or even safe
advance. For the flooring was badly broken in places and the stairs
down which we had to go were not only uneven but strangely rickety
But the sprite that led us paused for nothing and long before I had
passed the first step she had reached the bottom one and was
groping her way towards the single gleam of light that infused
itself through the otherwise pitchy darkness.
"Be careful miss; you may fall into the vat yourself!" exclaimed
more than one voice behind her.
But she hurried on her slight form showing like a spectre against
the dim gleam towards which she bent her way till suddenly she
paused and we saw her standing with clasped hands and bent head
looking down into what? We could readily conjecture.
"She will throw herself in" whispered a voice; but as profoundly
startled I was about to hasten forward she hurriedly turned and
came towards us.
"I have seen it" she quietly said and glided by us and up the
stairs and out of the mill to where that still form lay in its
ghostly quietude upon the sodden grass.
For a moment she merely looked at it then she knelt and oblivious
to the eyes bent pityingly upon her kissed the brow and then the
cheeks saying something which I could not hear but which lent a
look of strange peace to her features that were almost as pallid
and set now as his. Then she arose and holding out her hand to me
was turning away when a word uttered by some one I could not tell
whom stopped her and froze her as it were to the spot.
That word was _suicide!_
I think I see her yet the pale-green twilight on her forehead her
lips parted and her eyes fixed in an incredulous stare.
"Do you mean" she cried "that _he_ deserves any such name as
that? That his death here was not one of chance or accident
mysterious if you will but still one that leaves no stigma on his
name as a man and a clergyman?"
"Indeed miss" came in reply "we would not like to say."
"Then _I_ say that unless Mr. Barrows was insane he never
premeditated a crime of this nature. He was too much of a Christian.
And if that does not strike you as good reasoning he was too--
The last word was uttered so low that if it had not been for the
faint flush that flitted into her cheek it would scarcely have been
understood. As it was the furtive looks of the men about showed
that they comprehended all that she would say; and satisfied with
the impression made she laid her hand on my arm and for the second
time turned towards home.
For in my sense 't is happiness to die.
There was death in her face; I saw it the moment we reached the
refuge of our room. But I was scarcely prepared for the words which
she said to me.
"Mr. Barrows and I will be buried in one grave. The waters which
drowned him have gone over my head also. But before the moment comes
which proves my words true there is one thing I wish to impress
upon you and that is: That no matter what people may say or what
conjectures they may indulge in Mr. Barrows never came to his end
by any premeditation of his own. And that you may believe me and
uphold his cause in the face of whatever may arise I will tell you
something of his life and mine. Will you listen?"
Would I listen? I could not speak but I drew up the lounge and
sitting down by her side pressed my cheek close to hers. She smiled
faintly all unhappiness gone from her look and in sweet soft
"We are both orphans. As far as I know neither of us have any
nearer relatives than distant cousins; a similarity of condition
that has acted as a bond between us since we first knew and loved
each other. When I came to S---- he was just settled here a young
man full of zeal and courage. Whatever the experience of his college
days had been--and he has often told me that at that time ambition
was the mainspring of his existence--the respect and appreciation
which he found here and the field which daily opened before him for