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The Mill Mystery

1. 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:
 
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