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The Mill Mystery

10. Rhoda Colwell
I
spare
you
common
curses.
--MRS. BROWNING.
It was not long after this that the storm began to abate. Sunshine took the place
of clouds, and I was enabled to make my way back to the town at the risk of
nothing worse than wet feet. I went at once to my boarding-house. Though I was
expected back at the Pollards', though my presence seemed almost necessary
there, I felt that it would be impossible for me to enter their door till something of
the shadow that now enveloped their name had fallen away. I therefore sent
them word that unlooked-for circumstances compelled me to remain at home for
the present; and having thus dismissed one anxiety from my mind, set myself to
the task of gleaning what knowledge I could of the idiot boy.
The result was startling. He was, it seemed, a real idiot--or so had always been
regarded by those who had known him from his birth. Not one of the ugly,
mischievous sort, but a gentle, chuckling vacant- brained boy, who loved to run
the streets and mingle his harmless laughter with the shouts of playing children
and the noise of mills and manufactories.
He was an orphan, but was neither poor nor dependent, for--and here was where
the fact came in that astonished me--he had for protector a twin sister whose wits
were as acute as his were dull; a sister who through years of orphanage had
cherished and supported him, working sometimes for that purpose in the
factories, and sometimes simply with her needle at home. They lived in a nest of
a cottage on the edge of the town, and had the sympathy of all, though not
perhaps the full liking of any. For Rhoda, the sister, was a being of an unique
order, who, while arousing the interest of a few, baffled the comprehension of the
many. She was a problem; a creature out of keeping with her belongings and the
circumstances in which she was placed. An airy, lissom, subtle specimen of
woman, whose very beauty was of an unknown order, causing as much inquiry
as admiration. A perfect blonde like her brother, she had none of the sweetness
and fragility that usually accompanies this complexion. On the contrary, there
was something bizarre in her whole appearance, and especially in the peculiar
expression of her eye, that awakened the strangest feelings and produced even
in the minds of those who saw her engaged in the most ordinary occupations of
life an impression of remoteness that almost amounted to the uncanny. The fact
that she affected brilliant colors and clothed both herself and brother in garments
of a wellnigh fantastic make, added to this impression, and gave perhaps some
excuse to those persons who regarded her as being as abnormally constituted as
her brother, finding it impossible, I suppose, to reconcile waywardness with
industry, and a taste for the rich and beautiful with a poverty so respectable, it
scarcely made itself known for the reality it was. A blonde gypsy some called her,
a dangerous woman some others; and the latter would undoubtedly have been
correct had the girl possessed less pride of independence or been unhampered,
as she was untrammelled, by the sense of responsibility towards her imbecile
brother. As it was, more than one mother had had reason to ask why her son
 
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