Ruth Fielding at Lighthouse Point/Chapter 5
THE TINTACKER MINE
It was too late to more than see the outlines of the mill and connecting buildings as the car rushed down the hill toward the river road, between which and the river itself, and standing on a knoll, the Red Mill was. Ruth could imagine just how it looked—all in dull red paint and clean white trimmings. Miserly as Jabez Potter was about many things, he always kept his property in excellent shape, and the mill and farmhouse, with the adjoining outbuildings, were painted every Spring.
A lamp burned in the kitchen; but all else was dark about the place.
"Don't look very lively, Ruth," said Tom. "I don't believe they expect you."
But even as he spoke the door opened, and a broad beam of yellow lamplight shot out across the porch and down the path. A little, bent figure was silhouetted in the glow.
"There's Aunt Alviry!" cried Ruth, in delight. "I know she's all right."
"All excepting her back and her bones," whispered Helen. "Now, Ruthie! don't you let anything happen to veto our trip to Heavy's seaside cottage."
"Oh! don't suggest such a thing!" cried her brother.
But Ruth ran up the path after bidding them good-night, with her heart fast beating. Dr. Davison's warning had prepared her for almost any untoward happening.
But Aunt Alvirah only looked delighted to see the girl as Ruth ran into her arms. Aunt Alvirah was a friendless old woman whose latter years would have been spent at the Cheslow Almshouse had not Jabez Potter taken her to keep house for him more than ten years before. Ill-natured people said that the miller had done this to save paying a housekeeper; but in Aunt Alvirah's opinion it was an instance of Mr. Potter's kindness of heart.
"You pretty creetur!" cried Aunt Alvirah, hugging Ruth close to her. "And how you've growed! What a smart girl you are getting to be! Deary, deary me! how I have longed for you to git back, Ruthie. Come in! Come in! Oh, my back and oh, my bones!" she complained, under her breath, as she hobbled into the house.
"How's the rheumatics, Aunty?" asked Ruth.
"Just the same, deary. Up one day, and down the next. Allus will be so, I reckon. I'd be too proud to live if I didn't have my aches and pains—Oh, my back and oh, my bones!" as she lowered herself into her rocker.
"Where's Uncle Jabez?" cried Ruth.
"Sh!" admonished Aunt Alvirah. "Don't holler, child. You'll disturb him."
"Not sick?" whispered Ruth, in amazement.
"No—o. Not sick o' body, I reckon, child," returned Aunt Alvirah.
"What is it, Aunt Alviry? What's the matter with him?" pursued the girl, anxiously.
"He's sick o' soul, I reckon," whispered the old woman. "Sumpin's gone wrong with him. You know how Jabez is. It's money matters."
"Oh, has he been robbed again?" cried Ruth.
"Sh! not jest like that. Not like what Jasper Parloe did to him. But it's jest as bad for Jabez, I reckon. Anyway, he takes it jest as hard as he did when his cash-box was lost that time. But you know how close-mouthed he is, Ruthie. He won't talk about it."
"About what?" demanded Ruth, earnestly.
Aunt Alvirah rose with difficulty from her chair and, with her usual murmured complaint of "Oh, my back and oh, my bones!" went to the door which led to the passage. Off this passage Uncle Jabez's room opened. She closed the door and hobbled back to her chair, but halted before sitting down.
"I never thought to ask ye, deary," she said. "Ye must be very hungry. Ye ain't had no supper."
"You sit right down there and keep still," said Ruth, smiling as she removed her coat. "I guess I can find something to eat."
"Well, there's cocoa. You make you a warm drink. There's plenty of pie and cake—and there's eggs and ham if you want them."
"Don't you fret about me," repeated Ruth.
"What makes you so mussed up?" demanded Aunt Alvirah, the next moment. "Why, Ruth Fielding! have you been in the water?"
"Yes, ma'am. But you know water doesn't hurt me."
"Dear child! how reckless you are! Did you fall in the lake?"
"No, Aunty. I jumped in," returned the girl, and then told her briefly about her adventure on the Lanawaxa.
"Goodness me! Goodness me!" exclaimed Aunt Alvirah. "Whatever would your uncle say if he knew about it?"
"And what is the matter with Uncle Jabez?" demanded Ruth, sitting down at the end of the table to eat her "bite." "You haven't told me that."
"I 'lowed to do so," sighed the old woman. "But I don't want him to hear us a-gossipin' about it. You know how Jabez is. I dunno as he knows I know what I know——"
"That sounds just like a riddle, Aunt Alvirah!" laughed Ruth.
"And I reckon it is a riddle," she said. "I only know from piecin' this, that, and t'other together; but I reckon I fin'ly got it pretty straight about the Tintacker Mine—and your uncle's lost a power o' money by it, Ruthie."
"What's the Tintacker Mine?" demanded Ruth, in wonder.
"It's a silver mine. I dunno where it is, 'ceptin' it's fur out West and that your uncle put a lot of money into it and he can't git it out."
"'Cause it's busted, I reckon."
"The mine's 'busted'?" repeated the puzzled Ruth.
"Yes. Or so I s'pect. I'll tell ye how it come about. The feller come along here not long after you went to school last Fall, Ruthie."
"What fellow?" asked Ruth, trying to get at the meat in the nut, for Aunt Alvirah was very discursive.
"Now, you lemme tell it my own way, Ruthie," admonished the old woman. "You would better," and the girl laughed, and nodded. "It was one day when I was sweepin' the sittin' room—ye know, what Mercy Curtis had for her bedroom while she was out here last Summer."
Ruth nodded again encouragingly, and the little old woman went on in her usual rambling way:
"I was a-sweepin', as I say, and Jabez come by and put his head in at the winder. 'That's too hard for ye, Alviry,' says he. 'Let the dust be—it ain't eatin' nothin'.' Jest like a man, ye know!
"'Well,' says I, 'if I didn't sweep onc't in a while, Jabez, we'd be wadin' to our boot-tops in dirt.' Like that, ye know, Ruthie. And he says, 'They hev things nowadays for suckin' up the dirt, instead of kickin' it up that-a-way,' and with that a voice says right in the yard, 'You're right there, Mister. An' I got one of 'em here to sell ye.'
"There was a young feller in the yard with a funny lookin' rig-a-ma-jig in his hand, and his hat on the back of his head, and lookin' jest as busy as a toad that's swallered a hornet. My! you wouldn't think that feller had a minnit ter stay, the way he acted. Scurcely had time to sell Jabez one of them 'Vac-o-jacs,' as he called 'em."
"A vacuum cleaner!" exclaimed Ruth.
"That's something like it. Only it was like a carpet-sweeper, too. I seen pitchers of 'em in the back of a magazine onc't. I never b'lieved they was for more'n ornament; but that spry young feller come in and worked it for me, and he sucked up the dust out o' that ingrain carpet till ye couldn't beat a particle out o' it with an ox-goad!
"But I didn't seem ter favor that Vac-o-jac none," continued Aunt Alvirah. "Ye know how close-grained yer Uncle is. I don't expect him ter buy no fancy fixin's for an ol' creetur like me. But at noon time he come in and set one o' the machines in the corner."
"He bought it!" cried Ruth.
"That's what he done. He says, 'Alviry, ef it's any good to ye, there it is! I calkerlate that's a smart young man. He got five dollars out o' me easier than I ever got five dollars out of a man in all my days.'
"I tell ye truthful, Ruthie! I can't use it by myself. It works too hard for anybody that's got my back and bones. But Ben, he comes in once in a while and works it for me. I reckon your uncle sends him."
"But, Aunt Alviry!" cried Ruth. "What about the Tintacker Mine? You haven't told me a thing about that."
"But I'm a-comin' to it," declared the old woman. "It's all of a piece that and the Vaco-jac. I seen the same young feller that sold Jabez the sweeper hangin' about the mill a good bit. And nights Jabez figgered up his accounts and counted his money till 'way long past midnight sometimes. Bimeby he says to me, one day:
"'Alviry, that Vac-o-jac works all rights don't it?'
"I didn't want to tell him it was hard to work, and it does take up the dirt, so I says 'Yes.'
"'Then I reckon I'll give the boy the benefit of the doubt, and say he's honest,' says Jabez.
"I didn't know what he meant, and I didn't ask. 'Twouldn't be my place ter ask Jabez Potter his business—you know that, Ruthie. So I jest watched and in a day or two back come the young sweeper feller again, and we had him to dinner. This was long before Thanksgivin'. They sat at the table after dinner and I heard 'em talking about the mine."
"Ah-ha!' exclaimed Ruth, with a smile. "Now we come to the mine, do we?"
"I told you it was all of a piece," said Aunt Alvirah, complacently. "Well, it seemed that the boy's father—this agent warn't more than a boy, but maybe he was a sharper, jest the same—the boy's father and another man found the mine. Prospected for it, did they say?"
"That is probably the word," agreed Ruth, much interested.
"Well, anyhow, they found it and got out some silver. Then the boy's father bought out the other man. Then he stopped finding silver in it. And then he died, and left the mine to his folks. But the boy went out there and rummaged around the mine and found that there was still plenty of silver, only it had to be treated—or put through something—a pro—a prospect——"
"Process?" suggested Ruth.
"That's it, deary. Some process to refine the silver, or git it out of the ore, or something. It was all about chemicals and machinery, and all that. Your Uncle Jabez seemed to understand it, but it was all Dutch to me," declared Aunt Alvirah.
"Well, what happened?"
"Why," continued the old woman, "the Tintacker Mine, as the feller called it, couldn't be made to pay without machinery being bought, and all that. He had to take in a partner, he said. And I jedge your Uncle Jabez bought into the mine. Now, for all I kin hear, there ain't no mine, or no silver, or no nothin'. Leastwise, the young feller can't be heard from, and Jabez has lost his money—and a big sum it is, Ruthie. It's hurt him so that he's got smaller and smaller than ever. Begrudges the very vittles we have on the table, I believe. I'm afraid, deary, that unless there's a change he won't want you to keep on at that school you're going to, it's so expensive," and Aunt Alvirah gathered the startled girl into her arms and rocked her to and fro on her bosom.
"That's what I was comin' to, deary," she sobbed. "I had ter tell ye; he told me I must. Ye can't go back to Briarwood, Ruthie, when it comes Fall.