Read CHAPTER TWELVE - ON THE WATCH. of Will of the Mill , free online book, by George Manville Fenn, on

Josh and the Vicar were down at the mill in good time the next morning, to find Will and his father in the bright sunshine under a cloudless sky, on the bank overlooking the wide pool, and, just as they reached them, with a hearty “Good-morning!” Manners came up.

Overhead, all was bright and clear, and, from Nature’s newly washed face, a fresh, sweet scent rose into the air; but the lower part of the valley seemed quite transformed.  Sluices and waterfalls were gushing down everywhere, making for the main stream, which added to the general roar of water as it rushed along, racing for the overcharged river far away.

Every moment some fresh sign of the mischief which had been done by the flood glided by.  The stream was no longer crystal-like and clear, but turgid with the soil swept from high up the banks; leaves, twigs, broken branches, and even trees, mostly root upwards, went bobbing by, every now and then to become anchored for a few moments amongst the stones, and forming some little dam which kept the water back till there was weight enough to overcome the obstacle and send it onwards with a rush.

“Well,” cried Manners, in his bluff way, “how is it, Mr Willows?  I woke up this morning, looked out of the window, and then dressed in a flurry, to hurry down, half expecting that the mill had been swept away.”

“I, too,” said the Vicar, “felt a bit nervous; the storm was awful, and I wondered whether such a weight of waters might not have made an opening somewhere in your dam.”

“Well, to be candid,” said Mr Willows, “I woke long before daybreak and came out with Will here to see how we stood.  But we are all right.  My ancestors were simple men, but what they did they did with all their hearts.  It must have been very slow work year by year, the quarrying and bringing down all these stones; but they planted them well, the lime they burned was of the best, and it is harder now than the stone itself.  The dam has stood two hundred years, and it is so solid that it looks as if it would stand two hundred more.”

“Then we are all right,” cried Manners, heartily.

“Yes, we are all right,” said Mr Willows, smiling and holding out his hand; “and this is nice and neighbourly of you, a stranger, Mr Manners, to speak like this.”

“Neighbourly?” said Manners, colouring through his well-tanned skin.  “Oh, I don’t know about that.  Only, you see, coming down year after year, and seeing so much of the boys, one seems to know you all so well.”

“Exactly,” said the Vicar, smiling; “Willows is quite right; it is neighbourly, or we will say brotherly, if you like.”

“No, no, no!” cried the artist.  “Here, I’ll tell you what to say ­ nothing.  But I am heartily glad there is no serious mischief done.”

“None at all,” said Willows.  “Rather good.  The big pool was getting very low.  Now we shall be all right for months.  The water’s falling fast, and in half an hour I shall have the waste water-sluices closed, and by mid-day the stream will be running much as usual.”

“That’s right,” cried Manners.  “I say, boys; lucky we had our fishing last night.  Why, every trout will have been washed down-stream and out to sea.”

“Not one,” cried Will.  “Will they, father?”

“No, my boy; I don’t suppose they will; they’ll have got into the eddies and backwaters, driven down a good deal here and there; but their natural habit is to make their way higher and higher up to the shallows in search of food.  There, Mr Manners, I don’t think that you’ll miss any of your sport.  My experience is that places which swarm with trout one day are empty the next, and vacant spots where you have thrown a fly in vain will another time give you a fish at nearly every cast.”

“Well,” said Manners, “as I have had my fright for nothing, my nature’s beginning to assert itself, and the main question now with me is breakfast.  Now, boys, will you come and join me?  I can’t smell them, but I can almost venture to say for certain that Mrs Drinkwater is frying trout.  What do you say?”

“No, thank you, Mr Manners,” replied Will; “my father will want me, perhaps, to give orders to the men; but Josh has got to pass the cottage.”

“Of course,” cried Manners; “and you might honour me too, Mr Carlile.”

“Thanks, no,” said the Vicar.  “Josh can stay, and he will be glad.  I’ll go on, for they would be waiting breakfast at home.”

The artist gave a tug at a thick chain, and dragged out a heavy, old-fashioned, gold watch.

“Five o’clock,” he cried.  “We should be done by six.  Why, you’d be quite ready for a second breakfast, sir, by eight or nine.”

“Do come, father.”

“Very well,” said the Vicar, smiling; and the artist carried them off, leaving Willows with his son to walk slowly on to the broad dam where the foam-covered water brimmed the stones, as if only wanting the impulse of a puff of wind to sweep over the top.

They stopped about the middle, to stand looking up the vale.

“I say, father, do you feel that?” cried Will.

“What? ­the quivering sensation, my boy?”

“Yes; it is just as if the water was shaking the stones all loose.”

“Yes, but it is only the vibration caused by the water rushing through the open sluices on either side; they are open as wide as they will go, and have just been large enough to do their work well and keep the flood down.  I fully expected to find it foaming over the top.  What are you looking at?”

“Don’t take any notice, father.  I’m going to look away.  Just turn your eyes quietly up to the old stone bench on the top there by the lookout.”

There was a pause of a moment or two, during which the mill-owner stooped to pick up a piece of sodden, dead wood, to throw it outward into the current tearing through one of the open sluices.  Then turning right away, he said, quietly ­

“Yes, there’s someone’s face looking over from the back.  Who can it be?”

“Can’t you see, father?”

“No; unless it’s James.”

“It is, father; I saw his face just now quite clear.  What does he want there?  Does he want to speak to you about coming back?”

“Hardly so soon as this, my boy,” said Will’s father, rather sadly.  “Brought here by curiosity, I suppose, like our other friends ­a good sign, Will.  He takes an interest in the old mill, after all.”