Lakelands is not to be found in the catalogues of fashionable summer
resorts. It lies on a low spur of the Cumberland range of mountains on a
little tributary of the Clinch River. Lakelands proper is a contented
village of two dozen houses situated on a forlorn, narrow-gauge railroad
line. You wonder whether the railroad lost itself in the pine woods and
ran into Lakelands from fright and loneliness, or whether Lakelands got
lost and huddled itself along the railroad to wait for the ears to carry
You wonder again why it was named Lakelands. There are no lakes, and the
lands about are too poor to be worth mentioning.
Half a mile from the village stands the Eagle House, a big, roomy old
mansion run by Josiah Rankin for the accommodation of visitors who desire
the mountain air at inexpensive rates. The Eagle House is delightfully
mismanaged. It is full of ancient instead of modern improvements, and it
is altogether as comfortably neglected and pleasingly disarranged as your
own home. But you are furnished with clean rooms and good and abundant
fare: yourself and the piny woods must do the rest. Nature has provided a
mineral spring, grape-vine swings, and croquet -- even the wickets are
wooden. You have Art to thank only for the fiddle-and-guitar music twice
a week at the hop in the rustic pavilion.
The patrons of the Eagle House are those who seek recreation as a
necessity, as well as a pleasure. They are busy people, who may be
likened to clocks that need a fortnight's winding to insure a year's
running of their wheels. You will find students there from the lower
towns, now and then an artist, or a geologist absorbed in construing the
ancient strata of the hills. A few quiet families spend the summers
there; and often one or two tired members of that patient sisterhood known
to Lakelands as "schoolmarms."
A quarter of a mile from the Eagle House was what would have been
described to its guests as "an object of interest" in the catalogue, had
the Eagle House issued a catalogue. This was an old, old mill that was no
longer a mill. In the words of Josiah Rankin, it was "the only church in
the United States, sah, with an overshot-wheel; and the only mill in the
world, sah, with pews and a pipe organ." The guests of the Eagle House
attended the old mill church each Sabbath, and heard the preacher liken
the purified Christian to bolted flour ground to usefulness between the
millstones of experience and suffering.
Every year about the beginning of autumn there came to the Eagle House one
Abram Strong, who remained for a time an honoured and beloved guest. In
Lakelands he was called "Father Abram," because his hair was so white, his
face so strong and kind and florid, his laugh so merry, and his black
clothes and broad hat so priestly in appearance. Even new guests after
three or four days' acquaintance gave him this familiar title.
Father Abram came a long way to Lakelands. He lived in a big, roaring
town in the Northwest where he owned mills, not little mills with pews and
an organ in them, but great, ugly, mountain-like mills that the freight
trains crawled around all day like ants around an ant-heap. And now you
must be told about Father Abram and the mill that was a church, for their
stories run together.
In the days when the church was a mill, Mr. Strong was the miller. There
was no jollier, dustier, busier, happier miller in all the land than he.
He lived in a little cottage across the road from the mill. His hand was
heavy, but his toll was light, and the mountaineers brought their grain to
him across many weary miles of rocky roads.
The delight of the miller's life was his little daughter, Aglaia. That
was a brave name, truly, for a flaxen-haired toddler; but the mountaineers
love sonorous and stately names. The mother had encountered it somewhere
in a book, and the deed was done. In her babyhood Aglaia herself
repudiated the name, as far as common use went, and persisted in calling
herself "Dums." The miller and his wife often tried to coax from Aglaia
the source of this mysterious name, but without results. At last they
arrived at a theory. In the little garden behind the cottage was a bed of
rhododendrons in which the child took a peculiar delight and interest. It
may have been that she perceived in "Dums" a kinship to the formidable
name of her favourite flowers.
When Aglaia was four years old she and her father used to go through a
little performance in the mill every afternoon, that never failed to come
off, the weather permitting. When supper was ready her mother would brush
her hair and put on a clean apron and send her across to the mill to bring
her father home. When the miller saw her coming in the mill door he would
come forward, all white with the flour dust, and wave his hand and sing an
old miller's song that was familiar in those parts and ran something like
"The wheel goes round,
The grist is ground,
The dusty miller's merry.
He sings all day,
His work is play,
While thinking of his dearie."
Then Aglaia would run to him laughing, and call:
"Da-da, come take Dums home;" and the miller would swing her to his
shoulder and march over to supper, singing the miller's song. Every
evening this would take place.
One day, only a week after her fourth birthday, Aglaia disappeared. When
last seen she was plucking wild flowers by the side of the road in front
of the cottage. A little while later her mother went out to see that she
did not stray too faraway, and she was already gone.
Of course every effort was made to find her. The neighbours gathered and
searched the woods and the mountains for miles around. They dragged every
foot of the mill race and the creek for a long distance below the dam.
Never a trace of her did they find. A night or two before there had been
a family of wanderers camped in a grove near by. It was conjectured that
they might have stolen the child; but when their wagon was overtaken and
searched she could not be found.
The miller remained at the mill for nearly two years; and then his hope of
finding her died out. He and his wife moved to the Northwest. In a few
years he was the owner of a modern mill in one of the important milling
cities in that region. Mrs. Strong never recovered from the shock caused
by the loss of Aglaia, and two years after they moved away the miller was
left to bear his sorrow alone.
When Abram Strong became prosperous he paid a visit to Lakelands and the
old mill. The scene was a sad one for him, but he was a strong man, and
always appeared cheery and kindly. It was then that he was inspired to
convert the old mill into a church. Lakelands was too poor to build one;
and the still poorer mountaineers could not assist. There was no place of
worship nearer than twenty miles.
The miller altered the appearance of the mill as little as possible. The
big overshot-wheel was left in its place. The young people who came to
the church used to cut their initials in its soft and slowly decaying
wood. The dam was partly destroyed, and the clear mountain stream rippled
unchecked down its rocky bed. Inside the mill the changes were greater.
The shafts and millstones and belts and pulleys were, of course, all
removed. There were two rows of benches with aisles between, and a little
raised platform and pulpit at one end. On three sides overhead was a
gallery containing seats, and reached by a stairway inside. There was
also an organ -- a real pipe organ -- in the gallery, that was the pride
of the congregation of the Old Mill Church. Miss Phoebe Summers was the
organist. The Lakelands boys proudly took turns at pumping it for her at
each Sunday's service. The Rev. Mr. Banbridge was the preacher, and rode
down from Squirrel Gap on his old white horse without ever missing a
service. And Abram Strong paid for everything. He paid the preacher five
hundred dollars a year; and Miss Phoebe two hundred dollars.
Thus, in memory of Aglaia, the old mill was converted into a blessing for
the community in which she had once lived. It seemed that the brief life
of the child had brought about more good than the three score years and
ten of many. But Abram Strong set up yet another monument to her memory.
Out from his mills in the Northwest came the "Aglaia" flour, made from the
hardest and finest wheat that could be raised. The country soon found out
that the "Aglaia" flour had two prices. One was the highest market price,
and the other was -- nothing.
Wherever there happened a calamity that left people destitute -- a fire, a
flood, a tornado, a strike, or a famine, there would go hurrying a
generous consignment of the "Aglaia" at its "nothing" price. It was given
away cautiously and judiciously, but it was freely given, and not a penny
could the hungry ones pay for it. There got to be a saying that whenever
there was a disastrous fire in the poor districts of a city the fire
chief's buggy reached the scene first, next the "Aglaia" flour wagon, and
then the fire engines.
So this was Abram Strong's other monument to Aglaia. Perhaps to a poet
the theme may seem too utilitarian for beauty; but to some the fancy will
seem sweet and fine that the pure, white, virgin flour, flying on its
mission of love and charity, might be likened to the spirit of the lost
child whose memory it signalized.
There came a year that brought hard times to the Cumberlands. Grain crops
everywhere were light, and there were no local crops at all. Mountain
floods had done much damage to property. Even game in the woods was so
scarce that the hunters brought hardly enough home to keep their folk
alive. Especially about Lakelands was the rigour felt.
As soon as Abram Strong heard of this his messages flew; and the little
narrow-gauge cars began to unload "Aglaia" flour there. The miller's
orders were to store the flour in the gallery of the Old Mill Church; and
that every one who attended the church was to carry home a sack of it.
Two weeks after that Abram Strong came for his yearly visit to the Eagle
House, and became "Father Abram" again.
That season the Eagle House had fewer guests than usual. Among them was
Rose Chester. Miss Chester came to Lakelands from Atlanta, where she
worked in a department store. This was the first vacation outing of her
life. The wife of the store manager had once spent a summer at the Eagle
House. She had taken a fancy to Rose, and had persuaded her to go there
for her three weeks' holiday. The manager's wife gave her a letter to
Mrs. Rankin, who gladly received her in her own charge and care.
Miss Chester was not very strong. She was about twenty, and pale and
delicate from an indoor life. But one week of Lakelands gave her a
brightness and spirit that changed her wonderfully. The time was early
September when the Cumberlands are at their greatest beauty. The mountain
foliage was growing brilliant with autumnal colours; one breathed aerial
champagne, the nights were deliciously cool, causing one to snuggle cosily
under the warm blankets of the Eagle House.
Father Abram and Miss Chester became great friends. The old miller
learned her story from Mrs. Rankin, and his interest went out quickly to
the slender lonely girl who was making her own way in the world.
The mountain country was new to Miss Chester. She had lived many years in
the warm, flat town of Atlanta; and the grandeur and variety of the
Cumberlands delighted her. She was determined to enjoy every moment of
her stay. Her little hoard of savings had been estimated so carefully in
connection with her expenses that she knew almost to a penny what her very
small surplus would be when she returned to work.
Miss Chester was fortunate in gaining Father Abram for a friend and
companion. He knew every road and peak and slope of the mountains near
Lakelands. Through him she became acquainted with the solemn delight of
the shadowy, tilted aisles of the pine forests, the dignity of the bare
crags, the crystal, tonic mornings, the dreamy, golden afternoons full of
mysterious sadness. So her health improved, and her spirits grew light.
She had a laugh as genial and hearty in its feminine way as the famous
laugh of Father Abram. Both of them were natural optimists; and both knew
how to present a serene and cheerful face to the world.
One day Miss Chester learned from one of the guests the history of Father
Abram's lost child. Quickly she hurried away and found the miller seated
on his favourite rustic bench near the chalybeate spring. He was
surprised when his little friend slipped her hand into his, and looked at
him with tears in her eyes.
"Oh, Father Abram," she said, "I'm so sorry! I didn't know until to-day
about your little daughter. You will find her yet some day -- Oh, I hope
The miller looked down at her with his strong, ready smile.
"Thank you, Miss Rose," he said, in his usual cheery tones. "But I do not
expect to find Aglaia. For a few years I hoped that she had been stolen
by vagrants, and that she still lived; but I have lost that hope. I
believe that she was drowned."
"I can understand," said Miss Chester, "how the doubt must have made it so
hard to bear. And yet you are so cheerful and so ready to make other
people's burdens light. Good Father Abram!"
"Good Miss Rose!" mimicked the miller, smiling. "Who thinks of others
more than you do?"
A whimsical mood seemed to strike Miss Chester.
"Oh, Father Abram," she cried, "wouldn't it be grand if I should prove to
be your daughter? Wouldn't it be romantic? And wouldn't you like to have
me for a daughter?"
"Indeed, I would," said the miller, heartily. "If Aglaia had lived I
could wish for nothing better than for her to have grown up to be just
such a little woman as you are. Maybe you are Aglaia," he continued,
falling in with her playful mood; "can't you remember when we lived at the
Miss Chester fell swiftly into serious meditation. Her large eyes were
fixed vaguely upon something in the distance. Father Abram was amused at
her quick return to seriousness. She sat thus for a long time before she
"No," she said at length, with a long sigh, "I can't remember anything at
all about a mill. I don't think that I ever saw a flour mill in my life
until I saw your funny little church. And if I were your little girl I
would remember it, wouldn't I? I'm so sorry, Father Abram."
"So am I," said Father Abram, humouring her. "But if you cannot remember
that you are my little girl, Miss Rose, surely you can recollect being
some one else's. You remember your own parents, of course."
"Oh, yes; I remember them very well -- especially my father. He wasn't a
bit like you, Father Abram. Oh, I was only making believe: Come, now,
you've rested long enough. You promised to show me the pool where you can
see the trout playing, this afternoon. I never saw a trout."
Late one afternoon Father Abram set out for the old mill alone. He often
went to sit and think of the old days when he lived in the cottage across
the road. Time had smoothed away the sharpness of his grief until he no
longer found the memory of those times painful. But whenever Abram Strong
sat in the melancholy September afternoons on the spot where "Dums" used
to run in every day with her yellow curls flying, the smile that Lakelands
always saw upon his face was not there.
The miller made his way slowly up the winding, steep road. The trees
crowded so close to the edge of it that he walked in their shade, with his
hat in his hand. Squirrels ran playfully upon the old rail fence at his
right. Quails were calling to their young broods in the wheat stubble.
The low sun sent a torrent of pale gold up the ravine that opened to the
west. Early September! -- it was within a few days only of the
anniversary of Aglaia's disappearance.
The old overshot-wheel, half covered with mountain ivy, caught patches of
the warm sunlight filtering through the trees. The cottage across the
road was still standing, but it would doubtless go down before the next
winter's mountain blasts. It was overrun with morning glory and wild
gourd vines, and the door hung by one hinge.
Father Abram pushed open the mill door, and entered softly. And then he
stood still, wondering. He heard the sound of some one within, weeping
inconsolably. He looked, and saw Miss Chester sitting in a dim pew, with
her head bowed upon an open letter that her hands held.
Father Abram went to her, and laid one of his strong hands firmly upon
hers. She looked up, breathed his name, and tried to speak further.
"Not yet, Miss Rose," said the miller, kindly. "Don't try to talk yet.
There's nothing as good for you as a nice, quiet little cry when you are
It seemed that the old miller, who had known so much sorrow himself, was a
magician in driving it away from others. Miss Chester's sobs grew
easier. Presently she took her little plain-bordered handkerchief and
wiped away a drop or two that had fallen from her eyes upon Father Abram's
big hand. Then she looked up and smiled through her tears. Miss Chester
could always smile before her tears had dried, just as Father Abram could
smile through his own grief. In that way the two were very much alike.
The miller asked her no questions; but by and by Miss Chester began to
It was the old story that always seems so big and important to the young,
and that brings reminiscent smiles to their elders. Love was the theme,
as may be supposed. There was a young man in Atlanta, full of all
goodness and the graces, who had discovered that Miss Chester also
possessed these qualities above all other people in Atlanta or anywhere
else from Greenland to Patagonia. She showed Father Abram the letter over
which she had been weeping. It was a manly, tender letter, a little
superlative and urgent, after the style of love letters written by young
men full of goodness and the graces. He proposed for Miss Chester's hand
in marriage at once. Life, he said, since her departure for a
three-weeks' visit, was not to be endured. He begged for an immediate
answer; and if it were favourable he promised to fly, ignoring the
narrow-gauge railroad, at once to Lakelands.
"And now where does the trouble come in?" asked the miller when he had
read the letter.
"I cannot marry him," said Miss Chester.
"Do you want to marry him?" asked Father Abram.
"Oh, I love him," she answered, "but -- " Down went her head and she
"Come, Miss Rose," said the miller; "you can give me your confidence. I
do not question you, but I think you can trust me."
"I do trust you," said the girl. "I will tell you why I must refuse
Ralph. I am nobody; I haven't even a name; the name I call myself is a
lie. Ralph is a noble man. I love him with all my heart, but I can never
"What talk is this?" said Father Abram. "You said that you remember your
parents. Why do you say you have no name? I do not understand."
"I do remember them," said Miss Chester. "I remember them too well. My
first recollections are of our life somewhere in the far South. We moved
many times to different towns and states. I have picked cotton, and
worked in factories, and have often gone without enough food and clothes.
My mother was sometimes good to me; my father was always cruel, and beat
me. I think they were both idle and unsettled.
"One night when we were living in a little town on a river near Atlanta
they had a great quarrel. It was while they were abusing and taunting
each other that I learned -- oh, Father Abram, I learned that I didn't
even have the right to be -- don't you understand? I had no right even to
a name; I was nobody.
"I ran away that night. I walked to Atlanta and found work. I gave
myself the name of Rose Chester, and have earned my own living ever
since. Now you know why I cannot marry Ralph -- and, oh, I can never tell
Better than any sympathy, more helpful than pity, was Father Abram's
depreciation of her woes.
"Why, dear, dear! is that all?" he said. "Fie, fie! I thought something
was in the way. If this perfect young man is a man at all he will not
care a pinch of bran for your family tree. Dear Miss Rose, take my word
for it, it is yourself he cares for. Tell him frankly, just as you have
told me, and I'll warrant that he will laugh at your story, and think all
the more of you for it."
"I shall never tell him," said Miss Chester, sadly. "And I shall never
marry him nor any one else. I have not the right."
But they saw a long shadow come bobbing up the sunlit road. And then came
a shorter one bobbing by its side; and presently two strange figures
approached the church. The long shadow was made by Miss Phoebe Summers,
the organist, come to practise. Tommy Teague, aged twelve, was
responsible for the shorter shadow. It was Tommy's day to pump the organ
for Miss Phoebe, and his bare toes proudly spurned the dust of the road.
Miss Phoebe, in her lilac-spray chintz dress, with her accurate little
curls hanging over each ear, courtesied low to Father Abram, and shook her
curls ceremoniously at Miss Chester. Then she and her assistant climbed
the steep stairway to the organ loft.
In the gathering shadows below, Father Abram and Miss Chester lingered.
They were silent; and it is likely that they were busy with their
memories. Miss Chester sat, leaning her head on her hand, with her eyes
fixed far away. Father Abram stood in the next pew, looking thoughtfully
out of the door at the road and the ruined cottage.
Suddenly the scene was transformed for him back almost a score of years
into the past. For, as Tommy pumped away, Miss Phoebe struck a low bass
note on the organ and held it to test the volume of air that it
contained. The church ceased to exist, so far as Father Abram was
concerned. The deep, booming vibration that shook the little frame
building was no note from an organ, but the humming of the mill
machinery. He felt sure that the old overshot wheel was turning; that he
was back again, a dusty, merry miller in the old mountain mill. And now
evening was come, and soon would come Aglaia with flying colours, toddling
across the road to take him home to supper. Father Abram's eyes were
fixed upon the broken door of the cottage.
And then came another wonder. In the gallery overhead the sacks of flour
were stacked in long rows. Perhaps a mouse had been at one of them;
anyway the jar of the deep organ note shook down between the cracks of the
gallery floor a stream of flour, covering Father Abram from head to foot
with the white dust. And then the old miller stepped into the aisle, and
waved his arms and began to sing the miller's song:
"The wheel goes round,
The grist is ground,
The dusty miller's merry."
-- and then the rest of the miracle happened. Miss Chester was leaning
forward from her pew, as pale as the flour itself, her wide-open eyes
staring at Father Abram like one in a waking dream. When he began the
song she stretched out her arms to him; her lips moved; she called to him
in dreamy tones: "Da-da, come take Dums home!"
Miss Phoebe released the low key of the organ. But her work had been well
done. The note that she struck had beaten down the doors of a closed
memory; and Father Abram held his lost Aglaia close in his arms.
When you visit Lakelands they will tell you more of this story. They will
tell you how the lines of it were afterward traced, and the history of the
miller's daughter revealed after the gipsy wanderers had stolen her on
that September day, attracted by her childish beauty. But you should wait
until you sit comfortably on the shaded porch of the Eagle House, and then
you can have the story at your ease. It seems best that our part of it
should close while Miss Phoebe's deep bass note was yet reverberating
And yet, to my mind, the finest thing of it all happened while Father
Abram and his daughter were walking back to the Eagle House in the long
twilight, almost too glad to speak.
"Father," she said, somewhat timidly and doubtfully, "have you a great
deal of money?"
"A great deal?" said the miller. "Well, that depends. There is plenty
unless you want to buy the moon or something equally expensive."
"Would it cost very, very much," asked Aglaia, who had always counted her
dimes so carefully, "to send a telegram to Atlanta?"
"Ah," said Father Abram, with a little sigh, "I see. You want to ask
Ralph to come."
Aglaia looked up at him with a tender smile.
"I want to ask him to wait," she said. "I have just found my father, and
I want it to be just we two for a while. I want to tell him he will have