The old man had a rope tied to his middle; Jerome followed him, unresistingly, and they crossed, almost waist-deep and in danger of being swept from their foothold by the current. Cheeseman kept tight hold of Jerome’s arm. “Bear up,” he said, in a hoarse whisper, as they struggled out of the water; “life’s more’n a mill.”
“It’s more than a mill that’s going down,” replied Jerome, in a dull monotone which Cheeseman did not hear. There were plenty of out-stretched hands to help them to the shore; the men pressed around with rude sympathy.
“It’s darned hard luck,” one and another said, with the defiant emphasis of an oath.
Then they turned from Jerome and riveted their attention upon the mill, which swayed visibly. Jerome stood apart, his back turned, looking away into the depths of the dripping woods. Cheeseman came up and clapped his shoulder hard. “Don’t ye want to see it go?” he cried. “It’s a sight. Might as well get all ye can out of it.”
Jerome shook his head.
“Ye’d better. I tell ye, it’s a sight. I’ve seen three go in my lifetime, an’ one of ’em was my own. Lord, I looked on with the rest! Might as well get all the fun you can out of your own funeral. Hullo! There—there goes the dam, an’—there goes the mill!”
There was a wild chorus of shouts and groans. Jerome’s mill went reeling down-stream, but he did not see it. He had heard the new spouting roar of water and the crash, and knew what it meant, but look he would not.
“Ye missed it,” said Cheeseman.
Some of the men came up and wrung his hand hurriedly, then were off with the crowd to see the Main Street bridge go. Jerome sat down weakly on a pile of sodden logs, which the flood had not reached.
Cheeseman stared at him. “What on airth are you settin’ down there for?” he asked.
“I’m going, pretty soon,” Jerome replied.
“You’ll catch your death, settin’ there in those wet clothes. Come, git up and go home.”
Jerome did not stir; his white face was set straight ahead; he muttered something which the other could not hear. Cheeseman looked at him perplexedly. He laid hold of his shoulder and shook him again, and ordered him angrily, with no avail; then set off himself. He was old, and the chill of his wet clothes was stealing through him.
Not long afterwards Jerome went down the road towards home. Half way there he met a hurrying man, belated for the tragic drama on the village stage.
“Hullo!” he called, excitedly. “Your mill gone?”
“Gosh! Bridge gone?”
“Gosh! if I ain’t quick, I’ll miss the whole show,” cried the man, with a spurt ahead; but, after all, he stopped a moment and looked back curiously at Jerome plodding down the flooded road, his weary figure bent stiffly, with the slant of his own dejectedness, athwart the pelting slant of the storm.