Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 18


It was August in Harper’s Landing. Like the rest of the Midwest, the sunlight seemed saturated, dripping wet and making everything humid and unbearable. Charity Farmington sat on her porch, chasing away mosquitoes with her large fan and listening to the far-away whoosh of the Grossman Textile Mill waterwheel. Her stone cottage, built by her Great-Great-Grandfather Stephan in 1792, was cool and comfortable. It was square, with a pointed, thatched roof. Inside were two rooms, one for sleeping and the other for cooking, eating, and any other family activities. The stone walls were lined inside with hand-planed lumber, and sheep fleece was layered between the stone and the planks to hold back the winter cold and the summer heat. Charity loved sitting in the rocking chair made by her great-great-uncle Mikhail. The heat did not bother her; in fact, it felt good to her old bones. The cottage was sturdy and had required refurbishing only once since she inherited it from her aunt.

Charity rarely went into Harper’s Landing except to visit her nephew, Morey, and his delightful wife, Maggie. On these trips, she would bring bushels of apples for Maggie, who had inherited the family pie recipe when she married Morey. Charity’s trees were ancient and gnarled, with great thick trunks and twisted roots coming up to the surface. From early spring, after the flowering, until the first frosts of late fall, her trees drooped with abundant fruits: heirloom apples, they now called them, and three different kinds of cherries. Morey and Maggie’s helper, Jen, would come up regularly with her daughter Bridgette, and they would fill Charity’s ancient yet sturdy wagon with apples. Charity would then harness her horse and take them to the diner where the fruits were stored in the cold cellar out back.

Today, Charity was especially aware of the creak of the water wheel. She sensed a strangeness in the air, a feeling of “not rightness” was how she described it. She was not surprised to see Jen ride into her yard, leaning her sturdy red bicycle next to the well out front.

“You feel it too,” said the old woman.

“Yes,” replied Jen. “And Bridgette too, though I did not know she had the sense.”

“What about Maggie? Is she baking up a storm?”

“Now that you mention it, I would guess she’s made about forty pies in the last three days. My hands certainly feel it from all the peeling and cutting.”

“I think part of it’s the mill,” said Charity, taking a puff on the old long handled pipe she kept by her side.

Jen smelled the sweet heady scent of hemp but said nothing. She had long ago realized that Charity was not ordinary and could only hope that Jim Burch would never take it into his head to come up here. She liked Jim, but she also knew that he was cop through and through and not likely to look the other way.

She sat next to the old woman and also listened to the water wheel.

“You’re right,” she said finally. “It sounds different. Not the wheel, but the way the water flows.”

“No deer came up through this spring,” said Charity.

“Something’s up,” replied Jen. “Like you said, not right.”

The mill was operating again, powered by the giant water wheel in the Martins Way River. It had been easy enough to reattach the waterwheel, and with the combined force of the wheel and the smaller wheels placed underground, the mill was turning out a large amount of well spun cotton and wool as well as bolts of cotton and wool cloth.

Grossman Textiles, the company that had purchased the mill, intended to have a fully operating mill and a museum dedicated to the history of cotton and textile mills in the Midwest. They began importing raw cotton and wool from throughout the Midwest. Charity and Jen both approved of all of his plans. It would bring work back to the town, and anything that preserved history was something they both deeply appreciated.

Grossman built a new road across the land that used to be the Jenkins’ Farm, connecting the mill complex to the county road, which in turn intersected with Interstate 35 about fifteen miles west. All that was left of the old farm was the pump house, which was now being used to store building materials and equipment for new operations.

New buildings began appearing along road leading to the main mill, and power lines were put up. One of the larger structures was a hydroelectric power plant built upstream from the water wheel, about a mile from where the Martins Way River began its departure from the Mississippi River and made its way south. The current was strong enough to operate the plant, which in turn provided the power to operate the new thread-making operation. And as the water was released from the newly built dam, it gathered strength enough to turn the water wheel, about two miles downstream.

One of the new buildings, next to the power plant, contained sixty spinning mules. These machines were a hybrid of a water frame and a spinning jenny. They were partly powered by a smaller version of the main mill water wheel and partly by hydroelectric power. Each mule held about thirteen-hundred bobbins, and when finally in operation, the mules would provide all the cotton and wool yarn needed for the main mill operations. The mule was the most common spinning machine from 1790 until about 1900, but was still used for fine yarns until the 1960s. The new thread-making operation meant jobs once again, and many townsfolk who had moved away were returning as they accepted job offers made first to former workers. Additional jobs were available at the power plant and the museum complex. Grossman had offered every former millworker their original position back, and at a higher wage. A second building was reserved for dyeing the yarns once they were spun. Grossman hired twenty workers for this operation and sent them all to a two-week training seminar held in historic Williamsburg, where they learned traditional dyeing techniques using plant colors and natural mordants.

The Harper’s Landing Textile Mill was not the only mill operation that had flourished in the region. In the early years of the 20th Century, Harold Harper and his two sons built a lumber mill in a large clearing they created near the stone cottages where their ancestors had originally settled. The mill was close to the apple and cherry orchards, and they became well known for their quality birch and oak blanks, prized by wood turners and carvers.

Charity had no plans to rebuild her grandfather’s lumber mill which had burned to the ground because of a lightning strike in the 1960s. She was now sixty-two and still had nightmares about the night the mill burned down. Her father had died in the fire, attempting to rescue her youngest brother, Michael. The burned-out shell of the mill was now overgrown with hemlock and blackberries. Charity had other, more pressing concerns. She worried about the continuation of the apple and cherry orchards, which supplied all the fruit for Harper’s Landing and the surrounding farms. The cottages that had once housed her great-great-grandfather’s siblings were in as good shape as hers, and she decided to approach Arthur Willingham about getting some young folks to live here and continue the tradition. These were no ordinary fruit trees, and caring for them required training in arts more occult than horticulture and farming.

“Why don’t you ask Arthur to bring you and Bridgette tomorrow night and come up for dinner?” she said to Jen. “I’ve got a spring lamb that broke its leg, poor thing. Had to put it down swiftly, and it’s hanging in the cool house just waiting for a nice roast with some new potatoes and fresh carrots.”

“We’ll be there,” replied Arthur when Jen called. “I presume this is for more than just lamb and company.”

“You’d presume correctly,” said Jen. “Charity says she has some things to show you.”

Jen departed, heading for the diner and the lunch crowd that would soon arrive.

Charity wondered if she could persuade Jen and Bridgette to move up here. It was a short distance down to the town, the road was in good condition, and there was enough power of all kinds in this area to fulfill their needs. Surely they must be more than ready to leave Jen’s parents’ house and live on their own. It was five years since Jen’s husband had died. It was time for them to be independent.

This land had been in her family since the late 1700s when her great-great-grandfather and his siblings arrived. When Charity left town and moved back to her family’s original landholding, she searched through the old trunks stored in one of the cottages. She found an old deed. It provided enough information to establish her claim to the land if it ever became necessary.

Charity also found a diary belonging to Stephan in the same chest where she found the deed. It was written in English, and she had been reading it before Jen arrived. She picked it up and continued to read.