"What do you say, Tim?" inquired Captain Dillingham.
"I don't see why we should give our turkey to somebody else," grumbled Tim sullenly. "We never have one all the year—never! You know we don't, Mother."
"No, dear; I'm afraid we don't," Mrs. McGregor said.
"Then why should we give ours away," went on Tim in an argumentative tone. "Don't we want turkey as much as the O'Dowds, I'd like to know?"
"Don't be such a pig, Tim," cut in Carl with brotherly directness. "If we were hard up, wouldn't you like somebody to send you something for Christmas?"
Tim colored, his brother's question bringing home to him uncomfortable possibilities.
"We could have such fun doing it, Timmie," coaxed Mary. "Think how we could trim up the basket, and what a surprise it would be! Why, it would make no end of sport."
Tim's expression softened.
Instantly Mrs. McGregor, who was quick to interpret her children's moods, saw the battle was won.
"We can plan together what shall go into the basket," said she briskly. "Each of us might contribute the thing he likes best."
"The turkey shall be mine!" Uncle Frederick declared.
"I choose cranberry sauce!" Carl announced.
"Celery! Oh, could I put in celery, Mother?" Mary inquired. "The tops are so pretty and I love it so!"
Her mother nodded.
"Somebody must give the plain things so I will donate potatoes, squash, and onions," she said.
"Don't forget nuts! We must have nuts and raisins," Mary added.
"I'd like to give those," Tim whispered.
"You shall, son."
A friendly little glance passed between the boy and his mother.
"Pie! I want pie!" asserted Nell, who although too young to understand what was going on, nevertheless grasped the notion that food was the prevailing topic and plunged into the subject with enthusiasm.
"Bless your heart, dearie, you shall have pie!" laughed her mother. "I'll make a couple of apple pies and they shall be your present."
"There ought to be candy. Please let me send candy! May I?" begged Martin for whom the world held only two articles really worth while—candy and ice cream.
There was general merriment at this suggestion.
"Precious little candy would ever get to anybody else if you had the giving of it, Martie," teased Mary.
"Yes, Martin shall give the candy," Mrs. McGregor consented.
"We'll paste his mouth up before he goes to buy it," Carl drawled.
"Don't you s'pose I could keep from eating it if once I set out to?" scowled Martin defiantly.
"No, I don't!"
"Well, I could, so now!" The boy drew himself up proudly.
"James Frederick ought to send something, Mother," reminded the care-taking Mary. "We don't want him left out."
"Oh, we mustn't leave out the baby!" agreed Captain Dillingham. "He and I will get together and talk the matter over. There are still several things needed."
"Oh, it will be splendid!" cried Mary, clapping her hands. "Do get a real big turkey, won't you, Uncle Frederick? And we'll trim it up with a necklace of cranberries the way they do in the market."
"Huh! There you go again," sniffed Tim. "All girls seem to think of is necklaces and bows of ribbon."
Mary smiled brightly.
"What's the harm in making it pretty if you can just as well?" asked she. "I do love pretty things. Why, I believe I could eat stewed whale if it was on a pretty dish."
"I couldn't; I'd hate whale," responded the stolid Timothy.
"Oh, I didn't mean I'd really eat whale, silly," explained Mary.
"Then what did you say you would for?"
"Mary was just imagining, dear," put in Mrs. McGregor, coming to the rescue.
"She is always imagining," glowered Tim. "Only the other day she was trying to make me imagine my salt fish was chicken."
"I'll bet she didn't succeed," taunted Carl.
"Not on your life she didn't!" was the instant answer. "I know salt fish when I see it."
"No matter, dear," soothed Mrs. McGregor, affectionately touching her daughter's arm. "If her imagining Mary can convert salt fish into chicken it is an asset that will stand her in good stead all through life. And if you, Tim, prefer to keep your salt fish just salt fish, why you have a perfect right to do so. I will say, however, that the person who has the power to make believe has an invaluable gift. Many's the time I've made believe and it has helped me over more than one hard spot. We all have to masquerade to a greater or less degree. It is simply meeting life with imagination and seeing in the humdrum something that associates it with finer and more beautiful things." For a moment she was silent; then she added in her quick, businesslike accents, "And now to this dinner! There must be a basket to hold it, of course."
"A big market basket, Mother, lined with red paper. Do line it with red," pleaded Mary.
"It shall be lined with red, little lady! And trimmed with holly, too!" replied Uncle Frederick. "I will undertake to furnish both decorations along with the turkey."
"Why not put in Santa Claus napkins? I saw some paper ones the other day and they were tremendously festive," suggested Mrs. McGregor.
"I think the best plan is for us all to go together and buy the dinner," the Captain suddenly announced.
Shouts of approval greeted the plan.
"But the baby!" demurred his sister.
"We can wheel James Frederick in the carriage and take turns staying outside the shops with him," said Carl.
"And if we have the carriage we can bring home our stuff in it," put in Tim.
"Poor baby! How would you like to have a big ten-pound turkey piled on top of you?" questioned Mary indignantly.
"Oh, James Frederick won't mind," Tim responded comfortably. "And anyhow, he's got to do his bit toward making other people happy. As far as I can see he isn't denying himself anything, for he couldn't eat a turkey if it was set right under his nose. So it's his part to tote home the parcels in his flivver; he seems to be the only member of the family that has one."
Thus it was agreed and on the day before Christmas it would have done one good to witness the cavalcade of McGregors issuing forth on their altruistic pilgrimage. First went Mary, leading Nell by the hand; then Carl with Martin's mitten firmly clutched in his. Next came Mrs. McGregor with Tim, and bringing up at the rear was Uncle Frederick wheeling his namesake, the baby. What a tour it was! Certainly there never had been such a turkey as the one the reckless captain bought—a turkey so plump of breast, so white of skin, so golden of claw! Why, it was a king of birds! And then the shining coral of the cranberries, the satin gleam of the onions, the warm brown of the potatoes! As for the celery—its delicate green and faint canary tips were as good as a bouquet of flowers. Just to view its crispness was to make the mouth water. And the nuts, raisins, candy, oranges! Once in their vicinity Captain Dillingham cast aside all caution and wildly purchased one dainty after another. He seemed to have gone quite mad and it was not until his sister very positively informed him that not another bundle could be carried that he consented to be dragged away from the counters of sweet-meats.
Then staggering beneath their load of whity-brown parcels, the family hastened out to the baby carriage where Mary stood guarding James Frederick.
"Put the turkey down near his feet," cried she excitedly, as she lifted the baby in order to make more room. "The other things can be packed in round him."
"But he'll be stifled!" objected Mrs. McGregor.
"Oh, no, he won't, Ma!" contradicted Tim. "He'll probably be uncomfortable. Christmas comes but once a year, though, so he ought to be able to survive being cramped."
"Oh, James Frederick is perfectly used to having his coupe turned into an express wagon, Mother," Carl explained. "Don't worry about him. Often he rides home from down-town buried a foot deep in bundles. All that fusses me is whether the carriage will stand the strain. If it should part in the middle and the front wheels go off on an independent route it would be——"
"Both inconvenient and embarrassing," concluded Captain Dillingham with a laugh.
Fortunately, however, James Frederick's chariot was staunchly constructed and reached Mulberry Court without mishap, its precious contents—including the patient owner of the vehicle—being borne triumphantly aloft to the McGregor flat. Once upstairs the basket, scarlet paper, and holly were produced, and Mary with deft fingers went to work to fashion a receptacle worthy of the bounties with which the O'Dowds were to be surprised. At last into this garish hamper were packed the viands and afterward a card bearing holiday greetings was tied to the handle with a flaring red bow.
"Now the worst task is to come," declared Mrs. McGregor, "and that is to land the present at Julie's door without being caught. They are proud people, the O'Dowds, and I wouldn't for worlds have them know from whom the dinner comes. Timmie is not strong enough to take it and Carl is too clumsy. Should he start to run away, like as not he would stumble and bring all Mulberry Court to see what the racket was."
"Why can't I carry it?" inquired Captain Dillingham.
"You! One sight of your gold buttons would be enough, Frederick. Besides, you're none too agile in making a getaway."
"I fancy some boy could be found to leave it if I paid him," suggested the captain.
"The very thing! There's a score of 'em on the street. Fetch in the fastest runner you see, Timmie. No matter whether you know him or not. In fact, get one you don't know. 'Twill be all the better."
Away sped Tim only to return an instant later with a grimy, Italian youngster at his heels.
Captain Dillingham explained the errand.
At the sight of the gleaming quarter of a dollar the Italian grinned. He would leave a bomb or a live ox at anybody's door for a quarter, affirmed he with an ingratiating smile.
Therefore the precious basket was entrusted to him and to judge by the scampering that followed its thud before the O'Dowds' door he was quite as fleet of foot as Tim had asserted.
"Wouldn't you like to see their faces when they find it?" whispered Carl who, with Mary, was hanging over the banister, straining his ears for every sound.
There was not, however, much to hear.
After the furious knock somebody ventured into the hall. Then Julie's voice, high-pitched with excitement and consternation, exclaimed, "Mercy on us!" With that she dragged the basket into her abode and banged the door.
It was a brief drama but one entirely satisfying to the McGregors. Over and over again did Carl and Mary enact the scene to the intense delight of the family.
"Now mind, should Mrs. O'Dowd come up here with questions, you are to be careful what you say," cautioned their mother. "There's to be no hinting, winking, or smirking. Should Julie say anything, leave it to your uncle or me to answer. All the fun would be spoiled if you gave the secret away."
"Oh, yes," agreed Carl. "The sport is to keep folks guessing."
But no sooner were the words out of his mouth is than there was a rapping at the hall door.
"Oh, Ma! I'll bet that is Mrs. O'Dowd now!" gasped Mary.
"It can't be! She'd not track us down so quick as this," replied Mrs. McGregor, flustered and half rising.
"Most likely it's the Christmas tree, Mother," Tim suggested. "They promised to send it early this afternoon."
Again came the knock.
"I'm half afraid to open the door lest it be Julie," faltered Mrs. McGregor. "Be still a minute, all of you, till I think what I'll say to her."
But when, amid a tense hush, the door was finally opened, neither Julie O'Dowd nor the watched-for Christmas tree was on the threshold. Instead they saw a holly-decked basket so exactly a replica of the one they had given away that a cry of disappointment greeted it.
"She's sent it back!" cried Mary.
"She was offended and wouldn't take it!" murmured Mrs. McGregor. "I feared as much."
"But that isn't our basket, Mother," Carl said. "This is much bigger. Besides, we had no apples or candy bags in the one we sent."
Critically studying the gift, the family clustered around.
"It isn't our basket, Mother," Mary presently asserted. "See, this one is red."
"There must be some mistake, then," Mrs. McGregor declared. "They've left it at the wrong place."
"But our name is on it!" cried Tim.
"Where? Where?" What a bumping of heads there was as everybody bent to read the card.
"Yes, our name is on it plain as day!" replied Mrs. McGregor with a puzzled expression. Then, inspired by a solution of the mystery, she wheeled round on her brother.
"How much do you know about this, Frederick?"
"Not a thing, Nellie—I give you my word! Dearly as I should have liked to send you such a gift, my purse wasn't quite good for it," flushed the captain.
"And what wonder, with all you've spent this day," returned his sister quickly. "Then we'll count you out. But where could it have come from?"
"We don't need to leave it in the hall until we find out, do we, Mother?" Mary ventured mischievously.
"No, I suppose we don't," was the retort. "Timmie, you and Carl drag it indoors. Don't try to lift it, for you'll only be straining yourselves and maybe drop it. Let's get it into the kitchen. There may be some clue when we have a better light."
But examine it as they would, no hint as to the mysterious sender could be found.
"I guess he believes with Carl that the sport of giving a present is to keep the other person guessing," Tim remarked wickedly.
A general laugh at Carl's expense greeted the observation.
"Hush!" cautioned Mrs. McGregor. "There's somebody in the hall."
"He won't get away this time," Carl cried, springing up and throwing open the door.
"Good heavens, man! You nearly knocked me down!" cried Hal Harling, amazed by the suddenness of his welcome. "What's the matter with you? Trying to trap a burglar?" Then, glancing at the object about which the household were clustering, he added, "Jove! Have you got one, too?"
"What do you mean?"
"Why, just now somebody left a basket exactly like this at our flat. I thought maybe you folks had something to do with it and came straight over here to see. But you seem to be favored by a similar gift. They are alike as two peas. Who sent them?"
"That is precisely what we want to know," Carl replied.
"You've no idea?"
"Not the most remote."
"Hasn't Captain Dillingham?"
"I'm not guilty, if that is what you mean," the sea captain answered.
"Straight goods?" Hal insisted.
"Hang, die, and choke to death!" laughed the little old man.
"But—but—somebody sent the thing!" blustered Hal. "Why, there is everything on earth in it. Food enough to last a week. And ours has a shawl for my mother and some felt slippers for my grandfather in the bottom. And there are gloves for Louise and me. It came from somebody who knew all about us. It was no haphazard present."
"Can you beat it!" murmured Carl. "Whoever do you suppose——"
"I can't suppose. We thought it was you," announced Hal. "There's a knock at the door. Shall I go?"
Leaping forward he turned the knob, and in came Mrs. O'Dowd.
"I've had the most wonderful basket sent me that ever——" began she; then her eye fell upon the hamper in the center of the floor. "Glory be to goodness!" she ejaculated. "Wherever did you get that?"
"We don't know," Carl answered.
"And we've one just like it and can't find out who sent us ours," put in Hal Harling.
"Well, I thought for sure as you were the folks that sent me mine," declared Julie. "But if they are being scattered broadcast and you are getting one yourselves I reckon it is safe to say you don't know much about where mine came from. Well, all I can say is may the sender of them have a blessed Christmas. Owing to O'Dowd being out of work, we were to have a pretty slim celebration this year. The children were like to get nothing at all. And then just when I was trying to comfort myself with thinking how glad I should be that Joey was well, and that we all had our health even if we did lack a turkey and the fixings, along comes this windfall. Why, it is as if the heavens opened and dropped it straight down at our door. It does you good to know there are kind hearts in the world, doesn't it?"
One and all the McGregors smiled. If they wanted thanks for the self-denial they had practised they certainly had them in the gratitude that beamed from Julie's face.
"Well, it will be a royal Christmas for all of us, won't it?" went on the little woman, bustling out. "I must hurry back downstairs. The children are that crazy they are like to eat the turkey raw, claws, neck and feathers!"
"I'll come with you, Mrs. O'Dowd," said Hal. "Good-by, and a Merry Christmas, everybody."
"I'm mighty glad we sent that dinner to the O'Dowd's!" commented Carl soberly, when the door was shut and the McGregors were alone. "I'd be glad we did it even if we had no dinner of our own," he added, his eyes alight with a grave happiness.
"And I, too," whispered Tim.
The next morning, fluttering excitedly round a Christmas tree spangled with tinsel and aglow with lights, the McGregors received their presents; and not they alone, for Julie O'Dowd, with her five youngsters, swelled the party, together with the Murphys and the Sullivans from the floors below. There was popcorn for everybody and satiny striped candy, and from the mysterious basket an orange for each guest was produced.
"When we have so much ourselves it would be wrong to keep it all," Mrs. McGregor had asserted; and her household fully agreed with her. Therefore the neighbors were summoned in to share in the festivity.
And after the visitors had trailed down the long stairway, shouting back their pleasure and gratitude, the wonderful dinner the hamper contained was prepared, and what a delightful ceremonial that was! Did ever any such tantalizing aroma drift upon the air as ascended from the browning turkey? Or did ever potatoes so fill their jackets to bursting? As for the celery—it was like ivory; and the cranberry jelly as transparent and glowing as a huge ruby. And, oh, the browning crust of the mince pies! So many hungry little McGregors swarmed round the stove it was a marvel some of them were not burned to death on hot stove covers or the oven door. One could scarcely baste the turkey without falling over two or three of them.
However, nobody was scalded or blistered and when at length the great bronzed bird was borne from the oven a procession of exultant children followed in the wake of the huge platter, every one of them shouting for the wishbone or a drumstick.
"Was the creature a centipede he would hardly have drumsticks to satisfy you!" laughed their mother. "Who ever saw such a lot of cannibals! Was anybody to hear your hubbub they'd think you had never had a mouthful to eat in all your lives. I don't believe your uncle ever saw worse heathen in the South Sea Islands."
Nevertheless, in spite of her caustic comment, it was plain that the mother was enjoying her children's pleasure and that Uncle Frederick was enjoying it too.
"Well," went on Mrs. McGregor, "if you do not get filled up to-day it will be your own fault. I shall put no check on anybody. You may eat all you'll hold."
Profiting by this spacious permission the McGregors fell to and what a feast they had! Never had they dreamed of such a meal. Even Carl and Martin, whose capacity appeared to be limitless, were at length forced to confess that for once in their lives they had had enough; as for Tim he sank back in his chair almost in tears because he could not find room for another mouthful.
"I couldn't squeeze down a single 'nother thing if I was paid for it," wailed he. "And I did so want a second helping of pudding! Why didn't you stop me, Ma, when I started out on that giant sweet potato?"
His mother shrugged her shoulders.
"You must learn to make your own choices," said she. "Perhaps 'twill teach you next time not to covet all you see. And now, before we begin to clear up, I want to make sure you are all content. There must be no regrets. I don't want to hear to-morrow that you wish you had had so-and-so. So think well before the food is whisked into the pantry. Has everybody had enough?"
A chorus of muffled groans arose.
"What do you think we are, Ma?" Tim managed to murmur.
"Indeed I don't know," was the grim retort. "I've often wondered. So you think you couldn't eat a morsel more?"
"Think! We know we couldn't," gasped Carl.
"Then sit still a second, all of you, till I take a good look at you!" commanded their mother. "That I should live to see the day when I would dish up a meal without some amongst you yammering for another helping! I'm almost tempted to take an affidavit with your signatures in black and white and preserve it in the family Bible."
With arms akimbo she viewed her grinning flock.
"Well, since you're beyond urging, we may as well turn to the dishes—that is, if anybody can stagger up and help."
Reaching over she began to remove the food from the table.
Mary sprang to aid her.
"Let me carry the things into the pantry," Tim said. "Maybe if I walk round some it will shake down what I've eaten."
"Are you laying to eat another course?" derided Carl.
"Aw, quit it!" growled Tim. "I'll bet I haven't made way with any more than you have. Here, fork over that pie! I'll put it in the closet."
"Can we trust you with it?" called Captain Dillingham.
Tim put up his hand.
"Say, I wouldn't touch that pie if you were to go down on your knees and beg me to," Tim declared. "Millions wouldn't hire me!"
"Give it to him, Carl; he sounds perfectly safe," asserted the lad's mother. "And put those apples and figs away, too, dear, if you are going into the pantry. Mary, you and Carl pile the dishes. What an army of them there are! I believe we have out every plate we own. Martin, do take the babies into the next room where they will be out from under foot. And watch that Nell doesn't eat the candles off the tree. She's always thinking they are candy, the witch!"
"You must let me help," urged Uncle Frederick, rolling up his sleeves.
"Oh, you must not work to-day, Frederick," his sister protested. "It is a holiday and you are on shore leave. Besides, it never seems right to me to see the captain of a ship working."
"Oh, the captain of a ship knows the galley quite as well as the bridge," responded Uncle Frederick. Seizing a towel he stationed himself beside Mary who was elbow deep in the dishpan. "All hands to the pumps!" cried he sharply.
It was a ringing command and instantly Tim and Carl leaped forward to obey it.
What a dish-wiping team the three made!
Mary could scarcely wash fast enough to keep up with them.
In the meantime Mrs. McGregor was here, there, and everywhere, putting to rights the disordered house; and so effectual was her touch that by the time the last plate was on the shelf tranquillity reigned and except for lurking candy bags and stray bits of red ribbon it almost seemed as if there had never been such an event as a Christmas party.
"Now why can't we all go over to the Harlings, Ma?" Carl inquired. "They will be through their dinner by this time. Hal asked if we couldn't come."
"But not all of us!" objected Mrs. McGregor. "Why, we're a caravan!"
"Nobody minds caravans on Christmas," pleaded Carl. "Grandfather Harling would love to see the children. We haven't had them there for ever so long."
"I suppose we might go. It isn't very far," his mother meditated.
"Oh, do let's!" Tim put in. "I'll wheel James Frederick."
"You? You couldn't wheel anything, so full are you of turkey and plum pudding! If you get there yourself you will be doing well," was the curt retort. "However, if you all want to go, I'll not hinder you. Scurry and get your caps, coats, and mittens."
Off flew the youngsters in every direction; off, too, flew Mrs. McGregor with Nell and Martin at her heels and the baby in her arms.
Owing to excitement and the general holiday confusion it was some time before there were two rubbers, two mittens, a cap, coat, and muffler for everybody; on the very brink of departure a full equipment for Martin could not be found and to his unbounded delight he was compelled to set forth in one arctic and one rubber boot—a novel combination that greatly heightened his pleasure in the trip and made him the envy of all his younger brothers and sisters. Whether his satisfaction would have outlived a long journey is uncertain for the rubber boot proved to be not only too large but treacherously leaky. Notwithstanding the fact, however, he was a sufficiently good sport to make the best of his unfortunate bargain and clatter up the long, dim flights that led to the Harlings' suite with as much spirit as the rest.
And oh, such a welcome as the family received when they did arrive!
It would have warmed the heart to see the little ones rush to Grandfather Harling, clinging round him like a swarm of bees and clamoring for a story. And a story they got—and not only one but two, three, for Grandfather was a rare story-teller and a great lover of children. Meantime the elders gossiped together, their chief topic of speculation being the sender of the wonderful Christmas dinners.
"If you hadn't got one, Carl, I should almost be tempted to think old Corcoran had sent ours to ease his conscience," Hal announced. "But of course he wouldn't have been stretching his philanthropy so far as Mulberry Court, I'm afraid."
"Oh, I'm sure the dinner couldn't have come from Mr. Corcoran," put in Louise quickly. "It wouldn't be a bit like him to tie the nuts up with fancy ribbon, and tuck in the presents. No, somebody sent that dinner who really cared, and took pains to have it pretty and tempting. Mr. Corcoran might order us a dinner at the market but he never would have packed the basket himself as—as—Mr. X did."
"Well, all I can say is that Mr. X, whoever he is, is a corker; and may he live long and prosper!" Hal declared.
"He will prosper," murmured Mrs. Harling in her soft voice. "Such a man cannot help it."
"I do wish, though, we knew who he is, don't you?" Mary asked. "I'd just like to thank him."
"I fancy Mr. X is not the sort that covets thanks," her mother replied. "Some people take their pleasure in doing a kind deed. I imagine Louise's Mr. X is one of that sort."
So they talked on, until suddenly glancing out of the window, Mrs. McGregor exclaimed in consternation, "Why, it is snowing!"
Sure enough! A thick smother of flakes whirled down into the deserted streets and cutting short Grandfather Harling's story, the visitors bundled themselves into their wraps.
"I hope the children won't take cold," said Mrs. Harling anxiously.
"Take cold? Mercy, no! They are tough as nuts, every soul of them," answered their mother. "Having no automobiles they gain it in their health. Poverty has its blessings—I'll say that! Now, Carl, you hold onto Nell and don't let her down on all fours; she is such a fat little blunderbuss! And Mary, keep Martin in the path if you can, or he will lose that huge rubber boot. Uncle Frederick is going to wheel the baby. And remember, Tim, there are to be no snowballs or snow down anybody's neck. You will have plenty of time for that sort of fun to-morrow, if you call it fun. And, children, do try to go down the stairs quietly. Don't forget there are other people on earth besides yourselves. A Merry Christmas, everybody!"
"And three cheers for Mr. X!" Hal added boyishly.
"Hal Harling, don't you dare set this brood of mine cheering in the hallway! They'll raise the roof," ejaculated Mrs. McGregor, putting up a warning finger. "Not but what I'd gladly cheer the person who sent those dinners; but we mustn't do it here."
"Well, it was a jim-dandy dinner, anyway," chuckled Hal. "We'll be eating that turkey for days. It was big as an ostrich!"
"Maybe you drew an ostrich by mistake," grinned Carl. "Who knows?"
Oh, it would have taken hearts less merry than these to be dampened by the storm! Home plodded the McGregors, shouting gaily amid the piling drifts.
"My, it is going to be a real blizzard!" Mrs. McGregor predicted. "Every tree and bush is laden already."
"The little shrubs in the park look like cotton bushes," replied Uncle Frederick over his shoulder. "Look, youngsters! You were asking about cotton when it is ripe. That is much the way it looks." He motioned toward the vista of bending foliage.
"How pretty it is!" said Mary.
"And in reality cotton is prettier by far, for there is always the blue of the sky, the gold of the sunshine, and the green of the country. It is as if one had a snowstorm in summer."
There was little opportunity for further talk for the trodden snow narrowed into a ribbon and the walkers were obliged to thread the drifts single file. At last, however, Mulberry Court came into view and with a stamping of feet and a brushing of caps and coats the family were within its welcoming portals. Then James Frederick was dug out of his carriage, shaken, and borne crowing and rosy up the stairs.
The flat proved to be warm and comfortable and while Mary lighted the lamps her mother poked up the fire and sprinkled on more coal.
"Now let's sit down everybody and have a nice, jolly evening," said she when the outer garments were all stowed away. "Come, Carl, draw up the rocker for Uncle Frederick. And, Timmie, there's room for you here beside me. What's the matter, laddie?"
For answer Tim glanced at the steely blue hands of the clock now pointing to six.
"Aren't we going to have any supper?" questioned he in an aggrieved tone.
"Supper!" exploded his mother. "Surely you are not looking for anything more to eat to-day. You yourself declared only a little while ago that you couldn't eat another morsel."
"It wasn't a little while ago; it was hours," Tim affirmed. "We've been to walk since then and I'm hungry."
"Hungry! Did you ever hear the likes! Hungry! And the bairn swallowing down turkey until I expected every second he would have apoplexy!"
"I'm hungry, too," rejoined Carl with shame-faced candor.
"So am I!" piped Martin.
"Well, I never saw your match!" cried their mother, holding up her hands. "One would think you were cobras, anacondas, or something else out of the zoo. Still, I don't see as I can let you starve. If you're hungry there's the pantry with its shelves groaning aloud with food. Run in and help yourselves."
Her family needed no second bidding. Above everything else they loved a meal where all superfluous accessories such as knives, forks, and napkins were done away with, and where there was no one at one's elbow to caution or demand the time-worn "pleases" and "thank you's." To forage in the pantry unrestrained was like being let loose in the vales of Arcadia. One after another they emerged, bearing in their hands the spoils most attracting their fancy.
"You're not going to devour that whole cross section of squash pie, are you, Tim?" asked Mary, aghast.
"Sure I am," retorted the unabashed Timothy. "That is, unless you want part of it."
"Of course I don't. But I should think you'd die!"
"I don't expect to die," returned her imperturbable brother. "And if I do I'll at least have had one everlasting good feed."
"Tim!" expostulated his horrified mother.
"Well, I will have," repeated the boy. "And anyhow, I don't believe I've eaten so much more than other folks. I notice you don't mention little Carlie here. He's worried down some food to-day, and like as not Hal Harling has, too. What's more, I'll bet a hat Hal won't go supperless to bed."
At that moment a rap came at the door and Mary sprang forward to admit the very young gentleman in question.
"You see, I'm returning your call on schedule time," grinned he, shaking the snow from his outer garments. "I can't stay but a moment; but I had to come and tell you what's happened. What do you think of that?" Diving into his pocket he held forth a handsome watch and chain.
"Who've you been robbing?" drawled Carl.
"I don't wonder you say so, kid. Can you beat it? Did you ever see such a beauty?"
"But—but—Hal, where on earth did you get a thing like that?"
"Well may you ask, kid! Think of me hitched to a gold watch! Oh, it's mine all right. Have a look inside the back cover. There's my name, you see, in perfectly good English."
"Where did you get it, Hal?" demanded Mrs. McGregor, as the gift traveled from one admiring hand to another.
"You'd never guess, any of you. It came from my worst enemy." The big fellow threw back his head and laughed a ringing laugh.
"But that tells us nothing. You have a million enemies," blurted out Carl.
"It certainly is from our friends we learn the truth," Hal replied with cheerfulness. "You're not a flatterer, are you, Carlie?"
"But I can't imagine who should present you with a gold watch," Carl mused, ignoring the comment.
"Oh, you're not half bright to-day. What's the matter with you?" hectored Hal, who was enjoying the sensation he had created.
"He's eaten too much turkey," Tim piped.
"I guess that's it," agreed young Harling. "Come, gather your wits together. Louise guessed the conundrum. You ought to be as smart as she is."
Vaguely Carl studied his friend's face.
"Of course it couldn't be from Corcoran," ventured he, as if thinking aimlessly.
"And why not?"
"Why, because—why Corcoran wouldn't—why should Corcoran give you a present like that?"
"The very words I said myself!"
"Do you mean to say it was Corcoran?"
"Well, it wasn't from Corcoran himself. But he had the buying of it. The watch came from the Corcoran kid and Midget, the dog."
"Oh!" Carl gasped, a wave of understanding flooding his face. "It was because of what you did that day. I'd almost forgotten."
"So had I. Corcoran thanked me up at the works some time afterward; you remember I told you about it. Well, I thought that was the end of the matter," Hal explained. "But evidently the Corcorans thought they wouldn't leave it there. So—" with a flourish he held up the gift.
"Oh, Hal, I think that was splendid of them," Mrs. McGregor declared. "You deserve it, too. Carl said you might have been killed that day."
"Nonsense! That's Carlie's yellow journalism. He told you a great yarn, I've no doubt. You ought to be on one of the daily papers, kid."
"But you did take an awful chance, you know you did," insisted Carl stoutly.
"Oh, you have to take a chance now and then to put a little spice into life. It was no great stunt I did," Hal protested. "I just happened to do it before anybody else did, that's all."
"I guess that's your way of putting it, laddie," Mrs. McGregor said with an affectionate smile. "Well, we're certainly glad you have the watch. It will be fine and useful. Just see you do not get it smashed to bits in some of the scraps you are mixed up in."
"Do you think I am going to stand dumb as an oyster and let somebody land a blow over my vest pocket hard enough to smash that watch, Mrs. McGregor?" interrogated the giant. "Pray, where would I be while he was doing it?"
"Gentlemen with gold watches should keep out of the prize ring," put in Uncle Frederick mischievously.
"Oh, sir, one has to have a watch to call time on the other feller," Hal retorted.
"Put it on and let's see how you look, Hal," Tim begged.
"Yes, do!" echoed Mary.
"All right, I'll dress up in it since you say the word," answered Hal, with an impish grimace. "You may as well see me in it and get used to the sight; then you won't be taking me for an alderman when you meet me on the street."
He slipped the chain through his buttonhole and the watch into his pocket.
"Don't I look for all the world like the Lord Mayor of London or one of the Common Council?"
"You look like an old sport," Carl asserted, giving his chum a blow on the chest.
Harling accepted the knock much as a kitten might have accepted a caress.
"Just for that I've half a mind not to tell you the rest of what I came for," grinned he. "I've something else to say that will set your hair on end. But you're that rude that you don't deserve to be told it."
"Oh, what is it, Hal?" Mary cried.
"Another secret!" Tim ejaculated.
"It isn't exactly a secret," Hal said. "It's a clue."
"A clue! To what, for pity's sake?" Carl murmured.
"You are thick, to-night—no mistake!" laughed Hal. "Why, what have we been arguing over all day—twisting and turning this way and that? What have we been speculating over until our brains are weak? Tell me that?"
"You haven't a clue about the Christmas baskets!" gasped Mrs. McGregor.
"I've a theory," nodded Hal, with tantalizing solemnity.
"Tell us! Tell us!" cried a chorus of voices.
"It's only a theory, remember, and it doesn't hitch up in every detail," went on Hal, quite serious now. "But it is worth considering."
"Well, it isn't much of a story, so don't get your hopes up. But the fact is that when we emptied our basket I turned it upside down——"
"Because you were still hungry!" cut in Carl.
"Exactly! How well you read me. Yes, being still famished, I thought I'd see if some last morsel of food did not lurk under the papers. So I emptied out everything and what should I find scrawled in pencil across the bottom of the basket but the word 'Coulter.'"
"Coulter!" shouted the McGregors in disappointed accents.
"What has that to do with it?" Carl demanded.
"Why"—Hal looked crestfallen—"why, Mr. Coulter of Davis and Coulter is one of my bosses, isn't he?"
"Y-e-s, I suppose he is. But he isn't mine. The two baskets were exactly alike and must have come from the same person; and certainly Mr. Coulter wouldn't send us a basket. Oh, you'll have to guess again, Sherlock Holmes," concluded Carl with a shrug.
"Your father used to work for Mr. Coulter at the mill," Mrs. McGregor put in in a subdued voice.
"But Dad died two years ago and Mr. Coulter never has troubled to send us anything before. Why should he begin now?" Carl argued.
"Did you examine our basket?" It was Captain Dillingham who spoke.
"No, but we can. It's out in the pantry. Run and fetch it, Martin, that's a good boy. I'm willing to bet a hat, though, ours has no 'Coulter' written on it. Yours got scrawled on somehow at the market. The name doesn't mean anything. Here's Martin now. Get out your glasses, you old detective, and look and see what you can find. If you can find Coulter on our basket, I'll eat my head," Carl hazarded with confidence.
"You hear him, witnesses," Hal said, holding up an impressive finger.
Then taking the basket from Martin, he inverted it.
"Will you never acknowledge, oh, you unbeliever, that I am wiser than you?" he presently jeered. "Come! Look at the thing yourself over here under the lamp. If that word isn't 'Coulter' I'll eat both your head and mine."
"Jove! It is Coulter!" was all Carl could stammer.
"What did I tell you!"
"But why should Mr. Coulter send a Christmas basket to us?" speculated Carl in an awed whisper.
"I'm not telling you why. I've not got as far as that," Hal answered. "All I said was that the name, Coulter, was written on both baskets and that the natural conclusion is that Mr. Coulter was their sender."
"I don't believe it. Why, it would be ridiculous," Carl protested. "Mr. Coulter probably never so much as heard of us in all his life. Why should he? I'm sure we don't know him."
"I'm afraid your theory isn't quite sound, Hal," rejoined Mrs. McGregor. "While it is possible that for some reason of his own Mr. Coulter, for whom you work, may have sent you a Christmas basket there is not one shred of anything to link him up with us. Mr. McGregor, it is true, was in Davis and Coulter's employ many years; but he was only one of many hundred workmen and scarcely knew old Mr. Coulter by sight. Since the old gentleman has died and the son has come into the firm the last thread that bound us to the company has been snapped. Old Mr. Coulter is gone, and McGregor, with his twenty-five years of service in the mills, is forgotten. As for this young John Coulter who has taken his father's place—I've never set eyes on him."
"But why should the name be on each of the baskets?" Hal insisted, still unwilling to surrender the idea he cherished.
"Ask the market man, laddie. It's a question for him. My notion is that in the rush somebody put it there by mistake," replied Carl's mother. "The marvel isn't that Coulter was written on the baskets; the marvel is that some word in Choctaw or Egyptian wasn't on 'em. Why, if you'd seen those clerks down at the store going round as if their heads were clean off their bodies you wouldn't wonder queer things were written on the hampers we got. I'm amazed they arrived at all."
"But somebody sent them," Hal affirmed.
"I'll join you there! Somebody sent them," nodded Mrs. McGregor. "Up to that point your arguments are perfectly logical. Those baskets never came of themselves. But as for Mr. John Coulter being their giver—why, you are mad as a March hare to think it for a moment. What would he be doing with all his college education and his years of study in Europe sending the likes of us Christmas presents? He has plenty of presents to give in his own family, I guess."
"Well, maybe you're right and the name only happened," Hal conceded. "Still, it's queer, isn't it? Queer that the name should be Coulter, I mean."
"It's a coincidence for you because you chance to work for him; but to us it means nothing."
"Yes, I can see that now," Hal agreed. "Then I guess there is nothing left before going home but to see Carlie carry out his little wager."
"My wager?" Carl repeated.
"You were going to eat your head if the name of Coulter was on the bottom of this basket, remember."
"Oh!" Carl grinned a sickly grin.
"Going to default?"
"No, not default—merely postpone the ceremony," Carl declared.
"Oh, you old crawler! Well, if you are going to put off the show I must be getting home or Mother will think I have been waylaid and my watch stolen. So long, everybody, and pleasant dreams." Then thrusting his face back into the room through the narrowing crack of the door, he added with elfish leer, "Just the same, I still think that Coulter had something to do with those baskets."
Before a protest could be raised the door banged and he was gone.
HAL REPEATS HIS VISIT
Whoever the mysterious Mr. X was he succeeded in keeping his identity a secret much better than did the donors of the O'Dowd's Christmas dinner. A secret when shared by too many becomes no secret at all and so, alas, it proved in this case. And yet no deliberate prattling divulged the story. Its betrayal was purely accidental.
On the morning following the holiday, which, by the way, chanced to be Sunday, Mrs. O'Dowd came up to borrow the McGregor's can opener. In Mulberry Court somebody was always borrowing. An inventory of each family's possessions gradually became public property, so that all the neighbors knew exactly where to turn for anything needed. In fact, the residents of the house so planned their purchases that they would not overlap what the dwelling already contained. Nobody thought, for example, of buying a washing machine since the Murphys had one; nor did any one see cause for investing in a wringer, when a perfectly good one was owned by the McGregors. Even such small things as egg beaters, double boilers, and ice picks, all had an established place of residence and were used in a community spirit. All day long from morning until night little boys and girls trailed up and down the long flights of stairs either to borrow or to return to their rightful owners articles that had been a-visiting. It almost required a card catalogue to keep track of where one's things were.
"Do you know who has the egg beater?" Mrs. McGregor would interrogate on a baking day.
And some of the children whose function it was to procure or carry hence the egg beater generally recalled its whereabouts.
"It's down to Murphys', Ma," Martin would shout. "Don't you remember that Thursday she was making custard?"
Oh, yes; Mrs. McGregor did recollect. It flashed into her mind at the time that with eggs so high the Murphys might well do without custard. Nevertheless, she had not said so. One did not venture to criticize one's neighbors—even if the gossip connected with the various borrowings did entail first-hand information concerning their affairs. For by common consent it was not Mulberry Court etiquette to borrow without stating exactly the service required of the article in question. When, for instance, you sent an emissary to ask for the O'Dowds' ironing board you said:
"Can Ma take the ironing board so she can iron out Mary's dress 'cause she's got to have her white one clean to speak a piece in at school."
Then the O'Dowds knew exactly why the ironing board was needed and just how necessary it was to have it, and not only did they promptly deliver it up, but the next time you met them they inquired how Mary got on speaking her piece and whether she was frightened or not. In this way a friendly interest was created.
To have borrowed the ironing board and not have detailed the accompanying facts would have been a heinous crime and would have exempted any person from loaning it. Under such circumstances it would have been perfectly excusable to send back word by the messenger:
"Mrs. O'Dowd is sorry but she is using the ironing board herself to-day."
But when Mary was to speak a piece, that was quite a different matter.
Mulberry Court had a pride in its tenants.
Mary McGregor certainly must not appear in a dress that had not been freshly ironed. Why, the people on the street would think Mulberry Court bereft of all sense of propriety! No, indeed. Mary McGregor must make a fitting showing if the whole house had to turn to to achieve the desired result. And if by any chance her family could not iron her dress, why somebody else must. Mulberry Court would make a proper showing no matter at what personal sacrifice.
And the same self-respecting spirit came to the fore on all great occasions. When the Sullivan's baby was christened was not Mrs. Sullivan arrayed in Mrs. McGregor's bonnet, Mrs. O'Dowd's coat, and Mrs. Murphy's skirt, that she might make a truly genteel impression? There was the dignity of Mulberry Court to be maintained.
Thus it followed that borrowing was no unusual act and therefore when on Sunday morning Mrs. O'Dowd presented herself at the McGregor's door and announced that she was going to have a chowder of canned corn for dinner and wanted the can opener, beyond a conversation as to the nourishment corn chowder contained; the brand of canned goods one bought; the price of it per can; the quantity of milk required and the price of that milk per quart, nothing further was said, unless it was, perhaps, to mention the crackers and inquire whether the O'Dowds used pilot biscuit or oysterettes. But of course the can opener was not denied and while Mary went to fetch it and Mrs. McGregor continued cutting Nell's hair Mrs. O'Dowd, with arms akimbo, reviewed the pleasures of the day before and compared Christmas dinners.
"Such a feast as we had," declared she. "Such turkey! It melted in your mouth and ran down your throat almost before you had the chance to taste it. And the sweet potatoes! You'd believe, actually, they were just dug up out of the ground! Had you sweet potatoes in your basket, Martin?"
"Sure we had!" returned the small boy, not to be outdone.
"And then the celery! It was that handsome it was fit to be set on a bonnet—I'm telling you the truth."
"Mary gave the celery," lisped Nell.
"Hush!" Martin cried. "You weren't to tell that."
"I didn't tell what I gave. Ma told me not to and I haven't," announced wee Nell proudly.
"But you're not to tell what anybody gave," Martin commanded. "I haven't told a thing, have I, Ma?" concluded he in triumph.
"Hush, Martin, hush!" cautioned his mother quickly. "Pay no heed to them, Mrs. O'Dowd; sure after the holiday they hardly know what they're saying."
"But—but——" Mrs. O'Dowd glanced keenly about, viewing the guilty faces and the indignant looks the older children centered on the two small culprits. She was a quick-witted woman and instantly put two and two together.
"So it was Mary sent the celery, was it?" repeated she. "And who, pray, bought the turkey?" The temptation the question presented was too great for the youthful conspirators.
"Uncle Fwedewic! Uncle Fwedewic!" cried Nell and Martin in a breath.
"He bought it wiz his very own money," Nell went on to explain before she could be stopped.
Oh, the game was all up now! Of what use was it to pretend anything after that? Martin heaved a sigh of delight. For days the secret had trembled on his tongue, making life uncomfortable and unnatural. Constitutionally it was his habit to let slip from that artless member anything that lurked at its tip and as a result he held secrets in abhorrence. Now the truth was out and he for one was glad it was. He would no longer be dreading an encounter with the O'Dowds or be under the trying necessity of acting a part.
"The candy was mine," he announced calmly. "I gave it and Uncle Frederick paid the man."
Julie ventured over the threshold.
"So it's you we have to thank for our dinner!" she exclaimed.
"You don't have us to thank," put in Mrs. McGregor quickly.
"But you surely wouldn't have me be taking a dinner like that and not thanking you for it," said Julie. "And neither O'Dowd nor I had an inkling! Think of our coming up here Christmas morning and all of you keeping so mum!"
"We'd have kept mum longer, if it hadn't been for Nell and Martin," Carl asserted. "I don't see why they couldn't shut up, Ma."
"A secret's no easy treasure to have in one's possession," Mrs. O'Dowd put in quickly. "And you must remember they are but mites—Nell and Martin. Indeed, in my opinion, it's a miracle they didn't blurt it out long before this. You wouldn't get a child of mine to hold his peace any such while; neither the big ones nor the little could do it. Well, well! It was a happy day you gave us and you certainly deserved the dinner you got yourselves. And you had no notion when you sent ours you were to have one of your own."
"No! When it came we thought for a moment you had sent our present back," Carl explained.
"In other words, you were going without your dinner to give it to us," commented Julie.
"We had our tree," Mary interrupted. "We didn't need both things."
"It's few would have done what you did," Julie remarked quietly. "O'Dowd and I will not be forgetting it, either."
Tears came into the eyes of the little woman and as if words failed her she wheeled about and disappeared down the dim hallway.
"At least, she was not put out by our doing it," commented Mrs. McGregor, after her neighbor had gone. "I feared some she might be. But evidently she accepted the gift just as we meant it. So that's settled! Now if we could only find out where our own dinner came from and say as much to its giver, I'd be entirely content. I've taxed my brain until my head is fair aching and still I'm no nearer having an idea where that basket of ours came from than the man in the moon."
"I guess you will just have to rate it as coming from the fairies," smiled her brother, "and let the matter rest there; that is, unless Hal Harling gets another inspiration."
"Another inspiration! Sure the inspiration he had wasn't worth much," sniffed Mrs. McGregor. "Unless he can provide a better one than that I sha'n't be listening to him."
"You may as well not be slandering him, for here he is now," Carl cried, jumping up to admit his chum whose footfall he had heard on the stairs.
"I'm not slandering him," Mrs. McGregor continued, imperturbably greeting the visitor. "In fact, what I've said about him I'd as lief say to his face. I'm telling them, laddie," said she, turning brightly to Hal, "that I have scant opinion of you as a detective."
The big fellow laughed good-humoredly.
"They are not putting me on the Scotland Yard force yet, I must own," he admitted. "But how do you know that I won't track down Mr. X yet? Give me time. No great mystery can be solved all in a minute."
"I've let you sleep on it and so far as I can see you are no better off this morning than you were last night," was the crisp retort.
"I'm not, and that's the truth," Hal returned, pulling off his coat. "I'm simply going to bury the matter the way a dog buries a bone, and then some day I'll dig it up and go to work at it again."
"I guess that's as good a scheme as any," Captain Dillingham declared. "Sometimes if you do not fuss at a riddle it solves itself. Come, sit down and talk to us while Nell gets her hair cut. It may help to keep her quiet."
The child, seated on the table and muffled to her neck in her mother's apron, brightened.
"Tell story," commanded she. "Hal tell story."
"I? Not on your life!" protested the big fellow in consternation. "I never told a story in all my days. Your uncle Frederick will tell you one."
"Uncle Frederick will do nothing of the sort," growled the captain, as he puffed contentedly at his pipe. "It's Hal who is going to tell the story. He is going to explain to us exactly what they do with the bales of cotton when they reach the mill."
"That? Oh, I can tell you that, all right, for I see it done from morning to night, year in and year out. But I don't call that a story, do you?"
"It will be a story to us, no matter what it is to you, for remember that although I have often loaded cotton and carried it hither and thither round the world I've never seen what became of it after we thumped it down on the dock."
"Haven't you? That's funny!" smiled Hal. "And yet after all I don't know as it is, either. How should you know what is done with it? I shouldn't have if I hadn't happened to spend my days at Davis and Coulter's. Well, then, as soon as we get the bales we first weigh them and make a record of each. Then they are opened up and the matted material is spread out so the coarsest of the dirt, such as leaves, sand, stems, and bits of dry pods will be loosened and fall out. To accomplish this we have opening machines of various kinds with beaters, fans, and rollers and by these methods the cotton is cleaned and pressed into a flat sheet or lap. Afterward we start in to mix the varieties in the different bales."
"What for?" questioned Carl.
"Oh, because to get good results you have to have a blend of varieties," Hal explained.
"But isn't cotton cotton?" inquired Mary.
"Not a bit it isn't," grinned young Harling. "Some cotton is far and away better than another. Often it has had better care, better weather, or better soil; or maybe it has grown more evenly and therefore has less unripe stuff mixed in with it. Or perhaps it was a finer, more highly cultivated kind in the first place. There are a score of explanations. Anyhow it is better, and because it is we do not use it all by itself. Instead we use it to grade up some that is less fine in quality. After the bales have been classified we take a little of this and a little of that until we have struck a good average. It goes without saying that we never mix two extremes, or put the best and the worst together. That wouldn't do at all. We aim to produce a mean between these two qualities. All this mixing is not, however, done by hand, as you might think to hear me talk. No, indeed! We have bale-breakers or cotton-pullers to do the work. We simply put several sheets or laps of different quality cotton one on top of another and then let the spikes of the machines tear it into fragments and mix it up."
"Oh!" Mary murmured.
"Afterward comes the scutching," went on Hal, "which is really only a continuation of the same process although the scutching machine makes the laps of cotton of more even thickness. Next we card the material to find out where we stand. It is brushed or combed out—whichever you prefer to call it, and the remaining dirt and short, unripe fibers are removed. This leaves the real thing, and the machine gathers it up and twists it into a sort of rope about an inch in diameter called a sliver."
"What a funny name!" Tim remarked.
"I suppose it is when you stop to think of it," Hal answered. "Well, anyhow, that's what a sliver is. In some mills they draw the cotton out into these long strands and double together four or eight slivers before they are carded. The carding lengthens or stretches them to the size of one and therefore you get a greater uniformity of size. Beside that, all the crossed or snarled fibers are arranged so that they lie out straight and smooth, and when this is done the material is ready for the bobbin and fly frames."
"And what, for goodness' sake, might those be?" demanded Captain Dillingham.
"I certainly am a great hero coming here and knowing so much," Hal answered with amusement. "I think you will understand them better, sir, if you forget what they're called and remember only what they do. They actually combine three processes: slubbing, intermediate, and roving, and their aim is to draw the sliver out until it is thinner, more uniform, and cleaner for spinning. Surely that is simple enough. The spinning is done on a mule or a ring frame—sometimes the one is preferred, sometimes the other. Generally speaking, the thread from one of these machines is what is used for weaving purposes. Sometimes, though, it happens that an order comes for a crackajack fine yarn of the best possible quality and then another combing or carding process follows which takes out everything shorter than fibers of a specified length. As a result about seventeen per cent. of waste is thrown out, as great a percentage as in all the other processes put together. Naturally it is a pretty expensive operation and it makes the yarn thus turned out high in price."
"I suppose such yarn goes only into the finest quality goods," observed Captain Dillingham.
"Exactly!" was Hal's answer.
"It all sounds simple as rolling off a log," Carl affirmed.
"If it seems so to you, just you think back over the problem Arkwright and some of the other inventors, the fruit of whose labors we are now reaping, had to solve," put in Uncle Frederick. "Even I, who am ignorant as an Egyptian mummy concerning cotton manufacture, can appreciate to some extent what they were up against. You must remember that no material is stronger than its weakest part. You have, for instance, a thin place in a string; it matters not how strong that string may be in other spots; pull it taut and it will snap. The thick places do not help make the string strong as a whole. So it is with thread. You have to draw it out until every portion of it is as strong as every other—a pretty little conundrum! It is the drawing, twisting, and doubling which makes the thread first uniform and then strong. Try working-out devices that shall do all these things—devices that shall twist and then double without untwisting, for example. You'll find it worse than a three-ringed circus."
"That's right, sir!" Hal agreed heartily. "I remember when I first went into the mills how puzzled I was at seeing the bobbins whirling in opposite directions. It seemed as if one was simply undoing what another had done. I thought they all ought to turn the same way. It was months before I got through my head what they were up to."
"I hadn't thought of the twisting and doubling part," Carl murmured.
"You decide with that thrown in maybe the answer to the puzzle isn't so easy, eh?" responded Hal with a teasing smile.
"I might have to ponder over it," Carl confessed suavely.
"Ponder! I guess you would. What's more, you'd have a good smart headache before you were through your pondering, I'll bet!" jeered Hal, tweaking his chum's hair.
All good things, alas, come to an end and the McGregor's Christmas holidays were no exception to this immutable law. A day arrived when Carl, Mary and Tim were obliged to return to school, and following swift on the heels of this dire occasion came a yet more lamentable one when Uncle Frederick Dillingham was forced to go back to his ship and sail for China. The latter calamity entirely overshadowed the former and was a very real blow not only to Mulberry Court, where the captain had become an object of universal pride and affection, but also to the Harling family who had come to depend on his daily visits for cheer and sunshine.
"I don't see why somebody else can't sail your ship to China, Uncle Frederick, and let you stay here," wailed Mary.
"Somebody else sail my ship!" gasped the captain, every syllable of the phrase echoing consternation. "Why, my dear child, I would no more turn the command of the Charlotte over to another person than you would exchange your mother for somebody else's. The Charlotte kind of belongs to me, don't you see? She is my—well, I reckon I can't just explain what she is. All I can say is that where she goes I go—if I am alive."
"But—but the sea is so terrible," objected the timid Mary. "So dangerous."
For answer Captain Dillingham burst into a peal of laughter.
"Dangerous? Why, lassie, there isn't a quarter a part the danger on the water there is on land. I have come nearer to being killed right here in Baileyville than ever I have while cruising in mid-ocean. Folks take their lives in their hands every time they cross a city street. Then, too, aren't there high buildings to topple over; flagpoles to snap asunder, signs to blow down; chimneys to shower their bricks on your head; not to mention the death-dealing currents that come through telegraph and telephone wires? Add to this threatening collection trees and snow-slides and slippery pavements and you have quite a list of horrors. Danger! Why, the land is nothing but maelstrom of catastrophes compared with which the serenity of the open sea, with nothing but its moon and stars overhead, is an oasis of safety. Of course there are certain things you must be on your guard against while on the water—fogs, icebergs and gales. But where can you find a spot under God's heaven entirely free from the possibilities of mishap of some sort? I'd a hundred times rather take the risks the sea holds than run my chances on land. Besides, aren't we a city, same as you? Just because we are afloat and you can boast the solid ground under your feet is it a sign we are not citizens with laws and duties? with the wireless singing its messages to us wherever we go we certainly are not cut off from the rest of the world."
For a moment he paused to catch his breath.
"No, siree!" continued he. "We folks on shipboard simply belong to a floating republic, that's all. It's our country same as this is yours, and we love it quite as much as you do."
"I never thought of the ocean that way," Mary returned with a thoughtful smile. "It's always seemed to me a big, big place without any—any streets or——"
"But we have streets, lassie," cried her uncle, instantly catching her up. "Regular avenues they are. Travel 'em and you'll meet the passing same as you would were you to drive along a boulevard. They are the ocean highways, the latitudes and longitudes found to be the best paths between given countries. In some cases the way chosen is shorter; or maybe experience has proved it to be freer from fog or icebergs. Anyhow, it has become an accepted thoroughfare and is as familiar to seafaring men as if it had been smoothed down with a steam roller and had a signpost set to mark it. Never think, child, of the ocean as a lonely, uncharted waste of water. It is a nice quiet place with as much sociability on it as a man wants. You don't, to be sure, rub elbows with your neighbors as you do ashore; but on the other hand you don't have to put up with their racket. Pleasant as it is to be on land the hum of it gets on my nerves in time, and I am always thankful to be back aboard ship."
"We'll miss you dreadfully, Frederick," his sister remarked.
"But remember I'll be putting in at various ports off and on," returned the captain, "and be mailing you letters, postals and trinkets of one sort and another. Moreover, you're all going to write to me, I hope—even Martin. For if there's any one thing a sailor man looks forward to it's the mail that awaits him in a foreign port. I must own that with all the virtues the sea possesses the landlubber has the best of us on mail service. Rural free delivery is one blessing we can't boast. No blue-coated postmen come sauntering down our watery streets to drop letters and papers into our boxes. We have to call for these ourselves same as you might have to go to a post-office here ashore if the government wasn't as thoughtful and generous as it is. Our post-offices are sometimes pretty far apart, too, and I'm driven to confess we don't always get our mail as often as we'd like. That's one of the outs of seafaring. So when we do touch shore and go looking for letters it is disappointing not to find any. Don't forget that. After I'm gone you will get busy with your school, and your sewing, and your fun, and you will not think so often about Uncle Frederick." He put up a warning hand to stay the protest of his listeners. "You won't mean to," continued he kindly, "but you'll do it all the same. It's human nature."
This sinister prediction, however, did not prove true.
For days after Captain Dillingham said good-by to Baileyville, Mulberry Court, the Harlings and the McGregors were inconsolable.
"The house isn't the same with Uncle Frederick gone, is it, Mother?" commented Mary.
"No, it isn't. We miss him very much."
"I should say we did! Such a lot of things happen all the time that I want to tell him," Carl broke in. "Why, only this morning the teacher gave me a book to look up something and the first page I opened to had a lot about foreign trade. A month ago I wouldn't have cast my eye over it a second time but now, because of Uncle Frederick, that sort of thing interests me. So I read along down the left-hand column and what should it be about but the first spinning mills! I wished Uncle Frederick could have read it."
"You must write him about it," flashed Mary. "What did it say, Carl?"
"Oh, I don't know," her brother answered awkwardly. "I'm not sure that I can remember exactly. I wasn't learning it to recite."
"But you read it, didn't you?"
"Sure I did, Miss Schoolmarm!"
"Then you must remember some of it," Mary persisted.
"Oh, I remember scraps of it. It said at the outset that nobody really knew when people began to spin. Most likely they got the idea from pulling out fibers of cotton or wool long as they could make them with their fingers, and then twisting the stuff together into larger and longer threads. As they could do this better if they had the end fastened to something, they got the notion of using a stick or some sort of spool or spindle to wind the thread up on as they made it. They would go walking round with a mass of material under one arm and this crude spindle with the thread on it under the other. The book said that even now in certain foreign countries there were peasants who did this. It was during the reign of Henry VII that spindles and distaffs first appeared in England. Afterward people improved on the idea and made spinning wheels. The people of India had had these long before, so you see they weren't really new; but they were new to England. To judge from the book they weren't any great shakes of spinning wheels; still they were better than nothing. Later on the English got finer ones such as were used in Savoy and these not only had a spindle but a flyer and bobbin. It was most likely these Saxony wheels that started inventors trying to make something that would be better yet."
Holding the plug he was whittling for his double-runner up to the light, Carl halted.
"I think you've done pretty well, son," remarked his mother over the top of her sewing.
"I think so too," Carl returned with unaffected candor. "I had no idea when I started that I could remember so much. I guess it was because I was interested in the story and wasn't trying to learn it. When you think you're learning things, you get to saying them over and over until by and by what little sense there is in 'em seems to evaporate. At least, that's the way it is with me. If I could just read and not keep thinking that I was trying to learn I'd get on twice as well. Even this page of stuff would have looked different if I'd been going to learn it. You see, you never have the chance to learn what you want to at school; it's always what they pick out for you. Naturally you don't care as much about it as you would if it was what you'd chosen yourself."
Mrs. McGregor could not resist smiling in sympathy with this philosophy of education, novel as it was.
"Now what the teacher sent me to look up in that book," went on Carl, "was some old foreign treaty. Of course I read it over because she made me. But do I remember a line of it? Nix! I told her what the book said as fast as I could, so to get it off my soul before I forgot it. I don't see what she cared about it for anyway, for it didn't seem to hitch up to anything. But this spinning business hitched right up to Uncle Frederick, Hal Harling and what we've been talking about. I don't see why Miss Dewey couldn't have let me alone to learn about that."
"Probably she didn't dream you were interested in it," said Mary. "How should she, pray?"
"I know it. I suppose she didn't," answered Carl with fairness. "She certainly is no mind reader; and I didn't mention it."
"Then don't go blaming poor Miss Dewey," Mary retorted. "Besides, what kind of a school would she have if every child in it refused to learn anything but what he cared about. She would have fifty kids all going fifty different ways."
Carl sighed. Plainly the flaws of the educational system were too many for him. Nevertheless he attempted a modest defense of his theory.
"No, she wouldn't," contradicted he. "Some of 'em don't want to learn anything anyhow, and since they have to they are as well pleased to learn one thing as another. Billie Tarbox, for instance, hasn't any preferences; he just hates all highbrow stuff alike. And the Murphys and Jack Sullivan wouldn't care a hurrah what they learned. All Jack wants to do when he grows up is to run a steam roller and if he can do that he'll be perfectly satisfied."
"But he'll have to learn something before he can," observed Mrs. McGregor.
"No, he won't, Ma. Mike Finnerty who lives in his block runs one and he doesn't know a thing," Carl replied simply.
"On the contrary, I think you'll find Mr. Michael Finnerty knows much more than you give him credit for," retorted Mrs. McGregor. "He probably knows more than he himself realizes. He may not have learned about engines out of books; but if not he has learned about them from actual contact with them. All learning does not come from between book covers, sonny. Experience is a wonderful teacher. Books simply give us the same result without making us stumble along to learn everything ourselves. They are somebody else's experience done up in a little bundle and handed to us as a shorter cut. Mr. Michael Finnerty has had to take the long way round to get his education, that is all. For education is nothing but a training which enables us to live and be useful to others; and if when we're through we can't do that all the book learning in the world isn't going to be worth much to us."
"Why, Mother, I thought you were terribly keen on schools," ejaculated Mary, aghast.
"So I am, my dear. A fine mind thoroughly trained is a glorious tool; but far too often people forget that it is simply a tool. Just sharpening and polishing it and never turning it to account for other people isn't what it was made for. Learn all you can so you will be able to help the world along the better. But don't just soak up and soak up what books tell you and then store it away in your head like so much old lumber."
"But what can you do with what you read, Ma?" Carl questioned, laying down his whittling and facing his mother.
"Precisely what you have been doing this morning, for one thing," was the quiet answer. "Pass it on to somebody else who hasn't read it. Mary and I, for example, hadn't read about England and the early spinning wheels. We hadn't the time to; nor had we the book. You've managed to tell us quite a lot."
"Maybe I could tell you some more, if you wanted me to," said Carl, urged on by altruistic impulse.
"Of course we do," his mother replied.
Carl took a long breath and considered thoughtfully.
"Well, what knocked me was that at first the English government didn't want any cotton cloth made," began he.
"Why not? I should think they would have been delighted!" Mary put in.
"Oh, the English made a lot of woolen goods, and they had a hunch that cotton cloth might cut into the trade for wool and fustians. So Parliament passed a law placing a five-pound fine on any of the British who wore things made of colored calico. As the restriction also covered the use of painted, dyed or stenciled cottons it knocked out all these products for hangings, bedspreads, or coverings."
"How horrid of them!" said Mary indignantly.
"They were darned afraid of their trade being interfered with, you see," explained her brother. "I believe you could use an all blue calico and of course there was no objection to making cotton cloth into underclothes; also you were allowed to use a cloth woven of cotton and wool. But you mustn't wear any pretty figured cotton dresses. When the people heard that they kind of rose up, and when the government found out they wouldn't stand for such a law, in 1736, after amending it, they made another one letting folks wear any kind of decorated cloth they had a mind to, so long as its warp was entirely of linen yarn. This provided England with a market for her flax. But once the law was passed the delighted manufacturers began to turn out colored cloth by the bushelful, making any amount more than they could sell just because they were allowed to. This led to another difficulty—where were they going to get enough linen warp? The cottagers who worked at home with their little spinning wheels could not begin to turn out the supply that was needed, and weavers of cloth went traveling everywhere over England buying up all the linen thread people would sell and begging for more. And not only did they want linen warp but they wanted it stronger and coarser so they could weave heavier cloth. Now the spinning wheels only turned out single thread. What was to be done?"
"Well, what was to be done?" echoed Mary.
"It was trying to find an answer to all this weaving muddle that set John Kay to inventing his flying shuttle," replied Carl. "Until then it had taken two people to send the heavy shuttles with the warp on them across the looms. His new flying shuttle did the same work with only one person to operate it. You'd think that an improvement in weaving, wouldn't you; and you'd have the right, if you worked out the idea, to believe the weavers would be pleased?"
"Certainly," returned his mother.
"Well, instead of being pleased, the workmen were crazy," Carl announced.
"Because they were such blockheads they were afraid Kay's invention was going to put them out of their jobs. In fact, they got so soured on poor old Kay that his life was actually in danger and he had to get out of England. There's gratitude for you!" concluded the boy with a shrug.
"But later on they learned better, I suppose, and sent for him to come back," Mary suggested. "That's the way people always do."
"These people didn't," was Carl's grim retort. "Not on your tin-type! They never got Kay back again in spite of all he'd done for them. Instead, he died somewhere abroad without receiving much of anything for his invention. Wouldn't that make you hot? In the meantime, about 1738, a chap called Lewis Paul got out a double set of rollers that would draw out thread and twist it—a stunt previously done by hand. So it went. Here and there men all over England, knowing the need of better spinning devices, went to it to see what they could do. John Wyatt, who, like Paul, was a Birmingham native, tried spinning by means of rollers; and for ever so long it was a question whether it was he or Paul who should be credited with the invention of the roller and flyer machine. After twenty years I believe Paul was granted the patent. In point of fact, though, Arkwright thirty years before had tried to get a patent on spinning by rollers, and no doubt both Lewis Paul and John Wyatt got the suggestion from him. Anyhow, the idea spread like wildfire and immediately no end of people went to work fussing with rollers, flyers, and spindles. As a result, many small things were added to improve the spinning contrivances in use at the time. Then in 1764, or thereabouts, along came James Hargreaves, a Lancashire Englishman, with a machine that would spin eleven threads at once."
His listeners gave a little gasp.
"That was some stride ahead, wasn't it?" commented Carl, as proudly as if he himself had done the deed. "Yes, siree! Hargreaves's spinning jenny was a big step forward. And as usual it raised a row. When he got it all perfected five years later and went to take out a patent on it, his right to it was questioned and his life made miserable. But, anyhow, people couldn't say he built on Arkwright or Paul, for whether they liked it or not they had to admit his idea was quite new. His jenny only spun cloth rovings, however. The rovings had to be prepared first; that is, the cotton had to be carded and given its first twist. After that Hargreaves was ready for it and could lengthen, twist, and spin into yarn eleven threads of it."
"I hope the ungrateful workmen did not get after him as they did after John Kay," Mary murmured.
"They did! At least, although they did not drive him out of England they drove him out of Lancashire. So he went to Nottingham; and after arming himself with his patent he and a Mr. James built a spinning mill there, one of the first to be built in England."
"That must have made his fortune and repaid him for all his hard labor," remarked Mrs. McGregor, as she held up a violet cloud of spangled tulle and examined it critically.
"The book said he didn't make much money," Carl announced. "He wasn't as poor as John Kay and did not die in want; but he certainly never became rich."
"I suppose now that they had spinning factories England was satisfied," said Mary.
"Satisfied?" repeated Carl with scorn. "Satisfied because there was one little measly spinning factory? You bet your life people weren't satisfied! To be sure some of the hardest of the inventing was done. But don't for a minute imagine you are through with Richard Arkwright. He was still on the job."
"You told us about him before."
"Trying to get a patent on spinning by rollers? Yes, I did. Well, he was still alive and of course when everybody was talking about spinning he couldn't help hearing the gossip even if he did happen to be a barber. In fact while he traveled round buying and selling hair for wigs he must have met no end of people and talked with them, so I guess he heard more of the news of the day than did lots of other men. Barbers always seem to be sociable chaps. He was quite a mechanic, too, in his way; machinery had always interested him."
"In spite of his making wigs and toupees for ladies and gentlemen?" laughed Mrs. McGregor mischievously.
"Sure, Ma! He had been born in Lancashire just as Hargreaves had and so he probably was particularly interested in Hargreaves. When anybody from your own part of the world does anything smart you always are all ears about it, you know. So Arkwright found out all he could by gossiping about Hargreaves's spinning jenny, and no one was quicker to see what such an invention would mean to England than he. The idea was almost like a magnet to him. He hunted up Mr. Highs, who had experimented a lot with spinning machinery, and talked with him; he also met John Kay, who at one time had helped Highs. And because he was such an intelligent listener and seemed to understand machinery so well these men babbled to him about their hobby. Having heard all they had to say Arkwright went off by himself and set quietly to work to try out on a small scale certain notions of his own. These notions had to do with spinning cotton by drawing rollers, and they worked perfectly. That was enough for him. He announced his success, got his patent, was knighted by the crown, and became rich. How's that for a yarn? Isn't it like the story of Puss-In-Boots?"
"It is certainly magical," declared Mrs. McGregor, who had dropped her work in her absorption. "I am glad, too, to know there was one inventor who prospered."
"I am afraid he was the only one—at least of those interested in spinning," replied Carl gravely.
"All the others both before and after him lost out so far as money went."
"Who did come after Arkwright?" queried Mary.
"Crompton—Samuel Crompton," was the prompt reply. "He was a little boy when Arkwright was tooting round the country trading hair and wigs. The two men may even have happened to see one another somewhere. That wouldn't be impossible, you know. Anyway, during the time that Arkwright was fighting the right to his roller patent; going into partnership with rich men who could finance his schemes; and building his chain of mills at Nottingham, Cromford, and Matlock, Crompton was growing up. As some of these mills were worked by horse power and some by water power, the name of 'water frame' clung to Arkwright's invention. Crompton, like everybody else who lived at the time, saw the rivalry between Hargreaves's jenny and Arkwright's water frame. It was of course silly that there should have been rivalry, for the two machines did quite different sorts of work. Arkwright's water frame was better for making the warp and long threads of cloth; and Hargreaves's jenny turned out better weft, or the kind of thread that went from side to side. It was only a matter of the sort of thread you needed, understand."
"Then they certainly needn't have been jealous of one another," commented Mrs. McGregor.
"Fortunately in time they found that out and realized that each loom had its advantages; to-day both are used—one for one purpose, one for another. But no matter how many enemies Arkwright had everybody, whether they liked him or not, was compelled to admit that he gave the spinning industry a tremendous boost and did more toward starting our present factory idea than did any one else. Not only was he a tireless worker, but he was quick as a flash to see what was needed. Maybe he wasn't any too scrupulous whose property he took; but at least he took the things he seized more for the public good than his own, I really believe. For instance, there was Lewis Paul's carding engine; he introduced that into Lancashire and added to it a stripping comb, or doffer, that made it about fifty per cent. better than it ever had been before. That is what he did to everything he touched. He swooped down on any machine he saw and then proceeded to improve it. It didn't matter to him who it belonged to. Of course you can't do that, even if you are an inventor," grinned Carl. "Naturally it got Arkwright in wrong and he was given some pretty hard names. Still he did a lot of good for all that. And, anyway, whatever he was, I take my hat off to him because he began to study writing, spelling, and arithmetic when he was fifty years old. That gets me!"
"Poor soul! He probably had no chance for an education when he was younger," remarked Mrs. McGregor.
"No, he hadn't. But picture it! Jove! If I had gone that long without books, and had been able to invent all sorts of things into the bargain, darned if I wouldn't have stuck it out," Carl said.
"But you told us Arkwright became rich and was knighted," replied Mrs. McGregor. "No doubt this resulted in his meeting educated people, gentlemen and ladies, in whose company he felt ashamed, uncomfortable, and at a disadvantage."
"I'd feel that way, wouldn't you?" nodded Mary. "I do feel so even when I am with Uncle Frederick, and my teacher, and—and you, Mother."
"Don't include me, dear," protested her mother sadly. "Alas, I know little enough. But it does help you to understand how that poor, hard-working Richard Arkwright suffered. Often, I'll wager, he was angry at himself for his lack of education even though it was not his fault. I don't wonder, snubbed as he probably was at times, that he determined he would learn something."
"His hard-earned education did not do him much good, Mother, for he died when he was sixty," said Carl.
"Well, at least he lived long enough to see his success," Mary put in brightly.
"He was luckier than Crompton," replied her brother.
"Oh, tell us about Crompton. Do you remember anything about him?" Mary inquired.
"Crompton was one of the most important of the spinning inventors," continued Carl. "But he did not set out to be an inventor any more than Arkwright did. To be sure he wasn't a barber or anything as ordinary as that. He was a musician, a person of quite another sort, you see. His family were better bred and started him out with a good education—the very thing Arkwright lacked. Crompton might easily have mixed with the class Arkwright wanted to mix with but he wasn't as good a mixer. Instead of gossiping with everybody he met, as Arkwright had done, Crompton kept by himself and lived quietly at home with his mother."
"A sensible lad!" Mrs. McGregor whispered.
"Maybe," grinned her son. "Still, it made people call Crompton unsociable. I guess, though, most geniuses are that. They always seem to be so in books; and Crompton certainly was a genius. He hadn't an ounce of brain for business but he had no end of ideas; and it was those that got him on in life. For you see, although the Cromptons were what Ma would call 'gentle people', they were not rich. They were comfortably off, though, and if the father had not died when the children were small they might have been very well off indeed. As it was, Mrs. Crompton had to help out the finances by carding, spinning, and weaving cloth at home when her other work was done. Ever so many other women did it, so it was considered an all right thing to do. Since Kay's flying shuttle had made it possible to spin more stuff the weavers, as I told you, were scouring the country for all the warp and weft they could lay hands on, so everybody who could spin thread was sure of a market. The prices offered, and the difficulties the weavers were having to get material enough, were common talk at every English cottage fireside. So of course it wasn't strange that Mrs. Crompton, along with the rest of her neighbors, heard this gossip and also heard about Hargreaves's spinning jenny. Now Samuel helped his mother to spin evenings when he wasn't playing at the village theater and she decided it would be nice to get one of these spinning jennies for him to use. So she did, and it wasn't long before he could not only use it, but could turn out weft enough for cloth to clothe the whole Crompton family."
"Then I don't see but the Cromptons were nicely taken care of," Mary announced.
"That wasn't the point, smartie!" her brother objected. "Of course they were well enough off themselves, but the village of Bolton where they lived was strong on its muslins and quilt materials and what the people wanted was to be able to spin fine muslins such as were imported into England from India and China. If such goods could be made by uneducated Orientals why should not people as clever and ingenious as the English make them?"
"They couldn't do it; I don't know why," answered Carl. "They just could not contrive to draw fine enough thread. Of course Samuel Crompton had always seen the Bolton goods since he was a little boy and so knew as well as did everybody else in the town what a wonderful thing it would be if finer thread could be made. So after his mother got her spinning jenny for him he began to fuss round with it simply to find out whether he could make it any better or not. He experimented five years and at the end of that time he had made a 'muslin wheel' that was something like Arkwright's water frame and something like Hargreaves's jenny and yet wasn't like either of those things. Therefore, as a joke, it was called a 'mule.'"
"Oh, I'm awfully glad he made it!" ejaculated the sympathetic Mary. "Five years was such a long time to work. Wasn't it splendid of him!"
"Other people, I'm sorry to say, were not of your opinion," Carl replied. "As I said before, the spinners and weavers were a crazy, jealous lot. You remember how they treated Kay and Hargreaves? Well, they hadn't improved any and were still just as mad at spinning inventions and spinning inventors as they were before. Everything that did away with hand labor was, they argued, an enemy and was going to put them out of business."
"But how could they expect they were going to stop the progress of the world?" asked Mrs. McGregor.
"They didn't think it was progress; they were just that stupid," returned Carl. "And I guess even if they had thought so it would have been the same. They were determined to use nothing that reduced the number of hand workers. So they set themselves to take out their vengeance on all spinning machinery, and in order to put an end to it mobs of workers went about smashing to atoms every spinning jenny they could find that had more than twenty spindles."
"How nasty!" breathed Mary.
"How stupid!" rejoined her mother.
"Now, of course, Samuel Crompton wasn't going to have his new 'muslin wheel' smashed to bits so he did not tell anybody what he had invented. He simply took the thing to pieces and hid the parts round his workroom. Some of them he put in the ceiling, some he tucked away under the floor."
"Bully for him!" Mary cried. "It was a regular kid trick."
"I know it," agreed Carl. "He wasn't really a kid, though, because he was twenty-seven years old at the time and was married and his wife had just come to live at the big Crompton homestead. Well, after a little while, things settled down and then Samuel Crompton dragged out the parts of his hidden muslin wheel, put them together, and he and the lady he had married went to work making the finest and strongest yarn they could. Such fine thread had never before been made in all England and you better believe when it began to appear it created a stir. Everybody in Bolton went round trying to find out where it came from and after the tidings spread about that the Cromptons were the people who were producing the mysterious yarn, the town swelled with pride. How was the thread made? That was the next question!"
"And the Cromptons didn't tell, of course."
"That's where you're wrong, Mary Ann! I wish they hadn't; but they did."
"That was a pity," interrupted Mrs. McGregor.
"You'd have thought they would have been wise enough not to, wouldn't you?" Carl observed. "But I told you Samuel Crompton had no great head for business. He was trusting and decent, just the way Eli Whitney was. He had no idea people would steal his invention. So when the mill owners and factory folks came surging to his house, he not only let them see the loom but even allowed some of them to try it when they wrote out a promise or pledged their word that they would pay him for the privilege."
Mrs. McGregor shook her head.
"I'm afraid," said she, "that was all he ever heard of the money."
"Of course it was, Ma! Evidently you know more about human nature than poor Crompton did. He was utterly amazed when they wouldn't pay up. And when there were others mean enough to hide in the room over his workshop, bore holes in the floor, and spy down at the magic machine, all was lost."
"He held no patent, then?"
"He hadn't one thing to protect him. The sharks just came down on him, grabbed his idea, and walked away with it unmolested," answered Carl.
"Oh, that was pitiful—pitiful!" exclaimed Mrs. McGregor, laying aside her work.
"It was a darn shame!" echoed her son.
"And the Cromptons never got any money at all?" asked Mary.
"Not then, anyhow."
"Well, at least Mr. Crompton had the joy of doing what he set out to do—nobody could take that satisfaction away from him," mused Mrs. McGregor.
"Yes, but would that have consoled you for finding that people were so low-down?" answered Carl with scorn. "I'll bet that one fact disappointed him more than the loss of the money. It would me."