"It must all have been great fun, mustn't it?" said Laurie thoughtfully.
"Great fun, no doubt, but very hard work," was the tutor's answer. "Many a long, discouraging hour was yet to follow before the telephone became a factor in the everyday world. Yet each step of the climb to success had its sunlight as well as its shadow, its humor as well as its pathos; and it was fortunate both men appreciated this fact for it floated them over many a rough sea. Man can spare almost any other attribute better than his sense of humor. Without this touchstone he is ill equipped to battle with life," concluded Mr. Hazen whimsically.
THE REST OF THE STORY
"I should think," commented Laurie one day, when Ted and Mr. Hazen were sitting in his room, "that Mr. Bell's landlady would have fussed no end to have his telephone ringing all the time."
"My dear boy, you do not for an instant suppose that the telephones of that period had bells, do you?" replied Mr. Hazen with amusement. "No, indeed! There was no method for signaling. Unless two persons agreed to talk at a specified hour of the day or night and timed their conversation by the clock, or else had recourse to the Morse code, there was no satisfactory way they could call one another. This did not greatly matter when you recollect how few telephones there were in existence. Mr. Williams used to summon a listener by tapping on the metal diaphragm of the instrument with his pencil, a practice none too beneficial to the transmitter; nor was the resulting sound powerful enough to reach any one who was not close at hand. Furthermore, persons could not stand and hold their telephones and wait until they could arouse the party at the other end of the line for a telephone weighed almost ten pounds and——"
"Ten pounds!" repeated Ted in consternation.
Mr. Hazen nodded.
"Yes," answered he, "the early telephones were heavy, cumbersome objects and not at all like the trim, compact instruments we have to-day. In fact, they were quite similar to the top of a sewing-machine box, only, perhaps, they were a trifle smaller. You can understand that one would not care to carry on a very long conversation if he must in the meantime stand and hold in his arms a ten-pound object about ten inches long, six inches wide, and six inches high."
"I should say not!" Laurie returned. "It must have acted as a fine check, though, on people who just wanted to gabble."
Both Ted and the tutor laughed.
"Of course telephone owners could not go on that way," Ted said, after the merriment had subsided. "What did Mr. Bell do about it?"
"The initial step for betterment was not taken by Mr. Bell but by Mr. Watson," Mr. Hazen responded. "He rigged a little hammer inside the box and afterwards put a button on the outside. This thumper was the first calling device ever in use. Later on, however, the assistant felt he could improve on this method and he adapted the buzzer of the harmonic telegraph to the telephone; this proved to be a distinct advance over the more primitive thumper but nevertheless he was not satisfied with it as a signaling apparatus. So he searched farther still, and with the aid of one of the shabby little books on electricity that he had purchased for a quarter from Williams's tiny showcase, he evolved the magneto-electric call bell such as we use to-day. This answered every purpose and nothing has ever been found that has supplanted it. It is something of a pity that Watson did not think to affix his name to this invention; but he was too deeply interested in what he was doing and probably too busy to consider its value. His one idea was to help Mr. Bell to improve the telephone in every way possible and measuring what he was going to get out of it was apparently very far from his thought. Of course, the first of these call bells were not perfect, any more than were the first telephones; by and by, however, their defects were remedied until they became entirely satisfactory."
"So they now had telephones, transmitters, and call bells," reflected Ted. "I should say they were pretty well ready for business."
"You forget the switchboard," was Mr. Hazen's retort. "A one-party line was a luxury and a thing practically beyond the reach of the public. At best there were very few of them. No, some method for connecting parties who wished to speak to one another had to be found and it is at this juncture of the telephone's career that a new contributor to the invention's success comes upon the scene.
"Doing business at Number 342 Washington Street was a young New Yorker by the name of Edwin T. Holmes, who had charge of his father's burglar-alarm office. As all the electrical equipment he used was made at Williams's shop, he used frequently to go there and one day, when he entered, he came upon Charles Williams, the proprietor of the store, standing before a little box that rested on a shelf and shouting into it. Hearing Mr. Holmes's step, he glanced over his shoulder, met his visitor's astonished gaze, and laughed.
"'For Heaven's sake, Williams, what have you got in that box?' demanded Mr. Holmes.
"'Oh, this is what that fellow out there by Watson's bench, Mr. Bell, calls a telephone,' replied Mr. Williams.
"'So that's the thing I have seen squibs in the paper about!' observed the burglar-alarm man with curiosity.
"'Yes, he and Watson have been working at it for some time.'
"Now Mr. Holmes knew Tom Watson well for the young electrician had done a great deal of work for him in the past; moreover, the New York man was a person who kept well abreast of the times and was always alert for novel ideas. Therefore quite naturally he became interested in the embryo enterprise and dropped into Williams's shop almost every day to see how the infant invention was progressing. In this way he met both Mr. Gardiner Hubbard and Mr. Thomas Saunders, who were Mr. Bell's financial sponsors. After Mr. Holmes had been a spectator of the telephone for some time, he remarked to Mr. Hubbard:
"'If you succeed in getting two or three of those things to work and will lend them to me, I will show them to Boston.'
"'Show them to Boston,' repeated Mr. Hubbard. 'How will you do that?'
"'Well,' said Mr. Holmes, 'I have a Central Office down at Number 342 Washington Street from which I have individual wires running to most of the banks, many jeweler's shops, and other stores. I can ring a bell in a bank from my office and the bank can ring one to me in return. By using switches and giving a prearranged signal to the Exchange Bank, both of us could throw a switch which would put the telephones in circuit and we could talk together.'
"After looking at Mr. Holmes for a moment with great surprise, Mr. Hubbard slapped him on the back and said, 'I will do it! Get your switches and other things ready.'
"Of course Mr. Holmes was greatly elated to be the first one to show on his wires this wonderful new instrument and connect two or more parties through a Central Office. He immediately had a switchboard made (its actual size was five by thirty-six inches) through which he ran a few of his burglar-alarm circuits and by means of plugs he arranged so that he could throw the circuit from the burglar-alarm instruments to the telephone. He also had a shelf made to rest the telephones on and had others like it built at the Exchange National and the Hide and Leather banks. In a few days the telephones, numbered 6, 7, and 8, arrived and were quickly installed, and the marvellous exhibition opened. Soon two more instruments were added, one of which was placed in the banking house of Brewster, Bassett and Company and the other in the Shoe and Leather Bank. When the Williams shop was connected, it gave Mr. Holmes a working exchange of five connections, the first telephone exchange in history."
"I'll bet they had some queer times with it," asserted Ted.
"They did, indeed!" smiled Mr. Hazen. "The papers announced the event, although in very retiring type, and persons of every walk in life flocked to the Holmes office to see the wonder with their own eyes. So many came that Mr. Holmes had a long bench made so that visitors could sit down and watch the show. One day a cornetist played from the Holmes building so that the members of the Boston Stock Exchange, assembled at the office of Brewster, Bassett and Company, could hear the performance. Considering the innovation a great boon, the New York man secured another instrument and after meditating some time on whom he would bestow it he decided to install it in the Revere Bank, thinking the bank people would be delighted to be recipients of the favor. His burglar-alarm department had pass-keys to all the banks and therefore, when banking hours were over, he and one of his men obtained entrance and put the telephone in place. The following morning he had word that the president of the bank wished to see him and expecting to receive thanks for the happy little surprise he had given the official, he hurried to the bank. Instead of expressing gratitude, however, the president of the institution said in an injured tone:
"'Mr. Holmes, what is that play toy you have taken the liberty of putting up out there in the banking room?'
"'Why, that is what they are going to call a telephone,' explained Mr. Holmes.
"'A telephone! What's a telephone?' inquired the president.
"With enthusiasm the New Yorker carefully sketched in the new invention and told what could be done with it.
"After he had finished he was greatly astonished to have the head of the bank reply with scorn:
"'Mr. Holmes, you take that plaything out of my bank and don't ever take such liberties again.'
"You may be sure the plaything was quickly removed and the Revere Bank went on record as having the first telephone disconnection in the country.
"Having exhibited the telephones for a couple of weeks, Mr. Holmes went to Mr. Hubbard and suggested that he would like to continue to carry on the exchange but he should like it put on a business basis.
"'Have you any money?' asked Mr. Hubbard.
"'Mighty little,' was the frank answer.
"'Well, that's more than we have got,' Mr. Hubbard responded. 'However, if you have got enough money to do the business and build the exchange, we will rent you the telephones.'
"By August, 1877, when Bell's patent was sixteen months' old, Casson's History tells us there were seven hundred and seventy-eight telephones in use and the Bell Telephone Association was formed. The organization was held together by an extremely simple agreement which gave Bell, Hubbard, and Saunders a three-tenths' interest apiece in the patents and Watson one-tenth. The business possessed no capital, as there was none to be had; and these four men at that time had an absolute monopoly of the telephone business,—and everybody else was quite willing they should have.
"In addition to these four associates was Charles Williams, who had from the first been a believer in the venture, and Mr. Holmes who built the first telephone exchange with his own money, and had about seven hundred of the seven hundred and seventy-eight instruments on his wires. Mr. Robert W. Devonshire joined the others in August, 1877, as bookkeeper and general secretary and has since become an official in the American Telephone and Telegraph Company.
"Mr. Holmes rented the telephones for ten dollars a year and through his exchange was the first practical man who had the temerity to offer telephone service for sale. It was the arrival of a new idea in the business world.
"Now the business world is not a tranquil place and as soon as the new invention began to prosper, every sort of difficulty beset its path.
"There were those who denied that Mr. Bell had been first in the field with the telephone idea, and they began to contest his right to the patents. Other telephone companies sprang up and began to compete with the rugged-hearted pioneers who had launched the industry. Lawsuits followed and for years Mr. Bell's days were one continual fight to maintain his claims and keep others from wresting his hard-earned prosperity from him. But in time smoother waters were reached and now Alexander Graham Bell has been universally conceded to be the inventor of this marvel without which we of the present should scarcely know how to get on."
"I don't believe we could live without telephones now, do you?" remarked Laurie thoughtfully.
"Oh, I suppose we could keep alive," laughed Mr. Hazen, "but I am afraid our present order of civilization would have to be changed a good deal. We scarcely realize what a part the telephone plays in almost everything we attempt to do. Certainly the invention helps to speed up our existence; and, convenient as it is, I sometimes am ungrateful enough to wonder whether we should not be a less highly strung and nervous nation without it. However that may be, the telephone is here, and here to stay, and you now have a pretty clear idea of its early history. How from these slender beginnings the industry spread until it spanned continents and circled the globe, you can easily read elsewhere. Yet mighty as this factor has become in the business world, it is not from this angle of its greatness that I like best to view it. I would rather think of the lives it has saved; the good news it has often borne; the misunderstandings it has prevented; the better unity it has promoted among all peoples. Just as the railroad was a gigantic agent in bringing North, South, East, and West closer together, so the telephone has helped to make our vast country, with its many diverse elements, 'one nation, indivisible.'"
With September a tint of scarlet crept into the foliage bordering the little creeks that stole from the river into the Aldercliffe meadows; tangles of goldenrod and purple asters breathed of autumn, and the mornings were now too chilly for a swim. Had it not been for the great fireplace the shack would not have been livable. For the first time both Ted and Laurie realized that the summer they had each enjoyed so heartily was at an end and they were face to face with a different phase of life.
The harvest, with its horde of vegetables and fruit, had been gathered into the yawning barns and cellars and the earth that had given so patiently of its increase had earned the right to lay fallow until the planting of another spring. Ted's work was done. He had helped deposit the last barrel of ruddy apples, the last golden pumpkins within doors, and now he had nothing more to do but to pack up his possessions preparatory to returning to Freeman's Falls, there to rejoin his family and continue his studies.
Once the thought that the drudgery of summer was over would have been a delightful one. Why, he could remember the exultation with which he had burned the last cornstalks at the end of the season when at home in Vermont. The ceremony had been a rite of hilarious rejoicing. But this year, strange to say, a dull sadness stole over him whenever he looked upon the devastated gardens and the reaches of bare brown earth. There was nothing to keep him longer either at Aldercliffe or Pine Lea. His work henceforth lay at school.
It was strange that a little sigh accompanied the thought for had he not always looked forward to this very prospect? What was the matter now? Was not studying the thing he had longed to be free to do? Why this regret and depression? And why was his own vague sadness reflected in Laurie's eyes and in those of Mr. Hazen? Summer could not last forever; it was childish to ask that it should. They all had known from the beginning that these days of companionship must slip away and come to an end. And yet the end had come so quickly. Why, it had scarcely been midsummer before the twilight had deepened and the days mellowed into autumn.
Well, they had held many happy, happy hours for Ted, at least. Never had he dreamed of such pleasures. He had enjoyed his work, constant though it had been, and had come to cherish as much pride in the gardens of Aldercliffe and Pine Lea, in the vast crops of hay that bulged from the barn lofts, as if they had been his own. And when working hours were over there was Laurie Fernald and the new and pleasant friendship that existed between them.
As Ted began to drag out from beneath his bunk the empty wooden boxes he purposed to pack his books in, his heart sank. Soon the cosy house in which he had passed so many perfect hours would be quite denuded. Frosts would nip the flowers nodding in a final glory of color outside the windows; the telephone would be disconnected; his belongings would once more be crowded into the stuffy little flat at home; and the door of the camp on the river's edge would be tightly locked on a deserted paradise.
Of course, everything had to come to an end some time and often when he had been weeding long, and what seemed interminable rows of seedlings and had been making only feeble progress at the task, the thought that termination of his task was an ultimate certainty had been a consolation mighty and sustaining. Such an uninteresting undertaking could not last forever, he told himself over and over again; nothing ever did. And now with ironic conformity to law, his philosophy had turned on him, demonstrating beyond cavil that not only did the things one longed to be free of come to a sure finality but so did those one pined to have linger.
Although night was approaching, too intent had he been on his reveries to notice that the room was in darkness. How still everything was! That was the way the little hut would be after he was gone,—cold, dark, and silent. He wondered as he sat there whether he should ever come back. Would the Fernalds want him next season and again offer him the boathouse for a home? They had said nothing about it but if he thought he was to return another summer it would not be so hard to go now. It was leaving forever that saddened him.
He must have remained immovable there in the twilight for a much longer time than he realized; and perhaps he would have sat there even longer had not a sound startled him into breathless attention. It was the rhythmic stroke of a canoe paddle and as it came nearer it was intermingled with the whispers of muffled voices. Possibly he might have thought nothing of the happening had there not been a note of tense caution in the words that came to his ear.
Who could be navigating the river at this hour of the night? Surely not pleasure-seekers, for it was very cold and an approaching storm had clouded in the sky until it had become a dome of velvet blackness. Whoever was venturing out upon the river must either know the stream very well or be reckless of his own safety.
Ted did not move but listened intently.
"Let's take a chance and land," he heard a thick voice murmur. "The boy has evidently either gone to bed or he isn't here. Whichever the case, he can do us no harm and I'm not for risking the river any farther. It's black as midnight. We might get into the current and have trouble."
"What's the sense of running our heads into a noose by landing?" objected a second speaker. "We can't talk here—that's nonsense."
"I tell you the boy isn't in the hut," retorted his comrade. "I remember now that I heard he was going back to the Falls to school. Likely he has gone already. In any case we can try the door and examine the windows; if the place is locked, we shall be sure he is not here. And should it prove to be inhabited, we can easy hatch up some excuse for coming. He'll be none the wiser. Even if he should be here," added the man after a pause, "he is probably asleep. After a hard day's work a boy his age sleeps like a log. There'll be no waking him, so don't fret. Come! Let's steer for the float."
"Great Heavens, Cronin! We've got to take some chances. You're not getting cold feet so soon, are you?" burst out the other scornfully.
"N—o! Of course not," his companion declared with forced bravado. "But I don't like taking needless risks. The boy might be awake and hear us."
"What if he does? Haven't I told you I will invent some yarn to put him off the scent? He wouldn't be suspecting mischief, anyhow. I tell you I'm not going drifting round this river in the dark any longer. Next thing we know we may hit a snag and upset."
"But you insisted on coming."
"I know I did," snapped the sharp voice. "What chance had we to talk in a crowded boarding-house whose very walls had ears? Or on the village streets? I knew the river would have no listeners and you see I was right; it hasn't. But I did expect there would be a trifle more light. It is like ink, isn't it? You can't see your hand before your face."
"I don't believe we could find the float even if we tried for it," piped his friend with malicious satisfaction.
"Find it? Of course we can. I've traveled this river too many times to get lost on it. I know every inch of the stream."
"But aren't there boats at the landing?"
"Oh, they've been hauled in for the season long ago. I know that to be a fact."
"Then I guess young Turner must have gone."
"That's what I've been trying to tell you for the last half-hour," asserted the other voice with high-pitched irritation. "Why waste all this time? Let's land, talk things over, lay our plans, and be getting back to Freeman's Falls. We mustn't be seen returning to the town together too late for it might arouse suspicion."
"You're right there."
"Then go ahead and paddle for the landing. I'll steer. Just have your hand out so we won't bump."
The lapping of the paddles came nearer and nearer. Then there was a crash as the nose of the canoe struck the float.
"You darned idiot, Cronin! Why didn't you fend her off as I told you to?"
"I couldn't see. I——"
A moment of breathless silence followed and then there was a derisive laugh.
"I told you the boy wasn't here," one of the men declared aloud. "If he had been he would have had his head out the window by now. We've made noise enough to wake the dead."
"But he may be here for all that," cautioned the other speaker. "Don't talk so loud."
"Nonsense!" his comrade retorted without lowering his tone. "I tell you the boy has gone back home and the hut is as empty as a last year's bird's nest. I'll stake my oath on it. The place is shut and locked tight as a drum. You'll see I'm right presently."
Instantly Ted's brain was alert. The door was locked, that he knew, for when he came in he had bolted it for the night. One window, however, was open and he dared not attempt to close it lest he make some betraying sound; and even were he able to shut it noiselessly he reflected that the procedure would be an unwise one since it would cut him off from hearing the conversation. No, he must keep perfectly still and trust that his nocturnal visitors would not make too thorough an investigation of the premises.
To judge from the scuffling of feet outside, both of them had now alighted from the canoe and were approaching the door. Soon he heard a hand fumbling with the latch and afterward came a heavy knock.
Slipping breathlessly from his chair he crouched upon the floor, great beads of perspiration starting out on his forehead.
"The door is locked, as I told you," he heard some one mutter.
"He may be asleep."
"We can soon make sure. Ah, there! Turner! Turner!"
Once more a series of blows descended upon the wooden panel.
"Does that convince you, Cronin?"
"Y—e—s," owned Cronin reluctantly. "I guess he's gone."
"Of course he's gone! Come, brace up, can't you?" urged his companion. "Where's your backbone?"
"I'm not afraid."
"Tell that to the marines! You're timid and jumpy as a girl. How are we ever to put this thing over if you don't pull yourself together? I might as well have a baby to help me," sneered the gruff voice.
"Don't be so hard on me, Alf," whined his comrade. "I ain't done nothin'. Ain't I right here and ready?"
"You're here, all right," snarled the first speaker, "but whether you're ready or not is another matter. Now I'm going to give you a last chance to pull out. Do you want to go ahead or don't you? It's no good for us to be laying plans if you are going to be weak-kneed at the end and balk at carrying them out. Do you mean to stand by me and see this thing to a finish or don't you?"
"I—sure I do!"
"Cross your heart?"
"Cross my heart!" This time the words echoed with more positiveness.
"You're not going to back out or squeal?" his pal persisted.
"Why, Alf, how can you——"
"Because I've got to be sure before I stir another inch."
"But ain't I told you over and over again that I——"
"I don't trust you."
"What makes you so hard on a feller, Alf?" whimpered Cronin. "I haven't been mixed up in as many of these jobs as you have and is it surprising that I'm a mite nervous? It's no sign that I'm crawling."
"You're ready to stick it out, then?"
There was another pause.
"Well, let me just tell you this, Jim Cronin. If you swear to stand by me and don't do it, your miserable life won't be worth a farthing—understand? I'll wring your neck, wring it good and thorough. I'm not afraid to do it and I will. You know that, don't you?"
The terror-stricken monosyllable made it perfectly apparent that Cronin did know.
"Then suppose we get down to hard tacks," asserted his companion, the note of fierceness suddenly dying out of his tone. "Come and sit down and we'll plan the thing from start to finish. We may as well be comfortable while we talk. There's no extra charge for sitting."
As Ted bent to put his ear to the crack of the door, the thud of a heavy body jarred the shack.
"Jove!" he heard Cronin cry. "The ground is some way down, ain't it?"
"And it's none to soft at that," came grimly from his comrade, as a second person slumped upon the planks outside.
Somebody drew a long breath and while the men were making themselves more comfortable on the float Ted waited expectantly in the darkness.
WHAT TED HEARD
"Now the question is which way are we going to get the biggest results," Alf began, when they were both comfortably settled with their backs to the door. "That must be the thing that governs us—that, and the sacrifice of as few lives as possible. Not their lives, of course. I don't care a curse for the Fernalds; the more of them that go sky-high the better, in my estimation. It's the men I mean, our own people. Some of them will have to die, I know that. It's unavoidable, since the factories are never empty. Even when no night shifts are working, there are always watchmen and engineers on the job. But fortunately just now, owing to the dull season, there are no night gangs on duty. If we decide on the mills it can be done at night; if on the Fernalds themselves, why we can set the bombs when we are sure that they are in their houses."
Ted bit his lips to suppress the sudden exclamation of horror that rose to them. He must not cry out, he told himself. Terrible as were the words he heard, unbelievable as they seemed, if he were to be of any help at all he must know the entire plot. Therefore he listened dumbly, struggling to still the beating of his heart.
For a moment there was no response from Cronin.
"Come, Jim, don't sit there like a graven image!" the leader of the proposed expedition exclaimed impatiently. "Haven't you a tongue in your head? What's your idea? Out with it. I'm not going to shoulder all the job."
The man called Cronin cleared his throat.
"As I see it, we gain nothing by blowing up the Fernald houses," answered he deliberately. "So long as the mills remain, their income is sure. After they're gone, the young one will just rebuild and go on wringing money out of the people as his father and grandfather are doing."
"But we mean to get him, too."
A murmured protest came from Cronin.
"I'm not for injuring that poor, unlucky lad," asserted he. "He's nothing but a cripple who can't help himself. It would be like killing a baby."
"Nonsense! What a sentimental milksop you are, Jim!" Alf cut in. "You can't go letting your feelings run away with you like that, old man. I'm sorry for the young chap, too. He's the most decent one of the lot. But that isn't the point. He's a Fernald and because he is——"
"But he isn't to blame for that, is he?"
"You make me tired, Cronin, with all this cry-baby stuff!" Alf ejaculated. "You've simply got to cut it out—shut your ears to it—if we are ever to accomplish anything. You can't let your sympathies run away with you like this."
"I ain't letting my sympathies run away with me," objected Cronin, in a surly tone. "And I'm no milksop, either. But I won't be a party to harming that unfortunate Mr. Laurie and you may as well understand that at the outset. I'm willing to do my share in blowing the Fernald mills higher than a kite, and the two Fernalds with 'em; or I'll blow the two Fernalds to glory in their beds. I could do it without turning a hair. But to injure that helpless boy of theirs I can't and won't. That would be too low-down a deed for me, bad as I am. He hasn't the show the others have. They can fend for themselves."
"You make me sick!" replied Alf scornfully. "Why, you might as well throw up the whole job as to only half do it. What use will it be to take the old men of the family if the young one still lives on?"
"I ain't going to argue with you, Alf," responded Cronin stubbornly. "If I were to talk all night you likely would never see my point. But there I stand and you can take it or leave it. If you want to go on on these terms, well and good; if not, I wash my hands of the whole affair and you can find somebody else to help you."
"Of course I can't find somebody else," was the exasperated retort. "You know that well enough. Do you suppose I would go on with a scheme like this and leave you wandering round to blab broadcast whatever you thought fit?"
"I shouldn't blab, Alf," declared Cronin. "You could trust me to hold my tongue and not peach on a pal. I should just pull out, that's all. I warn you, though, that if our ways parted and you went yours, I should do what I could to keep Mr. Laurie out of your path."
"You'd try the patience of Job, Cronin."
"No, you're not," snarled Alf. "You're just doing this whole thing to be cussed. You know you've got me where I can't stir hand or foot. I was a fool ever to have got mixed up with such a white-livered, puling baby. I might have known you hadn't an ounce of sand."
"Take care, Sullivan," cautioned Cronin in a low, tense voice.
"But hang it all—why do you want to balk and torment me so?"
"I ain't balking and tormenting you."
"Yes, you are. You're just pulling the other way from sheer contrariness. Why can't you be decent and come across?"
"Haven't I been decent?" Cronin answered. "Haven't I fallen in with every idea you've suggested? You've had your way fully and freely. I haven't stood out for a single thing but this, have I?"
"Well, why not give in and let me have this one thing as I want it? It don't amount to much, one way or the other. The boy is sickly and isn't likely to live long at best."
"But I can't for the life of me see why you should be so keen on sparing him. What is he to you?"
Cronin hesitated; then in a very low voice he said:
"Once, two years ago, my little kid got out of the yard and unbeknown to his mother wandered down by the river. We hunted high and low for him and were well-nigh crazy, for he's all the child we have, you know. It seems Mr. Laurie was riding along the shore in his automobile and he spied the baby creeping out on the thin ice. He stopped his car and called to the little one and coaxed him back until the chauffeur could get to him and lift him aboard the car. Then they fetched the child to the village, hunted up where he lived, and brought him home to his mother. I—I've never forgotten it and I shan't."
"That was mighty decent of Mr. Laurie—mighty decent," Sullivan admitted slowly. "I've got a kid at home myself."
For a few moments neither man spoke; then Sullivan continued in quick, brisk fashion, as if he were trying to banish some reverie that plagued him:
"Well, have your way. We'll leave Mr. Laurie out of this altogether."
"Thank you, Alf."
Sullivan paid no heed to the interruption.
"Now let's can all this twaddle and get down to work," he said sharply. "We've wasted too much time squabbling over that miserable cripple. Let's brace up and make our plans. You are for destroying the mills, eh?"
"It's the only thing that will be any use, it seems to me," Cronin replied. "If the mills are blown up, it will not only serve as a warning to the Fernalds but it will mean the loss of a big lot of money. They will rebuild, of course, but it will take time, and in the interval everything will be at a standstill."
"It will throw several hundred men out of work," Sullivan objected.
"That can't be helped," retorted Cronin. "They will get out at least with their lives and will be almighty thankful for that. They can get other jobs, I guess. But even if they are out of work, I figure some of them won't be so sorry to see the Fernalds get what's coming to them," chuckled Cronin.
"You're right there, Jim!"
"I'll bet I am!" cried Cronin.
"Then your notion would be to plant time bombs at the factories so they will go off in the night?"
"Yes," confessed Cronin, a shadow of regret in his tone. "That will carry off only a few watchmen and engineers. Mighty tough luck for them."
"It can't be helped," Sullivan said ruthlessly. "You can't expect to carry through a thing of this sort without some sacrifice. All we can do is to believe that the end justifies the means. It's a case of the greatest good to the greatest number."
"Well, then, why hesitate?"
"I ain't hesitating," announced Cronin quickly. "I just happened to remember Maguire. He's one of the night watchmen at the upper mill and a friend of mine."
"But we can't remember him, Cronin," Sullivan burst out. "It is unlucky that he chances to be on duty, of course; but that is his misfortune. We'd spare him if we could."
"I know, I know," Cronin said. "It's a pitiless business." Then, as if his last feeble compunction vanished with the words, he added, "It's to be the mills, then."
"Yes. We seem to be agreed on that," Sullivan replied eagerly. "I have everything ready and I don't see why we can't go right ahead to-night and plant the machines with their fuses timed for early morning. I guess we can sneak into the factories all right—you to the upper mill and I to the lower. If you get caught you can say you are hunting for Maguire; and if I do—well, I must trust to my wits to invent a story. But they won't catch me. I've never been caught yet, and I have handled a number of bigger jobs than this one," concluded he with pride.
"Anything more you want to say to me?" asked Cronin.
"No, I guess not. I don't believe I need to hand you any advice. Just stiffen up, that's all. Anything you want to say to me?"
"No. I shan't worry my head about you, you old fox. You're too much of a master hand," Cronin returned, with an inflection that sounded like a grin. "I imagine you can hold up your end."
"I rather imagine I can," drawled Sullivan.
"Then if there's nothing more to be said, I move we start back to town. It must be late," Cronin asserted.
"It's black enough to be midnight," grumbled Sullivan. "We'd best go directly to our houses—I to mine and you to yours. The explosives and bombs I'll pack into two grips. Yours I'll hide in your back yard underneath that boat. How'll that be?"
"You've got it straight in your head what you are to do?"
"And I can count on you?"
"Then let's be off."
There was a splash as the canoe slipped into the water and afterward Ted heard the regular dip of the paddles as the craft moved away. He listened until the sound became imperceptible and when he was certain that the conspirators were well out of earshot he sped to the telephone and called up the police station at Freeman's Falls. It did not take long for him to hurriedly repeat to an officer what he had heard. Afterward, in order to make caution doubly sure, he called up the mills and got his old friend Maguire at the other end of the line. It was not until all this had been done and he could do no more that he sank limply down on the couch and stared into the darkness. Now that everything was over he found that he was shaking like a leaf. His hands were icy cold and he quivered in every muscle of his body. It was useless for him to try to sleep; he was far too excited and worried for that. Therefore he lay rigidly on his bunk, thinking and waiting for—he knew not what.
It might have been an hour later that he was aroused from a doze by the sharp reverberation of the telephone bell. Dizzily he sprang to his feet and stood stupid and inert in the middle of the floor. Again the signal rang and this time he was broad awake. He rushed forward to grasp the receiver.
"Turner? Ted Turner?"
"This is the police station at Freeman's Falls. We have your men—both of them—and the goods on them. They are safe and sound under lock and key. I just thought you might like to know it. We shall want to see you in the morning. You've done a good night's work, young one. The State Police have been after these fellows for two years. Sullivan has a record for deeds of this sort. Mighty lucky we got a line on him this time before he did any mischief."
"That's all, thanks to you, kid. I advise you to go to bed now and to sleep. I'll hunt you up to-morrow. I'll bet the Fernalds will, too. They owe you something."
THE FERNALDS WIN THEIR POINT
The trial of Alf Sullivan and Jim Cronin was one of the most spectacular and thrilling events Freeman's Falls had ever witnessed. That two such notorious criminals should have been captured through the efforts of a young boy was almost inconceivable to the police, especially to the State detectives whom they had continually outwitted. And yet here they were in the dock and the town officers made not the slightest pretense that any part of the glory of their apprehension belonged to them. To Ted Turner's prompt action, and to that alone, the triumph was due.
In consequence the boy became the hero of the village. He had always been a favorite with both young and old, for every one liked his father, and it followed that they liked his father's son. Now, however, they had greater cause to admire that son for his own sake and cherish toward him the warmest gratitude. Many a man and woman reflected that it was this slender boy who had stood between them and a calamity almost too horrible to be believed; and as a result their gratitude was tremendous. And if the townsfolk were sensible of this great obligation how much more keenly alive to it were the Fernalds whose property had been thus menaced.
"You have topped one service with another, Ted," Mr. Lawrence Fernald declared. "We do not see how we are ever to thank you. Come, there must be something that you would like—some wish you would be happy to have gratified. Tell us what it is and perhaps we can act as magicians and make it come true."
"Yes," pleaded Mr. Clarence Fernald, "speak out, Ted. Do not hesitate. Remember you have done us a favor the magnitude of which can never be measured and which we can never repay."
"But I do not want to be paid, sir," the lad answered. "I am quite as thankful as you that the wretches who purposed harm were caught before they had had opportunity to destroy either life or property. Certainly that is reward enough."
"It is a reward in its way," the elder Mr. Fernald asserted. "The thought that it was you who were the savior of an entire community will bring you happiness as long as you live. Nevertheless we should like to give you something more tangible than pleasant thoughts. We want you to have something by which to remember this marvelous escape from tragedy. Deep down in your heart there must be some wish you cherish. If you knew the satisfaction it would give us to gratify it, I am sure you would not be so reluctant to express it."
Ted colored, and after hesitating an instant, shyly replied:
"Since you are both so kind and really seem to wish to know, there is something I should like."
"Name it!" the Fernalds cried in unison.
"I should like to feel I can return to the shack next summer," the boy remarked timidly. "You see, I have become very fond of Aldercliffe and Pine Lea, fond of Laurie, of Mr. Hazen, and of the little hut. I have felt far more sorry than perhaps you realize to go away from here." His voice quivered.
"You poor youngster!" Mr. Clarence exclaimed. "Why in the name of goodness didn't you say so? There is no more need of your leaving this place than there is of my going, or Laurie. We ought to have sensed your feeling and seen to it that other plans were made long ago. Indeed, you shall come back to your little riverside abode next summer—never fear! And as for Aldercliffe, Pine Lea, Laurie and all the rest of it, you shall not be parted from any of them."
"But I must go back to school now, sir."
"What's the matter with your staying on at Pine Lea and having your lessons with Laurie and Mr. Hazen instead?"
"Should you like to?"
"Oh, Mr. Fernald, it would be——"
Laurie's father laughed.
"I guess we do not need an answer to that question," Grandfather Fernald remarked, smiling. "His face tells the tale."
"Then the thing is as good as done," Mr. Clarence announced. "Hazen will be as set up as an old hen to have two chicks. He likes you, Ted."
"And well he may," growled Grandfather Fernald. "But for Ted's prayers and pleas he would not now be here."
"Yes, Hazen will be much pleased," reiterated Mr. Clarence Fernald, ignoring his father's comment. "As for Laurie—I wonder we never thought of all this before. It is no more work to teach two boys than one, and in the meantime each will act as a stimulus for the other. The spur of rivalry will be a splendid incentive for Laurie, to say nothing of the joy he will take in your companionship. He needs young people about him. It is a great scheme, a great scheme!" mused Mr. Fernald, rubbing his hands with increasing satisfaction as one advantage of the arrangement after another rotated through his mind.
"If only my father does not object," murmured Ted.
"Object! Object!" blustered Grandfather Fernald. "And why, pray, should he object?"
That a man of Mr. Turner's station in life should view the plan with anything but pride and complacency was evidently a new thought to the financier.
"Why, sir, my father and sisters are very fond of me and may not wish to have me remain longer away from home. They have missed me a lot this summer, I know that. You see I am the youngest one, the only boy."
"Humph!" interpolated the elder Mr. Fernald.
"In spite of the fact that we are crowded at home and too busy to see much of one another, Father likes to feel I'm around," continued Ted.
"I—suppose—so," came slowly from the old gentleman.
"I am sure I can fix all that," asserted Mr. Clarence Fernald briskly. "I will see your father and sisters myself, and I feel sure they will not stand in the way of your getting a fine education when it is offered you—that is, if they care as much for you as you say they do. On the contrary, they will be the first persons to realize that such a plan is greatly to your advantage."
"It is going to be almightily to your advantage," Mr. Lawrence Fernald added. "Who can tell where it all may lead? If you do well at your studies, perhaps it may mean college some day, and a big, well-paid job afterward."
Ted's eyes shone.
"Would you like to go to college if you could?" persisted the elder man.
"You bet I would—I mean yes, sir."
The old gentleman chuckled at the fervor of the reply.
"Well, well," said he, "time must decide all that. First lay a good foundation. You cannot build anything worth building without something to build upon. You get your cellar dug and we will then see what we will put on top of it."
With this parting remark he and his son moved away.
When the project was laid before Laurie, his delight knew no bounds. To have Ted come and live at Pine Lea for the winter, what a lark! Think of having some one to read and study with every day! Nothing could be jollier! And Mr. Hazen was every whit as pleased.
"It is the very thing!" he exclaimed to Laurie's father. "Ted will not be the least trouble. He is a fine student and it will be a satisfaction to work with him. Besides, unless I greatly miss my guess, he will cheer Laurie on to much larger accomplishments. Ted's influence has never been anything but good."
And what said Laurie's mother?
"It is splendid, Clarence, splendid! We can refurnish that extra room that adjoins Laurie's suite and let Mr. Hazen and the boys have that entire wing of the house. Nothing could be simpler. I shall be glad to have Ted here. Not only is he a fine boy but he has proved himself a good friend to us all. If we can do anything for him, we certainly should do it. The lad has had none too easy a time in this world."
Yes, all went well with the plan so far as the Fernalds were concerned; but the Turners—ah, there was the stumbling block!
"It's no doubt a fine thing you're offering to do for my son," Ted's father replied to Mr. Clarence Fernald, "and I assure you I am not unmindful of your kindness; but you see he is our only boy and when he isn't here whistling round the house we miss him. 'Tain't as if we had him at home during his vacation. If he goes up to your place to work summers and stays there winters as well, we shall scarcely see him at all. All we have had of him this last year was an occasional teatime visit. Folks don't like having their children go out from the family roof so young."
"But, Father," put in Nancy, "think what such a chance as this will mean to Ted. You yourself have said over and over again that there was nothing like having an education."
"I know it," mused the man. "There's nothing can equal knowing something. I never did and look where I've landed. I'll never go ahead none. But I want it to be different with my boy. He's going to have some stock in trade in the way of training for life. It will be a kind of capital nothing can sweep away. As I figure it, it will be a sure investment—that is, if the boy has any stuff in him."
"An education is a pretty solid investment," agreed the elder Mr. Fernald, "and you are wise to recognize its value, Mr. Turner. To plunge into life without such a weapon is like entering battle without a sword. I know, for I have tried it."
"Have you indeed, sir?"
Grandfather Fernald nodded.
"I was brought up on a Vermont farm when I was a boy."
"You don't say so! Well, well!"
"Yes, I never had much schooling," went on the old man. "Of course I picked up a lot of practical knowledge, as a boy will; and in some ways it has not been so bad. But it was a pretty mixed-up lot of stuff and I have been all my life sorting it out and putting it in order. I sometimes wonder when I think things over that I got ahead at all; it was more happen than anything else, I guess."
"The Vermonters have good heads on their shoulders," Mr. Turner remarked.
"Oh, you can't beat the Green Mountain State," laughed the senior Mr. Fernald, unbending into cordiality in the face of a common interest. "Still, when it came to bringing up my boy I felt as you do. I wasn't satisfied to have him get nothing more than I had. So I sent him to college and gave him all the education I never got myself. It has stood him in good stead, too, and I've lived to be proud of what he's done with it."
"And well you may be, sir," Mr. Turner observed.
Mr. Clarence Fernald flushed in the face of these plaudits and cut the conversation short by saying:
"It is that kind of an education that we want to give your boy, Mr. Turner. We like the youngster and believe he has promise of something fine. We should like to prepare him for college or some technical school and send him through it. He has quite a pronounced bent for science and given the proper opportunities he might develop into something beyond the ordinary rank and file."
"Do you think so, sir?" asked Mr. Turner, glowing with pleasure. "Well, I don't know but that he has a sort of knack with wire, nails, and queer machinery. He has tinkered with such things since he was a little lad. Of late he has been fussing round with electricity and scaring us all to death here at home. His sisters were always expecting he'd meet his end or blow up the house with some claptraption he'd put together."
Nancy blushed; then added, with a shy glance toward the Fernalds:
"They say down at the school that Ted is quite handy with telephones and such things."
"Mr. Hazen, my son's tutor, thinks your brother has a knowledge of electricity far beyond his years," replied Mr. Clarence Fernald. "That is why it seems a pity his talents in that direction should not be cultivated. Who knows but he may be an embryo genius? You never can tell what may be inside a child."
"You're right there, sir," Mr. Turner assented cordially. Then after a moment of thought, he continued, "Likely an education such as you are figuring on would cost a mint of money."
The Fernalds, both father and son, smiled at the naive comment.
"Well—yes," confessed Mr. Clarence slowly. "It would cost something."
"A whole lot?"
"If you wanted the best."
Mr. Turner scratched his head.
"I'm afraid I couldn't swing it," declared he, regret in his tone.
"But we are offering to do this for you," put in Grandfather Fernald.
"I know you are, sir; I know you are and I'm grateful," Ted's father answered. "But if I could manage it myself, I'd——"
"Come, Mr. Turner, I beg you won't say that," interrupted the elder Mr. Fernald. "Think what we owe to your son. Why, we never in all the world can repay what he has done for us. This is no favor. We are simply paying our debts. You like to pay your bills, don't you?"
"Indeed I do, sir!" was the hearty reply. "There's no happier moment than the one when I take my pay envelope and go to square up what I owe. True, I don't run up many bills; still, there is not always money enough on hand to make both ends meet without depending some on credit."
"How much do you get in the shipping room?"
"Eighty dollars a month, sir."
"And your daughters are working?"
"They are in the spinning mills."
Mr. Fernald glanced about over the little room. Although scrupulously neat, it was quite apparent that the apartment was far too crowded for comfort. The furnishings also bespoke frugality in the extreme. It was not necessary to be told that the Turners' life was a close arithmetical problem.
"Your family stand by us loyally," observed the financier.
"We have your mills to thank for our daily bread, sir," Mr. Turner answered.
"And your boy—if he does not go on with his studies shall you have him enter the factories?"
Mr. Turner squared his shoulders with a swift gesture of protest.
"No, sir—not if I can help it!" he burst out. Then as if he suddenly sensed his discourtesy, he added, "I beg your pardon, gentlemen. I wasn't thinking who I was talking to. It isn't that I do not like the mills. It's only that there is so little chance for the lad to get ahead there. I wouldn't want the boy to spend his life grubbing away as I have."
"And yet you are denying him the chance to better himself."
"I am kinder going round in a circle, ain't I?" returned Mr. Turner gently. "Like as not it is hard for you to understand how I feel. It's only that you hate to let somebody else do for your children. It seems like charity."
"Charity! Charity—when we owe the life of our boy, the lives of many of our workmen, the safety of our mills to your son?" ejaculated Mr. Clarence Fernald with unmistakable sincerity.
"When you pile it up that way it does sound like a pretty big debt, doesn't it?" mused Mr. Turner.
"Of course it's a big debt—it is a tremendous one. Now try, Mr. Turner, and see our point of view. We want to take our envelope in our hands and although we have not fortune enough in the world to wipe out all we owe, we wish to pay part of it, at least. No matter how much we may be able to do for Ted in the future, we shall never be paying in full all that he has done for us. Much of his service we must accept as an obligation and give in return for it nothing but gratitude and affection. But if you will grant us the privilege of doing this little, it will give us the greatest pleasure."
If any one had told the stately Mr. Lawrence Fernald weeks before that he would be in the home of one of his workmen, pleading for a favor, he would probably have shrugged his shoulders and laughed; and even Mr. Clarence Fernald, who was less of an aristocrat than his father, would doubtless have questioned a prediction of his being obliged actually to implore one of the men in his employ to accept a benefaction from him. Yet here they both were, almost upon their knees, theoretically, before this self-respecting artisan.
In the face of such entreaty who could have remained obdurate? Certainly not Mr. Turner who in spite of his pride was the kindest-hearted creature alive.
"Well, you shall have your way, gentlemen," he at length replied, "Ted shall stay on at Pine Lea, since you wish it, and you shall plan his education as you think best. I know little of such matters and feel sure the problem is better in your hands than mine. I know you will work for the boy's good. And I beg you won't think me ungrateful because I have hesitated to accept your offer. We all have our scruples and I have mine. But now that I have put them in the background, I shall take whole-heartedly what you give and be most thankful for it."
Thus did the Fernalds win their point. Nevertheless they came away from the Turner's humble home with a consciousness that instead of bestowing a favor, as they had expected to do, they had really received one. Perhaps they did not respect Ted's father the less because of his reluctance to take the splendid gift they had put within his reach. They themselves were proud men and they had a sympathy for the pride of others. There could be no question that the interview had furnished both of them with food for thought for as they drove home in their great touring car they did not speak immediately. By and by, however, Grandfather Fernald observed:
"Don't you think, Clarence, Turner's pay should be increased? Eighty dollars isn't much to keep a roof over one's head and feed a family of three persons."
"I have been thinking that, too," returned his son. "They tell me he is a very faithful workman and he has been here long enough to have earned a substantial increase in wages. I don't see why I never got round to doing something for him before. The fellow was probably too proud to ask for more money and unless some kick comes to me those things slip my mind. I'll see right away what can be done."
There was a pause and then the senior Mr. Fernald spoke again:
"Do you ever feel that we ought to do something about furnishing better quarters for the men?" he asked. "I have had the matter on my conscience for months. Look at that tenement of the Turners! It is old, out of date, crowded and stuffy. There isn't a ray of sunshine in it. It's a disgrace to herd a family into such a place. And I suppose there are ever so many others like it in Freeman's Falls."
"I'm afraid there are, Father."
"I don't like the idea of it," growled old Mr. Fernald. "The houses all look well enough until one goes inside. But they're terrible, terrible! Why, they are actually depressing. I haven't shaken off the gloom of that room yet. We own land enough on the other side of the river. Why couldn't we build a handsome bridge and then develop that unused area by putting up some decent houses for our people? It would increase the value of the property and at the same time improve the living conditions of our employees. What do you say to the notion?"
"I am ready to go in on any such scheme!" cried Mr. Clarence Fernald heartily. "I'd like nothing better. I have always wanted to take up the matter with you; but I fancied from something you said once when I suggested it that you——"
"I didn't realize what those houses down along the water front were like," interrupted Grandfather Fernald. "Ugh! At least sunshine does not cost money. We must see that our people get more of it."
WHAT CAME OF THE PLOT
The Fernalds were as good as their word. All winter long father, son, and grandson worked at the scheme for the new cottages and by New Year, with the assistance of an architect, they had on paper plans for a model village to be built on the opposite side of the river as soon as the weather permitted. The houses were gems of careful thought, no two of them being alike. Nevertheless, although each tiny domain was individual in design, a general uniformity of construction existed between them which resulted in a delightfully harmonious ensemble. The entire Fernald family was enthusiastic over the project. It was the chief topic of conversation both at Aldercliffe and at Pine Lea. Rolls of blue prints littered office and library table and cluttered the bureaus, chairs, and even the pockets of the elder men of each household.
"We are going to make a little Normandy on the other shore of the river before we have done with it," asserted Grandfather Fernald to Laurie. "It will be as pretty a settlement as one would wish to see. I mean, too, to build cooeperative stores, a clubhouse, and a theater; perhaps I may even go farther and put up a chapel. I have gone clean daft over the notion of a model village and since I am started I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb. I do not believe we shall be sinking our money, either, for in addition to bettering the living conditions of our men I feel we shall also draw to the locality a finer class of working people. This will boom our section of the country and should make property here more valuable. But even if it doesn't work out that way, I shall take pride in the proposed village. I have always insisted that our mills be spotless and up to date and the fact that they have been has been a source of great gratification. Now I shall carry that idea farther and see that the new settlement comes up to our standards. I have gone over and over the plans to see if in any way they can be bettered; suppose you and I look at them together once more. Some new inspiration may come to us—something that will be an improvement."
Patiently and for the twentieth time Laurie examined the blue prints while his grandfather volubly explained just where each building of the many was to stand.
"This little park, with a fountain in the middle and a bandstand near by, will slope down toward the river. As there are many fine trees along the shore it will be a cool and pleasant place to sit in summer. The stone bridge I am to put up will cross just above and serve as a sort of entrance to the park. We intend that everything shall be laid out with a view to making the river front attractive. As for the village itself—the streets are to be wide so that each dwelling shall have plenty of fresh air and sunshine. No more of those dingy flats such as the Turners live in! Each family is also to have land enough for a small garden, and each house will have a piazza and the best of plumbing; and because many of the women live in their kitchens more than in any other part of their abode, I am insisting that that room be as comfortable and airy as it can be made."
"It is all bully, Grandfather," Laurie answered. "But isn't it going to cost a fortune to do the thing as you want it done?"
"It is going to cost money," nodded the elder man. "I am not deceiving myself as to that. But I have the money and if I chose to spend it on this fad (as one of my friends called it) I don't see why I shouldn't do it. Since your grandmother died I have not felt the same interest in Aldercliffe that I used to. When she was alive that was my hobby. I shall simply be putting out the money in a different direction, that is all. Perhaps it will be a less selfish direction, too."
"It certainly is a bully fine fad, Grandfather," Laurie exclaimed.
"Somehow I believe it is, laddie," the old gentleman answered thoughtfully. "Your father thinks so. Time only can tell whether I have chucked my fortune in a hole or really invested it wisely. I have been doing a good deal of serious thinking lately, thanks to those chaps who tried to blow up the mills. As I have turned matters over in my mind since the trial, and struggled to get their point of view, I have about come to the conclusion that they had a fair measure of right on their side. Not that I approve of their methods," continued he hastily, raising a protesting hand, when Laurie offered an angry interruption. "Do not misunderstand me. The means they took was cowardly and criminal and I do not for a moment uphold it. But the thing that led them to act as they planned to act was that they honestly believed we had not given them and their comrades a square deal. As I have pondered over this conviction of theirs, I am not so sure but they were right in that belief."
He paused to light a fresh cigar which he silently puffed for a few moments.
"This village plan of mine has grown to some extent out of the thinking to which this tragedy has stimulated me. There can be no question that our fortunes have come to us as a result of the hard labor of our employees. I know that. And I also know that we have rolled up a far larger proportion of the profits than they have. In fact, I am not sure we have not accepted a larger slice than was our due; and I am not surprised that some of them are also of that opinion. I would not go so far as to say we have been actually dishonest but I am afraid we have not been generous. The matter never came to me before in precisely this light and I confess frankly I am sorry that I have blundered. Nevertheless, as I tell your father, it is never too late to mend. If we have made mistakes we at least do not need to continue to make them. So I have resolved to pay up some of my past obligations by building this village and afterward your dad and I plan to raise the wages of the workers—raise them voluntarily without their asking. I figure we shall have enough to keep the wolf from the door, even then," he added, smiling, "and if we should find we had not why we should simply have to come back on you and Ted Turner to support us, that's all."
Laurie broke into a ringing laugh.
"I would much rather you and Dad spent the money this way than to have you leave it all to me," he said presently.
"One person does not need so much money. It is more than his share of the world's profits—especially if he has earned none of it. Besides, when a fortune is handed over to you, it spoils all the fun of making one for yourself." The boy's eyes clouded wistfully. "I suppose anyhow I never shall be able to work as hard as you and Father have; still I——"
"Pooh! Pooh! Nonsense!" his grandfather interrupted huskily.
"I believe I shall be able to earn enough to take care of myself," continued Laurie steadily. "In any case I mean to try."
"Of course you will!" cried the elder man heartily. "Why, aren't you expecting to be an engineer or something?"
"I—I—hope—to," replied the boy.
"Certainly! Certainly!" fidgeted Grandfather Fernald nervously. "You are going to be a great man some day, Laurie—a consulting engineer, maybe; or a famous electrician, or something of the sort."
"I wish I might," the lad repeated. "You see, Grandfather, it is working out your own career that is the fun, making something all yourself. That is why I hate the idea of ever stepping into your shoes and having to manage the mills. All the interesting part is done already. You and Dad had the pleasure——"
"The damned hard work, you mean," cut in his grandfather.
"Well, the hard work, then," chuckled Laurie, "of building the business up."
"That is true, my boy," replied Mr. Fernald. "It was a great game, too. Why, you know when I came here and we staked out the site for the mills, there wasn't a house in sight. There was nothing but that river. To one little wooden factory and that rushing torrent of water I pinned my faith. Every cent I possessed in the world was in the venture. I must make good or go under. Nobody will ever know how I slaved in those early days. For years I worked day and night, never giving myself time to realize that I was tired. But I was young and eager and although I got fagged sometimes a few hours of sleep sent me forth each morning with faith that I could slay whatever dragons I might encounter. As I look back on those years, hard though they were, they will always stand out as the happiest ones of my life. It was the fight that was the sport. Now I am an old man and I have won the thing I was after—success. Of course, it is a satisfaction to have done what you set out to do. But I tell you, laddie, that after your money is made, the zest of the game is gone. Your fortune rolls up then without you and all you have to do is to sit back and watch it grow of itself. It doesn't seem to be a part of you any more. You feel old, and unnecessary, and out of it. You are on the shelf."
"That is why I want to begin at the beginning and earn my own money, Grandfather," Laurie put in. "Think what you would have missed if some one had deprived you of all your fun when you were young. You wouldn't have liked it."
"You bet I wouldn't!" cried the old gentleman.
"I don't want to lose my fun either," persisted Laurie. "I want to win my way just as you and Dad have done—just as Ted Turner is going to do. I want to find out what is in me and what I can do with it."
Grandfather Fernald rubbed his hands.
"Bully for you, Laurie! Bully for you!" he ejaculated. "That's the true Fernald spirit. It was that stuff that took me away from my father's farm in Vermont and started me out in the world with only six dollars in my pocket. I was bound I would try my muscle and I did. I got some pretty hard knocks, too, while I was doing it. Still, they were all in the day's work and I never have regretted them. But I didn't mean to have your father go through all I did and so I saw that he got an education and started different. He knew what he was fighting and was armed with the proper weapons instead of going blind into the scrimmage. That is what we are trying to do for you and what we mean to do for Ted Turner. We do not intend to take either of you out of the fray but we are going to put into your hands the things you need to win the battle. Then the making good will depend solely on you."
"I mean to try to do my part."
"I know you do, laddie; and you'll do it, too."
"I just wish I was stronger—as well as Ted is," murmured the boy.
"I wish you were," his grandfather responded gently, touching his grandson's shoulder affectionately with his strong hand. "If money could give you health you should have every farthing I possess. But there are things that money cannot do, Laurie. I used to think it was all-powerful and that if I had it there was nothing I could not make mine. But I realize now that many of the best gifts of life are beyond its reach. We grow wiser as we grow older," he concluded, with a sad shake of his head. "Sometimes I think we should have been granted two lives, one to experiment with and the other to live."
He rose, a weary shadow clouding his eyes.
"Well, to live and learn is all we can do; and thank goodness it is never too late to profit by our errors. I have learned many things from Ted Turner; I have learned some more from his father; and I have added to all these certain things that those unlucky wretches, Sullivan and Cronin, have demonstrated to me. Who knows but I may make Freeman's Falls a better place in consequence? We shall see."
With these parting reflections the old gentleman slowly left the room.
The winter was a long and tedious one with much cold weather and ice. Great drifts leveled the fields about Aldercliffe and Pine Lea, shrouding the vast expanse of fields along the river in a glistening cloak of ermine spangled with gold. The stream itself was buried so deep beneath the snow that it was difficult not to believe it had disappeared altogether. Freeman's Falls had never known a more severe season and among the mill employees there was much illness and depression. Prices were high, business slack, and the work ran light. Nevertheless, the Fernalds refused to shorten the hours. There were no night shifts on duty, to be sure, but the hum of the machinery that ceased at twilight resumed its buzzing every morning and by its music gladdened many a home where anxiety might otherwise have reigned.
That the factories were being operated at a loss rather than throw the men out of employment Ted Turner could not help knowing for since he had become a member of the Fernald household he had been included so intimately in the family circle that it was unavoidable he should be cognizant of much that went on there. As a result, an entirely new aspect of manufacture came before him. Up to this time he had seen but one side of the picture, that with which the working man was familiar. But now the capitalist's side was turned toward him and on confronting its many intricate phases he gained a very different conception of the mill-owner's conundrums. He learned now for the first time who it was that tided over business in its seasons of stress and advanced the money that kept bread in the mouths of the workers. He sensed, too, as he might never have done otherwise, who shouldered the burden of care not alone during working hours but outside of them; he glimpsed something of the struggles of competition; the problems of securing raw material; the work concerning credits.
A very novel viewpoint it was to the boy, and as he regarded the complicated web, he found himself wondering how much of all this tangle was known to the men, and whether they were always fair to their employer. He had frequently overheard conversations at his father's when they had proclaimed how easy and care-free a life the rich led, and while they had envied and criticized and slandered the Fernalds and asserted that they did nothing but enjoy themselves, he had listened. Ah, how far from the truth this estimate had been! He speculated, as he reviewed the facts and vaguely rehearsed the capitalist's enigmas whether, if shown the actual conditions, the townsfolk would have been willing to exchange places with either of these men whose fortunes they so greedily coveted.
For in very truth the Fernalds seemed to Ted persons to be pitied far more than envied. Stripped of illusions, what was Mr. Lawrence Fernald but an old man who had devoted himself to money-making until he had rolled up a fortune so large that its management left him no leisure to enjoy it? Eager to accumulate more and ever more wealth, he toiled and worried quite as hard as he would have done had he had no money at all; he often passed sleepless nights and could never be persuaded to take a day away from his office. He slaved harder than any of those he paid to work for him and he had none of their respite from care.
Mr. Clarence Fernald, being of a younger generation, had perhaps learned greater wisdom. At any rate, he went away twice a year for extended pleasure trips. Possibly the fact that his father had degenerated into a mere money-making machine was ever before him, serving as a warning against a similar fate. However that may have been, he did break resolutely away from business at intervals, or tried to. Nevertheless, he never could contrive to be wholly free. Telegrams pursued him wherever he went; his secretary often went in search of him; and many a time, like a defeated runaway whose escape is cut short, he was compelled to abandon his holiday and return to the mills, there to straighten out some unlooked-for complication. Day and night the responsibilities of his position, the welfare of the hundreds of persons dependent on him, weighed down his shoulders. And even when he was at home in the bosom of his family, there was Laurie, his son, his idol, who could probably never be well! What man in all Freeman's Falls could have envied him if acquainted with all the conditions of his life?
This and many another such reflection engrossed Ted, causing him to wonder whether there was not in the divine plan a certain element of equalization.
In the meantime, his lessons with Laurie and Mr. Hazen went steadily and delightfully on. How much more could be accomplished with a tutor who devoted all his time simply to two pupils! And how much greater pleasure one derived from studying under these intimate circumstances! In every way the arrangement was ideal. Thus the winter passed with its balancing factors of work and play. The friendship between the two boys strengthened daily and in a similar proportion Ted's affection for the entire Fernald family increased.
It was when the first thaw made its appearance late in March that trouble came. Laurie was stricken with measles, and because of the contagion, Ted's little shack near the river was hastily equipped for occupancy, and the lad was transferred there.
"I can't have two boys sick," declared Mr. Clarence Fernald, "and as you have not been exposed to the disease there is no sense in our thrusting you into its midst. Plenty of wood will keep your fireplace blazing and as the weather is comparatively mild I fancy you can contrive to be comfortable. We will connect the telephone so you won't be lonely and so you can talk with Laurie every day. The doctor says he will soon be well again and after the house has been fumigated you can come back to Pine Lea."
Accordingly, Ted was once more ensconced in the little hut and how good it seemed to be again in that familiar haunt only he realized. Before the first day was over, he felt as if he had never been away. Pine Lea might boast its conservatories, its sun parlors, its tiled baths, its luxuries of every sort; they all faded into nothingness beside the freedom and peace of the tiny shack at the river's margin.
Meanwhile, with the gradual approach of spring, the sun mounted higher and the great snow drifts settled and began to disappear. Already the ice in the stream was breaking up and the turbid yellow waters went rushing along, carrying with them whirling blocks of snow. As the torrent swept past, it flooded the meadows and piled up against the dam opposite the factories great frozen, jagged masses of ice which ground and crashed against one another, so that the sounds could be distinctly heard within the mills. At some points these miniature icebergs blocked the falls and held the waters in check until, instead of cascading over the dam, they spread inland, inundating the shores. The float before Ted's door was covered and at night, when all was still and his windows open, he could hear the roaring of the stream, and the impact of the bumping ice as it sped along. Daily, as the snows on the far distant hillsides near the river's source melted, the flood increased and poured down in an ever rising tide its seething waters.
Yet notwithstanding the fact that each day saw the stream higher, no one experienced any actual anxiety from the conditions, although everybody granted they were abnormal. Of course, there was more ice in the river than there had been for many years. Even Grandfather Fernald, who had lived in the vicinity for close on to half a century, could not recall ever having witnessed such a spring freshet; nor did he deny that the weight of ice and water against the dam must be tremendous. However, the structure was strong and there was no question of its ability to hold, even though this chaos of grinding ice-cakes boomed against it with defiant reverberation.
In spite of the conditions, Ted felt no nervousness about remaining by himself in the shack and perhaps every premonition of evil might have escaped him had he not been awakened one morning very early by a ripple of lapping water that seemed near at hand. Sleepily he opened his eyes and looked about him. The floor of the hut was wet and through the crack beneath the door a thread of muddy water was steadily seeping. In an instant he was on his feet and as he stood looking about him in bewilderment he heard the roar of the river and detected in the sound a threatening intonation that had not been there on the previous day. He hurried to the window and stared out into the grayness of the dawn. The scene that confronted him chilled his blood. The river had risen unbelievably during the night. Not only were the little bushes along the shore entirely submerged but many of the pines standing upon higher ground were also under water.
As he threw on his clothes, he tried to decide whether there was anything he ought to do. Would it be well to call up the Fernalds, or telephone to the mills, or to the village, and give warning of the conditions? It was barely four o'clock and the first streaks of light were but just appearing. Nevertheless, there must be persons who were awake and as alert as he to the transformation the darkness had wrought. Moreover, perhaps there was no actual danger, and should this prove to be the case, how absurd he would feel to arouse people at daybreak for a mere nothing. It was while he paused there indecisively that a sight met his eye which spurred hesitancy to immediate action. Around the bend far up the stream came sweeping a tangle of wreckage—trees, and brush, and floating timber—and swirling along in its wake was a small lean-to which he recognized as one that had stood on the bank of the river at Melton, the village located five miles above Freeman's Falls. If the water were high enough to carry away this building, it must indeed have risen to a menacing height and there was not a moment to be lost.
He rushed to the telephone and called up Mr. Clarence Fernald who replied to his summons in irritable, half-dazed fashion.
"Is there any way of lifting the water gates at the mills?" asked Ted breathlessly. "The river has risen so high that it is sweeping away trees and even some of the smaller houses from the Melton shore. If the debris piles up against the dam, the pressure may be more than the thing can stand. Besides, the water will spread and flood both Aldercliffe and Pine Lea. I thought I'd better tell you."
Mr. Fernald was not dazed now; he was broad awake.
"Where are you?" inquired he sharply.
"At the shack, sir. The water is ankle deep."
"Don't stay there another moment. It is not safe. At any instant the whole hut may be carried away. Gather your traps together and call Wharton or Stevens—or both of them—to come and help you take them up to Aldercliffe. I'll attend to notifying the mills. You've done us a good turn, my boy."
During the next hour Ted himself was too busy to appreciate the hectic rush of events that he had set moving, or realize the feverish energy with which the Fernalds and their employees worked to avert a tragedy which, but for his warning, might have been a very terrible one. The mills were reached by wire and the sluices at the sides of the central dam immediately lifted to make way for the torrent of snow, ice, wreckage, and water. In what a fierce and maddened chaos it surged over the falls and dashed into the chasm beneath! All day the mighty current boiled and seethed, overflowing the outlying fields with its yellow flood. Nevertheless, the great brick factories that bordered the stream stood firm and so did the residences at Aldercliffe and Pine Lea, both of which were fortunately situated on high ground.
Ted had not made his escape from his little camp a moment too soon, for while he stood looking out on the freshet from one of the attic windows at Pine Lea, he shivered to behold his little hut bob past him amid the rushing waters and drift into an eddy on the opposite shore along with a mass of uprooted pines.
A sob burst from him.
"It's gone, Mr. Hazen—our little house!" he murmured brokenly to the young tutor who was standing beside him. "We never shall see it again."
"You mustn't take it so to heart, Ted," the teacher answered, laying his hand sympathetically on the lad's shoulder. "Suppose you had been in it and borne away to almost certain death. That would have been a calamity indeed. What is an empty boathouse when we consider how many people are to suffer actual financial loss and perhaps forfeit everything they have, as a result of this tragedy. The villagers who live along the river will lose practically everything they own—boats, poultry, barns; and many of them both houses and furniture. We all loved the shack; but it is not as if its destruction left you with no other roof above your head. You can stay at Aldercliffe, Pine Lea, or join your family at Freeman's Falls. Three shelters are open to you. But these poor souls in the town——"
"I had not thought about the villagers," blushed Ted.
"The Fernalds have been in the settlement since dawn and along with every man they could summon have been working to save life and property. If I had not had to stay here with Laurie, I should have gone to help, too."
Ted hung his head.
"I'm ashamed to have been so selfish," said he. "Instead of thinking only of myself, I ought to have been lending a hand to aid somebody else. It was rotten of me. Why can't I go down to the village now? There must be things I can do. Certainly I'm no use here."
"No, there is nothing to be done here," the tutor agreed. "If you could stay with Laurie and calm him down there would be some sense in your remaining; but as it is, I don't see why you shouldn't go along to the town and fill in wherever you can. I fancy there will be plenty to do. The Fernalds, Wharton, Stevens, and the rest of the men are moving the families who lived along the water front out of their houses and into others. All our trucks and cars are busy at the job."
"I know I could help," cried Ted eagerly, his foot on the top step of the staircase.
"I am sure you can," Mr. Hazen replied. "Already by your timely warning you have helped more than you will ever know. I tremble to think what might have happened if you had not awakened Mr. Clarence just when you did. Had the dam at the mills gone down, the whole town would have been devastated. Mr. Fernald told me so himself."
"I'm mighty glad if I——"
"So you see you have been far from selfish," continued the tutor, in a cheery tone. "As for the shack, it can be rebuilt, so I should not mourn about that."
"I guess Mr. Fernald is glad now that he has his plans ready for his model village."
"Yes, he is. He said right away that it was providential. The snow will disappear after this thaw and as soon as the earth dries up enough to admit of building, the workmen will begin to break ground for the new settlement. The prospect of other and better houses than the old ones will encourage many of the mill people who have had their dwellings ruined to-day and in consequence been forced to move into temporary quarters where they are crowded and uncomfortable. We can all endure inconvenience when we know it is not to last indefinitely. Mr. Fernald told me over the telephone that the promise of new houses by summer or fall at the latest was buoying up the courage of all those who had suffered from this terrible disaster. He is going to grant special privileges to every family that has met with loss. They are to be given the first houses that are finished."
"I do hope another freshet like this one won't sweep away the new village," reflected Ted.
"Oh, we shall probably never again be treated to an excitement similar to this one," smiled Mr. Hazen reassuringly. "Didn't you hear them say that it was the bursting of the Melton reservoir which was largely responsible for this catastrophe? Mr. Fernald declared all along that this was no ordinary freshet. He has seen the river every spring for nearly forty years and watched it through all its annual thaws; and although it has often been high, it has never been a danger to the community. He told me over the telephone about the reservoir bursting. He had just got the news. It seems the reservoir above Melton was an old one which the authorities have realized for some time must be rebuilt. They let it go one year too long. With the weight of water, snow, and ice, it could not bear the pressure put upon it and collapsed. I'm afraid it has been a severe lesson to the officials of the place for the chance they took has caused terrible damage."