"Were people killed?" asked Ted in an awed whisper.
"We have heard so—two or three who were trapped asleep in their houses. As for the town, practically all the buildings that fronted the river were destroyed. Of course, as yet we have not been able to get very satisfactory details, for most of the wires were down and communication was pretty well cut off. I suppose that is why they did not notify us of our peril. People were probably too busy with their own affairs, too intent on saving their own lives and possessions to think of anything else. Then, too, the thing came suddenly. If there hadn't been somebody awake here, I don't know where we should have been. I don't see how you happened to be astir so early."
"Nor I," returned Ted modestly. "I think it must have been the sound of the water coming in that woke me. I just happened to hear it."
"Well, it was an almighty fortunate happen—that is all I can say," asserted Mr. Hazen, as the boy sped down the stairs.
During the next few days tidings of the Melton disaster proved the truth of Mr. Hazen's charitable suppositions, for it was definitely learned that the calamity which befell the village came entirely without warning, and as the main part of the town was wiped out almost completely and the river front destroyed, all communication between the unfortunate settlement and the outside world had been cut off so that to send warnings to the communities below had been impossible. Considering the enormity of the catastrophe, it was miraculous that there had not been greater loss of life and wider spread devastation.
A week of demoralization all along the river followed the tragedy; but after the bulk of wreckage was cleared away and the stream had dropped to normal, the Fernalds actually began to congratulate themselves on the direful event.
"Well, the thing has not been all to the bad, by any means," commented Grandfather Fernald. "We have at least got rid of those unsightly tenements bordering the water which were such a blot on Freeman's Falls; and once gone, I do not mean to allow them ever to be put back again. I have bought up the land and shall use it as the site of the new granite bridge I intend to build across the stream. And in case I have more land than is needed for this purpose, the extra area can be used for a park which will be an ornament to the spot rather than an eyesore. Therefore, take it altogether, I consider that freshet a capital thing."
He glanced at Ted who chanced to be standing near by.
"I suppose you, my lad, do not entirely agree with me," added he, a twinkle gleaming beneath his shaggy brows. "You are thinking of that playhouse of yours and Laurie's that was carried off by the deluge."
"I am afraid I was, sir."
"Pooh! Nonsense!" blustered the old gentleman. "What's a thing like that? Besides, Laurie's father proposes to rebuild it for you. Hasn't he told you?" questioned the man, noticing the surprise in the boy's face. "Oh, yes, indeed! He is going to put up another house for you; and judging from his plans, you will find yourself far better off than you were in the first place for this time he is to give you a real cottage, not simply a made-over boathouse. Yes, there is to be running water; a bedroom, study, and kitchenette; to say nothing of a bath and steam heat. He plans to connect it by piping with the central heating plant. So you see you will have a regular housekeeping bungalow instead of a camp."
"But—but—I can't let Mr. Fernald do all this for me," he protested. "It's—it's—too much."
"I shouldn't worry about him, if I were you," smiled the elder man. "It won't scrimp him, I imagine. Furthermore, it will be an excellent investment, for should the time ever come when you did not need the house it could be rented to one of our tenants. He is to put a foundation under it this time and build it more solidly; and possibly he may decide to set it a trifle farther back from the water. In any case, he will see that it is right; you can trust him for that. It will not be carried away a second time."
"I certainly hope not," Ted agreed. "What a pity it was they did not have some way of notifying us from Melton! If they had only had a wireless apparatus——" he broke off thoughtfully.
"I doubt if all the wireless in the world could have saved your little hut," answered Mr. Fernald kindly. "It was nothing but a pasteboard house and wireless or no wireless it would have gone anyway. I often speculate as to how ships ever dared to go to sea before they had the protection of wireless communication. Ignorance was bliss, I suppose. They knew nothing about it and therefore did not miss it. When we can boast no better way we are satisfied with the old. But think of the shipwrecks and accidents that might have been averted! You will be studying about all this some day when you go to Technology or college."
Ted's face lighted at the words.
"You have all been so kind to me, Mr. Fernald," he murmured. "When I think of your sending me to college it almost bowls me over."
"You must never look upon it as an obligation, my boy," the old gentleman declared. "If there is any obligation at all (and there is a very real one) it is ours. The only obligation you have will be to do well at your studies and make us proud of you, and that you are doing all the time. Mr. Hazen tells me you are showing splendid progress. I hope by another week Laurie will be out of the woods, Pine Lea will be fumigated, and you can resume your former way of living there without further interruptions from floods and illness. Still, I shall be sorry to have your little visit at Aldercliffe come to an end. You seem to have grown into the ways of the whole family and to fit in wherever you find yourself."
Mr. Fernald smiled affectionately at the lad.
"There is something that has been on my tongue's end to whisper to you for some time," he went on, after a brief interval of hesitancy. "I know you can keep a secret and so I mean to tell you one. In the spring we are going to take Laurie over to New York to see a very celebrated surgeon who is coming from Vienna to this country. We hear he has had great success with cases such as Laurie's and we hope he may be able to do something for the boy. Of course, no one knows this as yet, not even Laurie himself."
"Oh, Mr. Fernald! Do you mean there would be a chance that Laurie could walk sometime?" Ted cried.
The old man looked into the young and shining face and nervously brushed the back of his hand across his eyes.
"Perhaps; perhaps!" responded he gruffly. "Who can tell? This doctor has certainly performed some marvelous cures. Who knows but the lad may some day not only walk about, but leap and run as you do!"
"But we must not be too sure or allow ourselves to be swept away by hope," cautioned Grandfather Fernald. "No one knows what can be done yet and we might be disappointed—sadly disappointed. Still, there is no denying that there is a fighting chance. But keep this to yourself, Ted. I must trust you to do that. If Laurie were to know anything about it, it would be very unfortunate, for the ordeal will mean both pain and suffering for him and he must not be worried about it in advance. He will need all his nerve and courage when the time for action comes. Moreover, we feel it would be cruel for him to glimpse such a vision and then find it only a mirage. So we have told him nothing. But I have told you because you are fond of him and I wanted you to share the secret."
"It shall remain a secret, Mr. Fernald."
"I feel sure of that," the man replied. "You are a good boy, Ted. It was a lucky day that brought you to Pine Lea."
"A lucky one for me, sir!"
"For all of us, son! For all of us!" reiterated the old gentleman. "The year of your coming here will be one we never shall forget. It has been very eventful."
Certainly the final comment was no idle one. Not only had the year been a red-letter one but it was destined to prove even more conspicuously memorable. With the spring the plans for the new village went rapidly forward and soon pretty little concrete houses with roofs of scarlet and trimmings of green dotted the slopes on the opposite side of the river. The laying out and building of this community became Grandfather Fernald's recreation and delight. Morning, noon, and evening he could be seen either perusing curling sheets of blue prints, consorting with his architects, or rolling off in his car to inspect the progress of the venture. Sometimes he took Ted with him, sometimes his son, and when Laurie was strong enough, the entire family frequently made the pilgrimage to the new settlement.
It was very attractive, there was no denying that; and it seemed as if nothing that could give pleasure to its future residents had been omitted. The tiny library had been Laurie's pet scheme, and not only had his grandfather eagerly carried out the boy's own plans but he had proudly ordered the lad's name to be chiselled across the front of the building. Ted's plea had been for a playground and this request had also been granted, since it appeared to be a wise one. It was a wonderful playground, bordering on the river and having swings and sand boxes for the children; seats for tired mothers; and a large ball-field with bleachers for the men and boys. The inhabitants of Freeman's Falls had never dreamed of such an ideal realm in which to live, and as tidings of the paradise went forth, strangers began to flock into town in the hope of securing work in the mills and homes in the new settlement.
The Fernalds, however, soon made it plain that the preference was to be given to their old employees who had served them well and faithfully for so many years. Therefore, as fast as the houses were completed, they were assigned to those who had been longest in the company's employ and soon the streets of the new village were no longer silent but teemed with life and the laughter of a happy people. And among those for whom a charming little abode was reserved were the Turners, Ted's family.
Then came the tearing down of the temporary bridge of wood and the opening of the beautiful stone structure that arched the stream. Ah, what a holiday that was! The mills were closed, there was a band concert in the little park, dedication exercises, and fireworks in the evening. And great was Ted's surprise when he spied cut in the stone the words "Turner's Bridge!" Near the entrance was a modest bronze tablet stating that the memorial had been constructed in honor of Theodore Turner who, by his forethought in giving warning of the freshet of 1912 had saved the village of Freeman's Falls from inestimable calamity.
How the boy blushed when Mr. Lawrence Fernald mentioned him by name in the dedication speech! And yet he was pleased, too. And how the people cheered; and how proud his father and sisters were! Perhaps, however, the most delighted person of all was Laurie who had been in the secret all along and who now smiled radiantly to see his friend so honored.
"The townspeople may not go to my library," he laughed, "but every one of them will use your bridge. They will have to; they can't help it!"
The thought seemed to amuse him vastly and he always referred to the exquisite granite structure with its triple arch and richly carved piers of stone as Ted's Bridge.
Thus did the year with its varied experiences slip by and when June came the Fernalds carried Laurie to New York to consult the much heralded Viennese surgeon. Ah, those were feverish, anxious days, not only for the Fernald family but for Ted and Mr. Hazen as well. The boy and the tutor had remained at Pine Lea there to continue their studies and await the tidings Laurie's father had promised to send them; and when the ominous yellow telegrams with their momentous messages began to arrive, they hardly knew whether to greet them with sorrow or rejoicing.
They need not, however, have dreaded the news for after careful examination the eminent specialist had decided to take a single desperate chance and operate with the hope of success. Laurie, they were told, was a monument of courage and had the spirit of a Spartan. Unquestionably he merited the good luck that followed for fortune did reward his heroism,—smiling fortune. Of course, the miracle of health could not come all in a moment; months of convalescence must follow which would be unavoidably tedious with suffering. But beyond this arid stretch of pain lay the goal of recovery.
No lips could tell what this knowledge meant to those who loved the boy. In time he was to be as strong as any one! It was unbelievable. Nevertheless, the roseate promise was no dream. Laurie was brought home to Pine Lea and immediately the mending process began. Already one could read in the patient face the transformation hope had wrought. There was some day to be college, not alone for Ted but for Laurie himself,—college, and sports, and a career.
In the fullness of time these long-anticipated joys began to arrive. Health made its appearance and at its heels trouped success and happiness; and to balance them came gratitude, humility, and service. In the meantime, with every lengthening year, the friendship between Laurie and Ted toughened in fiber and became a closer bond. And it was not engineering or electricity that ultimately claimed the constructive interest of the two comrades but instead the Fernald mills, which upon Grandfather Fernald's retirement called for younger men at their helm. So after going forth into the great world and whetting the weapons of their intellect they found the dragon they had planned to slay waiting for them at home in Freeman's Falls. Yet notwithstanding its familiar environment, it was a very real dragon and resolutely the two young men attacked it, putting into their management of the extensive industry all the spirit of brotherhood that burned in their hearts and all the desire for service which they cherished. With the aim of bringing about a kindlier cooeperation and fuller sympathy between capital and labor they toiled, and the world to which they gave their efforts was the better for it.
Nevertheless, they did not entirely abandon their scientific interests for on the border of the river stood a tiny shack equipped with a powerful wireless apparatus. Here on a leisure afternoon Ted Turner and his comrade could often be found capturing from the atmosphere those magic sounds that spelled the intercourse of peoples, and the thought of nations; and often they spoke of Alexander Graham Bell and those patient pioneers who, together with him, had made it possible for the speech of man to traverse continents and circle a universe.