Lyman Baum.

Annabel





CHAPTER I
WILL MEETS WITH A REBUKE

Here are your vegetables, Nora, said Will Carden, as he scraped his feet upon the mat before the kitchen door of the big house.

Come in, Masther Willyum, called the cook, in her cheery voice.

So the boy obeyed the summons and pushed open the screen door, setting his basket upon the white table at Noras side.

Oo, misery! but them pays is illegant, she said, breaking open a green pod and eating the fresh, delicious contents. Why, Masther Willyum, the bloom is on em yet.

I picked them myself, Nora, the boy answered, with a pleased laugh, and only a little while ago, at that. And youll find the tomatoes and the celery just as nice, Im sure.

They cant be bate, responded the cook, emptying the basket and handing it to him. Sure, I dont know whatever wed do widout yez to bring us the grans stuff, Masther Willyum.

I wish, said he, hesitatingly, you wouldnt call me master, Nora. Call me Will, as everyone else does. Im not old enough to have a handle to my name, and Im not much account in the world, yet.

Noras round, good natured face turned grave, and she looked at the boy with a thoughtful air.

I used to know the Cardens, she said, when they didnt have to raise vegetables to earn a living.

Will flushed, and his eyes fell.

Never mind that, Nora, he answered, gently. Weve got to judge people by what they are, not by what they have been. Good bye! and he caught up his basket and hastily retreated, taking care, however, to close the screen door properly behind him, for he knew the cooks horror of flies.

Poor boy! sighed Nora, as she resumed her work. It aint his fault, at all at all, that the Cardens has come down in the wurruld. But down they is purty close to the bottom, an it aint loikly as theyll pick up agin in a hurry.

Meantime the vegetable boy, whistling softly to himself, passed along the walk that led from the back of the big house past the stables and so on to the gate opening into the lane. The grounds of the Williams mansion were spacious and well kept, the lawns being like velvet and the flower beds filled with artistic clusters of rare blooming plants. A broad macadamed driveway, edged with curbs of dressed stone, curved gracefully from the carriage porch to the stables, crossing the lawn like a huge scroll.

At one side of this a group of children played upon the grass two boys and three girls while the nurse who was supposed to have charge of the smallest girl, as yet scarcely more than a baby, sat upon a comfortable bench engaged in reading a book.

As Will passed, one of the little girls lay flat upon the ground, sobbing most dismally, her golden head resting upon her outstretched arms. The boy hesitated an instant, and then put down his basket and crossed the lawn to where the child lay, all neglected by her companions.

Whats wrong, Gladie? he asked, sitting on the grass beside her.

Oh, Will, she answered, turning to him a tear-stained face, m my d d dollys all bwoke, an Ted says shell h h have t go to a h h hospital, an MaWeeze an Wedgy says theyll m m make a f funral an put dolly in the c cold gwound, an make her dead! and the full horror of the recital flooding her sensitive little heart, Gladys burst into a new flood of tears.

Will laughed.

Dont you worry about it, Gladie, he said, in a comforting tone.

Well fix dolly all right, in less than a jiffy. Where is she, and wheres she broke?

Hope crept into the little face, begot of a rare confidence in the big boy beside her. Gladys rolled over upon the grass, uncovering a French doll of the jointed variety, dressed in very elaborate but soiled and bedraggled clothes and having a grimy face and a mass of tangled hair. It must have been a pretty toy when new, but the doll had never won Gladys whole heart so long as it remained immaculate and respectable. In its present disreputable condition it had become her dearest treasure, and when she handed the toy to Will Carden and showed him where one leg was missing from the knee down, a fresh outburst of grief convulsed her.

Her l leg is all b bwoke! she cried.

Thats bad, said Will, examining the doll carefully. But well play Im the doctor, come to make her well. Wheres the other piece, Gladie?

The child hastily searched for her pocket, from which, when at last the opening was found, she drew forth the severed leg. By this time the other children had discovered Wills presence and with a wild whoop of greeting they raced to his side and squatted around him on the lawn, curiously watching to see how he would mend the doll. Theodore was about Wills own age, but much shorter and inclined to stoutness. His face habitually wore a serious expression and he was very quiet and stolid of demeanor. Reginald, the other boy, was only nine, but his nature was so reckless and mischievous that he was the life of the whole family and his mother could always tell where the children were playing by listening for the sound of Reginalds shrill and merry voice.

Mary Louise was fourteen a dark haired, blue eyed maiden whose sweet face caused strangers to look more than once as she passed them by. To be sure she was very slender so slight of frame that Reginald had named her Skinny as a mark of his brotherly affection; but the girl was so dainty in her ways and so graceful in every movement that it was a wonder even her careless younger brother should not have recognized the fact that her skinny form was a promise of great beauty in the years to come.

Then there was Annabel, the odd one of the Williams family, with a round, freckled face, a pug nose, tawny red hair and a wide mouth that was always smiling. Annabel was twelve, the favored comrade of her brothers and sisters, the despair of her lady mother because of her ugliness of feature, and the pet of Nora, the cook, because she was what that shrewd domestic considered the right stuff. Annabel, in spite of her bright and joyous nature, was shy with strangers, and at times appeared almost as reserved as her brother Theodore, which often led to her being misunderstood. But Will Carden was no stranger to the Williams children, being indeed a school-mate, and as they flocked around him this bright Saturday morning they showered questions and greetings upon their friend in a somewhat bewildering manner.

The boy had only one thought in mind, just then: to comfort little Gladys by making her dolly as good as new. So whistling softly, in his accustomed fashion, he drew out his pocket knife and began fishing in the hole of the dolls leg for the elastic cord that had parted and allowed her lower joint to fall off. Gladys watched this operation with wide, staring eyes; the others with more moderate interest; and presently Will caught the end of the cord, drew it out, and made a big knot in the end so it could not snap back again and disappear. Then, in the severed portion, he found the other end of the broken elastic, and when these two ends had been firmly knotted together the joints of the leg snapped firmly into place and the successful operation was completed.

Hooray! yelled Reginald, its all right now, Gladie. Well postpone the funeral till another smash-up.

The little ones face was wreathed with smiles. She hugged the restored doll fondly to her bosom and wiped away the last tears that lingered on her cheeks. The callous nurse looked over at the group, yawned, and resumed her reading.

Can you make a kite fly, Will? asked Theodore, in his quiet tones.

Dont know, Ted, replied Will. What seems wrong with the thing?

At once they all moved over to the center of the lawn, where a big kite lay with tangled cord and frazzled tail face downward upon the grass.

It keeps ducking, and wont go up, explained Reginald, eagerly.

The tail seems too long, said Mary Louise.

Or else the cord isnt fastened in the right place, added Theodore. Weve been working at it all morning; but it wont fly.

Guess its a ground-kite, remarked Annabel, demurely. It slides on the grass all right.

Will gave it a careful examination.

Looks to me as if the brace-strings were wrong, said he, resuming his low whistle, which was an indication that he was much interested in the problem. They dont balance the kite right, you see. There, thats better, he continued, after changing the position of the cords; lets try it now. Ill hold it, Ted, and you run.

Theodore at once took the cord, which Will had swiftly untangled and rolled into a ball, and stood prepared to run when the kite was released. Next moment he was off, and the kite, now properly balanced, rose gracefully into the air and pulled strong against the cord, which Theodore paid out until the big kite was so high and distant that it looked no bigger than your hand.

Ted could manage the kite now while standing still, and the other children all rushed to his side, with their eyes fastened upon the red speck in the sky.

Thank you, Will, said Theodore.

Thats all right, answered Will, indifferently; all it needed was a little fixing. You could have done it yourself, if youd only thought about it. Hows the sick kitten, Annabel?

Fine, said the girl. The medicine you gave me made it well right away.

Oho! cried Reginald, joyfully, he gave Annabel medicine to cure a sick kitten!

Ill give you some for a sick puppy, Reggie, said Will, grinning.

The kite-flyers were now standing in a group near a large bed of roses at the side of the house, and none of them, so intent were they upon their sport, had noticed that Mrs. Williams had come upon the lawn with a dainty basket and a pair of shears to gather flowers. So her voice, close beside them, presently startled the children and moved the inattentive nurse to spring up and hide her book.

Isnt that the vegetable boy? asked the lady, in a cold tone.

Will swung around and pulled off his cap with a polite bow.

Yes, maam, said he.

Then run away, please, she continued, stooping to clip a rose with her shears.

Run away? he repeated, not quite able to understand.

Yes! said she, sharply. I dont care to have my children play with the vegetable boy.

The scorn conveyed by the cold, emphatic tones brought a sudden flush of red to Wills cheeks and brow.

Good bye, he said to his companions, and marched proudly across the lawn to where his basket lay. Nor did he pause to look back until he had passed out of the grounds and the back gate closed behind him with a click.

Then a wild chorus of protest arose from the children.

Why did you do that? demanded Theodore of his mother.

Hes as good as we are, objected Annabel.

It wasnt right to hurt his feelings, said Mary Louise, quietly; he cant help being a vegetable boy.

Silence, all of you! returned Mrs. Williams, sternly. And understand, once for all, that I wont have you mixing with every low character in the town. If you havent any respect for yourselves you must respect your fathers wealth and position and me.

There was an ominous silence for a moment. Then said little Gladys:

Wills a dood boy; an he fixted my dollys leg.

Fanny! take that rebellious child into the house this minute, commanded the great lady, pointing a terrible finger at her youngest offspring.

I dont want to, wailed Gladys, resisting the nurse with futile determination.

Oh, yes you will, dear, said Mary Louise, softly, as she bent down to the little one. You must obey mamma, you know. Come, Ill go with you.

Ill go with Ma-Weeze, said the child, pouting and giving her mother a reproachful glance as she toddled away led by her big sister, with the nurse following close behind.

A nice, obedient lot of children you are, I must say! remarked Mrs. Williams, continuing to gather the flowers. And a credit, also, to your station in life. I sometimes despair of bringing you up properly.

There was a moments silence during which the children glanced half fearfully at each other; then in order to relieve the embarrassment of the situation Annabel cried:

Come on, boys; lets go play.

They started at once to cross the lawn, glad to escape the presence of their mother in her present mood.

Understand! called Mrs. Williams, looking after them; if that boy stops to play with you again Ill have Peter put him out of the yard.

But they paid no attention to this threat, nor made any reply; and the poor woman sighed and turned to her flowers, thinking that she had but done her duty.

CHAPTER II
THE DOCTOR TELLS THE TRUTH

Meantime Will Carden walked slowly up the lane, his basket on his arm and his hands thrust deep into his pockets. Once out of sight of the Williams grounds his proud bearing relaxed, and great tears welled in his gray eyes. The scornful words uttered by Mrs. Williams had struck him like a blow and crushed and humiliated him beyond measure. Yet he could not at first realize the full meaning of his rebuff; it was only after he found time to think, that he appreciated what she had really meant by the words. Her children were rich, and he was poor. There was a gulf between them, and the fine lady did not wish her children to play with the vegetable boy. That was all; and it was simple enough, to be sure. But it brought to Wills heart a bitterness such as he had never known in all his brief lifetime.

He liked the Williams boys and girls. They had always been good comrades, and not one of them had ever hinted that there was any difference in their positions. But of course they did not know, as their mother did, how far beneath them was the poor vegetable boy.

Will glanced down at the worn and clumsy shoes upon his feet. The leather was the same color as the earth upon the path, for he worked in the garden with them, and couldnt have kept them clean and polished had he so wished. His trousers were too short; he knew that well enough, but hadnt cared about it until then. And they were patched in places, too, because his mother had an old-fashioned idea that patches were more respectable than rags, while Will knew well enough that both were evidences of a poverty that could not be concealed. He didnt wear a coat in summer, but his gray shirt, although of coarse material, was clean and above reproach, and lots of the village boys wore the same sort of a cheap straw hat as the one perched upon his own head.

The Williams children didnt wear such hats, though. Will tried to think what they did wear; but he had never noticed particularly, although it was easy to remember that the boys clothes were of fine cloths and velvets, and he had heard Flo speak of the pretty puffs and tucks in the Williams girls dresses. Yes, they were rich very rich, everyone said and no one knew so well as Will how very poor and needy the Cardens were. Perhaps it was quite right in Mrs. Williams not to want her children to associate with him. But oh! how hard his rejection was to bear.

Bingham wasnt a very big town. Formerly it had been merely a headquarters for the surrounding farmers, who had brought there their grain to be shipped on the railroad and then purchased their supplies at the stores before going back home again. But now the place was noted for its great steel mills, where the famous Williams Drop Forge Steel was made and shipped to all parts of the world. Three hundred workmen were employed in the low brick buildings that stood on the edge of the town to the north, close to the railway tracks; and most of these workmen lived in pretty new cottages that had been built on grounds adjoining the mills, and which were owned and rented to them by Chester D. Williams, the sole proprietor of the steel works.

The old town, with its humble but comfortable dwellings, lay scattered to the south of the Main Street, whereon in a double row stood the stores of Bingham, all very prosperous because of the increased trade the steel mills had brought to the town.

The great Williams mansion, built only a half dozen years before, stood upon a knoll at the east end of the main street, and the natural beauties of the well-wooded grounds had been added to by planting many rare shrubs and beds of beautiful flowers. It was not only the show place of Bingham but the only really handsome house in town, and the natives looked upon it with much pride and reverence.

The cottage occupied by the Cardens stood upon the extreme south edge of the village, and with it were two acres of excellent land, where Will and Egbert, assisted at times by their mother and little Florence, raised the vegetables on which their living depended. Egbert was a deaf-mute and his right arm was shrivelled and almost useless, all these afflictions being the result of an illness in his babyhood. But it was surprising how much work he could do in the garden, in the way of weeding and watering and even spading; so he was a great help to the family and contributed much toward the general support. Egbert was two years older than Will, who was now fifteen, and Florence or Flo, as everybody called her was a yellow haired, sunny natured little elf of ten.

Fortunately, the family living did not depend altogether upon the garden; for Mr. Jordan, the secretary at the steel works and at one time John Cardens best friend, had boarded with the family for eight years ever since the day when Wills father so mysteriously disappeared, only to be reported dead a month later, and the family fortunes were swept away in one breath.

Mr. Jordan occupied the best room in the cottage, and paid his board regularly every Saturday night. He was a silent, reserved man, about fifty years of age, who seldom spoke to Mrs. Carden and never addressed the children. After supper his custom was to take a long walk down the country lane, returning by a roundabout way to shut himself in his room, whence he only emerged in time for breakfast. After that meal, which he ate alone, he would take a little lunch basket and stalk solemnly away to the mills, there to direct the clerical work that came under his supervision.

Mr. Jordan was a man greatly respected, but little liked. He had no friends, no companions whatever, and seemed to enjoy the clock-like regularity and solitude in which he lived.

It was toward this humble home that Will Carden, after being dismissed by Mrs. Williams, directed his steps on that bright Saturday forenoon. He tried hard to bear up under the humiliation he had suffered; but there was no one near to see him and for a few minutes he gave way to the tears that would force themselves into his eyes, and let them flow unrestrained. Yet he kept on his way, with bent head and stooping shoulders, a very different boy from the merry, light hearted youth who had carried the heavy basket to the big house only an hour ago.

Suddenly, to the eyes blurred with tears, a huge, dark form loomed up in the road just ahead of him. Will hastily wiped away the unmanly drops and tried to whistle. Someone was coming, and whoever it was must not know he had been guilty of crying. Also he shifted his path to the edge of the road; but the other did the same, and the boy stopped abruptly with the knowledge that he had been purposely halted.

Then he glanced timidly up and saw a round, bearded face and two shrewd but kindly eyes that were looking at him from beneath a slouched felt hat.

Hello, Doctor, he said, letting his dismal whistle die away, and starting to pass round the stalwart form before him.

But Dr. Meigs laid a heavy hand on the boys shoulder, and made him face round again.

Whats up, Will?

The voice was big and full, yet gentle as it was commanding.

Nothn, Doctor.

Look here; youre telling whoppers, young man. Lift up your head.

Will obeyed.

Youve been crying.

Something got in my eye, said the boy.

To be sure. Tears. Whats it all about, Will? And, mind you, no lying! Your fathers son should speak the truth boldly and fearlessly.

Why, Doctor, was the halting answer, its nothing that amounts to shucks. I stopped a minute to fly a kite with the Williams children, up at the big house, and Mrs. Williams came out and said she didnt There was a catch in his voice, but he quickly controlled it: didnt want me to play with them. Thats all * * * * Well, Ill be going, Doctor.

Halt! cried Doctor Meigs, sternly, and Will could see he was frowning in that awful way he had when anything especially interested him. Stand up, William! Throw back those shoulders chest out thats the way. Thats how your father used to stand, my boy.

Did he? asked Will, brightening up.

Straight as an arrow. And looked everyone square in the eye, and spoke the truth, as an honest man should.

Then why, enquired Will, half scared at his own boldness, did my father run away, Doctor Meigs?

Run away! roared the doctor, in a terrible voice. Who told you that? Youve been listening to those lying tales of the scandal-mongers.





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