AnnabelŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
ďDidnít he?Ē timidly asked the boy.
ďNot by a jugfull!Ē declared the doctor, emphatically. ďJohn Carden would no more run away than he would do a dishonest action. And he was true as steel.Ē
Will stood straight enough now, and his gray eyes glistened with joy and pride. Whatever statement old Doctor Meigs made he believed implicitly. The doctor had known Will since the day he was born Ė which was longer than Will could remember the doctor; but there had never been an hour of that time when the physician had not been the staunch friend of all the Carden family, and stood by them loyally in spite of their reverses and final poverty. He always called at least once a week to see Egbert, whose bad arm sometimes pained him, and to have a quiet chat with Mrs. Carden; and if either Will or Flo chanced to be ailing the doctor was prompt with his remedies. But no bill had ever been presented for such services.
ďI wish youíd tell me about my father,Ē said Will, wistfully. ďMother never says much about him, you know.Ē
ďHer heart is broken, my boy,Ē murmured the doctor, laying a caressing hand upon Willís shoulder; ďbut itís because she has lost her husband and friend, not because she has for a moment doubted his memory. Do you see those big buildings over there?Ē pointing to the distant steel works; ďwell, before they were built, another and more modest building stood in their place, where your father first discovered the secret process that has since made Chester Williams a rich and famous man. Did you know that? But John Carden made himself poor with his experiments, and Mr. Jordan loaned him money to carry on the tests until your father was deeply in his debt. There was but one way out, to go to England and interest the great steel manufacturers of that country in the new process, which John Carden knew to be very valuable. In order to save money, your father sailed in a second-class ship that foundered at sea and drowned him and all on board; and because he told only Mr. Jordan and myself of the object of his trip abroad, the story got around that he had run away, having failed in business, and thus cruelly deserted his family. Jordan is a reserved man, and never talks to anybody, but Iíve nailed the lie wherever Iíve heard it. Well, after your fatherís death it was found that he had transferred his secret process to Mr. Jordan, in return for the money he owed him; and Jordan turned the secret over to Williams, who has established that great factory to produce the wonderful quality of steel your father invented. It is said that Mr. Jordan gets a royalty on all the steel the Williams mills turn out, and if that is so, and I have no reason to doubt it, he is a wealthy man by this time, and is profiting a hundred-fold for the money he loaned John Carden. So the debt is cleared, and your family owes no man a penny. As for Jordan, I donít like the man, myself; heís too silent and stealthy to suit me; but I must say heís done the square thing by your mother in boarding with her right along, and so helping her to support her children.Ē
ďIt helps a lot,Ē said Will, thoughtfully.
ďAnd now, my boy, youíve got the whole story about your father, and got it square and fair.
Every time you see the Williams mills you ought to be proud to remember that it was John Cardenís genius that made them possible, and that has enabled Chester D. Williams to amass a fortune. As for Mrs. Williams, who was once as poor as yourself, I believe, and is now a bit too proud of the money her husband has made, donít you pay any attention to her. If she doesnít want you to play with her children, donít you mind, Will. Remember that the Cardens have lived in Bingham for three generations Ė long before the Williamses were ever heard of Ė and there isnít a thing in their history they need be ashamed of. Povertyís no crime, young man; and when youíre a little older poverty wonít bother you, for youíll carve out a fine fortune for yourself, unless Iím very much mistaken.Ē
Will looked into the big, whiskered face with grateful eyes. Dr. Meigs had not only comforted him, but made him proud of his family and of himself.
ďThank you, Doctor,Ē he said. ďI guess Iíll go, now.Ē
ďPut out your tongue!Ē commanded the doctor.
Will obeyed, meekly.
ďYouíre right as a trivet. Run along, now, and weed that garden. And say Ė take half a peck of peas over to old Mrs. Johnson. I almost forgot about it. Hereís a quarter to pay for them. Tell her a friend sent them around. I believe it was old Nelson, but I canít remember now.Ē
Then the doctor picked up the little case in which he carried medicines and strode away down the road, the end of his stout cane ringing on the hard earth at every step.
MR. JORDAN BECOMES MYSTERIOUS
Little Flo heard Willís merry whistle as he drew near, and gave, a sigh of relief. It was dreary work weeding the radishes in the hot sun, without a soul to talk to. Egbert was fixing slender poles in the ground for the young beans to climb; but Egbert didnít count much as a companion, because he could neither talk nor hear, although he was wonderfully quick to understand signs, or even a movement of the lips; so the child was glad her brother Will had returned.
He only paused to toss his basket into the open door of the barn, and then came straight to the radish bed.
ďWorking, sis?Ē he cried, cheerily.
ďMother said I must weed ítil noon,Ē she answered. ďSheís baking, so she canít help.Ē
ďWell, how does it go?Ē he asked, kneeling down to assist in the labor.
ďOh, I donít mind,Ē she said, in a voice that sounded less indifferent than the words. ďPoor folks have to work, I sípose; but Saturday ought to be a holiday Ė oughtnít it, Will?Ē
ďSure enough. Where do you want to go?Ē
ďMabel Allenís got a new set of dishes for her birthday, and she said if Iíd come over weíd have tea. And Annabel Williams told me to stop in and see Gladysís dollís new clothes.Ē
Willís face hardened, and his whistle died away. He plucked at the weeds savagely for a time, and then said:
ďLook here, Flo; you run on and have tea with Mabel. Iíll ítend to the weediní. But I wouldnít go to the big house, if I were you.Ē
ďWhy not?Ē asked Flo, in surprise.
Will thought a minute Ė just long enough to restrain the angry words that rose to his lips. Then he said:
ďWeíre poor, Flo, and the Williams family is rich, and they give themselves airs. I donít know as I blame íem any for that; but the Cardens are as good as the Williamses, even if we havenít money, and I donít like to have them patronize us, thatís all.Ē
The girl looked puzzled.
ďAnnabelís always been nice to me, and I like her. I like Gladys, too. Why, Will, I thought all the Williams children were your friends!Ē
ďSo they are,Ē answered Will. ďThe children donít put on airs, sis; itís Mrs. Williams that donít like them to play with poor kids, like us. So I wish you wouldnít go there. When you see them in school, itís all right to be friendly; but they never come over here, so donít letís go there.Ē
ďAll right, Will,Ē she answered, with a sigh for she longed to visit the beautiful grounds and rooms at the big house. ďBut, do you think you can spare me?Ē
ďEasy,Ē said Will.
ďBut mother said Ė Ē
ďIíll fix it with mother. You run along and have a good time.Ē
Will did a lot of work in the garden that day, and all the time he was thinking deeply of what he had heard from Doctor Meigs. It never occurred to him to doubt a word of the story of his fatherís misfortunes and death.
At supper that night he cast many stealthy looks at Mr. Jordan, who sat wholly unconscious of the scrutiny and as silent as ever. Indeed, this peculiar gentleman was well worthy of examination, aside from the fact that he had been a friend to John Carden in the old days.
Mr. Jordan Ė his name was Ezra, but few were aware of that Ė was fully six feet in height, but wonderfully thin and gaunt of frame. His lean face was close-shaven, and his head was bald save for a fringe of locks above the ears. These were carefully brushed upward and plastered close to his shiny skull. But his eyebrows were thick and bushy, and sprinkled with gray, so that they gave him a rather fierce expression. Over his eyes he constantly wore big, gold-rimmed spectacles, which magnified the sight of those looking toward them; so that Mr. Jordanís eyes became unnaturally large and glaring, and apt to disturb oneís composure and render it an uncomfortable thing to stare at him for long.
That glance of Mr. Jordanís spectacles used to fill Will and Flo with awe, when they were younger; but Will had found chances to get a side view of the manís face, and beneath the spectacles noted that the eyes were really small and watery, and of a mild blue color; so that now the spectacles were less horrible.
One peculiarity of the man was that he walked rigidly upright Ė ďas stiff as a ramrod,Ē Will declared Ė and on his evening strolls he never used a cane; but stalked away as slowly as a ghost, with his hands clasped behind his back and his spectacles staring straight ahead. He always wore a long frock coat of black and a rusty silk hat, which added to his tallness and made him quite remarkable.
No one could remember when Mr. Jordan had not lived in Bingham; yet he had no relatives nor even intimate friends. While not reputed wealthy, he was considered ďa man of means,Ē and everyone bowed respectfully but gravely to him as he passed by. At the mills he was called ďthe AutomatonĒ by the younger clerks, because he performed all duties with absolute punctuality and unvarying deliberation.
No one knew why Chester D. Williams had given Mr. Jordan such full control of the steel works, but his word was law in the offices, and even the proprietor assumed a different air whenever he addressed his secretary. As to the manís capability, that could not be doubted. Under his supervision no detail of the business was neglected and the concern ran like clock-work.
The Carden children were of course accustomed to the presence of their boarder. Perhaps Egbert might retain a vivid recollection of the days when his father was alive, and Mr. Jordan was unknown to the parlor bedroom or the seat at the head of the table; but to Will those times were very hazy, and to Flo it seemed as if the boarder had always been there, grim and silent from the first, but now scarcely noticed save by tired-faced Mrs. Carden, whose daily duty it was to make Mr. Jordan comfortable in return for the weekly five dollars that was so important an item to the little household.
On this Saturday evening, when supper was over, Will sat upon a box at the entrance to the tumble-down shed that was called by courtesy a ďbarn,Ē and watched the boarder start out for his regular evening walk.
Mr. Jordan never neglected this exercise, no matter what the weather might be. People in Bingham had long since decided that he walked for the benefit of his health, as a relief from the close confinement at the office during the day; and it amused the gossips that the manís habits were so regular that neither wind nor snow, frost nor blizzard had never yet induced him to vary his daily programme by staying in doors.
And he always walked in the same direction, turning down the lane to the left of the cottage and following it a full half mile to a grove of great oak and maple trees; through this to the Danville turnpike; along the turnpike to Holmesí Cross Roads; back to the village, and through the village to the Carden house, where he hung up his hat and went directly to his room for the night. A fine walk Ė four miles at the least Ė and an evidence of the manís perfect health and remarkable physical endurance, when his age and lean body were taken into consideration.
ďMr. Jordan is as tough as hickory,Ē the people declared; but as his life was so absolutely regular he was never an object of curiosity to his neighbors, who took but a casual interest in him. Perhaps, had he ever varied his programme, even for a day, the act would have occasioned great excitement in Bingham; but he never did.
Tonight Will looked after him thoughtfully, and followed with his eyes Mr. Jordanís upright form as it moved slowly down the lane toward the distant grove. He wished he might speak with the silent man about his father. If Mr. Jordan had loaned John Carden money and stood by him during all his dark days of experimenting, as the doctor had said, he must have been a good and faithful friend, thought the boy. Perhaps he wouldnít mind telling Will something more of those old days.
Impelled by this idea, the boy arose and started across lots to overtake the solitary walker. When he came to the lane, Mr. Jordan had not yet reached the grove, but was pacing the road with calm and precise steps, no one an inch longer or shorter than another.
Something about the rigid, unemotional form caused Will to hesitate. He had never spoken much with Mr. Jordan, and suddenly he became abashed at his own temerity. Yet it was always hard for Will to abandon any plan he had once formed. He did not go back; but he slackened his pace, trying to think of the best way to approach the self-absorbed man ahead of him. And so, while he trailed along the lane with halting footsteps, Mr. Jordan came to the edge of the grove and entered it.
The path through the grove curved from left to right, and back again, passing around the big trees that had been spared the axe on account of some whim of their owner, who was none other than Mr. Jordan himself. Lumber men had often tried to buy this bit of fine timber; but the owner refused all offers.
ďIt will keep,Ē was his unvarying reply. And it had ďkeptĒ for many years.
When Will reached the edge of the trees the man was out of sight around the bend; so the boy, encouraged to hasten, pressed quickly along until the turn in the road was reached, when he stopped in great surprise.
For Mr. Jordan had halted in the center of the grove Ė really a most unexpected thing for him to do Ė and, turned half around, was staring fixedly at a large oak that grew a few paces from the road.
Now was the time for Will to join him and open the conversation. He realized his opportunity, and was mustering up the necessary courage to advance, when Mr. Jordan walked straight to the oak tree, cast a hasty, half suspicious glance around him, and then passed one hand swiftly up and down the shaggy bark of the trunk at a point about on a level with his own head.
Will, shrinking back so as to be nearly hidden by a clump of bushes, stared open mouthed at this amazing sight, and while he stared Mr. Jordan returned to the road, faced ahead, and marched as stiffly and deliberately as ever upon his way.
The incident had not occupied more than a minuteís time, but it was strange enough to deprive Will of any desire to overtake or speak with the man he had unwittingly spied upon. He let Mr. Jordan continue his walk, and turning back made his own way leisurely home.
The next morning, when he came to think it all over, he decided that Mr. Jordanís action in the grove was not nearly so remarkable as he had considered it in the dim light of the preceding evening. Doubtless the owner of those splendid trees had seen some hole in the bark of this oak, or had fancied it damaged in some way, and so had felt of the trunk to reassure himself. Anyone might have done the same thing, and for a dozen different reasons.
Yet why did the man glance around in that curious half-frightened way, as if fearful of being seen, if he was merely about to do an ordinary thing? It was the flash of that single look that had made Will uneasy; that rendered him uneasy every time he thought about it. But he could not explain why. If there was any one person in Bingham who was in no way mysterious that person was Mr. Jordan.
Sunday was a bright, delightful day, and soon after the late breakfast was over the Carden children, dressed in their best, started for the Sunday-school service, which was held before the regular church services began. Egbert and Will walked on either side of little Flo, and the three were as merry and wholesome a group of young folks as one could wish to see. Egbert was not a bit ill-natured or morose on account of his infirmities, but always wore a smile upon his cheerful face. And the village children liked him, as was easily seen by their pleasant nods when the three Cardens joined the group at the church door.
The Williams children were there, too, and while Gladys grabbed Floís hand and drew her aside with eager whispers, the others formed a circle around Will and Egbert and tried to make the former feel that they were as friendly as ever, in spite of their motherís banishment of the ďvegetable boyĒ the day before.
ďMother was a little bit nervous yesterday,Ē said Mary Louise, in her sweet and sympathetic way. ďYou mustnít mind it, Will.Ē
ďOf course I wonít,Ē he answered, promptly.
ďMother,Ē said the saucy Annabel, in a reflective tone of voice, ďis a regílar caution when she gets nervous; and sheís nervous most of the time.Ē
ďMrs. Williams was quite right,Ē said Will; ďand it was lucky she sent me home, for Iíd an awful lot of work to do, and that kite made me forget all about it.Ē
The bell rang just then, calling them in; but Reginald whispered to Will: ďYouíre a brick!Ē and Theodore shyly took his friendís hand and pressed it within his own as they entered the doorway.
All this did much to warm Will Cardenís heart and restore to him his self-respect, which had been a little shattered by Mrs. Williamsí contemptuous treatment.
However disdainful of poverty some of the grown folks may be, children, if they are the right sort, are more apt to judge a comrade by his quality and merit, than by the amount of his worldly possessions. And Will decided the Williams children were ďthe right sort.Ē
MEIGS, MUSHROOMS AND MONEY
ďWill,Ē said Dr. Meigs, as he stopped one afternoon to lean over the garden fence, ďhow are things going?Ē
ďPretty well, Doctor,Ē answered the boy, cheerfully.
ďAre you getting ahead, and laying by something for the winter months, when the vegetables wonít grow?Ē
ďWere getting ahead some,Ē said Will, becoming grave; ďbut itís always a struggle for us in the winter, you know. I guess Iíll try to get a job in the steel works in October. Iím pretty husky, for my age, and I ought to be able to earn fair wages.Ē
ďHumph!Ē growled the doctor, frowning upon the young fellow fiercely. ďYou think youíve had schooling enough, do you?Ē
ďOh, no! But mother needs help. Sheís getting more tired and pale looking every day; and Egbert canít do much with his bad arm. So itís a case of force, Doctor. Iíve just got to dig in and do something.Ē
ďThatís true,Ē replied the big doctor. ďBut youíre going to be more than a mere laboring man when you grow up, Will Carden, and I donít mean to let you get into those beastly mills. Theyíd sap your young strength in no time, and make you an old man before your years would warrant it. No; weíll think of something else. Read that!Ē
He thrust a small book into the boyís hand and immediately marched away down the road.
Will looked at the book wonderingly. It was a treatise on mushroom culture; something he had never heard of before. But he spent his leisure during the next few days reading it carefully and the author told how a great deal of money could be made by raising mushrooms on a small plot of ground, under proper conditions and with intelligent care.
When again he saw Doctor Meigs Will said to him:
ďHereís your book, Doctor. Itís interesting, all right; but I canít see how I could possibly do anything at that business.Ē
ďWhy not?Ē enquired the doctor, seating himself calmly by Willís side, with the evident intention of arguing the question.
ďIn the first place,Ē said Will, ďIíve got no way to raise mushrooms. They need a warm spot of earth, to do well; and a rich soil, and plenty of shade.Ē
ďGood!Ē said the doctor, nodding approval. ďI see youíve paid some attention to the matter. Well, that old barn of yours is just the place.Ē
ďSurely. Iíve just been examining it. It never was anything more than a shed, without even a floor; and for a long time, while Deacon Wilder owned this place, horses and cattle were kept there. The soil in that barn is two feet thick and very rich. Itíll grow mushrooms like sixty!Ē
ďBut itís cold in the barn, in winter. The boards are falling off in places, and Ė Ē
ďWeíll patch it up,Ē said the doctor, with decision; ďand weíll put a heater in it Ė one of these regular green-house boilers, with hot-water pipes running under the surface of the ground, so as to keep the soil always warm. Firewood doesnít cost much in this part of the country.Ē
Will smiled at such cheerful optimism.
ďAnd when youíve raised the things,Ē he said, ďwhat are you going to do with them? The Bingham people wouldnít buy ten centsí worth of mushrooms in ten years.Ē
The doctor snorted contemptuously.
ďThe Bingham people! Do you think Iím a fool, Will Carden?ĒŮÍŗųŗÚŁ ÍŪŤ„ů ŠŚŮÔŽŗÚŪÓ
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