Lyman Baum.

Annabel





Who then?

Why, its only twenty-two miles to the city. There are four trains every day. In the city are a thousand customers longing to buy mushrooms, in season and out, and willing to pay big prices for them, too.

Will whistled, thoughtfully.

Its a bigger thing than I expected, he acknowledged. But, Doctor, its out of the question. I wouldnt dare risk our little savings in this experiment, and aside from whats put by for the winter, I havent enough money to buy the spawn to start with; or patch up the barn; or buy the water heater; or even market the stuff when its grown.

Who said anything about your spending money? demanded the doctor, roughly. All I want of you, sir, is to hire out to me to raise mushrooms. Im going into the business.

You!

Yes, me. Confound it, Will Carden, do you think Ive no ambition, just because Im a country doctor? My daughter, that married the wholesale grocer in the city has three children already, and theyve got to be looked after.

Cant the wholesale grocer do that? asked Will, with twinkling eyes.

Ive a right to leave a fortune to my own grandchildren if I want to, growled the doctor; and its none of your business, anyway, young fellow. The question is, will you hire out to me? You and Egbert; I want the two of you. The wages will be small, but theyll be sure even if I have to collect some bills to pay them. And Ill furnish all the capital needed to fix up the barn and start things going.

Will fairly gasped with astonishment.

Do you really mean it, Doctor, he asked.

I usually mean what I say, was the gruff retort. Now, then, answer me! And, by hookey, if you refuse Ill charge you two dollars for this consultation! Doctors cant waste their time for nothing.

If you mean it, Doctor, of course Ill hire out to you; and so will Egbert.

It wont interfere with your schooling, you know. Youll have to get up early mornings, and perhaps some cold nights you wont get much sleep, with tending the fires; but therell be plenty of time for you to go to school, and poor Egbert can study his deaf-and-dumb lessons in the shed as well as anywhere else, while youre away.

It must be mentioned here that Egbert had failed to learn to read and write at the village school, and through the doctors influence was now receiving lessons by correspondence from a prominent deaf-mute academy in New York, by means of which his progress had lately become marked and rapid.

All right, Doctor. Its a bargain, announced Will, in a subdued voice, but with a new sparkle in his eyes. Give me that book again. Ill have to study it, I guess. When shall we begin?

The first of August, said Doctor Meigs, seriously. Its a vacation month, and youll have a lot to do getting things in shape. Ill have Joe Higgins fix the barn up. He owes me a big bill, and thats the only way Ill ever get my pay.

And Joes a pretty fair carpenter. Now, about wages. Theyve got to be small to start with. Ill give you and Egbert ten dollars a month each.

Ten dollars!

Thatll make twenty for the two of you. Its small, but its all I can afford at first. But, to make up for that, Ill give you, Will, a working interest in the business.

Whats that? asked the boy.

Why, after all expenses are paid, including your wages, well divide the profits.

Will looked into the kindly eyes, and his own dimmed.

Doctor, said he, youre the best friend a fellow ever had. But its too much. I wont take it.

How do you know theres going to be any profit? demanded the doctor, sternly. And if there is, wholl make it? Dont you be a confounded idiot, Will Carden, and bother me when Im trying to drive a bargain. I know what Im doing, and those grandchildren have got to be provided for.

Suppose we fail? questioned Will, half fearfully.

Bosh! We cant fail. Ive talked with that wholesale grocer son-in-law of mine, and he agrees to find customers for all the toad-stools we can raise. So its up to you, old fellow, to sprout the mushrooms and then the things settled.

Ill do the best I can, Doctor.

Then its all agreed, and Ill draw up the papers for you to sign.

Papers!

Of course. This is an important business, and its got to be ship-shape, and in writing, so therell be no backing out. Suppose that wholesale grocer goes bankrupt whats to become of my grandchildren?

Then he picked up his medicine case and stalked away, leaving the boy thoroughly bewildered by the propositions he had advanced.

He told Egbert about it, for all of the Carden family were familiar with the sign language, and the deaf-mute at once became greatly interested, and eagerly agreed to undertake his share of the work. Also he told his mother, and the poor woman sat down and cried softly, afterward wiping away the tears with a corner of her apron. She was really tired with all the house work, and the prospect of twenty dollars a month added to their income seemed like a fortune to her. But she said:

Im afraid the doctor cant afford it, Will.

Afford it! he exclaimed; why, mother, I wouldnt think of taking the wages unless I felt sure of making a profit. He seems mighty certain about it, and if work will help to win out, well do it, sure as shootin!

Which proved that he had caught some of the doctors own enthusiasm.

For a week the boy heard nothing more about the partnership, but at the end of that time a load of lumber arrived from the Bingham lumber yard, and soon after Joe Higgins, the carpenter, walked up to the barn with his basket of tools, and with a nod to Will took off his coat and started to work.

Next day came the doctor with a big, legal looking document for Will to sign, which he first read in a solemn voice from beginning to end. It set forth clearly the terms of their contract, and after the boy had signed his name under the doctors he began to feel the magnitude of the undertaking, and the responsibility put upon his young shoulders. Doctor Meigs also brought more literature treating of mushroom culture, which he advised Will to study carefully.

Joe Higgins worked three weeks repairing the barn. He not only made it what he called air-tight, but in the east end he partitioned off a room, and built a floor to it, and then put an outside window and door in, making it very cozy and comfortable. This was to be the office, where the heater was also to be placed, so that it would warm the room as well as supply hot water to the pipes extending under the ground in all directions throughout the interior of the big barn.

The room was hardly completed before the heater arrived from the city, with men to set it up and arrange the system of pipes. Will dug all the trenches for the pipes to lie in, and then with Egberts help covered them over again. Also the two boys devoted days to another important work, which was the placing of straw all around the outside edge of the barn, and covering it with a bank of earth that reached well up onto the boarding. This was to keep the frost from getting inside.

The wisdom of the doctor in starting this work in August was now apparent, for the entire month was consumed in getting the barn in shape and spading up the rich soil ready to receive the mushroom spawn.

Early in September the industry was started, and in a few days thereafter small mushrooms, that looked like buttons, thrust their heads above the earth within the warm, damp barn, and speedily grew to a size that permitted them to be marketed.

The doctor carried the first picking home with him, and Will took the next lot to the big house and sold them to the astonished and delighted Nora, who placed an order for a pound of them every week. But soon the crop began to mature very fast, and by the doctors orders Will packed them in paper boxes holding a pound each, and afterward arranged the boxes in a neat crate, which he shipped by express to the wholesale grocer in the city whose children their grandfather was so greatly interested in. The doctor supplied the boxes and crates, and on the former was printed: Carden & Co.s Fresh Mushrooms. Warranted Wholesome and Delicious. And below followed several recipes for cooking mushrooms, printed for the benefit of those who were unaccustomed to preparing them. Nora furnished some of the recipes, and old Mrs. Meigs the rest, so Will felt sure they would be successful.

For two or three weeks Carden & Co. shipped a crate of mushrooms daily to the city. Then something went wrong; the crop failed suddenly, and the spawn was discovered to be dead and useless. The doctor helped Will to investigate the cause of the trouble, and afterward to overcome it; and then fresh spawn was planted and the mushrooms began to grow again.

The wholesale grocer wrote that he was much annoyed by this delay. The demand for mushrooms in the city was much greater than the supply, and his customers were disappointed when they didnt get them.

Weve been selling too cheap, declared the doctor. This is a good time to raise the price. Well get fifty cents a pound, hereafter.

It seemed a large price to Will, for now the mushrooms grew with scarcely any care, and he found he was able to attend school and also look after the work very easily. It was not until cold weather crept on that the task became at all arduous; but the frosty nights obliged the two boys to watch the fires carefully, and finally Will and Egbert moved their bed to the little room at the end of the barn, and slept there comfortably during the remainder of the winter, so they could attend to business properly.

The wholesale grocers son-in-law sent all the money received for the sale of the mushrooms to the doctor, so Will did not know exactly how the business was coming along, for he had no idea how much money the doctor had spent in preparation. But the monthly wages were paid to the boys with great regularity, and on the first day of January the doctor declared the first dividend, paying Will forty-three dollars as his share of the profits up to date.

There was no prouder boy in Bingham than Will Carden when he realized he was engaged in a successful business venture. He had already started a bank account, for the family needs did not require all the money the two boys earned as wages, and Will declared that this forty-three dollars should never be touched unless absolutely necessary, as it was to remain in the bank as the foundation of his fortune. We will know later who it was that suggested this idea to him.

Better than working in the mills, isnt it? said the doctor, triumphantly, while for once he allowed a smile to spread over his round, whiskered face.

Indeed it is, answered the grateful boy. And I owe everything to you, Doctor.

Nonsense! returned the doctor, beginning to frown; you owe it all to your own industry, and to the fact that my poor grandchildren need looking after.

CHAPTER V
WILL BECOMES A HERO

It was during this winter, his sixteenth year, when Will entered upon the footing of a successful business man, that two important adventures befell him.

The first was on one cold Saturday in November just before the snow fell. The gray sky warned the boy that a storm was likely to set in, and as he needed more firewood for the heater he resolved to go into the grove and pick up all the dead branches which the wind had blown from the trees, and to put them in piles so that Nick Wells, the carter, could come for them on Monday morning. So he put some luncheon in his basket and, telling his mother he would not be home for supper, hastened away to the grove, leaving Egbert to care for the fire in the office.

There was plenty of dead wood lying around the grove, and Will worked steadily piling it up until evening approached and it grew dusk. He was just about to stop work and return home when he heard a sound of footsteps approaching, and stood silent a little way from the path to watch Mr. Jordan pass by on his regular evening walk, which he permitted nothing to interrupt.

To Wills astonishment the man stopped abruptly in the middle of the grove and gazed earnestly at an oak tree. Then, exactly as he had done on that other evening when Will had watched him, he walked up to the tree and passed his hand hurriedly up and down the rough bark, returning almost immediately to the path to continue on his way.

This repetition of the same curious action Will had before noticed filled the boy with surprise, and puzzled him greatly. What possible object could Mr. Jordan have in feeling of the bark of an oak tree situated in the center of a deserted grove, where few people ever passed?

But while he pondered the matter darkness fell upon the grove, and he was obliged to hasten home to relieve Egbert.

It snowed a little during the night, and all day Sunday a thin white mantle lay upon the frozen ground. Mr. Jordan took his usual evening walk, and Will looked after him thoughtfully, wondering if he made a regular practice of stopping to feel the bark of the oak tree. But he made no attempt to follow his mothers boarder, as the boy would have considered it a mean trick to spy upon the man, however peculiar he might be.

Yet early on Monday morning, when he drove over to the grove with Nick Wells to load the wood he had piled up, Will could not resist the temptation to go to the tree and see if Mr. Jordan had indeed stopped there the evening before. Yes, there were the tracks of his boots, clearly outlined in the snow. Will knew exactly the way he had walked to the tree, cast that furtive glance over his shoulder, and then passed his hand up and down the bark.

But why? That was the question; and surely it might well puzzle older heads than that of Will Carden.

The other adventure referred to had a distinct bearing upon the boys future life, and made him the village hero for many months to come.

Christmas week arrived with weather sharp and cold, although wonderfully brisk and exhilarating. One of the chief pleasures of the young folks of Bingham in winter was to skate upon Marshalls pond, a broad stretch of deep water lying just west of the town, and not far from the Williams homestead. This pond was fed by a small brook that wound for miles through the country, and here the Bingham ice man harvested his supply each winter, often cutting holes in the ice which, when lightly frozen over, made dangerous places for the skaters, who did well to avoid them.

The day following Christmas a large crowd of youngsters assembled at the pond for skating, many of the boys and girls being anxious to try the new skates Santa Claus had brought them. The Williams children were all there except little Gladys, and Will Carden came over also, for he was an expert skater and had decided that an afternoons sport would do him good.

It was a merry throng, indeed, and Will was gliding along over the ice with Mary Louise when a sharp scream reached his ears and he saw the children scattering from one spot like a flock of frightened sheep.

Will dropped Mary Louises hand and sped as quickly as possible toward the place. He had known in an instant that an accident had occurred, and as he drew near he saw that the ice had broken. Then a small arm came into view above the surface, its fingers clutching wildly for support before it again disappeared.

Without hesitation Will flew toward the hole. The ice cracked and gave way as he reached the edge, and immediately he plunged into the water, where he kept his wits and began reaching in every direction for the drowning form he had noted.

From those standing at a safe distance a cry of horror arose; but it quickly changed to a shout of joy as Will Carden rose to the surface and caught at the edge of the ice for support, for in one arm he held Annabel Williams almost lifeless form.

Shove us a rail, you fellows! he called, wisely refraining from trying to draw himself up by the flimsy edge of ice he clutched.

The boys were quick to understand what he wanted, and a score of willing hands tore the rails from a fence that came down to the shore of the pond, and slid them along the ice so that they reached across the hole and both ends rested on a firm foundation. Will seized the first one that came within reach, and then a couple of the boys crept out upon the rails and caught hold of Annabel, drawing her from the icy water and carrying her safely to land. Others assisted Will and although he was dripping wet and his teeth chattered with cold, as soon as he reached safe ice he shook off the supporting hands of his friends and walked over to the unconscious girl.

Give me all the shawls and wraps you can spare! he cried, and as they were eagerly offered he wrapped them around Annabel and then lifted her in his arms and started at his best pace for the Williams house, which was fortunately the nearest in the village to the pond.

Other boys offered to help him, but Will shook his head and plunged on, the curious crowd following at his heels, while one or two volunteered to run ahead and warn the family of the accident.

Mary Louise paced at Wills side, sobbing bitterly.

Its all right; dont cry, he said to her. I can feel Annabel stirring in my arms, and Im sure shes alive.

As they reached the gate that marked the entrance to the grounds a stout little man bounded down the path toward them, bareheaded and with a look of fear in his protruding eyes.

Give her to me! Give me my child! he said; and Will placed his burden at once in the fathers arms and turned away. For he was shivering in every bone of his body, and knew he ought to get home and change his own clothes as soon as possible.

Mr. Williams carried Annabel into the house, issuing as he went a string of commands.

Jane, prepare a hot water bath; Fanny, send Peter for the doctor; Nora, bring me some towels and warm flannels, and so on until all the servants were running about upon their various errands.

He carried the girl to her room, and tore or cut away her clothing, plunging her as quickly as possible into a warm bath. She was quite conscious now, and kept saying: Im all right, papa! Im all right.

But the man grimly insisted on carrying out his plans, and after the bath rolled her in warm flannels and tucked his child snugly into bed.

Mrs. Williams compliments, sir, said the servant; and she begs to know how is the little girl.

Tell Mrs. Williams not to disturb herself, he answered, gruffly; but Annabel herself called a more satisfactory message, for she said:

Im all right, tell mamma.

Nora, blubbering with joy and thankfulness, for Annabel was her especial pet, brought in a bowl of hot lemonade, which Mr. Williams forced the convalescent to drink. And then Doctor Meigs arrived, and after a glance around the room and a brief examination of his patient, nodded his shaggy head in approval.

Shell come along nicely, sir, he said; thanks to your prompt and intelligent methods. But it was a close call for the little one. Who pulled her out?

I havent heard, replied the great man, looking up with sudden interest. But Ill find out at once, for whoever it was most certainly saved her life.

It was Will Carden, said Theodore, who had entered unobserved, and stood just behind them.

I might have suspected that, remarked the doctor, dryly, but there was a tone of pride in his deep voice that he could not disguise.

Carden? said Mr. Williams, reflectively; Carden? I wonder if he is any relation to John Carden, who

Just his son, sir, interrupted Doctor Meigs, calmly. The son of that John Carden who discovered the process of making steel which your mills are now using.

I know; I know! said Mr. Williams hastily. Then he bent down and kissed Annabels white brow.

I like Will, she whispered.

Try to sleep, my darling, he answered, gently. Fanny will sit by you; and, if you want me, send at once.

Then he stood up, cast another loving glance at his daughter, and followed by the doctor left the room.

Few strangers would have supposed Chester D. Williams to be a successful business man, if they judged him superficially by his appearance. Unlike his lady wife, he assumed no airs or mannerisms that might distinguish him from any other man you came across. His clothes, although made by an excellent tailor, were carelessly worn, and had not his wife kept careful watch of him he would have continued to wear one necktie until its edges were disgracefully frayed. In build the man was not very prepossessing, being below the medium height and inclined to stoutness, while his beardless face was round and red and only his kindly eyes redeemed his features from being exceptionally plain.

Yet in the big outside world people liked Chester Williams, and respected his ability. No one knew better how to obtain a favorable contract for steel, or fulfilled it more exactly to the letter of the agreement. In mechanical industries he was acknowledged a great man, and was known to have accumulated an immense fortune. Here in Bingham, where he was seldom seen, for his business in the city claimed a large share of his time, the owner of the steel mills was an absolute autocrat, and his word was law to the simple villagers. Yet he had never abused their trust and confidence in him.





: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10