Lyman Baum.

Annabel





Step in here a moment, doctor, he said, pushing open the door to his study. So Doctor Meigs followed him in and sat down.

I am very grateful for my childs rescue, began Mr. Williams, with a slight tremor in his voice. Tell me, Doctor Meigs, what sort of boy is this Will Carden who proved himself so brave this afternoon?

I cant say, replied the doctor, a merry twinkle in his eye. That is, with modesty. For Will is my partner.

A doctor!

No; a mushroom grower.

Mr. Williams seemed puzzled, but waited to hear more.

Youd better see the boy yourself, continued the doctor. Hes proud, youll find; and hes very poor.

Poor?

Yes. His father lost all his money in experimenting with that steel process; and then he started for London and was lost at sea. Therefore the family is dependent mostly upon the industry of this boy.

I see.

For a moment the mill owner remained lost in thought. Then he asked:

How did Jordan get the control of John Cardens secret process?

I never knew the particulars, replied Doctor Meigs; but Mr. Jordan has told me that he loaned Mr. Carden money to carry on his experiments.

Bosh! Jordan never had a dollar in his life until after I made the deal with him and started these mills. He was nothing but an humble clerk in the bank here.

I remember, said the doctor, regarding the other man with a blank expression.

But at the time I made my arrangements with Jordan he showed me a paper signed by John Carden which transferred all his interest in the secret process, together with the formula itself, to Ezra Jordan, in consideration of the sum of ten thousand dollars.

Ten thousand dollars! ejaculated the doctor.

Which Jordan never owned, said Williams, slapping his knee emphatically. When I enquired at the bank, the cashier told me that Jordan had never had any money except his salary, and it is certain he had not embezzled a dollar while in the employ of the bank. But it was none of my business, after all. Only, Jordan drove such a hard bargain with me for the use of his process that Im paying him a fortune every year, in royalties, and he runs the works himself, so as to be sure I dont rob him. The paper executed by John Carden seems genuine, and the only thing that puzzles me is why he transferred such a valuable secret, just as it was proven a success, to a man he could not possibly have borrowed money from, because the man never had it to lend.

You astonish me, said Doctor Meigs, with evident sincerity. Ive never been able to understand Mr. Jordan, myself. He is a very reserved individual, and I knew that he was quite intimate with John Carden, before the latter left Bingham on his fatal journey. But that there was anything wrong or at all suspicious in Jordans dealings with his old friend, I have never even dreamed.

There may be nothing wrong at all, returned Mr.

Williams. But in that case the inventor of the best steel process in the world was a fool.

Doctor Meigs made no reply, but rose to take his leave; and after showing the physician to the door Mr. Williams turned into the sitting room, where the lamps had been lighted. All the children were there but Annabel, who was reported to have fallen asleep, and it was good to observe how eagerly they clustered about their fathers knee, and how fond they seemed to be of him.

Mrs. Williams presently sent word that she was so upset by Annabels careless accident that she would dine alone in her own room, and the children greeted this announcement with a whoop of delight that made their father frown and turn more red than usual, with shamed chagrin. They trooped into the dining room happy and content, and as soon as they were seated, began to chatter of Will Carden.

Do you know him? asked the father.

Know Will Carden! Well, I guess we do! replied boisterous Reginald.

We all like Will, said Mary Louise, in her gentle voice; and if he had not been so prompt to rescue Annabel I am sure she would have been drowned, for everyone else was too frightened to move. But Will didnt wait a minute. He plunged right in after her.

He is a brave boy, said Mr. Williams.

And he can do lots of things, remarked Theodore, slowly.

He fixted my dollys leg! shouted Gladys, anxious to testify in her friends behalf.

Yes, and mamma sent him about his business, and wouldnt let him play with us, added Reggie, in a grieved tone.

Why? asked the father.

Oh, because hes a vegetable boy, and poor. She said wed got to respect your position in society, replied Reginald, with a grin.

She scolded me awfully, declared Gladys, nodding her head sagely.

Hush, my daughter, said Mr. Williams, with unaccustomed severity. You must not criticise mammas actions, for she loves you all and tries to act for your best good. But its nothing against Will Carden to be a vegetable boy, you know. How old is he?

About sixteen, I think, said Mary Louise.

Well, when I was his age, continued Mr. Williams, I was shovelling coal in a smelting furnace.

That isnt as respectable as being a vegetable boy, is it? asked Theodore, gravely.

Both callings are respectable, if they enable one to earn an honest livelihood, returned his father, with a smile. There is no disgrace at all in poverty. The only thing that hopelessly condemns a person is laziness or idle inaction.

But mother began Reginald.

Mother sometimes forgets how very poor we ourselves used to be, interrupted Mr. Williams, looking earnestly into the circle of eager faces; and I am very glad she can forget it. Ill talk to her, however, about your friend Will Carden, and Ive no doubt when she learns how brave he has been she will at once withdraw her objections to his playing with you.

Thank you, papa, said Mary Louise, reaching out to take his hand in her slim white one.

Youre all right, daddy; and we love you! exclaimed Reggie, earnestly.

The great mill owner flushed with pleasure, and his eyes grew bright and moist.

But, observed Gladys, her mouth full of bread and butter, mamma scolds me lots a times.

Hush! commanded her father, sternly; and a cloud came over his face and drove the joy from his eyes.

CHAPTER VI
A BOY AND A MILLIONAIRE

Will Carden, little the worse for his ducking of the day before, sat in his little office at the end of the barn, his feet braced against the heater, his chair tipped backward, and his eyes fastened upon an open letter he held in both hands.

He had read it a dozen times since Peter, the coachman up at the big house, had brought it to him, and he was now reading it once more.

It was very brief, simply saying: Please call at my office at your convenience; but it was signed Chester D. Williams, in big, bold script, and that signature, Will reflected, would be good for thousands of dollars even hundreds of thousands if signed to a check.

While the boy was thus engaged, the door burst open and Doctor Meigs entered, stamping the snow from his feet and shaking it from his shoulders as a shaggy Newfoundland dog shakes off the rain. It had been snowing for an hour, and the big flakes were falling slowly and softly, as if they had a mission to fulfill and plenty of time to accomplish it.

Hello, Doctor, said Will, cheerily. Read that.

Doctor Meigs took the letter, sat down, and read it carefully. Then he looked up.

Hows your throat? he asked.

All right, said Will.

Sore, any?

Not a bit.

Feel chills creeping up your back?

No.

Head hot?

Why, Im all right, Doctor.

Put out your tongue!

Will obeyed, just as he had done ever since he could remember.

H m! Strange; very strange, muttered the doctor.

Whats strange? asked the boy.

That youre fool enough to jump into ice-water, and clever enough to beat the doctor out of his just dues afterward.

Will laughed.

Hows Annabel? he asked.

As good as ever. Why did you pull her out so quick, you young rascal? Dont you know Chester D. Williams is rich enough to pay a big doctors bill?

I was afraid, at first, answered the boy, reflectively, that I hadnt pulled Nan out quick enough. It was a close call, and no mistake.

Well, your reward is at hand. The whole town is praising you, and calling you a hero. And the great man himself has sent for you.

Will shifted uneasily in his chair.

You know, Doctor, it wasnt anything at all, he said.

Of course not. One girl, more or less, in the world doesnt make much difference.

I dont mean that. Annabels a brick, and worth jumping into twenty ponds for. But anyone could have done the same as I did.

To be sure. How are the toad-stools coming?

Will knew the doctor was in a good humor when he called their product toad-stools. If he was at all worried he spoke of them as mushrooms.

Pretty good. But what does Mr. Williams want to see me about? he enquired.

Wants to give you ten dollars for saving his daughters life, perhaps.

Will straightened up.

I wont go, he said.

The doctor grinned.

Throwing away good money, eh? Well have to raise the price of toad-stools again, to even up. But, seriously, I advise you to go to Mr. Williams, as he requests you to. He isnt half a bad fellow. His only fault is that he makes more money than any one man is entitled to.

You dont really think hell hell want to pay me anything, do you?

No; he wants to thank you, as any gentleman would, for a brave, manly action.

For the first time Will grew embarrassed, and his face became as red as a June sunset.

Id rather not, you know, he said, undecidedly.

Its the penalty of heroism, remarked the doctor, with assumed carelessness. Better go at once and have it over with.

All right, said Will, with a sigh of resignation.

Im going back to town, and Ill walk with you.

So Will stopped at the house and sent Egbert to mind the fire, and then he tramped away to the village beside the burly form of his friend.

It was not as cold as it had been before it began to snow, and the boy enjoyed the walk. He liked to hear the soft crunching of the snow under his feet.

When he shyly entered the office at the steel works his face was as rosy as an apple, and he shook off the snow and wiped the moisture from his eyes and looked around him.

There were two long rows of desks in the main room, and at one corner, railed in to separate it from the others, was the secretarys office and desk. Will could see the bald head of Mr. Jordan held as rigidly upright as ever, and recognized the two side locks of hair that were plastered firmly to his skull.

Then Mr. Jordan turned slowly around and saw him, and after calmly staring at the boy for a time he motioned to a clerk.

The young man approached Will and enquired his business.

I want to see Mr. Williams, he answered.

Mr. Jordan transacts all the business here, said the clerk, stiffly.

It isnt exactly business, replied the boy, and drew out the letter he had received.

At once the clerk became more obsequious, and begged Will to be seated. He watched the man whom he knew to be the son of a local store-keeper, go to a glass door and rap upon it gently. Then he entered and closed the door carefully behind him, only to emerge the next moment and beckon Will to advance.

Mr. Williams will see you at once, sir.

Will walked into the private office feeling queer and uncomfortable, and the clerk closed the door behind him.

Mr. Williams was sitting at his desk, but at once jumped up and met the boy with both hands extended to a cordial greeting.

Im glad to see you, Will Carden, he said, simply. My little girl is very dear to me, and I owe you more than I can ever repay.

Why, Nans dear to me, too, Mr. Williams, replied the youth, feeling quite at ease again. And Im glad and grateful that I happened to be around just when she needed me. Were in the same class at high school, you know, and Annabel and I have always been chums.

Thats good, said the great man, nodding as if he understood. I hope you will be better friends than ever, now. She wants to see you, and Mrs. Williams has asked me to send you up to the house, if you will go.

Will flushed with pleasure. To be invited to the big house by the very woman who had snubbed him a few months ago was indeed a triumph. He didnt suspect, of course, that Mr. Williams had kept his promise to the children, and talked to his wife with such energy that she was not likely soon again to banish one of their playmates because he chanced to be poor. Indeed, Mrs. Williams had no especial dislike to the vegetable boy; she merely regarded him as a member of a class to be avoided, and her sole objection to him as a companion to her children was based upon a snobbish and vulgar assumption of superiority to those not blessed with money.

Ill be glad to see Annabel again, said Will. I hope shes none the worse for her accident?

Just a slight cold, thats all. But sit down, please. I want a little talk with you about yourself.

Will became uncomfortable again. But he sat down, as the great man requested.

Tell me something of your life; of your family and your work; and let me know what your ambitions are, said Mr. Williams.

It was a little hard for Will to get started, but the man led him on by asking a few simple questions and soon he was telling all about Flo and Egbert, and how hard his mother was obliged to work, and of the mushroom business the doctor had started and all the other little details of his life.

Mr. Williams listened attentively, and when the boy mentioned the fact that Mr. Jordan had always boarded with them since his father had gone away, the millionaire seemed especially interested, asking various questions about his secretarys habits and mode of life which plainly showed he was unfamiliar with Mr. Jordans private affairs.

Do you remember your father? he enquired.

Not very well, sir, Will replied. You see, I was very young when he went away, and he was accustomed to working so steadily night and day at his steel factory that he wasnt around the house very much. Ive heard mother say he was so occupied with thoughts of his invention that he didnt pay a great deal of attention to us children, although his nature was kind and affectionate.

Was Mr. Jordan with him much in those old days?

I cant remember about that. But mother has always said that Mr. Jordan was fathers best friend, and for years he always came to our house on Sunday to dinner. He was a bank clerk, then; and that was before he boarded with us, you know.

Is he kind to you now?

Mr. Jordan? Why, hes neither kind nor unkind. But he pays his board regular, and in a way thats kindness, although he doesnt say a word to anyone. The boarder helps us to live, but it also wears out mothers strength, for shes very particular to cook the things he likes to eat, and to make him comfortable. Im in hopes that the mushroom business will prosper, for then we can let our boarder go, and it will be much easier for mother.

I, too, hope you will succeed. But if you dont, Will, or if you ever need help in any way, come straight to me. It would make me very happy to be of some use to you, you know.

Thank you, said the boy. Ill not forget.

The great mill owner was not at all a hard person to talk to. He seemed to understand just as a boy would, Will afterward told Mrs. Carden. And when he left the office it was with the pleasant sensation that he had made a new friend one that could be relied upon almost as much as old Dr. Meigs.

Mr. Jordan was staring at him fixedly as he walked out; but he said nothing about the visit, either then or afterward, when he met Will at supper. But once in a while he would turn his queer spectacled eyes upon the boy, as if he had just discovered a new interest in him.

CHAPTER VII
AN AFTERNOON CALL

Next afternoon Will put on his best clothes and walked up to the big house.

On the way he was undecided whether to go to the front door or the back one. Never before had he entered the place as a guest, and in the end he wisely compromised by advancing to the side entrance that he had observed was mostly used by the children.

Annabel saw him from the window and beckoned him in, her face all smiles of welcome, and that helped him to retain his composure.

Come right in, sir, said Fanny, the maid who admitted him. Miss Annabels not allowed to go to the door yet.

Hello, Will, said the girl, shyly slipping her hand in his. Im awful glad youve come for everybody has gone out and left me today.

Why, Nan, how white you look! he exclaimed. That water in the pond must have been pretty cold for you.

No more than for you, Will, she replied. But it wasnt the cold, you know; twas the awful fear of dying of being drowned and lost under the ice, and she looked at him with big eyes into which a shade of fear crept at the very recollection of that dreadful moment.

There, there, Nan, said he, soothingly; lets sit down and talk about something else, and he led her to a sofa, still holding her small white hand in his brown one.

The girl glanced at him gratefully. Will seemed to understand her even better than Mary Louise did; and he had a gentle way with her that was at once pleasant and comforting.

Where did the folks go? he asked, with well assumed cheerfulness.

Out coasting. The hill back of Thompsons is just fine, now as smooth as glass, Ted says. Id like to be with them, for my sleds the swiftest of them all; but, with a sigh, Doctor Meigs says I must stay in the house for three days. Isnt it dreadful, Will?

Oh, I dont know, Nan. Hes usually right about these things; and it seems mighty pleasant in here, glancing around at the cozy room with its glowing fire in the grate.

Its nice now, she answered, sweetly, and Will looked at her with sudden interest. He had never before noticed how bright and fair Annabels face was. The freckles didnt seem to mar it a bit, and the nose turned up just enough to make her expression jolly and spirited. And as for the hair, the red was almost pretty where the firelight fell upon it.

Will had paid no attention until now to girls looks. A girl had seemed to be just a girl to him. And he, as well as her brothers and the other boys, had often teased Nan about her red hair and pug nose, without observing either of them very closely. But today he began to think all the fellows must have been blind, and that the girls claim to beauty was greater than any of them had ever suspected.

Somehow, too, Annabels accident and near approach to death seemed to have changed her. At any rate she was never the same to Will afterward. He couldnt well have explained how she was different; but the large blue eyes had a new look in them, she was less romping and boisterous in her ways, and gentler in her speech.

She sat quietly in her corner of the sofa, a demure and almost bashful look upon her pleasant face. But in her natural and simple way she entertained her boy friend so cleverly that he never suspected he was being entertained at all.

Papa says youve been to see him, and that you two have become great friends, she remarked.

Mr. Williams was surely very nice to me, he answered, with enthusiasm. Im sure your fathers a good man, Annabel.

The best in the world, Will. Were always happy when fathers home. But that isnt very often, you know, hes so busy.

There was a pause, after that, which neither noticed.

Nora says you grow those lovely mushrooms weve been having lately, she said. Do you, Will?

Yes; didnt you know it? In the old barn. Doctor Meigs and I are partners. Do you like mushrooms, Nan?

Very much; and so does papa.

Ill bring you some tomorrow, he promised, greatly delighted to find something he could do for her.

That will be fine, she answered; because, if you bring them, we can have a talk, you know. And its sort of dull, staying in the house all day. The others are out every minute of the time, for school begins again next Monday, and they want to have all the fun they can while vacation lasts.

Thats natural, said Will. Its too bad you have to stay in during vacation. Say, Annabel; do you like to read Indian stories?

I dont know; Ive never read any.

Ive got a swell Indian book at home; one that the Doctor gave me on my birthday. Its all about Dick Onslow among the red-skins, and I call it a corker!

Id like to read it, said Annabel, smiling at his enthusiasm.

Well, Ill bring it over, he agreed. Then when youre alone, you can read it.

Thank you, said the girl, dreamily.

Then came another pause. It didnt seem to them necessary to talk all the time; but finally Annabel gave a little start and began speaking of the school, and their mutual friends in the village so that the time passed swiftly away and it began to grow dark before either of them noticed it.

But bye and bye Will chanced to remember that Egbert had been left to tend the fires alone, so he jumped up and said he must go. And Annabel made no attempt to keep him, but stood at the window and waved her hand in farewell as he passed down the walk.





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