Lyman Baum.

Annabel





Mrs. Williams had another of her bad headaches that day, so she did not join the family at the evening meal, a circumstance that filled the children with thoughtless delight.

Mr. Williams was with them, however, for whenever he could be in Bingham he loved to have his family about him, and all the little folks were very fond of him indeed.

Will was here today, said Annabel; whereat there was an uproar from the others because they had missed their favorite playmate. And Gladys added:

Ise busted my top, so Wills got to make it fixed.

Hes coming again tomorrow, Annabel announced, to bring me a book, and some mushrooms. Then he can fix the top, Gladys.

Mary Louise looked at her sister curiously, and even Ted smiled at the wave of red that dyed Nans cheeks.

Seems to me youre getting pretty thick, just because he dragged you out of the pond, cried Reggie, mischievously.

Wills a fine fellow,, said Mr. Williams, gravely, and I hope hell come often!

So does I! declared Gladys; and then the conversation shifted to another subject, greatly to Annabels relief.

Mary Louise was nearer Wills age than Annabel, being now fifteen and almost on the verge of young womanhood. And Annabel, although little more than a year her junior, had until now been considered merely a romping, careless girl, although it was true she was scarcely behind her sister in the high school classes. Big Will Carden, taller at sixteen than Mr. Williams himself, and strong and manly in build, seemed so much older and more matured than Annabel that it was really absurd for Reginald to couple their names, even in a joking way.

Will came the next day, to find Annabel again alone; but presently little Gladys toddled in and brought her top to be mended, and when he had succeeded in making it spin the little one nestled in his lap with a sigh of contentment.

Will, she asked, after a moment of earnest thought, is you Nans beau?

Of course! he replied, laughing gaily. And yours, too, Gladie!

That made the wee one smile with satisfaction, and it pleased Annabel also, although she hastened rather awkwardly to talk of Dick Onslow and declare she would enjoy reading of his adventures.

On Monday the holidays ended, and Mr. Williams regretfully returned to his office in the city, where most of his time was spent.

Annabel was by this time fully recovered, and went to school with the others; but Will walked home with her that afternoon, and the next afternoon also, and this was enough to start all the older scholars plaguing them, as young folks will do in case of boy and girl friendships, and calling them sweethearts.

Will merely laughed and replied good naturedly to the taunts, and Annabel tossed her tawny head half in pride and half in defiance and told the other girls they were jealous. So it was not long before their comrades tired of teasing them and they were left to do as they pleased.

When spring came on and the weather grew warmer, Will Carden not only walked home from school with Annabel, but came every morning across lots to meet her at the corner of the street near the big house and accompany her to the school.

Sometimes Mary Louise or Theodore joined them, but more often they were left to themselves, the boys growling that Will wasnt half as much fun as he used to be, and the girls wondering what he could see in that freckled-faced Nan Williams to interest him so greatly.

But the truth was that the two had grown very congenial, and liked to be together. Annabel had learned all about Wills life and ambitions and understood him as no other companion had ever been able to do. He was sure of her sympathy whenever anything went wrong, and knew she would share his joy when he was in luck.

It was Annabel who advised him to make a nest-egg of the forty-three dollars which the doctor paid him in dividends the first of the year, and the girl planned shrewdly in many ways to encourage him and give him confidence in his future. In addition to this, she was more clever in her studies than Will, and often she was of great assistance to him in explaining the lessons, when his slower mind failed to grasp the details.

I cant pretend to explain how so much real wisdom came to lurk in Annabels childish head; but people said she was more like her father than any of the other children. During the months that followed her rescue from the icy pond she grew much more sedate in demeanor than before, and more considerate of her brothers and sisters, so that they soon came to look upon her as their mentor, in a degree, and asked her advice about many of the little trials of their daily lives.

CHAPTER VIII
THE DAWN OF PROSPERITY

In April Mrs. Williams, whose health had been poor during all the winter, failed so rapidly that the doctor who came from the city to examine her declared she needed an European trip, with a residence abroad of at least a year, in Spain or Italy.

This idea was eagerly seconded by the lady herself, so Mr. Williams at once arranged for her to go. She at first proposed to take Gladys with her, but her husband, guided by Dr. Meigs advice, demurred at this, telling her frankly that the child would be better off at home. She wept a little, fearing she would be lonely; but Mr. Williams was firm, and at length she started away with an immense quantity of baggage, a qualified nurse to care for her ailments, and her own maid. Her husband travelled with her to New York, saw her safely aboard her steamer, and then returned to Bingham quite cheerfully, for the poor lady had improved in health and spirits since the day the trip was planned, and he had little doubt the residence abroad would tone up her nerves and restore her to a normal condition.

But, now that his children were without a mother to direct them, Mr. Williams came to the conclusion that it was his duty to spend more of his time at home, so he arranged to be in Bingham the best part of every week, and hired a representative to attend to the city office.

It was now that the father had, for the first time in years, full opportunity to study the disposition and character of each member of his family. They were all dear to him, so it is probable that he discovered many admirable qualities in each of his children; but it did not take him many days to decide that Annabel, in especial, was growing into a very sensible and reliable little woman. Mary Louise was sweet and winning as a June rose, and he was very proud indeed of his fair and dainty daughter; but it was Annabel alone who seemed to be interested in him personally, and who questioned him so intelligently in regard to his daily cares and worries that he soon came to confide in her many of the business details that no one else, save perhaps Mr. Jordan, was in any way aware of.

This drew father and daughter closer together, so that they soon became good comrades and were very happy in one anothers companionship.

One day she said to him: Papa, I wish youd build another school-house at the mill. The old one isnt big enough for all the children of the workmen, and so theyre crowding us out of the village school. We have to hold some of the high school classes over Barnes store, even now.

Why, Ill look into the matter, he answered, rather surprised at a young girl taking an interest in such things. But on investigation he found she was right, and that another school-house was greatly needed in the new town, where his cottages stood. Moreover, the school funds of the county and township were exhausted; so one of the things Mr. Williams did that summer was to build a pretty new school-house, which he named Annabel School, providing from his own resources for the hiring of proper teachers.

In the fall important changes occurred in the family at the big house. Mrs. Williams wrote that she was so much improved in health that she had decided to extend her residence abroad for some time longer; so the father, doubting his ability to properly direct the education of his growing daughters, decided to send Mary Louise and Annabel to a private academy for young ladies in Washington. This led to Theodores begging to be sent to a military school, and his father, after considering the matter, consented. So on the first of September the family practically was broken up, all three of the older children departing for their new schools, while only Reginald and Gladys remained with their father at Bingham. And while these lively youngsters did not permit life at the big house to become very monotonous, Mr. Williams greatly missed the older ones from the family circle. But others missed them, too, and among these was Will Carden, who suddenly found a great blank in his daily existence, caused by the absence of his old school-fellows. Doubtless he missed the companionship of Annabel most of all, for she had been his confidant and most intimate friend.

On the very day of their departure Mary Louise and Annabel drove up in their little pony-cart to say good-bye to Will, and now almost every week a little letter would come from Nan telling him of her school life and asking him about the happenings in Bingham, and especially how the mushroom business progressed.

This business industry of Wills prospered finely. In July Dr. Meigs gave him three hundred dollars as his share of the profits for six months, and the vegetable garden had also brought in an unusual amount of money; so, for the first time since the father of the family had been lost at sea, the Cardens found themselves in possession of a nice bank account, and were relieved of the little worries that always follow in the wake of poverty.

It was fall, however, before Will and his mother finally decided to tell Mr. Jordan that they would not keep a boarder any longer. He had been with them so long, and his assistance had been so greatly appreciated in the past, that Mrs. Carden felt a natural hesitation in asking him to leave. So Will took the matter into his own hands, and one evening, when Mr. Jordan returned from his walk, the boy stopped him in the little hallway and asked him to step into the sitting room for a moment.

Perhaps youve noticed, began Will, that mother has been getting more pale and thin during the last two or three years. Dr. Meigs thinks its because she works too hard around the house; and so do I. So weve decided not to keep a boarder any longer, but to let mother take it easy, and rest up.

Mr. Jordans spectacled eyes had been fixed calmly upon the young mans face from the moment he began to speak. Now he gave a scarcely perceptible start, as if astonished at what he heard, and Will was quick to note it.

Were very grateful, you know, he hastened to add, for all your kindness in the days when we needed help. But my business is prospering pretty well, just now, and Im laying by a little money; so we think its best to relieve mother of all the work we can.

The man still stared at him, reading coolly and deliberately every line of the boys expression.

Id like to thank you, also, for all your kindness to my father, in the old days, continued Will, after a considerable pause. Dr. Meigs has told me how good you were to him, and how you loaned him money. And youve been a good friend to us ever since.

Still there was no reply. The man neither acknowledged nor denied that he was entitled to such thanks. He stood upright, facing Will as calmly as ever; yet for a brief moment his body swayed from side to side, and then, as if overcome by a powerful effort of will, it stiffened again and was still.

The boy had nothing more to add to his dismissal of the boarder, and expected that Mr. Jordan would either reply or go to his room. But for a time he did neither, and the silence and suspense were growing unbearable when at last the man spoke.

I will retain my room, said he, and take my meals in the town. You do not need the room I occupy, and this plan will cause Mrs. Carden very little work.

Will was puzzled. Why a man of Mr. Jordans means should care to remain in such a poor home was a mystery. He could get much better accommodations at the village hotel for about the same sum he paid Mrs. Carden, and he would be more independent there. But while he canvassed the matter in his mind Mr. Jordan suddenly moved away and with slow steps mounted the stairs to his room, thus terminating the interview.

When the boy reported to his mother the result of this conference, she said:

He is so reserved in his nature that I think Mr. Jordan shrinks from any public place where he might come in contact with strangers. That is perhaps the reason he does not wish to give up his room. He is accustomed to it, and the man is a slave to habit. Well, let him keep it, Will, if he wishes to; for so long as he takes his meals elsewhere it will not, as he says, cause me much inconvenience. Did he say how much he was willing to pay for the use of the room?

No, replied Will, who was really disappointed, for he had hoped to do away entirely with the restraint imposed upon the family circle by the mans presence.

Mr. Jordan now began to get his meals in town; but after supper he would take the same long walk he had always done, ending it at the door of the Carden cottage, when he retired to his room for the night. The question of room-rent he settled by handing Mrs. Carden two dollars and a half every Saturday; not a very munificent sum, but perhaps, after all, as much as such accommodation was worth.

And so the family accepted the mans presence with hopeless resignation.

As a matter of fact, said Will to the doctor, we cant get rid of him.

CHAPTER IX
MYSTERIES AND SUSPICIONS

Will had by this time mastered the secret of mushroom growing so thoroughly that both partners felt justified in expecting a regular net profit of a thousand dollars a year from it, which meant an income of five hundred dollars each.

It relieves my mind wonderfully, remarked the doctor; for now Im quite sure my poor grandchildren will not go hungry. But, Will, the earning will never be any bigger. Thats the extent of the possibilities in mushroom growing. Are you satisfied with the prospect?

Certainly I am, Doctor. Its just that much more than I ever expected to earn, at my age; and the beauty of it is, I can go to school at the same time.

But when youve finished your school days, what then?

Why, I havent thought much about that, confessed Will. But Ill have a nice little nest-egg by that time, and can go into business that will pay better. And Egbert can continue to raise the mushrooms, because its one of the few things the poor fellow is fitted for.

Very good, said the doctor.

What business would you advise me to get into, Doctor?

Lets wait awhile, and see what happens. Keep busy, my boy; make every day of your life count, and the future will be sure to take care of itself.

That afternoon the good doctor met Mr. Williams, who stopped to converse with him.

Do you remember our conversation in regard to Jordans relations with John Carden, which we had about a year ago? he asked.

Yes, was the prompt answer.

Well, the mans getting very hard to handle, and Im afraid I shall have trouble with him. I wish I knew more about his dealings with Carden, and was sure about his right to control this process.

Whats the trouble? enquired the doctor.

Why, when I made my arrangement with Jordan, some ten years ago, he agreed to place a detailed description of the secret process in my keeping, as an evidence of good faith and to protect me if anything happened to him. One of his conditions was that he should have the sole right to furnish me with a certain chemical that is required to be mixed with the molten iron in the furnaces, and which gives to our steel that remarkable resiliency, or elasticity, which is among its strongest features. The contract allowed Jordan to supply this chemical at regular market prices, and he has always furnished it promptly, ordering it shipped directly to him in unmarked packages from a manufacturing chemist in the east. One day last week we ran short of this material for the first time, and without saying anything to Jordan I went to our local drug store and obtained enough of the chemical the process calls for to complete the batch of steel we had in preparation. Well, the stuff didnt work, and the whole lot was ruined. Also the foreman declared the chemical I obtained was wholly unlike the chemical Mr. Jordan had always supplied, and that made me suspicious that something was wrong. When Jordan delivered the new lot I took a sample of it to the city, and had it examined by competent chemists. It wasnt the stuff the written formula calls for, at all, so it is evident that Jordan had deceived me in this one important ingredient, which he called by a false name, and has given me a worthless document. Its a criminal act, and leaves me at the mans mercy. So long as I use the stuff he supplies me with, I turn out the finest steel in all the world; but without Jordan I couldnt manufacture a pound of it, for he alone knows the secret.

This seems to be quite serious, said the doctor, gravely. If Mr. Jordan is capable of sharp practice in one way, he may be in another.

Thats it. That is why I suspect the story about his loaning John Carden money, and getting the secret of the process in payment of the debt.

The doctor wrinkled his shaggy brows into a deep frown.

Its all a mystery, he said. I knew John Carden from his boyhood days up, and a more level-headed fellow never lived. He had plenty of money when first he began to figure on a new way to make steel, for the Cardens had been well-to-do for three generations. But while I knew the man well, I was never so close to him or so intimate with him as Jordan was. The bank clerk used to sit night after night in the steel factory watching Carden with his experiments, and I believe it was that interest in his work that won Cardens heart.

Quite likely, said Mr. Williams, nodding.

There is no doubt that John Carden spent a tremendous lot of money on those experiments, continued the doctor; and he told me himself, before he went away, that while he had finally perfected a process that was worth millions, he had spent every cent he possessed in doing it. Yet he made no mention of Mr. Jordans having loaned him money, and it was only after Mr. Cardens death that I learned from the mans own lips that he had been obliged to take over the right to the process to cancel the debt.

I dont believe a word of it, declared the manufacturer, positively. But, tell me, why did Mr. Carden go away just as he had perfected his invention?

Because he could find no one in America to invest in the business. The steel men were suspicious of the new invention, and refused to believe in it. So Carden started for England, with the idea of inducing some Birmingham capitalist to establish mills to turn out his product. Carden himself explained this to me, and asked me to keep an eye on his family during his absence.

And he never reached England?

Never. He was booked on one of the regular steamships, but changed his mind at the last moment, for some reason, and shipped on a sailing vessel, which was wrecked in a heavy storm and all aboard lost.

Did you know of this at the time?

Of what?

That Carden had gone on a sailing ship, instead of a regular line?

No. Now that you call my attention to it, I remember that the first news we had of his being on the vessel was when we learned that the ship was lost. Then Mr. Jordan, who was terribly distressed, to do him justice, showed us a letter Carden had written him on the eve of sailing, thus proving him to have been aboard the fated ship.

That is strange, mused Mr. Williams. But it must be true after all, or John Carden would have been heard of many years ago.

That is evident, returned the doctor. He was too big a man to be suppressed for long, and he was so fond of his wife and children that he would be sure to take the first opportunity to communicate with them.

Youre sure no letter ever came?

I am positive.

Who gets the Carden mail?

Why, I believe Mr. Jordan always calls for it at the post-office, if there happens to be any, and takes it to the house when he goes to supper.

Humph! exclaimed Mr. Williams, and then the two men looked into one anothers eyes with a gaze that was startled and not without a gleam of horror.

Well talk this over again, sir, said the doctor, abruptly. Just now youve given me a great deal to think about, and I need time to consider it properly.

I understand, said the manufacturer, and with a handshake the two separated.

As the Christmas vacation drew near Will Carden became eagerly impatient to welcome his absent comrades home again. It had been lonely in the school room without Theodore and Mary Louise and Annabel; but now they were all coming home for a two weeks holiday, and the young fellow was looking forward to these days with glowing anticipations.





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