Annabelñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
He had intended meeting his friends at the train, but the girls arrived earlier than they had been expected, so that Will was busily working in the yard when he chanced to look up and see a pony-cart being driven at reckless speed down the road. It was a pleasant winter day, for a clear sun shone overhead and there had been no snowfall as yet, so the pony’s hoofs pattered merrily over the hard road and soon brought his driver within hailing distance.
Of course Will ran eagerly to meet his visitor, and there in the cart sat a young lady so sedate and dignified that the sight almost took his breath away. Four months had done much to change Annabel. She was dressed more becomingly than of old, and her skirts were longer. The freckles seemed to have entirely disappeared, leaving her face fair as a lily, except for the bloom lent the round cheeks by the brisk drive in the wind. Also she seemed to Will’s critical eyes to be slighter and taller than before, and her red hair, instead of falling in two braids over her shoulder, was now made into a neat knot at the back of her head.
These sudden blossomings of young girls are often subjects of wonder, and we cannot blame Will that he was amazed. But, nevertheless, here was Annabel again, and the boy smiled a welcome that gained a ready response, for the young lady sprang from the cart and clasped both his brown hands in an eager way that proved she was glad to see him. After all, when he looked into her eyes he could see the same Nan of old, and outward appearance didn’t count for much.
“I’ve come here first of all,” she said, “because I couldn’t wait a minute. How big you’ve grown, Will!”
“Why, I didn’t know it,” he replied. “But you, Nan – why, you’re a reg’lar swell!”
“Fudge!” cried Nan, disdainfully; “you won’t catch me getting swell – or swelled – I can tell you. But they call us ‘young ladies’ at school, and we get to be perfect sticks. Oh, but it’s good to be back in Bingham, where everything’s sweet and simple, and you can do as you please!”
“It’s good to have you back, Nan,” he said.
“Why, there’s Flo!” she exclaimed. “Come here, dear, and kiss me this minute.”
Flo, who had just come from the house, ran at once into Annabel’s arms, and Will stood by and grinned with great delight, although something about the girl filled him with a strange embarrassment.
“Now, sir,” said Annabel, “I’m ordered to bring you back home with me, and you’re to stay to dinner and spend the evening.”
“I’m not dressed, nor ready,” protested Will.
“Then get ready at once; and while you’re about it I’ll drive Flo over to the grove. Jump in, dear.”
Flo readily complied with this request, for it was a great treat to ride in the pony cart; so in a moment they were whirling up the lane as fast as the fat little pony could prance, and Will, pleased indeed to be invited to the big house, went in to dress himself carefully for the occasion.
By the time he was ready, and had kissed his mother good-bye, the cart was back again; so he took Flo’s place beside Annabel and was driven slowly away.
They had a good many things to talk over, it seemed; all about Annabel’s new boarding school and Will’s old high school; and about their mutual friends in the village, and the new book Annabel had sent Will to read, and about the mushroom business, in which the girl was keenly interested, and a good many other subjects.
So the pony had time to get new breath into it’s pudgy body, while the cart moved leisurely up this road and down that lane until at last they turned into the grounds of the big house.
Will was warmly greeted by Theodore and Mary Louise, as well as the younger children, and he first admired Ted’s gray uniform, all covered with brass buttons, and then turned to gaze shyly at the slim, beautiful girl whom he hesitated, because she was “such a young lady,” to address familiarly as Mary Louise.
Williams, too, was present, happy to have his children all beside him once more, and the great steel manufacturer was so jolly a companion, and entered so heartily into the amusements of the young folks, that not one of them felt any restraint in his presence, but grieved when he left them.
The big dinner which Nora had prepared for this occasion was one of the merriest functions the establishment had ever known, and Fanny, the waitress, and Thomas, the butler, afterwards compared notes and figured that the party had remained nearly two hours at the table – which was surely long enough to satisfy the most vigorous appetite. But only those just home from boarding-school know what it is to sit down to a good home dinner; and there was so much to talk about that they could not be eating every minute, either.
Following this evening, which Will long remembered, came two weeks of constant excitement, during which coasting and sleighing parties, dances in the evenings and an old-fashioned “hay-ride” to a neighboring town, kept the young folks of Bingham busy as bees. Will couldn’t be present at all these gaieties, because the fires had to be kept going in the heater, and he insisted that Egbert should have a share in the season’s fun. But Egbert was little inclined to social pleasures, from many of which his infirmities naturally barred him, so that Will participated in a good many of the amusements provided for the holidays.
There was no accident to mar this Christmas season, as there had been a year before, and the end of the vacation days brought regret to all. But it is true that pleasures are the more enjoyed when they are followed by periods of earnest work, and the two girls and Theodore returned to their schools with rosier cheeks and brighter eyes than they had brought home with them, while lurking in their hearts were many pleasant memories that could be called upon, during the months that followed, to lighten the tedium of study.
During a long walk which Annabel and Will took just before their parting, they agreed to exchange letters at least once a week, and afterward the contract was faithfully kept. Will wrote at length of all the gossip of the little village, and Nan related her experiences at school; so the letters were always bright and interesting to the recipients, although others might not have fully understood them.
BAITING THE TRAP
One day in the early spring Mr. Williams sent an invitation to Dr. Meigs to dine with him, and after the meal they sat together in the study conversing; for the two men had become fast friends, and seemed to understand one another excellently.
“A curious thing has happened lately,” said the host, flicking the ash from his cigar with a thoughtful air, “and one of my objects in asking you over this evening is to tell you of it, and ask your advice.”
The doctor nodded and settled himself in his chair to listen.
“It is now some ten years ago that my attention was attracted by a sample of steel of such remarkable quality that I at once became interested, and after a time I managed to trace it to Bingham, where it had been made by John Carden, in his old factory. But the maker had gone from the town, and was reported dead, and on being referred to Mr. Jordan, at the bank, I learned that the process for making this wonderful product was now owned by him. I made Ezra Jordan a proposition for the exclusive use of the process, on a royalty basis, and having come to terms I proceeded to build these mills, and the houses for my workmen, and afterwards moved here with my family. All of this you already know. I confess that I have made a great deal of money since then, for certain manufacturers and machinists cannot do without my steel, which no other maker has been able to duplicate. I might mention, incidentally, that Jordan has also made a fortune out of his royalties.
“A while ago I confided to you my discovery that Jordan had deceived me in regard to the formula; but I didn’t worry much about that, because I knew that as long as I made money for him he would cause me no trouble. Now, however a more startling evidence of the man’s treachery has come to my knowledge. The Italian government requires a large amount of high-class steel for use in their naval armament, and I submitted samples of my product with the certainty that I would secure the order, which will amount to millions of dollars. Imagine, therefore, my chagrin at being informed that another sample of steel, even finer than mine, and with the same peculiar characteristics that can be produced in no other way than by the Carden process, has been submitted to them by an English firm, and at a lower price than I demanded. What do you think of that, Dr. Meigs?”
“I cannot account for it,” was the reply, “unless some one in England has stumbled upon the same process.”
“That is, of course, possible; but not at all probable. I am more inclined to think that Mr. Jordan has made another deal, this time with the English firm, and is drawing royalties from them as well as from me.”
“I see. You accuse the man of competing against himself.”
“In this case, yes. But whichever gets the contract will pay him his royalties, so he is safe. Otherwise he would not figure on our competing for I sell no steel abroad, and our duties prevent the English makers from sending it here.”
“Do you know the name of the English firm?” asked the doctor.
“Yes; the Italian commissioner was frank enough in stating it. My rival is the Atlas Steel Company, of Birmingham.”
“Why don’t you interview Jordan, and have it out with him?”
“My idea exactly. That is just what I want to do. But that will be an important interview, my dear doctor, and I want you to be present.”
“Me?” said the doctor, surprised.
“Yes. I’ve got a notion in my head that Jordan has defrauded the Cardens, as well as me, and you must stand as the friend of the Cardens, in case we get the man to admit anything. It can’t be possible, sir, that Jordan ever loaned John Carden money, for in those days he was poor. In that case why should we suppose that Carden, who was shrewd enough to become a successful inventor, would turn over all rights to his process to another man, leaving his family in utter poverty?”
“It doesn’t seem reasonable,” agreed the doctor.
“Let us take Jordan unawares, and accuse him of his villainy. Perhaps we may induce him to confess all, and then your presence as a witness would be valuable both to me and to the Carden family.”
“Very well; when do you want me?”
“Call at the office at three, tomorrow afternoon. I’ll have Jordan in, and we’ll see how much can be scared out of him.”
So the matter was arranged although Dr. Meigs had his doubts about their success. Chester D. Williams was evidently a man who liked to face a difficulty without fear, and bore his way to the bottom of it. And it really seemed that he had ample foundation for his suspicions of Mr. Jordan. But when the doctor thought it all over, and looked back upon Mr. Jordan’s regular and modest life, and remembered how admirable his conduct had ever been in the eyes of all who knew him, he hesitated to believe the man guilty of such bold and audacious villainy as was suggested by Mr. Williams’ recent discoveries.
Doubtless the man was by nature cold; and he might be heartless. It was within the bounds of possibility that he had robbed John Carden’s family of all those immense royalties earned by the process. But to sell the same process to an English corporation was altogether too hazardous a scheme for any man to undertake: unless, indeed, his past success had made him reckless.
In any event, the doctor doubted that sufficient proof could be advanced to convict Mr. Jordan. The inventor was dead, and no one else could prove that Jordan had no right to the process. And without proof the case was hopeless.
Yet promptly at three o’clock Dr. Meigs called at the steel works, and was admitted to Mr. Williams’ private office.
The proprietor was engaged at his desk when his friend entered, and after a nod in the doctor’s direction and a request that he be seated, he swung around and touched an electric button.
“Please ask Mr. Jordan to step here,” he said to the boy who answered the bell.
Such promptness fairly startled the doctor, but in a moment he collected himself for the coming interview, acknowledging to himself that Mr. Williams was right. If a disagreeable duty was to be performed, the sooner it was over with, the better.
Mr. Jordan entered with his usual stiff and solemn air, and gave the doctor a brief nod of recognition. Then he paused before Mr. William’s desk in a way that indicated rather than expressed an inquiry as to why he had been summoned.
The mill owner laid down his pen and looked his secretary square in the face.
“Mr. Jordan,” said he, “we have lost that order of the Italian government.”
“Why?” asked the other, a shade of disappointment in his harsh voice.
“Because the Atlas Steel Company of Birmingham, England, has offered the same steel as mine at a lower price.”
“Impossible!” cried the man, startled for once out of his usual apathy.
“No, it is true,” replied Mr. Williams, calmly. “The Atlas works is using the Carden process, and turning out a product even better than we are at Bingham.”
Mr. Jordan’s face was pale and haggard. He looked around with a hunted air, and then, seeing that both men were regarding him keenly, he controlled himself with an effort and wiped his brow with his handkerchief.
“How could they know of my – of the Carden process?” he asked, hoarsely.
“The answer is very simple,” said Mr. Williams, with admirable composure; “you sold the secret, in order to obtain a royalty from them, as well as from me.”
ON THE WRONG TRAIL
For a moment Mr. Jordan made no reply. But he stared at his employer with eyes so full of horror that his sincerity was very evident.
“I sell the secret to others!” he exclaimed, at last. “Why, it would ruin me. Do you accuse me of being a fool, sir, as well as a scoundrel?”
“All scoundrels are fools,” returned Mr. Williams, dryly. “But, if you have not sold the secret to the Englishmen, please explain to me where and how they got it.”
Again the hunted, fearful look crossed the man’s face, and again he made an evident struggle to appear calm.
“I cannot explain it, sir. But it need not affect our business to any serious extent. There is enough demand for our steel in America to keep our furnaces busy, without going abroad for orders.”
He spoke mechanically, as if the problem was not new to him and he had often considered the matter in much the same way as he now clearly expressed it. Yet the set, expressionless tones were habitual to him, as they are to all who are unaccustomed to speak at any length.
“That is not the point,” said Mr. Williams, sternly. “We are confronted, for the first time, with competition, and by a firm active enough to oppose us in foreign markets. What will be the end of it? What will happen when they attempt to compete with us in our home markets?”
“They must pay duty, and we can always meet their price,” said Mr. Jordan, his voice sounding a bit defiant.
“The royalties I am obliged to pay you, on my product, more than offset the duties,” retorted the manufacturer. “Indeed, your demands force me to exact so high a price that our customers are already complaining. The secret is a secret no longer, it seems. Then why should I continue to pay your royalties?”
“If you choose to discontinue our arrangement, sir, I can dispose of the process to others. The firm of Thomson Brothers & Hayden stands ready – ”
“Bah!” exclaimed Mr. Williams, slamming the desk with his fist in momentary scorn. “You know very well I cannot abandon my present product. It would render this expensive plant of no further value.”
Mr. Jordan bowed, with deference.
“I am willing to fulfill our contract in the future, as in the past, on the exact terms it stipulates. I have no doubt the mills will continue to prosper. Anything more, sir?”
He half turned, as if to go.
“Yes,” snapped the proprietor, who began to realize he had accomplished nothing by this interview.
Mr. Jordan waited, and for a time his employer remained silent, staring curiously at the impenetrable face of his secretary. Then he asked:
“How did you come to own this process, anyway? Why does it not belong to the heirs of the man who discovered it?”
Mr. Jordan poised his gaunt form more erectly than ever, and his glittering spectacles were directed full upon the other’s face.
“I believe I have already explained that. John Carden transferred to me his right to the discovery in consideration of money which he owed me and could not pay.”
“You loaned him money?”
“Where did you get it?”
“Sir, that is not your affair.”
“You never earned a dollar more than a bare living until I began to pay you royalties on the process. On the other hand, I have evidence that Carden loaned you money.”
The man shrank back.
“You are becoming offensive, Mr. Williams, in your remarks, and I beg to remind you we are not alone,” he said, not without dignity.
“I am interested in this matter myself, sir,” said Dr. Meigs, now speaking for the first time. “You know that I am a friend of the Carden family, even as I have always been your friend, Mr. Jordan. Therefore it would please me to be able to disentangle this mystery and have all doubts removed from my mind. You have told me, as you have told Mr. Williams, that John Carden owed you ten thousand dollars when he went away. Naturally we are curious to know how so great a sum came into the possession of a poor bank clerk, such as you then were. And also I have wondered what John Carden ever did with that money.”
Again the secretary wiped his brow, but, ignoring for the present Mr. Williams, he turned toward the doctor to reply.
“You have no right to ask me such questions, Doctor Meigs; but it may be that from your standpoint there is some justice in your suspicions. I am, therefore, quite willing to answer you. John Carden spent all his own money, and afterward mine, in expensive experiments. The money I obtained by a lucky speculation in a lottery, the ticket for which I bought under an assumed name, as I did many other tickets, when I was a poor clerk and had no hopes of otherwise acquiring wealth. It is very natural I should hesitate to declare myself a gambler, by explaining this openly; but never since that time have I invested one cent in speculation of any sort. And now, as I have duties to attend to, I will bid you good afternoon, believing that you will respect my confidence.”
As he concluded, the secretary, who never within the knowledge of man had uttered so lengthy a speech before, bowed gravely and stalked from the room, holding himself as rigidly upright as an Egyptian obelisk.
When he was gone the two friends exchanged glances.
“Well?” said Mr. Williams, interrogatively.
“I admit that I am puzzled,” answered the doctor. “It is quite possible for Mr. Jordan to have won ten thousand dollars on a lottery ticket.”
“Yes; that was clever. There’s no controverting it.”
“But I do not think he sold the secret of your process to the Englishmen.”
“Nor do I. The man’s looks convinced me I was mistaken. But they also convinced me he has a secret he is desperately trying to hide. We’re on a false scent, that’s all.”
“I’m inclined to agree with you.”
“And what can explain the fact that the Atlas company of Birmingham is using the Carden process?”
“Are you sure it’s the same process?”
“Humph! Do you know anything about the way steel is made?”
“It is a very delicate process to extract the impurities from iron and to transform that metal into a steel that will stand severe tension and become of so fine a temper that it will cut diamonds. Our product also had marvelous resiliency, and can be forged without losing any of its qualities. All this is accomplished by manipulations that are the result of accurate scientific calculations. No one could stumble upon such a process as Carden evolved by years of intelligent effort, and by no other process than Carden’s could such steel ever be manufactured.”
“Well, what will you do now?”
“I don’t know. What I’d like to do is to go to Birmingham at once and see if I can solve the mystery.”
“Why don’t you?” asked the doctor.
“I’m afraid to leave Jordan, to tell the truth. If he should attempt to run away I must be here to stop him. His suspicions will be aroused by this interview, and should he escape he would take the secret with him, and I would be forced to close the works. Can’t you go, doctor?”
“No, indeed. I can’t leave my patients. There are some who need me every day of their lives – or think they do, which is the same thing. A physician isn’t his own master, you know, and moreover this isn’t a physician’s business. Send a confidential agent.”
“I will. Whom do you suggest?”
Mr. Williams smiled into the doctor’s earnest face.
“If I sent Will to Europe, Jordan would at once become suspicious,” said he.
“No one need know he has gone to Europe. We’ll keep it quiet, and as he is known to be my partner in the mushroom business I can send him away on our private affairs, and Mr. Jordan will have no cause to be suspicious.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
ñòðàíèöû: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10