Annabelñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Something disagreeable, sir?” asked a pleasant voice.
The gentleman had lain down his paper and was engaged in eating his luncheon. As he spoke he glanced at Will with a smile, which the boy returned, feeling rather ashamed of his depression because of so trivial a matter.
“Something quite disagreeable, as you observe, sir,” he answered.
“You are an American?”
“Yes, sir. And you?”
A shadow crossed the gentleman’s face.
“Formerly I lived in the States. But I am quite English, now, although I have never ceased to love my native land. That is why I ventured to speak to a young man who is so evidently an American. Can I be of any assistance to you?”
“To be frank with you, my tribulation is caused merely by a lack of a dress suit,” said he. “I must dine with a lady – a very ‘swell’ lady, sir – tonight, and I possess only the clothes you behold.”
“You have lost your baggage?”
“No, sir; I never have owned a dress suit. Indeed, these are the best clothes I have, and had not the lady asked me to dine with her I should have considered them equal to all my requirements.”
“What part of America are you from?”
“A little town called Bingham.”
The man gave a sudden start, and moved his lips as if about to speak. But no words came, and closing his jaws firmly together, as if to repress the impulse, he leaned back in his chair and gazed at Will with a look that was more pathetic than curious.
The boy scarcely noticed the interruption. He rambled on, explaining that he was sent abroad on business by a Mr. Williams, and was only staying in London to see the wife of his employer aboard the steamer on her way home. It was cruel, he protested, for her to ask him to dine with her in a fashionable hotel, knowing as she did his station in life, and still more cruel to ask him to appear in a dress suit.
Of all this, and much more, he talked as he ate his luncheon, and the gentleman listened in grave silence, but most attentively.
After the meal was finished he asked:
“Have you money?”
“Yes, sir; plenty.”
“Then I believe I shall be able to relieve your embarrassment, if you will walk with me a few doors down the street.”
“I shall be very grateful, sir.”
The gentleman arose to leave the caf?, and Will noticed that the waiters and ushers all bowed with profound deference as he passed out. But that was not singular. The most careless observer could not fail to be impressed by his new friend’s dignified bearing.
On the street he nodded to several acquaintances and tipped his hat gracefully to a lady who rode by in a handsome equipage. Will was quite proud of his companion, who was evidently a person of importance.
But now they turned into a fashionable tailor shop, and the proprietor was bowing and scraping most humbly before the gray-haired gentleman, who beckoned him aside.
Will did not hear the conversation that ensued, but the tailor rubbed his hands together complacently and nodded so often that the boy wondered he did not dislocate his neck.
“He will fit you out, all right, and send you the suit in ample time,” said the gentleman, returning to Will’s side.
“And now, if there is no way I can be of further assistance to you, permit me to bid you good day.”
“Thank you very much, sir.”
With a smile and nod the man was gone, and now the obsequious tailor was inviting him to stand upon a pedestal to be measured. Evidently the fellow had received definite instructions what to do, for he asked no questions except where to send the clothes, and declared again and again that they would be delivered by six o’clock.
Will passed the rest of the afternoon looking up steamship offices and enquiring about sailings to New York. Mrs. Williams had said he could do this tomorrow, but he preferred to attend to the matter at once. He finally selected a steamer that sailed the next Saturday, which would give the lady ample time to prepare for the trip, and having made the booking he returned to his hotel to await with considerable anxiety the approach of the eventful evening.
At six o’clock a large parcel was delivered to his room, and upon opening it he found not only his new full-dress suit, but the accompanying linen, the proper tie, and everything else that he might need. His chance acquaintance had proved a veritable magician, for even to one of Will’s inexperience it was evident such an outfit could only be procured upon short notice by means of considerable influence.
The bill that lay in the bottom of the box startled him at first; but, had he known it, it was remarkably small for the amount and quality of the goods it covered.
From his observations during the voyage across, and his three days in London, Will Carden was not ignorant of what was required in society in the way of evening dress, and the outfit before him permitted little chance of mistake. He dressed himself very carefully, finding that each article fitted admirably; and when all was accomplished he spent several minutes gazing wonderingly at his own reflection in the long mirror.
He reached the pink salon a little ahead of his engagement, and Mrs. Williams was a little behind hers; so the interval gave him time to regain his composure. He found several gentlemen present who were dressed exactly like himself, and that made him feel almost at ease by the time Mrs. Williams appeared.
She wore a handsome evening dress of black net trimmed with jet, and many brilliant gems sparkled upon her neck and hands. After the first enquiring glance at her escort she smiled approvingly, for Will looked very proper and handsome in her critical worldly eyes and it was an agreeable experience to have a nice looking young man at her side.
They found a small table awaiting them in the restaurant, where the scene was so brilliant that it filled our youth with surprise. Handsomely gowned ladies were present in profusion, and the soft glow of the rose-shaded lights on rich glass and napery made a beautiful picture not easily forgotten by one unaccustomed to such luxuries.
Will noticed, as he seated himself, that at a neighboring table his friend of the afternoon was dining with two male companions, all in prescribed evening dress. The gentleman saw him, and returned his bow with a pleasant smile.
Mrs. Williams maintained a flow of social small talk that Will was scarcely able to understand, and surely could make little reply to. But she did not seem to expect him to converse, except in monosyllables, so he assumed an air of respectful attention to her remarks and let his thoughts and eyes wander amid his novel surroundings. He neither knew nor cared what food was being served, for he seemed to be in a fairyland, and the merry hum of voices, the soft strains of music, the silent rush of the waiters and the atmosphere of sensuous comfort pervading the magnificent arched room all tended to bewilder his mind and render him indifferent to the commonplace occupation of eating.
Presently a lady detached herself from a group of diners and came to their table to greet Mrs. Williams, who seemed to be an old acquaintance. After acknowledging Will’s polite bow on his introduction the lady ignored him and seated herself in a vacant chair beside Mrs. Williams, beginning a brisk conversation which soon drifted into gossip about those present.
“I suppose you know very few of our London notables,” she said, “having passed so much of your time on the Continent. The lady in lavender at the third table to your right is the Duchess of M – ; and just behind her is Lady Mary K – , whose divorce suit you have doubtless read of. And do you see those gentlemen at a table by the pillar yonder? They are well worth attention. The one with the moustache is Prince Von D – , and the plain-faced man is Mr. Ashkam, the great London banker. The third, with the gray hair and beard, is the head of the Atlas Steel works, the famous John Carden, who is reputed one of the wealthiest manufacturers in the United Kingdom. Next to them – ”
Will’s fork fell from his hand, clattering against his plate with a sound so startling that it attracted many eyes in his direction.
Trembling violently, and with a white face, he was staring at the man pointed out as John Carden, who returned the look with astonishment.
“Excuse me – I – I am ill – I cannot stay here!” he stammered, in a low voice; and rising hurriedly, regardless of Mrs. Williams’ shocked expression, he staggered from the room.
The gentleman hastily followed. He found Will in the dimly lighted ante-room, where the boy stood wringing his hands in an agony of nervous excitement. Seeing the man he rushed toward him at once, saying:
“John Carden! Are you really John Carden?”
“John Carden of Bingham?”
“Yes,” repeated the other, seizing Will’s outstretched hands; “once of Bingham.”
“Then I am your son!” cried the boy, with a sob. “I am Will Carden.”
ANNABEL MAKES A DISCOVERY
When Mary Louise, Annabel and Theodore came home for the summer vacation there was genuine disappointment to all in finding Will Carden absent from Bingham. But I think none missed him so sincerely as Annabel.
She drove over to see Mrs. Carden and Flo and chatted with them for an hour; but it was not until she found time to be alone with her father, “for one of our good talks, daddy,” that she learned the truth about Will’s mission abroad. In that connection Mr. Williams was obliged to tell her something of his suspicions of Mr. Jordan, and the girl listened earnestly to all he said.
“I never did like the man, dear,” she declared; “nor does Will like him, although Mr. Jordan was so good to his dead father. But why don’t you force the secretary to tell you the real secret of the process, when you are entitled to it?”
“I mean to, when the proper time comes,” was the reply. “But I cannot get rid of the idea that Jordan has some other object than to withhold this knowledge.”
“I suppose he thinks that as long as you are ignorant of the real secret of the process you cannot discharge him, or stop the payment of his royalties,” she said, musingly.
“The secret is no longer so important as it was formerly,” said Mr. Williams, somewhat gloomily. “That Birmingham discovery worries me more than I can explain. The English steel is even a better grade than my own, and if its makers choose to invade this country their competition would seriously affect my business, and might even ruin it.”
“I’m sure Will can find out all you wish to know,” she returned. “Don’t fret, papa. Let us wait until he gets back.”
Shortly after this conversation the manufacturer met Doctor Meigs, who asked:
“How is Jordan conducting himself these days?”
“Rather strangely,” said Mr. Williams. “I sometimes think he’s getting ready to run away.”
“Yes. I have paid the fellow over a hundred thousand dollars in royalties, and this money, which has been accumulating in the same bank in the city that I myself use, and am also a director of, has suddenly been withdrawn and placed elsewhere.”
“I do not know.”
“Perhaps he has invested it.”
Mr. Williams shook his head, doubtfully.
“Then, during the last few weeks,” he continued, “he has been nervously rushing out our orders and getting the goods delivered, when there is no need at all of haste.”
“Because as soon as delivery is made he is entitled to his royalty, which he draws promptly, and sends away. It looks to me as though he is trying to get together all the money he can, and then skip out.”
“But why should he do that?” enquired the doctor, who was plainly puzzled by this statement.
“I can’t explain it, unless that foreign competition has frightened him. Ever since we had that conversation in my office, at which you were present, Jordan has been a different man. Little things seem to startle him, whereas he used to be the coolest man I ever met. He looks up sharply at every one who enters the office, and gets very irritable over small things that never before annoyed him. I’ve been watching him closely, you see.”
“Could he possibly know we have sent Will to England?”
“I believe that secret is safe. Only Mrs. Carden knows it, and she would never betray it to Jordan, you may be sure.”
“What will you do?” asked the doctor.
“Keep an eye upon him, and if he attempts to get away hold him until he tells me truly the secret of the process that he sold me. Otherwise he is free to go wherever he pleases.”
“Have you heard from Will?”
“No, and it is rather strange that I have not. He has cabled me that Mrs. Williams will arrive on the Baltic, which is due in New York next week; but he said not a word about himself or the business matters on which he is engaged.”
“Perhaps there is nothing yet to say,” suggested the doctor, and with a handshake the friends parted.
On Sunday afternoon Annabel asked her father to join her in a walk, as the day was delightfully pleasant. He agreed at once, and they strolled along the lanes until they came to the Carden house, where they stopped for a little visit with Will’s mother. Mrs. Carden had greatly improved in health since being relieved of so much of the drudgery of housework, and the increased prosperity of the family fortunes had rendered her brighter and more cheerful than of old. Possessed of an excellent education and much native refinement of manner, Mrs. Carden had formerly been one of the most popular women in Bingham, and although her husband’s tragic loss had greatly embittered her life during the past dozen years, she was gradually resuming her natural sweetness and charming personality.
So both Annabel and her father passed a pleasant hour at the house, and then started on to resume their walk.
“Let us go by the grove,” said the girl. “It’s Mr. Jordan’s favorite walk, and Will says he never misses an evening unless there’s a hurricane to stop him.”
“And hurricanes are uncommon,” added her father, smiling. “Well, it looks cool and pleasant under the trees, so we’ll walk that way. But why do you suppose Mr. Jordan takes such long journeys every evening?”
“For exercise, I imagine. Will says he starts right after supper and tramps a good five miles. And when he gets back he shuts himself in his room and sees no one until morning.”
“A strange man,” said Mr. Williams, musingly; “and either extremely simple or extremely shrewd. I can’t decide which.”
There was little other conversation between the two until they reached the grove; but as they passed between the great trees Annabel suddenly said:
“Do you know, papa, I almost suspect Mr. Jordan is crazy?”
“No; why do you think that?”
“Because he does such funny things. I remember Will’s telling me once about a queer thing that happened in this very grove.”
“What was it?” asked her father, absently.
“Mr. Jordan used to stop at a certain tree, and after looking around to find out if anyone was near he would pass his hand swiftly up and down the bark of the tree, as secretly as if he were committing some crime.”
Mr. Williams turned to gaze upon his daughter’s face with wonder.
“Then,” said Annabel, “he would come back to the path, and resume his walk.”
“Which tree was it?” asked her father, earnestly.
“Why, I think I can find it, for twice Will has pointed it out to me when we were walking here. Let me see. Here is the turn in the path – and here is where Mr. Jordan always stopped * * * and there – no, not that one – the big oak just beside it * * * that’s the very tree, papa! Will once found the tracks of Mr. Jordan’s feet in the snow, where he’d walked up to it. Isn’t it funny?”
Mr. Williams shook his head. There was a puzzled expression upon his face. He stared at the tree for a time as if in a brown study. The incident just related was singular enough to be interesting, but the old oak was just like a dozen other oaks that stood around. Why should Mr. Jordan pay especial attention to that particular tree?
“Where are you going, papa?”
“I’m going to examine the tree more closely.”
He walked straight up to it, and stood minutely examining the bark. Then he passed his hand over it.
“Higher up,” said Annabel. “He used to feel about on a level with his head, Will told me, and he’s taller than you are, papa.”
Mr. Williams touched the bark higher up, and looked mystified. Surely there had been no reason for Mr. Jordan’s action. Perhaps the man was mad, after all, and this was one of his crazy notions.
Wait a moment though! Wasn’t that a crack in the rough bark? Mr. Williams took out his pocket knife, and inserted the blade into the crack. Yes, the bark had separated slightly at this point. He followed the line with his knife blade, with growing excitement. It zig-zagged this way and that, keeping first to the right, then upward almost as far as he could reach, then to the left on almost a straight line; then down again to the starting point.
Mr. Williams withdrew the blade and took a long breath.
“That square of bark is separate from the rest,” he said.
“How odd!” answered Annabel, her eyes bigger than usual.
Her father looked around, and espied an old root lying near. He dragged this over to the tree, and standing upon it was able to place his face close to the bark.
Then he indulged in a low whistle, for he had discovered a blackened screw-head half hidden by the roughness of the surface. Again he drew out his pocket-knife and deliberately snapped one of the blades in half. With this improvised screw-driver he set to work, and shortly had the screw removed.
Mr. Williams had been a mechanic in his younger days. He knew just what to do under the present circumstances.
Annabel watched him with an interest that became more intense every moment.
He found a second screw, and removed it; a third, and then a fourth. With this the piece of bark came away in his hand, revealing a hollow cavity in the tree behind it.
Mr. Williams took out his handkerchief and wiped the perspiration from his forehead. Then he thrust his hand into the cavity, and when he withdrew it he was clutching a bundle of papers, tied together with a cotton cord.
MR. WILLIAMS DECIDES TO ACT
“What is it, papa?” whispered Annabel, with extreme eagerness.
The man sat down upon the root and hastily examined the papers. When again he looked upon his daughter his face was white and drawn, and in his eyes was an expression of intense horror.
“My dear,” he said, gently, “you have been the means of discovering one of the most wicked plots than any man has ever conceived.”
“What is it?” she asked, again.
“I can’t tell you all until I have read these papers carefully. They are ample proof, however, that Jordan is one of the greatest scoundrels on earth! Why he should have placed these papers here, instead of destroying them, I cannot understand.”
“Perhaps God made him do it,” said the girl, in an awed voice.
He leaned over and kissed her.
“Surely the hand of God is visible in all this, my darling,” he replied, gravely. “And He doubtless led us to this grove today.”
He placed the package carefully in an inner pocket of his coat, which he afterward buttoned carefully. Then, after a moment’s thought, he replaced the bark, putting the screws back in place. This task being finished, he proceeded to drag away the root upon which he had stood.
Even a careful observer could not now have known the bark had ever been disturbed, and satisfied that the secret was safe he led Annabel from the grove and across to a lane that would bring them close to their own home.
“You must keep all this mystery to yourself, my darling,” he enjoined her; “for a time, at least, until we have planned how best to act.”
“Very well, papa,” returned the girl, seriously. She knew well that something important had been unearthed, and although curious, as any girl might well be, to unravel the enigma, she was wise enough not to urge her father to confide in her until he chose to do so.
Indeed, he only knew a little of the truth himself, as yet; such as had been hurriedly gleaned by a brief examination of the papers.
Arrived at the house, he dismissed Annabel with a kiss and dispatched a groom at once to find Doctor Meigs and bring that gentleman back with him. After this he shut himself up in his study with orders that he must not be disturbed.
As it was Sunday the doctor was soon found and came at once, suspecting that something of unusual importance had occurred. He immediately joined Mr. Williams in the study, and for several hours the two men were closeted in the little room, engaged in deep conference.
Gradually the children, awed by the atmosphere of mystery that pervaded the entire house, retired to bed, and then the servants turned out the lights and followed them, leaving only old Thomas, the butler, to show the doctor out and lock the doors for the night.
Thomas was almost asleep himself when aroused by the bell. He found the doctor and Mr. Williams standing together in the hall, and started at the sight of their stern, white features.
“Then it is fully decided we shall wait until Wednesday?” asked the doctor, his voice harsh and grating.
“Until Wednesday,” returned Mr. Williams, wearily. Then he pressed his friend’s hand. “Good night.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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