Annabelñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
“Good night, sir.”
Thomas closed the door after the departing guest and locked it. When he turned around his master was staring into space with such a fierce look in his eyes that the old servant shrank back in fear, and then slunk away, leaving the man alone with his thoughts.
Next morning Mr. Williams caught an early train to the city, where he at once sought a detective bureau, staying several hours in earnest consultation with the chief. The result was not immediately evident, although when the manufacturer took the afternoon train for Bingham a quiet man, plainly dressed and unobtrusive, followed him into the car and seated himself in a corner. At the last moment another man, dressed in a loud checked suit and seeming to be a commercial traveller, to judge by his sample cases, swung himself aboard the train and noisily took a seat near to Mr. Williams, who did not recognize him in any way.
Both of these men left the train at Bingham, but they did not follow the owner of the steel works, who crossed the tracks and proceeded pensively toward the offices.
Mr. Jordan nodded as usual when his employer entered, and then calmly resumed his work. Mr. Williams entered his private office and looked through the mail before going home to dinner.
Annabel thought that her father kissed her more tenderly than usual that evening; but she did not refer to their secret, nor did he mention it in any way.
Mr. Jordan partook of his usual frugal meal at the hotel, and then started for his walk. The commercial traveller was smoking a big cigar upon the porch as the secretary passed out, but Mr. Jordan did not notice him. He walked down the road as far as the Carden house, turned up the lane, and with measured steps and upright form pursued his way to the grove and through it. At one point he stopped and listened. Everything was still among the trees, except that a thrush sent a last wailing note after the dying sun. Mr. Jordan seemed satisfied. He left the path and walked calmly to an oak tree, where he passed his hand rapidly over the surface of the bark.
It was all done in an instant, and as he afterward proceeded on his way he had no idea that a plainly dressed stranger had been standing behind a clump of bushes watching his every movement.
The next day Mr. Williams was at the office as usual, but when Mr. Jordan sent a clerk to ask for a conference about some of the business details his superior answered that he was too busily engaged to see his secretary.
Mr. Jordan seemed surprised and uneasy, but he said nothing.
In the afternoon a telegram was laid upon Mr. Williams’s desk. He opened it indifferently, but a moment later sprang to his feet with a cry of delight.
It read: “Arrived in New York today. Night train to Bingham. Be with you tomorrow. Mrs. Williams, who, with my son, accompanies me, quite well. JOHN CARDEN.”
“Excellent!” he exclaimed, rubbing his hands together in an ecstacy of joy.
“The hand of fate is surely in this. Or,” and here he bowed his head reverently, “perhaps my little girl is right, and it is the hand of God!”
MR. JORDAN HEARS A STORY
The children were delighted with the news of their mother’s speedy return. During her long absence all grievances had been forgotten, and they only remembered that the absent mother, whom they loved, was coming back to them.
All through the house was a flutter of excitement, which even the servants were unable to escape. Mary Louise, like the sweet and dainty house-fairy she was, wandered through her mother’s long deserted rooms, putting everything in order with a discretion and taste that was essentially womanly. And Annabel prepared vases of her mother’s favorite flowers, whose fragrance would be sure to prove a tender greeting to the returned traveller. Even little Gladys insisted on helping “to get ready for mamma,” although her sisters would gladly have dispensed with her assistance.
Annabel had another source of pleasure, for her father had said, rather briefly but with an odd look in his eyes: “Will is coming back with your mother, although it is sooner than I had expected him.”
She knew from the gravity of his voice that he did not wish to be asked questions, so she only smiled happily at the news, and kissed him.
Over at the Carden cottage Mr. Jordan was having a restless night. He returned from his evening walk as usual, but when he had locked himself in his room he began pacing the floor restlessly, a thing which Mrs. Carden, who could hear his footsteps plainly, did not remember that he had ever done before.
Had anyone been able to peep within the room – which no one ever could – he would have found the secretary’s thin face distorted by a wrathful scowl. Indeed, Mr. Jordan was not at all pleased with the way things were going at the mills. Mr. Williams’s evident repugnance to him, which had been growing for some time, and his flat refusal that day to confer with his secretary, had awakened in the man vague misgivings for which he could not account. And then that discovery by Mr. Williams of the English steel made by the Carden process was liable to precipitate a crisis.
Mr. Jordan had known of this foreign steel for years, but had hoped Mr. Williams would never discover it. There was an ominous atmosphere surrounding him just now that warned the secretary that he must no longer delay action – such action as he had planned for long ago.
He thought the matter over carefully, as he paced the floor, and finally made his decision. But even after he went to bed he could not sleep, and tossed restlessly upon his couch until morning came.
Then he arose and dressed with his usual care. His personal possessions were not very great. The old horse-hair trunk contained little of value, and as his eyes roved over the room he saw few things that he really cared for.
In the end he put together a few toilet articles and some linen and underwear, which he made into a package and wrapped with a newspaper. Then, with a last look around, he left the house in his usual quiet manner and walked up the road to the village.
The man had frequently consulted his watch, and timed his actions to a nicety. He passed the village and reached the railway station just as the early train to the city was due. But he did not go upon the platform, where his presence might excite surprise, preferring to stand behind the square, brick station-house until he heard the train draw in. Even then he calculated his time. It would take so long to unload passengers; so long for the people to enter the cars; so long to load the baggage, and —
“All aboard!” cried the conductor.
Mr. Jordan smiled grimly and walked around the corner of the building. Yes, he had just time to swing aboard as the train drew out.
But then a disagreeable accident happened. A commercial traveller, dressed in a loud checked suit, dashed out of a door of the depot in the direction of the train and ran plump against Mr. Jordan, almost knocking that gentleman down and sending his newspaper bundle flying several yards away. The blundering fellow actually tumbled down, and in struggling to rise caught Mr. Jordan around the knees and held him so fast that he could not move.
“Let go – release me!” shouted the secretary, angrily.
“I beg your pardon! I beg your pardon!” the other kept repeating, humbly; but by the time he had scrambled up and released his victim the train had pulled away, and now at constantly increasing speed was flying along the tracks in the direction of the city.
“You scoundrel!” roared the exasperated gentleman, “you’ve made me lose my train!”
“I beg your pardon! I really beg your pardon, sir!” answered the traveller, in a meek voice, as he stooped to pick up his sample cases. “It was horribly awkward of me, I know; but I’ve missed the train, myself. There’s another at noon, however, so I’ll go back to the hotel and get some breakfast.”
Mr. Jordan glared at him without reply. Then he decided to make the best of his misfortune and return to the hotel for breakfast himself.
He walked into the office a little earlier than usual, deposited his newspaper bundle beside his desk, and went to work as methodically and calmly as ever. The clerks noticed no change in him. He was as positive in his orders as usual, and his manner gave no indication of the fact that he had secretly planned to abandon his post.
At ten o’clock Dr. Meigs came in, and was shown at once into Mr. Williams’s private office. A few minutes later a clerk said to the secretary:
“Mr. Williams wishes to see you, sir.”
Mr. Jordan glanced at the clock, and then at his bundle, and hesitated. But a moment’s thought served for him to decide how to act, and with a sullen frown upon his brow he arose and entered the private office.
“Sit down,” said Mr. Williams, pointing to a chair that faced both his own and the one in which the doctor was seated.
Mr. Jordan obeyed.
“I want to tell you a story,” said his employer, gravely; “and I wish you to listen to it carefully and without interruption.”
The man flushed, but answered nothing.
“About eleven years ago,” began Mr. Williams, “two men lived in Bingham who were friends. One was a clerk in a bank, the other was a steel manufacturer who was experimenting to find a better way to make his product. He did, indeed, discover a new and valuable process, but at a time when his fortunes were at a low ebb, and all his resources, save a few hundred dollars, had been exhausted. Being unable to form a company in America to manufacture his steel under the new process he decided to go to Birmingham, England, where he thought he would have a better opportunity to interest capitalists. He divided his remaining money into two parts, taking half with him and leaving the remainder with his friend to be applied for the use of his wife and three children until he could send for them to join him, or return himself to support them. This man, whom he thought he could trust, promised faithfully to care for his friend’s family as if they were his own.”
Mr. Jordan was now regarding the narrator with interest, but there was an amused and slightly scornful smile upon his thin lips.
“The inventor – let us call him John Carden – sailed on a White Star steamer to England,” resumed Mr. Williams; “but that fact was known only to his friend, who did not advertise it. Instead, he watched the newspapers, and when he saw that a sailing vessel, the Pleiades, which left New York about the same time that Carden did, had foundered at sea and gone down with all hands on board, he went to the wife of his friend with well-assumed horror and told her that her husband had been upon this sailing ship, and was now dead. He even showed a letter in her husband’s handwriting, carefully forged, stating that he had arranged to sail on the Pleiades from motives of economy. And here was a newspaper report of the vessel’s loss. A very pretty plot to get rid of John Carden, and it succeeded perfectly. Not only was all Bingham soon aware that Carden was lost at sea, but slanderous stories were circulated that he had run away to escape his creditors, and also that he owned his false friend, Ezra Jordan, ten thousand dollars, which he had borrowed to carry on his experiments – a story which Mr. Jordan himself confirmed with hypocritical sighs.”
“Sir, you are insulting!” cried Jordan, springing to his feet with a livid face. “I will hear no more of this lying tale.”
“Sit down!” was the stern command. “You must hear it either from me or in a court of justice – perhaps both, before we are done.”
Mr. Jordan sat down.
“I am not sure that you realize the full horror of this abominable crime,” resumed Mr. Williams. “It transformed a bright and happy woman – happy – despite their impending poverty – in her husband’s love, into a brokenhearted, crushed and desolate widow, whose only incentive to drag her weary way through life was the necessity of caring for her fatherless little ones. It was worse than murder, sir, for it prolonged for years the suffering of a human heart.”
For a moment he paused, and in the stillness that ensued the doctor could be heard muttering dreadful words, as if to himself. Indeed, he could not trust himself to look at Mr. Jordan, who sat as motionless as if turned to stone.
“Before Carden went away,” continued Mr. Williams, suddenly arousing himself and speaking in a sharp, clear tone, “he left in a sealed envelope an exact description of his secret process for making steel, and gave it into his friend’s keeping with instructions that it must not be opened unless he met with sudden death. In that case Jordan was to lease or sell the process for the benefit of Carden’s family.”
“It’s a lie,” said Jordan, sullenly. “He transferred the right to me. You have seen the paper.”
“A mere forgery,” declared Mr. Williams. “Long before I came to Bingham, to find the man who could make such wonderful steel, you had opened the sealed envelope and prepared the forged transfer of all rights to yourself. I was very fully deceived, at that time; and although you exacted from me excessive royalties for the use of the process, I made a contract with you in good faith and built this establishment.”
“Well, you have made a fortune out of it,” retorted Jordan, savagely. “Why are you now hounding me, who gave you the opportunity to make millions?”
“Because you are an unprincipled scoundrel, sir! Because you have never been entitled to one dollar of the money I have paid you. The money belonged to the family of John Carden, or to John Carden himself.”
“The Carden family has not suffered,” answered the man, moving uneasily in his seat. “I’ve boarded with them, and always helped support them.”
The doctor uttered an exclamation that was like a roar, and clinching his fists half started to rise from his chair. But Mr. Williams restrained him with a look, and motioned him to have patience.
“Let us continue the story,” he said, “for its appalling details are not half told. With John Carden well out of the way it was necessary he should not return to life to confound his destroyer. This required all of Jordan’s ingenuity. For Carden not only wrote to him, when he had arrived in England, but he also wrote to his wife, and Jordan had to watch the mails carefully in order to intercept these letters. If one had reached Mrs. Carden the conspiracy would have been foiled. It was a bold game, and I marvel even now that it succeeded. Carden found friends in Birmingham almost at once, who saw the value of his process and were eager to promote the manufacture of the new steel. The Atlas Steel Company was formed, with Carden a large stock-holder, and soon he had sufficient means to send for his wife and family. I am almost sure that Jordan forged letters from Mrs. Carden to her husband about that time, purporting to be answers to those she received, for in no other way could his suspicions have been lulled. But the proofs of this are missing. I know, however, that when Carden forwarded to Jordan the money to enable his family to proceed to England, that Jordan kept the money for his own uses, making various excuses to his friend to account for the delay of the family in starting.
“His object in this was to work upon the husband the same horrible plot that had succeeded in ruining the life of the wife. He was watching the newspapers again.”
Jordan listened with his bald head thrust eagerly forward. His face was white and terrified.
“After several months the opportunity came, for the devil seems to favor his servants at times. The Italian steamer Victor Chalfante went down in mid-ocean, in a terrible storm, and Jordan, on receipt of the news, cabled John Carden that his family was on board.
“We may well imagine the agony of the unhappy husband and father when he learned that his wife and children had been so suddenly swept into eternity. Indeed, he wrote one pitiful letter to his old friend that would surely bring tears to the eyes of any honest man. It is here,” touching a bundle of papers with a gesture almost tender. “But Jordan – Jordan the fiend, the worse than murderer – only chuckled gleefully at the success of his plot. John Carden would never return to America now, and Mrs. Carden would never be able to tell her husband of the new steel mills that had been started in Bingham. Jordan was triumphant, and began to accumulate the fortune which he had so cleverly arranged to steal from his friend.
“He made two mistakes, however. One was that he forget that there is an Almighty God watching over us all. The other was that he foolishly intrusted all the incriminating papers in his conspiracy to a hollow in an oak tree.”
“It’s false!” shouted Jordan, now fully beside himself and rising to shake an impotent and trembling fist in Mr. Williams’s face. “It’s false, and I can prove it. John Carden is dead, and the money is all mine! John Carden is dead, and – ”
“John Carden is alive!” cried a clear voice, as the door burst open to admit the speaker. And then John Carden himself strode into the room, followed by his son Will.
“Hurrah!” shouted the doctor, and springing to his feet he dashed at his old friend and actually embraced him in the exuberance of his joy. Chester D. Williams had never seen John Carden before; but the men were not strangers, for all that, since Will had told his father all the details of the great manufacturer’s history, and never wearied singing his praises. So in a moment the two men had clasped hands, the beginning of a friendship long to continue.
Jordan, shrinking back against the wall in abject terror at this denouement, made a stealthy effort to escape through the open door, but was halted by the burly form of the commercial traveller in the checked suit, who suddenly occupied the doorway.
“Beg pardon, sir, but there’s no hurry,” said the fellow, with a grin. “Better stay and see the fun. It’s going to be hot in a minute.”
Then he retreated and closed the door behind him, and Jordan turned to confront the blazing eyes and sternly set features of the man he had so bitterly wronged.
WILL’S BEST GIRL
Man’s justice is helpless to punish adequately such crimes as Ezra Jordan had been guilty of, and John Carden was so grateful for the final restoration of his beloved wife and children that he was not disposed to prosecute legally the false friend who had been responsible for his years of anguish.
“Let us leave this criminal to a Judgment surer and mightier than ours,” he said, and the others acquiesced in his decision.
But in the stormy interview that followed Mr. Williams stipulated that Jordan, as a price of his personal freedom, should refund to John Carden every penny of that vast sum of money of which he had so treacherously defrauded him, and although it was worse than death to the miser to disgorge his ill-gotten gains, he was forced to agree to the proposition.
This being settled, Will was called upon for explanation, and related the strange story of his finding his father in London. Mr. Carden followed with a brief outline of his successful career in Birmingham, where his wonderful process had made for him a great fortune and a respected name.
The conference being now ended, Will and his father hurried away to meet the mother and wife, who was as yet ignorant of the glad surprise awaiting her. For father and son had gone straight to the office of the steel works from the station, delaying only long enough to place Mrs. Williams in the carriage that had been sent to whirl her home to the waiting arms of her eager children.
As for Mr. Jordan, he was turned over to the mercies of the commercial traveller and the little detective in plain clothes, who would see he did not escape until he had fulfilled his obligation of refunding his fortune to John Carden.
When Will and his father neared the cottage the boy went on ahead to prepare his mother for the great surprise, and after she had clasped him in her arms and hugged the boy to her heart’s content, (with Flo dancing merrily around and Egbert smiling his pleasure at his brother’s return,) he said to her earnestly:
“Mother, Mr. Jordan has been discovered to be a very wicked man.”
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” she exclaimed; “what has he done?”
“Why, he’s robbed father, for one thing, by stealing his secret and selling it; and besides he tried to make us all believe father was dead.”
She gave a sudden cry, at this, and clasped her hands above her heart. Then, reading his face with questioning eyes, she managed to say:
“Speak, Will! What do you mean?”
“Why, father wasn’t lost at sea at all. He’s been in Birmingham all this time.”
She swayed for an instant, as if about to fall. Then, drawing herself tense, she said:
“If this is true, why did he never write to us? Why has he been silent so long?”
“Because Mr. Jordan made him believe we were dead, too, and poor father has been mourning for us all these years.”
“I – I don’t understand,” she murmured, brokenly. “How do you know all this, my son?”
“Father told me. I met him in London, and he came back with me.”ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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