Ben Stone at Oakdaleñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
Ben managed huskily to murmur that he was glad to meet Mr. Eliot.
From the adjoining room a woman’s low, pleasant voice called:
“Why don’t you bring him in? Have you forgotten me?”
“No, mother,” answered Roger, taking Ben’s cap from his hand and hanging it on the hall tree.
“No, indeed!” declared Mr. Eliot, as he led the boy into a handsome room, where there were long shelves of books, and great comfortable leather-covered chairs, and costly Turkish rugs on the hardwood floor, with a wood fire burning cheerfully in an open fireplace, and a frail, sweet-faced woman sitting amid piled-up cushions in an invalid’s chair near a table, on which stood a shaded lamp and lay many books and magazines. “Here he is, mother.”
“Yes, here he is, mother,” said Roger, smiling that rare, slow smile of his, which illumined his face and made it seem peculiarly attractive and generous; “but I’m sure I’d never made a success of it in bringing him if I had told him what I wanted in the first place.”
“My dear boy,” said Mrs. Eliot, taking Ben’s hand in both her own thin hands, “mere words are quite incapable of expressing my feelings, but I wish I might somehow make you know how deeply grateful I am to you for your noble and heroic action in saving my helpless little girl from those cruel dogs.”
At the sound of her voice Ben was moved, and the touch of her hands thrilled him. Her tender, patient eyes gazed deep into his, and that look alone was a thousand times more expressive of her gratitude than all the words in the language, though chosen by a master speaker. He thought of his own kind, long-suffering mother, now at rest, and there was a mist in his eyes.
“Believe me,” he managed to say, “I didn’t do it for thanks, and I – ”
“I am sure you didn’t,” she interrupted. “You did it just because it was the most natural thing for a brave boy like you to do.”
It was quite astonishing to him to have any one regard him as brave and noble, for all his life until now everybody had seemed to look on him as something quite the opposite; and, in spite of what he had done, he could not help thinking he did not deserve to be treated so kindly and shown so much gratitude.
“Sit down, Stone, old man,” invited Roger, pushing up a chair.
“Yes, sit down,” urged Mrs. Eliot. “I want to talk with you.”
In a short time she made him feel quite at ease, which also seemed surprising when he thought of it; for to him, accustomed to poverty all his life, that library was like a room in a palace. And these people were such as circumstances and experience had led him to believe would feel themselves in every way his superiors, yet they had apparently received him as their equal and made no show of holding themselves far above him.
Urian Eliot, who stood on the hearth-rug, with his back to the fire and his hands behind him, joined freely in the conversation, and Ben could not help wondering if this was really the rich mill-owner whom the greater number of the people of Oakdale regarded with an air of awe.
He was very free and easy and plain-spoken, yet he had the reputation of being a hard business man, close-fisted to the point of penuriousness in all his dealings.
Amy came and stood close beside Ben, while Roger sat on the broad arm of a chair, gravely satisfied in his demeanor.
They talked of many things, and there was no suggestion of idle curiosity on the part of Mrs. Eliot when she questioned the visitor about himself.
Ben told of his home with Jacob Baldwin, an unsuccessful farmer, who lived some ten miles from Oakdale, explaining how he had done his best to carry on the little farm while Mr. Baldwin was down with rheumatism, how he had planned and saved to get money to attend school, and how he had finally set by a small sum that he believed was sufficient to carry him through a term at the academy by strict economy.
Listening to this, Urian Eliot nodded repeatedly and rubbed his square hands behind his broad back with an atmosphere of satisfaction. When the boy had finished, Mr. Eliot surprised him by saying:
“That’s the right sort of stuff – it’s the kind that real men are made of. I like it. I was a poor boy myself, and I had a pretty hard time of it cutting cordwood and hoop-poles in winter and working wherever I could earn a dollar in summer; but I stuck to it, and I managed to pull through all right. You stick to it, my boy, and you’ll win. I admire your grit.”
Such complimentary words from a man like Urian Eliot meant a great deal, and they sent a glow over Ben. For the time he forgot the cloud hanging over him, forgot Bernard Hayden and the blighting past, forgot that he was an outcast who could never again cross the threshold of Oakdale academy save to face disgrace and expulsion.
Finally dinner was announced, and Roger carefully wheeled his mother in her chair from the library to the dining room, while Urian Eliot followed, offering advice and calling to Ben to come.
Amy’s little hand stole into Ben’s, and she pressed close to his side, looking up at him.
“I’m going to sit by you,” she said. “I like you, Ben. I think you’re just the best and bravest fellow in the world – except Roger,” she finished, as an afterthought.
It was a happy hour for Ben.
That dinner was one never forgotten by Ben. The softly, yet brightly, lighted table, with its spotless napery, shining silver, fine china and vase of flowers, caused him to feel suddenly overcome as he thought of his own poor, plain clothes and natural awkwardness. On the sideboard facets of cut glass sparkled and gleamed with many diamond colors. Above the wainscoting a few tasty pictures hung on the dark red walls.
Never before had the boy dined in such a room and at such a table, and the fear that he might do some awkward thing to make him blush with shame was painful upon him. By resolving to watch the others and follow their example he got along very well, and by the time the second course had disappeared their pleasant chatting and perfect freedom had loosened the strain so that he was once more somewhat at ease.
If he was awkward with his fork, no one noticed it, and finally he quite forgot his embarrassment in the realization of the, to him, remarkable fact that he was among friends, none of whom were seeking to discover his shortcomings that they might laugh over them and ridicule him behind his back.
Without an apparent effort to induce him, Ben was led to join in the conversation. He observed that Roger was very tender and considerate toward his mother, and he did not fail to note the glances of love and admiration which the invalid bestowed upon her stalwart son.
Little Amy was light-hearted and happy as she sat near the visitor and talked to him in her artless way, while Urian Eliot appeared to be one of those rare men who leave all their uncompromising grimness and stiff business manners out of doors when they enter their own homes.
When the dinner was finished they lingered a little over the coffee, all seeming keenly to enjoy this time of relaxation and pleasant converse. Turning to his son, Mr. Eliot asked:
“How are you coming on with your subscription scheme to raise funds to hire a football coach for your team, Roger?”
“Pretty well,” was the answer. “But I must have twenty-five dollars more, at least. I think we have the material to make a good team this year, but it takes a coach who knows his business to get the very best result out of an eleven on which there is bound to be several absolutely green players. Wyndham means to beat us again this year, and we understand she has a Harvard man as a coach.”
“I suppose you’ve got your eye on a good man you can secure for that business?”
“Yes; Dash Winton, of Dartmouth. He is one of the finest full-backs in the country, and was chosen last year for the All-American Eleven, picked from the leading colleges. Winton is the very man for us.”
“Are you sure you can get him?” inquired Mr. Eliot.
Roger nodded. “I’ve taken care of that. I have corresponded with him, and I can have him here two days after I raise the money.”
“Well,” said Mr. Eliot, rising, “go ahead and raise all you can. When you can’t get any more, come to me and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
“Thank you, father!” exclaimed Roger.
When they had returned to the library Roger asked Ben to come to his room, and Stone followed up the broad stairs.
Roger’s room, like the rest of the house, was a wonder to Ben. In its alcove the white bed was partly hidden by porti?res. The rich carpet on the floor was soft and yielding to the feet. On a table were more magazines and books, part of a jointed fishing-rod, and a reel over which Roger had been puttering, as it did not run with the noiseless freedom that was necessary fully to please him. The pictures on the walls were such as might be selected by an athletic, sport-loving boy. Supported on hooks, there was also a rifle, while crossed foils adorned the opposite wall. In a corner was a tennis racket, and Ben observed dumb-bells in pairs of various sizes.
“Take the big chair, Stone,” urged Roger. “You’ll find it rather comfortable, I think. I like it to lounge in when I’m reading or studying.”
Ben found himself wondering that this fellow who had so many things – apparently all a boy’s heart could desire – should be so free-and-easy and should mingle every day without the least air of priggishness or superiority with other lads in much humbler circumstances.
This view of Roger’s domestic life, this glimpse of his home and its seeming luxuries, together with a knowledge of his unassuming ways, led Stone’s respect and admiration for him to increase boundlessly.
“Do you box, Stone?” asked Roger, as he removed from another chair a set of boxing gloves and tossed them aside before sitting down. “I suppose you do?”
“No,” answered Ben, shaking his head; “I know nothing about it.”
“So? Why, it’s a good thing for a fellow to know how to handle the mitts. I thought likely you did when they told me how you biffed Hunk Rollins. Rollins is a scrapper, you know, although it is a fact that he usually picks his fights with smaller chaps.”
“I hate fighting!” Stone exclaimed, with almost startling vehemence; and Roger noted that, as he uttered the words, he lifted his hand with a seemingly unconscious motion to his mutilated ear.
“But a fellow has to fight sometimes, old man. You gave Rollins what he deserved, and it may teach him a lesson. By the way, Stone, I asked you out for practice yesterday, and something happened that caused you to leave the field. I am sorry now that I let you go, and I want you to come out to-morrow with the rest of the fellows. You ought to make a good man for the team, and we’re going to need every good man this year.”
Ben managed to hide his emotions, but Roger fancied there was a set expression on his face and a queer stare in his eyes. Thinking it probable Stone resented the treatment he had met on the field and the attitude of the boys on hearing Hayden’s accusation, the captain of the eleven hastened to add:
“I hope you’re not holding anything against me. I didn’t know just how to take it when Hayden came at you that way. He’s rather popular here, you know, and there’s a chance that he’ll be captain of the team next year. I’ll be out of the school then; I’m going to college. Don’t you mind Hayden or anything he says; I’m captain of the team now, and I’ve asked you to practice with us. You will, won’t you?”
There followed a few moments of silence, during which Ben was getting full command of himself. The silence was finally broken when he quietly said:
“I can’t do it, Eliot.”
“Can’t?” exclaimed Roger, sitting bolt upright in astonishment. “Why not?”
“Because I shall not be at school to-morrow.” Then, before Roger could ask another question, Ben hurried on, apparently anxious to have it quickly over and done with. “I thank you for again inviting me out for practice, and I want you to know that I appreciate it; but I can’t come, because I have left the school for good.”
This astonished Roger more than ever.
“Left school for good?” he echoed. “You don’t mean that, Stone.”
“Yes I do,” declared Ben, almost doggedly.
“Left school? Why have you left school?”
“Because I am compelled to,” explained the questioned lad, still resolutely keeping his emotion in check. “I can’t help it; I am forced out of school.”
Eliot rose to his feet.
“What’s all this about?” he asked. “You didn’t come to school this afternoon. Was it because Prof. Richardson caught you thumping Rollins when the fellow was bullyragging that lame kid? Is that it, Stone?”
“That had something to do with it; but that’s only a small part of the cause. That convinced the professor that I am all that’s low and mean and vicious, just as Bernard Hayden’s father told him. Hayden is behind it, Eliot; he is determined that I shall not attend school here, and he’ll have his way. What can I do against Bern Hayden and his father? I am alone and without influence or friends; they are set against me, and Lemuel Hayden is powerful.”
Although the boy still spoke with a sort of grim calmness, Roger fancied he detected in his forced repression the cry of a desperate, despairing heart. With a stride, he placed his hands on Ben’s shoulders.
“Look here, Stone,” he said urgingly, with an air of sincere friendliness, “take me into your confidence and tell me what is the trouble between you and Bern Hayden. Perhaps I can help you some way, and it won’t do any harm for you to trust me. You saved my little sister from old Fletcher’s dogs, and I want to do something for you. I want to be your friend.”
Ben could not doubt the honest candor of his companion, but he shrunk from unbosoming himself, dreading to narrate the unpleasant story of the events which had made both Bern Hayden and his father his uncompromising enemies and had forced him to flee like a criminal from his native village in order to escape being sent to the State Reformatory.
“Trust me, Stone,” pleaded Roger. “I don’t believe you’ll ever regret it.”
“All right!” exclaimed Ben suddenly; “I will – I’ll tell you everything.”
“That’s right,” cried Roger, with satisfaction, resuming his seat. “Tell me the whole business. Fire away, old man.”
As Ben seemed hesitating over the beginning of the story, Roger observed that, with an apparently unconscious movement, he once more lifted his hand to his mutilated ear. At that moment Eliot was struck with the conviction that the story he was about to hear was concerned with the injury to that ear.
“At the very start,” said Ben, an uncomfortable look on his plain face, “I have to confess that my father was always what is called a shiftless man. He was more of a dreamer than a doer, and, instead of trying to accomplish things, he spent far too much time in meditating on what he might accomplish. He dreamed a great deal of inventing something that would make his fortune, and this led him to declare frequently that some day he would make a lot of money. He was not a bad man, but he was careless and neglectful, a poor planner and a poor provider. The neighbors called him lazy and held him in considerable contempt.
“Although we were very poor, my father was determined that I should have an education, and I attended the public school in Hilton, where we lived. I know I’m not handsome, Eliot, and could never be much of a favorite; but the fact that we lived in such humble circumstances and that my father seemed so worthless caused the boys who dared do so to treat me with disdain. Naturally I have a violent temper, and when it gets the best of me I am always half crazy with rage. I always was pretty strong, and I made it hot for most of the boys who dared taunt me about my father or call me names. It seems to me now that I was almost always fighting in those times. I hated the other boys and despised them in a way as much as they despised me.
“My only boy friend and confidant was my little blind brother, Jerry, whose sight was almost totally destroyed by falling from a window when he was only four years old. Although I always wished for a boy chum near my own age, I never had one; and I think perhaps this made me all the more devoted to Jerry, who, I am sure, loved me as much as I did him.
“Jerry’s one great pleasure was in fiddling. Father had a violin, and without any instructions at all Jerry learned to play on it. It was wonderful how quickly he could pick up a tune. I used to tell him he would surely become a great violinist some day.
“Of course my temper and frequent resentment over the behavior of other boys toward me got me into lots of trouble at school. Once I was suspended, and a dozen times I was threatened with expulsion. But I kept right on, and after a while it got so that even the older and bigger boys didn’t care much about stirring me up. If they didn’t respect me, some of them were afraid of me.
“There was a certain old woman in the village who disliked me, and she was always saying I would kill somebody some day and be hanged for it. Don’t think I’m boasting of this, Eliot, for I’m not; I am heartily ashamed of it. I tell it so you may understand what led me into the affair with Bernard Hayden and made him and his father my bitter enemies.
“I suppose it was because I was strong and such a fighter that the boys gave me a chance on the school football team. Hayden opposed it, but I got on just the same. He always was a proud fellow, and I think he considered it a disgrace to play on the team with me. But I was determined to show the boys I could play, and I succeeded fairly well. This changed the bearing of some of them toward me, and I was beginning to get along pretty well at school when something happened that drove me, through no fault of my own, in shame and disgrace from the school and cast a terrible shadow on my life.”
Here Stone paused, shading his eyes with his square, strong hand, and seemed to shrink from the task of continuing. Roger opened his lips to speak a word of encouragement, but suddenly decided that silence was best and waited for the other lad to resume.
“For some time,” Ben finally went on, “my father had been working much in secret in a garret room of our house. Whenever anything was said to him about this he always declared he was working out an invention that would enable him to make lots of money. I remember that, for all of our great poverty, he was in the best of spirits those days and often declared we’d soon be rich.
“There was in the village one man, Nathan Driggs, with whom father had always been on intimate terms. Driggs kept a little shop where he did watch and clock repairing, and he was noted for his skill as an engraver. Driggs was also rather poor, and it was often remarked that a man of his ability should be better situated and more successful.
“One dark night, near one o’clock in the morning, I was aroused by hearing someone knocking at our door. My father went to the door, and, with my wonder and curiosity aroused, I listened at an upper window that was open. The man at the door talked with my father in low tones, and I fancied he was both excited and alarmed.
“I could not hear much that passed between them, but I believed I recognized the voice of Driggs, and I was sure I heard him say something about ‘friendship’ and ’hiding it somewhere.’ When the man had gone I heard father climb the stairs to the attic. I wondered over it a long time before I fell asleep again.
“The following day my father was arrested and the house was searched. Concealed in the attic they discovered a bundle, or package, and this contained dies for the making of counterfeit money. In vain father protested his innocence. Appearances were against him, and every one seemed to believe him guilty. On learning what the bundle contained, he immediately told how it came into his possession, stating it had been brought to him in the night by Nathan Driggs.
“Driggs was likewise arrested, but he contradicted my father’s statement and positively denied all knowledge of the bundle or its contents. Several members of an organized body of counterfeiters had been captured, but these men did not manufacture their dies, and the Secret Service agents had traced the latter to Fairfield.
“Both father and Driggs were held for trial in heavy bonds. Neither of them was able to find bondsmen, and so they went to jail. There were those in Hilton who fancied Driggs might be innocent, but everybody seemed to believe my father guilty. It was the talk of the town how he had shut himself in his garret day after day in a most suspicious manner and had often boasted that some day he would ’make a lot of money.’
“At the regular trial I was a witness. I told how Driggs had come to our house in the night, and I repeated the few words I had heard him say. The prosecutor did his best to confuse me, and when he failed he sarcastically complimented me on having learned my lesson well. You can’t understand how I felt when I saw no one believed me.ñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
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