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Title: Annabel - A Novel for Young Folks
Author: Baum, L. Frank (Lyman Frank)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Annabel - A Novel for Young Folks" ***

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HathiTrust Digital Library.)



  [Illustration: “What’s this I hear about your going to
                 college?”      Page 230.]



  ANNABEL

  A Novel for
  Young Folks

  By
  SUZANNE METCALF

  [Illustration]

  CHICAGO
  THE REILLY & BRITTON CO.
  PUBLISHERS



  COPYRIGHT, 1906,
  BY
  THE REILLY & BRITTON CO.



LIST OF CHAPTERS.


  CHAPTER                               PAGE

      I WILL MEETS WITH A REBUKE           9

     II THE DOCTOR TELLS THE TRUTH        24

    III MR. JORDAN BECOMES MYSTERIOUS     38

     IV MEIGS, MUSHROOMS AND MONEY        53

      V WILL BECOMES A HERO               69

     VI A BOY AND A MILLIONAIRE           88

    VII AN AFTERNOON CALL                100

   VIII THE DAWN OF PROSPERITY           111

     IX MYSTERIES AND SUSPICIONS         121

      X BAITING THE TRAP                 136

     XI ON THE WRONG TRAIL               145

    XII THE “SPECIAL MESSENGER”          155

   XIII MY LADY IS GRACIOUS              166

    XIV A DINNER IN A DRESS SUIT         176

     XV ANNABEL MAKES A DISCOVERY        188

    XVI MR. WILLIAMS DECIDES TO ACT      199

   XVII MR. JORDAN HEARS A STORY         206

  XVIII WILL’S BEST GIRL                 222



ILLUSTRATIONS BY H. PUTNAM HALL


  “What’s this I hear about your going to College?”
                                            _Frontispiece_

  Mr. Jordan passed one hand swiftly up and down
    the shaggy bark of the tree                        48

  The rescue of Annabel by Will Carden                 74

  Will came every morning cross lots to meet her      108

  Four months had done much to change Annabel         130

  Trembling violently, he stared at the man pointed
    out as John Carden                                186



CHAPTER I.

WILL MEETS WITH A REBUKE.


“Here are your vegetables, Nora,” said Will Carden, as he scraped his
feet upon the mat before the kitchen door of the “big house.”

“Come in, Masther Willyum,” called the cook, in her cheery voice.

So the boy obeyed the summons and pushed open the screen door, setting
his basket upon the white table at Nora’s side.

“Oo, misery! but them pays is illegant,” she said, breaking open a
green pod and eating the fresh, delicious contents. “Why, Masther
Willyum, the bloom is on ’em yet.”

“I picked them myself, Nora,” the boy answered, with a pleased laugh,
“and only a little while ago, at that. And you’ll find the tomatoes and
the celery just as nice, I’m sure.”

“They can’t be bate,” responded the cook, emptying the basket and
handing it to him. “Sure, I don’t know whatever we’d do widout yez to
bring us the grans stuff, Masther Willyum.”

“I wish,” said he, hesitatingly, “you wouldn’t call me ‘master,’ Nora.
Call me Will, as everyone else does. I’m not old enough to have a
handle to my name, and I’m not much account in the world,--yet.”

Nora’s round, good natured face turned grave, and she looked at the boy
with a thoughtful air.

“I used to know the Cardens,” she said, “when they didn’t have to raise
vegetables to earn a living.”

Will flushed, and his eyes fell.

“Never mind that, Nora,” he answered, gently. “We’ve got to judge
people by what they are, not by what they have been. Good bye!” and
he caught up his basket and hastily retreated, taking care, however,
to close the screen door properly behind him, for he knew the cook’s
horror of flies.

“Poor boy!” sighed Nora, as she resumed her work. “It ain’t his fault,
at all at all, that the Cardens has come down in the wurruld. But down
they is purty close to the bottom, an’ it ain’t loikly as they’ll pick
up ag’in in a hurry.”

Meantime the vegetable boy, whistling softly to himself, passed along
the walk that led from the back of the big house past the stables and
so on to the gate opening into the lane. The grounds of the Williams
mansion were spacious and well kept, the lawns being like velvet and
the flower beds filled with artistic clusters of rare blooming plants.
A broad macadamed driveway, edged with curbs of dressed stone, curved
gracefully from the carriage porch to the stables, crossing the lawn
like a huge scroll.

At one side of this a group of children played upon the grass--two
boys and three girls--while the nurse who was supposed to have charge
of the smallest girl, as yet scarcely more than a baby, sat upon a
comfortable bench engaged in reading a book.

As Will passed, one of the little girls lay flat upon the ground,
sobbing most dismally, her golden head resting upon her outstretched
arms. The boy hesitated an instant, and then put down his basket
and crossed the lawn to where the child lay, all neglected by her
companions.

“What’s wrong, Gladie?” he asked, sitting on the grass beside her.

“Oh, Will,” she answered, turning to him a tear-stained face, “m--my
d--d--dolly’s all bwoke, an’ Ted says she’ll h--h--have t’ go to a
h--h--hospital, an’ Ma’Weeze an’ Wedgy says they’ll m--m--make a
f--fun’ral an’ put dolly in the c--cold gwound, an’ make her dead!” and
the full horror of the recital flooding her sensitive little heart,
Gladys burst into a new flood of tears.

Will laughed.

“Don’t you worry about it, Gladie,” he said, in a comforting tone.
“We’ll fix dolly all right, in less than a jiffy. Where is she, and
where’s she broke?”

Hope crept into the little face, begot of a rare confidence in the big
boy beside her. Gladys rolled over upon the grass, uncovering a French
doll of the jointed variety, dressed in very elaborate but soiled and
bedraggled clothes and having a grimy face and a mass of tangled hair.
It must have been a pretty toy when new, but the doll had never won
Gladys’ whole heart so long as it remained immaculate and respectable.
In its present disreputable condition it had become her dearest
treasure, and when she handed the toy to Will Carden and showed him
where one leg was missing from the knee down, a fresh outburst of grief
convulsed her.

“Her l--leg is all b--bwoke!” she cried.

“That’s bad,” said Will, examining the doll carefully. “But we’ll
play I’m the doctor, come to make her well. Where’s the other piece,
Gladie?”

The child hastily searched for her pocket, from which, when at last the
opening was found, she drew forth the severed leg. By this time the
other children had discovered Will’s presence and with a wild whoop of
greeting they raced to his side and squatted around him on the lawn,
curiously watching to see how he would mend the doll. Theodore was
about Will’s own age, but much shorter and inclined to stoutness. His
face habitually wore a serious expression and he was very quiet and
stolid of demeanor. Reginald, the other boy, was only nine, but his
nature was so reckless and mischievous that he was the life of the
whole family and his mother could always tell where the children were
playing by listening for the sound of Reginald’s shrill and merry voice.

Mary Louise was fourteen--a dark haired, blue eyed maiden whose sweet
face caused strangers to look more than once as she passed them by.
To be sure she was very slender--so slight of frame that Reginald had
named her “Skinny” as a mark of his brotherly affection; but the girl
was so dainty in her ways and so graceful in every movement that it was
a wonder even her careless younger brother should not have recognized
the fact that her “skinny” form was a promise of great beauty in the
years to come.

Then there was Annabel, the “odd one” of the Williams family, with a
round, freckled face, a pug nose, tawny red hair and a wide mouth that
was always smiling. Annabel was twelve, the favored comrade of her
brothers and sisters, the despair of her lady mother because of her
ugliness of feature, and the pet of Nora, the cook, because she was
what that shrewd domestic considered “the right stuff.” Annabel, in
spite of her bright and joyous nature, was shy with strangers, and at
times appeared almost as reserved as her brother Theodore, which often
led to her being misunderstood. But Will Carden was no stranger to the
Williams children, being indeed a school-mate, and as they flocked
around him this bright Saturday morning they showered questions and
greetings upon their friend in a somewhat bewildering manner.

The boy had only one thought in mind, just then: to comfort little
Gladys by making her dolly “as good as new.” So whistling softly, in
his accustomed fashion, he drew out his pocket knife and began fishing
in the hole of the doll’s leg for the elastic cord that had parted and
allowed her lower joint to fall off. Gladys watched this operation
with wide, staring eyes; the others with more moderate interest; and
presently Will caught the end of the cord, drew it out, and made a big
knot in the end so it could not snap back again and disappear. Then,
in the severed portion, he found the other end of the broken elastic,
and when these two ends had been firmly knotted together the joints
of the leg snapped firmly into place and the successful operation was
completed.

“Hooray!” yelled Reginald, “it’s all right now, Gladie. We’ll postpone
the funeral till another smash-up.”

The little one’s face was wreathed with smiles. She hugged the restored
doll fondly to her bosom and wiped away the last tears that lingered
on her cheeks. The callous nurse looked over at the group, yawned, and
resumed her reading.

“Can you make a kite fly, Will?” asked Theodore, in his quiet tones.

“Don’t know, Ted,” replied Will. “What seems wrong with the thing?”

At once they all moved over to the center of the lawn, where a big kite
lay with tangled cord and frazzled tail face downward upon the grass.

“It keeps ducking, and won’t go up,” explained Reginald, eagerly.

“The tail seems too long,” said Mary Louise.

“Or else the cord isn’t fastened in the right place,” added Theodore.
“We’ve been working at it all morning; but it won’t fly.”

“Guess it’s a ground-kite,” remarked Annabel, demurely. “It slides on
the grass all right.”

Will gave it a careful examination.

“Looks to me as if the brace-strings were wrong,” said he, resuming his
low whistle, which was an indication that he was much interested in the
problem. “They don’t balance the kite right, you see. There, that’s
better,” he continued, after changing the position of the cords; “let’s
try it now. I’ll hold it, Ted, and you run.”

Theodore at once took the cord, which Will had swiftly untangled
and rolled into a ball, and stood prepared to run when the kite was
released. Next moment he was off, and the kite, now properly balanced,
rose gracefully into the air and pulled strong against the cord, which
Theodore paid out until the big kite was so high and distant that it
looked no bigger than your hand.

Ted could manage the kite now while standing still, and the other
children all rushed to his side, with their eyes fastened upon the red
speck in the sky.

“Thank you, Will,” said Theodore.

“That’s all right,” answered Will, indifferently; “all it needed was a
little fixing. You could have done it yourself, if you’d only thought
about it. How’s the sick kitten, Annabel?”

“Fine,” said the girl. “The medicine you gave me made it well right
away.”

“Oho!” cried Reginald, joyfully, “he gave Annabel medicine to cure a
sick kitten!”

“I’ll give you some for a sick puppy, Reggie,” said Will, grinning.

The kite-flyers were now standing in a group near a large bed of roses
at the side of the house, and none of them, so intent were they upon
their sport, had noticed that Mrs. Williams had come upon the lawn
with a dainty basket and a pair of shears to gather flowers. So her
voice, close beside them, presently startled the children and moved the
inattentive nurse to spring up and hide her book.

“Isn’t that the vegetable boy?” asked the lady, in a cold tone.

Will swung around and pulled off his cap with a polite bow.

“Yes, ma’am,” said he.

“Then run away, please,” she continued, stooping to clip a rose with
her shears.

“Run away?” he repeated, not quite able to understand.

“Yes!” said she, sharply. “I don’t care to have my children play with
the vegetable boy.”

The scorn conveyed by the cold, emphatic tones brought a sudden flush
of red to Will’s cheeks and brow.

“Good bye,” he said to his companions, and marched proudly across the
lawn to where his basket lay. Nor did he pause to look back until he
had passed out of the grounds and the back gate closed behind him with
a click.

Then a wild chorus of protest arose from the children.

“Why did you do that?” demanded Theodore of his mother.

“He’s as good as we are,” objected Annabel.

“It wasn’t right to hurt his feelings,” said Mary Louise, quietly; “he
can’t help being a vegetable boy.”

“Silence, all of you!” returned Mrs. Williams, sternly. “And
understand, once for all, that I won’t have you mixing with every low
character in the town. If you haven’t any respect for yourselves you
must respect your father’s wealth and position--and me.”

There was an ominous silence for a moment. Then said little Gladys:

“Will’s a dood boy; an’ he fixted my dolly’s leg.”

“Fanny! take that rebellious child into the house this minute,”
commanded the great lady, pointing a terrible finger at her youngest
offspring.

“I don’t want to,” wailed Gladys, resisting the nurse with futile
determination.

“Oh, yes you will, dear,” said Mary Louise, softly, as she bent down to
the little one. “You must obey mamma, you know. Come,--I’ll go with
you.”

“I’ll go with Ma’-Weeze,” said the child, pouting and giving her mother
a reproachful glance as she toddled away led by her big sister, with
the nurse following close behind.

“A nice, obedient lot of children you are, I must say!” remarked Mrs.
Williams, continuing to gather the flowers. “And a credit, also, to
your station in life. I sometimes despair of bringing you up properly.”

There was a moment’s silence during which the children glanced half
fearfully at each other; then in order to relieve the embarrassment of
the situation Annabel cried:

“Come on, boys; let’s go play.”

They started at once to cross the lawn, glad to escape the presence of
their mother in her present mood.

“Understand!” called Mrs. Williams, looking after them; “if that boy
stops to play with you again I’ll have Peter put him out of the yard.”

But they paid no attention to this threat, nor made any reply; and the
poor woman sighed and turned to her flowers, thinking that she had but
done her duty.



CHAPTER II.

THE DOCTOR TELLS THE TRUTH.


Meantime Will Carden walked slowly up the lane, his basket on his arm
and his hands thrust deep into his pockets. Once out of sight of the
Williams’ grounds his proud bearing relaxed, and great tears welled in
his gray eyes. The scornful words uttered by Mrs. Williams had struck
him like a blow and crushed and humiliated him beyond measure. Yet he
could not at first realize the full meaning of his rebuff; it was only
after he found time to think, that he appreciated what she had really
meant by the words. Her children were rich, and he was poor. There was
a gulf between them, and the fine lady did not wish her children to
play with the vegetable boy. That was all; and it was simple enough, to
be sure. But it brought to Will’s heart a bitterness such as he had
never known in all his brief lifetime.

He liked the Williams boys and girls. They had always been good
comrades, and not one of them had ever hinted that there was any
difference in their positions. But of course they did not know, as
their mother did, how far beneath them was the poor “vegetable boy.”

Will glanced down at the worn and clumsy shoes upon his feet. The
leather was the same color as the earth upon the path, for he worked in
the garden with them, and couldn’t have kept them clean and polished
had he so wished. His trousers were too short; he knew that well
enough, but hadn’t cared about it until then. And they were patched in
places, too, because his mother had an old-fashioned idea that patches
were more respectable than rags, while Will knew well enough that both
were evidences of a poverty that could not be concealed. He didn’t wear
a coat in summer, but his gray shirt, although of coarse material, was
clean and above reproach, and lots of the village boys wore the same
sort of a cheap straw hat as the one perched upon his own head.

The Williams children didn’t wear such hats, though. Will tried to
think what they did wear; but he had never noticed particularly,
although it was easy to remember that the boys’ clothes were of fine
cloths and velvets, and he had heard Flo speak of the pretty puffs and
tucks in the Williams girls’ dresses. Yes, they were rich--very rich,
everyone said--and no one knew so well as Will how very poor and needy
the Cardens were. Perhaps it was quite right in Mrs. Williams not to
want her children to associate with him. But oh! how hard his rejection
was to bear.

Bingham wasn’t a very big town. Formerly it had been merely a
headquarters for the surrounding farmers, who had brought there their
grain to be shipped on the railroad and then purchased their supplies
at the stores before going back home again. But now the place was noted
for its great steel mills, where the famous Williams Drop Forge Steel
was made and shipped to all parts of the world. Three hundred workmen
were employed in the low brick buildings that stood on the edge of
the town to the north, close to the railway tracks; and most of these
workmen lived in pretty new cottages that had been built on grounds
adjoining the mills, and which were owned and rented to them by Chester
D. Williams, the sole proprietor of the steel works.

The old town, with its humble but comfortable dwellings, lay scattered
to the south of the “Main Street,” whereon in a double row stood the
“stores” of Bingham, all very prosperous because of the increased trade
the steel mills had brought to the town.

The great Williams mansion, built only a half dozen years before,
stood upon a knoll at the east end of the main street, and the natural
beauties of the well-wooded grounds had been added to by planting many
rare shrubs and beds of beautiful flowers. It was not only the show
place of Bingham but the only really handsome house in town, and the
natives looked upon it with much pride and reverence.

The cottage occupied by the Cardens stood upon the extreme south edge
of the village, and with it were two acres of excellent land, where
Will and Egbert, assisted at times by their mother and little Florence,
raised the vegetables on which their living depended. Egbert was a
deaf-mute and his right arm was shrivelled and almost useless, all
these afflictions being the result of an illness in his babyhood. But
it was surprising how much work he could do in the garden, in the way
of weeding and watering and even spading; so he was a great help to the
family and contributed much toward the general support. Egbert was two
years older than Will, who was now fifteen, and Florence--or “Flo,” as
everybody called her--was a yellow haired, sunny natured little elf of
ten.

Fortunately, the family living did not depend altogether upon the
garden; for Mr. Jordan, the secretary at the steel works and at one
time John Carden’s best friend, had boarded with the family for
eight years--ever since the day when Will’s father so mysteriously
disappeared, only to be reported dead a month later, and the family
fortunes were swept away in one breath.

Mr. Jordan occupied the best room in the cottage, and paid his board
regularly every Saturday night. He was a silent, reserved man, about
fifty years of age, who seldom spoke to Mrs. Carden and never addressed
the children. After supper his custom was to take a long walk down the
country lane, returning by a roundabout way to shut himself in his
room, whence he only emerged in time for breakfast. After that meal,
which he ate alone, he would take a little lunch basket and stalk
solemnly away to the mills, there to direct the clerical work that came
under his supervision.

Mr. Jordan was a man greatly respected, but little liked. He had no
friends, no companions whatever, and seemed to enjoy the clock-like
regularity and solitude in which he lived.

It was toward this humble home that Will Carden, after being dismissed
by Mrs. Williams, directed his steps on that bright Saturday forenoon.
He tried hard to bear up under the humiliation he had suffered; but
there was no one near to see him and for a few minutes he gave way
to the tears that would force themselves into his eyes, and let them
flow unrestrained. Yet he kept on his way, with bent head and stooping
shoulders, a very different boy from the merry, light hearted youth who
had carried the heavy basket to the big house only an hour ago.

Suddenly, to the eyes blurred with tears, a huge, dark form loomed up
in the road just ahead of him. Will hastily wiped away the unmanly
drops and tried to whistle. Someone was coming, and whoever it was must
not know he had been guilty of crying. Also he shifted his path to
the edge of the road; but the other did the same, and the boy stopped
abruptly with the knowledge that he had been purposely halted.

Then he glanced timidly up and saw a round, bearded face and two shrewd
but kindly eyes that were looking at him from beneath a slouched felt
hat.

“Hello, Doctor,” he said, letting his dismal whistle die away, and
starting to pass round the stalwart form before him.

But Dr. Meigs laid a heavy hand on the boy’s shoulder, and made him
face round again.

“What’s up, Will?”

The voice was big and full, yet gentle as it was commanding.

“Noth’n, Doctor.”

“Look here; you’re telling whoppers, young man. Lift up your head.”

Will obeyed.

“You’ve been crying.”

“Something got in my eye,” said the boy.

“To be sure. Tears. What’s it all about, Will? And, mind you, no lying!
Your father’s son should speak the truth boldly and fearlessly.”

“Why, Doctor,” was the halting answer, “it’s nothing that amounts to
shucks. I stopped a minute to fly a kite with the Williams children, up
at the big house, and Mrs. Williams came out and said she didn’t--”
There was a catch in his voice, but he quickly controlled it: “didn’t
want me to play with them. That’s all-- * * * * Well, I’ll be going,
Doctor.”

“Halt!” cried Doctor Meigs, sternly, and Will could see he was frowning
in that awful way he had when anything especially interested him.
“Stand up, William! Throw back those shoulders--chest out--that’s the
way. That’s how your father used to stand, my boy.”

“Did he?” asked Will, brightening up.

“Straight as an arrow. And looked everyone square in the eye, and spoke
the truth, as an honest man should.”

“Then why,” enquired Will, half scared at his own boldness, “did my
father run away, Doctor Meigs?”

“Run away!” roared the doctor, in a terrible voice. “Who told you that?
You’ve been listening to those lying tales of the scandal-mongers.”

“Didn’t he?” timidly asked the boy.

“Not by a jugfull!” declared the doctor, emphatically. “John Carden
would no more run away than he would do a dishonest action. And he was
true as steel.”

Will stood straight enough now, and his gray eyes glistened with
joy and pride. Whatever statement old Doctor Meigs made he believed
implicitly. The doctor had known Will since the day he was born--which
was longer than Will could remember the doctor; but there had never
been an hour of that time when the physician had not been the staunch
friend of all the Carden family, and stood by them loyally in spite of
their reverses and final poverty. He always called at least once a week
to see Egbert, whose bad arm sometimes pained him, and to have a quiet
chat with Mrs. Carden; and if either Will or Flo chanced to be ailing
the doctor was prompt with his remedies. But no bill had ever been
presented for such services.

“I wish you’d tell me about my father,” said Will, wistfully. “Mother
never says much about him, you know.”

“Her heart is broken, my boy,” murmured the doctor, laying a caressing
hand upon Will’s shoulder; “but it’s because she has lost her husband
and friend, not because she has for a moment doubted his memory. Do
you see those big buildings over there?” pointing to the distant steel
works; “well, before they were built, another and more modest building
stood in their place, where your father first discovered the secret
process that has since made Chester Williams a rich and famous man. Did
you know that? But John Carden made himself poor with his experiments,
and Mr. Jordan loaned him money to carry on the tests until your father
was deeply in his debt. There was but one way out, to go to England
and interest the great steel manufacturers of that country in the new
process, which John Carden knew to be very valuable. In order to save
money, your father sailed in a second-class ship that foundered at sea
and drowned him and all on board; and because he told only Mr. Jordan
and myself of the object of his trip abroad, the story got around that
he had run away, having failed in business, and thus cruelly deserted
his family. Jordan is a reserved man, and never talks to anybody, but
I’ve nailed the lie wherever I’ve heard it. Well, after your father’s
death it was found that he had transferred his secret process to Mr.
Jordan, in return for the money he owed him; and Jordan turned the
secret over to Williams, who has established that great factory to
produce the wonderful quality of steel your father invented. It is said
that Mr. Jordan gets a royalty on all the steel the Williams mills
turn out, and if that is so, and I have no reason to doubt it, he is
a wealthy man by this time, and is profiting a hundred-fold for the
money he loaned John Carden. So the debt is cleared, and your family
owes no man a penny. As for Jordan, I don’t like the man, myself; he’s
too silent and stealthy to suit me; but I must say he’s done the square
thing by your mother in boarding with her right along, and so helping
her to support her children.”

“It helps a lot,” said Will, thoughtfully.

“And now, my boy, you’ve got the whole story about your father, and got
it square and fair. Every time you see the Williams mills you ought to
be proud to remember that it was John Carden’s genius that made them
possible, and that has enabled Chester D. Williams to amass a fortune.
As for Mrs. Williams, who was once as poor as yourself, I believe, and
is now a bit too proud of the money her husband has made, don’t you
pay any attention to her. If she doesn’t want you to play with her
children, don’t you mind, Will. Remember that the Cardens have lived
in Bingham for three generations--long before the Williamses were
ever heard of--and there isn’t a thing in their history they need be
ashamed of. Poverty’s no crime, young man; and when you’re a little
older poverty won’t bother you, for you’ll carve out a fine fortune for
yourself, unless I’m very much mistaken.”

Will looked into the big, whiskered face with grateful eyes. Dr. Meigs
had not only comforted him, but made him proud of his family and of
himself.

“Thank you, Doctor,” he said. “I guess I’ll go, now.”

“Put out your tongue!” commanded the doctor.

Will obeyed, meekly.

“You’re right as a trivet. Run along, now, and weed that garden. And
say--take half a peck of peas over to old Mrs. Johnson. I almost forgot
about it. Here’s a quarter to pay for them. Tell her a friend sent them
around. I believe it was old Nelson, but I can’t remember now.”

Then the doctor picked up the little case in which he carried medicines
and strode away down the road, the end of his stout cane ringing on the
hard earth at every step.



CHAPTER III.

MR. JORDAN BECOMES MYSTERIOUS.


Little Flo heard Will’s merry whistle as he drew near, and gave, a
sigh of relief. It was dreary work weeding the radishes in the hot
sun, without a soul to talk to. Egbert was fixing slender poles in the
ground for the young beans to climb; but Egbert didn’t count much as
a companion, because he could neither talk nor hear, although he was
wonderfully quick to understand signs, or even a movement of the lips;
so the child was glad her brother Will had returned.

He only paused to toss his basket into the open door of the barn, and
then came straight to the radish bed.

“Working, sis?” he cried, cheerily.

“Mother said I must weed ’til noon,” she answered. “She’s baking, so
she can’t help.”

“Well, how does it go?” he asked, kneeling down to assist in the labor.

“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said, in a voice that sounded less indifferent
than the words. “Poor folks have to work, I s’pose; but Saturday ought
to be a holiday--oughtn’t it, Will?”

“Sure enough. Where do you want to go?”

“Mabel Allen’s got a new set of dishes for her birthday, and she said
if I’d come over we’d have tea. And Annabel Williams told me to stop in
and see Gladys’s doll’s new clothes.”

Will’s face hardened, and his whistle died away. He plucked at the
weeds savagely for a time, and then said:

“Look here, Flo; you run on and have tea with Mabel. I’ll ’tend to the
weedin’. But I wouldn’t go to the big house, if I were you.”

“Why not?” asked Flo, in surprise.

Will thought a minute--just long enough to restrain the angry words
that rose to his lips. Then he said:

“We’re poor, Flo, and the Williams family is rich, and they give
themselves airs. I don’t know as I blame ’em any for that; but the
Cardens are as good as the Williamses, even if we haven’t money, and I
don’t like to have them patronize us, that’s all.”

The girl looked puzzled.

“Annabel’s always been nice to me, and I like her. I like Gladys, too.
Why, Will, I thought all the Williams children were your friends!”

“So they are,” answered Will. “The children don’t put on airs, sis;
it’s Mrs. Williams that don’t like them to play with poor kids, like
us. So I wish you wouldn’t go there. When you see them in school, it’s
all right to be friendly; but they never come over here, so don’t let’s
go there.”

“All right, Will,” she answered, with a sigh for she longed to visit
the beautiful grounds and rooms at the big house. “But, do you think
you can spare me?”

“Easy,” said Will.

“But mother said--”

“I’ll fix it with mother. You run along and have a good time.”

Will did a lot of work in the garden that day, and all the time
he was thinking deeply of what he had heard from Doctor Meigs. It
never occurred to him to doubt a word of the story of his father’s
misfortunes and death.

At supper that night he cast many stealthy looks at Mr. Jordan, who sat
wholly unconscious of the scrutiny and as silent as ever. Indeed, this
peculiar gentleman was well worthy of examination, aside from the fact
that he had been a friend to John Carden in the old days.

Mr. Jordan--his name was Ezra, but few were aware of that--was fully
six feet in height, but wonderfully thin and gaunt of frame. His lean
face was close-shaven, and his head was bald save for a fringe of locks
above the ears. These were carefully brushed upward and plastered
close to his shiny skull. But his eyebrows were thick and bushy, and
sprinkled with gray, so that they gave him a rather fierce expression.
Over his eyes he constantly wore big, gold-rimmed spectacles, which
magnified the sight of those looking toward them; so that Mr. Jordan’s
eyes became unnaturally large and glaring, and apt to disturb one’s
composure and render it an uncomfortable thing to stare at him for long.

That glance of Mr. Jordan’s spectacles used to fill Will and Flo with
awe, when they were younger; but Will had found chances to get a side
view of the man’s face, and beneath the spectacles noted that the eyes
were really small and watery, and of a mild blue color; so that now the
spectacles were less horrible.

One peculiarity of the man was that he walked rigidly upright--“as
stiff as a ramrod,” Will declared--and on his evening strolls he never
used a cane; but stalked away as slowly as a ghost, with his hands
clasped behind his back and his spectacles staring straight ahead. He
always wore a long frock coat of black and a rusty silk hat, which
added to his tallness and made him quite remarkable.

No one could remember when Mr. Jordan had not lived in Bingham; yet he
had no relatives nor even intimate friends. While not reputed wealthy,
he was considered “a man of means,” and everyone bowed respectfully
but gravely to him as he passed by. At the mills he was called “the
Automaton” by the younger clerks, because he performed all duties with
absolute punctuality and unvarying deliberation.

No one knew why Chester D. Williams had given Mr. Jordan such full
control of the steel works, but his word was law in the offices, and
even the proprietor assumed a different air whenever he addressed his
secretary. As to the man’s capability, that could not be doubted. Under
his supervision no detail of the business was neglected and the concern
ran like clock-work.

The Carden children were of course accustomed to the presence of their
boarder. Perhaps Egbert might retain a vivid recollection of the days
when his father was alive, and Mr. Jordan was unknown to the parlor
bedroom or the seat at the head of the table; but to Will those times
were very hazy, and to Flo it seemed as if the boarder had always been
there, grim and silent from the first, but now scarcely noticed save
by tired-faced Mrs. Carden, whose daily duty it was to make Mr. Jordan
comfortable in return for the weekly five dollars that was so important
an item to the little household.

On this Saturday evening, when supper was over, Will sat upon a box
at the entrance to the tumble-down shed that was called by courtesy a
“barn,” and watched the boarder start out for his regular evening walk.

Mr. Jordan never neglected this exercise, no matter what the weather
might be. People in Bingham had long since decided that he walked for
the benefit of his health, as a relief from the close confinement at
the office during the day; and it amused the gossips that the man’s
habits were so regular that neither wind nor snow, frost nor blizzard
had never yet induced him to vary his daily programme by staying in
doors.

And he always walked in the same direction, turning down the lane to
the left of the cottage and following it a full half mile to a grove
of great oak and maple trees; through this to the Danville turnpike;
along the turnpike to Holmes’ Cross Roads; back to the village, and
through the village to the Carden house, where he hung up his hat and
went directly to his room for the night. A fine walk--four miles at
the least--and an evidence of the man’s perfect health and remarkable
physical endurance, when his age and lean body were taken into
consideration.

“Mr. Jordan is as tough as hickory,” the people declared; but as his
life was so absolutely regular he was never an object of curiosity
to his neighbors, who took but a casual interest in him. Perhaps,
had he ever varied his programme, even for a day, the act would have
occasioned great excitement in Bingham; but he never did.

Tonight Will looked after him thoughtfully, and followed with his eyes
Mr. Jordan’s upright form as it moved slowly down the lane toward the
distant grove. He wished he might speak with the silent man about his
father. If Mr. Jordan had loaned John Carden money and stood by him
during all his dark days of experimenting, as the doctor had said, he
must have been a good and faithful friend, thought the boy. Perhaps he
wouldn’t mind telling Will something more of those old days.

Impelled by this idea, the boy arose and started across lots to
overtake the solitary walker. When he came to the lane, Mr. Jordan
had not yet reached the grove, but was pacing the road with calm and
precise steps, no one an inch longer or shorter than another.

Something about the rigid, unemotional form caused Will to hesitate. He
had never spoken much with Mr. Jordan, and suddenly he became abashed
at his own temerity. Yet it was always hard for Will to abandon any
plan he had once formed. He did not go back; but he slackened his
pace, trying to think of the best way to approach the self-absorbed
man ahead of him. And so, while he trailed along the lane with halting
footsteps, Mr. Jordan came to the edge of the grove and entered it.

The path through the grove curved from left to right, and back again,
passing around the big trees that had been spared the axe on account of
some whim of their owner, who was none other than Mr. Jordan himself.
Lumber men had often tried to buy this bit of fine timber; but the
owner refused all offers.

“It will keep,” was his unvarying reply. And it had “kept” for many
years.

When Will reached the edge of the trees the man was out of sight around
the bend; so the boy, encouraged to hasten, pressed quickly along until
the turn in the road was reached, when he stopped in great surprise.

For Mr. Jordan had halted in the center of the grove--really a most
unexpected thing for him to do--and, turned half around, was staring
fixedly at a large oak that grew a few paces from the road.

Now was the time for Will to join him and open the conversation. He
realized his opportunity, and was mustering up the necessary courage to
advance, when Mr. Jordan walked straight to the oak tree, cast a hasty,
half suspicious glance around him, and then passed one hand swiftly up
and down the shaggy bark of the trunk at a point about on a level with
his own head.

Will, shrinking back so as to be nearly hidden by a clump of bushes,
stared open mouthed at this amazing sight, and while he stared Mr.
Jordan returned to the road, faced ahead, and marched as stiffly and
deliberately as ever upon his way.

The incident had not occupied more than a minute’s time, but it was
strange enough to deprive Will of any desire to overtake or speak with
the man he had unwittingly spied upon. He let Mr. Jordan continue his
walk, and turning back made his own way leisurely home.

  [Illustration: Mr. Jordan passed one hand swiftly up and down the
                 shaggy bark of the tree.      Page 48.]

The next morning, when he came to think it all over, he decided that
Mr. Jordan’s action in the grove was not nearly so remarkable as he
had considered it in the dim light of the preceding evening. Doubtless
the owner of those splendid trees had seen some hole in the bark of
this oak, or had fancied it damaged in some way, and so had felt of the
trunk to reassure himself. Anyone might have done the same thing, and
for a dozen different reasons.

Yet why did the man glance around in that curious half-frightened way,
as if fearful of being seen, if he was merely about to do an ordinary
thing? It was the flash of that single look that had made Will uneasy;
that rendered him uneasy every time he thought about it. But he could
not explain why. If there was any one person in Bingham who was in no
way mysterious that person was Mr. Jordan.

Sunday was a bright, delightful day, and soon after the late breakfast
was over the Carden children, dressed in their best, started for
the Sunday-school service, which was held before the regular church
services began. Egbert and Will walked on either side of little Flo,
and the three were as merry and wholesome a group of young folks as
one could wish to see. Egbert was not a bit ill-natured or morose on
account of his infirmities, but always wore a smile upon his cheerful
face. And the village children liked him, as was easily seen by their
pleasant nods when the three Cardens joined the group at the church
door.

The Williams children were there, too, and while Gladys grabbed Flo’s
hand and drew her aside with eager whispers, the others formed a circle
around Will and Egbert and tried to make the former feel that they
were as friendly as ever, in spite of their mother’s banishment of the
“vegetable boy” the day before.

“Mother was a little bit nervous yesterday,” said Mary Louise, in her
sweet and sympathetic way. “You mustn’t mind it, Will.”

“Of course I won’t,” he answered, promptly.

“Mother,” said the saucy Annabel, in a reflective tone of voice, “is a
reg’lar _caution_ when she gets nervous; and she’s nervous most of the
time.”

“Mrs. Williams was quite right,” said Will; “and it was lucky she sent
me home, for I’d an awful lot of work to do, and that kite made me
forget all about it.”

The bell rang just then, calling them in; but Reginald whispered to
Will: “You’re a brick!” and Theodore shyly took his friend’s hand and
pressed it within his own as they entered the doorway.

All this did much to warm Will Carden’s heart and restore to him his
self-respect, which had been a little shattered by Mrs. Williams’
contemptuous treatment.

However disdainful of poverty some of the grown folks may be, children,
if they are the right sort, are more apt to judge a comrade by his
quality and merit, than by the amount of his worldly possessions. And
Will decided the Williams children were “the right sort.”



CHAPTER IV.

MEIGS, MUSHROOMS AND MONEY.


“Will,” said Dr. Meigs, as he stopped one afternoon to lean over the
garden fence, “how are things going?”

“Pretty well, Doctor,” answered the boy, cheerfully.

“Are you getting ahead, and laying by something for the winter months,
when the vegetables won’t grow?”

“Were getting ahead _some_,” said Will, becoming grave; “but it’s
always a struggle for us in the winter, you know. I guess I’ll try to
get a job in the steel works in October. I’m pretty husky, for my age,
and I ought to be able to earn fair wages.”

“Humph!” growled the doctor, frowning upon the young fellow fiercely.
“You think you’ve had schooling enough, do you?”

“Oh, no! But mother needs help. She’s getting more tired and pale
looking every day; and Egbert can’t do much with his bad arm. So it’s a
case of force, Doctor. I’ve just _got_ to dig in and do something.”

“That’s true,” replied the big doctor. “But you’re going to be more
than a mere laboring man when you grow up, Will Carden, and I don’t
mean to let you get into those beastly mills. They’d sap your young
strength in no time, and make you an old man before your years would
warrant it. No; we’ll think of something else. Read that!”

He thrust a small book into the boy’s hand and immediately marched away
down the road.

Will looked at the book wonderingly. It was a treatise on mushroom
culture; something he had never heard of before. But he spent his
leisure during the next few days reading it carefully and the author
told how a great deal of money could be made by raising mushrooms on a
small plot of ground, under proper conditions and with intelligent care.

When again he saw Doctor Meigs Will said to him:

“Here’s your book, Doctor. It’s interesting, all right; but I can’t see
how I could possibly do anything at that business.”

“Why not?” enquired the doctor, seating himself calmly by Will’s side,
with the evident intention of arguing the question.

“In the first place,” said Will, “I’ve got no way to raise mushrooms.
They need a warm spot of earth, to do well; and a rich soil, and plenty
of shade.”

“Good!” said the doctor, nodding approval. “I see you’ve paid some
attention to the matter. Well, that old barn of yours is just the
place.”

“The barn!”

“Surely. I’ve just been examining it. It never was anything more than a
shed, without even a floor; and for a long time, while Deacon Wilder
owned this place, horses and cattle were kept there. The soil in that
barn is two feet thick and very rich. It’ll grow mushrooms like sixty!”

“But it’s cold in the barn, in winter. The boards are falling off in
places, and----”

“We’ll patch it up,” said the doctor, with decision; “and we’ll put a
heater in it--one of these regular green-house boilers, with hot-water
pipes running under the surface of the ground, so as to keep the soil
always warm. Firewood doesn’t cost much in this part of the country.”

Will smiled at such cheerful optimism.

“And when you’ve raised the things,” he said, “what are you going to
do with them? The Bingham people wouldn’t buy ten cents’ worth of
mushrooms in ten years.”

The doctor snorted contemptuously.

“The Bingham people! Do you think I’m a fool, Will Carden?”

“Who then?”

“Why, it’s only twenty-two miles to the city. There are four trains
every day. In the city are a thousand customers longing to buy
mushrooms, in season and out, and willing to pay big prices for them,
too.”

Will whistled, thoughtfully.

“It’s a bigger thing than I expected,” he acknowledged. “But, Doctor,
it’s out of the question. I wouldn’t dare risk our little savings in
this experiment, and aside from what’s put by for the winter, I haven’t
enough money to buy the spawn to start with; or patch up the barn; or
buy the water heater; or even market the stuff when it’s grown.”

“Who said anything about your spending money?” demanded the doctor,
roughly. “All I want of you, sir, is to hire out to me to raise
mushrooms. I’m going into the business.”

“You!”

“Yes, me. Confound it, Will Carden, do you think I’ve no ambition, just
because I’m a country doctor? My daughter, that married the wholesale
grocer in the city has three children already, and they’ve got to be
looked after.”

“Can’t the wholesale grocer do that?” asked Will, with twinkling eyes.

“I’ve a right to leave a fortune to my own grandchildren if I want to,”
growled the doctor; “and it’s none of your business, anyway, young
fellow. The question is, will you hire out to me? You and Egbert; I
want the two of you. The wages will be small, but they’ll be sure--even
if I have to collect some bills to pay them. And I’ll furnish all the
capital needed to fix up the barn and start things going.”

Will fairly gasped with astonishment.

“Do you really mean it, Doctor,” he asked.

“I usually mean what I say,” was the gruff retort. “Now, then, answer
me! And, by hookey, if you refuse I’ll charge you two dollars for this
consultation! Doctors can’t waste their time for nothing.”

“If you mean it, Doctor, of course I’ll hire out to you; and so will
Egbert.”

“It won’t interfere with your schooling, you know. You’ll have to get
up early mornings, and perhaps some cold nights you won’t get much
sleep, with tending the fires; but there’ll be plenty of time for you
to go to school, and poor Egbert can study his deaf-and-dumb lessons in
the shed as well as anywhere else, while you’re away.”

It must be mentioned here that Egbert had failed to learn to read and
write at the village school, and through the doctor’s influence was now
receiving lessons by correspondence from a prominent deaf-mute academy
in New York, by means of which his progress had lately become marked
and rapid.

“All right, Doctor. It’s a bargain,” announced Will, in a subdued
voice, but with a new sparkle in his eyes. “Give me that book again.
I’ll have to study it, I guess. When shall we begin?”

“The first of August,” said Doctor Meigs, seriously. “It’s a vacation
month, and you’ll have a lot to do getting things in shape. I’ll have
Joe Higgins fix the barn up. He owes me a big bill, and that’s the
only way I’ll ever get my pay. And Joe’s a pretty fair carpenter. Now,
about wages. They’ve got to be small to start with. I’ll give you and
Egbert ten dollars a month each.”

“Ten dollars!”

“That’ll make twenty for the two of you. It’s small, but it’s all I
can afford at first. But, to make up for that, I’ll give you, Will, a
working interest in the business.”

“What’s that?” asked the boy.

“Why, after all expenses are paid, including your wages, we’ll divide
the profits.”

Will looked into the kindly eyes, and his own dimmed.

“Doctor,” said he, “you’re the best friend a fellow ever had. But it’s
too much. I won’t take it.”

“How do you know there’s going to be any profit?” demanded the doctor,
sternly. “And if there is, who’ll make it? Don’t you be a confounded
idiot, Will Carden, and bother me when I’m trying to drive a bargain.
I know what I’m doing, and those grandchildren have got to be provided
for.”

“Suppose we fail?” questioned Will, half fearfully.

“Bosh! We can’t fail. I’ve talked with that wholesale grocer son-in-law
of mine, and he agrees to find customers for all the toad-stools we can
raise. So it’s up to you, old fellow, to sprout the mushrooms and then
the thing’s settled.”

“I’ll do the best I can, Doctor.”

“Then it’s all agreed, and I’ll draw up the papers for you to sign.”

“Papers!”

“Of course. This is an important business, and it’s got to be
ship-shape, and in writing, so there’ll be no backing out. Suppose that
wholesale grocer goes bankrupt--what’s to become of my grandchildren?”

Then he picked up his medicine case and stalked away, leaving the boy
thoroughly bewildered by the propositions he had advanced.

He told Egbert about it, for all of the Carden family were familiar
with the sign language, and the deaf-mute at once became greatly
interested, and eagerly agreed to undertake his share of the work.
Also he told his mother, and the poor woman sat down and cried softly,
afterward wiping away the tears with a corner of her apron. She was
really tired with all the house work, and the prospect of twenty
dollars a month added to their income seemed like a fortune to her. But
she said:

“I’m afraid the doctor can’t afford it, Will.”

“Afford it!” he exclaimed; “why, mother, I wouldn’t think of taking the
wages unless I felt sure of making a profit. He seems mighty certain
about it, and if work will help to win out, we’ll do it, sure as
shootin’!”

Which proved that he had caught some of the doctor’s own enthusiasm.

For a week the boy heard nothing more about the partnership, but at
the end of that time a load of lumber arrived from the Bingham lumber
yard, and soon after Joe Higgins, the carpenter, walked up to the barn
with his basket of tools, and with a nod to Will took off his coat and
started to work.

Next day came the doctor with a big, legal looking document for Will to
sign, which he first read in a solemn voice from beginning to end. It
set forth clearly the terms of their contract, and after the boy had
signed his name under the doctor’s he began to feel the magnitude of
the undertaking, and the responsibility put upon his young shoulders.
Doctor Meigs also brought more literature treating of mushroom culture,
which he advised Will to study carefully.

Joe Higgins worked three weeks repairing the barn. He not only made it
what he called “air-tight,” but in the east end he partitioned off a
room, and built a floor to it, and then put an outside window and door
in, making it very cozy and comfortable. This was to be the “office,”
where the heater was also to be placed, so that it would warm the room
as well as supply hot water to the pipes extending under the ground in
all directions throughout the interior of the big barn.

The room was hardly completed before the heater arrived from the city,
with men to set it up and arrange the system of pipes. Will dug all the
trenches for the pipes to lie in, and then with Egbert’s help covered
them over again. Also the two boys devoted days to another important
work, which was the placing of straw all around the outside edge of the
barn, and covering it with a bank of earth that reached well up onto
the boarding. This was to keep the frost from getting inside.

The wisdom of the doctor in starting this work in August was now
apparent, for the entire month was consumed in getting the barn in
shape and spading up the rich soil ready to receive the mushroom spawn.

Early in September the industry was started, and in a few days
thereafter small mushrooms, that looked like buttons, thrust their
heads above the earth within the warm, damp barn, and speedily grew to
a size that permitted them to be marketed.

The doctor carried the first picking home with him, and Will took
the next lot to the big house and sold them to the astonished and
delighted Nora, who placed an order for a pound of them every week. But
soon the crop began to mature very fast, and by the doctor’s orders
Will packed them in paper boxes holding a pound each, and afterward
arranged the boxes in a neat crate, which he shipped by express to
the wholesale grocer in the city whose children their grandfather was
so greatly interested in. The doctor supplied the boxes and crates,
and on the former was printed: “Carden & Co.’s Fresh Mushrooms.
Warranted Wholesome and Delicious.” And below followed several recipes
for cooking mushrooms, printed for the benefit of those who were
unaccustomed to preparing them. Nora furnished some of the recipes,
and old Mrs. Meigs the rest, so Will felt sure they would be successful.

For two or three weeks Carden & Co. shipped a crate of mushrooms daily
to the city. Then something went wrong; the crop failed suddenly, and
the spawn was discovered to be dead and useless. The doctor helped Will
to investigate the cause of the trouble, and afterward to overcome it;
and then fresh spawn was planted and the mushrooms began to grow again.

The wholesale grocer wrote that he was much annoyed by this delay. The
demand for mushrooms in the city was much greater than the supply, and
his customers were disappointed when they didn’t get them.

“We’ve been selling too cheap,” declared the doctor. “This is a good
time to raise the price. We’ll get fifty cents a pound, hereafter.”

It seemed a large price to Will, for now the mushrooms grew with
scarcely any care, and he found he was able to attend school and also
look after the work very easily. It was not until cold weather crept
on that the task became at all arduous; but the frosty nights obliged
the two boys to watch the fires carefully, and finally Will and Egbert
moved their bed to the little room at the end of the barn, and slept
there comfortably during the remainder of the winter, so they could
“attend to business properly.”

The wholesale grocer’s son-in-law sent all the money received for the
sale of the mushrooms to the doctor, so Will did not know exactly how
the business was coming along, for he had no idea how much money the
doctor had spent in preparation. But the monthly wages were paid to the
boys with great regularity, and on the first day of January the doctor
declared the first dividend, paying Will forty-three dollars as his
share of the profits up to date.

There was no prouder boy in Bingham than Will Carden when he realized
he was engaged in a successful business venture. He had already started
a bank account, for the family needs did not require all the money
the two boys earned as wages, and Will declared that this forty-three
dollars should never be touched unless absolutely necessary, as it was
to remain in the bank as the foundation of his fortune. We will know
later who it was that suggested this idea to him.

“Better than working in the mills, isn’t it?” said the doctor,
triumphantly, while for once he allowed a smile to spread over his
round, whiskered face.

“Indeed it is,” answered the grateful boy. “And I owe everything to
you, Doctor.”

“Nonsense!” returned the doctor, beginning to frown; “you owe it all
to your own industry, and to the fact that my poor grandchildren need
looking after.”



CHAPTER V.

WILL BECOMES A HERO.


It was during this winter, his sixteenth year, when Will entered
upon the footing of a successful “business man,” that two important
adventures befell him.

The first was on one cold Saturday in November just before the snow
fell. The gray sky warned the boy that a storm was likely to set in,
and as he needed more firewood for the heater he resolved to go into
the grove and pick up all the dead branches which the wind had blown
from the trees, and to put them in piles so that Nick Wells, the
carter, could come for them on Monday morning. So he put some luncheon
in his basket and, telling his mother he would not be home for supper,
hastened away to the grove, leaving Egbert to care for the fire in the
“office”.

There was plenty of dead wood lying around the grove, and Will worked
steadily piling it up until evening approached and it grew dusk. He
was just about to stop work and return home when he heard a sound of
footsteps approaching, and stood silent a little way from the path to
watch Mr. Jordan pass by on his regular evening walk, which he
permitted nothing to interrupt.

To Will’s astonishment the man stopped abruptly in the middle of the
grove and gazed earnestly at an oak tree. Then, exactly as he had
done on that other evening when Will had watched him, he walked up to
the tree and passed his hand hurriedly up and down the rough bark,
returning almost immediately to the path to continue on his way.

This repetition of the same curious action Will had before noticed
filled the boy with surprise, and puzzled him greatly. What possible
object could Mr. Jordan have in feeling of the bark of an oak tree
situated in the center of a deserted grove, where few people ever
passed?

But while he pondered the matter darkness fell upon the grove, and he
was obliged to hasten home to relieve Egbert.

It snowed a little during the night, and all day Sunday a thin white
mantle lay upon the frozen ground. Mr. Jordan took his usual evening
walk, and Will looked after him thoughtfully, wondering if he made a
regular practice of stopping to feel the bark of the oak tree. But he
made no attempt to follow his mother’s boarder, as the boy would have
considered it a mean trick to spy upon the man, however peculiar he
might be.

Yet early on Monday morning, when he drove over to the grove with Nick
Wells to load the wood he had piled up, Will could not resist the
temptation to go to the tree and see if Mr. Jordan had indeed stopped
there the evening before. Yes, there were the tracks of his boots,
clearly outlined in the snow. Will knew exactly the way he had walked
to the tree, cast that furtive glance over his shoulder, and then
passed his hand up and down the bark.

But why? That was the question; and surely it might well puzzle older
heads than that of Will Carden.

The other adventure referred to had a distinct bearing upon the boy’s
future life, and made him the village hero for many months to come.

Christmas week arrived with weather sharp and cold, although
wonderfully brisk and exhilarating. One of the chief pleasures of the
young folks of Bingham in winter was to skate upon Marshall’s pond, a
broad stretch of deep water lying just west of the town, and not far
from the Williams homestead. This pond was fed by a small brook that
wound for miles through the country, and here the Bingham ice man
harvested his supply each winter, often cutting holes in the ice which,
when lightly frozen over, made dangerous places for the skaters, who
did well to avoid them.

The day following Christmas a large crowd of youngsters assembled at
the pond for skating, many of the boys and girls being anxious to try
the new skates Santa Claus had brought them. The Williams children were
all there except little Gladys, and Will Carden came over also, for he
was an expert skater and had decided that an afternoon’s sport would do
him good.

It was a merry throng, indeed, and Will was gliding along over the ice
with Mary Louise when a sharp scream reached his ears and he saw the
children scattering from one spot like a flock of frightened sheep.

Will dropped Mary Louise’s hand and sped as quickly as possible toward
the place. He had known in an instant that an accident had occurred,
and as he drew near he saw that the ice had broken. Then a small arm
came into view above the surface, its fingers clutching wildly for
support before it again disappeared.

Without hesitation Will flew toward the hole. The ice cracked and gave
way as he reached the edge, and immediately he plunged into the water,
where he kept his wits and began reaching in every direction for the
drowning form he had noted.

From those standing at a safe distance a cry of horror arose; but it
quickly changed to a shout of joy as Will Carden rose to the surface
and caught at the edge of the ice for support, for in one arm he held
Annabel Williams’ almost lifeless form.

“Shove us a rail, you fellows!” he called, wisely refraining from
trying to draw himself up by the flimsy edge of ice he clutched.

The boys were quick to understand what he wanted, and a score of
willing hands tore the rails from a fence that came down to the shore
of the pond, and slid them along the ice so that they reached across
the hole and both ends rested on a firm foundation. Will seized the
first one that came within reach, and then a couple of the boys crept
out upon the rails and caught hold of Annabel, drawing her from the
icy water and carrying her safely to land. Others assisted Will and
although he was dripping wet and his teeth chattered with cold, as soon
as he reached safe ice he shook off the supporting hands of his friends
and walked over to the unconscious girl.

  [Illustration: The rescue of Annabel by Will Carden.      Page 74.]

“Give me all the shawls and wraps you can spare!” he cried, and as they
were eagerly offered he wrapped them around Annabel and then lifted her
in his arms and started at his best pace for the Williams house, which
was fortunately the nearest in the village to the pond.

Other boys offered to help him, but Will shook his head and plunged on,
the curious crowd following at his heels, while one or two volunteered
to run ahead and warn the family of the accident.

Mary Louise paced at Will’s side, sobbing bitterly.

“It’s all right; don’t cry,” he said to her. “I can feel Annabel
stirring in my arms, and I’m sure she’s alive.”

As they reached the gate that marked the entrance to the grounds a
stout little man bounded down the path toward them, bareheaded and
with a look of fear in his protruding eyes.

“Give her to me! Give me my child!” he said; and Will placed his burden
at once in the father’s arms and turned away. For he was shivering in
every bone of his body, and knew he ought to get home and change his
own clothes as soon as possible.

Mr. Williams carried Annabel into the house, issuing as he went a
string of commands.

“Jane, prepare a hot water bath; Fanny, send Peter for the doctor;
Nora, bring me some towels and warm flannels,” and so on until all the
servants were running about upon their various errands.

He carried the girl to her room, and tore or cut away her clothing,
plunging her as quickly as possible into a warm bath. She was quite
conscious now, and kept saying: “I’m all right, papa! I’m all right.”

But the man grimly insisted on carrying out his plans, and after the
bath rolled her in warm flannels and tucked his child snugly into bed.

“Mrs. Williams’ compliments, sir,” said the servant; “and she begs to
know how is the little girl.”

“Tell Mrs. Williams not to disturb herself,” he answered, gruffly; but
Annabel herself called a more satisfactory message, for she said:

“I’m all right, tell mamma.”

Nora, blubbering with joy and thankfulness, for Annabel was her
especial pet, brought in a bowl of hot lemonade, which Mr. Williams
forced the convalescent to drink. And then Doctor Meigs arrived, and
after a glance around the room and a brief examination of his patient,
nodded his shaggy head in approval.

“She’ll come along nicely, sir,” he said; “thanks to your prompt and
intelligent methods. But it was a close call for the little one. Who
pulled her out?”

“I haven’t heard,” replied the great man, looking up with sudden
interest. “But I’ll find out at once, for whoever it was most certainly
saved her life.”

“It was Will Carden,” said Theodore, who had entered unobserved, and
stood just behind them.

“I might have suspected that,” remarked the doctor, dryly, but there
was a tone of pride in his deep voice that he could not disguise.

“Carden?” said Mr. Williams, reflectively; “Carden? I wonder if he is
any relation to John Carden, who----”

“Just his son, sir,” interrupted Doctor Meigs, calmly. “The son of that
John Carden who discovered the process of making steel which your mills
are now using.”

“I know; I know!” said Mr. Williams hastily. Then he bent down and
kissed Annabel’s white brow.

“I like Will,” she whispered.

“Try to sleep, my darling,” he answered, gently. “Fanny will sit by
you; and, if you want me, send at once.”

Then he stood up, cast another loving glance at his daughter, and
followed by the doctor left the room.

Few strangers would have supposed Chester D. Williams to be a
successful business man, if they judged him superficially by his
appearance. Unlike his lady wife, he assumed no airs or mannerisms that
might distinguish him from any other man you came across. His clothes,
although made by an excellent tailor, were carelessly worn, and had not
his wife kept careful watch of him he would have continued to wear one
necktie until its edges were disgracefully frayed. In build the man
was not very prepossessing, being below the medium height and inclined
to stoutness, while his beardless face was round and red and only his
kindly eyes redeemed his features from being exceptionally plain.

Yet in the big outside world people liked Chester Williams, and
respected his ability. No one knew better how to obtain a favorable
contract for steel, or fulfilled it more exactly to the letter of the
agreement. In mechanical industries he was acknowledged a great man,
and was known to have accumulated an immense fortune. Here in Bingham,
where he was seldom seen, for his business in the city claimed a
large share of his time, the owner of the steel mills was an absolute
autocrat, and his word was law to the simple villagers. Yet he had
never abused their trust and confidence in him.

“Step in here a moment, doctor,” he said, pushing open the door to his
study. So Doctor Meigs followed him in and sat down.

“I am very grateful for my child’s rescue,” began Mr. Williams, with a
slight tremor in his voice. “Tell me, Doctor Meigs, what sort of boy is
this Will Carden who proved himself so brave this afternoon?”

“I can’t say,” replied the doctor, a merry twinkle in his eye. “That
is, with modesty. For Will is my partner.”

“A doctor!”

“No; a mushroom grower.”

Mr. Williams seemed puzzled, but waited to hear more.

“You’d better see the boy yourself,” continued the doctor. “He’s proud,
you’ll find; and he’s very poor.”

“Poor?”

“Yes. His father lost all his money in experimenting with that steel
process; and then he started for London and was lost at sea. Therefore
the family is dependent mostly upon the industry of this boy.”

“I see.”

For a moment the mill owner remained lost in thought. Then he asked:

“How did Jordan get the control of John Carden’s secret process?”

“I never knew the particulars,” replied Doctor Meigs; “but Mr.
Jordan has told me that he loaned Mr. Carden money to carry on his
experiments.”

“Bosh! Jordan never had a dollar in his life until after I made the
deal with him and started these mills. He was nothing but an humble
clerk in the bank here.”

“I remember,” said the doctor, regarding the other man with a blank
expression.

“But at the time I made my arrangements with Jordan he showed me a
paper signed by John Carden which transferred all his interest in the
secret process, together with the formula itself, to Ezra Jordan, in
consideration of the sum of ten thousand dollars.”

“Ten thousand dollars!” ejaculated the doctor.

“Which Jordan never owned,” said Williams, slapping his knee
emphatically. “When I enquired at the bank, the cashier told me that
Jordan had never had any money except his salary, and it is certain he
had not embezzled a dollar while in the employ of the bank. But it was
none of my business, after all. Only, Jordan drove such a hard bargain
with me for the use of his process that I’m paying him a fortune every
year, in royalties, and he runs the works himself, so as to be sure
I don’t rob him. The paper executed by John Carden seems genuine, and
the only thing that puzzles me is why he transferred such a valuable
secret, just as it was proven a success, to a man he could not possibly
have borrowed money from, because the man never had it to lend.”

“You astonish me,” said Doctor Meigs, with evident sincerity. “I’ve
never been able to understand Mr. Jordan, myself. He is a very reserved
individual, and I knew that he was quite intimate with John Carden,
before the latter left Bingham on his fatal journey. But that there was
anything wrong or at all suspicious in Jordan’s dealings with his old
friend, I have never even dreamed.”

“There may be nothing wrong at all,” returned Mr. Williams. “But in
that case the inventor of the best steel process in the world was a
fool.”

Doctor Meigs made no reply, but rose to take his leave; and after
showing the physician to the door Mr. Williams turned into the sitting
room, where the lamps had been lighted. All the children were there but
Annabel, who was reported to have fallen asleep, and it was good to
observe how eagerly they clustered about their father’s knee, and how
fond they seemed to be of him.

Mrs. Williams presently sent word that she was “so upset by Annabel’s
careless accident” that she would dine alone in her own room, and the
children greeted this announcement with a whoop of delight that made
their father frown and turn more red than usual, with shamed chagrin.
They trooped into the dining room happy and content, and as soon as
they were seated, began to chatter of Will Carden.

“Do you know him?” asked the father.

“Know Will Carden! Well, I guess we do!” replied boisterous Reginald.

“We all like Will,” said Mary Louise, in her gentle voice; “and if he
had not been so prompt to rescue Annabel I am sure she would have been
drowned, for everyone else was too frightened to move. But Will didn’t
wait a minute. He plunged right in after her.”

“He is a brave boy,” said Mr. Williams.

“And he can do lots of things,” remarked Theodore, slowly.

“He fixted my dolly’s leg!” shouted Gladys, anxious to testify in her
friend’s behalf.

“Yes, and mamma sent him about his business, and wouldn’t let him play
with us,” added Reggie, in a grieved tone.

“Why?” asked the father.

“Oh, because he’s a vegetable boy, and poor. She said we’d got to
respect your position in society,” replied Reginald, with a grin.

“She scolded me awfully,” declared Gladys, nodding her head sagely.

“Hush, my daughter,” said Mr. Williams, with unaccustomed severity.
“You must not criticise mamma’s actions, for she loves you all and
tries to act for your best good. But it’s nothing against Will Carden
to be a vegetable boy, you know. How old is he?”

“About sixteen, I think,” said Mary Louise.

“Well, when I was his age,” continued Mr. Williams, “I was shovelling
coal in a smelting furnace.”

“That isn’t as respectable as being a vegetable boy, is it?” asked
Theodore, gravely.

“Both callings are respectable, if they enable one to earn an honest
livelihood,” returned his father, with a smile. “There is no disgrace
at all in poverty. The only thing that hopelessly condemns a person is
laziness or idle inaction.”

“But mother----” began Reginald.

“Mother sometimes forgets how very poor we ourselves used to be,”
interrupted Mr. Williams, looking earnestly into the circle of eager
faces; “and I am very glad she _can_ forget it. I’ll talk to her,
however, about your friend Will Carden, and I’ve no doubt when she
learns how brave he has been she will at once withdraw her objections
to his playing with you.”

“Thank you, papa,” said Mary Louise, reaching out to take his hand in
her slim white one.

“You’re all right, daddy; and we love you!” exclaimed Reggie, earnestly.

The great mill owner flushed with pleasure, and his eyes grew bright
and moist.

“But,” observed Gladys, her mouth full of bread and butter, “mamma
scolds me lots a’ times.”

“Hush!” commanded her father, sternly; and a cloud came over his face
and drove the joy from his eyes.



CHAPTER VI.

A BOY AND A MILLIONAIRE.


Will Carden, little the worse for his ducking of the day before, sat in
his little “office” at the end of the barn, his feet braced against the
heater, his chair tipped backward, and his eyes fastened upon an open
letter he held in both hands.

He had read it a dozen times since Peter, the coachman up at the big
house, had brought it to him, and he was now reading it once more.

It was very brief, simply saying: “Please call at my office at your
convenience;” but it was signed “Chester D. Williams,” in big, bold
script, and that signature, Will reflected, would be good for thousands
of dollars--even hundreds of thousands--if signed to a check.

While the boy was thus engaged, the door burst open and Doctor Meigs
entered, stamping the snow from his feet and shaking it from his
shoulders as a shaggy Newfoundland dog shakes off the rain. It had been
snowing for an hour, and the big flakes were falling slowly and softly,
as if they had a mission to fulfill and plenty of time to accomplish it.

“Hello, Doctor,” said Will, cheerily. “Read that.”

Doctor Meigs took the letter, sat down, and read it carefully. Then he
looked up.

“How’s your throat?” he asked.

“All right,” said Will.

“Sore, any?”

“Not a bit.”

“Feel chills creeping up your back?”

“No.”

“Head hot?”

“Why, I’m all right, Doctor.”

“Put out your tongue!”

Will obeyed, just as he had done ever since he could remember.

“H--m! Strange; very strange,” muttered the doctor.

“What’s strange?” asked the boy.

“That you’re fool enough to jump into ice-water, and clever enough to
beat the doctor out of his just dues afterward.”

Will laughed.

“How’s Annabel?” he asked.

“As good as ever. Why did you pull her out so quick, you young rascal?
Don’t you know Chester D. Williams is rich enough to pay a big doctor’s
bill?”

“I was afraid, at first,” answered the boy, reflectively, “that I
hadn’t pulled Nan out quick enough. It was a close call, and no
mistake.”

“Well, your reward is at hand. The whole town is praising you, and
calling you a hero. And the great man himself has sent for you.”

Will shifted uneasily in his chair.

“You know, Doctor, it wasn’t anything at all,” he said.

“Of course not. One girl, more or less, in the world doesn’t make much
difference.”

“I don’t mean that. Annabel’s a brick, and worth jumping into twenty
ponds for. But anyone could have done the same as I did.”

“To be sure. How are the toad-stools coming?”

Will knew the doctor was in a good humor when he called their product
“toad-stools.” If he was at all worried he spoke of them as “mushrooms.”

“Pretty good. But what does Mr. Williams want to see me about?” he
enquired.

“Wants to give you ten dollars for saving his daughter’s life, perhaps.”

Will straightened up.

“I won’t go,” he said.

The doctor grinned.

“Throwing away good money, eh? We’ll have to raise the price of
toad-stools again, to even up. But, seriously, I advise you to go to
Mr. Williams, as he requests you to. He isn’t half a bad fellow. His
only fault is that he makes more money than any one man is entitled
to.”

“You don’t really think he’ll--he’ll want to pay me anything, do you?”

“No; he wants to thank you, as any gentleman would, for a brave, manly
action.”

For the first time Will grew embarrassed, and his face became as red as
a June sunset.

“I’d rather not, you know,” he said, undecidedly.

“It’s the penalty of heroism,” remarked the doctor, with assumed
carelessness. “Better go at once and have it over with.”

“All right,” said Will, with a sigh of resignation.

“I’m going back to town, and I’ll walk with you.”

So Will stopped at the house and sent Egbert to mind the fire, and then
he tramped away to the village beside the burly form of his friend.

It was not as cold as it had been before it began to snow, and the boy
enjoyed the walk. He liked to hear the soft crunching of the snow
under his feet.

When he shyly entered the office at the steel works his face was as
rosy as an apple, and he shook off the snow and wiped the moisture from
his eyes and looked around him.

There were two long rows of desks in the main room, and at one corner,
railed in to separate it from the others, was the secretary’s office
and desk. Will could see the bald head of Mr. Jordan held as rigidly
upright as ever, and recognized the two side locks of hair that were
plastered firmly to his skull.

Then Mr. Jordan turned slowly around and saw him, and after calmly
staring at the boy for a time he motioned to a clerk.

The young man approached Will and enquired his business.

“I want to see Mr. Williams,” he answered.

“Mr. Jordan transacts all the business here,” said the clerk, stiffly.

“It isn’t exactly business,” replied the boy, and drew out the letter
he had received.

At once the clerk became more obsequious, and begged Will to be seated.
He watched the man whom he knew to be the son of a local store-keeper,
go to a glass door and rap upon it gently. Then he entered and closed
the door carefully behind him, only to emerge the next moment and
beckon Will to advance.

“Mr. Williams will see you at once, sir.”

Will walked into the private office feeling queer and uncomfortable,
and the clerk closed the door behind him.

Mr. Williams was sitting at his desk, but at once jumped up and met the
boy with both hands extended to a cordial greeting.

“I’m glad to see you, Will Carden,” he said, simply. “My little girl is
very dear to me, and I owe you more than I can ever repay.”

“Why, Nan’s dear to me, too, Mr. Williams,” replied the youth, feeling
quite at ease again. “And I’m glad and grateful that I happened to
be around just when she needed me. We’re in the same class at high
school, you know, and Annabel and I have always been chums.”

“That’s good,” said the great man, nodding as if he understood. “I hope
you will be better friends than ever, now. She wants to see you, and
Mrs. Williams has asked me to send you up to the house, if you will go.”

Will flushed with pleasure. To be invited to the big house by the
very woman who had snubbed him a few months ago was indeed a triumph.
He didn’t suspect, of course, that Mr. Williams had kept his promise
to the children, and “talked to” his wife with such energy that she
was not likely soon again to banish one of their playmates because he
chanced to be poor. Indeed, Mrs. Williams had no especial dislike to
the “vegetable boy;” she merely regarded him as a member of a class
to be avoided, and her sole objection to him as a companion to her
children was based upon a snobbish and vulgar assumption of superiority
to those not blessed with money.

“I’ll be glad to see Annabel again,” said Will. “I hope she’s none the
worse for her accident?”

“Just a slight cold, that’s all. But sit down, please. I want a little
talk with you about--yourself.”

Will became uncomfortable again. But he sat down, as the great man
requested.

“Tell me something of your life; of your family and your work; and let
me know what your ambitions are,” said Mr. Williams.

It was a little hard for Will to get started, but the man led him on
by asking a few simple questions and soon he was telling all about
Flo and Egbert, and how hard his mother was obliged to work, and of
the mushroom business the doctor had started and all the other little
details of his life.

Mr. Williams listened attentively, and when the boy mentioned the fact
that Mr. Jordan had always boarded with them since his father had gone
away, the millionaire seemed especially interested, asking various
questions about his secretary’s habits and mode of life which plainly
showed he was unfamiliar with Mr. Jordan’s private affairs.

“Do you remember your father?” he enquired.

“Not very well, sir,” Will replied. “You see, I was very young when he
went away, and he was accustomed to working so steadily night and day
at his steel factory that he wasn’t around the house very much. I’ve
heard mother say he was so occupied with thoughts of his invention that
he didn’t pay a great deal of attention to us children, although his
nature was kind and affectionate.

“Was Mr. Jordan with him much in those old days?”

“I can’t remember about that. But mother has always said that Mr.
Jordan was father’s best friend, and for years he always came to our
house on Sunday to dinner. He was a bank clerk, then; and that was
before he boarded with us, you know.”

“Is he kind to you now?”

“Mr. Jordan? Why, he’s neither kind nor unkind. But he pays his board
regular, and in a way that’s kindness, although he doesn’t say a word
to anyone. The boarder helps us to live, but it also wears out mother’s
strength, for she’s very particular to cook the things he likes to eat,
and to make him comfortable. I’m in hopes that the mushroom business
will prosper, for then we can let our boarder go, and it will be much
easier for mother.”

“I, too, hope you will succeed. But if you don’t, Will, or if you ever
need help in any way, come straight to me. It would make me very happy
to be of some use to you, you know.”

“Thank you,” said the boy. “I’ll not forget.”

The great mill owner was not at all a hard person to talk to. He seemed
to understand “just as a boy would,” Will afterward told Mrs. Carden.
And when he left the office it was with the pleasant sensation that he
had made a new friend--one that could be relied upon almost as much as
old Dr. Meigs.

Mr. Jordan was staring at him fixedly as he walked out; but he said
nothing about the visit, either then or afterward, when he met Will at
supper. But once in a while he would turn his queer spectacled eyes
upon the boy, as if he had just discovered a new interest in him.



CHAPTER VII.

AN AFTERNOON CALL.


Next afternoon Will put on his best clothes and walked up to the big
house.

On the way he was undecided whether to go to the front door or the back
one. Never before had he entered the place as a guest, and in the end
he wisely compromised by advancing to the side entrance that he had
observed was mostly used by the children.

Annabel saw him from the window and beckoned him in, her face all
smiles of welcome, and that helped him to retain his composure.

“Come right in, sir,” said Fanny, the maid who admitted him. “Miss
Annabel’s not allowed to go to the door yet.”

“Hello, Will,” said the girl, shyly slipping her hand in his. “I’m
awful glad you’ve come for everybody has gone out and left me today.”

“Why, Nan, how white you look!” he exclaimed. “That water in the pond
must have been pretty cold for you.”

“No more than for you, Will,” she replied. “But it wasn’t the cold, you
know; ’twas the awful fear of dying--of being drowned and lost under
the ice,” and she looked at him with big eyes into which a shade of
fear crept at the very recollection of that dreadful moment.

“There, there, Nan,” said he, soothingly; “let’s sit down and talk
about something else,” and he led her to a sofa, still holding her
small white hand in his brown one.

The girl glanced at him gratefully. Will seemed to understand her even
better than Mary Louise did; and he had a gentle way with her that was
at once pleasant and comforting.

“Where did the folks go?” he asked, with well assumed cheerfulness.

“Out coasting. The hill back of Thompson’s is just fine, now--as smooth
as glass, Ted says. I’d like to be with them, for my sled’s the
swiftest of them all; but,” with a sigh, “Doctor Meigs says I must stay
in the house for three days. Isn’t it dreadful, Will?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Nan. He’s usually right about these things; and it
seems mighty pleasant in here,” glancing around at the cozy room with
its glowing fire in the grate.

“It’s nice--now,” she answered, sweetly, and Will looked at her with
sudden interest. He had never before noticed how bright and fair
Annabel’s face was. The freckles didn’t seem to mar it a bit, and the
nose turned up just enough to make her expression jolly and spirited.
And as for the hair, the red was almost pretty where the firelight fell
upon it.

Will had paid no attention until now to girls’ looks. A girl had seemed
to be “just a girl” to him. And he, as well as her brothers and the
other boys, had often teased Nan about her red hair and pug nose,
without observing either of them very closely. But today he began to
think all the fellows must have been blind, and that the girl’s claim
to beauty was greater than any of them had ever suspected.

Somehow, too, Annabel’s accident and near approach to death seemed to
have changed her. At any rate she was never the same to Will afterward.
He couldn’t well have explained how she was different; but the large
blue eyes had a new look in them, she was less romping and boisterous
in her ways, and gentler in her speech.

She sat quietly in her corner of the sofa, a demure and almost bashful
look upon her pleasant face. But in her natural and simple way she
entertained her boy friend so cleverly that he never suspected he was
being entertained at all.

“Papa says you’ve been to see him, and that you two have become great
friends,” she remarked.

“Mr. Williams was surely very nice to me,” he answered, with
enthusiasm. “I’m sure your father’s a good man, Annabel.”

“The best in the world, Will. We’re always happy when father’s home.
But that isn’t very often, you know, he’s so busy.”

There was a pause, after that, which neither noticed.

“Nora says you grow those lovely mushrooms we’ve been having lately,”
she said. “Do you, Will?”

“Yes; didn’t you know it? In the old barn. Doctor Meigs and I are
partners. Do you like mushrooms, Nan?”

“Very much; and so does papa.”

“I’ll bring you some tomorrow,” he promised, greatly delighted to find
something he could do for her.

“That will be fine,” she answered; “because, if you bring them, we can
have a talk, you know. And it’s sort of dull, staying in the house all
day. The others are out every minute of the time, for school begins
again next Monday, and they want to have all the fun they can while
vacation lasts.”

“That’s natural,” said Will. “It’s too bad you have to stay in during
vacation. Say, Annabel; do you like to read Indian stories?”

“I don’t know; I’ve never read any.”

“I’ve got a swell Indian book at home; one that the Doctor gave me on
my birthday. It’s all about Dick Onslow among the red-skins, and I call
it a corker!”

“I’d like to read it,” said Annabel, smiling at his enthusiasm.

“Well, I’ll bring it over,” he agreed. “Then when you’re alone, you can
read it.”

“Thank you,” said the girl, dreamily.

Then came another pause. It didn’t seem to them necessary to talk all
the time; but finally Annabel gave a little start and began speaking of
the school, and their mutual friends in the village so that the time
passed swiftly away and it began to grow dark before either of them
noticed it.

But bye and bye Will chanced to remember that Egbert had been left to
tend the fires alone, so he jumped up and said he must go. And Annabel
made no attempt to keep him, but stood at the window and waved her
hand in farewell as he passed down the walk.

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:

“I’se busted my top, so Will’s got to make it fixed.”

“He’s 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 Nan’s cheeks.

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

“Will’s a fine fellow,”, said Mr. Williams, gravely, “and I hope he’ll
come often!”

“So does I!” declared Gladys; and then the conversation shifted to
another subject, greatly to Annabel’s relief.

Mary Louise was nearer Will’s 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 Nan’s
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.”

  [Illustration: Will came every morning across lots to
                 meet her.      Page 109.]

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 wasn’t 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 Will’s 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 can’t pretend to explain how so much real wisdom came to lurk in
Annabel’s 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 another’s companionship.

One day she said to him: “Papa, I wish you’d build another school-house
at the mill. The old one isn’t big enough for all the children of the
workmen, and so they’re crowding us out of the village school. We have
to hold some of the high school classes over Barnes’ store, even now.”

“Why, I’ll 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 Theodore’s 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 Will’s 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 you’ve noticed,” began Will, “that mother has been getting
more pale and thin during the last two or three years. Dr. Meigs thinks
it’s because she works too hard around the house; and so do I. So
we’ve decided not to keep a boarder any longer, but to let mother take
it easy, and rest up.”

Mr. Jordan’s spectacled eyes had been fixed calmly upon the young
man’s 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.

“We’re 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 I’m laying by a little money; so we think
it’s best to relieve mother of all the work we can.”

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

“I’d 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
you’ve 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. Jordan’s 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
man’s 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 man’s presence with hopeless resignation.

“As a matter of fact,” said Will to the doctor, “we can’t 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
I’m quite sure my poor grandchildren will not go hungry. But, Will,
the earning will never be any bigger. That’s the extent of the
possibilities in mushroom growing. Are you satisfied with the prospect?”

“Certainly I am, Doctor. It’s 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 you’ve finished your school days, what then?”

“Why, I haven’t thought much about that,” confessed Will. “But I’ll
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 it’s 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?”

“Let’s 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 Jordan’s relations with
John Carden, which we had about a year ago?” he asked.

“Yes,” was the prompt answer.

“Well, the man’s getting very hard to handle, and I’m 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.”

“What’s 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 didn’t 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 wasn’t 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.
It’s a criminal act, and leaves me at the man’s 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 couldn’t 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.”

“That’s 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.

“It’s 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 Carden’s 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. Jordan’s having loaned him money, and it
was only after Mr. Carden’s death that I learned from the man’s own
lips that he had been obliged to take over the right to the process to
cancel the debt.”

“I don’t 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.”

“You’re 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
another’s eyes with a gaze that was startled and not without a gleam of
horror.

“We’ll talk this over again, sir,” said the doctor, abruptly. “Just
now you’ve 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.

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!”

  [Illustration: Four months had done much to change Annabel.
                 Page 129.]

“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.

Mr. 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.



CHAPTER X.

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.”



CHAPTER XI.

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?”

“Yes.”

“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?”

“No.”

“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?”

“Will Carden.”

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.”

“I will think over the suggestion before deciding. But I’m glad you
mentioned Will. He’s a fine, intelligent young fellow, and the trip
would do him a lot of good.”

“Indeed it would. Good afternoon, Mr. Williams.”

“I am grateful to you for giving me this hour,” said the manufacturer,
rising to shake his friend’s hand, “for although we have not
accomplished much it has relieved me of some of my suspicious of Mr.
Jordan. I am still positive he deceived me about the formula, and there
is no doubt he is a cold-blooded miser, who would stick at nothing
to make money. Also, he has a secret. But, after all, few men are
thoroughly understood, and in the end Jordan may prove to be less of a
scoundrel than we have considered him.”

With this the interview terminated, and Doctor Meigs went away to call
upon his parents. But for a time there was an unusually thoughtful
expression upon his kindly face.



CHAPTER XII.

THE “SPECIAL MESSENGER.”


Will Carden was quite surprised to receive another invitation to confer
with Mr. Williams. This time, however, he was asked to call at the
Williams house in the evening “on a matter of great importance,” and
while this was less formal than the previous appointment it was also
more mysterious. Wondering greatly why he was summoned, the boy dressed
himself with care, kissed his mother good-night, and walked down the
road toward the village, filled with impatient eagerness.

Will’s fortunes were quite prosperous at this juncture; or, as he
reflected in his boyish fashion: “Things seem to be coming my way.” But
he was too wise to attribute it to “luck,” know-full well how much he
owed to the kindness of good Doctor Meigs, backed by his own sturdy
labor and a strict attention to the details of his business.

“These ‘lucky’ fellows,” the doctor had once said, “are usually found
to have created their own luck by hard work and upright methods,”
and the observation struck Will as being very close to the truth.
This spring he had abandoned the idea of raising a variety of small
vegetables, as he had done in previous years, and contented himself
with planting all his available ground with potatoes. These, if
properly cared for, would pay nearly as much profit as the market
garden, and be a good deal less work. Now that the mushrooms were doing
so well the boy felt he could afford to take life a trifle easier, and
this method reduced Egbert’s labors as well as his own.

Pondering these things he rang the bell at the big house and was at
once ushered into Mr. Williams’s study, where he was delighted to find
Doctor Meigs seated.

After the first words of greeting Mr. Williams said:

“Will, how would you like to go to England, on a little business trip?”

The youth was so astonished that for a moment he stared at his
questioner vacantly, and during this interval the mill owner made a
rapid but not less complete inspection of the messenger he was about to
entrust with so important and delicate an errand.

Will Carden could hardly be called a boy any longer. He was nearly
eighteen years of age, and had grown swiftly toward manhood since the
reader was first introduced to him. Tall and well-knit, with broad
shoulders and an erect bearing, a stranger might easily have guessed
the young man to be two or three years older than he really was.
Moreover, there was a sagacious and observant expression upon his young
face that might well have been caused by his vivid appreciation of
the responsibilities thrust upon him so early in life. Yet, lest you
mistake Will for a paragon, let me warn you that the same expression
may often be seen upon the face of a manly young fellow looking broadly
upon the great future, and it is well worth observing, I assure you.
Will had his failings, as all properly constituted boys have; but they
were such as threw his better qualities into strong relief.

Mr. Williams seemed well satisfied with his brief inspection, and felt
intuitively that he might rely upon the youth’s discretion and faith.

“Are you in earnest, sir?” asked Will.

“Very much in earnest,” was the quiet reply. “The errand is a secret
one, yet I do not ask you to go as a spy, but rather to investigate
as fully as possible the business of the Atlas Steel Company of
Birmingham. Upon your success depends to a great extent my future
prosperity as a manufacturer. Will you undertake this mission?”

“If you think I am capable, sir, I will gladly go. It would please me
to be of use to you, and I would enjoy the voyage and the chance to
visit a foreign land.”

“Very good,” said Mr. Williams. “I will pay all of your expenses, and
allow you a hundred dollars a month for salary while you are absent.”

“That is too much, sir, and I cannot accept it,” said Will, firmly. “It
will be enough to pay my expenses. Egbert can look after things while I
am away, so that the business will suffer very little.”

“I am sorry you decline my offer,” replied the manufacturer, rather
stiffly. “It obliges me to find another messenger, to whom I will
probably be forced to pay double the salary I have offered you. Men who
are competent, and whom I may trust, are not to be had for a song, Mr.
Carden.”

Will looked red and embarrassed. He had never been called “Mr. Carden”
by his friend Mr. Williams before, and the formal title led him to
believe he had unwittingly offended the man who had been so kind to
him. He looked appealingly at the doctor.

“You’re a confounded idiot, sir!” said that brusque personage, with a
deeper frown than usual, although in his heart the doctor was secretly
admiring the boy. “Here is a chance to be of great service to Mr.
Williams, who coolly informs you that much of his future prosperity--a
matter of many millions, doubtless--depends upon this mission to
England. Do you wish to rob him, sir, by forcing him to employ a high
priced agent, when you can do as well for a smaller sum?”

Will seemed bewildered.

“You don’t appear to understand me, Doctor,” he said, reproachfully.
“It will be a splendid thing for me, a regular holiday, to make a trip
like that. Why should I ask my friend to pay me a lot of money in
addition?”

“The laborer is worthy of his hire,” quoted Doctor Meigs, bluntly.
“Can’t you see that by accepting the salary--which is little enough, in
all conscience--you give Mr. Williams the right to use your services in
any way he may direct?”

“Come, come, Will!” cried Mr. Williams, springing up to lay a kindly
hand upon the youth’s shoulder. “Don’t let us haggle over a price.
You’re worth the sum I offer, and much more, to me. So take it, and
let’s call the matter settled.”

“As you like, sir,” answered Will, feeling rather helpless between his
two friends. “I am very grateful to you both for all your kindness to
me, and I’ll do anything you say I ought to do.”

“Good!” growled the doctor, approvingly. “We’ll put you through your
paces, all right.”

Mr. Williams laughed, and his laugh was always a pleasant one.

“And now,” said he, “I will tell you why I am anxious to investigate
the business of the Atlas company, which threatens me with a dangerous
competition.”

The conference lasted until a late hour, and when it was ended Will
understood perfectly what was required of him, and undertook to
discover, if possible, where the English concern obtained the secret
of the Carden process for making forge steel.

“When shall I go, sir?” he finally asked.

“As soon as possible. Within a week, if you can get away. Steamers sail
nearly every day, at this season.”

“How will next Wednesday do?” enquired Will, after a moment’s thought.

“Excellently,” returned Mr. Williams. “I will send you money and
further instructions to your home, for Mr. Jordan must not suspect you
are in my employ. It will be best for you to confide in no one but your
mother and Doctor Meigs. Merely tell your brother and sister, or any
other enquirers, that you are going East.”

“Very well, sir.”

One can imagine the eager anticipation that controlled Will Carden
during the next few days. He ordered a new suit of clothes from the
local tailor, and the doctor helped him to select a suitable outfit
for his travels. Although he had never been further away from Bingham
than the city, which was twenty-two miles distant, Will had no fears
of his ability to take good care of himself. He might appear a trifle
“green” to experienced travellers, he admitted; but at his age any
well balanced youth has ample self-command and judgment, so that he
anticipated nothing but pleasure during the next busy month or two.

Only one thing grieved him. He would be away during Annabel’s vacation,
and the young folks had laid many plans to be together during this
time. But he left with Mr. Williams a note for the girl, telling her
this was a business matter of her father’s that could not be delayed,
and begging her not to forget him during his absence. Singularly
enough, neither he nor Annabel saw anything humorous in this request.

Then, just at the last minute, Mr. Williams entrusted to him another
errand that was not wholly agreeable. Letters had come from Mrs.
Williams that she was about to return home, being much improved in
health; and her husband asked Will to proceed directly from Liverpool
to London, there to meet Mrs. Williams at the Savoy Hotel and escort
her to her steamer. Will was to see her safely started toward America
before proceeding to Birmingham upon his more important mission.

At last he was off, and so novel was his journey that he enjoyed even
the tedious trip to New York. The Eastern agent of Mr. Williams met
him on his arrival at the great metropolis, and after a day’s delight
sight-seeing with the good natured agent as guide, Will was deposited
safely aboard the big Cunarder that was to bear him over the vast
expanse of the ocean.

Here was a change, indeed, in Will Carden’s fortunes. From “vegetable
boy” to “special messenger to Europe” seemed like an abrupt transition,
and often as he walked the deck he wondered if it were all a dream,
and he would presently awaken in his bed at home. But then his better
judgment would inform him that there was nothing so very remarkable in
his good fortune, after all. With a good friend such as Dr. Meigs, a
fortunate opportunity to save the life of a millionaire’s daughter, and
the inheritance of an honorable name, much more than this might happen
to a young fellow. Will had been in line for promotion, that was all;
but he resolved to prove worthy, that his friends might not regret
their confidence in him.

There is an old saying that “to be worthy of good fortune is to invite
good fortune,” and there is much wisdom in the adage. The worthy do
not always prove fortunate, it is true; but fortune is not so blind
and fickle as we are sometimes led to believe, and sterling worth is a
magnet that frequently attracts it.



CHAPTER XIII.

MY LADY IS GRACIOUS.


The bustle and confusion of landing filled Will with eager joy. It is
truly an experience of moment to any one, so it is not wonderful that
our youth, fresh from a country town, should thrill with excitement at
this first glimpse of a foreign land. But he did not lose his head, and
managed to rescue his small trunk from the mass of baggage tumbled upon
the quay and to get it transported to the railway station.

Then the train whirled him away, and with bustling Liverpool behind him
he had mighty London to look forward to--the “City of Cities” in the
eyes of all civilized humanity.

By dint of intelligent enquiry on shipboard he now knew exactly how to
act. Once arrived at the terminal station he took a cab for the Savoy
hotel, where Mr. Williams had requested him to take a room. He met with
one disappointment, in finding that Mrs. Williams had not yet arrived,
for according to her letter she should have been at the Savoy some days
since, and Mr. Williams had cabled her to await there Will’s arrival.

However, there was nothing to do but await the lady’s appearance; so he
went to his room, removed all traces of travel, and descended to obtain
his first serene view of the world’s metropolis. He found a nearby
restaurant, at which he dined most luxuriously, but grieved at sight of
his bill. Dr. Meigs had impressed upon him the fact that Mr. Williams
had millions at his disposal, and therefore his confidential agent’s
expenses need not be in any way curtailed. Mr. Williams had himself
informed the young man that so long as Will acted as his representative
he must live in a style befitting his employer’s position in the world.

“Do exactly as you think I would do myself, were I making the trip in
person,” he said.

So Will, although conscious of reckless extravagance from his own
viewpoint, determined not to hesitate to spend Mr. Williams’s money
freely in providing a respectable living; but it startled him to find
how much was actually required to live in London in the same way that
others did with whom he was constantly thrown in contact.

After dinner he decided to attend an opera, a species of entertainment
he had never before witnessed; but he contented himself with a seat
obtained for the most modest sum the bills quoted. Being extremely
fond of music, and of a naturally artistic and appreciative mind,
the inexperienced boy found in the opera a veritable fairyland, and
his dreams that night were filled with fantastic creations called up
by the gorgeous spectacle he had beheld and the ravishing strains of
music he had listened to. He realized he was getting a tremendous lot
of experience in a very sudden manner, and it kept him keyed up to a
high pitch of nervous tension until he became more accustomed to the
novelty of existence in a great city.

Next morning he enquired for Mrs. Williams again, only to find she had
not yet arrived.

“She should have been here several days ago,” he said to the registry
clerk, in an anxious voice.

“Where was she coming from, sir?” the man enquired.

“Paris, I believe.”

“Then I beg you not to worry,” returned the clerk, with a reassuring
smile; “for most ladies find it a difficult matter to leave Paris,
and frequently they linger there many days after they have planned to
depart. Be patient, sir; and if the lady delays too long we will make
enquiries for you in Paris.”

That relieved Will’s anxiety to an extent, for he could easily
understand how a woman of Mrs. Williams’s temperament would be likely
to forget she was overdue in London, so long as the charms of Paris
amused her.

His instructions were to await her at this hotel, so he decided to
give her three days more of grace, and if she did not then arrive to
cable his employer for advice how to act.

Will knew, in a general way, what he most cared to see in London, for
he was as intelligent as the average American high school boy, and
although he had never in his wildest dreams expected to go abroad, had
stored up a mass of general information that was now very useful to
draw upon. So, with the aid of a guide-book, he found his way to the
Tower, the House of Parliament, and Westminster Abbey, returning toward
evening to his hotel with the uncomfortable feeling that should Mrs.
Williams have arrived in his absence she would surely be annoyed by his
neglect.

But the clerk met his enquiry with a shake of the head, and relieved
his fears.

Next day he visited St. Paul’s and stood before the tombs of
Wellington, Nelson and other great men whose names were familiar
in history. And then he mounted the top of an omnibus and rode for
miles through the busy thoroughfares, until the immensity of the
city overpowered him, and half bewildered he returned to his hotel to
rest and collect his thoughts. It was a famous opportunity for a boy
like Will Carden, and I am glad he took advantage of those two days
of waiting to gain experience that would furnish him with pleasant
recollections in all the years to come.

That evening he saw Henry Irving enact King Lear, and learned a lesson
he never forgot. When on the following morning he came down to the
office, the clerk informed him that Mrs. Williams had telegraphed she
would arrive at ten o’clock, so he need have no further anxiety.

He watched her arrival, with two maids, a mountain of trunks and a
dozen servants impressed at the entrance to carry parcels, wraps and
miscellaneous articles of all descriptions; but the sight deterred him
from approaching her until she was settled in her suite of rooms.

Then he sent up a card and received an answer that Mrs. Williams would
see Mr. Carden at one o’clock. The tedious wait made him nervous and
disconcerted, so that when the important hour arrived and he was shown
to the great lady’s apartments he realized that he was not likely to
create a very favorable impression.

Nor did he.

Mrs. Williams was reclining upon a couch, but she arose languidly and
examined him through a little eye-glass, saying afterward in mincing
tones:

“Dear me! Isn’t it the vegetable boy?”

“Yes’m,” said Will, shame-faced and awkward.

“I have been wondering whom it could be that Mr. Williams cabled would
meet me here. The name was unknown to me. What are you, a valet?”

“Hardly that, madam,” replied Will, with a hearty, boyish laugh; and I
think that laugh must have made a favorable impression upon the lady,
for she lowered her eye-glass and murmured:

“I have been from home so long that I am ignorant of present conditions
there. But you seem to have grown bigger, and--and--older.”

“Naturally, madam,” said he; and then he added, with an assumption of
such dignity as he could command under the circumstances: “I have the
honor to be your husband’s confidential agent, abroad upon business
matters. For this reason Mr. Williams thought it best that I should
meet you here and offer such services as I may be able to render you.”

“To be sure,” she said, musingly; “and it was very thoughtful of him.
If I remember rightly, you were the boy that carried Annabel home the
day she fell into the pond.”

He bowed.

“I am glad to see, Mrs. Williams, that you seem to have quite recovered
your good health,” he observed, to get away from the subject.

“Not quite, sir,” she answered, in a more cordial tone; “but I am much
better than when I first came from America. Won’t you sit down?”
noting that he was still standing. “And now, please tell me how you
left my children. Were they well? Are they growing? Really, I shall be
glad to see them again after this long separation.”

Will had his own ideas about the interest the woman took in her
children; but it was a subject very interesting to him personally,
so he chatted away in his usual bright manner, relating the progress
of his friends and playmates and adding such gossip of Bingham as he
thought might interest his listener.

And Mrs. Williams began to approve more and more the pleasant young man
before her.

“Are you returning home with me?” she asked, presently.

“I’m afraid not. I have business in Birmingham that may detain me for
some time,” he replied.

She seemed really disappointed.

“I hate London,” said she, wearily, “so I shall take the first steamer
home. You will look it up for me, tomorrow, and make arrangements?”

“With great pleasure, madam.”

“And you must dine with me this evening. I will meet you in the pink
salon at half-past seven, and we will go to the main restaurant.”

“Thank you, madam,” he said, filled with a sense of depression at the
very idea of dining with the great lady.

As he rose to go she added, as if by an afterthought:

“You will, of course, appear in full dress, Mr. Carden. Until then, au
revoir.”

With a bow he was dismissed, and as he stumbled into the hall and the
maid closed the door behind him, he remembered that a full-dress suit
was something he did not possess. Really, he ought to go back and tell
her so; but the very thought of doing this made him panic-stricken, and
instead he went down stairs to get some luncheon and think over his
predicament.



CHAPTER XIV.

A DINNER IN A DRESS SUIT.


On his way Will passed the ladies’ restaurant, and noted the handsome
toilets of its occupants with something of a shock. Mrs. Williams
would doubtless be elaborately gowned that evening, and of course he
ought to be in full dress also. What an absurd situation to confront
a poor country boy, who had been so proud of the new suit the Bingham
tailor had provided him with! Will Carden in a “swallow-tail!” The very
thought made him smile--and then shudder. Whatever should he do?

The gentlemen’s lunch room was rather full, but the courteous usher
asked permission of a guest who sat at a small table in one corner, and
then seated Will opposite him.

The gentleman was reading a newspaper, and merely glanced at the
new arrival. Will could see that he had a big, impressive figure, a
close-cropped beard of iron gray, and an expression upon his face that
was grave yet kindly.

Having made this cursory inspection, he gave his simple order to
the waiter and then relapsed into moody abstraction. That dreadful
dress-suit haunted him like some malignant demon. If he made an excuse
to cancel the engagement Mrs. Williams would be offended; if he
appeared in his ordinary clothes she would be more offended still. And
now that she had begun to treat him with some slight consideration he
disliked to do anything to forfeit her respect or good will.

“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?”

Will laughed.

“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 café, 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:

  [Illustration: Trembling violently, he stared at the man
                 pointed out as John Carden.      Page 186.]

“John Carden! Are you really John Carden?”

“Yes.”

“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.”



CHAPTER XV.

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.”

“Think so?”

“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.”

“Where?”

“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.”

“Why?”

“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.



CHAPTER XVI.

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.”

“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!”



CHAPTER XVII.

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.



CHAPTER XVIII.

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.”

A light seemed to break upon her, glorifying her worn face.

“Where is he, Will?”

“Here!” said a new voice, and John Carden stepped within the door and
held out his arms.

She fainted then, which was a very natural thing to do under such
trying circumstances; but when she regained consciousness she lay
happily within her husband’s close embrace, and now Will seized the
staring Flo by one hand and the confused Egbert by the other, and led
them softly from the room.

Great was the excitement in Bingham when the news of John Carden’s
return flew from lip to lip, together with the dreadful tale of Mr.
Jordan’s wickedness. When the latter had made restitution and slunk
away to some unknown part of the country, there was none to regret
his loss, but many willing to declare they had always mistrusted him.
Scores of citizens flocked to congratulate Mr. Carden and his wife, and
the poor woman was happier than she had ever been since the days when
her handsome and talented husband had first led her to the altar.

The two steel magnates talked over their business complications
together, and decided to form a partnership, continuing the manufacture
of the Carden Process Steel both in Bingham and in Birmingham, and thus
controlling the industry on both sides of the ocean.

And Mrs. Williams gave a big dinner to celebrate this important event,
and kissed Mrs. Carden very sweetly when she arrived upon the arm of
her distinguished husband. And Nora, so happy that she had to pause
frequently to wipe away the tears that gathered in her kindly eyes,
quite outdid herself in the preparation of the feast.

“Glory be!” she said to the imperturbable Thomas, “The Cardens, God
bless ’em! have come to their own again.”

Will and Annabel sat side by side at the table, smiling and contented
at being together. Even Reginald was on his good behavior, and Gladys,
who had conceived a violent love for her mother since that lady’s
return, was demure and silent. Flo sat next to Theodore, and Mary
Louise was beside Egbert, to whom, being pitiful of his deficiencies,
she was very attentive.

Merrier comrades were never seated at one table, and Will was the hero
of the hour. Mr. Williams made a neat speech, at dessert, praising the
boy so highly that his cheeks grew as red as cherries. Said he:

“We owe to Will the discovery of Mr. Carden--”

“Oh, no,” cried Will. “We owe that to Mrs. Williams.”

“And the dress suit,” added his father, with a smile and a proud glance
at his son.

“And we owe to Will the discovery of the papers in the oak tree,”
continued Mr. Williams.

“Why, that was Annabel!” said Will.

“Anyhow,” declared the doctor, who, with his napkin tucked under his
chin, was supremely happy, “we owe to Will those famous mushrooms we
have just eaten.”

“Oh, Doctor!” remonstrated Will. “You’re the head of the firm, and I’ve
no doubt you sold them to Nora at a big profit.”

They all laughed, then; but they were glad to laugh at the slightest
excuse to be merry. And it was an evening they all remembered as long
as they lived.

Having made such satisfactory arrangements with Mr. Williams to
continue the business at Bingham, Mr. Carden prepared to return to
Birmingham, taking with him Mrs. Carden and Flo and Egbert. For the
scene of his prosperity was to become his future home. It was arranged
that Will should remain in America and attend college, after which he
was promised Mr. Jordan’s place as secretary at the Bingham mills, in
order that he might represent his father’s American interests.

“We’re going to be partners, some day, my boy,” said Mr. Williams,
slapping Will’s shoulder with characteristic heartiness; “so hurry
through college, and get ready for work. And remember that every
vacation you are to come straight to my home.”

Of course Will was very happy at this prospect; and, because he must
enter Princeton in September, he devoted most of the days that remained
to him in driving or walking with Annabel.

One afternoon they met the doctor striding down the road with his stout
cane in one hand and his medicine case in the other.

He halted before Annabel and Will, scowling dreadfully.

“What’s this I hear about your going to college?” he asked the boy.

“It’s true.” said Will, smiling. “I’m afraid, Doctor, I’ll have to give
up growing mushrooms.”

“You will, eh? Well, sir, what’s going to become of those poor
grandchildren of mine?” growled the doctor.

“If they are ever in need, sir, I’ll agree to support them.”

“In that event, we’ll dissolve partnership,” said the old fellow, less
gruffly. Then he added:

“Put out your tongue!”

“What for?” asked Will

“You’ve got symptoms.”

“Oh what?”

“A disease that’s mighty common,” declared the other, with an amused
laugh at his own pleasantry; “but one that seldom proves fatal.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” said the boy, with downcast eyes.

Dr. Meigs turned suddenly to Annabel, chucking her playfully underneath
her chin before she could draw back.

“Aren’t you in this young lady’s company pretty often these days?”

Will straightened perceptibly, plainly showing his confusion. He
glanced shyly at Annabel who stood with downcast eyes, her face
suffused with blushes, then he blurted out:

“Of course I am. Annabel’s an old chum.”


THE END.



Transcriber’s Note

Punctuation has been standardised. Hyphenation and spelling have been
retained as they appear in the original publication. Changes have been
made as follows:

  Page 21
  “I don’t want to” wailed Gladys _changed to_
  “I don’t want to,” wailed Gladys

  Page 69
  care for the fire in the “of- _changed to_
  care for the fire in the “office.”

  Page 70
  when he heared a sound _changed to_
  when he heard a sound

  Page 106
  headaches that lay _changed to_
  headaches that day

  Page 108
  in and broug’t her top _changed to_
  in and brought her top

  came every morning crosslots _changed to_
  came every morning across lots

  Page 117
  eyes had been fixed calmy upon _changed to_
  eyes had been fixed calmly upon

  a the work we can _changed to_
  all the work we can

  Page 125
  and geting the secret _changed to_
  and getting the secret

  Page 134
  present at all these gaities _changed to_
  present at all these gaieties

  Page 140
  who was shrewed enough _changed to_
  who was shrewd enough

  Page 144
  you sold the the secret _changed to_
  you sold the secret

  Page 157
  shoulders and an erect bearng _changed to_
  shoulders and an erect bearing

  Page 164
  delight sight-seeing wth the good _changed to_
  delight sight-seeing with the good

  Page 170
  infomation that was now very useful _changed to_
  information that was now very useful





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