Transcriber's Note: Minor typographical errors have been corrected without note. Dialect spellings, contractions and discrepancies have been retained.
TED AND THE TELEPHONE
By Sara Ware Bassett
The Invention Series
PAUL AND THE PRINTING PRESS STEVE AND THE STEAM ENGINE TED AND THE TELEPHONE
The Invention Series
TED AND THE TELEPHONE
SARA WARE BASSETT
WITH ILLUSTRATIONS BY WILLIAM F. STECHER
BOSTON LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY 1922
Copyright, 1922, BY LITTLE, BROWN, AND COMPANY.
All rights reserved
Published April, 1922
PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
TO THE MEMORY OF
EDWIN T. HOLMES
WHO PLAYED A PART IN THE WONDERFUL TELEPHONE STORY, THIS BOOK IS AFFECTIONATELY INSCRIBED.
S. W. B.
It gives me much pleasure to acknowledge the generosity of Mr. Thomas Augustus Watson, the associate of and co-worker with Mr. Alexander Graham Bell, who has placed at my disposal his "Birth and Babyhood of the Telephone."
Also the courtesy of Mrs. Edwin T. Holmes who has kindly allowed me to make use of her husband's book: "A Wonderful Fifty Years."
I AN UNHERALDED CHAMPION 1
II TED RENEWS OLD TIMES 11
III GOING TO HOUSEKEEPING 21
IV THE FIRST NIGHT IN THE SHACK 35
V A VISITOR 49
VI MORE GUESTS 60
VII MR. LAURIE 76
VIII DIPLOMACY AND ITS RESULTS 94
IX THE STORY OF THE FIRST TELEPHONE 106
X WHAT CAME AFTERWARD 122
XI THE REST OF THE STORY 141
XII CONSPIRATORS 152
XIII WHAT TED HEARD 163
XIV THE FERNALDS WIN THEIR POINT 173
XV WHAT CAME OF THE PLOT 189
XVI ANOTHER CALAMITY 199
XVII SURPRISES 213
"Would you like to go to college if you could?" persisted the elder man Frontispiece
"You can't be spreadin' wires an' jars an' things round my room!" protested Mr. Turner Page 9
Soon he came within sight of the shack which stood at the water's edge " 27
He heard an answering shout and a second later saw Ted Turner dash through the pines " 88
TED AND THE TELEPHONE
AN UNHERALDED CHAMPION
Ted Turner lived at Freeman's Falls, a sleepy little town on the bank of a small New Hampshire river. There were cotton mills in the town; in fact, had there not been probably no town would have existed. The mills had not been attracted to the town; the town had arisen because of the mills. The river was responsible for the whole thing, for its swift current and foaming cascades had brought the mills, and the mills in turn had brought the village.
Ted's father was a shipping clerk in one of the factories and his two older sisters were employed there also. Some day Ted himself expected to enter the great brick buildings, as the boys of the town usually did, and work his way up. Perhaps in time he might become a superintendent or even one of the firm. Who could tell? Such miracles did happen. Not that Ted Turner preferred a life in the cotton mills to any other career. Not at all. Deep down in his soul he detested the humming, panting, noisy place with its clatter of wheels, its monotonous piecework, and its limited horizon. But what choice had he? The mills were there and the only alternative before him. It was the mills or nothing for people seldom came to live at Freeman's Falls if they did not intend to enter the factories of Fernald and Company. It was Fernald and Company that had led his father to sell the tumble-down farm in Vermont and move with his family to New Hampshire.
"There is no money in farming," announced he, after the death of Ted's mother. "Suppose we pull up stakes and go to some mill town where we can all find work."
And therefore, without consideration for personal preferences, they had looked up mill towns and eventually settled on Freeman's Falls, not because they particularly liked its location but because labor was needed there. A very sad decision it was for Ted who had passionately loved the old farm on which he had been born, the half-blind gray horse, the few hens, and the lean Jersey cattle that his father asserted ate more than they were worth. To be cooped up in a manufacturing center after having had acres of open country to roam over was not an altogether joyous prospect. Would there be any chestnut, walnut, or apple trees at Freeman's Falls, he wondered.
Alas, the question was soon answered. Within the village there were almost no trees at all except a few sickly elms and maples whose foliage was pale for want of sunshine and grimy with smoke. In fact, there was not much of anything in the town save the long dingy factories that bordered the river; the group of cheap and gaudy shops on the main street; and rows upon rows of wooden houses, all identical in design, walling in the highway. It was not a spot where green things flourished. There was not room for anything to grow and if there had been the soot from the towering chimneys would soon have settled upon any venturesome leaf or flower and quickly shrivelled it beneath a cloak of cinders. Even the river was coated with a scum of oil and refuse that poured from the waste pipes of the factories into the stream and washed up along the shores which might otherwise have been fair and verdant.
Of course, if one could get far enough away there was beauty in plenty for in the outlying country stretched vistas of splendid pines, fields lush with ferns and flowers, and the unsullied span of the river, where in all its mountain-born purity it rushed gaily down toward the village. Here, well distant from the manufacturing atmosphere, were the homes of the Fernalds who owned the mills, the great estates of Mr. Lawrence Fernald and Mr. Clarence Fernald who every day rolled to their offices in giant limousines. Everybody in Freeman's Falls knew them by sight,—the big boss, as he was called, and his married son; and everybody thought how lucky they were to own the mills and take the money instead of doing the work. At least, that was what gossip said they did.
Unquestionably it was much nicer to live at Aldercliffe, the stately colonial mansion of Mr. Lawrence Fernald; or at Pine Lea, the home of Mr. Clarence Fernald, where sweeping lawns, bright awnings, gardens, conservatories, and flashing fountains made a wonderland of the place. Troupes of laughing guests seemed always to be going and coming at both houses and there were horses and motor-cars, tennis courts, a golf course, and canoes and launches moored at the edge of the river. Freeman's Falls was a very stupid spot when contrasted with all this jollity. It must be far pleasanter, too, when winter came to hurry off to New York for the holidays or to Florida or California, as Mr. Clarence Fernald frequently did.
With money enough to do whatever one pleased, how could a person help being happy? And yet there were those who declared that both Mr. Lawrence and Mr. Clarence Fernald would have bartered their fortunes to have had the crippled heir to the Fernald millions strong like other boys. Occasionally Ted had caught a glimpse of this Laurie Fernald, a fourteen-year-old lad with thin, colorless face and eyes that were haunting with sadness. In the village he passed as "the poor little chap" or as "poor Master Laurie" and the employees always doffed their caps to him because they pitied him. Whether one liked Mr. Fernald or Mr. Clarence or did not, every one united in being sorry for Mr. Laurie. Perhaps the invalid realized this; at any rate, he never failed to return the greetings accorded him with a smile so gentle and sweet that it became a pleasure in the day of whomsoever received it.
It was said at the factories that the reason the Fernalds went to New York and Florida and California was because of Mr. Laurie; that was the reason, too, why so many celebrated doctors kept coming to Pine Lea, and why both Mr. Fernald and Mr. Clarence were often so sharp and unreasonable. In fact, almost everything the Fernalds did or did not do, said or did not say, could be traced back to Mr. Laurie. From the moment the boy was born—nay, long before—both Mr. Lawrence Fernald for whom he was named, and his father, Mr. Clarence Fernald, had planned how he should inherit the great mills and carry on the business they had founded. For years they had talked and talked of what should happen when Mr. Laurie grew up. And then had come the sudden and terrible illness, and after weeks of anxiety everybody realized that if Mr. Laurie lived he would be fortunate, and that he would never be able to carry on any business at all.
In what hushed tones the townspeople talked of the tragedy and how they speculated on what the Fernalds would do now. And how surprised the superintendent of one of the mills (who, by the way, had six husky boys of his own) had been to have Mr. Lawrence Fernald bridle with rage when he said he was sorry for him. A proud old man was Mr. Fernald, senior. He did not fancy being pitied, as his employees soon found out. Possibly Mr. Clarence Fernald did not like it any better but whether he did or not he at least had the courtesy not to show his feelings.
Thus the years had passed and Mr. Laurie had grown from childhood to boyhood. He could now ride about in a motor-car if lifted into it; but he could still walk very little, although specialists had not given up hope that perhaps in time he might be able to do so. There was a rumor that he was strapped into a steel jacket which he was forced to wear continually, and the mill hands commented on its probable discomfort and wondered how the boy could always keep so even-tempered. For it was unavoidable that the large force of servants from Aldercliffe and Pine Lea should neighbor back and forth with the townsfolk and in this way many a tale of Mr. Laurie's rare disposition reached the village. And even had not these stories been rife, anybody could easily have guessed the patience and sweetness of Mr. Laurie's nature from his smile.
Among the employees of Fernald and Company he was popularly known as the Little Master and between him and them there existed a friendliness which neither his father nor his grandfather had ever been able to call out. The difference was that for Mr. Lawrence Fernald the men did only what they were paid to do; for Mr. Clarence they did fully what they were paid to do; and for Mr. Laurie they would gladly have done what they were paid to do and a great deal more.
"The poor lad!" they murmured one to another. "The poor little chap!"
Of course it followed that no one envied Mr. Laurie his wealth. How could they? One might perhaps envy Mr. Fernald, senior, or Mr. Clarence; but never Mr. Laurie even though the Fernald fortune and all the houses and gardens, with their miles of acreage, as well as the vast cotton mills would one day be his. Even Ted Turner, poor as he was, and having only the prospect of the factories ahead of him, never thought of wishing to exchange his lot in life for that of Mr. Laurie. He would rather toil for Fernald and Company to his dying day than be this weak, dependent creature who was compelled to be carried about by those stronger than himself.
Nevertheless, in spite of this, there were intervals when Ted did wish he might exchange houses with Mr. Laurie. Not that Ted Turner coveted the big colonial mansion, or its fountains, its pergolas, its wide lawns; but he did love gardens, flowers, trees, and sky, and of these he had very little. He was, to be sure, fortunate in living on the outskirts of the village where he had more green and blue than did most of the mill workers. Still, it was not like Vermont and the unfenced miles of country to which he had been accustomed. A small tenement in Freeman's Falls, even though it had steam heat and running water, was in his opinion a poor substitute for all that had been left behind.
But Ted's father liked the new home better, far better, and so did Ruth and Nancy, his sisters. Many a time the boy heard his father congratulating himself that he was clear of the farm and no longer had to get up in the cold of the early morning to feed and water the stock and do the milking. And Ruth and Nancy echoed these felicitations and rejoiced that now there was neither butter to churn nor hens to care for.
Even Ted was forced to confess that Freeman's Falls had its advantages. Certainly the school was better, and as his father had resolved to keep him in it at least a part of the high-school term, Ted felt himself to be a lucky boy. He liked to study. He did not like all studies, of course. For example, he detested Latin, French, and history; but he revelled in shop-work, mathematics, and the sciences. There was nothing more to his taste than putting things together, especially electrical things; and already he had tried at home several crude experiments with improvised telegraphs, telephones, and wireless contrivances. Doubtless he would have had many more such playthings had not materials cost so much, money been so scarce, and Ruth and Nancy so timid. They did not like mysterious sparks and buzzings in the pantry and about the kitchen and told him so in no uncertain terms.
"The next thing you know you'll be setting the house afire!" Ruth had asserted. "Besides, we've no room for wires and truck around here. You'll have to take your clutter somewhere else."
And so Ted had obediently bundled his precious possessions into the room where he slept with his father only to be as promptly ejected from that refuge also.
"You can't be spreadin' wires an' jars an' things round my room!" protested Mr. Turner with annoyance.
It did not seem to occur to him that it was Ted's room as well,—the only room the boy had.
Altogether, his treasures found no welcome anywhere in the tiny apartment, and at length convinced of this, Ted took everything down and stowed it away in a box beneath the bed, henceforth confining his scientific adventures to the school laboratories where they might possibly have remained forever but for Mr. Wharton, the manager of the farms at Aldercliffe and Pine Lea.
TED RENEWS OLD TIMES
Mr. Wharton was about the last person on earth one would have connected with boxes of strings and wires hidden away beneath beds. He was a graduate of a Massachusetts agricultural college; a keen-eyed, quick, impatient creature toward whom people in general stood somewhat in awe. He had the reputation of being a top-notch farmer and those who knew him declared with zest that there was nothing he did not know about soils, fertilizers, and crops. There was no nonsense when Mr. Wharton appeared on the scene. The men who worked for him soon found that out. You didn't lean on your hoe, light your pipe, and hazard the guess that there would be rain to-morrow; you just hoed as hard as you could and did not stop to guess anything.
Now it happened that it was haying time both at Aldercliffe and Pine Lea and the rumor got abroad that the crop was an unusually heavy one; that Mr. Wharton was short of help and ready to hire at a good wage extra men from the adjoining village. Mr. Turner brought the tidings home from the mill one June night when he returned from work.
"Why don't you try for a job up at Aldercliffe, my lad?" concluded he, after stating the case. "Ever since you were knee-high to a grasshopper you had a knack for pitching hay. Besides, you'd make a fine bit of money and the work would be no heavier than handling freight down at the mills. You've got to work somewhere through your summer vacation."
He made the latter statement as a matter of course for a matter of course it had long since become. Ted always worked when he was not studying. Vacations, holidays, Saturdays, he was always busy earning money for if he had not been, there would have been no chance of his going to school the rest of the time. Sometimes he did errands for one of the dry-goods stores; sometimes, if there were a vacancy, he helped in Fernald and Company's shipping rooms; sometimes he worked at the town market or rode about on the grocer's wagon, delivering orders. By one means or another he had usually contrived, since he was quite a small boy, to pick up odd sums that went toward his clothes and "keep." As he grew older, these sums had increased until now they had become a recognized part of the family income. For it was understood that Ted would turn in toward the household expenses all that he earned. His father had never believed in a boy having money to spend and even if he had every cent which the Turners could scrape together was needed at home. Ted knew well how much sugar and butter cost and therefore without demur he cheerfully placed in the hands of his sister Ruth, who ran the house, every farthing that was given him.
From childhood this sense of responsibility had always been in his background. He had known what it was to go hungry that he might have shoes and go without shoes that he might have underwear. Money had been very scarce on the Vermont farm, and although there was now more of it than there ever had been in the past, nevertheless it was not plentiful. Therefore, as vacation was approaching and he must get a job anyway, he decided to present himself before Mr. Wharton and ask for a chance to help in harvesting the hay crops at Aldercliffe and Pine Lea.
"You are younger than the men I am hiring," Mr. Wharton said, after he had scanned the lad critically. "How old are you?"
"I thought as much. What I want is men."
"But I have farmed all my life," protested Ted with spirit.
"Indeed!" the manager exclaimed not unkindly. "Where?"
"You don't say so! I was born in the Green Mountains," was the quick retort. "Where did you live?"
Instantly the man's face lighted.
"I know that place well. And you came from Newfane here? How did you happen to do that?"
"My father could not make the farm pay and we needed money."
"Humph! Were you sorry to give up farming?"
"Yes, sir. I didn't want to come to Freeman's Falls. But," added the boy brightening, "I like the school here."
The manager paused, studying the sharp, eager face, the spare figure, and the fine carriage of the lad before him.
"Do you like haying?" asked he presently.
"Not particularly," Ted owned with honesty.
Mr. Wharton laughed.
"I see you are a human boy," he said. "If you don't like it, why are you so anxious to do it now?"
"I've got to earn some money or give up going to school in the fall."
"Oh, so that's it! And what are you working at in school that is so alluring?" demanded the man with a quizzical glance.
"Wireless, telegraphs, telephones, and things like that," put in Ted.
For comment Mr. Wharton tipped back in his chair and once more let his eye wander over the boy's face; then he wheeled abruptly around to his desk, opened a drawer, and took out a yellow card across which he scrawled a line with his fountain pen.
"You may begin work to-morrow morning," he remarked curtly. "If it is pleasant, Stevens will be cutting the further meadow with a gang of men. Come promptly at eight o'clock, prepared to stay all day, and bring this card with you."
He waved the bit of pasteboard to and fro in the air an instant to be certain that the ink on it was dry and afterward handed it to Ted. Instinctively the boy's gaze dropped to the message written upon it and before he realized it he had read the brief words:
"Ted Turner. He says he has farmed in Vermont. If he shows any evidence of it keep him. If not turn him off. Wharton."
The man in the chair watched him as he read.
"Well?" said he.
"I beg your pardon, sir. I did not mean to read it," Ted replied with a start. "I'm very much obliged to you for giving me the job."
"I don't see that you've got it yet."
"But I shall have," asserted the lad confidently. "All I asked was a chance."
"That's all the world gives any of us," responded the manager gruffly, as he drew forth a sheet of paper and began to write. "Nobody can develop our brains, train our muscles, or save our souls but ourselves."
With this terse observation he turned his back on the boy, and after loitering a moment to make sure that he had nothing more to say, the lad slipped away, triumphantly bearing with him the coveted morsel of yellow pasteboard. That its import was noncommittal and even contained a tang of skepticism troubled him not a whit. The chief thing was that he had wrested from the manager an opportunity, no matter how grudgingly accorded, to show what he was worth. He could farm and he knew it and he had no doubt that he could demonstrate the fact to any boss he might encounter.
Therefore with high courage he was promptly on hand the next morning and even before the time assigned he approached Stevens, the superintendent.
"What do you want, youngster?" demanded the man sharply. He was in a hurry and it was obvious that something had nettled him and that he was in no humor to be delayed.
"I came to help with the haying."
"We don't want any boys as young as you," Stevens returned, moving away.
"I've a card from Mr. Wharton."
"A card, eh? Why didn't you say so in the first place? Shell it out."
Shyly Ted produced his magic fragment of paper which the overseer read with disapproval in his glance.
"Well, since Wharton wants you tried out, you can pitch in with the crowd," grumbled he. "But I still think you're too young. I've had boys your age before and never found them any earthly use. However, you won't be here long if you're not—that's one thing. You'll find a pitchfork in the barn. Follow along behind the men who are mowing and spread the grass out."
"Oh, you do, do you! Trust people your size for knowing everything."
To the final remark the lad vouchsafed no reply. Instead he moved away and soon returned, fork in hand. What a flood of old memories came surging back with the touch of the implement! Again he was in Vermont in the stretch of mowings that fronted the old white house where he was born. The scent of the hay in his nostrils stirred him like an elixir, and with a thrill of pleasure he set to work. He had not anticipated toiling out there in the hot sunshine at a task which he had always disliked; but to-day, by a strange miracle, it did not seem to be a task so much as a privilege.
How familiar the scene was! As he approached the group of older men it took him only a second to see where he was needed and he thrust his pitchfork into the swath at his feet with a swing of easy grace.
"Guess you've done this job before," called a man behind him after he had worked for an interval.
"Yes, I have."
"You show it," was the brief observation.
They moved on in silence up the field.
"Where'd you learn to handle that fork, sonny?" another voice shouted, as they neared the farther wall.
"In Vermont," laughed Ted.
"I judged as much," grunted the speaker. "They don't train up farmers of your size in this part of the world."
Ted flushed with pleasure and for the first time he stopped work and mopped the perspiration from his forehead. He was hot and thirsty but he found himself strangely exhilarated by the exercise and the sweet morning air and sunshine. Again he took up his fork and tossed the newly cut grass up into the light, spreading it on the ground with a methodical sweep of his young arm. The sun had risen higher now and its dazzling brilliance poured all about him. Up and down the meadow he went and presently he was surprised to find himself alone near the point from which he had started. His fellow-laborers were no longer in sight. The field was very still and because it was, Ted began to whistle softly to himself.
He was startled to hear a quiet laugh at his elbow.
"Don't you ever eat anything, kid?"
Mr. Wharton was standing beside him, a flicker of amusement in his gray eyes.
"I didn't know it was noon," gasped Ted.
"We'll have to tie an alarm clock on you," chuckled the manager. "The gang stopped work a quarter of an hour ago."
"I didn't notice they had."
The boy flushed. He felt very foolish to have been discovered working there all by himself in this ridiculous fashion.
"I wanted to finish this side of the field and I forgot about the time," he stammered apologetically.
"Have you done it to your satisfaction?"
"Yes, I'm just through."
For the life of him Ted could not tell whether the manager was laughing at him or not. He kicked the turf sheepishly.
"Aren't you tired?" inquired Mr. Wharton at length.
"No—at least—well, I haven't thought about it. Perhaps I am a little."
"And well you may be. You've put in a stiff morning's work. You'd better go and wash up now and eat your lunch. Take your full hour of rest. No matter if the others do get back here before you. Stevens says you are worth any two of them, anyway."
"It's just that I'm used to it," was the modest reply.
"We'll let it go at that," Mr. Wharton returned ambiguously. "And one thing more before you go. You needn't worry about staying on. We can use you one way or another all summer. There'll always be work for a boy who knows how to do a job well."
GOING TO HOUSEKEEPING
Thus it came about that Ted Turner began the long, golden days of his summer vacation at the great estates of the Fernalds, and soon he had made himself such an indispensable part of the farming staff that both Mr. Wharton and Mr. Stevens came to rely on him for many services outside of those usually turned over to the men.
"Just step over to the south lot at Pine Lea, Ted, and see if those fellows are thinning the beets properly," Mr. Wharton would say. "I gave them their orders but they may not have taken them in. You know how the thing should be done. Sing out to them if they are not doing the job right."
"Mr. Stevens and I shall be busy this morning checking up the pay roll. Suppose you have an eye on the hilling up of the potatoes, Ted. Show the men how you want it done and start them at it. I'll be over later to see how it's going."
Frequently, instead of working, the boy was called in to give an opinion on some agricultural matter with which he had had experience.
"We are finding white grubs in the corner of the Pine Lea garden. They are gnawing off the roots of the plants and making no end of trouble. What did you do to get rid of them when you were up in Vermont?"
"Salt and wood ashes worked better than anything else," Ted would reply modestly. "It might not be any good here but we had luck with it at home."
"We can try it, at least. You tell Mr. Stevens what the proportions are and how you applied it."
And because the advice was followed by a successful extermination of the plague, the lad's prestige increased and he was summoned to future conclaves when troublesome conditions arose.
Now and then there was a morning when Mr. Stevens would remark to Mr. Wharton:
"I've got to go to the Falls to-day to see about some freight. Ted Turner will be round here, though, and I guess things will be all right. The men can ask him if they want anything."
And so it went.
First Ted filled one corner, then another. He did errands for Mr. Wharton, very special errands, that required thought and care, and which the manager would not have entrusted to every one. Sometimes he ventured valuable suggestions which Mr. Stevens, who really had had far less farming experience than he, was only too grateful to follow.
If the boy felt at all puffed up by the dependence placed upon him, he certainly failed to show it. On the contrary he did his part enthusiastically, faithfully, generously, and without a thought of praise or reward. Although he was young to direct others, when he did give orders to the men he was tactful and retiring enough to issue his commands in the form of wishes and immediately they were heeded without protest. He never shirked the hard work he asked others to perform but was always ready to roll up the sleeves of his blue jeans and pitch with vigor into any task, no matter how menial it was. Had he been arrogant and made an overbearing use of his authority, the men would quickly have rated him as a conceited little popinjay, the pet of the boss, and made his life miserable; but as he remained quite unspoiled by the preference shown him and exhibited toward every one he encountered a kindly sympathy and consideration, the workmen soon accepted him as a matter of course and even began to turn to him whenever a dilemma confronted them.
Perhaps Ted was too genuinely interested in what he was doing to think much about himself or realize that the place he held was an unusual one. At home he and his father had threshed out many a problem together and each given to it the best his brain had to offer, without thought of the difference in their ages. Sometimes Ted's way proved the better, sometimes Mr. Turner's. Whichever plan promised to bring the more successful results was followed without regard for the years of him who had sponsored it. They were working together and for the same goal and what did it matter which of them had proposed the scheme they finally followed? To get the work completed and lay low the obstacles in their path were the only issues of importance.
So it was now. Things at Aldercliffe and Pine Lea must be done and done well, and only what furthered that end counted. Nevertheless, Ted would not have been a human boy had he not been pleased when some idea of his was adopted and found to be of use; this triumph, however, was less because the programme followed was his own than because it put forward the enterprise in hand. There was a satisfaction in finding the key to a balking problem and see it cease to be a problem. It was fun, for example, to think about the potatoes and then say to Mr. Wharton:
"Do you know, Mr. Wharton, I believe if we tried a different spray on that crop that isn't doing well it might help matters."
And when the new concoction was tried and it did help matters, what a glow of happiness came with the success!
What wonder that as the days passed, the niche awarded the lad grew bigger and bigger!
"There is no way you could come up here and live, is there, Ted?" Mr. Wharton inquired one day. "I'd give a good deal to have you here on the spot. Sometimes I want to talk with you outside working hours and I can't for the life of me lay hands on you. It's the deuce of a way to Freeman's Falls and you have no telephone. If you were here——" He paused meditatively, then continued, "There's a little shack down by the river which isn't in use. You may remember seeing it. It was started years ago as a boathouse for Mr. Laurie's canoes and then—well, it was never finished. It came to me the other day that we might clean it up, get some furnishings, and let you have it. How would the notion strike you?"
Ted's eyes sparkled.
"I'd like it of all things, sir!" returned he instantly.
"You wouldn't be timid about sleeping off there by yourself?"
"Well, well! I had no idea you would listen to such a plan, much less like it. Suppose you go down there to-day and overhaul the place. Find out what would be required to make you comfortable and we will see what we can do about it. I should want you fixed up so you would be all right, you know. While we could not afford to go into luxuries, there would be no need for you to put up with makeshifts."
"But I am quite used to roughing it," protested Ted. "I've often camped out."
"Camping is all very well for a while but after a time it ceases to be a joke. No, if you move up here to accommodate us, you must have decent quarters. Both Mr. Fernald and Mr. Clarence would insist on that, I am certain. So make sure that the cabin is tight and write down what you think it would be necessary for you to have. Then we'll see about getting the things for you."
"You are mighty good, sir."
"Nonsense! It is for our own convenience," Mr. Wharton replied gruffly.
"Shall I—do you mean that I am to go over there after work to-night?"
"No. Go now. Cut along right away."
"But I was to help Mr. Stevens with the——"
"Stevens will have to get on without you. Tell him so from me. You can say I've set you at another job."
With springing step Ted hurried away. He was not sorry to exchange the tedious task of hoeing corn for the delightful one of furnishing a domicile for himself. What sport it would be to have at last a place which he could call his own! He could bring his books from home, his box of electrical things—all his treasures—and settle down in his kingdom like a young lord. He did not care at all if he had only a hammock to sleep in. The great satisfaction would be to be his own master and monarch of his own realm, no matter how tiny it was. Like lightning his imagination sped from one dream to another. If only Mr. Wharton would let him run some wires from the barn to the shack, what electrical contrivances he could rig up! He could then light the room and heat it, too; he could even cook by electricity.
Probably, however, Mr. Wharton would consider such a notion out of the question and much too ambitious. Even though the Fernalds had an electrical plant of their own, such a luxury was not to be thought of. A candle would do for lighting, of course.
Busy with these thoughts and others like them he sped across the meadow and through the woods toward the river. He was not content to walk the distance but like a child leaped and ran with an impatience not to be curbed. Soon he came within sight of the shack which stood at the water's edge, mid-way between Aldercliffe and Pine Lea, and was sheltered from view by a grove of thick pines. Its bare, boarded walls had silvered from exposure to the weather until it was scarcely noticeable against the gray tree trunks. Nevertheless, its crude, rough sides, its staring windows, and its tarred roof looked cheerless and deserted enough. But for Ted Turner it possessed none of these forbidding qualities. Instead of being a hermitage it seemed a paradise, a fairy kingdom, the castle of a knight's tale!
Thrusting the key which Mr. Wharton had given him into the padlock, he rolled open the sliding door and intermingled odors of cedar, tar, and paint greeted him. The room was of good size and was neatly sheathed as an evident preparation for receiving a finish of stain which, however, had never been put on. There were four large windows closed in by lights of glass, a rough board floor, and a fireplace of field stone. Everywhere was dirt, cobwebs, sawdust, and shavings; and scattered about so closely there was scarcely space to step was a litter of nails, fragments of boards, and a conglomeration of tin cans of various sizes.
Almost any one who beheld the chaos would have turned away discouraged. But not so Ted! The disorder was of no consequence in his eyes. Through all its dinginess and confusion he saw that the roof was tight, the windows whole, and the interior quite capable of being swept out, scrubbed and put in order. That was all he wanted to know. Why, the place could be made into a little heaven! Already he could see it transformed into a dwelling of the utmost comfort. He had remodelled many a worse spot,—the barn loft in Vermont, for example, and made it habitable. One had only to secure a table, a chair or two, build a bunk and get a mattress, and the trick was turned.
How proud he should be to have such a dwelling for his own!
He could hardly restrain himself from rolling up his sleeves and going to work then and there. Fearing, however, that Mr. Wharton might be awaiting his report, he reluctantly closed the door again, turned the key in it, and hurried back to the manager's office.
"Well," inquired the elder man, spinning around in his desk chair as the boy entered and noting the glow in the youthful face, "how did you find things at the shack? Any hope in the place?"
"Hope!" repeated Ted. "Why, sir, the house is corking! Of course, it is dirty now but I could clean it up and put it in bully shape. All I'd need would be to build a bunk, get a few pieces of furniture, and the place would be cosy as anything. If you'll say the word, I'll start right in to-night after work and——"
"Why wait until to-night?" came drily from the manager.
"Why—er—I thought perhaps—you see there is the corn——"
"Never mind the corn," Mr. Wharton interrupted.
"You mean I could go right ahead now?" asked Ted eagerly.
"Certainly. You are doing this for our accommodation, not for your own, and there is no earthly reason why you should perform the work outside your regular hours."
"But it is for my accommodation, too," put in the lad with characteristic candor.
"I am very glad if it happens to be," nodded Mr. Wharton. "So much the better. But at any rate, you are not going to take your recreation time for the job. Now before you go, tell me your ideas as to furnishings. You will need some things, of course."
"Not much," Ted answered quickly. "As I said, I can knock together a bunk and rough table myself. If I could just have a couple of chairs——"
Mr. Wharton smiled at the modesty of the request.
"Suppose we leave the furnishing until later," said he, turning back to his desk with a gesture of dismissal. "I may drop round there some time to-day while you're working. We can then decide more fully upon what is necessary. You'll find brooms, mops, rags, and water in the barn, you know. Now be off. I'm busy."
Away went Ted, only too eager to obey. In no time he was laden with all the paraphernalia he desired. He stopped at Stevens' cottage only long enough to add to his equipment a pail of steaming water and then, staggering under the weight of his burden of implements, made his way to the shack. Once there he threw off his coat, removed his collar and tie, rolled up his sleeves, and went to work. First he cleared the bulk of rubbish from the room and set it outside; then he swept up the floor and mopped it with hot suds; afterwards he washed the windows and rubbed them until they shone. Often he had watched his mother and sisters, who were well trained New England housekeepers, perform similar offices and therefore he knew exactly how such things should be done. It took him a solid morning to render the interior spotless and just as he was pausing to view his handiwork with weary satisfaction Mr. Wharton came striding in at the door.
"Mercy on us!" gasped the newcomer with amazement. "You have been busy! Why, I had no idea there were such possibilities in this place. The room is actually a pretty one, isn't it? We shall be able to fix you up snug as a bug in a rug here." He ran his eye quickly about. "If you put your bunk between the windows, you will get plenty of air. You'll need window shades, some comfortable chairs, a bureau, a table——"
"I think I can make a table myself," Ted put in timidly. "That is, if I can have some boards."
"No, no, no! There are boards enough. But you don't want a makeshift thing like that. If you are going to have books and perhaps read or study, you must have something that will stand solidly on four legs. I may be able to root a table out of some corner. Then there will be bedding——"
"I can bring that from home."
"All right. We'll count on you to supply that if you are sure you have it to spare. I'll be responsible for the rest." He stopped an instant to glance into the boy's face then added kindly, "So you think you are going to like your new quarters, eh?"
"You bet I am!"
"That's good! And by the by, I have arranged for you to have your meals with Stevens and his wife. They like you and were glad to take you in. Only you must be prompt and not make them wait for you. Should you prove yourself a bother they might turn you out."
"I'll be on hand, sir."
"See that you are. They have breakfast at seven, dinner at twelve, and supper at six. Whenever you decide to spend Sunday with your family, or take any meals elsewhere, you must, of course, be thoughtful enough to announce beforehand that you are to be away."
Ted waited a few moments and then, as Mr. Wharton appeared to be on the point of leaving, he asked with hesitancy:
"How—how—much will my meals cost?"
An intonation of anxiety rang in the question.
"Your meals are our hunt," Mr. Wharton replied instantly. "We shall see to those."
"You'll be worth your board to the Fernald estates, never fear, my lad; so put it all out of your mind and don't think of it any more. All is, should we ask of you some little extra service now and then, I am sure you will willingly perform it, won't you?"
"Sure!" came with emphatic heartiness.
"Then I don't see but everything is settled," the manager declared, as he started back through the grove of pines. "I gave orders up at the toolhouse that you were to have whatever boards, nails, and tools you wanted, so don't hesitate to sail in and hunt up anything you need."
"You are mighty kind, sir."
"Pooh, pooh. Nonsense! Aren't you improving the Fernald property, I'd like to know?" Mr. Wharton laughed. "This boathouse has been an eyesore for years. We shall be glad enough to have it fixed up and used for something."
THE FIRST NIGHT IN THE SHACK
Throughout the long summer afternoon Ted worked on, fitting up his new quarters. Not only did he make a comfortable bunk for himself such as he had frequently constructed when at logging or sugaring-off camps in Vermont, but having several boards left he built along the racks originally intended for canoes some shelves for the books he meant to bring from home. By late afternoon he had finished all it was possible for him to do and he decided to go to Freeman's Falls and join his own family at supper, and while there collect the possessions he wished to transfer to the shack.
Accordingly he washed up and started out.
It was a little late when he reached the house and already his father and sisters were at table.
"Mercy on us, Ted, what under the sun have you been doing until this time of night?" demanded Mr. Turner. "I should call from seven in the morning until seven at night a pretty long day."
"Oh, I haven't been working all this time," laughed the boy. "Or at least, if I have, I have been having the time of my life doing it."
Eagerly, and with youthful enthusiasm, he poured out the tale of the day's happenings while the others listened.
"So you are starting out housekeeping, are you?" chuckled Mr. Turner, when the narrative was finished. "It certainly ain't a bad idea. Not that we're glad to get rid of you—although I will admit we ain't got the room here that I wish we had. It is the amount of time you'll save and the strength, too, that I'm thinking of. It must be a good three miles up to Aldercliffe and Pine Lea is at least two miles farther. Being on the spot is going to make a lot of difference. But how are you going to get along? What will you do for food? I ain't going to have you eating stuff out of tin cans."
"Oh, you needn't worry about me, Dad. Mr. Wharton has arranged for me to take my meals with Mr. and Mrs. Stevens who have a cottage on the place. Stevens is the head farmer, you know."
"A pretty penny that will cost you! What does the man think you are—a millionaire?"
"Mr. Wharton told me the Fernalds would see to the bill."
"Oh! That's another matter," ejaculated Mr. Turner, entirely mollified. "I will say it's pretty decent of Mr. Wharton. Seems to me he is doing a good deal for you."
"Yes, he is."
"Well, all is you must do your full share in return so he won't lose anything by it." The elder man paused thoughtfully. "Ain't there anything we could do to help out? Perhaps we could donate something toward your furnishings."
"Mr. Wharton said if I could supply my own bedding——"
"We certainly can do that," put in Ruth quickly. "There is a trunkful of extra comforters and blankets in the back room that I should be thankful enough to ship off somewhere else. And wouldn't you like some curtains? Seems to me they'd make it cosy and homelike. I've a piece of old chintz we've never used. Why not make it into curtains and do away with buying window shades?"
"That would be great!"
"It would be lots more cheerful," remarked Nancy. "What kind of a bed have you got?"
"I've built a wooden bunk-two bunks, in fact—one over the other like the berths in a ship. I thought perhaps sometime Dad might want to come up and visit me; and while I was at it, it was no more work to make two beds than one."
Mr. Turner smiled in friendly fashion into his son's eyes. The two were great pals and it pleased him that the lad should have included him in his plans.
"Beds like that will do all very well for a night or two; but for a steady thing they will be darned uncomfortable. Cover 'em with pine boughs after a long tramp through the woods and they seem like heaven; but try 'em day after day and they cease to be a joke. Wasn't there a wire spring round here somewhere, Ruth? Seems to me I remember it standing up against something. Why wouldn't that be the very thing? You could fasten it in place and have a bed good as you have at home."
"That's a corking idea, Dad!"
"I wish we could go up and see the place," Ruth suggested. "I am crazy to know what it looks like. Besides, I want to measure the windows."
"Maybe we could run up there to-night," her father replied rising. "It is not late and the Maguires said they would take us out for a little spin in their Ford before dark. They might enjoy riding up to Aldercliffe and be quite willing we should take along the spring bed. Mat is a kind soul and I haven't a doubt he'd be glad to do us a favor. Run down and ask him, Ted; or wait—I'll go myself."
The Maguires had the apartment just below the Turner's and Mat, a thrifty and good-humored Irishman, was one of the night watchmen at the Fernald mills. He had a plump little wife, but as there were no children he had been able to save more money than had some of his neighbors, and in consequence had purchased a small car which it was his delight to use for the benefit of his friends. In fact, he often called it the Maguire jitney, and the joke never became threadbare to his simple mind, for every time he made it he laughed as heartily as if he had never heard it before, and so did everybody else. Therefore no sooner had Mr. Turner proposed his plan than Mat was all eagerness to further the project.
"Sure I'll take you—as many of you as can pile in, and the spring bed, too! If you don't mind the inconvenience of the luggage, I don't. And tell Ted to bring along anything else he'd like to carry. We can pack you all in and the stuff on top of you. 'Twill be easy enough. Just make ready as soon as you can, so the dark won't catch us."
You may be sure the Turners needed no second bidding. Ruth and Nancy scrambled the supper dishes out of the way while Ted and his father hauled the wire spring out, brushed it, and dragged it downstairs. Afterward Ted collected his box of electrical treasures, his books, and clothing. What he would do with all these things he did not stop to inquire. The chance to transfer them was at hand and he seized it with avidity. His belongings might as well be stored in the shack as anywhere else,—better, far better, for the space they left behind would be very welcome to the Turner household.
Therefore with many a laugh, the party crowded into the waiting car and set out for Aldercliffe; and when at length they arrived at the house in the pines and Ted unlocked the sliding doors and pushed them wide open, ushering in his guests, what a landholder he felt!
"My, but this is a tidy little place!" Maguire ejaculated. "And it's not so little, either. Why, it's a regular palace! Look at the fireplace and the four windows! My eye! And the tier of bunks is neat as a ship's cabin. Bear a hand here with the spring. I'm all of a quaver to see if it fits," cried the man.
"I made the bunks regulation size, so I guess there won't be any trouble about that," Ted answered.
"The head on the lad!" the Irishman cried. "Ain't he the brainy one, though? You don't catch him wool-gathering! Not he!"
Nevertheless he was not content until the spring had been hoisted into place and he saw with his own eyes that it was exactly the proper size. "Could anything be cuter!" observed he with satisfaction. "Now with a good mattress atop of that you will have a bed fit for a king. You'll be comfortable as if you were in a solid gold bedstead, laddie!"
"I'm afraid I may be too comfortable," laughed Ted. "What if I should oversleep and not get to breakfast, or to work, on time!"
"That would never do," Mr. Turner said promptly. "You must have an alarm clock. 'Twould be but a poor return for Mr. Wharton's kindness were you to come dawdling to work."
"I guess you can trust Ted to be on time," put in Ruth soothingly. "He is seldom late—especially to meals. Even if he were to be late at other places, I should always be sure he would show up when there was anything to eat."
"You bet I would," announced the boy, with a good-humored grin.
"I shall have enough chintz for curtains for all your windows," interrupted Nancy, who had been busy taking careful measurements during the conversation. "We'll get some brass rods and make the hangings so they will slip back and forth easily; they will be much nicer than window shades."
"Ain't there nothin' I can donate?" inquired Mat Maguire anxiously. "A rag rug, now—why wouldn't that be a good thing? The missus makes 'em by the dozen and our house is full of 'em. We're breakin' our necks mornin', noon, and night on 'em. A couple to lay down here wouldn't be so bad, I'm thinking. You could put one beside your bed and another before the door to wipe your feet on. They'd cheer the room up as well as help keep you warm. Just say the word, sonny, and you shall have 'em."
"I'd like them tremendously."
The kind-hearted Irishman beamed with pleasure.
"Sure, they'll be better out of our house than in it," remarked he, trying to conceal his gratification. "You can try stumbling over 'em a spell instead of me. 'Twill be interesting to see which of us breaks his neck first."
It was amazing to see how furniture came pouring in at Ted's bachelor quarters during the next few days. The chintz curtains were finished and hung; the Maguire rugs made their appearance; Mr. Turner produced a shiny alarm clock; and Nancy a roll of colored prints which she had cut from the magazines.
"You'll be wanting some pictures," said she. "Tack these up somewhere. They'll brighten up the room and cover the bare walls."
Thus it was that day by day the wee shack in the woods became more cheery and homelike.
"I've managed to hunt up a few trap's for you," called Mr. Wharton one morning, as he met the boy going to work. "If you want to run over to the cabin now and unlock the door, I'll send a man over with them."
Want to! Ted was off in a second, impatient to see what new treasures he was to receive. He had not long to wait, for soon one of the farm trucks came into sight, and the driver began to deposit its contents on the wooden platform which sloped from the door down to the river.
As Ted helped the man unload, his eyes shone with delight. Could any gifts be rarer? To be sure the furniture was not new. In fact, some of it was old and even shabby with wear. But the things were all whole, and although they were simple they were serviceable and perhaps looked more in harmony with the old-fashioned curtains and the quaint rugs than if they had come fresh from the shop. There was a chest of drawers; a rocking chair, a leather armchair, and a straight wooden chair; a mirror with frame of faded gilt; a good-sized wooden table; and, best of all, a much scarred, flat-topped desk. Ted had never owned a desk in all his life. Often he had dreamed of sitting behind one when he grew to be a man. But to have it now—here! To have it for his own! How it thrilled him!
After the furniture was in place and the teamster had gone, he arranged his few papers and pencils in the desk drawers a score of times, trying them first in one spot and then in another. It was marvelous how much room there was in such an article of furniture. What did men use to fill up such a mighty receptacle, anyway? Stretch his possessions as he would, they only made a scattered showing at the bottom of three of the drawers. He laughed to see them lying there and hear them rattle about when he brought the drawers to with a click. However, it was very splendid to have a desk, whether one had anything to put in it or not, and perhaps in time he would be able to collect more pencils, rulers and blocks of paper. The contrast between not having any room at all for his things and then so much that he did not know what to do with it was amusing.
Now at last he was fully equipped to take up residence in his new abode and every instant he could snatch from his duties that day he employed in settling his furniture, making up his bed, filling his water pitcher from the river and completing his final preparations for residence at the boathouse. That night he moved in.
Nothing had been omitted that would contribute to his comfort. Mr. Wharton had given him screens for the windows and across the broad door he had tacked a curtain of netting that could be dropped or pushed aside at will. The candlelight glowing from a pair of old brass candlesticks on the shelf above the fireplace contributed rather than took away from the effect and to his surprise the room assumed under the mellow radiance a quality actually aesthetic and beautiful.
"I don't believe Aldercliffe or Pine Lea have anything better than this to offer," the boy murmured aloud, as he looked about him with pride. "I'd give anything to have Mr. Wharton see it now that it's done!"
Strangely enough, the opportunity to exhibit his kingdom followed on the very heels of his desire, for while he was arranging the last few books he had brought from home on the shelf above his desk he heard a tap at the door.
"Are you in bed, son?" called the manager. "I saw your light and just dropped round to see if you had everything you wanted."
Rushing to the door, Ted threw it open.
"I haven't begun to go to bed yet," returned he. "I've been too excited. How kind of you to come!"
"Curiosity! Curiosity!" responded the man hastily. Although Ted knew well that the comment was a libel, he laughed as Mr. Wharton came in, drawing the door together behind him.
"By Jove!" burst out the manager, glancing about the room.
"You like it?"
"Why—what in goodness have you done to the place? I—I—mercy on us!"
"You do like it then?" the boy insisted eagerly.
"Like it! Why, you've made it into a regular little palace. I'd no idea such a thing was possible. Where did you get your candlesticks and your andirons?"
"From home. We have radiators in the apartment and so my sisters had stored them away and were only too glad to have me take them."
"Humph! And your curtains came from home, too?"
"Well, you've missed your calling, is all I can say. You belong in the interior decorating business," asserted Mr. Wharton. "Wait until Mr. Clarence sees this place." Again the elder man looked critically round the interior. "I wouldn't mind living here myself—hanged if I would. The only thing I don't like is those candles. There is a good deal of a draught here and you are too near the pines to risk a fire. Electricity would be safer."
Whistling softly to himself, he began to walk thoughtfully about.
"I suppose," he presently went on, "it would be a simple enough matter to run wires over here from the barn."
"Wouldn't that be bully!"
"You'd like it?"
The manager took up his hat.
"Well, we'll see what can be done," he answered, moving toward the door.
But on the threshold he stopped once more and looked about.
"I'm going to bring some of the Fernalds over here to see the place," observed he. "For some time Mr. Clarence has been complaining that this shack was a blot on the estate and threatening to pull it down. He'd better have a peep at it now. You may find he'll be taking it away from you."
He saw a startled look leap into the boy's eyes.
"No, no, sonny! Have no fears. I was only joking," he added. "Nevertheless, the house will certainly be a surprise to anybody who saw it a week ago. I wouldn't have believed such a transformation was possible."
Then as he disappeared with his flash-light through the windings of the pine woods he called:
"We'll see about that electric wiring. I imagine it won't be much of a job, and I should breathe easier to eliminate those candles, pretty as they are. Until something is done, just be careful not to set yourself and us afire!"
With that he was gone.
Ted dropped the screen and loitered a moment in the doorway, looking out into the night. Before him stretched the river; so near was it that he could hear the musical lappings of its waters among the tall grasses that bordered the stream. From the ground, matted thickly with pine needles, rose a warm, sun-scorched fragrance heavy with sleep.
The boy stretched his arms and yawned. Then he rolled the doors together and began to undress.
Suddenly he paused with one shoe in his hand. A thought had come to him. If Mr. Wharton ran the electric wires over to the shack, what was to prevent him from utilizing the current for some of his own contrivances? Why, he could, perhaps, put his wireless instruments into operation and rig up a telephone in his little dwelling. What fun it would be to unearth his treasures from the big wooden box in which they had been so long packed away and set them up here where they would interfere with no one but himself!
He hoped with all his heart the manager would continue to be nervous about those candles.
Fervent as this wish was, it was several days before Ted saw Mr. Wharton again and in the meantime the boy began to adapt himself to his new mode of living with a will. His alarm clock got him up in the morning in time for a plunge in the river and after a brisk rub-down he was off to breakfast with the Stevens's, whose cottage was one of a tiny colony of bungalows where lived the chauffeurs, head gardener, electricians, and others who held important positions on the two estates.
It did not take many days for Ted to become thoroughly at home in the pretty cement house where he discovered many slight services he could perform for Mrs. Stevens during the scraps of leisure left him after meals. His farm training had rendered him very handy with tools and he was quick to see little things which needed to be done. Moreover, the willingness to help, which from the moment of his advent to Aldercliffe and Pine Lea had made him a favorite with Mr. Wharton and the men, speedily won for him a place with the kindly farmer's wife.
Had Ted known it, she had been none too well pleased at the prospect of adopting into her home a ravenous young lad who might, nay, probably would be untidy and troublesome; but she did not dare oppose Mr. Wharton when the plan was suggested. Nevertheless, although she consented, she grumbled not a little to her husband about the inconvenience of the scheme. The money offered her by the manager had been the only redeeming factor in the case. Quite ignorant of these conditions, Ted had made his advent into the house and she soon found to her amazement that the daily coming of her cheery boarder became an event which she anticipated with motherly interest.
"He is such a well-spoken boy and so nice to have round," asserted she to Mr. Wharton. "Not a mite of trouble, either. In fact, he's a hundred times handier than my own man, who although he can make a garden thrive can't drive a nail straight to save his life. And there's never any fussing about his food. He eats everything and enjoys it. I believe Stevens and I were getting dreadful pokey all alone here by ourselves. The lad has brightened us up no end. We wouldn't part with him now for anything."
Thus it was that Ted Turner made his way. His password was usefulness. He never measured the hours he worked by the clock, never was too busy or too tired to fill in a gap; and although he was popular with everybody, and a favorite with those in authority, he never took advantage of his position to escape toil or obtain privileges. In fact, he worked harder if anything than did the other men, and as soon as his associates saw that the indulgence granted him did not transform him into a pig, they ceased any jealousy they cherished and accorded him their cordial goodwill. For Ted was always modestly respectful toward older persons; and if he knew more about farming and some other things than did a good many of the laborers on the place, he did not push himself forward or boast of his superiority.
Consequently when he ventured to say, "I wonder if somebody would help me with this harrow?" he would receive a dozen eager responses, the men never suspecting that Mr. Wharton had given this little chap authority to order them to aid with the harrowing of the field. Instead each workman thought his cooperation a free-will offering and enjoyed giving it.
Thus a fortnight passed and no one could have been happier than was Ted Turner on a certain clear June evening. He had finished his Saturday night supper of baked beans and brown bread and after it was over had lingered to feed the Stevens's hens, in order to let Mr. Stevens go early to Freeman's Falls to purchase the Sunday dinner. As a result, it was later than usual when he started out for his camp on the river's brink. The long, busy day was over; he was tired and the prospect of his comfortable bed was very alluring. It was some distance to the shack, and before he was halfway through the pine woods that separated Aldercliffe from Pine Lea darkness had fallen, and he was compelled to move cautiously along the narrow, curving trail. How black the night was! A storm must be brewing, thought he, as he glanced up into the starless heavens. Stumbling over the rough and slippery ground on he went. Then suddenly he rounded a turn in the path and stood arrested with terror.
Not more than a rod away, half concealed in the denseness of the sweeping branches rose his little shack, a blaze of light! A wave of consternation turned him cold and two solutions of the mystery immediately flashed into his mind—fire and marauders. Either something had ignited in the interior of the house; or, since it was isolated and had long been known to be vacant, strolling mischief-makers had broken in and were ransacking it. He remembered now that he had left a window open when he had gone off in the morning. Doubtless thieves were at this moment busy appropriating his possessions. Of course it could not be any of the Fernald workmen. They were too friendly and honorable to commit such a dastardly deed. No, it was some one from outside. Was it not possible men had come down the river in a boat from Melton, the village above, and spying the house had made a landing and encamped there for the night?
Well, live or die, he must know who his unwelcome guests were. It would be cowardly to leave them in possession of the place and make no attempt to discover their identity. For that invaders were inside the shack he was now certain. It was not a fire. There was neither smoke nor flame. Softly he crept nearer, the thick matting of pine needles muffling his footsteps. But how his heart beat! Suppose a twig should crack beneath his feet and warn the vandals of his approach? And suppose they rushed out, caught him, and—for a moment he halted with fear; then, summoning every particle of courage he possessed, he tiptoed on and contrived to reach one of the windows.
There he halted, staring, his knees weak from surging reaction.
Instead of the company of bandits his mind had pictured, there in the rocker sat Mr. Wharton and opposite him, in the great leather armchair, was Mr. Clarence Fernald. The latter fact would have been astounding enough. But the marvel did not cease there. The light suffusing the small room came from no flickering candles but glowed steadily from two strong, unblinking electric lights, one of which had been connected with a low lamp on his desk, and the other with a fixture in the ceiling.
Ted could scarcely believe his eyes. All day, during his absence, electricians must have been busy. How carefully they had guarded their secret. Why, he had talked with Tim Toyer that very morning on his way to work and Tim had breathed no word, although he was the head electrician and had charge of the dynamo which generated the current both for Aldercliffe and Pine Lea. The Fernalds had never depended on Freeman's Falls for their electricity; on the contrary, they maintained a small plant of their own and used the power for a score of purposes on the two estates.
Evidently either Mr. Wharton or Mr. Clarence Fernald himself must have given the order which had with such Aladdin-like magic been so promptly and mysteriously fulfilled. It certainly was kind of them to do this and Ted determined they should not find him wanting in gratitude. Pocketing his shyness, he opened the door and stepped into the room. "Well, youngster, I thought it was about time the host made his appearance," exclaimed Mr. Wharton. "We could not have waited much longer. Mr. Fernald, this is Ted Turner, the lad I have been telling you about."
The mill-owner nodded, let his eye travel over the boy's flushed face, and then, as if satisfied by what he saw there, he put out his hand.
"I have been hearing very excellent reports of you, Turner," said he, "and I wished to investigate for myself the quarters they have given you to live in. You've made a mighty shipshape little den of this place."
"It didn't need very much done to it," protested Ted, blushing under the fixed gaze of the great man. "I just cleaned it up and arranged the furniture. Mr. Wharton was kind enough to give me most of it."
"I can't claim any thanks," laughed the manager. "The traps I gave you were all cast-offs and not in use. It is what you have done with them that is the marvel."
"You certainly have turned your donations to good purpose," Mr. Fernald observed. "I've been noticing your books in your absence and see that most of them are textbooks on electricity. I judge you are interested in that sort of thing."
"Yes, sir, I am."
The financier drummed reflectively on the arm of his chair.
"How did you happen to go into that?" he asked presently.
"I have been studying it at school. My father is letting me go through the high school—at least he hopes to let me finish my course there. I have been two years already. That is why I am working during the summer."
"I see. And so you have been taking up electricity at school, eh?"
"Yes, sir. I really am taking a business course. The science work in the laboratory is an extra that I just run in because I like it. My father wanted me to fit myself for business. He thought it would be better for me," explained Ted.
"But you prefer the science?"
"I am afraid I do, sir," smiled Ted, with ingratiating honesty. "But I don't mean to let it interfere with my regular work. I try to remember it is only a side issue."
Mr. Clarence Fernald did not answer and during his interval of silence Ted fell to speculating on what he was thinking. Probably the magnate was disapproving of his still going to school and was saying to himself how much better it would have been had he been put into the mill and trained up there instead of having his head stuffed with stenography and electrical knowledge.
"What did you do in electricity?" the elder man asked at length.
"Oh, I fussed around some with telephones, wireless, and telegraph instruments."
Mr. Fernald smiled.
"Did you get where you could take messages?" inquired he with real interest.
The financier nodded.
"I did a little at it," replied Ted. "Of course I was slow."
"And what about wireless?"
"I got on better with that. I rigged up a small receiving station at home but when the war came I had to take it down."
"So that outfit was yours, was it?" commented Mr. Fernald. "I noticed it one day when I was in the village. What luck did you have with it?"
"Oh, I contrived to pick up messages within a short radius. My outfit wasn't very powerful."
"I suppose not. And the telephone?"
They saw an eager light leap into the lad's eyes.
"I've worked more at that than anything else," replied he. "You see one of the instruments at the school gave out and they set me to tinkering at it. In that way I got tremendously interested in it. Afterward some of us fellows did some experimenting and managed to concoct a crude one in the laboratory. It wasn't much of a telephone but we finally got it to work."
"They tell me you are a good farmer as well as an electrician," Mr. Fernald said.
"Oh, I was brought up on a farm, sir."
The great man rose.
"Well, mind you don't let your electricity make you forget your farming," cautioned he, not unkindly. "We need you right where you are. Still I will own electricity is a pleasant pastime. You will have a current to work with now whenever you want to play with it. Just be sure you don't get a short circuit and blow out my dynamo."
"Do—do—you really mean I may use the current for experiments?" demanded Ted.
Whether Mr. Fernald had made his remarks in jest or expected them to be taken seriously was not apparent; and if he were surprised at having the boy catch him up and hold him to account, he at least displayed not a trace of being taken unawares. For only an instant was he thoughtful, and that was while he paused and studied the countenance of the lad before him.
"Why, I don't know that I see any harm in your using the current for reasonable purposes," he answered slowly, after an interval of meditation. "You understand the dangers of running too many volts through your body and of crossing wires, don't you?"
"Oh, yes, sir," laughed Ted.
"I must confess I should not trust every boy with such a plaything," continued the magnate, "but you seem to have a good head on your shoulders and I guess we can take a chance on you." He moved silently across the room but on the threshold he turned and added with self-conscious hesitancy, "By the way my—my—son, Mr. Laurie, chances to be interested in electricity, too. Perhaps some day he might drop in here and have a talk about this sort of thing."
"I wish he would."
With a quiet glance the father seemed to thank the lad for his simple and natural reply. Both of them knew but too well that such an event could never be a casual happening, and that if poor Mr. Laurie ever dropped in at the shack it would be only when he was brought there, either in his wheel-chair or in the arms of some of the servants from Pine Lea. Nevertheless it was obvious that Mr. Fernald appreciated the manner in which Ted ignored these facts and suppressed his surprise at the unusual suggestion. Had Mr. Laurie's dropping in been an ordinary occurrence no one could have treated it with less ceremony than did Ted.
An echo of the gratitude the capitalist felt lingered in his voice when he said good night. It was both gentle and husky with emotion and the lad fell asleep marvelling that the men employed at the mills should assert that the Fernalds were frigid and snobby.
When with shining eyes Ted told his father about Mr. Fernald's visit to the shack, Mr. Turner simply shrugged his shoulders and smiled indulgently.
"Likely Mr. Clarence's curiosity got the better of him," said he, "and he wanted to look your place over and see that it warn't too good; or mebbe he just happened to be going by. He never would have taken the trouble to go that far out of his way if he hadn't had something up his sleeve. When men like him are too pleasant, I'm afraid of 'em. And as for Mr. Laurie dropping in—why, his father and grandfather would no more let him associate with folks like us than they'd let him jump headfirst into the river. We ain't good enough for the Fernalds. Probably almost nobody on earth is. And when it comes to Mr. Laurie, why, in their opinion the boy doesn't live who is fit to sit in the same room with him."
Ted's bright face clouded with disappointment.
"I never thought of Mr. Laurie feeling like that," answered he.
"Oh, I ain't saying Mr. Laurie himself is so high and mighty. He ain't. The poor chap has nothing to be high and mighty about and he knows it. Anybody who is as dependent on others as he is can't afford to tilt his nose up in the air and put on lugs. For all I know to the contrary he may be simple as a baby. It's his folks that think he's the king-pin and keep him in cotton wool." Mr. Turner paused, his lip curling with scorn. "You'll never see Mr. Laurie at your shack, mark my words. His people would not let him come even if he wanted to."
The light of eagerness in his son's countenance died entirely.
"I suppose you're right," admitted he slowly and with evident reluctance.
Although he would not have confessed it, he had been anticipating, far more than he would have been willing to own, the coming of Mr. Laurie. Over and over again he had lived in imagination his meeting with this fairy prince whose grave, wistful face and pleasant smile had so strongly attracted him. He had speculated to himself as to what the other boy was like and had coveted the chance to speak to him, never realizing that they were not on an equal plane. Mr. Fernald's suggestion of Laurie visiting the shack seemed the most natural thing in the world, and immediately after it had been made Ted's fancy had run riot, and he had leaped beyond the first formal preliminaries to a time when he and Laurie Fernald would really know one another, even come to be genuine friends, perhaps. What sport two lads, interested in the same things, could have together!
Ted had few companions who followed the bent of thought that he did. The fellows he knew either at school or in the town were ready enough to play football and baseball but almost none of them, for example, wanted to sacrifice a pleasant Saturday to constructing a wireless outfit. One or two of them, it is true, had begun the job but they soon tired of it and either sat down to watch him work or had deserted him altogether. The only congenial companion he had been able to count on had been the young assistant in the laboratory at school who, although he was not at all aged, was nevertheless years older than Ted.
But with the mention of Mr. Laurie myriad dreams had flashed into his mind. Here was no prim old scholar but a lad like himself, who probably did not know much more about electrical matters than he. You wouldn't feel ashamed to admit your ignorance before such a person, or own that you either did not know, or did not understand. You could blunder along with such a companion to your heart's content. Such had been his belief until now, with a dozen words, Ted saw his father shatter the illusion. No, of course Mr. Laurie would never come to the shack. It had been absurd to think it for a moment. And even if he did, it would only be as a lofty and unapproachable spectator. Mr. Fernald's words were a subtly designed flattery intended to put him in good humor because he wanted something of him.
What could it be?
Perhaps he meant to oust him out of the boathouse and rebuild it, or possibly tear it down; or maybe he had taken a fancy to use it as it was and desired to be rid of Ted in some sort of pleasant fashion. Unquestionably the building belonged to Mr. Fernald and if he chose to reclaim it he had a perfect right to do so.
Poor Ted! With a crash his air castles tumbled about his ears and the ecstasy of his mood gave way to apprehension and unhappiness. Each day he waited, expecting to hear through Mr. Wharton that Mr. Clarence Fernald had decided to use the shack for other purposes. Time slipped along, however, and no such tidings came. In the meanwhile Mr. Wharton made no further mention of the Fernalds and gradually Ted's fears calmed down sufficiently for him to gain confidence enough to unpack his boxes of wire, his tools, and instruments. Nevertheless, in spite of this, his first enthusiasm had seeped away and he did not attempt to go farther than to take the things out and look at them.
Before his father had withered his ambitions by his pessimism, a score of ideas had danced through his brain. He had thought of running a buzzer over to the Stevens's bungalow in order that Mrs. Stevens might ring for him when she wanted him; and he had thought of connecting Mr. Wharton's office with the shack by telephone. He felt sure he could do both these things and would have liked nothing better than try them. But now what was the use? If a little later on Mr. Fernald intended to take the shack away from him, it would be foolish to waste toil and material for nothing. For the present, at least, he much better hold off and see what happened.
Yet notwithstanding this resolve, he did continue to improve the appearance of the boathouse. Just why, he could not have told. Perhaps it was a vent for his disquietude. At any rate, having some scraps of board left and hearing the gardener say there were more geraniums in the greenhouse than he knew what to do with, Ted made some windowboxes for the Stevens's and himself, painted them green, and filled them with flowering plants. They really were very pretty and added a surprising touch of beauty to the dull, weather-stained little dwelling in the woods. Mr. Wharton was delighted and said so frankly.
"Your camp looks as attractive as a teahouse," said he. "You have no idea how gay the red flowers look among these dark pine trees. How came you to think of window-boxes?"
"Oh, I don't know," was Ted's reply. "The bits of board suggested it, I guess. Then Collins said the greenhouses were overstocked, and he seemed only too glad to get rid of his plants."
"I'll bet he was," responded Mr. Wharton. "If there is anything he hates, it is to raise plants and not have them used. He always has to start more slips than he needs in case some of them do not root; when they do, he is swamped. Evidently you have helped him solve his problem for no sooner did the owners of the other bungalows see Stevens's boxes than everybody wanted them. They all are pestering the carpenter for boards. It made old Mr. Fernald chuckle, for he likes flowers and is delighted to have the cottages on the place made attractive. He asked who started the notion; and when I told him it was you he said he had heard about you and wanted to see you some time."
This time Ted was less thrilled by the remark than he would have been a few days before. A faint degree of his father's scepticism had crept into him and the only reply he vouchsafed was a polite smile. It was absurd to fancy for an instant that the senior member of the Fernald company, the head of the firm, the owner of Aldercliffe, the great and rich Mr. Lawrence Fernald, would ever trouble himself to hunt up a boy who worked on the place. Ridiculous!
Yet it was on the very day that he made these positive and scornful assertions to himself that he found this same mighty Mr. Lawrence Fernald on his doorstep.
It was early Saturday afternoon, a time Ted always had for a holiday. He had not been to see his family for some time and he had made up his mind to start out directly after luncheon and go to Freeman's Falls, where he would, perhaps, remain overnight. Therefore he came swinging through the trees, latchkey in hand, and hurriedly rounding the corner of the shack, he almost jostled into the river Mr. Lawrence Fernald who was loitering on the platform before the door.
"I beg your pardon, sir!" he gasped. "I did not know any one was here."
"Nor did I, young man," replied the ruffled millionaire. "You came like a thief in the night."
"It is the pine needles, sir," explained the boy simply. "Unless you happen to step on a twig that cracks you don't hear a sound."
The directness of the lad evidently pleased the elder man for he answered more kindly:
"It is quiet here, isn't it? I did not know there was a spot within a radius of five miles that was so still. I was almost imagining myself in the heart of the Maine woods before you came."
"I never was in the Maine woods," ventured Ted timidly, "but if it is finer than this I'd like to see it."
"You like your quarters then?"
"Indeed I do, sir."
"And you're not afraid to stay way off here by yourself?"
Mr. Fernald peered over the top of his glasses at the boy before him.
"Would you—would you care to come inside the shack?" Ted inquired after an interval of silence, during which Mr. Fernald had not taken his eyes from his face. "It is very cosy indoors—at least I think so."
"Since I am here I suppose I might just glance into the house," was the capitalist's rather magnificent retort. "I don't often get around to this part of the estate. To-day I followed the river and came farther away from Aldercliffe than I intended. When I got to this point the sun was so pleasant here on the float that I lingered."
Nodding, Ted fitted the key into the padlock, turned it, and rolled the doors apart, allowing Mr. Fernald to pass within. The mill owner was a large man and as he stalked about, peering at the fireplace with its andirons of wrought metal, examining the chintz hangings, and casting his eye over the books on the shelf, he seemed to fill the entire room. Then suddenly, having completed his circuit of the interior, he failed to bow himself out as Ted expected and instead dropped into the big leather armchair and proceeded to draw out a cigar.
"I suppose you don't mind if I smoke," said he, at the same instant lighting a match.
"Oh, no. Dad always smokes," replied the boy.
"Your father is in our shipping room, they tell me."
"Where did you live before you came here?"
"Vermont, eh?" commented the older man with interest. "I was born in Vermont."
"Were you?" Ted ejaculated. "I didn't know that."
"Yes, I was born in Vermont," mused Mr. Fernald slowly. "Born on a farm, as you no doubt were, and helped with the haying, milking, and other chores."
"There were plenty of them," put in the boy, forgetting for the moment whom he was addressing.
"That's right!" was the instant and hearty response. "There was precious little time left afterward for playing marbles or flying kites."
The lad standing opposite chuckled understandingly and the capitalist continued to puff at his cigar.
"Spring was the best time," observed he after a moment, "to steal off after the plowing and planting were done and wade up some brook——"
"Where the water foamed over the rocks," interrupted the boy, with sparkling eyes. "We had a brook behind our house. There were great flat rocks in it and further up in the woods some fine, deep trout holes. All you had to do was to toss a line in there and the next you knew——"
"Something would jump for it," cried the millionaire, breaking in turn into the conversation and rubbing his hands. "I remember hauling a two-pounder out of just such a spot. Jove, but he was a fighter! I can see him now, thrashing about in the water. I wasn't equipped with a rod of split bamboo, a reel, and scores of flies in those days. A hook, a worm, and a stick you'd cut yourself was your outfit. Nevertheless I managed to land my fish for all that."
Lured by the subject Ted came nearer.
"Any pickerel holes where you lived?" inquired Mr. Fernald boyishly.
"You bet there were!" replied the lad. "We had a black, scraggy pond two miles away, dotted with stumps and rotting tree trunks. About sundown we fellows would steal a leaky old punt anchored there and pole along the water's edge until we reached a place where the water was deep, and then we'd toss a line in among the roots. It wasn't long before there would be something doing," concluded he, with a merry laugh.
"How gamey those fish are!" observed Mr. Fernald reminiscently. "And bass are sporty, too."
"I'd rather fish for bass than anything else!" asserted Ted.
"Ever tried landlocked salmon?"
"N—o. We didn't get those."
"That's what you get in Maine and New Brunswick," explained Mr. Fernald. "I don't know, though, that they are any more fun to land than a good, spirited bass. I often think that all these fashionable camps with their guides, and canoes, and fishing tackles of the latest variety can't touch a Vermont brook just after the ice has thawed. I'd give all I own to live one of those days of my boyhood over again!"
"So would I!" echoed Ted.
"Pooh, nonsense!" objected Mr. Fernald. "You are young and will probably scramble over the rocks for years to come. But I'm an old chap, too stiff in the joints now to wade a brook. Still it is a pleasure to go back to it in your mind."
His face became grave, then lighted with a quick smile.
"I'll wager the material for those curtains of yours never was bought round here. Didn't that come from Vermont? And the andirons, too?"
"Ah, I knew it! We had some of that old shiny chintz at home for curtains round my mother's four-poster bed."
He rose and began to pace the room thoughtfully.
"Some day my son is going to bring his boy over here," he remarked. "He is interested in electricity and knows quite a bit about it. I was always attracted to science when I was a youngster. I——"