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HOME > Short Stories > Ted and the Telephone > CHAPTER I AN UNHERALDED CHAMPION
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 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.
You can't be spreadin' wires an' jars an' things round my room!
"You can't be spreadin' wires an' jars an' things round my room!" protested Mr. Turner.
Page 9.
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.

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