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HOME > Short Stories > Ted and the Telephone > CHAPTER VII MR. LAURIE
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 The visits of Laurie during the following two weeks became very frequent; and such pleasure did they afford him that orders were issued for Ted Turner to knock off work each day at four o'clock and return to the shack, where almost invariably he found his new acquaintance awaiting him. It was long since Laurie Fernald had had a person of his own age to talk with. In fact, he had never before seen a lad whose friendship he desired. Most boys were so well and strong that they had no conception of what it meant not to be so, and their very robustness and vitality overwhelmed a personality as sensitively attuned as was that of Laurie Fernald. He shrank from their pity, their blundering sympathy, their patronage.  
But in Ted Turner he immediately felt he had nothing to dread. He might have been a Marathon athlete, so far as any hint to the contrary went. Ted appeared never to notice his disability or to be conscious of any difference in their physical equipment; and when, as sometimes happened, he stooped to arrange a pillow, or lift the wheel-chair over the threshold, he did it so gently and yet in such a matter-of-fact manner that one scarcely noticed it. They were simply eager, alert, bubbling, interested boys together, and as the effect of the friendship showed itself in Laurie's shining eyes, all the Fernalds encouraged it.
"Why, that young Turner is doing Laurie more good than a dozen doctors!" asserted Grandfather Fernald. "If he did no work on the farm at all, Ted would be worth his wages. Money can't pay for what he has done already. I'm afraid Laurie has been missing young friends more than we realized. He never complains and perhaps we did not suspect how lonely he was."
Mr. Clarence nodded.
"Older people are pretty stupid about children sometimes, I guess," said he sadly. "Well, he has Ted Turner now and certainly he is a splendid boy for him to be with. Laurie's tutor, Mr. Hazen, likes him tremendously. What a blessing it is that Wharton stumbled on him and brought him up here. Had we searched the countryside I doubt if we could have found any one Laurie would have liked so much. He doesn't care especially for strangers."
With the Fernald's sanction behind the friendship, and both Laurie's tutor and his doctor urging it on, you may be sure it thrived vigorously. The boys were naturally companionable and now, with every barrier out of the way, and every fostering influence provided, the two soon found themselves on terms of genuine affection.
If Laurie went for a motor ride Saturday afternoon, Ted must go, too; if he had a new book, Ted must share it, and when he was not as well as usual, or it was too stormy for him to be carried to the shack, nothing would do but Ted Turner must be summoned to Pine Lea to brighten the dreariness of the day. Soon the servants came to know the newcomer and understand that he was a privileged person in the household. Laurie's mother, a pretty Southern woman, welcomed him kindly and it was not long before the two were united in a deep and affectionate conspiracy which placed them on terms of the greatest intimacy.
"Laurie isn't quite so well this afternoon, Ted," Mrs. Fernald would say. "Don't let him get too excited or talk too much." Or sometimes it was, "Laurie had a bad night last night and is dreadfully discouraged to-day. Do try and cheer him up."
Not infrequently Mr. Hazen would voice an appeal:
"I haven't been able to coax Laurie to touch his French lesson this morning. Don't you want to see if you can't get him started on it? He'll do anything for you."
And when Ted did succeed in getting the lesson learned, and not only that but actually made an amusing game out of it, how grateful Mr. Hazen was!
For with all his sweetness Laurie Fernald had a stubborn streak in his nature which the volume of attention he had received had only served to accentuate. He was not really spoiled but there were times when he would do as he pleased, whether or no; and when such a mood came to the surface, no one but Ted Turner seemed to have any power against it. Therefore, when it occasionally chanced that Laurie refused to see the doctor, or would not take his medicine, or insisted on getting up when told to lie in bed, Ted was made an ally and urged to promote the thing that made for the invalid's health and well-being.
After being admitted into the family circle on such confidential terms, it followed that absolute equality was accorded Ted and he came and went freely, both at Aldercliffe and Pine Lea. He read with Laurie, lunched with him, followed his lessons; and listened to his plans, his pleasures, and his disappointments. Perhaps, too, Laurie Fernald liked and respected him the more that he had duties to perform and therefore was not always free to come at his beck and call as did everybody else.
"I shan't be able to get round to see you to-day, old chap," Ted would explain over the telephone. "There is a second crop of peas to plant in the further lot and as Mr. Stevens is short of men, I'm going to duff in and help, even if it isn't my job. Of course I want to do my bit when they are in a pinch. I'll see you to-morrow."
And although Laurie grumbled a good deal, he recognized the present need, and becoming interested in the matter in spite of himself, wished to hear the following day all about the planting. That he should inquire greatly delighted both his father and his grandfather who had always been anxious that he should come into touch with the management of the estates. Often they had tried to talk to him of crops and gardens, plowing and planting, but to the subject the heir had lent merely a deaf ear. Now with Ted Turner's advent had come a new influence, the testimony of one who was practically interested in agricultural problems and thought farming anything but dull. The boy was genuinely eager that the work of the men should be a success and therefore when he hoped for fair weather for the haying and it seemed to make a real difference to him whether it was pleasant or not, how could Laurie help being eager that it should not rain until the fields were mowed and the crop garnered into the great barns? Or when Ted was worrying about the pests that invaded the garden, one wouldn't have been a true friend not to ask how the warfare was progressing.
Before Laurie knew it, he had learned much about the affairs of the estates and had become awake to the obstacles good farmers encounter in their strife with soil and weather conditions. As a result his outlook broadened, he became less introspective and more alive to the concerns of those about him; and he gained a new respect for his father's and grandfather's employees. One had much less time to be depressed and discouraged when one had so many things to think of.
Sometimes Ted brought in seeds and showed them; and afterward a slender plant that had sprouted; and then Mr. Hazen would join in and tell the two boys of other plants,—strange ones that grew in novel ways. Or perhaps the talk led to the chemicals the gardeners were mixing with the soil and wandered off into science. Every topic seemed to reach so far and led into such fascinating mazes of knowledge! What a surprising place the world was!
Of course, had the Fernalds so desired they could have relieved Ted of all his farming duties, and indeed they were sorely tempted at times to do so; but when they saw how much better it was to keep the boy's visits a novelty instead of making of them a commonplace event, and sensed how much knowledge he was bringing into the invalid's room, they decided to let matters progress as they were going. They did, however, arrange occasional holidays for the lad and many a jolly outing did Ted have in consequence. Had they displayed less wisdom they might have wrecked the friendship altogether. As it was they strengthened it daily and the little shack among the pines became to both Ted and to Laurie the most loved spot in the world. Frequently the servants from Pine Lea surprised the boys by bringing them their luncheon there; and sometimes Mrs. Fernald herself came hither with her tea-basket, and the entire family sat about before the great stone fireplace and enjoyed a picnic supper.
It was after one of these camping teas that Mr. Clarence Fernald bought for Laurie a comfortable Adirondack canoe luxuriously fitted up with cushions. The stream before the boathouse was broad and contained little or no current except down toward Pine Lea, where it narrowed into rapids that swept over the dam at Freeman's Falls. Therefore if one kept along the edges of the upper part of the river, there was no danger and the canoe afforded a delightful recreation. Both the elder Fernalds and Mr. Hazen rowed well and Ted pulled an exceptionally strong oar for a boy of his years. Hence they took turns at propelling the boat and soon Laurie was as much at home on the pillows in the stern as he was in his wheel-chair.
He greatly enjoyed the smooth, jarless motion of the craft; and often, even when it was anchored at the float, he liked to be lifted into it and lie there rocking with the wash of the river. It made a change which he declared rested him, and it was through this simple and apparently harmless pleasure that a terrible catastrophe took place.
On a fine warm afternoon Mr. Hazen and Laurie went over to the shack to meet Ted who usually returned from work shortly after four o'clock. The door of the little camp was wide open when they arrived but their host was nowhere to be seen. This circumstance did not trouble them, however, for on the days when Laurie was expected Ted always left the boathouse unlocked. What did disconcert them and make Laurie impatient was to discover that through some error in reckoning they were almost an hour too early.
"Our clocks must have been ahead of time," fretted the boy. "We shall have to hang round here the deuce of a while."
"Wouldn't you like me to wheel you back through the grove?" questioned the tutor.
"Oh, there's no use in that. Suppose you get out the pillows and help me into the boat. I'll lie there a while and rest."
"All right."
With a ready smile Mr. Hazen plunged into the shack and soon returned laden with the crimson cushions, which he arranged in the stern of the canoe with greatest care. Afterward he picked Laurie up in his arms as if he had been a feather and carried him to the boat.
"How's that?" he asked, when the invalid was settled.
"Fine! Great, thanks! You're a wonder with pillows, Mr. Hazen; you always get them just right," replied the lad. "Now if I only had my book——"
"I could go and get it."
"Oh, no. Don't bother. Ted will be here before long, won't he? What time is it?"
"About half-past three."
"Only half-past three! Great Scott! I thought it must be nearly four by this time. Then I have quite a while to wait, don't I? I don't see why you got me over here so early."
"I don't either," returned Mr. Hazen pleasantly. "I'm afraid my watch must have been wrong."
Laurie moved restlessly on the pillows. He had passed a wretched night and was worn and nervous in consequence.
"I guess perhaps you'd better run back to the house for my book," remarked he presently. "I shall be having a fit of the blues if I have to hang round here so long with nothing to do."
"I'm perfectly willing to go back," Mr. Hazen said. "But are you sure——"
"Oh, I'm all right," cut in the boy sharply. "I guess I can sit in a boat by myself for a little while."
"Still, I'm not certain that I ought to——"
"Leave me? Nonsense! What do you think I am, Hazen? A baby? What on earth is going to happen to me, I'd like to know?"
"Nevertheless I don't like to——"
"Oh, do stop arguing. It makes me tired. Cut along and get the book, can't you? Why waste all this time fussing?" burst out the invalid fretfully. "How am I ever going to get well, or think I am well, if you keep reminding me every minute that I am a helpless wreck? It is enough to discourage anybody. Why can't you treat me like other people? If you chose to sit in a boat alone for half an hour nobody'd throw a fit. Why can't I?"
"I suppose you can," retorted the tutor unwillingly. "Only you know we never do——"
"Leave me? Don't I know it? The way people tag at my heels drives me almost crazy sometimes. You wouldn't like to have some one dogging your footsteps from morning until night, would you?"
"I'm afraid I shouldn't," admitted Mr. Hazen.
For an interval Laurie was silent; then he glanced up with one of his swift, appealing smiles.
"There, there, Mr. Hazen!" he said with winning sincerity. "Forgive me. I didn't mean to be cross. I do get so fiendishly impatient sometimes. How you can keep on being so kind to me I don't see. Do please go and get the book, like a good chap. It's on the chair in my room or else on the library table. You'll find it somewhere. 'Treasure Island,' you know. I had to leave it in the middle of a most exciting chapter and I am crazy to know how it came out."
Reluctantly Mr. Hazen moved away. It was very hard to resist Laurie Fernald when he was in his present mood; besides, the young tutor was genuinely fond of his charge and would far rather gratify his wishes than refuse him anything. Therefore he hurried off through the grove, resolving to return as fast as ever he could.
In the meantime Laurie threw his head back on the pillows and looked up at the sky. How blue it was and how lazily the clouds drifted by! Was any spot on earth so still as this? Why, you could not hear a sound! He yawned and closed his eyes, the fatigue of his sleepless night overcoming him. Soon he was lost in dreams.
He never could tell just what it was that aroused him; perhaps it was a premonition of danger, perhaps the rocking of the boat. At any rate he was suddenly broad awake to find himself drifting out into the middle of the stream. In some way the boat must have become unfastened and the rising breeze carried it away from shore. Not that it mattered very much now. The thing that was of consequence was that he was helplessly drifting down the river with no means of staying his progress. Soon he would be caught in the swirl of the current and then there would be no help for him. What was he to do?
Must he lie there and be borne along until he was at last carried over the dam at his father's mills?
He saw no escape from such a fate! There was not a soul in sight. The banks of the river were entirely deserted, for the workmen were far away, toiling in the fields and gardens, and they could not hear him even were he to shout his loudest. As for Mr. Hazen, he was probably still at Pine Lea searching for the book and wouldn't be back for some time.
The boy's heart sank and he quivered with fear. Must he be drowned there all alone? Was there no one to aid him?
Thoroughly terrified, he began to scream. But his screams only reëchoed from the silent river banks. No one heard and no one came.
He was in the current of the stream now and moving rapidly along. Faster and faster he went. Yes, he was going to be swept on to Freeman's Falls, going to be carried over the dam and submerged beneath that hideous roar of water that foamed down on the jagged rocks in a boiling torrent of noise and spray. Nobody would know his plight until the catastrophe was over; and even should any of the mill hands catch sight of his frail craft as it sped past it would be too late for them to help him. Before a boat could be launched and rescuers summoned he would be over the falls.
Yes, he was going to die, to die!
Again he screamed, this time less with a thought of calling for help than as a protest against the fate awaiting him. To his surprise he heard an answering shout and a second later saw Ted Turner dash through the pines, pause on the shore, and scan the stream. Another instant and the boy had thrown off his coat and shoes and was in the water, swimming toward the boat with quick, overhand strokes.
He heard an answering shout and a second later saw Ted Turner dash through the pines.
He heard an answering shout and a second later saw Ted Turner dash through the pines.
Page 88.
"Keep perfectly still, Laurie!" he panted. "You're all right. Just don't get fussed."
Yet cheering as were the words, they could not conceal the fact that Ted was frightened, terribly frightened.
The canoe gained headway with the increasing current. It seemed now to leap along. And in just the proportion that its progress was accelerated, the speed of the pursuer lessened. It seemed as if Ted would never overtake his prize. How they raced one another, the bobbing craft and the breathless boy! Ted Turner was a strong swimmer but the canoe with its solitary occupant was so light that it shot over the surface of the water like a feather.
Was the contest to be a losing one, after all?
Laurie, looking back at the wake of the boat, saw Ted's arm move slower and slower and suddenly a wave of realization of the other's danger came upon him. They might both be drowned,—two of them instead of one!
"Give it up, old man!" he called bravely. "Don't try any more. You may go down yourself and I should have to die with that misery on my soul. You've done your best. It's all right. Just let me go! I'm not afraid."
There was no answer from the swimmer but he did not stop. On the contrary, he kept stubbornly on, plowing with mechanical persistence through the water. Then at length he, too, was in the current and was gaining surely and speedily. Presently he was only a length away from the boat—he was nearer—nearer! His arm touched the stern and Laurie Fernald caught his hand in a firm grip. There he hung, breathing heavily.
"I've simply got to stop a second or two and get my wind," said he. "Then we'll start back."
"There are no oars, of course, but I can tie the rope around my body or perhaps catch it between my teeth. The canoe isn't heavy, you know. After we get out of the current and into quiet water, we shall have no trouble. We can cut straight across the stream and the distance to shore won't be great. I can do it all right."
And do it he did, just how neither of the lads could have told.
Nevertheless he did contrive to bring the boat and Laurie with it to a place of safety. Shoulder-deep in the water stood the frenzied Mr. Hazen who had plunged in to meet them and drag them to land. They had come so far down the river that when the canoe was finally beached they found themselves opposite the sweeping lawns of Pine Lea.
Ted and the tutor were chilled and exhausted and Laurie was weak from fright and excitement. It did not take long, you may be sure, to summon help and bundle the three into a motor car which carried them to Pine Lea. Once there the invalid was put to bed and Mr. Hazen and Ted equipped with dry garments.
"I shall get the deuce from the Fernalds for this!" commented the young tutor gloomily to Ted. "If it had not been for you, that boy would certainly have been drowned. Ugh! It makes me shudder to think of it! Had anything happened to him, I believe his father and grandfather would have lynched me."
"Oh, Laurie is going to take all the blame," replied Ted, making an attempt to comfort the dejected young man. "He told me so himself."
"That's all very well," rejoined Mr. Hazen, "but it won't help much. I shouldn't have left him. I had no right to do it, no matter what he said. I suppose the boat wasn't securely tied. It couldn't have been. Then the breeze came up. Goodness knows how the thing actually happened. I can't understand it now. But the point is, it did. Jove! I'm weak as a rag! I guess there can't be much left of you, Ted."
"Oh, I'm all right now," protested Ted. "What got me was the fright of it. I didn't mind the swimming, for I've often crossed the river and back during my morning plunge. My work keeps me in pretty good training. But to-day I got panicky and my breath gave out. I was so afraid I wouldn't overtake the boat before——"
"I know!" interrupted the tutor with a shiver. "Well, it is all over now, thank God! You were a genuine hero and I shall tell the Fernalds so."
"Stuff! Don't tell them at all. What's the use of harrowing their feelings all up now that the thing is past and done with?"
"But Laurie—he is all done up and they will be at a loss to account for it," objected Mr. Hazen. "Besides, the servants saw us come ashore and have probably already spread the story all over the place. And anyhow, I believe in being perfectly aboveboard. You do yourself, you know that. So I shall tell them the whole thing precisely as it happened. Afterward they'll probably fire me."
"No, they won't! Cheer up!"
"I deserve to be fired, too," went on the young tutor without heeding the interruption. "I ought not to have left Laurie an instant."
"Perhaps not. But you won't do it again."
"You bet I won't!" cried Mr. Hazen boyishly.
It subsequently proved that Mr. Hazen knew far more of his employers than did Ted, for after the story was told only the pleas of the young rescuer availed to soften the sentence imposed.
"He's almighty sorry, Mr. Fernald," asserted Ted Turner. "Don't tip him out. Give him a second try. He won't ever do it again."
"W—e—ll, for your sake I will," Mr. Clarence said, yielding reluctantly to the pleading of the lad who sat opposite. "It would be hard for me to deny you anything after what you've done. You've saved our boy's life. We never shall forget it, never. But Hazen can thank you for his job—not me."
And so, as a result of Ted's intercession, Mr. Hazen stayed on. In fact, as Mr. Clarence said, they could deny the lad nothing. It seemed as if the Fernalds never could do enough for him. Grandfather Fernald gave him a new watch with an illuminated face; and quite unknown to any one, Laurie's father opened a bank account to his credit, depositing a substantial sum as a "starter."
But the best of the whole thing was that Laurie turned to Ted with a deeper and more earnest affection and the foundation was laid for a strong and enduring friendship.

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