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HOME > Short Stories > Ted and the Telephone > CHAPTER XII CONSPIRATORS
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 With September a tint of scarlet crept into the foliage bordering the little creeks that stole from the river into the Aldercliffe meadows; tangles of goldenrod and purple asters breathed of autumn, and the mornings were now too chilly for a swim. Had it not been for the great fireplace the shack would not have been livable. For the first time both Ted and Laurie realized that the summer they had each enjoyed so heartily was at an end and they were face to face with a different phase of life.  
The harvest, with its horde of vegetables and fruit, had been gathered into the yawning barns and cellars and the earth that had given so patiently of its increase had earned the right to lay fallow until the planting of another spring. Ted's work was done. He had helped deposit the last barrel of ruddy apples, the last golden pumpkins within doors, and now he had nothing more to do but to pack up his possessions preparatory to returning to Freeman's Falls, there to rejoin his family and continue his studies.
Once the thought that the drudgery of summer was over would have been a delightful one. Why, he could remember the exultation with which he had burned the last cornstalks at the end of the season when at home in Vermont. The ceremony had been a rite of hilarious rejoicing. But this year, strange to say, a dull sadness stole over him whenever he looked upon the devastated gardens and the reaches of bare brown earth. There was nothing to keep him longer either at Aldercliffe or Pine Lea. His work henceforth lay at school.
It was strange that a little sigh accompanied the thought for had he not always looked forward to this very prospect? What was the matter now? Was not studying the thing he had longed to be free to do? Why this regret and depression? And why was his own vague sadness reflected in Laurie's eyes and in those of Mr. Hazen? Summer could not last forever; it was childish to ask that it should. They all had known from the beginning that these days of companionship must slip away and come to an end. And yet the end had come so quickly. Why, it had scarcely been midsummer before the twilight had deepened and the days mellowed into autumn.
Well, they had held many happy, happy hours for Ted, at least. Never had he dreamed of such pleasures. He had enjoyed his work, constant though it had been, and had come to cherish as much pride in the gardens of Aldercliffe and Pine Lea, in the vast crops of hay that bulged from the barn lofts, as if they had been his own. And when working hours were over there was Laurie Fernald and the new and pleasant friendship that existed between them.
As Ted began to drag out from beneath his bunk the empty wooden boxes he purposed to pack his books in, his heart sank. Soon the cosy house in which he had passed so many perfect hours would be quite denuded. Frosts would nip the flowers nodding in a final glory of color outside the windows; the telephone would be disconnected; his belongings would once more be crowded into the stuffy little flat at home; and the door of the camp on the river's edge would be tightly locked on a deserted paradise.
Of course, everything had to come to an end some time and often when he had been weeding long, and what seemed interminable rows of seedlings and had been making only feeble progress at the task, the thought that termination of his task was an ultimate certainty had been a consolation mighty and sustaining. Such an uninteresting undertaking could not last forever, he told himself over and over again; nothing ever did. And now with ironic conformity to law, his philosophy had turned on him, demonstrating beyond cavil that not only did the things one longed to be free of come to a sure finality but so did those one pined to have linger.
Although night was approaching, too intent had he been on his reveries to notice that the room was in darkness. How still everything was! That was the way the little hut would be after he was gone,—cold, dark, and silent. He wondered as he sat there whether he should ever come back. Would the Fernalds want him next season and again offer him the boathouse for a home? They had said nothing about it but if he thought he was to return another summer it would not be so hard to go now. It was leaving forever that saddened him.
He must have remained immovable there in the twilight for a much longer time than he realized; and perhaps he would have sat there even longer had not a sound startled him into breathless attention. It was the rhythmic stroke of a canoe paddle and as it came nearer it was intermingled with the whispers of muffled voices. Possibly he might have thought nothing of the happening had there not been a note of tense caution in the words that came to his ear.
Who could be navigating the river at this hour of the night? Surely not pleasure-seekers, for it was very cold and an approaching storm had clouded in the sky until it had become a dome of velvet blackness. Whoever was venturing out upon the river must either know the stream very well or be reckless of his own safety.
Ted did not move but listened intently.
"Let's take a chance and land," he heard a thick voice murmur. "The boy has evidently either gone to bed or he isn't here. Whichever the case, he can do us no harm and I'm not for risking the river any farther. It's black as midnight. We might get into the current and have trouble."
"What's the sense of running our heads into a noose by landing?" objected a second speaker. "We can't talk here—that's nonsense."
"I tell you the boy isn't in the hut," retorted his comrade. "I remember now that I heard he was going back to the Falls to school. Likely he has gone already. In any case we can try the door and examine the windows; if the place is locked, we shall be sure he is not here. And should it prove to be inhabited, we can easy hatch up some excuse for coming. He'll be none the wiser. Even if he should be here," added the man after a pause, "he is probably asleep. After a hard day's work a boy his age sleeps like a log. There'll be no waking him, so don't fret. Come! Let's steer for the float."
"But I——"
"Great Heavens, Cronin! We've got to take some chances. You're not getting cold feet so soon, are you?" burst out the other scornfully.
"N—o! Of course not," his companion declared with forced bravado. "But I don't like taking needless risks. The boy might be awake and hear us."
"What if he does? Haven't I told you I will invent some yarn to put him off the scent? He wouldn't be suspecting mischief, anyhow. I tell you I'm not going drifting round this river in the dark any longer. Next thing we know we may hit a snag and upset............
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