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HOME > Short Stories > Ted and the Telephone > CHAPTER XIII WHAT TED HEARD
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 "Now the question is which way are we going to get the biggest results," Alf began, when they were both comfortably settled with their backs to the door. "That must be the thing that governs us—that, and the sacrifice of as few lives as possible. Not their lives, of course. I don't care a curse for the Fernalds; the more of them that go sky-high the better, in my estimation. It's the men I mean, our own people. Some of them will have to die, I know that. It's unavoidable, since the factories are never empty. Even when no night shifts are working, there are always watchmen and engineers on the job. But fortunately just now, owing to the dull season, there are no night gangs on duty. If we decide on the mills it can be done at night; if on the Fernalds themselves, why we can set the bombs when we are sure that they are in their houses."  
Ted bit his lips to suppress the sudden exclamation of horror that rose to them. He must not cry out, he told himself. Terrible as were the words he heard, unbelievable as they seemed, if he were to be of any help at all he must know the entire plot. Therefore he listened dumbly, struggling to still the beating of his heart.
For a moment there was no response from Cronin.
"Come, Jim, don't sit there like a graven image!" the leader of the proposed expedition exclaimed impatiently. "Haven't you a tongue in your head? What's your idea? Out with it. I'm not going to shoulder all the job."
The man called Cronin cleared his throat.
"As I see it, we gain nothing by blowing up the Fernald houses," answered he deliberately. "So long as the mills remain, their income is sure. After they're gone, the young one will just rebuild and go on wringing money out of the people as his father and grandfather are doing."
"But we mean to get him, too."
A murmured protest came from Cronin.
"I'm not for injuring that poor, unlucky lad," asserted he. "He's nothing but a cripple who can't help himself. It would be like killing a baby."
"Nonsense! What a sentimental milksop you are, Jim!" Alf cut in. "You can't go letting your feelings run away with you like that, old man. I'm sorry for the young chap, too. He's the most decent one of the lot. But that isn't the point. He's a Fernald and because he is——"
"But he isn't to blame for that, is he?"
"You make me tired, Cronin, with all this cry-baby stuff!" Alf ejaculated. "You've simply got to cut it out—shut your ears to it—if we are ever to accomplish anything. You can't let your sympathies run away with you like this."
"I ain't letting my sympathies run away with me," objected Cronin, in a surly tone. "And I'm no milksop, either. But I won't be a party to harming that unfortunate Mr. Laurie and you may as well understand that at the outset. I'm willing to do my share in blowing the Fernald mills higher than a kite, and the two Fernalds with 'em; or I'll blow the two Fernalds to glory in their beds. I could do it without turning a hair. But to injure that helpless boy of theirs I can't and won't. That would be too low-down a deed for me, bad as I am. He hasn't the show the others have. They can fend for themselves."
"You make me sick!" replied Alf scornfully. "Why, you might as well throw up the whole job as to only half do it. What use will it be to take the old men of the family if the young one still lives on?"
"I ain't going to argue with you, Alf," responded Cronin stubbornly. "If I were to talk all night you likely would never see my point. But there I stand and you can take it or leave it. If you want to go on on these terms, well and good; if not, I wash my hands of the whole affair and you can find somebody else to help you."
"Of course I can't find somebody else," was the exasperated retort. "You know that well enough. Do you suppose I would go on with a scheme like this and leave you wandering round to blab broadcast whatever you thought fit?"
"I shouldn't blab, Alf," declared Cronin. "You could trust me to hold my tongue and not peach on a pal. I should just pull out, that's all. I warn you, though, that if our ways parted and you went yours, I should do what I could to keep Mr. Laurie out of your path."
"You'd try the patience of Job, Cronin."
"I'm sorry."
"No, you're not," snarled Alf. "You're just doing this whole thing to be cussed. You know you've got me where I can't stir hand or foot. I was a fool ever to have got mixed up with such a white-livered, puling baby. I might have known you hadn't an ounce of sand."
"Take care, Sullivan," cautioned Cronin in a low, tense voice.
"But hang it all—why do you want to balk and torment me so?"
"I ain't balking and tormenting you."
"Yes, you are. You're just pulling the other way from sheer contrariness. Why can't you be decent and come across?"
"Haven't I been decent?" Cronin answered. "Haven't I fallen in with every idea you've suggested? You've had your way fully and freely. I haven't stood out for a single thing but this, have I?"
"N—o. But——"
"Well, why not give in and let me have this one thing as I want it? It don't amount to much, one way or the other. The boy is sickly and isn't likely to live long at best."
"But I can't for the life of me see why you should be so keen on sparing him. What is he to you?"
Cronin hesitated; then in a very low voice he said:
"Once, two years ago, my little kid got out of the yard and unbeknown to his mother wandered down by the river. We hunted high and low for him and were well-nigh crazy, for he's all the child we have, you know. It seems Mr. Laurie was riding along the shore in his automobile and he spied the baby creeping out on the thin ice. He stopped his car and called to the little one and coaxed him back until the chauffeur could get to him and lift him aboard the car. Then they fetched the child to the village, hunted up where he lived, and brought him home to his mother. I—I've never forgotten it and I shan't."
"That was mighty decent of Mr. Laurie—mighty dec............
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