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HOME > Short Stories > Ted and the Telephone > CHAPTER XVI ANOTHER CALAMITY
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 The winter was a long and tedious one with much cold weather and ice. Great drifts leveled the fields about Aldercliffe and Pine Lea, shrouding the vast expanse of fields along the river in a glistening cloak of ermine spangled with gold. The stream itself was buried so deep beneath the snow that it was difficult not to believe it had disappeared altogether. Freeman's Falls had never known a more severe season and among the mill employees there was much illness and depression. Prices were high, business slack, and the work ran light. Nevertheless, the Fernalds refused to shorten the hours. There were no night shifts on duty, to be sure, but the hum of the machinery that ceased at twilight resumed its buzzing every morning and by its music gladdened many a home where anxiety might otherwise have reigned.  
That the factories were being operated at a loss rather than throw the men out of employment Ted Turner could not help knowing for since he had become a member of the Fernald household he had been included so intimately in the family circle that it was unavoidable he should be cognizant of much that went on there. As a result, an entirely new aspect of manufacture came before him. Up to this time he had seen but one side of the picture, that with which the working man was familiar. But now the capitalist's side was turned toward him and on confronting its many intricate phases he gained a very different conception of the mill-owner's conundrums. He learned now for the first time who it was that tided over business in its seasons of stress and advanced the money that kept bread in the mouths of the workers. He sensed, too, as he might never have done otherwise, who shouldered the burden of care not alone during working hours but outside of them; he glimpsed something of the struggles of competition; the problems of securing raw material; the work concerning credits.
A very novel viewpoint it was to the boy, and as he regarded the complicated web, he found himself wondering how much of all this tangle was known to the men, and whether they were always fair to their employer. He had frequently overheard conversations at his father's when they had proclaimed how easy and care-free a life the rich led, and while they had envied and criticized and slandered the Fernalds and asserted that they did nothing but enjoy themselves, he had listened. Ah, how far from the truth this estimate had been! He speculated, as he reviewed the facts and vaguely rehearsed the capitalist's enigmas whether, if shown the actual conditions, the townsfolk would have been willing to exchange places with either of these men whose fortunes they so greedily coveted.
For in very truth the Fernalds seemed to Ted persons to be pitied far more than envied. Stripped of illusions, what was Mr. Lawrence Fernald but an old man who had devoted himself to money-making until he had rolled up a fortune so large that its management left him no leisure to enjoy it? Eager to accumulate more and ever more wealth, he toiled and worried quite as hard as he would have done had he had no money at all; he often passed sleepless nights and could never be persuaded to take a day away from his office. He slaved harder than any of those he paid to work for him and he had none of their respite from care.
Mr. Clarence Fernald, being of a younger generation, had perhaps learned greater wisdom. At any rate, he went away twice a year for extended pleasure trips. Possibly the fact that his father had degenerated into a mere money-making machine was ever before him, serving as a warning against a similar fate. However that may have been, he did break resolutely away from business at intervals, or tried to. Nevertheless, he never could contrive to be wholly free. Telegrams pursued him wherever he went; his secretary often went in search of him; and many a time, like a defeated runaway whose escape is cut short, he was compelled to abandon his holiday and return to the mills, there to straighten out some unlooked-for complication. Day and night the responsibilities of his position, the welfare of the hundreds of persons dependent on him, weighed down his shoulders. And even when he was at home in the bosom of his family, there was Laurie, his son, his idol, who could probably never be well! What man in all Freeman's Falls could have envied him if acquainted with all the conditions of his life?
This and many another such reflection engrossed Ted, causing him to wonder whether there was not in the divine plan a certain element of equalization.
In the meantime, his lessons with Laurie and Mr. Hazen went steadily and delightfully on. How much more could be accomplished with a tutor who devoted all his time simply to two pupils! And how much greater pleasure one derived from studying under these intimate circumstances! In every way the arrangement was ideal. Thus the winter passed with its balancing factors of work and play. The friendship between the two boys strengthened daily and in a similar proportion Ted's affection for the entire Fernald family increased.
It was when the first thaw made its appearance late in March that trouble came. Laurie was stricken with measles, and because of the contagion, Ted's little shack near the river was hastily equipped for occupancy, and the lad was transferred there.
"I can't have two boys sick," declared Mr. Clarence Fernald, "and as you have not been exposed to the disease there is no sense in our thrusting you into its midst. Plenty of wood will keep your fireplace blazing and as the weather is comparatively mild I fancy you can contrive to be comfortable. We will connect the telephone so you won't be lonely and so you can talk with Laurie every day. The doctor says he will soon be well again and after the house has been fumigated you can come back to Pine Lea."
Accordingly, Ted was once more ensconced in the little hut and how good it seemed to be again in that familiar haunt only he realized. Before the first day was over, he felt as if he had never been away. Pine Lea might boast its conservatories, its sun parlors, its tiled baths, its luxuries of every sort; they all faded into nothingness beside the freedom and peace of the tiny shack at the river's margin.
Meanwhile, with the gradual approach of spring, the sun mounted higher and the great snow drifts settled and began to disappear. Already the ice in the stream was breaking up and the turbid yellow waters went rushing along, carrying with them whirling blocks of snow. As the torrent swept past, it flooded the meadows and piled up against the dam opposite the factories great frozen, jagged masses of ice which ground and crashed against one another, so that the sounds could be distinctly heard within the mills. At some points these miniature icebergs blocked the falls and held the waters in check until, instead of cascading over the dam, they spread inland, inundating the shores. The float before Ted's door was covered and at night, when all was still and his windows open, he could hear the roaring of the stream, and the impact of the bumping ice as it sped along. Daily, as the snows on the far distant hillsides near the river's source melted, the flood increased and poured down in an ever rising tide its seething waters.
Yet notwithstanding the fact that each day saw the stream higher, no one experienced any actual anxiety from the conditions, although everybody granted they were abnormal. Of course, there was more ice in the river than there had been for many years. Even Grandfather Fernald, who had lived in the vicinity for close on to half a century, could not recall ever having witnessed such a spring freshet; nor did he deny that the weight of ice and water against the dam must be tremendous. However, the structure was strong and there was no question of its ability to hold, even though this chaos of grinding ice-cakes boomed against it with defiant reverberation.
In spite of the conditions, Ted felt no nervousness about remaining by himself in the shack and perhaps every premonition of evil might have escaped him had he not been awakened one morning very early by a ripple of lapping water that seemed near at hand. Sleepily he opened his eyes and looked about him. The floor of the hut was wet and through the crack beneath the door a thread of muddy water was steadily seeping. In an instant he was on his feet and as he stood looking about him in bewilderment he heard the roar of the river and detected in the sound a threatening intonation that had not been there on the previous day. He hurried to the window and stared out into the grayness of the dawn. The scene that confronted him chilled his blood. The river had risen unbelievably during the night. Not only were the little bushes along the shore entirely submerged but many of the pines standing upon higher ground were also under water.
As he threw on his clothes, he tried to decide whether there was anything he ought to do. Would it be well to call up the Fernalds, or telephone to the mills, or to the village, and give warning of the conditions? It was barely four o'clock and the fi............
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