Chapter I. A Serious Accident.
 

"It is high time, mother, that I found something to do. Father seems to be worse, and I'm afraid before long he won't be able to go to work every day. Ever since I finished schooling I've felt like a fish out of water."

And stowing away the remainder of the slice of bread he was eating, Richard Dare leaned back in his chair and gazed inquiringly across the breakfast-table to where his mother stood, ready to clear away the dishes when he had finished his meal.

"I'm sure you have been busy enough, Richard," responded Mrs. Dare fondly. "I am well satisfied with the way you have planted the garden; and no carpenter could have made a neater job of the front fence. You haven't wasted your time."

"Oh, I don't mean that. Fixing up around the house is well enough. But I mean some regular work--some position where I could bring home my weekly wages. I know it would be a big help all around. It takes a heap of money to run a family of three girls and a growing boy."

Mrs. Dare smiled sadly.

"What do you know about that?" she asked. "We all have enough to eat and drink, and our own roof over our heads."

"Yes, but I know that my dear mother sits up sewing sometimes long after we have gone to bed, so that our clothing may be cared for, and I know that she hasn't had a new dress in a year, though she deserves a dozen," added Richard heartily.

"I haven't much use for a new dress--I go out so little," said his mother. "But what kind of work do you wish to get?"

"Oh, anything that pays. I'm not particular, so long as it's honest.

"I'm afraid you will find but few chances in Mossvale. Times are dull here--ever since the hat factory moved away. I guess the stores have all the help they want. You might get a place on one of the farms."

"I don't think any farmer would pay much besides my board," replied the boy. "I've got another plan," he continued, with some hesitation.

"And what is that?"

"To try my luck in New York. There ought to be room enough for me in such a big city."

"New York!" exclaimed Mrs. Dare, in astonishment. "Why, you have never been there in your whole life!"

"I know it, but I've read the papers pretty well, and I wouldn't be afraid but what I could get along first rate."

Mrs. Dare shook her head doubtfully.

"It is almost impossible to get a footing there," she declared. "When we were first married your father struggled hard enough, both there and in Brooklyn, but somehow, he didn't seem to make it go, and so we moved here. Everything rushes in the city, and unless you have some one to speak for you no one will give you a chance."

"I would take the first thing that came to hand, no matter what it paid, and then watch for something better."

"It might be that you would have luck," said Mrs. Dare reflectively. "I don't like to discourage you. Still--"

"You wouldn't like to see me go away and then fail, is that it?"

"Yes. Failures at the start of life often influence all the after years. Suppose you have a talk with your father about this."

"I thought I'd speak to you first, mother. I wanted to know if you would be willing to let me go."

"If your father thinks it best, I shall be satisfied, Richard. Of course, I will miss you."

"I know that, mother," returned Richard rising. "But then I could come home once in a while. The city is not so very far away."

The plan of "striking out" had been in Richard Dare's mind for several months. The country school at Mossvale had closed for the season early in the spring--so as to allow the farmer boys to do their work, and Richard was satisfied that he had about learned all that Mr. Parsons, the pedagogue, was able or willing to teach, and saw no good reason for his returning in the fall. He would have liked to continue his studies, but there was only one other institute of learning in the neighborhood--a boarding academy, where the rates for tuition were high, and to this he well knew his parents could not afford to send him.

Mr. Dare was by trade a house painter and decorator. When a young man he had served three years in the army, during the great rebellion, from which he had come away with a bullet in his shoulder, and a strong tendency towards chronic rheumatism. Shortly after he had married, and now, twenty years later, his family included four children, of which Richard, age sixteen, was next to the oldest.

Mr. Dare was a steady, sober man, who disliked excitement, and the quiet plodding along in Mossvale just suited him. He was only a journeyman, and it is doubtful if his ambition had ever risen beyond his present station. By frugality he and his wife had saved enough to buy a half acre of land in this pretty New Jersey village, on which they had erected a neat cottage, and here apparently John Dare was content to spend the remainder of his life.

But Richard Dare partook of but little of his father's retiring disposition. He was a bright, active boy, with a clear heart and brain, and he longed to get at some work where energy would be the road to success. His comprehension was rapid, and beneath an outwardly calm spirit, lurked the fire of a youth well trained to grapple with noble purposes and bring them to a successful issue.

Richard's desire to go to the metropolis was a natural one. There was nothing in quiet Mossvale to entice any one with push to remain there. The entire population of the district did not number three hundred people, and the only business places were three general stores, a blacksmith shop and a cross-roads hotel.

A number of years previous, Mr. Dixon Maillard, a rich man from Newark, had endeavored to boom the village by starting a hat factory there, then trying to make his employees buy houses and lots from him on the installment plan, but this scheme had fallen flat, and the factory plant was removed to a more promising locality.

The Dare cottage stood some little distance from the village center. As Mrs. Dare had said, Richard had the garden in excellent condition, not only the larger portion devoted to the vegetables and small fruits, but also the front part, in which were planted a great variety of flowers in which his mother took keen delight.

"Is father coming home to dinner to-day?" asked Richard, a little later on, as he entered the kitchen with a pail of water which Nancy, the oldest of his three sisters, had asked him to draw from the well.

"I guess not," replied the girl. "His rheumatism hurt him so much he said he might not be able to walk from Dr. Melvin's new house."

"Ma put up his dinner," put in Grace, the second oldest.

"Then he won't be back," returned Richard, somewhat disappointed, for he had been calculating on broaching the subject of going to New York to his father after the midday meal.

"He said his shoulder hurt him awfully last night," added Grace. "I heard him tell ma he could almost feel the bullet worrying him in the flesh."

"It's mighty queer he doesn't get a pension," said Nancy. "I'm sure he deserves one. Didn't he ever apply, Dick? I read in a Philadelphia paper the other day about a man getting sixteen dollars a month allowed, and a whole lot of back pay--more than two or three thousand dollars!"

"Two or three thousand dollars!" cried Grace. "Oh, Nancy, it's a fortune!"

"But it's true, every word."

"I believe father has tried," replied Richard. "But it seems that he must have witnesses to prove his identity, and all that--"

"And can't he get them?" asked Grace, eagerly.

"I believe not. All his old comrades are either dead or scattered, and he hasn't a single address."

"Did he ever hunt for any of them?"

"I think he wrote two or three letters, but that's all. You know how father is."

"I just guess I wouldn't let it rest there!" declared Grace, diving into the bread batter with a vim. "I'd advertise in the papers, and turn the whole country upside down before I'd give up!"

"Well, father looks at it as a kind of charity, anyway," explained Richard. "And he doesn't care much to accept it so long as he is able to work."

"Yes, but, Dick, if he's entitled to it by law, don't you think he ought to take it?"

"He has certainly lost many a day's work on account of his failing, Nancy. He ought to get something for that."

"Then why don't you speak to him about it?" asked Grace. "He'll listen to you quicker than he will to any of us."

"Perhaps I will. Maybe he will give me a list of those who knew him in the army, and then I can start a grand search, as you suggested. But I've got a little plan of my own to carry out first, and I want you girls to help me."

"What plan?" asked Nancy; and Grace ceased her bread-making to listen to what her brother might have to say.

"I'm thinking of going to New York, and I--"

"New York!" both girls ejaculated. They would have been no more astonished had he said Paris or Pekin. "Why, Dick, what put that idea into your head?" continued Nancy.

"Take me along if you go," added Grace.

"Nobody but myself put it into my head, Nan," replied Richard, "and I won't be able to take anybody along, Grace."

"Going to make your fortune?" queried the younger girl.

"You'll get lost," put in the other.

"Nonsense! catch Dick getting lost!" cried Grace indignantly. "Didn't he bring us all safe through Baker's woods last fall, when we were nutting?"

"Baker's woods isn't New York city," replied her elder sister. "Hundreds of streets and millions of people! He'd have to keep his eyes wide open and his wits about him."

"And that is just what I would do!" broke in Richard. "You don't suppose I'd stand around like a gawk, staring at people!"

"But is it for fortune?" repeated Grace, freeing her hands from the dough and coming up close.

"Yes, it's for fortune, if that's what you call it," said Richard bluntly. "I'm tired of Mossvale, and I'm going to strike out, that is if I can get consent. I've spoken to mother about it already, and if--"

A heavy knock on the back stoop caused Richard to stop speaking. Going to the door, he was confronted by Nicholas Boswell, a young farmer who lived a short distance down the road.

"Hello, Nick!" exclaimed Richard. "That you? Come in!"

Nicholas Boswell was pale, and his face showed a troubled expression. For several seconds ho seemed hardly able to speak.

"No, thank'ee, Dick," he said at last. "I come to tell you that--" and here his eyes roved over to Nancy and Grace, and he stopped short.

"What?" asked the boy. "You ain't sick, are you?" he continued, noticing the unusual pallor on the other's countenance.

"Oh, no, I ain't sick," replied Boswell. "I never get sick. I was never sick in my life--'cepting when I was a babby. But I--that is--there's a man--some men wants to see you," he faltered.

"To see me! Where?"

"They are down the road aways. I'll show you."

"What do they want?"

"Come on--never mind asking questions," closing one eye and bobbing his head, as if he did not wish the girls to hear more.

"All right," returned Richard, and closing the door he followed Boswell up the lane to the road.

"Accidents is bad things, Dick," began the young farmer, as they drew away from the house. "But they will happen, you know--they will happen."

"What do you mean?" asked the boy quickly. "Who's had an accident?"

"Well, you see a man with the rheumatism ain't so sure of his footing as is one who ain't got no such affliction."

"And my father?" began Richard, his heart jumping suddenly into his throat.

"Your father as a painter often climbed long, limbery ladders as he hadn't oughter," continued Boswell soberly.

"Is he--is he dead?" gasped the boy, standing stock-still.

"No, oh, no!" exclaimed the young farmer. "But he had an awful fall, and he's pretty bad. I thought I'd tell you first, 'cause it might shock your mother."

"Where is he?"

"The men is bringing him up the road. Here they come now. You'd better go back, and kinder break the news to the folks. I'm terribly gritty--as gritty as any man--but I can't do that!"

Richard did not hear the last words. Trembling from head to foot, he sped up the road to meet four men, carrying a rude stretcher between them and slowly approaching.