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   Chapter 14 No.14

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 10889

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

Harry's Grand Scheme.

This wholesale appropriation of horses caused, of course, a great commotion in the vicinity of Akeville, and half the male population turned out the next day in search of George Mason and the five horses.

Even Harry was infected with the general excitement, and, mounted on old Selim, he rode away after dinner (there was no school that afternoon) to see if he could find any one who had heard anything. There ought to be news, for the men had been away all the morning.

About two miles from the village, the road on which Harry was riding forked, and not knowing that the party which had started off in that direction had taken the road which ran to the northeast, as being the direction in which a man would probably go, if he wanted to get away safely with five stolen horses, Harry kept straight on.

The road was lonely and uninteresting. On one side was a wood of "old-field pines"-pines of recent growth and little value, that spring up on the old abandoned tobacco fields-and on the other a stretch of underbrush, with here and there a tree of tolerable size, but from which almost all the valuable timber had been cut.

Selim was inclined to take things leisurely, and Harry gradually allowed him to slacken his pace into a walk, and even occasionally to stop and lower his head to take a bite from some particularly tempting bunch of grass by the side of the road.

The fact was, Harry was thinking. He had entirely forgotten the five horses and everything concerning them, and was deeply cogitating a plan which, in an exceedingly crude shape, had been in his mind ever since he had met old Miles on the road to the railroad.

What he wished to devise was some good plan to prevent the interruption, so often caused by the rising of Crooked Creek, of communication between the mica mine, belonging to the New York company, and the station at Hetertown.

If he could do this, he thought he could make some money by it; and it was, as we all know, very necessary for him, or at least for Aunt Matilda, that he should make money.

It was of no use to think of a bridge. There were bridges already, and when the creek was "up" you could scarcely see them.

A bridge that would be high enough and long enough would be very costly, and it would be an undertaking with which Harry could not concern himself, no matter what it might cost.

A ferry was unadvisable, for the stream was too rapid and dangerous in time of freshets.

There was nothing that was really reliable and worthy of being seriously thought of but a telegraph line. This Harry believed to be feasible.

He did not think it would cost very much. If this telegraph line only extended across the creek, not more than half a mile of wire, at the utmost, would be required.

Nothing need be expended for poles, as there were tall pine-trees on each side of the creek that would support the wire; and there were two cabins, conveniently situated, in which the instruments could be placed.

Harry had thoroughly considered all these matters, having been down to the creek several times on purpose to take observations.

The procuring of the telegraphic instruments, however, and the necessity of having an operator on the other side, presented difficulties not easy to surmount.

But Harry did not despair.

To be sure the machines would cost money, and so would the wire, insulators, etc., but then the mica company would surely be willing to pay a good price to have their messages transmitted at times when otherwise they would have to send a man twenty miles to a telegraphic station.

So if the money could be raised it would pay to do it-at least if the calculations, with which Harry and Kate had been busy for days, should prove to be correct.

About the operator on the other side, Harry scarcely knew what to think. If it were necessary to hire any one, that would eat terribly into the profits.

Something economical must be devised for this part of the plan.

As to the operator on the Akeville side of the creek, Harry intended to fill that position himself. He had been interested in telegraphy for a year or two. He understood the philosophy of the system, and had had the opportunity afforded him by the operator at Hetertown of learning to send messages and to read telegraphic hieroglyphics. He could not understand what words had come over the wires, simply by listening to the clicking of the instrument-an accomplishment of all expert telegraphers-but he thought he could do quite well enough if he could read the marks on the paper slips, and there was no knowing to what proficiency he might arrive in time.

Of course he had no money to buy telegraphic apparatus, wire, etc., etc. But he thought he could get it. "How does any one build railroads or telegraphic lines?" he had said to Kate. "Do they take the money out of their own pockets?"

Kate had answered that she did not suppose they did, unless the money was there; and Harry had told her, very confidently, that the money was never there. No man, or, at least, very few men, could afford to construct a railroad or telegraph line. The way these things were done was by forming a company.

And this was just what Harry proposed to do.

It was, of course, quite difficult to determine just how large a company this should be. If it were composed of too many members, the profits, which would be limited, owing to the pec

uliar circumstances of the case, would not amount to much for each stockholder. And yet there must be members enough to furnish money enough.

And more than that, a contract must be made with the mica-mine people, so that the business should not be diverted from Harry's company into any outside channels.

All these things occupied Harry's mind, and it is no wonder that he hardly looked up when Selim stopped. The horse had been walking so slowly that stopping did not seem to make much difference.

But when he heard a voice call out, "Oh, Mah'sr Harry! I'se mighty glad to see yer!" he looked up quickly enough.

And there was old Uncle Braddock, on horseback!

Harry could scarcely believe his eyes.

And what was more astonishing, the old negro had no less than four other horses with him that he was leading, or rather trying to lead, out of a road through the old-field pines that here joined the main road.

"Why, what's the meaning of this?" cried Harry. "Where did you get those horses, Uncle Braddock?"

And then, without waiting for an answer, Harry burst out laughing. Such a ridiculous sight was enough to make anybody laugh.

Uncle Braddock sat on the foremost horse, his legs drawn up as if he were sitting on a chair, and a low one at that, for he had been gradually shortening the stirrups for the last hour, hoping in that way to get a firmer seat. His long stick was in one hand, his old hat was jammed down tightly over his eyes, and his dressing-gown floated in the wind like a rag-bag out for a holiday.

"Oh, I'se mighty glad to see yer, Mah'sr Harry!" said he, pulling at his horse's bridle in such a way as to make him nearly run into Selim and Harry, who, however, managed to avoid him and the rest of the cavalcade by moving off to the other side of the road.

"I was jist a-thinkin' uv gittin' off and lettin' em go 'long they own se'ves. I never seed sich hosses fur twistin' up and pullin' crooked. I 'spected to have my neck broke mor' 'n a dozen times. I never was so disgruntled in all my born days, Mah'sr Harry. Whoa dar, you yaller hoss! Won't you take a-hole, Mah'sr Harry, afore dey're de death uv me?"

The old man had certainly got the horses into a mixed-up condition. One of them was beside the horse he rode, two were behind, and one was wedged in partly in front of these in such a way that he had to travel sidewise. The bridle of one horse was tied to that of another, so that Uncle Braddock led them all by the bridle of the horse by his side. This was tied to his long cane, which he grasped firmly in his left hand.

Harry jumped down from Selim, and, tying him to the fence, went over to the assistance of Uncle Braddock. As he was quite familiar with horses, Harry soon arranged matters on a more satisfactory footing. He disentangled the animals, two of which he proposed to take charge of himself, and then, after making Uncle Braddock lengthen his stirrups, and lead both his horses on one side of him, he fastened the other two horses side by side, mounted Selim, and started back for Akeville, followed by Uncle Braddock and his reduced cavalcade.

The old negro was profuse in his thanks; but in the middle of his protestations of satisfaction, Harry suddenly interrupted him.

"Why, look here, Uncle Braddock! Where did you get these horses? These are the horses George Mason stole."

"To be sure they is," said Uncle Braddock. "What would I be a-doin' wid 'em ef they wasn't?"

"But how did you get them? Tell me about it," said Harry, checking the impatient Selim, who, now that his head was turned homeward, was anxious to go on with as much expedition as possible under the circumstances.

"Why, ye see, Mah'sr Harry," said the old man, "I was up at Miss Maria's; she said she'd gi' me some pieces of caliker to mend me wrapper. I put 'em in me pocket, but I 'spects they's blowed out; and when I was a-comin' away fru de woods, right dar whar ole Elick Potts used to hab his cabin-reckon you nebber seed dat cabin; it was all tumbled down 'fore you was born-right dar in de clarin' I seed five horses, all tied to de trees. 'Lor's a massy!' I said to mesef, 'is de war come agin?' Fur I nebber seed so many hosses in de woods sence de war. An' den while I was a-lookin' roun' fur a tree big enough to git behind, wrapper an' all, out comes Mah'sr George Mason from a bush, an' he hollers, 'Hello, Uncle Braddock, you come a-here.' An' then he says, 'You ain't much, Uncle Braddock, but I guess you'll do!' An' I says, 'Don't believe I'll do, Mah'sr George, fur you know I can't march, an' I nebber could shoot none, an' I got de rheumertiz in both me legs and me back, and no jint-water in me knees-you can't make no soldier out er me, Mah'sr George.' And then he laughed, an' says, 'You would make a pretty soldier, dat's true, Uncle Braddock. But I don't want no soldiers; what I want you to do is to take these horses home.' 'To where? says I. 'To Akeville,' says Mah'sr George. An' he didn't say much more, neither; for he jist tied dem horses all together and led 'em out into a little road dat goes fru de woods dar, an' he put me on de head horse, an' he says, 'Now, go 'long, Uncle Braddock, an' ef anything happens to dem hosses you'll have to go to jail fur it. So, look out!' An' bress your soul, Mah'sr Harry, I did have to look out, fur sich a drefful time as I did have, 'specially wid dat yaller hoss, I nebber did see."

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