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   Chapter 20 No.20

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 7020

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

An Important Meeting of the Board.

Now that the telegraphic line was built, and in good working order, it became immediately necessary to appoint another operator, for it was quite evident that Harry could not work both ends of the line.

It was easy enough to appoint an operator, but not so easy for such person to work the instruments. In fact, Harry was the only individual in the company or the neighborhood who understood the duties of a telegrapher, and his opportunities for practice had been exceedingly limited.

It was determined to educate an operator, and Harvey Davis was chosen as the most suitable individual for the position. So, day after day was spent by Harry and Harvey, the one in the cabin of "One-eyed Lewston," and the other in that of Aunt Judy, in steady, though often unsatisfactory, practice in the transmission and reading of telegraphic messages.

Of course, great interest was taken in their progress, and some members of the Board were generally present at one or the other of the stations. Kate often came over to Aunt Judy's cabin, and almost always there were other persons present, each of whom, whenever there was a chance, was eager to send a telegraphic message gratis, even if it were only across Crooked Creek.

Sometimes neither Harry nor Harvey could make out what the other one was trying to say, and then they would run out of the station and go down to the bank of the creek and shout across for explanations. A great many more intelligible messages were sent in this way, for the first few days, than were transmitted over the wire.

Tony Kirk remarked, after a performance of this kind, "It 'pears to me that it wasn't no use to put up that ar wire, fur two fellows could a been app'inted, one to stand on each side o' the creek, and holler the messages across."

But, of course, such a proceeding would have been extremely irregular. Tony was not accustomed to the strict requirements of business.

Sometimes the messages were extremely complicated. For instance, Harry, one day about noon, carefully telegraphed the following:

I would not go home. Perhaps you can get something to eat from Aunt Judy.

As Harvey translated this, it read:

I would gph go rapd gradsvlt bodgghip rda goqbsjcm eat dkpx Aunt Judy.

In answer to this, Harvey attempted to send the following message:

What do you mean by eating Aunt Judy?

But Harry read:

Whatt a xdll mean rummmlgigdd Ju!

Harry thought, of course, that this seemed like a reflection on his motives in proposing that Harvey could ask Aunt Judy to give him something to eat, and so, of course, there had to be explanations.

After a time, however the operators became much more expert, and although Harvey was always a little slow, he was very careful and very patient-most excellent qualities in an operator upon such a line.

The great desire now, not only among the officers of the company, but with many other folks in Akeville and the neighborhood, was to see the creek "up," so that travel across it might be suspended, and the telegraphic business commence.

To be sure, there might be other interests with which a rise in the creek would interfere, but they, of course, were considered of small importance, compared with the success of an enterprise like this.

But the season was very dry, and the creek very low. There were places where a circus-man could have jumped across it with all his pockets full of telegraphic messages.

In the mean time, the affairs

of the company did not look very flourishing. The men who assisted in the construction of the line had not been paid in full, and they wanted their money. Kate reported that the small sum which had been appropriated out of the capital stock for the temporary support of Aunt Matilda was all gone. This report she made in her capacity as a special committee of one, appointed (by herself) to attend to the wants of Aunt Matilda. As the Treasurer of the company, she also reported that there was not a cent in its coffers.

In this emergency, Harry called a meeting of the Board.

It met, as this was an important occasion, in Davis's corn-house, fortunately now empty. This was a cool, shady edifice, and, though rather small, was very well ventilated. The meetings had generally been held under some big tree, or in various convenient spots in the woods near the creek, but nothing of that kind would be proper for such a meeting as this, especially as Kate, as Treasurer, was to be present. This was her first appearance at a meeting of the Board. The boys sat on the corn-house floor, which had been nicely swept out by John William Webster, and Kate had a chair on the grass, just outside of the door. There she could hear and see with great comfort without "settin' on the floor with a passel of boys," as Miss Eliza Davis, who furnished the chair, elegantly expressed it.

When the meeting had been called to order (and John William, who evinced a desire to hang around and find out what was going on, had been discharged from further attendance on the Board, or, in other words, had been ordered to "clear out"), and the minutes of the last meeting had been read, and the Treasurer had read her written report, and the Secretary had read his, an air of despondency seemed to settle upon the assembly.

An empty corn-house seemed, as Tom Selden remarked, a very excellent place for them to meet.

The financial condition of the company was about as follows:

It owed "One-eyed Lewston" and Aunt Judy one dollar each for one month's rent of their homesteads as stations, the arrangement having been made about the time the instruments were ordered.

It owed four dollars and twenty cents to the wood-cutters who worked on the construction of the line, and two dollars and a half for other assistance at that time.

("Wish we had done it all ourselves," said Wilson Ogden.)

It owed three dollars, balance on furniture procured at Hetertown. (It also owed one chair, borrowed.)

It owed, for spikes and some other hardware procured at the store, one dollar and sixty cents.

In addition to this, it owed John William Webster, who had been employed as a sort of general agent to run errands and clean up things, seventy-five cents-balance of salary-and he wanted his money.

To meet these demands, as was before remarked, they had nothing.

Fortunately nothing was owing for Aunt Matilda's support, Harry and Kate having from the first determined never to run in debt on her account.

But, unfortunately, poor Aunt Matilda's affairs were never in so bad a condition. The great interest which Kate and Harry had taken in the telegraph line had prevented them from paying much attention to their ordinary methods of making money, and now that the company's appropriation was spent, there seemed to be no immediate method of getting any money for the old woman's present needs.

This matter was not strictly the business of the Board, but they nevertheless considered it.

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