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   Chapter 24 No.24

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 14241

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

The First Business Telegrams.

When Harry jumped from the tree, he came down on his feet, in water not quite up to his waist, and then he pushed in toward land as fast as he could go. In a few minutes, he stood in the midst of the colored family, his trousers and coat-tails dripping, and his shoes feeling like a pair of wet sponges.

"Ye ought to have rolled up yer pants and tooked off yer shoes and stockin's afore ye jumped, Mah'sr Harry," said the woman.

"I wish I had taken off my shoes," said Harry.

The woman at whose cabin Harry found himself was Charity Allen, and a good, sensible woman she was. She made Harry hurry into the house, and she got him her husband's Sunday trousers, which she had just washed and ironed, and insisted on his putting them on, while she dried his own. She hung his stockings and his coat before the fire, and made one of the boys rub his shoes with a cloth so as to dry them as much as possible before putting them near the fire.

Harry was very impatient to be off, but Charity was so certain that he would catch his death of cold if he started before his clothes were dry that he allowed himself to be persuaded to wait.

And then she fried some salt pork, on which, with a great piece of corn-bread, he made a hearty meal, for he was very hungry.

"Have you had your dinner, Charity?" he asked.

"Oh, yes, Mah'sr Harry; long time ago," she said.

"Then it must be pretty late," said Harry, anxiously.

"Oh, no!" said she; "'tain't late. I reckon it can't be much mor' 'n four o'clock."

"Four o'clock!" shouted Harry, jumping up in such a hurry that he nearly tripped himself in Uncle Oscar's trousers, which were much too long for him. "Why, that's dreadfully late. Where can the day have gone? I must be off, instantly!"

So much had happened since morning, that it was no wonder that Harry had not noticed how the hours had flown.

The ride to the creek, the discussions there, the delay in getting the boat, the passage down the stream, which was much longer than Harry had imagined, and the time he had spent in the tree and in the cabin, had, indeed, occupied the greater part of the day.

And even now he was not able to start. Though he urged her as much as he could, he could not make Charity understand that it was absolutely necessary that he must have his clothes, wet or dry; and he did not get them until they were fit to put on. And then his shoes were not dry, but, as he intended to run all the way to Aunt Judy's cabin, that did not matter so much.

"How far is it to Aunt Judy's?" he asked, when at last he was ready to start.

"Well, I reckons it's 'bout six or seben miles, Mah'sr Harry," said Charity.

"Six or seven miles!" exclaimed Harry. "When shall I get there!"

"Now don't hurry and git yese'f all in a heat," said Charity. "Jist keep along dis path fru de woods till ye strike de road, and that'll take ye straight to de bridge. Wish I had a mule to len' ye."

"Good-by, Charity," cried Harry. "I'm ever so much obliged." And hurriedly searching his vest pockets, he found a ten-cent note and a few pennies, which he gave to the children, who grinned in silent delight, and then he started off on a run.

But he did not run all the way.

Before long he began to tire a little, and then he settled down into a fast walk. He felt that he must hurry along as fast as he was able. The fortunes of the Crooked Creek Telegraph Company depended upon him. If the company failed in this, its first opportunity, there was no hope for it.

So on he walked, and before very long he struck the main road. Here he thought he should be able to get along faster, but there was no particular reason for it. In fact, the open road was rather rougher than that through the woods. But it was cooler here than under the heavy, overhanging trees.

And now Harry first noticed that the sun was not shining. At least, it was behind the western hills. It must be growing very late, he thought.

On he went, for a mile or two, and then it began to grow dusky. Night was surely coming on.

At a turn in the wood, he met a negro boy with a tin bucket on his head. Harry knew him. It was Tom Haskins.

"Hello, Tom!" said Harry, stopping for a moment; "I want you."

"What you want, Mah'sr Harry?" asked Tom.

"I want you to come to Aunt Judy's cabin and carry some messages over to Hetertown for me."

"When you want me?" said Tom; "to-morrer mornin'?"

"No; I want you to-night. This minute. I'll pay you."

"To-night?" cried the astonished Tom. "Go ober dar in de dark! Can't do dat, Mah'sr Harry. Ise 'fraid to go fru de woods in de dark."

"Nonsense," cried Harry. "Nothing's going to hurt you. Come on over."

"Can't do it, Mah'sr Harry, no how," said Tom. "Ise got ter tote dis hyar buttermilk home; dey's a-waitin' fur it now. But p'r'aps Jim'll go fur you. He kin borrer a mule and go fur you, Mah'sr Harry, I 'spects."

"Well, tell Jim to get a mule and come to Aunt Judy's just as quick as he can. I'll pay him right well."

"Dat's so, Mah'sr Harry; Jim'll go 'long fur ye. I'll tell him."

"Now be quick about it," cried Harry. "I'm in a great hurry." And off he started again.

But as he hurried along, his legs began to feel stiff and his feet were sore. He had walked very fast, so far, but now he was obliged to slacken his pace.

And it grew darker and darker. Harry thought he had never seen night come on so fast. It was certainly a long distance from Charity's cabin to Aunt Judy's.

At last he reached the well-known woods near the bridge, and off in a little opening he saw Aunt Judy's cabin. It was so dark now that he would not have known it was a cabin, had he not been so familiar with it.

Curiously enough, there was no light to be seen in the house. Harry hurried to the door and found it shut. He tried to open it, and it was locked. Had Aunt Judy gone away? She never went away; it was foolish to suppose such a thing.

He knocked upon the door, and receiving no answer, he knocked louder, and then he kicked. In a minute or two, during which he kept up a continual banging and calling on the old woman, he heard a slight movement inside. Then he knocked and shouted, "Aunt Judy!"

"Who dar!" said a voice within.

"It's me! Harry Loudon!" cried Harry. "Let me in!"

"What ye want dar?" said Aunt Judy. "Go 'way from dar."

"I want to come in. Open the door."

"Can't come in hyar. Ise gone to bed."

"But I must come in," cried Harry, in desperation; "I've got to work the line. They're waiting for me. Open the door, do you hear Aunt Judy?"

"Go 'way wid yer line," said Aunt Judy, crossly. "Ise abed. Come in der mornin'. Time enough in de day-time to work lines."

Harry now began to get angry. He found a stone and he banged the door. He threatened Aunt Judy with the law. He told her she had no right to go to bed and keep the company out of their station, when the creek was up; but, from her testy answers, his threats seemed to have made but little impression upon her. She didn't care if they stopped her pay, or fined her, or sent her

to prison. She never heard of "sich bisness, a-wakin' people out of their beds in the middle o' the night fur dem foolin' merchines."

But Harry's racket had a good effect, after all. It woke Aunt Judy, and after a time she got out of bed, uncovered the fire, blew up a little blaze, lighted a candle, and putting on some clothes, came and opened the door, grumbling all the time.

"Now den," said she, holding the candle over her head, and looking like a black Witch of Ender just out of the ground, "What you want?"

"I want to come in," said Harry.

"Well, den, come in," said she.

Harry was not slow to enter, and having made Aunt Judy bring him two candles, which he told her the company would pay for, he set to work to get his end of the line in working order.

When all was ready, he sat down to the instrument and "called" Harvey.

He felt very anxious as he did this. How could he be sure that Harvey was there? What a long time for that poor fellow to wait, without having any assurance that Harry would get across the creek at all, much less reach his post, and go to work.

"He may suppose I'm drowned," thought Harry, "and he may have gone home to tell the folks."

But there was such a sterling quality about Harvey that Harry could not help feeling that he would find him in his place when he telegraphed to him, no matter how great the delay or how doubtful the passage of the creek.

But when he called there was no answer.

Still he kept the machine steadily ticking. He would not give up hoping that Harvey was there, although his heart beat fast with nervous anxiety. So far, he had not thought that his family might be frightened about him. He knew he was safe, and that had been enough. He had not thought about other people.

But as these ideas were running through his head and troubling him greatly, there came a "tick, tick" from the other side, then more of them, but they meant nothing. Some one was there who could not work the instrument.

Then suddenly came a message:

Is that you, Harry?

Joyfully, Harry answered:

Yes. Who wants to know?

The answer was:

Your father. He has just waked me up.-Harvey.

With a light heart, Harry telegraphed, as briefly as possible, an account of his adventures; and then his father sent a message, telling him that the family had heard that he had been carried away, and had been greatly troubled about him, and that men had ridden down the stream after him, and had not returned, and that he, Mr. Loudon, had just come to Lewston's cabin, hoping for news by telegraph. Harvey had been there all day. Mr. Loudon said he would now hurry home with the good news, but before bidding his son good night, he told him that he must not think of returning until the creek had fallen. He must stay at Aunt Judy's, or go over to Hetertown.

When this had been promised, and a message sent to his mother and Kate, Harry hastened to business. He telegraphed to Harvey to transmit the company's messages as fast as he could; a boy would soon be there to take them over to Hetertown. The answer came:

What messages?

Then Harry suddenly remembered that he had had the messages in the breast-pocket of his coat all the time!

He dived at his pocket. Yes, there they were!

Was there ever such a piece of absurdity? He had actually carried those despatches across the creek! After all the labor and expense of building the telegraph, this had been the way that the first business messages had crossed Crooked Creek!

When Harry made this discovery he burst out laughing. Why, he might as well have carried them to Hetertown from Charity's cabin. It would really have been better, for the distance was not so great.

Although he laughed, he felt a little humiliated. How Tom Selden, and indeed everybody, would laugh if they knew it!

But there was no need to tell everybody, and so when he telegraphed the fact to Harvey, he enjoined secrecy. He knew he could trust Harvey.

And now he became anxious about Jim. Would he be able to borrow a mule, and would he come?

Every few minutes he went to the door and listened for the sound of approaching hoofs, but nothing was to be heard but the low snoring of Aunt Judy, who was fast asleep in a chair by the fireplace.

While thus waiting, a happy thought came into Harry's head. He opened the messages-he had a right to do that, of course, as he was an operator and had undertaken to transmit them-and he telegraphed them, one by one, to Harvey, with instructions to him to send them back to him.

"They shall come over the creek on our line, anyway," said Harry to himself.

It did not take long to send them and to receive them again, for there were only three of them. Then Harvey sent a message, congratulating Harry on this happy idea, and also suggested that he, Harvey, should now ride home, as it was getting late, and it was not likely that there would be any more business that night.

Harry agreed to this, urging Harvey to return early in the morning, and then he set to work to write out the messages. The company had not yet provided itself with regular forms, but Harry copied the telegrams carefully on note-paper, with which, with pen and ink, each station was furnished, writing them, as far as possible, in the regular form and style of the ordinary telegraphic despatch. Then he put them in an envelope and directed them to Mr. Lyons, at Hetertown, indorsing them, "In haste. To be transmitted to destination immediately."

"Now then," thought he, "nobody need know how these came over in the first place, until we choose to tell them, and we won't do that until we've sent over some messages in the regular way, and have proved that our line is really of some use. And we won't charge the Mica Company anything for these despatches. But yet, I don't know about that. I certainly brought them over, and trouble enough I had to do it. I'll see about charging, after I've talked it over with somebody. I reckon I'll ask father about that. And I haven't delayed the messages, either; for I've been waiting for Jim. I wonder where that boy can be!" And again Harry went out of doors to listen.

Had he known that Jim was at that moment fast asleep in his bed at home, Harry need not have gone to the door so often.

At last our operator began to be very sleepy, and having made up his mind that if Jim arrived he would certainly wake him up, he aroused Aunt Judy, who was now too sleepy to scold, and having succeeded in getting her to lend him a blanket (it was her very best blanket, which she kept for high days and holidays, and if she had been thoroughly awake she would not have lent it for the purpose), and having spread it on the floor, he lay down on it and was soon asleep.

Aunt Judy blew out one of the candles and set the other on the hearth. Then she stumbled drowsily into the next room and shut the door after her. In a few minutes every living creature in and about the place was fast asleep, excepting some tree-frogs and katydids outside, who seemed to have made up their minds to stay up all night.

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