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   Chapter 26 No.26

What Might Have Been Expected By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 8792

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04

A Grand Proposition.

The summer vacation was now over, and the Board of Managers of the telegraph company, as well as the other boys of the vicinity, were obliged to go to school again and study something besides the arts of making money and transacting telegraphic business. But as there was not much business of this kind to be done, the school interfered with the company's affairs in little else than the collection of money due from private individuals for telegraphic services rendered during the late "rise" in the creek. The committee which had charge of this collection labored very faithfully for some time, and before and after school and during the noon recess, the members thereof made frequent visits to the houses of the company's debtors. As there were not more than half-a-dozen debtors, it might have been supposed that the business would be speedily performed. But such was not the case. Mr. Darby, the storekeeper, paid his bill promptly; and old Mr. Truly Matthews, who had telegraphed to Washington to a nephew in the Patent Office Department, "just to see how it would go," paid what he owed on the eighth visit of Wilson Ogden to his house. He had not seen "how it would go," for his nephew had not answered him, either by telegraph or mail, and he was in no hurry to pay up, but he could not stand "that boy opening his gate three times a day." As for the rest, they promised to settle as soon as they could get some spare cash-which happy time they expected would arrive when they sold their tobacco.

It is to be supposed that no one ever bought their tobacco, for they never paid up.

The proceeds of the five days of telegraphing, together with the money obtained by the sale of Harry's gun, were spent by Kate for Aunt Matilda's benefit; and as she knew that it might be a good while before there would be any more money coming, Kate was as economical as she could be.

It was all very proper and kind to make the old woman's income hold out as long as possible, but Aunt Matilda did not like this systematic and economical way of living. It was too late in life for her, she said, "to do more measurin' at a meal than chewin';" and so she became discouraged, and managed, one fine morning, to hobble up to see Mrs. Loudon about it.

"Ise afraid dese chillen ain't a-gwine to hold out," said she. "I don know but what I'd better go 'long to the poor-house, arter all. And there's that money I put inter de comp'ny. I ain't seen nothin' come o' dat ar money yit."

"How much did you put in, Aunt Matilda?" asked Mrs. Loudon.

"Well, I needn't be a-sayin' jist how much it was; but it was solid silver, anyway, and I don't reckon I'll ever see any of it back again. But it don't differ much. Ise an old woman, and them chillen is a-doin' their best."

"Yes, they are," said Mrs. Loudon; "and I think they're doing very well, too. You haven't suffered for anything lately, have you?"

"Well, no," said the old woman, "I can't say that I've gone hungry or nuthin'; but I was only a-gittin' 'fraid I might. Dis hyar 'tic'lar way o' doin' things makes a person scary."

"I am glad that Kate is particular," said Mrs. Loudon. "You know, Aunt Matilda, that money isn't very plenty with any of us, and we all have to learn to make it go as far as it will. I don't think you need feel 'scary,' if Kate's economy is all you have to fear."

This interview somewhat reassured Aunt Matilda, but she was not altogether satisfied with the state of things. The fact was that she had supposed that the telegraph company would bring in so much money that she would be able to live in what to her would be a state of comparative luxury. And instead of that, Kate had been preaching economy and systematic management to her. No wonder she was disappointed, and a little out of humor with her young guardians.

But for all that, if Harry or Kate had fallen into a fiery crater, Aunt Matilda would have hurried in after them as fast as her old legs would have carried her.

She went back to her cabin, after a while, and she continued to have her three meals a day all the same as usual; but if she could have seen, as Kate saw, how steadily the little fund for her support was diminishing day by day, she would have had some reason for her apprehensions.

It was on a pleasant Saturday in early September, that Harry stood looking over the front gate in his f

ather's yard. Kate was at the dining-room window, sewing. Harry was thinking, and Kate was wondering what he was thinking about. She thought she knew, and she called out to him: "I expect old Mr. Matthews would lend you a gun, Harry."

"Yes, I suppose he would," said Harry, turning and slowly walking up toward the house; "but father told me not to borrow a gun from Truly Matthews. It's a shame, though, to stay here when the fields are just chock full of partridges. I never knew them so plenty in all my life. It's just the way things go."

"It is a pity about your gun," said Kate. "There's some one at the gate, Harry. Hadn't you better go and see what he wants? Father won't be home until after dinner, you can tell him."

Harry turned.

"It's Mr. Martin," said he, and he went down to the gate to meet him.

"How do you do, Mr. President?" said Mr. Martin. "I rode over here this morning, and thought I would come and see you."

Harry shook hands with his visitor, and invited him to walk into the house; but after Mr. Martin had dismounted and fastened his horse, he thought that the seat under the catalpa-tree looked so cool and inviting, that he proposed that they should sit down there and have a little chat.

"I have been thinking about the extension of your telegraph line," said the manager of the mica mine, "and have talked it over with our people. They agree with me that it would be a good thing, and we have determined, if it suits you and your company, that we will advance the money necessary to carry out the scheme."

"I'm glad to hear that," said Harry; "but, as I said before, you'll have to bear the whole expense, and it will cost a good deal to carry the line from the creek all the way to Hetertown."

"Yes, it will cost some money," said Mr. Martin "but our idea is that you ought to have a complete line while you are about it, and that it ought to run from our mine to Hetertown."

"From your mine to Hetertown!" exclaimed Harry, in astonishment.

"Yes," said Mr. Martin, smiling. "That is the kind of a line that is really needed. You see, our business is increasing, and we are buying land which we intend to sell out in small farms, and so expect to build up quite a little village out there in time. So you can understand that we would like to be in direct communication with Richmond and the North. And if we can have it by means of your line, we are ready to put the necessary funds into the work."

Harry was so amazed at this statement, that he could hardly find words with which to express himself.

"Why, that would give us a regular, first-class telegraph line!" he exclaimed.

"Certainly," said Mr. Martin, "and that's the only kind of a line that is really worth anything."

"I don't know what to think about it," said Harry. "I didn't expect you to propose anything like this."

"Well," said Mr. Martin, rising, "I must be off. I had only a few minutes to spare, but I thought I had better come and make you this proposition. I think you had better lay it before your Board of Managers as soon as possible, and if you will take my advice, as a business man, you'll accept our offer."

So saying, he bid Harry good-by, took off his hat to Kate, who was still looking out of the window, mounted his horse, and rode away.

There was a meeting of the Board of Managers of the Crooked Creek Telegraph Company that afternoon. It was a full meeting, for Harry sent hasty messengers to those he called the "out-lying members."

A more astonished body of officials has seldom been seen than was our Board when Harry laid the proposition of Mr. Martin before it.

But the boys were not so much amazed that they could not jump at this wonderful opportunity and in a very short time it was unanimously voted to accept the proposition of the mica-mine people, and to build the great line.

Almost as soon as this important vote had been taken, the meeting adjourned, and the members hurried to their several homes to carry the news.

"We'll have to change our name," said Tom Selden to Harry. "We ought to call our company 'The United States Mica and Hetertown Lightning Express Line,' or something big like that."

"Yes," replied Harry. "The A 1 double-action, back-spring, copper-fastened, broad-gauge telegraph line from here to the moon!"

And away he ran to meet Kate, who was coming down the road.

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