Read CHAPTER VI of The Young Railroaders Tales of Adventure and Ingenuity , free online book, by Francis Lovell Coombs, on ReadCentral.com.

JACK HAS HIS ADVENTURE

One afternoon a few days following the affair of the missing cash-box Manager Black appeared in the Hammerton operating room, and after a consultation with the chief operator, called Jack Orr from his wire.

“Jack,” said the manager, “there have been some important developments in the big will case on trial out at Oakton, and the ‘Daily Star’ has asked for a fast operator to send in their story to-night. The chief tells me you have developed into a rapid sender. Would you care to go?”

“I’d be glad of the opportunity, sir,” said Jack, delightedly.

“All right. The chief will let you off now, so you will have plenty of time to catch the seven o’clock train. And now, Jack, do your best, for the ‘Morning Bulletin’ is sending its news matter in by the other telegraph company, and we don’t want them to get ahead of us in any way.”

When Jack reached the station, several of the newspaper men, including West of the “Star,” already were there. Among them he saw Raub, a reporter of the “Bulletin,” and with him Simpson, an operator of the opposition telegraph company.

“Why, hello, kid!” said the latter on seeing Jack. “They are not sending you out to Oakton, are they?”

“They are,” responded Jack, with pride. Simpson laughed, and, somewhat indignant, Jack passed on down the platform. On turning back, he noticed Simpson and Raub apart, talking earnestly. As he again neared them, both glanced toward him, and abruptly the conversation ceased. At once Jack’s suspicions were aroused, for he knew Raub had the name of being very unscrupulous in news-getting matters, and that Simpson was not much better. He determined to watch them.

But nothing further attracted his attention, and finally, the train arriving, they boarded it, and made a quick run of the ten miles to the little village. There Jack headed for the local telegraph office.

He found it a tiny affair, in a small coal office on the southern outskirts of the village. Introducing himself to the elderly lady operator, who was just leaving, he went to the key and announced his arrival to the chief at Hammerton.

It was an hour later when West, the “Star” reporter, appeared. “Here you are, youngster,” said he; “a thousand words for a starter. It’s going to be a great story. I’ll be back in half an hour with another batch.”

Promptly Jack called “H,” and soon was clicking away in full swing. But suddenly the instruments ceased to respond. The wire had “opened.” Jack tested with his earth connection, and finding the opening was to the south, waited, thinking the receiving operator at Hammerton had opened his key. But minute after minute passed, and finally becoming anxious, he cut off the southern end and began calling “B,” the terminal office to the north.

“I, I,” said B.

“Get H on another wire and ask him what is wrong here,” Jack sent quickly. “We are being held up on some very important stuff.”

“H says it is open north of him,” announced B, returning. “We are putting in a set of repeaters here, so you can reach him this way.”

A moment later Jack heard Hammerton calling him from the north, and in another moment he was again sending rapidly.

But scarcely had Jack sent a hundred words when this wire also suddenly failed. When several minutes again passed and no further sound came, Jack leaned back in despair. Suddenly he sat upright. Raub and Simpson! Was it possible this was their work? Was it possible they had cut the wires?

Quickly he made a test which would show whether the breaks were near him. Adjusting the relay-magnets near the armature, he clicked the key. There was not the faintest response. Switching the instruments to the southern end of the wire, he repeated the test, with the same result.

On both ends the break was within a short distance of him. Undoubtedly the wires had been cut!

Jack sprang to his feet and seized his hat. “I’ll find that southern break if I have to walk half-way to Hammerton,” he said determinedly, and leaving the office, set off down the moonlit road, his eyes fixed on the wire overhead.

Scarcely a mile distant Jack uttered an exclamation, and, running forward, caught up the severed end of the telegraph line.

A moment’s examination of the wire showed it had been cut through with a sharp file.

Yes; undoubtedly it was the work of Raub and Simpson, in an effort to keep the news from the “Star,” and score a “beat” for the opposition telegraph company and the “Morning Bulletin.”

“But you haven’t done it yet,” said Jack grimly, turning to look about him. How could he overcome the break in the wire? As the cut had been made close to the glass insulator on the cross-arm, only one of the two ends hung to the ground, and he saw that he could not splice them. And in any case he could not climb the pole and take that heavy stretch of wire with him.

His eyes fell on a barb-wire fence bordering the road, and like an inspiration Alex Ward’s feat with the rails at Hadley Corners occurred to him. Could he not do the same thing with one of the fence wires? Connect this end of the telegraph line (and fortunately it was the Hammerton end), say to the upper strand, then run back to the office and string a wire from the fence in to the instruments?

To think was to act. Dragging the telegraph wire to the fence, Jack looped it over the topmost strand near one of the posts, and wound it about several times, to ensure a good contact. Then on the run he started back for the telegraph office.

As he neared the little building Jack saw a figure within. Thinking the “Star” reporter had returned with further copy, he quickened his steps. At the doorway he halted in consternation. Instead of the reporter were two desperate-looking characters, and on the table beside them a half-emptied bottle and a large revolver.

Jack hesitated a moment, then stepped inside. “What are you men doing here?” he demanded.

“Oh, hello, kiddo! We are the new operators,” said one of them with tipsy humor. “You’re discharged, see? And you git, too!” he suddenly shouted, catching up the pistol. And promptly Jack “got.” A few yards distant, however, he halted. Now what was he to do?

“Oh here you are, eh? Where have you been?” It was West, the “Star” man, and he spoke angrily. “I was here ten minutes ago, and found the office empty, and if the other company could have handled my stuff yours would have lost it. I’ve just been ”

Interrupting, Jack hastily explained, telling of the severed wire, and his plan to bridge the break. The reporter uttered an indignant exclamation. “It’s Raub’s work, sure as you’re born,” he said hotly.

“But say, youngster, we can’t permit ourselves to be beaten this way. Can’t we do something?”

“We might get some help, and drive the roughs out,” suggested Jack.

“No; we haven’t time. And then they might put up a drunken fight and shoot somebody. Come, think of something else. You surely can get over this new difficulty, after your clever idea for getting around the cut in the wire.”

“I don’t know,” replied Jack doubtfully, glancing toward the office window. “If there was any way of getting the instruments ”

“What could you do with them?”

“We could turn the barn there into an office. I’d run connections out through the back to the fence. It’s just behind.”

“Say I’ve an idea then! If it wouldn’t take you long to remove the instruments from the table?”

“Only a couple of minutes.”

“Come on,” said West. Leading the way back toward the office, he explained, “I’ll get these beggars out, you hide round the corner, and soon as the way is clear rush in and get your instruments, and duck for the barn. I’ll join you later.”

“How are you going to get them out?” whispered Jack.

“Watch,” said the reporter.

As Jack drew out of sight about the rear of the building his mystification was added to when he saw West pause before the door, stoop and pick up a handful of gravel. But immediately the reporter entered the doorway and spoke his purpose was explained.

“Hello, you two big rummies,” he said in his most offensive tones. “What are you doing here?”

The two men were in a momentarily genial mood, however, and missed the insult. “Why, hello pard, ol’ man,” responded one of them cordially. “Come in an’ make ‘self t’ home. Wanta buy a telegraph office? Cheap?”

“Cheap! You are the cheapest article I see here,” replied West, yet more insultingly. “What do you mean by sitting down in respectable chairs? You ought to be tied up in a cow-stable. That’s where you belong.”

There was an angry growl as the two men scrambled to their feet, and peering about the corner Jack saw West back into the door.

“Come on out, you big, overgrown cowards,” shouted the reporter. “I’ll thrash the both of you, with one hand tied behind me!

“And take that!”

With his last words West suddenly threw the gravel full in the faces of the now enraged men, and spinning about, raced off down the road. They stumbled forth, shouting with rage, and one of them fired. The bullet went yards wide, and West ran on. Without further wait Jack darted into the office, in a few minutes had the relay and key from the table, secured some spare ends of wire for connections, and sped for the barn.

There all was darkness. Entering, a search with matches soon produced a lantern, however. Lighting it, Jack stepped without to discover whether its glimmer could be seen from the direction of the office. As he closed the door West appeared, panting and laughing.

“Well, what do you think of that stunt, youngster?” he chuckled. “Did you get the instruments?”

“Yes. I was out here to learn whether the light of a lantern I found could be seen.”

“Good head! No; it doesn’t show.

“And come on! Here the beggars are again!” West led the way inside, and closed the door behind them.

“Now what, my boy?”

“A table first. Here, the very thing,” said Jack, making towards a long feed-box at the rear of the barn.

As they cleared its top of a pile of harness West asked, “Just what is the scheme here, youngster? I don’t think I understand it.”

“Oh, simple enough. I’ll just run the wires out through that knot-hole, and connect one to the fence and the other to the ground.”

“Simple! It looks different to me,” declared the reporter admiringly. “All right, go ahead. I’ll get down on this box and grind out the rest of my story.”

Already Jack was at work sorting over the odd pieces of wire he had brought. Finding two suitable lengths, and straightening them out, he quickly connected them to the instruments, placed the instruments in a convenient position on the top of the box, and thrust the wire ends through the knot-hole. Then, hastening outside to the rear of the barn, he proceeded to connect one of them to the same strand of the fence wire to which the telegraph line was secured a mile distant. The other he drove deep into the damp earth beneath the edge of the building. And, theoretically, the circuit was complete.

Hurriedly he re-entered the barn to learn the result.

“Well?” said West anxiously.

“There is current, but it’s too weak.” Jack’s voice quavered with his disappointment. “I suppose the rusty splices of that old fence offer too much resistance.

“But I’m not beaten yet,” he exclaimed, suddenly recovering his determination. Turning from the box, he began pacing up and down the floor. “I’ll figure it out somehow if I oh!” With the cry Jack darted for the door, out, and toward the office.

The intoxicated roughs were again in possession. Quietly he made his way to a dark window adjoining the lighted window of the operating room the window of a little store-room, where, the local operator had told him, the batteries were located.

The window was unlocked, and with little difficulty he succeeded in raising it. Cautiously he climbed within, and feeling about, found the row of glass jars. Quickly disconnecting two of them, he carried them to the window-sill, clambered out, and hastened with them to the barn.

“Now I’ve got it, Mr. West!” he cried. “I’ll have H again in fifteen minutes!”

West started to his feet. “Can’t I help you?”

“All right. Come on,” said Jack. And ten minutes later, working like beavers, they had transferred to the barn the entire office battery of twenty cells.

In nervous haste Jack connected the cells in series, then to the wire. Instantly the instrument closed with a solid click.

“Hurrah! We win! We win!” cried West, and Jack, springing to the key, whirled off a succession of H’s. “H, H, H, on! Rush! H, H ”

“I, I, H! Where have you been? What’s the matter?” It was the chief, and the words came sharply and angrily.

“The wire was cut both sides of the village,” shot back Jack. “I think it was Raub and Simpson’s work. And two roughs chased me out of the office with a revolver. Hired by them, I suppose. I’ve fixed up an office in the barn, and am sending for a mile through a wire fence, to bridge the cut. Orr.”

For a moment the chief was too amazed to reply. Then rapidly he said: “Orr, you are a trump! But come ahead with that report now. And make the best time you ever made in your life. I’ll copy you myself.”

And there, in a corner of the big barn, by the dim light of the lantern, and to the strange accompaniment of munching cattle and restlessly stamping horses, West wrote as though his life depended upon it, and Jack sent as he had never sent before. And exactly an hour later the young operator sent “30” (the end) to one of the speediest feats of press work on that year’s records of the Hammerton office.

Though it was 3 A. M. when Jack got back to Hammerton, he found the chief operator at the station to meet him. “I had to come down, to congratulate you,” said the chief. “That was one of the brightest bits of work all-round that I’ve heard of for years.”

“But did we beat them?” asked Jack.

“We assuredly did. For didn’t you know? Those two roughs later went up and cleaned out the other office the very men who had hired them to disable us! And what with having had a slow-working wire previously, the ‘Bulletin’ didn’t get in more than five hundred words. We gave the ‘Star’ over three solid columns.”

The manager’s congratulation the following morning was as enthusiastic as that of the chief. “And as a practical appreciation, Jack,” he added, “we are going to give you a full month’s vacation, with salary. We think you earned it.”

When Jack returned to his wire one of the first remarks he heard was from Alex Ward, at Bixton.

“Well, old boy,” clicked Alex, “your adventure came, didn’t it. And it has me beaten to a standstill.”

“Nonsense. It was your stunt at Hadley Corners that suggested the trick that got me out of it,” declared Jack. “But say, the manager has given me a month’s vacation. What do you think of that?”

“He did! Look here,” sent Alex quickly, “come to Bixton and spend some of it with me. I’ll promise you all kinds of a good time. Though I am not sure I can guarantee anything as exciting as last night’s work,” he added.

Jack readily accepted the invitation. And, as it turned out, Alex might as well have made his promise. He could have kept it.