The Ocean Wireless Boys on the Atlantic
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LOOKING FOR A JOB
Jack Ready was making his way home. He was a tall, well-set-up lad of sixteen, and when in a good mood was a wholesome, cheerful-looking youngster.
But now, as he trudged along the rough, deeply rutted road that skirted the crowded wharves and slips of the Erie Basin, his attitude toward life was anything but amiable.
“It just seems as if I get turned down everywhere,” he muttered to himself as he turned aside to avoid a big automobile truck that was rumbling away from a squat, ugly-looking tank steamer lying at a dock not far off. “Too young, they all say. If only I could get a chance at a wireless key, I’d show them, but – Oh! what’s the use! It’s me for a shore berth till I’m old enough to try again, I guess. Hullo, what’s the matter over there?”
His attention had been caught by a sudden stir on the dock alongside the home-looking “tank.” She was a type of oil carrier familiar to the boy, as many vessels of a similar sort docked in the Erie Basin, New York’s biggest laying-up place for freight ships. This particular craft was black and powerful looking, with two pole masts bristling with derricks, and a tall funnel right astern painted black, with a red top.
But it was not the appearance of the steamer that interested the boy. It was a sudden rush and stir on the wharf alongside that had arrested his steps.
He could see the men, who had been engaged in various tasks about the vessel, running about and shouting and pointing down at the water between the ship’s side and the pier.
Evidently something very out of the ordinary was occurring. Glad of any opportunity to divert his thoughts from his fruitless search for employment as a wireless operator, Jack ran toward the scene of the excitement.
As he came closer he could distinguish some of the shouts.
“Throw her a rope, somebody!”
“She’s still down there!”
“No, she isn’t!”
These and a dozen other agitated cries and contradictions were flying about from mouth to mouth, and on the faces of the speakers there were looks of the greatest agitation.
“What is it? What’s the matter?” demanded Jack, running to the edge of the dock where the crowd of ’longshoremen and deck hands and sailors were clustered.
“It’s Mrs. Jukes’ little girl. She – she’s fallen overboard!” cried a man.
“She’s down there in the water,” explained another one. “She was clinging to a pile a minute ago. We’re trying to get a rope to her.”
“What! There’s a child down there and nobody’s gone after her?” cried Jack indignantly.
As he spoke he stripped off his coat and removed his boots almost with one operation. Then, shoving the men aside, he dived from the edge of the dock into the strip of dark, dirty water that lay between the ship and the wharf.
Clinging frantically to one of the piles supporting the dock was a little girl with a wealth of fair hair and a pretty, flower-like face.Too terrified even to scream, she was holding to the rough woodwork with all her little strength, but the expression of her face showed plainly that the struggle could not last much longer. In fact, as Jack, with a few strong, swift strokes, reached her side her grip relaxed altogether, and she slipped back into the oil-streaked water just in time for his strong arms to seize and hold her.
It was all over so quickly that hardly a moment seemed to have elapsed from the instant that the lad sprang from the stringpiece of the dock to the time when the cheering crowd above beheld him clinging to the rough surface of the pile with one hand, while with the other he supported the child, who had fainted and lay white-faced and weak in his grasp.
“Throw me a rope, some of you,” cried the boy, and in a jiffy a stout rope, with a loop in it, came shaking down to him.
He gently placed the loop under the child’s arm-pits, and when this was done, and it was not accomplished without difficulty, he signaled to the onlookers above to hoist up the unconscious little form. They hauled with a will, and in almost as brief a time as it takes to tell it Marjorie Jukes, daughter of the owner of the Titan Line of tank steamers, was on the dock once more with a doctor, hastily summoned from another vessel, attending to her.
Jack’s turn at the rope came then, and by dint of scrambling on his part and stout pulling from a dozen brawny arms above he, too, was presently once more in safety. Just as he reached the dock, dripping wet from his immersion, he heard the doctor asking how the child had come to go overboard.
“Her dad, he’s Jacob Jukes, the big ship-owner, was ashore there in the warehouses with the captain, fixing up an invoice,” Jack heard one of the sailors explaining. “Little Miss here was playing on the dock, waiting till her dad came back.
“All at once, afore any of us knowed a thing, there she was overboard. We all lost our heads, I guess. Anyhow, if it hadn’t been for a lad that suddenly bobbed up from no place in particular she might have drown-ded.”
“Here’s her dad coming now!” cried another.
Someone had found the ship-owner, and, hatless and white-faced, he was racing down to the dock from the gloomy red brick pile of warehouses ashore.
“She’s all right, sir!” shouted one of the sailors. “See, she’s openin’ her eyes, sir!”
“Thank God!” breathed her father reverently. “I should never have left her. Get my automobile, somebody. I must rush her home at once.”
In a few minutes a big limousine came purring down the dock from the rear yard of the storehouses. In the meantime Mr. Jukes, a handsome, florid-faced man of about fifty years of age, with a somewhat overbearing manner, as perhaps became his importance and wealth, had been informed of Jack’s brave rescue while he stood with his little daughter bundled up tenderly in his arms, the water from her wet clothing streaming, unregarded by him, down his broadcloth coat.
“Where is he? Where is that boy?” he demanded. “I want to see him. I must reward him handsomely.”
But Jack had vanished.
“He must be found. Does nobody know his name?” asked Mr. Jukes as if he were issuing an order. “I want to see him at once. Who is he? Does he live hereabouts?”
But nobody appeared to know. As for Jack, being satisfied that the child was out of all danger, and having no desire to pose as a hero, he had slipped off home at the earliest opportunity, shivering slightly in his wet clothing, for it was late fall and a chilly wind swept about the crowded docks and ship-filled slips.
It was an odd home for which Jack was bound. Tucked away in a quiet corner of the bustling Basin was a sort of ocean graveyard. Here old ships that had outlived their usefulness lay in peace until they were sold to be broken up or to be converted into barges or to meet some such end. Tall-sparred clippers that had once proudly swept the seven seas, rusty old tramp steamers, looking like the wrecks of marine hoboes that they were, and venerable ferryboats, all rubbed sides in this salt water cemetery.
In the farthest part of this quiet corner of the Basin lay a derelict two-masted schooner of an entirely different type from the other craft. To begin with, she was much smaller, and then again, instead of displaying rusty iron sides, or gaping, bleached wooden ones, she was gayly painted, with red and green hull and bulwarks. Her deck-house astern was a veritable marine garden, and bright-colored blossoms of all kinds, even though the season was late, bloomed from numerous boxes placed on the roof and about the taffrail.
A plank connected this queer-looking craft with the shore, and a column of smoke ascending from a pipe stuck through the cabin roof, as well as the curtained windows and general look of neatness, showed that someone made a home on this retired wanderer of the seas. It bore the name “Venus” on either side of a dilapidated figurehead, doubtless intended to represent the goddess of love. The effigy’s one remaining eye sadly surveyed the deep-sea vagabonds about her.
If the above evidences that the old schooner was used as a habitation had been lacking, there still would have remained proof that Captain Toby Ready made his home there, for, nailed to one side of the flowering cabin-house, was a large sign. On it in sprawling characters of white on a black background was the following inscription:
CAPTAIN TOBY READY
Herb Doctor and Common-Sense Medico-at-Large
to the Sea-Going Profession
Here it was that Jack had made his home since the death of his father, Captain Amos Ready, at sea some years before. His Uncle Toby was thus left his sole surviving relative, for his mother had died soon after Jack’s birth. So Jack had lived with his eccentric relative on the old schooner, bought by Captain Toby many years before as a Snug Harbor.
The boy had helped his uncle compound his liniments and medicines, which had a ready sale among the old-time ship captains. They had more faith in Uncle Toby’s remedies than in a whole shipload of doctors. Captain Toby had, in his day, commanded fast clippers and other sailing vessels. On long voyages he had amused himself by studying pharmacy till he believed himself the equal of the entire college of surgeons. At any rate, if his medicines did no good, at least they never did any harm, and Jack was kept busy delivering orders for Captain Toby’s compounds to various vessels.
With such a line of sea-going ancestry, it was natural that the boy should have a hankering for the sea. But, together with his love of a seafaring life, Jack had developed another passion, and this was for wireless telegraphy.
Slung between the two bare masts of the old schooner was the antenn? of a wireless apparatus, and down below, in his own sanctum in the schooner’s cabin, Jack had a set of instruments. It was a crude enough station, which is hardly to be wondered at, considering that the boy had constructed most of the apparatus himself.
But Jack had a natural leaning for this sort of work, and his home-made station gave satisfactory results, although he could not catch messages for more than fifty miles or so. This, however, had not prevented him from becoming an adept at the key, and his one great ambition was to get a berth on one of the liners as a wireless operator.
So far, however, he had met with nothing but rebuffs. Wireless men appeared to be as common as blackberries.
“Come back when you’re older. We can’t use kids,” the head of a big wireless concern had told him. And that was the substance of most of the replies to his applications for a job at the work he loved.
That day he had tramped on foot to Manhattan and made his weary round once more, with the same result. Footsore and thoroughly discouraged, he had trudged back over Brooklyn Bridge and across town to the region of the Basin, where the air bristled with masts and derricks, and queer, foreign, spicy smells issued from the doors of warehouses. He walked, for the excellent reason that he was young and strong, and every nickel saved meant a better chance to improve the equipment of his station on the old Venus.
He cheered up a bit as he came in sight of his floating home. He had grown to like his odd way of life, and he had a sincere affection for his eccentric old uncle. Determined not to let the old man see his disappointment, he struck up “Nancy Lee,” whistling it bravely as he crossed the rickety gangplank, walked over the scrupulously scrubbed deck and dived down the companionway into one of the strangest homes that any boy in all New York ever inhabited.
CAPTAIN TOBY READY – DOCTOR-AT-LARGE
As Jack entered the cabin he was greeted by a succession of shrill shrieks and whoops.
“Ahoy, my hearty! Never say die! Don’t give up the ship! Kra-a-a-a!”
“That is good advice, Methusaleh,” laughed the boy, addressing himself to a disreputable-looking parrot that stood balancing itself on a perch in a cage that hung in one corner of this queer abode.
The ports which the cabin had originally boasted had been enlarged and formed into windows, through which the light streamed cheerfully. Red cotton curtains hung at these casements and gave a dash of color to the dark wooden walls of the place. In the center was a swinging table and some rickety chairs; at one end was a sea-stove, a relic of the schooner’s sea-going days, and at the opposite end of the cabin, at the stern portion of it, was a bulkhead and a door.
From beyond this door came the clinking of glasses and the sound of pounding. It was Captain Toby hard at work in his sanctum compounding his medicines. Jack turned into another door alongside the stove, on the other side of which there was a similar portal.
These doors led into the cabins respectively of Jack and his uncle. Jack’s cabin was a neat little combination workshop and sleeping place.
On a shelf opposite his bunk was his wireless set, with the wires leading down to it from the aerials above. Another shelf held his stock of books, mostly of a scientific character, dealing with his favorite pursuit. The rest of the space in the not very large cabin was occupied by a work bench, cluttered with tools and stray bits of apparatus.
Jack had no wish to worry his uncle with an account of the happenings of the afternoon, so, before seeking him, he slipped out of his wet clothes and donned the overalls in which he usually worked. There was another reason for this, too, for the suit in which he had dived to the rescue of little Marjorie Jukes was the only one he boasted.
Having hung up his garments carefully, so that they would dry as free from wrinkles as possible, Jack left the cabin and made for his uncle’s sanctum in the stern.
“Well, Jack, my hearty, what luck?” inquired the old man as the boy entered.
Jack shook his head.
“The same old story, Uncle Toby. What are you busy at?”
“An order for the ‘Golden Embrocation and Universal Remedy for Man and Beast’ for Cap’n Styles of the Sea Witch,” rejoined his uncle in his deep voice, hoarse from many years of shouting orders above gales and storms. “If you really want to go to sea, Jack, I’ll get you a berth with Cap’n Styles. The Sea Witch is a fine old Yankee ship; not one of your smoke-eating tea-kettles.”
“But she has no wireless?” questioned Jack, gazing about him at the compartment, which was stocked with the tools of the captain’s trade: herbs in bundles, bottles, pestles and mortars and so forth. A strong aromatic odor filled the air, and the captain hummed cheerily as he poured a yellow, evil-smelling liquid from a big retort into half a dozen bottles, destined to cure the ills of Captain Styles.
“Wireless! Of course not, my hearty. What does a fine sailing ship want with a wireless? Take my word for it, Jack, wireless is only a newfangled idee, and it won’t last. Give a sailor sea-room and a good ship and all that fol-de-rol is only in his way.”
“And yet I saw the news of another rescue at sea by means of the wireless when I was looking at a newspaper bulletin-board to-day,” rejoined the lad. “The crew of a burning tramp steamer was rescued by a liner that had been summoned to their aid by the apparatus. If it hadn’t been for wireless, that ship might have burned up with all hands, and no one ever have known her fate.”
His uncle grunted in the manner of one unconvinced.
“Well, I ain’t saying that wireless mayn’t be all right for one of them floating wash-boilers, but for Yankee sailors, good rigging and canvas and a stout, sweet hull is good enough to go to sea with.”
As he went on with his work, he began rumbling in a gruff, throaty bass:
“That’s the music, Jack,” said he. “I wish you’d go inter sails instead of steam, and follow the examples of your dad and your uncle, yes, and of your granddaddy, Noah Ready, afore ’em.”
Jack made no rejoinder, but set about straightening up the litter in the place. The contention between them was an old one, and always ended in the same way. His uncle knew many seafaring men of the old school who would gladly have given Jack a berth on their craft. But they were all in command of “wind-jammers,” and the boy’s heart was set on the wireless room of a liner, or at any rate a job on some wireless-equipped vessel.
Meantime the captain went on compounding and mixing and pouring, rumbling away at his old sea songs. He was an odd-looking character, as odd in his way as his chosen place of residence.
Years of service on the salt-water had tanned his wrinkled skin almost to a mahogany color. Under his chin was a fringe of white whiskers, and his round head – covered with a bristly white thatch – was set low between a pair of gigantic shoulders. He was dressed in a fantastic miscellany of water-side slops which flapped where they should have been tight, and wrinkled where they should have been loose. Add to this an expression of whimsical kindness, a wooden leg and a wide, rough scar, – the memento of a battle with savages in the South Seas, – and you have a portrait of Captain Toby Ready.
Presently the captain drew out a huge silver watch.
“Two bells. Time to stand by for supper, lad,” he said. “That stuff’ll have to go to Cap’n Styles to-morrow. There’s plenty of time; he don’t sail for goin’ on a week yet. Slip your cable, like a good lad, and set a course for the bakery. We’re short of bread.”
“And I’m short of the money to get it,” said Jack.
The captain thrust a hairy paw into his pocket and drew out an immense purse. He extracted a coin from it and handed it to the boy.
“An’ how much, lad, is a penny saved?” he inquired, peering at Jack from under his bushy white brows.
“A penny earned,” laughed Jack.
“Co’-rect,” chuckled the captain, grinning at Jack’s quick reply to the almost invariable formula, “an’ if Captain Toby Ready had thought o’ that when he was young, he wouldn’t be here on the craft Wenus making medicines fer sea-cap’ns with a tummy ache.
“I’ve got an apple pie in the oven, Jack,” said he, as the boy left the “drug-store,” as he and his uncle called it, “so cut along and hurry back.”
“Aye, aye, sir!” cried the boy, bounding up the cabin stairs with alacrity.
Apple pies were not common on board the Venus, nor was Jack too old to appreciate his uncle’s announcement.
THE REJECTED REWARD
When Jack returned, he was surprised to hear voices in the cabin. His uncle had a habit of talking to himself, but there was another voice mingling with the old sailor’s deep, rumbling tones.
Wondering greatly who the visitor could be, for somehow the voice sounded different from the bellowings of the old sea cronies who visited the Venus either on business or socially, Jack descended the cabin stairs.
The swinging lamp was lighted and shone down on his uncle and another man, seated on opposite sides of the table.
“By the great main boom, the lad never told me a word of it!” his uncle was saying. “Dived overboard an’ saved your little gal, eh? Well, sir, Jack’s a chip of the old block!”
The man who sat opposite the captain was a portly gentleman with a bald brow, gold-rimmed glasses and close-cropped gray mustache. He spoke with curt, sharp emphasis, as if his minutes were dollars.
“Lucky that a watchman saw and recognized the boy as he sneaked away,” this individual replied. “If it had not been for that, I might never have found him. But I must see him. Where is he?”
“Here he is, sir, to answer for himself,” said the captain, as he heard Jack’s step on the stair.
As the boy entered the cabin the ship-owner jumped to his feet. He crossed the place with a quick, rapid stride and grasped Jack’s free hand.
“I’m proud to shake hands with a youngster like you,” he said in his swift, incisive way, “yes, sir, proud. If it had not been for you, my daughter might have drowned with those dolts all standing round doing nothing. Jove – ”
He mopped his forehead in an agitated way at the very thought of what might have happened.
“That’s all right, sir,” said Jack, “I’m glad I was there when I happened to be. When I knew the little girl was all right, I came away.”
The boy had recognized the shipping magnate from pictures of him that he had seen in the papers. Had he not come around another way from the bakery, he would have been prepared for this august visitor by the sight of his limousine, lying at the head of the dock.
“’Sarn it all, why didn’t you spin me the yarn?” sputtered the captain in an aggrieved tone.
“Oh! there really wasn’t much to tell,” said Jack. “The little girl was clinging to a pile and I went down and got her up. That’s all there was to it. If I hadn’t done it, somebody else would.”
“That is just the point,” roared Mr. Jukes, “somebody else wouldn’t.”
He drew out a check-book and signed his name to a check. He shoved this across the table to Jack, who was standing by his uncle.
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