John Goldfrap.

The Ocean Wireless Boys on the Atlantic





Fill that in for any amount you like, lad, he said in his dictatorial way. Make it a good, round sum. Jacob Jukes account can stand it.

Jack colored and hesitated.

Well, whats the matter, boy? sputtered the ship-owner, noting the boys hesitation. That check wont bite you. I know a whole lot of lads whod have grabbed at it before it was out of my hand.

I beg your pardon, sir, rejoined Jack, youre very generous and and all that. Maybe youll think me ungrateful, but I cant take that check.

Wha what! Cant take my check! Whats the matter with the boy?

Hev you slipped the cable of your senses, Jack? hoarsely exclaimed his uncle, in what was meant to be a whisper.

I dont want money for just doing a little thing like that, said the boy stubbornly.

You dont mean it. Come, take that check at once. Dont be a fool! urged Mr. Jukes with a very red face. Why cant you do as I tell you!

The magnates tone was almost angry. He was not used to having his commands disobeyed, and he was commanding Jack to take the check. But the boy resolutely shook his head.

Why, confound it all, I cant understand it. Make him take the check at once, captain.

Dont see how I can, if hes so sot and stubborn about it, rejoined the captain. Then, turning to Jack, he made another appeal. Why wont you take it, Jack? he growled. Shiver my timbers, what ails you?

Nothing; but I cant accept money from Mr. Jukes or anybody else, for doing what I did, said the boy quietly.

Mr. Jukes, with a crimson face, gave up the battle. He reached across the table, took the check and slowly tore it into fragments.

It is the first time in my experience that I ever encountered such a singular lad as this. Hang me if I dont think theres a screw loose somewhere. But after what you did for me this afternoon, never hesitate to call on me if you need anything at any time. Heres my card.

He rose, and with a comical mixture of astonishment and indignation on his face, regarded Jack somewhat as he might have looked at some strange freak in nature.

Thank you, sir, said the boy, taking the bit of pasteboard, I didnt mean to offend you; but but, well, I couldnt take that check, thats all.

Well, well, well say no more about it, said the great man testily. But remember, Ill always stand your friend if I can.

He started to leave the cabin, when he suddenly brought up all standing, as the captain would have said, with a sharp exclamation of pain.

What is it, sir? demanded that veteran with some concern. Your figurehead looks like you had some sort of a pain.

It is nothing. Just a sharp twinge of my old trouble, rheumatism, explained the great man. The damp air of the Basin may have brought it on.

Anchor right where you are! exclaimed the captain, and before Mr. Jukes could say another word, he had darted into the drug-store and was back with a bottle full of a villainous-looking black liquid.

My rheumatiz and gout remedy, he explained.

Yes, but I am under medical treatment.

I

Keel-haul all your doctors. Throw their medicine overboard, burst out the captain. Try a few applications of Capn Readys Rheumatiz and Gout Specific. Capn Joe Trotter of the Flying Scud cured himself with two bottles. Take it! Try it! Rub it in twice a day, night and morning, and in a week youll be as spry as a boy, as taut and sound as a cable.

Well, well, Ill try it, said the magnate good-naturedly in reply to Captain Tobys outburst of eloquence; how much is it?

One dollar, guaranteed to work if used as directed, or your money back, rattled on the captain, pocketing a bill which Mr. Jukes peeled off a roll that made Captain Toby open his eyes.

And so, burdened with a bottle of the Rheumatiz and Gout Specific, and with the memory of the first person he had ever met who was not willing to accept his bounty, the shipping magnate stepped ashore from the Venus.

Hell be dancing a hornpipe in a week, prophesied Captain Toby; the Specific has never failed.

But if he could have seen Mr. Jukes carefully drop the bottle overboard as soon as he reached the shore end of the dock, his opinion of him would have fallen considerably. As it was, the old seaman was loud in his praise.

Think of him, the skipper of a big corporation and all that, wisiting us on the Wenus! he exclaimed. Why, Jack, thatll be something to tell about. The great Mr. Jukes! Maybe thisll all lead to something! If the Specific works like it did on Capn Joe Trotter, he may make me his physician in ordinary.

Lets hope it wont work the same way on him that it did on Captain Zeb Holliday, said Jack with a smile.

Huh! That deck-swabbing lubber! cried the captain, with intense scorn. He drank it instead of rubbing it in, although the directions was wrote on the bottle plain as print. But, Jack, lad, why didnt you take that check? Consarn it all

Its no good talking about it, uncle, said the boy, cutting him short; I couldnt take it; thats all there is to that.

Confound you for a young jackass! Douse my topsails, but Im proud of you, lad! roared the captain, bringing down a mighty hand on Jacks shoulders. And now lets pipe all hands to supper.

Two days later, Jack happened to pass the dock where the Titan liner lay. She was taking aboard her cargo from a pipe-line crude, black oil destined for Antwerp. Because of the adventure in which he had participated alongside her, Jack felt an interest in the ugly, powerful tanker. As he was looking at her, he noticed some men busy at the tops of her squat steel masts.

All at once they began to haul something aloft. What it was, Jack recognized the next moment. It was the antenn? of a wireless plant. They were installing a station on the ship, which bore the name Ajax on her round, whaleback stern.

Jacks heart gave a sudden leap. A great idea had come to him. Mr. Jukes owned the Titan Line. The ship-owner had said to him only two nights before: Remember, Ill always stand your friend if I can. Never hesitate to call on me if you need anything at any time.

And right then Jack needed something mighty badly. He needed the job of wireless operator on board the Ajax.

CHAPTER V

THE WIRELESS BOYS FIRST POSITION

The power of eight thousand horses was driving the big tanker Ajax through the Lower Bay, out past Sandy Hook, and on to the North Atlantic.

As the big black steel craft felt the lift and heave of the ocean swells, she wallowed clumsily and threw the spray high above her blunt bow. Very different looked this workman of the seas from the spick and span liner they passed, just after they had dropped the pilot.

Grim, business-like, and built for the job, the Ajax looked like a square-jawed bulldog beside the yacht-like grayhound of the ocean, whose whistled salute she returned with a toot of her own siren.

Like all craft of her type, the Ajax had hardly any freeboard. In the bow was a tall superstructure where the crew and the minor officers lived. Here, too, was the wheel-house and the navigating bridge. In the extreme stern was another superstructure, square in shape, whereas the bow-house was like a big cylinder pierced with port-holes.

From the stern upper-works projected the big black funnel with the red top, distinctive of the Titan liners, and in this stern structure, too, dwelt the captain, the superior officers and the first and second engineers.

From the stern superstructure and the chart-house to the crews quarters in the bow, there stretched a narrow bridge running the entire length of the craft. This was to enable the crews of the great floating tank to move about on her, for on board a tank steamship there are no decks when there is any kind of a sea running. The steel plates that form the top of the tank are submerged, and nothing of the hull is visible but the two towering structures at the bow and stern, the bridge connecting them, and the funnel and masts.

But for all her homely outlines the Ajax was a workman-like craft and fast for her build. In favorable weather she could make twelve knots and better, and her skipper, Captain Braceworth, and his crew were proud of the ship.

On the day of which we are speaking, however, there was one member of the ships company to whom the big tanker was as fine a craft as sailed the Seven Seas. This was a young lad dressed in a neat uniform of blue serge, who sat in a small, steel-walled cabin in the after superstructure. The lad was Jack Ready, sailing his first trip as an ocean wireless boy. As he listened to and caught signals out of the maze of messages with which the air was filled, his cheeks glowed and his eyes shone. He had attained the first step of his ambition. Some day, perhaps, he would be an operator on such a fine craft as the liner they had just passed and with which he had exchanged wireless greetings.

Jack had secured the berth of wireless man on the Ajax with even less difficulty than he had thought he would encounter. Mr. Jukes, although a busy, brusque man, was really glad to be able to do something for the lad who had done so much for him, and as soon as Jack had proved his ability to handle a key he got the job.

It had come about so quickly, that as he sat there before the newly installed instruments, it will be recalled that the Ajax was making her first trip as a wireless ship, the boy had to kick himself slyly under the operating table to make sure he was awake!

Im the luckiest boy in the world, said the young operator to himself, as gazing from the open door of the cabin, he watched the coast slip by and the rollers begin to take on the true Atlantic swell.

His reverie was interrupted by the entrance of Mr. Harvey, the first officer.

Message from the captain to the owners, he said briefly; hustle it along.

It was only a routine message, but Jack thrilled to the finger tips as he sent out the call for the station at Sea Gate, from whence the message would be transmitted to New York. It was the first bit of regular business he had handled in his chosen calling.

The air appeared to be filled with a perfect storm of messages coming and going. Newspapers were sending despatches of world-wide importance. Ships were reporting. Here and there an amateur, Jack was out of this class now, and held them in proper contempt, was butting in with some inquiry or message. And friends and relatives of persons outward or homeward bound across the ocean track added their burden to the mighty symphony of wireless that filled the ether.

But at last Jack raised the Sea Gate station, and in a second his first message from shipboard was crackling and spitting from the aerial. He sent crisply, and in a business-like way. The operator at Sea Gate could hardly have guessed that the message was coming from a lad who had but that day taken his place at an ocean wireless station.

When this message had been sent, Jack sat in for an answer. Before long, out of the maze of other calls, he picked his summons and crackled out his reply, adding O.K. G. Go ahead. When he had finished taking the message, merely a formal acknowledgment of the captains farewell despatch, Jack grounded his instruments and went forward with the reply in search of the skipper.

He found the Ajax wallowing through a somewhat heavy sea. Looking down from the narrow bridge, he could see the decks with their covered winches, steam-pipes and man-holes only at times through a smother of green water and white foam that swept over them.

Jack clawed his way forward and found the captain with his first officer on the bridge. The wheel was in the hands of a rugged, grizzled quartermaster, who stood like a figure of stone, his eyes glued to the swinging compass card. Occasionally, however, he gave an almost imperceptible move to the spokes of the brass-inlaid wheel he grasped, and a mighty rumbling of machinery followed. For the Ajax, like practically every vessel of to-day, steered by steam-power, and a twist of the wrist was sufficient to move the mighty rudder that was distant almost a tenth of a mile from the wheel-house.

But the boy did not give much observation to all this. He was intent on his duty. Touching his cap, he held out the neatly written message, of which he had kept a carbon copy on his file.

Despatch, sir! he said respectfully.

The captain took the message and read it, and then eyed the boy attentively.

Captain Braceworth was a big figure of a man, bronzed, bearded and Viking-like. He was also known as a strict disciplinarian. Jack had not spoken to him till that moment. He decided that he liked the skippers looks, in spite of an air of cold authority that dwelt in his steady eyes.

So youre our wireless man, eh? asked the skipper.

Yes, sir. Mr. Jukes

Humph! I know all about that. I understand this is your first voyage. Well, you have lots to learn. Do your duty and youll have no trouble with me. If not, you will find it very uncomfortable.

He turned away and began talking to his first officer. Jack made his way back to his cabin with mingled feelings. The captain had spoken to him sharply, almost gruffly. He began to revise his opinion of the man.

He is a martinet and no mistake, thought the boy; a bully too, Ill bet. But pshaw, Jack Ready, whats the use of kicking? Youve got what you wanted; now go through with it. After all, if I do my duty, he cant hurt me.

But as he took his seat at his instruments again, Jack, somehow, didnt feel quite so chipper as he had half an hour before. In his own estimation he had rated himself pretty highly as the wireless man of the Ajax.

But I reckon I dont count much more than one of the crew, he muttered to himself as the memory of the captains brusque, authoritative manner rankled in his mind.

CHAPTER VI

LEARNING THE ROPES

Having sent his T.R. as the first message from an outward bound ship is, for some mysterious reason known, Jack occupied himself by occasionally chatting with some other operator and exchanging positions.

As the Ajax forged on, the boy began feeling ahead with his key for the wireless stations at Sagaponack or Siasconset. Messages to and from Nantucket he had already caught, and had sent in a report of the Ajax and her position.

Supper time came and Jack ate his meal in company with the second and third engineers. The captain and the other officers were far too important to sit down with a wireless man on his first voyage. The second engineer was a lively youth with a crop of hair as red as the open door of one of his own furnaces. His junior was not more than two years older than Jack, a stalwart lad, with a bright, intelligent face, named Billy Raynor.

Young Raynor and Jack struck up quite a friendship at supper, and after the red-headed second, whose name was Bicket, had left the table, they fell to discussing the ship and its officers.

I happened to be on the bridge, message from the chief, this afternoon when you were talking to the old man, said Raynor. From the look on your face, I fancy you thought him a bit overbearing.

Jack flushed. He did not know that he had let his mortification be visible.

Well, I had expected rather a different reception, I must say; but Im not such a baby as to kick about anything like that, or even a good deal worse.

Thats the way to talk, approved Raynor. The old mans bark is worse than his bite, although I dont come much in contact with him. Mr. Herrick, the chief, is my boss.

He rose to go below to his duties.

Some time when Im off watch, Id like to come up to your coop and have a chat with you about wireless, he said.

I wish you would, said Jack, heartily glad to find, for he was beginning to feel lonely, that there was at least one congenial soul on the big steel monster, of which he formed a part of the crew.

Jacks day ended at eight oclock, but before his time to go off duty, there came a peremptory message from the captain. The weather had been steadily growing worse, the sea was mounting and the wind increasing. Jack was to stay at his post and try to catch messages from vessels farther out at sea, concerning conditions on the course.

As the night wore on, the gale increased in violence. The tanker wallowed through giant seas, the spray sweeping over even the elevated bridge linking her bow and stern. Her hull, with its cargo of oil and coal and the mighty boilers and engines that drove her forward, was as submerged as a submarine.

The young wireless operator sat vigilantly at his key. The night was a bad one for wireless communication, although a storm does not, of necessity, interfere with the waves.

At last, about ten oclock, he succeeded in obtaining communication with the Kaiser, one of the big German liners, some one thousand miles to the eastward.

Back and forth through the storm the two operators talked. The Kaisers man reported heavy weather, rain-squalls and big seas.

But it is not bothering us, he added; were hitting up an eighteen knot clip.

Cant say the same here, flashed back Jack; we have been slowed down for an hour or more. This is a bad storm, all right.

You must be a greeny; this is nothing, came back the answer from the Kaiser man.

It is my first voyage as a wireless man, crackled out Jacks key.

Bully for you! You send like a veteran, came back the rejoinder; and then, before Jack could send his appreciation of the compliment, something happened to the communication and the conversation was cut off.

When he opened the door to go forward with his message for the skipper, the puff of wind that met the boy almost threw him from his feet. But he braced himself against the screaming gale and worked his way along the bridge. He wished he had put on oil-skins before he started, for the spray was breaking in cataracts over the narrow bridge along which he had to claw his way like a cat.

Well, whatever else a Tanker may be, she is surely not a dry ship in a gale of wind, muttered the boy to himself, as he reached the end of his journey.

On the bridge, weather-cloths were up, and the second officer was crouched at the starboard end of the narrow, swaying pathway. But pretty soon Jack made out the captains stalwart figure. The skipper elected to read the message in the chart-house. He made no comment, but informed Jack that in an hours time he might turn in.

Nothing more of importance came that night, and at the hour the captain had named, the young wireless boy, thoroughly tired after his first day at the key of an ocean wireless, sought his bunk. This was in the same room as the apparatus, and as he undressed, Jack figured on installing, at the first opportunity, a bell connecting with the apparatus by means of which he might be summoned from sleep if a message came during the night. He had made several experiments along these lines at his station on the old Venus, which now seemed so far away, and had met with fair success. He believed that with the improved conditions he was dealing with on the Ajax, he could make such a device practicable.

When he went on deck at daylight, he found that the storm, far from abating, had increased in violence. The speed of the Ajax had been cut down till she could not have been making more than eight knots against the teeth of the wind.

The white-crested combers towered like mountains all about her. Nothing of the hull but the superstructures were visible, and the latter looked as if they had gone adrift, with no hull under them, in a smother of spume and green water. It was almost startling to look down from the rail outside his cabin and see nothing but water all about, as if the superstructure had been an island.

He went back to his instruments and picked up a few messages concerning the weather. Two were from liners, and one from a small cargo steamer. All reported heavy weather with mountainous seas.

Not much news in that, thought the boy, as he filed the messages and prepared to go forward with his copies.

As he opened the cabin door, the man at the wheel must have let the ship fall off her course. A mighty wave came rushing up astern and broke in a torrent of green water over the gallery on which Jack stood. He was picked up like a straw and thrown against a stanchion, with all the breath knocked out of him.

Here he clung, bruised and strangling, till the wave passed.

Seems to me that the life of an ocean wireless man is a good bit more strenuous than I thought, muttered the boy, picking himself up and discovering that he must make fresh copies of the messages he had been taking forward.





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