The Ocean Wireless Boys on the Atlantic
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Jack was satisfied with the explanation and thought no more of the matter, but a time was to come, and that before very long, when it was to be brought vividly before him again.
Jack liked Antwerp, with its fine buildings and picture galleries. But he found that along the docks were all manner of tough resorts where the worst class of sailors spent their time while in port.
He was passing one of these places one day when a man, whom he recognized as one of the engineers of the Ajax, approached him.
“Hullo, youngster,” he said, “come inside and have something. I want to talk to you.”
Jack shook his head.
“I don’t go into places of that sort and I don’t smoke or drink.”
The man looked at him and then burst into a roar of laughter. “You’ll not get very far at sea then,” he said.
“That’s just where I differ with you,” said Jack, and was passing on when the man seized his arm.
“Well, forget it,” he said. “See here, you’re a pretty smart sort of lad and I can put you in the way of making some money.”
“What sort of money?” asked Jack.
“Well, about the hardest part of your job will be to keep your mouth shut.”
“You mean that there is something dishonest involved?” inquired the boy.
“That all depends on what you call dishonest. Some folks are pretty finicky. This something doesn’t come within the law exactly, but there’s good money in it.”
“I don’t want any of it,” said Jack, and moved off.
The man called after him.
“All right, if that’s the way you feel about it, but just forget anything I said.”
Jack did not reply, but hurried on. He was bound for the Boulevard des Arts, one of the most beautiful thoroughfares in Europe. As he walked along, he wondered what the man who had intercepted him could have been driving at. He finally gave it up as too tough a problem. But later on he was to recollect the conversation vividly.
Jack’s pay was not very large, nor was that of his chum, Raynor, but the two planned a trip one day on one of the canals. They boarded an odd-looking boat and for a very small sum they voyaged across the frontier into Holland with its quaintly dressed peasants, low, flat fields and general air of neatness.
It was drowsy work gliding along the canal at a rate of not more than six knots an hour. Jack declared that he would have gone to sleep for the voyage, had it not been for the captain of the canal craft, who was a most willing performer with his whistle, and tooted at everything and everybody he saw.
From time to time they slowed up at a dock and the passenger, if a man, jumped off without the boat stopping. When a woman traveler wished to alight, the boat was brought to a standstill.
“Look over there!” called Raynor suddenly, as they passed a pretty cottage on the canal banks.
There, on the roof, was a stork family, father, mother and two young ones.
“Well, we sure are abroad,” declared Jack, gazing with pleasure at the pretty picture.
“Low bridge,” or its equivalent in Dutch, was frequently called, and then all hands ducked their heads till the bridge was passed.Clouds began to gather, and one of the sudden rain storms which sweep over Holland descended in a pelting downpour. The passengers were driven to the cabin, which they shared with a cargo of cheese, traveling in state. But the storm soon passed over and the sun shone out brightly once more.
Windmills were in sight everywhere, their great sails turning slowly. In some places the roofs of the farm houses were on a level with the banks of the canal.
Occasionally a broad-beamed canal craft, with a patched brown sail, drifted lazily by, with a leisurely Dutchman standing at the stern placidly smoking a big China-bowled pipe, his family, perhaps, or at least a dog, voyaging with him.
“Nobody seems to be in a hurry over here,” said Raynor.
“No, it’s like that country where it is always afternoon, that we used to read about in school,” said Jack.
“Hullo,” he added suddenly, “what’s coming off now?”
The little vessel was making for a sort of garden with tables set about in it.
“Going to stop for dinner, I guess,” suggested Raynor.
This proved to be the case. A true Hollander cannot go long without eating, and the amount of food the voyagers consumed astonished the boys.
“They’ll sink the ship when they get back on board,” prophesied Jack, looking about him with apprehension.
The boys did not see Antwerp again till late, as the returning boat was delayed. They found everything closed up, although it was only eleven, and the streets deserted. Antwerp believes in going to bed early, and the hotels are all locked by midnight. But that didn’t trouble the boys, for they had their floating hotel in which to stay and which they reached without incident.
The boys found Antwerp a straggly town full of fine buildings and galleries, but almost like a maze without a plan. Jutting right off even the finest thoroughfares were slums, and they were advised to follow the tram lines and keep off the more squalid of the streets.
Jack, who was quite a student, struck up a friendship with a bookish old man whom the boys met while exploring the great Cathedral. From this mentor, who, fortunately, could speak English, – French being the tongue most heard in the capital of Belgium, – the boys learned much of the history of the town.
Of course, as they already knew, he told them that Antwerp was the sea-port of the Schelde estuary, and one of the youngest of the Belgian great cities.
The name originally meant “At the Wharf,” their old friend told them, and even in antiquity there was a small sea-port here, of which no traces, however, remain. During the eleventh and twelfth centuries, as Europe quieted down, the city began to rise in importance. The large, deep, open port floated the keels of vessels from all over Europe. Under Charles the Fifth, Antwerp was probably even more prosperous and wealthy than Venice, Queen of medieval sea-ports. The center of traffic was shifting from the Mediterranean to the North Sea. In 1568 more than a hundred craft arrived at, and sailed from, Antwerp daily.
It is to this period, so the old gentleman told the boys, that Antwerp owes the cathedrals and other fine buildings, containing pictures and objects of art, which still adorn it.
But the Cathedral itself is a mixture of different periods. Begun in the middle of the fourteenth century, various parts were added till the seventeenth.
The finest examples of the art of the two great painters, Quentin Matsys and Rubens, are to be found in Antwerp. The works of many other painters of minor importance, too, adorn the galleries and churches of the city in great numbers.
The decline of Antwerp, if it can be so called, began in 1576, during the attempt of the southern provinces of Flanders to throw off the yoke of Spain. In that year a thousand fine buildings were burned, the town hall razed and eight thousand persons massacred by fire and sword. In 1585 the famous Duke of Parma completed the destruction, and Antwerp seemed to be completely crushed.
Then came the unhappy separation between Holland and Belgium. The Dutch erected forts on their own territory at the mouth of the Schelde and refused to allow ships to proceed up the estuary. Finally, in 1648, it was agreed by a treaty that all ships should unload their goods for Antwerp at a Dutch port, the freight being then transshipped to the Belgian city by small river craft.
Naturally, this action proved a severe blow to Antwerp. Rotterdam and Amsterdam took her place as commercial cities. In 1794, however, the French, then in occupation, reopened navigation on the Schelde and destroyed the commerce-killing forts at the mouth of the river.
The great Napoleon caused new quays and a harbor to be constructed, and it began to look as though Antwerp were once more to enjoy some of her pristine importance. But after Napoleon’s overthrow, the city underwent another change in her fortunes. She was made over to Holland and thus became, by a twist of fate, a Dutch sea-port.
Even when Antwerp became independent again in 1830, the Dutch still maintained their heavy tolls on shipping. This was a constant drain on the city which had already suffered much during the War of Independence when it was subjected to a heavy siege.
In 1863, however, a large money payment bought off the Dutch extortioners and Antwerp’s prosperity began to rise. As the boys’ friend pointed out, the city was the natural outlet of the Schelde, and to some extent of all the German Empire.
Since that time, so far as history is concerned, the rise of Antwerp to her old place as one of the world’s great commercial centers has been rapid. It was on this account, as the old man explained, that Antwerp was such a strange jumble of the ancient and modern, for, until the shipping embargo was lifted, she practically stood still in her development.
The old man appeared to be very proud that Antwerp, unlike Brussels, had retained her old Flemish ideas in spite of the march of her trade. He told the boys that it would require at least four days to get a clear idea of Antwerp, and after another day of exploration they began to believe him.
But they made up their minds that they were going to be able to give the folks at home a good account of the city, so they stuck to the task even though Raynor did yawn over pictures of the Old Masters in dull colors and frames. The young engineer was extremely practical, and loudly declared in one of the galleries: —
“Well, that picture may be all right, but give me something with a little ginger and color in it.”
“My, but you’re a vandal!” laughed Jack, consulting a catalogue. “That’s one of the most famous pictures in Europe. It is by Rubens.”
“Guess I’m too much of a Rube-n to appreciate it, then,” was Raynor’s comment.
But he was a methodical lad, as are most persons who have a mechanical bent. He purchased and loyally used a small red note book, in which he jotted down everything they saw, good, bad or indifferent. He soon had one book full, when he promptly began on another, noting down whatever was supposed to be of interest, whether he understood it or not.
The boys enjoyed sitting under the shady trees in the Place Verte, surveying the scene. It is one of the few places in Antwerp from which a clear view of the Cathedral can be obtained, mean-looking houses shouldering up to the great structure and spoiling it from other points of vision.
“Say, Jack,” exclaimed Raynor one evening as they walked rapidly shipward, “I’m getting tired of moldy old cathedrals and rusty old galleries full of Rubes, – beg pardon, I mean Rubens; can’t we do something more lively?”
“What would you suggest?” asked Jack.
“Oh, let’s take a few trips around. Another canal boat ride, for instance, or something like that.”
“That would be fine but for one consideration,” said Jack.
“And what is that?”
“Funds, old boy, dollars and cents. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty well down to my limit.”
“Same here. Say, you’ve got to be rich to enjoy these places, Jack.”
“I begin to think so, too,” declared his chum.
AN ADVENTURE —
The boys were walking briskly down a tree-bordered, rather badly lighted street in the residential quarter as this conversation took place. They had been to the home of a friend of Captain Bracebridge with a confidential note. The man to whom they had taken the message had been absent at the theater. As they had a verbal message to deliver, too, and supposed that it, like the note, was confidential, they had not wished to confide it to a servant but had decided to wait. It was, therefore, late when, their errand completed, they started back on a lonely walk through the residential section to the ship.
The good folk of Antwerp go to bed early. No one else was on the street as the boys hurried along. Tree shadows lay across the road in black patches, where there were lights brilliant enough to effect such results.
“Well, I suppose we ought to be glad to have the chance to get abroad at all,” muttered Raynor, continuing the conversation whose record began in the last chapter.
“Yes, indeed, we’re lucky fellows,” said Jack cheerfully.
“Yes, it’s a fine old city and all that,” admitted Raynor rather grudgingly, “and I’ve certainly enjoyed my stay here; but I’d have liked to look about a little more. I wonder if there isn’t some place where they have machinery to show?”
“Gracious! I must say you’re a barbarian. Can’t you see all the machinery you wish in that greasy, fire-spitting old engine room of yours, without wanting a sight of more?”
“Well,” retorted Raynor, “would you trade one of those ‘old masters,’ as they call them, for a dandy set of modern instruments to put in your wireless room at home?”
Jack was fairly stumped. He broke into a laugh.
“That’s not a fair way of putting it,” he said after a minute. “I like monkeying with wireless as much as you do with machinery, but I can enjoy other things.”
“So can I. An ice-cream soda, for instance.”
“I’m with you there,” agreed Jack, “but we’ll have to wait for that.”
“Yes, till we get back to the U.S.A. The stuff they sell you for soda here wouldn’t be offered you by a bankrupt druggist in Skeedunk with bats in his belfry.”
Jack broke into a laugh, which suddenly changed into a quick exclamation of astonishment.
“Hark!” he cried.
“What’s the matter?” breathlessly from Raynor. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“You didn’t? You must be – there it is again.”
This time it was Raynor’s turn to start.
“I heard it all right then,” he exclaimed. “It was – ”
“A woman screaming.”
“That’s what. Gracious, what’s the matter?”
“It’s off down that street there,” decided Jack, pointing a little distance ahead where a small street branched off the main thoroughfare and skirted a small, unlighted park. “Come on,” he shouted to Raynor, and was off.
“What are you going to do?” called Raynor.
“Find out what’s the trouble. There’s something serious the matter.”
Suddenly the cries stopped as abruptly as if a hand had been clapped over the mouth of the person uttering them.
“There’s no time to lose,” panted Jack, sprinting.
“I’m with you,” gasped Raynor, running at his companion’s side.
The two lads dashed around the corner. Before them lay a narrow, gloomy street, edged by the dark trees of the little park, which, at that time of night, was, of course, deserted.
At first glance, nothing out of the ordinary appeared. Then they suddenly saw the headlights of an automobile. As suddenly, the lights vanished. They had been switched off by somebody.
“There’s where the trouble is,” cried Jack, and was conscious of a wish that he had some sort of weapon with him. They were rushing into they knew not what danger; but Jack was no quitter. Some woman was in trouble, and that was enough for him.
The same was the case with Raynor. Both lads, typical Americans, lithe-limbed, stout of heart and muscle, and with grit to spare, didn’t give a thought to the danger they might be incurring by their daring dash to the rescue. The mere idea that they were needed urgently was enough.
“Some ruffians are attacking the auto!” came from Jack as they drew closer.
“Yes. Look! There’s a woman in the car. Two of them,” added Raynor.
“They’ve been held up.”
“Looks that way.”
As the two boys neared the car, the whole scene became clear to them. It was a limousine and three men, two on one side and one on the other, were poking revolvers into the windows of the enclosed part. As the boys came up, the chauffeur, who till then had been paralyzed by fear, leaped from his seat and dashed off, taking the low stone wall, surrounding the park, at one bound.
“The great coward! He might have been a big help to us, too,” exclaimed Jack with indignation as he saw this.
“Yes, it’s three to two, and they are armed,” cried Raynor.
The next moment, with a startling yell they attacked two of the men simultaneously. One of them went down with a crash under Jack’s powerful right swing before he could do anything to defend himself, for none of them had noticed the approach of the two American lads.
The fellow’s revolver went spinning over the wall and fell with a ring of metal out of his reach. In the meantime, Raynor was not having such an easy time with the man he had tackled. This fellow was a heavily-built specimen of dock lounger, or worse, with a Belgian cap on his head and a handkerchief tied over the lower part of his face.
As Raynor rushed him, he seized the young engineer in an iron grip and pressed a weapon to his side.
“Fool, to interfere! This is your last moment on earth!” he snarled.
From the interior of the limousine, two women, one elderly and the other young, looked out, paralyzed with alarm. Too frightened to scream, they sat stock still as they saw what was about to happen.
AND ITS CONSEQUENCES
Jack saved the day.
With muscles of steel, tensed like tightly coiled springs, he leaped on the back of the fellow whose revolver was pressing against Raynor’s side, and threw his arms about his neck. Choked and dazed, the man toppled over backward and fell with a crash to the concrete walk.
“Quick, old fellow, get his revolver before he can get up,” choked out Jack.
Raynor, recovering from his struggle, bent over and picked up the weapon and stood with it ready for action. Just as he did so, the third man, who up to now had been deprived of action from surprise at the quickness of the whole thing, came to himself and made a rush for Jack.
Before Jack could turn, the fellow had seized him and knocked him over. At the same instant, in the distance, they heard the shrill screaming of whistles.
“Les gendarmes!” shouted the man who had knocked Jack over.
The two recumbent men, aroused from their stupor by their fright at the approach of the police, gathered themselves up, and the three sped away, running at top speed across the little park where all was dark and shadowy.
In the meantime, the cowardly chauffeur, who had been watching from behind a tree, saw that the day was saved, and began to consider what he should do to save himself and his reputation. He had plainly deserted his employer’s wife and daughter, frightened out of his wits when the three ruffians demanded the women’s diamonds as they were on their way home from the opera. But now he leaped the wall again and shouted to the women that he had merely gone to summon the police, seeing that the boys had the case well in hand. Then he jumped to the seat, and, not wishing to face a police examination himself or involve his employer in one, he turned on full power and sped away.
Hardly was he out of sight, than there appeared a detachment of Antwerp policemen, led by an officer running at full speed toward the boys. Some timid householder had heard the screams and shouts, but, too timorous to venture out himself, had telephoned the nearest station; and the sudden appearance of the officers was the result.
“Bother it all,” exclaimed Jack, “here come the police. Although they’d have been welcome a while back, we don’t want them now.”
“Why not?” asked Raynor, not unnaturally.
“Well, we have a very important letter to the captain with us. If the police get hold of us, they’ll want to do a whole lot of questioning, and goodness knows what time we’ll get back.”
“What shall we do?”
“Take to our heels, I guess. It doesn’t look very honest, but we must get that letter to the captain to-night.”
“That’s so; he said he’d sit up and wait for us,” responded Raynor.
“That is why I’m so anxious not to be detained. Come on.”
The two boys set off, running at top speed.
“Keep in the shadow of the wall,” said Jack; “we don’t want them to see us.”
But that is just what the police did do. Their leader happened to be keen of eye and almost instantly he detected the two fleeing forms. He shouted something in French.
The boys kept right on. They ran like greyhounds. But the police were fleet of foot, too.
Then the boys heard behind them a series of sharp, yapping barks.
“What in the world are those dogs for?” asked Raynor pantingly.
They had passed the park now and were running through a street bordered with dark houses. Jack’s reply was startling.
“They’re police dogs!”
“That’s right. They have them in New York, too, and I remember reading in the paper that they were imported from Belgium.”
Shouts came from behind them.
They were in French, but the boys readily guessed their import. As if to emphasize their cries, the police, who believed not unnaturally that they were in pursuit of the miscreants who had disturbed the midnight peace, drew their revolvers.
Bullets spattered at the heels of the boys.
“We’ve got to stop,” panted Raynor.
“If we do, we may get shot,” gasped Jack. “Quick, in here.”
He seized Raynor’s arm and pulled him inside an iron gate in a high wall that surrounded a garden, in which stood a pretty, old-fashioned house. It appeared to be unoccupied.
“We’re in a fine pickle now,” muttered Raynor.
“Yes, I’m sorry we ran. If they catch us now, we’ll have an awful time explaining.”
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