The Ocean Wireless Boys on the Atlantic
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He found a quiet, respectable place and ate a hearty meal. When he had paid his check he returned to the ship and to his cabin. Some little time longer was spent in getting together the odd effects he wanted.
Suddenly his attention was arrested by a sound of shouting and yelling and brawling somewhere, as near as he could make out at the river end of the dock.
“Wonder what’s up?” thought the boy; and then the next minute, “Sounds to me like a lot of firemen cutting up in a riot.”
There was a lull and then the clamor burst out afresh. Loud, angry voices rose, and fierce shouts, as if the men on the dock were in deadly strife.
Jack ran out of his cabin.
As he did so the old watchman came pattering along the steel decks and clambered up the ladder to the superstructure, where Jack was standing.
“What is the matter?” demanded the boy.
“The firemen!” panted the watchman, pointing to the dock.
“Well, what’s the reason of all this racket? Are they fighting?”
“Fighting! They are trying to kill each other!” puffed the old watchman in a scared voice.
The lad knew that the firemen of big steamers are about as hard a crowd as can be found anywhere; but it was unusual for them to be making such a racket so close to the ship. He surmised correctly that some of the men had been ashore on a carouse while the others kept up steam.
“You’d better run for the police,” he told the scared watchman, and while the old fellow pattered off on his errand Jack’s ears were suddenly assailed by another sound.
Something had struck the water right alongside the ship. Jack was just about to shout, “Man overboard!” when he peered over and saw in the fog-wreathed space between the ship and the dock a dark object drop from some port in the fire-room below him and strike the water with a second splash.
For a flash he thought it might be some fireman taking French leave of the ship. But a second’s thought convinced him that what had dropped was no human being but a big bundle of some sort.
“Now what in the world is going on?” he thought undecidedly.
On the dock the din of the fighting firemen still kept up. But right then Jack was more concerned with the mysterious happenings on board the ship itself. Something very out of the ordinary was going forward, that was plain enough. But what could it be? What was being thrown out of the fire-room port?
He was still struggling with the mystery when there came another sudden sound.
Jack recognized it instantly as the noise of an oar moving in a rowlock.
A boat was moving about in the dark obscurity between the ship and the dock. Peering over, Jack could see the dim outlines of the little craft moving slowly about far below where he stood.
Then of a sudden another of those mysterious bundles dropped from the fire-room.
He saw the boat impelled toward it as it lay floating, and then it was hoisted on board.
“What black work is going on here?” thought the young wireless man as he watched.
A CALL FOR THE POLICE
Suddenly, like a flash of lightning, the true meaning of the scene going on below him dawned on the lad.
The tobacco smugglers! The men who worked with the gang of customs cheaters, with their headquarters across the dark river in New Jersey!
Yes; that was undoubtedly the explanation of it.What was he to do? Go below and alarm the engineer in charge of the fire-room crowd? No; the man was only an apprentice engineer, as young Ready knew, and more than probably he was in with the gang himself.
Back and forth moved the boat, dodging in and out of the black shadows cast by the dock. It was an ideal night for such work. The fog lay thick, like a blanket laid over river and city.
Through the curtain of mist boomed the hoarse voices of tugs and ferryboats as they played a marine game of blind man’s buff in the fog. Jack felt terribly alone. He might have summoned help from the dock, but the rising and falling noise of the riot, which was evidently still in progress, told him that the men in charge of the wharf already had their hands full.
All at once the boy had one of those swift flashes of inspiration that come sometimes like a bolt from the blue in moments of great emergency.
He would summon the police by wireless!
The police boats, as he knew, lay at Pier A, the Battery, with steam constantly up, so as to be able to dart off on the instant after wharf thieves and smugglers. They all carried wireless and he would be certain to catch an operator on duty. At any rate, there was a wireless attached to the marine police station itself, which was situated in a big building adjacent to the Aquarium.
With Jack to think was to act. He was swift, to spring to his key and begin sending out a call. He looked the code word up in his book and almost instantly the heavy spark began crackling and snapping out a summons:
“H. – P. – H. – P. – H. – P.”
“Harbor Police! Harbor Police! Harbor Police!”
Cracking like the lash of a giant whip, writhing like a tortured serpent of flame, the lithe, green spark leaped between its points. Never had Jack’s fingers worked so fast. Before he could summon the guardians of the harbor it might be too late. The boat might have gathered up its cargo of contraband and sneaked off like a thief in the night into the impenetrable fog.
At last, after an interminable wait, came an answer from out of space.
“This is H. P. What is it?”
“This is the tank steamer Ajax, lying at Pier 29, North River.”
“Yes, yes, yes.”
The answer came mapping back from amid a mystifying maze of other flying dots and dashes.
“There is a gang of tobacco smugglers at work here!”
“The dickens, you say! Hold on a minute.”
“All right. But you must hurry men up here if you want to nail them.”
“Who are you?”
“The wireless man of the Ajax. I was here late and saw the work going on.”
“Bully for you! We’ll rush Launch B up there on the jump.”
“Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!” chattered back Jack’s key; and then silence fell once more.
Jack jumped up from his sending table.
“At any rate, I’ve done my duty,” he thought.
He went to the door. He wanted to look down into the black fog-filled pit overside once more and see what was going on. Glancing cautiously over, he almost gave a gasp of delight.
A second boat was at work!
“My gracious, if they get here in time they’ll make a fine haul of doubtful fish!” he said to himself in a low voice.
The words were hardly out of his mouth when he felt a heavy hand on his shoulder. He was spun round like a top and found himself in the clasp of a giant fireman. The hairy-chested fellow was naked from the waist up, and his coal-smeared face and blood-shot eyes did not add to the beauty of his appearance.
Suddenly the man’s grip transferred itself to Jack’s neck. The fingers, hard as iron, closed on his windpipe. He felt his breath shut off and his eyes starting out of his head. The man threw him roughly to the deck, and as he did so Jack recognized in him the sailor who had hung back when the boat was to be launched to the rescue of the derelict, and whose place he had taken. The fellow had been transferred to the fire-room force as a punishment.
The boy could feel the giant’s hot breath fanning his face as the man knelt over him, one knee crushingly on his chest.
“So, my young gamecock, you bane play the spy, hey?” he snarled. “You bane forgat everything you seen, or overboard you go with your figurehead stove in!”
IN THE NICK OF TIME
The blood sang loudly in Jack’s ears. He fought for breath against the remorseless pressure on his throat. But the two great, gnarled hands of the fireman held him as if in a steel vise.
“You bane forgat what you see! You bane forgat it!”
The Norwegian emphasized what he said with a bump of Jack’s head against the deck at every word.
Twisting in what he felt was his death struggle, Jack managed to loosen the man’s hold ever so little. It was no time to consider fair tactics.
Seizing the advantage he had gained, the boy sank his teeth deep into the man’s arm.
With a yell of pain, the fellow relaxed his grip, and in a flash Jack was on his feet, while the Norwegian, disconcerted at this sudden attack, lay sprawling on the deck. As he arose, staggeringly, Jack dealt him a smashing blow in the face, but it only staggered the fellow for an instant. It could have been little more than a mosquito prick to his bull hide.
Roaring with rage, the fellow tore at Jack, who, feeling that his life was at stake, tried to make a dart for the door of the wireless cabin. But the man was too quick for him. He caught the boy in the embrace of a maddened wild beast.
“I bane keel you for that, you young demon!” he cried, and bore Jack toward the rail.
“Don’t! Don’t!” implored the boy, who felt that his last moment had come. But the brute showed no mercy. Deliberately he raised the boy, who was no more than a featherweight, in his arms, and was about to cast him into the water when suddenly something unexpected occurred.
A bulky form rushed upon the scene, and the next instant the sailor went staggering back under a crashing blow. Simultaneously a revolver flashed and a harsh, stern voice exclaimed:
“Don’t move a step or I’ll shoot you down like the mongrel cur you are!”
“Captain Braceworth!” gasped out Jack, who could hardly keep his feet.
“That’s who it is, youngster, and just in time to save your life, I imagine. I happened to be not far off and they summoned me to the dock to quell that riot. When that was done I came on board, and I’m glad I did. Don’t move, you despicable dog!” This to the fireman, who was trying to sneak off.
At almost the same instant there came from below the sound of a pistol shot.
“What in Neptune’s name does that mean?” demanded the captain. “What’s happening to this ship?”
“I think I can explain, sir,” said Jack, while the captain still kept the cowering fireman covered.
“Then do so by all means, and then I’ll trouble you to get me a pair of handcuffs from my cabin for this fellow.”
“It’s this way, sir. To-night I came on board to get some bits of apparatus and a book or two that I had left in my cabin. I happened to see a big bundle dropped into the water and then I saw a boat cruising about. I summoned the harbor police by wireless.”
“Jove! You’re not called ‘Ready’ for nothing!” exclaimed the captain, eyeing the boy with unconcealed admiration.
“And then, sir, this man saw what I had been up to and threatened to kill me if I told.”
“A threat, I believe, he is perfectly capable of carrying out. Don’t move there, you,” to the fireman. “I see it all now. That struggle on the dock was a blind to keep the watchman’s attention attracted while the smugglers got that stuff out of the bunkers. Ready, you’ve foiled a clever plot.”
More shots came from below.
“It’s the police, sir!” exclaimed Jack, “and I guess they’ve come in time.”
Just then a police sergeant appeared on the upper deck. He had come on board from the dock, having been summoned with a file of men by the old watchman. He looked astonished, as well he might, at the picture before him: a white-faced, shaking boy, a sullen, whipped cur of a fireman and a stalwart seaman covering the man with a revolver. From below, where the police were rounding up the smugglers, who put up a desperate resistance, also came sounds of conflict.
“Sergeant, if you’ll handcuff this man, I’ll explain all this in a brace of shakes,” said the captain. He speedily did so to the officer’s satisfaction, and the malefactor was led off, after Jack had promised to appear against him in the morning when the case came up in court.
As for the gang in the boats, they, too, were rounded up after several shots had been exchanged without bloodshed. Jack was warmly congratulated by the police, and it was late before he was able to slip off home to the schooner.
He found his uncle anxiously waiting up for him, and Jack told his story with as little melodrama in it as he could. But his throat was rapidly turning black and blue where his assailant had grasped him, and his uncle would not hear of the lad’s turning in till it had been anointed with Captain Ready’s “Bruise Balm and Sore Soother.”
A FRIENDLY WARNING
The next day in court the fireman, whose name, by the way, was Lars Anderson, and all the other smugglers were held for the higher tribunals of the federal government, under whose jurisdiction their cases, with the exception of Anderson’s, came.
Heavy sentences were prophesied for all of them. Many were the black glances cast at Jack by the gang as they were led away. But these malicious looks did not come alone from the malefactors. Out in the courtroom was gathered a hard-looking crowd.
Coal passers and firemen of the Ajax against whom nothing could be proved, although it was morally certain that they were connected with the gang, had gathered there to see how it fared with their companions. When Jack was giving his testimony he saw many malevolent glances fixed on him, and one man went so far as to shake his fist covertly at the lad.
But Jack did not falter, and gave his story in a manly, straightforward fashion that won him the approval of the court and the respect of the attorneys. He left the courtroom with Mr. Brown, the captain having gone uptown with some friends.
As they passed out of the door the firemen who had witnessed the scene within were gathered about the doorway. They eyed Jack scowlingly and more than one muttered threat was heard.
As soon as they had passed out of earshot, Mr. Brown spoke seriously to Jack.
“I’d be very careful how I went about New York at night after this, if I were you,” he said.
“Why?” asked Jack innocently.
“Simply because those fellows have it in for you.”
“But this is New York City. Surely they wouldn’t dare – ”
“They’d dare anything fast enough if they could get you up a dark street,” said the mate sententiously.
“But they’ll be sailing with us again, anyhow,” said Jack.
“They will not!” said Mr. Brown with emphasis. “But recollect that some of them are desperate characters. Firemen, some of them at least, are as bad as they make ’em. You’ve sent their pals to jail. Very well then, their code of justice requires them to avenge themselves on you. So look out for squalls!”
“Oh, I’ll be careful,” laughed Jack as they shook hands and parted.
At the Brooklyn Bridge he paused to buy a paper. The first thing that caught his eye made him flush and then laugh.
There at the top of the page and spread out over two columns was a portrait of himself, drawn by an artist possessed of a vivid imagination, inasmuch as he had never seen Jack.
Then there was a half-tone of the Ajax, labeled “Scene of the Thrilling Battle for Life.”
Underneath came headlines:
WIRELESS HERO BATTLES FOR
HIS LIFE WITH TOBACCO
JACK READY HERO OF NIGHT FIGHT
ON THE FREIGHTER “AJAX.”
“Well, that’s going some, as Raynor would say,” laughed Jack, hardly knowing whether to be amused or indignant.
“There’s one satisfaction,” he thought as he rode over the bridge on a surface car and digested the long interview with himself that he had never given, “nobody would ever recognize me from that picture.”
A few days later Jack received a letter from the company. It enclosed a handsome check “for valuable and appreciated services.” This time Jack did not return the check.
“Still,” he mused, “if it had not been for Captain Braceworth, there might have been a different story to tell.”
The letter, however, delighted him more than he showed. It demonstrated for one thing that the company appreciated what he had done, and that, if all continued to go well, he was in the line of promotion. He dreamed night and day of his next step upward, and longed for a berth on one of the Titan Steamship Company’s coasting vessels that ran to Galveston and Central American and West Indian ports. They carried passengers, and they paid their operators much more than the Ajax class of wireless men received.
“If I can only get some more opportunities to show what I can do,” thought the boy, “I’m bound to get on. ‘Keep plugging,’ my dad used to say, and that is just what I am going to do, no matter how many discouragements or hardships I meet. And then, perhaps, some day – ”
Jack went off into a day dream, and it was an odd thing that his reverie led him into a sudden determination to seek out Captain Dennis at the address that had been given him, and to call on the captain. Perhaps there was another member of the captain’s household that Jack was anxious to see, too!
AN UNEXPECTED MEETING
He found Captain Dennis installed in a pleasant, though small, flat in that section of New York known as Greenwich Village. It is a queer old quarter, full of once fashionable houses with dormer windows and white doorsteps, and some of them with shutters. Captain Dennis had been unable to find another ship, and was working for a ship chandler. But he bore up bravely under his misfortunes, and as for his daughter Jack thought that she was the most charming, enslaving bit of budding womanhood he had ever seen.
Under the circumstances it is not surprising that the young wireless man did not need to be pressed to stay to supper. How the time flew! Captain Dennis dozed and only took part at times in the lively chatter of young Ready and his “little gal,” but Jack did not find anything to object to about this, you may be sure.
When at last he left with the promise to come soon again and his head full of plans for a “regular party” on the old Venus, he found a raw, foggy night outside, and at that late hour the streets of the old-fashioned quarter almost deserted.
Now the streets of Greenwich Village twist and turn, as somebody has said, “like a giant pretzel.” Tenth Street crosses Eleventh Street, and Eighth Street runs through both of them in this topsy-turvy old quarter.
Jack’s course lay for the elevated station at Eighth Street, but, what with the fog and his unfamiliarity with the section, he found himself utterly lost after a short time, wandering about with no idea where he was.
But to his nostrils came a whiff of the sea, and he suddenly bethought himself of the fact that, although there were no late passers-by or policemen to be seen in “the village,” he might be able to find somebody on the waterfront who would direct him.
“I’m a fine sailor to lose my bearings like this,” he scolded himself as he bent his steps in that direction.
If the village had been deserted, there was plenty of life – and life of a very doubtful sort – on the waterfront. Saloons blazed with light, and from within came discordant sounds of disorderly choruses and songs. These places were the haunt of ’longshoremen, stevedores and the lower class of sailors from the big liners, whose docks ranged northward in a majestic line.
Jack had no desire to go into one of these resorts, but he looked about in vain for some more respectable place in which to inquire. As is not uncommon in New York, not a policeman was in sight, and the few passers-by were too ruffianly-looking to make the boy feel inclined to accost them.
At last he found himself opposite a small eating place – the Welcome Home – that appeared to be fairly respectable. A full-rigged ship painted in red and blue on its front window and the legends displayed in the same place told him it was an eating house for sailors.
And so he decided to go in. In the front of the place was a glass showcase filled with cheap cigars. Behind it were gaudily colored posters of steamship lines.
There was no one behind the counter, and Jack started toward the rear, where three men sat at a table talking rather boisterously.
One of them, a big, hulking fellow with the build of a bull, brought his fist down on the table with a crash that made the plates and glasses jump, just as Jack came in.
“The kid’s on the Ajax,” the lad heard him say in a rough voice, “and if ever I catch him, I – ”
He stopped short as he heard Jack’s footfall behind him. The next instant he turned a bloated, brutal countenance, suffused with blood, upon the boy.
Up to that instant, Jack had not connected himself with the subject of conversation. But he did now. With a quick heart-leap he had recognized the hulking brute at the table as one of the cronies of Anderson the fireman.
The recognition was mutual. With a roar like that of a stricken bull the man leaped to his feet.
“Mates!” he bellowed, “it’s the kid himself! After him! Keep the door there, someone!”
A bottle came whizzing through the air at Jack’s head. He dodged it and it burst in a crimson spatter of ketchup against the wall, spattering the boy with its contents.
Like an arrow he darted out of the door. The proprietor, who was just coming into the place from an errand next door, spread his arms to stop him. Down went Jack’s head, and like a battering ram he butted the fat landlord, gasping, out of his path.
After him came a shower of plates, glasses and bottles and loud, excited shouts.
Jack ran as he had never run in his life before. Behind him came the heavy beat of the firemen’s feet. How much mercy he could expect from them if they laid hands on him, he knew.
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