RADIO BOYS CRONIES
Bill Brown's Radio
Author of "Radio Boys Loyalty"
S. F. Aaron
Co-author of "Radio Boys Loyalty"
"Come along, Bill; we'll have to get there, or we won't hear the first of it. Mr. Gray said it would begin promptly at three."
"I'm doing my best, Gus. This crutch——"
"I know. Climb aboard, old scout, and we'll go along faster." The first speaker, a lad of fifteen, large for his age, fair-haired, though as brown as a berry and athletic in all his easy, deliberate yet energetic movements, turned to the one he had called Bill, a boy of about his own age, or a little older, but altogether opposite in appearance, for he was undersized, dark-haired, black-eyed, and though a life-long cripple with a twisted knee, as quick and nervous in action as the limitations of his physical strength and his ever-present crutch permitted.
In another moment, despite the protests of generous consideration for his chum's strenuous offer, William Brown was heaved up on the broad back of Augustus Grier and the two cronies thus progressed quite rapidly for a full quarter of a mile through the residential section of Fairview. Not until the pair arrived at the entrance of one of the outlying cottages did husky Gus cease to be the beast of burden, though he was greatly tempted to turn into a charging war horse when one of a group of urchins on a street corner shouted:
"Look at the monkey on a mule!"
Gus cared nothing for taunts and slurs against himself, but he deeply resented any suggestion of insult aimed at his crippled friend. However, although Bill could not defend his reputation with his fists, a method which most appealed to Gus, the lame boy had often proved that he had a native wit and a tongue that could give as good as was ever given him.
"Here we are, Gus, and how can I ever get square with you?" Bill said, his crutch and loot thumping the steps as the boys gained the doorway.
In answer to the bell, a sweet-faced lady opened the door, greeted the boys by name and ushered them into a book-lined study where already several other boys and girls of about the same age were gathered about their school teacher.
Professor James B. Gray, although this was vacation time, was the sort of man who got real and continued pleasure out of instruction, especially concerning his hobbies. Thus his advanced classes, here represented, had come into much additional knowledge regarding the microscope and the stereopticon and had also greatly enjoyed the Professor's moving-picture apparatus devoted to serious subjects. The latest wonder, and one worthy of intense interest, was a newly installed radio receiver.
"Come in, come in, David and Jonathan,—I mean William and Augustus!" greeted Professor Gray. "Find chairs, boys. I'm glad you've come. Now, then, exactly in nine minutes the lecture starts and it will interest you. The announcement, as sent out yesterday, makes the subject the life and labors of the great scientist and inventor, Thomas Alva Edison, and it begins with his boyhood. Don't you think that a fitting subject upon an occasion where electricity is the chief factor? But before the time is up, let me say a few words concerning our little boxed instrument here, out of which will come the words we hope to hear. Some of you, I think, have become pretty familiar with this subject, but for those who have not given much attention to radio, I will briefly outline the principles upon which these sounds we shall hear are made possible.
"It would seem that our earth and atmosphere," continued the Professor, "and all of the universe, probably, is surcharged with electrical energy that may be readily set in motion through the mechanical vibrations of a sensitive diaphragm much as when one speaks into a telephone. This motion is transmitted in waves of varying intensity and frequency which are sent into space by the mechanism of the broadcasting station, which consists of a sound conducting apparatus induced by strong electrical currents from generators or batteries and extensive aerial or antennas wires high in the air. Thus sound is converted into waves, and the receiving station, as you see here, with its aerial on the roof, its detector, its 'phone and its tuner, gets these waves and turns them again into sound. That is the outline of the thing, which you will understand better 'after' than 'before using.'
"The technical construction of the radio receiving set is neither difficult nor expensive; it is described fully in several books on the subject and I shall be glad to give any of you hints on the making and the operation of a receiving set. The 'phone receivers and the crystal detector will have to be purchased as well as some of the accessories, such as the copper wire, pulleys, battery, switches, binding posts, the buzzer tester and so forth. With proper tools and much ingenuity some of these appliances may be home-made.
"The making of the tuner, the wiring, the aerial and the assembling are all technicalities that may be mastered by a careful study of the subject and the result will be a simple and inexpensive set having a limited range. With more highly perfected appliances, as a vacuum, or audion tube, and an aerial elevated from sixty to over a hundred feet, you may receive radio energy thousands of miles away.
"Now, this talk we are about to hear comes to us from the broadcasting station WUK at Wilmerding, a distance of three hundred miles, and this outfit of mine is such as to get the words loudly and clearly enough to be audible through a horn. The talks are in series; there have been three on modern poets, two on the history of great railroad systems and now this will be the first of several on great inventors, beginning with Edison, in four parts. The next will be on Friday and I want you all to be here. Time is up; there will be a preliminary-ah, there it is: a cornet solo by Drake."
AN UNUSUAL LAD
Professor Gray turned to the box and began moving the metal switch arms back and forth, thus tuning in more perfectly as indicated by the increased and clearer sound and the absence of interference from other broadcasting stations, noticed at first by a low buzzing. In a moment the music came clear and sweet, the stirring tune of "America." When the sound of the cornet ceased, there followed this announcement:
"My subject is the early life of Thomas Alva Edison."
Everyone settled down most contentedly and Gus saw Bill hug himself in anticipatory pleasure; the lame boy had always been a staunch admirer of the great inventor. There was no need of calling anyone's attention to the necessity for keeping quiet. Out of the big horn, as out of a phonograph, came the deliberate and carefully enunciated words:
"It has been said that 'the boy is father to the man.' That may be worthy of general belief; at least evidences of it are to be found in the boyhood of him we delight to speak of as one of the first citizens of our country and probably the greatest scientific discoverer of all time. The boyhood of this remarkable man was almost as remarkable as his manhood; it was full of incidents showing the tendencies that afterward contributed to true greatness in the chosen field of endeavor of a mind bent upon experiment, discovery and invention.
"Thomas Alva Edison was born in Milan, Ohio, in the year 1847. The precise date, even to Mr. Edison, seems somewhat doubtful.
"He was a frail little chap, with an older brother and sister. But he was active enough to have several narrow escapes from death. He wouldn't have been a real boy if he hadn't fallen into the canal and barely escaped drowning at least once.
"Then while he was a little bit of a fellow, climbing and prowling around a grain elevator beside the canal, he fell into the wheat bin and was nearly smothered to death.
"Once he held a skate strap for another boy to cut off with a big ax and the lad sliced off the end of the fingers holding it!
"Another time the small Edison boy was investigating a bumblebee's nest in a field close to the fence. He was so interested in watching the bees that he didn't notice a cross old ram till it had butted in and sent him sprawling. Although he was then 'between two fires,' the little lad was quick-witted enough to jump up and climb the fence just in time to escape a second attack from the ugly old beast. From a safe place he watched the bees and the ram with keen concern. But Edison says his mother used up a lot of arnica on his small frame after this double encounter. The little lad early learned to observe that 'It's a great life if you don't weaken!'
"Mr. Edison tells this story about himself:
"'Even as a small boy, before we moved away from Milan, I used to try to make experiments. Once I built a fire in a barn. I remember how startled I was to see how fast a fire spreads in such a place. Almost before I knew it the barn was in flames and I barely escaped with my life.
"The neighbors thought I ought to be disciplined and made an example of. My mortified parents consented and I was publicly whipped in the village square. I suppose it was a good lesson to me and made the neighbors feel easier. But I think seeing that barn burning down made me feel worse than the whipping,—though I felt I deserved that, too.'
"The Edisons moved to Port Huron, Michigan, and lived a little way out of the town on the St. Clair river, where it flows out of Lake Huron. The house was in an orchard, but within easy walking distance of the town. There was no compulsory school law in those days and young Edison did not attend school, but his mother taught him all she could. She was a good teacher—she had taught school before she was married—but even she could not be answering questions all the time. There was a public library in town, so the boy spent a good deal of his time there. He would have liked to read all the books in the library—but he started in on a cyclopedia. He thought because there was 'something about everything' in that, he'd know all there was to know if he read it through. But he soon found question after question to ask that the cyclopedia did not answer. Some of the books he took home to read.
"Mr. Edison, the boy's father, had built a wooden tower that permitted a beautiful view of the town, River St. Clair and Lake Huron; one could see miles around in Michigan and over into Canada. Mr. Edison charged ten cents a head to go up and get the view on top of this tower. Very few people came, so the tower was not a great success. But the boy went up there to read, not caring so much for the view as to be alone.
"Young Edison read all he could find about electricity. That always fascinated him. But the father seemed to have a hard time making a living and Al, as they called the boy, went to work. He began selling newspapers in Port Huron, but there was not much in that, so he got a chance to sell on the seven o'clock train for Detroit. He applied at the Grand Trunk offices for the job and made his arrangements before he told any one. He had to be at the station at 6:30 A.M. and have his stock all ready before the train started, which compelled him to leave home at six. The train was a local with only three cars—baggage, smoking and passenger. The baggage car was partitioned off into three compartments. One of these was never used, so Al was allowed to take that for his papers to which he added fruits, candies and other wares.
"The run down to Detroit took over three hours. His train did not start back till 4:30 in the afternoon, so the lad had about six hours in the big city. He took all the time he needed to buy stock to sell on the train and to eat his lunch. This left him several hours for reading in the Detroit public library, where he found more books on the subjects he liked, more answers to appease his never abating curiosity."
GETTING THE MONEY-MAKING HABIT
"Those were the anxious days of the Civil War," the lecturer continued, "and every-one was worked up to a high pitch of excitement most of the time. When it was rumored that a battle had been fought the newspapers sold 'like hot cakes.' Any other boy would have been satisfied if he could supply as many papers as people wanted and let it go at that. But that was not the way with young Edison. He was not content with hoping for an opportunity. He made his opportunity.
"In spite of his getting into trouble so often, Al was a most likable lad, and a real boy,—earnest, honest and industrious. He had a big stock of horse sense and a great fund of humor. Though his life seemed to be 'all work and no play,' he took great pleasure in his work. In the course of his daily routine at Detroit, he could hardly help making friends on the Free Press, the greatest newspaper there. In this he resembled that other great inventor, also a great worker as a boy—Benjamin Franklin.
"Young Edison had a friend up in the printing office who let him see proofs from the edition being set up, so that he kept posted as to what was to be in the paper before it came off the press. After the Free Press came out, he had to get an armful and hustle for his train. In this shrewd way the train-boy was better off than 'he who runs may read,' for he had read, and could shout while running: 'All about the big battle!' So he sold his papers in short order. He had learned to estimate ahead how many papers the news of a battle ought to sell, and so he stocked up well beforehand. One day he saw in the advance proofs a harrowing account of the great two-days' battle of Shiloh. He grasped not only the news value but also the strategic importance of that victory.
"Running down to the telegraph office at the Grand Trunk Station in Detroit, he told the operator all about it. Edison has told us himself about the offer he made that telegrapher:
"'If you will wire to every station on my run and get the station master to chalk up on the blackboard out on the station platform that there has been a big battle, with thousands killed and wounded, I'll give you Harper's Weekly free for six months!'
"The operator agreed and that Edison boy tore back to the Free Press office.
"'I want a thousand papers!' he gasped. 'Pay you to-morrow!' This was more than three times as many as he had taken out before, so the clerk refused to trust him.
"'Where's Mr. Storey?' demanded the lad. The clerk snickered as he jerked his head toward where the managing editor was talking with a 'big' man from out of town. Young Edison was forced to break in, but the editor noticed how anxious and business-like he was. When the boy had told him what he wanted, the great newspaper man scribbled a few words on a scrap of paper and handed it down to him, saying:
"'Here, take this. Wish you good luck!'
"Al handed the clerk the order and got his thousand papers at once. He hired another 'newsie' to help him down to the station with them. Long after this, he told the rest of the story:
"'At Utica, the first station, twelve miles out of Detroit, I usually sold two papers at five cents each. As we came up I put my head out and thought I saw an excursion party. The people caught sight of me and commenced to shout. Then it began to occur to me that they wanted papers. I rushed back into the car, grabbed an armful, and sold forty there.
"'Mt. Clemens was the next stop. When that station came in sight, I thought there was a riot. The platform was crowded with a howling mob, and I realized that they were after news of Shiloh, so I raised the price to ten cents, and sold a hundred and fifty where I never had got rid of more than a dozen.
"'At other stations these scenes were repeated, but the climax came when we got to Port Huron. I had to jump off the train about a quarter of a mile from the station which was situated out of town. I had paid a big Dutch boy to haul several loads of sand to that point, and the engineers knew I was going to jump so they slowed down a bit. Still, I was quite an expert on the jump. I heaved off my bundle of papers and landed all right. As usual, the Dutch boy met me and we carried the rest of the papers toward the town.
"'We had hardly got half way when we met a crowd hurrying toward the station. I thought I knew what they were after, so I stopped in front of a church where a prayer-meeting was just closing. I raised the price to twenty-five cents and began taking in a young fortune.
"'Almost at the same moment the meeting closed and the people came rushing out. The way the coin materialized made me think the deacons had forgotten to pass the plate in that meeting!'
"In those days they commonly called trainboys 'Candy Butchers'; the terms 'Newsies' and 'Peanuts' may have been used then also but were not so common. They are not so common on trains nowadays, except in the West and South, but formerly they were even more of an institution than the water cooler or the old-fashioned winter stove. The station-shouting brakemen were no more familiar or comforting to weary passengers than the 'candy butchers' and their welcome stock."
Paul Pry ON WHEELS
"With all he had to do, young Edison found that he had time on his hands which he might yet put to good use. One would think being 'candy butcher' and newsboy from 6 A.M. to 9 P.M., and making from $10.00 to $12.00 a day might satisfy the boy's cravings. But contentment wasn't one of Al Edison's numerous virtues.
"He did not know it, but he was following the footsteps of that other great American inventor, Benjamin Franklin, as a printer, editor, proprietor and publisher. In one of the stores where he stocked up with books, magazines and stationery for his train, there was an old printing press which the dealer, Mr. Roys, had taken for a debt. Mr. Roys once told the little story of that press:
"'Young Edison, who was a good boy and a favorite of mine, bought goods of me and had the run of the store. He saw the press, and I suppose he thought at once that he would publish a paper himself, for he could catch onto a new idea like lightning. He got me to show him how it worked, and finally bought it for a small sum.'
"From his printer friends on the Free Press he bought some old type. Watching the compositors at work, he learned to set type and make up the forms, so within two weeks after purchasing the press he brought out the first number of The Weekly Herald—the first paper ever written, set up, proof-read, printed, published and sold (besides all his other work) on a local train—and this by a boy of fourteen!
"Of course, it had to be a sort of local paper, giving train and station gossip with sage remarks and 'preachments' from the boy's standpoint. It sold for three cents a copy, or eight cents a month to regular customers. Its biggest 'sworn circulation' was 700 copies, of which about 500 were bona fide subscriptions, and the rest 'news-stand sales.'
"The great English engineer, Robert Stephenson, grandson of the inventor and improver of the locomotive, is said to have ordered a thousand copies to be distributed on railways all over the world to show what an American newsboy could do.
"Even the London Times, known for generations as 'The Thunderer,' and long considered the greatest newspaper in both hemispheres, quoted from The Weekly Herald, as the only paper of its kind in the world. Young Edison's news venture was a financial success, for it added $45.00 a month to his already large income.
"But Paul Pry came to grief because he tried to be funny in disclosing the secret motives of certain persons. People differ widely in their notions about fun. In a local paper, too, some one's feelin's are likely to get 'lacerated!' This was the case with a six-foot subscriber to the paper which was published then under Al Edison's pen name of 'Paul Pry.' One day the juvenile editor happened to meet his huge and wrathy reader too near the St. Clair river. Whereupon the subscriber took the editor by his collar and waistband and heaved him, neck and crop, into the river. Edison swam to shore, wet, but otherwise undisturbed, discontinued the publication of Paul Pry, and bade good-by to journalism forever!
"While young Edison was wading through such mammoth works as Sears's History of the World, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy, and the Dictionary of Sciences (and had begun to wrestle desperately with Newton's Principia!) he was showing a rare passion for chemistry. He 'annexed' the cellar for a laboratory. His mother said she counted, at one time, no less than two hundred bottles of chemicals, all shrewdly marked POISON, so that no one but himself would dare to touch them. Before long the lad took up so much room in his mother's cellar with his 'mess,' as she called it, that she told him to take it out, 'bag and baggage.'
"He once stated that his great desire to make money was largely because he needed the cash to buy materials for experiments. Therefore, in this emergency, he took keen pleasure in buying all the chemicals, appliances and apparatus he wished, and installing them in his real 'bag and baggage' car. As the railroad authorities had allowed him to set up a printing press, in addition to his miscellaneous stock in trade, why should he not have his laboratory there also? So his stock of batteries, chemicals and other 'calamity' grew apace.
"One day, after several weeks of happiness in his moving laboratory, he was 'dead to the world' in an experiment. Suddenly the car gave a lurch and jolted the bottle of phosphorus off its shelf. It broke, flamed up, set fire to the floor and endangered the whole train. While the boy was frantically fighting the fire, the Scotch conductor, red-headed and wrathy, rushed in and helped him to put it out.
"By this time they were stopping at Mt. Clemens, where the indignant Scotchman boxed the boy's ears and put him out also. Then the man threw the lad's bottles, apparatus and batteries after him, as if they were unloading a carload of freight there.
"These blows on his ears were the cause of the inventor's life-long deafness. But there never was a gamer sport than Thomas A. Edison. Once, long after this, he saw the labor of years and the outlay of at least two million dollars at the seashore washed away in a single night by a sudden storm. He only laughed and said that was 'spilt milk, not worth crying over.' Disappointments of that sort were 'the fortunes of war' or 'all for the best' to him. The injury so unjustly inflicted on him by that irate conductor was not a defect to him. Many years afterwards he said:
"'This deafness has been of great advantage to me in various ways. When in a telegraph office I could hear only the instrument directly on the table at which I sat, and, unlike the other operators, I was not bothered by the other instruments.
"'Again, in experimenting on the telephone, I had to improve the transmitter so that I could hear it. This made the telephone commercial, as the magneto telephone receiver of Bell was too weak to be used as a transmitter commercially.'
"It was the same with the phonograph. The great defect of that instrument was the rendering of the overtones in music and the hissing consonants in speech. Edison worked over one year, twenty hours a day, Sundays and all, to get the word 'specie' perfectly recorded and reproduced on the phonograph. When this was done, he knew that everything else could be done,—which was a fact.
"'Again,' Edison resumed, 'my nerves have been preserved intact. Broadway is as quiet to me as a country village is to a person with normal hearing.'"
The talk suddenly ceased. Then another voice announced from out of the horn: "The second installment of the lectures on Edison will be given at 3 P.M. next Friday. We will now hear a concert by Wayple's band."
The boys and girls filed out, after most of them had expressed appreciation of Professor Gray's interest in their enjoyment, and on the street a lively discussion started. Terry Watkins was laughing derisively at some remark of Cora Siebold, who, arm in arm with her chum "Dot" Myers, had paused long enough to fire a broadside at him.
"Why don't some of you smarties who talk so much about the wonderful things you can do make yourselves receiving sets! Too lazy? Baseball and swimming and loafing around are all you think about. But leave it to the girls; Dot and I are going to tackle one."
"What? You two? Won't it be a mess? Bet you can't hear yourselves think on it. Girls building a radio! Ho, ho, ho!"
"Bet there'll be a looking-glass in it somewhere," laughed Ted Bissell.
"Well, we aren't planning to ask advice from either of you," Cora said.
"No, and it would be worth very little if you got any," Bill Brown offered, as he and Gus, who had been detained a moment by Professor Gray, joined the loitering group.
"Thanks, Mr. Brown," said Dot, half shyly.
"Who asked you for your two cents' worth?" Terry demanded.
"I'm donating it, to your service. Go and do something yourself before you make fun of others," Bill said.
"That's right, too, Billy. Terry can't drive a carpet tack, nor draw a straight line with a ruler." Ted was always in a bantering mood and eager for a laugh at anybody. "I'll bet Cora's radio will radiate royally and right. You going to make one—you and Gus?"
"I guess we can't afford it," Bill replied quickly. "We're both going to work in the mill next Monday. Long hours and steady, and not too much pay, either. But we need the money; eh, Gus?"
"We do," agreed Gus, smiling.
Bill's countenance was altogether rueful. Life had not been very kind to him and he very naturally longed for some opportunity to dodge continued hardship. He wished that he might, like the boy Edison, make opportunity, but that sounded more plausible in lectures than in real life. He was moodily silent now, while the others engaged in a spirited discussion started by Dot's saying kindly:
"Well, lots of boys and girls have to work and they often are the better for it. Edison did—and was."
"Oh, I guess he could have been just as great, or greater if he hadn't worked," remarked Terry sententiously. "It isn't only poor boys that amount to——"
"Mostly," said Bill.
"Oh, of course, you'd say that. We'll charge your attitude up to envy."
"When I size up some of the rich men's sons I know, I'm rather glad I'm poor," said Bill, "and I would rather make a thousand dollars all by my own efforts than inherit ten thousand."
"I guess you'd take what you could get," Terry offered, and Bill was quick to reply:
"We know there'll be a lot coming to you and it will be interesting to know what you'll do with it and how long you'll have it."
"He will never add anything to it," said Ted, who also was the son of wealth, but not in the least snobbish. The others all laughed at this and Terry turned away angrily.
Bill, further inspired by what he deemed an unfair reference to Edison, began to wax eloquent to the others concerning his hero.
"I don't believe Edison would have amounted to half as much as he has if he hadn't had the hard knocks that a poor fellow always gets. Terry makes me tired with his high and mighty——"
"Oh, don't you mind him!" said Cora.
"You've read a lot about Edison, haven't you, Bill?" asked Dot, knowing that the lame boy possessed a hero worshiper's admiration for the wizard of electricity and an overmastering desire to emulate the great inventor. The girl sat down on the grassy bank, pulled Cora down beside her and in her gentle, kindly way, continued to draw Bill out. "When only quite a little fellow he had become a great reader, the lecturer said."
"I should say he was a reader!" Bill declared. "Why, when he was eleven years old he had read Hume's History of England all through and—"
"Understood about a quarter of it, I reckon," laughed Ted.
"Understood more than you think," Bill retorted. "He did more in that library than just read an old encyclopedia; he got every book off the shelves, one after the other, and dipped into them all, but of course, some didn't interest him. He read a lot on 'most every subject; mostly about science and chemistry and engineering and mechanics, but a lot also on law and even moral philosophy and what you call it? oh—ethics—and all that sort of thing. He had to read to find out things; there seemed to be no one who could tell him the half that he wanted to know, and I guess a lot of people got pretty tired of having him ask so many questions they couldn't answer. And when they would say, 'I don't know,' he'd get mad and yell: 'Why don't you know?'"
"Hume's history,—why, we have that at home, in ten volumes. If he got outside of all of that he was going some!" declared Ted.
"Well, he did, and all of Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, too."
"Holy cats! What stopped him?" Ted queried.
"He didn't stop—never stopped. But he had to earn his living—didn't he? He couldn't read all the books and find out about everything right off. But you bet he found out a lot, and he believes that after a fellow gets some rudiments of education he can learn more by studying in his own way and experimenting than by just learning by rote and rule. Maybe he's not altogether right about that, for education is mighty fine and I'd like to go to a technical school; Gus and I both are aiming for that, but we're going to read and study a lot our own way, too, and experiment; aren't we, Gus? Nobody can throw Edison's ideas down when they stop to think how much he knows and what he's done."
"He certainly has accomplished a great deal," the usually reticent Gus offered.
"And yet he seems to be very modest about it," was Cora's contribution.
"Of course, he is; every man who does really big things is never conceited," declared Bill.
"Oh, I don't know. How about Napoleon?" queried Dot.
"Napoleon? All he ever did was to get up a big army and kill people and grab a government. He had brains, of course, but he didn't put them to much real use, except for his own glory. You can't put Napoleon in the same class with Edison."
"Oh, Billy, you can't say that, can you?"
"I have said it and I'll back it up. Look how Edison has given billions of people pleasure and comfort and helped trade and commerce. Nobody could do more than that. War and fighting and being a king,—that's nothing but selfishness! Some day people will build the largest monuments to folks who have done big things for humanity,—not to generals and kings. Just knowing how to scrap isn't much good. I've got more respect for Professor Gray than I have for the champion prize fighter. You can't——-"
"Maybe if you knew how to use your fists, you wouldn't talk that way; eh, Gus?" queried Ted.
"Well, I don't know but I think Bill is right. It's nice to know how to scrap if scrapping has to be done, but it shouldn't ever have to be done,—between nations, anyway." This was a long speech for Gus, but evidently he meant it.
"Talking about Edison when he was a boy: he wasn't afraid of work, either. He got up at about five, got back to supper at nine, or later, and maybe that wasn't some day! But he made from $12 to $20 a day profits, for it was Civil War times and everything was high."
"I think I'd work pretty hard for that much," said Gus.
"I reckon," remarked Ted, "that he had a pretty good reason to say that successful genius is one per cent. inspiration and ninety-nine per cent. perspiration."
"But I guess that's only partly right and partly modesty," declared Bill. "There must have been a whole lot more than fifty per cent, inspiration at work to do what he has done. But he is too busy to go around blowing his own horn, even from a talking-machine record."
"He doesn't need to do any blowing when you're around," Ted offered.
Bill laughed outright at that and there seemed nothing further to be said. The girls decided to go on, Ted walked up the street with them, and Gus and his lame companion turned in the opposite direction toward the less opulent section of the town. There were chores to do at home and Gus often lent a hand to help his father who was the town carpenter. Bill, the only son of a widow whose small means were hardly adequate for the needs of herself and boy, did all he could to lessen the daily pinch.
THE BOYHOOD OF A GENIUS
The class had assembled again in Professor Gray's study and all were eager to hear the second talk on Edison. There was a delay of many minutes past the hour stated, but the anticipation was such that the time was hardly noticed. During the interim, Professor Gray came to where Bill and Gus sat.
"I hear that you boys intend to go to work in the mills next week," he said. "Well, now, I have some news and a proposition, so do not be disappointed if the beginning sounds discouraging. In the first place I saw Mr. Deering, superintendent of the mills, again and he told me that while he would make good his promise to take you on, there would hardly be more than a few weeks' work. Orders are scarce and they expect to lay off men in August, though there is likely to be a resumption of business in the early fall when you are getting back into school work. So wouldn't it be better to forego the mill work,—there goes the announcement! I'll talk with you before you leave."
"But we need the money; don't we, Gus?"
"We do," said Gus.
"I wonder if the Professor thinks we're millionaires." Bill was plainly disappointed.
"Oh, well, he didn't finish what he was saying to us. Let's listen to the weather report," demanded Gus, ever optimistic and joyful.
The words came clearer than ever out of that wonderful horn. There was to be rain that afternoon—local thunderstorms, followed by clearing and cooler. On the morrow it would be cloudy and unsettled.
Bill felt as though that prediction suited his mental state! Gus was never the kind to worry; he sat smiling at the horn and he received with added pleasure the music of a band which followed. And then came the second talk on the boyhood of the master of invention.
"It has been said," spouted the horn, "that high mental characteristics are accompanied by heroic traits. Whether true or not generally, it was demonstrated in young Edison and it governed his learning telegraphy and the manner thereof. The story is told by the telegraph operator at Mt. Clemens, where the red-headed conductor threw the train boy and his laboratory off the train.
"'Young Edison,' says the station agent, 'had endeared himself to the station agents, operators and their families all along the line. As the mixed train did the way-freight work and the switching at Mt. Clemens, it usually consumed not less than thirty minutes, during which time Al would play with my little two-and-a-half-year old son, Jimmy.
"'It was at 9:30 on a lovely summer morning. The train had arrived, leaving its passenger coach and baggage car standing on the main track at the north end of the station platform, the pin between the baggage and the first box car having been pulled out. There were about a dozen freight cars, which had pulled ahead and backed in upon the freight-house siding. The train men had taken out a box car and pushed it with force enough to reach the baggage car without a brakeman controlling it.
"'At this moment Al turned and saw little Jimmy on the main track, throwing pebbles over his head in the sunshine, all unconscious of danger. Dashing his papers and cap on the platform he plunged to the rescue.
"'The train baggage man was the only eyewitness. He told me that when he saw Al jump toward Jimmy he thought sure both boys would be crushed. Seizing Jimmy in his arms just as the box car was about to strike them, young Edison threw himself off the track. There wasn't a tenth of a second to lose. By this instinctive act he saved his own life, for if he had thrown the little chap first and then himself, he would have been crushed under the wheels.
"'As it was, the front wheel struck the heel of the newsboy's boot and he and Jimmy fell, face downward on the sharp, fresh-gravel ballast so hard that they were both bleeding and the baggage man thought sure the wheel had gone over them. To his surprise their injuries proved to be only skin deep.
"'I was in the ticket office when I heard the shriek and ran out in time to see the train hands carrying the two boys to the platform. My first thought was: 'How can I, a poor man, reward the dear lad for risking his life to save my child's?' Then it came to me, 'I can teach him telegraphy.' When I offered to do this, he smiled and said, 'I'd like to learn,' and learn he did. I never saw any one pick it up so fast. It was a sort of second nature with him. After the conductor treated him so badly, throwing off his apparatus, boxing his ears and making him hard of hearing, Al seemed to lose his interest in his business as train boy.
"'Some days Al would stop at my station at half past nine in the morning and stay all day while the train went on to Detroit and returned to Mt. Clemens in the evening. The train baggage man who saw Al rescue Jimmy would get the papers in Detroit and bring them up to Mt. Clemens for him. During these long hours the Edison boy made rapid progress in learning. And every day he made the most of the half hour or more of practice he had while the train stopped at Mt. Clemens each way.
"'At the end of a couple of weeks I missed him for several days. Next time he dropped off he showed me a set of telegraph instruments he had made in a gunshop in Detroit, where the stationer who had sold him goods had told the owner of the machine shop the story of the printing press.'
"The first place young Edison worked after he was graduated from the Mt. Clemens private school of telegraphy was in Port Huron, his home town. Here he had too many boy friends to let him keep on the job as a youthful telegrapher should. Besides, he had a laboratory in his home and found it too fascinating to take enough sleep. Between too much side work and mischief, young Edison sometimes found himself in trouble. Some of his escapades he has described to his friend and assistant, William H. Meadowcroft.
"'About every night we could hear the soldiers stationed at Fort Gratiot. One would call out: "Corporal of Guard Number One!" This was repeated from one sentry to another till it reached the barracks and "No. 1" came out to see what was wanted. The Dutch boy (who used to help me with the papers) and I thought we would try our hand in military matters.
"'So one dark night I called, "Corporal of the Guard Number One!" The second sentry, thinking it had come from the man stationed at the end, repeated this, and the words went down the line as usual. This reached Corporal Number One, and brought him back to our end only to find out that he had been tricked by someone.
"'We did this three times, but on the third night they were watching. They caught the Dutch boy and locked him up in the fort. Several soldiers chased me home. I ran down cellar where there were two barrels of potatoes and a third which was almost empty. I dumped the contents of three barrels into two, sat down, pulled the empty barrel over my head, bottom upwards. The soldiers woke my father, and they all came hunting for me with lanterns and candles.
"'The corporal was perfectly sure I had come down cellar. He couldn't see how I had got away, and asked father if there wasn't a secret place for me to hide in the cellar. When father said "No," he exclaimed, "Well, that's very strange!"
"'You can understand how glad I was when they left, for I was in a cramped position, and as there had been rotten potatoes in that barrel, I was beginning to feel sick.
"'The next morning father found me in bed and gave me a good switching on my legs—the only whipping I ever received from him, though mother kept behind the old clock a switch which had the bark well worn off! My mother's ideas differed somewhat from mine, most of all when I mussed up the house with my experiments.
"'The Dutch boy was released the next morning.'
"Another escapade described by Edison was pulled off on the Canada side of the St. Clair, in Port Sarnia, opposite Port Huron.
"'In 1860 the Prince of Wales (afterward King Edward) visited Canada. Nearly every lad in Port Huron, including myself, went over to Sarnia to see the celebration. The town was profusely draped in flags—there were arches over some streets—and carpets were laid on the crossings for the prince to walk on.
"'A stand was built where the prince was to be received by the mayor. Seeing all these arrangements raised my idea of the prince very high. But when he finally came I mistook the Duke of Newcastle for Albert Edward. The duke was a very fine-looking man. When I discovered my mistake—the Prince of Wales being a mere stripling—I was so disappointed that I couldn't help mentioning the fact. Then several of us American boys expressed our belief that a prince wasn't much after all! One boy got well whipped for this and there was a free-for-all fight. The Canucks attacked the Yankee boys and, as they greatly outnumbered us, we were all badly licked and I got a black eye. This always prejudiced me against that kind of ceremonial and folly.'"
THE MAKING OF AN INVENTOR
"It was during the time young Edison was employed at Port Huron," the radio continued, "that the cable under River St. Clair between that city and Port Sarnia was severed by an ice jam. The river at that point is three quarters of a mile wide. Navigation was suspended and the ice had broken up so that the stream could not be crossed on foot nor could the broken cable lying in the bed of the river be mended.
"The ingenious young telegrapher suggested signaling Sarnia by giving, with the whistle of a locomotive, the dot-and-dash letters of the Morse telegraph code. Or course, this strange whistling caused considerable wonderment on the Canada side until a shrewd operator recognized the long-and-short telegraph letters, and communication was at once established—important messages being transmitted by steam whistles—a gigantic system of broadcasting. This was a simple way out of a sublime difficulty involving the affairs of two great peoples.
"But the too-enterprising operator had started so much trouble for himself that he decided to find employment where his mind would not be distracted from his job or tempted away from working out his chemical and electrical experiments. Because of these he preferred the position of night operator. His telegraph work was really a side line.
"On these accounts he found a job as night operator at Stratford Junction, Canada West, as Ontario was then called. He was only sixteen but his salary of twenty-five dollars a month seemed very small after making ten or twelve dollars a day as 'candy butcher.' But on account of the chances it gave him for experimenting, he resigned himself to the smallness of his pay. The treatment he had received at the hands of that train conductor had convinced him that he could not follow his bent while working all day on the railroad.
"Mr. Edison likes to tell of the prevailing ignorance of the science of telegraphy. He once told a friend:
"'The telegraph men themselves seemed unable to explain how the thing worked, though I was always trying to find out. The best explanation I got was from an old Scotch line repairer employed by the Montreal Telegraph Company, then operating the railway wires. Here is the way he described it: "If you had a dachshund long enough to reach from Edinburgh to London, and pulled his tail in Edinburgh he would bark in London!"
"'I could understand that, but I never could get it through me what went through the dog or over the wire.'
"It was at Stratford Junction that the Edison boy began his career of invention. From the first his chief aim was the saving of labor. In order to be sure that the operators all along the line were not asleep at their posts, they were required to send to the train dispatcher's office a certain dot-and-dash signal every hour in the night. Young Edison was like young Napoleon in grudging himself the necessary hours of sleep. While the ingenious lad was fond of machinery—to make a machine of himself was utterly distasteful to him. It was against his principles and instincts to do anything a mere machine could do instead. So he made a little wheel with a few notches in the rim, with which he connected the clock and the transmitter, so that at the required instant every hour in the night the wheel revolved and sent the proper signal to headquarters. Meanwhile that wily young operator slept the sleep of the genius, if not of the just. Of one experience at this little place Edison relates:
"'This night job just suited me, as I could have the whole day to myself. I had the faculty of sleeping in a chair any time for a few minutes at a time. I taught the night yardman my call, so I could get half an hour's sleep now and then between trains, and in case the station was called the watchman was to wake me. One night I got an order to hold a freight train, and I replied that I would do so. I ran out to find the signal man, but before I could locate him and get the signal set—the train ran past! I rushed back to the telegraph office and reported that I could not hold it.
"'But on receiving my first message that I would hold the freight, the dispatcher let another train leave the next station going the opposite way. There was a station near the Junction where the day operator slept. I started to run in that direction, but it was pitch dark. I fell down a culvert and was knocked senseless.'
"The two engineers, with a feeling that all was not as it should be, kept a sharp lookout and saw each other just in time to avert a fatal accident. But young Edison was cited to trial, for gross neglect of duty, by the general manager. During an informal hearing two Englishmen called on the manager. While he was talking with them the young night operator disappeared. Boarding a freight train bound for Port Sarnia, he made his escape from the five-years' term in prison threatened by the irate manager. Edison afterward confessed that his heart did not leave his throat until he had crossed the ferry to Port Huron and 'one wide river' lay between him and the Canadian authorities.
"Following his escape from Canada young Edison knocked about the home country, North and South. As it was during the Civil War he had some peculiar adventures. After making a long circuit, broken in many places by 'short circuits,' the journeyman telegrapher landed in Port Huron, and wrote his friend Adams, then in Boston to find him a job.
"His friend relates that he asked the Boston manager of the Western Union Telegraph office if he wanted a first-class operator from the West.
"'What kind of copy does he make?'" was the manager's first query. "Adams continues:
"'I passed Edison's letter through the window for his inspection. He was surprised, for it was almost as plain as print, and asked:
"'Can he take it off the wire like that?'
"'I said he certainly could, and that there was nobody who could stick him. He told me to send for my man and I did. When Edison came he landed the job without delay.'"
"The inventor himself has told the story of his reporting for duty in Boston:
"'The manager asked me when I was ready to go to work.
"'Now!' said I, and was instructed to return at 5:30 P.M., which I did, to the minute. I came into the operators' room and was ushered into the night manager's presence.
"'The weather was cold and I was poorly dressed; so my appearance, as I was told afterward, occasioned considerable merriment, and the night operators conspired to "put up a job on the jay from the wild and woolly West." I was given a pen and told to take the New York No. 1 wire. After an hour's wait I was asked to take my place at a certain table and receive a special report for the Boston Herald, the conspirators having arranged to have one of the fastest operators in New York send the despatch and "salt" the new man.
"'Without suspecting what was up I sat down, and the New York man started in very slowly. Soon he increased his speed and I easily adapted my pace to his. This put the man on his mettle and he "laid in his best licks," but soon reached his limit.
"'At this point I happened to look up and saw the operators all looking over my shoulder with faces that seemed to expect something funny. Then I knew they were playing a trick on me, but I didn't let on.
"'Before long the New York man began slurring his words, running them together and sticking the signals; but I had been used to all that sort of thing in taking reports, so I wasn't put out in the least. At last, when I thought the joke had gone far enough, and as the special was nearly finished, I calmly opened the key and remarked over the wire to my New York rival:
"'Say, young man, change off and send with the other foot!'
"'This broke the fellow up so that he turned the job over to another operator to finish, to the real discomfiture of the fellows around me.'
"Friend Adams goes on to tell of other happennings at the Hub:
"'One day Edison was more than delighted to pick up a complete set of Faraday's works, bringing them home at 4 A.M. and reading steadily until breakfast time, when he said, with great enthusiasm:
"'Adams, I have got so much to do and life is so short, I am going to hustle!'"
"'Then he started off to breakfast on a dead run.'
"He soon opened a workshop in Boston and began making experiments. It was here that he made a working model of his vote recorder, the first invention he ever patented.
"Edison has told us of this trip to Washington and how he showed that his invention could register the House vote, pro and con, almost instantaneously. The chairman of the committee saw how quickly and perfectly it worked and said to him:
"'Young man, if there is any invention on earth that we don't want down here, it is this. Filibustering on votes is one of the greatest weapons in the hands of a minority to prevent bad legislation, and this instrument would stop that.'
"The youth felt the force of this so much that he decided from that time forth not to try to invent anything unless it would meet a genuine demand,—not from a few, but many people.
"It was while in Boston that Edison grew weary of the monotonous life of a telegraph operator and began to work up an independent business along inventive lines, so that he really began his career as an inventor at the Hub.
"After the vote recorder, he invented a stock ticker, and started a ticker service in Boston which had thirty or forty subscribers, and operated from a room over the Gold Exchange.
* * * * *
"The third talk on Mr. Edison and his inventions will be given from this broadcasting station WUK next Monday at the same hour."
As the young people rose to depart, Professor Gray beckoned Bill and Gus to remain. He turned to a large table desk, took from it a roll of papers, untied and laid before the boys a number of neatly executed plans and sections—all drawn to scale. In an upper corner was pen-printed the words:
Water Power Electric Plant to be erected for and on the estate of Mr. James Hooper, Fairview. Engineer and Contractor, J. R. Gray.
"Boys, you see here," began the Professor, "the layout of a job to be done on the Hooper property. You know I do this sort of thing in a small way between school terms and I am told to go ahead with this at once. The amount I am to receive, on my own estimate, is ample, but naturally not very great; it covers all material, labor and a fair profit.
"But now," he went on, "comes the hitch. I am compelled, by another matter which is far more important,—having been appointed one of the consulting engineers on the Great Laurel Valley Power Plant,—to desert this job almost entirely, and yet, I am bound, on the strength of my word, to see that it is completed. If I hand it over to another engineer, or a construction firm, it will cost me more than I get out of it. And naturally, while I don't expect to gain a thing, I would prefer also not to lose anything. Now, what would you fellows advise in this matter?"
Bill looked at Gus and Gus looked at Bill; there was a world of meaning, of hope and hesitation, in both glances. The Professor saw this, and he spoke again:
"Out with it, boys! I asked you to stay, in order to hear what you might say about it. There seems to be only one logical solution. I cannot afford to spend a lot of my own money and yet I will gladly give all of my own profits, for I must complete Mr. Hooper's job and look after my bigger task at once."
"I don't suppose," said Gus, with the natural diffidence he often experienced in expressing his mind, "that we could help you."
"Why, of course we can, and we will, too," said Bill, the idea breaking on him suddenly. "We can carry on the work perfectly under your occasional direction. Is that what you wanted us to say, Professor?"
"I did. I hoped you would see it that way and I wanted you to acknowledge the incentive to yourselves. I am sure you can carry on the work, as you say. We have had enough of practical experimentation together, and then, what made me think of you, was that fish dam you put in for old Mr. McIlvain last summer."
The boys glanced at each other again, but this time with mutual feelings of pride. Bill had interested a well-to-do farmer in making a pool below a fine spring and with his consent and some materials he had furnished. The boys had stonewalled a regular gulch, afterwards stocking the crystal clear pool they had made with landlocked salmon obtained from the state hatchery. The fish were now averaging a foot in length and many a fine meal the boys and the farmer had out of that pond.
"Now, fellows, I'll divide between you the entire profits," Professor Gray began, but Bill and Gus both stopped him.
"No, sir! You pay us no more than we could have got in the mill, and the rest is yours. Look at the fun we'll have, that's worth a lot." Bill always tried to be logical and he never failed to have a reason for his conclusions. "And then," he added, "this will be for you and we couldn't do enough—"
"I'll see that you are paid and thank you, also," laughed the Professor. "And tomorrow morning, if it suits you, we shall start with the work, which means making a survey of the ground and listing materials. There will be a segment dam, with flood gates; about an eighth of a mile of piping; a Pelton wheel, boxed in; a generator speeded down; a two-horse-power storage battery; wiring and connections made with present lighting system in house; lodge; stables and garage;—and the thing is done if it works smoothly. The closest attention to every detail, taking the utmost pains, will be necessary and I know you will—"
"Just like Edison!" Bill fairly shouted, making Professor Gray and Gus laugh heartily. The Professor said:
"Eight! And we shall hope to follow his illustrious example. Tomorrow it is, then."
When the two chums, elated over their sudden advancement to be professional engineers, came out on the street, they were not a little surprised to see all the girls and boys of the class waiting, and evidently for them, as they could but judge on hearing the words:
"Here they come! We'll get him started. Bill knows."
GUS HOLDS FORTH AGAIN
"Say, old scout," cautioned Gus, in a low voice, "better not tell about our job. Let it dawn on them later."
"Righto, Gus. It's nobody's business but ours. But what do the bunch want?"
Bill soon found out, however, when Cora and Ted came to meet him.
"We've had an argument, Terry and I, about Edison," said the girl, "and I know you can settle it. I said that—"
"Hold on! Don't tell me who said anything; then it'll be fair," Bill demanded.
"'O wise, wise judge!'" gibed Ted. "Ought to have a suit of ermine. Proper stunt, too. Let me put it, Cora; I'll be the court crier. Come on and let's squat on the bank like the rest. Judge, you ought to be the most elevated. Now, then, here's the dope: Did Edison really ever do anything much to help with the war?"
"He did more than any other man," Bill declared promptly. "Positively! Everybody ought to know that. He invented a device so that they could smell a German submarine half a mile away, and they could tell when a torpedo was fired. Another invention turned a ship about with her prow facing the torpedo, so that it would be most likely to go plowing and not hit her, as it would with broadside on. I guess that saved many a ship and it helped to destroy lots of submarines with depth bombs. It got the Germans leery when their old submersibles failed to get in any licks and went out never to come back; it was as big a reason as any why they were so ready to quit. Well, who was right?"
"I was!" announced Cora, gleefully. "Terry just can't see any good in Edison at all. He says he hires people who really make his inventions and he gets the credit for them. He says—"
"I don't suppose it makes much difference what he says; he simply doesn't know what he's talk—"
"You think you know, but do you? You've read a lot of gush that—" Terry began, but Gus interrupted him, almost a new thing for the quiet chap.
"Listen, Terry: get right on this. Don't let a lot of foolish people influence you; people who can't ever see any real good in success and who blame everything on luck and crookedness. And Bill does know."
"Anybody who tries to make Edison out a small potato," declared Bill, addressing the others, rather than the supercilious youth who had maligned his hero, "is simply ignorant of the facts. My father knew a man well who worked for Edison in his laboratory for years. He said that the stories about Edison making use of the inventions of others is all nonsense; it is Edison who has the ideas and who starts his assistants to experimenting, some at one thing, some at another, so as to find out whether the ideas are good.
"He said that the yarns they tell about Edison's working straight ahead for hours and hours without food and sleep, then throwing himself on a couch for a short nap and getting up to go at it again are all exactly true, over and over again. He said that one of the boys in the shop tried to play a trick on the old man, as they call him, while he was napping on the couch. They rigged up a talking-machine on a stand and dressed it in some of Edison's old clothes, put a lullaby record on it, lugged it in, set it up in front of the couch and set it going, to express the idea that he was singing himself to sleep. But while they were at this Mr. Edison, getting on to the joke, for he generally naps with one eye open, got up and put a lot of stuffing under the couch spread, stuck his old hat on it so as to make it look as though his face was covered; then peered through the crack of a door. When the music commenced he opened the door and said:
"'Boys, it won't work; music can't affect dead matter.' Then they pulled off the couch cover and all had a good laugh.
"Now. you can see," Bill went on, with ever increasing enthusiasm, "just how that shows where Mr. Edison stands. Nobody can get ahead of him, and there isn't anyone with brains who knows him who doesn't admit he has more brains and is wider awake than anybody else. There's nothing that he does that doesn't show it. You have all seen his questionnaires for the men who are employed in his laboratories and you can bet they're no joke. And his inventions—they're not just the trifling things like egg-beaters, rat-traps, coat-hangers, bread-mixers, fly-swatters and lipsticks."
"But some of these things are mighty cute and they coin the dough," said Ted.
"Oh, they're ingenious and money-makers some of them, I'll admit, but we could get along very well without them and most of us do. But think of the real things Edison has done. The first phonograph; improving the telegraph so that six messages can be sent over the same wire at the same time; improving the telephone so that everybody can use it; collecting fine iron ore from sand and dirt by magnets; increasing the power and the lightness of the storage battery. And there are the trolleys and electric railways that have been made possible. And the incandescent electric lamp—how about that? Edison has turned his wonderful genius only to those things that benefit millions of—"
"And he deserved to make millions out of it," said Ted.
"I guess he has, too," offered one of the girls.
"You bet, and that's what he works for: not just to benefit people," asserted Terry.
"I suppose your dad and most other guys got their dough all by accident while they were trying to help other folks; eh?" Bill fired at Terry.
But the rich boy walked away, his usual method to keep from getting the worst of an argument.
"Oh, I wish Grace Hooper were here," Cora said. "She's no snob like Terry and wouldn't she enjoy this?"
"And her dad, too. Isn't he a nice old fellow, even though he's awfully rich?" laughed Dot.
"He'd have his say about this argument, grammar or no grammar. He thinks a lot of this chap he calls Eddy's son," Mary Dean declared.
"Great snakes! Does he really think the wizard is the child of some guy named Eddy?" Ted queried.
"Sounds so," Cora said. "But you can't laugh at him, he's so kind and good and it would hurt Grace. He would be interested in radio, too."
"Wonder he hasn't got a peach of a receiver set up in his house," Lucy Shore ventured.
"Is he keen for all new-fangled things?" asked Ted.
"You bet he is, though somebody would have to tell him and show him first. Well, people, I'm going home; who's along?"
With one accord the others got to their feet and started up or down the street. Gus and Bill went together, as always; they had much to talk about.
On the day following the radio lecture, true to his promise, Professor Gray led Bill and Gus to the broad acres of the Hooper estate and there, with the plans before them, they went over the ground chosen for the water-power site, comprehending every detail of the engineering task. Professor Gray was more pleased than surprised by the ready manner in which both lads took hold of the problem and even suggested certain really desirable changes.
Bill indicated a better position fifty yards upstream for the dam and he sketched his idea of making a water-tight flood gate which was so ingenious that the Professor became enthusiastic and adopted it at once.
After nearly a whole day spent thus along the rocky defiles of the little stream, eating their lunch beside a cold spring at the head of a miniature gulch, the trio of engineers were about to leave the spot when a gruff voice hailed them from the hilltop. Looking up they saw another group of three: an oldish man, a slim young fellow who was almost a grown man and a girl in her middle teens. The young people seemed to be quarreling, to judge from the black looks they gave each other, but the man paid them no attention. He beckoned Professor Gray to approach and came slowly down the hill to meet him, walking rather stiffly with a cane.
"Well, Professor, you're beginnin' to git at it, eh? Struck any snags yit? Some job! I reckon you're not a goin' to make a heap outside the price you give me. When you goin' to git at it reg'lar?"
"Right away, Mr. Hooper. To-morrow. We have been making our plans to-day and these young assistants of mine, who will principally conduct the work, are ready to start in at once. They—"
"Them boys? No, sir! I want this here work done an' done right; no bunglin'. What's kids know about puttin' in water wheels an' 'letric lights? You said you was—"
"These boys are no longer just kids, Mr. Hooper, and they know more than you think; all that is needed to make this job complete. Moreover, I am going to consult with them frequently by letter and I shall be entirely responsible. It is up to me, you know."
Mr. Hooper evidently saw the sense in this last remark; he stood blinking his eyes at Bill and Gus and pondering. The slim youth plucked at his sleeve and said something in a low voice.
Gus suddenly remembered the fellow. The youth had come into the town a week or two before. He had, without cause, deliberately kicked old Mrs. Sowerby's maltese cat, asleep on the pavement, out of his way, and Gus, a witness from across the street, had departed from his usually reticent mood to call the human beast down for it. But though Gus hoped the fellow would show resentment he did not, but walked on quickly instead.
Mr. Hooper listened; then voiced a further and evidently suggested opposition:
"Them lads is from the town here; ain't they? Nothin' but a lot o' hoodlums down yan. You can't expec'—"
"You couldn't be more mistaken, Mr. Hooper. I'll admit there are a lot of young scamps in Fairview, but these boys, William Brown and Augustus Grier, belong to a more self-respecting bunch. I'll answer for them in every way."
"Of course, Dad, Professor Gray knows about them. Billy and Gus are in our class at school." This from the girl who had joyfully greeted the Professor and the boys, yodeling a school yell from the hillside. Then she shot an aside at the slim youth: "You're a regular, downright simpleton, Thad, and forever looking for trouble. Don't listen to him, Dad."
This appeared to settle the matter. Mr. Hooper squared his shoulders and grinned broadly, adding: "Well, I ain't just satisfied 'bout them knowin' how, but go to it your own way, Professor. I'm a goin' to watch it, you know; not to interfere with your plans an' ways, but it's got to be done right. If it goes along free an' fine, I ain't goin' to kick."
The Professor explained that they had further work to do on the plans and must be going back. He took leave of Mr. Hooper and the daughter, and retreated with the boys as hurriedly as Bill could manage his handy crutch. They all proceeded silently in crossing the broad field, but when in the road Bill had to voice his thoughts:
"I expect that old fellow'll make it too hot for us."
"Not for a minute; you need not consider that at all. Of course it would be more satisfactory if Mr. Hooper could be assured at once of your real ability, but it will have to grow on him. Just let him see what you can do; that's all."
"I rather expect we can frame up something that will satisfy him and Bill can spring it," said Gus.
"In just what way, can you imagine?" queried the Professor.
"Some geometrical stunt, maybe; triangulation, or—"
"Why, sure! That's just it!" exploded Bill. "I know how we can get him: Parallax! Shucks, it'll be easy! Just leave it to me."
"Looks as though some kind of Napoleonic strategy were going to be pulled off," asserted Professor Gray, laughing. "But, boys, keep in mind that Mr. Hooper, while a rough-and-ready old chap, with a big fortune made in cattle dealing, is really an uncut diamond; a fine old fellow at heart, as you will see."
Two busy days followed during which Bill and Gus went to the city with Professor Gray to purchase materials in full for the power plant. They also had cement, reinforcing iron, lumber for forms and a small tool house hauled out to the power site and they drove the first stakes to show the position of wheel and pipe line. Mr. Hooper did not put in an appearance.
On the third morning the Professor bade the boys good-by, exacting the promise that they would write frequently of their progress. They had privately formed an engineering company with Professor Gray as president, Gus as vice-president, which was largely honorary, and Bill as general manager and secretary. Advance payments necessary for extra labor and their own liberal wages were deposited at the Fairview Bank by Professor Gray and the boys were given a drawing account thereon, with a simple expense book to keep.
That afternoon, dressed in new overalls and blouses, with a big, good-natured colored man to help with the laboring work, the boys were early on the job, at first making a cement mixing box; then Bill drove the center stake thirty feet below where the dam was to be placed and from which, using a long cord, the curve of the structure twenty-nine feet wide, was laid out upstream.
At the spot chosen the rock-bound hillsides rose almost perpendicularly from the narrow level ground that was little above the bed of the stream; it was the narrowest spot between the banks. George, the colored fellow, was set to work digging into one bank for an end foundation; the other bank held a giant boulder.
The boys were giving such close attention to their labors that they did not see observers on the hilltop. Presently the gruff voice that they had heard before hailed them from close by and they looked up to see Mr. Hooper and the slim youth approaching. The boys had heard that this Thaddeus was the old man's nephew and that he called the Hooper mansion his home.
"What you drivin' that there stake down there for? Up here's where the Perfesser said the dam was to set," Mr. Hooper demanded.
"Yes, right here," Bill replied. "But it is to be curved upstream and that stake is our center."
"What's the idea of curvin' it?"
"So that it will be stronger and withstand the pressure. You can't break an arch, you know, and to push this out the hills would have to spread apart."
"I kind o' see." The old man was thoughtful and looked on silently while the dam breast stakes were being driven every three feet at the end of a stretched cord, the other end pivoting on the center stake below, this giving the required curve.
"How deep you goin' into that hill? Seems like the water can't git round it now." Mr. Hooper, at a word from Thad, seemed inclined to criticize.
"We must get a firm end, preferably against rock," Bill explained.
"Shucks! Reckon the clay ain't goin' to give none. How much fall you goin' to git on that Pullet wheel?"
"Pelton wheel. About eighty feet, Professor Gray figured it roughly. We'll take it later exactly."
"Kin you improve on the Perfesser?"
"No, but he made only a rough calculation. We'll take it both by levels and by triangulation, using an old sextant of the Professor's. It isn't a diff——"
"What's try-angleation?" Mr. Hooper was becoming interested.
"The method of reading angles of different degrees and in that way getting heights and distances. That's the way they measure mountains that can't be climbed and tell the distance of stars."
"Shucks, young feller! I don't reckon anybody kin tell the distance o' the stars; they only put up a bluff on that. They ain't no ackshall way o' gittin' distance onless you lay a tape measure, er somethin' like it on the ground. These here surveyors all does it; I had 'em go round my place."
Bill smiled and shook his head. "I guess you just haven't given it any consideration. There are lots of easier and better ways. Triangulation. Now, for instance, suppose an army comes to a wide river and wants to get across. They can't send anybody over to stretch a line; there may be enemy sharp-shooters that would get them and it is too wide, anyway. But they must know how many pontoon boats and how much flooring plank they must have to bridge it and so they sight a tree or a rock on the other shore and take the distance across by triangulation. Or suppose—"
"Never heard of it. Why wouldn't surveyors git from here to yan that a-way, 'stead o' usin' chains? Could you——?"
"Chaining it is a little more accurate, where they have a lot of curves and angles and the view is cut off by woods and hills. Yes, we can work triangulation; we could tell the distance from the hilltop to your house if we could see it and we had the time."
"Bunk! Don't let 'em bluff you that a-way, Uncle. Make 'em prove it." Thad showed his open hostility thus.
Gus dropped his shovel and came from the creekside where he had begun to dig alongside of the stakes for the foundation. He was visibly and, for him, strangely excited as he walked up to Thad.
"See here, fellow, Bill can do it and if there is anything in it we will do it, too! You are pretty blamed ignorant!"
Mr. Hooper threw back his head and let out a roar of mirth. "Well, I reckon that hits me, too. An' I reckon it might be true in a lot o' things. But Thad an' me, we kind o' doubt this."
"We sure do. I'd bet five dollars you couldn't tell it within half a mile an' it ain't much more than that."
"I'll take your bet and dare you to hold to it," said Gus.
"Bet 'em, Thad; bet 'em! I'll stake you."
"Oh, we don't want your money; betting doesn't get anywhere and it isn't just square, anyway." Bill was smilingly endeavoring to restore good feeling. "Now, Mr. Hooper, we're not fixed to make a triangulation measurement to-day, but——"
"Not fixed? Of course not. Begins with excuses," sneered Thad.
"But to-morrow we'll bring out Professor Gray's transit and show you the way it's done."
"Oh, yes, Uncle; they'll show us—to-morrow, or next day, or next week. Bunk!" Thad was plainly trying to be offensive.
"You'll grin on the other side of your hatchet face, fellow, when we do show you," said Gus.
"Now, Gus, cut out the scrapping. You can't blame him, nor Mr. Hooper, for doubting it if they've never looked into the matter. We can bring the transit out this afternoon for taking the levels. Be here after dinner, Mr. Hooper, if you can."
"I'll be here, lads," said the ex-cattle-dealer. "An' I reckon my nephew'll come along, too."
DISTANCE LENDS ENCHANTMENT
Mr. Hooper, his nephew, his daughter and another girl, fat and dumpy, were at the power site before two o'clock, and without more ado Bill asked Gus to bring the transit to the comparatively level field on top of the hill.
"Now, Mr. Hooper, please don't think we're doing this in a spirit of idle controversy; we only want to show you something interesting."
"That's all right, lad; an' I ain't above learnin', old as I am. But Thad here, he's different." Mr. Hooper gave Bill and Gus a long wink. "Thad, he don't reckon he can be learned a thing, an' he's so blame sure—say, Thad, how 'bout that bet?"
"We don't want to bet anything; that only—" began Bill, but Gus was less pacific.
"Put up, or shut up," he said, drawing a borrowed five dollar note out of his pocket and glaring at Thad. The slim youth did not respond.
"He's afraid to bet," jeered the daughter. "Hasn't got the nerve, or the money."
"I ain't afraid to bet." Thad brought forth a like amount in bills. "Uncle'll hold the stakes. You got to tell how far it is from here to the house without ever stepping the distance."
"We'll make a more simple demonstration than that," Bill declared. "It'll be the same thing and take less time and effort. Mr. Hooper, take some object out there in the field; something that we can see; anything."
"Here, Gracie, you take a stake there an' go out yan an' stick it up. Keep a-goin' till I holler."
Both girls carried out these directions, the fat one falling down a couple of times, tripped by the long grass and getting up shaking with laughter. The boys were to learn that she was a chum of Grace Hooper, that her name was Sophronia Doyle, though commonly nicknamed "Skeets."
The stake was placed. Bill drove another at his feet, set the transit over it, peeped through it both ways and at his direction, after stretching the steel tape, Gus drove a third stake exactly sixty feet from the transit at an angle of ninety degrees from a line to the field stake.
"Now, folks," explained Bill, "the stake out yonder is A, this one is B and the one at the other end of the sixty-foot base line is C. Please remember that."
The transit was then placed exactly over the stake C and, peeping again, Bill found the angle from the base line to the stake B and the line to stake A to be 78 degrees. Thereupon Gus produced a long board, held up one end and rested the other on a stake, while Bill went to work with a six-foot rule, a straight edge and a draughtsman's degree scale. Bill elucidated:
"Now, then, to get out of figuring, which is always hard to understand, we'll just lay the triangulation out by scale, which is easily understood. One-eighth of an inch equals one foot. This point is stake B and the base line to C is this line at right angles, or square across the board. C stake is 7-1/2 inches from B which is equal to sixty feet on the scale, that is sixty one-eighth inches. Now, this line, parallel to the edge of the board, is the exact direction of your stake A. Do you all follow that?
"The direction to your stake was 78 degrees from the base line at C. This degree scale will give us that." Bill carefully centered the latter instrument, sharpened his pencil and marked the angle; then placing the straight edge on the point C and the degree mark he extended the line until it crossed the other outward line. At this crossing he marked a letter A and turned to his auditors.
"This is your stake out yonder. The rule shows it to be a little over 34-5/8 inches from the base line at B. That is, by the scale, a few inches over 277 feet and that is the distance from here to where Grace stuck it into the ground. Our hundred-foot steel tape line is at your service, Mr. Hooper."
Mr. Hooper merely glanced at Bill. He took up the tape line and spoke to his nephew. "Git a holt o' this thing, Thad, an' let's see if—"
Grace interrupted him. "No, Dad; never let Thad do it! He'd make some mistake accidentally on purpose. I'll help you."
There was utter silence from all while Grace carried out the end of the tape and placed her sticks, Mr. Hooper following after. Skeets borrowed a pencil and a bit of paper from Gus and went along with Grace to keep tally, but she dropped the pencil in the grass, stepped on and broke it, was suffused with embarrassment and before she could really become useful, the father and daughter had made the count mentally and they came back to the base line, still without saying a word, a glad smile on the girl's face and something between wonder and surprise on the old man's features.
Still without a word Mr. Hooper came straight to Bill, thrust out his big hand to grasp that of the smiling boy and in the other hand was held the bills of the wager, which he extended toward Gus.
"Yours, lad," he said. "We made the distance two hundred and seventy-eight foot. I reckon you git the money."
Thad stood for a moment, nonplussed, a scowl on his face. Suddenly he recovered.
"Hold on! That's more than they said it was. The money's mine."
"Shucks, you dumb fool! Maybe a couple o' inches. I reckon we made the mistake, fer we wasn't careful. It gits me they was that near it. The cash is his'n."
Gus took the bills, thrust his own into his pocket again and handed the two dollar note and the three ones to Skeets.
"Please give them to him for me," indicating Thad, "I don't want his money."
"Not I," said the fat girl; "it isn't my funeral. Let him do the weeping and you take and give them to the poor."
Gus offered them to Grace, who also refused, shaking her head. Bill took the bills, and, limping over to Thad, handed him his wager. "You mustn't feel sore at us," counseled the youthful engineer. "This was only along the lines of experiment and—and fun."
But though Bill meant this in the kindliest spirit of comradeship, the boy sensed a feeling of extreme animosity that he was at a loss to account for. Bill backed off, further speech toward conciliation becoming as lame as his leg. The others witnessed this and Grace said, quite heatedly:
"Oh, you can't make a silk purse out of a pig's ear. Thad's an incurable grouch," at which Skeets laughed till she shook, and Mr. Hooper nodded his head.
"Lad," he said, "you're a wonder an' I ain't got no more to say ag'in' your doin' this work here. Go ahead with it your own way. But this I am abossin': to-morrow's half day, I reckon, so both o' you come over to the house nigh 'long about noon an' set at dinner with us. You're more'n welcome."
Thereafter, having been fully convinced by the demonstration and fully assured of the precise accuracy in the work on the power plant, Mr. Hooper treated the boys with the utmost consideration and confidence. The owner of the great estate came down to see them every day and chatted as familiarly as though he had been a lifelong crony of their own age. From time to time the boys were taken to dinner at the big house; they were given access to the library, and they found some time for social and sportive pastimes with the young folks whom Grace invited to her home.
Throughout all this Bill shone as an entertainer, a mental uplift that was really welcome, so spontaneous and keen were his talks and comments on people and things. Gus, though having little practice, held his own at tennis and golf; in swimming races and other impromptu sports he greatly excelled; and when a young fellow who bore the reputation of an all-round athlete came for the week-end from the city, Gus put on the gloves with him and punched the newcomer all over an imaginary ring on the lawn to the delight of Mr. Hooper, Grace and Skeets, as well as the admiring Bill.
Throughout all this, also, there was an element of ill feeling, an often open expression of antagonism toward the boys, which probably the other guests all tensed unpleasantly, but which the contented, jovial host and his impetuous and volatile daughter hardly recognized or thought of. Thaddeus, the thin-faced, pale, stoop-shouldered, indolent, cigarette-smoking nephew, though often treated with slight courtesy, continually pushed himself to the front, compelling consideration apparently for the sole purpose of exerting a counter-influence upon the popularity of Bill and Gus, especially the latter. The youth even went so far at times as to attempt an interference in the power-plant work, declaring that it did not proceed rapidly enough and that certain methods were at fault, to all of which Mr. Hooper turned a deaf ear.
There was nothing else but open warfare between Grace and Thad, Skeets also echoing the daughter's hostility, while the nephew easily pretended to ignore it, or to regard the sharp words aimed at him as jokes. He treated Skeets with as much contempt as her jovial manner permitted, but now and then it could be seen that his pale eyes glared at Grace's back in a way that seemed almost murderous.
One day Gus and George, the colored man, were working at the far end of the curved dam breast, the stone work having risen to four feet in height. Bill was stooping to inspect the cement on the near end and the view of the hill was cut off. Presently voices came to him, mostly a sort of good-natured protest in monosyllables; then Thad's tones, low enough to keep Gus from hearing.
"I tell you, Uncle, they're putting it over on you. It ain't any of my business, but I hate to see you having your leg pulled."
"'Taint!" was the brief answer.
"Well, if you don't want to think so; but I know it. Look at this dam: not over two feet thick and expected to hold tons of water. Wait till a flood hits it. Will it go out like a stack of cards, or won't it? And they're not using enough cement; one-fourth only with the sand."
"Grouting, broken stones," growled Mr. Hooper.
"Not sufficient, as you'll see. And does anybody want to say that a two-inch pipe is going to run a water wheel with force enough to turn a generator that will drive thirty or forty lights? Bosh!"
"They ought to know."
"You think they do, but have you any proof of it? What they don't know would fill a libra—"
"How 'bout that there triang—what you call it? They knew that."
"Oh, just a draughtsman's smart trick; used to catch people. I'm talking about things that are practical. You'll see. I'll bet you these blamed fools are going to strike a snag one of these days, or they'll leave things so that there'll be a fall-down. But what need they care after they get their money?"
Bill heard footsteps retreating and dying away; Mr. Hooper went over to Gus and, with evident hesitation, asked:
"Do you reckon you're makin' the stone work thick enough? It does look most terrible weak."
"Sure, Mr. Hooper. Bill'll explain that to you. Professor Gray and he worked out the exact resistance and the pressure."
And then Bill limped over; he had left his crutch on the hillside, and he said, half laughing:
"This wall, Mr. Hooper, can't give way, even if it had the ocean behind it, unless the stone and cement were mashed and crumbled by pressure. The only thing that could break it would be about two days' hammering with a sledge, or a big charge of blasting powder, and even that couldn't do a great deal of damage."
"All right, me lad; you ought to know an' I believe you."
Mr. Hooper's genial good humor returned to him immediately; it was evident that he was from time to time unpleasantly influenced by the soft and ready tongue of his nephew. The old gentleman turned toward home and disappeared; a short time afterward Thad came and stood near where Gus was working, but he said nothing, nor did Gus address him. Then the slim youth also departed and hardly half an hour elapsed before down the hill came Grace and Skeets, the latter stumbling several times, nearly pitching headlong and yet most mirthful over her own near misfortune; but little Miss Hooper seemed unusually serious-minded. A lively exchange of jests and jolly banter commenced between Skeets and Gus, who could use his tongue if forced to; but presently Grace left her laughing chum and came over to where Bill had resumed his inspection.
"They can't hear us, can they?" she queried, glancing back at the others.
"Why, I expect not," Bill replied, surprised and mystified.
"If I say something to you, real confidentially, you won't give me away, will you? Honest, for sure?"
"Honest, I won't; cross my heart; wish I may die; snake's tongue; butcher knife bloody!"
"That ought to do, and anybody with any sense would believe you, anyway. But, then, it will be a big temptation for you—"
"Resistance is my nickname; you may trust me."
"Well, then, in some way," said the girl, dropping her voice still lower, "you are going to find that this work here won't be—it won't go—not just as you expect it to; it—it won't be just plain sailing as it ought to be and would be if you were let alone. There are things," she put a forceful accent on the last word, "that will interfere—oh, sometimes dreadfully, maybe, and I felt that I must tell you, but—"
Bill, wondering, glanced up at her; she stood with her pretty face turned away, a troubled look in her bright eyes, the usually smiling lips compressed with determination. The boy's quick wits began to fathom the drift of her intention and the cause thereof; he must know more to determine her precise attitude.
"I must believe that you mean this in real kindness and friendliness toward Gus and me."
"Of course I do; else I would not have told you a thing," Grace said, blushing a little.
"I think it must be something real and that you know. This thing, then, as you call it, is more likely a person—some person who is working against us. You mean that; don't you?"
"Please don't ask me too much. I think you're very quick and intelligent and that you'll find out and be on your guard."
"I think I understand. Naturally you must feel a certain loyalty toward a relation, or at least if not just that, toward one who has your father's good will. Gus and I surely appreciate your warning; you'll want me to tell him, of course."
"I don't know. Gus is not so cool-headed as you are; I was afraid he might—"
"Trust Gus. He and I work together in everything. And I do thank you, Grace, more than I can express. Well keep our eyes open."
The dam was built, the flood gate in place, the pipe valve set for further extension of the line down the little valley; and as the pipe had all come cut and threaded, Bill and George were working with wrenches and white lead to get the sections tightly jointed against the pressure that would result. Gus, the carpenter, was laying out the framing of heavy timbers reinforced with long bolts and set in cement on which the Pelton wheel was to be mounted.
Several days were thus spent; the water was pouring over the spillway of the dam and it was with satisfaction that the boys found, after an inspection one quitting hour, that the wall, five feet high, was not leaking a drop.
That night Gus came over to Bill's home and the two went over the plans until late; then Gus chatted awhile on the steps, Bill standing in the doorway. Suddenly, from over toward the northeast, in the direction of the upper tract of the Hooper estate, there was a flash in the sky and a dull reverberation like a very distant or muffled blast. Bill was talking and hardly noticed it, but Gus had been looking in that direction and, calling Bill's attention, wondered as to the cause of the odd occurrence.
In the morning, as the boys descended the hill, George, who was always on hand half an hour ahead of time, came up to meet them and was plainly excited.
"Mist' Bill an' Gus, de dam's done busted a'ready an' de water's jes' a-pourin' through t' beat ol' Noah's flood! Whut you 'low was de because o' dis givin' way?"
"By cracky, Bill!" was Gus' comment as they stood looking at the break which seemed to involve a yard square of the base and cracks, as though from a shock. "You know and I know that the water didn't push this out. How about that flash and bang we heard last night?"
"I can't see how the water could have done it," said Bill, who evidently had more talent for construction than for determining destruction.
"There's something behind this that I don't like and I'm going to find out about it," said Gus, his usually quiet demeanor entirely gone. "You ought to be able," he continued, "to put two and four together. How about that warning Grace gave you? And how did she know anything out of which to give it? And why wouldn't she give any names?"
"Well, I have wondered; I thought I saw why," Bill said.
"Of course you see why, old scout. And if you'll leave it to me, you'll know why and all the how and the what of it, too." Gus was never boastful; now he was merely determined.
The boys opened the flood gate and after the water no longer flowed through the break, they began a closer examination that surprised them. Mr. Hooper, Thad, Grace and Skeets descended the hill.
Bill, after greetings, merely pointed to the break. Mr. Hooper started to say something about the structure's being too weak; Thad laughed, and Grace, looking daggers at him, turned away and pulled Skeets with her. Gus, gazing at Thad, addressed Mr. Hooper.
"Yes, too weak to stand the force of an explosion. It wasn't the water pressure. Mr. Hooper; you'll notice that the stones there are forced in against the water; not out with it. And the cracks—they're further evidence. We heard the explosion about eleven o'clock; saw the light of the flash, too."