Roy Mercer sat by a window in a fast express-train that was rushing
across the Newark meadows on the way to New York City. Three years
previously Roy had made a similar trip. As he looked back now over
those three years, it seemed to him impossible that so much could have
happened in so short a time. When he had first crossed these same
meadows the country was engaged in deadly warfare, and he had come,
with other members of the Camp Brady Wireless Patrol, to help the
government find the secret wireless system by which German spies were
sending abroad information as to the movements of American troops and
American transports. Long ago the wireless patrol had accomplished its
work and gone home. Now the great World War was ended. And although
peace had not been formally declared, more than seven months had
already elapsed since the signing of the armistice that had brought an
end to the terrible conflict. In that period the nation had swung back
into its accustomed channels, and the activities of peace had succeeded
the feverish efforts of war.
But the thing that had made the greatest difference in Roy’s life was
the death of his father. Long ago the cherished hope of a college
course had disappeared, for upon Roy had devolved the duty of caring,
not only for himself, but also for his mother. Manfully he had put
aside his desire and taken up the hard task that confronted him.
Through great determination and perseverance, coupled with the devotion
of his mother, Roy had managed to complete his course at the Central
City High School. Now, at nineteen years of age, he was about to make
his way alone in the world.
His active outdoor life, and the hard work he had been compelled to
do since the death of his father, had developed Roy both physically
and mentally. Always alert, keen, and quick, in these last few months
he had developed unusual qualities of self-reliance, trustworthiness,
and good judgment that promised well for his future success. But Roy
was fortunate enough to have more than good qualities to start life
with. Unlike many boys who go to New York to seek their fortunes, Roy
already had a job. He was going to be the wireless man on the steamship
_Lycoming_. The vessel was one of the new steamers built by Uncle Sam
during the war, and was very shortly to make her maiden trip as a
coastwise liner between New York and Galveston.
As Roy sat musing over the events that had led up to his present
journey to America’s greatest seaport, his train of thought was
suddenly interrupted by the loud voice of a brakeman.
“Manhattan Transfer!” shouted that individual. “Change cars for lower
New York. This car goes to the Pennsylvania Station at Thirty-third
The train came to a grinding stop. Immediately there was great hustle
and bustle. Passengers poured out of the coaches and crossed the narrow
platform to the waiting cars on the farther track. Others stood on the
platform ready to swarm into the newly arrived train. Roy’s destination
was lower Manhattan, but he made no move to change cars. His orders did
not require him to report for duty until the next day. He was in no
hurry. He had come a day ahead of time in order to familiarize himself
with his instruments and his new quarters, and make the acquaintance of
his future associates. Just now he wanted to see something of the city.
So he sat quietly in his seat, watching the hurrying throng on the
Presently there was a slight shock that jarred the great steel coaches,
and Roy knew that the big steam locomotive that had hauled the train
from Central City had been replaced by an electric locomotive that
was to pull the train through the tunnel under the Hudson River. A
few seconds later the conductor cried out his warning, and the train
glided smoothly away from the long platform. Soon it was flying across
the stretches of meadow that lay between the junction point they had
just left and the landward side of the Palisades, where it would plunge
The very last leg of Roy’s journey had begun. The very last step in
that long stairway of years that led from the cradle to man’s estate
was under foot. For though Roy lacked two years of his majority, he was
henceforth to take a man’s place among men. Roy thrilled at the thought
that inside of twenty-four hours he would no longer be plain Roy
Mercer, the Central City High School lad, but Mr. Mercer of the Marconi
service, with his own quarters aboard a fine ship, a place at the
officers’ table, and a smart uniform. Perhaps the idea of the uniform
appealed to Roy quite as much as did the knowledge that he was about
to take his place among the ship’s officers. His heart beat fast, and
his whole being thrilled with pride at the thought that he was the
youngest operator in the Marconi service. Roy fairly hugged himself as
he thought of his good luck in securing such a desirable berth.
Then the thought came to him that perhaps it wasn’t all luck after all.
Certainly, he thought, he must have deserved at least a part of his
good fortune. There was nothing conceited about Roy. But he knew, as
no one else could know, how hard he had worked to perfect himself in
wireless telegraphy, and how faithful he had been in the performance of
his duty as a member of the wireless patrol. For it was the reputation
that he had made during the wireless patrol’s search for the secret
wireless that had won him his present position as wireless man on the
Straightway he fell to musing over the events of the years that had
passed since his first summer in camp at Fort Brady. Vividly he
recalled how he and Henry Harper had slowly and laboriously constructed
their first wireless outfits after some blueprint patterns sent to
Henry by the latter’s uncle; how every member of the Camp Brady group
had made a similar instrument; how the little band had become the
wireless patrol when war threatened, and how they had run down the
German dynamiters at Elk City. With pride he thought of his recent
services in New York, when he and three other members of the wireless
patrol had been selected to help the United States Secret Service
uncover the secret wireless of the Germans. Roy was not the sort of boy
to flatter himself, but he knew well enough that never in the world
would he have been accepted in the Marconi service at his age or been
made wireless man on the _Lycoming_ had it not been for the efficient
work done in days past.
“It’s a mighty encouraging thing to know,” said Roy to himself, “that
my getting the job wasn’t all kick. If I earned _this_ place, I can
earn a still better one. But it means hard work. It means that I’ve got
to be absolutely faithful in everything I do, always on the job, always
on the lookout to help the company, always courteous to passengers,
always helpful to my captain. Gee whiz! It’s some job ahead of me. I
can see that all right. And I can see that above everything else I’ve
got to make good with my captain. What he says about my work will
determine whether or not I ever get ahead. But I’ll make good. I’ve
just got to. I’ve done it before and I can again. But it means work,
Roy’s heart beat high with courage. His jaws tightened and a look of
determination came into his face. Then succeeded a glow of pride as
Roy thought of the times he had already been tried and had made good.
He smiled with satisfaction as he recalled that it was he who caught
the message of the German spies at Elk City.
How well he recalled his vigil that night. How long the hours were.
How dark and still it was there in the forest, with his comrades of
the wireless patrol all asleep and he alone left to guard them and to
keep watch for forbidden radio messages. He recalled how sleepy he was,
how he had fought off his weariness and listened in, hour after hour,
for suspicious voices in the air. Even now his heart beat faster as he
lived over the final triumph of that night. He could almost hear again
that faint little buzz in his ear that proved to be the secret message
they were watching for.
Suppose he had been asleep at that instant. Suppose he had been
unfaithful in his watch. Suppose he had relaxed his vigilance for even
a few seconds. The message would never have been intercepted. The
dynamiters would never have been caught. The people of Elk City would
have paid for his faithlessness with their lives. Roy shuddered at the
thought of the awful wall of water that might have overwhelmed the
unfortunate dwellers in that city had the reservoir been dynamited.
“But I wasn’t unfaithful,” muttered Roy to himself. “I did my work
right, just as I am going to do it on board the _Lycoming_. And if I
do, I’ll win the good-will of Captain Lansford, just as sure as I won
that of Captain Hardy.” Again a look of determination came into Roy’s
face. “I’ve just got to make good,” he muttered to himself. “I’ve just
got to. And I will.”
A subtle change came over his face. Once more his mind had gone back
to the scenes about Elk City. He was thinking of his secret journey
in a motor-car through an isolated and rough mountain road with the
outfits of his companions. Vividly he recalled how a big boulder had
come crashing down the mountainside, breaking his steering gear. He
smiled with satisfaction as he recalled how he had met the situation
by improvising a wireless outfit with some wires, an umbrella, and the
battery of his car. How pleased his captain had been!
“I’m going to please Captain Lansford just as much,” said Roy to
himself, and once more that look of determination came into his face.
Then the train suddenly shot under ground and daylight was blotted out.
Down, down, deep into the earth Roy could feel the train descending,
though the grade was very gradual. His ears began to feel queer and he
knew that he must be in the deepest part of the tunnel. Then the train
moved upward. In another minute it shot into the light. Roy glanced out
of the window at the high cement walls on either side. They were at the
Pennsylvania Station. Roy rose and moved toward the door. His face was
flushed. His pulse beat fast. He felt like a runner toeing the mark. He
was about to begin the race of life. He felt fit. He was trained to the
minute. His whole being pulsed with joy. He had left boyhood behind.
Henceforth he would be a man among men. In every sense he determined
to be one. All aglow with high resolve, he passed out of the train,
through the great station, and into the roaring streets.
The glow of satisfaction faded from his face. Cold and hostile
seemed the city. The rushing traffic appeared cruel and heartless,
threatening to overwhelm even the vigilant. Passers-by were as cold and
unfriendly as the hard and echoing stone pavements. They brushed by,
seemingly indifferent to any one or anything but themselves and their
own concerns. The very air was raw and chilly. The entire atmosphere
was oppressive. It seemed to take the heart out of Roy. It made him
feel how tiny he was, how insignificant in comparison with this great
aggregation of forces that men had brought together. Suddenly Roy
realized that this was the thing he had to fight–this roaring thing
called a city, where every man’s hand would be against him, where he
could get ahead only by brute force, by overcoming whatever obstacles
rose in his way. Apparently there was not a soul to help him. Success
or failure depended upon his own efforts. The thought was bewildering,
crushing, disheartening. For an instant fear clutched his heart and
blanched his face.
And that was not because he was terrified by the noise of the
unaccustomed traffic, or confused by the hurry and bustle. Those
features of the city’s life were as familiar to Roy as the city itself
was, for in the weeks he had spent in New York during the search for
the secret wireless, he had become well acquainted with the geography
of the town. The difference was that then he was with friends. Henry
Harper and Lew Heinsling and Willie Brown were with him, and their
beloved leader, Captain Hardy, was always watching their movements to
keep them out of trouble and direct their efforts. Then Roy had been
among friends. Now he knew not where to find a friendly face. For the
first time in his life he was realizing, as thousands of boys before
him have realized, the awful loneliness that can come to one in a big
city. The feeling almost overwhelmed him. Gone were his plans to see
something of the city. A friendly face meant more to him now than all
the sights New York had ever held.
“I’ll go straight to the _Lycoming_,” said Roy to himself. “Even if I
don’t know any of the men on board, they will at least be friendly.”
He hurried over to Ninth Avenue and caught a south-bound elevated
railway train. In less than half an hour he left the train and made
his way to the water-front. The vast expanse of asphalt known as “the
farm,” that borders the Hudson for miles, was seething with traffic.
Skilfully Roy picked his way across the wide thoroughfare, dodging
trucks and drays, and heading straight for the big piers of the
Confederated Steamship Lines.
The watchman at the entrance stopped him and demanded to know his
business. Roy explained.
“Go on,” said the watchman, but he looked at Roy suspiciously.
Roy passed on into the great pier shed. At one side of the pier lay the
_Lycoming_. Nobody paid the least attention to Roy. He made his way
aboard the vessel.
“What do you want here?” asked a sailor gruffly, as he slouched on the
“I want to see the captain,” said Roy.
“He’s busy. Come around later,” replied the sailor.
“I’m the new wireless man,” explained Roy.
“I didn’t recognize you, sir,” said the sailor, instantly straightening
up and touching his cap. “The captain is in his cabin. This way, sir.”
And he led Roy to an upper deck.
“Come in,” said a gruff voice, in answer to Roy’s knock.
Roy pushed open the captain’s door and stepped inside the cabin. “I’m
the new wireless man, Captain Lansford,” he said briefly. “My name is
The ship’s commander rose to his feet. He was fully six feet tall and
large of frame. His hair was black, and heavy, bushy, black brows
almost hid his dark, piercing eyes. His nose was large and hawk-like.
So weather-beaten was his skin that it seemed almost like leather.
For a moment he uttered not a word, as he looked Roy over from head
to foot. Then, in a tone of utter disgust, he said, “You–a wireless
man! Bah! A wireless babe! I’ll see about this quick,” and he stalked
angrily from the cabin.
“Wireless man! Bah!” repeated the captain as he hurried down the
stairway. “Thirty years I’ve sailed the seas and the only wireless I
ever saw was God’s lightning. Yet I never lost a man or a ship. The
owners have ordered it, and I suppose I’ll have to put up with their
newfangled machines. But I’ll be hanged if I’ll have an infant in
arms to work ’em. That’s flat. I’ll tell those Marconi people what’s
what.” And he bustled angrily off to the telephone in the office at the
shoreward end of the pier shed.
Meantime Roy stood in the captain’s cabin, disheartened and
disconsolate. No wonder he felt downhearted. The man he must please had
taken a dislike to him at the very outset. He did not know what to do,
so he did nothing. With a heart like lead he waited for the return of
Captain Lansford. Presently that irate individual came storming back.
“Get up to the wireless house,” he said roughly. “I’ve got to keep
you for three months until a new class is ready. But I don’t need any
wireless to run _my_ ship by, so don’t you come bothering me. Good-day,
“Good-day, sir,” echoed Roy, but the echo was very faint indeed.
Disconsolately he stepped from the captain’s cabin, found his way to
the wireless house, and shut the door tight behind him. For the moment
his courage was almost gone. Sick at heart, he sat down to think over
“It’s the same old story,” muttered Roy to himself, after a time.
“I wonder if they will ever stop saying ‘You’re only a boy.’ That’s
what they said at Camp Brady. Yet the wireless patrol ran down the
dynamiters when the state police couldn’t find them. That’s what they
said here in New York when we were searching for the secret wireless.
Yet we found it, even if we were boys. That’s what Captain Lansford
says now. Shall I ever be old enough to escape it?”
Yet it was fortunate for Roy that he _was_ but nineteen. At nineteen
one possesses the resiliency of youth. One rebounds like a rubber ball.
It was so with Roy. A while longer he sat, his head buried in his
hands, his heart full of woe. Hardly could he keep the tears back. Then
the buoyancy of youth asserted itself.
“Only a boy,” he said presently, straightening up. “Isn’t there anybody
in the world who knows that sometimes boys have brains and courage and
common sense? What was David but a boy when he fought Goliath? What was
General Grant but a boy when he loaded the logs alone? Who fought the
Civil War but boys? I don’t care if I am a boy. I can read and send
wireless messages with the best of them, and there’s nothing conceited
in my saying so, for it’s a fact. Only a boy, eh? All right, I’ll show
them what a boy can do. Maybe that captain can run his ship without the
help of wireless, but I’ll bet that after he’s had the wireless service
Roy broke off suddenly and his face became very serious. “I almost
forgot,” he said to himself soberly, “that I have only three months to
serve on this ship. Just as soon as the next class is graduated from
the Marconi Institute, I’ll lose my job.”
Roy’s face was very long indeed. “Maybe I’ll never get another place,”
he said. “If I can’t make good on this ship, how can I ever get a job
on another boat?”
For a while Roy sat in deep thought. Then a wan smile flitted across
his face. “You’re doing just what Captain Hardy warned you not to do,”
he muttered to himself. “You’re brooding over trouble. If Captain Hardy
were here, he’d tell you to get busy and make good before you lose
your job. That’s what he would say. Well, I don’t know just what to
do, but I’ll make a beginning anyway. And that’ll be to get into my
Roy jumped to his feet, opened his case, and took out his shining
new uniform. Rapidly he put off his old suit and donned the new. A
mirror hung at one end of his room. In this Roy surveyed himself
with unqualified satisfaction. The trim, blue uniform fitted him
snugly, emphasizing the fact that he possessed unusually broad, square
shoulders and a slim waist. He stood up before the glass as straight
as a young pine. Any one with half an eye for physique could have
told that he was unusually powerful for a boy of his age and that he
gave promise of being a man of great strength. His quick turns, as he
surveyed himself, first on one side and then on the other, gave ample
evidence of his agility. Could Captain Lansford, who admired physical
prowess above almost every other quality, have seen Roy now, he might
have formed a more favorable opinion of his new wireless man.
The Scriptures tell us that as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he.
The truth of that saying was illustrated now in Roy’s case. The pride
of his new position and his new uniform filled his soul. Gone was
the stoop in his shoulders. The expression of gloom had disappeared
from his countenance. In its place appeared the old look of cheerful
confidence and determination. Straightway Roy began to look about him.
The glow of satisfaction on his face deepened. His little house,
perched on the topmost deck like an eagle’s aerie, was snug and
comfortable beyond anticipation. To Roy it seemed almost palatial. The
portion that was partitioned off for his sleeping quarters contained
his bunk, a commodious closet, the fine mirror before which he now
stood, and all the other accommodations that would be found in a
first-class stateroom. The woodwork was beautifully finished. Generous
coils of steam-pipes gave promise of abundant warmth even when the
fiercest winter storms were blowing. Convenient electric fixtures
were provided for lighting. Altogether his quarters were so snug and
inviting that Roy momentarily forgot his troubles.
When he had ended his survey of his little sleeping room and stepped
into the wireless room proper, his heart fairly leaped with joy. On one
side of the little cabin was the operating table, with its array of
shining instruments. A leather-covered couch stood along the opposite
wall. There was a small rack for signal and code books, stationery,
etc., and a chair or two. But Roy gave scant attention to the
furnishings. He had eyes only for the beautiful, glittering instruments
on the operating table. The wireless outfit was complete. It included
every necessary instrument, and each was of the finest type, with the
latest improvements. Exultantly Roy fingered one after another. Never
had he dared hope to have such an outfit as was now his. Of course
it was not literally his, but nevertheless Roy felt all the joy of
ownership. For three months, at least, it would be his. No one else
might touch those shining instruments. Not even the captain, Roy fondly
believed, would dare to molest them. Like Alexander Selkirk, Roy was
monarch of all he surveyed.
But the mere handling of his instruments would never satisfy a boy like
Roy. He sat down at the table and eagerly clamped the receivers to his
ears. Skilfully he tuned his instrument, now to this wave-length, now
to that. Clear as bells on a frosty morning came the voices in the air,
and Roy’s eyes sparkled as he listened in.
By this time he had forgotten all about his rebuff by Captain Lansford.
He was himself again, alert, quick, curious as to all about him,
intently interested in every new phase of life. And life aboard ship
was distinctly new to Roy. The voices in the air he had listened to a
thousand times. To him they were an old story. But a great, ocean-line
steamship was still a delightful mystery to Roy. He wanted to know more
Laying his receivers on the table, he sprang to his feet, put on his
new cap, with its gold braid and its letters wrought in gold, and
left the cozy little wireless house. Hardly had he reached the ladder
when his eye was caught by the activities on the pier. Though Roy had
spent many weeks in New York, he had had small opportunity to see the
shipping close at hand. So the scene on the pier below was as novel to
Roy as though he had never been near a seaport.
Streaming in and out of the steamer’s hold was a double line of
stevedores, each pushing before him a strong barrel truck. Those
entering were trundling great boxes or bales. Those emerging pushed
only their empty trucks. Boxes, bales, packages and parcels of every
conceivable size and shape followed one another into the hold in
endless procession, while as endlessly stevedores came empty-handed out
of the ship. The steady procession of freight handlers reminded Roy of
a double line of ants, some laden, others with nothing to carry. Many
a time Roy had watched ants bearing spoils to their nests. Often he
had marveled at their strength, as they dragged along objects greater
in size than themselves. But never had he marveled at the ants as he
now wondered at these brawny stevedores. Enormous boxes, twice or
thrice their own bulk, and weighing, Roy felt sure, several hundred
pounds apiece, they handled like so many bags of feathers, trundling
them swiftly over the uneven plank flooring of the pier, shooting down
the gangplank with them, often to the apparent imminent peril of their
fellows. Yet never a collision occurred, and never a crate was spilled
When Roy grew tired of watching the freight handlers, he turned away
from the ship’s rail and descended to the pier. For the first time
in his life he had a really good look at the inside of a great pier
shed. Jutting straight out from the shore, the long, narrow pier,
built on pilings and tightly roofed over and walled in, extended an
unbelievable distance into the river. With quick appreciation of its
real length, Roy saw that one could run a hundred yards straightaway on
the pier without covering half its length. In width it might have been
seventy-five to one hundred feet. This great warehouse–for in effect
it was that–was piled high with mountainous heaps of freight, and a
seemingly endless procession of drays and motor-trucks was constantly
adding to the store. From these huge piles the stevedores were bringing
the freight they were rushing into the hold of the _Lycoming_.
It was a stirring sight to see the trucks constantly arriving and
departing, some piles of freight growing bigger and bigger with every
incoming load, while others as constantly dwindled in size. The former
piles, Roy soon found, were accumulating for other ships, while the
decreasing stacks had been brought on previous days for the _Lycoming_.
Roy gained thus his first inkling of what was meant by the term
commerce. Never before had he seen such huge stacks of goods assembled
in one place. It seemed to Roy as though all the wares of all the
merchants in Central City would hardly make so great a pile if boxed
and stacked together. Yet all these materials were sufficient only to
fill two or three steamships of moderate size. When Roy thought of the
miles and miles of piers along New York’s water-front, and realized
that each pier probably contained fully as many manufactured products
as the _Lycoming_’s pier, it seemed beyond belief. Then he thought of
the labor necessary to handle all these mountains of goods. On his own
pier dozens of men were at work. Motor-trucks and horse-drawn drays
came and went ceaselessly, hour after hour. It was awesome to think
“And this,” said Roy to himself, “is only one of scores and scores of
piers. And New York is only one of America’s seaports. Then there are
all the railway stations and freight depots. My goodness! Think how
many hands it must take to move all the stuff—-”
Roy stopped in sheer inability to comprehend the vista of American
industry he had opened for himself.
“Well,” he muttered after a time, “I see one thing. The whole country
is united in a great business. If any part of that business stops it
affects all the rest. Suppose all the boats along this river couldn’t
make their trips on time. The piers would fill up so they would hold
no more. That would throw the truckmen out of work. Shipments from the
mills would have to stop. Railroad crews would lose their jobs and the
mills would shut down. That would be an awful calamity.”
The idea was so appalling that Roy paused to ponder over it. “I see
one thing clearly enough,” he said to himself at last. “Everybody
everywhere has to do his part if the whole business is to run right.
Our job is to sail the _Lycoming_ safely and right on the minute. Maybe
I won’t be with her long, but as long as I am with her I’m going to do
my best to keep her safe and right on the dot. That’s my job all right.”
It was. And if Roy had been a bit older, he would have known that it
was exactly the way to make good with Captain Lansford in particular
and the world in general. Without realizing it, Roy had set forth the
fundamental rule of success–to do with your might what your hands find
When Roy had tired of watching the toiling stevedores, he strolled up
the pier and out to the street.