A few minutes later the purser stepped quietly into the wireless house.
Roy sat before his operating table, his head bowed on his extended arms.
“Cheer up!” called the purser. “This won’t do at all. Tell me what has
Roy recounted the entire incident. As the recital continued, the
purser’s face became as sober as Roy’s had been.
“I don’t know a thing about electricity,” he commented, when Roy had
concluded his brief description of what had occurred. “Are you very
sure that you are correct?”
“Absolutely, Mr. Robbins. You see, the belt on the donkey-engine
was slipping. I noticed that at the start. The slipping of the belt
produced undue friction and that, in turn, developed frictional or
static electricity. The more the belt slipped, the more it became
charged with electricity. Finally the belt became so highly charged
that the electricity jumped to the swaying end of the broken bale
strap. This bale strap was broken into two pieces. The end swaying
caught the charge as it leaped from the belt and a second spark
occurred when the charge leaped the other gap in the strap. This last
part of the strap was grounded by the chain that ran down to the
metal frame of the ship. So there was a perfect mechanism for making
and discharging electricity. As long as the belt continued to slip,
electricity would have been generated. And every time the current was
discharged, there would have been a spark right in that loose cotton
where the bale was broken open.”
“I don’t know a thing about electricity, as I told you. But if you say
it was so, I have no doubt it was.”
“It’s just like electricity in the skies,” explained Roy. “You have
often seen lightning, Mr. Robbins. Lightning is only electricity
leaping from a cloud to the earth or to another cloud. We usually have
lightning in hot weather. Then the heated air from the earth rushes
upward with such velocity that it generates electricity, charging the
clouds with it, just as that whirling belt was charged by the friction
of the wheel. That electricity has to reach the earth. When the
potential is high enough, the current leaps from the cloud to the earth
and a spark occurs which we call lightning. Sparks are made only when
an electric current is interrupted in its flow and has to jump a gap.
Electricity is flowing through a telegraph-wire all the time, but there
is no spark because there is no break in the wire. But if the wire
should be cut and the ends held near together, the current would jump
the gap, making a spark as it leaped. That’s the thing that makes it
possible to have automobiles. Electric currents run from the magneto,
which generates them, to the spark-plugs in the cylinders. There the
currents have to leap tiny gaps and sparks result, which explode the
gasoline vapor. There are several ways to generate electricity, but the
current, once generated, always follows the same laws. Yet I couldn’t
make the captain understand. In fact he wouldn’t give me an opportunity
to explain. I tried to do my duty by the ship, and now I’m worse off
than ever. The captain will never have a bit of use for me after this.
I suppose I’ll not only lose my berth at the end of my three months,
but he’ll make such an unfavorable report about me that I’ll never have
“Don’t you worry about that, Roy. Leave it to me. I know the captain
like a book and I know how to fix things up. I don’t wonder you feel as
you do about Captain Lansford, but when you really know him, you’ll
feel differently. He has his peculiarities, like the rest of us, and
one of them is his utter hatred of what he terms newfangled ideas. The
greatest pride of his life is the fact that in thirty years at sea
he has never lost a man or a ship. If some one can show him that you
probably saved his ship from destruction, he’ll have a very different
idea of both you and wireless telegraphy.”
“But he won’t listen to any explanation,” said Roy, mournfully.
“Leave that to me. I know how to fix him. Meantime, continue to do your
work as faithfully as you know how. Forget that you are working under
Captain Lansford and remember that you are working for the welfare
of the _Lycoming_. If you do that, you can’t fail in time to win the
captain’s good-will. That’s his test of every soul aboard–whether or
not they are working for the good of the ship.
“When you threw off the engine belt and the engine was broken, you hit
the captain harder than you understood. He has a wonderful record for
sailing on time. We’re behind with our loading now. When that cotton
train does arrive, the captain will drive every soul like mad. We were
short-handed when we left New York. The captain has taken on four men
here at Galveston, but he doesn’t like their looks. If they aren’t any
better than they appear, he might as well not have hired them. But what
is most likely to delay us is the relative scarcity of roustabouts.
But if it’s humanly possible, he’ll be loaded on time. The loss of the
donkey-engine may interfere very seriously with loading operations.
You never can tell when you are going to need it. The thought of that
and not the mere injury to the engine is what made him so angry. But
remember this, Roy. Everything considered, the captain handled you very
gently. I know it was because he realized that you were sincere in your
belief that you were acting for the good of the ship. He didn’t believe
a word you said about the electricity. He thought you imagined that you
saw sparks. But whether you believe it or not, he gave you full credit
for trying to do your duty.”
“He took a mighty queer way of showing it,” said Roy, ruefully.
“He’s a queer man, Roy. But he’s absolutely honest and absolutely just.
His trouble is to see past his prejudices.”
“Then how are you ever going to make him understand about the
“Leave that to me, Roy. I know how to manage it.”
But if the purser did know, he apparently forgot all about the matter.
At least so it seemed to Roy. Hours and even days passed with no
further reference to the affair by the purser, who was again busy,
and with no change in Captain Lansford’s grim attitude toward Roy. It
even seemed to Roy as though the captain avoided meeting him, and Roy
could interpret that only as meaning that the captain was still angry
with him and was annoyed at the sight of him. In consequence, Roy was
miserable, particularly because he thought the purser had failed him.
That hurt, for Roy still suffered from boyish impatience. He thought
that the purser, if he could remedy the matter at all, should be able
to fix it overnight.
Meantime, the process of loading went on apace. The warehouse was
emptied and every possible preparation made to rush the loading when
finally the belated cotton train arrived. Roy had watched with wonder
the way the ship was loaded in New York, but he was simply astounded at
the way the work went here. He had always heard that southern darkies
were indolent; but there was nothing indolent about these strapping,
dusky roustabouts. They seemed as tireless and tough as army mules.
Hour after hour they worked at top speed, shooting the cotton bales
into the _Lycoming’s_ hold in an uninterrupted stream and at a pace
that was past belief. Extra pay was offered them to work over-hours,
and by the aid of numerous electric lights the work continued until
well into the night. Very early in the morning work was resumed. So it
went until the last bale was aboard. The cargo was safely stowed and
the hatches battened down before the sailing hour had arrived.
Again Roy had to admit to himself that what seemed impossible had once
more been achieved and that it had been accomplished by the captain.
Lovable he was not. But something about him was so big and strong, so
dominating, so overpowering, that his spirit seemed to communicate
itself to those around him. Roy had often heard of magnetism, without
exactly understanding what it was. Now that he actually saw it, he did
not recognize it as magnetism. All he knew was that the captain, when
aroused, seemed so utterly to dominate those about him that they became
for the time being infused with his own spirit. And that spirit simply
would not admit the possibility of failure. To Captain Lansford the
word “if” was unknown.
Long before the loading was completed the last passenger was aboard,
and there was nothing to prevent the _Lycoming_ from casting off on
the stroke of the hour. As sailing time approached, Roy once more found
himself busy. As usual, there were messages to send for passengers and
more or less routine work to be done in connection with the departure
of the ship itself.
By this time Roy’s shyness was beginning to wear off. On the trip down
he had purposely kept aloof from passengers, and except for the first
officer, the chief engineer, and the purser, he had made few friends.
Now he felt more at home. He had become familiar with his duties and
his position. He knew what was expected of him. Naturally of a friendly
disposition, he was glad that his position permitted him to know the
various members of the crew and the passengers. Of the men in the
fire-room and the sailors he saw little; but he now tried to cultivate
the acquaintance of the other officers and of some of the passengers.
His sunny disposition and natural brightness soon made him a general
favorite. Had it not been for the captain’s uncompromising attitude
toward him, Roy would have been quite happy. He felt that he was
succeeding in his work, and he could feel that those about him liked
him. But it still hurt him to think that the purser had failed him.
On the first day out Roy was late in answering the dinner call. As he
passed the captain’s table, on the way to his own, some one whispered
audibly, “There he is now.” A score of persons looked around as Roy
made his way to his own seat. Hardly had he settled himself in his
chair before the purser’s voice rang out from a near-by table. It was
so unlike the pleasant-mannered purser thus to talk in loud tones that
Roy was astonished. He paused to listen, as everybody else seemed to be
Distinctly he heard the purser saying, “Yes, sir, saved the ship by his
quick wit. The donkey-engine belt was slipping and creating electricity
by friction. The broken end of a metal cotton bale strap swaying close
to the belt became electrified, and the charge leaped across a break
in the strap, like a spark jumping the gap in a spark-plug. There was
no end of cotton and hemp fibres swirling about in the wind, and the
spark itself occurred in some loose cotton that had bulged out of the
bale when the metal strap broke. It was broad daylight and nobody saw
the spark but the wireless man. He was watching for it. He knew that
sparks would continue to flash as long as the belt kept on generating
electricity and that another spark might set the cotton afire. The
chief engineer says it’s a miracle that the cotton didn’t catch. If it
had, the flames would have spread like lightning with all that loose
stuff about and the wind blowing half a gale. Fire would have been in
the hold before anybody could have said Jack Robinson, and nothing
short of a miracle could have saved the ship. For there was no steam up
to fight the flames with. The chief engineer says that if Mr. Mercer
hadn’t acted so promptly, the _Lycoming_ would certainly not have been
sailing to-day, to say the least.”
During this recital the dining-saloon had become as still as death.
Not a knife clinked or a glass tinkled. Every other voice was hushed.
The waiters paused in the aisles, trays held aloft, until the purser
concluded his recital. Speaking as though to his own table only, the
purser was really addressing everybody in the dining-saloon. Every one
could hear him plainly and distinctly, including Captain Lansford. Like
everybody else he listened carefully, but his face was inscrutable.
When Roy realized that the purser was talking about him his cheeks
flamed with embarrassment. He bent his head and kept his eyes fastened
on his plate. As the purser continued his story, hot anger came into
Roy’s heart. It was quite bad enough for the purser to fail to make an
effort to straighten out the matter with Captain Lansford. But for the
purser to humiliate him merely for the sake of making a telling story
was unforgivable. For Roy could not conceive why the purser should
mention the matter before the entire company of passengers unless
it were that he wanted to tell a striking story. Angry, confused,
embarrassed, Roy wanted to flee from the dining-saloon. But he could
not do so without making himself conspicuous. There was nothing to do
but go on with his dinner. So angry and confused that he hardly knew
what he was putting into his mouth, Roy tried to eat. But no sooner had
the purser stopped speaking than scores of eyes were focused on Roy,
and from every part of the room complimentary remarks were flung at
him. Then somebody cried, “Speech! Let’s hear from Mr. Mercer himself!”
The cry was taken up and the dining-saloon rang with the summons,
“Speech! Speech! Tell us more about it, Mr. Mercer.”
Roy was paralyzed with embarrassment. He had done nothing remarkable,
nothing out of the ordinary, and to be made a hero under such
circumstances was humiliating. In fact, in his worriment, Roy had
almost come to the conclusion that the captain must be right and that
far from being a hero he was only a troublesome meddler.
“Speech! Speech!” continued the cries.
But Roy was dumb to all appeal. He looked at his plate in silence and
his face flamed like fire.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” cried the purser, springing to his feet when
he saw Roy’s embarrassment, “Mr. Mercer is a man of deeds, not words.
Every one of us from the captain down will feel safer because he is
aboard. He evidently does not want to talk and we shall not make him.
I owe him an apology for putting him in such an embarrassing position.
I’ll punish myself by making a speech for him.”
The purser was both a ready and a witty speaker and for several minutes
he kept the diners laughing at his good jokes. That gave Roy time to
regain his composure. By the time the purser’s little speech was ended
Roy was quite himself again. When those seated at his table turned to
congratulate him he talked to them frankly and without embarrassment,
but refused to discuss the incident the purser had described. Numbers
of people spoke to him when the dinner was ended. Roy was glad when he
could escape and seek the seclusion of the wireless house.
Yet he felt far from being hurt or mortified, as he considered the
matter calmly in the seclusion of his own room. Every word that the
purser had said was true. The engine belt was generating electricity.
He _had_ prevented a fire by his action. Of that he had not the
slightest doubt. But there was nothing in what he had done that was in
any sense heroic or that deserved especial mention.
Any one else, seeing the danger, would have acted to save the ship. The
sole difference between himself and others who were on the scene was
that he had realized the danger and they had not. But he could claim no
credit for that. He was trained in electrical matters and would have
been a poor wireless man, indeed, if he had not detected the danger.
The only question was whether or not he had done his part well after
discovering the danger. Roy thought the matter over carefully. He could
not see that there was anything else he could have done. And that
belief made him feel better pleased about the matter.
He didn’t want the passengers to consider him a hero when he wasn’t a
hero. But, on the whole, Roy was glad the passengers knew about the
matter. He wanted to get acquainted with some of them and the incident
would make that an easy matter. But most of all he was glad that the
story had been told before the captain. It was worth the embarrassment
he had suffered to know that the captain had had to listen to the
story whether he wanted to or not, and to hear what some of the ship’s
officers, including the chief engineer, thought about the matter. Yes,
that certainly was worth while. Roy felt that he could almost forgive
the purser for telling the story, since the captain had had to listen
Suddenly a thought came to Roy. He pondered a moment over it, then
called out in astonishment and mortification. “Why, you old chump!” he
said to himself, “that’s the very reason the purser told the story–so
that the captain _would_ have to listen to it. If the purser had gone
to him with an explanation, the captain would have shut him off as he
did me when I tried to explain. All done for your own good, and here
you were doubting the purser and feeling angry at him for trying to
help you. I guess the captain was right when he called you a wireless
infant. Thank goodness, I haven’t had a chance to say anything to the
purser, or I’d probably have proved to him that I was a wireless fool
as well. You bet I won’t forget this lesson–or the purser’s kindness,
Presently the sober look disappeared from Roy’s face and he began to
chuckle. “Slick, wasn’t it?” he muttered. “I wonder if the old dragon
realizes that the purser put one over on him.”
If the captain did realize it, he gave no hint of the fact. His
treatment of both the purser and Roy altered not a whit. But Roy was
interested to note that before they had been afloat twenty-four hours
the captain’s steward stepped into the wireless house again, and after
some conversation casually asked for any news Roy had picked up.
Roy had plenty of news to give him. The Gulf coast was fairly dotted
with wireless stations. Brownsville, Port Arthur, Galveston, New
Orleans, Savannah, Key West, Pensacola, Fort Crockett, Fort Dodd, and
numerous other Marconi or government stations fringed the great body of
water, some of which would always be within reach of the _Lycoming_.
The United States Navy station at Guantanamo, the Marconi stations
at Miami, Jacksonville, Cape Hatteras, and Virginia Beach, the navy
stations at Charleston and the Diamond Shoals light off Hatteras, and
the army stations at Fort Moultrie and Fortress Monroe, were only a
few of the land stations that would likewise be within communicating
distance at some period of the journey. Ship stations by the dozen
would be within call during the voyage, for there was a constant
procession of ships up and down the Atlantic coast–ships sailing to or
from home ports along the ocean and the Gulf, vessels for Mexico, and
Central America, and Cuba, and steamers bound for South American ports
or destinations on the Pacific via the Panama Canal.
Some of the stations would always be within reach even though two
hundred and fifty to three hundred miles was about the limit of
Roy’s calling distance by day. When the atmosphere interfered or
thunder-storms were kicking up an aerial disturbance, he was sometimes
unable to talk more than half that distance. Even the slightest things
made a difference–the temperature, the nocturnal dampness, the contour
of the earth when talking to land stations, the level spaces over
the ocean. At the outside he could not talk more than three hundred
miles by day. But at night, when he got “freak” workings, he could
sometimes send a thousand miles and receive twice that distance. On
more than one occasion Roy had already distinctly caught the Arlington
weather signals, here in the Gulf, and once he had picked up messages
sent by the Tropical Radio Telegraph Company, from its station on the
Metropolitan tower in New York to its station in New Orleans.
On the second night out Roy sat at his post, listening in. Voices were
coming through the air from every direction. It was a wonderful night
for radio communication and Roy could hear farther than he had ever
heard before. Behind him he could distinguish both the Marconi stations
at Galveston and at Fort Crockett, farther up the island. The army post
at Brownsville was relaying a message from El Paso to the Panama Canal.
Roy wondered if it would carry successfully over that great stretch of
land and water. The Charleston Navy Yard was flinging out a call for
the destroyer _Mills_, and finally an answer came back from a point
near Key West. The _Mills_ was ordered to proceed to Guantanamo to
coal. The navy operator at Key West was talking to Havana. Behind him
Roy could hear the Mallory liner _Lampasas_ sending private messages
for passengers. The Ward liner _Morro Castle_ was talking somewhere
in the mist to the eastward. The Clyde liner _Cherokee_, off to the
southeast, was calling for her sister ship _Comanche_. Along the
South Atlantic coast regular processions of ships were moving in two
lines, some going north, others coming south, and all talking at once.
Distinctly Roy heard the call signals and answers of the Ward liner
_Monterey_, the Mallory liner _Comal_, the Standard Oil boat _Caloria_,
the Red D liner _Caracas_, the Savannah liners _City of Atlanta_ and
_City of Augusta_, and the _Florida_ of the Texas Company. He could
even hear, far to the north, the Old Dominion liner _Jamestown_, and
the Merritt-Chapman Wrecking Company’s _Rescue_.
But what most interested Roy was the nightly news-letter flung abroad
at the usual hour by the New York Marconi station. It was easily twelve
hundred miles away, yet Roy could hear every word distinctly. The
captain would be interested in this, and Roy picked up a pencil and
jotted down the night’s news: “Three-thousand-peasants-are-massacred-
came the stock-market report and the baseball scores.
Roy took down every word. Hardly had he finished writing when a sound
struck his ears that momentarily stopped his heart.
“SOS,” came the signal, clear and distinct. “SOS, SOS.” It was the
international signal of distress.
Other ears than Roy’s caught the cry for help and in a second a hundred
operators were fairly yelling encouragement through the air.
“Who are you? Where are you? Give us your location? What is the matter?”
It was a ship Roy did not know. She lay well out in the Atlantic, and
not in the usual steamship lanes. She had broken her shaft and was
wallowing helplessly, unable to make repairs. The barometer was going
down and she wanted to be helped to port. The nearest ships were those
in the west-bound lanes for transatlantic liners. Presently Roy heard
the navy station at Arlington asking a west-bound liner to go to the
Just as Roy was about to lay aside his receivers for the night he heard
the _Lycoming’s_ call, clear as a bell. It was Reynolds, the wireless
man he had met in Galveston. Reynolds’ ship was off Jacksonville. He
reported the weather as threatening and the sea rising, with a storm
coming from the north.
“Where are you?” asked Reynolds.
“In the Florida Straits,” replied Roy.
“You’ll catch it sometime to-morrow probably,” flashed back Reynolds.
“Good luck to you. Look me up when you reach New York. Good-night.”
It was now quite late. Unless the captain was on watch, he was
doubtless asleep. Roy was in doubt as to what he should do, but finally
decided to take the news to the officer in charge. He was the proper
official to know about the approaching storm. Roy copied down his
weather-report and the night’s news-letter, and made a note of the SOS
call and the communication from Reynolds. Then he sought the bridge.
Mr. Young was in charge, the captain having retired for the night.
“Thank you, Mr. Mercer,” he said, as Roy gave him the despatches.
Then, glancing them over, he went on, “So it’s getting rough off
Jacksonville, eh? I knew we were heading into a storm. The barometer
has been falling steadily. It probably won’t be anything more than a
gale at this season. We’ll be in it by noon and perhaps earlier. I am
glad to know about it, and I thank you for troubling to inform me.”
“It’s no trouble,” said Roy. “I should think every navigator would be
more than glad to have wireless service on his ship. Think of that
helpless liner out in the Atlantic with a storm coming up. Where would
she be if she couldn’t have summoned help? I can’t understand how
anybody can feel the way Captain Lansford does.”
“There are some things past understanding, Mr. Mercer. But perhaps
things may happen that will change the captain’s mind about wireless
Roy went to his room and to bed, wondering if he would ever have the
chance suggested by Mr. Young, of changing the captain’s attitude
toward him and his work. He thought of the ship out on the ocean,
lying helpless in the path of the coming storm, and wondered if the
opportunity he longed for would come with that same storm. He was a
long time getting to sleep. Finally his eyelids closed, but before they
did Roy was dimly conscious that the ship was rolling more than she had
since he had been a member of her crew.
It was long after daybreak when Roy awoke. He sat up on the edge of his
bunk to look at his timepiece, but almost immediately fell back on his
pillow. Something was wrong with him. Roy had had very few illnesses in
his life and he did not at first know what ailed him. He felt sick all
over. He heard the ship’s bell strike and realized that if he wanted
any breakfast he would have to hustle. But at the thought of food he
felt worse than ever. In fact, it seemed as though he never wanted to
take food again. The very idea of it made him feel worse. Then he knew
what was the matter. He was seasick.
Presently he got to his feet and punched the call bell. Then he lay
down again. He became conscious that the ship was rolling violently–at
least the motion seemed violent to Roy, though a seasoned sailor would
have smiled at the idea. Sometimes a lurch of the ship almost threw Roy
out of bed. The wind was howling about the wireless house. Things were
rattling and creaking under its pressure. Rain was falling. Roy was
sure that the ship was in the midst of a terrible and dangerous storm.
He wondered if he were needed. Then he wondered if he would be able to
get to his operating table. He felt so sick that he was sure he was
going to die.
Then Sam, the steward, appeared. Roy could hardly believe his eyes when
he saw the venerable darky enter his room smiling. Roy didn’t see how
anybody could smile in such a storm. And he said so to Sam.
“Lawd bless you, Mr. Mercer,” said Sam. “Dis yere ain’t no great storm.
It’s only a little gale. Wait till you sees one o’ dem September
exenoxtail storms. Den you’ll know what a real storm am like.”
Roy felt relieved. “I feel sick enough for anything, Sam,” he said. “I
don’t believe even an equinoctial storm could make me feel any worse.
Can you do anything for me, Sam?”
“Lawd bless you, Mr. Mercer, I’ll fix you up in no time. Jess you stay
in bed till I gets back,” and Sam disappeared through the doorway.
In a few moments he reappeared, with a lemon and some concoction he
had mixed in a glass. Roy gulped the mixture down and presently felt
somewhat better. After a time he rose and dressed, but he did not go
near the breakfast table. From time to time he sucked at the lemon,
as Sam had told him to do. By the middle of the forenoon he felt much
better. When the dinner call came, he decided that he would go down to
the dining-room and perhaps eat some soup.
He expected to be teased a little, but there was almost no one to
plague him. Chair after chair was empty, only a few seasoned voyagers
having ventured to the dining-room. The purser was at his table,
smiling and jolly as usual. It cheered Roy merely to look at him. The
captain was not present and Roy knew he was pacing the bridge. However
much he disliked Captain Lansford, Roy knew that the commander would be
found at his post of duty in time of stress. But little did Roy realize
that before his time came to leave the _Lycoming_ he would see the day
when, of all the things for which he was grateful, he was most thankful
because Captain Lansford was in command of the _Lycoming_.
By nightfall the ship had run past the storm, and by the next day the
wind was again blowing at a normal velocity, though the water continued
to be rough.
The passengers rapidly recovered from their seasickness, and left their
staterooms. Again the decks were peopled with a jolly throng. On the
sheltered side of the ship and on the after-deck, passengers sat in
intimate little groups chatting, or in solitary aloofness, noses buried
in the latest novels or magazines. Steamer chairs were set in rows,
with indolent old ladies, corpulent men, and weary invalids reclining
at ease in them. In the saloon little knots of passengers were gathered
about tables playing cards. Games were played on the open parts of
the deck, such as ring toss, and bean bags. Altogether it was a happy
company aboard the _Lycoming_.
As is always the case at sea, formalities were forgotten. Acquaintances
were easily made and before the voyage was half over everybody
knew everybody else. Roy profited by the opportunity and soon was
on speaking terms with most of the passengers. His uniform was his
introduction, and after what the purser had said about him, everybody
was eager to make his acquaintance.
It was a real opportunity for Roy to cultivate social grace, and he
realized this. Keen of observation, he had long ago noted the great
differences in manner in different persons. Some, by their pleasing
way, he saw, charmed and attracted all with whom they came in contact,
like the purser. Others, like the captain, seemed to repel and offend
by their austerity of mien and deportment. Aboard ship Roy met all
types of people and had abundant opportunity to study them and
analyze the effects produced by their conduct. Most of all he studied
the purser. Everybody liked the purser, and Roy saw that this was
invaluable to Mr. Robbins. He could deal with more passengers in an
hour than some men could handle in double that time. And he could
obtain favors that were denied others. The secret of Mr. Robbins’
power, Roy came to believe, lay in his kindliness of heart, coupled
with his invariable cheerfulness and his unimpeachable integrity. Roy
came to understand that true courtesy is merely good-will expressed
through kindness. The more he studied people the more clearly Roy saw
that a man’s manners have much to do with his success or failure in
“If that’s the case,” thought Roy, “a fellow’s a fool not to cultivate
a pleasing way. What’s the use of working hard to learn a trade or
a profession or a business and then lose half the advantage of that
training by lack of proper manners?”
Thereafter he consciously strove to make people like him. That was not
a difficult task, for Roy was good-looking and both witty and sunny in
disposition. Before long he found himself a general favorite. In a way
that troubled Roy, for passengers persisted in coming to the wireless
house, which was contrary to regulations. He had to inform visitors
that unless they came on business he could not allow them in the
wireless house. As Roy was popular and everybody aboard was interested
in him and his work, passengers began to send messages merely that they
might see something of the wireless house. The result was a tremendous
increase in business–an increase which the Marconi people were not
slow to notice. Thus, although he did not realize it, Roy was already
profiting by his effort to cultivate charm of manner.
Swiftly the days went by. The weather continued fair and pleasant. Roy
remained busy. He had many messages to send for passengers and at night
he continued to take the time and weather signals and to jot down the
day’s news for the captain. Most of all he loved to listen in at night
when the air was vibrant with wireless voices. Every night he talked to
Reynolds, and soon felt as though they were old acquaintances. Behind
the _Lycoming_, Roy soon discovered, were some of the vessels he had
visited with the purser in Galveston. He had many a conversation with
them before finally the _Lycoming_, just at dusk, drew abreast of the
signal station at Sandy Hook, and a string of flags was hoisted above
the _Lycoming_ announcing her safe arrival. The flags came fluttering
down and Roy knew that the marine observer was probably already
sending out the news that the _Lycoming_, with cotton aboard, had
arrived from Galveston. It was dark when the ship reached quarantine,
and dropped her anchor just off the Staten Island shore to await a
medical inspection in the morning.
The quarantine officials were astir early and the _Lycoming_ was soon
on her way up the harbor. Roy had no work to do, and he came out on
deck to enjoy the stirring scene. Mr. Young was in command, and he
invited Roy to join him on the bridge. Roy was amazed at the great
number of ships in the harbor. Never had he seen anything like so many.
Ordinarily the waters of the upper bay hold but few ships at anchor.
Now there were vast fleets of anchored ships. Usually, Roy knew, tramp
ships were almost the only vessels to be found anchored in the harbor.
But now he saw dozens of fine, large ships that were quite evidently
liners, lying in one or another of the various anchorages. He could
make out the names of some of the vessels, so that he was sure he was
“How does it come,” he asked the first officer, “that these liners lie
here at anchor instead of at their piers?”
“Because some other ships occupy their piers,” explained Mr. Young.
“The harbor has never seen such congestion as exists now. It is
relatively as crowded as Fifth Avenue on a sunny afternoon. So many
ships now come to this port that it is necessary to have a marine
traffic squad, just as they have a traffic squad ashore to direct
land traffic. You have seen traffic policemen at the street corners
holding up traffic and sending it this way and that. If you keep your
eyes open, you will see the same thing out here on the water. Dozens
of great liners are arriving daily with soldiers and war supplies and
the usual freight of commerce. Docking space gave out long ago, so the
traffic squad regulates the matter of unloading, assigning different
docks to the different ships as fast as there is room. Sometimes there
are more than 150 great ships lying at anchor at one time. Many of
these are craft built since the war began. Every night a number of
ships arrive off quarantine, just as we did, and they must anchor there
until examined by the officials. The doctors get to work at six-thirty
and the early part of the day is a pretty busy time in this harbor.
Every morning there’s a regular procession of ships steaming up to
their piers from quarantine.”
Roy looked behind him and saw several ships following the _Lycoming_.
There were four ahead of the _Lycoming_, but he had not realized what
a string of incoming ships there was. Suddenly a swift little craft
came darting across the water, straight toward the advancing line of
“There’s one of the patrol boats,” said Mr. Young. “Probably it has
directions for some of us.”
The little boat, which was one of seven patrol boats directing the
traffic, steamed directly toward the ship immediately ahead of the
_Lycoming_, turned when abreast of her, and shot close to her side. A
traffic official shouted something through a megaphone and waved his
hand toward the statue of Liberty. At once the big ship swung toward
Bedloe’s Island, and in a few minutes Roy heard her chain rattle as
she dropped her anchor. Meantime, the patrol craft had sped past the
_Lycoming_, the man with the megaphone directing Mr. Young to proceed
to his accustomed dock.
“I’m glad they aren’t going to hold us up,” said Mr. Young, as he
rejoined Roy. “We might swing at anchor for a week if we ever got into
He waved his hand toward the western anchorage, where a great fleet of
ships tugged at their anchor chains.
“Why, there are dozens and dozens of them,” exclaimed Roy. “They seem
to be anchored in groups.”
“Yes. That is to make room for ships to pass. You see there is one
big group between Robbins’ Reef light and the Jersey shore. That is
an anchorage for general cargoes. Then you notice a great pier built
out from the Jersey shore and the narrow channel leading to it. Just
north of that channel a little way is the anchorage ground for ships
loaded with explosives. It is just below Black Tom Island, where that
awful explosion occurred during the war. Above that point the anchorage
extends north of Ellis Island. Altogether that’s a space several miles
long, and it’s just jammed with ships. Over on the Brooklyn side and
even far up the Hudson the anchorages are crowded.”
“I’m glad I have seen this,” said Roy. “It is wonderful.”
“You may well be glad. We used to think New York harbor was a pretty
busy place before the war, but it was dead compared with the present
conditions. I don’t know what we’ll do if traffic continues to increase
the way it has been increasing the last few months. The only thing
that saves the harbor from utter confusion now is the traffic squad.
Its power is absolute and we have to do exactly as the patrolmen say.
So they keep excellent order and prevent all sorts of trouble. But I
tell you they are strict. It doesn’t take much of an offense to bring a
fine on a ship captain, and for a serious offense he may even lose his
Just then Captain Lansford came on the bridge with a despatch in his
hand. “I will take charge, Mr. Young,” he said. Then, turning to Roy,
he said brusquely, “Send this.”
Roy took the despatch from the captain and returned to the wireless
house. There was the usual number of messages to send for the
passengers, telling of a safe arrival, and by the time Roy came out of
the wireless house again, the _Lycoming_ lay snug in her dock. Hatches
and ports were open, and the derrick booms were creaking as they
hoisted from the hold great slingfuls of trunks and other baggage. The
purser, as usual at such a time, was buried under an avalanche of work,
and Roy spent the day helping him. He had formed a real affection for
the purser, and was rapidly making himself invaluable to that official.
Having assisted him once before, Roy was now somewhat familiar with the
purser’s work. The thought that he was really helping his friend gave
Roy genuine pleasure. He was so busy and so preoccupied that he did
not notice the clamor and racket on the pier, as the ship was unloaded,
or hear the roar and clatter from the water-front.
Night hushed the discordant noises of the day as effectually as though
some one had clamped a lid down on them. The streets were already
deserted and quiet when Mr. Robbins threw down his pen and heaved a
“There,” he exclaimed, “that’s a good day’s work–a mighty good day’s
work. And the Bible tells us the laborer is worthy of his hire. Get
your cap, Roy, and we’ll get something to eat. No ship’s grub for us
They went ashore, caught an up-town subway train in a few minutes, and
got out at Worth Street. A short walk took them through an Italian
district to Chinatown. Roy had never visited Chinatown before. He was
so much interested in what he saw that the purser could hardly drag him
away from the shop-windows. There were wonderful pieces of needlework
on display, intricate and weird carvings of ivory and ebony, curious
little trinkets and ornaments of jade and semiprecious stones, vases
little and large, brass trays and ornaments, and a thousand other
unfamiliar and strange objects. But what interested Roy more than
anything else was the strange foods displayed in the provision shops.
There were dried fish, dried fowls, dried meats, curious candies made
of some gummy substance covered with queer little seeds, or dried
orange-peel or other vegetable growths covered with a coating of sugar.
There were Chinese cabbages, unlike any cabbage Roy had ever seen,
for instead of being round or flat, they were tall and urn-like, or
even cylindrical. There were curious creamy-white little things in big
baskets that the purser said were bamboo shoots, and water-chestnuts
that looked like lily bulbs.
The purser led the way to a restaurant in Pell Street. Its atmosphere
was so strange and foreign that Roy was almost startled. Heavy,
curiously wrought hangings decorated the walls. Great screens,
ornamented with elaborate needlework, stood here and there. Dragons and
curious birds were wrought on them. Grilles of elaborately carved ebony
divided the dining-room into smaller compartments. The little tables
and the stools about them were of teak-wood or ebony, elaborately
carved by hand, and very heavy. Lustrous banners with heavy dragons
on them hung here and there. Slit-eyed Chinese stood silent and
inscrutable in their curious dress, ready to take orders. The odor that
pervaded the place was unlike anything Roy had ever smelled. Partly it
was the odor of cooking, partly of incense, partly of tobacco, though
Roy was not able to analyze it. All he knew was that it was as unusual
and striking as the bizarre decorations.
“Lots of people would not think of eating in a Chinese restaurant,”
said the purser as they seated themselves, “but such a prejudice is
unreasonable and foolish. Chinese cooks are clean. They are probably
the best cooks in the world, not even excepting the French, who have
such a great reputation. You see China swarms with a population really
too great to be supported by the country’s resources. So the greatest
thing in a Chinaman’s existence is the food problem. Everybody learns
to cook, and to make delectable dishes out of almost nothing. In all
the world there are no more delicious foods than some the Chinese
make. As you probably don’t know what to order, I am going to take the
liberty of ordering for us both.”
The purser called the waiter and ordered chicken omelette, fried
noodles, a little chop suey, a ham omelette, some preserved kumquats,
and some Chinese candy. He told the waiter to bring the dishes one at
a time so that they would be warm. While the cook was preparing the
order, the waiter brought two bowls of rice and a pot of tea, with
sugar and some tiny cups. Mr. Robbins filled the cups and they sampled
the beverage. Roy had never tasted such delicious tea. Nor had he
ever seen rice cooked like that in the bowls. It was perfectly cooked
yet dry and flaky. It was not at all the mushy stuff he had eaten in
“The Chinese,” explained Mr. Robbins, “eat rice just as we do bread.
Most of their dishes are more or less greasy or soupy, and the rice
takes up the gravy very nicely. Chinamen eat it with chop-sticks, and
they will bring you some if you want to try it. But I suspect you will
make much better weather of it if you use a fork.”
Roy laughed. “A fork for mine,” he said.
Presently the waiter brought a ham omelette. Mr. Robbins cut it in half
and served it. “Bring the chop suey, too,” he said.
That was fetched and they fell to. But Roy hadn’t eaten more than two
bites before he stopped and looked at the purser.
“That omelette is the best thing I ever tasted,” he commented.
“Wait till the chicken omelette comes,” smiled the purser.
They ate the ham omelette and nibbled at the chop suey as a side-dish.
Then the waiter brought the chicken omelette and the fried noodles.
The chicken omelette wasn’t so much unlike a good chicken potpie, but
it was more delicious than any chicken dish Roy had ever eaten. The
noodles were curious little slivers of dough fried crisp and covered
with gravy. They were good, too. But Roy was sure he had never tasted
anything so delicious as the two omelettes. He ate until he could hold
When they left the restaurant Roy thanked the purser for the treat.
“I’m obliged to you for the food,” he said, “but I’m more obliged to
you for showing me something new. I might never have known about the
Chinese way of cooking if it hadn’t been for this experience.”
“Good!” smiled the purser. “I’m glad you put it that way. Lots of
people lose a great deal of fun and happiness in this life because
they aren’t willing to try new things. The older we get, the worse our
Roy’s face grew serious at once. “I should say so,” he answered. “Look
at Captain Lansford. Why, his ship is a thousand times safer because he
has a wireless outfit. Yet he doesn’t like it at all. It hardly seems
possible that anybody can be so unreasonable.”
“It does not. Yet the world is full of such foolish prejudices.”
“Well,” sighed Roy, “I hope that I’ll never get like that.”
“You won’t if you try not to, Roy. But you may if you don’t. You know
eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. And that applies to mental
liberty as well as political.”
They walked slowly back to the ship, passing again through the lower
end of the down-town Italian district. Roy was instantly attracted
by the names on the shop fronts and the objects offered for sale,
particularly the oddly-shaped and highly-colored candies and pastry.
“My, but there are a lot of Italians here,” said Roy. “Almost enough to
make a city by themselves.”
The purser smiled. “Do you know what is the largest Italian city in the
world, Roy?” he asked.
“Rome, I suppose,” answered Roy.
“New York City,” said the purser. “There are more Italians here than
Rome or any other city in Italy ever saw at one time.”
Roy expressed his surprise.
“And there are more Jews here than ever inhabited Jerusalem,” continued
the purser. “New York has more than 7,000,000 population–more people
than most of our states contain–and among those millions are a
great number of colonies of foreigners, each large enough to make
a good-sized city. Some day we’ll make a trip through the Italian
sections and try some Italian cooking.”
“Fine,” said Roy. “That’ll be my treat.”
When they reached the ship the purser said good-night. Roy went to the
wireless house and caught the weather-report and listened to some of
the messages scudding through the air. But when he was ready to retire
he was as wide-awake as he would have been at noon, although it was
past midnight. The unaccustomed amount of tea he had drunk had made him
sleepless. It was a beautiful, warm June night, and Roy went out and
sat on the deck to watch the stars and the twinkling lights ashore and
in the harbor.
How long Roy sat there he did not know, but it was some time after
two bells, and the harbor was as quiet as it ever becomes, when Roy
heard the sound of a motor-boat. There was nothing unusual in that
and Roy would have given the matter no thought had not the engine
suddenly stopped. The sound seemed to have been straight out from
the _Lycoming’s_ pier. Roy at once thought that the little craft was
suffering from engine trouble. He wondered where and what it was and
if help were needed. Thinking he might be able to see its lights,
Roy walked to the stern and sat down on a life-raft. No lights were
visible. That did not seem strange, as Roy’s vision was obstructed on
either hand by a long pier shed. Near the Jersey shore a ferry-boat,
brilliantly illuminated, was drawing into its slip, and Roy almost
forgot the motor-boat as he watched the distant ferry.
Then suddenly he sat straight up with a start. The sound of oars came
to his ears. They were dipping slowly and gently in the water and
ordinarily such a slight sound would have been indistinguishable.
But the silent, empty pier sheds acted as sounding-boards and both
magnified and reflected the sound. Roy’s first thought was that the
passengers in the motor-boat had abandoned their craft and were coming
ashore in a rowboat. He wondered how they would make a landing, for
the doors of the pier sheds were tightly closed. Probably, thought
Roy, they see the lights of the _Lycoming_ and hope to get aboard
her. The dock between the piers was so dark that Roy could hardly see
anything in it. He strained his eyes but could not make out the boat.
He was about to call out to it, for he was certain that it was in the
dock, when it occurred to him that if the occupants of the boat were
in distress they would make their presence known. Then, for the first
time, he thought of thieves.
Just then the glowing ferry-boat came directly astern of the
_Lycoming_; and, although it was on the other side of the river, the
broad reflection of its lights in the water, like a ribbon of gold,
showed Roy the boat he was looking for. He could see it but dimly, yet
he was certain that the craft below him was the motor-boat itself.
Three men were in it. One was carefully propelling it with long oars,
and the attitudes of the two others showed that great caution was being
observed in the approach.
Roy sat still as an image. He was now fully convinced that the men in
the boat were thieves. What they were after he could not conceive. They
could not hope to get aboard the _Lycoming_, for a sailor was on watch.
Nor could they hope to break into a pier shed. Roy crushed down his
desire to raise an alarm and sat silent, determined to discover what
they were up to before he made any move. If the _Lycoming_ were their
object, he would thwart them. He had not long to wait. Very cautiously
the motor-boat crept near the _Lycoming_. A long, low whistle was
heard and all was still again. Then Roy heard an indistinct, guarded
sound, like the careful raising of a window, followed by a low whistle.
The motor-boat stole cautiously to the very side of the _Lycoming_.
Roy crept to the edge of the deck, in order to keep the boat under
observation, and peered down. Distinctly he could see that one of the
lower ports was open and two heads were thrust out. Then the heads
disappeared and a moment later a small bale of something came slowly
through the port and was seized by the men in the motor-boat. They
stowed it away in the boat, then turned again to the open port.
Roy had seen enough. It was time for action. But what should he do?
Roy’s mind worked like lightning. If he raised an outcry the thieves
would start their engine and be off while their confederates on the
_Lycoming_ would slip back to their quarters. If the thieves were to be
caught, it must be done by stealth. But how? In a second Roy thought of
Cautiously drawing back from the edge of the deck, he tiptoed rapidly
to the wireless house, threw open his switch, and sent forth a call.
“KIN–KIN–KIN–WNA,” flashed his signal through the night.
Almost immediately came back the answer, “WNA–III–GA.” It was the
police boat _Patrol_ replying to Roy’s frantic call.
“This is the Confederated liner _Lycoming_, pier 14, North River,”
rapped out Roy as fast as he could work his key. “Thieves in motor-boat
taking stuff from confederates in the ship. What shall we do?”
“Watch. Raise no alarm until we enter the slip.”
It was no great distance to Harbor A Station and Roy knew that the
_Patrol_ would be at the end of the slip in a short time. He tiptoed
down the ladder and hurried to the officers’ quarters. All was in
darkness. He tried the captain’s door. It was locked. Roy dared not
rap on it for fear of alarming the thieves. Mr. Young’s door was also
fastened. But the second officer’s door opened under Roy’s hand. The
occupant was snoring like a fat hog. Roy shook him by the shoulder.
“Mr. Adams,” he said softly. “Wake up. Thieves are at work below.”
The second officer was on his feet in a flash. “Where?” he demanded,
rushing toward the door.
“Wait!” said Roy. “If we want to catch them, we mustn’t make a sound.
Some of the crew are passing stuff out of an open port to men in a
motor-boat. I’ve called the police and they will be here in a minute.
They’ll pull into the slip and catch the men in the boat and we’ll grab
the men on the ship. If you have a flash-light, put it in your pocket.
We’ll need it down in the dark hold.”
“You watch for the police boat,” said Mr. Adams. “I’ll get some
sailors and be ready to grab those fellows in the hold.”
Roy stole to the deck and cautiously watched the dark forms below.
His heart beat so loud he was afraid the thieves would hear him.
Seconds seemed like minutes. Time seemed actually to stand still, so
fearful was he that the thieves would get away before the police came.
Anxiously he kept glancing at the end of the slip, but the _Patrol_
did not come. Meantime, the motor-boat was loaded almost to capacity.
If the police did not arrive soon it would be too late. Suddenly Roy
became aware that a rowboat was stealing along the other side of the
slip. It was more than half-way in before Roy discovered it. The
boatmen rowed with muffled oars, but came on swiftly. Were they more
thieves? Roy did not know what to do. It was useless to call the police
again. Why didn’t they hurry?
Meantime the rowboat came silently on. It stole along the far side of
the slip until nearly opposite the _Lycoming_, then shot toward the
motor-boat. Roy was in an agony of uncertainty. He could do nothing but
watch and pray for the police to make haste.
Then suddenly a great light flashed from the bow of the rowboat and
fell full on the men in the motor-boat. “Hands up or we’ll shoot,”
came a stern warning.
The rowboat was full of policemen. The thieves hesitated a second, then
raised their hands above their heads. The rowboat glided alongside
the motor-boat, the thieves were skilfully searched for weapons,
handcuffed, and transferred to the police boat.
Meantime an uproar arose within the ship’s hold. There were curses,
cries, and blows. But the noise soon subsided, for two policemen leaped
through the open port and helped to subdue the thieves on board. The
latter were dragged to the deck and there recognized as the men who had
joined the crew at Galveston. The noise had aroused everybody aboard.
Captain Lansford came running down the stairway, inquiring about the
“We discovered these men passing stuff out to some thieves in a
motor-boat,” explained Mr. Adams, “and while the police attended to the
fellows outside, we grabbed those in the hold.”
Roy, coming down the stairway, heard every word. His heart flamed with
indignation. Mr. Adams had not even mentioned him, but had taken full
credit for the capture. Roy was not seeking for glory, but under the
circumstances he did want the captain to know the truth. He was almost
minded to speak out, especially when the captain said, “Excellent, Mr.
Adams. These fellows are probably smugglers, and if that proves to be
the case, you have saved me a lot of trouble. I shall remember this.”
That was high praise from Captain Lansford, and Roy’s face burned with
indignation as he listened. Wisely, however, he held his peace. A
moment later he was glad he had. The roundsman in charge of the police
came on deck and asked for the wireless man. When Roy was pointed out,
he said, “Young man, I want to thank you for the good judgment you
showed. This is a gang we’ve been after for months, and they would
have given us the slip again if there had been the least alarm. We are
obliged to you and your captain ought to be more so.”
Roy’s face flushed again, but this time for a far different reason.
His heart beat with joy. But all the joy faded when the captain, after
learning the truth, turned to him and said sternly, “Mr. Mercer, in a
case of this sort you should have notified the commanding officer at
once. Your failure to do so is inexcusable.”