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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesPeck's Uncle Ike And The Red Headed Boy - Chapter 20
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Peck's Uncle Ike And The Red Headed Boy - Chapter 20 Post by :Javier Category :Long Stories Author :George W. Peck Date :May 2012 Read :1065

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Peck's Uncle Ike And The Red Headed Boy - Chapter 20

CHAPTER XX

Uncle Ike did not get up very early, on account of a little pain in one of his hind legs, as he expressed it, a rheumatic pain that he had almost come to believe, as the pension agent had often suggested, was caused by his service in the army thirty-five years ago. The pension agent, who desired to have the honor of securing a pension for the old man, had asked him to try and remember if he was not exposed to a sudden draft, some time in the army, which might have caused him to take cold, and thus sow the seeds of rheumatism in his system, which had lain dormant all these years and finally appeared in his legs. The old man had thought it over, and remembered hundreds of occasions when he was soaked through with icy water, and had slept on the wet ground, and gone hungry and taken cold, but he realized that he had taken no more colds in the army than he had at home, and he could not see how he could swear that a chill he received thirty-five years ago could have anything to do with his present aches, and though he knew thousands of the old boys were receiving pensions, that were no worse off than he was, he had told the pension agent that he need not apply for a pension for his pain in the knee. He said he felt that he might just as well apply for a pension on account of inheriting rheumatism from an uncle who fought in the Mexican war, and he would wait until the government did not insist on a veteran having such an abnormal memory about sneezing during the war, as a basis for pension claims, and when it got so a pension would come to a soldier by simply looking up his record, and examining his physical condition, he would take a pension. The old man had heard a peculiar clicking down in the sitting room, all the morning, while he was dressing, and he wondered what it was. As he limped into the sitting room, with his dressing-gown on, and began to round up his shaving utensils, preparatory to his morning shave, he found the red-headed boy in his night shirt, sitting at a table with an old telegraph instrument that looked as though it had been picked out of a scrap-pile, and the boy was ticking away for dear life, his hair standing on end, his brow corrugated, and his eyes glaring.

(Illustration: What dum foolishness you got on hand now 177)

"What dum foolishness you got on hand now?" asked the old man, as he set a cup of hot water on the mantel, and began to mix up the lather. "What you ticking away on that contrivance for, and looking wise?"

"This is a telegraph office," said the boy, as he stopped operations long enough to draw his cold bare feet up under him, and pulled his night shirt down to cover his knees. "I am learning to telegraph, and am going into training for president of a railroad. Did you see in the papers the other day that Mr. Earling was elected president of a railroad, and did you know that he started in as a telegraph operator and a poor boy, with hair the color of tow? They used to call him Tow-Head."

"Yes, I read about that," said Uncle Ike, as he looked in the glass to see if the lather was all right on his face, and began to strop his razor. "I knew that boy when he was telegraphing. But he knew what all those sounds meant. You just keep ticking away, and don't know one tick from another."

"Yes, I do," said the boy, as he smashed away at the key. "That long sound, and the short one, and the one about half as long as the long one--that spells d-a-m, dam."

"Well, what do you commence your education spelling out cuss words for?" asked the old man, as he raked the razor down one side of his face, pulling his mouth around to one side so it looked like the mouth of a red-horse fish. "Anybody would think you were in training for one of these railroad superintendents who swear at the men so their hair will stand, and then swear at them because they don't get their hair cut. The railroad presidents and general managers nowadays don't swear a blue streak, and keep the men guessing whether they will get discharged for talking back. This man Earling never swore a half a string in his life, and in thirty years of railroading he never spoke a cross word to a living soul, and his brow was never corrugated as much as yours has been spelling out that word dam. Got any idea what railroad you will be president of?" and the old man wiped his razor, stropped it on the palm of his hand, put it in a case, and went to a washbowl to wash the soap off his face.

"Well, I thought I would start in on some narrow-gauge railroad, and work up gradually for a year or two, and finally take charge of one of those Eastern roads, where I can have a private car, and travel all over the country for nothing. As quick as I get this telegraph business down fine I shall apply for a position of train dispatcher, and then jump right along up. Uncle Ike, you will never have to pay a cent on my railroad. I will have a caboose fixed up for you, with guns and dogs, and you can hunt and fish all your life, with a nigger to cook for you, and a porter to put on your bait, and another nigger chambermaid to make up your bed, and I will wire them from the general office to sidetrack you, and pick you up, and all that."

"Is that so?" said the old man, as he stood rubbing his face with a crash towel till it shone like a boiled lobster. "You are hurrying your railroad career mighty fast, and if you are not careful you will replace Chauncey Depew before you get long pants on. Now, you go get your clothes on and come to breakfast, and after breakfast I will tell you something." The boy dropped the key, after ticking to the imaginary general office not to disturb him with any messages for half an hour, as he was going to be busy on an important matter, and he went to his room and soon appeared at the breakfast table, and after the breakfast was over, and the old man had lighted his pipe, the boy said:

"Now, Uncle Ike, tell me all you know about railroading in one easy lesson, for I have to go to a directors' meeting at ten, and then we are going out to look over the right of way," and the boy ticked off a message to have his special car ready at eleven-thirty, stocked for a trip over the line.

"I see you are getting well along in your railroad career, and like nine out of ten boys who want to be railroad men, you are beginning at the private car instead of the gravel train, issuing general orders instead of working in the ranks," and the old man smoked up and thought a long time, and continued: "The successful railroad man begins at the bottom, and learns the first lesson well. Do you know how long this man Earling has been getting where he is today? Thirty-five years. More than the average age of man. The successful railroad man, if he begins telegraphing, gets so he can send or receive anything, with his eyes shut, and never makes a mistake. After a long time he gets a measly country station, where he does all kinds of work, and he is satisfied. He goes to work to increase the business of that station, to clean up around the depot, and please all the customers, as though he was going to live there all his life. He never thinks he is going to be a high official, but just makes the best of the present. Some day he is awfully surprised to be given a better station, and he hates to leave, and maybe sheds a tear as he parts with the friends he has made there. But he goes to his new place and improves it, and gets in with a new, pushing class of people, and begins to grow. He maybe works there ten years, and his work shows so the officials recognize it, and he never makes a mistake in his telegraphing, and some day they call him into headquarters during a rush, to help the train dispatcher, and then he has to move into the city and watch trains on thousands of miles of road, to see that they don't get together, as train dispatcher. He thinks that position is good enough, and he hopes they will let him alone in it, but some day he assists the superintendent, and he is so well posted they are all surprised. They wonder how that station agent got to knowing all the men on the road, and how much a train of freight cars weigh, and how many cents per mile each loaded car earns for the company, and what cars ought to go to the shops for repairs, and how many new cars will have to be bought to handle the crops on his division. The 'old man,' as the president is always called, gets to leaning on this always good-natured, promoted, station agent, who is so modest he wouldn't offer a suggestion unless asked his opinion, and when asked gives it so intelligently that you could set your watch by it, as the boys say. He is always sober, never sleepy, and whether figuring on the wheat crop of Dakota to a carload, or wearing rubber boots and dining on sausage and bread for a couple of days fixing up a washout, he is always calm and smiling, and every man works as though his own house was afire, till the washout is repaired and the first train pulls over. When the rich, fat, gouty directors come around, once a year, to take an account of stock, and see the property at work, they see the modest man, and by and by he is taken off his feet by a promotion that almost makes him dizzy. Other railroads see that he is all wool, and they try to steal him away, but he says he has got used to his old man, and he knows every spike in the system, and there are gray hairs beginning to come around his ears, and he guesses he will not go away and have to make new acquaintances, and he remains with the road where he learned to tick, as you are ticking, and one day he is at the head of it. But if you examine into the head of the man who gets up from station agent to president, you will find that there is brain there and no cut feed. Another station agent might get the bighead the first time he was promoted, and they would have to promote him backward, on that account, but it would be because there was excelsior in his head, instead of brain, and he would be mad and jealous, and say mean things about those who got promoted, and stayed promoted. Now, let me give you a pointer. Don't train for general manager or president of a road. Train for the thing you are going to get first, whether it is operator or brakeman, and when you have mastered the details of that place, learn something about the next above. It is like going up a ladder; you have got to go up one step at a time, and get your foot on the step so it will stay, then go up another step. If you attempt to step from the ground to the top of the ladder, you are going to split your pants from Genesis to Revelations, and come down on your neck, and show your nakedness to those who have watched you try to climb too fast, and they will laugh at you. Now, go on with your condum ticking, but tick out something besides d--a--m, dam," and the old man went out to see if there had been any frost the night before, with an idea that if there was he would shoot a few teal duck, and cure his rheumatism that way, instead of putting on liniment.

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