As fast as the various messages for delivery, flying one after another from the ground-floor up the chimney, reach the level of the instruments, they are brought by the superintendent to the particular one by which they are to be communicated; and its boy, with the quickness characteristic of his age, then instantly sets to work.
His first process is by means of the electric current to sound a little bell, which simultaneously alarms all the stations on his line; and although the attention of the sentinel at each is thus attracted, yet it almost instantly evaporates from all excepting from that to the name of which he causes the electric needle to point, by which signal the clerk at that station instantly knows that the forthcoming question is addressed to him; and accordingly, by a corresponding signal, he announces to the London boy that he is ready to receive it. By means of a brass handle fixed to the dial, which the boy grasps in each hand, he now begins rapidly to spell off his information by certain twists of his wrists, each of which imparts to the needles on his dial, as well as to those on the dial of his distant correspondent, a convulsive movement designating the particular letter of the telegraphic alphabet required. By this arrangement he is enabled to transmit an ordinary-sized word in three seconds, or about twenty per minute. In the case of any accident to the wire of one of his needles, he can, by a different alphabet, transmit his message by a series of movements of the single needle, at the reduced rate of about eight or nine words per minute.
While a boy at one instrument is thus occupied in transmitting to—say Liverpool, a message, written by its London author in ink which is scarcely dry, another boy at the adjoining instrument is, by the reverse of the process, attentively reading the quivering movements of the needles of his dial, which, by a sort of St. Vitus’s dance, are rapidly spelling to him a message, via the wires of the South Western Railway, say from Gosport, which word by word he repeats aloud to an assistant, who, seated by his side, writes it down (he receives it about as fast as his attendant can conveniently write it); on a sheet of; paper, which, as soon as the message is concluded, descends to the “booking-office.” When inscribed in due form, it is without delay despatched to its destination, by messenger, cab, or express, according to order.
SIR F.B. HEAD.
[Illustration: WORKING THE ELECTRIC TELEGRAPH.]
* * * * *
How glorious is thy girdle
O’er mountain, tower, and town,
Or mirror’d in the ocean vast—
A thousand fathoms down!
As fresh in yon horizon dark,
As young thy beauties seem,
As when the eagle from the ark
First sported in thy beam.