It was four o’clock in the afternoon when she called the prodigal. When he had bathed his feverish face and put on the fresh clothes she had brought in for him and come into the dining-room, he saw his rosy dreams of the previous night fulfilled. The messenger and his wife shook hands with him and wished him a Merry Christmas. His children, all the children, came and kissed him. His wife was smiling, and the warm blood leaping from her happy heart actually put color in her cheeks.
As Downs took the chair at the head of the table he bowed his head, the rest did likewise, and he gave thanks, fervently and without embarrassment.
It was very late in the fifties, and Lincoln and Douglas were engaged in animated discussion of the burning questions of the time, when Melvin Jewett journeyed to Bloomington, Illinois, to learn telegraphy.
It was then a new, weird business, and his father advised him not to fool with it. His college chum said to him, as they chatted together for the last time before leaving school, that it would be grewsomely lonely to sit in a dimly lighted flag-station and have that inanimate machine tick off its talk to him in the sable hush of night; but Jewett was ambitious. Being earnest, brave, and industrious, he learned rapidly, and in a few months found himself in charge of a little wooden way-station as agent, operator, yard-master, and everything else. It was lonely, but there was no night work. When the shadows came and hung on the bare walls of his office the spook pictures that had been painted by his school chum, the young operator went over to the little tavern for the night.
True, Springdale at that time was not much of a town; but the telegraph boy had the satisfaction of feeling that he was, by common consent, the biggest man in the place.
Out in a hayfield, he could see from his window a farmer gazing up at the humming wire, and the farmer’s boy holding his ear to the pole, trying to understand. All this business that so blinded and bewildered with its mystery, not only the farmer, but the village folks as well, was to him as simple as sunshine.
In a little while he had learned to read a newspaper with one eye and keep the other on the narrow window that looked out along the line; to mark with one ear the “down brakes” signal of the north-bound freight, clear in the siding, and with the other to catch the whistle of the oncoming “cannon ball,” faint and far away.
When Jewett had been at Springdale some six or eight months, another young man dropped from the local one morning, and said, “Wie gehts,” and handed him a letter. The letter was from the Superintendent, calling him back to Bloomington to despatch trains. Being the youngest of the despatchers, he had to take the “death trick.” The day man used to work from eight o’clock in the morning until four o’clock in the afternoon, the “split trick” man from four until midnight, and the “death trick” man from midnight until morning.