Harper's Round Table, December 24, 1895 online

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see the men in charge grasp lever after lever, apparently at random; you
hear the sharp click of these gunlike rods as they move backwards or
forwards, and then as you see a red light flash white or a white red two
blocks away, you are told by one of the men at the levers that a path
has been cleared for the Stamford local or the Empire State express. If
you look in the room underneath it seems like the interior of a huge
piano-board. Here are stiff-moving wires and bars, each one connected
above to its particular iron key. Beneath they spread out in every
direction, like the thread-like legs of a spider, each connected with
its special rail or switch or light, and never interfering with its
neighbor - so delicate the mechanism. As you go up stairs a second time,
to hear Mr. Anderson, the man in charge of the great key-board, talk
about the arrangements, you cannot help thinking again how like a
monster piano it is. To be sure the iron keys are pushed and pulled
instead of gently struck. But then what of that? They must be skilful
musicians at those keys, these men. Suppose a false note were struck,
what a discord would be sounded! It is a human symphony these men play,
where a wrong chord might bring death to many people.

But Mr. Anderson, the head operator in the tower-house, doesn't seem to
be thinking of these things. It is his duty and his work. He bends his
mind to it, and he never makes a mistake. For a few minutes now he gives
the direction of the work over to another man and speaks of the work.
Over five hundred "pieces of rolling stock" - as the railroad men speak
of trains and engines - have to be sent in and out of the depot and yard
in a day. These include nearly three hundred regular incoming and
outgoing passenger trains, the "stock" and baggage trains which ply
between there and Mott Haven, carrying empty cars and station freight,
and the "made-up" and "unmade" trains passing to and fro. When a through
Western or Boston express starts out of the station, the arrangement of
one or two levers by no means insures it a straight track into the
tunnel. Oftentimes a combination of ten or fifteen all over the
switch-board is necessary to give a train a straightaway track, and you
wonder, as you hear this, how the men ever learn the varying
combinations of keys. The train-despatcher in the depot notifies the men
in the tower-house on which road each arriving and departing train
is - whether New York Central, Harlem River, or New Haven - and they
instantly know the answer to the problem.


It is a noisy piano these men play, noisier and larger than in the
switch-house of the Pennsylvania Railroad yards in Jersey City. There
the electric pneumatic interlocking switch and signal system of Mr.
Westinghouse is in use. In this one man can do the work of several,
although many old railroad men believe that the operation of a switch
key-board by hand is the only one absolutely safe and reliable. This
key-board in the house at the Pennsylvania yards is a glass-topped case
about the size of a grand-piano box. The case is apparently full of
metal cylinders. About seventy handles project from the front of the
case - half of them numbered in black, the other half in red. Each is, or
seems to be, the handle of a cylinder. The train-director is in charge
of the room, and the young men under him touch the handles as easily as
piano keys when the different switch numbers are called out. Suppose he
calls out, "29, 21, 23, 20, 17, 13, 12, 7, 8!" One of the men touches
the black handles bearing these numbers, then the red. The switches
begin to waver up in the yard, though the gush of compressed air which
precedes the wavering cannot be heard. Finally, as the last of these
numbers is touched, a red signal in the yard droops from its horizontal
position to an angle of sixty degrees. Then an empty train comes out of
the shed from track 9 to 0 _vi√Ґ_ switches 29, 21, 23, 20, 17, 13, 12, 7,
and 8, as you note on the yard model - black ground, with bright brass
tracks - above the case. Although it seems so simple, it is really as
intricate as is the network of wires running down from the glass case
through the tower-base to the various switches.

It is early in the morning and late in the afternoon that there is the
greatest activity in the yards of the New York Central Railroad. Between
seven and nine in the morning so many trains come in that frequently the
switching necessary to give them clear ways in and out has meant the
moving of 1400 levers in the tower-house. Hardly an engine, as it passes
Forty-ninth Street, dragging its train on its way in, but darts away
from the cars to a siding, leaving the train to roll in by itself,
controlled by the trainmen at the brakes. You are not conscious of this
if you are on the incoming cars. But as you get out and walk along the
platform you note that yours is an engineless train. It saves time, this
swerving of the engine off to right or left, and it is immediately ready
to drag another load out. But the alertness of these tower-house men is
here called into keenest play, for but a second elapses between the
arrival of the engine and its train at the self-same switch, and each
must have a separate path.

Although you can plainly see all this rush and bustle on a winter
morning just as the sun is creeping over the top of the Grand Central
palace, can note so clearly, as you stand on the bridge, which switches
are turned for a particular train, and can count exactly the thirty-two
tracks from the round-house alongside Lexington Avenue to the "annex
sheds" on Madison Avenue, it is far more interesting to visit the yard
late in the afternoon, just after dusk. Then you can stand on one of the
bridges and see a brilliant panorama - the moving flash-lights of the
engines, the quickly shifting red and white signal-lamps, the
brilliantly lighted outgoing trains, standing out in relief against the
dark narrow bulk of an "unmade" train on a distant siding, and, a short
distance away, veiled every now and then by puffs of smoke from an
impatient engine, the dazzling arc-burners of the station.

Shut your eyes, then open them, and again almost shut them, and give
yourself up to the scene. It is fairy-land, all these moving lights,
this brilliant panorama. Close your eyes still more till you can just
peep out at the motion around you. It is no longer the iron-threaded
yard of the Grand Central station. You are in the midst of some wild,
strange region. Great dragons snorting flame and smoke move uneasily
about. Black serpents with eyes of flashing fire and long dark bodies
trail their way through the flat country past you, and disappear in that
cavern of a tunnel above. On all sides are weird noises. But in the
midst of it all you half dreamily see, not many feet away from you, the
men at the levers in the tower-house, playing their mechanical music so
well on the great key-board that every iron monster is charmed, and
keeps safely and quietly his own pathway.


A Story of the Revolution.


[1] Begun in HARPER'S ROUND TABLE No. 836.



The little camp-fire at which Colonel Hewes and some of the officers
were sitting was just outside the line of heavy fortifications which the
Americans had thrown up some weeks previously.

Colonel Hewes, as soon as he heard George's answer, welcomed the young
soldier heartily, and, searching in the saddle-bags that were lying on
the ground, he secured some bread and a slice of ham, which George
accepted, as he had not tasted food since early in the morning.

For two days nothing was done, but at last Washington's plans were
perfected, and under the cover of a heavy fog nine thousand men were
ferried across to the city of New York. As George was about to embark
with the body of discouraged stragglers in one of the small boats
impressed for the service, he heard a familiar voice beside him.

Carter Hewes! He started suddenly. There he stood. A cape was over his
shoulder, his left arm was in a sling.

"Oh, Carter, are you wounded?" he exclaimed, before the other had
noticed who it was that called to him.

"George, dear friend, you've escaped?" answered Carter, wheeling. Then
he noticed the anxious glance. "Merely a scratch," he went on. "Come
over with my company, at least what is left of them - it's been bad work.
What! a Lieutenant! Hurrah! I told you so."

The soldiers crowded into the flat-boat, and soon the two friends were
drifting across the river.

"Your father's proposal has gone to the Convention," said George.

"That relieves me," said Carter. "It is a pet scheme of his, and it was
dreadful careless of me to forget and carry it in my pocket. See; do you
remember this?" He held out the note-book.

"Why, it's mine!" cried George. "Where did you get it?"

Questions and answers followed in quick succession, and the young
officers seemed to forget that they were retreating with a defeated

As soon as they had landed they made their way past the Fly Market, near
the river.

"It looks as if a plague were in town," thought George to himself. He
had just finished relating the incidents that led to his sudden
promotion, and had listened to Carter's tale of the adventures in the
strange house.

Carter was leaning on his arm as they went up the street, and suddenly
he stopped. "Take a good look at this man, here on the right. Who is
he?" he asked.

As George turned he saw in the group of spectators a strange figure
leaning on a stick. His clothes were ragged, and his hat flopped about
his ears; a patch was over his left eye, but despite all this the young
Lieutenant recognized him in an instant.

"That's my old schoolmaster, Jabez Anderson. The Tory-hunters haven't
found him, evidently," he said, quietly, "and I certainly shall not
betray him. Though he's rabid for the crown."

"It seems to me that I have met him some place," returned Carter. "But,
come to think, he resembles a portrait I've seen and can't place for the
life of me."

What Carter was thinking of was a reflection in an old gilt-framed
mirror, although he did not know it.

"He's an odd fish," said George, as they stepped forward again, "and
used to give us long lectures on our duty to the King, and all in his
own way, for he told minutely the grievances of the colonies, and then
admonished us to be steadfast. I often even then felt like taking up
cudgels on the opposite side of the question. I owe him no ill-will."

As he spoke he looked in his companion's face. "You are suffering, dear
friend," he said. "We must find some place to rest."

"It's nothing. I shall be right in a few days," murmured Carter.

George noticed that he was pale, however, and that during the last
half-hour or so he leaned heavily on his arm.

"Courage; I know of just the place," he said.

"We won't be left quietly here very long," responded Carter. "Howe has
us on the hip, I fear me. Let me sit down on this step a minute."

"Mr. Frothingham! Mr. Frothingham!" called a voice just at this

George looked around. There stood Mrs. Mack.

"Thank Dame Fortune," said George to his companion, "here's my old
landlady; she will look after us, I'll warrant."

He stepped over to where the honest woman stood. She spoke before he had
time to say a word.

"I hev somethin' fer ye to the house, sir," she said; "and shure you
lift a foine suit of clothes."

George's heart bounded. He needed clothes badly enough, but had no
recollection of having left anything but an old worn coat.

"Won't yez be after comin' ter the house!" continued the woman. "I ken
git you a bite to ate, and you kin stay there. Shure ye look that

George easily got permission from his Captain, and dropped out of the
ranks. With the help of the widow he succeeded in getting Carter at last
tucked away in a great soft bed, where he immediately went to sleep. The
last thing he said was, "George, this is the house they took me to, only
I had the little room upstairs." George stole away, intending to ask an
explanation from the good Irish woman, and solve the mystery.

"Whisper," said Mrs. Mack, taking her old boarder by the arm before he
could begin his questioning. "I was on the look fer ye. Here!"

What was George's surprise, and even consternation, when Mrs. Mack
handed him an envelope. He opened it. It was heavy with gold
coin - English guineas, bright and clinking.

"Where did they come from? Where? Where?" he exclaimed.

"Shure I don't know, sir," said Mrs. Mack. "They wus lift here by a
little old man who wus deaf and dumb."

George was puzzled.

"They are shure fer you, sir," she said, "bekase he described you."

"And if he was deaf and dumb, how could he describe me?"

The good woman appeared confused. "And shure, sir, wid signs," she
answered. "Oh, I will git the suit of clothes."

She disappeared, but came back immediately. Again was the young soldier
almost frightened. He never owned a coat like that, and surely never
possessed such a fine pair of buckskin breeches; but there they were.

"Some mistake," said George, looking at the yellow facings, the large
brass buttons, and the Lieutenant's shoulder-knots. "I won't take them
until I know where they came from," said he, decidedly.

Now may the Recording Angel forgive the good washer-woman, for he must
have put down against her name that day a fib of the straightest,
whitest kind.

"I made thim fer ye," she said, unblushingly. "If all the army was
dressed as foine as that the Ridcoats would take off their hats to ye."

The fact was Mrs. Mack may have referred to the lace trimmings when she
said that she had made them, for that was all that she had contributed.

Aunt Clarissa must have relented! At last it dawned on the young
soldier. Why had he not written to her? He resolved to do so at once. If
he could find some way of sending her the letter.

In a few days Carter was able to move, and Colonel Hewes - who had been
ordered to New Jersey to help his cousin mould cannon-balls - took him
with him out to the estate. Mrs. Mack had acknowledged the fact that the
wounded lad had been her guest before, under certain mysterious
circumstances. But she could not or would not explain the method or
means of his previous arrival, insisting that he was brought to her by
two "dark men" whose language she could not understand.

Two days after Carter's departure George was leaning against the side of
a little brick guard-house - he was officer of the guard - his thoughts
far away, busy with the good old times, when he saw down the street some
one crossing from a path that led along the common. His heart beat
quickly. He would know that shuffling gait, that was yet so strong,
amongst a thousand. In half a minute his long young legs were striding
in the direction of the retreating figure, and in another he had grasped
the man by both shoulders and swung him sharply against a tall board

"Cato, you old rascal!" he exclaimed, shaking his shoulders back and
forth roughly, though the tears of joy had gathered in his eyes.

"Why, Mas'r George," came the answer with a jerky emphasis. "How
y-y-youse growed, and I done guess you pritty strong too, but you
needn't try for to p-prove it no more."

It was not until this that George remembered that he must have changed
somewhat, and that he did not know really how strong he had become, for
it only seemed yesterday that the old man had been able to lay him
across his knee, or carry him by the slack of his little homespun coat.

"Cato," he said, "how are you all at home?"

"Dat's what I's come to tell you, young mas'r," said the old darky.
"Dere's a peck of trubble over yander, and I's got a letter fer you from
Mistis Grace."

George took the crumpled paper and read it hastily. How she must have
changed - his little sister - to write and think such thoughts as these!
For the letter told how she prayed every night that he would come back
safe and sound, and that the great General Washington would whip the
British and drive them from the country. "Aunt Clarissa would not let me
write to you," concluded the letter, "and does not know that Cato has
gone to look for you. Good-by, dear, dear George.

"From your little Rebel Sister,

"God bless her sweet heart!" said Lieutenant Frothingham, and he paused
for a minute. Oh, it seemed so long ago, and William, his dear brother,
was in England, and could not understand.

"Cato," he said, suddenly, breaking away from his train of thought, for
the old darky had not spoken, "did you bring any money for me some time
ago and leave it with Mrs. Mack?"

"No, sah, 'fo' de Lawd, I didn', Mas'r George, but I's got some now," he
said, hurriedly, diving into the capacious pockets of his flapping
waistcoat. He brought out a worn leather wallet. It contained two gold
pieces and a half-handful of silver. "It's yours, sah," he said.

George looked at him earnestly. "Did Mistress Frothingham send it to
me?" he asked.

The old darky shifted uneasily. "Yes, sah," he said, faintly.

"Cato, you're telling me a lie," said George, once more laying his hand
on the colored man's shoulder. "I don't need the money, and you know
that it is yours. I am rich now, Cato." He jingled the gold coins in his
own pocket.

The old darky had not replied, but a huge tear rolled down his face.

"T'ank God for dat, honey," he said. "Old Cato didn't know." Then, as if
to change the subject, he went on more cheerfully. "Cunel Hewes's cousin
is runnin' de big works, sah. Dey is moulding a big chain over
dere - biggest you ever seed. Dey done goin' to tro it 'cross de Hudson
Ribber to keep dem Redcoat boats from goin' up. He's makin'
cannon-balls. I reckon he'd like to use yo' foundry."

"Well, what's to prevent him?" said George.

"'Deed ol' miss' won't let 'im," responded Cato, seriously. "She'd fight
'em toof and nail."

George smiled. "Have you heard her speak of me?" he asked.

"No, Mas'r George," said the old negro, shaking his head. "I heered her
tell Mistis Grace dat - dat - "

"Well?" said George.

"Dat you wus dead to her, you 'n' massa."

A drum rolled down the street, and some ragged soldiers were seen
leading some thin, unkempt horses from the stable across the way. Two
non-commissioned officers came out of the little house before which Cato
and his young master had been standing. One was buckling on his heavy
leather belt.

"Orders to march, I reckon," he said to his companion. George
acknowledged the salute they gave him, and the old darky removed his hat
and bowed.

"Wus dat Gineral Washington?" he asked, in an awed whisper, looking at
the burly figure of the first speaker, who had a great lump of cheese in
his hand, which he was endeavoring to slip into the pocket of his coat.

"No, Cato," said George; "that was a sergeant of artillery."

He was scribbling a few lines, addressed to his sister, on a bit of
rough paper. He thrust it into Cato's hands. "Good-by, old friend," he
said, and placed his arm about the faithful darky's shoulder and gave
him a squeeze, as he had often done in the good old days.

"I's not goin' back," said Cato, shaking his head. "I's goin' wid you as
yo' body-sarvant."

"You can't," said George. "Prithee do you think that a Lieutenant is
allowed a servant?"

"I don't know," said the old darky. "I spec you'll be a gineral 'fore
very long."

"No, no, Cato, you must go back," said his young master.
"Good-by - good-by."

He turned quickly and ran off toward the guard-house. Where could the
gold have come from? It was puzzling.

Cato looked after him, and placing the note in the crown of his big hat,
walked slowly away.

An orderly met the young Lieutenant at the door. "Your presence is
requested at headquarters, sir," he said, and hurried off.

The city was going to be abandoned, and to George Frothingham was given
the important charge of conducting the precious powder train through the
lanes and by-ways of Manhattan Island to the new position Washington had
taken at Harlem Heights.


At noon the caravan was ready to start. Besides the lumbering vans, two
brass field-pieces trundled and jolted along with the rear-guard. George
knew well the best route to take, and gave the orders to push ahead up
the old "King's Highway" - the post-road to Boston.

At a street corner as they passed were standing some soldiers of one of
the commands that had not received marching orders. Running out into the
street, one of the men touched a tall private on the elbow. It was
Thomas, the former porter in Mr. Wyeth's office. He held in his hand a
buckskin bag of bullets.

"Brother Ralston," he said, "here are some leaden pills. Shoot straight
with them." Then he noticed George, and saluted. Pouring something out
in his hand, he came up close. "Slip them into your pocket for a
keepsake, Mr. Frothingham," he said. "They are some of those that were
moulded out of the statue of King George himself."

George took them, and remembered the time when he and his brother had
looked at this same statue when they had that first unhappy parting with
Carter Hewes three years before. How differently had things terminated.
He smiled sadly to himself as he slipped the new shining bullets into
the pocket of his coat.

As they trudged along through the hot sun and the dust, a young officer,
scarcely nineteen, galloped up and down the line, hurrying on those in
the rear, and keeping the column well together to prevent straggling. He
did not shout his orders, but talked in a low, intense voice; his
movements were quick and nervous, but his graceful figure sat erect on
his horse, and he seemed to take in everything with a rapid glance of
his handsome deep-set eyes. George saw at once that it was his friend
who had lent him his first Lieutenant's uniform, and whose name he had
forgotten to ask. Chagrined, he thought that he could only explain that
the wet had ruined everything, and the gay coat had been discarded.

"Who is he, that he should assume such airs?" said one of the slouching
rear-guard that had been swelled by stragglers from various commands in
advance, for the young officer had hastened him on by giving him a sharp
dig in the shoulder with his foot as he rode up the line.

"'Tis young Aaron Burr," was the response.

"Humph! the young coxcomb!" had exclaimed the first soldier.

"Coxcomb, perhaps, but a game one, I'll warrant you," had come the

The last time the proud young officer had ridden down the line, his
tired horse dotted and blotched with foam, he had caught sight of the
young Lieutenant, and had ridden up to him.

"Well met, comrade Frothingham!" he said, with a fascinating smile.
"Take charge of these lazybones. Stop their mouths, and make them use
their legs."

He cut with apparent playfulness at the shoulder of one of the belated
ones nearest to him.

The blow stung, nevertheless, but the man only cringed, and hastened on
like a jaded horse, frightened to further exertion. George looked at his
face carefully. It was the pale youth with the fishy eyes who had been a
clerk in Mr. Wyeth's employ with him. They had cordially disliked each

It was good that the rear-guard had hastened, for scarcely had they
crossed to the heights at Harlem, where Washington was waiting, when the
British appeared from east and west. A battery of Yankee artillery - the
two brass pieces - had taken possession of a little knoll, and they
roared alternately and held the victors in check. George placed his
force along the slope, and took command of the battery. At the sound of
the guns and the smell of the white sulphurous smoke our young hero's
heart once more began to beat with that strange unaccountable
excitement. As he faced his men about, he noticed private Ralston kneel
down behind a stump, and soon the bullets made from King George's statue
were singing across the meadow. The pursuit stopped at the bottom of the

That night George and his weary companions rested in the hay of a small
barn on the hill-side that overlooked the beautiful village of

He was too tired to sleep, and his thoughts ran rampant. What must
William think of him? What was his brother doing? Why could not he see
the right side? Oh, the bitterness of it! When would it end? Perhaps one
of those bullets whose sound he now knew so well would settle things for
good and all. If only William were here by him!

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Online LibraryVariousHarper's Round Table, December 24, 1895 → online text (page 2 of 7)