“The Telegraph Cable—A Dialogue,” by Laura Elmer (from Robert Merry’s Museum, November 1858; p. 147-148)
Tom. You asked me, Willie, to show you the piece of cable which my father had given me. Here it is—he called it a “charm.” You see it is a piece cut off crosswise, and set in silver, to keep it in form and safety.
[The boys all gather around it to look.]
Will (turning up his nose). Oh, what a shocking smell! I want no more of the cable.
Dick. Well done, Master Dainty—what a fine Niagara boy you would have made! For the smell of some wholesome tar, you would have backed out, and let the Old and the New World forever be separated. Captain Hudson didn’t ever think of the tar, I’ll be bound, when he took the lead of the company, with the shore end of this cable, on the beach at Trinity Bay. The glorious Captain! Three cheers, boys, for Captain Hudson.
Ned. We’ll join your cheers, Dick, for anybody and everybody who had a hand in the cable; but Captain Hudson was not the principal man, although he was commander of the Niagara, so good and so faithful. Mr. Field has the first claim. Oh, how he has laid awake to plan—and then laid awake, because his plan failed! How for years he could “try, try again.” Cheers now, for Field.
Tom. Yes, that’s so—I’ve heard father read all about it. There is a whole book, written by one who was on the ship Niagara—Mr. Mullaly. Once they all thought they would surely complete it, when it broke, and down it went, to rise no more. Then there was new machinery to be built, and Mr. Field was just as earnest and patient as ever. Then, when all was at last ready, they had terrible storms, but no faint hearts; and none who shuddered at the smell of tar (looking scornfully at Will).
Will. I am ashamed, Tom, of my squeamishness. Give up teasing a fellow—I didn’t mean much by it, but what I did, I am ready to own was silly, and to take it back.
Ned. Well done, Will—that’s a good fellow. We shall have to cheer you yet. That’s noble, any how, to own when you’re wrong. Mother says boys who will not do mean things, or will acknowledge it when they have done, or said, what they are sorry for, will be great men some time or other.
Dick. See, boys, here are the seven wires of copper inside—then six strands of yarn—then three coats of gutta-percha—then eighteen strands, of seven iron wires in each strand, which makes the outside. How carefully it must have been made! If one has a split, or flaw, as they call it, all will be good for nothing—it must be perfectly good. Do you know how much cable was on each ship, Tom?
Tom. Yes—fifteen hundred miles on the Niagara, and fifteen hundred on the Agamemnon. When they were “paying it out,” as they called it, the machinery made by Mr. Everett kept a rumbling or clapping day and night, like the sound of a great coffee-mill; everybody on board was so anxious about it all, that if they waked in the night, and did not hear the “coffee-mill,” one or fifty rushed out of the berths to know “what is the matter?” But God helped them, as Mr. Field
ever said; and the ends are now fast to England and America.
Will. How beautiful it is that we can hear from England every day, and any day! Now my grandpa will hear so often from my dear mother and little Harry. I’m so happy, I can cheer now—dear little Harry.
Ned. Yes, and if there is any great news of good or bad, that the whole nation will feel, we can have it in a few seconds—and how can there ever be any war, for if anything seems to be going wrong, and like to make a quarrel, the blessed cable will tell back and forth, till all is explained, and good friends again. That is the reason that some call it the cable of friendship—it is like taking the hand of each.
Will. Yes, and if the President and the Queen send such pleasant words, or talk so pleasantly as they did at the very first together, why, everybody will have kind feelings, too, and there will be no disposition to do wrong things toward each other. Since we have been talking about it, I think it is the nicest thing in the world. I believe I shall begin to like tar for the sake of the telegraph cable.
Dick. And so you wouldn’t be afraid, now, to take hold of the shore end, and pull and tug, though it was dripping with the black tar? Neither would I, though some of them fumbled round for their gloves—oh, for shame! But do you know, boys, how many nice things they are making, besides these, like Tom’s? At Tiffany’s in Broadway, they have canes, with the head of a piece of cable mounted in silver. They have paper-knives, blade of silver and handle of cable, with silver bands; they have paper weights, and stamps for sealing-wax. They have some of these little “charms” for ladies’ watches, set in gold, which they ask seven dollars for, about as large as Tom’s—all prices, down to three dollars. They have a lady’s bracelet, in gold settings, for which they ask forty dollars.
Tom. There is a place, too, in Broadway, where there is a breast-pin, made of a piece of the cable an inch and a half long, with gold mountings, and a little gold chain wound around; and a pair of ear-rings, with the gutta-percha outside, mounted in gold, and on each a beautiful gold anchor, with a little bit of gold chain twisted around. They are beautiful. My Uncle Thomas the sea-captain, is going to buy them for my aunt. He says a sailor’s wife ought to wear those.
Ned. Well, for that matter, all the ladies in the country have been as anxious about the cable as the gentlemen. My sister Ellen could hardly keep from crying when she heard the cable was broken and gone to the bottom. When it was finally all laid and done, she and Aunt Nelly went round the house like crazy—jumping over chairs, thrumming the piano, crying, laughing, upsetting chairs, ringing the tea-bell, and absolutely hurraing for Field and Hudson and the Niagara boys.
Dick. Well, the girls were right—and now let us be off to the playground, and tumble and hurrah, too.