Telegraph Days

Telegraph Days by Larry McMurtry Read Free Book Online

Book: Telegraph Days by Larry McMurtry Read Free Book Online
Authors: Larry McMurtry
before springing my surprise.
    â€œWe had a telegrapher till last month,” Aurel said. “His name was Zeke Ryan. But then Zeke took himself a Comanche bride and is farming weeds somewhere down by the South Canadian.
    â€œYour point is on the nose, though,” he added. “The hide business is hard on knives—we use ’em up at a terrible rate. If the telegraph was working I could replenish my knives in an efficient fashion, which presently I can’t.”
    â€œWhy, Nellie can work a telegraph lickety-split,” Jackson said. He was on his way out the door but paused long enough to put a plug in for his sister.
    â€œUncle Grandy taught her,” he added, and then he left.
    â€œI seem to remember that your uncle Grandy was a particular favorite of General Grant,” Aurel Imlah said, in a light tone. “Didn’t he lose a leg or something?”
    â€œAt Antietam,” I said. “He was the only one of the uncles to fight for the Union side. And he was General Grant’s personal telegrapher for most of the war.”
    Mrs. Karoo got up and went to a small cupboard—she returned with three small glasses and a bottle of rum. She poured each of us a little, and I was glad to be included, although I did not often partake of spirituous liquors.
    â€œI suppose there was some bitterness, after the peace,” Aurel remarked, sniffing his rum.
    â€œYes, there was,” I admitted. “So much bitterness that Uncle Grandy had to move to Louisville, Kentucky. But he was my mother’s favorite brother, war or no war, so I was able to visit him in the summer.”
    In fact Uncle Grandy had been a wonderful man, with a white tapering beard and a gift for watercolors. He taught me to play checkers when I was two—if I saw he had me cornered I’d push his hand away.
    â€œYou’re in this game of life to win, aren’t you, missy?” he said to me with a chuckle. I don’t think he ever made it up with his brothers,but then ours was hardly the only family that bitter conflict divided.
    â€œI may be a little rusty with my codes at first,” I told the two of them. “It’s been a while since I tapped a telegraph key. I’ll soon improve and be reliable. Does anyone have a key to that shack of an office?”
    â€œI’d be surprised if it’s even locked,” Aurel said. “And I’d be surprised if you don’t find a snake or two on the premises.”
    â€œWhat would I get for a salary?” I asked, finishing my rum.
    That stumped the two of them. Neither of them had any idea what a skilled telegrapher might be worth to the community of Rita Blanca. There was only the group of deacons Teddy Bunsen had mentioned, a loosely organized bunch, at least by the standards of Virginia small towns, where city fathers are thick on the ground.
    â€œIf you need me to send an order for some skinning knives I’ll do it tomorrow,” I told Aurel. “We can figure out the salary, I expect. My younger brother is making fifteen dollars a month as deputy sheriff—and I’m well ahead of him when it comes to education, so I expect a little more than that.”
    Aurel Imlah seemed amused. It seemed to me that Mrs. Karoo got a special light in her eyes when she looked at him.
    Since there was still a little light left in the summer sky I left the two of them to their pipes and strolled down the street to my new place of business, the telegraph office. It wasn’t locked, but it was snaky. I had taken the precaution to borrow a spade from Mrs. Karoo, and I used it to ease two bull snakes and a small copperhead out the door. Of course, bull snakes won’t tolerate rattlers, so there was none of that breed to be seen, though I did have to mash a bunch of black widow spiders and one sizable tarantula. There was the dust of the ages on the windowpanes, but the most important thing of all, the telegraph key, seemed to

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