Milady Beautiful, January, 1919, pages 9-12.
THE CALL OF THE GODDESS.
By Louise Wallace Hackney.
Seymour Burke slipped the glittering steel band of the wireless receiver over his head and sighed with relief. Prompt as usual! The minute hand was just touching the hour mark. Exactly at midnight, for six weeks, the instrument before him had begun to click with the rhythm of one particular operator; then there had come a silence of a week, when no amount of wireless inquiries had been able to make a connection. Yes, here again was the familiar touch.
"This is the Goddess of Liberty speaking."
"Sure, I've heard the Eagle scream; but this is the first time herself has spoken," commented O'Reilly of the P. & O. Liner Portsmouth, as he drifted into range and picked up the message.
"Howdy, old girl, glad you're awake," chimed in the Oceanic as she passed. "Seen you many a time, but always got the cold and glassy stare."
"Shut up, Oceanic! Go ahead, sister. The air's free," broke in Forsythe, of Long Point Station.
"That's right. Let's hear what the Goddess has to say. Fire away," interposed O'Reilly.
The flashes came, uncertainly at first, as if the operator were not sure of her ground, then with increasing confidence.
"I am the Goddess of Liberty. For over thirty years I have welcomed you to these shores and bidden you farewell when you left them. Yet you have never acknowledged your debt to me. Do it now. Give your wives and daughter the vote. Votes for women!"
Again the highway of the air became fluent.
"Right you are, sister."
"Nix cum heraus. We've troubles enough. The country's going to the dogs."
"Shut up. Don't you know how to treat your grandmother? Such manners! Oh, tish!"
The instrument at Burke's ear suddenly went mad. Message collided with message; retort followed retort, each operator trying to outdo the other in the brilliancy of his repartee. Then slowly, as ship after ship passed out of range or the stationary operators tired of the fun,, silence crept back through the disturbed air.
Burke reached for his key and began to click out: "Goddess of Liberty, this is Ender's Point Wireless Station. Have missed you the last week. Where have you been?"
"To sea. Father's operator is sick, so I have taken his place on the Chas. Eastman. Glad you missed me. How does your vote stand?"
"For you, every time," affirmed Burke, mendaciously. "That is, if you can convert me. I have strong opinions, but a personal interview might do much to change them."
"Drop in any day. Am still doing business at the old stand, corner of East River and the Sound. Visitors welcome."
"Oh, come now, that's cordial. Can't I reach you nearer home? I say, G. L.--G. L."
Burke sent out the call again and again, but no answering flash came from the Goddess. "Confound these women. The wireless was made for them. No use trying to pin a woman down in endless miles of space." But he grinned to himself.
When Burke awoke the next afternoon, he displayed a most amazing interest in the work of his assistant, lounging about the little office with its narrow table fitted with the clicking instruments that connected this tiny spot of land with all the sea-going interests of a great nation.
"For heaven's sake sit down," Witter at last broke out, irritably. "Anybody'd think you were possessed. What's the matter? Your experiment stuck?
"No, that's all right. We are to demonstrate tomorrow night at the Wentworth Hotel. We are going to connect with the First National Band in New York.
"Then what's the matter with you? Go into Falmouth and work it off. Night duty gives you the wollies. Want to change back?"
In the year these two men had alternated at Ender's Point Station, their duties had been so exacting that except for a casual chat when one or the other had awakened earlier than usual, they had remained strangers.
"Night-duty is getting on your nerves. Better change with me. The old system of every other week is better. What's your object?"
The sudden sharp sputter of the wireless cut him short. Witter answered, relayed and reported, while Burke lit a pipe, shied the match at the waste-paper basket, missed it and swore under his breath. He had time to fill a second pipe before Witter could return to the subject.
'Ever hear from the Goddess of Liberty these days?" She had just begun her campaign when I went on day-duty."
"Yes, she calls me occasionally," Burke vouchsafed noncommittally. "Why? Know anything about her?"
"No. Some old maid out of a job, who wants to flirt."
"I'm not so sure of that. Know a boat called the Charles Eastman? Had a call from her last night."
"No. Want the gossip about her? I'll send in the call to the Marine Registry for you."
Burke puffed regularly, his eyes following a distant steamer as it crossed the window-pane, his ears strained for the click, click, click of the keys.
"Chas. Eastman," beat out the instrument, "ocean-going tug, owned by S. and A., Captain, Milton Phelps. Doing construction work on Beaver Island."
As the flashes ceased, Burke rose to his feet and stretched himself indifferently. He stood six feet two, and his fair hair and blue eyes belied the origin his name claimed.
"Think I'll go down and see if everything is in order for the experiment tomorrow night. I'll be back in time to go on at ten. So long."
The forty-five minutes run to Falmouth took Burke four hours. It necessitated a cruise in his high-power launch down the coast to Westport and a complete circling of Beaver Island. It also necessitated a thorough inspection of the Chas. Eastman with marine glasses. If the slight khaki-clad figure, with merry gray-blue eyes and wind-curled hair, had not been called below, it might have taken even longer.
When the rush of business that night was over and the lanes of the air could be used for gossip, Burke heard again the call of the Goddess. As usual, the men of the passing vessels and those of the various land stations within range, picked it up and bandied it about with jest and kindly comment. Burke waited until the fusillade had died down and then took a hand.
"Hello, Goddess, this is Burke, of Ender's Point. Are you especially interested in wireless?"
"I thought you were. It isn't every girl who can send a message."
"How do you know I am a girl?"
"Saw you today,--and not in the East River either."
"Were you in that launch?" and the instrument sputtered as if it carried her laughter. "I watched you in fear and trembling. I thought you were an inspector from the S. and A. to see if we were on the job," and the message trailed off into what sounded like a little gurgle.
"I came over to ask you to my party," Burke informed her, "but I didn't have the courage to ask you when I got there. I have invented a little instrument to transmit music by wireless, and we are going to try it out at eight o'clock tomorrow night at the Wentworth. Come and see it work. Next week I'll serenade you with it."
"Are you the Burke who is doing that? I have read about you in the Mechanical Age. I'd love to come, but I am not sure that I can. Father's in command here, and he's shorthanded, two of our men hurt and the wireless operator sick. I shall have to be quite late. Shall I wear my goddess costume or just ordinary dress?"
"You'd look a goddess in anything, Miss Phelps--M-i-s-s P-h-e-l...s--G. L.!" Again and again he sent the call, but only the silent lanes answered him.
* * * * * *
The ballroom of the Wentworth the following night was agleam with electric lights and the brilliant colors of low-cut evening gowns, softened by the black and white of an occasional escort. On a long table at the head of the room stood a great vibrating box and horn such as is used with a phonograph. At one side sat Mr. Armound and Mr. Morton, directors of the Midland Electric Co., which was backing the experiment, while behind it stood Seymour Burke, somewhat awkward in a suite of freshly launderied duck, his fair hair pressed awry by a steel-banded receiver, his right hand on the key of his instrument.
Eagerly but vainly he searched row after row of scented, jeweled women for a pair of merry grey-blue eyes. He had managed to hold back the demonstration for three-quarters of an hour: but if she did not come soon, she would have to miss the opening. For the last half-hour he had been picturing to himself how her vivid face would change when the first notes leaped from the horn--from strained expectancy to pleased surprise and then to delight as she realized the success of this new invention.
"Well, Burke, what are we waiting for? You have everything in readiness." The voice of Mr. Morton recalled him abruptly to himself. "It is a quarter to nine."
With one last despairing glance at the still empty doorway, Burke replied, "Yes, sir, everything's ready. If you'll begin your speech, I'll send in the signal.
As Burke's fingers pressed the key, Mr. Morton rose to his feet. "Ladies and gentlemen, you are about to witness one of the events of history. For the first time music is to be heard five hundred miles away from the place in which it is being produced,--not by a complicated system of wires, but actually plucked from the atmosphere. When this wireless apparatus is perfected you will be able to sit in your bungalow in balmy California and hear Farrar, three thousand miles away, singing at the Metropolitan. It will do for good music what the movies have done for the drama,--put it within the reach of all. Mr. Seymour Burke here has spent some years in perfecting this instrument, and with its success tonight, he will take his place with Edison and the other great inventors of our day. Ladies and gentlemen, you are to listen to a concert by the First National Band of New York, playing in Madison Square Garden. Mr. Burke, will you please turn on the music?"
Burke removed the receiver from his head, and attaching the horn to the instrument, swung it into place. In the tense silence, the focus point of five hundred eyes, he went hot and cold by turns, his hand trembling so he could hardly send in the call, '"All ready."
Faintly at first, then louder and louder, a whirring sound came from the mouth of the horn and resolved itself into the notes of "My Country Tis of Thee." The audience caught its breath sharply, then rose cheering. Mr. Morton reached across the table and shook Burke's hand vigorously; Mr. Armound nodded his approval. Slowly the volume increased, until the air was throbbing with music.
As the selection ended, the room rang with applause and cheers; men rose from their seats to clasp Burke's hand, but Mr. Morton waved them back and directed Burke to telegraph congratulations to the conductor at the other end and ask for an encore. The audience settled back in their seats with a sigh of renewed pleasure, and a flood of melody for a second time poured from the throat of the horn.
As the strains of "When a Laddie Loves a Lassie" rose and fell, Burke forgot the audience, forgot his invention, forgot everything but the girl who was not there to be the crown to his triumph. He saw her again as she had stood two days ago on the deck of the Chas. Eastman. Women and love had never entered into his lifeplan before, but now--
"S. O. S." suddenly croaked the Morse code through the waves of melody. "For God's sake, what's the matter? I can't get a message through. We are on fire--Chas. East " A sudden blare of trumpets as the band changed to a medley, cut off the rest.
Burke swung the sending instrument into place and hammered out: "Where are you, Chas. Eastman?"
Again and again he sent the call through the swelling strains of music. "For God's sake shut off that infernal noise," he commanded the operator at the other end, but the man either did not hear or did not understand, for the music continued to pour from the horn. The audience stared as the white-faced young man tore the horn from its place and hammered the key furiously.
"Have you gone mad?" demanded Mr. Morton, saving the horn from crashing to the floor. "What's the matter?"
"They're afire and she's on it," Burke almost yelled, as with tense fingers he called station after station and sent in the alarm. "I'm going; I'm nearest." Then he turned to the amazed audience and made the first speech of his life. "There's a boat on fire out there with a woman on board. I need four men to go with me. Who will come?"
Four young men in evening dress were at his side before he had ceased speaking. "We're with you. Come on!"
The five men raced to the pier, cramming themselves into the sweaters and great-coats snatched from the cloak-room as they passed. Inside of five minutes the power-launch had shot away into the night and was racing south.
The dull slate gray of sky and men were merged into an indistinguishable mass; and Seymour strained his eye-balls until they ached in an effort to pierce the black curtain behind which the Charles Eastman lay burning. Ever upward he urged the steam-guage until the boat throbbed in unison with his heart-throbs. Up forward the volunteer crew exchanged conjectures in low tones, now and then throwing half-pitying glances at the strained white face above the wheel.
"Any relation of his?" one questioned.
"You bet. He's taking it too hard for it to be a stranger."
Then again the rhythmic beat of the engine and silence.
"Look, off to the left. A light! Can it be she?"
Far to the left of the regular course to Beaver Island and low down on the horizon. Burke saw a deep red glow. Without answering he swung the nose of the launch on to the new course and put on every ounce of power. He spat out a short order to the volunteer crew to open the lockers and get out the ropes, life-preservers and hatchets, his own eyes never leaving the dull red ball of fire. Faster and faster rared the launch. The bow cut deep splashes of foam from the quiet sea and flung them high into the air. Then suddenly a spray of flames shot upward in a scarlet blast, and sank into the water and went out.
"My God, she's blown up," cried one of the men, and the others murmured assent.
Burke was no pilot; and how he managed to hold the course in the inky blackness and reach the spot where the Charles Eastman had been he never knew; but reach there he did. Seizing a megaphone he sent call after call into the night. Faintly on the starboard side he heard as answer. Turning the nose of the launch in that direction he edged his way slowly forward, swinging the searchlight from side to side. Then suddenly with the clearness of the etching, the figure of a girl in a white cape rose out of the blackness, crouching upon a door.
When Burke had lifted her into the launch and set her upon her feet, she looked at him for a long moment; then realizing she was safe, tried to smile and began to sob instead.
"Here, you fellows, can any of you steer? Take this helm and cruise around to see if there are any others." And removing the girls wet cape he wrapped her in his own great-coat, drew her to a seat and soothed her, gently patting her shoulder and talking to her as if she had been his little sister. By degrees she regained enough control of herself to tell of the accident.
The Charles Eastman, she said, had been working at Beaver Island all day and toward night the dynamite had given out. Instead of coming to Falmouth in the launch as she had intended, she had had to wait for the tug which her father was sending in for more dynamite, in charge of the mate and a seaman. In some way the reserve oil-tank had caught fire and she had just time to send the S. O. S. call when the flames reached her. What had become of the mate and the seaman she did not know. There had been two minor explosions before the final one.
Unnoticed by the occupants of the launch, twin lights had appeared on the horizon, and the two coasters, the Southampton and the Acounda, now steamed up to offer their assistance. Leaving them to search for the two seamen, Burke headed the launch toward Falmouth.
One by one the volunteer crew drifted to the bow, leaving Burke at the wheel and Miss Phelps beside him. Slowly the launch nosed its way through the surrounding blackness toward the harbor fights.
"Did I ruin your experiment? I am so sorry, but I was in desperate need."
"I would go to the ends of the earth for my goddess." Then with a twinkle--"She has my vote every time."
Her answer was lost in the throb of the machinery, but for the rest of the journey Burke used only one hand to steer with, the other being fully occupied.