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KARL W. Detzer
LD Samuel Potter buckled his oilskins gravely and stepped with impassive face into the cold vehement night. It was eight o'clock, the twenty-ninth of March. He was starting his last patrol. At midnight he would complete thirty years of honorable service in the coast-guard. Under the humanitarian dogmatism of Government rules, at midnight he must become a pensioner.
He latched the door firmly, walked erect as long as the crew could see, but once out of sight, he stumbled; his breath, that outwardly he had managed to keep tranquil, caught against the first push of wind. His last patrol!
Back in the snug warmth of the squad-room, the recruit laughed. "The old man's near done," he said.
There was contempt, more than pity, in his voice. Sam's mates recognized its note, and at once protested.
"He was good in his time," one cried. "Held a dozen records . . . swimming, signaling, first aid, don't know what all. Nothin' he couldn't do better'n anybody else. Only...." "It wasn't his fault he was always lucky," Nels Bergson, the keeper, said soberly. "Just happened no call ever came in with Sam Potter on duty. Four year he's served here,
and we ain't launched a boat since he come, except in practice. Was the same way at Herring Head, where he was stationed afore this. Three disasters they had there in one season, and Sam was away all three times, on liberty. Never knowed about 'em till they was over. Wasn't his fault."
Carlsen, number one man, nodded his big round head.
"We was over on Elephant Back together, me and Sam, five year. Two disasters the same week, and Sam laid up both time. Broke his leg fallin' off'n the drill-mast. Next season the Red Apple, that three stick schooner out o' Buffalo, washed ashore not heavin' stick distance off'n our runways. Sam was to town over night, keeper'd sent him after a can o' copper paint. Crew . . . nine of them there was . . . was all saved and dry when he got back next morning. Pretty mad, he acted. Said somebody else could run errands a spell. Yeh, he's been luckier'n most!"
right. Only his breath was short; it almost refused to rise at all, sometimes; now, as he walked, he felt the thump of his straining heart against his ribs.
His last patrol! He remembered his first one. Then, just as now, a yelling March gale flung breakers toward the black scudding clouds. A thousand such riotous nights he had trudged a lonely watch, trudged it faithfully and hopefully, without complaint. He was resentful now. He had been thirty years in service, and not one chance had he had at
At the end of the patrol he punched the recording clock carefully and faced about. His feet dragged in the sand, returning to quarters. Immense, maniacal seas yanked at his ankles on the shelving beach; he cursed them unreasonably, climbed to higher security on the dune and tramped on. The exertion tired him more than usual. He brushed his glove across his eyes once, just before he reached the trim white boathouse, and stared out to the vacant sea a long, hopeful minute. No use. Another bad night and no sign of a distress. Nothing but waves and sky and wind. It was ten o'clock. His last patrol was done. In two hours it would be midnight. If he'd had one chance! Just one!
The crew awaited him jovially in the squad-room. There was a sharp odor of fresh hot coffee coming in from the kitchen and before he was out of his wet oilskins, the cook had brought in a great white cake, sparkling with candles. Thirty candles. He need not count them-one for every year of service.
explained. "Out of honor for you. Toss cups, men. Long life, Sam, and more luck!"
"Thank you kindly, sir," Potter replied.
He sat down awkwardly by the stove and warmed his stiff legs. He wished they hadn't done it. He didn't need to be reminded. The bell on the watch-tower tapped six and seven. The gale howled in an ecstasy of fury.
The men talked of wrecks while the clock-hands crawled upward. Sam listened, Sam and the young recruit. Eight bells . . . midnight.
"Shake, Sam," the keeper said, "you're a civilian. I'll be one myself in four years!"
Sam's cold fingers did not grip as firmly as was their habit. Ten minutes later he said: "Good night, all," in a disillusioned voice, and climbed wearily up the stairs to the sleepingquarters.
Out of inflexible habit he pulled the rubber boots of his roughweather outfit, close to the bed, ready for emergency. It became quiet below. Only Sam lay wakeful, hearing the bell tap once, twice, three times. Shame tormented him. Thirty years and not one call. Not once wet except in drill. He hadn't come into this service a youngster. His old body needed a pension now. He knew that, long before the examining doctor told him. He'd be ready, ready to retire, if there'd been one wreck!
He was still awake, waiting four taps . . . two o'clock . . . when instead of its precise, staccato beat, the watch-tower bell set up an insane
"It's a jollification, Sam," Bergson commotion. The recruit, who was on
duty, charged into the squad-room below.
"Call!" he was crying. "Call! Capt'n! Distress!"
Ex-surfman Potter was first up. He jerked on the rough-weather garments; was first below stairs. His kindly lean brown face was drawn into hard lines, his upper lip battened down, there was a victorious light in his dim eyes, such light as shines in the eyes of faithful worn-out men, under great excitement. A call for at last a call!
The crew tumbled into the room, buckling slickers and sou'westers. The towerman was shouting hysterically at the keeper, shouting as if ten fathoms of white water lay between them.
"West," he was crying, "a little nor' of west! Aye, sir, I sighted her plain!"
"Hurry, men!" the keeper bellowed.
Outside, in the swaying trees, the northeast wind snarled spitefully; harassed breakers charged up the shore, retreated, charged charged again, again, mightier than ever. Keeper Bergson halted just as he reached the boathouse. He gripped Sam Potter's oilskin sleeve.
"More luck for you, Sam!" he shouted. He did not heed the old man's protests. "You're out, through! You don't need to go. Stand watch. Sure, that's orders. I'll take the cook ... he's got a good heart. No, no, you couldn't stand it, Sam. Hell of a night! Wouldn't dare take you!"
Civilian Potter stood in the sand while his mates of yesterday put out, after immense exertions, upon the exasperated sea. On Fisherman's Reef a dying vessel shot a supplicating rocket. He watched the surfboat fight through high frantic breakers and disappear into the wet waste beyond. Once or twice he wiped his eyes despairingly, with the back of his hand, and blew his nose repeatedly.
"Lucky!" he cried.
He climbed to his place in the tower at last, methodically tapped the hours upon the bell. At dawn he sighted a broken spar where the wreck had been, and approaching shore, a white surf-boat crowded with men, his own proud mates and a ship's crew they had rescued.
"Lucky!" he cried again. And he shook his fist reproachfully at the sea that had cheated him.
ADDING ONE NEWSPAPER TO ANOTHER
The Life Story of the Scripps-Howard Chain
T WAS the twentieth birthday anniversary of the United Press. At the celebration Mr. Coolidge was the chief speaker, and beside him sat a former newsboy, now chairman of the Scripps-Howard papers and part owner of the news agency. The presence of the Chief Executive of the United States dramatized the growth and power of a noteworthy factor in American journalism: "A world power," as one man put it, “influential beyond the dream of any of its founders."
When the United Press Associations were formed by the combination of three scattered agencies, its New York staff consisted of twelve persons, including the office boy, and it was a memorable day when five hundred words of news were cabled from abroad. A big domestic "flash" of the time was that the Wright brothers had succeeded in getting their airplane off the ground. Now the United Press serves, in seventeen languages, newspapers scattered through thirtyeight countries. It receives a daily cable service that runs to ten thousand words. It has twenty-eight foreign bureaus, thirty-six in the United States, and a correspondent in every other news center. It leases more than one hundred thousand
miles of wire, and its despatches are read by twenty million Americans.
Few of these twenty millions realized what had been happening in the field of news gathering and news distribution, during those twenty years. Few except newspaper men knew how the United Press had waxed in strength and grown in size. Even to many in the profession it was a surprise. About twenty years ago I was a reporter on the "St. Louis Post-Dispatch" when the assistant telegraph-editor announced that he was going to take the newseditor's desk of the Scripps-McRae (as it was then) paper in Cincinnati. "Don't you think it a mistake," remonstrated the responsible editor, "to leave a great paper founded by Joseph Pulitzer, and go to work for people who don't even know the why of a newspaper?" He was not merely belittling a rival employer: he was expressing the opinion of many sagacious newspaper men. The assistant telegraph-editor, however, could not resist the lure of twentyseven fifty a week, and betook his hundred pounds to Cincinnati.
This was Roy W. Howard, the former newsboy who sat beside President Coolidge at the "U. P." banquet; and that incident is one of the reasons for writing this story.
Why are the Scripps-Howard newspapers?
The original why of the ScrippsHoward papers and of the United Press, hovered as an Unseen Presence behind the speakers at the banquet. It was Edward W. Scripps who, with ten thousand dollars borrowed from an elder brother, founded the newspaper from which sprang the present twenty-six, stretching from coast to coast; it was he who formulated for them the aspirations and principles which, now that he is dead, still mold their policies. As an Illinois farm boy, sitting atop a rail fence, he had observed that his fellows worked long and hard for very little, and seldom rose above a persistent drudgery; he had noted, too, that they were ignored and inarticulate. Thus the idea came to him of a newspaper for the under dog. When, in 1879, he founded the "Penny Press" (now the "Cleveland Press,") he told "Bob" Paine, its editor, that no man with pull or power or money was to be treated better than any other man. This was a key-note.
It happened that on one of Scripps's early visits to Cleveland, he fell into a misdemeanor perhaps more frequent in that decade than in this. The next day the "Press" carried, as an ordinary police court item, the fact that he had been fined ten dollars for reckless driving (horses, of course) while intoxicated. "Ed" Scripps had the high temper which often goes with red hair; and he had a human impulse to ease his wrath by discharging the editor.
"For a full minute," Paine said afterward, "his eye was on mine, with all the benevolence of a garpike
glaring at a nice fat minnow. Then the stern features relaxed, and into his eyes came that smile which those who knew him will never forget." The upshot was that the editor got an increase of pay, and is still with the Scripps's chain.
There was another incident of those trying early days which had its significance. A young advertising man, by holding out collections, embezzled four thousand dollars. It was a great deal of money to the struggling paper. The business manager wired Scripps proudly that he would lose nothing: a mortgage had been taken on the home of the delinquent's mother. "You will not prosecute," came the angry reply; "you will cancel mortgage at once. You will put four thousand in your profit and loss account, due to damned poor management."
During the eighties Scripps extended his holdings rapidly. He wrote little for his papers. He swam with his men, played pennyante with them, bossed them, quarreled with them and listened to them; and so by an intimate process he instilled in them his own definite ideas of the why of a newspaper. "Fire the liar," was a favorite dictum. There was long-suffering patience for the blunders of youth, but short shrift for the deceiver. "A newspaper," Scripps wrote once, "is a thing of growth, and properly conducted, is everlasting. It is neither a fake nor a snap for a day or two, nor a scheme to bunco money out of fools' pockets. A reputation for honesty, and ability to give good service for money, is more necessary than a reputation for virtue in women."