Friday, November 27, 2009

Friday Fiction: The Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship

Every Friday, I'll post an installment of The Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship. This book, written by Margaret Burnham and published in 1911, is in the public domain.

It's interesting to read for a variety of reasons, not least of which is to see the prevailing attitude toward women.

The Girl Aviators and the Phantom Airship
Margaret Burnham

Chapter One: The Golden Butterfly

"Roy! Roy! Where are you?"

Peggy Prescott came flying down the red-brick path, a rustling newspaper clutched in her hand.

"Here I am, sis -- what's up?"

The door of a long, low shed at the farther end of the old-fashioned garden opened as a clattering sound of hammering abruptly ceased. Roy Prescott, a wavy-haired, blue-eyed lad of seventeen, or thereabouts, stood in the portal. He looked very business-like in his khaki trousers, blue shirt and rolled up sleeves. In his hand was a shiny hammer.

Peggy, quite regardless of a big, black smudge on her brother's face, threw her arms around his neck in one of her "bear hugs," while Roy, boy-like, wriggled in her clasp as best he could.

"Now, just look here, cried Peggy, quite out of breath with her own vehemence. She flourished the paper under his nose and, imitating the traditional voice of the town crier, announced:

"Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye! Roy Prescott or any of the ambitious aviators -- now is your chance! Great news from the front! Third and last call!"

"You've got auctioneering, the Supreme Court and war times mixed up a bit, haven't you?" asked Roy with masculine condescension, but gazing fondly at his vivacious sister nevertheless.

Peggy made a little face and then thrust forth the paper for his examination.

"Read that, you unenthusiastic person," she demanded, "and then tell me if you don't think that Miss Margaret Prescott has good reason to feel somewhat more enthusiastic than comports with her usual dignity and well-known icy reserve - ahem!"

"Good gracious, sis!" exclaimed the boy, as he scanned the news-sheet, "why this is just what we were wishing for, isn't it? It's our chance if we can only grasp it and make good."

"We can! We will!" exclaimed Peggy, striking an attitude and holding one hand above her glossy head. "Read it out, Roy, so that Monsieur Bleriot can hear it."

M. Bleriot, a French bull-dog, who had dignifiedly followed Peggy's mad career down the path, gazed up appreciatively as Roy read out:

"Big Chance for Sky Boys!

"Ironmaster Higgins of Acotonick Offers Ten Thousand Dollars in Prizes for Flights and Planes."

"Ten thousand dollars, just think!" cried Peggy, clasping her hands one minute and the next stooping to caress M. Bleriot. "Oh, Roy, do you think we could?"

"Could what? you indefinite person?" parried Roy, although his eyes were dancing and he knew well enough what his vivacious sister was driving at.

"Could win that ten thousand dollars, of course, you goose."

Roy laughed.

"It's not all offered in a lump sum," he rejoined. "Lisen, there is a large first prize of five thousand dollars for the boy under eighteen who makes the longest sustained flight in a plane of his own construction--with the excception of the engine, that is; and here's another of two thousand five hundred dollars to the glider making the best and longest sustained flight, and another of one thousand five hundred to the boy flying the most carefully constructed machine and the one bearing the most ingenious devices for perfecting the art of flying and -- and--oh listen, Peggy!"

"I am--oh, I am," breathed Peggy with half assumed breathlessness.

"There's a prize offered for girls!"


"Yes. Now don't say an more that girls are downtrodden and neglected by the bright minds of the day. Here it is, all in black and white, a prize of a whole thousand dollars to the young lady who makes a successful flight. There, what do you think of that?"

"That Mr. Higgins is a mean old thing," pouted Peggy, "five thousand dollars to the successful boy and only one thousand dollars to the successful girl. It's discrimination, that's what it is. Don't you read every day in the papers about girls and women making almost as good flights as the men? Didn't a --Mademoiselle somebody -or-other make a flight round the bell tower at Bruges the other day, and hasn't Coloel Roosevelt's daughter been up in one, and isn't there a regular school for woemn fliers at Washington, and--and--?"

"Didn't the suffragettes promise to drop 'Vote for Women' placards from the air upon the devoted heads of the British Parliament, you uo-to-date young person?" finished Roy, teasingly.

Peggy made a dash for him but the boy dodged into the shed, closely followed by his sister.

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