The Speaker
  David Taylor

The aged man stirred; the veil before his eyes glowed deep crimson. O Gud, O barmhjertig Gud, jeg er i helvede... But no, he could hear the hiss of the ventilator beside his hospital bed, he was still on Earth, he had not yet, as another melancholy Dane had put it, shuffled off this mortal coil. His judgment was at hand, but not yet this minute.

He could no longer see the furnishings of his private hospital room or the undoubtedly pretty faces of the nurses as his faculties succumbed one by one to the malignancy in his lungs. He was reminded of President Kennedy... no, no, that was the young fellow in office now; rather, president Wilson those many years ago in his glass box, too ailing to shake his hand when he said, You are to be commended, Mr. Jensen, this is an achievement that will shake foundations, and oh it had, oh it had, barmhjertig Gud, oh it had.

O holy night

He was afraid. He was so afraid. Of death, of course, that undiscovered country from whose bourne no traveller returns, but also of what awaited him over that threshold. He wondered if his father had felt the same, if he had pondered damnation as that storm sent him to the bottom of the Baltic Sea. He was a hard man, but not, perhaps, an evil man. His son was softer, showing affection to his family, wanting to make his mark and change the world, and so hopelessly, hopelessly naive...

A man must accept responsibility for his actions. His father had taught him that.

The stars are brightly shining

The stars did shine brightly that night his mentor Valdemar Poulsen transmitted his own voice to a naval vessel 50 miles away. The Americans had invented wireless, but Herr Poulsen was the first to craft a device good enough to send more than Morse code.

Peter, my lad, the inventor had chortled, now men who’ve never left their village can speak to other countries! Communication, by God, communication will be the end of war! Archduke Ferdinand was still six years from his grave and the only trenches in Europe drained water from fertile farms when Peter was sent to administer Herr Poulsen’s patents in America.

How different was California! How harsh, how generous! So different from Sjaelland. And what spirit, what daring! His new friend Edwin Pridham thought it nothing extraordinary to propose they leave their employment to strike it rich by making a new kind of telephone receiver.

It is the night of our dear saviour’s birth

It was during the holidays that his new wife’s uncle came to bear smug witness to their failed invention. It amplified the signal beautifully but was much too large to be installed in homes. Innocently, the uncle wondered if it could be of help to the stentorian, megaphone-wielding announcers at ball games.

That was the key; freed from constraint, they enlarged the device. The first time they turned connected the wires, there was a horrible screaming as of souls in torment. Feedback! It was feedback! With nothing but sound, they had created feedback! They had to put the device atop the chimney, and he had taken a horse to a neighbour’s farm. After friendly greetings, he had consulted his pocketwatch and told the neighbour to listen, and from two and a half miles away they could hear an ethereal voice say, Can you hear me? The poor neighbour thought he was on the road to Damascus, but when it was explained he shook his head in wonder and said, You have made your machine a speaker. A loud speaker. <

em>Long lay the world in sin and error pining

O such sin! O such monstrous error! If only he could forget! If only he had never been born! If only he had kept faith with Herr Paulsen and the Federal Telegraph Company. Aye, there’s the rub.

Till He appeared and the Spirit felt its worth

The denizens of Napa Valley heard voices and music from the sky that summer as they perfected their loud speaker. Their fame grew and grew, until the unwell president desired to speak to a huge throng in San Diego, to make his excuses for sending American boys to their death in foreign fields after promising isolationism. Peter listened to evasions and half-truths and an amplified voice saying Armistice, Armistice, until it was the word on everybody’s lips, but fleetingly so, nobody has used that cruel word in decades.

A thrill of hope the weary world rejoices

The world was indeed weary, calling the conflict The War To End All Wars, as if the being was in the telling. Flappers danced and tycoons squandered as a world away brownshirts assaulted a beerhall and one man started to force a nation to share His Struggle.

For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn

A young boy sang a song about the new dawn of a new Reich in the Olympic Games, which Peter was persuaded to visit after a trip to his mother’s bedside. He politely declined a chance to be congratulated by the moustached man who used his loud speakers to proclaim the Games open. In the years to come, this man’s voice, just the sheer power of one man’s voice, cast a spell over an entire people, carried aloft on demonic wings of artifice, on the ashen taste in the mouths of a man who wanted nothing more than to enable men to talk, to know, to share, O how Lucifer must have laughed, as Herr Peter Laurits Jensen felt every excruciating moment of his fall

Of his fall

Of his

Fall on your knees

He remembered so clearly, a young girl in a white coat turning her tear-stained face to the sky, falling to his knees that Christmas day in 1915 as one hundred thousand people gathered before San Francisco city hall to hear a miracle.

O hear the angel voices

The only sound in the entire city was the heavenly sound of la prima donna Luisa Tetrazzini, as she poured her very essence into a microphone to be shared with all men of good will.

O night divine

The cigar dropped from the mayor’s voice, the cartmongers paused with their wares as they knew, they somehow knew, that nothing would ever be the same.

O night when Christ was born

He thought of another night, Kristallnacht, the broken glass covering the paving-stones of his good intentions.

O night

If only his last thoughts on earth could avoid the stadiums, the panzers, the banners, the chambers, the shame, and instead focus on La Tetrazzini’s sweetly piercing climax

O Holy Night

All is dark. Peter Jensen’s outrageous fortune, built on the back of a sea of troubles, avails him naught.

Is there a light?

What awaits me?

Mama?

O night divine

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