It was grim Death who introduced us to the charcoal burners; and, although his presence is seldom welcomed, yet, in this instance, we were indebted to him for one of the pleasant reminiscences of our summer’s vacation.
There were three of us in the party, the Dominie, the Professor, and Tinto, and as these pseudonyms sufficiently define their individuality I shall offer no further introduction than to say that the first and last were sexagenarians, while the other was a man of forty, and all were filled with art enthusiasm, one being a professional artist, and the others amateurs of no meager ability. They had come to the Green Mountain State from afar, to spend a two-months’ vacation and by climbing its mountains, threading its valleys, following up its streams, and in filling their portfolios with sketches from nature in this artist’s paradise.
This was the third year that the trio had spent their vacation in the mountains, and when they stepped off the train at “Danby and Mt. Tabor station,” the charming scene around them was neither novel nor strange, and they knew just what to expect. It is always the unexpected, however, that happens; and, as they passed around the corner of the station on the way to their inn, they found the way barred by a group of men who were tenderly placing in a wagon an oblong pine box, evidently containing a coffin, with the intent to transfer it to one of the houses in the village.
Reverently raising their hats in the presence of that foe whom the bravest dread to meet, Tinto inquired of a looker on the personality of the deceased, and was told that it was a man “named Eli Moore, a sawyer, who was killed yesterday at the charcoal job on the mountain, by a log rolling onto him.”
“Was he killed instantly?”
“Yes, as far as I know, he must ha’ been. He had sent all his men off somewhere’ else, and, as he wanted a log for some purpose, he went out to the pile, and must have started it while standing in front of it, for when his wife went out to look for and call him to dinner, she found him with a log some sixteen feet long and two foot through lying across his chest, and he stone dead. It must ha’ crushed the life right out of him.”
Waiting until the little procession moved on its way, our trio gathered up their impedimenta and followed the marble sidewalk to the village inn, where they proposed to stay for a few days as a base of operation in spying out the land thereabouts.
Little was said during the short walk; but through Tinto’s sensorium that phrase “The charcoal job on the mountain” was ringing its changes, and he had not reached the inn before making up his mind to know more of its meaning and purpose.
The artist is nothing if not observant; and our friend Tinto, in addition to this usual trait, was possessed of a full measure of curiosity, added to a persistency of purpose that had often stood him in good stead; and after an early supper, while the Dominie and Professor took a stroll in another direction in pursuit of objects of artistic interest, he followed the marble pathway back to the depot in search of someone who could post him on the “charcoal job.” He was not long in finding the office of the institution, in close proximity to the station, and in introducing himself to Messrs. Griffith & McIntyre, the proprietors thereof, explaining to them his desire to know more of their processes and modus operandi. Four kilns, situated on a knoll just back of some sheds, which serve as a freight depot, afforded the opportunity, and in the course of half an hour the artist was deep in the mysteries of burning hard and soft wood in kilns, “knee vents,” “waist vents,” “ankle vents,” “draughts,” “sinks,” and all the nomenclature which goes to designate and explain a “charcoal job.” Before leaving, he accepted a pressing invitation for himself and friends to drive up to the “job on the mountain” at their earliest opportunity.
The State of Vermont has been justly called “the artist’s paradise,” remarked the Dominic, as Tinto rejoined his companions on the veranda of the tavern in the late twilight of the summer evening. “I know of no State in the Union, and no portion of any State, that presents such a diversity of charming scenery as this favored portion of the earth’s surface. From the most expansive view over vast and continuous mountain ranges, to the close pastoral scene, and the multitudinous and charming ‘bits’ that surround us on every hand, this section is replete with pictures that would honor the easel of any painter.”
“I wonder,” said the Professor, “that these rich artistic placers have not been discovered and utilized long ago by the artists of New York, Boston, and nearer cities. They seem, however, to have been overlooked in the furor for the more fashionable White Mountains, Coast of Maine, Yellowstone, or the Rockies; and this favored land is give the go-by by artists, who continue to paint the old scenes ad nauseam, while directly in their pathway lies a region whose every acre is a mine of artistic wealth, and every mile is filled with aesthetic rapture.”
“Well,” replied Tinto, to who these remarks were addressed, “‘sufficient for the day is the evil thereof’” (at the same time holding up two finger to indicate quotation marks, a habit he had acquired when quoting scripture in presence of the Dominie, to deprecate criticism and to intimate the lack of originality). “When other artists shall have made the discovery of this charming Switzerland, and shall have found how cheaply they can live and travel in it, they will come in crowds; the fashionable world will follow, and then adieu to the charming simplicity of its people, its reasonable rates, and unadulterated honesty. Let us enjoy it while we may, and leave the other fellows to find it out for themselves.”
“By-the-way,” said the Dominie, “in our tramp after supper we followed up this little stream that crosses the road here by the hotel, and found some charming cascades and falls, and I propose that in the morning we go out and see them.”
This being readily acquiesced in, the conversation drifted to ordinary topics until bedtime, when the trio sought their respective dormitories, and slept the sleep of the just.
It was the third day after their arrival before they were ready to accept the invitation to “do” the “charcoal job on the mountain.”
“Come, arouse thee! arouse thee! my merry Swiss boy,” warbled the Dominie, as he rapped at Tinto’s door in the morning; “it’s a long day before us, and we want an early start.”
“What an unearthly hour for a Christian man to get out of bed!” said Tinto, sotto voce, as he looked at his time-piece, which noted half-past five o’clock; “however, as we are in Turkey, I suppose we must do as the Turkeys do;” and in the course of twenty minutes he had joined his companions at the breakfast table.
It was a lovely July morning, and all animate and inanimate nature seemed to rejoice and pay homage to the god of day as he ascended his pathway in the east, and, peeping over the mountain, looked through a lovely pink haze down into the valley. His rays seems to kiss into life and activity all moving things, from the robin on the hillside to the superannuated old horse down in the pasture; the trees and flowers seemed to rejoice in his coming; and even the staid and sober Dominie felt the exhilarating effects of the delightful atmosphere, filled with ozone from recent showers, and was as playful as a motherly tabby with her first kitten. Tinto and he had been intimate friends for more than a quarter of a century, and the artists and his doings formed excellent butts for the shafts of his sarcastic criticism, which he would not have dared to aim at a less goodnatured man.
The little hamlet of Danby, made up of not more than twenty or thirty houses, is situated in a valley between two ranges of the Green Mountains that rise some three thousand feet on either side, and extend north and south for many miles. The range on the west is composed of limestone, and in it is found marble of purest quality, which is worked to advantage, the quarries at Rutland being noted for their extent and the fineness of the material. The eastern range is granitic, and, like all the other ranges, is covered to its top with a dense growth of hemlock, spruce, beech, pine, poplar, birch, and other evergreen and deciduous trees, the former preponderating, thus giving them the right to the title of Green Mountains. Along the faces of the ranges, gorges and ravines are formed by the action of water, and are the only means of ingress and egress to and from the interior valleys, for the sides are generally so steep that nothing short of a goat, and he a very sober one, could climb them. Through these gorges there is barely room for the road and the stream, and the former is frequently blasted out of the solid side of the mountain, while the latter in spring a raging torrent, carrying with and before it massive boulders, logs, and all the debris of a vernal freshet, makes frequent and strenuous effort to wash the highway out of existence.
It was up one of these gorges that our trio were to take their devious way to the top of the mountain, and thence over to Weston, a hamlet on West river, where they had spent their previous summer’s vacation.
After considerable fussiness on the part of the Dominie, and numerous commands and countermands from Tinto, who, from his having served a term in the Home Guards during “the late unpleasantness,” was honored with the command of the party, they were ready to start. The order “Forward!” was given to the driver, a pert lad of fifteen summers, the son of the landlord; and with a cheery goodbye to Boniface and several villagers who had gathered on the veranda, they were off for Weston “and a market.” Driving through the one street of the place to the depot, they halted long enough to appoint to meet Mr. G on the mountain in time for dinner, and to inspect his new stables recently erected by him for the accommodation of such of his horses as may be needed in the valley, or such as may not be able to get back to “the job” before nightfall.
In answer to a question of Tinto’s, they were told that the company owned one hundred horses, sixteen yoke of oxen, and frequently compelled to hire as many more during the busy season.
“Come, gentlemen,” said Mr. G—“before you go up the mountain let me show you how we ship our coal; there’s a wagon coming in, and you can see it unloaded.”
Walking along a little beyond the group of kilns, the party came to a platform, attached to and in front of a freight shed, by the side of which stood a derrick and its attachments.
“The track is below the platform, so that the top of a freight car comes about on a level with it, and for the convenience the top of the car is open, with hinged covers, as you see,” said Mr. G—.
“What is the capacity of one of these cars?” asked the Professor.
“Well, from 1,150 to 1,300 bushels; we own about fifty cars, and could use many more; we frequently have to wait for the return of our cars, causing serious delays. Nevertheless we manage to ship an average of 100,000 bushels per months, which is about the capacity of the four ‘jobs;’ this one here; the one on the mountain; the Black branch job, and the three kilns over by the large boarding house on the other side of the mountain.”
At this juncture the coal wagon drove up to the platform, and the driver made preparations to unload his cargo, while the party stepped to windward to avoid the dust.
These wagons consist of a running gear about ten feet long, and four feet two inches wide, on which are mounted two large boxes, say three feet two inches wide on the bottom, by six feet long, and flaring upward to five feet wide by seven feet long, their capacity being sometimes extended by sideboards eight inches higher. They ordinarily carry 250 bushels to a wagon, and have hinged bottoms, which are kept in place by a simple mechanical contrivance until it is required to dump them. Straps of iron extend up the sides of the boxes, with an eye at the top, into which the hooks of the derrick chain are inserted, the windlass put in operation, one box lifted from the gear, swung over the car, the bolt drawn, and the contents dumped into the car, when it is swung back to its place, and the other box goes through the same process.
Such was the operation which our trio witnessed; and, as the dust arose in clouds and blew away to leeward, Tinto remarked:—
“‘Dust thou art, and to dust shalt thou return;’ I wonder if that is the kind of dust that drakes are made of?”
“Dust think so?” queried the Dominie.
“Perhaps it is,” remarked the Professor; for if the Darwinian theory is correct, the darker must be first cousin to our great progenitor the ape; and ‘thereby hangs a tale.’”
A volley or ohs greeted this sally, the party proceeded to climb into their vehicle, and, after bidding Mr. G—au revoir, started up the gorge. Before entering it, however, they had to pass through the little hamlet of Mt. Tabor, named for the mountain above it, and consisting of a store and post office, with some half dozen neat cottages, all with door yards in front, in which summer flowers were blooming, and all betokening the thrift and comfort so common to the New England villages. Facing mostly to the south and west, their windows command charming views down the valley, and across to Dorset mountain, which at a distance of a little over a quarter of a mile rose to an altitude of 3,300 feet.
“Give e a cot in the valley I love,” hummed Tinto. What a lovely spot to spend the remnant of one’s days, dreaming life away in the enjoyment of such delightful scenery and drinking in the rich tones of the sunsets behind you distant range”—
“Do you suppose for a moment that, with your towering intellect and vaulting ambition, you would be content to settle down in such a quiet spot as this; or do you suppose that the world would allow of it?” said the Dominie. “There are duties one owes to society as well as to one’s self, and duties never clash.”
“There’s a little cottage with half an acre of ground, and a nice barn that you can hire for a dollar a month,” said the boy driver, pointing out a neat five room house they were passing, and evidently wishing to have his part in the conversation, which he took for gospel.
That settled the matter, and the conversation dropped, for the time being.
A hundred yards farther on they entered upon the wild beauties of the gorge, at a point where once had been a massive dam, which, having been swept away during the last spring freshet, the timbers and logs, mixed in the most inextricable confusion with the immense boulders that had caused the destruction, former, with the rushing waters that roared and swirled through and among the debris, a wild and attractive picture. In a moment the trio were on their feet and out of the wagon; scrambling about on the rocks and broken timbers; calling upon each other to admire now this view, now that vista. Crossing the stream on the slippery stones, at the risk of wet feet and broken limbs, they behaved rather like school boys on a lark, than three elderly professional men, who would have smiled at their own enthusiasm could they have seen it with their ordinary vision.
It was evident that the boy driver had his doubts as to the sanity of his passengers, as with half open mouth and staring eyes he watched their antics and wondered what there was in so familiar a scene to call forth such demonstrations.
“Oh, that’s nothing!” said he, as they returned to the vehicle, “to what it is in the spring; you should see it then if you want to hear roaring. There’s no water on now of any consequence.”
“What is there in the sight of falling water that should fill the artistic mind with such rapture?” asked the Professor, as the trio resumed their seats and the upward journey.
“I think,” said the Dominie, who was always ready with his theory, before Tinto had formulated the thought wit which to express his idea, “it is because of the untrammeled grace of its movements. Now look at that little fall yonder as it pours over the immense boulder and scatters its volume on the smaller rocks below; here it sweeps boldly to the right under the pile of driftwood which is has erstwhile brought down with it, and then swirls gracefully into that eddy to the left, to plunge again and again in bow like curves over and among the rounded stones and the debris of its former rage and fury, every singing its song of freedom. What does Solomon say in his”—
What Solomon said remains unknown, for Tinto ejaculated in a stage whisper to the Professor, “He got ‘em again; we must find some antidote for this, or we shall be preached to death;” and the Dominie subsided. A moment later, however, the preacher had his revenge, for his friend exclaimed, “Oh! look there! what a charming picture that is! Stop, driver! I must have that;” and, without waiting for the team to check its headway, he leaped to the ground, and was soon seated on a rock in midstream, sketching the scene before him, undisturbed by the Dominie’s remark anent for the lunatic having escaped his keepers.
They were traveling along the bottom of a V shaped ravine, in which there was barely room for the stream. The road had been blasted out of the mountain side, and a fringe of trees, left at the water’s edge, threw a deep shadow across the bed of the stream, while, beyond the vista thus formed, the sunlight brought out in strong relief the rustic bridge where the road made an abrupt turn and crossed to the other bank; this was the scene which the artist was trying to get for a picture.
It would be tedious to attempt to describe the beauties of this charming gorge, which in every rod of its devious ascent presented a new and attractive feature that brought forth some exclamation of surprise, admiration, or wonder, or to narrate the several incidents of passing the heavily loaded coal carts, to which they were obliged to yield the right of way, or the frequent halts to “get this or that charming bit. Ere they reached the mountain top they found their stock of expletives exhausted; and, as they realized the beauty and extent of the scenes through which they had passed, silence seemed the only way of expressing the rapture which filled them.
About halfway up they passed a spot where another mountain stream came in from the left, and were told by their driver that the rugged road along its banks “led up to the Black branch job.”
Continuing on their course, after another hour’s climbing, they found themselves passing between two rows of buildings, and emerging into a cleared and level space about fifteen acres, which, from the kilns on the one hand, and the large saw mill on the other, with the commodious boarding house beyond, they recognized as “the job on the mountain.”
This unique settlement consisted of about forty or fifty structures, bracing a large steam saw mill, forty by eighty feet, with all the appliances for converting the choicest hardwood logs into lumber, which is mainly used by a mowing machine large boarding house for the single men among the employes; a general store and office, with an adjoining residence for the chief clerk or manager ; a harness shop ; a wagon shop ; blacksmith shop, and a number of cottages for the employes, besides stables for the animals, sheds for the wagons, sleds, etc. ; and last, though not least, four large kilns for burning the coal. The houses are furnished the men rent free; the supplies at as near cost as possible ; and everything within its capacity is manufactured on the spot by the company.
Stopping at the office, our trio were welcomed by the manager, who had been telephoned of their coming.
Their first objective point was the group of kilns, and towards these they leisurely made their way, exhilarated by the bracing atmosphere of this elevated region, made more pungent by the pyroligneous vapor arising from two of the kilns which were in full heat.
Arrived before one, which, by its open door and the wagon in front, was evidently being emptied, they were on the point of entering when they were startled by the apparition of a tall, gaunt, Italian brigand, which stalked out of the opening, and with the stride of giant mounted the plank, one end of which was supported on a tripod at the side of the wagon, emptied the shell like basket which he carried, and, turning upon his heel, stalked back again Without giving a look of curiosity to the trio of strangers whom he might have touched as he passed. He was a splendid specimen of man, and better fitted for the wild fastnesses of the Abruzzi, whence he probably came, than the peaceful, scenes by which he was surrounded. The surprise of the party was somewhat allayed when they learned that quite a large proportion of the employes were natives of sunny Italy,—a fact which they soon realized in the chattering of the black haired and black eyed little picturesque ragamuffins, who congregated about most of the laborers’ cottages and ran riot about the place. This brigand was too good a subject to lose, ad Tinto subsequently made a sketch of him, which he promised to copy for the Dominie.
They did not enter the kiln, for, upon looking within, they discovered that the coal, now thoroughly charred and cooled, was being raked down, and the whole interior was filled with a fine charcoal dust in which it seemed impossible to breath. Three or four men, who looked more like imps than human beings, were breathing it, however, for they were engaged with long iron rakes in tearing down the serried ranks of charred logs, which, as they fell, crumbled and sent up showers of dust, through which the sunlight, entering at the opening above, sent athwart the picture a ray that produced a very weird and startling effect.
While admiring this interesting scene Mr. G— drove up, and, as it was past noon, he invited his guests to dine with the boarding house opposite the kilns, promising after dinner to explain the modus operandi of burning coal.
Now, if the Dominic has one weakness which dominates all his other weaknesses, it is a fondness for the pleasures of the table ; and, although his personal appearance would scarcely warrant such a conclusion —for he is lean and gaunt to a degree the sound of the breakfast or dinner bell has frequently been known to put an end to some of his finest lucubrations, and to check the flow of his most elaborate rhetorical efforts. Knowing his failing in this respect,Knowings companions yielded a ready acquiescence to the call, and in a few moments they were seated at one of the tables in the long dining room of the boarding house, doing ample justice to the plain but really attractive food set before them.
An hour later, with cigars between their lips, the returned to the kilns, and their host proceeded, in his matter-of-fact way, to illuminate their minds regarding the mysteries of burning charcoal, as carried on in the precincts of the Green Mountains.
As they walked leisurely towards the kilns, Mr. G— began by saying: “We own about thirteen thousand acres in this immediate section, and thirteen hundred in the Black branch job. The wood is mostly spruce, which is the soft timber. Birch is harder timber, and it is the hard coal, used in the manufacturing of barbed wire.
“The Larger logs of spruce are sawed up into lumber, and the smaller ones are burned for coal. There are a hundred men employed in chopping at all seasons, but about the first of October we start all hands into the timber, where they remain until the first of April. They are divided into gangs of twelve to fifteen men each, with a boss for each gang.”
“Do they remain in the woods night?” queried Tinto.
“That depends,” replied Mr. G.
“Some who are near the mill come in at night to their families or to the boarding house, while those who are far away build shanties of logs, covered with boards, many of those improvised houses being constructed with runners, and are moved about with the progress of the chopping. They have a cook, and supplies are drawn to them on sleds.”
“It must be a hard and monotonous life,” said the Dominie.
“On the contrary, the men look forward to the winter season with a great deal of anticipation; although our winters are ordinarily sever, and there is frequently from eight to twelve feet of snow on the mountains, they lead life of excitement and, to them, one of pleasure. They go to work as early as it is light enough for them to see, and chop until dark, when they repair to their shanties and spend their evenings — and many days together, too, for that matter, when it is too stormy to work — in singing, dancing, card playing, and thrumming musical instruments of some kind.”
“How are they paid?” asked Tinto.
“Some by the day, and some by the cord; and the bosses are held responsible for their proper attention to business. They are paid off on the 30th of each month, when they come in to get their money and have a quiet spree.”
“Do they get intoxicated on ginger pop and birch beer?” queried the Professor ; “for those, I understand, are the only beverages to be had in this land of steady habits.”
“Well, no,” replied Mr. G; “but they mix those liquors with the water from our mountain springs, and that, you know, is very exhilarating, especially in winter.
By this time they stood before the group of kilns, and Mr. G— continued: ” Our choice of location depends, of course, upon the preponderance of the kind of wood we want; and, having chosen a site, we proceed to cut a road to civilization, to haul our supplies and materials. We next build our houses for the accommodation of our workmen, and then proceed to build our kilns, which, you see, are of hard brick. The walls are twelve inches thick, and the kilns from twenty five to thirty feet in diameter; twelve feet high to the crown, and about seven feet crown, with a circular opening in the crown of five feet diameter. The only other opening (except the vents) is the door, which is closed by a heavy slab of No. 8 iron. The floor is of clay and well tamped, and the foundations are thoroughly grouted before the structure is commenced, as the kilns expand with the heat, and contract while cooling. There are three tiers of vents, or openings, the size of a brick, left in the walls for the purpose of drawing the fire back and forth,— one hundred and twenty vents to each kiln; and they are called waist, knee, and ankle vents.’ Now, if you will step this way,” continued Mr. G—, “I will show you a kiln almost ready for firing, in which you can see the construction of the pile.”
Climbing a steep staircase, our friends found themselves upon a platform level with the tops of all the kilns, and looking down into one of these they saw the wood piled in two tiers, filling the kiln to within, say, three feet of the top of the crown, the logs radiating from the centre, leaving an interior space of about four feet, which was filled with soft and light wood for kindling. A foundation of logs is first laid upon and covering the floor, except a fire arch from the door to the centre. Then the logs are piled as above described, until the kiln is full, when the centre is filled with kindling, and the pile is ready for firing. A rag saturated with kerosene is attached to a pole, and, being lighted, is thrust under the fire arch to the centre, igniting the kindling; the door is closed and the hermetically sealed; the thimble, or iron circular plate, placed over the opening over the top, and for ten or twelve days the charring goes on, being regulate by the vents around the base of the kiln. It is necessary that the fire should begin at top and burn downward, and for this pose two openings are left in the tilt at the top, each of which is easily with a brick. These are left open or closed, as emergency requires, the vents are opened as needed, to draw the fire downward through the pile. the wood is sufficiently charred above the vents, which is ascertained by the smell of the smoke, or by thrusting a bar Tell the vents, to feel whether it is wood coal ; the knee, or middle row of vents, and the ankle vents, are opened in succession, although the lower vents, as a general thing, are not opened ; the collier preferring to burn the lower tier of logs in another kiln, rather than run the risk of over firing.
Mr. G having been called away for few moments, Tinto turned to the Professor for an explanation of the chemical process in the charring operation.
“Wood,” said he, is composed of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen gases, the latter in proportions sufficient to form water. When fired in the open air it burns with a flame, freely, the carbon being consumed, leaving only a residuum of ashes, or the earthy portion. But when burned in confinement, where the oxygen of the atmosphere cannot reach it in sufficient quantity to unite with the oxygen of the wood, and cause flame, the intense heat liberates the hydrogen and oxygen gases, which go off in pyroligneous acid, which is the thin, vaporous smoke that you see rising from the kiln yonder, and issuing from the vents. The woody fiber, in the form of carbon, remains, and is the wood charcoal of commerce.
While awaiting the return of their host, our trio watched the operations of the men about them on the platform and in the kilns.
The vehicle which brought logs from the adjacent woods to the kilns of a peculiar construction, necessitated by the circumstances. It was an ordinary rack, mounted at the front upon runners, but at the back upon skids, which are meant to retard rather than to facilitate the progress of the vehicle, as it has to descend the steep wood roads of the mountains, where it would seem impossible for anything but a goat to retain its footing. Yet, habit has become so far second nature with these hardy horses that they manage to handle their loads with an elan that is very interesting to behold. The most difficult hauling is on the level ground where the roads are much cut up, and upon the platforms where the wood is unloaded.
Mr. G—, on his return to his guests, conducted them to the interior of an open kiln, where he gave them further incidental information regarding the operations.
“You will understand,” said he, “that the process is one of charring, and not of combustion, and the converting of the woody fibre into carbon; hence flame is very undesirable, as it consumes the wood. If, through the carelessness of the collier in tending vent,” as they say in the artillery, flame should once get headway, the kiln would explode, endangering many lives. The presence of flame is indicated by that white spot on the wall there; that is an infallible detective, and tells of the carelessness of the collier.
“How,” asked the Professor, “do you judge of the progress of the charring, not being able to gain access to the interior?”
“Well,” replied Mr. G—“ we have no means of judging, except by the smell of the smoke, the heat on the door and thimble, and by prodding the vents, as I before explained. Nevertheless, although the period of ten or twelve days, during which the charring is going on, is a time of constant watchfulness and attention to business on the part of the collier, continued every day experience renders him so expert that we seldom have an accident or lose a firing.
“I wish,” said the Dominic, “that you would explain more fully the process of drawing the fire down, as I do not fully comprehend it.”
Taking a piece of coal from the ground, Mr. G— drew the diagram of a section of a kiln ready for firing. “This,” said he, ” represents the wall of the kiln. A is the kindling, and BB the wood to be charred. C is the space left for the gases, and D is the fire arch. Now when the center kindling has been thoroughly ignited and the flame extinguished by closing the door and putting on the thimble at the top, the pile of kindling is reduced to a mass of red hot embers, and this fire is drawn back and forth, now in this direction, now in that, as shown by the arrows, by opening the vents.”
” Yes,” said the Dominie, ” but how? that is what I do not understand.”
“Well, the fire works against the wind. Why, I cannot explain. I leave that to more scientific men. You will see that these kilns have a northern exposure, and, when the wind is from that direction, great care is necessary not to burn too fast. When it is from other quarters the burning is more regular. Sometimes a sink occurs, which means that the fire is drawn down too rapidly, leaving a middle portion uncharred. This is to be avoided, and can only occur through the carelessness of the collier. After the charring operation is complete the vents are stopped, the body of the kiln is thoroughly whitewashed, and the crown covered liberally with coal tar, to make everything airtight, and the kiln left for two days to cool off. It is then opened, and the coal can be taken out immediately. Thus you see that it requires fourteen days at least to burn a kiln; two to fill, ten to burn, and two to cool. The secret of good coal, however, is to take time, and we prefer to give it twelve days to char, unless we are behind our orders, which, I am sorry to say, is generally the case.”
Turning to his companions, the Dominie found that Tinto was missing, and, as he was nothing without his friend, who was his alter ego, the party walked out into the sunlight to see what had become of him.
It was not until after an hour’s wandering about the precincts of the “job,” during which they stumbled upon many delightful little bits of scenery, that, in crossing a rustic bridge they discovered his genial face through the attic window of a tenantless house where he was engaged in sketching one of the numerous homes of the charcoal burners.
“Oh, you renegade I” exclaimed the Dominic, shaking his alpen stock in a threatening manner at the artist ; ” here we have been hunting you for an hour or more, while you have been perched in an attic, redolent, I have no doubt, of onions and potatoes, having us in view all the time.”
“Well, I knew,” said Tinto, as he rejoined his companions on the bridge, ” that I could safely rely upon you to absorb the information communicated by our friend, and that all it was necessary for me to do was to squeeze the sponge and gather the residuum.” He placated the Dominie’s anger by showing the sketches he had got, and then added : ” It is time for us to start if we expect to reach Weston for supper,” which fact being acquiesced in, the driver was hunted up, the team gotten ready and farewell said to their host, whose pressing invitation to spend a day or two longer with him they were reluctantly compelled to decline.
Weston, the little hamlet where our trio had spent their previous summer’s vacation, and to which their attention was now directed, is situated in a depression of the mountains about five miles from ” the job ; ” and although the road was less rough than that from Danby up the mountain gorge, it was wild and romantic enough to satisfy the most enthusiastic artist, and to fill the party with delightful emotions, to which they were continually giving vent in exclamations both loud and deep.
The horses in this section of country are trained to take the most precipitous hill at a gallop, and to keep their gait when going down hill, so that, what with the exciting drive, the bracing mountain air, the wild and rugged scenery, which was now lighted by the declining rays* of the setting sun, now shadowed by fleeting clouds ; the pleasant companionship and the frequent interchange of repartee, the ride was one long to be remembered even the boy driver.
“I often wonder,” said Tinto, while the three friends were admiring the tints of the sky as the sun sank behind a bank of clouds, lighting up their edges with the hues of the rainbow, “how these men whom we meet feel, and what they think, surrounded as they are continually by scenes which excite in us emotionally that will vent themselves in words. They seem so stolid that one can hardly believe they see the beauty which encompasses them, and which we have come so far to enjoy.”
“Men see with what they have to see with,” quoted the Dominie.
“That’s Kingsley,” said the Professor, sotto voce, as his friend had failed to hold up his fingers indicating quotation marks.
“Two men shall stand upon the slope of a mountain looking toward the Western horizon,” continued the preacher, without noticing the interruption, ” where the w sun is lighting up with his departing rays a rich bank of clouds sweeping grandly up to the zenith, while broken fragments of vapor catch and reflect the glow of the setting orb, their edges gilded with golden light, which shades off into cooler purple and aerial grays, until the whole atmosphere is filled with gorgeous color, making the appreciative soul leap for joy that God has made the world so beautiful. Between the observers and the sun range after range of mountains catch the glowing light, while the intervening valleys are filled with that warm purple haze which floats and glimmers in the sunlight ; and the foreground is made up of such glorious scenery as that round about us, thrown into shadow as the sun goes down, betokening the gloom of night.
“One of the observers shall be a farmer, born and bred near the spot where they stand; and he looks upon the scene with utilitarian eyes, seeing only the promise of fine weather tomorrow, and a chance to cut that grass down in the meadow. The other shall be an artist, who, like yourself, is accustomed to prairie like surroundings, where a hill ten feet high is a mountain, and who has traveled a thousand miles to witness and enjoy the scene before them, which his companion values so lightly. Their feelings, expressed In words, would be:—
What a magnificent picture! How grandly beautiful; can anything be more charming and complete in picturesqueness? I envy you a life in such a land, — a land replete with all the charms which go to make up an artist’s paradise.’
“Humph! I reckon if you had to make a living out of this paradise, as you call it, you wouldn’t think it so beautiful.’
“That expresses it to a certain degree,” said the Professor, ” but you leave out the element of training and culture. Now, I doubt if even Tinto would be so eloquent in the description, or enthusiastic in his admiration, were it not that he has cultivated his tastes to the point of appreciation.”
Approaching a spot vernacularly known as “the Devil’s Den,” they took a short tramp into the woods until they came to a ledge of hold, overhanging rocks, covered with the primeval forest growth, whence, looking down into a chasm several hundred feet in depth, they could see the tops of trees which had never heard the sound of woodman’s axe ; and thence up and away across a wide expanse of landscape, embracing extensive mountain ranges, bathed in all the glorious tints of the setting sun. It was a scene to fill the soul with rapture, and so apposite to the Dominie’s recent and eloquent description, that Tinto and the Professor exclaimed with one accord, ” The Dominie’s picture! ” It was indeed a wild and romantic spot, and one were it better known — that would become a favorite resort for the artist, the tourist, and the leisure traveler.
After taking a hearty drink at a clear spring, whose waters percolated through a crevice in the overhanging rock by the roadside, they drove on in the fast deepening ing twilight, silent now in the presence of that calm, still, mournful beauty, which settles down upon the face of nature as she draws the veil of night across her features. Each was storing away in his sensorium bright reminiscences of a delightful day Fell spent, whose close found them domiciled at the little inn at Weston, where they received a warm and hearty welcome from simple but honest hosts.
For four weeks our trio of artist friends remained in this delightful retreat in the heart of the Green Mountains. enjoying to the fullest extent the charming scenery, filling their books and portfolios with sketches, taking in large draughts of the pure mountain air, and laying up great stores of health with which to combat the malarial influences of their urban homes.
Separated by twelve miles of mountainous country from the nearest railroad station, located seventeen hundred feet above tide water, and surrounded by mountains from two to three thousand feet in height, with no opportunity of spending money beyond the mere pittance paid for board and the hire of a team occasionally to drive to distant points, the days were spent in rambling among the glens and water courses, the evenings in dreamy discourse or mild discussion on the veranda, and the nights in sound, refreshing, and dreamless sleep.
Sitting on the veranda on the evening previous to the day of their contemplated departure from this elysium, watching fair Cynthia as she rose from behind the mountain before them, it was proposed that on the morrow they should climb to the top of the aforesaid mountain, if peradventure they might discover where the moon came from.
Morning came, cool, bright, and bracing, and after an early breakfast, with alpen stocks in hand, and with spirits as buoyant as those of boys let out of school, they started. Younger and less experienced men would have dashed boldly at the face of the mountain and carried the ascent by storm, but our sexagenarians chose a more circuitous, if longer route, and, following a gradually ascending road which ran around its base, found themselves, after an hour’s pleasant ramble, with only about one third of the height to master. Taking this very leisurely, stopping now to explore the inmost recesses of a sugar house, now to ” get this bit ” of a fence corner, or that group of trees ; perchance a quiescent ruminant (cattle being Tinto’s specialty) ; they found only the last fifty feet of climbing at all fatiguing or tiresome. Arrived at last upon the summit, they gathered upon the bare surface of a large rock, which was voted to be ” tip top,” and looked about them.
If one can imagine himself upon the top of an immense wave in mid ocean, surrounded upon all sides by the swelling forms of storm vexed billows, and if those forms could be suddenly congealed or rendered motionless, — he would have an adequate conception of the scene upon which our trio admiringly gazed. Away off to the north the range, upon one of the spurs of which they stood, trended away in ever changing and varied shapes, until the more distant peaks melted tenderly into the cool grays of the clouds, and it became a matter of discussion which was vapor and which solid earth. To the east the undulations were less abrupt, but the eye wandered over the contour of the billowy ranges, resting at last upon the far distant horizon, where the peaks of the White Mountains cut the skyline and stood plainly revealed against the azure of the heaven above. Looking southward, the landscape gradually assumed a more pastoral appearance, the extreme distance being bounded by the Holyoke range, sixty miles away ; while, westward, the Green Mountains surged and swelled in rocky waves, peak rising above peak, range above range, culminating in the shadowy Adirondacks, whose rugged outlines alone separated them from the blue ether about them. The middle distance in each view was made up of
“Hills rock ribbed and ancient as the sun,
With vales stretching in pensive quietness between,
Venerable woods, — rivers that
Moved in majesty, and complaining brooks
That made the meadows green,” —
with here and there the bright sheen of silver lake, the taper spire of a village church or the lazily ascending smoke of a rustic factory, making altogether a scene s! mindful of Bryant’s grand Psalm of Nature that Tinto felt in his enthusiasm that more fitting rostrum could be found, and voiced its sonorous words, while his companions drank in the gorgeous beauties of the scene which had called them forth. “
Verily, our last day has been our best day,” sighed the Dominie, as the friends, after two hours of quiet converse with nature and with each other, picked their way through the woods and followed their devious pathway back to the little inn, Could we take this to our homes, or were we able to visit it occasionally under such bright auspices, we should have no need of the Sabbath in which to worship God, for his praises would be continually upon our lips, and adoration forever welling up in our hearts for the Creator of so much beauty, of so much grandeur.”
And Tinto and the Professor cried “Amen!”