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An Engineer's Yarn

An Engineer's Yarn image
Parent Issue
Day
19
Month
December
Year
1873
Copyright
Public Domain
OCR Text

1 am a practical ïnechamcal engineer. Not one of these youngsters who go to a scientific school for a few years, and take a C. E., M. E., or something of the.kind, and then put 011 airs about it. They always affect to snub us practical men, but we rather get into them when it comes to real work. Of course, these chaps are well enough in their way (and that isn't mine) in getting up artistic drawings and models, and all that sort of thing. And sometimes they are of some account. There was young Hoppin, who helped me with that toggle-joint. I originated the idea ; he put itintoshape. I made enough to retire on it, and I did the square thing by him, if he idus " a scientiffc man," so I feel perfbctly free to speak my mind about the lot, always excepting my friend Hoppin. But this isn't telling my story. There's my wife Bessie (bless her dear little heart), alwa)'s sayiug 1 can't come to the point without as man y twists and turns as my own old machiuery. Perhaps she is right. But then, this is the first time I evertried to express inyself in print, and I don't exactly know how to go about it, so you must excuse me. That's reasonable, isn't it? And besides, lam getting so stout and logy-like, that I ain't as sharp as I used to be. My young acquaintance, who is an editor, or some equally useless member of society, has roped me into this scrape, and ought to help me out; but be doesn't. All he says is, " Fire away, old man, and make it short and sweet." I'm afiaid this isn't telling my story, either. - Prolixity, (that's the word) comes sort of natural-like to me now. Let me see. It was sixteen years ago this summer that I carne to New York in seareh of employment. I had beeu running an engine in a big tannery in the western part of the state, and doing firstrate, till the company failed, and I was thrown out of work. So I was looking about to wn for something to do. Money - guage so low that I was ready for anything af'ter a fortnight of searching aud waiting. I happened to be walking through a down-town cross street, when I saw a placard in the window of a paper box factory : - " Engineee Wanted. - GooD Salaky." " That's just me," says I, so I went into the office and asked if I would do. The manager said he would try me. He djd try me, and it seeins I must have satisfied him; for ho told me to stay. Now, it is about this manager and this paper-box factory that my story, such as it is, will be ; and to make things all straight and plain, (a sort of oiling up at the start) let me attempt to describe them both. First, then, the manager, Mr. Samuel Harkness, alsö sole owner of the factory. This Mr. Samuel Harkness was the greatest villain 1 ever came across. He's dead now, poor man, and I hate to speak ill of those who are gone, 'cause, you see, its much the same as chinniug behind a man's back ; but he was a villain all tho same. Not one of your story-book villains, either. I have read lots of novéis, romances, and such stuff, lately, but I haven't seen anything about their villains that applies to my villain. Thcir's are invariably thin, dark men ; of little, serpentine motion ; with y ello w faces, and straight black hair, and deep-set, fugitivo eyes. Something of the evü' one cropping out at every point. Why, Lord bless you, you'd recognize this kind of villain soon as ever you clapped eyes on him, just as you would a patpnt machino, with every bit of metal labeled. My villain wasn't tall, wan't dark at all ; was tolerably stout, in fact, and well-to-do looking; didn't squirm a bit ; and, to cut this description short, was just like most anybody else you meet. When 1 engaged under him, of course I didn't kuow anything about his villaiuy. How could I 'i He wasn't labeled. And now for the factory itself. It was a somewhat dilapidated five-story brick concern. Engine in cellar (most overy inanufacturer had his own power then, instead of just belting on to tho one big engine of the block, as they do now) ; office and samples, first floor ; clipping and folding machines, second floor girls pasting, sorting and trimming, on the third floor ; stock of all sorts on the fourth and fifth. We used to turn out an immense deal of work with very few hands. There were about tweuty-five or so girls, the manager, his clerk and oflice-boy, a man to hoist and do odd jobs, the fireuian, and inyself. Except when stock was taken in, or work sent out, there was nobody else in the building. I generally kept to my own business, and staid down in the cellar, nursing the old engine. She sadly needed it, being a ricketty and patched up a contrivance as one cares to stay alongside of. She always reminded me of some old people you eee, who are always in need of a pectoral for a cough, or a liniment for rheuuiatism, or something or other. This engine of mine was in Buch a state that she always wanted easing somewhere, a rivet here, a plug there, new stufliug, more felting, or a band around the whole boiler. - prom boiler to fly-wheel she was ricketty. P5 ut there was no present danger to be apprehended ; all was safe enough with proper care and attention. There was the rnb. I had to exercise that same proper care and attention all the time. But if I waa so occupied, I could not help meeting the girls now and then in the passage-way. Most of theni w.ere of the common sort- ooarse, vulgar ceatures, that I never could abide. But there was one little pale-faced girl I took to straight off. She wau't a bit like the othors, and seemed as nice and quiet, and lady-likp, as they wero noisj' aud common. As I said, I took to her, and she - well, sho didn't altogether snub me. We got to be fast friends soon. She told me the tale of her sad life ; how her father had been a prosperous mechanic, and they had lived in such a dear little home ; how the father died, and left her, a mere mite of a thing, in charge of her feeble mother and baby sister ; and how she contrived to get along and keep grim fainine f rom the door on the pittance of her earnings. Whenever I could, without making a fuss, I helped them along a little. And when we got well acquainted, I used to hurry through my work so as to be able to see her home every day after six o'clock. - Sometimes, too, we used to go to concerts and lectures together ; and very often I found time to isit them all of an evening. I hadn't said a word of love to her yet, but was waiting till my wages were increased enough to enable me to keep a home of my own, and theu ask her to lili it. Of her state of feeling toward me I knew nothing, except tb.at she looked upon and trusted me as a brother. One thing used to rile me, though, and that was the sneaking sort of liking that Harkness seerued to have for her ; and worse, he showed it plainly enough by the way he presented her with his odlous attentions whenever he got the chance. - She told me she would leave the place if she could only get another. I have said that it was sixteen years ago that. I entered the box factory. If you will take the trouble to aubstract, you will find that makes 1857. It puts us just in the year of the great financial orash. - I had been in the factory about three months, and was gotting used to the general run f things ; and though it was out of my line, aud none of my business, I could not but notice how slack trade seemed to be. Rumora of failures up the street, down the street, on the corner, at ïios. 35 and 37 over the way met my ears. Humors of sailures past and failures to come. Bumors of great distress east, west, and south. Bumors of a threatened general smash up. Money men teil me that when the market is tight, it only needs such a wholesale panic to bring down every one. It is the apprehension, not the veality that does the work. But this is not telling my story, either. Well, old Harkness kept on with his uanufacturing, though I could see that, day by day, fewer calis for work were nade. He always wore a cheerful smile ihrough those troblous times, as much as o say, " Look at me, if you want to see a model man of business. I don't speculate. don't get involed. Mark my conse[uent prosperity."' Now, when I see a man with a good deal of bluster and swag;er about him, I always make up my inind that he is a coward at heart. And when sorae people parade their fiuaucial oundness, the Wall Street animáis always snuff rottenness somewhere. It uust havo been on this principie that I egan to suspect Harkness wasn't so safe after all. One night I was delayed by an unexected break down in gearing, and stayd in my cellar long after the girls, the lerk, and the fireman had gone, hard at work tinkering at the engine. No oue was in the factory but Harkness and myelf. I do not think he suspected my preeuce. As I was taking off my overalls and fixing up, I heard a heavy dray come up to our door. There were four or five men with it, who were not our regular cartmen. They jumped out, were let in hrough the half closed doors of the main loor above me, and were led up stairs by larkness. Presently they reappeared, iearing cases of varios kinds of stock, ancy paper, gilding stuft', light iuachiney and different odds and eüds, with which they loaded the dray, and then [rove off again. All was done in such a uiet, rnysterious way, that it was evident hat something wrong was being done. - Vhat could it be ? The men were not obbers, for there was Mr. Harkness, and ie sole owner of the factory. A man ;oes not commit a larceny on his own roperty. I couldn't make it out at all. I started to go. Just as I entered the office from below, Harkness came in by ;he passage-way door from the floor abov. He started perceptibly when he aw me, but instantly regained his comosure, and said, as cool as you please : " Ah ! you're late Bill. What's wrong ;o-day? Hope you won't blow us up for a week or so yet. We're doing a staving jusiness, Bill." (t think I see him now, ' washing his hands with invisible soap n imperceptible water," with that selfatisfied, hypocritical leer on his face). - 'Just sent a load of line boxes down to ;o the Winged Arrow. She sails to-morrow, so we had to ship in a hurry. Fine oxes; anda beautif ui vessel, Bill. Good night to you." 'Good night, sir,"said I, and left. As I went up the street, another dray assed, driven toward the factory. I had he curiosity to turn and watch to see whether it, too, stopped there. It did, and when I reached the corner of Broadway, I stopped and looked back once more. There, ín the darkening twilight, ;he same process of hurried loading was jeing repeated. It seemed to be all right. Harkness was there, but somehow, I was not quite satisfied. Trimming machines are not fine assorted gilt-edged boxes, by any manner of means, you know. And [ knew it too, though, very likoly old [larkness didu't give me credit for being so well posted. Well, if 1 couldn't settle ;he question, the next best thing was to jive it up And give it up I did. Next morning 1 went over, as usual, to the factory.. Jim, the stoker, opened the doors 'always, as he had to be early to tend to the üres, which we banked every night. 1 expected to see Jim, but was much surprised when I saw Harkness. - This time it was he who carne up through the cellar door and I through the other. As before, we met uuexpectedly. Now it was my turn to be surprised. , He was intensely pale, and seemed much agitatedWith a strong effbrt of the will he strove to conceal his strange manner. He endeavored to speak calmly, and half suc. ceeded. " Bill," said he, " Jim has tended to the engine, its all right ; come outside with me, I want to talk to you." He turned to the cellar door and shoutod: " Jim, come up, come up at once. Run over to Mr. Brent's private house - you know where that is - and teil him not to discount that bill to-day. Be quick !" " Yes, sir, coming," sung out Jim, leisurely. Suddenly he tore up the cellar steps. - His face was ten shades paler than Harkness', an expression of horror wasfixed on his features - an expression of agouy and fear that I shall never forget. It haunts me still. It will stay by me till my dying day. Poor fellow, he's gone, too, since then. Jim hardly stopped in his wild flight, as he hoarsely whispered, rather than cried : " Hundred and ten on the steain guage ' Safety valvad clogged ! ! Run for your ,lives!ü" I took in the situation at once. Terrible the danger was. The old boiler was registered at eighty pounds to the square inch, but we never dared run higher than thirty. And a hundred and ten ! We wero standing directly over it, and while I hesitated, the pressure must be steadily rising. It ftashed upon me that there might be no more danger in jumping down and pressing the Bafety valve, than in running away, and in spite of the awful panic, I had a prejudice against running. I looked down from the doorway, upon tho trembling, panting, struggling steam demon beneath. The safety valve apparatus was in plain sight. From the end of the lever hang several hvge links of chain. " I don't think I'm a coward - usually, at least, I know I atn not. But that evidence of villainy took me all aback. I staggered and clung feebly to the lintel for support. The words seemed forced out of me, and not uttered with my volition : " You sooundrel. You'd steal your insurance, would you ?" A suddon vindictive push sent me headlong. As I feil I heard 8 demoniac laugh. " 'Peach, if you want to !" And the door swung to with a click of the spring lock. At foot of the steps was a open trap, the sub-cellar hatch. The distance was so great that I had time to notice all this. Would it hurt me much when I struck ? Would it kill me outright ? And that was all. When I carne to, I found myself in a well-remembered room. Bessie, my Bessie now, hung tenderly over me, waiting for the light of recognition to appear in my fevered eyes. All was soon told. Tbe boiler must have burst the very instant I Btruck. - Sarkness was killed by a flying piece of machinery ; the would-be murderer had exchanged places with his victim, for I, strange as it may seem, was dug out of the ruins alive, and got off with only a broken arm. God forgive him. Bessie insists that if it hadn't been for the accident, I should never have "spoken out." So, after all, it was a blessing in disguise.

Article

Subjects
Old News
Michigan Argus