Adventures of a Lone Woman
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A Magazine of Literature, Art, and Politics.
VOL. XV.— APRIL, 1865. — NO. XC.
“ I WILL go and see the oil,” remarked Miselle, at the end of a reverie of ten minutes.
Caleb laid the “Morning Journal” upon the table, and prepared himself calmly to accept whatever new dispensation Providence and Miselle had allotted him.
“ Whaling ? ” inquired he.
“ No, not whaling. I am going to the Oil Springs.”
“By all means. They lie in the remotest portion of Pennsylvania ; they are inaccessible by railway ; such conveyances and such wretched inns as are to be found are crowded with lawless men, rushing to the wells to seek their fortunes, or rushing away, savage at having utterly lost them. At this season the roads are likely to be impassable from, mud, the weather to be stormy. When do you propose going ? ”
“ Next Monday,” replied Miselle, serenely.
“And with whom ? You know that I cannot accompany you.”
“ I did not dream of incurring such a responsibility. I go alone.”
Caleb resumed the “ Morning Journal.” Miselle wrote a letter, signed her name, and tossed it across the table, saying, —
“There, I have written to Friend Williams, who has, as his sister tells me, set up a shanty and a wife on Oil Creek. I will go to them and so avoid your wretched inns, and at the same time secure a guide competent to conduct my explorations. As for the conveyances, the roads, and the lawless travellers, if men are not afraid to encounter them, surely a woman need not be.”
“ Be cautious, Miselle. This grain of practicability in the shape of Friend Williams is spoiling the unity of your plan. At first it was a charmingly consistent absurdity.”
“ But now ? ”
“Now it is merely foolishly hazardous, and I suppose you will undertake it. It is your kismet; it is Fate ; and what am I, to resist Destiny ? Go. child, —my blessing and my bank-book are your own.”
“And ‘ Ɉe suis Tedesco ! ’ ” pompously quoted Miselle; so no more was said upon the subject, until the young woman, having received an answer to her letter, claimed the treasures promised by Caleb, and shortly after fared forth upon her adventurous way.
Enterca according to Act of Congress, in the year 1865, by TICKNOR AND FIELDS, in the Clerk’s Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.
The journey from Boston to New York has for most persons lost the excitement of novelty ; but excitement of another sort is to be obtained by choosing a route where mile after mile of the roadway is lined with wrecks of recent accidents, and the papers sold in the cars brim over with horrible details of death and maiming in consequence. Nor can it be considered either wholesome or comfortable to be removed in the middle of a November night from a warm car to a ferry-boat, and thence to another train of cars without fire and almost without seats, — the suggestive apology being, that so many carriages had been “ smashed ” lately that the enterprising managers of the road had been obliged to buy an old excursiontrain from another company. Meantime, what became of the unfortunate women who had no kind companion to purvey for them blankets and pillows from the mephitic sleeping-car, and cups of hot tea from unknown sources, Miselle cannot conjecture.
New York at midday, from the standpoint of Fifth Avenue or Central Park, is a very splendid and attractive place, we shall all agree ; but New York involved in a wilderness of railway station at six o'clock of a rainy autumn morning is quite the reverse. Cabmen, draymen, porters, all assume a new ferocity of bearing, horses are more cruelly lashed, ignorant wayfarers more crushingly snubbed, new trunks more recklessly smashed, than would be possible at a later hour of the day ; and that large class of persons who may be denominated intermittent gentlemen fold up their politeness with their travellingshawls and put it away for a future occasion.
Solaced by a breakfast and rest, Miselle bade good-bye to her attentive escort, and set forth alone to view New York with the critical eye of a Bostonian.
Her first experience was significant ; and in the course of a three-mile drive down Broadway, she had time, while standing in the middle of an omnibus, where were seated nine young gentlemen, for much complacent comparison of the manners of the two cities. Indeed, after twelve hours of attentive study, Miselle discovered but two points of superiority in the New Babylon over the Modern Athens, and these were chocolate-creams and policemen : the first were delicious, the last civil.
Six o’clock arrived, and the “ Lightning Express,” over the Erie Railway, bore, among other less important freight, Miselle and her fortunes. But, unfortunately for the interest of this narrative, she had unwittingly selected an “off-night” for her journey; neither horrible accident nor raid of bold marauders enlivened the occasion; and undisturbed, the reckless passengers slept throughout the night, as men have slept who knew that a scaffold waited for them with the morning’s light.
Only Miselle could not rest. The steady rapidity of motion, — the terrible power of this force that man has made his own, and yet not so wholly his own but that it may at any moment break from his control, asserting itself master, — the dim light and motionless figures about her, — all these things wrought upon her fancy, until, through the gray mist of morning, great round hills stood up at either hand with deep valleys between, from whose nestling hamlets lights began to twinkle out as if great swarms of fireflies sheltered there. Then, as morning broke, the wild scenery, growing more distinct, told the traveller that she was far from home.
Gray and craggy hills, wild ravines, stormy mountain-streams, dizzy heights where the traveller looking down remembered Tarpeia, gloomy caverns, suggesting Simms’s theory of an interior world,— none of these were homelike ; and Miselle began to fancy herself an explorer, a Franklin, a Frémont, a Speke, until the train stopped at Hornellsville for breakfast, and she was reminded, while watching the operations of her fellow-passengers, of Du Chaillu peeping from behind tree-trunks at the domestic pursuits of the gorilla.
About noon the cars stopped at Corry, Pennsylvania, the entrance of the oil region and terminus of the Oil Creek Railway ; and Miselle, stepping from the train into a dense cloud of driving rain and oily men, felt one sudden pang of doubt as to her future course, and almost concluded it should be to await upon the platform the Eastern-bound express due there in a few hours. This dastardly impulse, however, was speedily put to flight by the superior terror of the ridicule sure to greet such a return, and, assuming a determined mien, Miselle took possession of Corry.
Three years ago the census of this place would have given so many foxes, so many woodchucks, so many badgers, raccoons, squirrels, and tree-toads ; now it numbers four thousand men, women, and children, and the “ old families ” have withdrawn to the aristocratic seclusion of the forest beyond.
For the accommodation of these newcomers a thousand buildings of various sorts have been erected,—much as a child takes his toy-village from the box and sets it here or there, as the whim of the moment dictates. Mere is also a large oil-refinery belonging to Mr. Downer of Boston, where a good many of the four thousand find employment; and here, too, are several inns, the best one called “ The Boston House.”
Hither Miselle betook herself, confidently expecting to find either Mr. Williams or a message from him awaiting her ; but, behold, no friend, no letter !
What was to be done next ? Mr. Dick, asked a similar question by Miss Betsy Trotwood, replied, “Feed him.”
Miselle adopted the suggestion. The hour was one P. M., and the general repast was concluded ; but a special table was soon prepared, whereat she and a gentleman of imposing appearance, called Viator Ignotus, were soon seated, before a dinner, of which the intention was excellent, but the execution as fatal as most executions.
Viator ate in silence, occasionally startling his companion by wild plunges across the table, knife in hand. At first she was inclined to believe him a dangerous madman ; but finding that the various dishes, and not herself, were the objects of attack, she refrained from flight, and considerately pushed everything within convenient stabbing distance of the blade, which unweariedly continued to wave in glittering curves from end to end of the table long after she had finished.
The banquet over, Miselle found the drawing-room, and in company with a woman, a girl, a baby, and a lawless stove, devoted herself to the study of Corry as seen through a window streaming with rain. Tired at last of this exhilarating pursuit, she engaged in single combat with the stove, and, being signally beaten, resolved to try a course of human nature as developed in her companions.
She soon learned that the girl was in reality a matron of seventeen, and the actual proprietor of the baby, whom, nevertheless, she appeared to regard as a mysterious phenomenon attached to the elder woman, whom she addressed as “Mam.” In this view the grandmother seemed to coincide, and remarked, naïvely, —
“Why, lor, Ma’am, she and her husband a’n’t nothing but two babies theirselves. She ha’n’t never been away from her folks, nor he from hisn, till t’other day he got bit with the ile-fever, and nothing would do but to tote down here to the Crik and make his fortin. They was chirk enough when they started ; but about a week ago he come home, and I tell you he sung a little smaller than when he was there last. He was clean discouraged : there wa’n’t no ile to be had, ’thout you’d got money enough to live on, to start with ; and victuals and everything else was so awful dear, a poor man would get run out ’fore he’d realized the fust thing ; wust of all was, Clementiny was so homesick she could n't neither sleep nor eat ; and the amount was, he’d stop 'long with father in the shop, and I should go and fetch home the two babies. So here I be, and a time I’ve had gittin’ ’em along. I tell you.”
“ It’s hard travelling down Oil Creek, then?'’ asked Miselle, with a personal interest in the question.
“ Hard ! Reckon you ’ll say that, arter you've tried it. How fur be you going ? ”
“To Tarr Farm.”
“ Lor, yes. Well now how d’ y’ allow to git there ? ”
“ I am hoping to meet a friend here who will know all about the way ; but if he fails me, I shall ask the people at the railway station.”
“ No need to go so fur. I kin tell ye the hull story, for it’s from Tarr Farm I fetched the gal and young ’un this very morning.”
“Indeed? What is the best route, then ? ”
“ Well, you ’ll take the railroad down to Schaeffer’s, and from there you start down the Crik either in a stage or a boat. But I would n’t recommend the stage nohow. You don't look so very rugged, and if you wa'n't killed, you’d be scared to death. So you ’ll hev to look up a boat.”
“ What sort of boat ? ” asked Miselle, faintly.
“ Oh, a flatboat. They come up loaded with ile, and going back they like fust rate to catch a passenger. But don't you give ’em too much. They’d cheat you out of your eye-teeth, but I ’ll bet you they found I was too many for ’em. Don’t you give more than a dollar, nohow ; and I made ’em take the two of us for a dollar ’n’ ’alf.”
“ How far is it from Schaeffer’s to Tarr Farm ? Perhaps I could walk,” suggested Miselle, modestly distrusting her own power in dealing with a rapacious flatboatman.
“ Well, it’s five mild, more or less. Think you could foot it that fur? ”
“ Oh, yes, very easily. Is the road pretty good ? ”
“ My gracious goodness ! Clementiny, she wants to know if the road down the Crik is ' pretty good ’ ! ”
“ Reckon you ha’n’t travelled round much in these parts. Where d’ y’ b’long ? ” asked the ingenuous Clementina, after a prolonged stare at the benighted stranger.
Having satisfied herself for the time being with human nature, Miselle returned to the window, and found the landscape mistier than ever.
She was still considering her probable success in finding an oil-boat and an oilman to take her down the Creek, and steadily turning her back upon the vision oftheEastern-bound Lightning Express, when a lady followed by a gentleman ran up the steps of the Boston House, and presently entered the dreary parlor, transforming it, as she did so, to a cheerful abiding-place, by the magic of youth, beauty, and grace. Miselle devoured her with her eyes, as did Crusoe the human footstep on his desert island. An answering glance, a suppressed smile on either side, and an understanding was established, an alliance completed, a tie more subtile than Freemasonry confessed.
In ten minutes Miselle and her new friend had conquered the lawless stove, had seated themselves before it, and were confiding to each other the mischances that had left them stranded upon the shore of Corny — Miselle for the night, Melusina until two o’clock in the morning.
Tea-time surprised this interchange of ideas, and so sunny had Miselle’s mood become that she was able to eat and drink, even though confronted by the baby and its youthful mother, whose knife impartially deposited in her own mouth and the infant’s portions of beefsteak, potatoes, short-cake, toast, pie, and cake, varied with spoonfuls of hot tea, at which the wretched little victim blinked and choked, but still swallowed.
After tea, the infant, excited by refreshment nearly to the point of convulsions, was restored to its grandmother, while the mother played upon a mournful instrument called a melodeon, and sang various popular songs in a powerful, but uncultivated voice.
When she was done, Miselle persuaded Melusina to take her seat at the instrument, and straightway the house was filled with such melody of sweet German love-songs, operatic morceaux, and stirring battle-hymns, that the open doorway thronged with uncouth forms, gathering as did the monsters to Arion’s harp. But when at last the clear voice rang out the melody of the “ Star-Spangled Banner,” the crowd took up the chorus, and rendered it with a heartfelt enthusiasm more significant than any music; for it was almost election-day, and the old query of “ How will Pennsylvania go ? ” had all day been urged among every knot of men who gathered to talk of the country’s prospects. Then came the good old “John Brown Song,” and the “ Marseillaise,” which should be snatched from its Rebel appropriators, on the same principle by which Doctor Byles adapted sacred words to popular melodies.
The music over, the little crowd dispersed, and the baby, with its brace of mothers, gone to bed, the new friends sat cozily down and enjoyed an hour or two of feminine gossip, exchanged kisses, cards, and photographs, and so bade good-bye.
It seems a trifling matter enough in the telling, but to the lonely Miselle this chance encounter with a comrade was enough to change the whole aspect of affairs ; and she sat down to breakfast the next morning, strong in the faith of a brilliant victory over bad roads, oily boats, and rapacious boatmen.
A plank walk from the hotel to the station elevates the foot-passenger in Corry above the mud of the streets, through whose depths flounders a crowd of wagons laden with crude oil for the refinery, with refined oil for the freighttrains, with carboys of chemicals, with merchandise, and with building materials for yet more houses.
Everything here is new. Not one of the thousand buildings is yet five years old ; and of the four thousand people, not the most easily acclimated could yet tell how the climate agrees with him. Indeed, it is so absolutely new that it has not yet reached the raw barrenness of a new place.
Nature does not cede her royalty except under strong compulsion, and still does battle in the streets of Corry with the four thousand, who have not yet found time to get out the stumps of the hastily felled trees, to “ improve ” a wild water-course that dashes down from the bluff and crosses the main street between a tailor’s shop and a restaurant, or even to trample to death the wildwood ferns and forest flowers which linger on its margin. When the Coriolanians have attended to these little matters, their city will look even newer than at present. Then shall their grandchildren bring other trees and set them along the streets, and dig wells and fountains, where Kuhleborn may rise to bemoan the desolation of his ancient domain.
Probably from sympathy with the bulk of their freight, the passenger-cars upon the Oil Creek Railway are so streaked with oil upon the outside, and so imbued with oil within, as to suggest having been used on excursions to the bottoms of the various wells ; but uninviting as is their appearance, they are always crowded, and Miselle shared her seat with a portly gentleman, whom at the second glance she recognized as Viator Ignotus, and he, presently alluding to the fact of their having dined together the previous day, a conversation grew up, through which Miselle, much to her amusement, was initiated into the cabinet secrets of the two or three railway companies who divide the travel of the West, and who would appear to cherish very much the same jealousies and avenge their grievances in much the same manner as Mrs. Jones and Mrs. Brown with their neighborhood quarrels. Then Viator, producing from his pocket sundry maps and charts, foretold the career of railways yet unborn, and discoursed learnedly upon their usefulness, or, as he phrased it, their “ paying prospects.” Finally, the subject of railways exhausted, or rather run out, Viator paid his companion the compliment of inquiring of her the condition of public feeling in her native State as regarded the election ; and the affairs of the nation were not yet completely arranged when the train arrived at Titusville, and Viator departed.
The city of Titusville is probably the most forlorn and dreary looking place in these United States. To describe the irregular rows of shanties bordering on impassable sloughs of mud, the scenery, the pigs, and the people, were a thankless task, as the most eloquent words would fall short of the reality. In one of the principal streets the blackened stumps still stand so thickly that the laden wagons meander among them as sinuously as the path which foxes and squirrels wore there only three years ago,—while in curious contrast with this avenue and the surrounding buildings stands a handsome brick church, with a gilded cross upon its spire, the one thing calm and steadfast in the dismal scene.
When the train again moved on, the seat vacated by Viator was taken by a young woman bound for Oil City, where her husband awaited her ; but the homesickness epidemic among the female population of the Creek had already seized upon her so strongly as to unfit her for conversation ; and Miselle devoted herself to the dismal landscape, privately agreeing with her companion that it was “ the God-forsakenest-looking place she ever see.”
On either side the road lay swamps, their gaunt trees festooned, or rather garroted, with vines, and draped with gray moss ; while all about and among them lay their comrades already prostrate and decaying. On the higher lands fields had been fenced in, and cleared by burning the trees, whose charred skeletons still stood, holding black and fleshless arms to heaven in mute appeal against man’s reckless abuse of Nature’s dearest children.
Later Miselle took occasion to express her horror at the wholesale destruction of her beloved forests to a land-owner of the region. He laughed, and stared at the sentimental folly, and then said, conclusively,—
“ Oh, but the land, you know, — we want to get at the land ; and the quickest way of disposing of the trees is the best.” '
“ But even if they must be felled, it is wicked to destroy them entirely, when so many people freeze to death every winter for want of fuel.”
“Well, I suppose they do,” said the land-owner, suppressing a yawn. “ But we can’t send them this wood, you know, or even get it down Oil Creek, where there is a market.”
“ At least, the poor people about here need never be cold. I suppose fuel is very cheap through all this country, is n't it ? ”
“ Down the Creek we pay ten dollars a cord for all the wood, and a dollar a bushel for all the coal we burn, and both grow within a mile of the wells ; but the trouble is the labor. Every man about here is in oil, somehow or another ; and even the farmers back of the Creek prefer bringing their horses down and teaming oil to working the land or felling wood. This is emphatically the oil region.”
Arrived at Schaeffer’s or Shaffer’s Farm, the present terminus of the Oil Creek Railway, Miselle was relieved from much anxiety by seeing upon the platform Friend Williams, to whom she had, in a fit of temporary insanity, written that she should leave home on Tuesday instead of Monday.
“And how shall we go down the Creek ? ” asked she, when the first greetings had been exchanged.
“ In the packet-boat, to be sure. The hack-carriage will take us right down to the wharf.”
Miselle opened her eyes. Here was metropolitan luxury ! Here was ultra civilization in the heart of the wilderness ! Oil-boats and lumber-wagons, avaunt ! Those women at Corry had evidently been practising upon her ignorance, and amusing themselves with her terrors !
A sudden rush of citizens toward the edge of the platform interrupted these meditations.
“ What is it ?” asked Miselle, wildly, as her companion seized her arm, and hurried her along with the crowd.
“ The carriage. There is a rush for places. There ! we ’re too late, I ’m afraid.”
They halted, as he spoke, beside a long, heavy wagon, such as is used in the Eastern States for drawing wood, springless, with boards laid across for seats, and with no means of access save the clumsy wheels. Upon an elevated perch in front sat the driver, grinning over his shoulder at the scrambling crowd of passengers, most of whom were now loaded upon the wagon, while a circle of disappointed aspirants danced wildly around it, looking for a yet possible nook or cranny.
“ Can't you make room for this lady ? I will walk,” vociferated Mr. Williams.
“ Can’t be did, Capting. Reckin, though, both on ye kin hitch on next load,” drawled the driver, turning his horses into the slough of mud extending in every direction.
“ I will walk with you. How far is it ? ” asked Miselle, after a brief contemplation of the prospect.
“Not so very far; but the mud is about two feet deep all the way, and you might soil your feet,” suggested Mr. Williams, with a quizzical smile.
The objection was unanswerable ; and Miselle, folding herself in the mantle of resignation, waited until the next troubling of the pool, when, rushing with the rest, she was safely hoisted into the cart, and the drive commenced.
“You had better cling to my arm here ; it’s a mud-hole ; don’t be frightened,” exclaimed Mr. Williams, as the horses suddenly disappeared from view, and the wagon poised itself an instant on the edge of a chasm, and then plunged madly after them.
“ Heavens ! what has happened ? Have they run away ? Did n’t the driver see where they were going ? There ! we ’re going o — ver ! ” shrieked Miselle.
“ No, no ; we ’re all right now, don’t you see ? The poor nags are n’t likely to run much here ; and though the driver saw it well enough, he could n’t help going through. That ’s a fair specimen of the road all down the Creek. Now here ’s a gully. Cling to me, and don’t be frightened.”
It is very easy to say, “ Don’t be frightened”; but when a wagon with four wheels travels for a considerable distance upon only two, while those on the upper side are spinning round in the air, and the whole affair inclines at a right angle toward a bottomless gulf of mud, it is rather difficult for a nervous person to heed the injunction.
Miselle did not shriek this time ; but she fancies the “ sable score of fingers four remain on the ” arm “ impressed,” to which she clung during the ordeal.
Another plunge, a lurch, a twist, a sharp descent, and the breathless horses halted on the bank of a stream whose shallow waters were crowded with flatboats, generally laden with oil.
“ Here is the packet-boat,” remarked Mr. Williams, with mischievous smile, as he lifted his charge from the “hackcarriage,” and led her toward one of these boats, a trifle dirtier than the rest, with planks laid across for seats, and several inches of water in the bottom. In shape and size it much resembled the mud-scows navigating the waters of Back Bay, Boston, and was propelled by a gigantic paddle at either end.
Miselle’s lingering vision of a neat little steamboat with a comfortable cabin died away ; and she placed herself without remark upon the board selected for her, accepting from her attentive companion the luxury of a bit of plank for her feet,—an invidious distinction, regarded with much disapproval by her fellow-passengers.
The sad and homesick lady was again Miselle’s nearest neighbor, and now found her tongue in expressions of dismay and apprehension so vehement and sincere that her auditor hardly knew whether to weep with her or smile at her.
Fifty luckless souls, more or less decently clothed in bodies, having been crowded upon the raft, the shore-line was cast off, and she drifted magnificently out into the stream, and stuck fast about a rod from the landing.
The most terrific oaths, the most strenuous exertion of the paddles, failing to move her, “a team” was loudly called for by the irate passengers, and presently appeared in the shape of two horses with a small blue boy perched upon one of them. These were hitched to the forward part of the boat, and the swearing and pushing recommenced, with an accompaniment of slashing blows upon the backs of the unfortunate horses, who strained and plunged, but all to no effect, until another boat appeared round the bend, slowly towed up against the stream by two more horses with a placid driver, whose less placid wife sat upon a throne of oil-barrels in the centre of the craft, alternately smoking a clay pipe and shouting profane instructions to her husband touching the management of the boat. To this dual boatman the skipper of the packet loudly appealed for aid, desiring him to “crowd along and give us a swell.”
“ What in nater was ye sich a cussed fool as ter git stuck fer ? ” replied the two heads ; and in spite of the disapproval conveyed by the question, the stranger boat was driven as rapidly as possible close beside the packet, the result being a long wave or “swell,” enabling that luckless craft to float off into the deeper water.
“ Now, gen’lemen, locate, if you please ; please to locate, gen’lemen ! You capting with the specs on, ef yer don’t sit down, 1 ’ll hev to ax yer to,” vociferated the skipper; and the passengers were nearly seated when the boat grounded again, and was this time got off only by the aid of a double team, a swell, and the shoulders of the captain and several of the passengers, who walked in and out of the boat as recklessly as Newfoundland dogs. After this style, the passage of five miles was handsomely accomplished in six hours, and it was the gloaming of a November day when Miselle, cold, wet, and weary, first set foot, or rather both her feet, deep in the mud of Tarr Farm, and clambered through briers and scrub oak up the bluff, where stood her friend’s house, and where the panacea of “a good cup of tea and a night’s rest ” soon closed the eventful day.
The next morning was meant for an artist, and it is to be hoped that there was one at Tarr Farm to see the curtain of fog slowly’ lifting from the bright waters of the Creek, and creeping up the bluff beyond it, until it melted into the clear blue sky, and let the sunshine come glancing down the valley, where groups of derricks, long lines of tanks, engine-houses, counting-rooms replaced the forest growth of a few years previous, and crowds of workmen, interspersed with overseers and proprietors on foot or horseback, superseded the wild creatures hardly yet driven from their life-long haunt.
Through the whole extent of Oil Creek, one picturesque feature never fails : this is the alternation of bluff and flat on the opposite sides of the Creek, so that the voyager never finds himself between two of either, — but, as the bluff at his right hand sinks into a plain, he finds the plain at the left rising sharply into a bluff.
It is in these flats that the oil is found ; and each of them is thickly studded with derricks and engine-buildings, each representing a distinct well, with a name of its own, — as the Hyena, the Little Giant, the Phœnix, the Sca’at Cat, the Little Mac, the Wild Rabbit, the Grant, Burnside, and Sheridan, with several hundred more. The flats themselves are generally known as Farms, with the names of the original proprietors still prefixed, — as the Widow McClintock Farm, Story Farm, Tarr Farm, and the rest.
Few of these god-parents of the soil are at present to be found upon it: many of them in the beginning of the oil speculation having sold out at moderate prices to shrewd adventurers, who made themselves rich men before the dispossessed Rip Van Winkles awoke to a consciousness of what was going on about them. Some, more fortunate or more far-sighted, still hold possession of the land, but enjoy their enormous incomes in the cities and places of fashionable resort, where their manners and habits introduce a refreshing element of novelty.
Few proprietors can be persuaded to sell the golden goose outright; and the most usual course is for the individual or company intending to sink a well to buy what is called a working interest in the soil, the owner retaining a land interest or royalty, through which he claims half the proceeds of the well, while the lessee may, after months of expense and labor, abandon the enterprise with only his labor for his pains. These failures are also a great source of annoyance to the proprietors: for many of these abandoned wells require only capital to render them available; but the finances of the first speculator being exhausted, no new one will risk his money in them, while the old lease would interfere with his right to the proceeds.
Even the land for building purposes is only leased, with the proviso that the tenant must move, not only himselt, but his house, whenever the landlord sees fit to explore his cellar or flower-garden for oil.
A land interest obtained, the precise spot for breaking ground is selected somewhat by experience, but more by chance, — all “oil territory” being expected to yield oil, if properly sought. An engine-house and derrick are next put up, the latter of timber in the modern wells, but in the older ones simply of slender saplings, sometimes still rooted in the earth. A steam-engine is next set up, and the boring commences.
By means of a spile-driver, an iron pipe, sharp at the lower edge and about six inches in diameter, is driven down until it rests upon the solid rock, usually at a depth of about fifty feet. The earth is then removed from the inside of this pipe by means of a sand-pump, and the “ tools ” attached to a cable are placed within it.
These tools, consisting of a centrebit and a rammer, are each thirty or thirty-five feet in length, and weigh about eight hundred pounds. At short intervals these are replaced by the sandpump, which removes the drillings.
The first three strata of rock are usually slate, sandstone, and soapstone. Beneath these, at a depth of two hundred feet, lies the second sandstone, and from this all the first yield of oil was taken ; but, though good in quality, this supply was speedily exhausted, and the modern wells are carried directly through this second sandstone, through the slate and soapstone beneath, to the third sandstone, in whose crevices lies the largest yield yet discovered. The proprietors of old wells are now reaming them out and sinking their shafts to the required depth, which is about four hundred and fifty feet.
The oil announces itself in various ways : sometimes by the escape of gas ; sometimes by the appearance of oil upon the cable attached to the tools ; sometimes by the dropping of the tools, showing that a crevice has been reached; and in occasional happy instances by a rush of oil spouting to the top of the derrick, and tossing out the heavy tools like feathers.
Such a well as this, known as a flowing well, is the best “find” possible, as the fortunate borer has nothing more to do than to put down a tubing of castiron artesian pipe, lead the oil from its mouth into a tank, and then, sitting under his own vine and fig-tree, leave his fortune to accumulate by daily additions of thousands of dollars. A flowing well, struck while Miselle was upon the Creek, yielded fifteen hundred barrels per day, the oil selling at the well lor ten dollars and a half the barrel.
But should the oil decline to flow, or, having flowed, cease to do so, a forcepump is introduced, and, driven by the same engine that bored the well, brings up the oil at a rate varying from three to three hundred barrels per day. The Phillips Well, on Tarr Farm, originally a flowing well, producing two thousand barrels per day, now pumps about three hundred and thirty, and is considered a first-class well.
Before reaching oil. the borer not unfrequently comes upon veins of water, either salt or fresh ; and this water is excluded from the shaft by a leathern case applied about the pipe and filled with flax-seed. The seed, swollen by the moisture, completely fills the space remaining between the tube and the walls of the shaft, so that no water reaches the oil. But whenever the tubing with its seed-bags is withdrawn, the water rushing down “ drowns ” not only its own well, but all such as have subterraneous communication with it. In this manner one of the most important wells upon the Creek avenged itself some time ago upon a too successful rival by drawing its tubing and letting down the water upon both wells. The rival retaliated by drawing its own tubing, with a like result, and the proprietors of each lost months of time and hundreds of thousands of dollars before the quarrel could be adjusted.
From the mouth of the shaft, elevated some fifteen feet above the surface of the ground, the oil either flows or is pumped into an immense vat or tank, and from this is led to another and another, until a large well will have a series of tanks connected like the joints of a rattlesnake’s tail. Into the last one is put a faucet, and the oil drawn into barrels is either carried to the local refinery, or in its crude condition is boated to the railway, or to Oil City, and thence down the Alleghany.
One of the principal perils attending oil-seeking is that of fire. Petroleum, in its crude state, is so highly impregnated with gas and with naphtha or benzine as to be very inflammable, — a fact proved, indeed, many years ago, when, as history informs us,
Stayed about an hour, and left it a-burning,”
unconsciously turning his back upon a fortune such as probably had never entered the worthy knight’s imagination.
The petroleum once ignited, it is very hard to extinguish the flames ; and Mr. Williams told of being one of a company of men who labored twenty-four hours in vain to subdue a burning well. They tried water, which only aggravated the trouble ; they tried covering the well with earth, but the gas permeated the whole mass and blazed up more defiantly than ever ; they covered the mound of earth with a carpet, (paid for at the value of cloth of gold.) and the carpet with wet sand, but a bad smell of burned wool was the only result. Finally, some incipient Bonaparte hit upon the expedient of dividing the Allies, who together defied mankind, and, bringing a huge oil-tank, inverted it over the sand, the carpet, the earth, and the well, by this time one blazing mass. Fire thus cut off from Air succumbed, and the battle was over.
“ There was no one hurt that time,” pursued Friend Williams, in a tone of airy reminiscence ; “but mostly at our fires there ’ll be two or three people burned up, and more women than men, I’ve noticed. Either it’s their clothes, or they get scared and don't look out for themselves. Now there was the Widow McClintock owned that farm above here. She was worth her hundreds of thousands of dollars, but she would put kerosene on her fire to make it burn. So one day it caught, and she caught, and in half an hour there was no such thing as Widow McClintock on Oil Creek. Still all the women keep right on pouring kerosene into their stoves, and every little while one of them goes after the Widow.
“ Then there was a woman who sent to the refinery for a pail of alkali to clean her floor. The man thought he’d get benzine instead; and just as he got into the house, the fire from his pipe dropped into it, and the whole shanty was in a blaze before the poor woman knew what had happened. The stupid fool that was to blame got off, but the woman burned up.
“ Then there was a woman whose house was afire, and she would rush back, after she had been dragged out, to look for her pet teacups, and she was burned up. And so they go.”
Sometimes also the tanks of crude oil take fire, and these conflagrations are said to present a splendid spectacle,— the resinous parts of the oil burning with a fierce deep-red flame and sending up volumes of smoke, through which are emitted lightning-like flashes exploding the ignited gas.
Like some other things, including people, this unappeasable substance conceals its terrors beneath a placid exterior, and lies in its great tanks, or in shallow pits dug for it in the earth, looking neither volcanic nor even combustible, but more like thin green paint than anything else, except when it has become adulterated with water, when it assumes a bilious, yellow appearance, exceedingly uninviting to the spectator. In this case it is allowed to remain undisturbed in the tank until the oil and water have separated, when the latter is drawn off at the bottom.
Wandering one day among groves of derricks and villages of tanks, Miselle and her guide came upon a building containing a pair of truculent monsters in a high state of activity. These were introduced to her as a steam force-pump and its attendant engine ; and she was told that they were at that moment sucking up whole tanks of oil from the neighboring wells, and pumping it up the precipitous bluff, through the lonely forest, over marsh and moor. hill and dale, to the great Humboldt Refinery, more than three miles distant, in the town of Plummer, as it is called, — although, in point of fact, Plummer, Tarr Farm, and several other settlements belong to the township of Cornplanter.
There was something about this brace of monsters very fascinating to Miselle. They seemed like subjected genii closed in these dull black cases and this narrow shed, and yet embracing miles of territory in their invisible arms. Even the genius of Aladdin’s lamp was not so powerful, for he was obliged to betake himself to the scene of the wonders he was to enact, — and if imprisoned as closely as these, could not have transferred enough oil from Tarr Farm to Plummer to fill his own lamp.
Afterward, in rambling through the woods, Miselle often came upon the mound raised above the buried pipe, and always regarded it with the same admiring awe with which the fisherman of Bagdad probably looked at the copper vessel wherein Solomon had so cunningly “canned ” the rebellious Afrit.
Leaving the shed of the monsters, Miselle followed her guide out of the throng of derricks and tanks, and a short distance up the hill, to the picturesque site of Messrs. Barrows and Hazleton’s Refinery, the only one now in operation on Tarr Farm.
Entering a low brick building called the still-house, she found herself in a passage between two brick walls, pierced on either hand for five or six oven-doors, while overhead the black roof was divided into panels by a system of iron pipes through which the crude oil was conducted to the caldrons above the iron doors.
The presiding genius of the place was a very fat, dirty, but intelligent Irishman, known as Tommy, who came forward with the politeness of his nation to greet the visitors, and explain to them the mysteries under his charge.
“ And give a guess, Ma’am, if ye plase, at what we’ve got a-burning undher our big pot here,” suggested he, with a hand upon one of the ovendoors.
“ Soft coal,” ventured Miselle, remembering her experience at the glassworks.
“ Not a bit of it. It ’s the binzole intirely. We makes the ile cook itself, an’ not a hape of fu’l does it git, but what it brings along itself.”
“ Seething the kid in its mother’s milk,” remarked Miselle to herself.
“ It ’s this pipe fetches the binzole from the tank outside, and the mouth of it’s widin the door; and this is the stop-cock as lets it on.”
So saying, Tommy threw open the oven-door, and pointed to the black end of a pipe just within. At the same time he turned a handle on the outside, and let on a stream of benzine or naphtha, which blazed fiercely up with a lurid flame strongly suggestive of the pictured reward of evil-doers in another life.
Next, Tommy proceeded to explain, after his own fashion, how the oil in the caldrons above, urged by these fires, departed in steam and agony through long pipes called worms, the only outlet from the otherwise air-tight stills, which worms, wriggling out at the end of the building, plunged into a bath of cold water provided for them in a huge square tank fed by a bright mountain - stream winding down from the bluff above in a fashion so picturesque as to be quite out of keeping with its ultimate destination.
Emerging from their cold bath, the worms, crawling along the ground behind the still-house, arrived at the back of another building, called the testroom ; and here each one, making a sharp turn to enable him to enter, was pierced at the angle thus formed, and a vertical pipe some ten feet in length inserted.
The object of these pipes was to carry off the gas still mingled with the oil ; and, looking attentively, Miselle could distinguish a flckering column ascending from each pipe and forming itself so humanly against the evening sky as to vindicate the superstition of the Saxons, who first named this ether geist.
“What a splendid illumination, if only those ten pipes were lighted some dark night! ” suggested Miselle.
“ Phe - ew ! An' yer lumernation would n’t stop, there long, I can tell yer, Ma’am,” retorted Tommy. “ The whole works ud be in a swither ’fore iver we’d time to ax what was comin’.”
“ They would ? And why ? ”
“ The binzole, Ma’am, the binzole. It ’s the Divil’s own stuff to manage, an’ there’s no thrustin’ it wid so much as the light uv a pipe nigh hand. The air is full of it; and if you was so much as to sthrike a match here where we stand, it ud be all day wid us ’fore we 'd time to think uv it. You should know that yersilf, Sir,” continued he, turning to Mr. Williams.
“Yes,” returned that gentleman, with a grimace. “ I learned the nature of benzine pretty thoroughly when I first came on the Creek. I hqd been at work over one of the wells, and got my clothes pretty oily, but thought I would not ask my wife to meddle with them. So I sent for a pail of benzine, and, shutting myself up in my shop, set to work to wash my clothes. I succeeded very well for a first attempt; and when I had done, and hung them up to dry, I felt quite proud. Then, as it was pretty cold, I thought I would put a little fire in the stove, and get them dried to carry away before my men came in to work the next morning. So I put some kindling in the stove, and scraped a match on my boot ; but I had n’t time to touch it to the shavings before the whole air was aflame, not catching from one point to another, but flashing through the whole place in an,instant, and snapping all around my head like a bunch of fire-crackers. I rushed for the door ; but before I could get out I was pretty well singed, and there was no such thing as saving a single article. All went together, — shop, stock, tools, clothes, and everything else. That ’s benzine.”
“ That ’s binzole,” echoed Tommy. “ An’ now, Ma’am, come in, if yer plase, to the tistin’-room.”
Miselle complied, and, stepping into the little room, saw first two parallel troughs running its entire length, and terminating at one end in a pipe leading through the side of the building. Into each of these troughs half the pipes were at this moment discharging a colorless, odorless fluid, the apotheosis, as it were, of petroleum.
Tommy, perching himself upon a high stool beside the troughs, regarded his visitors with calm superiority, and was evidently disposed, in this his stronghold, to treat with them ex cathedra.
“ There, thin, Ma’am,” began he, “ that ’s what I call iligant ile intirely. Look at it jist ! ”
And taking from its shelf a long tubular glass, he ladled up some of the oil, and held it to the light for inspection.
When this had been duly admired, thg professor informed his audience that the first product of the still is the gas, which is led off as previously described. Next comes naphtha, benzine, or, as Tommy and his comrades call it, “binzole.” This dangerous substance is led from the troughs of the testinghouse to a subterraneous tank, the trapcover of which was subsequently lifted, that the visitors might peep, as into the den of some malignant wild creature. From this it is again drawn, and, mixed with the heavy oil or residuum of the still, is principally used for fuel, as before described.
“And how soon do you cut off for oil ? ” inquired Mr. Williams, carelessly.
The fat man gave him a look of solemn indignation, and proceeded without heeding the interruption.
“Whin I joodge, Ma’am, that the binzole is nigh run out, I tist it with a hyder-rometer, this a-way.”
And Tommy, descending from the stool, took from the shelf first a tin pot strongly resembling a shaving-mug, and then a little glass instrument, with a tube divided into sections by numbered lines, and a bulb half filled with quicksilver at the base.
Filling the shaving-mug with oil, the lecturer dropped into it his hydrometer, which, after gracefully dancing up and down for a moment, remained stationary.
“ It’s at 550 you 'll find it. Look for yersilf, Ma'am,” he resumed, with the serene confidence of the prestidigitateur who informs the audience that the missing handkerchief will be found in “ that gentleman’s pocket.”
Miselle examined the figures at nighoil mark, and found that they were actually 55°.
“ The binzole, you see, Ma’am, is so thin that the hyder-rometer drops right down over head an’ ears in it ; but as it gits to be ile, it comes heavier an’ stouter, an’ kind uv buoys it up, until at lin’th an’ at last the 60° line comes crapin’ up in sight. Thin I thry it by the fire tist. I puts some in a pan over a sperit-lamp, and keep a-thryin’ an’ athrvin’ it wid a thermometer ; an’ whin it’s ’most a-bilin’, I puts a lighted match to the ile, an’ if it blazes, there ’s still too much binzole, an’ I lets it run a bit longer. But if all ’s right, I cuts off the binzole, and the nixt run is ile sech as you see it. The longer it runs, the heavier it grows ; and whin it gits so that the hyder-rometer stands at 42°, I cuts off agin. Thin the next run is heavy ile, thick and yaller, and that does n't come in here at all, but is drawn from the still, and mixed wid crude ile, and stilled over agin ; and whin no more good ’s to be got uv it, it’s mighty good along wid the binzole to keep the pot a-bilin’ in beyant.”
“You don’t use the fire test in this building, I presume, do you ? ”
“ Indade, no, Ma’am. There’s niver a light nor yit a lanthern allowed here.”
“ But you run all night. How do you get light in this room ? ” inquired Mr. Williams.
“ From widout. Did niver ye mind the windys uv this house ? ”
And the professor, dismounting from his stool, led the way to the outside of the building, where he pointed to two picturesque little windows near the roof, each furnished with a deep hood and a shelf, as if Tommy had been expected to devote his leisure hours to the cultivation of mignonette.
“ See now ! ”
And the burly lecturer pointed impressively to a laborer at this moment approaching with a large lighted lantern in each hand. These, placed upon the mignonette shelves, and snugly protected from wind and rain by the deep hoods, threw a clear light into the test-room, and brought out in grotesque distinctness the arabesque pattern wrought with dust and oil upon Tommy’s broad visage.
“And that’s how we gits light, Sir,” remarked the professor, in conclusion, as, with a dignified salutation of farewell, he disappeared in the still-house.
Admonished by the lanterns and the fading glory of the west, Miselle and her host now bent their steps homeward, deferring, like Scheherezade, “still finer and more wonderful stories until the next morning.”
At their next visit to the Refinery, the visitors were committed to a little wiry old man, called Jimmy, who first showed them a grewsome monster, own cousin to him who threw oil from Tarr Farm to Plummer. This one was called an air-pump, and, with his attendant steamengine, inhabited a house by himself. His work will presently be explained.
The next building was the treatinghouse, where stand huge tanks containing the oil as drawn from the testing-room. From these it is conducted by pipes to the iron vats, called treating-tanks, and there mixed with vitriol, alkali, and other chemicals, in certain exact proportions. The monster in the next building is now set in operation, and forces a stream of compressed air through a pipe from top to bottom of the tank, whence, following its natural law, it loses no time in ascending to the surface with a noisy ebullition, just like, as Jimmy remarked, “a big pot over a sthrong fire.”
This mixing operation was formerly performed by hand in a much less effectual manner, the steam air-pump being a recent improvement.
The work of the chemicals accomplished, the oil is cleansed of them by the introduction of water, and after an interval of quiet the mass separates so thoroughly that the water and chemicals can be drawn off at the bottom of the vat with very little disturbance to the oil.
From the treating-house the perfected oil is drawn to the tanks of the barrelling-shed, and filled into casks ready for exportation. A large cooper’s shop upon the premises supplies a portion of the barrels, but is principally used in repairing the old ones.
The oil is next teamed to the Creek, and either pumped into decked boats, to be transported in bulk, or, still in barrels, is loaded upon the ordinary flatboats. During a large portion of the year, however, neither of these can make the passage of the shallow Creek without the aid of a “pond-fresh.” This occurs when the millers near the head of the Creek open their dams, and by the sudden influx of water give a gigantic “swell ” to the boats patiently awaiting it at every “ farm,” from Schaeffer’s to Oil City.
Sometimes, however, the boatmen, like the necromancer’s student who set the broomstick to bringing water, but could not remember the spell to stop it, find that it is unsafe to set great agencies at work without the power of controlling them. Last May, for instance, occurred a pond-fresh, long to be remembered on Oil Creek, when the stream rose with such furious rapidity that the loaded boats became unmanageable, crowding and dashing together, staving in the sides of the great oil-in-bulk boats, and grinding the floating barrels to splinters. Not even the thousands of gallons of oil thus shed upon the stormy waters were sufficient to assuage either their wrath or that of the boatmen, who, as their respective craft piled one upon another, sprang to “ repel boarders ” with oaths, fists, boat-hooks, or whatever other weapons Nature or chance had provided them. This scene of anarchy lasted several days, and some cold-blooded photographer amused himself, “after” Nero, in taking views of it from different points. Copies of these pictures, commemorating such destruction of property, temper, and propriety as Oil Creek never witnessed before, are hung about the “office” of the Refinery, with which comfortable apartment the visitors finished their tour.
Here they were offered the complipliments of the season and locality in a collation of chestnuts ; and here also they were invited to inspect a stereoscope, which, with its accompanying views, is considered on Tarr Farm as admirable a wonder as was, doubtless, Columbus’s watch by the aborigines of the New World. Dearer to Miselle than chestnuts or stereoscope, however, were the information and the anecdotes placed at her service by the gentlemen of the establishment, albeit involuntarily ; and with her friends she shortly after departed from Barrows and Hazleton’s Refinery, filled with content and gratitude.
The noticeable point in the society of Tarr Farm, or rather in the human scenery, for society there is none, is the absurd mingling of inharmonious material. As in the toy called Prince Rupert’s Drop, a multitude of unassimilated particles are bound together by a master necessity. Remove the necessity, and in the flash of an eve the particles scatter never to reunite.
In her two days' tour of Tarr Farm, Miselle talked with gentlemen of birth and education, gentlemen whose manners contrasted oddly enough with their coarse clothes and knee - high boots ; also with intermittent gentlemen, who felt Tarr Farm to be no fit theatre for the exercise of their acquired politeness ; also with men like Tommy and Jimmy, whose claims lay not so much in aristocratic connection and gentle breeding as in a thorough appreciation of the matter in hand; also with a less pleasing variety of mankind, men who, originally ignorant and debased, have through lucky speculations acquired immense wealth without the habits of body and mind fitly accompanying it.
Various ludicrous anecdotes are told of this last class, but none droller than that of the millionnaire, who, after the growth of his fortune, sent his daughter, already arrived at woman’s estate, to school, that she might learn reading, writing, and other accomplishments. After a reasonable time the father visited the school, and inquired concerning his daughter’s progress. This he was informed was but small, owing to a “ want of capacity.”
“ Capacity ! capacity ! ” echoed the father, thrusting his hands into his well-lined pockets; “well, by ginger, if the gal ’s got no capacity, I 've got the money to buy her one, cost what it may! ”
Another young fellow, originally employed in a very humble position by one of the oil companies, suddenly acquired a fortune, and removed to another part of the country. Returning for a visit to the scene of his former labors, he stood inspecting the operations of a cooper at work upon an oil-barrel The two men had formerly been comrades, but this fact the rich man now found it convenient to forget, and the poor one was too proud to remember.
“ Pray, Cooper,” inquired the former at last, tapping the barrel superciliously with his cane, “are you able to make this thing oil-tight ? ”
“ I believe so,” retorted Cooper, dryly. “ Was you ever troubled by their leaking, when you rolled them through the mud from the well to the Creek?”
Through all this fungus growth it is rather difficult to come at the indigenous product of the soil ; and Miselle found none of whose purity she could be sure, except the youth who drove her from Tarr Farm to Schaeffer’s on her return. Arriving in sight of the railway, this puer ingenuus, pointing to the track, inquired, —
“ An’ be thot what the keers rides on ? ”
“ Yes,” said Mr. Williams, “ that ’s the track.”
“An' yon ’s the wagons whar ye ’ll set?” pursued he, pointing to some platform-cars, waiting to be loaded with oil-barrels.
“ Hardly. Those are where the oil sits.”
“ Be ? Then yon ’s for the fowks, I reckon ?” indicating a line of box freight-cars a little farther on.
“ No, not exactly. Those are the passenger-cars, away up the track, with windows and steps.”
“An' who rides in the loft up atop ?” inquired the youth, after a prolonged stare.
This question, referring to the raised portion of the roof, universal in Western cars, being answered, Mr. Williams inquired, in his turn, —
“ Did you never see the railway before ? ”
“ Never seed ’em till this minute. Fact, I never went furder from, home than Tarr Farm ’fore to-day. 'Spect there’s a many won’erful sights 'twixt here an’ Eri’, be n’t there ?”
Imagine a full-grown lad, in these United States, whose ideas are bounded by the city of Erie !
Not indigenous to the soil, but a firmly rooted, exotic growth, was the sonsy Scotch family whom Miselle was taken to see, the Sunday after her arrival.
Two years ago their picturesque logcabin stood almost in a wilderness, with the farm-house of Janies Tarr its only neighbor. Now the derricks are crowding up the hill toward it, until only a narrow belt of woodland protects it from invasion. In front, a small flower-garden still showed some autumn blooms at the time of Miseile’s visit, and was the only attempt at floriculture seen by her on Oil Creek.
With traditional Scotch hospitality, the mistress of the house, seconded by Maggie and Belle, the elder daughters, insisted that the proposed call should include dinner; and Miselle, nothing loath, was glad that her friends allowed themselves to be prevailed upon to stay.
“It’s no that we hae onything fit to gie ye, but ye maun just tak’ the wull for the deed,” said the good mother, as she bustled about, and set before her guests a plain and plentiful meal, where all was good enough, and the fresh bread and newly churned butter something more.
“It ’s Maggie ’s baith baker and dairy-woman,” said the well-pleased dame, in answer to a compliment upon these viands. “And it ’s she ’ll be gay and proud to gie ye all her ways about it, gif y'e ’ll ask her.”
So Maggie, being questioned, described the process of making “salt-rising” bread, and to the recipe added a friendly caution, that, if allowed to ferment too long, the dough would become “as sad and dour as a stane, and though you br’ak your heart over it, wad ne’er be itsel’ again.”
From a regard either to etiquette or convenience, only the heads of the family, and Jamie, the eldest son, a fine young giant, of one - and - twenty, sat down with the guests: the girls and younger children waiting upon table, and sitting down afterward with another visitor, an intelligent negro farmer, one of the most pleasing persons Miselle encountered on her travels.
Dinner over, it was proposed that Maggie and Belle should accompany Mr. and Mrs, Williams and Miselle on a visit to some coal-mines about a mile farther back in the forest, and, with the addition of a young man named John, who chanced in on a Sundayevening call to one of the young ladies, the party' set forth.
The day was the sweetest of the Indian summer, and the walk through woods of chestnut and hemlock was as charming as possible, and none the less so for the rustic coquetries of pretty Belle Miller, whose golden hair was the precise shade of a lock once shown to Miselle as a veritable relic of Prince Charlie.
The forest road ended abruptly in a wide glade, where stood the shanty occupied by the miners, a shed for the donkeys employed in dragging out the coal, and, finally, the ruinous tunnel leading horizontally into a disused mine. The wooden tram-way on which the coal-car had formerly run still remained ; and cautiously walking upon this causeway through the quagmire of mud, Miselle and Mr. Williams penetrated some distance into the mine, but saw nothing more wonderful than mould and other fungi, bats and toads. Retracing their steps, they followed the tram-way to its termination at the top of a high bank, down which the coals were shot into a cart stationed below. This coal is of an inferior quality, bituminous, and largely mixed with slate. It sells readily, however, upon the Creek, at a dollar a bushel, for use in the steam-engines.
The sight-seers having satisfied their curiosity with regard to the mine, and having paid a short visit to the donkeys, were quietly resuming their walk, when out from the abode of the miners poured a tumultuous crowd of men, women, and children, who surrounded the little party in a menacing manner, while their leader, a stalwart fellow, called Brennan, seized John by the arm, and, shaking a sledge-hammer fist in his face, inquired what he meant by coming to “ spy round an honest man’s house, and make game of his betters ? ”
It was in vain that John attempted to disabuse the mind of his assailant of this view of his visit to the old mine ; and indeed his argument could not even have been heard, as Brennan was now violently reiterating,—
“Tak’ yer coorse, thin ! Why don’t ye tak’ yer coorse ? ”
The advice was sensible, and the party left to themselves would undoubtedly have followed it ; in fact, the females of the party had already taken their “ coorse ” along the homeward path as fast as their feet would carry them, excepting Miselle, who contented herself with stepping behind a great pine-tree, and watching thence this new development of human nature.
From angry words the miners were not long in proceeding to blows, and a short joust ensued, in which Williams and John gallantly held the lists against six or eight assailants, who would have been more dangerous, had they not been all day celebrating the wedding of one of their number. Suddenly, however, the leader of the colliers darted by John, who was opposing him, and pounced upon poor Belle Miller, who with her companions had paused at a little distance to give vent to their feelings in a chorus of dismal shrieks. Whether these irritated Mr. Brennan’s weakened nerves, or whether he had merely the savage instinct of reaching the strong through the weak, cannot be certainly known ; but the fact of her forcible capture was rendered sufficiently obvious by the cries that rent the air, and the heart of the young man John, who, neglecting his own safety in an attempt at rescue, received a stunning blow from his opponent, and fell bleeding to the earth.
Satisfied with the result of his experiment, Brennan, leaving his captive in custody of his own party, attempted another raid upon the defenceless flock ; but this time Friend Williams, summoned by the voice of his wife, darted to her rescue, and, with a happy blow, laid the giant upon his back, where he lay for some moments admiring the evening sky.
Brave as were the two knights, however, and manifest as was the right, Victory would probably have “perched upon the banners of the strongest battalions,” had not an unexpected diversion put a sudden end to the combat.
This came from the side of the assailants, in the pleasing shape of a pretty young woman, who, rushing forward, flung her arms about the neck of one of the leaders of the mob, crying,— “Patrick Maloney, did n't you stand before the altar with me this day, and vow to God to be a true and faithful husband ? And is this all the respect you show me on my wedding-day ? ”
The appeal was not without its force, and Patrick, pausing to consider of it, was surrounded by the more pacific of his own party, among whom now appeared “Big Tommy” from the Refinery, who loudly vouched for the character of the visitors, claiming them indeed as warm and dear friends of his own.
During the stormy council of war ensuing among the attacking party, the womankind of the attacked ventured to approach near enough to implore their champions to withdraw, while yet there was time. This pacific counsel they finally consented to follow, and were led away breathing vengeance and discontent, when John suddenly paused, exclaiming,—
“ Where’s Belle ? They've got her. Come on, Williams ! we are n't going to leave the girl among ’em, surely ! ”
At this Maggie and Mrs. Williams uplifted their voices in deprecation of further hostilities, protesting that they should die at once, if their protectors were to desert them, and using many other feminine and magnanimous arguments in favor of a speedy retreat.
But while yet the question of her rescue was undecided, Belle appeared, flushed, tearful, and voluble in reproach against the friends who had deserted her. She attributed her final escape to a free use of her tongue, and repeated certain pointed remarks which she had addressed to her custodian, who finally shook her, boxed her ears, and bade her begone.
On hearing this recital. John was for returning at once and avenging the insult: but the rest of the party, remembering the golden maxim of Hudibras,
May live to fight another day,”
prevailed on him to wait for retaliation until a more favorable opportunity.
It may be satisfactory to the reader to hear, that, after Miselle had left Oil Creek, she was informed that Mr, Williams, John, and a body of men, equal in number to the colliers, paid them a visit, with authority from the owner of the mine to pull down their house and eject them from the premises. They also contemplated, it is supposed, a more direct and personal vengeance ; but, on making known their intentions, the pretty bride again appeared, and, assaulting poor Williams with a whole battery of tearful eyes, trembling lips, and eloquent appeals, vindicated once more the superiority of woman’s wiles to man’s determination. An abject apolology from the colliers, and a decided intimation from the “ Regulators ” of the consequences sure to follow any future incivility to visitors, closed the affair, and the parties separated without further hostilities.
The evening was so far advanced when the little party of fugitives were once more en route, that a proposed visit to a working mine at some little distance was given up, and at the door of the farm-house the party dispersed to their respective homes.
The next day had been appointed for a visit to Oil City, the farthest and most important station upon the Creek ; and one object in visiting the house was to engage Jamie, with his “team,” for the expedition. It fortunately happened that the old Scotchman and his wife were going to Oil City on the same day, and it was arranged that the two parties should unite.
At an early hour in the morning, therefore, Mr. and Mrs. Williams, with Miselle, once more climbed the mountain to the little log-house, and found Jamie just harnessing a pair of fine black horses to a wagon, similar to the “hack-carriage” of Schaeffer’s Farm. In the bottom was a quantity of clean hay, and across the sides were fastened two planks, covered with bedquilts. Upon one of these were seated Mr. and Mrs. Williams, while Miselle was invited to the post of honor beside Mrs. Miller, and the old Scotchman shared the driver’s seat with his son.
“ Diana ye be feared now, dearie. Our Jamie’s a car’fif driver, wi’ all his wild ways,” said the old woman kindly, as the wagon, with a premonitory lurch and twist, turned into the forest road.
Road ! Let the reader call to mind the most precipitous wooded mountain of his acquaintance, and fancy a road formed over it by the simple process of cutting off the trees, leaving the stumps and rocks undisturbed, and then fancy himself dragged over it in a springless wagon behind two fast horses,
“ Eh, then ! It maks an auld body’s banes ache sair, siccan a road as yon ! ” said the Scotchwoman, with a significant grimace, as the wagon paused a moment at the foot of a perpendicular ascent.
“ I reckon ye wad nae ken whatten the Auld Country roads were med for, gin ye suld see them. They ’re nae like this, ony way.”
The dear old creature had entered the United States through the St. Lawrence and the Lakes, and supposed Tarr Farm to be America, Miselle was so weak as to try to describe the aspect of things about her native city, and was evidently suspected of patriotic romancing for her pains.
But such magnificent views ! Such glimpses of far mountain-peaks, seen through vistas of rounded hills ! Such flashing streams, tumbling heels over head across the forest road in their haste to mingle with the blue waters of the Alleghany ! Such wide stretches of country, as the road crept along the mountain-brow, or curved sinuously down to the far valley !
Pictures were there, as yet uncopied, that should hold Church breathless, with the pencil of the Andes and Niagara quivering in his fingers, — pictures that Turner might well cross the seas to look upon; but Miselle remembers them through a distracting mist of bodily terror and discomfort, — as some painter showed a dance of demons encircling a maiden’s couch, while above it hung her first love-dream.
“ Yon in the valley, where the wood looks so yaller, is a sulphur spring ; an’ here in the road’s the place where I ’m going to tip you all over,” suddenly remarked Jamie, twisting himself round on the box to enjoy the consternation of his female passengers, while the wagon paused on the verge of a long gully, some six feet in depth, occupying the whole middle of the road.
“ Wull ye get out ? ” continued, he, addressing Miselle tor the first time.
“ Had we better ?” asked she, tremulously.
“ If you 're easy scared. But I ’m no going to upset, I ’ll promise you.”
“ Then I ’ll stay in,” said Miselle, in the desperate courage of extreme cowardice ; and the wagon went on, two wheels deep in the gully, crumbling down the clayey mud, two wheels high on the mountain-side, crashing through brush and over stones. And yet there was no upset.
“ Did n’t I tell ye ? ” inquired Jamie, again twisting himself to look in Miselle’s white face, with a broad smile of delight at her evident terror.
“ Be done, you bold bairn ! Is n’t he a sturdy, stirring lad, Ma’am ? ” said the proud mother, as Jamie, addressing himself again to his work, shouted to the black nags, and put them along the bit of level road in the valley at a pace precluding all further conversation.
Another precipitous ascent, where the road had been mended by felling a large tree across it, over whose trunk the horses were obliged to pull the heavy wagon, and then an equally precipitous descent, gave a view of the Alleghany River and Oil Creek, with Oil City at their confluence, and a background of bluffs and mountains cutting sharp against the clear blue sky.
This view Miselle contemplated with one eye ; but the other remained rigidly fixed upon the road before her.
Even Jamie paused, and finally suggested, —
“ Reckon, men, you ’d best get out and walk alongside. The women can stay in ; and if she ’s going over, you can shore up.”
Under these cheerful auspices the descent was accomplished, and, by some miracle, without accident.
At the foot of the bluff commences the slough in which Oil City is set ; and as it deepened, the horses gradually sank from view, until only their backs were visible, floundering through a sea of oily mud of a peculiarly tenacious character. Miselle has the warning of Munchausen before her eyes ; but, in all sadness, she avers that in the principal street of Oil City, and at the door of the principal hotel, the mud was on that day above the hubs of the wagon-wheels.
Having refreshed themselves in body and mind at the Petroleum House, where a lady in a soiled print dress and much jewelry kindly played at them upon a gorgeous piano, the party went forth to view the city.
The same mingling of urgent civilization and unsubdued Nature observable in Cony characterizes Oil City to a greater extent. On one side of the street, crowded with oil-wagons, the freight of each worth thousands of dollars, stand long rows of dwellings, shops, and warehouses, all built within two years, and on the other impinges a bluff still covered with its forest growth of shrubs and wood-plants,—while upon the frowning front of a cliff that has for centuries faced nothing meaner than the Alleghany, with its mountain background, some Vandal has daubed the advertisement of a quack nostrum.
Farther on, where the bluff is less precipitous, it has been graded after a fashion ; and the houses built at the upper side of the new street seem to be sliding rapidly across it to join their opposite neighbors, which, in their turn, are sinking modestly into the mud.
A plank sidewalk renders it possible to walk through the principal streets of this city ; but temptation to do so is of the slightest.
Monotonous lines of frail houses, shops whose scanty assortment of goods must be sold at enormous prices to pay the expense of transportation from New York or Philadelphia, crowds of oilspeculators, oil-dealers, oil - teamsters, a clumsy bridge across the Creek, a prevailing atmosphere of petroleum, — such is Oil City.
At the water-side the view is somewhat more interesting. No wharves have yet been built ; and the swarming flatboats “ tie up ” all along the bank, just as they used to do three years ago, when, with a freight of lumber instead of oil, they stopped for the night at the solitary little Dutch tavern then monopolizing the site of the present city.
A rakish little stern-wheel steamer lay in the stream, bound for Pittsburg, and sorely was Miselle tempted to take passage down the Alleghany in her ; but lingering memories of home and the long-suffering Caleb at last prevailed, and, with a sigh, she turned her back upon the beautiful river, and retraced her steps through yards crowded with barrels of oil waiting for shipment, — oil in rows, oil in stacks, oil in columns, and oil in pyramids wellnigh as tall and as costly as that of Cheops himself.
Returned to the Petroleum House, Miselle bade a reluctant good-bye to the kindly Scots, who here took stage for Franklin, and watched them float away, as it appeared, upon the sea of mud in a wagon-body whose wheels and horses were too nearly submerged to make any noticeable feature in the arrangement.
Soon after, Jamie appeared at the door of the parlor nominally to announce himself ready to return ; but, after a fierce struggle with his natural modesty of disposition, he advanced into the room, and silently laid two of the biggest apples that ever grew in the laps of Mrs. Williams and Miselle. Putting aside all acknowledgments with “Ho ! what’s an apple or two ?” the woodsman next proceeded on a tour of inspection round the room, serenely unconscious of the magnificent scorn withering him from the eyes of the jewelled lady, who now reclined upon a brokenbacked sofa, taking a leisurely survey of the strangers.
Jamie paused some time at the piano.
“And what might such a thing as that cost noo ? ” asked he, at length, giving the case a little back-handed blow.
“About eight hundred dollars,” ventured Miselle, to whom the inquiry was addressed.
Jamie opened his wide black eyes.
“ Hoot ! Feyther could ha’ bought Jim Tarr’s whole farm for that, three year ago,” said he ; and, with one more contemptuous stare at the piano, he left the room, and was presently seen in the stable-yard, shouldering from his patli a wagon laden with coals.
Soon after, Miselle and her friends gladly bade farewell to Oil City, leaving the scornful lady seated at the piano executing the charming melody of “ We ’re a band of brothers from the old Granite State.”
Having entered the city by the hillroad, it was proposed to return along the Creek, although, as Jamie candidly stated, the road “ might, like enough, be a thought worser than the other.”
And it was.
Before the oil fever swept through this region, a man might have travelled from the mouth of the Creek to its head-waters, and seen no more buildings than he could have numbered on his ten fingers. Now the line of derricks, shanties, engine-houses, and oiltanks is continuous through the whole distance ; and thousands of men may be seen to-day accumulating millions of dollars where three years ago the squirrel and his wife, hoarding their winter stores, were the only creatures that took thought for the morrow.
After its incongruous mixture of society, the social peculiarity of Oil Creek is a total disregard of truth.
A mechanic, a tradesman, or a boatman makes the most solemn promise of service at a certain time. Terms are settled, a definite hour appointed for the fulfilment of the contract ; the man departs, and is seen no more. His employer is neither disappointed nor angry ; he expects nothing else.
A cart laden with country produce enters the settlement from the farms behind it. Every housewife drops her broom, and rushes out to waylay the huckster, and induce him to sell her the provisions already engaged to her neighbor. Happy she, if stout enough of arm to convey her booty home with her ; for if she trust the vendor to leave it at her house, even after paying him his price, she may bid good-bye to the green delights, as eagerly craved here as on a long sea-voyage.
This “peculiar institution” is all very well, doubtless, for those who understand it, but is somewhat inconvenient to a stranger, as Miselle discovered during the three days she was trying to leave Tarr Farm.
On the third morning, after Waiting two hours upon the bank of the Creek for a perjured boatman, Mr. Williams rushed desperately into a crowd of teamsters and captured the youth whose first impressions of a railway have been chronicled on a preceding page. Probably even he, had time been allowed to consider the proposition at length, would have declined the journey ; but, overborne by the vehemence ot his employer, he found himself well upon the road to Schaeffer’s Farm before he had by any means decided to go thither.
The pleasantest part of the “carriage exercise ” on this road is fording the Creek, a course adopted wherever the bluff comes down to the bank, and the flat reappears upon the opposite side, no one having yet spent time to grade a continuous road on one side or the other. A railway company has, however, made a beginning in this direction ; and it is promised that in another year the traveller may proceed from Schaeffer’s to Oil City by rail.
At Titusville Miselle bade good-bye to her kind friend Williams, and once more took herself under her own protection.
Spending the night at Corry, she next day found herself in the city of Erie, and could have fancied it Heidelberg instead, the signs bearing such names as Schultz, Seelinger, Jantzen, Cronenberger. Heidt, and Heybeck. Hans Preuss sells bread, Valentin Ulrich manufactures saddles, and P. Loesch keeps a meat-market, with a sign representing one gentleman holding a mad bull by a bit of packthread tied to his horns, while an assistant leisurely strolls up to annihilate the creature with a tackhammer.
Here, too, a little beyond the middle of the town, was a girl herding a flock of geese, precisely as did the princess in the “Brüder Grimm Tales,” while a doltish boy stared at her with just the imbecile admiration of Kurdkin for the wily maiden who combed her golden hair and chanted her naughty spell in the same breath.
A little farther on stood a charming old Dutch cottage with cabbages in the front yard, and a hop-vine clambering the porch. An infant Teuton swung upon the gate, who, being addressed by Miselle, lisped an answer in High Dutch, while his mother shrilly exchanged the news with her next neighbor in the same tongue.
Two hours sufficed to exhaust the wonders of Erie, and Miselle gladly took the cars for Buffalo, and on the road thither fell in with a good Samaritan, who solaced her weary faintness with delicate titbits of grouse, shot and roasted upon an Ohio prairie.
At Buffalo waited the Eastern-bound cars of the New-York Central Railway; but only twenty miles farther on, thundered Niagara, and Miselle could not choose but obey the sonorous summons. So, after spending the night at a “ white man’s ” hotel in Buffalo, the next morning found her standing, an insignificant atom, before one of the world’s great wonders. One or two other travellers, however, have mentioned Niagara; and Miselle refrains from expressing more than her thanks for the kindness which enabled her to fulfil her darling wish of standing behind the great fall on the Canada side.
Truly, it is no empty boast that places Americans preëminent over the men of every other nation in their courtesy to women; and Miselle would fain most gratefully acknowledge the constant attention and kindness everywhere offered to her, while never once was she annoyed by obtrusive or unwelcome approach ; and not the vast resources of her country, not the grandeur of Niagara, give her such pride and satisfaction as does the new knowledge she has gained of her countrymen.