EVERY guild has its principles, and the point of honor among the stationers of Boston was, never by any chance to be found in possession of the particular size of paper upon which alone it is possible for Miselle to write.
The struggle arising from this difference of opinion had been, like all wars of principle, bitter and protracted, but it terminated with a startling abruptness in the moment when a despairing stationer, driven to bay, turned upon his oppressor with the inquiry, “ Had n’t you better have your paper made to order ? ”
“ Can one do that?” asked Miselle, incredulously.
“ Certainly. There are paper-mills all over the State, and nothing would be easier than to send for some of just the right size,” suggested the stationer, abating somewhat his look of terrified perplexity.
“ My cousins in Dalton have papermills,” whispered Miselle’s companion, who, like the fairy Paribanou, possesses the admirable habit of always having in her pocket the article indispensable at that moment to the comfort of her friends, let that article be a threaded needle, a paper-mill, or a scrap of shrewd and kindly counsel.
“ And how long will it take us to go to Dalton ? ”
“ To go ? Why, it is in the heart of the Berkshire Hills, a hundred and fifty miles from here,” replied Paribanou, somewhat aghast.
“ Charming! It is nice weather for the mountains, and just the time of the year for it to continue. When shall we start ? ”
“ The next train for Albany leaves at half past two. It is now half past one,” said Paribanou, examining her watch with quiet irony.
“ I am ready,” answered Miselle, settling her casaque and testing the security of her bonnet-strings.
“ So shall I be — in a week,” rejoined Paribanou, heroically; and upon the Monday following, Paribanou, with Miselle and the escort, took refuge from the east wind of a Bostonian May in the recesses of the Worcester Depot, whence at half past two of the clock they were whirled westward upon an Albany express train. Scenery, chat, the Railway Guide, and the luncheonbasket helped on the afternoon, until at sunset the little party grew suddenly quiet, travelled each on his own cloud into his own especial dream-land, nor returned until, at nine o'clock, the conductor slammed open the door to roar, “ Dawltown ! ” with the nasal twang so dear to New England ears and tongues.
Breakfast over, next morning, the party set forth under conduct of the fair Territory, who led them by a winding path along the river-bank, and through the shadow of Semanthy Day’s Mountain, and beside a copse wonderful with morning melody, to the bold curve of the Housatonic, where stand, beside their picturesque dam and footbridge, the Waconnah Paper-Works.
Superintending some workmen between the mill and the dwelling-house they found the proprietor, a fine-looking young man, who advanced to meet his guests With the soldierly step and bearing whose introduction among our people may be ranked as a blessing per contra to the penalties of war.
“ Your cousin has served in the army, has he not?” inquired Miselle of Territory.
“ O yes. He was a captain in the —th, and saw a good deal of service at Port Hudson and otherwheres,” hastily replied the young lady ; and then followed introductions, and an intimation that the visitors had come to the Waconnah Mills to be instructed in the whole art and mystery of papermaking.
The Captain, professing himself delighted at the interruption, gave a few hurried directions to his workmen, and led the way down a flight of undecided steps to a rambling pile of buildings, which he apologetically remarked were soon to be replaced by a larger and more substantial structure.
“ You won’t care to see the rags, I suppose ?" suggested the Captain, pausing just within the door ; but being assured that the neophytes desired to prove every point of the mystery by ocular and digital demonstration, he led the way at once to a loft extending over the entire building, and nearly filled with large bales, some compact, square, and firmly hooped with iron, others less exact in shape, and bound merely with ropes.
“ These,”said the Captain, bestowing a complimentary kick upon one of the iron-bound bales, “ are Italian rags, mostly from Florence, and of prime quality, being pure linen and perfectly clean. A great many rags are imported from the Levant and the East; but we never use them, considering them inferior to these, which, indeed, are the best in the market.”
While speaking, the Captain had cut a great gash in the outer covering of the bale, and, drawing out a tattered garment, held it up for inspection. It was the white jacket of a peasant, and Miselle, taking it in her hands, was rapt of a sudden in a vision of the Val d’ Arno, with the Apennines behind, the Boboli Gardens, the Pitti Palace, the Duomo and Campanile, the Ponte Vecchoi with its amphibious dwellings, the galleries, churches, palaces, piazzas, the blue Italian sky, the dreamy Italian air,— when the Captain’s cheery voice broke upon her dream.
“ These,” indicating other bales, “are domestic cotton rags. Some are from Philadelphia and the South, some from our own State. This bale is from a shirt-factory, and is all new bits of bleached cloth, — very nice stock, too. Then here are old sails, bleached as white as snow, you see, by wind and rain, although they started on their voyage flax-colored. They would never have done for us then, if we could have got them, and, in fact, no new linen is serviceable ; we prefer it worn considerably. It makes a smoother and finer paper after the fibre has been broken by use and the many scrubbings an old garment must have undergone. And now we will see the first process of turning rags into paper.”
With these words, the Captain led the way to the other end of the loft, where, in a room partitioned off but not finished, stood several square frames, not unlike kitchen sinks, with a floor of coarse wire netting. Around the sides of these frames were set a number of scythe blades, with their edges turned inward ; and behind each blade stood a young woman, her head swathed in a handkerchief, busily shredding handfuls of rags by drawing them down the keen edge of the scythe, the dust and finer particles falling through the wire floor, and the handful of shreds being thrown upon a heap behind the workwoman.
The air was heavy with dust; the women’s clothes, faces, eyelashes, and even the backs of their hands were white with it; and Miselle, coughing and choking, asked a merry-looking damsel, “ Is not this very unhealthy work ? ”
“Well, I don’t know. It pays pretty well,” was the philosophic reply.
“ I thought rag-cutting was done by machinery in these days,” pursued Miselle.
“ So it is, in some mills ; but our boss is very particular, he is,” said the girl complacently. “ Every seam and hem and patch has got to be ripped up, so that the dirt underneath may soak out in the bleach ; and every button and string must be cut off, and any piece that ’s badly stained thrown out. You won’t find machines to do all that till they have eyes and fingers as well as knives.”
The proposition was suggestive, and while pondering it, Miselle, groping among the rags, came upon a baby’s frock, tattered, but still rich with lavish embroideries.
“ Do you often find such pretty things as this ? ” asked she, holding it up.
“ O yes ! We get baby-clothes, and dead folks’ clothes, and all that comes between. I tell the girls, sometimes, that working in a rag-room is most as bad as working in a graveyard,” said the cheery young woman, shredding up a bit of lace which might once have been a bridal veil.
“ There ’s a silk handkerchief,” said the Captain. “ Now I dare say you fancy, like most ladies, that the thin paper so much in fashion now is made of silk, don’t you ? ”
“ I confess that I have been so informed. ”
“ Well, it is not true. Silk won't make paper. No more will woollen, although a small portion of either may be dusted in, without doing any particular harm. They used, for instance, to mix a small proportion of colored silk, bandanna handkerchiefs mostly, with the stuff for bank-note paper. It gave a peculiar complexion, and was a preventive against counterfeits ; but, bless my soul ! I should like to see any man make paper of all silk, or half or three quarters silk ! It’s no more than pepper in a soup, — flavor, but not stock.”
“ The nicest paper is made wholly of linen, then ? ” asked Miselle, as the party left the dusty loft and descended the stairs.
“ There, again,” replied the Captain, with his cheery smile, “ is another almost universal mistake. Paper is, to be sure, made wholly of linen, but is used for hardly anything except banknotes and bonds. It is very thin and strong, and wears a great while, but is so stiff and crackly as to be quite unfit for ordinary purposes. Our ‘ stuff’ is composed of one third linen to two thirds of the best cotton rags, all pure white, and all perfectly clean when they come to us, so that they do not need the dusting after shredding which is given to poorer stock. From the ragroom up stairs, the shreds are dropped through a trap into the lime-bleach vats, which we shall find in here.”
He laid his hand upon the latch of a blackened door, but Miselle detained him. “ I thought, at least I have been told, that any rags, colored or dirty or woollen, — anything which had been woven, — could be made into paper.”
“ And so they can,” replied the Captain patiently. “ And very good paper for certain purposes, but not such paper as we make, — not first-class writingpaper. There are papers in the market, made, not of colored and dirty rags only, but of straw, wood, corn-husks, life-everlasting, and other weeds,—of hemp, tow, and flax. Almost anything possessing vegetable fibre, in short, can be, and has been, made into paper of one sort or another.”
So saying, the Captain raised the latch, and ushered his guests into a steambath redolent of chlorine. Through the reek loomed sundry vast tubs, closed at the top, but oozing at every pore and crevice with a scalding vapor, highly suggestive as to odor of the disinfectants scattered about a hospital. Through this steam-fog rose the figure of the Captain, serene and spectral, his hand upon the side of one of the oozy caldrons,
“ These are the lime-bleach vats,” said he, “ and here the rags are boiled, or rather steamed, at a temperature considerably above the boiling-point, in a solution of lime, for about ten hours. By that time they are ‘done’ very tender, and all stains or yellowness discharged. From these vats they are wheeled in barrows to the engineroom, in here.”
He opened a door, and the visitors, hastening to escape, passed into a cooler atmosphere, wiped their eyes, and saw before them a large room occupied by half a dozen circular tanks or baths, filled with a mixture which in one looked like rice and milk, in another like an incipient bread-pudding, and in another like a family wash after an unusual course of rubbing-board, pounding-stick, and Hibernian muscle. Yet another was empty, and beside it a workman had just set down a barrow filled apparently with drowned white kittens. Toward this barrow the Captain led his pupils, saying: “ In these engines are the rags at various stages of their progress toward pulp, or ‘ stuff,’ as it is technically called. These in the barrow are just from the lime bleach, and we will see the beginning of their journey through the engines. Pitch away, Bill! ”
Bill obeyed the command with zeal; and in a few moments the contents of the barrow were transferred to the engine, the water let on, and the machinery set in motion.
From a post in the middle of the engine extended to its opposite sides, on the one hand, a roller armed with razorlike blades ; on the other, a drum cylinder covered with wire gauze. At the upper end a pipe admitted a stream of pure water; and, as the armed roller rapidly revolved, it drew beneath it the mass of moistened rags which escaped at the other side, mere shreds and fragments of what they had been. Passing round to the other side of the engine, the shredded rags encountered the cylinder, which, dipping a few inches below the surface at each revolution, sucked away the foul water, and swept the solid matter on to be again mixed with the pure stream, and again pass beneath the knives of the roller.
“ We are very proud of our spring water,” said the Captain, catching a little in his hand and shaking it off, sparkling like diamonds in the sunshine. " And nothing is more important in the manufacture of paper than a supply of perfectly pure water. My neighbors have an Artesian well, but I do not like it. The water is more or less impregnated with mineral matter, and it must affect the color of the paper. This now is as colorless, as tasteless, and as vitalizing as the air of our Berkshire hills. Yes,” he continued, " pure water is to paper what strength is to a man or modesty to a woman, and there is no fairer water in the world than the spring which feeds the Waconnah Mills.”
Smiling at the touch of fancy, the realistic Miselle drew him back to the point of fact. " How long must the rags remain in the engine ?”
“ Six hours, as you see them now, ground all the time beneath these knives, and washed in a constant stream of water. After that, the water will be turned off, the exhausting cylinder raised, and a certain amount of chemicals mixed with the pulp. In this mixture it will lie for three hours, when the water will be let on, the exhauster thrown into gear, and the chemicals thoroughly washed out. This will take another hour. The water will be again shut off, and the pulp ground and beat and slashed by the roller for six hours longer. So, you see, we get altogether sixteen hours in the engine, by which time the ‘stuff’ is in this condition.”
The Captain pointed, as he spoke, to the vat containing the rice-and-milk compound, which a workman had been for some moments inspecting. As the party approached, he was bringing from the filtering aqueduct at the side of the room a basin half filled with water, into which he deftly scooped a portion of the stuff in the vat. This, mingling with the water, turned it of a milky hue, but left no substance visible except a few short and broken fibres.
“ He is trying the stuff to see if it is ready to draw off,” explained the Captain. " How is it, Smith ?”
“ All right, sir,” — and Smith, stopping the machinery, proceeded to open a valve trap in the bottom of the engine, through which the stuff escaped in a mimic maelstrom.
“ We will follow it down, although not by the same road,” suggested the Captain; and down a flight of feebleminded steps the visitors were brought to the abode of The Machine, the wonderful Fourdrinier Machine, which at one end receives the “ stuff” fresh from the engine, and in a few moments delivers it at the other in sheets of wirewove, laid, or fancy letter-paper.
The Captain led the way to the head of the whirling, steaming, clattering monster, and pointed to a square metal box, very like that usually suspended over a bathing-tub.
“ You remember,” said he,”that from the engine the pulp is let off into a great vat called the stuff-chest, just underneath the engine-room. From this vat it is pumped up into this box, diluted with a considerable addition of water, and is then fed to the machine, as you see.”
Pointing as he spoke, the Captain showed how a stream of pulp, thinned to the color and consistency of city milk, flowed from a pipe at the bottom of the iron box, and spread itself first over a frame set with horizontal slats perhaps an inch in depth, and then fell upon, and disappeared through, a fine brass sieve of peculiar construction.
“ Both these are preparatory operations,” resumed the Captain. “ The grooves between the slats are intended to catch any particles of sand, or metals from the chemicals, possibly lingering in the stuff, and the brass sieve, as you call it, is to strain out any clots or threads, or substance of that sort, which may have escaped the engine. Its principal use, however, is to keep back the knots made by sempstresses at the ends of their thread. These, often made of waxed thread, are insoluble by the agents used for the rest of the material, and, if allowed to remain in the stuff, occasion the little lumps upon which it is so provoking to catch your pen when writing rapidly. From the box beneath the sieve, the stuff, as you see, falls upon this endless belt of wire gauze, which is in fact about thirty feet long, the ' endlessness’ only referring to its circular shape. This belt, as you will notice, has a constant motion, not only onward, but from side to side, thus giving the pulp which covers it, and is prevented from running off by these strips of woollen at the sides, two distinct impulses, the one lateral and the other longitudinal, and weaving the fibre afresh into a sort of cloth, or rather felt, while at the same time it drains it of a portion of the water with which it has just been diluted. Stoop down, and you will see what a rain-storm is going on underneath.”
The pupils obediently stooped, and saw, between the belt of wire cloth and a trough some inches below, a pattering fall of drops round and heavy as those which presage a thunder-shower.
“ You will perceive,” continued the Captain, “ that, as the pulp travels down the belt, it becomes gradually more opaque and firmer in its consistency; but here you will see a more sudden alteration.”
He pointed, as he spoke, to a stripe across the sheet of pulp, about six inches in width, where the material suddenly underwent a striking change from watery indecision to consistent self-assertion. A few inches farther on was another stripe of the same sort; and the Captain explained that these were suction - boxes, exhausted of air by means of a steam-pump, and therefore greedily dragging down the water still remaining in the pulp, to supply the abhorred vacuum. Between these boxes slowly revolved a hollow cylinder covered with a wire gauze divided by parallel bars into stripes of about an inch in width.
“ This,” said the Captain, “ is the dandy-roll, but why so called, please don’t ask, for I don’t know. Its use, however, is to print in the semi-fluid pulp, or paper, as you may now call it, those lines distinguishing it as ‘laid,’ or ‘ wire-wove,’ or ‘ fancy.' In fact, any sort of water-mark desired may be put in at this stage, and we have as many dandy-rolls as we make different patterns of paper. Some customers fancy having their own names and places of business put on their paper in this way, and in that case they provide their own dandy-rolls. And now you see our rags from pulp have been converted, since passing that last suction-box, into undeniable paper, very moist and unsubstantial, to be sure, but possessing texture and fibre, and ready to slide from off the wire gauze upon this second endless belt of thick felt, which carries it tenderly along until it is suddenly caught between these two great cylinders, called press-rolls, which squeeze and dry and consolidate it, until, after passing through all four sets, it is ready to say good-by to the felt which has brought it thus far ; and, stretching across this little interval, it goes on all by itself to the hot cylinders, great iron drums heated within by steam, and through these — eight there are of them — it winds in and out.”
“ In a regular Greek trimming pattern,” murmured Miselle.
“Very likely ; all trimmings are Greek to me,” assented the Captain. “ And now you see the belt of paper has gone through all the cylinders, and, in passing over this iron bar, is cut lengthwise by sharp knives into strips of the right width for a sheet of letter-paper. Of course, the knives can be altered to any desired width ; but this is the regular size. From this bar the paper travels down, as you see, into a trough of sizing made of the same material as the gelatine used for calf’s-foot jelly, and then through this final set of rollers, which press it nearly dry again, but not quite, for if all the moisture was removed so suddenly, the paper would be warped and uneven. At the end of all, this revolving cylinder, set with a horizontal blade, clips the strips into sheets of the proper size ; and this apparatus, called a lay-boy, takes them almost as if with hands and hangs them over this frame, ready to be carried to the dryingroom. And so we have fairly made our rags into paper, and now have only to finish it.”
With a last affectionate and comprehensive glance at the beloved monster, the Captain led the way, up two flights of stairs, to a large hall called the drying-room, where were erected whole groves of parallel bars, like the dryingroom of a laundry.
Upon these bars were hung the sheets of damp paper, two or three together, the edges of each group slightly overlapping the rest, so that, as presently shown, the entire contents of a bar might be swept together and removed at a single motion.
“ The paper hangs here for four days, and by that time is thoroughly' dry. The same effect could be produced in four minutes by hot cylinders, but the paper would show the difference,” said the Captain, leading his guests from the drying to the finishing room, — a large, cheerful hall, with the sun streammg in at its open windows, pots of plants, little pictures, and mirrors over the various work-benches, and just outside the merry river and the blithe summer day.
Here the first process is to press the paper, now quite dry, for some hours in an hydraulic press, from which it emerges smooth, but lustreless. It is next passed up in large masses to a young woman who, sitting ensconced in a sort of bower near the top of the room, strongly reminds one of the Fate Lady at a fair. From this bower to the floor extends a series of rollers, some of iron, some of consolidated paper, incredibly hard and smooth. Between the two uppermost of these rollers the Fate Lady inserts the edge of a sheet of paper, which immediately proves the “ Facilis descensus” by darting down between all the various rollers to the bottom, where, hot, shining, and smooth as glass, it is seized by another young woman and laid upon a pile, where it may repose for a while, unless, indeed, it is intended to be a very super-extra style of paper, in which case it is carried up and sent down again.
This process is called “ calendering,” and the paper is thereafter trimmed in large masses under a powerful guillotine, and then carried to the ruling-machine, where sit two other young women, one at either end, the first feeding the machine with single sheets, — which pass through rollers and beneath a bar set with pens arranged at such width as is required, and fed with ink from a little trough above,—and the other removing them when finished.
From the ruling-machine the paper is taken to a long bench, where the expert fingers and eyes of the assorters whisk it over, sheet by sheet, detecting the slightest imperfection, and dividing it into three qualities, of which the second is nearly as good as the first, and the third by no means bad.
The faultless sheets are next passed on to the “ folder,” who, laying a pile before her, inserts the fingers of her left hand between the edges, and, grasping with a dexterous twist exactly six between each two lingers, lays the twenty-four sheets aside, thus counting them, into quires almost as fast as they could be handled without counting.
Having a sufficient number of quires laid ready, the folder places beneath her right palm a block of hard wood, retained in position by a strap going over the back of the hand ; and then, with her left hand picking up and doubling each quire, she gives it at the fold a downward and upward rub with the smoother, tossing it aside the next instant as accurately and sharply folded as if an hour had been given to the operation.
“ The next process,” resumes the Captain, " is stamping; and this is a more important matter than perhaps you would imagine; — that is, in the way of a test,— for it is only on our very best paper that we allow the name of the firm, or even of the mills, to appear. The second quality is decorated with an eagle, or the Capitol, or ‘ Ne plus ultra,’ or some one of a dozen designs kept for the purpose, while the third quality is not stamped at all, but just sold anonymously. Here is the stamping-bench.”
He paused, as he spoke, behind a young girl, who, with demure unconsciousness, continued her task of feeding one quire after another to a leisurely but implacable sort of hammer, working steadily up and down, and at every downward stroke smiting with a cruel craunch upon the quire held ready. The girl immediately withdrew this and substituted another, never pausing until the pile at her left hand had been all transferred to her right-
From her, Miselle went to look at another pretty girl folding half-ream packages of paper in gayly printed covers, sealing the ends, and stacking them, when finished, upon a bench beside her, to be presently carried away and boxed for transportation.
“ And now, I believe,” said the Captain, “ you have seen the entire process, and are competent to become passed paperwrights on your own account. Next let me show you my house and my wife.”
But although the cheerful house and pretty bride were pleasant things to see, as was also the Captain’s dinted sword slung from deer’s antlers in the hall, our affair is not with these, but rather with the Collar-paper Factory, owned by another of the fair Territory’s relatives, to which she presently brought her guests, and where they learned that Columbia wears about her neck annually nearly as many reams of paper as she uses to write upon, and that this collar-paper may be made of stock much inferior to that employed for letter-paper, the rags being of all colors and qualities, including some woollen and a considerable amount of old paper. After being assorted and shredded in a machine resembling a hay-cutter, these rags are placed in a large wooden cylinder covered with wire gauze, and whirled violently round for some time to remove the dust and lint adhering to them. Afterwards, they are subjected to nearly the same process as the stock for letter-paper, the principal point of difference being, that, after a certain “ period ” in the engine, the pulp is removed to large stone pits called draining vats, and there lies under the influence of certain strong chemicals for a considerable time, the object being both to destroy the texture and to discharge the colors of the multifarious mass.
In the Collar-paper Manufactory, the visitors were introduced, not only to their old friend, the Fourdrinier, but to his elder brother, the Cylinder Machine. In this, the pulp, when first drawn from the stuff-chest, is carried into a large trough, in which is partially immersed a ribbed cylinder covered with wire cloth. As the cylinder revolves in the mass of pulp, it takes up a thin coat of fibre, the water draining through into the interior of the drum, whence it is conducted away ; and this coating of fibre, suddenly as it is formed, is in fact paper, sufficiently strong, by the time the cylinder has completed its revolution, to be transferred to a felt belting, on which it is carried through nearly the same system of rollers and hot cylinders as in the Fourdrinier machine, the great difference being that, as the cylinder has no lateral motion, the fibre of the paper made upon it lies entirely in one direction, and the fabric is not nearly so strong as that made upon the Fourdrinier system. It is now seldom used as letter or printing paper.
Finally, the travellers were informed that American paper commands a higher price than any other in the market, and that much of the French and English note-paper so extensively sold is made in American mills, of inferior stock, stamped with a fancy mark, and sold at less price than that bearing the manufacturer’s own name. In fact, the foreign manufacturers can only compete with the American in price, through favor of their cheap labor, fuel, and chemicals, their processes and machinery being far inferior to ours.
And so, after several breezy drives, and a little sight-seeing in other directions beside paper-mills, our travellers bade good-by to their kind hostess and the fair Territory, confided a huge package of paper of “just the right size” to Adams’s Express, and found themselves again upon the world for entertainment.