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When I went up to No. 9, on my return from South America, I found the lower centring up, and half full of the working-bees,--who were really Keltic laborers,--all busy in bringing up the lower half-dome of the shell. This lower centring was of wood, in form exactly like a Roman amphitheatre if the seats of it be circular; on this the lower or inverted brick dome was laid. The whole fabric was on one of the terraces which were heaved up in some old geological cataclysm, when some lake gave way, and the Carrotook River was born. The level was higher than that of the top of the fly-wheels, which, with an awful velocity now, were circling in their wild career in the ravine below. Three of the lowest moonlets, as I have called them,--separate croquet-balls, if you take my other illustration,--had been completed; their centrings had been taken to pieces and drawn out through the holes, and were now set up again with other new centrings for the second story of cells.
I was received with wonder and delight. I had telegraphed my arrival, but the despatches had never been forwarded from Skowhegan. Of course, we all had a deal to tell; and, for me, there was no end to inquiries which I had to make in turn. I was never tired of exploring the various spheres, and the nameless spaces between them. I was never tired of talking with the laborers. All of us, indeed, became skilful bricklayers; and on a pleasant afternoon you might see Alice and Bertha, and George and me, all laying brick together,-- Polly sitting in the shade of some wall which had been built high enough, and reading to us from Jean Ingelow or Monte-Cristo or Jane Austen, while little Clara brought to us our mortar. Happily and lightly went by that summer. Haliburton and his wife made us a visit; Ben Brannan brought up his wife and children; Mrs. Haliburton herself put in the keystone to the central chamber, which had always been named G on the plans; and at her suggestion, it was named Grace now, because her mother's name was Hannah. Before winter we had passed the diameter of I, J, and K, the three uppermost cells of all; and the surrounding shell was closing in upon them. On the whole, the funds had held out amazingly well. The wages had been rather higher than we meant; but the men had no chances at liquor or dissipation, and had worked faster than we expected; and, with our new brick- machines, we made brick inconceivably fast, while their quality was so good that dear George said there was never so little waste. We celebrated Thanksgiving of that year together,--my family and his family. We had paid off all the laborers; and there were left, of that busy village, only Asaph Langdon and his family, Levi Jordan and Levi Ross, Horace Leonard and Seth Whitman with theirs. "Theirs," I say, but Ross had no family. He was a nice young fellow who was there as Haliburton's representative, to take care of the accounts and the pay- roll; Jordan was the head of the brick-kilns; Leonard, of the carpenters; and Whitman, of the commissariat,--and a good commissary Whitman was.
We celebrated Thanksgiving together! Ah me! what a cheerful, pleasant time we had; how happy the children were together! Polly and I and our bairns were to go to Boston the next day. I was to spend the winter in one final effort to get twenty-five thousand dollars more if I could, with which we might paint the MOON, or put on some ground felspathic granite dust, in a sort of paste, which in its hot flight through the air might fuse into a white enamel. All of us who saw the MOON were so delighted with its success that we felt sure "the friends" would not pause about this trifle. The rest of them were to stay there to watch the winter, and to be ready to begin work the moment the snow had gone. Thanksgiving afternoon, how well I remember it,--that good fellow, Whitman, came and asked Polly and me to visit his family in their new quarters. They had moved for the winter into cells B and E, so lofty, spacious, and warm, and so much drier than their log cabins. Mrs. Whitman, I remember, was very cheerful and jolly; made my children eat another piece of pie, and stuffed their pockets with raisins; and then with great ceremony and fun we christened room B by the name of Bertha, and E, Ellen, which was Mrs. Whitman's name. And the next day we bade them all good-by, little thinking what we said, and with endless promises of what we would send and bring them in the spring.
Here are the scraps of letters from Orcutt, dear fellow, which tell what more there is left to tell:--
"December 10th. ". . . After you left we were a little blue, and hung round loose for a day or two. Sunday we missed you especially, but Asaph made a good substitute, and Mrs. Leonard led the singing. The next day we moved the Leonards into L and M, which we christened Leonard and Mary (Mary is for your wife). They are pretty dark, but very dry. Leonard has swung hammocks, as Whitman did.
"Asaph came to me Tuesday and said he thought they had better turn to and put a shed over the unfinished circle, and so take occasion of warm days for dry work there. This we have done, and the occupation is good for us. . . ."
"December 25th. I have had no chance to write for a fortnight. The truth is, that the weather has been so open that I let Asaph go down to No. 7 and to Wilder's, and engage five- and-twenty of the best of the men, who, we knew, were hanging round there. We have all been at work most of the time since, with very good success. H is now wholly covered in, and the centring is out. The men have named it Haliburton. I is well advanced. J is as you left it. The work has been good for us all, morally."
"February 11th. ". . . We got your mail unexpectedly by some lumbermen on their way to the 9th Range. One of them has cut himself, and takes this down.
"You will be amazed to hear that I and K are both done. We have had splendid weather, and have worked half the time. We had a great jollification when K was closed in,--called it Kilpatrick, for Seth's old general. I wish you could just run up and see us. You must be quick, if you want to put in any of the last licks.
"March 12th. "DEAR FRED,--I have but an instant. By all means make your preparations to be here by the end of the month or early in next month. The weather has been faultless, you know. Asaph got in a dozen more men, and we have brought up the surface farther than you could dream. The ways are well forward, and I cannot see why, if the freshet hold off a little, we should not launch her by the 10th or 12th. I do not think it worth while to wait for paint or enamel. Telegraph Brannan that he must be here. You will be amused by our quarters. We, who were the last outsiders, move into A and D to-morrow, for a few weeks. It is much warmer there. "Ever yours, G. O."
I telegraphed Brannan, and in reply he came with his wife and his children to Boston. I told him that he could not possibly get up there, as the roads then were; but Ben said he would go to Skowhegan, and take his chance there. He would, of course, communicate with me as soon as he got there. Accordingly I got a note from him at Skowhegan, saying he had hired a sleigh to go over to No. 9; and in four days more I got this letter:--
March 27th. DEAR FRED,--I am most glad I came, and I beg you to bring your wife as soon as possible. The river is very full, the wheels, to which Leonard has added two auxiliaries, are moving as if they could not hold out long, the ways are all but ready, and we think we must not wait. Start with all hands as soon as you can. I had no difficulty in coming over from Skowhegan. We did it in two days.
This note I sent at once to Haliburton; and we got all the children ready for a winter journey, as the spectacle of the launch of the MOON was one to be remembered their life long. But it was clearly impossible to attempt, at that season, to get the subscribers together. Just as we started, this despatch from Skowhegan was brought me,--the last word I got from them:--
Stop for nothing. There is a jam below us in the stream, and we fear back-water. ORCUTT.
Of course we could not go faster than we could. We missed no connection. At Skowhegan, Haliburton and I took a cutter, leaving the ladies and children to follow at once in larger sleighs. We drove all night, changed horses at Prospect, and kept on all the next day. At No. 7 we had to wait over night. We started early in the morning, and came down the Spoonwood Hill at four in the afternoon, in full sight of our little village.
It was quiet as the grave! Not a smoke, not a man, not an adze-blow, nor the tick of a trowel. Only the gigantic fly-wheels were whirling as I saw them last.
There was the lower Coliseum-like centring, somewhat as I first saw it.
But where was the Brick Dome of the MOON?
"Good Heavens! has it fallen on them all?" cried I.
Haliburton lashed the beast till he fairly ran down that steep hill. We turned a little point, and came out in front of the centring. There was no MOON there! An empty amphitheatre, with not a brick nor a splinter within!
We were speechless. We left the cutter. We ran up the stairways to the terrace. We ran by the familiar paths into the centring. We came out upon the ways, which we had never seen before. These told the story too well! The ground and crushed surface of the timbers, scorched by the rapidity with which the MOON had slid down, told that they had done the duty for which they were built.
It was too clear that in some wild rush of the waters the ground had yielded a trifle. We could not find that the foundations had sunk more than six inches, but that was enough. In that fatal six inches' decline of the centring, the MOON had been launched upon the ways just as George had intended that it should be when he was ready. But it had slid, not rolled, down upon these angry fly-wheels, and in an instant, with all our friends, it had been hurled into the sky!
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The Brick Moon and Other Stories -by- Edward Everett Hale