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首页 » 英文短篇小说 » Scott Burton and the Timber Thieves » CHAPTER IV
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At first Scott did not notice any difference between this forest and the one they had traversed earlier in the day; he was too busy thinking of that enchanted pond, but he soon realized that there was a difference. There was a little earthen flowerpot hanging near the ground on the side of each tree. On some of the larger ones there were three or four of them. For three or four inches above each cup the tree was scratched as though some great bear had been sharpening his claws there. These scratches were very regular and there was exactly the same number above each cup. At the bottom of the scratches and draining into the flowerpots were two little tin gutters stuck into slits in the tree.

Scott knew that they must be in the turpentine orchard. It was the first one he had ever seen. He was very curious to know all about it, but he did not want to appear too ignorant. “Is this a very large orchard?” he asked.

“About twenty crops,” Mr. Graham answered absently.

That meant over two hundred thousand cups and it seemed to Scott like an enormous number. It did not seem possible to take care of so many. It was not long till they saw a darky in overalls and undershirt shambling about from tree to tree.

“Ever seen them chip?” Mr. Graham asked, suddenly realizing that it must all be entirely new to Scott. Scott admitted that he had not.

“They are pretty clever at it,” Mr. Graham continued, riding over to the darky, who greeted them with a pleased grin. “Show us a good one now, Josh. This gentleman has never seen it done.”

There is nothing that a darky likes better than showing off an accomplishment to a stranger. He was carrying a heavy iron, weighted with a ball at the lower end and bent into a loop of sharpened steel at the top. He gave this instrument a fantastic flourish, leaned down over a cup, and with a few deft strokes cut a new scratch in the outer wood of the tree, perfectly straight and overlapping just a little the streak below it. He repeated the operation on the other side of the cup and straightened up with another grin.

“Pretty good!” Mr. Graham exclaimed approvingly.

“Couldn’t beat dat one, boss,” replied the darky with a chuckle.

“Been over to the pond lately, Josh?”

“Who, me? No, suh, you don’t ketch dis heah niggah hangin’ roun’ deah. Dat eah place hanted, boss, sho nuf hanted. Dey tell me you kin put a log in de watah deah and see it ’solve smack befo’ yo’ eyes.” And his own eyes rolled strangely and showed a broad expanse of white.

“Sounds bad,” said Mr. Graham, laughing as he turned to ride away. “No danger of his stealing any logs out of there,” he remarked to Scott when they were out of hearing. “Looked easy enough to see him cut that streak, didn’t it? Try it yourself once. It would take you ten minutes and then it would look like beaver work. That man has to make the rounds of his crop every week; over three thousand streaks a day.”

Just twenty men were putting two streaks a week over each one of those two hundred thousand cups. It seemed marvelous to Scott. In another place he saw a man with a large wooden bucket and a paddle going from tree to tree, emptying the cups. He emptied his bucket into barrels beside the road and a wagon collected the barrels. Scott could not help thinking what a glorious fire there would be if it ever got started in all that resin.

Before long they came in sight of a group of rough board buildings strung along the road like the main street of a small town.

“That,” Mr. Graham explained, “is the still. The darkies and their families live in those little board shacks pretty much as they used to in slavery days. The company keeps a store here for them, the superintendent lives in that house next to the store and the still is down at the other end of the street. It’s quite a town. They will use this camp for their turpentine operations for thirteen years and then log for three years more.”

Slovenly negro women, many of the older ones smoking pipes, gazed at them from the doorways, and shiny black pickaninnies rolled the whites of their eyes in awed attention as they passed. Near the store they met Mr. Roberts, the superintendent, coming home to dinner. He acknowledged Scott’s introduction very effusively and promptly invited them both in to dinner. His wife was of the cracker type and looked old at thirty-five.

In spite of the man’s cordiality Scott did not like his looks. He had a sallow, malarial complexion, shifty eyes and loose-knit, gangling build. There was a hard, cunning look about his mouth, and he wore a large revolver very conspicuously on his belt. Scott had the feeling that he was being very narrowly watched, but whenever he looked at Mr. Roberts he found him deeply absorbed in something else. They finished their salt pork, hominy and grease-soaked beet greens in comparative silence.

“Reckon maybe you’d like to see the still if you are new to these parts,” Mr. Roberts remarked to Scott.

“Yes,” Mr. Graham answered for him, “we both want to see it. I never get tired of hearing that old still growl.”

They walked down the street a little way to the still. It was not a very imposing-looking building. A roof set on posts over a copper still which was built into a brick firebox. There was a platform at the side on which the crude resin was unloaded from the wagons and dumped into the retort and a shed on the other side where the turpentine was stored. Sitting on the ground and a little apart from the shed was a small army of rough barrels full to the top with solid resin.

Mr. Graham explained the process to Scott. “You see they dump the resin just as they bring it in from the woods into that retort and heat it. The turpentine is boiled out and goes out of that little pipe at the top in the form of gas. Then they run the pipe down through some cold water and the gas condenses into liquid turpentine which they put into those tight barrels. When it makes just the right noise they pour some water into the retort to help the process along. Is she pretty near ready to growl, George?” he called to an old darky who was tending the retort.

“Ought to be pretty nigh, boss,” the old man grinned. It was evidently a familiar question for which he was listening and it tickled him.

“When all the turpentine has gone off they pour the resin into those rough barrels,” Mr. Graham continued. “It hardens so quickly that the barrels do not have to be very tight. They put them together right here.”

“Is that all they have to do to get the kind of turpentine that is used in paint?” Scott asked.

“Oh, some of it is redistilled and refined a little for certain uses but much of it is used just so.”

They walked around the place a little and Scott learned many interesting facts about the turpentine industry. There was a lot more he wanted to know but the old darky called them excitedly. “She’s startin’ to howl, boss.”

They hurried over to the still and could hear a peculiar growling sound coming from the retort. “That’s the stuff,” Mr. Graham chuckled. “Now listen to her when the water goes in.”

The water was poured in and the roar was up to expectations. “That makes her talk,” Mr. Graham laughed. “Now we might as well be going. She won’t growl again for a long time.”

“Dat’s right,” the old darky chuckled. “Won’t be nuffin’ mo’ fo’ yo’ to heah for some time.” He fully appreciated Mr. Graham’s joke of hearing the old still growl.

Mr. Roberts walked back to the house with them to get their horses. “See anything suspicious at the pond this morning, Mr. Burton?” he asked casually.

“Oh, no, nothing except Murphy,” he added with a laugh. He said it as carelessly as he could, but he watched Roberts keenly. He felt somehow that this sallow cracker was surely connected with the pond mystery and he wanted to see if the mention of Murphy’s name as a suspicious character would affect him. If it did, he did not show it. He seemed to have asked the question simply to make conversation and only grinned at Scott’s answer.

As they were mounting Mr. Roberts pulled his revolver and carelessly shot a toad which was hopping across the road some fifteen yards away. “Getting near pay day,” he said in explanation, “and I have to get in practice.”

Possibly it was nothing more than the natural temptation for a man with a gun to shoot any live thing he sees, but Scott, with his intuitive dislike of the man, felt sure that it was meant for a warning display of his skill with a gun and he thought about it in silence on the ride home through the whispering pines.


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