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CHAPTER X

HOW TO THAW A FROZEN PUMP: CATHERINE'S BRIGHT IDEA

MEANTIME I was having far more prosaic trouble with another, inferior kind of fractions, called vulgar. At the school which I had previously attended no proper effort had been made to teach vulgar fractions and render them plain to young minds. Although in a far more pretentious building than the red schoolhouse at the Old Squire's, the school itself was much less efficient. When I came to review my Practical Arithmetic that winter, Master Pierson promptly discovered my deficiencies. For a week he kept me hard at work on those fractions, particularly on the complex variety. Withal I was ashamed that Tom and Catherine knew all these things so much better than I did, more especially as I had come from a place where there were forty weeks of school in a year. I felt and feared that I was hopelessly dull. Shame spurred me to catch up with Thomas; but Master Joel would not let me budge, nor go on, till I could solve those examples in complex fractions. In fact, I was giving my mind to the task, quite intently, for four or five days thereafter, when I think it was the fourth morning I fell into a serious difficulty at home.

In short, I let the barn pump freeze up. It was January weather, seven degrees below zero, with a bitter wind blowing, as is often the case in Maine at this time of year. The Old Squire was away that week at a logging-camp up in the Great Woods. Halstead was laid up in the house with a severe cold and had not been out of doors for several days; he generally had two or three of those colds every winter, caught imprudently, nearly always.

In consequence, Addison and I had all the barn chores to do that week. The Old Squire had sent for Asa Doane to help us, but he had failed to come. We contrived to get to school as usual, but had to rise early and hurry around. Neither of us was in the best of humor; but we divided the work between us and made haste. There were sixteen cows but only two of them gave milk eight yearlings and two-year-olds, two horses, three colts and fifty sheep to be cared for.

Addison took charge of the provender and hay, and did the milking, while I pitched the hay from the mow, did the pumping and watered the entire herd. His share certainly required most attention, although I did not think so, then.

It was quite true, too, that he had reminded me, the night before, to run the pump down. I had to acknowledge it, afterwards. But I had been in a kind of maze, or a daze, all day, over two of those hard examples in complex fractions. One of them I still remember distinctly.


The answer of course is 1, but I could not get it, and it was still worrying me when I reached home that night; so much so that after "fetching" the pump and watering the cattle, I had somehow forgotten to run the pump down as was the strict rule every time water was pumped in winter.

It froze up that night, solid as a rock! And next morning there was that whole stock to water, with nothing but ice in the trough. What was harder even than ice, Addison had no sympathy for me. "I told you last night to run that pump down!" he exclaimed.

Why didn't you? Now you may lug water for all of me and serve you right!"

He was so righteously indignant with me that at a quarter to nine, he hastened off to school, without speaking, and left me there with those cattle to water as best I could.

I could not complain. It was my job; and after he and the girls had gone to school, I set to work to carry water in two buckets from the pump in the farmhouse kitchen all the way out through the long wood-house, wagon-house, and stable, to the west barn, and then down a flight of stairs to the watering-trough in the barn cellar!

I am wondering, too, whether many of those who read this realize how much water thirty head of cattle will drink. I let them out to the trough one by one, as I hastened back and forth from the house well, and it did seem to me that never would they stop drinking or get enough. The less water there was in the trough, the thirstier they seemed to be. Some of them actually drank four bucketfuls.

As I hurried to and fro, water slopped from the buckets, which instantly turned to ice as it fell on the floor and stairs; and the monotony of the trips was enlivened for me by tumbling down occasionally with two buckets of water.

It was eleven o'clock, and I had made forty-five or fifty trips before all those thirsty cows and horses were satisfied; the sheep had to eat snow; I then set to work to thaw out the pump with hot water. For in the house Gram and Aunt Olive were making complaint against me for slopping water about; they feared, too, lest I might pump the well dry, since wells everywhere were low that winter.

Reader, did you ever try to thaw out an iron or a copper pump with the mercury below zero and fetch your hot water in a bucket from a kitchen stove a hundred yards away?

The pump itself I thawed with no great difficulty, down past the "boxes" to the point where it was screwed to the inch-and-a-half lead pipe which led off aslant to the barn well forty feet distant. But that inch-and-a-half pipe was also frozen up hard and fast. I was afraid it had burst; and that added to my troubles, since the ground over the pipe was hard-frozen and now buried under six feet of snow-drifts. It would be next to impossible in such weather to dig it up and put in new pipe. That was what Addison said for my comfort!

But the pipe, as I may add here, was very thick and of good stock. The Old Squire always made use of the best material he could purchase for all such work. The ice in the pipe, as we afterward learned, had bulged it in places, but did not actually burst it.

As soon as I had cleared the pump, I unscrewed the coupling to the pipe with a wrench, and then tried to thaw the pipe by pouring hot water into it. This one can do for five or six feet downward without great difficulty, but soon a point is reached where the hot water no longer operates, for the reason that as it cools it is not much displaced by what is poured in at the top; and still deeper it is not displaced at all, the hot which you pour in merely running over at the top.

Eight or nine feet down, where the pipe turned off underground, I came to a standstill. I persevered and fussed with it two or three hours, but quite in vain. Meanwhile I had scalded one hand rather painfully through my mitten.

Boys who read this may laugh at my troubles that day, but they were very real troubles to me. I knew not what to do, and was not a little terrified at the prospect ahead; for by three o'clock that afternoon I had to begin carrying water for the cattle again, to get them watered before dark.

I knew Addison would not help me. Moreover, he had his own large share of the chores to do. In short, I was in a hard spot.

And it got harder; for by the time I had carried fifteen or sixteen turns of water from the house well that afternoon, the kitchen pump sucked and gurgled. I had pumped the well out, and now Gram and Aunt Olive came down on me again. "Don't you take another drop of water from here!" Aunt Olive exclaimed. "Do you think I want to melt snow for water?"

"But the cattle must have water. What can I do?" I cried, nursing my scalded hand, and nearly in tears but for shame of shedding than.

"Kindle a fire under the arch-kettle in the wagon-house and melt snow yourself," said Aunt Olive, austerely. "Why in the world, too, don't you put rock salt or saltpetre in that pump pipe? Rock salt in it overnight will thaw it out."

Thus adjured, I kindled a fire in the "arch;" filled the big kettle with ice and snow, then got rock salt, such as we gave to the herd. But by this time the hot water which I had poured into the pump earlier in the afternoon had cooled and frozen. I thawed it down for two feet again with more boiling hot water, then filled it up with salt grains.

Soon after, Addison came home from school and began doing his share of the chores. His face was still hard set against me. "You will have to stay at home and melt snow the rest of this winter, I guess," said he grimly.

"Snow-water isn't good for cattle, either," he added. "And I don't believe you can melt enough for them, anyway."

I was afraid I could not myself, for it melted slowly in spite of the good fire I kept. All that evening I tended the kettle, carrying the water in a bucket to the cattle and horses in their stalls. It was nine o'clock before I could give them even one bucketful apiece. But it had to suffice; and I crept away to bed, with my smarting hand, completely tired out and discouraged by the day's struggle with cold and adversity.

My hand, I remember, kept me from sleeping much till past midnight. Then it got easier; and I was comfortably dreaming when Addison roused me at six. "Come, come!" said he. "You had better be up melting more snow, instead of snoozing there. Those cattle need water."

It was, in good truth, a hard, cold world to wake into! I had cherished faint hopes that the rock salt grains would thaw out the pump pipe, and dressing in haste, I rushed out to ascertain. The water, strongly impregnated with salt, had not frozen at the top end of the pipe; and on thrusting in a long stick, I found that the salt had actually eaten its way downward in the ice for about five feet. But it had gone no farther, and the prospect of its working its way underground to the well outside the barn was poor indeed. It might do so in a week or two, perhaps, but even that was uncertain.

Master Pierson, who had now learned of the trouble at the barn, came out with the kind purpose of aiding me, but shook his head after trying the pump.

"That pipe is frozen, probably, clean down to the water in the well," he said.

"It is hard on you, and I am very sorry to have you lose time at school," he added, with genuine sympathy.

But even sympathy does not greatly help a case like that. In still gloomier mood, I rekindled the fire in the arch, and later saw Addison depart for school, while I put in another day, melting snow for those ever-thirsty cattle. Theodora and Ellen pitied me, but there was not much that they could do to help matters. So far as I could see, there was not a ray of hope ahead anywhere. I should probably have to melt snow day and night all the rest of that winter, or at least till the Old Squire came home. That, too, was a bitter thought. I was ashamed to have the old gentleman learn how careless I had been.

By afternoon I had grown desperate, as well as tired and disheartened. Doing my best with the arch-kettle, I could not melt snow enough to water so numerous a herd. I had been able to give them no more than a bucketful apiece that day. Some of the cows were lowing plaintively whenever they saw me enter the barn with the bucket; and as for the sheep, they were eating snow. What to do I knew not.

But relief was at hand. My good genius was about to appear. I had now been absent from school two days, and by this time my arithmetic class had begun to ask after me. Addison, I suppose, told them where I was and what I was doing, and that night six or seven of my schoolmates called on their way home, to see me at my task and sympathize, or have a little fun at my predicament, according to their dispositions.

Among them were Thomas and Catherine. As I was emerging from the barn, bucket in hand, they all met me, laughing, and then must needs go to see the pump and ask all sorts of questions which I was in no mood to answer.

But Catherine lingered, with Theodora and Ellen, after the others had gone.

"Couldn't you pour hot water into the pipe here?" she asked me.

"Oh, I have," I said, impatiently. "But it will only thaw the ice about so far down the pipe. It gets cold down there. The hot water from the top will not work down much deeper than eight feet."

"Isn't there any way you could get the real hot, boiling water down there where the ice is?" Catherine persisted in asking.

"I don't know any way," said I, not very graciously, for I was cross, and had no exalted idea of girls' wisdom.

But Catherine's eyes were still thoughtfully bent on that pipe. "If only you had a little pipe, smaller than that, to run down into it, where the ice is, and then poured the boiling water into the little pipe with a funnel, wouldn't it go right down hot against that ice and thaw it?" she persisted.

"Maybe, but I haven't any such little pipe," said I, and hastened away to the arch, to get another bucket of water.

Catherine lingered there, studying on it for some moments longer, then started off hastily.

I had no idea that she could help me, and renewed my fire; but a little later, in the twilight, Catherine and Thomas came back. They had Tom's hand-sled, and on it was a coil of old, half-inch lead pipe, the pipe of an aqueduct at the Edwards farm, which had become clogged the summer before, and had to be dug up and replaced by larger pipe.

Tom was laughing, but Catherine was much in earnest. "Let's try this!" she exclaimed. "It will go into your pump pipe, and it will bend easy. Get hot water and a funnel."

There were forty or fifty feet of this little, thin old lead pipe. We poked one end of it down the pump pipe till it touched the ice in it, and then, elevating the other end six or eight feet, we began pouring in hot water through a tin funnel.

The effect was immediately apparent. Within five minutes we were able to thrust the small pipe down two feet deeper in the pump pipe; and we now elevated the upper end of the little pipe still higher, so as to give the hot water in it greater pressure. The longer we worked, too, the faster was the ice in the large pipe melted, since the pipe was now getting hot. The water, boiling hot, came directly in contact with the ice, and as it cooled, it came bubbling up about the little pipe and flowed out at the top of the large one.

Dusk had fallen, but a lantern was lighted, and we went on as fast as Aunt Olive, Addison and the girls could fetch hot water from the kitchen stove, for now they all turned out to help me. Within an hour that pump pipe was free of ice clear down to the well.

I was not long screwing on the pump again, and within another hour had my thirsty herd comfortably watered once more.

Master Pierson deemed Catherine's idea such a bright one that he wrote a brief account of it for the county newspaper, under the heading, "How to Thaw out a Frozen Pump." And a plumber in Portland has since told me that he saw that item in the paper, and recognizing its practical value, had a small, flexible pipe made of Britannia metal for his own use in just such cases of frozen water-pipes. Other plumbers, he said, copied it from him, till it came into quite general use throughout the northern United States. So far as he knew, plumbers in this country had not thought of that plan previously.

I hope I was really grateful to Catherine for my rescue from disgrace, and I think I was, but my recollection is that I had little opportunity to express my gratitude that night. For the moment that Catherine found that the plan was about to succeed, she and Thomas scampered home to supper.

I have alluded to Joel Pierson's trait or weakness for practical jokes. I think that it was on Wednesday of this week that he played one upon Addison which had consequences.

Addison was always much interested in minerals. Anything in the shape of a mineral specimen was sure to attract his attention. He had made a collection of specimens from the crags and ledges in the vicinity.

That evening as we went into the sitting-room from the supper-table, whither Joel had already preceded us, the latter called out to Addison to take a look at that pretty piece of rose quartz on the top of the fire-frame.

In all good faith and quite unsuspicious, Addison at once walked to the fire-frame and took up the bit of quartz. He had no sooner raised it, however, than he flung it away with a howl of displeasure. Joel, the joker, had been heating it in the fire till the moment before Addison entered, when he had removed it with the tongs.

"What's the matter there?" cried the master. "You act as if that was hot!"

Addison did not reply, but proceeded to cool the ends of his finger and thumb for a time, then took out his books, quite as if nothing had happened and without showing any signs of temper. Nevertheless, Theodora and I thought it likely that this prank would have to be settled for before school was done. Addison was not the boy to let such a trick as that go unrequited.

As much as a week passed; other jokes were perpetrated, so many that the master himself may have forgotten that one; it was merely one of many such.

About this time two pigs were slaughtered at the Old Squire's, and the afternoon following, Addison went home from school at recess, to assist Gram in the task of preparing what she called "souse," or head cheese, from the heads and other minor parts of the two porkers. For this service the old lady much preferred Addison to the girls, or hired help. He had a taste for dissection and understood how to remove the flesh from the bone of the head, as also what parts it was better to save, and what to reject. So Addison was called home as assistant souse-maker.

While thus employed an idea appears to have occurred to him; for in addition to this other labor, that afternoon, he carefully removed the eyes of one of the pigs from their bony sockets.

From an anatomist's point of view this is an interesting thing to do; but from the ordinary standpoint, the eyes of any such animal are unsightly and of frightful appearance to many. Moreover, the eye is a larger organ when its entire globe is exposed than would appear to the ordinary observer who sees only the front portion of it in life.

Having removed the eyes with much care and attention to details, Addison first washed them in pickle, then wired them together and proceeded to roll them up in thickness after thickness of brown paper, till a package as large as one's fist had been formed. This he then secured carefully with several wrappings of twine and laid aside.

It was Joel's custom, while sitting indoors at the Old Squire's, to wear a loose, green jacket; but on setting off for school, he put on a dark gray sack coat and his overcoat. Just before he donned these garments, next morning, to go to school, Addison privately slipped his package into the pocket of this sack coat. Joel put it on hastily as usual, then put on the overcoat and went to school. About an hour after school had begun, while the algebra class was at the blackboard and Joel was walking up and down the floor, he chanced to put his hand into that pocket of the sack coat, when his fingers came in contact with the package. Addison, who had kept a curious eye to his movements, observed that he stopped in his walk, and, as he felt the package over in his pocket, appeared to be pondering as to what it could be. He turned a little aside, and taking it from his pocket, looked at it curiously, as if still pondering what it was and when or for what purpose he had put it there. Apparently he could not think what it was, but he dropped it back into his pocket, and for some time paid no further attention to it.

But it was plain that it bothered his mind still, for Addison saw his hand steal into that pocket several times, during the next fifteen or twenty minutes.

At last curiosity gained the ascendency and taking advantage of a spare moment, while the next class was working at the blackboard, he sat down behind his desk and, after a glance around the room, to make sure that matters were going on well and that all were properly attending to their studies, he again drew forth the package and, having cut the string with his knife, began unrolling the paper. Thickness after thickness was removed; and a whimsical expression of curiosity and "can't-for-the-life-of-me-remember-what-this-is" overspread his countenance.

On a sudden, with the removal of the last thickness of paper, the two pig's eyes were left in his hand, grim, raw and staring up in his face!

The denouement would no doubt have startled almost any one; and it so startled Joel that he uttered a suppressed exclamation and threw them clean out of his hand over the desk and the melodeon into the floor!

Every one in the room looked up at once. There lay the pig's eyes on the floor, and there stood the master, looking hard at them. What it was all about no one, except Addison, could for a time even guess. First one, then another, began to laugh, till the room was in an uproar.

Yet still we did not fully understand it.

Joel took up the horrible objects with two sticks from the wood-box, and threw them in the stove. He made no remark, but after the tumult had subsided, went on with the algebra lesson; yet the affair had flustered him considerably, as we could all see.

Addison said nothing; but Joel no doubt soon guessed to whom he was indebted for the prank. He was almost inclined to feel offended at first, I think, for he scarcely spoke to Addison during the day, but by evening they were as friendly as ever. On reflection Joel probably concluded that it was not much more than a fair offset to the hot "specimen." He had thrown the pig's eyes even farther than Addison had the stone.

A few evenings afterwards Thomas, Catherine and the Wilbur young folks were at the Old Squire's, and in an interval of study in the sitting-room, we began to put catch-questions, riddles and conundrums. This had been going on a few minutes, when Addison suddenly asked, "What is hotter than a hot stone?" Every one laughed at this; but a fit answer was not at once forthcoming from any one, till little Wealthy piped up, "A dead pig's eye!"

There was a shout. Joel shook his head with mock solemnity, and said, "Let's go to studying again."


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