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THE ROSE-QUARTZ SPRING
THROUGHOUT that entire season the old Squire was much interested in a project for making a fortune from the sale of spring water. The water of the celebrated Poland Spring, twenty miles from our place — where the Poland Spring Hotel now stands — was already enjoying an enviable popularity; and up in our north pasture on the side of Nubble Hill, there was, and still is, a fine spring, the water of which did not differ in analysis from that of the Poland Spring. It is the "boiling" type of spring, and the water, which is stone-cold, bubbles up through white quartzose sand at the foot of a low granite ledge. It flows throughout the year at the rate of about eight gallons a minute.
It had always been called the Nubble Spring, but when the old Squire and Addison made their plans for selling the spring water they rechristened it the Rose-Quartz Spring on account of an outcrop of rose quartz in the ledges near by.
They had the water analyzed by a chemist in Boston, who pronounced it as pure as Poland water, and, indeed, so like it that he could detect no difference. All of us were soon enthusiastic about the project.
First we set to work to make the spring more attractive. We cleared up the site and formed a granite basin for the water, sheltered by a little kiosk with seats where visitors could sit as they drank. We also cleared up the slope round it and set out borders of young pine and balm-of-Gilead trees.
We sent samples of the water in bottles and kegs to dealers in spring waters, along with a descriptive circular — which Addison composed — and the statement of analysis. Addison embellished the circular with several pictures of the spring and its surroundings, and cited medical opinions on the value of pure waters of this class. We also invited our neighbors and fellow townsmen to come and drink at our spring.
Very soon orders began to come in. The name itself, the Rose-Quartz Spring, was fortunate, for it conveyed a suggestion of crystal purity; that with the analysis induced numbers of people in the great cities, especially in Chicago, to try it.
Less was known in 1868 than now of the precautions that it is necessary to take in sending spring water to distant places, in order to insure its keeping pure. Little was known of microbes or antisepsis.
The old Squire and Addison decided that they would have to send the water to their customers in kegs of various sizes and in barrels; but as kegs made of oak staves, or of spruce, would impart a woody taste to the water, they hit upon the expedient of making the staves' of sugar-maple wood. The old Squire had a great quantity of staves sawed at his hardwood flooring mill, and at the cooper shop had them made into kegs and barrels of all sizes from five gallons' capacity up to fifty gallons'. After the kegs were set up we filled them with water and allowed them to soak for a week to take out all taste of the wood before we filled them from the spring and sent them away.
We believed that that precaution was sufficient, but now it is known that spring water can be kept safe only by putting it in glass bottles and glass carboys. No water will keep sweet in barrels for any great length of time, particularly when exported to hot climates.
The spring was nearly a mile from the farmhouse; and at a little distance below it we built a shed and set up a large kettle for boiling water to scald out the kegs and barrels that came back from customers and dealers to be refilled. We were careful not only to rinse them but also to soak them before we cleaned them with scalding water. As the business of sending off the water grew, the old Squire kept a hired man at the spring and the shed to look after the kegs and to draw the water. His name was James Doane. He had been, with the old Squire six years and as a rule was a trustworthy man and a good worker. He had one failing: occasionally, although not very often, he would get drunk.
So firm was the old Squire's faith in the water that we drew a supply of it to the house every second morning. Addison fitted up a little "water room" in the farmhouse L, and we kept water there in large bottles, cooled, for drinking. The water seemed to do us good, for we were all unusually healthy that summer. "Here's the true elixir of health," the old Squire often said as he drew a glass of it and sat down in the pleasant, cool "water room" to enjoy it.
Addison and he had fixed the price of the water at twenty-five cents a gallon, although we made our neighbors and fellow townsmen welcome to all they cared to come and get. We first advertised the water in June, and sales increased slowly throughout the summer and fall. Apparently the water gave good satisfaction, for the kegs came back to be refilled. By the following May the success of the venture seemed assured. Those who were using the water spoke well of it, and the demand was growing. In April we received orders for more than nine hundred gallons, and in May for more than thirteen hundred gallons.
The old Squire was very happy over the success of the enterprise. "It's a fine, clean business," he said. "That water has done us good, and it will do others good; and if they drink that, they will drink less whiskey."
Addison spent the evenings in making out bills and attending to the correspondence; for there were other matters that had to be attended to besides the Rose-Quartz Spring. Besides the farm work we had to look after the hardwood flooring mill that summer and the white-birch dowel mill. For several days toward the end of June we did not even have time to go up to the spring for our usual supply of water. But we kept Jim Doane there under instructions to attend carefully to the putting up of the water. It was his sole business, and he seemed to be attending to it properly. He was at the spring every day and boarded at the house of a neighbor, named Murch, who lived nearer to Nubble Hill than we did. Every day, too, we noticed the smoke of the fire under the kettle in which he heated water for scalding out the casks.
The first hint we had that things were going wrong was when Willis Murch told Addison that Doane had been on a spree, and that for several days he had been so badly under the influence of liquor that he did not know what he was about.
On hearing that news Addison and the old Squire hastened to the spring. Jim was there, sober enough now, and working industriously. But he looked bad, and his account of how he had done his work for the last week was far from clear. The old Squire gave him another job at the dowel mill and stationed his brother, Asa Doane, a strictly temperate man, at the spring. We could not learn just what had happened during the past ten days, but we hoped that no serious neglect had occurred.
But there had.
Toward the middle of July a letter of complaint came — the first we had ever received. "This barrel of water from your spring is not keeping good," were the exact words of it. I remember them well, for we read them over and over again. Addison replied at once, and sent another barrel in its place.
Before another week had passed a second complaint came. "This last barrel of water from your spring is turning 'ropy,'" it said. Another customer sent his barrel back when half full, with a letter saying, "It isn't fit to drink. The barrel is slimy inside."
Addison examined the barrel carefully, and found that there was, indeed, an appreciable film of vegetable growth on the staves inside. The taste of the water also was quite different.
Within a fortnight four more barrels and kegs were returned to us, in at least two cases accompanied by sharp words of condemnation. "No better than pond water," one customer wrote.
We carefully examined the inside of all these barrels and kegs as soon as they came back. Besides invisible impurities in the water, there was in every one more or less visible dirt, even bits of grass and slivers of wood.
There was only one conclusion to reach: Jim Doane had not been careful in filling the kegs and had not properly cleansed and scalded them. As nearly as we could discover from bits of information that came out subsequently, there were days and days when he was too "hazy" to know whether he had cleansed the barrels or not. He had filled them and sent them off in foul condition.
Addison wrote more than fifty letters to customers, defending the purity of Rose-Quartz Spring water, relating the facts of this recent "accident" and asking for a continued trial of it. I suppose that people at a distance thought that if there had been carelessness once there might be again. Very likely, too, they suspected that the water had never been so pure as we had declared it to be. Owners of other springs who had put water on the market improved the opportunity to circulate reports that Rose-Quartz water would not "keep." We got possession of three circulars in which that damaging statement had been sent broadcast.
There is probably no commodity in the world that depends so much on a reputation for purity as spring water. By September the orders for water had fallen off to a most disheartening extent. Scarcely three hundred gallons were called for.
In the hope that this was merely a temporary setback, and knowing that there was no fault in the water itself, the old Squire spent a thousand dollars in advertisements to stem the tide of adverse criticism. So far as we could discover, the effort produced little or no effect on sales. The opinion had gone abroad that the water would not keep pure for any great length of time. By the following spring sales had dwindled to such an extent that it was hardly worth while to continue the business. Considered as a commercial asset, the Rose-Quartz Spring was dead.
Regretfully we gave up the enterprise and let the spring fall into disuse. It was then, I remember, that the old Squire said, "It takes us one lifetime to learn how to do things."