THE FIRST MONEY

From the preceding chapter our readers will perceive the value of iron,
and also the importance to the community of the mechanic who is able to
work it. We would invite them to reflect upon some facts that may seem
incredible to them at first view. A boy who has no disposition to
reflect is not much of a boy, and when grown, will only be a servant to
those who do.

Iron is far more valuable than gold, and the blacksmith than the
jeweler, for the same reason that bread is worth more than diamonds, and
water than silver. Gold has a very great representative value in
civilized society, where iron is abundant, and it will buy iron, and is
an equivalent for the work of the smith; but it is only because men have
agreed to make it so. Whereas iron has a value in itself considered. It
fells the forest, tills the soil, annihilates time and distance, and
underlies the whole economy of domestic life; for our readers will bear
in mind that steel is only another form of iron.

The value iron acquires under the hammer is something wonderful. It is
said that a bar of iron worth $5 is worth $10.50 when made into
horse-shoes, $55 when made into needles, $3,285 made into penknife
blades, $29,480 in shirt buttons, and $250,000, in balance springs of
watches. Boys may, from this, see what labor is worth, and learn to
value and respect it, for it is the labor the mind put into the iron
that so increases its value. Consider what would be the result if there
were no iron.

A boy might search long to find a better subject for his theme than iron
and its uses, or one the treatment of which would be more instructive to
himself. The showers of sparks you see pouring out of a blacksmith’s
chimney, at times, of an evening when he is pressed with work, and
forgets the ten-hour system, have a language to a reflecting mind; they
mean power, progress, the plough, the telegraph, the mariner’s compass,
and the sword.

We have taken advantage of a pause in the conversation, during which
William Richardson resumed his reverie, and his wife plied her cards, to
make this digression. At length the mother laid her cards into the
basket of wool, and folding her hands in her lap, remained a few moments
wrapped in thought. She then said,–

“Husband, I feel so sure that good will come of this, that it will be,
in the end, the best thing for us all (for I know you can do whatever
you put your hand to), that I am willing to undergo almost anything to
bring it about. There are three articles that will always sell at the
store for half cash and half goods–butter, woollen cloth, and linen
yarn. I will sell what we have to get your tools, and, perhaps, a little
iron.”

“Susan, what did you make this cloth for, and what shape is it in?”

“There’s a piece of fulled cloth that I meant to make clothes of for you
and the boys, some that I wove for a gown for myself and the girls, and
some blanket stuff.”

“I won’t take it; I won’t take the clothes from your back and the
children’s if I never have any tools: the butter, I suppose, you have
laid down for winter, and the blankets are needed for the children’s
beds.”

“Yes, you must take it; if you can work iron, we shall have the house as
full of butter, meat, and cloth as John Drew’s is.”

“But we can’t get along without these things.”

“We can if we only _think_ so. We can put some brush on the children’s
beds, over the clothes,–hemlock brush over a few clothes is real
warm,–then, when it is very cold, we can leave a large fire when we go
to bed, and you can get up at twelve o’clock and put on wood. The
children can get along with their old clothes, and I with mine; there’s
nobody to look at us here. We have pork enough, and can do without
butter till we can make some. One of the cows calves in March. I meant
to have made some towels of the linen yarn, but tow will do just as
well.”

“Susan, I think a man must be made of poor material who could be
discouraged with a wife like you.”

“Mother always used to say, ‘Think you can do a thing, and it’s half
done.'”

The sledding was now good, and Richardson, engaged in hauling logs to
the river, had no leisure to meddle with iron; he, however, at odd
moments, when the cattle were eating, and on stormy days, made
preparation in anticipation of the future.

Near to his house stood the stump of a pine tree that had been cut when
the snow was deep, and was higher than usual. Around this he built a log
camp, in such a manner as to bring the stump on one side of the camp.
The water was low in the river, and where it fell over the rocks, and by
shovelling away the snow, he found a stone of sufficient size, hardness,
and the right shape, for an anvil. Levelling the top of the stump, he
made a cavity in it to receive the stone, and secured it firmly in its
bed. This was much superior to a stone on the kitchen hearth, and would
bear any blows that could be given with a hand-hammer. There was not a
board or plank within eleven miles by land, and thirteen by the river.
He flattened some pine saplings, and built up a pen, nearly square, for
his forge, found a place in the swamp where the soil was not frozen, and
obtained earth to fill it. By cutting through the frozen ground at the
bank of the river, he obtained clay for mortar, and with stones built up
a little abutment at one end of the forge, to lay his coal and build the
fire against. There was no chimney, a hole being left in the roof for
the escape of the gas and smoke. He then put a trough at the end of the
forge, in which to cool his iron. The floor cost no labor, as it was
supplied by mother earth. There was no window, but light came in at the
smoke-hole in the roof between the logs and through the chinks of the
door, made of joist hewed from small trees, treenailed together and hung
on wooden hinges. All this was done little by little, as opportunity
offered, and his wife and the children made charcoal by charring wood in
the oven, as he could not obtain turf to burn a kiln out of doors in the
winter. In mending his chain and staple, Richardson had felt very much
the need of something to turn his iron around. One end of a smith’s
anvil terminates in a point, called the horn, and around which, whenever
he wishes to make a hoop, ring, or link of a chain, he can bend it.
Richardson had brought into the forest with him a large crowbar. At the
expense of much labor with his nail-hammer, he rounded the extremity of
the largest end, leaving the rest square; then boring a hole in the
stump on the right side, he drove the bar into it. This served as a
very good substitute for a horn to his stone anvil, as he could turn a
chain link on the round part, and bend iron at right angles on the
square edge; and he was not a little proud of it when done.

Richardson’s ability to work in wood was well known to his neighbors,
but he had carefully concealed his attempts in the blacksmith line, as
he did not wish to attract attention till he could obtain tools, and had
made some progress. But a matter of such general interest could not long
be hid. The children told about their father’s mending the chain and the
staple, and it was soon known, to the great satisfaction of the
neighbors.

This little community, secluded from society and embosomed in the
forest, most of them having emigrated from the same neighborhood, and
enduring like hardships, were extremely social in their habits, much
attached to one another, and ready to make sacrifices for the common
good. David Montague was especially beloved by his neighbors, being a
man of good abilities, and most open and affectionate disposition. In
better circumstances than the rest, he was able to hire help to clear
his land, and also kept a horse and a large stock of cattle.

A few days after Richardson had made his preparations, he came in of an
evening with his wife, and bringing a chain in his hand, that he flung
down at the door. After greetings were exchanged, and they had drawn
together around the fire, Montague observed,–

“Neighbor, I hear that you have turned blacksmith, and do your own iron
work.”

“I’m sure,” said Mrs. Montague, “it is going to be a great thing for the
place if we have got a smith among us.”

“They say,” replied Richardson, “that stories never lose anything by
going, and I think this is a pretty good proof of it, for it all grew
out of this: I went to the village, you know, a while since, to mill,
for all hands, and to get some iron work done. While I stood watching
Jack Drew, and blowing the bellows for him, I said to myself, ‘I could
do that work, or I could learn to do it, if I only had his tools and
fire, just as well as I can make a pair of wheels, or an axletree, or
frame a building, or make a cider-press.’ I used to do that kind of work
sometimes before I came here. I thought it over going home, and the next
time I broke a chain, I set to work with a flat stone before the fire,
and mended it, and then I mended a staple; that’s the way it came about.
I made up my mind then I’d mend my own things, if I could, and save the
expense and the long tramp. As we’ve got only these two rooms, and there
isn’t much room round the fire, I built a hovel to work in.”

“I can tell you, Mr. Montague, he made out firstrate. Husband, show Mr.
Montague the chain you mended.”

Richardson went to the barn and brought in the chain and the staple.

“Well,” said his visitor, after examining the work with great interest,
“if you can mend my chain as well as that, I’ll never carry another one
to Drew, and I’ll pay you in cash just what I should have to pay him,
and be greatly obliged, besides.”

“That’s just what I’ve been telling husband,” said his wife; “if he
would give his mind to it, get a few tools, and begin in a small way, at
first, it would give him work in stormy weather, and times when he
couldn’t do anything else, be a great accommodation to the neighbors,
help the place, and be a good thing all around.”

“That’s it, Mr. Richardson. Your wife’s got the right of it, neighbor.
The place is settling, people moving in, and taking up land, stumps
rotting, and ground getting fit to plough; and work will grow as fast as
you can grow to be able to do it.”

“I’ll mend your chain, neighbor, in the best fashion I can; but I have
to work in such a roundabout way, that I must have my time. Have you got
the broken link?”

“No; it flew into the snow, and I couldn’t find it.”

“Then I shall have to cut one of the links, put the next link in, and
weld it.”

“I hate to have that done, because it will shorten the chain; and it’s
barely long enough to bind a load of logs and ‘fid’ now.”

“Haven’t you any links lying round?”

“Not I, indeed. Iron is as scarce as money with me, as with all the
neighbors. Every link of a chain, piece of a horse or ox shoe, old
spike, and every scrap of iron, is worked up. There is one thing,
though, I remember now, though I don’t know as it’s of any use to you.”

“What is that?”

“I got Drew to make me a plough-colter, more than a year ago, and found
the iron. There was a piece left, a bar about a foot long.”

“If I could heat it, and contrive any way to cut it, I could make a link
of it.”

“I will leave the chain, and send Andrew over with the bar, and if you
find that you can’t do anything with the bar, why, cut a link and make
the chain shorter, for I am determined you shall mend that chain.”

Mr. Montague and his wife now took their leave, and in the course of an
hour Andrew Montague brought over the bar of iron.

It was the wife’s turn to be discouraged now.

“William,” she said, “you never can cut that great bar of iron. Why,
it’s almost as thick as my press-board, and you haven’t one single tool
to do it with. I’m sorry, but you will certainly have to shorten the
chain.”

“No, I won’t shorten the chain, and I’ll find some way to split it and
forge a link out of it, if it takes from now till’ next spring: that is,
if you’ll help me. Montague hates to have the chain shortened. It’s the
first job of work, and I’ll do it as he wants it.”

“I’ll do anything I can; anything in the world, to get bread for the
children.”




“I’ll help you, father; I’m real strong,” said Clem, a boy of twelve,
afterwards the father of Radcliffe Rich.

“And I, too,” said Robert, who was eighteen months younger. Two girls,
still younger, would have doubtless volunteered, but they were abed, and
not much could reasonably be expected of the baby in the cradle.

William Richardson, in addition to his mechanical ability, was a
resolute, powerful man. The encouragement afforded by the visit of
Montague, and the prospect of abundance of work, if he could do it, had
effectually roused all his energies. His wife, by no means ignorant of
her husband’s capacities, dismissed her anxieties, for she knew that he
would find some way to accomplish whatever he had determined to do.

After sitting a few moments buried in thought, he took a brand from the
fire, and his axe, and, followed by Clem, started for the woods, where
he soon found a hornbeam tree, the wood of which is very firm and heavy.
The boy held the brand while he cut it down, and took off a cut three
feet in length. With axe, saw, and auger, by the light of the kitchen
fire, he soon made a beetle, that, during the time it lasted,–for he
had no iron to hoop it with,–would enable him to strike a harder blow
than even a blacksmith’s sledge, for it was much heavier, indeed, too
heavy for constant use; but a very strong man could swing it for a
while, and upon an emergency. He then went down to a brook about an
eighth of a mile from the house, for an old axe, kept to save a better
one, and to cut ice, in order that the cattle might drink. The axe, by
frequent grinding, had become very thick on the edge, and the bitt was
rounded.

The next morning Richardson started the fire on his forge with plenty of
coal, and put in the bar, while Clem and Rob plied the kitchen bellows
by turns, the two little girls looking on with the greatest interest.

To cut iron, less heat is required than to weld it.

“Clem,” said Richardson, “call your mother.”

The boy returning, said,–

“Mother says one of the girls must come in to watch the cradle.”

It was now, “Nan, you go,” and “Sue, you go,” when the indulgent father,
who knew just how the children felt, compromised the matter by bringing
the cradle, with the baby sound asleep in it, and setting the sleeper
as far as possible from the forge, in order that the noise of the blows
might not awaken him.

Richardson, now taking the iron from the fire with the kitchen tongs,
placed it on the anvil, and gave it in charge to the boys to hold. He
then put the axe-edge down on the iron where he wished to split it, and
told his wife how to hold it; then with the beetle he struck heavy blows
upon the axe, forcing it into the iron at every stroke, while his wife,
after every blow, drew the axe to a new place. The old axe, of excellent
temper, and thick edge, that would neither turn nor break, being dipped
in water when it became heated, answered the purpose of a chisel
admirably, and the beetle was _superb_. Indeed, they would have nearly
finished that heat, but the baby waked, screaming, and would not be
pacified without his mother. Richardson clapped the iron in the fire,
one of the children got a chair, and the mother sitting down, nursed the
babe while the iron was heating. After this it became quiet, and the
little girls took care of it, while the others cut the iron so nearly
through that by bending it back and forth a few times, it fell apart.

He now found that the strip he had cut off was sufficient to make two
links by drawing it some. He therefore made two. But it was a deal of
work to heat the iron hot enough to weld, because the hand-bellows were
single, and only operated by short puffs, the iron cooling in the
intervals, whereas a blacksmith’s bellows, being double, one part fills
while the other is discharging, thus keeping up a steady current of air.

Montague was much pleased when he found that his chain, instead of being
made shorter, was lengthened, and now sufficient for all purposes, paid
Richardson liberally, and brought another chain that was too short, and
had the remainder of his iron put into that.

“There, wife,” said Richardson, as he placed the money his neighbor had
paid him on the table, “is the first money earned by the hammer. You
were just right when you said that mending that staple was the best
day’s work I ever did, and I’m sure I never earned any money so sweet as
this.”