Scripps O'Neil was looking for employment. It would be good to work with his hands. He walked down the street away from the beanery and past McCarthy's barber shop. He did not go into the barber shop. It looked as inviting as ever, but it was employment Scripps wanted. He turned sharply around the corner of the barber shop and onto the Main Street of Petoskey. It was a handsome, broad street, lined on either side with brick and pressed-stone buildings. Scripps walked along it toward the part of town where the pump-factory stood. At the door of the pump-factory he was embarrassed. Could this really be the pump-factory? True, a stream of pumps were being carried out and set up in the snow, and workmen were throwing pails of water over them to encase them in a coating of ice that would protect them from the winter winds as well as any paint would. But were they really pumps? It might all be a trick. These pump men were clever fellows.
"I say!" Scripps beckoned to one of the workmen who was sloshing water over a new, raw-looking pump that had just been carried out and stood protestingly in the snow. "Are they pumps?"
"They will be in time," the workman said.
Scripps knew it was the factory. They weren't going to fool him on that. He walked up to the door. There was a sign on it:
KEEP OUT. THIS MEANS YOU
Can that mean me? Scripps wondered. He knocked on the door and went in.
"I'd like to speak to the manager," he said, standing quietly in the half-light.
Workmen were passing him, carrying the new raw pumps on their shoulders. They hummed snatches of songs as they passed. The handles of the pumps flopped stiffly in dumb protest. Some pumps had no handles. They perhaps, after all, are the lucky ones, Scripps thought. A little man came up to him. He was well-built, short, with wide shoulders and a grim face.
"You were asking for the manager?"
"I'm the foreman here. What I say goes."
"Can you hire and fire?" Scripps asked.
"I can do one as easily as the other," the foreman said.
"I want a job."
"Not in pumps."
"All right," the foreman said. "We'll put you on piece-work. Here, Yogi," he called to one of the men, who was standing there looking out of the window of the factory, "show this new chum where to stow his swag and how to find his way around these diggings." The foreman looked Scripps up and down. "I'm an Australian," he said. "Hope you'll like the lay here." He walked off.
The man called Yogi Johnson came over from the window. "Glad to meet you," he said. He was a chunky, well-built fellow. One of the sort you see around almost anywhere. He looked as though he had been through things.
"Your foreman's the first Australian I've ever met," Scripps said.
"Oh, he's not an Australian," Yogi said. "He was just with the Australians once during the war, and it made a big impression on him."
"Were you in the war?" Scripps asked.
"Yes," Yogi Johnson said. "I was the first man to go from Cadillac."
"It must have been quite an experience."
"It's meant a lot to me," Yogi answered. "Come on and I'll show you around the works."
Scripps followed this man, who showed him through the pump-factory. It was dark but warm inside the pump-factory. Men naked to the waist took the pumps in huge tongs as they came trundling by on an endless chain, culling out the misfits and placing the perfect pumps on another endless chain that carried them up into the cooling room. Other men, Indians for the most part, wearing only breech-clouts, broke up the misfit pumps with huge hammers and adzes and rapidly recast them into axe heads, wagon springs, trombone slides, bullet moulds, all the by-products of a big pump-factory. There was nothing wasted, Yogi pointed out. A group of Indian boys, humming to themselves one of the old tribal chanties, squatted in a corner of the big forging room shaping the little fragments that were chipped from the pumps in casting, into safety razor blades.
"They work naked," Yogi said. "They're searched as they go out. Sometimes they try and conceal the razor blades and take them out with them to bootleg."
"There must be quite a loss that way," Scripps said.
"Oh, no," Yogi answered. "The inspectors get most of them."
Upstairs, apart in a separate room, two old men were working. Yogi opened the door. One of the old men looked over his steel spectacles and frowned.
"You make a draft," he said.
"Shut the door," the other old man said, in the high, complaining voice of the very old.
"They're our two hand-workers," Yogi said. "They make all the pumps the manufactory sends out to the big international pump races. You remember our Peerless Pounder that won the pump race in Italy, where Franky Dawson was killed?"
"I read about it in the paper," Scripps answered.
"Mr. Borrow, over there in the corner, made the Peerless Pounder all himself by hand," Yogi said.
"I carved it directly from the steel with this knife." Mr. Borrow held up a short-bladed, razorlike-looking knife. "Took me eighteen months to get it right."
"The Peerless Pounder was quite a pump all right," the high-voiced little old man said. "But we're working on one now that will show its heels to any of them foreign pumps, aren't we, Henry?"
"That's Mr. Shaw," Yogi said in an undertone. "He's probably the greatest living pump-maker."
"You boys get along and leave us alone," Mr. Borrow said. He was carving away steadily, his infirm old hands shaking a little between strokes.
"Let the boys watch," Mr. Shaw said. "Where you from, young feller?"
"I've just come from Mancelona," Scripps answered. "My wife left me."
"Well, you won't have no difficulty finding another one," Mr. Shaw said. "You're a likely-looking young feller. But take my advice and take your time. A poor wife ain't much better than no wife at all."
"I wouldn't say that, Henry," Mr. Borrow remarked in his high voice. "Any wife at all's a pretty good wife the way things are going now."
"You take my advice, young feller, and go slow. Get yourself a good one this time."
"Henry knows a thing or two," Mr. Borrow said. "He knows what he's talking about there." He laughed a high, cackling laugh. Mr. Shaw, the old pump-maker, blushed.
"You boys get along and leave us get on with our pump-making," he said. "Henry and me here, we got a sight of work to do."
"I'm very glad to have met you," Scripps said.
"Come on," Yogi said. "I better get you started or the foreman will be on my tail."
He put Scripps to work collaring pistons in the piston-collaring room. There Scripps worked for almost a year. In some ways it was the happiest year of his life. In other ways it was a nightmare. A hideous nightmare. In the end he grew to like it. In other ways he hated it. Before he knew it, a year had passed. He was still collaring pistons. But what strange things had happened in that year. Often he wondered about them. As he wondered, collaring a piston now almost automatically, he listened to the laughter that came up from below, where the little Indian lads were shaping what were to be razor blades. As he listened something rose in his throat and almost choked him.