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to ride—in one of these things!” marveled Laurie, who had shed hairpins and sidecombs and everything else of a detachable nature. “Same as they eat beefsteak, I reckon,” replied Mr. Hopkins, vastly pleased with the fantasy. “By pretending they don’t care for it, or they’d lose 'em sure.” When the packing house was reached it proved to be an ugly zinc building of vast proportions, like a bare barn or empty armory, with a wagon track passing a huge door on its south side and a spur track of the railroad passing a huge door on its north side. This latter track held several refrigerator cars, and, grinding through the dusty ruts of the former, there tirelessly passed the loaded wagons from neighboring groves, pausing only long enough to empty their golden globes into the mysteries of the interior. When admitted into those mysteries, Laurie watched spellbound the magic process whereby the oranges of Florida practically dance of themselves from their groves to the produce markets of far cities, almost without touch of human hand. Mr. Hopkins piloted her from one danger zone to another, kindly furnishing instructive data to which she listened not at all, being too busy watching the constantly moving fruits. The place typified oranges on a spree—oranges bobbing around in a vat of water; oranges swimming and ducking about in this dirty bath until caught in a mesh of brushes to receive a willy-nilly scrubbing; oranges, clean but dripping, being pushed by these brushes to an endless belt and by the belt being remorselessly carried into a blast furnace by way of its front door; oranges, dry and warm, coming out of the back door; oranges traveling meekly; oranges fighting and twisting and trying to leap off the belt; no oranges escaping; oranges then getting purposely spilled from the belt to a cascading slope of clean brushes whose business was to polish; oranges skipping and bouncing from the assault of the bristles until finally escaping to the false security of a wooden shelf—very false security, for the shelf itself moved constantly forward, first in a main artery, then ramifying into four arteries, all moving, moving, moving, and carrying the fruit with them to the separate Gehennas of sorters and sizers and wrappers and packers. Three young girls were stationed on a high platform in front of the main artery. Their occupation was no sinecure. As the staggering, swaggering fruit swept by them the girls worked so quickly and incessantly with muscle and brain that it is a wonder both did not snap with the tension. Just imagine an orange whizzing impudently by you and it being your job to decide properly in that blur of a minute whether the orange was a flawless A-grade, entitled to being shoved to the first-class shelf; or a medium B-grade, belonging to the second-class shelf; or an inferior C-grade, fit only for the steerage; or a scallawag “cull,” unfit to go anywhere at any price unless perchance it sneaked through on the bumpers. But these girls did it, and as the fruit flew by them their fingers flew quicker, sending each yellow passenger spinning into its proper train. At the far end of the building the trains disappeared down slots, sending the passengers tumbling to their respective stations. Arrived, the oranges wandered dazedly down an incline, and sized themselves by falling through holes, wobbling giddily into hoppers, and subsiding into the comparative peace of immense bins.
But here they were fallen upon by scores of wrappers, stalwart young men, working against time, as everyone works in a packing house, who grabbed them up, swaddled them in tissue paper, and packed them in a crate. This packing was done with such geometrical accuracy that the fruit could and did travel a thousand miles without shifting the thousandth of an inch, and done with such twinkling rapidity that the whole crate was filled in the actual time that it would take a tyro to swaddle a single orange. This Mr. Hopkins proved by his watch which he held open in his hand, inciting the stalwart young men to smiling but grim rivalry. After being bulgingly filled, the open crates were shoved to other stalwart youths who nailed lids to them, banded them twice with heavy wire, and pushed them aside completely finished before you yourself could have picked up a hammer and a nail. Evidently the first requirement about the packing house was speed, and the second requirement was more speed. No hammerer was allowed to waste time in picking up a handful of nails. Such a careless practice would of course result in nails being picked up with heads to points and vice versa, necessitating an awful squandering of moments while the workman turned them right side up. So he was furnished with a “stripper,” which is a machine in the shape of a huge gridiron, upon whose bars the nails are poured and between which they dangle pathetically, caught by the heads. The hammerer had nothing to do but to snatch them out and drive them in. Away up near the roof was another partial platform where one man made boxes so quickly that he could keep three men busy filling them. To Laurie he seemed to make these boxes by baking them in an oven. Into the oven he slid five slabs of wood, then he pressed a lever with his foot, and the finished box hopped out from a rear door, some fifty odd nails having been driven into it by the one pressure. Below, on the main floor, crates on trucks journeyed, apparently of themselves, into waiting refrigerator cars. “It’s magic. I never saw quicker work in my life,” Laurie gasped in weak epitome of the wonderful whole. “And your little girl friend in the middle earns more than the other two put together,” commented Mr. Hopkins, his eyes happening to be upon the sorters. “‘Little girl friend in the middle’?” she asked, looking around for an explanation of this rebus. Chancing to glance at the raised platform where the three young girls were madly working she found it. “Why, Osceola Carter!” she cried yearningly. She had not realized how terribly she had missed the discontented, pretty little cracker, until thus suddenly seeing her. Hearing the voice even through the grunt of the blast furnace, the purr of the belt, and the swish of tissue paper, Osceola peeped down from her conspicuous eminence, then she reddened and smiled constrainedly. Next she was forced to reach out hurriedly to sidetrack a spotted tramp-orange that hoped it had hopped gayly by as an A. Plainly this was no time for a resumption of either friendship or hostility, and Laurie was obliged to go home without being able to discover exactly how matters now stood between them. She only saw that Osceola was trimmer and pinker than ever, and was working like a Trojan in a place where editions of Gray’s “Elegy” and “Locksley Hall” would be welcomed merely as food for the blast furnace.
N the morrow, true to his faithful black prom
ise, Balaam's master brought Christianity on
a towline behind him. Christianity was a beast with so many welts on him that he looked like a raised map. He was hitched to a finely rattling farm wagon, the hitching being mostly rope.
“Contribution plate must have been empty for months," advanced Laurie, who, hatted and gloved for her adventurous ride, was down at her gate to meet the outfit.
“Dat's so,” said the mailman, shaking his head in sorry retrospect. “De pahson preached a summon las' fall entitle 'De angels callin'de buzzards to sup
“I'd like to have heard it."
"Not if yo'd been one o' de buzzards. Pahson he describe de buzzards so perfect dat all de angels in de congregation reckonized 'em, an' dere's been trouble ever since. For buzzards mostly has de money."
“Now about the turpentine camp—can you direct me?"
“Yo' want Mr. Tandy's or turrer gelman?” “Turrer gelman,” she chose promptly.
"Well, lady, yo' drive back a 'siderable piece o' road 'twill yo' come to de sulphur spring, den yo' turns off to de lef?-hand side an' keeps on a-goin'."