Catbird Press - Floyd Kemske -- D2/C3

This is an archive page !!!


 OBS   Back   Forward   Contents   Index   Align Page

Catbird Press -- Draft 2
Ongoing Fiction Editing Project -- Floyd Kemske


Second Draft - Chapter Three


Pierce came to Vidalon-le-Haut in 1788. He arrived before dawn on a clear morning in early spring and presented himself at the gate that guarded the paper mill and the residence of the Montgolfier family. As Pierce approached, an old man in a Phrygian cap stood slowly from a stool and wrapped his coat more tightly around with one hand as he raised a lantern toward Pierce's face with the other. The cuffs of the old man's coat were frayed, and Pierce could see an ancient stain at the bottom of one of the patch pockets at his hip. A herald's bell fixed with a wooden handle rested on the ground by the stool, and Pierce hoped the old man was not going to shatter the predawn quiet to announce him.

"I am Pierce," he said, "here at the pleasure of Monsieur Montgolfier."

"Yes." The man squinted at his face by the lantern light, then looked him up and down. "You are expected. Follow this path, and take the left fork to the rear entrance of the house. Don't you need a light?"

Pierce disliked encumberance. "Thank you, no."

Following the old man's gesture with the lantern, he started up the path. The pebbles were sparse underfoot, and Pierce thought the path overdue for new gravel. The mill was apparently not as prosperous as it should be. As the path approached the edge of a wide, gravel-paved roundabout for carriages, it forked. He took the fork that turned toward the back of the house, away from the roundabout and the unlit main entrance of the great house. Pierce saw perfectly in darkness, and when he looked at the front of the house before passing around the side, he noted the declining grandness of the entryway. The path took him toward a servants' entrance with a dim light in the window next to the door, which was appropriate, he supposed, for a mere candidate for the position of supervisor of the Montgolfiers' mill.

At this smaller entrance, Pierce presented his credentials to a servant who was much younger and better dressed than the old man at the gate. He wore knee breeches and a dark coat but no wig. His hair was fastened at the back of his head with a dark ribbon. The young man took the letter of introduction and told Pierce to wait on a bench in a stark white room obviously intended for tradesmen.

Pierce was pleased with the opportunity to sit quietly. He'd been traveling throughout the night, and although he rarely required rest, he wanted to reflect on why he'd come before he met with the mill master.

It was an idea that brought Pierce to Vidalon-le-haut, an idea best symbolized by an airborne sheep. The Montgolfier brothers, Joesph and Étienne, had constructed a vessel for sailing the air. They made an enormous bag of linen and paper and filled it with buoyant gases, then used it to send aloft a duck, a rooster, and a sheep. They called it a ballon dirigeable. Pierce was still in England when he heard about it, but he knew he had to meet the men responsible for it. Pierce had always felt it possible to learn from human beings, and he knew he could learn a great deal from men whose ideas were grand enough to be loosed from the very Earth.


It wasn't that he wanted to take voyages in the air. He was quite confident there was no future in that. But he knew there was a powerful idea behind the ballon dirigeable, and he needed to be close to it. Pierce loved ideas. No, what he felt for them was more than love. It was a craving. He literally fed on ideas, and he was willing to travel great distances to find them.

And, in his travels coming to this place, he learned that the Montgolfiers' ideas extended beyond airborne sheep. The were among the principal proponents of a new social order as well.

The Montgolfier mill provided clean, safe, orderly conditions for their workers, both work and residence. The Montgolfiers were generous with festivities and payment, and the mill provided work on a fixed schedule for those willing to submit to its discipline. That work could be disciplined and organized for the purpose of supporting an enterprise was a strange notion in 1788.

The servant returned and told Pierce Monsieur Montgolfier was ready to receive him. He took him the length of several hallways, each of which became more well-appointed and richly decorated than the last as the two of them passed from the service to the living sections of the house. They then walked up a wide, carpeted staircase to a second-floor room, where the young servant opened a door to reveal the mill owner sitting at an enormous desk, writing by the light of a double-chimneyed oil lamp.

Pierce had never before seen a lamp of such design, but it did not surprise him to find a novel device on Montgolfier premises.

Joseph Montgolfier wore neither coat nor wig, and Pierce was pleased at the atmosphere of informality. The mill master stood as Pierce entered.

"Monsieur Pierce?"

"Good morning, Monsieur." Pierce bowed.

He saw through the window the darkened millworks, idle at this early hour, that spread out over the westernmost part of the landscape on the other side of the house grounds. Montgolfier apparently began his work day well before the rest of the world awoke.

The man studied him by the light of the lamp. "You may sit."

Pierce sat in a chair across the desk from Montgolfier.

Montgolfier sat as well. He took a sheet of paper from a tray at the corner of the desk and picked up a pencil. He made quick competent strokes on the paper, looking up at Pierce from time to time as he did so. Pierce could see that Montgolfier was making a sketch of his face on the paper. It took only moments before he finished it. Then he held the paper in front of him and looked from Pierce to the paper as if to check his work.

Pierce had not expected to sit for a sketch. This meeting was turning out better than he could have hoped.

"Appearance is the first sign of a man's suitability for employment," said Montgolfier at last. "An irregular physiognomy is often a record of dissolution or animosity." He laid his sketch down on the desk. "I am quite skilled at determining men's ages from their appearance. I would say, Monsieur, that you are twenty-eight."

"Twenty-nine," Pierce corrected. He filed the number away in his mind--that he might remember it if it came up again. "Just last month," he added.

Montgolifer smiled, obviously pleased with himself.

Pierce was actually two hundred and seven that year, but he had learned at least a hundred years before not to be truthful with human beings about such matters.

"Well, then," said Montgolfier. "I have your endorsement from Mr. Stephenson of Leeds, and it is impressive. But you must explain to me how experience in textile manufactory would qualify one for employment at a paper mill."


"It is my belief, Monsieur," said Pierce, "that there are four elements in a manufacturing process: materials, machinery, labor, and supervision. At the current attainments of manufacturing science, the first three are fixed and specialized to their industries." Pierce saw Montgolfier's eyes shine with interest at his use of the phrase "manufacturing science," but he tried to act as if he hadn't noticed. "The last element, supervision, is portable. Once one has mastered the techniques of supervision in one industry, one can apply them in others."

Pierce knew that Montgolfier was inclined toward a scientific view of work, but the look in the man's eyes made him wonder for a moment if the mill master was not going to vault the desk and embrace him. He read human facial expressions well enough to see the man was losing in a battle to reserve judgment about him. He turned the battle to a rout when he added his capstone.

"I hope one day to create a system of supervision that will make the third element portable as well."

Monsieur Montgolfier seemed unable to contain himself. "You mean that you would suppress craft and defy the journeymen's associations?"

"I would propose that when a man is hired to work for a proprietor his loyalty belongs to the proprietor rather than his craft." Pierce felt he could elaborate, but Montgolfier had risen from the chair in his excitement and began to pace the room.

"Monsieur Pierce, I must tell you that journeymen are at once the bane and the basis of my life. This mill cannot make paper without them. Yet, as a class, their habits are so irregular and raucous that they keep the place in an uproar. They are intinerants. We have no way to ensure we will have the men to do the work to produce the paper for orders we have already taken. I am at their utter mercy."

Pierce understood that he had divined the problem that loomed largest in Montgolfier's life.

"Not only do these gadabouts disrupt the work, but they corrupt our apprentices with their habits. They are as enslaved to their traditions and their festivals as if they lived in the twelfth century rather than the eighteenth." Montgolfier walked to the tall window and stood in front of it, gazing out into the darkness. After a moment, he spoke to the glass.

"Seven years ago, I promulgated a house rule that the apprentices were forbidden to participate in the journeymen's rituals. I thought it protection for the younger workers from the dissolution and license practiced by these rascals." He turned from the window to face Pierce again. "Do you want to know what they did?"

Pierce nodded.

"They left the mill en masse."

Pierce shook his head in sympathetic disbelief.

"We failed to fill our orders that season, and the mill went into arrears, which had to be made up from family holdings."

Pierce suspected it must have been humiliating for him, although he had no idea why human beings seemed so easily humiliated, or what it meant to feel that way.

"Inexcusable." Pierce could see the sky pinkening out the window to the east of the millworks, where handfuls of men straggled along the road toward the gate.

Montgolfier turned to look out the window again and mused about his workers. "Nothing is more revolting than the tyrannical power that the worker exercises with respect to his master, nothing more debauched and insolent than this wretched bunch of rascals." [Quoted in The Workplace Before the Factory, edited by Thomas Max Safley, p.230]

He turned back to face Pierce and seemed to come to himself. "Mr. Stephenson of Leeds writes you were invaluable to him in the suppression of sabotage."

"When we installed the new machinery, we organized a committee to hear the petitions of legitimate grievance," said Pierce. "But we acted swiftly against those who tried to gain sympathy by destroying property. Good men thrive in a peaceful mill." He did not elaborate. He did not think Monsieur Montgolfier could stomach everything he had discovered at Leeds.


When Pierce had discovered a badly broken stocking frame at the mill at Leeds, he was amazed to determine the machine had been broken deliberately. Why would anyone desire to punish machinery? And yet, the idea of punishing machinery in the name of some sort of social justice was seductive in its power and simplicity. Pierce had not fed for nearly a year. He sought out the man who had destroyed the machine and spoke with him. They talked about work, machines, and ownership of property. Pierce was delighted to discover the sabotage idea was much more subtle and refined than he had supposed. The saboteur, a disaffected journeyman, had created an entire philsophy around manufacturing machinery and its role in the destruction of human sensibilities. The man simultaneously reviled the social order and sought to preserve it from the encroachments of machinery. Pierce was captivated. He fed on the man.


He drank in the man's idea in all its ambivalence and contradictions. When the feeding was done and the man was dead, Pierce became much more sympathetic to those who worked in the mill. The saboteur damaged no more machinery. Eventually, in fact, he returned to work. The other workers and the townspeople regarded it a miracle that the man should return from his grave to do his work, but Pierce had discovered that was a frequent reaction of human beings to a revenant.


The revenant's family and friends shunned him, saying his behavior was unusual, his appearance was strange, and he smelled bad. Pierce hoped that being shunned would allow the revenant to concentrate more carefully on his work.

But over the course of three manufacturing seasons without incident of sabotage, Pierce noticed the mill's output was shrinking, almost imperceptibly. He investigated and found the mill no longer had only one revenant, but five.

It seemed clear that feeding on the workers had serious limitations for one who wishes to run a productive enterprise. Pierce realized that if he was going to stay in one place (which he must if he hoped to work in manufacturing), he must avoid the temptation of using the workers. In any case, Mr. Stephenson's mill was doomed to extinction. A plague of revenants, once started, will not stop until it has exhausted itself in the local population.

Pierce wrote himself a letter of recommendation over the signature of Mr. Stephenson and left Leeds as soon as he could get away. He left in the night, and neglected to say good-bye to Mr. Stephenson who was, in any case, enduring a noctural visit from the mill's principal journeyman that evening.

"Monsieur Pierce," said Montgolfier, "do you believe yourself capable of bringing such peace to Vidalon-le-Haut?"

"Entirely," said Pierce.

Through the window behind the mill master, the sun's first scarlet rays emerged from the horizon. Pierce looked down and saw the blood-colored light wash over his arm. It was going to be what the human beings called a beautiful day. He looked up at Montgolfier, who was shrouded in shadow, and he knew the man was about to offer him a position.

"Then let me ask you this," said Montgolfier. "Could you begin work today?"

Pierce wondered if he would eventually be able to institute night hours for work at the mill. Sunlight never hurt him, but when one sees perfectly in darkness and has no reason to fear it, one comes to prefer it.

"Yes, Monsieur," he said, "today would be excellent."


 OBS   Back   Forward   Contents   Index   Align Page