OD, The Magickal Human
Today great things happened in the princely Salmschen ironworks in Blansko, all kinds of great things.
The giant new charcoal furnace had been burning for three days now. It was a leviathan of a furnace, and could gobble eighty fathoms of wood at a time, and when it was working its voice was a long drawn out bellow, that boomed out across the valley. It reminded you of the exodus of the Jews out of Egypt, showed as a gigantic cloud of smoke by day and a pillar of fire by night.
The cloud of smoke whirled out of the chimney like a yellow and brown spotted snake, then balled itself together and rolled along up the valley slopes until finally disappearing among the shuddering, tormented tree tops. The pillar of fire was so bright, that a man could read very well without any problem a thousand paces away.
Then second machinist Schnuparek was standing at the threshold of the chemical laboratory, bright rivulets of sweat were buried in his blackened face. He looked like a Negro that had a skin disease; the whites of his eyes encircled a frightened gaze. He twisted his hat in his hands.
“Your Grace . . . the creosote has begun to flow . . . but the gas!”
The old Count, who was with director Reichenbach and the chemist Mader observing a distillation of tar, turned around.
“Very well, Schnuparek, we will be along soon. Meanwhile shut off both valves.”
The old count and Reichenbach left the chemist alone with his tar distillation; they went through the carpenter’s workshop and then through the room where the cast iron art pieces were stored, statues copied from antiquity, all kinds of saints, large vases, a she-wolf on a pedestal, a Florentine Molosser hound, all of them poured out of iron, according to the tastes of the buyer and cheap, very cheap. The iron came from out of the ground right here, and the wood grew in the immeasurable princely forests.
They stepped between a Christ on a cross and a she-wolf on a pedestal out into the courtyard. The ground trembled, the windows rattled in the long stretching building in front of them, the furnace hissed and bellowed. A hellish yellow and red torch glowed from out of the chimney in the beginning twilight.
Black and helpless, the people swarmed before the wrathful quaking monster, the hot doors glowed, the pungent smell of creosote pressed the breath back and bored into the lungs. At the other end, by the valves of the distillation boiler, stood first machinist Mossahlo, a small fat creature of the underworld.
“Excellent,” praised the old count, “What are you asking about? It’s going famously.”
“I don’t know,” hesitated the machinist, “earlier it was weaker.”
“Now it is fine,” thought Reichenbach, “Yes, but why not earlier?”
The oven raised its voice to the roar of an old world beast.
“Like an old dinosaur,” laughed the old count.
“Even before that! Because now it must give us creosote!” Reichenbach can’t resist saying. But he went around the furnace, laid his hand on the wall of the cooling tank, in which the pipes were supposed to give up their heat. He pulled it back with a cry.
“The water is scalding!”
Schnuparek came running; “Your Grace, excuse me again . . . the gas . . .!”
“Pull out all the stops,” bellowed Reichenbach back at him. “Release the gas and the hydrogen.”
It was too late; a dull boom shook the furnace. A giant fist raised the thick walls, supported with heavy pylons; the entire armored structure, and then pushed it back down again onto the ground.
And there could no longer be any doubt, the stream of creosote petered out, became thinner, just a thread, and a drip. It had to find another way out or it would pour back into the inside of the furnace. Hot steam hissed from out of the seams of the cooling tank, the explosions followed one another more quickly, the wall buckled.
“The Devil,” raged Reichenbach, “Man the waterwheel! Do you all want to fly into the air?”
The people had lost their heads, but Reichenbach’s bellow brought them back to their senses. They ran, the glow of a fire lit up, that had broken out from the sprung tank. The detonating gas from the inside of the furnace threw itself against the walls, hammering with destroying fists against the prison; the fire demon rejoiced and cheered. God only knows what the acid was doing.
“Look,” said the old count, “now the story is beginning to heat up.”
Truthfully, the iron plates of the cooling tank had become covered with a red glow, slowly from inside out, the rivets melted with a sigh. The water was vaporized; fresh air came through the burst fire door and fanned the fire even more. An insane shriek came from the sagging building.
“Water!” He shouted through the tumult, “Quick! Fresh water!”
A worker came running: “Jesus Christ, the waterwheel is broken.”
“What do you mean broken?” Reichenbach thundered at him.
“Broken, it doesn’t work! Won’t put out any water. Something has jammed the axel.”
Now we are really going to fly into the air, thought Reichenbach. He seized the old count by the arm, tore and pushed, tried to tear him away from the hissing, howling demon, that had risen itself up against the ruler ship of man; the command of his will slipped away, away, just to get away from here. This fear of death was not only for his own sake but that of his friend as well.
Yet the under carriage of the old count had the muscle strength of a boxer and the burliness of a bear. With rigid legs the Frenchman resisted him for so long, that his own body, threatened with annihilation, had crossed the river Etsch. If he didn’t want to, no one could budge him. It stemmed from the fact that, as soon as he and Reichenbach ran away, the others would run away as well, and the furnace would explode into pieces.
The water wheel was in; it ran with buckets throwing arching water in its swing. But on the glowing walls the water hissed to sizzling steam, it evaporated to a scalding vapor, which no one could come near to. And the burst mouth of the furnace greedily sucked in the air, mixed it with the flames and the gas, which rattled against the walls.
“Get pickaxes here,” screamed the old count, “Pickaxes and wet clay!”
The heat singed hair and skin, the heat from above bore down on them. Blue flames ran across the shingles and the beams of the roof. Flowing pitch fell in burning, bubbling clumps that ate into human flesh. The chimney gave way, the tar and pitch ignited and set the roof on fire.
The old count had thrown off his jacket. In shirt sleeves he grabbed a pickaxe and showed his people what he wanted. Many of them were already in shirtsleeves and he had them prepare, with aprons and scraper edges, an ingenious structure of forms and water. The massive structure thudded against the glowing furnace wall, flinging it open, steam threw itself against it, the pointed teeth bit into it, and the red snakes inside became visible. They slipped in a Trojan horse of wet clay from out of the carpenter’s workshop. They understood what the old count wanted, through the torn out walls flew shovel after shovel of heavy, moist earth; it clung to the snake like body of the pipes, wrapped around them layer upon layer, every man shoveling, plugging the tear and the breaks of the oven, closing the airways, choking the breath of the fire.
After hours of long struggle, the danger is over. The flames angrily leave, eating wood and charcoal, flaring up in the gas; but they are contained in the middle of the furnace. The stripped off shackles have been once more thrown over it.
“I think we have done it,” said the old count. “Now we just need to wait for the fire to go out on its own.”
“That won’t be for a while,” said Reichenbach.
The old count washed his face and hands in a wooden tub full of water and put his jacket back on.
“What do you think, Reichenbach,” he smiled in satisfaction. “Should we go to a cooler location for a while? We have both earned a glass of wine.”
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