FICTION

The powers at Pogin

A New Story by Jefferson Crallé

February 15 1934
FICTION

The powers at Pogin

A New Story by Jefferson Crallé

February 15 1934

The powers at Pogin

FICTION

A New Story by Jefferson Crallé

THE EXPRESSION on Ben Macgrath's face as he came out of the upper level of the power house that morning is one I have never forgotten. I was leaning over the pipe rail that guards the lip of the dam, inspecting the flotsam that had collected at the intake grills

during the night, when he came running out of the door on top of the dam. “It’s come,” he said. He was white around the mouth and there were distress and fear in his eyes. “They sabotaged one of the main generators in Number One last night. Mr. Coombe is sending up guards with rifles right away—” “Is that so?” I tried to make my voice calm, because Ben was taking it so hard. But my heart gave a big jump, and I began thinking about my gun, which was over in the bungalow where Ben and I lived. “How can people do things like this?” said Ben, and his lips trembled. He stood there cracking the joints of his fingers together. He was in a terrible funk. “Do you think anybody will be killed, Joe?” “Certainly not.” There was a lot more assurance in my tone than I felt, because I knew that Sunset Power had some pretty rough people on its payroll. “By the way, that boom of Boissevain’s is letting logs through again.” And I pointed at the mass of timber floating around our intake grills. The only way to get Ben’s mind off what he was thinking about was to show him something that more immediately threatened the smooth operation of his precious powers, and in this respect Boissevain ’s logs were a continual thorn in his side. “You’re right,” he said, running to the edge and looking down at the grills. “I’ll go over and speak to him about it. Come with me, will you, Joe?”

When the Pogin River Power Company put its high, narrow dam across the river, they had to make some arrangement so that the loggers, who had been using the river for a good many years, could still get their logs down to River City, forty miles below. So they put the power house with its big low-pressure generators at one end of the dam; and at the other end they built a flume that left at the top of the dam, and ran like a railroad trestle for nearly a mile downstream, along the side of the steep gorge that the river had cut, dropping sharply all the while, until it emptied the logs into the river bed below, where the water from the spillways served to carry them along. There was a long log boom that went diagonally across the lake above the darn, which was supposed to hold all the logs and shunt them gradually over to the flume gate, instead of letting them drift down to the intakes for the powers, where they would have jammed up and made trouble. Anything that got through that boom always drifted right down to our intakes. I KNEW WHY Ben Macgrath wanted me to go with him to the other end of the dam while he talked to Boissevain. He was afraid to go by himself. I mean, physically. Jules Boissevain, boss of the lumber company’s flume gang, was everything that Ben wasn’t and never had been. A great strapping fellow, with a black mane of hair like a war horse and a fist like the club of Hercules. He had a voice that

could almost knock a man over, and he didn’t know what it was to be afraid. He had a funny-like double-ended bateau, with the corners rounded and a flat bottom, and sometimes for sport he would get into the flume with it and ride the water down to the lower end -a very dangerous proceeding. Jules was a pretty good sort, except when he was full of whisky blanc, and there wasn’t any reason to lx afraid of him. But when Ben would get after him about the logs, he took delight in howling Ben down with that great voice oí his, and Ben would come back trembling all over. Ben was that way. A heck of a good jxwer man —but he just didn't seem to have any guts at all. This morning it was iParticularly bad. Jules was having a big run of pulp stick, and he and his men were busy as hornets larruping them into the chutes, where the water, sliding like a serpent into the long flume, would take them on a flying, spray-lashed career down the gorge. It was a beautiful sight when the logs would snag for an instant somewhere along the flume, and the water would hurl them clear into the air as it drove them on. “Boissevain !” called Ben, over the rush of the waters. “Your Ixxnn is letting logs through again! Get your bateau over to clear our intakes, will you right away!” Jules shook his massive head annoyedly. “Va Ven! Va t’en! Go away, little nuisance!” he shouted. “Always when we are busy it is the same!” The flume gang stopped operations, listening with admiration to Jules’s oratory. Encouraged by his audience Jules went on: “Like an old woman you come. ‘Boissevain, Boissevain —là—là —thy logs are annoying my powers. They 'ave accumulate’ at my intake and endanger my flow. Come quickly with thy bateau, M’sieu Boissevain, and deliver me

from this outrage !' Pah ! Some day I will take thee and jam thee head-first into thy accursed dynamos, and then we rivermen can flume our logs in peace!”

“All right, all right,” said Ben, cracking his Fingers together. “But you’ve got to get those logs away today, sure —understand?”

Boissevain leaned wearily on his pike pole.

“Breath of God!” he exclaimed. “Henri—Pierre—

Philippe—deliver me from this gnat ! Take the bateau and remove the logs lest they terrify him too greatly.”

Ben said nothing. He merely turned his back and walked away, a slow flush mounting his lean cheekbones.

Why he took that sort of guiï from Jules was a mystery to me. After all, Boissevain was only a gang foreman and Ben was engineer in charge of the Pogin River dam. He could have reported Jules to the lumber company and got Jules into trouble. But maybe he was afraid Jules would beat him up if he did. At least, that was my guess at the time.

WE WENT BACK to the other end of the dam, and as we approached the powers I noticed a girl standing by the rail, looking north across the lake. I recognized her right away, because she had been coming up frequently. It was Ben’s girl, Brenda Smith. A very plain girl she was, about twenty-eight maybe. But when you came to know her, she had a lot in her favor. It was hard to understand what she saw in Ben— but then the plain ones don’t always llave a wide selection. At least that’s the way I figured it at the time. Afterward I wasn’t so sure.

"Brenda !” Ben fairly rushed at her. “You go home right away. Don’t stay here. We’re going to have trouble.”

"But Ben”—she didn’t seem to understand—“you knew I was coming up today. Can’t I wait until it’s over and you have things fixed—”

“No, no, it isn’t trouble with the powers,” said Mac, all flurried. “It’s something else.” And he told her what he had told me.

Just as he got through, the gong in the upper level rang three times. It was Ben’s telephone signal, and he went inside to take the call.

“Just how bad is this, Joe?” said Brenda Smith, looking straight at me.

I didn’t see any use in fooling her.

“It’s liable to be bad,” I said. “Just how bad, I don’t know.”

“What’s at the bottom of it?”

“It’s this.” I said, making it simple so she could get the idea. “Pogin River Power is a little outfit, as power companies go. All our business, except a little rural, is in River City. We started there with a steam generating plant— Number One. Then this hydro was put in, and Number One has been used since as a stand-by and for winter peak loads. Now River City is what they call semi-municipal. All the distribution lines in the city are municipally owned. We have the franchise and contract for supplying the power to the city, but we don’t own the distribution network in the city itself. We just service it under a contract. The contracts have run for quite a number of years now, and they’re up next week. Have to be renewed, see?”

“Well, they will be renewed, won’t they?” said Brenda. “It was taken for granted that they would be, for years. But not right now. There has been a lot of agitation recently for the city to buy our generating facilities, so that River City would be one hundred per cent municipally powered.”

“Even so, the city would pay a fair price for the things, wouldn’t it?” Brenda wasn’t slow at getting the idea.

“Oh, sure, that part of it is all right,” I told her. “But that is where Sunset Power comes in. You see, they are one of these great big outfits that own a lot of operating companies through a top-holding company. Most of their stuff is west of River City, but they’ve been pushing their high-lines eastward. For a long time they’ve had their eye on the River City business, and in fact they’ve made offers to buy Pogin River Power, lock, stock and barrel. You see, there are two ways they can get into River City—by buying the company, or by getting the city to award the contract for power and service to them instead of to us when the present ones expire. They’ve tried to buy, but old man Coombe, who holds control of our stock, wouldn’t sell. So they’ve

been trying to divert the contract—spending a little money in good places, and so on.”

I didn’t tell her that part of the “so on” consisted in burning the legs of two of our metal high-line towers with acid so the wind blew them down three weeks before, and causing a lot of similar interruptions of our service which had got the municipal commission sore at us—not to speak of the people all over the city whose service was interfered with.

“But the big item right now is the fact that old man Coombe is dickering with the city to buy the company. If that happens, Sunset Power will never get into River City, and their expansion eastward will be definitely blocked. They will have to go around to the south with a big high-line, and they will lose for ever the best piece of business in this whole territory.”

“What will they do about it, do you think?” she asked slowly.

“If anything happened to this dam,” I said, looking straight at her, “they wouldn’t have to do anything. We’d be through, and they’d get the contract next week. It might take them twenty-four hours to connect their transmission lines into River City—probably less.”

“I think I understand.” said Brenda Smith. “That’s why Ben is so worried. He never told me any of this—”

"The public doesn’t often know what goes on in this game,” I answered. “The spoils are rich and they very often go to the strong. I guess it’s the same everywhere. An integral part of our stand-by equipment was damaged last night. It will be a week before we can supply enough power from Number One to hold the city if anything goes wrong up here.”

Brenda stared at me, and then turned her eyes to the door of the power house. Ben was standing there leaning against the side of the door. Holding on to it, in fact. He was as white as a ghost.

“That phone call—” he said. “It was from someone I never heard of—wouldn’t give name—strange voice. Says if we value our safety to get off the dam by sunset tonight. It was a threat.”

For a moment I thought he was going to faint from sheer fright.

WHEN I FIRST landed the job up at the Pogin Powers I thought I was pretty lucky, but during the first year I began to wonder. The place was forty miles from River City, in the wildest sort of country imaginable, and the only people around there were lumberjacks and a few scattered homesteaders. One would think, of course, that there would be plenty of company among the other employees, but that isn’t the case. Small hydro stations just about run themselves. All that is needed is enough technical brains to watch the instruments, keep the bearings oiled, and detect trouble when it appears. That means watching weather, water, and keeping the power flow even and steady. There weren’t more than half a dozen of us regularly on the station. Whenever there was any repair work to be done, or an emergency developed, a gang came up from River City. If we needed any help on the dam in a hurry, Boissevain’s flume gang was available during the summer. In the winter we kept some extra men right on the ground.

Ben was the chief, and I was his assistant. We had four men under us. Of course, there was a line crew that spent their nights at the bunkhouse located on shore below the dam, but they weren’t on the dam itself, so we didn’t see much of them.

Not that I’m belittling the work that we did. Although it sounded simple, one look at the number of instruments we had to watch to make sure that things were running properly would set you right. We had three generators installed, and room for three more should River City grow to the size that would justify them.

Visitors who came up to inspect the powers were always astonished because they couldn’t find anybody around. Just a tall brick generating station built against the back of the dam, filled with the gentle vibrant sound of thousands of

volts being spun out by the big black generators in the base of the power house, and the rest silence, with the soft lap-lap of the water against the lip of the dam on one side and the roar and thunder of the discharge pipes at the base on the other.

“Where is everybody?” they would ask, and they wouldn’t believe us when we said that besides a couple more men on the day shift somewhere around the building, there wasn’t anyone else. It actually took more work to keep the building in repair and the floors painted than it did to operate the station. As I say, when there was any big job on hand, such as an overhaul, we’d get a gang up in short order from River City. But they didn’t stay long, and then it would be lonely again until there was something else to be done.

It was the loneliness that made me get on with Ben Macgrath, I guess, in spite of the fact that he was so objectionably spineless. That, and the fact that it was so easy to sense what he might have been. Most of us carry with us the indefinable shadow of the person we would really be if it weren’t for the essential flaws in.our make-up. And Ben Macgrath would have been a good man if he hadn’t been a coward.

I hadn’t been up on the Pogin powers for three weeks when I knew there was something the matter with him. But I didn’t know what it was until one night late in the summer. I was sitting in the control room writing up some dial readings, with an open window right beside me that gave out on the runway atop the dam. Brenda Smith had come up to see Ben, and they were leaning against the rail looking across the water. I don’t think they realized how their voices carried, for a faint breeze brought every word they said right into the room where I was sitting.

“It’s no use, Brenda,” Mac was saying. “I’ve always been yellow and always will be. I can’t help myself. You might as well give it up.”

“Ben Macgrath,” Brenda’s voice was slow and even—she never lost her temper—“it doesn’t take courage—it isn’t a question of courage—to ask for a raise. It’s just plain business.”

I found out afterward she was trying to get him to hit Old Man Coombe for more money so they could get married.

“Oh, you don’t know the Old Man,” said Ben. “He might fire me. And anyway, I haven’t got the nerve—and he knows it. He knows I funked in the war, and he’d laugh me out of the office.”

The thing seemed slightly illogical, but later on I learned that it was Ben’s way of thinking. He had the idea that

&lteveryone knew' he was a funker, and he did his best not to disappoint them.

“Nonsense.” Even then Brenda’s voice carried nothing of anger. “Do you know what courage is, Ben? It’s having the will to take a certain course of action when you know definitely that the result will be disastrous for you. Not simply to do something dangerous, realizing it is dangerous or unpleasant and hoping you’ll come out all right. That isn’t courage—that's just taking a chance and hoping for the best. You’ve never even been in a situation that would really test your courage. All you’ve done is spend your life trying to avoid any unpleasantness that came your way— that’s all most of us do. There is no heat to courage, Ben; it is a cold reasoning thing, with inevitability waiting at the finish. Can’t I make you see what I mean? Courage is bom of despair, not hope.”

Her voice died away, and I couldn’t hear what Ben said in answer. I got up and left the room—which I ought to have done before. But it gave me some understanding of his nature and of the continual fight against himself that his life must have been until he quit fighting. That was the terrible part of it—he had quit fighting.

IF THE ALMIGHTY were to give me the privilege of living again any brief period of my life, I’d take without hesitation the first winter I spent at Pogin. Just so I could be different to Ben Macgrath than the way I was. After

what I heard that night on the dam, I didn’t have much respect for him, even though he was my chief. Although I tried not to show it, he must have sensed an undercurrent of patronage in my attitude. But he took it and didn’t change one bit toward me.

In fact, he went out of his way to teach me what he knew, which was a lot. It was from Ben that I learned about the hidden weakness of the dam.

“Sure it looks good,” Ben told me once. “And it will serve. But the upper lip is thin. And the contractors scamped the job. It hasn’t got the stuff in it. These high narrow dams hold back a terrific pressure, and they have to be good. Just between us, a bad shock would crack her. I told Mr. Coombe this, but he laughed at me. Said the margin of safety had been carefully calculated, and it was perfectly sound. Probably so, if honest stuff had gone into it. But I think they scamped the cement.”

He would even go farther and talk about his other ideas to me—which he didn’t do with many. I got to like him after awhile, in spite of myself.

Sometimes he would stand on one of the generator platforms and put his hand on the casing of the big power as though he were feeling the pulse of the spinning monster inside it.

“Ever stop to think about this thing, Joe?” he would say, with a sort of far-away look in his eyes. “Out of this comes the light that lets the city live. Because this thing is whirling

here, surgeons can ait into human bodies with clear vision, people can be warm and comfortable in their homes, traffic can move more easily around the streets half a hundred miles away, all the activity of life can go on unhampered by the blight of darkness —”

“Yeah,” I grinned, “gentlemen can play poker, women can prance half naked in night clubs, sweat-shops can keep late hours, merchants and bankers can figure the day’s profits more easily --and don't forget the champagne being iced in the electric ice-boxes—”

Maybe I sounded pretty sour, but the truth was that a night club and a bottle of champagne would have looked real good to me right then, forty miles away in the wilderness.

Ben only smiled and shook his head, as much as to say there was no hope for me.

“How about the telephone and the radio?” he said. “In the long run, more good than evil comes out of this, doesn’t it?” He patted the thing affectionately. “Where would we be without it, now that we’ve had it?”

Sometimes he wouldn’t say a thing, but just stand there watching the powers and listening intently to the vast hum of them, all spinning in unison. It was at times like that when I got the idea that he loved those jxnvers with a deep and abiding love. Spinning like little planets, they went on for ever. They never disappointed him. And he wasn’t afraid of them.

I think he loved those powers almost as much as he loved Brenda Smith—perhaps even more. And for that reason he was afraid for them when the trouble came.

Indeed, it was a combination of three fears that stood out in Ben’s face when we saw him there in the doorway— fear for Brenda, fear for his powers, fear for himself.

Like a palsied old man he was, and from shame of looking at him I turned away.

“Well, Ben,” I heard Brenda’s voice, “what are you going to do about it—notify the company?”

“Wouldn’t do any good,” mumbled Ben. “They know already -got guards on their way up here. This was meant forme.”

“Are you getting off the dam?” she asked him.

“How should I know?” he answered in an irritated way. “How do I know what I’m going to do? What do you think is the best thing to do. Brenda?” He finished up in a sort of an appeal to her for a decision.

“It’s up to you, Ben,” she said quietly. “I’m not going to urge you to do one thing or the other -"

“Maybe the best thing would l>e to stay until just before sundown and then get everyone off the dam for awhile —just to see what will happen." He stood there nervously cracking those big finger joints of his, and I had the feeling that if I had said “boo” to him he’d run like a scared rabbit.

“Well, it’s your dam and your job," said Brenda, and her voice had gone kind of flat. I got the idea she had given him everything of her strength that she could give and that she knew now it wasn’t enough. “But I’m going to spend the rest of the day here, anyhow.”

Ben began to object, and they were still arguing about it when I went inside to have a l;x>k at the dials.

OLD MAN COOMBE had told Ben that he was sending up a dozen guards, but during the course of the afternoon another contingent arrived, so that, all told, there were twenty men with rifles scattered around the dam. Also, one of the vice-presidents in charge of operations for the company had come up from River City and was proceeding to make himself comfortable in our bungalow.

I was busy the first part of the afternoon rigging a couple of big floodlights, one at either end of the dam, and a battery of smaller ones at the base of the powerhouse, to light up the bed of the river at the foot of the dam. Later on, about four o’clock, I went across to the flume.

Boissevain was just knocking his gang off and getting ready to close up his gate.

“Water’s pretty high, Jules,” I told him, “and there’s been a heavy rainfall up above. Leave your gate open tonight in case of a rise.”

“Sure,” said Jules. “I leave heem open.” He looked at me. "I t’eenk you ’ave trouble, hein?”

“Maybe so.” I said. 1 saw he was looking at the forty-five strapped around my waist.

“Me, I will be wis my enfants down at de bottom of de flume, in de bunkhouse. You ring de téléphone, we come, hein?” He shook his arms and grinned. Jules was a great one for a fight.

Just beyond the gate Jules had tied up his two bateaux — the large one ne used for getting logs along the dam. and the smaller one that he could use for his chute-riding. I scrambled down the concrete pier and looked at the knots. They were secure.

“Okay. Jules. But tell your boys not to ramble around in the woods tonight. We don't want anybody shot.”

“Right.” He looked at the guards at the end of the dam, with their wickedly efficient repeaters.

I said good night to him and went back to the powers. Brenda was sitting in the control room, while Ben went on writing up the instrument data in the log books. There is a lot of record-keeping in a hydro plant. Finally he finished and looked up at me.

Continued on page 46

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“Joe,” he said, “I want you to get everybody out of the power house at five-thirty. Don’t let ’em back till at least half an hour after sundown. I can watch the powers myself for that long.”

“You’re staying?” I said.

“Uh-huh.” He fumbled with his desk drawer. Brenda’s eyes were on him, and he looked utterly miserable.

“That’s all right with me—so am I.” I tried to seem unconcerned.

“Thanks, Joe,” he said. It was the only time he ever thanked me for doing something I was supposed to do.

“It’s time you were leaving, Brenda,” he said, looking at the clock.

She merely shook her head, and he didn’t say anything more. It was against the rules, but Ben was sort of helpless where she was concerned, I reckon.

When I got through sending the boys over to the bunkhouse for their supper, I locked up the lower doors to the power house and went back to the upper level.

The sun was just setting, and the slanting rays across the blue water of the lake made a scene that I liked. The white birch trees on the northeast shore stood out silver-clean, though they must have been all of half a mile away. Ben and Brenda Smith were standing at the rail, looking out across the intake grills.

Ben was in the habit of inspecting his intakes about dusk every night. I went over to join them.

In spite of the guards at either end and below the dam, and the fact that there wasn’t a soul in sight nor a sign of trouble anywhere, I felt uneasy.

Thinking back over it afterward, I always wondered why it was that we didn’t pay more attention to that telephone call that had come to Ben. But the truth of the matter was that I'd hunched right away that somebody over in the Sunset’s crowd of skullduggers knew what a timid soul Ben was, and was just aiming to panic him to add to our troubles. Psychological stuff. And I think Brenda may have figured it the same way. And maybe Ben did himself, though he wouldn’t admit it.

As it turned out, one of their crowd got cold feet and was afraid of being brought up for murder, so thft was the reason for the call. If he’d kept his mouth shut, we’d never have been able to prove anything. As it was, we managed to trace the call. But that’s neither here nor there.

It was just as I came up and joined them that Ben sort of leaned forward over the rail.

“What’s that thing down there?” he said, pointing at the water.

I looked, and sure enough there was an object that looked like a box tied up in gunny-bagging, floating just at the grills. It wasn’t more than awash, and was hard to see.

“Wait a minute,” I said. I went and got a boathook that we kept for such a purpose and dropped down to the ledge that was at water level. I saw that the thing had ropes around it, and hooked it in to where I was standing. It was heavy, but I got it out of the water and pushed it up on top of the dam.

“Guess it floated down from one of the up-river camps,” I said, scrambling back myself.

The sun was just setting, and I stood there for an instant blinking because it was in my

eyes.

Ben and Brenda were bending over the bundle. It was wrapped in burlap, as I’ve said, and was pretty heavy, and it lay there with water dripping out of the covering. In one place waterproof oilcloth showed through a tear in the bagging.

All of a sudden Ben put his ear down to it, the way a physician does when he listens to your heart.

“Get away ! Get away !” he yelled, jumping up as if he had been stung. “It’s a bomb —there’s a clock in' it I”

T GRABBED Brenda by the arm and started to run, half pulling her along with me. My idea was to get away as fast as I could. But she acted as a drag.

“Ben!” she was saying, “Ben—get him!” I looked back, and there was Ben sort of skipping around like a hen on a griddle, cracking his fingers together in that agonized fashion. He would run a step toward the door to the powers and then tum and dash toward us. He was thinking about Brenda, about his generators and about himself, and he couldn’t make up his mind what to do about anything.

But somewhere in the height of that frenzy he found himself, because all at once he stopped, picked up that infernal bundle and started to run with it.

Hugging it to him like a baby, he ran slowly and carefully toward the far end of the dam, where the flume was. At first I thought he was going to get out in the middle of the dam and heave it over into the bed of the river below where the guards were, and I turned cold all over.

At that moment it didn’t dawn on me that his mind was clicking with a cold precision; that he had in one brief flash foreseen every factor in the situation and had made his decision.

He could have left it where it was, and run off the dam with us; he could even have chucked it back in the water and still got away. Either course would have meant the end of the dam and the end of his powers, because that explosive, acting downward in the water, would have thrown so much added strain on the dam that it would have gone out. And there were men down below it. The chances of the dam holding up were too slim. And if he’d thrown it over the side of the dam he’d have killed someone down below.

Straight on he went, until he came to the flume, and then I guessed what he was about. He was going to throw it into the flume, and let the racing water carry it off along the side of the gorge and dump it into the river down by the flume gang’s headquarters.

I ran like a wild Indian for the door of the control room. There was a telephone there that connected with the bunkhouse at the other end of the flume. I cranked the handle so hard I bent it, and it seemed hours befox anyone answered. Jules told me later he was at the telephone when it rang, and answered it instantly.

“There is a bomb coming down the flume,” I said in a deathly quiet voice. “Get everyone away up the mountain—quick. Vite—comprenez? ’ ’

"Oui, oui,” Jules said, and I heard him drop the receiver.

I ran out on the dam, and nearly fell over Brenda who had come back past the power house.

Then we saw where Ben was going. He had got into that little chute boat that belonged to Jules and was going down the flume with the bomb.

About that time it dawned on me what was happening. Out of all the courses of action open to him, Ben had chosen the one that meant safety for everyone but himself —and safety for his powers as well. Brenda’s words that night on the dam came back to me: “Courage is bom of despair, not hope.” Ben intended to ride the flume with that thing, and halfway down he would throw it out, where it could harm neither those above nor those below.

Already he was in the grip of the waters. We could see the spray flying over the wooden sides of the flume as the little bateau whizzed like an express train along the side of the gorge. Ben’s head and shoulders were clearly visible, and I knew he was crouching over that bomb.

A third of the way down he began to rise to his feet, and then he hoisted the burlap bundle in his arms. The last rays of the setting sun struck full in his face.

Standing for an instant in the hurtling boat, he lifted the bomb, then hurled it down over the side of the flume.

He didn’t just heave it. His was a gesture of strength, of defiance. It was the strong act of a man who has found within himself the thing for which he has sought—the cold absolute of courage. I like to think of Ben in that single instant, when he stood poised, and the downward thrust of his arms— powerful and strong—told us all that we needed to know.

Even as he threw it, a living sheet of flame seemed to envelop the side of the gorge and whole sections of the flume dissolved into nothingness. The blast from the concussion tore savagely at us—even there on top of the dam—and we were stunned beyond all speech or hearing.

When I came to myself I was standing there clutching the rail until my hands were like to burst from the pressure, and I was saying to myself “My God!” over and over. And there was nothing profane about it either.

I was afraid to look at Brenda, but I had to.

She was standing there, simply looking at what had been, and I wondered what I could say to her. Everything was very silent, it seemed to me, but there must have been a lot of yelling going on from everybody that was on the ground.

She stood there, just staring, for some little time.

“Brenda,” I said.

She didn’t seem to hear me, because not a tremor was in her face. After a while she turned and walked right past me. And she wasn’t crying. Not a single tear. She was smiling—a strange, far-away look in her eyes.

The expression on her face let me understand the inner meaning of words I used to hear my mother read out of the Bible when I was a child. I never understood quite what it meant until I saw it on Brenda Smith’s face that night.

“The peace which passeth all understanding—”

And I knew that there had been a power at Pogin greater than any of us had understood.