Lumberjacks & the Magic Socks
In northern Quebec the lumberjacks nevertheless tell the story of a French-Canadian logger and his “magic socks.” One evening in the 1850s the crew of a logging camp in that district came thundering into the bunkhouse after a strenuous day in the melting snows of the spruce forest. Gathering about the red-hot box stove, the noisy woods gang began to undress, wringing the water from their clothing as they did so. One of the loggers, a newcomer in those parts, hauled off his caulked boots and his saturated socks. When he tossed the latter into the roaring stove his comrades thought he had lost his wits.
“II est fou, ce kind-la-burning up a fine pair of socks like that!” When, a few minutes later, the woodsman, calmly ignoring his bunkies, fished his socks from the fire, the loggers gazed in amazement. The footgear was dry, unburned, and clean. When he started to put his socks on again, the logger was bowled over in the mad stampede of the rest as they fled from someone surely in league with the Devil. Nor would any member of that tough and lusty crew return to work until “Magic Socks” was paid off and fired.
So far as is known, this was the first-perhaps the only-pair of asbestos socks made. The logger had had his woven from some of the first asbestos mined in Canada, nearly a hundred years ago. The logger could not have known it, of course, but he was repeating a trick that once saved a great emperor from plunging his kingdom into a costly war. To the court of Charlemagne, master of Europe, came messengers from Harun- Al-Rashid, Caliph of Bagdad and ruler of the Moslem world. The emperor and the envoys of the Caliph discussed questions of policy, weighing carefully every statement, since a single hasty information might drop Christians and Moslems into conflict. Finally, to ease their tired bodies and ragged nerves, Charlemagne ordered a royal banquet. On the table at which king and envoys sat was a white tablecloth. After the feast, servants took the cloth, by then covered with grease and wine stains, and heaved it into a huge fireplace, where a fire of whole tree trunks roared.
The envoys, accustomed as they were to the eccentricities of rulers, showed nothing more than a polite interest. But when the tablecloth was removed from the heart of the flames, whole and clean, the envoys’ knees shook, and they muttered prayers into their beards. In fact, they were so awed by this off-handed characterize of magical strength that they reported to Harun-Al-Rashid that Charlemagne was undoubtedly the top-ranking magician in the world. This report put a sudden damper on the Moslem ruler’s ardor for artned conflict, and probably prevented a war with Christian Europe. The table-cloth, of course, was woven from asbestos.