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"At the beginning," replied Cyrus Harding.
And in fact, the settlers were compelled to begin "at the very
beginning." They did not possess even the tools necessary for making tools,
and they were not even in the condition of nature, who, "having time,
husbands her strength." They had no time, since they had to provide for the
immediate wants of their existence, and though, profiting by acquired
experience, they had nothing to invent, still they had everything to make;
their iron and their steel were as yet only in the state of minerals, their
earthenware in the state of clay, their linen and their clothes in the
state of textile material.
It must be said, however, that the settlers were men" in the complete
and higher sense of the word. The engineer Harding could not have been
seconded by more intelligent companions, nor with more devotion and zeal.
He had tried them. He knew their abilities.
Gideon Spilett, a talented reporter, having learned everything so as to
be able to speak of everything, would contribute largely with his head and
hands to the colonization of the island. He would not draw back from any
task: a determined sportsman, he would make a business of what till then
had only been a pleasure to him.
Herbert, a gallant boy, already remarkably well informed in the natural
sciences, would render greater service to the common cause.
Neb was devotion personified. Clever, intelligent, indefatigable, robust,
with iron health, he knew a little about the work of the forge, and could
not fail to be very useful in the colony.
As to Pencroft, he had sailed over every sea, a carpenter in the
dockyards in Brooklyn, assistant tailor in the vessels of the state,
gardener, cultivator, during his holidays, etc., and like all seamen, fit
for anything, he knew how to do everything.
It would have been difficult to unite five men, better fitted to struggle
against fate, more certain to triumph over it.
"At the beginning," Cyrus Harding had said. Now this beginning of which
the engineer spoke was the construction of an apparatus which would serve
to transform the natural substances. The part which heat plays in these
transformations is known. Now fuel, wood or coal, was ready for immediate
use, an oven must be built to use it.
"What is this oven for?" asked Pencroft.
"To make the pottery which we have need of," replied Harding.
"And of what shall we make the oven?"
"And the bricks?"
"With clay. Let us start, my friends. To save trouble, we will establish
our manufactory at the place of production. Neb will bring provisions, and
there will be no lack of fire to cook the food."
"No," replied the reporter; "but if there is a lack of food for want of
instruments for the chase?"
"Ah, if we only had a knife!" cried the sailor.
"Well?" asked Cyrus Harding.
"Well! I would soon make a bow and arrows, and then there could be plenty
of game in the larder!"
"Yes, a knife, a sharp blade." said the engineer, as if he was speaking
At this moment his eyes fell upon Top, who was running about on the
shore. Suddenly Harding's face became animated.
"Top, here," said he.
The dog came at his master's call. The latter took Top's head between his
hands, and unfastening the collar which the animal wore round his neck, he
broke it in two, saying,--
"There are two knives, Pencroft!"
Two hurrahs from the sailor was the reply. Top's collar was made of a
thin piece of tempered steel. They had only to sharpen it on a piece of
sandstone, then to raise the edge on a finer stone. Now sandstone was
abundant on the beach, and two hours after the stock of tools in the colony
consisted of two sharp blades, which were easily fixed in solid handles.
The production of these their first tools was hailed as a triumph. It was
indeed a valuable result of their labor, and a very opportune one. They set
Cyrus Harding proposed that they should return to the western shore of
the lake, where the day before he had noticed the clayey ground of which he
possessed a specimen. They therefore followed the bank of the Mercy,
traversed Prospect Heights, and alter a walk of five miles or more they
reached a glade, situated two hundred feet from Lake Grant.
On the way Herbert had discovered a tree, the branches of which the
Indians of South America employ for making their bows. It was the crejimba,
of the palm family, which does not bear edible fruit. Long straight
branches were cut, the leaves stripped off; it was shaped, stronger in the
middle, more slender at the extremities, and nothing remained to be done
but to find a plant fit to make the bow-string. This was the "hibiscus
heterophyllus," which furnishes fibers of such remarkable tenacity that
they have been compared to the tendons of animals. Pencroft thus obtained
bows of tolerable strength, for which he only wanted arrows. These were
easily made with straight stiff branches, without knots, but the points
with which they must be armed, that is to say, a substance to serve in lieu
of iron, could not be met with so easily. But Pencroft said, that having
done his part of the work, chance would do the rest.
The settlers arrived on the ground which had been discovered the day
before. Being composed of the sort of clay which is used for making bricks
and tiles, it was very useful for the work in question. There was no great
difficulty in it. It was enough to scour the clay with sand, then to mold
the bricks and bake them by the heat of a wood fire.
Generally bricks are formed in molds, but the engineer contented himself
with making them by hand. All that day and the day following were employed
in this work. The clay, soaked in water, was mixed by the feet and hands of
the manipulators, and then divided into pieces of equal size. A practiced
workman can make, without a machine, about ten thousand bricks in twelve
hours; but in their two days work the five brickmakers on Lincoln Island
had not made more than three thousand, which were ranged near each other,
until the time when their complete desiccation would permit them to be used
in building the oven, that is to say, in three or four days.
It was on the 2nd of April that Harding had employed himself in fixing
the orientation of the island, or, in other words, the precise spot where
the sun rose. The day before he had noted exactly the hour when the sun
disappeared beneath the horizon, making allowance for the refraction. This
morning he noted, no less exactly, the hour at which it reappeared. Between
this setting and rising twelve hours, twenty-four minutes passed. Then, six
hours, twelve minutes after its rising, the sun on this day would exactly
pass the meridian and the point of the sky which it occupied at this moment
would be the north. At the said hour, Cyrus marked this point, and putting
in a line with the sun two trees which would serve him for marks, he thus
obtained an invariable meridian for his ulterior operations.
The settlers employed the two days before the oven was built in
collecting fuel. Branches were cut all round the glade, and they picked up
all the fallen wood under the trees. They were also able to hunt with
greater success, since Pencroft now possessed some dozen arrows armed with
sharp points. It was Top who had famished these points, by bringing in a
porcupine, rather inferior eating, but of great value, thanks to the quills
with which it bristled. These quills were fixed firmly at the ends of the
arrows, the flight of which was made more certain by some cockatoos'
feathers. The reporter and Herbert soon became very skilful archers. Game
of all sorts in consequence abounded at the Chimneys, capybaras, pigeons,
agouties, grouse, etc. The greater part of these animals were killed in the
part of the forest on the left bank of the Mercy, to which they gave the
name of Jacamar Wood, in remembrance of the bird which Pencroft and Herbert
had pursued when on their first exploration.
This game was eaten fresh, but they preserved some capybara hams, by
smoking them above a fire of green wood, after having perfumed them with
sweet-smelling leaves. However, this food, although very strengthening, was
always roast upon roast, and the party would have been delighted to hear
some soup bubbling on the hearth, but they must wait till a pot could be
made, and, consequently, till the oven was built.
During these excursions, which were not extended far from the brick-
field, the hunters could discern the recent passage of animals of a large
size, armed with powerful claws, but they could not recognize the species.
Cyrus Harding advised them to be very careful, as the forest probably
enclosed many dangerous beasts.
And he did right. Indeed, Gideon Spilett and Herbert one day saw an
animal which resembled a jaguar. Happily the creature did not attack them,
or they might not have escaped without a severe wound. As soon as he could
get a regular weapon, that is to say, one of the guns which Pencroft begged
for, Gideon Spilett resolved to make desperate war against the ferocious
beasts, and exterminate them from the island.
The Chimneys during these few days was not made more comfortable, for
the engineer hoped to discover, or build if necessary, a more convenient
dwelling. They contented themselves with spreading moss and dry leaves on
the sand of the passages, and on these primitive couches the tired workers
They also reckoned the days they had passed on Lincoln Island, and from
that time kept a regular account. The 5th of April, which was Wednesday,
was twelve days from the time when the wind threw the castaways on this
On the 6th of April, at daybreak, the engineer and his companions were
collected in the glade, at the place where they were going to perform the
operation of baking the bricks. Naturally this had to be in the open air,
and not in a kiln, or rather, the agglomeration of bricks made an enormous
kiln, which would bake itself. The fuel, made of well-prepared fagots, was
laid on the ground and surrounded with several rows of dried bricks, which
soon formed an enormous cube, to the exterior of which they contrived air-
holes. The work lasted all day, and it was not till the evening that they
set fire to the fagots. No one slept that night, all watching carefully to
keep up the fire.
The operation lasted forty-eight hours, and succeeded perfectly. It then
became necessary to leave the smoking mass to cool, and during this time
Neb and Pencroft, guided by Cyrus Harding, brought, on a hurdle made of
interlaced branches, loads of carbonate of lime and common stones, which
were very abundant, to the north of the lake. These stones, when decomposed
by heat, made a very strong quicklime, greatly increased by slacking, at
least as pure as if it had been produced by the calcination of chalk or
marble. Mixed with sand the lime made excellent mortar.
The result of these different works was, that, on the 9th of April, the
engineer had at his disposal a quantity of prepared lime and some thousands
Without losing an instant, therefore, they began the construction of a
kiln to bake the pottery, which was indispensable for their domestic use.
They succeeded without much difficulty. Five days after, the kiln was
supplied with coal, which the engineer had discovered lying open to the sky
towards the mouth of the Red Creek, and the first smoke escaped from a
chimney twenty feet high. The glade was transformed into a manufactory, and
Pencroft was not far wrong in believing that from this kiln would issue all
the products of modern industry.
In the meantime what the settlers first manufactured was a common pottery
in which to cook their food. The chief material was clay, to which Harding
added a little lime and quartz. This paste made regular "pipe-clay," with
which they manufactured bowls, cups molded on stones of a proper size,
great jars and pots to hold water, etc. The shape of these objects was
clumsy and defective, but after they had been baked in a high temperature,
the kitchen of the Chimneys was provided with a number of utensils, as
precious to the settlers as the most beautifully enameled china. We must
mention here that Pencroft, desirous to know if the clay thus prepared was
worthy of its name of pipe-clay, made some large pipes, which he thought
charming, but for which, alas! he had no tobacco, and that was a great
privation to Pencroft. "But tobacco will come, like everything else!" he
repeated, in a burst of absolute confidence.
This work lasted till the 15th of April, and the time was well employed.
The settlers, having become potters, made nothing but pottery. When it
suited Cyrus Harding to change them into smiths, they would become smiths.
But the next day being Sunday, and also Easter Sunday, all agreed to
sanctify the day by rest. These Americans were religious men, scrupulous
observers of the precepts of the Bible, and their situation could not but
develop sentiments of confidence towards the Author of all things.
On the evening of the 15th of April they returned to the Chimneys,
carrying with them the pottery, the furnace being extinguished until they
could put it to a new use. Their return was marked by a fortunate incident;
the engineer discovered a substance which replaced tinder. It is known that
a spongy, velvety flesh is procured from a certain mushroom of the genus
polyporous. Properly prepared, it is extremely inflammable, especially when
it has been previously saturated with gunpowder, or boiled in a solution of
nitrate or chlorate of potash. But, till then, they had not found any of
these polypores or even any of the morels which could replace them. On this
day, the engineer, seeing a plant belonging to the wormwood genus, the
principal species of which are absinthe, balm-mint, tarragon, etc.,
gathered several tufts, and, presenting them to the sailor, said,--
"Here, Pencroft, this will please you."
Pencroft looked attentively at the plant, covered with long silky hair,
the leaves being clothed with soft down.
"What's that, captain?" asked Pencroft. "Is it tobacco?"
"No," replied Harding, "it is wormwood; Chinese wormwood to the learned,
but to us it will be tinder."
When the wormwood was properly dried it provided them with a very
inflammable substance, especially afterwards when the engineer had
impregnated it with nitrate of potash, of which the island possessed
several beds, and which is in truth saltpeter.
The colonists had a good supper that evening. Neb prepared some agouti
soup, a smoked capybara ham, to which was added the boiled tubercules of
the "caladium macrorhizum," an herbaceous plant of the arum family. They
had an excellent taste, and were very nutritious, being something similar
to the substance which is sold in England under the name of "Portland
sago"; they were also a good substitute for bread, which the settlers in
Lincoln Island did not yet possess.
When supper was finished, before sleeping, Harding and his companions
went to take the air on the beach. it was eight o'clock in the evening; the
night was magnificent. The moon, which had been full five days before, had
not yet risen, but the horizon was already silvered by those soft, pale
shades which might be called the dawn of the moon. At the southern zenith
glittered the circumpolar constellations, and above all the Southern Cross,
which some days before the engineer had greeted on the summit of Mount
Cyrus Harding gazed for some time at this splendid constellation, which
has at its summit and at its base two stars of the first magnitude, at its
left arm a star of the second, and at its right arm a star of the third
Then, after some minutes thought--
"Herbert," he asked of the lad, "is not this the 15th of April?"
"Yes, captain," replied Herbert.
"Well, if I am not mistaken, to-morrow will be one of the four days in
the year in which the real time is identical with average time; that is to
say, my boy, that to-morrow, to within some seconds, the sun will pass the
meridian just at midday by the clocks. If the weather is fine I think that
I shall obtain the longitude of the island with an approximation of some
"Without instruments, without sextant?" asked Gideon Spilett.
"Yes," replied the engineer. 'Also, since the night is clear, I will try,
this very evening, to obtain our latitude by calculating the height of the
Southern Cross, that is, from the southern pole above the horizon. You
understand, my friends, that before undertaking the work of installation in
earnest it is not enough to have found out that this land is an island; we
must, as nearly as possible, know at what distance it is situated, either
from the American continent or Australia, or from the principal
archipelagoes of the Pacific."
"In fact," said the reporter, "instead of building a house it would be
more important to build a boat, if by chance we are not more than a hundred
miles from an inhabited coast."
"That is why," returned Harding, "I am going to try this evening to
calculate the latitude of Lincoln Island, and to-morrow, at midday, I will
try to calculate the longitude."
If the engineer had possessed a sextant, an apparatus with which the
angular distance of objects can be measured with great precision, there
would have been no difficulty in the operation. This evening by the height
of the pole, the next day by the passing of the sun at the meridian, he
would obtain the position of the island. But as they had not one he would
have to supply the deficiency.
Harding then entered the Chimneys. By the light of the fire he cut two
little flat rulers, which he joined together at one end so as to form a
pair of compasses, whose legs could separate or come together. The
fastening was fixed with a strong acacia thorn which was found in the wood
pile. This instrument finished, the engineer returned to the beach, but as
it was necessary to take the height of the pole from above a clear horizon,
that is, a sea horizon, and as Claw Cape hid the southern horizon, he was
obliged to look for a more suitable station. The best would evidently have
been the shore exposed directly to the south; but the Mercy would have to
be crossed, and that was a difficulty. Harding resolved, in consequence, to
make his observation from Prospect Heights, taking into consideration its
height above the level of the sea--a height which he intended to calculate
next day by a simple process of elementary geometry.
The settlers, therefore, went to the plateau, ascending the left bank of
the Mercy, and placed themselves on the edge which looked northwest and
southeast, that is, above the curiously-shaped rocks which bordered the
This part of the plateau commanded the heights of the left bank, which
sloped away to the extremity of Claw Cape, and to the southern side of the
island. No obstacle intercepted their gaze, which swept the horizon in a
semi-circle from the cape to Reptile End. To the south the horizon, lighted
by the first rays of the moon, was very clearly defined against the sky.
At this moment the Southern Cross presented itself to the observer in an
inverted position, the star Alpha marking its base, which is nearer to the
This constellation is not situated as near to the antarctic pole as the
Polar Star is to the arctic pole. The star Alpha is about twenty-seven
degrees from it, but Cyrus Harding knew this and made allowance for it in
his calculation. He took care also to observe the moment when it passed the
meridian below the pole, which would simplify the operation.
Cyrus Harding pointed one leg of the compasses to the horizon, the other
to Alpha, and the space between the two legs gave him the angular distance
which separated Alpha from the horizon. In order to fix the angle obtained,
he fastened with thorns the two pieces of wood on a third placed
transversely, so that their separation should be properly maintained.
That done, there was only the angle to calculate by bringing back the
observation to the level of the sea, taking into consideration the
depression of the horizon, which would necessitate measuring the height of
the cliff. The value of this angle would give the height of Alpha, and
consequently that of the pole above the horizon, that is to say, the
latitude of the island, since the latitude of a point of the globe is
always equal to the height of the pole above the horizon of this point.
The calculations were left for the next day, and at ten o'clock every one
was sleeping soundly.
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