The Mysterious Island
The next day, the 17th of April, the sailor's first words were addressed to Gideon
"Well, sir," he asked, "what shall we do to-day?"
"What the captain pleases," replied the reporter.
Till then the engineer's companions had been brickmakers and potters, now they
were to become metallurgists.
The day before, after breakfast, they had explored as far as the point of Mandible
Cape, seven miles distant from the Chimneys. There, the long series of downs
ended, and the soil had a volcanic appearance. There were no longer high cliffs
as at Prospect Heights, but a strange and capricious border which surrounded
the narrow gulf between the two capes, formed of mineral matter, thrown up by
the volcano. Arrived at this point the settlers retraced their steps, and at nightfall
entered the Chimneys; but they did not sleep before the question of knowing
whether they could think of leaving Lincoln Island or not was definitely settled.
The twelve hundred miles which separated the island from the Pomoutous Island
was a considerable distance. A boat could not cross it, especially at the approach
of the bad season. Pencroft had expressly declared this. Now, to construct a
simple boat even with the necessary tools, was a difficult work, and the colonists
not having tools they must begin by making hammers, axes, adzes, saws,
augers, planes, etc., which would take some time. It was decided, therefore, that
they would winter at Lincoln Island, and that they would look for a more
comfortable dwelling than the Chimneys, in which to pass the winter months.
Before anything else could be done it was necessary to make the iron ore, of
which the engineer had observed some traces in the northwest part of the island,
fit for use by converting it either into iron or into steel.
Metals are not generally found in the ground in a pure state. For the most part
they are combined with oxygen or sulphur. Such was the case with the two
specimens which Cyrus Harding had brought back, one of magnetic iron, not
carbonated, the other a pyrite, also called sulphuret of iron. It was, therefore the
first, the oxide of iron, which they must reduce with coal, that is to say, get rid of
the oxygen, to obtain it in a pure state. This reduction is made by subjecting the
ore with coal to a high temperature, either by the rapid and easy Catalan method,
which has the advantage of transforming the ore into iron in a single operation, or
by the blast furnace, which first smelts the ore, then changes it into iron, by
carrying away the three to four per cent. of coal, which is combined with it.