The Mysterious Island
Winter arrived with the month of June, which is the December of the northern
zones, and the great business was the making of warm and solid clothing.
The musmons in the corral had been stripped of their wool, and this precious
textile material was now to be transformed into stuff.
Of course Cyrus Harding, having at his disposal neither carders, combers,
polishers, stretchers, twisters, mule-jenny, nor self-acting machine to spin the
wool, nor loom to weave it, was obliged to proceed in a simpler way, so as to do
without spinning and weaving. And indeed he proposed to make use of the
property which the filaments of wool possess when subjected to a powerful
pressure of mixing together, and of manufacturing by this simple process the
material called felt. This felt could then be obtained by a simple operation which,
if it diminished the flexibility of the stuff, increased its power of retaining heat in
proportion. Now the wool furnished by the musmons was composed of very short
hairs, and was in a good condition to be felted.
The engineer, aided by his companions, including Pencroft, who was once more
obliged to leave his boat, commenced the preliminary operations, the subject of
which was to rid the wool of that fat and oily substance with which it is
impregnated, and which is called grease. This cleaning was done in vats filled
with water, which was maintained at the temperature of seventy degrees, and in
which the wool was soaked for four-and-twenty hours; it was then thoroughly
washed in baths of soda, and, when sufficiently dried by pressure, it was in a
state to be compressed, that is to say, to produce a solid material, rough, no
doubt, and such as would have no value in a manufacturing center of Europe or
America, but which would be highly esteemed in the Lincoln Island markets.
This sort of material must have been known from the most ancient times, and, in
fact, the first woolen stuffs were manufactured by the process which Harding was
now about to employ. Where Harding's engineering qualifications now came into
play was in the construction of the machine for pressing the wool; for he knew
how to turn ingeniously to profit the mechanical force, hitherto unused, which the
waterfall on the beach possessed to move a fulling-mill.
Nothing could be more rudimentary. The wool was placed in troughs, and upon it
fell in turns heavy wooden mallets; such was the machine in question, and such it
had been for centuries until the time when the mallets were replaced by cylinders
of compression, and the material was no longer subjected to beating, but to