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"Well, captain, where are we going to begin?" asked Pencroft next morning of the engineer.
"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 to himself.
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 out.
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.
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The Mysterious Island -by- Jules Verne