Toilers of the Sea by Victor Hugo
Book II. The Labour.
I. The Resources of One Who Has Nothing
THE CAVERN did not easily part with its explorers. The entry had been difficult; going back was more difficult still. Gilliatt, however, succeeded in extricating himself; but he did not return there. He had found nothing of what he was in quest of, and he had not the time to indulge in curiosity.
He put the forge in operation at once. Tools were wanting; he set to work and made them.
For fuel he had the wreck; for motive force the water; for his bellows the wind; for his anvil a stone; for art his instinct; for power his will.
He entered with ardour upon his sombre labours.
The weather seemed to smile upon his work. It continued to be dry and free from equinoctial gales. The month of March had come but it was tranquil. The days grew longer. The blue of the sky, the gentleness of all the movements of the scene, the serenity of the noon-tide, seemed to exclude the idea of mischief. The waves danced merrily in the sunlight. A Judas kiss is the first step to treachery; of such caresses the ocean is prodigal. Her smile, like that of woman's sometimes, cannot be trusted.
There was little wind. The hydraulic bellows worked all the better for that reason. Much wind would have embarrassed rather than aided it. Gilliatt had a saw; he manufactured for himself a file. With the saw he attacked the wood; with the file the metal. Then he availed himself of the two iron hands of the smith-the pincers and the pliers. The pincers gripe, the pliers handle; the one is like the closed hand, the other like the fingers. By degrees he made for himself a number of auxiliaries and constructed his armour. With a piece of hoop-wood he made a screen for his forge-fire.
One of his principal labours was the sorting and repair of pulleys. He mended both the blocks and the sheaves of tackle. He cut down the irregularities of all broken joists, and reshaped the extremities. He had, as we have said, for the necessities of his carpentry, a quantity of pieces of wood, stored away, and arranged according to the forms, the dimensions, and the nature of their grain; the oak on the side, the pine on the other; the short pieces like riders separated from the straight pieces like binding strakes. This formed his reserve of supports and levers, of which he might stand in great need at any moment
Any one who intends to construct hoisting tackle ought to provide himself with beams and small cables. But that is not sufficient. He must have cordage. Gilliatt restored the cables, large and small. He frayed out the tattered sails, and succeeded in converting them into an excellent yarn, of which he made twine. With this he joined the ropes. The joints, however, were liable to rot. It was necessary, therefore, to hasten to make use of these cables. He had only been able to make white tow, for he was without tar.
The ropes mended, he proceeded to repair the chains.
Thanks to the lateral point of the stone anvil, which served the part of the conoid bicorn, he was able to forge rings rude in shape but strong. With these he fastened together the severed lengths of chains, and made long pieces.
To work at a forge without assistance is something more than troublesome. He succeeded nevertheless. It is true that he had only to forge and shape articles of comparatively small size, which he was able to handle with the pliers in one hand, while he hammered with the other.
He cut into lengths the iron bars of the captain's bridge on which Clubin used to pass to and fro from paddle-box to paddle-box giving his orders; forged at one extremity of each piece a point, and at the other a flat head. By this means he manufactured large nails of about a foot in length. These nails, much used in pontoon-making are useful in fixing anything in rocks.
What was his object in all these labours? We shall see.
He was several times compelled to renew the blade of his hatchet and the teeth of his saw. For renotching the saw he had manufactured a three-sided file. Occasionally he made use of the capstan of the Durande. The hook of the chain broke; he made another.
By the aid of his pliers and pinchers, and by using his chisel as a screwdriver, he set to work to remove the two paddle-wheels of the vessel-an object which he accomplished. This was rendered practicable by reason of a peculiarity in their construction. The paddle-boxes which covered them served him to stow them away. With the planks of these paddle-boxes he made two cases in which he deposited the two paddles, piece by piece, each part being carefully numbered.
His lump of chalk became precious for this purpose.
He kept the two cases upon the strongest part of the wreck.
When these preliminaries were completed, he found himself face to face with the great difficulty. The problem of the engine of the Durande was now clearly before him.
Taking the paddle-wheels to pieces had proved practicable. It was very different with the machinery.
In the first place, he was almost entirely ignorant of the details of the mechanism. Working thus blindly he might do some irreparable damage. Then, even in attempting to dismember it, if he had ventured on that course, far other tools would be necessary than such as he could fabricate with a cavern for a forge, a wind-draught for bellows, and a stone for an anvil. In attempting, therefore, to take to pieces the machinery, there was the risk of destroying it.
The attempt seemed at first sight wholly impracticable.
The apparent impossibility of the project rose before him like a stone wall, blocking further progress. What was to be done?