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Wrecked on a Reef

Chapter XIX. — Manufacturing Our Tools - we Resolve on Adopting a New Plan

page 162

Chapter XIX.
Manufacturing Our Tools - we Resolve on Adopting a New Plan.

Early in the morning of the 16th of January, our forge was set to work for the first time. The charcoal glowed and crackled; and the bellows, manoeuvred by Musgrave, gave forth a sonorous roaring, which to our ears seemed the sweetest music in the I applied myself, in the first place, to manufacture a pair of smooth, flat pincers, shaped like chisels, to hold and turn over on the anvil the pieces of red-hot iron I should have to forge. But what trouble I underwent before I succeeded in fashioning this simple tool! I made more than a score of attempts. "Courage!" Musgrave would say to me, when he saw my downcast air; "our safety depends on your perseverance. Try again; I am confident you will succeed."

I heated two new pieces of iron; they were bolts, corroded with rust. This time I endeavoured to avoid the faults committed in my previous experiments; and, at the end of an hour of arduous toil, I completed a pair of pincers which left little to be desired. "Bravo!" cried Musgrave gaily; "victory is ours! Look at the master blacksmith, the most accomplished in his trade! To work! Let us beat the iron while it is hot!"

Conquered by fatigue and emotion, I dropped my hammer, and leaned for support against one of the posts of the shed. I am not ashamed to confess that tears of joy flowed from my eyes.

Gradually I became more expert, and before the end of the month I had made three pairs of pincers of different sizes, three punches, a mould for nails, a pair of tongs, a cold chisel for cutting iron, a large hammer for beating it, two smaller one for forging it, and a number of little articles of which I foresaw I should stand in need.

During the first week of February, taught by experience, I accomplished page 163
"I Manufactured Numerous Chisels and Carpenter's Tools."

"I Manufactured Numerous Chisels and Carpenter's Tools."

page 164more work than I had done in all the previous fortnight. With the pickaxes we had brought for mining purposes, and which were pointed with steel, I manufactured numerous chisels and carpenter's tools. From the iron plate of a spade, of excellent temper, I cut out sufficient metal for a large plane. The rest I used for the edge of an axe, and a couple of hatchets.

The hoop of a barrel, stretched along a framework of wood, became a saw, whose teeth, cut out with a chisel, were afterwards sharpened; and with a band of copper, fixed at right-angles on a wooden lath, I made myself a square. Upon another sheet of the same metal, about three feet and a quarter long, I traced a hundred equidistant divisions, and thus was furnished with a measure.

To complete my stock of tools, I now only wanted an auger sufficiently long to bore through the large blocks of wood which would form part of the upper timbers of the ship. I had nearly completed this last tool, but when I was about to turn the spiral point, so that it might bite into the wood, I found myself baffled. For two whole days, I recommenced this operation again and yet again; each time I burned my iron, and, instead of finishing my work, destroyed it.

I was forced to confess myself vanquished by a difficulty which defied all my efforts, and to renounce a task I found impracticable. The reader will believe that I did so with a very keen regret. This check was attended by important consequences, which, however, as we shall see by-and-by, were not disastrous. It contributed to induce me to modify my first project, and to adopt another plan, which I discussed with Musgrave at considerable length, and which received his entire approval.

I assembled the rest of my comrades, and acquainted them with the result of our reflections, inviting them to deliberate upon it. I pointed out to them that my first proposal, though not absolutely impracticable, presented numerous difficulties which, at the outset, I had not sufficiently weighed; that the construction of a bark of from ten to fifteen tons — and it was useless to think of building a smaller one — would require an enormous amount of material, both of wood and iron; that we should be obliged to "create" every piece with infinite trouble, the timbers of the old Grafton having no longer the necessary suppleness nor solidity, and the trees growing in the island being sadly unfitted, owing to their peculiar conformation, to supply us with new; that we had wholly failed to realise the immense number of nails, bolts, pegs, and the like, it would be requisite to manufacture; that, finally, what terrified me most was the time so great a work would demand; I could not, all things considered, estimate it at less page 165than a year and a half, or perhaps two years! Were we sure of subsistence for so long a period, or of our capacity to endure the privations and miseries of every kind which a second, and probably a third, winter in the Aucklands would assuredly bring upon us?

I hastened to add that I had not in the least renounced our scheme of deliverance, but that, in agreement with Musgrave, I proposed to modify it as follows: we would make use of the little boat which had rendered us so many services, and would be capable of fresh work when strengthened and enlarged; we would, therefore, put it on the stocks, give it a false keel, which would permit of its being lengthened fully three feet in the stern; we would raise its gunwales by at least a foot, so as to give it greater depth; and, finally, we would deck it.

This work, I represented, would not be above our means, and I thought it might be accomplished in four or five months. Our new project had one disadvantage, which I was the first to confess and deplore: we must give up the enticing idea of all five departing in company; for the boat would not be able to hold, at the utmost, more than three of us. But, in reality, was this a disadvantage, and was not this arrangement much more prudent? If those who embarked should perish at sea — and it was useless to disguise the fact that they would incur very serious danger — the others at least would be spared, and there would still remain the chance of their being picked up, sooner or later, by some whaling vessel. If, on the other hand, the voyage proved successful, if the boat reached New Zealand or some other inhabited region, the first care of those who landed would be to send in search of their companions at Auckland.

My comrades listened to me in silence. They appeared troubled, disappointed. For awhile they uttered not a word. At length Harry said, in a very lugubrious tone: "I much mistrusted that these fine projects would end in smoke! As for myself, I prefer remaining here; certainly, I will not put to sea in that nutshell of yours." The two others, while regretting the abandonment of our first design, admitted that the second was more feasible. Alick, particularly, accepted it with the utmost good faith, and declared that he asked for nothing better than liberty to set sail, as soon as the boat was ready for sea. My proposal was therefore adopted.

Next day, we resumed our work with ardour. George and Harry continued to act as purveyors to the community; Alick returned to his manufacture of charcoal; Musgrave and I laboured once more at our united trades of carpenter and smith.

In the morning, conforming ourselves to our new plan, we felled some page 166trees, and transported their trunks to the shore. After roughly planing them with the axe, we arranged them on the ground, in parallel lines to the beach, at intervals of one foot, like the joists of a floor.

We had erected our yard at high-water mark, which a line of withered marine plants clearly indicated, at a point where the slope of the shore would allow our boat to glide easily into the sea, as soon as she was ready for launching.

With one of the best planks we could find among the remains of the wreck, we, in the first place, added a new keel to the boat — a keel longer than the old one, and solidly riveted by four iron bolts driven into the interior. We then settled our craft upon the stocks, with its bow turned towards the bay, and kept it in a horizontal position by means of wedges inserted between the keel and the slips, these wedges being made longer and thicker as they approached the bow. Three on each side, six in all, supported the hull, and prevented it from shaking.

Just as we finished driving in the last stay, George came to us on the shore, and announced that the chronometer indicated nine o'clock. Night had come on, and the darkness no longer permitting us to work outside, we quitted our "building-yard" for the forge, where, by the red gleam of the charcoal, which the bellows kept in active combustion, we hammered away at the iron for several hours.

From this moment, in our desire to complete our task rapidly so that we might put to sea before the winter months, we redoubled our activity. Rising at six in the morning, we immediately set to work, and with the exception of the brief intervals necessary for taking our meals, we did not leave off until eleven at night.

During the day we generally laboured at the framework of our boat; in the evening, the forge invariably occupied our attention, as we had to prepare the necessary materials for the morrow — nails, pegs, bolts, and so on. Sometimes Harry or George took Musgrave's place at the bellows, and assisted me to weld and forge the iron; meantime, Musgrave stitched away at the new sails we were making out of the old canvas of the Grafton or got ready the rigging for the boat.

This nautical work, which suited all his early tastes and revived his old skilfulness, was his triumph. He excelled in cutting out and sewing up a sail. But when he had to handle the axe or the plane, he was less expert, and it often happened that, in his role of carpenter, some inconveniences and mortifications befell him, at which I was unable to help smiling.

I remember that one day I was working alone in the shed. I was engaged in forging a quantity of small bolts to fasten to our boat the new timbers page 167we had fashioned. Musgrave remained at the stocks, where, with his auger, he was boring the pieces of wood before putting them in their place. Suddenly I saw him ascend the rising ground and walk in my direction. He moved slowly, and with a face as pale as that of a criminal who had just been caught in a guilty act; one hand he held behind him.

"What is the matter?" I exclaimed, frightened by his disconsolate aspect.

"All is lost!" he replied, in a gloomy despairing tone; "I have broken the auger!" And stretching forth his hand, with a tragic gesture, he showed me the instrument.

Though the recollection of the great auger, whose point I had failed to make, crossed my mind, and was not calculated to raise my spirits, a burst of laughter escaped me.

It was with much difficulty I consoled my poor friend, and lightened the weight of remorse which overwhelmed his conscience. I did not succeed in reconciling him with himself until, after examining the tool, I was able to affirm that the evil was not so great as he fancied.

And, indeed, it was only the very end of the auger that was broken. With the help of the grindstone, I easily succeeded in making a new point.