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Book 1 Chapter 17

The next day, the 7th of May, Harding and Gideon Spilett, leaving Neb to prepare breakfast, climbed Prospect Heights, while Herbert and Pencroft ascended by the river, to renew their store of wood.

The engineer and the reporter soon reached the little beach on which the dugong had been stranded. Already flocks of birds had attacked the mass of flesh, and had to be driven away with stones, for Cyrus wished to keep the fat for the use of the colony. As to the animal's flesh it would furnish excellent food, for in the islands of the Malay Archipelago and elsewhere, it is especially reserved for the table of the native princes. But that was Neb's affair.

At this moment Cyrus Harding had other thoughts. He was much interested in the incident of the day before. He wished to penetrate the mystery of that submarine combat, and to ascertain what monster could have given the dugong so strange a wound. He remained at the edge of the lake, looking, observing; but nothing appeared under the tranquil waters, which sparkled in the first rays of the rising sun.

At the beach, on which lay the body of the dugong, the water was tolerably shallow, but from this point the bottom of the lake sloped gradually, and it was probable that the depth was considerable in the center. The lake might be considered as a large center basin, which was filled by the water from the Red Creek.

"Well, Cyrus," said the reporter, "there seems to be nothing suspicious in this water."

"No, my dear Spilett," replied the engineer, "and I really do not know how to account for the incident of yesterday."

"I acknowledge," returned Spilett, "that the wound given this creature is, at least, very strange, and I cannot explain either how Top was so vigorously cast up out of the water. One could have thought that a powerful arm hurled him up, and that the same arm with a dagger killed the dugong!"

"Yes," replied the engineer, who had become thoughtful; "there is something there that I cannot understand. But do you better understand either, my dear Spilett, in what way I was saved myself--how I was drawn from the waves, and carried to the downs? No! Is it not true? Now, I feel sure that there is some mystery there, which, doubtless, we shall discover some day. Let us observe, but do not dwell on these singular incidents before our companions. Let us keep our remarks to ourselves, and continue our work."

It will be remembered that the engineer had not as yet been able to discover the place where the surplus water escaped, but he knew it must exist somewhere. He was much surprised to see a strong current at this place. By throwing in some bits of wood he found that it set towards the southern angle. He followed the current, and arrived at the south point of the lake.

There was there a sort of depression in the water, as if it was suddenly lost in some fissure in the ground.

Harding listened; placing his ear to the level of the lake, he very distinctly heard the noise of a subterranean fall.

"There," said he, rising, "is the discharge of the water; there, doubtless, by a passage in the granite cliff, it joins the sea, through cavities which we can use to our profit. Well, I can find it!"

The engineer cut a long branch, stripped it of its leaves, and plunging it into the angle between the two banks, he found that there was a large hole one foot only beneath the surface of the water. This hole was the opening so long looked for in vain, and the force of the current was such that the branch was torn from the engineer's hands and disappeared.

"There is no doubt about it now," repeated Harding. "There is the outlet, and I will lay it open to view!"

"How?" asked Gideon Spilett.

"By lowering the level of the water of the lake three feet." "And how will you lower the level?"

"By opening another outlet larger than this."

"At what place, Cyrus?"

"At the part of the bank nearest the coast."

"But it is a mass of granite!" observed Spilett.

"Well," replied Cyrus Harding, "I will blow up the granite, and the water escaping, will subside, so as to lay bare this opening--"

"And make a waterfall, by falling on to the beach," added the reporter.

"A fall that we shall make use of!" replied Cyrus. "Come, come!"

The engineer hurried away his companion, whose confidence in Harding was such that he did not doubt the enterprise would succeed. And yet, how was this granite wall to be opened without powder, and with imperfect instruments? Was not this work upon which the engineer was so bent above their strength?

When Harding and the reporter entered the Chimneys, they found Herbert and Pencroft unloading their raft of wood.

"The woodmen have just finished, captain." said the sailor, laughing, "and when you want masons--"

"Masons,--no, but chemists," replied the engineer.

"Yes," added the reporter, "we are going to blow up the island--"

"Blow up the island?" cried Pencroft.

"Part of it, at least," replied Spilett.

"Listen to me, my friends," said the engineer. And he made known to them the result of his observations.

According to him, a cavity, more or less considerable, must exist in the mass of granite which supported Prospect Heights, and he intended to penetrate into it. To do this, the opening through which the water rushed must first be cleared, and the level lowered by making a larger outlet. Therefore an explosive substance must be manufactured, which would make a deep trench in some other part of the shore. This was what Harding was going to attempt with the minerals which nature placed at his disposal.

It is useless to say with what enthusiasm all, especially Pencroft, received this project. To employ great means, open the granite, create a cascade, that suited the sailor. And he would just as soon be a chemist as a mason or bootmaker, since the engineer wanted chemicals. He would be all that they liked, "even a professor of dancing and deportment," said he to Neb, if that was ever necessary.

Neb and Pencroft were first of all told to extract the grease from the dugong, and to keep the flesh, which was destined for food. Such perfect confidence had they in the engineer, that they set out directly, without even asking a question. A few minutes after them, Cyrus Harding, Herbert, and Gideon Spilett, dragging the hurdle, went towards the vein of coals, where those shistose pyrites abound which are met with in the most recent transition soil, and of which Harding had already found a specimen. All the day being employed in carrying a quantity of these stones to the Chimneys, by evening they had several tons.

The next day, the 8th of May, the engineer began his manipulations. These shistose pyrites being composed principally of coal, flint, alumina, and sulphuret of iron--the latter in excess--it was necessary to separate the sulphuret of iron, and transform it into sulphate as rapidly as possible. The sulphate obtained, the sulphuric acid could then be extracted.

This was the object to be attained. Sulphuric acid is one of the agents the most frequently employed, and the manufacturing importance of a nation can be measured by the consumption which is made of it. This acid would later be of great use to the settlers, in the manufacturing of candles, tanning skins, etc., but this time the engineer reserved it for another use.

Cyrus Harding chose, behind the Chimneys, a site where the ground was perfectly level. On this ground he placed a layer of branches and chopped wood, on which were piled some pieces of shistose pyrites, buttressed one against the other, the whole being covered with a thin layer of pyrites, previously reduced to the size of a nut.

This done, they set fire to the wood, the heat was communicated to the shist, which soon kindled, since it contains coal and sulphur. Then new layers of bruised pyrites were arranged so as to form an immense heap, the exterior of which was covered with earth and grass, several air-holes being left, as if it was a stack of wood which was to be carbonized to make charcoal.

They then left the transformation to complete itself, and it would not take less than ten or twelve days for the sulphuret of iron to be changed to sulphate of iron and the alumina into sulphate of alumina, two equally soluble substances, the others, flint, burnt coal, and cinders, not being so.

While this chemical work was going on, Cyrus Harding proceeded with other operations, which were pursued with more than zeal,--it was eagerness.

Neb and Pencroft had taken away the fat from the dugong, and placed it in large earthen pots. It was then necessary to separate the glycerine from the fat by saponifying it. Now, to obtain this result, it had to be treated either with soda or lime. In fact, one or other of these substances, after having attacked the fat, would form a soap by separating the glycerine, and it was just this glycerine which the engineer wished to obtain. There was no want of lime, only treatment by lime would give calcareous soap, insoluble, and consequently useless, while treatment by soda would furnish, on the contrary, a soluble soap, which could be put to domestic use. Now, a practical man, like Cyrus Harding, would rather try to obtain soda. Was this difficult? No; for marine plants abounded on the shore, glass-wort, ficoides, and all those fucaceae which form wrack. A large quantity of these plants was collected, first dried, then burnt in holes in the open air. The combustion of these plants was kept up for several days, and the result was a compact gray mass, which has been long known under the name of "natural soda."

This obtained, the engineer treated the fat with soda, which gave both a soluble soap and that neutral substance, glycerine.

But this was not all. Cyrus Harding still needed, in view of his future preparation, another substance, nitrate of potash, which is better known under the name of salt niter, or of saltpeter.

Cyrus Harding could have manufactured this substance by treating the carbonate of potash, which would be easily extracted from the cinders of the vegetables, by azotic acid. But this acid was wanting, and he would have been in some difficulty, if nature had not happily furnished the saltpeter, without giving them any other trouble than that of picking it up. Herbert found a vein of it at the foot of Mount Franklin, and they had nothing to do but purify this salt.

These different works lasted a week. They were finished before the transformation of the sulphuret into sulphate of iron had been accomplished. During the following days the settlers had time to construct a furnace of bricks of a particular arrangement, to serve for the distillation of the sulphate or iron when it had been obtained. All this was finished about the 18th of May, nearly at the time when the chemical transformation terminated. Gideon Spilett, Herbert, Neb, and Pencroft, skillfully directed by the engineer, had become most clever workmen. Before all masters, necessity is the one most listened to, and who teaches the best.

When the heap of pyrites had been entirely reduced by fire, the result of the operation, consisting of sulphate of iron, sulphate of alumina, flint, remains of coal, and cinders was placed in a basinful of water. They stirred this mixture, let it settle, then decanted it, and obtained a clear liquid containing in solution sulphate of iron and sulphate of alumina, the other matters remaining solid, since they are insoluble. Lastly, this liquid being partly evaporated, crystals of sulphate of iron were deposited, and the not evaporated liquid, which contained the sulphate of alumina, was thrown away.

Cyrus Harding had now at his disposal a large quantity of these sulphate of iron crystals, from which the sulphuric acid had to be extracted. The making of sulphuric acid is a very expensive manufacture. Considerable works are necessary--a special set of tools, an apparatus of platina, leaden chambers, unassailable by the acid, and in which the transformation is performed, etc. The engineer had none of these at his disposal, but he knew that, in Bohemia especially, sulphuric acid is manufactured by very simple means, which have also the advantage of producing it to a superior degree of concentration. It is thus that the acid known under the name of Nordhausen acid is made.

To obtain sulphuric acid, Cyrus Harding had only one operation to make, to calcine the sulphate of iron crystals in a closed vase, so that the sulphuric acid should distil in vapor, which vapor, by condensation, would produce the acid.

The crystals were placed in pots, and the heat from the furnace would distil the sulphuric acid. The operation was successfully completed, and on the 20th of May, twelve days after commencing it, the engineer was the possessor of the agent which later he hoped to use in so many different ways.

Now, why did he wish for this agent? Simply to produce azotic acid; and that was easy, since saltpeter, attacked by sulphuric acid, gives azotic, or nitric, acid by distillation.

But, after all, how was he going to employ this azotic acid? His companions were still ignorant of this, for he had not informed them of the result at which he aimed.

However, the engineer had nearly accomplished his purpose, and by a last operation he would procure the substance which had given so much trouble.

Taking some azotic acid, he mixed it with glycerine, which had been previously concentrated by evaporation, subjected to the water-bath, and he obtained, without even employing a refrigerant mixture, several pints of an oily yellow mixture.

This last operation Cyrus Harding had made alone, in a retired place, at a distance from the Chimneys, for he feared the danger of an explosion, and when he showed a bottle of this liquid to his friends, he contented himself with saying,--

"Here is nitro-glycerine!"

It was really this terrible production, of which the explosive power is perhaps tenfold that of ordinary powder, and which has already caused so many accidents. However, since a way has been found to transform it into dynamite, that is to say, to mix with it some solid substance, clay or sugar, porous enough to hold it, the dangerous liquid has been used with some security. But dynamite was not yet known at the time when the settlers worked on Lincoln Island.

"And is it that liquid that is going to blow up our rocks?" said Pencroft incredulously.

"Yes, my friend," replied the engineer, "and this nitro-glycerine will produce so much the more effect, as the granite is extremely hard, and will oppose a greater resistance to the explosion."

"And when shall we see this, captain?"

"To-morrow, as soon as we have dug a hole for the mine, replied the engineer."

The next day, the 21st of May, at daybreak, the miners went to the point which formed the eastern shore of Lake Grant, and was only five hundred feet from the coast. At this place, the plateau inclined downwards from the waters, which were only restrained by their granite case. Therefore, if this case was broken, the water would escape by the opening and form a stream, which, flowing over the inclined surface of the plateau, would rush on to the beach. Consequently, the level of the lake would be greatly lowered, and the opening where the water escaped would be exposed, which was their final aim.

Under the engineer's directions, Pencroft, armed with a pickaxe, which he handled skillfully and vigorously, attacked the granite. The hole was made on the point of the shore, slanting, so that it should meet a much lower level than that of the water of the lake. In this way the explosive force, by scattering the rock, would open a large place for the water to rush out.

The work took some time, for the engineer, wishing to produce a great effect, intended to devote not less than seven quarts of nitro-glycerine to the operation. But Pencroft, relieved by Neb, did so well, that towards four o'clock in the evening, the mine was finished.

Now the question of setting fire to the explosive substance was raised. Generally, nitro-glycerine is ignited by caps of fulminate, which in bursting cause the explosion. A shock is therefore needed to produce the explosion, for, simply lighted, this substance would burn without exploding.

Cyrus Harding could certainly have fabricated a percussion cap. In default of fulminate, he could easily obtain a substance similar to guncotton, since he had azotic acid at his disposal. This substance, pressed in a cartridge, and introduced among the nitro-glycerine, would burst by means of a fuse, and cause the explosion.

But Cyrus Harding knew that nitro-glycerine would explode by a shock. He resolved to employ this means, and try another way, if this did not succeed.

In fact, the blow of a hammer on a few drops of nitro-glycerine, spread out on a hard surface, was enough to create an explosion. But the operator could not be there to give the blow, without becoming a victim to the operation. Harding, therefore, thought of suspending a mass of iron, weighing several pounds, by means of a fiber, to an upright just above the mine. Another long fiber, previously impregnated with sulphur, was attached to the middle of the first, by one end, while the other lay on the ground several feet distant from the mine. The second fiber being set on fire, it would burn till it reached the first. This catching fire in its turn, would break, and the mass of iron would fall on the nitro-glycerine. This apparatus being then arranged, the engineer, after having sent his companions to a distance, filled the hole, so that the nitro-glycerine was on a level with the opening; then he threw a few drops of it on the surface of the rock, above which the mass of iron was already suspended.

This done, Harding lit the end of the sulphured fiber, and leaving the place, he returned with his companions to the Chimneys.

The fiber was intended to burn five and twenty minutes, and, in fact, five and twenty minutes afterwards a most tremendous explosion was heard. The island appeared to tremble to its very foundation. Stones were projected in the air as if by the eruption of a volcano. The shock produced by the displacing of the air was such, that the rocks of the Chimneys shook. The settlers, although they were more than two miles from the mine, were thrown on the ground.

They rose, climbed the plateau, and ran towards the place where the bank of the lake must have been shattered by the explosion.

A cheer escaped them! A large rent was seen in the granite! A rapid stream of water rushed foaming across the plateau and dashed down a height of three hundred feet on to the beach!

第二天,5月7日,史密斯和吉丁·史佩莱爬上了眺望岗,赫伯特和潘克洛夫出发到河的上游去,打算补充些木柴,留下纳布一个人在家里准备早饭。

工程师和通讯记者很快来到了儒艮搁浅的小沙滩,这块沙滩就在湖的南头。一大群飞鸟已经在啄它的肉了,赛勒斯打算把肉留给小队里吃,于是用石头把鸟赶走。这种动物的肉是上好的食物,在马来群岛和其他某些地方,是当地王孙的特菜。不过这还要纳布动手来做。

这时候赛勒斯·史密斯又产生了新的念头。他对昨天发生的事情感到极大的兴趣。他打算揭穿那场水底战斗的秘密,证实一下究竟是什么怪兽使儒艮受到这么奇怪的创伤。他在湖边站了很久,看了又看,可是什么也没有,只是晨曦乍起,照耀得平静的湖水闪闪发光。

靠近儒艮搁浅的沙滩一带,湖水比较浅,可是从这里开始,湖底就逐渐倾斜下去,估计湖的中央可能相当深。整个湖好比是一个巨大的中央盆地,红河的流水把它灌满了。

“赛勒斯,”通讯记者说,“水底好象并没有什么可疑的东西。”

“的确,亲爱的史佩莱,”工程师答道,“我真不知道该怎么解释昨天的事情。”

“我承认,”史佩莱说,“至少儒艮所受的伤是很奇怪的。还有一点我也不明白,托普怎么会被猛烈地扔到水面上来的呢?不知道的人一定以为有一只强大的胳膊把它扔起来,然后又用刺刀把儒艮杀死!”

“是的,”工程师说,这时候他陷入了沉思,“有些事情我真不懂。可是另外一个问题你是不是比较明白一些呢,亲爱的史佩莱。我究竟是怎么得救的——怎么从海浪里被拖出来,带到沙丘上去的?是啊!难道这不是问题吗?现在我敢肯定,这里头准有什么秘密,这个秘密将来毫无疑问是可以揭穿的。我们不妨留心观察,但是不必在大家面前讨论这些怪事,我们先把这些话藏在心里,继续我们的工作。”

大家总记得,工程师到目前为止,还没有发现多余湖水外泄的地方,但是他知道一定有这么一个地方。他在这里看见一股急流,感到非常奇怪。他扔了几块木头到水里去,发现它流向南边的拐角。他跟着水流,到达了湖的南端。

这里湖水下陷了一块,好象有一部分水漏进了地缝似的。

史密斯把耳朵贴在和湖面一样高的地面上,静静地倾听着,他清晰地听到地下瀑布的响声。

“排水的地方有了。”他一面说,一面站起身来,“没有问题,湖水经过花岗右壁里的一条甬道,一直流向大海,我们可以利用它所流经的石洞。瞧吧,我能够找到它!”

工程师砍了一根很长的树枝,除去树叶,把它放在夹岸的拐角处。他发现水面以下只有一英尺的地方,有一个大窟窿。这就是他们很久以来一直没有找到的排水口,水流的力量非常大,连工程师手里的树枝也被冲得无影无踪了。

“现在没有疑问了,”史密斯重复道。“出口就在这里,我要把它打开来看看!”

“你打算怎么办?”吉丁·史佩莱问道。

“把湖面降低三英尺。”

“你怎么降低湖面呢?”

“开一个比这个更大的出口。”

“开在哪儿,赛勒斯?”

“开在离海滨最近的地方。”

“可是那是一片花岗石呀!”史佩莱说。

“嗯,”赛勒斯·史密斯说,“我要把花岗石炸开,水流出去以后,湖面就低了,那时候就会露出洞口来……”

“可以开辟一个瀑布,把水泻在海滩上。”通讯记者补充道。

“开辟一个我们可以利用的瀑布!”赛勒斯说。“来吧,来吧!”

工程师催着他的伙伴走了,通讯记者完全相信史密斯,他毫不怀疑这项事业会不成功。但是,没有火药,工具又不齐全,究竟怎样才能把花岗石壁炸开呢?工程师对这个工作虽然很热心,可是他们的能力不是达不到吗?

当史密斯和通讯记者回到“石窟”的时候,赫伯特和潘克洛夫正从木筏上往下卸木柴。

“樵夫的工作才做完,史密斯先生,”水手笑道,“你要泥水匠的时候……”

“泥水匠,……不要,现在要化学家。”工程师答道。

“对了,”通讯记者接着说,“我们要炸海岛……”

“炸海岛?”潘克洛夫大声说。

“至少要炸一部分。”史佩莱答道。

“听我说,朋友们。”工程师说。接着他向大家宣布了视察的结果。

根据工程师的说法,不管是大是小,在眺望岗下面的花岗石壁里,一定有一个山洞。他打算要穿开石壁到里面去。为了这个目的,首先就必须凿开一个较大的出口,使湖面降低,然后清除急流通过的山洞。因此要制造一种炸药,在岸上的其他部位炸开一条深沟。这就是史密斯打算利用自然界供给他的矿物的计划。

不用说,大家一致热烈拥护这个计划,特别是潘克洛夫。进行大规模的工作、炸花岗石、人工制造瀑布,这些事都合乎水手的胃口。既然工程师需要化学药品,他就象过去变成泥水匠和皮匠似的,一下子又变成化学家了。大家需要什么,他就可以干什么,正如他对纳布所说的,如果必要的话,“连舞蹈和礼仪教师都能担任”。

纳布和潘克洛夫首先被派去取儒艮的油,把它的肉留着食用。他们对工程师十分信任,连一句话也不问,马上就出发了。几分钟以后,赛勒斯·史密斯、赫伯特和吉丁·史佩莱也带着筐子往煤层去了,那里的最近过渡地层里,含有大量的黄铁矿石,史密斯上一次曾经找到过一块这类的标本。他们用了一整天的工夫,把矿石运回“石窟”,傍晚的时候,这些矿石已经运来好几吨了。

第二天,5月8日,工程师开始工作了。这些黄铁矿石的主要成分是炭、火石、矾土和硫化铁,其中硫化铁的含量过多,必须使它分离,尽快地把它变为硫酸盐。取得硫酸盐以后,就可以蒸馏出硫酸来了。

他们的目的就是要取得硫酸。硫酸是一种不可缺少的原料,根据硫酸的消耗量,就可以估计出一个国家工业生产的情况来。这种酸的用处很大,居民们将来可以利用它制造蜡烛,鞣制皮革等等,可是这一次工程师另有用途,把它留起来了。

赛勒斯·史密斯在“石窟”后面找了一块十分平坦的地方,他在地面上铺了一层树枝和木柴,上面堆了几块黄铁矿石,互相架起来,上面又盖了一层薄薄的黄铁矿石,这是事先打碎的,大小都和核桃差不多。

这一步完成以后,他们就把木柴点着了,热度传到片岩上,片岩含有炭和硫磺,马上就燃烧起来。然后他们又新添了几层碎矿石,堆成一大堆,外面盖上干土和野草,还留下通气的窟窿,好象在把一堆木柴烧成木炭似的。

硫化铁变成硫酸铁和矾土变成硫酸铝的过程至少需要十天到十二天,他们经过上述的安排以后,就让它自己去变化,不再照料了。硫酸铁和硫酸铝都能在水中溶解,可是其他如火石、焦炭、灰渣等是不能在水中溶解的。

在进行这项化学工作的同时,赛勒斯·史密斯继续从事其他的工作,他们干得非常起劲,恨不得一下子就成功。

纳布和潘克洛夫已经把儒艮身上的脂肪全部取下来,装在大陶土罐里了。现在需要用碱化的方法把甘油从脂肪里分离出来。要完成这项工作,一定要有小苏打或石灰,用其中的任何一种分解脂肪,就可以形成肥皂,使甘油分离出来,这种甘油正是工程师想得到的。想用石灰倒很方便,可是这样所得到的是石灰质的肥皂,不能在水里溶解,因此毫无用处。反过来说,如果利用小苏打,就可以得到一种能溶解的肥皂,可供日常使用。赛勒斯·史密斯是一个从实际出发的人,他宁可费事也要弄到小苏打。困难吗?不,因为岸边水生植物很多,有海蓬子、番杏和各种漂上岸来的马尾藻科。他们把这种植物大量地收集起来,先把它们晒干,然后在露天的坑洞里焚烧。他们一连烧了好几天,结果得到许多灰色的粉末,很久以来,人们就把这种物质叫做“天然小苏打”。

有了小苏打,工程师就用来和脂肪化合,结果既得到了可以溶解的肥皂,又有了中性物质——甘油。

可是这还不算完。为了将来的工作着想,赛勒斯·史密斯还需要另外一样东西,那就是硝酸钾,通常叫做硝盐,也叫硝石盐。

赛勒斯·史密斯可以用硝酸和碳酸钾化合制成硝酸钾,碳酸钾很容易从植物灰里面取到。成问题的是硝酸,如果硝酸不象别的物质那样,伸手就可拿到的话,他就会遇到一些困难了。幸而赫伯特在富兰克林山麓发现了一个硝盐矿脉,他们只要把这种盐提炼一下就行了。

这些不同的工作继续了一个星期,在硫化铁没有变成硫酸铁以前就完成了。剩下几天,居民们抓紧时间,砌了一个特殊的砖炉,预备蒸馏尚未制得的硫酸铁。到5月18日左右,这一切几乎和化学变化同时完成了。几天来,吉丁·史佩莱、赫伯特、纳布和潘克洛夫在工程师聪明的指导下,成了最能干的工人。实际需要是最能使人信服和最善于教导人的老师。

大堆的黄铁矿石经过加热以后,完全还原了,他们把得到的硫酸铁、硫酸铝、火石、炭渣和灰烬全放在一只盛满了水的盆子里,把这种混合物搅和一阵,接着让它沉淀,然后把水倒出来,得到一种含有硫酸铁溶液和硫酸铝溶液的纯净液体,其他不能溶解的物质,还保持着固体的状态。最后,蒸发了的一部分液体,形成硫酸铁的结晶,其余含有硫酸铝的没有蒸发过的液体就不要了。

赛勒斯·史密斯现在有大量的硫酸铁结晶可以用来提取硫酸。制造硫酸需要很大成本。有不少设备都是必需的,如:一套特殊的工具、白金的仪器、不怕酸类腐蚀的铅室——用来在里面进行化学变化——等等。这些东西工程师手里一样也没有,可是他知道,特别是在波希米亚,有一种非常简单的制造硫酸的方法,这种方法也有一个优点,能够生产浓度很高的硫酸。“北欧硫酸”就是用这种方法制成的。

赛勒斯·史密斯制造硫酸的最后一道工序,是把硫酸铁的结晶密封在瓶子里,进行锻烧,使之蒸发为水汽,经过冷却,就可以变成硫酸了。

他们把结晶放在锅里,点起炉火,结晶就蒸发成为硫酸,这项工作胜利地完成了。5月20日,也就是开始工作以后的第十二天,工程师获得了大量硫酸,他打算将来要多方面地使用这种化学品。

目前他为什么要这种化学品呢?只是为了制造硝酸,制造硝酸非常简单,只要用硫酸和硝石化合,就可以蒸馏出硝酸来。

可是,他究竟把硝酸用在什么地方呢?伙伴们还不知道,因为他还没有向大家宣布他的目的。

然而,工程师的目的却差不多就要达到了,再经过一道工序,他费尽气力想得到的东西就可以制造出来了。

他事先用蒸发的方法浓缩了甘油,现在他就用一只水槽把少量的硝酸和甘油混合在一起。于是,连冷却剂也不用,就得到好几品脱的黄色混合油液。

在进行最后一道工序的时候,赛勒斯·史密斯为了避免万一爆炸起来危及大家,他离开“石窟”一段距离,找了一个偏僻的地方单独去处理。制成以后,他拿着一只瓶子给他的朋友们看,一面得意洋洋地说:

“这是硝化甘油!”

的确,这是一种可怕的药品,它的爆炸威力大概比普通炸药要大十倍,它的爆炸常常造成事故,可是,自从人们发现了把它制成炸药的方法以后,——就是用一种多孔的、能够吸收液体的固体(粘土或是糖)和它混合起来——再使用这种危险的液体,就比较安全了。不过,当居民们在林肯岛上操作的时候,他们还不知道这种方法。

“我们就用这种液体去炸石头吗?”潘克洛夫怀疑地问道。

“是的,朋友,”工程师说,“这种硝化甘油可以产生极大的力量。由于花岗石非常坚硬,阻力大,爆炸起来就更厉害了。”

“我们什么时候能见识见识呢,史密斯先生?”

“明天,就等着挖埋炸药的坑了。”工程师答道。

第二天,5月21日,天刚亮的时候,工兵们就到格兰特湖东岸一带去了。这里离海滨只有五百英尺。高地从水边起,就向下倾斜,湖水只有一道花岗石外围阻拦着。因此,只要炸开外围,湖水就会从缺口冲出来,形成一条小河,沿着高地的斜坡一直向海滩冲去。这么一来,湖面就会大大的降低,泄水的石洞也会暴露出来,他们的目的就在最后这一点。

在工程师的指导之下,潘克洛夫拿着一把鹤嘴锄,巧妙而有力地凿着花岗石的地面。坑是挖在岸边的斜坡上的,比湖面要低得多。这样岩石炸开以后,就可以有一个相当大的缺口让湖水往外流了。

这项工作费了一些时间,工程师为了要取得更大的效果,决定至少用七夸尔的硝化甘油进行爆炸。潘克洛夫和纳布轮班替换,工作得很好,下午四点钟,就把炸药埋好了。

现在又产生了一个问题,就是怎样点炸药。一般都是利用雷汞爆发引起硝化甘油爆炸的。必须有一股冲力才能爆发,点火只能使它燃烧,而不能产生爆炸。

当然,赛勒斯·史密斯是能够制造雷汞的。虽然他缺少雷粉,但是很容易制造一种类似棉花火药的东西,因为他有的是硝酸。只要把这种药品塞在弹药筒里,再加上硝化甘油,就可以用火绳使它炸裂,产生爆炸。

硝化甘油在撞击之下也能爆炸,这一点赛勒斯·史密斯是知道的。因此他决定采用这一方法,如果不成功,再想别的办法。

事实上,只要把少量的硝化甘油滴在坚硬的石头上,用锤子一击,马上就可以爆炸了。可是要想这么做,敲锤的人就非牺牲不可。于是史密斯设法用一根植物纤维的绳子把一块几斤重的铁正吊在炸药坑洞的上面。另外又用一根长绳子事先沾上硫磺,把它的一端系在第一根绳子的中央,另一端拉到离炸药几英尺以外的地面上。把沾上硫磺的绳子用火点着以后,很快就会烧到和第一根绳子的接头处。只要火烧到接头的地方,第一根绳子就会烧断,铁块也就会砸在硝化甘油上。装备停当以后,工程师教他的伙伴们退到相当远的地方去,他在坑里灌满了硝化甘油,一直灌到跟坑口齐。然后他又在岩石的表面上滴了几滴,这时候岩石上面的铁块已经悬好了。

安放完毕后,史密斯点着了沾有硫磺的绳子,然后离开这里,和伙伴们一起回“石窟”去了。

这根绳子估计要燃烧二十五分钟。果然,在二十五分钟以后,只听见一声惊天动地的爆炸。海岛好象连根都震动了。石块象火山爆发似的冲天飞起。空气的激烈震荡产生出巨大的力量,使“石窟”的岩块都颤动起来。居民们虽然离那里有两英里远,也被掀倒在地上。

湖岸一定炸开了,他们站起身来就往高地上爬,向湖岸直奔而去。

他们欢呼起来!只见花岗石壁上裂开了一大块!一股急流白浪翻滚地穿过高地,从三百英尺高的地方向海滩上直泻下去!



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