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   Chapter 7 INVESTIGATING THE PROSPECTOR'S HOLE

The Wonder Island Boys: Exploring the Island By Roger Thompson Finlay Characters: 15925

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


The knowledge that some marine animal inhabited the cave was now a constant topic, particularly with George, who was determined, sooner or later, to find out something more about it. With this end in view he made secret preparations, particularly in constructing a lamp which would not be liable to overturn or be put out by wind or in falling.

Thus far the only light available was obtained from candles made from the fat of the animals, and it was not the kind of illuminating material they had been used to. When people knew nothing better than tallow candles, that light was satisfactory, but when petroleum was once used tallow candles were entirely unsuitable and too primitive.

The statement by the Professor that the hole into which George fell, some months before, contained asphaltum, hinted at a possible source of petroleum, and through the persistent efforts of George, the Professor agreed to accompany him to the place to make an investigation.

The yaks were yoked, and a good luncheon put up, prepared for a day's jaunt, the trip being planned for the day of the week which had been set apart for exploration purposes. Within an hour the team was tethered at the spot where Harry and George put up the team when they started out on their former tour of investigation.

"Now, George, we shall have to depend on you to lead the way."

"When I left Harry we were on the little hill beyond that clump of bushes."

"We must have been much farther away," was Harry's opinion.

"Let us go over at any rate, and we can probably get our bearings from there."

The spot pointed out was just as much a mystery after reaching it as before. It was suggested that, as neither knew how to determine the direction of the "hole" from that point, time might be saved by each taking a different direction, with the understanding that if anything was discovered a shot should be fired as a signal.

After carefully noting the two large trees where the team was located, they separated, Harry going to the north, George to the northwest and the Professor directly west. The ridge on which they were ran north and south, and to the west was a decline. It was considerably south of the trail taken on their former trips, so it was really undiscovered territory.

The Professor passed down the long incline, carefully noting every set of bush, such as George declared he had passed through at the time he was deposited in the "hole." When the bottom of the ravine was reached he turned to the right, working his way diagonally up the hill.

George, on the other hand, made for some bush ahead of him, which looked familiar, but in this he was disappointed, and going to the left, considerably farther down the hill, was rewarded by the rediscovery of the "hole." Without waiting he fired a shot, and to his surprise found the Professor within a hundred feet.

"I have found it. See, that is the place I went through."

Harry was not far away, and he rushed up out of breath. The bushes were swept aside and George went in, followed by the Professor and Harry. He had not gone five feet when he stopped.

* * *

Fig. 19. Fig. 20. Luxurious vegetation around stone and hole.

* * *

"This isn't the place. There is a big rock here; not a hole."

This was indeed the case.

George's countenance was a study. The Professor and Harry had a good laugh at the discomfiture of George.

"So you think you fell into a hole? It must have been a pretty solid hole." The rock was about ten feet across, and flat on top, and the bush grew all around it, thus entirely screening it from observation.

"Well, we must try again."

"I would like to know why vegetation accumulates around a stone, or around a hole, and gets so much larger than at other places?"

"It is accounted for by the little germs we talked about the other day. Did you ever notice the musty smell that comes up from an overturned stone?"

"Yes, and I have often wondered what it was."

"There is always more or less moisture under the stone, so that the germs are readily bred, and as they form carbonic and nitrogenous gases, which the plant must have, you can readily see why vegetation thrives around the stones."

"But where there is a hole it is drier, and the same thing occurs there?"

"That is a good observation. Two things are required to cultivate the germs, aside from the food. One is moisture and the other is heat. The earth is full of bacteria from which plants get their food; some places the bacteria go down only one or two feet; at other places, where it is warm, as in the tropics, they have been found five or six feet below the surface. When a hole is made, and the sun strikes it, the bottom of the hole gets warm, and thus facilitates the growth of the germs around the hole, so that the plants in the immediate vicinity get an extra supply of nitrogen."

"But where do they get the moisture?"

"That is another one of nature's great surprises, and shows how every contingency seems to be provided for. I suppose you have both cultivated corn-that is, have gone between the rows with a cultivator, and stirred up the earth. You did this, as you were told, to keep down the weeds. That was one reason, but it is not the principal one. A dry crust forms over the surface of the ground, owing to the heat of the sun. When the cultivator breaks up the crust the heat from the sun draws up the moisture from below, and you are therefore watering your corn, and what is more, you are breeding bacteria so as to supply food for the plants."

"After learning this I am glad we discovered the stone."

A more persistent search was now made, and George's "hole" was really found to exist. It was just as he described it. Everywhere along the hillside were rocks projecting out from the surface, but here was a depression, or hole, fully fifteen feet square, with rocky sides, the wall on the upper side of the hill being fully fifteen feet high, whereas the lower margin of the hole had a wall not over four feet high, so that it will be seen George had no difficulty in getting out after he had recovered from his fall.

The Professor was in the hole in an instant. The growth about the depression was so dense that it made the hole dark, but there was an unmistakable odor of asphaltum. Some of the overhanging branches were trimmed off, and every portion of the walls examined.

"What do you think made this? Was it washed out?"

"Some one dug this hole," was the Professor's response.

"What makes you think it was dug out?"

"There is plenty of evidence to show that. Look at the marks of tools on the walls all about you."

"Do you suppose it was made to get oil?"

"No; but to get metals."

"What kinds, do you think?"

"Gold or silver; most likely silver."

"Do you think we have silver here?"

"Unquestionably; we have some samples of it at the Cataract now."

"When did you get it?"

"At the time we found the lead ore. Silver is usually a partner of lead, and from my examination of the samples we have it is rich in silver. It is likely that the indications of lead and silver all along this ridge attracted the attention of a mining engineer, and this was a test hole in prospecting for the ore."

"But if this hole was dug out, as you say, where did they put the dirt and rock which came out of it?"

"Examine below and you will see."

Below the hole the side was rather steep, but when the surface of the hill was examined there was no longer any doubt of the human agency which made it.

It was with a certain sense of joy that the boys heard this news. The island had been explored by white people; it might again be visited by some wanderers on the sea. This was a comforting assurance. It had the effect of giving new courage, as no other event had, since they reached the rocky shore during that tempestuous night, nearly eight months before.

"Don't you think we can get kerose

ne here?" was George's inquiry.

"I do not think it is likely. What we see here is a mere trace of surface oozing, found in many places, and it generally indicates petroleum at some depth, but whether in sufficient quantities to pay cannot be determined without boring."

George's hope of a better light faded.

Under the direction of the Professor the balance of the day was spent in gathering samples of minerals, and George, in one of his searches, brought a sample of very peculiar greenish ore, interlaid with patches of brown substance. The Professor was much delighted with this.

"You have found a fine sample of zinc, and if you direct us to the place we must take a quantity of it. I have been specially looking out for samples of this."

The ore was readily found, and a sufficient amount uncovered to complete their load, and late that evening they reached home very tired, but happy.

"Let us do some preliminary work with the furnaces to-day," was the Professor's first observation. "The ore we found yesterday is too good a thing to lie idle. You will remember I told you some time ago that we want some of these metals to be working for us?"

"Just like the germs do?"

"Not just in that way, but nevertheless they must serve us."

"If people get to know so much and have the different things do all the work there will not be much left for us to do?"

"Do you think so?"

"If one thing after the other is discovered, and it is found that one or two elements can be made to do our work, the time may come when everybody will know so much that man will do nothing but--"

"But direct?"

"Yes."

"Isn't that something? Working with the hands or thinking are not the only things which man can do, in order to go forward and to advance."

"What I mean is this: We are told that idleness is wrong, and that people are happier when they are busy at some useful occupation."

"If that is a good definition of happiness, then we should make everything we use as crude and primitive as the people used to make them a thousand years ago. There would be no object in learning, because learning makes people discontented."

"I heard a story once about some wise man who offered his fortune to the man who could prove he was contented. The first applicant wanted the fortune, because he said he was contented. The wise man answered by saying, that if he was contented he would not want the fortune."

"Quite true; the contented man does not exist, because it is not human nature to be so. That is one of the qualities which distinguishes man from the rest of the animal creation."

"But is it true that the invention of labor-saving tools has caused a lot of misery to working people?"

"Do you know of any tools that are not labor-saving? The mason's trowel is a labor-saving tool, invented to prevent him from using his hands to put on the mortar; the bolo or the knife is just as much a labor-saving tool as the planing machine; the sickle saves labor and so does the reaper. The difficulty is that some people do not stop to think that the saving of labor applies just as forcibly to a simple tool as to a complicated one."

"What shall we try in our furnace to start with?"

"The ore you found yesterday. The first thing to do is to crush it up as fine as possible. When that is done we can put it in the round furnace."

"You mean in the firebrick furnace?"

"Yes; although we do not need such a high heat. Almost any furnace would do, as the roasting of the ore does not require a high heat."

"What is the best way to roast it?"

"It will be necessary to put it on one of the iron plates, and great care must be taken to keep it a uniform heat, but not too intense."

The process of roasting is a very particular one and requires quite a time to get the best results. When this was done the next step was to take the roasted ore, and mix it with half its weight of powdered coke. They had a good quantity of the coke on hand, which was also crushed.

"You remember, George, we had a crucible made with a hole at the bottom. Get that and also some fire clay dust, and moisten the dust so we can make a stiff mortar from it. We must make a tubular connection with the hole in the bottom of the crucible."

When this was done the crucible was put into the furnace, after it had been charged with the coke dust and crushed zinc ore.

"Why is it necessary first to crush the ore and roast it, and then afterwards put it in the crucible with the crushed coke?"

"Zinc is not found in a native state. This ore is in the form of an oxide, as it is called. In roasting, certain of the impurities are driven off in gases, and mixing it with charcoal or coke and then applying heat to the confined mass, causes the zinc to melt and finally go off into a gas, as we shall presently see."

After the heat had been applied for some time a white smoke began to appear at the mouth of the clay tube, and a little later a blue vapor appeared.

"Now bring that pan here, so we can catch it."

Soon the dripping commenced, and as it ran out and came into contact with the air, it turned into a solid, greyish color.

"This is what is called spelter, or the pig of zinc, and this is what is sold to refiners, who take out all the dross or impurities so it can be rolled or used for galvanizing iron, or for other purposes."

"I do not see how we can use this metal, now that we have it."

"You said the other night that you wished we had a better light."

"That was the reason I was so anxious to see whether we couldn't get some kerosene at the 'hole.'"

"As we didn't succeed in finding petroleum we shall have to depend on our zinc, I suppose."

"What, light out of zinc?"

"No; but by the zinc route."

That was another new development to the boys.

"Harry made a sage remark some months ago. It was to the effect that in order to start to make anything we had to make something that made something to make something with. In order to make electricity by means of a battery, we had to go through all this process of turning out the zinc, which we have just completed; then, if you have not forgotten it, we had quite a time in converting our copper ore into a copper which we could use. We were compelled to make charcoal, and then coke, with the aid of the charcoal; and now that we have coke, we must again grind it up and make a mortar, so we can form it into little plates or slabs. From the copper we got a liquid, which I asked you to save, and that is vitriol, or sulphate of copper. You see, all these things are necessary before we could possibly attempt to set up a primary battery, and start the first lighting plant."

Not an hour was lost at the Cataract home and factory. All took the keenest delight in forwarding any new enterprise and in looking out for new things to do which would contribute to their pleasure and comfort. The boys now learned what they had never dreamed of before; that life is a most complex problem; that to secure pleasures toil is necessary, and that the greatest happiness comes from knowing you have succeeded. Pursuit, not possession, is man's greatest joy. To the brute the reverse is true.

"Where is the Professor? I have been bitten by a cat."

"A cat, Harry? Where did you find the cat?"

"Across the river, where I was cutting the oak log."

The Professor was soon at hand. "What is this? A cat, you say?"

"It looked just like a big cat, about two feet long?"

"Did it have a pointed nose?"

"Then it must have been a Zibet, a specie not unlike the American civet. It is a cat, but not what is known as the 'wildcat,' and can be tamed."

"Do you think there is any danger from the bite?"

"Some animals have a species of rabies, like those possessed by mad dogs, and cats have been known to be infected. I do not think we need to have any fear from that source. The wound should, however, be cleansed."

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