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Chapter 16 THE TRACK OF THE SHELL

  • DURING the course of his inventive life Roland Clewe had become accustomed t_isappointments; he was very much afraid, indeed, that he was beginning t_xpect them. If that really happened, there would be an end to his career.
  • But when he spoke in this way to Margaret, she almost scolded him.
  • "How utterly absurd it is," she said, "for a man who has just discovered th_orth pole to sit down in an arm-chair and talk in that way!"
  • "I didn't discover it," he said; "it was Sammy and Gibbs who found the pole.
  • As for me—I don't suppose I shall ever see it."
  • "I am not so sure of that," she said. "We may yet invent a telescope whic_hall curve its reflected rays over the rotundity of the earth and above th_ighest icebergs, so that you and I may sit here and look at the waters of th_ole gently splashing around the great buoy."
  • "And charge a dollar apiece to all other people who would like to look at th_ole, and so we might make much money," said he. "But I must really go and d_omething; I shall go crazy if I sit here idle."
  • Margaret knew that the loss of the shell was the greatest blow that Roland ha_ver yet received. His ambitions as a scientific inventor were varied, but sh_as well aware that for some years he had considered it of great importance t_o something which would bring him in money enough to go on with hi_nvestigations and labors without depending entirely upon her for th_ecessary capital. If he could have tunnelled a mountain with this shell, o_f he had but partially succeeded in so doing, money would have come to him.
  • He would have made his first pecuniary success of any importance.
  • "What are you going to do, Roland?" said she, as he rose to leave the room.
  • "I am going to find the depth of the hole that shell has made. It ought to b_illed up, and I must calculate how many loads of earth and stones it wil_ake to do it."
  • That afternoon he came to Mrs. Raleigh's house.
  • "Margaret," he exclaimed, "I have lowered a lead into that hole with all th_ine attached which we have got on the place, and we can touch no bottom. _ave telegraphed for a lot of sounding-wire, and I must wait until it shal_rrive before I do anything more."
  • "You must be very, very careful, Roland, when you are doing that work," sai_argaret. "Suppose you should fall in!"
  • "I have provided against that," said he. "I have laid a floor over the hol_ith only a small opening in it, so there is no danger. And another curiou_hing I must tell you-our line is not wet: we have struck no water!"
  • When Margaret visited the Works the next day she found Roland Clewe and _umber of workmen surrounding the flooring which had been laid over the hole.
  • They were sounding with a windlass which carried an immense reel of wire. Th_ire was extremely thin, but the weight of that portion of it which ha_lready been unwound was so great that four men were at the handles of th_indlass.
  • Roland came to meet Margaret as she entered.
  • "The lead has gone down six miles," he said, in a low voice, "and we have no_ouched the bottom yet."
  • "Impossible!" she cried. "Roland, it cannot be! The wire must be coilin_tself up somewhere. It is incredible! The lead cannot have gone down so far!"
  • "Leads have gone down as far as that before this," said he. "Soundings of mor_han six miles have been obtained at sea."
  • She went with him and stood near the windlass. For an hour she remained by hi_ide, and still the reel turned steadily and the wire descended into the hole.
  • "Shall you surely know when it gets to the bottom?" said she.
  • "Yes," he answered. "When the electric button under the lead shall touc_nything solid, or even anything fluid, this bell up here will ring."
  • She stayed until she could stay no longer. She knew it would be of no use t_rge Roland to leave the windlass. Very early the next morning a note wa_rought to her before she was up, and on it was written:
  • "We have touched bottom at a depth of fourteen and an eighth miles."
  • When Roland came to Mrs. Raleigh's house, about nine o'clock that morning, hi_ace was pale and his whole form trembled.
  • "Margaret," he cried, "what are we going to do about it? It is wonderful; _annot appreciate it. I have had all the men up in the office this morning an_ledged them to secrecy. Of course they won't keep their promises, but it wa_ll that I could do. I can think of no particular damage which would come t_e if this thing were known, but I cannot bear that the public should get hol_f it until I know something myself. Margaret, I don't know anything."
  • "Have you had your breakfast?" she asked.
  • "No," he said; "I haven't thought of it."
  • "Did you eat anything last night?"
  • "I don't remember," he answered.
  • "Now I want you to come into the dining-room," said she. "I had a ligh_reakfast some time ago, and I am going to eat another with you. I want you t_ell me something. There was a man here the other day with a patent machin_or making button-holes—you know the old-fashioned button-holes are coming i_gain—and if this is a good invention it ought to sell, for nearly everybod_as forgotten how to make button-holes in the old way."
  • "Oh, nonsense!" said Roland. "How can you talk of such things? I can't take m_ind—"
  • "I know you can't," she interrupted. "You are all the time thinking of tha_verlasting old hole in the ground. Well, I am tired of it; do let us talk o_omething else."
  • Margaret Raleigh was much more than tired of that phenomenal hole in the eart_hich had been made by the automatic shell; she was frightened by it. It wa_omething terrible to her; she had scarcely slept that night, and she neede_reakfast and change of thought as much as Roland.
  • But it was not long before she found that it was impossible to turn hi_houghts from that all-absorbing subject. All she could do was to endeavor t_uide them into quiet channels.
  • "What are you going to do this morning?" she asked, towards the close of th_reakfast.
  • "I am going to try to take the temperature of that shaft at various points,"
  • said he.
  • "That will be an excellent thing," she answered; "you may make valuabl_iscoveries; but I should think the heat at that great depth would be enoug_o melt your thermometers."
  • "It did not melt my lead or my sounding-wire," said he. And as he said thes_ords her heart fell.
  • The temperature of this great perforation was taken at many points, and whe_oland brought to Margaret the statement of the height of the mercury at th_ery bottom she was astounded and shocked to find that it was only eighty- three degrees.
  • "This is terrible!" she ejaculated.
  • "What do you mean?" he asked in surprise. "That is not hot. Why, it is onl_ummer weather."
  • But she did not think it terrible because it was so hot; the fact that it wa_o cool had shocked her. In such temperature one could live! A great source o_rust and hope had been taken from her.
  • "Roland," she said, sinking into a chair, "I don't understand this at all. _lways thought that it became hotter and hotter as one went down into th_arth; and I once read that at twenty miles below the surface, if the hea_ncreased in proportion as it increased in a mine, the temperature must b_ver a thousand degrees Fahrenheit. Your instrument could not have registere_roperly; perhaps it never went all the way down; and perhaps it is all _istake. It may be that the lead did not go down so far as you think."
  • He smiled; he was becoming calmer now, for he was doing something: he wa_btaining results.
  • "Those ideas about increasing heat at increasing depths are old-fashioned, Margaret," he said. "Recent science has given us better theories. It is know_hat there is great heat in the interior of the earth, and it is also know_hat the transmission of this heat towards the surface depends upon th_onductivity of the rocks in particular locations. In some places the hea_omes very near the surface, and in others it is very, very far down. Mor_han that, the temperature may rise as we go down into the earth an_fterwards fall again. There may be a stratum of close-grained rock, possibl_ontaining metal, coming up from the interior in an oblique direction an_ringing the heat towards the surface; then below that there may be vas_egions of other rocks which do not readily conduct heat, and which do no_riginate in heated portions of the earth's interior. When we reach these, w_ust find the temperature lower, as a matter of course. Now I have really don_his. A little over five miles down my thermometer registered ninety-one, an_fter that it began to fall a little. But the rocks under us are poo_onductors of heat; and, moreover, it is highly probable that they have n_ear communication with the source of internal heat."
  • "I thought these things were more exact and regular," said she; "I supposed i_ou went down a mile in one place, you would find it as hot as you would i_nother."
  • "Oh no," said he. "There is nothing regular or exact in nature; even our eart_s not a perfect sphere. Nature is never mathematically correct. You mus_lways allow for variations. In some parts of the earth its heated core, o_hatever it is, must be very, very far down."
  • At this moment a happy thought struck Margaret.
  • "How easy it would be, Roland, for you to examine this great hole! I can d_t; anybody can do it. It's perfectly amazing when you think of it. All yo_ave to do is to take your Artesian, ray machine into that building and set i_ver the hole; then you can light the whole interior, all the way down to th_ottom, and with a telescope you can see everything that is in it."
  • "Yes," said he; "but I think I can do it better than that. It would be ver_ifficult to transfer the photic borer to the other building, and I can ligh_p the interior perfectly well by means of electric lights. I can even lower _amera down to the very bottom and take photographs of the interior."
  • "Why, that would be perfectly glorious!" cried Margaret, springing to he_eet, an immense relief coming to her mind with the thought that to examin_his actual shaft it would not be necessary for anybody to go down into it.
  • "I should go to work at that immediately," said he, "but I must have _ifferent sort of windlass—one that shall be moved by an engine. I will rig u_he big telescope too, so that we can look down when we have lighted up th_ottom."
  • It required days to do all that Roland Clewe had planned. A great deal of th_ecessary work was done in his own establishment, and much machinery beside_as sent from New York. When all was ready many experiments were made with th_lectric lights and camera, and photographs of inexpressible value an_nterest were taken at various points on the sides of this wonderfu_erpendicular tunnel.
  • At last Clewe was prepared to photograph the lower portion of the shaft. Wit_ peculiar camera and a powerful light five photographs were taken of the ver_ottom of the great shaft, four in horizontal directions and one immediatel_elow the camera. When these photographs were printed by the improved method_hen in vogue, Clewe seized the pictures and examined them with eager haste.
  • For some moments he stood silent, his eyes fixed upon the photographs as i_here was nothing else in this world; but all he saw on each was an irregula_atch of light. He thrust the prints aside, and in a loud, sharp voice he gav_rders to bring the great telescope and set it up above the hole. The ligh_as still at the bottom, and the instant the telescope was in position Clew_ounted the stepladder and directed the instrument downward. In a few moment_e gave an exclamation, and then he came down from the ladder so rapidly tha_e barely missed falling. He went into his office and sent for Margaret. Whe_he came he showed her the photographs.
  • "See!" he said. "What I have found is nothing; even a camera shows nothing, and when I look down through the glass I see nothing. It is just what th_rtesian ray showed me; it is nothing at all!"
  • "I should think," said she, speaking very slowly, "that if your sounding-lea_ad gone down into nothing, it would have continued to go down indefinitely.
  • What was there to stop it if there is nothing there?"
  • "Margaret," said he, "I don't know anything about it. That is the crushin_ruth. I can find out nothing at all. When I look down through the earth b_eans of the Artesian ray I reach a certain depth and then I see a void; whe_ look down through a perfectly open passage to the same depth, I still see _oid."
  • "But, Roland," said Margaret, holding in her hand the view taken of the botto_f the shaft, "what is this in the middle of the proof? It is darker than th_est, but it seems to be all covered up with mistiness. Have you a magnifying- glass?"
  • Roland found a glass, and seized the photograph. He had forgotten his usua_ourtesy.
  • "Margaret," he cried, "that dark thing is my automatic shell! It is lying o_ts side. I can see the greater part of it. It is not in the hole it mad_tself; it is in a cavity. It has turned over, and lies horizontally; it ha_ored down into a cave, Margaret—into a cave—a cave with a solid bottom—a cav_ade of light!"
  • "Nonsense!" said Margaret. "Caves cannot be made of light; the light that yo_ee comes from your electric lamp."
  • "Not at all!" he cried. "If there was anything there, the light of my lam_ould show it. During the whole depth of the shaft the light showed everythin_nd the camera showed everything; you can see the very texture of the rocks; but when the camera goes to the bottom, when it enters this space into whic_he shaft plainly leads, it shows nothing at all, except what I may be said t_ave put there. I see only my great shell surrounded by light, resting o_ight!"
  • "Roland," said Margaret, "you are crazy! Perhaps it is water which fills tha_ave, or whatever it is."
  • "Not at all," said Roland. "It presents no appearance of water, and when th_amera came up it was not wet. No; it is a cave of light."
  • He sat for some minutes silently gazing out of the window. Margaret drew he_hair closer to him. She took one of his hands in both of hers.
  • "Look at me, Roland!" she said. "What are you thinking about?"
  • He turned his face upon her, but said nothing. She looked straight into hi_yes, and she needed no Artesian ray to enable her to see through them int_is innermost brain. She saw what was filling that brain; it was one great, overpowering desire to go down to the bottom of that hole, to find out what i_as that he had discovered.
  • "Margaret, you hurt me!" he exclaimed, suddenly. In the intensity of th_motion excited by what she had discovered, her finger-nails had nearl_enetrated through his skin. She had felt as if she would hold him and hol_im forever, but she released his hand.
  • "We haven't talked about that button-hole machine," she said. "I want you_pinion of it." To her surprise, Roland began immediately to discuss the ne_nvention of which she had spoken, and asked her to describe it. He was not a_ll anxious now to tell Margaret what he was thinking of in connection wit_he track of the shell.