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Chapter 24 ROVINSKI COMES TO THE SURFACE

  • WHEN Sammy Block and his companion explorers had journeyed from Cape Tariff t_ardis, they found Roland Clewe ready to tender a most grateful welcome, an_o give full and most interested attention to the stories of their adventure_nd to their scientific reports. For a time he was willing to allow his ow_reat discovery to lie fallow in his mind, and to give his whole attention t_he wonderful achievement which had been made under his direction.
  • He had worked out his theory of the formation and present constitution of th_arth; had written a full and complete report of what he had seen and done,
  • and was ready, when he thought the proper time had arrived, to announce to th_orld his theories and his facts. Moreover, he had sent to several jeweler_nd mineralogists some of the smaller fragments which he had picked up in th_ave of light, and these specialists, while reporting the material of th_pecimens purest diamond, expressed the greatest surprise at their shape an_rilliancy. They had evidently not been ground or cut, and yet their shar_oints and glittering surfaces reflected light as if they had been in th_ands of a diamond-cutter. One of these experts wrote to Clewe asking him i_e had been digging diamonds with a machine which broke the gems to pieces.
  • So the soul of Roland Clewe was satisfied; it seemed to walk the air as h_imself once had trod what seemed to him a solid atmosphere. There was no_othing that his ambition might point out which would induce him to endeavo_o climb higher in the field of human achievement than the spot on which h_tood. From this great elevation he was perfectly willing to look down an_indly consider the heroic performances of those who had reached the pole, an_ho had anchored a buoy on the extreme northern point of the earth's axis.
  • Mr. Gibbs's reports, and those of his assistants, were well worked out, and o_he greatest value to the scientific world, and every one who had made tha_emorable voyage on the Dipsey had stories to tell for which editors in ever_ivilized land would have paid gold beyond all former precedent.
  • But Roland Clewe did not care to say anything to the world until he could sa_verything that he wished to say. It had been known that he had sent a_xpedition into Northern waters, but exactly what he intended to do had no_een known, and what he had done had not been communicated even to th_elegraph-operators at Cape Tariff. These had received despatches in ciphe_rom points far away to the north, but while they transmitted them to Sardi_hey had no idea of their signification. When everything should be ready t_atisfy the learned world, as well as the popular mind, the great discovery o_he pole would be announced.
  • In the meantime there was a suspicion in the journalistic world that the ma_f inventions who lived at Sardis, New Jersey, had done something out of th_ommon in the North. A party of people, one of them a woman, had been taken u_here and left there, and they had recently been brought back. The genera_pinion was that Clewe had endeavored to found a settlement at some poin_orth of Cape Tariff, probably for purposes of scientific observation, an_hat he had failed. The stories of these people, however, would b_nteresting, and several reporters made visits to Sardis. But they all sa_ammy, and not one of them considered his communications worth more than _rief paragraph.
  • In a week Mr. Gibbs would have finished his charts, his meteorological, hi_eological, and geographical reports, and a clear, succinct account of th_xpedition, written by Clewe himself from the statements of the party, woul_e ready for publication; and in the brilliantly lighted sky of discover_hich now rested, one edge upon Sardis and the other upon the pole, there wa_ut one single cloud, and this was Rovinski.
  • The ambitious and unscrupulous Pole had been the source of the greates_rouble and uneasiness since he had left Cape Tariff. While there he had foun_hat he could not possibly get ashore, and so had kept quiet; but when o_oard the vessel which had been sent to them from St. John's, he had soo_egun to talk to the crew, and there seemed to be but one way of preventin_im from making known what had been done by the expedition before it_romoters were ready for the disclosure, and this was to declare him a maniac,
  • whose utterances were of no value whatever. He was put into close confinement,
  • and it was freely reported that he had gone crazy while in the arctic regions,
  • and that his mind had been filled with all sorts of insane notions regardin_hat part of the world.
  • It had been intended to put him in jail on a criminal charge, but this woul_ot prevent him from talking; and so, when he arrived in New Jersey, he wa_ent to an insane asylum, the officers of which were not surprised to receiv_im, for, in their opinion, a wilder-looking maniac was not, to be foun_ithin the walls of the institution.
  • Early on the morning of the day before the world was to be electrified by th_nnouncement of the discovery of the pole, a man named William Cunningham,
  • employed in the Sardis Works, entered the large building which had bee_evoted to the manufacture of the automatic shell, but which had not been use_f late and had been kept locked. Cunningham was the watchman, and had entere_o make his usual morning rounds. He had scarcely closed the door behind hi_hen, looking over towards the engines which still stood by the mouth of th_haft made by the automatic shell, he was amazed to see that the car which ha_een used by Roland Clewe in his descent was not hanging above them.
  • Utterly unable to understand this state of affairs, he ran to the mouth of th_haft. He found the great trap-door which had closed it thrown back, and th_rating which had been made to cover the orifice after the car had descende_n its place. The engines were not moving, and the chain on the windlass o_ne of them appeared not to have been disturbed, but on the other windlass on_f the chains had been unwound. Cunningham was so astonished that he could no_elieve what he saw. He had been there the night before; everything had bee_n order, the shaft closed, and the trap-door locked. He leaned over th_rating and looked down; he could see nothing but a black hole without an_ottom. The man did not look long, for it made him dizzy. He turned and ra_ut of the house to call Mr. Bryce.
  • Ivan Rovinski was not perhaps a lunatic, but his unprincipled ambition ha_ade him so disregard the principles of ordinary prudence when such principle_tood in his way that it could not be said that he was at all times entirel_ane. He understood thoroughly why he had been put in an asylum, and i_nraged him to think that by this course his enemies had obtained a grea_dvantage over him. No matter what he might say, it was only necessary t_oint to the fact that he was in a lunatic asylum, or that he had just com_ut of one, to make his utterances of no value.
  • But to remain in confinement did not suit him at all, and, after three days'
  • residence in the institution in which he had been placed, he escaped and mad_is way to a piece of woods about two miles from Sardis, where, early tha_ear, he had built himself a rude shelter, from which he might go forth a_ight and study, so far as he should be able, the operations in the Works o_oland Clewe. Having safely reached his retreat, he lost no time in sallyin_orth to spy out what was going on at Sardis.
  • He was cunning and wary, and a man of infinite resource. It was not lon_efore he found out that the polar discovery had not been announced, but h_lso discovered from listening to the conversations of some of the workmen i_he village, which he frequently visited in a guise very unlike his ordinar_ppearance, that something extraordinary had taken place in the Sardis Works,
  • of which he had never heard. A great shaft had been sunk, the people said, b_ccident; Mr. Clewe had gone down it in a car, and it had taken him nearl_hree hours to get to the bottom. Nobody yet knew what he had discovered, bu_t was supposed to be something very wonderful.
  • The night after Rovinski heard this surprising news he was in the buildin_hich had contained the automatic shell. As active as a cat, he had entered b_n upper window.
  • Rovinski spent the night in that building. He had with him a dark lantern, an_e made the most thorough examination of the machinery at the mouth of th_haft. He was a man of great mechanical ability and an expert in applie_lectricity. He understood that machinery, with all its complicate_rrangements and appliances, as well as if he had built it himself. In fact,
  • while examining it, he thought of some very valuable improvements which migh_ave been made in it. He knew that it was an apparatus for lowering the car t_ great depth, and, climbing into the car, he examined everything i_ontained. Coming down, he noticed the grating, and he knew what it was for.
  • He looked over the engines and calculated the strength of the chains on th_indlasses. He took an impression of the lock of the trap-door, and when h_ent away in the very early hours of the morning he understood the apparatu_hich was intended to lower the car as well as any person who had managed it.
  • He knew nothing about the shaft under the great door, but this he intended t_nvestigate as thoroughly as he had investigated the machinery.
  • The next night he entered the building very soon after Cunningham had gone hi_ounds, and he immediately set to work to prepare for his descent into th_haft. He disconnected one of the engines, for he sneeringly said to himsel_hat the other one was more than sufficient to lower and raise the car. H_harged and arranged all the batteries and put in perfect working order th_echanism by which Clewe had established a connection between the car and th_ngines, using one of the chains as a conductor, so that he could himsel_heck or start the engines if an emergency should render it necessary.
  • Then Rovinski, bounding around like a wild animal in a cage, took out a key h_ad brought with him, opened the trap-door, lifted it back, and gazed down. H_ould see a beautifully cut well, but that was all. But no matter how deep i_as, he intended to go down to the bottom of it.
  • He started the engine and lowered the car to the ground. Then he looked up a_ grating which hung above it and determined to make use of this protection.
  • He could not lower it in the ordinary way after he had entered the car, but i_ifteen minutes he had arranged a pulley and rope by which, after the car ha_one below the surface, he could lower the grating to its place. He got in,
  • started down into the dark hole, stopped the engine, lowered the grating, wen_own a little farther, and turned on the electric lights.
  • The descent of Rovinski was a succession of the wildest sensations of amaze_elight. Stratum after stratum passed before his astonished eyes, and, when h_ad gone down low enough, he allowed himself the most extravagant expression_f ecstasy. His progress was not so regular and steady as that of Roland Clew_ad been. He found that he had perfect control of the engine and car, an_ometimes he went down rapidly, sometimes slowly, and frequently he stopped.
  • As he continued to descend, his amazement at the wonderful depth of the shaf_ecame greater and greater and his mind was totally unable to appreciate th_ituation. Still he was not frightened, and went on down.
  • At last Rovinski emerged into the cave of light. There he stopped, the ca_anging some twenty or thirty feet above the bottom. He looked out, he saw th_hell, he saw the vast expanse of lighted nothingness, he tried to imagin_hat it was that that mass of iron rested upon. If he had not seen it, h_ould have thought he had come out into the upper air of some bottomles_avern. But a great iron machine nearly twenty feet long could not rest upo_ir! He thought he might be dreaming; he sat up and shut his eyes; in a fe_inutes he would open them and see if he still saw the same incomprehensibl_hings.
  • The downward passage of Rovinski had occupied a great deal more time than h_ad calculated for. He had stopped so much, and had been so careful to examin_he walls of the shaft, that morning had now arrived in the upper world, an_t was at this moment, as he sat with his eyes closed, that William Cunningha_ooked down into the mouth of the shaft.
  • Cunningham was an observing man, and that morning he had picked up a pin an_tuck it in the lapel of his rough coat, but he had done this hastily an_arelessly. The pin was of a recently invented kind, being of a light, elasti_etal, with its head of steel. As Cunningham leaned forward the pin slippe_ut of his coat; it fell through one of the openings in the grating, an_escended the shaft head downward.
  • For the first quarter of a mile the pin went swiftly in an absolutel_erpendicular line, nearly at the middle of the shaft. For the next three-
  • quarters of a mile it went down like a rifle-ball. For the next five miles i_ped on as if it had been a planet revolving in space. Then, for eight miles,
  • this pin, falling perpendicularly through a greater distance than any objec_n this earth had ever fallen perpendicularly, went downward with a velocit_ike that of light. Its head struck the top of the car, which was hangin_otionless in the cave of light; it did not glance off, for its momentum wa_o great that it would glance from nothing. It passed through that steel roof;
  • it passed through Rovinski's head, through his heart, down through the car,
  • and into the great shell which lay below.
  • When Mr. Bryce and several workmen came running back with William Cunningham,
  • they were as much surprised as he had been, and could form no theory t_ccount for the disappearance of the car. It could not have slipped dow_ccidentally and descended by its own weight, for the trap-door was open an_he grating was in place. They sent in great haste for Mr. Clewe, and when h_rrived he wasted no time in conjectures, but instantly ordered that th_ngine which was attached to the car should be started and its chain wound up.
  • So great was the anxiety to get the car to the surface of the earth that th_ngine which raised it was run at as high a speed as was deemed safe, and in _ittle more than an hour the car came out of the mouth of the shaft, and in i_at Ivan Rovinski, motionless and dead.
  • No one who knew Rovinski wondered that he had had the courage to make th_escent of the shaft, and those who were acquainted with his great mechanica_bility were not surprised that he had been able to manage, by himself, th_omplicated machinery which would ordinarily require the service of severa_en; but every one who saw him in the car, or after he had been taken out o_t, was amazed that he should be dead. There was no sign of accident, n_erceptible wound, no appearance, in fact, of any cause why he should be _ranquil corpse and not an alert and agile devil. Even when a post-morte_xamination was made, the doctors were puzzled. A threadlike solution o_ontinuity was discovered in certain parts of his body, but it was lost i_thers, and the coroner's verdict was that he came to his death from unknow_auses while descending a shaft. The general opinion was that in some way o_ther he had been frightened to death.
  • This accident, much to Roland Clewe's chagrin, discovered to the public th_xistence of the great shaft. Whether or not he would announce its existenc_imself, or whether he would close it up, had not been determined by Clewe;
  • but when he and Margaret had talked over the matter soon after the terribl_ncident, his mind was made up beyond all possibility of change, and, by mean_f great bombs, the shaft was shattered and choked up for a depth of half _ile from its mouth. When this work was accomplished, nothing remained but _hallow well, and, when this had been filled up with solid masonry, the plac_here the shaft had been was as substantial as any solid ground.
  • Now the great discovery was probably shut out forever from the world, bu_lewe was well satisfied. He would never make another shaft, and it was not t_e expected that men would plan and successfully construct one which woul_each down to the transparent nucleus of the earth. The terrible fate,
  • whatever it was, which had overtaken Rovinski, should not, if Clewe could hel_t, overtake any other human being.
  • "But my great discovery," said he to Margaret, "that remains as wonderful a_he sun, and as safe to look upon; for with my Artesian ray I can bore down t_he solid centre of the earth, and into it, and any man can study it with n_ore danger than if he sat in his armchair at home; and if they doubt what _ay about the material of which that solid centre is composed, we can sho_hem the fragments of it which I brought up with me."