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."