Through the Earth/Chapter V

CHAPTER V

PROS AND CONS

FLORA clapped her hands with delight. "Oh, what fun it will be," she exclaimed, "to drop right down through the earth like that, and come out thousands of miles away in the United States!"

"Don't excite yourself, Flora," said Mr. Curtis. "There may be found some men foolhardy enough to risk such a trip, the result of which would be almost certain death, but neither you nor I would ever consent to undertake such a journey."

Dr. Giles smiled contemptuously. "That's always the way with anything new," he observed; "the dangers of any undertaking the least bit out of the usual run are always magnified to extraordinary proportions, whereas much greater dangers with which we are familiar dwindle down to almost nothing."

"But, doctor, you are surely joking when you speak of dropping passengers through the tunnel?"

"I was never more serious in all my life."

"Still, you must admit that a man could not possibly breathe while he was falling at this frightful speed; and by the time he had fallen his eight thousand miles, and reached the opposite side of the earth, he would find himself—dead, so to speak."

"Not at all. You forget that every man upon this earth is continually moving at the rate of about sixty thousand miles an hour, this being the speed at which the earth revolves about the sun, and yet we find means to breathe comfortably."

"Yes, because our air travels with us."

"So it would with my passengers, for I should put them in a closed car, with plenty of air stored up for the trip."

"Even so, there is another point which I think you have not sufficiently considered. We have just spoken of the resistance of the air in the tube. At the velocity which your car would attain, the resistance of this air would be something enormous, and would suffice to stop the car long before it reached its destination."

"That's true enough."

"Besides, not only would the air in the tube retard your car, but the resistance would be so great that the friction would produce enough heat to melt up both the car and the passengers."

"Certainly it would, if I were foolish enough to leave the air in the tube; but I should, of course, first take the precaution of removing the air from my tunnel before I attempted to send my cars through."

"But—"

"My dear friend," interposed the doctor, calmly, "you must remember that I have been studying this problem for the last ten years; you must remember that I have carefully considered every detail of the operation, and that there is not a single difficulty which I do not feel confident I can overcome. You must consequently admit that the scheme is not altogether so impossible as it would seem at first sight."

"Well, doctor, let me say just one last word. Do you realize the incalculable sum of money that will be required to carry out such an undertaking as you have in view?"

"It will not cost so much as you think, James," returned Dr. Giles. "I have estimated that the expense ought not to exceed one hundred million dollars."

"One hundred million dollars!" replied Mr. Curtis, contemptuously; "that's altogether too low an estimate for such a gigantic undertaking. But even taking your own figures, where in the world are you going to obtain a hundred million dollars? Where will you find men sufficiently foolish to pay their money for the mere anticipation of the pleasure of being dropped down a hole eight thousand miles deep?"

"I have little fear of failing to secure the necessary capital," replied Dr. Giles. "The advantages to be gained are so great, even from a financial point of view, that I am convinced the shares of the company will sell like hot cakes."

"The advantages of the scheme!" echoed Mr. Curtis. "I must say I cannot see what advantages you find in it."

"Perhaps not. But do you know how long it now takes for merchandise to go from Australia to New York?"

"It takes several weeks in our steamers."

"Yes, and several months in our sailing-vessels. Perishable goods cannot be shipped at all, or at least not without resorting to expensive methods of refrigeration, which are almost invariably injurious to the articles shipped. Now, do you know how long it would take for merchandise from here to reach New York through my tunnel!"

"No, but I suppose only a day or two."

"Less than one hour! Consequently the most perishable goods could be shipped without deterioration, and even for other articles of merchandise the great saving in time effected would be of the highest value. A dealer need order goods only at the moment he wants them, instead of having to estimate, weeks ahead of time, what products he will require, and loading himself up with stock that he may afterward be unable to dispose of."

"Well, that certainly would be a slight advantage," admitted Mr. Curtis.

"It would be an inestimable advantage," retorted Dr. Giles. "Moreover, do you realize what the expense is of shipping goods by steamer—of the thousands upon thousands of tons of coal burned, of the salaries of the men employed, the high cost of the vessels, etc.! With my tunnel, almost all this expense would be done away with. The goods would merely have to be dropped into the hole in Australia, and carried away when they reached the New York side. There would be almost no limit to the quantity sent, because one car-load after another could be dropped through as fast as they could be taken out on the other side. There would be no danger of collisions, as no car could ever possibly catch up with the car in front of it; there would be no delays, and there would be almost no expense, the earth itself furnishing the motive power, and an inexhaustible one at that."

"It does make a pretty picture," said Mr. Curtis, half convinced by his friend's earnest manner.

"Yes, sir," continued Dr. Giles, warming up to his subject, "the advantages of the scheme are so great that I hope to live to see the whole earth honeycombed by such tunnels, destined to facilitate the communication of the different nations. It seems a pity to think that man, although traveling a million and a half miles in space every day, cannot travel even two or three thousand miles on the earth itself in the same time. Why, our fastest locomotives travel only a couple of hundred miles an hour, while with my tunnel through the earth we shall be able to travel some ten thousand miles in the same time without noise or jolting.

"Surely you must admit that the scheme has advantages, and great ones, too, and that the men who furnish the funds will have a fair prospect of reaping a rich reward. No, sir, there is no lack of free capital in the world, and our business men are sufficiently enterprising to risk it gladly in a work of this sort."

"Well, I suppose you know your own affairs best," observed Mr. Curtis, unconvinced.

"I ought to," said Dr. Giles;" and that reminds me that if I wish to carry this undertaking through successfully, I shall have to lose no time, but set about it at once. Consequently I shall be obliged to leave you both for the present."

"Dr. Giles," said Flora, coming closer to her friend, "how long do you think it will take you to make your tunnel through the earth?"

"It will probably take several years, under the most favorable circumstances," replied the doctor, smiling. "It will be very slow work at the best, and there are many difficulties to be overcome. Perhaps I may even find the undertaking beyond my powers and be obliged to give it up in despair."

"Oh, no," said Flora, looking up at him brightly; "I feel sure that, if you once start in, you will keep straight on, and not give up until you have your tunnel finished. I never knew you yet to fail when you set out to do anything."

Dr. Giles was touched. "Thank you for that, dear," he said, stooping down and kissing the young girl tenderly. "You do not know what a great comfort and assistance it is to receive such sympathy as yours when one is about to undertake some new enterprise. A word of encouragement and sympathy spoken at the proper time is often enough to cheer up a man and give him strength to carry on his plans to a glorious fulfilment, where words of doubt and discouragement might lead him to throw up the whole undertaking in despair."