Through the Earth/Chapter VIII

CHAPTER VIII

IN WHICH MATTERS TAKE A SERIOUS TURN

TO say that Mr. Curtis was astonished Would be to put the matter mildly.

"Well, doctor," said he, "perhaps you understand what you are about, but nobody else does. This whole matter has been a continual surprise to me from the very beginning; and as soon as I get used to one aspect of it, there immediately crops up something new. The very idea of piercing a hole through the earth first took my breath away; then a fresh surprise came when you decided to start the work under water. It seemed strange to commence operations under water instead of beginning on the land itself; still, I became accustomed even to this portion of the scheme, and accepted it. But just as I have reached this point, here you come with a new idea of building submarine boats and houses for your workmen. There does not seem the slightest reason for incurring this extra expense, and yet you claim that these constructions are absolutely necessary, and that without them the lives of the workmen would be imperiled. Really, I am all at sea. I cannot in the least understand what your object is."

"You will understand soon enough," said Dr. Giles, grimly—"in fact, all too soon, for, unless I am much mistaken, these submarine houses will be required within less than a month from to-day."

After taking rapid note of the progress of the work, Dr. Giles bade adieu to his guests and returned to his private office. He never left this long under any circumstances, for here it was that he kept himself informed of the progress of the work of boring the tunnel. Instruments of the greatest delicacy indicated just how the work was progressing and what were the conditions at the bottom of the hole, the fluctuations in the currents of electricity showing as plainly as articulate speech the changes that occurred every minute.

By means of these instruments the doctor knew to within a fraction of an inch the exact depth that had been reached, the temperature at that depth, the pressure on the walls of the tube, and
"Dr. Giles Took up his Post where He could Keep Sharp Watch on the Fluctuations of the Instruments"

"DR. GILES TOOK UP HIS POST WHERE HE COULD KEEP SHARP WATCH ON THE FLUCTUATIONS OF THE INSTRUMENTS."

a host of other details, including the speed at which the boring implements were working. Nay, more; by means of a special telephone he could hear what was going on in these lower regions; and by an ingenious modification of the telautograph, continuous photographs taken at the bottom of the tube were transmitted to his office, so that he could actually see for himself what was taking place at the bottom of the tube. In other words, he could follow every detail of the work as well as if he himself had descended into the bowels of the earth.

It is needless to state that Dr. Giles studied these records with the greatest attention and anxiety; and as the well increased in depth, the furrow in the doctor's brow deepened also, and he took up his post where, night and day, he could keep sharp watch on the fluctuations of the instruments.

He felt that he was now reaching a critical period in his experiment, and he proceeded to take certain precautions which to his assistants seemed uncalled for, but which he knew were absolutely necessary. Among other things, he issued an order that no workman should remain in the caisson unless his presence there was absolutely indispensable. At the same time he had his instruments transferred to one of the submarine habitations, where he now made his office. This office communicated with a carbonite observatory above water, from which the top of the tube could be plainly seen.

As time went on the doctor became more and more taciturn, and more severe in his discipline, until finally he issued an order forbidding any of the workmen to enter either the tube or the caisson.

Nor were these precautions superfluous; for on January 17, 1988, at three o'clock in the afternoon, a large volume of smoke and gases of all kinds was ejected from the tube, and this was accompanied by. a rumbling and trembling in the earth that was felt for miles around.

For several hours these gases escaped; but finally the pocket that contained them was so far exhausted that the pressure was no longer sufficient to hold back the greater forces underneath, and, with a report like thunder, these gave themselves a vent, and the boring-screw, carried upward by a furious column of lava, was thrown high into the air, whence it fell back into the ocean, a considerable distance from the mouth of the tube, accompanied by a seething and hissing of the water most wonderful to behold.

The workmen, warned beforehand, had barely time to take refuge in the submarine houses before the flood of liquid fire was upon them.

"Well, Dr. Giles, what can we do now?" inquired the chief engineer, astonished beyond measure at the turn affairs were taking.

"We can wait, out of harm's way, until the eruption is over," replied the doctor, quietly.

"Indeed! And how long will that be, pray?"

"I know no more than you do," answered the doctor. "I have tried to figure out the probabilities; but there are so many conditions of which we are totally ignorant that such a calculation is beyond our powers. If the molten mass is in pockets, and the pocket we have struck is a small one, the eruption will be over in short order—perhaps in a few weeks. If, however, we have been unfortunate, it may be years before the eruption ceases. Many volcanoes have had an uninterrupted flow since prehistoric times, and what we have here is simply a new volcano. All we can do is to keep the tube from melting, by seeing to it that the apparatus for converting the heat into electricity is in perfect working order; and the rest we must leave to time!"