Through the Earth/Chapter XIX



DR. GILES was so stupefied at this totally unexpected turn of affairs that for a moment he was unable to utter a syllable. But in that moment his thoughts were not idle.

Full well he knew that among the Australian politicians there were quite a large number of "Jingoes," and he knew also that there had been considerable discussion as to the dangers which menaced Australia from the construction of the tunnel.

One of the sensational papers was particularly bitter in denouncing the scheme, as the following extract will show:

Up to the present time Australia and the United States have been on a most friendly footing, owing to their remoteness from each other. With nations, as with individuals, it is among near neighbors that quarrels are most apt to arise. To-day the greatest harmony reigns between us because our countries are situated on opposite points of the globe; but once this tunnel is constructed through the earth, so that passengers can arrive here with a single hour of travel, all these conditions will be changed. Australia will then become America's nearest neighbor, and quarrels will be continually arising. And in case of war between the two nations, what an inestimable advantage the United States will possess in being able to drop troops, firearms, and provisions through this tunnel, certain that they will reach this side in good condition less than one hour after they leave New York!

As to the statement made by certain persons that it would be an easy matter for the Australians to gain possession of this end of the tube, and block up the tunnel by allowing the ocean to run into it, it is made by parties who have no idea of the true condition of things. With proper fortifications on the islet, and an American fleet to defend it, the United States could hold it against any nation. The garrison could not be starved out, since they would receive constant food-supplies from the other side of the earth; and they could not be conquered, for as fast as the defenders were killed off, new ones would take their place. The American ships would receive constant munitions and provisions of coal, while the Australians, having none of these facilities, would be under a great disadvantage.

No; unless the government speedily acts in the matter, the United States will soon gain a foothold here from which they can never be dislodged. Under these circumstances, it behooves our government to at once issue an injunction prohibiting the passage of any cars through the tunnel, and ordering the latter to be immediately filled up with earth again.

The Australian government had weakly allowed itself to be swayed by arguments of this nature, and the issuing of the injunction restraining the passage of the car bearing our hero followed as a matter of course.

The injunction once signed, the fleetest revenue cutter was despatched with it, and had arrived at the very moment we have mentioned, when William was already snugly ensconced in his car.

All this flashed through the doctor's mind in an instant, and at the same time a wave of disappointment came over him at the idea that his fifteen years of hard toil were to go for naught. After conducting his enterprise to a satisfactory termination in spite of all the obstacles of nature, he was now to be stopped and turned back through the foolishness of men! It was a hard blow, but there was no help for it. The doctor was not the man to oppose the decree of the government under which he lived.

With a heavy heart he turned to his speakingtube.

"Petrie," he called out to his chief engineer, "we shall not be able to send the car through; please have it held back."

"Too late, doctor," returned the engineer. "The car is just starting, and to try to stop it now would be useless!"

Dr. Giles, with a cry of joy, looked up at the clock. It was indeed too late, for the hour hand was just pointing to eleven.

Turning to the government official with great politeness, Dr. Giles explained the state of affairs.

"You come just five minutes too late," he said. "Had you arrived but a few moments sooner, I might have been able to prevent the car from starting; but it is now beyond mortal power to stop it. It has started on its trip through the earth, and cannot possibly be stopped until it reaches the other side."

And with great courtesy he bowed his unwelcome visitor out of the room.

While these events were transpiring, immense crowds had gathered, in every city of the world, around special appliances that had been erected for rendering visible the course of the car during its passage through the earth. The news had already spread that at the last moment a passenger had been found to undertake the journey, and hence public interest was excited to the highest pitch.

At one and the same moment an electric bell in each of these places sounded a warning ring for a few seconds, and then suddenly ceased, while at the instant of cessation a ball placed in a tall glass tube began to fall slowly downward. This ball was in electric communication with the carbonite tube itself, and by an ingenious arrangement it measured and made manifest to the spectators the exact speed and position of the car at every stage of its rapid fall through the earth.

The die was cast! Our hero had started on his novel journey. And novel it was destined to be beyond anything he had ever imagined!