Through the Earth/Chapter XVII

CHAPTER XVII

THE LAST MOMENTS

"REALLY, doctor," said Mr. Curtis, "I don't see how you can reconcile this last statement with what you've already told us. You said just now that as the boy will start a small fraction of a second after the bottom of the car, he cannot catch up with it, and will consequently remain floating in the air."

"In other words," said Dr. Giles, "he will have no weight. If he weighed himself on the spring balance I have placed in the car, he would find that it did not mark a single ounce."

"That I understand. If he floats in the air, it must, of course, be because he has no weight. But now you tell us that near the center of the earth he will have weight. How can you make this tally with what you said before?"

"Remember, James," said Dr. Giles, "that what I said was this: that so long as both William and the car were traveling at the same rate of speed William would have no weight, and consequently he would remain floating in the middle of the car. But if at any time William were to travel faster than the car, then he would regain a certain amount of weight."

"But did n't you just remark that the earth would always attract William just as much as it does the car, and so would cause him to fall at the same speed?"

"Yes."

"Then how could he travel faster than the car?"

"Listen. I have already told you that, in spite of my efforts to produce a perfect vacuum in the tube, I was unable to get rid of all the air. Now, air, as you know, presents a high resistance to objects traveling at a great velocity. This air, although highly rarefied, will, when William is traveling at his greatest speed, retard the car considerably."

"Yes; but it will retard William, too."

"Not in the least. It is the outside of the car that will strike against this air and be checked. William, snug inside his car, will not feel the great wind thus produced. The car will fall more slowly, but William will fall almost as fast as before; and so, instead of remaining suspended in mid-air, he will now catch up with the bottom of the car and soon reach it. In a word, he will have regained a certain amount of weight."

"Well, doctor, since you say so, I suppose I must believe you; but I only wish we had an X-ray apparatus here that would enable us to see William during his strange trip. It promises to be more astonishing than I had imagined, and I should be willing to give a great deal to be able to see what happens to him."

Our hero, although he had listened to these long explanations with interest, was now becoming impatient; for he saw that the time of departure was approaching, and he wished to ask the doctor a few practical questions which had occurred to him.

"What is it, my boy?" asked the doctor, noticing his uneasiness.

"I'm sorry to interrupt you," said William, "but I should like to have some advice in regard to my trip. For example, I suppose you've arranged some special apparatus so that I shall be able to breathe during my fall."

Dr. Giles shook his head with a smile. "No, William," said he; "you will need nothing of the sort. You will not find the slightest difficulty in breathing. I understand your being afraid of traveling at so high a speed; but you will not feel the slightest jolt, or be inconvenienced by the noise of machinery, as you would in all other methods of transportation. You will have no more difficulty in breathing than you have now; for our earth is traveling many times faster than the greatest speed you will acquire. You may become slightly dizzy, but not enough to hurt you; and besides, the whole trip will be over in less than an hour."

"All right, then," said William. "If you've no further advice to give me, I'll just write a word to mother, and after that I shall be ready to start."

"That's a good idea, my boy," said Dr. Giles; "and I'm glad you called me back to present matters, for I was forgetting how time is flying. But before you go, let me tell you, William, that you are a plucky lad, and that you are displaying a courage to-day of which a man might well be proud. I regret that you have to leave us so soon; but the car is scheduled to start at eleven o'clock sharp, and the inhabitants of the whole world are now gathering to see the start. Of course, they cannot witness the real descent, but by means of electrical devices they will see it indirectly."

William hastily scribbled a few lines to his mother, and then took leave of his newly made friends. Each had a good word for him, and Flora beamed on him with undisguised admiration as she warmly shook hands with him and expressed the most sympathetic wishes for his trip, while our hero was so confused at the young girl's kindness that he could only blush and stammer out his thanks. He felt convinced that without her intercession the doctor would never have allowed him to make the trip, and the picture he carried away of the beautiful young girl gave him fresh courage for the trying ordeal that was in store for him.

"Everything is now ready for the start, William," said the doctor, kindly, as he led the boy to the door of the car. "Be of good courage, and remember that the dangers of the trip are more imaginary than real. There is, in fact, almost no actual danger. You will find that I have attended to everything necessary for the comfort and safety of passengers. I have also placed full instructions how to act on signs hung around the interior of the car. Follow the instructions to the letter, and I will guarantee that you make a safe and speedy trip. But however strange the directions may seem to you, it is absolutely essential that you should follow them exactly.

"Remember, too, that while there will be no possibility of communicating with us during the journey, we shall yet know just where you are, and whether all is well or not; for I have here instruments of the greatest delicacy, which will inform me of your exact position, and the conditions of heat, cold, and so on, that you are experiencing. During the entire journey I shall not take my eyes from the instruments for a moment; and in case of any emergency you can count upon us to aid you by all the means in our power. And now good-by, my boy, and mark my words: you will never regret the step you have taken, and I promise you that you will be back here, safe and sound, before nightfall!"

The doctor spoke too confidently. Little did he dream, as he made this promise, that it was destined to be weeks before our hero set foot on his native land again!

A moment later William passed into a closed chamber at the top of the tube, made his way into the car, and carefully locked himself in. Then the suction-pumps were set to work, this upper chamber was exhausted of air, and the car was ready to start on its strange journey.