Through the Earth/Chapter XVIII
AN UNEXPECTED TURN OF AFFAIRS
"Well, doctor," inquired Mr. Curtis, "how did our young friend bear up at the last moment? Was he beginning to feel shaky when you left him?"
"Not a bit of it," answered Dr. Giles. "William is a brave lad, and, aside from a slight nervousness which is perfectly natural under the circumstances, he does not display the slightest signs of fear. In fact, I am convinced he is better fitted to make the trip than many a man would be."
"Oh, Dr. Giles," exclaimed Flora, "you really don't think anything will happen to him, do you?"
"Nonsense!" replied the doctor, with more show of conviction than he really felt. "What could happen to him? The advantage of this railroad over all others is that the trains cannot get off the track, and that collisions are impossible. So, you see, the danger is very slight."
"There's one thing I forgot to ask about, doctor," said Mr. Curtis. "How is William going to renew his supply of air when it gives out?"
"There will not be any need of renewing it," replied the doctor. "The trip will take only one hour, and as the car is as large as a good-sized room, William will have enough air to last him a whole day, at a pinch. As an extra precaution, however, I have put in a tank of liquefied air, which he can turn on in case he needs it."
"Why, in what case could he need more than a day's supply of air?"
"Well, for instance, if the resistance of the air during his fall is so great as to prevent the car from reaching the catches I have placed on the New York end of the tube."
"And what would happen in that case?"
"Why, it would stop short of its destination and then fall back."
"I see; and as it would n't fall back far enough to reach the catches on this side of the tube, it would continue falling backward and forward until it came to a rest in the center."
"Yes; and as the retardation would be only gradual, several days would probably elapse before it came to a complete stop."
"Ah! And then, of course, William would need the extra air?"
"Certainly; for the simple reason that we could not send him any assistance until he came to a complete rest. But, understand me, while I thought it best to take these precautions, I have not the slightest fear of anything of the kind happening. I have catches arranged on the New York side as far as twenty miles below the surface of the earth, and I am certain that it will be impossible for the car to fail to reach these. On the contrary, it will pass these first catches with such speed that I have been obliged to devise means of moving the catches out of the way instantaneously, if necessary, so as to afford free passageway. I am fully convinced that William will not come to a stop until he is within two miles of the surface on the New York side."
The conversation was here interrupted by an exclamation from Flora.
"Oh, Dr. Giles, look at that ship!" she cried. Dr. Giles turned to the window and looked out. To his surprise, he saw a large vessel at anchor. During the events of the last half-hour he had been so engrossed with other matters that he had not noticed its approach; but now he looked at it with some anxiety; and his anxiety was but too well founded.
"Why, that's an Australian revenue cutter!" exclaimed Mr. Curtis. "What in the world can it want here? I suppose it's going to establish a custom-house on the islet to collect duties from the American passengers who come through the tunnel. When William returns, his baggage will all have to be inspected and chalked before he will be allowed to land."
"I sincerely hope it is only that," said Dr. Giles, somewhat relieved.
At this moment there was a knock at the door, and a government official entered, bearing a large missive.
"Is this Dr. Giles?" he inquired.
"Yes, sir; that's my name," said the doctor, with an anxious glance at the document which his visitor held.
"Well, I represent the Australian government, and this is an injunction forbidding you to let your car go through the earth."
"What!" exclaimed Dr. Giles, bounding to his feet.
"Yes, sir; the Australian government positively forbids your letting the car start. And, furthermore, it commands you to have the tunnel filled up with earth again immediately. In case of failure to obey, I have orders to arrest you at once!"