Through the Earth/Chapter XX

CHAPTER XX

DOWNWARD HO!

WHILE the whole civilized world was watching, as it were, the fall of the car, let us see how William was faring in his singular vehicle.

His first sensation on entering it had been a most curious one, for the internal arrangements were quite striking. To use our hero's expression, he seemed to be inside a large Dutch cheese. The fact is that the room, if such it may be called, was nearly cylindrical in shape, and the walls were lined throughout with thick, soft cushions of a reddish color. Even the door by which he entered, and which he now carefully closed and locked behind him, was padded with similar cushions.

"Evidently," thought William, "the doctor does n't want me to get hurt in case my car strikes against something on the way. It was very thoughtful of him to arrange matters so comfortably, and I'll have to profit by his kindness to have some good gymnastic exercises on the journey."

He little suspected the variety of gymnastics that was in store for him!

The car was illuminated by a diffused light, fully equal to that of a bright day, and all objects were, therefore, in plain view. But what especially amazed our hero was the furniture. Fastened to the floor at one side of the room were a lounge, a chair, and a table with a few books secured to it.

There was nothing extraordinary in this; but on casting up his eyes, what was William's astonishment to see, fastened upside down to the ceiling, duplicates of these pieces of furniture. Two strong handles were affixed to each article, thus adding not a little to their singularity.

"What in the name of the seven wonders can that furniture be doing up there on the ceiling?" said William to himself, greatly puzzled by this sight. "The lounge that is hanging there would be comfortable enough, I suppose, if I could only be glued to it; but as it is, I don't really see of what use it can be—unless," he added, a light striking him, "it may be useful after I pass the center of the earth, when the attraction of gravitation will pull in the opposite direction; or perhaps it is only intended for the use of those passengers who come from the New York side."

Both of these surmises seemed plausible, but neither was completely correct.

William's first surprise being over, he gazed around at the various instruments on the wall, the uses of which he readily understood from the printed notices below each. But what specially interested our hero was a number of curious inscriptions printed in large letters upon the cushions of the car. These notices were so extraordinary that it may not be amiss to give the reader a few specimens:


STAND ON YOUR HEAD AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE DURING THE ENTIRE TRIP!

DO NOT TOUCH THE SIDES OF THE CAR UNLESS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY!

BE CAREFUL NOT TO SPIN AROUND TOO QUICKLY!

ALWAYS STRIKE THE CAR WITH YOUR FEET RATHER THAN WITH YOUR HEAD!

"He Turned Head Downward, and Let Himself Drop"

"HE TURNED HEAD DOWNWARD, AND LET HIMSELF DROP."

DO NOT LOOK OUT OF THE WINDOWS OF THE CAR UNLESS UNAVOIDABLE!

DO NOT SWIM TOO NEAR THE INSTRUMENTS!

IN CASE OF DANGER TURN ON THE COLD!

"Well, I never!" exclaimed William, hugely astonished. "So, I must stand on my head, eh I And I must n't spin around too quickly? Rather superfluous advice, I should think, for I have n't the least desire to take a spin, and I could n't very easily, even if I would. Moreover, why does the doctor tell me to strike the car with my feet rather than with my head? Does he think I am such a ninny as to want to strike it at all? And why in the world does he speak of swimming, when there's not enough water in the car for a cat to swim in? I declare, I am almost ready to believe that the doctor is crazy, and this whole scheme of his a humbug. Nor does that furniture dangling from the ceiling tend to change this opinion."

As he said these words he came to another sign, which read:

TO START THE CAR, CLIMB BY THE STRAPS TO THE CEILING, AND THEN LET YOURSELF DROP, HEAD DOWNWARD!

"Good gracious!" exclaimed our hero, looking upward in astonishment, "that's a drop of about fifteen feet! In spite of the cushions, I'd have a pretty rough fall if I tried that kind of diving. On the other hand, the doctor told me to be sure to follow exactly the directions given; and he did n't look as though he wanted to kill me. Perhaps, after all, I'd better follow his advice."

And, lightly climbing up by some straps which he noticed on the side of the car, William seized two handles that were swinging from the ceiling. At this moment he heard the clock strike eleven.

"Time's up," said he. "Well, good-by, Australia. Take good care of yourself while I'm away." And with these words he swung out into mid-air, turned head downward, and let himself drop.