Through the Earth/Chapter XXI
A NOVEL EXPERIENCE
Occupied though he was in trying to break his fall, our hero could not help feeling that, through some accident or other, the car had failed to start; and he felt a pang of disappointment at the thought. But a fresh surprise was in store for him; for although he was continually falling, he did not seem to be any nearer the bottom of the car than before, but remained suspended, head downward, in mid-air!
A whole minute passed, and still there was no change in the conditions; nor did William feel in the least uncomfortable in his awkward position, although he was completely at a loss for an explanation of this curious phenomenon.
Wishing for some definite information, he screwed his head around until he could see the telemeter on the side of the car—an instrument designed to indicate the speed and position of the vehicle at every stage of its journey. To William's surprise, the needle of the instrument was descending rapidly from the top to the bottom of the first glass tube.
"Sure enough," said William, "we have started. And we're going pretty rapidly, too, if that instrument is correct, though, to look at the car, I should n't for a moment imagine that it was moving."
Then the truth flashed over him. "I see it all!" he exclaimed. "I understand now how it is I don't get any nearer the bottom of the car, but float up here in the air like a balloon; for, as Dr. Giles said, although I am falling at a good speed, the car is falling just as fast as I am. Consequently I can never reach the bottom, and unless something happens, I shall remain up here, floating about in mid-air, until I reach New York! Well, I'm sure I can't complain, for this cushion of air is about as soft as any feather-bed I ever lay on; but I feel sort of queer at thus continually falling without ever getting anywhere."
He was interrupted in his scientific meditations by a fly, which had, in some manner, found its way into the car, and now came and alighted upon his nose. William slapped it violently away with his hand; and as he did so he noticed that the motion had thrown his body somewhat out of the perpendicular. But if our hero was surprised at this, his astonishment may be imagined when he perceived that his body was slowly revolving, so that he soon found himself lying horizontally in the air; and a little later he was standing upright—if any one can be said to stand when resting on nothing but air.
"Good gracious!" he exclaimed, "I'm turning around in a circle!"
He was right; and as he had studied mechanics at school, it did not take him long to see the cause of this curious fact. He knew that no action could take place without a corresponding reaction, and that the force used in moving his hand to brush away the fly, working against the resistance offered by the rest of his body, had been sufficient, now that his movements were unimpeded by the attraction of gravitation, to set him turning around as if on a pivot, the resistance of the air being insufficient to stop him. In fact, he found it necessary to throw up his other arm in order to stop himself.
William amused himself for a time by thus making his body revolve like a wheel, first in one direction and then in another, and found it a most novel experience. He enjoyed it immensely, but after a while the sport became monotonous; in fact, worse than that, our hero began to feel the first symptoms of seasickness, and wished he could reach the bottom of the car.
"I don't know how it is," he said, "but my head feels queer, as though this spinning had sent all the blood into it." He did not reflect that, besides this, there was the fact that his blood was no longer attracted downward into his legs by gravitation, and that consequently an undue flow was sent to his head.
The novelty of the situation having passed away, our hero began to feel a trifle blue.
"It is curious," said he, "but although I am perfectly free in all my motions, and am not tied in any way, yet I am held here an absolute prisoner in the center of the car, held more securely than if my hands and feet were tied, and I were inclosed in a strong iron cage. I can spin around in all directions, but I cannot get an inch nearer the top or bottom of the car, or approach either side.
"In order to move my whole body in any direction I must be able to change the position of my center of gravity, and this I cannot do unless I have something to push against. If I had a long pole here I could push against the side of the car, and so move my body in the opposite direction; but as it is, I have absolutely no point of resistance against which to work, and I must therefore remain here, suspended in space, like Mohammed's coffin.
"No matter what happens, here I must stay, dangling about in mid-air! Truly no one was ever before placed in such a fix as this!"
- It may be well to state that the curious physical effects during the fall of the car have been very carefully calculated, with the kind assistance of the Professor of Applied Mechanics in one of our leading colleges. Hence, however startling and improbable our hero's experiences may seem, they may be taken as a fair representation of what might happen under the conditions given.