Through the Earth/Chapter XXXIII
WHAT WILLIAM SAW FROM THE WINDOW
HAT in the world could have happened? William had reached the stage now where he was ready to accept anything as a matter of course. He had just passed through so many strange experiences, each more wonderful than the last, that he would hardly have been surprised if Aladdin's genie had appeared to him and asked his commands.
His natural good sense, however, soon reacted against these impressions, for he knew that all the astonishing manifestations which he had met with must be due to natural causes. But what natural cause could explain the danger-signal which had reached him, or the violent shock which he had just experienced?
He saw only two ways in which a shock might reach him in the car; the first was the necessary jolt when his car stopped at New York, and the second a possible shock if the car struck the side of the carbonite tube.
But the telemeter plainly indicated that the car was at the center of the earth, or four thousand miles away from New York, while other instruments showed that the car occupied a central position in the tube, being no nearer one side than another. Hence neither of the two hypotheses seemed tenable.
These thoughts flashed through William's mind in an instant, as he clung to the straps at the top of the car, which he had managed to clutch after being thrown to the ceiling. Determined to ascertain the truth at all costs, he rapidly made his way to the window at the top of the car, and threw open the metal shutter that guarded the glass pane, his action serving at the same time to automatically turn on a search-light designed to illuminate the tube.
What a sight met his eyes! There, directly above him,—or, more properly speaking, below him, since he had now passed the center of the earth,—he beheld a most startling sight. The carbonite tube was red-hot, and was evidently yielding to a pressure from without! Even as he gazed it gave way with a crash, and a column of molten matter issued forth into the tube!
But William's surprises were not at an end, for, closing his eyes with a shudder to escape the sight of the dreadful death impending, what was his astonishment, on opening them again, to see that the stream of fire, instead of approaching him, seemed to be going in the opposite direction, and was now farther away from him than it had been a moment before.
He was not long in realizing the true state of affairs.
"It's no wonder," said he, "the molten matter seems to be going the other way, for I am falling so fast now—nearly six miles every second—that nothing can catch up with me. But, unfortunately, my speed is continually slacking up, as I have passed the center of attraction, while the liquid mass of fire will probably keep on just as fast as it is going at present; so it will sooner or later catch up with me, especially when the car comes to a stop six hundred miles from the surface of the earth, and begins to fall back again."I'm a gone coon, whatever happens! However, I'll fight for my life as long as possible; and that reminds me that the signs mentioned some
"IT GAVE WAY WITH A CRASH, AND A COLUMN OF MOLTEN MATTER ISSUED FORTH INTO THE TUBE!"
But as he swam down toward the floor his mind was busy in trying to account for the strange shock he had received at the center of the earth.
"The only possible explanation I can see," said William, "is that there must have been something in the tube in front of the car, because the shock threw me upward toward the ceiling. And now that I come to think of it, I see that the trouble must have been caused by some large stone that fell into the tube and remained at the center of the earth. It must have been a pretty big one, though, to give me such a shock as that!"
Our hero did not stop to reflect that he was traveling at such a frightful speed that, had it really been a stone that he had struck, the shock would have smashed the car to atoms.
What is known in physics as the living force of a body is equal to its mass times the square of its velocity. Consequently, if the car had struck even a small stone, the stone would in all probability have passed through it like a bullet. Hence in the present case the chances were that the shock experienced was due to the presence of some very light particles of matter that had accumulated at the center of the earth—some dust remaining in the tube. "With all the doctor's ingenuity and care, he could not avoid leaving some particles of matter in the tube, and it was evidently these particles which caused the whole trouble.
While seeking to discover the cause of the shock William's attention was somewhat diverted from his perilous situation; but having, as he thought, found the true solution, he dismissed the matter from his mind, and prepared to cope with the difficulties which he felt were in store for him. With a renewed sense of his danger, he anxiously looked at the telemeter.
One glance was sufficient to show him that the speed of the car was decreasing rapidly, and it at once flashed upon him that the molten matter must be gaining upon him. To satisfy himself on this point, he again opened the shutter at the top of the car, and looked out; but, to his intense relief, the molten matter that was following him in the tube had now dwindled down to a mere speck of light.
For a few moments he remained at the window, absorbed in his own thoughts. It was comforting to know that there was no immediate danger, for while there's life there's always hope, and so long as the car was gaining on the molten matter he could well afford to forget the precariousness of his position.
His fears somewhat allayed in regard to his present danger, our hero swam to a window at the side of the car to see if the tube there showed any signs of giving way. He did not stop to reflect on the doctor's admonition, but threw open the shutter and looked out at the tube.
He gave but a single glance, and then, with a cry of pain, he clapped his hand over his eyes; for he was now falling with such frightful rapidity that the light of the car, reflected from the walls of the tube, almost blinded him.
He hastily closed the shutter again, and after waiting a few minutes to compose himself, he swam again to the top of the car, and gazed up the tube. But what was his consternation to notice that the speck of fire was gradually growing larger! The molten matter was evidently gaining on him!