Through the Earth/Chapter XXXIV

CHAPTER XXXIV

A RACE FOR LIFE

OUR hero glanced hurriedly at the telemeter and then at the clock. The latter indicated twenty-five minutes to twelve.

"Good gracious!" he exclaimed, "I must have made a mistake somewhere in my calculations. Let me see!" And he hurriedly went over his figures. But now a light dawned on him.

"I am saved!" he shouted. "I forgot that it was only above the earth that the velocity of a falling body increases thirty-two feet every second. As it approaches the center of the earth the increase gradually diminishes until it finally becomes nothing at all.

"Consequently, when I calculated that it would take me only thirty-nine minutes to go through the earth I was wrong. It would really take a trifle longer than this. I am saved! Hurrah! Instead of stopping six hundred miles short of my destination, and falling back to be roasted alive, I may yet reach the New York side safely, if I can only keep ahead of this liquid fire for a few minutes more!"

Curiously enough, now that the danger had diminished the anxiety of our hero had increased. The reason was that, before, hope seemed altogether out of the question, while now there was a small chance of escape.

It was a race for life or death, and our hero did not leave the window for an instant. To his dismay, the liquid mass of fire came every minute nearer, while the telemeter, on the contrary, showed that the car's speed was decreasing every second.

Six minutes of dread suspense had passed in this manner when a phonographic alarm fastened to the side of the car began to speak in loud metallic tones.

"In one minute more," it said, "you will arrive in port. Lie down on the sofa that is fastened to the ceiling, and grasp the handles tightly. You will thus avoid all shock when the car comes to a stop."

But William had other things to think of just then than the means of preventing the slight shock that would occur on his arrival at the New York end of the tube; for the words on the cushion had recurred to him: "In case of danger, turn on the cold!"

These words, at which he had previously scoffed, now proved an inspiration. If the molten matter caught up with him, he could hope to save his life only by producing a very low temperature in the metallic shell of the car.

He accordingly swam down to a tank containing the refrigerating agents, and pressed the releasing device. An intense cold was distributed over the outside surface of the car, a cold so intense that our hero, in spite of the protection afforded by the non-conducting walls of the car, was chilled to the marrow, and hastily turned on the artificial heat inside.

Then he started to swim for the sofa; but he was too late, for a sudden click showed him that he had arrived in port, while at the same moment he was thrown down to what had formerly been the bottom of the car, and then fell heavily to the top (now really the bottom, since it was the end nearest the center of the earth), bruising himself somewhat in his fall, notwithstanding the elasticity of the cushions.

He had not yet, however, reached the surface of the earth, for the telemeter showed him that he was still two miles underground.

"This is just as I expected!" exclaimed William; "for although Dr. Giles did his best to get all the air out of the tube, he was not able to make a perfect vacuum, and what little air was left has sufficed to retard the car somewhat, and so prevent it from going the whole distance. In fact, it is surprising that the vacuum was even so perfect as it has been. I did not expect to come within twenty miles of the surface on the New York side.

"It is true that my greatest loss of speed was only eight feet per second, since objects in the car, even when heaviest, weighed only four ounces to the pound, so I could easily have calculated that my total retardation would be about two miles. At any rate, I have beaten the record for rapid traveling, for I have gone eight thousand miles in a little over forty-two minutes, and that is a figure that will not be beaten in a hurry!"

Scarcely were these words well out of his mouth when he felt another shock, and perceived that the car was in motion again.

A sudden fear arose in his mind. "That must be the shock of the molten matter!" he cried. "It must have caught up with me!"

Instinctively he tried to swim up through the air to get as far away from this matter as possible; but he was not able to lift himself an inch. Then he tried to jump up to what was now the top of the car, but was not more successful in this, for he rose only a couple of feet, and then fell back again.

"What a dunce I am!" he exclaimed. "Of course I can't jump or swim around any more, now that I am no longer falling. I have reached terra firma again, and have regained my entire weight, so I must return to primitive methods, and climb up by the straps. No fear now of setting the car spinning!"

This was true, for the car was being rapidly drawn up the last part of its journey by means of an electrically actuated cable.

A few minutes later our hero felt another shock, and the door of the car was hurriedly thrown open, when he found himself face to face with a workman.

It was not, however, at the workman that William looked, but at the sky. To his surprise, it was night-time, and the stars were shining brightly in the heavens. Our hero rubbed his eyes in bewilderment; but rub as he might, the stars continued twinkling, and the bright moon looked down at him as if laughing at his stupefaction.

But if our hero was astonished to find it was night-time, his feelings may be imagined when, on emerging from the car, he found that the islet was covered with several inches of snow, which sparkled in the moonlight as though it, too, participated in the enjoyment at our hero's surprise.

And well might William rub his eyes, and well might he feel bewildered and imagine that some elf was playing its tricks upon him. He had left Australia at eleven o'clock in the morning, and his trip seemed to have lasted but fifty minutes; yet it was night-time when he reached the United States! He had left Australia on a sultry midsummer's day, with the thermometer at 100° in the shade; yet he arrived in the United States in midwinter, the ground being covered with several inches of snow! Truly our hero might well be forgiven for believing himself suddenly transported back into the days of the fairies.