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- The Great Stone of Sardis - 5/33 -
for some time, I will describe it in full. All explorers who have tried to get to the north pole have met with the same bad fortune. They could not pass over the vast and awful regions of ice which lay between them and the distant point at which they aimed; the deadly ice-land was always too much for them; they died or they turned back.
"When flying-machines were brought to supposed perfection, some twenty years ago, it was believed that the pole would easily be reached, but there were always the wild and wicked winds, in which no steering apparatus could be relied upon. We may steer and manage our vessels in the fiercest storms at sea, but when the ocean moves in one great tidal wave our rudders are of no avail. Everything rushes on together, and our strongest ships are cast high upon the land.
"So it happened to the Canadian Bagne, who went in 1927 in the best flying-ship ever made, and which it was supposed could be steadily kept upon its way without regard to the influence of the strongest winds; but a great hurricane came down from the north, as if square miles of atmosphere were driving onward in a steady mass, and hurled him and his ship against an iceberg, and nothing of his vessel but pieces of wood and iron, which the bears could not eat, was ever seen again. This was the last polar expedition of that sort, or any sort; but my plan is so easy of accomplishment--at least, so it seems to me--and so devoid of risk and danger, that it amazes me that it has never been tried before. In fact, if I had not thought that it would be such a comparatively easy thing to go to the pole, I believe I should have been there long ago; but I have always considered that it could be done at some season when more difficult and engrossing projects were not pressing upon me.
"What I propose to do is to sink down below the bottom of the ice in the arctic regions, and then to proceed in a direct line northward to the pole. The distance between the lower portions of the ice and the bottom of the Arctic Ocean I believe to be quite sufficient to allow me all the room needed for navigation. I do not think it necessary to even consider the contingency of the greatest iceberg or floe reaching the bottom of the arctic waters; consequently, without trouble or danger, the Dipsey can make a straight course for the extreme north.
"By means of the instruments the Dipsey will carry it will be comparatively easy to determine the position of the pole, and before this point is reached I believe she will find herself in an open sea, where she may rise to the surface. But if this should not be the case, a comparatively thin place in the ice will be chosen, and a great opening blown through it by means of an ascensional shell, several of which she will carry. She will then rise to the surface of the water in this opening, and the necessary operations will be carried on."
"Mr. Clewe," said Margaret Raleigh, "the thing is so terrible I cannot bear to think of it. The Dipsey may have to sail hundreds and hundreds of miles under the ice, shut in as if an awful lid were put over her. No matter what happened down there, she could not come up and get out; it would be the same thing as having a vast sky of ice stretched out above one. I should think the very idea of it would make people shudder and die."
"Oh, it is not so bad as all that," answered Clewe. "There is nothing so dear to the marine explorer as plenty of water, and plenty of room to sail in, and under the ice the Dipsey will find all that."
"But there are so many dangers," said she, "that you cannot provide against in advance."
"That is very true," said he, "but I have thought so much about them, and I have studied and consulted so much about them, that I think I have provided against all the dangers we have reason to expect. To me the whole business seems like very plain, straightforward sailing."
"It may seem so here," said Margaret Raleigh, "but it will be quite another thing out under the arctic ice."
Preparations for the expedition were pushed forward as rapidly as possible, and Clewe would have been delighted to make this voyage into the unseen regions of the nether ice, but he knew that it was his duty not to lose time or to risk his life when he was on the brink of a discovery far more wonderful, far more important to the world, than the finding of the pole. Therefore he determined that he would go with the expedition no farther than the point where the ice would prevent the farther progress of the vessel in which they would sail from New York.
It was not to be supposed that Roland Clewe intended to intrust such an expedition to the absolute command of such a man as old Samuel Block. There would be on board the Dipsey an electrician who had long been preparing himself for this expedition; there were to be other scientific men; there would be a submarine engineer, and such minor officers and assistants as would be necessary; but Clewe wanted some one who would represent him, who could be trusted to act in his place in case of success or of failure, who could be thoroughly depended upon should a serious emergency arise. Such a man was Samuel Block, and, somewhat strange to say, old Sammy was perfectly willing to go to the pole. He was always ready for anything within bounds of his duty, and those bounds included everything which Mr. Clewe wished done.
Sammy was an old-fashioned man, and therefore, in talking over arrangements with Roland Clewe, he insisted upon having a sailor in the party.
"In old times," said he, "when I was a young man, nobody ever thought of settin' out on any kind of sea-voyagin' without havin' a sailor along. The fact is, they used to be pretty much all sailors."
"But in this expedition," said Clewe, "a sailor would be out of place. One of your old-fashioned mariners would not know what to do under the water. Submarine voyaging is an entirely different profession from that of the old-time navigator."
"I know all that," said Sammy. "I know how everything is a machine nowadays; but I shall never forget what a glorious thing it was to sail on the sea with the wind blowin' and the water curlin' beneath your keel. I lived on the coast, and used to go out whenever I had a chance, but things is mightily changed nowadays. Just think of that yacht-race in England the other day--a race between two electric yachts, with a couple of vessels ploughin' along to windward carryin' between 'em a board fence thirty feet high to keep the wind off the yachts and give 'em both smooth water and equal chance. I can't get used to that sort of thing, and I tell you, sir, that if I am goin' on a voyage to the pole, I want to have a sailor along. If everything goes all right, we must come to the top of the water some time, and then we ought to have at least one man who understands surface navigation."
"All right," said Clewe; "get your sailor."
"I've got my eye on him; he's a Cape Cod man, and he's not so very old either. When he was a boy people went about in ships with sails, and even after he grew up Cap'n Jim was a great feller to manage a catboat; for things has moved slower on the Cape than in many parts of the country."
So Captain Jim Hubbell was engaged as sailor to the expedition; and when he came on to Sardis and looked over the Dipsey he expressed a general opinion of her construction and capabilities which indicated a disposition on his part to send her, and all others fashioned after her plan, to depths a great deal lower than ever had been contemplated by their inventors. Still, as he wanted very much to go to the pole if it was possible that he could get there, and as the wages offered him were exceedingly liberal, Captain Jim enlisted, in the party. His duties were to begin when the Dipsey floated on the surface of the sea like a commonsense craft.
A day or two before the expedition was ready to start, Roland Clewe was very much surprised one morning by a visit from Sammy's wife, Mrs. Sarah Block, who lost no time in informing him that she had made up her mind to accompany her husband on the perilous voyage he was about to make.
"You!" said Clewe. "You could not go on such an expedition as that!"
"If Sammy goes, I go," said Mrs. Block. "If it is dangerous for me, it is dangerous for him. I have been tryin' to get sense enough in his head to make him stay at home, but I can't do it; so I have made up my mind that I go with him or he don't go. We have travelled together on top of the land, and we have travelled together on top of the water, and if there's to be travellin' under the water, why then we travel together all the same. If Sammy goes polin', I go polin'. I think he's a fool to do it; but if he's goin' to be a fool, I am goin' to be a fool. And as for my bein' in the way, you needn't think of that, Mr. Clewe. I can cook for the livin', I can take care of the sick, and I can sew up the dead in shrouds."
"All right, Mrs. Block," said Clewe. "If you insist on it, and Sammy is willing, you may go; but I will beg of you not to say anything about the third class of good offices which you propose to perform for the party, for it might cast a gloom over some of the weaker-minded."
"Cast a gloom!" said Mrs. Block. "If all I hear is true, there will be a general gloom over everything that will be like havin' a black pocket-handkercher tied over your head, and I don't know that anything I could say would make that gloom more gloomier."
When Margaret Raleigh parted with Clewe on the deck of the Go Lightly, the large electric vessel which was to tow the Dipsey up to the limits of navigable Northern waters, she knew he must make a long journey, nearly twice as far as the voyage to England, before she could hear from him; but when he arrived at Cape Tariff, a point far up on the northwestern coast of Greenland, she would hear from him; for from this point there was telegraphic communication with the rest of the world. There was a little station there, established by some commercial companies, and their agent was a telegraph-operator.
The passage from New York to Cape Tariff was an uneventful one, and when Clewe disembarked at the lonely Greenland station he was greeted by a long message from Mrs. Raleigh, the principal import
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