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- The Great Stone of Sardis - 6/33 -
of which was that on no account must he allow himself to be persuaded to go on the submarine voyage of the Dipsey. On his part, Clewe had no desire to make any change in his plans. During all the long voyage northward his heart had been at Sardis.
The Dipsey was a comparatively small vessel, but it afforded comfortable accommodations for a dozen or more people, and there was room for all the stores which would be needed for a year. She was furnished, besides, with books and every useful and convenient contrivance which had been thought desirable for her peculiar expedition.
When everything was ready, Roland Clewe took leave of the officers, the crew, and the passenger on board the Dipsey, and the last-mentioned, as she shook hands with him, shed tears.
"It seems to me like a sort of a congregational suicide, Mr. Clewe," said she. "And it can't even be said that all the members are doin' it of their own accord, for I am not. If Sammy did not go, I would not, but if he does, I do, and there's the end of that; and I suppose it won't be very much longer before there's the end of all of us. I hope you will tell Mrs. Raleigh that I sent my best love to her with my last words; for even if I was to see her again, it would seem to me like beginning all over again, and this would be the end of this part of my life all the same. What I hope and pray for is that none of the party may die of any kind of a disease before the rest all go to their end together; for remains on board an under-water vessel is somethin' which mighty few nerves would be able to stand."
When all farewells had been said, Mr. Clewe went on board the Go Lightly, on the deck of which were her officers and men and the few inhabitants of the station, and then the plate-glass hatchways of the Dipsey were tightly closed, and she began to sink, until she entirely disappeared below the surface of the water, leaving above her a little floating glass globe, connected with her by an electric wire.
As the Dipsey went under the sea, this little globe followed her on the surface, and the Go Lightly immediately began to move after her. This arrangement had been made, as Clewe wished to follow the Dipsey for a time, in order to see if everything was working properly with her. She kept on a straight course, flashing a light into the little globe every now and then; and finally, after meeting some floating ice, she shattered the globe with an explosion, which was the signal agreed upon to show that all was well, and that the Dipsey had started off alone on the submarine voyage to the pole.
Roland Clewe gazed out over the wide stretch of dark-green waves and glistening crests, where nothing could be seen which indicated life except a distant, wearily-flapping sea bird, and then, turning his back upon the pole, he made preparations for his return voyage to New York, at which port he might expect to receive direct news from Sammy Block and his companions.
When the Dipsey, the little submarine vessel which had started to make its way to the north pole under the ice of the arctic regions, had sunk out of sight under the waters, it carried a very quiet and earnestly observant party. Every one seemed anxious to know what would happen next, and all those whose duties would allow them to do so gathered under the great skylight in the upper deck, and gazed upward at the little glass bulb on the surface of the water, which they were towing by means of an electric wire; and every time a light was flashed into this bulb it seemed to them as if they were for an instant reunited to that vast open world outside of the ocean. When at last the glass globe was exploded, as a signal that the Dipsey had cut loose from all ties which connected her with the outer world, they saw through the water above them the flash and the sparks, and then all was darkness.
The interior of the submarine vessel was brightly lighted by electric lamps, and the souls of the people inside of her soon began to brighten under the influence of their work and the interest they took in their novel undertaking; there was, however, one exception--the soul of Mrs. Block did not brighten.
Mrs. Sarah Block was a peculiar person; she was her husband's second wife, and was about forty years of age. Her family were country people, farmers, and her life as a child was passed among folk as old-fashioned as if they had lived in the past century, and had brought their old-fashioned ideas with them into this. But Sarah did not wish to be old-fashioned. She sympathized with the social movements of the day; she believed in inventions and progress; she went to school and studied a great deal which her parents never heard of, and which she very promptly forgot. When she grew up she wore the widest hoop-skirts; she was one of the first to use an electric spinning-wheel; and when she took charge of her father's house, she it was who banished to the garret the old-fashioned sewing-machine, and the bicycles on which some of the older members of the family once used to ride. She tried to persuade her father to use a hot-air plough, and to give up the practice of keeping cows in an age when milk and butter were considered not only unnecessary, but injurious to human health. When she married Samuel Block, then a man of forty-five, she really thought she did so because he was a person of progressive ideas, but the truth was she married him because he loved her, and because he did it in an honest, old-fashioned way.
In her inner soul Sarah was just as old-fashioned as anybody--she had been born so, and she had never changed. Endeavor as she might to make herself believe that she was a woman of modern thought and feeling, her soul was truly in sympathy with the social fashions and customs in which she had been brought up; and those to which she was trying to educate herself were on the outside of her, never a part of her, but always the objects of her aspirations. These aspirations she believed to be principles. She tried to set her mind upon the unfolding revelations of the era, as young women in her grandfather's day used to try to set their minds upon Browning. When Sarah told Mr. Clewe that she was going on the Dipsey because she would not let her husband go by himself, she did so because she was ashamed to say that she was in such sympathy with the great scientific movements of the day that she thought it was her duty to associate herself with one of them; but while she thought she was lying in the line of high principle, she was in fact expressing the truthful affection of her old-fashioned nature--a nature she was always endeavoring to keep out of sight, but which from its dark corner ruled her life.
She had an old-fashioned temper, which delighted in censoriousness. The more interest she took in anything, the more alive was she to its defects. She tried to be a good member of her church, but she said sharp things of the congregation.
No electrical illumination could brighten the soul of Mrs. Block. She moved about the little vessel with a clouded countenance. She was impressed with the feeling that something was wrong, even now at the beginning, although of course she could not be expected to know what it was.
At the bows, and in various places at the sides of the vessel, and even in the bottom, were large plates of heavy glass, through which the inmates could look out into the water, and there streamed forward into the quiet depths of the ocean a great path of light, proceeding from a powerful searchlight in the bow. By this light any object in the water could be seen some time before reaching it; but to guard more thoroughly against the most dreaded obstacle they feared to meet--down-reaching masses of ice--a hydraulic thermometer, mounted on a little submarine vessel connected with the Dipsey by wires, preceded her a long distance ahead. Impelled and guided by the batteries of the larger vessel, this little thermometer-boat would send back instant tidings of any changes in temperature in the water occasioned by the proximity of ice. To prevent sinking too deep, a heavy lead, on which were several electric buttons, hung far below the Dipsey, ready at all times, day or night, to give notice if she came too near the reefs and sands of the bottom of the Arctic Ocean.
The steward had just announced that the first meal on board the Dipsey was ready for the officers' mess, when Mrs. Block suddenly rushed into the cabin.
"Look here, Sammy," she exclaimed; "I want you, or somebody who knows more than you do, to tell me how the people on this vessel are goin' to get air to breathe with. It has just struck me that when we have breathed up all the air that's inside, we will simply suffocate, just as if we were drowned outside a boat instead of inside; and for my part I can't see any difference, except in one case we keep dry and in the other we are wet."
"More than that, madam," said Mr. Gibbs, the Master Electrician, who, in fact, occupied the rank of first officer of the vessel; "if we are drowned outside in the open water we shall be food for fishes, whereas if we suffocate inside the vessel we shall only be food for reflection, if anybody ever finds us."
"You did not come out expectin' that, I hope?" said Mrs. Block. "I thought something would happen when we started, but I never supposed we would run short of air."
"Don't bother yourself about that, Sarah," said Sammy. "We'll have all the air we want; of course we would not start without thinkin' of that."
"I don't know," said Sarah. "It's very seldom that men start off anywhere without forgettin' somethin'."
"Let us take our seats, Mrs. Block," said Mr. Gibbs, "and I will set your mind at rest on the air point. There are a great many machines and mechanical arrangements on board here which of course you don't understand, but which I shall take great pleasure in explaining to you whenever you want to learn something about them. Among them are two great metal contrivances, outside the Dipsey and near her bows, which open into the water, and also communicate with the inside of her hull. These are called electric gills, and they separate air from the water around us in a manner somewhat resembling the way in which a fish's gills act. They continually send in air enough to supply us not only with all we need for breathing, but with enough to raise us to the surface of the water
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