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   Chapter 25 LAURELS

The Great War Syndicate By Frank Richard Stockton Characters: 26697

Updated: 2017-12-04 00:03


Nothing but a perusal of the newspapers, magazines, and scientific journals of the day could give any idea of the enthusiastic interest which was shown all over the civilized world in Roland Clewe's account of the discovery of the north pole. His paper on the subject, which was the first intimation the public had of the great news, was telegraphed to every part of the world and translated into nearly every written language. Sardis became a Mecca for explorers and scientific people at home and abroad, and honors of every kind were showered by geographical and other learned societies upon Clewe and the brave company who had voyaged under the ice.

Each member of the party who had sailed on the Dipsey became a hero and spent most of those days in according receptions to reporters, scholars, travellers, sportsmen, and as many of the general public as could be accommodated.

Sarah Block received her numerous visitors in the parlor of the house which had been occupied by Mr. Clewe (and which he had vacated in her favor the moment he had heard an intimation that she would like to have it), in a beautiful gown made of the silky fibre from the pods of the American milk-weed, then generally used in the manufacture of the finest fabrics.

Sarah fully appreciated her position as the woman who had visited the pole, a position not only unique at the time, but which she believed would always remain so. In every way she endeavored to make her appearance suitable to her new position. She wore the best clothes that her money could buy, and furnished her new house very handsomely. She discarded her old silver andirons and fender, which required continual cleaning, and which would not have been tolerated by her except that they were made of a metal which was now so cheap as to be used for household utensils, and she put in their place a beautiful set of polished brass, such as people used in her mother's time. Whenever Sarah found any one whom she considered worthy to listen, she gave a very full account of her adventures, never omitting the loss of her warm and comfortable shoes, which misfortune, together with the performances of Rovinski, and all the dangers consequent, and the acquaintance of the tame and lonely whale, she attributed to the fact that there were thirteen people on board.

Sammy's accounts were in a more cheerful key, and his principles were not affected by his success. He never had believed that there was any good in finding the pole, and he did not believe it now. When they got there, it was just like any other part of the ocean, and it required a great deal of arithmetic and navigation to find out where it was, even when they were looking at it; besides, as he had found out to his disgust, even when they had discovered it, it was not the real pole to which the needle of the compass points.

Moreover, if there had been any distinctive mark about it, except the buoy which they had anchored there, and even if it really were the pole to which needles should point, there was no particular good in finding it, unless other people could get there. But in regard to any other expedition reaching the open polar sea under the ice, Sammy had grave doubts. If a whale could not get out of that sea there was every reason why nobody else should try to get into it; the Dipsey's entrance was the barest scratch, and he would not try it again if the north pole were marked out by a solid mountain of gold.

Roland Clewe refused in all personal interviews to receive the laudations offered him as the discoverer of the pole. It was true that the expedition had been planned by him, and all the arrangements and mechanisms which had insured its success were of his invention, but he steadily insisted that Mr. Gibbs and Sammy, as representatives of the party, should be awarded the glory of the great discovery.

The remarkable success of this most remarkable expedition aroused a widespread spirit of arctic exploration. Not only were voyages under the ice discussed and planned, but there was a strong feeling in favor of overland travel by means of the electric-motor sledges; and in England and Norway expeditions were organized for the purpose of reaching the polar sea in this way. It was noticed in most that was written and said upon this subject that one of the strongest inducements for arctic expeditions was the fact that there would be found on the shores of the polar sea a telegraph station, by means of which instantaneous news of success could be transmitted.

The interest of sportsmen, especially of the hunters of big game, was greatly excited by the statement that there was a whale in the polar sea. These great creatures being extinct everywhere else, it would be a unique and crowning glory to capture this last survivor of his race; and there were many museums of natural history which were already discussing contracts with intending polar whalers for the purchase of the skeleton of the last whale.

During all this time of enthusiasm and excitement, Roland Clewe made no reference, in any public way, to his great discovery, which, in his opinion, far surpassed in importance to the world all possible arctic discoveries. He was busily engaged in increasing the penetrating distance of his Artesian ray, and when the public mind should have sufficiently recovered from the perturbation into which it had been thrown by the discovery of the pole, he intended to lay before it the results of his researches into the depths of the earth.

At last the time arrived when he was ready for the announcement of the great achievement of his life. The machinery for the production of the Artesian ray had been removed to the larger building which had contained the automatic shell, and was set up very near the place where the mouth of the great shaft had been.

The lenses were arranged so that the path of the great ray should run down alongside of the shaft and but a few feet from it. The screen was set up as it had been in the other building, and everything was made ready for the operations of the photic borer.

The address which Roland Clewe now delivered to the company was made as brief and as much to the point as possible. The description of the Artesian ray was listened to with the deepest interest and with a vast amount of unexpressed incredulity. What he subsequently said regarding his automatic shell and its accidental descent through fourteen miles of the earth's crust, excited more interest and more incredulity, not entirely unexpressed. Clewe was well known as a man of science, an inventor, an electrician of rare ability, and a person of serious purpose and strict probity, but it was possible for a man of great attainments and of the highest moral character to become a little twisted in his intellect.

When at last the speaker told of his descent into the shaft; of his passage fourteen miles into the interior of the earth; of his discoveries, on which he based his theory that the centre of our globe is one vast diamond, there was a general laugh from the reporters' quarter, and the men of science began to move uneasily in their seats and to talk to each other. Professor Tippengray, her silver hair brushed smoothly back from her pale countenance, sat looking at the speaker through her gold spectacles, as if the rays from her bright eyes would penetrate into the very recesses of his soul. Not an atom of doubt was in her mind; she never doubted, she believed or she disbelieved. At present she believed; she had come there to do that, and she would wait, and when the proper time had come to disbelieve she would do so.

If there had been any disposition in the audience to considerately leave the man of shattered intellect to the care of his friends, it disappeared when Clewe said that he would now be glad to show to all present the workings of the Artesian ray. Crazy as he might be, they wanted to wait and see what he had done. The workmen who had charge of the machinery were on hand, and in a few moments a circle of light was glowing on the ground within the screen. Clewe now announced that he would take those present, one at a time, inside the enclosure and show them how light could be made to penetrate miles downward into the solid earth and rock.

Professor Tippengray was the first one invited to step within the screen. Clewe stood at the entrance ready to explain or to hand her the necessary telescopes; and as the portion of her body which remained visible was between him and the light, there was nothing to disturb his nerves.

The lenses were so set that they could penetrate almost instantly to the depth which had previously been reached, but Clewe made his ray move downward somewhat slowly; he did not wish, especially to the first observer, to show everything at once.

As she beheld at her feet a great lighted well, extending downward beyond the reach of her sharp eyes, Professor Tippengray stepped back with a scream which caused nearly everybody in the audience to start to his feet. Clewe expected this. He raised his hand to the company, asking them to keep still; then he handed Professor Tippengray a stick.

"Take this," he said, "and strike that disk of light; you will find it as solid ground as that you stand on." She did so.

"It is solid!" she gasped; "but where is the end of the stick?"

He turned off the light; there was the end of the stick, and there was the little patch of sandy gravel, which he stepped upon, stamping heavily as he did so. He then retired outside the screen. Professor Tippengray turned to the audience.

"It is all right, gentlemen," she said; "there is nothing to be afraid of. I am going on with the investigation."

Down, down, down went the light, and, telescope in hand, she stood close to the shining edge of the apparent shaft.

"Presently," Clewe said, "you will see the end of the shaft which my Artesian ray is making; then you will perceive a vast expanse of lighted nothingness; that is the great cleft in the diamond which I described to you. In this, apparently suspended in light, you will notice the broken conical end of an enormous iron shell, the shell which made the real tunnel down which I descended in the car."

At this she turned around and looked at him. Even into her strong mind the sharp edge of distrust began to insert itself.

"Look!" said he.

She looked through her telescope. There was the cave of light; there was the shattered end of the shell.

The hands which held the telescope began to tremble. Quickly Clewe drew her away.

"Now," said he, "do you believe?"

For a few moments she could not speak, and then she whispered, "I believe that I have seen what you have told me I should see."

Now succeeded a period of intense excitement, such as was perhaps never before known in an assembly of scientific people. One by one, each person was led by Clewe inside the screen and shown the magical shaft of light. Each received the revelation according to his nature. Some were dumfounded and knew not what to think, others suspected all sorts of tricks, especially with the telescopes, but a well-known optician, who by Clewe's request had brought a telescope of his own, quickly disproved all suspicions of this kind. Many could not help doubting what they had seen, but it was impossible for them to formulate their doubts, with that wonderful shaft of light still present to their mental visions.

For more than two hours Roland Clewe exhibited the action of his Artesian ray. Then he called the company to order. He had shown them his shaft of light, and now he would give them some facts in regard to the real shaft made by the automatic shell.

Every man who had been concerned in Mr. Clewe's descent into the shaft, and those who had assisted in the sounding and the photographing, as well as the persons who had been present when Rovinski was drawn up from its depths, now came forward and gave his testimony. Clewe then exhibited the photographs he had taken with his suspended camera, and to the geologists present these were revelations of absorbing interest; seeing so much that they understood, it was difficult to doubt what they saw and did not understand.

Now that what Clewe had just told them was substantiated by a number of witnesses, and now that they had heard from these men that a plummet, a camera, and a car had been lowered fourteen miles into the bowels of the earth, they had no reason to suppose that the great shaft had existed only in the imagination of one crazy man, and they could not believe that all these assistants and workmen were lunatics or liars. Still they doubted. Clewe could see that in their faces as they intently listened to him.

"My friends," said he, "I have set before you nearly all the facts connected with my experience in the shaft, but one important fact I have not yet mentioned. I am quite sure that few, if any of you, believe that I descended into the cleft of a great diamond lying beneath what we call the crust of the earth. I will now state that before I left that cavity I picked up some fragments of the material of which it is composed, which were splintered off when my shell fell into it. I will show you one of them."

A man brought a table covered with a blue cloth, and from one of his pockets

Clewe drew a small bag. Opening this, he took out a diamond which he had brought up from the cave of light, and placed it on the middle of the table.

"This," he said, "is a fragment of the mass of diamond into which I descended. I have called it 'The Great Stone of Sardis.'"

Nobody spoke, nobody seemed to breathe. The huge diamond, of the form and size of a large lemon, lay glowing upon the dark cloth, its irregular facets-all of them clean-cut and polished, the results of fracture-absorbed and reflected the light, and a halo of subdued radiance surrounded the great gem like a tender mist.

"I brought away a number of fragments of the diamond," said Clewe, his voice sounding as if he spoke into an empty hall, "and some of them have been tested by two of the gentlemen present. Here are the stones which have been tested." And he laid some small pieces on the cloth. "They are of the same material as the large one. I brought them all from what I believe to be the great central core of the earth."

Everybody pressed forward, they surrounded the table. One of the jewelers reverently took up the great stone; then in his other hand he took one of the smaller fragments, which he instantly recognized from its peculiar shape. He looked from one to the other; presently he said:

"They are the same substances. This is a diamond." And he laid the great stone back upon the cloth.

"Is there any other place on the surface of this earth, or is there any mine," inquired a shrill voice from the company, "where one could get a diamond like that?"

"There is no such place known to mortal man," replied the jeweler.

"Then," said the same shrill voice, which belonged to a professor from Harvard, "I think it is the duty of every one present, whose mind is capable of it, to believe that the centre of this earth, or a part of that centre, is a vast diamond; at the same time I would say that my mind is not capable of such a belief."

The public excitement produced by the announcement of the discovery of the pole was a trifle compared to that resulting from the news of the proceedings of that day. Clewe's address, with full accounts by the reporters, was printed everywhere, and it was not long before the learned world had given itself up to the discussion.

From this controversy Roland Clewe kept himself aloof. He had done all that he wanted to do, he had shown all that he cared to show; now he would let other people investigate his facts and his reasonings and argue about them; he would retire-he had done enough.

Professor Tippengray was one of the most enthusiastic defenders of Clewe's theories, and wrote a great deal on the subject.

"Granted," she said, in one of her articles, "that the carboniferous minerals, of which the diamond is one, are derived from vegetable matter, and that wood and plants must have existed before the diamond, where, may I ask, did the prediamond-forests derive their carbon? In what form did it exist before they came into being?"

In another essay she said:

"Half a century ago it was discovered that a man could talk through a thousand miles of wire, and yet now we doubt that a man can descend through fourteen miles of rock."

As to the Artesian ray itself, there could be no doubt whatever, for when Clewe, in one of his experiments, directed it horizontally through a small mountain and objects could be plainly discerned upon the other side, discussions in regard to the genuineness of the action of the photic borer were useless.

In medicine, as well as surgery, the value of the Artesian ray was speedily admitted by the civilized world. To eliminate everything between the eye of the surgeon and the affected portion of a human organism was like the rising of the sun upon a hitherto benighted region.

In the winter, Margaret Raleigh and Roland Clewe were married. They travelled; they lived and loved in pleasant places; and they returned the next year rich in new ideas and old art trophies. They bought a fine estate, and furnished it and improved it as an artist paints a picture, without a thought of the cost of the colors he puts upon it. They were rich enough to have everything they cared to wish for. Undue toil and troubled thought had been the companions of Roland Clewe for many a year, and their company had been imposed upon him by his poverty; now he would not, nor would his wife, allow that companionship to be imposed upon him by his riches.

The Great Stone of Sardis was sold to a syndicate of kings, each member of which was unwilling that this dominant gem of the world should belong exclusively to any royal family other than his own. When a coronation should occur, each member of the syndicate had a right to the use of the jewel; at other times it remained in the custody of one of the great bankers of the world, who at stated periods allowed the inhabitants of said planet to gaze upon its transcendent brilliancy.

But the Works at Sardis were not given up. Margaret was not jealous of her rival, Science, and if Roland had ceased to be an inventor, a discoverer, a philosopher, simply because he had become a rich and happy husband, he would have ceased to be the Roland she had loved so long.

The discovery of the north pole had given him fame and honor; for, notwithstanding the fact that he had never been there, he was always considered as the man who had given to the world its only knowledge of its most northern point.

But in his heart Roland Clewe placed little value upon this discovery. Before Mr. Gibbs had announced the exact location of the north pole, all the students of geography had known where it was; before the eyes of the party on the Dipsey had rested upon the spot pointed out by Mr. Gibbs, it was well understood that the north pole was either an invisible point on the surface of ice or an invisible point on the surface of water. If no possible good could result from a journey such as the Dipsey had made, no subsequent good of a similar kind could ever be expected; for the next submarine vessel which attempted a northern journey under the ice was as likely to remain under the ice as it was to emerge into the open air; and if any one reached the open sea upon motor sledges, it would be necessary for them to carry boats with them if they desired so much as a sight of that weather-vane which, no matter how the wind blew, always pointed to the south.

It was the Artesian ray which Clewe considered the great achievement of his life, and to this he intended to devote the remainder of his working days. It was his object to penetrate deeper and deeper with this ray into the interior of the earth. He could always provide himself with telescopes which would show him the limit reached by his photic borer, and so long as that limit was a transparent disk, illuminated by his great ray, so long he would believe in the existence of the diamond centre of the earth. But when the penetrating light reached something different, then would come the time for a change in his theories.

Discussion and controversy in regard to the discoveries of the Artesian ray continued, often with great earnestness and heat, in learned circles, and there were frequent demands upon Clewe to demonstrate the truth of his descent of fourteen miles below the surface of the earth by an actual exhibition of the shaft he had made or by the construction of another.

But to such requests Clewe turned a deaf ear. It would be impossible for him to open his old shaft. If in any way he could remove the rocks and soil which now blocked up its upper portion for a distance of half a mile, it would be impossible to reconstruct any portion which had been obstructed. The smooth and polished walls of the shaft, which gave Clewe such assurance of safety from falling fragments, would not exist if the tunnel were opened.

As to a new shaft-that would require a new automatic shell, and this Clewe was not willing to construct. In fact, rather than make a new opening to the cave of light, he would prefer that people should doubt that any such cave existed. The more he thought of his own descent into that great cleft, the more he thought of the horrible danger of sliding down some invisible declivity to awful, unknown regions; the more he thought of the mysterious death of Rovinski, the more firmly did he determine that not by his agency should a human being descend again to those mysterious depths. He would do all that he could to enable men to see into the interior of this earth, but he would do nothing to help any man to get there.

The controversies in regard to their discoveries and theory disturbed Roland and Margaret not a whit; they worked steadily, with energy and zeal, and, above all, they worked without that dreadful cloud which so frequently overhangs the laborer in new fields-the fear that the means of labor will disappear before the object of the work shall come in view.

One morning in the early summer, Roland rushed into the room where Margaret sat.

"I have made a discovery!" he exclaimed. "Come quickly, I want to show it to you!"

The heart of the young wife sank. During all these happy days the only shadow that ever flitted across her sky was the thought that some novel temptation of science might turn her husband from the great work to which he had dedicated himself. Much that he had purposed to do, he had, at her earnest solicitation, set aside in favor of what she considered the greatest task to which a human being could give his time, his labor, and his thought. It had been long since she had heard her husband speak of a new discovery, and the words chilled her spirit.

"Come," he said, "quickly!" And, taking her by the hand, he led her out upon the lawn.

Over the soft green turf, under the beautiful trees, by the bright flowers of the parterres and through the natural beauty of the charming park, he led her; but not a word did she say of the soft colors and the soft air. Not a flower did she look at. It seemed to her as if she trod a bleak and stony road. She dreaded what she might hear, what she might see.

He led her hastily through a gate in the garden wall; they passed through the garden, and, whispering to her to step lightly, they entered a quiet, shady spot beyond the house grounds.

"This way," he whispered. "Stoop down. Do you see that shining thing with bright-red patches of color? It is an old tomato-can; a robin has built her nest in it; there are three dear little birds inside; the mother-bird is away, and I wanted you to come before she returned. Isn't it lucky that I should have found that? And here, in our own grounds? I don't believe there was ever another robin who made her nest in a tomato-can!"

Doubtless the two birds who had made that nest sincerely loved each other; and there were at that moment a great many other birds, and a great many men and women, in the same plight, but never anywhere did any human being possess a soul so happy as that of Margaret at that moment.

"Roland," she said, "when I first knew you, you would not have noticed such a little thing as that."

"I couldn't afford it," he said.

"It is the sweetest charm of all your triumphs!" said she.

"What is?" he asked.

"That you feel able to afford it now," answered Margaret.

Samuel Block and his wife Sarah found that life grew pleasanter as they grew older. Fortunate winds had blown down to them from the distant north; the substantial rewards of the enterprise were eminently satisfactory, and the honors which came to them were not at all unwelcome even to the somewhat cynical Samuel.

Sitting one evening with his wife before a cheering fire-for both of them were wedded to the old-fashioned ways of keeping warm-Sammy laid down the daily paper with a smile.

"There's an account here," he said, "of a lot o' fools who are goin' to fit out a submarine-ship to try to go under the ice to the pole, as we did. They may get there, and they may get back; they may get there, and they may never get back; and they may never get there, and never get back; but whichever of the three it happens to be, it'll be of no more good than if they measured a mile to see how many inches there was in it."

"Sammy," exclaimed Sarah, "I do think you are old enough to stop talkin' such nonsense as that. To be sure, there was a good many things that I objected to in that voyage to the pole. In the first place, there was thirteen people on board, which was the greatest mistake ever committed by a human explorin' party; and then, agin, there was no provision for keepin' whales from bumpin' the ship, and if you knew the number of hours that I laid awake on that Dipsey thinkin' what would happen if the frolicsome whale determined not to be left alone, and should follow us into narrow quarters, you would understand my feelin's on that subject; but as to sayin' there wasn't no good in the expedition-I think that's downright wickedness. Look at that fender; look at them andirons, them beautiful brass candlesticks, and that shovel and tongs, with handles shinin' like gold! If it hadn't been that we discovered the pole, and so got able to afford good furniture, all those handsome things would have been made of common silver, just as if they was pots and kittles, or garden-spades!"

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