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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Great Stone Of Sardis - Chapter V - UNDER WATER
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The Great Stone Of Sardis - Chapter V - UNDER WATER Post by :Charlie_Pilgrim Category :Long Stories Author :Frank R Stockton Date :April 2011 Read :552

Click below to download : The Great Stone Of Sardis - Chapter V - UNDER WATER (Format : PDF)

The Great Stone Of Sardis - Chapter V - UNDER WATER

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
whenever we choose to produce it in sufficient quantities."

"I am glad to hear it," said Mrs. Block, "and I hope the machines
will never get out of order. But I should think that sort of
air, made fresh from the water, would be very damp. It's very
different from the air we are used to, which is warmed by the sun
and properly aired."

"Aired air seems funny to me," remarked Sammy.

There was fascination, not at all surprising, about the great
glass lights in the Dipsey, and whenever a man was off duty he
was pretty sure to be at one of these windows if he could get
there. At first Mrs. Block was afraid to look out of any of
them. It made her blood creep, she said, to stare out into all
that solemn water. For the first two days, when she could get no
one to talk to her, she passed most of her time sitting in the
cabin, holding in one of her hands a dustbrush, and in the other
a farmer's almanac. She did not use the brush, nor did she read
the almanac, but they reminded her of home and the world which
was real.

But when she did make up her mind to look out of the windows, she
became greatly interested, especially at the bow, where she could
gaze out into the water illuminated by the long lane of light
thrown out by the search-light. Here she continually imagined
she saw things, and sometimes greatly startled the men on lookout
by her exclamations. Once she thought she saw a floating corpse,
but fortunately it was Sammy who was by her when she proclaimed
her discovery, and he did not believe in any such nonsense,
suggesting that it might have been some sort of a fish. After
that the idea of fish filled the mind of Mrs. Block, and she set
herself to work to search in an encyclopaedia which was on board
for descriptions of fishes which inhabited the depths of the
arctic seas. To meet a whale, she thought, would be very bad,
but then a whale is clumsy and soft; a sword-fish was what she
most dreaded. A sword-fish running his sword through one of the
glass windows, and perhaps coming in himself along with the water,
sent a chill down her back every time she thought about it and
talked about it.

"You needn't be afraid of sword-fishes," said Captain Jim
Hubbell. "They don't fancy the cold water we are sailin' in; and
as to whales, don't you know, madam, there ain't no more of 'em?"

"No more whales!" exclaimed Sarah. "I have heard about 'em all
my life!"

"Oh, you can read and hear about 'em easy enough," replied Captain
Jim, "but you nor nobody else will ever see none of 'em ag'in--at
least, in this part of the world. Sperm-whales began gittin' scarce
when I was a boy, and pretty soon there was nothin' left but
bow-head or right whales, that tried to keep out of the way of
human bein's by livin' far up North; but when they came to shootin'
'em with cannons which would carry three or four miles, the whale's
day was up, and he got scarcer and scarcer, until he faded out
altogether. There was a British vessel, the Barkright, that killed
two bow-head whales in 1935, north of Melville Island, but since
that time there hasn't been a whale seen in all the arctic waters.
I have heard that said by sailors, and I have read about it. They
have all been killed, and nothin' left of 'em but the skeletons
that's in the museums."

Mrs. Block shuddered. "It would be terrible to meet a livin'
one, and yet it is an awful thought to think that they are all
dead and gone," said she.

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