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|The Underground City||Jules Verne|
Simon Ford's Experiment
|Page 4 of 5||
"At what height?" asked Starr.
"Ten feet from the ground," replied Harry.
James Starr had seated himself on a rock. After critically inhaling the air of the cavern, he gazed at the two miners, almost as if doubting their words, decided as they were. In fact, carburetted hydrogen is not completely scentless, and the engineer, whose sense of smell was very keen, was astonished that it had not revealed the presence of the explosive gas. At any rate, if the gas had mingled at all with the surrounding air, it could only be in a very small stream. There was no danger of an explosion, and they might without fear open the safety lamp to try the experiment, just as the old miner had done before.
What troubled James Starr was, not lest too much gas
mingled with the air, but lest there should be little or none.
"Could they have been mistaken?" he murmured. "No: these men know what they are about. And yet--"
He waited, not without some anxiety, until Simon Ford's phenomenon should have taken place. But just then it seemed that Harry, like himself, had remarked the absence of the characteristic odor of fire-damp; for he exclaimed in an altered voice, "Father, I should say the gas was no longer escaping through the cracks!"
"No longer!" cried the old miner--and, pressing his lips tight together, he snuffed the air several times.
Then, all at once, with a sudden movement, "Hand me your lamp, Harry," he said.
Ford took the lamp with a trembling hand. He drew off the wire gauze case which surrounded the wick, and the flame burned in the open air.
As they had expected, there was no explosion, but, what was more serious, there was not even the slight crackling which indicates the presence of a small quantity of firedamp. Simon took the stick which Harry was holding, fixed his lamp to the end of it, and raised it high above his head, up to where the gas, by reason of its buoyancy, would naturally accumulate. The flame of the lamp, burning straight and clear, revealed no trace of the carburetted hydrogen.
"Close to the wall," said the engineer.
"Yes," responded Ford, carrying the lamp to that part of the wall at which he and his son had, the evening before, proved the escape of gas.
The old miner's arm trembled whilst he tried to hoist the lamp up. "Take my place, Harry," said he.
Harry took the stick, and successively presented the lamp to the different fissures in the rock; but he shook his head, for of that slight crackling peculiar to escaping fire-damp he heard nothing. There was no flame. Evidently not a particle of gas was escaping through the rock.
"Nothing!" cried Ford, clenching his fist with a gesture rather of anger than disappointment.
A cry escaped Harry.
"What's the matter?" asked Starr quickly.
"Someone has stopped up the cracks in the schist!"
"Is that true?" exclaimed the old miner.
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