You have touched the spot. I will again call your attention to this interesting little creature which I hold in my hand. It is all nerves and sensibility beneath that protective crust. Is it not evident that if a parasitic animalcule desired to call its attention it would sink a hole in its shell and so stimulate its sensory apparatus?'
'Or, again, we will take the case of the homely flea or a mosquito which explores the surface of the human body. We may be unaware of its presence. But presently, when it sinks its proboscis through the skin, which is our crust, we are disagreeably reminded that we are not altogether alone. My plans now will no doubt begin to dawn upon you. Light breaks in the darkness.'
'Good heavens! You propose to sink a shaft through the earth's crust?'
He closed his eyes with ineffable complacency.
'You see before you,' he said, 'the first who will ever pierce that horny hide. I may even put it in the present tense and say who has pierced it.'
'You have done it!'
'With the very efficient aid of Morden and think I may say that I have done it. Several years of constant work which has been carried on night and day, and conducted by every known species of drill, borer, crusher, and explosive, has at last brought us to our goal.'
'You don't mean to say you are through the crust!'
'If your expressions denote bewilderment they may pass. If they denote incredulity--'
'No, sir, nothing of the kind.'
'You will accept my statement without question. We are through the crust. It was exactly fourteen thousand four hundred and forty-two yards thick, or roughly eight miles. In the course of our sinking it may interest you to know that we have exposed a fortune in the matter of coal-beds which would probably in the long run defray the cost of the enterprise. Our chief difficulty has been the springs of water in the lower chalk and Hastings sands, but these we have overcome. The last stage has now been reached--and the last stage is none other than Mr. Peerless Jones. You, sir, represent the mosquito. Your Artesian borer takes the place of the stinging proboscis. The brain has done its work. Exit the thinker. Enter the mechanical one, the peerless one, with his rod of metal. Do I make myself clear?'
'You talk of eight miles!' I cried. 'Are you aware, sir, that five thousand feet is considered nearly the limit for Artesian borings? I am acquainted with one in upper Silesia which is six thousand two hundred feet deep, but it is looked upon as a wonder.'
'You misunderstand me, Mr. Peerless. Either my explanation or your brain is at fault, and I will not insist upon which. I am well aware of the limits of Artesian borings, and it is not likely that I would have spent millions of pounds upon my colossal tunnel if a six-inch boring would have met my needs. All that I ask you is to have a drill ready which shall be as sharp as possible, not more than a hundred feet in length, and operated by an electric motor. An ordinary percussion drill driven home by a weight will meet every requirement.
'Why by an electric motor?'
'I am here, Mr. Jones, to give orders, not reasons. Before we finish it may happen--it may, I say, happen--that your very life may depend upon this drill being started from a distance by electricity. It can, I presume, be done?'
'Certainly it can be done.'
'Then prepare to do it. The matter is not yet ready for your actual presence, but your preparations may now be made. I have nothing more to say.'
'But it is essential,' I expostulated, 'that you should let me know what soil the drill is to penetrate. Sand, or clay, or chalk would each need different treatment.'
'Let us say jelly,' said Challenger. 'Yes, we will for the present suppose that you have to sink your drill into jelly. And now, Mr. Jones, I have matters of some importance to engage my mind, so I will wish you good morning. You can draw up a formal contract with mention of your charges for my Head of Works.'
I bowed and turned, but before I reached the door my curiosity overcame me.