The Great Stone of Sardis


The Great Stone of Sardis was first published Stockton's book of the same title in 1898. "Roland Clewe, a scientist, made many startling discoveries and inventions at his works in Sardis in the year 1946. One of his inventions was an automatic projectile, powered within itself, much like a rocket. Eighteen feet in length and fourteen feet in diameter, conical and formed by a number of flat steel rings. When not in operation these rings did not touch one another, but they could be forced together by pressure on the point of the cone. One day this shell fell from the supports on which it lay, the conical end down, and ploughed its way with terrific force into the earth—how far, no one could tell." -- Calvin Metcalf's abridged preface published in the anthology, The Literary World Seventh Reader (1919).

On the day that Margaret left Sardis, Roland began his preparations for descending the shaft. He had so thoroughly considered the machinery and appliances necessary for the undertaking and had worked out all his plans in such detail, in his mind and upon paper, that he knew exactly what he wanted to do. His orders for the great length of chain needed exhausted the stock of several factories, and the engines he obtained were even more powerful than he had intended them to be; but these he could procure immediately, and for smaller ones he would have been obliged to wait.

The circular car which was intended to move up and down the shaft, and the peculiar machinery connected with it, together with the hoisting apparatus, were all made in his works. His skilled artisans labored steadily day and night.

It was ten days before he was ready to make his descent. Margaret was still at the seashore. They had written to each other frequently, but neither had made mention of the great shaft. Even when he was ready to go down, Clewe said nothing to any one of an immediate intention of descending. There was a massive door which covered the mouth of the pit; this he ordered locked and went away.

The next morning he walked into the building a little earlier than was his custom, called for the engineers, and for Bryce, who was to take charge of everything connected with the descent, and announced that he was going down that day.

Bryce and the men who were to assist him looked very serious at this. Indeed, if their employer had been any other man than Roland Clewe, it is possible they might have remonstrated with him; but they knew him, and they said and did nothing more than what was their duty.

The door of the shaft was removed, the car which had hung high above it was lowered to the mouth of the opening, and Roland stepped within it and seated himself. Above him and around him were placed geological tools and instruments of many kinds, a lantern, food, and drink—everything, in fact, which he could possibly be presumed to need upon this extraordinary journey. A telephone was at his side by which he could communicate at any time with the surface of the earth. There were electric bells; there was everything to make his expedition safe and profitable. Finally he gave the word to start the engines; there were no ceremonies, and nothing was said out of the common.

When the conical top of the car had descended below the surface, a steel grating, with holes for the passage of the chains, was let down over the mouth of the shaft, and the downward journey began. In the floor of the car were grated openings, through which Clewe could look downward; but, although the shaft below him was brilliantly illuminated by electric lights placed beneath the car, it failed to frighten him or make him dizzy to look down, for the vaperture did not appear to be very far below him. The upper part of the car was partially open, and bright lights shone upon the sides of the shaft.

As he slowly descended, Clewe could see the various strata appearing and disappearing in the order in which he knew them. Not far below the surface he passed cavities which he believed had held water; but there was no water in them now. He had expected these pockets, and had feared that upon their edges might be loosened patches of rock or soil, but everything seemed tightly packed and hard. If anything had been loosened, it had gone down already.

Down, down he went until he came to the eternal rocks, where the inside of the shaft was polished as if it had been made of glass. The air became warmer and warmer, but Clewe knew that the heat would soon decrease. The character of the rocks changed, and he studied them as he went down, continually making notes.

After a time the polished rocky sides of the shaft grew to be of a solemn sameness. Clewe ceased to take notes; he lighted a cigar and smoked. He tried to imagine what he would come to when he reached the bottom; it would be some sort of a cave, he thought, in which his shell had made an opening. He began to imagine what sort of a cave it would be, and how high the roof was from the floor. Clewe then suddenly wondered whether his gardener had remembered what he had told him about the flower-beds in front of the house; he wished certain changes made which Margaret had suggested. He tried to keep his mind on the flower-beds, but it drifted away to the cave below. He thought of the danger of coming into some underground body of water, where he would be drowned; but he knew that was a silly idea. If the shell had gone through subterranean reservoirs, the water of these would have run out, and before it reached the bottom of the shaft would have dissipated into mist.

Down, down he went. He looked at his watch; he had been in that car only an hour and a half. Was that possible? He had supposed he was almost at the bottom. Suddenly his mind reverted to the people above and the telephone. Why had not some of them spoken to him? It was shameful! He instantly called Bryce, and his heart leaped with joy when he heard the familiar voice in his ear. Now he talked steadily on for more than an hour. He had his gardener summoned, and told the man all that he wanted done in the flower-beds. He gave many directions in regard to the various operations at the works. There were two or three inventions in which he took particular interest, and of these he talked at great length with Bryce. Suddenly, in the midst of some talk about hollow steel rods, he told Bryce to let the engines run faster; there was no reason why the car should go so slowly.

The windlasses moved with a little more rapidity, and Clewe now turned and looked at an indicator which was placed on the side of the car, a little over his head. This instrument showed the depth to which he had descended, but he had not looked at it before, for if anything would make him nervous, it would be the continual consideration of the depth to which he had descended.

The indicator showed that he had gone down fourteen and one-eighth miles. Clewe turned and sat stiffly in his seat. He glanced down and saw beneath him only an illuminated hole, fading away at the bottom. Then he turned to speak to Bryce, but to his surprise, he could think of nothing to say. After that he lighted another cigar and sat quietly.

Some minutes passed—he did not know how many—and he looked down through the gratings in the floor of the car. The electric light streamed downward through a deep vcrevice, which did not now fade away into nothingness, but ended in something dark and glittering. Then, as he came nearer and nearer to this glittering thing, Clewe saw that it was his automatic shell, lying on its side; only a part of it was visible through the opening of the shaft which he was descending. In an instant, as it seemed to him, the car emerged from the shaft, and he seemed to be hanging in the air—at least there was nothing he could see except that great shell, lying some forty feet below him. But it was impossible that the shell should be lying on the air! He rang to stop the car.

“Anything the matter?” cried Bryce.

“Nothing at all,” Clewe replied. “It’s all right; I am near the bottom.“

In a state of the highest nervous excitement, Clewe gazed about him. He was no longer in a shaft; but where was he? Look around on what side he would, he saw nothing but the light going out from his lamps, light which seemed to extend indefinitely all about him. There appeared to be no limit to his vision in any direction. Then he leaned over the side of his car and looked downward. There lay the great shell directly under him, although under it and around it, extending as far beneath it as it extended in every other direction, shone the light from his own lamp. Nevertheless, that great shell, weighing many tons, lay as if it rested upon the solid ground!

After a few moments, Clewe shut his eyes; they pained him. Something seemed to be coming into them like a fine frost in a winter wind. Then he called to Bryce to let the car descend very slowly. It went down, down, gradually approaching the great shell. When the bottom of the car was within two feet of it, Clewe rang to stop. He looked down at the complicated machine he had worked upon so long, with something like a feeling of affection. This he knew; it was his own. Gazing upon its familiar form, he felt that he had a companion in this region of unreality.

Pushing back the sliding door of the car, Clewe sat upon the bottom and cautiously put out his feet and legs, lowering them until they touched the shell. It was firm and solid. Although he knew it must be so, the immovability of the great mass of iron gave him a sudden shock of mysterious fear. How could it be immovable when there was nothing under it—when it rested on air?

But he must get out of that car, he must explore, he must find out. There certainly could be no danger so long as he clung to the shell.

He cautiously got out of the car and let himself down upon the shell. It was not a pleasant surface to stand on, being uneven, with great spiral ribs, and Clewe sat down upon it, clinging to it with his hands. Presently he leaned over to one side and looked beneath him. The shadows of that shell went down, down, down into space, until it made him sick to look at them. He drew back quickly, clutched the shell with his arms, and shut his eyes. He felt as if he were about to drop with it into a measureless depth of atmosphere.

He Put Out One Foot He Put Out One Foot But he soon raised himself. He had not come down there to be frightened, to let his nerves run away with him. He had come to find out things. What was it that this shell rested upon? Seizing two of the ribs with a strong clutch, he let himself hang over the sides of the shell until his feet were level with its lower side. They touched something hard. He pressed them downward; it was very hard. He raised himself and stood upon the substance which supported the shell. It was as solid as any rock. He looked down and saw his shadow stretching far beneath him. It seemed as if he were standing upon petrified air. He put out one foot and moved a little, still holding on to the shell. He walked, as if upon solid air, to the foremost end of the long projectile. It relieved him to turn his thoughts from what was around him to this familiar object. He found its conical end shattered.

After a little he slowly made his way back to the other end of the shell, and now his eyes became somewhat accustomed to the great radiance about him. He thought he could perceive here and there faint signs of long, nearly horizontal lines—lines of different shades of light. Above him, as if it hung in the air, was the round, dark hole through which he had descended.

He rose, took his hands from the shell, and made a few steps. He trod upon a horizontal surface, but in putting one foot forward, he felt a slight incline. It seemed to him, that he was about to slip downward! Instantly he retreated to the shell and clutched it in a sudden frenzy of fear.

Standing thus, with his eyes still wandering, he heard the bell of the telephone ring. Without hesitation he mounted the shell and got into the car. Bryce was calling him.

“Come up,” he said. “You have been down there long enough. No matter what you have found, it is time for you to come up.”

“All right,” said Roland. “You can haul me up, but go very slowly at first.”

The car rose. When it reached the orifice in the top of the cave of light, Clewe heard the conical steel top grate slightly as it touched the edge, for the car was still swinging a little from the motion given to it by his entrance; but it soon hung perfectly vertical and went silently up the shaft.

Seated in the car, which was steadily ascending the great shaft, Roland Clewe took no notice of anything about him. He did not look at the brilliantly lighted interior of the shaft; he paid no attention to his instruments; he did not consult his watch, or glance at the dial which indicated the distance he had traveled. Several times the telephone bell rang, and Bryce inquired how he was getting along; but these questions he answered as briefly as possible, and sat looking down at his knees and seeing nothing.

When he was half-way up, he suddenly became conscious that he was very hungry. He hurriedly ate some sandwiches and drank some water, and again gave himself up entirely to mental labor. When, at last, the noise of machinery above him and the sound of voices aroused him from his abstraction, and the car emerged upon the surface of the earth, Clewe hastily slid back the door and stepped out. At that instant he felt himself encircled by a pair of arms. Bryce was near by, and there were other men by the engines, but the owner of those arms thought nothing of this.

“Margaret!” cried Clewe, “how came you here?”

“I have been here all the time,” she exclaimed; “or, at least, nearly all the time.” And as she spoke she drew back and looked at him, her eyes full of happy tears. “Mr. Bryce telegraphed to me the instant he knew you were going down, and I was here before you had descended half-way.”

“What!” he cried. “And all those messages came from you?”

“Nearly all,” she answered. “But tell me, Roland—tell me; have you been successful?”

“I am successful,” he answered. “I have discovered everything!”

Bryce came forward.

“I will speak to you all very soon,” said Clewe. “I can’t tell you anything now. Margaret, let us go. I wish to talk to you, but not until I have been to my office. I will meet you at your house in a very few minutes.” And with that he left the building and fairly ran to his office.

A quarter of an hour later Roland entered Margaret’s library, where she sat awaiting him. He carefully closed the doors and windows. They sat side by side upon the sofa.

“Now, Roland,” she said, “I cannot wait one second longer. What is it that you have discovered?”

“When I arrived at the bottom of the shaft,” he began, “I found myself in a cleft, I know not how large, made in a vast mass of transparent substance, hard as the hardest rock and as transparent as air in the light of my electric lamps. My shell rested securely upon this substance. I walked upon it. It seemed as if I could see miles below me. In my opinion, Margaret, that substance was once the head of a comet.”

“What is the substance?” she asked, hastily.

“It is a mass of solid diamond!”

Margaret screamed. She could not say one word.

“Yes,” said he, “I believe the whole central portion of the earth is one great diamond. When it was moving about in its orbit as a comet, the light of the sun streamed through this diamond and spread an enormous tail out into space; after a time this vnucleus began to burn.”

“Burn!” exclaimed Margaret.

“Yes, the diamond is almost pure vcarbon; why should it not burn? It burned and burned and burned. Ashes formed upon it and encircled it; it still burned, and when it was entirely covered with ashes it ceased to be transparent and ceased to be a comet; it became a planet, and revolved in a different orbit. It still burned within its covering of ashes, and these gradually changed to rock, to metal, to everything that forms the crust of the earth.”

She gazed upon him, entranced.

“Some parts of this great central mass of carbon burn more fiercely than other parts. Some parts do not burn at all. In volcanic regions the fires rage; where my great shell went down it no longer burns. Now you have my theory. It is crude and rough, for I have tried to give it to you in as few words as possible.”

“Oh, Roland,” she cried, “it is absurd! Diamond! Why, people will think you are crazy. You must not say such a thing as that to anybody. It is simply impossible that the greater part of this earth should be an enormous diamond.”

“Margaret,” he answered, “nothing is impossible. The central portion of this earth is composed of something; it might just as well be diamond as anything else. In fact, if you consider the matter, it is more likely to be, because diamond is a very original substance. As I have said, it is almost pure carbon. I do not intend to repeat a word of what I have told you to any one—at least until the matter has been well considered—but I am not afraid of being thought crazy. Margaret, will you look at these?”

He took from his pocket some shining substances resembling glass. Some of them were flat, some round; the largest was as big as a lemon; others were smaller fragments of various sizes.

“These are pieces of the great diamond which were broken when the shell struck the bottom of the cave in which I found it. I picked them up as I felt my way around this shell, when walking upon what seemed to me solid air. I thrust them into my pocket, and I would not come to you, Margaret, with this story, until I had visited my office to find out what these fragments are. I tested them; their substance is diamond!”

Half-dazed, she took the largest piece in her hand.

“Roland,” she whispered, “if this is really a diamond, there is nothing like it known to man!”

“Nothing, indeed,” said he.

She sat staring at the great piece of glowing mineral which lay in her hand. Its surface was irregular; it had many faces; the subdued light from the window gave it the appearance of animated water. He felt it necessary to speak.

“Even these little pieces,” he said, “are most valuable jewels.”

“Roland,” she suddenly cried, excitedly, “these are riches beyond imagination! What is common wealth to what you have discovered? Every living being on earth could—”

“Ah, Margaret,” he interrupted, “do not let your thoughts run that way. If my discovery should be put to the use of which you are thinking, it would bring poverty to the world, not wealth, and every diamond on earth would be worthless.”

She trembled. “And these—are they to be valued as common pebbles?”

“Oh no,” said he; “these broken fragments I have found are to us riches far beyond our wildest imagination.”

“Roland,” she cried, “are you going down into that shaft for more of them?”

“Never, never, never again,” he answered. “What we have here is enough for us, and if I were offered all the good that there is in this world, which money cannot buy, I would never go down into that cleft again. There was one moment, as I stood in that cave, when an awful terror shot into my soul that I shall never be able to forget. In the light of my electric lamps, sent through a vast transparent mass, I could see nothing, but I could feel. I put out my foot, and I found it was upon a sloping surface. In another instant I might have slid—where? I cannot bear to think of it!”

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