Page:The fairy tales of science.djvu/43

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so great has been the intellectual activity of the last twenty years.

In England, America, and many continental countries, iron wires, plated with zinc to prevent rusting, form the roads along which our ethereal courier travels. These wires are supported by wooden posts, erected some sixty yards apart on every railway; they are not permitted to touch the wood, but are passed through short tubes of porcelain attached to the posts. Were we to omit these little tubes, the Spirit would shirk his duty, and would travel no further than the first post, down which he would pass to the earth.

These aerial roads are sometimes rendered impassable by fogs, snow-storms, and heavy rains; they are, moreover, seriously affected by Amber Spirit himself when he takes the form of Lightning. During a thunderstorm everything goes wrong, and the Spirit having escaped from his thraldom, sets man at defiance. He takes possession of the wires and plays a hundred antics. The signal bells ring without ceasing; the needles vibrate to and fro, or remain for hours deflected to one side; while the printing machines strike off unmeaning rows of dots and lines, or long sentences of an unknown tongue.

In Prussia, Saxony, and Austria, copper wires, covered with gutta percha, and buried at some little depth in the ground, are employed as a means of communication. These subterranean wires are not