On the other side of this membrane, inside the ear, there is air, which fills the whole of the inner chamber and the tube, which runs down into the throat behind the nose, and is called the Eustachian tube after the man who discovered it. This tube is closed at the end by a valve which opens and shuts. If you breathe out strongly, and then shut your mouth and swallow, you will hear a little “click” in your ear. This is because in swallowing you draw the air out of the Eustachian tube and so draw in the membrane, which clicks as it goes back again. But unless you do this the tube and the whole chamber cavity behind the membrane remains full of air.
Now, as this membrane is driven to and fro by the sound-waves, it naturally shakes the air in the cavity behind it, and it also sets moving three most curious little bones. The first of the bones is fastened to the middle of the drumhead so that it moves to and fro every time this membrane quivers. The head of this bone fits into a hole in the next bone, the anvil, and is fastened to it by muscles, so as to drag it along with it; but, the muscles being elastic, it can draw back a little from the anvil, and so give it a blow each time it comes back. This anvil is in its turn very firmly fixed to the little bone, shaped like a stirrup, which you see at the end of the chain.
This stirrup rests upon a curious body which looks in the diagram like a snail-shell with tubes coming out of it. This body, which is called the labyrinth, is made of bone, but it has two little windows in it, one covered only by a membrane, while the other has the head of the stirrup resting upon it.
Now, with a little attention you will understand that when the air in the canal shakes the drumhead to and fro, this membrane must drag with it the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup. Each time the drum goes in, the hammer will hit the anvil, and drive the stirrup against the little window; every time it goes out it will draw the hammer, the anvil, and the stirrup out again, ready for another blow. Thus the stirrup is always playing upon this little window. Meanwhile, inside the bony labyrinth there is a fluid like water, and along the little passages are very fine hairs, which wave to and fro like reeds; and whenever the stirrup hits at the little window, the fluid moves these hairs to and fro, and they irritate the ends of a nerve, and this nerve carries the message to your brain. There are also some curious little stones called otoliths, lying in some parts of this fluid, and they, by their rolling to and fro, probably keep up the motion and prolong the sound.