TABLE OF CONTENTS
CHAPTER 1 MY UNCLE MAKES A GREAT DISCOVERY
CHAPTER 2 THE MYSTERIOUS PARCHMENT
CHAPTER 3 AN ASTOUNDING DISCOVERY
CHAPTER 4 WE START ON THE JOURNEY
CHAPTER 5 FIRST LESSONS IN CLIMBING
CHAPTER 6 OUR VOYAGE TO ICELAND
CHAPTER 7 CONVERSATION AND DISCOVERY
CHAPTER 8 THE EIDER-DOWN HUNTER--OFF AT LAST
CHAPTER 9 OUR START--WE MEET WITH ADVENTURES BY THE WAY
CHAPTER 10 TRAVELING IN ICELAND
CHAPTER 11 WE REACH MOUNT SNEFFELS--THE "REYKIR"
CHAPTER 12 THE ASCENT OF MOUNT SNEFFELS
CHAPTER 13 THE SHADOW OF SCARTARIS
CHAPTER 14 THE REAL JOURNEY COMMENCES
CHAPTER 15 WE CONTINUE OUR DESCENT
CHAPTER 16 THE EASTERN TUNNEL
CHAPTER 17 DEEPER AND DEEPER--THE COAL MINE
CHAPTER 18 THE WRONG ROAD!
CHAPTER 19 THE WESTERN GALLERY--A NEW ROUTE
CHAPTER 20 WATER, WHERE IS IT? A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT
CHAPTER 21 UNDER THE OCEAN
CHAPTER 22 SUNDAY BELOW GROUND
CHAPTER 23 ALONE
CHAPTER 24 LOST!
CHAPTER 25 THE WHISPERING GALLERY
CHAPTER 26 A RAPID RECOVERY
CHAPTER 27 THE CENTRAL SEA
CHAPTER 28 LAUNCHING THE RAFT
CHAPTER 29 ON THE WATERS--A RAFT VOYAGE
CHAPTER 30 TERRIFIC SAURIAN COMBAT
CHAPTER 31 THE SEA MONSTER
CHAPTER 32 THE BATTLE OF THE ELEMENTS
CHAPTER 33 OUR ROUTE REVERSED
CHAPTER 34 A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY
CHAPTER 35 DISCOVERY UPON DISCOVERY
CHAPTER 36 WHAT IS IT?
CHAPTER 37 THE MYSTERIOUS DAGGER
CHAPTER 38 NO OUTLET--BLASTING THE ROCK
CHAPTER 39 THE EXPLOSION AND ITS RESULTS
CHAPTER 40 THE APE GIGANS
CHAPTER 41 HUNGER
CHAPTER 42 THE VOLCANIC SHAFT
CHAPTER 43 DAYLIGHT AT LAST
CHAPTER 44 THE JOURNEY ENDED
MY UNCLE MAKES A GREAT DISCOVERY
Looking back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day,
am scarcely able to believe in the reality of my adventures. They were
truly so wonderful that even now I am bewildered when I think of them.
My uncle was a German, having married my mother's sister, an
Englishwoman. Being very much attached to his fatherless nephew, he
invited me to study under him in his home in the fatherland. This home
was in a large town, and my uncle a professor of philosophy, chemistry,
geology, mineralogy, and many other ologies.
One day, after passing some hours in the laboratory--my uncle being
absent at the time--I suddenly felt the necessity of renovating the
tissues--<i>i.e.</i>, I was hungry, and was about to rouse up
our old French
cook, when my uncle, Professor Von Hardwigg, suddenly opened the street
door, and came rushing upstairs.
Now Professor Hardwigg, my worthy uncle, is by no means a bad sort of
man; he is, however, choleric and original. To bear with him means to
obey; and scarcely had his heavy feet resounded within our joint
domicile than he shouted for me to attend upon him.
I hastened to obey, but before I could reach his room, jumping three
steps at a time, he was stamping his right foot upon the landing.
"Harry!" he cried, in a frantic tone, "are you coming
Now to tell the truth, at that moment I was far more interested in the
question as to what was to constitute our dinner than in any problem of
science; to me soup was more interesting than soda, an omelette more
tempting than arithmetic, and an artichoke of ten times more value than
any amount of asbestos.
But my uncle was not a man to be kept waiting; so adjourning therefore
all minor questions, I presented myself before him.
He was a very learned man. Now most persons in this category supply
themselves with information, as peddlers do with goods, for the benefit
of others, and lay up stores in order to diffuse them abroad for the
benefit of society in general. Not so my excellent uncle, Professor
Hardwigg; he studied, he consumed the midnight oil, he pored over heavy
tomes, and digested huge quartos and folios in order to keep the
knowledge acquired to himself.
There was a reason, and it may be regarded as a good one, why my uncle
objected to display his learning more than was absolutely necessary: he
stammered; and when intent upon explaining the phenomena of the heavens,
was apt to find himself at fault, and allude in such a vague way to sun,
moon, and stars that few were able to comprehend his meaning. To tell
the honest truth, when the right word would not come, it was generally
replaced by a very powerful adjective.
In connection with the sciences there are many almost unpronounceable
names--names very much resembling those of Welsh villages; and my uncle
being very fond of using them, his habit of stammering was not thereby
improved. In fact, there were periods in his discourse when he would
finally give up and swallow his discomfiture--in a glass of water.
As I said, my uncle, Professor Hardwigg, was a very learned man; and
now add a most kind relative. I was bound to him by the double ties of
affection and interest. I took deep interest in all his doings, and
hoped some day to be almost as learned myself. It was a rare thing for
me to be absent from his lectures. Like him, I preferred mineralogy to
all the other sciences. My anxiety was to gain real <i>knowledge of
earth</i>. Geology and mineralogy were to us the sole objects of life,
in connection with these studies many a fair specimen of stone, chalk,
or metal did we break with our hammers.
Steel rods, loadstones, glass pipes, and bottles of various acids were
oftener before us than our meals. My uncle Hardwigg was once known to
classify six hundred different geological specimens by their weight,
hardness, fusibility, sound, taste, and smell.
He corresponded with all the great, learned, and scientific men of the
age. I was, therefore, in constant communication with, at all events the
letters of, Sir Humphry Davy, Captain Franklin, and other great men.
But before I state the subject on which my uncle wished to confer with
me, I must say a word about his personal appearance. Alas! my readers
will see a very different portrait of him at a future time, after he has
gone through the fearful adventures yet to be related.
My uncle was fifty years old; tall, thin, and wiry. Large spectacles
hid, to a certain extent, his vast, round, and goggle eyes, while his
nose was irreverently compared to a thin file. So much indeed did it
resemble that useful article, that a compass was said in his presence to
have made considerable N (Nasal) deviation.
The truth being told, however, the only article really attracted to my
uncle's nose was tobacco.
Another peculiarity of his was, that he always stepped a yard at a time,
clenched his fists as if he were going to hit you, and was, when in one
of his peculiar humors, very far from a pleasant companion.
It is further necessary to observe that he lived in a very nice house,
in that very nice street, the Konigstrasse at Hamburg. Though lying in
the centre of a town, it was perfectly rural in its aspect--half wood,
half bricks, with old-fashioned gables--one of the few old houses spared
by the great fire of 1842.
When I say a nice house, I mean a handsome house--old, tottering, and
not exactly comfortable to English notions: a house a little off the
perpendicular and inclined to fall into the neighboring canal; exactly
the house for a wandering artist to depict; all the more that you could
scarcely see it for ivy and a magnificent old tree which grew over the
My uncle was rich; his house was his own property, while he had a
considerable private income. To my notion the best part of his
possessions was his god-daughter, Gretchen. And the old cook, the young
lady, the Professor and I were the sole inhabitants.
I loved mineralogy, I loved geology. To me there was nothing like
pebbles--and if my uncle had been in a little less of a fury, we should
have been the happiest of families. To prove the excellent Hardwigg's
impatience, I solemnly declare that when the flowers in the drawing-room
pots began to grow, he rose every morning at four o'clock to make them
grow quicker by pulling the leaves!
Having described my uncle, I will now give an account of our interview.
He received me in his study; a perfect museum, containing every natural
curiosity that can well be imagined--minerals, however, predominating.
Every one was familiar to me, having been catalogued by my own hand. My
uncle, apparently oblivious of the fact that he had summoned me to his
presence, was absorbed in a book. He was particularly fond of early
editions, tall copies, and unique works.
"Wonderful!" he cried, tapping his forehead. "Wonderful--wonderful!"
It was one of those yellow-leaved volumes now rarely found on stalls,
and to me it appeared to possess but little value. My uncle, however,
was in raptures.
He admired its binding, the clearness of its characters, the ease with
which it opened in his hand, and repeated aloud, half a dozen times,
that it was very, very old.
To my fancy he was making a great fuss about nothing, but it was not
province to say so. On the contrary, I professed considerable interest
in the subject, and asked him what it was about.
"It is the Heims-Kringla of Snorre Tarleson," he said, "the
Icelandic author of the twelfth century--it is a true and correct
account of the Norwegian princes who reigned in Iceland."
My next question related to the language in which it was written. I
hoped at all events it was translated into German. My uncle was
indignant at the very thought, and declared he wouldn't give a penny for
a translation. His delight was to have found the original work in the
Icelandic tongue, which he declared to be one of the most magnificent
and yet simple idioms in the world--while at the same time its
grammatical combinations were the most varied known to students.
"About as easy as German?" was my insidious remark.
My uncle shrugged his shoulders.
"The letters at all events," I said, "are rather difficult
"It is a Runic manuscript, the language of the original population
Iceland, invented by Odin himself," cried my uncle, angry at my
I was about to venture upon some misplaced joke on the subject, when
small scrap of parchment fell out of the leaves. Like a hungry man
snatching at a morsel of bread the Professor seized it. It was about
five inches by three and was scrawled over in the most extraordinary
The lines shown here are an exact facsimile of what was written on the
venerable piece of parchment--and have wonderful importance, as they
induced my uncle to undertake the most wonderful series of adventures
which ever fell to the lot of human beings.
My uncle looked keenly at the document for some moments and then
declared that it was Runic. The letters were similar to those in the
book, but then what did they mean? This was exactly what I wanted to
Now as I had a strong conviction that the Runic alphabet and dialect
were simply an invention to mystify poor human nature, I was delighted
to find that my uncle knew as much about the matter as I did--which was
nothing. At all events the tremulous motion of his fingers made me think
"And yet," he muttered to himself, "it is old Icelandic,
I am sure of
And my uncle ought to have known, for he was a perfect polyglot
dictionary in himself. He did not pretend, like a certain learned
pundit, to speak the two thousand languages and four thousand idioms
made use of in different parts of the globe, but he did know all the
more important ones.
It is a matter of great doubt to me now, to what violent measures my
uncle's impetuosity might have led him, had not the clock struck two,
and our old French cook called out to let us know that dinner was on the
"Bother the dinner!" cried my uncle.
But as I was hungry, I sallied forth to the dining room, where I took
my usual quarters. Out of politeness I waited three minutes, but no sign
of my uncle, the Professor. I was surprised. He was not usually so blind
to the pleasure of a good dinner. It was the acme of German
luxury--parsley soup, a ham omelette with sorrel trimmings, an oyster of
veal stewed with prunes, delicious fruit, and sparkling Moselle. For the
sake of poring over this musty old piece of parchment, my uncle forbore
to share our meal. To satisfy my conscience, I ate for both.
The old cook and housekeeper was nearly out of her mind. After taking
much trouble, to find her master not appear at dinner was to her a sad
disappointment--which, as she occasionally watched the havoc I was
making on the viands, became also alarm. If my uncle were to come to
table after all?
Suddenly, just as I had consumed the last apple and drunk the last glass
of wine, a terrible voice was heard at no great distance. It was my
uncle roaring for me to come to him. I made very nearly one leap of
it--so loud, so fierce was his tone.
THE MYSTERIOUS PARCHMENT
[Illustration: Runic Glyphs]
"I Declare," cried my uncle, striking the table fiercely with
"I declare to you it is Runic--and contains some wonderful secret,
I must get at, at any price."
I was about to reply when he stopped me.
"Sit down," he said, quite fiercely, "and write to my
"I will substitute," he said, "a letter of our alphabet
for that of the
Runic: we will then see what that will produce. Now, begin and make no
The dictation commenced with the following incomprehensible result:
mm.rnlls esruel seecJde
sgtssmf unteief niedrke
kt,samn atrateS Saodrrn
emtnaeI nuaect rrilSa
Atvaar .nscrc ieaabs
ccdrmi eeutul frantu
dt,iac oseibo KediiY
Scarcely giving me time to finish, my uncle snatched the document from
my hands and examined it with the most rapt and deep attention.
"I should like to know what it means," he said, after a long
I certainly could not tell him, nor did he expect me to--his
conversation being uniformly answered by himself.
"I declare it puts me in mind of a cryptograph," he cried,
indeed, the letters have been written without any real meaning; and yet
why take so much trouble? Who knows but I may be on the verge of some
My candid opinion was that it was all rubbish! But this opinion I kept
carefully to myself, as my uncle's choler was not pleasant to bear. All
this time he was comparing the book with the parchment.
"The manuscript volume and the smaller document are written in different
hands," he said, "the cryptograph is of much later date than the
there is an undoubted proof of the correctness of my surmise. [An
irrefragable proof I took it to be.] The first letter is a double M,
which was only added to the Icelandic language in the twelfth
century--this makes the parchment two hundred years posterior to the
The circumstances appeared very probable and very logical, but it was
all surmise to me.
"To me it appears probable that this sentence was written by some
of the book. Now who was the owner, is the next important question.
Perhaps by great good luck it may be written somewhere in the volume."
With these words Professor Hardwigg took off his spectacles, and, taking
a powerful magnifying glass, examined the book carefully.
On the fly leaf was what appeared to be a blot of ink, but on
examination proved to be a line of writing almost effaced by time. This
was what he sought; and, after some considerable time, he made out these
[Illustration: Runic Glyphs]
"Arne Saknussemm!" he cried in a joyous and triumphant tone,
not only an Icelandic name, but of a learned professor of the sixteenth
century, a celebrated alchemist."
I bowed as a sign of respect.
"These alchemists," he continued, "Avicenna, Bacon, Lully,
were the true, the only learned men of the day. They made surprising
discoveries. May not this Saknussemm, nephew mine, have hidden on this
bit of parchment some astounding invention? I believe the cryptograph to
have a profound meaning--which I must make out."
My uncle walked about the room in a state of excitement almost
impossible to describe.
"It may be so, sir," I timidly observed, "but why conceal
posterity, if it be a useful, a worthy discovery?"
"Why--how should I know? Did not Galileo make a secret of his
discoveries in connection with Saturn? But we shall see. Until I
discover the meaning of this sentence I will neither eat nor sleep."
"My dear uncle--" I began.
"Nor you neither," he added.
It was lucky I had taken double allowance that day.
"In the first place," he continued, "there must be a clue
meaning. If we could find that, the rest would be easy enough."
I began seriously to reflect. The prospect of going without food and
sleep was not a promising one, so I determined to do my best to solve
the mystery. My uncle, meanwhile, went on with his soliloquy.
"The way to discover it is easy enough. In this document there are
hundred and thirty-two letters, giving seventy-nine consonants to
fifty-three vowels. This is about the proportion found in most southern
languages, the idioms of the north being much more rich in consonants.
We may confidently predict, therefore, that we have to deal with a
Nothing could be more logical.
"Now," said Professor Hardwigg, "to trace the particular
"As Shakespeare says, 'that is the question,"' was my rather
"This man Saknussemm," he continued, "was a very learned
man: now as he
did not write in the language of his birthplace, he probably, like most
learned men of the sixteenth century, wrote in Latin. If, however, I
prove wrong in this guess, we must try Spanish, French, Italian, Greek,
and even Hebrew. My own opinion, though, is decidedly in favor of
This proposition startled me. Latin was my favorite study, and it seemed
sacrilege to believe this gibberish to belong to the country of Virgil.
"Barbarous Latin, in all probability," continued my uncle,
"Very probably," I replied, not to contradict him.
"Let us see into the matter," continued my uncle; "here
you see we have
a series of one hundred and thirty-two letters, apparently thrown
pell-mell upon paper, without method or organization. There are words
which are composed wholly of consonants, such as <i>mm.rnlls</i>,
which are nearly all vowels, the fifth, for instance, which is unteief,
and one of the last oseibo. This appears an extraordinary combination.
Probably we shall find that the phrase is arranged according to some
mathematical plan. No doubt a certain sentence has been written out and
then jumbled up--some plan to which some figure is the clue. Now, Harry,
to show your English wit--what is that figure?"
I could give him no hint. My thoughts were indeed far away. While he
speaking I had caught sight of the portrait of my cousin Gretchen, and
was wondering when she would return.
We were affianced, and loved one another very sincerely. But my uncle,
who never thought even of such sublunary matters, knew nothing of this.
Without noticing my abstraction, the Professor began reading the
puzzling cryptograph all sorts of ways, according to some theory of his
own. Presently, rousing my wandering attention, he dictated one precious
attempt to me.
I mildly handed it over to him. It read as follows:
I could scarcely keep from laughing, while my uncle, on the contrary,
got in a towering passion, struck the table with his fist, darted out of
the room, out of the house, and then taking to his heels was presently
lost to sight.
AN ASTOUNDING DISCOVERY
"What is the matter?" cried the cook, entering the room; "when
master have his dinner?"
"And, his supper?"
"I don't know. He says he will eat no more, neither shall I. My
has determined to fast and make me fast until he makes out this
abominable inscription," I replied.
"You will be starved to death," she said.
I was very much of the same opinion, but not liking to say so, sent her
away, and began some of my usual work of classification. But try as I
might, nothing could keep me from thinking alternately of the stupid
manuscript and of the pretty Gretchen.
Several times I thought of going out, but my uncle would have been angry
at my absence. At the end of an hour, my allotted task was done. How to
pass the time? I began by lighting my pipe. Like all other students, I
delighted in tobacco; and, seating myself in the great armchair, I began
Where was my uncle? I could easily imagine him tearing along some
solitary road, gesticulating, talking to himself, cutting the air with
his cane, and still thinking of the absurd bit of hieroglyphics. Would
he hit upon some clue? Would he come home in better humor? While these
thoughts were passing through my brain, I mechanically took up the
execrable puzzle and tried every imaginable way of grouping the letters.
I put them together by twos, by threes, fours, and fives--in vain.
Nothing intelligible came out, except that the fourteenth, fifteenth,
and sixteenth made <i>ice</i> in English; the eighty-fourth,
and eighty-sixth, the word <i>sir</i>; then at last I seemed
to find the
Latin words <i>rota, mutabile, ira, nec, atra</i>.
"Ha! there seems to be some truth in my uncle's notion," thought
Then again I seemed to find the word <i>luco</i>, which means
Then in the third line I appeared to make out <i>labiled</i>,
Hebrew word, and at the last the syllables mere, are, mer, which were
It was enough to drive one mad. Four different idioms in this absurd
phrase. What connection could there be between ice, sir, anger, cruel,
sacred wood, changing, mother, are, and sea? The first and the last
might, in a sentence connected with Iceland, mean sea of ice. But what
of the rest of this monstrous cryptograph?
I was, in fact, fighting against an insurmountable difficulty; my brain
was almost on fire; my eyes were strained with staring at the parchment;
the whole absurd collection of letters appeared to dance before my
vision in a number of black little groups. My mind was possessed with
temporary hallucination--I was stifling. I wanted air. Mechanically I
fanned myself with the document, of which now I saw the back and then
Imagine my surprise when glancing at the back of the wearisome puzzle,
the ink having gone through, I clearly made out Latin words, and among
others craterem and terrestre.
I had discovered the secret!
It came upon me like a flash of lightning. I had got the clue. All you
had to do to understand the document was to read it backwards. All the
ingenious ideas of the Professor were realized; he had dictated it
rightly to me; by a mere accident I had discovered what he so much
My delight, my emotion may be imagined, my eyes were dazzled and I
trembled so that at first I could make nothing of it. One look, however,
would tell me all I wished to know.
"Let me read," I said to myself, after drawing a long breath.
I spread it before me on the table, I passed my finger over each letter,
I spelled it through; in my excitement I read it out.
What horror and stupefaction took possession of my soul. I was like a
man who had received a knock-down blow. Was it possible that I really
read the terrible secret, and it had really been accomplished! A man had
dared to do--what?
No living being should ever know.
"Never!" cried I, jumping up. "Never shall my uncle be
made aware of the
dread secret. He would be quite capable of undertaking the terrible
journey. Nothing would check him, nothing stop him. Worse, he would
compel me to accompany him, and we should be lost forever. But no; such
folly and madness cannot be allowed."
I was almost beside myself with rage and fury.
"My worthy uncle is already nearly mad," I cried aloud. "This
finish him. By some accident he may make the discovery; in which case,
we are both lost. Perish the fearful secret--let the flames forever bury
it in oblivion."
I snatched up book and parchment, and was about to cast them into the
fire, when the door opened and my uncle entered.
I had scarcely time to put down the wretched documents before my uncle
was by my side. He was profoundly absorbed. His thoughts were evidently
bent on the terrible parchment. Some new combination had probably struck
him while taking his walk.
He seated himself in his armchair, and with a pen began to make an
algebraical calculation. I watched him with anxious eyes. My flesh
crawled as it became probable that he would discover the secret.
His combinations I knew now were useless, I having discovered the one
only clue. For three mortal hours he continued without speaking a word,
without raising his head, scratching, rewriting, calculating over and
over again. I knew that in time he must hit upon the right phrase. The
letters of every alphabet have only a certain number of combinations.
But then years might elapse before he would arrive at the correct
Still time went on; night came, the sounds in the streets ceased--and
still my uncle went on, not even answering our worthy cook when she
called us to supper.
I did not dare to leave him, so waved her away, and at last fell asleep
on the sofa.
When I awoke my uncle was still at work. His red eyes, his pallid
countenance, his matted hair, his feverish hands, his hectically flushed
cheeks, showed how terrible had been his struggle with the impossible,
and what fearful fatigue he had undergone during that long sleepless
night. It made me quite ill to look at him. Though he was rather severe
with me, I loved him, and my heart ached at his sufferings. He was so
overcome by one idea that he could not even get in a passion! All his
energies were focused on one point. And I knew that by speaking one
little word all this suffering would cease. I could not speak it.
My heart was, nevertheless, inclining towards him. Why, then, did I
remain silent? In the interest of my uncle himself.
"Nothing shall make me speak," I muttered. "He will want
to follow in
the footsteps of the other! I know him well. His imagination is a
perfect volcano, and to make discoveries in the interests of geology he
would sacrifice his life. I will therefore be silent and strictly keep
the secret I have discovered. To reveal it would be suicidal. He would
not only rush, himself, to destruction, but drag me with him."
I crossed my arms, looked another way and smoked--resolved never to
When our cook wanted to go out to market, or on any other errand, she
found the front door locked and the key taken away. Was this done
purposely or not? Surely Professor Hardwigg did not intend the old woman
and myself to become martyrs to his obstinate will. Were we to be
starved to death? A frightful recollection came to my mind. Once we had
fed on bits and scraps for a week while he sorted some curiosities. It
gave me the cramp even to think of it!
I wanted my breakfast, and I saw no way of getting it. Still my
resolution held good. I would starve rather than yield. But the cook
began to take me seriously to task. What was to be done? She could not
go out; and I dared not.
My uncle continued counting and writing; his imagination seemed to have
translated him to the skies. He neither thought of eating nor drinking.
In this way twelve o'clock came round. I was hungry, and there was
nothing in the house. The cook had eaten the last bit of bread. This
could not go on. It did, however, until two, when my sensations were
terrible. After all, I began to think the document very absurd. Perhaps
it might only be a gigantic hoax. Besides, some means would surely be
found to keep my uncle back from attempting any such absurd expedition.
On the other hand, if he did attempt anything so quixotic, I should not
be compelled to accompany him. Another line of reasoning partially
decided me. Very likely he would make the discovery himself when I
should have suffered starvation for nothing. Under the influence of
hunger this reasoning appeared admirable. I determined to tell all.
The question now arose as to how it was to be done. I was still dwelling
on the thought, when he rose and put on his hat.
What! go out and lock us in? Never!
"Uncle," I began.
He did not appear even to hear me.
"Professor Hardwigg," I cried.
"What," he retorted, "did you speak?"
"How about the key?"
"What key--the key of the door?"
"No--of these horrible hieroglyphics?"
He looked at me from under his spectacles, and started at the odd
expression of my face. Rushing forward, he clutched me by the arm and
keenly examined my countenance. His very look was an interrogation.
I simply nodded.
With an incredulous shrug of the shoulders, he turned upon his heel.
Undoubtedly he thought I had gone mad.
"I have made a very important discovery."
His eyes flashed with excitement. His hand was lifted in a menacing
attitude. For a moment neither of us spoke. It is hard to say which was
"You don't mean to say that you have any idea of the meaning of
"I do," was my desperate reply. "Look at the sentence
as dictated by
"Well, but it means nothing," was the angry answer.
"Nothing if you read from left to right, but mark, if from right
"Backwards!" cried my uncle, in wild amazement. "Oh most
Saknussemm; and I to be such a blockhead!"
He snatched up the document, gazed at it with haggard eye, and read it
out as I had done.
It read as follows:
<i>In Sneffels Yoculis craterem kem delibat
umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende,
audas viator, et terrestre centrum attinges.
Kod feci. Arne Saknussemm</i>
Which dog Latin being translated, reads as follows:
Descend into the crater of Yocul of Sneffels, which the shade of
Scartaris caresses, before the kalends of July, audacious traveler,
and you will reach the centre of the earth. I did it.
My uncle leaped three feet from the ground with joy. He looked radiant
and handsome. He rushed about the room wild with delight and
satisfaction. He knocked over tables and chairs. He threw his books
about until at last, utterly exhausted, he fell into his armchair.
"What's o'clock?" he asked.
"My dinner does not seem to have done me much good," he observed.
me have something to eat. We can then start at once. Get my portmanteau
"And your own," he continued. "We start at once."
My horror may be conceived. I resolved however to show no fear.
Scientific reasons were the only ones likely to influence my uncle. Now,
there were many against this terrible journey. The very idea of going
down to the centre of the earth was simply absurd. I determined
therefore to argue the point after dinner.
My uncle's rage was now directed against the cook for having no dinner
ready. My explanation however satisfied him, and having gotten the key,
she soon contrived to get sufficient to satisfy our voracious appetites.
During the repast my uncle was rather gay than otherwise. He made some
of those peculiar jokes which belong exclusively to the learned. As
soon, however, as dessert was over, he called me to his study. We each
took a chair on opposite sides of the table.
"Henry," he said, in a soft and winning voice; "I have
you ingenious, and you have rendered me a service never to be forgotten.
Without you, this great, this wondrous discovery would never have been
made. It is my duty, therefore, to insist on your sharing the glory."
"He is in a good humor," thought I; "I'll soon let him
know my opinion
"In the first place," he continued, "you must keep the
whole affair a
profound secret. There is no more envious race of men than scientific
discoverers. Many would start on the same journey. At all events, we
will be the first in the field."
"I doubt your having many competitors," was my reply.
"A man of real scientific acquirements would be delighted at the
We should find a perfect stream of pilgrims on the traces of Arne
Saknussemm, if this document were once made public."
"But, my dear sir, is not this paper very likely to be a hoax?"
"The book in which we find it is sufficient proof of its authenticity,"
"I thoroughly allow that the celebrated Professor wrote the lines,
only, I believe, as a kind of mystification," was my answer.
Scarcely were the words out of my mouth, when I was sorry I had uttered
them. My uncle looked at me with a dark and gloomy scowl, and I began to
be alarmed for the results of our conversation. His mood soon changed,
however, and a smile took the place of a frown.
"We shall see," he remarked, with decisive emphasis.
"But see, what is all this about Yocul, and Sneffels, and this
Scartaris? I have never heard anything about them."
"The very point to which I am coming. I lately received from my
Augustus Peterman, of Leipzig, a map. Take down the third atlas from the
second shelf, series Z, plate 4."
I rose, went to the shelf, and presently returned with the volume
"This," said my uncle, "is one of the best maps of Iceland.
I believe it
will settle all your doubts, difficulties and objections."
With a grim hope to the contrary, I stooped over the map.
WE START ON THE JOURNEY
"You see, the whole island is composed of volcanoes," said
Professor, "and remark carefully that they all bear the name of Yocul.
The word is Icelandic, and means a glacier. In most of the lofty
mountains of that region the volcanic eruptions come forth from icebound
caverns. Hence the name applied to every volcano on this extraordinary
"But what does this word Sneffels mean?"
To this question I expected no rational answer. I was mistaken.
"Follow my finger to the western coast of Iceland, there you see
Reykjavik, its capital. Follow the direction of one of its innumerable
fjords or arms of the sea, and what do you see below the sixty-fifth
degree of latitude?"
"A peninsula--very like a thighbone in shape."
"And in the centre of it--?"
"Well, that's Sneffels."
I had nothing to say.
"That is Sneffels--a mountain about five thousand feet in height,
the most remarkable in the whole island, and certainly doomed to be the
most celebrated in the world, for through its crater we shall reach the
centre of the earth."
"Impossible!" cried I, startled and shocked at the thought.
"Why impossible?" said Professor Hardwigg in his severest tones.
"Because its crater is choked with lava, by burning rocks--by infinite
"But if it be extinct?"
"That would make a difference."
"Of course it would. There are about three hundred volcanoes on
whole surface of the globe--but the greater number are extinct. Of these
Sneffels is one. No eruption has occurred since 1219--in fact it has
ceased to be a volcano at all."
After this what more could I say? Yes,--I thought of another objection.
"But what is all this about Scartaris and the kalends of July--?"
My uncle reflected deeply. Presently he gave forth the result of his
reflections in a sententious tone. "What appears obscure to you, to
is light. This very phrase shows how particular Saknussemm is in his
directions. The Sneffels mountain has many craters. He is careful
therefore to point the exact one which is the highway into the Interior
of the Earth. He lets us know, for this purpose, that about the end of
the month of June, the shadow of Mount Scartaris falls upon the one
crater. There can be no doubt about the matter."
My uncle had an answer for everything.
"I accept all your explanations" I said, "and Saknussemm
is right. He
found out the entrance to the bowels of the earth, he has indicated
correctly, but that he or anyone else ever followed up the discovery is
madness to suppose."
"Why so, young man?"
"All scientific teaching, theoretical and practical, shows it to
"I care nothing for theories," retorted my uncle.
"But is it not well-known that heat increases one degree for every
seventy feet you descend into the earth? Which gives a fine idea of the
central heat. All the matters which compose the globe are in a state of
incandescence; even gold, platinum, and the hardest rocks are in a state
of fusion. What would become of us?"
"Don't be alarmed at the heat, my boy."
"Neither you nor anybody else know anything about the real state
earth's interior. All modern experiments tend to explode the older
theories. Were any such heat to exist, the upper crust of the earth
would be shattered to atoms, and the world would be at an end."
A long, learned and not uninteresting discussion followed, which ended
in this wise:
"I do not believe in the dangers and difficulties which you, Henry,
to multiply; and the only way to learn, is like Arne Saknussemm, to go
"Well," cried I, overcome at last, "let us go and see.
Though how we can
do that in the dark is another mystery."
"Fear nothing. We shall overcome these, and many other difficulties.
Besides, as we approach the centre, I expect to find it luminous--"
"Nothing is impossible."
"And now that we have come to a thorough understanding, not a word
any living soul. Our success depends on secrecy and dispatch."
Thus ended our memorable conference, which roused a perfect fever in
Leaving my uncle, I went forth like one possessed. Reaching the banks of
the Elbe, I began to think. Was all I had heard really and truly
possible? Was my uncle in his sober senses, and could the interior of
the earth be reached? Was I the victim of a madman, or was he a
discoverer of rare courage and grandeur of conception?
To a certain extent I was anxious to be off. I was afraid my enthusiasm
would cool. I determined to pack up at once. At the end of an hour,
however, on my way home, I found that my feelings had very much changed.
"I'm all abroad," I cried; "'tis a nightmare--I must have
At this moment I came face to face with Gretchen, whom I warmly
"So you have come to meet me," she said; "how good of
you. But what is
Well, it was no use mincing the matter, I told her all. She listened
with awe, and for some minutes she could not speak.
"Well?" I at last said, rather anxiously.
"What a magnificent journey. If I were only a man! A journey worthy
the nephew of Professor Hardwigg. I should look upon it as an honor to
"My dear Gretchen, I thought you would be the first to cry out against
this mad enterprise."
"No; on the contrary, I glory in it. It is magnificent, splendid--an
idea worthy of my father. Henry Lawson, I envy you."
This was, as it were, conclusive. The final blow of all.
When we entered the house we found my uncle surrounded by workmen and
porters, who were packing up. He was pulling and hauling at a bell.
"Where have you been wasting your time? Your portmanteau is not
packed--my papers are not in order--the precious tailor has not brought
my clothes, nor my gaiters--the key of my carpet bag is gone!"
I looked at him stupefied. And still he tugged away at the bell.
"We are really off, then?" I said.
"Yes--of course, and yet you go out for a stroll, unfortunate boy!"
"And when do we go?"
"The day after tomorrow, at daybreak."
I heard no more; but darted off to my little bedchamber and locked
myself in. There was no doubt about it now. My uncle had been hard at
work all the afternoon. The garden was full of ropes, rope ladders,
torches, gourds, iron clamps, crowbars, alpenstocks, and
pickaxes--enough to load ten men.
I passed a terrible night. I was called early the next day to learn that
the resolution of my uncle was unchanged and irrevocable. I also found
my cousin and affianced wife as warm on the subject as was her father.
Next day, at five o'clock in the morning, the post chaise was at the
door. Gretchen and the old cook received the keys of the house; and,
scarcely pausing to wish anyone good-by, we started on our adventurous
journey into the centre of the earth.
First Lessons in Climbing
At Altona, a suburb of Hamburg, is the Chief Station of the Kiel
railway, which was to take us to the shores of the Belt. In twenty
minutes from the moment of our departure we were in Holstein, and our
carriage entered the station. Our heavy luggage was taken out, weighed,
labeled, and placed in a huge van. We then took our tickets, and exactly
at seven o'clock were seated opposite each other in a firstclass railway
My uncle said nothing. He was too busy examining his papers, among which
of course was the famous parchment, and some letters of introduction
from the Danish consul which were to pave the way to an introduction to
the Governor of Iceland. My only amusement was looking out of the
window. But as we passed through a flat though fertile country, this
occupation was slightly monotonous. In three hours we reached Kiel, and
our baggage was at once transferred to the steamer.
We had now a day before us, a delay of about ten hours. Which fact put
my uncle in a towering passion. We had nothing to do but to walk about
the pretty town and bay. At length, however, we went on board, and at
half past ten were steaming down the Great Belt. It was a dark night,
with a strong breeze and a rough sea, nothing being visible but the
occasional fires on shore, with here and there a lighthouse. At seven in
the morning we left Korsor, a little town on the western side of
Here we took another railway, which in three hours brought us to the
capital, Copenhagen, where, scarcely taking time for refreshment, my
uncle hurried out to present one of his letters of introduction. It was
to the director of the Museum of Antiquities, who, having been informed
that we were tourists bound for Iceland, did all he could to assist us.
One wretched hope sustained me now. Perhaps no vessel was bound for such
Alas! a little Danish schooner, the <i>Valkyrie</i>, was
to sail on the
second of June for Reykjavik. The captain, M. Bjarne, was on board, and
was rather surprised at the energy and cordiality with which his future
passenger shook him by the hand. To him a voyage to Iceland was merely a
matter of course. My uncle, on the other hand, considered the event of
sublime importance. The honest sailor took advantage of the Professor's
enthusiasm to double the fare.
"On Tuesday morning at seven o'clock be on board," said M.
handing us our receipts.
"Excellent! Capital! Glorious!" remarked my uncle as we sat
down to a
late breakfast; "refresh yourself, my boy, and we will take a run
through the town."
Our meal concluded, we went to the Kongens-Nye-Torw; to the king's
magnificent palace; to the beautiful bridge over the canal near the
Museum; to the immense cenotaph of Thorwaldsen with its hideous naval
groups; to the castle of Rosenberg; and to all the other lions of the
place-none of which my uncle even saw, so absorbed was he in his
But one thing struck his fancy, and that was a certain singular steeple
situated on the Island of Amak, which is the southeast quarter of the
city of Copenhagen. My uncle at once ordered me to turn my steps that
way, and accordingly we went on board the steam ferry boat which does
duty on the canal, and very soon reached the noted dockyard quay.
In the first instance we crossed some narrow streets, where we met
numerous groups of galley slaves, with particolored trousers, grey and
yellow, working under the orders and the sticks of severe taskmasters,
and finally reached the Vor-Frelser's-Kirk.
This church exhibited nothing remarkable in itself; in fact, the worthy
Professor had only been attracted to it by one circumstance, which was,
that its rather elevated steeple started from a circular platform, after
which there was an exterior staircase, which wound round to the very
"Let us ascend," said my uncle.
"But I never could climb church towers," I cried, "I am
dizziness in my head."
"The very reason why you should go up. I want to cure you of a bad
"But, my good sir--"
"I tell you to come. What is the use of wasting so much valuable
It was impossible to dispute the dictatorial commands of my uncle. I
yielded with a groan. On payment of a fee, a verger gave us the key. He,
for one, was not partial to the ascent. My uncle at once showed me the
way, running up the steps like a schoolboy. I followed as well as I
could, though no sooner was I outside the tower, than my head began to
swim. There was nothing of the eagle about me. The earth was enough for
me, and no ambitious desire to soar ever entered my mind. Still things
did not go badly until I had ascended 150 steps, and was near the
platform, when I began to feel the rush of cold air. I could scarcely
stand, when clutching the railings, I looked upwards. The railing was
frail enough, but nothing to those which skirted the terrible winding
staircase, that appeared, from where I stood, to ascend to the skies.
"Now then, Henry."
"I can't do it!" I cried, in accents of despair.
"Are you, after all, a coward, sir?" said my uncle in a pitiless
"Go up, I say!"
To this there was no reply possible. And yet the keen air acted
violently on my nervous system; sky, earth, all seemed to swim round,
while the steeple rocked like a ship. My legs gave way like those of a
drunken man. I crawled upon my hands and knees; I hauled myself up
slowly, crawling like a snake. Presently I closed my eyes, and allowed
myself to be dragged upwards.
"Look around you," said my uncle in a stern voice, "heaven
profound abysses you may have to look down. This is excellent practice."
Slowly, and shivering all the while with cold, I opened my eyes. What
then did I see? My first glance was upwards at the cold fleecy clouds,
which as by some optical delusion appeared to stand still, while the
steeple, the weathercock, and our two selves were carried swiftly along.
Far away on one side could be seen the grassy plain, while on the other
lay the sea bathed in translucent light. The Sund, or Sound as we call
it, could be discovered beyond the point of Elsinore, crowded with white
sails, which, at that distance looked like the wings of seagulls; while
to the east could be made out the far-off coast of Sweden. The whole
appeared a magic panorama.
But faint and bewildered as I was, there was no remedy for it. Rise and
stand up I must. Despite my protestations my first lesson lasted quite
an hour. When, nearly two hours later, I reached the bosom of mother
earth, I was like a rheumatic old man bent double with pain.
"Enough for one day," said my uncle, rubbing his hands, "we
There was no remedy. My lessons lasted five days, and at the end of that
period, I ascended blithely enough, and found myself able to look down
into the depths below without even winking, and with some degree of
Our Voyage to Iceland
The hour of departure came at last. The night before, the worthy Mr.
Thompson brought us the most cordial letters of introduction for Baron
Trampe, Governor of Iceland, for M. Pictursson, coadjutor to the bishop,
and for M. Finsen, mayor of the town of Reykjavik. In return, my uncle
nearly crushed his hands, so warmly did he shake them.
On the second of the month, at two in the morning, our precious cargo
luggage was taken on board the good ship <i>Valkyrie</i>. We
were very politely introduced by the captain to a small cabin with two
standing bed places, neither very well ventilated nor very comfortable.
But in the cause of science men are expected to suffer.
"Well, and have we a fair wind?" cried my uncle, in his most
"An excellent wind!" replied Captain Bjarne; "we shall
leave the Sound,
going free with all sails set."
A few minutes afterwards, the schooner started before the wind, under
all the canvas she could carry, and entered the channel. An hour later,
the capital of Denmark seemed to sink into the waves, and we were at no
great distance from the coast of Elsinore. My uncle was delighted; for
myself, moody and dissatisfied, I appeared almost to expect a glimpse of
the ghost of Hamlet.
"Sublime madman," thought I, "you doubtless would approve
proceedings. You might perhaps even follow us to the centre of the
earth, there to resolve your eternal doubts."
But no ghost or anything else appeared upon the ancient walls. The fact
is, the castle is much later than the time of the heroic prince of
Denmark. It is now the residence of the keeper of the Strait of the
Sound, and through that Sound more than fifteen thousand vessels of all
nations pass every year.
The castle of Kronborg soon disappeared in the murky atmosphere, as well
as the tower of Helsinborg, which raises its head on the Swedish Bank.
And here the schooner began to feel in earnest the breezes of the
Kattegat. The <i>Valkyrie</i> was swift enough, but with all
there is the same uncertainty. Her cargo was coal, furniture, pottery,
woolen clothing, and a load of corn. As usual, the crew was small, five
Danes doing the whole of the work.
"How long will the voyage last?" asked my uncle.
"Well, I should think about ten days," replied the skipper,
indeed, we meet with some northeast gales among the Faroe Islands."
"At all events, there will be no very considerable delay,"
"No, Mr. Hardwigg," said the captain, "no fear of that.
At all events,
we shall get there some day."
Towards evening the schooner doubled Cape Skagen, the northernmost part
of Denmark, crossed the Skagerrak during the night--skirted the extreme
point of Norway through the gut of Cape Lindesnes, and then reached the
Northern Seas. Two days later we were not far from the coast of
Scotland, somewhere near what Danish sailors call Peterhead, and then
the <i>Valkyrie</i> stretched out direct for the Faroe Islands,
Orkney and Shetland. Our vessel now felt the full force of the ocean
waves, and the wind shifting, we with great difficulty made the Faroe
Isles. On the eighth day, the captain made out Myganness, the
westernmost of the isles, and from that moment headed direct for
Portland, a cape on the southern shores of the singular island for which
we were bound.
The voyage offered no incident worthy of record. I bore it very well,
but my uncle to his great annoyance, and even shame, was remarkably
seasick! This mal de mer troubled him the more that it prevented him
from questioning Captain Bjarne as to the subject of Sneffels, as to the
means of communication, and the facilities of transport. All these
explanations he had to adjourn to the period of his arrival. His time,
meanwhile, was spent lying in bed groaning, and dwelling anxiously on
the hoped--for termination of the voyage. I didn't pity him.
On the eleventh day we sighted Cape Portland, over which towered Mount
Myrdals Yokul, which, the weather being clear, we made out very readily.
The cape itself is nothing but a huge mount of granite standing naked
and alone to meet the Atlantic waves. The <i>Valkyrie</i> kept
off the coast,
steering to the westward. On all sides were to be seen whole "schools"
of whales and sharks. After some hours we came in sight of a solitary
rock in the ocean, forming a mighty vault, through which the foaming
waves poured with intense fury. The islets of Westman appeared to leap
from the ocean, being so low in the water as scarcely to be seen until
you were right upon them. From that moment the schooner was steered to
the westward in order to round Cape Reykjanes, the western point of
My uncle, to his great disgust, was unable even to crawl on deck, so
heavy a sea was on, and thus lost the first view of the Land of Promise.
Forty-eight hours later, after a storm which drove us far to sea under
bare poles, we came once more in sight of land, and were boarded by a
pilot, who, after three hours of dangerous navigation, brought the
schooner safely to an anchor in the bay of Faxa before Reykjavik.
My uncle came out of his cabin pale, haggard, thin, but full of
enthusiasm, his eyes dilated with pleasure and satisfaction. Nearly the
whole population of the town was on foot to see us land. The fact was,
that scarcely any one of them but expected some goods by the periodical
Professor Hardwigg was in haste to leave his prison, or rather as he
called it, his hospital; but before he attempted to do so, he caught
hold of my hand, led me to the quarterdeck of the schooner, took my arm
with his left hand, and pointed inland with his right, over the northern
part of the bay, to where rose a high two-peaked mountain--a double cone
covered with eternal snow.
"Behold he whispered in an awe-stricken voice, behold--Mount Sneffels!"
Then without further remark, he put his finger to his lips, frowned
darkly, and descended into the small boat which awaited us. I followed,
and in a few minutes we stood upon the soil of mysterious Iceland!
Scarcely were we fairly on shore when there appeared before us a man
excellent appearance, wearing the costume of a military officer. He was,
however, but a civil servant, a magistrate, the governor of the
island--Baron Trampe. The Professor knew whom he had to deal with. He
therefore handed him the letters from Copenhagen, and a brief
conversation in Danish followed, to which I of course was a stranger,
and for a very good reason, for I did not know the language in which
they conversed. I afterwards heard, however, that Baron Trampe placed
himself entirely at the beck and call of Professor Hardwigg.
My uncle was most graciously received by M. Finsen, the mayor, who as
far as costume went, was quite as military as the governor, but also
from character and occupation quite as pacific. As for his coadjutor, M.
Pictursson, he was absent on an episcopal visit to the northern portion
of the diocese. We were therefore compelled to defer the pleasure of
being presented to him. His absence was, however, more than compensated
by the presence of M. Fridriksson, professor of natural science in the
college of Reykjavik, a man of invaluable ability. This modest scholar
spoke no languages save Icelandic and Latin. When, therefore, he
addressed himself to me in the language of Horace, we at once came to
understand one another. He was, in fact, the only person that I did
thoroughly understand during the whole period of my residence in this
Out of three rooms of which his house was composed, two were placed at
our service, and in a few hours we were installed with all our baggage,
the amount of which rather astonished the simple inhabitants of
"Now, Harry," said my uncle, rubbing his hands, "an goes
well, the worse
difficulty is now over."
"How the worse difficulty over?" I cried in fresh amazement.
"Doubtless. Here we are in Iceland. Nothing more remains but to
into the bowels of the earth."
"Well, sir, to a certain extent you are right. We have only to go
down--but, as far as I am concerned, that is not the question. I want to
know how we are to get up again."
"That is the least part of the business, and does not in any way
me. In the meantime, there is not an hour to lose. I am about to visit
the public library. Very likely I may find there some manuscripts from
the hand of Saknussemm. I shall be glad to consult them."
"In the meanwhile," I replied, "I will take a walk through
Will you not likewise do so?"
"I feel no interest in the subject," said my uncle. "What
for me is
curious in this island, is not what is above the surface, but what is
I bowed by way of reply, put on my hat and furred cloak, and went out.
It was not an easy matter to lose oneself in the two streets of
Reykjavik; I had therefore no need to ask my way. The town lies on a
flat and marshy plain, between two hills. A vast field of lava skirts it
on one side, falling away in terraces towards the sea. On the other hand
is the large bay of Faxa, bordered on the north by the enormous glacier
of Sneffels, and in which bay the <i>Valkyrie</i> was then the
only vessel at
anchor. Generally there were one or two English or French gunboats, to
watch and protect the fisheries in the offing. They were now, however,
absent on duty.
The longest of the streets of Reykjavik runs parallel to the shore. In
this street the merchants and traders live in wooden huts made with
beams of wood, painted red--mere log huts, such as you find in the wilds
of America. The other street, situated more to the west, runs toward a
little lake between the residences of the bishop and the other
personages not engaged in commerce.
I had soon seen all I wanted of these weary and dismal thoroughfares.
Here and there was a strip of discolored turf, like an old worn-out bit
of woolen carpet; and now and then a bit of kitchen garden, in which
grew potatoes, cabbage, and lettuce, almost diminutive enough to suggest
the idea of Lilliput.
In the centre of the new commercial street, I found the public cemetery,
enclosed by an earthen wall. Though not very large, it appeared not
likely to be filled for centuries. From hence I went to the house of the
Governor--a mere hut in comparison with the Mansion House of
Hamburg--but a palace alongside the other Icelandic houses. Between the
little lake and the town was the church, built in simple Protestant
style, and composed of calcined stones, thrown up by volcanic action. I
have not the slightest doubt that in high winds its red tiles were blown
out, to the great annoyance of the pastor and congregation. Upon an
eminence close at hand was the national school, in which were taught
Hebrew, English, French, and Danish.
In three hours my tour was complete. The general impression upon my mind
was sadness. No trees, no vegetation, so to speak--on all sides volcanic
peaks--the huts of turf and earth--more like roofs than houses. Thanks
to the heat of these residences, grass grows on the roof, which grass is
carefully cut for hay. I saw but few inhabitants during my excursion,
but I met a crowd on the beach, drying, salting and loading codfish, the
principal article of exportation. The men appeared robust but heavy;
fair-haired like Germans, but of pensive mien--exiles of a higher scale
in the ladder of humanity than the Eskimos, but, I thought, much more
unhappy, since with superior perceptions they are compelled to live
within the limits of the Polar Circle.
Sometimes they gave vent to a convulsive laugh, but by no chance did
they smile. Their costume consists of a coarse capote of black wool,
known in Scandinavian countries as the "vadmel," a broad-brimmed
trousers of red serge, and a piece of leather tied with strings for a
shoe--a coarse kind of moccasin. The women, though sad-looking and
mournful, had rather agreeable features, without much expression. They
wear a bodice and petticoat of somber vadmel. When unmarried they wear a
little brown knitted cap over a crown of plaited hair; but when married,
they cover their heads with a colored handkerchief, over which they tie
a white scarf.
Conversation and Discovery
When I returned, dinner was ready. This meal was devoured by my worthy
relative with avidity and voracity. His shipboard diet had turned his
interior into a perfect gulf. The repast, which was more Danish than
Icelandic, was in itself nothing, but the excessive hospitality of our
host made us enjoy it doubly.
The conversation turned upon scientific matters, and M. Fridriksson
asked my uncle what he thought of the public library.
"Library, sir?" cried my uncle; "it appears to me a collection
useless odd volumes, and a beggarly amount of empty shelves."
"What!" cried M. Fridriksson; "why, we have eight thousand
most rare and valuable works--some in the Scandinavian language, besides
all the new publications from Copenhagen."
"Eight thousand volumes, my dear sir--why, where are they?"
"Scattered over the country, Professor Hardwigg. We are very studious,
my dear sir, though we do live in Iceland. Every farmer, every laborer,
every fisherman can both read and write--and we think that books instead
of being locked up in cupboards, far from the sight of students, should
be distributed as widely as possible. The books of our library are
therefore passed from hand to hand without returning to the library
shelves perhaps for years."
"Then when foreigners visit you, there is nothing for them to see?"
"Well, sir, foreigners have their own libraries, and our first
consideration is, that our humbler classes should be highly educated.
Fortunately, the love of study is innate in the Icelandic people. In
1816 we founded a Literary Society and Mechanics' Institute; many
foreign scholars of eminence are honorary members; we publish books
destined to educate our people, and these books have rendered valuable
services to our country. Allow me to have the honor, Professor Hardwigg,
to enroll you as an honorary member?"
My uncle, who already belonged to nearly every literary and scientific
institution in Europe, immediately yielded to the amiable wishes of good
"And now," he said, after many expressions of gratitude and
"if you will tell me what books you expected to find, perhaps I may
of some assistance to you."
I watched my uncle keenly. For a minute or two he hesitated, as if
unwilling to speak; to speak openly was, perhaps, to unveil his
projects. Nevertheless, after some reflection, he made up his mind.
"Well, M. Fridriksson," he said in an easy, unconcerned kind
of way, "I
was desirous of ascertaining, if among other valuable works, you had any
of the learned Arne Saknussemm."
"Arne Saknussemm!" cried the Professor of Reykjavik; "you
speak of one
of the most distinguished scholars of the sixteenth century, of the
great naturalist, the great alchemist, the great traveler."
"One of the most distinguished men connected with Icelandic science
"As you say, sir--"
"A man illustrious above all."
"Yes, sir, all this is true, but his works?"
"We have none of them."
"Not in Iceland?"
"There are none in Iceland or elsewhere," answered the other,
"Because Arne Saknussemm was persecuted for heresy, and in 1573
works were publicly burnt at Copenhagen, by the hands of the common
"Very good! capital!" murmured my uncle, to the great astonishment
the worthy Icelander.
"You said, sir--"
"Yes, yes, all is clear, I see the link in the chain; everything
explained, and I now understand why Arne Saknussemm, put out of court,
forced to hide his magnificent discoveries, was compelled to conceal
beneath the veil of an incomprehensible cryptograph, the secret--"
"A secret--which," stammered my uncle.
"Have you discovered some wonderful manuscript?" cried M. Fridriksson.
"No! no, I was carried away by my enthusiasm. A mere supposition."
"Very good, sir. But, really, to turn to another subject, I hope
will not leave our island without examining into its mineralogical
"Well, the fact is, I am rather late. So many learned men have been
"Yes, yes, but there is still much to be done," cried M. Fridriksson.
"You think so," said my uncle, his eyes twinkling with hidden
"Yes, you have no idea how many unknown mountains, glaciers, volcanoes
there are which remain to be studied. Without moving from where we sit,
I can show you one. Yonder on the edge of the horizon, you see
"Oh yes, Sneffels," said my uncle.
"One of the most curious volcanoes in existence, the crater of which
been rarely visited."
"Extinct, any time these five hundred years," was the ready
"Well," said my uncle, who dug his nails into his flesh, and
knees tightly together to prevent himself leaping up with joy. "I have
great mind to begin my studies with an examination of the geological
mysteries of this Mount Seffel--Feisel--what do you call it?"
"Sneffels, my dear sir."
This portion of the conversation took place in Latin, and I therefore
understood all that had been said. I could scarcely keep my countenance
when I found my uncle so cunningly concealing his delight and
satisfaction. I must confess that his artful grimaces, put on to conceal
his happiness, made him look like a new Mephistopheles.
"Yes, yes," he continued, "your proposition delights me.
I will endeavor
to climb to the summit of Sneffels, and, if possible, will descend into
"I very much regret," continued M. Fridriksson, "that
my occupation will
entirely preclude the possibility of my accompanying you. It would have
been both pleasurable and profitable if I could have spared the time."
"No, no, a thousand times no," cried my uncle. "I do not
wish to disturb
the serenity of any man. I thank you, however, with all my heart. The
presence of one so learned as yourself, would no doubt have been most
useful, but the duties of your office and profession before everything."
In the innocence of his simple heart, our host did not perceive the
irony of these remarks.
"I entirely approve your project," continued the Icelander
further remarks. "It is a good idea to begin by examining this volcano.
You will make a harvest of curious observations. In the first place, how
do you propose to get to Sneffels?"
"By sea. I shall cross the bay. Of course that is the most rapid
"Of course. But still it cannot be done."
"We have not an available boat in all Reykjavik," replied the
"What is to be done?"
"You must go by land along the coast. It is longer, but much more
"Then I must have a guide."
"Of course; and I have your very man."
"Somebody on whom I can depend."
"Yes, an inhabitant of the peninsula on which Sneffels is situated.
is a very shrewd and worthy man, with whom you will be pleased. He
speaks Danish like a Dane."
"When can I see him--today?"
"No, tomorrow; he will not be here before."
"Tomorrow be it," replied my uncle, with a deep sigh.
The conversation ended by compliments on both sides. During the dinner
my uncle had learned much as to the history of Arne Saknussemm, the
reasons for his mysterious and hieroglyphical document. He also became
aware that his host would not accompany him on his adventurous
expedition, and that next day we should have a guide.
THE EIDER-DOWN HUNTER--OFF AT LAST
That evening I took a brief walk on the shore near Reykjavik, after
which I returned to an early sleep on my bed of coarse planks, where I
slept the sleep of the just. When I awoke I heard my uncle speaking
loudly in the next room. I rose hastily and joined him. He was talking
in Danish with a man of tall stature, and of perfectly Herculean build.
This man appeared to be possessed of very great strength. His eyes,
which started rather prominently from a very large head, the face
belonging to which was simple and naive, appeared very quick and
intelligent. Very long hair, which even in England would have been
accounted exceedingly red, fell over his athletic shoulders. This native
of Iceland was active and supple in appearance, though he scarcely moved
his arms, being in fact one of those men who despise the habit of
gesticulation common to southern people.
Everything in this man's manner revealed a calm and phlegmatic
temperament. There was nothing indolent about him, but his appearance
spoke of tranquillity. He was one of those who never seemed to expect
anything from anybody, who liked to work when he thought proper, and
whose philosophy nothing could astonish or trouble.
I began to comprehend his character, simply from the way in which he
listened to the wild and impassioned verbiage of my worthy uncle. While
the excellent Professor spoke sentence after sentence, he stood with
folded arms, utterly still, motionless to all my uncle's gesticulations.
When he wanted to say No he moved his head from left to right; when he
acquiesced he nodded, so slightly that you could scarcely see the
undulation of his head. This economy of motion was carried to the length
Judging from his appearance I should have been a long time before I had
suspected him to be what he was, a mighty hunter. Certainly his manner
was not likely to frighten the game. How, then, did he contrive to get
at his prey?
My surprise was slightly modified when I knew that this tranquil and
solemn personage was only a hunter of the eider duck, the down of which
is, after all, the greatest source of the Icelanders' wealth.
In the early days of summer, the female of the eider, a pretty sort of
duck, builds its nest amid the rocks of the fjords--the name given to
all narrow gulfs in Scandinavian countries--with which every part of the
island is indented. No sooner has the eider duck made her nest than she
lines the inside of it with the softest down from her breast. Then comes
the hunter or trader, taking away the nest, the poor bereaved female
begins her task over again, and this continues as long as any eider down
is to be found.
When she can find no more the male bird sets to work to see what he can
do. As, however, his down is not so soft, and has therefore no
commercial value, the hunter does not take the trouble to rob him of his
nest lining. The nest is accordingly finished, the eggs are laid, the
little ones are born, and next year the harvest of eider down is again
Now, as the eider duck never selects steep rocks or aspects to build
nest, but rather sloping and low cliffs near to the sea, the Icelandic
hunter can carry on his trade operations without much difficulty. He is
like a farmer who has neither to plow, to sow, nor to harrow, only to
collect his harvest.
This grave, sententious, silent person, as phlegmatic as an Englishman
on the French stage, was named Hans Bjelke. He had called upon us in
consequence of the recommendation of M. Fridriksson. He was, in fact,
our future guide. It struck me that had I sought the world over, I could
not have found a greater contradiction to my impulsive uncle.
They, however, readily understood one another. Neither of them had any
thought about money; one was ready to take all that was offered him, the
other ready to offer anything that was asked. It may readily be
conceived, then, that an understanding was soon come to between them.
Now, the understanding was, that he was to take us to the village of
Stapi, situated on the southern slope of the peninsula of Sneffels, at
the very foot of the volcano. Hans, the guide, told us the distance was
about twenty-two miles, a journey which my uncle supposed would take
about two days.
But when my uncle came to understand that they were Danish miles, of
eight thousand yards each, he was obliged to be more moderate in his
ideas, and, considering the horrible roads we had to follow, to allow
eight or ten days for the journey.
Four horses were prepared for us, two to carry the baggage, and two to
bear the important weight of myself and uncle. Hans declared that
nothing ever would make him climb on the back of any animal. He knew
every inch of that part of the coast, and promised to take us the very
His engagement with my uncle was by no means to cease with our arrival
at Stapi; he was further to remain in his service during the whole time
required for the completion of his scientific investigations, at the
fixed salary of three rix-dollars a week, being exactly fourteen
shillings and twopence, minus one farthing, English currency. One
stipulation, however, was made by the guide--the money was to be paid to
him every Saturday night, failing which, his engagement was at an end.
The day of our departure was fixed. My uncle wished to hand the
eider-down hunter an advance, but he refused in one emphatic word--
Which being translated from Icelandic into plain English means--"After."
The treaty concluded, our worthy guide retired without another word.
"A splendid fellow," said my uncle; "only he little suspects
marvelous part he is about to play in the history of the world."
"You mean, then," I cried in amazement, "that he should
"To the interior of the earth, yes," replied my uncle. "Why
There were yet forty-eight hours to elapse before we made our final
start. To my great regret, our whole time was taken up in making
preparations for our journey. All our industry and ability were devoted
to packing every object in the most advantageous manner--the instruments
on one side, the arms on the other, the tools here and the provisions
there. There were, in fact, four distinct groups.
The instruments were of course of the best manufacture:
1. A centigrade thermometer of Eigel, counting up to 150 degrees, which
to me did not appear half enough--or too much. Too hot by half, if the
degree of heat was to ascend so high--in which case we should certainly
be cooked--not enough, if we wanted to ascertain the exact temperature
of springs or metal in a state of fusion.
2. A manometer worked by compressed air, an instrument used to ascertain
the upper atmospheric pressure on the level of the ocean. Perhaps a
common barometer would not have done as well, the atmospheric pressure
being likely to increase in proportion as we descended below the surface
of the earth.
3. A first-class chronometer made by Boissonnas, of Geneva, set at the
meridian of Hamburg, from which Germans calculate, as the English do
from Greenwich, and the French from Paris.
4. Two compasses, one for horizontal guidance, the other to ascertain
5. A night glass.
6. Two Ruhmkorff coils, which, by means of a current of electricity,
would ensure us a very excellent, easily carried, and certain means of
7. A voltaic battery on the newest principle.
 Thermometer (<i>thermos</i>, and <i>metron</i>,
measure); an instrument for
measuring the temperature of the air.--Manometer (<i>manos</i>,and
measure); an instrument to show the density or rarity of
gases.--Chronometer (<i>chronos</i>. time, and <i>metros</i>,
measure) a time
measurer, or superior watch--Ruhmkorff's coil, an instrument for
producing currents of induced electricity of great intensity. It
consists of a coil of copper wire, insulated by being covered with silk,
surrounded by another coil of fine wire, also insulated, in which a
momentary current is induced when a current is passed through the inner
coil from a voltaic battery. When the apparatus is in action, the gas
becomes luminous, and produces a white and continued light. The battery
and wire are carried in a leather bag, which the traveler fastens by a
strap to his shoulders. The lantern is in front, and enables the
benighted wanderer to see in the most profound obscurity. He may venture
without fear of explosion into the midst of the most inflammable gases,
and the lantern will burn beneath the deepest waters. H. D. Ruhmkorff,
an able and learned chemist, discovered the induction coil. In 1864 he
won the quinquennial French prize of £2,000 for this ingenious
application of electricity--A voltaic battery, so called from Volta, its
designer, is an apparatus consisting of a series of metal plates
arranged in pairs and subjected to the action of saline solutions for
producing currents of electricity.
Our arms consisted of two rifles, with two revolving six-shooters. Why
these arms were provided it was impossible for me to say. I had every
reason to believe that we had neither wild beasts nor savage natives to
fear. My uncle, on the other hand, was quite as devoted to his arsenal
as to his collection of instruments, and above all was very careful with
his provision of fulminating or gun cotton, warranted to keep in any
climate, and of which the expansive force was known to be greater than
that of ordinary gunpowder.
Our tools consisted of two pickaxes, two crowbars, a silken ladder,
three iron-shod Alpine poles, a hatchet, a hammer, a dozen wedges, some
pointed pieces of iron, and a quantity of strong rope. You may conceive
that the whole made a tolerable parcel, especially when I mention that
the ladder itself was three hundred feet long!
Then there came the important question of provisions. The hamper was
very large but tolerably satisfactory, for I knew that in concentrated
essence of meat and biscuit there was enough to last six months. The
only liquid provided by my uncle was Schiedam. Of water, not a drop. We
had, however, an ample supply of gourds, and my uncle counted on finding
water, and enough to fill them, as soon as we commenced our downward
journey. My remarks as to the temperature, the quality, and even as to
the possibility of none being found, remained wholly without effect.
To make up the exact list of our traveling gear--for the guidance of
future travelers--add, that we carried a medicine and surgical chest
with all apparatus necessary for wounds, fractures and blows; lint,
scissors, lancets--in fact, a perfect collection of horrible looking
instruments; a number of vials containing ammonia, alcohol, ether,
Goulard water, aromatic vinegar, in fact, every possible and impossible
drug--finally, all the materials for working the Ruhmkorff coil!
My uncle had also been careful to lay in a goodly supply of tobacco,
several flasks of very fine gunpowder, boxes of tinder, besides a large
belt crammed full of notes and gold. Good boots rendered watertight were
to be found to the number of six in the tool box.
"My boy, with such clothing, with such boots, and such general
equipment," said my uncle, in a state of rapturous delight, "we
to travel far."
It took a whole day to put all these matters in order. In the evening
dined with Baron Trampe, in company with the Mayor of Reykjavik, and
Doctor Hyaltalin, the great medical man of Iceland. M. Fridriksson was
not present, and I was afterwards sorry to hear that he and the governor
did not agree on some matters connected with the administration of the
island. Unfortunately, the consequence was, that I did not understand a
word that was said at dinner--a kind of semiofficial reception. One
thing I can say, my uncle never left off speaking.
The next day our labor came to an end. Our worthy host delighted my
uncle, Professor Hardwigg, by giving him a good map of Iceland, a most
important and precious document for a mineralogist.
Our last evening was spent in a long conversation with M. Fridriksson,
whom I liked very much--the more that I never expected to see him or
anyone else again. After this agreeable way of spending an hour or so, I
tried to sleep. In vain; with the exception of a few dozes, my night was
At five o'clock in the morning I was awakened from the only real half
hour's sleep of the night by the loud neighing of horses under my
window. I hastily dressed myself and went down into the street. Hans was
engaged in putting the finishing stroke to our baggage, which he did in
a silent, quiet way that won my admiration, and yet he did it admirably
well. My uncle wasted a great deal of breath in giving him directions,
but worthy Hans took not the slightest notice of his words.
At six o'clock all our preparations were completed, and M. Fridriksson
shook hands heartily with us. My uncle thanked him warmly, in the
Icelandic language, for his kind hospitality, speaking truly from the
As for myself I put together a few of my best Latin phrases and paid
the highest compliments I could. This fraternal and friendly duty
performed, we sallied forth and mounted our horses.
As soon as we were quite ready, M. Fridriksson advanced, and by way of
farewell, called after me in the words of Virgil--words which appeared
to have been made for us, travelers starting for an uncertain
"Et quacunque viam dederit fortuna sequamur."
("And whichsoever way thou goest, may fortune follow!")
OUR START--WE MEET WITH ADVENTURES BY THE WAY
The weather was overcast but settled, when we commenced our adventurous
and perilous journey. We had neither to fear fatiguing heat nor
drenching rain. It was, in fact, real tourist weather.
As there was nothing I liked better than horse exercise, the pleasure
riding through an unknown country caused the early part of our
enterprise to be particularly agreeable to me.
I began to enjoy the exhilarating delight of traveling, a life of
desire, gratification and liberty. The truth is, that my spirits rose so
rapidly, that I began to be indifferent to what had once appeared to be
a terrible journey.
"After all," I said to myself, "what do I risk? Simply
to take a journey
through a curious country, to climb a remarkable mountain, and if the
worst comes to the worst, to descend into the crater of an extinct
There could be no doubt that this was all this terrible Saknussemm had
done. As to the existence of a gallery, or of subterraneous passages
leading into the interior of the earth, the idea was simply absurd, the
hallucination of a distempered imagination. All, then, that may be
required of me I will do cheerfully, and will create no difficulty.
It was just before we left Reykjavik that I came to this decision.
Hans, our extraordinary guide, went first, walking with a steady, rapid,
unvarying step. Our two horses with the luggage followed of their own
accord, without requiring whip or spur. My uncle and I came behind,
cutting a very tolerable figure upon our small but vigorous animals.
Iceland is one of the largest islands in Europe. It contains thirty
thousand square miles of surface, and has about seventy thousand
inhabitants. Geographers have divided it into four parts, and we had to
cross the southwest quarter which in the vernacular is called Sudvestr
Hans, on taking his departure from Reykjavik, had followed the line of
the sea. We took our way through poor and sparse meadows, which made a
desperate effort every year to show a little green. They very rarely
succeed in a good show of yellow.
The rugged summits of the rocky hills were dimly visible on the edge
the horizon, through the misty fogs; every now and then some heavy
flakes of snow showed conspicuous in the morning light, while certain
lofty and pointed rocks were first lost in the grey low clouds, their
summits clearly visible above, like jagged reefs rising from a troublous
Every now and then a spur of rock came down through the arid ground,
leaving us scarcely room to pass. Our horses, however, appeared not only
well acquainted with the country, but by a kind of instinct, knew which
was the best road. My uncle had not even the satisfaction of urging
forward his steed by whip, spur, or voice. It was utterly useless to
show any signs of impatience. I could not help smiling to see him look
so big on his little horse; his long legs now and then touching the
ground made him look like a six-footed centaur.
"Good beast, good beast," he would cry. "I assure you,
that I begin to
think no animal is more intelligent than an Icelandic horse. Snow,
tempest, impracticable roads, rocks, icebergs--nothing stops him. He is
brave; he is sober; he is safe; he never makes a false step; never
glides or slips from his path. I dare to say that if any river, any
fjord has to be crossed--and I have no doubt there will be many--you
will see him enter the water without hesitation like an amphibious
animal, and reach the opposite side in safety. We must not, however,
attempt to hurry him; we must allow him to have his own way, and I
will undertake to say that between us we shall do our ten leagues a
"We may do so," was my reply, "but what about our worthy
"I have not the slightest anxiety about him: that sort of people
ahead without knowing even what they are about. Look at Hans. He moves
so little that it is impossible for him to become fatigued. Besides, if
he were to complain of weariness, he could have the loan of my horse. I
should have a violent attack of the cramp if I were not to have some
sort of exercise. My arms are right--but my legs are getting a little
All this while we were advancing at a rapid pace. The country we had
reached was already nearly a desert. Here and there could be seen an
isolated farm, some solitary bur, or Icelandic house, built of wood,
earth, fragments of lava--looking like beggars on the highway of life.
These wretched and miserable huts excited in us such pity that we felt
half disposed to leave alms at every door. In this country there are no
roads, paths are nearly unknown, and vegetation, poor as it was, slowly
as it reached perfection, soon obliterated all traces of the few
travelers who passed from place to place.
Nevertheless, this division of the province, situated only a few miles
from the capital, is considered one of the best cultivated and most
thickly peopled in all Iceland. What, then, must be the state of the
less known and more distant parts of the island? After traveling fully
half a Danish mile, we had met neither a farmer at the door of his hut,
nor even a wandering shepherd with his wild and savage flock.
A few stray cows and sheep were only seen occasionally. What, then, must
we expect when we come to the upheaved regions--to the districts broken
and roughened from volcanic eruptions and subterraneous commotions?
We were to learn this all in good time. I saw, however, on consulting
the map, that we avoided a good deal of this rough country, by following
the winding and desolate shores of the sea. In reality, the great
volcanic movement of the island, and all its attendant phenomena, are
concentrated in the interior of the island; there, horizontal layers or
strata of rocks, piled one upon the other, eruptions of basaltic origin,
and streams of lava, have given this country a kind of supernatural
Little did I expect, however, the spectacle which awaited us when we
reached the peninsula of Sneffels, where agglomerations of nature's
ruins form a kind of terrible chaos.
Some two hours or more after we had left the city of Reykjavik, we
reached the little town called Aoalkirkja, or the principal church. It
consists simply of a few houses--not what in England or Germany we
should call a hamlet.
Hans stopped here one half hour. He shared our frugal breakfast,
answered Yes, and No to my uncle's questions as to the nature of the
road, and at last when asked where we were to pass the night was as
laconic as usual.
"Gardar!" was his one-worded reply.
I took occasion to consult the map, to see where Gardar was to be found.
After looking keenly I found a small town of that name on the borders of
the Hvalfjord, about four miles from Reykjavik. I pointed this out to my
uncle, who made a very energetic grimace.
"Only four miles out of twenty-two? Why it is only a little walk."
He was about to make some energetic observation to the guide, but Hans,
without taking the slightest notice of him, went in front of the horses,
and walked ahead with the same imperturbable phlegm he had always
Three hours later, still traveling over those apparently interminable
and sandy prairies, we were compelled to go round the Kollafjord, an
easier and shorter cut than crossing the gulfs. Shortly after we entered
a place of communal jurisdiction called Ejulberg, and the clock of which
would then have struck twelve, if any Icelandic church had been rich
enough to possess so valuable and useful an article. These sacred
edifices are, however, very much like these people, who do without
watches--and never miss them.
Here the horses were allowed to take some rest and refreshment, then
following a narrow strip of shore between high rocks and the sea, they
took us without further halt to the Aoalkirkja of Brantar, and after
another mile to Saurboer Annexia, a chapel of ease, situated on the
southern bank of the Hvalfjord.
It was four o'clock in the evening and we had traveled four Danish
miles, about equal to twenty English.
The fjord was in this place about half a mile in width. The sweeping
broken waves came rolling in upon the pointed rocks; the gulf was
surrounded by rocky walls--a mighty cliff, three thousand feet in
height, remarkable for its brown strata, separated here and there by
beds of tufa of a reddish hue. Now, whatever may have been the
intelligence of our horses, I had not the slightest reliance upon them,
as a means of crossing a stormy arm of the sea. To ride over salt water
upon the back of a little horse seemed to me absurd.
"If they are really intelligent," I said to myself, "they
not make the attempt. In any case, I shall trust rather to my own
intelligence than theirs."
But my uncle was in no humor to wait. He dug his heels into the sides
his steed, and made for the shore. His horse went to the very edge of
the water, sniffed at the approaching wave and retreated.
My uncle, who was, sooth to say, quite as obstinate as the beast he
bestrode, insisted on his making the desired advance. This attempt was
followed by a new refusal on the part of the horse which quietly shook
his head. This demonstration of rebellion was followed by a volley of
words and a stout application of whipcord; also followed by kicks on the
part of the horse, which threw its head and heels upwards and tried to
throw his rider. At length the sturdy little pony, spreading out his
legs, in a stiff and ludicrous attitude, got from under the Professor's
legs, and left him standing, with both feet on a separate stone, like
the Colossus of Rhodes.
"Wretched animal!" cried my uncle, suddenly transformed into
passenger--and as angry and ashamed as a dismounted cavalry officer on
the field of battle.
"Farja," said the guide, tapping him familiarly on the shoulder.
"What, a ferry boat!"
"Der," answered Hans, pointing to where lay the boat in
"Well," I cried, quite delighted with the information; "so
"Why did you not say so before," cried my uncle; "why
not start at
"Tidvatten," said the guide.
"What does he say?" I asked, considerably puzzled by the delay
"He says tide," replied my uncle, translating the Danish word
"Of course I understand--we must wait till the tide serves."
"For bida?" asked my uncle.
"Ja," replied Hans.
My uncle frowned, stamped his feet and then followed the horses to where
the boat lay.
I thoroughly understood and appreciated the necessity for waiting,
before crossing the fjord, for that moment when the sea at its highest
point is in a state of slack water. As neither the ebb nor flow can then
be felt, the ferry boat was in no danger of being carried out to sea, or
dashed upon the rocky coast.
The favorable moment did not come until six o'clock in the evening. Then
my uncle, myself, and guide, two boatmen and the four horses got into a
very awkward flat-bottom boat. Accustomed as I had been to the steam
ferry boats of the Elbe, I found the long oars of the boatmen but sorry
means of locomotion. We were more than an hour in crossing the fjord;
but at length the passage was concluded without accident.
Half an hour later we reached Gardar.
TRAVELING IN ICELAND
It ought, one would have thought, to have been night, even in the
sixty-fifth parallel of latitude; but still the nocturnal illumination
did not surprise me. For in Iceland, during the months of June and July,
the sun never sets.
The temperature, however, was very much lower than I expected. I was
cold, but even that did not affect me so much as ravenous hunger.
Welcome indeed, therefore, was the hut which hospitably opened its doors
It was merely the house of a peasant, but in the matter of hospitality,
it was worthy of being the palace of a king. As we alighted at the door
the master of the house came forward, held out his hand, and without any
further ceremony, signaled to us to follow him.
We followed him, for to accompany him was impossible. A long, narrow,
gloomy passage led into the interior of this habitation, made from beams
roughly squared by the ax. This passage gave ingress to every room. The
chambers were four in number--the kitchen, the workshop, where the
weaving was carried on, the general sleeping chamber of the family, and
the best room, to which strangers were especially invited. My uncle,
whose lofty stature had not been taken into consideration when the house
was built, contrived to knock his head against the beams of the roof.
We were introduced into our chamber, a kind of large room with a hard
earthen floor, and lighted by a window, the panes of which were made of
a sort of parchment from the intestines of sheep--very far from
The bedding was composed of dry hay thrown into two long red wooden
boxes, ornamented with sentences painted in Icelandic. I really had no
idea that we should be made so comfortable. There was one objection to
the house, and that was, the very powerful odor of dried fish, of
macerated meat, and of sour milk, which three fragrances combined did
not at all suit my olfactory nerves.
As soon as we had freed ourselves from our heavy traveling costume, the
voice of our host was heard calling to us to come into the kitchen, the
only room in which the Icelanders ever make any fire, no matter how cold
it may be.
My uncle, nothing loath, hastened to obey this hospitable and friendly
invitation. I followed.
The kitchen chimney was made on an antique model. A large stone standing
in the middle of the room was the fireplace; above, in the roof, was a
hole for the smoke to pass through. This apartment was kitchen, parlor
and dining room all in one.
On our entrance, our worthy host, as if he had not seen us before,
advanced ceremoniously, uttered a word which means "be happy,"
kissed both of us on the cheek.
His wife followed, pronounced the same word, with the same ceremonial,
then the husband and wife, placing their right hands upon their hearts,
This excellent Icelandic woman was the mother of nineteen children, who,
little and big, rolled, crawled, and walked about in the midst of
volumes of smoke arising from the angular fireplace in the middle of the
room. Every now and then I could see a fresh white head, and a slightly
melancholy expression of countenance, peering at me through the vapor.
Both my uncle and myself, however, were very friendly with the whole
party, and before we were aware of it, there were three or four of these
little ones on our shoulders, as many on our boxes, and the rest hanging
about our legs. Those who could speak kept crying out saellvertu in
every possible and impossible key. Those who did not speak only made all
the more noise.
This concert was interrupted by the announcement of supper. At this
moment our worthy guide, the eider-duck hunter, came in after seeing to
the feeding and stabling of the horses--which consisted in letting them
loose to browse on the stunted green of the Icelandic prairies. There
was little for them to eat, but moss and some very dry and innutritious
grass; next day they were ready before the door, some time before we
"Welcome," said Hans.
Then tranquilly, with the air of an automaton, without any more
expression in one kiss than another, he embraced the host and hostess
and their nineteen children.
This ceremony concluded to the satisfaction of all parties, we all sat
down to table, that is twenty-four of us, somewhat crowded. Those who
were best off had only two juveniles on their knees.
As soon, however, as the inevitable soup was placed on the table, the
natural taciturnity, common even to Icelandic babies, prevailed over all
else. Our host filled our plates with a portion of lichen soup of
Iceland moss, of by no means disagreeable flavor, an enormous lump of
fish floating in sour butter. After that there came some skyr, a kind of
curds and whey, served with biscuits and juniper-berry juice. To drink,
we had blanda, skimmed milk with water. I was hungry, so hungry, that by
way of dessert I finished up with a basin of thick oaten porridge.
As soon as the meal was over, the children disappeared, whilst the grown
people sat around the fireplace, on which was placed turf, heather, cow
dung and dried fish-bones. As soon as everybody was sufficiently warm, a
general dispersion took place, all retiring to their respective couches.
Our hostess offered to pull off our stockings and trousers, according to
the custom of the country, but as we graciously declined to be so
honored, she left us to our bed of dry fodder.
Next day, at five in the morning, we took our leave of these hospitable
peasants. My uncle had great difficulty in making them accept a
sufficient and proper remuneration.
Hans then gave the signal to start.
We had scarcely got a hundred yards from Gardar, when the character of
the country changed. The soil began to be marshy and boggy, and less
favorable to progress. To the right, the range of mountains was
prolonged indefinitely like a great system of natural fortifications, of
which we skirted the glacis. We met with numerous streams and rivulets
which it was necessary to ford, and that without wetting our baggage. As
we advanced, the deserted appearance increased, and yet now and then we
could see human shadows flitting in the distance. When a sudden turn of
the track brought us within easy reach of one of these specters, I felt
a sudden impulse of disgust at the sight of a swollen head, with shining
skin, utterly without hair, and whose repulsive and revolting wounds
could be seen through his rags. The unhappy wretches never came forward
to beg; on the contrary, they ran away; not so quick, however, but that
Hans was able to salute them with the universal saellvertu.
"Spetelsk," said he.
"A leper," explained my uncle.
The very sound of such a word caused a feeling of repulsion. The
horrible affliction known as leprosy, which has almost vanished before
the effects of modern science, is common in Iceland. It is not
contagious but hereditary, so that marriage is strictly prohibited to
these unfortunate creatures.
These poor lepers did not tend to enliven our journey, the scene of
which was inexpressibly sad and lonely. The very last tufts of grassy
vegetation appeared to die at our feet. Not a tree was to be seen,
except a few stunted willows about as big as blackberry bushes. Now and
then we watched a falcon soaring in the grey and misty air, taking his
flight towards warmer and sunnier regions. I could not help feeling a
sense of melancholy come over me. I sighed for my own Native Land, and
wished to be back with Gretchen.
We were compelled to cross several little fjords, and at last came to
real gulf. The tide was at its height, and we were able to go over at
once, and reach the hamlet of Alftanes, about a mile farther.
That evening, after fording the Alfa and the Heta, two rivers rich in
trout and pike, we were compelled to pass the night in a deserted house,
worthy of being haunted by all the fays of Scandinavian mythology. The
King of Cold had taken up his residence there, and made us feel his
presence all night.
The following day was remarkable by its lack of any particular
incidents. Always the same damp and swampy soil; the same dreary
uniformity; the same sad and monotonous aspect of scenery. In the
evening, having accomplished the half of our projected journey, we slept
at the Annexia of Krosolbt.
For a whole mile we had under our feet nothing but lava. This
disposition of the soil is called <i>hraun</i>: the crumbled
lava on the
surface was in some instances like ship cables stretched out
horizontally, in others coiled up in heaps; an immense field of lava
came from the neighboring mountains, all extinct volcanoes, but whose
remains showed what once they had been. Here and there could be made out
the steam from hot water springs.
There was no time, however, for us to take more than a cursory view of
these phenomena. We had to go forward with what speed we might. Soon the
soft and swampy soil again appeared under the feet of our horses, while
at every hundred yards we came upon one or more small lakes. Our journey
was now in a westerly direction; we had, in fact, swept round the great
bay of Faxa, and the twin white summits of Sneffels rose to the clouds
at a distance of less than five miles.
The horses now advanced rapidly. The accidents and difficulties of the
soil no longer checked them. I confess that fatigue began to tell
severely upon me; but my uncle was as firm and as hard as he had been on
the first day. I could not help admiring both the excellent Professor
and the worthy guide; for they appeared to regard this rugged expedition
as a mere walk!
On Saturday, the 20th June, at six o'clock in the evening, we reached
Budir, a small town picturesquely situated on the shore of the ocean;
and here the guide asked for his money. My uncle settled with him
immediately. It was now the family of Hans himself, that is to say, his
uncles, his cousins--german, who offered us hospitality. We were
exceedingly well received, and without taking too much advantage of the
goodness of these worthy people, I should have liked very much to have
rested with them after the fatigues of the journey. But my uncle, who
did not require rest, had no idea of anything of the kind; and despite
the fact that next day was Sunday, I was compelled once more to mount my
The soil was again affected by the neighborhood of the mountains, whose
granite peered out of the ground like tops of an old oak. We were
skirting the enormous base of the mighty volcano. My uncle never took
his eyes from off it; he could not keep from gesticulating, and looking
at it with a kind of sullen defiance as much as to say "That is the
giant I have made up my mind to conquer."
After four hours of steady traveling, the horses stopped of themselves
before the door of the presbytery of Stapi.
WE REACH MOUNT SNEFFELS--THE "REYKIR"
Stapi is a town consisting of thirty huts, built on a large plain of
lava, exposed to the rays of the sun, reflected from the volcano. It
stretches its humble tenements along the end of a little fjord,
surrounded by a basaltic wall of the most singular character.
Basalt is a brown rock of igneous origin. It assumes regular forms,
which astonish by their singular appearance. Here we found Nature
proceeding geometrically, and working quite after a human fashion, as if
she had employed the plummet line, the compass and the rule. If
elsewhere she produces grand artistic effects by piling up huge masses
without order or connection--if elsewhere we see truncated cones,
imperfect pyramids, with an odd succession of lines; here, as if wishing
to give a lesson in regularity, and preceding the architects of the
early ages, she has erected a severe order of architecture, which
neither the splendors of Babylon nor the marvels of Greece ever
I had often heard of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland, and of Fingal's
Cave in one of the Hebrides, but the grand spectacle of a real basaltic
formation had never yet come before my eyes.
This at Stapi gave us an idea of one in all its wonderful beauty and
The wall of the fjord, like nearly the whole of the peninsula, consisted
of a series of vertical columns, in height about thirty feet. These
upright pillars of stone, of the finest proportions, supported an
archivault of horizontal columns which formed a kind of half-vaulted
roof above the sea. At certain intervals, and below this natural basin,
the eye was pleased and surprised by the sight of oval openings through
which the outward waves came thundering in volleys of foam. Some banks
of basalt, torn from their fastenings by the fury of the waves, lay
scattered on the ground like the ruins of an ancient temple--ruins
eternally young, over which the storms of ages swept without producing
any perceptible effect!
This was the last stage of our journey. Hans had brought us along with
fidelity and intelligence, and I began to feel somewhat more comfortable
when I reflected that he was to accompany us still farther on our way.
When we halted before the house of the Rector, a small and incommodious
cabin, neither handsome nor more comfortable than those of his
neighbors, I saw a man in the act of shoeing a horse, a hammer in his
hand, and a leathern apron tied round his waist.
"Be happy," said the eider-down hunter, using his national
his own language.
"God dag--good day!" replied the former, in excellent Danish.
"Kyrkoherde," cried Hans, turning round and introducing him
to my uncle.
"The Rector," repeated the worthy Professor; "it appears,
my dear Harry,
that this worthy man is the Rector, and is not above doing his own
During the speaking of these words the guide intimated to the Kyrkoherde
what was the true state of the case. The good man, ceasing from his
occupation, gave a kind of halloo, upon which a tall woman, almost a
giantess, came out of the hut. She was at least six feet high, which in
that region is something considerable.
My first impression was one of horror. I thought she had come to give
the Icelandic kiss. I had, however, nothing to fear, for she did not
even show much inclination to receive us into her house.
The room devoted to strangers appeared to me to be by far the worst in
the presbytery; it was narrow, dirty and offensive. There was, however,
no choice about the matter. The Rector had no notion of practicing the
usual cordial and antique hospitality. Far from it. Before the day was
over, I found we had to deal with a blacksmith, a fisherman, a hunter, a
carpenter, anything but a clergyman. It must be said in his favor that
we had caught him on a weekday; probably he appeared to greater
advantage on the Sunday.
These poor priests receive from the Danish Government a most
ridiculously inadequate salary, and collect one quarter of the tithe of
their parish--not more than sixty marks current, or about L3 10s.
sterling. Hence the necessity of working to live. In truth, we soon
found that our host did not count civility among the cardinal virtues.
My uncle soon became aware of the kind of man he had to deal with.
Instead of a worthy and learned scholar, he found a dull ill-mannered
peasant. He therefore resolved to start on his great expedition as soon
as possible. He did not care about fatigue, and resolved to spend a few
days in the mountains.
The preparations for our departure were made the very next day after
arrival at Stapi; Hans now hired three Icelanders to take the place of
the horses--which could no longer carry our luggage. When, however,
these worthy islanders had reached the bottom of the crater, they were
to go back and leave us to ourselves. This point was settled before they
would agree to start.
On this occasion, my uncle partly confided in Hans, the eider-duck
hunter, and gave him to understand that it was his intention to continue
his exploration of the volcano to the last possible limits.
Hans listened calmly, and then nodded his head. To go there, or
elsewhere, to bury himself in the bowels of the earth, or to travel over
its summits, was all the same to him! As for me, amused and occupied by
the incidents of travel, I had begun to forget the inevitable future;
but now I was once more destined to realize the actual state of affairs.
What was to be done? Run away? But if I really had intended to leave
Professor Hardwigg to his fate, it should have been at Hamburg and not
at the foot of Sneffels.
One idea, above all others, began to trouble me: a very terrible idea,
and one calculated to shake the nerves of a man even less sensitive than
"Let us consider the matter," I said to myself; "we are
going to ascend
the Sneffels mountain. Well and good. We are about to pay a visit to the
very bottom of the crater. Good, still. Others have done it and did not
perish from that course.
"That, however, is not the whole matter to be considered. If a road
really present itself by which to descend into the dark and
subterraneous bowels of Mother Earth, if this thrice unhappy Saknussemm
has really told the truth, we shall be most certainly lost in the midst
of the labyrinth of subterraneous galleries of the volcano. Now, we have
no evidence to prove that Sneffels is really extinct. What proof have we
that an eruption is not shortly about to take place? Because the monster
has slept soundly since 1219, does it follow that he is never to wake?
"If he does wake what is to become of us?"
These were questions worth thinking about, and upon them I reflected
long and deeply. I could not lie down in search of sleep without
dreaming of eruptions. The more I thought, the more I objected to be
reduced to the state of dross and ashes.
I could stand it no longer; so I determined at last to submit the whole
case to my uncle, in the most adroit manner possible, and under the form
of some totally irreconcilable hypothesis.
I sought him. I laid before him my fears, and then drew back in order
let him get his passion over at his ease.
"I have been thinking about the matter," he said, in the quietest
in the world.
What did he mean? Was he at last about to listen to the voice of reason?
Did he think of suspending his projects? It was almost too much
happiness to be true.
I however made no remark. In fact, I was only too anxious not to
interrupt him, and allowed him to reflect at his leisure. After some
moments he spoke out.
"I have been thinking about the matter," he resumed. "Ever
since we have
been at Stapi, my mind has been almost solely occupied with the grave
question which has been submitted to me by yourself--for nothing would
be unwiser and more inconsistent than to act with imprudence."
"I heartily agree with you, my dear uncle," was my somewhat
"It is now six hundred years since Sneffels has spoken, but though
reduced to a state of utter silence, he may speak again. New volcanic
eruptions are always preceded by perfectly well-known phenomena. I have
closely examined the inhabitants of this region; I have carefully
studied the soil, and I beg to tell you emphatically, my dear Harry,
there will be no eruption at present."
As I listened to his positive affirmations, I was stupefied and could
"I see you doubt my word," said my uncle; "follow me."
I obeyed mechanically.
Leaving the presbytery, the Professor took a road through an opening
the basaltic rock, which led far away from the sea. We were soon in open
country, if we could give such a name to a place all covered with
volcanic deposits. The whole land seemed crushed under the weight of
enormous stones--of trap, of basalt, of granite, of lava, and of all
other volcanic substances.
I could see many spouts of steam rising in the air. These white vapors,
called in the Icelandic language "reykir," come from hot water
fountains, and indicate by their violence the volcanic activity of the
soil. Now the sight of these appeared to justify my apprehension. I was,
therefore, all the more surprised and mortified when my uncle thus
"You see all this smoke, Harry, my boy?"
"Well, as long as you see them thus, you have nothing to fear from
"How can that be?"
"Be careful to remember this," continued the Professor. "At
of an eruption these spouts of vapor redouble their activity--to
disappear altogether during the period of volcanic eruption; for the
elastic fluids, no longer having the necessary tension, seek refuge in
the interior of the crater, instead of escaping through the fissures of
the earth. If, then, the steam remains in its normal or habitual state,
if their energy does not increase, and if you add to this, the remark
that the wind is not replaced by heavy atmospheric pressure and dead
calm, you may be quite sure that there is no fear of any immediate
"Enough, my boy. When science has sent forth her fiat--it is only
hear and obey."
I came back to the house quite downcast and disappointed. My uncle had
completely defeated me with his scientific arguments. Nevertheless, I
had still one hope, and that was, when once we were at the bottom of the
crater, that it would be impossible in default of a gallery or tunnel,
to descend any deeper; and this, despite all the learned Saknussemms in
I passed the whole of the following night with a nightmare on my chest!
and, after unheard-of miseries and tortures, found myself in the very
depths of the earth, from which I was suddenly launched into planetary
space, under the form of an eruptive rock!
Next day, June 23d, Hans calmly awaited us outside the presbytery with
his three companions loaded with provisions, tools, and instruments. Two
iron-shod poles, two guns, and two large game bags, were reserved for my
uncle and myself. Hans, who was a man who never forgot even the minutest
precautions, had added to our baggage a large skin full of water, as an
addition to our gourds. This assured us water for eight days.
It was nine o'clock in the morning when we were quite ready. The rector
and his huge wife or servant, I never knew which, stood at the door to
see us off. They appeared to be about to inflict on us the usual final
kiss of the Icelanders. To our supreme astonishment their adieu took the
shape of a formidable bill, in which they even counted the use of the
pastoral house, really and truly the most abominable and dirty place I
ever was in. The worthy couple cheated and robbed us like a Swiss
innkeeper, and made us feel, by the sum we had to pay, the splendors of
My uncle, however, paid without bargaining. A man who had made up his
mind to undertake a voyage into the Interior of the Earth, is not the
man to haggle over a few miserable rix-dollars.
This important matter settled, Hans gave the signal for departure, and
some few moments later we had left Stapi.
THE ASCENT OF MOUNT SNEFFELS
The huge volcano which was the first stage of our daring experiment is
above five thousand feet high. Sneffels is the termination of a long
range of volcanic mountains, of a different character to the system of
the island itself. One of its peculiarities is its two huge pointed
summits. From whence we started it was impossible to make out the real
outlines of the peak against the grey field of sky. All we could
distinguish was a vast dome of white, which fell downwards from the head
of the giant.
The commencement of the great undertaking filled me with awe. Now that
we had actually started, I began to believe in the reality of the
Our party formed quite a procession. We walked in single file, preceded
by Hans, the imperturbable eider-duck hunter. He calmly led us by narrow
paths where two persons could by no possibility walk abreast.
Conversation was wholly impossible. We had all the more opportunity to
reflect and admire the awful grandeur of the scene around.
Beyond the extraordinary basaltic wall of the fjord of Stapi we found
ourselves making our way through fibrous turf, over which grew a scanty
vegetation of grass, the residuum of the ancient vegetation of the
swampy peninsula. The vast mass of this combustible, the field of which
as yet is utterly unexplored, would suffice to warm Iceland for a whole
century. This mighty turf pit, measured from the bottom of certain
ravines, is often not less than seventy feet deep, and presents to the
eye the view of successive layers of black burned-up rocky detritus,
separated by thin streaks of porous sandstone.
The grandeur of the spectacle was undoubted, as well as its arid and
As a true nephew of the great Professor Hardwigg, and despite my
preoccupation and doleful fears of what was to come, I observed with
great interest the vast collection of mineralogical curiosities spread
out before me in this vast museum of natural history. Looking back to my
recent studies, I went over in thought the whole geological history of
This extraordinary and curious island must have made its appearance from
out of the great world of waters at a comparatively recent date. Like
the coral islands of the Pacific, it may, for aught we know, be still
rising by slow and imperceptible degrees.
If this really be the case, its origin can be attributed to only one
cause--that of the continued action of subterranean fires.
This was a happy thought.
If so, if this were true, away with the theories of Sir Humphry Davy;
away with the authority of the parchment of Arne Saknussemm; the
wonderful pretensions to discovery on the part of my uncle--and to our
All must end in smoke.
Charmed with the idea, I began more carefully to look about me. A
serious study of the soil was necessary to negative or confirm my
hypothesis. I took in every item of what I saw, and I began to
comprehend the succession of phenomena which had preceded its formation.
Iceland, being absolutely without sedimentary soil, is composed
exclusively of volcanic tufa; that is to say, of an agglomeration of
stones and of rocks of a porous texture. Long before the existence of
volcanoes, it was composed of a solid body of massive trap rock lifted
bodily and slowly out of the sea, by the action of the centrifugal force
at work in the earth.
The internal fires, however, had not as yet burst their bounds and
flooded the exterior cake of Mother Earth with hot and raging lava.
My readers must excuse this brief and somewhat pedantic geological
lecture. But it is necessary to the complete understanding of what
At a later period in the world's history, a huge and mighty fissure
must, reasoning by analogy, have been dug diagonally from the southwest
to the northeast of the island, through which by degrees flowed the
volcanic crust. The great and wondrous phenomenon then went on without
violence--the outpouring was enormous, and the seething fused matter,
ejected from the bowels of the earth, spread slowly and peacefully in
the form of vast level plains, or what are called mamelons or mounds.
It was at this epoch that the rocks called feldspars, syenites, and
But as a natural consequence of this overflow, the depth of the island
increased. It can readily be believed what an enormous quantity of
elastic fluids were piled up within its centre, when at last it afforded
no other openings, after the process of cooling the crust had taken
At length a time came when despite the enormous thickness and weight
the upper crust, the mechanical forces of the combustible gases below
became so great, that they actually upheaved the weighty back and made
for themselves huge and gigantic shafts. Hence the volcanoes which
suddenly arose through the upper crust, and next the craters, which
burst forth at the summit of these new creations.
It will be seen that the first phenomena in connection with the
formation of the island were simply eruptive; to these, however, shortly
succeeded the volcanic phenomena.
Through the newly formed openings, escaped the marvelous mass of
basaltic stones with which the plain we were now crossing was covered.
We were trampling our way over heavy rocks of dark grey color, which,
while cooling, had been moulded into six-sided prisms. In the "back
distance" we could see a number of flattened cones, which formerly
so many fire-vomiting mouths.
After the basaltic eruption was appeased and set at rest, the volcano,
the force of which increased with that of the extinct craters, gave free
passage to the fiery overflow of lava, and to the mass of cinders and
pumice stone, now scattered over the sides of the mountain, like
disheveled hair on the shoulders of a Bacchante.
Here, in a nutshell, I had the whole history of the phenomena from which
Iceland arose. All take their rise in the fierce action of interior
fires, and to believe that the central mass did not remain in a state of
liquid fire, white hot, was simply and purely madness.
This being satisfactorily proved (Q.E.D.), what insensate folly to
pretend to penetrate into the interior of the mighty earth!
This mental lecture delivered to myself while proceeding on a journey,
did me good. I was quite reassured as to the fate of our enterprise; and
therefore went, like a brave soldier mounting a bristling battery, to
the assault of old Sneffels.
As we advanced, the road became every moment more difficult. The soil
was broken and dangerous. The rocks broke and gave way under our feet,
and we had to be scrupulously careful in order to avoid dangerous and
Hans advanced as calmly as if he had been walking over Salisbury Plain;
sometimes he would disappear behind huge blocks of stone, and we
momentarily lost sight of him. There was a little period of anxiety and
then there was a shrill whistle, just to tell us where to look for him.
Occasionally he would take it into his head to stop to pick up lumps
rock, and silently pile them up into small heaps, in order that we might
not lose our way on our return.
He had no idea of the journey we were about to undertake.
At all events, the precaution was a good one; though how utterly useless
and unnecessary--but I must not anticipate.
Three hours of terrible fatigue, walking incessantly, had only brought
us to the foot of the great mountain. This will give some notion of what
we had still to undergo.
Suddenly, however, Hans cried a halt--that is, he made signs to that
effect--and a summary kind of breakfast was laid out on the lava before
us. My uncle, who now was simply Professor Hardwigg, was so eager to
advance, that he bolted his food like a greedy clown. This halt for
refreshment was also a halt for repose. The Professor was therefore
compelled to wait the good pleasure of his imperturbable guide, who did
not give the signal for departure for a good hour.
The three Icelanders, who were as taciturn as their comrade, did not
a word; but went on eating and drinking very quietly and soberly.
From this, our first real stage, we began to ascend the slopes of the
Sneffels volcano. Its magnificent snowy nightcap, as we began to call
it, by an optical delusion very common in mountains, appeared to me to
be close at hand; and yet how many long weary hours must elapse before
we reached its summit. What unheard-of fatigue must we endure!
The stones on the mountain side, held together by no cement of soil,
bound together by no roots or creeping herbs, gave way continually under
our feet, and went rushing below into the plains, like a series of small
In certain places the sides of this stupendous mountain were at an angle
so steep that it was impossible to climb upwards, and we were compelled
to get round these obstacles as best we might.
Those who understand Alpine climbing will comprehend our difficulties.
Often we were obliged to help each other along by means of our climbing
I must say this for my uncle, that he stuck as close to me as possible.
He never lost sight of me, and on many occasions his arm supplied me
with firm and solid support. He was strong, wiry, and apparently
insensible to fatigue. Another great advantage with him was that he had
the innate sentiment of equilibrium--for he never slipped or failed in
his steps. The Icelanders, though heavily loaded, climbed with the
agility of mountaineers.
Looking up, every now and then, at the height of the great volcano of
Sneffels, it appeared to me wholly impossible to reach to the summit on
that side; at all events, if the angle of inclination did not speedily
Fortunately, after an hour of unheard-of fatigues, and of gymnastic
exercises that would have been trying to an acrobat, we came to a vast
field of ice, which wholly surrounded the bottom of the cone of the
volcano. The natives called it the tablecloth, probably from some such
reason as the dwellers in the Cape of Good Hope call their mountain
Table Mountain, and their roads Table Bay.
Here, to our mutual surprise, we found an actual flight of stone steps,
which wonderfully assisted our ascent. This singular flight of stairs
was, like everything else, volcanic. It had been formed by one of those
torrents of stones cast up by the eruptions, and of which the Icelandic
name is stina. If this singular torrent had not been checked in its
descent by the peculiar shape of the flanks of the mountain, it would
have swept into the sea, and would have formed new islands.
Such as it was, it served us admirably. The abrupt character of the
slopes momentarily increased, but these remarkable stone steps, a little
less difficult than those of the Egyptian pyramids, were the one simple
natural means by which we were enabled to proceed.
About seven in the evening of that day, after having clambered up two
thousand of these rough steps, we found ourselves overlooking a kind of
spur or projection of the mountain--a sort of buttress upon which the
conelike crater, properly so called, leaned for support.
The ocean lay beneath us at a depth of more than three thousand two
hundred feet--a grand and mighty spectacle. We had reached the region of
The cold was keen, searching and intense. The wind blew with
extraordinary violence. I was utterly exhausted.
My worthy uncle, the Professor, saw clearly that my legs refused further
service, and that, in fact, I was utterly exhausted. Despite his hot and
feverish impatience, he decided, with a sigh, upon a halt. He called the
eider-duck hunter to his side. That worthy, however, shook his head.
"Ofvanfor," was his sole spoken reply.
"It appears," says my uncle with a woebegone look, "that
we must go
He then turned to Hans, and asked him to give some reason for this
"Mistour," replied the guide.
"Ja, mistour--yes, the mistour," cried one of the Icelandic
guides in a
It was the first time he had spoken.
"What does this mysterious word signify?" I anxiously inquired.
"Look," said my uncle.
I looked down upon the plain below, and I saw a vast, a prodigious
volume of pulverized pumice stone, of sand, of dust, rising to the
heavens in the form of a mighty waterspout. It resembled the fearful
phenomenon of a similar character known to the travelers in the desert
of the great Sahara.
The wind was driving it directly towards that side of Sneffels on which
we were perched. This opaque veil standing up between us and the sun
projected a deep shadow on the flanks of the mountain. If this sand
spout broke over us, we must all be infallibly destroyed, crushed in its
fearful embraces. This extraordinary phenomenon, very common when the
wind shakes the glaciers, and sweeps over the arid plains, is in the
Icelandic tongue called "mistour."
"Hastigt, hastigt!" cried our guide.
Now I certainly knew nothing of Danish, but I thoroughly understood that
his gestures were meant to quicken us.
The guide turned rapidly in a direction which would take us to the back
of the crater, all the while ascending slightly.
We followed rapidly, despite our excessive fatigue.
A quarter of an hour later Hans paused to enable us to look back. The
mighty whirlwind of sand was spreading up the slope of the mountain to
the very spot where we had proposed to halt. Huge stones were caught up,
cast into the air, and thrown about as during an eruption. We were
happily a little out of the direction of the wind, and therefore out of
reach of danger. But for the precaution and knowledge of our guide, our
dislocated bodies, our crushed and broken limbs, would have been cast to
the wind, like dust from some unknown meteor.
Hans, however, did not think it prudent to pass the night on the bare
side of the cone. We therefore continued our journey in a zigzag
direction. The fifteen hundred feet which remained to be accomplished
took us at least five hours. The turnings and windings, the
no-thoroughfares, the marches and marches, turned that insignificant
distance into at least three leagues. I never felt such misery, fatigue
and exhaustion in my life. I was ready to faint from hunger and cold.
The rarefied air at the same time painfully acted upon my lungs.
At last, when I thought myself at my last gasp, about eleven at night,
it being in that region quite dark, we reached the summit of Mount
Sneffels! It was in an awful mood of mind, that despite my fatigue,
before I descended into the crater which was to shelter us for the
night, I paused to behold the sun rise at midnight on the very day of
its lowest declension, and enjoyed the spectacle of its ghastly pale
rays cast upon the isle which lay sleeping at our feet!
I no longer wondered at people traveling all the way from England to
Norway to behold this magical and wondrous spectacle.
THE SHADOW OF SCARTARIS
Our supper was eaten with ease and rapidity, after which everybody did
the best he could for himself within the hollow of the crater. The bed
was hard, the shelter unsatisfactory, the situation painful--lying in
the open air, five thousand feet above the level of the sea!
Nevertheless, it has seldom happened to me to sleep so well as I did
that particular night. I did not even dream. So much for the effects of
what my uncle called "wholesome fatigue."
Next day, when we awoke under the rays of a bright and glorious sun,
were nearly frozen by the keen air. I left my granite couch and made one
of the party to enjoy a view of the magnificent spectacle which
developed itself, panorama-like, at our feet.
I stood upon the lofty summit of Mount Sneffels' southern peak. Thence
was able to obtain a view of the greater part of the island. The optical
delusion, common to all lofty heights, raised the shores of the island,
while the central portions appeared depressed. It was by no means too
great a flight of fancy to believe that a giant picture was stretched
out before me. I could see the deep valleys that crossed each other in
every direction. I could see precipices looking like sides of wells,
lakes that seemed to be changed into ponds, ponds that looked like
puddles, and rivers that were transformed into petty brooks. To my right
were glaciers upon glaciers, and multiplied peaks, topped with light
clouds of smoke.
The undulation of these infinite numbers of mountains, whose snowy
summits make them look as if covered by foam, recalled to my remembrance
the surface of a storm-beaten ocean. If I looked towards the west, the
ocean lay before me in all its majestic grandeur, a continuation as it
were, of these fleecy hilltops.
Where the earth ended and the sea began it was impossible for the eye
I soon felt that strange and mysterious sensation which is awakened in
the mind when looking down from lofty hilltops, and now I was able to do
so without any feeling of nervousness, having fortunately hardened
myself to that kind of sublime contemplation.
I wholly forgot who I was, and where I was. I became intoxicated with
sense of lofty sublimity, without thought of the abysses into which my
daring was soon about to plunge me. I was presently, however, brought
back to the realities of life by the arrival of the Professor and Hans,
who joined me upon the lofty summit of the peak.
My uncle, turning in a westerly direction, pointed out to me a light
cloud of vapor, a kind of haze, with a faint outline of land rising out
of the waters.
"Greenland!" said he.
"Greenland?" cried I in reply.
"Yes," continued my uncle, who always when explaining anything
if he were in a professor's chair; "we are not more than thirty-five
leagues distant from that wonderful land. When the great annual breakup
of the ice takes place, white bears come over to Iceland, carried by the
floating masses of ice from the north. This, however, is a matter of
little consequence. We are now on the summit of the great, the
transcendent Sneffels, and here are its two peaks, north and south. Hans
will tell you the name by which the people of Iceland call that on which
My uncle turned to the imperturbable guide, who nodded, and spoke as
My uncle looked at me with a proud and triumphant glance.
"A crater," he said, "you hear?"
I did hear, but I was totally unable to make reply.
The crater of Mount Sneffels represented an inverted cone, the gaping
orifice apparently half a mile across; the depth indefinite feet.
Conceive what this hole must have been like when full of flame and
thunder and lightning. The bottom of the funnel-shaped hollow was about
five hundred feet in circumference, by which it will be seen that the
slope from the summit to the bottom was very gradual, and we were
therefore clearly able to get there without much fatigue or difficulty.
Involuntarily, I compared this crater to an enormous loaded cannon; and
the comparison completely terrified me.
"To descend into the interior of a cannon," I thought to myself,
perhaps it is loaded, and will go off at the least shock, is the act of
But there was no longer any opportunity for me to hesitate. Hans, with
perfectly calm and indifferent air, took his usual post at the head of
the adventurous little band. I followed without uttering a syllable.
I felt like the lamb led to the slaughter.
In order to render the descent less difficult, Hans took his way down
the interior of the cone in rather a zigzag fashion, making, as the
sailors say, long tracks to the eastward, followed by equally long ones
to the west. It was necessary to walk through the midst of eruptive
rocks, some of which, shaken in their balance, went rolling down with
thundering clamor to the bottom of the abyss. These continual falls
awoke echoes of singular power and effect.
Many portions of the cone consisted of inferior glaciers. Hans, whenever
he met with one of these obstacles, advanced with a great show of
precaution, sounding the soil with his long iron pole in order to
discover fissures and layers of deep soft snow. In many doubtful or
dangerous places, it became necessary for us to be tied together by a
long rope in order that should any one of us be unfortunate enough to
slip, he would be supported by his companions. This connecting link was
doubtless a prudent precaution, but not by any means unattended with
Nevertheless, and despite all the manifold difficulties of the descent,
along slopes with which our guide was wholly unacquainted, we made
considerable progress without accident. One of our great parcels of rope
slipped from one of the Iceland porters, and rushed by a short cut to
the bottom of the abyss.
By midday we were at the end of our journey. I looked upwards, and saw
only the upper orifice of the cone, which served as a circular frame to
a very small portion of the sky--a portion which seemed to me singularly
beautiful. Should I ever again gaze on that lovely sunlit sky!
The only exception to this extraordinary landscape, was the Peak of
Scartaris, which seemed lost in the great void of the heavens.
The bottom of the crater was composed of three separate shafts, through
which, during periods of eruption, when Sneffels was in action, the
great central furnace sent forth its burning lava and poisonous vapors.
Each of these chimneys or shafts gaped open-mouthed in our path. I kept
as far away from them as possible, not even venturing to take the
faintest peep downwards.
As for the Professor, after a rapid examination of their disposition
characteristics, he became breathless and panting. He ran from one to
the other like a delighted schoolboy, gesticulating wildly, and uttering
incomprehensible and disjointed phrases in all sorts of languages.
Hans, the guide, and his humbler companions seated themselves on some
piles of lava and looked silently on. They clearly took my uncle for a
lunatic; and--waited the result.
Suddenly the Professor uttered a wild, unearthly cry. At first I
imagined he had lost his footing, and was falling headlong into one of
the yawning gulfs. Nothing of the kind. I saw him, his arms spread out
to their widest extent, his legs stretched apart, standing upright
before an enormous pedestal, high enough and black enough to bear a
gigantic statue of Pluto. His attitude and mien were that of a man
utterly stupefied. But his stupefaction was speedily changed to the
"Harry! Harry! come here!" he cried; "make haste--wonderful--wonderful!"
Unable to understand what he meant, I turned to obey his commands.
Neither Hans nor the other Icelanders moved a step.
"Look!" said the Professor, in something of the manner of the
general, pointing out the pyramids to his army.
And fully partaking his stupefaction, if not his joy, I read on the
eastern side of the huge block of stone, the same characters, half eaten
away by the corrosive action of time, the name, to me a thousand times
[Illustration: Runic Glyphs]
"Arne Saknussemm!" cried my uncle, "now, unbeliever, do
you begin to
It was totally impossible for me to answer a single word. I went back
my pile of lava, in a state of silent awe. The evidence was
In a few moments, however, my thoughts were far away, back in my German
home, with Gretchen and the old cook. What would I have given for one of
my cousin's smiles, for one of the ancient domestic's omelettes, and for
my own feather bed!
How long I remained in this state I know not. All I can say is, that
when at last I raised my head from between my hands, there remained at
the bottom of the crater only myself, my uncle and Hans. The Icelandic
porters had been dismissed and were now descending the exterior slopes
of Mount Sneffels, on their way to Stapi. How heartily did I wish myself
Hans slept tranquilly at the foot of a rock in a kind of rill of lava,
where he had made himself a rough and ready bed. MY uncle was walking
about the bottom of the crater like a wild beast in a cage. I had no
desire, neither had I the strength, to move from my recumbent position.
Taking example by the guide, I gave way to a kind of painful somnolency,
during which I seemed both to hear and feel continued heavings and
shudderings in the mountain.
In this way we passed our first night in the interior of a crater.
Next morning, a grey, cloudy, heavy sky hung like a funereal pall over
the summit of the volcanic cone. I did not notice it so much from the
obscurity that reigned around us, as from the rage with which my uncle
I fully understood the reason, and again a glimpse of hope made my heart
leap with joy. I will briefly explain the cause.
Of the three openings which yawned beneath our steps, only one could
have been followed by the adventurous Saknussemm. According to the words
of the learned Icelander, it was only to be known by that one particular
mentioned in the cryptograph, that the shadow of Scartaris fell upon it,
just touching its mouth in the last days of the month of June.
We were, in fact, to consider the pointed peak as the stylus of an
immense sun-dial, the shadow of which pointed on one given day, like the
inexorable finger of fate, to the yawning chasm which led into the
interior of the earth.
Now, as often happens in these regions, should the sun fail to burst
through the clouds, no shadow. Consequently, no chance of discovering
the right aperture. We had already reached the 25th June. If the kindly
heavens would only remain densely clouded for six more days, we should
have to put off our voyage of discovery for another year, when certainly
there would be one person fewer in the party. I already had sufficient
of the mad and monstrous enterprise.
It would be utterly impossible to depict the impotent rage of Professor
Hardwigg. The day passed away, and not the faintest outline of a shadow
could be seen at the bottom of the crater. Hans the guide never moved
from his place. He must have been curious to know what we were about, if
indeed he could believe we were about anything. As for my uncle, he
never addressed a word to me. He was nursing his wrath to keep it warm!
His eyes fixed on the black and foggy atmosphere, his complexion hideous
with suppressed passion. Never had his eyes appeared so fierce, his nose
so aquiline, his mouth so hard and firm.
On the 26th no change for the better. A mixture of rain and snow fell
during the whole day. Hans very quietly built himself a hut of lava into
which he retired like Diogenes into his tub. I took a malicious delight
in watching the thousand little cascades that flowed down the side of
the cone, carrying with them at times a stream of stones into the "vasty
My uncle was almost frantic: to be sure, it was enough to make even a
patient man angry. He had reached to a certain extent the goal of his
desires, and yet he was likely to be wrecked in port.
But if the heavens and the elements are capable of causing us much pain
and sorrow, there are two sides to a medal. And there was reserved for
Professor Hardwigg a brilliant and sudden surprise which was to
compensate him for all his sufferings.
Next day the sky was still overcast, but on Sunday, the 28th, the last
day but two of the month, with a sudden change of wind and a new moon
there came a change of weather. The sun poured its beaming rays to the
very bottom of the crater.
Each hillock, every rock, every stone, every asperity of the soil had
its share of the luminous effulgence, and its shadow fell heavily on the
soil. Among others, to his insane delight, the shadow of Scartaris was
marked and clear, and moved slowly with the radiant start of day.
My uncle moved with it in a state of mental ecstasy.
At twelve o'clock exactly, when the sun had attained its highest
altitude for the day, the shadow fell upon the edge of the central pit!
"Here it is," gasped the Professor in an agony of joy, "here
have found it. Forward, my friends, into the Interior of the Earth."
I looked curiously at Hans to see what reply he would make to this
"Forut," said the guide tranquilly.
"Forward it is," answered my uncle, who was now in the seventh
When we were quite ready, our watches indicated thirteen minutes past
THE REAL JOURNEY COMMENCES
Our real journey had now commenced. Hitherto our courage and
determination had overcome all difficulties. We were fatigued at times;
and that was all. Now we were about to encounter unknown and fearful
I had not as yet ventured to take a glimpse down the horrible abyss into
which in a few minutes more I was about to plunge. The fatal moment had,
however, at last arrived. I had still the option of refusing or
accepting a share in this foolish and audacious enterprise. But I was
ashamed to show more fear than the eider-duck hunter. Hans seemed to
accept the difficulties of the journey so tranquilly, with such calm
indifference, with such perfect recklessness of all danger, that I
actually blushed to appear less of a man than he!
Had I been alone with my uncle, I should certainly have sat down and
argued the point fully; but in the presence of the guide I held my
tongue. I gave one moment to the thought of my charming cousin, and then
I advanced to the mouth of the central shaft.
It measured about a hundred feet in diameter, which made about three
hundred in circumference. I leaned over a rock which stood on its edge,
and looked down. My hair stood on end, my teeth chattered, my limbs
trembled. I seemed utterly to lose my centre of gravity, while my head
was in a sort of whirl, like that of a drunken man. There is nothing
more powerful than this attraction towards an abyss. I was about to fall
headlong into the gaping well, when I was drawn back by a firm and
powerful hand. It was that of Hans. I had not taken lessons enough at
the Frelser's-Kirk of Copenhagen in the art of looking down from lofty
eminences without blinking!
However, few as the minutes were during which I gazed down this
tremendous and even wondrous shaft, I had a sufficient glimpse of it to
give me some idea of its physical conformation. Its sides, which were
almost as perpendicular as those of a well, presented numerous
projections which doubtless would assist our descent.
It was a sort of wild and savage staircase, without bannister or fence.
A rope fastened above, near the surface, would certainly support our
weight and enable us to reach the bottom, but how, when we had arrived
at its utmost depth, were we to loosen it above? This was, I thought, a
question of some importance.
My uncle, however, was one of those men who are nearly always prepared
with expedients. He hit upon a very simple method of obviating this
difficulty. He unrolled a cord about as thick as my thumb, and at least
four hundred feet in length. He allowed about half of it to go down the
pit and catch in a hitch over a great block of lava which stood on the
edge of the precipice. This done, he threw the second half after the
Each of us could now descend by catching the two cords in one hand. When
about two hundred feet below, all the explorer had to do was to let go
one end and pull away at the other, when the cord would come falling at
his feet. In order to go down farther, all that was necessary was to
continue the same operation.
This was a very excellent proposition, and no doubt, a correct one.
Going down appeared to me easy enough; it was the coming up again that
now occupied my thoughts.
"Now," said my uncle, as soon as he had completed this important
preparation, "let us see about the baggage. It must be divided into
three separate parcels, and each of us must carry one on his back. I
allude to the more important and fragile articles."
My worthy and ingenious uncle did not appear to consider that we came
under the denomination.
"Hans," he continued, "you will take charge of the tools
and some of the
provisions; you, Harry, must take possession of another third of the
provisions and of the arms. I will load myself with the rest of the
eatables, and with the more delicate instruments."
"But," I exclaimed, "our clothes, this mass of cord and
will undertake to carry them down?"
"They will go down of themselves."
"And how so?" I asked.
"You shall see."
My uncle was not fond of half measures, nor did he like anything in the
way of hesitation. Giving his orders to Hans he had the whole of the
nonfragile articles made up into one bundle; and the packet, firmly and
solidly fastened, was simply pitched over the edge of the gulf.
I heard the moaning of the suddenly displaced air, and the noise of
falling stones. My uncle leaning over the abyss followed the descent of
his luggage with a perfectly self-satisfied air, and did not rise until
it had completely disappeared from sight.
"Now then," he cried, "it is our turn."
I put it in good faith to any man of common sense--was it possible to
hear this energetic cry without a shudder?
The Professor fastened his case of instruments on his back. Hans took
charge of the tools, I of the arms. The descent then commenced in the
following order: Hans went first, my uncle followed, and I went last.
Our progress was made in profound silence--a silence only troubled by
the fall of pieces of rock, which breaking from the jagged sides, fell
with a roar into the depths below.
I allowed myself to slide, so to speak, holding frantically on the
double cord with one hand and with the other keeping myself off the
rocks by the assistance of my iron-shod pole. One idea was all the time
impressed upon my brain. I feared that the upper support would fail me.
The cord appeared to me far too fragile to bear the weight of three such
persons as we were, with our luggage. I made as little use of it as
possible, trusting to my own agility and doing miracles in the way of
feats of dexterity and strength upon the projecting shelves and spurs of
lava which my feet seemed to clutch as strongly as my hands.
The guide went first, I have said, and when one of the slippery and
frail supports broke from under his feet he had recourse to his usual
monosyllabic way of speaking.
"Attention--look out," repeated my uncle.
In about half an hour we reached a kind of small terrace formed by a
fragment of rock projecting some distance from the sides of the shaft.
Hans now began to haul upon the cord on one side only, the other going
as quietly upward as the other came down. It fell at last, bringing with
it a shower of small stones, lava and dust, a disagreeable kind of rain
While we were seated on this extraordinary bench I ventured once more
look downwards. With a sigh I discovered that the bottom was still
wholly invisible. Were we, then, going direct to the interior of the
The performance with the cord recommenced, and a quarter of an hour
later we had reached to the depth of another two hundred feet.
I have very strong doubts if the most determined geologist would, during
that descent, have studied the nature of the different layers of earth
around him. I did not trouble my head much about the matter; whether we
were among the combustible carbon, Silurians, or primitive soil, I
neither knew nor cared to know.
Not so the inveterate Professor. He must have taken notes all the way
down, for, at one of our halts, he began a brief lecture.
"The farther we advance," said he, "the greater is my
confidence in the
result. The disposition of these volcanic strata absolutely confirms the
theories of Sir Humphry Davy. We are still within the region of the
primordial soil, the soil in which took place the chemical operation of
metals becoming inflamed by coming in contact with the air and water. I
at once regret the old and now forever exploded theory of a central
fire. At all events, we shall soon know the truth."
Such was the everlasting conclusion to which he came. I, however, was
very far from being in humor to discuss the matter. I had something else
to think of. My silence was taken for consent; and still we continued to
At the expiration of three hours, we were, to all appearance, as far
as ever from the bottom of the well. When I looked upwards, however, I
could see that the upper orifice was every minute decreasing in size.
The sides of the shaft were getting closer and closer together, we were
approaching the regions of eternal night!
And still we continued to descend!
At length, I noticed that when pieces of stone were detached from the
sides of this stupendous precipice, they were swallowed up with less
noise than before. The final sound was sooner heard. We were approaching
the bottom of the abyss!
As I had been very careful to keep account of all the changes of cord
which took place, I was able to tell exactly what was the depth we had
reached, as well as the time it had taken.
We had shifted the rope twenty-eight times, each operation taking a
quarter of an hour, which in all made seven hours. To this had to be
added twenty-eight pauses; in all ten hours and a half. We started at
one, it was now, therefore, about eleven o'clock at night.
It does not require great knowledge of arithmetic to know that
twenty-eight times two hundred feet makes five thousand six hundred feet
in all (more than an English mile).
While I was making this mental calculation a voice broke the silence.
was the voice of Hans.
"Halt!" he cried.
I checked myself very suddenly, just at the moment when I was about to
kick my uncle on the head.
"We have reached the end of our journey," said the worthy Professor
"What, the interior of the earth?" said I, slipping down to
"No, you stupid fellow! but we have reached the bottom of the well."
"And I suppose there is no farther progress to be made?" I
"Oh, yes, I can dimly see a sort of tunnel, which turns off obliquely
the right. At all events, we must see about that tomorrow. Let us sup
now, and seek slumber as best we may."
I thought it time, but made no observations on that point. I was fairly
launched on a desperate course, and all I had to do was to go forward
hopefully and trustingly.
It was not even now quite dark, the light filtering down in a most
We opened the provision bag, ate a frugal supper, and each did his best
to find a bed amid the pile of stones, dirt, and lava which had
accumulated for ages at the bottom of the shaft.
I happened to grope out the pile of ropes, ladders, and clothes which
had thrown down; and upon them I stretched myself. After such a day's
labor, my rough bed seemed as soft as down!
For a while I lay in a sort of pleasant trance.
Presently, after lying quietly for some minutes, I opened my eyes and
looked upwards. As I did so I made out a brilliant little dot, at the
extremity of this long, gigantic telescope.
It was a star without scintillating rays. According to my calculation,
it must be Beta in the constellation of the Little Bear.
After this little bit of astronomical recreation, I dropped into a sound
WE CONTINUE OUR DESCENT
At eight o'clock the next morning, a faint kind of dawn of day awoke
The thousand and one prisms of the lava collected the light as it passed
and brought it to us like a shower of sparks.
We were able with ease to see objects around us.
"Well, Harry, my boy," cried the delighted Professor, rubbing
together, "what say you now? Did you ever pass a more tranquil night
our house in the Konigstrasse? No deafening sounds of cart wheels, no
cries of hawkers, no bad language from boatmen or watermen!"
"Well, Uncle, we are quite at the bottom of this well--but to me
is something terrible in this calm."
"Why," said the Professor hotly, "one would say you were
beginning to be afraid. How will you get on presently? Do you know, that
as yet, we have not penetrated one inch into the bowels of the earth."
"What can you mean, sir?" was my bewildered and astonished
"I mean to say that we have only just reached the soil of the island
itself. This long vertical tube, which ends at the bottom of the crater
of Sneffels, ceases here just about on a level with the sea."
"Are you sure, sir?"
"Quite sure. Consult the barometer."
It was quite true that the mercury, after rising gradually in the
instrument, as long as our descent was taking place, had stopped
precisely at twenty-nine degrees.
"You perceive," said the Professor, "we have as yet only
to endure the
pressure of air. I am curious to replace the barometer by the
The barometer, in fact, was about to become useless--as soon as the
weight of the air was greater than what was calculated as above the
level of the ocean.
"But," said I, "is it not very much to be feared that
ever-increasing pressure may not in the end turn out very painful and
"No," said he. "We shall descend very slowly, and our
lungs will be
gradually accustomed to breathe compressed air. It is well known that
aeronauts have gone so high as to be nearly without air at all--why,
then, should we not accustom ourselves to breathe when we have, say, a
little too much of it? For myself, I am certain I shall prefer it. Let
us not lose a moment. Where is the packet which preceded us in our
I smilingly pointed it out to my uncle. Hans had not seen it, and
believed it caught somewhere above us: "Huppe" as he phrased it.
"Now," said my uncle, "let us breakfast, and break fast
like people who
have a long day's work before them."
Biscuit and dried meat, washed down by some mouthfuls of water flavored
with Schiedam, was the material of our luxurious meal.
As soon as it was finished, my uncle took from his pocket a notebook
destined to be filled by memoranda of our travels. He had already placed
his instruments in order, and this is what he wrote:
Monday, June 29th
Chronometer, 8h. 17m. morning.
Barometer, 29.6 inches.
Thermometer, 6 degrees [43 degrees Fahr.]
This last observation referred to the obscure gallery, and was indicated
to us by the compass.
"Now, Harry," cried the Professor, in an enthusiastic tone
of voice, "we
are truly about to take our first step into the Interior of the Earth;
never before visited by man since the first creation of the world. You
may consider, therefore, that at this precise moment our travels really
As my uncle made this remark, he took in one hand the Ruhmkorff coil
apparatus, which hung round his neck, and with the other he put the
electric current into communication with the worm of the lantern. And a
bright light at once illumined that dark and gloomy tunnel!
The effect was magical!
Hans, who carried the second apparatus, had it also put into operation.
This ingenious application of electricity to practical purposes enabled
us to move along by the light of an artificial day, amid even the flow
of the most inflammable and combustible gases.
"Forward!" cried my uncle. Each took up his burden. Hans went
uncle followed, and I going third, we entered the somber gallery!
Just as we were about to engulf ourselves in this dismal passage, I
lifted up my head, and through the tubelike shaft saw that Iceland sky I
was never to see again!
Was it the last I should ever see of any sky?
The stream of lava flowing from the bowels of the earth in 1219 had
forced itself a passage through the tunnel. It lined the whole of the
inside with its thick and brilliant coating. The electric light added
very greatly to the brilliancy of the effect.
The great difficulty of our journey now began. How were we to prevent
ourselves from slipping down the steeply inclined plane? Happily some
cracks, abrasures of the soil, and other irregularities, served the
place of steps; and we descended slowly; allowing our heavy luggage to
slip on before, at the end of a long cord.
But that which served as steps under our feet became in other places
stalactites. The lava, very porous in certain places, took the form of
little round blisters. Crystals of opaque quartz, adorned with limpid
drops of natural glass suspended to the roof like lusters, seemed to
take fire as we passed beneath them. One would have fancied that the
genii of romance were illuminating their underground palaces to receive
the sons of men.
"Magnificent, glorious!" I cried in a moment of involuntary
"What a spectacle, Uncle! Do you not admire these variegated shades
lava, which run through a whole series of colors, from reddish brown to
pale yellow--by the most insensible degrees? And these crystals, they
appear like luminous globes."
"You are beginning to see the charms of travel, Master Harry,"
uncle. "Wait a bit, until we advance farther. What we have as yet
discovered is nothing--onwards, my boy, onwards!"
It would have been a far more correct and appropriate expression, had
said, "let us slide," for we were going down an inclined plane
perfect ease. The compass indicated that we were moving in a
southeasterly direction. The flow of lava had never turned to the right
or the left. It had the inflexibility of a straight line.
Nevertheless, to my surprise, we found no perceptible increase in heat.
This proved the theories of Humphry Davy to be founded on truth, and
more than once I found myself examining the thermometer in silent
Two hours after our departure it only marked fifty-four degrees
Fahrenheit. I had every reason to believe from this that our descent was
far more horizontal than vertical. As for discovering the exact depth to
which we had attained, nothing could be easier. The Professor as he
advanced measured the angles of deviation and inclination; but he kept
the result of his observations to himself.
About eight o'clock in the evening, my uncle gave the signal for
halting. Hans seated himself on the ground. The lamps were hung to
fissures in the lava rock. We were now in a large cavern where air was
not wanting. On the contrary, it abounded. What could be the cause of
this--to what atmospheric agitation could be ascribed this draught? But
this was a question which I did not care to discuss just then. Fatigue
and hunger made me incapable of reasoning. An unceasing march of seven
hours had not been kept up without great exhaustion. I was really and
truly worn out; and delighted enough I was to hear the word Halt.
Hans laid out some provisions on a lump of lava, and we each supped with
keen relish. One thing, however, caused us great uneasiness--our water
reserve was already half exhausted. My uncle had full confidence in
finding subterranean resources, but hitherto we had completely failed in
so doing. I could not help calling my uncle's attention to the
"And you are surprised at this total absence of springs?" he
"Doubtless--I am very uneasy on the point. We have certainly not
water to last us five days."
"Be quite easy on that matter," continued my uncle. "I
answer for it we
shall find plenty of water--in fact, far more than we shall want."
"When we once get through this crust of lava. How can you expect
to force their way through these solid stone walls?"
"But what is there to prove that this concrete mass of lava does
extend to the centre of the earth? I don't think we have as yet done
much in a vertical way."
"What puts that into your head, my boy?" asked my uncle mildly.
"Well, it appears to me that if we had descended very far below
level of the sea--we should find it rather hotter than we have."
"According to your system," said my uncle; "but what does
"Scarcely fifteen degrees by Reaumur, which is only an increase
since our departure."
"Well, and what conclusion does that bring you to?" inquired
"The deduction I draw from this is very simple. According to the
exact observations, the augmentation of the temperature of the interior
of the earth is one degree for every hundred feet. But certain local
causes may considerably modify this figure. Thus at Yakoust in Siberia,
it has been remarked that the heat increases a degree every thirty-six
feet. The difference evidently depends on the conductibility of certain
rocks. In the neighborhood of an extinct volcano, it has been remarked
that the elevation of temperature was only one degree in every
five-and-twenty feet. Let us, then, go upon this calculation--which is
the most favorable--and calculate."
"Calculate away, my boy."
"Nothing easier," said I, pulling out my notebook and pencil.
times one hundred and twenty-five feet make a depth of eleven hundred
and twenty-five feet."
"Archimedes could not have spoken more geometrically."
"Well, according to my observations, we are at least ten thousand
below the level of the sea."
"Can it be possible?"
"Either my calculation is correct, or there is no truth in figures."
The calculations of the Professor were perfectly correct. We were
already six thousand feet deeper down in the bowels of the earth than
anyone had ever been before. The lowest known depth to which man had
hitherto penetrated was in the mines of Kitzbuhel, in the Tirol, and
those of Wurttemberg.
The temperature, which should have been eighty-one, was in this place
only fifteen. This was a matter for serious consideration.
THE EASTERN TUNNEL
The next day was Tuesday, the 30th of June--and at six o'clock in the
morning we resumed our journey.
We still continued to follow the gallery of lava, a perfect natural
pathway, as easy of descent as some of those inclined planes which, in
very old German houses, serve the purpose of staircases. This went on
until seventeen minutes past twelve, the precise instant at which we
rejoined Hans, who, having been somewhat in advance, had suddenly
"At last," cried my uncle, "we have reached the end of
I looked wonderingly about me. We were in the centre of four cross
paths--somber and narrow tunnels. The question now arose as to which it
was wise to take; and this of itself was no small difficulty.
My uncle, who did not wish to appear to have any hesitation about the
matter before myself or the guide, at once made up his mind. He pointed
quietly to the eastern tunnel; and, without delay, we entered within its
Besides, had he entertained any feeling of hesitation it might have been
prolonged indefinitely, for there was no indication by which to
determine on a choice. It was absolutely necessary to trust to chance
and good fortune!
The descent of this obscure and narrow gallery was very gradual and
winding. Sometimes we gazed through a succession of arches, its course
very like the aisles of a Gothic cathedral. The great artistic sculptors
and builders of the Middle Ages might have here completed their studies
with advantage. Many most beautiful and suggestive ideas of
architectural beauty would have been discovered by them. After passing
through this phase of the cavernous way, we suddenly came, about a mile
farther on, upon a square system of arch, adopted by the early Romans,
projecting from the solid rock, and keeping up the weight of the roof.
Suddenly we would come upon a series of low subterranean tunnels which
looked like beaver holes, or the work of foxes--through whose narrow and
winding ways we had literally to crawl!
The heat still remained at quite a supportable degree. With an
involuntary shudder, I reflected on what the heat must have been when
the volcano of Sneffels was pouring its smoke, flames, and streams of
boiling lava--all of which must have come up by the road we were now
following. I could imagine the torrents of hot seething stone darting
on, bubbling up with accompaniments of smoke, steam, and sulphurous
"Only to think of the consequences," I mused, "if the
old volcano were
once more to set to work."
I did not communicate these rather unpleasant reflections to my uncle.
He not only would not have understood them, but would have been
intensely disgusted. His only idea was to go ahead. He walked, he slid,
he clambered over piles of fragments, he rolled down heaps of broken
lava, with an earnestness and conviction it was impossible not to
At six o'clock in the evening, after a very wearisome journey, but one
not so fatiguing as before, we had made six miles towards the southward,
but had not gone more than a mile downwards.
My uncle, as usual, gave the signal to halt. We ate our meal in
thoughtful silence, and then retired to sleep.
Our arrangements for the night were very primitive and simple. A
traveling rug, in which each rolled himself, was all our bedding. We had
no necessity to fear cold or any unpleasant visit. Travelers who bury
themselves in the wilds and depths of the African desert, who seek
profit and pleasure in the forests of the New World, are compelled to
take it in turn to watch during the hours of sleep; but in this region
of the earth absolute solitude and complete security reigned supreme.
We had nothing to fear either from savages or from wild beasts.
After a night's sweet repose, we awoke fresh and ready for action. There
being nothing to detain us, we started on our journey. We continued to
burrow through the lava tunnel as before. It was impossible to make out
through what soil we were making way. The tunnel, moreover, instead of
going down into the bowels of the earth, became absolutely horizontal.
I even thought, after some examination, that we were actually tending
upwards. About ten o'clock in the day this state of things became so
clear that, finding the change very fatiguing, I was obliged to slacken
my pace and finally come to a halt.
"Well," said the Professor quickly, "what is the matter?"
"The fact is, I am dreadfully tired," was my earnest reply.
"What," cried my uncle, "tired after a three hours' walk,
and by so easy
"Easy enough, I dare say, but very fatiguing."
"But how can that be, when all we have to do is to go downwards."
"I beg your pardon, sir. For some time I have noticed that we are
"Upwards," cried my uncle, shrugging his shoulders, "how
can that be?"
"There can be no doubt about it. For the last half hour the slopes
been upward--and if we go on in this way much longer we shall find
ourselves back in Iceland."
My uncle shook his head with the air of a man who does not want to be
convinced. I tried to continue the conversation. He would not answer me,
but once more gave the signal for departure. His silence I thought was
only caused by concentrated ill-temper.
However this might be, I once more took up my load, and boldly and
resolutely followed Hans, who was now in advance of my uncle. I did not
like to be beaten or even distanced. I was naturally anxious not to lose
sight of my companions. The very idea of being left behind, lost in that
terrible labyrinth, made me shiver as with the ague.
Besides, if the ascending path was more arduous and painful to clamber,
I had one source of secret consolation and delight. It was to all
appearance taking us back to the surface of the earth. That of itself
was hopeful. Every step I took confirmed me in my belief, and I began
already to build castles in the air in relation to my marriage with my
pretty little cousin.
About twelve o'clock there was a great and sudden change in the aspect
of the rocky sides of the gallery. I first noticed it from the
diminution of the rays of light which cast back the reflection of the
lamp. From being coated with shining and resplendent lava, it became
living rock. The sides were sloping walls, which sometimes became quite
We were now in what the geological professors call a state of
transition, in the period of Silurian stones, so called because this
specimen of early formation is very common in England in the counties
formerly inhabited by the Celtic nation known as Silures.
"I can see clearly now," I cried; "the sediment from the
once covered the whole earth formed during the second period of its
existence these schists and these calcareous rocks. We are turning our
backs on the granite rocks, and are like people from Hamburg who would
go to Lubeck by way of Hanover."
I might just as well have kept my observations to myself. My geological
enthusiasm got the better, however, of my cooler judgment, and Professor
Hardwigg heard my observations.
"What is the matter now?" he said, in a tone of great gravity.
"Well," cried I, "do you not see these different layers
rocks and the first indication of slate strata?"
"Well; what then?"
"We have arrived at that period of the world's existence when the
plants and the first animals made their appearance."
"You think so?"
"Yes, look; examine and judge for yourself."
I induced the Professor with some difficulty to cast the light of his
lamp on the sides of the long winding gallery. I expected some
exclamation to burst from his lips. I was very much mistaken. The worthy
Professor never spoke a word.
It was impossible to say whether he understood me or not. Perhaps it
possible that in his pride--my uncle and a learned professor--he did not
like to own that he was wrong in having chosen the eastern tunnel, or
was he determined at any price to go to the end of it? It was quite
evident we had left the region of lava, and that the road by which we
were going could not take us back to the great crater of Mount Sneffels.
As we went along I could not help ruminating on the whole question, and
asked myself if I did not lay too great a stress on these sudden and
peculiar modifications of the earth's crust.
After all, I was very likely to be mistaken--and it was within the range
of probability and possibility that we were not making our way through
the strata of rocks which I believed I recognized piled on the lower
layer of granitic formation.
"At all events, if I am right," I thought to myself, "I
find some remains of primitive plants, and it will be absolutely
necessary to give way to such indubitable evidence. Let us have a good
I accordingly lost no opportunity of searching, and had not gone more
than about a hundred yards, when the evidence I sought for cropped up in
the most incontestable manner before my eyes. It was quite natural that
I should expect to find these signs, for during the Silurian period the
seas contained no fewer than fifteen hundred different animal and
vegetable species. My feet, so long accustomed to the hard and arid lava
soil, suddenly found themselves treading on a kind of soft dust, the
remains of plants and shells.
Upon the walls themselves I could clearly make out the outline, as plain
as a sun picture, of the fucus and the lycopods. The worthy and
excellent Professor Hardwigg could not of course make any mistake about
the matter; but I believe he deliberately closed his eyes, and continued
on his way with a firm and unalterable step.
I began to think that he was carrying his obstinacy a great deal too
far. I could no longer act with prudence or composure. I stooped on a
sudden and picked up an almost perfect shell, which had undoubtedly
belonged to some animal very much resembling some of the present day.
Having secured the prize, I followed in the wake of my uncle.
"Do you see this?" I said.
"Well, said the Professor, with the most imperturbable tranquillity,
is the shell of a crustaceous animal of the extinct order of the
trilobites; nothing more, I assure you."
"But," cried I, much troubled at his coolness, "do you
conclusion from it?"
"Well, if I may ask, what conclusion do you draw from it yourself?"
"Well, I thought--"
"I know, my boy, what you would say, and you are right, perfectly
incontestably right. We have finally abandoned the crust of lava and the
road by which the lava ascended. It is quite possible that I may have
been mistaken, but I shall be unable to discover my error until I get to
the end of this gallery."
"You are quite right as far as that is concerned," I replied,
should highly approve of your decision, if we had not to fear the
greatest of all dangers."
"And what is that?"
"Want of water."
"Well, my dear Henry, it can't be helped. We must put ourselves
And on he went.
DEEPER AND DEEPER--THE COAL MINE
In truth, we were compelled to put ourselves upon rations. Our supply
would certainly last not more than three days. I found this out about
supper time. The worst part of the matter was that, in what is called
the transition rocks, it was hardly to be expected we should meet with
I had read of the horrors of thirst, and I knew that where we were, a
brief trial of its sufferings would put an end to our adventures--and
our lives! But it was utterly useless to discuss the matter with my
uncle. He would have answered by some axiom from Plato.
During the whole of next day we proceeded on our journey through this
interminable gallery, arch after arch, tunnel after tunnel. We journeyed
without exchanging a word. We had become as mute and reticent as Hans,
The road had no longer an upward tendency; at all events, if it had,
was not to be made out very clearly. Sometimes there could be no doubt
that we were going downwards. But this inclination was scarcely to be
distinguished, and was by no means reassuring to the Professor, because
the character of the strata was in no wise modified, and the transition
character of the rocks became more and more marked.
It was a glorious sight to see how the electric light brought out the
sparkles in the walls of the calcareous rocks, and the old red
sandstone. One might have fancied oneself in one of those deep cuttings
in Devonshire, which have given their name to this kind of soil. Some
magnificent specimens of marble projected from the sides of the gallery:
some of an agate grey with white veins of variegated character, others
of a yellow spotted color, with red veins; farther off might be seen
samples of color in which cherry-tinted seams were to be found in all
their brightest shades.
The greater number of these marbles were stamped with the marks of
primitive animals. Since the previous evening, nature and creation had
made considerable progress. Instead of the rudimentary trilobites, I
perceived the remains of a more perfect order. Among others, the fish in
which the eye of a geologist has been able to discover the first form of
The Devonian seas were inhabited by a vast number of animals of this
species, which were deposited in tens of thousands in the rocks of new
It was quite evident to me that we were ascending the scale of animal
life of which man forms the summit. My excellent uncle, the Professor,
appeared not to take notice of these warnings. He was determined at any
risk to proceed.
He must have been in expectation of one of two things; either that a
vertical well was about to open under his feet, and thus allow him to
continue his descent, or that some insurmountable obstacle would compel
us to stop and go back by the road we had so long traveled. But evening
came again, and, to my horror, neither hope was doomed to be realized!
On Friday, after a night when I began to feel the gnawing agony of
thirst, and when in consequence appetite decreased, our little band rose
and once more followed the turnings and windings, the ascents and
descents, of this interminable gallery. All were silent and gloomy. I
could see that even my uncle had ventured too far.
After about ten hours of further progress--a progress dull and
monotonous to the last degree--I remarked that the reverberation, and
reflection of our lamps upon the sides of the tunnel, had singularly
diminished. The marble, the schist, the calcareous rocks, the red
sandstone, had disappeared, leaving in their places a dark and gloomy
wall, somber and without brightness. When we reached a remarkably narrow
part of the tunnel, I leaned my left hand against the rock.
When I took my hand away, and happened to glance at it, it was quite
black. We had reached the coal strata of the Central Earth.
"A coal mine!" I cried.
"A coal mine without miners," responded my uncle, a little
"How can we tell?"
"I can tell," replied my uncle, in a sharp and doctorial tone.
perfectly certain that this gallery through successive layers of coal
was not cut by the hand of man. But whether it is the work of nature or
not is of little concern to us. The hour for our evening meal has
come--let us sup."
Hans, the guide, occupied himself in preparing food. I had come to that
point when I could no longer eat. All I cared about were the few drops
of water which fell to my share. What I suffered it is useless to
record. The guide's gourd, not quite half full, was all that was left
for us three!
Having finished their repast, my two companions laid themselves down
upon their rugs, and found in sleep a remedy for their fatigue and
sufferings. As for me, I could not sleep, I lay counting the hours until
The next morning, Saturday, at six o'clock, we started again. Twenty
minutes later we suddenly came upon a vast excavation. From its mighty
extent I saw at once that the hand of man could have had nothing to do
with this coal mine; the vault above would have fallen in; as it was, it
was only held together by some miracle of nature.
This mighty natural cavern was about a hundred feet wide, by about a
hundred and fifty high. The earth had evidently been cast apart by some
violent subterranean commotion. The mass, giving way to some prodigious
upheaving of nature, had split in two, leaving the vast gap into which
we inhabitants of the earth had penetrated for the first time.
The whole singular history of the coal period was written on those dark
and gloomy walls. A geologist would have been able easily to follow the
different phases of its formation. The seams of coal were separated by
strata of sandstone, a compact clay, which appeared to be crushed down
by the weight from above.
At that period of the world which preceded the secondary epoch, the
earth was covered by a coating of enormous and rich vegetation, due to
the double action of tropical heat and perpetual humidity. A vast
atmospheric cloud of vapor surrounded the earth on all sides, preventing
the rays of the sun from ever reaching it.
Hence the conclusion that these intense heats did not arise from this
new source of caloric.
Perhaps even the star of day was not quite ready for its brilliant
work--to illumine a universe. Climates did not as yet exist, and a level
heat pervaded the whole surface of the globe--the same heat existing at
the North Pole as at the equator.
Whence did it come? From the interior of the earth?
In spite of all the learned theories of Professor Hardwigg, a fierce
vehement fire certainly burned within the entrails of the great
spheroid. Its action was felt even to the very topmost crust of the
earth; the plants then in existence, being deprived of the vivifying
rays of the sun, had neither buds, nor flowers, nor odor, but their
roots drew a strong and vigorous life from the burning earth of early
There were but few of what may be called trees--only herbaceous plants,
immense turfs, briers, mosses, rare families, which, however, in those
days were counted by tens and tens of thousands.
It is entirely to this exuberant vegetation that coal owes its origin.
The crust of the vast globe still yielded under the influence of the
seething, boiling mass, which was forever at work beneath. Hence arose
numerous fissures, and continual falling in of the upper earth. The
dense mass of plants being beneath the waters, soon formed themselves
into vast agglomerations.
Then came about the action of natural chemistry; in the depths of the
ocean the vegetable mass at first became turf, then, thanks to the
influence of gases and subterranean fermentation, they underwent the
complete process of mineralization.
In this manner, in early days, were formed those vast and prodigious
layers of coal, which an ever--increasing consumption must utterly use
up in about three centuries more, if people do not find some more
economic light than gas, and some cheaper motive power than steam.
All these reflections, the memories of my school studies, came to my
mind while I gazed upon these mighty accumulations of coal, whose
riches, however, are scarcely likely to be ever utilized. The working of
these mines could only be carried out at an expense that would never
yield a profit.
The matter, however, is scarcely worthy consideration, when coal is
scattered over the whole surface of the globe, within a few yards of the
upper crust. As I looked at these untouched strata, therefore, I knew
they would remain as long as the world lasts.
While we still continued our journey, I alone forgot the length of the
road, by giving myself up wholly to these geological considerations. The
temperature continued to be very much the same as while we were
traveling amid the lava and the schists. On the other hand my sense of
smell was much affected by a very powerful odor. I immediately knew that
the gallery was filled to overflowing with that dangerous gas the miners
call fire damp, the explosion of which has caused such fearful and
terrible accidents, making a hundred widows and hundreds of orphans in a
Happily, we were able to illumine our progress by means of the Ruhmkorff
apparatus. If we had been so rash and imprudent as to explore this
gallery, torch in hand, a terrible explosion would have put an end to
our travels, simply because no travelers would be left.
Our excursion through this wondrous coal mine in the very bowels of the
earth lasted until evening. My uncle was scarcely able to conceal his
impatience and dissatisfaction at the road continuing still to advance
in a horizontal direction.
The darkness, dense and opaque a few yards in advance and in the rear,
rendered it impossible to make out what was the length of the gallery.
For myself, I began to believe that it was simply interminable, and
would go on in the same manner for months.
Suddenly, at six o'clock, we stood in front of a wall. To the right,
the left above, below, nowhere was there any passage. We had reached a
spot where the rocks said in unmistakable accents--No Thoroughfare.
I stood stupefied. The guide simply folded his arms. My uncle was
"Well, well, so much the better," cried my uncle, at last,
"I now know
what we are about. We are decidedly not upon the road followed by
Saknussemm. All we have to do is to go back. Let us take one night's
good rest, and before three days are over, I promise you we shall have
regained the point where the galleries divided."
"Yes, we may, if our strength lasts as long," I cried, in a
"And why not?"
"Tomorrow, among us three, there will not be a drop of water. It
"And your courage with it," said my uncle, speaking in a severe
What could I say? I turned round on my side, and from sheer exhaustion
fell into a heavy sleep disturbed by dreams of water! And I awoke
I would have bartered a diamond mine for a glass of pure spring water!
THE WRONG ROAD!
Next day, our departure took place at a very early hour. There was no
time for the least delay. According to my account, we had five days'
hard work to get back to the place where the galleries divided.
I can never tell all the sufferings we endured upon our return. My uncle
bore them like a man who has been in the wrong--that is, with
concentrated and suppressed anger; Hans, with all the resignation of his
pacific character; and I--I confess that I did nothing but complain, and
despair. I had no heart for this bad fortune.
But there was one consolation. Defeat at the outset would probably upset
the whole journey!
As I had expected from the first, our supply of water gave completely
out on our first day's march. Our provision of liquids was reduced to
our supply of Schiedam; but this horrible--nay, I will say it--this
infernal liquor burnt the throat, and I could not even bear the sight of
it. I found the temperature to be stifling. I was paralyzed with
fatigue. More than once I was about to fall insensible to the ground.
The whole party then halted, and the worthy Icelander and my excellent
uncle did their best to console and comfort me. I could, however,
plainly see that my uncle was contending painfully against the extreme
fatigues of our journey, and the awful torture generated by the absence
At length a time came when I ceased to recollect anything--when all was
one awfull hideous, fantastic dream!
At last, on Tuesday, the seventh of the month of July, after crawling
our hands and knees for many hours, more dead than alive, we reached the
point of junction between the galleries. I lay like a log, an inert mass
of human flesh on the arid lava soil. It was then ten in the morning.
Hans and my uncle, leaning against the wall, tried to nibble away at
some pieces of biscuit, while deep groans and sighs escaped from my
scorched and swollen lips. Then I fell off into a kind of deep lethargy.
Presently I felt my uncle approach, and lift me up tenderly in his arms.
"Poor boy," I heard him say in a tone of deep commiseration.
I was profoundly touched by these words, being by no means accustomed
signs of womanly weakness in the Professor. I caught his trembling hands
in mine and gave them a gentle pressure. He allowed me to do so without
resistance, looking at me kindly all the time. His eyes were wet with
I then saw him take the gourd which he wore at his side. To my surprise,
or rather to my stupefaction, he placed it to my lips.
"Drink, my boy," he said.
Was it possible my ears had not deceived me? Was my uncle mad? I looked
at him, with, I am sure, quite an idiotic expression. I could not
believe him. I too much feared the counteraction of disappointment.
"Drink," he said again.
Had I heard aright? Before, however, I could ask myself the question
second time, a mouthful of water cooled my parched lips and throat--one
mouthful, but I do believe it brought me back to life.
I thanked my uncle by clasping my hands. My heart was too full to speak.
"Yes," said he, "one mouthful of water, the very last--do
you hear, my
boy--the very last! I have taken care of it at the bottom of my bottle
as the apple of my eye. Twenty times, a hundred times, I have resisted
the fearful desire to drink it. But--no--no, Harry, I saved it for you."
"My dear uncle," I exclaimed, and the big tears rolled down
my hot and
"Yes, my poor boy, I knew that when you reached this place, this
crossroad in the earth, you would fall down half dead, and I saved my
last drop of water in order to restore you."
"Thanks," I cried; "thanks from my heart."
As little as my thirst was really quenched, I had nevertheless partially
recovered my strength. The contracted muscles of my throat relaxed--and
the inflammation of my lips in some measure subsided. At all events, I
was able to speak.
"Well," I said, "there can be no doubt now as to what
we have to do.
Water has utterly failed us; our journey is therefore at an end. Let us
While I spoke thus, my uncle evidently avoided my face: he held down
head; his eyes were turned in every possible direction but the right
"Yes," I continued, getting excited by my own words, "we
must go back to
Sneffels. May heaven give us strength to enable us once more to revisit
the light of day. Would that we now stood on the summit of the crater."
"Go back," said my uncle, speaking to himself, "and must
it be so?"
"Go back--yes, and without losing a single moment," I vehemently
For some moments there was silence under that dark and gloomy vault.
"So, my dear Harry," said the Professor in a very singular
voice, "those few drops of water have not sufficed to restore your
energy and courage."
"Courage!" I cried.
"I see that you are quite as downcast as before--and still give
discouragement and despair."
What, then, was the man made of, and what other projects were entering
his fertile and audacious brain!
"You are not discouraged, sir?"
"What! Give up just as we are on the verge of success?" he
"Never, never shall it be said that Professor Hardwigg retreated."
"Then we must make up our minds to perish," I cried with a
"No, Harry, my boy, certainly not. Go, leave me, I am very far from
desiring your death. Take Hans with you. <i>I will go on alone.</i>"
"You ask us to leave you?"
"Leave me, I say. I have undertaken this dangerous and perilous
adventure. I will carry it to the end--or I will never return to the
surface of Mother Earth. Go, Harry--once more I say to you--go!"
My uncle as he spoke was terribly excited. His voice, which before had
been tender, almost womanly, became harsh and menacing. He appeared to
be struggling with desperate energy against the impossible. I did not
wish to abandon him at the bottom of that abyss, while, on the other
hand, the instinct of preservation told me to fly.
Meanwhile, our guide was looking on with profound calmness and
indifference. He appeared to be an unconcerned party, and yet he
perfectly well knew what was going on between us. Our gestures
sufficiently indicated the different roads each wished to follow--and
which each tried to influence the other to undertake. But Hans appeared
not to take the slightest interest in what was really a question of life
and death for us all, but waited quite ready to obey the signal which
should say go aloft, or to resume his desperate journey into the
interior of the earth.
How then I wished with all my heart and soul that I could make him
understand my words. My representations, my sighs and groans, the
earnest accents in which I should have spoken would have convinced that
cold, hard nature. Those fearful dangers and perils of which the stolid
guide had no idea, I would have pointed them out to him--I would have,
as it were, made him see and feel. Between us, we might have convinced
the obstinate Professor. If the worst had come to the worst, we could
have compelled him to return to the summit of Sneffels.
I quietly approached Hans. I caught his hand in mine. He never moved
muscle. I indicated to him the road to the top of the crater. He
remained motionless. My panting form, my haggard countenance, must have
indicated the extent of my sufferings. The Icelander gently shook his
head and pointed to my uncle.
"Master," he said.
The word is Icelandic as well as English.
"The master!" I cried, beside myself with fury--"madman!
no--I tell you
he is not the master of our lives; we must fly! we must drag him with
us! do you hear me? Do you understand me, I say?"
I have already explained that I held Hans by the arm. I tried to make
him rise from his seat. I struggled with him and tried to force him
away. My uncle now interposed.
"My good Henry, be calm," he said. "You will obtain nothing
devoted follower; therefore, listen to what I have to say."
I folded my arms, as well as I could, and looked my uncle full in the
"This wretched want of water," he said, "is the sole obstacle
success of my project. In the entire gallery, made of lava, schist, and
coal, it is true we found not one liquid molecule. It is quite possible
that we may be more fortunate in the western tunnel."
My sole reply was to shake my head with an air of deep incredulity.
"Listen to me to the end," said the Professor in his well-known
lecturing voice. "While you lay yonder without life or motion, I
undertook a reconnoitering journey into the conformation of this other
gallery. I have discovered that it goes directly downwards into the
bowels of the earth, and in a few hours will take us to the old granitic
formation. In this we shall undoubtedly find innumerable springs. The
nature of the rock makes this a mathematical certainty, and instinct
agrees with logic to say that it is so. Now, this is the serious
proposition which I have to make to you. When Christopher Columbus asked
of his men three days to discover the land of promise, his men ill,
terrified, and hopeless, yet gave him three days--and the New World was
discovered. Now I, the Christopher Columbus of this subterranean region,
only ask of you one more day. If, when that time is expired, I have not
found the water of which we are in search, I swear to you, I will give
up my mighty enterprise and return to the earth's surface."
Despite my irritation and despair, I knew how much it cost my uncle to
make this proposition, and to hold such conciliatory language. Under the
circumstances, what could I do but yield?
"Well," I cried, "let it be as you wish, and may heaven
superhuman energy. But as, unless we discover water, our hours are
numbered, let us lose no time, but go ahead."
THE WESTERN GALLERY--A NEW ROUTE
Our descent was now resumed by means of the second gallery. Hans took
his post in front as usual. We had not gone more than a hundred yards
when the Professor carefully examined the walls.
"This is the primitive formation--we are on the right road--onwards
When the whole earth got cool in the first hours of the world's morning,
the diminution of the volume of the earth produced a state of
dislocation in its upper crust, followed by ruptures, crevasses and
fissures. The passage was a fissure of this kind, through which, ages
ago, had flowed the eruptive granite. The thousand windings and turnings
formed an inextricable labyrinth through the ancient soil.
As we descended, successions of layers composing the primitive soil
appeared with the utmost fidelity of detail. Geological science
considers this primitive soil as the base of the mineral crust, and it
has recognized that it is composed of three different strata or layers,
all resting on the immovable rock known as granite.
No mineralogists had even found themselves placed in such a marvelous
position to study nature in all her real and naked beauty. The sounding
rod, a mere machine, could not bring to the surface of the earth the
objects of value for the study of its internal structure, which we were
about to see with our own eyes, to touch with our own hands.
Remember that I am writing this after the journey.
Across the streak of the rocks, colored by beautiful green tints, wound
metallic threads of copper, of manganese, with traces of platinum and
gold. I could not help gazing at these riches buried in the entrails of
Mother Earth, and of which no man would have the enjoyment to the end of
time! These treasures--mighty and inexhaustible, were buried in the
morning of the earth's history, at such awful depths, that no crowbar or
pickax will ever drag them from their tomb!
The light of our Ruhmkorff's coil, increased tenfold by the myriad of
prismatic masses of rock, sent its jets of fire in every direction, and
I could fancy myself traveling through a huge hollow diamond, the rays
of which produced myriads of extraordinary effects.
Towards six o'clock, this festival of light began sensibly and visibly
to decrease, and soon almost ceased. The sides of the gallery assumed a
crystallized tint, with a somber hue; white mica began to commingle more
freely with feldspar and quartz, to form what may be called the true
rock--the stone which is hard above all, that supports, without being
crushed, the four stories of the earth's soil.
We were walled by an immense prison of granite!
It was now eight o'clock, and still there was no sign of water. The
sufferings I endured were horrible. My uncle now kept at the head of our
little column. Nothing could induce him to stop. I, meanwhile, had but
one real thought. My ear was keenly on the watch to catch the sound of a
spring. But no pleasant sound of falling water fell upon my listening
But at last the time came when my limbs refused to carry me longer. I
contended heroically against the terrible tortures I endured, because I
did not wish to compel my uncle to halt. To him I knew this would be the
last fatal stroke.
Suddenly I felt a deadly faintness come over me. My eyes could no longer
see; my knees shook. I gave one despairing cry--and fell!
"Help, help, I am dying!"
My uncle turned and slowly retraced his steps. He looked at me with
folded arms, and then allowed one sentence to escape, in hollow accents,
from his lips:
"All is over."
The last thing I saw was a face fearfully distorted with pain and
sorrow; and then my eyes closed.
When I again opened them, I saw my companions lying near me, motionless,
wrapped in their huge traveling rugs. Were they asleep or dead? For
myself, sleep was wholly out of the question. My fainting fit over, I
was wakeful as the lark. I suffered too much for sleep to visit my
eyelids--the more, that I thought myself sick unto death--dying. The
last words spoken by my uncle seemed to be buzzing in my ears--all is
over! And it was probable that he was right. In the state of prostration
to which I was reduced, it was madness to think of ever again seeing the
light of day.
Above were miles upon miles of the earth's crust. As I thought of it,
could fancy the whole weight resting on my shoulders. I was crushed,
annihilated! and exhausted myself in vain attempts to turn in my granite
Hours upon hours passed away. A profound and terrible silence reigned
around us--a silence of the tomb. Nothing could make itself heard
through these gigantic walls of granite. The very thought was
Presently, despite my apathy, despite the kind of deadly calm into which
I was cast, something aroused me. It was a slight but peculiar noise.
While I was watching intently, I observed that the tunnel was becoming
dark. Then gazing through the dim light that remained, I thought I saw
the Icelander taking his departure, lamp in hand.
Why had he acted thus? Did Hans the guide mean to abandon us? My uncle
lay fast asleep--or dead. I tried to cry out, and arouse him. My voice,
feebly issuing from my parched and fevered lips, found no echo in that
fearful place. My throat was dry, my tongue stuck to the roof of my
mouth. The obscurity had by this time become intense, and at last even
the faint sound of the guide's footsteps was lost in the blank distance.
My soul seemed filled with anguish, and death appeared welcome, only let
it come quickly.
"Hans is leaving us," I cried. "Hans--Hans, if you are
a man, come
These words were spoken to myself. They could not be heard aloud.
Nevertheless, after the first few moments of terror were over, I was
ashamed of my suspicions against a man who hitherto had behaved so
admirably. Nothing in his conduct or character justified suspicion.
Moreover, a moment's reflection reassured me. His departure could not be
a flight. Instead of ascending the gallery, he was going deeper down
into the gulf. Had he had any bad design, his way would have been
This reasoning calmed me a little and I began to hope!
The good, and peaceful, and imperturbable Hans would certainly not have
arisen from his sleep without some serious and grave motive. Was he bent
on a voyage of discovery? During the deep, still silence of the night
had he at last heard that sweet murmur about which we were all so
WATER, WHERE IS IT? A BITTER DISAPPOINTMENT
During a long, long, weary hour, there crossed my wildly delirious brain
all sorts of reasons as to what could have aroused our quiet and
faithful guide. The most absurd and ridiculous ideas passed through my
head, each more impossible than the other. I believe I was either half
or wholly mad.
Suddenly, however, there arose, as it were from the depths of the earth,
a voice of comfort. It was the sound of footsteps! Hans was returning.
Presently the uncertain light began to shine upon the walls of the
passage, and then it came in view far down the sloping tunnel. At length
Hans himself appeared.
He approached my uncle, placed his hand upon his shoulder, and gently
awakened him. My uncle, as soon as he saw who it was, instantly arose.
"Well!" exclaimed the Professor.
"Vatten," said the hunter.
I did not know a single word of the Danish language, and yet by a sort
of mysterious instinct I understood what the guide had said.
"Water, water!" I cried, in a wild and frantic tone, clapping
and gesticulating like a madman.
"Water!" murmured my uncle, in a voice of deep emotion and
"Where? below!" I understood every word. I had caught the hunter
hands, and I shook them heartily, while he looked on with perfect
The preparations for our departure did not take long, and we were soon
making a rapid descent into the tunnel.
An hour later we had advanced a thousand yards, and descended two
At this moment I heard an accustomed and well-known sound running along
the floors of the granite rock--a kind of dull and sullen roar, like
that of a distant waterfall.
During the first half hour of our advance, not finding the discovered
spring, my feelings of intense suffering appeared to return. Once more I
began to lose all hope. My uncle, however, observing how downhearted I
was again becoming, took up the conversation.
"Hans was right," he exclaimed enthusiastically; "that
is the dull
roaring of a torrent."
"A torrent," I cried, delighted at even hearing the welcome
"There's not the slightest doubt about it," he replied, "a
river is flowing beside us."
I made no reply, but hastened on, once more animated by hope. I began
not even to feel the deep fatigue which hitherto had overpowered me. The
very sound of this glorious murmuring water already refreshed me. We
could hear it increasing in volume every moment. The torrent, which for
a long time could be heard flowing over our heads, now ran distinctly
along the left wall, roaring, rushing, spluttering, and still falling.
Several times I passed my hand across the rock hoping to find some trace
of humidity--of the slightest percolation. Alas! in vain.
Again a half hour passed in the same weary toil. Again we advanced.
It now became evident that the hunter, during his absence, had not been
able to carry his researches any farther. Guided by an instinct peculiar
to the dwellers in mountain regions and water finders, he "smelt"
living spring through the rock. Still he had not seen the precious
liquid. He had neither quenched his own thirst, nor brought us one drop
in his gourd.
Moreover, we soon made the disastrous discovery that, if our progress
continued, we should soon be moving away from the torrent, the sound of
which gradually diminished. We turned back. Hans halted at the precise
spot where the sound of the torrent appeared nearest.
I could bear the suspense and suffering no longer, and seated myself
against the wall, behind which I could hear the water seething and
effervescing not two feet away. But a solid wall of granite still
separated us from it!
Hans looked keenly at me, and, strange enough, for once I thought I saw
a smile on his imperturbable face.
He rose from a stone on which he had been seated, and took up the lamp.
I could not help rising and following. He moved slowly along the firm
and solid granite wall. I watched him with mingled curiosity and
eagerness. Presently he halted and placed his ear against the dry stone,
moving slowly along and listening with the most extreme care and
attention. I understood at once that he was searching for the exact spot
where the torrent's roar was most plainly heard. This point he soon
found in the lateral wall on the left side, about three feet above the
level of the tunnel floor.
I was in a state of intense excitement. I scarcely dared believe what
the eider-duck hunter was about to do. It was, however, impossible in a
moment more not to both understand and applaud, and even to smother him
in my embraces, when I saw him raise the heavy crowbar and commence an
attack upon the rock itself.
"Saved!" I cried.
"Yes," cried my uncle, even more excited and delighted than
"Hans is quite right. Oh, the worthy, excellent man! We should never
have thought of such an idea."
And nobody else, I think, would have done so. Such a process, simple
it seemed, would most certainly not have entered our heads. Nothing
could be more dangerous than to begin to work with pickaxes in that
particular part of the globe. Supposing while he was at work a break-up
were to take place, and supposing the torrent once having gained an inch
were to take an ell, and come pouring bodily through the broken rock!
Not one of these dangers was chimerical. They were only too real. But
that moment no fear of falling in of the roof, or even of inundation was
capable of stopping us. Our thirst was so intense that to quench it we
would have dug below the bed of old Ocean itself.
Hans went quietly to work--a work which neither my uncle nor I would
have undertaken at any price. Our impatience was so great that if we had
once begun with pickax and crowbar, the rock would soon have split into
a hundred fragments. The guide, on the contrary, calm, ready, moderate,
wore away the hard rock by little steady blows of his instrument, making
no attempt at a larger hole than about six inches. As I stood, I heard,
or I thought I heard, the roar of the torrent momentarily increasing in
loudness, and at times I almost felt the pleasant sensation of water
upon my parched lips.
At the end of what appeared an age, Hans had made a hole which enabled
his crowbar to enter two feet into the solid rock. He had been at work
exactly an hour. It appeared a dozen. I was getting wild with
impatience. My uncle began to think of using more violent measures. I
had the greatest difficulty in checking him. He had indeed just got hold
of his crowbar when a loud and welcome hiss was heard. Then a stream, or
rather jet, of water burst through the wall and came out with such force
as to hit the opposite side!
Hans, the guide, who was half upset by the shock, was scarcely able to
keep down a cry of pain and grief. I understood his meaning when,
plunging my hands into the sparkling jet, I myself gave a wild and
frantic cry. The water was scalding hot!
"Boiling," I cried, in bitter disappointment.
"Well, never mind," said my uncle, "it will soon get cool."
The tunnel began to be filled by clouds of vapor, while a small stream
ran away into the interior of the earth. In a short time we had some
sufficiently cool to drink. We swallowed it in huge mouthfuls.
Oh! what exalted delight--what rich and incomparable luxury! What was
this water, whence did it come? To us what was that? The simple fact
was--it was water; and, though still with a tingle of warmth about it,
it brought back to the heart, that life which, but for it, must surely
have faded away. I drank greedily, almost without tasting it.
When, however, I had almost quenched my ravenous thirst, I made a
"Why, it is chalybeate water!"
"A most excellent stomachic," replied my uncle, "and highly
Here is a journey worth twenty to Spa."
"It's very good," I replied.
"I should think so. Water found six miles under ground. There is
peculiarly inky flavor about it, which is by no means disagreeable. Hans
may congratulate himself on having made a rare discovery. What do you
say, nephew, according to the usual custom of travelers, to name the
stream after him?"
"Good," said I. And the name of "Hansbach" ("Hans
Brook") was at once
Hans was not a bit more proud after hearing our determination than he
was before. After having taken a very small modicum of the welcome
refreshment, he had seated himself in a corner with his usual
"Now," said I, "it is not worth while letting this water
run to waste."
"What is the use," replied my uncle, "the source from
which this river
rises is inexhaustible."
"Never mind," I continued, "let us fill our goatskin and
then try to stop the opening up."
My advice, after some hesitation, was followed or attempted to be
followed. Hans picked up all the broken pieces of granite he had knocked
out, and using some tow he happened to have about him, tried to shut up
the fissure he had made in the wall. All he did was to scald his hands.
The pressure was too great, and all our attempts were utter failures.
"It is evident," I remarked, "that the upper surface of
these springs is
situated at a very great height above--as we may fairly infer from the
great pressure of the jet."
"That is by no means doubtful," replied my uncle, "if
this column of
water is about thirty-two thousand feet high, the atmospheric pressure
must be something enormous. But a new idea has just struck me."
"And what is that?"
"Why be at so much trouble to close this aperture?"
I hesitated and stammered, having no real reason.
"When our water bottles are empty, we are not at all sure that we
be able to fill them," observed my uncle.
"I think that is very probable."
"Well, then, let this water run. It will, of course, naturally follow
our track, and will serve to guide and refresh us."
"I think the idea a good one," I cried in reply, "and
with this rivulet
as a companion, there is no further reason why we should not succeed in
our marvelous project."
"Ah, my boy," said the Professor, laughing, "after all,
you are coming
"More than that, I am now confident of ultimate success."
"One moment, nephew mine. Let us begin by taking some hours of repose."
I had utterly forgotten that it was night. The chronometer, however,
informed me of the fact. Soon we were sufficiently restored and
refreshed, and had all fallen into a profound sleep.
UNDER THE OCEAN
By the next day we had nearly forgotten our past sufferings. The first
sensation I experienced was surprise at not being thirsty, and I
actually asked myself the reason. The running stream, which flowed in
rippling wavelets at my feet, was the satisfactory reply.
We breakfasted with a good appetite, and then drank our fill of the
excellent water. I felt myself quite a new man, ready to go anywhere my
uncle chose to lead. I began to think. Why should not a man as seriously
convinced as my uncle, succeed, with so excellent a guide as worthy
Hans, and so devoted a nephew as myself? These were the brilliant ideas
which now invaded my brain. Had the proposition now been made to go back
to the summit of Mount Sneffels, I should have declined the offer in a
most indignant manner.
But fortunately there was no question of going up. We were about to
descend farther into the interior of the earth.
"Let us be moving," I cried, awakening the echoes of the old
We resumed our march on Thursday at eight o'clock in the morning. The
great granite tunnel, as it went round by sinuous and winding ways,
presented every now and then sharp turns, and in fact all the appearance
of a labyrinth. Its direction, however, was in general towards the
southwest. My uncle made several pauses in order to consult his compass.
The gallery now began to trend downwards in a horizontal direction, with
about two inches of fall in every furlong. The murmuring stream flowed
quietly at our feet. I could not but compare it to some familiar spirit,
guiding us through the earth, and I dabbled my fingers in its tepid
water, which sang like a naiad as we progressed. My good humor began to
assume a mythological character.
As for my uncle he began to complain of the horizontal character of the
road. His route, he found, began to be indefinitely prolonged, instead
of "sliding down the celestial ray," according to his expression.
But we had no choice; and as long as our road led towards the
centre--however little progress we made, there was no reason to
Moreover, from time to time the slopes were much greater, the naiad sang
more loudly, and we began to dip downwards in earnest.
As yet, however, I felt no painful sensation. I had not got over the
excitement of the discovery of water.
That day and the next we did a considerable amount of horizontal, and
relatively very little vertical, traveling.
On Friday evening, the tenth of July, according to our estimation, we
ought to have been thirty leagues to the southeast of Reykjavik, and
about two leagues and a half deep. We now received a rather startling
Under our feet there opened a horrible well. My uncle was so delighted
that he actually clapped his hands--as he saw how steep and sharp was
"Ah, ah!" he cried, in rapturous delight; "this will take
us a long way.
Look at the projections of the rock. Hah!" he exclaimed, "it's
Hans, however, who in all our troubles had never given up the ropes,
took care so to dispose of them as to prevent any accidents. Our descent
then began. I dare not call it a perilous descent, for I was already too
familiar with that sort of work to look upon it as anything but a very
This well was a kind of narrow opening in the massive granite of the
kind known as a fissure. The contraction of the terrestrial scaffolding,
when it suddenly cooled, had been evidently the cause. If it had ever
served in former times as a kind of funnel through which passed the
eruptive masses vomited by Sneffels, I was at a loss to explain how it
had left no mark. We were, in fact, descending a spiral, something like
those winding staircases in use in modern houses.
We were compelled every quarter of an hour or thereabouts to sit down
order to rest our legs. Our calves ached. We then seated ourselves on
some projecting rock with our legs hanging over, and gossiped while we
ate a mouthful--drinking still from the pleasantly warm running stream
which had not deserted us.
It is scarcely necessary to say that in this curiously shaped fissure
the Hansbach had become a cascade to the detriment of its size. It was
still, however, sufficient, and more, for our wants. Besides we knew
that, as soon as the declivity ceased to be so abrupt, the stream must
resume its peaceful course. At this moment it reminded me of my uncle,
his impatience and rage, while when it flowed more peacefully, I
pictured to myself the placidity of the Icelandic guide.
During the whole of two days, the sixth and seventh of July, we followed
the extraordinary spiral staircase of the fissure, penetrating two
leagues farther into the crust of the earth, which put us five leagues
below the level of the sea. On the eighth, however, at twelve o'clock in
the day, the fissure suddenly assumed a much more gentle slope still
trending in a southeast direction.
The road now became comparatively easy, and at the same time dreadfully
monotonous. It would have been difficult for matters to have turned out
otherwise. Our peculiar journey had no chance of being diversified by
landscape and scenery. At all events, such was my idea.
At length, on Wednesday the fifteenth, we were actually seven leagues
(twenty-one miles) below the surface of the earth, and fifty leagues
distant from the mountain of Sneffels. Though, if the truth be told, we
were very tired, our health had resisted all suffering, and was in a
most satisfactory state. Our traveler's box of medicaments had not even
My uncle was careful to note every hour the indications of the compass,
of the manometer, and of the thermometer, all which he afterwards
published in his elaborate philosophical and scientific account of our
remarkable voyage. He was therefore able to give an exact relation of
the situation. When, therefore, he informed me that we were fifty
leagues in a horizontal direction distant from our starting point, I
could not suppress a loud exclamation.
"What is the matter now?" cried my uncle.
"Nothing very important, only an idea has entered my head,"
"Well, out with it, My boy."
"It is my opinion that if your calculations are correct we are no
"Do you think so?"
"We can very easily find out," I replied, pulling out a map
"You see," I said, after careful measurement, "that I
am not mistaken.
We are far beyond Cape Portland; and those fifty leagues to the
southeast will take us into the open sea."
"Under the open sea," cried my uncle, rubbing his hands with
"Yes," I cried, "no doubt old Ocean flows over our heads!"
"Well, my dear boy, what can be more natural! Do you not know that
the neighborhood of Newcastle there are coal mines which have been
worked far out under the sea?"
Now my worthy uncle, the Professor, no doubt regarded this discovery
a very simple fact, but to me the idea was by no means a pleasant one.
And yet when one came to think the matter over seriously, what mattered
it whether the plains and mountains of Iceland were suspended over our
devoted heads, or the mighty billows of the Atlantic Ocean? The whole
question rested on the solidity of the granite roof above us. However, I
soon got used to the ideal for the passage now level, now running down,
and still always to the southeast, kept going deeper and deeper into the
profound abysses of Mother Earth.
Three days later, on the eighteenth day of July, on a Saturday, we
reached a kind of vast grotto. My uncle here paid Hans his usual
rix-dollars, and it was decided that the next day should be a day of
SUNDAY BELOW GROUND
I Awoke on Sunday morning without any sense of hurry and bustle
attendant on an immediate departure. Though the day to be devoted to
repose and reflection was spent under such strange circumstances, and in
so wonderful a place, the idea was a pleasant one. Besides, we all began
to get used to this kind of existence. I had almost ceased to think of
the sun, of the moon, of the stars, of the trees, houses, and towns; in
fact, about any terrestrial necessities. In our peculiar position we
were far above such reflections.
The grotto was a vast and magnificent hall. Along its granitic soil the
stream flowed placidly and pleasantly. So great a distance was it now
from its fiery source that its water was scarcely lukewarm, and could be
drunk without delay or difficulty.
After a frugal breakfast, the Professor made up his mind to devote some
hours to putting his notes and calculations in order.
"In the first place," he said, "I have a good many to
verify and prove,
in order that we may know our exact position. I wish to be able on our
return to the upper regions to make a map of our journey, a kind of
vertical section of the globe, which will be, as it were, the profile of
"That would indeed be a curious work, Uncle; but can you make your
observations with anything like certainty and precision?"
"I can. I have never on any occasion failed to note with great care
angles and slopes. I am certain as to having made no mistake. Take the
compass and examine how she points."
I looked at the instrument with care.
"East one quarter southeast."
"Very good," resumed the Professor, noting the observation,
through some rapid calculations. "I make out that we have journeyed
hundred and fifty miles from the point of our departure."
"Then the mighty waves of the Atlantic are rolling over our heads?"
"And at this very moment it is possible that fierce tempests are
above, and that men and ships are battling against the angry blasts just
over our heads?"
"It is quite within the range of possibility," rejoined my
"And that whales are playing in shoals, thrashing the bottom of
the roof of our adamantine prison?"
"Be quite at rest on that point; there is no danger of their breaking
through. But to return to our calculations. We are to the southeast, two
hundred and fifty miles from the base of Sneffels, and, according to my
preceding notes, I think we have gone sixteen leagues in a downward
"Sixteen leagues--fifty miles!" I cried.
"I am sure of it."
"But that is the extreme limit allowed by science for the thickness
the earth's crust," I replied, referring to my geological studies.
"I do not contravene that assertion," was his quiet answer.
"And at this stage of our journey, according to all known laws on
increase of heat, there should be here a temperature of <i>fifteen
degrees of Reaumur</i>."
"There should be--you say, my boy."
"In which case this granite would not exist, but be in a state of
"But you perceive, my boy, that it is not so, and that facts, as
are very stubborn things, overruling all theories."
"I am forced to yield to the evidence of my senses, but I am
nevertheless very much surprised."
"What heat does the thermometer really indicate?" continued
"So that science is wrong by fourteen hundred and seventy-four degrees
and four-tenths. According to which, it is demonstrated that the
proportional increase in temperature is an exploded error. Humphry Davy
here shines forth in all his glory. He is right, and I have acted wisely
to believe him. Have you any answer to make to this statement?"
Had I chosen to have spoken, I might have said a great deal. I in no
admitted the theory of Humphry Davy--I still held out for the theory of
proportional increase of heat, though I did not feel it.
I was far more willing to allow that this chimney of an extinct volcano
was covered by lava of a kind refractory to heat--in fact a bad
conductor--which did not allow the great increase of temperature to
percolate through its sides. The hot water jet supported my view of the
But without entering on a long and useless discussion, or seeking for
new arguments to controvert my uncle, I contented myself with taking up
facts as they were.
"Well, sir, I take for granted that all your calculations are correct,
but allow me to draw from them a rigorous and definite conclusion."
"Go on, my boy--have your say," cried my uncle goodhumoredly.
"At the place where we now are, under the latitude of Iceland, the
terrestrial depth is about fifteen hundred and eighty-three leagues."
"Fifteen hundred eighty-three and a quarter."
"Well, suppose we say sixteen hundred in round numbers. Now, out
voyage of sixteen hundred leagues we have completed sixteen."
"As you say, what then?"
"At the expense of a diagonal journey of no less than eighty-five
"We have been twenty days about it."
"Exactly twenty days."
"Now sixteen is the hundredth part of our contemplated expedition.
go on in this way we shall be two thousand days, that is about five
years and a half, going down."
The Professor folded his arms, listened, but did not speak.
"Without counting that if a vertical descent of sixteen leagues
a horizontal of eighty-five, we shall have to go about eight thousand
leagues to the southeast, and we must therefore come out somewhere in
the circumference long before we can hope to reach the centre."
"Bother your calculations," cried my uncle in one of his old
what basis do they rest? How do you know that this passage does not take
us direct to the end we require? Moreover, I have in my favor,
fortunately, a precedent. What I have undertaken to do, another has
done, and he having succeeded, why should I not be equally successful?"
"I hope, indeed, you will, but still, I suppose I may be allowed
"You are allowed to hold your tongue," cried Professor Hardwigg,
you talk so unreasonably as this."
I saw at once that the old doctorial Professor was still alive in my
uncle--and fearful to rouse his angry passions, I dropped the unpleasant
"Now, then," he explained, "consult the manometer. What
"A considerable amount of pressure."
"Very good. You see, then, that by descending slowly, and by gradually
accustoming ourselves to the density of this lower atmosphere, we shall
"Well, I suppose not, except it may be a certain amount of pain
ears," was my rather grim reply.
"That, my dear boy, is nothing, and you will easily get rid of that
source of discomfort by bringing the exterior air in communication with
the air contained in your lungs."
"Perfectly," said I, for I had quite made up my mind in no
contradict my uncle. "I should fancy almost that I should experience
certain amount of satisfaction in making a plunge into this dense
atmosphere. Have you taken note of how wonderfully sound is propagated?"
"Of course I have. There can be no doubt that a journey into the
interior of the earth would be an excellent cure for deafness."
"But then, Uncle," I ventured mildly to observe, "this
continue to increase."
"Yes--according to a law which, however, is scarcely defined. It
that the intensity of weight will diminish just in proportion to the
depth to which we go. You know very well that it is on the surface of
the earth that its action is most powerfully felt, while on the
contrary, in the very centre of the earth bodies cease to have any
weight at all."
"I know that is the case, but as we progress will not the atmosphere
finally assume the density of water?"
"I know it; when placed under the pressure of seven hundred and
atmospheres," cried my uncle with imperturbable gravity.
"And when we are still lower down?" I asked with natural anxiety.
"Well, lower down, the density will become even greater."
"Then how shall we be able to make our way through this atmospheric
"Well, my worthy nephew, we must ballast ourselves by filling our
pockets with stones," said Professor Hardwigg.
"Faith, Uncle, you have an answer for everything," was my only
I began to feel that it was unwise of me to go any farther into the wide
field of hypotheses for I should certainly have revived some difficulty,
or rather impossibility, that would have enraged the Professor.
It was evident, nevertheless, that the air under a pressure which might
be multiplied by thousands of atmospheres, would end by becoming
perfectly solid, and that then admitting our bodies resisted the
pressure, we should have to stop, in spite of all the reasonings in the
world. Facts overcome all arguments.
But I thought it best not to urge this argument. My uncle would simply
have quoted the example of Saknussemm. Supposing the learned Icelander's
journey ever really to have taken place--there was one simple answer to
In the sixteenth century neither the barometer nor the manometer had
been invented--how, then, could Saknussemm have been able to discover
when he did reach the centre of the earth?
This unanswerable and learned objection I, however, kept to myself and,
bracing up my courage, awaited the course of events--little aware of how
adventurous yet were to be the incidents of our remarkable journey.
The rest of this day of leisure and repose was spent in calculation and
conversation. I made it a point to agree with the Professor in
everything; but I envied the perfect indifference of Hans, who, without
taking any such trouble about the cause and effect, went blindly onwards
wherever destiny chose to lead him.
It must in all truth be confessed, things as yet had gone on well, and
should have acted in bad taste to have complained. If the true medium of
our difficulties did not increase, it was within the range of
possibility that we might ultimately reach the end of our journey. Then
what glory would be ours! I began in the newly aroused ardor of my soul
to speak enthusiastically to the Professor. Well, was I serious? The
whole state in which we existed was a mystery--and it was impossible to
know whether or not I was in earnest.
For several days after our memorable halt, the slopes became more
rapid--some were even of a most frightful character--almost vertical, so
that we were forever going down into the solid interior mass. During
some days, we actually descended a league and a half, even two leagues
towards the centre of the earth. The descents were sufficiently
perilous, and while we were engaged in them we learned fully to
appreciate the marvelous coolness of our guide, Hans. Without him we
should have been wholly lost. The grave and impassible Icelander devoted
himself to us with the most incomprehensible sang-froid and ease; and,
thanks to him, many a dangerous pass was got over, where, but for him,
we should inevitably have stuck fast.
His silence increased every day. I think that we began to be influenced
by this peculiar trait in his character. It is certain that the
inanimate objects by which you are surrounded have a direct action on
the brain. It must be that a man who shuts himself up between four walls
must lose the faculty of associating ideas and words. How many persons
condemned to the horrors of solitary confinement have gone mad--simply
because the thinking faculties have lain dormant!
During the two weeks that followed our last interesting conversation,
there occurred nothing worthy of being especially recorded.
I have, while writing these memoirs, taxed my memory in vain for one
incident of travel during this particular period.
But the next event to be related is terrible indeed. Its very memory,
even now, makes my soul shudder, and my blood run cold.
It was on the seventh of August. Our constant and successive descents
had taken us quite thirty leagues into the interior of the earth, that
is to say that there were above us thirty leagues, nearly a hundred
miles, of rocks, and oceans, and continents, and towns, to say nothing
of living inhabitants. We were in a southeasterly direction, about two
hundred leagues from Iceland.
On that memorable day the tunnel had begun to assume an almost
I was on this occasion walking on in front. My uncle had charge of one
of the Ruhmkorff coils, I had possession of the other. By means of its
light I was busy examining the different layers of granite. I was
completely absorbed in my work.
Suddenly halting and turning round, I found that I was alone!
"Well," thought I to myself, "I have certainly been walking
else Hans and my uncle have stopped to rest. The best thing I can do is
to go back and find them. Luckily, there is very little ascent to tire
I accordingly retraced my steps and, while doing so, walked for at least
a quarter of an hour. Rather uneasy, I paused and looked eagerly around.
Not a living soul. I called aloud. No reply. My voice was lost amid the
myriad cavernous echoes it aroused!
I began for the first time to feel seriously uneasy. A cold shiver shook
my whole body, and perspiration, chill and terrible, burst upon my skin.
"I must be calm," I said, speaking aloud, as boys whistle to
fear. "There can be no doubt that I shall find my companions. There
cannot be two roads. It is certain that I was considerably ahead; all I
have to do is to go back."
Having come to this determination I ascended the tunnel for at least
half an hour, unable to decide if I had ever seen certain landmarks
before. Every now and then I paused to discover if any loud appeal was
made to me, well knowing that in that dense and intensified atmosphere I
should hear it a long way off. But no. The most extraordinary silence
reigned in this immense gallery. Only the echoes of my own footsteps
could be heard.
At last I stopped. I could scarcely realize the fact of my isolation.
was quite willing to think that I had made a mistake, but not that I was
lost. If I had made a mistake, I might find my way; if lost--I shuddered
to think of it.
"Come, come," said I to myself, "since there is only one
road, and they
must come by it, we shall at last meet. All I have to do is still to go
upwards. Perhaps, however, not seeing me, and forgetting I was ahead,
they may have gone back in search of me. Still, even in this case, if I
make haste, I shall get up to them. There can be no doubt about the
But as I spoke these last words aloud, it would have been quite clear
any listener--had there been one--that I was by no means convinced of
the fact. Moreover in order to associate together these simple ideas and
to reunite them under the form of reasoning, required some time. I could
not all at once bring my brain to think.
Then another dread doubt fell upon my soul. After all, was I ahead? Of
course I was. Hans was no doubt following behind preceded by my uncle. I
perfectly recollected his having stopped for a moment to strap his
baggage on his shoulder. I now remembered this trifling detail. It was,
I believe, just at that very moment that I had determined to continue my
"Again," thought I, reasoning as calmly as was possible, "there
another sure means of not losing my way, a thread to guide me through
the labyrinthine subterraneous retreat--one which I had forgotten--my
This course of reasoning roused my drooping spirits, and I resolved to
resume my journey without further delay. No time was to be lost.
It was at this moment that I had reason to bless the thoughtfulness of
my uncle, when he refused to allow the eider hunter to close the
orifices of the hot spring--that small fissure in the great mass of
granite. This beneficent spring after having saved us from thirst during
so many days would now enable me to regain the right road.
Having come to this mental decision, I made up my mind, before I started
upwards, that ablution would certainly do me a great deal of good.
I stopped to plunge my hands and forehead in the pleasant water of the
Hansbach stream, blessing its presence as a certain consolation.
Conceive my horror and stupefaction!--I was treading a hard, dusty,
shingly road of granite. The stream on which I reckoned had wholly
No words in any human language can depict my utter despair. I was
literally buried alive; with no other expectation before me but to die
in all the slow horrible torture of hunger and thirst.
Mechanically I crawled about, feeling the dry and arid rock. Never to
fancy had I ever felt anything so dry.
But, I frantically asked myself, how had I lost the course of the
flowing stream? There could be no doubt it had ceased to flow in the
gallery in which I now was. Now I began to understand the cause of the
strange silence which prevailed when last I tried if any appeal from my
companions might perchance reach my ear.
It so happened that when I first took an imprudent step in the wrong
direction, I did not perceive the absence of the all-important stream.
It was now quite evident that when we halted, another tunnel must have
received the waters of the little torrent, and that I had unconsciously
entered a different gallery. To what unknown depths had my companions
gone? Where was I?
How to get back! Clue or landmark there was absolutely none! My feet
left no signs on the granite and shingle. My brain throbbed with agony
as I tried to discover the solution of this terrible problem. My
situation, after all sophistry and reflection, had finally to be summed
up in three awful words--
<i>Lost!</i> Lost!! LOST!!!
Lost at a depth which, to my finite understanding, appeared to be
These thirty leagues of the crust of the earth weighed upon my shoulders
like the globe on the shoulders of Atlas. I felt myself crushed by the
awful weight. It was indeed a position to drive the sanest man to
I tried to bring my thoughts back to the things of the world so long
forgotten. It was with the greatest difficulty that I succeeded in doing
so. Hamburg, the house on the Konigstrasse, my dear cousin Gretchen--all
that world which had before vanished like a shadow floated before my now
There they were before me, but how unreal. Under the influence of a
terrible hallucination I saw all the incidents of our journey pass
before me like the scenes of a panorama. The ship and its inmates,
Iceland, M. Fridriksson, and the great summit of Mount Sneffels! I said
to myself that, if in my position I retained the most faint and shadowy
outline of a hope, it would be a sure sign of approaching delirium. It
were better to give way wholly to despair!
In fact, did I but reason with calmness and philosophy, what human power
was there in existence able to take me back to the surface of the earth,
and ready, too, to split asunder, to rend in twain those huge and mighty
vaults which stand above my head? Who could enable me to find my
road--and regain my companions?
Insensate folly and madness to entertain even a shadow of hope!
"Oh, Uncle!" was my despairing cry.
This was the only word of reproach which came to my lips; for I
thoroughly understood how deeply and sorrowfully the worthy Professor
would regret my loss, and how in his turn he would patiently seek for
When I at last began to resign myself to the fact that no further aid
was to be expected from man, and knowing that I was utterly powerless to
do anything for my own salvation, I kneeled with earnest fervor and
asked assistance from Heaven. The remembrance of my innocent childhood,
the memory of my mother, known only in my infancy, came welling forth
from my heart. I had recourse to prayer. And little as I had a right to
be remembered by Him whom I had forgotten in the hour of prosperity, and
whom I so tardily invoked, I prayed earnestly and sincerely.
This renewal of my youthful faith brought about a much greater amount
calm, and I was enabled to concentrate all my strength and intelligence
on the terrible realities of my unprecedented situation.
I had about me that which I had at first wholly forgotten--three days'
provisions. Moreover, my water bottle was quite full. Nevertheless, the
one thing which it was impossible to do was to remain alone. Try to find
my companions I must, at any price. But which course should I take?
Should I go upwards, or again descend? Doubtless it was right to retrace
my steps in an upward direction.
By doing this with care and coolness, I must reach the point where I
turned away from the rippling stream. I must find the fatal bifurcation
or fork. Once at this spot, once the river at my feet, I could, at all
events, regain the awful crater of Mount Sneffels. Why had I not thought
of this before? This, at last, was a reasonable hope of safety. The most
important thing, then, to be done was to discover the bed of the
After a slight meal and a draught of water, I rose like a giant
refreshed. Leaning heavily on my pole, I began the ascent of the
gallery. The slope was very rapid and rather difficult. But I advanced
hopefully and carefully, like a man who at last is making his way out of
a forest, and knows there is only one road to follow.
During one whole hour nothing happened to check my progress. As I
advanced, I tried to recollect the shape of the tunnel--to recall to my
memory certain projections of rocks--to persuade myself that I had
followed certain winding routes before. But no one particular sign could
I bring to mind, and I was soon forced to allow that this gallery would
never take me back to the point at which I had separated myself from my
companions. It was absolutely without issue--a mere blind alley in the
The moment at length came when, facing the solid rock, I knew my fate,
and fell inanimate on the arid floor!
To describe the horrible state of despair and fear into which I then
fell would now be vain and impossible. My last hope, the courage which
had sustained me, drooped before the sight of this pitiless granite
Lost in a vast labyrinth, the sinuosities of which spread in every
direction, without guide, clue or compass, I knew it was a vain and
useless task to attempt flight. All that remained to me was to lie down
and die. To lie down and die the most cruel and horrible of deaths!
In my state of mind, the idea came into my head that one day perhaps,
when my fossil bones were found, their discovery so far below the level
of the earth might give rise to solemn and interesting scientific
I tried to cry aloud, but hoarse, hollow, and inarticulate sounds alone
could make themselves heard through my parched lips. I literally panted
In the midst of all these horrible sources of anguish and despair, a
horror took possession of my soul. My lamp, by falling down, had got out
of order. I had no means of repairing it. Its light was already becoming
paler and paler, and soon would expire.
With a strange sense of resignation and despair, I watched the luminous
current in the coil getting less and less. A procession of shadows moved
flashing along the granite wall. I scarcely dared to lower my eyelids,
fearing to lose the last spark of this fugitive light. Every instant it
seemed to me that it was about to vanish and to leave me forever--in
At last, one final trembling flame remained in the lamp; I followed it
with all my power of vision; I gasped for breath; I concentrated upon it
all the power of my soul, as upon the last scintillation of light I was
ever destined to see: and then I was to be lost forever in Cimmerian and
A wild and plaintive cry escaped my lips. On earth during the most
profound and comparatively complete darkness, light never allows a
complete destruction and extinction of its power. Light is so diffuse,
so subtle, that it permeates everywhere, and whatever little may remain,
the retina of the eye will succeed in finding it. In this place
nothing--the absolute obscurity made me blind in every sense.
My head was now wholly lost. I raised my arms, trying the effects of
feeling in getting against the cold stone wall. It was painful in the
extreme. Madness must have taken possession of me. I knew not what I
did. I began to run, to fly, rushing at haphazard in this inextricable
labyrinth, always going downwards, running wildly underneath the
terrestrial crust, like an inhabitant of the subterranean furnaces,
screaming, roaring, howling, until bruised by the pointed rocks, falling
and picking myself up all covered with blood, seeking madly to drink the
blood which dripped from my torn features, mad because this blood only
trickled over my face, and watching always for this horrid wall which
ever presented to me the fearful obstacle against which I could not dash
Where was I going? It was impossible to say. I was perfectly ignorant
Several hours passed in this way. After a long time, having utterly
exhausted my strength, I fell a heavy inert mass along the side of the
tunnel, and lost consciousness.
THE WHISPERING GALLERY
When at last I came back to a sense of life and being, my face was wet,
but wet, as I soon knew, with tears. How long this state of
insensibility lasted, it is quite impossible for me now to say. I had no
means left to me of taking any account of time. Never since the creation
of the world had such a solitude as mine existed. I was completely
After my fall I lost much blood. I felt myself flooded with the
life-giving liquid. My first sensation was perhaps a natural one. Why
was I not dead? Because I was alive, there was something left to do. I
tried to make up my mind to think no longer. As far as I was able, I
drove away all ideas, and utterly overcome by pain and grief, I crouched
against the granite wall.
I just commenced to feel the fainting coming on again, and the sensation
that this was the last struggle before complete annihilation--when, on a
sudden, a violent uproar reached my ears. It had some resemblance to the
prolonged rumbling voice of thunder, and I clearly distinguished
sonorous voices, lost one after the other, in the distant depths of the
Whence came this noise? Naturally, it was to be supposed from new
phenomena which were taking place in the bosom of the solid mass of
Mother Earth! The explosion of some gaseous vapors, or the fall of some
solid, of the granitic or other rock.
Again I listened with deep attention. I was extremely anxious to hear
this strange and inexplicable sound was likely to be renewed! A whole
quarter of an hour elapsed in painful expectation. Deep and solemn
silence reigned in the tunnel. So still that I could hear the beatings
of my own heart! I waited, waited with a strange kind of hopefulness.
Suddenly my ear, which leaned accidentally against the wall, appeared
catch, as it were, the faintest echo of a sound. I thought that I heard
vague, incoherent and distant voices. I quivered all over with
excitement and hope!
"It must be hallucination," I cried. "It cannot be! it
is not true!"
But no! By listening more attentively, I really did convince myself that
what I heard was truly the sound of human voices. To make any meaning
out of the sound, however, was beyond my power. I was too weak even to
hear distinctly. Still it was a positive fact that someone was speaking.
Of that I was quite certain.
There was a moment of fear. A dread fell upon my soul that it might be
my own words brought back to me by a distant echo. Perhaps without
knowing it, I might have been crying aloud. I resolutely closed my lips,
and once more placed my ear to the huge granite wall.
Yes, for certain. It was in truth the sound of human voices.
I now by the exercise of great determination dragged myself along the
sides of the cavern, until I reached a point where I could hear more
distinctly. But though I could detect the sound, I could only make out
uncertain, strange, and incomprehensible words. They reached my ear as
if they had been spoken in a low tone--murmured, as it were, afar off.
At last, I made out the word forlorad repeated several times in a tone
betokening great mental anguish and sorrow.
What could this word mean, and who was speaking it? It must be either
uncle or the guide Hans! If, therefore, I could hear them, they must
surely be able to hear me.
"Help," I cried at the top of my voice; "help, I am dying!"
I then listened with scarcely a breath; I panted for the slightest sound
in the darkness--a cry, a sigh, a question! But silence reigned supreme.
No answer came! In this way some minutes passed. A whole flood of ideas
flashed through my mind. I began to fear that my voice, weakened by
sickness and suffering, could not reach my companions who were in search
"It must be they," I cried; "who else could by any possibility
a hundred miles below the level of the earth?" The mere supposition
I began, therefore, to listen again with the most breathless attention.
As I moved my ears along the side of the place I was in, I found a
mathematical point as it were, where the voices appeared to attain their
maximum of intensity. The word forlorad again distinctly reached my ear.
Then came again that rolling noise like thunder which had awakened me
out of torpor.
"I begin to understand," I said to myself after some little
to reflection; "it is not through the solid mass that the sound reaches
my ears. The walls of my cavernous retreat are of solid granite, and the
most fearful explosion would not make uproar enough to penetrate them.
The sound must come along the gallery itself. The place I was in must
possess some peculiar acoustic properties of its own."
Again I listened; and this time--yes, this time--I heard my name
distinctly pronounced: cast as it were into space.
It was my uncle, the Professor, who was speaking. He was in conversation
with the guide, and the word which had so often reached my ears,
forlorad, was a Danish expression.
Then I understood it all. In order to make myself heard, I too must
speak as it were along the side of the gallery, which would carry the
sound of my voice just as the wire carries the electric fluid from point
But there was no time to lose. If my companions were only to remove a
few feet from where they stood, the acoustic effect would be over, my
Whispering Gallery would be destroyed. I again therefore crawled towards
the wall, and said as clearly and distinctly as I could:
I then awaited a reply.
Sound does not possess the property of traveling with such extreme
rapidity. Besides the density of the air at that depth from light and
motion was very far from adding to the rapidity of circulation. Several
seconds elapsed, which to my excited imagination, appeared ages; and
these words reached my eager ears, and moved my wildly beating heart:
"Harry, my boy, is that you?"
A short delay between question and answer.
"Where are you?"
"And your lamp?"
"But the guiding stream?"
"Keep your courage, Harry. We will do our best."
"One moment, my uncle," I cried; "I have no longer strength
your questions. But--for heaven's sake--do you--continue--to speak--to
me!" Absolute silence, I felt, would be annihilation.
"Keep up your courage," said my uncle. "As you are so
weak, do not
speak. We have been searching for you in all directions, both by going
upwards and downwards in the gallery. My dear boy, I had begun to give
over all hope--and you can never know what bitter tears of sorrow and
regret I have shed. At last, supposing you to be still on the road
beside the Hansbach, we again descended, firing off guns as signals.
Now, however, that we have found you, and that our voices reach each
other, it may be a long time before we actually meet. We are conversing
by means of some extraordinary acoustic arrangement of the labyrinth.
But do not despair, my dear boy. It is something gained even to hear
While he was speaking, my brain was at work reflecting. A certain
undefined hope, vague and shapeless as yet, made my heart beat wildly.
In the first place, it was absolutely necessary for me to know one
thing. I once more, therefore, leaned my head against the wall, which I
almost touched with my lips, and again spoke.
"My boy?" was his answer after a few moments.
"It is of the utmost consequence that we should know how far we
"That is not difficult."
"You have your chronometer at hand?" I asked.
"Well, take it into your hand. Pronounce my name, noting exactly
second at which you speak. I will reply as soon as I hear your
words--and you will then note exactly the moment at which my reply
"Very good; and the mean time between my question and your answer
be the time occupied by my voice in reaching you."
"That is exactly what I mean, Uncle," was my eager reply.
"Are you ready?"
"Well, make ready, I am about to pronounce your name," said
I applied my ear close to the sides of the cavernous gallery, and as
soon as the word "Harry" reached my ear, I turned round and, placing
lips to the wall, repeated the sound.
"Forty seconds," said my uncle. "There has elapsed forty
the two words. The sound, therefore, takes twenty seconds to ascend.
Now, allowing a thousand and twenty feet for every second--we have
twenty thousand four hundred feet--a league and a half and one-eighth."
These words fell on my soul like a kind of death knell.
"A league and a half," I muttered in a low and despairing voice.
"It shall be got over, my boy," cried my uncle in a cheery
"But do you know whether to ascend or descend?" I asked faintly
"We have to descend, and I will tell you why. You have reached a
open space, a kind of bare crossroad, from which galleries diverge in
every direction. That in which you are now lying must necessarily bring
you to this point, for it appears that all these mighty fissures, these
fractures of the globe's interior, radiate from the vast cavern which we
at this moment occupy. Rouse yourself, then, have courage and continue
your route. Walk if you can, if not drag yourself along--slide, if
nothing else is possible. The slope must be rather rapid--and you will
find strong arms to receive you at the end of your journey. Make a
start, like a good fellow."
These words served to rouse some kind of courage in my sinking frame.
"Farewell for the present, good uncle, I am about to take my departure.
As soon as I start, our voices will cease to commingle. Farewell, then,
until we meet again."
"Adieu, Harry--until we say Welcome." Such were the last words
reached my anxious ears before I commenced my weary and almost hopeless
This wonderful and surprising conversation which took place through the
vast mass of the earth's labyrinth, these words exchanged, the speakers
being about five miles apart--ended with hopeful and pleasant
expressions. I breathed one more prayer to Heaven, I sent up words of
thanksgiving--believing in my inmost heart that He had led me to the
only place where the voices of my friends could reach my ears.
This apparently astounding acoustic mystery is easily explainable by
simple natural laws; it arose from the conductibility of the rock. There
are many instances of this singular propagation of sound which are not
perceptible in its less mediate positions. In the interior gallery of
St. Paul's, and amid the curious caverns in Sicily, these phenomena are
observable. The most marvelous of them all is known as the Ear of
These memories of the past, of my early reading and studies, came fresh
to my thoughts. Moreover, I began to reason that if my uncle and I could
communicate at so great a distance, no serious obstacle could exist
between us. All I had to do was to follow the direction whence the sound
had reached me; and logically putting it, I must reach him if my
strength did not fail.
I accordingly rose to my feet. I soon found, however, that I could not
walk; that I must drag myself along. The slope as I expected was very
rapid; but I allowed myself to slip down.
Soon the rapidity of the descent began to assume frightful proportions;
and menaced a fearful fall. I clutched at the sides; I grasped at
projections of rocks; I threw myself backwards. All in vain. My weakness
was so great I could do nothing to save myself.
Suddenly earth failed me.
I was first launched into a dark and gloomy void. I then struck against
the projecting asperities of a vertical gallery, a perfect well. My head
bounded against a pointed rock, and I lost all knowledge of existence.
As far as I was concerned, death had claimed me for his own.
A RAPID RECOVERY
When I returned to the consciousness of existence, I found myself
surrounded by a kind of semiobscurity, lying on some thick and soft
coverlets. My uncle was watching--his eyes fixed intently on my
countenance, a grave expression on his face, a tear in his eye. At the
first sigh which struggled from my bosom, he took hold of my hand. When
he saw my eyes open and fix themselves upon his, he uttered a loud cry
of joy. "He lives! he lives!"
"Yes, my good uncle," I whispered.
"My dear boy," continued the grim Professor, clasping me to
"you are saved!"
I was deeply and unaffectedly touched by the tone in which these words
were uttered, and even more by the kindly care which accompanied them.
The Professor, however, was one of those men who must be severely tried
in order to induce any display of affection or gentle emotion. At this
moment our friend Hans, the guide, joined us. He saw my hand in that of
my uncle, and I venture to say that, taciturn as he was, his eyes beamed
with lively satisfaction.
"God dag," he said.
"Good day, Hans, good day," I replied, in as hearty a tone
as I could
assume, "and now, Uncle, that we are together, tell me where we are.
have lost all idea of our position, as of everything else."
"Tomorrow, Harry, tomorrow," he replied. "Today you are
far too weak.
Your head is surrounded with bandages and poultices that must not be
touched. Sleep, my boy, sleep, and tomorrow you will know all that you
"But," I cried, "let me know what o'clock it is--what
day it is?"
"It is now eleven o'clock at night, and this is once more Sunday.
now the ninth of the month of August. And I distinctly prohibit you from
asking any more questions until the tenth of the same."
I was, if the truth were told, very weak indeed, and my eyes soon closed
involuntarily. I did require a good night's rest, and I went off
reflecting at the last moment that my perilous adventure in the interior
of the earth, in total darkness, had lasted four days!
On the morning of the next day, at my awakening, I began to look around
me. My sleeping place, made of all our traveling bedding, was in a
charming grotto, adorned with magnificent stalagmites, glittering in all
the colors of the rainbow, the floor of soft and silvery sand.
A dim obscurity prevailed. No torch, no lamp was lighted, and yet
certain unexplained beams of light penetrated from without, and made
their way through the opening of the beautiful grotto.
I, moreover, heard a vague and indefinite murmur, like the ebb and flow
of waves upon a strand, and sometimes I verily believed I could hear the
sighing of the wind.
I began to believe that, instead of being awake, I must be dreaming.
Surely my brain had not been affected by my fall, and all that occurred
during the last twenty-four hours was not the frenzied visions of
madness? And yet after some reflection, a trial of my faculties, I came
to the conclusion that I could not be mistaken. Eyes and ears could not
surely both deceive me.
"It is a ray of the blessed daylight," I said to myself, "which
penetrated through some mighty fissure in the rocks. But what is the
meaning of this murmur of waves, this unmistakable moaning of the
salt-sea billows? I can hear, too, plainly enough, the whistling of the
wind. But can I be altogether mistaken? If my uncle, during my illness,
has but carried me back to the surface of the earth! Has he, on my
account, given up his wondrous expedition, or in some strange manner has
it come to an end?"
I was puzzling my brain over these and other questions, when the
Professor joined me.
"Good day, Harry," he cried in a joyous tone. "I fancy
you are quite
"I am very much better," I replied, actually sitting up in
"I knew that would be the end of it, as you slept both soundly and
tranquilly. Hans and I have each taken turn to watch, and every hour we
have seen visible signs of amelioration."
"You must be right, Uncle," was my reply, "for I feel
as if I could do
justice to any meal you could put before me."
"You shall eat, my boy, you shall eat. The fever has left you. Our
excellent friend Hans has rubbed your wounds and bruises with I know not
what ointment, of which the Icelanders alone possess the secret. And
they have healed your bruises in the most marvelous manner. Ah, he's a
wise fellow is Master Hans."
While he was speaking, my uncle was placing before me several articles
of food, which, despite his earnest injunctions, I readily devoured. As
soon as the first rage of hunger was appeased, I overwhelmed him with
questions, to which he now no longer hesitated to give answers.
I then learned, for the first time, that my providential fall had
brought me to the bottom of an almost perpendicular gallery. As I came
down, amidst a perfect shower of stones, the least of which falling on
me would have crushed me to death, they came to the conclusion that I
had carried with me an entire dislocated rock. Riding as it were on this
terrible chariot, I was cast headlong into my uncle's arms. And into
them I fell, insensible and covered with blood.
"It is indeed a miracle," was the Professor's final remark,
were not killed a thousand times over. But let us take care never to
separate; for surely we should risk never meeting again."
"Let us take care never again to separate."
These words fell with a sort of chill upon my heart. The journey, then,
was not over. I looked at my uncle with surprise and astonishment. My
uncle, after an instant's examination of my countenance, said: "What
the matter, Harry?"
"I want to ask you a very serious question. You say that I am all
"Certainly you are."
"And all my limbs are sound and capable of new exertion?" I
"But what about my head?" was my next anxious question.
"Well, your head, except that you have one or two contusions, is
where it ought to be--on your shoulders," said my uncle, laughing.
"Well, my own opinion is that my head is not exactly right. In fact,
believe myself slightly delirious."
"What makes you think so?"
"I will explain why I fancy I have lost my senses," I cried.
not returned to the surface of Mother Earth?"
"Then truly I must be mad, for do I not see the light of day? do
hear the whistling of the wind? and can I not distinguish the wash of a
"And that is all that makes you uneasy?" said my uncle, with
"Can you explain?"
"I will not make any attempt to explain; for the whole matter is
inexplicable. But you shall see and judge for yourself. You will then
find that geological science is as yet in its infancy--and that we are
doomed to enlighten the world."
"Let us advance, then," I cried eagerly, no longer able to
"Wait a moment, my dear Harry," he responded; "you must
after your illness before going into the open air."
"The open air?"
"Yes, my boy. I have to warn you that the wind is rather violent--and
have no wish for you to expose yourself without necessary precautions."
"But I beg to assure you that I am perfectly recovered from my illness."
"Have just a little patience, my boy. A relapse would be inconvenient
all parties. We have no time to lose--as our approaching sea voyage may
be of long duration."
"Sea voyage?" I cried, more bewildered than ever.
"Yes. You must take another day's rest, and we shall be ready to
board by tomorrow," replied my uncle, with a peculiar smile.
"Go on board!" The words utterly astonished me.
Go on board--what and how? Had we come upon a river, a lake, had we
discovered some inland sea? Was a vessel lying at anchor in some part of
the interior of the earth?
My curiosity was worked up to the very highest pitch. My uncle made vain
attempts to restrain me. When at last, however, he discovered that my
feverish impatience would do more harm than good--and that the
satisfaction of my wishes could alone restore me to a calm state of
mind--he gave way.
I dressed myself rapidly--and then taking the precaution to please my
uncle, of wrapping myself in one of the coverlets, I rushed out of the
THE CENTRAL SEA
At first I saw absolutely nothing. My eyes, wholly unused to the
effulgence of light, could not bear the sudden brightness; and I was
compelled to close them. When I was able to reopen them, I stood still,
far more stupefied than astonished. Not all the wildest effects of
imagination could have conjured up such a scene! "The sea--the sea,"
"Yes," replied my uncle, in a tone of pardonable pride; "the
Sea. No future navigator will deny the fact of my having discovered it;
and hence of acquiring a right of giving it a name."
It was quite true. A vast, limitless expanse of water, the end of a lake
if not of an ocean, spread before us, until it was lost in the distance.
The shore, which was very much indented, consisted of a beautiful soft
golden sand, mixed with small shells, the long-deserted home of some of
the creatures of a past age. The waves broke incessantly--and with a
peculiarly sonorous murmur, to be found in underground localities. A
slight frothy flake arose as the wind blew along the pellucid waters;
and many a dash of spray was blown into my face. The mighty
superstructure of rock which rose above to an inconceivable height left
only a narrow opening--but where we stood, there was a large margin of
strand. On all sides were capes and promontories and enormous cliffs,
partially worn by the eternal breaking of the waves, through countless
ages! And as I gazed from side to side, the mighty rocks faded away like
a fleecy film of cloud.
It was in reality an ocean, with all the usual characteristics of an
inland sea, only horribly wild--so rigid, cold and savage.
One thing startled and puzzled me greatly. How was it that I was able
look upon that vast sheet of water instead of being plunged in utter
darkness? The vast landscape before me was lit up like day. But there
was wanting the dazzling brilliancy, the splendid irradiation of the
sun; the pale cold illumination of the moon; the brightness of the
stars. The illuminating power in this subterranean region, from its
trembling and Rickering character, its clear dry whiteness, the very
slight elevation of its temperature, its great superiority to that of
the moon, was evidently electric; something in the nature of the aurora
borealis, only that its phenomena were constant, and able to light up
the whole of the ocean cavern.
The tremendous vault above our heads, the sky, so to speak, appeared
be composed of a conglomeration of nebulous vapors, in constant motion.
I should originally have supposed that, under such an atmospheric
pressure as must exist in that place, the evaporation of water could not
really take place, and yet from the action of some physical law, which
escaped my memory, there were heavy and dense clouds rolling along that
mighty vault, partially concealing the roof. Electric currents produced
astonishing play of light and shade in the distance, especially around
the heavier clouds. Deep shadows were cast beneath, and then suddenly,
between two clouds, there would come a ray of unusual beauty, and
remarkable intensity. And yet it was not like the sun, for it gave no
The effect was sad and excruciatingly melancholy. Instead of a noble
firmament of blue, studded with stars, there was above me a heavy roof
of granite, which seemed to crush me.
Gazing around, I began to think of the theory of the English captain
compared the earth to a vast hollow sphere in the interior of which the
air is retained in a luminous state by means of atmospheric pressure,
while two stars, Pluto and Proserpine, circled there in their mysterious
orbits. After all, suppose the old fellow was right!
In truth, we were imprisoned--bound as it were, in a vast excavation.
Its width it was impossible to make out; the shore, on either hand,
widening rapidly until lost to sight; while its length was equally
uncertain. A haze on the distant horizon bounded our view. As to its
height, we could see that it must be many miles to the roof. Looking
upward, it was impossible to discover where the stupendous roof began.
The lowest of the clouds must have been floating at an elevation of two
thousand yards, a height greater than that of terrestrial vapors, which
circumstance was doubtless owing to the extreme density of the air.
I use the word "cavern" in order to give an idea of the place.
describe its awful grandeur; human language fails to convey an idea of
its savage sublimity. Whether this singular vacuum had or had not been
caused by the sudden cooling of the earth when in a state of fusion, I
could not say. I had read of most wonderful and gigantic caverns--but,
none in any way like this.
The great grotto of Guachara, in Colombia, visited by the learned
Humboldt; the vast and partially explored Mammoth Cave in Kentucky--what
were these holes in the earth to that in which I stood in speechless
admiration! with its vapory clouds, its electric light, and the mighty
ocean slumbering in its bosom! Imagination, not description, can alone
give an idea of the splendor and vastness of the cave.
I gazed at these marvels in profound silence. Words were utterly wanting
to indicate the sensations of wonder I experienced. I seemed, as I stood
upon that mysterious shore, as if I were some wandering inhabitant of a
distant planet, present for the first time at the spectacle of some
terrestrial phenomena belonging to another existence. To give body and
existence to such new sensations would have required the coinage of new
words--and here my feeble brain found itself wholly at fault. I looked
on, I thought, I reflected, I admired, in a state of stupefaction not
altogether unmingled with fear!
The unexpected spectacle restored some color to my pallid cheeks. I
seemed to be actually getting better under the influence of this
novelty. Moreover, the vivacity of the dense atmosphere reanimated my
body by inflating my lungs with unaccustomed oxygen.
It will be readily conceived that after an imprisonment of forty-seven
days, in a dark and miserable tunnel it was with infinite delight that I
breathed this saline air. It was like the genial, reviving influence of
the salt sea waves.
My uncle had already got over the first surprise.
With the Latin poet Horace his idea was that--
Not to admire is all the art I know,
To make man happy and to keep him so.
"Well," he said, after giving me time thoroughly to appreciate
marvels of this underground sea, "do you feel strong enough to walk
"Certainly," was my ready answer, "nothing would give
"Well then, my boy," he said, "lean on my arm, and we
will stroll along
I accepted his offer eagerly, and we began to walk along the shores of
this extraordinary lake. To our left were abrupt rocks, piled one upon
the other--a stupendous titanic pile; down their sides leaped
innumerable cascades, which at last, becoming limpid and murmuring
streams, were lost in the waters of the lake. Light vapors, which rose
here and there, and floated in fleecy clouds from rock to rock,
indicated hot springs, which also poured their superfluity into the vast
reservoir at our feet.
Among them I recognized our old and faithful stream, the Hansbach,
which, lost in that wild basin, seemed as if it had been flowing since
the creation of the world.
"We shall miss our excellent friend," I remarked, with a deep
"Bah!" said my uncle testily, "what matters it? That or
another, it is
all the same."
I thought the remark ungrateful, and felt almost inclined to say so;
At this moment my attention was attracted by an unexpected spectacle.
After we had gone about five hundred yards, we suddenly turned a steep
promontory, and found ourselves close to a lofty forest! It consisted of
straight trunks with tufted tops, in shape like parasols. The air seemed
to have no effect upon these trees--which in spite of a tolerable breeze
remained as still and motionless as if they had been petrified.
I hastened forward. I could find no name for these singular formations.
Did they not belong to the two thousand and more known trees--or were we
to make the discovery of a new growth? By no means. When we at last
reached the forest, and stood beneath the trees, my surprise gave way to
In truth, I was simply in the presence of a very ordinary product of
earth, of singular and gigantic proportions. My uncle unhesitatingly
called them by their real names.
"It is only," he said, in his coolest manner, "a forest
On close examination I found that he was not mistaken. Judge of the
development attained by this product of damp hot soils. I had heard that
the Lycoperdon giganteum reaches nine feet in circumference, but here
were white mushrooms, nearly forty feet high, and with tops of equal
dimensions. They grew in countless thousands--the light could not make
its way through their massive substance, and beneath them reigned a
gloomy and mystic darkness.
Still I wished to go forward. The cold in the shades of this singular
forest was intense. For nearly an hour we wandered about in this visible
darkness. At length I left the spot, and once more returned to the
shores of the lake, to light and comparative warmth.
But the amazing vegetation of subterraneous land was not confined to
gigantic mushrooms. New wonders awaited us at every step. We had not
gone many hundred yards, when we came upon a mighty group of other trees
with discolored leaves--the common humble trees of Mother Earth, of an
exorbitant and phenomenal size: lycopods a hundred feet high; flowering
ferns as tall as pines; gigantic grasses!
"Astonishing, magnificent, splendid!" cried my uncle; "here
before us the whole flora of the second period of the world, that of
transition. Behold the humble plants of our gardens, which in the first
ages of the world were mighty trees. Look around you, my dear Harry. No
botanist ever before gazed on such a sight!"
My uncle's enthusiasm, always a little more than was required, was now
"You are right, Uncle," I remarked. "Providence appears
to have designed
the preservation in this vast and mysterious hothouse of antediluvian
plants, to prove the sagacity of learned men in figuring them so
marvelously on paper."
"Well said, my boy--very well said; it is indeed a mighty hothouse.
you would also be within the bounds of reason and common sense, if you
added that it is also a vast menagerie."
I looked rather anxiously around. If the animals were as exaggerated
the plants, the matter would certainly be serious.
"Doubtless. Look at the dust we are treading under foot--behold
bones with which the whole soil of the seashore is covered--"
"Bones," I replied, "yes, certainly, the bones of antediluvian
I stooped down as I spoke, and picked up one or two singular remains,
relics of a bygone age. It was easy to give a name to these gigantic
bones, in some instances as big as trunks of trees.
"Here is, clearly, the lower jawbone of a mastodon," I cried,
warmly and enthusiastically as my uncle; "here are the molars of the
Dinotherium; here is a leg bone which belonged to the Megatherium. You
are right, Uncle, it is indeed a menagerie; for the mighty animals to
which these bones once belonged, have lived and died on the shores of
this subterranean sea, under the shadow of these plants. Look, yonder
are whole skeletons--and yet--"
"And yet, nephew?" said my uncle, noticing that I suddenly
came to a
"I do not understand the presence of such beasts in granite caverns,
however vast and prodigious," was my reply.
"Why not?" said my uncle, with very much of his old professional
"Because it is well known that animal life only existed on earth
the secondary period, when the sedimentary soil was formed by the
alluviums, and thus replaced the hot and burning rocks of the primitive
"I have listened to you earnestly and with patience, Harry, and
I have a
simple and clear answer to your objections: and that is, that this
itself is a sedimentary soil."
"How can that be at such enormous depth from the surface of the
"The fact can be explained both simply and geologically. At a certain
period, the earth consisted only of an elastic crust, liable to
alternative upward and downward movements in virtue of the law of
attraction. It is very probable that many a landslip took place in those
days, and that large portions of sedimentary soil were cast into huge
and mighty chasms."
"Quite possible," I dryly remarked. "But, Uncle, if these
animals formerly lived in these subterranean regions, what more likely
than that one of these monsters may at this moment be concealed behind
one of yonder mighty rocks."
As I spoke, I looked keenly around, examining with care every point of
the horizon; but nothing alive appeared to exist on these deserted
I now felt rather fatigued, and told my uncle so. The walk and
excitement were too much for me in my weak state. I therefore seated
myself at the end of a promontory, at the foot of which the waves broke
in incessant rolls. I looked round a bay formed by projections of vast
granitic rocks. At the extreme end was a little port protected by huge
pyramids of stones. A brig and three or four schooners might have lain
there with perfect ease. So natural did it seem, that every minute my
imagination induced me to expect a vessel coming out under all sail and
making for the open sea under the influence of a warm southerly breeze.
But the fantastic illusion never lasted more than a minute. We were the
only living creatures in this subterranean world!
During certain periods there was an utter cessation of wind, when a
silence deeper, more terrible than the silence of the desert fell upon
these solitary and arid rocks--and seemed to hang like a leaden weight
upon the waters of this singular ocean. I sought, amid the awful
stillness, to penetrate through the distant fog, to tear down the veil
which concealed the mysterious distance. What unspoken words were
murmured by my trembling lips--what questions did I wish to ask and did
not! Where did this sea end--to what did it lead? Should we ever be able
to examine its distant shores?
But my uncle had no doubts about the matter. He was convinced that our
enterprise would in the end be successful. For my part, I was in a state
of painful indecision--I desired to embark on the journey and to
succeed, and still I feared the result.
After we had passed an hour or more in silent contemplation of the
wondrous spectacle, we rose and went down towards the bank on our way to
the grotto, which I was not sorry to gain. After a slight repast, I
sought refuge in slumber, and at length, after many and tedious
struggles, sleep came over my weary eyes.
LAUNCHING THE RAFT
On the morning of the next day, to my great surprise, I awoke completely
restored. I thought a bath would be delightful after my long illness and
sufferings. So, soon after rising, I went and plunged into the waters of
this new Mediterranean. The bath was cool, fresh and invigorating.
I came back to breakfast with an excellent appetite. Hans, our worthy
guide, thoroughly understood how to cook such eatables as we were able
to provide; he had both fire and water at discretion, so that he was
enabled slightly to vary the weary monotony of our ordinary repast.
Our morning meal was like a capital English breakfast, with coffee by
way of a windup. And never had this delicious beverage been so welcome
My uncle had sufficient regard for my state of health not to interrupt
me in the enjoyment of the meal, but he was evidently delighted when I
"Now then," said he, "come with me. It is the height of
the tide, and I
am anxious to study its curious phenomena."
"What!"' I cried, rising in astonishment, "did you say
the tide, Uncle?"
"Certainly I did."
"You do not mean to say," I replied, in a tone of respectful
"that the influence of the sun and moon is felt here below."
"And pray why not? Are not all bodies influenced by the law of universal
attraction? Why should this vast underground sea be exempt from the
general law, the rule of the universe? Besides, there is nothing like
that which is proved and demonstrated. Despite the great atmospheric
pressure down here, you will notice that this inland sea rises and falls
with as much regularity as the Atlantic itself."
As my uncle spoke, we reached the sandy shore, and saw and heard the
waves breaking monotonously on the beach. They were evidently rising.
"This is truly the flood," I cried, looking at the water at
"Yes, my excellent nephew," replied my uncle, rubbing his hands
gusto of a philosopher, "and you see by these several streaks of foam
that the tide rises at least ten or twelve feet."
"It is indeed marvelous."
"By no means," he responded; "on the contrary, it is quite
"It may appear so in your eyes, my dear uncle," was my reply,
the phenomena of the place appear to me to partake of the marvelous. It
is almost impossible to believe that which I see. Who in his wildest
dreams could have imagined that, beneath the crust of our earth, there
could exist a real ocean, with ebbing and flowing tides, with its
changes of winds, and even its storms! I for one should have laughed the
suggestion to scorn."
"But, Harry, my boy, why not?" inquired my uncle, with a pitying
"is there any physical reason in opposition to it?"
"Well, if we give up the great theory of the central heat of the
I certainly can offer no reasons why anything should be looked upon as
"Then you will own," he added, "that the system of Sir
Humphry Davy is
wholly justified by what we have seen?"
"I allow that it is--and that point once granted, I certainly can
reason for doubting the existence of seas and other wonders, even
countries, in the interior of the globe."
"That is so--but of course these varied countries are uninhabited?"
"Well, I grant that it is more likely than not: still, I do not
this sea should not have given shelter to some species of unknown fish."
"Hitherto we have not discovered any, and the probabilities are
against our ever doing so," observed the Professor.
I was losing my skepticism in the presence of these wonders.
"Well, I am determined to solve the question. It is my intention
my luck with my fishing line and hook."
"Certainly; make the experiment," said my uncle, pleased with
enthusiasm. "While we are about it, it will certainly be only proper
discover all the secrets of this extraordinary region."
"But, after all, where are we now?" I asked; "all this
time I have quite
forgotten to ask you a question, which, doubtless, your philosophical
instruments have long since answered."
"Well," replied the Professor, "examining the situation
from only one
point of view, we are now distant three hundred and fifty leagues from
"So much?" was my exclamation.
"I have gone over the matter several times, and am sure not to have
a mistake of five hundred yards," replied my uncle positively.
"And as to the direction--are we still going to the southeast?"
"Yes, with a western declination of nineteen degrees, forty-two
minutes, just as it is above. As for the inclination I have
discovered a very curious fact."
 The declination is the variation of the needle from the true
meridian of a place.
 Inclination is the dip of the magnetic needle with a tendency to
incline towards the earth.
"What may that be, Uncle? Your information interests me."
"Why, that the needle instead of dipping towards the pole as it
earth, in the northern hemisphere, has an upward tendency."
"This proves," I cried, "that the great point of magnetic
lies somewhere between the surface of the earth and the spot we have
succeeded in reaching."
"Exactly, my observant nephew," exclaimed my uncle, elated
delighted, "and it is quite probable that if we succeed in getting
toward the polar regions--somewhere near the seventy-third degree of
latitude, where Sir James Ross discovered the magnetic pole, we shall
behold the needle point directly upward. We have therefore discovered by
analogy, that this great centre of attraction is not situated at a very
"Well," said I, rather surprised, "this discovery will
experimental philosophers. It was never suspected."
"Science, great, mighty and in the end unerring," replied my
dogmatically, "science has fallen into many errors--errors which have
been fortunate and useful rather than otherwise, for they have been the
steppingstones to truth."
After some further discussion, I turned to another matter.
"Have you any idea of the depth we have reached?"
"We are now," continued the Professor, "exactly thirty-five
leagues--above a hundred miles--down into the interior of the earth."
"So," said I, after measuring the distance on the map, "we
beneath the Scottish Highlands, and have over our heads the lofty
"You are quite right," said the Professor, laughing; "it
alarming, the weight being heavy--but the vault which supports this vast
mass of earth and rock is solid and safe; the mighty Architect of the
Universe has constructed it of solid materials. Man, even in his highest
flights of vivid and poetic imagination, never thought of such things!
What are the finest arches of our bridges, what the vaulted roofs of our
cathedrals, to that mighty dome above us, and beneath which floats an
ocean with its storms and calms and tides!"
"I admire it all as much as you can, Uncle, and have no fear that
granite sky will fall upon our heads. But now that we have discussed
matters of science and discovery, what are your future intentions? Are
you not thinking of getting back to the surface of our beautiful earth?"
This was said more as a feeler than with any hope of success.
"Go back, nephew," cried my uncle in a tone of alarm, "you
surely thinking of anything so absurd or cowardly. No, my intention is
to advance and continue our journey. We have as yet been singularly
fortunate, and henceforth I hope we shall be more so."
"But," said I, "how are we to cross yonder liquid plain?"
"It is not my intention to leap into it head foremost, or even to
across it, like Leander over the Hellespont. But as oceans are, after
all, only great lakes, inasmuch as they are surrounded by land, so does
it stand to reason, that this central sea is circumscribed by granite
"Doubtless," was my natural reply.
"Well, then, do you not think that when once we reach the other
shall find some means of continuing our journey?"
"Probably, but what extent do you allow to this internal ocean?"
"Well, I should fancy it to extend about forty or fifty leagues--more
"But even supposing this approximation to be a correct one--what
"My dear boy, we have no time for further discussion. We shall embark
I looked around with surprise and incredulity. I could see nothing in
the shape of boat or vessel.
"What!" I cried, "we are about to launch out upon an unknown
where, if I may ask, is the vessel to carry us?"
"Well, my dear boy, it will not be exactly what you would call a
For the present we must be content with a good and solid raft."
"A raft," I cried, incredulously, "but down here a raft
is as impossible
of construction as a vessel--and I am at a loss to imagine--"
"My good Harry--if you were to listen instead of talking so much,
would hear," said my uncle, waxing a little impatient.
"I should hear?"
"Yes--certain knocks with the hammer, which Hans is now employing
make the raft. He has been at work for many hours."
"Making a raft?"
"But where has he found trees suitable for such a construction?"
"He found the trees all ready to his hand. Come, and you shall see
excellent guide at work."
More and more amazed at what I heard and saw, I followed my uncle like
one in a dream.
After a walk of about a quarter of an hour, I saw Hans at work on the
other side of the promontory which formed our natural port. A few
minutes more and I was beside him. To my great surprise, on the sandy
shore lay a half-finished raft. It was made from beams of a very
peculiar wood, and a great number of limbs, joints, boughs, and pieces
lay about, sufficient to have constructed a fleet of ships and boats.
I turned to my uncle, silent with astonishment and awe.
"Where did all this wood come from?" I cried; "what wood
"Well, there is pinewood, fir, and the palms of the northern regions,
mineralized by the action of the sea," he replied, sententiously.
"Can it be possible?"
"Yes," said the learned Professor, "what you see is called
"But then," cried I, after reflecting for a moment, "like
it must be as hard and as heavy as iron, and therefore will certainly
"Sometimes that is the case. Many of these woods have become true
anthracites, but others again, like those you see before you, have only
undergone one phase of fossil transformation. But there is no proof like
demonstration," added my uncle, picking one or two of these precious
waifs and casting them into the sea.
The piece of wood, after having disappeared for a moment, came to the
surface, and floated about with the oscillation produced by wind and
"Are you convinced?" said my uncle, with a self-satisfied smile.
"I am convinced," I cried, "that what I see is incredible."
The fact was that my journey into the interior of the earth was rapidly
changing all preconceived notions, and day by day preparing me for the
I should not have been surprised to have seen a fleet of native canoes
afloat upon that silent sea.
The very next evening, thanks to the industry and ability of Hans, the
raft was finished. It was about ten feet long and five feet wide. The
beams bound together with stout ropes, were solid and firm, and once
launched by our united efforts, the improvised vessel floated tranquilly
upon the waters of what the Professor had well named the Central Sea.
ON THE WATERS--A RAFT VOYAGE
On the thirteenth of August we were up betimes. There was no time to
lost. We now had to inaugurate a new kind of locomotion, which would
have the advantage of being rapid and not fatiguing.
A mast, made of two pieces of wood fastened together, to give additional
strength, a yard made from another one, the sail a linen sheet from our
bed. We were fortunately in no want of cordage, and the whole on trial
appeared solid and seaworthy.
At six o'clock in the morning, when the eager and enthusiastic Professor
gave the signal to embark, the victuals, the luggage, all our
instruments, our weapons, and a goodly supply of sweet water, which we
had collected from springs in the rocks, were placed on the raft.
Hans had, with considerable ingenuity, contrived a rudder, which enabled
him to guide the floating apparatus with ease. He took the tiller, as a
matter of course. The worthy man was as good a sailor as he was a guide
and duck hunter. I then let go the painter which held us to the shore,
the sail was brought to the wind, and we made a rapid offing.
Our sea voyage had at length commenced; and once more we were making
distant and unknown regions.
Just as we were about to leave the little port where the raft had been
constructed, my uncle, who was very strong as to geographic
nomenclature, wanted to give it a name, and among others, suggested
"Well," said I, "before you decide I have another to propose."
"Well; out with it."
"I should like to call it Gretchen. Port Gretchen will sound very
on our future map."
"Well then, Port Gretchen let it be," said the Professor.
And thus it was that the memory of my dear girl was attached to our
adventurous and memorable expedition.
When we left the shore the wind was blowing from the northward and
eastward. We went directly before the wind at a much greater speed than
might have been expected from a raft. The dense layers of atmosphere at
that depth had great propelling power and acted upon the sail with
At the end of an hour, my uncle, who had been taking careful
observations, was enabled to judge of the rapidity with which we moved.
It was far beyond anything seen in the upper world.
"If," he said, "we continue to advance at our present
rate, we shall
have traveled at least thirty leagues in twenty-four hours. With a mere
raft this is an almost incredible velocity."
I certainly was surprised, and without making any reply went forward
upon the raft. Already the northern shore was fading away on the edge of
the horizon. The two shores appeared to separate more and more, leaving
a wide and open space for our departure. Before me I could see nothing
but the vast and apparently limitless sea--upon which we floated--the
only living objects in sight.
Huge and dark clouds cast their grey shadows below--shadows which seemed
to crush that colorless and sullen water by their weight. Anything more
suggestive of gloom and of regions of nether darkness I never beheld.
Silvery rays of electric light, reflected here and there upon some small
spots of water, brought up luminous sparkles in the long wake of our
cumbrous bark. Presently we were wholly out of sight of land; not a
vestige could be seen, nor any indication of where we were going. So
still and motionless did we seem without any distant point to fix our
eyes on that but for the phosphoric light at the wake of the raft I
should have fancied that we were still and motionless.
But I knew that we were advancing at a very rapid rate.
About twelve o'clock in the day, vast collections of seaweed were
discovered surrounding us on all sides. I was aware of the extraordinary
vegetative power of these plants, which have been known to creep along
the bottom of the great ocean, and stop the advance of large ships. But
never were seaweeds ever seen, so gigantic and wonderful as those of the
Central Sea. I could well imagine how, seen at a distance, tossing and
heaving on the summit of the billows, the long lines of algae have been
taken for living things, and thus have been fertile sources of the
belief in sea serpents.
Our raft swept past great specimens of fucus or seawrack, from three
four thousand feet in length, immense, incredibly long, looking like
snakes that stretched out far beyond our horizon. It afforded me great
amusement to gaze on their variegated ribbon-like endless lengths. Hour
after hour passed without our coming to the termination of these
floating weeds. If my astonishment increased, my patience was well-nigh
What natural force could possibly have produced such abnormal and
extraordinary plants? What must have been the aspect of the globe,
during the first centuries of its formation, when under the combined
action of heat and humidity, the vegetable kingdom occupied its vast
surface to the exclusion of everything else?
These were considerations of never-ending interest for the geologist
All this while we were advancing on our journey; and at length night
came; but as I had remarked the evening before, the luminous state of
the atmosphere was in nothing diminished. Whatever was the cause, it was
a phenomenon upon the duration of which we could calculate with
As soon as our supper had been disposed of, and some little speculative
conversation indulged in, I stretched myself at the foot of the mast,
and presently went to sleep.
Hans remained motionless at the tiller, allowing the raft to rise and
fall on the waves. The wind being aft, and the sail square, all he had
to do was to keep his oar in the centre.
Ever since we had taken our departure from the newly named Port
Gretchen, my worthy uncle had directed me to keep a regular log of our
day's navigation, with instructions to put down even the most minute
particulars, every interesting and curious phenomenon, the direction of
the wind, our rate of sailing, the distance we went; in a word, every
incident of our extraordinary voyage.
From our log, therefore, I tell the story of our voyage on the Central
Friday, August 14th. A steady breeze from the northwest. Raft
progressing with extreme rapidity, and going perfectly straight. Coast
still dimly visible about thirty leagues to leeward. Nothing to be seen
beyond the horizon in front. The extraordinary intensity of the light
neither increases nor diminishes. It is singularly stationary. The
weather remarkably fine; that is to say, the clouds have ascended very
high, and are light and fleecy, and surrounded by an atmosphere
resembling silver in fusion.
Thermometer, +32 degrees centigrade.
About twelve o'clock in the day our guide Hans having prepared and
baited a hook, cast his line into the subterranean waters. The bait he
used was a small piece of meat, by means of which he concealed his hook.
Anxious as I was, I was for a long time doomed to disappointment. Were
these waters supplied with fish or not? That was the important question.
No--was my decided answer. Then there came a sudden and rather hard tug.
Hans coolly drew it in, and with it a fish, which struggled violently to
"A fish!" cried my uncle.
"It is a sturgeon!" I cried, "certainly a small sturgeon."
The Professor examined the fish carefully, noting every characteristic;
and he did not coincide in my opinion. The fish had a flat head, round
body, and the lower extremities covered with bony scales; its mouth was
wholly without teeth, the pectoral fins, which were highly developed,
sprouted direct from the body, which properly speaking had no tail. The
animal certainly belonged to the order in which naturalists class the
sturgeon, but it differed from that fish in many essential particulars.
My uncle, after all, was not mistaken. After a long and patient
examination, he said:
"This fish, my dear boy, belongs to a family which has been extinct
ages, and of which no trace has ever been found on earth, except fossil
remains in the Devonian strata."
"You do not mean to say," I cried, "that we have captured
specimen of a fish belonging to the primitive stock that existed before
"We have," said the Professor, who all this time was continuing
observations, "and you may see by careful examination that these fossil
fish have no identity with existing species. To hold in one's hand,
therefore, a living specimen of the order, is enough to make a
naturalist happy for life."
"But," cried I, "to what family does it belong?"
"To the order of Ganoides--an order of fish having angular scales,
covered with bright enamel--forming one of the family of the
Cephalaspides, of the genus--"
"Well, sir," I remarked, as I noticed my uncle hesitated to
"To the genus Pterychtis--yes, I am certain of it. Still, though
confident of the correctness of my surmise, this fish offers to our
notice a remarkable peculiarity, never known to exist in any other fish
but those which are the natives of subterranean waters, wells, lakes, in
caverns, and suchlike hidden pools."
"And what may that be?"
"It is blind."
"Blind!" I cried, much surprised.
"Not only blind," continued the Professor, "but absolutely
organs of sight."
I now examined our discovery for myself. It was singular, to be sure,
but it was really a fact. This, however, might be a solitary instance, I
suggested. The hook was baited again and once more thrown into the
water. This subterranean ocean must have been tolerably well supplied
with fish, for in two hours we took a large number of Pterychtis, as
well as other fish belonging to another supposed extinct family--the
Dipterides (a genus of fish, furnished with two fins only, whence the
name), though my uncle could not class it exactly. All, without
exception, however, were blind. This unexpected capture enabled us to
renew our stock of provisions in a very satisfactory way.
We were now convinced that this subterranean sea contained only fish
known to us as fossil specimens--and fish and reptiles alike were all
the more perfect the farther back they dated their origin.
We began to hope that we should find some of those saurians which
science has succeeded in reconstructing from bits of bone or cartilage.
I took up the telescope and carefully examined the horizon--looked over
the whole sea; it was utterly and entirely deserted. Doubtless we were
still too near the coast.
After an examination of the ocean, I looked upward, towards the strange
and mysterious sky. Why should not one of the birds reconstructed by the
immortal Cuvier flap his stupendous wings aloft in the dull strata of
subterranean air? It would, of course, find quite sufficient food from
the fish in the sea. I gazed for some time upon the void above. It was
as silent and as deserted as the shores we had but lately left.
Nevertheless, though I could neither see nor discover anything, my
imagination carried me away into wild hypotheses. I was in a kind of
waking dream. I thought I saw on the surface of the water those enormous
antediluvian turtles as big as floating islands. Upon those dull and
somber shores passed a spectral row of the mammifers of early days, the
great Liptotherium found in the cavernous hollow of the Brazilian hills,
the Mesicotherium, a native of the glacial regions of Siberia.
Farther on, the pachydermatous Lophrodon, that gigantic tapir, which
concealed itself behind rocks, ready to do battle for its prey with the
Anoplotherium, a singular animal partaking of the nature of the
rhinoceros, the horse, the hippopotamus and the camel.
There was the giant Mastodon, twisting and turning his horrid trunk,
with which he crushed the rocks of the shore to powder, while the
Megatherium--his back raised like a cat in a passion, his enormous claws
stretched out, dug into the earth for food, at the same time that he
awoke the sonorous echoes of the whole place with his terrible roar.
Higher up still, the first monkey ever seen on the face of the globe
clambered, gamboling and playing up the granite hills. Still farther
away, ran the Pterodactyl, with the winged hand, gliding or rather
sailing through the dense and compressed air like a huge bat.
Above all, near the leaden granitic sky, were immense birds, more
powerful than the cassowary and the ostrich, which spread their mighty
wings and fluttered against the huge stone vault of the inland sea.
I thought, such was the effect of my imagination, that I saw this whole
tribe of antediluvian creatures. I carried myself back to far ages, long
before man existed--when, in fact, the earth was in too imperfect a
state for him to live upon it.
My dream was of countless ages before the existence of man. The
mammifers first disappeared, then the mighty birds, then the reptiles of
the secondary period, presently the fish, the crustacea, the mollusks,
and finally the vertebrata. The zoophytes of the period of transition in
their turn sank into annihilation.
The whole panorama of the world's life before the historic period,
seemed to be born over again, and mine was the only human heart that
beat in this unpeopled world! There were no more seasons; there were no
more climates; the natural heat of the world increased unceasingly, and
neutralized that of the great radiant Sun.
Vegetation was exaggerated in an extraordinary manner. I passed like
shadow in the midst of brushwood as lofty as the giant trees of
California, and trod underfoot the moist and humid soil, reeking with a
rank and varied vegetation.
I leaned against the huge column-like trunks of giant trees, to which
those of Canada were as ferns. Whole ages passed, hundreds upon hundreds
of years were concentrated into a single day.
Next, unrolled before me like a panorama, came the great and wondrous
series of terrestrial transformations. Plants disappeared; the granitic
rocks lost all trace of solidity; the liquid state was suddenly
substituted for that which had before existed. This was caused by
intense heat acting on the organic matter of the earth. The waters
flowed over the whole surface of the globe; they boiled; they were
volatilized, or turned into vapor; a kind of steam cloud wrapped the
whole earth, the globe itself becoming at last nothing but one huge
sphere of gas, indescribable in color, between white heat and red, as
big and as brilliant as the sun.
In the very centre of this prodigious mass, fourteen hundred thousand
times as large as our globe, I was whirled round in space, and brought
into close conjunction with the planets. My body was subtilized, or
rather became volatile, and commingled in a state of atomic vapor, with
the prodigious clouds, which rushed forward like a mighty comet into
What an extraordinary dream! Where would it finally take me? My feverish
hand began to write down the marvelous details--details more like the
imaginings of a lunatic than anything sober and real. I had during this
period of hallucination forgotten everything--the Professor, the guide,
and the raft on which we were floating. My mind was in a state of
"What is the matter, Harry?" said my uncle suddenly.
My eyes, which were wide opened like those of a somnambulist, were fixed
upon him, but I did not see him, nor could I clearly make out anything
"Take care, my boy," again cried my uncle, "you will fall
into the sea."
As he uttered these words, I felt myself seized on the other side by
firm hand of our devoted guide. Had it not been for the presence of mind
of Hans, I must infallibly have fallen into the waves and been drowned.
"Have you gone mad?" cried my uncle, shaking me on the other
"What--what is the matter?" I said at last, coming to myself.
"Are you ill, Henry?" continued the Professor in an anxious
"No--no; but I have had an extraordinary dream. It, however, has
away. All now seems well," I added, looking around me with strangely
"All right," said my uncle; "a beautiful breeze, a splendid
sea. We are
going along at a rapid rate, and if I am not out in my calculations we
shall soon see land. I shall not be sorry to exchange the narrow limits
of our raft for the mysterious strand of the subterranean ocean."
As my uncle uttered these words, I rose and carefully scanned the
horizon. But the line of water was still confounded with the lowering
clouds that hung aloft, and in the distance appeared to touch the edge
of the water.
TERRIFIC SAURIAN COMBAT
Saturday, August 15th. The sea still retains its uniform monotony. The
same leaden hue, the same eternal glare from above. No indication of
land being in sight. The horizon appears to retreat before us, more and
more as we advance.
My head, still dull and heavy from the effects of my extraordinary
dream, which I cannot as yet banish from my mind.
The Professor, who has not dreamed, is, however, in one of his morose
and unaccountable humors. Spends his time in scanning the horizon, at
every point of the compass. His telescope is raised every moment to his
eyes, and when he finds nothing to give any clue to our whereabouts, he
assumes a Napoleonic attitude and walks anxiously.
I remarked that my uncle, the Professor, had a strong tendency to resume
his old impatient character, and I could not but make a note of this
disagreeable circumstance in my journal. I saw clearly that it had
required all the influence of my danger and suffering, to extract from
him one scintillation of humane feeling. Now that I was quite recovered,
his original nature had conquered and obtained the upper hand.
And, after all, what had he to be angry and annoyed about, now more than
at any other time? Was not the journey being accomplished under the most
favorable circumstances? Was not the raft progressing with the most
What, then, could be the matter? After one or two preliminary hems, I
determined to inquire.
"You seem uneasy, Uncle," said I, when for about the hundredth
put down his telescope and walked up and down, muttering to himself.
"No, I am not uneasy," he replied in a dry harsh tone, "by
"Perhaps I should have said impatient," I replied, softening
of my remark.
"Enough to make me so, I think."
"And yet we are advancing at a rate seldom attained by a raft,"
"What matters that?" cried my uncle. "I am not vexed at
the rate we go
at, but I am annoyed to find the sea so much vaster than I expected."
I then recollected that the Professor, before our departure, had
estimated the length of this subterranean ocean as at most about thirty
leagues. Now we had traveled at least over thrice that distance without
discovering any trace of the distant shore. I began to understand my
"We are not going down," suddenly exclaimed the Professor.
"We are not
progressing with our great discoveries. All this is utter loss of time.
After all, I did not come from home to undertake a party of pleasure.
This voyage on a raft over a pond annoys and wearies me."
He called this adventurous journey a party of pleasure, and this great
inland sea a pond!
"But," argued I, "if we have followed the route indicated
by the great
Saknussemm, we cannot be going far wrong."
"'That is the question,' as the great, the immortal Shakespeare,
Are we following the route indicated by that wondrous sage? Did
Saknussemm ever fall in with this great sheet of water? If he did, did
he cross it? I begin to fear that the rivulet we adopted for a guide has
led us wrong."
"In any case, we can never regret having come thus far. It is worth
whole journey to have enjoyed this magnificent spectacle--it is
something to have seen."
"I care nothing about seeing, nor about magnificent spectacles.
down into the interior of the earth with an object, and that object I
mean to attain. Don't talk to me about admiring scenery, or any other
After this I thought it well to hold my tongue, and allow the Professor
to bite his lips until the blood came, without further remark.
At six o'clock in the evening, our matter-of-fact guide, Hans, asked
his week's salary, and receiving his three rix-dollars, put them
carefully in his pocket. He was perfectly contented and satisfied.
Sunday, August 16th. Nothing new to record. The same weather as before.
The wind has a slight tendency to freshen up, with signs of an
approaching gale. When I awoke, my first observation was in regard to
the intensity of the light. I keep on fearing, day after day, that the
extraordinary electric phenomenon should become first obscured, and then
go wholly out, leaving us in total darkness. Nothing, however, of the
kind occurs. The shadow of the raft, its mast and sails, is clearly
distinguished on the surface of the water.
This wondrous sea is, after all, infinite in its extent. It must be
quite as wide as the Mediterranean--or perhaps even as the great
Atlantic Ocean. Why, after all, should it not be so?
My uncle has on more than one occasion, tried deep-sea soundings. He
tied the cross of one of our heaviest crowbars to the extremity of a
cord, which he allowed to run out to the extent of two hundred fathoms.
We had the greatest difficulty in hoisting in our novel kind of lead.
When the crowbar was finally dragged on board, Hans called my attention
to some singular marks upon its surface. The piece of iron looked as if
it had been crushed between two very hard substances.
I looked at our worthy guide with an inquiring glance.
"Tander," said he.
Of course I was at a loss to understand. I turned round towards my
uncle, absorbed in gloomy reflections. I had little wish to disturb him
from his reverie. I accordingly turned once more towards our worthy
Hans very quietly and significantly opened his mouth once or twice, as
if in the act of biting, and in this way made me understand his meaning.
"Teeth!" cried I, with stupefaction, as I examined the bar
of iron with
Yes. There can be no doubt about the matter. The indentations on the
of iron are the marks of teeth! What jaws must the owner of such molars
be possessed of! Have we then, come upon a monster of unknown species,
which still exists within the vast waste of waters--a monster more
voracious than a shark, more terrible and bulky than the whale? I am
unable to withdraw my eyes from the bar of iron, actually half crushed!
Is, then, my dream about to come true--a dread and terrible reality?
All day my thoughts were bent upon these speculations, and my
imagination scarcely regained a degree of calmness and power of
reflection until after a sleep of many hours.
This day, as on other Sundays, we observed as a day of rest and pious
Monday, August 17th. I have been trying to realize from memory the
particular instincts of those antediluvian animals of the secondary
period, which succeeding to the mollusca, to the crustacea, and to the
fish, preceded the appearance of the race of mammifers. The generation
of reptiles then reigned supreme upon the earth. These hideous monsters
ruled everything in the seas of the secondary period, which formed the
strata of which the Jura mountains are composed. Nature had endowed them
with perfect organization. What a gigantic structure was theirs; what
vast and prodigious strength they possessed!
The existing saurians, which include all such reptiles as lizards,
crocodiles, and alligators, even the largest and most formidable of
their class, are but feeble imitations of their mighty sires, the
animals of ages long ago. If there were giants in the days of old, there
were also gigantic animals.
I shuddered as I evolved from my mind the idea and recollection of these
awful monsters. No eye of man had seen them in the flesh. They took
their walks abroad upon the face of the earth thousands of ages before
man came into existence, and their fossil bones, discovered in the
limestone, have allowed us to reconstruct them anatomically, and thus to
get some faint idea of their colossal formation.
I recollect once seeing in the great Museum of Hamburg the skeleton of
one of these wonderful saurians. It measured no less than thirty feet
from the nose to the tail. Am I, then, an inhabitant of the earth of the
present day, destined to find myself face to face with a representative
of this antediluvian family? I can scarcely believe it possible; I can
hardly believe it true. And yet these marks of powerful teeth upon the
bar of iron! Can there be a doubt from their shape that the bite is the
bite of a crocodile?
My eyes stare wildly and with terror upon the subterranean sea. Every
moment I expect one of these monsters to rise from its vast cavernous
I fancy that the worthy Professor in some measure shares my notions,
not my fears, for, after an attentive examination of the crowbar, he
cast his eyes rapidly over the mighty and mysterious ocean.
"What could possess him to leave the land," I thought, "as
if the depth
of this water was of any importance to us. No doubt he has disturbed
some terrible monster in his watery home, and perhaps we may pay dearly
for our temerity."
Anxious to be prepared for the worst, I examined our weapons, and saw
that they were in a fit state for use. My uncle looked on at me and
nodded his head approvingly. He, too, has noticed what we have to fear.
Already the uplifting of the waters on the surface indicates that
something is in motion below. The danger approaches. It comes nearer and
nearer. It behooves us to be on the watch.
Tuesday, August 18th. Evening came at last, the hour when the desire
sleep caused our eyelids to be heavy. Night there is not, properly
speaking, in this place, any more than there is in summer in the arctic
regions. Hans, however, is immovable at the rudder. When he snatches a
moment of rest I really cannot say. I take advantage of his vigilance to
take some little repose.
But two hours after I was awakened from a heavy sleep by an awful shock.
The raft appeared to have struck upon a sunken rock. It was lifted right
out of the water by some wondrous and mysterious power, and then started
off twenty fathoms distant.
"Eh, what is it?" cried my uncle starting up. "Are we
Hans raised his hand and pointed to where, about two hundred yards off,
a large black mass was moving up and down.
I looked with awe. My worst fears were realized.
"It is a colossal monster!" I cried, clasping my hands.
"Yes," cried the agitated Professor, "and there yonder
is a huge sea
lizard of terrible size and shape."
"And farther on behold a prodigious crocodile. Look at his hideous
and that row of monstrous teeth. Ha! he has gone."
"A whale! a whale!" shouted the Professor, "I can see
her enormous fins.
See, see, how she blows air and water!"
Two liquid columns rose to a vast height above the level of the sea,
into which they fell with a terrific crash, waking up the echoes of that
awful place. We stood still--surprised, stupefied, terror-stricken at
the sight of this group of fearful marine monsters, more hideous in the
reality than in my dream. They were of supernatural dimensions; the very
smallest of the whole party could with ease have crushed our raft and
ourselves with a single bite.
Hans, seizing the rudder which had flown out of his hand, puts it hard
aweather in order to escape from such dangerous vicinity; but no sooner
does he do so, than he finds he is flying from Scylla to Charybdis. To
leeward is a turtle about forty feet wide, and a serpent quite as long,
with an enormous and hideous head peering from out the waters.
Look which way we will, it is impossible for us to fly. The fearful
reptiles advanced upon us; they turned and twisted about the raft with
awful rapidity. They formed around our devoted vessel a series of
concentric circles. I took up my rifle in desperation. But what effect
can a rifle ball produce upon the armor scales with which the bodies of
these horrid monsters are covered?
We remain still and dumb from utter horror. They advance upon us, nearer
and nearer. Our fate appears certain, fearful and terrible. On one side
the mighty crocodile, on the other the great sea serpent. The rest of
the fearful crowd of marine prodigies have plunged beneath the briny
waves and disappeared!
I am about to fire at any risk and try the effect of a shot. Hans, the
guide, however, interfered by a sign to check me. The two hideous and
ravenous monsters passed within fifty fathoms of the raft, and then made
a rush at one another--their fury and rage preventing them from seeing
The combat commenced. We distinctly made out every action of the two
But to my excited imagination the other animals appeared about to take
part in the fierce and deadly struggle--the monster, the whale, the
lizard, and the turtle. I distinctly saw them every moment. I pointed
them out to the Icelander. But he only shook his head.
"Tva," he said.
"What--two only does he say. Surely he is mistaken," I cried
in a tone
"He is quite right," replied my uncle coolly and philosophically,
examining the terrible duel with his telescope and speaking as if he
were in a lecture room.
"How can that be?"
"Yes, it is so. The first of these hideous monsters has the snout
porpoise, the head of a lizard, the teeth of a crocodile; and it is this
that has deceived us. It is the most fearful of all antediluvian
reptiles, the world--renowned Ichthyosaurus or great fish lizard."
"And the other?"
"The other is a monstrous serpent, concealed under the hard vaulted
shell of the turtle, the terrible enemy of its fearful rival, the
Plesiosaurus, or sea crocodile."
Hans was quite right. The two monsters only, disturbed the surface of
At last have mortal eyes gazed upon two reptiles of the great primitive
ocean! I see the flaming red eyes of the Ichthyosaurus, each as big, or
bigger than a man's head. Nature in its infinite wisdom had gifted this
wondrous marine animal with an optical apparatus of extreme power,
capable of resisting the pressure of the heavy layers of water which
rolled over him in the depths of the ocean where he usually fed. It has
by some authors truly been called the whale of the saurian race, for it
is as big and quick in its motions as our king of the seas. This one
measures not less than a hundred feet in length, and I can form some
idea of his girth when I see him lift his prodigious tail out of the
waters. His jaw is of awful size and strength, and according to the
best-informed naturalists, it does not contain less than a hundred and
The other was the mighty Plesiosaurus, a serpent with a cylindrical
trunk, with a short stumpy tail, with fins like a bank of oars in a
Its whole body covered by a carapace or shell, and its neck, as flexible
as that of a swan, rose more than thirty feet above the waves, a tower
of animated flesh!
These animals attacked one another with inconceivable fury. Such a
combat was never seen before by mortal eyes, and to us who did see it,
it appeared more like the phantasmagoric creation of a dream than
anything else. They raised mountains of water, which dashed in spray
over the raft, already tossed to and fro by the waves. Twenty times we
seemed on the point of being upset and hurled headlong into the waves.
Hideous hisses appeared to shake the gloomy granite roof of that mighty
cavern--hisses which carried terror to our hearts. The awful combatants
held each other in a tight embrace. I could not make out one from the
other. Still the combat could not last forever; and woe unto us,
whichsoever became the victor.
One hour, two hours, three hours passed away, without any decisive
result. The struggle continued with the same deadly tenacity, but
without apparent result. The deadly opponents now approached, now drew
away from the raft. Once or twice we fancied they were about to leave us
altogether, but instead of that, they came nearer and nearer.
We crouched on the raft ready to fire at them at a moment's notice, poor
as the prospect of hurting or terrifying them was. Still we were
determined not to perish without a struggle.
Suddenly the Ichthyosaurus and the Plesiosaurus disappeared beneath the
waves, leaving behind them a maelstrom in the midst of the sea. We were
nearly drawn down by the indraft of the water!
Several minutes elapsed before anything was again seen. Was this
wonderful combat to end in the depths of the ocean? Was the last act of
this terrible drama to take place without spectators?
It was impossible for us to say.
Suddenly, at no great distance from us, an enormous mass rises out of
the waters--the head of the great Plesiosaurus. The terrible monster is
now wounded unto death. I can see nothing now of his enormous body. All
that could be distinguished was his serpent-like neck, which he twisted
and curled in all the agonies of death. Now he struck the waters with it
as if it had been a gigantic whip, and then again wriggled like a worm
cut in two. The water was spurted up to a great distance in all
directions. A great portion of it swept over our raft and nearly blinded
us. But soon the end of the beast approached nearer and nearer; his
movements slackened visibly; his contortions almost ceased; and at last
the body of the mighty snake lay an inert, dead mass on the surface of
the now calm and placid waters.
As for the Ichthyosaurus, has he gone down to his mighty cavern under
the sea to rest, or will he reappear to destroy us?
This question remained unanswered. And we had breathing time.
THE SEA MONSTER
Wednesday, August 19th. Fortunately the wind, which for the present
blows with some violence, has allowed us to escape from the scene of the
unparalleled and extraordinary struggle. Hans with his usual
imperturbable calm remained at the helm. My uncle, who for a short time
had been withdrawn from his absorbing reveries by the novel incidents of
this sea fight, fell back again apparently into a brown study. His eyes
were fixed impatiently on the widespread ocean.
Our voyage now became monotonous and uniform. Dull as it has become,
have no desire to have it broken by any repetition of the perils and
adventures of yesterday.
Thursday, August 20th. The wind is now N. N. E., and blows very
irregularly. It has changed to fitful gusts. The temperature is
exceedingly high. We are now progressing at the average rate of about
ten miles and a half per hour.
About twelve o'clock a distant sound as of thunder fell upon our ears.
make a note of the fact without even venturing a suggestion as to its
cause. It was one continued roar as of a sea falling over mighty rocks.
"Far off in the distance," said the Professor dogmatically,
some rock or some island against which the sea lashed to fury by the
wind, is breaking violently."
Hans, without saying a word, clambered to the top of the mast, but could
make out nothing. The ocean was level in every direction as far as the
eye could reach.
Three hours passed away without any sign to indicate what might be
before us. The sound began to assume that of a mighty cataract.
I expressed my opinion on this point strongly to my uncle. He merely
shook his head. I, however, am strongly impressed by a conviction that I
am not wrong. Are we advancing towards some mighty waterfall which shall
cast us into the abyss? Probably this mode of descending into the abyss
may be agreeable to the Professor, because it would be something like
the vertical descent he is so eager to make. I entertain a very
Whatever be the truth, it is certain that not many leagues distant there
must be some very extraordinary phenomenon, for as we advance the roar
becomes something mighty and stupendous. Is it in the water, or in the
I cast hasty glances aloft at the suspended vapors, and I seek to
penetrate their mighty depths. But the vault above is tranquil. The
clouds, which are now elevated to the very summit, appear utterly still
and motionless, and completely lost in the irradiation of electric
light. It is necessary, therefore, to seek for the cause of this
I examine the horizon, now perfectly calm, pure, and free from all haze.
Its aspect still remains unchanged. But if this awful noise proceeds
from a cataract--if, so to speak in plain English, this vast interior
ocean is precipitated into a lower basin--if these tremendous roars are
produced by the noise of falling waters, the current would increase in
activity, and its increasing swiftness would give me some idea of the
extent of the peril with which we are menaced. I consult the current. It
simply does not exist: there is no such thing. An empty bottle cast into
the water lies to leeward without motion.
About four o'clock Hans rises, clambers up the mast, and reaches the
truck itself. From this elevated position his looks are cast around.
They take in a vast circumference of the ocean. At last, his eyes remain
fixed. His face expresses no astonishment, but his eyes slightly dilate.
"He has seen something at last," cried my uncle.
"I think so," I replied.
Hans came down, stood beside us, and pointed with his right hand to the
"Der nere," he said.
"There," replied my uncle.
And seizing his telescope, he looked at it with great attention for
about a minute, which to me appeared an age. I knew not what to think or
"Yes, yes," he cried in a tone of considerable surprise, "there
"What?" I asked.
"A tremendous spurt of water rising out of the waves."
"Some other marine monster," I cried, already alarmed.
"Then let us steer more to the westward, for we know what we have
expect from antediluvian animals," was my eager reply.
"Go ahead," said my uncle.
I turned towards Hans. Hans was at the tiller steering with his usual
Nevertheless, if from the distance which separated us from this
creature, a distance which must be estimated at not less than a dozen
leagues, one could see the column of water spurting from the blow-hole
of the great animal, his dimensions must be something preternatural. To
fly is, therefore, the course to be suggested by ordinary prudence. But
we have not come into that part of the world to be prudent. Such is my
We, accordingly, continued to advance. The nearer we come, the loftier
is the spouting water. What monster can fill himself with such huge
volumes of water, and then unceasingly spout them out in such lofty
At eight o'clock in the evening, reckoning as above ground, where there
is day and night, we are not more than two leagues from the mighty
beast. Its long, black, enormous, mountainous body, lies on the top of
the water like an island. But then sailors have been said to have gone
ashore on sleeping whales, mistaking them for land. Is it illusion, or
is it fear? Its length cannot be less than a thousand fathoms. What,
then, is this cetaceous monster of which no Cuvier ever thought?
It is quite motionless and presents the appearance of sleep. The sea
seems unable to lift him upwards; it is rather the waves which break on
his huge and gigantic frame. The waterspout, rising to a height of five
hundred feet, breaks in spray with a dull, sullen roar.
We advance, like senseless lunatics, towards this mighty mass.
I honestly confess that I was abjectly afraid. I declared that I would
go no farther. I threatened in my terror to cut the sheet of the sail. I
attacked the Professor with considerable acrimony, calling him
foolhardy, mad, I know not what. He made no answer.
Suddenly the imperturbable Hans once more pointed his finger to the
"An island!" cried my uncle.
"An island?" I replied, shrugging my shoulders at this poor
"Of course it is," cried my uncle, bursting into a loud and
"But the waterspout?"
"Geyser," said Hans.
"Yes, of course--a geyser," replied my uncle, still laughing,
like those common in Iceland. Jets like this are the great wonders of
At first I would not allow that I had been so grossly deceived. What
could be more ridiculous than to have taken an island for a marine
monster? But kick as one may, one must yield to evidence, and I was
finally convinced of my error. It was nothing, after all, but a natural
As we approached nearer and nearer, the dimensions of the liquid sheaf
of waters became truly grand and stupendous. The island had, at a
distance, presented the appearance of an enormous whale, whose head rose
high above the waters. The geyser, a word the Icelanders pronounce
geysir, and which signifies fury, rose majestically from its summit.
Dull detonations are heard every now and then, and the enormous jet,
taken as it were with sudden fury, shakes its plume of vapor, and bounds
into the first layer of the clouds. It is alone. Neither spurts of vapor
nor hot springs surround it, and the whole volcanic power of that region
is concentrated in one sublime column. The rays of electric light mix
with this dazzling sheaf, every drop as it falls assuming the prismatic
colors of the rainbow.
"Let us go on shore," said the Professor, after some minutes
It is necessary, however, to take great precaution, in order to avoid
the weight of falling waters, which would cause the raft to founder in
an instant. Hans, however, steers admirably, and brings us to the other
extremity of the island.
I was the first to leap on the rock. My uncle followed, while the
eider-duck hunter remained still, like a man above any childish sources
of astonishment. We were now walking on granite mixed with siliceous
sandstone; the soil shivered under our feet like the sides of boilers in
which over-heated steam is forcibly confined. It is burning. We soon
came in sight of the little central basin from which rose the geyser. I
plunged a thermometer into the water which ran bubbling from the centre,
and it marked a heat of a hundred and sixty-three degrees!
This water, therefore, came from some place where the heat was intense.
This was singularly in contradiction with the theories of Professor
Hardwigg. I could not help telling him my opinion on the subject.
"Well," said he sharply, "and what does this prove against
"Nothing," replied I dryly, seeing that I was running my head
Nevertheless, I am compelled to confess that until now we have been most
remarkably fortunate, and that this voyage is being accomplished in most
favorable conditions of temperature; but it appears evident, in fact,
certain, that we shall sooner or later arrive at one of those regions
where the central heat will reach its utmost limits, and will go far
beyond all the possible gradations of thermometers.
Visions of the Hades of the ancients, believed to be in the centre of
the earth, floated through my imagination.
We shall, however, see what we shall see. That is the Professor's
favorite phrase now. Having christened the volcanic island by the name
of his nephew, the leader of the expedition turned away and gave the
signal for embarkation.
I stood still, however, for some minutes, gazing upon the magnificent
geyser. I soon was able to perceive that the upward tendency of the
water was irregular; now it diminished in intensity, and then, suddenly,
it regained new vigor, which I attributed to the variation of the
pressure of the accumulated vapors in its reservoir.
At last we took our departure, going carefully round the projecting,
rather dangerous, rocks of the southern side. Hans had taken advantage
of this brief halt to repair the raft.
Before we took our final departure from the island, however, I made some
observations to calculate the distance we had gone over, and I put them
down in my journal. Since we left Port Gretchen, we had traveled two
hundred and seventy leagues--more than eight hundred miles--on this
great inland sea; we were, therefore, six hundred and twenty leagues
from Iceland, and exactly under England.
THE BATTLE OF THE ELEMENTS
Friday, August 21st. This morning the magnificent geyser had wholly
disappeared. The wind had freshened up, and we were fast leaving the
neighborhood of Henry's Island. Even the roaring sound of the mighty
column was lost to the ear.
The weather, if, under the circumstances, we may use such an expression,
is about to change very suddenly. The atmosphere is being gradually
loaded with vapors, which carry with them the electricity formed by the
constant evaporation of the saline waters; the clouds are slowly but
sensibly falling towards the sea, and are assuming a dark-olive texture;
the electric rays can scarcely pierce through the opaque curtain which
has fallen like a drop scene before this wondrous theater, on the stage
of which another and terrible drama is soon to be enacted. This time it
is no fight of animals; it is the fearful battle of the elements.
I feel that I am very peculiarly influenced, as all creatures are on
land when a deluge is about to take place.
The cumuli, a perfectly oval kind of cloud, piled upon the south,
presented a most awful and sinister appearance, with the pitiless aspect
often seen before a storm. The air is extremely heavy; the sea is
In the distance, the clouds have assumed the appearance of enormous
balls of cotton, or rather pods, piled one above the other in
picturesque confusion. By degrees, they appear to swell out, break, and
gain in number what they lose in grandeur; their heaviness is so great
that they are unable to lift themselves from the horizon; but under the
influence of the upper currents of air, they are gradually broken up,
become much darker, and then present the appearance of one single layer
of a formidable character; now and then a lighter cloud, still lit up
from above, rebounds upon this grey carpet, and is lost in the opaque
There can be no doubt that the entire atmosphere is saturated with
electric fluid; I am myself wholly impregnated; my hairs literally stand
on end as if under the influence of a galvanic battery. If one of my
companions ventured to touch me, I think he would receive rather a
violent and unpleasant shock.
About ten o'clock in the morning, the symptoms of the storm became more
thorough and decisive; the wind appeared to soften down as if to take
breath for a renewed attack; the vast funereal pall above us looked like
a huge bag--like the cave of AEolus, in which the storm was collecting
its forces for the attack.
I tried all I could not to believe in the menacing signs of the sky,
yet I could not avoid saying, as it were involuntarily:
"I believe we are going to have bad weather."
The Professor made me no answer. He was in a horrible, in a detestable
humor--to see the ocean stretching interminably before his eyes. On
hearing my words he simply shrugged his shoulders.
"We shall have a tremendous storm," I said again, pointing
horizon. "These clouds are falling lower and lower upon the sea, as
to crush it."
A great silence prevailed. The wind wholly ceased. Nature assumed a dead
calm, and ceased to breathe. Upon the mast, where I noticed a sort of
slight ignis fatuus, the sail hangs in loose heavy folds. The raft is
motionless in the midst of a dark heavy sea--without undulation, without
motion. It is as still as glass. But as we are making no progress, what
is the use of keeping up the sail, which may be the cause of our
perdition if the tempest should suddenly strike us without warning.
"Let us lower the sail," I said, "it is only an act of
"No--no," cried my uncle, in an exasperated tone, "a hundred
Let the wind strike us and do its worst, let the storm sweep us away
where it will--only let me see the glimmer of some coast--of some rocky
cliffs, even if they dash our raft into a thousand pieces. No! keep up
the sail--no matter what happens."
These words were scarcely uttered when the southern horizon underwent
sudden and violent change. The long accumulated vapors were resolved
into water, and the air required to fill up the void produced became a
wild and raging tempest.
It came from the most distant corners of the mighty cavern. It raged
from every point of the compass. It roared; it yelled; it shrieked with
glee as of demons let loose. The darkness increased and became indeed
The raft rose and fell with the storm, and bounded over the waves. My
uncle was cast headlong upon the deck. I with great difficulty dragged
myself towards him. He was holding on with might and main to the end of
a cable, and appeared to gaze with pleasure and delight at the spectacle
of the unchained elements.
Hans never moved a muscle. His long hair driven hither and thither by
the tempest and scattered wildly over his motionless face, gave him a
most extraordinary appearance--for every single hair was illuminated by
little sparkling sprigs.
His countenance presents the extraordinary appearance of an antediluvian
man, a true contemporary of the Megatherium.
Still the mast holds good against the storm. The sail spreads out and
fills like a soap bubble about to burst. The raft rushes on at a pace
impossible to estimate, but still less swiftly than the body of water
displaced beneath it, the rapidity of which may be seen by the lines
which fly right and left in the wake.
"The sail, the sail!" I cried, making a trumpet of my hands,
endeavoring to lower it.
"Let it alone!" said my uncle, more exasperated than ever.
"<i>Nej</i>," said Hans, gently shaking his head.
Nevertheless, the rain formed a roaring cataract before this horizon
which we were in search, and to which we were rushing like madmen.
But before this wilderness of waters reached us, the mighty veil of
cloud was torn in twain; the sea began to foam wildly; and the
electricity, produced by some vast and extraordinary chemical action in
the upper layer of cloud, is brought into play. To the fearful claps of
thunder are added dazzling flashes of lightning, such as I had never
seen. The flashes crossed one another, hurled from every side; while the
thunder came pealing like an echo. The mass of vapor becomes
incandescent; the hailstones which strike the metal of our boots and our
weapons are actually luminous; the waves as they rise appear to be
fire-eating monsters, beneath which seethes an intense fire, their
crests surmounted by combs of flame.
My eyes are dazzled, blinded by the intensity of light, my ears are
deafened by the awful roar of the elements. I am compelled to hold onto
the mast, which bends like a reed beneath the violence of the storm, to
which none ever before seen by mariners bore any resemblance.
* * * * *
Here my traveling notes become very incomplete, loose and vague. I have
only been able to make out one or two fugitive observations, jotted down
in a mere mechanical way. But even their brevity, even their obscurity,
show the emotions which overcame me.
* * * * *
Sunday, August 23rd. Where have we got to? In what region are we
wandering? We are still carried forward with inconceivable rapidity.
The night has been fearful, something not to be described. The storm
shows no signs of cessation. We exist in the midst of an uproar which
has no name. The detonations as of artillery are incessant. Our ears
literally bleed. We are unable to exchange a word, or hear each other
The lightning never ceases to flash for a single instant. I can see the
zigzags after a rapid dart strike the arched roof of this mightiest of
mighty vaults. If it were to give way and fall upon us! Other lightnings
plunge their forked streaks in every direction, and take the form of
globes of fire, which explode like bombshells over a beleaguered city.
The general crash and roar do not apparently increase; it has already
gone far beyond what human ear can appreciate. If all the powder
magazines in the world were to explode together, it would be impossible
for us to hear worse noise.
There is a constant emission of light from the storm clouds; the
electric matter is incessantly released; evidently the gaseous
principles of the air are out of order; innumerable columns of water
rush up like waterspouts, and fall back upon the surface of the ocean in
Whither are we going? My uncle still lies at full length upon the raft,
without speaking--without taking any note of time.
The heat increases. I look at the thermometer, to my surprise it
indicates--<i>The exact figure is here rubbed out in my manuscript.</i>
Monday, August 24th. This terrible storm will never end. Why should not
this state of the atmosphere, so dense and murky, once modified, again
We are utterly broken and harassed by fatigue. Hans remains just as
usual. The raft runs to the southeast invariably. We have now already
run two hundred leagues from the newly discovered island.
About twelve o'clock the storm became worse than ever. We are obliged
now to fasten every bit of cargo tightly on the deck of the raft, or
everything would be swept away. We make ourselves fast, too, each man
lashing the other. The waves drive over us, so that several times we are
actually under water.
We had been under the painful necessity of abstaining from speech for
three days and three nights. We opened our mouths, we moved our lips,
but no sound came. Even when we placed our mouths to each other's ears
it was the same.
The wind carried the voice away.
My uncle once contrived to get his head close to mine after several
almost vain endeavors. He appeared to my nearly exhausted senses to
articulate some word. I had a notion, more from intuition than anything
else, that he said to me, "We are lost."
I took out my notebook, from which under the most desperate
circumstances I never parted, and wrote a few words as legibly as I
"Take in sail."
With a deep sigh he nodded his head and acquiesced.
His head had scarcely time to fall back in the position from which he
had momentarily raised it than a disk or ball of fire appeared on the
very edge of the raft--our devoted, our doomed craft. The mast and sail
are carried away bodily, and I see them swept away to a prodigious
height like a kite.
We were frozen, actually shivered with terror. The ball of fire, half
white, half azure-colored, about the size of a ten-inch bombshell, moved
along, turning with prodigious rapidity to leeward of the storm. It ran
about here, there, and everywhere, it clambered up one of the bulwarks
of the raft, it leaped upon the sack of provisions, and then finally
descended lightly, fell like a football and landed on our powder barrel.
Horrible situation. An explosion of course was now inevitable.
By heaven's mercy, it was not so.
The dazzling disk moved on one side, it approached Hans, who looked at
it with singular fixity; then it approached my uncle, who cast himself
on his knees to avoid it; it came towards me, as I stood pale and
shuddering in the dazzling light and heat; it pirouetted round my feet,
which I endeavored to withdraw.
An odor of nitrous gas filled the whole air; it penetrated to the
throat, to the lungs. I felt ready to choke.
Why is it that I cannot withdraw my feet? Are they riveted to the
flooring of the raft?
The fall of the electric globe has turned all the iron on board into
loadstones--the instruments, the tools, the arms are clanging together
with awful and horrible noise; the nails of my heavy boots adhere
closely to the plate of iron incrustated in the wood. I cannot withdraw
It is the old story again of the mountain of adamant.
At last, by a violent and almost superhuman effort, I tear it away just
as the ball which is still executing its gyratory motions is about to
run round it and drag me with it--if--
Oh, what intense stupendous light! The globe of fire bursts--we are
enveloped in cascades of living fire, which flood the space around with
Then all went out and darkness once more fell upon the deep! I had just
time to see my uncle once more cast apparently senseless on the flooring
of the raft, Hans at the helm, "spitting fire" under the influence
the electricity which seemed to have gone through him.
Whither are we going, I ask? and echo answers, Whither?
Tuesday, August 25th. I have just come out of a long fainting fit. The
awful and hideous storm still continues; the lightning has increased in
vividness, and pours out its fiery wrath like a brood of serpents let
loose in the atmosphere.
Are we still upon the sea? Yes, and being carried along with incredible
We have passed under England, under the Channel, under France, probably
under the whole extent of Europe.
* * * * *
Another awful clamor in the distance. This time it is certain that the
sea is breaking upon the rocks at no great distance. Then--
OUR ROUTE REVERSED
Here ends what I call "My Journal" of our voyage on board the
which journal was happily saved from the wreck. I proceed with my
narrative as I did before I commenced my daily notes.
What happened when the terrible shock took place, when the raft was cast
upon the rocky shore, it would be impossible for me now to say. I felt
myself precipitated violently into the boiling waves, and if I escaped
from a certain and cruel death, it was wholly owing to the determination
of the faithful Hans, who, clutching me by the arm, saved me from the
The courageous Icelander then carried me in his powerful arms, far out
of the reach of the waves, and laid me down upon a burning expanse of
sand, where I found myself some time afterwards in the company of my
uncle, the Professor.
Then he quietly returned towards the fatal rocks, against which the
furious waves were beating, in order to save any stray waifs from the
wreck. This man was always practical and thoughtful. I could not utter a
word; I was quite overcome with emotion; my whole body was broken and
bruised with fatigue; it took hours before I was anything like myself.
Meanwhile, there fell a fearful deluge of rain, drenching us to the
skin. Its very violence, however, proclaimed the approaching end of the
storm. Some overhanging rocks afforded us a slight protection from the
Under this shelter, Hans prepared some food, which, however, I was
unable to touch; and, exhausted by the three weary days and nights of
watching, we fell into a deep and painful sleep. My dreams were fearful,
but at last exhausted nature asserted her supremacy, and I slumbered.
Next day when I awoke the change was magical. The weather was
magnificent. Air and sea, as if by mutual consent, had regained their
serenity. Every trace of the storm, even the faintest, had disappeared.
I was saluted on my awakening by the first joyous tones I had heard from
the Professor for many a day. His gaiety, indeed, was something
"Well, my lad," he cried, rubbing his hands together, "have
Might it not have been supposed that we were in the old house on the
Konigstrasse; that I had just come down quietly to my breakfast; and
that my marriage with Gretchen was to take place that very day? My
uncle's coolness was exasperating.
Alas, considering how the tempest had driven us in an easterly
direction, we had passed under the whole of Germany, under the city of
Hamburg where I had been so happy, under the very street which contained
all I loved and cared for in the world.
It was a positive fact that I was only separated from her by a distance
of forty leagues. But these forty leagues were of hard, impenetrable
All these dreary and miserable reflections passed through my mind,
before I attempted to answer my uncle's question.
"Why, what is the matter?" he cried. "Cannot you say whether
slept well or not?"
"I have slept very well," was my reply, "but every bone
in my body
aches. I suppose that will lead to nothing."
"Nothing at all, my boy. It is only the result of the fatigue of
last few days--that is all."
"You appear--if I may be allowed to say so--to be very jolly this
morning," I said.
"Delighted, my dear boy, delighted. Was never happier in my life.
have at last reached the wished-for port."
"The end of our expedition?" cried I, in a tone of considerable
"No; but to the confines of that sea which I began to fear would
end, but go round the whole world. We will now tranquilly resume our
journey by land, and once again endeavor to dive into the centre of the
"My dear uncle," I began, in a hesitating kind of way, "allow
me to ask
you one question."
"Certainly, Harry; a dozen if you think proper."
"One will suffice. How about getting back?" I asked.
"How about getting back? What a question to ask. We have not as
reached the end of our journey."
"I know that. All I want to know is how you propose we shall manage
"In the most simple manner in the world," said the imperturbable
Professor. "Once we reach the exact centre of this sphere, either we
shall find a new road by which to ascend to the surface, or we shall
simply turn round and go back by the way we came. I have every reason to
believe that while we are traveling forward, it will not close behind
"Then one of the first matters to see to will be to repair the raft,"
was my rather melancholy response.
"Of course. We must attend to that above all things," continued
"Then comes the all-important question of provisions," I urged.
anything like enough left to enable us to accomplish such great, such
amazing, designs as you contemplate carrying out?"
"I have seen into the matter, and my answer is in the affirmative.
is a very clever fellow, and I have reason to believe that he has saved
the greater part of the cargo. But the best way to satisfy your scruples
is to come and judge for yourself."
Saying which, he led the way out of the kind of open grotto in which
had taken shelter. I had almost begun to hope that which I should rather
have feared, and this was the impossibility of such a shipwreck leaving
even the slightest signs of what it had carried as freight. I was,
however, thoroughly mistaken.
As soon as I reached the shores of this inland sea, I found Hans
standing gravely in the midst of a large number of things laid out in
complete order. My uncle wrung his hands with deep and silent gratitude.
His heart was too full for speech.
This man, whose superhuman devotion to his employers I not only never
saw surpassed, nor even equaled, had been hard at work all the time we
slept, and at the risk of his life had succeeded in saving the most
precious articles of our cargo.
Of course, under the circumstances, we necessarily experienced several
severe losses. Our weapons had wholly vanished. But experience had
taught us to do without them. The provision of powder had, however,
remained intact, after having narrowly escaped blowing us all to atoms
in the storm.
"Well," said the Professor, who was now ready to make the best
everything, "as we have no guns, all we have to do is to give up all
idea of hunting."
"Yes, my dear sir, we can do without them, but what about all our
"Here is the manometer, the most useful of all, and which I gladly
accept in lieu of the rest. With it alone I can calculate the depth as
we proceed; by its means alone I shall be able to decide when we have
reached the centre of the earth. Ha, ha! but for this little instrument
we might make a mistake, and run the risk of coming out at the
All this was said amid bursts of unnatural laughter.
"But the compass," I cried, "without that what can we
"Here it is, safe and sound!" he cried, with real joy, "ah,
ah, and here
we have the chronometer and the thermometers. Hans the hunter is indeed
an invaluable man!"
It was impossible to deny this fact. As far as the nautical and other
instruments were concerned, nothing was wanting. Then on further
examination, I found ladders, cords, pickaxes, crowbars, and shovels,
all scattered about on the shore.
There was, however, finally the most important question of all, and that
"But what are we to do for food?" I asked.
"Let us see to the commissariat department", replied my uncle
The boxes which contained our supply of food for the voyage were placed
in a row along the strand, and were in a capital state of preservation;
the sea had in every case respected their contents, and to sum up in one
sentence, taking into consideration, biscuits, salt meat, Schiedam and
dried fish, we could still calculate on having about four months'
supply, if used with prudence and caution.
"Four months," cried the sanguine Professor in high glee. "Then
have plenty of time both to go and to come, and with what remains I
undertake to give a grand dinner to my colleagues of the Johanneum."
I sighed. I should by this time have become used to the temperament of
my uncle, and yet this man astonished me more and more every day. He was
the greatest human enigma I ever had known.
"Now," he, "before we do anything else, we must lay in
a stock of fresh
water. The rain has fallen in abundance, and filled the hollows of the
granite. There is a rich supply of water, and we have no fear of
suffering from thirst, which in our circumstances is of the last
importance. As for the raft, I shall recommend Hans to repair it to the
best of his abilities; though I have every reason to believe we shall
not require it again."
"How is that?" I cried, more amazed than ever at my uncle's
"I have an idea, my dear boy; it is none other than this simple
shall not come out by the same opening as that by which we entered."
I began to look at my uncle with vague suspicion. An idea had more than
once taken possession of me; and this was, that he was going mad. And
yet, little did I think how true and prophetic his words were doomed to
"And now," he said, "having seen to all these matters
of detail, to
I followed him to a sort of projecting cape, after he had given his last
instructions to our guide. In this original position, with dried meat,
biscuit, and a delicious cup of tea, we made a satisfactory meal--I may
say one of the most welcome and pleasant I ever remember. Exhaustion,
the keen atmosphere, the state of calm after so much agitation, all
contributed to give me an excellent appetite. Indeed, it contributed
very much to producing a pleasant and cheerful state of mind.
While breakfast was in hand, and between the sips of warm tea, I asked
my uncle if he had any idea of how we now stood in relation to the world
"For my part," I added, "I think it will be rather difficult
"Well, if we were compelled to fix the exact spot," said my
might be difficult, since during the three days of that awful tempest I
could keep no account either of the quickness of our pace, or of the
direction in which the raft was going. Still, we will endeavor to
approximate to the truth. We shall not, I believe, be so very far out."
"Well, if I recollect rightly," I replied, "our last observation
made at the geyser island."
"Harry's Island, my boy! Harry's Island. Do not decline the honor
having named it; given your name to an island discovered by us, the
first human beings who trod it since the creation of the world!"
"Let it be so, then. At Harry's Island we had already gone over
hundred and seventy leagues of sea, and we were, I believe, about six
hundred leagues, more or less, from Iceland."
"Good. I am glad to see that you remember so well. Let us start
that point, and let us count four days of storm, during which our rate
of traveling must have been very great. I should say that our velocity
must have been about eighty leagues to the twenty-four hours."
I agreed that I thought this a fair calculation. There were then three
hundred leagues to be added to the grand total.
"Yes, and the Central Sea must extend at least six hundred leagues
side to side. Do you know, my boy, Harry, that we have discovered an
inland lake larger than the Mediterranean?"
"Certainly, and we only know of its extent in one way. It may be
hundreds of miles in length."
"Then," said I, after calculating for some for some minutes,
previsions are right, we are at this moment exactly under the
"Do you think so?"
"Yes, I am almost certain of it. Are we not nine hundred leagues
"That is perfectly true, and a famous bit of road we have traveled,
boy. But why we should be under the Mediterranean more than under Turkey
or the Atlantic Ocean can only be known when we are sure of not having
deviated from our course; and of this we know nothing."
"I do not think we were driven very far from our course; the wind
appears to me to have been always about the same. My opinion is that
this shore must be situated to the southeast of Port Gretchen."
"Good--I hope so. It will, however, be easy to decide the matter
taking the bearings from our departure by means of the compass. Come
along, and we will consult that invaluable invention."
The Professor now walked eagerly in the direction of the rock where the
indefatigable Hans had placed the instruments in safety. My uncle was
gay and lighthearted; he rubbed his hands, and assumed all sorts of
attitudes. He was to all appearance once more a young man. Since I had
known him, never had he been so amiable and pleasant. I followed him,
rather curious to know whether I had made any mistake in my estimation
of our position.
As soon as we had reached the rock, my uncle took the compass, placed
horizontally before him, and looked keenly at the needle.
As he had at first shaken it to give it vivacity, it oscillated
considerably, and then slowly assumed its right position under the
influence of the magnetic power.
The Professor bent his eyes curiously over the wondrous instrument. A
violent start immediately showed the extent of his emotion.
He closed his eyes, rubbed them, and took another and a keener survey.
Then he turned slowly round to me, stupefaction depicted on his
"What is the matter?" said I, beginning to be alarmed.
He could not speak. He was too overwhelmed for words. He simply pointed
to the instrument.
I examined it eagerly according to his mute directions, and a loud cry
of surprise escaped my lips. The needle of the compass pointed due
north--in the direction we expected was the south!
It pointed to the shore instead of to the high seas.
I shook the compass; I examined it with a curious and anxious eye. It
was in a state of perfection. No blemish in any way explained the
phenomenon. Whatever position we forced the needle into, it returned
invariably to the same unexpected point.
It was useless attempting to conceal from ourselves the fatal truth.
There could be no doubt about it, unwelcome as was the fact, that during
the tempest, there had been a sudden slant of wind, of which we had been
unable to take any account, and thus the raft had carried us back to the
shores we had left, apparently forever, so many days before!
A VOYAGE OF DISCOVERY
It would be altogether impossible for me to give any idea of the utter
astonishment which overcame the Professor on making this extraordinary
discovery. Amazement, incredulity, and rage were blended in such a way
as to alarm me.
During the whole course of my Life I had never seen a man at first so
chapfallen; and then so furiously indignant.
The terrible fatigues of our sea voyage, the fearful dangers we had
passed through, had all, all, gone for nothing. We had to begin them all
Instead of progressing, as we fondly expected, during a voyage of so
many days, we had retreated. Every hour of our expedition on the raft
had been so much lost time!
Presently, however, the indomitable energy of my uncle overcame every
"So," he said, between his set teeth, "fatality will play
terrible tricks. The elements themselves conspire to overwhelm me with
mortification. Air, fire, and water combine their united efforts to
oppose my passage. Well, they shall see what the earnest will of a
determined man can do. I will not yield, I will not retreat even one
inch; and we shall see who shall triumph in this great contest--man or
Standing upright on a rock, irritated and menacing, Professor Hardwigg,
like the ferocious Ajax, seemed to defy the fates. I, however, took upon
myself to interfere, and to impose some sort of check upon such
"Listen to me, Uncle," I said, in a firm but temperate tone
"there must be some limit to ambition here below. It is utterly useless
to struggle against the impossible. Pray listen to reason. We are
utterly unprepared for a sea voyage; it is simply madness to think of
performing a journey of five hundred leagues upon a wretched pile of
beams, with a counterpane for a sail, a paltry stick for a mast, and a
tempest to contend with. As we are totally incapable of steering our
frail craft, we shall become the mere plaything of the storm, and it is
acting the part of madmen if we, a second time, run any risk upon this
dangerous and treacherous Central Sea."
These are only a few of the reasons and arguments I put
together--reasons and arguments which to me appeared unanswerable. I was
allowed to go on without interruption for about ten minutes. The
explanation to this I soon discovered. The Professor was not even
listening, and did not hear a word of all my eloquence.
"To the raft!" he cried in a hoarse voice, when I paused for
Such was the result of my strenuous effort to resist his iron will. I
tried again; I begged and implored him; I got into a passion; but I had
to deal with a will more determined than my own. I seemed to feel like
the waves which fought and battled against the huge mass of granite at
our feet, which had smiled grimly for so many ages at their puny
Hans, meanwhile, without taking part in our discussion, had been
repairing the raft. One would have supposed that he instinctively
guessed at the further projects of my uncle.
By means of some fragments of cordage, he had again made the raft
While I had been speaking, he had hoisted a new mast and sail, the
latter already fluttering and waving in the breeze.
The worthy Professor spoke a few words to our imperturbable guide, who
immediately began to put our baggage on board and to prepare for our
departure. The atmosphere was now tolerably clear and pure, and the
northeast wind blew steadily and serenely. It appeared likely to last
for some time.
What, then, could I do? Could I undertake to resist the iron will of
men? It was simply impossible if even I could have hoped for the support
of Hans. This, however, was out of the question. It appeared to me that
the Icelander had set aside all personal will and identity. He was a
picture of abnegation.
I could hope for nothing from one so infatuated with and devoted to his
master. All I could do, therefore, was to swim with the stream.
In a mood of stolid and sullen resignation, I was about to take my
accustomed place on the raft when my uncle placed his hand upon my
"There is no hurry, my boy," he said, "we shall not start
I looked the picture of resignation to the dire will of fate.
"Under the circumstances," he said, "I ought to neglect
As fate has cast me upon these shores, I shall not leave without having
completely examined them."
In order to understand this remark, I must explain that though we had
been driven back to the northern shore, we had landed at a very
different spot from that which had been our starting point.
Port Gretchen must, we calculated, be very much to the westward.
Nothing, therefore, was more natural and reasonable than that we should
reconnoiter this new shore upon which we had so unexpectedly landed.
"Let us go on a journey of discovery," I cried.
And leaving Hans to his important operation, we started on our
expedition. The distance between the foreshore at high water and the
foot of the rocks was considerable. It would take about half an hour's
walking to get from one to the other.
As we trudged along, our feet crushed innumerable shells of every shape
and size--once the dwelling place of animals of every period of
I particularly noticed some enormous shells--carapaces (turtle and
tortoise species) the diameter of which exceeded fifteen feet.
They had in past ages belonged to those gigantic Glyptodons of the
Pliocene period, of which the modern turtle is but a minute specimen. In
addition, the whole soil was covered by a vast quantity of stony relics,
having the appearance of flints worn by the action of the waves, and
lying in successive layers one above the other. I came to the conclusion
that in past ages the sea must have covered the whole district. Upon the
scattered rocks, now lying far beyond its reach, the mighty waves of
ages had left evident marks of their passage.
On reflection, this appeared to me partially to explain the existence
this remarkable ocean, forty leagues below the surface of the earth's
crust. According to my new, and perhaps fanciful, theory, this liquid
mass must be gradually lost in the deep bowels of the earth. I had also
no doubt that this mysterious sea was fed by infiltration of the ocean
above, through imperceptible fissures.
Nevertheless, it was impossible not to admit that these fissures must
now be nearly choked up, for if not, the cavern, or rather the immense
and stupendous reservoir, would have been completely filled in a short
space of time. Perhaps even this water, having to contend against the
accumulated subterraneous fires of the interior of the earth, had become
partially vaporized. Hence the explanation of those heavy clouds
suspended over our heads, and the superabundant display of that
electricity which occasioned such terrible storms in this deep and
This lucid explanation of the phenomena we had witnessed appeared to
quite satisfactory. However great and mighty the marvels of nature may
seem to us, they are always to be explained by physical reasons.
Everything is subordinate to some great law of nature.
It now appeared clear that we were walking upon a kind of sedimentary
soil, formed like all the soils of that period, so frequent on the
surface of the globe, by the subsidence of the waters. The Professor,
who was now in his element, carefully examined every rocky fissure. Let
him only find an opening and it directly became important to him to
examine its depth.
For a whole mile we followed the windings of the Central Sea, when
suddenly an important change took place in the aspect of the soil. It
seemed to have been rudely cast up, convulsionized, as it were, by a
violent upheaving of the lower strata. In many places, hollows here and
hillocks there attested great dislocations at some other period of the
We advanced with great difficulty over the broken masses of granite
mixed with flint, quartz, and alluvial deposits, when a large field,
more even than a field, a plain of bones, appeared suddenly before our
eyes! It looked like an immense cemetery, where generation after
generation had mingled their mortal dust.
Lofty barrows of early remains rose at intervals. They undulated away
the limits of the distant horizon and were lost in a thick and brown
On that spot, some three square miles in extent, was accumulated the
whole history of animal life--scarcely one creature upon the
comparatively modern soil of the upper and inhabited world had not there
Nevertheless, we were drawn forward by an all-absorbing and impatient
curiosity. Our feet crushed with a dry and crackling sound the remains
of those prehistoric fossils, for which the museums of great cities
quarrel, even when they obtain only rare and curious morsels. A thousand
such naturalists as Cuvier would not have sufficed to recompose the
skeletons of the organic beings which lay in this magnificent osseous
I was utterly confounded. My uncle stood for some minutes with his arms
raised on high towards the thick granite vault which served us for a
sky. His mouth was wide open; his eyes sparkled wildly behind his
spectacles (which he had fortunately saved), his head bobbed up and down
and from side to side, while his whole attitude and mien expressed
He stood in the presence of an endless, wondrous, and inexhaustibly rich
collection of antediluvian monsters, piled up for his own private and
Fancy an enthusiastic lover of books carried suddenly into the very
midst of the famous library of Alexandria burned by the sacrilegious
Omar, and which some miracle had restored to its pristine splendor! Such
was something of the state of mind in which Uncle Hardwigg was now
For some time he stood thus, literally aghast at the magnitude of his
But it was even a greater excitement when, darting wildly over this mass
of organic dust, he caught up a naked skull and addressed me in a
"Harry, my boy--Harry--this is a human head!"
"A human head, Uncle!" I said, no less amazed and stupefied
"Yes, nephew. Ah! Mr. Milne-Edwards--ah! Mr. De Quatrefages--why
not here where I am--I, Professor Hardwigg!"
DISCOVERY UPON DISCOVERY
In order fully to understand the exclamation made by my uncle, and his
allusions to these illustrious and learned men, it will be necessary to
enter into certain explanations in regard to a circumstance of the
highest importance to paleontology, or the science of fossil life, which
had taken place a short time before our departure from the upper regions
of the earth.
On the 28th of March, 1863, some navigators under the direction of M.
Boucher de Perthes, were at work in the great quarries of
Moulin-Quignon, near Abbeville, in the department of the Somme, in
France. While at work, they unexpectedly came upon a human jawbone
buried fourteen feet below the surface of the soil. It was the first
fossil of the kind that had ever been brought to the light of day. Near
this unexpected human relic were found stone hatchets and carved flints,
colored and clothed by time in one uniform brilliant tint of verdigris.
The report of this extraordinary and unexpected discovery spread not
only all over France, but over England and Germany. Many learned men
belonging to various scientific bodies, and noteworthy among others,
Messrs. Milne-Edwards and De Quatrefages, took the affair very much to
heart, demonstrated the incontestable authenticity of the bone in
question, and became--to use the phrase then recognized in England--the
most ardent supporters of the "jawbone question."
To the eminent geologists of the United Kingdom who looked upon the fact
as certain--Messrs. Falconer, Buck, Carpenter, and others--were soon
united the learned men of Germany, and among those in the first rank,
the most eager, the most enthusiastic, was my worthy uncle, Professor
The authenticity of a human fossil of the Quaternary period seemed then
to be incontestably demonstrated, and even to be admitted by the most
This system or theory, call it what you will, had, it is true, a bitter
adversary in M. Elie de Beaumont. This learned man, who holds such a
high place in the scientific world, holds that the soil of
Moulin-Quignon does not belong to the diluvium but to a much less
ancient stratum, and, in accordance with Cuvier in this respect, he
would by no means admit that the human species was contemporary with the
animals of the Quaternary epoch. My worthy uncle, Professor Hardwigg, in
concert with the great majority of geologists, had held firm, had
disputed, discussed, and finally, after considerable talking and
writing, M. Elie de Beaumont had been pretty well left alone in his
We were familiar with all the details of this discussion, but were far
from being aware then that since our departure the matter had entered
upon a new phase. Other similar jawbones, though belonging to
individuals of varied types and very different natures, had been found
in the movable grey sands of certain grottoes in France, Switzerland,
and Belgium; together with arms, utensils, tools, bones of children, of
men in the prime of life, and of old men. The existence of men in the
Quaternary period became, therefore, more positive every day.
But this was far from being all. New remains, dug up from the Pliocene
or Tertiary deposits, had enabled the more far-seeing or audacious among
learned men to assign even a far greater degree of antiquity to the
human race. These remains, it is true, were not those of men; that is,
were not the bones of men, but objects decidedly having served the human
race: shinbones, thighbones of fossil animals, regularly scooped out,
and in fact sculptured--bearing the unmistakable signs of human
By means of these wondrous and unexpected discoveries, man ascended
endless centuries in the scale of time; he, in fact, preceded the
mastodon; became the contemporary of the <i>Elephas meridionalis</i>--the
southern elephant; acquired an antiquity of over a hundred thousand
years, since that is the date given by the most eminent geologists to
the Pliocene period of the earth. Such was then the state of
paleontologic science, and what we moreover knew sufficed to explain our
attitude before this great cemetery of the plains of the Hardwigg Ocean.
It will now be easy to understand the Professor's mingled astonishment
and joy when, on advancing about twenty yards, he found himself in the
presence of, I may say face to face with, a specimen of the human race
actually belonging to the Quaternary period!
It was indeed a human skull, perfectly recognizable. Had a soil of very
peculiar nature, like that of the cemetery of St. Michel at Bordeaux,
preserved it during countless ages? This was the question I asked
myself, but which I was wholly unable to answer. But this head with
stretched and parchmenty skin, with the teeth whole, the hair abundant,
was before our eyes as in life!
I stood mute, almost paralyzed with wonder and awe before this dread
apparition of another age. My uncle, who on almost every occasion was a
great talker, remained for a time completely dumfounded. He was too full
of emotion for speech to be possible. After a while, however, we raised
up the body to which the skull belonged. We stood it on end. It seemed,
to our excited imaginations, to look at us with its terrible hollow
After some minutes of silence, the man was vanquished by the Professor.
Human instincts succumbed to scientific pride and exultation. Professor
Hardwigg, carried away by his enthusiasm, forgot all the circumstances
of our journey, the extraordinary position in which we were placed, the
immense cavern which stretched far away over our heads. There can be no
doubt that he thought himself at the Institution addressing his
attentive pupils, for he put on his most doctorial style, waved his
hand, and began:
"Gentlemen, I have the honor on this auspicious occasion to present
you a man of the Quaternary period of our globe. Many learned men have
denied his very existence, while other able persons, perhaps of even
higher authority, have affirmed their belief in the reality of his life.
If the St. Thomases of paleontology were present, they would
reverentially touch him with their fingers and believe in his existence,
thus acknowledging their obstinate heresy. I know that science should be
careful in relation to all discoveries of this nature. I am not without
having heard of the many Barnums and other quacks who have made a trade
of suchlike pretended discoveries. I have, of course, heard of the
discovery of the kneebones of Ajax, of the pretended finding of the body
of Orestes by the Spartiates, and of the body of Asterius, ten spans
long, fifteen feet--of which we read in Pausanias.
"I have read everything in relation to the skeleton of Trapani,
discovered in the fourteenth century, and which many persons chose to
regard as that of Polyphemus, and the history of the giant dug up during
the sixteenth century in the environs of Palmyra. You are well aware as
I am, gentlemen, of the existence of the celebrated analysis made near
Lucerne, in 1577, of the great bones which the celebrated Doctor Felix
Plater declared belonged to a giant about nineteen feet high. I have
devoured all the treatises of Cassanion, and all those memoirs,
pamphlets, speeches, and replies published in reference to the skeleton
of Teutobochus, king of the Cimbri, the invader of Gaul, dug out of a
gravel pit in Dauphine, in 1613. In the eighteenth century I should have
denied, with Peter Campet, the existence of the preadamites of
Scheuchzer. I have had in my hands the writing called Gigans--"
Here my uncle was afflicted by the natural infirmity which prevented
from pronouncing difficult words in public. It was not exactly
stuttering, but a strange sort of constitutional hesitation.
"The writing named Gigans--" he repeated.
He, however, could get no further.
Impossible! The unfortunate word would not come out. There would have
been great laughter at the Institution, had the mistake happened there.
"Gigantosteology!" at last exclaimed Professor Hardwigg between
Having got over our difficulty, and getting more and more excited--
"Yes, gentlemen, I am well acquainted with all these matters, and
also, that Cuvier and Blumenbach fully recognized in these bones the
undeniable remains of mammoths of the Quaternary period. But after what
we now see, to allow a doubt is to insult scientific inquiry. There is
the body; you can see it; you can touch it. It is not a skeleton, it is
a complete and uninjured body, preserved with an anthropological
I did not attempt to controvert this singular and astounding assertion.
"If I could but wash this corpse in a solution of sulphuric acid,"
continued my uncle, "I would undertake to remove all the earthy
particles, and these resplendent shells, which are incrusted all over
this body. But I am without this precious dissolving medium.
Nevertheless, such as it is, this body will tell its own history."
Here the Professor held up the fossil body, and exhibited it with rare
dexterity. No professional showman could have shown more activity.
"As on examination you will see," my uncle continued, "it
is only about
six feet in length, which is a long way from the pretended giants of
early days. As to the particular race to which it belonged, it is
incontestably Caucasian. It is of the white race, that is, of our own.
The skull of this fossil being is a perfect ovoid without any remarkable
or prominent development of the cheekbones, and without any projection
of the jaw. It presents no indication of the prognathism which modifies
the facial angle. Measure the angle for yourselves, and you will find
that it is just ninety degrees. But I will advance still farther on the
road of inquiry and deduction, and I dare venture to say that this human
sample or specimen belongs to the Japhetic family, which spread over the
world from India to the uttermost limits of western Europe. There is no
occasion, gentlemen, to smile at my remarks."
 The facial angle is formed by two planes--one more or less vertical
which is in a straight line with the forehead and the incisors; the
other, horizontal, which passes through the organs of hearing, and the
lower nasal bone. Prognathism, in anthropological language, means that
particular projection of the jaw which modifies the facial angle.
Of course nobody smiled. But the excellent Professor was so accustomed
to beaming countenances at his lectures, that he believed he saw all his
audience laughing during the delivery of his learned dissertation.
"Yes," he continued, with renewed animation, "this is
a fossil man, a
contemporary of the mastodons, with the bones of which this whole
amphitheater is covered. But if I am called on to explain how he came to
this place, how these various strata by which he is covered have fallen
into this vast cavity, I can undertake to give you no explanation.
Doubtless, if we carry ourselves back to the Quaternary epoch, we shall
find that great and mighty convulsions took place in the crust of the
earth; the continually cooling operation, through which the earth had to
pass, produced fissures, landslips, and chasms, through which a large
portion of the earth made its way. I come to no absolute conclusion, but
there is the man, surrounded by the works of his hands, his hatchets and
his carved flints, which belong to the stony period; and the only
rational supposition is, that, like myself, he visited the centre of the
earth as a traveling tourist, a pioneer of science. At all events, there
can be no doubt of his great age, and of his being one of the oldest
race of human beings."
The Professor with these words ceased his oration, and I burst forth
into loud and "unanimous" applause. Besides, after all, my uncle
right. Much more learned men than his nephew would have found it rather
hard to refute his facts and arguments.
Another circumstance soon presented itself. This fossilized body was
the only one in this vast plain of bones--the cemetery of an extinct
world. Other bodies were found, as we trod the dusty plain, and my uncle
was able to choose the most marvelous of these specimens in order to
convince the most incredulous.
In truth, it was a surprising spectacle, the successive remains of
generations and generations of men and animals confounded together in
one vast cemetery. But a great question now presented itself to our
notice, and one we were actually afraid to contemplate in all its
Had these once animated beings been buried so far beneath the soil by
some tremendous convulsion of nature, after they had been earth to earth
and ashes to ashes, or had they lived here below, in this subterranean
world, under this factitious sky, borne, married, and given in marriage,
and died at last, just like ordinary inhabitants of the earth?
Up to the present moment, marine monsters, fish, and suchlike animals
had alone been seen alive!
The question which rendered us rather uneasy, was a pertinent one. Were
any of these men of the abyss wandering about the deserted shores of
this wondrous sea of the centre of the earth?
This was a question which rendered me very uneasy and uncomfortable.
How, should they really be in existence, would they receive us men from
WHAT IS IT?
For a long and weary hour we tramped over this great bed of bones. We
advanced regardless of everything, drawn on by ardent curiosity. What
other marvels did this great cavern contain--what other wondrous
treasures for the scientific man? My eyes were quite prepared for any
number of surprises, my imagination lived in expectation of something
new and wonderful.
The borders of the great Central Ocean had for some time disappeared
behind the hills that were scattered over the ground occupied by the
plain of bones. The imprudent and enthusiastic Professor, who did not
care whether he lost himself or not, hurried me forward. We advanced
silently, bathed in waves of electric fluid.
By reason of a phenomenon which I cannot explain, and thanks to its
extreme diffusion, now complete, the light illumined equally the sides
of every hill and rock. Its seat appeared to be nowhere, in no
determined force, and produced no shade whatever.
The appearance presented was that of a tropical country at midday in
summer--in the midst of the equatorial regions and under the vertical
rays of the sun.
All signs of vapor had disappeared. The rocks, the distant mountains,
some confused masses of far-off forests, assumed a weird and mysterious
aspect under this equal distribution of the luminous fluid!
We resembled, to a certain extent, the mysterious personage in one of
Hoffmann's fantastic tales--the man who lost his shadow.
After we had walked about a mile farther, we came to the edge of a vast
forest not, however, one of the vast mushroom forests we had discovered
near Port Gretchen.
It was the glorious and wild vegetation of the Tertiary period, in all
its superb magnificence. Huge palms, of a species now unknown, superb
palmacites--a genus of fossil palms from the coal formation--pines,
yews, cypress, and conifers or cone-bearing trees, the whole bound
together by an inextricable and complicated mass of creeping plants.
A beautiful carpet of mosses and ferns grew beneath the trees. Pleasant
brooks murmured beneath umbrageous boughs, little worthy of this name,
for no shade did they give. Upon their borders grew small treelike
shrubs, such as are seen in the hot countries on our own inhabited
The one thing wanting in these plants, these shrubs, these trees--was
color! Forever deprived of the vivifying warmth of the sun, they were
vapid and colorless. All shade was lost in one uniform tint, of a brown
and faded character. The leaves were wholly devoid of verdure, and the
flowers, so numerous during the Tertiary period which gave them birth,
were without color and without perfume, something like paper discolored
by long exposure to the atmosphere.
My uncle ventured beneath the gigantic groves. I followed him, though
not without a certain amount of apprehension. Since nature had shown
herself capable of producing such stupendous vegetable supplies, why
might we not meet with mammals just as large, and therefore dangerous?
I particularly remarked, in the clearings left by trees that had fallen
and been partially consumed by time, many leguminous (beanlike) shrubs,
such as the maple and other eatable trees, dear to ruminating animals.
Then there appeared confounded together and intermixed, the trees of
such varied lands, specimens of the vegetation of every part of the
globe; there was the oak near the palm tree, the Australian eucalyptus,
an interesting class of the order Myrtaceae--leaning against the tall
Norwegian pine, the poplar of the north, mixing its branches with those
of the New Zealand kauris. It was enough to drive the most ingenious
classifier of the upper regions out of his mind, and to upset all his
received ideas about botany.
Suddenly I stopped short and restrained my uncle.
The extreme diffuseness of the light enabled me to see the smallest
objects in the distant copses. I thought I saw--no, I really did see
with my own eyes--immense, gigantic animals moving about under the
mighty trees. Yes, they were truly gigantic animals, a whole herd of
mastodons, not fossils, but living, and exactly like those discovered in
1801, on the marshy banks of the great Ohio, in North America.
Yes, I could see these enormous elephants, whose trunks were tearing
down large boughs, and working in and out the trees like a legion of
serpents. I could hear the sounds of the mighty tusks uprooting huge
The boughs crackled, and the whole masses of leaves and green branches
went down the capacious throats of these terrible monsters!
That wondrous dream, when I saw the antehistorical times revivified,
when the Tertiary and Quaternary periods passed before me, was now
And there we were alone, far down in the bowels of the earth, at the
mercy of its ferocious inhabitants!
My uncle paused, full of wonder and astonishment.
"Come!" he said at last, when his first surprise was over,
my boy, and let us see them nearer."
"No," replied I, restraining his efforts to drag me forward,
wholly without arms. What should we do in the midst of that flock of
gigantic quadrupeds? Come away, Uncle, I implore you. No human creature
can with impunity brave the ferocious anger of these monsters."
"No human creature," said my uncle, suddenly lowering his voice
mysterious whisper, "you are mistaken, my dear Henry. Look! look yonder!
It seems to me that I behold a human being--a being like ourselves--a
I looked, shrugging my shoulders, decided to push incredulity to its
very last limits. But whatever might have been my wish, I was compelled
to yield to the weight of ocular demonstration.
Yes--not more than a quarter of a mile off, leaning against the trunk
an enormous tree, was a human being--a Proteus of these subterranean
regions, a new son of Neptune keeping this innumerable herd of
Immanis pecoris custos, immanior ipse!
 The keeper of gigantic cattle, himself still more gigantic!
Yes--it was no longer a fossil whose corpse we had raised from the
ground in the great cemetery, but a giant capable of guiding and driving
these prodigious monsters. His height was above twelve feet. His head,
as big as the head of a buffalo, was lost in a mane of matted hair. It
was indeed a huge mane, like those which belonged to the elephants of
the earlier ages of the world.
In his hand was a branch of a tree, which served as a crook for this
We remained profoundly still, speechless with surprise.
But we might at any moment be seen by him. Nothing remained for us but
"Come, come!" I cried, dragging my uncle along; and, for the
he made no resistance to my wishes.
A quarter of an hour later we were far away from that terrible monster!
Now that I think of the matter calmly, and that I reflect upon it
dispassionately; now that months, years, have passed since this strange
and unnatural adventure befell us--what am I to think, what am I to
No, it is utterly impossible! Our ears must have deceived us, and our
eyes have cheated us! we have not seen what we believed we had seen. No
human being could by any possibility have existed in that subterranean
world! No generation of men could inhabit the lower caverns of the globe
without taking note of those who peopled the surface, without
communication with them. It was folly, folly, folly! nothing else!
I am rather inclined to admit the existence of some animal resembling
structure the human race--of some monkey of the first geological epochs,
like that discovered by M. Lartet in the ossiferous deposit of Sansan.
But this animal, or being, whichsoever it was, surpassed in height all
things known to modern science. Never mind. However unlikely it may be,
it might have been a monkey--but a man, a living man, and with him a
whole generation of gigantic animals, buried in the entrails of the
earth--it was too monstrous to be believed!
THE MYSTERIOUS DAGGER
During this time, we had left the bright and transparent forest far
behind us. We were mute with astonishment, overcome by a kind of feeling
which was next door to apathy. We kept running in spite of ourselves. It
was a perfect Right, which resembled one of those horrible sensations we
sometimes meet with in our dreams.
Instinctively we made our way towards the Central Sea, and I cannot now
tell what wild thoughts passed through my mind, nor of what follies I
might have been guilty, but for a very serious preoccupation which
brought me back to practical life.
Though I was aware that we were treading on a soil quite new to us, I,
however, every now and then noticed certain aggregations of rock, the
shape of which forcibly reminded me of those near Port Gretchen.
This confirmed, moreover, the indications of the compass and our
extraordinary and unlooked-for, as well as involuntary, return to the
north of this great Central Sea. It was so like our starting point, that
I could scarcely doubt the reality of our position. Streams and cascades
fell in hundreds over the numerous projections of the rocks.
I actually thought I could see our faithful and monotonous Hans and the
wonderful grotto in which I had come back to life after my tremendous
Then, as we advanced still farther, the position of the cliffs, the
appearance of a stream, the unexpected profile of a rock, threw me again
into a state of bewildering doubt.
After some time, I explained my state of mental indecision to my uncle.
He confessed to a similar feeling of hesitation. He was totally unable
to make up his mind in the midst of this extraordinary but uniform
"There can be no doubt," I insisted, "that we have not
landed exactly at
the place whence we first took our departure; but the tempest has
brought us above our starting point. I think, therefore, that if we
follow the coast we shall once more find Port Gretchen."
"In that case," cried my uncle, "it is useless to continue
exploration. The very best thing we can do is to make our way back to
the raft. Are you quite sure, Harry, that you are not mistaken?"
"It is difficult," was my reply, "to come to any decision,
for all these
rocks are exactly alike. There is no marked difference between them. At
the same time, the impression on my mind is that I recognize the
promontory at the foot of which our worthy Hans constructed the raft. We
are, I am nearly convinced, near the little port: if this be not it,"
added, carefully examining a creek which appeared singularly familiar to
"My dear Harry--if this were the case, we should find traces of
footsteps, some signs of our passage; and I can really see nothing to
indicate our having passed this way."
"But I see something," I cried, in an impetuous tone of voice,
rushed forward and eagerly picked up something which shone in the sand
under my feet.
"What is it?" cried the astonished and bewildered Professor.
"This," was my reply.
And I handed to my startled relative a rusty dagger, of singular shape.
"What made you bring with you so useless a weapon?" he exclaimed.
was needlessly hampering yourself."
"I bring it? It is quite new to me. I never saw it before--are you
it is not out of your collection?"
"Not that I know of," said the Professor, puzzled. "I
recollection of the circumstance. It was never my property."
"This is very extraordinary," I said, musing over the novel
"Not at all. There is a very simple explanation, Harry. The Icelanders
are known to keep up the use of these antiquated weapons, and this must
have belonged to Hans, who has let it fall without knowing it."
I shook my head. That dagger had never been in the possession of the
pacific and taciturn Hans. I knew him and his habits too well.
"Then what can it be--unless it be the weapon of some antediluvian
warrior," I continued, "of some living man, a contemporary of
mighty shepherd from whom we have just escaped? But no--mystery upon
mystery--this is no weapon of the stony epoch, nor even of the bronze
period. It is made of excellent steel--"
Ere I could finish my sentence, my uncle stopped me short from entering
upon a whole train of theories, and spoke in his most cold and decided
tone of voice.
"Calm yourself, my dear boy, and endeavor to use your reason. This
weapon, upon which we have fallen so unexpectedly, is a true <i>dague</i>,
one of those worn by gentlemen in their belts during the sixteenth
century. Its use was to give the <i>coup de grace</i>, the final
blow, to the
foe who would not surrender. It is clearly of Spanish workmanship. It
belongs neither to you, nor to me, nor the eider-down hunter, nor to any
of the living beings who may still exist so marvelously in the interior
of the earth."
"What can you mean, Uncle?" I said, now lost in a host of surmises.
"Look closely at it," he continued; "these jagged edges
were never made
by the resistance of human blood and bone. The blade is covered with a
regular coating of iron mold and rust, which is not a day old, not a
year old, not a century old, but much more--"
The Professor began to get quite excited, according to custom, and was
allowing himself to be carried away by his fertile imagination. I could
have said something. He stopped me.
"Harry," he cried, "we are now on the verge of a great
blade of a dagger you have so marvelously discovered, after being
abandoned upon the sand for more than a hundred, two hundred, even three
hundred years, has been indented by someone endeavoring to carve an
inscription on these rocks."
"But this poniard never got here of itself," I exclaimed, "it
have twisted itself. Someone, therefore, must have preceded us upon the
shores of this extraordinary sea."
"Yes, a man."
"But what man has been sufficiently desperate to do such a thing?"
"A man who has somewhere written his name with this very dagger--a
who has endeavored once more to indicate the right road to the interior
of the earth. Let us look around, my boy. You know not the importance of
your singular and happy discovery."
Prodigiously interested, we walked along the wall of rock, examining
smallest fissures, which might finally expand into the much wished--for
gully or shaft.
We at last reached a spot where the shore became extremely narrow. The
sea almost bathed the foot of the rocks, which were here very lofty and
steep. There was scarcely a path wider than two yards at any point. At
last, under a huge over-hanging rock, we discovered the entrance of a
dark and gloomy tunnel.
There, on a square tablet of granite, which had been smoothed by rubbing
it with another stone, we could see two mysterious, and much worn
letters, the two initials of the bold and extraordinary traveler who had
preceded us on our adventurous journey.
[Illustration: Runic Glyph]
"A. S.!" cried my uncle. "You see, I was right. Arne Saknussemm,
NO OUTLET--BLASTING THE ROCK
Ever since the commencement of our marvelous journey, I had experienced
many surprises, had suffered from many illusions. I thought that I was
case-hardened against all surprises and could neither see nor hear
anything to amaze me again.
I was like a many who, having been round the world, finds himself wholly
blase and proof against the marvelous.
When, however, I saw these two letters, which had been engraven three
hundred years before, I stood fixed in an attitude of mute surprise.
Not only was there the signature of the learned and enterprising
alchemist written in the rock, but I held in my hand the very identical
instrument with which he had laboriously engraved it.
It was impossible, without showing an amount of incredulity scarcely
becoming a sane man, to deny the existence of the traveler, and the
reality of that voyage which I believed all along to have been a
myth--the mystification of some fertile brain.
While these reflections were passing through my mind, my uncle, the
Professor, gave way to an access of feverish and poetical excitement.
"Wonderful and glorious genius, great Saknussemm," he cried,
left no stone unturned, no resource omitted, to show to other mortals
the way into the interior of our mighty globe, and your fellow creatures
can find the trail left by your illustrious footsteps, three hundred
years ago, at the bottom of these obscure subterranean abodes. You have
been careful to secure for others the contemplation of these wonders and
marvels of creation. Your name engraved at every important stage of your
glorious journey leads the hopeful traveler direct to the great and
mighty discovery to which you devoted such energy and courage. The
audacious traveler, who shall follow your footsteps to the last, will
doubtless find your initials engraved with your own hand upon the centre
of the earth. I will be that audacious traveler--I, too, will sign my
name upon the very same spot, upon the central granite stone of this
wondrous work of the Creator. But in justice to your devotion, to your
courage, and to your being the first to indicate the road, let this
cape, seen by you upon the shores of this sea discovered by you, be
called, of all time, Cape Saknussemm."
This is what I heard, and I began to be roused to the pitch of
enthusiasm indicated by those words. A fierce excitement roused me. I
forgot everything. The dangers of the voyage and the perils of the
return journey were now as nothing!
What another man had done in ages past could, I felt, be done again;
was determined to do it myself, and now nothing that man had
accomplished appeared to me impossible.
"Forward--forward," I cried in a burst of genuine and hearty
I had already started in the direction of the somber and gloomy gallery
when the Professor stopped me; he, the man so rash and hasty, he, the
man so easily roused to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, checked me, and
asked me to be patient and show more calm.
"Let us return to our good friend, Hans," he said; "we
will then bring
the raft down to this place."
I must say that though I at once yielded to my uncle's request, it was
not without dissatisfaction, and I hastened along the rocks of that
"Do you know, my dear uncle," I said, as we walked along, "that
been singularly helped by a concurrence of circumstances, right up to
this very moment."
"So you begin to see it, do you, Harry?" said the Professor
"Doubtless," I responded, "and strangely enough, even
the tempest has
been the means of putting us on the right road. Blessings on the
tempest! It brought us safely back to the very spot from which fine
weather would have driven us forever. Supposing we had succeeded in
reaching the southern and distant shores of this extraordinary sea, what
would have become of us? The name of Saknussemm would never have
appeared to us, and at this moment we should have been cast away upon an
inhospitable coast, probably without an outlet."
"Yes, Harry, my boy, there is certainly something providential in
wandering at the mercy of wind and waves towards the south: we have come
back exactly north; and what is better still, we fall upon this great
discovery of Cape Saknussemm. I mean to say, that it is more than
surprising; there is something in it which is far beyond my
comprehension. The coincidence is unheard of, marvelous!"
"What matter! It is not our duty to explain facts, but to make the
possible use of them."
"Doubtless, my boy; but if you will allow me--" said the really
"Excuse me, sir, but I see exactly how it will be; we shall take
northern route; we shall pass under the northern regions of Europe,
under Sweden, under Russia, under Siberia, and who knows where--instead
of burying ourselves under the burning plains and deserts of Africa, or
beneath the mighty waves of the ocean; and that is all, at this stage of
our journey, that I care to know. Let us advance, and Heaven will be our
"Yes, Harry, you are right, quite right; all is for the best. Let
abandon this horizontal sea, which could never have led to anything
satisfactory. We shall descend, descend, and everlastingly descend. Do
you know, my dear boy, that to reach the interior of the earth we have
only five thousand miles to travel!"
"Bah!" I cried, carried away by a burst of enthusiasm, "the
scarcely worth speaking about. The thing is to make a start."
My wild, mad, and incoherent speeches continued until we rejoined our
patient and phlegmatic guide. All was, we found, prepared for an
immediate departure. There was not a single parcel but what was in its
proper place. We all took up our posts on the raft, and the sail being
hoisted, Hans received his directions, and guided the frail bark towards
Cape Saknussemm, as we had definitely named it.
The wind was very unfavorable to a craft that was unable to sail close
to the wind. It was constructed to go before the blast. We were
continually reduced to pushing ourselves forward by means of poles. On
several occasions the rocks ran far out into deep water and we were
compelled to make a long round. At last, after three long and weary
hours of navigation, that is to say, about six o'clock in the evening,
we found a place at which we could land.
I jumped on shore first. In my present state of excitement and
enthusiasm, I was always first. My uncle and the Icelander followed. The
voyage from the port to this point of the sea had by no means calmed me.
It had rather produced the opposite effect. I even proposed to burn our
vessel, that is, to destroy our raft, in order to completely cut off our
retreat. But my uncle sternly opposed this wild project. I began to
think him particularly lukewarm and unenthusiastic.
"At any rate, my dear uncle," I said, "let us start without
"Yes, my boy, I am quite as eager to do so as you can be. But, in
first place, let us examine this mysterious gallery, in order to find if
we shall need to prepare and mend our ladders."
My uncle now began to see to the efficiency of our Ruhmkorff coil, which
would doubtless soon be needed; the raft, securely fastened to a rock,
was left alone. Moreover, the opening into the new gallery was not
twenty paces distant from the spot. Our little troop, with myself at the
The orifice, which was almost circular, presented a diameter of about
five feet; the somber tunnel was cut in the living rock, and coated on
the inside by the different material which had once passed through it in
a state of fusion. The lower part was about level with the water, so
that we were able to penetrate to the interior without difficulty.
We followed an almost horizontal direction; when, at the end of about
dozen paces, our further advance was checked by the interposition of an
enormous block of granite rock.
"Accursed stone!" I cried furiously, on perceiving that we
by what seemed an insurmountable obstacle.
In vain we looked to the right, in vain we looked to the left; in vain
examined it above and below. There existed no passage, no sign of any
other tunnel. I experienced the most bitter and painful disappointment.
So enraged was I that I would not admit the reality of any obstacle. I
stooped to my knees; I looked under the mass of stone. No hole, no
interstice. I then looked above. The same barrier of granite! Hans, with
the lamp, examined the sides of the tunnel in every direction.
But all in vain! It was necessary to renounce all hope of passing
I had seated myself upon the ground. My uncle walked angrily and
hopelessly up and down. He was evidently desperate.
"But," I cried, after some moments' thought, "what about
"You are right," replied my uncle, "he can never have
been checked by a
lump of rock."
"No--ten thousand times no," I cried, with extreme vivacity.
lump of rock, in consequence of some singular concussion, or process,
one of those magnetic phenomena which have so often shaken the
terrestrial crust, has in some unexpected way closed up the passage.
Many and many years have passed away since the return of Saknussemm, and
the fall of this huge block of granite. Is it not quite evident that
this gallery was formerly the outlet for the pent-up lava in the
interior of the earth, and that these eruptive matters then circulated
freely? Look at these recent fissures in the granite roof; it is
evidently formed of pieces of enormous stone, placed here as if by the
hand of a giant, who had worked to make a strong and substantial arch.
One day, after an unusually strong shock, the vast rock which stands in
our way, and which was doubtless the key of a kind of arch, fell through
to a level with the soil and has barred our further progress. We are
right, then, in thinking that this is an unexpected obstacle, with which
Saknussemm did not meet; and if we do not upset it in some way, we are
unworthy of following in the footsteps of the great discoverer; and
incapable of finding our way to the centre of the earth!"
In this wild way I addressed my uncle. The zeal of the Professor, his
earnest longing for success, had become part and parcel of my being. I
wholly forgot the past; I utterly despised the future. Nothing existed
for me upon the surface of this spheroid in the bosom of which I was
engulfed, no towns, no country, no Hamburg, no Koenigstrasse, not even
my poor Gretchen, who by this time would believe me utterly lost in the
interior of the earth!
"Well," cried my uncle, roused to enthusiasm by my words, "Let
us go to
work with pickaxes, with crowbars, with anything that comes to hand--but
down with these terrible walls."
"It is far too tough and too big to be destroyed by a pickax or
crowbar," I replied.
"As I said, it is useless to think of overcoming such a difficulty
means of ordinary tools."
"What else but gunpowder, a subterranean mine? Let us blow up the
obstacle that stands in our way."
"Yes; all we have to do is to get rid of this paltry obstacle."
"To work, Hans, to work!" cried the Professor.
The Icelander went back to the raft, and soon returned with a huge
crowbar, with which he began to dig a hole in the rock, which was to
serve as a mine. It was by no means a slight task. It was necessary for
our purpose to make a cavity large enough to hold fifty pounds of
fulminating gun cotton, the expansive power of which is four times as
great as that of ordinary gunpowder.
I had now roused myself to an almost miraculous state of excitement.
While Hans was at work, I actively assisted my uncle to prepare a long
wick, made from damp gunpowder, the mass of which we finally enclosed in
a bag of linen.
"We are bound to go through," I cried, enthusiastically.
"We are bound to go through," responded the Professor, tapping
me on the
At midnight, our work as miners was completely finished; the charge of
fulminating cotton was thrust into the hollow, and the match, which we
had made of considerable length, was ready.
A spark was now sufficient to ignite this formidable engine, and to blow
the rock to atoms!
"We will now rest until tomorrow."
It was absolutely necessary to resign myself to my fate, and to consent
to wait for the explosion for six weary hours!
THE EXPLOSION AND ITS RESULTS
The next day, which was the twenty-seventh of August, was a date
celebrated in our wondrous subterranean journey. I never think of it
even now, but I shudder with horror. My heart beats wildly at the very
memory of that awful day.
From this time forward, our reason, our judgment, our human ingenuity,
have nothing to do with the course of events. We are about to become the
plaything of the great phenomena of the earth!
At six o'clock we were all up and ready. The dreaded moment was arriving
when we were about to seek an opening into the interior of the earth by
means of gunpowder. What would be the consequences of breaking through
the crust of the earth?
I begged that it might be my duty to set fire to the mine. I looked upon
it as an honor. This task once performed, I could rejoin my friends upon
the raft, which had not been unloaded. As soon as we were all ready, we
were to sail away to some distance to avoid the consequences of the
explosion, the effects of which would certainly not be concentrated in
the interior of the earth.
The slow match we calculated to burn for about ten minutes, more or
less, before it reached the chamber in which the great body of powder
was confined. I should therefore have plenty of time to reach the raft
and put off to a safe distance.
I prepared to execute my self-allotted task--not, it must be confessed,
without considerable emotion.
After a hearty repast, my uncle and the hunter-guide embarked on board
the raft, while I remained alone upon the desolate shore.
I was provided with a lantern which was to enable me to set fire to the
wick of the infernal machine.
"Go, my boy," said my uncle, "and Heaven be with you.
But come back as
soon as you can. I shall be all impatience."
"Be easy on that matter," I replied, "there is no fear
of my delaying on
Having said this, I advanced toward the opening of the somber gallery.
My heart beat wildly. I opened my lantern and seized the extremity of
The Professor, who was looking on, held his chronometer in his hand.
"Are you ready?" cried he.
"Well, then, fire away!"
I hastened to put the light to the wick, which crackled and sparkled,
hissing and spitting like a serpent; then, running as fast as I could, I
returned to the shore.
"Get on board, my lad, and you, Hans, shove off," cried my
By a vigorous application of his pole Hans sent us flying over the
water. The raft was quite twenty fathoms distant.
It was a moment of palpitating interest, of deep anxiety. My uncle, the
Professor, never took his eyes off the chronometer.
"Only five minutes more," he said in a low tone, "only
My pulse went a hundred to the minute. I could hear my heart beating.
"Only two, one! Now, then, mountains of granite, crumble beneath
power of man!"
What happened after that? As to the terrific roar of the explosion, I
not think I heard it. But the form of the rocks completely changed in my
eyes--they seemed to be drawn aside like a curtain. I saw a fathomless,
a bottomless abyss, which yawned beneath the turgid waves. The sea,
which seemed suddenly to have gone mad, then became one great
mountainous mass, upon the top of which the raft rose perpendicularly.
We were all thrown down. In less than a second the light gave place to
the most profound obscurity. Then I felt all solid support give way not
to my feet, but to the raft itself. I thought it was going bodily down a
tremendous well. I tried to speak, to question my uncle. Nothing could
be heard but the roaring of the mighty waves. We clung together in utter
Despite the awful darkness, despite the noise, the surprise, the
emotion, I thoroughly understood what had happened.
Beyond the rock which had been blown up, there existed a mighty abyss.
The explosion had caused a kind of earthquake in this soil, broken by
fissures and rents. The gulf, thus suddenly thrown open, was about to
swallow the inland sea which, transformed into a mighty torrent, was
dragging us with it.
Only one idea filled my mind. We were utterly and completely lost!
One hour, two hours--what more I cannot say, passed in this manner. We
sat close together, elbow touching elbow, knee touching knee! We held
one another's hands not to be thrown off the raft. We were subjected to
the most violent shocks, whenever our sole dependence, a frail wooden
raft, struck against the rocky sides of the channel. Fortunately for us,
these concussions became less and less frequent, which made me fancy
that the gallery was getting wider and wider. There could be now no
doubt that we had chanced upon the road once followed by Saknussemm, but
instead of going down in a proper manner, we had, through our own
imprudence, drawn a whole sea with us!
These ideas presented themselves to my mind in a very vague and obscure
manner. I felt rather than reasoned. I put my ideas together only
confusedly, while spinning along like a man going down a waterfall. To
judge by the air which, as it were, whipped my face, we must have been
rushing at a perfectly lightning rate.
To attempt under these circumstances to light a torch was simply
impossible, and the last remains of our electric machine, of our
Ruhmkorff coil, had been destroyed during the fearful explosion.
I was therefore very much confused to see at last a bright light shining
close to me. The calm countenance of the guide seemed to gleam upon me.
The clever and patient hunter had succeeded in lighting the lantern; and
though, in the keen and thorough draft, the flame flickered and
vacillated and was nearly put out, it served partially to dissipate the
The gallery into which we had entered was very wide. I was, therefore,
quite right in that part of my conjecture. The insufficient light did
not allow us to see both of the walls at the same time. The slope of
waters, which was carrying us away, was far greater than that of the
most rapid river of America. The whole surface of the stream seemed to
be composed of liquid arrows, darted forward with extreme violence and
power. I can give no idea of the impression it made upon me.
The raft, at times, caught in certain whirlpools, and rushed forward,
yet turned on itself all the time. How it did not upset I shall never be
able to understand. When it approached the sides of the gallery, I took
care to throw upon them the light of the lantern, and I was able to
judge of the rapidity of motion by looking at the projecting masses of
rock, which as soon as seen were again invisible. So rapid was our
progress that points of rock at a considerable distance one from the
other appeared like portions of transverse lines, which enclosed us in a
kind of net, like that of a line of telegraphic wires.
I believe we were now going at a rate of not less than a hundred miles
My uncle and I looked at one another with wild and haggard eyes; we
clung convulsively to the stump of the mast, which, at the moment when
the catastrophe took place, had snapped short off. We turned our backs
as much as possible to the wind, in order not to be stifled by a
rapidity of motion which nothing human could face and live.
And still the long monotonous hours went on. The situation did not
change in the least, though a discovery I suddenly made seemed to
complicate it very much.
When we had slightly recovered our equilibrium, I proceeded to examine
our cargo. I then made the unsatisfactory discovery that the greater
part of it had utterly disappeared.
I became alarmed, and determined to discover what were our resources.
heart beat at the idea, but it was absolutely necessary to know on what
we had to depend. With this view, I took the lantern and looked around.
Of all our former collection of nautical and philosophical instruments,
there remained only the chronometer and the compass. The ladders and
ropes were reduced to a small piece of rope fastened to the stump of the
mast. Not a pickax, not a crowbar, not a hammer, and, far worse than
all, no food--not enough for one day!
This discovery was a prelude to a certain and horrible death.
Seated gloomily on the raft, clasping the stump of the mast
mechanically, I thought of all I had read as to sufferings from
I remembered everything that history had taught me on the subject, and
shuddered at the remembrance of the agonies to be endured.
Maddened at the prospects of enduring the miseries of starvation, I
persuaded myself that I must be mistaken. I examined the cracks in the
raft; I poked between the joints and beams; I examined every possible
hole and corner. The result was--simply nothing!
Our stock of provisions consisted of nothing but a piece of dry meat
some soaked and half-moldy biscuits.
I gazed around me scared and frightened. I could not understand the
awful truth. And yet of what consequence was it in regard to any new
danger? Supposing that we had had provisions for months, and even for
years, how could we ever get out of the awful abyss into which we were
being hurled by the irresistible torrent we had let loose?
Why should we trouble ourselves about the sufferings and tortures to
endured from hunger when death stared us in the face under so many other
swifter and perhaps even more horrid forms?
It was very doubtful, under the circumstances in which we were placed,
if we should have time to die of inanition.
But the human frame is singularly constituted.
I know not how it was; but, from some singular hallucination of the
mind, I forgot the real, serious, and immediate danger to which we were
exposed, to think of the menaces of the future, which appeared before us
in all their naked terror. Besides, after all, suggested Hope, perhaps
we might finally escape the fury of the raging torrent, and once more
revisit the glimpses of the moon, on the surface of our beautiful Mother
How was it to be done? I had not the remotest idea. Where were we to
come out? No matter, so that we did.
One chance in a thousand is always a chance, while death from hunger
gave us not even the faintest glimpse of hope. It left to the
imagination nothing but blank horror, without the faintest chance of
I had the greatest mind to reveal all to my uncle, to explain to him
extraordinary and wretched position to which we were reduced, in order
that, between the two, we might make a calculation as to the exact space
of time which remained for us to live.
It was, it appeared to me, the only thing to be done. But I had the
courage to hold my tongue, to gnaw at my entrails like the Spartan boy.
I wished to leave him all his coolness.
At this moment, the light of the lantern slowly fell, and at last went
The wick had wholly burnt to an end. The obscurity became absolute. It
was no longer possible to see through the impenetrable darkness! There
was one torch left, but it was impossible to keep it alight. Then, like
a child, I shut my eyes, that I might not see the darkness.
After a great lapse of time, the rapidity of our journey increased. I
could feel it by the rush of air upon my face. The slope of the waters
was excessive. I began to feel that we were no longer going down a
slope; we were falling. I felt as one does in a dream, going down
bodily--falling; falling; falling!
I felt that the hands of my uncle and Hans were vigorously clasping my
Suddenly, after a lapse of time scarcely appreciable, I felt something
like a shock. The raft had not struck a hard body, but had suddenly been
checked in its course. A waterspout, a liquid column of water, fell upon
us. I felt suffocating. I was being drowned.
Still the sudden inundation did not last. In a few seconds I felt myself
once more able to breathe. My uncle and Hans pressed my arms, and the
raft carried us all three away.
THE APE GIGANS
It is difficult for me to determine what was the real time, but I should
suppose, by after calculation, that it must have been ten at night.
I lay in a stupor, a half dream, during which I saw visions of
astounding character. Monsters of the deep were side by side with the
mighty elephantine shepherd. Gigantic fish and animals seemed to form
The raft took a sudden turn, whirled round, entered another tunnel--this
time illumined in a most singular manner. The roof was formed of porous
stalactite, through which a moonlit vapor appeared to pass, casting its
brilliant light upon our gaunt and haggard figures. The light increased
as we advanced, while the roof ascended; until at last, we were once
more in a kind of water cavern, the lofty dome of which disappeared in a
A rugged cavern of small extent appeared to offer a halting place to
My uncle and the guide moved as men in a dream. I was afraid to waken
them, knowing the danger of such a sudden start. I seated myself beside
them to watch.
As I did so, I became aware of something moving in the distance, which
at once fascinated my eyes. It was floating, apparently, upon the
surface of the water, advancing by means of what at first appeared
paddles. I looked with glaring eyes. One glance told me that it was
It was the great "shark-crocodile" of the early writers on
About the size of an ordinary whale, with hideous jaws and two gigantic
eyes, it advanced. Its eyes fixed on me with terrible sternness. Some
indefinite warning told me that it had marked me for its own.
I attempted to rise--to escape, no matter where, but my knees shook
under me; my limbs trembled violently; I almost lost my senses. And
still the mighty monster advanced. My uncle and the guide made no effort
to save themselves.
With a strange noise, like none other I had ever heard, the beast came
on. His jaws were at least seven feet apart, and his distended mouth
looked large enough to have swallowed a boatful of men.
We were about ten feet distant when I discovered that much as his body
resembled that of a crocodile, his mouth was wholly that of a shark.
His twofold nature now became apparent. To snatch us up at a mouthful
was necessary for him to turn on his back, which motion necessarily
caused his legs to kick up helplessly in the air.
I actually laughed even in the very jaws of death!
But next minute, with a wild cry, I darted away into the interior of
cave, leaving my unhappy comrades to their fate! This cavern was deep
and dreary. After about a hundred yards, I paused and looked around.
The whole floor, composed of sand and malachite, was strewn with bones,
freshly gnawed bones of reptiles and fish, with a mixture of mammalia.
My very soul grew sick as my body shuddered with horror. I had truly,
according to the old proverb, fallen out of the frying pan into the
fire. Some beast larger and more ferocious even than the shark-crocodile
inhabited this den.
What could I do? The mouth of the cave was guarded by one ferocious
monster, the interior was inhabited by something too hideous to
contemplate. Flight was impossible!
Only one resource remained, and that was to find some small hiding place
to which the fearful denizens of the cavern could not penetrate. I gazed
wildly around, and at last discovered a fissure in the rock, to which I
rushed in the hope of recovering my scattered senses.
Crouching down, I waited shivering as in an ague fit. No man is brave
presence of an earthquake, or a bursting boiler, or an exploding
torpedo. I could not be expected to feel much courage in presence of the
fearful fate that appeared to await me.
An hour passed. I heard all the time a strange rumbling outside the
What was the fate of my unhappy companions? It was impossible for me
pause to inquire. My own wretched existence was all I could think of.
Suddenly a groaning, as of fifty bears in a fight, fell upon my
ears--hisses, spitting, moaning, hideous to hear--and then I saw--
Never, were ages to pass over my head, shall I forget the horrible
It was the Ape Gigans!
Fourteen feet high, covered with coarse hair, of a blackish brown, the
hair on the arms, from the shoulder to the elbow joints, pointing
downwards, while that from the wrist to the elbow pointed upwards, it
advanced. Its arms were as long as its body, while its legs were
prodigious. It had thick, long, and sharply pointed teeth--like a
It struck its breast as it came on smelling and sniffing, reminding me
of the stories we read in our early childhood of giants who ate the
Flesh of men and little boys!
Suddenly it stopped. My heart beat wildly, for I was conscious that,
somehow or other, the fearful monster had smelled me out and was peering
about with his hideous eyes to try and discover my whereabouts.
My reading, which as a rule is a blessing, but which on this occasion,
seemed momentarily to prove a curse, told me the real truth. It was the
Ape Gigans, the antediluvian gorilla.
Yes! This awful monster, confined by good fortune to the interior of
earth, was the progenitor of the hideous monster of Africa.
He glared wildly about, seeking something--doubtless myself. I gave
myself up for lost. No hope of safety or escape seemed to remain.
At this moment, just as my eyes appeared to close in death, there came
strange noise from the entrance of the cave; and turning, the gorilla
evidently recognized some enemy more worthy his prodigious size and
strength. It was the huge shark-crocodile, which perhaps having disposed
of my friends, was coming in search of further prey.
The gorilla placed himself on the defensive, and clutching a bone some
seven or eight feet in length, a perfect club, aimed a deadly blow at
the hideous beast, which reared upwards and fell with all its weight
upon its adversary.
A terrible combat, the details of which it is impossible to give, now
ensued. The struggle was awful and ferocious, I, however, did not wait
to witness the result. Regarding myself as the object of contention, I
determined to remove from the presence of the victor. I slid down from
my hiding place, reached the ground, and gliding against the wall,
strove to gain the open mouth of the cavern.
But I had not taken many steps when the fearful clamor ceased, to be
followed by a mumbling and groaning which appeared to be indicative of
I looked back and saw the huge ape, gory with blood, coming after me
with glaring eyes, with dilated nostrils that gave forth two columns of
heated vapor. I could feel his hot and fetid breath on my neck; and with
a horrid jump--awoke from my nightmare sleep.
Yes--it was all a dream. I was still on the raft with my uncle and the
The relief was not instantaneous, for under the influence of the hideous
nightmare my senses had become numbed. After a while, however, my
feelings were tranquilized. The first of my perceptions which returned
in full force was that of hearing. I listened with acute and attentive
ears. All was still as death. All I comprehended was silence. To the
roaring of the waters, which had filled the gallery with awful
reverberations, succeeded perfect peace.
After some little time my uncle spoke, in a low and scarcely audible
tone: "Harry, boy, where are you?"
"I am here," was my faint rejoinder.
"Well, don't you see what has happened? We are going upwards."
"My dear uncle, what can you mean?" was my half-delirious reply.
"Yes, I tell you we are ascending rapidly. Our downward journey
I held out my hand, and, after some little difficulty, succeeded in
touching the wall. My hand was in an instant covered with blood. The
skin was torn from the flesh. We were ascending with extraordinary
"The torch--the torch!" cried the Professor, wildly; "it
Hans, the guide, after many vain efforts, at last succeeded in lighting
it, and the flame, having now nothing to prevent its burning, shed a
tolerably clear light. We were enabled to form an approximate idea of
"It is just as I thought," said my uncle, after a moment or
silent attention. "We are in a narrow well about four fathoms square.
The waters of the great inland sea, having reached the bottom of the
gulf are now forcing themselves up the mighty shaft. As a natural
consequence, we are being cast upon the summit of the waters."
"That I can see," was my lugubrious reply; "but where
will this shaft
end, and to what fall are we likely to be exposed?"
"Of that I am as ignorant as yourself. All I know is, that we should
prepared for the worst. We are going up at a fearfully rapid rate. As
far as I can judge, we are ascending at the rate of two fathoms a
second, of a hundred and twenty fathoms a minute, or rather more than
three and a half leagues an hour. At this rate, our fate will soon be a
matter of certainty."
"No doubt of it," was my reply. "The great concern I have
is to know whether this shaft has any issue. It may end in a granite
roof--in which case we shall be suffocated by compressed air, or dashed
to atoms against the top. I fancy, already, that the air is beginning to
be close and condensed. I have a difficulty in breathing."
This might be fancy, or it might be the effect of our rapid motion, but
I certainly felt a great oppression of the chest.
"Henry," said the Professor, "I do believe that the situation
is to a
certain extent desperate. There remain, however, many chances of
ultimate safety, and I have, in my own mind, been revolving them over,
during your heavy but agitated sleep. I have come to this logical
conclusion--whereas we may at any moment perish, so at any moment we may
be saved! We need, therefore, prepare ourselves for whatever may turn up
in the great chapter of accidents."
"But what would you have us do?" I cried. "Are we not
"No! While there is life there is hope. At all events, there is
thing we can do--eat, and thus obtain strength to face victory or
As he spoke, I looked at my uncle with a haggard glance. I had put off
the fatal communication as long as possible. It was now forced upon me,
and I must tell him the truth.
Still I hesitated.
"Eat," I said, in a deprecating tone as if there were no hurry.
"Yes, and at once. I feel like a starving prisoner," he said,
his yellow and shivering hands together.
And, turning round to the guide, he spoke some hearty, cheering words,
as I judged from his tone, in Danish. Hans shook his head in a terribly
significant manner. I tried to look unconcerned.
"What!" cried the Professor, "you do not mean to say that
provisions are lost?"
"Yes," was my lowly spoken reply, as I held out something in
"this morsel of dried meat is all that remains for us three."
My uncle gazed at me as if he could not fully appreciate the meaning
my words. The blow seemed to stun him by its severity. I allowed him to
reflect for some moments.
"Well," said I, after a short pause, "what do you think
now? Is there
any chance of our escaping from our horrible subterranean dangers? Are
we not doomed to perish in the great hollows of the centre of the
But my pertinent questions brought no answer. My uncle either heard me
not, or appeared not to do so.
And in this way a whole hour passed. Neither of us cared to speak. For
myself, I began to feel the most fearful and devouring hunger. My
companions, doubtless, felt the same horrible tortures, but neither of
them would touch the wretched morsel of meat that remained. It lay
there, a last remnant of all our great preparations for the mad and
I looked back, with wonderment, to my own folly. Fully was I aware that,
despite his enthusiasm, and the ever-to-be-hated scroll of Saknussemm,
my uncle should never have started on his perilous voyage. What memories
of the happy past, what previsions of the horrible future, now filled my
Hunger, prolonged, is temporary madness! The brain is at work without
its required food, and the most fantastic notions fill the mind.
Hitherto I had never known what hunger really meant. I was likely to
understand it now.
And yet, three months before I could tell my terrible story of
starvation, as I thought it. As a boy I used to make frequent excursions
in the neighborhood of the Professor's house.
My uncle always acted on system, and he believed that, in addition to
the day of rest and worship, there should be a day of recreation. In
consequence, I was always free to do as I liked on a Wednesday.
Now, as I had a notion to combine the useful and the agreeable, my
favorite pastime was birds' nesting. I had one of the best collections
of eggs in all the town. They were classified, and under glass cases.
There was a certain wood, which, by rising at early morn, and taking
cheap train, I could reach at eleven in the morning. Here I would
botanize or geologize at my will. My uncle was always glad of specimens
for his herbarium, and stones to examine. When I had filled my wallet, I
proceeded to search for nests.
After about two hours of hard work, I, one day, sat down by a stream
eat my humble but copious lunch. How the remembrance of the spiced
sausage, the wheaten loaf, and the beer, made my mouth water now! I
would have given every prospect of worldly wealth for such a meal. But
to my story.
While seated thus at my leisure, I looked up at the ruins of an old
castle, at no great distance. It was the remains of an historical
dwelling, ivy-clad, and now falling to pieces.
While looking, I saw two eagles circling about the summit of a lofty
tower. I soon became satisfied that there was a nest. Now, in all my
collection, I lacked eggs of the native eagle and the large owl.
My mind was made up. I would reach the summit of that tower, or perish
in the attempt. I went nearer, and surveyed the ruins. The old
staircase, years before, had fallen in. The outer walls were, however,
intact. There was no chance that way, unless I looked to the ivy solely
for support. This was, as I soon found out, futile.
There remained the chimney, which still went up to the top, and had once
served to carry off the smoke from every story of the tower.
Up this I determined to venture. It was narrow, rough, and therefore
more easily climbed. I took off my coat and crept into the chimney.
Looking up, I saw a small, light opening, proclaiming the summit of the
Up--up I went, for some time using my hands and knees, after the fashion
of a chimney sweep. It was slow work, but, there being continual
projections, the task was comparatively easy. In this way, I reached
halfway. The chimney now became narrower. The atmosphere was close, and,
at last, to end the matter, I stuck fast. I could ascend no higher.
There could be no doubt of this, and there remained no resource but to
descend, and give up my glorious prey in despair. I yielded to fate and
endeavored to descend. But I could not move. Some unseen and mysterious
obstacle intervened and stopped me. In an instant the full horror of my
situation seized me.
I was unable to move either way, and was doomed to a terrible and
horrible death, that of starvation. In a boy's mind, however, there is
an extraordinary amount of elasticity and hope, and I began to think of
all sorts of plans to escape my gloomy fate.
In the first place, I required no food just at present, having had an
excellent meal, and was therefore allowed time for reflection. My first
thought was to try and move the mortar with my hand. Had I possessed a
knife, something might have been done, but that useful instrument I had
left in my coat pocket.
I soon found that all efforts of this kind were vain and useless, and
that all I could hope to do was to wriggle downwards.
But though I jerked and struggled, and strove to turn, it was all in
vain. I could not move an inch, one way or the other. And time flew
rapidly. My early rising probably contributed to the fact that I felt
sleepy, and gradually gave way to the sensation of drowsiness.
I slept, and awoke in darkness, ravenously hungry.
Night had come, and still I could not move. I was tight bound, and did
not succeed in changing my position an inch. I groaned aloud. Never
since the days of my happy childhood, when it was a hardship to go from
meal to meal without eating, had I really experienced hunger. The
sensation was as novel as it was painful. I began now to lose my head
and to scream and cry out in my agony. Something appeared, startled by
my noise. It was a harmless lizard, but it appeared to me a loathsome
reptile. Again I made the old ruins resound with my cries, and finally
so exhausted myself that I fainted.
How long I lay in a kind of trance or sleep I cannot say, but when again
I recovered consciousness it was day. How ill I felt, how hunger still
gnawed at me, it would be hard to say. I was too weak to scream now, far
too weak to struggle.
Suddenly I was startled by a roar.
"Are you there, Henry?" said the voice of my uncle; "are
you there, my
I could only faintly respond, but I also made a desperate effort to
turn. Some mortar fell. To this I owed my being discovered. When the
search took place, it was easily seen that mortar and small pieces of
stone had recently fallen from above. Hence my uncle's cry.
"Be calm," he cried, "if we pull down the whole ruin,
you shall be
They were delicious words, but I had little hope.
Soon however, about a quarter of an hour later I heard a voice above
at one of the upper fireplaces.
"Are you below or above?"
"Below," was my reply.
In an instant a basket was lowered with milk, a biscuit, and an egg.
uncle was fearful to be too ready with his supply of food. I drank the
milk first, for thirst had nearly deadened hunger. I then, much
refreshed, ate my bread and hard egg.
They were now at work at the wall. I could hear a pickax. Wishing to
escape all danger from this terrible weapon I made a desperate struggle,
and the belt, which surrounded my waist and which had been hitched on a
stone, gave way. I was free, and only escaped falling down by a rapid
motion of my hands and knees.
In ten minutes more I was in my uncle's arms, after being two days and
nights in that horrible prison. My occasional delirium prevented me from
I was weeks recovering from that awful starvation adventure; and yet
what was that to the hideous sufferings I now endured?
After dreaming for some time, and thinking of this and other matters,
once more looked around me. We were still ascending with fearful
rapidity. Every now and then the air appeared to check our respiration
as it does that of aeronauts when the ascension of the balloon is too
rapid. But if they feel a degree of cold in proportion to the elevation
they attain in the atmosphere, we experienced quite a contrary effect.
The heat began to increase in a most threatening and exceptional manner.
I cannot tell exactly the mean, but I think it must have reached one
hundred twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit.
What was the meaning of this extraordinary change in the temperature?
far as we had hitherto gone, facts had proved the theories of Davy and
of Lidenbrock to be correct. Until now, all the peculiar conditions of
refractory rocks, of electricity, of magnetism, had modified the general
laws of nature, and had created for us a moderate temperature; for the
theory of the central fire, remained, in my eyes, the only explainable
Were we, then, going to reach a position in which these phenomena were
to be carried out in all their rigor, and in which the heat would reduce
the rocks to a state of fusion?
Such was my not unnatural fear, and I did not conceal the fact from my
uncle. My way of doing so might be cold and heartless, but I could not
"If we are not drowned, or smashed into pancakes, and if we do not
of starvation, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we must be
My uncle, in presence of this brusque attack, simply shrugged his
shoulders, and resumed his reflections--whatever they might be.
An hour passed away, and except that there was a slight increase in the
temperature no incident modified the situation.
My uncle at last, of his own accord, broke silence.
"Well, Henry, my boy," he said, in a cheerful way, "we
must make up our
"Make up our minds to what?" I asked, in considerable surprise.
"Well--to something. We must at whatever risk recruit our physical
strength. If we make the fatal mistake of husbanding our little remnant
of food, we may probably prolong our wretched existence a few hours--but
we shall remain weak to the end."
"Yes," I growled, "to the end. That, however, will not
keep us long
"Well, only let a chance of safety present itself--only allow that
moment of action be necessary--where shall we find the means of action
if we allow ourselves to be reduced to physical weakness by inanition?"
"When this piece of meat is devoured, Uncle, what hope will there
"None, my dear Henry, none. But will it do you any good to devour
with your eyes? You appear to me to reason like one without will or
decision, like a being without energy."
"Then," cried I, exasperated to a degree which is scarcely
explained, "you do not mean to tell me--that you--that you--have not
lost all hope."
"Certainly not," replied the Professor with consummate coolness.
"You mean to tell me, Uncle, that we shall get out of this monstrous
"While there is life there is hope. I beg to assert, Henry, that
as a man's heart beats, as long as a man's flesh quivers, I do not allow
that a being gifted with thought and will can allow himself to despair."
What a nerve! The man placed in a position like that we occupied must
have been very brave to speak like this.
"Well," I cried, "what do you mean to do?"
"Eat what remains of the food we have in our hands; let us swallow
last crumb. It will bel Heaven willing, our last repast. Well, never
mind--instead of being exhausted skeletons, we shall be men."
"True," muttered I in a despairing tone, "let us take
"We must," replied my uncle, with a deep sigh, "call it
what you will."
My uncle took a piece of the meat that remained, and some crusts of
biscuit which had escaped the wreck. He divided the whole into three
Each had one pound of food to last him as long as he remained in the
interior of the earth.
Each now acted in accordance with his own private character.
My uncle, the Professor, ate greedily, but evidently without appetite,
eating simply from some mechanical motion. I put the food inside my
lips, and hungry as I was, chewed my morsel without pleasure, and
Hans, the guide, just as if he had been eider-down hunting, swallowed
every mouthful, as though it were a usual affair. He looked like a man
equally prepared to enjoy superfluity or total want.
Hans, in all probability, was no more used to starvation than ourselves,
but his hardy Icelandic nature had prepared him for many sufferings. As
long as he received his three rix-dollars every Saturday night, he was
prepared for anything.
The fact was, Hans never troubled himself about much except his money.
He had undertaken to serve a certain man at so much per week, and no
matter what evils befell his employer or himself, he never found fault
or grumbled, so long as his wages were duly paid.
Suddenly my uncle roused himself. He had seen a smile on the face of
guide. I could not make it out.
"What is the matter?" said my uncle.
"Schiedam," said the guide, producing a bottle of this precious
We drank. My uncle and myself will own to our dying day that hence we
derived strength to exist until the last bitter moment. That precious
bottle of Hollands was in reality only half full; but, under the
circumstances, it was nectar.
It took some minutes for myself and my uncle to form a decided opinion
on the subject. The worthy Professor swallowed about half a pint and did
not seem able to drink any more.
"<i>Fortrafflig</i>," said Hans, swallowing nearly
all that was left.
"Excellent--very good," said my uncle, with as much gusto as
if he had
just left the steps of the club at Hamburg.
I had begun to feel as if there had been one gleam of hope. Now all
thought of the future vanished!
We had consumed our last ounce of food, and it was five o'clock in the
THE VOLCANIC SHAFT
Man's constitution is so peculiar that his health is purely a negative
matter. No sooner is the rage of hunger appeased than it becomes
difficult to comprehend the meaning of starvation. It is only when you
suffer that you really understand.
As to anyone who has not endured privation having any notion of the
matter, it is simply absurd.
With us, after a long fast, some mouthfuls of bread and meat, a little
moldy biscuit and salt beef triumphed over all our previous gloomy and
Nevertheless, after this repast each gave way to his own reflections.
wondered what were those of Hans--the man of the extreme north, who was
yet gifted with the fatalistic resignation of Oriental character. But
the utmost stretch of the imagination would not allow me to realize the
truth. As for my individual self, my thoughts had ceased to be anything
but memories of the past, and were all connected with that upper world
which I never should have left. I saw it all now, the beautiful house in
the Konigstrasse, my poor Gretchen, the good Martha; they all passed
before my mind like visions of the past. Every time any of the
lugubrious groanings which were to be distinguished in the hollows
around fell upon my ears, I fancied I heard the distant murmur of the
great cities above my head.
As for my uncle, always thinking of his science, he examined the nature
of the shaft by means of a torch. He closely examined the different
strata one above the other, in order to recognize his situation by
geological theory. This calculation, or rather this estimation, could by
no means be anything but approximate. But a learned man, a philosopher,
is nothing if not a philosopher, when he keeps his ideas calm and
collected; and certainly the Professor possessed this quality to
I heard him, as I sat in silence, murmuring words of geological science.
As I understood his object and his meaning, I could not but interest
myself despite my preoccupation in that terrible hour.
"Eruptive granite," he said to himself, "we are still
in the primitive
epoch. But we are going up--going up, still going up. But who knows? Who
Then he still hoped. He felt along the vertical sides of the shaft with
his hand, and some few minutes later, he would go on again in the
"This is gneiss. This is mica schist--siliceous mineral. Good again;
this is the epoch of transition, at all events, we are close to
them--and then, and then--"
What could the Professor mean? Could he, by any conceivable means,
measure the thickness of the crust of the earth suspended above our
heads? Did he possess any possible means of making any approximation to
this calculation? No.
The manometer was wanting, and no summary estimation could take the
place of it.
And yet, as we progressed, the temperature increased in the most
extraordinary degree, and I began to feel as if I were bathed in a hot
and burning atmosphere. Never before had I felt anything like it. I
could only compare it to the hot vapor from an iron foundry, when the
liquid iron is in a state of ebullition and runs over. By degrees, and
one after the other, Hans, my uncle, and myself had taken off our coats
and waistcoats. They were unbearable. Even the slightest garment was not
only uncomfortable, but the cause of extreme suffering.
"Are we ascending to a living fire?" I cried; when, to my horror
astonishment, the heat became greater than before.
"No, no," said my uncle, "it is simply impossible, quite
"And yet," said I, touching the side of the shaft with my naked
"this wall is literally burning."
At this moment, feeling as I did that the sides of this extraordinary
wall were red hot, I plunged my hands into the water to cool them. I
drew them back with a cry of despair.
"The water is boiling!" I cried.
My uncle, the Professor, made no reply other than a gesture of rage and
Something very like the truth had probably struck his imagination.
But I could take no share in either what was going on, or in his
speculations. An invincible dread had taken possession of my brain and
soul. I could only look forward to an immediate catastrophe, such a
catastrophe as not even the most vivid imagination could have thought
of. An idea, at first vague and uncertain, was gradually being changed
I tremulously rejected it at first, but it forced itself upon me by
degrees with extreme obstinacy. It was so terrible an idea that I
scarcely dared to whisper it to myself.
And yet all the while certain, and as it were, involuntary observations
determined my convictions. By the doubtful glare of the torch, I could
make out some singular changes in the granitic strata; a strange and
terrible phenomenon was about to be produced, in which electricity
played a part.
Then this boiling water, this terrible and excessive heat? I determined
as a last resource to examine the compass.
The compass had gone mad!
Yes, wholly stark staring mad. The needle jumped from pole to pole with
sudden and surprising jerks, ran round, or as it is said, boxed the
compass, and then ran suddenly back again as if it had the vertigo.
I was aware that, according to the best acknowledged theories, it was
received notion that the mineral crust of the globe is never, and never
has been, in a state of complete repose.
It is perpetually undergoing the modifications caused by the
decomposition of internal matter, the agitation consequent on the
flowing of extensive liquid currents, the excessive action of magnetism
which tends to shake it incessantly, at a time when even the
multitudinous beings on its surface do not suspect the seething process
to be going on.
Still this phenomenon would not have alarmed me alone; it would not have
aroused in my mind a terrible, an awful idea.
But other facts could not allow my self-delusion to last.
Terrible detonations, like Heaven's artillery, began to multiply
themselves with fearful intensity. I could only compare them with the
noise made by hundreds of heavily laden chariots being madly driven over
a stone pavement. It was a continuous roll of heavy thunder.
And then the mad compass, shaken by the wild electric phenomena,
confirmed me in my rapidly formed opinion. The mineral crust was about
to burst, the heavy granite masses were about to rejoin, the fissure was
about to close, the void was about to be filled up, and we poor atoms to
be crushed in its awful embrace!
"Uncle, Uncle!" I cried, "we are wholly, irretrievably
"What, then, my young friend, is your new cause of terror and alarm?"
said in his calmest manner. "What fear you now?"
"What do I fear now!" I cried in fierce and angry tones. "Do
you not see
that the walls of the shaft are in motion? Do you not see that the solid
granite masses are cracking? Do you not feel the terrible, torrid heat?
Do you not observe the awful boiling water on which we float? Do you not
remark this mad needle? Every sign and portent of an awful earthquake!"
My uncle coolly shook his head.
"An earthquake," he replied in the most calm and provoking
"My nephew, I tell you that you are utterly mistaken," he continued.
"Do you not, can you not, recognize all the well-known symtons--"
"Of an earthquake? By no means. I am expecting something far more
"My brain is strained beyond endurance--what, what do you mean?"
"An eruption, Harry."
"An eruption," I gasped. "We are, then, in the volcanic
shaft of a
crater in full action and vigor."
"I have every reason to think so," said the Professor in a
"and I beg to tell you that it is the most fortunate thing that could
happen to us."
The most fortunate thing! Had my uncle really and truly gone mad? What
did he mean by these awful words--what did he mean by this terrible
calm, this solemn smile?
"What!" cried I, in the height of my exasperation, "we
are on the way to
an eruption, are we? Fatality has cast us into a well of burning and
boiling lava, of rocks on fire, of boiling water, in a word, filled with
every kind of eruptive matter? We are about to be expelled, thrown up,
vomited, spit out of the interior of the earth, in common with huge
blocks of granite, with showers of cinders and scoriae, in a wild
whirlwind of flame, and you say--the most fortunate thing which could
happen to us."
"Yes," replied the Professor, looking at me calmly from under
spectacles, "it is the only chance which remains to us of ever escaping
from the interior of the earth to the light of day."
It is quite impossible that I can put on paper the thousand strange,
wild thoughts which followed this extraordinary announcement.
But my uncle was right, quite right, and never had he appeared to me
audacious and so convinced as when he looked me calmly in the face and
spoke of the chances of an eruption--of our being cast upon Mother Earth
once more through the gaping crater of a volcano!
Nevertheless, while we were speaking we were still ascending; we passed
the whole night going up, or to speak more scientifically, in an
ascensional motion. The fearful noise redoubled; I was ready to
suffocate. I seriously believed that my last hour was approaching, and
yet, so strange is imagination, all I thought of was some childish
hypothesis or other. In such circumstances you do not choose your own
thoughts. They overcome you.
It was quite evident that we were being cast upwards by eruptive matter;
under the raft there was a mass of boiling water, and under this was a
heavier mass of lava, and an aggregate of rocks which, on reaching the
summit of the water, would be dispersed in every direction.
That we were inside the chimney of a volcano there could no longer be
the shadow of a doubt. Nothing more terrible could be conceived!
But on this occasion, instead of Sneffels, an old and extinct volcano,
we were inside a mountain of fire in full activity. Several times I
found myself asking, what mountain was it, and on what part of the world
we should be shot out. As if it were of any consequence!
In the northern regions, there could be no reasonable doubt about that.
Before it went decidedly mad, the compass had never made the slightest
mistake. From the cape of Saknussemm, we had been swept away to the
northward many hundreds of leagues. Now the question was, were we once
more under Iceland--should we be belched forth on to the earth through
the crater of Mount Hecla, or should we reappear through one of the
other seven fire funnels of the island? Taking in my mental vision a
radius of five hundred leagues to the westward, I could see under this
parallel only the little-known volcanoes of the northwest coast of
To the east one only existed somewhere about the eightieth degree of
latitude, the Esk, upon the island of Jan Mayen, not far from the frozen
regions of Spitsbergen.
It was not craters that were wanting, and many of them were big enough
to vomit a whole army; all I wished to know was the particular one
towards which we were making with such fearful velocity.
I often think now of my folly: as if I should ever have expected to
Towards morning, the ascending motion became greater and greater. If
degree of heat increased instead of decreasing, as we approached the
surface of the earth, it was simply because the causes were local and
wholly due to volcanic influence. Our very style of locomotion left in
my mind no doubt upon the subject. An enormous force, a force of several
hundreds of atmospheres produced by the vapors accumulated and long
compressed in the interior of the earth, was hoisting us upwards with
But though we were approaching the light of day, to what fearful dangers
were we about to be exposed?
Instant death appeared the only fate which we could expect or
Soon a dim, sepulchral light penetrated the vertical gallery, which
became wider and wider. I could make out to the right and left long dark
corridors like immense tunnels, from which awful and horrid vapors
poured out. Tongues of fire, sparkling and crackling, appeared about to
lick us up.
The hour had come!
"Look, Uncle, look!" I cried.
"Well, what you see are the great sulphurous flames. Nothing more
in connection with an eruption."
"But if they lap us round!" I angrily replied.
"They will not lap us round," was his quiet and serene answer.
"But it will be all the same in the end if they stifle us,"
"We shall not be stifled. The gallery is rapidly becoming wider
wider, and if it be necessary, we will presently leave the raft and take
refuge in some fissure in the rock."
"But the water, the water, which is continually ascending?"
"There is no longer any water, Harry," he answered, "but
a kind of lava
paste, which is heaving us up, in company with itself, to the mouth of
In truth, the liquid column of water had wholly disappeared to give
place to dense masses of boiling eruptive matter. The temperature was
becoming utterly insupportable, and a thermometer exposed to this
atmosphere would have marked between one hundred and eighty-nine and one
hundred ninety degrees Fahrenheit.
Perspiration rushed from every pore. But for the extraordinary rapidity
of our ascent we should have been stifled.
Nevertheless, the Professor did not carry out his proposition of
abandoning the raft; and he did quite wisely. Those few ill-joined beams
offered, anyway, a solid surface--a support which elsewhere must have
utterly failed us.
Towards eight o'clock in the morning a new incident startled us. The
ascensional movement suddenly ceased. The raft became still and
"What is the matter now?" I said, querulously, very much startled
"A simple halt," replied my uncle.
"Is the eruption about to fail?" I asked.
"I hope not."
Without making any reply, I rose. I tried to look around me. Perhaps
raft, checked by some projecting rock, opposed a momentary resistance to
the eruptive mass. In this case, it was absolutely necessary to release
it as quickly as possible.
Nothing of the kind had occurred. The column of cinders, of scoriae,
broken rocks and earth, had wholly ceased to ascend.
"I tell you, Uncle, that the eruption has stopped," was my
"Ah," said my uncle, "you think so, my boy. You are wrong.
Do not be in
the least alarmed; this sudden moment of calm will not last long, be
assured. It has already endured five minutes, and before we are many
minutes older we shall be continuing our journey to the mouth of the
All the time he was speaking the Professor continued to consult his
chronometer, and he was probably right in his prognostics. Soon the raft
resumed its motion, in a very rapid and disorderly way, which lasted two
minutes or thereabout; and then again it stopped as suddenly as before.
"Good," said my uncle, observing the hour, "in ten we
"In ten minutes?"
"Yes--precisely. We have to do with a volcano, the eruption of which
intermittent. We are compelled to breathe just as it does."
Nothing could be more true. At the exact minute he had indicated, we
were again launched on high with extreme rapidity. Not to be cast off
the raft, it was necessary to hold on to the beams. Then the hoist again
Many times since have I thought of this singular phenomenon without
being able to find for it any satisfactory explanation. Nevertheless, it
appeared quite clear to me, that we were not in the principal chimney of
the volcano, but in an accessory conduit, where we felt the counter
shock of the great and principal tunnel filled by burning lava.
It is impossible for me to say how many times this maneuver was
repeated. All that I can remember is, that on every ascensional motion,
we were hoisted up with ever increasing velocity, as if we had been
launched from a huge projectile. During the sudden halts we were nearly
stifled; during the moments of projection the hot air took away our
I thought for a moment of the voluptuous joy of suddenly finding myself
in the hyperborean regions with the cold thirty degrees below zero!
My exalted imagination pictured to itself the vast snowy plains of the
arctic regions, and I was impatient to roll myself on the icy carpet of
the North Pole.
By degrees my head, utterly overcome by a series of violent emotions,
began to give way to hallucination. I was delirious. Had it not been for
the powerful arms of Hans, the guide, I should have broken my head
against the granite masses of the shaft.
I have, in consequence, kept no account of what followed for many hours.
I have a vague and confused remembrance of continual detonations, of the
shaking of the huge granitic mass, and of the raft going round like a
spinning top. It floated on the stream of hot lava, amidst a falling
cloud of cinders. The huge flames roaring, wrapped us around.
A storm of wind which appeared to be cast forth from an immense
ventilator roused up the interior fires of the earth. It was a hot,
At last I saw the figure of Hans as if enveloped in the huge halo of
burning blaze, and no other sense remained to me but that sinister dread
which the condemned victim may be supposed to feel when led to the mouth
of a cannon, at the supreme moment when the shot is fired and his limbs
are dispersed into empty space.
DAYLIGHT AT LAST
When I opened my eyes I felt the hand of the guide clutching me firmly
by the belt. With his other hand he supported my uncle. I was not
grievously wounded, but bruised all over in the most remarkable manner.
After a moment I looked around, and found that I was lying down on the
slope of a mountain not two yards from a yawning gulf into which I
should have fallen had I made the slightest false step. Hans had saved
me from death, while I rolled insensible on the flanks of the crater.
"Where are we?" dreamily asked my uncle, who literally appeared
disgusted at having returned to earth.
The eider-down hunter simply shrugged his shoulders as a mark of total
"In Iceland?" said I, not positively but interrogatively.
"Nej," said Hans.
"How do you mean?" cried the Professor; "no--what are
"Hans is wrong," said I, rising.
After all the innumerable surprises of this journey, a yet more singular
one was reserved to us. I expected to see a cone covered by snow, by
extensive and widespread glaciers, in the midst of the arid deserts of
the extreme northern regions, beneath the full rays of a polar sky,
beyond the highest latitudes.
But contrary to all our expectations, I, my uncle, and the Icelander,
were cast upon the slope of a mountain calcined by the burning rays of a
sun which was literally baking us with its fires.
I could not believe my eyes, but the actual heat which affected my body
allowed me no chance of doubting. We came out of the crater half naked,
and the radiant star from which we had asked nothing for two months, was
good enough to be prodigal to us of light and warmth--a light and warmth
we could easily have dispensed with.
When our eyes were accustomed to the light we had lost sight of so long,
I used them to rectify the errors of my imagination. Whatever happened,
we should have been at Spitsbergen, and I was in no humor to yield to
anything but the most absolute proof.
After some delay, the Professor spoke.
"Hem!" he said, in a hesitating kind of way, "it really
does not look
"But supposing it were the island of Jan Mayen?" I ventured
"Not in the least, my boy. This is not one of the volcanoes of the
north, with its hills of granite and its crown of snow."
"Look, look, my boy," said the Professor, as dogmatically as
Right above our heads, at a great height, opened the crater of a volcano
from which escaped, from one quarter of an hour to the other, with a
very loud explosion, a lofty jet of flame mingled with pumice stone,
cinders, and lava. I could feel the convulsions of nature in the
mountain, which breathed like a huge whale, throwing up from time to
time fire and air through its enormous vents.
Below, and floating along a slope of considerable angularity, the stream
of eruptive matter spread away to a depth which did not give the volcano
a height of three hundred fathoms.
Its base disappeared in a perfect forest of green trees, among which
perceived olives, fig trees, and vines loaded with rich grapes.
Certainly this was not the ordinary aspect of the arctic regions. About
that there could not be the slightest doubt.
When the eye was satisfied at its glimpse of this verdant expanse, it
fell upon the waters of a lovely sea or beautiful lake, which made of
this enchanted land an island of not many leagues in extent.
On the side of the rising sun was to be seen a little port, crowded with
houses, and near which the boats and vessels of peculiar build were
floating upon azure waves.
Beyond, groups of islands rose above the liquid plain, so numerous and
close together as to resemble a vast beehive.
Towards the setting sun, some distant shores were to be made out on the
edge of the horizon. Some presented the appearance of blue mountains of
harmonious conformation; upon others, much more distant, there appeared
a prodigiously lofty cone, above the summit of which hung dark and heavy
Towards the north, an immense expanse of water sparkled beneath the
solar rays, occasionally allowing the extremity of a mast or the
convexity of a sail bellying to the wind, to be seen.
The unexpected character of such a scene added a hundredfold to its
"Where can we be?" I asked, speaking in a low and solemn voice.
Hans shut his eyes with an air of indifference, and my uncle looked on
without clearly understanding.
"Whatever this mountain may be," he said, at last, "I
must confess it is
rather warm. The explosions do not leave off, and I do not think it is
worthwhile to have left the interior of a volcano and remain here to
receive a huge piece of rock upon one's head. Let us carefully descend
the mountain and discover the real state of the case. To confess the
truth, I am dying of hunger and thirst."
Decidedly the Professor was no longer a truly reflective character. For
myself, forgetting all my necessities, ignoring my fatigues and
sufferings, I should have remained still for several hours longer--but
it was necessary to follow my companions.
The slope of the volcano was very steep and slippery; we slid over piles
of ashes, avoiding the streams of hot lava which glided about like fiery
serpents. Still, while we were advancing, I spoke with extreme
volubility, for my imagination was too full not to explode in words.
"We are in Asia!" I exclaimed; "we are on the coast of
India, in the
great Malay islands, in the centre of Oceania. We have crossed the one
half of the globe to come out right at the antipodes of Europe!"
"But the compass!" exclaimed my uncle; "explain that to
"Yes--the compass," I said with considerable hesitation. "I
is a difficulty. According to it, we have always been going northward."
"Then it lied."
"Hem--to say it lied is rather a harsh word," was my answer.
"Then we are at the North Pole--"
"The Pole--no--well--well I give it up," was my reply.
The plain truth was, that there was no explanation possible. I could
make nothing of it.
And all the while we were approaching this beautiful verdure, hunger
thirst tormented me fearfully. Happily, after two long hours' march, a
beautiful country spread out before us, covered by olives, pomegranates,
and vines, which appeared to belong to anybody and everybody. In any
event, in the state of destitution into which we had fallen, we were not
in a mood to ponder too scrupulously.
What delight it was to press these delicious fruits to our lips, and
bite at grapes and pomegranates fresh from the vine.
Not far off, near some fresh and mossy grass, under the delicious shade
of some trees, I discovered a spring of fresh water, in which we
voluptuously laved our faces, hands, and feet.
While we were all giving way to the delights of new-found pleasures,
little child appeared between two tufted olive trees.
"Ah," cried I, "an inhabitant of this happy country."
The little fellow was poorly dressed, weak, and suffering, and appeared
terribly alarmed at our appearance. Half-naked, with tangled, matted and
ragged beards, we did look supremely ill-favored; and unless the country
was a bandit land, we were not likely to alarm the inhabitants!
Just as the boy was about to take to his heels, Hans ran after him, and
brought him back, despite his cries and kicks.
My uncle tried to look as gentle as possible, and then spoke in German.
"What is the name of this mountain, my friend?"
The child made no reply.
"Good," said my uncle, with a very positive air of conviction,
not in Germany."
He then made the same demand in English, of which language he was an
The child shook its head and made no reply. I began to be considerably
"Is he dumb?" cried the Professor, who was rather proud of
knowledge of languages, and made the same demand in French.
The boy only stared in his face.
"I must perforce try him in Italian," said my uncle, with a
"<i>Dove noi siamo</i>?"
"Yes, tell me where we are?" I added impatiently and eagerly.
Again the boy remained silent.
"My fine fellow, do you or do you not mean to speak?" cried
who began to get angry. He shook him, and spoke another dialect of the
"<i>Come si noma questa isola</i>?"--"What
is the name of this island?"
"Stromboli," replied the rickety little shepherd, dashing away
and disappearing in the olive groves.
We thought little enough about him.
Stromboli! What effect on the imagination did these few words produce!
We were in the centre of the Mediterranean, amidst the eastern
archipelago of mythological memory, in the ancient Strongylos, where
AEolus kept the wind and the tempest chained up. And those blue
mountains, which rose towards the rising sun, were the mountains of
And that mighty volcano which rose on the southern horizon was Etna,
fierce and celebrated Etna!
"Stromboli! Stromboli!" I repeated to myself.
My uncle played a regular accompaniment to my gestures and words. We
were singing together like an ancient chorus.
Ah--what a journey--what a marvelous and extraordinary journey! Here
had entered the earth by one volcano, and we had come out by another.
And this other was situated more than twelve hundred leagues from
Sneffels from that drear country of Iceland cast away on the confines of
the earth. The wondrous changes of this expedition had transported us to
the most harmonious and beautiful of earthly lands. We had abandoned the
region of eternal snows for that of infinite verdure, and had left over
our heads the gray fog of the icy regions to come back to the azure sky
After a delicious repast of fruits and fresh water, we again continued
our journey in order to reach the port of Stromboli. To say how we had
reached the island would scarcely have been prudent. The superstitious
character of the Italians would have been at work, and we should have
been called demons vomited from the infernal regions. It was therefore
necessary to pass for humble and unfortunate shipwrecked travelers. It
was certainly less striking and romantic, but it was decidedly safer.
As we advanced, I could hear my worthy uncle muttering to himself:
"But the compass. The compass most certainly marked north. This
fact I cannot explain in any way."
"Well, the fact is," said I, with an air of disdain, "we
explain anything. It will be much more easy."
"I should like to see a professor of the Johanneum Institution who
unable to explain a cosmic phenomenon--it would indeed be strange."
And speaking thus, my uncle, half-naked, his leathern purse round his
loins, and his spectacles upon his nose, became once more the terrible
Professor of Mineralogy.
An hour after leaving the wood of olives, we reached the fort of San
Vicenza, where Hans demanded the price of his thirteenth week of
service. My uncle paid him, with very many warm shakes of the hand.
At that moment, if he did not indeed quite share our natural emotion,
allowed his feelings so far to give way as to indulge in an
extraordinary expression for him.
With the tips of two fingers he gently pressed our hands and smiled.
THE JOURNEY ENDED
This is the final conclusion of a narrative which will be probably
disbelieved even by people who are astonished at nothing. I am, however,
armed at all points against human incredulity.
We were kindly received by the Strombolite fishermen, who treated us
shipwrecked travelers. They gave us clothes and food. After a delay of
forty-eight hours, on the 30th of September a little vessel took us to
Messina, where a few days of delightful and complete repose restored us
On Friday, the 4th of October, we embarked in the Volturne, one of the
postal packets of the Imperial Messageries of France; and three days
later we landed at Marseilles, having no other care on our minds but
that of our precious but erratic compass. This inexplicable circumstance
tormented me terribly. On the 9th of October, in the evening, we reached
What was the astonishment of Martha, what the joy of Gretchen! I will
not attempt to define it.
"Now then, Harry, that you really are a hero," she said, "there
reason why you should ever leave me again."
I looked at her. She was weeping tears of joy.
I leave it to be imagined if the return of Professor Hardwigg made or
did not make a sensation in Hamburg. Thanks to the indiscretion of
Martha, the news of his departure for the interior of the earth had been
spread over the whole world.
No one would believe it--and when they saw him come back in safety they
believed it all the less.
But the presence of Hans and many stray scraps of information by degrees
modified public opinion.
Then my uncle became a great man and I the nephew of a great man, which,
at all events, is something. Hamburg gave a festival in our honor. A
public meeting of the Johanneum Institution was held, at which the
Professor related the whole story of his adventures, omitting only the
facts in connection with the compass.
That same day he deposited in the archives of the town the document he
had found written by Saknussemm, and he expressed his great regret that
circumstances, stronger than his will, did not allow him to follow the
Icelandic traveler's track into the very centre of the earth. He was
modest in his glory, but his reputation only increased.
So much honor necessarily created for him many envious enemies. Of
course they existed, and as his theories, supported by certain facts,
contradicted the system of science upon the question of central heat, he
maintained his own views both with pen and speech against the learned of
every country. Although I still believe in the theory of central heat, I
confess that certain circumstances, hitherto very ill defined, may
modify the laws of such natural phenomena.
At the moment when these questions were being discussed with interest,
my uncle received a rude shock--one that he felt very much. Hans,
despite everything he could say to the contrary, quitted Hamburg; the
man to whom we owed so much would not allow us to pay our deep debt of
gratitude. He was taken with nostalgia; a love for his Icelandic home.
"Farval," said he, one day, and with this one short word of
started for Reykjavik, which he soon reached in safety.
We were deeply attached to our brave eider-duck hunter. His absence will
never cause him to be forgotten by those whose lives he saved, and I
hope, at some not distant day, to see him again.
To conclude, I may say that our journey into the interior of the earth
created an enormous sensation throughout the civilized world. It was
translated and printed in many languages. All the leading journals
published extracts from it, which were commentated, discussed, attacked,
and supported with equal animation by those who believed in its
episodes, and by those who were utterly incredulous.
Wonderful! My uncle enjoyed during his lifetime all the glory he
deserved; and he was even offered a large sum of money, by Mr. Barnum,
to exhibit himself in the United States; while I am credibly informed by
a traveler that he is to be seen in waxwork at Madame Tussaud's!
But one care preyed upon his mind, a care which rendered him very
unhappy. One fact remained inexplicable--that of the compass. For a
learned man to be baffled by such an inexplicable phenomenon was very
aggravating. But Heaven was merciful, and in the end my uncle was happy.
One day, while he put some minerals belonging to his collection in
order, I fell upon the famous compass and examined it keenly.
For six months it had lain unnoticed and untouched.
I looked at it with curiosity, which soon became surprise. I gave a loud
cry. The Professor, who was at hand, soon joined me.
"What is the matter?" he cried.
"Why its needle points to the south and not to the north."
"My dear boy, you must be dreaming."
"I am not dreaming. See--the poles are changed."
My uncle put on his spectacles, examined the instrument, and leaped with
joy, shaking the whole house.
A clear light fell upon our minds.
"Here it is!" he cried, as soon as he had recovered the use
speech, "after we had once passed Cape Saknussemm, the needle of this
compass pointed to the southward instead of the northward."
"Our error is now easily explained. But to what phenomenon do we
this alteration in the needle?"
"Nothing more simple."
"Explain yourself, my boy. I am on thorns."
"During the storm, upon the Central Sea, the ball of fire which
magnet of the iron in our raft, turned our compass topsy-turvy."
"Ah!" cried the Professor, with a loud and ringing laugh, "it
trick of that inexplicable electricity."
From that hour my uncle was the happiest of learned men, and I the
happiest of ordinary mortals. For my pretty Virland girl, abdicating her
position as ward, took her place in the house in the Konigstrasse in the
double quality of niece and wife.
We need scarcely mention that her uncle was the illustrious Professor
Hardwigg, corresponding member of all the scientific, geographical,
mineralogical, and geological societies of the five parts of the globe.
End of the Voyage Extraordinaire