A JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH
by Jules Verne
My Uncle Makes a Discovery
LOOKING back to all that has occurred to me since that eventful day,
I 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
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.e., 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.
"Harry- Harry- Harry-"
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 up?"
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
I 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 knowledge of the earth. Geology and mineralogy were to us the
sole objects of life, and 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
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 center 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 door.
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
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
my 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
celebrated 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 of
"It is a Runic manuscript, the language of the original population
of Iceland, invented by Odin himself," cried my uncle, angry at my
I was about to venture upon some misplaced joke on the subject, when
a 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. (See
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
"And yet," he muttered to himself, "it is old Icelandic, I am sure
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 table.
"Bother the dinner!" cried my uncle.
But as I was hungry, I sallied forth to the dining room, where I
took up 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 so 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
"I DECLARE," cried my uncle, striking the table fiercely with his
fist, "I declare to you it is Runic- and contains some wonderful
secret, which 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 dictation."
"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 mistakes."
The dictation commenced with the following incomprehensible result:
mm.rnlls esreuel 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 period.
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,
"unless, 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 great discovery?"
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 book; 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 volume."
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
owner of the book. Now who was the owner, is the next important
question. Perhaps by great good luck it may be written somewhere in
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 letters:
"Arne Saknussemm!" he cried in a joyous and triumphant tone, "that
is 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,
Paracelsus, 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
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 it from
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 to the
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
one 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 southern dialect."
Nothing could be more logical.
"Now said Professor Hardwigg, "to trace the particular language."
"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 Latin."
This proposition startled me. Latin was my favorite study, and it
seemed sacrilege to believe this gibberish to belong to the country of
"Barbarous Latin, in all probability," continued my uncle, "but
"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 mm.rnlls,
others 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
was 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 will
master have his dinner?"
"And, his supper?"
"I don't know. He says he will eat no more, neither shall I. My
uncle 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 to think.
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 ice in English; the eighty-fourth,
eighty-fifth, and eighty-sixth, the word sir; then at last I seemed to
find the Latin words rota, mutabile, ira, nec, atra.
"Ha! there seems to be some truth in my uncle's notion, thought I.
Then again I seemed to find the word luco, which means sacred
wood. Then in the third line I appeared to make out labiled, a perfect
Hebrew word, and at the last the syllables mere, are, mer, which
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 the front.
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
would 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 solution.
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
I crossed my arms, looked another way and smoked- resolved never
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
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 most excited.
"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 cunning
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:
In Sneffels Yoculis craterem kem delibat
umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende,
audas viator, et terrestre centrum attinges.
Kod feci. Arne Saknussemm
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 center 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.
"Let me have something to eat. We can then start at once. Get my
"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 center 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
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 always
believed 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 of glory."
"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
chance. 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?" I
"The book in which we find it is sufficient proof of its
authenticity," he replied.
"I thoroughly allow that the celebrated Professor wrote the lines,
but 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
friend 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 the
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
"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 center of it-?"
"Well," that's Sneffels."
I had nothing to say.
"That is Sneffels- a mountain about five thousand feet in height,
one of 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 center 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
"But if it be extinct?"
"That would make a difference."
"Of course it would. There are about three hundred volcanoes on
the 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
"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 me
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
of the 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, seem to multiply; and the only way to learn, is like Arne
Saknussemm, to go and see."
"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 center, I expect to find it luminous-"
"Nothing is impossible."
"And now that we have come to a thorough understanding, not a word
to any living soul. Our success depends on secrecy and dispatch."
Thus ended our memorable conference, which roused a perfect fever in
me. 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
"I'm all abroad," I cried; "'tis a nightmare- I must have dreamed
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 the matter?"
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 of the nephew of Professor Hardwigg. I should look upon it as
an honor to accompany him."
"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
"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 center 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 carriage.
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 Seeland.
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 distant parts.
Alas! a little Danish schooner, the Valkyrie, 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. Bjarne,
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 anticipated triumphs.
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
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 summit.
"Let us ascend," said my uncle.
"But I never could climb church towers," I cried, "I am subject to
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
tone. "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 knows
what profound abysses you may have to look down. This is excellent
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
"Enough for one day," said my uncle, rubbing his hands, "we will
begin again tomorrow."
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 pleasure.
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
On the second of the month, at two in the morning, our precious
cargo of luggage was taken on board the good ship Valkyrie. We
followed, and 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
"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 our
proceedings. You might perhaps even follow us to the center 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 Valkyrie was swift enough, but with all
sailing boats 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,
"unless, indeed, we meet with some northeast gales among the Faroe
"At all events, there will be no very considerable delay," cried the
"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 Valkyrie stretched out direct for the Faroe
Islands, between 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 Valkyrie 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 Iceland.
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
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
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
Scarcely were we fairly on shore when there appeared before us a man
of 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
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 benighted island.
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 Reykjavik.
"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
descend 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
trouble 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
"In the meanwhile," I replied, "I will take a walk through the town.
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 below."
I bowed by way of reply, put on my hat and furred cloak, and went
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 Valkyrie 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 center 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
hat, 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 of
useless odd volumes, and a beggarly amount of empty shelves."
"What!" cried M. Fridriksson; "why, we have eight thousand volumes
of 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?" cried my
"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 M. Fridriksson.
"And now," he said, after many expressions of gratitude and good
will, "if you will tell me what books you expected to find, perhaps
I may be 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 and literature."
"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, sadly.
"Because Arne Saknussemm was persecuted for heresy, and in 1573
his works were publicly burnt at Copenhagen, by the hands of the
"Very good! capital!" murmured my uncle, to the great astonishment
of the worthy Icelander.
"You said, sir-"
"Yes, yes, all is clear, I see the link in the chain; everything
is 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
"A secret- which," stammered my uncle.
"Have you discovered some wonderful manuscript?" cried M.
"No! no, I was carried away by my enthusiasm. A mere supposition."
"Very good, sir. But, really, to turn to another subject, I hope you
will not leave our island without examining into its mineralogical
"Well," the fact is, I am rather late. So many learned men have been
here before me."
"Yes, yes, but there is still much to be done," cried M.
"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 Sneffels."
"Oh yes, Sneffels," said my uncle.
"One of the most curious volcanoes in existence, the crater of which
has been rarely visited."
"Extinct, any time these five hundred years," was the ready reply.
"Well," said my uncle, who dug his nails into his flesh, and pressed
his knees tightly together to prevent himself leaping up with joy.
"I have a great mind to begin my studies with an examination of the
geological mysteries of this Mount Seffel- Feisel- what do you call
"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 its crater."
"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
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 after
some 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 other.
"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. He 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.
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 of avarice.
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 collected.
Now, as the eider duck never selects steep rocks or aspects to build
its 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
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
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 shortest way.
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-
The treaty concluded, our worthy guide retired without another word.
"A splendid fellow," said my uncle; "only he little suspects the
marvelous part he is about to play in the history of the world."
"You mean, then," I cried in amazement, "that he should accompany
"To the interior of the earth, yes," replied my uncle. "Why not?"
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 the dip.
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
*The Ruhmkorff coil is used to obtain 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 L2,000 for this ingenious application
of electricity. A voltaic battery, so called from Volta, its designed,
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.
7. A voltaic battery on the newest principle.
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
not 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
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 may
hope to travel far."
It took a whole day to put all these matters in order. In the
evening we 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 miserable.
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
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 heart.
As for myself I put together a few of my best Latin phrases and paid
him 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!")
We Meet with adventures
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 of 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
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
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
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 Fjordungr.
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
of 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 sea.
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, "Good
beast, good beast, Henry, 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 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 day."
"We may do so," was my reply, "but what about our worthy guide?"
"I have not the slightest anxiety about him: that sort of people
go 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 stiff."
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
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
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 reputation.
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
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
and 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 will
certainly 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 of 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
"Wretched animal!" cried my uncle, suddenly transformed into a
foot 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 it is."
"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 and
"He says tide," replied my uncle, translating the Danish word for my
"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
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 to us.
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
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
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," and
then 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, bowed profoundly.
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 were.
"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
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 a 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 hraun: 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 steed.
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
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 surpassed.
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
salutation in his own language.
"God dag- good day!" replied the former, in excellent Danish.
"Kyrkoherde," cried Hans, turning round and introducing him to my
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
salutation in his own language.
"God dag- good day!" replied the former, in excellent Danish.
"Kyrkoherde," cried Hans, turning round and introducing him to my
"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 work."
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 us 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
our 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 myself.
"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 does 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 to let him get his passion over at his ease.
"I have been thinking about the matter," he said, in the quietest
tone 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
"I heartily agree with you, my dear uncle," was my somewhat
"It is now six hundred years since Sneffels has spoken, but though
now 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 say nothing.
"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
in 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 addressed me.
"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 the
approach 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 eruption."
"Enough, my boy. When science has sent forth her fiat- it is only to
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 the world.
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 their hospitality.
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
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
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 Iceland.
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
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 porphyries appeared.
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 center, when at last it
afforded no other openings, after the process of cooling the crust had
At length a time came when despite the enormous thickness and weight
of 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 were 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 constant falls.
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
Occasionally he would take it into his head to stop to pick up lumps
of 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
say 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
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 avalanches.
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 poles.
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 change.
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
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 eternal snows.
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
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 terrified tone.
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
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
on 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,
we 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 I 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 to distinguish.
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 a 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 spoke
as 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 we stand."
My uncle turned to the imperturbable guide, who nodded, and spoke as
usual- one word.
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,
"when perhaps it is loaded, and will go off at the least shock, is the
act of a madman."
But there was no longer any opportunity for me to hesitate. Hans,
with a perfectly calm and indifferent air, took his usual post at
the head of the adventurous little band. I followed without uttering a
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
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
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
and 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
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-
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 French
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
"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 to 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 with them!
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 was devoured.
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 deep" below.
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
"Here it is," gasped the Professor in an agony of joy, "here it
is- we have found it. Forward, my friends, into the Interior of the
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
heaven of delight.
When we were quite ready, our watches indicated thirteen minutes
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
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 center 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 first.
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 ladders- who
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
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 or hail.
While we were seated on this extraordinary bench I ventured once
more to look downwards. With a sigh I discovered that the bottom was
still wholly invisible. Were we, then, going direct to the interior of
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
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 go down.
At the expiration of three hours, we were, to all appearance, as far
off 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 an 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. It 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 in a satisfied tone.
"What, the interior of the earth?" said I, slipping down to his
"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 hopefully
"Oh, yes, I can dimly see a sort of tunnel, which turns off
obliquely to 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 we 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
We Continue Our Descent
AT eight o'clock the next morning, a faint kind of dawn of day awoke
us. 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 his
hands together, "what say you now? Did you ever pass a more tranquil
night in 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
there is something terrible in this calm."
"Why," said the Professor hotly, "one would say you were already
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
"What can you mean, sir?" was my bewildered and astonished reply.
"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 this
ever-increasing pressure may not in the end turn out very painful
"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 descent?"
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 commence."
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 first,
my 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
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
enthusiasm, "What a spectacle, Uncle! Do you not admire these
variegated shades of 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," cried
my 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 he said, "let us slide," for we were going down an inclined
plane with 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
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 circumstance.
"And you are surprised at this total absence of springs?" he said.
"Doubtless- I am very uneasy on the point. We have certainly not
enough 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
springs to force their way through these solid stone walls?"
"But what is there to prove that this concrete mass of lava does not
extend to the center 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
the level of the sea- we should find it rather hotter than we have."
"According to your system," said my uncle; "but what does the
"Scarcely fifteen degrees by Reaumur, which is only an increase of
nine since our departure."
"Well, and what conclusion does that bring you to?" inquired the
"The deduction I draw from this is very simple. According to the
most 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.
"Nine 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
feet 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 stopped.
"At last," cried my uncle, "we have reached the end of the shaft."
I looked wonderingly about me. We were in the center 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 gloomy recesses.
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
"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 admire.
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
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 a road?"
"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
"There can be no doubt about it. For the last half hour the slopes
have 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 vertical.
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 waters
which 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 of
calcareous rocks and the first indication of slate strata?"
"Well; what then?"
"We have arrived at that period of the world's existence when the
first 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
was 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
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 must
certainly find some remains of primitive plants, and it will be
absolutely necessary to give way to such indubitable evidence. Let
us have a good search."
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
"Do you see this?" I said.
"Well, said the Professor, with the most imperturbable tranquillity,
"it 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 draw no
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
and 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, "and I
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 on
And on he went.
Deeper and Deeper
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 water!
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, our guide.
The road had no longer an upward tendency; at all events, if it had,
it 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
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 reptile.
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
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
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 severely.
"How can we tell?"
"I can tell," replied my uncle, in a sharp and doctorial tone. "I am
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
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
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
and 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
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
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 single hour.
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,
to the left above, below, nowhere was there any passage. We had
reached a spot where the rocks said in unmistakable accents- No
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
is just gone."
"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
I would have bartered a diamond mine for a glass of pure spring
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 of water.
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 on 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
Presently I felt my uncle approach, and lift me up tenderly in his
"Poor boy," I heard him say in a tone of deep commiseration.
I was profoundly touched by these words, being by no means
accustomed to 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 tears.
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
"Drink"' he said again.
Had I heard aright? Before, however, I could ask myself the question
a 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
"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 feverish cheeks.
"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
While I spoke thus, my uncle evidently avoided my face: he held down
his head; his eyes were turned in every possible direction but the
"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
"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 tone of
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
way to 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 cried.
"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 will go on alone."
"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
I quietly approached Hans. I caught his hand in mine. He never moved
a 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 from
my 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
"This wretched want of water," he said, "is the sole obstacle to the
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 reward
your superhuman energy. But as, unless we discover water, our hours
are numbered, let us lose no time, but go ahead."
A New Route
OUR descent was now resumed by means of the second gallery. Hans
took up 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 is our hope!"
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
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 ear.
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, I could fancy the whole weight resting on my shoulders. I was
crushed, annihilated! and exhausted myself in vain attempts to turn in
my granite bed.
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 anxious?
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
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
"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 my
hands, and gesticulating like a madman.
"Water!" murmured my uncle, in a voice of deep emotion and
gratitude. "Hvar?" ("Where?)
"Where? below!" I understood every word. I had caught the hunter
by the hands, and I shook them heartily, while he looked on with
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
"Hans was right," he exclaimed enthusiastically; "that is the dull
roaring of a torrent."
"A torrent," I cried, delighted at even hearing the welcome words.
"There's not the slightest doubt about it he replied, "a
subterranean 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" the 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 be 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
myself; "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
as 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 at 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
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
mineralized. 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 a
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 agreed upon.
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 imperturbable gravity.
"Now," said I, "it is not worth while letting this water run to
"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 gourds, 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
"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
shall 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 in 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
"More than that, I am now confident of ultimate success.
"One moment, nephew mine. Let us begin by taking some hours of
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 world.
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
But we had no choice; and as long as our road led towards the
center- 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
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 the descent.
"Ah, ah!" he cried, in rapturous delight; "this take us a long
way. Look at the projections of the rock. Hah!" he exclaimed, "it's
a fearful staircase!"
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 ordinary affair.
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
We were compelled every quarter of an hour or thereabouts to sit
down in 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 been opened.
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," was my
"Well, out with it, My boy."
"It is my opinion that if your calculations are correct we are no
longer under Iceland."
"Do you think so?"
"We can very easily find out," I replied, pulling out a map and
"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 a
"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
in 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
as 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
six-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 the expedition."
"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 the 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, and
going through some rapid calculations. "I make out that we have
journeyed two hundred and fifty miles from the point of our
"Then the mighty waves of the Atlantic are rolling over our heads?"
"And at this very moment it is possible that fierce tempests are
raging 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 uncle,
"And that whales are playing in shoals, thrashing the bottom of
the sea, 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 direction."
"Sixteen leagues- fifty miles!" I cried.
"I am sure of it."
"But that is the extreme limit allowed by science for the
thickness of the earth's crust," I replied, referring to my geological
"I do not contravene that assertion," was his quiet answer.
"And at this stage of our journey, according to all known laws on
the increase of heat, there should be here a temperature of fifteen
hundred degrees of Reaumur."
"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
usual, 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 the
"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
way 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
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
"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
of a 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.
If we 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
costs us 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
"Bother your calculations," cried my uncle in one of his old
rages. "On 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,
"when 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
"Now, then," he explained, "consult the manometer. What does that
"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 not suffer."
"Well, I suppose not, except it may be a certain amount of pain in
the 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 wise to
contradict my uncle. "I should fancy almost that I should experience a
certain amount of satisfaction in making a plunge into this dense
atmosphere. Have you taken note of how wonderfully sound is
"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 density
will continue to increase."
"Yes- according to a law which, however, is scarcely defined. It
is true 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 center 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
ten 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
"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
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 be made:
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 center 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
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 I 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 center 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
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 too
fast- or 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 me."
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 drive
away 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. I 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 matter."
But as I spoke these last words aloud, it would have been quite
clear to 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 route.
"Again," thought I, reasoning as calmly as was possible, "there is
another sure means of not losing my way, a thread to guide me
through the labyrinthine subterraneous retreat- one which I had
forgotten- my faithful river."
This course of reasoning roused my drooping spirits, and I
resolved to resume my journey without further delay. No time was to be
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
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
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 my 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-
Lost! 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 madness!
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 vivid imagination.
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 me.
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 of 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
had 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 Hansbach.
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 earth.
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
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
I tried to cry aloud, but hoarse, hollow, and inarticulate sounds
alone could make themselves heard through my parched lips. I literally
panted for breath.
In the midst of all these horrible sources of anguish and despair, a
new 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 utter darkness!
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 tenebrous shades.
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
the 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 my head.
Where was I going? It was impossible to say. I was perfectly
ignorant of the matter.
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
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 gulf.
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 if 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 to 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 my 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 of me.
"It must be they," I cried; "who else could by any possibility be
buried a hundred miles below the level of the earth?" The mere
supposition was preposterous.
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 time
devoted 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 to 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
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
"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 to
answer 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 each other."
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 the
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
will 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 the
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
my lips to the wall, repeated the sound.
. . . . . . . . . .
"Forty seconds," said my uncle. "There has elapsed forty seconds
between 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
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 tone;
"depend on us."
. . . . . . . . . .
"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
vast 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
"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 which
reached my anxious ears before I commenced my weary and almost
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
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 Dionysius.
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
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 loud cry of joy. "He lives! he lives!"
"Yes, my good uncle," I whispered.
"My dear boy," continued the grim Professor, clasping me to his
heart, "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. I 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 require."
"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. It
is 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
has 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 my bed.
"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
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, "that
you 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 is the matter, Harry?"
"I want to ask you a very serious question. You say that I am all
right in health?"
"Certainly you are."
"And all my limbs are sound and capable of new exertion?" I asked.
"But what about my head?" was my next anxious question.
"Well, your head, except that you have one or two contusions, is
exactly where it ought to be- on your shoulders," said my uncle,
"Well, my own opinion is that my head is not exactly right. In fact,
I believe myself slightly delirious."
"What makes you think so?"
"I will explain why I fancy I have lost my senses," I cried. "Have
we not returned to the surface of Mother Earth?"
"Then truly I must be mad, for do I not see the light of day? do I
not hear the whistling of the wind? and can I not distinguish the wash
of a great sea?"
"And that is all that makes you uneasy?" said my uncle, with a
"Can you explain?"
"I will not make any attempt to explain; for the whole matter is
utterly 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
restrain my curiosity.
"Wait a moment, my dear Harry," he responded; "you must take
precautions 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 I have no wish for you to expose yourself without necessary
"But I beg to assure you that I am perfectly recovered from my
"Have just a little patience, my boy. A relapse would be
inconvenient to 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
go on 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 grotto.
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," I cried.
"Yes," replied my uncle, in a tone of pardonable pride; "the Central
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 an 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 to 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
to 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 heat.
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
who 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
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. I
cannot 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
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
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 the
marvels of this underground sea, "do you feel strong enough to walk up
"Certainly," was my ready answer, "nothing would give me greater
"Well then, my boy," he said, lean on my arm, and we will stroll
along the beach."
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 sigh.
"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;
but I forbore.
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 admiration.
In truth, I was simply in the presence of a very ordinary product of
the 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 of
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 we
have 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
"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. But 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
as the plants, the matter would certainly be serious.
"Doubtless. Look at the dust we are treading under foot- behold
the 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, almost
as 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
during the secondary period, when the sedimentary soil was formed by
the alluviums, and thus replaced the hot and burning rocks of the
"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
antediluvian 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
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
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
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 and refreshing.
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 had finished.
"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,
"Certainly I did."
"You do not mean to say," I replied, in a tone of respectful
doubt, "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 my feet.
"Yes, my excellent nephew," replied my uncle, rubbing his hands with
the 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 natural."
"It may appear so in your eyes, my dear uncle," was my reply, "but
all 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
smile; "is there any physical reason in opposition to it?
"Well, if we give up the great theory of the central heat of the
earth, I certainly can offer no reasons why anything should be
looked upon as impossible."
"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
see no 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
see why this sea should not have given shelter to some species of
"Hitherto we have not discovered any, and the probabilities are
rather 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
to try my luck with my fishing line and hook."
"Certainly; make the experiment," said my uncle, pleased with my
enthusiasm. "While we are about it, it will certainly be only proper
to 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 Iceland."
"So much?" was my exclamation.
"I have gone over the matter several times, and am sure not to
have made a mistake of five hundred yards," replied my uncle
"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 does
on earth, in the northern hemisphere, has an upward tendency."
"This proves," I cried, "that the great point of magnetic attraction
lies somewhere between the surface of the earth and the spot we have
succeeded in reaching."
"Exactly, my observant nephew," exclaimed my uncle, elated and
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 center of attraction is not
situated at a very great depth."
"Well," said I, rather surprised, "this discovery will astonish
experimental philosophers. It was never suspected."
"Science, great, mighty and in the end unerring," replied my uncle
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 are now
beneath the Scottish Highlands, and have over our heads the lofty
"You are quite right," said the Professor, laughing; "it sounds very
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
our 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
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 are not
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
swim 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 surroundings."
"Doubtless," was my natural reply.
"Well, then, do you not think that when once we reach the other end,
we 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 or less."
"But even supposing this approximation to be a correct one- what
then?" I asked.
"My dear boy, we have no time for further discussion. We shall
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 sea;
and 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
vessel. For the present we must be content with a good and solid
"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
"My good Harry- if you were to listen instead of talking so much,
you would hear," said my uncle, waxing a little impatient.
"I should hear?"
"Yes- certain knocks with the hammer, which Hans is now employing to
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
our 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 is it?"
"Well, there is pinewood, fir, and the palms of the northern
regions, mineralized by the action of the sea," he replied,
"Can it be possible?"
"Yes," said the learned Professor, "what you see is called fossil
"But then," cried I, after reflecting for a moment, "like the
lignites, it must be as hard and as heavy as iron, and therefore
will certainly not float."
"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
"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 marvelous.
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
be 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
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
for 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
well 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 considerable force.
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
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
to 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 exhausted.
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
and the philosopher.
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 center.
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
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 escape.
"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 for 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 a live
specimen of a fish belonging to the primitive stock that existed
before the deluge?"
"We have," said the Professor, who all this time was continuing
his 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 I
am 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 without
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
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
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
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
a 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 center 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 infinite space!
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 semioblivion.
"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 around me.
"Take care, my boy," again cried my uncle, "you will fall into the
As he uttered these words, I felt myself seized on the other side by
the 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
"Have you gone mad?" cried my uncle, shaking me on the other side.
"What- what is the matter?" I said at last, coming to myself.
"Are you ill, Henry?" continued the Professor in an anxious tone.
"No- no; but I have had an extraordinary dream. It, however, has
passed away. All now seems well"' I added, looking around me with
strangely puzzled eyes.
"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
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
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 marvelous rapidity?
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
time he put down his telescope and walked up and down, muttering to
"No, I am not uneasy," he replied in a dry harsh tone, "by no
"Perhaps I should have said impatient," I replied, softening the
force of my remark.
"Enough to make me so, I think."
"And yet we are advancing at a rate seldom attained by a raft," I
"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
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 uncle's anger.
"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, has
it. 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 the whole journey to have enjoyed this magnificent spectacle- it
is something to have seen."
"I care nothing about seeing, nor about magnificent spectacles. I
came 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 sentimental trash."
After this I thought it well to hold my tongue, and allow the
Professor to bite his lips until the blood came, without further
At six o'clock in the evening, our matter-of-fact guide, Hans, asked
for 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
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
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 more attention.
Yes. There can be no doubt about the matter. The indentations on the
bar of iron are the marks of teeth! What jaws must the owner of such
molars be possessed of! Have well 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
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
I fancy that the worthy Professor in some measure shares my notions,
if 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
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
for 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 shipwrecked,
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
jaws, 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
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 us.
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 of wonder.
"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 of
a 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
"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 the sea!
..to be continued ..
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