At these words a cold shiver ran through me. Yet I controlled myself; I even resolved to put a good face upon it. Scientific arguments alone could have any weight with Professor Liedenbrock. Now there were good ones against the practicability of such a journey. Penetrate to the centre of the earth! What nonsense! But I kept my dialectic battery in reserve for a suitable opportunity, and I interested myself in the prospect of my dinner, which was not yet forthcoming.
It is no use to tell of the rage and imprecations of my uncle before the empty table. Explanations were given, Martha was set at liberty, ran off to the market, and did her part so well that in an hour afterwards my hunger was appeased, and I was able to return to the contemplation of the gravity of the situation.
During all dinner time my uncle was almost merry; he indulged in some of those learned jokes which never do anybody any harm. Dessert over, he beckoned me into his study.
I obeyed; he sat at one end of his table, I at the other.
"Axel," said he very mildly; "you are a very ingenious young man, you have done me a splendid service, at a moment when, wearied out with the struggle, I was going to abandon the contest. Where should I have lost myself? None can tell. Never, my lad, shall I forget it; and you shall have your share in the glory to which your discovery will lead."
"Oh, come!" thought I, "he is in a good way. Now is the time for discussing that same glory."
"Before all things," my uncle resumed, "I enjoin you to preserve the most inviolable secrecy: you understand? There are not a few in the scientific world who envy my success, and many would be ready to undertake this enterprise, to whom our return should be the first news of it."
"Do you really think there are many people bold enough?" said I.
"Certainly; who would hesitate to acquire such renown? If that document were divulged, a whole army of geologists would be ready to rush into the footsteps of Arne Saknussemm."
"I don't feel so very sure of that, uncle," I replied; "for we have no proof of the authenticity of this document."
"What! not of the book, inside which we have discovered it?"
"Granted. I admit that Saknussemm may have written these lines. But does it follow that he has really accomplished such a journey? And may it not be that this old parchment is intended to mislead?"
I almost regretted having uttered this last word, which dropped from me in an unguarded moment. The Professor bent his shaggy brows, and I feared I had seriously compromised my own safety. Happily no great harm came of it. A smile flitted across the lip of my severe companion, and he answered:
"That is what we shall see."
"Ah!" said I, rather put out. "But do let me exhaust all the possible objections against this document."
"Speak, my boy, don't be afraid. You are quite at liberty to express your opinions. You are no longer my nephew only, but my colleague. Pray go on."
"Well, in the first place, I wish to ask what are this Jokul, this Sneffels, and this Scartaris, names which I have never heard before?"
"Nothing easier. I received not long ago a map from my friend, Augustus Petermann, at Liepzig. Nothing could be more apropos. Take down the third atlas in the second shelf in the large bookcase, series Z, plate 4."
I rose, and with the help of such precise instructions could not fail to find the required atlas. My uncle opened it and said:
"Here is one of the best maps of Iceland, that of Handersen, and I believe this will solve the worst of our difficulties."
I bent over the map.
"You see this volcanic island," said the Professor; "observe that all the volcanoes are called jokuls, a word which means glacier in Icelandic, and under the high latitude of Iceland nearly all the active volcanoes discharge through beds of ice. Hence this term of jokul is applied to all the eruptive mountains in Iceland."
"Very good," said I; "but what of Sneffels?"
I was hoping that this question would be unanswerable; but I was mistaken. My uncle replied:
"Follow my finger along the west coast of Iceland. Do you see Rejkiavik, the capital? You do. Well; ascend the innumerable fiords that indent those sea-beaten shores, and stop at the sixty-fifth degree of latitude. What do you see there?"
"I see a peninsula looking like a thigh bone with the knee bone at the end of it."
"A very fair comparison, my lad. Now do you see anything upon that knee bone?"
"Yes; a mountain rising out of the sea."
"Right. That is Snaefell."
"It is. It is a mountain five thousand feet high, one of the most remarkable in the world, if its crater leads down to the centre of the earth."
"But that is impossible," I said shrugging my shoulders, and disgusted at such a ridiculous supposition.
"Impossible?" said the Professor severely; "and why, pray?"
"Because this crater is evidently filled with lava and burning rocks, and therefore-"
"But suppose it is an extinct volcano?"
About the book:
The intrepid Professor Lindenbrock embarks upon the strangest expedition of the nineteenth century: a journey down an extinct Icelandic volcano to the Earth's very core. In his quest to penetrate the planet's primordial secrets, the geologist--together with his quaking nephew Axel and their devoted guide, Hans--discovers an astonishing subterranean menagerie of prehistoric proportions. Verne's imaginative tale is at once the ultimate science fiction adventure and a reflection on the perfectibility of human understanding and the psychology of the questor.
Excerpt from The Sandman
- E. T. A. Hoffmann
Excerpt from Great Expectations
- Charles Dickens