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A Voyage Of Discovery







From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

It would be altogether impossible for me to give any idea of the utter
astonishment which overcame the Professor on making this extraordinary
discovery. Amazement, incredulity, and rage were blended in such a way
as to alarm me.

During the whole course of my Life I had never seen a man at first so
chapfallen; and then so furiously indignant.

The terrible fatigues of our sea voyage, the fearful dangers we had
passed through, had all, all, gone for nothing. We had to begin them all
over again.

Instead of progressing, as we fondly expected, during a voyage of so
many days, we had retreated. Every hour of our expedition on the raft
had been so much lost time!

Presently, however, the indomitable energy of my uncle overcame every
other consideration.

"So," he said, between his set teeth, "fatality will play me these
terrible tricks. The elements themselves conspire to overwhelm me with
mortification. Air, fire, and water combine their united efforts to
oppose my passage. Well, they shall see what the earnest will of a
determined man can do. I will not yield, I will not retreat even one
inch; and we shall see who shall triumph in this great contest man or
nature."

Standing upright on a rock, irritated and menacing, Professor Hardwigg,
like the ferocious Ajax, seemed to defy the fates. I, however, took upon
myself to interfere, and to impose some sort of check upon such
insensate enthusiasm.

"Listen to me, Uncle," I said, in a firm but temperate tone of voice,
"there must be some limit to ambition here below. It is utterly useless
to struggle against the impossible. Pray listen to reason. We are
utterly unprepared for a sea voyage; it is simply madness to think of
performing a journey of five hundred leagues upon a wretched pile of
beams, with a counterpane for a sail, a paltry stick for a mast, and a
tempest to contend with. As we are totally incapable of steering our
frail craft, we shall become the mere plaything of the storm, and it is
acting the part of madmen if we, a second time, run any risk upon this
dangerous and treacherous Central Sea."

These are only a few of the reasons and arguments I put
together reasons and arguments which to me appeared unanswerable. I was
allowed to go on without interruption for about ten minutes. The
explanation to this I soon discovered. The Professor was not even
listening, and did not hear a word of all my eloquence.

"To the raft!" he cried in a hoarse voice, when I paused for a reply.

Such was the result of my strenuous effort to resist his iron will. I
tried again; I begged and implored him; I got into a passion; but I had
to deal with a will more determined than my own. I seemed to feel like
the waves which fought and battled against the huge mass of granite at
our feet, which had smiled grimly for so many ages at their puny
efforts.

Hans, meanwhile, without taking part in our discussion, had been
repairing the raft. One would have supposed that he instinctively
guessed at the further projects of my uncle.

By means of some fragments of cordage, he had again made the raft
seaworthy.

While I had been speaking, he had hoisted a new mast and sail, the
latter already fluttering and waving in the breeze.

The worthy Professor spoke a few words to our imperturbable guide, who
immediately began to put our baggage on board and to prepare for our
departure. The atmosphere was now tolerably clear and pure, and the
northeast wind blew steadily and serenely. It appeared likely to last
for some time.

What, then, could I do? Could I undertake to resist the iron will of two
men? It was simply impossible if even I could have hoped for the support
of Hans. This, however, was out of the question. It appeared to me that
the Icelander had set aside all personal will and identity. He was a
picture of abnegation.

I could hope for nothing from one so infatuated with and devoted to his
master. All I could do, therefore, was to swim with the stream.

In a mood of stolid and sullen resignation, I was about to take my
accustomed place on the raft when my uncle placed his hand upon my
shoulder.

"There is no hurry, my boy," he said, "we shall not start until
tomorrow."

I looked the picture of resignation to the dire will of fate.

"Under the circumstances," he said, "I ought to neglect no precautions.
As fate has cast me upon these shores, I shall not leave without having
completely examined them."

In order to understand this remark, I must explain that though we had
been driven back to the northern shore, we had landed at a very
different spot from that which had been our starting point.

Port Gretchen must, we calculated, be very much to the westward.
Nothing, therefore, was more natural and reasonable than that we should
reconnoiter this new shore upon which we had so unexpectedly landed.

"Let us go on a journey of discovery," I cried.

And leaving Hans to his important operation, we started on our
expedition. The distance between the foreshore at high water and the
foot of the rocks was considerable. It would take about half an hour's
walking to get from one to the other.

As we trudged along, our feet crushed innumerable shells of every shape
and size once the dwelling place of animals of every period of
creation.

I particularly noticed some enormous shells carapaces (turtle and
tortoise species) the diameter of which exceeded fifteen feet.

They had in past ages belonged to those gigantic Glyptodons of the
Pliocene period, of which the modern turtle is but a minute specimen. In
addition, the whole soil was covered by a vast quantity of stony relics,
having the appearance of flints worn by the action of the waves, and
lying in successive layers one above the other. I came to the conclusion
that in past ages the sea must have covered the whole district. Upon the
scattered rocks, now lying far beyond its reach, the mighty waves of
ages had left evident marks of their passage.

On reflection, this appeared to me partially to explain the existence of
this remarkable ocean, forty leagues below the surface of the earth's
crust. According to my new, and perhaps fanciful, theory, this liquid
mass must be gradually lost in the deep bowels of the earth. I had also
no doubt that this mysterious sea was fed by infiltration of the ocean
above, through imperceptible fissures.

Nevertheless, it was impossible not to admit that these fissures must
now be nearly choked up, for if not, the cavern, or rather the immense
and stupendous reservoir, would have been completely filled in a short
space of time. Perhaps even this water, having to contend against the
accumulated subterraneous fires of the interior of the earth, had become
partially vaporized. Hence the explanation of those heavy clouds
suspended over our heads, and the superabundant display of that
electricity which occasioned such terrible storms in this deep and
cavernous sea.

This lucid explanation of the phenomena we had witnessed appeared to me
quite satisfactory. However great and mighty the marvels of nature may
seem to us, they are always to be explained by physical reasons.
Everything is subordinate to some great law of nature.

It now appeared clear that we were walking upon a kind of sedimentary
soil, formed like all the soils of that period, so frequent on the
surface of the globe, by the subsidence of the waters. The Professor,
who was now in his element, carefully examined every rocky fissure. Let
him only find an opening and it directly became important to him to
examine its depth.

For a whole mile we followed the windings of the Central Sea, when
suddenly an important change took place in the aspect of the soil. It
seemed to have been rudely cast up, convulsionized, as it were, by a
violent upheaving of the lower strata. In many places, hollows here and
hillocks there attested great dislocations at some other period of the
terrestrial mass.

We advanced with great difficulty over the broken masses of granite
mixed with flint, quartz, and alluvial deposits, when a large field,
more even than a field, a plain of bones, appeared suddenly before our
eyes! It looked like an immense cemetery, where generation after
generation had mingled their mortal dust.

Lofty barrows of early remains rose at intervals. They undulated away to
the limits of the distant horizon and were lost in a thick and brown
fog.

On that spot, some three square miles in extent, was accumulated the
whole history of animal life scarcely one creature upon the
comparatively modern soil of the upper and inhabited world had not there
existed.

Nevertheless, we were drawn forward by an all-absorbing and impatient
curiosity. Our feet crushed with a dry and crackling sound the remains
of those prehistoric fossils, for which the museums of great cities
quarrel, even when they obtain only rare and curious morsels. A thousand
such naturalists as Cuvier would not have sufficed to recompose the
skeletons of the organic beings which lay in this magnificent osseous
collection.

I was utterly confounded. My uncle stood for some minutes with his arms
raised on high towards the thick granite vault which served us for a
sky. His mouth was wide open; his eyes sparkled wildly behind his
spectacles (which he had fortunately saved), his head bobbed up and down
and from side to side, while his whole attitude and mien expressed
unbounded astonishment.

He stood in the presence of an endless, wondrous, and inexhaustibly rich
collection of antediluvian monsters, piled up for his own private and
peculiar satisfaction.

Fancy an enthusiastic lover of books carried suddenly into the very
midst of the famous library of Alexandria burned by the sacrilegious
Omar, and which some miracle had restored to its pristine splendor! Such
was something of the state of mind in which Uncle Hardwigg was now
placed.

For some time he stood thus, literally aghast at the magnitude of his
discovery.

But it was even a greater excitement when, darting wildly over this mass
of organic dust, he caught up a naked skull and addressed me in a
quivering voice:

"Harry, my boy Harry this is a human head!"

"A human head, Uncle!" I said, no less amazed and stupefied than
himself.

"Yes, nephew. Ah! Mr. Milne-Edwards ah! Mr. De Quatrefages why are you
not here where I am I, Professor Hardwigg!"





Next: Discovery Upon Discovery

Previous: Our Route Reversed



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