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Deeper And Deeper The Coal Mine

From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

In truth, we were compelled to put ourselves upon rations. Our supply
would certainly last not more than three days. I found this out about
supper time. The worst part of the matter was that, in what is called
the transition rocks, it was hardly to be expected we should meet with

I had read of the horrors of thirst, and I knew that where we were, a
brief trial of its sufferings would put an end to our adventures and
our lives! But it was utterly useless to discuss the matter with my
uncle. He would have answered by some axiom from Plato.

During the whole of next day we proceeded on our journey through this
interminable gallery, arch after arch, tunnel after tunnel. We journeyed
without exchanging a word. We had become as mute and reticent as Hans,
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 more marked.

It was a glorious sight to see how the electric light brought out the
sparkles in the walls of the calcareous rocks, and the old red
sandstone. One might have fancied oneself in one of those deep cuttings
in Devonshire, which have given their name to this kind of soil. Some
magnificent specimens of marble projected from the sides of the gallery:
some of an agate grey with white veins of variegated character, others
of a yellow spotted color, with red veins; farther off might be seen
samples of color in which cherry-tinted seams were to be found in all
their brightest shades.

The greater number of these marbles were stamped with the marks of
primitive animals. Since the previous evening, nature and creation had
made considerable progress. Instead of the rudimentary trilobites, I
perceived the remains of a more perfect order. Among others, the fish in
which the eye of a geologist has been able to discover the first form of
the 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 realized!

On Friday, after a night when I began to feel the gnawing agony of
thirst, and when in consequence appetite decreased, our little band rose
and once more followed the turnings and windings, the ascents and
descents, of this interminable gallery. All were silent and gloomy. I
could see that even my uncle had ventured too far.

After about ten hours of further progress a progress dull and
monotonous to the last degree I remarked that the reverberation, and
reflection of our lamps upon the sides of the tunnel, had singularly
diminished. The marble, the schist, the calcareous rocks, the red
sandstone, had disappeared, leaving in their places a dark and gloomy
wall, somber and without brightness. When we reached a remarkably narrow
part of the tunnel, I leaned my left hand against the rock.

When I took my hand away, and happened to glance at it, it was quite
black. We had reached the coal strata of the Central Earth.

"A coal mine!" I cried.

"A coal mine without miners," responded my uncle, a little 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 until

The next morning, Saturday, at six o'clock, we started again. Twenty
minutes later we suddenly came upon a vast excavation. From its mighty
extent I saw at once that the hand of man could have had nothing to do
with this coal mine; the vault above would have fallen in; as it was, it
was only held together by some miracle of nature.

This mighty natural cavern was about a hundred feet wide, by about a
hundred and fifty high. The earth had evidently been cast apart by some
violent subterranean commotion. The mass, giving way to some prodigious
upheaving of nature, had split in two, leaving the vast gap into which
we inhabitants of the earth had penetrated for the first time.

The whole singular history of the coal period was written on those dark
and gloomy walls. A geologist would have been able easily to follow the
different phases of its formation. The seams of coal were separated by
strata of sandstone, a compact clay, which appeared to be crushed down
by the weight from above.

At that period of the world which preceded the secondary epoch, the
earth was covered by a coating of enormous and rich vegetation, due to
the double action of tropical heat and perpetual humidity. A vast
atmospheric cloud of vapor surrounded the earth on all sides, preventing
the rays of the sun from ever reaching it.

Hence the conclusion that these intense heats did not arise from this
new source of caloric.

Perhaps even the star of day was not quite ready for its brilliant
work to illumine a universe. Climates did not as yet exist, and a level
heat pervaded the whole surface of the globe the same heat existing at
the North Pole as at the equator.

Whence did it come? From the interior of the earth?

In spite of all the learned theories of Professor Hardwigg, a fierce 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 early

There were but few of what may be called trees only herbaceous plants,
immense turfs, briers, mosses, rare families, which, however, in those
days were counted by tens and tens of thousands.

It is entirely to this exuberant vegetation that coal owes its origin.
The crust of the vast globe still yielded under the influence of the
seething, boiling mass, which was forever at work beneath. Hence arose
numerous fissures, and continual falling in of the upper earth. The
dense mass of plants being beneath the waters, soon formed themselves
into vast agglomerations.

Then came about the action of natural chemistry; in the depths of the
ocean the vegetable mass at first became turf, then, thanks to the
influence of gases and subterranean fermentation, they underwent the
complete process of mineralization.

In this manner, in early days, were formed those vast and prodigious
layers of coal, which an ever increasing consumption must utterly use
up in about three centuries more, if people do not find some more
economic light than gas, and some cheaper motive power than steam.

All these reflections, the memories of my school studies, came to my
mind while I gazed upon these mighty accumulations of coal, whose
riches, however, are scarcely likely to be ever utilized. The working of
these mines could only be carried out at an expense that would never
yield a profit.

The matter, however, is scarcely worthy consideration, when coal is
scattered over the whole surface of the globe, within a few yards of the
upper crust. As I looked at these untouched strata, therefore, I knew
they would remain as long as the world lasts.

While we still continued our journey, I alone forgot the length of the
road, by giving myself up wholly to these geological considerations. The
temperature continued to be very much the same as while we were
traveling amid the lava and the schists. On the other hand my sense of
smell was much affected by a very powerful odor. I immediately knew that
the gallery was filled to overflowing with that dangerous gas the miners
call fire damp, the explosion of which has caused such fearful and
terrible accidents, making a hundred widows and hundreds of orphans in a
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 Thoroughfare.

I stood stupefied. The guide simply folded his arms. My uncle was

"Well, well, so much the better," cried my uncle, at last, "I now know
what we are about. We are decidedly not upon the road followed by
Saknussemm. All we have to do is to go back. Let us take one night's
good rest, and before three days are over, I promise you we shall have
regained the point where the galleries divided."

"Yes, we may, if our strength lasts as long," I cried, in a lamentable

"And why not?"

"Tomorrow, among us three, there will not be a drop of water. It is just

"And your courage with it," said my uncle, speaking in a severe tone.

What could I say? I turned round on my side, and from sheer exhaustion
fell into a heavy sleep disturbed by dreams of water! And I awoke

I would have bartered a diamond mine for a glass of pure spring water!

Next: The Wrong Road!

Previous: The Eastern Tunnel

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