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Hunger







From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

Hunger, prolonged, is temporary madness! The brain is at work without
its required food, and the most fantastic notions fill the mind.
Hitherto I had never known what hunger really meant. I was likely to
understand it now.

And yet, three months before I could tell my terrible story of
starvation, as I thought it. As a boy I used to make frequent excursions
in the neighborhood of the Professor's house.

My uncle always acted on system, and he believed that, in addition to
the day of rest and worship, there should be a day of recreation. In
consequence, I was always free to do as I liked on a Wednesday.

Now, as I had a notion to combine the useful and the agreeable, my
favorite pastime was birds' nesting. I had one of the best collections
of eggs in all the town. They were classified, and under glass cases.

There was a certain wood, which, by rising at early morn, and taking the
cheap train, I could reach at eleven in the morning. Here I would
botanize or geologize at my will. My uncle was always glad of specimens
for his herbarium, and stones to examine. When I had filled my wallet, I
proceeded to search for nests.

After about two hours of hard work, I, one day, sat down by a stream to
eat my humble but copious lunch. How the remembrance of the spiced
sausage, the wheaten loaf, and the beer, made my mouth water now! I
would have given every prospect of worldly wealth for such a meal. But
to my story.

While seated thus at my leisure, I looked up at the ruins of an old
castle, at no great distance. It was the remains of an historical
dwelling, ivy-clad, and now falling to pieces.

While looking, I saw two eagles circling about the summit of a lofty
tower. I soon became satisfied that there was a nest. Now, in all my
collection, I lacked eggs of the native eagle and the large owl.

My mind was made up. I would reach the summit of that tower, or perish
in the attempt. I went nearer, and surveyed the ruins. The old
staircase, years before, had fallen in. The outer walls were, however,
intact. There was no chance that way, unless I looked to the ivy solely
for support. This was, as I soon found out, futile.

There remained the chimney, which still went up to the top, and had once
served to carry off the smoke from every story of the tower.

Up this I determined to venture. It was narrow, rough, and therefore the
more easily climbed. I took off my coat and crept into the chimney.
Looking up, I saw a small, light opening, proclaiming the summit of the
chimney.

Up up I went, for some time using my hands and knees, after the fashion
of a chimney sweep. It was slow work, but, there being continual
projections, the task was comparatively easy. In this way, I reached
halfway. The chimney now became narrower. The atmosphere was close, and,
at last, to end the matter, I stuck fast. I could ascend no higher.

There could be no doubt of this, and there remained no resource but to
descend, and give up my glorious prey in despair. I yielded to fate and
endeavored to descend. But I could not move. Some unseen and mysterious
obstacle intervened and stopped me. In an instant the full horror of my
situation seized me.

I was unable to move either way, and was doomed to a terrible and
horrible death, that of starvation. In a boy's mind, however, there is
an extraordinary amount of elasticity and hope, and I began to think of
all sorts of plans to escape my gloomy fate.

In the first place, I required no food just at present, having had an
excellent meal, and was therefore allowed time for reflection. My first
thought was to try and move the mortar with my hand. Had I possessed a
knife, something might have been done, but that useful instrument I had
left in my coat pocket.

I soon found that all efforts of this kind were vain and useless, and
that all I could hope to do was to wriggle downwards.

But though I jerked and struggled, and strove to turn, it was all in
vain. I could not move an inch, one way or the other. And time flew
rapidly. My early rising probably contributed to the fact that I felt
sleepy, and gradually gave way to the sensation of drowsiness.

I slept, and awoke in darkness, ravenously hungry.

Night had come, and still I could not move. I was tight bound, and did
not succeed in changing my position an inch. I groaned aloud. Never
since the days of my happy childhood, when it was a hardship to go from
meal to meal without eating, had I really experienced hunger. The
sensation was as novel as it was painful. I began now to lose my head
and to scream and cry out in my agony. Something appeared, startled by
my noise. It was a harmless lizard, but it appeared to me a loathsome
reptile. Again I made the old ruins resound with my cries, and finally
so exhausted myself that I fainted.

How long I lay in a kind of trance or sleep I cannot say, but when again
I recovered consciousness it was day. How ill I felt, how hunger still
gnawed at me, it would be hard to say. I was too weak to scream now, far
too weak to struggle.

Suddenly I was startled by a roar.

"Are you there, Henry?" said the voice of my uncle; "are you there, my
boy?"

I could only faintly respond, but I also made a desperate effort to
turn. Some mortar fell. To this I owed my being discovered. When the
search took place, it was easily seen that mortar and small pieces of
stone had recently fallen from above. Hence my uncle's cry.

"Be calm," he cried, "if we pull down the whole ruin, you shall be
saved."

They were delicious words, but I had little hope.

Soon however, about a quarter of an hour later I heard a voice above me,
at one of the upper fireplaces.

"Are you below or above?"

"Below," was my reply.

In an instant a basket was lowered with milk, a biscuit, and an egg. My
uncle was fearful to be too ready with his supply of food. I drank the
milk first, for thirst had nearly deadened hunger. I then, much
refreshed, ate my bread and hard egg.

They were now at work at the wall. I could hear a pickax. Wishing to
escape all danger from this terrible weapon I made a desperate struggle,
and the belt, which surrounded my waist and which had been hitched on a
stone, gave way. I was free, and only escaped falling down by a rapid
motion of my hands and knees.

In ten minutes more I was in my uncle's arms, after being two days and
nights in that horrible prison. My occasional delirium prevented me from
counting time.

I was weeks recovering from that awful starvation adventure; and yet
what was that to the hideous sufferings I now endured?

After dreaming for some time, and thinking of this and other matters, I
once more looked around me. We were still ascending with fearful
rapidity. Every now and then the air appeared to check our respiration
as it does that of aeronauts when the ascension of the balloon is too
rapid. But if they feel a degree of cold in proportion to the elevation
they attain in the atmosphere, we experienced quite a contrary effect.
The heat began to increase in a most threatening and exceptional manner.
I cannot tell exactly the mean, but I think it must have reached one
hundred twenty-two degrees Fahrenheit.

What was the meaning of this extraordinary change in the temperature? As
far as we had hitherto gone, facts had proved the theories of Davy and
of Lidenbrock to be correct. Until now, all the peculiar conditions of
refractory rocks, of electricity, of magnetism, had modified the general
laws of nature, and had created for us a moderate temperature; for the
theory of the central fire, remained, in my eyes, the only explainable
one.

Were we, then, going to reach a position in which these phenomena were
to be carried out in all their rigor, and in which the heat would reduce
the rocks to a state of fusion?

Such was my not unnatural fear, and I did not conceal the fact from my
uncle. My way of doing so might be cold and heartless, but I could not
help it.

"If we are not drowned, or smashed into pancakes, and if we do not die
of starvation, we have the satisfaction of knowing that we must be
burned alive."

My uncle, in presence of this brusque attack, simply shrugged his
shoulders, and resumed his reflections whatever they might be.

An hour passed away, and except that there was a slight increase in the
temperature no incident modified the situation.

My uncle at last, of his own accord, broke silence.

"Well, Henry, my boy," he said, in a cheerful way, "we must make up our
minds."

"Make up our minds to what?" I asked, in considerable surprise.

"Well to something. We must at whatever risk recruit our physical
strength. If we make the fatal mistake of husbanding our little remnant
of food, we may probably prolong our wretched existence a few hours but
we shall remain weak to the end."

"Yes," I growled, "to the end. That, however, will not keep us long
waiting."

"Well, only let a chance of safety present itself only allow that a
moment of action be necessary where shall we find the means of action
if we allow ourselves to be reduced to physical weakness by inanition?"

"When this piece of meat is devoured, Uncle, what hope will there remain
unto us?"

"None, my dear Henry, none. But will it do you any good to devour it
with your eyes? You appear to me to reason like one without will or
decision, like a being without energy."

"Then," cried I, exasperated to a degree which is scarcely to be
explained, "you do not mean to tell me that you that you have not
lost all hope."

"Certainly not," replied the Professor with consummate coolness.

"You mean to tell me, Uncle, that we shall get out of this monstrous
subterranean shaft?"

"While there is life there is hope. I beg to assert, Henry, that as long
as a man's heart beats, as long as a man's flesh quivers, I do not allow
that a being gifted with thought and will can allow himself to despair."

What a nerve! The man placed in a position like that we occupied must
have been very brave to speak like this.

"Well," I cried, "what do you mean to do?"

"Eat what remains of the food we have in our hands; let us swallow the
last crumb. It will bel Heaven willing, our last repast. Well, never
mind instead of being exhausted skeletons, we shall be men."

"True," muttered I in a despairing tone, "let us take our fill."

"We must," replied my uncle, with a deep sigh, "call it what you will."

My uncle took a piece of the meat that remained, and some crusts of
biscuit which had escaped the wreck. He divided the whole into three
parts.

Each had one pound of food to last him as long as he remained in the
interior of the earth.

Each now acted in accordance with his own private character.

My uncle, the Professor, ate greedily, but evidently without appetite,
eating simply from some mechanical motion. I put the food inside my
lips, and hungry as I was, chewed my morsel without pleasure, and
without satisfaction.

Hans, the guide, just as if he had been eider-down hunting, swallowed
every mouthful, as though it were a usual affair. He looked like a man
equally prepared to enjoy superfluity or total want.

Hans, in all probability, was no more used to starvation than ourselves,
but his hardy Icelandic nature had prepared him for many sufferings. As
long as he received his three rix-dollars every Saturday night, he was
prepared for anything.

The fact was, Hans never troubled himself about much except his money.
He had undertaken to serve a certain man at so much per week, and no
matter what evils befell his employer or himself, he never found fault
or grumbled, so long as his wages were duly paid.

Suddenly my uncle roused himself. He had seen a smile on the face of our
guide. I could not make it out.

"What is the matter?" said my uncle.

"Schiedam," said the guide, producing a bottle of this precious fluid.

We drank. My uncle and myself will own to our dying day that hence we
derived strength to exist until the last bitter moment. That precious
bottle of Hollands was in reality only half full; but, under the
circumstances, it was nectar.

It took some minutes for myself and my uncle to form a decided opinion
on the subject. The worthy Professor swallowed about half a pint and did
not seem able to drink any more.

"Fortrafflig," said Hans, swallowing nearly all that was left.

"Excellent very good," said my uncle, with as much gusto as if he had
just left the steps of the club at Hamburg.

I had begun to feel as if there had been one gleam of hope. Now all
thought of the future vanished!

We had consumed our last ounce of food, and it was five o'clock in the
morning!





Next: The Volcanic Shaft

Previous: The Ape Gigans



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