From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
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 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
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
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
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
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
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 deaths!
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 scientific
I tried to cry aloud, but hoarse, hollow, and inarticulate sounds alone
could make themselves heard through my parched lips. I literally panted
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
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
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
Where was I going? It was impossible to say. I was perfectly ignorant of
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.
Next: The Whispering Gallery