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Terrific Saurian Combat







From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

Saturday, August 15th. The sea still retains its uniform monotony. The
same leaden hue, the same eternal glare from above. No indication of
land being in sight. The horizon appears to retreat before us, more and
more as we advance.

My head, still dull and heavy from the effects of my extraordinary
dream, which I cannot as yet banish from my mind.

The Professor, who has not dreamed, is, however, in one of his morose
and unaccountable humors. Spends his time in scanning the horizon, at
every point of the compass. His telescope is raised every moment to his
eyes, and when he finds nothing to give any clue to our whereabouts, he
assumes a Napoleonic attitude and walks anxiously.

I remarked that my uncle, the Professor, had a strong tendency to resume
his old impatient character, and I could not but make a note of this
disagreeable circumstance in my journal. I saw clearly that it had
required all the influence of my danger and suffering, to extract from
him one scintillation of humane feeling. Now that I was quite recovered,
his original nature had conquered and obtained the upper hand.

And, after all, what had he to be angry and annoyed about, now more than
at any other time? Was not the journey being accomplished under the most
favorable circumstances? Was not the raft progressing with the most
marvelous rapidity?

What, then, could be the matter? After one or two preliminary hems, I
determined to inquire.

"You seem uneasy, Uncle," said I, when for about the hundredth time he
put down his telescope and walked up and down, muttering to himself.

"No, I am not uneasy," he replied in a dry harsh tone, "by no means."

"Perhaps I should have said impatient," I replied, softening the force
of my remark.

"Enough to make me so, I think."

"And yet we are advancing at a rate seldom attained by a raft," I
remarked.

"What matters that?" cried my uncle. "I am not vexed at the rate we go
at, but I am annoyed to find the sea so much vaster than I expected."

I then recollected that the Professor, before our departure, had
estimated the length of this subterranean ocean as at most about thirty
leagues. Now we had traveled at least over thrice that distance without
discovering any trace of the distant shore. I began to understand my
uncle's anger.

"We are not going down," suddenly exclaimed the Professor. "We are not
progressing with our great discoveries. All this is utter loss of time.
After all, I did not come from home to undertake a party of pleasure.
This voyage on a raft over a pond annoys and wearies me."

He called this adventurous journey a party of pleasure, and this great
inland sea a pond!

"But," argued I, "if we have followed the route indicated by the great
Saknussemm, we cannot be going far wrong."

"'That is the question,' as the great, the immortal Shakespeare, has it.
Are we following the route indicated by that wondrous sage? Did
Saknussemm ever fall in with this great sheet of water? If he did, did
he cross it? I begin to fear that the rivulet we adopted for a guide has
led us wrong."

"In any case, we can never regret having come thus far. It is worth the
whole journey to have enjoyed this magnificent spectacle it is
something to have seen."

"I care nothing about seeing, nor about magnificent spectacles. I came
down into the interior of the earth with an object, and that object I
mean to attain. Don't talk to me about admiring scenery, or any other
sentimental trash."

After this I thought it well to hold my tongue, and allow the Professor
to bite his lips until the blood came, without further remark.

At six o'clock in the evening, our matter-of-fact guide, Hans, asked for
his week's salary, and receiving his three rix-dollars, put them
carefully in his pocket. He was perfectly contented and satisfied.


Sunday, August 16th. Nothing new to record. The same weather as before.
The wind has a slight tendency to freshen up, with signs of an
approaching gale. When I awoke, My first observation was in regard to
the intensity of the light. I keep on fearing, day after day, that the
extraordinary electric phenomenon should become first obscured, and then
go wholly out, leaving us in total darkness. Nothing, however, of the
kind occurs. The shadow of the raft, its mast and sails, is clearly
distinguished on the surface of the water.

This wondrous sea is, after all, infinite in its extent. It must be
quite as wide as the Mediterranean or perhaps even as the great
Atlantic Ocean. Why, after all, should it not be so?

My uncle has on more than one occasion, tried deep-sea soundings. He
tied the cross of one of our heaviest crowbars to the extremity of a
cord, which he allowed to run out to the extent of two hundred fathoms.
We had the greatest difficulty in hoisting in our novel kind of lead.

When the crowbar was finally dragged on board, Hans called my attention
to some singular marks upon its surface. The piece of iron looked as if
it had been crushed between two very hard substances.

I looked at our worthy guide with an inquiring glance.

"Tander," said he.

Of course I was at a loss to understand. I turned round towards my
uncle, absorbed in gloomy reflections. I had little wish to disturb him
from his reverie. I accordingly turned once more towards our worthy
Icelander.

Hans very quietly and significantly opened his mouth once or twice, as
if in the act of biting, and in this way made me understand his meaning.

"Teeth!" cried I, with stupefaction, as I examined the bar of iron with
more attention.

Yes. There can be no doubt about the matter. The indentations on the bar
of iron are the marks of teeth! What jaws must the owner of such molars
be possessed of! Have well then, come upon a monster of unknown species,
which still exists within the vast waste of waters a monster more
voracious than a shark, more terrible and bulky than the whale? I am
unable to withdraw my eyes from the bar of iron, actually half crushed!

Is, then, my dream about to come true a dread and terrible reality?

All day my thoughts were bent upon these speculations, and my
imagination scarcely regained a degree of calmness and power of
reflection until after a sleep of many hours.

This day, as on other Sundays, we observed as a day of rest and pious
meditation.


Monday, August 17th. I have been trying to realize from memory the
particular instincts of those antediluvian animals of the secondary
period, which succeeding to the mollusca, to the crustacea, and to the
fish, preceded the appearance of the race of mammifers. The generation
of reptiles then reigned supreme upon the earth. These hideous monsters
ruled everything in the seas of the secondary period, which formed the
strata of which the Jura mountains are composed. Nature had endowed them
with perfect organization. What a gigantic structure was theirs; what
vast and prodigious strength they possessed!

The existing saurians, which include all such reptiles as lizards,
crocodiles, and alligators, even the largest and most formidable of
their class, are but feeble imitations of their mighty sires, the
animals of ages long ago. If there were giants in the days of old, there
were also gigantic animals.

I shuddered as I evolved from my mind the idea and recollection of these
awful monsters. No eye of man had seen them in the flesh. They took
their walks abroad upon the face of the earth thousands of ages before
man came into existence, and their fossil bones, discovered in the
limestone, have allowed us to reconstruct them anatomically, and thus to
get some faint idea of their colossal formation.

I recollect once seeing in the great Museum of Hamburg the skeleton of
one of these wonderful saurians. It measured no less than thirty feet
from the nose to the tail. Am I, then, an inhabitant of the earth of the
present day, destined to find myself face to face with a representative
of this antediluvian family? I can scarcely believe it possible; I can
hardly believe it true. And yet these marks of powerful teeth upon the
bar of iron! Can there be a doubt from their shape that the bite is the
bite of a crocodile?

My eyes stare wildly and with terror upon the subterranean sea. Every
moment I expect one of these monsters to rise from its vast cavernous
depths.

I fancy that the worthy Professor in some measure shares my notions, if
not my fears, for, after an attentive examination of the crowbar, he
cast his eyes rapidly over the mighty and mysterious ocean.

"What could possess him to leave the land," I thought, "as if the depth
of this water was of any importance to us. No doubt he has disturbed
some terrible monster in his watery home, and perhaps we may pay dearly
for our temerity."

Anxious to be prepared for the worst, I examined our weapons, and saw
that they were in a fit state for use. My uncle looked on at me and
nodded his head approvingly. He, too, has noticed what we have to fear.

Already the uplifting of the waters on the surface indicates that
something is in motion below. The danger approaches. It comes nearer and
nearer. It behooves us to be on the watch.


Tuesday, August 18th. Evening came at last, the hour when the desire for
sleep caused our eyelids to be heavy. Night there is not, properly
speaking, in this place, any more than there is in summer in the arctic
regions. Hans, however, is immovable at the rudder. When he snatches a
moment of rest I really cannot say. I take advantage of his vigilance to
take some little repose.

But two hours after I was awakened from a heavy sleep by an awful shock.
The raft appeared to have struck upon a sunken rock. It was lifted right
out of the water by some wondrous and mysterious power, and then started
off twenty fathoms distant.

"Eh, what is it?" cried my uncle starting up. "Are we shipwrecked, or
what?"

Hans raised his hand and pointed to where, about two hundred yards off,
a large black mass was moving up and down.

I looked with awe. My worst fears were realized.

"It is a colossal monster!" I cried, clasping my hands.

"Yes," cried the agitated Professor, "and there yonder is a huge sea
lizard of terrible size and shape."

"And farther on behold a prodigious crocodile. Look at his hideous jaws,
and that row of monstrous teeth. Ha! he has gone."

"A whale! a whale!" shouted the Professor, "I can see her enormous fins.
See, see, how she blows air and water!"

Two liquid columns rose to a vast height above the level of the sea,
into which they fell with a terrific crash, waking up the echoes of that
awful place. We stood still surprised, stupefied, terror-stricken at
the sight of this group of fearful marine monsters, more hideous in the
reality than in my dream. They were of supernatural dimensions; the very
smallest of the whole party could with ease have crushed our raft and
ourselves with a single bite.

Hans, seizing the rudder which had flown out of his hand, puts it hard
aweather in order to escape from such dangerous vicinity; but no sooner
does he do so, than he finds he is flying from Scylla to Charybdis. To
leeward is a turtle about forty feet wide, and a serpent quite as long,
with an enormous and hideous head peering from out the waters.

Look which way we will, it is impossible for us to fly. The fearful
reptiles advanced upon us; they turned and twisted about the raft with
awful rapidity. They formed around our devoted vessel a series of
concentric circles. I took up my rifle in desperation. But what effect
can a rifle ball produce upon the armor scales with which the bodies of
these horrid monsters are covered?

We remain still and dumb from utter horror. They advance upon us, nearer
and nearer. Our fate appears certain, fearful and terrible. On one side
the mighty crocodile, on the other the great sea serpent. The rest of
the fearful crowd of marine prodigies have plunged beneath the briny
waves and disappeared!

I am about to fire at any risk and try the effect of a shot. Hans, the
guide, however, interfered by a sign to check me. The two hideous and
ravenous monsters passed within fifty fathoms of the raft, and then made
a rush at one another their fury and rage preventing them from seeing
us.

The combat commenced. We distinctly made out every action of the two
hideous monsters.

But to my excited imagination the other animals appeared about to take
part in the fierce and deadly struggle the monster, the whale, the
lizard, and the turtle. I distinctly saw them every moment. I pointed
them out to the Icelander. But he only shook his head.

"Tva," he said.

"What two only does he say. Surely he is mistaken," I cried in a tone
of wonder.

"He is quite right," replied my uncle coolly and philosophically,
examining the terrible duel with his telescope and speaking as if he
were in a lecture room.

"How can that be?"

"Yes, it is so. The first of these hideous monsters has the snout of a
porpoise, the head of a lizard, the teeth of a crocodile; and it is this
that has deceived us. It is the most fearful of all antediluvian
reptiles, the world renowned Ichthyosaurus or great fish lizard."

"And the other?"

"The other is a monstrous serpent, concealed under the hard vaulted
shell of the turtle, the terrible enemy of its fearful rival, the
Plesiosaurus, or sea crocodile."

Hans was quite right. The two monsters only, disturbed the surface of
the sea!

At last have mortal eyes gazed upon two reptiles of the great primitive
ocean! I see the flaming red eyes of the Ichthyosaurus, each as big, or
bigger than a man's head. Nature in its infinite wisdom had gifted this
wondrous marine animal with an optical apparatus of extreme power,
capable of resisting the pressure of the heavy layers of water which
rolled over him in the depths of the ocean where he usually fed. It has
by some authors truly been called the whale of the saurian race, for it
is as big and quick in its motions as our king of the seas. This one
measures not less than a hundred feet in length, and I can form some
idea of his girth when I see him lift his prodigious tail out of the
waters. His jaw is of awful size and strength, and according to the
best-informed naturalists, it does not contain less than a hundred and
eighty-two teeth.

The other was the mighty Plesiosaurus, a serpent with a cylindrical
trunk, with a short stumpy tail, with fins like a bank of oars in a
Roman galley.

Its whole body covered by a carapace or shell, and its neck, as flexible
as that of a swan, rose more than thirty feet above the waves, a tower
of animated flesh!

These animals attacked one another with inconceivable fury. Such a
combat was never seen before by mortal eyes, and to us who did see it,
it appeared more like the phantasmagoric creation of a dream than
anything else. They raised mountains of water, which dashed in spray
over the raft, already tossed to and fro by the waves. Twenty times we
seemed on the point of being upset and hurled headlong into the waves.
Hideous hisses appeared to shake the gloomy granite roof of that mighty
cavern hisses which carried terror to our hearts. The awful combatants
held each other in a tight embrace. I could not make out one from the
other. Still the combat could not last forever; and woe unto us,
whichsoever became the victor.

One hour, two hours, three hours passed away, without any decisive
result. The struggle continued with the same deadly tenacity, but
without apparent result. The deadly opponents now approached, now drew
away from the raft. Once or twice we fancied they were about to leave us
altogether, but instead of that, they came nearer and nearer.

We crouched on the raft ready to fire at them at a moment's notice, poor
as the prospect of hurting or terrifying them was. Still we were
determined not to perish without a struggle.

Suddenly the Ichthyosaurus and the Plesiosaurus disappeared beneath the
waves, leaving behind them a maelstrom in the midst of the sea. We were
nearly drawn down by the indraft of the water!

Several minutes elapsed before anything was again seen. Was this
wonderful combat to end in the depths of the ocean? Was the last act of
this terrible drama to take place without spectators?

It was impossible for us to say.

Suddenly, at no great distance from us, an enormous mass rises out of
the waters the head of the great Plesiosaurus. The terrible monster is
now wounded unto death. I can see nothing now of his enormous body. All
that could be distinguished was his serpent-like neck, which he twisted
and curled in all the agonies of death. Now he struck the waters with it
as if it had been a gigantic whip, and then again wriggled like a worm
cut in two. The water was spurted up to a great distance in all
directions. A great portion of it swept over our raft and nearly blinded
us. But soon the end of the beast approached nearer and nearer; his
movements slackened visibly; his contortions almost ceased; and at last
the body of the mighty snake lay an inert, dead mass on the surface of
the now calm and placid waters.

As for the Ichthyosaurus, has he gone down to his mighty cavern under
the sea to rest, or will he reappear to destroy us?

This question remained unanswered. And we had breathing time.





Next: The Sea Monster

Previous: On The Waters A Raft Voyage



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