The Mysterious Parchment
From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth
"I Declare," cried my uncle, striking the table fiercely with his fist,
"I declare to you it is Runic and contains some wonderful secret, which
I must get at, at any price."
I was about to reply when he stopped me.
"Sit down," he said, quite fiercely, "and write to my dictation."
"I will substitute," he said, "a letter of our alphabet for that of the
Runic: we will then see what that will produce. Now, begin and make no
The dictation commenced with the following incomprehensible result:
mm.rnlls esruel seecJde
sgtssmf unteief niedrke
kt,samn atrateS Saodrrn
emtnaeI nuaect rrilSa
Atvaar .nscrc ieaabs
ccdrmi eeutul frantu
dt,iac oseibo KediiY
Scarcely giving me time to finish, my uncle snatched the document from
my hands and examined it with the most rapt and deep attention.
"I should like to know what it means," he said, after a long period.
I certainly could not tell him, nor did he expect me to his
conversation being uniformly answered by himself.
"I declare it puts me in mind of a cryptograph," he cried, "unless,
indeed, the letters have been written without any real meaning; and yet
why take so much trouble? Who knows but I may be on the verge of some
My candid opinion was that it was all rubbish! But this opinion I kept
carefully to myself, as my uncle's choler was not pleasant to bear. All
this time he was comparing the book with the parchment.
"The manuscript volume and the smaller document are written in different
hands," he said, "the cryptograph is of much later date than the book;
there is an undoubted proof of the correctness of my surmise. [An
irrefragable proof I took it to be.] The first letter is a double M,
which was only added to the Icelandic language in the twelfth
century this makes the parchment two hundred years posterior to the
The circumstances appeared very probable and very logical, but it was
all surmise to me.
"To me it appears probable that this sentence was written by some owner
of the book. Now who was the owner, is the next important question.
Perhaps by great good luck it may be written somewhere in the volume."
With these words Professor Hardwigg took off his spectacles, and, taking
a powerful magnifying glass, examined the book carefully.
On the fly leaf was what appeared to be a blot of ink, but on
examination proved to be a line of writing almost effaced by time. This
was what he sought; and, after some considerable time, he made out these
"Arne Saknussemm!" he cried in a joyous and triumphant tone, "that is
not only an Icelandic name, but of a learned professor of the sixteenth
century, a celebrated alchemist."
I bowed as a sign of respect.
"These alchemists," he continued, "Avicenna, Bacon, Lully, Paracelsus,
were the true, the only learned men of the day. They made surprising
discoveries. May not this Saknussemm, nephew mine, have hidden on this
bit of parchment some astounding invention? I believe the cryptograph to
have a profound meaning which I must make out."
My uncle walked about the room in a state of excitement almost
impossible to describe.
"It may be so, sir," I timidly observed, "but why conceal it from
posterity, if it be a useful, a worthy discovery?"
"Why how should I know? Did not Galileo make a secret of his
discoveries in connection with Saturn? But we shall see. Until I
discover the meaning of this sentence I will neither eat nor sleep."
"My dear uncle " I began.
"Nor you neither," he added.
It was lucky I had taken double allowance that day.
"In the first place," he continued, "there must be a clue to the
meaning. If we could find that, the rest would be easy enough."
I began seriously to reflect. The prospect of going without food and
sleep was not a promising one, so I determined to do my best to solve
the mystery. My uncle, meanwhile, went on with his soliloquy.
"The way to discover it is easy enough. In this document there are one
hundred and thirty-two letters, giving seventy-nine consonants to
fifty-three vowels. This is about the proportion found in most southern
languages, the idioms of the north being much more rich in consonants.
We may confidently predict, therefore, that we have to deal with a
Nothing could be more logical.
"Now," said Professor Hardwigg, "to trace the particular language."
"As Shakespeare says, 'that is the question,"' was my rather satirical
"This man Saknussemm," he continued, "was a very learned man: now as he
did not write in the language of his birthplace, he probably, like most
learned men of the sixteenth century, wrote in Latin. If, however, I
prove wrong in this guess, we must try Spanish, French, Italian, Greek,
and even Hebrew. My own opinion, though, is decidedly in favor of
This proposition startled me. Latin was my favorite study, and it seemed
sacrilege to believe this gibberish to belong to the country of Virgil.
"Barbarous Latin, in all probability," continued my uncle, "but still
"Very probably," I replied, not to contradict him.
"Let us see into the matter," continued my uncle; "here you see we have
a series of one hundred and thirty-two letters, apparently thrown
pell-mell upon paper, without method or organization. There are words
which are composed wholly of consonants, such as mm.rnlls
which are nearly all vowels, the fifth, for instance, which is unteief,
and one of the last oseibo. This appears an extraordinary combination.
Probably we shall find that the phrase is arranged according to some
mathematical plan. No doubt a certain sentence has been written out and
then jumbled up some plan to which some figure is the clue. Now, Harry,
to show your English wit what is that figure?"
I could give him no hint. My thoughts were indeed far away. While he was
speaking I had caught sight of the portrait of my cousin Gretchen, and
was wondering when she would return.
We were affianced, and loved one another very sincerely. But my uncle,
who never thought even of such sublunary matters, knew nothing of this.
Without noticing my abstraction, the Professor began reading the
puzzling cryptograph all sorts of ways, according to some theory of his
own. Presently, rousing my wandering attention, he dictated one precious
attempt to me.
I mildly handed it over to him. It read as follows:
I could scarcely keep from laughing, while my uncle, on the contrary,
got in a towering passion, struck the table with his fist, darted out of
the room, out of the house, and then taking to his heels was presently
lost to sight.
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