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The Real Journey Commences

From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

Our real journey had now commenced. Hitherto our courage and
determination had overcome all difficulties. We were fatigued at times;
and that was all. Now we were about to encounter unknown and fearful

I had not as yet ventured to take a glimpse down the horrible abyss into
which in a few minutes more I was about to plunge. The fatal moment had,
however, at last arrived. I had still the option of refusing or
accepting a share in this foolish and audacious enterprise. But I was
ashamed to show more fear than the eider-duck hunter. Hans seemed to
accept the difficulties of the journey so tranquilly, with such calm
indifference, with such perfect recklessness of all danger, that I
actually blushed to appear less of a man than he!

Had I been alone with my uncle, I should certainly have sat down and
argued the point fully; but in the presence of the guide I held my
tongue. I gave one moment to the thought of my charming cousin, and then
I advanced to the mouth of the central shaft.

It measured about a hundred feet in diameter, which made about three
hundred in circumference. I leaned over a rock which stood on its edge,
and looked down. My hair stood on end, my teeth chattered, my limbs
trembled. I seemed utterly to lose my centre of gravity, while my head
was in a sort of whirl, like that of a drunken man. There is nothing
more powerful than this attraction towards an abyss. I was about to fall
headlong into the gaping well, when I was drawn back by a firm and
powerful hand. It was that of Hans. I had not taken lessons enough at
the Frelser's-Kirk of Copenhagen in the art of looking down from lofty
eminences without blinking!

However, few as the minutes were during which I gazed down this
tremendous and even wondrous shaft, I had a sufficient glimpse of it to
give me some idea of its physical conformation. Its sides, which were
almost as perpendicular as those of a well, presented numerous
projections which doubtless would assist our descent.

It was a sort of wild and savage staircase, without bannister or fence.
A rope fastened above, near the surface, would certainly support our
weight and enable us to reach the bottom, but how, when we had arrived
at its utmost depth, were we to loosen it above? This was, I thought, a
question of some importance.

My uncle, however, was one of those men who are nearly always prepared
with expedients. He hit upon a very simple method of obviating this
difficulty. He unrolled a cord about as thick as my thumb, and at least
four hundred feet in length. He allowed about half of it to go down the
pit and catch in a hitch over a great block of lava which stood on the
edge of the precipice. This done, he threw the second half after the

Each of us could now descend by catching the two cords in one hand. When
about two hundred feet below, all the explorer had to do was to let go
one end and pull away at the other, when the cord would come falling at
his feet. In order to go down farther, all that was necessary was to
continue the same operation.

This was a very excellent proposition, and no doubt, a correct one.
Going down appeared to me easy enough; it was the coming up again that
now occupied my thoughts.

"Now," said my uncle, as soon as he had completed this important
preparation, "let us see about the baggage. It must be divided into
three separate parcels, and each of us must carry one on his back. I
allude to the more important and fragile articles."

My worthy and ingenious uncle did not appear to consider that we came
under the denomination.

"Hans," he continued, "you will take charge of the tools and some of the
provisions; you, Harry, must take possession of another third of the
provisions and of the arms. I will load myself with the rest of the
eatables, and with the more delicate instruments."

"But," I exclaimed, "our clothes, this mass of cord and ladders who
will undertake to carry them down?"

"They will go down of themselves."

"And how so?" I asked.

"You shall see."

My uncle was not fond of half measures, nor did he like anything in the
way of hesitation. Giving his orders to Hans he had the whole of the
nonfragile articles made up into one bundle; and the packet, firmly and
solidly fastened, was simply pitched over the edge of the gulf.

I heard the moaning of the suddenly displaced air, and the noise of
falling stones. My uncle leaning over the abyss followed the descent of
his luggage with a perfectly self-satisfied air, and did not rise until
it had completely disappeared from sight.

"Now then," he cried, "it is our turn."

I put it in good faith to any man of common sense was it possible to
hear this energetic cry without a shudder?

The Professor fastened his case of instruments on his back. Hans took
charge of the tools, I of the arms. The descent then commenced in the
following order: Hans went first, my uncle followed, and I went last.
Our progress was made in profound silence a silence only troubled by
the fall of pieces of rock, which breaking from the jagged sides, fell
with a roar into the depths below.

I allowed myself to slide, so to speak, holding frantically on the
double cord with one hand and with the other keeping myself off the
rocks by the assistance of my iron-shod pole. One idea was all the time
impressed upon my brain. I feared that the upper support would fail me.
The cord appeared to me far too fragile to bear the weight of three such
persons as we were, with our luggage. I made as little use of it as
possible, trusting to my own agility and doing miracles in the way of
feats of dexterity and strength upon the projecting shelves and spurs of
lava which my feet seemed to clutch as strongly as my hands.

The guide went first, I have said, and when one of the slippery and
frail supports broke from under his feet he had recourse to his usual
monosyllabic way of speaking.

"Gif akt "

"Attention look out," repeated my uncle.

In about half an hour we reached a kind of small terrace formed by a
fragment of rock projecting some distance from the sides of the shaft.

Hans now began to haul upon the cord on one side only, the other going
as quietly upward as the other came down. It fell at last, bringing with
it a shower of small stones, lava and dust, a disagreeable kind of rain
or hail.

While we were seated on this extraordinary bench I ventured once more to
look downwards. With a sigh I discovered that the bottom was still
wholly invisible. Were we, then, going direct to the interior of the

The performance with the cord recommenced, and a quarter of an hour
later we had reached to the depth of another two hundred feet.

I have very strong doubts if the most determined geologist would, during
that descent, have studied the nature of the different layers of earth
around him. I did not trouble my head much about the matter; whether we
were among the combustible carbon, Silurians, or primitive soil, I
neither knew nor cared to know.

Not so the inveterate Professor. He must have taken notes all the way
down, for, at one of our halts, he began a brief lecture.

"The farther we advance," said he, "the greater is my confidence in the
result. The disposition of these volcanic strata absolutely confirms the
theories of Sir Humphry Davy. We are still within the region of the
primordial soil, the soil in which took place the chemical operation of
metals becoming inflamed by coming in contact with the air and water. I
at once regret the old and now forever exploded theory of a central
fire. At all events, we shall soon know the truth."

Such was the everlasting conclusion to which he came. I, however, was
very far from being in humor to discuss the matter. I had something else
to think of. My silence was taken for consent; and still we continued to
go down.

At the expiration of three hours, we were, to all appearance, as far off
as ever from the bottom of the well. When I looked upwards, however, I
could see that the upper orifice was every minute decreasing in size.
The sides of the shaft were getting closer and closer together, we were
approaching the regions of eternal night!

And still we continued to descend!

At length, I noticed that when pieces of stone were detached from the
sides of this stupendous precipice, they were swallowed up with less
noise than before. The final sound was sooner heard. We were approaching
the bottom of the abyss!

As I had been very careful to keep account of an the changes of cord
which took place, I was able to tell exactly what was the depth we had
reached, as well as the time it had taken.

We had shifted the rope twenty-eight times, each operation taking a
quarter of an hour, which in all made seven hours. To this had to be
added twenty-eight pauses; in all ten hours and a half. We started at
one, it was now, therefore, about eleven o'clock at night.

It does not require great knowledge of arithmetic to know that
twenty-eight times two hundred feet makes five thousand six hundred feet
in all (more than an English mile).

While I was making this mental calculation a voice broke the silence. It
was the voice of Hans.

"Halt!" he cried.

I checked myself very suddenly, just at the moment when I was about to
kick my uncle on the head.

"We have reached the end of our journey," said the worthy Professor in a
satisfied tone.

"What, the interior of the earth?" said I, slipping down to his side.

"No, you stupid fellow! but we have reached the bottom of the well."

"And I suppose there is no farther progress to be made?" I hopefully

"Oh, yes, I can dimly see a sort of tunnel, which turns off obliquely to
the right. At all events, we must see about that tomorrow. Let us sup
now, and seek slumber as best we may."

I thought it time, but made no observations on that point. I was fairly
launched on a desperate course, and all I had to do was to go forward
hopefully and trustingly.

It was not even now quite dark, the light filtering down in a most
extraordinary manner.

We opened the provision bag, ate a frugal supper, and each did his best
to find a bed amid the pile of stones, dirt, and lava which had
accumulated for ages at the bottom of the shaft.

I happened to grope out the pile of ropes, ladders, and clothes which we
had thrown down; and upon them I stretched myself. After such a day's
labor, my rough bed seemed as soft as down!

For a while I lay in a sort of pleasant trance.

Presently, after lying quietly for some minutes, I opened my eyes and
looked upwards. As I did so I made out a brilliant little dot, at the
extremity of this long, gigantic telescope.

It was a star without scintillating rays. According to my calculation,
it must be Beta in the constellation of the Little Bear.

After this little bit of astronomical recreation, I dropped into a sound

Next: We Continue Our Descent

Previous: The Shadow Of Scartaris

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