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The Whispering Gallery







From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

When at last I came back to a sense of life and being, my face was wet,
but wet, as I soon knew, with tears. How long this state of
insensibility lasted, it is quite impossible for me now to say. I had no
means left to me of taking any account of time. Never since the creation
of the world had such a solitude as mine existed. I was completely
abandoned.

After my fall I lost much blood. I felt myself flooded with the
life-giving liquid. My first sensation was perhaps a natural one. Why
was I not dead? Because I was alive, there was something left to do. I
tried to make up my mind to think no longer. As far as I was able, I
drove away all ideas, and utterly overcome by pain and grief, I crouched
against the granite wall.

I just commenced to feel the fainting coming on again, and the sensation
that this was the last struggle before complete annihilation when, on a
sudden, a violent uproar reached my ears. It had some resemblance to the
prolonged rumbling voice of thunder, and I clearly distinguished
sonorous voices, lost one after the other, in the distant depths of the
gulf.

Whence came this noise? Naturally, it was to be supposed from new
phenomena which were taking place in the bosom of the solid mass of
Mother Earth! The explosion of some gaseous vapors, or the fall of some
solid, of the granitic or other rock.

Again I listened with deep attention. I was extremely anxious to hear if
this strange and inexplicable sound was likely to be renewed! A whole
quarter of an hour elapsed in painful expectation. Deep and solemn
silence reigned in the tunnel. So still that I could hear the beatings
of my own heart! I waited, waited with a strange kind of hopefulness.

Suddenly my ear, which leaned accidentally against the wall, appeared to
catch, as it were, the faintest echo of a sound. I thought that I heard
vague, incoherent and distant voices. I quivered all over with
excitement and hope!

"It must be hallucination," I cried. "It cannot be! it is not true!"

But no! By listening more attentively, I really did convince myself that
what I heard was truly the sound of human voices. To make any meaning
out of the sound, however, was beyond my power. I was too weak even to
hear distinctly. Still it was a positive fact that someone was speaking.
Of that I was quite certain.

There was a moment of fear. A dread fell upon my soul that it might be
my own words brought back to me by a distant echo. Perhaps without
knowing it, I might have been crying aloud. I resolutely closed my lips,
and once more placed my ear to the huge granite wall.

Yes, for certain. It was in truth the sound of human voices.

I now by the exercise of great determination dragged myself along the
sides of the cavern, until I reached a point where I could hear more
distinctly. But though I could detect the sound, I could only make out
uncertain, strange, and incomprehensible words. They reached my ear as
if they had been spoken in a low tone murmured, as it were, afar off.

At last, I made out the word forlorad repeated several times in a tone
betokening great mental anguish and sorrow.

What could this word mean, and who was speaking it? It must be either my
uncle or the guide Hans! If, therefore, I could hear them, they must
surely be able to hear me.

"Help," I cried at the top of my voice; "help, I am dying!"

I then listened with scarcely a breath; I panted for the slightest sound
in the darkness a cry, a sigh, a question! But silence reigned supreme.
No answer came! In this way some minutes passed. A whole flood of ideas
flashed through my mind. I began to fear that my voice, weakened by
sickness and suffering, could not reach my companions who were in search
of me.

"It must be they," I cried; "who else could by any possibility be buried
a hundred miles below the level of the earth?" The mere supposition was
preposterous.

I began, therefore, to listen again with the most breathless attention.
As I moved my ears along the side of the place I was in, I found a
mathematical point as it were, where the voices appeared to attain their
maximum of intensity. The word forlorad again distinctly reached my ear.
Then came again that rolling noise like thunder which had awakened me
out of torpor.

"I begin to understand," I said to myself after some little time devoted
to reflection; "it is not through the solid mass that the sound reaches
my ears. The walls of my cavernous retreat are of solid granite, and the
most fearful explosion would not make uproar enough to penetrate them.
The sound must come along the gallery itself. The place I was in must
possess some peculiar acoustic properties of its own."

Again I listened; and this time yes, this time I heard my name
distinctly pronounced: cast as it were into space.

It was my uncle, the Professor, who was speaking. He was in conversation
with the guide, and the word which had so often reached my ears,
forlorad, was a Danish expression.

Then I understood it all. In order to make myself heard, I too must
speak as it were along the side of the gallery, which would carry the
sound of my voice just as the wire carries the electric fluid from point
to point.

But there was no time to lose. If my companions were only to remove a
few feet from where they stood, the acoustic effect would be over, my
Whispering Gallery would be destroyed. I again therefore crawled towards
the wall, and said as clearly and distinctly as I could:

"Uncle Hardwigg."

I then awaited a reply.

Sound does not possess the property of traveling with such extreme
rapidity. Besides the density of the air at that depth from light and
motion was very far from adding to the rapidity of circulation. Several
seconds elapsed, which to my excited imagination, appeared ages; and
these words reached my eager ears, and moved my wildly beating heart:

"Harry, my boy, is that you?"

A short delay between question and answer.

"Yes yes."

..........

"Where are you?"

..........

"Lost!"

..........

"And your lamp?"

..........

"Out."

..........

"But the guiding stream?"

..........

"Is lost!"

..........

"Keep your courage, Harry. We will do our best."

..........

"One moment, my uncle," I cried; "I have no longer strength to answer
your questions. But for heaven's sake do you continue to speak to
me!" Absolute silence, I felt, would be annihilation.

"Keep up your courage," said my uncle. "As you are so weak, do not
speak. We have been searching for you in all directions, both by going
upwards and downwards in the gallery. My dear boy, I had begun to give
over all hope and you can never know what bitter tears of sorrow and
regret I have shed. At last, supposing you to be still on the road
beside the Hansbach, we again descended, firing off guns as signals.
Now, however, that we have found you, and that our voices reach each
other, it may be a long time before we actually meet. We are conversing
by means of some extraordinary acoustic arrangement of the labyrinth.
But do not despair, my dear boy. It is something gained even to hear
each other."

While he was speaking, my brain was at work reflecting. A certain
undefined hope, vague and shapeless as yet, made my heart beat wildly.
In the first place, it was absolutely necessary for me to know one
thing. I once more, therefore, leaned my head against the wall, which I
almost touched with my lips, and again spoke.

"Uncle."

..........

"My boy?" was his answer after a few moments.

..........

"It is of the utmost consequence that we should know how far we are
asunder."

..........

"That is not difficult."

..........

"You have your chronometer at hand?" I asked.

..........

"Certainly."

..........

"Well, take it into your hand. Pronounce my name, noting exactly the
second at which you speak. I will reply as soon as I hear your
words and you will then note exactly the moment at which my reply
reaches you."

..........

"Very good; and the mean time between my question and your answer will
be the time occupied by my voice in reaching you."

..........

"That is exactly what I mean, Uncle," was my eager reply.

..........

"Are you ready?"

..........

"Yes."

..........

"Well, make ready, I am about to pronounce your name," said the
Professor.

I applied my ear close to the sides of the cavernous gallery, and as
soon as the word "Harry" reached my ear, I turned round and, placing my
lips to the wall, repeated the sound.

..........

"Forty seconds," said my uncle. "There has elapsed forty seconds between
the two words. The sound, therefore, takes twenty seconds to ascend.
Now, allowing a thousand and twenty feet for every second we have
twenty thousand four hundred feet a league and a half and one-eighth."

These words fell on my soul like a kind of death knell.

"A league and a half," I muttered in a low and despairing voice.

..........

"It shall be got over, my boy," cried my uncle in a cheery tone; "depend
on us."

..........

"But do you know whether to ascend or descend?" I asked faintly enough.

..........

"We have to descend, and I will tell you why. You have reached a vast
open space, a kind of bare crossroad, from which galleries diverge in
every direction. That in which you are now lying must necessarily bring
you to this point, for it appears that all these mighty fissures, these
fractures of the globe's interior, radiate from the vast cavern which we
at this moment occupy. Rouse yourself, then, have courage and continue
your route. Walk if you can, if not drag yourself along slide, if
nothing else is possible. The slope must be rather rapid and you will
find strong arms to receive you at the end of your journey. Make a
start, like a good fellow."

These words served to rouse some kind of courage in my sinking frame.

"Farewell for the present, good uncle, I am about to take my departure.
As soon as I start, our voices will cease to commingle. Farewell, then,
until we meet again."

..........

"Adieu, Harry until we say Welcome." Such were the last words which
reached my anxious ears before I commenced my weary and almost hopeless
journey.

This wonderful and surprising conversation which took place through the
vast mass of the earth's labyrinth, these words exchanged, the speakers
being about five miles apart ended with hopeful and pleasant
expressions. I breathed one more prayer to Heaven, I sent up words of
thanksgiving believing in my inmost heart that He had led me to the
only place where the voices of my friends could reach my ears.

This apparently astounding acoustic mystery is easily explainable by
simple natural laws; it arose from the conductibility of the rock. There
are many instances of this singular propagation of sound which are not
perceptible in its less mediate positions. In the interior gallery of
St. Paul's, and amid the curious caverns in Sicily, these phenomena are
observable. The most marvelous of them all is known as the Ear of
Dionysius.

These memories of the past, of my early reading and studies, came fresh
to my thoughts. Moreover, I began to reason that if my uncle and I could
communicate at so great a distance, no serious obstacle could exist
between us. All I had to do was to follow the direction whence the sound
had reached me; and logically putting it, I must reach him if my
strength did not fail.

I accordingly rose to my feet. I soon found, however, that I could not
walk; that I must drag myself along. The slope as I expected was very
rapid; but I allowed myself to slip down.

Soon the rapidity of the descent began to assume frightful proportions;
and menaced a fearful fall. I clutched at the sides; I grasped at
projections of rocks; I threw myself backwards. All in vain. My weakness
was so great I could do nothing to save myself.

Suddenly earth failed me.

I was first launched into a dark and gloomy void. I then struck against
the projecting asperities of a vertical gallery, a perfect well. My head
bounded against a pointed rock, and I lost all knowledge of existence.
As far as I was concerned, death had claimed me for his own.





Next: A Rapid Recovery

Previous: Lost!



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