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The Wrong Road!







From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

Next day, our departure took place at a very early hour. There was no
time for the least delay. According to my account, we had five days'
hard work to get back to the place where the galleries divided.

I can never tell all the sufferings we endured upon our return. My uncle
bore them like a man who has been in the wrong that is, with
concentrated and suppressed anger; Hans, with all the resignation of his
pacific character; and I I confess that I did nothing but complain, and
despair. I had no heart for this bad fortune.

But there was one consolation. Defeat at the outset would probably upset
the whole journey!

As I had expected from the first, our supply of water gave completely
out on our first day's march. Our provision of liquids was reduced to
our supply of Schiedam; but this horrible nay, I will say it this
infernal liquor burnt the throat, and I could not even bear the sight of
it. I found the temperature to be stifling. I was paralyzed with
fatigue. More than once I was about to fall insensible to the ground.
The whole party then halted, and the worthy Icelander and my excellent
uncle did their best to console and comfort me. I could, however,
plainly see that my uncle was contending painfully against the extreme
fatigues of our journey, and the awful torture generated by the absence
of water.

At length a time came when I ceased to recollect anything when all was
one awfull hideous, fantastic dream!

At last, on Tuesday, the seventh of the month of July, after crawling on
our hands and knees for many hours, more dead than alive, we reached the
point of junction between the galleries. I lay like a log, an inert mass
of human flesh on the arid lava soil. It was then ten in the morning.

Hans and my uncle, leaning against the wall, tried to nibble away at
some pieces of biscuit, while deep groans and sighs escaped from my
scorched and swollen lips. Then I fell off into a kind of deep lethargy.

Presently I felt my uncle approach, and lift me up tenderly in his arms.

"Poor boy," I heard him say in a tone of deep commiseration.

I was profoundly touched by these words, being by no means accustomed to
signs of womanly weakness in the Professor. I caught his trembling hands
in mine and gave them a gentle pressure. He allowed me to do so without
resistance, looking at me kindly all the time. His eyes were wet with
tears.

I then saw him take the gourd which he wore at his side. To my surprise,
or rather to my stupefaction, he placed it to my lips.

"Drink, my boy," he said.

Was it possible my ears had not deceived me? Was my uncle mad? I looked
at him, with, I am sure, quite an idiotic expression. I could not
believe him. I too much feared the counteraction of disappointment.

"Drink," he said again.

Had I heard aright? Before, however, I could ask myself the question a
second time, a mouthful of water cooled my parched lips and throat one
mouthful, but I do believe it brought me back to life.

I thanked my uncle by clasping my hands. My heart was too full to speak.

"Yes," said he, "one mouthful of water, the very last do you hear, my
boy the very last! I have taken care of it at the bottom of my bottle
as the apple of my eye. Twenty times, a hundred times, I have resisted
the fearful desire to drink it. But no no, Harry, I saved it for you."

"My dear uncle," I exclaimed, and the big tears rolled down my hot and
feverish cheeks.

"Yes, my poor boy, I knew that when you reached this place, this
crossroad in the earth, you would fall down half dead, and I saved my
last drop of water in order to restore you."

"Thanks," I cried; "thanks from my heart."

As little as my thirst was really quenched, I had nevertheless partially
recovered my strength. The contracted muscles of my throat relaxed and
the inflammation of my lips in some measure subsided. At all events, I
was able to speak.

"Well," I said, "there can be no doubt now as to what we have to do.
Water has utterly failed us; our journey is therefore at an end. Let us
return."

While I spoke thus, my uncle evidently avoided my face: he held down his
head; his eyes were turned in every possible direction but the right
one.

"Yes," I continued, getting excited by my own words, "we must go back to
Sneffels. May heaven give us strength to enable us once more to revisit
the light of day. Would that we now stood on the summit of the crater."

"Go back," said my uncle, speaking to himself, "and must it be so?"

"Go back yes, and without losing a single moment," I vehemently cried.

For some moments there was silence under that dark and gloomy vault.

"So, my dear Harry," said the Professor in a very singular tone of
voice, "those few drops of water have not sufficed to restore your
energy and courage."

"Courage!" I cried.

"I see that you are quite as downcast as before and still give way to
discouragement and despair."

What, then, was the man made of, and what other projects were entering
his fertile and audacious brain!

"You are not discouraged, sir?"

"What! Give up just as we are on the verge of success?" he cried.
"Never, never shall it be said that Professor Hardwigg retreated."

"Then we must make up our minds to perish," I cried with a helpless
sigh.

"No, Harry, my boy, certainly not. Go, leave me, I am very far from
desiring your death. Take Hans with you. I will go on alone."

"You ask us to leave you?"

"Leave me, I say. I have undertaken this dangerous and perilous
adventure. I will carry it to the end or I will never return to the
surface of Mother Earth. Go, Harry once more I say to you go!"

My uncle as he spoke was terribly excited. His voice, which before had
been tender, almost womanly, became harsh and menacing. He appeared to
be struggling with desperate energy against the impossible. I did not
wish to abandon him at the bottom of that abyss, while, on the other
hand, the instinct of preservation told me to fly.

Meanwhile, our guide was looking on with profound calmness and
indifference. He appeared to be an unconcerned party, and yet he
perfectly well knew what was going on between us. Our gestures
sufficiently indicated the different roads each wished to follow and
which each tried to influence the other to undertake. But Hans appeared
not to take the slightest interest in what was really a question of life
and death for us all, but waited quite ready to obey the signal which
should say go aloft, or to resume his desperate journey into the
interior of the earth.

How then I wished with all my heart and soul that I could make him
understand my words. My representations, my sighs and groans, the
earnest accents in which I should have spoken would have convinced that
cold, hard nature. Those fearful dangers and perils of which the stolid
guide had no idea, I would have pointed them out to him I would have,
as it were, made him see and feel. Between us, we might have convinced
the obstinate Professor. If the worst had come to the worst, we could
have compelled him to return to the summit of Sneffels.

I quietly approached Hans. I caught his hand in mine. He never moved a
muscle. I indicated to him the road to the top of the crater. He
remained motionless. My panting form, my haggard countenance, must have
indicated the extent of my sufferings. The Icelander gently shook his
head and pointed to my uncle.

"Master," he said.

The word is Icelandic as well as English.

"The master!" I cried, beside myself with fury "madman! no I tell you
he is not the master of our lives; we must fly! we must drag him with
us! do you hear me? Do you understand me, I say?"

I have already explained that I held Hans by the arm. I tried to make
him rise from his seat. I struggled with him and tried to force him
away. My uncle now interposed.

"My good Henry, be calm," he said. "You will obtain nothing from my
devoted follower; therefore, listen to what I have to say."

I folded my arms, as well as I could, and looked my uncle full in the
face.

"This wretched want of water," he said, "is the sole obstacle to the
success of my project. In the entire gallery, made of lava, schist, and
coal, it is true we found not one liquid molecule. It is quite possible
that we may be more fortunate in the western tunnel."

My sole reply was to shake my head with an air of deep incredulity.

"Listen to me to the end," said the Professor in his well-known
lecturing voice. "While you lay yonder without life or motion, I
undertook a reconnoitering journey into the conformation of this other
gallery. I have discovered that it goes directly downwards into the
bowels of the earth, and in a few hours will take us to the old granitic
formation. In this we shall undoubtedly find innumerable springs. The
nature of the rock makes this a mathematical certainty, and instinct
agrees with logic to say that it is so. Now, this is the serious
proposition which I have to make to you. When Christopher Columbus asked
of his men three days to discover the land of promise, his men ill,
terrified, and hopeless, yet gave him three days and the New World was
discovered. Now I, the Christopher Columbus of this subterranean region,
only ask of you one more day. If, when that time is expired, I have not
found the water of which we are in search, I swear to you, I will give
up my mighty enterprise and return to the earth's surface."

Despite my irritation and despair, I knew how much it cost my uncle to
make this proposition, and to hold such conciliatory language. Under the
circumstances, what could I do but yield?

"Well," I cried, "let it be as you wish, and may heaven reward your
superhuman energy. But as, unless we discover water, our hours are
numbered, let us lose no time, but go ahead."





Next: The Western Gallery A New Route

Previous: Deeper And Deeper The Coal Mine



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