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Under The Ocean







From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

By the next day we had nearly forgotten our past sufferings. The first
sensation I experienced was surprise at not being thirsty, and I
actually asked myself the reason. The running stream, which flowed in
rippling wavelets at my feet, was the satisfactory reply.

We breakfasted with a good appetite, and then drank our fill of the
excellent water. I felt myself quite a new man, ready to go anywhere my
uncle chose to lead. I began to think. Why should not a man as seriously
convinced as my uncle, succeed, with so excellent a guide as worthy
Hans, and so devoted a nephew as myself? These were the brilliant ideas
which now invaded my brain. Had the proposition now been made to go back
to the summit of Mount Sneffels, I should have declined the offer in a
most indignant manner.

But fortunately there was no question of going up. We were about to
descend farther into the interior of the earth.

"Let us be moving," I cried, awakening the echoes of the old world.

We resumed our march on Thursday at eight o'clock in the morning. The
great granite tunnel, as it went round by sinuous and winding ways,
presented every now and then sharp turns, and in fact all the appearance
of a labyrinth. Its direction, however, was in general towards the
southwest. My uncle made several pauses in order to consult his compass.

The gallery now began to trend downwards in a horizontal direction, with
about two inches of fall in every furlong. The murmuring stream flowed
quietly at our feet. I could not but compare it to some familiar spirit,
guiding us through the earth, and I dabbled my fingers in its tepid
water, which sang like a naiad as we progressed. My good humor began to
assume a mythological character.

As for my uncle he began to complain of the horizontal character of the
road. His route, he found, began to be indefinitely prolonged, instead
of "sliding down the celestial ray," according to his expression.

But we had no choice; and as long as our road led towards the
centre however little progress we made, there was no reason to
complain.

Moreover, from time to time the slopes were much greater, the naiad sang
more loudly, and we began to dip downwards in earnest.

As yet, however, I felt no painful sensation. I had not got over the
excitement of the discovery of water.

That day and the next we did a considerable amount of horizontal, and
relatively very little vertical, traveling.

On Friday evening, the tenth of July, according to our estimation, we
ought to have been thirty leagues to the southeast of Reykjavik, and
about two leagues and a half deep. We now received a rather startling
surprise.

Under our feet there opened a horrible well. My uncle was so delighted
that he actually clapped his hands as he saw how steep and sharp was
the descent.

"Ah, ah!" he cried, in rapturous delight; "this take us a long way. Look
at the projections of the rock. Hah!" he exclaimed, "it's a fearful
staircase!"

Hans, however, who in all our troubles had never given up the ropes,
took care so to dispose of them as to prevent any accidents. Our descent
then began. I dare not call it a perilous descent, for I was already too
familiar with that sort of work to look upon it as anything but a very
ordinary affair.

This well was a kind of narrow opening in the massive granite of the
kind known as a fissure. The contraction of the terrestrial scaffolding,
when it suddenly cooled, had been evidently the cause. If it had ever
served in former times as a kind of funnel through which passed the
eruptive masses vomited by Sneffels, I was at a loss to explain how it
had left no mark. We were, in fact, descending a spiral, something like
those winding staircases in use in modern houses.

We were compelled every quarter of an hour or thereabouts to sit down in
order to rest our legs. Our calves ached. We then seated ourselves on
some projecting rock with our legs hanging over, and gossiped while we
ate a mouthful drinking still from the pleasantly warm running stream
which had not deserted us.

It is scarcely necessary to say that in this curiously shaped fissure
the Hansbach had become a cascade to the detriment of its size. It was
still, however, sufficient, and more, for our wants. Besides we knew
that, as soon as the declivity ceased to be so abrupt, the stream must
resume its peaceful course. At this moment it reminded me of my uncle,
his impatience and rage, while when it flowed more peacefully, I
pictured to myself the placidity of the Icelandic guide.

During the whole of two days, the sixth and seventh of July, we followed
the extraordinary spiral staircase of the fissure, penetrating two
leagues farther into the crust of the earth, which put us five leagues
below the level of the sea. On the eighth, however, at twelve o'clock in
the day, the fissure suddenly assumed a much more gentle slope still
trending in a southeast direction.

The road now became comparatively easy, and at the same time dreadfully
monotonous. It would have been difficult for matters to have turned out
otherwise. Our peculiar journey had no chance of being diversified by
landscape and scenery. At all events, such was my idea.

At length, on Wednesday the fifteenth, we were actually seven leagues
(twenty-one miles) below the surface of the earth, and fifty leagues
distant from the mountain of Sneffels. Though, if the truth be told, we
were very tired, our health had resisted all suffering, and was in a
most satisfactory state. Our traveler's box of medicaments had not even
been opened.

My uncle was careful to note every hour the indications of the compass,
of the manometer, and of the thermometer, all which he afterwards
published in his elaborate philosophical and scientific account of our
remarkable voyage. He was therefore able to give an exact relation of
the situation. When, therefore, he informed me that we were fifty
leagues in a horizontal direction distant from our starting point, I
could not suppress a loud exclamation.

"What is the matter now?" cried my uncle.

"Nothing very important, only an idea has entered my head," was my
reply.

"Well, out with it, My boy."

"It is my opinion that if your calculations are correct we are no longer
under Iceland."

"Do you think so?"

"We can very easily find out," I replied, pulling out a map and
compasses.

"You see," I said, after careful measurement, "that I am not mistaken.
We are far beyond Cape Portland; and those fifty leagues to the
southeast will take us into the open sea."

"Under the open sea," cried my uncle, rubbing his hands with a delighted
air.

"Yes," I cried, "no doubt old Ocean flows over our heads!"

"Well, my dear boy, what can be more natural! Do you not know that in
the neighborhood of Newcastle there are coal mines which have been
worked far out under the sea?"

Now my worthy uncle, the Professor, no doubt regarded this discovery as
a very simple fact, but to me the idea was by no means a pleasant one.
And yet when one came to think the matter over seriously, what mattered
it whether the plains and mountains of Iceland were suspended over our
devoted heads, or the mighty billows of the Atlantic Ocean? The whole
question rested on the solidity of the granite roof above us. However, I
soon got used to the ideal for the passage now level, now running down,
and still always to the southeast, kept going deeper and deeper into the
profound abysses of Mother Earth.

Three days later, on the eighteenth day of July, on a Saturday, we
reached a kind of vast grotto. My uncle here paid Hans his usual
rix-dollars, and it was decided that the next day should be a day of
rest.





Next: Sunday Below Ground

Previous: Water Where Is It? A Bitter Disappointment



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