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We Reach Mount Sneffels The Reykir







From: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

Stapi is a town consisting of thirty huts, built on a large plain of
lava, exposed to the rays of the sun, reflected from the volcano. It
stretches its humble tenements along the end of a little fjord,
surrounded by a basaltic wall of the most singular character.

Basalt is a brown rock of igneous origin. It assumes regular forms,
which astonish by their singular appearance. Here we found Nature
proceeding geometrically, and working quite after a human fashion, as if
she had employed the plummet line, the compass and the rule. If
elsewhere she produces grand artistic effects by piling up huge masses
without order or connection if elsewhere we see truncated cones,
imperfect pyramids, with an odd succession of lines; here, as if wishing
to give a lesson in regularity, and preceding the architects of the
early ages, she has erected a severe order of architecture, which
neither the splendors of Babylon nor the marvels of Greece ever
surpassed.

I had often heard of the Giant's Causeway in Ireland, and of Fingal's
Cave in one of the Hebrides, but the grand spectacle of a real basaltic
formation had never yet come before my eyes.

This at Stapi gave us an idea of one in all its wonderful beauty and
grace.

The wall of the fjord, like nearly the whole of the peninsula, consisted
of a series of vertical columns, in height about thirty feet. These
upright pillars of stone, of the finest proportions, supported an
archivault of horizontal columns which formed a kind of half-vaulted
roof above the sea. At certain intervals, and below this natural basin,
the eye was pleased and surprised by the sight of oval openings through
which the outward waves came thundering in volleys of foam. Some banks
of basalt, torn from their fastenings by the fury of the waves, lay
scattered on the ground like the ruins of an ancient temple ruins
eternally young, over which the storms of ages swept without producing
any perceptible effect!

This was the last stage of our journey. Hans had brought us along with
fidelity and intelligence, and I began to feel somewhat more comfortable
when I reflected that he was to accompany us still farther on our way.

When we halted before the house of the Rector, a small and incommodious
cabin, neither handsome nor more comfortable than those of his
neighbors, I saw a man in the act of shoeing a horse, a hammer in his
hand, and a leathern apron tied round his waist.

"Be happy," said the eider-down hunter, using his national salutation in
his own language.

"God dag good day!" replied the former, in excellent Danish.

"Kyrkoherde," cried Hans, turning round and introducing him to my uncle.

"The Rector," repeated the worthy Professor; "it appears, my dear Harry,
that this worthy man is the Rector, and is not above doing his own
work."

During the speaking of these words the guide intimated to the Kyrkoherde
what was the true state of the case. The good man, ceasing from his
occupation, gave a kind of halloo, upon which a tall woman, almost a
giantess, came out of the hut. She was at least six feet high, which in
that region is something considerable.

My first impression was one of horror. I thought she had come to give us
the Icelandic kiss. I had, however, nothing to fear, for she did not
even show much inclination to receive us into her house.

The room devoted to strangers appeared to me to be by far the worst in
the presbytery; it was narrow, dirty and offensive. There was, however,
no choice about the matter. The Rector had no notion of practicing the
usual cordial and antique hospitality. Far from it. Before the day was
over, I found we had to deal with a blacksmith, a fisherman, a hunter, a
carpenter, anything but a clergyman. It must be said in his favor that
we had caught him on a weekday; probably he appeared to greater
advantage on the Sunday.

These poor priests receive from the Danish Government a most
ridiculously inadequate salary, and collect one quarter of the tithe of
their parish not more than sixty marks current, or about L3 10s.
sterling. Hence the necessity of working to live. In truth, we soon
found that our host did not count civility among the cardinal virtues.

My uncle soon became aware of the kind of man he had to deal with.
Instead of a worthy and learned scholar, he found a dull ill-mannered
peasant. He therefore resolved to start on his great expedition as soon
as possible. He did not care about fatigue, and resolved to spend a few
days in the mountains.

The preparations for our departure were made the very next day after our
arrival at Stapi; Hans now hired three Icelanders to take the place of
the horses which could no longer carry our luggage. When, however,
these worthy islanders had reached the bottom of the crater, they were
to go back and leave us to ourselves. This point was settled before they
would agree to start.

On this occasion, my uncle partly confided in Hans, the eider-duck
hunter, and gave him to understand that it was his intention to continue
his exploration of the volcano to the last possible limits.

Hans listened calmly, and then nodded his head. To go there, or
elsewhere, to bury himself in the bowels of the earth, or to travel over
its summits, was all the same to him! As for me, amused and occupied by
the incidents of travel, I had begun to forget the inevitable future;
but now I was once more destined to realize the actual state of affairs.
What was to be done? Run away? But if I really had intended to leave
Professor Hardwigg to his fate, it should have been at Hamburg and not
at the foot of Sneffels.

One idea, above all others, began to trouble me: a very terrible idea,
and one calculated to shake the nerves of a man even less sensitive than
myself.

"Let us consider the matter," I said to myself; "we are going to ascend
the Sneffels mountain. Well and good. We are about to pay a visit to the
very bottom of the crater. Good, still. Others have done it and did not
perish from that course.

"That, however, is not the whole matter to be considered. If a road does
really present itself by which to descend into the dark and
subterraneous bowels of Mother Earth, if this thrice unhappy Saknussemm
has really told the truth, we shall be most certainly lost in the midst
of the labyrinth of subterraneous galleries of the volcano. Now, we have
no evidence to prove that Sneffels is really extinct. What proof have we
that an eruption is not shortly about to take place? Because the monster
has slept soundly since 1219, does it follow that he is never to wake?

"If he does wake what is to become of us?"

These were questions worth thinking about, and upon them I reflected
long and deeply. I could not lie down in search of sleep without
dreaming of eruptions. The more I thought, the more I objected to be
reduced to the state of dross and ashes.

I could stand it no longer; so I determined at last to submit the whole
case to my uncle, in the most adroit manner possible, and under the form
of some totally irreconcilable hypothesis.

I sought him. I laid before him my fears, and then drew back in order to
let him get his passion over at his ease.

"I have been thinking about the matter," he said, in the quietest tone
in the world.

What did he mean? Was he at last about to listen to the voice of reason?
Did he think of suspending his projects? It was almost too much
happiness to be true.

I however made no remark. In fact, I was only too anxious not to
interrupt him, and allowed him to reflect at his leisure. After some
moments he spoke out.

"I have been thinking about the matter," he resumed. "Ever since we have
been at Stapi, my mind has been almost solely occupied with the grave
question which has been submitted to me by yourself for nothing would
be unwiser and more inconsistent than to act with imprudence."

"I heartily agree with you, my dear uncle," was my somewhat hopeful
rejoinder.

"It is now six hundred years since Sneffels has spoken, but though now
reduced to a state of utter silence, he may speak again. New volcanic
eruptions are always preceded by perfectly well-known phenomena. I have
closely examined the inhabitants of this region; I have carefully
studied the soil, and I beg to tell you emphatically, my dear Harry,
there will be no eruption at present."

As I listened to his positive affirmations, I was stupefied and could
say nothing.

"I see you doubt my word," said my uncle; "follow me."

I obeyed mechanically.

Leaving the presbytery, the Professor took a road through an opening in
the basaltic rock, which led far away from the sea. We were soon in open
country, if we could give such a name to a place all covered with
volcanic deposits. The whole land seemed crushed under the weight of
enormous stones of trap, of basalt, of granite, of lava, and of all
other volcanic substances.

I could see many spouts of steam rising in the air. These white vapors,
called in the Icelandic language "reykir," come from hot water
fountains, and indicate by their violence the volcanic activity of the
soil. Now the sight of these appeared to justify my apprehension. I was,
therefore, all the more surprised and mortified when my uncle thus
addressed me.

"You see all this smoke, Harry, my boy?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, as long as you see them thus, you have nothing to fear from the
volcano."

"How can that be?"

"Be careful to remember this," continued the Professor. "At the approach
of an eruption these spouts of vapor redouble their activity to
disappear altogether during the period of volcanic eruption; for the
elastic fluids, no longer having the necessary tension, seek refuge in
the interior of the crater, instead of escaping through the fissures of
the earth. If, then, the steam remains in its normal or habitual state,
if their energy does not increase, and if you add to this, the remark
that the wind is not replaced by heavy atmospheric pressure and dead
calm, you may be quite sure that there is no fear of any immediate
eruption."

"But "

"Enough, my boy. When science has sent forth her fiat it is only to
hear and obey."

I came back to the house quite downcast and disappointed. My uncle had
completely defeated me with his scientific arguments. Nevertheless, I
had still one hope, and that was, when once we were at the bottom of the
crater, that it would be impossible in default of a gallery or tunnel,
to descend any deeper; and this, despite all the learned Saknussemms in
the world.

I passed the whole of the following night with a nightmare on my chest!
and, after unheard-of miseries and tortures, found myself in the very
depths of the earth, from which I was suddenly launched into planetary
space, under the form of an eruptive rock!

Next day, June 23d, Hans calmly awaited us outside the presbytery with
his three companions loaded with provisions, tools, and instruments. Two
iron-shod poles, two guns, and two large game bags, were reserved for my
uncle and myself. Hans, who was a man who never forgot even the minutest
precautions, had added to our baggage a large skin full of water, as an
addition to our gourds. This assured us water for eight days.

It was nine o'clock in the morning when we were quite ready. The rector
and his huge wife or servant, I never knew which, stood at the door to
see us off. They appeared to be about to inflict on us the usual final
kiss of the Icelanders. To our supreme astonishment their adieu took the
shape of a formidable bill, in which they even counted the use of the
pastoral house, really and truly the most abominable and dirty place I
ever was in. The worthy couple cheated and robbed us like a Swiss
innkeeper, and made us feel, by the sum we had to pay, the splendors of
their hospitality.

My uncle, however, paid without bargaining. A man who had made up his
mind to undertake a voyage into the Interior of the Earth, is not the
man to haggle over a few miserable rix-dollars.

This important matter settled, Hans gave the signal for departure, and
some few moments later we had left Stapi.





Next: The Ascent Of Mount Sneffels

Previous: Traveling In Iceland



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