The Eastern Tunnel

: A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth

The next day was Tuesday, the 30th of June and at six o'clock in the

morning we resumed our journey.

We still continued to follow the gallery of lava, a perfect natural

pathway, as easy of descent as some of those inclined planes which, in

very old German houses, serve the purpose of staircases. This went on

until seventeen minutes past twelve, the precise instant at which we

rejoined Hans, who, having be
n somewhat in advance, had suddenly


"At last," cried my uncle, "we have reached the end of the shaft."

I looked wonderingly about me. We were in the centre of four cross

paths somber and narrow tunnels. The question now arose as to which it

was wise to take; and this of itself was no small difficulty.

My uncle, who did not wish to appear to have any hesitation about the

matter before myself or the guide, at once made up his mind. He pointed

quietly to the eastern tunnel; and, without delay, we entered within its

gloomy recesses.

Besides, had he entertained any feeling of hesitation it might have been

prolonged indefinitely, for there was no indication by which to

determine on a choice. It was absolutely necessary to trust to chance

and good fortune!

The descent of this obscure and narrow gallery was very gradual and

winding. Sometimes we gazed through a succession of arches, its course

very like the aisles of a Gothic cathedral. The great artistic sculptors

and builders of the Middle Ages might have here completed their studies

with advantage. Many most beautiful and suggestive ideas of

architectural beauty would have been discovered by them. After passing

through this phase of the cavernous way, we suddenly came, about a mile

farther on, upon a square system of arch, adopted by the early Romans,

projecting from the solid rock, and keeping up the weight of the roof.

Suddenly we would come upon a series of low subterranean tunnels which

looked like beaver holes, or the work of foxes through whose narrow and

winding ways we had literally to crawl!

The heat still remained at quite a supportable degree. With an

involuntary shudder, I reflected on what the heat must have been when

the volcano of Sneffels was pouring its smoke, flames, and streams of

boiling lava all of which must have come up by the road we were now

following. I could imagine the torrents of hot seething stone darting

on, bubbling up with accompaniments of smoke, steam, and sulphurous


"Only to think of the consequences," I mused, "if the old volcano were

once more to set to work."

I did not communicate these rather unpleasant reflections to my uncle.

He not only would not have understood them, but would have been

intensely disgusted. His only idea was to go ahead. He walked, he slid,

he clambered over piles of fragments, he rolled down heaps of broken

lava, with an earnestness and conviction it was impossible not to


At six o'clock in the evening, after a very wearisome journey, but one

not so fatiguing as before, we had made six miles towards the southward,

but had not gone more than a mile downwards.

My uncle, as usual, gave the signal to halt. We ate our meal in

thoughtful silence, and then retired to sleep.

Our arrangements for the night were very primitive and simple. A

traveling rug, in which each rolled himself, was all our bedding. We had

no necessity to fear cold or any unpleasant visit. Travelers who bury

themselves in the wilds and depths of the African desert, who seek

profit and pleasure in the forests of the New World, are compelled to

take it in turn to watch during the hours of sleep; but in this region

of the earth absolute solitude and complete security reigned supreme.

We had nothing to fear either from savages or from wild beasts.

After a night's sweet repose, we awoke fresh and ready for action. There

being nothing to detain us, we started on our journey. We continued to

burrow through the lava tunnel as before. It was impossible to make out

through what soil we were making way. The tunnel, moreover, instead of

going down into the bowels of the earth, became absolutely horizontal.

I even thought, after some examination, that we were actually tending

upwards. About ten o'clock in the day this state of things became so

clear that, finding the change very fatiguing, I was obliged to slacken

my pace and finally come to a halt.

"Well," said the Professor quickly, "what is the matter?"

"The fact is, I am dreadfully tired," was my earnest reply.

"What," cried my uncle, "tired after a three hours' walk, and by so easy

a road?"

"Easy enough, I dare say, but very fatiguing."

"But how can that be, when all we have to do is to go downwards."

"I beg your pardon, sir. For some time I have noticed that we are going


"Upwards," cried my uncle, shrugging his shoulders, "how can that be?"

"There can be no doubt about it. For the last half hour the slopes have

been upward and if we go on in this way much longer we shall find

ourselves back in Iceland."

My uncle shook his head with the air of a man who does not want to be

convinced. I tried to continue the conversation. He would not answer me,

but once more gave the signal for departure. His silence I thought was

only caused by concentrated ill-temper.

However this might be, I once more took up my load, and boldly and

resolutely followed Hans, who was now in advance of my uncle. I did not

like to be beaten or even distanced. I was naturally anxious not to lose

sight of my companions. The very idea of being left behind, lost in that

terrible labyrinth, made me shiver as with the ague.

Besides, if the ascending path was more arduous and painful to clamber,

I had one source of secret consolation and delight. It was to all

appearance taking us back to the surface of the earth. That of itself

was hopeful. Every step I took confirmed me in my belief, and I began

already to build castles in the air in relation to my marriage with my

pretty little cousin.

About twelve o'clock there was a great and sudden change in the aspect

of the rocky sides of the gallery. I first noticed it from the

diminution of the rays of light which cast back the reflection of the

lamp. From being coated with shining and resplendent lava, it became

living rock. The sides were sloping walls, which sometimes became quite


We were now in what the geological professors call a state of

transition, in the period of Silurian stones, so called because this

specimen of early formation is very common in England in the counties

formerly inhabited by the Celtic nation known as Silures.

"I can see clearly now," I cried; "the sediment from the waters which

once covered the whole earth formed during the second period of its

existence these schists and these calcareous rocks. We are turning our

backs on the granite rocks, and are like people from Hamburg who would

go to Lubeck by way of Hanover."

I might just as well have kept my observations to myself. My geological

enthusiasm got the better, however, of my cooler judgment, and Professor

Hardwigg heard my observations.

"What is the matter now?" he said, in a tone of great gravity.

"Well," cried I, "do you not see these different layers of calcareous

rocks and the first indication of slate strata?"

"Well; what then?"

"We have arrived at that period of the world's existence when the first

plants and the first animals made their appearance."

"You think so?"

"Yes, look; examine and judge for yourself."

I induced the Professor with some difficulty to cast the light of his

lamp on the sides of the long winding gallery. I expected some

exclamation to burst from his lips. I was very much mistaken. The worthy

Professor never spoke a word.

It was impossible to say whether he understood me or not. Perhaps it was

possible that in his pride my uncle and a learned professor he did not

like to own that he was wrong in having chosen the eastern tunnel, or

was he determined at any price to go to the end of it? It was quite

evident we had left the region of lava, and that the road by which we

were going could not take us back to the great crater of Mount Sneffels.

As we went along I could not help ruminating on the whole question, and

asked myself if I did not lay too great a stress on these sudden and

peculiar modifications of the earth's crust.

After all, I was very likely to be mistaken and it was within the range

of probability and possibility that we were not making our way through

the strata of rocks which I believed I recognized piled on the lower

layer of granitic formation.

"At all events, if I am right," I thought to myself, "I must certainly

find some remains of primitive plants, and it will be absolutely

necessary to give way to such indubitable evidence. Let us have a good


I accordingly lost no opportunity of searching, and had not gone more

than about a hundred yards, when the evidence I sought for cropped up in

the most incontestable manner before my eyes. It was quite natural that

I should expect to find these signs, for during the Silurian period the

seas contained no fewer than fifteen hundred different animal and

vegetable species. My feet, so long accustomed to the hard and arid lava

soil, suddenly found themselves treading on a kind of soft dust, the

remains of plants and shells.

Upon the walls themselves I could clearly make out the outline, as plain

as a sun picture, of the fucus and the lycopods. The worthy and

excellent Professor Hardwigg could not of course make any mistake about

the matter; but I believe he deliberately closed his eyes, and continued

on his way with a firm and unalterable step.

I began to think that he was carrying his obstinacy a great deal too

far. I could no longer act with prudence or composure. I stooped on a

sudden and picked up an almost perfect shell, which had undoubtedly

belonged to some animal very much resembling some of the present day.

Having secured the prize, I followed in the wake of my uncle.

"Do you see this?" I said.

"Well, said the Professor, with the most imperturbable tranquillity, "it

is the shell of a crustaceous animal of the extinct order of the

trilobites; nothing more, I assure you."

"But," cried I, much troubled at his coolness, "do you draw no

conclusion from it?"

"Well, if I may ask, what conclusion do you draw from it yourself?"

"Well, I thought "

"I know, my boy, what you would say, and you are right, perfectly and

incontestably right. We have finally abandoned the crust of lava and the

road by which the lava ascended. It is quite possible that I may have

been mistaken, but I shall be unable to discover my error until I get to

the end of this gallery."

"You are quite right as far as that is concerned," I replied, "and I

should highly approve of your decision, if we had not to fear the

greatest of all dangers."

"And what is that?"

"Want of water."

"Well, my dear Henry, it can't be helped. We must put ourselves on


And on he went.