Chapter 32




CHAPTER XXXII.

WONDERS OF THE DEEP

On the 13th of August we awoke early. We were now to begin to adopt amode of travelling both more expeditious and less fatiguing thanhitherto.

A mast was made of two poles spliced together, a yard was made of athird, a blanket borrowed from our coverings made a tolerable sail.There was no want of cordage for the rigging, and everything was welland firmly made.

The provisions, the baggage, the instruments, the guns, and a goodquantity of fresh water from the rocks around, all found their properplaces on board; and at six the Professor gave the signal to embark.Hans had fitted up a rudder to steer his vessel. He took the tiller,and unmoored; the sail was set, and we were soon afloat. At themoment of leaving the harbour, my uncle, who was tenaciously fond ofnaming his new discoveries, wanted to give it a name, and proposedmine amongst others.

"But I have a better to propose," I said: "Grauben. Let it be calledPort Gräuben; it will look very well upon the map."

"Port Gräuben let it be then."

And so the cherished remembrance of my Virlandaise became associatedwith our adventurous expedition.

The wind was from the north-west. We went with it at a high rate ofspeed. The dense atmosphere acted with great force and impelled usswiftly on.

In an hour my uncle had been able to estimate our progress. At thisrate, he said, we shall make thirty leagues in twenty-four hours, andwe shall soon come in sight of the opposite shore.

I made no answer, but went and sat forward. The northern shore wasalready beginning to dip under the horizon. The eastern and westernstrands spread wide as if to bid us farewell. Before our eyes lay farand wide a vast sea; shadows of great clouds swept heavily over itssilver-grey surface; the glistening bluish rays of electric light,here and there reflected by the dancing drops of spray, shot outlittle sheaves of light from the track we left in our rear. Soon weentirely lost sight of land; no object was left for the eye to judgeby, and but for the frothy track of the raft, I might have thought wewere standing still.

About twelve, immense shoals of seaweeds came in sight. I was awareof the great powers of vegetation that characterise these plants,which grow at a depth of twelve thousand feet, reproduce themselvesunder a pressure of four hundred atmospheres, and sometimes formbarriers strong enough to impede the course of a ship. But never, Ithink, were such seaweeds as those which we saw floating in immensewaving lines upon the sea of Liedenbrock.

Our raft skirted the whole length of the fuci, three or four thousandfeet long, undulating like vast serpents beyond the reach of sight; Ifound some amusement in tracing these endless waves, always thinkingI should come to the end of them, and for hours my patience was vyingwith my surprise.

What natural force could have produced such plants, and what musthave been the appearance of the earth in the first ages of itsformation, when, under the action of heat and moisture, the vegetablekingdom alone was developing on its surface?

Evening came, and, as on the previous day, I perceived no change inthe luminous condition of the air. It was a constant condition, thepermanency of which might be relied upon.

After supper I laid myself down at the foot of the mast, and fellasleep in the midst of fantastic reveries.

Hans, keeping fast by the helm, let the raft run on, which, afterall, needed no steering, the wind blowing directly aft.

Since our departure from Port Gräuben, Professor Liedenbrock hadentrusted the log to my care; I was to register every observation,make entries of interesting phenomena, the direction of the wind, therate of sailing, the way we made - in a word, every particular of oursingular voyage.

I shall therefore reproduce here these daily notes, written, so tospeak, as the course of events directed, in order to furnish an exactnarrative of our passage.

_Friday, August 14_. - Wind steady, N.W. The raft makes rapid way ina direct line. Coast thirty leagues to leeward. Nothing in sightbefore us. Intensity of light the same. Weather fine; that is to say,that the clouds are flying high, are light, and bathed in a whiteatmosphere resembling silver in a state of fusion. Therm. 89° Fahr.

At noon Hans prepared a hook at the end of a line. He baited it witha small piece of meat and flung it into the sea. For two hoursnothing was caught. Are these waters, then, bare of inhabitants? No,there's a pull at the line. Hans draws it in and brings out astruggling fish.

"A sturgeon," I cried; "a small sturgeon."

The Professor eyes the creature attentively, and his opinion differsfrom mine.

The head of this fish was flat, but rounded in front, and theanterior part of its body was plated with bony, angular scales; ithad no teeth, its pectoral fins were large, and of tail there wasnone. The animal belonged to the same order as the sturgeon, butdiffered from that fish in many essential particulars. After a shortexamination my uncle pronounced his opinion.

"This fish belongs to an extinct family, of which only fossil tracesare found in the devonian formations."

"What!" I cried. "Have we taken alive an inhabitant of the seas ofprimitive ages?"

"Yes; and you will observe that these fossil fishes have no identitywith any living species. To have in one's possession a livingspecimen is a happy event for a naturalist."

"But to what family does it belong?"

"It is of the order of ganoids, of the family of the cephalaspidae;and a species of pterichthys. But this one displays a peculiarityconfined to all fishes that inhabit subterranean waters. It is blind,and not only blind, but actually has no eyes at all."

I looked: nothing could be more certain. But supposing it might be asolitary case, we baited afresh, and threw out our line. Surely thisocean is well peopled with fish, for in another couple of hours wetook a large quantity of pterichthydes, as well as of othersbelonging to the extinct family of the dipterides, but of which myuncle could not tell the species; none had organs of sight. Thisunhoped-for catch recruited our stock of provisions.

Thus it is evident that this sea contains none but species known tous in their fossil state, in which fishes as well as reptiles are theless perfectly and completely organised the farther back their dateof creation.

Perhaps we may yet meet with some of those saurians which science hasreconstructed out of a bit of bone or cartilage. I took up thetelescope and scanned the whole horizon, and found it everywhere adesert sea. We are far away removed from the shores.

I gaze upward in the air. Why should not some of the strange birdsrestored by the immortal Cuvier again flap their 'sail-broad vans' inthis dense and heavy atmosphere? There are sufficient fish for theirsupport. I survey the whole space that stretches overhead; it is asdesert as the shore was.

Still my imagination carried me away amongst the wonderfulspeculations of palaeontology. Though awake I fell into a dream. Ithought I could see floating on the surface of the waters enormouschelonia, preadamite tortoises, resembling floating islands. Over thedimly lighted strand there trod the huge mammals of the first ages ofthe world, the leptotherium (slender beast), found in the caverns ofBrazil; the merycotherium (ruminating beast), found in the 'drift' oficeclad Siberia. Farther on, the pachydermatous lophiodon (crestedtoothed), a gigantic tapir, hides behind the rocks to dispute itsprey with the anoplotherium (unarmed beast), a strange creature,which seemed a compound of horse, rhinoceros, camel, andhippopotamus. The colossal mastodon (nipple-toothed) twists anduntwists his trunk, and brays and pounds with his huge tusks thefragments of rock that cover the shore; whilst the megatherium (hugebeast), buttressed upon his enormous hinder paws, grubs in the soil,awaking the sonorous echoes of the granite rocks with his tremendousroarings. Higher up, the protopitheca - the first monkey thatappeared on the globe - is climbing up the steep ascents. Higher yet,the pterodactyle (wing-fingered) darts in irregular zigzags to andfro in the heavy air. In the uppermost regions of the air immensebirds, more powerful than the cassowary, and larger than the ostrich,spread their vast breadth of wings and strike with their heads thegranite vault that bounds the sky.

All this fossil world rises to life again in my vivid imagination. Ireturn to the scriptural periods or ages of the world, conventionallycalled 'days,' long before the appearance of man, when the unfinishedworld was as yet unfitted for his support. Then mydream backed evenfarther still into the ages before the creation of living beings. Themammals disappear, then the birds vanish, then the reptiles of thesecondary period, and finally the fish, the crustaceans, molluscs,and articulated beings. Then the zoophytes of the transition periodalso return to nothing. I am the only living thing in the world: alllife is concentrated in my beating heart alone. There are no moreseasons; climates are no more; the heat of the globe continuallyincreases and neutralises that of the sun. Vegetation becomesaccelerated. I glide like a shade amongst arborescent ferns, treadingwith unsteady feet the coloured marls and the particoloured clays; Ilean for support against the trunks of immense conifers; I lie in theshade of sphenophylla (wedge-leaved), asterophylla (star-leaved), andlycopods, a hundred feet high.

Ages seem no more than days! I am passed, against my will, inretrograde order, through the long series of terrestrial changes.Plants disappear; granite rocks soften; intense heat converts solidbodies into thick fluids; the waters again cover the face of theearth; they boil, they rise in whirling eddies of steam; white andghastly mists wrap round the shifting forms of the earth, which byimperceptible degrees dissolves into a gaseous mass, glowing fieryred and white, as large and as shining as the sun.

And I myself am floating with wild caprice in the midst of thisnebulous mass of fourteen hundred thousand times the volume of theearth into which it will one day be condensed, and carried forwardamongst the planetary bodies. My body is no longer firm andterrestrial; it is resolved into its constituent atoms, subtilised,volatilised. Sublimed into imponderable vapour, I mingle and am lostin the endless foods of those vast globular volumes of vaporousmists, which roll upon their flaming orbits through infinite space.

But is it not a dream? Whither is it carrying me? My feverish handhas vainly attempted to describe upon paper its strange and wonderfuldetails. I have forgotten everything that surrounds me. TheProfessor, the guide, the raft - are all gone out of my ken. Anillusion has laid hold upon me.

"What is the matter?" my uncle breaks in.

My staring eyes are fixed vacantly upon him.

"Take care, Axel, or you will fall overboard."

At that moment I felt the sinewy hand of Hans seizing me vigorously.But for him, carried away by my dream, I should have thrown myselfinto the sea.

"Is he mad?" cried the Professor.

"What is it all about?" at last I cried, returning to myself.

"Do you feel ill?" my uncle asked.

"No; but I have had a strange hallucination; it is over now. Is allgoing on right?"

"Yes, it is a fair wind and a fine sea; we are sailing rapidly along,and if I am not out in my reckoning, we shall soon land."

At these words I rose and gazed round upon the horizon, stilleverywhere bounded by clouds alone.



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