Chapter 39




CHAPTER XXXIX.

FOREST SCENERY ILLUMINATED BY ELETRICITY

For another half hour we trod upon a pavement of bones. We pushed on,impelled by our burning curiosity. What other marvels did this caverncontain? What new treasures lay here for science to unfold? I wasprepared for any surprise, my imagination was ready for anyastonishment however astounding.

We had long lost sight of the sea shore behind the hills of bones.The rash Professor, careless of losing his way, hurried me forward.We advanced in silence, bathed in luminous electric fluid. By somephenomenon which I am unable to explain, it lighted up all sides ofevery object equally. Such was its diffusiveness, there being nocentral point from which the light emanated, that shadows no longerexisted. You might have thought yourself under the rays of a verticalsun in a tropical region at noonday and the height of summer. Novapour was visible. The rocks, the distant mountains, a few isolatedclumps of forest trees in the distance, presented a weird andwonderful aspect under these totally new conditions of a universaldiffusion of light. We were like Hoffmann's shadowless man.

After walking a mile we reached the outskirts of a vast forest, butnot one of those forests of fungi which bordered Port Gräuben.

Here was the vegetation of the tertiary period in its fullest blazeof magnificence. Tall palms, belonging to species no longer living,splendid palmacites, firs, yews, cypress trees, thujas,representatives of the conifers. were linked together by a tanglednetwork of long climbing plants. A soft carpet of moss and hepaticasluxuriously clothed the soil. A few sparkling streams ran almost insilence under what would have been the shade of the trees, but thatthere was no shadow. On their banks grew tree-ferns similar to thosewe grow in hothouses. But a remarkable feature was the total absenceof colour in all those trees, shrubs, and plants, growing without thelife-giving heat and light of the sun. Everything seemed mixed-up andconfounded in one uniform silver grey or light brown tint like thatof fading and faded leaves. Not a green leaf anywhere, and theflowers - which were abundant enough in the tertiary period, whichfirst gave birth to flowers - looked like brown-paper flowers,without colour or scent.

My uncle Liedenbrock ventured to penetrate under this colossal grove.I followed him, not without fear. Since nature had here providedvegetable nourishment, why should not the terrible mammals be theretoo? I perceived in the broad clearings left by fallen trees, decayedwith age, leguminose plants, acerineæ, rubiceæ and many other eatableshrubs, dear to ruminant animals at every period. Then I observed,mingled together in confusion, trees of countries far apart on thesurface of the globe. The oak and the palm were growing side by side,the Australian eucalyptus leaned against the Norwegian pine, thebirch-tree of the north mingled its foliage with New Zealand kauris.It was enough to distract the most ingenious classifier ofterrestrial botany.

Suddenly I halted. I drew back my uncle.

The diffused light revealed the smallest object in the dense anddistant thickets. I had thought I saw - no! I did see, with my owneyes, vast colossal forms moving amongst the trees. They weregigantic animals; it was a herd of mastodons - not fossil remains,but living and resembling those the bones of which were found in themarshes of Ohio in 1801. I saw those huge elephants whose long,flexible trunks were grouting and turning up the soil under the treeslike a legion of serpents. I could hear the crashing noise of theirlong ivory tusks boring into the old decaying trunks. The boughscracked, and the leaves torn away by cartloads went down thecavernous throats of the vast brutes.

So, then, the dream in which I had had a vision of the prehistoricworld, of the tertiary and post-tertiary periods, was now realised.And there we were alone, in the bowels of the earth, at the mercy ofits wild inhabitants!

My uncle was gazing with intense and eager interest.

"Come on!" said he, seizing my arm. "Forward! forward!"

"No, I will not!" I cried. "We have no firearms. What could we do inthe midst of a herd of these four-footed giants? Come away, uncle -come! No human being may with safety dare the anger of thesemonstrous beasts."

"No human creature?" replied my uncle in a lower voice. "You arewrong, Axel. Look, look down there! I fancy I see a living creaturesimilar to ourselves: it is a man!"

I looked, shaking my head incredulously. But though at first I wasunbelieving I had to yield to the evidence of my senses.

In fact, at a distance of a quarter of a mile, leaning against thetrunk of a gigantic kauri, stood a human being, the Proteus of thosesubterranean regions, a new son of Neptune, watching this countlessherd of mastodons.

Immanis pecoris custos, immanior ipse. [1]

[1] "The shepherd of gigantic herds, and huger still himself."

Yes, truly, huger still himself. It was no longer a fossil being likehim whose dried remains we had easily lifted up in the field ofbones; it was a giant, able to control those monsters. In stature hewas at least twelve feet high. His head, huge and unshapely as abuffalo's, was half hidden in the thick and tangled growth of hisunkempt hair. It most resembled the mane of the primitive elephant.In his hand he wielded with ease an enormous bough, a staff worthy ofthis shepherd of the geologic period.

We stood petrified and speechless with amazement. But he might seeus! We must fly!

"Come, do come!" I said to my uncle, who for once allowed himself tobe persuaded.

In another quarter of an hour our nimble heels had carried us beyondthe reach of this horrible monster.

And yet, now that I can reflect quietly, now that my spirit has growncalm again, now that months have slipped by since this strange andsupernatural meeting, what am I to think? what am I to believe? Imust conclude that it was impossible that our senses had beendeceived, that our eyes did not see what we supposed they saw. Nohuman being lives in this subterranean world; no generation of mendwells in those inferior caverns of the globe, unknown to andunconnected with the inhabitants of its surface. It is absurd tobelieve it!

I had rather admit that it may have been some animal whose structureresembled the human, some ape or baboon of the early geological ages,some protopitheca, or some mesopitheca, some early or middle ape likethat discovered by Mr. Lartet in the bone cave of Sansau. But thiscreature surpassed in stature all the measurements known in modernpalæontology. But that a man, a living man, and therefore wholegenerations doubtless besides, should be buried there in the bowelsof the earth, is impossible.

However, we had left behind us the luminous forest, dumb withastonishment, overwhelmed and struck down with a terror whichamounted to stupefaction. We kept running on for fear the horriblemonster might be on our track. It was a flight, a fall, like thatfearful pulling and dragging which is peculiar to nightmare.Instinctively we got back to the Liedenbrock sea, and I cannot sayinto what vagaries my mind would not have carried me but for acircumstance which brought me back to practical matters.

Although I was certain that we were now treading upon a soil nothitherto touched by our feet, I often perceived groups of rocks whichreminded me of those about Port Gräuben. Besides, this seemed toconfirm the indications of the needle, and to show that we hadagainst our will returned to the north of the Liedenbrock sea.Occasionally we felt quite convinced. Brooks and waterfalls weretumbling everywhere from the projections in the rocks. I thought Irecognised the bed of surturbrand, our faithful Hansbach, and thegrotto in which I had recovered life and consciousness. Then a fewpaces farther on, the arrangement of the cliffs, the appearance of anunrecognised stream, or the strange outline of a rock, carne to throwme again into doubt.

I communicated my doubts to my uncle. Like myself, he hesitated; hecould recognise nothing again amidst this monotonous scene.

"Evidently," said I, "we have not landed again at our originalstarting point, but the storm has carried us a little higher, and ifwe follow the shore we shall find Port Gräuben."

"If that is the case it will be useless to continue our exploration,and we had better return to our raft. But, Axel, are you notmistaken?"

"It is difficult to speak decidedly, uncle, for all these rocks areso very much alike. Yet I think I recognise the promontory at thefoot of which Hans constructed our launch. We must be very near thelittle port, if indeed this is not it," I added, examining a creekwhich I thought I recognised.

"No, Axel, we should at least find our own traces and I see nothing -"

"But I do see," I cried, darting upon an object lying on the sand.

And I showed my uncle a rusty dagger which I had just picked up.

"Come," said he, "had you this weapon with you?"

"I! No, certainly! But you, perhaps -"

"Not that I am aware," said the Professor. "I have never had thisobject in my possession."

"Well, this is strange!"

"No, Axel, it is very simple. The Icelanders often wear arms of thiskind. This must have belonged to Hans, and he has lost it."

I shook my head. Hans had never had an object like this in hispossession.

"Did it not belong to some preadamite warrior?" I cried, "to someliving man, contemporary with the huge cattle-driver? But no. This isnot a relic of the stone age. It is not even of the iron age. Thisblade is steel -"

My uncle stopped me abruptly on my way to a dissertation which wouldhave taken me a long way, and said coolly:

"Be calm, Axel, and reasonable. This dagger belongs to the sixteenthcentury; it is a poniard, such as gentlemen carried in their belts togive the coup _de grace._ Its origin is Spanish. It was never eitheryours, or mine, or the hunter's, nor did it belong to any of thosehuman beings who may or may not inhabit this inner world. See, it wasnever jagged like this by cutting men's throats; its blade is coatedwith a rust neither a day, nor a year, nor a hundred years old."

The Professor was getting excited according to his wont, and wasallowing his imagination to run away with him.

"Axel, we are on the way towards the grand discovery. This blade hasbeen left on the strand for from one to three hundred years, and hasblunted its edge upon the rocks that fringe this subterranean sea!"

"But it has not come alone. It has not twisted itself out of shape;some one has been here before us!

"Yes - a man has."

"And who was that man?"

"A man who has engraved his name somewhere with that dagger. That manwanted once more to mark the way to the centre of the earth. Let uslook about: look about!"

And, wonderfully interested, we peered all along the high wall,peeping into every fissure which might open out into a gallery.

And so we arrived at a place where the shore was much narrowed. Herethe sea came to lap the foot of the steep cliff, leaving a passage nowider than a couple of yards. Between two boldly projecting rocksappeared the mouth of a dark tunnel.

There, upon a granite slab, appeared two mysterious graven letters,half eaten away by time. They were the initials of the bold anddaring traveller:

[Runic initials appear here]

"A. S.," shouted my uncle. "Arne Saknussemm! Arne Saknussemmeverywhere!"



Art of Worldly Wisdom Daily
In the 1600s, Balthasar Gracian, a jesuit priest wrote 300 aphorisms on living life called "The Art of Worldly Wisdom." Join our newsletter below and read them all, one at a time.
Email:
Sonnet-a-Day Newsletter
Shakespeare wrote over 150 sonnets! Join our Sonnet-A-Day Newsletter and read them all, one at a time.
Email: