Chapter 40



Since the start upon this marvellous pilgrimage I had been through somany astonishments that I might well be excused for thinking myselfwell hardened against any further surprise. Yet at the sight of thesetwo letters, engraved on this spot three hundred years ago, I stoodaghast in dumb amazement. Not only were the initials of the learnedalchemist visible upon the living rock, but there lay the iron pointwith which the letters had been engraved. I could no longer doubt ofthe existence of that wonderful traveller and of the fact of hisunparalleled journey, without the most glaring incredulity.

Whilst these reflections were occupying me, Professor Liedenbrock hadlaunched into a somewhat rhapsodical eulogium, of which ArneSaknussemm was, of course, the hero.

"Thou marvellous genius!" he cried, "thou hast not forgotten oneindication which might serve to lay open to mortals the road throughthe terrestrial crust; and thy fellow-creatures may even now, afterthe lapse of three centuries, again trace thy footsteps through thesedeep and darksome ways. You reserved the contemplation of thesewonders for other eyes besides your own. Your name, graven from stageto stage, leads the bold follower of your footsteps to the verycentre of our planet's core, and there again we shall find your ownname written with your own hand. I too will inscribe my name uponthis dark granite page. But for ever henceforth let this cape thatadvances into the sea discovered by yourself be known by your ownillustrious name - Cape Saknussemm."

Such were the glowing words of panegyric which fell upon my attentiveear, and I could not resist the sentiment of enthusiasm with which Itoo was infected. The fire of zeal kindled afresh in me. I forgoteverything. I dismissed from my mind the past perils of the journey,the future danger of our return. That which another had done Isupposed we might also do, and nothing that was not superhumanappeared impossible to me.

"Forward! forward!" I cried.

I was already darting down the gloomy tunnel when the Professorstopped me; he, the man of impulse, counselled patience and coolness.

"Let us first return to Hans," he said, "and bring the raft to thisspot."

I obeyed, not without dissatisfaction, and passed out rapidly amongthe rocks on the shore.

I said: "Uncle, do you know it seems to me that circumstances havewonderfully befriended us hitherto?"

"You think so, Axel?"

"No doubt; even the tempest has put us on the right way. Blessings onthat storm! It has brought us back to this coast from which fineweather would have carried us far away. Suppose we had touched withour prow (the prow of a rudder!) the southern shore of theLiedenbrock sea, what would have become of us? We should never haveseen the name of Saknussemm, and we should at this moment beimprisoned on a rockbound, impassable coast."

"Yes, Axel, it is providential that whilst supposing we were steeringsouth we should have just got back north at Cape Saknussemm. I mustsay that this is astonishing, and that I feel I have no way toexplain it."

"What does that signify, uncle? Our business is not to explain facts,but to use them!"

"Certainly; but -"

"Well, uncle, we are going to resume the northern route, and to passunder the north countries of Europe - under Sweden, Russia, Siberia:who knows where? -instead of burrowing under the deserts of Africa,or perhaps the waves of the Atlantic; and that is all I want to know."

"Yes, Axel, you are right. It is all for the best, since we have leftthat weary, horizontal sea, which led us nowhere. Now we shall godown, down, down! Do you know that it is now only 1,500 leagues. tothe centre of the globe?"

"Is that all?" I cried. "Why, that's nothing. Let us start: march!"

All this crazy talk was going on still when we met the hunter.Everything was made ready for our instant departure. Every bit ofcordage was put on board. We took our places, and with our sail set,Hans steered us along the coast to Cape Saknussemm.

The wind was unfavourable to a species of launch not calculated forshallow water. In many places we were obliged to push ourselves alongwith iron-pointed sticks. Often the sunken rocks just beneath thesurface obliged us to deviate from our straight course. At last,after three hours' sailing, about six in the evening we reached aplace suitable for our landing. I jumped ashore, followed by my uncleand the Icelander. This short passage had not served to cool myardour. On the contrary, I even proposed to burn 'our ship,' toprevent the possibility of return; but my uncle would not consent tothat. I thought him singularly lukewarm.

"At least," I said, "don't let us lose a minute."

"Yes, yes, lad," he replied; "but first let us examine this newgallery, to see if we shall require our ladders."

My uncle put his Ruhmkorff's apparatus in action; the raft moored tothe shore was left alone; the mouth of the tunnel was not twentyyards from us; and our party, with myself at the head, made for itwithout a moment's delay.

The aperture, which was almost round, was about five feet indiameter; the dark passage was cut out in the live rock and linedwith a coat of the eruptive matter which formerly issued from it; theinterior was level with the ground outside, so that we were able toenter without difficulty. We were following a horizontal plane, when,only six paces in, our progress was interrupted by an enormous blockjust across our way.

"Accursed rock!" I cried in a passion, finding myself suddenlyconfronted by an impassable obstacle.

Right and left we searched in vain for a way, up and down, side toside; there was no getting any farther. I felt fearfullydisappointed, and I would not admit that the obstacle was final. Istopped, I looked underneath the block: no opening. Above: granitestill. Hans passed his lamp over every portion of the barrier invain. We must give up all hope of passing it.

I sat down in despair. My uncle strode from side to side in thenarrow passage.

"But how was it with Saknussemm?" I cried.

"Yes," said my uncle, "was he stopped by this stone barrier?"

"No, no," I replied with animation. "This fragment of rock has beenshaken down by some shock or convulsion, or by one of those magneticstorms which agitate these regions, and has blocked up the passagewhich lay open to him. Many years have elapsed since the return ofSaknussemm to the surface and the fall of this huge fragment. Is itnot evident that this gallery was once the way open to the course ofthe lava, and that at that time there must have been a free passage?See here are recent fissures grooving and channelling the graniteroof. This roof itself is formed of fragments of rock carried down,of enormous stones, as if by some giant's hand; but at one time theexpulsive force was greater than usual, and this block, like thefalling keystone of a ruined arch, has slipped down to the ground andblocked up the way. It is only an accidental obstruction, not met bySaknussemm, and if we don't destroy it we shall be unworthy to reachthe centre of the earth."

Such was my sentence! The soul of the Professor had passed into me.The genius of discovery possessed me wholly. I forgot the past, Iscorned the future. I gave not a thought to the things of the surfaceof this globe into which I had dived; its cities and its sunnyplains, Hamburg and the Königstrasse, even poor Gräuben, who musthave given us up for lost, all were for the time dismissed from thepages of my memory.

"Well," cried my uncle, "let us make a way with our pickaxes."

"Too hard for the pickaxe."

"Well, then, the spade."

"That would take us too long."

"What, then?"

"Why gunpowder, to be sure! Let us mine the obstacle and blow it up."

"Oh, yes, it is only a bit of rock to blast!"

"Hans, to work!" cried my uncle.

The Icelander returned to the raft and soon came back with an ironbar which he made use of to bore a hole for the charge. This was noeasy work. A hole was to be made large enough to hold fifty pounds ofguncotton, whose expansive force is four times that of gunpowder.

I was terribly excited. Whilst Hans was at work I was activelyhelping my uncle to prepare a slow match of wetted powder encased inlinen.

"This will do it," I said.

"It will," replied my uncle.

By midnight our mining preparations were over; the charge was rammedinto the hole, and the slow match uncoiled along the gallery showedits end outside the opening.

A spark would now develop the whole of our preparations into activity.

"To-morrow," said the Professor.

I had to be resigned and to wait six long hours.

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