A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Day 62 of 94

“Truly it is wonderful that you have not been killed a hundred times over. But, for the love of God, don’t let us ever separate again, or we many never see each other more.”

“Not separate! Is the journey not over, then?” I opened a pair of astonished eyes, which immediately called for the question:

“What is the matter, Axel?”

“I have a question to ask you. You say that I am safe and sound?”

“No doubt you are.”

“And all my limbs unbroken?”

“Certainly.”

“And my head?”

“Your head, except for a few bruises, is all right; and it is on your shoulders, where it ought to be.”

“Well, I am afraid my brain is affected.”

“Your mind affected!”

“Yes, I fear so. Are we again on the surface of the globe?”

“No, certainly not.”

“Then I must be mad; for don’t I see the light of day, and don’t I hear the wind blowing, and the sea breaking on the shore?”

“Ah! is that all?”

“Do tell me all about it.”

“I can’t explain the inexplicable, but you will soon see and understand that geology has not yet learnt all it has to learn.”

“Then let us go,” I answered quickly.

“No, Axel; the open air might be bad for you.”

“Open air?”

“Yes; the wind is rather strong. You must not expose yourself.”

“But I assure you I am perfectly well.”

“A little patience, my nephew. A relapse might get us into trouble, and we have no time to lose, for the voyage may be a long one.”

“The voyage!”

“Yes, rest to-day, and to-morrow we will set sail.”

“Set sail!” — and I almost leaped up.

What did it all mean? Had we a river, a lake, a sea to depend upon? Was there a ship at our disposal in some underground harbour?

My curiosity was highly excited, my uncle vainly tried to restrain me. When he saw that my impatience was doing me harm, he yielded.

I dressed in haste. For greater safety I wrapped myself in a blanket, and came out of the grotto.

Chapter XXX: A New Mare Internum

At first I could hardly see anything. My eyes, unaccustomed to the light, quickly closed. When I was able to reopen them, I stood more stupefied even than surprised.

“The sea!” I cried.

“Yes,” my uncle replied, “the Liedenbrock Sea; and I don’t suppose any other discoverer will ever dispute my claim to name it after myself as its first discoverer.”

A vast sheet of water, the commencement of a lake or an ocean, spread far away beyond the range of the eye, reminding me forcibly of that open sea which drew from Xenophon’s ten thousand Greeks, after their long retreat, the simultaneous cry, “Thalatta! thalatta!” the sea! the sea! The deeply indented shore was lined with a breadth of fine shining sand, softly lapped by the waves, and strewn with the small shells which had been inhabited by the first of created beings. The waves broke on this shore with the hollow echoing murmur peculiar to vast inclosed spaces. A light foam flew over the waves before the breath of a moderate breeze, and some of the spray fell upon my face. On this slightly inclining shore, about a hundred fathoms from the limit of the waves, came down the foot of a huge wall of vast cliffs, which rose majestically to an enormous height. Some of these, dividing the beach with their sharp spurs, formed capes and promontories, worn away by the ceaseless action of the surf. Farther on the eye discerned their massive outline sharply defined against the hazy distant horizon.

It was quite an ocean, with the irregular shores of earth, but desert and frightfully wild in appearance.

If my eyes were able to range afar over this great sea, it was because a peculiar light brought to view every detail of it. It was not the light of the sun, with his dazzling shafts of brightness and the splendour of his rays; nor was it the pale and uncertain shimmer of the moonbeams, the dim reflection of a nobler body of light. No; the illuminating power of this light, its trembling diffusiveness, its bright, clear whiteness, and its low temperature, showed that it must be of electric origin. It was like an aurora borealis, a continuous cosmical phenomenon, filling a cavern of sufficient extent to contain an ocean.

The vault that spanned the space above, the sky, if it could be called so, seemed composed of vast plains of cloud, shifting and variable vapours, which by their condensation must at certain times fall in torrents of rain. I should have thought that under so powerful a pressure of the atmosphere there could be no evaporation; and yet, under a law unknown to me, there were broad tracts of vapour suspended in the air. But then ‘the weather was fine.’ The play of the electric light produced singular effects upon the upper strata of cloud. Deep shadows reposed upon their lower wreaths; and often, between two separated fields of cloud, there glided down a ray of unspeakable lustre. But it was not solar light, and there was no heat. The general effect was sad, supremely melancholy. Instead of the shining firmament, spangled with its innumerable stars, shining singly or in clusters, I felt that all these subdued and shaded fights were ribbed in by vast walls of granite, which seemed to overpower me with their weight, and that all this space, great as it was, would not be enough for the march of the humblest of satellites.

Then I remembered the theory of an English captain, who likened the earth to a vast hollow sphere, in the interior of which the air became luminous because of the vast pressure that weighed upon it; while two stars, Pluto and Proserpine, rolled within upon the circuit of their mysterious orbits.

We were in reality shut up inside an immeasurable excavation. Its width could not be estimated, since the shore ran widening as far as eye could reach, nor could its length, for the dim horizon bounded the new. As for its height, it must have been several leagues. Where this vault rested upon its granite base no eye could tell; but there was a cloud hanging far above, the height of which we estimated at 12,000 feet, a greater height than that of any terrestrial vapour, and no doubt due to the great density of the air.

The word cavern does not convey any idea of this immense space; words of human tongue are inadequate to describe the discoveries of him who ventures into the deep abysses of earth.

Besides I could not tell upon what geological theory to account for the existence of such an excavation. Had the cooling of the globe produced it? I knew of celebrated caverns from the descriptions of travellers, but had never heard of any of such dimensions as this.

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