A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Day 82 of 94

I had rather admit that it may have been some animal whose structure resembled the human, some ape or baboon of the early geological ages, some protopitheca, or some mesopitheca, some early or middle ape like that discovered by Mr. Lartet in the bone cave of Sansau. But this creature surpassed in stature all the measurements known in modern palæontology. But that a man, a living man, and therefore whole generations doubtless besides, should be buried there in the bowels of the earth, is impossible.

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

Although I was certain that we were now treading upon a soil not hitherto touched by our feet, I often perceived groups of rocks which reminded me of those about Port Gräuben. Besides, this seemed to confirm the indications of the needle, and to show that we had against our will returned to the north of the Liedenbrock sea. Occasionally we felt quite convinced. Brooks and waterfalls were tumbling everywhere from the projections in the rocks. I thought I recognised the bed of surturbrand, our faithful Hansbach, and the grotto in which I had recovered life and consciousness. Then a few paces farther on, the arrangement of the cliffs, the appearance of an unrecognised stream, or the strange outline of a rock, came to throw me again into doubt.

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

“Evidently,” said I, “we have not landed again at our original starting point, but the storm has carried us a little higher, and if we 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 not mistaken?”

“It is difficult to speak decidedly, uncle, for all these rocks are so very much alike. Yet I think I recognise the promontory at the foot of which Hans constructed our launch. We must be very near the little port, if indeed this is not it,” I added, examining a creek which 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 this object in my possession.”

“Well, this is strange!”

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

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

“Did it not belong to some preadamite warrior?” I cried, “to some living man, contemporary with the huge cattle-driver? But no. This is not a relic of the stone age. It is not even of the iron age. This blade is steel –“

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

“Be calm, Axel, and reasonable. This dagger belongs to the sixteenth century; it is a poniard, such as gentlemen carried in their belts to give the coup de grace. Its origin is Spanish. It was never either yours, or mine, or the hunter’s, nor did it belong to any of those human beings who may or may not inhabit this inner world. See, it was never jagged like this by cutting men’s throats; its blade is coated with a rust neither a day, nor a year, nor a hundred years old.”

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

“Axel, we are on the way towards the grand discovery. This blade has been left on the strand for from one to three hundred years, and has blunted 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 man wanted once more to mark the way to the centre of the earth. Let us look 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. Here the sea came to lap the foot of the steep cliff, leaving a passage no wider than a couple of yards. Between two boldly projecting rocks appeared 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 and daring traveller:

Runic initials

“A. S.,” shouted my uncle. “Arne Saknussemm! Arne Saknussemm everywhere!”

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)