A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Day 89 of 94

The compass had lost its properties! It had ceased to act properly!

Chapter XLIII: Shot Out Of A Volcano At Last!

Yes: our compass was no longer a guide; the needle flew from pole to pole with a kind of frenzied impulse; it ran round the dial, and spun hither and thither as if it were giddy or intoxicated.

I knew quite well that according to the best received theories the mineral covering of the globe is never at absolute rest; the changes brought about by the chemical decomposition of its component parts, the agitation caused by great liquid torrents, and the magnetic currents, are continually tending to disturb it –even when living beings upon its surface may fancy that all is quiet below. A phenomenon of this kind would not have greatly alarmed me, or at any rate it would not have given rise to dreadful apprehensions.

But other facts, other circumstances, of a peculiar nature, came to reveal to me by degrees the true state of the case. There came incessant and continuous explosions. I could only compare them to the loud rattle of a long train of chariots driven at full speed over the stones, or a roar of unintermitting thunder.

Then the disordered compass, thrown out of gear by the electric currents, confirmed me in a growing conviction. The mineral crust of the globe threatened to burst up, the granite foundations to come together with a crash, the fissure through which we were helplessly driven would be filled up, the void would be full of crushed fragments of rock, and we poor wretched mortals were to be buried and annihilated in this dreadful consummation.

“My uncle,” I cried, “we are lost now, utterly lost!”

“What are you in a fright about now?” was the calm rejoinder. “What is the matter with you?”

“The matter? Look at those quaking walls! Look at those shivering rocks. Don’t you feel the burning heat? Don’t you see how the water boils and bubbles? Are you blind to the dense vapours and steam growing thicker and denser every minute? See this agitated compass needle. It is an earthquake that is threatening us.”

My undaunted uncle calmly shook his head.

“Do you think,” said he, “an earthquake is coming?”

“I do.”

“Well, I think you are mistaken.”

“What! don’t you recognise the symptoms?”

“Of an earthquake? no! I am looking out for something better.”

“What can you mean? Explain?”

“It is an eruption, Axel.”

“An eruption! Do you mean to affirm that we are running up the shaft of a volcano?”

“I believe we are,” said the indomitable Professor with an air of perfect self-possession; “and it is the best thing that could possibly happen to us under our circumstances.”

The best thing! Was my uncle stark mad? What did the man mean? and what was the use of saying facetious things at a time like this?

“What!” I shouted. “Are we being taken up in an eruption? Our fate has flung us here among burning lavas, molten rocks, boiling waters, and all kinds of volcanic matter; we are going to be pitched out, expelled, tossed up, vomited, spit out high into the air, along with fragments of rock, showers of ashes and scoria, in the midst of a towering rush of smoke and flames; and it is the best thing that could happen to us!”

“Yes,” replied the Professor, eyeing me over his spectacles, “I don’t see any other way of reaching the surface of the earth.”

I pass rapidly over the thousand ideas which passed through my mind. My uncle was right, undoubtedly right; and never had he seemed to me more daring and more confirmed in his notions than at this moment when he was calmly contemplating the chances of being shot out of a volcano!

In the meantime up we went; the night passed away in continual ascent; the din and uproar around us became more and more intensified; I was stifled and stunned; I thought my last hour was approaching; and yet imagination is such a strong thing that even in this supreme hour I was occupied with strange and almost childish speculations. But I was the victim, not the master, of my own thoughts.

It was very evident that we were being hurried upward upon the crest of a wave of eruption; beneath our raft were boiling waters, and under these the more sluggish lava was working its way up in a heated mass, together with shoals of fragments of rock which, when they arrived at the crater, would be dispersed in all directions high and low. We were imprisoned in the shaft or chimney of some volcano. There was no room to doubt of that.

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