A Journey to the Centre of the Earth
Translated by Stephen W. White, 1873
One Sunday, the 24th of May, 1863, my uncle, Professor Lidenbrock, returned hurriedly to his little house, No. 19 Königstrasse, one of the oldest streets of the old quarter of Hamburg.
The good, Martha thought that she was very much behind time, for the dinner was scarcely commencing to sing on the kitchen stove.
“Good,” said I to myself, “if my uncle is hungry, and he is the most impatient of men, he will soon let you hear from him.”
“M. Lidenbrock is already here,” cried the good Martha, stupefied, half opening the door of the dining‑room.
“Yes, Martha; but the dinner ought not to be done yet, for it is not 2 o’clock. The half hour has scarcely ceased striking at Saint Michael’s.”
“Then, why does M. Lidenbrock return?’
“He will probably tell us.”
“Here he is! I save myself. Monsieur Axel, you make him listen to reason.”
And the good Martha re‑entered her culinary laboratory.
I remained alone. But my somewhat undecided character did not allow me to make the most irascible of professors listen is reason. So I prepared prudently to return to my little room upstairs, when the street door swung noisily upon its hinges; heavy steps made the wooden staircase creak, and the master of the house, crossing the dining-room, rushed immediately into his cabinet.
But, during this rapid passage, he had thrown into a corner his heavy‑headed cane, and on the table his large, rough fur hat, and said to his nephew these terrible words: --
“Axel, follow me!”
I had not had time to budge when the Professor cried to me, already in a sharp, impatient accent: ‑--
“Well! aren’t you here yet?”
I rushed into the cabinet of my dreaded master.
Otto Lidenbrock was not a wicked man, I willingly grant, but unless some improbable changes shall take place, he will die in the skin of a terribly original fellow.
He was a professor in the Johannaeum, and was delivering a course of lectures on mineralogy, during which he would regularly get one or two angry spells. Not that he was anxious to have students constant in their attendance upon his lectures, nor that he was anxious about the degree of attention which they gave him, nor the success which they might obtain in consequence; these details did not disturb him. He was a professor “subjectively,” according to an expression of German philosophy, for himself, and not for others. He was an egotistical savant, a well of science whose chain grated whenever it was desired to draw anything out of it. In a word, he was a miser.
There are some professors of this kind in Germany.
Unfortunately, my uncle did not enjoy a very great ease of pronunciation, if not in private, at least when he spoke in public, and it is a failing to be regretted in an orator. In fact, in his demonstrations at the Johannaeum, frequently the Professor would stop short; he would struggle against a reluctant word which would not slip from between his lips, one of those words which resist, swell up, and finish by making their exit under the unscientific form of an oath. Thence, great anger.
There are many half Greek, half Latin terms is mineralogy, difficult to pronounce—those rude names which would scorch the lips of a poet. I do not wish to speak ill of this science. Far be it from me. But when we are confronted by rhombohedral crystallizations, retinasphalt rosins, gehlenites, fangasites, molybdates of lead, tungstates of manganese, and titanates of zircon, the most skilful tongue may be allowed to trip.
Now, in the city this pardonable infirmity of my uncle was known, and advantage was taken of it; people waited for the dangerous passages, and they laughed when he got in a rage, which is not in good taste, even for Germans. If there was then always a large assemblage of hearers at Lidenbrock’s courses, how many attended them industriously especially to laugh at the angry spells of the Professor!
However that may be, my uncle, I would not be venturing too much to say, was a genuine savant. Although he sometimes broke his specimens by trying them too roughly, he joined to the genius of the geologist the eye of the mineralogist. With his hammer, his steel point, his magnetic needle, his blow-pipe, and his flask of nitric acid, he was a very strongman. By the fracture, the appearance, the hardness, the fusibility, the sound, the smell, the taste of any mineral whatever, he classed it without hesitation among the six hundred species which science counts to‑day.
Thus the name of Lidenbrock resounded with honor in the gymnasia and the national associations. Messrs. Humphrey Davy, Von Humboldt, Captains Franklin and Sabine[A], did not fail to call upon him on their trips to Hamburg. Messrs. Becquerel, Ebelmen, Brewster, Dumas, Milne‑Edwards, loved to consult him on the most exciting questions of chemistry. This science owed to him some very fine discoveries, and, in 1853, there ap‑
peared at Leipzig a <i>Treatise on Transcendental Crystallography</i> thought, he is in , by Professor Otto Lidenbrock, in large folio, boards, which, however, did not cover its expenses.
Add to that that my uncle was Custodian of the Mineralogical Museum of M. Struve, Russian Ambassador, a precious collection of European fame.
This is, then, the personage who summoned me with so much impatience. Imagine a man tall, thin, of iron health, and of a juvenile fairness which subtracted fully ten years from his fifty. His big eyes rolled incessantly behind enormous spectacles; his nose, long and thin, resembled a sharpened file; some wicked wags pretended even that it was magnetized, and that it would attract iron filings. A pure calumny; it would only attract snuff, but in great abundance, if the truth must be told.
When I shall have added that my uncle made regular strides of a yard in length[B], and if I say that in walking he kept his fists tightly clenched—a sign of a hasty temper—enough will be known not to be very desirous for his company.
He lived in his little house on Königstrasse, a building half wood, half brick, with pointed gables; it stood upon one of those winding canals which intersect each other in the centre of the oldest quarter of Hamburg, which the fire of 1842 fortunately respected.
The old house leaned a little, it is true, and interfered somewhat with the passers‑by; its roof was inclined very much like the cap of a student of the Tugendbund; the straightness of its lines might have been improved; but, in short, it held itself well, thanks to an old elm which had grown firmly into the front, and whose buds in the spring shot through the window panes.
My uncle was pretty rich for a German professor. The house was entirely his own, building and contents. The contents were his god‑daughter, Gräuben, seventeen years old, the good Martha, and myself. In my double capacity as nephew and orphan, I became his assistant in his experiments.
I will confess that I eagerly devoured the geological sciences; I had the blood of a mineralogist in my veins, and I was never weary in the company of my precious pebbles.
In short, I could live happily in this tiny house on Königstrasse, notwithstanding the impatience of its head, for although he acted somewhat roughly, he did not love me the less. But this man did not know how to wait; he was in more of a hurry than nature herself.
When he planted, in April, in the china pots of his drawing-room, mignonette or convolvulus, he would go every morning and pull their leaves to hasten their growth!
With such an original genius, there could be nothing but obedience. I rushed then into his cabinet.
This cabinet was a regular museum. All the specimens of the mineral kingdom was arranged there in the most perfect order, according to the three great divisions of combustible, metallic, and lithoidal minerals.
How well I knew them, those bibliolites of mineralogical science! How many times, instead of playing with the boys of my own age, I took delight in dusting off those graphites, those anthracites, those bituminous and lignite coals, and those specimens of peat! And the bituminous and resinous substances and the organic salts which it was necessary to preserve from the slightest speck of dust! And those metals, from iron to gold, whose relative value disappeared before the absolute equality of scientific specimens! And all those stones which would have been sufficient to rebuild the house in Königstrasse, with even one fine room more, which I would have fixed so nicely for myself!
But, upon entering the cabinet, I no longer thought of these wonders. My uncle alone occupied my thoughts. He was buried in a large arm‑chair, covered with Utrecht velvet, and held in his hands a book which he was looking at with the most profound admiration.
“What a book! what a book!” he cried.
This exclamation reminded me that Professor Lidenbrock was also a bibliomaniac in his spare moments; but an antiquated book had no value in his eyes unless it were unique, or at least illegible.
“Well, well!” said he to me, “you don’t see, eh? This is an inestimable treasure that I met this morning while rummaging around in the shop of the Jew, Helvelius.”
“Magnificent!” I replied, with feigned enthusiasm.
In fact, what was the good of this excitement over an old quarto, the back and sides of which seemed made of coarse calf—a yellowish, worm‑eaten book, from which hung a discolored marker?
But the admiring exclamations of the Professor did not discontinue.
“See,” he said, questioning himself, and “answering his own questions, “is it not very fine?” “Yes, it is splendid! and what a binding!” “Does this book open easily?” “Yes; for it remains open no matter to what page I turn.” “But does it close well?” “Yes; for the covers and the leaves form a well‑united whole, without separating or gaping apart at any place. And this back, which does not present a single break, after an existence of several hundred years! Ah! this is a binding of which Bozerian, Closs, or Purgold would have been proud.”
While thus speaking, my uncle was constantly opening and closing the old book. I could not do less than question him as to its contents, although it did not interest me in the slightest.
“And what is then the title of this wonderful volume?” I asked, with an eagerness too enthusiastic not to be feigned.
“This work!” replied my uncle, rousing himself, “it is the Heims‑Kringla of Snorre Turleson, the famous Iceland author of the twelfth century; it is the chronicle of the Norwegian princes who reigned in Iceland!”
“Indeed!” I cried, looking as interested as I could, “and without doubt it is a translation into the German language?”
“Humph!” replied the Professor sharply, “a translation! And what would I do with your translation? Who cares for your translation? This is the original work in the
-- end of column-2 912
Iceland language, that magnificent idiom, at once rich and simple, which permits the most varied grammatical combinations and numerous modifications of the words.”
“Like the German,” I insinuated, as a happy effort.
“Yes,” replied my uncle, shrugging his shoulders; “but with this difference, that the language of Iceland admits the three genders like the Greek and declines the proper nouns like the Latin!”
“Ah!” said I, my indifference somewhat shaken, “and are the characters of this book beautiful?”
“Characters! who spoke to you about characters, unfortunate Axel? There are a great many characters here! Ah! you take it for a printed book! But, you ignorant fellow, it is a manuscript, a Runic manuscript!”
“Yes! Are you going to ask me now to explain this word to yon?”
“I will take good care not to do it,” I replied, in the accent of a man whose self‑love has been wounded.
But my uncle continued more at length, and taught me, in spite of myself, things that I did not care to know.
“The Runic characters,” he continued, “were written characters formerly used in Iceland, and according to tradition, they were invented by Odin himself! But look, and admire, you impious fellow, these types which have issued from the imagination of a god.
Upon my word, for want of a reply, I was going to prostrate myself, a sort of response which ought to please the gods as well as kings, for it has the advantage of never embarrassing them, when an incident occurred to turn the course of the conversation.
It was the appearance of a well‑worn parchment which slipped from the book and fell on the floor.
My uncle rushed upon this trifle with an eagerness easily understood. An old document, shut up perhaps for time immemorial in an old book, could not fail to have a high value in his eyes.
“What is that?” he cried.
And at the same time, he carefully unfolded at his table a piece of parchment five inches long by three wide, and on which were displayed, in transverse lines, cabalistic characters.
Here is the exact fac-simile of it. I insist upon making these singular characters, for they lead Professor Lidenbrock and his nephew to undertake the strangest expedition of the nineteenth century:‑-
----- [Runic characters go here]
The Professor looked for a few moments at this series of characters; then he said, raising his spectacles:‑-
“They are Runic characters; these types are absolutely identical with those of Snore Turleson’s manuscript! But what can that signify?”
As the Runic seemed to me to be an invention of savants to mystify the poor world, I was not sorry to see that my uncle did not understand anything of it. At least so it seemed to me, from the movement of his fingers, which commenced to tremble terribly.
“It is, however, the old Icelandic!” he murmured between his teeth.
And Professor Lidenbrock ought to know, for he passed for a genuine polyglot. Not that he spoke fluently the two thousand languages and the four thousand idioms used on the surface of the globe, but he knew his fair share of them.
Confronted by this difficulty, then, he was about to give himself up to all the impetuosity of his character when the little clock on the mantel‑piece struck two o’clock.
The good Martha immediately opened the door of the cabinet, saying:‑-
“The soup is on the table.”
“To the devil with the soup,” cried my uncle, “and her that made it, and those that shall eat it!”
Martha fled; I followed upon her steps, and, without knowing why, I found myself seated at my usual place in the dining-room.
I waited for a few moments. The Professor did not come. It was the first time, to my knowledge, that he was wanting at the solemnity of dinner. And what a dinner it was! A parsley soup, a ham omelet dressed with sorrel and nutmeg, a loin of veal with stewed plums, and for dessert some sugared shrimps, all washed down with good Moselle wine.
This was what an old paper was going to cost my uncle. Upon my word, in the capacity of a devoted nephew, I felt obliged to eat for him and at the same time for myself; which I did conscientiously.
“I have never seen anything like it!” said the good Martha, while waiting upon the table. “M. Lidenbrock is not at dinner!”
“It is hardly to be believed.”
“It certainly foreshadows some grave event!” replied the old servant, nodding her head.
In my opinion, it did not foreshadow anything but a frightful scene, if my uncle should find his dinner devoured.
I was at my last shrimp, when a terrible voice tore me from the delights of the dessert. With one bound I was in the cabinet.
“It is evidently a Runic inscription,” said the Professor, knitting his eyebrows. “But
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there is a secret, and I will discover it; if not—“
A violent gesture finished his thought.
“Put yourself there,” he added, indicating the table with his fist, “and write.”
I was ready in an instant.
“Now, I am going to dictate to you each letter of our alphabet corresponding to one of these Icelandic characters. We will see what that will give. But, by Saint Michael take good care that you don’t make a mistake!”
The dictation commenced. I did my best; each letter was called one after the other, and formed the incomprehensible succession of the following words:‑-
m.rnlls esreuel SeecJde
sgtssmf unteief niedrke
kt,samn atrateS Saodrrn
emtnael nuaect rrilSa
Atlvaar .nscrc ieaabs
ccdrmi eeutul frantu
dt,iac oseibo KediiY
When this work was finished, my uncle took up eagerly the sheet upon which I had just written, and examined it a long time attentively.
“What does that mean?” he repeated mechanically.
Upon my word, I would not have been able to tell him. Besides, he did not question me for that purpose, and he continued to talk to himself, saying:‑
“That’s what we call a cryptogram, in which the sense is concealed under letters purposely jumbled, and which properly arranged would form an intelligible phrase! When I think that there is in it perhaps the explanation or the indication of a great discovery!”
As far as I was concerned, I thought that there was absolutely nothing in it, but prudently kept my opinion to myself.
The Professor then took the book and the parchment, and compared them.
“These two writings are not by the same hand,” he said; “the cryptogram is subsequent to the book, and I see an indisputable proof of it right away. In fact, the first letter is a double M, which would be vainly looked for in Turleson’s book, for it was not added to the Icelandic alphabet until the fourteenth century, so that there are at least two hundred years between the manuscript and the document.”
That seemed logical enough to me, I grant.
“I am then led to think,” continued my uncle, “that one of the owners of this book traced these mysterious characters. But who in the devil was this owner? Would he not have put his name in some place on this manuscript?”
My uncle raised his spectacles, took a strong lens, and carefully reviewed the first few pages of the book. On the back of the second, that of the second title, he discovered a sort of stain, which, to the eye, produced the effect of an ink spot. But in looking more closely at it, a few half‑effaced characters were distinguished. My uncle under stood that there was the interesting point; he concentrated his attention upon the stain, and, with the aid of his large lens, he succeeded in recognizing the following signs, Runic characters which he read without hesitation:‑
[Runic Inscription = Arne Saknussemm]
“Arne Saknussemm!” he cried, in a triumphant tone, “but that is a name, and an Icelandic name besides! That of a savant of the sixteenth[C] century, a celebrated alchemist!”
I looked at my uncle with a certain admiration.
“These alchemists,” he continued, “Avicenna, Bacon, Lully, and Paracelsus, were the genuine, the only savants of their period. They made discoveries at which we have a right to be astonished. Why should not this Saknussemm have hidden under this incomprehensible cryptogram some surprising discovery? It ought to be so. It is.”
The imagination of the Professor was fired at this supposition.
“Without doubt,” I dared to reply; “but what interest could this savant have n thus concealing some wonderful discovery?”
“Why, why? eh! Do I know? Did not Galileo act thus with regard to Saturn? Besides, we shall see plainly; I shall have the secret of this document, and I will take neither food nor sleep before having guessed it.”
“Oh!” thought I.
“Nor you, either, Axel,” he continued.
“The devil!” I said to myself; “it is fortunate that I have eaten enough dinner for two!”
“And first of all,” said my uncle, “we must find the language of this cipher. That ought not to be difficult.”
At these words I quickly raised my head. My uncle continued his soliloquy as follows:‑-
“Nothing is easier. There are in this document one hundred and thirty‑two letters, which give seventy‑nine consonants to fifty‑three vowels. Now, it is nearly according to this proportion that the words of Southern languages are formed, whilst the idioms of the North are infinitely richer in consonants. A Southern language must then be is question.”
These conclusions were very just.
“But what is this language?”
There is where I expected my savant, in whom I, however, discovered a profound analyst.
“This Saknussemm,” he replied, “was a learned man; now as soon as he wrote in another than his mother‑tongue, he ought to choose by preference the language in vogue among the cultivated minds of the sixteenth century—I mean the Latin. If I am mistaken, I can try the Spanish, the French, the Italian, the Greek, or the Hebrew. But the savants of the sixteenth century generally wrote in Latin. I have then the right to say, a priori, this is in Latin.”
I jumped in my chair. My recollection of the Latin revolted against the pretension that this succession of rough words could belong to the smooth language of Virgil.
“Yes! in Latin,” continued my uncle, “but in jumbled Latin.”
So much the better!” I thought. “Uncle, if you unravel it you are sharp.”
“Let us examine it carefully,” he said, taking up again the sheet on which I had written. “Here is a series of one hundred and thirty‑two letters presented under apparent disor-
-- end of col 4 912
der. There are words in which the consonants are met alone, like the first ‘nrlls,’ others in which, on the contrary, the vowels abound, the fifth, for example, ‘unteief,’ or the next to the last, ‘oseibo.’ Now, this disposition has evidently not been combined; it is given mathematically by the unknown reason which has governed in the succession of these letters. It seems certain to me that the primitive phrase has been written regularly, then turned about in pursuance of a law which we must discover. Whoever possesses the key of this ‘cipher’ could read it, fluently, But what is this key? Axel, have you it?”
To this question I made no answer, and with good reason. My look had become arrested by a charming portrait hung on the wall, the portrait of Gräuben. [D] My uncle’s ward was then at Altona with one of her relatives, and her absence made me very sad, for I can confess it now—the merry Virlandaise [E] [F] and the Professor’s nephew loved each other with all the patience and tranquillity peculiar to the Germans; we had been betrothed unknown to my uncle, who was too much of a geologist to understand such sentiments. Gräuben was a charming young girl, blonde, with blue eyes, of a rather grave character and serious mind‑-; but she did not love me any the less for that; as for me, I adored her, if this verb exists at all in the Teutonic tongue! The likeness of my little Virlandaise [G] withdrew me then, in an instant, from the world of realities into that of fancies, into that of reminiscences.
I saw again the faithful companion of my tasks and my pleasures. She helped me every day to arrange my uncle’s precious stones, and she labelled them with me. Mademoiselle Gräuben was quite a mineralogist! She had discussed the science with more than one savant, and loved to explore to its depths its difficult questions. How many pleasant hours we bad spent studying; together, and how I often envied the fate of those senseless stones touched by her lovely hands!
Then, the moment of recreation having come, we went out together; we went along the over-arched avenues of the Alster and together repaired to the old tarred mill which presented so fine an effect at the end of the lake; along the road we talked, taking each others’ hands; I told her things which made her laugh heartily; thus we reached the banks of the Elbe and after having said good evening to the swans swimming among the large white water-lilies, we returned to the quay in the steamboat.
I Continued in our next issue.]
End of col 4 and p 912
Start of page 914
"Well, I was there in my dream, when my uncle striking the table with his fist, violently, recalled me to reality.
"Let us see," said he; "the first suggestion for mixing the letters of a phrase, it seems to me, is to write the words vertically in-stead of horizontally."
"What's in the wind?" I thought.
"We mast see what that would produce. Axel, put any phrase whatever at the end of this paper; but, instead of placing the letters one after the other, put them successively in vertical columns, so as to group them in numbers of five or six."
I understood what he meant, and immediately wrote from the top to the bottom:
J m n e G e
e e , t r n
t’ b m i a !
a i a t ü
i e p e b
"Good," said the Professor, without having read it. "Now, place these words on a horizontal line."
I obeyed, and I obtained the following phrase:—
JmneGe ee,trn t’bmia! aiatü iepeb
"Perfect!" said my uncle, tearing the paper from my hands; this has already the appearance of the old document; the vowels, as well as the consonants, are grouped in the name disorder; there are even capital letters in the middle of the words, as well as commas, just like the parchment of Saknussemm!"
I could not prevent myself from thinking these remarks very ingenious.
"Now," continued my uncle, addressing himself directly to mo, "in order to read the phrase which you have just written, and which I do not know, it will be sufficient for me to take successively the first letter of each word, then the second then the third and so on to the end.
And my uncle to his great astonishment and especially to mine, read
Je t’aime bien, ma petite Gräuben!
I love you very much, my little Gräuben!
“Humph!” said the Professor.
Yes, without suspecting it , like an unfortunate lover, I had written this compromising phrase.
“Ah, so you love Gräuben,” continued my uncle, with the severe air of a tutor.
“Yes----No----” I stammered.
“Ah, so you love Gräuben,” he replied mechanically. Well let us apply my mode of procedure to the document in question.
My uncle, having sunk again into his absorbing thoughts already forgot my imprudent words. I say imprudent for the head of the savant could not comprehend the matters of the heart. But fortunately the great affair of the document carried him away.
At the moment of making his great experiment, the eyes of Professor Lidenbrock flashed like lightning through his spectacles. His fingers trembled when he took up the old parchment again, he was very much affected. Finally he coughed violently, and in a grave tone, reading out successively the first and then the second letter of each word, he dictated to me the following lines—
In finishing these letters, named one by one, which presented no sense to my mind, I was moved, I confess. I expected then that the Professor would pompously roll out from his lips a phrase of most magnificent Latin.
But who could have forseen it. A violent blow with his fist shook the table. The ink jumped out of the stand, and my pen fell out of my hands.
“That is not it!” cried my uncle. That is not common sense.
Then, shooting across the cabinet like a cannon ball, and rushing down the staircase like an avalanche, he rushed into Königstrasse and fled with all his might.
--end of Chap III
“Has he gone out?” cried Martha, running at the noise of the street door, which shut violently, had just shaken the whole house.
“Yes!” I replied, “gone out.”
“Well, well! and how about his dinner?” asked the old servant.
“He will not dine!”
“And how about his supper?”
“He will not take it!”
“How?” said Martha clasping her hands.
“No, my good Martha, he will not eat any more, nor anybody else in the house. My uncle will make us all fast until he has deciphered an old cabalistic writing, which is absolutely indecipherable!”
“Goodness, me! All we can do is die with hunger.!”
I dared only to acknowledge that, with so much a man as my uncle, it was an inevitable fate.
The old servant, seriously alarmed, returned to her kitchen groaning.
When I was alone, the idea occurred to me
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to go and tell everything to Grauben; but how was I to leave the house. Might not the Professor return at any moment? And suppose he should call me? And if he should wish to commence this engimatic work, which had been vainly proposed to old Œdipus? And if I should not answer his call, what would happen?
The wisest course was to remain. And indeed, a minerologist in Besançon had just sent us a collection of silicious geodes which it was necessary to classify. I set to work, I sorted, I labelled, I put in the proper place all the hollow stones inside of which there were small crystals.
But this occupation did not absorb me. The affair of the old document did not cease to occupy me strangely. My head was in a stew, and I felt a strange uneasiness. I had the presentiment of approaching catastrophe.
At the end of an hour my geodes were arranged on shelves in order. I let myself drop in the large Utrecht arm chair, my arm stretched out and my head thrown back. I lit my pipe, with its large curved stem, the carved bowl of which represented a naiad carelessly reclining; then I amused myself in watching the progress of the combustion, which by degrees was making a complete negress of my naiad. From time to time I listened .to hear whether any step sounded from the staircase. But there was none. Where could my uncle be at this moment? I figured him to myself running under the fine trees on the Altona road, gesticulating, striking at the wall with his cane, violently beating down the grass, cutting off the heads of the thistles, and disturbing the solitary storks in their repose.
Would he return triumphant or discouraged? Which would have the upper hand, the secret or himself? Whilst questioning myself thus, I mechanically took between my fingers the sheet of paper over which was stretched the incomprehensible series of letters traced by myself. I repeated to myself: —
"What does that signify?"
I endeavored to group these letters so as to form words. Impossible. By joining them by twos, threes, or fives or sixes, there was absolutely nothing intelligible to be obtained; there were the fourteenth, fifteenth, and sixteenth  letters which formed the English word "ice," the eighty -fourth, the eighty-fifth, and the eighty-sixth formed the word "sir." Finally, in the body of tho document, and on the third line, I observed the Latin worda "rota," "mutabile," "ira," “nec,” “atra”.
"The devil!" [Diable] I thought, "these last words would seem to justify my uncle as to the language of the document! And also, on the fourth line I perceive, besides, the word 'luco,’ which is translated by 'sacred wood.' It is true that on the third we read the word 'tabiled' of perfect Hebrew form, and on the last, the terms 'mer,' 'arc,' 'mère,' which are purely French.
--end of 914-col 2a middle
[middle of col 2 914]
Here was something over which to lose one’s head. Four different idioms in this absurd phrase: What relation could there exist between the words “ice, sir, anger, cruel, sacred wood, changing, mother, bow, or sea”. The first and the last alone readily approached each other, there was nothing astonishing that, in a document written in Iceland, a “sea of ice” should be spoken of. But to understand the rest of the cryptogram from that was another thing.
I debated then against an insoluble difficulty my brain became heated, my eyes were fixed upon the sheet of paper, the hundred and thirty-two letters seemed to jump around me like those silver drops which glide in the air around our heads when we have an attack of vertigo.
I was a prey to a sort of hallucination. I was stifled. I wanted air. Mechanically I fanned myself with the sheet of paper, the two sides of which presented themselves successively to my gaze.
What was my surprise, when in one of these rapid movements, at the moment that the back of the sheet turned towards me, I thought I saw appear perfectly legible words, Latin words: among others “craterem” and “terrestre”.
Suddenly, a light broke in upon my mind, from these few indexes I saw the truth; I had discovered the law of the cipher. To read this document it was not even necessary to read it through the leaf reversed: No. Just as it was, just as it had been dictated to me, so it could be spelled out readily. All the ingenious combinations of the Professor were realized; he was right as to the disposition of the letters, right as to the language of the document! There was a “something” needed to be able to read this Latin phrase from one end to the other, and this “something” chance had just given me!
The extent of my emotion may be understood! My eyes were affected. I could not make use of them. I had thrown the sheet of paper on the table. It was sufficient for me to cast one look at it to become possessor of the secret.
Finally I succeeded in calming my imagination. I compelled myself to walk around the room twice to quiet my nerves, and I returned to bury myself in the enormous armchair.
“Let us read,” I cried to myself, after having filled my lungs with a fresh supply of air.
I leaned over the table; I placed my finger successively on each letter, and, without stopping, without hesitating a moment, I pronounced in a loud voice the entire phrase.
But what a stupefaction, what a terror came over me! I remained at first as if struck by a sudden blow. What! what I had just learned had been accomplished! a man had boldness enough to penetrate ----
“Ah!” I cried, jumping up. “But no! But no! My uncle shall not know it! He would only want to try such a journey! He would want to have a taste of it also! Nothing could stop him, so determined a geologist! He would even start out in spite of everything! And he would take me with him, and we would never return! Never, never!”
I was in a condition of over-excitement difficult to describe.
“No! no!” that shall not be,” I said with energy; “and, since I can prevent such an idea getting into the head of my tyrant I will do it.
In reading this document backwards and forwards he might by chance discover the key! “Let us destroy it.”
There was a little fire left in the fire-place. I seized not only the sheet of paper, but Saknussemm’s parchment; with a feverish hand I was about to throw the whole thing on the coals and destroy this dangerous secret, when the door of the cabinet opened. My uncle appeared.
I had only time to replace the unfortunate document on the table.
Professor Lidenbrock seemed deeply absorbed. His governing thought did not give him a moment’s respite; he had evidently examined and analysed the matter and set to work all the resources of his imagination during his walk, and he returned to apply some new combination.
He seated himself at once in his armchair, and with pen in hand he commenced to form formulas which resembled an algebraic calculation.
I followed his trembling hand with my gaze; I did not lose a single one of his movements. Was he then going to produce unexpectedly some unhoped for result? I trembled, and without reason, since the true combination, the "only one," being already found, any other search would have been necessarily in vain.
For three long hours my uncle worked without speaking, without raising his head, effacing, rewriting, erasing, recommencing a thousand times.
I knew very well that, if he succeeded in arranging these letters according to all the relative positions which they could occupy, the phrase would be found framed. But I knew also that twenty letters only can form two quintillions, four hundred and thirty-two quadrillions, nine hundred and two trillions, eight milliards, one hundred and seventy-six millions and six hundred and forty thousand combinations. Now, there were one hundred and thirty-two letters in the phrase, and these one hundred and thirty two letters would give a number of different phrases composed of one hundred and thirty-three figures at least—a number almost impossible to enumerate, and which is beyond all estimate.
I was reassured as to this heroic method of solving the problem.
In the meantime time was passing; night set in; the noises on the street ceased, my uncle, still bent over his task, saw nothing, not even the good Martha, who half opened the door; he heard nothing, not even the voice of that worthy servant, saying:--
"Will Monsieur take his supper this evening?"
So Martha had to go away without any answer; and for myself, after having resisted for some time, I was overcome by an unconquerable drowsiness, and I went to sleep on one end of the lounge, whilst my uncle Lidenbrock was calculating and erasing constantly.
When I awoke, the next morning, the indefatigable plodder was still at work. His bloodshot eyes, his pale face, with here and there a hectic flush, his hair all dishevelled under his feverish hand, indicated plainly enough his terrible struggle with the impossible, and under what mental fatigue, and tumult of his brain, the hours had passed on for him.
He was really an object of pity for me. Notwithstanding that I thought I had a right to reproach him, a certain emotion, took possession of me. The poor man was so filled with one idea that he forgot to get angry; All his active forces were concentrated on a single point, and as they had not their ordinary avenue of escape, it was to be feared that their tension might make him break at any moment.
I could with one gesture and with one word loosen the iron vice which held his cranium in its grasp! And I did nothing of the kind.
But I had a good heart. Why did I remain mute under such circumstances? In the very interest of my uncle.
"No, no," I repeated; “no, I will not speak! He would go there, I know; nothing could stop him. His is as an imagination that has a fancy for volcanoes, and, to do what other geologists have not done, he would risk his life. I will remain silent; I will keep this secret of which chance has made me master; to disclose it would be to kill Professor Lidenbrock. Let him guess it if he can; I do not wish, some day, to reproach myself for having led him to his ruin!”
Was it by design? Was it inadvertently? Did he wish to subject us to the hardships of hunger? That would have seemed to me rather hard. What! should Martha and I be the victims of a situation which did not concern us in the least? Without doubt, and I recollected a precedent of a kind to frighten us. In fact, some years before, at a time that my uncle was working on his grand mineralogical classification, he was forth-eight hours without eating, and his whole house had to conform to this scientific fast. As for myself, I got cramps in the stomach, which were not very amusing for a boy naturally rather voracious.
Now, it seemed to me that the breakfast would be missing, like the supper of the evening before. But I resolved to be heroic, and not to give up to the demands of hunger. Martha, good woman, took it quite seriously, and was distressed. As for myself the impossibility of leaving the house occupied me more, and for a good reason. It will be readily understood why.
My uncle was still working; his imagination was lost in the ideal world of combinations; he lived far from the earth, and truly outside of terrestrial needs.
Towards noon, hunger gnawed me severely. Martha had, very innocently, eaten up the provisions in the pantry the evening before, and there was nothing left in the
--[end of 914--column 3]
house. But I held my own well. I made it a sort of point of honor.
Two o’clock struck. It was getting ridiculous, even intolerable; I opened my eyes very wide. I commenced to say to myself that I exaggerated the importance of the document; that he would see in it a simple mystification; that at the worst they would keep him in spite of himself, if he wished to attempt the adventure; that finally, he might discover himself the key of the “cipher,” and that I would then have my abstinence for nothing.
These reasons, which I had indignantly rejected the evening before, now seemed excellent to me; I even found it perfectly absurd to have waited so long, and my decision was taken to tell everything.
I was seeking for an entrance upon the subject which would not be too abrupt. when the Professor rose, put on his hat, and prepared to go out.
What! leave the house, and keep us shut up! Never..
"Uncle”, I said.
He did not appear to hear me.
''Uncle Lidenbrock!" I repeated, raising my voice.
"Well?" said he, like a man suddenly awakened.
"Well! the key?"
“What key? The key of the door?"
"No, no," I cried, "but the key to the document!"
The Professor looked at me over his spectacles; he doubtless remarked something unusual in my countenance, for he caught me tight by the arm, and, unable to speak, he questioned me with his gaze. But a question was never more neatly propounded.
I moved my head up and down.
He shook his with a sort of pity, as if he was treating with a madman.
I made a more affirmative gesture.
His eyes shone with a strange light; his hand became threatening.
This mute conversation, under these circumstances, would have interested, the most indifferent spectator. And, really, I hardly dared to speak, so great was my fear that my uncle would choke me in the first transports of his joy. But he became so pressing that I must reply.
"Yes, the key—chance!"
"What do you say." he cried, with indescribable emotion.
"Here," I said, presenting him the sheet of paper on which I had written, "read."
"But that doesn't signify anything," he replied, rumpling the paper in his hand.
"Nothing, it is true, if you commence to read from the beginning, but from the end----“
I had not finished my sentence when the Professor muttered a cry—more than a cry, a regular roar! A revelation had just been made to him. He was transfigured.
"Ah! You ingenious Saknussemm!” he cried, "you wrote your phrase at first reversed ?"
And rushing at the sheet of paper, his eye disturbed, his voice trembling with emotion, he read the whole document, ascending from the last letter to the first.
It was composed as follows:--
In Sneffels Yoculis craterem kem delibat
umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende
audas viator, eet terrestre centrum attinges.
Kod feci. Arne Saknussem.
Which bad Latin may be translated:--
Descend, bold traveller, into the
crater of the yokul of Sneffels which
the shadow of Scartaris caresses before
the calends of July, and thou shalt
reach the centre of the earth. Which
I have done. Arne Saknussem.
My uncle started, at reading this, as if he had unexpectedly touched a Leyden jar. He was magnificent in his boldness, his joy, and his conviction. He walked up and down, he took hold of his head with both hands; he displaced the chairs in the room; he piled up his books; he juggled — it will scarcely be believed— with his precious geodes; he struck here with his fist, and slapped there with his open hand. Finally, his nerves were quieted, and like a man exhausted by too great a consumption of the vital fluid, he fell back into his arm chair.
"What o'clock it?” he asked, after a few moments of silence.
"Three o'clock," I replied.
“Well, well! my dinner-time has passed quickly, I am dying with hunger. Let us go to the table. Then afterwards—”
"You will pack my trunk." "Oh!" I cried.
"And your own!" replied the pitiless Professor, entering the dining room.
At these words a shudder passed over my body. But I restrained myself. I even resolved to put a good face on the matter. Scientific arguments alone could stop Professor Lidenbrock; now these there were and good ones, against the possibility of such a journey. To go to the centre of the earth! "What folly! I reserved my reasoning for the opportune moment, and I busied myself with the dinner.
It is useless to report the imprecations ot mj uncle when he learned that the table had been cleared. Everything was explained, and liberty was restored to good Martha. She ran to the market, and did so well that one hour afterwards my hunger was appeased, and I returned to an appreciation of the situation."
During the meal, my uncle was almost lively; there escaped from him some of those jokes which savants like to perpetrate, but which are never very dangerous. After the desert he beckoned me to follow him. into his cabinet.
I obeyed. He seated himself at one end of his work-table and I at the other.
“Axel,” he said to me, in a very mild tone, “you are a very ingenious fellow; you rendered me a very valuable service, when tired of the conflict, I was about to abandon this combination. Where did I make the mistake? Who may know? I will never forget it, my boy, and yes you shall have your share of the glory that we are going to reap.”
“Well,” I thought, “he is in a good humor; the moment has come to discuss this glory.”
end of col 4----
“Above everything,” continued my uncle, I recommend to you the most absolute secrecy; you understand? There will be no lack of envious personsin the world of savants, and many would like to undertake this journey, who will only suspect it on our return.”
“ Do you believe,” said I, “that the number of adventurous people would be so great?”
“Certainly! Who would hesitate to conquer such fame? If this document was known, an entire army of geologists would precipitate themselves upon the tracks of Arne Saknussem!”
“This is what I am not persuaded of, uncle, since nothing proves the authenticity of this document.”
“How! And the book in which we have found it!”
“Well, I grant that this Saknussem may have written these lines, but does it follow that he really accomplished this journey, and may not this old parchment contain some mystification?”
I regretted almost having uttered this last word, somewhat at a venture; the Professor knit his heavy eyebrows, and I feared that I should not be able to continue the conversation further. Fortunately, it was not so. My stern interlocutor forced a sort of smile on his lips, and replied:--
“That is what we will see.”
"Ah!” I explained, a little vexed, but allow me to exhaust the series of objections relative to this document."
“Speak, my boy, don’t restrain yourself. I will give you every liberty of expressing your opinion. You art no longer my nephew but my colleague, so go on."
“Well, in he first place I will ask you what are this Yokul, this Sneffels, and this Scartaris of which I have never heard."
"Nothing is easier. I received, some time ago, a map from my friend Augustus Peterman, of Leipsic; it could not have arrived more apropos. Take the third atlas in the second row of the large library, series Z, shelf 4”
I rose, and, thanks to the exact directions, soon found the atlas mentioned. My uncle opened it and said :—
"This is one of the best maps of Iceland, that of Henderson, and I believe that it will give us the solution of all these difficulties."
I bent over the map.
"See this island composed of volcanoes," said the Professor, "and notice that they all bear the name of Yokul. This word means in Icelandic ‘glacier,’ and in the high latitude of Iceland, the most of the eruptions reach the surface through strata of ice. Hence this name Yokul applied to all the volcanic mountains of the island."
"Well," I replied, "but what is Sneffels?"
I hoped that there would be no reply to this question. I was mistaken. My uncle replied:—
"Follow me to the western coast of Iceland. Do you see Reykjawik, its capital? Yes. Very well. Ascend the innumerable fjords of these shores worn by the sea, and stop a little above the sixty-fifth degree of latitude. What do you see there?"
"A sort of peninsula, like a bone stripped of its flesh, terminated by an immense knee-pan.
"The comparison is correct, my boy; now do you perceive anything on this kneepan?"
"Yes, a mountain which seems to have pushed out into the sea."
"Good! that is Sneffels!"
"The very same, a mountain five thousand feet high, one of the most remarkable of the island, and certainly the most celebrated of the entire globe, if its crater goes down to the centre of the earth."
''But that is impossible!" I cried, shrugging my shoulders, and up in arms against such a supposition.
“Impossible!" replied Professor Lidenbrock in a stern tone. "Why so?"
"Because this crater is evidently filled up with lava, burning rocks, and then----"
"And if it is an extinct crater?"
“Yes. The number of active volcanoes on the surface of the globe is actually only about three hundred; but there exist a much greater number of extinct volcanoes. Now, Sneffels is counted among these last, and, since historic times, it has only had one eruption, that of 1219; after this period its rumblings calmed down by degrees and it is no longer in the number of active volcanoes.”
“What signifies this word ‘Scartaris’,” I asked, “and how do the ‘calends of July’ come to be there?”
--end of col 5 and end of 914
[A] Edward Sabine was appointed Major General in 1858
[B] demi-toise, half a French fathom or about 3 feet
[C] For some reason White renders the French “XVIe” twice as “seventeenth century”
[D] Throughout the book White uses “Gretchen” for the girl’s name.
[E] “pretty-girl” in original
[F] Virland is a region in Estonia
[G] “fair-one” in original