PREPARATIONS FOR BLASTING A PASSAGE TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH
Since the start upon this marvellous pilgrimage I had been through so
many astonishments that I might well be excused for thinking myself
well hardened against any further surprise. Yet at the sight of these
two letters, engraved on this spot three hundred years ago, I stood
aghast in dumb amazement. Not only were the initials of the learned
alchemist visible upon the living rock, but there lay the iron point
with which the letters had been engraved. I could no longer doubt of
the existence of that wonderful traveller and of the fact of his
unparalleled journey, without the most glaring incredulity.
Whilst these reflections were occupying me, Professor Liedenbrock had
launched into a somewhat rhapsodical eulogium, of which Arne
Saknussemm was, of course, the hero.
"Thou marvellous genius!" he cried, "thou hast not forgotten one
indication which might serve to lay open to mortals the road through
the terrestrial crust; and thy fellow-creatures may even now, after
the lapse of three centuries, again trace thy footsteps through these
deep and darksome ways. You reserved the contemplation of these
wonders for other eyes besides your own. Your name, graven from stage
to stage, leads the bold follower of your footsteps to the very
centre of our planet's core, and there again we shall find your own
name written with your own hand. I too will inscribe my name upon
this dark granite page. But for ever henceforth let this cape that
advances into the sea discovered by yourself be known by your own
illustrious name--Cape Saknussemm."
Such were the glowing words of panegyric which fell upon my attentive
ear, and I could not resist the sentiment of enthusiasm with which I
too was infected. The fire of zeal kindled afresh in me. I forgot
everything. I dismissed from my mind the past perils of the journey,
the future danger of our return. That which another had done I
supposed we might also do, and nothing that was not superhuman
appeared impossible to me.
"Forward! forward!" I cried.
I was already darting down the gloomy tunnel when the Professor
stopped me; he, the man of impulse, counselled patience and coolness.
"Let us first return to Hans," he said, "and bring the raft to this
I obeyed, not without dissatisfaction, and passed out rapidly among
the rocks on the shore.
I said: "Uncle, do you know it seems to me that circumstances have
wonderfully befriended us hitherto?"
"You think so, Axel?"
"No doubt; even the tempest has put us on the right way. Blessings on
that storm! It has brought us back to this coast from which fine
weather would have carried us far away. Suppose we had touched with
our prow (the prow of a rudder!) the southern shore of the
Liedenbrock sea, what would have become of us? We should never have
seen the name of Saknussemm, and we should at this moment be
imprisoned on a rockbound, impassable coast."
"Yes, Axel, it is providential that whilst supposing we were steering
south we should have just got back north at Cape Saknussemm. I must
say that this is astonishing, and that I feel I have no way to
"What does that signify, uncle? Our business is not to explain facts,
but to use them!"
"Well, uncle, we are going to resume the northern route, and to pass
under 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 left
that weary, horizontal sea, which led us nowhere. Now we shall go
down, down, down! Do you know that it is now only 1,500 leagues. to
the 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 of
cordage 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 for
shallow water. In many places we were obliged to push ourselves along
with iron-pointed sticks. Often the sunken rocks just beneath the
surface obliged us to deviate from our straight course. At last,
after three hours' sailing, about six in the evening we reached a
place suitable for our landing. I jumped ashore, followed by my uncle
and the Icelander. This short passage had not served to cool my
ardour. On the contrary, I even proposed to burn 'our ship,' to
prevent the possibility of return; but my uncle would not consent to
that. 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 new
gallery, to see if we shall require our ladders."
My uncle put his Ruhmkorff's apparatus in action; the raft moored to
the shore was left alone; the mouth of the tunnel was not twenty
yards from us; and our party, with myself at the head, made for it
without a moment's delay.
The aperture, which was almost round, was about five feet in
diameter; the dark passage was cut out in the live rock and lined
with a coat of the eruptive matter which formerly issued from it; the
interior was level with the ground outside, so that we were able to
enter without difficulty. We were following a horizontal plane, when,
only six paces in, our progress was interrupted by an enormous block
just across our way.
"Accursed rock!" I cried in a passion, finding myself suddenly
confronted by an impassable obstacle.
Right and left we searched in vain for a way, up and down, side to
side; there was no getting any farther. I felt fearfully
disappointed, and I would not admit that the obstacle was final. I
stopped, I looked underneath the block: no opening. Above: granite
still. Hans passed his lamp over every portion of the barrier in
vain. We must give up all hope of passing it.
I sat down in despair. My uncle strode from side to side in the
"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 been
shaken down by some shock or convulsion, or by one of those magnetic
storms which agitate these regions, and has blocked up the passage
which lay open to him. Many years have elapsed since the return of
Saknussemm to the surface and the fall of this huge fragment. Is it
not evident that this gallery was once the way open to the course of
the lava, and that at that time there must have been a free passage?
See here are recent fissures grooving and channelling the granite
roof. 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 the
expulsive force was greater than usual, and this block, like the
falling keystone of a ruined arch, has slipped down to the ground and
blocked up the way. It is only an accidental obstruction, not met by
Saknussemm, and if we don't destroy it we shall be unworthy to reach
the 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, I
scorned the future. I gave not a thought to the things of the surface
of this globe into which I had dived; its cities and its sunny
plains, Hamburg and the Konigstrasse, even poor Grauben, who must
have given us up for lost, all were for the time dismissed from the
pages 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."
"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 iron
bar which he made use of to bore a hole for the charge. This was no
easy work. A hole was to be made large enough to hold fifty pounds of
guncotton, whose expansive force is four times that of gunpowder.
I was terribly excited. Whilst Hans was at work I was actively
helping my uncle to prepare a slow match of wetted powder encased in
"This will do it," I said.
"It will," replied my uncle.
By midnight our mining preparations were over; the charge was rammed
into the hole, and the slow match uncoiled along the gallery showed
its 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.