A WOMAN'S COURAGE
Thus ended this memorable seance. That conversation threw me into a
fever. I came out of my uncle's study as if I had been stunned, and
as if there was not air enough in all the streets of Hamburg to put
me right again. I therefore made for the banks of the Elbe, where the
steamer lands her passengers, which forms the communication between
the city and the Hamburg railway.
Was I convinced of the truth of what I had heard? Had I not bent
under the iron rule of the Professor Liedenbrock? Was I to believe
him in earnest in his intention to penetrate to the centre of this
massive globe? Had I been listening to the mad speculations of a
lunatic, or to the scientific conclusions of a lofty genius? Where
did truth stop? Where did error begin?
I was all adrift amongst a thousand contradictory hypotheses, but I
could not lay hold of one.
Yet I remembered that I had been convinced, although now my
enthusiasm was beginning to cool down; but I felt a desire to start
at once, and not to lose time and courage by calm reflection. I had
at that moment quite courage enough to strap my knapsack to my
shoulders and start.
But I must confess that in another hour this unnatural excitement
abated, my nerves became unstrung, and from the depths of the abysses
of this earth I ascended to its surface again.
"It is quite absurd!" I cried, "there is no sense about it. No
sensible young man should for a moment entertain such a proposal. The
whole thing is non-existent. I have had a bad night, I have been
dreaming of horrors."
But I had followed the banks of the Elbe and passed the town. After
passing the port too, I had reached the Altona road. I was led by a
presentiment, soon to be realised; for shortly I espied my little
Grauben bravely returning with her light step to Hamburg.
"Grauben!" I cried from afar off.
The young girl stopped, rather frightened perhaps to hear her name
called after her on the high road. Ten yards more, and I had joined
"Axel!" she cried surprised. "What! have you come to meet me? Is this
why you are here, sir?"
But when she had looked upon me, Grauben could not fail to see the
uneasiness and distress of my mind.
"What is the matter?" she said, holding out her hand.
"What is the matter, Grauben?" I cried.
In a couple of minutes my pretty Virlandaise was fully informed of
the position of affairs. For a time she was silent. Did her heart
palpitate as mine did? I don't know about that, but I know that her
hand did not tremble in mine. We went on a hundred yards without
At last she said, "Axel!"
"My dear Grauben."
"That will be a splendid journey!"
I gave a bound at these words.
"Yes, Axel, a journey worthy of the nephew of a savant; it is a good
thing for a man to be distinguished by some great enterprise."
"What, Grauben, won't you dissuade me from such an undertaking?"
"No, my dear Axel, and I would willingly go with you, but that a poor
girl would only be in your way."
"Is that quite true?"
"It is true."
Ah! women and young girls, how incomprehensible are your feminine
hearts! When you are not the timidest, you are the bravest of
creatures. Reason has nothing to do with your actions. What! did this
child encourage me in such an expedition! Would she not be afraid to
join it herself? And she was driving me to it, one whom she loved!
I was disconcerted, and, if I must tell the whole truth, I was
"Grauben, we will see whether you will say the same thing tomorrow."
"To-morrow, dear Axel, I will say what I say to-day."
Grauben and I, hand in hand, but in silence, pursued our way. The
emotions of that day were breaking my heart.
After all, I thought, the kalends of July are a long way off, and
between this and then many things may take place which will cure my
uncle of his desire to travel underground.
It was night when we arrived at the house in Konigstrasse. I expected
to find all quiet there, my uncle in bed as was his custom, and
Martha giving her last touches with the feather brush.
But I had not taken into account the Professor's impatience. I found
him shouting--and working himself up amidst a crowd of porters and
messengers who were all depositing various loads in the passage. Our
old servant was at her wits' end.
"Come, Axel, come, you miserable wretch," my uncle cried from as far
off as he could see me. "Your boxes are not packed, and my papers are
not arranged; where's the key of my carpet bag? and what have you
done with my gaiters?"
I stood thunderstruck. My voice failed. Scarcely could my lips utter
"Are we really going?"
"Of course, you unhappy boy! Could I have dreamed that yon would have
gone out for a walk instead of hurrying your preparations forward?"
"Are we to go?" I asked again, with sinking hopes.
"Yes; the day after to-morrow, early."
I could hear no more. I fled for refuge into my own little room.
All hope was now at an end. My uncle had been all the morning making
purchases of a part of the tools and apparatus required for this
desperate undertaking. The passage was encumbered with rope ladders,
knotted cords, torches, flasks, grappling irons, alpenstocks,
pickaxes, iron shod sticks, enough to load ten men.
I spent an awful night. Next morning I was called early. I had quite
decided I would not open the door. But how was I to resist the sweet
voice which was always music to my ears, saying, "My dear Axel?"
I came out of my room. I thought my pale countenance and my red and
sleepless eyes would work upon Grauben's sympathies and change her
"Ah! my dear Axel," she said. "I see you are better. A night's rest
has done you good."
"Done me good!" I exclaimed.
I rushed to the glass. Well, in fact I did look better than I had
expected. I could hardly believe my own eyes.
"Axel," she said, "I have had a long talk with my guardian. He is a
bold philosopher, a man of immense courage, and you must remember
that his blood flows in your veins. He has confided to me his plans,
his hopes, and why and how he hopes to attain his object. He will no
doubt succeed. My dear Axel, it is a grand thing to devote yourself
to science! What honour will fall upon Herr Liedenbrock, and so be
reflected upon his companion! When you return, Axel, you will be a
man, his equal, free to speak and to act independently, and free to
The dear girl only finished this sentence by blushing. Her words
revived me. Yet I refused to believe we should start. I drew Grauben
into the Professor's study.
"Uncle, is it true that we are to go?"
"Why do you doubt?"
"Well, I don't doubt," I said, not to vex him; "but, I ask, what need
is there to hurry?"
"Time, time, flying with irreparable rapidity."
"But it is only the 16th May, and until the end of June--"
"What, you monument of ignorance! do you think you can get to Iceland
in a couple of days? If you had not deserted me like a fool I should
have taken you to the Copenhagen office, to Liffender & Co., and you
would have learned then that there is only one trip every month from
Copenhagen to Rejkiavik, on the 22nd."
"Well, if we waited for the 22nd June we should be too late to see
the shadow of Scartaris touch the crater of Sneffels. Therefore we
must get to Copenhagen as fast as we can to secure our passage. Go
and pack up."
There was no reply to this. I went up to my room. Grauben followed
me. She undertook to pack up all things necessary for my voyage. She
was no more moved than if I had been starting for a little trip to
Lubeck or Heligoland. Her little hands moved without haste. She
talked quietly. She supplied me with sensible reasons for our
expedition. She delighted me, and yet I was angry with her. Now and
then I felt I ought to break out into a passion, but she took no
notice and went on her way as methodically as ever.
Finally the last strap was buckled; I came downstairs. All that day
the philosophical instrument makers and the electricians kept coming
and going. Martha was distracted.
"Is master mad?" she asked.
I nodded my head.
"And is he going to take you with him?"
I nodded again.
I pointed with my finger downward.
"Down into the cellar?" cried the old servant.
"No," I said. "Lower down than that."
Night came. But I knew nothing about the lapse of time.
"Tomorrow morning at six precisely," my uncle decreed "we start."
At ten o'clock I fell upon my bed, a dead lump of inert matter. All
through the night terror had hold of me. I spent it dreaming of
abysses. I was a prey to delirium. I felt myself grasped by the
Professor's sinewy hand, dragged along, hurled down, shattered into
little bits. I dropped down unfathomable precipices with the
accelerating velocity of bodies falling through space. My life had
become an endless fall. I awoke at five with shattered nerves,
trembling and weary. I came downstairs. My uncle was at table,
devouring his breakfast. I stared at him with horror and disgust. But
dear Grauben was there; so I said nothing, and could eat nothing.
At half-past five there was a rattle of wheels outside. A large
carriage was there to take us to the Altona railway station. It was
soon piled up with my uncle's multifarious preparations.
"Where's your box?" he cried.
"It is ready," I replied, with faltering voice.
"Then make haste down, or we shall lose the train."
It was now manifestly impossible to maintain the struggle against
destiny. I went up again to my room, and rolling my portmanteaus
downstairs I darted after him.
At that moment my uncle was solemnly investing Grauben with the reins
of government. My pretty Virlandaise was as calm and collected as was
her wont. She kissed her guardian; but could not restrain a tear in
touching my cheek with her gentle lips.
"Grauben!" I murmured.
"Go, my dear Axel, go! I am now your betrothed; and when you come
back I will be your wife."
I pressed her in my arms and took my place in the carriage. Martha
and the young girl, standing at the door, waved their last farewell.
Then the horses, roused by the driver's whistling, darted off at a
gallop on the road to Altona.