SERIOUS PREPARATIONS FOR VERTICAL DESCENT
Altona, which is but a suburb of Hamburg, is the terminus of the Kiel
railway, which was to carry us to the Belts. In twenty minutes we
were in Holstein.
At half-past six the carriage stopped at the station; my uncle's
numerous packages, his voluminous IMPEDIMENTA, were unloaded,
removed, labelled, weighed, put into the luggage vans, and at seven
we were seated face to face in our compartment. The whistle sounded,
the engine started, we were off.
Was I resigned? No, not yet. Yet the cool morning air and the scenes
on the road, rapidly changed by the swiftness of the train, drew me
away somewhat from my sad reflections.
As for the Professor's reflections, they went far in advance of the
swiftest express. We were alone in the carriage, but we sat in
silence. My uncle examined all his pockets and his travelling bag
with the minutest care. I saw that he had not forgotten the smallest
matter of detail.
Amongst other documents, a sheet of paper, carefully folded, bore the
heading of the Danish consulate with the signature of W.
Christiensen, consul at Hamburg and the Professor's friend. With this
we possessed the proper introductions to the Governor of Iceland.
I also observed the famous document most carefully laid up in a
secret pocket in his portfolio. I bestowed a malediction upon it, and
then proceeded to examine the country.
It was a very long succession of uninteresting loamy and fertile
flats, a very easy country for the construction of railways, and
propitious for the laying-down of these direct level lines so dear to
I had no time to get tired of the monotony; for in three hours we
stopped at Kiel, close to the sea.
The luggage being labelled for Copenhagen, we had no occasion to look
after it. Yet the Professor watched every article with jealous
vigilance, until all were safe on board. There they disappeared in
My uncle, notwithstanding his hurry, had so well calculated the
relations between the train and the steamer that we had a whole day
to spare. The steamer ELLENORA, did not start until night. Thence
sprang a feverish state of excitement in which the impatient
irascible traveller devoted to perdition the railway directors and
the steamboat companies and the governments which allowed such
intolerable slowness. I was obliged to act chorus to him when he
attacked the captain of the ELLENORA upon this subject. The captain
disposed of us summarily.
At Kiel, as elsewhere, we must do something to while away the time.
What with walking on the verdant shores of the bay within which
nestles the little town, exploring the thick woods which make it look
like a nest embowered amongst thick foliage, admiring the villas,
each provided with a little bathing house, and moving about and
grumbling, at last ten o'clock came.
The heavy coils of smoke from the ELLENORA'S funnel unrolled in the
sky, the bridge shook with the quivering of the struggling steam; we
were on board, and owners for the time of two berths, one over the
other, in the only saloon cabin on board.
At a quarter past the moorings were loosed and the throbbing steamer
pursued her way over the dark waters of the Great Belt.
The night was dark; there was a sharp breeze and a rough sea, a few
lights appeared on shore through the thick darkness; later on, I
cannot tell when, a dazzling light from some lighthouse threw a
bright stream of fire along the waves; and this is all I can remember
of this first portion of our sail.
At seven in the morning we landed at Korsor, a small town on the west
coast of Zealand. There we were transferred from the boat to another
line of railway, which took us by just as flat a country as the plain
Three hours' travelling brought us to the capital of Denmark. My
uncle had not shut his eyes all night. In his impatience I believe he
was trying to accelerate the train with his feet.
At last he discerned a stretch of sea.
"The Sound!" he cried.
At our left was a huge building that looked like a hospital.
"That's a lunatic asylum," said one of or travelling companions.
Very good! thought I, just the place we want to end our days in; and
great as it is, that asylum is not big enough to contain all
Professor Liedenbrock's madness!
At ten in the morning, at last, we set our feet in Copenhagen; the
luggage was put upon a carriage and taken with ourselves to the
Phoenix Hotel in Breda Gate. This took half an hour, for the station
is out of the town. Then my uncle, after a hasty toilet, dragged me
after him. The porter at the hotel could speak German and English;
but the Professor, as a polyglot, questioned him in good Danish, and
it was in the same language that that personage directed him to the
Museum of Northern Antiquities.
The curator of this curious establishment, in which wonders are
gathered together out of which the ancient history of the country
might be reconstructed by means of its stone weapons, its cups and
its jewels, was a learned savant, the friend of the Danish consul at
Hamburg, Professor Thomsen.
My uncle had a cordial letter of introduction to him. As a general
rule one savant greets another with coolness. But here the case was
different. M. Thomsen, like a good friend, gave the Professor
Liedenbrock a cordial greeting, and he even vouchsafed the same
kindness to his nephew. It is hardly necessary to say the secret was
sacredly kept from the excellent curator; we were simply
disinterested travellers visiting Iceland out of harmless curiosity.
M. Thomsen placed his services at our disposal, and we visited the
quays with the object of finding out the next vessel to sail.
I was yet in hopes that there would be no means of getting to
Iceland. But there was no such luck. A small Danish schooner, the
VALKYRIA, was to set sail for Rejkiavik on the 2nd of June. The
captain, M. Bjarne, was on board. His intending passenger was so
joyful that he almost squeezed his hands till they ached. That good
man was rather surprised at his energy. To him it seemed a very
simple thing to go to Iceland, as that was his business; but to my
uncle it was sublime. The worthy captain took advantage of his
enthusiasm to charge double fares; but we did not trouble ourselves
about mere trifles. .
"You must be on board on Tuesday, at seven in the morning," said
Captain Bjarne, after having pocketed more dollars than were his due.
Then we thanked M. Thomsen for his kindness, "and we returned to the
"It's all right, it's all right," my uncle repeated. "How fortunate
we are to have found this boat ready for sailing. Now let us have
some breakfast and go about the town."
We went first to Kongens-nye-Torw, an irregular square in which are
two innocent-looking guns, which need not alarm any one. Close by, at
No. 5, there was a French "restaurant," kept by a cook of the name of
Vincent, where we had an ample breakfast for four marks each (2s.
Then I took a childish pleasure in exploring the city; my uncle let
me take him with me, but he took notice of nothing, neither the
insignificant king's palace, nor the pretty seventeenth century
bridge, which spans the canal before the museum, nor that immense
cenotaph of Thorwaldsen's, adorned with horrible mural painting, and
containing within it a collection of the sculptor's works, nor in a
fine park the toylike chateau of Rosenberg, nor the beautiful
renaissance edifice of the Exchange, nor its spire composed of the
twisted tails of four bronze dragons, nor the great windmill on the
ramparts, whose huge arms dilated in the sea breeze like the sails of
What delicious walks we should have had together, my pretty
Virlandaise and I, along the harbour where the two-deckers and the
frigate slept peaceably by the red roofing of the warehouse, by the
green banks of the strait, through the deep shades of the trees
amongst which the fort is half concealed, where the guns are
thrusting out their black throats between branches of alder and
But, alas! Grauben was far away; and I never hoped to see her again.
But if my uncle felt no attraction towards these romantic scenes he
was very much struck with the aspect of a certain church spire
situated in the island of Amak, which forms the south-west quarter of
I was ordered to direct my feet that way; I embarked on a small
steamer which plies on the canals, and in a few minutes she touched
the quay of the dockyard.
After crossing a few narrow streets where some convicts, in trousers
half yellow and half grey, were at work under the orders of the
gangers, we arrived at the Vor Frelsers Kirk. There was nothing
remarkable about the church; but there was a reason why its tall
spire had attracted the Professor's attention. Starting from the top
of the tower, an external staircase wound around the spire, the
spirals circling up into the sky.
"Let us get to the top," said my uncle.
"I shall be dizzy," I said.
"The more reason why we should go up; we must get used to it."
"Come, I tell you; don't waste our time."
I had to obey. A keeper who lived at the other end of the street
handed us the key, and the ascent began.
My uncle went ahead with a light step. I followed him not without
alarm, for my head was very apt to feel dizzy; I possessed neither
the equilibrium of an eagle nor his fearless nature.
As long as we were protected on the inside of the winding staircase
up the tower, all was well enough; but after toiling up a hundred and
fifty steps the fresh air came to salute my face, and we were on the
leads of the tower. There the aerial staircase began its gyrations,
only guarded by a thin iron rail, and the narrowing steps seemed to
ascend into infinite space!
"Never shall I be able to do it," I said.
"Don't be a coward; come up, sir"; said my uncle with the coldest
I had to follow, clutching at every step. The keen air made me giddy;
I felt the spire rocking with every gust of wind; my knees began to
fail; soon I was crawling on my knees, then creeping on my stomach; I
closed my eyes; I seemed to be lost in space.
At last I reached the apex, with the assistance of my uncle dragging
me up by the collar.
"Look down!" he cried. "Look down well! You must take a lesson in
I opened my eyes. I saw houses squashed flat as if they had all
fallen down from the skies; a smoke fog seemed to drown them. Over my
head ragged clouds were drifting past, and by an optical inversion
they seemed stationary, while the steeple, the ball and I were all
spinning along with fantastic speed. Far away on one side was the
green country, on the other the sea sparkled, bathed in sunlight. The
Sound stretched away to Elsinore, dotted with a few white sails, like
sea-gulls' wings; and in the misty east and away to the north-east
lay outstretched the faintly-shadowed shores of Sweden. All this
immensity of space whirled and wavered, fluctuating beneath my eyes.
But I was compelled to rise, to stand up, to look. My first lesson in
dizziness lasted an hour. When I got permission to come down and feel
the solid street pavements I was afflicted with severe lumbago.
"To-morrow we will do it again," said the Professor.
And it was so; for five days in succession, I was obliged to undergo
this anti-vertiginous exercise; and whether I would or not, I made
some improvement in the art of "lofty contemplations."