home | authors | books | about

Home -> Jules Verne -> A Journey to the Center of the Earth -> Chapter 11

A Journey to the Center of the Earth - Chapter 11

1. Preface

2. Chapter 1

3. Chapter 2

4. Chapter 3

5. Chapter 4

6. Chapter 5

7. Chapter 6

8. Chapter 7

9. Chapter 8

10. Chapter 9

11. Chapter 10

12. Chapter 11

13. Chapter 12

14. Chapter 13

15. Chapter 14

16. Chapter 15

17. Chapter 16

18. Chapter 17

19. Chapter 18

20. Chapter 19

21. Chapter 20

22. Chapter 21

23. Chapter 22

24. Chapter 23

25. Chapter 24

26. Chapter 25

27. Chapter 26

28. Chapter 27

29. Chapter 28

30. Chapter 29

31. Chapter 30

32. Chapter 31

33. Chapter 32

34. Chapter 33

35. Chapter 34

36. Chapter 35

37. Chapter 36

38. Chapter 37

39. Chapter 38

40. Chapter 39

41. Chapter 40

42. Chapter 41

43. Chapter 42

44. Chapter 43

45. Chapter 44

46. Chapter 45



In the evening I took a short walk on the beach and returned at night
to my plank-bed, where I slept soundly all night.

When I awoke I heard my uncle talking at a great rate in the next
room. I immediately dressed and joined him.

He was conversing in the Danish language with a tall man, of robust
build. This fine fellow must have been possessed of great strength.
His eyes, set in a large and ingenuous face, seemed to me very
intelligent; they were of a dreamy sea-blue. Long hair, which would
have been called red even in England, fell in long meshes upon his
broad shoulders. The movements of this native were lithe and supple;
but he made little use of his arms in speaking, like a man who knew
nothing or cared nothing about the language of gestures. His whole
appearance bespoke perfect calmness and self-possession, not
indolence but tranquillity. It was felt at once that he would be
beholden to nobody, that he worked for his own convenience, and that
nothing in this world could astonish or disturb his philosophic

I caught the shades of this Icelander's character by the way in which
he listened to the impassioned flow of words which fell from the
Professor. He stood with arms crossed, perfectly unmoved by my
uncle's incessant gesticulations. A negative was expressed by a slow
movement of the head from left to right, an affirmative by a slight
bend, so slight that his long hair scarcely moved. He carried economy
of motion even to parsimony.

Certainly I should never have dreamt in looking at this man that he
was a hunter; he did not look likely to frighten his game, nor did he
seem as if he would even get near it. But the mystery was explained
when M. Fridrikssen informed me that this tranquil personage was only
a hunter of the eider duck, whose under plumage constitutes the chief
wealth of the island. This is the celebrated eider down, and it
requires no great rapidity of movement to get it.

Early in summer the female, a very pretty bird, goes to build her
nest among the rocks of the fiords with which the coast is fringed.
After building the nest she feathers it with down plucked from her
own breast. Immediately the hunter, or rather the trader, comes and
robs the nest, and the female recommences her work. This goes on as
long as she has any down left. When she has stripped herself bare the
male takes his turn to pluck himself. But as the coarse and hard
plumage of the male has no commercial value, the hunter does not take
the trouble to rob the nest of this; the female therefore lays her
eggs in the spoils of her mate, the young are hatched, and next year
the harvest begins again.

Now, as the eider duck does not select steep cliffs for her nest, but
rather the smooth terraced rocks which slope to the sea, the
Icelandic hunter might exercise his calling without any inconvenient
exertion. He was a farmer who was not obliged either to sow or reap
his harvest, but merely to gather it in.

This grave, phlegmatic, and silent individual was called Hans Bjelke;
and he came recommended by M. Fridrikssen. He was our future guide.
His manners were a singular contrast with my uncle's.

Nevertheless, they soon came to understand each other. Neither looked
at the amount of the payment: the one was ready to accept whatever
was offered; the other was ready to give whatever was demanded. Never
was bargain more readily concluded.

The result of the treaty was, that Hans engaged on his part to
conduct us to the village of Stapi, on the south shore of the Snaefell
peninsula, at the very foot of the volcano. By land this would be
about twenty-two miles, to be done, said my uncle, in two days.

But when he learnt that the Danish mile was 24,000 feet long, he was
obliged to modify his calculations and allow seven or eight days for
the march.

Four horses were to be placed at our disposal--two to carry him and
me, two for the baggage. Hams, as was his custom, would go on foot.
He knew all that part of the coast perfectly, and promised to take us
the shortest way.

His engagement was not to terminate with our arrival at Stapi; he was
to continue in my uncle's service for the whole period of his
scientific researches, for the remuneration of three rixdales a week
(about twelve shillings), but it was an express article of the
covenant that his wages should be counted out to him every Saturday
at six o'clock in the evening, which, according to him, was one
indispensable part of the engagement.

The start was fixed for the 16th of June. My uncle wanted to pay the
hunter a portion in advance, but he refused with one word:

"EFTER," said he.

"After," said the Professor for my edification.

The treaty concluded, Hans silently withdrew.

"A famous fellow," cried my uncle; "but he little thinks of the
marvellous part he has to play in the future."

"So he is to go with us as far as--"

"As far as the centre of the earth, Axel."

Forty-eight hours were left before our departure; to my great regret
I had to employ them in preparations; for all our ingenuity was
required to pack every article to the best advantage; instruments
here, arms there, tools in this package, provisions in that: four
sets of packages in all.

The instruments were:

1. An Eigel's centigrade thermometer, graduated up to 150 degrees
(302 degrees Fahr.), which seemed to me too much or too little. Too
much if the internal heat was to rise so high, for in this case we
should be baked, not enough to measure the temperature of springs or
any matter in a state of fusion.

2. An aneroid barometer, to indicate extreme pressures of the
atmosphere. An ordinary barometer would not have answered the
purpose, as the pressure would increase during our descent to a point
which the mercurial barometer [1] would not register.

3. A chronometer, made by Boissonnas, jun., of Geneva, accurately set
to the meridian of Hamburg.

4. Two compasses, viz., a common compass and a dipping needle.

5. A night glass.

6. Two of Ruhmkorff's apparatus, which, by means of an electric
current, supplied a safe and handy portable light [2]

The arms consisted of two of Purdy's rifles and two brace of pistols.
But what did we want arms for? We had neither savages nor wild beasts
to fear, I supposed. But my uncle seemed to believe in his arsenal as
in his instruments, and more especially in a considerable quantity of
gun cotton, which is unaffected by moisture, and the explosive force
of which exceeds that of gunpowder.

[1] In M. Verne's book a 'manometer' is the instrument used, of which
very little is known. In a complete list of philosophical instruments
the translator cannot find the name. As he is assured by a first-rate
instrument maker, Chadburn, of Liverpool, that an aneroid can be
constructed to measure any depth, he has thought it best to furnish
the adventurous professor with this more familiar instrument. The
'manometer' is generally known as a pressure gauge.--TRANS.

[2] Ruhmkorff's apparatus consists of a Bunsen pile worked with
bichromate of potash, which makes no smell; an induction coil carries
the electricity generated by the pile into communication with a
lantern of peculiar construction; in this lantern there is a spiral
glass tube from which the air has been excluded, and in which remains
only a residuum of carbonic acid gas or of nitrogen. When the
apparatus is put in action this gas becomes luminous, producing a
white steady light. The pile and coil are placed in a leathern bag
which the traveller carries over his shoulders; the lantern outside
of the bag throws sufficient light into deep darkness; it enables one
to venture without fear of explosions into the midst of the most
inflammable gases, and is not extinguished even in the deepest
waters. M. Ruhmkorff is a learned and most ingenious man of science;
his great discovery is his induction coil, which produces a powerful
stream of electricity. He obtained in 1864 the quinquennial prize of
50,000 franc reserved by the French government for the most ingenious
application of electricity.

The tools comprised two pickaxes, two spades, a silk ropeladder,
three iron-tipped sticks, a hatchet, a hammer, a dozen wedges and
iron spikes, and a long knotted rope. Now this was a large load, for
the ladder was 300 feet long.

And there were provisions too: this was not a large parcel, but it
was comforting to know that of essence of beef and biscuits there
were six months' consumption. Spirits were the only liquid, and of
water we took none; but we had flasks, and my uncle depended on
springs from which to fill them. Whatever objections I hazarded as to
their quality, temperature, and even absence, remained ineffectual.

To complete the exact inventory of all our travelling accompaniments,
I must not forget a pocket medicine chest, containing blunt scissors,
splints for broken limbs, a piece of tape of unbleached linen,
bandages and compresses, lint, a lancet for bleeding, all dreadful
articles to take with one. Then there was a row of phials containing
dextrine, alcoholic ether, liquid acetate of lead, vinegar, and
ammonia drugs which afforded me no comfort. Finally, all the articles
needful to supply Ruhmkorff's apparatus.

My uncle did not forget--a supply of tobacco, coarse grained powder,
and amadou, nor a leathern belt in which he carried a sufficient
quantity of gold, silver, and paper money. Six pairs of boots and
shoes, made waterproof with a composition of indiarubber and naphtha,
were packed amongst the tools.

"Clothed, shod, and equipped like this," said my uncle, "there is no
telling how far we may go."

The 14th was wholly spent in arranging all our different articles. In
the evening we dined with Baron Tramps; the mayor of Rejkiavik, and
Dr. Hyaltalin, the first medical man of the place, being of the
party. M. Fridrikssen was not there. I learned afterwards that he and
the Governor disagreed upon some question of administration, and did
not speak to each other. I therefore knew not a single word of all
that was said at this semi-official dinner; but I could not help
noticing that my uncle talked the whole time.

On the 15th our preparations were all made. Our host gave the
Professor very great pleasure by presenting him with a map of Iceland
far more complete than that of Hendersen. It was the map of M. Olaf
Nikolas Olsen, in the proportion of 1 to 480,000 of the actual size
of the island, and published by the Icelandic Literary Society. It
was a precious document for a mineralogist.

Our last evening was spent in intimate conversation with M.
Fridrikssen, with whom I felt the liveliest sympathy; then, after the
talk, succeeded, for me, at any rate, a disturbed and restless night.

At five in the morning I was awoke by the neighing and pawing of four
horses under my window. I dressed hastily and came down into the
street. Hans was finishing our packing, almost as it were without
moving a limb; and yet he did his work cleverly. My uncle made more
noise than execution, and the guide seemed to pay very little
attention to his energetic directions.

At six o'clock our preparations were over. M. Fridrikssen shook hands
with us. My uncle thanked him heartily for his extreme kindness. I
constructed a few fine Latin sentences to express my cordial
farewell. Then we bestrode our steeds and with his last adieu M.
Fridrikssen treated me to a line of Virgil eminently applicable to
such uncertain wanderers as we were likely to be:

"Et quacumque viam dedent fortuna sequamur."

"Therever fortune clears a way,

Thither our ready footsteps stray."

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary