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Home -> Jules Verne -> A Journey to the Center of the Earth -> Chapter 3

A Journey to the Center of the Earth - Chapter 3

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



"Undoubtedly it is Runic," said the Professor, bending his brows;
"but there is a secret in it, and I mean to discover the key."

A violent gesture finished the sentence.

"Sit there," he added, holding out his fist towards the table. "Sit
there, and write."

I was seated in a trice.

"Now I will dictate to you every letter of our alphabet which
corresponds with each of these Icelandic characters. We will see what
that will give us. But, by St. Michael, if you should dare to deceive

The dictation commenced. I did my best. Every letter was given me one
after the other, with the following remarkable result:

mm.rnlls esrevel seecIde
sgtssmf vnteief niedrke
kt,samn atrateS saodrrn
emtnaeI nvaect rrilSa
Atsaar .nvcrc ieaabs
ccrmi eevtVl frAntv
dt,iac oseibo KediiI

[Redactor: In the original version the initial letter is an 'm' with
a superscore over it. It is my supposition that this is the
translator's way of writing 'mm' and I have replaced it accordingly,
since our typography does not allow such a character.]

When this work was ended my uncle tore the paper from me and examined
it attentively for a long time.

"What does it all mean?" he kept repeating mechanically.

Upon my honour I could not have enlightened him. Besides he did not
ask me, and he went on talking to himself.

"This is what is called a cryptogram, or cipher," he said, "in which
letters are purposely thrown in confusion, which if properly arranged
would reveal their sense. Only think that under this jargon there may
lie concealed the clue to some great discovery!"

As for me, I was of opinion that there was nothing at all, in it;
though, of course, I took care not to say so.

Then the Professor took the book and the parchment, and diligently
compared them together.

"These two writings are not by the same hand," he said; "the cipher
is of later date than the book, an undoubted proof of which I see in
a moment. The first letter is a double m, a letter which is not to be
found in Turlleson's book, and which was only added to the alphabet
in the fourteenth century. Therefore there are two hundred years
between the manuscript and the document."

I admitted that this was a strictly logical conclusion.

"I am therefore led to imagine," continued my uncle, "that some
possessor of this book wrote these mysterious letters. But who was
that possessor? Is his name nowhere to be found in the manuscript?"

My uncle raised his spectacles, took up a strong lens, and carefully
examined the blank pages of the book. On the front of the second, the
title-page, he noticed a sort of stain which looked like an ink blot.
But in looking at it very closely he thought he could distinguish
some half-effaced letters. My uncle at once fastened upon this as the
centre of interest, and he laboured at that blot, until by the help
of his microscope he ended by making out the following Runic
characters which he read without difficulty.

"Arne Saknussemm!" he cried in triumph. "Why that is the name of
another Icelander, a savant of the sixteenth century, a celebrated

I gazed at my uncle with satisfactory admiration.

"Those alchemists," he resumed, "Avicenna, Bacon, Lully, Paracelsus,
were the real and only savants of their time. They made discoveries
at which we are astonished. Has not this Saknussemm concealed under
his cryptogram some surprising invention? It is so; it must be so!"

The Professor's imagination took fire at this hypothesis.

"No doubt," I ventured to reply, "but what interest would he have in
thus hiding so marvellous a discovery?"

"Why? Why? How can I tell? Did not Galileo do the same by Saturn? We
shall see. I will get at the secret of this document, and I will
neither sleep nor eat until I have found it out."

My comment on this was a half-suppressed "Oh!"

"Nor you either, Axel," he added.

"The deuce!" said I to myself; "then it is lucky I have eaten two
dinners to-day!"

"First of all we must find out the key to this cipher; that cannot be

At these words I quickly raised my head; but my uncle went on

"There's nothing easier. In this document there are a hundred and
thirty-two letters, viz., seventy-seven consonants and fifty-five
vowels. This is the proportion found in southern languages, whilst
northern tongues are much richer in consonants; therefore this is in
a southern language."

These were very fair conclusions, I thought.

"But what language is it?"

Here I looked for a display of learning, but I met instead with
profound analysis.

"This Saknussemm," he went on, "was a very well-informed man; now
since he was not writing in his own mother tongue, he would naturally
select that which was currently adopted by the choice spirits of the
sixteenth century; I mean Latin. If I am mistaken, I can but try
Spanish, French, Italian, Greek, or Hebrew. But the savants of the
sixteenth century generally wrote in Latin. I am therefore entitled
to pronounce this, a priori, to be Latin. It is Latin."

I jumped up in my chair. My Latin memories rose in revolt against the
notion that these barbarous words could belong to the sweet language
of Virgil.

"Yes, it is Latin," my uncle went on; "but it is Latin confused and
in disorder; "PERTUBATA SEU INORDINATA," as Euclid has it."

"Very well," thought I, "if you can bring order out of that
confusion, my dear uncle, you are a clever man."

"Let us examine carefully," said he again, taking up the leaf upon
which I had written. "Here is a series of one hundred and thirty-two
letters in apparent disorder. There are words consisting of
consonants only, as NRRLLS; others, on the other hand, in which
vowels predominate, as for instance the fifth, UNEEIEF, or the last
but one, OSEIBO. Now this arrangement has evidently not been
premeditated; it has arisen mathematically in obedience to the
unknown law which has ruled in the succession of these letters. It
appears to me a certainty that the original sentence was written in a
proper manner, and afterwards distorted by a law which we have yet to
discover. Whoever possesses the key of this cipher will read it with
fluency. What is that key? Axel, have you got it?"

I answered not a word, and for a very good reason. My eyes had fallen
upon a charming picture, suspended against the wall, the portrait of
Grauben. My uncle's ward was at that time at Altona, staying with a
relation, and in her absence I was very downhearted; for I may
confess it to you now, the pretty Virlandaise and the professor's
nephew loved each other with a patience and a calmness entirely
German. We had become engaged unknown to my uncle, who was too much
taken up with geology to be able to enter into such feelings as ours.
Grauben was a lovely blue-eyed blonde, rather given to gravity and
seriousness; but that did not prevent her from loving me very
sincerely. As for me, I adored her, if there is such a word in the
German language. Thus it happened that the picture of my pretty
Virlandaise threw me in a moment out of the world of realities into
that of memory and fancy.

There looked down upon me the faithful companion of my labours and my
recreations. Every day she helped me to arrange my uncle's precious
specimens; she and I labelled them together. Mademoiselle Grauben was
an accomplished mineralogist; she could have taught a few things to a
savant. She was fond of investigating abstruse scientific questions.
What pleasant hours we have spent in study; and how often I envied
the very stones which she handled with her charming fingers.

Then, when our leisure hours came, we used to go out together and
turn into the shady avenues by the Alster, and went happily side by
side up to the old windmill, which forms such an improvement to the
landscape at the head of the lake. On the road we chatted hand in
hand; I told her amusing tales at which she laughed heartilv. Then we
reached the banks of the Elbe, and after having bid good-bye to the
swan, sailing gracefully amidst the white water lilies, we returned
to the quay by the steamer.

That is just where I was in my dream, when my uncle with a vehement
thump on the table dragged me back to the realities of life.

"Come," said he, "the very first idea which would come into any one's
head to confuse the letters of a sentence would be to write the words
vertically instead of horizontally."

"Indeed!" said I.

"Now we must see what would be the effect of that, Axel; put down
upon this paper any sentence you like, only instead of arranging the
letters in the usual way, one after the other, place them in
succession in vertical columns, so as to group them together in five
or six vertical lines."

I caught his meaning, and immediately produced the following literary

I y l o a u
l o l w r b
o u , n G e
v w m d r n
e e y e a !

"Good," said the professor, without reading them, "now set down those
words in a horizontal line."

I obeyed, and with this result:

Iyloau lolwrb ou,nGe vwmdrn eeyea!

"Excellent!" said my uncle, taking the paper hastily out of my hands.
"This begins to look just like an ancient document: the vowels and
the consonants are grouped together in equal disorder; there are even
capitals in the middle of words, and commas too, just as in
Saknussemm's parchment."

I considered these remarks very clever.

"Now," said my uncle, looking straight at me, "to read the sentence
which you have just written, and with which I am wholly unacquainted,
I shall only have to take the first letter of each word, then the
second, the third, and so forth."

And my uncle, to his great astonishment, and my much greater, read:

"I love you well, my own dear Grauben!"

"Hallo!" cried the Professor.

Yes, indeed, without knowing what I was about, like an awkward and
unlucky lover, I had compromised myself by writing this unfortunate

"Aha! you are in love with Grauben?" he said, with the right look for
a guardian.

"Yes; no!" I stammered.

"You love Grauben," he went on once or twice dreamily. "Well, let us
apply the process I have suggested to the document in question."

My uncle, falling back into his absorbing contemplations, had already
forgotten my imprudent words. I merely say imprudent, for the great
mind of so learned a man of course had no place for love affairs, and
happily the grand business of the document gained me the victory.

Just as the moment of the supreme experiment arrived the Professor's
eyes flashed right through his spectacles. There was a quivering in
his fingers as he grasped the old parchment. He was deeply moved. At
last he gave a preliminary cough, and with profound gravity, naming
in succession the first, then the second letter of each word, he
dictated me the following:


I confess I felt considerably excited in coming to the end; these
letters named, one at a time, had carried no sense to my mind; I
therefore waited for the Professor with great pomp to unfold the
magnificent but hidden Latin of this mysterious phrase.

But who could have foretold the result? A violent thump made the
furniture rattle, and spilt some ink, and my pen dropped from between
my fingers.

"That's not it," cried my uncle, "there's no sense in it."

Then darting out like a shot, bowling down stairs like an avalanche,
he rushed into the Konigstrasse and fled.

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