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Home -> Jules Verne -> A Journey to the Center of the Earth -> Chapter 5

A Journey to the Center of the Earth - Chapter 5

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



I had only just time to replace the unfortunate document upon the

Professor Liedenbrock seemed to be greatly abstracted.

The ruling thought gave him no rest. Evidently he had gone deeply
into the matter, analytically and with profound scrutiny. He had
brought all the resources of his mind to bear upon it during his
walk, and he had come back to apply some new combination.

He sat in his armchair, and pen in hand he began what looked very
much like algebraic formula: I followed with my eyes his trembling
hands, I took count of every movement. Might not some unhoped-for
result come of it? I trembled, too, very unnecessarily, since the
true key was in my hands, and no other would open the secret.

For three long hours my uncle worked on without a word, without
lifting his head; rubbing out, beginning again, then rubbing out
again, and so on a hundred times.

I knew very well that if he succeeded in setting down these letters
in every possible relative position, the sentence would come out. But
I knew also that twenty letters alone could form two quintillions,
four hundred and thirty-two quadrillions, nine hundred and two
trillions, eight billions, a hundred and seventy-six millions, six
hundred and forty thousand combinations. Now, here were a hundred and
thirty-two letters in this sentence, and these hundred and thirty-two
letters would give a number of different sentences, each made up of
at least a hundred and thirty-three figures, a number which passed
far beyond all calculation or conception.

So I felt reassured as far as regarded this heroic method of solving
the difficulty.

But time was passing away; night came on; the street noises ceased;
my uncle, bending over his task, noticed nothing, not even Martha
half opening the door; he heard not a sound, not even that excellent
woman saying:

"Will not monsieur take any supper to-night?"

And poor Martha had to go away unanswered. As for me, after long
resistance, I was overcome by sleep, and fell off at the end of the
sofa, while uncle Liedenbrock went on calculating and rubbing out his

When I awoke next morning that indefatigable worker was still at his
post. His red eyes, his pale complexion, his hair tangled between his
feverish fingers, the red spots on his cheeks, revealed his desperate
struggle with impossibilities, and the weariness of spirit, the
mental wrestlings he must have undergone all through that unhappy

To tell the plain truth, I pitied him. In spite of the reproaches
which I considered I had a right to lay upon him, a certain feeling
of compassion was beginning to gain upon me. The poor man was so
entirely taken up with his one idea that he had even forgotten how to
get angry. All the strength of his feelings was concentrated upon one
point alone; and as their usual vent was closed, it was to be feared
lest extreme tension should give rise to an explosion sooner or later.

I might with a word have loosened the screw of the steel vice that
was crushing his brain; but that word I would not speak.

Yet I was not an ill-natured fellow. Why was I dumb at such a crisis?
Why so insensible to my uncle's interests?

"No, no," I repeated, "I shall not speak. He would insist upon going;
nothing on earth could stop him. His imagination is a volcano, and to
do that which other geologists have never done he would risk his
life. I will preserve silence. I will keep the secret which mere
chance has revealed to me. To discover it, would be to kill Professor
Liedenbrock! Let him find it out himself if he can. I will never have
it laid to my door that I led him to his destruction."

Having formed this resolution, I folded my arms and waited. But I had
not reckoned upon one little incident which turned up a few hours

When our good Martha wanted to go to Market, she found the door
locked. The big key was gone. Who could have taken it out? Assuredly,
it was my uncle, when he returned the night before from his hurried

Was this done on purpose? Or was it a mistake? Did he want to reduce
us by famine? This seemed like going rather too far! What! should
Martha and I be victims of a position of things in which we had not
the smallest interest? It was a fact that a few years before this,
whilst my uncle was working at his great classification of minerals,
he was forty-eight hours without eating, and all his household were
obliged to share in this scientific fast. As for me, what I remember
is, that I got severe cramps in my stomach, which hardly suited the
constitution of a hungry, growing lad.

Now it appeared to me as if breakfast was going to be wanting, just
as supper had been the night before. Yet I resolved to be a hero, and
not to be conquered by the pangs of hunger. Martha took it very
seriously, and, poor woman, was very much distressed. As for me, the
impossibility of leaving the house distressed me a good deal more,
and for a very good reason. A caged lover's feelings may easily be

My uncle went on working, his imagination went off rambling into the
ideal world of combinations; he was far away from earth, and really
far away from earthly wants.

About noon hunger began to stimulate me severely. Martha had, without
thinking any harm, cleared out the larder the night before, so that
now there was nothing left in the house. Still I held out; I made it
a point of honour.

Two o'clock struck. This was becoming ridiculous; worse than that,
unbearable. I began to say to myself that I was exaggerating the
importance of the document; that my uncle would surely not believe in
it, that he would set it down as a mere puzzle; that if it came to
the worst, we should lay violent hands on him and keep him at home if
he thought on venturing on the expedition that, after all, he might
himself discover the key of the cipher, and that then I should be
clear at the mere expense of my involuntary abstinence.

These reasons seemed excellent to me, though on the night before I
should have rejected them with indignation; I even went so far as to
condemn myself for my absurdity in having waited so long, and I
finally resolved to let it all out.

I was therefore meditating a proper introduction to the matter, so as
not to seem too abrupt, when the Professor jumped up, clapped on his
hat, and prepared to go out.

Surely he was not going out, to shut us in again! no, never!

"Uncle!" I cried.

He seemed not to hear me.

"Uncle Liedenbrock!" I cried, lifting up my voice.

"Ay," he answered like a man suddenly waking.

"Uncle, that key!"

"What key? The door key?"

"No, no!" I cried. "The key of the document."

The Professor stared at me over his spectacles; no doubt he saw
something unusual in the expression of my countenance; for he laid
hold of my arm, and speechlessly questioned me with his eyes. Yes,
never was a question more forcibly put.

I nodded my head up and down.

He shook his pityingly, as if he was dealing with a lunatic. I gave a
more affirmative gesture.

His eyes glistened and sparkled with live fire, his hand was shaken

This mute conversation at such a momentous crisis would have riveted
the attention of the most indifferent. And the fact really was that I
dared not speak now, so intense was the excitement for fear lest my
uncle should smother me in his first joyful embraces. But he became
so urgent that I was at last compelled to answer.

"Yes, that key, chance--"

"What is that you are saying?" he shouted with indescribable emotion.

"There, read that!" I said, presenting a sheet of paper on which I
had written.

"But there is nothing in this," he answered, crumpling up the paper.

"No, nothing until you proceed to read from the end to the beginning."

I had not finished my sentence when the Professor broke out into a
cry, nay, a roar. A new revelation burst in upon him. He was

"Aha, clever Saknussemm!" he cried. "You had first written out your
sentence the wrong way."

And darting upon the paper, with eyes bedimmed, and voice choked with
emotion, he read the whole document from the last letter to the first.

It was conceived in the following terms:

In Sneffels Joculis craterem quem delibat
Umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende,
Audax viator, et terrestre centrum attinges.
Quod feci, Arne Saknussemm. [1]

Which bad Latin may be translated thus:

"Descend, bold traveller, into the crater of the jokul of Sneffels,
which the shadow of Scartaris touches before the kalends of July, and
you will attain the centre of the earth; which I have done, Arne

In reading this, my uncle gave a spring as if he had touched a Leyden
jar. His audacity, his joy, and his convictions were magnificent to
behold. He came and he went; he seized his head between both his
hands; he pushed the chairs out of their places, he piled up his
books; incredible as it may seem, he rattled his precious nodules of
flints together; he sent a kick here, a thump there. At last his
nerves calmed down, and like a man exhausted by too lavish an
expenditure of vital power, he sank back exhausted into his armchair.

"What o'clock is it?" he asked after a few moments of silence.

"Three o'clock," I replied.

"Is it really? The dinner-hour is past, and I did not know it. I am
half dead with hunger. Come on, and after dinner--"

[1] In the cipher, AUDAX is written AVDAS, and QUOD and QUEM,
HOD and KEN. (Tr.)


"After dinner, pack up my trunk."

"What?" I cried.

"And yours!" replied the indefatigable Professor, entering the

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