Page:Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 02.djvu/10

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
105
A TRIP TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH

he may make the discovery, in which case, we are both lost. Perish the fearful secret—let the flames forever bury it in oblivion.

I snatched up book and parchment, and was about to cast them into the fire, when the door opened and my uncle entered. I had scarcely time to put down the wretched documents before my uncle was by my side. He was profoundly absorbed. His thoughts were evidently bent on the terrible parchment. Some new combination had probably struck him while taking his walk. He seated himself in his arm-chair, and with a pen began to make an algebraical calculation. I watched him with anxious eyes. My flesh crawled as his discovery of the secret became probable. I having discovered the only clue, I knew his combinations were useless. For three mortal hours he continued without speaking a word, without, raising his head, scratching, re-writing, calculating over and over again. I knew that in time he must hit upon the right phrase. The letters of every alphabet have only a certain number of combinations. But then years might elapse before he would arrive at the correct solution.

Still time went on; night came, the sounds in the streets ceased—and still my uncle went on, not even answering our worthy cook when she called us to supper. I did not dare to leave him, so waved her away, and at last fell asleep on the sofa.

When I awoke, my uncle was still at work. His red eyes, his pallid countenance, his matted hair, his feverish hands, his hecticly flushed cheeks, showed how terrible had been his struggle with the impossible, and what fearful fatigue he had undergone during that long sleepless night. It made me quite ill to look at him. Though he was rather severe with me, I loved him, and my heart ached at his sufferings. He was so overcome by one idea that he could not even get into a passion! All his energies were focussed on one point. And I knew that by speaking one little word all this suffering would cease. I could not speak it.

My heart was, nevertheless, inclining towards him. Why, then, did I remain silent? In the interest of my uncle himself. "Nothing shall make me speak," I muttered. "He will want to follow in the footsteps of the other! I know him well. His imagination is a perfect volcano, and to make discoveries in the interests of geology he would sacrifice his life. I will therefore be silent and strictly keep the secret I have discovered. To reveal it would be suicidal. He would not only himself rush to destruction, but drag me with him." I crossed my arms, looked another way and smoked—resolved never to speak.

When our cook wanted to go out to market, or on any other errand, she found the front door locked and the key taken away. Was this done purposely or not? Surely Professor Hardwigg did not intend the old woman and myself to become martyrs to his obstinate will. Were we to be starved to death? A frightful recollection came to my mind. Once we had fed on bits and scraps for a week while he sorted some curiosities. It gave me the cramp even to think of it!

I wanted my breakfast, and I saw no way of getting it. Still my resolution held good. I would starve rather than yield. But the cook began to take me seriously to task. What was to be done? She could not go out; and I dared not.

My uncle continued counting and writing; his imagination seemed to have transported him to the skies. He thought neither of eating nor drinking. In this way twelve o'clock came around. I was hungry, and there was nothing in the house. The cook had eaten the last bit of bread. This could not go on. At two o'clock my sensations were terrible. After all I began to think the document is very absurd. Perhaps it is only a gigantic hoax. Besides, some means could surely be found to keep my uncle back from attempting any such absurd expedition. On the other hand, if he should attempt anything so quixotic, I could not be compelled to accompany him. Another line of reasoning partially decided me. Very likely he would make the discovery himself when I should have suffered starvation for nothing. Under the influence of hunger this reasoning appeared admirable. I determined to tell all.

The question now arose as to how it was to be done. I was still dwelling on the thought when be rose and put on his hat. What! go out and lock us in? Never!

"Uncle," I began.

He did not appear even to hear me.

"Professor Hardwigg," I cried.

"What," he retorted, "did you speak?"

"How about the key?"

"What key—the key of the door?"

"No—of these horrible hieroglyphics."

He looked at me from under his spectacles, and started at the odd expression of my face. Rushing forward, he clutched me by the arm and keenly examined my countenance. His very look was an interrogation. I simply nodded.

With an incredulous shrug of the shoulders, he turned upon his heel. Undoubtedly he thought I had gone mad.

"I have made a very important discovery."

His eyes flashed with excitement. His hand was lifted in a menacing attitude. For a moment neither of us spoke. It is hard to say which was most excited.

"You don't mean to say that you have any idea of the meaning of the scrawl?"

"I do," was my desperate reply. "Look at the sentence as dictated by you."

"Well, but it means nothing," was the angry answer.

"Nothing if you read from left to right, but mark, if from right to left——"

"Backwards!" cried my uncle, in wild amazement. "Oh most cunning Saknussem; and I to be such a blockhead." He snatched up the document, gazed at it with haggard eye, and read it out as I had done. It read as follows:—

In Sneffels Ioculis craterem kem delebat
Umbra Scartaris Julii intra calendas descende.
Audas viator, et terrestre centrum attinges.
Kod feci. Arne Saknussem.

Which dog-Latin being translated, read as follows: "Descend into the crater of Yokul of Sneffels, which the shade of Scartaris covers, before the kalends of July, audacious traveler, and you will reach the center of the earth. I did it.

"Arne Saknussem."

My uncle leaped three feet from the ground with joy. He looked radiant and handsome. He rushed about the room wild with delight and satisfaction. He knocked over tables and chairs. He threw his