books about until at last utterly exhausted, he fell into his arm-chair. "What's o'clock?" he asked.
"My dinner does not seem to have done me much good," he observed, "Let me have something to eat. We can then start at once. Get my portmanteau ready."
"And your own," he continued. "We start at once."
My horror may be conceived. I resolved however to show no fear. Scientific reasons were the only ones likely to influence my uncle. And there were many against this terrible journey. The very idea of going down to the center of the earth was simply absurd. I determined therefore to argue the point after dinner.
My uncle's rage was now directed against the cook for having no dinner ready. My explanation, however, satisfied him, and giving her the key she soon managed to get sufficient to satisfy our voracious appetites.
During the repast my uncle was rather gay than otherwise. He made some of those peculiar jokes which belong exclusively to the learned. As soon, however, as dessert was over, he called me to his study. We each took a chair on opposite sides of the table.
"Henry," he said, in a soft and winning voice; "I have always believed you ingenious, and you have rendered me a service never to be forgotten. Without you, this great, this wondrous discovery would never have been made. It is my duty, therefore, to insist on your sharing the glory."
"He is in a good humor," thought I; "I'll soon let him know my opinion of glory."
"In the first place," he continued, "you must keep the whole affair a profound secret. There is no more envious race of men than scientific discoverers. Many would start on the same journey. At all events, we will be the first in the field."
"I doubt your having many competitors," was my reply.
"A man of real scientific acquirements would be delighted at the chance. We should find a perfect stream of pilgrims on the traces of Arne Saknussem, if this document were once made public."
"But my dear sir, is not this paper very likely to be a hoax?" I urged.
"The book in which we find it is sufficient proof of its authenticity," he replied.
"I thoroughly allow that the celebrated Professor wrote the line, but only, I believe, as a kind of mystification," was my answer.
Scarcely were the words out of my mouth, when I was sorry I had uttered them. My uncle looked at me with a dark and gloomy scowl, and I began to be alarmed for the results of our conversation. His mood soon changed, however, and a smile took the place of a frown. "We shall see," he remarked, with a decisive emphasis.
"But see, what is all this about yokul, and Sneffels, and this Scartaris? I have never heard anything about them."
"The very point to which I am coming. I lately received from my friend, Augustus Peterman, of Leipzig, a map. Take down the third atlas from the second shelf, series Z, plate 4."
I rose, went to the shelf, and presently returned with the volume indicated.
"This," said my uncle, "is one of the best maps of Iceland, I believe it will settle all your doubts, difficulties and objections."
With a grim hope to the contrary, I stooped over the map.
WE START ON THE JOURNEY
"YOU see, the whole island is made up of volcanoes," said the Professor, "and note that they all bear the name of yokul. The word is Icelandic, and means glacier. In most of the lofty mountains of that region the volcanic eruptions come forth from ice-bound caverns. Hence the name applied to every volcano on this extraordinary island."
"But what does this word Sneffels mean?"
To this question I expected no rational answer. I was mistaken. "Follow my finger to the western coast of Iceland, there you see Reykjawik, its capital. Follow the direction of one of its innumerable fjords or arms of the sea, and what do you see below the sixty-fifth degree of latitude?"
"A peninsula—very like a thigh-bone in shape"
"And in the center of it——?"
"Well, that's Sneffels."
I had nothing to say.
"That is Sneffels—a mountain about five thousand feet in height, one of the most remarkable in the whole island, and certainly doomed to be the most celebrated in the world, for through its crater we shall reach the Center of the Earth."
"Impossible!" cried I, startled and shocked at the thought.
"Why impossible?" said Professor Hardwigg in his severest tones.
"Because its crater is choked with lava, by burning rocks—by infinite dangers."
"But if it be extinct?"
"That would make a difference."
"Of course it would. There are about three hundred volcanoes on the whole surface of the globe—but the greater number are extinct. Of these Sneffels is one. No eruption has occurred since 1219—in fact it has ceased to be a volcano at all."
After this what more could I say? Yes—I thought of another objection. "But what is all this about Scartaris and the kalends of July——?"
My uncle reflected deeply. Presently he gave forth the result of his reflections in a sententious tone. "What appears obscure to you, to me is light. This very phrase shows how particular Saknussem is in his directions. The Sneffels mountain has many craters. He is careful therefore to point out the exact one which is the highway into the Interior of the Earth. He lets us know, for this purpose, that about the end of the month of June, the shadow of Mount Scartaris falls upon the one crater. There can be no doubt about the matter."
My uncle had an answer for everything. "I accept all your explanations," I said, "and Saknussem is right. He found out the entrance to the bowels of the earth, he has indicated correctly, but that he or anyone else ever followed up the discovery, is madness to suppose."
"Why so, young man?"