"All scientific teaching, theoretical and practical, shows it to be impossible."
"I care nothing for theories," retorted my uncle.
"But is it not well-known that heat increases one degree for every seventy feet you descend into the earth? which gives a fine idea of the central heat. All the matters which compose the globe are in a state of incandescence; even gold, platinum, and the hardest rocks are in a state of fusion. What would become of us?"
"Don't be alarmed at the heat, my boy."
"Neither you nor anybody else knows anything about the real state of the earth's interior. All modern experiments tend to explode the older theories. Were any such heat to exist, the upper crust of the earth would be shattered to atoms, and the world would be at an end."
A long, learned and not uninteresting discussion followed, which ended in this: "I do not believe in. the dangers and difficulties which you, Harry, seem to multiply; and the only way to learn, is like Arne Saknussem, to go and see."
"Well," cried I, overcome at last, "let us go and see. Though how we can do that in the dark is another mystery."
"Fear nothing. We shall overcome these, and many other difficulties. Besides, as we approach the Center, I expect to find it luminous——"
"Nothing is impossible."
"And now that we have come to a thorough understanding, not a word to any living soul. Our success depends on secrecy and despatch."
Thus ended our memorable conference, which roused a perfect fever in me. Leaving my uncle, I went forth like one possessed. Reaching the banks of the Elbe, I began to think. Was all I had heard really and truly possible? Was my uncle in his sober senses, and could the interior of the earth be reached? Was I the victim of a madman, or was he a discoverer of rare courage and grandeur of conception? To a certain extent I was anxious to be off. I was afraid my enthusiasm would cool. I determined to pack up at once. At the end of an hour, however, on my way home, I found that my feelings had very much changed. "I'm all abroad," I cried; "it's a nightmare—I must have dreamt it."
At this moment I came face to face with Gretchen, whom I warmly embraced. "So you have come to meet me," she said; "how good of you, But what is wrong with you?"
Well, it was no use mincing the matter. I told her all. She listened with awe, and for some minutes she could not speak. "Well?" I at last asked, rather anxiously.
"What a magnificent journey. If I were only a man! A journey worthy of the nephew of Professor Hardwigg. I should look upon it as an honor to accompany him."
"My dear Gretchen, I thought you would be the first to cry out against this mad enterprise."
"No; on the contrary, I glory in it. It is magnificent, splendid—an idea worthy of my father. Harry Lawson, I envy you."
This was, as it were, conclusive. The final blow of all.
When we entered the house we found my uncle surrounded by workmen and porters, who were packing up. He was pulling and hauling at a bell. "Where have you been wasting your time? Your portmanteau is not packed—my papers are not in order—the precious tailor has not brought my clothes, nor my gaiters—the key of my carpet bag is gone!"
I looked at him stupefied. And still he tugged away at the bell. "We are really off, then?" I said.
"Yes—of course, and yet you go out for a stroll, unfortunate boy!"
"And when do we go?"
"The day after to-morrow, at daybreak."
I heard no more; but darted off to my little bedchamber and locked myself in. There was no doubt about it now. My uncle had been hard at work all the afternoon. The garden was full of ropes, rope-ladders, torches, iron clamps, crow-bars, alpenstocks, and pickaxes—enough to load ten men.
I passed a terrible night. I was called early the next day to learn that the resolution of my uncle was unchanged and irrevocable. I also found my cousin and affianced wife as warm on the subject as was her father.
Next day, at five o'clock in the morning, the post-chaise was at the door. Gretchen and the old cook received the keys of the house; and, scarcely pausing to wish anyone good-bye, we started on our adventurous journey into the center of the Earth.
FIRST LESSONS IN CLIMBING
AT Altona, a suburb of Hamburg, is the Chief Station of the Kiel railway, which was to take us to the shores of the Belt; and exactly at 7 o'clock we were seated opposite each other in a first-class railway carriage. My uncle said nothing. He was too busy examining his papers, among which of course was the famous parchment, and some letters of introduction from the Danish consul, which were to pave the way to an introduction to the Governor of Iceland. In three hours we reached Kiel, and our baggage was at once transferred to the steamer.
We had now a day before us, a delay of about ten hours, which fact put my uncle in a towering passion. We had nothing to do but to walk about the pretty town and bay. At last, however, we went on board, and at half past ten were steaming down the Great Belt. The next morning we reached Copenhagen, where, scarcely taking time for refreshment, my uncle hurried out to present one of his letters of introduction. It was to the director of the Museum of Antiquities, who having been informed that we were tourists bound for Iceland, did all he could to assist us. One wretched hope sustained me now. Perhaps no vessel was bound for such distant parts.
Alas! a little Danish schooner, the Valkyrie, was to sail on the second of June for Reykjawik. The captain, M. Bjarne, was on board, and was rather surprised at the energy and cordiality with which his future passenger shook him by the hand. To him a voyage to Iceland was merely a matter of course. My uncle, on the other hand, considered the event of sublime importance. The honest sailor took advantage of the Professor's enthusiasm to double the fare.
"On Tuesday morning at seven o'clock be on