Page:Amazing Stories Volume 01 Number 02.djvu/21

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116
AMAZING STORIES

in his hand, and a leathern apron tied around his waist.

"Be happy," said the eider-down hunter, using his national salutation in his own language.

"Good-dag—good-day!" replied the former, in excellent Danish.

"Kyrkoherde," cried Hans, turning round and introducing him to my uncle.

"The Rector," repeated the worthy Professor; "it appears, my dear Harry, that this worthy man is the Rector, and is not above doing his own work."

During the speaking of these few words the guide intimated to the Kyrkokerde what was the true state of the case. The good man, ceasing from his occupation, gave a kind of halloo, upon which a tall woman, almost a giantess, came out of the hut. She was at least six feet high, which in that region is very unusual. My first impression was one of horror. I thought she had come to give us the Icelandic kiss. However, I had nothing to fear, for she did not even show much inclination to receive us into her house.

The room devoted to strangers appeared to me to be by far the worst in the presbytery; it was narrow, dirty and offensive. But there was no choice about the matter. The Rector had no notion of practicing the usual cordial and antique hospitality. My uncle soon became aware of the kind of man he had to deal with. Instead of a worthy and learned scholar, he found a dull, ill-mannered peasant. He therefore resolved to start on his great expedition as soon as possible and spend a few days in the mountains, if necessary.

The preparations for our departure were made the very next day after our arrival at Stapi; Hans now hired three Icelanders to take the place of the horses—which could no longer carry our luggage. However, when these worthy Icelanders had reached the bottom of the crater, they were to go back and leave us to ourselves. This point was settled before they would agree to start. On this occasion, my uncle partially confided in Hans, the eider-duck hunter, and gave him to understand that it was his intention to continue his exploration of the volcano to the last possible limits.

Hans listened calmly, and then nodded his head. To go there, or elsewhere, to bury himself in the bowels of the earth, or to travel over its summit, was all the same to him! As for me, amused and occupied by the incidents of travel, I had begun to forget the inevitable future; but now I was once more brought to realize the actual state of affairs. What was to be done? Run away? But if I really had intended to leave Professor Hardwigg to his fate, it should have been at Hamburg and not at the foot of Sneffels.

One idea above all others began to trouble me: a very terrible idea, and one calculated to shake the nerves of a man far less sensitive than myself. "Let us consider the matter," I said to myself; "we are going to ascend the Sneffels mountain. Well and good. We are about to pay a visit to the very bottom of the crater. Still good. Others have done it and did not perish from that course.

"But that is not the whole matter to be considered. If a road does really present itself by which to descend into the dark and subterraneous bowels of Mother Earth, if this thrice unhappy Saknussem really did tell the truth, we shall most certainly be lost in the midst of the labyrinth of subterranean galleries of the volcano. Now, we have no evidence to prove that Sneffels is really extinct. What proof have we that an eruption is not shortly about to take place? Because the monster has slept soundly since A. D. 1229, does it follow that he is never to wake? If he does wake what is to become of us?"

These were questions worth thinking about, and upon them I reflected long and deeply. I could not lie down in search of sleep without dreaming of eruptions. The more I thought, the more I objected to be reduced to the state of dross and ashes. I could stand it no longer so I determined at last to submit the whole case to my uncle, in the most adroit manner possible, and under the form of some totally irreconcilable hypothesis.

I sought him. I laid before him my fears, and then drew back in order to let him get over his passion at his ease.

"I have been thinking about the matter," he said, in the quietest tone in the world.

What did he mean? Was he at last about to listen to the voice of reason? Did he think of suspending his projects? It was almost too much happiness to be true. I made no remark. I was too anxious not to interrupt him, and so allow him to reflect at his leisure. After some moments he spoke.

"I have been thinking about the matter," he resumed. "Ever since we were at Stapi, my mind has been almost solely occupied with the grave question which you, yourself just submitted to me—for nothing would be unwiser and more inconsistent than to act with imprudence."

"I heartily agree with you, my dear uncle," was my somewhat hopeful rejoinder.

"It is now six hundred years since Sneffels has spoken, but though now reduced to a state of utter silence, he may speak again. New volcanic eruptions are always preceded by perfectly well-known phenomena. I have closely examined the inhabitants of this region; I have carefully studied the soil, and I beg to tell you emphatically, my dear Harry, there will be no eruption at present."

As I listened to his positive affirmations, I was stupefied and could say nothing.

"I see you doubt my word," said my uncle; "follow me."

I obeyed mechanically. Leaving the presbytery, the Professor took a road through an opening in the basaltic rock, which led far away from the sea. We were soon in open country, if we could give such a name to a place all covered with volcanic deposits. The whole land seemed crushed under the weight of enormous stones—of trap, of basalt, of granite, of lava, and of all other volcanic substances.

I could see many spouts of steam rising in the air. These white vapors, called in the Icelandic language "reykir," come from hot water fountains, and indicate by their violence the volcanic activity of the soil. The sight of these appeared to justify my apprehension and I was, therefore, all the more surprised and mortified when my uncle thus addressed me. "You see all this smoke, Harry, my boy?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well, as long as you can see them thus, you have nothing to fear from the volcano."

"How can that be?"