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A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH - 7

A JOURNEY TO THE CENTRE OF THE EARTH

By Jules Verne

CHAPTER 7

Conversation and Discovery

When I returned, dinner was ready. This meal was devoured by my worthy

relative with avidity and voracity. His shipboard diet had turned his

interior into a perfect gulf. The repast, which was more Danish than

Icelandic, was in itself nothing, but the excessive hospitality of our

host made us enjoy it doubly.

The conversation turned upon scientific matters, and M. Fridriksson

asked my uncle what he thought of the public library.

"Library, sir?" cried my uncle; "it appears to me a collection of

useless odd volumes, and a beggarly amount of empty shelves."

"What!" cried M. Fridriksson; "why, we have eight thousand volumes of

most rare and valuable works--some in the Scandinavian language, besides

all the new publications from Copenhagen."

"Eight thousand volumes, my dear sir--why, where are they?" cried my

uncle.

"Scattered over the country, Professor Hardwigg. We are very studious,

my dear sir, though we do live in Iceland. Every farmer, every laborer,

every fisherman can both read and write--and we think that books instead

of being locked up in cupboards, far from the sight of students, should

be distributed as widely as possible. The books of our library are

therefore passed from hand to hand without returning to the library

shelves perhaps for years."

"Then when foreigners visit you, there is nothing for them to see?"

"Well, sir, foreigners have their own libraries, and our first

consideration is, that our humbler classes should be highly educated.

Fortunately, the love of study is innate in the Icelandic people. In

1816 we founded a Literary Society and Mechanics' Institute; many

foreign scholars of eminence are honorary members; we publish books

destined to educate our people, and these books have rendered valuable

services to our country. Allow me to have the honor, Professor Hardwigg,

to enroll you as an honorary member?"

My uncle, who already belonged to nearly every literary and scientific

institution in Europe, immediately yielded to the amiable wishes of good

M. Fridriksson.

"And now," he said, after many expressions of gratitude and good will,

"if you will tell me what books you expected to find, perhaps I may be

of some assistance to you."

I watched my uncle keenly. For a minute or two he hesitated, as if

unwilling to speak; to speak openly was, perhaps, to unveil his

projects. Nevertheless, after some reflection, he made up his mind.

"Well, M. Fridriksson," he said in an easy, unconcerned kind of way, "I

was desirous of ascertaining, if among other valuable works, you had any

of the learned Arne Saknussemm."

"Arne Saknussemm!" cried the Professor of Reykjavik; "you speak of one

of the most distinguished scholars of the sixteenth century, of the

great naturalist, the great alchemist, the great traveler."

"Exactly so."

"One of the most distinguished men connected with Icelandic science and

literature."

"As you say, sir--"

"A man illustrious above all."

"Yes, sir, all this is true, but his works?"

"We have none of them."

"Not in Iceland?"

"There are none in Iceland or elsewhere," answered the other, sadly.

"Why so?"

"Because Arne Saknussemm was persecuted for heresy, and in 1573 his

works were publicly burnt at Copenhagen, by the hands of the common

hangman."

"Very good! capital!" murmured my uncle, to the great astonishment of

the worthy Icelander.

"You said, sir--"

"Yes, yes, all is clear, I see the link in the chain; everything is

explained, and I now understand why Arne Saknussemm, put out of court,

forced to hide his magnificent discoveries, was compelled to conceal

beneath the veil of an incomprehensible cryptograph, the secret--"

"What secret?"

"A secret--which," stammered my uncle.

"Have you discovered some wonderful manuscript?" cried M. Fridriksson.

"No! no, I was carried away by my enthusiasm. A mere supposition."

"Very good, sir. But, really, to turn to another subject, I hope you

will not leave our island without examining into its mineralogical

riches."

"Well, the fact is, I am rather late. So many learned men have been here

before me."

"Yes, yes, but there is still much to be done," cried M. Fridriksson.

"You think so," said my uncle, his eyes twinkling with hidden

satisfaction.

"Yes, you have no idea how many unknown mountains, glaciers, volcanoes

there are which remain to be studied. Without moving from where we sit,

I can show you one. Yonder on the edge of the horizon, you see

Sneffels."

"Oh yes, Sneffels," said my uncle.

"One of the most curious volcanoes in existence, the crater of which has

been rarely visited."

"Extinct?"

"Extinct, any time these five hundred years," was the ready reply.

"Well," said my uncle, who dug his nails into his flesh, and pressed his

knees tightly together to prevent himself leaping up with joy. "I have a

great mind to begin my studies with an examination of the geological

mysteries of this Mount Seffel--Feisel--what do you call it?"

"Sneffels, my dear sir."

This portion of the conversation took place in Latin, and I therefore

understood all that had been said. I could scarcely keep my countenance

when I found my uncle so cunningly concealing his delight and

satisfaction. I must confess that his artful grimaces, put on to conceal

his happiness, made him look like a new Mephistopheles.

"Yes, yes," he continued, "your proposition delights me. I will endeavor

to climb to the summit of Sneffels, and, if possible, will descend into

its crater."

"I very much regret," continued M. Fridriksson, "that my occupation will

entirely preclude the possibility of my accompanying you. It would have

been both pleasurable and profitable if I could have spared the time."

"No, no, a thousand times no," cried my uncle. "I do not wish to disturb

the serenity of any man. I thank you, however, with all my heart. The

presence of one so learned as yourself, would no doubt have been most

useful, but the duties of your office and profession before everything."

In the innocence of his simple heart, our host did not perceive the

irony of these remarks.

"I entirely approve your project," continued the Icelander after some

further remarks. "It is a good idea to begin by examining this volcano.

You will make a harvest of curious observations. In the first place, how

do you propose to get to Sneffels?"

"By sea. I shall cross the bay. Of course that is the most rapid route."

"Of course. But still it cannot be done."

"Why?"

"We have not an available boat in all Reykjavik," replied the other.

"What is to be done?"

"You must go by land along the coast. It is longer, but much more

interesting."

"Then I must have a guide."

"Of course; and I have your very man."

"Somebody on whom I can depend."

"Yes, an inhabitant of the peninsula on which Sneffels is situated. He

is a very shrewd and worthy man, with whom you will be pleased. He

speaks Danish like a Dane."

"When can I see him--today?"

"No, tomorrow; he will not be here before."

"Tomorrow be it," replied my uncle, with a deep sigh.

The conversation ended by compliments on both sides. During the dinner

my uncle had learned much as to the history of Arne Saknussemm, the

reasons for his mysterious and hieroglyphical document. He also became

aware that his host would not accompany him on his adventurous

expedition, and that next day we should have a guide.

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