A Journey to the Center of the Earth – Day 92 of 94

“We are in Asia,” I cried, “on the coasts of India, in the Malay Islands, or in Oceania. We have passed through half the globe, and come out nearly at the antipodes.”

“But the compass?” said my uncle.

“Ay, the compass!” I said, greatly puzzled. “According to the compass we have gone northward.”

“Has it lied?”

“Surely not. Could it lie?”

“Unless, indeed, this is the North Pole!”

“Oh, no, it is not the Pole; but –”

Well, here was something that baffled us completely. I could not tell what to say.

But now we were coming into that delightful greenery, and I was suffering greatly from hunger and thirst. Happily, after two hours’ walking, a charming country lay open before us, covered with olive trees, pomegranate trees, and delicious vines, all of which seemed to belong to anybody who pleased to claim them. Besides, in our state of destitution and famine we were not likely to be particular. Oh, the inexpressible pleasure of pressing those cool, sweet fruits to our lips, and eating grapes by mouthfuls off the rich, full bunches! Not far off, in the grass, under the delicious shade of the trees, I discovered a spring of fresh, cool water, in which we luxuriously bathed our faces, hands, and feet.

Whilst we were thus enjoying the sweets of repose a child appeared out of a grove of olive trees.

“Ah!” I cried, “here is an inhabitant of this happy land!”

It was but a poor boy, miserably ill-clad, a sufferer from poverty, and our aspect seemed to alarm him a great deal; in fact, only half clothed, with ragged hair and beards, we were a suspicious-looking party; and if the people of the country knew anything about thieves, we were very likely to frighten them.

Just as the poor little wretch was going to take to his heels, Hans caught hold of him, and brought him to us, kicking and struggling.

My uncle began to encourage him as well as he could, and said to him in good German:

Was heiszt diesen Berg, mein Knablein? Sage mir geschwind!

(“What is this mountain called, my little friend?”)

The child made no answer.

“Very well,” said my uncle. “I infer that we are not in Germany.”

He put the same question in English.

We got no forwarder. I was a good deal puzzled.

“Is the child dumb?” cried the Professor, who, proud of his knowledge of many languages, now tried French: “Comment appellet-on cette montagne, mon enfant?

Silence still.

“Now let us try Italian,” said my uncle; and he said:

Dove noi siamo?

“Yes, where are we?” I impatiently repeated.

But there was no answer still.

“Will you speak when you are told?” exclaimed my uncle, shaking the urchin by the ears. “Come si noma questa isola?

Stromboli,” replied the little herdboy, slipping out of Hans’ hands, and scudding into the plain across the olive trees.

We were hardly thinking of that. Stromboli! What an effect this unexpected name produced upon my mind! We were in the midst of the Mediterranean Sea, on an island of the Æolian archipelago, in the ancient Strongyle, where Æolus kept the winds and the storms chained up, to be let loose at his will. And those distant blue mountains in the east were the mountains of Calabria. And that threatening volcano far away in the south was the fierce Etna.

“Stromboli, Stromboli!” I repeated.

My uncle kept time to my exclamations with hands and feet, as well as with words. We seemed to be chanting in chorus!

What a journey we had accomplished! How marvellous! Having entered by one volcano, we had issued out of another more than two thousand miles from Snæfell and from that barren, far-away Iceland! The strange chances of our expedition had carried us into the heart of the fairest region in the world. We had exchanged the bleak regions of perpetual snow and of impenetrable barriers of ice for those of brightness and ‘the rich hues of all glorious things.’ We had left over our heads the murky sky and cold fogs of the frigid zone to revel under the azure sky of Italy!

After our delicious repast of fruits and cold, clear water we set off again to reach the port of Stromboli. It would not have been wise to tell how we came there. The superstitious Italians would have set us down for fire-devils vomited out of hell; so we presented ourselves in the humble guise of shipwrecked mariners. It was not so glorious, but it was safer.

On my way I could hear my uncle murmuring: “But the compass! that compass! It pointed due north. How are we to explain that fact?”

“My opinion is,” I replied disdainfully, “that it is best not to explain it. That is the easiest way to shelve the difficulty.”

“Indeed, sir! The occupant of a professorial chair at the Johannæum unable to explain the reason of a cosmical phenomenon! Why, it would be simply disgraceful!”

And as he spoke, my uncle, half undressed, in rags, a perfect scarecrow, with his leathern belt around him, settling his spectacles upon his nose and looking learned and imposing, was himself again, the terrible German professor of mineralogy.

One hour after we had left the grove of olives, we arrived at the little port of San Vicenzo, where Hans claimed his thirteen week’s wages, which was counted out to him with a hearty shaking of hands all round.

At that moment, if he did not share our natural emotion, at least his countenance expanded in a manner very unusual with him, and while with the ends of his fingers he lightly pressed our hands, I believe he smiled.

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