What did it matter to him? My uncle looked round with dumb surprise.
"Well, whatever mountain this may be," he said at last, "it is very hot here. The explosions are going on still, and I don't think it would look well to have come out by an eruption, and then to get our heads broken by bits of falling rock. Let us get down. Then we shall know better what we are about. Besides, I am starving, and parching with thirst."
Decidedly the Professor was not given to contemplation. For my part, I could for another hour or two have forgotten my hunger and my fatigue to enjoy the lovely scene before me; but I had to follow my companions.
The slope of the volcano was in many places of great steepness. We slid down screes of ashes, carefully avoiding the lava streams which glided sluggishly by us like fiery serpents. As we went I chattered and asked all sorts of questions as to our whereabouts, for L was too much excited not to talk a great deal.
"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?_"
"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 Ĉolian archipelago, in the ancient Strongyle, where Ĉolus kept the winds and the storms chained up, to be let loose at his will.