I admit that Saknussemm may have written these lines. But does it follow that he has really accomplished such a journey? And may it not be that this old parchment is intended to mislead?"
I almost regretted having uttered this last word, which dropped from me in an unguarded moment. The Professor bent his shaggy brows, and I feared I had seriously compromised my own safety. Happily no great harm came of it. A smile flitted across the lip of my severe companion, and he answered:
"That is what we shall see."
"Ah!" said I, rather put out. "But do let me exhaust all the possible objections against this document."
"Speak, my boy, don't be afraid. You are quite at liberty to express your opinions. You are no longer my nephew only, but my colleague. Pray go on."
"Well, in the first place, I wish to ask what are this Jokul, this Sneffels, and this Scartaris, names which I have never heard before?"
"Nothing easier. I received not long ago a map from my friend, Augustus Petermann, at Liepzig. Nothing could be more apropos. Take down the third atlas in the second shelf in the large bookcase, series Z, plate 4."
I rose, and with the help of such precise instructions could not fail to find the required atlas. My uncle opened it and said:
"Here is one of the best maps of Iceland, that of Handersen, and I believe this will solve the worst of our difficulties."
I bent over the map.
"You see this volcanic island," said the Professor; "observe that all the volcanoes are called jokuls, a word which means glacier in Icelandic, and under the high latitude of Iceland nearly all the active volcanoes discharge through beds of ice. Hence this term of jokul is applied to all the eruptive mountains in Iceland."
"Very good," said I; "but what of Sneffels?"
I was hoping that this question would be unanswerable; but I was mistaken. My uncle replied:
"Follow my finger along the west coast of Iceland. Do you see Rejkiavik, the capital? You do. Well; ascend the innumerable fiords that indent those sea-beaten shores, and stop at the sixty-fifth degree of latitude. What do you see there?"
"I see a peninsula looking like a thigh bone with the knee bone at the end of it."
"A very fair comparison, my lad. Now do you see anything upon that knee bone?"
"Yes; a mountain rising out of the sea."
"Right. That is Snæfell."
"It is. It is a mountain five thousand feet high, one of the most remarkable in the world, if its crater leads down to the centre of the earth."
"But that is impossible," I said shrugging my shoulders, and disgusted at such a ridiculous supposition.
"Impossible?" said the Professor severely; "and why, pray?"
"Because this crater is evidently filled with lava and burning rocks, and therefore -"
"But suppose it is an extinct volcano?"
"Yes; the number of active volcanoes on the surface of the globe is at the present time only about three hundred. But there is a very much larger number of extinct ones. Now, Snæfell is one of these. Since historic times there has been but one eruption of this mountain, that of 1219; from that time it has quieted down more and. more, and now it is no longer reckoned among active volcanoes."
To such positive statements I could make no reply. I therefore took refuge in other dark passages of the document.
"What is the meaning of this word Scartaris, and what have the kalends of July to do with it?"
My uncle took a few minutes to consider. For one short moment I felt a ray of hope, speedily to be extinguished. For he soon answered thus:
"What is darkness to you is light to me. This proves the ingenious care with which Saknussemm guarded and defined his discovery. Sneffels, or Snæfell, has several craters. It was therefore necessary to point out which of these leads to the centre of the globe. What did the Icelandic sage do? He observed that at the approach of the kalends of July, that is to say in the last days of June, one of the peaks, called Scartaris, flung its shadow down the mouth of that particular crater, and he committed that fact to his document.