Hans rubbed your wounds with some ointment or other of which the Icelanders keep the secret, and they have healed marvellously. Our hunter is a splendid fellow!"
Whilst he went on talking, my uncle prepared a few provisions, which I devoured eagerly, notwithstanding his advice to the contrary. All the while I was overwhelming him with questions which he answered readily.
I then learnt that my providential fall had brought me exactly to the extremity of an almost perpendicular shaft; and as I had landed in the midst of an accompanying torrent of stones, the least of which would have been enough to crush me, the conclusion was that a loose portion of the rock had come down with me. This frightful conveyance had thus carried me into the arms of my uncle, where I fell bruised, bleeding, and insensible.
"Truly it is wonderful that you have not been killed a hundred times over. But, for the love of God, don't let us ever separate again, or we many never see each other more."
"Not separate! Is the journey not over, then?" I opened a pair of astonished eyes, which immediately called for the question:
"What is the matter, Axel?"
"I have a question to ask you. You say that I am safe and sound?"
"No doubt you are."
"And all my limbs unbroken?"
"And my head?"
"Your head, except for a few bruises, is all right; and it is on your shoulders, where it ought to be."
"Well, I am afraid my brain is affected."
"Your mind affected!"
"Yes, I fear so. Are we again on the surface of the globe?"
"No, certainly not."
"Then I must be mad; for don't I see the light of day, and don't I hear the wind blowing, and the sea breaking on the shore?"
"Ah! is that all?"
"Do tell me all about it."
"I can't explain the inexplicable, but you will soon see and understand that geology has not yet learnt all it has to learn."
"Then let us go," I answered quickly.
"No, Axel; the open air might be bad for you."
"Yes; the wind is rather strong. You must not expose yourself."
"But I assure you I am perfectly well."
"A little patience, my nephew. A relapse might get us into trouble, and we have no time to lose, for the voyage may be a long one."
"Yes, rest to-day, and to-morrow we will set sail."
"Set sail!" - and I almost leaped up.
What did it all mean? Had we a river, a lake, a sea to depend upon? Was there a ship at our disposal in some underground harbour?
My curiosity was highly excited, my uncle vainly tried to restrain me. When he saw that my impatience was doing me harm, he yielded.
I dressed in haste. For greater safety I wrapped myself in a blanket, and came out of the grotto.
A NEW MARE INTERNUM
At first I could hardly see anything. My eyes, unaccustomed to the light, quickly closed. When I was able to reopen them, I stood more stupefied even than surprised.
"The sea!" I cried.
"Yes," my uncle replied, "the Liedenbrock Sea; and I don't suppose any other discoverer will ever dispute my claim to name it after myself as its first discoverer."
A vast sheet of water, the commencement of a lake or an ocean, spread far away beyond the range of the eye, reminding me forcibly of that open sea which drew from Xenophon's ten thousand Greeks, after their long retreat, the simultaneous cry, "Thalatta! thalatta!" the sea! the sea! The deeply indented shore was lined with a breadth of fine shining sand, softly lapped by the waves, and strewn with the small shells which had been inhabited by the first of created beings. The waves broke on this shore with the hollow echoing murmur peculiar to vast inclosed spaces. A light foam flew over the waves before the breath of a moderate breeze, and some of the spray fell upon my face. On this slightly inclining shore, about a hundred fathoms from the limit of the waves, came down the foot of a huge wall of vast cliffs, which rose majestically to an enormous height. Some of these, dividing the beach with their sharp spurs, formed capes and promontories, worn away by the ceaseless action of the surf.