His countenance exhibits no surprise, but his eye is immovably steady.
"He sees something," says my uncle.
"I believe he does."
Hans comes down, then stretches his arm to the south, saying:
"Down there?" repeated my uncle.
Then, seizing his glass, he gazes attentively for a minute, which seems to me an age.
"Yes, yes!" he cried. "I see a vast inverted cone rising from the surface."
"Is it another sea beast?"
"Perhaps it is."
"Then let us steer farther westward, for we know something of the danger of coming across monsters of that sort."
"Let us go straight on," replied my uncle.
I appealed to Hans. He maintained his course inflexibly.
Yet, if at our present distance from the animal, a distance of twelve leagues at the least, the column of water driven through its blowers may be distinctly seen, it must needs be of vast size. The commonest prudence would counsel immediate flight; but we did not come so far to be prudent.
Imprudently, therefore, we pursue our way. The nearer we approach, the higher mounts the jet of water. What monster can possibly fill itself with such a quantity of water, and spurt it up so continuously?
At eight in the evening we are not two leagues distant from it. Its body -dusky, enormous, hillocky - lies spread upon the sea like an islet. Is it illusion or fear? Its length seems to me a couple of thousand yards. What can be this cetacean, which neither Cuvier nor Blumenbach knew anything about? It lies motionless, as if asleep; the sea seems unable to move it in the least; it is the waves that undulate upon its sides. The column of water thrown up to a height of five hundred feet falls in rain with a deafening uproar. And here are we scudding like lunatics before the wind, to get near to a monster that a hundred whales a day would not satisfy!
Terror seizes upon me. I refuse to go further. I will cut the halliards if necessary! I am in open mutiny against the Professor, who vouchsafes no answer.
Suddenly Hans rises, and pointing with his finger at the menacing object, he says:
"An island!" cries my uncle.
"That's not an island!" I cried sceptically.
"It's nothing else," shouted the Professor, with a loud laugh.
"But that column of water?"
"_Geyser,_" said Hans.
"No doubt it is a geyser, like those in Iceland."
At first I protest against being so widely mistaken as to have taken an island for a marine monster. But the evidence is against me, and I have to confess my error. It is nothing worse than a natural phenomenon.
As we approach nearer the dimensions of the liquid column become magnificent. The islet resembles, with a most deceiving likeness, an enormous cetacean, whose head dominates the waves at a height of twenty yards. The geyser, a word meaning 'fury,' rises majestically from its extremity. Deep and heavy explosions are heard from time to time, when the enormous jet, possessed with more furious violence, shakes its plumy crest, and springs with a bound till it reaches the lowest stratum of the clouds. It stands alone. No steam vents, no hot springs surround it, and all the volcanic power of the region is concentrated here. Sparks of electric fire mingle with the dazzling sheaf of lighted fluid, every drop of which refracts the prismatic colours.
"Let us land," said the Professor.
"But we must carefully avoid this waterspout, which would sink our raft in a moment."
Hans, steering with his usual skill, brought us to the other extremity of the islet.
I leaped up on the rock; my uncle lightly followed, while our hunter remained at his post, like a man too wise ever to be astonished.
We walked upon granite mingled with siliceous tufa. The soil shivers and shakes under our feet, like the sides of an overheated boiler filled with steam struggling to get loose. We come in sight of a small central basin, out of which the geyser springs. I plunge a register thermometer into the boiling water. It marks an intense heat of 325°, which is far above the boiling point; therefore this water issues from an ardent furnace, which is not at all in harmony with Professor Liedenbrock's theories.