THE GREAT GEYSER
Wednesday, August 19.—Fortunately the wind blows violently, and has enabled us to flee from the scene of the late terrible struggle. Hans keeps at his post at the helm. My uncle, whom the absorbing incidents of the combat had drawn away from his contemplations, began again to look impatiently around him.
The voyage resumes its uniform tenor, which I don’t care to break with a repetition of such events as yesterday’s.
Thursday, Aug. 20.—Wind N.N.E., unsteady and fitful. Temperature high. Rate three and a half leagues an hour.
About noon a distant noise is heard. I note the fact without being able to explain it. It is a continuous roar.
“In the distance,” says the Professor, “there is a rock or islet, against which the sea is breaking.”
Hans climbs up the mast, but sees no breakers. The ocean’ is smooth and unbroken to its farthest limit.
Three hours pass away. The roarings seem to proceed from a very distant waterfall.
I remark upon this to my uncle, who replies doubtfully: “Yes, I am convinced that I am right.” Are we, then, speeding forward to some cataract which will cast us down an abyss? This method of getting on may please the Professor, because it is vertical; but for my part I prefer the more ordinary modes of horizontal progression.
At any rate, some leagues to the windward there must be some noisy phenomenon, for now the roarings are heard with increasing loudness. Do they proceed from the sky or the ocean?
I look up to the atmospheric vapours, and try to fathom their depths. The sky is calm and motionless. The clouds have reached the utmost limit of the lofty vault, and there lie still bathed in the bright glare of the electric light. It is not there that we must seek for the cause of this phenomenon. Then I examine the horizon, which is unbroken and clear of all mist. There is no change in its aspect. But if this noise arises from a fall, a cataract, if all this ocean flows away headlong into a lower basin yet, if that deafening roar is produced by a mass of falling water, the current must needs accelerate, and its increasing speed will give me the measure of the peril that threatens us. I consult the current: there is none. I throw an empty bottle into the sea: it lies still.
About four Hans rises, lays hold of the mast, climbs to its top. Thence his eye sweeps a large area of sea, and it is fixed upon a point. 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. I cannot help making the remark.
“Well,” he replied, “how does that make against my doctrine?”
“Oh, nothing at all,” I said, seeing that I was going in opposition to immovable obstinacy.
Still I am constrained to confess that hitherto we have been wonderfully favoured, and that for some reason unknown to myself we have accomplished our journey under singularly favourable conditions of temperature. But it seems manifest to me that some day we shall reach a region where the central heat attains its highest limits, and goes beyond a point that can be registered by our thermometers.
“That is what we shall see.” So says the Professor, who, having named this volcanic islet after his nephew, gives the signal to embark again.
For some minutes I am still contemplating the geyser. I notice that it throws up its column of water with variable force: sometimes sending it to a great height, then again to a lower, which I attribute to the variable pressure of the steam accumulated in its reservoir.
At last we leave the island, rounding away past the low rocks on its southern shore. Hans has taken advantage of the halt to refit his rudder.
But before going any farther I make a few observations, to calculate the distance we have gone over, and note them in my journal. We have crossed two hundred and seventy leagues of sea since leaving Port Gräuben; and we are six hundred and twenty leagues from Iceland, under England.1)
- This distance carries the travellers as far as under the Pyrenees if the league measures three miles. (Trans.