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Here, to our mutual surprise, we found an actual flight of stone steps,which wonderfully assisted our ascent. This singular flight of stairswas, like everything else, volcanic. It had been formed by one of thosetorrents of stones cast up by the eruptions, and of which the Icelandicname is stina. If this singular torrent had not been checked in itsdescent by the peculiar shape of the flanks of the mountain, it wouldhave swept into the sea, and would have formed new islands.
I made no reply, but hastened on, once more animated by hope. I begannot even to feel the deep fatigue which hitherto had overpowered me. Thevery sound of this glorious murmuring water already refreshed me. Wecould hear it increasing in volume every moment. The torrent, which fora long time could be heard flowing over our heads, now ran distinctlyalong the left wall, roaring, rushing, spluttering, and still falling.
Moreover, we soon made the disastrous discovery that, if our progresscontinued, we should soon be moving away from the torrent, the sound ofwhich gradually diminished. We turned back. Hans halted at the precisespot where the sound of the torrent appeared nearest.
He rose from a stone on which he had been seated, and took up the lamp.I could not help rising and following. He moved slowly along the firmand solid granite wall. I watched him with mingled curiosity andeagerness. Presently he halted and placed his ear against the dry stone,moving slowly along and listening with the most extreme care andattention. I understood at once that he was searching for the exact spotwhere the torrent's roar was most plainly heard. This point he soonfound in the lateral wall on the left side, about three feet above thelevel of the tunnel floor.
And nobody else, I think, would have done so. Such a process, simple asit seemed, would most certainly not have entered our heads. Nothingcould be more dangerous than to begin to work with pickaxes in thatparticular part of the globe. Supposing while he was at work a break-upwere to take place, and supposing the torrent once having gained an inchwere to take an ell, and come pouring bodily through the broken rock!
It was now quite evident that when we halted, another tunnel must havereceived the waters of the little torrent, and that I had unconsciouslyentered a different gallery. To what unknown depths had my companionsgone? Where was I?
The existing saurians, which include all such reptiles as lizards,crocodiles, and alligators, even the largest and most formidable oftheir class, are but feeble imitations of their mighty sires, theanimals of ages long ago. If there were giants in the days of old, therewere also gigantic animals.
I recollect once seeing in the great Museum of Hamburg the skeleton ofone of these wonderful saurians. It measured no less than thirty feetfrom the nose to the tail. Am I, then, an inhabitant of the earth of thepresent day, destined to find myself face to face with a representativeof this antediluvian family? I can scarcely believe it possible; I canhardly believe it true. And yet these marks of powerful teeth upon thebar of iron! Can there be a doubt from their shape that the bite is thebite of a crocodile?
At last have mortal eyes gazed upon two reptiles of the great primitiveocean! I see the flaming red eyes of the Ichthyosaurus, each as big, orbigger than a man's head. Nature in its infinite wisdom had gifted thiswondrous marine animal with an optical apparatus of extreme power,capable of resisting the pressure of the heavy layers of water whichrolled over him in the depths of the ocean where he usually fed. It hasby some authors truly been called the whale of the saurian race, for itis as big and quick in its motions as our king of the seas. This onemeasures not less than a hundred feet in length, and I can form someidea of his girth when I see him lift his prodigious tail out of thewaters. His jaw is of awful size and strength, and according to thebest-informed naturalists, it does not contain less than a hundred andeighty-two teeth.
Meanwhile, there fell a fearful deluge of rain, drenching us to theskin. Its very violence, however, proclaimed the approaching end of thestorm. Some overhanging rocks afforded us a slight protection from thetorrents.
Beyond the rock which had been blown up, there existed a mighty abyss.The explosion had caused a kind of earthquake in this soil, broken byfissures and rents. The gulf, thus suddenly thrown open, was about toswallow the inland sea which, transformed into a mighty torrent, wasdragging us with it.
I gazed around me scared and frightened. I could not understand theawful truth. And yet of what consequence was it in regard to any newdanger? Supposing that we had had provisions for months, and even foryears, how could we ever get out of the awful abyss into which we werebeing hurled by the irresistible torrent we had let loose?
I know not how it was; but, from some singular hallucination of themind, I forgot the real, serious, and immediate danger to which we wereexposed, to think of the menaces of the future, which appeared before usin all their naked terror. Besides, after all, suggested Hope, perhapswe might finally escape the fury of the raging torrent, and once morerevisit the glimpses of the moon, on the surface of our beautiful MotherEarth.
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