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lengthened expedition to ascertain the actual extent of the strange concrete
of metallic crystallization.
By ascending one day to the summit of the volcano, Captain Servadac and the
count succeeded in getting a general idea of the aspect of the country. The
mountain itself was an enormous block rising symmetrically to a height of
nearly 3,000 feet above the level of the sea, in the form of a truncated cone,
of which the topmost section was crowned by a wreath of smoke issuing
continuously from the mouth of a narrow crater.
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Under the old condition of terrestrial things, the ascent of this steep
acclivity would have been attended with much fatigue, but as the effect of the
altered condition of the law of gravity, the travelers performed perpetual
prodigies in the way of agility, and in little over an hour reached the edge
of the crater, without more sense of exertion than if they had traversed a
couple of miles on level ground. Gallia had its drawbacks, but it had some
compensating advantages.
Telescopes in hand, the explorers from the summit scanned the surrounding
view. Their anticipations had already realized what they saw. Just as they
expected, on the north, east, and west lay the Gallian Sea, smooth and
motionless as a sheet of glass, the cold having, as it were, congealed the
atmosphere so that there was not a breath of wind. Towards the south there
seemed no limit to the land, and the volcano formed the apex of a triangle, of
which the base was beyond the reach of vision. Viewed even from this height,
whence distance would do much to soften the general asperity, the surface
nevertheless seemed to be bristling with its myriads of hexagonal lamellae,
and to present difficulties which, to an ordinary pedestrian, would be
"Oh for some wings, or else a balloon!" cried Servadac, as he gazed around
him; and then, looking down to the rock upon which they were standing, he
added, "We seem to have been transplanted to a soil strange enough in its
chemical character to bewilder the savants at a museum."
"And do you observe, captain," asked the count, "how the convexity of our
little world curtails our view? See, how circumscribed is the horizon!"
Servadac replied that he had noticed the same circumstance from the top of the
cliffs of Gourbi Island.
"Yes," said the count; "it becomes more and more obvious that ours is a very
tiny world, and that Gourbi
Island is the sole productive spot upon its surface. We have had a short
summer, and who knows whether we are not entering upon a winter that may last
for years, perhaps for centuries?"
"But we must not mind, count," said Servadac, smiling. "We have agreed, you
know, that, come what may, we are to be philosophers."
"Ay, true, my friend," rejoined the count; "we must be philosophers and
something more; we must be grateful to the good Protector who has hitherto
befriended us, and we must trust His mercy to the end."
For a few moments they both stood in silence, and contemplated land and sea;
then, having given a last glance over the dreary panorama, they prepared to
wend their way down the mountain. Before, however, they commenced their
descent, they resolved to make a closer examination of the crater. They were
particularly struck by what seemed to them almost the mysterious calmness with
which the eruption was effected. There was none of the wild disorder and
deafening tumult that usually accompany the discharge of volcanic matter, but
the heated lava, rising with a uniform gentleness, quietly overran the limits
of the crater, like the flow of water from the bosom of a peaceful lake.
Instead of a boiler exposed to the action of an angry fire, the crater
Off on a Comet
rather resembled a brimming basin, of which the contents were noiselessly
escaping. Nor were there any igneous stones or redhot cinders mingled with the
smoke that crowned the summit; a circumstance that quite accorded with the
absence of the pumicestones, obsidians, and other minerals of volcanic origin
with which the base of a burning mountain is generally strewn.
Captain Servadac was of opinion that this peculiarity augured favorably for
the continuance of the eruption.
Extreme violence in physical, as well as in moral nature, is never of long
duration. The most terrible storms, like the most violent fits of passion, are
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not lasting; but here the calm flow of the liquid fire appeared to be supplied
from a source that was inexhaustible, in the same way as the waters of [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]