Chapter XLIV: The Journey Ended
This is the final conclusion of a narrative which will be probably disbelieved even by people who are astonished at nothing. I am, however, armed at all points against human incredulity.
We were kindly received by the Strombolite fishermen, who treated us as shipwrecked travelers. They gave us clothes and food. After a delay of forty-eight hours, on the 30th of September a little vessel took us to Messina, where a few days of delightful and complete repose restored us to ourselves.
On Friday, the 4th of October, we embarked in the Volturne, one of the postal packets of the Imperial Messageries of France; and three days later we landed at Marseilles, having no other care on our minds but that of our precious but erratic compass. This inexplicable circumstance tormented me terribly. On the 9th of October, in the evening, we reached Hamburg.
What was the astonishment of Martha, what the joy of Gretchen! I will not attempt to define it.
"Now then, Harry, that you really are a hero," she said, "there is no reason why you should ever leave me again."
I looked at her. She was weeping tears of joy.
I leave it to be imagined if the return of Professor Hardwigg made or did not make a sensation in Hamburg. Thanks to the indiscretion of Martha, the news of his departure for the interior of the earth had been spread over the whole world.
No one would believe it—and when they saw him come back in safety they believed it all the less.
But the presence of Hans and many stray scraps of information by degrees modified public opinion.
Then my uncle became a great man and I the nephew of a great man, which, at all events, is something. Hamburg gave a festival in our honor. A public meeting of the Johanneum Institution was held, at which the Professor related the whole story of his adventures, omitting only the facts in connection with the compass.
That same day he deposited in the archives of the town the document he had found written by Saknussemm, and he expressed his great regret that circumstances, stronger than his will, did not allow him to follow the Icelandic traveler's track into the very centre of the earth. He was modest in his glory, but his reputation only increased.
So much honor necessarily created for him many envious enemies. Of course they existed, and as his theories, supported by certain facts, contradicted the system of science upon the question of central heat, he maintained his own views both with pen and speech against the learned of every country. Although I still believe in the theory of central heat, I confess that certain circumstances, hitherto very ill defined, may modify the laws of such natural phenomena.
At the moment when these questions were being discussed with interest, my uncle received a rude shock—one that he felt very much. Hans, despite everything he could say to the contrary, quitted Hamburg; the man to whom we owed so much would not allow us to pay our deep debt of gratitude. He was taken with nostalgia; a love for his Icelandic home.
"Farval," said he, one day, and with this one short word of adieu, he started for Reykjavik, which he soon reached in safety.
We were deeply attached to our brave eider-duck hunter. His absence will never cause him to be forgotten by those whose lives he saved, and I hope, at some not distant day, to see him again.
To conclude, I may say that our journey into the interior of the earth created an enormous sensation throughout the civilized world. It was translated and printed in many languages. All the leading journals published extracts from it, which were commentated, discussed, attacked, and supported with equal animation by those who believed in its episodes, and by those who were utterly incredulous.
Wonderful! My uncle enjoyed during his lifetime all the glory he deserved; and he was even offered a large sum of money, by Mr. Barnum, to exhibit himself in the United States; while I am credibly informed by a traveler that he is to be seen in waxwork at Madame Tussaud's!
But one care preyed upon his mind, a care which rendered him very unhappy. One fact remained inexplicable—that of the compass. For a learned man to be baffled by such an inexplicable phenomenon was very aggravating. But Heaven was merciful, and in the end my uncle was happy.
One day, while he put some minerals belonging to his collection in order, I fell upon the famous compass and examined it keenly.
For six months it had lain unnoticed and untouched.
I looked at it with curiosity, which soon became surprise. I gave a loud cry. The Professor, who was at hand, soon joined me.
"What is the matter?" he cried.
"Why its needle points to the south and not to the north."
"My dear boy, you must be dreaming."
"I am not dreaming. See—the poles are changed."
My uncle put on his spectacles, examined the instrument, and leaped with joy, shaking the whole house.
A clear light fell upon our minds.
"Here it is!" he cried, as soon as he had recovered the use of his speech, "after we had once passed Cape Saknussemm, the needle of this compass pointed to the southward instead of the northward."
"Our error is now easily explained. But to what phenomenon do we owe this alteration in the needle?"
"Nothing more simple."
"Explain yourself, my boy. I am on thorns."
"During the storm, upon the Central Sea, the ball of fire which made a magnet of the iron in our raft, turned our compass topsy-turvy."
"Ah!" cried the Professor, with a loud and ringing laugh, "it was a trick of that inexplicable electricity."
From that hour my uncle was the happiest of learned men, and I the happiest of ordinary mortals. For my pretty Virland girl, abdicating her position as ward, took her place in the house in the Konigstrasse in the double quality of niece and wife.
We need scarcely mention that her uncle was the illustrious Professor Hardwigg, corresponding member of all the scientific, geographical, mineralogical, and geological societies of the five parts of the globe.
End of the Voyage Extraordinaire