A Journey to the Interior of the Earth
my long crooked pipe, with a painting on it of an idle-looking naiad; then I amused
myself watching the process of the conversion of the tobacco into carbon, which was by
slow degrees making my naiad into a negress. Now and then I listened to hear whether a
well-known step was on the stairs. No. Where could my uncle be at that moment? I
fancied him running under the noble trees which line the road to Altona, gesticulating,
making shots with his cane, thrashing the long grass, cutting the heads off the thistles,
and disturbing the contemplative storks in their peaceful solitude.
Would he return in triumph or in discouragement? Which would get the upper hand, he or
the secret? I was thus asking myself questions, and mechanically taking between my
fingers the sheet of paper mysteriously disfigured with the incomprehensible succession
of letters I had written down; and I repeated to myself "What does it all mean?"
I sought to group the letters so as to form words. Quite impossible! When I put them
together by twos, threes, fives or sixes, nothing came of it but nonsense. To be sure the
fourteenth, fifteenth and sixteenth letters made the English word 'ice'; the eighty-third and
two following made 'sir'; and in the midst of the document, in the second and third lines, I
observed the words, "rots," "mutabile," "ira," "net," "atra."
"Come now," I thought, "these words seem to justify my uncle's view about the language
of the document. In the fourth line appeared the word "luco", which means a sacred
wood. It is true that in the third line was the word "tabiled", which looked like Hebrew,
and in the last the purely French words "mer", "arc", "mere." "
All this was enough to drive a poor fellow crazy. Four different languages in this
ridiculous sentence! What connection could there possibly be between such words as ice,
sir, anger, cruel, sacred wood, changeable, mother, bow, and sea? The first and the last
might have something to do with each other; it was not at all surprising that in a
document written in Iceland there should be mention of a sea of ice; but it was quite
another thing to get to the end of this cryptogram with so small a clue. So I was
struggling with an insurmountable difficulty; my brain got heated, my eyes watered over
that sheet of paper; its hundred and thirty-two letters seemed to flutter and fly around me
like those motes of mingled light and darkness which float in the air around the head
when the blood is rushing upwards with undue violence. I was a prey to a kind of
hallucination; I was stifling; I wanted air. Unconsciously I fanned myself with the bit of
paper, the back and front of which successively came before my eyes. What was my
surprise when, in one of those rapid revolutions, at the moment when the back was turned
to me I thought I caught sight of the Latin words "craterem," "terrestre," and others.
A sudden light burst in upon me; these hints alone gave me the first glimpse of the truth; I
had discovered the key to the cipher. To read the document, it would not even be
necessary to read it through the paper. Such as it was, just such as it had been dictated to
me, so it might be spelt out with ease. All those ingenious professorial combinations were
coming right. He was right as to the arrangement of the letters; he was right as to the
language. He had been within a hair's breadth of reading this Latin document from end to
end; but that hair's breadth, chance had given it to me!