A Journey to the Interior of the Earth HTML version
Famine, Then Victory, Followed By Dismay
I had only just time to replace the unfortunate document upon the table.
Professor Liedenbrock seemed to be greatly abstracted.
The ruling thought gave him no rest. Evidently he had gone deeply into the matter,
analytically and with profound scrutiny. He had brought all the resources of his mind to
bear upon it during his walk, and he had come back to apply some new combination.
He sat in his armchair, and pen in hand he began what looked very much like algebraic
formula: I followed with my eyes his trembling hands, I took count of every movement.
Might not some unhoped-for result come of it? I trembled, too, very unnecessarily, since
the true key was in my hands, and no other would open the secret.
For three long hours my uncle worked on without a word, without lifting his head;
rubbing out, beginning again, then rubbing out again, and so on a hundred times.
I knew very well that if he succeeded in setting down these letters in every possible
relative position, the sentence would come out. But I knew also that twenty letters alone
could form two quintillions, four hundred and thirty-two quadrillions, nine hundred and
two trillions, eight billions, a hundred and seventy-six millions, six hundred and forty
thousand combinations. Now, here were a hundred and thirty-two letters in this sentence,
and these hundred and thirty-two letters would give a number of different sentences, each
made up of at least a hundred and thirty-three figures, a number which passed far beyond
all calculation or conception.
So I felt reassured as far as regarded this heroic method of solving the difficulty.
But time was passing away; night came on; the street noises ceased; my uncle, bending
over his task, noticed nothing, not even Martha half opening the door; he heard not a
sound, not even that excellent woman saying:
"Will not monsieur take any supper to-night?"
And poor Martha had to go away unanswered. As for me, after long resistance, I was
overcome by sleep, and fell off at the end of the sofa, while uncle Liedenbrock went on
calculating and rubbing out his calculations.
When I awoke next morning that indefatigable worker was still at his post. His red eyes,
his pale complexion, his hair tangled between his feverish fingers, the red spots on his
cheeks, revealed his desperate struggle with impossibilities, and the weariness of spirit,
the mental wrestlings he must have undergone all through that unhappy night.