A Journey to the Interior of the Earth HTML version
A Guide Found To The Centre Of The Earth
In the evening I took a short walk on the beach and returned at night to my plank-bed,
where I slept soundly all night.
When I awoke I heard my uncle talking at a great rate in the next room. I immediately
dressed and joined him.
He was conversing in the Danish language with a tall man, of robust build. This fine
fellow must have been possessed of great strength. His eyes, set in a large and ingenuous
face, seemed to me very intelligent; they were of a dreamy sea-blue. Long hair, which
would have been called red even in England, fell in long meshes upon his broad
shoulders. The movements of this native were lithe and supple; but he made little use of
his arms in speaking, like a man who knew nothing or cared nothing about the language
of gestures. His whole appearance bespoke perfect calmness and self-possession, not
indolence but tranquillity. It was felt at once that he would be beholden to nobody, that he
worked for his own convenience, and that nothing in this world could astonish or disturb
his philosophic calmness.
I caught the shades of this Icelander's character by the way in which he listened to the
impassioned flow of words which fell from the Professor. He stood with arms crossed,
perfectly unmoved by my uncle's incessant gesticulations. A negative was expressed by a
slow movement of the head from left to right, an affirmative by a slight bend, so slight
that his long hair scarcely moved. He carried economy of motion even to parsimony.
Certainly I should never have dreamt in looking at this man that he was a hunter; he did
not look likely to frighten his game, nor did he seem as if he would even get near it. But
the mystery was explained when M. Fridrikssen informed me that this tranquil personage
was only a hunter of the eider duck, whose under plumage constitutes the chief wealth of
the island. This is the celebrated eider down, and it requires no great rapidity of
movement to get it.
Early in summer the female, a very pretty bird, goes to build her nest among the rocks of
the fiords with which the coast is fringed. After building the nest she feathers it with
down plucked from her own breast. Immediately the hunter, or rather the trader, comes
and robs the nest, and the female recommences her work. This goes on as long as she has
any down left. When she has stripped herself bare the male takes his turn to pluck
himself. But as the coarse and hard plumage of the male has no commercial value, the
hunter does not take the trouble to rob the nest of this; the female therefore lays her eggs
in the spoils of her mate, the young are hatched, and next year the harvest begins again.
Now, as the eider duck does not select steep cliffs for her nest, but rather the smooth
terraced rocks which slope to the sea, the Icelandic hunter might exercise his calling
without any inconvenient exertion. He was a farmer who was not obliged either to sow or
reap his harvest, but merely to gather it in.