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Chapter 18 We Abandon Hope

  • I can give no adequate description of the horrors of the night which followed.
  • Mercifully they were to some extent mitigated by sleep, for even in such _osition as ours wearied nature will sometimes assert itself. But I, at an_ate, found it impossible to sleep much. Putting aside the terrifying though_f our impending doom — for the bravest man on earth might well quail fro_uch a fate as awaited us, and I never made any pretensions to be brave — th_ilence itself was too great to allow of it. Reader, you may have lain awak_t night and thought the quiet oppressive, but I say with confidence that yo_an have no idea what a vivid, tangible thing is perfect stillness. On th_urface of the earth there is always some sound or motion, and though it ma_n itself be imperceptible, yet it deadens the sharp edge of absolute silence.
  • But here there was none. We were buried in the bowels of a huge snow-cla_eak. Thousands of feet above us the fresh air rushed over the white snow, bu_o sound of it reached us. We were separated by a long tunnel and five feet o_ock even from the awful chamber of the Dead; and the dead make no noise. Di_e not know it who lay by poor Foulata's side? The crashing of all th_rtillery of earth and heaven could not have come to our ears in our livin_omb. We were cut off from every echo of the world — we were as men already i_he grave.
  • Then the irony of the situation forced itself upon me. There around us la_reasures enough to pay off a moderate national debt, or to build a fleet o_ronclads, and yet we would have bartered them all gladly for the faintes_hance of escape. Soon, doubtless, we should be rejoiced to exchange them fo_ bit of food or a cup of water, and, after that, even for the privilege of _peedy close to our sufferings. Truly wealth, which men spend their lives i_cquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.
  • And so the night wore on.
  • "Good," said Sir Henry's voice at last, and it sounded awful in the intens_tillness, "how many matches have you in the box?"
  • "Eight, Curtis."
  • "Strike one and let us see the time."
  • He did so, and in contrast to the dense darkness the flame nearly blinded us.
  • It was five o'clock by my watch. The beautiful dawn was now blushing on th_now-wreaths far over our heads, and the breeze would be stirring the nigh_ists in the hollows.
  • "We had better eat something and keep up our strength," I suggested.
  • "What is the good of eating?" answered Good; "the sooner we die and get i_ver the better."
  • "While there is life there is hope," said Sir Henry.
  • Accordingly we ate and sipped some water, and another period of time elapsed.
  • Then Sir Henry suggested that it might be well to get as near the door a_ossible and halloa, on the faint chance of somebody catching a sound outside.
  • Accordingly Good, who, from long practice at sea, has a fine piercing note, groped his way down the passage and set to work. I must say that he made _ost diabolical noise. I never heard such yells; but it might have been _osquito buzzing for all the effect they produced.
  • After a while he gave it up and came back very thirsty, and had to drink. The_e stopped yelling, as it encroached on the supply of water.
  • So we sat down once more against the chests of useless diamonds in tha_readful inaction which was one of the hardest circumstances of our fate; an_ am bound to say that, for my part, I gave way in despair. Laying my hea_gainst Sir Henry's broad shoulder I burst into tears; and I think that _eard Good gulping away on the other side, and swearing hoarsely at himsel_or doing so.
  • Ah, how good and brave that great man was! Had we been two frightene_hildren, and he our nurse, he could not have treated us more tenderly.
  • Forgetting his own share of miseries, he did all he could to soothe our broke_erves, telling stories of men who had been in somewhat similar circumstances, and miraculously escaped; and when these failed to cheer us, pointing out how, after all, it was only anticipating an end which must come to us all, that i_ould soon be over, and that death from exhaustion was a merciful one (whic_s not true). Then, in a diffident sort of way, as once before I had heard hi_o, he suggested that we should throw ourselves on the mercy of a highe_ower, which for my part I did with great vigour.
  • His is a beautiful character, very quiet, but very strong.
  • And so somehow the day went as the night had gone, if, indeed, one can us_hese terms where all was densest night, and when I lit a match to see th_ime it was seven o'clock.
  • Once more we ate and drank, and as we did so an idea occurred to me.
  • "How is it," said I, "that the air in this place keeps fresh? It is thick an_eavy, but it is perfectly fresh."
  • "Great heavens!" said Good, starting up, "I never thought of that. It can'_ome through the stone door, for it's air-tight, if ever a door was. It mus_ome from somewhere. It there were no current of air in the place we shoul_ave been stifled or poisoned when we first came in. Let us have a look."
  • It was wonderful what a change this mere spark of hope wrought in us. In _oment we were all three groping about on our hands and knees, feeling for th_lightest indication of a draught. Presently my ardour received a check. I pu_y hand on something cold. It was dead Foulata's face.
  • For an hour or more we went on feeling about, till at last Sir Henry and _ave it up in despair, having been considerably hurt by constantly knockin_ur heads against tusks, chests, and the sides of the chamber. But Good stil_ersevered, saying, with an approach to cheerfulness, that it was better tha_oing nothing.
  • "I say, you fellows," he said presently, in a constrained sort of voice, "com_ere."
  • Needless to say we scrambled towards him quickly enough.
  • "Quatermain, put your hand here where mine is. Now, do you feel anything?"
  • "I think I feel air coming up."
  • "Now listen." He rose and stamped upon the place, and a flame of hope shot u_n our hearts. It rang hollow.
  • With trembling hands I lit a match. I had only three left, and we saw that w_ere in the angle of the far corner of the chamber, a fact that accounted fo_ur not having noticed the hollow sound of the place during our forme_xhaustive examination. As the match burnt we scrutinised the spot. There wa_ join in the solid rock floor, and, great heavens! there, let in level wit_he rock, was a stone ring. We said no word, we were too excited, and ou_earts beat too wildly with hope to allow us to speak. Good had a knife, a_he back of which was one of those hooks that are made to extract stones fro_orses' hoofs. He opened it, and scratched round the ring with it. Finally h_orked it under, and levered away gently for fear of breaking the hook. Th_ing began to move. Being of stone it had not rusted fast in all the centurie_t had lain there, as would have been the case had it been of iron. Presentl_t was upright. Then he thrust his hands into it and tugged with all hi_orce, but nothing budged.
  • "Let me try," I said impatiently, for the situation of the stone, right in th_ngle of the corner, was such that it was impossible for two to pull at once.
  • I took hold and strained away, but no results.
  • Then Sir Henry tried and failed.
  • Taking the hook again, Good scratched all round the crack where we felt th_ir coming up.
  • "Now, Curtis," he said, "tackle on, and put your back into it; you are a_trong as two. Stop," and he took off a stout black silk handkerchief, which, true to his habits of neatness, he still wore, and ran it through the ring.
  • "Quatermain, get Curtis round the middle and pull for dear life when I giv_he word. Now."
  • Sir Henry put out all his enormous strength, and Good and I did the same, wit_uch power as nature had given us.
  • "Heave! heave! it's giving," gasped Sir Henry; and I heard the muscles of hi_reat back cracking. Suddenly there was a grating sound, then a rush of air, and we were all on our backs on the floor with a heavy flag-stone upon the to_f us. Sir Henry's strength had done it, and never did muscular power stand _an in better stead.
  • "Light a match, Quatermain," he said, so soon as we had picked ourselves u_nd got our breath; "carefully, now."
  • I did so, and there before us, Heaven be praised! was the first step of _tone stair.
  • "Now what is to be done?" asked Good.
  • "Follow the stair, of course, and trust to Providence."
  • "Stop!" said Sir Henry; "Quatermain, get the bit of biltong and the water tha_re left; we may want them."
  • I went, creeping back to our place by the chests for that purpose, and as _as coming away an idea struck me. We had not thought much of the diamonds fo_he last twenty-four hours or so; indeed, the very idea of diamonds wa_auseous, seeing what they had entailed upon us; but, reflected I, I may a_ell pocket some in case we ever should get out of this ghastly hole. So _ust put my fist into the first chest and filled all the available pockets o_y old shooting-coat and trousers, topping up — this was a happy thought — with a few handfuls of big ones from the third chest. Also, by a_fterthought, I stuffed Foulata's basket, which, except for one water-gour_nd a little biltong, was empty now, with great quantities of the stones.
  • "I say, you fellows," I sang out, "won't you take some diamonds with you? I'v_illed my pockets and the basket."
  • "Oh, come on, Quatermain! and hang the diamonds!" said Sir Henry. "I hope tha_ may never see another."
  • As for Good, he made no answer. He was, I think, taking his last farewell o_ll that was left of the poor girl who had loved him so well. And curious a_t may seem to you, my reader, sitting at home at ease and reflecting on th_ast, indeed the immeasurable, wealth which we were thus abandoning, I ca_ssure you that if you had passed some twenty-eight hours with next to nothin_o eat and drink in that place, you would not have cared to cumber yoursel_ith diamonds whilst plunging down into the unknown bowels of the earth, i_he wild hope of escape from an agonising death. If from the habits of _ifetime, it had not become a sort of second nature with me never to leav_nything worth having behind if there was the slightest chance of my bein_ble to carry it away, I am sure that I should not have bothered to fill m_ockets and that basket.
  • "Come on, Quatermain," repeated Sir Henry, who was already standing on th_irst step of the stone stair. "Steady, I will go first."
  • "Mind where you put your feet, there may be some awful hole underneath," _nswered.
  • "Much more likely to be another room," said Sir Henry, while he descende_lowly, counting the steps as he went.
  • When he got to "fifteen" he stopped. "Here's the bottom," he said. "Than_oodness! I think it's a passage. Follow me down."
  • Good went next, and I came last, carrying the basket, and on reaching th_ottom lit one of the two remaining matches. By its light we could just se_hat we were standing in a narrow tunnel, which ran right and left at righ_ngles to the staircase we had descended. Before we could make out any more, the match burnt my fingers and went out. Then arose the delicate question o_hich way to go. Of course, it was impossible to know what the tunnel was, o_here it led to, and yet to turn one way might lead us to safety, and th_ther to destruction. We were utterly perplexed, till suddenly it struck Goo_hat when I had lit the match the draught of the passage blew the flame to th_eft.
  • "Let us go against the draught," he said; "air draws inwards, not outwards."
  • We took this suggestion, and feeling along the wall with our hands, whils_rying the ground before us at every step, we departed from that accurse_reasure chamber on our terrible quest for life. If ever it should be entere_gain by living man, which I do not think probable, he will find tokens of ou_isit in the open chests of jewels, the empty lamp, and the white bones o_oor Foulata.
  • When we had groped our way for about a quarter of an hour along the passage, suddenly it took a sharp turn, or else was bisected by another, which w_ollowed, only in course of time to be led into a third. And so it went on fo_ome hours. We seemed to be in a stone labyrinth that led nowhere. What al_hese passages are, of course I cannot say, but we thought that they must b_he ancient workings of a mine, of which the various shafts and adit_ravelled hither and thither as the ore led them. This is the only way i_hich we could account for such a multitude of galleries.
  • At length we halted, thoroughly worn out with fatigue and with that hop_eferred which maketh the heart sick, and ate up our poor remaining piece o_iltong and drank our last sup of water, for our throats were like lime-kilns.
  • It seemed to us that we had escaped Death in the darkness of the treasur_hamber only to meet him in the darkness of the tunnels.
  • As we stood, once more utterly depressed, I thought that I caught a sound, t_hich I called the attention of the others. It was very faint and very fa_ff, but it was a sound, a faint, murmuring sound, for the others heard i_oo, and no words can describe the blessedness of it after all those hours o_tter, awful stillness.
  • "By heaven! it's running water," said Good. "Come on."
  • Off we started again in the direction from which the faint murmur seemed t_ome, groping our way as before along the rocky walls. I remember that I lai_own the basket full of diamonds, wishing to be rid of its weight, but o_econd thoughts took it up again. One might as well die rich as poor, _eflected. As we went the sound became more and more audible, till at last i_eemed quite loud in the quiet. On, yet on; now we could distinctly make ou_he unmistakable swirl of rushing water. And yet how could there be runnin_ater in the bowels of the earth? Now we were quite near it, and Good, who wa_eading, swore that he could smell it.
  • "Go gently, Good," said Sir Henry, "we must be close." Splash! and a cry fro_ood.
  • He had fallen in.
  • "Good! Good! where are you?" we shouted, in terrified distress. To our intens_elief an answer came back in a choky voice.
  • "All right; I've got hold of a rock. Strike a light to show me where you are."
  • Hastily I lit the last remaining match. Its faint gleam discovered to us _ark mass of water running at our feet. How wide it was we could not see, bu_here, some way out, was the dark form of our companion hanging on to _rojecting rock.
  • "Stand clear to catch me," sung out Good. "I must swim for it."
  • Then we heard a splash, and a great struggle. Another minute and he ha_rabbed at and caught Sir Henry's outstretched hand, and we had pulled him u_igh and dry into the tunnel.
  • "My word!" he said, between his gasps, "that was touch and go. If I hadn'_anaged to catch that rock, and known how to swim, I should have been done. I_uns like a mill-race, and I could feel no bottom."
  • We dared not follow the banks of the subterranean river for fear lest w_hould fall into it again in the darkness. So after Good had rested a while, and we had drunk our fill of the water, which was sweet and fresh, and washe_ur faces, that needed it sadly, as well as we could, we started from th_anks of this African Styx, and began to retrace our steps along the tunnel, Good dripping unpleasantly in front of us. At length we came to anothe_allery leading to our right.
  • "We may as well take it," said Sir Henry wearily; "all roads are alike here; we can only go on till we drop."
  • Slowly, for a long, long while, we stumbled, utterly exhausted, along this ne_unnel, Sir Henry now leading the way. Again I thought of abandoning tha_asket, but did not.
  • Suddenly he stopped, and we bumped up against him.
  • "Look!" he whispered, "is my brain going, or is that light?"
  • We stared with all our eyes, and there, yes, there, far ahead of us, was _aint, glimmering spot, no larger than a cottage window pane. It was so fain_hat I doubt if any eyes, except those which, like ours, had for days see_othing but blackness, could have perceived it at all.
  • With a gasp of hope we pushed on. In five minutes there was no longer an_oubt; it was a patch of faint light. A minute more and a breath of real liv_ir was fanning us. On we struggled. All at once the tunnel narrowed. Si_enry went on his knees. Smaller yet it grew, till it was only the size of _arge fox's earth — it was earth now, mind you; the rock had ceased.
  • A squeeze, a struggle, and Sir Henry was out, and so was Good, and so was I, dragging Foulata's basket after me; and there above us were the blessed stars, and in our nostrils was the sweet air. Then suddenly something gave, and w_ere all rolling over and over and over through grass and bushes and soft, we_oil.
  • The basket caught in something and I stopped. Sitting up I halloed lustily. A_nswering shout came from below, where Sir Henry's wild career had bee_hecked by some level ground. I scrambled to him, and found him unhurt, thoug_reathless. Then we looked for Good. A little way off we discovered him also, hammed in a forked root. He was a good deal knocked about, but soon came t_imself.
  • We sat down together, there on the grass, and the revulsion of feeling was s_reat that really I think we cried with joy. We had escaped from that awfu_ungeon, which was so near to becoming our grave. Surely some merciful Powe_uided our footsteps to the jackal hole, for that is what it must have been, at the termination of the tunnel. And see, yonder on the mountains the dawn w_ad never thought to look upon again was blushing rosy red.
  • Presently the grey light stole down the slopes, and we saw that we were at th_ottom, or rather, nearly at the bottom, of the vast pit in front of th_ntrance to the cave. Now we could make out the dim forms of the three Coloss_ho sat upon its verge. Doubtless those awful passages, along which we ha_andered the livelong night, had been originally in some way connected wit_he great diamond mine. As for the subterranean river in the bowels of th_ountain, Heaven only knows what it is, or whence it flows, or whither i_oes. I, for one, have no anxiety to trace its course.
  • Lighter it grew, and lighter yet. We could see each other now, and such _pectacle as we presented I have never set eyes on before or since. Gaunt- cheeked, hollow-eyed wretches, smeared all over with dust and mud, bruised, bleeding, the long fear of imminent death yet written on our countenances, w_ere, indeed, a sight to frighten the daylight. And yet it is a solemn fac_hat Good's eye-glass was still fixed in Good's eye. I doubt whether he ha_ver taken it out at all. Neither the darkness, nor the plunge in th_ubterranean river, nor the roll down the slope, had been able to separat_ood and his eye- glass.
  • Presently we rose, fearing that our limbs would stiffen if we stopped ther_onger, and commenced with slow and painful steps to struggle up the slopin_ides of the great pit. For an hour or more we toiled steadfastly up the blu_lay, dragging ourselves on by the help of the roots and grasses with which i_as clothed. But now I had no more thought of leaving the basket; indeed, nothing but death should have parted us.
  • At last it was done, and we stood by the great road, on that side of the pi_hich is opposite to the Colossi.
  • At the side of the road, a hundred yards off, a fire was burning in front o_ome huts, and round the fire were figures. We staggered towards them, supporting one another, and halting every few paces. Presently one of th_igures rose, saw us and fell on to the ground, crying out for fear.
  • "Infadoos, Infadoos! it is we, thy friends."
  • He rose; he ran to us, staring wildly, and still shaking with fear.
  • "Oh, my lords, my lords, it is indeed you come back from the dead! — come bac_rom the dead!"
  • And the old warrior flung himself down before us, and clasping Sir Henry'_nees, he wept aloud for joy.