CHAPTER XIII [My Long Crawl in the Dark]
When we got back to the hotel I wound and set the pedometer and put
it in my pocket, for I was to carry it next day and keep record of the
miles we made. The work which we had given the instrument to do during
the day which had just closed had not fatigued it perceptibly.
We were in bed by ten, for we wanted to be up and away on our tramp
homeward with the dawn. I hung fire, but Harris went to sleep at once.
I hate a man who goes to sleep at once; there is a sort of indefinable
something about it which is not exactly an insult, and yet is an
insolence; and one which is hard to bear, too. I lay there fretting
over this injury, and trying to go to sleep; but the harder I tried, the
wider awake I grew. I got to feeling very lonely in the dark, with no
company but an undigested dinner. My mind got a start by and by, and
began to consider the beginning of every subject which has ever been
thought of; but it never went further than the beginning; it was touch
and go; it fled from topic to topic with a frantic speed. At the end of
an hour my head was in a perfect whirl and I was dead tired, fagged out.
The fatigue was so great that it presently began to make some head
against the nervous excitement; while imagining myself wide awake, I
would really doze into momentary unconsciousness, and come suddenly out
of it with a physical jerk which nearly wrenched my joints apart--the
delusion of the instant being that I was tumbling backward over a
precipice. After I had fallen over eight or nine precipices and thus
found out that one half of my brain had been asleep eight or nine times
without the wide-awake, hard-working other half suspecting it, the
periodical unconsciousnesses began to extend their spell gradually over
more of my brain-territory, and at last I sank into a drowse which grew
deeper and deeper and was doubtless just on the very point of being a
solid, blessed dreamless stupor, when--what was that?
My dulled faculties dragged themselves partly back to life and took a
receptive attitude. Now out of an immense, a limitless distance, came
a something which grew and grew, and approached, and presently was
recognizable as a sound--it had rather seemed to be a feeling, before.
This sound was a mile away, now--perhaps it was the murmur of a storm;
and now it was nearer--not a quarter of a mile away; was it the muffled
rasping and grinding of distant machinery? No, it came still nearer; was
it the measured tramp of a marching troop? But it came nearer still,
and still nearer--and at last it was right in the room: it was merely
a mouse gnawing the woodwork. So I had held my breath all that time for
such a trifle.
Well, what was done could not be helped; I would go to sleep at once and
make up the lost time. That was a thoughtless thought. Without intending
it--hardly knowing it--I fell to listening intently to that sound, and
even unconsciously counting the strokes of the mouse's nutmeg-grater.
Presently I was deriving exquisite suffering from this employment, yet
maybe I could have endured it if the mouse had attended steadily to
his work; but he did not do that; he stopped every now and then, and I
suffered more while waiting and listening for him to begin again than
I did while he was gnawing. Along at first I was mentally offering a
reward of five--six--seven--ten--dollars for that mouse; but toward
the last I was offering rewards which were entirely beyond my means. I
close-reefed my ears--that is to say, I bent the flaps of them down
and furled them into five or six folds, and pressed them against the
hearing-orifice--but it did no good: the faculty was so sharpened
by nervous excitement that it was become a microphone and could hear
through the overlays without trouble.
My anger grew to a frenzy. I finally did what all persons before me have
done, clear back to Adam,--resolved to throw something. I reached down
and got my walking-shoes, then sat up in bed and listened, in order to
exactly locate the noise. But I couldn't do it; it was as unlocatable as
a cricket's noise; and where one thinks that that is, is always the very
place where it isn't. So I presently hurled a shoe at random, and with
a vicious vigor. It struck the wall over Harris's head and fell down on
him; I had not imagined I could throw so far. It woke Harris, and I was
glad of it until I found he was not angry; then I was sorry. He soon
went to sleep again, which pleased me; but straightway the mouse began
again, which roused my temper once more. I did not want to wake Harris
a second time, but the gnawing continued until I was compelled to
throw the other shoe. This time I broke a mirror--there were two in the
room--I got the largest one, of course. Harris woke again, but did not
complain, and I was sorrier than ever. I resolved that I would suffer
all possible torture before I would disturb him a third time.
The mouse eventually retired, and by and by I was sinking to sleep, when
a clock began to strike; I counted till it was done, and was about to
drowse again when another clock began; I counted; then the two great
RATHHAUS clock angels began to send forth soft, rich, melodious blasts
from their long trumpets. I had never heard anything that was so lovely,
or weird, or mysterious--but when they got to blowing the quarter-hours,
they seemed to me to be overdoing the thing. Every time I dropped
off for the moment, a new noise woke me. Each time I woke I missed my
coverlet, and had to reach down to the floor and get it again.
At last all sleepiness forsook me. I recognized the fact that I was
hopelessly and permanently wide awake. Wide awake, and feverish and
thirsty. When I had lain tossing there as long as I could endure it, it
occurred to me that it would be a good idea to dress and go out in the
great square and take a refreshing wash in the fountain, and smoke and
reflect there until the remnant of the night was gone.
I believed I could dress in the dark without waking Harris. I had
banished my shoes after the mouse, but my slippers would do for a summer
night. So I rose softly, and gradually got on everything--down to one
sock. I couldn't seem to get on the track of that sock, any way I could
fix it. But I had to have it; so I went down on my hands and knees, with
one slipper on and the other in my hand, and began to paw gently around
and rake the floor, but with no success. I enlarged my circle, and went
on pawing and raking. With every pressure of my knee, how the floor
creaked! and every time I chanced to rake against any article, it seemed
to give out thirty-five or thirty-six times more noise than it would
have done in the daytime. In those cases I always stopped and held
my breath till I was sure Harris had not awakened--then I crept along
again. I moved on and on, but I could not find the sock; I could not
seem to find anything but furniture. I could not remember that there was
much furniture in the room when I went to bed, but the place was alive
with it now--especially chairs--chairs everywhere--had a couple of
families moved in, in the mean time? And I never could seem to GLANCE on
one of those chairs, but always struck it full and square with my head.
My temper rose, by steady and sure degrees, and as I pawed on and on, I
fell to making vicious comments under my breath.
Finally, with a venomous access of irritation, I said I would leave
without the sock; so I rose up and made straight for the door--as I
supposed--and suddenly confronted my dim spectral image in the unbroken
mirror. It startled the breath out of me, for an instant; it also showed
me that I was lost, and had no sort of idea where I was. When I realized
this, I was so angry that I had to sit down on the floor and take hold
of something to keep from lifting the roof off with an explosion of
opinion. If there had been only one mirror, it might possibly have
helped to locate me; but there were two, and two were as bad as a
thousand; besides, these were on opposite sides of the room. I could see
the dim blur of the windows, but in my turned-around condition they were
exactly where they ought not to be, and so they only confused me instead
of helping me.
I started to get up, and knocked down an umbrella; it made a noise
like a pistol-shot when it struck that hard, slick, carpetless floor;
I grated my teeth and held my breath--Harris did not stir. I set the
umbrella slowly and carefully on end against the wall, but as soon as
I took my hand away, its heel slipped from under it, and down it came
again with another bang. I shrunk together and listened a moment in
silent fury--no harm done, everything quiet. With the most painstaking
care and nicety, I stood the umbrella up once more, took my hand away,
and down it came again.
I have been strictly reared, but if it had not been so dark and solemn
and awful there in that lonely, vast room, I do believe I should have
said something then which could not be put into a Sunday-school book
without injuring the sale of it. If my reasoning powers had not been
already sapped dry by my harassments, I would have known better than to
try to set an umbrella on end on one of those glassy German floors in
the dark; it can't be done in the daytime without four failures to one
success. I had one comfort, though--Harris was yet still and silent--he
had not stirred.
The umbrella could not locate me--there were four standing around the
room, and all alike. I thought I would feel along the wall and find the
door in that way. I rose up and began this operation, but raked down
a picture. It was not a large one, but it made noise enough for a
panorama. Harris gave out no sound, but I felt that if I experimented
any further with the pictures I should be sure to wake him. Better give
up trying to get out. Yes, I would find King Arthur's Round Table once
more--I had already found it several times--and use it for a base of
departure on an exploring tour for my bed; if I could find my bed I
could then find my water pitcher; I would quench my raging thirst and
turn in. So I started on my hands and knees, because I could go faster
that way, and with more confidence, too, and not knock down things. By
and by I found the table--with my head--rubbed the bruise a little, then
rose up and started, with hands abroad and fingers spread, to balance
myself. I found a chair; then a wall; then another chair; then a sofa;
then an alpenstock, then another sofa; this confounded me, for I had
thought there was only one sofa. I hunted up the table again and took a
fresh start; found some more chairs.
It occurred to me, now, as it ought to have done before, that as the
table was round, it was therefore of no value as a base to aim from; so
I moved off once more, and at random among the wilderness of chairs and
sofas--wandering off into unfamiliar regions, and presently knocked a
candlestick and knocked off a lamp, grabbed at the lamp and knocked
off a water pitcher with a rattling crash, and thought to myself,
"I've found you at last--I judged I was close upon you." Harris shouted
"murder," and "thieves," and finished with "I'm absolutely drowned."
The crash had roused the house. Mr. X pranced in, in his long
night-garment, with a candle, young Z after him with another candle; a
procession swept in at another door, with candles and lanterns--landlord
and two German guests in their nightgowns and a chambermaid in hers.
I looked around; I was at Harris's bed, a Sabbath-day's journey from my
own. There was only one sofa; it was against the wall; there was only
one chair where a body could get at it--I had been revolving around it
like a planet, and colliding with it like a comet half the night.
I explained how I had been employing myself, and why. Then the
landlord's party left, and the rest of us set about our preparations for
breakfast, for the dawn was ready to break. I glanced furtively at my
pedometer, and found I had made 47 miles. But I did not care, for I had
come out for a pedestrian tour anyway.
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