LOST IN THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH
To describe my despair would be impossible. No words could tell it. Iwas buried alive, with the prospect before me of dying of hunger andthirst.
Mechanically I swept the ground with my hands. How dry and hard therock seemed to me!
But how had I left the course of the stream? For it was a terriblefact that it no longer ran at my side. Then I understood the reasonof that fearful, silence, when for the last time I listened to hearif any sound from my companions could reach my ears. At the momentwhen I left the right road I had not noticed the absence of thestream. It is evident that at that moment a deviation had presenteditself before me, whilst the Hansbach, following the caprice ofanother incline, had gone with my companions away into unknown depths.
How was I to return? There was not a trace of their footsteps or ofmy own, for the foot left no mark upon the granite floor. I racked mybrain for a solution of this impracticable problem. One worddescribed my position. Lost!
Lost at an immeasurable depth! Thirty leagues of rock seemed to weighupon my shoulders with a dreadful pressure. I felt crushed.
I tried to carry back my ideas to things on the surface of the earth.I could scarcely succeed. Hamburg, the house in the Königstrasse, mypoor Gräuben, all that busy world underneath which I was wanderingabout, was passing in rapid confusion before my terrified memory. Icould revive with vivid reality all the incidents of our voyage,Iceland, M. Fridrikssen, Snæfell. I said to myself that if, in such aposition as I was now in, I was fool enough to cling to one glimpseof hope, it would be madness, and that the best thing I could do wasto despair.
What human power could restore me to the light of the sun by rendingasunder the huge arches of rock which united over my head,buttressing each other with impregnable strength? Who could place myfeet on the right path, and bring me back to my company?
"Oh, my uncle!" burst from my lips in the tone of despair.
It was my only word of reproach, for I knew how much he must besuffering in seeking me, wherever he might be.
When I saw myself thus far removed from all earthly help I hadrecourse to heavenly succour. The remembrance of my childhood, therecollection of my mother, whom I had only known in my tender earlyyears, came back to me, and I knelt in prayer imploring for theDivine help of which I was so little worthy.
This return of trust in God's providence allayed the turbulence of myfears, and I was enabled to concentrate upon my situation all theforce of my intelligence.
I had three days' provisions with me and my flask was full. But Icould not remain alone for long. Should I go up or down?
Up, of course; up continually.
I must thus arrive at the point where I had left the stream, thatfatal turn in the road. With the stream at my feet, I might hope toregain the summit of Snæfell.
Why had I not thought of that sooner? Here was evidently a chance ofsafety. The most pressing duty was to find out again the course ofthe Hansbach. I rose, and leaning upon my iron-pointed stick Iascended the gallery. The slope was rather steep. I walked on withouthope but without indecision, like a man who has made up his mind.
For half an hour I met with no obstacle. I tried to recognise my wayby the form of the tunnel, by the projections of certain rocks, bythe disposition of the fractures. But no particular sign appeared,and I soon saw that this gallery could not bring me back to theturning point. It came to an abrupt end. I struck against animpenetrable wall, and fell down upon the rock.
Unspeakable despair then seized upon me. I lay overwhelmed, aghast!My last hope was shattered against this granite wall.
Lost in this labyrinth, whose windings crossed each other in alldirections, it was no use to think of flight any longer. Here I mustdie the most dreadful of deaths. And, strange to say, the thoughtcame across me that when some day my petrified remains should befound thirty leagues below the surface in the bowels of the earth,the discovery might lead to grave scientific discussions.
I tried to speak aloud, but hoarse sounds alone passed my dry lips. Ipanted for breath.
In the midst of my agony a new terror laid hold of me. In falling mylamp had got wrong. I could not set it right, and its light waspaling and would soon disappear altogether.
I gazed painfully upon the luminous current growing weaker and weakerin the wire coil. A dim procession of moving shadows seemed slowlyunfolding down the darkening walls. I scarcely dared to shut my eyesfor one moment, for fear of losing the least glimmer of this preciouslight. Every instant it seemed about to vanish and the denseblackness to come rolling in palpably upon me.
One last trembling glimmer shot feebly up. I watched it in tremblingand anxiety; I drank it in as if I could preserve it, concentratingupon it the full power of my eyes, as upon the very last sensation oflight which they were ever to experience, and the next moment I layin the heavy gloom of deep, thick, unfathomable darkness.
A terrible cry of anguish burst from me. Upon earth, in the midst ofthe darkest night, light never abdicates its functions altogether. Itis still subtle and diffusive, but whatever little there may be, theeye still catches that little. Here there was not an atom; the totaldarkness made me totally blind.
Then I began to lose my head. I arose with my arms stretched outbefore me, attempting painfully to feel my way. I began to runwildly, hurrying through the inextricable maze, still descending,still running through the substance of the earth's thick crust, astruggling denizen of geological 'faults,' crying, shouting, yelling,soon bruised by contact with the jagged rock, falling and risingagain bleeding, trying to drink the blood which covered my face, andeven waiting for some rock to shatter my skull against.
I shall never know whither my mad career took me. After the lapse ofsome hours, no doubt exhausted, I fell like a lifeless lump at thefoot of the wall, and lost all consciousness.
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