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   Chapter 27 ENTRANCE TO THE CAVERN

The Mystery of the Sea By Bram Stoker Characters: 12253

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:03


One night, when I had got down a considerable depth into the rock, I took the pick to loosen out some stone which I had drilled. As I struck, the sound of the rock was hollower than I had before noticed. My heart leaped into my mouth, and I had to pause. Then I struck again harder, and the sound was more hollow still. Whether or no it was the place I was looking for, there was some cave in the rock below me. I would have gone on working straightway had there been anyone with me; but being alone I had to be careful. I was now standing on, evidently, only a layer of rock, over an opening of whose depth I was in ignorance. Should this piece of stone break away, as was quite possible from my working on it, I might be precipitated into a living tomb. The very secrecy in which I had kept my work, might tend to insure my death. Therefore I made all preparation for such a casualty. Henceforth I worked with round my waist a short rope the other end of which was fastened to a heavy staple in the wall. Even if the rock should give way underneath me, a foot or two would limit my fall. This precaution taken, I worked more furiously than ever. With a large hammer I struck the rock at the bottom of the shaft, again and again, with all my might. Then I heard a dull sound of something rattling below me; the top of the cave was falling in. I redoubled my efforts; and all at once a whole mass of rock sunk beneath my hammer and disappeared into a black chasm which sent up a whiff of cold air. I had seized my rope to scramble out, fearing asphyxiation; but when I smelled salt water I did not fear. Then I knew that I had got an opening into a sea cave of some sort. I stuck to my work till I had hammered an irregular hole some three feet square. Then I came up to rest and think. I lowered a rope with a stone at the end, and found that the depth was some thirty feet. The stone had gone into water before it touched bottom. I could hear the "plop" as it struck the surface. As I thought it better not to descend by myself, lest there should be any danger of returning, I spent the rest of my stay for that evening in rigging up a pulley in the roof over the hole so that I might be lowered down when the time should come. Then I went home, for I feared lest the fascinating temptation to make the descent at once would overcome me.

After breakfast I rode over to Crom, and when I was alone with Marjory told her of my discovery. She was wild with excitement, and I rejoiced to find that this new pleasure drew us even closer together. We agreed that she should come to help me; it would not do to take any one else into our confidence, and she would not hear of my going down into the cave alone. In order to avoid comment we thought it better that she should come late in the evening. The cave being dark, it was of course immaterial whether day or night was appointed for the experiment. Then it was, I could not help it, that I said to her:

"You see now the wisdom of our being married. We can go where we like; and if we should be found out no one can say a word!" She said nothing; there was nothing to say. We decided that she had better slip out, as she had done before, in the footman's dress. I went off and made preparation for her coming, bringing in food for supper and plenty of candles and matches and lamps and rope; for we did not know how long the exploration might take.

A little before nine o'clock I met her as before in the wood. She changed her livery coat for the flannel one, and we rode off to Whinnyfold. We got into the house without being noticed.

When I took her down to the cellar and turned into the hole the reflector of the strong lamp, she held on to me with a little shiver. The opening did certainly look grim and awesome. The black rock was slimy with sea moisture, and the rays of the light were lost far below in the gloom. I told her what she would have to do in lowering me down, and explained the rude mechanism which I had constructed. She was, I could see, a little nervous with the responsibility; and was anxious to know any detail so thoroughly that no accident of ignorance could occur.

When the rope was round me and I was ready to descend, she kissed me more fondly than she had ever done yet, and held on to me as though loth to part. As I sank into the opening, holding the gasoline bicycle lamp which I had elected to take with me, I saw her pretty forehead wrinkled up in anxiety as she gave all her mind to the paying out of the rope. Even then I was delighted with the ease and poise of her beautiful figure, fully shown in the man's dress which she had not changed, as it was so suitable for the work she had to do.

When I had been lowered some twenty feet, I turned my lantern down and saw through the sheen of water a bottom of rock with here and there a cluster of loose stones; one big slab which stuck up endwise, was evidently that which had fallen from the roof under my hammer. It was manifest that there was, in this part of the cave at any rate, not sufficient water to make it a matter of any concern. I called to Marjory to lower slowly, and a few seconds later I stood in the cave, with the water just above my knees. I moved the new-fallen slab to one side lest it might injure any one who was descending. Then I took the strong rope from me, and knotted round my waist the end of the thin rope which I had brought for the purpose. This formed a clue, in case such should be necessary, and established a communication with Marjory which would tend to allay her anxiety. With the cord running through her fingers, she would know I was all right. I went cautiously through the cave, feeling my way carefully with the long stick which I had brought with me. When I had got some distance I heard Marjory's voice echoing through the cave:

"Take care there are no octopuses!" She had been thinking of all sorts of possible dangers. For my own part the idea of an octopus in the cave never crossed my mind. It was a disconcerting addition to my anxieties; but there was nothing to do. I was not going to abandon my project for this f

ear; and so I went on.

Further inland the cave shelved down on one side, following the line of the rock so that I passed through an angular space which, though wide in reality, seemed narrow by comparison with the wide and lofty chamber into which I had descended. A little beyond this again, the rock dipped, so that only a low tunnel, some four feet high, rose above the water. I went on, carefully feeling my way, and found that the cave ended in a point or narrow crevice.

All this time I had been thinking that the appearance of the place did not quite tally with the description in de Escoban's narrative. No mention had been made of any such difficulties; as the few men had carried in what must have been of considerable bulk and weight there would have been great difficulties for them.

So I retraced my steps, intending to see if there was any other branch nearer to the sea. I kept the line taut so that Marjory might not be alarmed. I think I was as glad as she was when I saw the light through the opening, and the black circle of her head as she looked down eagerly. When underneath, I told her of my adventure, and then turned seawards to follow the cave down. The floor here was more even, as though it had been worn smooth by sea wash and the endless rolling of pebbles. The water deepened only a few inches in all. As I went, I threw the rays of my lamp around, anxiously looking for some opening. The whole distance from the place where I had made the entry to the face of the cliff was not very great; but distance in the open seems very different from that within an unknown cavern. Presently I came to a place where the floor of the cave was strewn with stones, which grew bigger and more as I went on; till at last I was climbing up a rising pile of rocks. It was slippery work, for there seemed some kind of ooze or slime over the stones which made progress difficult. When I had climbed up about half way towards the roof, I noticed that on my left side the slope began to fall away. I moved over and raising my lamp saw to my inexpressible joy that there was an opening in the rock. Getting close I found that though it was nearly blocked with stones there was still a space large enough to creep through. Also with pleasure I saw that the stones here were small. With a very slight effort I dislodged some of them and sent them rolling down, thus clearing the way. The clatter of the stones evidently alarmed Marjory for I heard her calling to me. I hurried back under the opening-the way seemed easy enough now I knew it-and told her of my fresh discovery.

Then I went back again and climbed down the slope of fallen stones; this was evidently the debris of the explosion which had choked the mouth of the cave. The new passage trended away a little to the right, making a sharp angle with the cave I had left. Then after deflecting to the left it went on almost straight for a considerable distance, thus lying, as I made it out, almost parallel to the first cave. I had very little anxiety as to the safety of the way. The floor seemed more level than even that of the entrance to the first cave. There was a couple of feet of water in the deepest part, but not more; it would not have been difficult to carry the treasure here. About two hundred feet in, the cave forked, one arm bending slightly to the left and the other to the right. I tried the former way and came to a sheer dip in the rock such as I had met with before. Accordingly I came back and tried the second. When I had gone on a little way, I found my line running out; so I went back and asked Marjory to throw me down the end. I was so sure of the road now that I did not need a clue. At first she demurred, but I convinced her; taking the rope I fixed one end of it within the cave before it branched. Then I started afresh on my way, carrying the coil of rope with me.

This branch of the cave went on crookedly with occasionally strange angles and sharp curves. Here and there, on one side or the other and sometimes on both, the rock walls bellied out, making queer chambers or recesses, or narrowing the cave to an aperture only a few feet wide. The roof too was raised or fell in places, so that I had now and again to bend my head and even to stoop; whilst at other times I stood under a sort of high dome. In such a zigzag course I lost my bearings somewhat; but I had an idea that the general tendency was inland to the right. Strange to say, the floor of the cave remained nearly level. Here again, ages of tide and rolling pebbles had done their work effectively. My cord ran out again and I had to lose the far end and bring it on, fixing it afresh, as I did not like to proceed without keeping a clue behind me. Somewhat further on, the cave dipped and narrowed so that I had to bend nearly double to pass, my face being just above the water as I went. It was with difficulty that I kept the lamp from touching the water below or knocking against the rock above. I was much chagrined to find this change in the structure of the cave, for since I had entered on this branch of it I had completely made up my mind that I was on the right road and that only a short time and a little distance lay between me and the treasure. However there was nothing to do but to go on.

A few feet more and the roof began to rise; at first in a very gentle slope, but then suddenly. Stretching my cramped back and raising my head, I looked around. I raised my lamp high, turning it so that its rays might let me take in a wide circle.

I stood at the side of a large, lofty cave, quaint of outline, with here and there smooth walls from which great masses of red rock projected ominously. So threatening did these overhanging masses look, that for a few seconds I feared to stir lest some of them should topple over on me. Then, when my eyes had become accustomed to the greater glare, I saw that they were simply masses of the rugged rock itself. The whole cave, so far as I could see, was red granite, formed of the great rock flung upward in the pristine upheaval which had placed the Skares in the sea.

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