The Sunless City/Chapter 13

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The Valley of Gold

The fish continued its course through the tunnel at a very rapid rate, borne along by a current that evidently flowed down a considerable incline. Mr. Flonatin estimated that the fall was about 1500 feet, and this proved that the sea he was leaving drained into a lower sea or lake. The vessel travelled through the tunnel for nearly twelve hours, and the time seemed even longer to the adventurous voyager, who could not retire to rest until he had come to a place where he might moor his craft. The walls of the tunnel were almost perfectly smooth, though the roof was broken and worn into fantastic shapes. Sometimes it was low down, at others high up. In some places long, jagged pieces of rock protruded in a very unpleasant manner, and rendered extreme vigilance on the part of the navigator of the highest importance, otherwise a collision with one of these obstacles might have proved disastrous, and have brought the scientific journey to a premature close. This subterranean passage or tunnel was very remarkable, and Mr. Flonatin's opinion was that it had originally been a volcanic fissure. That the water had gradually percolated through, and, having once got an entrance, carved out a way for itself.

After long and weary watching Flin was agreeably surprised to observe that the intense gloom of the place was yielding to a soft and pleasant light, and in a little time the vessel shot out of the tunnel into an open river, and then a wonderful sight burst upon the view of the astonished beholder. Looking behind he noticed that the exit of the tunnel was considerably less than the entrance. Long, reddish-looking grass covered the rocks, and as this was the first vegetation he had seen since leaving the upper world he was no less surprised than grateful. A sloping bank on each side of the river was covered with the richest verdure that mortal eyes had ever seen. The most beautiful tree ferns waved gracefully in a gentle breeze. Tall palms shot up straight, and round their trunks twined creepers that were loaded with flowers, the colours of which were of the most brilliant hues. Far overhead floated soft and delicately- tinted electric clouds, and not only did they send down great heat, but their light was intense.

Flitting about amongst the grass and ferns were millions of tiny insects of a species new to Flin. But it almost seemed as if the gems from some jeweller's shop had taken wings and were flying through the air. Strange birds, too, whose plumage rivalled the rainbow tints, flew from tree to tree. And now and again Flin noticed the bright eyes and head of some curious animal protruding from among the luxuriant foliage. Strange fruits and flowers were everywhere. No adequate notion can be conveyed of the wealth of colour which everywhere greeted the eye. But all things seemed to be in perfect harmony. There was not a line that wanted softening or a colour that was misplaced. It was a veritable Paradise, and Flin Flon's joy was boundless as he realised that his daring was at length rewarded, and he had actually reached an inner world. His goal was gained; or, at anyrate, he had so far succeeded in proving that his theory of a central world was correct. And he was then looking upon tropical beauties before which those of the upper earth must pale. As he gazed and gazed, feeling absolutely intoxicated with the wealth of glory that surrounded him, he asked himself if there could be such a wondrous land as this without inhabitants. He almost trembled with excitement when he thought of it. Was he destined to see a race of beings different from those with whom he was allied? He felt strangely agitated. And perhaps he was moved too by a little conscious pride. When he had first broached the subject of this journey into the interior of the world, men had laughed at him and called him mad, and a fool, and a blind enthusiast. But he had meekly borne all that, as a pioneer in knowledge should, for it is one of the inherent principles of human nature that men should scoff at what they do not comprehend. But now, as Mr. Flonatin saw that he had successfully solved the great problem that had puzzled the learned in all ages, he certainly felt a little proud, and he just as certainly did not entertain any great bitterness against his fellows of the upper world. Mr. Flonatin was a fair and honest man, and he felt it would be better to live even in solitude in that world he had succeeded in reaching, than return to one where

"Man's inhumanity to man made countless thousands mourn."

But he did not continue long in this frame of mind, for it was impossible for him to be selfish. He recognised the duty he owed to society, and that he had no right to withhold any information that would tend to let in light upon the ignorance of his fellows. If it were possible to return after his labours of exploration were completed, he would do so, and lay a faithful record of the wonders he had learnt before the world. And he trusted that it would at least be a lesson to sceptics and doubters, who would not see with other men's eyes, or hear with other men's ears. Further, he hoped that when he had made his discoveries known, those who had been so ready to throw stones at him might feel humbled, and act with greater mercy in the future.

Mr Flonatin continued his journey until the river broadened out into a sort of lagoon, and here in a beautiful little bay overhung with luxuriant foliage he determined to moor his vessel and recruit his strength with rest and sleep. A few turns of the paddle quickly ran the fish inshore, and leaping out he made it fast to a tree.

The beauty of this spot could scarcely have been excelled. The water was perfectly pellucid. The palms and ferns on the shore grew in clusters, and peculiar flowers covered the ground with a carpet that was a perfect bronze, that being the prevailing colour. The air, notwithstanding that it was very hot, was balmy and heavy with a thousand perfumes. Lulled by the grateful fragrance, and the cheery songs of the birds, Flin Flon sank into a sound sleep, from which he did not awake for many hours. He was then surprised to find that the glare had given place to a sort of beautiful twilight. The songs of the birds were hushed, and a myriad voices of chirping insects had taken their place. Fire-flies were everywhere. They flew over the water until it seemed studded with reflected stars. They were in the trees, and on the grass, and amongst the flowers. The sight was wonderful. The clouds had lost their coloured light, but seemed to give off a soft, silverlike radiance. Flin was puzzled about this. It was evident some change had taken place, and it set him wondering, until he at last concluded that night had settled upon this central world, and he accounted for the change in this way.

The light of these inner regions was entirely due to electricity passing through vapour --- or, in other words, clouds. These electrical currents were affected by the changes of the upper earth, and were stronger when the sun shone above, and consequently gave off more light. But when the sun's influence had been withdrawn from the upper world, the currents of the central world were less strong, and these changes marked the day and the night. This will be better understood when it is remembered that the electric forces permeated the whole globe, and those laws which govern the outer part of the world must affect the inner part. Mr. Flonatin subsequently proved this beyond dispute by observing that the tides of the internal seas regularly ebbed and flowed. The darkness --- though this is merely a conventional mode of speaking, for the whole country seemed bathed in moonlight --- lasted some hours, then gradually the clouds became more brilliant, the silver radiance gave place to gold and chrome, and a light as from a tropical sun broke forth, and the air grew sultry. This effect was no less beautiful then it was startling --- startling, because it was so totally unexpected. Flin wondered how it was he had not observed the same thing in the "Sea of Echoes," and his theory was that the space being less there and the power of the electric currents greater, they were not affected in the same degree as here, where it was open country. Moreover, when he came to remember it, some slight change had taken place there, though he believed now that he had slept through what was really the night, and so had been unable to mark any very decided alteration in the light thrown off by the clouds. Having breakfasted he cast off his moorings and continued his journey. As he proceeded the river grew broader and the country became more wooded with a stunted growth of trees, until he sailed through miles and miles of dense jungle that was a mass of gold and bronze. He saw silvery streams meandering through meadows of delicate emerald grass. As he proceeded a bend in the river brought him to an open plain of many miles in extent. This plain was scattered all over with disrupted rocks, but they glittered like burnished gold. Trees there were a few, but flowers or herbage there were none. The whole place, in fact, seemed nothing but yellow metal.

Flin steered his vessel into a little cove and sprang ashore, which was not soft ground, but hard, solid metal. He stooped down to examine what it was, and fairly gasped for breath as he discovered that it was gold --- pure gold --- polished and worn smooth by the action of water. He jumped up excitedly, and ran to the nearest boulder, which weighed many tons. It was solid gold. The whole plain was gold. Gold was everywhere. Flin almost staggered with astonishment as he beheld the countless millions of tons which lay around of that precious metal which was said to be "the root of all evil" in the world he had left. If the whole wealth of the upper earth had been collected together it would scarcely have been equivalent to one of the boulders upon which at that moment Flin rested his hand; and yet here there were millions of these boulders. In his wildest imaginings he had never dreamt of such a thing as this. He had often thought that down in the bowels of the earth there were immense masses of gold; because mining operations had proved that the richest gold-bearing strata are deep down. But that there were solid fields of the precious metal scores of miles in extent had never once occurred to him. As he surveyed this stupendous tract, and assuming that the gold was only two inches in depth --- though he proved by the crevasses and fissures that it was many feet thick --- he made a rough calculation that there was sufficient gold there to pave the streets and roads of every large city and every town and village in the United States, as well as to enable all the citizens to build their houses with it, and even use it for all those purposes that iron was then used for.

Mr. Flonatin was no hypocrite, and so he confesses that as he gazed upon these fields of wealth he sighed with regret, and wished that he could have found means to have reached the upper earth there and then from the spot where he stood. As it was --- and knowing how useless such wishes were --- he stooped down and filled his pockets with pieces of the yellow dross. And then he ran down to his vessel and procured a pillow- case and filled that. And the more he procured the more he desired to have, and he clutched frantically at the glittering lumps, and carried them on board, and stowed them in every available spot. He spent hours in doing this, until he found that the vessel was sinking so deep in the water as to be unsafe. But he says that this did not trouble him. And at that moment --- he records this with heartfelt sorrow --- he forgot everybody --- everything --- even his glorious mission, in his mad wish to possess himself of the wealth which was so lavishly scattered about. The gold had suddenly become his god. He literally fell down and worshipped it. He lifted up great lumps, and staggered so under their weight that he was obliged to put them down again. And then he almost wept because he could not convey them away. He stood in a world of gold --- master of all --- and yet not a single grain of it was of the slightest use to him then. On the contrary, it had a positively evil effect. It corrupted his soul, it almost turned his brain. His genial, pleasant face was distorted with a horrid, selfish expression. And he writes that he firmly believes that if at that moment there had been only one other human being there who had attempted to have taken a single ounce of the metal he would have dashed out his brains without one feeling of remorse or pity. Mr. Flonatin is of opinion that he was not responsible for his acts at this period of his journey. He thinks that he was literally mad, though it was the only time that ever he was so in his life; and it subsequently cost him many pangs of keen sorrow.

When he had crammed his pockets full of gold, and filled the available space in his vessel with it, he cast off the moorings and left the place with intense regret. Looking back every now and then his heart ached at being obliged to leave this wonderful region, and he was frequently tempted to turn again. But he conquered this feeling as he remembered that he had brought hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of the stuff with him.

His pockets were bursting with it; he had filled his pillow-cases, the lockers, the shelves, his own boxes, he had piled it up on the floor, on the seats, everywhere in fact. And he watched it hour after hour, and was fearful lest he might lose even a grain. Almost every sound startled him. He thought somebody was coming to steal his hoards, for he forgot at that time that he was down in the bowels of the earth.

He neglected to take his meals, and even to snuff. His own life --- his safety --- ;the objects of his journey --- everything gave place to the one and all-absorbing thought of his suddenly-acquired wealth. At last exhausted nature asserted itself, and, unmindful of where his vessel was drifting to, he sank down upon the floor and fell into a profound sleep.