The Sunless City/Chapter 7

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The Sunless City by James Edward Preston Muddock
Chapter VII

Flin Flon has a Strange Dream

The river down which Flin had floated branched off into many streams as it ran through this hall of jewels --- for so the voyager called the place --- owing to the pillars that impeded its strange course, and as this circumstance was likely to prove very bewildering, Flin was determined not to run the risk again of being lost. He therefore procured a quantity of papers, of which he had a good supply, and tore them into small fragments, so as to strew them along the ground as he proceeded, and thus be able to retrace his steps to the spot from which he started.

This done he provided himself with a good stock of provisions, some torches, and a bottle or two of champagne. And having lighted and fixed a torch on his vessel he started off to explore the cavern. He found on examination that all the walls, the pillars, the roof, the floor, were composed of Plutonic rocks, granite, porphyry, and iron stone, and this accounted for the strange, fantastic nature of the place. As Flin speculated upon the immense time --- hundreds of thousands of years --- that it must have taken to form this hall, at such a depth below the surface of the earth, he was awed into reverent silence. Here was a page of geology that was written in characters of fire, and told in language that none could misinterpret, that the laws of Nature were immutable; that she worked slowly but surely, never altering her course, never changing her ideas, but proceeding with her ceaseless labours through millions of years, while countless thousands of generations of puny men came into the world, had their little day and then withered into the dust of the earth again, which was used by Dame Nature for her building materials.

Flin knew that the discovery of this vast cavern --- carved out of the very earliest rocks --- would for ever upset the schoolboy theories of a certain class of "tub thumpers," who shriek themselves hoarse in their assertions that this globe was suddenly blown into space like a soap bubble, and that some day it would just as suddenly collapse and be no more. That the great firmament of wondrous stars, of incomprehensible moons and glorious suns were made specially for the use of this little planet, the most insignificant and least by comparison of all. As Flin thought of this very stupid doctrine, promulgated by little-minded men, whose brain capacity is not equal to the mole which passes its life in an Egyptian night, no wonder that he grew irate, and made this characteristic entry in his diary, "Imprimis. --- All men who shut their eyes to the wonderfully simple writings of Nature are asses."

This is severe, and Flin evidently intended it to be so.

Flin could read the history of this Plutonic region with the ease with which a schoolboy with any pretensions to rudimentary knowledge could read his Greek alphabet.

Time was when these rocks were molten. So far back is that period that the mind cannot comprehend the thousands of cycles of ages that must have rolled away since. Then as they gradually cooled water came to work, but the water and the fire did not agree, though they were but agencies to carry out some great purpose. Huge volumes of gas were formed that rent, and tore, and sundered the half-cooled stone, that as it grew still harder, was shattered by the steam and gas into the fantastic pillars that Flin beheld. Then water continued its work through other thousands of years, wearing away rough angles, and polishing and smoothing down until the granite and porphyry with their embedded jewels became hydrophanous, and lo! here was a palace produced that the brain of no Eastern prince could ever have conceived.

But the mystery was, where did the light come from? It was reflected light, caught up and multiplied a thousandfold by the glittering and prismatic rocks, but where did the light have its origin? The traveller was determined to discover if possible, and he struck a course at right angles with the main branch of the river. He had brought a small pocket compass with him, but on consulting this he was amazed to find the needle flying about in a most extraordinary manner, obviously owing to some peculiar magnetic disturbance. He placed the box on the floor but the needle vibrated like an aspen leaf, one minute it pointed to the north, then flew round to the south, then west, then east, in fact it was all round the compass, and did not remain stationary at any point for many seconds together. This magnetic disturbance was very singular, and set Flin pondering, for he was anxious to discover the cause of such a strange phenomenon. He therefore returned to the vessel where he had a magnet and a quantity of steel pins. He found that the power of the magnet was quite neutralised, but that the rocks all round were highly magnetised, and that if he held some of the steel pins in his hand near the rock the pins would fly off and adhere to the nearest point of stone. All the rocks above, below, around, were possessed of this magnetic property, so that the phenomenon of the needle disturbance was explained.

Having satisfied himself in this matter, Flin noted the thermometer, which registered 79 degrees, being three degrees less than the temperature on board the fish-vessel, and he started on his journey, carrying a thermometer with him.

He steered a course as near as he could judge about S.W., but of course this was mere guess work, as he had nothing reliable upon which to base his calculation.

The cavern appeared to be limitless, though as he proceeded the pillars were closer together, some in fact being so close that he could not pass between them, but had to make a detour. He was careful as he went along to make a track with the pieces of paper, and he found that the farther he penetrated into the mysterious recesses the features of the place changed, and the temperature increased. The pillars and arches were not so well defined; the roof was lower; and the ground assumed the appearance of waves, as if the molten rock had been greatly agitated, like the surface of the ocean in a storm, and then suddenly petrified. This rendered travelling exceedingly difficult, as many of these stone waves were six and seven feet high, and the edges were jagged and sharp. But great as were these obstacles, they could not deter the enthusiastic and intrepid voyager from prosecuting his research; and though his feet were bruised and his hands lacerated, and the heat rendered breathing difficult, he still pushed ahead, and after travelling for three hours he sat down and partook of some refreshments, and after a good rest he resumed his journey, and presently came to what appeared to be a huge hill. Up this he scrambled. It was terrible work, but nothing could daunt him. The thermometer now rose to 90 degrees, and he found it necessary to take off a portion of his clothing. He reached the top of the hill, and then commenced the descent, which was very precipitous, and he found that he was far below the level of the river. The roof was so low here that Flin had to crawl on his hands and knees in many places. In fact the place might be likened to a gigantic honeycomb, and through every opening a strange, weird light streamed, which was reflected and counter reflected on millions of points of the polished rocks, until it seemed as if the whole place was hung with tiny lamps of various colours.

This sort of travelling was very exhaustive, and it took Flin nearly three hours to accomplish two and a half miles.

All this time he had been descending, and now the labyrinthian-like intricacies grew less complicated. The ground became smoother, and lost its rolling form. The roof was higher, and the pillars farther apart.

Suddenly --- so suddenly in fact that he was positively startled --- Flin found himself on the edge of a boundless chasm, and the heat was intense. But a sight burst upon his gaze that caused him to fall upon his knees in awe and wonderment, and exclaim reverently, ---

"O Incomprehensible! in the presence of such marvels I bow my head in the dust!"

He --- the daring and enthusiastic man of science --- had penetrated into the very secret heart of one of Nature's workshops.

A low muffled grumbling came up out of the gulf, and between the fissures of the rock he could see living fire flowing and seething, and from these fissures long powerful rays of light shot out, like the rays of an electric lamp.

The rocks, too, were broken and contorted into every conceivable shape. Here was what seemed to be the turret of some old castle; there an imposing and lofty house, from the windows of which lights streamed. Massive archways, ponderous gates, galleries with wonderfully carved balustrades. They were all there, until Flin almost fancied that he stood at the entrance to the infernal regions, and he would scarcely have been surprised had Pluto and his suite suddenly appeared before him.

Such a stupendous myriorama as the eyes of Flin rested upon is verily beyond the power of words to describe.

The scientific mind of the man, however, soon enabled him to comprehend the mystery. This was the bed of a living volcano, that had at some remote period extended throughout the vast cavern Flin had travelled through. There were the traces of the fire everywhere. They were marked on every inch of rock; but it was evident that the volcano was becoming extinct, since the fires were confined in such a comparatively narrow limit.

There was one thing that struck Flin as being remarkably strange, and that was the entire absence of anything like sulphurous gas. The heat was almost unbearable, the thermometer registering 112 degrees, but the atmosphere was perfectly free from any injurious fumes.

He was unable to account for this for some time, but at length observed that a strong current of air set from the direction he had travelled, and wafted the vapours over to a point on the opposite side of the gulf. Then for the first time he noticed that this point was the mouth of a huge tunnel or shaft that trended upwards. And the sides of this tunnel were aglow with a dull, red heat. It was evidently the escape valve for the internal fires when they rose in wrath. Flin made a calculation, and arrived at the conclusion that this was the base of one of the volcanoes in the Andes that had long been quiescent.

Much as Flin Flon would have like to have descended further into the gulf he felt that it would not be prudent. For enthusiast as he was, he was not --- as some scientific men are --- entirely wanting in those principles which teach that "discretion is the better part of valour." The discoveries he had already made were too valuable for him to risk his life in any foolhardy manner. He was quite willing to lay his life down if needs be for the benefit of the world in which he lived. But he did not think that any such exaction was required in the present instance. And as to descend into the heart of a living volcano would in all probability be to court instant death, he very wisely determined to retrace his steps. For there is a point at which even the most daring of men must stop, when Nature cries --- halt! And Mr Flonatin felt that he had reached that point now.

Before leaving the brink of the gulf, Flin tore a sheet of paper from his notebook and wrote upon it his name and address, the date of the month and year, and a few particulars of his voyage so far. This done, he rolled the piece of paper up and placed it in a champagne bottle, together with some United States currency, mostly five and ten cent. greenbacks, some of them being counterfeit. He corked the bottle up firmly, and placed it in a small crevasse, with the neck --- to which he tied a piece of white paper ---projecting, so that if anybody should contemplate journeying over the same route they would have no difficulty in discovering the bottle, even after this lapse of time. That is, of course, assuming that no change has taken place in the geological formation of the place.

This task completed, he snuffed freely and quaffed a bumper of wine, having first christened the place, by sprinkling a little wine over the rocks, "Pluto's Reception Hall," and casting one last lingering gaze at the mysterious gulf that he felt he should never see again, he commenced the return journey.

By aid of the pieces of paper he easily retraced his steps, but after proceeding a considerable distance he felt so exhausted that he decided upon remaining where he was for the night. By night it will be understood to mean that portion of the twenty-four hours which the traveller devoted to rest, for there was no sun or moon, or change from light to darkness, to mark the day and the night, in the region through which he was then passing.

He found that the rock was very far from a soft or comfortable bed, and repeatedly wished himself snugly ensconced in the little cabin on board the fish. But he was not a man to grumble much, for though rather sybaritic in his tastes, he was content to put up with many inconveniences for the sake of the cause to which he was devoting himself, and he knew that the preservation of his own health and strength was of the highest importance.

After tossing about for some time he fell into a troubled sleep, and he dreamed --- so he records --- that he was in the infernal regions, and that his Satanic Majesty was holding a judicial court, and he (Flin Flon) was on his trial for having entered Pluto's kingdom. The hall in which the court was held was of vast dimensions. The pavement was inlaid with the most costly and precious stones. The pillars that supported the roof were of solid gold, studded with huge brilliants. The roof itself was pure gold inlaid with turquoise, amethysts, rubies and pearls. The throne upon which his Majesty was seated was formed out of a gigantic brilliant of the first water, and his footstool was a magnificent carbuncle, while the sceptre he held in his hand was set with a cat's eye of unusual size, and every time this sceptre was moved the jewel seemed to emit sparks of fire.

All round the hall ran golden galleries that were filled with spirits in human form and all plainly labelled. There were bishops and clergymen of all denominations. There were kings and queens, statesmen, philanthropists, authors (a good many of these), tradesmen (these were more numerous than the authors), and reviewers and critics --- these were the most numerous, in fact, they represented a large majority. Each spirit wore round its neck a gold plate, on which was marked in diamonds the calling followed in life, so that Flin had no difficulty in distinguishing the kings from the critics and the critics from the tradesmen. Amongst the latter Flin states that he fancied he recognised his own tailor and butcher. But this is, no doubt, meant as raillery, for the great traveller was evidently a bit of a wag in spite of his high scientific attainments. The strangest peculiarity of all was, that each spirit was encircled in a pale blue, perfectly transparent lambent flame. The flame seemed to radiate, as it were, from the spirits themselves, whose faces wore expressions of intense suffering. The flame was all over them, though it did not shoot out from the form, but to use Flin's own words, "fitted them like a suit of clothes." And in appearance it was very like the flame given off by burning spirits of wine. His Majesty was enveloped in a flame of a deep ruby colour, that was rather pretty in its effect. If he wanted any particular person in the court to "catch his eye," he pointed his finger and a long spark, like an electric spark, darted therefrom to the spirit whose attention he wanted, It should be mentioned that all the spirits hung their heads, as if with shame, and only looked up when required by his Majesty to do so.

The spirit of one of the critics gave evidence against Flin. He said that he had observed him trespassing and making notes, no doubt with a view to publishing a book on his Majesty's dominions. The King remarked that after such evidence as that, it was useless to waste the time of the Court with going into the case any further, for the guilt of the culprit was clearly established, and for anyone to attempt to write a descriptive work of the kingdom over which he had so long reigned to the satisfaction of his subjects was a very grave offence, and must be punished in a manner altogether unparalleled. The prisoner would therefore be kept for ten million years ---"

At this point Flin suddenly awoke in a great fright. And he says that there was such an air of reality about the whole affair that for some moments he had a difficulty in persuading himself that it was only a dream.

However, a good pinch of snuff soon called him back to a proper sense of his position, and as he felt considerably refreshed, he was determined to get back to his vessel.

Following the trail of papers, he hurried on as fast as the nature of the ground would allow him, for he remembered that his pigeons and rabbits had not been fed for some time, and he feared they might die of hunger.

He reached the end of the trail and the river at last, but he could not see the fish. Then he thought that he had come to the wrong spot, but when he looked at the papers strewn on the ground he felt that he could not be mistaken. Where, then, was his vessel? Certainly not in sight. He went up the stream and then down, but nowhere was the fish to be seen. He listened with bated breath, but he could hear nothing but the weird rippling of the water. It was an awful moment. To be left there without the means of escape, to die slowly of horrid starvation, and when the success of his mission seemed so certain, was a fate that might have appalled even a stouter heart than Flin Flon's.

He rushed up and down frantically, but his search was not rewarded. And when the terrible truth broke upon him that he was indeed left there, and that his vessel had drifted away, he fell to the ground in a swoon.