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The Plant Hunters - Adventures Among the Himalaya Mountains
by Mayne Reid
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Ha! it was only after their torches had gone quite out, and they were left in total darkness—only after they had groped and groped, and wandered about for hours—now sprawling over loose rocks, now tumbling down into deep clefts—only after they had gone through all this, and still saw no light—no sign by which they could even guess at their whereabouts, that they became fully alive to the peril of their situation, and began to experience the awful apprehension already expressed—that they might never again see the light!

And such in reality was their fear, when, after hours spent in fruitless wandering, they stood holding each other's hands, crouching and cowering together in the midst of that amorphous darkness!



CHAPTER FIFTY SEVEN.

A RAMBLE IN THE DARK.

Their dread was not at all unreasonable, considering the vast extent of the cavern—considering the distance which they knew they had penetrated—considering the various devious and like ways through which they had passed while in pursuit of the bear—and, above all, considering the absolute darkness that now reigned around them. Of course they could see nothing, not even each other; not one of them could have seen the nose upon his own face, had he been looking for it.

Place yourself in the midst of complete darkness, and you will wonder how little progress you can make in any direction. Indeed, you cannot follow a right line even were there no impediment in your way.

After you have advanced a few steps, your face will begin to turn in a new direction, and perhaps keep turning, until you have gone round the four cardinal points! You need not be told this; "blind man's buff" will have imparted to you the idea, long ere now. You will remember that, after having made a turn or two, you could not tell to which side of the room you were facing, unless you laid your hand upon the piano, or some piece of furniture, and recognised it by the touch.

How just like the blind man in the game, so the three were situated; with the exception that they had no piano—no furniture—no object of any kind—to guide them. They knew not where to turn—they knew not which way to advance—which way to go back.

For many minutes, they stood paralysed by the confusion. As already stated, they held each other by the hand, and in this way they stood. Each feared to let the others go, lest he might lose them! Of course this was but an idle tear, as their voices would enable them to keep together; but there was something so awe-inspiring in their situation, that they all felt childish and helpless, and they needed the support of one another.

After remaining at rest a while, they started off afresh; holding each other by the hands, as they moved. This precaution was more necessary while they were in motion than at rest. They dreaded that one of their number might fall over some high steep or into a deep hole; and while thus clinging together, the danger would be less—that is, if all three did not go over together.

For several hours they wandered about, and, according to their own belief, must have walked many miles; but of course their progress was slow, as they had to feel their way at every step. They grew tired with the effort they had to make, and at intervals sat down to rest themselves; but their feelings would not permit them to pause long; and they would up to their feet again, and scramble on as before.

For many hours—and many miles, say they—they walked, but saw no ray of light to cheer them—saw nothing, felt nothing that they could recognise. At times they thought they must be far into the mountain— perhaps miles from the entrance of the cavern; at other times they fancied they had gone several times through the same passage; and once or twice they knew they had done so, by recognising the rocks over which they had passed.

This gave them a hope that in time they might get acquainted with the different turnings and passages,—and that would have been possible enough; but it would have taken a long time, and what were they to subsist upon while acquiring this knowledge? They thought of this, and saw at once the foolishness of the hope they had conceived.

The dog Fritz moved along, sometimes before, sometimes by their side, and sometimes in the rear. He kept silent, seemingly as much frightened as they. They could tell he was there, by hearing at intervals the scratching of his claws upon the rocks, when some boulder lay in the way, and compelled him to scramble over it. What could Fritz do more than they? In such darkness he could not see his nose any more than they? No—but he could make use of that nose to direct himself, which was more than any of his masters could do.

"Ha!" shouted Caspar, as this idea passed through his mind. "Ha, brother! Ossaroo! why might not Fritz guide us? Why might he not scent his way out of this horrid dungeon? Surely he must be as tired of it as we are!"

"Let us try what may be done," rejoined Karl, by his tone showing that he had no great hope in the experiment. "Call him up, Caspar! He knows you best."

Caspar addressed the dog by name, adding a few coaxing words, and in an instant Fritz was by his side.

"How shall we manage? Leave him to himself?" inquired Caspar.

"I fear he will stand still, and not attempt to go ahead of us," replied Karl.

"We can try him."

And as Caspar made this suggestion, all stood silent and listening.

They stood a long while to give the dog a fair trial, but he knew not what they wanted, and he remained patiently beside them without manifesting any disposition to leave. The experiment was a failure.

"Now," suggested Karl, "let us urge him forward and follow after— perhaps he will lead us in that way."

Fritz was now commanded to advance, and obeyed the command—for they could hear him start off with a slight whimper; but to their chagrin they found that they could not tell in what direction he had gone. Had he been running on the scent of some animal, his occasional baying would have served to guide them, as it had done while they were chasing the bear. Now, however, the dog ran without noise; and although they could hear an occasional scrape of his claws, yet it was not sufficiently frequent or continuous to guide them. The experiment again failed, and Fritz was whistled back.

But it was not without result. Like many other failures, it led to reflection and a rearrangement of the machinery. A better plan soon offered itself to the quick wit of Caspar; and Ossaroo had been thinking of something similar when he cried out—

"Tie string to ee tail!"

"No," replied Caspar, "not to his tail, for then he would not go forward; but let us hold him in a leash with the string round his neck, in a regular way. That will be better, I warrant."

No sooner said than done. Thongs and belts were loosed from powder-horns and pouches; a leash was constructed and fastened round the neck of the dog, and he was then hunted forward as before.

Caspar handled the straps, and the others followed, guided by Caspar's voice.

In this order they had scrambled along for a hundred yards or more, when the dog began to whimper, and then to bay, as if going upon a trail; and in a moment or two after, he came, all of a sudden, to a stop.

Caspar felt by his strong pulling on the leash, that the dog had sprung forward and seized something. He stooped down and felt before him. Instead of the hard cold rocks, his fingers came in contact with a mass of long shaggy hair.

Alas! their hopes were dispelled. Instead of conducting to the mouth of the cave, Fritz had only brought them back to the carcass of the bear!



CHAPTER FIFTY EIGHT.

CAVERN-LIFE.

They were all filled with disappointment, and particularly that the dog, having arrived at the spot where the bear had been killed, would go no farther. Drive him as they would by commands, or coax him by words of encouragement, he would not part from the carcass. Even when carried off to some distance, and let go, he always drew Caspar back to the same spot. It was very vexatious.

So thought they at first; but after a little reflection, they began to think better of it; and to recognise in this incident something more than chance. Karl especially thought so, and pointed out to his companions that the hand of Providence had to do with it; and that that same hand would yet conduct them safely out of the dismal dungeon into which they had so imprudently ventured.

Karl's words had a cheering effect; for he pointed out how fortunate it was for them that they had once more found the carcass. But for that they should have had nothing to eat, and, as a matter of course, would have soon perished of hunger.

Now, however, that the bear was found, they could subsist upon his flesh for days; and during one of these days they might succeed in reaching the entrance. They would take care not to lose the knowledge of the place where the carcass lay; and whatever excursion they might make from that spot, they should always arrange some clue by which they might return to it.

Fortunately for them there was water in the cavern. In many places it dripped from the rocks in sufficient quantity to give them as much as they wanted for drink; and not far off they had crossed a little rivulet that ran down the bottom of one of the great galleries. This they knew they could find again; and, consequently they felt no apprehensions on the score of water.

It was a question, then, how long they would be in finding the entrance, and how long they could live upon the flesh of the bear.

The finding of Bruin's carcass had considerably bettered their prospects; and as they gathered around it to dinner, they felt more cheerful than they had done since the moment when they had laid it low.

As they ate, it was dark enough around them to have called the meal a supper; and it was long enough since they had eaten their breakfast— though they could not guess how long—but as they had eaten nothing since breakfast, they styled this first meal upon the bear-meat their dinner.

No dinner or supper was ever cooked like that—it was not cooked at all! for they had no fire wherewith to cook it.

They were not squeamish. A very long interval had transpired since they had eaten their slight breakfast. Karl and Caspar had refrained from the uncooked viand until their appetite could resist no longer; and then the raw flesh of the bear became palatable enough. It was supper time with Ossaroo. His stomach had more easily got over its scruples, and he had bolted his dinner long, long ago; so that when the others sat down to their first meal, Ossaroo was able to join them at his second.

Both Karl and Caspar ate heartily enough,—quite as heartily as if a chandelier with its wax-lights had been sparkling over their heads. Perhaps the absence of light was a circumstance in their favour. The huge paws—those "titbits" of the bear's flesh—constituted their dinner; and hunters will tell you that, boiled, roasted, or raw, a bear's paw is not bad eating.

When they had finished their meal, all three groped their way to where they heard the trickling of water.

They found a place where it oozed in a rapid and continuous dripping through the rocks; and, applying their mouths to this subterranean fountain, they were enabled in a few moments to slake their thirst.

They then returned to where they had dined; and, being now much wearied with their long-continued exertions, they stretched themselves upon the rocks with the intention of having some sleep. Though their bed was a hard one, it was not cold; for in the interior of great caverns it is never cold. There the temperature is more equable than that of the atmosphere without—being cooler in summer and warmer in winter, so that variety is scarcely known—at all events, the extremes of heat and cold are never felt. This is the ease with the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, and other large caverns; and on this account it has been thought that persons suffering from pulmonary complaints might derive benefit by dwelling in caves. There are many such patients who make their home in the Mammoth; and where a commodious hotel enables them to live in comfort, and even luxury! It is possible enough that the mild and equable temperature that exists under ground may enable the victim of consumption to prolong life for a considerable time: but it is doubtful whether any radical cure can be effected in this way; and the unfortunate sufferer, once he emerges from his subterranean dwelling, will be in as much danger from the insidious disease as before.

Little did Karl, Caspar, and Ossaroo, care for the mild atmosphere that surrounded them in the cavern. They would gladly have exchanged it for the hottest country in the torrid zone, or the coldest spot in all the Arctic regions. Biting mosquitos in the former, or biting frost in the latter, would have been more welcome than that mild and gentle climate that surrounded them—that gloomy atmosphere, where sun had never shone, and where snow had never fallen.

Notwithstanding their anxiety of mind, their weariness at length overcame them, and all three fell fast asleep.



CHAPTER FIFTY NINE.

EXPLORATION OF THE CAVE.

They slept a good long while, though, whether if was by night or by day, they had no means of judging. They could only guess at it, by remembering how much time had transpired since they first entered the cave; but to show how little trust can be placed in any conjectures of this sort, they differed from one another in their estimates full twelve hours!

Karl thought they had been wandering about nearly two days and a night; while the others believed the time not so long by twelve hours at least.

Karl adduced a reason for his belief—the ravenous appetite which they had acquired, and which must have taken a long time to grow upon them; moreover, they had slept so long that he thought it must be in the night-time—the natural time of rest, which the nerves would understand without any clock to guide them. Karl admitted that his second reason was somewhat lame, since, having missed one night of sleep, their nerves on the day following would not be very nice about what hour they should feel inclined towards slumber.

It is probable, however, that Karl was right in his conjecture. They had been long hours wandering to and fro, and had rested many times. The fuelling of horrid anxiety under which they had been suffering always impelled them to press on; and no wonder they had lost all definite recollection of the distance they had gone, or the time thus fruitlessly spent. It had taken them a good while to get the ladder in place; and the first day had been far spent before they were ready to penetrate the cave. It was, therefore, quite probable that their first sleep had been during the second night, after entering their gloomy chamber.

Whether or not they had slept long and soundly enough—though not without troubled dreams—in which they had encountered bears, fierce shaggy yak-bulls, deep dangerous pits into which they were about to fall, and high cliffs they were trying in vain to climb—it was quite natural they should dream of such things.

It was the awaking that was most unnatural. Instead of a bright sunshine to greet their eyes, or the soft blue light of morning, they saw nought—all around was gloom. Instead of the music of birds, or even the cheering sounds of active life, they heard nought. All around was the silence of the tomb!

A tomb it might yet be to them—for a short while, perhaps, a living tomb; but, sooner or later, a tomb for their dead bodies—a sepulchre for their bones!

Such were their reflections on awaking. Their dreams while asleep were even less horrid than the reality to which they awoke!

If the sense of sleep regards not the absence of light, still less is the appetite of hunger affected by it. Once more the bear's paws were drawn upon for a meal, and afforded it without boil or broil, bread or salt.

As soon as they had eaten to their satisfaction, they rose to their feet, and set about the work which Karl had already traced out in his thoughts. Of course, before going about it he had fully communicated his plans to his companions.

They were to make excursions in every direction from the spot where the bear had been killed. There were many galleries leading from the place—they had noticed that while their torches were yet burning. All these they designed to explore, one after another. The explorations were at first to be for short distances, until they had made themselves familiar with the passage extending in some one particular direction. This they would accomplish by feeling the rocks on either side, until they became thoroughly acquainted with the protuberances, or other marks that could be used as guides. If none existed, they would make them, by piling up stones at such places, or chipping a piece from the stalactites with the hatchet. Their design, in effect, was to "blaze" the passages, so that they would know them again, just as a woodman marks his way through the pathless forest.

It was altogether an ingenious idea, and one that with time and patience promised success. Indeed, it seemed the only plan that held out a hope beyond mere chance—for amidst so many devious ways, to have proceeded without some plan would have been to trust to chance, and that they had tried already.

They well knew that to carry out their design would require both time and patience; but by this, all three were well drilled in the lessons of patience. The bridge-building had been a school for them. It might not take much time, but it might; and for either result had they made their minds ready.

In all probability, however, they might be long before they should set their eyes upon a ray of the sun's light—before they should see that bright disk of the cavern's mouth, that they had scarce looked at while leaving it behind them.

It was their intention then, first, to take one particular direction, and thoroughly explore that before penetrating into any other. When the first should be traversed, either to its termination, or to such a length as might influence them in believing they were in the wrong way, they would then leave it, and set to exploring some other. Sooner or later, they believed that this would bring them into the passage that would conduct them out of their gigantic prison.

Before setting about the execution of their plan, they once more made trial of Fritz, as upon the day before; but the dog would not part from the spot; and though, encouraged by the voice of Caspar, he would beat about for a certain space—it always ended by his returning to the carcass of the bear.

As soon as they became convinced that Fritz would not guide them, they released him from the string; and then, in real earnest, set about carrying out the design of Karl.

Their mode of proceeding was quite ingenious. They groped about until they found a large passage that led from the chamber or opening in which they were. This gallery they resolved to explore first.

Lest by any mistake they might not find their way back, one always remained at a certain point; while the other two went ahead—stopping at intervals to blaze their way. Of course should the two who acted as pioneers make a wrong turn, so as not to know the route back, the voice of the third would at once guide them.

In this manner they proceeded without much difficulty, though with great slowness. You will fancy they might have gone fast enough, their retreat being thus secured for them. But there were many obstacles to prevent a rapid advance. Each lateral passage they came to—and there were numbers of these—had to be marked for future examination, and the mark had to be made distinct and recognisable—this operation sometimes requiring a considerable time to effect. They had also to make their blazes at short intervals, so that these might be the more easily found upon their return. Another impediment was found in the clambering over sharp boulders, and getting across clefts that everywhere intercepted their path.

Ay, slowly and with great caution were they compelled to make their advance, and when night came—that is, when they had grown wearied and hungry, and wanted food and rest—they calculated they had not proceeded above half-a-mile from their place of departure. Of course no light had cheered them throughout those long working hours; but for all that they returned to the resting-place with their hearts still buoyed up with hope. To-morrow,—or the morrow after, or still another morrow, what mattered it?—they felt high confidence that on some morrow they would look once more upon the sun.



CHAPTER SIXTY.

PRESERVING THE BEAR'S-MEAT.

There was one thing, however, about which they were apprehensive, and that was about their larder—how long would it last? The bear was large and fat, they could tell by the "feel" of him; and if they drew upon the carcass for moderate rations, it would hold out for many days; but then how was the meat to be preserved? Lying as it was—still unskinned—it must soon become unfit for food, though not so soon as in the open air; for meat will keep much longer in a cave,—that is, if it be a very deep one, than it will when exposed to the full light of the sun.

This is easily explained. The principle of decomposition exists in the atmosphere itself, as is well-known to every one who deals in the hermetically-sealed airtight canisters of preserved meats; and if you can but remove the atmosphere entirely from a piece of fish, flesh, or vegetable, it is supposed that it will keep for ever!

In the interior of a cavern, of course there is still an atmosphere, but it is rarer and of a less changeable sort, and, most probably, less active in its powers to cause decay. Hence it is that within the cave decomposition is slower than without; and, indeed, there are some caverns where, instead of being decomposed, the bodies of men and animals have been found still retaining their proper forms, only shrivelled into smaller size, and dried up like mummies.

Though there was water here and there in the cavern, in all other places it was exceedingly dry. They could tell that the air was so, because the rocks felt dry, and in some places there was dust that was perfectly ready to puff up at the touch. They had noticed this while in pursuit of the bear. Both bear and dog had more than once been found enveloped in a cloud of dust as the hunters came near them with the torches. Indeed, they could tell that the atmosphere of the cavern was dry by simply breathing it in,—it felt dry to the throat.

Under the keen apprehension which they had lest the meat should spoil before they could find the entrance of the cave, their wits were set to work to find some means of preserving it. Salt they had none, and therefore pickling was out of the question. Had they been able to procure the material to make a fire, they could have managed without salt by smoking the meat; but fire-wood was just then as difficult to be got at as salt. Even without either, had they only been in the open air, with the warm sun shining down upon them, they could have cured that bear-meat so that it would have kept good for months.

Alas! the sun's rays were as inaccessible as either the salt or the fuel.

Preserving the meat by any one of the three different modes of salting, smoking, or jerking, was alike out of their power.

Having already noticed the extreme dryness of the atmosphere, it occurred to them that if the meat were cut into very thin slices or strips, and then hung up, or spread out upon the rocks, it might not spoil at once—at all events, it might keep for a longer period than if suffered to lie as it was in one great mass. This was Ossaroo's suggestion, and a good one it was. At all events, nothing better could be thought of, and after some consideration, they determined to act upon it.

Where were they to procure lights? How was the bear to be skinned without light? How was the flesh to be cut up and spread out?

These were questions that did not present the slightest obstacle—our adventurers scarce gave thought to them. They had by this time almost learnt to work in the darkness; and as for the skinning of the bear, Ossaroo could have performed that operation if it had even been darker,—supposing this to be possible. There was no difficulty about lights; and the shikarree, having been assisted by the others to place the carcass in a proper attitude, set to work with the keen blade of his knife, and, almost as readily as if a dozen candles had been held by him, he stripped off the shaggy hide, and laid it back upon the rocks.

The cutting the flesh into slices and strips would be easily effected, though it would require more time, and should be done with great nicety. If not sliced very thin, the meat would be liable to spoil the sooner.

But the Hindoo hunter was a very adept at this sort of thing, and his skill enabled him to complete the business in such a manner that had his "griskins" been submitted to the light, no one could have told they had been "carved" in the darkness.

The strips, as they were cut by Ossaroo, were passed into the hands of the others, who having already spread out the hide with the hairy side undermost, laid the pieces upon it.

As soon as Ossaroo had stripped the bones pretty clean, it was then time to dispose of the flesh. A question now arose as to whether it would be better to spread the pieces out upon the rock or hang them up upon lines.

Decidedly better to hang them up, thought Ossaroo; and the others agreed with him. They would dry sooner in that way, it was thought; besides, as Caspar suggested, they would be out of the way of Fritz, who, if not looked after, might steal a march upon them, and devour half the meat at a single meal. By all means they should be hung out of his reach.

But how was this to be accomplished? Where were the ropes and lines to be obtained? They had neither poles to serve as uprights, nor ropes to be stretched between them. True, there was a long piece of cord in the possession of Ossaroo, which he had manufactured from the Indian hemp, while making his fish-net; but this would not be enough. It would take many yards of cord to carry such a quantity of meat. What was to be done?

"Cut the hide into strips!" cried Caspar, in answer to the question.

The very thing; and no sooner suggested than carried into effect.

The sliced meat was removed—the raw hide was stretched out, and cut into thongs of about an inch in thickness, and these being knotted together, a rope was soon made that reached from side to side of the great chamber. The ends of this were fastened to the rocks; one was looped around a jutting point, and the opposite was held by being placed upon a little shelf with a heavy stone on top of it; and thus a line, something after the fashion of a clothes-line, was carried across the chamber.

When they had tried its strength, and were convinced that it would serve the purpose intended, they carried the meat slice by slice, and laid it carefully across, until the string was full.

Another line had to be made before all was hung up; and this was made and fastened to the rock, in a similar manner as the first. The remainder of the slices were suspended upon it, and all hands now desisted from their labour. Their day's work was done; for whether it was night or day, they had been busy for a long time, and on the completion of the job were fain to betake themselves once more to rest.

They ate their meal, and lay down intending to sleep only for a few hours, and then to rouse themselves and with renewed energies continue their search after the light of the sun.



CHAPTER SIXTY ONE.

DREAMS.

Karl in his sleep had a dream, "Let there be light, and there was light!"

This highly poetic passage of Scripture had been running in his mind during the past hours. He was thinking of chaos before the creation; and their own situation might well suggest the chaotic age. He was thinking—and reverentially—of the wonderful power of the Creator, who out of such darkness could cause light to shine forth by the simple expression of his will, "Let there be light, and there was light!"

Karl dreamt that a form had appeared to them,—the form of a beautiful man,—and that from his body a bright light, similar to that of the sun, radiated on all sides. Around his head and face the rays were distributed in the form of a glory, such as Karl had seen upon many old pictures of the Saviour. Looking more attentively at the face, Karl also recognised its resemblance to the same pictures;—the gentle and benign expression, the noble forehead, and fair curling hair,—all were the same. Karl, who was of a religious turn, believed it was the Saviour he saw in his dream. The cave was no longer in darkness; it was lit up by the coruscations of light that emanated from the beautiful vision, and Karl could see all around him.

After regarding him for a while, the bright form turned and moved off, beckoning Karl and the others to follow.

They obeyed; and, after traversing numerous passages and chambers,—some of which they recognised as having passed through while in chase of the bear,—they were guided to the mouth of the cavern, where the strange apparition, meeting the light of the sun, melted into the air and disappeared from their sight!

The delight which Karl felt, at this denouement of his dream, caused him to awake with a start, and with a joyful ejaculation upon his lips. It was suddenly suppressed, and followed by an expression of pain and disappointment. The happy passage had been only a dream,—a false delusion. The reality was as dark and gloomy as ever.

The interjections of Karl awoke his companions; and Karl perceived that Caspar was greatly excited. He could not see him, but he knew by his talk, that such was the case.

"I have been dreaming," said Caspar, "a strange dream."

"Dreaming! of what?"

"Oh! of lights, brother,—of lights," replied Caspar.

Karl was deeply attentive,—almost superstitious. He fancied that Caspar had seen the same vision with himself,—it must have been something more than a dream!

"What lights, Caspar?"

"Oh! jolly lights,—lights enough to show us out. Hang me! if I think I dreamt it after all. By thunder! good brother, I believe I was half awake when the idea came into my mind. Capital idea, isn't it?"

"What idea?" inquired Karl in surprise, and rather apprehensive that Caspar's dream had deprived him of his senses. "What idea, Caspar?"

"Why, the idea of the candles, to be sure."

"The candles! What candles?—Surely," thought Karl, as he asked the question,—"surely my poor brother's intellect is getting deranged,— this horrid darkness is turning his brain."

"Oh! I have not told you my dream,—if it was a dream. I am confused. I am so delighted with the idea. We shall group no more in this hideous darkness,—we shall have light,—plenty of light, I promise you. Odd we did not think of the thing before!"

"But what is it, brother? What was your dream about?—Tell us that."

"Well, now that I am awake, I don't think it was a dream,—at least, not a regular one. I was thinking of the thing before I fell asleep, and I kept on thinking about it when I got to be half asleep; and then I saw my way clearer. You know, brother, I have before told you that when I have any thing upon my mind that puzzles me, I often hit upon the solution of it when I am about half dreaming; and so it has been in this case, I am sure I have got the right way at last."

"Well, Caspar,—the right way to do what? The right way to get out of the cave?"

"I hope so, brother."

"But what do you propose?"

"I propose that we turn tallow-chandlers."

"Tallow-chandlers! Poor boy!" soliloquised Karl; "I thought as much. O merciful Heaven, my dear brother! his reason is gone!"

Such were Karl's painful surmises, though he kept them to himself.

"Yes, tallow-chandlers," continued Caspar, in the same half-earnest, half-jocular way, "and make us a full set of candles."

"And of what would you make your candles, dear Caspar?" inquired Karl, in a sympathising tone, and with the design of humouring his brother, rather than excite him by contradiction.

"Of what," echoed Caspar, "what but the fat of this great bear?"

"Ha!" ejaculated Karl, suddenly changing his tone, as he perceived that Caspar's madness had something of method in it, "the fat of the bear, you say?"

"Certainly, Karl. Isn't his stomach as full of tallow as it can stick? and what's to hinder us to make candles out of it that will carry us all over the cave,—and out of it, I fancy, unless it be the greatest maze that Nature has ever made out of rock-work?"

Karl was no longer under the belief that his brother had gone mad. On the contrary, he saw that the latter had conceived a very fine idea; and though it did not yet appear how the thing was to be carried out, Karl fancied that there was something in it. His sweet dream recurred to him, and this he now regarded as ominous of the success of some plan of escape,—perhaps by the very means which Caspar had suggested,—by making candles out of "bear's grease!"

These were pleasant thoughts, but to Karl the pleasantest thought of all was the returning conviction that Caspar was still in his senses!



CHAPTER SIXTY TWO.

HOPES.

Ossaroo now joined in the general joy; and the three placed their heads together, to deliberate upon Caspar's suggestion, and to discuss its feasibility in detail.

But neither Karl nor Ossaroo had much need to spend their opinion on the details; for the original "promoter" of the plan had already conceived nearly the whole of them. It was, in fact, these that he had got hold of while half asleep; and which, on first awaking, he believed to have occurred to him in a dream. But there was no dream in the matter. The idea of making candles from the bear's fat had been in his mind before he lay down—he had even thought of it while they were at work in curing the meat.

"Yes," said he, commencing to tell them in detail all that had passed through his mind upon the subject; "I had thought of the candles, while assisting Ossaroo to cut up the bear. I could tell, by the touch, that many pieces of the meat were almost pure fat; and I wondered to myself whether it would not burn and make a light. I knew, of course, that there was plenty more in the great stomach of the animal, and that of the real sort of which candles could be made. Would it burn? that was the question that puzzled me. I feared that it would not burn without first being rendered to grease or lard, and a wick put into it,—in fact, I knew it could not; and there arose the difficulty, since we had no fire wherewith to render the fat, and no vessel to render it in, even if we had been provided with fire in plenty."

"Ah! that is too true," assented Karl, rather despairingly.

"Well, so thought I, Karl, and I had well-nigh given up thinking about the matter—of course, I said nothing about it to either of you—as I knew you could not create fuel out of stones any more than I, and there was an end of it."

"Yes—an end of it," unconsciously echoed Karl, in a desponding tone.

"Not yet, brother! not yet!" rejoined Caspar, as he proceeded in his relation. "You see the thing had got into my thoughts, and, after a while, I found myself once more speculating upon it. How were we to make a fire that would melt that fat? That we could strike a light, I knew—we could do that with our tinder or gunpowder; but where were we to get sufficient fuel to make a fire with, and where was the vessel to be obtained, in which to render the lard? At first, I thought only of the fire. If we could once raise fuel for that, the vessel would not be of so much importance—we might contrive to heat a flat, thin stone, and melt some of the fat in that way. If we could not make fine candles, we might dip some wick in the grease, and thus have a kind of taper that would serve almost as well. I knew we had wick—I remembered the long hempen string which Ossaroo has got, and I knew that that would serve admirably for the purpose. All that would be easy enough—at least it appeared so—all except the stuff for the fire."

"Very ingenious of you, Caspar; these things had never entered my mind. Go on, brother!"

"Well—to make a long story short, I have got the fuel."

"Bravo! good! good!" exclaimed Karl and Ossaroo in a breath, and in accents of joy. "You have got the fuel?"

"Yes—I found it, at length; just as I was bobbing over asleep, the idea crossed my mind; though I fancied I was only dreaming, and must have afterwards fallen asleep. But I partially awoke shortly after, and took to thinking again; and then I found the vessel in which we can render our tallow—I think we can."

"Hurrah! better than all!"

"And now, listen to my plan; for I have been thinking while I have been talking, and I have it more complete than ever. Maybe you can both add something, but here is what I propose."

"Tell us, Caspar—all right, go on."

"We have with us two guns—Ossaroo has his spear, his hatchet, his bow, and a good quiver of arrows—fortunately his quiver, too, is of thick bamboo, and dry as a chip. First, then, I propose that, with Ossaroo's axe, we break up the stocks of our guns, ramrods, and all—we can soon make others, once we get out—also the shaft of Ossaroo's spear, his bow, arrows, and quiver—never mind, Ossaroo, you can replace them from the forest. This being done, we can make a fire large enough to melt as much fat as will make us no end of dips."

"You are right, brother," interposed Karl; "but how about the vessel to melt it in?"

"That puzzled me for a while," replied the ingenious Caspar; "but I got over the difficulty, at length, by thinking of my powder-flask; you know it is a patent one, and the top screws off. Well—we can take off the top, empty the powder into one of our pockets, and make use of the bottom part for the lard. I am sure it will stand the fire, for it is stout copper without a flaw. The only difficulty is, that it is small; but we can fill it over and over again."

"And you propose to make the string which Ossaroo has got into wicks, and dip them in the hot grease?"

"Nothing of the sort," replied Caspar, in a triumphant tone; "we shall have no dips. I was contented with them at first, but not any longer. We shall have candles—real mould-candles!"

"How? Mould-candles? How?"

"Oh! that you shall see by-and-by. Ossaroo would only disclose part of his plans when he went to trap the tiger, and I mean to keep a little of mine to myself, in order to have a revanche upon him. Ha! ha! ha!"

Caspar finished his speech with a laugh. It was the first time any of them had laughed since they entered that cave—no doubt, the first laugh that ever echoed through its gloomy aisles.



CHAPTER SIXTY THREE.

LIGHT IN DARKNESS.

Without losing farther time, the three set to work to make the fire, Caspar of course taking the direction. The barrels were first taken out of their guns, the locks unscrewed, and then the other iron-work was removed from the stocks. By dint of a little hammering with stones, and cleaving with the hatchet, the butt of each was separated from the heel-piece, and then broken up into small fragments. Even the two ramrods were sacrificed—the heads and screws being carefully preserved. In no reckless humour did they act, for they had now very definite expectations of being able to escape from the cave; and prudence whispered them that the valuable weapons they were thus dismantling might be needed hereafter, as much as ever they had been. Nothing, therefore, was damaged that could not be afterwards replaced—nothing thrown away. Only the wood-work was sacrificed to present necessity. Every article of iron, to the smallest nail or screw, was carefully preserved; and when all were separated from the wood-work, they were placed together and tied into a bundle, so that they might be easily carried along.

Ossaroo's weapon went "to the hammer" next. The spear-head was knocked off, and the long shaft broken into a dozen pieces. The bow was unstringed and cut into chips, and then the arrows were snapped across, and the quiver split up. All these would be excellent materials, and from their age and dryness would ignite and burn like touch-wood.

An important addition to their stock of fuel was obtained from a source up to this time quite unthought of. They now remembered the two large handles by which they had carried the torches; for they had made them with handles something after the fashion of a stable-broom. These had been dropped at the time the torches went out, and were lying somewhere near the spot. All three set to "grambling," and soon found both of them; and better still, found them with a considerable quantity of the resinous splits of the pine still attached to their ends.

This was a bit of good luck, for the pine-chips thus obtained would be the very thing wherewith to kindle the fire. Already well seasoned, and covered with the resin, that had run over them from the burning torches, they would catch like gunpowder itself.

The whole of the fire-wood was now collected together, and formed a goodly pile. There would be enough for their purpose, even without the handle of Ossaroo's hatchet, which was still left in its socket. It could be drawn out at any time, but very likely would not be required.

Now it was clear to all of them, that their little stock of fuel, if set fire to in the ordinary way, would burn too rapidly, and become exhausted long before their candle-making operations could be completed. This would be a sad dilemma, and would leave them in a worse situation than ever. Means, therefore, must be taken to avoid such a catastrophe, and means were adopted, as follows:—

They first set to work, and constructed a little furnace of only six or eight inches in diameter. This they easily built out of the loose blocks of stone that were lying about. In this furnace they placed a portion of their fire-wood—for it is well-known that the furnace is the best plan for economising fuel. The whole of the heat is thrown upwards, and a vessel placed on top will receive double the heat that it would, if hung over a scattered fire that is open on all sides.

But another important consideration led them to the building of the furnace.

They saw that when the light-wood should be fairly kindled, they could prevent it from blazing too rapidly, by casting upon it pieces of the bear's fat; and in this way not only prolong the burning of the wood, but make a much stronger fire. This idea was a very happy one, and at once secured them against a scarcity of fuel for their purpose. The furnace was made very narrow at the top, and two stones were placed so that the powder-flask,—emptied of its contents of course—should rest between them, and catch the full strength of the upward blaze.

All these things were arranged without light, but when they had proceeded thus far, they worked no longer in the darkness. The chips were placed in the bottom of the furnace—the tinder was ignited by means of flint and steel—its burning edge was placed in contact with the fine resin-covered shavings of pine-wood; and in another instant the great vault, that had so late been buried in amorphous gloom, was sparkling like a chamber set with diamonds!

The light enabled all three to do their work with rapidity and sureness.

Ossaroo was seen over the skeleton carcass cutting out the huge masses of tallow, and placing it upon the rocks. Karl was busy in attending to the fire, which, now that it had received several pieces of the fat, burned brightly and steadily—while Caspar stood near occupied with the barrels of his gun.

What was Caspar doing with the gun? Surely it could be of no service now, without either stock or lock? Ah! you mistake. It was just now that it became of service, and of great service. Only watch Caspar a little, and you will see that he has an object in handling that brace of barrels. Observe!—he has unscrewed both the nipples, and is drawing the end of a string through each of them. The other end of these strings may be seen protruding from the barrels at the muzzle. Those strings are wicks already prepared from the hempen cord of Ossaroo, and you need not now be told what use Caspar intends to make of his beautiful smooth bores, for by this time you will have guessed it.

"Candle-moulds of course!" I hear you exclaim.

"Candle-moulds of course," I reply; and most excellent moulds they will make, almost as good as if that had been the original design in their construction.

Well, the work went on—the wicks were got into their places—and as soon as the first flask of fallow was rendered into grease, it was poured into one of the barrels. This process was repeated again and again, and several times more, until, to the great delight of all, both barrels were observed to be full to the muzzle.

Of course the barrels were hot, and the grease inside them still in a liquid state. It would be necessary, therefore, to wait patiently until they should cool, and the candles become "frozen" and firm. In order to hasten this result, they carried them to the place where the water dripped from the roof of the cavern; and, resting them in an upright position—so that the drops might fall upon, and trickle along the barrels—they there left them, and returned to the fire.

This was instantly put out—all excepting a slight spark or two to assist in rekindling it. It was a wise precaution, for they knew they would have a long while to wait for the cooling of the candles, and they designed making at least another cast, before attempting to stir from the spot. On examining their stock of fuel, they saw that it would be sufficient to melt the tallow for another pair—they had string enough for wicks—and of the grease the great carcass afforded them an abundance.

You will wonder why the barrel of Karl's gun was not also brought into requisition. That is easily explained. Karl's piece was a rifle, and on account of the grooves inside would not have served at all for such a purpose. Had they attempted to mould a candle in it, the candle could not have been drawn out, and they would only have wasted their labour. This they knew, and therefore did not make the attempt.

During the interval they employed themselves in "flaxing out" the remainder of the hempen cord, and preparing it for wicks. They also enjoyed a meal of the bear's-meat—this time properly cooked—for during the continuance of the little fire, they had taken the opportunity to broil themselves a steak or two; and after eating this, they felt in much better case to continue their labours.

They waited patiently until the time came round for drawing the candles. It was a good long while, but the time arrived at length, when the barrels became cold as ice, and the tallow inside appeared to be frozen as hard.

The fire was now rekindled—the iron moulds were slightly heated in the blaze; and then the pull was given, slow and steady. A shout of joy hailed the appearance of the long white cylinder as it came softly gliding from the muzzle, until full three feet of a beautiful candle were revealed to the eyes of the delighted trio. The second "draw" succeeded equally well; and a brace of huge candles, each as big as three "sixes," were now completely moulded and ready to be lit.

A trial was immediately made, when it was found that both burned beautifully.

After a short while, another brace was added; and they had now at their command light enough to last them for a period of nearly a hundred hours! They could still have moulded more candles—for neither their fat nor their fuel was exhausted—but surely they had enough? Surely in a hundred hours they would look upon a far lovelier light—the light of the glorious sun?

And they did so in far less time—in less than the twentieth part of a hundred hours, they gazed upon the orb of day.

I shall not detail their wanderings backward and forward, upward and downward, through the vaulted galleries of that stupendous cavern! Suffice it to say, that the bright spot indicating the entrance at length flashed before their eyes like a meteor; and dropping the candles from their fingers they rushed forth, and once more gazed with delighted eyes upon the shining face of heaven!



CHAPTER SIXTY FOUR.

CONCLUSION.

You will imagine that after such a perilous adventure in the great cave, they would never again set foot within its gloomy precincts. Neither would they, had any mode of escaping from their other prison—the valley itself—been offered. But they could think of none, and there still lingered in their mind some slight hopes that one or other of the many passages of the cave might lead through the mountains, or have an opening at the top of the cliffs.

Slight as were the grounds for hope, they could not give them up until they should satisfy themselves by a complete, and thorough exploration; and for more than a week after their adventure, they employed themselves in making huge torches and moulding candles for this purpose.

A large quantity of both were at length prepared, and the exploration commenced.

Day after day they entered the cavern—each day making an excursion that lasted for several hours. Day by day they continued their fruitless search—fruitless, since no outlet could be found.

But it was not till after weeks thus spent—till after they had traversed every vault of that stupendous cavern, and traced every passage to its termination in the rocks, that they resigned all hope, and gave up in despair.

When the last day's search was ended, and they had emerged from the cave, never to enter it again, all three might have been seen seated upon the rocks near its mouth, in attitudes and with looks that betokened a deep and hopeless despair.

For a long time they sat in silence. The same thought was in the minds of all—the one painful thought, that they were hopelessly cut off from all communication with the world, and would never again look on human faces save their own!

Caspar was the first to break silence.

"Oh!" groaned he, "it is an awful fate—an awful fate—here must we live—here must we die—far away from home—from the world—alone, alone, oh!"

"Not alone, Caspar," replied Karl, making an effort to look cheerful,—"not alone, for God is with us. From this time forth let us strive to forget the world, and make Him our companion. Let God be our world!"

THE END.

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