A Tour in the Dark

ONE February evening, more than a year ago, after a drive of fourteen miles over a lonely Kentucky road, I drew rein in front of a huge, rambling wooden building, standing solitary in the midst of the forest.

There was no village in sight to account for the presence of so large a structure, no adjacent farms, and, except a little patch in front of the house, no fields, — nothing but the solemn woods which nearly shut it in on every side.

I did not ask if this was the Mammoth Cave Hotel. I knew it without asking.

Here I was, then, at last, — about to see what I had desired to see ever since I was a boy !

But delay frequently comes with the certainty of accomplishing any longcherished desire ; and though I had driven with a hasty whip from the railway station fourteen miles away, and though the hotel proprietor offered to procure me a guide that evening, my haste to see the cave was unaccountably over. I ordered a fire in my room, and concluded to wait until morning.

It was too early in the season for the usual summer visitors, and I found myself the sole guest in this big, lonesome caravansary, that looked as though a dozen old-fashioned Dutch farm-houses had been placed in the midst of a wood-lot, and then connected by the roofs, the whole forming one straggling, weather-stained,labyrinthine building, full of little nests of rooms, high-pitched gables, cumbrous outside chimney-stacks, cavernous fireplaces, and low, wide corridors open at either end, where were uncertain shadows, and draughts of damp air that whispered and moaned all night long.

In the evening, as I sat before the blazing pile of logs in the fireplace, some one knocked at my door, and a negro servant looked in. Would I like to see the guide ?

“ Certainly. What is his name ?”

“Nicholas, sail, Nicholas! But we all calls him Ole Nick.”

Rather an ominous name, to be sure! but then, if one goes to the regions below, what guide so appropriate ?

On presentation, his Majesty proved to be an interesting black man, considerably past middle age ; wrinkled, as none but a genuine negro ever becomes ; a short, broad, strong man, with a grizzled beard and mustache, quiet but steady eyes, grave in his demeanor, and concise in his conversation. He tells me of two routes by which I can make a tour through his dominions. The shortest one will require six hours to travel, and at the farthest will take me to the banks of the river Styx, six miles from the entrance to the cave. The other route will take the whole day. and will lead as far as the so-called “Maelstrom,” — a singular pit, a hundred and seventy-five feet deep,—and place nine miles of gloom between me and this outer world. And with these facts to be juggled and distorted in ridiculous combinations with remembrances of many persons and places in the vagaries of dreams, I went to bed and to sleep.

As the sun came up, we went down, — my guide and I, — down a rocky path along the side of a ravine that grew narrower and deeper until we came to a dilapidated house where the ravine seemed to end. Stepping upon the rotting piazza of this old house and facing “right about,” there opened before us, as broad and lofty as the entrance to some ancient Egyptian temple, the mouth of the cave. From where we stood, a path, as wide as an ordinary city sidewalk and as smooth, sloped gently downward through the portal.

Turning to the right to avoid the drip of a limpid stream, — that falls over the entrance like a perpetual libation to Pluto, — a few minutes’ walk places us many hundred feet vertically beneath the surface, and in the “ Rotunda,” an enlargement of the cave, which looks about as large as the interior of Trinity Church, but is in reality larger ; being quite as lofty, and measuring at its greatest diameter a hundred and seventy-five feet.

Here, as we paused to look, with our flaring lamps poised above our heads, a strange squeaking noise was heard, which seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere in particular. I glanced inquiringly at my guide, in answer to which he simply replied,“ Bats,” and pointed to the walls, where, on closer inspection, I found these creatures clinging by thousands, literally blackening the wall, and hanging in festoons a foot or two in length. The manner of forming these festoons was curious enough : three or four bats having first taken hold of some sharp projecting ledge with their hindmost claws, and hanging thereby with their heads downward, others had seized their leathery wings at the second joint, and they too, hanging with downward heads, had offered their wings as holdingplaces for still others ; and so the unsightly pendent mass had grown, until in some instances it contained as many as twenty or thirty bats. The wonder seemed that four or live pairs of little claws not so large as those of a mouse could sustain a weight that must have been in some instances as much as three pounds.

The mysterious influence of the approaching spring had penetrated even into these abodes of darkness, and aroused in the bats a little life after their long hibernation ; and their weak, plaintive squeak, which had something impish in it withal, came from every shadowy recess, and from the dark vault overhead. This “ Rotunda” should have been called the “Bower of Bats.”

As they all hung too high to reach by other means, I flung my stick at random upward against the wall, and brought down two of the black masses, that writhed helpless upon the stony floor of the cave. Poor, palpitating things, unable to loose their clutch upon each other’s wings, it was hard to say whether they were more disgusting or pitiful. What Eshcol clusters these, to bear back from this Canaan of darkness, saying, “This is the fruit of it ! ”

Such an immense number of bats had harbored and died here from time immemorial, that more than a hundred acres of the earthy floor of the cave had, from their decomposing remains, become impregnated with nitre; and during the years 1812 to 1814, a party of saltpetre-makers took up their residence here. They made great vats in the cave, in which they lixiviated the impregnated earth, and by wooden pipes conveyed it to a place where they boiled the water drawn from the vats. Their rude mechanical contrivances are standing yet, in the same positions in which they were left so long ago ; and so dry and pure is the air of the cave, that, though more than half a century has passed, these wooden pipes and vats show no more indication of decay than they did when first put in. In one place my guide dug up from the clayey floor — where it was their custom to feed the oxen employed in drawing the materials to and fro — some corn-cobs, very dry and light, but as perfect as though they were only a few months old.

The footprints of the oxen, made in the earth that was then moist, are plainly visible in many places; and the clay has since become almost as hard as stone, so that I found it difficult to make any impression in it with the point of my pocket-knife.

A few minutes’ walk brought us in front of the “ Giant’s Coffin,” an enormous rock forty feet in length, which has fallen from the ceiling. The resemblance to a coffin is so strangely exact, that, having heard mention of it before coming in, I recognized it at the first glance. The upper part of the rock is composed of a stratum whiter than the rest, and gives it the appearance of having a border of white ornamentation around it, just below the lid. It rests upon a gigantic bier about ten feet high, and a little longer than the coffin, and the effect is as though some kingly son of Anak were lying in state in this huge sepulchral vault.

Near at hand is a cluster of objects, not carved out by the accidents of time or the long attrition of subterranean rivers, as is the case with almost everything else in the cave, but shaped by human hands into a mournful resemblance to cottages ; the likeness being all the more pathetic when one learns the fact that for many months a number of benighted human beings made their home here, under the delusion that the air of the cave, which is chemically pure and dry, would cure their pulmonary diseases ; and that here, like plants shut out from the generous, fostering sun, they paled and died.

The appearance of those who came out after two or three months’ residence in the cave is described as frightful. “ Their faces,” says one who saw them, “ were entirely bloodless, eyes sunken, and pupils dilated to such a degree that the iris ceased to be visible ; so that, no matter what the original color of the eye might have been, it appeared entirely black.”

These cottages, if by a great stretch of courtesy I may call them such, are very small, consisting each of but one room about ten feet square ; they had been built of stones collected in the cave, and laid loosely in the wall without mortar; they had fireplaces and chimneys, good wooden floors, and doors, but no windows, as there was neither light to let in nor prospect to view without. As there was neither rain nor snow fall, neither midday heat nor dew of night, beneath that stony cope, roofs also were useless ; so that the structures were only cells that strongly reminded one of sepulchres. I can conceive of nothing more melancholy than the existence of the seven or eight consumptives, who I am told occupied these ante mortem tombs at one time about fifteen years ago. Three died there, and every one of the others who had resided in the cave for a period of two months died within two or three weeks after coming out.

Near to these monuments of ignorance and despair, I noticed a monument of another sort, and of later date, — a tribute to one of the most gallant and genial of men, in whom it was fully demonstrated that “ the bravest are the tenderest.” It was a pyramidal pile, about eight feet high, of carefully selected stones, laid without mortar, but with mathematical precision; and on one stone near the top was scratched a name dear to every soldier’s heart, — “ McPherson.”

The cells where the living died, and this pile which tells how the memory of the dead yet lives, are the last objects on our route that have any association with the things of this outer world ; these are the pillars that mark the beginning of a realm devoid of human association,—its Pillars of Hercules, beyond which is a silent waste whose darkness breeds the wildest mysteries.

Walking continuously through the gloom, one loses to some extent the idea of progression. Here he can get no look ahead, no backward view. He is the centre of a little circle of light, beyond which is immeasurable darkness, whence objects seem to come to him like apparitions, changing form as the first and last rays of light fall upon them, as though the shape in which they appear under the full light of the lamp were only some disguise of assumed innocence, which they cast off as they glide silently into the dark again, to take on some semblance too awful for mortal eyes. Farther and farther we went along these arched, cryptlike ways ; passing frequently through lofty chambers where the roof could not be discovered, each with some fanciful and often inappropriate name assigned to it, until we came at length to what looked like a window in the side wall of the cave. Peering through this, and holding my lamp high over my head, I could see neither roof nor sides nor bottom,—only the wall in which was the window through which I looked. Upward it was lost in the darkness, and from my breast it descended, perpendicular as a plummet line, until it vanished in the gulf below, from which arose a sound of dripping water. This, my guide informed me, was “ Gorin’s Dome.” Taking then from his haversack a Bengal light, he ignited it and threw it into the dark void. The sulphurous light shot up and up into a dome unlike anything built by human hands, unless it might be the interior of some tremendous tower, eighty feet in width, and nearly two hundred in height, which the beholder viewed from without, looking inwards through a window placed at two thirds of the entire height from the bottom.

The inaccessible floor of this place is nearly level, and the walls strictly perpendicular from base to summit ; the whole cavern having been hollowed out by the constant dripping of water holding carbonic acid in solution, which cuts the rock as ordinary water channels the ice of a glacier or the mural face of an iceberg into a semblance of columns, and sometimes into the folds of an immense curtain.

The brief light fell upon the distant floor; flashed up once, bringing into strong relief every salient angle in the wonderful walls, and then died out ; the awful prospect vanishing like a nightmare vision, and leaving nothing to the sense but the sound of the water dripping into the depths below'. The light had burned only half a minute ; but so strange was the scene, that this glimpse sufficed to photograph it indelibly in my memory.

Gorin’s Dome is not the largest of this class of sub-cavities in the cave being smaller than Mammoth Dome; but it is the first of its class that the tourist sees, and it is viewed from so singular a stand-point that it makes the most startling impression.

Five minutes’ farther walk brought us to a wooden footbridge, — a narrow, shaky contrivance, with a treacherous footing and a slender hand-rail. Here the bottom of the cave seemed to have dropped out, and the roof to have gone in search of it ; and but for the dim glimpse of the rock on the other side one might have suspected that this bridge would launch him into that ungeographical locality called, in the old Norse mythology, “Ginnunga Gap,” — a place where there was neither side, edge, nor bottom to anything.

The vault overhead is called “ Minerva’s Dome ” ; the gulf below is called the “ Side-Saddle Pit,” though I failed to discover any degree of appropriateness in the odd name.

Standing in the middle of the bridge, my guide flung one of his Bengal lights far upward, in the midst of the slow - falling drops that had already carved out this tremendous well and were still making it larger. The light turned them for an instant into a shower of diamonds; then down it fell, down, down ! As in its descent it passed the bridge on which we stood, the shadows of our two figures rushed up the opposite wall, like a pair of demons scared out of their abode by the hissing flame ; and Nick, the guide, as he leaned over, looking downward after it, — every one of the innumerable wrinkles in his black face made more distinct, with his white beard and mustache, and the whites of his eyes seeming to glow in the blue elfish light, — was a caricature, half grotesque, almost terrible, of Satan himself.

Minerva’s Dome and Side-Saddle Pit, both being one place and formed by the same dripping water, correspond to Gorin’s Dome and the pit beneath it; that part which has been hollowed out above the roof of the cave being called the dome, and the part below the floor of the cave the pit. The only difference between the two is that in the case of Gorin’s Dome the dripping waters have bored their huge shaft on one side of the track of the cave, only just piercing the wall of it in one spot, to make the window through which it is viewed ; while in the case of the Side-Saddle Pit the vertical shaft cuts directly across the track of the cave, or, to speak more correctly, across the tunnel which was once the bed of a subterranean river, but which is now a broad, smooth, dry path.

The topography of this underground realm may be divided into three departments, as follows : —

First,—-as being greatest in extent, — the “avenues,” or tunnels, which present conclusive evidence of having once been the channels of a subterranean stream, whose waters, having some peculiar solvent property, wore their bed lower and lower in the rock, until they cut through into some lower opening, through which they were drawn off, leaving the old channels dry. Imagine one of the narrow, crooked streets in the old part of Boston, spanned by a continuous stone archway from the summits of the buildings on either hand ; then close with solid masonry every window and loop-hole by which a ray of light could struggle in, and you have for proportions and sinuosity not a bad semblance ot these tunnels, which constitute four fifths of the extent of the Mammoth Cave.

The second and next largest department is that of the “ chambers.” These are places in the general course of the former river where the roof fell in before the withdrawal of the waters, opening great spaces upward ; the fallen mass forming a sort of island in the centre of the stream, and crowding the waters on either side of it against the walls of the cave, so that they were worn out to twice the average width, and finally itself disappearing under the combined action of the current and the solvent properties of the water.

The air in all these tunnels and chambers is remarkably dry and pure. Wood seems never to decay here ; as is instanced in the wooden pipes and vats of the saltpetre-makers, upon which the lapse of a half-century has not had any visible effect.

The general width of the tunnels or avenues is about forty or fifty feet, and the average height about thirty feet; but this uniformity is broken every few hundred yards by chambers, varying in width from eighty to two hundred feet, and in height from seventy to two hundred and fifty feet. The floor is formed in some places of sand, but generally of indurated mud, so hard that it is impossible to make any indentation in it with the heel of the boot, and remarkably even and smooth, so that almost anywhere one can walk with as much ease as on city sidewalks. The walls also are clean and smooth, as in the arched crypts of some mighty cathedral. A cross section of almost any one of these tunnels would show an elliptic outline, the vertical diameter being the shortest, and the bottom being filled with indurated mud or sand to a sufficient depth to make a level floor.

The third division or class of openings is that of the “ domes ” and “ pits.” These were formed by the same kind of agency as the tunnels and chambers, namely, by the action of water holding carbonic acid in solution ; but acting in a different manner, and at a period long after the subterranean river had ceased to flow through its tunnels.

The solvent acid of the water must be acquired in percolating through the several hundreds of feet of superincumbent earth and sandstone, as there is but one of these domes, “Sandstone Dome,” that extends upward to the sandstone. The solvent water then, after finding its way into the vertical crevices of the limestone, gradually rounded them out like wells, until the pieces which occasionally fell from the top formed a sort of floor. Through the interstices of this floor, the dissolved substance of the rock is carried into some deeper and yet undiscovered cavities beneath. The floor itself gradually sinks, the domes grow higher, and the walls recede as long as the water continues to drip into them.

It is not unreasonable to suppose that the substratum of limestone in all the country for many miles in the vicinity is perforated with these tremendous shafts; as those which are seen in the cave are only such as happened to be in the course of the tunnels composing the Mammoth Cave. It is not improbable that there are many others on every side, close to the line of the tunnels, bur not yet connected with them.

In any one of the above-mentioned departments, the description of one place answers for most others, except in dimensions. The following are a few out of many hundreds of measurements taken in as many different places : —

The “Rotunda,” the first chamber from the entrance of the cave, is about one hundred feet high, and one hundred and seventy-five in diameter.

.The “ Methodist Church,” eighty feet in diameter, and forty in height.

“ Wright’s Rotunda ” is four hundred feet in its shortest diameter, being nearly circular; the roof seems perfectly level, and is about forty-five feet high.

“ Kinney’s Arena ” is a hundred feet in diameter, and is fifty feet high.

“ Proctor’s Arcade ” is one hundred feet in width and three quarters of a mile in length. The walls, which are about forty-five feet high, are nearly perpendicular throughout the whole length of the arcade, joining the roof nearly at right angles, and are so smooth that they look like hammer-dressed stone.

“ Silliman’s Avenue ” is a mile and a half in length and about forty feet in height, its width varying from twenty to two hundred feet.

“ Shelby’s Dome ” and the pit beneath it are two hundred and thirtyfive feet in height, and about twentyfive in diameter.

“Mammoth Dome” is two hundred and fifty feet high, and nearly one hundred in diameter.

“ Lucy’s Dome,” the highest in the cave, is sixty feet in diameter, and three hundred in height.

Nine miles from the entrance of the cave is the “ Maelstrom,” a dry pit or well, one hundred and seventy-five feet deep, and about twenty in diameter ; and from the bottom of this shaft maybe seen the openings to three other avenues, which lead farther into this Plutonian labyrinth than mortal foot has ever trod.

Although the distance of nine miles is about as far as tourists usually get from the entrance, that is by no means the measure of its extent, but only the extent of the direct route ; there being a number of other tunnels branching off from it on either side, some of which connect with it again at a distance of several miles, and some of which have not been explored to their connection, if they have any.

The total length of all the explored avenues is estimated at over one hundred miles. If a single day’s experience in the cave were sufficient ground for offering an opinion, I should say that this was a large over-estimate ; but I have no doubt that, like all other great works of both art and nature, it grows upon the sense of the beholder. But even setting down its extent at half the foregoing estimate, none can tread these hollow chambers, thinking of others unexplored, and extending not only from that distant nine-mile station, but on every hand, into the unknown, without a feeling of awe and fear.

Thus on and on through the echoing avenues, where the reverberation of our footsteps seemed to follow stealthily far behind us, through chamber and hall, where my guide in the advance flung up his lights, revealing for an instant the grim and distant vaults, — through “Star Chamber,” five hundred feet long, seventy in width, and sixty in height, “ Cloud Room,” a quarter of a mile in length, sixty feet in height, “Deserted Chamber,” “ River Hath” “ Revellers’ Hall,” “ The Great Walk,” — through all these, and a dozen more, we wandered, until, after two hours’ walk, and at a distance of four and a half miles from the entrance to the cave, I paused upon the muddy banks of the “ Styx,” and, stooping, dipped up in my hands a draught from its cold, sunless waters.

Here my guide would willingly have played Charon to my Ulysses, but as no one had penetrated thus far into the cave for several months, the boat used to carry visitors over, and to voyage up and down the short river (only a hundred, and fifty yards in length), had sunk, and we found it impossible to raise it.

The river is about twenty-five feet in width, its course crossing that of the cave at right angles, and its channel being simply another avenue or tunnel on a little lower level than the one by which the visitor approaches it.

In this stream, as well as in “ Echo River,” are found the famous eyeless fish. We dipped in vain, for a long time, in hopes of capturing some of these. At last I was fortunate enough to secure one tiny specimen, about two inches long, which was shaped like other minnows, but had no eyes, and was perfectly white, there being not the slightest shade of coloring on the back. The upper part of its head was as translucent as agate, through which could be seen opaque spots imbedded in the head where the base of the eye-sockets should have been. The specimen I obtained was one of the smallest, as the guide told me these fishes frequently attained the length of six or seven inches.

I secured also an eyeless crawfish about three inches in length. This forlorn little creature, like the fish, was entirely colorless. It had two slightly protuberant spots in its head where the eyes should be ; but they were dull and opaque, and did not seem to differ in texture from the rest of its body, which had not the translucence of that of the fish, but looked as though carved out of white marble.

The fish are found also in “ Lake Lethe,” a quarter of a mile from the Styx, as well as in “ Echo River,” the largest and most interesting body of water in the cave. This last Hows out of a tunnel which has such a low roof that the volume of water nearly fills it, and from here to where it enters the rocks again is three quarters of a mile. Here the blind white creatures that inhabit its dark, slow-flowing waters are more plentiful, but are as unlike those nimble, glistening fellows which inhabit the streams of the outer world, as the cavern’s atmosphere of darkness and death is different from our atmosphere of light and life. They refuse to bite at any bait; they move sluggishly, and, when caught in a net, flop languidly, and die. The only food they are known to have is the smaller ones of their own kind ; and, oddest of all, they, as well as the crawfish, give birth to their young alive, instead of spawning the eggs to be hatched by the sun. Last and remotest of these sunless streams is “ Roaring River,” the margin of whose solemn waters is nine miles from the entrance of the cave. This should be Acheron, which hated the light, and ran sighing down into a cave ; for from this stream too comes a perpetual moan.

The region where the several rivers mentioned are grouped is lower than the rest of the cave, and much more gloomy in appearance than the high, dry chambers through which one passes in coming back toward the entrance.

I was somewhat disappointed in the display of stalactites and other similar formations of the protocarbonate of lime found in the cave. For a number of years I had been familiar with mines and mining operations in the lead-mining districts of Illinois, Wisconsin, and Missouri, and had there seen some of the most beautiful, though not the largest, specimens of calcareous spar known to exist. The lime in these localities being in most instances perfectly pure, the stalactites, to the length of three feet sometimes, are as free from coloring as icicles. Sometimes the miners’ drift (which compared with the Mammoth Cave is as a rabbit’s burrow to a railway tunnel) is opened into small, low-roofed caves ; and in these, in addition to the translucent stalactites, there are little hollows in the floor covered with thin sheets of protocarbonate of lime, no thicker than a pane of window-glass, and as white as snow. From beneath these the water has sunk away, leaving a hollow space, and giving the whole precisely the appearance of those little pools which every one lias noticed when a muddy road suddenly congeals : the pools of water freeze over, and the water disappears, leaving the ice only a shell over a cavity.

Nothing of this kind, however, is found in the Mammoth Cave. The lime of which the stalactites are formed being mixed with various oxides and other impurities, they are all of a dark brown, or gray, or muddy color. With the exception of some stalactite columns in the “ Gothic Arcade,” which form a fine alcove called the “ Gothic Chapel,” there are no stalactites of extraordinary size. There is a stalactite mass (or was some years ago) in “ Uhrig’s Cave,” in the suburbs of the city of St. Louis, about twelve feet in height and four feet in diameter, which exceeds in size anything I saw in the Mammoth Cave.

The gypsum or alabaster flowers are the crowning beauty of the Mammoth Cave. These are an entirely different formation from the stalactites, being formed only in a perfectly dry atmosphere, while the stalactites are necessarily formed in a moist one.

The gypsum is formed by crystallization, and in that process exerts the same expansive force as ice. Wherever it forms in crevices it fractures the rocks that enclose it, and protrudes from the crevice ; its own bulk divides, or splits, and curves open, and outward, with much more tenacity than ice. It seems to have a fibrous texture, in the direction of which the split always opens.

I found in the “ Snowball Room ” and in a large chamber called Cleveland’s Cabinet,” a beautiful display of these flowers. In the Snowball Room, the likeness to winter appears again, in the knots strongly resembling snowballs stuck all over the ceiling. And in Cleveland’s Cabinet I found some singularly beautiful specimens of alabaster formations. One kind seemed to be literally growing from the ceiling as a vegetable would, and looked more than anything else like short, thick stalks of celery. If an ordinary stalk of celery were split, so that its natural tendency to curl over backward could be freely exercised, it would give a very good idea of the shape of some of the gypsum flowers, except that these are not often longer than four inches, and in that length frequently curl so as to make a complete circle. They have the same fibrous appearance as celery, and are as white as snow.

When five or six of these stalks — if I may call them so — start from one point, and curve outward in different directions from a common centre, they frequently form beautiful rosettes. Imagine one of the common tiger-lilies, which, instead of its thin, red curving petals, has stalks of celery, curving as much, but broken off square at the ends ; then imagine the celery to be of the purest conceivable white ; and you have a tolerable conception of one of these beautiful alabaster flowers.

This alabaster growth is found only in a few places throughout the cave ; when it is in chambers or spaces in which the atmosphere is very dry, it invariably has a beautiful fibrous texture like wood or celery, and the curved form ; but if the atmosphere is damp, it forms on the ceiling in round nodules, from two to three inches in diameter, as in the Snowball Room.

In the Gothic Arcade there is a sort of colonnade formed along the side of the tunnel by the meeting of the down-growing stalactites and the upward-growing stalagmites; the two together having formed slender columns of spar, from three to six feet in height. One group of these, about eight feet high, which is the most beautiful in the cave, is called the Gothic Chapel. In many of the formations, it is very difficult to trace even the remotest resemblance to the objects after which they have been named ; but in one instance, that of a stalactite called the “ Elephant’s Head.” the resemblance is remarkable.

Ordinarily it is the custom for one guide to conduct a party of four or five persons into the cave. I dislike over - officious guides and the hackneyed comparisons and wordy wonder of gabbling tourists in grand and solemn places like this ; therefore, in the morning, before starting, I congratulated myself that I should be alone, with the exception of the guide, who fortunately seemed thoroughly imbued with the spirit of the place in which he had spent the greater portion of his time for seventeen years.

He was as grave and taciturn as some cave-keeping anchorite. During our inward progress, he had carefully pointed out every place and object of interest, and hurled his blue-lights here and there into domes and pits and cavernous retreats of darkness. But now, on our backward course, he stalked silently and abstractedly before, though he seemed to listen to every step of my feet; for, if I paused or made a misstep, he instantly looked round.

At last he turned, and, looking me curiously in the face, asked whether I thought I should be afraid if left in the dark there a little while. Some people could not bear it, he said, and one gentleman who had consented to the ordeal of darkness had been half crazed by it, and when the guide, who had withdrawn and concealed himself, with his light, returned, the traveller tried first to run away into the darkness, and then, under some strange hallucination, fired his pistol in the guide’s face.

I had a suspicion that the effect of the obscurity was exaggerated; I was disposed, moreover, to “ try the dark,” from curiosity. But I must acknowledge that, when the guide, with that doubting look, repeated his inquiry, I hesitated, asking, “Is there any danger ? and from what ? ”

“ Nobody knows, massa,” said he seriously ; “ only some people’s nerve can’t stan’ it, dat’s all.”

The mention of that odious word, “nerve” sounded so much like the familiar solicitation, “ Try your nerves, gentlemen ?” from the electrical - machine man, — who is found on the curbstone of some thoroughfare in every city, — that for one brief instant the prestige of the great cave was gone.

Poh ! I thought, so it is only claptrap after all ? “Here, take the lamps, all of them, matches too, and go away so far that I cannot hear you halloo, even at your loudest. I will sit here until you come back ! ” So saying, I sat down upon a rock in the Star Chamber ; and he, taking the lights, walked away toward the entrance of the cave.

“ So then,” I thought, “ this is the perfect darkness, the total absence of light, which is seldom if ever known above ground ; for even in the darkest night and the darkest house there are some wandering rays of light; though they may not be sufficient to enable the eye to distinguish anything, they are there ; they penetrate, reflected in a hundred zigzags, into the darkest places of the outer world. But here there are miles between me and the utmost limits of their influence ! ”

I held my hand before my face, but could not distinguish by sight that it was there. A few pale, phosphorescent gleams, that seemed to be wandering in the air, I was convinced were only the remembrances of the optic nerve, — eidolons of the retina; but they seemed to some extent plastic to my thoughts, and ready to become the subjective creations of the brain, outlined in the dark. I could conceive then how the brain, excited by fear, or stimulated by emotion, might multiply these phantasms, moulding them into the likeness of objects and beings that never had any existence in reality. My sense of hearing, too, seemed preternaturally sharpened ; I could hear the ticking of the watch in my pocket, the throbbing of my own heart, the murmur of the air in my lungs. I held my breath so that the slightest sound from any other source than my own organism should not escape me ; the ringing vacancy in my ears grew more and more painful. Not the remotest breath of any sound, except a faint dropping of water in some distant place ! (I could think of none but in that awful place called Gorin’s Dome.) It seemed to whisper, “ Hush ! hush ! hush ! ” Sometimes I could not hear the dropping ; for just the same reason that, if one listens intently to the ticking of a clock for ten minutes, there are intervals when his ear cannot detect it, because of its regular monotonous sound.

In such intervals the tympanum of the ear, aching with the dead collapse of its world, made sounds for itself ; and it required the exercise of reason to convince myself, sometimes, that I did not hear distant babbling voices.

But hark ! There is a sound ! Not distant, but near ! Here I — There ! A sound like large, soft feet treading cautiously. No, not that, but — something breathing. Pshaw ! I believe it was only the sound of my own respiration after all!

I did not exactly “whistle to keep my courage up,” but, feeling that I must do something to assert my vitality, my antagonism to this overpowering dark, I cleared my throat vehemently, defiantly, — AHEM ! AHEM ! AHEM !! But it sounded so incongruous, so impertinent I might say, in the midst of that awful silence ! Besides, it woke such queer echoes from unexpected quarters, that I stopped to listen, and heard the water-drops again in Gorin’s Dome, whispering, “ Hush ! hush ! hush ! ” And from all the gloomy chambers and tunnels came the echo, breathing, “ Hush ! hush ! hush!”

It began to be terrifying to think that release from this hell of silence was dependent upon one man’s will, and he too a man I had never seen until within a few hours. Where was he now, my dark-faced guide ? What if he should not be able to find me again in the midst of this hundred miles of tunnels that look so much alike ? What if he should not intend to come? What if— But, thank Heaven! there he is at last! That is the firm, substantial sound of a mortal footstep ; not those stealthy, phantom steps I seemed to hear before ! There too is the distant glinting of the red lamplight on the sides of the cave ! How long it takes him to get here ! There he is at last! Blessed be his black face ! how unlike the pale, phosphorescent forms I fancied just a little while ago ! How foolish seem all those dreadful fancies now, so terribly real then !