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Chapter 15
Pat and the Pick.—A dangerous Plan.—Undermining the very Foundation.—A terrible Risk.—Something like an Earthquake.—A Way opened.—They make an Ascent.—A sudden Stop.—The projecting Log.—The Pickaxe.—Who shall go down?—A new Descent.—The Watch of Bart.—Alarm.—A Call.—Silence.—Terror.—An Answer.—Fearful Intelligence.—The very worst.—The Drain.—The rising Waters.—The Pit flooded.—The impending Doom.

IN this way they went over all the logs, and at length reached the lowest layer of all. At this point, Pat’s superior dexterity with the pick enabled him to invent and to put in practice a plan which could not have been used before, or with any of the logs except these lowest ones. For beneath these was the earth, and Pat’s plan was the natural and simple one of digging this earth away, and so undermining the log that lay there. Pat worked nimbly and thoroughly, and as he loosened the soil, Bart scraped it away with his hands. Pat dug down to the depth of a foot all along, and then thrust the pick far in, scooping out the earth that lay on the other side of the log. In this way they succeeded in removing the earth that kept the log in its place, and at length they were able to detach it, and draw it forth.

The removal of this one log served to make the removal of the others possible. By diligent efforts the four logs which composed the lower tier were detached. The side logs were too long for the pit, and therefore had to be placed erect, and leaned against the side. The end logs could lie down easily. The second tier then followed, and was removed more easily than the first. Then the third tier was detached, and the fourth. In each case the logs of the side had to be stood erect, while the end logs were laid on the ground at the bottom.

A serious difficulty now appeared before the boys, and one, too, for which they had not been prepared. The length of the side logs was a very embarrassing circumstance. They were too long to be placed at the bottom, and had to be stood up. But this took up space, and infringed very seriously upon the narrow area in which their operations were carried on. In passing from one side to remove the logs on the other, they had to lift these backward and forward so as to get them out of the way—a work which was most exhaustive, and at the same time hindered them in their proper efforts. Still they kept on, until at length about eight tiers of logs had been removed, and the longer ones filled up so much space, that it was quite impossible to do any more. They still worked away at those which were within reach, and managed to remove a dozen logs more; but after this they could do nothing, for the bottom of the pit was completely filled, and the staying was now a compact mass from which nothing further could be detached until the logs were removed which were covered up by those piled against it.

Bart and Pat were now compelled to desist for a time, and as they felt quite exhausted, they raised themselves to the top of the pile of upright logs, and there sat down. Scarcely had they done this, when they were aware of a trembling all around, like an earthquake. In horror they sprang to their feet. The sides seemed to be moving; the logs separated, and descended, and through the crevices there protruded sand and clay. It was as though the whole mass of the casing was falling in. In an instant they knew what it was. In their thoughtlessness they had taken away the foundations of this structure, and it was all falling in. An involuntary cry of terror burst from both. They shrank together, clinging to the pile on which they stood, and awaited their last hour.

But once again there was a respite. The movement ceased. The worst seemed to be over, at least for the present. Yet the result of this one movement was fearful as far as it went. All the logs of the casing seemed severed and distorted, and had apparently descended as far as they had dug away the foundations. Seeing this, another frightful thought came—the broken beam above. They looked up fearfully. As yet, however, the danger impending hesitated to strike, for there, across the mouth of the hole, they saw the broken beam defined against the sky. It did not appear to have moved; nor was there that appearance of irregularity about the upper casing of the pit which now marked the lower. It seemed to them as though the slighter staying of plank had been put in the upper part of the pit, because it was clay, and needed but little protection; but down below, where the soil was looser, stout logs had been required. As they looked up, they saw that all this lower casing of logs had fallen.

No sooner had they discovered this than they saw also something which inspired them with hope. Not only had the lower staying of logs thus descended, but it had also lost its cohesion, and the logs all seemed to be separated by spaces of more or less width, while many of them protruded into the pit as though thrust in by the pressure of the earth. Now they recognized at a glance the tremendous risk that they had run while removing the lowest logs; but at the same glance they perceived that the immediate danger had passed, and that they were now at least less helpless than before. For now, at last, there need be no difficulty about climbing. Now the spaces between the logs were wide enough for them to find something which they might grasp with their hands, and for some distance up, at any rate, they could see what seemed like a ladder, up which they might climb in search of escape from this fearful place.

No sooner had they made this discovery than they at once caught at this prospect which thus had so unexpectedly opened before them, and began to climb. The task was not very difficult. Each one took a corner of the pit where the meeting of the two walls favored the ascent, and for some time they continued to mount without much difficulty.

“Sure but I’m afraid this is too good to last,” said Pat.

Bart made no reply. That very fear was in his own mind. In that suspense he could say nothing. At last they had mounted as high as the place where the rope had broken. The end hung here suspended most tantalizingly. O, what joy it would have been for them had it been the rope alone which had thus broken,—if the beam had only continued sound; but now that rope was useless, and they dared not touch it for fear lest even a touch might bring down upon their heads the beam that hung there impending over them. Fortunately they were able to ascend yet higher, for still above them the log casing had been started asunder, and still they found themselves able to grasp places of support. The staying had certainly undergone a universal disintegration, and nothing but its great compactness had prevented it from falling in ruin over their heads, and burying them alive. It was with amazement and consternation that they recognized their work, and these feelings would have overwhelmed them had they not found the result, after all, so fortunate for themselves. The risk had passed away. For the present, at least, they were receiving the benefit.

The fear which Pat had expressed, and which Bart had felt without expressing, that the ascent was too good a thing to last, was at length proved to be only too well founded. After they had climbed some distance farther, they found their ascent brought to an abrupt termination. For here there was a kind of separation between the lower casing and the upper; a log bulged forward about a foot, and above this there was a gap in the casing about two feet in height which shoved the earth behind, a kind of clay, and in this there was a cavity caused by the falling of the casing. Above this the casing had held firm, but unfortunately they had not reached the planks. They were the same round logs which rose above them, and which would be as difficult to scale from this point as they had proved from below.

Upon this ledge, formed by the bulging logs, they clambered, and seated themselves, dejected at the termination of their ascent, yet relieved slightly by the chance which was now afforded of some rest and breathing space. Here they sat, and looked up.

“Sure an it’s hard, so it is,” said Pat, “to find an ind to it just here, whin, if we’d only been able to climb twinty or thirty feet further, we’d have got to the planks, an been all safe.”

“Yes,” said Bart, looking up, “there are the planks; and they’re not more than thirty feet above us at the farthest.”

“An yit they’re as much out of our raich as though they were a hundred, so they are.”

“I’d rather have the thirty feet, at any rate,” said Bart. “Come now; can’t we manage to get farther up.”

“Nivir a farther,” said Pat. “We’ve got to the ind of our journey.”

“Come now,” said Bart. “See here, Pat. You spoke of a tunnel once. In fact we came down here with the pickaxe on purpose to make a tunnel to the money-hole. Well, we’re after something more precious than money—life itself. Can’t we tunnel up to life?”

“Tunnel, is it?” cried Pat, in great excitement. “Of coorse we can. Ye’ve jist hit it, so you have. It’s what we’ll do. We will thin.”

“The soil here seems like clay; and if we cut up behind this casing, it’ll be comparatively safe,” said Bart. “We need only cut up to the planks.”

“Sure an we’ll have to cut up to the top.”

“O, no! When we get to the planks, we can break through, and climb them like a ladder to the top. Once up to the planks, and we’re safe.”

“Break through the plankin is it? Sure enough; right are you; that’s what we’ll do, so it is.”

“And so that makes only thirty feet to cut away. It’ll be hard work cutting upwards; but you and I ought to manage it, Pat, when our lives are at stake.”

“Manage it? Of coorse; why not? Only we haven’t got that bit of a pick with us, so we haven’t, for we left it down below; an sorra one of me knows what’s become of it. It may be buried under the roons of the fallin logs.”

At this Bart looked at Pat with something like consternation.

“Well,” said he at length, “we’ll have to go down again—one of us; we must have that pickaxe. I’ll go.”

“Sure an you won’t,” said Pat; “meself’s the one that’s goin to go.”

“No, you shan’t. Poh! Don’t be absurd.”

“Sure I’m bound to go; and so don’t you go too. There’s not the laste nicissity in life for both of us to go.”

“O, well, then,” said Bart, “we’ll have to toss up for it. That’s all.”

And saying this, he took out a piece of money, and said to Pat,—

“Head or Tail?”

“Tail.” said Pat.

Bart tossed. Pat lost. It was Pat’s business therefore to go down.

“Sure an it’s aisy climbin,” said Pat, “an the pick’ll be a help whin I return.”

With these words he departed.

Seated on the log, Bart looked down, watching Pat’s descent. They had climbed about half way up the pit, and Pat had about fifty feet to go down. Looking down, it was dark, and Pat at length disappeared from view. Bart could only hear him as he moved about. At length there was a deep stillness. Bart grew alarmed.

“Pat!” he called.

No answer came. “Pat!” he called again.

Still no answer.

“Pat!” he called, as loud as he could, for he was now thoroughly frightened. As he called, he put his feet over, and prepared to descend.

“I’m here,” Pat’s voice came up. “Don’t come down. I’m coming up.”

These words filled Bart with a feeling of immense relief. He now heard Pat moving again, and at length saw him ascending. Nearer he came, and nearer. But Bart noticed that he did not have the pickaxe. He feared by this that it had been buried beneath the fallen logs. If so, their situation was as desperate as ever. But he said not a word.

Pat at length reached the place where Bart was, and flung himself down, panting heavily. Bart watched him in silence.

“The pickaxe is buried,” said he at length, “I suppose.7’

“Worse,” said Pat, with something like a groan.

“Worse?” repeated Bart in dismay.

“Yis, worse,” said Pat. “The water’s comin in. There’s six feet of it, an more too. The hole’s flooded, an fillin up.”

At this awful intelligence Bart sat petrified with horror, and said not one word.

“It’s the diggin away at the casin,” said Pat, dolefully, “an the cuttin away of the earth, that’s done the business, so it is. I can onderstand it all easy enough. Sure this pit’s close by the money-hole, an the bottom of it’s close by the drain that they towld us of. An them that made this hole didn’t dare to go one inch further. An that’s the very thing, so it is, that we’ve done. We’ve cut, and dug, and broke through into the drain. What’s worse, all the casin an all the earth’s broke and fallen down. An there’s no knowin the mischief we’ve done. Any how, we’ve broke through to the “drain”—bad luck to it; and the water’s jist now a powerin in fast enough. Sure it’s got to the top of them logs that we stood upon end—the long ones; and they’re more’n six feet long, an it’s risin ivery minit, so it is, an it’s comin up, an it’ll soon be up to this place, so it will. An sure it’s lost an done for we are intirely, an there you have it.”

After this dreadful intelligence, not a word was spoken for a long time. Pat had said his say, and had nothing to add to it. Bart had heard it, and had nothing to say. He was dumb. They were helpless. They could go no farther. Here they were on this log, half way up the pit, but unable to ascend any further, and with the prospect before them of swift and inevitable destruction.

They had worked long and diligently. Not one mouthful had they eaten since morning; but in their deep anxiety, they had felt no hunger. They had labored as those only can labor who are struggling for life. And this was the end. But all this time they had not been conscious of the passage of the hours; yet those hours had been flying by none the less. Time had been passing during their long labor at the logs below—how much time they had never suspected.

The first indication which they had of this lapse of time was the discovery which they now made of a gradually increasing gloom. At first they attributed this to the gathering of clouds over the sky above; but after a time the gloom increased to an extent which made itself apparent even to their despairing minds. And what was it? Could it be twilight? Could it be evening? Was it possible that the day had passed away? Long indeed had the time seemed; yet, even in spite of this, they felt an additional shock at this discovery. Yet it was true. It was evening. The day was done. They two had passed the day in this pit. This was night that was now coming swiftly on.

They remained motionless and silent. Nothing could be done; and the thoughts of each were too deep for utterance. Words were useless now. In the mind of each there was an awful expectation of a doom that was coming upon them—inevitable, swift, terrible! They could only await it in dumb despair.

Night was coming, adding by its darkness to the horror of their situation. Death in daylight is bad enough, but in the dark how much worse! And the fate that threatened them appeared wherever they might turn their eyes—above, in the shape of that broken beam which yet in the twilight appeared defined in a shadowy form against the dim sky; around, in this treacherous casing, which, being undermined, might at any moment fall, like the lower portion, and crush them; beneath, most awfully, and most surely, are those dark, stealthy, secret waters which had come in from the “drain” upon them as though to punish their rashness, and make them pay for it with their lives. In the midst of all these fears they remembered the superstitious words of the man whom they had questioned, “Flesh and blood will never lay hands on that treasure, unless there’s a sacrifice made—the sacrifice of human life!” Such was the declaration of the man on the shore, and this declaration now made itself remembered. The sacrifice of life. What life? Was it theirs? Were they, then, the destined victims? Awful thought! Yet how else could it be? Yes, that declaration was a prophecy, and that prophecy was being fulfilled in them. But O, how hard it was to die thus! so young! in such a way! to die when no friends were near! and where their fate would never, never be known to those friends.


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