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Chapter 18
A Place of Peril.—The Descent of the Darkness.—Dreadful Expectation.—The Sound from the nether Abyss.—The rising Waters.—Higher and higher.—A Gleam of Hope.—The Beams intermixed.—Borne upward on the Waters.—The last Chance.—A final Struggle.—Pat up to the Surface.—Dropping a Line to a Friend.—The midnight Sky, and the moonlit Sea.—The lone Hut.—The Explorers.—Despondency.—A last Resort.—Sleepers awake.—Wild and frantic Joy.—The Voice of the Landlord.—The Joint Stock Company, and the Steam Engine.

THE coming of darkness gave a new horror to those which already surrounded Bart and Pat far down in the pit. This made them perceive how long they had already been down, and threw a new difficulty in the way of escape. But that way of escape seemed already to be effectually closed when Pat brought back his terrible intelligence from the bottom of the pit. They had formed a new plan, which had given them hope; but now the only way of carrying out that plan into execution was snatched from them by the advance of the waters. There was nothing for them to do. To climb up the log casing was impossible, and to dig through the clay was equally so without some strong, sharp instrument, like the pickaxe.

Nothing was visible down below, and up above it grew steadily darker. Whether the water below was rising higher in the pit or not they were unable to find out from actual sight, but they had a full conviction that it was steadily advancing higher and higher towards them, and that with its advance it was also unsettling or sapping away altogether the sides of the pit. Awful were the moments, and terrible the forebodings. The darkness intensified every fear, and made the actual dangers by which they were surrounded still more formidable.

Overhead they could see the shadowy form of the broken beam still hanging, and still threatening to fall at any moment. The rope fastened to it had broken below the point where they were seated, and was within reach of their hands; but it was of no use. Had the beam above been strong, they could have easily saved themselves in this way; but the beam being broken, they dared not touch the rope. The terror of the broken beam was, however, lost sight of in the presence of that greater terror advancing from below, minute by minute—the terror of that water into whose mysterious sources they had penetrated; whose secret fountain they had broken up, and which now, like some formidable monster too rashly challenged, was advancing step by step, in irresistible power, to take vengeance upon these reckless intruders. That soil beneath had shown its looseness by tumbling down in the removal of the lower logs; the tenacious upper clay did not exist there; and it seemed to them that the rising water, by permeating all the soil, might at any moment cause all the pit to fail together in one heap of undistinguishable ruin. In that case, they would be overwhelmed beyond the possibility of escape, and snatched from the world to destruction, without leaving behind them the faintest vestige, or the slightest token of their awful fate.

At such a moment nothing was said. Nothing could be said. They sat there then in silence, listening with sharpened senses for any sound that might tell of the approach of the water. For a long time, however, they heard nothing except the quick throbbing of their own hearts, until, at last, there gradually came up a dull sound, which slowly resolved itself into something like thumping and grinding.

They listened now with intense excitement and agitation to these sounds.

What were they?

There was only one meaning which they were able to give to them. It seemed as if these sounds must indicate the breaking up of the lower casing of logs that lined the pit—the first notice sent them of that break-up which was inevitable. Every sound seemed to tell of some new log severed from its place by the pressure of the surrounding soil, which, now saturated with water, and transformed to a sort of ooze, streamed through the crannies, and destroyed the staying of the pit. At this thought the expectation of the end grew stronger, their awful doom seemed more immediate, and every nerve tingled, and every fibre of their being thrilled with a sense of horror.

They sat with their legs hanging over, and their hands grasping the log beneath as firmly as they could. It was while they were in this position that Bart felt something strike his foot. At that touch his first impulse made him shrink back in terror, and jerk both feet into the air. The same moment Pat felt the same, and evinced the same repugnance by a similar gesture. A moment’s thought, however, served to show Bart what it might be; so, reaching his feet down as far as he could in order to test it, he found that his suspicions were correct, and that the water had risen to that point. What had touched his foot was a log that had floated on the top of the rising water.

But there were more than one log, and this was the discovery that Bart made; and these logs were a dense mass that filled the pit, and were carried up by the water in this way. They had loosened many logs at the bottom, and had stood the long ones upright, while the shorter ones lay lengthwise. It was in about this same position that the mass of logs now floated up, and reached the place where they could be touched.

In a moment a joyful cry escaped Bart.

“What’s the matter?” cried Pat.

“Were safe! we’re safe!” cried Bart.

These were the first words that had been spoken since Pat first announced the entrance of the water.

“Safe, is it?” said Pat. “I’d like to know how, so I would.”

“Why, these logs; only feel with your feet, Pat. They’re all floating up. I never thought of that. Only feel how compact and solid they are. They’ll bear our weight, and we can float up with them.” Pat for a moment made no remark, but reached out his feet, and felt as far as he could. Then a cry of joy burst from him.

“Huroo!” he cried. “By the powers! but it’s safe we are. Sure it’s as solid as a flure, so it is. It’s a raft that we have, and it’ll float us as high as it goes.”

“Yes, if it don’t cave in first.”

“Cave in, is it? O, sure but it won’t be likely to cave in up here at all at all.”

“We’d better lie along at full length.”

“An what’ll we do that for?”

“O, so as to get the advantage of the floating power of all the logs. If we stand on one or two they’ll sink down at once.”

“Sure an that’s so. It’s right you are, so it is. We’ll lie down at full lingth; an O, don’t I wish we could take a bit of a nap!”

“No, don’t think of that, Pat; we’ve got lots to do yet.”

“Nappin? me nappin? Sure it’s only funnin I wor.”

“At any rate, we need only to float up to the plank casing. Then we’ll be all right. And it seems to be coming up pretty fast. It’s risen a foot already, since we first felt it.”

“So it has, sure.”

“We’d better be getting ready. I’ll drop off first, and roll over to the other side, and hold on to as many as I can, and then you come along after me.”

“Wait a bit, sure, till it gits a few inches higher. It’ll be up fast enough, sure.”

“O, yes, of course.”

The boys now waited in silence for a little while longer. The water rose steadily, bearing up the mass of logs on their surface. At length, slowly and cautiously, Bart allowed himself to pass upon the logs, and to his immense delight, found that they supported his weight.

“Hurrah, Pat!” said he. “They’re as solid as a rock. Come along.”

In a few moments Pat was by his side.

“I had no idea,” said Bart, “that they would be so solid.”

“Nor me ayther,” said Pat.

“I tell you what it is. The logs were stood upright, and as they floated up from the ground, they were turned in all directions, and got so mixed up, that each one supported the other, and the short logs have got mixed up with the long ones; and so it’s just like a regular raft, and they bear us as well as if they’d all been laid crosswise on purpose.”

“Thrue for you,” said Pat; “an if it’s so solid, I don’t see why we mightn’t stand up.”

“O, we’d better not. This is the safest way. We might jar them, or shake them by putting too much weight on one spot.”

“Well, it’s best not to be in too big a hurry,” said Pat, “an let well enough alone.”

The boys now relapsed into silence, and watched anxiously their progress. By feeling the logs on the sides of the pit, they could perceive that they were rising at a rate that was very satisfactory. Inch after inch slipped away from their fingers; log after log on the sides was covered by the rising water. And at intervals, as they looked up to measure their distance from the top, they could see that it was steadily diminishing.

Yet the hope which had arisen within them did not blind them to the danger that still surrounded them. Still there was the danger of the broken log. The rope hung down, and never ceased to remind them, as they rose, that there was this above them, for the rope coiled itself over them, and they feared to make the slightest movement, lest they might give it a pull. Another danger was the chance that the pit might cave in, from having its foundations more and more sapped by the water. This danger had been delayed for long, but the longer the time was, the greater the danger grew. But most of all they feared lest the supply of water might cease before they reached the plank casing. If these waters came from the level of the sea, they would not rise in the pit higher than that level; and whether that would bring them as high as the plank casing, they could not tell. Their chief hope arose from the landlord’s statement that the island was not more than thirty feet above the water, and if this was so, they knew that they might get to within thirty feet of the top. And the plank casing came down about as far as that.

And so, full of hope and fear, which thus alternated, they floated up, rising higher and higher every minute, and feeling most carefully all the while in order to note the progress which they made. At length the progress grew somewhat slower, and hope began to grow faint; still, as it did actually continue, they struggled against despondency, and looked upward.

Their progress now grew slower. It seemed as though the force which pressed the waters on was being gradually exhausted. Was this because that water came from some internal reservoir, or because they had now reached a point almost at the level of the sea? They were not high enough yet, and they were not rising fast enough for their impatience.

Bart now stood up and felt. They were near to the lowest part of the plank casing, yet not near enough. Would they ever get nearer? At the rate at which they were now rising, they could scarcely hope to rise more than one other foot at the farthest. And the plank casing was four feet, at least, above his head—quite out of his reach. What then? Must they lie down here and perish almost within reach of safety? For a few moments it seemed so.

But it was only for a few moments. Suddenly the problem was solved.

“Pat,” cried Bart, “I’ll stand here. You climb up till you get your feet on my shoulders. You can reach the planking then.”

“But how’ll you git up yourself?” asked Pat, anxiously.

“Why, when you git up, you can throw me that rope, of course,” said Bart.

“Sure enough. Och, but it’s the fool I am, sure, not to think of that.”

No more words were spoken. Pat did as Bart told him, climbing till his feet rested on Bart’s shoulders. The lowest line of planks was within reach. Here he found a place to grasp with his hands, the logs below affording sufficient foothold. He found no difficulty. It was almost like going up a ladder now, and in a few moments he was at the top.

But all danger was not yet over. He dared not touch the broken log, and could not detach the rope without doing so. As the log was, it seemed to be hanging by a few fibres, and the slightest touch might send it down. But there were plenty of ropes at the hut, and he at once hurried away to procure one. He brought back one which was quite new, and therefore strong enough; and also a crowbar. Driving the crowbar into the ground, he bound the rope to it, and flung the end down to Bart, who had been waiting patiently in the mean time. Pat now held the crowbar to steady it, and Bart, seizing the rope, raised himself up. A slight effort was sufficient to bring him up to within reach of the plank casing, and for the rest of the way it was easy enough.

At last! There they stood, those two, who had of late been in such deep and dark despair. They stood there, drawing deep breaths of that glad upper air, and looked around. The moon shone from on high, throwing its lustre over the scene, and pouring upon the sea a silver flood. Joy and gratitude overwhelmed them, and with one common impulse they fell upon their kne’es, and gave thanks to that Merciful One who had drawn them up “out of a horrible pit,” and restored them to the light of life.

But their excitement and their labor had utterly exhausted them in mind and body. They were terribly fatigued. To row back to Chester was impossible. They therefore went off at once to the little hut, and here, flinging themselves upon the floor, they soon sank into a profound slumber.

Meanwhile the boys, with the landlord, and Roach, had searched about the island, until the minds of all were, filled with the deepest anxiety. The hut still remained, and into this, not expecting to find anything, yet still anxious to search everywhere, they all went. There was an outer room full of ropes and tools, passing through which they came to an inner room.

Out of a profound slumber Bart and Pat were abruptly roused, and opened their eyes to find themselves surrounded by their four companions, perfectly frantic with excitement and joy, together with two strangers, the landlord and the man who had shown them the way, which two exhibited a most profound emotion. After their first bewilderment, Bart and Pat found it easy to guess at the meaning of this scene, and the memories which they had of their terrible adventure fully justified in their eyes the wild joy of their friends. It was a comfort to them to perceive that they had thus been promptly followed, for they saw that had they not been able to get out of the hole, they would have been rescued by these loving hands before all was lost.

Long explanations were deferred for the present. Bart and Pat were in a state of starvation, and their friends had forgotten to bring any food. But Chester was not far away. The wind was fair, and before very long they were all seated at the inn table, where the two lost ones satisfied their ravenous appetites, and the other boys made a second breakfast, which was more satisfactory than the first had been.

After which Bart and Pat told the whole story minutely, answering every question.

The wonder, the anxiety, and the horror that were manifested by the hearers during this narrative need not be described here. Roach insisted that it was all the doings of Kidd, and maintained that life must yet be sacrificed, before the malign spirits would be appeased, and surrender the treasure. The landlord, on the contrary, rightly viewed it as utter recklessness on the part of the boys. The previous diggers had several times broken into what he called the “drain,” and the boys had done the same thing, and so he declared all would do, till they should organize the new company, and set up a steam engine.

And here it may be as well to state that the new joint stock company was afterwards organized, and the steam engine set up, and a regular series of engineering experiments carried out. Coffer dams were constructed on the shore, and ever so many new pits were dug in many different places. In spite of all, however, the new company was a total failure; the waters of the sea proved stronger than their puny arms; and the place known as the original money-hole was never reached. Scientific men laughed at the theory of Kidd’s treasure, and the drain, as all moonshine, and said that the company might as well try to dig pits in a quicksand; but the stockholders clung to their faith even after they had failed, and to this day talk about the “treasure,” the “money-hole,” the “chest,” and the “drain,” as though they were all solid and well-established facts.


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