Chapter XVIII

How We Accomplished the Passage of the Chasm.

IT would be a futile task to attempt to describe the joy his presence gave me. New life rushed throbbing through my veins. My heart palpitated with indescribable gladness. The wish dearest to my soul was realised. He was safe, safe!

“Are you hurt at all, Dick?” I shouted.

“No, old fellow, not in the least.”

My relief at getting this assurance from his lips may easily be imagined. He spoke not then of the narrow escape which had been his; but I learnt afterwards that so near had Kalua's knife been to his heart that the coat across his breast had been cut by the point of the blade.

“Well, Jimmy,” I said, turning to my two companions, “Kalua is dead.”

“I think Mass'r Dick finish him off once he start,” replied the worthy black. “Him dam warm member, no gammon. Eat twenty fellows like Kalua.”

I looked at Lusota. She was radiantly happy. Her eyes were sparkling like diamonds and her frame shook with excitement.

“Kalua is dead,” I repeated.

She returned my gaze with one of wonderful intensity.

“Yes, the dog!” she said. “How could he hope to battle with a chief so great? A tree may stand before the breeze, but the hurricane uproots it.”

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But from her and her hate my thoughts quickly flew. Now that Kalua was gone—for though Dick had not absolutely said so much there could be no doubt that such was the case—there was no one to prevent our escape, provided we had the necessary means. Yet as they could neither go up nor down the jaws of the chasm to cross, and as the cavern on their side ended in a wide chamber which possessed no outlet, their position was one the horror of which can scarcely be conceived. And yet it was imperative that the abyss should be recrossed. But how? Where was the answer to that awful question? What method were we to employ to bridge that dreadful gulf?

“There is only one way,” Hardwicke shouted at last. “We must get ropes of some sort.”

Ropes, forsooth! Was the man going mad? Where were we likely to find ropes, and how use them when found? Ropes! Might we not just as well ask for a bridge at once? There would be an equal chance of success. Luckily, however, the suggestion of ropes was not so dismally received by Ada as myself, for she immediately inquired if thongs would not do as well.

“The very things,” said Hardwicke, “if we can get enough of them.”

She then informed us that great bundles of thongs were brought to the temple (which Jimmy instantly verified by saying that he had seen them during his search for the secret cavern) and that it was of such thongs the people were bound who were intended for the sacrifice.

“Then,” shouted Dick to me, “send Jimmy and the girl back to the temple to bring some of those bundles along. They may be the means of our salvation. In the meantime I will explore this side, so kindly fling one of your torches over.”

Neither Jimmy nor Lusota needed a second telling. They were away almost before I had finished giving them Hardwicke's order, and I then flung Dick a torch, which he no sooner lighted than I saw both it and him gradually disappear.

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Ada and I sat regarding each other from our respective sides of the chasm. We spoke but little. Our position was not one in which speech could keep pace with thought. Indeed, I doubt if speech could have given utterance, even though I wished it, to the intense imaginings which swept like the wild waves of the ocean through my brain. The destruction of the bridge had been our great misfortune. Had we approached with less noise, or had I not even answered to her cry and thus warned the king of that approach, we should have reached and crossed the structure before he had been able to injure it.

“He no sooner heard your cry,” she said, “than he began to loosen the bridge from its supports. Then it was I screamed for you to be quick or it would be too late, for I saw the bridge was moving and that in a very little time he would have it effectually destroyed. It was but a poor weak thing at best (saplings bound together with green thongs), and when Dick suddenly bounded on to it his weight completed what the chief had begun. I saw him leap into the air, leap as I thought only the kangaroo could leap, and then——” and she stopped with a shudder of horror.

“I know the rest. You saved him. Bound as you were you rushed between that fiend and him, between him and certain death. Dick is a brave man, Ada. He will never forget you.”

“Ah, what can we do, Archie, that will ever repay him for what he has done for us?”

“Love him, dear, love him as the noblest brother God ever gave to woman.”

“Yes, yes. I will, I will.”

We talked in this manner, with Hardwicke for our subject, for some time. It pleased us to speak of him. There was so much goodness and nobility of spirit in the man that I for one could never tire of singing his praises. Hero-worship never had two more devout followers than Ada and myself. She said once that there was a sense of security about his person, and she spoke truly. With him all

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danger and difficulty was, or seemed to be, lessened. His indomitable spirit and utter disregard of unpleasant circumstances could not help inspiring the most timid with some of his own boldness.

He returned after being gone about a quarter of an hour and reported that he was unfortunate enough to discover no thongs. This was a sad blow, and I wondered if Jimmy by any chance had been mistaken when he said that he had seen bundles of them in the temple.

“I have something for you, though,” he cried. “Stand aside!”

I obeyed, wondering what that something was, while he, coming close to the brink of the abyss, hurled it across. On picking it up I found it to be my knife, the very one I had given Kalua. So then, the chief would never trouble us more. I understood Dick's silence. He would not breathe a word of him before Ada for fear of awakening unpleasant memories. But this knife of mine was a token I could not misunderstand. Kalua was dead indeed.

There was no sign or sound of Jimmy and the girl returning and I was about to set out in quest of them when I heard the worthy black coo-eeing in the distance, and a minute or two after he and Lusota appeared carrying two great bundles of thongs, which they placed at my feet with every show of satisfaction and which I may say I regarded no less satisfactorily.

“Have you plenty?” said Dick.

“I think so, though as they say there are more bundles there I will send the girl back for another.”

“A good idea,” said Hardwicke. And then he spoke to her, telling her what to do. She darted off with alacrity, a smile lighting up her dark face. Dick had spoken. That was enough. She returned with another great bundle shortly after, and was once more despatched on a similar journey, Dick telling her that it would more than please him if she did as he wished. Poor girl! I believe she would have jumped into the jaws of the chasm at his bidding.

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Jimmy and I immediately began joining the thongs, while Dick made known his ideas in the following manner.

“You have read of people making their escape from a wrecked ship by means of a rope between the ship and the shore. That is the principle upon which we must work. We have no ropes, but when the thongs are knotted and plaited together in a line sufficiently long enough to reach across, and strong enough to bear my weight, we must pass over.”

This might be an easy enough task for him with his fingers of steel and muscles of iron, but for Ada! And I thought of her swinging over that frightful abyss, of a possible accident, and I cursed the fate that had brought us to such dire extremities.

“For God's sake! Jimmy, knot them well and strong,” I almost cried to my fellow-worker.

“Never fear, Mass'r Archie,” he replied. “Me love Mass'r Dick and the lovely Missy too well. Me knot so that he no break suppose the dam mountain fall on him. How many yards you think, Mass'r Archie?”

“About eighteen or twenty. Mr. Dick thinks the hole about fifty feet wide.”

“Mass'r Dick got plenty sabbee, Mass'r Archie, but I no think this hole more'n forty feet the most.”

“So much the less work then for us,” I answered.

“Plenty work anyway.” And he set to with renewed vigour. “This green hide plenty strong, though, Mass'r Archie. Bear the weight of the devil.”

Luckily the hide had been cut in thick widths, so that when we plaited four strips together it made a good, broad band, capable of sustaining a weight much greater than we had any idea of testing. Being what is called green, it was very pliable, and offered splendid facilities for plaiting. It was nevertheless an immense task, and my fingers on several occasions gave out and I was forced to rest them a while. But the spirit of inquietude had possession of me. Every minute was of inestimable value, and Jimmy and I worked on in silence.

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Lusota had returned from her second journey, and I was just thinking of despatching her on a third, when I heard a sound which made my heart stand still. It was a slow, distant rumbling, as of thunder afar off. The rocks about us positively trembled and to crown all and add horror to horror, a cloud of smoke rose slowly from the jaws of the chasm, passed before my eyes, entirely blotting out the forms of Dick and Ada, and then disappeared up the great flue of the mountain.

This was followed by another low, roaring rumble; again the rocks around us quivered perceptibly, and I felt my frame violently tremble as though undergoing an electric shock; the smoke rose once more in a dense cloud completely enshrouding every object and filling my throat with a sulphureous taste. Shock succeeded shock with such startling rapidity and overwhelming violence that I was in terror lest the great granite roof should fall and crush us. The smoke rose in huger volumes than before, carrying with it a fine ash-like sand, which burnt the face and hands and for a moment or two completely blinded us. Lusota crouched shivering, moaning something about the anger of the Great Spirit. Jimmy rolled his eyes in wonder, yet seemed not much affected by the anger of a force so mighty. Whether it was indifference or heroism I could never rightly guess. Perhaps it was a little of both.

“Well, Mass'r Archie,” he said, “that's a dam queer thing,” and then went on with his work.

But in me there was no feeling of indifference. I knew too well what those awful signs presaged. The volcano, of whose existence we had not dreamt a week ago, was in eruption, and heaven alone could tell the moment we should be overwhelmed with the seething red-hot lava, or scorched to a cinder by the furious flames which must, in the course of nature, soon make their appearance. This was an unforeseen catastrophe, and in our calculations of escape we had not reckoned on such stupendous opposition. The thought of crossing the chasm by means of the plaited leather was in itself an undertaking, than which no more

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dangerous had man or woman ever essayed, but now that undertaking was rendered a thousandfold more awful by the thought that the smoke, fire, or ashes might catch them midway between the two sides of the abyss, leaving them unconscious of life, or, by burning the thongs in two, precipitate them into the gulf below.

Such were some of the painful thoughts that rushed like daggers through my brain. I worked with redoubled energy and encouraged Jimmy to do the same, which, by the way, was quite unnecessary. The worthy black guessed what he did not know for certain, and guessing told him that on us depended the salvation of his master and the Missy. Therefore he told Lusota to go once more and bring a bundle of thongs, and she, poor thing! though quaking and terrified almost to death, went off into the darkness without a word.

“How are you getting on, Archie?” Dick cried across to me.

“Slowly, Dick, but surely,” I replied.

“Bravo! that's the style. We'll give Mr. Volcano the slip now if he does not look alive.” And he laughed aloud, though the laugh seemed to me less hearty than genuine laughter should be.

Dick, in fact, felt not like laughing as you may be sure, but I understood him exactly. It was a slight though ineffectual attempt to make light of our evil destiny and give some comfort to Ada. But she was not to be deceived. Too well she guessed the helplessness of our position and the horror of the fate which seemed surely awaiting us. Yet she complained not, but sat heroic and martyr-like, ready to meet whatever should befall.

We must have been four hours completing that twenty yards of line, hours which seemed like so many years. The task appeared so Herculean that I thought we should never accomplish it. Yet the end came, as it comes to all things, and it was finished. Lusota had not returned from her last errand, a fact I could not understand, though, being so busy, I am afraid I did not pay that attention to her absence which it should have demanded.

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The work was finished and measured, and I examined with the utmost care every inch of that twenty yards, and found it flawless. Very uneven it was truly, and a mass of knots in the bargain, but each knot was secure and the whole was plaited together with no small amount of skill, for I had thoroughly mastered this little art during my voyage to Australia, and I knew that it would bear well its precious burden.

The volcano had caused us no trouble for the last hour and a half; indeed, beyond a few subdued murmurings, and now and again a light whiff of smoke, it had behaved in a most exemplary manner, and I prayed to Heaven that it would continue to do so for a little while longer.

Jimmy and I tested the strength of the line as best we could by hanging on to its different ends. Then I examined it carefully once more, and finding it equal to my anticipations, I heaved one end of it over to Hardwicke, a feat I easily accomplished by attaching a big stone to it. He was delighted with the specimen of our handiwork which came within his reach, and declared that if it was as good throughout it would bear a ton with ease.

I had fastened my end of the line to a pole which had been driven into a crevice of the rock, and which formerly helped to support the bridge. This I made known to my cousin, who discovered a similar support on his side and accordingly made fast the line to it. There it stretched—a long, dark streak bridging that awful abyss and sloping horribly in the centre. Like the filmy thread of a spider it seemed, and only fit for a spider to venture upon. It was an appalling thought that valuable lives should swing on such a way. Yet there was no other manner of crossing. Hesitancy was unavailing. Rather were we to thank the fates that had provided us with such meagre means.

I had also made a sling, and in this the person had to get who was to cross. To the sling we thought of attaching two long strips of leather, so that it could be pulled along the main line one way or the other: but this we afterwards

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thought impracticable, there being so many knots to negotiate in the main structure as to render it impossible to pull any heavy weight along it. It; therefore, resolved itself into this, that the person to cross would have to work her or his way by means of his hands, which, though comparatively easy for a man, would, I guessed, be a superhuman undertaking for a woman. And yet that awful had to be was master, and we lost no time in explaining the method of crossing to Ada. It was not natural that she should like the idea, yet she declared that she was not afraid. She had not lived her wild life to be scared at the first appearance of danger, and I sincerly thanked Heaven for giving her so sweet and brave a heart.

“Jimmy,” cried Dick to that worthy, “you get into the sling and work your way across. I want Missy to see how the thing is done.”

“Right, Mass'r Dick. I suppose 'um safe?”

“Of course it is. It will bear twenty like you.”

Jimmy looked for a moment at the narrow line that swung across the great dark gulf, then, getting on his knees, seized it with both hands and let himself over the side into the sling. Then he began very slowly to work his way along the line, raising himself with one hand to shift the sling forward, and then setting down again. This process, though slow, carried him safely and surely along, and presently he was swinging over the very centre of the abyss. The drooping curve in the line was here enormous, owing to that slackness which it was impossible to make taut, and I knew the difficulty of the journey would be in mounting the incline on the other side; and here those very knots which prevented us using lines on the sling to pull it backwards and forwards, now stood us in great stead, for by putting the sling over one of them it effectually checked it from slipping back.

All the while King Jimmy was making this passage Dick was pointing out to Ada the different things she would have to do, and when the black had come up the incline, his master made him go slowly down it again, and then come

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as slowly up once more, so that she should have the full benefit of his experiences. This Jimmy did, and having completed orders, raised himself out of the sling by the aid of Dick's hand and stood safe and sound amid them on the other side.

“There you are,” I heard Hardwicke say to her. “You see how very easy it is. Keep your heart up, like a brave girl, don't look beneath you, and you'll be alongside of Archie in a minute.”

I spoke to her words of encouragement, using the most endearing terms at my command. She answered that she was not afraid, neither was I to be, for she felt quite equal to the undertaking. And then Dick and Jimmy proceeded to put her in the sling.

This was no easy task, the mouth of the chasm sloping so abruptly as it did, and I watched them with intensest eagerness. Hardwicke first made the sling fast to the main rope with a bit of lashing I had thrown him; he then bade Jimmy twist it (the sling) round and steady the loop, and holding on himself to her hands, guided her backwards into it. As soon as she was seated, he ordered Jimmy to slowly untwist, and in a moment my dear girl was facing me, with her feet hanging over the awful gulf.

“Have you any more line there?” Hardwicke shouted.


“Then fling it across, old chap.”

I threw a coil as desired which he, unwinding, knotted together with the other piece I had thrown him a little while before, and fastening a stone to the end, threw it back to me.

“I shall make this fast to the sling,” he said. “You may find it useful in steadying us across; besides, it will do to drag the sling back with.”

I seized the line and scrutinised him closely. He had cut a piece off the end of it, it being of good length, and with this he bound Ada so securely in the loop that even though she fainted it would have been impossible for her to fall unless the whole structure gave way. He then

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unfastened the sling from the main line, speaking words of comfort and hope all the time, and telling her to be sure and do this, and to be careful and not to do that, with a fervent “God bless and protect you,” he stood back.

“Courage, dear one, courage!” I cried. “Be brave, be brave.”

Now began the journey. She did not hesitate a moment, but directly the sling was unfastened launched out on her perilous voyage. First of all she raised herself by one hand and with the other shoved the loop on about a foot, in precisely the same manner as Jimmy had done. This she repeated with clock-like regularity, amid cries of encouragement from both sides of the chasm, till she swung fair in the centre of that infernal pit. So far the journey had been accomplished with comparative ease. She had looked steadily ahead of her, had raised herself now with one hand and now with the other, and had uttered no cry of fear. How I thanked Heaven for that wild training which had given her so much muscle and courage! What would have become of an everyday young girl in such a position? She would have died of fright. Terror Ada felt, but it was not that terror which cripples both the physical and intellectual energies; but rather the fear of a brave man who, surrounded by dangers, sees but one likely way of escape, and though it be almost through the jaws of death itself, yet bravely dares it.

So was it with her. She quaked with the very horror of her position, but she knew that on her clear-headedness and strength of will depended her salvation, and she braced herself for the occasion. To see her swing there in the black jaws of that awful gulf, depending entirely upon her own exertions for her safety, almost froze my blood. I trembled and shivered as though a violent chill possessed me, and yet the perspiration was running in great drops from my forehead. The agony I endured those few minutes a life of love and joy cannot more than repay.

Having gone down the line, so to speak, to the centre, she had now to come up it on my side. This was the

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most difficult task, but she faced it bravely and had mounted fully half-way before her hands gave in. Then she gazed in my face, and I saw by the despondent look on hers that she could come no farther. Her face was as white as a sheet and her eyes glazed and heavy. I thought she was going to faint, and I spoke words of courage and hope, but she seemed to hear me not. Like a dead woman she sat gazing up to me, her hand clutching convulsively the line. To see her so helpless, so close to me and yet so far beyond my reach, was anguish unendurable. I felt as though I was going mad.

“Tell her,” shouted Hardwicke across to me, “to raise herself by both hands, and when she does, pull you the sling.”

This was an excellent suggestion, for so far she had raised herself by one hand only while I with my line had merely kept the sling from slipping back. She now grasped the rope with both hands—for she had heard Dick, and immediately perceived the value of the hint—I pulled a little, then held the sling fast as she sat back in it again. Again and again she raised herself, I pulling and holding fast by turns, till she was right up against the ledge. Then stooping down and untying her from the loop, I stretched out first one arm and then the other, and catching both her hands in mine, I gradually drew her over the ledge in safety.

In a moment she was weeping on my breast, breaking down, like a true woman, as soon as the danger was over. It may be scarcely necessary to relate what joy her presence inspired, but so wrapped up was I in her escape that I forgot for the moment the two brave men who had brought about this happy consummation. But she did not. With a gentle whisper she brought me to my senses, and I threw the line back to Dick, who quickly hauled the sling across.

There was evidently some little difficulty between the two as to who should go first, but at last Jimmy swung himself into the sling, Dick again threw the line to me, and

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in a few moments the worthy aborigine had hauled himself beside me and was safe.

It was now Hardwicke's turn, and as he swung himself into the sling, the volcano, which had remained quiet for so long, uttered a low, angry growl as though annoyed at our escaping so easily from his infernal clutches; the rocks once more vibrated violently, but Dick had begun his journey and no doubt felt the movement less than we, for he came steadily along as though nothing had happened. He could not have gone above half-way when of a sudden a dense cloud of smoke and ashes arose, completely blotting him from my view, filling my eyes with the same burning sensation, and almost choking me with its sulphureous fumes. I tried to see, to speak, but found it impossible to do either.

I was besieged with the awful thought that the fumes would overpower him, for he was not made fast to the sling, and if he should become unconscious there was nothing to save him from slipping through the loop and falling down, down to the very bottom of the hideous chasm.

Luckily it was only another huge puff from the mighty pipe of the monster, and when it passed away I saw my cousin clinging like grim death to the line with his face as white as a ghost's. He seemed almost overcome with the fumes, for he still remained in the centre of the line coughing in truly shocking manner. The ashes had pervaded his lungs and the smoky fumes his brain.

Again the same low rumble was heard, the earth shook as before, and I was afraid another cloud of smoke would arise before he could get across.

“Dick, Dick, for the love of God, come on!”

He heard me, and also the low roar of the volcano, and it awoke the torpid languor of his brain, for, as if imbued with a sudden, eager life, he came up the incline of the rope with the agility of a monkey. I stretched out my hand to him, Jimmy laid hold of me, and as the first breath of the horrid smoke-cloud came rushing up the craggy jaws of the abyss, we had hauled him over the ledge, and the passage of the chasm was accomplished.

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He was breathless and seemed on the point of fainting, but after resting a few moments, his brain grew clearer and the old energy returned. The roaring noise was more incessant than ever, and he no sooner got upon his feet than he took in the situation.

“We must fly for our lives, Archie. Jimmy, go you first; Archie, take Ada, I will bring up the rear.” Then suddenly missing the girl, he cried: “Where's Lusota?”

In the keen excitement of the last hour we all seemed to have forgotten her.

“She never came back,” I said.

“Strange,” he muttered. “Surely she could not have betrayed us?”

“No, no; she would rather die.” It was Ada who spoke.

“Strange,” he said again. “But go, Archie. Quick, quick, or we shall never leave this vault alive.”