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Prester John

21.
I Climb The Crags A Second Time
I remember that I looked over the brink into the yeasty abyss with a mind
hovering between perplexity and tears. I wanted to sit down and cry - why, I did
not know, except that some great thing had happened. My brain was quite clear
as to my own position. I was shut in this place, with no chance of escape and
with no food. In a little I must die of starvation, or go mad and throw myself after
Laputa. And yet I did not care a rush. My nerves had been tried too greatly in the
past week. Now I was comatose, and beyond hoping or fearing.
I sat for a long time watching the light play on the fretted sheet of water and
wondering where Laputa's body had gone. I shivered and wished he had not left
me alone, for the darkness would come in time and I had no matches. After a
little I got tired of doing nothing, and went groping among the treasure chests.
One or two were full of coin - British sovereigns, Kruger sovereigns, Napoleons,
Spanish and Portuguese gold pieces, and many older coins ranging back to the
Middle Ages and even to the ancients. In one handful there was a splendid gold
stater, and in another a piece of Antoninus Pius. The treasure had been collected
for many years in many places, contributions of chiefs from ancient hoards as
well as the cash received from I.D.B. I untied one or two of the little bags of
stones and poured the contents into my hands. Most of the diamonds were small,
such as a labourer might secrete on his person. The larger ones - and some
were very large - were as a rule discoloured, looking more like big cairngorms.
But one or two bags had big stones which even my inexperienced eye told me
were of the purest water. There must be some new pipe, I thought, for these
could not have been stolen from any known mine.
After that I sat on the floor again and looked at the water. It exercised a
mesmeric influence on me, soothing all care. I was quite happy to wait for death,
for death had no meaning to me. My hate and fury were both lulled into a trance,
since the passive is the next stage to the overwrought.
It must have been full day outside now, for the funnel was bright with sunshine,
and even the dim cave caught a reflected radiance. As I watched the river I saw
a bird flash downward, skimming the water. It turned into the cave and fluttered
among its dark recesses. I heard its wings beating the roof as it sought wildly for
an outlet. It dashed into the spray of the cataract and escaped again into the
cave. For maybe twenty minutes it fluttered, till at last it found the way it had
entered by. With a dart it sped up the funnel of rock into light and freedom.
I had begun to watch the bird in idle lassitude, I ended in keen excitement. The
sight of it seemed to take a film from my eyes. I realized the zest of liberty, the
passion of life again. I felt that beyond this dim underworld there was the great
joyous earth, and I longed for it. I wanted to live now. My memory cleared, and I
remembered all that had befallen me during the last few days. I had played the
chief part in the whole business, and I had won. Laputa was dead and the
treasure was mine, while Arcoll was crushing the Rising at his ease. I had only to
be free again to be famous and rich. My hopes had returned, but with them came
my fears. What if I could not escape? I must perish miserably by degrees, shut in
 
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