King Solomon's Mines HTML version
We Abandon Hope
I can give no adequate description of the horrors of the night which followed. Mercifully
they were to some extent mitigated by sleep, for even in such a position as ours wearied
nature will sometimes assert itself. But I, at any rate, found it impossible to sleep much.
Putting aside the terrifying thought of our impending doom--for the bravest man on earth
might well quail from such a fate as awaited us, and I never made any pretensions to be
brave--the silence itself was too great to allow of it. Reader, you may have lain awake at
night and thought the quiet oppressive, but I say with confidence that you can have no
idea what a vivid, tangible thing is perfect stillness. On the surface of the earth there is
always some sound or motion, and though it may in itself be imperceptible, yet it deadens
the sharp edge of absolute silence. But here there was none. We were buried in the
bowels of a huge snow-clad peak. Thousands of feet above us the fresh air rushed over
the white snow, but no sound of it reached us. We were separated by a long tunnel and
five feet of rock even from the awful chamber of the Dead; and the dead make no noise.
Did we not know it who lay by poor Foulata's side? The crashing of all the artillery of
earth and heaven could not have come to our ears in our living tomb. We were cut off
from every echo of the world--we were as men already in the grave.
Then the irony of the situation forced itself upon me. There around us lay treasures
enough to pay off a moderate national debt, or to build a fleet of ironclads, and yet we
would have bartered them all gladly for the faintest chance of escape. Soon, doubtless,
we should be rejoiced to exchange them for a bit of food or a cup of water, and, after that,
even for the privilege of a speedy close to our sufferings. Truly wealth, which men spend
their lives in acquiring, is a valueless thing at the last.
And so the night wore on.
"Good," said Sir Henry's voice at last, and it sounded awful in the intense stillness, "how
many matches have you in the box?"
"Strike one and let us see the time."
He did so, and in contrast to the dense darkness the flame nearly blinded us. It was five
o'clock by my watch. The beautiful dawn was now blushing on the snow-wreaths far over
our heads, and the breeze would be stirring the night mists in the hollows.
"We had better eat something and keep up our strength," I suggested.
"What is the good of eating?" answered Good; "the sooner we die and get it over the
"While there is life there is hope," said Sir Henry.
Accordingly we ate and sipped some water, and another period of time elapsed. Then Sir
Henry suggested that it might be well to get as near the door as possible and halloa, on
the faint chance of somebody catching a sound outside. Accordingly Good, who, from
long practice at sea, has a fine piercing note, groped his way down the passage and set to