The Coming Race HTML version

Chapter 2
With the morning my friend's nerves were rebraced, and he was not less excited by
curiosity than myself. Perhaps more; for he evidently believed in his own story, and I felt
considerable doubt of it; not that he would have wilfully told an untruth, but that I
thought he must have been under one of those hallucinations which seize on our fancy or
our nerves in solitary, unaccustomed places, and in which we give shape to the formless
and sound to the dumb.
We selected six veteran miners to watch our descent; and as the cage held only one at a
time, the engineer descended first; and when he had gained the ledge at which he had
before halted, the cage rearose for me. I soon gained his side. We had provided ourselves
with a strong coil of rope.
The light struck on my sight as it had done the day before on my friend's. The hollow
through which it came sloped diagonally: it seemed to me a diffused atmospheric light,
not like that from fire, but soft and silvery, as from a northern star. Quitting the cage, we
descended, one after the other, easily enough, owing to the juts in the side, till we reached
the place at which my friend had previously halted, and which was a projection just
spacious enough to allow us to stand abreast. From this spot the chasm widened rapidly
like the lower end of a vast funnel, and I saw distinctly the valley, the road, the lamps
which my companion had described. He had exaggerated nothing. I heard the sounds he
had heard- a mingled indescribable hum as of voices and a dull tramp as of feet. Straining
my eye farther down, I clearly beheld at a distance the outline of some large building. It
could not be mere natural rock, it was too symmetrical, with huge heavy Egyptian-like
columns, and the whole lighted as from within. I had about me a small pocket-telescope,
and by the aid of this, I could distinguish, near the building I mention, two forms which
seemed human, though I could not be sure. At least they were living, for they moved, and
both vanished within the building. We now proceeded to attach the end of the rope we
had brought with us to the ledge on which we stood, by the aid of clamps and grappling
hooks, with which, as well as with necessary tools, we were provided.
We were almost silent in our work. We toiled like men afraid to speak to each other. One
end of the rope being thus apparently made firm to the ledge, the other, to which we
fastened a fragment of the rock, rested on the ground below, a distance of some fifty feet.
I was a younger man and a more active man than my companion, and having served on
board ship in my boyhood, this mode of transit was more familiar to me than to him. In a
whisper I claimed the precedence, so that when I gained the ground I might serve to hold
the rope more steady for his descent. I got safely to the ground beneath, and the engineer
now began to lower himself. But he had scarcely accomplished ten feet of the descent,
when the fastenings, which we had fancied so secure, gave way, or rather the rock itself
proved treacherous and crumbled beneath the strain; and the unhappy man was
precipitated to the bottom, falling just at my feet, and bringing down with his fall
splinters of the rock, one of which, fortunately but a small one, struck and for the time
stunned me. When I recovered my senses I saw my companion an inanimate mass beside