A ZONE OF LIGHT DEEP WITHIN THE EARTH
"Oh! for one glimpse of light, a ray of sunshine!"
In reply to this my mental ejaculation, my guide said: " Can not you perceive that the darkness is becoming less intense ?"
"No," I answered, " I can not; night is absolute."
"Are you sure?" he asked. " Cover your eyes with your hand, then uncover and open them." I did so and fancied that by contrast a faint gray line was apparent.
"This must be imagination."
"No; we now approach a zone of earth light; let us hasten on."
"A zone of light deep in the earth! Incomprehensible! Incredible!" I muttered, and yet as we went onward and time passed the darkness was less intense. The barely perceptible hue became gray and somber, and then of a pearly translucence, and although I could not distinguish the outline of objects, yet I unquestionably perceived light.
"I am amazed! What can be the cause of this phenomenon ? What is the nature of this mysterious halo that surrounds us?" I held my open hand before my eyes, and perceived the darkness of my spread fingers.
"It is light, it is light," I shouted; " it is really light!" And from near and from far the echoes of that subterranean cavern answered back joyfully, " It is light, it is light!"
I wept in joy, and threw my arms about my guide, forgetting in the ecstasy his clammy cuticle, and danced in hysterical glee and alternately laughed and cried. How vividly I realized then that the imprisoned miner would give a world of gold, his former god, for a ray of light.
"Compose yourself; this emotional exhibition is all evidence of weakness; an investigator should neither become depressed over a reverse, nor unduly enthusiastic over a fortunate discovery."
But we approach the earth's surface ? Soon I will be back in the sunshine again."
"Upon the contrary, we have been continually descending into the earth, and we are now ten miles or more beneath the level of the ocean."
I shrank back, hesitated, and in despondency gazed at his hazy outline, then, as if palsied, sank upon the stony floor; but as I saw the light before me, I leaped up and shouted:
"What you say is not true; we approach daylight, I can see your form."
"Listen to me," he said. " Cannot you understand that I have led you continually down a steep descent, and that for hours there has been no step upward? With but little exertion you have walked this distance without becoming wearied, and you could not, without great fatigue, have ascended for so long a period. You are entering a zone of inner earth light; we are in the surface, the upper edge of it. Let us hasten on, for when this cavern darkness is at an end - and I will say we have nearly passed that limit - your courage will return, and then we will rest."
"You surely do not speak the truth; science and philosophy, and I am somewhat versed in both, have never told me of such a light."
"Can philosophers more than speculate about that which they have not experienced if they have no data from which to calculate? Name the student in science who has reached this depth in earth, or has seen a man to tell him of these facts?"
"I can not."
"Then why should you have expected any of them to describe our surroundings? Misguided men will torture science by refuting facts with theories; but a fact is no less a fact when science opposes."
I recognized the force of his arguments, and cordially grasped his hand in indication of submission. We continued our journey, and rapidly traveled downward and onward. The light gradually increased in intensity, until at length the cavern near about us seemed to be as bright as diffused daylight could have made it. There was apparently no central point of radiation; the light was such as to pervade and exist in the surrounding space, somewhat as the vapor of phosphorus spreads a self-luminous haze throughout the bubble into which it is blown. The visual agent surrounding us had a permanent, self-existing luminosity, and was a pervading, bright, unreachable essence that, without an obvious origin, diffused itself equally in all directions. It reminded me of the form of light that in previous years I had seen described as epipolic dispersion, and as I refer to the matter I am of the opinion that man will yet find that the same cause produces both phenomena. I was informed now by the sense of sight, that we were in a cavern room of considerable size. The apartment presented somewhat the appearance of the usual underground caverns that I had seen pictured in books, and yet was different. Stalactites, stalagmites, saline incrustations,
occurring occasionally reminded me of travelers' stories, but these objects were not so abundant as might be supposed. Such accretions or deposits of saline substances as I noticed were also disappointing, in that, instead of having a dazzling brilliancy, like frosted snow crystals, they were of a uniform gray or brown hue. Indeed, my former imaginative mental creations regarding underground caverns were dispelled in this somber stone temple, for even the floor and the fragments of stone that, in considerable quantities, strewed the floor, were of the usual rock formations of upper earth. The glittering crystals of snowy white or rain bow tints (fairy caverns) pictured by travelers, and described as inexpressibly grand and beautiful in other cavern labyrinths, were wanting here, and I saw only occasional small clusters of quartz crystals that were other than of a dull gray color. Finally; after hours or perhaps days of travel, interspersed with resting, conversations, and arguments, amid which I could form no idea of the flight of time, my companion seated himself on a natural bench of stone, and directed me to rest likewise. He broke the silence, and spoke as follows: