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Mark Twain > Roughing It > Chapter LXXV

Roughing It

Chapter LXXV


The next night was appointed for a visit to the bottom of the crater, for
we desired to traverse its floor and see the "North Lake" (of fire) which
lay two miles away, toward the further wall. After dark half a dozen of
us set out, with lanterns and native guides, and climbed down a crazy,
thousand-foot pathway in a crevice fractured in the crater wall, and
reached the bottom in safety.

The irruption of the previous evening had spent its force and the floor
looked black and cold; but when we ran out upon it we found it hot yet,
to the feet, and it was likewise riven with crevices which revealed the
underlying fires gleaming vindictively. A neighboring cauldron was
threatening to overflow, and this added to the dubiousness of the
situation. So the native guides refused to continue the venture, and
then every body deserted except a stranger named Marlette. He said he
had been in the crater a dozen times in daylight and believed he could
find his way through it at night. He thought that a run of three hundred
yards would carry us over the hottest part of the floor and leave us our
shoe-soles. His pluck gave me back-bone. We took one lantern and
instructed the guides to hang the other to the roof of the look-out house
to serve as a beacon for us in case we got lost, and then the party
started back up the precipice and Marlette and I made our run.
We skipped over the hot floor and over the red crevices with brisk
dispatch and reached the cold lava safe but with pretty warm feet. Then
we took things leisurely and comfortably, jumping tolerably wide and
probably bottomless chasms, and threading our way through picturesque
lava upheavals with considerable confidence. When we got fairly away
from the cauldrons of boiling fire, we seemed to be in a gloomy desert,
and a suffocatingly dark one, surrounded by dim walls that seemed to
tower to the sky. The only cheerful objects were the glinting stars high
overhead.

By and by Marlette shouted "Stop!" I never stopped quicker in my life.
I asked what the matter was. He said we were out of the path. He said
we must not try to go on till we found it again, for we were surrounded
with beds of rotten lava through which we could easily break and plunge
down a thousand feet. I thought eight hundred would answer for me, and
was about to say so when Marlette partly proved his statement by
accidentally crushing through and disappearing to his arm-pits.

He got out and we hunted for the path with the lantern. He said there
was only one path and that it was but vaguely defined. We could not find
it. The lava surface was all alike in the lantern light. But he was an
ingenious man. He said it was not the lantern that had informed him that
we were out of the path, but his feet. He had noticed a crisp grinding
of fine lava-needles under his feet, and some instinct reminded him that
in the path these were all worn away. So he put the lantern behind him,
and began to search with his boots instead of his eyes. It was good
sagacity. The first time his foot touched a surface that did not grind
under it he announced that the trail was found again; and after that we
kept up a sharp listening for the rasping sound and it always warned us
in time.

It was a long tramp, but an exciting one. We reached the North Lake
between ten and eleven o'clock, and sat down on a huge overhanging lava-
shelf, tired but satisfied. The spectacle presented was worth coming
double the distance to see. Under us, and stretching away before us, was
a heaving sea of molten fire of seemingly limitless extent. The glare
from it was so blinding that it was some time before we could bear to
look upon it steadily.

It was like gazing at the sun at noon-day, except that the glare was not
quite so white. At unequal distances all around the shores of the lake
were nearly white-hot chimneys or hollow drums of lava, four or five feet
high, and up through them were bursting gorgeous sprays of lava-gouts and
gem spangles, some white, some red and some golden--a ceaseless
bombardment, and one that fascinated the eye with its unapproachable
splendor. The mere distant jets, sparkling up through an intervening
gossamer veil of vapor, seemed miles away; and the further the curving
ranks of fiery fountains receded, the more fairy-like and beautiful they
appeared.

Now and then the surging bosom of the lake under our noses would calm
down ominously and seem to be gathering strength for an enterprise; and
then all of a sudden a red dome of lava of the bulk of an ordinary
dwelling would heave itself aloft like an escaping balloon, then burst
asunder, and out of its heart would flit a pale-green film of vapor, and
float upward and vanish in the darkness--a released soul soaring homeward
from captivity with the damned, no doubt. The crashing plunge of the
ruined dome into the lake again would send a world of seething billows
lashing against the shores and shaking the foundations of our perch. By
and by, a loosened mass of the hanging shelf we sat on tumbled into the
lake, jarring the surroundings like an earthquake and delivering a
suggestion that may have been intended for a hint, and may not. We did
not wait to see.

We got lost again on our way back, and were more than an hour hunting for
the path. We were where we could see the beacon lantern at the look-out
house at the time, but thought it was a star and paid no attention to it.
We reached the hotel at two o'clock in the morning pretty well fagged
out.

Kilauea never overflows its vast crater, but bursts a passage for its
lava through the mountain side when relief is necessary, and then the
destruction is fearful. About 1840 it rent its overburdened stomach and
sent a broad river of fire careering down to the sea, which swept away
forests, huts, plantations and every thing else that lay in its path.
The stream was five miles broad, in places, and two hundred feet deep,
and the distance it traveled was forty miles. It tore up and bore away
acre-patches of land on its bosom like rafts--rocks, trees and all
intact. At night the red glare was visible a hundred miles at sea; and
at a distance of forty miles fine print could be read at midnight. The
atmosphere was poisoned with sulphurous vapors and choked with falling
ashes, pumice stones and cinders; countless columns of smoke rose up and
blended together in a tumbled canopy that hid the heavens and glowed with
a ruddy flush reflected from the fires below; here and there jets of lava
sprung hundreds of feet into the air and burst into rocket-sprays that
returned to earth in a crimson rain; and all the while the laboring
mountain shook with Nature's great palsy and voiced its distress in
moanings and the muffled booming of subterranean thunders.

Fishes were killed for twenty miles along the shore, where the lava
entered the sea. The earthquakes caused some loss of human life, and a
prodigious tidal wave swept inland, carrying every thing before it and
drowning a number of natives. The devastation consummated along the
route traversed by the river of lava was complete and incalculable. Only
a Pompeii and a Herculaneum were needed at the foot of Kilauea to make
the story of the irruption immortal.

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Index Index

Prefactory
Contents
Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Chapter VIII
Chapter IX
Chapter X
Chapter XI
Chapter XII
Chapter XIII
Chapter XIV
Chapter XV
Chapter XVI
Chapter XVII
Chapter XVIII
Chapter XIX
Chapter XX
Chapter XXI
Chapter XXII
Chapter XXIII
Chapter XXIV
Chapter XXV
Chapter XXVI
Chapter XXVII
Chapter XXVIII
Chapter XXIX
Chapter XXX
Chapter XXXI
Chapter XXXII
Chapter XXXIII
Chapter XXXIV
Chapter XXXV
Chapter XXXVI
Chapter XXXVII
Chapter XXXVIII
Chapter XXXIX
Chapter XL
Chapter XLI
Chapter XLII
Chapter XLIII
Chapter XLIV
Chapter XLV
Chapter XLVI
Chapter XLVII
Chapter XLVIII
Chapter XLIX
Chapter L
Chapter LI
Chapter LII
Chapter LIII
Chapter LIV
Chapter LV
Chapter LVI
Chapter LVII
Chapter LVIII
Chapter LIX
Chapter LX
Chapter LXI
Chapter LXII
Chapter LXIII
Chapter LXIV
Chapter LXV
Chapter LXVI
Chapter LXVII
Chapter LXVIII
Chapter LXIX
Chapter LXX
Chapter LXXI
Chapter LXXII
Chapter LXXIII
Chapter LXXIV
Chapter LXXV
Chapter LXXVI
Chapter LXXVII
Chapter LXXVIII
Chapter LXXIX
Appendix

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