"It now becomes my duty to inform you that this is one of the stages in our journey that can only be passed by the exercise of the greatest will force. Owing to our former surroundings upon the surface of the earth, and to your inheritance of a so-called instinctive education, you would naturally suppose that we are now on the brink of an impassable chasm. This sphere of material vacuity extends beneath us to a depth that I am sure you will be astonished to learn is over six thousand miles. We may now look straight into the earth cavity, and this streaming light is the reflected purity of the space below. The opposite side of this crevice, out of sight by reason of its distance, but horizontally across from where we stand, is precipitous and comparatively solid, extending upward to the material that forms the earth's surface. We have, during our journey, traversed an oblique, tortuous natural passage, that extends from the spot at which you entered the cave in Kentucky, diagonally down into the crust of the globe, terminating in this shelving bluff. I would recall to your mind that your journey up to this time has been of your own free will and accord. At each period of vacillation—and you could not help but waver occasionally—you have been at liberty to return to surface earth again, but each time you decided wisely to continue your course. You can now return if your courage is not sufficient to overcome your fear, but this is the last opportunity you will have to reconsider, while in my company."
"Have others overcome the instinctive terrors to which you allude?"
"Yes; but usually the dread of death, or an unbearable uncertainty, compels the traveler to give up in despair before reaching this spot, and the opportunity of a lifetime is lost. Yes; an opportunity that occurs only in the lifetime of one person out of millions, of but few in our brotherhood."
"Then I can return if I so elect?"
"Will you inform me concerning the nature of the obstacle I have to overcome, that you indicate by your vague references?"
"We must descend from this cliff."
"You can not be in earnest."
"Do you not see that the stone recedes from beneath us, that we stand on the edge of a wedge overhanging bottomless space?"
"That I understand."
"There is no ladder," and then the foolish remark abashed me as I thought of a ladder six thousand miles in length.
He made no reference to my confusion.
"There is practically no bottom," I asserted, "if I can believe your words; you told me so."
"And that I reiterate."
"The feat is impracticable, impossible, and only a madman would think of trying to descend into such a depth of space."
Then an idea came over me; perhaps there existed a route at some other point of the earth's crevice by which we could reach the under side of the stone shelf, and I intimated as much to the guide.
"No; we must descend from this point, for it is the only entrance to the hollow beneath."
We withdrew from the brink, and I meditated in silence. Then I crept again to the edge of the bluff, and lying flat on my chest, craned my head over, and peered down into the luminous gulf, The texture of the receding mineral was distinctly visible for a considerable distance, and then far, far beneath all semblance to material form disappeared—as the hull of a vessel fades in deep, clear water. As I gazed into the gulf it seemed evident that, as a board floating in water is bounded by water, this rock really ended. I turned to my guide and questioned him.
"Stone in this situation is as cork," he replied; "it is nearly devoid of weight; your surmise is correct. We stand on the shelving edge of a cliff of earthly matter, that in this spot slants upward from beneath like the bow of a boat. We have reached the bottom of the film of space dust on the bubble of energy that forms the skeleton of earth."
I clutched the edge of the cliff with both hands.
"Be not frightened; have I not told you that if you wish to return you can do so. Now hearken to me:
"A short time ago you endeavored to convince me that we could not descend from this precipice, and you are aware that your arguments were without foundation. You drew upon your knowledge of earth materials, as you once learned them, and realized at the time that you deluded yourself in doing so, for you know that present conditions are not such as exist above ground. You are now influenced by surroundings that are entirely different from those that govern the lives of men upon the earth's surface. You are almost without weight. You have nearly ceased to breathe, as long since you discovered, and soon I hope will agree entirely to suspend that harsh and wearying movement. Your heart scarcely pulsates, and if you go with me farther in this journey, will soon cease to beat."
I started up and turned to flee, but he grasped and held me firmly.
"Would you murder me? Do you think I will mutely acquiesce, while you coolly inform me of your inhuman intent, and gloat over the fact that my heart will soon be as stone, and that I will be a corpse?" He attempted to break in, but I proceeded in frenzy. "I will return to upper earth, to sunshine and humanity. I will retreat while yet in health and strength, and although I have in apparent willingness accompanied you to this point, learn now that at all times I have been possessed of the means to defend myself from personal violence." I drew from my pocket the bar of iron. "See, this I secreted about my person in the fresh air of upper earth, the sweet sunshine of heaven, fearing that I might fall into the hands of men with whom I must combat. Back, back," I cried.
He released his hold of my person, and folded his arms upon his breast, then quietly faced me, standing directly between myself and the passage we had trod, while I stood on the brink, my back to that fearful chasm.
By a single push he could thrust me into the fathomless gulf below, and with the realization of that fact, I felt that it was now a life and death struggle. With every muscle strained to its utmost tension, with my soul on fire, my brain frenzied, I drew back the bar of iron to smite the apparently defenseless being in the forehead, but he moved not, and as I made the motion, he calmly remarked: "Do you remember the history of Hiram Abiff?"
The hand that held the weapon dropped as if stricken by paralysis, and a flood of recollections concerning my lost home overcame me. I had raised my hand against a brother, the only being of my kind who could aid me, or assist me either to advance or recede. How could I, unaided, recross that glassy lake, and pass through the grotesque forests of fungi and the labyrinth of crystal grottoes of the salt bed? How could I find my way in the utter darkness that existed in the damp, soppy, dripping upper caverns that I must retrace before I could hope to reach the surface of the earth? "Forgive me," I sobbed, and sunk at his feet. "Forgive me, my friend, my brother; I have been wild, mad, am crazed." He made no reply, but pointed over my shoulder into the space beyond.
I turned, and in the direction indicated, saw, in amazement, floating in the distant space a snow- and ice-clad vessel in full sail. She was headed diagonally from us, and was moving rapidly across the field of vision Every spar and sail was clearly defined, and on her deck, and in the rigging I beheld sailors clad in winter garments pursuing their various duties.
As I gazed, enraptured, she disappeared in the distance.
"A phantom vessel," I murmured.
"No," he replied; "the abstraction of a vessel sailing on the ocean above us. Every object on earth is the second to an imprint in another place. There is an apparent reproduction of matter in so-called vacancy, and on unseen pages a recording of all events. As that ship sailed over the ocean above us, she disturbed a current of energy, and it left its impress as an outline on a certain zone beneath, which is parallel with that upon which we now chance to stand."
"I can not comprehend," I muttered.
"No," he answered; "to you it seems miraculous, as to all men an unexplained phenomenon approaches the supernatural. All that is is natural. Have men not been told in sacred writings that their every movement is being recorded in the Book of Life, and do they not often doubt because they can not grasp the problem? May not the greatest scientist be the most apt skeptic?"
"Yes," I replied.
"You have just seen," he said, "the record of an act on earth, and in detail it is being printed elsewhere in the Book of Eternity. If you should return to earth's surface you could not by stating these facts convince even the persons on that same ship, of your sanity. You could not make them believe that hundreds of miles beneath, both their vessel and its crew had been reproduced in fac simile, could you?"
"Were you to return to earth you could not convince men that you had existed without breath, with a heart dead within you. If you should try to impress on mankind the facts that you have learned in this journey, what would be the result?"
"I would probably be considered mentally deranged; this I have before admitted."
"Would it not be better then," he continued, "to go with me, by your own free will, into the unknown future, which you need fearless than a return to the scoffing multitude amid the storms of upper earth? You know that I have not at any time deceived you. I have, as yet, only opened before you a part of one rare page out of the boundless book of nature; you have tasted of the sweets of which few persons in the flesh have sipped, and I now promise you a further store of knowledge that is rich beyond conception, if you wish to continue your journey."
"What if I decide to return?"
"I will retrace my footsteps and liberate you upon the surface of the earth, as I have others, for few persons have courage enough to pass this spot."
"Binding me to an oath of secrecy?"
"No," he answered; "for if you relate these events men will consider you a madman, and the more clearly you attempt to explain the facts that you have witnessed, the less they will listen to you; such has been the fate of others."
"It is, indeed, better for me to go with you," I said musingly; "to that effect my mind is now made up, my course is clear, I am ready."
With a motion so quick in conception, and rapid in execution that I was taken altogether by surprise, with a grasp so powerful that I could not have repelled him, had I expected the movement and tried to protect myself, the strange man, or being beside me, threw his arms around my body. Then, as a part of the same movement, he raised me bodily from the stone, and before I could realize the nature of his intention, sprung from the edge of the cliff into the abyss below, carrying me with him into its depths.