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NARRATIVE OF A. GORDON PYM - CHAPTER 23

by Edgar Allan Poe

DURING the six or seven days immediately following we remained

in our hiding-place upon the hill, going out only occasionally, and
then with the greatest precaution, for water and filberts. We had
made a kind of penthouse on the platform, furnishing it with a bed of
dry leaves, and placing in it three large flat stones, which served
us for both fireplace and table. We kindled a fire without difficulty
by rubbing two pieces of dry wood together, the one soft, the other
hard. The bird we had taken in such good season proved excellent
eating, although somewhat tough. It was not an oceanic fowl, but a
species of bittern, with jet black and grizzly plumage, and
diminutive wings in proportion to its bulk. We afterward saw three of
the same kind in the vicinity of the ravine, apparently seeking for
the one we had captured; but, as they never alighted, we had no
opportunity of catching them.

As long as this fowl lasted we suffered nothing from our

situation, but it was now entirely consumed, and it became absolutely
necessary that we should look out for provision. The filberts would
not satisfy the cravings of hunger, afflicting us, too, with severe
gripings of the bowels, and, if freely indulged in, with violent
headache. We had seen several large tortoises near the seashore to
the eastward of the hill, and perceived they might be easily taken,
if we could get at them without the observation of the natives. It
was resolved, therefore, to make an attempt at descending.

We commenced by going down the southern declivity, which seemed

to offer the fewest difficulties, but had not proceeded a hundred
yards before (as we had anticipated from appearances on the hilltop)
our progress was entirely arrested by a branch of the gorge in which
our companions had perished. We now passed along the edge of this for
about a quarter of a mile, when we were again stopped by a precipice
of immense depth, and, not being able to make our way along the brink
of it, we were forced to retrace our steps by the main ravine.

We now pushed over to the eastward, but with precisely similar

fortune. After an hour's scramble, at the risk of breaking our necks,
we discovered that we had merely descended into a vast pit of black
granite, with fine dust at the bottom, and whence the only egress was
by the rugged path in which we had come down. Toiling again up this
path, we now tried the northern edge of the hill. Here we were
obliged to use the greatest possible caution in our maneuvers, as the
least indiscretion would expose us to the full view of the savages in
the village. We crawled along, therefore, on our hands and knees,
and, occasionally, were even forced to throw ourselves at full
length, dragging our bodies along by means of the shrubbery. In this
careful manner we had proceeded but a little way, when we arrived at
a chasm far deeper than any we had yet seen, and leading directly
into the main gorge. Thus our fears were fully confirmed, and we
found ourselves cut off entirely from access to the world below.
Thoroughly exhausted by our exertions, we made the best of our way
back to the platform, and throwing ourselves upon the bed of leaves,
slept sweetly and soundly for some hours.

For several days after this fruitless search we were occupied in

exploring every part of the summit of the hill, in order to inform
ourselves of its actual resources. We found that it would afford us
no food, with the exception of the unwholesome filberts, and a rank
species of scurvy grass, which grew in a little patch of not more
than four rods square, and would be soon exhausted. On the fifteenth
of February, as near as I can remember, there was not a blade of this
left, and the nuts were growing scarce; our situation, therefore,
could hardly be more lamentable. {*5} On the sixteenth we again went
round the walls of our prison, in hope of finding some avenue of
escape; but to no purpose. We also descended the chasm in which we
had been overwhelmed, with the faint expectation of discovering,
through this channel, some opening to the main ravine. Here, too, we
were disappointed, although we found and brought up with us a musket.

On the seventeenth we set out with the determination of examining

more thoroughly the chasm of black granite into which we had made our
way in the first search. We remembered that one of the fissures in
the sides of this pit had been but partially looked into, and we were
anxious to explore it, although with no expectation of discovering
here any opening.

We found no great difficulty in reaching the bottom of the hollow

as before, and were now sufficiently calm to survey it with some
attention. It was, indeed, one of the most singular-looking places
imaginable, and we could scarcely bring ourselves to believe it
altogether the work of nature. The pit, from its eastern to its
western extremity, was about five hundred yards in length, when all
its windings were threaded; the distance from east to west in a
straight line not being more (I should suppose, having no means of
accurate examination) than forty or fifty yards. Upon first
descending into the chasm, that is to say, for a hundred feet
downward from the summit of the hill, the sides of the abyss bore
little resemblance to each other, and, apparently, had at no time
been connected, the one surface being of the soapstone, and the other
of marl, granulated with some metallic matter. The average breadth or
interval between the two cliffs was probably here sixty feet, but
there seemed to be no regularity of formation. Passing down, however,
beyond the limit spoken of, the interval rapidly contracted, and the
sides began to run parallel, although, for some distance farther,
they were still dissimilar in their material and form of surface.
Upon arriving within fifty feet of the bottom, a perfect regularity
commenced. The sides were now entirely uniform in substance, in
colour, and in lateral direction, the material being a very black and
shining granite, and the distance between the two sides, at all
points facing each other, exactly twenty yards. The precise formation
of the chasm will be best understood by means of a delineation taken
upon the spot; for I had luckily with me a pocketbook and pencil,
which I preserved with great care through a long series of subsequent
adventure, and to which I am indebted for memoranda of many subjects
which would otherwise have been crowded from my remembrance.

This figure (see figure 1) {image} gives the general outlines of

the chasm, without the minor cavities in the sides, of which there
were several, each cavity having a corresponding protuberance
opposite. The bottom of the gulf was covered to the depth of three or
four inches with a powder almost impalpable, beneath which we found a
continuation of the black granite. To the right, at the lower
extremity, will be noticed the appearance of a small opening; this is
the fissure alluded to above, and to examine which more minutely than
before was the object of our second visit. We now pushed into it with
vigor, cutting away a quantity of brambles which impeded us, and
removing a vast heap of sharp flints somewhat resembling arrowheads
in shape. We were encouraged to persevere, however, by perceiving
some little light proceeding from the farther end. We at length
squeezed our way for about thirty feet, and found that the aperture
was a low and regularly formed arch, having a bottom of the same
impalpable powder as that in the main chasm. A strong light now broke
upon us, and, turning a short bend, we found ourselves in another
lofty chamber, similar to the one we had left in every respect but
longitudinal form. Its general figure is here given. (See figure 2.)
{image}

The total length of this chasm, commencing at the opening a and

proceeding round the curve b to the extremity d, is five hundred
and fifty yards. At c we discovered a small aperture similar to the
one through which we had issued from the other chasm, and this was
choked up in the same manner with brambles and a quantity of the
white arrowhead flints. We forced our way through it, finding it
about forty feet long, and emerged into a third chasm. This, too, was
precisely like the first, except in its longitudinal shape, which was
thus. (See figure 3.) {image}

We found the entire length of the third chasm three hundred and

twenty yards. At the point a was an opening about six feet wide,
and extending fifteen feet into the rock, where it terminated in a
bed of marl, there being no other chasm beyond, as we had expected.
We were about leaving this fissure, into which very little light was
admitted, when Peters called my attention to a range of
singular-looking indentures in the surface of the marl forming the
termination of the cul-de-sac. With a very slight exertion of the
imagination, the left, or most northern of these indentures might
have been taken for the intentional, although rude, representation of
a human figure standing erect, with outstretched arm. The rest of
them bore also some little resemblance to alphabetical characters,
and Peters was willing, at all events, to adopt the idle opinion that
they were really such. I convinced him of his error, finally, by
directing his attention to the floor of the fissure, where, among the
powder, we picked up, piece by piece, several large flakes of the
marl, which had evidently been broken off by some convulsion from the
surface where the indentures were found, and which had projecting
points exactly fitting the indentures; thus proving them to have been
the work of nature. Figure 4 {image} presents an accurate copy of the
whole.

After satisfying ourselves that these singular caverns afforded

us no means of escape from our prison, we made our way back, dejected
and dispirited, to the summit of the hill. Nothing worth mentioning
occurred during the next twenty-four hours, except that, in examining
the ground to the eastward of the third chasm, we found two
triangular holes of great depth, and also with black granite sides.
Into these holes we did not think it worth while to attempt
descending, as they had the appearance of mere natural wells, without
outlet. They were each about twenty yards in circumference, and their
shape, as well as relative position in regard to the third chasm, is
shown in figure 5. {image}


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