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below the surface, and merely rested for an instant against a bush, this gave way beneath me, and I fell a depth of several yards on to some soft sand and water. When I first found the ground give way under me, I fancied I must have fallen into a wolf-hole, and was merely annoyed at losing sight of my wounded buck. When, however, I found myself falling again, I began to think it was all over with me, and that I must be tumbling into a well or down a precipice.
When I came to the bottom, I was much bruised and scratched, and felt so shaken that I scarcely knew whether some of my bones were broken or not. But I soon came to myself, and got up with the intention of clambering out of the hole. When, however, I attempted to stand up, I found that my left ankle was either broken, or so badly sprained, that it was impossible for me to bear my weight on that leg. I therefore concluded that it would be useless to attempt to follow the buck, and that I had better rest a little while.
I sat down and looked about and above me at the place into which I had tumbled, and then I saw that it was much deeper than I had supposed. I must have fallen more than thirty feet. Seeing this, I considered that it was fortunate I had not been killed by the fall, or at least had not broken an arm or a leg. The top of the hole was not more than five or six feet across, but the bottom was nearly fifteen feet in width. It was rather dark, still I could distinguish objects plainly.
As I sat rubbing my ankle, and looking round me, I gradually became aware that the place I was in would be a very awkward one to escape from. The more I looked at the wet, smooth sand, the more did the difficulty of escape force itself upon me. At last I felt certain that
there was scarcely any possibility of getting out, for the sides on the lower part of the hole were smooth, hard, and slippery, and the top so overhung, that nothing but a fly could have walked the side. A feeling of utter despair came over me.
There was not the slightest probability that any one would come out in search of me, or that there would be any inquiry made. There was a remote chance of a sportsman passing near, and he might hear me if I made a noise. My gun I thought of, but it had not fallen into the pit with me.
I therefore determined to try what shouting could do, and even sung songs in hopes of making myself heard ; but even the sound of my voice seemed unable to escape.
When I had shouted and sung myself hoarse, I hobbled all round the hole, and looked for places where there seemed a probability of getting a rest for my feet and a hold for my hands, but there was not a crack or ledge upon which I could stand, even had I had the full use of my legs. I had a knife with me, and I fancied by its aid I might make some stepping-holes in the rocks, but a few minutes' trial shewed me that the stone was so hard, that it would take me days to make even half the holes requisite to enable me to reach the top of the pit.
It is a horrible thing to feel yourself a prisoner; it is bad enough when you are kept prisoner at the will of other people, and know you will be released at a certain time; but it is far worse to be, as I was, a prisoner in an underground-pit, miles away from any human help, and left to die of starvation.
The more I reflected, the more utterly hopeless I became. I kept saying to myself : 'Somebody is sure to come, I can't be left here to starve ;' but as often as I did so, I answered myself, and said : 'Not a chance, not a chance !'
Darkness began to steal on, whilst I still pondered on some means of escape. My ankle did not pain me much, unless I moved it; so, by propping myself up against the side of the pit, I managed to lie with tolerable comfort.
I believe I must have slept for some hours, but I suddenly awoke with a feeling of terror upon me. I stretched out my hand, as it felt very cold, and placed it upon a cold clammy body, which immediately moved from under it. I snatched it away with a feeling of horror, for I knew not whether I might have touched a poisonous snake, or some reptile whose bite was fatal. It seemed impossible to sleep again, and I neither dared to move hand or foot, lest I might again come in contact with the clammy creature that I had already touched.
As I lay listening for some sound, I became aware that some creature was moving near the top of the pit. I strained my eyes, but could see nothing but the dark sky and a host of brilliant stars. Still, every now and then, I heard a slight sort of sniffing sound, as though an animal were smelling for something. Can it be a lion, I wondered, which has smelt me in this den? I felt an extra cold shudder as I thought of the possibility of a lion either scrambling down to attack me, or by accident tumbling into the pit, as I had done.
I had heard much of the effects of the human voice upon wild animals, and endeavoured to shout loudly. No sooner had I made the attempt, than a most fiend-like yell was uttered by the creature above me.
The yell was repeated several times, and then I knew that the animal
was a strand-wolf, which probably believed that I must be badly wounded, and unable to escape; for these cowardly brutes will rarely if ever attack a man, although I have heard of their carrying off children.
The visitor who saluted me with his cries was soon joined by a companion, and the two continued their chorus for upwards of an hour. At last, however, they left me, but I did not long remain in quietness, for a troop of screaming jackals came sniffing to the mouth of the pit, but these were almost company after the grisly beasts that had preceded them.
Although I did not see that I could derive much benefit from the light of day, still I looked anxiously for its return. My limbs were stiff and crampy, and I found my whole body sore from the bruises that I had received in my fall. I began to suffer from hunger, but I drew my belt tightly round my waist, determined to keep off this evil as long as possible. At length the stars began to grow dim; I felt my spirits rise as daylight returned, and looked about me to discover, if possible, what reptile I had touched in the night.
A fat bloated toad was crouching under a stone a few feet from me. I knew it to be harmless, and felt I might have had a worse companion than a toad.
During the few minutes that intervened between the first gleams of light and the bright light of day, I speculated upon the manner in which the pit I had fallen into had been formed. I now remembered the stream of water at which I drank as I came up the slope, and had no doubt that this was one outlet for the water that flowed through the pit. The instant I remembered it, I fancied I had discovered a means of escape. The water must flow along some kind of channel, and it was possible this
channel might be large enough to allow of my crawling along it. If not, it might be made larger by the aid of
This was the idea that flashed across my mind, but when I thought over the details, my spirits again fell. The distance between the spring and the pit must be, I knew, fully a hundred yards, and to make my way underground as far as that, might have been possible had I been a mole, but being only a man, and provided merely with a knife, this means of escape seemed impracticable.
Again I was almost overcome by a feeling of despair, and I shouted and yelled till I was too hoarse to continue.
After a while, it occurred to me that the water flowed into the pit as well as out of it, and that although the distance to any outlet was very considerable on the downside, it might not be on the up. There was a chance for me, and I determined to go to work very systematically. I commenced by cutting two or three long and pointed sticks from the small tree that had fallen into the pit with with the aid of these I managed to loosen the soil near the place where the water came in, and found it consisted merely of sand and pebbles. I worked away very steadily for an hour, and had cleared a large open space. Seeing the heap of gravel and sand I had made, an idea occurred that I might collect a sufficient quantity of this to make a ledge, on which to stand, and thus to work my way up to the top of the pit. This seemed the most practicable plan that I had yet thought of, for I could easily obtain earth enough, and must at last raise such a heap that I could at least reach the softer soil near the top, when, by digging with my sharp sticks, I might make my way out.