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Chapter 31

Found and Lost Again

NOW TO RETURN to Tom and Becky’s share in the picnic. They tripped along
the murky aisles with the rest of the company, visiting the familiar wonders of
the cave-wonders dubbed with rather over-descriptive names, such as “The
Drawing-Room,” “The Cathedral,” “Aladdin’s Palace,” and so on. Presently the
hide-and-seek frolicking began, and Tom and Becky engaged in it with zeal until
the exertion began to grow a trifle wearisome; then they wandered down a
sinuous avenue holding their candles aloft and reading the tangled web-work of
names, dates, post-office addresses and mottoes with which the rocky walls had
been frescoed (in candle smoke). Still drifting along and talking, they scarcely
noticed that they were now in a part of the cave whose walls were not frescoed.
They smoked their own names under an overhanging shelf and moved on.
Presently they came to a place where a little stream of water, trickling over a
ledge and carrying a limestone sediment with it, had, in the slow-dragging ages,
formed a laced and ruffled Niagara in gleaming and imperishable stone. Tom
squeezed his small body behind it in order to illuminate it for Becky’s
gratification. He found that it curtained a sort of steep natural stairway which
was enclosed between narrow walls, and at once the ambition to be a discoverer
seized him.

Becky responded to his call, and they made a smoke-mark for future guidance,
and started upon their quest. They wound this way and that, far down into the
secret depths of the cave, made another mark, and branched off in search of
novelties to tell the upper world about. In one place they found a spacious
cavern, from whose ceiling depended a multitude of shining stalactites of the
length and circumference of a man’s leg; they walked all about it, wondering
and admiring, and presently left it by one of the numerous passages that opened
into it. This shortly brought them to a bewitching spring, whose basin was
encrusted with a frost work of glittering crystals; it was in the midst of a cavern
whose walls were supported by many fantastic pillars which had been formed
by the joining of great stalactites and stalagmites together, the result of the
ceaseless water-drip of centuries. Under the roof vast knots of bats had packed
themselves together, thousands in a bunch; the lights disturbed the creatures and
they came flocking down by hundreds, squeaking and darting furiously at the
candles. Tom knew their ways and the danger of this sort of conduct. He seized
Becky’s hand and hurried her into the first corridor that offered; and none too
soon, for a bat struck Becky’s light out with its wing while she was passing out
of the cavern. The bats chased the children a good distance; but the fugitives
plunged into every new passage that offered, and at last got rid of the perilous
things. Tom found a subterranean lake, shortly, which stretched its dim length
away until its shape was lost in the shadows. He wanted to explore its borders,
but concluded that it would be best to sit down and rest a while, first. Now, for

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