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WE got back to the schooner in good time, and then sailed
down to Kau, where we disembarked and took final
leave of the vessel. Next day we bought horses and bent our
way over the summer-clad mountain-terraces, toward the great
volcano of Kilauea (Ke-low-way-ah). We made nearly a two
days' journey of it, but that was on account of laziness. Toward
sunset on the second day, we reached an elevation of some
four thousand feet above sea level, and as we picked our careful
way through billowy wastes of lava long generations ago stricken
dead and cold in the climax of its tossing fury, we began to
come upon signs of the near presence of the volcano—signs in
the nature of ragged fissures that discharged jets of sulphurous
vapor into the air, hot from the molten ocean down in the bowels
of the mountain.

Shortly the crater came into view. I have seen Vesuvius
since, but it was a mere toy, a child's volcano, a soup-kettle,
compared to this. Mount Vesuvius is a shapely cone thirty-six
hundred feet high; its crater an inverted cone only three hundred
feet deep, and not more than a thousand feet in diameter,
if as much as that; its fires meagre, modest, and docile.—But
here was a vast, perpendicular, walled cellar, nine hundred feet
deep in some places, thirteen hundred in others, level-floored,
and ten miles in circumference! Here was a yawning pit
upon whose floor the armies of Russia could camp, and have
room to spare.

Perched upon the edge of the crater, at the opposite end


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from where we stood, was a small look-out house—say three
miles away. It assisted us, by comparison, to comprehend
and appreciate the great depth of the basin—it looked like a
tiny martin-box clinging at the eaves of a cathedral. After
some little time spent in resting and looking and ciphering, we
hurried on to the hotel.

By the path it is half a mile from the Volcano House to the
lookout-house. After a hearty supper we waited until it was
thoroughly dark and then started to the crater. The first glance
in that direction revealed a scene of wild beauty. There was
a heavy fog over the crater and it was splendidly illuminated
by the glare from the fires below. The illumination was two
miles wide and a mile high, perhaps; and if you ever, on a
dark night and at a distance beheld the light from thirty or
forty blocks of distant buildings
all on fire at once, reflected
strongly against overhanging
clouds, you can
form a fair idea of what this
looked like.

A colossal column of cloud
towered to a great height in
the air immediately above
the crater, and the outer
swell of every one of its vast
folds was dyed with a rich
crimson luster, which was
subdued to a pale rose tint
in the depressions between.
It glowed like a muffled
torch and stretched upward
to a dizzy height toward the
zenith. I thought it just
possible that its like had not been seen since the children of
Israel wandered on their long march through the desert so
many centuries ago over a path illuminated by the mysterious


Page 534
“pillar of fire.” And I was sure that I now had a vivid conception
of what the majestic “pillar of fire” was like, which
almost amounted to a revelation.

Arrived at the little thatched lookout house, we rested our
elbows on the railing in front and looked abroad over the wide
crater and down over the sheer precipice at the seething fires
beneath us. The view was a startling improvement on my
daylight experience. I turned to see the effect on the balance
of the company and found the reddest-faced set of men I almost
ever saw. In the strong light every countenance glowed like
red-hot iron, every shoulder was suffused with crimson and
shaded rearward into dingy, shapeless obscurity! The place
below looked like the infernal regions and these men like
half-cooled devils just come up on a furlough.

I turned my eyes upon the volcano again. The “cellar”
was tolerably well lighted up. For a mile and a half in front
of us and half a mile on either side, the floor of the abyss
was magnificently illuminated; beyond these limits the mists
hung down their gauzy curtains and cast a deceptive gloom
over all that made the twinkling fires in the remote corners of
the crater seem countless leagues removed—made them seem
like the camp-fires of a great army far away. Here was
room for the imagination to work! You could imagine
those lights the width of a continent away—and that hidden
under the intervening darkness were hills, and winding
rivers, and weary wastes of plain and desert—and even then
the tremendous vista stretched on, and on, and on!—to the fires
and far beyond! You could not compass it—it was the idea
of eternity made tangible—and the longest end of it made visible
to the naked eye!

The greater part of the vast floor of the desert under us was as
black as ink, and apparently smooth and level; but over a mile
square of it was ringed and streaked and striped with a thousand
branching streams of liquid and gorgeously brilliant fire! It
looked like a colossal railroad map of the State of Massachusetts
done in chain lightning on a midnight sky. Imagine it—imagine


Page 535


[Description: 504EAF. Page 535. In-line image of a stormy sea with waves crashing against the shore.]
a coal-black sky shivered into a tangled net-work of angry

Here and there were gleaming holes a hundred feet in diameter,
broken in the dark crust, and in them the melted lava—
the color a dazzling white just tinged with yellow—was boiling
and surging furiously; and from these holes branched numberless
bright torrents in many directions, like the spokes of a
wheel, and kept a tolerably straight course for a while and then


Page 536
swept round in huge rainbow curves, or made a long succession
of sharp worm-fence angles, which looked precisely like the
fiercest jagged lightning. These streams met other streams,
and they mingled with and crossed and recrossed each other in
every conceivable direction, like skate tracks on a popular skating
ground. Sometimes streams twenty or thirty feet wide
flowed from the holes to some distance without dividing—and
through the opera-glasses we could see that they ran down
small, steep hills and were genuine cataracts of fire, white at
their source, but soon cooling and turning to the richest red,
grained with alternate lines of black and gold. Every now
and then masses of the dark crust broke away and floated slowly
down these streams like rafts down a river. Occasionally the
molten lava flowing under the superincumbent crust broke
through—split a dazzling streak, from five hundred to a thousand
feet long, like a sudden flash of lightning, and then acre
after acre of the cold lava parted into fragments, turned up
edgewise like cakes of ice when a great river breaks up, plunged
downward and were swallowed in the crimson cauldron. Then
the wide expanse of the “thaw” maintained a ruddy glow for
a while, but shortly cooled and became black and level again.
During a “thaw,” every dismembered cake was marked by a
glittering white border which was superbly shaded inward by
aurora borealis rays, which were a flaming yellow where they
joined the white border, and from thence toward their points
tapered into glowing crimson, then into a rich, pale carmine,
and finally into a faint blush that held its own a moment and
then dimmed and turned black. Some of the streams preferred
to mingle together in a tangle of fantastic circles, and then they
looked something like the confusion of ropes one sees on a
ship's deck when she has just taken in sail and dropped anchor
—provided one can imagine those ropes on fire.

Through the glasses, the little fountains scattered about looked
very beautiful. They boiled, and coughed, and spluttered, and
discharged sprays of stringy red fire—of about the consistency
of mush, for instance—from ten to fifteen feet into the air,


Page 537
along with a shower of brilliant white sparks—a quaint and
unnatural mingling of gouts of blood and snow-flakes!

We had circles and serpents and streaks of lightning all
twined and wreathed and tied together, without a break
throughout an area more than a mile square (that amount of
ground was covered, though it was not strictly “square”), and
it was with a feeling of placid exultation that we reflected that
many years had elapsed since any visitor had seen such a splendid
display—since any visitor had seen anything more than the
now snubbed and insignificant “North” and “South” lakes
in action. We had been reading old files of Hawaiian newspapers
and the “Record Book” at the Volcano House, and
were posted.

I could see the North Lake lying out on the black floor
away off in the outer edge of our panorama, and knitted to it
by a web-work of lava streams. In its individual capacity it
looked very little more respectable than a schoolhouse on fire.
True, it was about nine hundred feet long and two or three
hundred wide, but then, under the present circumstances, it
necessarily appeared rather insignificant, and besides it was so
distant from us.

I forgot to say that the noise made by the bubbling lava is
not great, heard as we heard it from our lofty perch. It makes
three distinct sounds—a rushing, a hissing, and a coughing or
puffing sound; and if you stand on the brink and close your
eyes it is no trick at all to imagine that you are sweeping down
a river on a large low-pressure steamer, and that you hear the
hissing of the steam about her boilers, the puffing from her
escape-pipes and the churning rush of the water abaft her
wheels. The smell of sulphur is strong, but not unpleasant to
a sinner.

We left the lookout house at ten o'clock in a half cooked
condition, because of the heat from Pele's furnaces, and wrapping
up in blankets, for the night was cold, we returned to our