He went on, looking for a spring, sometimes walking on firm ground, sometimes sinking to the ankle in a friable soil like black sand. The ground looked, indeed, as if it had been burnt, but there were no charred stumps of timber such as he had seen on the sites of forest fires. The extreme dreariness seemed to oppress his spirits, and he went on and on in a heavy waking dream. Descending into a plain, he lost sight of the flaming sunset and the black waters. In the level plain the desolation was yet more marked; there was not a grass-blade or plant; the surface was hard, black, and burned, resembling iron, and indeed in places it resounded to his feet, though he supposed that was the echo from hollow passages beneath.
Several times he shook himself, straightened himself up, and endeavoured to throw off the sense of drowsy weight which increased upon him. He could not do so; he walked with bent back, and crept, as it were, over the iron land which radiated heat. A shimmer like that of water appeared in front; he quickened his pace, but could not get to it, and realized presently that it was a mirage which receded as he advanced. There was no pleasant summer twilight; the sunset was succeeded by an indefinite gloom, and while this shadow hung overhead the yellow vapour around was faintly radiant. Felix suddenly stopped, having stepped, as he thought, on a skeleton.
Another glance, however, showed that it was merely the impression of one, the actual bones had long since disappeared. The ribs, the skull, and limbs were drawn on the black ground in white lines as if it had been done with a broad piece of chalk. Close by he found three or four more, intertangled and superimposed as if the unhappy beings had fallen partly across each other, and in that position had mouldered away leaving nothing but their outline. From among a variety of objects that were scattered about Felix picked up something that shone; it was a diamond bracelet of one large stone, and a small square of blue china tile with a curious heraldic animal drawn on it. Evidently these had belonged to one or other of the party who had perished.
Though startled at the first sight, it was curious that Felix felt so little horror; the idea did not occur to him that he was in danger as these had been. Inhaling the gaseous emanations from the soil and contained in the yellow vapour, he had become narcotized, and moved as if under the influence of opium, while wide awake, and capable of rational conduct. His senses were deadened, and did not carry the usual vivid impression to the mind; he saw things as if they were afar off. Accidentally looking back, he found that his footmarks, as far as he could see, shone with a phosphoric light like that of “touchwood” in the dark. Near at hand they did not shine; the appearance did not come till some few minutes had elapsed. His track was visible behind till the vapour hid it. As the evening drew on the vapour became more luminous, and somewhat resembled an aurora.