Let us now follow the guide—who, placing on his back a canteen of oil, lights the lamps, and giving one to each person, we commence our subterranean journey; having determined to confine ourselves, for this day, to an examination of some of the avenues on this side of the rivers, and to resume, on a future occasion, our visit to the fairy scenes beyond. I emphasize the word some of the avenues, because no visitor has ever yet seen one in twenty; and, although I shall attempt to describe only a few of them, and in so doing will endeavor to represent things as I saw them, and as they impressed me, I am not the less apprehensive that my descriptions will appear as unbounded exaggerations, so wonderfully vast is the Cave, so singular its formations, and so unique its characteristics.
At the place where our lamps were lighted, are to be seen the wooden pipes which conducted the water, as it fell from the ceiling, to the vats or saltpetre hoppers; and near this spot too, are interred the bones of a giant, of such vast size is the skeleton, at least of such portions of it as remain. With regard to this giant, or more properly skeleton, it may be well to state, that it was found by the saltpetre workers far within the Cave years ago, and was buried by their employer where it now lies, to quiet their superstitious fears, not however before it was bereft of its head by some fearless antiquary.
Proceeding onward about one-hundred feet, we reached a door, set in a rough stone wall, stretched across and completely blocking up the Cave; which was no sooner opened, than our lamps were extinguished by the violence of the wind rushing outwards. An accurate estimate of the external temperature, may at any time, be made, by noting the force of the wind as it blows inward or outward. When it is very warm without, the wind blows outwards with violence; but when cold, it blows inwards with proportionate force. The temperature of the Cave, (winter and summer,) is invariably the same—59 deg. Fahrenheit; and its atmosphere is perfectly uniform, dry, and of most extraordinary salubrity.
Our lamps being relighted, we soon reached a narrow passage faced on the left side by a wall, built by the miners to confine the loose stone thrown up in the course of their operations, when gradually descending a short distance, we entered the great vestibule or ante-chamber of the Cave. What do we now see? Midnight!—the blackness of darkness!—Nothing! Where is the wall we were lately elbowing out of the way? It has vanished!—It is lost! We are walled in by darkness, and darkness canopies us above. Look again;—Swing your torches aloft! Aye, now you can see it; far up, a hundred feet above your head, a grey ceiling rolling dimly away like a cloud, and heavy buttresses, bending under the weight, curling and toppling over their base, begin to project their enormous masses from the shadowy wall. How vast! How solemn! How awful!