But he felt the cold water sweeping by him and knew it was no dream. The reality stunned him, and he became incapable of thinking; he only moaned and called out, incoherently, “Mother! father! Ruth!”
After a while he began to think again. He had got to die. Yes, there was no escape for him. Here he must die a miserable death, and his body would be swept on and on until it reached the Gulf and drifted out to sea; for this running water must find its way to the sea somehow.
If he could only reach that sea alive! but of course that was impossible. Was it? How far is the Gulf? And the poor boy tried to collect his thoughts.
It couldn’t be more than five miles in a straight line, nor, at the most, more than three times as far by water. Perhaps there might be more “sink holes” opening into this buried river. Oh, if he could only reach one of them! He would then die in sight of the blessed stars, and perhaps even live to see the dear sunlight once more.
These thoughts passed through his mind slowly, but they gave him a ray of hope. He determined that he would make a brave fight with death, and not give up, like a coward, without making even an effort to save himself.
Thus thinking, he let go his hold of the projection to which he had clung all this time, and allowed himself to be carried along with the current. He found that he could touch bottom most of the time, though every now and then he had to swim for greater or less distances, but he was always carried swiftly onward. He tried to keep his hands extended in front of him as much as possible, to protect himself from projecting rocks, but several times his head and shoulders struck heavily against them.
Once, for quite a distance, the roof was so low that there was barely room for his head between it and the water. A few inches lower would have drowned him, but it got higher again, and he went on.
Suddenly the air seemed purer and cooler, and the current was not so strong. Mark looked up and saw a star—yes, actually a star— twinkling down at him like a beacon light. He was in water up to his shoulders, but the current was not strong; he could maintain his footing and hold himself where he was.
He could only see one star, so he knew the opening through which he looked must be very small; but upon that one star he feasted his eyes, and thought it the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.
How numb and cold he was! Could he hold out until daylight? Yes, he would. He would see the sunlight once more. He dared not move, nor even change his position, for fear lest he should lose sight of the star and not be able to find it again.
So he stood there, it seemed to him, for hours, until his star began to fade, and then, though he could not yet see it, he knew that daylight was coming.