Steampunk Family

The Cave

December 4, 2009
This entry is part of a series, Voyage to Antafrica»

The long descent gradually leveled, and the passage widened side to side, and above. The vonHedwigs walked abreast, inspecting stalactites and stalagmites, the calling cards of ancient waters, and pointing out unusual formations in the rock. They said little, each in awe of the wonders around them. Their footfalls echoed softly, but they heard nothing else, and quiet grew large around them.

Herr vonHedwig heard his wife gasp in that great silence, and hurried to her side.

“Darling, illuminate this for me!”

She was examining a fuzzy brown smudge against the cavern floor. He held the lantern low, and saw a dark tangle of tiny stems and leaves.

“Some sort of plant, my love?” he asked. “What could grow in here?”

“Not this little fellow.” She scooped up the tangle. “This is Andreaea alpina.” She hesitated. “Andreaea alpina Hedwig, actually.”

“One of yours?”

“I classified it, yes. It’s a moss, native to Greenland, bits of northern Europe, and the west of South America. It’s not growing here, it was left here – and recently! It’s still alive.”

Herr vonHedwig straightened, face growing grim.

“He’s here then. Good. I want a word with that botanist fellow, so-called Count-“

“Oh he’s a genuine Count, for whatever that’s worth, but I wouldn’t call him a botanist. No respect for plant life! He’s a dangerous, scheming meddler, and he’s brought my Andreaea to Nepal, where it has no business being.”

“I believe we may have crossed into Tibet, but no matter. Perhaps you might take the lantern. If this Montesanto is as dangerous as you say, I’d best be prepared.”

He took a coil of silk rope from the back of his pack, and hung it from his belt, where it would be more accessible, and retrieved his geologist’s pick, which he held.

Madame stored the moss in her pack, wrapping it in a damp cloth and tin sample box.  “Right. Let’s find out what he’s up to.”

They had no eye now, for the wonders of geology, but moved quickly and quietly down the passage. The tunnel delved nearly straight into the mountain, with no turns or branches, yet they heard no sound, nor perceived any light in the blackness ahead.

Suddenly, Madame stopped short, and her husband collided with her.  She slipped downward and he grabbed her around her waist, heaving her onto solid ground. A pebble, dislodged by her foot, tumbled into the darkness that yawned before them, where the cave floor gave way to nothingness. They watched the pebble fall out of their lamplight, and listened, listened, listened, for the sound of its landing – a sound which never came!

She held the lantern high.  “There’s a ledge to our left that goes around.”

They made their way along the narrow ledge, the floor of which leaned precipitously towards the gap that opened at their feet, the mouth of a hungry giant, tipping them into its maw.

“Slowly, love,” Herr vonHedwig said. “We’re in no rush, and I’m no slackroper.”

Madame stopped, leaning against the cave wall, and studied the crevice.  “This is a very odd formation. The sides are smooth, and it’s perfectly round.”

“Fascinating,” he said, “but perhaps we might study it from firmer ground.”

She led the way, slowly now, along the edge of the gap, and stopped when they came around it. Her husband shook the tension from his limbs, taking deep breaths. Madame studied the vast hole.

“Look! It’s above us as well! It’s a tunnel! Goodness, it’s wide enough to fly the launch through it.”

“Jupiter!” her husband exclaimed, “It’s exactly as that woman described!”

Madame left off examining the tunnel to study her spouse. “What woman?”

“We met her in Washington last winter, she’s a volunteer with the French Armée Aeronautique. Rather a daredevil, I gather.”

“Capitaine Charette! I remember her – striking woman – smile that lights up the room.”

Herr vonHedwig cleared his throat. “I didn’t notice.”

“Silly!” Madame stroked his cheek. “Why are we recalling La Capitaine?”

“She told me she had flown tunnels like these – described a mad underground flight from Krakatoa to Fuji through volcanic tubes, or something. I didn’t believe her, of course. It was over brandy. I never believe anything a flyer says over brandy, generally.  Well!”

“Indeed. I wonder if this one goes anywhere?” She pondered. “Or if the Count is using it somehow?”

“Let us find out!”

This story began with On Grandmothers. The previous episode is Aboard the Schmetterling and the next is The Cage.
Entries in this series:
  1. On Grandmothers
  2. With A Bang!
  3. In Search of Ancient Angiosperms
  4. Assault on the Galley
  5. The Sorrows of Chef
  6. Faeries, Helpful Siblings, and other Mythological Creatures
  7. Meanwhile, Back in the Lab
  8. A Day of Discovery
  9. The Children’s Hypothesis
  10. A Research Date
  11. Aboard the Schmetterling
  12. The Cave
  13. The Cage
  14. Knee of the Yeti
  15. Kidnapped!
  16. A Clue
  17. The Yeti and the Comb
  18. Fighting the Count
  19. Fighting the Yeti
  20. Falling
  21. Breadcrumbs
  22. The Search is On
  23. Flight to Saigon
  24. On the Streets of Saigon
  25. The Sad Man
  26. At the Grandiere Club Aeronautique
  27. If you Give a Count a Cookie
  28. Out of Cookies
  29. Stuck!
  30. Airships Float?
  31. Where is Claire?
  32. Drowning
  33. Into the Drink!
  34. Boat!
  35. Mushroom Trip
  36. Ambush
  37. The Variegated Strangler
  38. In a Strange Land
  39. Hand over Hand
  40. The Last of the Gouda
  41. An Unusual Breakfast
  42. Downstream
  43. What's for Dinner?
  44. Axe and Fire
  45. Meanwhile, Back at the Airship
  46. Over the Gobi
  47. Return of the Grandmothers
  48. Warning from Huang
  49. Anxious Hours
  50. Ulrik Prepares
  51. Destruction by Dawn
  52. Finding Philomena
  53. No Luck in Pekin
  54. The Children Rescue...Something
  55. Corndog Liberation
  56. The Fate of Corndogs
  57. Have you Tea?
  58. Antafrican Hosptitality
  59. Onion Porridge
  60. Homesick
  61. On the Hunt
  62. Farm Living
  63. Singing for Supper
  64. You Say Potato...
  65. Curiosity is the Foundation of Discovery
  66. An Awkward Position
  67. Trouble Comes Riding
  68. Capsicum Capture
  69. To the Palace
  70. The Death of the Lincoln
  71. War Wings
  72. A Long Way Down
  73. Enter the Lightning
  74. Before the Queen
  75. You are a Tomato!
  76. A Sunken Ship
  77. Eglantine Aubergine
  78. Children of the Soil
  79. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  80. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  81. At Night in the Nightshade Court
  82. The Price of Popcorn
  83. Ulrik and Chef
  84. Fire!
  85. Claire's Bluff
  86. Tomato Queen and Aubergine
  87. It's Going to Blow!
  88. Rhodri in the Gardens
  89. The Servant's Fountain
  90. History Revealed
  91. Fight at the Fountain
  92. Repercussions
  93. Father Discovers the Yeti
  94. Aboard the Lucy Stone
  95. Summoned
  96. The Queen's Accusation
  97. The Queen's Rage
  98. The Khan
  99. The Last War Wing
  100. Eglantine Departs
  101. Thumping Rhodri
  102. Bad News from the Boys
  103. Where's the Count?
  104. In Search of the Count
  105. Spying on the Queen
  106. Confronting the Count
  107. Orphaned?
  108. Orphaned?
  109. Montesanto's Experiments
  110. Montesanto's Experiments
  111. The Queen's Tantrum
  112. Bettina's Tantrum
  113. The Flaming Queen
  114. Uprising!
  115. Uprising!
  116. Escape
  117. On the Run
  118. The Mysterious Coach
  119. Red Racer!
  120. Revolution Reset
  121. By the Acid Sea
  122. Farewell Antafrica
  123. Home Again!
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