"Let us be thankful," I said, carelessly, "that such things don't happen in our own times." He eyed me curiously. "Haven't happened, you mean," he answered. "We have no security that they mayn't happen again to-morrow. These fissure-eruptions, though not historically described for us, are common events in geological history — commoner and on a larger scale in America than elsewhere. Still, they have occurred in all lands and at various epochs; there is no reason at all why one shouldn't occur in England at present."
Cycling the next morning, stopping on a river bridge, the Londoner hears a frantic cry and sees a man running on the river tow path as though being pursued by a wild animal.
"I glanced back to see what his pursuer might be; and then, in one second, the whole horror and terror of the catastrophe burst upon me. Its whole horror and terror, I say, but not yet its magnitude. I was aware at first just of a moving red wall, like dull, red-hot molten metal. ... I think I can recollect that my earliest idea was no more than this: "He must run, or the moving wall will overtake him!" Next instant, a hot wave seemed to strike my face. It was just like the blast of heat that strikes one in a glasshouse when you stand in front of the boiling and seething glass in the furnace. At about the same point in time, I was aware, I believe, that the dull red wall was really a wall of fire. ... a second wave from behind seemed to rush on and break: it overlaid and outran the first one. This second wave was white, not red — at white heat, I realized. Then, with a burst of recognition, I knew what it all meant. What Ward had spoken of last night — a fissure eruption!"
How will he escape? Is Ward toasted? Will the torrent of molten rock follow the river valley to London? Can he warn people in time to flee and save lives? Will London be destroyed? ... !
On the eighteenth day out from Sydney, we were cruising under the lee of Erromanga—of course you know Erromanga, an isolated island between the New Hebrides and the Loyalty group—when suddenly our dusky Polynesian boy, Nassaline, who was at the masthead on the lookout, gave a surprised cry of "Boat ahoy!" and pointed with his skinny black finger to a dark dot away southward on the horizon, in the direction of Fiji.
I strained my eyes and saw—well, a barrel or something. For myself, I should never have [pg 10] made out it was a boat at all, being somewhat slow of vision at great distances; but, bless your heart! these Kanaka lads have eyes like hawks for pouncing down upon a canoe or a sail no bigger than a speck afar off; so when Nassaline called out confidently, "Boat ahoy!" in his broken English, I took out my binocular, and focused it full on the spot towards which the skinny black finger pointed. Probably, thought I to myself, a party of natives, painted red, on the war-trail against their enemies in some neighboring island; or perhaps a "labor vessel," doing a veiled slave-trade in "indentured apprentices" for New Caledonia or the Queensland planters.
To my great surprise, however, I found out, when I got my glasses fixed full upon it, it was neither of these, but an open English row-boat, apparently, making signs of distress, and alone in the midst of the wide Pacific.