A Strange Dream

By Mark Twain
From The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County and Other Sketches (New York: C. H. Webb, 1867).


DREAMED AT THE VOLCANO HOUSE, CRATER OF "KILAUEA," SANDWICH ISLANDS, APRIL 1, 1866.

All day long I have sat apart and pondered over the mysterious occurrences of last night... There is no link lacking in the chain of incidents -- my memory presents each in its proper order with perfect distinctness, but still--

However, never mind these reflections -- I will drop them and proceed to make a simple statement of the facts.

Toward eleven o'clock, it was suggested that the character of the night was peculiarly suited to viewing the mightiest active volcano on the earth's surface in its most impressive sublimity. There was no light of moon or star in the inky heavens to mar the effect of the crater's gorgeous pyrotechnics.

In due time I stood, with my companion, on the wall of the vast cauldron which the natives, ages ago, named Hale mau mau -- the abyss wherein they were wont to throw the remains of their chiefs, to the end that vulgar feet might never tread above them. We stood there, at dead of night, a mile above the level of the sea, and looked down a thousand feet upon a boiling, surging, roaring ocean of fire! -- shaded our eyes from the blinding glare, and gazed far away over the crimson waves with a vague notion that a supernatural fleet, manned by demons and freighted with the damned, might presently sail up out of the remote distance; started when tremendous thunder-bursts shook the earth, and followed with fascinated eyes the grand jets of molten lava that sprang high up toward the zenith and exploded in a world of fiery spray that lit up the sombre heavens with an infernal splendor.

"What is your little bonfire of Vesuvius to this?"

My ejaculation roused my companion from his reverie, and we fell into a conversation appropriate to the occasion and the surroundings. We came at last to speak of the ancient custom of casting the bodies of dead chieftains into this fearful caldron; and my comrade, who is of the blood royal, mentioned that the founder of his race, old King Kamehameha the First -- that invincible old pagan Alexander -- had found other sepulture than the burning depths of the Hale mau mau. I grew interested at once; I knew that the mystery of what became of the corpse of the warrior king had never been fathomed; I was aware that there was a legend connected with this matter; and I felt as if there could be no more fitting time to listen to it than the present. The descendant of the Kamehamehas said:

"The dead king was brought in royal state down the long, winding road that descends from the rim of the crater to the scorched and chasm-riven plain that lies between the Hale mau mau and those beetling walls yonder in the distance. The guards were set and the troops of mourners began the weird wail for the departed. In the middle of the night came a sound of innumerable voices in the air, and the rush of invisible wings; the funeral torches wavered, burned blue, and went out. The mourners and watchers fell to the ground paralyzed by fright, and many minutes elapsed before any one dared to move or speak; for they believed that the phantom messengers of the dread Goddess of Fire had been in their midst. When at last a torch was lighted, the bier was vacant -- the dead monarch had been spirited away! Consternation seized upon all, and they fled out of the crater. When day dawned, the multitude returned and began the search for the corpse. But not a footprint, not a sign was ever found. Day after day the search was continued, and every cave in the great walls, and every chasm in the plain, for miles around, was examined, but all to no purpose; and from that day to this the resting-place of the lion king's bones is an unsolved mystery. But years afterward, when the grim prophetess Wiahowakawak lay on her deathbed, the Goddess Pele appeared to her in a vision, and told her that eventually the secret would be revealed, and in a remarkable manner, but not until the great Kauhuhu, the Shark God, should desert the sacred cavern Aua Puhi, in the Island of Molokai, and the waters of the sea should no more visit it, and its floors should become dry. Ever since that time the simple, confiding natives have watched for the sign. And now, after many and many a summer has come and gone, and they who were in the flower of youth then have waxed old and died, the day is at hand! The great Shark God has deserted the Aua Puhi: a month ago, for the first time within the records of the ancient legends, the waters of the sea ceased to flow into the cavern, and its stony pavement is become dry! As you may easily believe, the news of this event spread like wildfire through the islands, and now the natives are looking every hour for the miracle which is to unveil the mystery and reveal the secret grave of the dead hero."

After I had gone to bed I got to thinking of the volcanic magnificence we had witnessed, and could not go to sleep. I hunted up a book and concluded to pass the time in reading. The first chapter I came upon related several instances of remarkable revelations, made to men through the agency of dreams -- of roads and houses, trees, fences, and all manner of landmarks, shown in visions and recognized afterward in waking hours, and which served to point the way to some dark mystery or other.

At length I fell asleep, and dreamed that I was abroad in the great plain that skirts the Hale mau mau. I stood in a sort of twilight which softened the outlines of surrounding objects, but still left them tolerably distinct; A gaunt, muffled figure stepped out from the shadow of a rude column of lava, and moved away with a slow and measured step, beckoning me to follow. I did so. I marched down, down, down, hundreds of feet, upon a narrow trail which wound its tortuous course through piles and pyramids of seamed and blackened lava, and under overhanging masses of sulphur formed by the artist hand of nature into an infinitude of fanciful shapes. The thought crossed my mind that possibly my phantom guide might lead me down among the bowels of the crater, and then disappear and leave me to grope my way through its mazes, and work out my deliverance as best I might; and so, with an eye to such a contingency, I picked up a stone, and "blazed" my course by breaking off a projecting corner, occasionally, from lava walls and festoons of sulphur. Finally we turned into a cleft in the crater's Hide, and pursued our way through its intricate windings for many a fathom down toward the home of the subterranean fires, our course lighted all the while by a ruddy glow which filtered up through innumerable cracks and crevices, and which afforded me occasional glimpses of the flood of molten fire boiling and hissing in the profound depths beneath us. The heat was intense, and the sulphurous atmosphere suffocating; but I toiled on in the footsteps of my stately guide, and uttered no complaint. At last we came to a sort of rugged chamber whose sombre and blistered walls spoke with mute eloquence of some fiery tempest that had spent its fury here in a bygone age. The spectre pointed to a great boulder at the farther extremity -- stood and pointed, silent and motionless, for a few fleeting moments, and then disappeared! "The grave of the last Kamehameha!" The words swept mournfully by, from unknown source, and died away in the distant corridors of my prison-house, and I was alone in the bowels of the earth, in the home of desolation, in the presence of death!

My first frightened impulse was to fly, but a stronger impulse arrested me and impelled me to approach the massive boulder the spectre had pointed at. With hesitating step I went forward and stood beside it -- nothing there. I grew bolder, and walked around and about it, peering shrewdly into the shadowy half-light that surrounded it -- still nothing. I paused to consider what to do next. While I stood irresolute, I chanced to brush the ponderous stone with my elbow, and lo! it vibrated to my touch! I would as soon have thought of starting a kiln of bricks with my feeble hand. My curiosity was excited. I bore against the boulder, and it still yielded; I gave a sudden push with my whole strength, and it toppled from its foundation with a crash that sent the echoes thundering down the avenues and passages of the dismal cavern! And there, in a shallow excavation over which it had rested, lay the crumbling skeleton of King Kamehameha the Great, thus sepulchred in long years, by supernatural hands! The bones could be none other; for with them lay the rare and priceless crown of pulamalama coral, sacred to royalty, and tabu to all else beside. A hollow human groan isssued out of the--

I woke up. How glad I was to know it was all a dream! "This comes of listening to the legend of the noble lord -- of reading of those lying dream revelations -- of allowing myself to be carried away by the wild beauty of old Kileana at midnight -- of gorging too much pork and beans for supper!" And so I turned over and fell asleep again. And dreamed the same dream precisely as before; followed the phantom -- "blazed" my course -- arrived at the grim chamber -- heard the sad spirit voice -- overturned the massy stone -- beheld the regal crown and the decaying bones of the great king!

I woke up, and reflected long upon the curious and singularly vivid dream, and finally muttered to myself, "This -- this is becoming serious!"

I fell asleep again, and again I dreamed the same dream, without a single variation! I slept no more, but tossed restlessly in bed and longed for daylight. And when it came, I wandered forth, and descended to the wide plain in the crater. I said to myself, "I am not superstitious; but if there is any thing in that dying woman's prophecy, I am the instrument appointed to uncurtain this ancient mystery." As I walked along, I even half expected to see my solemn guide step out from some nook in the lofty wall, and beckon me to come on. At last when I reached the place where I had first seen him in my dream, I recognized every surrounding object, and there, winding down among the blocks and fragments of lava, saw the very trail I had traversed in my vision! I resolved to traverse it again, come what might. I wondered if, in my unreal journey, I had "blazed" my way, so that it would stand the test of stern reality; and thus wondering, a chill went to my heart when I came to the first stony projection I had broken off in my dream, and saw the fresh new fracture, and the dismembered fragment lying on the ground! My curiosity rose up and banished all fear, and I hurried along as fast as the rugged road would allow me. I looked for my other "blazes," and found them; found the cleft in the wall; recognized all its turnings; walked in the light that ascended from the glowing furnaces visible far below; sweated in the close, hot atmosphere, and breathed the sulphurous smoke -- and at last I stood hundreds of feet beneath the peaks of Kileana in the ruined chamber, and in the presence of the mysterious boulder!

"This is no dream," I said; "this is a revelation from the realm of the supernatural; and it becomes not me to longer reason, conjecture, suspect, but blindly to obey the impulses given me by the unseen power that guides me."

I moved with a slow and reverent step toward the stone and bore against it. It yielded perceptibly to the pressure. I brought my full weight and strength to bear, and surged against it. It yielded again; but I was so enfeebled by my toilsome journey that I could not overthrow it. I rested a little, and then raised an edge of the boulder by a strong, steady push, and placed a small stone under it, to keep it from sinking back to its place. I rested again, and then repeated the process. Before long, I had added a third prop, and had got the edge of the boulder considerably elevated. The labor and the close atmosphere together were so exhausting, however, that I was obliged to lie down then, and recuperate my strength by a longer season of rest. And so, hour after hour I labored, growing more and more weary, but still upheld by a fascination which I felt was infused into me by the invisible powers whose will I was working. At last I concentrated my strength in a final effort, and the stone rolled from its position.

I can never forget the overpowering sense of awe that sank down like a great darkness upon my spirit at that moment. After a solemn pause to prepare myself, with bowed form and uncovered head, I slowly turned my gaze till it rested upon the spot where the great stone had lain.

There wasn't any bones there !


I just said to myself, "Well, if this an't the blastedest, infernalest swindle that ever I've come across yet, I wish I may never!"

And then I scratched out of there, and marched up here to the Volcano House, and got out my old raw-boned fool of a horse, "Oahu," and "lammed" him till he couldn't stand up without leaning against something.

You can not bet any thing on dreams.








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