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Melvin White and Rollin Hurt's caving adventure, 1870s, part 2

The thrilling conclusion to last week's tale of Adair County caving gone wrong. Read the first installment here: Melvin White and Rollin Hurt's caving adventure, 1870s (part 1)

By Jim

When we left the young explorers Rollin Hurt and Melvin White last week, they, lost in the depths of a cave a few miles outside of Columbia and tired, hungry, and without benefit of light, had fallen into an exhausted sleep, and were "dream[ing] of home and mother." As wrote Dr. U.L. Taylor, the chronicler of this adventure, "...worry and distress were wearing their lives away."

When the prisoners waked from their sleep, it was still dark. It took them some time to remember their whereabouts and appreciate fully their situation. They did not have a wash, nor eat breakfast. They held a brief consultation, and in a little while commenced their search for an outlet to the outer world. They did not know how long they had slept; they did not know whether it was night or day, morning or evening - it was all the same to them. They had both read a description of a storm at sea, by a heathen poet, where the darkness was so dense
"E'n Palinurus no distinction found
Between the night and day; such darkness reigned around."*
* Virgil's "The Aeneid," Chapter III, lines 264-265.

They started, but did not know whether they were going East, West, North, or South. They climb[ed] over rocks, crawled under rocks, and frequently could not go at all. Melvin at one time climb[ed] up a rock wall, and when he reached the top he fell over the other side into a deep pool of water, so deep that he would not undertake to wade it. He got wet up to his neck, which added very greatly to his discomfort. Hunger was gnawing at their very vitals, but it had to gnaw on.

"'Come to think, Becky, we are away down below them--and I don't know how far away north, or south, or east, or whichever it is. We couldn't hear them here.'" Tom Sawyer, Chapter XXXI.

The boys had been missed by the neighborhood, and their parents were very much distressed at Tabor Sunday School, Sunday morning. It was proposed to organize a rescuing party, for the opinion of the people generally, was, that they were lost in the cave. Some men had seen them going in that direction on Saturday afternoon.

"Tuesday afternoon came, and waned to the twilight. The village of St. Petersburg still mourned. The lost children had not been found. Public prayers had been offered up for them, and many and many a private prayer that had the petitioner's whole heart in it; but still no good news came from the cave." Tom Sawyer, Chapter XXXII.

Several brave men and boys volunteered to join the party, but Mr. Oscar Pile told them there was no use to hunt for them - if they were in the cave they would get out - there was no such good luck as for them not to find the way out. Just wait, he said, till Monday, and they would be out. He knew them too well. Mr. Pile's views prevailed, and the party did not start.

In the September 20, 1920 article, Mr. Pile was quoted as saying to the crowd about young Messrs. White and Hurt, "If they are in the cave they will get out, but if it was any of the rest of you, death would be your portion. No trouble about them boys; they will get out."

Meanwhile the prisoners in the cave were not idle. In their blunderings and crawlings they finally came to a little stream of water, and while it was a God-send, it got them into more trouble. They knew there was a stream that issued from one of the mouths of the cave, in great torrents after a heavy rain - they did not know but it was raining in the outer world, and that the little branch might be swelled at any time to dangerous proportions. But they undertook to follow that stream come what might, if they could only find which way the sluggish thing was running.

"A long time after this--they could not tell how long--Tom said they must go softly and listen for dripping water--they must find a spring." Tom Sawyer, Chapter XXXI.

They tried many plans to no purpose, but it finally occurred to Rollin, who wore a straw hat, to test it in that way. He placed his hat on the water, and put his hands on each side of it, and was delighted to find it floating down the stream. then They started to crawl along the branch. Sometimes they could stand up, but generally had to crawl.

Sometimes the ceiling was so low that they could not get through at all, but they would back out, and try again, and sometimes it would require hours to go ten feet. Thus the days and nights were slipping away. Hunger was still gnawing away at their vital, and worry and distress were wearing their lives away.

They became so completely exhausted they fell asleep, and not knowing what minute they branch might rise and completely overwhelm them, of course their sleep was not very refreshing, but they were finally roused from their slumbers, and commenced crawling on, and they were at last rewarded by seeing day light, but they had to struggle long and laboriously before their feet were firmly set on terra firma.

When released from the prison house they lost no time in going to their homes. Melvin's parents were consulting about getting up the rescue party on Monday morning, when Melvin's brother, Bram, came running into the house and said, "Papa, let the fat prodigal be killed, the calf has returned."

Then Melvin came in wet, muddy, lean and hungry, and fell before his father and said: "Father, I have sinned before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son." The father answered: "You shall no longer be called my son, and when you have rested up a little, I shall proceed to cut every particle of skin from your back for disobeying my command."

"Away in the middle of the night a wild peal burst from the village bells, and in a moment the streets were swarming with frantic half-clad people, who shouted, 'Turn out! turn out! they're found! they're found!'" Tom Sawyer, Chapter XXXII.

After this escapade Melvin's neighbor women tried to get him to stay on the farm. They had prepared themselves with several scriptural texts, and Mrs. Pile was appointed to fire them at Melvin at the first opportunity. She did not have to wait long. Melvin passed her house, and she called him to stop. She told him that the neighbors were anxious to see him settle down to work and maker something of himself, [and] she said she had some scripture she wanted to quote to him.

He told her to say on. She said: "In Proverbs 6: and 6, we have these words: 'Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways, and be wise; which, having no chief overseer or ruler, provideth her meat in the Summer, and gathereth her food in the harvest. And again, the ants are a people, not strong, yet they provide their meat in the Summer.' Now Melvin, These are the words of King Solomon, the wisest man that ever lived."

Melvin listened attentively, and respectfully, and when Mrs. Pile was done, he answered: "Yes I know that Solomon talked that way back in his day, but we have later and higher directions as to living. Jesus in his sermon on the Mount, said: "And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not neither do they spin: yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."


This story was posted on 2015-07-12 09:17:15
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