The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 12

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CHAPTER XII.

INSIDE OF THE "SEARCHER."


All three of the boys were greatly astonished.

"It beats the Dutch!" cried Carl.

"If that is so," said Mont, "there must be some internal mechanism to make it work about."

"Evidently."

"It gives no sign of life."

"Not at present," answered the man of science. "But we have seen it move. It has appeared and disappeared. Consequently, it must have hidden machinery."

"Of course."

"So that we come to the conclusion, which is inevitable, that there must be a man or men inside to direct the ship."

"Hurrah!" cried our hero; "I didn't think of that. We are saved if that is so, and it must be as you say."

"Hum!" muttered the professor; "I don't know so much about that. If, when it makes a start, it glides along the surface of the water, we are all right; but if it goes down, we are lost."

"I've got an idea," said Mont, after a pause. "We must knock at the door, and see if we can find anyone at home."

His companions laughed.

"I have searched carefully," said Carl, "but I can't find even a manhole."

There was nothing to do but to wait until morning.

Mont wanted to keep his feet warm, so he amused himself by kicking his heels upon the body beneath him.

"I'll wake 'em up," he said. "They shan't sleep if they won't let me in."

Their safety depended absolutely upon the caprice of the mysterious steersman who inhabited the ironclad, fish-shaped machine.

It seemed to the professor that before those inside descended again they would have to open some hole to obtain air.

All were now very tired, wet, and hungry, and soon a raging thirst began to attack them.

Our hero fancied he heard vague sounds beneath him, but could not be sure.

Who were the strange beings that lived in the floating iron shell?

Kicking angrily upon the iron surface, Mont said:

"You are very inhospitable inside. I am hungry and thirsty. Do you want me to die up here?"

He had no sooner spoken than a flap beside him opened and a railing came up as if by magic.

Half the body of a strong, wiry, thick-bearded man appeared. He held a curious wire net.

The net fell over Mont's head, and he felt himself dragged over the railing and down into the interior of the iron shell.

A cry of terror broke from his companions, answered by a smothered yell from Mont, as the flap fell back and shut out any further view of the interior.

Our hero had vanished.

This removal, so brutally executed, was accomplished with the rapidity of lightning.

Dr. Woddle felt his hair stand on end, and as for Carl and Stump they were chilled to the marrow of their bones with fear.

"What have they done with him?" Carl asked.

"Your friend is the first victim," replied the professor. "Perhaps they mean to eat him. For my part, they may eat me as soon as they like; anything is preferable to this."

"I wish I could get at them," replied Stump. "I'd soon have Master Mont out."

The words were scarcely out of his mouth when the trap door opened again, and the servant was dragged down below in a similar manner.

"Really this is very extraordinary," said the professor; "two of us are gone. We are no doubt in the hands of pirates, wretched rovers of the sea, who have brought science to their aid. It is to be hoped——"

The door opened while he was speaking and a long arm twining round his waist dragged him too into the heart of this floating prison.

His legs kicking up ludicrously in the air attracted the attention of Carl, who could not refrain from laughing, miserable though he was.

"My turn next," muttered the youth.

He was not long kept in suspense.

The long net twined, snakelike, round him, and he too descended into the bowels of the infernal machine.

Mont's experience was that of all of them.

He had descended an iron ladder and was pushed into a room, the door of which shut to with a heavy bang.

In ten minutes they were all together in the same compartment.

The darkness of their prison was so intense as to prevent our hero seeing his hand before his face.

Thus it was impossible to guess where they were, or even to tell if they were alone or not.

"This is an outrage," said the doctor. "I protest against it. Is the author of a dozen immortal works to be treated like a naughty schoolboy?"

"We're prisoners," remarked Mont, "and it's no use hallooing. They're not going to eat us. This isn't an oven, and I think we are better here than up above."

"At least we had our liberty," continued the doctor, who was never satisfied or happy unless he was at work or grumbling.

"I've got a knife," said Stump boldly, "and I'll stick the first that comes near me. It's a regular pig-sticker, my knife, and I'll bet they feel it."

"Don't you do anything of the sort!" cried Mont. "You might get us all killed."

"It's very hard if a poor boy can't do something."

"You'll get it hot if anyone is listening to you. If you don't care for yourself, think of us."

Stump grumbled inaudibly, and Mont began to take the dimensions of the prison in which they were.

This he did by walking about, and he made it twenty feet long by ten wide. The walls were of iron, made of plates riveted together.

Half an hour passed. At the expiration of that time, the cabin was illuminated by a flood of light so vivid and blinding that it was difficult to bear the intensity.

Mont recognized the electric light that had floated round the ship when he first saw it.

When he got used to its clear whiteness, he looked up and saw that it proceeded from a globe which hung from the ceiling.

"Light at last; our captors are becoming more civil," said the doctor, rubbing his hands gayly.

"It's about time, I think," answered our hero.

They were not much better off, however, for the cabin only contained a table and five wooden stools, but the light was refreshing and made them more cheerful.

Not a sound reached their ears; everywhere reigned the silence of the grave.

Perhaps the ship had sunk to the bottom of the ocean, for it seemed to have the power of going where its strange owner wished.

In a short time the door opened and two men appeared.

"Visitors at last!" murmured Mont to himself.