The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 15
For several minutes the master of the submarine monster gazed in silence at those in the iron-bound cabin.
Stump stood shivering in a corner.
"Please don't kill us!" he cried. "I—I—didn't mean any harm."
The strange owner of the still stranger craft looked at Stump for a moment, and then smiled faintly.
"Depart!" he cried to the negroes, and on the instant every one of the heavily armed men vanished.
Sitting down on the edge of the table, with his arms crossed on his powerful chest, this strange being seemed plunged in deep thought.
Our heroes regarded him with expectation, not unmixed with awe, for they were entirely in his power.
Was he about to punish them for the indiscretion of one of their number?
At length he spoke in English.
"Gentlemen," he said, "you see I can speak your language. I did not answer you at first, because I was undecided what to do with you. I am well acquainted with the scientific works written by Dr. Woddle, and I esteem it an honor to have made his acquaintance."
The professor bowed his acknowledgment of this compliment.
"I am also glad to see two intelligent young gentlemen like Mr. Folsom and Mr. Barnaby."
"You've forgotten me, sir," said Stump. "I'm only an odd boy, but——"
The captain extended his arm, and the hired boy was silent.
"I'm a man," he continued, "who has broken with society and renounced the world. Had you not molested me and fired at my vessel, I should not have crippled your ship and upset your boat. The attack came from your side."
"But, sir," answered the professor, "we took your ship to be some unknown creature."
"Possibly, but this creature had done you no harm. I saw you all take refuge outside, and I hesitated a long while what to do with you. I knew nothing of you. What were you to me? Why should I extend my hospitality to you? All that was necessary to break off your connection, was to give a signal to my engineers, and the Searcher, which is the name of my vessel, would have sunk to the bottom of the ocean. I had the right to do it."
His hearers shuddered at this avowal.
"It seems to me that we are to be prisoners?" observed the professor.
"But this is an outrage!" exclaimed Mont. "I demand to be put on shore at the nearest port, or given up to the nearest ship we meet."
"You will none of you ever see the earth again, or set foot upon it," replied the captain with much emphasis.
"This floating prison is, then, our tomb—our coffin, in which we must live and die?"
"Call it what you will," replied the captain. "You have obtained the secret of my existence. Do you think I could ever allow you to revisit the world, to let it be known through every newspaper how I pass my life?"
"How are we to address you, sir?"
"My name is Vindex. By my men I am called the Wizard of the Sea."
"Very well, Captain Vindex of the Searcher," said Mont, "we must make the best of our situation, but I will never give my word that I will not attempt to escape."
"I like you, boy, for your honesty," said the Wizard of the Sea, "though I warn you that if you are caught in the attempt, you will be instantly put to death."
"To death? You dare not!"
The captain laughed in a wild, weird manner.
"Dare not!" he said. "Foolish lad, there are no laws for me. I am the sole master here. My black slaves only live to do my bidding. What is your life or death to me? I have no more to say at present. Follow this negro into another cabin, where a repast awaits you."
He called to someone outside, and, bowing politely, went away, while the four companions were conducted to a dining room handsomely furnished and lighted by an electric lamp.
Various preparations invited their attention. The dinner service was of silver, and everything denoted immense wealth on the part of the owner.
The negro waited upon them attentively.
"What's your name?" asked Mont.
"Me name One, massa."
"Yes, massa. There twelve slaves on board this ship, and all have figure names, me One, other nigger Two, other Three, Four, Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and so on up to Twelve."
"That's a queer idea," said our hero; "fancy calling out for your servant, and saying, 'Here, Nine, I want you,' or 'I say, Three, do this'!"
"It is my opinion," exclaimed the professor, "that Captain Vindex is a very remarkable man—the most remarkable, in fact, that ever lived. He has invented a singular ship which can go under the sea at will, but why not? Was not the invention of steam engines laughed at, as well as the invention of gas? Who, a hundred years ago, would have believed in the electric telegraph, by means of which we send a message to the end of the earth in a minute?"
"Very true," replied Mont. "And don't forget the telephone, and the submarine boat the government is trying to build. It's a pity a man of such genius should shut himself up like this, though."
"It is a pity," answered the professor.
"What's worse, though," remarked Carl, "is that he means to keep us as prisoners."
"If he can," said Stump.
"Don't you be so fast, Stump, my boy," said Mont. "Keep your mouth shut, or you may get into trouble."
"Very sorry, but I don't like such goings-on, and wish I was back again on the shore."
The negro handed the professor a fresh dish.
"Will massa have some oysters stewed in whale's milk?" he asked; "or some jam made of sea anemones?"
"I'd rather you'd not tell me what the dishes are; it will set me against them if you do," answered the professor with a wry face.
When the repast was ended, Mont jumped up. "I feel better," he said. "Mister Number One."
"Massa call me?" asked the black, who was clearing away.
"Yes. Where are we now?"
"We gone down, massa, and now we lie at the bottom of the sea."
Mont regarded him with undisguised astonishment.
The Searcher was indeed a wonderful craft.