The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 16
THE MYSTERIES OF THE "SEARCHER."
Many days passed.
The lives of the captives were unvaried by any incident. They saw nothing of Captain Vindex; were well attended to, slept comfortably, and had nothing to complain of but their imprisonment.
Books were freely supplied them, but they were not allowed to leave their cabins.
At the expiration of a fortnight or thereabouts, as well as they could reckon, negro Number One entered their cabin after breakfast.
Addressing Mont, the negro observed:
"Massa Folsom to come to cappen's cabin."
"Does he want me?" inquired Mont. "All right. Good-by, my friends," he added, "perhaps you will never see me again. I may be the first victim."
"No fear!" exclaimed Carl. "We shan't be hurt if we keep quiet."
"I'll suggest that you're the fattest, Carl, if there is any question of cooking one of us."
"Then it won't be true, for you're as fat as a mole. Go on and be cooked first! I'll have a bit of you," answered Barnaby.
Mont went away laughing. He was not really alarmed, for although he did not like Captain Vindex, he fancied he was safe as long as he did not irritate this strange being.
The negro conducted him along a passage which opened into a magnificent library, full of books, which gave admittance to a drawing room furnished with all the taste that could be found in Paris or New York.
The space within the ironclad shell had been made the most of, and no expense had been spared to make the cabin luxurious and well appointed.
The walls were richly papered and covered with valuable paintings. The ceiling was frescoed, and works of art were everywhere to be seen. Rich couches and chairs invited rest, and the foot sank in the soft pile of a Turkey carpet.
Captain Vindex arose as our hero entered.
"Take a seat," he said, as the negro retired, closing the door after him. "I have taken an interest in you, Folsom."
"Thank you," answered Mont coldly.
The captain smiled, approached the end of the room, and, drawing back a curtain, revealed a splendid organ.
"Do you like music?" he asked.
"Very much," answered Mont. "Play us something. It will enliven me a bit. I feel awfully low, and I'll give you a game at dominoes or checkers afterwards, if you like."
Captain Vindex smiled, and, sitting down, played Sousa's "Liberty Bell March" with great skill.
"Thank you," said Mont, when he had finished. "Very fine. Now will you tell me how you manage for air?"
"I will not trouble you with chemical details," answered the captain, "which you would not understand, but when I do not take in air at the surface, I have some compressed in the reservoir, which, by means of an apparatus, is wafted all over the ship."
"And about light and moving about?"
"That is the result of electricity, which I make myself. My motive power is electricity, and I can attain a speed of thirty miles an hour. The men of the world have not yet discovered half the value of electricity. My machinery is of the finest kind. If I want to sink to the bottom of the sea, I fill certain reservoirs I have with water; when I want to rise, I lighten the ship by letting out the water. In short, I have invented everything that is necessary for my safety and comfort."
"Wonderful!" ejaculated Mont.
"Your friend, the professor, would understand me, if I were to explain to him how everything were managed, but to you it all seems as strange as the first railway train did to the country people through whose districts it passed. Engineering science is yet in its infancy. The world has great discoveries to make. You are at present only on the threshold of the great unknown."
"You work your ship with a screw, I suppose?"
"Exactly. The helmsman sits in a cabin with a glass front, and the electric light illumines the sea for some distance, so that all is clear to him."
"Where did you build this extraordinary vessel?" continued our hero.
"On a desert island in the Pacific. I had the various parts brought in a vessel that belonged to me from various parts of the world, and the twelve negroes who are now with me were my only workmen."
"You are rich, then?"
"Money was never any object to me," replied the captain. "If I wanted gold even now, could I not obtain millions from the bottom of the sea out of ships that have sunk? And some day I shall find the great million-dollar pearl for which I am searching. The treasures of the deep are mine; I am the Wizard of the Sea."
He spoke proudly, and his eyes dilated with rapture.
"You like the sea?"
"I love it. I revel in it. Look at the solitude and freedom I enjoy! What life can be comparable to mine?"
"But you must feel weary at times," said Mont.
"Never. I read, I think, and, when I want diversion, I shoot."
"In the submarine forests. I have invented a square case to strap on the back, which is attached to a mask covering the head, and this will contain enough compressed air to last for several hours' consumption, so that I can walk under the waves with ease and comfort."
"And your guns?"
"Are air guns, also my own invention. I have several, and each is prepared to fire twenty shots by a mere movement of the trigger, the requisite force of air being placed in a hollow of the butt end; but all these mysteries will become plain to you before you have been long with me," answered Captain Vindex.
"What time is it?" asked Mont.
Looking at his watch, the captain answered:
"A quarter to twelve, or near midday."
"If you want to give me a treat," said Mont, "I wish you would go up to the surface and let me have a look at the sea, and breathe the fresh air."
"Certainly. Come with me to the engine room."
Mont rose, and followed his conductor through several iron passages to the place where the machinery was fitted up.
A negro saluted the captain.
"Number Twelve," exclaimed the latter, "I wish to ascend."
The engineer touched a valve, and a rush of water escaping was heard.
The pumps were forcing out the water from the reservoirs.
The Searcher began to ascend. After a time she stopped suddenly.
"We have arrived," said the captain.
He led the way up a central spiral staircase, and, raising a small door, they emerged upon what may be called the deck, or what our hero and his companions had taken to be the back of the monster.
Touching a spring, an iron railing sprang up, about five feet high.
This prevented any danger of falling into the sea in rough weather, for it made a small inclosure about twenty feet by ten.
Mont saw that the shape of the ship was something like a long cigar.
The sea was calm and the sky clear; a light breeze fanned their cheeks as Mont opened his lungs to take in the inviting atmosphere.
There was, however, nothing to be seen. All was one vast desert.
The captain proceeded, armed with a sextant, to take the height of the sun, which would give him his latitude.
He waited some minutes until the sun attained the edge of the horizon.
Having calculated the longitude chronometrically, he said:
"To-day I commence a voyage of exploration under the waves."
"When you like," replied Mont; "anything for a little excitement."
The captain conducted him downstairs again, the iron railing fell, the trapdoor closed overhead, and with a bow the strange being left him to join his companions.