The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 17
THE DEVIL FISH.
"He's about half crazy!"
Such was Mont's conclusion as he joined his companions.
While Mont was telling the others of what he had seen, all were treated to a surprise.
A panel in the wall slid back.
A large sheet of very thick plate glass, quite transparent, was revealed to view almost immediately; a flood of electric light lit up the sea for some distance, and everything was as clear as daylight.
It was as if they were looking at an immense aquarium.
"The captain is giving us a surprise," remarked the professor; "this is charming."
Innumerable fishes of various kinds, most of which were unknown, even to a naturalist of Dr. Woddle's standing, passed before them.
Strange, wild, fierce-looking things, with wonderful tails and heads.
Some looking unmistakably voracious, others being long and slimy like hideous snakes.
They were doubtless attracted by the electric light.
For two hours the four companions gazed at the ever-changing procession, without the least abatement of their delight.
Presently the door opened, and a negro handed the professor a letter.
He opened it and read its contents aloud.
"Captain Vindex presents his compliments to Professor Woddle, and will be glad if he and his companions will accept an invitation to shoot in the weed forests under the sea to-morrow morning at ten o'clock."
"I'll be hanged if I go!" exclaimed Stump. "Not if I know it. I'm safe here, but I don't want to be chawed up by some strange reptile."
"Silence, boy!" said the professor. "Tell Captain Vindex," he continued, to the negro, "that we are much obliged to him for his invitation, which we gladly accept."
The negro bowed and retired.
At the time appointed the professor and the boys were conducted to a cabin, which may be called the dressing-room, or arsenal, of the Searcher.
Hanging on the walls were numerous helmets, such as divers wear, and a number of guns reposed on hooks.
At the last moment Stump had determined to accompany the party.
Captain Vindex was already there, and received them graciously.
"I wish you good-day, professor," he said; "and you, too, my boys. I think we shall enjoy some excellent sport among the sea otters and other animals worth killing. You, Dr. Woddle, will be able to add to your knowledge of natural history, for we are about to traverse a forest of remarkable seaweeds and plants, in which you will find all kinds of submarine life."
"I am obliged to you for your kindness, sir, and put myself entirely at your disposal," replied the professor.
At a signal from the captain, two negroes assisted our heroes to put on their apparel, and clothed them in thick waterproof made of India rubber, which formed trousers and vest, the trousers terminating in a pair of shoes with lead soles; a cuirass of leather protected the chest from the pressure of the water, and allowed the lungs full play.
Supple gloves covered the hands, the helmet was then put on, and the knapsack of compressed air adjusted on the back.
To each one was given a gun, the butt of which was of brass and hollow.
Here was stored the compressed air which discharged the electric bullets, one of which fell into its proper place just as the other had been shot away. The whole mechanism was perfect.
When all was ready they stepped into an empty cabin, the door closed behind them, and, touching a knob, the captain allowed the room to fill with water.
Then he opened a door and they walked out into the sea.
Each had an electric lamp fastened to the waist, which made their path clear and distinct, enabling them to see every object through the glass holes in their helmets.
The captain walked in front with the professor.
Carl and Mont were side by side, and Stump brought up the rear.
Walking was not very difficult, and the supply of air, well charged with the oxygen necessary for prolonged respiration, was all that could be wished. It entered as it was required from the knapsack reservoir, and escaped when used through a turret at the top of the circular helmet.
They proceeded along fine sand, covered with a variety of shells, for at least a mile, when they came to some rocks covered with beautiful anemones.
Innumerable fish sported around them; long, writhing eels, of a prodigious size, with ugly, flat snake-like heads, glided away at their approach, and thousands of jelly fish danced about their heads.
They were not at a great depth, and presumably were near some island, for Mont, looking up, saw the sun overhead, guessing the depth to be about thirty or forty feet.
The sun's rays easily penetrated the waves, and made a kaleidoscope of colors inconceivably beautiful.
If the party could have spoken they would have given vent to their admiration in no measured terms.
The least sound was transmitted easily, showing that the sea is a better conductor of noise than land.
By degrees the depth increased, and they must have been a hundred yards from the surface, as the pressure of the water increased.
Mont suffered no inconvenience except a slight tingling in the ears and fingers.
He moved with ease, and was intensely delighted with the wonderful bed of sea flowers which gave place to the fine sand they had been traversing.
A dark mass extended itself before them; and Captain Vindex, extending his hand, indicated the beginning of the forest.
It was composed of large seaweeds and plants, which extended in a straight manner, having no drooping branches; all were erect and motionless.
When displaced by the hand they resumed a perpendicular position.
They scarcely had any roots in the sand, and were evidently nourished by the water and not by the earth.
Some were long and slender, others short and bushy, covered with blossoms of various colors; others, again, reached a height equal to our forest trees.
They had not proceeded far through this dense jungle of weeds, among which it was difficult to pick a path, when the captain halted.
In front of him was a huge octopus, or devil fish, over three feet in diameter, with long, terrible arms.
It endeavored to seize the professor, who, sinking on his knees, shivered in silent terror!