The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 18

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It looked as if Professor Woddle's last moment had come.

In a moment more the devil fish had the shivering man in its fearful embrace.

The captain and Mont, however, raised their guns, and with one shot left it convulsed in its dying agonies.

As they continued to descend into a valley, bounded on each side by high rocks, the darkness increased, for the sun's rays could not penetrate more than a hundred and fifty yards.

It was now that the electric lamps became of importance.

As they got lower and lower, Mont felt an oppression about the head, and a great desire to sleep overcame him.

He lagged behind the others, and with difficulty kept up with them.

Several fine sea otters were seen in front, playing about amongst the weeds.

The captain fired, and the others followed his example.

Three fell dead, one of which Stump took up and threw over his shoulder.

Suddenly Mont sank down on the ground and immediately fell asleep.

His companions, in the eagerness of their chase after the game that had escaped, did not notice his absence.

They had proceeded fully half a mile, when Barnaby, looking back, was unable to discover any trace of Mont.

He at once ran to the captain and made signs, pointing to himself, the professor, and Stump, and pointing in different directions to intimate that Mont was lost.

Captain Vindex at once comprehended his meaning.

He retraced his steps, going carefully over the ground they had trodden.

It was without success, for nowhere could they find the slightest trace of their unfortunate companion.

Carl would have given worlds had he been able to speak.

He was profoundly agitated, for it was horrible to think that his chum was lost under the sea, not knowing his way back to the Searcher, for they had come a roundabout way.

Captain Vindex was also annoyed.

If Mont chose he could climb up the rocks and reach the summit.

There he might take off his helmet, and breathe the free air of heaven.

But would he think of this?

Perhaps in his confusion he would wander about in the effort to meet his companions, and at last be suffocated miserably.

The supply of air with which each was provided was not sufficient to last more than five hours.

Two of those hours' supply had been already consumed.

It was necessary that Captain Vindex and those with him should think of returning to the ship.

Making a sign, he led the way back.

Carl felt inclined to stay and die in the attempt to find his friend.

It would have been an immense relief to him to have said something, but not a sound could he make audible outside his helmet.

With sad and weary steps they traversed the lovely valley, which had lost all its former attractions for the party.

The forest was passed and the sand regained.

They were not more than two miles from the Searcher.

Carl determined to make a last effort.

He seized the captain's arm and pointed pathetically, almost imploringly, to the dense mass of vegetation behind them.

His mute appeal to go back after Mont was comprehended.

But it was disregarded.

Their own lives would have been in jeopardy had they turned back.

The air in the reservoirs was becoming weak and impure.

Shaking his head in a negative manner, the captain pursued his way.

With a heavy heart Carl followed him, and in time the ship was reached.

They entered the water room, closed the doors, and the captain touched a bell.

Directly it sounded within the vessel, the pumps were heard at work, the water gradually lowered, and when it was all out they opened the inner door and regained the dressing-room.

It was indeed a pleasure to have the helmets removed, for they had retained them so long that they were oppressed and ill.

The captain was the first to speak.

"I am very sorry for the misfortune that has happened," he exclaimed; "you must not think me hard-hearted because I returned."

"But Mont will die," answered Carl; "he is lost, and does not know his way back."

"His supply of air will last another hour and a half. There is yet hope."

"What can we do?"

"I will send out a party to search for him, and I will head it myself," replied Captain Vindex.

At this generous offer Carl's heart was filled with fresh hope.

The captain gave orders for three negroes to accompany him.

They were soon dressed and supplied with air, Captain Vindex himself taking a fresh reservoir.

Then the ceremony of going out was repeated, and, as the exploring party quitted the ship, all Carl could do was to pray fervently for their success.

He, the professor, and Stump were very languid, and, in spite of their anxiety, they could not shake off the somnolent effects of their long walk.

Each sank down on the floor of their cabin, and was soon fast asleep.

How long they remained there they did not know.

Barnaby awoke, feeling a hand laid on his shoulder. It was Captain Vindex.

Springing to his feet in an instant, he said:

"Have you found him? Where is Mont?"

"Unhappily," said the captain, "we could find no trace of him."

"Why did I let him go last? I ought to have had him in front of me," cried Carl angrily. "Poor Mont! he is lying at the bottom of the sea, and I shall never see him again. Never, never!"

He covered his face with his hands, and the tears trickled down his cheeks.

"I have dispatched another party to seek for him," exclaimed the captain; "I am too worn out to go with them this time. If they find the body, we may restore him to consciousness."

"There is no hope," said Carl sadly; "you are the cause of his death. Why did you inclose us in this tomb, and then take one of us in the sea to die?"

"Was it my fault? You are hasty, my boy, and do me great injustice. I am as much grieved as yourself, for I had begun to love that lad," said the captain feelingly. "We will mourn for him together; there is a silent friendship in grief. We are friends, for we have the same sorrow."

In a few hours the searching party came back, weary and unsuccessful.

They could see nothing of Mont.

Everyone gave up all hope, and our hero was mourned for as one dead.