The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 24
A PEARL WORTH A FORTUNE.
They traversed the ocean at a depth of about a hundred yards from the surface.
The health of the captives continued good.
Stump was the only grumbler; the others read and talked, resigning themselves to their fate, and waiting the next adventure which should befall them in their singular voyage.
"I tell you what it is, sir," exclaimed Stump one day; "I wish I could get my fist near that there captain. If I wouldn't give him a knockout I'd let a whale come and eat me."
"What have you to grumble at, my friend?" inquired Professor Woddle. "You are comfortably housed, well fed, and have a constant source of excitement in the movements of this remarkable ship."
"Bother the ship. Why didn't she strike on a rock and bust up?" said Stump. "I'd rather be back to Nautical Hall any day than here."
"Bide your time, my lad," continued the professor; "something will happen some day."
"Very prob'ble, sir, but it's waiting for it to turn up as I don't like. Just shove me alongside of that blessed captain, and if I don't give him——"
"Stump," interrupted Mont, "you shut up. I wouldn't mind being back to the Hall myself, but finding fault won't take us there."
"Certainly, sir. I don't have much chance of talking. I shall forget my own language soon; but no matter, I am only a hired boy, I know, and, of course, shouldn't have no feelings."
Mont took the trouble to pacify him, explaining that to provoke a quarrel with the captain would not in any way improve their position.
On the contrary, it might deprive them of the little liberty and comforts they now enjoyed, and make their miserable condition much worse.
Stump saw this and promised to be quiet.
He was a strong lad for his age, as hard as iron, and brave as a young lion.
"Just promise me this, sir," he said.
"If I see a good chance of stepping it, you'll be with me?"
"Like a shot. But we mustn't do anything rash, you know, Stump," replied Mont. "Captain Vindex is not to be trifled with. A man who can build a ship like this, make electricity take the place of steam, and so store the air as to make it sufficient for use for twenty-four hours, is one of those great spirits who think of everything, and with whom we cannot hope to cope on equal terms."
"Don't know so much about that, sir," said Stump. "I once had a round with a professional boxer and laid him low in two minutes."
Mont laughed, and the conversation dropped.
The voyage continued to the Indian Sea, and was not remarkable for anything more exciting than the capture of several turtles in nets, and the shooting of various sea birds, which supplied an agreeable addition to the comforts of the table.
In the Indian Sea they encountered hundreds of the nautilus tribe floating gracefully on the surface of the water, their tiny sails spread, catching the wind, and looking like little ships.
One day Captain Vindex entered.
"Would you like to see the banks upon which grow the oysters which contain the pearls?" asked the captain.
"Under the sea?" said Mont.
"An excursion, submarine?" said the professor.
"Precisely so. Are you inclined to go?"
"Very much, indeed," replied all in chorus, with the exception of Stump.
"This is not the time of year for the pearl divers to be at work," said the captain, "though we may see one or two. I will bring the ship nearer land, and show you some of the treasures of the deep. They fish for pearls in the Gulf of Bengal, in the Indian seas, as well as those of China and Japan, off the coast of South America, and in the Gulf of Panama and that of California, but it is at Ceylon that they find the richest harvest."
"That is a fact," said the professor; "the richest pearls, as you say, are found here."
"Right," said the captain. "We, however, shall see more than any diver ever dreams of. Perhaps I shall find my pearl worth a million, for which I have searched so long. I shall be at your service, gentlemen, in a few hours."
When the captain had departed the professor was very grave.
Carl and Mont were delighted at the prospect of finding pearls, but Stump bit his nails in silence.
"I'll take home a pearl or two for luck!" exclaimed Mont.
"If you ever get home, sir," remarked Stump, half aloud.
"You'll go with us, won't you?" asked Mont.
"I'll go wherever you and Master Carl go, Master Mont," replied Stump, "because it's my duty to watch over you. But I aint going to have no sort of friendship with that captain, not by a jugful!"
"He's all right, when you know him."
"Is he? Then I don't want to know him."
Turning to the professor, Mont exclaimed:
"Shall we have good sport, sir?"
"Most likely," answered Mr. Woddle.
"Are there many sharks about?"
"It is no use disguising the fact. The sea hereabouts swarms with them. I should not like to meet one under the waves. A pearl has been called by poets a tear of the sea, and anything more lovely around a maiden's neck cannot be conceived. I have a strong wish to hunt for those tears of the sea, and behold them growing in their shells, but Heaven protect us from the sharks."
Stump disappeared for a brief space, and returned with a long harpoon.
"What have you got there?" asked Mont.
"It's a reg'lar pig-sticker, isn't it, sir?" remarked Stump, regarding it admiringly.
"It does look as if it could give an ugly prod," remarked Carl.
"They call it a harpoon; thing for sticking whales. Me and Number One, that's the nigger as waits on us, is friends, sir, and he's given me this to fight the darned sharkses with."
"Bravo, Stump!" exclaimed Carl.
"It would be 'Bravo Stump,' if I could rip up an inch or two of that captain, and seize the blessed ship!" rejoined the boy with a scowl.
Mont said nothing in reply, but waited patiently for the signal which would summon him and his companions to the captain's side.
It came an hour or two before daybreak.
A negro summoned them to the platform, near which the boat attached to the ship was riding.
It was manned by four men, and when all the party were on board the negroes began to row toward the island.
At six o'clock the day broke. They were a few miles from the land, which was distinctly visible, with a few trees scattered here and there.
The captain stood up in the boat, and narrowly regarded the sea. At last he gave a sign, and the anchor was lowered.
"Here we are," said the captain. "Put on your divers' caps, gentlemen, and follow me."
The heavy sea garments were quickly put on.
The electric lamps were not needed, because the depth was not great.
Besides, the electric light would attract the sharks, who were creatures they could not afford to despise.
The only arm given to each of the party was a long, sharp knife.
Captain Vindex set the example of springing into the sea, the others following him as soon as they were thoroughly equipped.
The negroes remained in the boat awaiting their return.
A depth of about three yards and a half did not give them a very great submersion.
To be supplied with condensed air, to be armed, and well lighted up by the sun was delightful. They walked along the bottom of the sea, easily seeing the smallest object on all sides of them.
After some little walking they came to several oyster banks, from which the shells containing the valuable pearls were dragged by the hands of the divers.
There were millions of them, and the mine seemed inexhaustible.
They could not stop to examine everything, for it was necessary to follow the captain everywhere.
The road was uneven; sometimes Mont could raise his arm and put his hand out of the water; at others, he was descending a slope, and the sun's rays were not so vivid.
Everything became more obscure, and great shells were seen sticking to curiously shaped rocks.
After a time a large grotto appeared before them, dimly lighted.
The captain entered, followed by the rest of the party, the professor eagerly taking note of everything.
Stump carried his harpoon, which was a good deal longer than himself; and the two boys eagerly looked for pearls, as if they expected to find them lying at their feet.
Descending an inclined plane, Captain Vindex stopped and pointed out an object which they had not hitherto perceived.
It was an oyster of gigantic size.
Lying alone upon the granite rock, it took up a large space, and never had the professor even heard of such a huge bivalve.
The shells were open a little, as if the oyster was feeding, which enabled the captain to introduce his knife.
Keeping the two shells open by both ends of his knife, he pushed back the flesh of the oyster and revealed a pearl as big as a small cocoanut.
It was a pearl worth at least a hundred thousand dollars.