The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 23
ELECTRIFYING THE SAVAGES.
"What a sight! They are going to attack us, sure!"
It was Mont who spoke, as at six o'clock in the morning he ascended to the platform.
The morning mist had lifted, and he could see the land distinctly.
The savages were very busy, and more numerous than they had been the night before.
As well as he could calculate, he counted six or seven hundred of them.
They were tall, handsome men, with an erect bearing, their features well chiseled.
In their ears they wore rings of bone.
Their arms were bows and arrows, spears, and shields made of the skins of fish stretched over a wooden frame or the back of the turtle.
A chief rowed in a canoe toward the Searcher, keeping at a safe distance.
He was adorned with a fantastic headdress of feathers and leaves, and seemed to be the king of the country.
Having nothing better to do, Mont got a fishing line from the negro who usually attended upon him, and amused himself with catching some of the fish that swam round the ship.
No one made any preparation to repel an attack of the Papouans, which alarmed Mont very much.
He had, however, so much confidence in the sagacity of Captain Vindex that he believed he would not be caught asleep.
For two hours he continued his sport with tolerable success, and was so wrapped up in it that he forgot the natives for the time.
While he was engaged in pulling up a good bite, an arrow whizzed past him.
Mont dropped his fish, and very nearly his line.
"Bother the brutes!" he exclaimed; "can't they let a fellow fish in peace? Why doesn't the captain make a start and get away from them?"
He was as eager now to leave the land as he had been the day before to reach it.
It was clear that the Papouans were puzzled.
They had seen European ships before, but what could they make of a long cylinder of iron, without masts, almost flush with the surface of the water, and no chimney like a steamer?
But they gained confidence as they saw no attempt made to drive them away.
They had seen some of their number killed by the air-guns, yet they had heard no noise.
All at once a flotilla consisting of a score of canoes, full of savages, put off from the shore, and approached the ship.
Mont at once sought refuge in the interior of the ship, and ran to apprise the captain of the formidable state affairs were assuming.
Clearly no orders had been given to repel boarders.
Knocking at the captain's door, he was told to enter.
Captain Vindex was reading.
"Do I disturb you?" asked Mont politely.
"A little," replied the captain; "but I suppose you have good reason for seeking me?"
"Rather," answered our hero. "We are surrounded by savages, and in a few minutes we shall have them on board."
"Ah," said the captain, "they have got their canoes, I suppose?"
"Heaps of them."
"Then we must do something."
"Shut up the shop," said Mont.
"That is easily done," replied the captain, touching a bell, and adding: "In half a minute the trapdoor will be closed. You need not be afraid that they will break in."
"No, but to-morrow we shall want air, and you must open the door again for your pumps to work."
"Yes; our ship is like a great whale, and cannot live without air."
"In a moment the Papouans will be on the top of us, and I don't suppose they will go away in a hurry," replied Mont.
"You suppose they will take possession of the outside and keep it?"
"Well, then," answered the captain calmly, "I don't see why they shouldn't. Why should I kill the poor creatures if I can help it? I know many savages in the civilized world whom I would cut off with more pleasure. Leave them to me. If it is necessary I will make a terrible example of them."
"You have no cannon."
"I shall not fire a shot, and I shall not wound them in any way, and yet they will fall like leaves in autumn. Go to your friends, and rest perfectly easy," said the captain.
This was a dismissal, and, wondering much, Mont went away.
As he sought his cabin he heard the fierce cries of the savages, who swarmed on the back of the iron ship like flies in summer.
The night passed without any incident. Plenty of oxygen still passed through the ship, but it was time to renew the air, which was becoming impure.
Breakfast was served in the morning, as usual.
Eleven o'clock came, and the captain showed no signs of moving.
This apathy appeared incomprehensible to Mont.
Without any difficulty the vessel could have gone out to sea, risen in mid-ocean, and taken in fresh air.
"It is very odd we don't move," he remarked.
"I can't understand it," said the professor. "But everything is so remarkable on board this ship that I have ceased to wonder at anything."
"I've had a taste of niggers, and don't want another," said Stump, who was lying on a mattress with his leg bound up.
"Hark at the reptiles! What a thundering row they're kicking up!" remarked Mont.
"I never heard such a racket," answered Carl; "our skipper must be out of his head not to start the vipers."
The captain appeared in the doorway.
There was a pleasant smile on his face, and he did not seem at all alarmed at the menacing aspect of affairs.
"Gentlemen," he said, "we resume our voyage at twelve o'clock exactly."
"It is now a quarter to," said the professor, regarding his chronometer.
"Precisely. I shall open the flap, and take in air directly."
"And the niggers?" said Mont.
"The Papouans?" replied the captain, shrugging his shoulders.
"Won't they get in?"
"Easily enough, by walking down the ladder. They can do that when the flap is up, and can kill us all without any trouble."
"Gentlemen," said Captain Vindex, "the Papouans will not descend the staircase, although the flap is open."
They regarded this singular man in amazement.
"You do not understand me," he continued. "Come to the bottom of the ladder, and you shall see."
"Shall we take our guns?" asked the professor.
"Not the slightest necessity."
"At least your slaves are armed?"
"They are all at their work; follow me," said the captain.
They obeyed his order, and walked to the foot of the metal ladder.
The captain folded his arms, and stood by the side of the professor.
Mont and Carl were together.
Even Stump had crawled along the passage to see what would happen.
Captain Vindex made a sign to a slave, who, touching a spring, caused a trapdoor in the back of the Searcher to fly open.
The sunshine descended in a flood.
Terrible cries of rage and triumph were heard, and a swarm of natives appeared on all sides.
At least twenty made a rush at the ladder, brandishing their tomahawks and spears, while they uttered fierce yells and scraps of war songs.
The first who grasped the railing, and placed his foot on the ladder, gave a bound back, and the most fearful shrieks burst from his quivering lips. A second, a third, and a fourth did the same.
What invisible force was at work Mont did not know. He thought the days of magic and sorcery had returned.
A score of Papouans tried to descend; but they had no sooner made the attempt than they instantly retreated, yelling dismally, and threw themselves into the sea.
"Stunning," said Mont. "It's fine, but I don't know how you do it."
The captain smiled.
To get a better view, Mont put one foot on the staircase and one hand on the railing.
He immediately withdrew them, uttering a cry which was loud enough to wake the dead.
"Oh, oh!" he cried.
"What's up?" exclaimed Carl, who could not help laughing.
"I see the dodge now," said Mont; "it's an electric battery applied to the metal of the staircase, and whoever touches it has a shock. I've had it before at Coney Island, and at fairs. You pay a dime and get electrified."
"Ah!" ejaculated the professor, upon whom a light began to dawn.
"You are right," said the captain calmly. "I have connected the brass staircase with the powerful storage battery that gives us light and power, and the ignorant savages are frightened at they know not what. If they had persisted in their attempt to enter the ship I should have applied all my electrical force, and they would have fallen as dead as flies on a fly paper; but I did not wish to harm them. They are enemies unworthy of my hatred."
The news of the dreadful and mysterious pains which they felt were spread by the shocked natives to their friends.
Alarmed and horrified, they beat a precipitate retreat, swimming and rowing back to the shore.
In half an hour the beach was deserted, and all flew away from the sea fiend whose nature they could not understand.
"They take us for the Old Nick," said Mont.
"Twelve o'clock," exclaimed the captain, who was always as punctual as fate; "I said we should sail at twelve."
At this moment the engines began to revolve, and the Searcher skimmed over the surface of the sea like a bird.
The air was soon taken into the reservoirs, the flap or panel was closed, and sinking into the bosom of the waves, she glided along, moved by her powerful screw, like a big fish; only the helmsman, sitting in his solitary place of lookout, being responsible for her management.