The Wizard of the Sea/Chapter 25


CHAPTER XXV.

THE MAN OF MYSTERY.


Mont advanced to the oyster, and stretched out his hand as if he would have seized the pearl, but he was disappointed.

By a sudden movement the captain withdrew his knife, and the two shells came together with a sharp snap.

Satisfied with showing them this treasure of the deep, he turned round, and retraced his steps, leaving the precious pearl behind them.

Incomprehensible man, he was now more than ever a mystery to our hero.

He allowed them to seek and take numerous other pearls, but would not let them touch that he had shown them.

Again they wandered along the bottom of the sea, beholding many things worthy of observation.

Sometimes the bank was so shallow that their heads came above the water; at others they sank several yards below.

Suddenly the captain stopped, and by a movement of his hand ordered the party to conceal themselves behind a projecting rock.

He pointed to the liquid mass in front of them, and all followed with their eyes the direction indicated.

About five yards off a shadow came between the party and the rays of the sun.

Mont thought of the "sea butcher," as the divers of Ceylon call the shark, and trembled a little at the idea.

But he deceived himself, for this time he had nothing to fear from the monster of the ocean.

A living man, an Indian, as black as ink, shot through the water, doubtless an early fisher for pearls.

The bottom of his canoe could be seen up above, a few feet beyond his head.

Arriving at the bottom, which was about five yards deep, he fell on his knees, let go the stone he had held between his feet to sink with more rapidity, and began to rake up the oysters from the bank with both hands.

A cord was around his waist, the other end being attached to his boat, and this he pulled at when he wanted to rise.

To his loins was attached a little bag, into which he put the oysters as fast as he could gather them.

The Indian did not see anyone, and if he had he would have been so alarmed at the strange spectacle of curious-looking beings walking at ease at the bottom of the sea that he would quickly have retired.

Several times he remounted and plunged again, not getting more than a dozen oysters at each dip.

It appeared as if he risked his life for very little return, as in a score of oysters he might not find a pearl worth having.

All at once, while on his knees, he made a gesture of terror, and seized his rope to ascend to the surface.

A gigantic mass appeared close to the wretched diver.

It was a huge shark, which advanced diagonally toward him, his terrible jaws open wide.

The Indian threw himself on one side and avoided the bite of the shark, but not the action of his tail.

Mont thought he heard the jaws snap, but he had not much time to think, as he saw the diver thrown down by a blow of the animal's tail and stretched upon the ground.

All this was done in a few seconds, and then the shark returned, lying upon his back, in order the better to bite and divide the Indian in halves.

Mont was about to rush forward to attempt to save the miserable wretch's life, when he was pushed rudely back by Captain Vindex.

In his hand he held a knife, and was evidently prepared to battle for his life against the shark.

The latter, just about to seize the Indian and snap him up, perceived his new adversary and, replacing himself upon his belly, directed himself rapidly toward him.

He waited coolly the attack of the shark, which was one of the largest of its species, and when it charged him, he stepped quickly aside and plunged his knife into its belly up to the hilt.

Then commenced a fearful combat.

The shark began to bleed dreadfully, tinging the sea in such a manner as to hide the two in a sea of blood.

As the water cleared a little, Mont saw the captain, caught by one of the creature's fins, stabbing at it as fast as he could, but not being able to give it a deathblow. The shark lashed the sea with fury, and almost prevented the professor and his friends from keeping their footing, though they were some distance off.

Neither the professor, Mont, nor Carl dared to go to the help of the captain, for it seemed as if the shark would bite them in two, and they lost their presence of mind for a time.

But Mont soon recovered, and then, catching Stump's harpoon, he darted forward to do his best.

With his teeth set, he precipitated himself toward the shark, and struck it a terrible blow in the flank.

Again the sea was saturated with blood.

The shark agitated the water with indescribable fury, for our hero had not missed his aim.

It was the death agony of the monster.

Stricken to the heart, he struggled gallantly, but was powerless for further evil.

As the immense creature was dying, Mont pulled the captain from under him, and at the same moment the Indian, coming to himself, detached the stone from his feet and shot upward.

Following the example of the pearl diver, the captain struck the ground with his heels, as did the others, and all were soon at the surface.

The Indian had regained his canoe, but he was lying at the bottom in a half-fainting condition.

Satisfying himself that the poor fellow would live, and was not seriously injured, the captain signaled to his companions to descend, leaving the Indian gazing at them with haggard eyes, thinking he had seen some supernatural beings.

Walking as fast as they could along the bottom of the sea, they came in time to the anchor of their boat, reascended to the surface, and, taking their seats, removed their head-cases with a feeling of relief.

The negroes immediately began to row back to the Searcher.

Captain Vindex was the first to speak.

"Thank you, my lad," he said, extending his hand to Mont.

"It's nothing," rejoined our hero bluntly; "you saved my life when we were wrecked, and I have now saved yours with my harpoon. We are equal now, and I owe you nothing."

A sickly smile sat on the captain's lips for a second, and that was all.

"Lay to it!" he cried to his men. "Pull to the Searcher."

At half-past eight in the morning they were again on board of the ship, having been absent a little more than three hours.

To Mont the captain was more difficult to understand than ever.

He had risked his own life to save that of a poor Indian whom he had never seen before, and was never likely to see again.

This showed that he could not have a bad heart.

His heart was not entirely dead, whatever his faults might be.

As if the captain guessed Mont's thoughts, he observed to him at the bottom of the staircase on board the ship:

"That Indian belonged to an oppressed race. I also am one of the oppressed, and to my last breath I shall continue to be so. You recognize now the bond of union between us?"