Near four o'clock in the morning, the submersible picked up speed. We could barely cope with this dizzying rush, and the waves battered us at close range. Fortunately Ned's hands came across a big mooring ring fastened to the topside of this sheet-iron back, and we all held on for dear life.
Finally this long night was over. My imperfect memories won't let me recall my every impression of it. A single detail comes back to me. Several times, during various lulls of wind and sea, I thought I heard indistinct sounds, a sort of elusive harmony produced by distant musical chords. What was the secret behind this underwater navigating, whose explanation the whole world had sought in vain? What beings lived inside this strange boat? What mechanical force allowed it to move about with such prodigious speed?
Daylight appeared. The morning mists surrounded us, but they soon broke up. I was about to proceed with a careful examination of the hull, whose topside formed a sort of horizontal platform, when I felt it sinking little by little.
"Oh, damnation!" Ned Land shouted, stamping his foot on the resonant sheet iron. "Open up there, you antisocial navigators!"
But it was difficult to make yourself heard above the deafening beats of the propeller. Fortunately this submerging movement stopped.
From inside the boat, there suddenly came noises of iron fastenings pushed roughly aside. One of the steel plates flew up, a man appeared, gave a bizarre yell, and instantly disappeared.
A few moments later, eight strapping fellows appeared silently, their faces like masks, and dragged us down into their fearsome machine.
"Mobilis in Mobili"
THIS BRUTALLY EXECUTED capture was carried out with lightning speed. My companions and I had no time to collect ourselves. I don't know how they felt about being shoved inside this aquatic prison, but as for me, I was shivering all over. With whom were we dealing? Surely with some new breed of pirates, exploiting the sea after their own fashion.
The narrow hatch had barely closed over me when I was surrounded by profound darkness. Saturated with the outside light, my eyes couldn't make out a thing. I felt my naked feet clinging to the steps of an iron ladder. Forcibly seized, Ned Land and Conseil were behind me. At the foot of the ladder, a door opened and instantly closed behind us with a loud clang.
We were alone. Where? I couldn't say, could barely even imagine. All was darkness, but such utter darkness that after several minutes, my eyes were still unable to catch a single one of those hazy gleams that drift through even the blackest nights.
Meanwhile, furious at these goings on, Ned Land gave free rein to his indignation.
"Damnation!" he exclaimed. "These people are about as hospitable as the savages of New Caledonia! All that's lacking is for them to be cannibals! I wouldn't be surprised if they were, but believe you me, they won't eat me without my kicking up a protest!"
"Calm yourself, Ned my friend," Conseil replied serenely. "Don't flare up so quickly! We aren't in a kettle yet!"
"In a kettle, no," the Canadian shot back, "but in an oven for sure. It's dark enough for one. Luckily my Bowie knife hasn't left me, and I can still see well enough to put it to use.* The first one of these bandits who lays a hand on me--"
*Author's Note: A Bowie knife is a wide-bladed dagger that Americans are forever carrying around.
"Don't be so irritable, Ned," I then told the harpooner, "and don't ruin things for us with pointless violence. Who knows whether they might be listening to us? Instead, let's try to find out where we are!"
I started moving, groping my way. After five steps I encountered an iron wall made of riveted boilerplate. Then, turning around, I bumped into a wooden table next to which several stools had been set. The floor of this prison lay hidden beneath thick, hempen matting that deadened the sound of footsteps. Its naked walls didn't reveal any trace of a door or window.