Facing the Flag

Page 22

I can feel that the entrance to it is by a door on one side, for the hinges protrude somewhat. This door must open inwards, and it is through here, no doubt, that I was carried in.

I place my ear to the door, but not a sound can be heard. The silence is as profound as the obscurity--a strange silence that is only broken by the sonorousness of the metallic floor when I move about. None of the dull noises usually to be heard on board a ship is perceptible, not even the rippling of the water along the hull. Nor is there the slightest movement to be felt; yet, in the estuary of the Neuse, the current is always strong enough, to cause a marked oscillation to any vessel.

But does the compartment in which I am confined, really belong to a ship? How do I know that I am afloat on the Neuse, though I was conveyed a short distance in a boat? Might not the latter, instead of heading for a ship in waiting for it, opposite Healthful House, have been rowed to a point further down the river? In this case is it not possible that I was carried into the collar of a house? This would explain the complete immobility of the compartment. It is true that the walls are of bolted plates, and that there is a vague smell of salt water, that odor _sui generis_ which generally pervades the interior of a ship, and which there is no mistaking.

An interval, which I estimate at about four hours, must have passed since my incarceration. It must therefore be near midnight. Shall I be left here in this way till morning? Luckily, I dined at six o'clock, which is the regular dinner-hour at Healthful House. I am not suffering from hunger. In fact I feel more inclined to sleep than to eat. Still, I hope I shall have energy enough to resist the inclination. I will not give way to it. I must try and find out what is going on outside. But neither sound nor light can penetrate this iron box. Wait a minute, though; perhaps by listening intently I may hear some sound, however feeble. Therefore I concentrate all my vital power in my sense of hearing. Moreover, I try--in case I should really not be on _terra firma_--to distinguish some movement, some oscillation of my prison. Admitting that the ship is still at anchor, it cannot be long before it will start--otherwise I shall have to give up imagining why Thomas Roch and I have been carried off.

At last--it is no illusion--a slight rolling proves to me, beyond a doubt, that I am not on land. We are evidently moving, but the motion is scarcely perceptible. It is not a jerky, but rather a gliding movement, as though we were skimming through the water without effort, on an even keel.

Let me consider the matter calmly. I am on board a vessel that was anchored in the Neuse, waiting under sail or steam, for the result of the expedition. A boat brought me aboard, but, I repeat, I did not feel that I was lifted over her bulwarks. Was I passed through a porthole? But after all, what does it matter? Whether I was lowered into the hold or not, I am certainly upon something that is floating and moving.

No doubt I shall soon be let out, together with Thomas Roch, supposing them to have locked him up as carefully as they have me. By being let out, I mean being accorded permission to go on deck. It will not be for some hours to come, however, that is certain, for they won't want us to be seen, so that there is no chance of getting a whiff of fresh air till we are well out at sea. If it is a sailing vessel, she must have waited for a breeze--for the breeze that freshens off shore at daybreak, and is favorable to ships navigating Pamlico Sound.

It certainly cannot be a steamer. I could not have failed to smell the oil and other odors of the engine-room. And then I should feel the trembling of the machinery, the jerks of the pistons, and the movements of the screws or paddles.

The best thing to do is to wait patiently. I shan't be taken out of this hole until to-morrow, anyway. Moreover, if I am not released, somebody will surely bring me something to eat. There is no reason to suppose that they intend to starve me to death.

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Jules Verne

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