It is, therefore, not up the Neuse that our maritime machine, whatever it may be, is going, but across Pamlico Sound, which must be as calm as a mirror.
Very well, then, when we get to sea I shall soon, know, for the vessel will rock right enough in the swell off shore, even though there be no wind,--unless I am aboard a battleship, or big cruiser, and this I fancy can hardly be!
But hark! If I mistake not--no, it was not imagination--I hear footsteps. Some one is approaching the side of the compartment where the door is. One of the crew no doubt. Are they going to let me out at last? I can now hear voices. A conversation is going on outside the door, but it is carried on in a language that I do not understand. I shout to them--I shout again, but no answer is vouchsafed.
There is nothing to do, then, but wait, wait, wait! I keep repeating the word and it rings in my ears like a bell.
Let me try to calculate how long I have been here. The ship must have been under way for at least four or five hours. I reckon it must be past midnight, but I cannot tell, for unfortunately my watch is of no use to me in this Cimmerian darkness.
Now, if we have been going for five hours, we must have cleared Pamlico Sound, whether we issued by Ocracoke or Hatteras inlet, and must be off the coast a good mile, at least. Yet I haven't felt any motion from the swell of the sea.
It is inexplicable, incredible! Come now, have I made a mistake? Am I the dupe of an illusion? Am I not imprisoned in the hold of a ship under way?
Another hour has passed and the movement of the ship suddenly ceases; I realize perfectly that she is stationary. Has she reached her destination? In this event we can only be in one of the coast ports to the north or south of Pamlico Sound. But why should Thomas Roch be landed again? The abduction must soon have been discovered, and our kidnappers would run the greatest risk of falling into the hands of the authorities if they attempted to disembark.
However this may be, if the vessel is coming to anchor I shall hear the noise of the chain as it is paid out, and feel the jerk as the ship is brought up. I know that sound and that jerk well from experience, and I am bound to hear and feel them in a minute or two.
I wait--I listen.
A dead and disquieting silence reigns on board. I begin to wonder whether I am not the only living being in the ship.
Now I feel an irresistible torpor coming over me. The air is vitiated. I cannot breathe. My chest is bursting. I try to resist, but it is impossible to do so. The temperature rises to such a degree that I am compelled to divest myself of part of my clothing. Then I lie me down in a corner. My heavy eyelids close, and I sink into a prostration that eventually forces me into heavy slumber.
How long have I been asleep? I cannot say. Is it night? Is it day? I know not. I remark, however, that I breathe more easily, and that the air is no longer poisoned carbonic acid.
Was the air renewed while I slept? Has the door been opened? Has anybody been in here?
Yes, here is the proof of it!
In feeling about, my hand has come in contact with a mug filled with a liquid that exhales an inviting odor. I raise it to my lips, which, are burning, for I am suffering such an agony of thirst that I would even drink brackish water.
It is ale--an ale of excellent quality--which refreshes and comforts me, and I drain the pint to the last drop.
But if they have not condemned me to die of thirst, neither have they condemned me to die of hunger, I suppose?
No, for in one of the corners I find a basket, and this basket contains some bread and cold meat.
I fall to, eating greedily, and my strength little by little returns.
Decidedly, I am not so abandoned as I thought I was. Some one entered this obscure hole, and the open door admitted a little of the oxygen from the outside, without which I should have been suffocated. Then the wherewithal to quench my thirst and appease the pangs of hunger was placed within my reach.