Does it come from something on the surface of the lake?"
"Or from something underneath," said Wells, bending forward, the better to determine.
The commotion certainly seemed as if caused by some boat, whether from beneath the water, or approaching the creek from outside upon the lake.
Silent, motionless, we strained eyes and ears to pierce the profound obscurity. The faint noise of the waves of the lake lapping on the shore beyond the creek, came to us distinctly through the night. John Hart and Nab Walker drew a little aside upon a higher ridge of rocks. As for me, I leaned close to the water to watch the agitation. It did not lessen. On the contrary it became momentarily more evident, and I began to distinguish a sort of regular throbbing, like that produced by a screw in motion.
"There is no doubt," declared Wells, leaning close to me, "there is a boat coming toward us."
"There certainly is," responded I, "unless they have whales or sharks in Lake Erie."
"No, it is a boat," repeated Wells. "Is she headed toward the mouth of the creek, or is she going further up it?"
"This is just where you saw the boat twice before?"
"Yes, just here."
"Then if this is the same one, and it can be no other, she will probably return to the same spot."
"There!" whispered Wells, extending his hand toward the entrance of the creek.
Our companions rejoined us, and all four, crouching low upon the bank, peered in the direction he pointed.
We vaguely distinguished a black mass moving through the darkness. It advanced very slowly and was still outside the creek, upon the lake, perhaps a cable's length to the northeast. We could scarcely hear even now the faint throbbing of its engines. Perhaps they had stopped and the boat was only gliding forward under their previous impulse.
It seemed, then, that this was indeed the submarine which Wells had watched, and it was returning to pass this night, like the last, within the shelter of the creek.
Why had it left the anchorage, if only to return? Had it suffered some new disaster, which again impaired its power? Or had it been before compelled to leave, with its repairs still unfinished? What cause constrained it to return here? Was there some imperious reason why it could no longer be turned into an automobile, and go darting away across the roads of Ohio?
To all these questions which came crowding upon me, I could give no answer. Furthermore both Wells and I kept reasoning under the assumption that this was really the "Terror" commanded by the "Master of the World" who had dated from it his letter of defiance to the government. Yet this premise was still unproven, no matter how confident we might feel of it.
Whatever boat this was, that stole so softly through the night, it continued to approach us. Assuredly its captain must know perfectly the channels and shores of Black Rock Creek, since he ventured here in such darkness. Not a light showed upon the deck. Not a single ray from within the cabin glimmered through any crevice.
A moment later, we heard some machinery moving very softly. The swell of the eddies grew stronger, and in a few moments the boat touched the quay.
This word "quay," only used in that region, exactly describes the spot. The rocks at our feet formed a level, five or six feet above the water, and descending to it perpendicularly, exactly like a landing wharf.
"We must not stop here," whispered Wells, seizing me by the arm.
"No," I answered, "they might see us. We must lie crouched upon the beach! Or we might hide in some crevice of the rocks."
"We will follow you."
There was not a moment to lose. The dark mass was now close at hand, and on its deck, but slightly raised above the surface of the water, we could trace the silhouettes of two men.
Were there, then, really only two on board?
We stole softly back to where the ravines rose toward the woods above. Several niches in the rocks were at hand. Wells and I crouched down in one, my two assistants in another. If the men on the "Terror" landed, they could not see us; but we could see them, and would be able to act as opportunity offered.