On board the terror
When I came to my senses it was daylight. A half light pierced the thick glass port-hole of the narrow cabin wherein someone had placed me — how many hours ago, I could not say! Yet it seemed to me by the slanting rays, that the sun could not be very far above the horizon.
I was resting in a narrow bunk with coverings over me. My clothes, hanging in a corner, had been dried. My belt, torn in half by the hook of the iron, lay on the floor.
I felt no wound nor injury, only a little weakness. If I had lost consciousness, I was sure it had not been from a blow. My head must have been drawn beneath the water, when I was tangled in the cable. I should have been suffocated, if someone had not dragged me from the lake.
Now, was I on board the "Terror?" And was I alone with the Captain and his two men? This seemed probable, almost certain. The whole scene of our encounter rose before my eyes, Hart lying wounded upon the bank; Wells firing shot after shot, Walker hurled down at the instant when the grappling hook caught my belt! And my companions? On their side, must not they think that I had perished in the waters of Lake Erie?
Where was the "Terror" now, and how was it navigating? Was it moving as an automobile? Speeding across the roads of some neighboring State? If so, and if I had been unconscious for many hours, the machine with its tremendous powers must be already far away. Or, on the other hand, were we, as a submarine, following some course beneath the lake?
No, the "Terror" was moving upon some broad liquid surface. The sunlight, penetrating my cabin, showed that the window was not submerged. On the other hand, I felt none of the jolting that the automobile must have suffered even on the smoothest highway. Hence the "Terror" was not traveling upon land.
As to deciding whether she was still traversing Lake Erie, that was another matter. Had not the Captain reascended the Detroit River, and entered Lake Huron, or even Lake Superior beyond? It was difficult to say.
At any rate I decided to go up on deck. From there I might be able to judge. Dragging myself somewhat heavily from the bunk, I reached for my clothes and dressed, though without much energy. Was I not probably locked within this cabin?
The only exit seemed by a ladder and hatchway above my head. The hatch rose readily to my hand, and I ascended half way on deck.
My first care was to look forward, backward, and on both sides of the speeding "Terror." Everywhere a vast expanse of waves! Not a shore in sight! Nothing but the horizon formed by sea and sky!
Whether it was a lake or the ocean I could easily settle. As we shot forward at such speed the water cut by the bow, rose furiously upward on either side, and the spray lashed savagely against me.
I tasted it. It was fresh water, and very probably that of Lake Erie. The sun was but midway toward the zenith so it could scarcely be more than seven or eight hours since the moment when the "Terror" had darted from Black Rock Creek.
This must therefore be the following morning, that of the thirty-first of July.
Considering that Lake Erie is two hundred and twenty miles long, and over fifty wide, there was no reason to be surprised that I could see no land, neither that of the United States to the southeast nor of Canada to the northwest.
At this moment there were two men on the deck, one being at the bow on the look-out, the other in the stern, keeping the course to the northeast, as I judged by the position of the sun. The one at the bow was he whom I had recognized as he ascended the ravine at Black Rock. The second was his companion who had carried the lantern. I looked in vain for the one whom they had called Captain. He was not in sight.
It will be readily appreciated how eager was my desire to stand in the presence of the creator of this prodigious machines of this fantastic personage who occupied and preoccupied the attention of all the world, the daring inventor who did not fear to engage in battle against the entire human race, and who proclaimed himself "Master of the World."
I approached the man on the look-out, and after a minute of silence I asked him, "Where is the Captain?"
He looked at me through half-closed eyes. He seemed not to understand me. Yet I knew, having heard him the night before, that he spoke English. Moreover, I noticed that he did not appear surprised to see me out of my cabin. Turning his back upon me, he continued to search the horizon.
I stepped then toward the stern, determined to ask the same question about the Captain. But when I approached the steersman, he waved me away with his hand, and I obtained no other response.
It only remained for me to study this craft, from which we had been repelled with revolver shots, when we had seized upon its anchor rope.
I therefore set leisurely to work to examine the construction of this machine, which was carrying me—whither? The deck and the upper works were all made of some metal which I did not recognize. In the center of the deck, a scuttle half raised covered the room where the engines were working regularly and almost silently. As I had seen before, neither masts, nor rigging! Not even a flagstaff at the stern! Toward the bow there arose the top of a periscope by which the "Terror" could be guided when beneath the water.
On the sides were folded back two sort of outshoots resembling the gangways on certain Dutch boats. Of these I could not understand the use.
In the bow there rose a third hatch-way which presumably covered the quarters occupied by the two men when the "Terror" was at rest.
At the stern a similar hatch gave access probably to the cabin of the captain, who remained unseen. When these different hatches were shut down, they had a sort of rubber covering which closed them hermetically tight, so that the water could not reach the interior when the boat plunged beneath the ocean.
As to the motor, which imparted such prodigious speed to the machine, I could see nothing of it, nor of the propeller. However, the fast speeding boat left behind it only a long, smooth wake. The extreme fineness of the lines of the craft, caused it to make scarcely any waves, and enabled it to ride lightly over the crest of the billows even in a rough sea.
As was already known, the power by which the machine was driven, was neither steam nor gasoline, nor any of those similar liquids so well known by their odor, which are usually employed for automobiles and submarines. No doubt the power here used was electricity, generated on board, at some high power. Naturally I asked myself whence comes this electricity, from piles, or from accumulators? But how were these piles or accumulators charged? Unless, indeed, the electricity was drawn directly from the surrounding air or from the water, by processes hitherto unknown. And I asked myself with intense eagerness if in the present situation, I might be able to discover these secrets.
Then I thought of my companions, left behind on the shore of Black Rock Creek. One of them, I knew, was wounded; perhaps the others were also. Having seen me dragged overboard by the hawser, could they possibly suppose that I had been rescued by the "Terror?" Surely not! Doubtless the news of my death had already been telegraphed to Mr. Ward from Toledo. And now who would dare to undertake a new campaign against this "Master of the World"?
These thoughts occupied my mind as I awaited the captain's appearance on the deck. He did not appear.
I soon began to feel very hungry; for I must have fasted now nearly twenty-four hours. I had eaten nothing since our hasty meal in the woods, even if that had been the night before. And judging by the pangs which now assailed my stomach, I began to wonder if I had not been snatched on board the "Terror" two days before,—or even more.
Happily the question if they meant to feed me, and how they meant to feed me, was solved at once. The man at the bow left his post, descended, and reappeared. Then, without saying a word, he placed some food before me and returned to his place. Some potted meat, dried fish, sea-biscuit, and a pot of ale so strong that I had to mix it with water, such was the meal to which I did full justice. My fellow travelers had doubtless eaten before I came out of the cabin, and they did not join me.
There was nothing further to attract my eyes, and I sank again into thought. How would this adventure finish? Would I see this invisible captain at length, and would he restore me to liberty? Could I regain it in spite of him? That would depend on circumstances! But if the "Terror" kept thus far away from the shore, or if she traveled beneath the water, how could I escape from her? Unless we landed, and the machine became an automobile, must I not abandon all hope of escape?
Moreover—why should I not admit it?—to escape without having learned anything of the "Terror's" secrets would not have contented me at all. Although I could not thus far flatter myself upon the success of my campaign, and though I had come within a hairbreadth of losing my life and though the future promised far more of evil than of good, yet after all, a step forward had been attained. To be sure, if I was never to be able to re-enter into communication with the world, if, like this Master of the World who had voluntarily placed himself outside the law, I was now placed outside humanity, then the fact that I had reached the "Terror" would have little value.
The craft continued headed to the northeast, following the longer axis of Lake Erie. She was advancing at only half speed; for, had she been doing her best, she must some hours before have reached the northeastern extremity of the lake.
At this end Lake Erie has no other outlet than the Niagara River, by which it empties into Lake Ontario. Now, this river is barred by the famous cataract some fifteen miles beyond the important city of Buffalo. Since the "Terror" had not retreated by the Detroit River, down which she had descended from the upper lakes, how was she to escape from these waters, unless indeed she crossed by land?
The sun passed the meridian. The day was beautiful; warm but not unpleasantly so, thanks to the breeze made by our passage. The shores of the lake continued invisible on both the Canadian and the American side.
Was the captain determined not to show himself? Had he some reason for remaining unknown? Such a precaution would indicate that he intended to set me at liberty in the evening, when the "Terror" could approach the shore unseen.
Toward two o'clock, however, I heard a slight noise; the central hatchway was raised. The man I had so impatiently awaited appeared on deck.
I must admit he paid no more attention to me, than his men had done. Going to the stern, he took the helm. The man whom he had relieved, after a few words in a low tone, left the deck, descending by the forward hatchway. The captain, having scanned the horizon, consulted the compass, and slightly altered our course. The speed of the "Terror" increased.
This man, so interesting both to me and to the world, must have been some years over fifty. He was of middle height, with powerful shoulders still very erect; a strong head, with thick hair rather gray than white, smooth shaven cheeks, and a short, crisp beard. His chest was broad, his jaw prominent, and he had that characteristic sign of tremendous energy, bushy eyebrows drawn sharply together. Assuredly he possessed a constitution of iron, splendid health, and warm red blood beneath his sun burned skin.
Like his companions the captain was dressed in sea-clothes covered by an oil-skin coat, and with a woolen cap which could be pulled down to cover his head entirely, when he so desired.
Need I add that the captain of the "Terror" was the other of the two men, who had watched my house in Long street. Moreover, if I recognized him, he also must recognize me as chief-inspector Strock, to whom had been assigned the task of penetrating the Great Eyrie.
I looked at him curiously. On his part, while he did not seek to avoid my eyes, he showed at least a singular indifference to the fact that he had a stranger on board.
As I watched him, the idea came to me, a suggestion which I had not connected with the first view of him in Washington, that I had already seen this characteristic figure. Was it in one of the photographs held in the police department, or was it merely a picture in some shop window? But the remembrance was very vague. Perhaps I merely imagined it.
Well, though his companions had not had the politeness to answer me, perhaps he would be more courteous. He spoke the same language as I, although I could not feel quite positive that he was of American birth. He might indeed have decided to pretend not to understand me, so as to avoid all discussion while he held me prisoner.
In that case, what did he mean to do with me? Did he intend to dispose of me without further ceremony? Was he only waiting for night to throw me overboard? Did even the little which I knew of him, make me a danger of which he must rid himself? But in that case, he might better have left me at the end of his anchor line. That would have saved him the necessity of drowning me over again.
I turned, I walked to the stern, I stopped full in front of him. Then, at length, he fixed full upon me a glance that burned like a flame.
"Are you the captain?" I asked.
He was silent.
"This boat! Is it really the 'Terror?'"
To this question also there was no response. Then I reached toward him; I would have taken hold of his arm.
He repelled me without violence, but with a movement that suggested tremendous restrained power.
Planting myself again before him, I demanded in a louder tone, "What do you mean to do with me?"
Words seemed almost ready to burst from his lips, which he compressed with visible irritation. As though to check his speech he turned his head aside. His hand touched a regulator of some sort, and the machine rapidly increased its speed.
Anger almost mastered me. I wanted to cry out "So be it! Keep your silence! I know who you are, just as I know your machine, recognized at Madison, at Boston, at Lake Kirdall. Yes; it is you, who have rushed so recklessly over our roads, our seas and our lakes! Your boat is the 'Terror' and you her commander, wrote that letter to the government. It is you who fancy you can fight the entire world. You, who call yourself the Master of the World!"
And how could he have denied it! I saw at that moment the famous initials inscribed upon the helm!
Fortunately I restrained myself; and despairing of getting any response to my questions, I returned to my seat near the hatchway of my cabin.
For long hours, I patiently watched the horizon in the hope that land would soon appear. Yes, I sat waiting! For I was reduced to that! Waiting! No doubt, before the day closed, the "Terror" must reach the end of Lake Erie, since she continued her course steadily to the northeast.