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HOME > Short Stories > The Sunken Isthmus > CHAPTER III. AT THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA.
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This startling announcement of Wade’s caused a chill to traverse Frank’s frame. He shot a hasty glance at the distant vessel.

Then he saw the startling scene which had induced Wade’s declaration.

The storm had swooped down upon the schooner like a foul fiend. One brief glimpse of her fate was had.

She was seen to keel over with the force of the blast. Then her sails were in ribbons and her foremast snapped like a pipestem.

The next moment she was on her beam-ends. Then the black cloud shut her from view.

The next moment the storm struck the Sea Diver. What followed was ever after like a dream.

The hurricane almost blew the staunch little boat out of 8the water. Enormous seas were hurrying and crashing over her deck.

Frank had ordered all into the cabin, and the doors and windows were closed hermetically. But the shock of the storm threatened to dash the little craft to pieces.

Frank saw the possibility of much damage being done, so he cried:

“Stand by the engines, Barney, I am going to send the boat down.”

Frank pressed an electric button. In a moment the Sea Diver sank below the surface.

Down she settled, and for a moment all was darkness aboard her. Then Frank pressed a small button.

In a moment every electric light aboard was in full blast. A wonderful scene was spread to view.

The depth of the sea at this point was not more than one hundred and fifty fathoms, so that the voyagers very quickly came in sight of the bottom.

Unlike the bed of the Pacific or the Indian Oceans, the Atlantic is mostly devoid of coral reefs or reaches of white sand.

There was a vast area of mud and slime, with some few marine plants spread to view. Huge serpent-like eels wriggled through this, and myriads of dark-hued fish scurried away rapidly.

The scene was a sombre and by no means attractive one. Wade was not much impressed.

“Pshaw,” he exclaimed, in sheer disappointment, “so this is the home of the mermaid and the charm of the deep sea, of which we read such alluring accounts? Ugh! What a disillusion!”

“Ah, but this is not a type of deep-sea regions,” replied Frank. “This is a dirty part of the Atlantic, but before we return I think you will see some beautiful sights. We shall find it different in the Caribbean.”

“I hope so,” replied the scientist, with disgust. “Certainly this is a horrible conception of deep-sea life, but I cannot help thinking of that vessel. Do you suppose she is weathering the storm?”

“It is a question,” replied Frank. “She was in very bad shape. However, let us hope that she will.”

“Amen to that. Is there nothing we can do to give her aid?”

“I fear not; at least until the storm abates.”

“She may be at the bottom by that time.”

“That is possible. If afloat, however, she will be crippled and sorely in need of aid.”

The Sea Diver did not rest upon the muddy bottom, but was held in suspension about twenty feet from it. Frank’s 9purpose was to return to the surface as quickly as possible after the abating of the storm.

After an hour had passed it was ventured to ascend. Frank took the wheel of the Diver and held her steady.

Up she went.

Soon she felt the motion of the sea’s surface. It was not rough, and Frank concluded that the hurricane had passed.

So he let the Diver leap up into daylight. The electric lights were shut off at the same moment.

Eagerly the voyagers swept the rolling expanse with their eyes. Not a sign of the schooner or any other vessel could be seen.

“She has gone to the bottom,” gasped Wade; “her fate is sealed!”

So it seemed. Frank procured his glass and scanned the vast expanse. He closed it, finally, saying:

“She has either gone down, or else the storm has blown her beyond our range of vision.”

“Do you believe the latter possible?” asked Wade.

“It is very likely.”

“I don’t know why it is,” said the scientist, “but I am mightily interested in that vessel. I would like to know her fate for a certainty.”

“Indeed!” exclaimed Frank, with some surprise. “Why more interested in her than any other craft we might meet?”

“I can hardly tell,” replied Wade, “but it is a certain fact that I am. I have some sort of a curious feeling that our career is in some manner intertwined with hers.”

Frank could not resist a laugh.

“Moonshine!” he said. “Your imagination is getting the best of you, Mr. Wade.”

The scientist shook his head.

“It may be all nonsense,” he said, “but we shall see.”

The sea was yet a trifle rough. The hurricane had swept away beyond the horizon and was quite out of sight.

The Sea Diver once more stood away on her course. In a little while matters had assumed the usual routine.

Barney was at work slushing the deck to get rid of the accumulation gained by the boat’s submersion. There were heaps of seaweed, great masses of jellyfish and other forms of marine life.

Pomp was in the galley preparing a smoking repast. He had opened a window to admit air, and Barney chanced to pass near it.

It was an ill moment for the Celt.

Pomp had mixed some dough for bread a short while before, and now had discovered that the yeast was unfit 10for use, and the bread as a result, was spoiled. This put the darky out of temper.

“I don’ see wha’ was de mattah wif dat ar yeast,” he grumbled. “Kain’t seem to do nuffin’ wif it. Dere am all dat dough sp’iled. It meks me berry mad. Well, dere’s one fing it can make food fo’, an’ dat am de fishes. So here goes!”

The coon picked up the huge mass of dough and hurled it through the open window. He expected that it would land far out in the water. But it didn’t.

As luck had it, Barney was just passing that way. He came in a line with the window just in time to get that soft, sticky mass full in the side of the head.

The soft dough split around his skull, with such force did it strike him, and stopped his ear, nostrils and eyes. The Celt went down as if struck by a cannonball.

For a second he was unable to realize what had happened. Pomp was for that brief instant aghast.

“Massy Lordy!” he muttered; “I done hit somebody!”

Then he ran to the window and looked out.

When he saw who it was and noted Barney’s comical plight he could not help but roar with laughter.

The Celt scrambled to his feet. His mop was at one end of the deck and his pail of suds at the other.

“Tare an’ ‘ounds!” he roared, as he put up his hands and felt the mass of soft dough, not knowing what it was, “it’s me brains they’ve knocked out av me! Howly murther! It’s kilt I am! It’s kilt I am!”

Then he chanced to uncover one eye and saw Pomp in a paroxysm at the galley window. He glanced down at his hand, which was full of dough.

Well, the transition was brief. A madder Irishman old Neptune never bore upon his heaving bosom.

With angry hands Barney tried to claw the dough from his mop of red hair. Of course, it only clung the worse.

He managed to get his eyes clear and his ear, then he made the air blue about him.

“Howly shmoke, but I’ll have the heart av yez fer that!” he roared, “yez black-skinned ape, yez! Have at yez! I’ll tache ye to insult a gintlemin!”

“Hi—hi—hi! Massy Lordy!” howled Pomp, “dat am de berry funniest fing!”

“Yez think it funny eh?” roared Barney. “Well, yez won’t think that way whin I git done wid yez!”

“Ho—ho—ho! hi—hi—hi!”

“Phwat do yez mane by threating me thot way?” roared Barney, trying to claw the dough out of his hair.

“How yo’ fink I know yo’ was gwine to get hit?” cried Pomp. “Wha’ yo’ git in de way, fo’?”

11“Do yez mane to say yez didn’t throw that on purpose?”

“Course I didn’. I was goin’ to frow it into de sea when yo’ head cum along an’ jes’ got in de way.”

“Arrah, an’ that’ll do very well fer yez to say,” cried the Celt, “but if yez think I belave it——”

“Shuah, it’s de troof,” protested Pomp.

“I’ll tache yez to hit me wid a doughball an’ thin lie about it aftherwards,” roared the Celt. And then he made a dive for the window.

But Pomp clashed it shut in his face. The Celt rushed around to the galley door.

But the darky shut the bolt in this, and for the time was master of the situation. But, though baffled, Barney was not defeated.

He retired, vowing the direst of vengeance. It took an hour’s hard work to get the clinging dough out of his hair.

Nor did he get any sympathy from any one. When Frank and Wade heard the story they laughed heartily. This made Barney only the madder.

“Be me sowl!” he muttered, “I’ll more than aven it up wid that black rascal. Shure, I’ll tache him manners!”

How Barney accomplished his purpose we shall see at a later day.

The Sea Diver kept on its course for the rest of that day.

Night finally shut down, dark and moonless. But with the searchlight it was easy for the Diver to travel, with no fear of a collision.

She was rapidly nearing Key West, and would the next day be in Gulf waters. The air was fresh and delightful, and the voyagers sat out on deck until a late hour.

While thus enjoying themselves, suddenly Barney sprung up.

“Shure, sor!” he cried, motioning to Frank, “there’s a lot of colored loights over there. Phwat do yez make av it?”

“A vessel in distress!” exclaimed Frank, as he scrutinized the distant signals. “Do you suppose it was our schooner?”

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