For several days things went along in about the same course. I took ou_osition every morning with my crude sextant; but the results were always mos_nsatisfactory. They always showed a considerable westing when I knew that w_ad been sailing due north. I blamed my crude instrument, and kept on. The_ne afternoon the girl came to me.
"Pardon me," she said, "but were I you, I should watch this ma_enson—especially when he is in charge." I asked her what she meant, thinkin_ could see the influence of von Schoenvorts raising a suspicion against on_f my most trusted men.
"If you will note the boat's course a half-hour after Benson goes on duty,"
she said, "you will know what I mean, and you will understand why he prefers _ight watch. Possibly, too, you will understand some other things that hav_aken place aboard."
Then she went back to her room, thus ending the conversation. I waited unti_alf an hour after Benson had gone on duty, and then I went on deck, passin_hrough the conning-tower where Benson sat, and looking at the compass. I_howed that our course was north by west—that is, one point west of north, which was, for our assumed position, about right. I was greatly relieved t_ind that nothing was wrong, for the girl's words had caused me considerabl_pprehension. I was about to return to my room when a thought occurred to m_hat again caused me to change my mind—and, incidentally, came near proving m_eath-warrant.
When I had left the conning-tower little more than a half-hour since, the se_ad been breaking over the port bow, and it seemed to me quite improbable tha_n so short a time an equally heavy sea could be deluging us from the opposit_ide of the ship—winds may change quickly, but not a long, heavy sea. Ther_as only one other solution—since I left the tower, our course had bee_ltered some eight points. Turning quickly, I climbed out upon the conning- tower. A single glance at the heavens confirmed my suspicions; th_onstellations which should have been dead ahead were directly starboard. W_ere sailing due west.
Just for an instant longer I stood there to check up my calculations—I wante_o be quite sure before I accused Benson of perfidy, and about the only thin_ came near making quite sure of was death. I cannot see even now how _scaped it. I was standing on the edge of the conning-tower, when a heavy pal_uddenly struck me between the shoulders and hurled me forward into space. Th_rop to the triangular deck forward of the conning-tower might easily hav_roken a leg for me, or I might have slipped off onto the deck and rolle_verboard; but fate was upon my side, as I was only slightly bruised. As _ame to my feet, I heard the conning-tower cover slam. There is a ladder whic_eads from the deck to the top of the tower. Up this I scrambled, as fast as _ould go; but Benson had the cover tight before I reached it.
I stood there a moment in dumb consternation. What did the fellow intend? Wha_as going on below? If Benson was a traitor, how could I know that there wer_ot other traitors among us? I cursed myself for my folly in going out upo_he deck, and then this thought suggested another—a hideous one: who was i_hat had really been responsible for my being here?
Thinking to attract attention from inside the craft, I again ran down th_adder and onto the small deck only to find that the steel covers of th_onning-tower windows were shut, and then I leaned with my back against th_ower and cursed myself for a gullible idiot.
I glanced at the bow. The sea seemed to be getting heavier, for every wave no_ashed completely over the lower deck. I watched them for a moment, and then _udden chill pervaded my entire being. It was not the chill of wet clothing, or the dashing spray which drenched my face; no, it was the chill of the han_f death upon my heart. In an instant I had turned the last corner of life'_ighway and was looking God Almighty in the face—the U-33 was being slowl_ubmerged!
It would be difficult, even impossible, to set down in writing my sensation_t that moment. All I can particularly recall is that I laughed, thoug_either from a spirit of bravado nor from hysteria. And I wanted to smoke.
Lord! how I did want to smoke; but that was out of the question.
I watched the water rise until the little deck I stood on was awash, and the_ clambered once more to the top of the conning-tower. From the very slo_ubmergence of the boat I knew that Benson was doing the entire tric_lone—that he was merely permitting the diving-tanks to fill and that th_iving-rudders were not in use. The throbbing of the engines ceased, and i_ts stead came the steady vibration of the electric motors. The water wa_alfway up the conning-tower! I had perhaps five minutes longer on the deck. _ried to decide what I should do after I was washed away. Should I swim unti_xhaustion claimed me, or should I give up and end the agony at the firs_lunge?
From below came two muffled reports. They sounded not unlike shots. Was Benso_eeting with resistance? Personally it could mean little to me, for eve_hough my men might overcome the enemy, none would know of my predicamen_ntil long after it was too late to succor me. The top of the conning-towe_as now awash. I clung to the wireless mast, while the great waves surge_ometimes completely over me.
I knew the end was near and, almost involuntarily, I did that which I had no_one since childhood—I prayed. After that I felt better.
I clung and waited, but the water rose no higher.
Instead it receded. Now the top of the conning-tower received only the crest_f the higher waves; now the little triangular deck below became visible! Wha_ad occurred within? Did Benson believe me already gone, and was he emergin_ecause of that belief, or had he and his forces been vanquished? The suspens_as more wearing than that which I had endured while waiting for dissolution.
Presently the main deck came into view, and then the conning-tower opene_ehind me, and I turned to look into the anxious face of Bradley. A_xpression of relief overspread his features.
"Thank God, man!" was all he said as he reached forth and dragged me into th_ower. I was cold and numb and rather all in. Another few minutes would hav_one for me, I am sure, but the warmth of the interior helped to revive me, aided and abetted by some brandy which Bradley poured down my throat, fro_hich it nearly removed the membrane. That brandy would have revived a corpse.
When I got down into the centrale, I saw the Germans lined up on one side wit_ couple of my men with pistols standing over them. Von Schoenvorts was amon_hem. On the floor lay Benson, moaning, and beyond him stood the girl, _evolver in one hand. I looked about, bewildered.
"What has happened down here?" I asked. "Tell me!"
Bradley replied. "You see the result, sir," he said. "It might have been _ery different result but for Miss La Rue. We were all asleep. Benson ha_elieved the guard early in the evening; there was no one to watch him—no on_ut Miss La Rue. She felt the submergence of the boat and came out of her roo_o investigate. She was just in time to see Benson at the diving rudders. Whe_e saw her, he raised his pistol and fired point-blank at her, but he misse_nd she fired—and didn't miss. The two shots awakened everyone, and as our me_ere armed, the result was inevitable as you see it; but it would have bee_ery different had it not been for Miss La Rue. It was she who closed th_iving-tank sea-cocks and roused Olson and me, and had the pumps started t_mpty them."
And there I had been thinking that through her machinations I had been lure_o the deck and to my death! I could have gone on my knees to her and begge_er forgiveness—or at least I could have, had I not been Anglo-Saxon. As i_as, I could only remove my soggy cap and bow and mumble my appreciation. Sh_ade no reply—only turned and walked very rapidly toward her room. Could _ave heard aright? Was it really a sob that came floating back to me throug_he narrow aisle of the U-33?
Benson died that night. He remained defiant almost to the last; but jus_efore he went out, he motioned to me, and I leaned over to catch the faintl_hispered words.
"I did it alone," he said. "I did it because I hate you—I hate all your kind.
I was kicked out of your shipyard at Santa Monica. I was locked out o_alifornia. I am an I. W. W. I became a German agent—not because I love them, for I hate them too—but because I wanted to injure Americans, whom I hate_ore. I threw the wireless apparatus overboard. I destroyed the chronomete_nd the sextant. I devised a scheme for varying the compass to suit my wishes.
I told Wilson that I had seen the girl talking with von Schoenvorts, and _ade the poor egg think he had seen her doing the same thing. I am sorry—sorr_hat my plans failed. I hate you."
He didn't die for a half-hour after that; nor did he speak again—aloud; bu_ust a few seconds before he went to meet his Maker, his lips moved in a fain_hisper; and as I leaned closer to catch his words, what do you suppose _eard? "Now—I—lay me—down—to—sleep" That was all; Benson was dead. We thre_is body overboard.
The wind of that night brought on some pretty rough weather with a lot o_lack clouds which persisted for several days. We didn't know what course w_ad been holding, and there was no way of finding out, as we could no longe_rust the compass, not knowing what Benson had done to it. The long and th_hort of it was that we cruised about aimlessly until the sun came out again.
I'll never forget that day or its surprises. We reckoned, or rather guessed, that we were somewhere off the coast of Peru. The wind, which had been blowin_itfully from the east, suddenly veered around into the south, and presentl_e felt a sudden chill.
"Peru!" snorted Olson. "When were yez after smellin' iceber-rgs off Peru?"
Icebergs! "Icebergs, nothin'!" exclaimed one of the Englishmen. "Why, man, they don't come north of fourteen here in these waters."
"Then," replied Olson, "ye're sout' of fourteen, me b'y."
We thought he was crazy; but he wasn't, for that afternoon we sighted a grea_erg south of us, and we'd been running north, we thought, for days. I ca_ell you we were a discouraged lot; but we got a faint thrill of hope earl_he next morning when the lookout bawled down the open hatch: "Land! Lan_orthwest by west!"
I think we were all sick for the sight of land. I know that I was; but m_nterest was quickly dissipated by the sudden illness of three of the Germans.
Almost simultaneously they commenced vomiting. They couldn't suggest an_xplanation for it. I asked them what they had eaten, and found they had eate_othing other than the food cooked for all of us. "Have you drunk anything?" _sked, for I knew that there was liquor aboard, and medicines in the sam_ocker.
"Only water," moaned one of them. "We all drank water together this morning.
We opened a new tank. Maybe it was the water."
I started an investigation which revealed a terrifying condition— some one, probably Benson, had poisoned all the running water on the ship. It would hav_een worse, though, had land not been in sight. The sight of land filled u_ith renewed hope.
Our course had been altered, and we were rapidly approaching what appeared t_e a precipitous headland. Cliffs, seemingly rising perpendicularly out of th_ea, faded away into the mist upon either hand as we approached. The lan_efore us might have been a continent, so mighty appeared the shoreline; ye_e knew that we must be thousands of miles from the nearest western land- mass—New Zealand or Australia.
We took our bearings with our crude and inaccurate instruments; we searche_he chart; we cudgeled our brains; and at last it was Bradley who suggested _olution. He was in the tower and watching the compass, to which he called m_ttention. The needle was pointing straight toward the land. Bradley swung th_elm hard to starboard. I could feel the U-33 respond, and yet the arrow stil_lung straight and sure toward the distant cliffs.
"What do you make of it?" I asked him.
"Did you ever hear of Caproni?" he asked.
"An early Italian navigator?" I returned.
"Yes; he followed Cook about 1721. He is scarcely mentioned even b_ontemporaneous historians—probably because he got into political difficultie_n his return to Italy. It was the fashion to scoff at his claims, but _ecall reading one of his works—his only one, I believe—in which he describe_ new continent in the south seas, a continent made up of `some strange metal'
which attracted the compass; a rockbound, inhospitable coast, without beach o_arbor, which extended for hundreds of miles. He could make no landing; nor i_he several days he cruised about it did he see sign of life. He called i_aprona and sailed away. I believe, sir, that we are looking upon the coast o_aprona, uncharted and forgotten for two hundred years."
"If you are right, it might account for much of the deviation of the compas_uring the past two days," I suggested. "Caprona has been luring us upon he_eadly rocks. Well, we'll accept her challenge. We'll land upon Caprona. Alon_hat long front there must be a vulnerable spot. We will find it, Bradley, fo_e must find it. We must find water on Caprona, or we must die."
And so we approached the coast upon which no living eyes had ever rested.
Straight from the ocean's depths rose towering cliffs, shot with brown an_lues and greens—withered moss and lichen and the verdigris of copper, an_verywhere the rusty ocher of iron pyrites. The cliff-tops, though ragged, were of such uniform height as to suggest the boundaries of a great plateau, and now and again we caught glimpses of verdure topping the rocky escarpment, as though bush or jungle-land had pushed outward from a lush vegetatio_arther inland to signal to an unseeing world that Caprona lived and joyed i_ife beyond her austere and repellent coast.
But metaphor, however poetic, never slaked a dry throat. To enjoy Caprona'_omantic suggestions we must have water, and so we came in close, alway_ounding, and skirted the shore. As close in as we dared cruise, we foun_athomless depths, and always the same undented coastline of bald cliffs. A_arkness threatened, we drew away and lay well off the coast all night. We ha_ot as yet really commenced to suffer for lack of water; but I knew that i_ould not be long before we did, and so at the first streak of dawn I moved i_gain and once more took up the hopeless survey of the forbidding coast.
Toward noon we discovered a beach, the first we had seen. It was a narro_trip of sand at the base of a part of the cliff that seemed lower than any w_ad before scanned. At its foot, half buried in the sand, lay great boulders, mute evidence that in a bygone age some mighty natural force had crumple_aprona's barrier at this point. It was Bradley who first called our attentio_o a strange object lying among the boulders above the surf.
"Looks like a man," he said, and passed his glasses to me.
I looked long and carefully and could have sworn that the thing I saw was th_prawled figure of a human being. Miss La Rue was on deck with us. I turne_nd asked her to go below. Without a word she did as I bade. Then I stripped, and as I did so, Nobs looked questioningly at me. He had been wont at home t_nter the surf with me, and evidently he had not forgotten it.
"What are you going to do, sir?" asked Olson.
"I'm going to see what that thing is on shore," I replied. "If it's a man, i_ay mean that Caprona is inhabited, or it may merely mean that some poo_evils were shipwrecked here. I ought to be able to tell from the clothin_hich is more near the truth.
"How about sharks?" queried Olson. "Sure, you ought to carry a knoife."
"Here you are, sir," cried one of the men.
It was a long slim blade he offered—one that I could carry between m_eeth—and so I accepted it gladly.
"Keep close in," I directed Bradley, and then I dived over the side and struc_ut for the narrow beach. There was another splash directly behind me, an_urning my head, I saw faithful old Nobs swimming valiantly in my wake.
The surf was not heavy, and there was no undertow, so we made shore easily, effecting an equally easy landing. The beach was composed largely of smal_tones worn smooth by the action of water. There was little sand, though fro_he deck of the U-33 the beach had appeared to be all sand, and I saw n_vidences of mollusca or crustacea such as are common to all beaches I hav_reviously seen. I attribute this to the fact of the smallness of the beach, the enormous depth of surrounding water and the great distance at whic_aprona lies from her nearest neighbor.
As Nobs and I approached the recumbent figure farther up the beach, I wa_ppraised by my nose that whether or not, the thing had once been organic an_live, but that for some time it had been dead. Nobs halted, sniffed an_rowled. A little later he sat down upon his haunches, raised his muzzle t_he heavens and bayed forth a most dismal howl. I shied a small stone at hi_nd bade him shut up—his uncanny noise made me nervous. When I had come quit_lose to the thing, I still could not say whether it had been man or beast.
The carcass was badly swollen and partly decomposed. There was no sign o_lothing upon or about it. A fine, brownish hair covered the chest an_bdomen, and the face, the palms of the hands, the feet, the shoulders an_ack were practically hairless. The creature must have been about the heigh_f a fair sized man; its features were similar to those of a man; yet had i_een a man?
I could not say, for it resembled an ape no more than it did a man. Its larg_oes protruded laterally as do those of the semiarboreal peoples of Borneo, the Philippines and other remote regions where low types still persist. Th_ountenance might have been that of a cross between Pithecanthropus, the Jav_pe-man, and a daughter of the Piltdown race of prehistoric Sussex. A woode_udgel lay beside the corpse.
Now this fact set me thinking. There was no wood of any description in sight.
There was nothing about the beach to suggest a wrecked mariner. There wa_bsolutely nothing about the body to suggest that it might possibly in lif_ave known a maritime experience. It was the body of a low type of man or _igh type of beast. In neither instance would it have been of a seafarin_ace. Therefore I deduced that it was native to Caprona—that it lived inland, and that it had fallen or been hurled from the cliffs above. Such being th_ase, Caprona was inhabitable, if not inhabited, by man; but how to reach th_nhabitable interior! That was the question. A closer view of the cliffs tha_ad been afforded me from the deck of the U-33 only confirmed my convictio_hat no mortal man could scale those perpendicular heights; there was not _inger-hold, not a toe-hold, upon them. I turned away baffled.
Nobs and I met with no sharks upon our return journey to the submarine. M_eport filled everyone with theories and speculations, and with renewed hop_nd determination. They all reasoned along the same lines that I ha_easoned—the conclusions were obvious, but not the water. We were no_hirstier than ever.
The balance of that day we spent in continuing a minute and fruitles_xploration of the monotonous coast. There was not another break in th_rowning cliffs—not even another minute patch of pebbly beach. As the su_ell, so did our spirits. I had tried to make advances to the girl again; bu_he would have none of me, and so I was not only thirsty but otherwise sad an_ownhearted. I was glad when the new day broke the hideous spell of _leepless night.
The morning's search brought us no shred of hope. Caprona was impregnable—tha_as the decision of all; yet we kept on. It must have been about two bells o_he afternoon watch that Bradley called my attention to the branch of a tree, with leaves upon it, floating on the sea. "It may have been carried down t_he ocean by a river," he suggested. "Yes, " I replied, "it may have; it ma_ave tumbled or been thrown off the top of one of these cliffs."
Bradley's face fell. "I thought of that, too," he replied, "but I wanted t_elieve the other."
"Right you are!" I cried. "We must believe the other until we prove it false.
We can't afford to give up heart now, when we need heart most. The branch wa_arried down by a river, and we are going to find that river." I smote my ope_alm with a clenched fist, to emphasize a determination unsupported by hope.
"There!" I cried suddenly. "See that, Bradley?" And I pointed at a spot close_o shore. "See that, man!" Some flowers and grasses and another leafy branc_loated toward us. We both scanned the water and the coastline. Bradle_vidently discovered something, or at least thought that he had. He calle_own for a bucket and a rope, and when they were passed up to him, he lowere_he former into the sea and drew it in filled with water. Of this he took _aste, and straightening up, looked into my eyes with an expression o_lation—as much as to say "I told you so!"
"This water is warm," he announced, "and fresh!"
I grabbed the bucket and tasted its contents. The water was very warm, and i_as fresh, but there was a most unpleasant taste to it.
"Did you ever taste water from a stagnant pool full of tadpoles?" Bradle_sked.
"That's it," I exclaimed, "—that's just the taste exactly, though I haven'_xperienced it since boyhood; but how can water from a flowing stream, tast_hus, and what the dickens makes it so warm? It must be at least 70 or 8_ahrenheit, possibly higher."
"Yes," agreed Bradley, "I should say higher; but where does it come from?"
"That is easily discovered now that we have found it," I answered. "It can'_ome from the ocean; so it must come from the land. All that we have to do i_ollow it, and sooner or later we shall come upon its source."
We were already rather close in; but I ordered the U-33's prow turned inshor_nd we crept slowly along, constantly dipping up the water and tasting it t_ssure ourselves that we didn't get outside the fresh-water current. There wa_ very light off-shore wind and scarcely any breakers, so that the approach t_he shore was continued without finding bottom; yet though we were alread_uite close, we saw no indication of any indention in the coast from whic_ven a tiny brooklet might issue, and certainly no mouth of a large river suc_s this must necessarily be to freshen the ocean even two hundred yards fro_hore. The tide was running out, and this, together with the strong flow o_he freshwater current, would have prevented our going against the cliffs eve_ad we not been under power; as it was we had to buck the combined forces i_rder to hold our position at all. We came up to within twenty-five feet o_he sheer wall, which loomed high above us. There was no break in it_orbidding face. As we watched the face of the waters and searched the cliff'_igh face, Olson suggested that the fresh water might come from a submarin_eyser. This, he said, would account for its heat; but even as he spoke _ush, covered thickly with leaves and flowers, bubbled to the surface an_loated off astern.
"Flowering shrubs don't thrive in the subterranean caverns from which geyser_pring," suggested Bradley.
Olson shook his head. "It beats me," he said.
"I've got it!" I exclaimed suddenly. "Look there!" And I pointed at the bas_f the cliff ahead of us, which the receding tide was gradually exposing t_ur view. They all looked, and all saw what I had seen—the top of a dar_pening in the rock, through which water was pouring out into the sea. "It'_he subterranean channel of an inland river," I cried. "It flows through _and covered with vegetation—and therefore a land upon which the sun shines.
No subterranean caverns produce any order of plant life even remotel_esembling what we have seen disgorged by this river. Beyond those cliffs li_ertile lands and fresh water—perhaps, game!"
"Yis, sir," said Olson, "behoind the cliffs! Ye spoke a true word, sir—behoind!"
Bradley laughed—a rather sorry laugh, though. "You might as well call ou_ttention to the fact, sir," he said, "that science has indicated that ther_s fresh water and vegetation on Mars."
"Not at all," I rejoined. "A U-boat isn't constructed to navigate space, bu_t is designed to travel below the surface of the water."
"You'd be after sailin' into that blank pocket?" asked Olson.
"I would, Olson," I replied. "We haven't one chance for life in a hundre_housand if we don't find food and water upon Caprona. This water coming ou_f the cliff is not salt; but neither is it fit to drink, though each of u_as drunk. It is fair to assume that inland the river is fed by pure streams, that there are fruits and herbs and game. Shall we lie out here and die o_hirst and starvation with a land of plenty possibly only a few hundred yard_way? We have the means for navigating a subterranean river. Are we to_owardly to utilize this means?"
"Be afther goin' to it," said Olson.
"I'm willing to see it through," agreed Bradley.
"Then under the bottom, wi' the best o' luck an' give 'em hell!" cried a youn_ellow who had been in the trenches.
"To the diving-stations!" I commanded, and in less than a minute the deck wa_eserted, the conning-tower covers had slammed to and the U-33 wa_ubmerging—possibly for the last time. I know that I had this feeling, and _hink that most of the others did.
As we went down, I sat in the tower with the searchlight projecting it_eemingly feeble rays ahead. We submerged very slowly and without headway mor_han sufficient to keep her nose in the right direction, and as we went down, I saw outlined ahead of us the black opening in the great cliff. It was a_pening that would have admitted a half-dozen U-boats at one and the sam_ime, roughly cylindrical in contour—and dark as the pit of perdition.
As I gave the command which sent the U-33 slowly ahead, I could not but feel _ertain uncanny presentiment of evil. Where were we going? What lay at the en_f this great sewer? Had we bidden farewell forever to the sunlight and life, or were there before us dangers even greater than those which we now faced? _ried to keep my mind from vain imagining by calling everything which _bserved to the eager ears below. I was the eyes of the whole company, and _id my best not to fail them. We had advanced a hundred yards, perhaps, whe_ur first danger confronted us. Just ahead was a sharp right-angle turn in th_unnel. I could see the river's flotsam hurtling against the rocky wall upo_he left as it was driven on by the mighty current, and I feared for th_afety of the U-33 in making so sharp a turn under such adverse conditions; but there was nothing for it but to try. I didn't warn my fellows of th_anger—it could have but caused them useless apprehension, for if we were t_e smashed against the rocky wall, no power on earth could avert the quick en_hat would come to us. I gave the command full speed ahead and went chargin_oward the menace. I was forced to approach the dangerous left-hand wall i_rder to make the turn, and I depended upon the power of the motors to carr_s through the surging waters in safety. Well, we made it; but it was a narro_queak. As we swung around, the full force of the current caught us and drov_he stern against the rocks; there was a thud which sent a tremor through th_hole craft, and then a moment of nasty grinding as the steel hull scraped th_ock wall. I expected momentarily the inrush of waters that would seal ou_oom; but presently from below came the welcome word that all was well.
In another fifty yards there was a second turn, this time toward the left! bu_t was more of a gentle curve, and we took it without trouble. After that i_as plain sailing, though as far as I could know, there might be most anythin_head of us, and my nerves strained to the snapping-point every instant. Afte_he second turn the channel ran comparatively straight for between one hundre_nd fifty and two hundred yards. The waters grew suddenly lighter, and m_pirits rose accordingly. I shouted down to those below that I saw dayligh_head, and a great shout of thanksgiving reverberated through the ship. _oment later we emerged into sunlit water, and immediately I raised th_eriscope and looked about me upon the strangest landscape I had ever seen.
We were in the middle of a broad and now sluggish river the banks of whic_ere lined by giant, arboraceous ferns, raising their mighty fronds fifty, on_undred, two hundred feet into the quiet air. Close by us something rose t_he surface of the river and dashed at the periscope. I had a vision of wide, distended jaws, and then all was blotted out. A shiver ran down into the towe_s the thing closed upon the periscope. A moment later it was gone, and _ould see again. Above the trees there soared into my vision a huge thing o_atlike wings—a creature large as a large whale, but fashioned more after th_rder of a lizard. Then again something charged the periscope and blotted ou_he mirror. I will confess that I was almost gasping for breath as I gave th_ommands to emerge. Into what sort of strange land had fate guided us?
The instant the deck was awash, I opened the conning-tower hatch and steppe_ut. In another minute the deck-hatch lifted, and those who were not on dut_elow streamed up the ladder, Olson bringing Nobs under one arm. For severa_inutes no one spoke; I think they must each have been as overcome by awe a_as I. All about us was a flora and fauna as strange and wonderful to us a_ight have been those upon a distant planet had we suddenly been miraculousl_ransported through ether to an unknown world. Even the grass upon the neare_ank was unearthly—lush and high it grew, and each blade bore upon its tip _rilliant flower— violet or yellow or carmine or blue—making as gorgeous _ward as human imagination might conceive. But the life! It teemed. The tall, fernlike trees were alive with monkeys, snakes, and lizards. Huge insect_ummed and buzzed hither and thither. Mighty forms could be seen moving upo_he ground in the thick forest, while the bosom of the river wriggled wit_iving things, and above flapped the wings of gigantic creatures such as w_re taught have been extinct throughout countless ages.
"Look!" cried Olson. "Would you look at the giraffe comin' up out o' th_ottom of the say?" We looked in the direction he pointed and saw a long, glossy neck surmounted by a small head rising above the surface of the river.
Presently the back of the creature was exposed, brown and glossy as the wate_ripped from it. It turned its eyes upon us, opened its lizard-like mouth, emitted a shrill hiss and came for us. The thing must have been sixteen o_ighteen feet in length and closely resembled pictures I had seen of restore_lesiosaurs of the lower Jurassic. It charged us as savagely as a mad bull, and one would have thought it intended to destroy and devour the might_-boat, as I verily believe it did intend.
We were moving slowly up the river as the creature bore down upon us wit_istended jaws. The long neck was far outstretched, and the four flippers wit_hich it swam were working with powerful strokes, carrying it forward at _apid pace. When it reached the craft's side, the jaws closed upon one of th_tanchions of the deck rail and tore it from its socket as though it had bee_ toothpick stuck in putty. At this exhibition of titanic strength I think w_ll simultaneously stepped backward, and Bradley drew his revolver and fired.
The bullet struck the thing in the neck, just above its body; but instead o_isabling it, merely increased its rage. Its hissing rose to a shrill screa_s it raised half its body out of water onto the sloping sides of the hull o_he U-33 and endeavored to scramble upon the deck to devour us. A dozen shot_ang out as we who were armed drew our pistols and fired at the thing; bu_hough struck several times, it showed no signs of succumbing and onl_loundered farther aboard the submarine.
I had noticed that the girl had come on deck and was standing not far behin_e, and when I saw the danger to which we were all exposed, I turned an_orced her toward the hatch. We had not spoken for some days, and we did no_peak now; but she gave me a disdainful look, which was quite as eloquent a_ords, and broke loose from my grasp. I saw I could do nothing with her unles_ exerted force, and so I turned with my back toward her that I might be in _osition to shield her from the strange reptile should it really succeed i_eaching the deck; and as I did so I saw the thing raise one flipper over th_ail, dart its head forward and with the quickness of lightning seize upon on_f the boches. I ran forward, discharging my pistol into the creature's bod_n an effort to force it to relinquish its prey; but I might as profitabl_ave shot at the sun.
Shrieking and screaming, the German was dragged from the deck, and the momen_he reptile was clear of the boat, it dived beneath the surface of the wate_ith its terrified prey. I think we were all more or less shaken by th_rightfulness of the tragedy—until Olson remarked that the balance of powe_ow rested where it belonged. Following the death of Benson we had been nin_nd nine—nine Germans and nine "Allies," as we called ourselves, now ther_ere but eight Germans. We never counted the girl on either side, I suppos_ecause she was a girl, though we knew well enough now that she was ours.
And so Olson's remark helped to clear the atmosphere for the Allies at least, and then our attention was once more directed toward the river, for around u_here had sprung up a perfect bedlam of screams and hisses and a seethin_aldron of hideous reptiles, devoid of fear and filled only with hunger an_ith rage. They clambered, squirmed and wriggled to the deck, forcing u_teadily backward, though we emptied our pistols into them. There were al_orts and conditions of horrible things—huge, hideous, grotesque, monstrous—_eritable Mesozoic nightmare. I saw that the girl was gotten below as quickl_s possible, and she took Nobs with her—poor Nobs had nearly barked his hea_ff; and I think, too, that for the first time since his littlest puppyhood h_ad known fear; nor can I blame him. After the girl I sent Bradley and most o_he Allies and then the Germans who were on deck—von Schoenvorts being stil_n irons below.
The creatures were approaching perilously close before I dropped through th_atchway and slammed down the cover. Then I went into the tower and ordere_ull speed ahead, hoping to distance the fearsome things; but it was useless.
Not only could any of them easily outdistance the U-33, but the furthe_pstream we progressed the greater the number of our besiegers, until fearfu_f navigating a strange river at high speed, I gave orders to reduce and move_lowly and majestically through the plunging, hissing mass. I was mighty gla_hat our entrance into the interior of Caprona had been inside a submarin_ather than in any other form of vessel. I could readily understand how i_ight have been that Caprona had been invaded in the past by venturesom_avigators without word of it ever reaching the outside world, for I ca_ssure you that only by submarine could man pass up that great sluggish river, alive.
We proceeded up the river for some forty miles before darkness overtook us. _as afraid to submerge and lie on the bottom overnight for fear that the mu_ight be deep enough to hold us, and as we could not hold with the anchor, _an in close to shore, and in a brief interim of attack from the reptiles w_ade fast to a large tree. We also dipped up some of the river water and foun_t, though quite warm, a little sweeter than before. We had food enough, an_ith the water we were all quite refreshed; but we missed fresh meat. It ha_een weeks, now, since we had tasted it, and the sight of the reptiles gave m_n idea—that a steak or two from one of them might not be bad eating. So _ent on deck with a rifle, twenty of which were aboard the U-33. At sight o_e a huge thing charged and climbed to the deck. I retreated to the top of th_onning-tower, and when it had raised its mighty bulk to the level of th_ittle deck on which I stood, I let it have a bullet right between the eyes.
The thing stopped then and looked at me a moment as much as to say: "Why thi_hing has a stinger! I must be careful." And then it reached out its long nec_nd opened its mighty jaws and grabbed for me; but I wasn't there. I ha_umbled backward into the tower, and I mighty near killed myself doing it.
When I glanced up, that little head on the end of its long neck was comin_traight down on top of me, and once more I tumbled into greater safety, sprawling upon the floor of the centrale.
Olson was looking up, and seeing what was poking about in the tower, ran fo_n ax; nor did he hesitate a moment when he returned with one, but sprang u_he ladder and commenced chopping away at that hideous face. The thing didn'_ave sufficient brainpan to entertain more than a single idea at once. Thoug_hopped and hacked, and with a bullethole between its eyes, it still persiste_adly in its attempt to get inside the tower and devour Olson, though its bod_as many times the diameter of the hatch; nor did it cease its efforts unti_fter Olson had succeeded in decapitating it. Then the two men went on dec_hrough the main hatch, and while one kept watch, the other cut a hind quarte_ff Plesiosaurus Olsoni, as Bradley dubbed the thing. Meantime Olson cut of_he long neck, saying that it would make fine soup. By the time we had cleare_way the blood and refuse in the tower, the cook had juicy steaks and _teaming broth upon the electric stove, and the aroma arising from P. Olson_illed us an with a hitherto unfelt admiration for him and all his kind.