I HAVE NO IDEA how long this slumber lasted; but it must have been a goo_hile, since we were completely over our exhaustion. I was the first one t_ake up. My companions weren't yet stirring and still lay in their corner_ike inanimate objects.
I had barely gotten up from my passably hard mattress when I felt my min_lear, my brain go on the alert. So I began a careful reexamination of ou_ell.
Nothing had changed in its interior arrangements. The prison was still _rison and its prisoners still prisoners. But, taking advantage of ou_lumber, the steward had cleared the table. Consequently, nothing indicate_ny forthcoming improvement in our situation, and I seriously wondered if w_ere doomed to spend the rest of our lives in this cage.
This prospect seemed increasingly painful to me because, even though my brai_as clear of its obsessions from the night before, I was feeling an od_hort–windedness in my chest. It was becoming hard for me to breathe. Th_eavy air was no longer sufficient for the full play of my lungs. Although ou_ell was large, we obviously had used up most of the oxygen it contained. I_ssence, over an hour's time a single human being consumes all the oxyge_ound in 100 liters of air, at which point that air has become charged with _early equal amount of carbon dioxide and is no longer fit for breathing.
So it was now urgent to renew the air in our prison, and no doubt the air i_his whole underwater boat as well.
Here a question popped into my head. How did the commander of this aquati_esidence go about it? Did he obtain air using chemical methods, releasing th_xygen contained in potassium chlorate by heating it, meanwhile absorbing th_arbon dioxide with potassium hydroxide? If so, he would have to keep up som_ind of relationship with the shore, to come by the materials needed for suc_n operation. Did he simply limit himself to storing the air in high–pressur_anks and then dispense it according to his crew's needs? Perhaps. Or, proceeding in a more convenient, more economical, and consequently mor_robable fashion, was he satisfied with merely returning to breathe at th_urface of the water like a cetacean, renewing his oxygen supply ever_wenty–four hours? In any event, whatever his method was, it seemed prudent t_e that he use this method without delay.
In fact, I had already resorted to speeding up my inhalations in order t_xtract from the cell what little oxygen it contained, when suddenly I wa_efreshed by a current of clean air, scented with a salty aroma. It had to b_ sea breeze, life–giving and charged with iodine! I opened my mouth wide, an_y lungs glutted themselves on the fresh particles. At the same time, I felt _waying, a rolling of moderate magnitude but definitely noticeable. This boat, this sheet–iron monster, had obviously just risen to the surface of the ocean, there to breathe in good whale fashion. So the ship's mode of ventilation wa_inally established.
When I had absorbed a chestful of this clean air, I looked for the conduit—the
"air carrier," if you prefer—that allowed this beneficial influx to reach us, and I soon found it. Above the door opened an air vent that let in a fres_urrent of oxygen, renewing the thin air in our cell.
I had gotten to this point in my observations when Ned and Conseil woke u_lmost simultaneously, under the influence of this reviving air purification.
They rubbed their eyes, stretched their arms, and sprang to their feet.
"Did master sleep well?" Conseil asked me with his perennial good manners.
"Extremely well, my gallant lad," I replied. "And how about you, Mr. Ne_and?"
"Like a log, professor. But I must be imagining things, because it seems lik_'m breathing a sea breeze!"
A seaman couldn't be wrong on this topic, and I told the Canadian what ha_one on while he slept.
"Good!" he said. "That explains perfectly all that bellowing we heard, whe_ur so–called narwhale lay in sight of the Abraham Lincoln."
"Perfectly, Mr. Land. It was catching its breath!"
"Only I've no idea what time it is, Professor Aronnax, unless maybe it'_innertime?"
"Dinnertime, my fine harpooner? I'd say at least breakfast time, because we'v_ertainly woken up to a new day."
"I won't argue with you," Ned Land answered. "But dinner or breakfast, tha_teward will be plenty welcome whether he brings the one or the other."
"The one and the other," Conseil said.
"Well put," the Canadian replied. "We deserve two meals, and speaking fo_yself, I'll do justice to them both."
"All right, Ned, let's wait and see!" I replied. "It's clear that thes_trangers don't intend to let us die of hunger, otherwise last evening'_inner wouldn't make any sense."
"Unless they're fattening us up!" Ned shot back.
"I object," I replied. "We have not fallen into the hands of cannibals."
"Just because they don't make a habit of it," the Canadian replied in al_eriousness, "doesn't mean they don't indulge from time to time. Who knows?
Maybe these people have gone without fresh meat for a long while, and in tha_ase three healthy, well–built specimens like the professor, his manservant, and me—"
"Get rid of those ideas, Mr. Land," I answered the harpooner. "And above all, don't let them lead you to flare up against our hosts, which would only mak_ur situation worse."
"Anyhow," the harpooner said, "I'm as hungry as all Hades, and dinner o_reakfast, not one puny meal has arrived!"
"Mr. Land," I answered, "we have to adapt to the schedule on board, and _magine our stomachs are running ahead of the chief cook's dinner bell."
"Well then, we'll adjust our stomachs to the chef's timetable!" Consei_eplied serenely.
"There you go again, Conseil my friend!" the impatient Canadian shot back.
"You never allow yourself any displays of bile or attacks of nerves! You'r_verlastingly calm! You'd say your after–meal grace even if you didn't get an_ood for your before–meal blessing—and you'd starve to death rather tha_omplain!"
"What good would it do?" Conseil asked.
"Complaining doesn't have to do good, it just feels good! And if thes_irates—I say pirates out of consideration for the professor's feelings, sinc_e doesn't want us to call them cannibals—if these pirates think they're goin_o smother me in this cage without hearing what cusswords spice up m_utbursts, they've got another think coming! Look here, Professor Aronnax, speak frankly. How long do you figure they'll keep us in this iron box?"
"To tell the truth, friend Land, I know little more about it than you do."
"But in a nutshell, what do you suppose is going on?"
"My supposition is that sheer chance has made us privy to an important secret.
Now then, if the crew of this underwater boat have a personal interest i_eeping that secret, and if their personal interest is more important than th_ives of three men, I believe that our very existence is in jeopardy. If suc_s not the case, then at the first available opportunity, this monster tha_as swallowed us will return us to the world inhabited by our own kind."
"Unless they recruit us to serve on the crew," Conseil said, "and keep u_ere—"
"Till the moment," Ned Land answered, "when some frigate that's faster o_marter than the Abraham Lincoln captures this den of buccaneers, then hang_ll of us by the neck from the tip of a mainmast yardarm!"
"Well thought out, Mr. Land," I replied. "But as yet, I don't believe we'v_een tendered any enlistment offers. Consequently, it's pointless to argu_bout what tactics we should pursue in such a case. I repeat: let's wait, let's be guided by events, and let's do nothing, since right now there'_othing we can do."
"On the contrary, professor," the harpooner replied, not wanting to give in.
"There is something we can do."
"Oh? And what, Mr. Land?"
"Break out of here!"
"Breaking out of a prison on shore is difficult enough, but with an underwate_rison, it strikes me as completely unworkable."
"Come now, Ned my friend," Conseil asked, "how would you answer master'_bjection? I refuse to believe that an American is at the end of his tether."
Visibly baffled, the harpooner said nothing. Under the conditions in whic_ate had left us, it was absolutely impossible to escape. But a Canadian's wi_s half French, and Mr. Ned Land made this clear in his reply.
"So, Professor Aronnax," he went on after thinking for a few moments, "yo_aven't figured out what people do when they can't escape from their prison?"
"No, my friend."
"Easy. They fix things so they stay there."
"Of course!" Conseil put in. "Since we're deep in the ocean, being inside thi_oat is vastly preferable to being above it or below it!"
"But we fix things by kicking out all the jailers, guards, and wardens," Ne_and added.
"What's this, Ned?" I asked. "You'd seriously consider taking over thi_raft?"
"Very seriously," the Canadian replied.
"And why is that, sir? Some promising opportunity might come up, and I don'_ee what could stop us from taking advantage of it. If there are only abou_wenty men on board this machine, I don't think they can stave off tw_renchmen and a Canadian!"
It seemed wiser to accept the harpooner's proposition than to debate it.
Accordingly, I was content to reply:
"Let such circumstances come, Mr. Land, and we'll see. But until then, I be_ou to control your impatience. We need to act shrewdly, and your flare–up_on't give rise to any promising opportunities. So swear to me that you'l_ccept our situation without throwing a tantrum over it."
"I give you my word, professor," Ned Land replied in an unenthusiastic tone.
"No vehement phrases will leave my mouth, no vicious gestures will give m_eelings away, not even when they don't feed us on time."
"I have your word, Ned," I answered the Canadian.
Then our conversation petered out, and each of us withdrew into his ow_houghts. For my part, despite the harpooner's confident talk, I admit that _ntertained no illusions. I had no faith in those promising opportunities tha_ed Land mentioned. To operate with such efficiency, this underwater boat ha_o have a sizeable crew, so if it came to a physical contest, we would b_acing an overwhelming opponent. Besides, before we could do anything, we ha_o be free, and that we definitely were not. I didn't see any way out of thi_heet–iron, hermetically sealed cell. And if the strange commander of thi_oat did have a secret to keep—which seemed rather likely—he would never giv_s freedom of movement aboard his vessel. Now then, would he resort t_iolence in order to be rid of us, or would he drop us off one day on som_emote coast? There lay the unknown. All these hypotheses seemed extremel_lausible to me, and to hope for freedom through use of force, you had to be _arpooner.
I realized, moreover, that Ned Land's brooding was getting him madder by th_inute. Little by little, I heard those aforesaid cusswords welling up in th_epths of his gullet, and I saw his movements turn threatening again. He stoo_p, pacing in circles like a wild beast in a cage, striking the walls with hi_oot and fist. Meanwhile the hours passed, our hunger nagged unmercifully, an_his time the steward did not appear. Which amounted to forgetting ou_astaway status for much too long, if they really had good intentions towar_s.
Tortured by the growling of his well–built stomach, Ned Land was getting mor_nd more riled, and despite his word of honor, I was in real dread of a_xplosion when he stood in the presence of one of the men on board.
For two more hours Ned Land's rage increased. The Canadian shouted an_leaded, but to no avail. The sheet–iron walls were deaf. I didn't hear _ingle sound inside this dead–seeming boat. The vessel hadn't stirred, becaus_ obviously would have felt its hull vibrating under the influence of th_ropeller. It had undoubtedly sunk into the watery deep and no longer belonge_o the outside world. All this dismal silence was terrifying.
As for our neglect, our isolation in the depths of this cell, I was afraid t_uess at how long it might last. Little by little, hopes I had entertaine_fter our interview with the ship's commander were fading away. The gentlenes_f the man's gaze, the generosity expressed in his facial features, th_obility of his bearing, all vanished from my memory. I saw this mystifyin_ndividual anew for what he inevitably must be: cruel and merciless. I viewe_im as outside humanity, beyond all feelings of compassion, the implacable fo_f his fellow man, toward whom he must have sworn an undying hate!
But even so, was the man going to let us die of starvation, locked up in thi_ramped prison, exposed to those horrible temptations to which people ar_riven by extreme hunger? This grim possibility took on a dreadful intensit_n my mind, and fired by my imagination, I felt an unreasoning terror ru_hrough me. Conseil stayed calm. Ned Land bellowed.
Just then a noise was audible outside. Footsteps rang on the metal tiling. Th_ocks were turned, the door opened, the steward appeared.
Before I could make a single movement to prevent him, the Canadian rushed a_he poor man, threw him down, held him by the throat. The steward was chokin_n the grip of those powerful hands.
Conseil was already trying to loosen the harpooner's hands from hi_alf–suffocated victim, and I had gone to join in the rescue, when I wa_bruptly nailed to the spot by these words pronounced in French:
"Calm down, Mr. Land! And you, professor, kindly listen to me!"