Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea
The Tantrums of Ned Land
I HAVE NO IDEA how long this slumber lasted; but it must have been a good while,
since we were
completely over our exhaustion. I was the first one to wake up. My companions weren't
yet stirring and still lay in their corners like inanimate objects.
I had barely gotten up from my passably hard mattress when I felt my mind clear, my
brain go on the alert. So I began a careful reexamination of our cell.
Nothing had changed in its interior arrangements. The prison was still a prison and its
prisoners still prisoners. But, taking advantage of our slumber, the steward had cleared
the table. Consequently, nothing indicated any forthcoming improvement in our situation,
and I seriously wondered if we were doomed to spend the rest of our lives in this cage.
This prospect seemed increasingly painful to me because, even though my brain was
clear of its obsessions from the night before, I was feeling an odd short-windedness in my
chest. It was becoming hard for me to breathe. The heavy air was no longer sufficient for
the full play of my lungs. Although our cell was large, we obviously had used up most of
the oxygen it contained. In essence, over an hour's time a single human being consumes
all the oxygen found in 100 liters of air, at which point that air has become charged with
a nearly 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 in this whole
underwater boat as well.
Here a question popped into my head. How did the commander of this aquatic residence
go about it? Did he obtain air using chemical methods, releasing the oxygen contained in
potassium chlorate by heating it, meanwhile absorbing the carbon dioxide with potassium
hydroxide? If so, he would have to keep up some kind of relationship with the shore, to
come by the materials needed for such an operation. Did he simply limit himself to
storing the air in high-pressure tanks and then dispense it according to his crew's needs?
Perhaps. Or, proceeding in a more convenient, more economical, and consequently more
probable fashion, was he satisfied with merely returning to breathe at the surface of the
water like a cetacean, renewing his oxygen supply every twenty-four hours? In any event,
whatever his method was, it seemed prudent to me that he use this method without delay.
In fact, I had already resorted to speeding up my inhalations in order to extract from the
cell what little oxygen it contained, when suddenly I was refreshed by a current of clean
air, scented with a salty aroma. It had to be a sea breeze, life-giving and charged with
iodine! I opened my mouth wide, and my lungs glutted themselves on the fresh particles.
At the same time, I felt a swaying, 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 was