Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas – Day 138 of 165

Chapter 16: Shortage of Air

Consequently, above, below, and around the Nautilus, there were impenetrable frozen walls. We were the Ice Bank’s prisoners! The Canadian banged a table with his fearsome fist. Conseil kept still. I stared at the captain. His face had resumed its usual emotionlessness. He crossed his arms. He pondered. The Nautilus did not stir.

The captain then broke into speech:

“Gentlemen,” he said in a calm voice, “there are two ways of dying under the conditions in which we’re placed.”

This inexplicable individual acted like a mathematics professor working out a problem for his pupils.

“The first way,” he went on, “is death by crushing. The second is death by asphyxiation. I don’t mention the possibility of death by starvation because the Nautilus’s provisions will certainly last longer than we will. Therefore, let’s concentrate on our chances of being crushed or asphyxiated.”

“As for asphyxiation, Captain,” I replied, “that isn’t a cause for alarm, because the air tanks are full.”

“True,” Captain Nemo went on, “but they’ll supply air for only two days. Now then, we’ve been buried beneath the waters for thirty–six hours, and the Nautilus’s heavy atmosphere already needs renewing. In another forty–eight hours, our reserve air will be used up.”

“Well then, Captain, let’s free ourselves within forty–eight hours!”

“We’ll try to at least, by cutting through one of these walls surrounding us.”

“Which one?” I asked.

“Borings will tell us that. I’m going to ground the Nautilus on the lower shelf, then my men will put on their diving suits and attack the thinnest of these ice walls.”

“Can the panels in the lounge be left open?”

“Without ill effect. We’re no longer in motion.”

Captain Nemo went out. Hissing sounds soon told me that water was being admitted into the ballast tanks. The Nautilus slowly settled and rested on the icy bottom at a depth of 350 meters, the depth at which the lower shelf of ice lay submerged.

“My friends,” I said, “we’re in a serious predicament, but I’m counting on your courage and energy.”

“Sir,” the Canadian replied, “this is no time to bore you with my complaints. I’m ready to do anything I can for the common good.”

“Excellent, Ned,” I said, extending my hand to the Canadian.

“I might add,” he went on, “that I’m as handy with a pick as a harpoon. If I can be helpful to the captain, he can use me any way he wants.”

“He won’t turn down your assistance. Come along, Ned.”

I led the Canadian to the room where the Nautilus’s men were putting on their diving suits. I informed the captain of Ned’s proposition, which was promptly accepted. The Canadian got into his underwater costume and was ready as soon as his fellow workers. Each of them carried on his back a Rouquayrol device that the air tanks had supplied with a generous allowance of fresh oxygen. A considerable but necessary drain on the Nautilus’s reserves. As for the Ruhmkorff lamps, they were unnecessary in the midst of these brilliant waters saturated with our electric rays.

After Ned was dressed, I reentered the lounge, whose windows had been uncovered; stationed next to Conseil, I examined the strata surrounding and supporting the Nautilus.

Some moments later, we saw a dozen crewmen set foot on the shelf of ice, among them Ned Land, easily recognized by his tall figure. Captain Nemo was with them.

Before digging into the ice, the captain had to obtain borings, to insure working in the best direction. Long bores were driven into the side walls; but after fifteen meters, the instruments were still impeded by the thickness of those walls. It was futile to attack the ceiling since that surface was the Ice Bank itself, more than 400 meters high. Captain Nemo then bored into the lower surface. There we were separated from the sea by a ten–meter barrier. That’s how thick the iceberg was. From this point on, it was an issue of cutting out a piece equal in surface area to the Nautilus’s waterline. This meant detaching about 6,500 cubic meters, to dig a hole through which the ship could descend below this tract of ice.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)