A dead and disquieting silence reigns on board. I begin to wonder whether I am not the only living being in the ship.
Now I feel an irresistible torpor coming over me. The air is vitiated. I cannot breathe. My chest is bursting. I try to resist, but it is impossible to do so. The temperature rises to such a degree that I am compelled to divest myself of part of my clothing. Then I lie me down in a corner. My heavy eyelids close, and I sink into a prostration that eventually forces me into heavy slumber.
How long have I been asleep? I cannot say. Is it night? Is it day? I know not. I remark, however, that I breathe more easily, and that the air is no longer poisoned carbonic acid.
Was the air renewed while I slept? Has the door been opened? Has anybody been in here?
Yes, here is the proof of it!
In feeling about, my hand has come in contact with a mug filled with a liquid that exhales an inviting odor. I raise it to my lips, which, are burning, for I am suffering such an agony of thirst that I would even drink brackish water.
It is ale—an ale of excellent quality—which refreshes and comforts me, and I drain the pint to the last drop.
But if they have not condemned me to die of thirst, neither have they condemned me to die of hunger, I suppose?
No, for in one of the corners I find a basket, and this basket contains some bread and cold meat.
I fall to, eating greedily, and my strength little by little returns.
Decidedly, I am not so abandoned as I thought I was. Some one entered this obscure hole, and the open door admitted a little of the oxygen from the outside, without which I should have been suffocated. Then the wherewithal to quench my thirst and appease the pangs of hunger was placed within my reach.
How much longer will this incarceration last? Days? Months? I cannot estimate the hours that have elapsed since I fell asleep, nor have I any idea as to what time of the day or night it may be. I was careful to wind up my watch, though, and perhaps by feeling the hands—Yes, I think the little hand marks eight o’clock—in the morning, no doubt. What I do know, however, is that the ship is not in motion. There is not the slightest quiver.
Hours and hours, weary, interminable hours go by, and I wonder whether they are again waiting till night comes on to renew my stock of air and provisions. Yes, they are waiting to take advantage of my slumbers. But this time I am resolved to resist. I will feign to be asleep—and I shall know how to force an answer from whoever enters!
Here I am in the open air, breathing freely once more. I have at last been hauled out of that stifling box and taken on deck. I gaze around me in every direction and see no sign of land. On every hand is that circular line which defines earth and sky. No, there is not even a speck of land to be seen to the west, where the coast of North America extends for thousands of miles.