Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
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":Nothing," replied Benito. "But the morrow is left to us."
The members of the family retired to their rooms, and nothing more
was said as to what had passed.
Manoel tried to make Benito lie down, so as to take a few hours'
"What is the good of that?" asked Benito. "Do you think I could
THE SECOND ATTEMPT
ON THE MORROW, the 27th of August, Benito took Manoel apart, before
the sun had risen, and said to him: "Our yesterday's search was vain.
If we begin again under the same conditions we may be just as
"We must do so, however," replied Manoel.
"Yes," continued Benito; "but suppose we do not find the body, can
you tell me how long it will be before it rises to the surface?"
"If Torres," answered Manoel, "had fallen into the water living, and
not mortally wounded, it would take five or six days; but as he only
disappeared after being so wounded, perhaps two or three days would
be enough to bring him up again."
This answer of Manoel, which was quite correct, requires some
explanation. Every human body which falls into the water will float
if equilibrium is established between its density and that of its
liquid bed. This is well known to be the fact, even when a person
does not know how to swim. Under such circumstances, if you are
entirely submerged, and only keep your mouth and nose away from the
water, you are sure to float. But this is not generally done. The
first movement of a drowning man is to try and hold as much as he can
of himself above the water; he holds up his head and lifts up his
arms, and these parts of his body, being no longer supported by the
liquid, do not lose that amount of weight which they would do if
completely immersed. Hence an excess of weight, and eventually entire
submersion, for the water makes its way to the lungs through the
mouth, takes the place of the air which fills them, and the body
sinks to the bottom.
On the other hand, when the man who falls into the water is already
dead the conditions are different, and more favorable for his
floating, for then the movements of which we have spoken are checked,
and the liquid does not make its way to the lungs so copiously, as
there is no attempt to respire, and he is consequently more likely to
promptly reappear. Manoel then was right in drawing the distinction
between the man who falls into the water living and the man who falls
into it dead. In the one case the return to the surface takes much
longer than in the other.
The reappearance of the body after an immersion more or less
prolonged is always determined by the decomposition, which causes the
gases to form. These bring about the expansion of the cellular
tissues, the volume augments and the weight decreases, and then,
weighing less than the water it displaces, the body attains the
proper conditions for floating.
"And thus," continued Manoel, "supposing the conditions continue
favorable, and Torres did not live after he fell into the water, if
the decomposition is not modified by circumstances which we cannot
foresee, he will not reappear before three days."
"We have not got three days," answered Benito. "We cannot wait, you
know; we must try again, and in some new way."
"What can you do?" answered Manoel.
"Plunge down myself beneath the waters," replied Benito, "and search
with my eyes--with my hands."
"Plunge in a hundred times--a thousand times!" exclaimed Manoel. "So
be it. I think, like you, that we ought to go straight at what we
want, and not struggle on with poles and drags like a blind man who
only works by touch. I also think that we cannot wait three days. But
to jump in, come up again, and go down again will give only a short
period for the exploration. No; it will never do, and we shall only
risk a second failure."
"Have you no other plan to propose, Manoel?" asked Benito, looking
earnestly at his friend.
"Well, listen. There is what would seem to be a Providential
circumstance that may be of use to us."
"What is that?"
"Yesterday, as we hurried through Manaos, I noticed that they were
repairing one of the quays on the bank of the Rio Negro. The
submarine works were being carried on with the aid of a diving-dress.
Let us borrow, or hire, or buy, at any price, this apparatus, and
then we may resume our researches under more favorable conditions."
"Tell Araujo, Fragoso, and our men, and let us be off," was the
instant reply of Benito.
The pilot and the barber were informed of the decision with regard to
Manoel's project. Both were ordered to go with the four boats and the
Indians to the basin of Frias, and there to wait for the two young
Manoel and Benito started off without losing a moment, and reached
the quay at Manaos. There they offered the contractor such a price
that he put the apparatus at their service for the whole day.
"Will you not have one of my men," he asked, "to help you?"
"Give us your foreman and one of his mates to work the air-pump,"
"But who is going to wear the diving-dress?"
"I am," answered Benito.
"You!" exclaimed Manoel.
"I intend to do so."
It was useless to resist.
An hour afterward the raft and all the instruments necessary for the
enterprise had drifted down to the bank where the boats were waiting.
The diving-dress is well known. By its means men can descend beneath
the waters and remain there a certain time without the action of the
lungs being in any way injured. The diver is clothed in a waterproof
suit of India rubber, and his feet are attached to leaden shoes,
which allow him to retain his upright position beneath the surface.
At the collar of the dress, and about the height of the neck, there
is fitted a collar of copper, on which is screwed a metal globe with
a glass front. In this globe the diver places his head, which he can
move about at his ease. To the globe are attached two pipes; one used
for carrying off the air ejected from the lungs, and which is unfit
for respiration, and the other in communication with a pump worked on
the raft, and bringing in the fresh air. When the diver is at work
the raft remains immovable above him; when the diver moves about on
the bottom of the river the raft follows his movements, or he follows
those of the raft, according to his convenience.
These diving-dresses are now much improved, and are less dangerous
than formerly. The man beneath the liquid mass can easily bear the
additional pressure, and if anything was to be feared below the
waters it was rather some cayman who might there be met with. But, as
had been observed by Araujo, not one of these amphibians had been
seen, and they are well known to prefer the black waters of the
tributaries of the Amazon. Besides, in case of danger, the diver has
always his check-string fastened to the raft, and at the least
warning can be quickly hauled to the surface.
Benito, invariably very cool once his resolution was taken, commenced
to put his idea into execution, and got into the diving dress. His
head disappeared in the metal globe, his hand grasped a sort of iron
spear with which to stir up the vegetation and detritus accumulated
in the river bed, and on his giving the signal he was lowered into
The men on the raft immediately commenced to work the air-pump, while
four Indians from the jangada, under the orders of Araujo, gently
propelled it with their long poles in the desired direction.
The two pirogues, commanded one by Fragoso, the other by Manoel,
escorted the raft, and held themselves ready to start in any
direction, should Benito find the corpse of Torres and again bring it
to the surface of the Amazon.
A CANNON SHOT
BENITO THEN HAD disappeared beneath the vast sheet which still
covered the corpse of the adventurer. Ah! If he had had the power to
divert the waters of the river, to turn them into vapor, or to drain
them off--if he could have made the Frias basin dry down stream, from
the bar up to the influx of the Rio Negro, the case hidden in Torres'
clothes would already have been in his hand! His father's innocence
would have been recognized! Joam Dacosta, restored to liberty, would
have again started on the descent of the river, and what terrible
trials would have been avoided!
Benito had reached the bottom. His heavy shoes made the gravel on the
bed crunch beneath him. He was in some ten or fifteen feet of water,
at the base of the cliff, which was here very steep, and at the very
spot where Torres had disappeared.
Near him was a tangled mass of reeds and twigs and aquatic plants,
all laced together, which assuredly during the researches of the
previous day no pole could have penetrated. It was consequently
possible that the body was entangled among the submarine shrubs, and
still in the place where it had originally fallen.
Hereabouts, thanks to the eddy produced by the prolongation of one of
the spurs running out into the stream, the current was absolutely