That day, March 14, he and Conseil managed to find me in my stateroom. I asked them the purpose of their visit.
"To put a simple question to you, sir," the Canadian answered me.
"Go on, Ned."
"How many men do you think are on board the Nautilus?"
"I'm unable to say, my friend."
"It seems to me," Ned Land went on, "that it wouldn't take much of a crew to run a ship like this one."
"Correct," I replied. "Under existing conditions some ten men at the most should be enough to operate it."
"All right," the Canadian said, "then why should there be any more than that?"
"Why?" I answered.
I stared at Ned Land, whose motives were easy to guess.
"Because," I said, "if I can trust my hunches, if I truly understand the captain's way of life, his Nautilus isn't simply a ship. It's meant to be a refuge for people like its commander, people who have severed all ties with the shore."
"Perhaps," Conseil said, "but in a nutshell, the Nautilus can hold only a certain number of men, so couldn't master estimate their maximum?"
"By calculating it. Master is familiar with the ship's capacity, hence the amount of air it contains; on the other hand, master knows how much air each man consumes in the act of breathing, and he can compare this data with the fact that the Nautilus must rise to the surface every twenty-four hours . . ."
Conseil didn't finish his sentence, but I could easily see what he was driving at.
"I follow you," I said. "But while they're simple to do, such calculations can give only a very uncertain figure."
"No problem," the Canadian went on insistently.
"Then here's how to calculate it," I replied. "In one hour each man consumes the oxygen contained in 100 liters of air, hence during twenty-four hours the oxygen contained in 2,400 liters. Therefore, we must look for the multiple of 2,400 liters of air that gives us the amount found in the Nautilus."
"Precisely," Conseil said.
"Now then," I went on, "the Nautilus's capacity is 1,500 metric tons, and that of a ton is 1,000 liters, so the Nautilus holds 1,500,000 liters of air, which, divided by 2,400 . . ."
I did a quick pencil calculation.
". . . gives us the quotient of 625. Which is tantamount to saying that the air contained in the Nautilus would be exactly enough for 625 men over twenty-four hours."
"625!" Ned repeated.
"But rest assured," I added, "that between passengers, seamen, or officers, we don't total one-tenth of that figure."
"Which is still too many for three men!" Conseil muttered.
"So, my poor Ned, I can only counsel patience."
"And," Conseil replied, "even more than patience, resignation."
Conseil had said the true word.
"Even so," he went on, "Captain Nemo can't go south forever! He'll surely have to stop, if only at the Ice Bank, and he'll return to the seas of civilization! Then it will be time to resume Ned Land's plans."
The Canadian shook his head, passed his hand over his brow, made no reply, and left us.
"With master's permission, I'll make an observation to him," Conseil then told me. "Our poor Ned broods about all the things he can't have. He's haunted by his former life. He seems to miss everything that's denied us. He's obsessed by his old memories and it's breaking his heart. We must understand him. What does he have to occupy him here? Nothing. He isn't a scientist like master, and he doesn't share our enthusiasm for the sea's wonders. He would risk anything just to enter a tavern in his own country!"
To be sure, the monotony of life on board must have seemed unbearable to the Canadian, who was accustomed to freedom and activity. It was a rare event that could excite him. That day, however, a development occurred that reminded him of his happy years as a harpooner.
Near eleven o'clock in the morning, while on the surface of the ocean, the Nautilus fell in with a herd of baleen whales. This encounter didn't surprise me, because I knew these animals were being hunted so relentlessly that they took refuge in the ocean basins of the high latitudes.