And now Frycollin ventured out of his cabin. His eyes red with sleeplessness, and dazed in their look, he tottered along, like a man whose foot feels it is not on solid ground. His first glance was at the suspensory screws, which were working with gratifying regularity without any signs of haste. That done, the Negro stumbled along to the rail, and grasped it with both hands, so as to make sure of his balance. Evidently he wished to view the country over which the "Albatross" was flying at the height of seven hundred feet or more.
At first he kept himself well back behind the rail. Then he shook it to make sure it was firm; then he drew himself up; then he bent forward; then he stretched out his head. It need not be said that while he was executing these different maneuvers he kept his eyes shut. At last he opened them.
What a shout! And how quickly he fled! And how deeply his head sank back into his shoulders! At the bottom of the abyss he had seen the immense ocean. His hair would have risen on end--if it had not been wool.
"The sea! The sea!" he cried. And Frycollin would have fallen on the deck had not the cook opened his arms to receive him.
This cook was a Frenchman, and probably a Gascon, his name being Francois Tapage. If he was not a Gascon he must in his infancy have inhaled the breezes of the Garonne. How did this Francois Tapage find himself in the service of the engineer? By what chain of accidents had be become one of the crew of the "Albatross?" We can hardly say; but in any case be spoke English like a Yankee. "Eh, stand up!" he said, lifting the Negro by a vigorous clutch at the waist.
"Master Tapage!" said the poor fellow, giving a despairing look at the screws.
"At your service, Frycollin."
"Did this thing ever smash?"
"No, but it will end by smashing."
"Because everything must end.
"And the sea is beneath us!"
"If we are to fall, it is better to fall in the sea."
"We shall be drowned."
"We shall be drowned, but we shall not be smashed to a jelly."
The next moment Frycollin was on all fours, creeping to the back of his cabin.
During this day the aeronef was only driven at moderate speed. She seemed to skim the placid surface of the sea, which lay beneath. Uncle Prudent and his companion remained in their cabin, so that they did not meet with Robur, who walked about smoking alone or talking to the mate. Only half the screws were working, yet that was enough to keep the apparatus afloat in the lower zones of the atmosphere,
The crew, as a change from the ordinary routine, would have endeavored to catch a few fish had there been any sign of them; but all that could be seen on the surface of the sea were a few of those yellow-bellied whales which measure about eighty feet in length. These are the most formidable cetaceans in the northern seas, and whalers are very careful in attacking them, for their strength is prodigious. However, in harpooning one of these whales, either with the ordinary harpoon, the Fletcher fuse, or the javelin-bomb, of which there was an assortment on board, there would have been danger to the men of the "Albatross."
But what was the good of such useless massacre? Doubtless to show off the powers of the aeronef to the members of the Weldon Institute. And so Robur gave orders for the capture of one of these monstrous cetaceans.
At the shout of "A whale! "A whale!" Uncle Prudent and Phil Evans came out of their cabin. Perhaps there was a whaler in sight! In that case all they had to do to escape from their flying prison was to jump into the sea, and chance being picked up by the vessel.
The crew were all on deck. "Shall we try, sir?" asked Tom Turner.
"Yes," said Robur.
In the engine-room the engineer and his assistant were at their posts ready to obey the orders signaled to them. The "Albatross" dropped towards the sea, and remained, about fifty feet above it.
There was no ship in sight--of that the two colleagues soon assured themselves--nor was there any land to be seen to which they could swim, providing Robur made no attempt to recapture them.