Eight Hundred Leagues on the Amazon
Chapter 9: 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 unlucky."
"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?"
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