This book is
one of Jules Verne’s best sellers; it showcases his talent in being able to build the perfect narrative and above all, making it plausible. The rich characters from captain Nemo to the rest of the crew with the rich descriptive scenes makes this story come alive right from page one; it has everything in it – from sea monsters to simmering tension between the central figures. A perfectly developed book and
in our view, a must-read for all Verne fans - and best of all,
submarines with a dangerous and long lasting energy source - exist
today. Just as he predicted.
CHAPTER 1 - A Runaway Reef
THE YEAR 1866 was marked by a bizarre development, an unexplained and downright inexplicable phenomenon that surely no one has forgotten. Without getting into those rumors that upset civilians in the seaports and deranged the public mind even far inland, it must be said that professional seamen were especially alarmed. Traders, shipowners, captains of vessels, skippers, and master mariners from Europe and America, naval officers from every country, and at their heels the various national governments on these two continents, were all extremely disturbed by the business.
In essence, over a period of time several ships had encountered “an enormous thing” at sea, a long spindle-shaped object, sometimes giving off a phosphorescent glow, infinitely bigger and faster than any whale.
The relevant data on this apparition, as recorded in various logbooks, agreed pretty closely as to the structure of the object or creature in question, its unprecedented speed of movement, its startling locomotive power, and the unique vitality with which it seemed to be gifted. If it was a cetacean, it exceeded in bulk any whale previously classified by science. No naturalist, neither Cuvier nor Lacépède, neither Professor Dumeril nor Professor de Quatrefages, would have accepted the existence of such a monster sight unseen—specifically, unseen by their own scientific eyes.
Striking an average of observations taken at different times—rejecting those timid estimates that gave the object a length of 200 feet, and ignoring those exaggerated views that saw it as a mile wide and three long—you could still assert that this phenomenal creature greatly exceeded the dimensions of anything then known to ichthyologists, if it existed at all.
Now then, it did exist, this was an undeniable fact; and since the human mind dotes on objects of wonder, you can understand the worldwide excitement caused by this unearthly apparition. As for relegating it to the realm of fiction, that charge had to be dropped.
In essence, on July 20, 1866, the steamer Governor Higginson, from the Calcutta & Burnach Steam Navigation Co., encountered this moving mass five miles off the eastern shores of Australia.
Captain Baker at first thought he was in the presence of an unknown reef; he was even about to fix its exact position when two waterspouts shot out of this inexplicable object and sprang hissing into the air some 150 feet. So, unless this reef was subject to the intermittent eruptions of a geyser, the Governor Higginson had fair and honest dealings with some aquatic mammal, until then unknown, that could spurt from its blowholes waterspouts mixed with air and steam.
Similar events were likewise observed in Pacific seas, on July 23 of the same year, by the Christopher Columbus from the West India & Pacific Steam Navigation Co. Consequently, this extraordinary cetacean could transfer itself from one locality to another with startling swiftness, since within an interval of just three days, the Governor Higginson and the Christopher Columbus had observed it at two positions on the charts separated by a distance of more than 700 nautical leagues.
Fifteen days later and 2,000 leagues farther, the Helvetia from the Compagnie Nationale and the Shannon from the Royal Mail line, running on opposite tacks in that part of the Atlantic lying between the United States and Europe, respectively signaled each other that the monster had been sighted in latitude 42 degrees 15’ north and longitude 60 degrees 35’ west of the meridian of Greenwich. From their simultaneous observations, they were able to estimate the mammal’s minimum length at more than 350 English feet;* this was because both the Shannon and the Helvetia were of smaller dimensions, although each measured 100 meters stem to stern. Now then, the biggest whales, those rorqual whales that frequent the waterways of the Aleutian Islands, have never exceeded a length of 56 meters—if they reach even that.
*Author’s Note: About 106 meters. An English foot is only 30.4 centimeters.
One after another, reports arrived that would profoundly affect public opinion: new observations taken by the transatlantic liner Pereire, the Inman line’s Etna running afoul of the monster, an official report drawn up by officers on the French frigate Normandy, dead-earnest reckonings obtained by the general staff of Commodore Fitz-James aboard the Lord Clyde. In lighthearted countries, people joked about this phenomenon, but such serious, practical countries as England, America, and Germany were deeply concerned.
In every big city the monster was the latest rage; they sang about it in the coffee houses, they ridiculed it in the newspapers, they dramatized it in the theaters. The tabloids found it a fine opportunity for hatching all sorts of hoaxes. In those newspapers short of copy, you saw the reappearance of every gigantic imaginary creature, from “Moby Dick,” that dreadful white whale from the High Arctic regions, to the stupendous kraken whose tentacles could entwine a 500-ton craft and drag it into the ocean depths. They even reprinted reports from ancient times: the views of Aristotle and Pliny accepting the existence of such monsters, then the Norwegian stories of Bishop Pontoppidan, the narratives of Paul Egede, and finally the reports of Captain Harrington—whose good faith is above suspicion—in which he claims he saw, while aboard the Castilian in 1857, one of those enormous serpents that, until then, had frequented only the seas of France’s old extremist newspaper, The Constitutionalist.
An interminable debate then broke out between believers and skeptics in the scholarly societies and scientific journals. The “monster question” inflamed all minds. During this memorable campaign, journalists making a profession of science battled with those making a profession of wit, spilling waves of ink and some of them even two or three drops of blood, since they went from sea serpents to the most offensive personal remarks.
For six months the war seesawed. With inexhaustible zest, the popular press took potshots at feature articles from the Geographic Institute of Brazil, the Royal Academy of Science in Berlin, the British Association, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., at discussions in The Indian Archipelago, in Cosmos published by Father Moigno, in Petermann’s Mittheilungen,
[Bulletin] and at scientific chronicles in the great French and foreign newspapers. When the monster’s detractors cited a saying by the botanist Linnaeus that “nature doesn’t make leaps,” witty writers in the popular periodicals parodied it, maintaining in essence that “nature doesn’t make lunatics,” and ordering their contemporaries never to give the lie to nature by believing in krakens, sea serpents, “Moby Dicks,” and other all-out efforts from drunken seamen. Finally, in a much-feared satirical journal, an article by its most popular columnist finished off the monster for good, spurning it in the style of Hippolytus repulsing the amorous advances of his stepmother Phaedra, and giving the creature its quietus amid a universal burst of laughter. Wit had defeated science.
During the first months of the year 1867, the question seemed to be buried, and it didn’t seem due for resurrection, when new facts were brought to the public’s attention. But now it was no longer an issue of a scientific problem to be solved, but a quite real and serious danger to be avoided. The question took an entirely new turn. The monster again became an islet, rock, or reef, but a runaway reef, unfixed and elusive.
On March 5, 1867, the Moravian from the Montreal Ocean Co., lying during the night in latitude 27 degrees 30’ and longitude 72 degrees 15’, ran its starboard quarter afoul of a rock marked on no charts of these waterways. Under the combined efforts of wind and 400-horsepower steam, it was traveling at a speed of thirteen knots. Without the high quality of its hull, the Moravian would surely have split open from this collision and gone down together with those 237 passengers it was bringing back from Canada.
This accident happened around five o’clock in the morning, just as day was beginning to break. The officers on watch rushed to the craft’s stern. They examined the ocean with the most scrupulous care. They saw nothing except a strong eddy breaking three cable lengths out, as if those sheets of water had been violently churned. The site’s exact bearings were taken, and the Moravian continued on course apparently undamaged. Had it run afoul of an underwater rock or the wreckage of some enormous derelict ship? They were unable to say. But when they examined its undersides in the service yard, they discovered that part of its keel had been smashed.
This occurrence, extremely serious in itself, might perhaps have been forgotten like so many others, if three weeks later it hadn’t been reenacted under identical conditions. Only, thanks to the nationality of the ship victimized by this new ramming, and thanks to the reputation of the company to which this ship belonged, the event caused an immense uproar.
No one is unaware of the name of that famous English shipowner, Cunard. In 1840 this shrewd industrialist founded a postal service between Liverpool and Halifax, featuring three wooden ships with 400-horsepower paddle wheels and a burden of 1,162 metric tons. Eight years later, the company’s assets were increased by four 650-horsepower ships at 1,820 metric tons, and in two more years, by two other vessels of still greater power and tonnage. In 1853 the Cunard Co., whose mail-carrying charter had just been renewed, successively added to its assets the Arabia, the Persia, the China, the Scotia, the Java, and the Russia, all ships of top speed and, after the Great Eastern, the biggest ever to plow the seas. So in 1867 this company owned twelve ships, eight with paddle wheels and four with propellers.
If I give these highly condensed details, it is so everyone can fully understand the importance of this maritime transportation company, known the world over for its shrewd management. No transoceanic navigational undertaking has been conducted with more ability, no business dealings have been crowned with greater success. In twenty-six years Cunard ships have made 2,000 Atlantic crossings without so much as a voyage canceled, a delay recorded, a man, a craft, or even a letter lost. Accordingly, despite strong competition from France, passengers still choose the Cunard line in preference to all others, as can be seen in a recent survey of official documents. Given this, no one will be astonished at the uproar provoked by this accident involving one of its finest steamers.
On April 13, 1867, with a smooth sea and a moderate breeze, the Scotia lay in longitude 15 degrees 12’ and latitude 45 degrees 37’. It was traveling at a speed of 13.43 knots under the thrust of its 1,000-horsepower engines. Its paddle wheels were churning the sea with perfect steadiness. It was then drawing 6.7 meters of water and displacing 6,624 cubic meters.
At 4:17 in the afternoon, during a high tea for passengers gathered in the main lounge, a collision occurred, scarcely noticeable on the whole, affecting the Scotia’s hull in that quarter a little astern of its port paddle wheel.
The Scotia hadn’t run afoul of something, it had been fouled, and by a cutting or perforating instrument rather than a blunt one. This encounter seemed so minor that nobody on board would have been disturbed by it, had it not been for the shouts of crewmen in the hold, who climbed on deck yelling:
“We’re sinking! We’re sinking!”
At first the passengers were quite frightened, but Captain Anderson hastened to reassure them. In fact, there could be no immediate danger. Divided into seven compartments by watertight bulkheads, the Scotia could brave any leak with impunity.
Captain Anderson immediately made his way into the hold. He discovered that the fifth compartment had been invaded by the sea, and the speed of this invasion proved that the leak was considerable. Fortunately this compartment didn’t contain the boilers, because their furnaces would have been abruptly extinguished.
Captain Anderson called an immediate halt, and one of his sailors dived down to assess the damage. Within moments they had located a hole two meters in width on the steamer’s underside. Such a leak could not be patched, and with its paddle wheels half swamped, the Scotia had no choice but to continue its voyage. By then it lay 300 miles from Cape Clear, and after three days of delay that filled Liverpool with acute anxiety, it entered the company docks.
The engineers then proceeded to inspect the Scotia, which had been put in dry dock. They couldn’t believe their eyes. Two and a half meters below its waterline, there gaped a symmetrical gash in the shape of an isosceles triangle. This breach in the sheet iron was so perfectly formed, no punch could have done a cleaner job of it. Consequently, it must have been produced by a perforating tool of uncommon toughness—plus, after being launched with prodigious power and then piercing four centimeters of sheet iron, this tool had needed to withdraw itself by a backward motion truly inexplicable.
This was the last straw, and it resulted in arousing public passions all over again. Indeed, from this moment on, any maritime casualty without an established cause was charged to the monster’s account. This outrageous animal had to shoulder responsibility for all derelict vessels, whose numbers are unfortunately considerable, since out of those 3,000 ships whose losses are recorded annually at the marine insurance bureau, the figure for steam or sailing ships supposedly lost with all hands, in the absence of any news, amounts to at least 200!
Now then, justly or unjustly, it was the “monster” who stood accused of their disappearance; and since, thanks to it, travel between the various continents had become more and more dangerous, the public spoke up and demanded straight out that, at all cost, the seas be purged of this fearsome cetacean.
- The Pros and Cons
DURING THE PERIOD in which these developments were occurring, I had returned from a scientific undertaking organized to explore the Nebraska badlands in the United States. In my capacity as Assistant Professor at the Paris Museum of Natural History, I had been attached to this expedition by the French government. After spending six months in Nebraska, I arrived in New York laden with valuable collections near the end of March. My departure for France was set for early May. In the meantime, then, I was busy classifying my mineralogical, botanical, and zoological treasures when that incident took place with the Scotia.
I was perfectly abreast of this question, which was the big news of the day, and how could I not have been? I had read and reread every American and European newspaper without being any farther along. This mystery puzzled me. Finding it impossible to form any views, I drifted from one extreme to the other. Something was out there, that much was certain, and any doubting Thomas was invited to place his finger on the Scotia’s wound.
When I arrived in New York, the question was at the boiling point. The hypothesis of a drifting islet or an elusive reef, put forward by people not quite in their right minds, was completely eliminated. And indeed, unless this reef had an engine in its belly, how could it move about with such prodigious speed?
Also discredited was the idea of a floating hull or some other enormous wreckage, and again because of this speed of movement.
So only two possible solutions to the question were left, creating two very distinct groups of supporters: on one side, those favoring a monster of colossal strength; on the other, those favoring an “underwater boat” of tremendous motor power.
Now then, although the latter hypothesis was completely admissible, it couldn’t stand up to inquiries conducted in both the New World and the Old. That a private individual had such a mechanism at his disposal was less than probable. Where and when had he built it, and how could he have built it in secret?
Only some government could own such an engine of destruction, and in these disaster-filled times, when men tax their ingenuity to build increasingly powerful aggressive weapons, it was possible that, unknown to the rest of the world, some nation could have been testing such a fearsome machine. The Chassepot rifle led to the torpedo, and the torpedo has led to this underwater battering ram, which in turn will lead to the world putting its foot down. At least I hope it will.
But this hypothesis of a war machine collapsed in the face of formal denials from the various governments. Since the public interest was at stake and transoceanic travel was suffering, the sincerity of these governments could not be doubted. Besides, how could the assembly of this underwater boat have escaped public notice? Keeping a secret under such circumstances would be difficult enough for an individual, and certainly impossible for a nation whose every move is under constant surveillance by rival powers.
So, after inquiries conducted in England, France, Russia, Prussia, Spain, Italy, America, and even Turkey, the hypothesis of an underwater Monitor was ultimately rejected.
And so the monster surfaced again, despite the endless witticisms heaped on it by the popular press, and the human imagination soon got caught up in the most ridiculous ichthyological fantasies.
After I arrived in New York, several people did me the honor of consulting me on the phenomenon in question. In France I had published a two-volume work, in quarto, entitled The Mysteries of the Great Ocean Depths. Well received in scholarly circles, this book had established me as a specialist in this pretty obscure field of natural history. My views were in demand. As long as I could deny the reality of the business, I confined myself to a flat “no comment.” But soon, pinned to the wall, I had to explain myself straight out. And in this vein, “the honorable Pierre Aronnax, Professor at the Paris Museum,” was summoned by The New York Herald to formulate his views no matter what.
I complied. Since I could no longer hold my tongue, I let it wag. I discussed the question in its every aspect, both political and scientific, and this is an excerpt from the well-padded article I published in the issue of April 30.
“Therefore,” I wrote, “after examining these different hypotheses one by one, we are forced, every other supposition having been refuted, to accept the existence of an extremely powerful marine animal.
“The deepest parts of the ocean are totally unknown to us. No soundings have been able to reach them. What goes on in those distant depths? What creatures inhabit, or could inhabit, those regions twelve or fifteen miles beneath the surface of the water? What is the constitution of these animals? It’s almost beyond conjecture.
“However, the solution to this problem submitted to me can take the form of a choice between two alternatives.
“Either we know every variety of creature populating our planet, or we do not.
“If we do not know every one of them, if nature still keeps ichthyological secrets from us, nothing is more admissible than to accept the existence of fish or cetaceans of new species or even new genera, animals with a basically ‘cast-iron’ constitution that inhabit strata beyond the reach of our soundings, and which some development or other, an urge or a whim if you prefer, can bring to the upper level of the ocean for long intervals.
“If, on the other hand, we do know every living species, we must look for the animal in question among those marine creatures already cataloged, and in this event I would be inclined to accept the existence of a giant narwhale.
“The common narwhale, or sea unicorn, often reaches a length of sixty feet. Increase its dimensions fivefold or even tenfold, then give this cetacean a strength in proportion to its size while enlarging its offensive weapons, and you have the animal we’re looking for. It would have the proportions determined by the officers of the Shannon, the instrument needed to perforate the Scotia, and the power to pierce a steamer’s hull.
“In essence, the narwhale is armed with a sort of ivory sword, or lance, as certain naturalists have expressed it. It’s a king-sized tooth as hard as steel. Some of these teeth have been found buried in the bodies of baleen whales, which the narwhale attacks with invariable success. Others have been wrenched, not without difficulty, from the undersides of vessels that narwhales have pierced clean through, as a gimlet pierces a wine barrel. The museum at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris owns one of these tusks with a length of 2.25 meters and a width at its base of forty-eight centimeters!
“All right then! Imagine this weapon to be ten times stronger and the animal ten times more powerful, launch it at a speed of twenty miles per hour, multiply its mass times its velocity, and you get just the collision we need to cause the specified catastrophe.
“So, until information becomes more abundant, I plump for a sea unicorn of colossal dimensions, no longer armed with a mere lance but with an actual spur, like ironclad frigates or those warships called ‘rams,’ whose mass and motor power it would possess simultaneously.
“This inexplicable phenomenon is thus explained away—unless it’s something else entirely, which, despite everything that has been sighted, studied, explored and experienced, is still possible!”
These last words were cowardly of me; but as far as I could, I wanted to protect my professorial dignity and not lay myself open to laughter from the Americans, who when they do laugh, laugh raucously. I had left myself a loophole. Yet deep down, I had accepted the existence of “the monster.”
My article was hotly debated, causing a fine old uproar. It rallied a number of supporters. Moreover, the solution it proposed allowed for free play of the imagination. The human mind enjoys impressive visions of unearthly creatures. Now then, the sea is precisely their best medium, the only setting suitable for the breeding and growing of such giants—next to which such land animals as elephants or rhinoceroses are mere dwarves. The liquid masses support the largest known species of mammals and perhaps conceal mollusks of incomparable size or crustaceans too frightful to contemplate, such as 100-meter lobsters or crabs weighing 200 metric tons! Why not? Formerly, in prehistoric days, land animals (quadrupeds, apes, reptiles, birds) were built on a gigantic scale. Our Creator cast them using a colossal mold that time has gradually made smaller. With its untold depths, couldn’t the sea keep alive such huge specimens of life from another age, this sea that never changes while the land masses undergo almost continuous alteration? Couldn’t the heart of the ocean hide the last-remaining varieties of these titanic species, for whom years are centuries and centuries millennia?
But I mustn’t let these fantasies run away with me! Enough of these fairy tales that time has changed for me into harsh realities. I repeat: opinion had crystallized as to the nature of this phenomenon, and the public accepted without argument the existence of a prodigious creature that had nothing in common with the fabled sea serpent.
Yet if some saw it purely as a scientific problem to be solved, more practical people, especially in America and England, were determined to purge the ocean of this daunting monster, to insure the safety of transoceanic travel. The industrial and commercial newspapers dealt with the question chiefly from this viewpoint. The Shipping & Mercantile Gazette, the Lloyd’s List, France’s Packetboat and Maritime & Colonial Review, all the rags devoted to insurance companies—who threatened to raise their premium rates—were unanimous on this point.
Public opinion being pronounced, the States of the Union were the first in the field. In New York preparations were under way for an expedition designed to chase this narwhale. A high-speed frigate, the Abraham Lincoln, was fitted out for putting to sea as soon as possible. The naval arsenals were unlocked for Commander Farragut, who pressed energetically forward with the arming of his frigate.
But, as it always happens, just when a decision had been made to chase the monster, the monster put in no further appearances. For two months nobody heard a word about it. Not a single ship encountered it. Apparently the unicorn had gotten wise to these plots being woven around it. People were constantly babbling about the creature, even via the Atlantic Cable! Accordingly, the wags claimed that this slippery rascal had waylaid some passing telegram and was making the most of it.
So the frigate was equipped for a far-off voyage and armed with fearsome fishing gear, but nobody knew where to steer it. And impatience grew until, on June 2, word came that the Tampico, a steamer on the San Francisco line sailing from California to Shanghai, had sighted the animal again, three weeks before in the northerly seas of the Pacific.
This news caused intense excitement. Not even a 24-hour breather was granted to Commander Farragut. His provisions were loaded on board. His coal bunkers were overflowing. Not a crewman was missing from his post. To cast off, he needed only to fire and stoke his furnaces! Half a day’s delay would have been unforgivable! But Commander Farragut wanted nothing more than to go forth.
I received a letter three hours before the Abraham Lincoln left its Brooklyn
pier; the letter read as follows:
Professor at the Paris Museum
Fifth Avenue Hotel
If you would like to join the expedition on the Abraham Lincoln, the government of the Union will be pleased to regard you as France’s representative in this undertaking. Commander Farragut has a cabin at your disposal.
Very cordially yours,
J. B. HOBSON,
Secretary of the Navy.
- As Master Wishes
THREE SECONDS before the arrival of J. B. Hobson’s letter, I no more dreamed of chasing the unicorn than of trying for the Northwest Passage. Three seconds after reading this letter from the honorable Secretary of the Navy, I understood at last that my true vocation, my sole purpose in life, was to hunt down this disturbing monster and rid the world of it.
Even so, I had just returned from an arduous journey, exhausted and badly needing a rest. I wanted nothing more than to see my country again, my friends, my modest quarters by the Botanical Gardens, my dearly beloved collections! But now nothing could hold me back. I forgot everything else, and without another thought of exhaustion, friends, or collections, I accepted the American government’s offer.
“Besides,” I mused, “all roads lead home to Europe, and our unicorn may be gracious enough to take me toward the coast of France! That fine animal may even let itself be captured in European seas—as a personal favor to me—and I’ll bring back to the Museum of Natural History at least half a meter of its ivory lance!”
But in the meantime I would have to look for this narwhale in the northern Pacific Ocean; which meant returning to France by way of the Antipodes.
“Conseil!” I called in an impatient voice.
Conseil was my manservant. A devoted lad who went with me on all my journeys; a gallant Flemish boy whom I genuinely liked and who returned the compliment; a born stoic, punctilious on principle, habitually hardworking, rarely startled by life’s surprises, very skillful with his hands, efficient in his every duty, and despite his having a name that means “counsel,” never giving advice—not even the unsolicited kind!
From rubbing shoulders with scientists in our little universe by the Botanical Gardens, the boy had come to know a thing or two. In Conseil I had a seasoned specialist in biological classification, an enthusiast who could run with acrobatic agility up and down the whole ladder of branches, groups, classes, subclasses, orders, families, genera, subgenera, species, and varieties. But there his science came to a halt. Classifying was everything to him, so he knew nothing else. Well versed in the theory of classification, he was poorly versed in its practical application, and I doubt that he could tell a sperm whale from a baleen whale! And yet, what a fine, gallant lad!
For the past ten years, Conseil had gone with me wherever science beckoned. Not once did he comment on the length or the hardships of a journey. Never did he object to buckling up his suitcase for any country whatever, China or the Congo, no matter how far off it was. He went here, there, and everywhere in perfect contentment. Moreover, he enjoyed excellent health that defied all ailments, owned solid muscles, but hadn’t a nerve in him, not a sign of nerves—the mental type, I mean.
The lad was thirty years old, and his age to that of his employer was as fifteen is to twenty. Please forgive me for this underhanded way of admitting I had turned forty.
But Conseil had one flaw. He was a fanatic on formality, and he only addressed me in the third person—to the point where it got tiresome.
“Conseil!” I repeated, while feverishly beginning my preparations for departure.
To be sure, I had confidence in this devoted lad. Ordinarily, I never asked whether or not it suited him to go with me on my journeys; but this time an expedition was at issue that could drag on indefinitely, a hazardous undertaking whose purpose was to hunt an animal that could sink a frigate as easily as a walnut shell! There was good reason to stop and think, even for the world’s most emotionless man. What would Conseil say?
“Conseil!” I called a third time.
“Did master summon me?” he said, entering.
“Yes, my boy. Get my things ready, get yours ready. We’re departing in two hours.”
“As master wishes,” Conseil replied serenely.
“We haven’t a moment to lose. Pack as much into my trunk as you can, my traveling kit, my suits, shirts, and socks, don’t bother counting, just squeeze it all in—and hurry!”
“What about master’s collections?” Conseil ventured to observe.
“We’ll deal with them later.”
“What! The archaeotherium, hyracotherium, oreodonts, cheiropotamus, and master’s other fossil skeletons?”
“The hotel will keep them for us.”
“What about master’s live babirusa?”
“They’ll feed it during our absence. Anyhow, we’ll leave instructions to ship the whole menagerie to France.”
“Then we aren’t returning to Paris?” Conseil asked.
“Yes, we are . . . certainly . . . ,” I replied evasively, “but after we make a detour.”
“Whatever detour master wishes.”
“Oh, it’s nothing really! A route slightly less direct, that’s all. We’re leaving on the Abraham Lincoln.”
“As master thinks best,” Conseil replied placidly.
“You see, my friend, it’s an issue of the monster, the notorious narwhale. We’re going to rid the seas of it! The author of a two-volume work, in quarto, on The Mysteries of the Great Ocean Depths has no excuse for not setting sail with Commander Farragut. It’s a glorious mission but also a dangerous one! We don’t know where it will take us! These beasts can be quite unpredictable! But we’re going just the same! We have a commander who’s game for anything!”
“What master does, I’ll do,” Conseil replied.
“But think it over, because I don’t want to hide anything from you. This is one of those voyages from which people don’t always come back!”
“As master wishes.”
A quarter of an hour later, our trunks were ready. Conseil did them in a flash, and I was sure the lad hadn’t missed a thing, because he classified shirts and suits as expertly as birds and mammals.
The hotel elevator dropped us off in the main vestibule on the mezzanine. I went down a short stair leading to the ground floor. I settled my bill at that huge counter that was always under siege by a considerable crowd. I left instructions for shipping my containers of stuffed animals and dried plants to Paris, France. I opened a line of credit sufficient to cover the babirusa and, Conseil at my heels, I jumped into a carriage.
For a fare of twenty francs, the vehicle went down Broadway to Union Square, took Fourth Ave. to its junction with Bowery St., turned into Katrin St. and halted at Pier 34. There the Katrin ferry transferred men, horses, and carriage to Brooklyn, that great New York annex located on the left bank of the East River, and in a few minutes we arrived at the wharf next to which the Abraham Lincoln was vomiting torrents of black smoke from its two funnels.
Our baggage was immediately carried to the deck of the frigate. I rushed aboard. I asked for Commander Farragut. One of the sailors led me to the afterdeck, where I stood in the presence of a smart-looking officer who extended his hand to me.
“Professor Pierre Aronnax?” he said to me.
“The same,” I replied. “Commander Farragut?”
“In person. Welcome aboard, professor. Your cabin is waiting for you.”
I bowed, and letting the commander attend to getting under way, I was taken to the cabin that had been set aside for me.
The Abraham Lincoln had been perfectly chosen and fitted out for its new assignment. It was a high-speed frigate furnished with superheating equipment that allowed the tension of its steam to build to seven atmospheres. Under this pressure the Abraham Lincoln reached an average speed of 18.3 miles per hour, a considerable speed but still not enough to cope with our gigantic cetacean.
The frigate’s interior accommodations complemented its nautical virtues. I was well satisfied with my cabin, which was located in the stern and opened into the officers’ mess.
“We’ll be quite comfortable here,” I told Conseil.
“With all due respect to master,” Conseil replied, “as comfortable as a hermit crab inside the shell of a whelk.”
I left Conseil to the proper stowing of our luggage and climbed on deck to watch the preparations for getting under way.
Just then Commander Farragut was giving orders to cast off the last moorings holding the Abraham Lincoln to its Brooklyn pier. And so if I’d been delayed by a quarter of an hour or even less, the frigate would have gone without me, and I would have missed out on this unearthly, extraordinary, and inconceivable expedition, whose true story might well meet with some skepticism.
But Commander Farragut didn’t want to waste a single day, or even a single hour, in making for those seas where the animal had just been sighted. He summoned his engineer.
“Are we up to pressure?” he asked the man.
“Aye, sir,” the engineer replied.
“Go ahead, then!” Commander Farragut called.
At this order, which was relayed to the engine by means of a compressed-air device, the mechanics activated the start-up wheel. Steam rushed whistling into the gaping valves. Long horizontal pistons groaned and pushed the tie rods of the drive shaft. The blades of the propeller churned the waves with increasing speed, and the Abraham Lincoln moved out majestically amid a spectator-laden escort of some 100 ferries and
The wharves of Brooklyn, and every part of New York bordering the East River, were crowded with curiosity seekers. Departing from 500,000 throats, three cheers burst forth in succession. Thousands of handkerchiefs were waving above these tightly packed masses, hailing the Abraham
Lincoln until it reached the waters of the Hudson River, at the tip of the long peninsula that forms New York City.
The frigate then went along the New Jersey coast—the wonderful right bank of this river, all loaded down with country homes—and passed by the forts to salutes from their biggest cannons. The Abraham Lincoln replied by three times lowering and hoisting the American flag, whose thirty-nine stars gleamed from the gaff of the mizzen sail; then, changing speed to take the buoy-marked channel that curved into the inner bay formed by the spit of Sandy Hook, it hugged this sand-covered strip of land where thousands of spectators acclaimed us one more time.
The escort of boats and tenders still followed the frigate and only left us when we came abreast of the lightship, whose two signal lights mark the entrance of the narrows to Upper New York Bay.
Three o’clock then sounded. The harbor pilot went down into his dinghy and rejoined a little schooner waiting for him to leeward. The furnaces were stoked; the propeller churned the waves more swiftly; the frigate skirted the flat, yellow coast of Long Island; and at eight o’clock in the evening, after the lights of Fire Island had vanished into the northwest, we ran at full steam onto the dark waters of the Atlantic.
- Ned Land
COMMANDER FARRAGUT was a good seaman, worthy of the frigate he commanded. His ship and he were one. He was its very soul. On the cetacean question no doubts arose in his mind, and he didn’t allow the animal’s existence to be disputed aboard his vessel. He believed in it as certain pious women believe in the leviathan from the Book of Job—out of faith, not reason. The monster existed, and he had vowed to rid the seas of it. The man was a sort of Knight of Rhodes, a latter-day Sir Dieudonné of Gozo, on his way to fight an encounter with the dragon devastating the island. Either Commander Farragut would slay the narwhale, or the narwhale would slay Commander Farragut. No middle of the road for these two.
The ship’s officers shared the views of their leader. They could be heard chatting, discussing, arguing, calculating the different chances of an encounter, and observing the vast expanse of the ocean. Voluntary watches from the crosstrees of the topgallant sail were self-imposed by more than one who would have cursed such toil under any other circumstances. As often as the sun swept over its daily arc, the masts were populated with sailors whose feet itched and couldn’t hold still on the planking of the deck below! And the Abraham Lincoln’s stempost hadn’t even cut the suspected waters of the Pacific.
As for the crew, they only wanted to encounter the unicorn, harpoon it, haul it on board, and carve it up. They surveyed the sea with scrupulous care. Besides, Commander Farragut had mentioned that a certain sum of $2,000.00 was waiting for the man who first sighted the animal, be he cabin boy or sailor, mate or officer. I’ll let the reader decide whether eyes got proper exercise aboard the Abraham Lincoln.
As for me, I didn’t lag behind the others and I yielded to no one my share in these daily observations. Our frigate would have had fivescore good reasons for renaming itself the Argus, after that mythological beast with 100 eyes! The lone rebel among us was Conseil, who seemed utterly uninterested in the question exciting us and was out of step with the general enthusiasm on board.
As I said, Commander Farragut had carefully equipped his ship with all the gear needed to fish for a gigantic cetacean. No whaling vessel could have been better armed. We had every known mechanism, from the hand-hurled harpoon, to the blunderbuss firing barbed arrows, to the duck gun with exploding bullets. On the forecastle was mounted the latest model breech-loading cannon, very heavy of barrel and narrow of bore, a weapon that would figure in the Universal Exhibition of 1867. Made in America, this valuable instrument could fire a four-kilogram conical projectile an average distance of sixteen kilometers without the least bother.
So the Abraham Lincoln wasn’t lacking in means of destruction. But it had better still. It had Ned Land, the King of Harpooners.
Gifted with uncommon manual ability, Ned Land was a Canadian who had no equal in his dangerous trade. Dexterity, coolness, bravery, and cunning were virtues he possessed to a high degree, and it took a truly crafty baleen whale or an exceptionally astute sperm whale to elude the thrusts of his harpoon.
Ned Land was about forty years old. A man of great height—over six English feet—he was powerfully built, serious in manner, not very sociable, sometimes headstrong, and quite ill-tempered when crossed. His looks caught the attention, and above all the strength of his gaze, which gave a unique emphasis to his facial appearance.
Commander Farragut, to my thinking, had made a wise move in hiring on this man. With his eye and his throwing arm, he was worth the whole crew all by himself. I can do no better than to compare him with a powerful telescope that could double as a cannon always ready to fire.
To say Canadian is to say French, and as unsociable as Ned Land was, I must admit he took a definite liking to me. No doubt it was my nationality that attracted him. It was an opportunity for him to speak, and for me to hear, that old Rabelaisian dialect still used in some Canadian provinces. The harpooner’s family originated in Quebec, and they were already a line of bold fishermen back in the days when this town still belonged to France.
Little by little Ned developed a taste for chatting, and I loved hearing the tales of his adventures in the polar seas. He described his fishing trips and his battles with great natural lyricism. His tales took on the form of an epic poem, and I felt I was hearing some Canadian Homer reciting his Iliad of the High Arctic regions.
I’m writing of this bold companion as I currently know him. Because we’ve become old friends, united in that permanent comradeship born and cemented during only the most frightful crises! Ah, my gallant Ned! I ask only to live 100 years more, the longer to remember you!
And now, what were Ned Land’s views on this question of a marine monster? I must admit that he flatly didn’t believe in the unicorn, and alone on board, he didn’t share the general conviction. He avoided even dealing with the subject, for which one day I felt compelled to take him to task.
During the magnificent evening of June 25—in other words, three weeks after our departure—the frigate lay abreast of Cabo Blanco, thirty miles to leeward of the coast of Patagonia. We had crossed the Tropic of Capricorn, and the Strait of Magellan opened less than 700 miles to the south. Before eight days were out, the Abraham Lincoln would plow the waves of the Pacific.
Seated on the afterdeck, Ned Land and I chatted about one thing and another, staring at that mysterious sea whose depths to this day are beyond the reach of human eyes. Quite naturally, I led our conversation around to the giant unicorn, and I weighed our expedition’s various chances for success or failure. Then, seeing that Ned just let me talk without saying much himself, I pressed him more closely.
“Ned,” I asked him, “how can you still doubt the reality of this cetacean we’re after? Do you have any particular reasons for being so skeptical?”
The harpooner stared at me awhile before replying, slapped his broad forehead in one of his standard gestures, closed his eyes as if to collect himself, and finally said:
“Just maybe, Professor Aronnax.”
“But Ned, you’re a professional whaler, a man familiar with all the great marine mammals—your mind should easily accept this hypothesis of an enormous cetacean, and you ought to be the last one to doubt it under these circumstances!”
“That’s just where you’re mistaken, professor,” Ned replied. “The common man may still believe in fabulous comets crossing outer space, or in prehistoric monsters living at the earth’s core, but astronomers and geologists don’t swallow such fairy tales. It’s the same with whalers. I’ve chased plenty of cetaceans, I’ve harpooned a good number, I’ve killed several. But no matter how powerful and well armed they were, neither their tails or their tusks could puncture the sheet-iron plates of a steamer.”
“Even so, Ned, people mention vessels that narwhale tusks have run clean through.”
“Wooden ships maybe,” the Canadian replied. “But I’ve never seen the like. So till I have proof to the contrary, I’ll deny that baleen whales, sperm whales, or unicorns can do any such thing.”
“Listen to me, Ned—”
“No, no, professor. I’ll go along with anything you want except that. Some gigantic devilfish maybe . . . ?”
“Even less likely, Ned. The devilfish is merely a mollusk, and even this name hints at its semiliquid flesh, because it’s Latin meaning soft one. The devilfish doesn’t belong to the vertebrate branch, and even if it were 500 feet long, it would still be utterly harmless to ships like the Scotia or the Abraham Lincoln. Consequently, the feats of krakens or other monsters of that ilk must be relegated to the realm of fiction.”
“So, Mr. Naturalist,” Ned Land continued in a bantering tone, “you’ll just keep on believing in the existence of some enormous cetacean . . . ?”
“Yes, Ned, I repeat it with a conviction backed by factual logic. I believe in the existence of a mammal with a powerful constitution, belonging to the vertebrate branch like baleen whales, sperm whales, or dolphins, and armed with a tusk made of horn that has tremendous penetrating power.”
“Humph!” the harpooner put in, shaking his head with the attitude of a man who doesn’t want to be convinced.
“Note well, my fine Canadian,” I went on, “if such an animal exists, if it lives deep in the ocean, if it frequents the liquid strata located miles beneath the surface of the water, it needs to have a constitution so solid, it defies all comparison.”
“And why this powerful constitution?” Ned asked.
“Because it takes incalculable strength just to live in those deep strata and withstand their pressure.”
“Oh really?” Ned said, tipping me a wink.
“Oh really, and I can prove it to you with a few simple figures.”
“Bosh!” Ned replied. “You can make figures do anything you want!”
“In business, Ned, but not in mathematics. Listen to me. Let’s accept that the pressure of one atmosphere is represented by the pressure of a column of water thirty-two feet high. In reality, such a column of water wouldn’t be quite so high because here we’re dealing with salt water, which is denser than fresh water. Well then, when you dive under the waves, Ned, for every thirty-two feet of water above you, your body is tolerating the pressure of one more atmosphere, in other words, one more kilogram per each square centimeter on your body’s surface. So it follows that at 320 feet down, this pressure is equal to ten atmospheres, to 100 atmospheres at 3,200 feet, and to 1,000 atmospheres at 32,000 feet, that is, at about two and a half vertical leagues down. Which is tantamount to saying that if you could reach such a depth in the ocean, each square centimeter on your body’s surface would be experiencing 1,000 kilograms of pressure. Now, my gallant Ned, do you know how many square centimeters you have on your bodily surface?”
“I haven’t the foggiest notion, Professor Aronnax.”
“As many as that?”
“Yes, and since the atmosphere’s pressure actually weighs slightly more than one kilogram per square centimeter, your 17,000 square centimeters are tolerating 17,568 kilograms at this very moment.”
“Without my noticing it?”
“Without your noticing it. And if you aren’t crushed by so much pressure, it’s because the air penetrates the interior of your body with equal pressure. When the inside and outside pressures are in perfect balance, they neutralize each other and allow you to tolerate them without discomfort. But in the water it’s another story.”
“Yes, I see,” Ned replied, growing more interested. “Because the water surrounds me but doesn’t penetrate me.”
“Precisely, Ned. So at thirty-two feet beneath the surface of the sea, you’ll undergo a pressure of 17,568 kilograms; at 320 feet, or ten times greater pressure, it’s 175,680 kilograms; at 3,200 feet, or 100 times greater pressure, it’s 1,756,800 kilograms; finally, at 32,000 feet, or 1,000 times greater pressure, it’s 17,568,000 kilograms; in other words, you’d be squashed as flat as if you’d just been yanked from between the plates of a hydraulic press!”
“Fire and brimstone!” Ned put in.
“All right then, my fine harpooner, if vertebrates several hundred meters long and proportionate in bulk live at such depths, their surface areas make up millions of square centimeters, and the pressure they undergo must be assessed in billions of kilograms. Calculate, then, how much resistance of bone structure and strength of constitution they’d need in order to withstand such pressures!”
“They’d need to be manufactured,” Ned Land replied, “from sheet-iron plates eight inches thick, like ironclad frigates.”
“Right, Ned, and then picture the damage such a mass could inflict if it were launched with the speed of an express train against a ship’s hull.”
“Yes . . . indeed . . . maybe,” the Canadian replied, staggered by these figures but still not willing to give in.
“Well, have I convinced you?”
“You’ve convinced me of one thing, Mr. Naturalist. That deep in the sea, such animals would need to be just as strong as you say—if they exist.”
“But if they don’t exist, my stubborn harpooner, how do you explain the accident that happened to the Scotia?”
“It’s maybe . . . ,” Ned said, hesitating.
“Because . . . it just couldn’t be true!” the Canadian replied, unconsciously echoing a famous catchphrase of the scientist Arago.
But this reply proved nothing, other than how bullheaded the harpooner could be. That day I pressed him no further. The Scotia’s accident was undeniable. Its hole was real enough that it had to be plugged up, and I don’t think a hole’s existence can be more emphatically proven. Now then, this hole didn’t make itself, and since it hadn’t resulted from underwater rocks or underwater machines, it must have been caused by the perforating tool of some animal.
Now, for all the reasons put forward to this point, I believed that this animal was a member of the branch Vertebrata, class Mammalia, group Pisciforma, and finally, order Cetacea. As for the family in which it would be placed (baleen whale, sperm whale, or dolphin), the genus to which it belonged, and the species in which it would find its proper home, these questions had to be left for later. To answer them called for dissecting this unknown monster; to dissect it called for catching it; to catch it called for harpooning it—which was Ned Land’s business; to
harpoon it called for sighting it—which was the crew’s business; and to sight it called for encountering it—which was a chancy business.
- At Random!
FOR SOME WHILE the voyage of the Abraham Lincoln was marked by no incident. But one circumstance arose that displayed Ned Land’s marvelous skills and showed just how much confidence we could place in him.
Off the Falkland Islands on June 30, the frigate came in contact with a fleet of American whalers, and we learned that they hadn’t seen the narwhale. But one of them, the captain of the Monroe, knew that Ned Land had shipped aboard the Abraham Lincoln and asked his help in hunting a baleen whale that was in sight. Anxious to see Ned Land at work, Commander Farragut authorized him to make his way aboard the Monroe. And the Canadian had such good luck that with a right-and-left shot, he harpooned not one whale but two, striking the first straight to the heart and catching the other after a few minutes’ chase!
Assuredly, if the monster ever had to deal with Ned Land’s harpoon, I wouldn’t bet on the monster.
The frigate sailed along the east coast of South America with prodigious speed. By July 3 we were at the entrance to the Strait of Magellan, abreast of Cabo de las Virgenes. But Commander Farragut was unwilling to attempt this tortuous passageway and maneuvered instead to double
The crew sided with him unanimously. Indeed, were we likely to encounter the narwhale in such a cramped strait? Many of our sailors swore that the monster couldn’t negotiate this passageway simply because “he’s too big for it!”
Near three o’clock in the afternoon on July 6, fifteen miles south of shore, the Abraham Lincoln doubled that solitary islet at the tip of the South American continent, that stray rock Dutch seamen had named Cape Horn after their hometown of Hoorn. Our course was set for the northwest, and the next day our frigate’s propeller finally churned the waters of the Pacific.
“Open your eyes! Open your eyes!” repeated the sailors of the Abraham Lincoln.
And they opened amazingly wide. Eyes and spyglasses (a bit dazzled, it is true, by the vista of $2,000.00) didn’t remain at rest for an instant. Day and night we observed the surface of the ocean, and those with nyctalopic eyes, whose ability to see in the dark increased their chances by fifty percent, had an excellent shot at winning the prize.
As for me, I was hardly drawn by the lure of money and yet was far from the least attentive on board. Snatching only a few minutes for meals and a few hours for sleep, come rain or come shine, I no longer left the ship’s deck. Sometimes bending over the forecastle railings, sometimes leaning against the sternrail, I eagerly scoured that cotton-colored wake that whitened the ocean as far as the eye could see! And how many times I shared the excitement of general staff and crew when some unpredictable whale lifted its blackish back above the waves. In an instant the frigate’s deck would become densely populated. The cowls over the companionways would vomit a torrent of sailors and officers. With panting chests and anxious eyes, we each would observe the cetacean’s movements. I stared; I stared until I nearly went blind from a worn-out retina, while Conseil, as stoic as ever, kept repeating to me in a calm tone:
“If master’s eyes would kindly stop bulging, master will see farther!”
But what a waste of energy! The Abraham Lincoln would change course and race after the animal sighted, only to find an ordinary baleen whale or a common sperm whale that soon disappeared amid a chorus of curses!
However, the weather held good. Our voyage was proceeding under the most favorable conditions. By then it was the bad season in these southernmost regions, because July in this zone corresponds to our January in Europe; but the sea remained smooth and easily visible over a vast perimeter.
Ned Land still kept up the most tenacious skepticism; beyond his spells on watch, he pretended that he never even looked at the surface of the waves, at least while no whales were in sight. And yet the marvelous power of his vision could have performed yeoman service. But this stubborn Canadian spent eight hours out of every twelve reading or sleeping in his cabin. A hundred times I chided him for his unconcern.
“Bah!” he replied. “Nothing’s out there, Professor Aronnax, and if there is some animal, what chance would we have of spotting it? Can’t you see we’re just wandering around at random? People say they’ve sighted this slippery beast again in the Pacific high seas—I’m truly willing to believe it, but two months have already gone by since then, and judging by your narwhale’s personality, it hates growing moldy from hanging out too long in the same waterways! It’s blessed with a terrific gift for getting around. Now, professor, you know even better than I that nature doesn’t violate good sense, and she wouldn’t give some naturally slow animal the ability to move swiftly if it hadn’t a need to use that talent. So if the beast does exist, it’s already long gone!”
I had no reply to this. Obviously we were just groping blindly. But how else could we go about it? All the same, our chances were automatically pretty limited. Yet everyone still felt confident of success, and not a sailor on board would have bet against the narwhale appearing, and soon.
On July 20 we cut the Tropic of Capricorn at longitude 105 degrees, and by the 27th of the same month, we had cleared the equator on the 110th meridian. These bearings determined, the frigate took a more decisive westward heading and tackled the seas of the central Pacific. Commander Farragut felt, and with good reason, that it was best to stay in deep waters and keep his distance from continents or islands, whose neighborhoods the animal always seemed to avoid—“No doubt,” our bosun said, “because there isn’t enough water for him!” So the frigate kept well out when passing the Tuamotu, Marquesas, and Hawaiian Islands, then cut the Tropic of Cancer at longitude 132 degrees and headed for the seas of China.
We were finally in the area of the monster’s latest antics! And in all honesty, shipboard conditions became life-threatening. Hearts were pounding hideously, gearing up for futures full of incurable aneurysms. The entire crew suffered from a nervous excitement that it’s beyond me to describe. Nobody ate, nobody slept. Twenty times a day some error in perception, or the optical illusions of some sailor perched in the crosstrees, would cause intolerable anguish, and this emotion, repeated twenty times over, kept us in a state of irritability so intense that a reaction was bound to follow.
And this reaction wasn’t long in coming. For three months, during which each day seemed like a century, the Abraham Lincoln plowed all the northerly seas of the Pacific, racing after whales sighted, abruptly veering off course, swerving sharply from one tack to another, stopping suddenly, putting on steam and reversing engines in quick succession, at the risk of stripping its gears, and it didn’t leave a single point unexplored from the beaches of Japan to the coasts of America. And we found nothing! Nothing except an immenseness of deserted waves! Nothing remotely resembling a gigantic narwhale, or an underwater islet, or a derelict shipwreck, or a runaway reef, or anything the least bit unearthly!
So the reaction set in. At first, discouragement took hold of people’s minds, opening the door to disbelief. A new feeling appeared on board, made up of three-tenths shame and seven-tenths fury. The crew called themselves “out-and-out fools” for being hoodwinked by a fairy tale, then grew steadily more furious! The mountains of arguments amassed over a year collapsed all at once, and each man now wanted only to catch up on his eating and sleeping, to make up for the time he had so stupidly sacrificed.
With typical human fickleness, they jumped from one extreme to the other. Inevitably, the most enthusiastic supporters of the undertaking became its most energetic opponents. This reaction mounted upward from the bowels of the ship, from the quarters of the bunker hands to the messroom of the general staff; and for certain, if it hadn’t been for Commander Farragut’s characteristic stubbornness, the frigate would ultimately have put back to that cape in the south.
But this futile search couldn’t drag on much longer. The Abraham Lincoln had done everything it could to succeed and had no reason to blame itself. Never had the crew of an American naval craft shown more patience and zeal; they weren’t responsible for this failure; there was nothing to do but go home.
A request to this effect was presented to the commander. The commander stood his ground. His sailors couldn’t hide their discontent, and their work suffered because of it. I’m unwilling to say that there was mutiny on board, but after a reasonable period of intransigence, Commander Farragut, like Christopher Columbus before him, asked for a grace period of just three days more. After this three-day delay, if the monster hadn’t appeared, our helmsman would give three turns of the wheel, and the Abraham Lincoln would chart a course toward European seas.
This promise was given on November 2. It had the immediate effect of reviving the crew’s failing spirits. The ocean was observed with renewed care. Each man wanted one last look with which to sum up his experience. Spyglasses functioned with feverish energy. A supreme challenge had been issued to the giant narwhale, and the latter had no acceptable excuse for ignoring this Summons to Appear!
Two days passed. The Abraham Lincoln stayed at half steam. On the offchance that the animal might be found in these waterways, a thousand methods were used to spark its interest or rouse it from its apathy. Enormous sides of bacon were trailed in our wake, to the great satisfaction, I must say, of assorted sharks. While the Abraham Lincoln heaved to, its longboats radiated in every direction around it and didn’t leave a single point of the sea unexplored. But the evening of November 4 arrived with this underwater mystery still unsolved.
At noon the next day, November 5, the agreed-upon delay expired. After a position fix, true to his promise, Commander Farragut would have to set his course for the southeast and leave the northerly regions of the Pacific decisively behind.
By then the frigate lay in latitude 31 degrees 15’ north and longitude 136 degrees 42’ east. The shores of Japan were less than 200 miles to our leeward. Night was coming on. Eight o’clock had just struck. Huge clouds covered the moon’s disk, then in its first quarter. The sea undulated placidly beneath the frigate’s stempost.
Just then I was in the bow, leaning over the starboard rail. Conseil, stationed beside me, stared straight ahead. Roosting in the shrouds, the crew examined the horizon, which shrank and darkened little by little. Officers were probing the increasing gloom with their night glasses. Sometimes the murky ocean sparkled beneath moonbeams that darted between the fringes of two clouds. Then all traces of light vanished into the darkness.
Observing Conseil, I discovered that, just barely, the gallant lad had fallen under the general influence. At least so I thought. Perhaps his nerves were twitching with curiosity for the first time in history.
“Come on, Conseil!” I told him. “Here’s your last chance to pocket that $2,000.00!”
“If master will permit my saying so,” Conseil replied, “I never expected to win that prize, and the Union government could have promised $100,000.00 and been none the poorer.”
“You’re right, Conseil, it turned out to be a foolish business after all, and we jumped into it too hastily. What a waste of time, what a futile expense of emotion! Six months ago we could have been back in France—”
“In master’s little apartment,” Conseil answered. “In master’s museum! And by now I would have classified master’s fossils. And master’s babirusa would be ensconced in its cage at the zoo in the Botanical Gardens, and it would have attracted every curiosity seeker in town!”
“Quite so, Conseil, and what’s more, I imagine that people will soon be poking fun at us!”
“To be sure,” Conseil replied serenely, “I do think they’ll have fun at master’s expense. And must it be said . . . ?”
“It must be said, Conseil.”
“Well then, it will serve master right!”
“When one has the honor of being an expert as master is, one mustn’t lay himself open to—”
Conseil didn’t have time to complete the compliment. In the midst of the general silence, a voice became audible. It was Ned Land’s voice, and it shouted:
“Ahoy! There’s the thing in question, abreast of us to leeward!”
- At Full Steam
AT THIS SHOUT the entire crew rushed toward the harpooner—commander, officers, mates, sailors, cabin boys, down to engineers leaving their machinery and stokers neglecting their furnaces. The order was given to stop, and the frigate merely coasted.
By then the darkness was profound, and as good as the Canadian’s eyes were, I still wondered how he could see—and what he had seen. My heart was pounding fit to burst.
But Ned Land was not mistaken, and we all spotted the object his hand was indicating.
Two cable lengths off the Abraham Lincoln’s starboard quarter, the sea seemed to be lit up from underneath. This was no mere phosphorescent phenomenon, that much was unmistakable. Submerged some fathoms below the surface of the water, the monster gave off that very intense but inexplicable glow that several captains had mentioned in their reports. This magnificent radiance had to come from some force with a great illuminating capacity. The edge of its light swept over the sea in an immense, highly elongated oval, condensing at the center into a blazing core whose unbearable glow diminished by degrees outward.
“It’s only a cluster of phosphorescent particles!” exclaimed one of the officers.
“No, sir,” I answered with conviction. “Not even angel-wing clams or salps have ever given off such a powerful light. That glow is basically electric in nature. Besides . . . look, look! It’s shifting! It’s moving back and forth! It’s darting at us!”
A universal shout went up from the frigate.
“Quiet!” Commander Farragut said. “Helm hard to leeward! Reverse engines!”
Sailors rushed to the helm, engineers to their machinery. Under reverse steam immediately, the Abraham Lincoln beat to port, sweeping in a semicircle.
“Right your helm! Engines forward!” Commander Farragut called.
These orders were executed, and the frigate swiftly retreated from this core of light.
My mistake. It wanted to retreat, but the unearthly animal came at us with a speed double our own.
We gasped. More stunned than afraid, we stood mute and motionless. The animal caught up with us, played with us. It made a full circle around the frigate—then doing fourteen knots—and wrapped us in sheets of electricity that were like luminous dust. Then it retreated two or three miles, leaving a phosphorescent trail comparable to those swirls of steam that shoot behind the locomotive of an express train. Suddenly, all the way from the dark horizon where it had gone to gather momentum, the monster abruptly dashed toward the Abraham Lincoln with frightening speed, stopped sharply twenty feet from our side plates, and died out—not by diving under the water, since its glow did not recede gradually—but all at once, as if the source of this brilliant emanation had suddenly dried up. Then it reappeared on the other side of the ship, either by circling around us or by gliding under our hull. At any instant a collision could have occurred that would have been fatal to us.
Meanwhile I was astonished at the frigate’s maneuvers. It was fleeing, not fighting. Built to pursue, it was being pursued, and I commented on this to Commander Farragut. His face, ordinarily so emotionless, was stamped with indescribable astonishment.
“Professor Aronnax,” he answered me, “I don’t know what kind of fearsome creature I’m up against, and I don’t want my frigate running foolish risks in all this darkness. Besides, how should we attack this unknown creature, how should we defend ourselves against it? Let’s wait for daylight, and then we’ll play a different role.”
“You’ve no further doubts, commander, as to the nature of this animal?”
“No, sir, it’s apparently a gigantic narwhale, and an electric one to boot.”
“Maybe,” I added, “it’s no more approachable than an electric eel or an electric ray!”
“Right,” the commander replied. “And if it has their power to electrocute, it’s surely the most dreadful animal ever conceived by our Creator. That’s why I’ll keep on my guard, sir.”
The whole crew stayed on their feet all night long. No one even thought of sleeping. Unable to compete with the monster’s speed, the Abraham Lincoln slowed down and stayed at half steam. For its part, the narwhale mimicked the frigate, simply rode with the waves, and seemed determined not to forsake the field of battle.
However, near midnight it disappeared, or to use a more appropriate expression, “it went out,” like a huge glowworm. Had it fled from us? We were duty bound to fear so rather than hope so. But at 12:53 in the morning, a deafening hiss became audible, resembling the sound made by a waterspout expelled with tremendous intensity.
By then Commander Farragut, Ned Land, and I were on the afterdeck, peering eagerly into the profound gloom.
“Ned Land,” the commander asked, “you’ve often heard whales bellowing?”
“Often, sir, but never a whale like this, whose sighting earned me $2,000.00.”
“Correct, the prize is rightfully yours. But tell me, isn’t that the noise cetaceans make when they spurt water from their blowholes?”
“The very noise, sir, but this one’s way louder. So there can be no mistake. There’s definitely a whale lurking in our waters. With your permission, sir,” the harpooner added, “tomorrow at daybreak we’ll have words with it.”
“If it’s in a mood to listen to you, Mr. Land,” I replied in a tone far from convinced.
“Let me get within four harpoon lengths of it,” the Canadian shot back, “and it had better listen!”
“But to get near it,” the commander went on, “I’d have to put a whaleboat at your disposal?”
“That would be gambling with the lives of my men.”
“And with my own!” the harpooner replied simply.
Near two o’clock in the morning, the core of light reappeared, no less intense, five miles to windward of the Abraham Lincoln. Despite the distance, despite the noise of wind and sea, we could distinctly hear the fearsome thrashings of the animal’s tail, and even its panting breath. Seemingly, the moment this enormous narwhale came up to breathe at the surface of the ocean, air was sucked into its lungs like steam into the huge cylinders of a 2,000-horsepower engine.
“Hmm!” I said to myself. “A cetacean as powerful as a whole cavalry regiment—now that’s a whale of a whale!”
We stayed on the alert until daylight, getting ready for action. Whaling gear was set up along the railings. Our chief officer loaded the blunderbusses, which can launch harpoons as far as a mile, and long duck guns with exploding bullets that can mortally wound even the most powerful animals. Ned Land was content to sharpen his harpoon, a dreadful weapon in his hands.
At six o’clock day began to break, and with the dawn’s early light, the narwhale’s electric glow disappeared. At seven o’clock the day was well along, but a very dense morning mist shrank the horizon, and our best spyglasses were unable to pierce it. The outcome: disappointment and anger.
I hoisted myself up to the crosstrees of the mizzen sail. Some officers were already perched on the mastheads.
At eight o’clock the mist rolled ponderously over the waves, and its huge curls were lifting little by little. The horizon grew wider and clearer all at once.
Suddenly, just as on the previous evening, Ned Land’s voice was audible.
“There’s the thing in question, astern to port!” the harpooner shouted.
Every eye looked toward the point indicated.
There, a mile and a half from the frigate, a long blackish body emerged a meter above the waves. Quivering violently, its tail was creating a considerable eddy. Never had caudal equipment thrashed the sea with such power. An immense wake of glowing whiteness marked the animal’s track, sweeping in a long curve.
Our frigate drew nearer to the cetacean. I examined it with a completely open mind. Those reports from the Shannon and the Helvetia had slightly exaggerated its dimensions, and I put its length at only 250 feet. Its girth was more difficult to judge, but all in all, the animal seemed to be wonderfully proportioned in all three dimensions.
While I was observing this phenomenal creature, two jets of steam and water sprang from its blowholes and rose to an altitude of forty meters, which settled for me its mode of breathing. From this I finally concluded that it belonged to the branch Vertebrata, class Mammalia, subclass Monodelphia, group Pisciforma, order Cetacea, family . . . but here I couldn’t make up my mind. The order Cetacea consists of three families, baleen whales, sperm whales, dolphins, and it’s in this last group that narwhales are placed. Each of these families is divided into several genera, each genus into species, each species into varieties. So I was still missing variety, species, genus, and family, but no doubt I would complete my classifying with the aid of Heaven and Commander Farragut.
The crew were waiting impatiently for orders from their leader. The latter, after carefully observing the animal, called for his engineer. The engineer raced over.
“Sir,” the commander said, “are you up to pressure?”
“Aye, sir,” the engineer replied.
“Fine. Stoke your furnaces and clap on full steam!”
Three cheers greeted this order. The hour of battle had sounded. A few moments later, the frigate’s two funnels vomited torrents of black smoke, and its deck quaked from the trembling of its boilers.
Driven forward by its powerful propeller, the Abraham Lincoln headed straight for the animal. Unconcerned, the latter let us come within half a cable length; then, not bothering to dive, it got up a little speed, retreated, and was content to keep its distance.
This chase dragged on for about three-quarters of an hour without the frigate gaining two fathoms on the cetacean. At this rate, it was obvious that we would never catch up with it.
Infuriated, Commander Farragut kept twisting the thick tuft of hair that flourished below his chin.
“Ned Land!” he called.
The Canadian reported at once.
“Well, Mr. Land,” the commander asked, “do you still advise putting my longboats to sea?”
“No, sir,” Ned Land replied, “because that beast won’t be caught against its will.”
“Then what should we do?”
“Stoke up more steam, sir, if you can. As for me, with your permission I’ll go perch on the bobstays under the bowsprit, and if we can get within a harpoon length, I’ll harpoon the brute.”
“Go to it, Ned,” Commander Farragut replied. “Engineer,” he called, “keep the pressure mounting!”
Ned Land made his way to his post. The furnaces were urged into greater activity; our propeller did forty-three revolutions per minute, and steam shot from the valves. Heaving the log, we verified that the
Abraham Lincoln was going at the rate of 18.5 miles per hour.
But that damned animal also did a speed of 18.5.
For the next hour our frigate kept up this pace without gaining a fathom! This was humiliating for one of the fastest racers in the American navy. The crew were working up into a blind rage. Sailor after sailor heaved insults at the monster, which couldn’t be bothered with answering back. Commander Farragut was no longer content simply to twist his goatee; he chewed on it.
The engineer was summoned once again.
“You’re up to maximum pressure?” the commander asked him.
“Aye, sir,” the engineer replied.
“And your valves are charged to . . . ?”
“To six and a half atmospheres.”
“Charge them to ten atmospheres.”
A typical American order if I ever heard one. It would have sounded just fine during some Mississippi paddle-wheeler race, to “outstrip the competition!”
“Conseil,” I said to my gallant servant, now at my side, “you realize that we’ll probably blow ourselves skyhigh?”
“As master wishes!” Conseil replied.
All right, I admit it: I did wish to run this risk!
The valves were charged. More coal was swallowed by the furnaces. Ventilators shot torrents of air over the braziers. The Abraham Lincoln’s speed increased. Its masts trembled down to their blocks, and swirls of smoke could barely squeeze through the narrow funnels.
We heaved the log a second time.
“Well, helmsman?” Commander Farragut asked.
“19.3 miles per hour, sir.”
“Keep stoking the furnaces.”
The engineer did so. The pressure gauge marked ten atmospheres. But no doubt the cetacean itself had “warmed up,” because without the least trouble, it also did 19.3.
What a chase! No, I can’t describe the excitement that shook my very being. Ned Land stayed at his post, harpoon in hand. Several times the animal let us approach.
“We’re overhauling it!” the Canadian would shout.
Then, just as he was about to strike, the cetacean would steal off with a swiftness I could estimate at no less than thirty miles per hour. And even at our maximum speed, it took the liberty of thumbing its nose at the frigate by running a full circle around us! A howl of fury burst from every throat!
By noon we were no farther along than at eight o’clock in the morning.
Commander Farragut then decided to use more direct methods.
“Bah!” he said. “So that animal is faster than the Abraham Lincoln. All right, we’ll see if it can outrun our conical shells! Mate, man the gun in the bow!”
Our forecastle cannon was immediately loaded and leveled. The cannoneer fired a shot, but his shell passed some feet above the
cetacean, which stayed half a mile off.
“Over to somebody with better aim!” the commander shouted. “And $500.00 to the man who can pierce that infernal beast!”
Calm of eye, cool of feature, an old gray-bearded gunner—I can see him to this day—approached the cannon, put it in position, and took aim for a good while. There was a mighty explosion, mingled with cheers from the crew.
The shell reached its target; it hit the animal, but not in the usual fashion—it bounced off that rounded surface and vanished into the sea two miles out.
“Oh drat!” said the old gunner in his anger. “That rascal must be covered with six-inch armor plate!”
“Curse the beast!” Commander Farragut shouted.
The hunt was on again, and Commander Farragut leaned over to me, saying:
“I’ll chase that animal till my frigate explodes!”
“Yes,” I replied, “and nobody would blame you!”
We could still hope that the animal would tire out and not be as insensitive to exhaustion as our steam engines. But no such luck. Hour after hour went by without it showing the least sign of weariness.
However, to the Abraham Lincoln’s credit, it must be said that we struggled on with tireless persistence. I estimate that we covered a distance of at least 500 kilometers during this ill-fated day of November 6. But night fell and wrapped the surging ocean in its shadows.
By then I thought our expedition had come to an end, that we would never see this fantastic animal again. I was mistaken.
At 10:50 in the evening, that electric light reappeared three miles to windward of the frigate, just as clear and intense as the night before.
The narwhale seemed motionless. Was it asleep perhaps, weary from its workday, just riding with the waves? This was our chance, and Commander Farragut was determined to take full advantage of it.
He gave his orders. The Abraham Lincoln stayed at half steam, advancing cautiously so as not to awaken its adversary. In midocean it’s not unusual to encounter whales so sound asleep they can successfully be attacked, and Ned Land had harpooned more than one in its slumber. The Canadian went to resume his post on the bobstays under the bowsprit.
The frigate approached without making a sound, stopped two cable lengths from the animal and coasted. Not a soul breathed on board. A profound silence reigned over the deck. We were not 100 feet from the blazing core of light, whose glow grew stronger and dazzled the eyes.
Just then, leaning over the forecastle railing, I saw Ned Land below me, one hand grasping the martingale, the other brandishing his dreadful harpoon. Barely twenty feet separated him from the motionless animal.
All at once his arm shot forward and the harpoon was launched. I heard the weapon collide resonantly, as if it had hit some hard substance.
The electric light suddenly went out, and two enormous waterspouts crashed onto the deck of the frigate, racing like a torrent from stem to stern, toppling crewmen, breaking spare masts and yardarms from their lashings.
A hideous collision occurred, and thrown over the rail with no time to catch hold of it, I was hurled into the sea.
- A Whale of Unknown Species
ALTHOUGH I WAS startled by this unexpected descent, I at least have a very clear recollection of my sensations during it.
At first I was dragged about twenty feet under. I’m a good swimmer, without claiming to equal such other authors as Byron and Edgar Allan Poe, who were master divers, and I didn’t lose my head on the way down. With two vigorous kicks of the heel, I came back to the surface of the sea.
My first concern was to look for the frigate. Had the crew seen me go overboard? Was the Abraham Lincoln tacking about? Would Commander Farragut put a longboat to sea? Could I hope to be rescued?
The gloom was profound. I glimpsed a black mass disappearing eastward, where its running lights were fading out in the distance. It was the frigate. I felt I was done for.
“Help! Help!” I shouted, swimming desperately toward the Abraham Lincoln.
My clothes were weighing me down. The water glued them to my body, they were paralyzing my movements. I was sinking! I was suffocating . . . !
This was the last shout I gave. My mouth was filling with water. I struggled against being dragged into the depths. . . .
Suddenly my clothes were seized by energetic hands, I felt myself pulled abruptly back to the surface of the sea, and yes, I heard these words pronounced in my ear:
“If master would oblige me by leaning on my shoulder, master will swim with much greater ease.”
With one hand I seized the arm of my loyal Conseil.
“You!” I said. “You!”
“Myself,” Conseil replied, “and at master’s command.”
“That collision threw you overboard along with me?”
“Not at all. But being in master’s employ, I followed master.”
The fine lad thought this only natural!
“What about the frigate?” I asked.
“The frigate?” Conseil replied, rolling over on his back. “I think master had best not depend on it to any great extent!”
“What are you saying?”
“I’m saying that just as I jumped overboard, I heard the men at the helm shout, ‘Our propeller and rudder are smashed!’ ”
“Yes, smashed by the monster’s tusk! I believe it’s the sole injury the Abraham Lincoln has sustained. But most inconveniently for us, the ship can no longer steer.”
“Then we’re done for!”
“Perhaps,” Conseil replied serenely. “However, we still have a few hours before us, and in a few hours one can do a great many things!”
Conseil’s unflappable composure cheered me up. I swam more vigorously, but hampered by clothes that were as restricting as a cloak made of lead, I was managing with only the greatest difficulty. Conseil noticed as much.
“Master will allow me to make an incision,” he said.
And he slipped an open clasp knife under my clothes, slitting them from top to bottom with one swift stroke. Then he briskly undressed me while I swam for us both.
I then did Conseil the same favor, and we continued to “navigate” side by side.
But our circumstances were no less dreadful. Perhaps they hadn’t seen us go overboard; and even if they had, the frigate—being undone by its rudder—couldn’t return to leeward after us. So we could count only on its longboats.
Conseil had coolly reasoned out this hypothesis and laid his plans accordingly. An amazing character, this boy; in midocean, this stoic lad seemed right at home!
So, having concluded that our sole chance for salvation lay in being picked up by the Abraham Lincoln’s longboats, we had to take steps to wait for them as long as possible. Consequently, I decided to divide our energies so we wouldn’t both be worn out at the same time, and this was the arrangement: while one of us lay on his back, staying motionless with arms crossed and legs outstretched, the other would swim and propel his partner forward. This towing role was to last no longer than ten minutes, and by relieving each other in this way, we could stay afloat for hours, perhaps even until daybreak.
Slim chance, but hope springs eternal in the human breast! Besides, there were two of us. Lastly, I can vouch—as improbable as it seems—that even if I had wanted to destroy all my illusions, even if I had been willing to “give in to despair,” I could not have done so!
The cetacean had rammed our frigate at about eleven o’clock in the evening. I therefore calculated on eight hours of swimming until sunrise. A strenuous task, but feasible, thanks to our relieving each other. The sea was pretty smooth and barely tired us. Sometimes I tried to peer through the dense gloom, which was broken only by the phosphorescent flickers coming from our movements. I stared at the luminous ripples breaking over my hands, shimmering sheets spattered with blotches of bluish gray. It seemed as if we’d plunged into a pool of quicksilver.
Near one o’clock in the morning, I was overcome with tremendous exhaustion. My limbs stiffened in the grip of intense cramps. Conseil had to keep me going, and attending to our self-preservation became his sole responsibility. I soon heard the poor lad gasping; his breathing became shallow and quick. I didn’t think he could stand such exertions for much longer.
“Go on! Go on!” I told him.
“Leave master behind?” he replied. “Never! I’ll drown before he does!”
Just then, past the fringes of a large cloud that the wind was driving eastward, the moon appeared. The surface of the sea glistened under its rays. That kindly light rekindled our strength. I held up my head again. My eyes darted to every point of the horizon. I spotted the frigate. It was five miles from us and formed no more than a dark, barely perceptible mass. But as for longboats, not a one in sight!
I tried to call out. What was the use at such a distance! My swollen lips wouldn’t let a single sound through. Conseil could still articulate a few words, and I heard him repeat at intervals:
Ceasing all movement for an instant, we listened. And it may have been a ringing in my ear, from this organ filling with impeded blood, but it seemed to me that Conseil’s shout had received an answer back.
“Did you hear that?” I muttered.
And Conseil hurled another desperate plea into space.
This time there could be no mistake! A human voice had answered us! Was it the voice of some poor devil left behind in midocean, some other victim of that collision suffered by our ship? Or was it one of the frigate’s longboats, hailing us out of the gloom?
Conseil made one final effort, and bracing his hands on my shoulders, while I offered resistance with one supreme exertion, he raised himself half out of the water, then fell back exhausted.
“What did you see?”
“I saw . . . ,” he muttered, “I saw . . . but we mustn’t talk . . . save our strength . . . !”
What had he seen? Then, lord knows why, the thought of the monster came into my head for the first time . . . ! But even so, that voice . . . ? Gone are the days when Jonahs took refuge in the bellies of whales!
Nevertheless, Conseil kept towing me. Sometimes he looked up, stared straight ahead, and shouted a request for directions, which was answered by a voice that was getting closer and closer. I could barely hear it. I was at the end of my strength; my fingers gave out; my hands were no help to me; my mouth opened convulsively, filling with brine; its coldness ran through me; I raised my head one last time, then I collapsed. . . .
Just then something hard banged against me. I clung to it. Then I felt myself being pulled upward, back to the surface of the water; my chest caved in, and I fainted. . . .
For certain, I came to quickly, because someone was massaging me so vigorously it left furrows in my flesh. I half opened my eyes. . . .
“Conseil!” I muttered.
“Did master ring for me?” Conseil replied.
Just then, in the last light of a moon settling on the horizon, I spotted a face that wasn’t Conseil’s but which I recognized at once.
“Ned!” I exclaimed.
“In person, sir, and still after his prize!” the Canadian replied.
“You were thrown overboard after the frigate’s collision?”
“Yes, professor, but I was luckier than you, and right away I was able to set foot on this floating islet.”
“Or in other words, on our gigantic narwhale.”
“Explain yourself, Ned.”
“It’s just that I soon realized why my harpoon got blunted and couldn’t puncture its hide.”
“Why, Ned, why?”
“Because, professor, this beast is made of boilerplate steel!”
At this point in my story, I need to get a grip on myself, reconstruct exactly what I experienced, and make doubly sure of everything I write.
The Canadian’s last words caused a sudden upheaval in my brain. I swiftly hoisted myself to the summit of this half-submerged creature or object that was serving as our refuge. I tested it with my foot. Obviously it was some hard, impenetrable substance, not the soft matter that makes up the bodies of our big marine mammals.
But this hard substance could have been a bony carapace, like those that covered some prehistoric animals, and I might have left it at that and classified this monster among such amphibious reptiles as turtles or alligators.
Well, no. The blackish back supporting me was smooth and polished with no overlapping scales. On impact, it gave off a metallic sonority, and as incredible as this sounds, it seemed, I swear, to be made of riveted plates.
No doubts were possible! This animal, this monster, this natural phenomenon that had puzzled the whole scientific world, that had muddled and misled the minds of seamen in both hemispheres, was, there could be no escaping it, an even more astonishing phenomenon—a phenomenon made by the hand of man.
Even if I had discovered that some fabulous, mythological creature really existed, it wouldn’t have given me such a terrific mental jolt. It’s easy enough to accept that prodigious things can come from our Creator. But to find, all at once, right before your eyes, that the impossible had been mysteriously achieved by man himself: this staggers the mind!
But there was no question now. We were stretched out on the back of some kind of underwater boat that, as far as I could judge, boasted the shape of an immense steel fish. Ned Land had clear views on the issue. Conseil and I could only line up behind him.
“But then,” I said, “does this contraption contain some sort of locomotive mechanism, and a crew to run it?”
“Apparently,” the harpooner replied. “And yet for the three hours I’ve lived on this floating island, it hasn’t shown a sign of life.”
“This boat hasn’t moved at all?”
“No, Professor Aronnax. It just rides with the waves, but otherwise it hasn’t stirred.”
“But we know that it’s certainly gifted with great speed. Now then, since an engine is needed to generate that speed, and a mechanic to run that engine, I conclude: we’re saved.”
“Humph!” Ned Land put in, his tone denoting reservations.
Just then, as if to take my side in the argument, a bubbling began astern of this strange submersible—whose drive mechanism was obviously a propeller—and the boat started to move. We barely had time to hang on to its topside, which emerged about eighty centimeters above water. Fortunately its speed was not excessive.
“So long as it navigates horizontally,” Ned Land muttered, “I’ve no complaints. But if it gets the urge to dive, I wouldn’t give $2.00 for my hide!”
The Canadian might have quoted a much lower price. So it was imperative to make contact with whatever beings were confined inside the plating of this machine. I searched its surface for an opening or a hatch, a “manhole,” to use the official term; but the lines of rivets had been firmly driven into the sheet-iron joins and were straight and uniform.
Moreover, the moon then disappeared and left us in profound darkness. We had to wait for daylight to find some way of getting inside this underwater boat.
So our salvation lay totally in the hands of the mysterious helmsmen steering this submersible, and if it made a dive, we were done for! But aside from this occurring, I didn’t doubt the possibility of our making contact with them. In fact, if they didn’t produce their own air, they inevitably had to make periodic visits to the surface of the ocean to replenish their oxygen supply. Hence the need for some opening that put the boat’s interior in contact with the atmosphere.
As for any hope of being rescued by Commander Farragut, that had to be renounced completely. We were being swept westward, and I estimate that our comparatively moderate speed reached twelve miles per hour. The propeller churned the waves with mathematical regularity, sometimes emerging above the surface and throwing phosphorescent spray to great heights.
Near four o’clock in the morning, the submersible picked up speed. We could barely cope with this dizzying rush, and the waves battered us at close range. Fortunately Ned’s hands came across a big mooring ring fastened to the topside of this sheet-iron back, and we all held on for dear life.
Finally this long night was over. My imperfect memories won’t let me recall my every impression of it. A single detail comes back to me. Several times, during various lulls of wind and sea, I thought I heard indistinct sounds, a sort of elusive harmony produced by distant musical chords. What was the secret behind this underwater navigating, whose explanation the whole world had sought in vain? What beings lived inside this strange boat? What mechanical force allowed it to move about with such prodigious speed?
Daylight appeared. The morning mists surrounded us, but they soon broke up. I was about to proceed with a careful examination of the hull, whose topside formed a sort of horizontal platform, when I felt it sinking little by little.
“Oh, damnation!” Ned Land shouted, stamping his foot on the resonant sheet iron. “Open up there, you antisocial navigators!”
But it was difficult to make yourself heard above the deafening beats of the propeller. Fortunately this submerging movement stopped.
From inside the boat, there suddenly came noises of iron fastenings pushed roughly aside. One of the steel plates flew up, a man appeared, gave a bizarre yell, and instantly disappeared.
A few moments later, eight strapping fellows appeared silently, their faces like masks, and dragged us down into their fearsome machine.
- “Mobilis in Mobili”
THIS BRUTALLY EXECUTED capture was carried out with lightning speed. My companions and I had no time to collect ourselves. I don’t know how they felt about being shoved inside this aquatic prison, but as for me, I was shivering all over. With whom were we dealing? Surely with some new breed of pirates, exploiting the sea after their own fashion.
The narrow hatch had barely closed over me when I was surrounded by profound darkness. Saturated with the outside light, my eyes couldn’t make out a thing. I felt my naked feet clinging to the steps of an iron ladder. Forcibly seized, Ned Land and Conseil were behind me. At the foot of the ladder, a door opened and instantly closed behind us with a loud clang.
We were alone. Where? I couldn’t say, could barely even imagine. All was darkness, but such utter darkness that after several minutes, my eyes were still unable to catch a single one of those hazy gleams that drift through even the blackest nights.
Meanwhile, furious at these goings on, Ned Land gave free rein to his indignation.
“Damnation!” he exclaimed. “These people are about as hospitable as the savages of New Caledonia! All that’s lacking is for them to be cannibals! I wouldn’t be surprised if they were, but believe you me, they won’t eat me without my kicking up a protest!”
“Calm yourself, Ned my friend,” Conseil replied serenely. “Don’t flare up so quickly! We aren’t in a kettle yet!”
“In a kettle, no,” the Canadian shot back, “but in an oven for sure. It’s dark enough for one. Luckily my Bowie knife hasn’t left me, and I can still see well enough to put it to use.* The first one of these bandits who lays a hand on me—”
*Author’s Note: A Bowie knife is a wide-bladed dagger that Americans are forever carrying around.
“Don’t be so irritable, Ned,” I then told the harpooner, “and don’t ruin things for us with pointless violence. Who knows whether they might be listening to us? Instead, let’s try to find out where we are!”
I started moving, groping my way. After five steps I encountered an iron wall made of riveted boilerplate. Then, turning around, I bumped into a wooden table next to which several stools had been set. The floor of this prison lay hidden beneath thick, hempen matting that deadened the sound of footsteps. Its naked walls didn’t reveal any trace of a door or window. Going around the opposite way, Conseil met up with me, and we returned to the middle of this cabin, which had to be twenty feet long by ten wide. As for its height, not even Ned Land, with his great stature, was able to determine it.
Half an hour had already gone by without our situation changing, when our eyes were suddenly spirited from utter darkness into blinding light. Our prison lit up all at once; in other words, it filled with luminescent matter so intense that at first I couldn’t stand the brightness of it. From its glare and whiteness, I recognized the electric glow that had played around this underwater boat like some magnificent phosphorescent phenomenon. After involuntarily closing my eyes, I reopened them and saw that this luminous force came from a frosted half globe curving out of the cabin’s ceiling.
“Finally! It’s light enough to see!” Ned Land exclaimed, knife in hand, staying on the defensive.
“Yes,” I replied, then ventured the opposite view. “But as for our situation, we’re still in the dark.”
“Master must learn patience,” said the emotionless Conseil.
This sudden illumination of our cabin enabled me to examine its tiniest details. It contained only a table and five stools. Its invisible door must have been hermetically sealed. Not a sound reached our ears. Everything seemed dead inside this boat. Was it in motion, or stationary on the surface of the ocean, or sinking into the depths? I couldn’t tell.
But this luminous globe hadn’t been turned on without good reason. Consequently, I hoped that some crewmen would soon make an appearance. If you want to consign people to oblivion, you don’t light up their dungeons.
I was not mistaken. Unlocking noises became audible, a door opened, and two men appeared.
One was short and stocky, powerfully muscled, broad shouldered, robust of limbs, the head squat, the hair black and luxuriant, the mustache heavy, the eyes bright and penetrating, and his whole personality stamped with that southern-blooded zest that, in France, typifies the people of Provence. The philosopher Diderot has very aptly claimed that a man’s bearing is the clue to his character, and this stocky little man was certainly a living proof of this claim. You could sense that his everyday conversation must have been packed with such vivid figures of speech as personification, symbolism, and misplaced modifiers. But I was never in a position to verify this because, around me, he used only an odd and utterly incomprehensible dialect.
The second stranger deserves a more detailed description. A disciple of such character-judging anatomists as Gratiolet or Engel could have read this man’s features like an open book. Without hesitation, I identified his dominant qualities—self-confidence, since his head reared like a nobleman’s above the arc formed by the lines of his shoulders, and his black eyes gazed with icy assurance; calmness, since his skin, pale rather than ruddy, indicated tranquility of blood; energy, shown by the swiftly knitting muscles of his brow; and finally courage, since his deep breathing denoted tremendous reserves of vitality.
I might add that this was a man of great pride, that his calm, firm gaze seemed to reflect thinking on an elevated plane, and that the harmony of his facial expressions and bodily movements resulted in an overall effect of unquestionable candor—according to the findings of physiognomists, those analysts of facial character.
I felt “involuntarily reassured” in his presence, and this boded well for our interview.
Whether this individual was thirty-five or fifty years of age, I could not precisely state. He was tall, his forehead broad, his nose straight, his mouth clearly etched, his teeth magnificent, his hands refined, tapered, and to use a word from palmistry, highly “psychic,” in other words, worthy of serving a lofty and passionate spirit. This man was certainly the most wonderful physical specimen I had ever encountered. One unusual detail: his eyes were spaced a little far from each other and could instantly take in nearly a quarter of the horizon. This ability—as I later verified—was strengthened by a range of vision even greater than Ned Land’s. When this stranger focused his gaze on an object, his eyebrow lines gathered into a frown, his heavy eyelids closed around his pupils to contract his huge field of vision, and he looked! What a look—as if he could magnify objects shrinking into the distance; as if he could probe your very soul; as if he could pierce those sheets of water so opaque to our eyes and scan the deepest seas . . . !
Wearing caps made of sea-otter fur, and shod in sealskin fishing boots, these two strangers were dressed in clothing made from some unique fabric that flattered the figure and allowed great freedom of movement.
The taller of the two—apparently the leader on board—examined us with the greatest care but without pronouncing a word. Then, turning to his companion, he conversed with him in a language I didn’t recognize. It was a sonorous, harmonious, flexible dialect whose vowels seemed to undergo a highly varied accentuation.
The other replied with a shake of the head and added two or three utterly incomprehensible words. Then he seemed to question me directly with a long stare.
I replied in clear French that I wasn’t familiar with his language; but he didn’t seem to understand me, and the situation grew rather baffling.
“Still, master should tell our story,” Conseil said to me. “Perhaps these gentlemen will grasp a few words of it!”
I tried again, telling the tale of our adventures, clearly articulating my every syllable, and not leaving out a single detail. I stated our names and titles; then, in order, I introduced Professor Aronnax, his manservant Conseil, and Mr. Ned Land, harpooner.
The man with calm, gentle eyes listened to me serenely, even courteously, and paid remarkable attention. But nothing in his facial expression indicated that he understood my story. When I finished, he didn’t pronounce a single word.
One resource still left was to speak English. Perhaps they would be familiar with this nearly universal language. But I only knew it, as I did the German language, well enough to read it fluently, not well enough to speak it correctly. Here, however, our overriding need was to make ourselves understood.
“Come on, it’s your turn,” I told the harpooner. “Over to you, Mr. Land. Pull out of your bag of tricks the best English ever spoken by an Anglo-Saxon, and try for a more favorable result than mine.”
Ned needed no persuading and started our story all over again, most of which I could follow. Its content was the same, but the form differed. Carried away by his volatile temperament, the Canadian put great animation into it. He complained vehemently about being imprisoned in defiance of his civil rights, asked by virtue of which law he was hereby detained, invoked writs of habeas corpus, threatened to press charges against anyone holding him in illegal custody, ranted, gesticulated, shouted, and finally conveyed by an expressive gesture that we were dying of hunger.
This was perfectly true, but we had nearly forgotten the fact.
Much to his amazement, the harpooner seemed no more intelligible than I had been. Our visitors didn’t bat an eye. Apparently they were engineers who understood the languages of neither the French physicist Arago nor the English physicist Faraday.
Thoroughly baffled after vainly exhausting our philological resources, I no longer knew what tactic to pursue, when Conseil told me:
“If master will authorize me, I’ll tell the whole business in German.”
“What! You know German?” I exclaimed.
“Like most Flemish people, with all due respect to master.”
“On the contrary, my respect is due you. Go to it, my boy.”
And Conseil, in his serene voice, described for the third time the various vicissitudes of our story. But despite our narrator’s fine accent and stylish turns of phrase, the German language met with no success.
Finally, as a last resort, I hauled out everything I could remember from my early schooldays, and I tried to narrate our adventures in Latin. Cicero would have plugged his ears and sent me to the scullery, but somehow I managed to pull through. With the same negative result.
This last attempt ultimately misfiring, the two strangers exchanged a few words in their incomprehensible language and withdrew, not even favoring us with one of those encouraging gestures that are used in every country in the world. The door closed again.
“This is outrageous!” Ned Land shouted, exploding for the twentieth time. “I ask you! We speak French, English, German, and Latin to these rogues, and neither of them has the decency to even answer back!”
“Calm down, Ned,” I told the seething harpooner. “Anger won’t get us anywhere.”
“But professor,” our irascible companion went on, “can’t you see that we could die of hunger in this iron cage?”
“Bah!” Conseil put in philosophically. “We can hold out a good while yet!”
“My friends,” I said, “we mustn’t despair. We’ve gotten out of tighter spots. So please do me the favor of waiting a bit before you form your views on the commander and crew of this boat.”
“My views are fully formed,” Ned Land shot back. “They’re rogues!”
“Oh good! And from what country?”
“My gallant Ned, as yet that country isn’t clearly marked on maps of the world, but I admit that the nationality of these two strangers is hard to make out! Neither English, French, nor German, that’s all we can say. But I’m tempted to think that the commander and his chief officer were born in the low latitudes. There must be southern blood in them. But as to whether they’re Spaniards, Turks, Arabs, or East Indians, their physical characteristics don’t give me enough to go on. And as for their speech, it’s utterly incomprehensible.”
“That’s the nuisance in not knowing every language,” Conseil replied, “or the drawback in not having one universal language!”
“Which would all go out the window!” Ned Land replied. “Don’t you see, these people have a language all to themselves, a language they’ve invented just to cause despair in decent people who ask for a little dinner! Why, in every country on earth, when you open your mouth, snap your jaws, smack your lips and teeth, isn’t that the world’s most understandable message? From Quebec to the Tuamotu Islands, from Paris to the Antipodes, doesn’t it mean: I’m hungry, give me a bite to eat!”
“Oh,” Conseil put in, “there are some people so unintelligent by nature . . .”
As he was saying these words, the door opened. A steward entered.* He brought us some clothes, jackets and sailor’s pants, made out of a fabric whose nature I didn’t recognize. I hurried to change into them, and my companions followed suit.
*Author’s Note: A steward is a waiter on board a steamer.
Meanwhile our silent steward, perhaps a deaf-mute, set the table and laid three place settings.
“There’s something serious afoot,” Conseil said, “and it bodes well.”
“Bah!” replied the rancorous harpooner. “What the devil do you suppose they eat around here? Turtle livers, loin of shark, dogfish steaks?”
“We’ll soon find out!” Conseil said.
Overlaid with silver dish covers, various platters had been neatly positioned on the table cloth, and we sat down to eat. Assuredly, we were dealing with civilized people, and if it hadn’t been for this electric light flooding over us, I would have thought we were in the dining room of the Hotel Adelphi in Liverpool, or the Grand Hotel in Paris. However, I feel compelled to mention that bread and wine were totally absent. The water was fresh and clear, but it was still water—which wasn’t what Ned Land had in mind. Among the foods we were served, I was able to identify various daintily dressed fish; but I couldn’t make up my mind about certain otherwise excellent dishes, and I couldn’t even tell whether their contents belonged to the vegetable or the animal kingdom. As for the tableware, it was elegant and in perfect taste. Each utensil, spoon, fork, knife, and plate, bore on its reverse a letter encircled by a Latin motto, and here is its exact duplicate:
MOBILIS IN MOBILI N
Moving within the moving element! It was a highly appropriate motto for this underwater machine, so long as the preposition in is translated as within and not upon. The letter N was no doubt the initial of the name of that mystifying individual in command beneath the seas!
Ned and Conseil had no time for such musings. They were wolfing down their food, and without further ado I did the same. By now I felt reassured about our fate, and it seemed obvious that our hosts didn’t intend to let us die of starvation.
But all earthly things come to an end, all things must pass, even the hunger of people who haven’t eaten for fifteen hours. Our appetites appeased, we felt an urgent need for sleep. A natural reaction after that interminable night of fighting for our lives.
“Ye gods, I’ll sleep soundly,” Conseil said.
“Me, I’m out like a light!” Ned Land replied.
My two companions lay down on the cabin’s carpeting and were soon deep in slumber.
As for me, I gave in less readily to this intense need for sleep. Too many thoughts had piled up in my mind, too many insoluble questions had arisen, too many images were keeping my eyelids open! Where were we? What strange power was carrying us along? I felt—or at least I thought I did—the submersible sinking toward the sea’s lower strata. Intense nightmares besieged me. In these mysterious marine sanctuaries, I envisioned hosts of unknown animals, and this underwater boat seemed to be a blood relation of theirs: living, breathing, just as fearsome . . . ! Then my mind grew calmer, my imagination melted into hazy drowsiness, and I soon fell into an uneasy slumber.
- The Tantrums of Ned Land
I HAVE NO IDEA how long this slumber lasted; but it must have been a good while, since we were completely over our exhaustion. I was the first one to wake up. My companions weren’t yet stirring and still lay in their corners like inanimate objects.
I had barely gotten up from my passably hard mattress when I felt my mind clear, my brain go on the alert. So I began a careful reexamination of our cell.
Nothing had changed in its interior arrangements. The prison was still a prison and its prisoners still prisoners. But, taking advantage of our slumber, the steward had cleared the table. Consequently, nothing indicated any forthcoming improvement in our situation, and I seriously wondered if we were doomed to spend the rest of our lives in this cage.
This prospect seemed increasingly painful to me because, even though my brain was clear of its obsessions from the night before, I was feeling an odd short-windedness in my chest. It was becoming hard for me to breathe. The heavy air was no longer sufficient for the full play of my lungs. Although our cell was large, we obviously had used up most of the oxygen it contained. In essence, over an hour’s time a single human being consumes all the oxygen found in 100 liters of air, at which point that air has become charged with a nearly equal amount of carbon dioxide and is no longer fit for breathing.
So it was now urgent to renew the air in our prison, and no doubt the air in this whole underwater boat as well.
Here a question popped into my head. How did the commander of this aquatic residence go about it? Did he obtain air using chemical methods, releasing the
oxygen contained in potassium chlorate by heating it, meanwhile absorbing the carbon dioxide with potassium hydroxide? If so, he would have to keep up some kind of relationship with the shore, to come by the materials needed for such an operation. Did he simply limit himself to storing the air in high-pressure tanks and then dispense it according to his crew’s needs? Perhaps. Or, proceeding in a more convenient, more economical, and consequently more probable fashion, was he satisfied with merely returning to breathe at the surface of the
water like a cetacean, renewing his oxygen supply every twenty-four hours? In any event, whatever his method was, it seemed prudent to me that he use this method without delay.
In fact, I had already resorted to speeding up my inhalations in order to extract from the cell what little oxygen it contained, when suddenly I was refreshed by a current of clean air, scented with a salty aroma. It had to be a sea breeze, life-giving and charged with iodine! I opened my mouth wide, and my lungs glutted themselves on the fresh particles. At the same time, I felt a swaying, a rolling of moderate magnitude but definitely noticeable. This boat, this sheet-iron monster, had obviously just risen to the surface of the ocean, there to breathe in good whale fashion. So the ship’s mode of ventilation was finally established.
When I had absorbed a chestful of this clean air, I looked for the conduit—the “air carrier,” if you prefer—that allowed this beneficial influx to reach us, and I soon found it. Above the door opened an air vent that let in a fresh current of oxygen, renewing the thin air in our cell.
I had gotten to this point in my observations when Ned and Conseil woke up almost simultaneously, under the influence of this reviving air purification. They rubbed their eyes, stretched their arms, and sprang to their feet.
“Did master sleep well?” Conseil asked me with his perennial good manners.
“Extremely well, my gallant lad,” I replied. “And how about you, Mr. Ned Land?”
“Like a log, professor. But I must be imagining things, because it seems like I’m breathing a sea breeze!”
A seaman couldn’t be wrong on this topic, and I told the Canadian what had gone on while he slept.
“Good!” he said. “That explains perfectly all that bellowing we heard, when our so-called narwhale lay in sight of the Abraham Lincoln.”
“Perfectly, Mr. Land. It was catching its breath!”
“Only I’ve no idea what time it is, Professor Aronnax, unless maybe it’s dinnertime?”
“Dinnertime, my fine harpooner? I’d say at least breakfast time, because we’ve certainly woken up to a new day.”
“Which indicates,” Conseil replied, “that we’ve spent twenty-four hours in slumber.”
“That’s my assessment,” I replied.
“I won’t argue with you,” Ned Land answered. “But dinner or breakfast, that steward will be plenty welcome whether he brings the one or the other.”
“The one and the other,” Conseil said.
“Well put,” the Canadian replied. “We deserve two meals, and speaking for myself, I’ll do justice to them both.”
“All right, Ned, let’s wait and see!” I replied. “It’s clear that these strangers don’t intend to let us die of hunger, otherwise last evening’s dinner wouldn’t make any sense.”
“Unless they’re fattening us up!” Ned shot back.
“I object,” I replied. “We have not fallen into the hands of cannibals.”
“Just because they don’t make a habit of it,” the Canadian replied in all seriousness, “doesn’t mean they don’t indulge from time to time. Who knows? Maybe these people have gone without fresh meat for a long while, and in that case three healthy, well-built specimens like the professor, his manservant, and me——”
“Get rid of those ideas, Mr. Land,” I answered the harpooner. “And above all, don’t let them lead you to flare up against our hosts, which would only make our situation worse.”
“Anyhow,” the harpooner said, “I’m as hungry as all Hades, and dinner or breakfast, not one puny meal has arrived!”
“Mr. Land,” I answered, “we have to adapt to the schedule on board, and I imagine our stomachs are running ahead of the chief cook’s dinner bell.”
“Well then, we’ll adjust our stomachs to the chef’s timetable!” Conseil replied serenely.
“There you go again, Conseil my friend!” the impatient Canadian shot back. “You never allow yourself any displays of bile or attacks of nerves! You’re everlastingly calm! You’d say your after-meal grace even if you didn’t get any food for your before-meal blessing—and you’d starve to death rather than complain!”
“What good would it do?” Conseil asked.
“Complaining doesn’t have to do good, it just feels good! And if these pirates—I say pirates out of consideration for the professor’s feelings, since he doesn’t want us to call them cannibals—if these pirates think they’re going to smother me in this cage without hearing what cusswords spice up my outbursts, they’ve got another think coming! Look here, Professor Aronnax, speak frankly. How long do you figure they’ll keep us in this iron box?”
“To tell the truth, friend Land, I know little more about it than you do.”
“But in a nutshell, what do you suppose is going on?”
“My supposition is that sheer chance has made us privy to an important secret. Now then, if the crew of this underwater boat have a personal interest in keeping that secret, and if their personal interest is more important than the lives of three men, I believe that our very existence is in jeopardy. If such is not the case, then at the first available opportunity, this monster that has swallowed us will return us to the world inhabited by our own kind.”
“Unless they recruit us to serve on the crew,” Conseil said, “and keep us here—”
“Till the moment,” Ned Land answered, “when some frigate that’s faster or smarter than the Abraham Lincoln captures this den of buccaneers, then hangs all of us by the neck from the tip of a mainmast yardarm!”
“Well thought out, Mr. Land,” I replied. “But as yet, I don’t believe we’ve been tendered any enlistment offers. Consequently, it’s pointless to argue about what tactics we should pursue in such a case. I repeat: let’s wait, let’s be guided by events, and let’s do nothing, since right now there’s nothing we can do.”
“On the contrary, professor,” the harpooner replied, not wanting to give in. “There is something we can do.”
“Oh? And what, Mr. Land?”
“Break out of here!”
“Breaking out of a prison on shore is difficult enough, but with an underwater prison, it strikes me as completely unworkable.”
“Come now, Ned my friend,” Conseil asked, “how would you answer master’s objection? I refuse to believe that an American is at the end of his tether.”
Visibly baffled, the harpooner said nothing. Under the conditions in which fate had left us, it was absolutely impossible to escape. But a Canadian’s wit is half French, and Mr. Ned Land made this clear in his reply.
“So, Professor Aronnax,” he went on after thinking for a few moments, “you haven’t figured out what people do when they can’t escape from their prison?”
“No, my friend.”
“Easy. They fix things so they stay there.”
“Of course!” Conseil put in. “Since we’re deep in the ocean, being inside this boat is vastly preferable to being above it or below it!”
“But we fix things by kicking out all the jailers, guards, and wardens,” Ned Land added.
“What’s this, Ned?” I asked. “You’d seriously consider taking over this craft?”
“Very seriously,” the Canadian replied.
“And why is that, sir? Some promising opportunity might come up, and I don’t see what could stop us from taking advantage of it. If there are only about twenty men on board this machine, I don’t think they can stave off two Frenchmen and a Canadian!”
It seemed wiser to accept the harpooner’s proposition than to debate it. Accordingly, I was content to reply:
“Let such circumstances come, Mr. Land, and we’ll see. But until then, I beg you to control your impatience. We need to act shrewdly, and your flare-ups won’t give rise to any promising opportunities. So swear to me that you’ll accept our situation without throwing a tantrum over it.”
“I give you my word, professor,” Ned Land replied in an unenthusiastic tone. “No vehement phrases will leave my mouth, no vicious gestures will give my feelings away, not even when they don’t feed us on time.”
“I have your word, Ned,” I answered the Canadian.
Then our conversation petered out, and each of us withdrew into his own thoughts. For my part, despite the harpooner’s confident talk, I admit that I entertained no illusions. I had no faith in those promising opportunities that Ned Land mentioned. To operate with such efficiency, this underwater boat had to have a sizeable crew, so if it came to a physical contest, we would be facing an overwhelming opponent. Besides, before we could do anything, we had to be free, and that we definitely were not. I didn’t see any way out of this sheet-iron, hermetically sealed cell. And if the strange commander of this boat did have a secret to keep—which seemed rather likely—he would never give us freedom of movement aboard his vessel. Now then, would he resort to violence in order to be rid of us, or would he drop us off one day on some remote coast? There lay the unknown. All these hypotheses seemed extremely plausible to me, and to hope for freedom through use of force, you had to be a harpooner.
I realized, moreover, that Ned Land’s brooding was getting him madder by the minute. Little by little, I heard those aforesaid cusswords welling up in the depths of his gullet, and I saw his movements turn threatening again. He stood up, pacing in circles like a wild beast in a cage, striking the walls with his foot and fist. Meanwhile the hours passed, our hunger nagged unmercifully, and this time the steward did not appear. Which amounted to forgetting our castaway status for much too long, if they really had good intentions toward us.
Tortured by the growling of his well-built stomach, Ned Land was getting more and more riled, and despite his word of honor, I was in real dread of an explosion when he stood in the presence of one of the men on board.
For two more hours Ned Land’s rage increased. The Canadian shouted and pleaded, but to no avail. The sheet-iron walls were deaf. I didn’t hear a single sound inside this dead-seeming boat. The vessel hadn’t stirred, because I obviously would have felt its hull vibrating under the influence of the propeller. It had undoubtedly sunk into the watery deep and no longer belonged to the outside world. All this dismal silence was terrifying.
As for our neglect, our isolation in the depths of this cell, I was afraid to guess at how long it might last. Little by little, hopes I had entertained after our interview with the ship’s commander were fading away. The gentleness of the man’s gaze, the generosity expressed in his facial features, the nobility of his bearing, all vanished from my memory. I saw this mystifying individual anew for what he inevitably must be: cruel and merciless. I viewed him as outside humanity, beyond all feelings of compassion, the implacable foe of his fellow man, toward whom he must have sworn an undying hate!
But even so, was the man going to let us die of starvation, locked up in this cramped prison, exposed to those horrible temptations to which people are driven by extreme hunger? This grim possibility took on a dreadful intensity in my mind, and fired by my imagination, I felt an unreasoning terror run through me. Conseil stayed calm. Ned Land bellowed.
Just then a noise was audible outside. Footsteps rang on the metal tiling. The locks were turned, the door opened, the steward appeared.
Before I could make a single movement to prevent him, the Canadian rushed at the poor man, threw him down, held him by the throat. The steward was choking in the grip of those powerful hands.
Conseil was already trying to loosen the harpooner’s hands from his half-suffocated victim, and I had gone to join in the rescue, when I was abruptly nailed to the spot by these words pronounced in French:
“Calm down, Mr. Land! And you, professor, kindly listen to me!”
- The Man of the Waters
IT WAS THE ship’s commander who had just spoken.
At these words Ned Land stood up quickly. Nearly strangled, the steward staggered out at a signal from his superior; but such was the commander’s authority aboard his vessel, not one gesture gave away the resentment that this man must have felt toward the Canadian. In silence we waited for the outcome of this scene; Conseil, in spite of himself, seemed almost fascinated, I was stunned.
Arms crossed, leaning against a corner of the table, the commander studied us with great care. Was he reluctant to speak further? Did he regret those words he had just pronounced in French? You would have thought so.
After a few moments of silence, which none of us would have dreamed of interrupting:
“Gentlemen,” he said in a calm, penetrating voice, “I speak French, English, German, and Latin with equal fluency. Hence I could have answered you as early as our initial interview, but first I wanted to make your acquaintance and then think things over. Your four versions of the same narrative, perfectly consistent by and large, established your personal identities for me. I now know that sheer chance has placed in my presence Professor Pierre Aronnax, specialist in natural history at the Paris Museum and entrusted with a scientific mission abroad, his manservant Conseil, and Ned Land, a harpooner of Canadian origin aboard the Abraham Lincoln, a frigate in the national navy of the United States of America.”
I bowed in agreement. The commander hadn’t put a question to me. So no answer was called for. This man expressed himself with perfect ease and without a trace of an accent. His phrasing was clear, his words well chosen, his facility in elocution remarkable. And yet, to me, he didn’t have “the feel” of a fellow countryman.
He went on with the conversation as follows:
“No doubt, sir, you’ve felt that I waited rather too long before paying you this second visit. After discovering your identities, I wanted to weigh carefully what policy to pursue toward you. I had great difficulty deciding. Some extremely inconvenient circumstances have brought you into the presence of a man who has cut himself off from humanity. Your coming has disrupted my whole existence.”
“Unintentionally,” I said.
“Unintentionally?” the stranger replied, raising his voice a little. “Was it unintentionally that the Abraham Lincoln hunted me on every sea? Was it unintentionally that you traveled aboard that frigate? Was it unintentionally that your shells bounced off my ship’s hull? Was it unintentionally that Mr. Ned Land hit me with his harpoon?”
I detected a controlled irritation in these words. But there was a perfectly natural reply to these charges, and I made it.
“Sir,” I said, “you’re surely unaware of the discussions that have taken place in Europe and America with yourself as the subject. You don’t realize that various accidents, caused by collisions with your underwater machine, have aroused public passions on those two continents. I’ll spare you the innumerable hypotheses with which we’ve tried to explain this inexplicable phenomenon, whose secret is yours alone. But please understand that the Abraham Lincoln chased you over the Pacific high seas in the belief it was hunting some powerful marine monster, which had to be purged from the ocean at all cost.”
A half smile curled the commander’s lips; then, in a calmer tone:
“Professor Aronnax,” he replied, “do you dare claim that your frigate wouldn’t have chased and cannonaded an underwater boat as readily as a monster?”
This question baffled me, since Commander Farragut would certainly have shown no such hesitation. He would have seen it as his sworn duty to destroy a contrivance of this kind just as promptly as a gigantic narwhale.
“So you understand, sir,” the stranger went on, “that I have a right to treat you as my enemy.”
I kept quiet, with good reason. What was the use of debating such a proposition, when superior force can wipe out the best arguments?
“It took me a good while to decide,” the commander went on. “Nothing obliged me to grant you hospitality. If I were to part company with you, I’d have no personal interest in ever seeing you again. I could put you back on the platform of this ship that has served as your refuge. I could sink under the sea, and I could forget you ever existed. Wouldn’t that be my right?”
“Perhaps it would be the right of a savage,” I replied. “But not that of a civilized man.”
“Professor,” the commander replied swiftly, “I’m not what you term a civilized man! I’ve severed all ties with society, for reasons that I alone have the right to appreciate. Therefore I obey none of its regulations, and I insist that you never invoke them in front of me!”
This was plain speaking. A flash of anger and scorn lit up the stranger’s eyes, and I glimpsed a fearsome past in this man’s life. Not only had he placed himself beyond human laws, he had rendered himself independent, out of all reach, free in the strictest sense of the word! For who would dare chase him to the depths of the sea when he thwarted all attacks on the surface? What ship could withstand a collision with his underwater Monitor? What armor plate, no matter how heavy, could bear the thrusts of his spur? No man among men could call him to account for his actions. God, if he believed in Him, his conscience if he had one—these were the only judges to whom he was answerable.
These thoughts swiftly crossed my mind while this strange individual fell silent, like someone completely self-absorbed. I regarded him with a mixture of fear and fascination, in the same way, no doubt, that Oedipus regarded the Sphinx.
After a fairly long silence, the commander went on with our conversation.
“So I had difficulty deciding,” he said. “But I concluded that my personal interests could be reconciled with that natural compassion to which every human being has a right. Since fate has brought you here, you’ll stay aboard my vessel. You’ll be free here, and in exchange for that freedom, moreover totally related to it, I’ll lay on you just one condition. Your word that you’ll submit to it will be sufficient.”
“Go on, sir,” I replied. “I assume this condition is one an honest man can accept?”
“Yes, sir. Just this. It’s possible that certain unforeseen events may force me to confine you to your cabins for some hours, or even for some days as the case may be. Since I prefer never to use violence, I expect from you in such a case, even more than in any other, your unquestioning obedience. By acting in this way, I shield you from complicity, I absolve you of all responsibility, since I myself make it impossible for you to see what you aren’t meant to see. Do you accept this condition?”
So things happened on board that were quite odd to say the least, things never to be seen by people not placing themselves beyond society’s laws! Among all the surprises the future had in store for me, this would not be the mildest.
“We accept,” I replied. “Only, I’ll ask your permission, sir, to address a question to you, just one.”
“Go ahead, sir.”
“You said we’d be free aboard your vessel?”
“Then I would ask what you mean by this freedom.”
“Why, the freedom to come, go, see, and even closely observe everything happening here—except under certain rare circumstances—in short, the freedom we ourselves enjoy, my companions and I.”
It was obvious that we did not understand each other.
“Pardon me, sir,” I went on, “but that’s merely the freedom that every prisoner has, the freedom to pace his cell! That’s not enough for us.”
“Nevertheless, it will have to do!”
“What! We must give up seeing our homeland, friends, and relatives ever again?”
“Yes, sir. But giving up that intolerable earthly yoke that some men call freedom is perhaps less painful than you think!”
“By thunder!” Ned Land shouted. “I’ll never promise I won’t try getting out of here!”
“I didn’t ask for such a promise, Mr. Land,” the commander replied coldly.
“Sir,” I replied, flaring up in spite of myself, “you’re taking unfair advantage of us! This is sheer cruelty!”
“No, sir, it’s an act of mercy! You’re my prisoners of war! I’ve cared for you when, with a single word, I could plunge you back into the ocean depths! You attacked me! You’ve just stumbled on a secret no living man must probe, the secret of my entire existence! Do you think I’ll send you back to a world that must know nothing more of me? Never! By keeping you on board, it isn’t you whom I care for, it’s me!”
These words indicated that the commander pursued a policy impervious to arguments.
“Then, sir,” I went on, “you give us, quite simply, a choice between life and death?”
“My friends,” I said, “to a question couched in these terms, our answer can be taken for granted. But no solemn promises bind us to the commander of this vessel.”
“None, sir,” the stranger replied.
Then, in a gentler voice, he went on:
“Now, allow me to finish what I have to tell you. I’ve heard of you, Professor Aronnax. You, if not your companions, won’t perhaps complain too much about the stroke of fate that has brought us together. Among the books that make up my favorite reading, you’ll find the work you’ve published on the great ocean depths. I’ve pored over it. You’ve taken your studies as far as terrestrial science can go. But you don’t know everything because you haven’t seen everything. Let me tell you, professor, you won’t regret the time you spend aboard my vessel. You’re going to voyage through a land of wonders. Stunned amazement will probably be your habitual state of mind. It will be a long while before you tire of the sights constantly before your eyes. I’m going to make another underwater tour of the world—perhaps my last, who knows?—and I’ll review everything I’ve studied in the depths of these seas that I’ve crossed so often, and you can be my fellow student. Starting this very day, you’ll enter a new element, you’ll see what no human being has ever seen before—since my men and I no longer count—and thanks to me, you’re going to learn the ultimate secrets of our planet.”
I can’t deny it; the commander’s words had a tremendous effect on me. He had caught me on my weak side, and I momentarily forgot that not even this sublime experience was worth the loss of my freedom. Besides, I counted on the future to resolve this important question. So I was content to reply:
“Sir, even though you’ve cut yourself off from humanity, I can see that you haven’t disowned all human feeling. We’re castaways whom you’ve charitably taken aboard, we’ll never forget that. Speaking for myself, I don’t rule out that the interests of science could override even the need for freedom, which promises me that, in exchange, our encounter will provide great rewards.”
I thought the commander would offer me his hand, to seal our agreement. He did nothing of the sort. I regretted that.
“One last question,” I said, just as this inexplicable being seemed ready to withdraw.
“Ask it, professor.”
“By what name am I to call you?”
“Sir,” the commander replied, “to you, I’m simply Captain Nemo;* to me, you and your companions are simply passengers on the Nautilus.”
*Latin: nemo means “no one.” Ed.
Captain Nemo called out. A steward appeared. The captain gave him his orders in that strange language I couldn’t even identify. Then, turning to the Canadian and Conseil:
“A meal is waiting for you in your cabin,” he told them. “Kindly follow this man.”
“That’s an offer I can’t refuse!” the harpooner replied.
After being confined for over thirty hours, he and Conseil were finally out of this cell.
“And now, Professor Aronnax, our own breakfast is ready. Allow me to lead the way.”
“Yours to command, captain.”
I followed Captain Nemo, and as soon as I passed through the doorway, I went down a kind of electrically lit passageway that resembled a gangway on a ship. After a stretch of some ten meters, a second door opened before me.
I then entered a dining room, decorated and furnished in austere good taste. Inlaid with ebony trim, tall oaken sideboards stood at both ends of this room, and sparkling on their shelves were staggered rows of earthenware, porcelain, and glass of incalculable value. There silver-plated dinnerware gleamed under rays pouring from light fixtures in the ceiling, whose glare was softened and tempered by delicately painted designs.
In the center of this room stood a table, richly spread. Captain Nemo indicated the place I was to occupy.
“Be seated,” he told me, “and eat like the famished man you must be.”
Our breakfast consisted of several dishes whose contents were all supplied by the sea, and some foods whose nature and derivation were unknown to me. They were good, I admit, but with a peculiar flavor to which I would soon grow accustomed. These various food items seemed to be rich in phosphorous, and I thought that they, too, must have been of marine origin.
Captain Nemo stared at me. I had asked him nothing, but he read my thoughts, and on his own he answered the questions I was itching to address him.
“Most of these dishes are new to you,” he told me. “But you can consume them without fear. They’re healthy and nourishing. I renounced terrestrial foods long ago, and I’m none the worse for it. My crew are strong and full of energy, and they eat what I eat.”
“So,” I said, “all these foods are products of the sea?”
“Yes, professor, the sea supplies all my needs. Sometimes I cast my nets in our wake, and I pull them up ready to burst. Sometimes I go hunting right in the midst of this element that has long seemed so far out of man’s reach, and I corner the game that dwells in my underwater forests. Like the flocks of old Proteus, King Neptune’s shepherd, my herds graze without fear on the ocean’s immense prairies. There I own vast properties that I harvest myself, and which are forever sown by the hand of the Creator of All Things.”
I stared at Captain Nemo in definite astonishment, and I answered him:
“Sir, I understand perfectly how your nets can furnish excellent fish for your table; I understand less how you can chase aquatic game in your underwater forests; but how a piece of red meat, no matter how small, can figure in your menu, that I don’t understand at all.”
“Nor I, sir,” Captain Nemo answered me. “I never touch the flesh of land animals.”
“Nevertheless, this . . . ,” I went on, pointing to a dish where some slices of loin were still left.
“What you believe to be red meat, professor, is nothing other than loin of sea turtle. Similarly, here are some dolphin livers you might mistake for stewed pork. My chef is a skillful food processor who excels at pickling and preserving these various exhibits from the ocean. Feel free to sample all of these foods. Here are some preserves of sea cucumber that a Malaysian would declare to be unrivaled in the entire world, here’s cream from milk furnished by the udders of cetaceans, and sugar from the huge fucus plants in the North Sea; and finally, allow me to offer you some marmalade of sea anemone, equal to that from the tastiest fruits.”
So I sampled away, more as a curiosity seeker than an epicure, while Captain Nemo delighted me with his incredible anecdotes.
“But this sea, Professor Aronnax,” he told me, “this prodigious, inexhaustible wet nurse of a sea not only feeds me, she dresses me as well. That fabric covering you was woven from the masses of filaments that anchor certain seashells; as the ancients were wont to do, it was dyed with purple ink from the murex snail and shaded with violet tints that I extract from a marine slug, the Mediterranean sea hare. The perfumes you’ll find on the washstand in your cabin were produced from the oozings of marine plants. Your mattress was made from the ocean’s softest eelgrass. Your quill pen will be whalebone, your ink a juice secreted by cuttlefish or squid. Everything comes to me from the sea, just as someday everything will return to it!”
“You love the sea, captain.”
“Yes, I love it! The sea is the be all and end all! It covers seven-tenths of the planet earth. Its breath is clean and healthy. It’s an immense wilderness where a man is never lonely, because he feels life astir on every side. The sea is simply the vehicle for a prodigious, unearthly mode of existence; it’s simply movement and love; it’s living infinity, as one of your poets put it. And in essence, professor, nature is here made manifest by all three of her kingdoms, mineral, vegetable, and animal. The last of these is amply represented by the four zoophyte groups, three classes of articulates, five classes of mollusks, and three vertebrate classes: mammals, reptiles, and those countless legions of fish, an infinite order of animals totaling more than 13,000 species, of which only one-tenth belong to fresh water. The sea is a vast pool of nature. Our globe began with the sea, so to speak, and who can say we won’t end with it! Here lies supreme tranquility. The sea doesn’t belong to tyrants. On its surface they can still exercise their iniquitous claims, battle each other, devour each other, haul every earthly horror. But thirty feet below sea level, their dominion ceases, their influence fades, their power vanishes! Ah, sir, live! Live in the heart of the seas! Here alone lies independence! Here I recognize no superiors! Here I’m free!”
Captain Nemo suddenly fell silent in the midst of this enthusiastic outpouring. Had he let himself get carried away, past the bounds of his habitual reserve? Had he said too much? For a few moments he strolled up and down, all aquiver. Then his nerves grew calmer, his facial features recovered their usual icy composure, and turning to me:
“Now, professor,” he said, “if you’d like to inspect the Nautilus, I’m yours to command.”
- The Nautilus
CAPTAIN NEMO stood up. I followed him. Contrived at the rear of the dining room, a double door opened, and I entered a room whose dimensions equaled the one I had just left.
It was a library. Tall, black-rosewood bookcases, inlaid with copperwork, held on their wide shelves a large number of uniformly bound books. These furnishings followed the contours of the room, their lower parts leading to huge couches upholstered in maroon leather and curved for maximum comfort. Light, movable reading stands, which could be pushed away or pulled near as desired, allowed books to be positioned on them for easy study. In the center stood a huge table covered with pamphlets, among which some newspapers, long out of date, were visible. Electric light flooded this whole harmonious totality, falling from four frosted half globes set in the scrollwork of the ceiling. I stared in genuine wonderment at this room so ingeniously laid out, and I couldn’t believe my eyes.
“Captain Nemo,” I told my host, who had just stretched out on a couch, “this is a library that would do credit to more than one continental palace, and I truly marvel to think it can go with you into the deepest seas.”
“Where could one find greater silence or solitude, professor?” Captain Nemo replied. “Did your study at the museum afford you such a perfect retreat?”
“No, sir, and I might add that it’s quite a humble one next to yours. You own 6,000 or 7,000 volumes here . . .”
“12,000, Professor Aronnax. They’re my sole remaining ties with dry land. But I was done with the shore the day my Nautilus submerged for the first time under the waters. That day I purchased my last volumes, my last pamphlets, my last newspapers, and ever since I’ve chosen to believe that humanity no longer thinks or writes. In any event, professor, these books are at your disposal, and you may use them freely.”
I thanked Captain Nemo and approached the shelves of this library. Written in every language, books on science, ethics, and literature were there in abundance, but I didn’t see a single work on economics—they seemed to be strictly banned on board. One odd detail: all these books were shelved indiscriminately without regard to the language in which they were written, and this jumble proved that the Nautilus’s captain could read fluently whatever volumes he chanced to pick up.
Among these books I noted masterpieces by the greats of ancient and modern times, in other words, all of humanity’s finest achievements in history, poetry, fiction, and science, from Homer to Victor Hugo, from Xenophon to Michelet, from Rabelais to Madame George Sand. But science, in particular, represented the major investment of this library: books on mechanics, ballistics, hydrography, meteorology, geography, geology, etc., held a place there no less important than works on natural history, and I realized that they made up the captain’s chief reading. There I saw the complete works of Humboldt, the complete Arago, as well as works by Foucault, Henri Sainte-Claire Deville, Chasles, Milne-Edwards, Quatrefages, John Tyndall, Faraday, Berthelot, Father Secchi, Petermann, Commander Maury, Louis Agassiz, etc., plus the transactions of France’s Academy of Sciences, bulletins from the various geographical societies, etc., and in a prime location, those two volumes on the great ocean depths that had perhaps earned me this comparatively charitable welcome from Captain Nemo. Among the works of Joseph Bertrand, his book entitled The Founders of Astronomy even gave me a definite date; and since I knew it had appeared in the course of 1865, I concluded that the fitting out of the Nautilus hadn’t taken place before then. Accordingly, three years ago at the most, Captain Nemo had begun his underwater existence. Moreover, I hoped some books even more recent would permit me to pinpoint the date precisely; but I had plenty of time to look for them, and I didn’t want to put off any longer our stroll through the wonders of the Nautilus.
“Sir,” I told the captain, “thank you for placing this library at my disposal. There are scientific treasures here, and I’ll take advantage of them.”
“This room isn’t only a library,” Captain Nemo said, “it’s also a smoking room.”
“A smoking room?” I exclaimed. “Then one may smoke on board?”
“In that case, sir, I’m forced to believe that you’ve kept up relations with Havana.”
“None whatever,” the captain replied. “Try this cigar, Professor Aronnax, and even though it doesn’t come from Havana, it will satisfy you if you’re a connoisseur.”
I took the cigar offered me, whose shape recalled those from Cuba; but it seemed to be made of gold leaf. I lit it at a small brazier supported by an elegant bronze stand, and I inhaled my first whiffs with the relish of a smoker who hasn’t had a puff in days.
“It’s excellent,” I said, “but it’s not from the tobacco plant.”
“Right,” the captain replied, “this tobacco comes from neither Havana nor the Orient. It’s a kind of nicotine-rich seaweed that the ocean supplies me, albeit sparingly. Do you still miss your Cubans, sir?”
“Captain, I scorn them from this day forward.”
“Then smoke these cigars whenever you like, without debating their origin. They bear no government seal of approval, but I imagine they’re none the worse for it.”
“On the contrary.”
Just then Captain Nemo opened a door facing the one by which I had entered the library, and I passed into an immense, splendidly lit lounge.
It was a huge quadrilateral with canted corners, ten meters long, six wide, five high. A luminous ceiling, decorated with delicate arabesques, distributed a soft, clear daylight over all the wonders gathered in this museum. For a museum it truly was, in which clever hands had spared no expense to amass every natural and artistic treasure, displaying them with the helter-skelter picturesqueness that distinguishes a painter’s studio.
Some thirty pictures by the masters, uniformly framed and separated by gleaming panoplies of arms, adorned walls on which were stretched tapestries of austere design. There I saw canvases of the highest value, the likes of which I had marveled at in private European collections and art exhibitions. The various schools of the old masters were represented by a Raphael Madonna, a Virgin by Leonardo da Vinci, a nymph by Correggio, a woman by Titian, an adoration of the Magi by Veronese, an assumption of the Virgin by Murillo, a Holbein portrait, a monk by Velazquez, a martyr by Ribera, a village fair by Rubens, two Flemish landscapes by Teniers, three little genre paintings by Gerard Dow, Metsu, and Paul Potter, two canvases by Gericault and Prud’hon, plus seascapes by Backhuysen and Vernet. Among the works of modern art were pictures signed by Delacroix, Ingres, Decamps, Troyon, Meissonier, Daubigny, etc., and some wonderful miniature statues in marble or bronze, modeled after antiquity’s finest originals, stood on their pedestals in the corners of this magnificent museum. As the Nautilus’s commander had predicted, my mind was already starting to fall into that promised state of stunned amazement.
“Professor,” this strange man then said, “you must excuse the informality with which I receive you, and the disorder reigning in this lounge.”
“Sir,” I replied, “without prying into who you are, might I venture to identify you as an artist?”
“A collector, sir, nothing more. Formerly I loved acquiring these beautiful works created by the hand of man. I sought them greedily, ferreted them out tirelessly, and I’ve been able to gather some objects of great value. They’re my last mementos of those shores that are now dead for me. In my eyes, your modern artists are already as old as the ancients. They’ve existed for 2,000 or 3,000 years, and I mix them up in my mind. The masters are ageless.”
“What about these composers?” I said, pointing to sheet music by Weber, Rossini, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Meyerbeer, Hérold, Wagner, Auber, Gounod, Victor Massé, and a number of others scattered over a full size piano-organ, which occupied one of the wall panels in this lounge.
“These composers,” Captain Nemo answered me, “are the contemporaries of Orpheus, because in the annals of the dead, all chronological differences fade; and I’m dead, professor, quite as dead as those friends of yours sleeping six feet under!”
Captain Nemo fell silent and seemed lost in reverie. I regarded him with intense excitement, silently analyzing his strange facial expression. Leaning his elbow on the corner of a valuable mosaic table, he no longer saw me, he had forgotten my very presence.
I didn’t disturb his meditations but continued to pass in review the curiosities that enriched this lounge.
After the works of art, natural rarities predominated. They consisted chiefly of plants, shells, and other exhibits from the ocean that must have been Captain Nemo’s own personal finds. In the middle of the lounge, a jet of water, electrically lit, fell back into a basin made from a single giant clam. The delicately festooned rim of this shell, supplied by the biggest mollusk in the class Acephala, measured about six meters in circumference; so it was even bigger than those fine giant clams given to King François I by the Republic of Venice, and which the Church of Saint-Sulpice in Paris has made into two gigantic holy-water fonts.
Around this basin, inside elegant glass cases fastened with copper bands, there were classified and labeled the most valuable marine exhibits ever put before the eyes of a naturalist. My professorial glee may easily be imagined.
The zoophyte branch offered some very unusual specimens from its two groups, the polyps and the echinoderms. In the first group: organ-pipe coral, gorgonian coral arranged into fan shapes, soft sponges from Syria, isis coral from the Molucca Islands, sea-pen coral, wonderful coral of the genus Virgularia from the waters of Norway, various coral of the genus Umbellularia, alcyonarian coral, then a whole series of those madrepores that my mentor Professor Milne-Edwards has so shrewdly classified into divisions and among which I noted the wonderful genus Flabellina as well as the genus Oculina from Réunion Island, plus a “Neptune’s chariot” from the
Sea—every superb variety of coral, and in short, every species of these unusual polyparies that congregate to form entire islands that will one day turn into continents. Among the echinoderms, notable for being covered with spines: starfish, feather stars, sea lilies, free-swimming crinoids, brittle stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, etc., represented a complete collection of the individuals in this group.
An excitable conchologist would surely have fainted dead away before other, more numerous glass cases in which were classified specimens from the mollusk branch. There I saw a collection of incalculable value that I haven’t time to describe completely. Among these exhibits I’ll mention, just for the record: an elegant royal hammer shell from the Indian Ocean, whose evenly spaced white spots stood out sharply against a base of red and brown; an imperial spiny oyster, brightly colored, bristling with thorns, a specimen rare to European museums, whose value I estimated at 20,000 francs; a common hammer shell from the seas near Queensland, very hard to come by; exotic cockles from Senegal, fragile white bivalve shells that a single breath could pop like a soap bubble; several varieties of watering-pot shell from Java, a sort of limestone tube fringed with leafy folds and much fought over by collectors; a whole series of top-shell snails—greenish yellow ones fished up from American seas, others colored reddish brown that patronize the waters off Queensland, the former coming from the Gulf of Mexico and notable for their overlapping shells, the latter some sun-carrier shells found in the southernmost seas, finally and rarest of all, the magnificent spurred-star shell from New Zealand; then some wonderful peppery-furrow shells; several valuable species of cythera clams and venus clams; the trellis wentletrap snail from Tranquebar on India’s eastern shore; a marbled turban snail gleaming with mother-of-pearl; green parrot shells from the seas of China; the virtually unknown cone snail from the genus Coenodullus; every variety of cowry used as money in India and Africa; a “glory-of-the-seas,” the most valuable shell in the East Indies; finally, common periwinkles, delphinula snails, turret snails, violet snails, European cowries, volute snails, olive shells, miter shells, helmet shells, murex snails, whelks, harp shells, spiky periwinkles, triton snails, horn shells, spindle shells, conch shells, spider conchs, limpets, glass snails, sea butterflies—every kind of delicate, fragile seashell that science has baptized with its most delightful names.
Aside and in special compartments, strings of supremely beautiful pearls were spread out, the electric light flecking them with little fiery sparks: pink pearls pulled from saltwater fan shells in the Red Sea; green pearls from the rainbow abalone; yellow, blue, and black pearls, the unusual handiwork of various mollusks from every ocean and of certain mussels from rivers up north; in short, several specimens of incalculable worth that had been oozed by the rarest of shellfish. Some of these pearls were bigger than a pigeon egg; they more than equaled the one that the explorer Tavernier sold the Shah of Persia for 3,000,000 francs, and they surpassed that other pearl owned by the Imam of Muscat, which I had believed to be unrivaled in the entire world.
Consequently, to calculate the value of this collection was, I should say, impossible. Captain Nemo must have spent millions in acquiring these different specimens, and I was wondering what financial resources he tapped to satisfy his collector’s fancies, when these words interrupted me:
“You’re examining my shells, professor? They’re indeed able to fascinate a naturalist; but for me they have an added charm, since I’ve collected every one of them with my own two hands, and not a sea on the globe has escaped my investigations.”
“I understand, captain, I understand your delight at strolling in the midst of this wealth. You’re a man who gathers his treasure in person. No museum in Europe owns such a collection of exhibits from the ocean. But if I exhaust all my wonderment on them, I’ll have nothing left for the ship that carries them! I have absolutely no wish to probe those secrets of yours! But I confess that my curiosity is aroused to the limit by this Nautilus, the motor power it contains, the equipment enabling it to operate, the ultra powerful force that brings it to life. I see some instruments hanging on the walls of this lounge whose purposes are unknown to me. May I learn—”
“Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo answered me, “I’ve said you’d be free aboard my vessel, so no part of the Nautilus is off-limits to you. You may inspect it in detail, and I’ll be delighted to act as your guide.”
“I don’t know how to thank you, sir, but I won’t abuse your good nature. I would only ask you about the uses intended for these instruments of physical measure—”
“Professor, these same instruments are found in my stateroom, where I’ll have the pleasure of explaining their functions to you. But beforehand, come inspect the cabin set aside for you. You need to learn how you’ll be lodged aboard the Nautilus.”
I followed Captain Nemo, who, via one of the doors cut into the lounge’s canted corners, led me back down the ship’s gangways. He took me to the bow, and there I found not just a cabin but an elegant stateroom with a bed, a washstand, and various other furnishings.
I could only thank my host.
“Your stateroom adjoins mine,” he told me, opening a door, “and mine leads into that lounge we’ve just left.”
I entered the captain’s stateroom. It had an austere, almost monastic appearance. An iron bedstead, a worktable, some washstand fixtures. Subdued lighting. No luxuries. Just the bare necessities.
Captain Nemo showed me to a bench.
“Kindly be seated,” he told me.
I sat, and he began speaking as follows:
- Everything through Electricity
“SIR,” CAPTAIN NEMO SAID, showing me the instruments hanging on the walls of his stateroom,
“these are the devices needed to navigate the Nautilus. Here, as in the lounge, I always have them before my eyes, and they indicate my position and exact heading in the midst of the ocean. You’re familiar with some of them, such as the thermometer, which gives the temperature inside the Nautilus; the barometer, which measures the heaviness of the outside air and forecasts changes in the weather; the humidistat, which indicates the degree of dryness in the atmosphere; the storm glass, whose mixture decomposes to foretell the arrival of tempests; the compass, which steers my course; the sextant, which takes the sun’s altitude and tells me my latitude; chronometers, which allow me to calculate my longitude; and finally, spyglasses for both day and night, enabling me to scrutinize every point of the horizon once the Nautilus has risen to the surface of the waves.”
“These are the normal navigational instruments,” I replied, “and I’m familiar with their uses. But no doubt these others answer pressing needs unique to the Nautilus. That dial I see there, with the needle moving across it—isn’t it a pressure gauge?”
“It is indeed a pressure gauge. It’s placed in contact with the water, and it indicates the outside pressure on our hull, which in turn gives me the depth at which my submersible is sitting.”
“And these are some new breed of sounding line?”
“They’re thermometric sounding lines that report water temperatures in the different strata.”
“And these other instruments, whose functions I can’t even guess?”
“Here, professor, I need to give you some background information,” Captain Nemo said. “So kindly hear me out.”
He fell silent for some moments, then he said:
“There’s a powerful, obedient, swift, and effortless force that can be bent to any use and which reigns supreme aboard my vessel. It does everything. It lights me, it warms me, it’s the soul of my mechanical equipment. This force is electricity.”
“Electricity!” I exclaimed in some surprise.
“But, captain, you have a tremendous speed of movement that doesn’t square with the strength of electricity. Until now, its dynamic potential has remained quite limited, capable of producing only small amounts of power!”
“Professor,” Captain Nemo replied, “my electricity isn’t the run-of-the-mill variety, and with your permission, I’ll leave it at that.”
“I won’t insist, sir, and I’ll rest content with simply being flabbergasted at your results. I would ask one question, however, which you needn’t answer if it’s indiscreet. The electric cells you use to generate this marvelous force must be depleted very quickly. Their zinc component, for example: how do you replace it, since you no longer stay in contact with the shore?”
“That question deserves an answer,” Captain Nemo replied. “First off, I’ll mention that at the bottom of the sea there exist veins of zinc, iron, silver, and gold whose mining would quite certainly be feasible. But I’ve tapped none of these land-based metals, and I wanted to make demands only on the sea itself for the sources of my electricity.”
“The sea itself?”
“Yes, professor, and there was no shortage of such sources. In fact, by establishing a circuit between two wires immersed to different depths, I’d be able to obtain electricity through the diverging temperatures they experience; but I preferred to use a more practical procedure.”
“And that is?”
“You’re familiar with the composition of salt water. In 1,000 grams one finds 96.5% water and about 2.66% sodium chloride; then small quantities of magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, magnesium bromide, sulfate of magnesia, calcium sulfate, and calcium carbonate. Hence you observe that sodium chloride is encountered there in significant proportions. Now then, it’s this sodium that I extract from salt water and with which I compose my electric cells.”
“Yes, sir. Mixed with mercury, it forms an amalgam that takes the place of zinc in Bunsen cells. The mercury is never depleted. Only the sodium is consumed, and the sea itself gives me that. Beyond this, I’ll mention that sodium batteries have been found to generate the greater energy, and their electro-motor strength is twice that of zinc
“Captain, I fully understand the excellence of sodium under the conditions in which you’re placed. The sea contains it. Fine. But it still has to be produced, in short, extracted. And how do you accomplish this? Obviously your batteries could do the extracting; but if I’m not mistaken, the consumption of sodium needed by your electric equipment would be greater than the quantity you’d extract. It would come about, then, that in the process of producing your sodium, you’d use up more than you’d make!”
“Accordingly, professor, I don’t extract it with batteries; quite simply, I utilize the heat of coal from the earth.”
“From the earth?” I said, my voice going up on the word.
“We’ll say coal from the seafloor, if you prefer,” Captain Nemo replied.
“And you can mine these veins of underwater coal?”
“You’ll watch me work them, Professor Aronnax. I ask only a little patience of you, since you’ll have ample time to be patient. Just remember one thing: I owe everything to the ocean; it generates electricity, and electricity gives the Nautilus heat, light, motion, and, in a word, life itself.”
“But not the air you breathe?”
“Oh, I could produce the air needed on board, but it would be pointless, since I can rise to the surface of the sea whenever I like. However, even though electricity doesn’t supply me with breathable air, it at least operates the powerful pumps that store it under pressure in special tanks; which, if need be, allows me to extend my stay in the lower strata for as long as I want.”
“Captain,” I replied, “I’ll rest content with marveling. You’ve obviously found what all mankind will surely find one day, the true dynamic power of electricity.”
“I’m not so certain they’ll find it,” Captain Nemo replied icily. “But be that as it may, you’re already familiar with the first use I’ve found for this valuable force. It lights us, and with a uniformity and continuity not even possessed by sunlight. Now, look at that clock: it’s electric, it runs with an accuracy rivaling the finest chronometers. I’ve had it divided into twenty-four hours like Italian clocks, since neither day nor night, sun nor moon, exist for me, but only this artificial light that I import into the depths of the seas! See, right now it’s ten o’clock in the morning.”
“Another use for electricity: that dial hanging before our eyes indicates how fast the Nautilus is going. An electric wire puts it in contact with the patent log; this needle shows me the actual speed of my submersible. And . . . hold on . . . just now we’re proceeding at the moderate pace of fifteen miles per hour.”
“It’s marvelous,” I replied, “and I truly see, captain, how right you are to use this force; it’s sure to take the place of wind, water, and steam.”
“But that’s not all, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo said, standing up. “And if you’d care to follow me, we’ll inspect the Nautilus’s stern.”
In essence, I was already familiar with the whole forward part of this underwater boat, and here are its exact subdivisions going from amidships to its spur: the dining room, 5 meters long and separated from the library by a watertight bulkhead, in other words, it couldn’t be penetrated by the sea; the library, 5 meters long; the main lounge, 10 meters long, separated from the captain’s stateroom by a second watertight bulkhead; the aforesaid stateroom, 5 meters long; mine, 2.5 meters long; and finally, air tanks 7.5 meters long and extending to the stempost. Total: a length of 35 meters. Doors were cut into the watertight bulkheads and were shut hermetically by means of india-rubber seals, which insured complete safety aboard the Nautilus in the event of a leak in any one section.
I followed Captain Nemo down gangways located for easy transit, and I arrived amidships. There I found a sort of shaft heading upward between two watertight bulkheads. An iron ladder, clamped to the wall, led to the shaft’s upper end. I asked the captain what this ladder was for.
“It goes to the skiff,” he replied.
“What! You have a skiff?” I replied in some astonishment.
“Surely. An excellent longboat, light and unsinkable, which is used for excursions and fishing trips.”
“But when you want to set out, don’t you have to return to the surface of the sea?”
“By no means. The skiff is attached to the topside of the Nautilus’s hull and is set in a cavity expressly designed to receive it. It’s completely decked over, absolutely watertight, and held solidly in place by bolts. This ladder leads to a manhole cut into the Nautilus’s hull and corresponding to a comparable hole cut into the side of the skiff. I insert myself through this double opening into the longboat. My crew close up the hole belonging to the Nautilus; I close up the one belonging to the skiff, simply by screwing it into place. I undo the bolts holding the skiff to the submersible, and the longboat rises with prodigious speed to the surface of the sea. I then open the deck paneling, carefully closed until that point; I up mast and hoist sail—or I take out my oars—and I go for a spin.”
“But how do you return to the ship?”
“I don’t, Professor Aronnax; the Nautilus returns to me.”
“At your command?”
“At my command. An electric wire connects me to the ship. I fire off a telegram, and that’s that.”
“Right,” I said, tipsy from all these wonders, “nothing to it!”
After passing the well of the companionway that led to the platform, I saw a cabin 2 meters long in which Conseil and Ned Land, enraptured with their meal, were busy devouring it to the last crumb. Then a door opened into the galley, 3 meters long and located between the vessel’s huge storage lockers.
There, even more powerful and obedient than gas, electricity did most of the cooking. Arriving under the stoves, wires transmitted to platinum griddles a heat that was distributed and sustained with perfect consistency. It also heated a distilling mechanism that, via evaporation, supplied excellent drinking water. Next to this galley was a bathroom, conveniently laid out, with faucets supplying hot or cold water at will.
After the galley came the crew’s quarters, 5 meters long. But the door was closed and I couldn’t see its accommodations, which might have told me the number of men it took to operate the Nautilus.
At the far end stood a fourth watertight bulkhead, separating the crew’s quarters from the engine room. A door opened, and I stood in the compartment where Captain Nemo, indisputably a world-class engineer, had set up his locomotive equipment.
Brightly lit, the engine room measured at least 20 meters in length. It was divided, by function, into two parts: the first contained the cells for generating electricity, the second that mechanism transmitting movement to the propeller.
Right off, I detected an odor permeating the compartment that was sui generis.
[Latin: “in a class by itself] Captain Nemo noticed the negative impression it made on me.
“That,” he told me, “is a gaseous discharge caused by our use of sodium, but it’s only a mild inconvenience. In any event, every morning we sanitize the ship by ventilating it in the open air.”
Meanwhile I examined the Nautilus’s engine with a fascination easy to imagine.
“You observe,” Captain Nemo told me, “that I use Bunsen cells, not Ruhmkorff cells. The latter would be ineffectual. One uses fewer Bunsen cells, but they’re big and strong, and experience has proven their superiority. The electricity generated here makes its way to the stern, where electromagnets of huge size activate a special system of levers and gears that transmit movement to the propeller’s shaft. The latter has a diameter of 6 meters, a pitch of 7.5 meters, and can do up to 120 revolutions per minute.”
“And that gives you?”
“A speed of fifty miles per hour.”
There lay a mystery, but I didn’t insist on exploring it. How could electricity work with such power? Where did this nearly unlimited energy originate? Was it in the extraordinary voltage obtained from some new kind of induction coil? Could its transmission have been immeasurably increased by some unknown system of levers?** This was the point I couldn’t grasp.
**Author’s Note: And sure enough, there’s now talk of such a discovery, in which a new set of levers generates considerable power. Did its inventor meet up with Captain Nemo?
“Captain Nemo,” I said, “I’ll vouch for the results and not try to explain them. I’ve seen the Nautilus at work out in front of the Abraham Lincoln, and I know where I stand on its speed. But it isn’t enough just to move, we have to see where we’re going! We must be able to steer right or left, up or down! How do you reach the lower depths, where you meet an increasing resistance that’s assessed in hundreds of atmospheres? How do you rise back to the surface of the ocean? Finally, how do you keep your ship at whatever level suits you? Am I indiscreet in asking you all these things?”
“Not at all, professor,” the captain answered me after a slight hesitation, “since you’ll never leave this underwater boat. Come into the lounge. It’s actually our work room, and there you’ll learn the full story about the Nautilus!”
- Some Figures
A MOMENT LATER we were seated on a couch in the lounge, cigars between our lips. The captain placed before my eyes a working drawing that gave the ground plan, cross section, and side view of the Nautilus. Then he began his description as follows:
“Here, Professor Aronnax, are the different dimensions of this boat now transporting you. It’s a very long cylinder with conical ends. It noticeably takes the shape of a cigar, a shape already adopted in London for several projects of the same kind. The length of this cylinder from end to end is exactly seventy meters, and its maximum breadth of beam is eight meters. So it isn’t quite built on the ten-to-one ratio of your high-speed steamers; but its lines are sufficiently long, and their tapering gradual enough, so that the displaced water easily slips past and poses no obstacle to the ship’s movements.
“These two dimensions allow you to obtain, via a simple calculation, the surface area and volume of the Nautilus. Its surface area totals 1,011.45 square meters, its volume 1,507.2 cubic meters—which is tantamount to saying that when it’s completely submerged, it displaces 1,500 cubic meters of water, or weighs 1,500 metric tons.
“In drawing up plans for a ship meant to navigate underwater, I wanted it, when floating on the waves, to lie nine-tenths below the surface and to emerge only one-tenth. Consequently, under these conditions it needed to displace only nine-tenths of its volume, hence 1,356.48 cubic meters; in other words, it was to weigh only that same number of metric tons. So I was obliged not to exceed this weight while building it to the aforesaid dimensions.
“The Nautilus is made up of two hulls, one inside the other; between them, joining them together, are iron T-bars that give this ship the utmost rigidity. In fact, thanks to this cellular arrangement, it has the resistance of a stone block, as if it were completely solid. Its plating can’t give way; it’s self-adhering and not dependent on the tightness of its rivets; and due to the perfect union of its materials, the solidarity of its construction allows it to defy the most violent seas.
“The two hulls are manufactured from boilerplate steel, whose relative density is 7.8 times that of water. The first hull has a thickness of no less than five centimeters and weighs 394.96 metric tons. My second hull, the outer cover, includes a keel fifty centimeters high by twenty-five wide, which by itself weighs 62 metric tons; this hull, the engine, the ballast, the various accessories and accommodations, plus the bulkheads and interior braces, have a combined weight of 961.52 metric tons, which when added to 394.96 metric tons, gives us the desired total of 1,356.48 metric tons. Clear?”
“Clear,” I replied.
“So,” the captain went on, “when the Nautilus lies on the waves under these conditions, one-tenth of it does emerge above water. Now then, if I provide some ballast tanks equal in capacity to that one-tenth, hence able to hold 150.72 metric tons, and if I fill them with water, the boat then displaces 1,507.2 metric tons—or it weighs that much—and it would be completely submerged. That’s what comes about, professor. These ballast tanks exist within easy access in the lower reaches of the Nautilus. I open some stopcocks, the tanks fill, the boat sinks, and it’s exactly flush with the surface of the water.”
“Fine, captain, but now we come to a genuine difficulty. You’re able to lie flush with the surface of the ocean, that I understand. But lower down, while diving beneath that surface, isn’t your submersible going to encounter a pressure, and consequently undergo an upward thrust, that must be assessed at one atmosphere per every thirty feet of water, hence at about one kilogram per each square centimeter?”
“Then unless you fill up the whole Nautilus, I don’t see how you can force it down into the heart of these liquid masses.”
“Professor,” Captain Nemo replied, “static objects mustn’t be confused with dynamic ones, or we’ll be open to serious error. Comparatively little effort is spent in reaching the ocean’s lower regions, because all objects have a tendency to become ‘sinkers.’ Follow my logic here.”
“I’m all ears, captain.”
“When I wanted to determine what increase in weight the Nautilus needed to be given in order to submerge, I had only to take note of the proportionate reduction in volume that salt water experiences in deeper and deeper strata.”
“That’s obvious,” I replied.
“Now then, if water isn’t absolutely incompressible, at least it compresses very little. In fact, according to the most recent calculations, this reduction is only .0000436 per atmosphere, or per every thirty feet of depth. For instance, to go 1,000 meters down, I must take into account the reduction in volume that occurs under a pressure equivalent to that from a 1,000-meter column of water, in other words, under a pressure of 100 atmospheres. In this instance the reduction would be .00436. Consequently, I’d have to increase my weight from 1,507.2 metric tons to 1,513.77. So the added weight would only be 6.57 metric tons.”
“That’s all, Professor Aronnax, and the calculation is easy to check. Now then, I have supplementary ballast tanks capable of shipping 100 metric tons of water. So I can descend to considerable depths. When I want to rise again and lie flush with the surface, all I have to do is expel that water; and if I desire that the Nautilus emerge above the waves to one-tenth of its total capacity, I empty all the ballast tanks completely.”
This logic, backed up by figures, left me without a single objection.
“I accept your calculations, captain,” I replied, “and I’d be ill-mannered to dispute them, since your daily experience bears them out. But at this juncture, I have a hunch that we’re still left with one real difficulty.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“When you’re at a depth of 1,000 meters, the Nautilus’s plating bears a pressure of 100 atmospheres. If at this point you want to empty the supplementary ballast tanks in order to lighten your boat and rise to the surface, your pumps must overcome that pressure of 100 atmospheres, which is 100 kilograms per each square centimeter. This demands a strength—”
“That electricity alone can give me,” Captain Nemo said swiftly. “Sir, I repeat: the dynamic power of my engines is nearly infinite. The Nautilus’s pumps have prodigious strength, as you must have noticed when their waterspouts swept like a torrent over the Abraham Lincoln. Besides, I use my supplementary ballast tanks only to reach an average depth of 1,500 to 2,000 meters, and that with a view to conserving my machinery. Accordingly, when I have a mind to visit the ocean depths two or three vertical leagues beneath the surface, I use maneuvers that are more time-consuming but no less infallible.”
“What are they, captain?” I asked.
“Here I’m naturally led into telling you how the Nautilus is maneuvered.”
“I can’t wait to find out.”
“In order to steer this boat to port or starboard, in short, to make turns on a horizontal plane, I use an ordinary, wide-bladed rudder that’s fastened to the rear of the sternpost and worked by a wheel and tackle. But I can also move the Nautilus upward and downward on a vertical plane by the simple method of slanting its two fins, which are attached to its sides at its center of flotation; these fins are flexible, able to assume any position, and can be operated from inside by means of powerful levers. If these fins stay parallel with the boat, the latter moves horizontally. If they slant, the Nautilus follows the angle of that slant and, under its propeller’s thrust, either sinks on a diagonal as steep as it suits me, or rises on that diagonal. And similarly, if I want to return more swiftly to the surface, I throw the propeller in gear, and the water’s pressure makes the Nautilus rise vertically, as an air balloon inflated with hydrogen lifts swiftly into the skies.”
“Bravo, captain!” I exclaimed. “But in the midst of the waters, how can your helmsman follow the course you’ve given him?”
“My helmsman is stationed behind the windows of a pilothouse, which protrudes from the topside of the Nautilus’s hull and is fitted with biconvex glass.”
“Is glass capable of resisting such pressures?”
“Perfectly capable. Though fragile on impact, crystal can still offer considerable resistance. In 1864, during experiments on fishing by electric light in the middle of the North Sea, glass panes less than seven millimeters thick were seen to resist a pressure of sixteen atmospheres, all the while letting through strong, heat-generating rays whose warmth was unevenly distributed. Now then, I use glass windows measuring no less than twenty-one centimeters at their centers; in other words, they’ve thirty times the thickness.”
“Fair enough, captain, but if we’re going to see, we need light to drive away the dark, and in the midst of the murky waters, I wonder how your helmsman can—”
“Set astern of the pilothouse is a powerful electric reflector whose rays light up the sea for a distance of half a mile.”
“Oh, bravo! Bravo three times over, captain! That explains the phosphorescent glow from this so-called narwhale that so puzzled us scientists! Pertinent to this, I’ll ask you if the Nautilus’s running afoul of the Scotia, which caused such a great uproar, was the result of an accidental encounter?”
“Entirely accidental, sir. I was navigating two meters beneath the surface of the water when the collision occurred. However, I could see that it had no dire consequences.”
“None, sir. But as for your encounter with the Abraham Lincoln . . . ?”
“Professor, that troubled me, because it’s one of the best ships in the gallant American navy, but they attacked me and I had to defend myself! All the same, I was content simply to put the frigate in a condition where it could do me no harm; it won’t have any difficulty getting repairs at the nearest port.”
“Ah, commander,” I exclaimed with conviction, “your Nautilus is truly a marvelous boat!”
“Yes, professor,” Captain Nemo replied with genuine excitement, “and I love it as if it were my own flesh and blood! Aboard a conventional ship, facing the ocean’s perils, danger lurks everywhere; on the surface of the sea, your chief sensation is the constant feeling of an underlying chasm, as the Dutchman Jansen so aptly put it; but below the waves aboard the Nautilus, your heart never fails you! There are no structural deformities to worry about, because the double hull of this boat has the rigidity of iron; no rigging to be worn out by rolling and pitching on the waves; no sails for the wind to carry off; no boilers for steam to burst open; no fires to fear, because this submersible is made of sheet iron not wood; no coal to run out of, since electricity is its mechanical force; no collisions to fear, because it navigates the watery deep all by itself; no storms to brave, because just a few meters beneath the waves, it finds absolute tranquility! There, sir. There’s the ideal ship! And if it’s true that the engineer has more confidence in a craft than the builder, and the builder more than the captain himself, you can understand the utter abandon with which I place my trust in this Nautilus, since I’m its captain, builder, and engineer all in one!”
Captain Nemo spoke with winning eloquence. The fire in his eyes and the passion in his gestures transfigured him. Yes, he loved his ship the same way a father loves his child!
But one question, perhaps indiscreet, naturally popped up, and I couldn’t resist asking it.
“You’re an engineer, then, Captain Nemo?”
“Yes, professor,” he answered me. “I studied in London, Paris, and New York back in the days when I was a resident of the earth’s continents.”
“But how were you able to build this wonderful Nautilus in secret?”
“Each part of it, Professor Aronnax, came from a different spot on the globe and reached me at a cover address. Its keel was forged by Creusot in France, its propeller shaft by Pen & Co. in London, the sheet-iron plates for its hull by Laird’s in Liverpool, its propeller by Scott’s in Glasgow. Its tanks were manufactured by Cail & Co. in Paris, its engine by Krupp in Prussia, its spur by the Motala workshops in Sweden, its precision instruments by Hart Bros. in New York, etc.; and each of these suppliers received my specifications under a different name.”
“But,” I went on, “once these parts were manufactured, didn’t they have to be mounted and adjusted?”
“Professor, I set up my workshops on a deserted islet in midocean. There our Nautilus was completed by me and my workmen, in other words, by my gallant companions whom I’ve molded and educated. Then, when the operation was over, we burned every trace of our stay on that islet, which if I could have, I’d have blown up.”
“From all this, may I assume that such a boat costs a fortune?”
“An iron ship, Professor Aronnax, runs 1,125 francs per metric ton. Now then, the Nautilus has a burden of 1,500 metric tons. Consequently, it cost 1,687,000 francs, hence 2,000,000 francs including its accommodations, and 4,000,000 or 5,000,000 with all the collections and works of art it contains.”
“One last question, Captain Nemo.”
“You’re rich, then?”
“Infinitely rich, sir, and without any trouble, I could pay off the ten-billion-franc French national debt!”
I gaped at the bizarre individual who had just spoken these words. Was he playing on my credulity? Time would tell.
- The Black Current
THE PART OF THE
planet earth that the seas occupy has been assessed at 3,832,558 square myriameters, hence more than 38,000,000,000 hectares. This liquid mass totals 2,250,000,000 cubic miles and could form a sphere with a diameter of sixty leagues, whose weight would be three quintillion metric tons. To appreciate such a number, we should remember that a quintillion is to a billion what a billion is to one, in other words, there are as many billions in a quintillion as ones in a billion! Now then, this liquid mass nearly equals the total amount of water that has poured through all the earth’s rivers for the past 40,000 years!
During prehistoric times, an era of fire was followed by an era of water. At first there was ocean everywhere. Then, during the Silurian period, the tops of mountains gradually appeared above the waves, islands emerged, disappeared beneath temporary floods, rose again, were fused to form continents, and finally the earth’s geography settled into what we have today. Solid matter had wrested from liquid matter some 37,657,000 square miles, hence 12,916,000,000 hectares.
The outlines of the continents allow the seas to be divided into five major parts: the frozen Arctic and Antarctic oceans, the Indian Ocean, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Pacific Ocean.
The Pacific Ocean extends north to south between the two polar circles and east to west between America and Asia over an expanse of 145 degrees of longitude. It’s the most tranquil of the seas; its currents are wide and slow-moving, its tides moderate, its rainfall abundant. And this was the ocean that I was first destined to cross under these strangest of auspices.
“If you don’t mind, professor,” Captain Nemo told me, “we’ll determine our exact position and fix the starting point of our voyage. It’s fifteen minutes before noon. I’m going to rise to the surface of the water.”
The captain pressed an electric bell three times. The pumps began to expel water from the ballast tanks; on the pressure gauge, a needle marked the decreasing pressures that indicated the Nautilus’s upward progress; then the needle stopped.
“Here we are,” the captain said.
I made my way to the central companionway, which led to the platform. I climbed its metal steps, passed through the open hatches, and arrived topside on the Nautilus.
The platform emerged only eighty centimeters above the waves. The Nautilus’s bow and stern boasted that spindle-shaped outline that had caused the ship to be compared appropriately to a long cigar. I noted the slight overlap of its sheet-iron plates, which resembled the scales covering the bodies of our big land reptiles. So I had a perfectly natural explanation for why, despite the best spyglasses, this boat had always been mistaken for a marine animal.
Near the middle of the platform, the skiff was half set in the ship’s hull, making a slight bulge. Fore and aft stood two cupolas of moderate height, their sides slanting and partly inset with heavy biconvex glass, one reserved for the helmsman steering the Nautilus, the other for the brilliance of the powerful electric beacon lighting his way.
The sea was magnificent, the skies clear. This long aquatic vehicle could barely feel the broad undulations of the ocean. A mild breeze out of the east rippled the surface of the water. Free of all mist, the horizon was ideal for taking sights.
There was nothing to be seen. Not a reef, not an islet. No more Abraham Lincoln. A deserted immenseness.
Raising his sextant, Captain Nemo took the altitude of the sun, which would give him his latitude. He waited for a few minutes until the orb touched the rim of the horizon. While he was taking his sights, he didn’t move a muscle, and the instrument couldn’t have been steadier in hands made out of marble.
“Noon,” he said. “Professor, whenever you’re ready. . . .”
I took one last look at the sea, a little yellowish near the landing places of Japan, and I went below again to the main lounge.
There the captain fixed his position and used a chronometer to calculate his longitude, which he double-checked against his previous observations of hour angles. Then he told me:
“Professor Aronnax, we’re in longitude 137 degrees 15’ west—”
“West of which meridian?” I asked quickly, hoping the captain’s reply might give me a clue to his nationality.
“Sir,” he answered me, “I have chronometers variously set to the meridians of Paris, Greenwich, and Washington, D.C. But in your honor, I’ll use the one for Paris.”
This reply told me nothing. I bowed, and the commander went on:
“We’re in longitude 137 degrees 15’ west of the meridian of Paris, and latitude 30 degrees 7’ north, in other words, about 300 miles from the shores of Japan. At noon on this day of November 8, we hereby begin our voyage of exploration under the waters.”
“May God be with us!” I replied.
“And now, professor,” the captain added, “I’ll leave you to your intellectual pursuits. I’ve set our course east-northeast at a depth of fifty meters. Here are some large-scale charts on which you’ll be able to follow that course. The lounge is at your disposal, and with your permission, I’ll take my leave.”
Captain Nemo bowed. I was left to myself, lost in my thoughts. They all centered on the Nautilus’s commander. Would I ever learn the nationality of this eccentric man who had boasted of having none? His sworn hate for humanity, a hate that perhaps was bent on some dreadful revenge—what had provoked it? Was he one of those unappreciated scholars, one of those geniuses “embittered by the world,” as Conseil expressed it, a latter-day Galileo, or maybe one of those men of science, like America’s Commander Maury, whose careers were ruined by political revolutions? I couldn’t say yet. As for me, whom fate had just brought aboard his vessel, whose life he had held in the balance: he had received me coolly but hospitably. Only, he never took the hand I extended to him. He never extended his own.
For an entire hour I was deep in these musings, trying to probe this mystery that fascinated me so. Then my eyes focused on a huge world map displayed on the table, and I put my finger on the very spot where our just-determined longitude and latitude intersected.
Like the continents, the sea has its rivers. These are exclusive currents that can be identified by their temperature and color, the most remarkable being the one called the Gulf Stream. Science has defined the global paths of five chief currents: one in the north Atlantic, a second in the south Atlantic, a third in the north Pacific, a fourth in the south Pacific, and a fifth in the southern Indian Ocean. Also it’s likely that a sixth current used to exist in the northern Indian Ocean, when the Caspian and Aral Seas joined up with certain large Asian lakes to form a single uniform expanse of water.
Now then, at the spot indicated on the world map, one of these seagoing rivers was rolling by, the Kuroshio of the Japanese, the Black Current: heated by perpendicular rays from the tropical sun, it leaves the Bay of Bengal, crosses the Strait of Malacca, goes up the shores of Asia, and curves into the north Pacific as far as the Aleutian Islands, carrying along trunks of camphor trees and other local items, the pure indigo of its warm waters sharply contrasting with the ocean’s waves. It was this current the Nautilus was about to cross. I watched it on the map with my eyes, I saw it lose itself in the immenseness of the Pacific, and I felt myself swept along with it, when Ned Land and Conseil appeared in the lounge doorway.
My two gallant companions stood petrified at the sight of the wonders on display.
“Where are we?” the Canadian exclaimed. “In the Quebec Museum?”
“Begging master’s pardon,” Conseil answered, “but this seems more like the Sommerard artifacts exhibition!”
“My friends,” I replied, signaling them to enter, “you’re in neither Canada nor France, but securely aboard the Nautilus, fifty meters below sea level.”
“If master says so, then so be it,” Conseil answered. “But in all honesty, this lounge is enough to astonish even someone Flemish like myself.”
“Indulge your astonishment, my friend, and have a look, because there’s plenty of work here for a classifier of your talents.”
Conseil needed no encouraging. Bending over the glass cases, the gallant lad was already muttering choice words from the naturalist’s vocabulary: class Gastropoda, family Buccinoidea, genus cowry, species Cypraea madagascariensis, etc.
Meanwhile Ned Land, less dedicated to conchology, questioned me about my interview with Captain Nemo. Had I discovered who he was, where he came from, where he was heading, how deep he was taking us? In short, a thousand questions I had no time to answer.
I told him everything I knew—or, rather, everything I didn’t know—and I asked him what he had seen or heard on his part.
“Haven’t seen or heard a thing!” the Canadian replied. “I haven’t even spotted the crew of this boat. By any chance, could they be electric too?”
“Oh ye gods, I’m half tempted to believe it! But back to you, Professor Aronnax,” Ned Land said, still hanging on to his ideas. “Can’t you tell me how many men are on board? Ten, twenty, fifty, a hundred?”
“I’m unable to answer you, Mr. Land. And trust me on this: for the time being, get rid of these notions of taking over the Nautilus or escaping from it. This boat is a masterpiece of modern technology, and I’d be sorry to have missed it! Many people would welcome the circumstances that have been handed us, just to walk in the midst of these wonders. So keep calm, and let’s see what’s happening around us.”
“See!” the harpooner exclaimed. “There’s nothing to see, nothing we’ll ever see from this sheet-iron prison! We’re simply running around blindfolded—”
Ned Land was just pronouncing these last words when we were suddenly plunged into darkness, utter darkness. The ceiling lights went out so quickly, my eyes literally ached, just as if we had experienced the opposite sensation of going from the deepest gloom to the brightest sunlight.
We stood stock-still, not knowing what surprise was waiting for us, whether pleasant or unpleasant. But a sliding sound became audible. You could tell that some panels were shifting over the Nautilus’s sides.
“It’s the beginning of the end!” Ned Land said.
“. . . order Hydromedusa,” Conseil muttered.
Suddenly, through two oblong openings, daylight appeared on both sides of the lounge. The liquid masses came into view, brightly lit by the ship’s electric outpourings. We were separated from the sea by two panes of glass. Initially I shuddered at the thought that these fragile partitions could break; but strong copper bands secured them, giving them nearly infinite resistance.
The sea was clearly visible for a one-mile radius around the Nautilus. What a sight! What pen could describe it? Who could portray the effects of this light through these translucent sheets of water, the subtlety of its progressive shadings into the ocean’s upper and lower strata?
The transparency of salt water has long been recognized. Its clarity is believed to exceed that of spring water. The mineral and organic substances it holds in suspension actually increase its translucency. In certain parts of the Caribbean Sea, you can see the sandy bottom with startling distinctness as deep as 145 meters down, and the penetrating power of the sun’s rays seems to give out only at a depth of 300 meters. But in this fluid setting traveled by the Nautilus, our electric glow was being generated in the very heart of the waves. It was no longer illuminated water, it was liquid light.
If we accept the hypotheses of the microbiologist Ehrenberg—who believes that these underwater depths are lit up by phosphorescent organisms—nature has certainly saved one of her most prodigious sights for residents of the sea, and I could judge for myself from the thousandfold play of the light. On both sides I had windows opening over these unexplored depths. The darkness in the lounge enhanced the brightness outside, and we stared as if this clear glass were the window of an immense aquarium.
The Nautilus seemed to be standing still. This was due to the lack of landmarks. But streaks of water, parted by the ship’s spur, sometimes threaded before our eyes with extraordinary speed.
In wonderment, we leaned on our elbows before these show windows, and our stunned silence remained unbroken until Conseil said:
“You wanted to see something, Ned my friend; well, now you have something to see!”
“How unusual!” the Canadian put in, setting aside his tantrums and getaway schemes while submitting to this irresistible allure. “A man would go an even greater distance just to stare at such a sight!”
“Ah!” I exclaimed. “I see our captain’s way of life! He’s found himself a separate world that saves its most astonishing wonders just for him!”
“But where are the fish?” the Canadian ventured to observe. “I don’t see any fish!”
“Why would you care, Ned my friend?” Conseil replied. “Since you have no knowledge of them.”
“Me? A fisherman!” Ned Land exclaimed.
And on this subject a dispute arose between the two friends, since both were knowledgeable about fish, but from totally different standpoints.
Everyone knows that fish make up the fourth and last class in the vertebrate branch. They have been quite aptly defined as: “cold-blooded vertebrates with a double circulatory system, breathing through gills, and designed to live in water.” They consist of two distinct series: the series of bony fish, in other words, those whose spines have vertebrae made of bone; and cartilaginous fish, in other words, those whose spines have vertebrae made of cartilage.
Possibly the Canadian was familiar with this distinction, but Conseil knew far more about it; and since he and Ned were now fast friends, he just had to show off. So he told the harpooner:
“Ned my friend, you’re a slayer of fish, a highly skilled fisherman. You’ve caught a large number of these fascinating animals. But I’ll bet you don’t know how they’re classified.”
“Sure I do,” the harpooner replied in all seriousness. “They’re classified into fish we eat and fish we don’t eat!”
“Spoken like a true glutton,” Conseil replied. “But tell me, are you familiar with the differences between bony fish and cartilaginous fish?”
“Just maybe, Conseil.”
“And how about the subdivisions of these two large classes?”
“I haven’t the foggiest notion,” the Canadian replied.
“All right, listen and learn, Ned my friend! Bony fish are subdivided into six orders. Primo, the acanthopterygians, whose upper jaw is fully formed and free-moving, and whose gills take the shape of a comb. This order consists of fifteen families, in other words, three-quarters of all known fish. Example: the common perch.”
“Pretty fair eating,” Ned Land replied.
“Secundo,” Conseil went on, “the abdominals, whose pelvic fins hang under the abdomen to the rear of the pectorals but aren’t attached to the shoulder bone, an order that’s divided into five families and makes up the great majority of freshwater fish. Examples: carp, pike.”
“Ugh!” the Canadian put in with distinct scorn. “You can keep the freshwater fish!”
“Tertio,” Conseil said, “the subbrachians, whose pelvic fins are attached under the pectorals and hang directly from the shoulder bone. This order contains four families. Examples: flatfish such as sole, turbot, dab, plaice, brill, etc.”
“Excellent, really excellent!” the harpooner exclaimed, interested in fish only from an edible viewpoint.
“Quarto,” Conseil went on, unabashed, “the apods, with long bodies that lack pelvic fins and are covered by a heavy, often glutinous skin, an order consisting of only one family. Examples: common eels and electric eels.”
“So-so, just so-so!” Ned Land replied.
“Quinto,” Conseil said, “the lophobranchians, which have fully formed, free-moving jaws but whose gills consist of little tufts arranged in pairs along their gill arches. This order includes only one family. Examples: seahorses and dragonfish.”
“Bad, very bad!” the harpooner replied.
“Sexto and last,” Conseil said, “the plectognaths, whose maxillary bone is firmly attached to the side of the intermaxillary that forms the jaw, and whose palate arch is locked to the skull by sutures that render the jaw immovable, an order lacking true pelvic fins and which consists of two families. Examples: puffers and moonfish.”
“They’re an insult to a frying pan!” the Canadian exclaimed.
“Are you grasping all this, Ned my friend?” asked the scholarly Conseil.
“Not a lick of it, Conseil my friend,” the harpooner replied. “But keep going, because you fill me with fascination.”
“As for cartilaginous fish,” Conseil went on unflappably, “they consist of only three orders.”
“Good news,” Ned put in.
“Primo, the cyclostomes, whose jaws are fused into a flexible ring and whose gill openings are simply a large number of holes, an order consisting of only one family. Example: the lamprey.”
“An acquired taste,” Ned Land replied.
“Secundo, the selacians, with gills resembling those of the cyclostomes but whose lower jaw is free-moving. This order, which is the most important in the class, consists of two families. Examples: the ray and the
“What!” Ned Land exclaimed. “Rays and man-eaters in the same order? Well, Conseil my friend, on behalf of the
rays, I wouldn’t advise you to put them in the same fish tank!”
“Tertio,” Conseil replied, “The sturionians, whose gill opening is the usual single slit adorned with a gill cover, an order consisting of four genera. Example: the sturgeon.”
“Ah, Conseil my friend, you saved the best for last, in my opinion anyhow! And that’s all of ’em?”
“Yes, my gallant Ned,” Conseil replied. “And note well, even when one has grasped all this, one still knows next to nothing, because these families are subdivided into genera, subgenera, species, varieties—”
“All right, Conseil my friend,” the harpooner said, leaning toward the glass panel, “here come a couple of your varieties now!”
“Yes! Fish!” Conseil exclaimed. “One would think he was in front of an aquarium!”
“No,” I replied, “because an aquarium is nothing more than a cage, and these fish are as free as birds in the air!”
“Well, Conseil my friend, identify them! Start naming them!” Ned Land exclaimed.
“Me?” Conseil replied. “I’m unable to! That’s my employer’s bailiwick!”
And in truth, although the fine lad was a classifying maniac, he was no naturalist, and I doubt that he could tell a bonito from a tuna. In short, he was the exact opposite of the Canadian, who knew nothing about classification but could instantly put a name to any fish.
“A triggerfish,” I said.
“It’s a Chinese triggerfish,” Ned Land replied.
“Genus Balistes, family Scleroderma, order Plectognatha,” Conseil muttered.
Assuredly, Ned and Conseil in combination added up to one outstanding naturalist.
The Canadian was not mistaken. Cavorting around the Nautilus was a school of triggerfish with flat bodies, grainy skins, armed with stings on their dorsal fins, and with four prickly rows of quills quivering on both sides of their tails. Nothing could have been more wonderful than the skin covering them: white underneath, gray above, with spots of gold sparkling in the dark eddies of the waves. Around them, rays were undulating like sheets flapping in the wind, and among these I spotted, much to my glee, a Chinese ray, yellowish on its topside, a dainty pink on its belly, and armed with three stings behind its eyes; a rare species whose very existence was still doubted in Lacépède’s day, since that pioneering classifier of fish had seen one only in a portfolio of Japanese drawings.
For two hours a whole aquatic army escorted the Nautilus. In the midst of their leaping and cavorting, while they competed with each other in beauty, radiance, and speed, I could distinguish some green wrasse, bewhiskered mullet marked with pairs of black lines, white gobies from the genus Eleotris with curved caudal fins and violet spots on the back, wonderful Japanese mackerel from the genus Scomber with blue bodies and silver heads, glittering azure goldfish whose name by itself gives their full description, several varieties of porgy or gilthead (some banded gilthead with fins variously blue and yellow, some with horizontal heraldic bars and enhanced by a black strip around their caudal area, some with color zones and elegantly corseted in their six waistbands), trumpetfish with flutelike beaks that looked like genuine seafaring woodcocks and were sometimes a meter long, Japanese salamanders, serpentine moray eels from the genus Echidna that were six feet long with sharp little eyes and a huge mouth bristling with teeth; etc.
Our wonderment stayed at an all-time fever pitch. Our exclamations were endless. Ned identified the fish, Conseil classified them, and as for me, I was in ecstasy over the verve of their movements and the beauty of their forms. Never before had I been given the chance to glimpse these animals alive and at large in their native element.
Given such a complete collection from the seas of Japan and China, I won’t mention every variety that passed before our dazzled eyes. More numerous than birds in the air, these fish raced right up to us, no doubt attracted by the brilliant glow of our electric beacon.
Suddenly daylight appeared in the lounge. The sheet-iron panels slid shut. The magical vision disappeared. But for a good while I kept dreaming away, until the moment my eyes focused on the instruments hanging on the wall. The compass still showed our heading as east-northeast, the pressure gauge indicated a pressure of five atmospheres (corresponding to a depth of fifty meters), and the electric log gave our speed as fifteen miles per hour.
I waited for Captain Nemo. But he didn’t appear. The clock marked the hour of five.
Ned Land and Conseil returned to their cabin. As for me, I repaired to my stateroom. There I found dinner ready for me. It consisted of turtle soup made from the daintiest hawksbill, a red mullet with white, slightly flaky flesh, whose liver, when separately prepared, makes delicious eating, plus loin of imperial angelfish, whose flavor struck me as even better than salmon.
I spent the evening in reading, writing, and thinking. Then drowsiness overtook me, I stretched out on my eelgrass mattress, and I fell into a deep slumber, while the Nautilus glided through the swiftly flowing Black Current.
- An Invitation in Writing
THE NEXT DAY, November 9, I woke up only after a long, twelve-hour slumber. Conseil, a creature of habit, came to ask “how master’s night went,” and to offer his services. He had left his Canadian friend sleeping like a man who had never done anything else.
I let the gallant lad babble as he pleased, without giving him much in the way of a reply. I was concerned about Captain Nemo’s absence during our session the previous afternoon, and I hoped to see him again today.
Soon I had put on my clothes, which were woven from strands of seashell tissue. More than once their composition provoked comments from Conseil. I informed him that they were made from the smooth, silken filaments with which the fan mussel, a type of seashell quite abundant along Mediterranean beaches, attaches itself to rocks. In olden times, fine fabrics, stockings, and gloves were made from such filaments, because they were both very soft and very warm. So the Nautilus’s crew could dress themselves at little cost, without needing a thing from cotton growers, sheep, or silkworms on shore.
As soon as I was dressed, I made my way to the main lounge. It was deserted.
I dove into studying the conchological treasures amassed inside the glass cases. I also investigated the huge plant albums that were filled with the rarest marine herbs, which, although they were pressed and dried, still kept their wonderful colors. Among these valuable water plants, I noted various seaweed: some Cladostephus verticillatus, peacock’s tails, fig-leafed caulerpa, grain-bearing beauty bushes, delicate rosetangle tinted scarlet, sea colander arranged into fan shapes, mermaid’s cups that looked like the caps of squat mushrooms and for years had been classified among the zoophytes; in short, a complete series of algae.
The entire day passed without my being honored by a visit from Captain Nemo. The panels in the lounge didn’t open. Perhaps they didn’t want us to get tired of these beautiful things.
The Nautilus kept to an east-northeasterly heading, a speed of twelve miles per hour, and a depth between fifty and sixty meters.
Next day, November 10: the same neglect, the same solitude. I didn’t see a soul from the crew. Ned and Conseil spent the better part of the day with me. They were astonished at the captain’s inexplicable absence. Was this eccentric man ill? Did he want to change his plans concerning us?
But after all, as Conseil noted, we enjoyed complete freedom, we were daintily and abundantly fed. Our host had kept to the terms of his agreement. We couldn’t complain, and moreover the very uniqueness of our situation had such generous rewards in store for us, we had no grounds for criticism.
That day I started my diary of these adventures, which has enabled me to narrate them with the most scrupulous accuracy; and one odd detail: I wrote it on paper manufactured from marine eelgrass.
Early in the morning on November 11, fresh air poured through the Nautilus’s interior, informing me that we had returned to the surface of the ocean to renew our oxygen supply. I headed for the central companionway and climbed onto the platform.
It was six o’clock. I found the weather overcast, the sea gray but calm. Hardly a billow. I hoped to encounter Captain Nemo there—would he come? I saw only the helmsman imprisoned in his glass-windowed pilothouse. Seated on the ledge furnished by the hull of the skiff, I inhaled the sea’s salty aroma with great pleasure.
Little by little, the mists were dispersed under the action of the sun’s rays. The radiant orb cleared the eastern horizon. Under its gaze, the sea caught on fire like a trail of gunpowder. Scattered on high, the clouds were colored in bright, wonderfully shaded hues, and numerous “ladyfingers”* warned of daylong
winds. [*Ladyfingers are small, thin, white clouds with ragged edges].
But what were mere winds to this Nautilus, which no storms could intimidate!
So I was marveling at this delightful sunrise, so life-giving and cheerful, when I heard someone climbing onto the platform.
I was prepared to greet Captain Nemo, but it was his chief officer who appeared—whom I had already met during our first visit with the captain. He advanced over the platform, not seeming to notice my presence. A powerful spyglass to his eye, he scrutinized every point of the horizon with the utmost care. Then, his examination over, he approached the hatch and pronounced a phrase whose exact wording follows below. I remember it because, every morning, it was repeated under the same circumstances. It ran like this:
“Nautron respoc lorni virch.”
What it meant I was unable to say.
These words pronounced, the chief officer went below again. I thought the Nautilus was about to resume its underwater navigating. So I went down the hatch and back through the gangways to my stateroom.
Five days passed in this way with no change in our situation. Every morning I climbed onto the platform. The same phrase was pronounced by the same individual. Captain Nemo did not appear.
I was pursuing the policy that we had seen the last of him, when on November 16, while reentering my stateroom with Ned and Conseil, I found a note addressed to me on the table.
I opened it impatiently. It was written in a script that was clear and neat but a bit “Old English” in style, its characters reminding me of German calligraphy.
The note was worded as follows:
Aboard the Nautilus
November 16, 1867
Captain Nemo invites Professor Aronnax on a hunting trip that will take place tomorrow morning in his Crespo Island forests. He hopes nothing will prevent the professor from attending, and he looks forward with pleasure to the professor’s companions joining him.
Commander of the Nautilus.
“A hunting trip!” Ned exclaimed.
“And in his forests on Crespo Island!” Conseil added.
“But does this mean the old boy goes ashore?” Ned Land went on.
“That seems to be the gist of it,” I said, rereading the letter.
“Well, we’ve got to accept!” the Canadian answered. “Once we’re on solid ground, we’ll figure out a course of action. Besides, it wouldn’t pain me to eat a couple slices of fresh venison!”
Without trying to reconcile the contradictions between Captain Nemo’s professed horror of continents or islands and his invitation to go hunting in a forest, I was content to reply:
“First let’s look into this Crespo Island.”
I consulted the world map; and in latitude 32 degrees 40’ north and longitude 167 degrees 50’ west, I found an islet that had been discovered in 1801 by Captain Crespo, which old Spanish charts called Rocca de la Plata, in other words, “Silver Rock.” So we were about 1,800 miles from our starting point, and by a slight change of heading, the Nautilus was bringing us back toward the southeast.
I showed my companions this small, stray rock in the middle of the north Pacific.
“If Captain Nemo does sometimes go ashore,” I told them, “at least he only picks desert islands!”
Ned Land shook his head without replying; then he and Conseil left me. After supper was served me by the mute and emotionless steward, I fell asleep; but not without some anxieties.
When I woke up the next day, November 17, I sensed that the Nautilus was completely motionless. I dressed hurriedly and entered the main lounge.
Captain Nemo was there waiting for me. He stood up, bowed, and asked if it suited me to come along.
Since he made no allusion to his absence the past eight days, I also refrained from mentioning it, and I simply answered that my companions and I were ready to go with him.
“Only, sir,” I added, “I’ll take the liberty of addressing a question to you.”
“Address away, Professor Aronnax, and if I’m able to answer, I will.”
“Well then, captain, how is it that you’ve severed all ties with the shore, yet you own forests on Crespo Island?”
“Professor,” the captain answered me, “these forests of mine don’t bask in the heat and light of the sun. They aren’t frequented by lions, tigers, panthers, or other quadrupeds. They’re known only to me. They grow only for me. These forests aren’t on land, they’re actual underwater forests.”
“Underwater forests!” I exclaimed.
“And you’re offering to take me to them?”
“Without getting your feet wet.”
“Rifles in hand?”
“Rifles in hand.”
I stared at the Nautilus’s commander with an air anything but flattering to the man.
“Assuredly,” I said to myself, “he’s contracted some mental illness. He’s had a fit that’s lasted eight days and isn’t over even yet. What a shame! I liked him better eccentric than insane!”
These thoughts were clearly readable on my face; but Captain Nemo remained content with inviting me to follow him, and I did so like a man resigned to the worst.
We arrived at the dining room, where we found breakfast served.
“Professor Aronnax,” the captain told me, “I beg you to share my breakfast without formality. We can chat while we eat. Because, although I promised you a stroll in my forests, I made no pledge to arrange for your encountering a restaurant there. Accordingly, eat your breakfast like a man who’ll probably eat dinner only when it’s extremely late.”
I did justice to this meal. It was made up of various fish and some slices of sea cucumber, that praiseworthy zoophyte, all garnished with such highly appetizing seaweed as the Porphyra laciniata and the Laurencia primafetida. Our beverage consisted of clear water to which, following the captain’s example, I added some drops of a fermented liquor extracted by the Kamchatka process from the seaweed known by name as Rhodymenia palmata.
At first Captain Nemo ate without pronouncing a single word. Then he told me:
“Professor, when I proposed that you go hunting in my Crespo forests, you thought I was contradicting myself. When I informed you that it was an issue of underwater forests, you thought I’d gone insane. Professor, you must never make snap judgments about your fellow man.”
“But, captain, believe me—”
“Kindly listen to me, and you’ll see if you have grounds for accusing me of insanity or self-contradiction.”
“I’m all attention.”
“Professor, you know as well as I do that a man can live underwater so long as he carries with him his own supply of breathable air. For underwater work projects, the workman wears a waterproof suit with his head imprisoned in a metal capsule, while he receives air from above by means of force pumps and flow regulators.”
“That’s the standard equipment for a diving suit,” I said.
“Correct, but under such conditions the man has no freedom. He’s attached to a pump that sends him air through an india-rubber hose; it’s an actual chain that fetters him to the shore, and if we were to be bound in this way to the Nautilus, we couldn’t go far either.”
“Then how do you break free?” I asked.
“We use the Rouquayrol-Denayrouze device, invented by two of your fellow countrymen but refined by me for my own special uses, thereby enabling you to risk these new physiological conditions without suffering any organic disorders. It consists of a tank built from heavy sheet iron in which I store air under a pressure of fifty atmospheres. This tank is fastened to the back by means of straps, like a soldier’s knapsack. Its top part forms a box where the air is regulated by a bellows mechanism and can be released only at its proper tension. In the Rouquayrol device that has been in general use, two india-rubber hoses leave this box and feed to a kind of tent that imprisons the operator’s nose and mouth; one hose is for the entrance of air to be inhaled, the other for the exit of air to be exhaled, and the tongue closes off the former or the latter depending on the breather’s needs. But in my case, since I face considerable pressures at the bottom of the sea, I needed to enclose my head in a copper sphere, like those found on standard diving suits, and the two hoses for inhalation and exhalation now feed to that sphere.”
“That’s perfect, Captain Nemo, but the air you carry must be quickly depleted; and once it contains no more than 15% oxygen, it becomes unfit for breathing.”
“Surely, but as I told you, Professor Aronnax, the Nautilus’s pumps enable me to store air under considerable pressure, and given this circumstance, the tank on my diving equipment can supply breathable air for nine or ten hours.”
“I’ve no more objections to raise,” I replied. “I’ll only ask you, captain: how can you light your way at the bottom of the ocean?”
“With the Ruhmkorff device, Professor Aronnax. If the first is carried on the back, the second is fastened to the belt. It consists of a Bunsen battery that I activate not with potassium dichromate but with sodium. An induction coil gathers the electricity generated and directs it to a specially designed lantern. In this lantern one finds a glass spiral that contains only a residue of
carbon dioxide gas. When the device is operating, this gas becomes luminous and gives off a continuous whitish light. Thus provided for, I breathe and I see.”
“Captain Nemo, to my every objection you give such crushing answers, I’m afraid to entertain a single doubt. However, though I have no choice but to accept both the Rouquayrol and Ruhmkorff devices, I’d like to register some reservations about the rifle with which you’ll equip me.”
“But it isn’t a rifle that uses gunpowder,” the captain replied.
“Then it’s an air gun?”
“Surely. How can I make gunpowder on my ship when I have no saltpeter, sulfur, or charcoal?”
“Even so,” I replied, “to fire underwater in a medium that’s 855 times denser than air, you’d have to overcome considerable resistance.”
“That doesn’t necessarily follow. There are certain Fulton-style guns perfected by the Englishmen Philippe-Coles and Burley, the Frenchman Furcy, and the Italian Landi; they’re equipped with a special system of airtight fastenings and can fire in underwater conditions. But I repeat: having no gunpowder, I’ve replaced it with air at high pressure, which is abundantly supplied me by the Nautilus’s pumps.”
“But this air must be swiftly depleted.”
“Well, in a pinch can’t my Rouquayrol tank supply me with more? All I have to do is draw it from an ad hoc
spigot. Besides, Professor Aronnax, you’ll see for yourself that during these underwater hunting trips, we make no great expenditure of either air or bullets.”
“But it seems to me that in this semidarkness, amid this liquid that’s so dense in comparison to the atmosphere, a gunshot couldn’t carry far and would prove fatal only with difficulty!”
“On the contrary, sir, with this rifle every shot is fatal; and as soon as the animal is hit, no matter how lightly, it falls as if struck by lightning.”
“Because this rifle doesn’t shoot ordinary bullets but little glass capsules invented by the Austrian chemist Leniebroek, and I have a considerable supply of them. These glass capsules are covered with a strip of steel and weighted with a lead base; they’re genuine little Leyden jars charged with high-voltage electricity. They go off at the slightest impact, and the animal, no matter how strong, drops dead. I might add that these capsules are no bigger than number 4 shot, and the chamber of any ordinary rifle could hold ten of them.”
“I’ll quit debating,” I replied, getting up from the table. “And all that’s left is for me to shoulder my rifle. So where you go, I’ll go.”
Captain Nemo led me to the Nautilus’s stern, and passing by Ned and Conseil’s cabin, I summoned my two companions, who instantly followed us.
Then we arrived at a cell located within easy access of the engine room; in this cell we were to get dressed for our stroll.
- Strolling the Plains
THIS CELL, properly speaking, was the Nautilus’s arsenal and wardrobe. Hanging from its walls, a dozen diving outfits were waiting for anybody who wanted to take a stroll.
After seeing these, Ned Land exhibited an obvious distaste for the idea of putting one on.
“But my gallant Ned,” I told him, “the forests of Crespo Island are simply underwater forests!”
“Oh great!” put in the disappointed harpooner, watching his dreams of fresh meat fade away. “And you, Professor Aronnax, are you going to stick yourself inside these clothes?”
“It has to be, Mr. Ned.”
“Have it your way, sir,” the harpooner replied, shrugging his shoulders. “But speaking for myself, I’ll never get into those things unless they force me!”
“No one will force you, Mr. Land,” Captain Nemo said.
“And is Conseil going to risk it?” Ned asked.
“Where master goes, I go,” Conseil replied.
At the captain’s summons, two crewmen came to help us put on these heavy, waterproof clothes, made from seamless India rubber and expressly designed to bear considerable pressures. They were like suits of armor that were both yielding and resistant, you might say. These clothes consisted of jacket and pants. The pants ended in bulky footwear adorned with heavy lead soles. The fabric of the jacket was reinforced with copper mail that shielded the chest, protected it from the water’s pressure, and allowed the lungs to function freely; the sleeves ended in supple gloves that didn’t impede hand movements.
These perfected diving suits, it was easy to see, were a far cry from such misshapen costumes as the cork breastplates, leather jumpers, seagoing tunics, barrel helmets, etc., invented and acclaimed in the 18th century.
Conseil and I were soon dressed in these diving suits, as were Captain Nemo and one of his companions—a herculean type who must have been prodigiously strong. All that remained was to encase one’s head in its metal sphere. But before proceeding with this operation, I asked the captain for permission to examine the rifles set aside for us.
One of the Nautilus’s men presented me with a streamlined rifle whose butt was boilerplate steel, hollow inside, and of fairly large dimensions. This served as a tank for the compressed air, which a trigger-operated valve could release into the metal chamber. In a groove where the butt was heaviest, a cartridge clip held some twenty electric bullets that, by means of a spring, automatically took their places in the barrel of the rifle. As soon as one shot had been fired, another was ready to go off.
“Captain Nemo,” I said, “this is an ideal, easy-to-use weapon. I ask only to put it to the test. But how will we reach the bottom of the sea?”
“Right now, professor, the Nautilus is aground in ten meters of water, and we’ve only to depart.”
“But how will we set out?”
Captain Nemo inserted his cranium into its spherical headgear. Conseil and I did the same, but not without hearing the Canadian toss us a sarcastic “happy hunting.” On top, the suit ended in a collar of threaded copper onto which the metal helmet was screwed. Three holes, protected by heavy glass, allowed us to see in any direction with simply a turn of the head inside the sphere. Placed on our backs, the Rouquayrol device went into operation as soon as it was in position, and for my part, I could breathe with ease.
The Ruhmkorff lamp hanging from my belt, my rifle in hand, I was ready to go forth. But in all honesty, while imprisoned in these heavy clothes and nailed to the deck by my lead soles, it was impossible for me to take a single step.
But this circumstance had been foreseen, because I felt myself propelled into a little room adjoining the wardrobe. Towed in the same way, my companions went with me. I heard a door with watertight seals close after us, and we were surrounded by profound darkness.
After some minutes a sharp hissing reached my ears. I felt a distinct sensation of cold rising from my feet to my chest. Apparently a stopcock inside the boat was letting in water from outside, which overran us and soon filled up the room. Contrived in the Nautilus’s side, a second door then opened. We were lit by a subdued light. An instant later our feet were treading the bottom of the sea.
And now, how can I convey the impressions left on me by this stroll under the waters. Words are powerless to describe such wonders! When even the painter’s brush can’t depict the effects unique to the liquid element, how can the writer’s pen hope to reproduce them?
Captain Nemo walked in front, and his companion followed us a few steps to the rear. Conseil and I stayed next to each other, as if daydreaming that through our metal carapaces, a little polite conversation might still be possible! Already I no longer felt the bulkiness of my clothes, footwear, and air tank, nor the weight of the heavy sphere inside which my head was rattling like an almond in its shell. Once immersed in water, all these objects lost a part of their weight equal to the weight of the liquid they displaced, and thanks to this law of physics discovered by Archimedes, I did just fine. I was no longer an inert mass, and I had, comparatively speaking, great freedom of movement.
Lighting up the seafloor even thirty feet beneath the surface of the ocean, the sun astonished me with its power. The solar rays easily crossed this aqueous mass and dispersed its dark colors. I could easily distinguish objects 100 meters away. Farther on, the bottom was tinted with fine shades of ultramarine; then, off in the distance, it turned blue and faded in the midst of a hazy darkness. Truly, this water surrounding me was just a kind of air, denser than the atmosphere on land but almost as transparent. Above me I could see the calm surface of the ocean.
We were walking on sand that was fine-grained and smooth, not wrinkled like beach sand, which preserves the impressions left by the waves. This dazzling carpet was a real mirror, throwing back the sun’s rays with startling intensity. The outcome: an immense vista of reflections that penetrated every liquid molecule. Will anyone believe me if I assert that at this thirty-foot depth, I could see as if it was broad daylight?
For a quarter of an hour, I trod this blazing sand, which was strewn with tiny crumbs of seashell. Looming like a long reef, the Nautilus’s hull disappeared little by little, but when night fell in the midst of the waters, the ship’s beacon would surely facilitate our return on board, since its rays carried with perfect distinctness. This effect is difficult to understand for anyone who has never seen light beams so sharply defined on shore. There the dust that saturates the air gives such rays the appearance of a luminous fog; but above water as well as underwater, shafts of electric light are transmitted with incomparable clarity.
Meanwhile we went ever onward, and these vast plains of sand seemed endless. My hands parted liquid curtains that closed again behind me, and my footprints faded swiftly under the water’s pressure.
Soon, scarcely blurred by their distance from us, the forms of some objects took shape before my eyes. I recognized the lower slopes of some magnificent rocks carpeted by the finest zoophyte specimens, and right off, I was struck by an effect unique to this medium.
By then it was ten o’clock in the morning. The sun’s rays hit the surface of the waves at a fairly oblique angle, decomposing by refraction as though passing through a prism; and when this light came in contact with flowers, rocks, buds, seashells, and polyps, the edges of these objects were shaded with all seven hues of the solar spectrum. This riot of rainbow tints was a wonder, a feast for the eyes: a genuine kaleidoscope of red, green, yellow, orange, violet, indigo, and blue; in short, the whole palette of a color-happy painter! If only I had been able to share with Conseil the intense sensations rising in my brain, competing with him in exclamations of wonderment! If only I had known, like Captain Nemo and his companion, how to exchange thoughts by means of prearranged signals! So, for lack of anything better, I talked to myself: I declaimed inside this copper box that topped my head, spending more air on empty words than was perhaps advisable.
Conseil, like me, had stopped before this splendid sight. Obviously, in the presence of these zoophyte and mollusk specimens, the fine lad was classifying his head off. Polyps and echinoderms abounded on the seafloor: various isis coral, cornularian coral living in isolation, tufts of virginal genus Oculina formerly known by the name “white coral,” prickly fungus coral in the shape of mushrooms, sea anemone holding on by their muscular disks, providing a literal flowerbed adorned by jellyfish from the genus Porpita wearing collars of azure tentacles, and starfish that spangled the sand, including veinlike feather stars from the genus Asterophyton that were like fine lace embroidered by the hands of water nymphs, their festoons swaying to the faint undulations caused by our walking. It filled me with real chagrin to crush underfoot the gleaming mollusk samples that littered the seafloor by the thousands: concentric comb shells, hammer shells, coquina (seashells that actually hop around), top-shell snails, red helmet shells, angel-wing conchs, sea hares, and so many other exhibits from this inexhaustible ocean. But we had to keep walking, and we went forward while overhead there scudded schools of Portuguese men-of-war that let their ultramarine tentacles drift in their wakes, medusas whose milky white or dainty pink parasols were festooned with azure tassels and shaded us from the sun’s rays, plus jellyfish of the species Pelagia panopyra that, in the dark, would have strewn our path with phosphorescent glimmers!
All these wonders I glimpsed in the space of a quarter of a mile, barely pausing, following Captain Nemo whose gestures kept beckoning me onward. Soon the nature of the seafloor changed. The plains of sand were followed by a bed of that viscous slime Americans call “ooze,” which is composed exclusively of seashells rich in limestone or silica. Then we crossed a prairie of algae, open-sea plants that the waters hadn’t yet torn loose, whose vegetation grew in wild profusion. Soft to the foot, these densely textured lawns would have rivaled the most luxuriant carpets woven by the hand of man. But while this greenery was sprawling under our steps, it didn’t neglect us overhead. The surface of the water was crisscrossed by a floating arbor of marine plants belonging to that superabundant algae family that numbers more than 2,000 known species. I saw long ribbons of fucus drifting above me, some globular, others tubular: Laurencia, Cladostephus with the slenderest foliage, Rhodymenia palmata resembling the fan shapes of cactus. I observed that green-colored plants kept closer to the surface of the sea, while reds occupied a medium depth, which left blacks and browns in charge of designing gardens and flowerbeds in the ocean’s lower strata.
These algae are a genuine prodigy of creation, one of the wonders of world flora. This family produces both the biggest and smallest vegetables in the world. Because, just as 40,000 near-invisible buds have been counted in one five-square-millimeter space, so also have fucus plants been gathered that were over 500 meters long!
We had been gone from the Nautilus for about an hour and a half. It was almost noon. I spotted this fact in the perpendicularity of the sun’s rays, which were no longer refracted. The magic of these solar colors disappeared little by little, with emerald and sapphire shades vanishing from our surroundings altogether. We walked with steady steps that rang on the seafloor with astonishing intensity. The tiniest sounds were transmitted with a speed to which the ear is unaccustomed on shore. In fact, water is a better conductor of sound than air, and under the waves noises carry four times as fast.
Just then the seafloor began to slope sharply downward. The light took on a uniform hue. We reached a depth of 100 meters, by which point we were undergoing a pressure of ten atmospheres. But my diving clothes were built along such lines that I never suffered from this pressure. I felt only a certain tightness in the joints of my fingers, and even this discomfort soon disappeared. As for the exhaustion bound to accompany a two-hour stroll in such unfamiliar trappings—it was nil. Helped by the water, my movements were executed with startling ease.
Arriving at this 300-foot depth, I still detected the sun’s rays, but just barely. Their intense brilliance had been followed by a reddish twilight, a midpoint between day and night. But we could see well enough to find our way, and it still wasn’t necessary to activate the Ruhmkorff device.
Just then Captain Nemo stopped. He waited until I joined him, then he pointed a finger at some dark masses outlined in the shadows a short distance away.
“It’s the forest of Crespo Island,” I thought; and I was not mistaken.
An Underwater Forest
WE HAD FINALLY arrived on the outskirts of this forest, surely one of the finest in Captain Nemo’s immense domains. He regarded it as his own and had laid the same claim to it that, in the first days of the world, the first men had to their forests on land. Besides, who else could dispute his ownership of this underwater property? What other, bolder pioneer would come, ax in hand, to clear away its dark underbrush?
This forest was made up of big treelike plants, and when we entered beneath their huge arches, my eyes were instantly struck by the unique arrangement of their branches—an arrangement that I had never before encountered.
None of the weeds carpeting the seafloor, none of the branches bristling from the shrubbery, crept, or leaned, or stretched on a horizontal plane. They all rose right up toward the surface of the ocean. Every filament or ribbon, no matter how thin, stood ramrod straight. Fucus plants and creepers were growing in stiff perpendicular lines, governed by the density of the element that generated them. After I parted them with my hands, these otherwise motionless plants would shoot right back to their original positions. It was the regime of verticality.
I soon grew accustomed to this bizarre arrangement, likewise to the comparative darkness surrounding us. The seafloor in this forest was strewn with sharp chunks of stone that were hard to avoid. Here the range of underwater flora seemed pretty comprehensive to me, as well as more abundant than it might have been in the arctic or tropical zones, where such exhibits are less common. But for a few minutes I kept accidentally confusing the two kingdoms, mistaking zoophytes for water plants, animals for vegetables. And who hasn’t made the same blunder? Flora and fauna are so closely associated in the underwater world!
I observed that all these exhibits from the vegetable kingdom were attached to the seafloor by only the most makeshift methods. They had no roots and didn’t care which solid objects secured them, sand, shells, husks, or pebbles; they didn’t ask their hosts for sustenance, just a point of purchase. These plants are entirely self-propagating, and the principle of their existence lies in the water that sustains and nourishes them. In place of leaves, most of them sprouted blades of unpredictable shape, which were confined to a narrow gamut of colors consisting only of pink, crimson, green, olive, tan, and brown. There I saw again, but not yet pressed and dried like the Nautilus’s specimens, some peacock’s tails spread open like fans to stir up a cooling breeze, scarlet rosetangle, sea tangle stretching out their young and edible shoots, twisting strings of kelp from the genus Nereocystis that bloomed to a height of fifteen meters, bouquets of mermaid’s cups whose stems grew wider at the top, and a number of other open-sea plants, all without flowers. “It’s an odd anomaly in this bizarre element!” as one witty naturalist puts it. “The animal kingdom blossoms, and the vegetable kingdom doesn’t!”
These various types of shrubbery were as big as trees in the temperate zones; in the damp shade between them, there were clustered actual bushes of moving flowers, hedges of zoophytes in which there grew stony coral striped with twisting furrows, yellowish sea anemone from the genus Caryophylia with translucent tentacles, plus anemone with grassy tufts from the genus Zoantharia; and to complete the illusion, minnows flitted from branch to branch like a swarm of hummingbirds, while there rose underfoot, like a covey of snipe, yellow fish from the genus Lepisocanthus with bristling jaws and sharp scales, flying gurnards, and pinecone fish.
Near one o’clock, Captain Nemo gave the signal to halt. Speaking for myself, I was glad to oblige, and we stretched out beneath an arbor of winged kelp, whose long thin tendrils stood up like arrows.
This short break was a delight. It lacked only the charm of conversation. But it was impossible to speak, impossible to reply. I simply nudged my big copper headpiece against Conseil’s headpiece. I saw a happy gleam in the gallant lad’s eyes, and to communicate his pleasure, he jiggled around inside his carapace in the world’s silliest way.
After four hours of strolling, I was quite astonished not to feel any intense hunger. What kept my stomach in such a good mood I’m unable to say. But, in exchange, I experienced that irresistible desire for sleep that comes over every diver. Accordingly, my eyes soon closed behind their heavy glass windows and I fell into an uncontrollable doze, which until then I had been able to fight off only through the movements of our walking. Captain Nemo and his muscular companion were already stretched out in this clear crystal, setting us a fine naptime example.
How long I was sunk in this torpor I cannot estimate; but when I awoke, it seemed as if the sun were settling toward the horizon. Captain Nemo was already up, and I had started to stretch my limbs, when an unexpected apparition brought me sharply to my feet.
A few paces away, a monstrous, meter-high sea spider was staring at me with beady eyes, poised to spring at me. Although my diving suit was heavy enough to protect me from this animal’s bites, I couldn’t keep back a shudder of horror. Just then Conseil woke up, together with the Nautilus’s sailor. Captain Nemo alerted his companion to this hideous crustacean, which a swing of the rifle butt quickly brought down, and I watched the monster’s horrible legs writhing in dreadful convulsions.
This encounter reminded me that other, more daunting animals must be lurking in these dark reaches, and my diving suit might not be adequate protection against their attacks. Such thoughts hadn’t previously crossed my mind, and I was determined to keep on my guard. Meanwhile I had assumed this rest period would be the turning point in our stroll, but I was mistaken; and instead of heading back to the Nautilus, Captain Nemo continued his daring excursion.
The seafloor kept sinking, and its significantly steeper slope took us to greater depths. It must have been nearly three o’clock when we reached a narrow valley gouged between high, vertical walls and located 150 meters down. Thanks to the perfection of our equipment, we had thus gone ninety meters below the limit that nature had, until then, set on man’s underwater excursions.
I say 150 meters, although I had no instruments for estimating this distance. But I knew that the sun’s rays, even in the clearest seas, could reach no deeper. So at precisely this point the darkness became profound. Not a single object was visible past ten paces. Consequently, I had begun to grope my way when suddenly I saw the glow of an intense white light. Captain Nemo had just activated his electric device. His companion did likewise. Conseil and I followed suit. By turning a switch, I established contact between the induction coil and the glass spiral, and the sea, lit up by our four lanterns, was illuminated for a radius of twenty-five meters.
Captain Nemo continued to plummet into the dark depths of this forest, whose shrubbery grew ever more sparse. I observed that vegetable life was disappearing more quickly than animal life. The open-sea plants had already left behind the increasingly arid seafloor, where a prodigious number of animals were still swarming: zoophytes, articulates, mollusks, and fish.
While we were walking, I thought the lights of our Ruhmkorff devices would automatically attract some inhabitants of these dark strata. But if they did approach us, at least they kept at a distance regrettable from the hunter’s standpoint. Several times I saw Captain Nemo stop and take aim with his rifle; then, after sighting down its barrel for a few seconds, he would straighten up and resume his walk.
Finally, at around four o’clock, this marvelous excursion came to an end. A wall of superb rocks stood before us, imposing in its sheer mass: a pile of gigantic stone blocks, an enormous granite cliffside pitted with dark caves but not offering a single gradient we could climb up. This was the underpinning of Crespo Island. This was land.
The captain stopped suddenly. A gesture from him brought us to a halt, and however much I wanted to clear this wall, I had to stop. Here ended the domains of Captain Nemo. He had no desire to pass beyond them. Farther on lay a part of the globe he would no longer tread underfoot.
Our return journey began. Captain Nemo resumed the lead in our little band, always heading forward without hesitation. I noted that we didn’t follow the same path in returning to the Nautilus. This new route, very steep and hence very arduous, quickly took us close to the surface of the sea. But this return to the upper strata wasn’t so sudden that decompression took place too quickly, which could have led to serious organic disorders and given us those internal injuries so fatal to divers. With great promptness, the light reappeared and grew stronger; and the refraction of the sun, already low on the horizon, again ringed the edges of various objects with the entire color spectrum.
At a depth of ten meters, we walked amid a swarm of small fish from every species, more numerous than birds in the air, more agile too; but no aquatic game worthy of a gunshot had yet been offered to our eyes.
Just then I saw the captain’s weapon spring to his shoulder and track a moving object through the bushes. A shot went off, I heard a faint hissing, and an animal dropped a few paces away, literally struck by lightning.
It was a magnificent sea otter from the genus Enhydra, the only exclusively marine quadruped. One and a half meters long, this otter had to be worth a good high price. Its coat, chestnut brown above and silver below, would have made one of those wonderful fur pieces so much in demand in the Russian and Chinese markets; the fineness and luster of its pelt guaranteed that it would go for at least 2,000 francs. I was full of wonderment at this unusual mammal, with its circular head adorned by short ears, its round eyes, its white whiskers like those on a cat, its webbed and clawed feet, its bushy tail. Hunted and trapped by fishermen, this valuable carnivore has become extremely rare, and it takes refuge chiefly in the northernmost parts of the Pacific, where in all likelihood its species will soon be facing extinction.
Captain Nemo’s companion picked up the animal, loaded it on his shoulder, and we took to the trail again.
For an hour plains of sand unrolled before our steps. Often the seafloor rose to within two meters of the surface of the water. I could then see our images clearly mirrored on the underside of the waves, but reflected upside down: above us there appeared an identical band that duplicated our every movement and gesture; in short, a perfect likeness of the quartet near which it walked, but with heads down and feet in the air.
Another unusual effect. Heavy clouds passed above us, forming and fading swiftly. But after thinking it over, I realized that these so-called clouds were caused simply by the changing densities of the long ground swells, and I even spotted the foaming “white caps” that their breaking crests were proliferating over the surface of the water. Lastly, I couldn’t help seeing the actual shadows of large birds passing over our heads, swiftly skimming the surface of the sea.
On this occasion I witnessed one of the finest gunshots ever to thrill the marrow of a hunter. A large bird with a wide wingspan, quite clearly visible, approached and hovered over us. When it was just a few meters above the waves, Captain Nemo’s companion took aim and fired. The animal dropped, electrocuted, and its descent brought it within reach of our adroit hunter, who promptly took possession of it. It was an albatross of the finest species, a wonderful specimen of these open-sea fowl.
This incident did not interrupt our walk. For two hours we were sometimes led over plains of sand, sometimes over prairies of seaweed that were quite arduous to cross. In all honesty, I was dead tired by the time I spotted a hazy glow half a mile away, cutting through the darkness of the waters. It was the Nautilus’s beacon. Within twenty minutes we would be on board, and there I could breathe easy again—because my tank’s current air supply seemed to be quite low in oxygen. But I was reckoning without an encounter that slightly delayed our arrival.
I was lagging behind some twenty paces when I saw Captain Nemo suddenly come back toward me. With his powerful hands he sent me buckling to the ground, while his companion did the same to Conseil. At first I didn’t know what to make of this sudden assault, but I was reassured to observe the captain lying motionless beside me.
I was stretched out on the seafloor directly beneath some bushes of algae, when I raised my head and spied two enormous masses hurtling by, throwing off phosphorescent glimmers.
My blood turned cold in my veins! I saw that we were under threat from a fearsome pair of sharks. They were blue sharks, dreadful man-eaters with enormous tails, dull, glassy stares, and phosphorescent matter oozing from holes around their snouts. They were like monstrous fireflies that could thoroughly pulverize a man in their iron jaws! I don’t know if Conseil was busy with their classification, but as for me, I looked at their silver bellies, their fearsome mouths bristling with teeth, from a viewpoint less than scientific—more as a victim than as a professor of natural history.
Luckily these voracious animals have poor eyesight. They went by without noticing us, grazing us with their brownish fins; and miraculously, we escaped a danger greater than encountering a tiger deep in the jungle.
Half an hour later, guided by its electric trail, we reached the Nautilus. The outside door had been left open, and Captain Nemo closed it after we reentered the first cell. Then he pressed a button. I heard pumps operating within the ship, I felt the water lowering around me, and in a few moments the cell was completely empty. The inside door opened, and we passed into the wardrobe.
There our diving suits were removed, not without difficulty; and utterly exhausted, faint from lack of food and rest, I repaired to my stateroom, full of wonder at this startling excursion on the bottom of the sea.
Four Thousand Leagues Under the Pacific
BY THE NEXT MORNING, November 18, I was fully recovered from my exhaustion of the day before, and I climbed onto the platform just as the Nautilus’s chief officer was pronouncing his daily phrase. It then occurred to me that these words either referred to the state of the sea, or that they meant: “There’s nothing in sight.”
And in truth, the ocean was deserted. Not a sail on the horizon. The tips of Crespo Island had disappeared during the night. The sea, absorbing every color of the prism except its blue rays, reflected the latter in every direction and sported a wonderful indigo tint. The undulating waves regularly took on the appearance of watered silk with wide stripes.
I was marveling at this magnificent ocean view when Captain Nemo appeared. He didn’t seem to notice my presence and began a series of astronomical observations. Then, his operations finished, he went and leaned his elbows on the beacon housing, his eyes straying over the surface of the ocean.
Meanwhile some twenty of the Nautilus’s sailors—all energetic, well-built fellows—climbed onto the platform. They had come to pull up the nets left in our wake during the night. These seamen obviously belonged to different nationalities, although indications of European physical traits could be seen in them all. If I’m not mistaken, I recognized some Irishmen, some Frenchmen, a few Slavs, and a native of either Greece or Crete. Even so, these men were frugal of speech and used among themselves only that bizarre dialect whose origin I couldn’t even guess. So I had to give up any notions of questioning them.
The nets were hauled on board. They were a breed of trawl resembling those used off the Normandy coast, huge pouches held half open by a floating pole and a chain laced through the lower meshes. Trailing in this way from these iron glove makers, the resulting receptacles scoured the ocean floor and collected every marine exhibit in their path. That day they gathered up some unusual specimens from these fish-filled waterways: anglerfish whose comical movements qualify them for the epithet “clowns,” black Commerson anglers equipped with their antennas, undulating triggerfish encircled by little red bands, bloated puffers whose venom is extremely insidious, some olive-hued lampreys, snipefish covered with silver scales, cutlass fish whose electrocuting power equals that of the electric eel and the electric ray, scaly featherbacks with brown crosswise bands, greenish codfish, several varieties of goby, etc.; finally, some fish of larger proportions: a one-meter jack with a prominent head, several fine bonito from the genus Scomber decked out in the colors blue and silver, and three magnificent tuna whose high speeds couldn’t save them from our trawl.
I estimate that this cast of the net brought in more than 1,000 pounds of fish. It was a fine catch but not surprising. In essence, these nets stayed in our wake for several hours, incarcerating an entire aquatic world in prisons made of thread. So we were never lacking in provisions of the highest quality, which the Nautilus’s speed and the allure of its electric light could continually replenish.
These various exhibits from the sea were immediately lowered down the hatch in the direction of the storage lockers, some to be eaten fresh, others to be preserved.
After its fishing was finished and its air supply renewed, I thought the Nautilus would resume its underwater excursion, and I was getting ready to return to my stateroom, when Captain Nemo turned to me and said without further preamble:
“Look at this ocean, professor! Doesn’t it have the actual gift of life? Doesn’t it experience both anger and affection? Last evening it went to sleep just as we did, and there it is, waking up after a peaceful night!”
No hellos or good mornings for this gent! You would have thought this eccentric individual was simply continuing a conversation we’d already started!
“See!” he went on. “It’s waking up under the sun’s caresses! It’s going to relive its daily existence! What a fascinating field of study lies in watching the play of its organism. It owns a pulse and arteries, it has spasms, and I side with the scholarly Commander Maury, who discovered that it has a circulation as real as the circulation of blood in animals.”
I’m sure that Captain Nemo expected no replies from me, and it seemed pointless to pitch in with “Ah yes,” “Exactly,” or “How right you are!” Rather, he was simply talking to himself, with long pauses between sentences. He was meditating out loud.
“Yes,” he said, “the ocean owns a genuine circulation, and to start it going, the Creator of All Things has only to increase its heat, salt, and microscopic animal life. In essence, heat creates the different densities that lead to currents and countercurrents. Evaporation, which is nil in the High Arctic regions and very active in equatorial zones, brings about a constant interchange of tropical and polar waters. What’s more, I’ve detected those falling and rising currents that make up the ocean’s true breathing. I’ve seen a molecule of salt water heat up at the surface, sink into the depths, reach maximum density at -2 degrees centigrade, then cool off, grow lighter, and rise again. At the poles you’ll see the consequences of this phenomenon, and through this law of farseeing nature, you’ll understand why water can freeze only at the surface!”
As the captain was finishing his sentence, I said to myself: “The pole! Is this brazen individual claiming he’ll take us even to that location?”
Meanwhile the captain fell silent and stared at the element he had studied so thoroughly and unceasingly. Then, going on:
“Salts,” he said, “fill the sea in considerable quantities, professor, and if you removed all its dissolved saline content, you’d create a mass measuring 4,500,000 cubic leagues, which if it were spread all over the globe, would form a layer more than ten meters high. And don’t think that the presence of these salts is due merely to some whim of nature. No. They make ocean water less open to evaporation and prevent winds from carrying off excessive amounts of steam, which, when condensing, would submerge the temperate zones. Salts play a leading role, the role of stabilizer for the general ecology of the globe!”
Captain Nemo stopped, straightened up, took a few steps along the platform, and returned to me:
“As for those billions of tiny animals,” he went on, “those infusoria that live by the millions in one droplet of water, 800,000 of which are needed to weigh one milligram, their role is no less important. They absorb the marine salts, they assimilate the solid elements in the water, and since they create coral and madrepores, they’re the true builders of limestone continents! And so, after they’ve finished depriving our water drop of its mineral nutrients, the droplet gets lighter, rises to the surface, there absorbs more salts left behind through evaporation, gets heavier, sinks again, and brings those tiny animals new elements to absorb. The outcome: a double current, rising and falling, constant movement, constant life! More intense than on land, more abundant, more infinite, such life blooms in every part of this ocean, an element fatal to man, they say, but vital to myriads of animals—and to me!”
When Captain Nemo spoke in this way, he was transfigured, and he filled me with extraordinary excitement.
“There,” he added, “out there lies true existence! And I can imagine the founding of nautical towns, clusters of underwater households that, like the Nautilus, would return to the surface of the sea to breathe each morning, free towns if ever there were, independent cities! Then again, who knows whether some tyrant . . .”
Captain Nemo finished his sentence with a vehement gesture. Then, addressing me directly, as if to drive away an ugly thought:
“Professor Aronnax,” he asked me, “do you know the depth of the ocean floor?”
“At least, captain, I know what the major soundings tell us.”
“Could you quote them to me, so I can double-check them as the need arises?”
“Here,” I replied, “are a few of them that stick in my memory. If I’m not mistaken, an average depth of 8,200 meters was found in the north Atlantic, and 2,500 meters in the Mediterranean. The most remarkable soundings were taken in the south Atlantic near the 35th parallel, and they gave 12,000 meters, 14,091 meters, and 15,149 meters. All in all, it’s estimated that if the sea bottom were made level, its average depth would be about seven kilometers.”
“Well, professor,” Captain Nemo replied, “we’ll show you better than that, I hope. As for the average depth of this part of the
Pacific, I’ll inform you that it’s a mere 4,000 meters.”
This said, Captain Nemo headed to the hatch and disappeared down the ladder. I followed him and went back to the main lounge. The propeller was instantly set in motion, and the log gave our speed as twenty miles per hour.
Over the ensuing days and weeks, Captain Nemo was very frugal with his visits. I saw him only at rare intervals. His chief officer regularly fixed the positions I found reported on the chart, and in such a way that I could exactly plot the Nautilus’s course.
Conseil and Land spent the long hours with me. Conseil had told his friend about the wonders of our undersea stroll, and the Canadian was sorry he hadn’t gone along. But I hoped an opportunity would arise for a visit to the forests of Oceania.
Almost every day the panels in the lounge were open for some hours, and our eyes never tired of probing the mysteries of the underwater world.
The Nautilus’s general heading was southeast, and it stayed at a depth between 100 and 150 meters. However, from lord-knows-what whim, one day it did a diagonal dive by means of its slanting fins, reaching strata located 2,000 meters underwater. The thermometer indicated a temperature of 4.25 degrees centigrade, which at this depth seemed to be a temperature common to all latitudes.
On November 26, at three o’clock in the morning, the Nautilus cleared the Tropic of Cancer at longitude 172 degrees. On the 27th it passed in sight of the Hawaiian Islands, where the famous Captain Cook met his death on February 14, 1779. By then we had fared 4,860 leagues from our starting point. When I arrived on the platform that morning, I saw the Island of Hawaii two miles to leeward, the largest of the seven islands making up this group. I could clearly distinguish the tilled soil on its outskirts, the various mountain chains running parallel with its coastline, and its volcanoes, crowned by Mauna Kea, whose elevation is 5,000 meters above sea level. Among other specimens from these waterways, our nets brought up some peacock-tailed flabellarian coral, polyps flattened into stylish shapes and unique to this part of the ocean.
The Nautilus kept to its southeasterly heading. On December 1 it cut the equator at longitude 142 degrees, and on the 4th of the same month, after a quick crossing marked by no incident, we raised the Marquesas Islands. Three miles off, in latitude 8 degrees 57’ south and longitude 139 degrees 32’ west, I spotted Martin Point on Nuku Hiva, chief member of this island group that belongs to France. I could make out only its wooded mountains on the horizon, because Captain Nemo hated to hug shore. There our nets brought up some fine fish samples: dolphinfish with azure fins, gold tails, and flesh that’s unrivaled in the entire world, wrasse from the genus Hologymnosus that were nearly denuded of scales but exquisite in flavor, knifejaws with bony beaks, yellowish albacore that were as tasty as bonito, all fish worth classifying in the ship’s pantry.
After leaving these delightful islands to the protection of the French flag, the Nautilus covered about 2,000 miles from December 4 to the 11th. Its navigating was marked by an encounter with an immense school of squid, unusual mollusks that are near neighbors of the cuttlefish. French fishermen give them the name “cuckoldfish,” and they belong to the class Cephalopoda, family Dibranchiata, consisting of themselves together with cuttlefish and argonauts. The naturalists of antiquity made a special study of them, and these animals furnished many ribald figures of speech for soapbox orators in the Greek marketplace, as well as excellent dishes for the tables of rich citizens, if we’re to believe Athenaeus, a Greek physician predating Galen.
It was during the night of December 9-10 that the Nautilus encountered this army of distinctly nocturnal mollusks. They numbered in the millions. They were migrating from the temperate zones toward zones still warmer, following the itineraries of herring and sardines. We stared at them through our thick glass windows: they swam backward with tremendous speed, moving by means of their locomotive tubes, chasing fish and mollusks, eating the little ones, eaten by the big ones, and tossing in indescribable confusion the ten feet that nature has rooted in their heads like a hairpiece of pneumatic snakes. Despite its speed, the Nautilus navigated for several hours in the midst of this school of animals, and its nets brought up an incalculable number, among which I recognized all nine species that Professor Orbigny has classified as native to the Pacific Ocean.
During this crossing, the sea continually lavished us with the most marvelous sights. Its variety was infinite. It changed its setting and decor for the mere pleasure of our eyes, and we were called upon not simply to contemplate the works of our Creator in the midst of the liquid element, but also to probe the ocean’s most daunting mysteries.
During the day of December 11, I was busy reading in the main lounge. Ned Land and Conseil were observing the luminous waters through the gaping panels. The Nautilus was motionless. Its ballast tanks full, it was sitting at a depth of 1,000 meters in a comparatively unpopulated region of the ocean where only larger fish put in occasional appearances.
Just then I was studying a delightful book by Jean Macé, The Servants of the Stomach, and savoring its ingenious teachings, when Conseil interrupted my reading.
“Would master kindly come here for an instant?” he said to me in an odd voice.
“What is it, Conseil?”
“It’s something that master should see.”
I stood up, went, leaned on my elbows before the window, and I saw it.
In the broad electric daylight, an enormous black mass, quite motionless, hung suspended in the midst of the waters. I observed it carefully, trying to find out the nature of this gigantic cetacean. Then a sudden thought crossed my mind.
“A ship!” I exclaimed.
“Yes,” the Canadian replied, “a disabled craft that’s sinking straight down!”
Ned Land was not mistaken. We were in the presence of a ship whose severed shrouds still hung from their clasps. Its hull looked in good condition, and it must have gone under only a few hours before. The stumps of three masts, chopped off two feet above the deck, indicated a flooding ship that had been forced to sacrifice its masting. But it had heeled sideways, filling completely, and it was listing to port even yet. A sorry sight, this carcass lost under the waves, but sorrier still was the sight on its deck, where, lashed with ropes to prevent their being washed overboard, some human corpses still lay! I counted four of them—four men, one still standing at the helm—then a woman, halfway out of a skylight on the afterdeck, holding a child in her arms. This woman was young. Under the brilliant lighting of the Nautilus’s rays, I could make out her features, which the water hadn’t yet decomposed. With a supreme effort, she had lifted her child above her head, and the poor little creature’s arms were still twined around its mother’s neck! The postures of the four seamen seemed ghastly to me, twisted from convulsive movements, as if making a last effort to break loose from the ropes that bound them to their ship. And the helmsman, standing alone, calmer, his face smooth and serious, his grizzled hair plastered to his brow, his hands clutching the wheel, seemed even yet to be guiding his wrecked three-master through the ocean depths!
What a scene! We stood dumbstruck, hearts pounding, before this shipwreck caught in the act, as if it had been photographed in its final moments, so to speak! And already I could see enormous sharks moving in, eyes ablaze, drawn by the lure of human flesh!
Meanwhile, turning, the Nautilus made a circle around the sinking ship, and for an instant I could read the board on its stern:
The Florida Sunderland, England
THIS DREADFUL SIGHT was the first of a whole series of maritime catastrophes that the Nautilus would encounter on its run. When it plied more heavily traveled seas, we often saw wrecked hulls rotting in midwater, and farther down, cannons, shells, anchors, chains, and a thousand other iron objects rusting away.
Meanwhile, continuously swept along by the Nautilus, where we lived in near isolation, we raised the Tuamotu Islands on December 11, that old “dangerous group” associated with the French global navigator Commander Bougainville; it stretches from Ducie Island to Lazareff Island over an area of 500 leagues from the east-southeast to the west-northwest, between latitude 13 degrees 30’ and 23 degrees 50’ south, and between longitude 125 degrees 30’ and 151 degrees 30’ west. This island group covers a surface area of 370 square leagues, and it’s made up of some sixty subgroups, among which we noted the Gambier group, which is a French protectorate. These islands are coral formations. Thanks to the work of polyps, a slow but steady upheaval will someday connect these islands to each other. Later on, this new island will be fused to its neighboring island groups, and a fifth continent will stretch from New Zealand and New Caledonia as far as the Marquesas Islands.
The day I expounded this theory to Captain Nemo, he answered me coldly:
“The earth doesn’t need new continents, but new men!”
Sailors’ luck led the Nautilus straight to Reao Island, one of the most unusual in this group, which was discovered in 1822 by Captain Bell aboard the Minerva. So I was able to study the madreporic process that has created the islands in this ocean.
Madrepores, which one must guard against confusing with precious coral, clothe their tissue in a limestone crust, and their variations in structure have led my famous mentor Professor Milne-Edwards to classify them into five divisions. The tiny microscopic animals that secrete this polypary live by the billions in the depths of their cells. Their limestone deposits build up into rocks, reefs, islets, islands. In some places, they form atolls, a circular ring surrounding a lagoon or small inner lake that gaps place in contact with the sea. Elsewhere, they take the shape of barrier reefs, such as those that exist along the coasts of New Caledonia and several of the Tuamotu Islands. In still other localities, such as Réunion Island and the island of Mauritius, they build fringing reefs, high, straight walls next to which the ocean’s depth is considerable.
While cruising along only a few cable lengths from the underpinning of Reao Island, I marveled at the gigantic piece of work accomplished by these microscopic laborers. These walls were the express achievements of madrepores known by the names fire coral, finger coral, star coral, and stony coral. These polyps grow exclusively in the agitated strata at the surface of the sea, and so it’s in the upper reaches that they begin these substructures, which sink little by little together with the secreted rubble binding them. This, at least, is the theory of Mr. Charles Darwin, who thus explains the formation of atolls—a theory superior, in my view, to the one that says these madreporic edifices sit on the summits of mountains or volcanoes submerged a few feet below sea level.
I could observe these strange walls quite closely: our sounding lines indicated that they dropped perpendicularly for more than 300 meters, and our electric beams made the bright limestone positively sparkle.
In reply to a question Conseil asked me about the growth rate of these colossal barriers, I thoroughly amazed him by saying that scientists put it at an eighth of an inch per biennium.
“Therefore,” he said to me, “to build these walls, it took . . . ?”
“192,000 years, my gallant Conseil, which significantly extends the biblical Days of Creation. What’s more, the formation of coal—in other words, the petrification of forests swallowed by floods—and the cooling of basaltic rocks likewise call for a much longer period of time. I might add that those ‘days’ in the Bible must represent whole epochs and not literally the lapse of time between two sunrises, because according to the Bible itself, the sun doesn’t date from the first day of Creation.”
When the Nautilus returned to the surface of the ocean, I could take in Reao Island over its whole flat, wooded expanse. Obviously its madreporic rocks had been made fertile by tornadoes and thunderstorms. One day, carried off by a hurricane from neighboring shores, some seed fell onto these limestone beds, mixing with decomposed particles of fish and marine plants to form vegetable humus. Propelled by the waves, a coconut arrived on this new coast. Its germ took root. Its tree grew tall, catching steam off the water. A brook was born. Little by little, vegetation spread. Tiny animals—worms, insects—rode ashore on tree trunks snatched from islands to windward. Turtles came to lay their eggs. Birds nested in the young trees. In this way animal life developed, and drawn by the greenery and fertile soil, man appeared. And that’s how these islands were formed, the immense achievement of microscopic animals.
Near evening Reao Island melted into the distance, and the Nautilus noticeably changed course. After touching the Tropic of Capricorn at longitude 135 degrees, it headed west-northwest, going back up the whole intertropical zone. Although the summer sun lavished its rays on us, we never suffered from the heat, because thirty or forty meters underwater, the temperature didn’t go over 10 degrees to 12 degrees centigrade.
By December 15 we had left the alluring Society Islands in the west, likewise elegant Tahiti, queen of the Pacific. In the morning I spotted this island’s lofty summits a few miles to leeward. Its waters supplied excellent fish for the tables on board: mackerel, bonito, albacore, and a few varieties of that sea serpent named the moray eel.
The Nautilus had cleared 8,100 miles. We logged 9,720 miles when we passed between the Tonga Islands, where crews from the Argo, Port-au-Prince, and Duke of Portland had perished, and the island group of Samoa, scene of the slaying of Captain de Langle, friend of that long-lost navigator, the Count de La Pérouse. Then we raised the Fiji Islands, where savages slaughtered sailors from the Union, as well as Captain Bureau, commander of the Darling Josephine out of Nantes, France.
Extending over an expanse of 100 leagues north to south, and over 90 leagues east to west, this island group lies between latitude 2 degrees and 6 degrees south, and between longitude 174 degrees and 179 degrees west. It consists of a number of islands, islets, and reefs, among which we noted the islands of Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, and Kadavu.
It was the Dutch navigator Tasman who discovered this group in 1643, the same year the Italian physicist Torricelli invented the barometer and King Louis XIV ascended the French throne. I’ll let the reader decide which of these deeds was more beneficial to humanity. Coming later, Captain Cook in 1774, Rear Admiral d’Entrecasteaux in 1793, and finally Captain Dumont d’Urville in 1827, untangled the whole chaotic geography of this island group. The Nautilus drew near Wailea Bay, an unlucky place for England’s Captain Dillon, who was the first to shed light on the longstanding mystery surrounding the disappearance of ships under the Count de La Pérouse.
This bay, repeatedly dredged, furnished a huge supply of excellent oysters. As the Roman playwright Seneca recommended, we opened them right at our table, then stuffed ourselves. These mollusks belonged to the species known by name as Ostrea lamellosa, whose members are quite common off Corsica. This Wailea oysterbank must have been extensive, and for certain, if they hadn’t been controlled by numerous natural checks, these clusters of shellfish would have ended up jam-packing the bay, since as many as 2,000,000 eggs have been counted in a single individual.
And if Mr. Ned Land did not repent of his gluttony at our oyster fest, it’s because oysters are the only dish that never causes indigestion. In fact, it takes no less than sixteen dozen of these headless mollusks to supply the 315 grams that satisfy one man’s minimum daily requirement for nitrogen.
On December 25 the Nautilus navigated amid the island group of the New Hebrides, which the Portuguese seafarer Queirós discovered in 1606, which Commander Bougainville explored in 1768, and to which Captain Cook gave its current name in 1773. This group is chiefly made up of nine large islands and forms a 120-league strip from the north-northwest to the south-southeast, lying between latitude 2 degrees and 15 degrees south, and between longitude 164 degrees and 168 degrees. At the moment of our noon sights, we passed fairly close to the island of Aurou, which looked to me like a mass of green woods crowned by a peak of great height.
That day it was yuletide, and it struck me that Ned Land badly missed celebrating “Christmas,” that genuine family holiday where Protestants are such zealots.
I hadn’t seen Captain Nemo for over a week, when, on the morning of the 27th, he entered the main lounge, as usual acting as if he’d been gone for just five minutes. I was busy tracing the Nautilus’s course on the world map. The captain approached, placed a finger over a position on the chart, and pronounced just one word:
This name was magic! It was the name of those islets where vessels under the Count de La Pérouse had miscarried. I straightened suddenly.
“The Nautilus is bringing us to Vanikoro?” I asked.
“Yes, professor,” the captain replied.
“And I’ll be able to visit those famous islands where the Compass and the Astrolabe came to grief?”
“If you like, professor.”
“When will we reach Vanikoro?”
“We already have, professor.”
Followed by Captain Nemo, I climbed onto the platform, and from there my eyes eagerly scanned the horizon.
In the northeast there emerged two volcanic islands of unequal size, surrounded by a coral reef whose circuit measured forty miles. We were facing the island of Vanikoro proper, to which Captain Dumont d’Urville had given the name “Island of the Search”; we lay right in front of the little harbor of Vana, located in latitude 16 degrees 4’ south and longitude 164 degrees 32’ east. Its shores seemed covered with greenery from its beaches to its summits inland, crowned by Mt. Kapogo, which is 476 fathoms high.
After clearing the outer belt of rocks via a narrow passageway, the Nautilus lay inside the breakers where the sea had a depth of thirty to forty fathoms. Under the green shade of some tropical evergreens, I spotted a few savages who looked extremely startled at our approach. In this long, blackish object advancing flush with the water, didn’t they see some fearsome cetacean that they were obliged to view with distrust?
Just then Captain Nemo asked me what I knew about the shipwreck of the Count de La Pérouse.
“What everybody knows, captain,” I answered him.
“And could you kindly tell me what everybody knows?” he asked me in a gently ironic tone.
I related to him what the final deeds of Captain Dumont d’Urville had brought to light, deeds described here in this heavily condensed summary of the whole matter.
In 1785 the Count de La Pérouse and his subordinate, Captain de Langle, were sent by King Louis XVI of France on a voyage to circumnavigate the globe. They boarded two sloops of war, the Compass and the Astrolabe, which were never seen again.
In 1791, justly concerned about the fate of these two sloops of war, the French government fitted out two large cargo boats, the Search and the Hope, which left Brest on September 28 under orders from Rear Admiral Bruni d’Entrecasteaux. Two months later, testimony from a certain Commander Bowen, aboard the Albemarle, alleged that rubble from shipwrecked vessels had been seen on the coast of New Georgia. But d’Entrecasteaux was unaware of this news—which seemed a bit dubious anyhow—and headed toward the Admiralty Islands, which had been named in a report by one Captain Hunter as the site of the Count de La Pérouse’s shipwreck.
They looked in vain. The Hope and the Search passed right by Vanikoro without stopping there; and overall, this voyage was plagued by misfortune, ultimately costing the lives of Rear Admiral d’Entrecasteaux, two of his subordinate officers, and several seamen from his crew.
It was an old hand at the Pacific, the English adventurer Captain Peter Dillon, who was the first to pick up the trail left by castaways from the wrecked vessels. On May 15, 1824, his ship, the St. Patrick, passed by Tikopia Island, one of the New Hebrides. There a native boatman pulled alongside in a dugout canoe and sold Dillon a silver sword hilt bearing the imprint of characters engraved with a cutting tool known as a burin. Furthermore, this native boatman claimed that during a stay in Vanikoro six years earlier, he had seen two Europeans belonging to ships that had run aground on the island’s reefs many years before.
Dillon guessed that the ships at issue were those under the Count de La Pérouse, ships whose disappearance had shaken the entire world. He tried to reach Vanikoro, where, according to the native boatman, a good deal of rubble from the shipwreck could still be found, but winds and currents prevented his doing so.
Dillon returned to Calcutta. There he was able to interest the Asiatic Society and the East India Company in his discovery. A ship named after the Search was placed at his disposal, and he departed on January 23, 1827, accompanied by a French deputy.
This new Search, after putting in at several stops over the Pacific, dropped anchor before Vanikoro on July 7, 1827, in the same harbor of Vana where the Nautilus was currently floating.
There Dillon collected many relics of the shipwreck: iron utensils, anchors, eyelets from pulleys, swivel guns, an eighteen-pound shell, the remains of some astronomical instruments, a piece of sternrail, and a bronze bell bearing the inscription “Made by Bazin,” the foundry mark at Brest Arsenal around 1785. There could no longer be any doubt.
Finishing his investigations, Dillon stayed at the site of the casualty until the month of October. Then he left Vanikoro, headed toward New Zealand, dropped anchor at Calcutta on April 7, 1828, and returned to France, where he received a very cordial welcome from King Charles X.
But just then the renowned French explorer Captain Dumont d’Urville, unaware of Dillon’s activities, had already set sail to search elsewhere for the site of the shipwreck. In essence, a whaling vessel had reported that some medals and a Cross of St. Louis had been found in the hands of savages in the Louisiade Islands and New Caledonia.
So Captain Dumont d’Urville had put to sea in command of a vessel named after the Astrolabe, and just two months after Dillon had left Vanikoro, Dumont d’Urville dropped anchor before Hobart. There he heard about Dillon’s findings, and he further learned that a certain James Hobbs, chief officer on the Union out of Calcutta, had put to shore on an island located in latitude 8 degrees 18’ south and longitude 156 degrees 30’ east, and had noted the natives of those waterways making use of iron bars and red fabrics.
Pretty perplexed, Dumont d’Urville didn’t know if he should give credence to these reports, which had been carried in some of the less reliable newspapers; nevertheless, he decided to start on Dillon’s trail.
On February 10, 1828, the new Astrolabe hove before Tikopia Island, took on a guide and interpreter in the person of a deserter who had settled there, plied a course toward Vanikoro, raised it on February 12, sailed along its reefs until the 14th, and only on the 20th dropped anchor inside its barrier in the harbor of Vana.
On the 23rd, several officers circled the island and brought back some rubble of little importance. The natives, adopting a system of denial and evasion, refused to guide them to the site of the casualty. This rather shady conduct aroused the suspicion that the natives had mistreated the castaways; and in truth, the natives seemed afraid that Dumont d’Urville had come to avenge the Count de La Pérouse and his unfortunate companions.
But on the 26th, appeased with gifts and seeing that they didn’t need to fear any reprisals, the natives led the chief officer, Mr. Jacquinot, to the site of the shipwreck.
At this location, in three or four fathoms of water between the Paeu and Vana reefs, there lay some anchors, cannons, and ingots of iron and lead, all caked with limestone concretions. A launch and whaleboat from the new Astrolabe were steered to this locality, and after going to exhausting lengths, their crews managed to dredge up an anchor weighing 1,800 pounds, a cast-iron eight-pounder cannon, a lead ingot, and two copper swivel guns.
Questioning the natives, Captain Dumont d’Urville also learned that after La Pérouse’s two ships had miscarried on the island’s reefs, the count had built a smaller craft, only to go off and miscarry a second time. Where? Nobody knew.
The commander of the new Astrolabe then had a monument erected under a tuft of mangrove, in memory of the famous navigator and his companions. It was a simple quadrangular pyramid, set on a coral base, with no ironwork to tempt the natives’ avarice.
Then Dumont d’Urville tried to depart; but his crews were run down from the fevers raging on these unsanitary shores, and quite ill himself, he was unable to weigh anchor until March 17.
Meanwhile, fearing that Dumont d’Urville wasn’t abreast of Dillon’s activities, the French government sent a sloop of war to Vanikoro, the Bayonnaise under Commander Legoarant de Tromelin, who had been stationed on the American west coast. Dropping anchor before Vanikoro a few months after the new Astrolabe’s departure, the Bayonnaise didn’t find any additional evidence but verified that the savages hadn’t disturbed the memorial honoring the Count de La Pérouse.
This is the substance of the account I gave Captain Nemo.
“So,” he said to me, “the castaways built a third ship on Vanikoro Island, and to this day, nobody knows where it went and perished?”
Captain Nemo didn’t reply but signaled me to follow him to the main lounge. The Nautilus sank a few meters beneath the waves, and the panels opened.
I rushed to the window and saw crusts of coral: fungus coral, siphonula coral, alcyon coral, sea anemone from the genus Caryophylia, plus myriads of charming fish including greenfish, damselfish, sweepers, snappers, and squirrelfish; underneath this coral covering I detected some rubble the old dredges hadn’t been able to tear free—iron stirrups, anchors, cannons, shells, tackle from a capstan, a stempost, all objects hailing from the wrecked ships and now carpeted in moving flowers.
And as I stared at this desolate wreckage, Captain Nemo told me in a solemn voice:
“Commander La Pérouse set out on December 7, 1785, with his ships, the Compass and the Astrolabe. He dropped anchor first at Botany Bay, visited the Tonga Islands and New Caledonia, headed toward the Santa Cruz Islands, and put in at Nomuka, one of the islands in the Ha’apai group. Then his ships arrived at the unknown reefs of Vanikoro. Traveling in the lead, the Compass ran afoul of breakers on the southerly coast. The Astrolabe went to its rescue and also ran aground. The first ship was destroyed almost immediately. The second, stranded to leeward, held up for some days. The natives gave the castaways a fair enough welcome. The latter took up residence on the island and built a smaller craft with rubble from the two large ones. A few seamen stayed voluntarily in Vanikoro. The others, weak and ailing, set sail with the Count de La Pérouse. They headed to the Solomon Islands, and they perished with all hands on the westerly coast of the chief island in that group, between Cape Deception and Cape Satisfaction!”
“And how do you know all this?” I exclaimed.
“Here’s what I found at the very site of that final shipwreck!”
Captain Nemo showed me a tin box, stamped with the coat of arms of France and all corroded by salt water. He opened it and I saw a bundle of papers, yellowed but still legible.
They were the actual military orders given by France’s Minister of the Navy to Commander La Pérouse, with notes along the margin in the handwriting of King Louis XVI!
“Ah, what a splendid death for a seaman!” Captain Nemo then said. “A coral grave is a tranquil grave, and may Heaven grant that my companions and I rest in no other!”
The Torres Strait
DURING THE NIGHT of December 27-28, the Nautilus left the waterways of Vanikoro behind with extraordinary speed. Its heading was southwesterly, and in three days it had cleared the 750 leagues that separated La Pérouse’s islands from the southeastern tip of Papua.
On January 1, 1868, bright and early, Conseil joined me on the platform.
“Will master,” the gallant lad said to me, “allow me to wish him a happy new year?”
“Good heavens, Conseil, it’s just like old times in my office at the Botanical Gardens in Paris! I accept your kind wishes and I thank you for them. Only, I’d like to know what you mean by a ‘happy year’ under the circumstances in which we’re placed. Is it a year that will bring our imprisonment to an end, or a year that will see this strange voyage continue?”
“Ye gods,” Conseil replied, “I hardly know what to tell master. We’re certainly seeing some unusual things, and for two months we’ve had no time for boredom. The latest wonder is always the most astonishing, and if this progression keeps up, I can’t imagine what its climax will be. In my opinion, we’ll never again have such an opportunity.”
“Besides, Mr. Nemo really lives up to his Latin name, since he couldn’t be less in the way if he didn’t exist.”
“True enough, Conseil.”
“Therefore, with all due respect to master, I think a ‘happy year’ would be a year that lets us see everything—”
“Everything, Conseil? No year could be that long. But what does Ned Land think about all this?”
“Ned Land’s thoughts are exactly the opposite of mine,” Conseil replied. “He has a practical mind and a demanding stomach. He’s tired of staring at fish and eating them day in and day out. This shortage of wine, bread, and meat isn’t suitable for an upstanding Anglo-Saxon, a man accustomed to beefsteak and unfazed by regular doses of brandy or gin!”
“For my part, Conseil, that doesn’t bother me in the least, and I’ve adjusted very nicely to the diet on board.”
“So have I,” Conseil replied. “Accordingly, I think as much about staying as Mr. Land about making his escape. Thus, if this new year isn’t a happy one for me, it will be for him, and vice versa. No matter what happens, one of us will be pleased. So, in conclusion, I wish master to have whatever his heart desires.”
“Thank you, Conseil. Only I must ask you to postpone the question of new year’s gifts, and temporarily accept a hearty handshake in their place. That’s all I have on me.”
“Master has never been more generous,” Conseil replied.
And with that, the gallant lad went away.
By January 2 we had fared 11,340 miles, hence 5,250 leagues, from our starting point in the seas of Japan. Before the Nautilus’s spur there stretched the dangerous waterways of the Coral Sea, off the northeast coast of Australia. Our boat cruised along a few miles away from that daunting shoal where Captain Cook’s ships wellnigh miscarried on June 10, 1770. The craft that Cook was aboard charged into some coral rock, and if his vessel didn’t go down, it was thanks to the circumstance that a piece of coral broke off in the collision and plugged the very hole it had made in the hull.
I would have been deeply interested in visiting this long, 360-league reef, against which the ever-surging sea broke with the fearsome intensity of thunderclaps. But just then the Nautilus’s slanting fins took us to great depths, and I could see nothing of those high coral walls. I had to rest content with the various specimens of fish brought up by our nets. Among others I noted some long-finned albacore, a species in the genus Scomber, as big as tuna, bluish on the flanks, and streaked with crosswise stripes that disappear when the animal dies. These fish followed us in schools and supplied our table with very dainty flesh. We also caught a large number of yellow-green gilthead, half a decimeter long and tasting like dorado, plus some flying gurnards, authentic underwater swallows that, on dark nights, alternately streak air and water with their phosphorescent glimmers. Among mollusks and zoophytes, I found in our trawl’s meshes various species of alcyonarian coral, sea urchins, hammer shells, spurred-star shells, wentletrap snails, horn shells, glass snails. The local flora was represented by fine floating algae: sea tangle, and kelp from the genus Macrocystis, saturated with the mucilage their pores perspire, from which I selected a wonderful Nemastoma geliniaroidea, classifying it with the natural curiosities in the museum.
On January 4, two days after crossing the Coral Sea, we raised the coast of Papua. On this occasion Captain Nemo told me that he intended to reach the Indian Ocean via the Torres Strait. This was the extent of his remarks. Ned saw with pleasure that this course would bring us, once again, closer to European seas.
The Torres Strait is regarded as no less dangerous for its bristling reefs than for the savage inhabitants of its coasts. It separates Queensland from the huge island of Papua, also called New Guinea.
Papua is 400 leagues long by 130 leagues wide, with a surface area of 40,000 geographic leagues. It’s located between latitude 0 degrees 19’ and 10 degrees 2’ south, and between longitude 128 degrees 23’ and 146 degrees 15’. At noon, while the chief officer was taking the sun’s altitude, I spotted the summits of the Arfak Mountains, rising in terraces and ending in sharp peaks.
Discovered in 1511 by the Portuguese Francisco Serrano, these shores were successively visited by Don Jorge de Meneses in 1526, by Juan de Grijalva in 1527, by the Spanish general Alvaro de Saavedra in 1528, by Inigo Ortiz in 1545, by the Dutchman Schouten in 1616, by Nicolas Sruick in 1753, by Tasman, Dampier, Fumel, Carteret, Edwards, Bougainville, Cook, McClure, and Thomas Forrest, by Rear Admiral d’Entrecasteaux in 1792, by Louis-Isidore Duperrey in 1823, and by Captain Dumont d’Urville in 1827. “It’s the heartland of the blacks who occupy all Malaysia,” Mr. de Rienzi has said; and I hadn’t the foggiest inkling that sailors’ luck was about to bring me face to face with these daunting Andaman aborigines.
So the Nautilus hove before the entrance to the world’s most dangerous strait, a passageway that even the boldest navigators hesitated to clear: the strait that Luis Vaez de Torres faced on returning from the South Seas in Melanesia, the strait in which sloops of war under Captain Dumont d’Urville ran aground in 1840 and nearly miscarried with all hands. And even the Nautilus, rising superior to every danger in the sea, was about to become intimate with its coral reefs.
The Torres Strait is about thirty-four leagues wide, but it’s obstructed by an incalculable number of islands, islets, breakers, and rocks that make it nearly impossible to navigate. Consequently, Captain Nemo took every desired precaution in crossing it. Floating flush with the water, the Nautilus moved ahead at a moderate pace. Like a cetacean’s tail, its propeller churned the waves slowly.
Taking advantage of this situation, my two companions and I found seats on the ever-deserted platform. In front of us stood the pilothouse, and unless I’m extremely mistaken, Captain Nemo must have been inside, steering his Nautilus himself.
Under my eyes I had the excellent charts of the Torres Strait that had been surveyed and drawn up by the hydrographic engineer Vincendon Dumoulin and Sublieutenant (now Admiral) Coupvent-Desbois, who were part of Dumont d’Urville’s general staff during his final voyage to circumnavigate the globe. These, along with the efforts of Captain King, are the best charts for untangling the snarl of this narrow passageway, and I consulted them with scrupulous care.
Around the Nautilus the sea was boiling furiously. A stream of waves, bearing from southeast to northwest at a speed of two and a half miles per hour, broke over heads of coral emerging here and there.
“That’s one rough sea!” Ned Land told me.
“Abominable indeed,” I replied, “and hardly suitable for a craft like the Nautilus.”
“That damned captain,” the Canadian went on, “must really be sure of his course, because if these clumps of coral so much as brush us, they’ll rip our hull into a thousand pieces!”
The situation was indeed dangerous, but as if by magic, the Nautilus seemed to glide right down the middle of these rampaging reefs. It didn’t follow the exact course of the Zealous and the new Astrolabe, which had proved so ill-fated for Captain Dumont d’Urville. It went more to the north, hugged the Murray Islands, and returned to the southwest near Cumberland Passage. I thought it was about to charge wholeheartedly into this opening, but it went up to the northwest, through a large number of little-known islands and islets, and steered toward Tound Island and the Bad Channel.
I was already wondering if Captain Nemo, rash to the point of sheer insanity, wanted his ship to tackle the narrows where Dumont d’Urville’s two sloops of war had gone aground, when he changed direction a second time and cut straight to the west, heading toward Gueboroa Island.
By then it was three o’clock in the afternoon. The current was slacking off, it was almost full tide. The Nautilus drew near this island, which I can see to this day with its remarkable fringe of screw pines. We hugged it from less than two miles out.
A sudden jolt threw me down. The Nautilus had just struck a reef, and it remained motionless, listing slightly to port.
When I stood up, I saw Captain Nemo and his chief officer on the platform. They were examining the ship’s circumstances, exchanging a few words in their incomprehensible dialect.
Here is what those circumstances entailed. Two miles to starboard lay Gueboroa Island, its coastline curving north to west like an immense arm. To the south and east, heads of coral were already on display, left uncovered by the ebbing waters. We had run aground at full tide and in one of those seas whose tides are moderate, an inconvenient state of affairs for floating the Nautilus off. However, the ship hadn’t suffered in any way, so solidly joined was its hull. But although it could neither sink nor split open, it was in serious danger of being permanently attached to these reefs, and that would have been the finish of Captain Nemo’s submersible.
I was mulling this over when the captain approached, cool and calm, forever in control of himself, looking neither alarmed nor annoyed.
“An accident?” I said to him.
“No, an incident,” he answered me.
“But an incident,” I replied, “that may oblige you to become a resident again of these shores you avoid!”
Captain Nemo gave me an odd look and gestured no. Which told me pretty clearly that nothing would ever force him to set foot on a land mass again. Then he said:
“No, Professor Aronnax, the Nautilus isn’t consigned to perdition. It will still carry you through the midst of the ocean’s wonders. Our voyage is just beginning, and I’ve no desire to deprive myself so soon of the pleasure of your company.”
“Even so, Captain Nemo,” I went on, ignoring his ironic turn of phrase, “the Nautilus has run aground at a moment when the sea is full. Now then, the tides aren’t strong in the Pacific, and if you can’t unballast the Nautilus, which seems impossible to me, I don’t see how it will float off.”
“You’re right, professor, the Pacific tides aren’t strong,” Captain Nemo replied. “But in the Torres Strait, one still finds a meter-and-a-half difference in level between high and low seas. Today is January 4, and in five days the moon will be full. Now then, I’ll be quite astonished if that good-natured satellite doesn’t sufficiently raise these masses of water and do me a favor for which I’ll be forever grateful.”
This said, Captain Nemo went below again to the Nautilus’s interior, followed by his chief officer. As for our craft, it no longer stirred, staying as motionless as if these coral polyps had already walled it in with their indestructible cement.
“Well, sir?” Ned Land said to me, coming up after the captain’s departure.
“Well, Ned my friend, we’ll serenely wait for the tide on the 9th, because it seems the moon will have the good nature to float us away!”
“As simple as that?”
“As simple as that.”
“So our captain isn’t going to drop his anchors, put his engines on the chains, and do anything to haul us off?”
“Since the tide will be sufficient,” Conseil replied simply.
The Canadian stared at Conseil, then he shrugged his shoulders. The seaman in him was talking now.
“Sir,” he answered, “you can trust me when I say this hunk of iron will never navigate again, on the seas or under them. It’s only fit to be sold for its weight. So I think it’s time we gave Captain Nemo the slip.”
“Ned my friend,” I replied, “unlike you, I haven’t given up on our valiant Nautilus, and in four days we’ll know where we stand on these Pacific tides. Besides, an escape attempt might be timely if we were in sight of the coasts of England or Provence, but in the waterways of Papua it’s another story. And we’ll always have that as a last resort if the Nautilus doesn’t right itself, which I’d regard as a real calamity.”
“But couldn’t we at least get the lay of the land?” Ned went on. “Here’s an island. On this island there are trees. Under those trees land animals loaded with cutlets and roast beef, which I’d be happy to sink my teeth into.”
“In this instance our friend Ned is right,” Conseil said, “and I side with his views. Couldn’t master persuade his friend Captain Nemo to send the three of us ashore, if only so our feet don’t lose the knack of treading on the solid parts of our planet?”
“I can ask him,” I replied, “but he’ll refuse.”
“Let master take the risk,” Conseil said, “and we’ll know where we stand on the captain’s affability.”
Much to my surprise, Captain Nemo gave me the permission I asked for, and he did so with grace and alacrity, not even exacting my promise to return on board. But fleeing across the New Guinea territories would be extremely dangerous, and I wouldn’t have advised Ned Land to try it. Better to be prisoners aboard the Nautilus than to fall into the hands of Papuan natives.
The skiff was put at our disposal for the next morning. I hardly needed to ask whether Captain Nemo would be coming along. I likewise assumed that no crewmen would be assigned to us, that Ned Land would be in sole charge of piloting the longboat. Besides, the shore lay no more than two miles off, and it would be child’s play for the Canadian to guide that nimble skiff through those rows of reefs so ill-fated for big ships.
The next day, January 5, after its deck paneling was opened, the skiff was wrenched from its socket and launched to sea from the top of the platform. Two men were sufficient for this operation. The oars were inside the longboat and we had only to take our seats.
At eight o’clock, armed with rifles and axes, we pulled clear of the Nautilus. The sea was fairly calm. A mild breeze blew from shore. In place by the oars, Conseil and I rowed vigorously, and Ned steered us into the narrow lanes between the breakers. The skiff handled easily and sped swiftly.
Ned Land couldn’t conceal his glee. He was a prisoner escaping from prison and never dreaming he would need to reenter it.
“Meat!” he kept repeating. “Now we’ll eat red meat! Actual game! A real mess call, by thunder! I’m not saying fish aren’t good for you, but we mustn’t overdo ’em, and a slice of fresh venison grilled over live coals will be a nice change from our standard fare.”
“You glutton,” Conseil replied, “you’re making my mouth water!”
“It remains to be seen,” I said, “whether these forests do contain game, and if the types of game aren’t of such size that they can hunt the hunter.”
“Fine, Professor Aronnax!” replied the Canadian, whose teeth seemed to be as honed as the edge of an ax. “But if there’s no other quadruped on this island, I’ll eat tiger—tiger sirloin.”
“Our friend Ned grows disturbing,” Conseil replied.
“Whatever it is,” Ned Land went on, “any animal having four feet without feathers, or two feet with feathers, will be greeted by my very own one-gun salute.”
“Oh good!” I replied. “The reckless Mr. Land is at it again!”
“Don’t worry, Professor Aronnax, just keep rowing!” the Canadian replied. “I only need twenty-five minutes to serve you one of my own special creations.”
By 8:30 the Nautilus’s skiff had just run gently aground on a sandy strand, after successfully clearing the ring of coral that surrounds Gueboroa Island.
Some Days Ashore
STEPPING ASHORE had an exhilarating effect on me. Ned Land tested the soil with his foot, as if he were laying claim to it. Yet it had been only two months since we had become, as Captain Nemo expressed it, “passengers on the Nautilus,” in other words, the literal prisoners of its commander.
In a few minutes we were a gunshot away from the coast. The soil was almost entirely madreporic, but certain dry stream beds were strewn with granite rubble, proving that this island was of primordial origin. The entire horizon was hidden behind a curtain of wonderful forests. Enormous trees, sometimes as high as 200 feet, were linked to each other by garlands of tropical creepers, genuine natural hammocks that swayed in a mild breeze. There were mimosas, banyan trees, beefwood, teakwood, hibiscus, screw pines, palm trees, all mingling in wild profusion; and beneath the shade of their green canopies, at the feet of their gigantic trunks, there grew orchids, leguminous plants, and ferns.
Meanwhile, ignoring all these fine specimens of Papuan flora, the Canadian passed up the decorative in favor of the functional. He spotted a coconut palm, beat down some of its fruit, broke them open, and we drank their milk and ate their meat with a pleasure that was a protest against our standard fare on the Nautilus.
“Excellent!” Ned Land said.
“Exquisite!” Conseil replied.
“And I don’t think,” the Canadian said, “that your Nemo would object to us stashing a cargo of coconuts aboard his vessel?”
“I imagine not,” I replied, “but he won’t want to sample them.”
“Too bad for him!” Conseil said.
“And plenty good for us!” Ned Land shot back. “There’ll be more left over!”
“A word of caution, Mr. Land,” I told the harpooner, who was about to ravage another coconut palm. “Coconuts are admirable things, but before we stuff the skiff with them, it would be wise to find out whether this island offers other substances just as useful. Some fresh vegetables would be well received in the Nautilus’s pantry.”
“Master is right,” Conseil replied, “and I propose that we set aside three places in our longboat: one for fruit, another for vegetables, and a third for venison, of which I still haven’t glimpsed the tiniest specimen.”
“Don’t give up so easily, Conseil,” the Canadian replied.
“So let’s continue our excursion,” I went on, “but keep a sharp lookout. This island seems uninhabited, but it still might harbor certain individuals who aren’t so finicky about the sort of game they eat!”
“Hee hee!” Ned put in, with a meaningful movement of his jaws.
“Ned! Oh horrors!” Conseil exclaimed.
“Ye gods,” the Canadian shot back, “I’m starting to appreciate the charms of cannibalism!”
“Ned, Ned! Don’t say that!” Conseil answered. “You a cannibal? Why, I’ll no longer be safe next to you, I who share your cabin! Does this mean I’ll wake up half devoured one fine day?”
“I’m awfully fond of you, Conseil my friend, but not enough to eat you when there’s better food around.”
“Then I daren’t delay,” Conseil replied. “The hunt is on! We absolutely must bag some game to placate this man-eater, or one of these mornings master won’t find enough pieces of his manservant to serve him.”
While exchanging this chitchat, we entered beneath the dark canopies of the forest, and for two hours we explored it in every direction.
We couldn’t have been luckier in our search for edible vegetation, and some of the most useful produce in the tropical zones supplied us with a valuable foodstuff missing on board.
I mean the breadfruit tree, which is quite abundant on Gueboroa Island, and there I chiefly noted the seedless variety that in Malaysia is called “rima.”
This tree is distinguished from other trees by a straight trunk forty feet high. To the naturalist’s eye, its gracefully rounded crown, formed of big multilobed leaves, was enough to denote the artocarpus that has been so successfully transplanted to the Mascarene Islands east of
Madagascar. From its mass of greenery, huge globular fruit stood out, a decimeter wide and furnished on the outside with creases that assumed a hexangular pattern. It’s a handy plant that nature gives to regions lacking in wheat; without needing to be cultivated, it bears fruit eight months out of the year.
Ned Land was on familiar terms with this fruit. He had already eaten it on his many voyages and knew how to cook its edible substance. So the very sight of it aroused his appetite, and he couldn’t control himself.
“Sir,” he told me, “I’ll die if I don’t sample a little breadfruit pasta!”
“Sample some, Ned my friend, sample all you like. We’re here to conduct experiments, let’s conduct them.”
“It won’t take a minute,” the Canadian replied.
Equipped with a magnifying glass, he lit a fire of deadwood that was soon crackling merrily. Meanwhile Conseil and I selected the finest artocarpus fruit. Some still weren’t ripe enough, and their thick skins covered white, slightly fibrous pulps. But a great many others were yellowish and gelatinous, just begging to be picked.
This fruit contained no pits. Conseil brought a dozen of them to Ned Land, who cut them into thick slices and placed them over a fire of live coals, all the while repeating:
“You’ll see, sir, how tasty this bread is!”
“Especially since we’ve gone without baked goods for so long,” Conseil said.
“It’s more than just bread,” the Canadian added. “It’s a dainty pastry. You’ve never eaten any, sir?”
“All right, get ready for something downright delectable! If you don’t come back for seconds, I’m no longer the King of Harpooners!”
After a few minutes, the parts of the fruit exposed to the fire were completely toasted. On the inside there appeared some white pasta, a sort of soft bread center whose flavor reminded me of artichoke.
This bread was excellent, I must admit, and I ate it with great pleasure.
“Unfortunately,” I said, “this pasta won’t stay fresh, so it seems pointless to make a supply for on board.”
“By thunder, sir!” Ned Land exclaimed. “There you go, talking like a naturalist, but meantime I’ll be acting like a baker! Conseil, harvest some of this fruit to take with us when we go back.”
“And how will you prepare it?” I asked the Canadian.
“I’ll make a fermented batter from its pulp that’ll keep indefinitely without spoiling. When I want some, I’ll just cook it in the galley on board—it’ll have a slightly tart flavor, but you’ll find it excellent.”
“So, Mr. Ned, I see that this bread is all we need—”
“Not quite, professor,” the Canadian replied. “We need some fruit to go with it, or at least some vegetables.”
“Then let’s look for fruit and vegetables.”
When our breadfruit harvesting was done, we took to the trail to complete this “dry-land dinner.”
We didn’t search in vain, and near noontime we had an ample supply of bananas. This delicious produce from the Torrid Zones ripens all year round, and Malaysians, who give them the name “pisang,” eat them without bothering to cook them. In addition to bananas, we gathered some enormous jackfruit with a very tangy flavor, some tasty mangoes, and some pineapples of unbelievable size. But this foraging took up a good deal of our time, which, even so, we had no cause to regret.
Conseil kept Ned under observation. The harpooner walked in the lead, and during his stroll through this forest, he gathered with sure hands some excellent fruit that should have completed his provisions.
“So,” Conseil asked, “you have everything you need, Ned my friend?”
“Humph!” the Canadian put in.
“What! You’re complaining?”
“All this vegetation doesn’t make a meal,” Ned replied. “Just side dishes, dessert. But where’s the soup course? Where’s the roast?”
“Right,” I said. “Ned promised us cutlets, which seems highly questionable to me.”
“Sir,” the Canadian replied, “our hunting not only isn’t over, it hasn’t even started. Patience! We’re sure to end up bumping into some animal with either feathers or fur, if not in this locality, then in another.”
“And if not today, then tomorrow, because we mustn’t wander too far off,” Conseil added. “That’s why I propose that we return to the skiff.”
“What! Already!” Ned exclaimed.
“We ought to be back before nightfall,” I said.
“But what hour is it, then?” the Canadian asked.
“Two o’clock at least,” Conseil replied.
“How time flies on solid ground!” exclaimed Mr. Ned Land with a sigh of regret.
“Off we go!” Conseil replied.
So we returned through the forest, and we completed our harvest by making a clean sweep of some palm cabbages that had to be picked from the crowns of their trees, some small beans that I recognized as the “abrou” of the Malaysians, and some high-quality yams.
We were overloaded when we arrived at the skiff. However, Ned Land still found these provisions inadequate. But fortune smiled on him. Just as we were boarding, he spotted several trees twenty-five to thirty feet high, belonging to the palm species. As valuable as the artocarpus, these trees are justly ranked among the most useful produce in Malaysia.
They were sago palms, vegetation that grows without being cultivated; like mulberry trees, they reproduce by means of shoots and seeds.
Ned Land knew how to handle these trees. Taking his ax and wielding it with great vigor, he soon stretched out on the ground two or three sago palms, whose maturity was revealed by the white dust sprinkled over their palm fronds.
I watched him more as a naturalist than as a man in hunger. He began by removing from each trunk an inch-thick strip of bark that covered a network of long, hopelessly tangled fibers that were puttied with a sort of gummy flour. This flour was the starch-like sago, an edible substance chiefly consumed by the Melanesian peoples.
For the time being, Ned Land was content to chop these trunks into pieces, as if he were making firewood; later he would extract the flour by sifting it through cloth to separate it from its fibrous ligaments, let it dry out in the sun, and leave it to harden inside molds.
Finally, at five o’clock in the afternoon, laden with all our treasures, we left the island beach and half an hour later pulled alongside the Nautilus. Nobody appeared on our arrival. The enormous sheet-iron cylinder seemed deserted. Our provisions loaded on board, I went below to my stateroom. There I found my supper ready. I ate and then fell asleep.
The next day, January 6: nothing new on board. Not a sound inside, not a sign of life. The skiff stayed alongside in the same place we had left it. We decided to return to Gueboroa Island. Ned Land hoped for better luck in his hunting than on the day before, and he wanted to visit a different part of the forest.
By sunrise we were off. Carried by an inbound current, the longboat reached the island in a matter of moments.
We disembarked, and thinking it best to abide by the Canadian’s instincts, we followed Ned Land, whose long legs threatened to outpace us.
Ned Land went westward up the coast; then, fording some stream beds, he reached open plains that were bordered by wonderful forests. Some kingfishers lurked along the watercourses, but they didn’t let us approach. Their cautious behavior proved to me that these winged creatures knew where they stood on bipeds of our species, and I concluded that if this island wasn’t inhabited, at least human beings paid it frequent visits.
After crossing a pretty lush prairie, we arrived on the outskirts of a small wood, enlivened by the singing and soaring of a large number of birds.
“Still, they’re merely birds,” Conseil said.
“But some are edible,” the harpooner replied.
“Wrong, Ned my friend,” Conseil answered, “because I see only ordinary parrots here.”
“Conseil my friend,” Ned replied in all seriousness, “parrots are like pheasant to people with nothing else on their plates.”
“And I might add,” I said, “that when these birds are properly cooked, they’re at least worth a stab of the fork.”
Indeed, under the dense foliage of this wood, a whole host of parrots fluttered from branch to branch, needing only the proper upbringing to speak human dialects. At present they were cackling in chorus with parakeets of every color, with solemn cockatoos that seemed to be pondering some philosophical problem, while bright red lories passed by like pieces of bunting borne on the breeze, in the midst of kalao parrots raucously on the wing, Papuan lories painted the subtlest shades of azure, and a whole variety of delightful winged creatures, none terribly edible.
However, one bird unique to these shores, which never passes beyond the boundaries of the Aru and Papuan Islands, was missing from this collection. But I was given a chance to marvel at it soon enough.
After crossing through a moderately dense thicket, we again found some plains obstructed by bushes. There I saw some magnificent birds soaring aloft, the arrangement of their long feathers causing them to head into the wind. Their undulating flight, the grace of their aerial curves, and the play of their colors allured and delighted the eye. I had no trouble identifying them.
“Birds of paradise!” I exclaimed.
“Order Passeriforma, division Clystomora,” Conseil replied.
“Partridge family?” Ned Land asked.
“I doubt it, Mr. Land. Nevertheless, I’m counting on your dexterity to catch me one of these delightful representatives of tropical nature!”
“I’ll give it a try, professor, though I’m handier with a harpoon than a rifle.”
Malaysians, who do a booming business in these birds with the Chinese, have various methods for catching them that we couldn’t use. Sometimes they set snares on the tops of the tall trees that the bird of paradise prefers to inhabit. At other times they capture it with a tenacious glue that paralyzes its movements. They will even go so far as to poison the springs where these fowl habitually drink. But in our case, all we could do was fire at them on the wing, which left us little chance of getting one. And in truth, we used up a good part of our ammunition in vain.
Near eleven o’clock in the morning, we cleared the lower slopes of the mountains that form the island’s center, and we still hadn’t bagged a thing. Hunger spurred us on. The hunters had counted on consuming the proceeds of their hunting, and they had miscalculated. Luckily, and much to his surprise, Conseil pulled off a right-and-left shot and insured our breakfast. He brought down a white pigeon and a ringdove, which were briskly plucked, hung from a spit, and roasted over a blazing fire of deadwood. While these fascinating animals were cooking, Ned prepared some bread from the artocarpus. Then the pigeon and ringdove were devoured to the bones and declared excellent. Nutmeg, on which these birds habitually gorge themselves, sweetens their flesh and makes it delicious eating.
“They taste like chicken stuffed with truffles,” Conseil said.
“All right, Ned,” I asked the Canadian, “now what do you need?”
“Game with four paws, Professor Aronnax,” Ned Land replied. “All these pigeons are only appetizers, snacks. So till I’ve bagged an animal with cutlets, I won’t be happy!”
“Nor I, Ned, until I’ve caught a bird of paradise.”
“Then let’s keep hunting,” Conseil replied, “but while heading back to the sea. We’ve arrived at the foothills of these mountains, and I think we’ll do better if we return to the forest regions.”
It was good advice and we took it. After an hour’s walk we reached a genuine sago palm forest. A few harmless snakes fled underfoot. Birds of paradise stole off at our approach, and I was in real despair of catching one when Conseil, walking in the lead, stooped suddenly, gave a triumphant shout, and came back to me, carrying a magnificent bird of paradise.
“Oh bravo, Conseil!” I exclaimed.
“Master is too kind,” Conseil replied.
“Not at all, my boy. That was a stroke of genius, catching one of these live birds with your bare hands!”
“If master will examine it closely, he’ll see that I deserve no great praise.”
“And why not, Conseil?”
“Because this bird is as drunk as a lord.”
“Yes, master, drunk from the nutmegs it was devouring under that nutmeg tree where I caught it. See, Ned my friend, see the monstrous results of intemperance!”
“Damnation!” the Canadian shot back. “Considering the amount of gin I’ve had these past two months, you’ve got nothing to complain about!”
Meanwhile I was examining this unusual bird. Conseil was not mistaken. Tipsy from that potent juice, our bird of paradise had been reduced to helplessness. It was unable to fly. It was barely able to walk. But this didn’t alarm me, and I just let it sleep off its nutmeg.
This bird belonged to the finest of the eight species credited to Papua and its neighboring islands. It was a “great emerald,” one of the rarest birds of paradise. It measured three decimeters long. Its head was comparatively small, and its eyes, placed near the opening of its beak, were also small. But it offered a wonderful mixture of hues: a yellow beak, brown feet and claws, hazel wings with purple tips, pale yellow head and scruff of the neck, emerald throat, the belly and chest maroon to brown. Two strands, made of a horn substance covered with down, rose over its tail, which was lengthened by long, very light feathers of wonderful fineness, and they completed the costume of this marvelous bird that the islanders have poetically named “the sun bird.”
How I wished I could take this superb bird of paradise back to Paris, to make a gift of it to the zoo at the Botanical Gardens, which doesn’t own a single live specimen.
“So it must be a rarity or something?” the Canadian asked, in the tone of a hunter who, from the viewpoint of his art, gives the game a pretty low rating.
“A great rarity, my gallant comrade, and above all very hard to capture alive. And even after they’re dead, there’s still a major market for these birds. So the natives have figured out how to create fake ones, like people create fake pearls or diamonds.”
“What!” Conseil exclaimed. “They make counterfeit birds of paradise?”
“And is master familiar with how the islanders go about it?”
“Perfectly familiar. During the easterly monsoon season, birds of paradise lose the magnificent feathers around their tails that naturalists call ‘below-the-wing’ feathers. These feathers are gathered by the fowl forgers and skillfully fitted onto some poor previously mutilated parakeet. Then they paint over the suture, varnish the bird, and ship the fruits of their unique labors to museums and collectors in Europe.”
“Good enough!” Ned Land put in. “If it isn’t the right bird, it’s still the right feathers, and so long as the merchandise isn’t meant to be eaten, I see no great harm!”
But if my desires were fulfilled by the capture of this bird of paradise, those of our Canadian huntsman remained unsatisfied. Luckily, near two o’clock Ned Land brought down a magnificent wild pig of the type the natives call “bari-outang.” This animal came in the nick of time for us to bag some real quadruped meat, and it was warmly welcomed. Ned Land proved himself quite gloriously with his gunshot. Hit by an electric bullet, the pig dropped dead on the spot.
The Canadian properly skinned and cleaned it, after removing half a dozen cutlets destined to serve as the grilled meat course of our evening meal. Then the hunt was on again, and once more would be marked by the exploits of Ned and Conseil.
In essence, beating the bushes, the two friends flushed a herd of kangaroos that fled by bounding away on their elastic paws. But these animals didn’t flee so swiftly that our electric capsules couldn’t catch up with them.
“Oh, professor!” shouted Ned Land, whose hunting fever had gone to his brain. “What excellent game, especially in a stew! What a supply for the Nautilus! Two, three, five down! And just think how we’ll devour all this meat ourselves, while those numbskulls on board won’t get a shred!”
In his uncontrollable glee, I think the Canadian might have slaughtered the whole horde, if he hadn’t been so busy talking! But he was content with a dozen of these fascinating marsupials, which make up the first order of aplacental mammals, as Conseil just had to tell us.
These animals were small in stature. They were a species of those “rabbit kangaroos” that usually dwell in the hollows of trees and are tremendously fast; but although of moderate dimensions, they at least furnish a meat that’s highly prized.
We were thoroughly satisfied with the results of our hunting. A gleeful Ned proposed that we return the next day to this magic island, which he planned to depopulate of its every edible quadruped. But he was reckoning without events.
By six o’clock in the evening, we were back on the beach. The skiff was aground in its usual place. The Nautilus, looking like a long reef, emerged from the waves two miles offshore.
Without further ado, Ned Land got down to the important business of dinner. He came wonderfully to terms with its entire cooking. Grilling over the coals, those cutlets from the “bari-outang” soon gave off a succulent aroma that perfumed the air.
But I catch myself following in the Canadian’s footsteps. Look at me—in ecstasy over freshly grilled pork! Please grant me a pardon as I’ve already granted one to Mr. Land, and on the same grounds!
In short, dinner was excellent. Two ringdoves rounded out this extraordinary menu. Sago pasta, bread from the artocarpus, mangoes, half a dozen pineapples, and the fermented liquor from certain coconuts heightened our glee. I suspect that my two fine companions weren’t quite as clearheaded as one could wish.
“What if we don’t return to the Nautilus this evening?” Conseil said.
“What if we never return to it?” Ned Land added.
Just then a stone whizzed toward us, landed at our feet, and cut short the harpooner’s proposition.
The Lightning Bolts of Captain Nemo
WITHOUT STANDING UP, we stared in the direction of the forest, my hand stopping halfway to my mouth, Ned Land’s completing its assignment.
“Stones don’t fall from the sky,” Conseil said, “or else they deserve to be called meteorites.”
A second well-polished stone removed a tasty ringdove leg from Conseil’s hand, giving still greater relevance to his observation.
We all three stood up, rifles to our shoulders, ready to answer any attack.
“Apes maybe?” Ned Land exclaimed.
“Nearly,” Conseil replied. “Savages.”
“Head for the skiff!” I said, moving toward the sea.
Indeed, it was essential to beat a retreat because some twenty natives, armed with bows and slings, appeared barely a hundred paces off, on the outskirts of a thicket that masked the horizon to our right.
The skiff was aground ten fathoms away from us.
The savages approached without running, but they favored us with a show of the greatest hostility. It was raining stones and arrows.
Ned Land was unwilling to leave his provisions behind, and despite the impending danger, he clutched his pig on one side, his kangaroos on the other, and scampered off with respectable speed.
In two minutes we were on the strand. Loading provisions and weapons into the skiff, pushing it to sea, and positioning its two oars were the work of an instant. We hadn’t gone two cable lengths when a hundred savages, howling and gesticulating, entered the water up to their waists. I looked to see if their appearance might draw some of the Nautilus’s men onto the platform. But no. Lying well out, that enormous machine still seemed completely deserted.
Twenty minutes later we boarded ship. The hatches were open. After mooring the skiff, we reentered the Nautilus’s interior.
I went below to the lounge, from which some chords were wafting. Captain Nemo was there, leaning over the organ, deep in a musical trance.
“Captain!” I said to him.
He didn’t hear me.
“Captain!” I went on, touching him with my hand.
He trembled, and turning around:
“Ah, it’s you, professor!” he said to me. “Well, did you have a happy hunt? Was your herb gathering a success?”
“Yes, captain,” I replied, “but unfortunately we’ve brought back a horde of bipeds whose proximity worries me.”
“What sort of bipeds?”
“Savages!” Captain Nemo replied in an ironic tone. “You set foot on one of the shores of this globe, professor, and you’re surprised to find savages there? Where aren’t there savages? And besides, are they any worse than men elsewhere, these people you call savages?”
“Speaking for myself, sir, I’ve encountered them everywhere.”
“Well then,” I replied, “if you don’t want to welcome them aboard the Nautilus, you’d better take some precautions!”
“Easy, professor, no cause for alarm.”
“But there are a large number of these natives.”
“What’s your count?”
“At least a hundred.”
“Professor Aronnax,” replied Captain Nemo, whose fingers took their places again on the organ keys, “if every islander in Papua were to gather on that beach, the Nautilus would still have nothing to fear from their attacks!”
The captain’s fingers then ran over the instrument’s keyboard, and I noticed that he touched only its black keys, which gave his melodies a basically Scottish color. Soon he had forgotten my presence and was lost in a reverie that I no longer tried to dispel.
I climbed onto the platform. Night had already fallen, because in this low latitude the sun sets quickly, without any twilight. I could see Gueboroa Island only dimly. But numerous fires had been kindled on the beach, attesting that the natives had no thoughts of leaving it.
For several hours I was left to myself, sometimes musing on the islanders—but no longer fearing them because the captain’s unflappable confidence had won me over—and sometimes forgetting them to marvel at the splendors of this tropical night. My memories took wing toward France, in the wake of those zodiacal stars due to twinkle over it in a few hours. The moon shone in the midst of the constellations at their zenith. I then remembered that this loyal, good-natured satellite would return to this same place the day after tomorrow, to raise the tide and tear the Nautilus from its coral bed. Near midnight, seeing that all was quiet over the darkened waves as well as under the waterside trees, I repaired to my cabin and fell into a peaceful sleep.
The night passed without mishap. No doubt the Papuans had been frightened off by the mere sight of this monster aground in the bay, because our hatches stayed open, offering easy access to the Nautilus’s interior.
At six o’clock in the morning, January 8, I climbed onto the platform. The morning shadows were lifting. The island was soon on view through the dissolving mists, first its beaches, then its summits.
The islanders were still there, in greater numbers than on the day before, perhaps 500 or 600 of them. Taking advantage of the low tide, some of them had moved forward over the heads of coral to within two cable lengths of the Nautilus. I could easily distinguish them. They obviously were true Papuans, men of fine stock, athletic in build, forehead high and broad, nose large but not flat, teeth white. Their woolly, red-tinted hair was in sharp contrast to their bodies, which were black and glistening like those of Nubians. Beneath their pierced, distended earlobes there dangled strings of beads made from bone. Generally these savages were naked. I noted some women among them, dressed from hip to knee in grass skirts held up by belts made of vegetation. Some of the chieftains adorned their necks with crescents and with necklaces made from beads of red and white glass. Armed with bows, arrows, and shields, nearly all of them carried from their shoulders a sort of net, which held those polished stones their slings hurl with such dexterity.
One of these chieftains came fairly close to the Nautilus, examining it with care. He must have been a “mado” of high rank, because he paraded in a mat of banana leaves that had ragged edges and was accented with bright colors.
I could easily have picked off this islander, he stood at such close range; but I thought it best to wait for an actual show of hostility. Between Europeans and savages, it’s acceptable for Europeans to shoot back but not to attack first.
During this whole time of low tide, the islanders lurked near the Nautilus, but they weren’t boisterous. I often heard them repeat the word “assai,” and from their gestures I understood they were inviting me to go ashore, an invitation I felt obliged to decline.
So the skiff didn’t leave shipside that day, much to the displeasure of Mr. Land who couldn’t complete his provisions. The adroit Canadian spent his time preparing the meat and flour products he had brought from Gueboroa Island. As for the savages, they went back to shore near eleven o’clock in the morning, when the heads of coral began to disappear under the waves of the rising tide. But I saw their numbers swell considerably on the beach. It was likely that they had come from neighboring islands or from the mainland of Papua proper. However, I didn’t see one local dugout canoe.
Having nothing better to do, I decided to dredge these beautiful, clear waters, which exhibited a profusion of shells, zoophytes, and open-sea plants. Besides, it was the last day the Nautilus would spend in these waterways, if, tomorrow, it still floated off to the open sea as Captain Nemo had promised.
So I summoned Conseil, who brought me a small, light dragnet similar to those used in oyster fishing.
“What about these savages?” Conseil asked me. “With all due respect to master, they don’t strike me as very wicked!”
“They’re cannibals even so, my boy.”
“A person can be both a cannibal and a decent man,” Conseil replied, “just as a person can be both gluttonous and honorable. The one doesn’t exclude the other.”
“Fine, Conseil! And I agree that there are honorable cannibals who decently devour their prisoners. However, I’m opposed to being devoured, even in all decency, so I’ll keep on my guard, especially since the Nautilus’s commander seems to be taking no precautions. And now let’s get to work!”
For two hours our fishing proceeded energetically but without bringing up any rarities. Our dragnet was filled with Midas abalone, harp shells, obelisk snails, and especially the finest hammer shells I had seen to that day. We also gathered in a few sea cucumbers, some pearl oysters, and a dozen small turtles that we saved for the ship’s pantry.
But just when I least expected it, I laid my hands on a wonder, a natural deformity I’d have to call it, something very seldom encountered. Conseil had just made a cast of the dragnet, and his gear had come back up loaded with a variety of fairly ordinary seashells, when suddenly he saw me plunge my arms swiftly into the net, pull out a shelled animal, and give a conchological yell, in other words, the most piercing yell a human throat can produce.
“Eh? What happened to master?” Conseil asked, very startled. “Did master get bitten?”
“No, my boy, but I’d gladly have sacrificed a finger for such a find!”
“This shell,” I said, displaying the subject of my triumph.
“But that’s simply an olive shell of the ‘tent olive’ species, genus Oliva, order Pectinibranchia, class Gastropoda, branch Mollusca—”
“Yes, yes, Conseil! But instead of coiling from right to left, this olive shell rolls from left to right!”
“It can’t be!” Conseil exclaimed.
“Yes, my boy, it’s a left-handed shell!”
“A left-handed shell!” Conseil repeated, his heart pounding.
“Look at its spiral!”
“Oh, master can trust me on this,” Conseil said, taking the valuable shell in trembling hands, “but never have I felt such excitement!”
And there was good reason to be excited! In fact, as naturalists have ventured to observe, “dextrality” is a well-known law of nature. In their rotational and orbital movements, stars and their satellites go from right to left. Man uses his right hand more often than his left, and consequently his various instruments and equipment (staircases, locks, watch springs, etc.) are designed to be used in a right-to-left manner. Now then, nature has generally obeyed this law in coiling her shells. They’re right-handed with only rare exceptions, and when by chance a shell’s spiral is left-handed, collectors will pay its weight in gold for it.
So Conseil and I were deep in the contemplation of our treasure, and I was solemnly promising myself to enrich the Paris Museum with it, when an ill-timed stone, hurled by one of the islanders, whizzed over and shattered the valuable object in Conseil’s hands.
I gave a yell of despair! Conseil pounced on his rifle and aimed at a savage swinging a sling just ten meters away from him. I tried to stop him, but his shot went off and shattered a bracelet of amulets dangling from the islander’s arm.
“Conseil!” I shouted. “Conseil!”
“Eh? What? Didn’t master see that this man-eater initiated the attack?”
“A shell isn’t worth a human life!” I told him.
“Oh, the rascal!” Conseil exclaimed. “I’d rather he cracked my shoulder!”
Conseil was in dead earnest, but I didn’t subscribe to his views. However, the situation had changed in only a short time and we hadn’t noticed. Now some twenty dugout canoes were surrounding the Nautilus. Hollowed from tree trunks, these dugouts were long, narrow, and well designed for speed, keeping their balance by means of two bamboo poles that floated on the surface of the water. They were maneuvered by skillful, half-naked paddlers, and I viewed their advance with definite alarm.
It was obvious these Papuans had already entered into relations with Europeans and knew their ships. But this long, iron cylinder lying in the bay, with no masts or funnels—what were they to make of it? Nothing good, because at first they kept it at a respectful distance. However, seeing that it stayed motionless, they regained confidence little by little and tried to become more familiar with it. Now then, it was precisely this familiarity that we needed to prevent. Since our weapons made no sound when they went off, they would have only a moderate effect on these islanders, who reputedly respect nothing but noisy mechanisms. Without thunderclaps, lightning bolts would be much less frightening, although the danger lies in the flash, not the noise.
Just then the dugout canoes drew nearer to the Nautilus, and a cloud of arrows burst over us.
“Fire and brimstone, it’s hailing!” Conseil said. “And poisoned hail perhaps!”
“We’ve got to alert Captain Nemo,” I said, reentering the hatch.
I went below to the lounge. I found no one there. I ventured a knock at the door opening into the captain’s stateroom.
The word “Enter!” answered me. I did so and found Captain Nemo busy with calculations in which there was no shortage of X and other algebraic signs.
“Am I disturbing you?” I said out of politeness.
“Correct, Professor Aronnax,” the captain answered me. “But I imagine you have pressing reasons for looking me up?”
“Very pressing. Native dugout canoes are surrounding us, and in a few minutes we’re sure to be assaulted by several hundred savages.”
“Ah!” Captain Nemo put in serenely. “They’ve come in their dugouts?”
“Well, sir, closing the hatches should do the trick.”
“Precisely, and that’s what I came to tell you—”
“Nothing easier,” Captain Nemo said.
And he pressed an electric button, transmitting an order to the crew’s quarters.
“There, sir, all under control!” he told me after a few moments. “The skiff is in place and the hatches are closed. I don’t imagine you’re worried that these gentlemen will stave in walls that shells from your frigate couldn’t breach?”
“No, captain, but one danger still remains.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Tomorrow at about this time, we’ll need to reopen the hatches to renew the Nautilus’s air.”
“No argument, sir, since our craft breathes in the manner favored by cetaceans.”
“But if these Papuans are occupying the platform at that moment, I don’t see how you can prevent them from entering.”
“Then, sir, you assume they’ll board the ship?”
“I’m certain of it.”
“Well, sir, let them come aboard. I see no reason to prevent them. Deep down they’re just poor devils, these Papuans, and I don’t want my visit to Gueboroa Island to cost the life of a single one of these unfortunate people!”
On this note I was about to withdraw; but Captain Nemo detained me and invited me to take a seat next to him. He questioned me with interest on our excursions ashore and on our hunting, but seemed not to understand the Canadian’s passionate craving for red meat. Then our conversation skimmed various subjects, and without being more forthcoming, Captain Nemo proved more affable.
Among other things, we came to talk of the Nautilus’s circumstances, aground in the same strait where Captain Dumont d’Urville had nearly miscarried. Then, pertinent to this:
“He was one of your great seamen,” the captain told me, “one of your shrewdest navigators, that d’Urville! He was the Frenchman’s Captain Cook. A man wise but unlucky! Braving the ice banks of the South Pole, the coral of Oceania, the cannibals of the Pacific, only to perish wretchedly in a train wreck! If that energetic man was able to think about his life in its last seconds, imagine what his final thoughts must have been!”
As he spoke, Captain Nemo seemed deeply moved, an emotion I felt was to his credit.
Then, chart in hand, we returned to the deeds of the French navigator: his voyages to circumnavigate the globe, his double attempt at the South Pole, which led to his discovery of the Adélie Coast and the Louis-Philippe Peninsula, finally his hydrographic surveys of the chief islands in Oceania.
“What your d’Urville did on the surface of the sea,” Captain Nemo told me, “I’ve done in the ocean’s interior, but more easily, more completely than he. Constantly tossed about by hurricanes, the Zealous and the new Astrolabe couldn’t compare with the Nautilus, a quiet work room truly at rest in the midst of the waters!”
“Even so, captain,” I said, “there is one major similarity between Dumont d’Urville’s sloops of war and the Nautilus.”
“What’s that, sir?”
“Like them, the Nautilus has run aground!”
“The Nautilus is not aground, sir,” Captain Nemo replied icily. “The Nautilus was built to rest on the ocean floor, and I don’t need to undertake the arduous labors, the maneuvers d’Urville had to attempt in order to float off his sloops of war. The Zealous and the new Astrolabe wellnigh perished, but my Nautilus is in no danger. Tomorrow, on the day stated and at the hour stated, the tide will peacefully lift it off, and it will resume its navigating through the seas.”
“Captain,” I said, “I don’t doubt—”
“Tomorrow,” Captain Nemo added, standing up, “tomorrow at 2:40 in the afternoon, the Nautilus will float off and exit the Torres Strait undamaged.”
Pronouncing these words in an extremely sharp tone, Captain Nemo gave me a curt bow. This was my dismissal, and I reentered my stateroom.
There I found Conseil, who wanted to know the upshot of my interview with the captain.
“My boy,” I replied, “when I expressed the belief that these Papuan natives were a threat to his Nautilus, the captain answered me with great irony. So I’ve just one thing to say to you: have faith in him and sleep in peace.”
“Master has no need for my services?”
“No, my friend. What’s Ned Land up to?”
“Begging master’s indulgence,” Conseil replied, “but our friend Ned is concocting a kangaroo pie that will be the eighth wonder!”
I was left to myself; I went to bed but slept pretty poorly. I kept hearing noises from the savages, who were stamping on the platform and letting out deafening yells. The night passed in this way, without the crew ever emerging from their usual inertia. They were no more disturbed by the presence of these man-eaters than soldiers in an armored fortress are troubled by ants running over the armor plate.
I got up at six o’clock in the morning. The hatches weren’t open. So the air inside hadn’t been renewed; but the air tanks were kept full for any eventuality and would function appropriately to shoot a few cubic meters of oxygen into the Nautilus’s thin atmosphere.
I worked in my stateroom until noon without seeing Captain Nemo even for an instant. Nobody on board seemed to be making any preparations for departure.
I still waited for a while, then I made my way to the main lounge. Its timepiece marked 2:30. In ten minutes the tide would reach its maximum elevation, and if Captain Nemo hadn’t made a rash promise, the Nautilus would immediately break free. If not, many months might pass before it could leave its coral bed.
But some preliminary vibrations could soon be felt over the boat’s hull. I heard its plating grind against the limestone roughness of that coral base.
At 2:35 Captain Nemo appeared in the lounge.
“We’re about to depart,” he said.
“Ah!” I put in.
“I’ve given orders to open the hatches.”
“What about the Papuans?”
“What about them?” Captain Nemo replied, with a light shrug of his shoulders.
“Won’t they come inside the Nautilus?”
“How will they manage that?”
“By jumping down the hatches you’re about to open.”
“Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo replied serenely, “the Nautilus’s hatches aren’t to be entered in that fashion even when they’re open.”
I gaped at the captain.
“You don’t understand?” he said to me.
“Not in the least.”
“Well, come along and you’ll see!”
I headed to the central companionway. There, very puzzled, Ned Land and Conseil watched the crewmen opening the hatches, while a frightful clamor and furious shouts resounded outside.
The hatch lids fell back onto the outer plating. Twenty horrible faces appeared. But when the first islander laid hands on the companionway railing, he was flung backward by some invisible power, lord knows what! He ran off, howling in terror and wildly prancing around.
Ten of his companions followed him. All ten met the same fate.
Conseil was in ecstasy. Carried away by his violent instincts, Ned Land leaped up the companionway. But as soon as his hands seized the railing, he was thrown backward in his turn.
“Damnation!” he exclaimed. “I’ve been struck by a lightning bolt!”
These words explained everything to me. It wasn’t just a railing that led to the platform, it was a metal cable fully charged with the ship’s electricity. Anyone who touched it got a fearsome shock—and such a shock would have been fatal if Captain Nemo had thrown the full current from his equipment into this conducting cable! It could honestly be said that he had stretched between himself and his assailants a network of electricity no one could clear with impunity.
Meanwhile, crazed with terror, the unhinged Papuans beat a retreat. As for us, half laughing, we massaged and comforted poor Ned Land, who was swearing like one possessed.
But just then, lifted off by the tide’s final undulations, the Nautilus left its coral bed at exactly that fortieth minute pinpointed by the captain. Its propeller churned the waves with lazy majesty. Gathering speed little by little, the ship navigated on the surface of the ocean, and safe and sound, it left behind the dangerous narrows of the Torres Strait.
“Aegri Somnia” [Latin: troubled dreams]
THE FOLLOWING DAY, January 10, the Nautilus resumed its travels in midwater but at a remarkable speed that I estimated to be at least thirty-five miles per hour. The propeller was going so fast I could neither follow nor count its revolutions.
I thought about how this marvelous electric force not only gave motion, heat, and light to the Nautilus but even protected it against outside attack, transforming it into a sacred ark no profane hand could touch without being blasted; my wonderment was boundless, and it went from the submersible itself to the engineer who had created it.
We were traveling due west and on January 11 we doubled Cape Wessel, located in longitude 135 degrees and latitude 10 degrees north, the western tip of the Gulf of Carpentaria. Reefs were still numerous but more widely scattered and were fixed on the chart with the greatest accuracy. The Nautilus easily avoided the Money breakers to port and the Victoria reefs to starboard, positioned at longitude 130 degrees on the tenth parallel, which we went along rigorously.
On January 13, arriving in the Timor Sea, Captain Nemo raised the island of that name at longitude 122 degrees. This island, whose surface area measures 1,625 square leagues, is governed by rajahs. These aristocrats deem themselves the sons of crocodiles, in other words, descendants with the most exalted origins to which a human being can lay claim. Accordingly, their scaly ancestors infest the island’s rivers and are the subjects of special veneration. They are sheltered, nurtured, flattered, pampered, and offered a ritual diet of nubile maidens; and woe to the foreigner who lifts a finger against these sacred saurians.
But the Nautilus wanted nothing to do with these nasty animals. Timor Island was visible for barely an instant at noon while the chief officer determined his position. I also caught only a glimpse of little Roti Island, part of this same group, whose women have a well-established reputation for beauty in the Malaysian marketplace.
After our position fix, the Nautilus’s latitude bearings were modulated to the southwest. Our prow pointed to the Indian Ocean. Where would Captain Nemo’s fancies take us? Would he head up to the shores of Asia? Would he pull nearer to the beaches of Europe? Unlikely choices for a man who avoided populated areas! So would he go down south? Would he double the Cape of Good Hope, then Cape Horn, and push on to the Antarctic pole? Finally, would he return to the seas of the Pacific, where his Nautilus could navigate freely and easily? Time would tell.
After cruising along the Cartier, Hibernia, Seringapatam, and Scott reefs, the solid element’s last exertions against the liquid element, we were beyond all sight of shore by January 14. The Nautilus slowed down in an odd manner, and very unpredictable in its ways, it sometimes swam in the midst of the waters, sometimes drifted on their surface.
During this phase of our voyage, Captain Nemo conducted interesting experiments on the different temperatures in various strata of the sea. Under ordinary conditions, such readings are obtained using some pretty complicated instruments whose findings are dubious to say the least, whether they’re thermometric sounding lines, whose glass often shatters under the water’s pressure, or those devices based on the varying resistance of metals to electric currents. The results so obtained can’t be adequately double-checked. By contrast, Captain Nemo would seek the sea’s temperature by going himself into its depths, and when he placed his thermometer in contact with the various layers of liquid, he found the sought-for degree immediately and with certainty.
And so, by loading up its ballast tanks, or by sinking obliquely with its slanting fins, the Nautilus successively reached depths of 3,000, 4,000, 5,000, 7,000, 9,000, and 10,000 meters, and the ultimate conclusion from these experiments was that, in all latitudes, the sea had a permanent temperature of 4.5 degrees centigrade at a depth of 1,000 meters.
I watched these experiments with the most intense fascination. Captain Nemo brought a real passion to them. I often wondered why he took these observations. Were they for the benefit of his fellow man? It was unlikely, because sooner or later his work would perish with him in some unknown sea! Unless he intended the results of his experiments for me. But that meant this strange voyage of mine would come to an end, and no such end was in sight.
Be that as it may, Captain Nemo also introduced me to the different data he had obtained on the relative densities of the water in our globe’s chief seas. From this news I derived some personal enlightenment having nothing to do with science.
It happened the morning of January 15. The captain, with whom I was strolling on the platform, asked me if I knew how salt water differs in density from sea to sea. I said no, adding that there was a lack of rigorous scientific observations on this subject.
“I’ve taken such observations,” he told me, “and I can vouch for their reliability.”
“Fine,” I replied, “but the Nautilus lives in a separate world, and the secrets of its scientists don’t make their way ashore.”
“You’re right, professor,” he told me after a few moments of silence. “This is a separate world. It’s as alien to the earth as the planets accompanying our globe around the sun, and we’ll never become familiar with the work of scientists on Saturn or Jupiter. But since fate has linked our two lives, I can reveal the results of my observations to you.”
“I’m all attention, captain.”
“You’re aware, professor, that salt water is denser than fresh water, but this density isn’t uniform. In essence, if I represent the density of fresh water by 1.000, then I find 1.028 for the waters of the Atlantic, 1.026 for the waters of the Pacific, 1.030 for the waters of the Mediterranean—”
Aha, I thought, so he ventures into the Mediterranean?
“—1.018 for the waters of the Ionian Sea, and 1.029 for the waters of the Adriatic.”
Assuredly, the Nautilus didn’t avoid the heavily traveled seas of Europe, and from this insight I concluded that the ship would take us back—perhaps very soon—to more civilized shores. I expected Ned Land to greet this news with unfeigned satisfaction.
For several days our work hours were spent in all sorts of experiments, on the degree of salinity in waters of different depths, or on their electric properties, coloration, and transparency, and in every instance Captain Nemo displayed an ingenuity equaled only by his graciousness toward me. Then I saw no more of him for some days and again lived on board in seclusion.
On January 16 the Nautilus seemed to have fallen asleep just a few meters beneath the surface of the water. Its electric equipment had been turned off, and the motionless propeller let it ride with the waves. I assumed that the crew were busy with interior repairs, required by the engine’s strenuous mechanical action.
My companions and I then witnessed an unusual sight. The panels in the lounge were open, and since the Nautilus’s beacon was off, a hazy darkness reigned in the midst of the waters. Covered with heavy clouds, the stormy sky gave only the faintest light to the ocean’s upper strata.
I was observing the state of the sea under these conditions, and even the largest fish were nothing more than ill-defined shadows, when the Nautilus was suddenly transferred into broad daylight. At first I thought the beacon had gone back on and was casting its electric light into the liquid mass. I was mistaken, and after a hasty examination I discovered my error.
The Nautilus had drifted into the midst of some phosphorescent strata, which, in this darkness, came off as positively dazzling. This effect was caused by myriads of tiny, luminous animals whose brightness increased when they glided over the metal hull of our submersible. In the midst of these luminous sheets of water, I then glimpsed flashes of light, like those seen inside a blazing furnace from streams of molten lead or from masses of metal brought to a white heat—flashes so intense that certain areas of the light became shadows by comparison, in a fiery setting from which every shadow should seemingly have been banished. No, this was no longer the calm emission of our usual lighting! This light throbbed with unprecedented vigor and activity! You sensed that it was alive!
In essence, it was a cluster of countless open-sea infusoria, of noctiluca an eighth of an inch wide, actual globules of transparent jelly equipped with a threadlike tentacle, up to 25,000 of which have been counted in thirty cubic centimeters of water. And the power of their light was increased by those glimmers unique to medusas, starfish, common jellyfish, angel-wing clams, and other phosphorescent zoophytes, which were saturated with grease from organic matter decomposed by the sea, and perhaps with mucus secreted by fish.
For several hours the Nautilus drifted in this brilliant tide, and our wonderment grew when we saw huge marine animals cavorting in it, like the fire-dwelling salamanders of myth. In the midst of these flames that didn’t burn, I could see swift, elegant porpoises, the tireless pranksters of the seas, and sailfish three meters long, those shrewd heralds of hurricanes, whose fearsome broadswords sometimes banged against the lounge window. Then smaller fish appeared: miscellaneous triggerfish, leather jacks, unicornfish, and a hundred others that left stripes on this luminous atmosphere in their course.
Some magic lay behind this dazzling sight! Perhaps some atmospheric condition had intensified this phenomenon? Perhaps a storm had been unleashed on the surface of the waves? But only a few meters down, the Nautilus felt no tempest’s fury, and the ship rocked peacefully in the midst of the calm waters.
And so it went, some new wonder constantly delighting us. Conseil observed and classified his zoophytes, articulates, mollusks, and fish. The days passed quickly, and I no longer kept track of them. Ned, as usual, kept looking for changes of pace from our standard fare. Like actual snails, we were at home in our shell, and I can vouch that it’s easy to turn into a full-fledged snail.
So this way of living began to seem simple and natural to us, and we no longer envisioned a different lifestyle on the surface of the planet earth, when something happened to remind us of our strange circumstances.
On January 18 the Nautilus lay in longitude 105 degrees and latitude 15 degrees south. The weather was threatening, the sea rough and billowy. The wind was blowing a strong gust from the east. The barometer, which had been falling for some days, forecast an approaching struggle of the elements.
I had climbed onto the platform just as the chief officer was taking his readings of hour angles. Out of habit I waited for him to pronounce his daily phrase. But that day it was replaced by a different phrase, just as incomprehensible. Almost at once I saw Captain Nemo appear, lift his spyglass, and inspect the horizon.
For some minutes the captain stood motionless, rooted to the spot contained within the field of his lens. Then he lowered his spyglass and exchanged about ten words with his chief officer. The latter seemed to be in the grip of an excitement he tried in vain to control. More in command of himself, Captain Nemo remained cool. Furthermore, he seemed to be raising certain objections that his chief officer kept answering with flat assurances. At least that’s what I gathered from their differences in tone and gesture.
As for me, I stared industriously in the direction under observation but without spotting a thing. Sky and water merged into a perfectly clean horizon line.
Meanwhile Captain Nemo strolled from one end of the platform to the other, not glancing at me, perhaps not even seeing me. His step was firm but less regular than usual. Sometimes he would stop, cross his arms over his chest, and observe the sea. What could he be looking for over that immense expanse? By then the Nautilus lay hundreds of miles from the nearest coast!
The chief officer kept lifting his spyglass and stubbornly examining the horizon, walking up and down, stamping his foot, in his nervous agitation a sharp contrast to his superior.
But this mystery would inevitably be cleared up, and soon, because Captain Nemo gave orders to increase speed; at once the engine stepped up its drive power, setting the propeller in swifter rotation.
Just then the chief officer drew the captain’s attention anew. The latter interrupted his strolling and aimed his spyglass at the point indicated. He observed it a good while. As for me, deeply puzzled, I went below to the lounge and brought back an excellent long-range telescope I habitually used. Leaning my elbows on the beacon housing, which jutted from the stern of the platform, I got set to scour that whole stretch of sky and sea.
But no sooner had I peered into the eyepiece than the instrument was snatched from my hands.
I spun around. Captain Nemo was standing before me, but I almost didn’t recognize him. His facial features were transfigured. Gleaming with dark fire, his eyes had shrunk beneath his frowning brow. His teeth were half bared. His rigid body, clenched fists, and head drawn between his shoulders, all attested to a fierce hate breathing from every pore. He didn’t move. My spyglass fell from his hand and rolled at his feet.
Had I accidentally caused these symptoms of anger? Did this incomprehensible individual think I had detected some secret forbidden to guests on the Nautilus?
No! I wasn’t the subject of his hate because he wasn’t even looking at me; his eyes stayed stubbornly focused on that inscrutable point of the horizon.
Finally Captain Nemo regained his self-control. His facial appearance, so profoundly changed, now resumed its usual calm. He addressed a few words to his chief officer in their strange language, then he turned to me:
“Professor Aronnax,” he told me in a tone of some urgency, “I ask that you now honor one of the binding agreements between us.”
“Which one, captain?”
“You and your companions must be placed in confinement until I see fit to set you free.”
“You’re in command,” I answered, gaping at him. “But may I address a question to you?”
“You may not, sir.”
After that, I stopped objecting and started obeying, since resistance was useless.
I went below to the cabin occupied by Ned Land and Conseil, and I informed them of the captain’s decision. I’ll let the reader decide how this news was received by the Canadian. In any case, there was no time for explanations. Four crewmen were waiting at the door, and they led us to the cell where we had spent our first night aboard the Nautilus.
Ned Land tried to lodge a complaint, but the only answer he got was a door shut in his face.
“Will master tell me what this means?” Conseil asked me.
I told my companions what had happened. They were as astonished as I was, but no wiser.
Then I sank into deep speculation, and Captain Nemo’s strange facial seizure kept haunting me. I was incapable of connecting two ideas in logical order, and I had strayed into the most absurd hypotheses, when I was snapped out of my mental struggles by these words from Ned Land:
“Well, look here! Lunch is served!”
Indeed, the table had been laid. Apparently Captain Nemo had given this order at the same time he commanded the Nautilus to pick up speed.
“Will master allow me to make him a recommendation?” Conseil asked me.
“Yes, my boy,” I replied.
“Well, master needs to eat his lunch! It’s prudent, because we have no idea what the future holds.”
“You’re right, Conseil.”
“Unfortunately,” Ned Land said, “they’ve only given us the standard menu.”
“Ned my friend,” Conseil answered, “what would you say if they’d given us no lunch at all?”
This dose of sanity cut the harpooner’s complaints clean off.
We sat down at the table. Our meal proceeded pretty much in silence. I ate very little. Conseil, everlastingly prudent, “force-fed” himself; and despite the menu, Ned Land didn’t waste a bite. Then, lunch over, each of us propped himself in a corner.
Just then the luminous globe lighting our cell went out, leaving us in profound darkness. Ned Land soon dozed off, and to my astonishment, Conseil also fell into a heavy slumber. I was wondering what could have caused this urgent need for sleep, when I felt a dense torpor saturate my brain. I tried to keep my eyes open, but they closed in spite of me. I was in the grip of anguished hallucinations. Obviously some sleep-inducing substance had been laced into the food we’d just eaten! So imprisonment wasn’t enough to conceal Captain Nemo’s plans from us—sleep was needed as well!
Then I heard the hatches close. The sea’s undulations, which had been creating a gentle rocking motion, now ceased. Had the Nautilus left the surface of the ocean? Was it reentering the motionless strata deep in the sea?
I tried to fight off this drowsiness. It was impossible. My breathing grew weaker. I felt a mortal chill freeze my dull, nearly paralyzed limbs. Like little domes of lead, my lids fell over my eyes. I couldn’t raise them. A morbid sleep, full of hallucinations, seized my whole being. Then the visions disappeared and left me in utter oblivion.
The Coral Realm
THE NEXT DAY I woke up with my head unusually clear. Much to my surprise, I was in my stateroom. No doubt my companions had been put back in their cabin without noticing it any more than I had. Like me, they would have no idea what took place during the night, and to unravel this mystery I could count only on some future happenstance.
I then considered leaving my stateroom. Was I free or still a prisoner? Perfectly free. I opened my door, headed down the gangways, and climbed the central companionway. Hatches that had been closed the day before were now open. I arrived on the platform.
Ned Land and Conseil were there waiting for me. I questioned them. They knew nothing. Lost in a heavy sleep of which they had no memory, they were quite startled to be back in their cabin.
As for the Nautilus, it seemed as tranquil and mysterious as ever. It was cruising on the surface of the waves at a moderate speed. Nothing seemed to have changed on board.
Ned Land observed the sea with his penetrating eyes. It was deserted. The Canadian sighted nothing new on the horizon, neither sail nor shore. A breeze was blowing noisily from the west, and disheveled by the wind, long billows made the submersible roll very noticeably.
After renewing its air, the Nautilus stayed at an average depth of fifteen meters, enabling it to return quickly to the surface of the waves. And, contrary to custom, it executed such a maneuver several times during that day of January 19. The chief officer would then climb onto the platform, and his usual phrase would ring through the ship’s interior.
As for Captain Nemo, he didn’t appear. Of the other men on board, I saw only my emotionless steward, who served me with his usual mute efficiency.
Near two o’clock I was busy organizing my notes in the lounge, when the captain opened the door and appeared. I bowed to him. He gave me an almost imperceptible bow in return, without saying a word to me. I resumed my work, hoping he might give me some explanation of the previous afternoon’s events. He did nothing of the sort. I stared at him. His face looked exhausted; his reddened eyes hadn’t been refreshed by sleep; his facial features expressed profound sadness, real chagrin. He walked up and down, sat and stood, picked up a book at random, discarded it immediately, consulted his instruments without taking his customary notes, and seemed unable to rest easy for an instant.
Finally he came over to me and said:
“Are you a physician, Professor Aronnax?”
This inquiry was so unexpected that I stared at him a good while without replying.
“Are you a physician?” he repeated. “Several of your scientific colleagues took their degrees in medicine, such as Gratiolet, Moquin-Tandon, and others.”
“That’s right,” I said, “I am a doctor, I used to be on call at the hospitals. I was in practice for several years before joining the museum.”
My reply obviously pleased Captain Nemo. But not knowing what he was driving at, I waited for further questions, ready to reply as circumstances dictated.
“Professor Aronnax,” the captain said to me, “would you consent to give your medical attentions to one of my men?”
“Someone is sick?”
“I’m ready to go with you.”
I admit that my heart was pounding. Lord knows why, but I saw a definite connection between this sick crewman and yesterday’s happenings, and the mystery of those events concerned me at least as much as the man’s sickness.
Captain Nemo led me to the Nautilus’s stern and invited me into a cabin located next to the sailors’ quarters.
On a bed there lay a man some forty years old, with strongly molded features, the very image of an Anglo-Saxon.
I bent over him. Not only was he sick, he was wounded. Swathed in blood-soaked linen, his head was resting on a folded pillow. I undid the linen bandages, while the wounded man gazed with great staring eyes and let me proceed without making a single complaint.
It was a horrible wound. The cranium had been smashed open by some blunt instrument, leaving the naked brains exposed, and the cerebral matter had suffered deep abrasions. Blood clots had formed in this dissolving mass, taking on the color of wine dregs. Both contusion and concussion of the brain had occurred. The sick man’s breathing was labored, and muscle spasms quivered in his face. Cerebral inflammation was complete and had brought on a paralysis of movement and sensation.
I took the wounded man’s pulse. It was intermittent. The body’s extremities were already growing cold, and I saw that death was approaching without any possibility of my holding it in check. After dressing the poor man’s wound, I redid the linen bandages around his head, and I turned to Captain Nemo.
“How did he get this wound?” I asked him.
“That’s not important,” the captain replied evasively. “The Nautilus suffered a collision that cracked one of the engine levers, and it struck this man. My chief officer was standing beside him. This man leaped forward to intercept the blow. A brother lays down his life for his brother, a friend for his friend, what could be simpler? That’s the law for everyone on board the Nautilus. But what’s your diagnosis of his condition?”
I hesitated to speak my mind.
“You may talk freely,” the captain told me. “This man doesn’t understand French.”
I took a last look at the wounded man, then I replied:
“This man will be dead in two hours.”
“Nothing can save him?”
Captain Nemo clenched his fists, and tears slid from his eyes, which I had thought incapable of weeping.
For a few moments more I observed the dying man, whose life was ebbing little by little. He grew still more pale under the electric light that bathed his deathbed. I looked at his intelligent head, furrowed with premature wrinkles that misfortune, perhaps misery, had etched long before. I was hoping to detect the secret of his life in the last words that might escape from his lips!
“You may go, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo told me.
I left the captain in the dying man’s cabin and I repaired to my stateroom, very moved by this scene. All day long I was aquiver with gruesome forebodings. That night I slept poorly, and between my fitful dreams, I thought I heard a distant moaning, like a funeral dirge. Was it a prayer for the dead, murmured in that language I couldn’t understand?
The next morning I climbed on deck. Captain Nemo was already there. As soon as he saw me, he came over.
“Professor,” he said to me, “would it be convenient for you to make an underwater excursion today?”
“With my companions?” I asked.
“If they’re agreeable.”
“We’re yours to command, captain.”
“Then kindly put on your diving suits.”
As for the dead or dying man, he hadn’t come into the picture. I rejoined Ned Land and Conseil. I informed them of Captain Nemo’s proposition. Conseil was eager to accept, and this time the Canadian proved perfectly amenable to going with us.
It was eight o’clock in the morning. By 8:30 we were suited up for this new stroll and equipped with our two devices for lighting and breathing. The double door opened, and accompanied by Captain Nemo with a dozen crewmen following, we set foot on the firm seafloor where the Nautilus was resting, ten meters down.
A gentle slope gravitated to an uneven bottom whose depth was about fifteen fathoms. This bottom was completely different from the one I had visited during my first excursion under the waters of the Pacific Ocean. Here I saw no fine-grained sand, no underwater prairies, not one open-sea forest. I immediately recognized the wondrous region in which Captain Nemo did the honors that day. It was the coral realm.
In the zoophyte branch, class Alcyonaria, one finds the order Gorgonaria, which contains three groups: sea fans, isidian polyps, and coral polyps. It’s in this last that precious coral belongs, an unusual substance that, at different times, has been classified in the mineral, vegetable, and animal kingdoms. Medicine to the ancients, jewelry to the moderns, it wasn’t decisively placed in the animal kingdom until 1694, by Peysonnel of Marseilles.
A coral is a unit of tiny animals assembled over a polypary that’s brittle and stony in nature. These polyps have a unique generating mechanism that reproduces them via the budding process, and they have an individual existence while also participating in a communal life. Hence they embody a sort of natural socialism. I was familiar with the latest research on this bizarre zoophyte—which turns to stone while taking on a tree form, as some naturalists have very aptly observed—and nothing could have been more fascinating to me than to visit one of these petrified forests that nature has planted on the bottom of the sea.
We turned on our Ruhmkorff devices and went along a coral shoal in the process of forming, which, given time, will someday close off this whole part of the Indian Ocean. Our path was bordered by hopelessly tangled bushes, formed from snarls of shrubs all covered with little star-shaped, white-streaked flowers. Only, contrary to plants on shore, these tree forms become attached to rocks on the seafloor by heading from top to bottom.
Our lights produced a thousand delightful effects while playing over these brightly colored boughs. I fancied I saw these cylindrical, membrane-filled tubes trembling beneath the water’s undulations. I was tempted to gather their fresh petals, which were adorned with delicate tentacles, some newly in bloom, others barely opened, while nimble fish with fluttering fins brushed past them like flocks of birds. But if my hands came near the moving flowers of these sensitive, lively creatures, an alarm would instantly sound throughout the colony. The white petals retracted into their red sheaths, the flowers vanished before my eyes, and the bush changed into a chunk of stony nipples.
Sheer chance had placed me in the presence of the most valuable specimens of this zoophyte. This coral was the equal of those fished up from the Mediterranean off the Barbary Coast or the shores of France and Italy. With its bright colors, it lived up to those poetic names of blood flower and blood foam that the industry confers on its finest exhibits. Coral sells for as much as 500 francs per kilogram, and in this locality the liquid strata hid enough to make the fortunes of a whole host of coral fishermen. This valuable substance often merges with other polyparies, forming compact, hopelessly tangled units known as “macciota,” and I noted some wonderful pink samples of this coral.
But as the bushes shrank, the tree forms magnified. Actual petrified thickets and long alcoves from some fantastic school of architecture kept opening up before our steps. Captain Nemo entered beneath a dark gallery whose gentle slope took us to a depth of 100 meters. The light from our glass coils produced magical effects at times, lingering on the wrinkled roughness of some natural arch, or some overhang suspended like a chandelier, which our lamps flecked with fiery sparks. Amid these shrubs of precious coral, I observed other polyps no less unusual: melita coral, rainbow coral with jointed outgrowths, then a few tufts of genus Corallina, some green and others red, actually a type of seaweed encrusted with limestone salts, which, after long disputes, naturalists have finally placed in the vegetable kingdom. But as one intellectual has remarked, “Here, perhaps, is the actual point where life rises humbly out of slumbering stone, but without breaking away from its crude starting point.”
Finally, after two hours of walking, we reached a depth of about 300 meters, in other words, the lowermost limit at which coral can begin to form. But here it was no longer some isolated bush or a modest grove of low timber. It was an immense forest, huge mineral vegetation, enormous petrified trees linked by garlands of elegant hydras from the genus Plumularia, those tropical creepers of the sea, all decked out in shades and gleams. We passed freely under their lofty boughs, lost up in the shadows of the waves, while at our feet organ-pipe coral, stony coral, star coral, fungus
coral, and sea anemone from the genus Caryophylia formed a carpet of flowers all strewn with dazzling gems.
What an indescribable sight! Oh, if only we could share our feelings! Why were we imprisoned behind these masks of metal and glass! Why were we forbidden to talk with each other! At least let us lead the lives of the fish that populate this liquid element, or better yet, the lives of amphibians, which can spend long hours either at sea or on shore, traveling through their double domain as their whims dictate!
Meanwhile Captain Nemo had called a halt. My companions and I stopped walking, and turning around, I saw the crewmen form a semicircle around their leader. Looking with greater care, I observed that four of them were carrying on their shoulders an object that was oblong in shape.
At this locality we stood in the center of a huge clearing surrounded by the tall tree forms of this underwater forest. Our lamps cast a sort of brilliant twilight over the area, making inordinately long shadows on the seafloor. Past the boundaries of the clearing, the darkness deepened again, relieved only by little sparkles given off by the sharp crests of coral.
Ned Land and Conseil stood next to me. We stared, and it dawned on me that I was about to witness a strange scene. Observing the seafloor, I saw that it swelled at certain points from low bulges that were encrusted with limestone deposits and arranged with a symmetry that betrayed the hand of man.
In the middle of the clearing, on a pedestal of roughly piled rocks, there stood a cross of coral, extending long arms you would have thought were made of petrified blood.
At a signal from Captain Nemo, one of his men stepped forward and, a few feet from this cross, detached a mattock from his belt and began to dig a hole.
I finally understood! This clearing was a cemetery, this hole a grave, that oblong object the body of the man who must have died during the night! Captain Nemo and his men had come to bury their companion in this communal resting place on the inaccessible ocean floor!
No! My mind was reeling as never before! Never had ideas of such impact raced through my brain! I didn’t want to see what my eyes saw!
Meanwhile the grave digging went slowly. Fish fled here and there as their retreat was disturbed. I heard the pick ringing on the limestone soil, its iron tip sometimes giving off sparks when it hit a stray piece of flint on the sea bottom. The hole grew longer, wider, and soon was deep enough to receive the body.
Then the pallbearers approached. Wrapped in white fabric made from filaments of the fan mussel, the body was lowered into its watery grave. Captain Nemo, arms crossed over his chest, knelt in a posture of prayer, as did all the friends of him who had loved them. . . . My two companions and I bowed reverently.
The grave was then covered over with the rubble dug from the seafloor, and it formed a low mound.
When this was done, Captain Nemo and his men stood up; then they all approached the grave, sank again on bended knee, and extended their hands in a sign of final farewell. . . .
Then the funeral party went back up the path to the Nautilus, returning beneath the arches of the forest, through the thickets, along the coral bushes, going steadily higher.
Finally the ship’s rays appeared. Their luminous trail guided us to the Nautilus. By one o’clock we had returned.
After changing clothes, I climbed onto the platform, and in the grip of dreadfully obsessive thoughts, I sat next to the beacon.
Captain Nemo rejoined me. I stood up and said to him:
“So, as I predicted, that man died during the night?”
“Yes, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo replied.
“And now he rests beside his companions in that coral cemetery?”
“Yes, forgotten by the world but not by us! We dig the graves, then entrust the polyps with sealing away our dead for eternity!”
And with a sudden gesture, the captain hid his face in his clenched fists, vainly trying to hold back a sob. Then he added:
“There lies our peaceful cemetery, hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the waves!”
“At least, captain, your dead can sleep serenely there, out of the reach of sharks!”
“Yes, sir,” Captain Nemo replied solemnly, “of sharks and men!”
END OF THE FIRST PART
1. A Runaway Reef
2. The Pros and Cons
3. As Master Wishes
4. Ned Land
5. At Random!
6. At Full Steam
7. A Whale of Unknown Species
8. “Mobilis in Mobili”
9. The Tantrums of Ned Land
10. The Man of the Waters
11. The Nautilus
12. Everything through Electricity
13. Some Figures
14. The Black Current
15. An Invitation in Writing
16. Strolling the Plains
17. An Underwater Forest
18. Four Thousand Leagues Under the Pacific
20. The Torres Strait
21. Some Days Ashore
22. The Lightning Bolts of Captain Nemo
23. “Aegri Somnia”
24. The Coral Realm
1. The Indian Ocean
2. A New Proposition from Captain Nemo
3. A Pearl Worth Ten Million
4. The Red Sea
5. Arabian Tunnel
6. The Greek Islands
7. The Mediterranean in Forty-Eight Hours
8. The Bay of Vigo
9. A Lost Continent
10. The Underwater Coalfields
11. The Sargasso Sea
12. Sperm Whales and Baleen Whales
13. The Ice Bank
14. The South Pole
15. Accident or Incident?
16. Shortage of Air
17. From Cape Horn to the Amazon
18. The Devilfish
19. The Gulf Stream
20. In Latitude 47° 24’ and Longitude 17° 28’
21. A Mass Execution
22. The Last Words of Captain Nemo
Verne is also known as the 'Father of Science Fiction'