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.
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
The Indian Ocean
NOW WE BEGIN the second part of this voyage under the seas. The first ended in that moving scene at the coral cemetery, which left a profound impression on my mind. And so Captain Nemo would live out his life entirely in the heart of this immense sea, and even his grave lay ready in its impenetrable depths. There the last sleep of the Nautilus’s occupants, friends bound together in death as in life, would be disturbed by no monster of the deep! “No man either!” the captain had added.
Always that same fierce, implacable defiance of human society!
As for me, I was no longer content with the hypotheses that satisfied Conseil. That fine lad persisted in seeing the Nautilus’s commander as merely one of those unappreciated scientists who repay humanity’s indifference with contempt. For Conseil, the captain was still a misunderstood genius who, tired of the world’s deceptions, had been driven to take refuge in this inaccessible environment where he was free to follow his instincts. But to my mind, this hypothesis explained only one side of Captain Nemo.
In fact, the mystery of that last afternoon when we were locked in prison and put to sleep, the captain’s violent precaution of snatching from my grasp a spyglass poised to scour the horizon, and the fatal wound given that man during some unexplained collision suffered by the Nautilus, all led me down a plain trail. No! Captain Nemo wasn’t content simply to avoid humanity! His fearsome submersible served not only his quest for freedom, but also, perhaps, it was used in lord-knows-what schemes of dreadful revenge.
Right now, nothing is clear to me, I still glimpse only glimmers in the dark, and I must limit my pen, as it were, to taking dictation from events.
But nothing binds us to Captain Nemo. He believes that escaping from the Nautilus is impossible. We are not even constrained by our word of honor. No promises fetter us. We’re simply captives, prisoners masquerading under the name “guests” for the sake of everyday courtesy. Even so, Ned Land hasn’t given up all hope of recovering his freedom. He’s sure to take advantage of the first chance that comes his way. No doubt I will do likewise. And yet I will feel some regret at making off with the Nautilus’s secrets, so generously unveiled for us by Captain Nemo! Because, ultimately, should we detest or admire this man? Is he the persecutor or the persecuted? And in all honesty, before I leave him forever, I want to finish this underwater tour of the world, whose first stages have been so magnificent. I want to observe the full series of these wonders gathered under the seas of our globe. I want to see what no man has seen yet, even if I must pay for this insatiable curiosity with my life! What are my discoveries to date? Nothing, relatively speaking—since so far we’ve covered only 6,000 leagues across the Pacific!
Nevertheless, I’m well aware that the Nautilus is drawing near to populated shores, and if some chance for salvation becomes available to us, it would be sheer cruelty to sacrifice my companions to my passion for the unknown. I must go with them, perhaps even guide them. But will this opportunity ever arise? The human being, robbed of his free will, craves such an opportunity; but the scientist, forever inquisitive, dreads it.
That day, January 21, 1868, the chief officer went at noon to take the sun’s altitude. I climbed onto the platform, lit a cigar, and watched him at work. It seemed obvious to me that this man didn’t understand French, because I made several remarks in a loud voice that were bound to provoke him to some involuntary show of interest had he understood them; but he remained mute and emotionless.
While he took his sights with his sextant, one of the Nautilus’s sailors—that muscular man who had gone with us to Crespo Island during our first underwater excursion—came up to clean the glass panes of the beacon. I then examined the fittings of this mechanism, whose power was increased a hundredfold by biconvex lenses that were designed like those in a lighthouse and kept its rays productively focused. This electric lamp was so constructed as to yield its maximum illuminating power. In essence, its light was generated in a vacuum, insuring both its steadiness and intensity. Such a vacuum also reduced wear on the graphite points between which the luminous arc expanded. This was an important savings for Captain Nemo, who couldn’t easily renew them. But under these conditions, wear and tear were almost nonexistent.
When the Nautilus was ready to resume its underwater travels, I went below again to the lounge. The hatches closed once more, and our course was set due west.
We then plowed the waves of the Indian Ocean, vast liquid plains with an area of 550,000,000 hectares, whose waters are so transparent it makes you dizzy to lean over their surface. There the Nautilus generally drifted at a depth between 100 and 200 meters. It behaved in this way for some days. To anyone without my grand passion for the sea, these hours would surely have seemed long and monotonous; but my daily strolls on the platform where I was revived by the life-giving ocean air, the sights in the rich waters beyond the lounge windows, the books to be read in the library, and the composition of my memoirs, took up all my time and left me without a moment of weariness or boredom.
All in all, we enjoyed a highly satisfactory state of health. The diet on board agreed with us perfectly, and for my part, I could easily have gone without those changes of pace that Ned Land, in a spirit of protest, kept taxing his ingenuity to supply us. What’s more, in this constant temperature we didn’t even have to worry about catching colds. Besides, the ship had a good stock of the madrepore Dendrophylia, known in Provence by the name sea fennel, and a poultice made from the dissolved flesh of its polyps will furnish an excellent cough medicine.
For some days we saw a large number of aquatic birds with webbed feet, known as gulls or sea mews. Some were skillfully slain, and when cooked in a certain fashion, they make a very acceptable platter of water game. Among the great wind riders—carried over long distances from every shore and resting on the waves from their exhausting flights—I spotted some magnificent albatross, birds belonging to the Longipennes (long-winged) family, whose discordant calls sound like the braying of an ass. The Totipalmes (fully webbed) family was represented by swift frigate birds, nimbly catching fish at the surface, and by numerous tropic birds of the genus Phaeton, among others the red-tailed tropic bird, the size of a pigeon, its white plumage shaded with pink tints that contrasted with its dark-hued wings.
The Nautilus’s nets hauled up several types of sea turtle from the hawksbill genus with arching backs whose scales are highly prized. Diving easily, these reptiles can remain a good while underwater by closing the fleshy valves located at the external openings of their nasal passages. When they were captured, some hawksbills were still asleep inside their carapaces, a refuge from other marine animals. The flesh of these turtles was nothing memorable, but their eggs made an excellent feast.
As for fish, they always filled us with wonderment when, staring through the open panels, we could unveil the secrets of their aquatic lives. I noted several species I hadn’t previously been able to observe.
I’ll mention chiefly some trunkfish unique to the Red Sea, the sea of the East Indies, and that part of the ocean washing the coasts of equinoctial America. Like turtles, armadillos, sea urchins, and crustaceans, these fish are protected by armor plate that’s neither chalky nor stony but actual bone. Sometimes this armor takes the shape of a solid triangle, sometimes that of a solid quadrangle. Among the triangular type, I noticed some half a decimeter long, with brown tails, yellow fins, and wholesome, exquisitely tasty flesh; I even recommend that they be acclimatized to fresh water, a change, incidentally, that a number of saltwater fish can make with ease. I’ll also mention some quadrangular trunkfish topped by four large protuberances along the back; trunkfish sprinkled with white spots on the underside of the body, which make good house pets like certain birds; boxfish armed with stings formed by extensions of their bony crusts, and whose odd grunting has earned them the nickname “sea pigs”; then some trunkfish known as dromedaries, with tough, leathery flesh and big conical humps.
From the daily notes kept by Mr. Conseil, I also retrieve certain fish from the genus Tetradon unique to these seas: southern puffers with red backs and white chests distinguished by three lengthwise rows of filaments, and jugfish, seven inches long, decked out in the brightest colors. Then, as specimens of other genera, blowfish resembling a dark brown egg, furrowed with white bands, and lacking tails; globefish, genuine porcupines of the sea, armed with stings and able to inflate themselves until they look like a pin cushion bristling with needles; seahorses common to every ocean; flying dragonfish with long snouts and highly distended pectoral fins shaped like wings, which enable them, if not to fly, at least to spring into the air; spatula-shaped paddlefish whose tails are covered with many scaly rings; snipefish with long jaws, excellent animals twenty-five centimeters long and gleaming with the most cheerful colors; bluish gray dragonets with wrinkled heads; myriads of leaping blennies with black stripes and long pectoral fins, gliding over the surface of the water with prodigious speed; delicious sailfish that can hoist their fins in a favorable current like so many unfurled sails; splendid nurseryfish on which nature has lavished yellow, azure, silver, and gold; yellow mackerel with wings made of filaments; bullheads forever spattered with mud, which make distinct hissing sounds; sea robins whose livers are thought to be poisonous; ladyfish that can flutter their eyelids; finally, archerfish with long, tubular snouts, real oceangoing flycatchers, armed with a rifle unforeseen by either Remington or Chassepot: it slays insects by shooting them with a simple drop of water.
From the eighty-ninth fish genus in Lacépède’s system of classification, belonging to his second subclass of bony fish (characterized by gill covers and a bronchial membrane), I noted some scorpionfish whose heads are adorned with stings and which have only one dorsal fin; these animals are covered with small scales, or have none at all, depending on the subgenus to which they belong. The second subgenus gave us some Didactylus specimens three to four decimeters long, streaked with yellow, their heads having a phantasmagoric appearance. As for the first subgenus, it furnished several specimens of that bizarre fish aptly nicknamed “toadfish,” whose big head is sometimes gouged with deep cavities, sometimes swollen with protuberances; bristling with stings and strewn with nodules, it sports hideously irregular horns; its body and tail are adorned with callosities; its stings can inflict dangerous injuries; it’s repulsive and horrible.
From January 21 to the 23rd, the Nautilus traveled at the rate of 250 leagues in twenty-four hours, hence 540 miles at twenty-two miles per hour. If, during our trip, we were able to identify these different varieties of fish, it’s because they were attracted by our electric light and tried to follow alongside; but most of them were outdistanced by our speed and soon fell behind; temporarily, however, a few managed to keep pace in the Nautilus’s waters.
On the morning of the 24th, in latitude 12 degrees 5’ south and longitude 94 degrees 33’, we raised Keeling Island, a madreporic upheaving planted with magnificent coconut trees, which had been visited by Mr. Darwin and Captain Fitzroy. The Nautilus cruised along a short distance off the shore of this desert island. Our dragnets brought up many specimens of polyps and echinoderms plus some unusual shells from the branch Mollusca. Captain Nemo’s treasures were enhanced by some valuable exhibits from the delphinula snail species, to which I joined some pointed star coral, a sort of parasitic polypary that often attaches itself to seashells.
Soon Keeling Island disappeared below the horizon, and our course was set to the northwest, toward the tip of the Indian peninsula.
“Civilization!” Ned Land told me that day. “Much better than those Papuan Islands where we ran into more savages than venison! On this Indian shore, professor, there are roads and railways, English, French, and Hindu villages. We wouldn’t go five miles without bumping into a fellow countryman. Come on now, isn’t it time for our sudden departure from Captain Nemo?”
“No, no, Ned,” I replied in a very firm tone. “Let’s ride it out, as you seafaring fellows say. The Nautilus is approaching populated areas. It’s going back toward Europe, let it take us there. After we arrive in home waters, we can do as we see fit. Besides, I don’t imagine Captain Nemo will let us go hunting on the coasts of Malabar or Coromandel as he did in the forests of New Guinea.”
“Well, sir, can’t we manage without his permission?”
I didn’t answer the Canadian. I wanted no arguments. Deep down, I was determined to fully exploit the good fortune that had put me on board the Nautilus.
After leaving Keeling Island, our pace got generally slower. It also got more unpredictable, often taking us to great depths. Several times we used our slanting fins, which internal levers could set at an oblique angle to our waterline. Thus we went as deep as two or three kilometers down but without ever verifying the lowest depths of this sea near India, which soundings of 13,000 meters have been unable to reach. As for the temperature in these lower strata, the thermometer always and invariably indicated 4 degrees centigrade. I merely observed that in the upper layers, the water was always colder over shallows than in the open sea.
On January 25, the ocean being completely deserted, the Nautilus spent the day on the surface, churning the waves with its powerful propeller and making them spurt to great heights. Under these conditions, who wouldn’t have mistaken it for a gigantic cetacean? I spent three-quarters of the day on the platform. I stared at the sea. Nothing on the horizon, except near four o’clock in the afternoon a long steamer to the west, running on our opposite tack. Its masting was visible for an instant, but it couldn’t have seen the Nautilus because we were lying too low in the water. I imagine that steamboat belonged to the Peninsular & Oriental line, which provides service from the island of Ceylon to Sydney, also calling at King George Sound and Melbourne.
At five o’clock in the afternoon, just before that brief twilight that links day with night in tropical zones, Conseil and I marveled at an unusual sight.
It was a delightful animal whose discovery, according to the ancients, is a sign of good luck. Aristotle, Athenaeus, Pliny, and Oppian studied its habits and lavished on its behalf all the scientific poetry of Greece and Italy. They called it “nautilus” and “pompilius.” But modern science has not endorsed these designations, and this mollusk is now known by the name argonaut.
Anyone consulting Conseil would soon learn from the gallant lad that the branch Mollusca is divided into five classes; that the first class features the Cephalopoda (whose members are sometimes naked, sometimes covered with a shell), which consists of two families, the Dibranchiata and the Tetrabranchiata, which are distinguished by their number of gills; that the family Dibranchiata includes three genera, the argonaut, the squid, and the cuttlefish, and that the family Tetrabranchiata contains only one genus, the nautilus. After this catalog, if some recalcitrant listener confuses the argonaut, which is acetabuliferous (in other words, a bearer of suction tubes), with the nautilus, which is tentaculiferous (a bearer of tentacles), it will be simply unforgivable.
Now, it was a school of argonauts then voyaging on the surface of the ocean. We could count several hundred of them. They belonged to that species of argonaut covered with protuberances and exclusive to the seas near India.
These graceful mollusks were swimming backward by means of their locomotive tubes, sucking water into these tubes and then expelling it. Six of their eight tentacles were long, thin, and floated on the water, while the other two were rounded into palms and spread to the wind like light sails. I could see perfectly their undulating, spiral-shaped shells, which Cuvier aptly compared to an elegant cockleboat. It’s an actual boat indeed. It transports the animal that secretes it without the animal sticking to it.
“The argonaut is free to leave its shell,” I told Conseil, “but it never does.”
“Not unlike Captain Nemo,” Conseil replied sagely. “Which is why he should have christened his ship the Argonaut.”
For about an hour the Nautilus cruised in the midst of this school of mollusks. Then, lord knows why, they were gripped with a sudden fear. As if at a signal, every sail was abruptly lowered; arms folded, bodies contracted, shells turned over by changing their center of gravity, and the whole flotilla disappeared under the waves. It was instantaneous, and no squadron of ships ever maneuvered with greater togetherness.
Just then night fell suddenly, and the waves barely surged in the breeze, spreading placidly around the Nautilus’s side plates.
The next day, January 26, we cut the equator on the 82nd meridian and we reentered the northern hemisphere.
During that day a fearsome school of sharks provided us with an escort. Dreadful animals that teem in these seas and make them extremely dangerous. There were Port Jackson sharks with a brown back, a whitish belly, and eleven rows of teeth, bigeye sharks with necks marked by a large black spot encircled in white and resembling an eye, and Isabella sharks whose rounded snouts were strewn with dark speckles. Often these powerful animals rushed at the lounge window with a violence less than comforting. By this point Ned Land had lost all self-control. He wanted to rise to the surface of the waves and harpoon the monsters, especially certain smooth-hound sharks whose mouths were paved with teeth arranged like a mosaic, and some big five-meter tiger sharks that insisted on personally provoking him. But the Nautilus soon picked up speed and easily left astern the fastest of these man-eaters.
On January 27, at the entrance to the huge Bay of Bengal, we repeatedly encountered a gruesome sight: human corpses floating on the surface of the waves! Carried by the Ganges to the high seas, these were deceased Indian villagers who hadn’t been fully devoured by vultures, the only morticians in these parts. But there was no shortage of sharks to assist them with their undertaking chores.
Near seven o’clock in the evening, the Nautilus lay half submerged, navigating in the midst of milky white waves. As far as the eye could see, the ocean seemed lactified. Was it an effect of the moon’s rays? No, because the new moon was barely two days old and was still lost below the horizon in the sun’s rays. The entire sky, although lit up by stellar radiation, seemed pitch-black in comparison with the whiteness of these waters.
Conseil couldn’t believe his eyes, and he questioned me about the causes of this odd phenomenon. Luckily I was in a position to answer him.
“That’s called a milk sea,” I told him, “a vast expanse of white waves often seen along the coasts of Amboina and in these waterways.”
“But,” Conseil asked, “could master tell me the cause of this effect, because I presume this water hasn’t really changed into milk!”
“No, my boy, and this whiteness that amazes you is merely due to the presence of myriads of tiny creatures called infusoria, a sort of diminutive glowworm that’s colorless and gelatinous in appearance, as thick as a strand of hair, and no longer than one-fifth of a millimeter. Some of these tiny creatures stick together over an area of several leagues.”
“Several leagues!” Conseil exclaimed.
“Yes, my boy, and don’t even try to compute the number of these infusoria. You won’t pull it off, because if I’m not mistaken, certain navigators have cruised through milk seas for more than forty miles.”
I’m not sure that Conseil heeded my recommendation, because he seemed to be deep in thought, no doubt trying to calculate how many one-fifths of a millimeter are found in forty square miles. As for me, I continued to observe this phenomenon. For several hours the Nautilus’s spur sliced through these whitish waves, and I watched it glide noiselessly over this soapy water, as if it were cruising through those foaming eddies that a bay’s currents and countercurrents sometimes leave between each other.
Near midnight the sea suddenly resumed its usual hue, but behind us all the way to the horizon, the skies kept mirroring the whiteness of those waves and for a good while seemed imbued with the hazy glow of an aurora borealis.
A New Proposition from Captain Nemo
ON JANUARY 28, in latitude 9 degrees 4’ north, when the Nautilus returned at noon to the surface of the sea, it lay in sight of land some eight miles to the west. Right off, I observed a cluster of mountains about 2,000 feet high, whose shapes were very whimsically sculpted. After our position fix, I reentered the lounge, and when our bearings were reported on the chart, I saw that we were off the island of Ceylon, that pearl dangling from the lower lobe of the Indian peninsula.
I went looking in the library for a book about this island, one of the most fertile in the world. Sure enough, I found a volume entitled Ceylon and the Singhalese by H. C. Sirr, Esq. Reentering the lounge, I first noted the bearings of Ceylon, on which antiquity lavished so many different names. It was located between latitude 5 degrees 55’ and 9 degrees 49’ north, and between longitude 79 degrees 42’ and 82 degrees 4’ east of the meridian of Greenwich; its length is 275 miles; its maximum width, 150 miles; its circumference, 900 miles; its surface area, 24,448 square miles, in other words, a little smaller than that of Ireland.
Just then Captain Nemo and his chief officer appeared.
The captain glanced at the chart. Then, turning to me:
“The island of Ceylon,” he said, “is famous for its pearl fisheries. Would you be interested, Professor Aronnax, in visiting one of those fisheries?”
“Fine. It’s easily done. Only, when we see the fisheries, we’ll see no fishermen. The annual harvest hasn’t yet begun. No matter. I’ll give orders to make for the Gulf of Mannar, and we’ll arrive there late tonight.”
The captain said a few words to his chief officer who went out immediately. Soon the Nautilus reentered its liquid element, and the pressure gauge indicated that it was staying at a depth of thirty feet.
With the chart under my eyes, I looked for the Gulf of Mannar. I found it by the 9th parallel off the northwestern shores of Ceylon. It was formed by the long curve of little Mannar Island. To reach it we had to go all the way up Ceylon’s west coast.
“Professor,” Captain Nemo then told me, “there are pearl fisheries in the Bay of Bengal, the seas of the East Indies, the seas of China and Japan, plus those seas south of the United States, the Gulf of Panama and the Gulf of California; but it’s off Ceylon that such fishing reaps its richest rewards. No doubt we’ll be arriving a little early. Fishermen gather in the Gulf of Mannar only during the month of March, and for thirty days some 300 boats concentrate on the lucrative harvest of these treasures from the sea. Each boat is manned by ten oarsmen and ten fishermen. The latter divide into two groups, dive in rotation, and descend to a depth of twelve meters with the help of a heavy stone clutched between their feet and attached by a rope to their boat.”
“You mean,” I said, “that such primitive methods are still all that they use?”
“All,” Captain Nemo answered me, “although these fisheries belong to the most industrialized people in the world, the English, to whom the Treaty of Amiens granted them in 1802.”
“Yet it strikes me that diving suits like yours could perform yeoman service in such work.”
“Yes, since those poor fishermen can’t stay long underwater. On his voyage to Ceylon, the Englishman Percival made much of a Kaffir who stayed under five minutes without coming up to the surface, but I find that hard to believe. I know that some divers can last up to fifty-seven seconds, and highly skillful ones to eighty-seven; but such men are rare, and when the poor fellows climb back on board, the water coming out of their noses and ears is tinted with blood. I believe the average time underwater that these fishermen can tolerate is thirty seconds, during which they hastily stuff their little nets with all the pearl
oysters they can tear loose. But these fishermen generally don’t live to advanced age: their vision weakens, ulcers break out on their eyes, sores form on their bodies, and some are even stricken with apoplexy on the ocean floor.”
“Yes,” I said, “it’s a sad occupation, and one that exists only to gratify the whims of fashion. But tell me, captain, how many oysters can a boat fish up in a workday?”
“About 40,000 to 50,000. It’s even said that in 1814, when the English government went fishing on its own behalf, its divers worked just twenty days and brought up 76,000,000 oysters.”
“At least,” I asked, “the fishermen are well paid, aren’t they?”
“Hardly, professor. In Panama they make just $1.00 per week. In most places they earn only a penny for each oyster that has a pearl, and they bring up so many that have none!”
“Only one penny to those poor people who make their employers rich! That’s atrocious!”
“On that note, professor,” Captain Nemo told me, “you and your companions will visit the Mannar oysterbank, and if by chance some eager fisherman arrives early, well, we can watch him at work.”
“That suits me, captain.”
“By the way, Professor Aronnax, you aren’t afraid of sharks, are you?”
“Sharks?” I exclaimed.
This struck me as a pretty needless question, to say the least.
“Well?” Captain Nemo went on.
“I admit, captain, I’m not yet on very familiar terms with that genus of fish.”
“We’re used to them, the rest of us,” Captain Nemo answered. “And in time you will be too. Anyhow, we’ll be armed, and on our way we might hunt a man-eater or two. It’s a fascinating sport. So, professor, I’ll see you tomorrow, bright and early.”
This said in a carefree tone, Captain Nemo left the lounge.
If you’re invited to hunt bears in the Swiss mountains, you might say: “Oh good, I get to go bear hunting tomorrow!” If you’re invited to hunt lions on the Atlas plains or tigers in the jungles of India, you might say: “Ha! Now’s my chance to hunt lions and tigers!” But if you’re invited to hunt
sharks in their native element, you might want to think it over before accepting.
As for me, I passed a hand over my brow, where beads of cold sweat were busy forming.
“Let’s think this over,” I said to myself, “and let’s take our time. Hunting otters in underwater forests, as we did in the forests of Crespo Island, is an acceptable activity. But to roam the bottom of the sea when you’re almost certain to meet man-eaters in the neighborhood, that’s another story! I know that in certain countries, particularly the Andaman Islands, Negroes don’t hesitate to attack sharks, dagger in one hand and noose in the other; but I also know that many who face those fearsome animals don’t come back alive. Besides, I’m not a Negro, and even if I were a Negro, in this instance I don’t think a little hesitation on my part would be out of place.”
And there I was, fantasizing about sharks, envisioning huge jaws armed with multiple rows of teeth and capable of cutting a man in half. I could already feel a definite pain around my pelvic girdle. And how I resented the offhand manner in which the captain had extended his deplorable invitation! You would have thought it was an issue of going into the woods on some harmless fox hunt!
“Thank heavens!” I said to myself. “Conseil will never want to come along, and that’ll be my excuse for not going with the captain.”
As for Ned Land, I admit I felt less confident of his wisdom. Danger, however great, held a perennial attraction for his aggressive nature.
I went back to reading Sirr’s book, but I leafed through it mechanically. Between the lines I kept seeing fearsome, wide-open jaws.
Just then Conseil and the Canadian entered with a calm, even gleeful air. Little did they know what was waiting for them.
“Ye gods, sir!” Ned Land told me. “Your Captain Nemo—the devil take him—has just made us a very pleasant proposition!”
“Oh!” I said. “You know about—”
“With all due respect to master,” Conseil replied, “the Nautilus’s commander has invited us, together with master, for a visit tomorrow to Ceylon’s magnificent pearl fisheries. He did so in the most cordial terms and conducted himself like a true gentleman.”
“He didn’t tell you anything else?”
“Nothing, sir,” the Canadian replied. “He said you’d already discussed this little stroll.”
“Indeed,” I said. “But didn’t he give you any details on—”
“Not a one, Mr. Naturalist. You will be going with us, right?”
“Me? Why yes, certainly, of course! I can see that you like the idea, Mr. Land.”
“Yes! It will be a really unusual experience!”
“And possibly dangerous!” I added in an insinuating tone.
“Dangerous?” Ned Land replied. “A simple trip to an oysterbank?”
Assuredly, Captain Nemo hadn’t seen fit to plant the idea of sharks in the minds of my companions. For my part, I stared at them with anxious eyes, as if they were already missing a limb or two. Should I alert them? Yes, surely, but I hardly knew how to go about it.
“Would master,” Conseil said to me, “give us some background on pearl fishing?”
“On the fishing itself?” I asked. “Or on the occupational hazards that—”
“On the fishing,” the Canadian replied. “Before we tackle the terrain, it helps to be familiar with it.”
“All right, sit down, my friends, and I’ll teach you everything I myself have just been taught by the Englishman H. C. Sirr!”
Ned and Conseil took seats on a couch, and right off the Canadian said to me:
“Sir, just what is a pearl exactly?”
“My gallant Ned,” I replied, “for poets a pearl is a tear from the sea; for Orientals it’s a drop of solidified dew; for the ladies it’s a jewel they can wear on their fingers, necks, and ears that’s oblong in shape, glassy in luster, and formed from mother-of-pearl; for chemists it’s a mixture of calcium phosphate and calcium carbonate with a little gelatin protein; and finally, for naturalists it’s a simple festering secretion from the organ that produces mother-of-pearl in certain bivalves.”
“Branch Mollusca,” Conseil said, “class Acephala, order Testacea.”
“Correct, my scholarly Conseil. Now then, those Testacea capable of producing pearls include rainbow abalone, turbo snails, giant clams, and saltwater scallops—briefly, all those that secrete mother-of-pearl, in other words, that blue, azure, violet, or white substance lining the insides of their valves.”
“Are mussels included too?” the Canadian asked.
“Yes! The mussels of certain streams in Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Saxony, Bohemia, and France.”
“Good!” the Canadian replied. “From now on we’ll pay closer attention to ’em.”
“But,” I went on, “for secreting pearls, the ideal mollusk is the pearl oyster Meleagrina margaritifera, that valuable shellfish. Pearls result simply from mother-of-pearl solidifying into a globular shape. Either they stick to the oyster’s shell, or they become embedded in the creature’s folds. On the valves a pearl sticks fast; on the flesh it lies loose. But its nucleus is always some small, hard object, say a sterile egg or a grain of sand, around which the mother-of-pearl is deposited in thin, concentric layers over several years in succession.”
“Can one find several pearls in the same oyster?” Conseil asked.
“Yes, my boy. There are some shellfish that turn into real jewel coffers. They even mention one oyster, about which I remain dubious, that supposedly contained at least 150 sharks.”
“150 sharks!” Ned Land yelped.
“Did I say sharks?” I exclaimed hastily. “I meant 150 pearls. Sharks wouldn’t make sense.”
“Indeed,” Conseil said. “But will master now tell us how one goes about extracting these pearls?”
“One proceeds in several ways, and often when pearls stick to the valves, fishermen even pull them loose with pliers. But usually the shellfish are spread out on mats made from the esparto grass that covers the beaches. Thus they die in the open air, and by the end of ten days they’ve rotted sufficiently. Next they’re immersed in huge tanks of salt water, then they’re opened up and washed. At this point the sorters begin their twofold task. First they remove the layers of mother-of-pearl, which are known in the industry by the names legitimate silver, bastard white, or bastard black, and these are shipped out in cases weighing 125 to 150 kilograms. Then they remove the oyster’s meaty tissue, boil it, and finally strain it, in order to extract even the smallest pearls.”
“Do the prices of these pearls differ depending on their size?” Conseil asked.
“Not only on their size,” I replied, “but also according to their shape, their water—in other words, their color—and their orient—in other words, that dappled, shimmering glow that makes them so delightful to the eye. The finest pearls are called virgin pearls, or paragons; they form in isolation within the mollusk’s tissue. They’re white, often opaque but sometimes of opalescent transparency, and usually spherical or pear-shaped. The spherical ones are made into bracelets; the pear-shaped ones into earrings, and since they’re the most valuable, they’re priced individually. The other pearls that stick to the oyster’s shell are more erratically shaped and are priced by weight. Finally, classed in the lowest order, the smallest pearls are known by the name seed pearls; they’re priced by the measuring cup and are used mainly in the creation of embroidery for church vestments.”
“But it must be a long, hard job, sorting out these pearls by size,” the Canadian said.
“No, my friend. That task is performed with eleven strainers, or sieves, that are pierced with different numbers of holes. Those pearls staying in the strainers with twenty to eighty holes are in the first order. Those not slipping through the sieves pierced with 100 to 800 holes are in the second order. Finally, those
pearls for which one uses strainers pierced with 900 to 1,000 holes make up the seed pearls.”
“How ingenious,” Conseil said, “to reduce dividing and classifying pearls to a mechanical operation. And could master tell us the profits brought in by harvesting these banks of pearl oysters?”
“According to Sirr’s book,” I replied, “these Ceylon fisheries are farmed annually for a total profit of 3,000,000 man-eaters.”
“Francs!” Conseil rebuked.
“Yes, francs! 3,000,000 francs!” I went on. “But I don’t think these fisheries bring in the returns they once did. Similarly, the Central American fisheries used to make an annual profit of 4,000,000 francs during the reign of King Charles V, but now they bring in only two-thirds of that amount. All in all, it’s estimated that 9,000,000 francs is the current yearly return for the whole pearl-harvesting industry.”
“But,” Conseil asked, “haven’t certain famous pearls been quoted at extremely high prices?”
“Yes, my boy. They say Julius Caesar gave Servilia a pearl worth 120,000 francs in our currency.”
“I’ve even heard stories,” the Canadian said, “about some lady in ancient times who drank pearls in vinegar.”
“Cleopatra,” Conseil shot back.
“It must have tasted pretty bad,” Ned Land added.
“Abominable, Ned my friend,” Conseil replied. “But when a little glass of vinegar is worth 1,500,000 francs, its taste is a small price to pay.”
“I’m sorry I didn’t marry the gal,” the Canadian said, throwing up his hands with an air of discouragement.
“Ned Land married to Cleopatra?” Conseil exclaimed.
“But I was all set to tie the knot, Conseil,” the Canadian replied in all seriousness, “and it wasn’t my fault the whole business fell through. I even bought a pearl necklace for my fiancée, Kate Tender, but she married somebody else instead. Well, that necklace cost me only $1.50, but you can absolutely trust me on this, professor, its pearls were so big, they wouldn’t have gone through that strainer with twenty holes.”
“My gallant Ned,” I replied, laughing, “those were artificial pearls, ordinary glass beads whose insides were coated with Essence of Orient.”
“Wow!” the Canadian replied. “That Essence of Orient must sell for quite a large sum.”
“As little as zero! It comes from the scales of a European carp, it’s nothing more than a silver substance that collects in the water and is preserved in ammonia. It’s worthless.”
“Maybe that’s why Kate Tender married somebody else,” replied Mr. Land philosophically.
“But,” I said, “getting back to pearls of great value, I don’t think any sovereign ever possessed one superior to the pearl owned by Captain Nemo.”
“This one?” Conseil said, pointing to a magnificent jewel in its glass case.
“Exactly. And I’m certainly not far off when I estimate its value at 2,000,000 . . . uh . . .”
“Francs!” Conseil said quickly.
“Yes,” I said, “2,000,000 francs, and no doubt all it cost our captain was the effort to pick it up.”
“Ha!” Ned Land exclaimed. “During our stroll tomorrow, who says we won’t run into one just like it?”
“Bah!” Conseil put in.
“And why not?”
“What good would a pearl worth millions do us here on the Nautilus?”
“Here, no,” Ned Land said. “But elsewhere. . . .”
“Oh! Elsewhere!” Conseil put in, shaking his head.
“In fact,” I said, “Mr. Land is right. And if we ever brought back to Europe or America a pearl worth millions, it would make the story of our adventures more authentic—and much more rewarding.”
“That’s how I see it,” the Canadian said.
“But,” said Conseil, who perpetually returned to the didactic side of things, “is this pearl fishing ever dangerous?”
“No,” I replied quickly, “especially if one takes certain precautions.”
“What risks would you run in a job like that?” Ned Land said. “Swallowing a few gulps of salt water?”
“Whatever you say, Ned.” Then, trying to imitate Captain Nemo’s carefree tone, I asked, “By the way, gallant Ned, are you afraid of sharks?”
“Me?” the Canadian replied. “I’m a professional harpooner! It’s my job to make a mockery of them!”
“It isn’t an issue,” I said, “of fishing for them with a swivel hook, hoisting them onto the deck of a ship, chopping off the tail with a sweep of the ax, opening the belly, ripping out the heart, and tossing it into the sea.”
“So it’s an issue of . . . ?”
“In the water?”
“In the water.”
“Ye gods, just give me a good harpoon! You see, sir, these sharks are badly designed. They have to roll their bellies over to snap you up, and in the meantime . . .”
Ned Land had a way of pronouncing the word “snap” that sent chills down the spine.
“Well, how about you, Conseil? What are your feelings about these man-eaters?”
“Me?” Conseil said. “I’m afraid I must be frank with master.”
Good for you, I thought.
“If master faces these sharks,” Conseil said, “I think his loyal manservant should face them with him!”
A Pearl Worth Ten Million
NIGHT FELL. I went to bed. I slept pretty poorly. Man-eaters played a major role in my dreams. And I found it more or less appropriate that the French word for shark, requin, has its linguistic roots in the word requiem.
The next day at four o’clock in the morning, I was awakened by the steward whom Captain Nemo had placed expressly at my service. I got up quickly, dressed, and went into the lounge.
Captain Nemo was waiting for me.
“Professor Aronnax,” he said to me, “are you ready to start?”
“Kindly follow me.”
“What about my companions, captain?”
“They’ve been alerted and are waiting for us.”
“Aren’t we going to put on our diving suits?” I asked.
“Not yet. I haven’t let the Nautilus pull too near the coast, and we’re fairly well out from the Mannar oysterbank. But I have the skiff ready, and it will take us to the exact spot where we’ll disembark, which will save us a pretty long trek. It’s carrying our diving equipment, and we’ll suit up just before we begin our underwater exploring.”
Captain Nemo took me to the central companionway whose steps led to the platform. Ned and Conseil were there, enraptured with the “pleasure trip” getting under way. Oars in position, five of the Nautilus’s sailors were waiting for us aboard the skiff, which was moored alongside. The night was still dark. Layers of clouds cloaked the sky and left only a few stars in view. My eyes flew to the side where land lay, but I saw only a blurred line covering three-quarters of the horizon from southwest to northwest. Going up Ceylon’s west coast during the night, the Nautilus lay west of the bay, or rather that gulf formed by the mainland and Mannar Island. Under these dark waters there stretched the bank of shellfish, an inexhaustible field of pearls more than twenty miles long.
Captain Nemo, Conseil, Ned Land, and I found seats in the stern of the skiff. The longboat’s coxswain took the tiller; his four companions leaned into their oars; the moorings were cast off and we pulled clear.
The skiff headed southward. The oarsmen took their time. I watched their strokes vigorously catch the water, and they always waited ten seconds before rowing again, following the practice used in most navies. While the longboat coasted, drops of liquid flicked from the oars and hit the dark troughs of the waves, pitter-pattering like splashes of molten lead. Coming from well out, a mild swell made the skiff roll gently, and a few cresting billows lapped at its bow.
We were silent. What was Captain Nemo thinking? Perhaps that this approaching shore was too close for comfort, contrary to the Canadian’s views in which it still seemed too far away. As for Conseil, he had come along out of simple curiosity.
Near 5:30 the first glimmers of light on the horizon defined the upper lines of the coast with greater distinctness. Fairly flat to the east, it swelled a little toward the south. Five miles still separated it from us, and its beach merged with the misty waters. Between us and the shore, the sea was deserted. Not a boat, not a diver. Profound solitude reigned over this gathering place of pearl fishermen. As Captain Nemo had commented, we were arriving in these waterways a month too soon.
At six o’clock the day broke suddenly, with that speed unique to tropical regions, which experience no real dawn or dusk. The sun’s rays pierced the cloud curtain gathered on the easterly horizon, and the radiant orb rose swiftly.
I could clearly see the shore, which featured a few sparse trees here and there.
The skiff advanced toward Mannar Island, which curved to the south. Captain Nemo stood up from his thwart and studied the sea.
At his signal the anchor was lowered, but its chain barely ran because the bottom lay no more than a meter down, and this locality was one of the shallowest spots near the bank of shellfish. Instantly the skiff wheeled around under the ebb tide’s outbound thrust.
“Here we are, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo then said. “You observe this confined bay? A month from now in this very place, the numerous fishing boats of the harvesters will gather, and these are the waters their divers will ransack so daringly. This bay is felicitously laid out for their type of fishing. It’s sheltered from the strongest winds, and the sea is never very turbulent here, highly favorable conditions for diving work. Now let’s put on our underwater suits, and we’ll begin our stroll.”
I didn’t reply, and while staring at these suspicious waves, I began to put on my heavy aquatic clothes, helped by the longboat’s sailors. Captain Nemo and my two companions suited up as well. None of the Nautilus’s men were to go with us on this new excursion.
Soon we were imprisoned up to the neck in india-rubber clothing, and straps fastened the air devices onto our backs. As for the Ruhmkorff device, it didn’t seem to be in the picture. Before inserting my head into its copper capsule, I commented on this to the captain.
“Our lighting equipment would be useless to us,” the captain answered me. “We won’t be going very deep, and the sun’s rays will be sufficient to light our way. Besides, it’s unwise to carry electric lanterns under these waves. Their brightness might unexpectedly attract certain dangerous occupants of these waterways.”
As Captain Nemo pronounced these words, I turned to Conseil and Ned Land. But my two friends had already encased their craniums in their metal headgear, and they could neither hear nor reply.
I had one question left to address to Captain Nemo.
“What about our weapons?” I asked him. “Our rifles?”
“Rifles! What for? Don’t your mountaineers attack bears dagger in hand? And isn’t steel surer than lead? Here’s a sturdy blade. Slip it under your belt and let’s be off.”
I stared at my companions. They were armed in the same fashion, and Ned Land was also brandishing an enormous harpoon he had stowed in the skiff before leaving the Nautilus.
Then, following the captain’s example, I let myself be crowned with my heavy copper sphere, and our air tanks immediately went into action.
An instant later, the longboat’s sailors helped us overboard one after the other, and we set foot on level sand in a meter and a half of water. Captain Nemo gave us a hand signal. We followed him down a gentle slope and disappeared under the waves.
There the obsessive fears in my brain left me. I became surprisingly calm again. The ease with which I could move increased my confidence, and the many strange sights captivated my imagination.
The sun was already sending sufficient light under these waves. The tiniest objects remained visible. After ten minutes of walking, we were in five meters of water, and the terrain had become almost flat.
Like a covey of snipe over a marsh, there rose underfoot schools of unusual fish from the genus Monopterus, whose members have no fin but their tail. I recognized the Javanese eel, a genuine eight-decimeter serpent with a bluish gray belly, which, without the gold lines over its flanks, could easily be confused with the conger eel. From the butterfish genus, whose oval bodies are very flat, I observed several adorned in brilliant colors and sporting a dorsal fin like a sickle, edible fish that, when dried and marinated, make an excellent dish known by the name “karawade”; then some sea poachers, fish belonging to the genus Aspidophoroides, whose bodies are covered with scaly armor divided into eight lengthwise sections.
Meanwhile, as the sun got progressively higher, it lit up the watery mass more and more. The seafloor changed little by little. Its fine-grained sand was followed by a genuine causeway of smooth crags covered by a carpet of mollusks and zoophytes. Among other specimens in these two branches, I noted some windowpane oysters with thin valves of unequal size, a type of ostracod unique to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, then orange-hued lucina with circular shells, awl-shaped auger shells, some of those Persian murex snails that supply the Nautilus with such wonderful dye, spiky periwinkles fifteen centimeters long that rose under the waves like hands ready to grab you, turban snails with shells made of horn and bristling all over with spines, lamp shells, edible duck clams that feed the Hindu marketplace, subtly luminous jellyfish of the species Pelagia panopyra, and finally some wonderful Oculina flabelliforma, magnificent sea fans that fashion one of the most luxuriant tree forms in this ocean.
In the midst of this moving vegetation, under arbors of water plants, there raced legions of clumsy articulates, in particular some fanged frog crabs whose carapaces form a slightly rounded triangle, robber crabs exclusive to these waterways, and horrible parthenope crabs whose appearance was repulsive to the eye. One animal no less hideous, which I encountered several times, was the enormous crab that Mr. Darwin observed, to which nature has given the instinct and requisite strength to eat coconuts; it scrambles up trees on the beach and sends the coconuts tumbling; they fracture in their fall and are opened by its powerful pincers. Here, under these clear waves, this crab raced around with matchless agility, while green turtles from the species frequenting the Malabar coast moved sluggishly among the crumbling rocks.
Near seven o’clock we finally surveyed the bank of shellfish, where pearl oysters reproduce by the millions. These valuable mollusks stick to rocks, where they’re strongly attached by a mass of brown filaments that forbids their moving about. In this respect oysters are inferior even to mussels, to whom nature has not denied all talent for locomotion.
The shellfish Meleagrina, that womb for pearls whose valves are nearly equal in size, has the shape of a round shell with thick walls and a very rough exterior. Some of these shells were furrowed with flaky, greenish bands that radiated down from the top. These were the young oysters. The others had rugged black surfaces, measured up to fifteen centimeters in width, and were ten or more years old.
Captain Nemo pointed to this prodigious heap of shellfish, and I saw that these mines were genuinely inexhaustible, since nature’s creative powers are greater than man’s destructive instincts. True to those instincts, Ned Land greedily stuffed the finest of these mollusks into a net he carried at his side.
But we couldn’t stop. We had to follow the captain, who headed down trails seemingly known only to himself. The seafloor rose noticeably, and when I lifted my arms, sometimes they would pass above the surface of the sea. Then the level of the oysterbank would lower unpredictably. Often we went around tall, pointed rocks rising like pyramids. In their dark crevices huge crustaceans, aiming their long legs like heavy artillery, watched us with unblinking eyes, while underfoot there crept millipedes, bloodworms, aricia worms, and annelid worms, whose antennas and tubular tentacles were incredibly long.
Just then a huge cave opened up in our path, hollowed from a picturesque pile of rocks whose smooth heights were completely hung with underwater flora. At first this cave looked pitch-black to me. Inside, the sun’s rays seemed to diminish by degrees. Their hazy transparency was nothing more than drowned light.
Captain Nemo went in. We followed him. My eyes soon grew accustomed to this comparative gloom. I distinguished the unpredictably contoured springings of a vault, supported by natural pillars firmly based on a granite foundation, like the weighty columns of Tuscan architecture. Why had our incomprehensible guide taken us into the depths of this underwater crypt? I would soon find out.
After going down a fairly steep slope, our feet trod the floor of a sort of circular pit. There Captain Nemo stopped, and his hand indicated an object that I hadn’t yet noticed.
It was an oyster of extraordinary dimensions, a titanic giant clam, a holy-water font that could have held a whole lake, a basin more than two meters wide, hence even bigger than the one adorning the Nautilus’s lounge.
I approached this phenomenal mollusk. Its mass of filaments attached it to a table of granite, and there it grew by itself in the midst of the cave’s calm waters. I estimated the weight of this giant clam at 300 kilograms. Hence such an oyster held fifteen kilos of meat, and you’d need the stomach of King Gargantua to eat a couple dozen.
Captain Nemo was obviously familiar with this bivalve’s existence. This wasn’t the first time he’d paid it a visit, and I thought his sole reason for leading us to this locality was to show us a natural curiosity. I was mistaken. Captain Nemo had an explicit personal interest in checking on the current condition of this giant clam.
The mollusk’s two valves were partly open. The captain approached and stuck his dagger vertically between the shells to discourage any ideas about closing; then with his hands he raised the fringed, membrane-filled tunic that made up the animal’s mantle.
There, between its leaflike folds, I saw a loose pearl as big as a coconut. Its globular shape, perfect clarity, and wonderful orient made it a jewel of incalculable value. Carried away by curiosity, I stretched out my hand to take it, weigh it, fondle it! But the captain stopped me, signaled no, removed his dagger in one swift motion, and let the two valves snap shut.
I then understood Captain Nemo’s intent. By leaving the pearl buried beneath the giant clam’s mantle, he allowed it to grow imperceptibly. With each passing year the mollusk’s secretions added new concentric layers. The captain alone was familiar with the cave where this wonderful fruit of nature was “ripening”; he alone reared it, so to speak, in order to transfer it one day to his dearly beloved museum. Perhaps, following the examples of oyster farmers in China and India, he had even predetermined the creation of this pearl by sticking under the mollusk’s folds some piece of glass or metal that was gradually covered with mother-of-pearl. In any case, comparing this pearl to others I already knew about, and to those shimmering in the captain’s collection, I estimated that it was worth at least 10,000,000 francs. It was a superb natural curiosity rather than a luxurious piece of jewelry, because I don’t know of any female ear that could handle it.
Our visit to this opulent giant clam came to an end. Captain Nemo left the cave, and we climbed back up the bank of shellfish in the midst of these clear waters not yet disturbed by divers at work.
We walked by ourselves, genuine loiterers stopping or straying as our fancies dictated. For my part, I was no longer worried about those dangers my imagination had so ridiculously exaggerated. The shallows drew noticeably closer to the surface of the sea, and soon, walking in only a meter of water, my head passed well above the level of the ocean. Conseil rejoined me, and gluing his huge copper capsule to mine, his eyes gave me a friendly greeting. But this lofty plateau measured only a few fathoms, and soon we reentered Our Element. I think I’ve now earned the right to dub it that.
Ten minutes later, Captain Nemo stopped suddenly. I thought he’d called a halt so that we could turn and start back. No. With a gesture he ordered us to crouch beside him at the foot of a wide crevice. His hand motioned toward a spot within the liquid mass, and I looked carefully.
Five meters away a shadow appeared and dropped to the seafloor. The alarming idea of sharks crossed my mind. But I was mistaken, and once again we didn’t have to deal with monsters of the deep.
It was a man, a living man, a black Indian fisherman, a poor devil who no doubt had come to gather what he could before harvest time. I saw the bottom of his dinghy, moored a few feet above his head. He would dive and go back up in quick succession. A stone cut in the shape of a sugar loaf, which he gripped between his feet while a rope connected it to his boat, served to lower him more quickly to the ocean floor. This was the extent of his equipment. Arriving on the seafloor at a depth of about five meters, he fell to his knees and stuffed his sack with shellfish gathered at random. Then he went back up, emptied his sack, pulled up his stone, and started all over again, the whole process lasting only thirty seconds.
This diver didn’t see us. A shadow cast by our crag hid us from his view. And besides, how could this poor Indian ever have guessed that human beings, creatures like himself, were near him under the waters, eavesdropping on his movements, not missing a single detail of his fishing!
So he went up and down several times. He gathered only about ten shellfish per dive, because he had to tear them from the banks where each clung with its tough mass of filaments. And how many of these oysters for which he risked his life would have no pearl in them!
I observed him with great care. His movements were systematically executed, and for half an hour no danger seemed to threaten him. So I had gotten used to the sight of this fascinating fishing when all at once, just as the Indian was kneeling on the seafloor, I saw him make a frightened gesture, stand, and gather himself to spring back to the surface of the waves.
I understood his fear. A gigantic shadow appeared above the poor diver. It was a shark of huge size, moving in diagonally, eyes ablaze, jaws wide open!
I was speechless with horror, unable to make a single movement.
With one vigorous stroke of its fins, the voracious animal shot toward the Indian, who jumped aside and avoided the shark’s bite but not the thrashing of its tail, because that tail struck him across the chest and stretched him out on the seafloor.
This scene lasted barely a few seconds. The shark returned, rolled over on its back, and was getting ready to cut the Indian in half, when Captain Nemo, who was stationed beside me, suddenly stood up. Then he strode right toward the monster, dagger in hand, ready to fight it at close quarters.
Just as it was about to snap up the poor fisherman, the man-eater saw its new adversary, repositioned itself on its belly, and headed swiftly toward him.
I can see Captain Nemo’s bearing to this day. Bracing himself, he waited for the fearsome man-eater with wonderful composure, and when the latter rushed at him, the captain leaped aside with prodigious quickness, avoided a collision, and sank his dagger into its belly. But that wasn’t the end of the story. A dreadful battle was joined.
The shark bellowed, so to speak. Blood was pouring into the waves from its wounds. The sea was dyed red, and through this opaque liquid I could see nothing else.
Nothing else until the moment when, through a rift in the clouds, I saw the daring captain clinging to one of the animal’s fins, fighting the monster at close quarters, belaboring his enemy’s belly with stabs of the dagger yet unable to deliver the deciding thrust, in other words, a direct hit to the heart. In its struggles the man-eater churned the watery mass so furiously, its eddies threatened to knock me over.
I wanted to run to the captain’s rescue. But I was transfixed with horror, unable to move.
I stared, wild-eyed. I saw the fight enter a new phase. The captain fell to the seafloor, toppled by the enormous mass weighing him down. Then the shark’s jaws opened astoundingly wide, like a pair of industrial shears, and that would have been the finish of Captain Nemo had not Ned Land, quick as thought, rushed forward with his harpoon and driven its dreadful point into the shark’s underside.
The waves were saturated with masses of blood. The waters shook with the movements of the man-eater, which thrashed about with indescribable fury. Ned Land hadn’t missed his target. This was the monster’s death rattle. Pierced to the heart, it was struggling with dreadful spasms whose aftershocks knocked Conseil off his feet.
Meanwhile Ned Land pulled the captain clear. Uninjured, the latter stood up, went right to the Indian, quickly cut the rope binding the man to his stone, took the fellow in his arms, and with a vigorous kick of the heel, rose to the surface of the sea.
The three of us followed him, and a few moments later, miraculously safe, we reached the fisherman’s longboat.
Captain Nemo’s first concern was to revive this unfortunate man. I wasn’t sure he would succeed. I hoped so, since the poor devil hadn’t been under very long. But that stroke from the shark’s tail could have been his deathblow.
Fortunately, after vigorous massaging by Conseil and the captain, I saw the nearly drowned man regain consciousness little by little. He opened his eyes. How startled he must have felt, how frightened even, at seeing four huge, copper craniums leaning over him!
And above all, what must he have thought when Captain Nemo pulled a bag of pearls from a pocket in his diving suit and placed it in the fisherman’s hands? This magnificent benefaction from the Man of the Waters to the poor Indian from Ceylon was accepted by the latter with trembling hands. His bewildered eyes indicated that he didn’t know to what superhuman creatures he owed both his life and his fortune.
At the captain’s signal we returned to the bank of shellfish, and retracing our steps, we walked for half an hour until we encountered the anchor connecting the seafloor with the Nautilus’s skiff.
Back on board, the sailors helped divest us of our heavy copper carapaces.
Captain Nemo’s first words were spoken to the Canadian.
“Thank you, Mr. Land,” he told him.
“Tit for tat, captain,” Ned Land replied. “I owed it to you.”
The ghost of a smile glided across the captain’s lips, and that was all.
“To the Nautilus,” he said.
The longboat flew over the waves. A few minutes later we encountered the shark’s corpse again, floating.
From the black markings on the tips of its fins, I recognized the dreadful Squalus melanopterus from the seas of the East Indies, a variety in the species of sharks proper. It was more than twenty-five feet long; its enormous mouth occupied a third of its body. It was an adult, as could be seen from the six rows of teeth forming an isosceles triangle in its upper jaw.
Conseil looked at it with purely scientific fascination, and I’m sure he placed it, not without good reason, in the class of cartilaginous fish, order Chondropterygia with fixed gills, family Selacia, genus Squalus.
While I was contemplating this inert mass, suddenly a dozen of these voracious melanoptera appeared around our longboat; but, paying no attention to us, they pounced on the corpse and quarreled over every scrap of it.
By 8:30 we were back on board the Nautilus.
There I fell to thinking about the incidents that marked our excursion over the Mannar oysterbank. Two impressions inevitably stood out. One concerned Captain Nemo’s matchless bravery, the other his devotion to a human being, a representative of that race from which he had fled beneath the seas. In spite of everything, this strange man hadn’t yet succeeded in completely stifling his heart.
When I shared these impressions with him, he answered me in a tone touched with emotion:
“That Indian, professor, lives in the land of the oppressed, and I am to this day, and will be until my last breath, a native of that same land!”
The Red Sea
DURING THE DAY of January 29, the island of Ceylon disappeared below the horizon, and at a speed of twenty miles per hour, the Nautilus glided into the labyrinthine channels that separate the Maldive and Laccadive Islands. It likewise hugged Kiltan Island, a shore of madreporic origin discovered by Vasco da Gama in 1499 and one of nineteen chief islands in the island group of the Laccadives, located between latitude 10 degrees and 14 degrees 30’ north, and between longitude 50 degrees 72’ and 69 degrees east.
By then we had fared 16,220 miles, or 7,500 leagues, from our starting point in the seas of Japan.
The next day, January 30, when the Nautilus rose to the surface of the ocean, there was no more land in sight. Setting its course to the north-northwest, the ship headed toward the Gulf of Oman, carved out between Arabia and the Indian peninsula and providing access to the Persian Gulf.
This was obviously a blind alley with no possible outlet. So where was Captain Nemo taking us? I was unable to say. Which didn’t satisfy the Canadian, who that day asked me where we were going.
“We’re going, Mr. Ned, where the captain’s fancy takes us.”
“His fancy,” the Canadian replied, “won’t take us very far. The Persian Gulf has no outlet, and if we enter those waters, it won’t be long before we return in our tracks.”
“All right, we’ll return, Mr. Land, and after the Persian Gulf, if the Nautilus wants to visit the Red Sea, the Strait of Bab el Mandeb is still there to let us in!”
“I don’t have to tell you, sir,” Ned Land replied, “that the Red Sea is just as landlocked as the gulf, since the Isthmus of Suez hasn’t been cut all the way through yet; and even if it was, a boat as secretive as ours wouldn’t risk a canal intersected with locks. So the Red Sea won’t be our way back to Europe either.”
“But I didn’t say we’d return to Europe.”
“What do you figure, then?”
“I figure that after visiting these unusual waterways of Arabia and Egypt, the Nautilus will go back down to the Indian Ocean, perhaps through Mozambique Channel, perhaps off the Mascarene Islands, and then make for the Cape of Good Hope.”
“And once we’re at the Cape of Good Hope?” the Canadian asked with typical persistence.
“Well then, we’ll enter that Atlantic Ocean with which we aren’t yet familiar. What’s wrong, Ned my friend? Are you tired of this voyage under the seas? Are you bored with the constantly changing sight of these underwater wonders? Speaking for myself, I’ll be extremely distressed to see the end of a voyage so few men will ever have a chance to make.”
“But don’t you realize, Professor Aronnax,” the Canadian replied, “that soon we’ll have been imprisoned for three whole months aboard this Nautilus?”
“No, Ned, I didn’t realize it, I don’t want to realize it, and I don’t keep track of every day and every hour.”
“But when will it be over?”
“In its appointed time. Meanwhile there’s nothing we can do about it, and our discussions are futile. My gallant Ned, if you come and tell me, ‘A chance to escape is available to us,’ then I’ll discuss it with you. But that isn’t the case, and in all honesty, I don’t think Captain Nemo ever ventures into European seas.”
This short dialogue reveals that in my mania for the Nautilus, I was turning into the spitting image of its commander.
As for Ned Land, he ended our talk in his best speechifying style: “That’s all fine and dandy. But in my humble opinion, a life in jail is a life without joy.”
For four days until February 3, the Nautilus inspected the Gulf of Oman at various speeds and depths. It seemed to be traveling at random, as if hesitating over which course to follow, but it never crossed the Tropic of Cancer.
After leaving this gulf we raised Muscat for an instant, the most important town in the country of Oman. I marveled at its strange appearance in the midst of the black rocks surrounding it, against which the white of its houses and forts stood out sharply. I spotted the rounded domes of its mosques, the elegant tips of its minarets, and its fresh, leafy terraces. But it was only a fleeting vision, and the Nautilus soon sank beneath the dark waves of these waterways.
Then our ship went along at a distance of six miles from the Arabic coasts of Mahra and Hadhramaut, their undulating lines of mountains relieved by a few ancient ruins. On February 5 we finally put into the Gulf of Aden, a genuine funnel stuck into the neck of Bab el Mandeb and bottling these Indian waters in the Red Sea.
On February 6 the Nautilus cruised in sight of the city of Aden, perched on a promontory connected to the continent by a narrow isthmus, a sort of inaccessible Gibraltar whose fortifications the English rebuilt after capturing it in 1839. I glimpsed the octagonal minarets of this town, which used to be one of the wealthiest, busiest commercial centers along this coast, as the Arab historian Idrisi tells it.
I was convinced that when Captain Nemo reached this point, he would back out again; but I was mistaken, and much to my surprise, he did nothing of the sort.
The next day, February 7, we entered the Strait of Bab el Mandeb, whose name means “Gate of Tears” in the Arabic language. Twenty miles wide, it’s only fifty-two kilometers long, and with the Nautilus launched at full speed, clearing it was the work of barely an hour. But I didn’t see a thing, not even Perim Island where the British government built fortifications to strengthen Aden’s position. There were many English and French steamers plowing this narrow passageway, liners going from Suez to Bombay, Calcutta, Melbourne, Réunion Island, and Mauritius; far too much traffic for the Nautilus to make an appearance on the surface. So it wisely stayed in midwater.
Finally, at noon, we were plowing the waves of the Red Sea.
The Red Sea: that great lake so famous in biblical traditions, seldom replenished by rains, fed by no important rivers, continually drained by a high rate of evaporation, its water level dropping a meter and a half every year! If it were fully landlocked like a lake, this odd gulf might dry up completely; on this score it’s inferior to its neighbors, the Caspian Sea and the Dead Sea, whose levels lower only to the point where their evaporation exactly equals the amounts of water they take to their hearts.
This Red Sea is 2,600 kilometers long with an average width of 240. In the days of the
Ptolemies and the Roman emperors, it was a great commercial artery for the world, and when its isthmus has been cut through, it will completely regain that bygone importance that the Suez railways have already brought back in part.
I would not even attempt to understand the whim that induced Captain Nemo to take us into this gulf. But I wholeheartedly approved of the Nautilus’s entering it. It adopted a medium pace, sometimes staying on the surface, sometimes diving to avoid some ship, and so I could observe both the inside and topside of this highly unusual sea.
On February 8, as early as the first hours of daylight, Mocha appeared before us: a town now in ruins, whose walls would collapse at the mere sound of a cannon, and which shelters a few leafy date trees here and there. This once-important city used to contain six public marketplaces plus twenty-six mosques, and its walls, protected by fourteen forts, fashioned a three-kilometer girdle around it.
Then the Nautilus drew near the beaches of Africa, where the sea is considerably deeper. There, through the open panels and in a midwater of crystal clarity, our ship enabled us to study wonderful bushes of shining coral and huge chunks of rock wrapped in splendid green furs of algae and fucus. What an indescribable sight, and what a variety of settings and scenery where these reefs and volcanic islands leveled off by the Libyan coast! But soon the Nautilus hugged the eastern shore where these tree forms appeared in all their glory. This was off the coast of Tihama, and there such zoophyte displays not only flourished below sea level but they also fashioned picturesque networks that unreeled as high as ten fathoms above it; the latter were more whimsical but less colorful than the former, which kept their bloom thanks to the moist vitality of the waters.
How many delightful hours I spent in this way at the lounge window! How many new specimens of underwater flora and fauna I marveled at beneath the light of our electric beacon! Mushroom-shaped fungus coral, some slate-colored sea anemone including the species Thalassianthus aster among others, organ-pipe coral arranged like flutes and just begging for a puff from the god Pan, shells unique to this sea that dwell in madreporic cavities and whose bases are twisted into squat spirals, and finally a thousand samples of a polypary I hadn’t observed until then: the common sponge.
First division in the polyp group, the class Spongiaria has been created by scientists precisely for this unusual exhibit whose usefulness is beyond dispute. The sponge is definitely not a plant, as some naturalists still believe, but an animal of the lowest order, a polypary inferior even to coral. Its animal nature isn’t in doubt, and we can’t accept even the views of the ancients, who regarded it as halfway between plant and animal. But I must say that naturalists are not in agreement on the structural mode of sponges. For some it’s a polypary, and for others, such as Professor Milne-Edwards, it’s a single, solitary individual.
The class Spongiaria contains about 300 species that are encountered in a large number of seas and even in certain streams, where they’ve been given the name freshwater sponges. But their waters of choice are the Red Sea and the Mediterranean near the Greek Islands or the coast of Syria. These waters witness the reproduction and growth of soft, delicate bath sponges whose prices run as high as 150 francs apiece: the yellow sponge from Syria, the horn sponge from Barbary, etc. But since I had no hope of studying these zoophytes in the seaports of the Levant, from which we were separated by the insuperable Isthmus of Suez, I had to be content with observing them in the waters of the Red Sea.
So I called Conseil to my side, while at an average depth of eight to nine meters, the Nautilus slowly skimmed every beautiful rock on the easterly coast.
There sponges grew in every shape, globular, stalklike, leaflike, fingerlike. With reasonable accuracy, they lived up to their nicknames of basket sponges, chalice sponges, distaff sponges, elkhorn sponges, lion’s paws, peacock’s tails, and Neptune’s gloves—designations bestowed on them by fishermen, more poetically inclined than scientists. A gelatinous, semifluid substance coated the fibrous tissue of these sponges, and from this tissue there escaped a steady trickle of water that, after carrying sustenance to each cell, was being expelled by a contracting movement. This jellylike substance disappears when the polyp dies, emitting ammonia as it rots. Finally nothing remains but the fibers, either gelatinous or made of horn, that constitute your household sponge, which takes on a russet hue and is used for various tasks depending on its degree of elasticity, permeability, or resistance to saturation.
These polyparies were sticking to rocks, shells of mollusks, and even the stalks of water plants. They adorned the smallest crevices, some sprawling, others standing or hanging like coral outgrowths. I told Conseil that sponges are fished up in two ways, either by dragnet or by hand. The latter method calls for the services of a diver, but it’s preferable because it spares the polypary’s tissue, leaving it with a much higher market value.
Other zoophytes swarming near the sponges consisted chiefly of a very elegant species of jellyfish; mollusks were represented by varieties of squid that, according to Professor Orbigny, are unique to the Red Sea; and reptiles by virgata turtles belonging to the genus Chelonia, which furnished our table with a dainty but wholesome dish.
As for fish, they were numerous and often remarkable. Here are the ones that the Nautilus’s nets most frequently hauled on board: rays, including spotted rays that were oval in shape and brick red in color, their bodies strewn with erratic blue speckles and identifiable by their jagged double stings, silver-backed skates, common stingrays with stippled tails, butterfly rays that looked like huge two-meter cloaks flapping at middepth, toothless guitarfish that were a type of cartilaginous fish closer to the shark, trunkfish known as dromedaries that were one and a half feet long and had humps ending in backward-curving stings, serpentine moray eels with silver tails and bluish backs plus brown pectorals trimmed in gray piping, a species of butterfish called the fiatola decked out in thin gold stripes and the three colors of the French flag, Montague blennies four decimeters long, superb jacks handsomely embellished by seven black crosswise streaks with blue and yellow fins plus gold and silver scales, snooks, standard mullet with yellow heads, parrotfish, wrasse, triggerfish, gobies, etc., plus a thousand other fish common to the oceans we had already crossed.
On February 9 the Nautilus cruised in the widest part of the Red Sea, measuring 190 miles straight across from Suakin on the west coast to Qunfidha on the east coast.
At noon that day after our position fix, Captain Nemo climbed onto the platform, where I happened to be. I vowed not to let him go below again without at least sounding him out on his future plans. As soon as he saw me, he came over, graciously offered me a cigar, and said to me:
“Well, professor, are you pleased with this Red Sea? Have you seen enough of its hidden wonders, its fish and zoophytes, its gardens of sponges and forests of coral? Have you glimpsed the towns built on its shores?”
“Yes, Captain Nemo,” I replied, “and the Nautilus is wonderfully suited to this whole survey. Ah, it’s a clever boat!”
“Yes, sir, clever, daring, and invulnerable! It fears neither the Red Sea’s dreadful storms nor its currents and reefs.”
“Indeed,” I said, “this sea is mentioned as one of the worst, and in the days of the ancients, if I’m not mistaken, it had an abominable reputation.”
“Thoroughly abominable, Professor Aronnax. The Greek and Latin historians can find nothing to say in its favor, and the Greek geographer Strabo adds that it’s especially rough during the rainy season and the period of summer prevailing winds. The Arab Idrisi, referring to it by the name Gulf of Colzoum, relates that ships perished in large numbers on its sandbanks and that no one risked navigating it by night. This, he claims, is a sea subject to fearful hurricanes, strewn with inhospitable islands, and ‘with nothing good to offer,’ either on its surface or in its depths. As a matter of fact, the same views can also be found in Arrian, Agatharchides, and Artemidorus.”
“One can easily see,” I answered, “that those historians didn’t navigate aboard the Nautilus.”
“Indeed,” the captain replied with a smile, “and in this respect, the moderns aren’t much farther along than the ancients. It took many centuries to discover the mechanical power of steam! Who knows whether we’ll see a second Nautilus within the next 100 years! Progress is slow, Professor Aronnax.”
“It’s true,” I replied. “Your ship is a century ahead of its time, perhaps several centuries. It would be most unfortunate if such a secret were to die with its inventor!”
Captain Nemo did not reply. After some minutes of silence:
“We were discussing,” he said, “the views of ancient historians on the dangers of navigating this Red Sea?”
“True,” I replied. “But weren’t their fears exaggerated?”
“Yes and no, Professor Aronnax,” answered Captain Nemo, who seemed to know “his Red Sea” by heart. “To a modern ship, well rigged, solidly constructed, and in control of its course thanks to obedient steam, some conditions are no longer hazardous that offered all sorts of dangers to the vessels of the ancients. Picture those early navigators venturing forth in sailboats built from planks lashed together with palm-tree ropes, caulked with powdered resin, and coated with dogfish grease. They didn’t even have instruments for taking their bearings, they went by guesswork in the midst of currents they barely knew. Under such conditions, shipwrecks had to be numerous. But nowadays steamers providing service between Suez and the South Seas have nothing to fear from the fury of this gulf, despite the contrary winds of its monsoons. Their captains and passengers no longer prepare for departure with sacrifices to placate the gods, and after returning, they don’t traipse in wreaths and gold ribbons to say thanks at the local temple.”
“Agreed,” I said. “And steam seems to have killed off all gratitude in seamen’s hearts. But since you seem to have made a special study of this sea, captain, can you tell me how it got its name?”
“Many explanations exist on the subject, Professor Aronnax. Would you like to hear the views of one chronicler in the 14th century?”
“This fanciful fellow claims the sea was given its name after the crossing of the Israelites, when the Pharaoh perished in those waves that came together again at Moses’ command:
To mark that miraculous sequel, the sea turned a red without equal.
Thus no other course would do but to name it for its hue.”
“An artistic explanation, Captain Nemo,” I replied, “but I’m unable to rest content with it. So I’ll ask you for your own personal views.”
“Here they come. To my thinking, Professor Aronnax, this ‘Red Sea’ designation must be regarded as a translation of the Hebrew word ‘Edrom,’ and if the ancients gave it that name, it was because of the unique color of its waters.”
“Until now, however, I’ve seen only clear waves, without any unique hue.”
“Surely, but as we move ahead to the far end of this gulf, you’ll note its odd appearance. I recall seeing the bay of El Tur completely red, like a lake of blood.”
“And you attribute this color to the presence of microscopic algae?”
“Yes. It’s a purplish, mucilaginous substance produced by those tiny buds known by the name trichodesmia, 40,000 of which are needed to occupy the space of one square millimeter. Perhaps you’ll encounter them when we reach El Tur.”
“Hence, Captain Nemo, this isn’t the first time you’ve gone through the Red Sea aboard the Nautilus?”
“Then, since you’ve already mentioned the crossing of the Israelites and the catastrophe that befell the Egyptians, I would ask if you’ve ever discovered any traces under the waters of that great historic event?”
“No, professor, and for an excellent reason.”
“It’s because that same locality where Moses crossed with all his people is now so clogged with sand, camels can barely get their legs wet. You can understand that my Nautilus wouldn’t have enough water for itself.”
“And that locality is . . . ?” I asked.
“That locality lies a little above Suez in a sound that used to form a deep estuary when the Red Sea stretched as far as the Bitter Lakes. Now, whether or not their crossing was literally miraculous, the Israelites did cross there in returning to the Promised Land, and the Pharaoh’s army did perish at precisely that locality. So I think that excavating those sands would bring to light a great many weapons and tools of Egyptian origin.”
“Obviously,” I replied. “And for the sake of archaeology, let’s hope that sooner or later such excavations do take place, once new towns are settled on the isthmus after the Suez Canal has been cut through—a canal, by the way, of little use to a ship such as the Nautilus!”
“Surely, but of great use to the world at large,” Captain Nemo said. “The ancients well understood the usefulness to commerce of connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, but they never dreamed of cutting a canal between the two, and instead they picked the Nile as their link. If we can trust tradition, it was probably Egypt’s King Sesostris who started digging the canal needed to join the Nile with the Red Sea. What’s certain is that in 615 B.C. King Necho II was hard at work on a canal that was fed by Nile water and ran through the Egyptian plains opposite Arabia. This canal could be traveled in four days, and it was so wide, two triple-tiered galleys could pass through it abreast. Its construction was continued by Darius the Great, son of Hystaspes, and probably completed by King Ptolemy II. Strabo saw it used for shipping; but the weakness of its slope between its starting point, near Bubastis, and the Red Sea left it navigable only a few months out of the year. This canal served commerce until the century of Rome’s Antonine emperors; it was then abandoned and covered with sand, subsequently reinstated by Arabia’s Caliph Omar I, and finally filled in for good in 761 or 762 A.D. by Caliph Al-Mansur, in an effort to prevent supplies from reaching Mohammed ibn Abdullah, who had rebelled against him. During his Egyptian campaign, your General Napoleon Bonaparte discovered traces of this old canal in the Suez desert, and when the tide caught him by surprise, he wellnigh perished just a few hours before rejoining his regiment at Hadjaroth, the very place where Moses had pitched camp 3,300 years before him.”
“Well, captain, what the ancients hesitated to undertake, Mr. de Lesseps is now finishing up; his joining of these two seas will shorten the route from Cadiz to the East Indies by 9,000 kilometers, and he’ll soon change Africa into an immense island.”
“Yes, Professor Aronnax, and you have every right to be proud of your fellow countryman. Such a man brings a nation more honor than the greatest commanders! Like so many others, he began with difficulties and setbacks, but he triumphed because he has the volunteer spirit. And it’s sad to think that this deed, which should have been an international deed, which would have insured that any administration went down in history, will succeed only through the efforts of one man. So all hail to Mr. de Lesseps!”
“Yes, all hail to that great French citizen,” I replied, quite startled by how emphatically Captain Nemo had just spoken.
“Unfortunately,” he went on, “I can’t take you through that Suez Canal, but the day after tomorrow, you’ll be able to see the long jetties of Port Said when we’re in the Mediterranean.”
“In the Mediterranean!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, professor. Does that amaze you?”
“What amazes me is thinking we’ll be there the day after tomorrow.”
“Yes, captain, although since I’ve been aboard your vessel, I should have formed the habit of not being amazed by anything!”
“But what is it that startles you?”
“The thought of how hideously fast the Nautilus will need to go, if it’s to double the Cape of Good Hope, circle around Africa, and lie in the open Mediterranean by the day after tomorrow.”
“And who says it will circle Africa, professor? What’s this talk about doubling the Cape of Good Hope?”
“But unless the Nautilus navigates on dry land and crosses over the isthmus—”
“Or under it, Professor Aronnax.”
“Surely,” Captain Nemo replied serenely. “Under that tongue of land, nature long ago made what man today is making on its surface.”
“What! There’s a passageway?”
“Yes, an underground passageway that I’ve named the Arabian Tunnel. It starts below Suez and leads to the Bay of Pelusium.”
“But isn’t that isthmus only composed of quicksand?”
“To a certain depth. But at merely fifty meters, one encounters a firm foundation of rock.”
“And it’s by luck that you discovered this passageway?” I asked, more and more startled.
“Luck plus logic, professor, and logic even more than luck.”
“Captain, I hear you, but I can’t believe my ears.”
“Oh, sir! The old saying still holds good: Aures habent et non audient!* Not only does this passageway exist, but I’ve taken advantage of it on several occasions. Without it, I wouldn’t have ventured today into such a blind alley as the Red Sea.”
*Latin: “They have ears but hear not.” Ed.
“Is it indiscreet to ask how you discovered this tunnel?”
“Sir,” the captain answered me, “there can be no secrets between men who will never leave each other.”
I ignored this innuendo and waited for Captain Nemo’s explanation.
“Professor,” he told me, “the simple logic of the naturalist led me to discover this passageway, and I alone am familiar with it. I’d noted that in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean there exist a number of absolutely identical species of fish: eels, butterfish, greenfish, bass, jewelfish, flying fish. Certain of this fact, I wondered if there weren’t a connection between the two seas. If there were, its underground current had to go from the Red Sea to the Mediterranean simply because of their difference in level. So I caught a large number of fish in the vicinity of Suez. I slipped copper rings around their tails and tossed them back into the sea. A few months later off the coast of Syria, I recaptured a few specimens of my fish, adorned with their telltale rings. So this proved to me that some connection existed between the two seas. I searched for it with my Nautilus, I discovered it, I ventured into it; and soon, professor, you also will have cleared my Arabic tunnel!”
THE SAME DAY, I reported to Conseil and Ned Land that part of the foregoing conversation directly concerning them. When I told them we would be lying in Mediterranean waters within two days, Conseil clapped his hands, but the Canadian shrugged his shoulders.
“An underwater tunnel!” he exclaimed. “A connection between two seas! Who ever heard of such malarkey!”
“Ned my friend,” Conseil replied, “had you ever heard of the Nautilus? No, yet here it is! So don’t shrug your shoulders so blithely, and don’t discount something with the feeble excuse that you’ve never heard of it.”
“We’ll soon see!” Ned Land shot back, shaking his head. “After all, I’d like nothing better than to believe in your captain’s little passageway, and may Heaven grant it really does take us to the Mediterranean.”
The same evening, at latitude 21 degrees 30’ north, the Nautilus was afloat on the surface of the sea and drawing nearer to the Arab coast. I spotted Jidda, an important financial center for Egypt, Syria, Turkey, and the East Indies. I could distinguish with reasonable clarity the overall effect of its buildings, the ships made fast along its wharves, and those bigger vessels whose draft of water required them to drop anchor at the port’s offshore mooring. The sun, fairly low on the horizon, struck full force on the houses in this town, accenting their whiteness. Outside the city limits, some wood or reed huts indicated the quarter where the bedouins lived.
Soon Jidda faded into the shadows of evening, and the Nautilus went back beneath the mildly phosphorescent waters.
The next day, February 10, several ships appeared, running on our opposite tack. The Nautilus resumed its underwater navigating; but at the moment of our noon sights, the sea was deserted and the ship rose again to its waterline.
With Ned and Conseil, I went to sit on the platform. The coast to the east looked like a slightly blurred mass in a damp fog.
Leaning against the sides of the skiff, we were chatting of one thing and another, when Ned Land stretched his hand toward a point in the water, saying to me:
“See anything out there, professor?”
“No, Ned,” I replied, “but you know I don’t have your eyes.”
“Take a good look,” Ned went on. “There, ahead to starboard, almost level with the beacon! Don’t you see a mass that seems to be moving around?”
“Right,” I said after observing carefully, “I can make out something like a long, blackish object on the surface of the water.”
“A second Nautilus?” Conseil said.
“No,” the Canadian replied, “unless I’m badly mistaken, that’s some marine animal.”
“Are there whales in the Red Sea?” Conseil asked.
“Yes, my boy,” I replied, “they’re sometimes found here.”
“That’s no whale,” continued Ned Land, whose eyes never strayed from the object they had sighted. “We’re old chums, whales and I, and I couldn’t mistake their little ways.”
“Let’s wait and see,” Conseil said. “The Nautilus is heading that direction, and we’ll soon know what we’re in for.”
In fact, that blackish object was soon only a mile away from us. It looked like a huge reef stranded in midocean. What was it? I still couldn’t make up my mind.
“Oh, it’s moving off! It’s diving!” Ned Land exclaimed. “Damnation! What can that animal be? It doesn’t have a forked tail like baleen whales or sperm whales, and its fins look like sawed-off limbs.”
“But in that case—” I put in.
“Good lord,” the Canadian went on, “it’s rolled over on its back, and it’s raising its breasts in the air!”
“It’s a siren!” Conseil exclaimed. “With all due respect to master, it’s an actual mermaid!”
That word “siren” put me back on track, and I realized that the animal belonged to the order Sirenia: marine creatures that legends have turned into mermaids, half woman, half fish.
“No,” I told Conseil, “that’s no mermaid, it’s an unusual creature of which only a few specimens are left in the Red Sea. That’s a dugong.”
“Order Sirenia, group Pisciforma, subclass Monodelphia, class Mammalia, branch Vertebrata,” Conseil replied.
And when Conseil has spoken, there’s nothing else to be said.
Meanwhile Ned Land kept staring. His eyes were gleaming with desire at the sight of that animal. His hands were ready to hurl a harpoon. You would have thought he was waiting for the right moment to jump overboard and attack the creature in its own element.
“Oh, sir,” he told me in a voice trembling with excitement, “I’ve never killed anything like that!”
His whole being was concentrated in this last word.
Just then Captain Nemo appeared on the platform. He spotted the dugong. He understood the Canadian’s frame of mind and addressed him directly:
“If you held a harpoon, Mr. Land, wouldn’t your hands be itching to put it to work?”
“And just for one day, would it displease you to return to your fisherman’s trade and add this cetacean to the list of those you’ve already hunted down?”
“It wouldn’t displease me one bit.”
“All right, you can try your luck!”
“Thank you, sir,” Ned Land replied, his eyes ablaze.
“Only,” the captain went on, “I urge you to aim carefully at this animal, in your own personal interest.”
“Is the dugong dangerous to attack?” I asked, despite the Canadian’s shrug of the shoulders.
“Yes, sometimes,” the captain replied. “These animals have been known to turn on their assailants and capsize their longboats. But with Mr. Land that danger isn’t to be feared. His eye is sharp, his arm is sure. If I recommend that he aim carefully at this dugong, it’s because the animal is justly regarded as fine game, and I know Mr. Land doesn’t despise a choice morsel.”
“Aha!” the Canadian put in. “This beast offers the added luxury of being good to eat?”
“Yes, Mr. Land. Its flesh is actual red meat, highly prized, and set aside throughout Malaysia for the tables of aristocrats. Accordingly, this excellent animal has been hunted so bloodthirstily that, like its manatee relatives, it has become more and more scarce.”
“In that case, captain,” Conseil said in all seriousness, “on the offchance that this creature might be the last of its line, wouldn’t it be advisable to spare its life, in the interests of science?”
“Maybe,” the Canadian answered, “it would be better to hunt it down, in the interests of mealtime.”
“Then proceed, Mr. Land,” Captain Nemo replied.
Just then, as mute and emotionless as ever, seven crewmen climbed onto the platform. One carried a harpoon and line similar to those used in whale fishing. Its deck paneling opened, the skiff was wrenched from its socket and launched to sea. Six rowers sat on the thwarts, and the coxswain took the tiller. Ned, Conseil, and I found seats in the stern.
“Aren’t you coming, captain?” I asked.
“No, sir, but I wish you happy hunting.”
The skiff pulled clear, and carried off by its six oars, it headed swiftly toward the dugong, which by then was floating two miles from the Nautilus.
Arriving within a few cable lengths of the cetacean, our longboat slowed down, and the sculls dipped noiselessly into the tranquil waters. Harpoon in hand, Ned Land went to take his stand in the skiff’s bow. Harpoons used for hunting whales are usually attached to a very long rope that pays out quickly when the wounded animal drags it with him. But this rope measured no more than about ten fathoms, and its end had simply been fastened to a small barrel that, while floating, would indicate the dugong’s movements beneath the waters.
I stood up and could clearly observe the Canadian’s adversary. This dugong—which also boasts the name halicore—closely resembled a manatee. Its oblong body ended in a very long caudal fin and its lateral fins in actual fingers. It differs from the manatee in that its upper jaw is armed with two long, pointed teeth that form diverging tusks on either side.
This dugong that Ned Land was preparing to attack was of colossal dimensions, easily exceeding seven meters in length. It didn’t stir and seemed to be sleeping on the surface of the waves, a circumstance that should have made it easier to capture.
The skiff approached cautiously to within three fathoms of the animal. The oars hung suspended above their rowlocks. I was crouching. His body leaning slightly back, Ned Land brandished his harpoon with expert hands.
Suddenly a hissing sound was audible, and the dugong disappeared. Although the harpoon had been forcefully hurled, it apparently had hit only water.
“Damnation!” exclaimed the furious Canadian. “I missed it!”
“No,” I said, “the animal’s wounded, there’s its blood; but your weapon didn’t stick in its body.”
“My harpoon! Get my harpoon!” Ned Land exclaimed.
The sailors went back to their sculling, and the coxswain steered the longboat toward the floating barrel. We fished up the harpoon, and the skiff started off in pursuit of the animal.
The latter returned from time to time to breathe at the surface of the sea. Its wound hadn’t weakened it because it went with tremendous speed. Driven by energetic arms, the longboat flew on its trail. Several times we got within a few fathoms of it, and the Canadian hovered in readiness to strike; but then the dugong would steal away with a sudden dive, and it proved impossible to overtake the beast.
I’ll let you assess the degree of anger consuming our impatient Ned Land. He hurled at the hapless animal the most potent swearwords in the English language. For my part, I was simply distressed to see this dugong outwit our every scheme.
We chased it unflaggingly for a full hour, and I’d begun to think it would prove too difficult to capture, when the animal got the untimely idea of taking revenge on us, a notion it would soon have cause to regret. It wheeled on the skiff, to assault us in its turn.
This maneuver did not escape the Canadian.
“Watch out!” he said.
The coxswain pronounced a few words in his bizarre language, and no doubt he alerted his men to keep on their guard.
Arriving within twenty feet of the skiff, the dugong stopped, sharply sniffing the air with its huge nostrils, pierced not at the tip of its muzzle but on its topside. Then it gathered itself and sprang at us.
The skiff couldn’t avoid the collision. Half overturned, it shipped a ton or two of water that we had to bail out. But thanks to our skillful coxswain, we were fouled on the bias rather than broadside, so we didn’t capsize. Clinging to the stempost, Ned Land thrust his harpoon again and again into the gigantic animal, which imbedded its teeth in our gunwale and lifted the longboat out of the water as a lion would lift a deer. We were thrown on top of each other, and I have no idea how the venture would have ended had not the Canadian, still thirsting for the beast’s blood, finally pierced it to the heart.
I heard its teeth grind on sheet iron, and the dugong disappeared, taking our harpoon along with it. But the barrel soon popped up on the surface, and a few moments later the animal’s body appeared and rolled over on its back. Our skiff rejoined it, took it in tow, and headed to the Nautilus.
It took pulleys of great strength to hoist this dugong onto the platform. The beast weighed 5,000 kilograms. It was carved up in sight of the Canadian, who remained to watch every detail of the operation. At dinner the same day, my steward served me some slices of this flesh, skillfully dressed by the ship’s cook. I found it excellent, even better than veal if not beef.
The next morning, February 11, the Nautilus’s pantry was enriched by more dainty game. A covey of terns alighted on the Nautilus. They were a species of Sterna nilotica unique to Egypt: beak black, head gray and stippled, eyes surrounded by white dots, back, wings, and tail grayish, belly and throat white, feet red. Also caught were a couple dozen Nile duck, superior-tasting wildfowl whose neck and crown of the head are white speckled with black.
By then the Nautilus had reduced speed. It moved ahead at a saunter, so to speak. I observed that the Red Sea’s water was becoming less salty the closer we got to Suez.
Near five o’clock in the afternoon, we sighted Cape Ras Mohammed to the north. This cape forms the tip of Arabia Petraea, which lies between the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Nautilus entered the Strait of Jubal, which leads to the Gulf of Suez. I could clearly make out a high mountain crowning Ras Mohammed between the two gulfs. It was Mt. Horeb, that biblical Mt. Sinai on whose summit Moses met God face to face, that summit the mind’s eye always pictures as wreathed in lightning.
At six o’clock, sometimes afloat and sometimes submerged, the Nautilus passed well out from El Tur, which sat at the far end of a bay whose waters seemed to be dyed red, as Captain Nemo had already mentioned. Then night fell in the midst of a heavy silence occasionally broken by the calls of pelicans and nocturnal birds, by the sound of surf chafing against rocks, or by the distant moan of a steamer churning the waves of the gulf with noisy blades.
From eight to nine o’clock, the Nautilus stayed a few meters beneath the waters. According to my calculations, we had to be quite close to Suez. Through the panels in the lounge, I spotted rocky bottoms brightly lit by our electric rays. It seemed to me that the strait was getting narrower and narrower.
At 9:15 when our boat returned to the surface, I climbed onto the platform. I was quite impatient to clear Captain Nemo’s tunnel, couldn’t sit still, and wanted to breathe the fresh night air.
Soon, in the shadows, I spotted a pale signal light glimmering a mile away, half discolored by mist.
“A floating lighthouse,” said someone next to me.
I turned and discovered the captain.
“That’s the floating signal light of Suez,” he went on. “It won’t be long before we reach the entrance to the tunnel.”
“It can’t be very easy to enter it.”
“No, sir. Accordingly, I’m in the habit of staying in the pilothouse and directing maneuvers myself. And now if you’ll kindly go below, Professor Aronnax, the Nautilus is about to sink beneath the waves, and it will only return to the surface after we’ve cleared the Arabian Tunnel.”
I followed Captain Nemo. The hatch closed, the ballast tanks filled with water, and the submersible sank some ten meters down.
Just as I was about to repair to my stateroom, the captain stopped me.
“Professor,” he said to me, “would you like to go with me to the wheelhouse?”
“I was afraid to ask,” I replied.
“Come along, then. This way, you’ll learn the full story about this combination underwater and underground navigating.”
Captain Nemo led me to the central companionway. In midstair he opened a door, went along the upper gangways, and arrived at the wheelhouse, which, as you know, stands at one end of the platform.
It was a cabin measuring six feet square and closely resembling those occupied by the helmsmen of steamboats on the Mississippi or Hudson rivers. In the center stood an upright wheel geared to rudder cables running to the Nautilus’s stern. Set in the cabin’s walls were four deadlights, windows of biconvex glass that enabled the man at the helm to see in every direction.
The cabin was dark; but my eyes soon grew accustomed to its darkness and I saw the pilot, a muscular man whose hands rested on the pegs of the wheel. Outside, the sea was brightly lit by the beacon shining behind the cabin at the other end of the platform.
“Now,” Captain Nemo said, “let’s look for our passageway.”
Electric wires linked the pilothouse with the engine room, and from this cabin the captain could simultaneously signal heading and speed to his Nautilus. He pressed a metal button and at once the propeller slowed down significantly.
I stared in silence at the high, sheer wall we were skirting just then, the firm base of the sandy mountains on the coast. For an hour we went along it in this fashion, staying only a few meters away. Captain Nemo never took his eyes off the two concentric circles of the compass hanging in the cabin. At a mere gesture from him, the helmsman would instantly change the Nautilus’s heading.
Standing by the port deadlight, I spotted magnificent coral substructures, zoophytes, algae, and crustaceans with enormous quivering claws that stretched forth from crevices in the rock.
At 10:15 Captain Nemo himself took the helm. Dark and deep, a wide gallery opened ahead of us. The Nautilus was brazenly swallowed up. Strange rumblings were audible along our sides. It was the water of the Red Sea, hurled toward the Mediterranean by the tunnel’s slope. Our engines tried to offer resistance by churning the waves with propeller in reverse, but the Nautilus went with the torrent, as swift as an arrow.
Along the narrow walls of this passageway, I saw only brilliant streaks, hard lines, fiery furrows, all scrawled by our speeding electric light. With my hand I tried to curb the pounding of my heart.
At 10:35 Captain Nemo left the steering wheel and turned to me:
“The Mediterranean,” he told me.
In less than twenty minutes, swept along by the torrent, the Nautilus had just cleared the Isthmus of Suez.
The Greek Islands
AT SUNRISE the next morning, February 12, the Nautilus rose to the surface of the waves.
I rushed onto the platform. The hazy silhouette of Pelusium was outlined three miles to the south. A torrent had carried us from one sea to the other. But although that tunnel was easy to descend, going back up must have been impossible.
Near seven o’clock Ned and Conseil joined me. Those two inseparable companions had slept serenely, utterly unaware of the Nautilus’s feat.
“Well, Mr. Naturalist,” the Canadian asked in a gently mocking tone, “and how about that Mediterranean?”
“We’re floating on its surface, Ned my friend.”
“What!” Conseil put in. “Last night . . . ?”
“Yes, last night, in a matter of minutes, we cleared that insuperable isthmus.”
“I don’t believe a word of it,” the Canadian replied.
“And you’re in the wrong, Mr. Land,” I went on. “That flat coastline curving southward is the coast of Egypt.”
“Tell it to the marines, sir,” answered the stubborn Canadian.
“But if master says so,” Conseil told him, “then so be it.”
“What’s more, Ned,” I said, “Captain Nemo himself did the honors in his tunnel, and I stood beside him in the pilothouse while he steered the Nautilus through that narrow passageway.”
“You hear, Ned?” Conseil said.
“And you, Ned, who have such good eyes,” I added, “you can spot the jetties of Port Said stretching out to sea.”
The Canadian looked carefully.
“Correct,” he said. “You’re right, professor, and your captain’s a superman. We’re in the Mediterranean. Fine. So now let’s have a chat about our little doings, if you please, but in such a way that nobody overhears.”
I could easily see what the Canadian was driving at. In any event, I thought it best to let him have his chat, and we all three went to sit next to the beacon, where we were less exposed to the damp spray from the billows.
“Now, Ned, we’re all ears,” I said. “What have you to tell us?”
“What I’ve got to tell you is very simple,” the Canadian replied. “We’re in Europe, and before Captain Nemo’s whims take us deep into the polar seas or back to Oceania, I say we should leave this Nautilus.”
I confess that such discussions with the Canadian always baffled me. I didn’t want to restrict my companions’ freedom in any way, and yet I had no desire to leave Captain Nemo. Thanks to him and his submersible, I was finishing my undersea research by the day, and I was rewriting my book on the great ocean depths in the midst of its very element. Would I ever again have such an opportunity to observe the ocean’s wonders? Absolutely not! So I couldn’t entertain this idea of leaving the Nautilus before completing our course of inquiry.
“Ned my friend,” I said, “answer me honestly. Are you bored with this ship? Are you sorry that fate has cast you into Captain Nemo’s hands?”
The Canadian paused for a short while before replying. Then, crossing his arms:
“Honestly,” he said, “I’m not sorry about this voyage under the seas. I’ll be glad to have done it, but in order to have done it, it has to finish. That’s my feeling.”
“It will finish, Ned.”
“Where and when?”
“Where? I don’t know. When? I can’t say. Or, rather, I suppose it will be over when these seas have nothing more to teach us. Everything that begins in this world must inevitably come to an end.”
“I think as master does,” Conseil replied, “and it’s extremely possible that after crossing every sea on the globe, Captain Nemo will bid the three of us a fond farewell.”
“Bid us a fond farewell?” the Canadian exclaimed. “You mean beat us to a fare-thee-well!”
“Let’s not exaggerate, Mr. Land,” I went on. “We have nothing to fear from the captain, but neither do I share Conseil’s views. We’re privy to the Nautilus’s secrets, and I don’t expect that its commander, just to set us free, will meekly stand by while we spread those secrets all over the world.”
“But in that case what do you expect?” the Canadian asked.
“That we’ll encounter advantageous conditions for escaping just as readily in six months as now.”
“Great Scott!” Ned Land put in. “And where, if you please, will we be in six months, Mr. Naturalist?”
“Perhaps here, perhaps in China. You know how quickly the Nautilus moves. It crosses oceans like swallows cross the air or express trains continents. It doesn’t fear heavily traveled seas. Who can say it won’t hug the coasts of France, England, or America, where an escape attempt could be carried out just as effectively as here.”
“Professor Aronnax,” the Canadian replied, “your arguments are rotten to the core. You talk way off in the future: ‘We’ll be here, we’ll be there!’ Me, I’m talking about right now: we are here, and we must take advantage of it!”
I was hard pressed by Ned Land’s common sense, and I felt myself losing ground. I no longer knew what arguments to put forward on my behalf.
“Sir,” Ned went on, “let’s suppose that by some impossibility, Captain Nemo offered your freedom to you this very day. Would you accept?”
“I don’t know,” I replied.
“And suppose he adds that this offer he’s making you today won’t ever be repeated, then would you accept?”
I did not reply.
“And what thinks our friend Conseil?” Ned Land asked.
“Your friend Conseil,” the fine lad replied serenely, “has nothing to say for himself. He’s a completely disinterested party on this question. Like his master, like his comrade Ned, he’s a bachelor. Neither wife, parents, nor children are waiting for him back home. He’s in master’s employ, he thinks like master, he speaks like master, and much to his regret, he can’t be counted on to form a majority. Only two persons face each other here: master on one side, Ned Land on the other. That said, your friend Conseil is listening, and he’s ready to keep score.”
I couldn’t help smiling as Conseil wiped himself out of existence. Deep down, the Canadian must have been overjoyed at not having to contend with him.
“Then, sir,” Ned Land said, “since Conseil is no more, we’ll have this discussion between just the two of us. I’ve talked, you’ve listened. What’s your reply?”
It was obvious that the matter had to be settled, and evasions were distasteful to me.
“Ned my friend,” I said, “here’s my reply. You have right on your side and my arguments can’t stand up to yours. It will never do to count on Captain Nemo’s benevolence. The most ordinary good sense would forbid him to set us free. On the other hand, good sense decrees that we take advantage of our first opportunity to leave the Nautilus.”
“Fine, Professor Aronnax, that’s wisely said.”
“But one proviso,” I said, “just one. The opportunity must be the real thing. Our first attempt to escape must succeed, because if it misfires, we won’t get a second chance, and Captain Nemo will never forgive us.”
“That’s also well put,” the Canadian replied. “But your proviso applies to any escape attempt, whether it happens in two years or two days. So this is still the question: if a promising opportunity comes up, we have to grab it.”
“Agreed. And now, Ned, will you tell me what you mean by a promising opportunity?”
“One that leads the Nautilus on a cloudy night within a short distance of some European coast.”
“And you’ll try to get away by swimming?”
“Yes, if we’re close enough to shore and the ship’s afloat on the surface. No, if we’re well out and the ship’s navigating under the waters.”
“And in that event?”
“In that event I’ll try to get hold of the skiff. I know how to handle it. We’ll stick ourselves inside, undo the bolts, and rise to the surface, without the helmsman in the bow seeing a thing.”
“Fine, Ned. Stay on the lookout for such an opportunity, but don’t forget, one slipup will finish us.”
“I won’t forget, sir.”
“And now, Ned, would you like to know my overall thinking on your plan?”
“Gladly, Professor Aronnax.”
“Well then, I think—and I don’t mean ‘I hope’—that your promising opportunity won’t ever arise.”
“Because Captain Nemo recognizes that we haven’t given up all hope of recovering our freedom, and he’ll keep on his guard, above all in seas within sight of the coasts of Europe.”
“I’m of master’s opinion,” Conseil said.
“We’ll soon see,” Ned Land replied, shaking his head with a determined expression.
“And now, Ned Land,” I added, “let’s leave it at that. Not another word on any of this. The day you’re ready, alert us and we’re with you. I turn it all over to you.”
That’s how we ended this conversation, which later was to have such serious consequences. At first, I must say, events seemed to confirm my forecasts, much to the Canadian’s despair. Did Captain Nemo view us with distrust in these heavily traveled seas, or did he simply want to hide from the sight of those ships of every nation that plowed the Mediterranean? I have no idea, but usually he stayed in midwater and well out from any coast. Either the Nautilus surfaced only enough to let its pilothouse emerge, or it slipped away to the lower depths, although, between the Greek Islands and Asia Minor, we didn’t find bottom even at 2,000 meters down.
Accordingly, I became aware of the isle of Karpathos, one of the Sporades Islands, only when Captain Nemo placed his finger over a spot on the world map and quoted me this verse from Virgil:
Est in Carpathio Neptuni gurgite vates
Caeruleus Proteus . . .*
*Latin: “There in King Neptune’s domain by Karpathos, his spokesman / is azure-hued Proteus . . . ” Ed.
It was indeed that bygone abode of Proteus, the old shepherd of King Neptune’s flocks: an island located between Rhodes and Crete, which Greeks now call Karpathos, Italians Scarpanto. Through the lounge window I could see only its granite bedrock.
The next day, February 14, I decided to spend a few hours studying the fish of this island group; but for whatever reason, the panels remained hermetically sealed. After determining the Nautilus’s heading, I noted that it was proceeding toward the ancient island of Crete, also called Candia. At the time I had shipped aboard the Abraham Lincoln, this whole island was in rebellion against its tyrannical rulers, the Ottoman Empire of Turkey. But since then I had absolutely no idea what happened to this revolution, and Captain Nemo, deprived of all contact with the shore, was hardly the man to keep me informed.
So I didn’t allude to this event when, that evening, I chanced to be alone with the captain in the lounge. Besides, he seemed silent and preoccupied. Then, contrary to custom, he ordered that both panels in the lounge be opened, and going from the one to the other, he carefully observed the watery mass. For what purpose? I hadn’t a guess, and for my part, I spent my time studying the fish that passed before my eyes.
Among others I noted that sand goby mentioned by Aristotle and commonly known by the name sea loach, which is encountered exclusively in the salty waters next to the Nile Delta. Near them some semiphosphorescent red porgy rolled by, a variety of gilthead that the Egyptians ranked among their sacred animals, lauding them in religious ceremonies when their arrival in the river’s waters announced the fertile flood season. I also noticed some wrasse known as the tapiro, three decimeters long, bony fish with transparent scales whose bluish gray color is mixed with red spots; they’re enthusiastic eaters of marine vegetables, which gives them an exquisite flavor; hence these tapiro were much in demand by the epicures of ancient Rome, and their entrails were dressed with brains of peacock, tongue of flamingo, and testes of moray to make that divine platter that so enraptured the Roman emperor Vitellius.
Another resident of these seas caught my attention and revived all my memories of antiquity. This was the remora, which travels attached to the bellies of sharks; as the ancients tell it, when these little fish cling to the undersides of a ship, they can bring it to a halt, and by so impeding
Mark Antony’s vessel during the Battle of Actium, one of them facilitated the victory of Augustus Caesar. From such slender threads hang the destinies of nations! I also observed some wonderful snappers belonging to the order Lutianida, sacred fish for the Greeks, who claimed they could drive off sea monsters from the waters they frequent; their Greek name anthias means “flower,” and they live up to it in the play of their colors and in those fleeting reflections that turn their dorsal fins into watered silk; their hues are confined to a gamut of reds, from the pallor of pink to the glow of ruby. I couldn’t take my eyes off these marine wonders, when I was suddenly jolted by an unexpected apparition.
In the midst of the waters, a man appeared, a diver carrying a little leather bag at his belt. It was no corpse lost in the waves. It was a living man, swimming vigorously, sometimes disappearing to breathe at the surface, then instantly diving again.
I turned to Captain Nemo, and in an agitated voice:
“A man! A castaway!” I exclaimed. “We must rescue him at all cost!”
The captain didn’t reply but went to lean against the window.
The man drew near, and gluing his face to the panel, he stared at us.
To my deep astonishment, Captain Nemo gave him a signal. The diver answered with his hand, immediately swam up to the surface of the sea, and didn’t reappear.
“Don’t be alarmed,” the captain told me. “That’s Nicolas from Cape Matapan, nicknamed ‘Il Pesce.’* He’s well known throughout the Cyclades Islands. A bold diver! Water is his true element, and he lives in the sea more than on shore, going constantly from one island to another, even to Crete.”
*Italian: “The Fish.” Ed.
“You know him, captain?”
“Why not, Professor Aronnax?”
This said, Captain Nemo went to a cabinet standing near the lounge’s left panel. Next to this cabinet I saw a chest bound with hoops of iron, its lid bearing a copper plaque that displayed the Nautilus’s monogram with its motto Mobilis in Mobili.
Just then, ignoring my presence, the captain opened this cabinet, a sort of safe that contained a large number of ingots.
They were gold ingots. And they represented an enormous sum of money. Where had this precious metal come from? How had the captain amassed this gold, and what was he about to do with it?
I didn’t pronounce a word. I gaped. Captain Nemo took out the ingots one by one and arranged them methodically inside the chest, filling it to the top. At which point I estimate that it held more than 1,000 kilograms of gold, in other words, close to 5,000,000 francs.
After securely fastening the chest, Captain Nemo wrote an address on its lid in characters that must have been modern Greek.
This done, the captain pressed a button whose wiring was in communication with the crew’s quarters. Four men appeared and, not without difficulty, pushed the chest out of the lounge. Then I heard them hoist it up the iron companionway by means of pulleys.
Just then Captain Nemo turned to me:
“You were saying, professor?” he asked me.
“I wasn’t saying a thing, captain.”
“Then, sir, with your permission, I’ll bid you good evening.”
And with that, Captain Nemo left the lounge.
I reentered my stateroom, very puzzled, as you can imagine. I tried in vain to fall asleep. I kept searching for a relationship between the appearance of the diver and that chest filled with gold. Soon, from certain rolling and pitching movements, I sensed that the Nautilus had left the lower strata and was back on the surface of the water.
Then I heard the sound of footsteps on the platform. I realized that the skiff was being detached and launched to sea. For an instant it bumped the Nautilus’s side, then all sounds ceased.
Two hours later, the same noises, the same comings and goings, were repeated. Hoisted on board, the longboat was readjusted into its socket, and the Nautilus plunged back beneath the waves.
So those millions had been delivered to their address. At what spot on the continent? Who was the recipient of Captain Nemo’s gold?
The next day I related the night’s events to Conseil and the Canadian, events that had aroused my curiosity to a fever pitch. My companions were as startled as I was.
“But where does he get those millions?” Ned Land asked.
To this no reply was possible. After breakfast I made my way to the lounge and went about my work. I wrote up my notes until five o’clock in the afternoon. Just then—was it due to some personal indisposition?—I felt extremely hot and had to take off my jacket made of fan mussel fabric. A perplexing circumstance because we weren’t in the low latitudes, and besides, once the Nautilus was submerged, it shouldn’t be subject to any rise in temperature. I looked at the pressure gauge. It marked a depth of sixty feet, a depth beyond the reach of atmospheric heat.
I kept on working, but the temperature rose to the point of becoming unbearable.
“Could there be a fire on board?” I wondered.
I was about to leave the lounge when Captain Nemo entered. He approached the thermometer, consulted it, and turned to me:
“42 degrees centigrade,” he said.
“I’ve detected as much, captain,” I replied, “and if it gets even slightly hotter, we won’t be able to stand it.”
“Oh, professor, it won’t get any hotter unless we want it to!”
“You mean you can control this heat?”
“No, but I can back away from the fireplace producing it.”
“So it’s outside?”
“Surely. We’re cruising in a current of boiling water.”
“It can’t be!” I exclaimed.
The panels had opened, and I could see a completely white sea around the Nautilus. Steaming sulfurous fumes uncoiled in the midst of waves bubbling like water in a boiler. I leaned my hand against one of the windows, but the heat was so great, I had to snatch it back.
“Where are we?” I asked.
“Near the island of Santorini, professor,” the captain answered me, “and right in the channel that separates the volcanic islets of Nea Kameni and Palea Kameni. I wanted to offer you the unusual sight of an underwater eruption.”
“I thought,” I said, “that the formation of such new islands had come to an end.”
“Nothing ever comes to an end in these volcanic waterways,” Captain Nemo replied, “and thanks to its underground fires, our globe is continuously under construction in these regions. According to the Latin historians Cassiodorus and Pliny, by the year 19 of the Christian era, a new island, the divine Thera, had already appeared in the very place these islets have more recently formed. Then Thera sank under the waves, only to rise and sink once more in the year 69 A.D. From that day to this, such plutonic construction work has been in abeyance. But on February 3, 1866, a new islet named George Island emerged in the midst of sulfurous steam near Nea Kameni and was fused to it on the 6th of the same month. Seven days later, on February 13, the islet of Aphroessa appeared, leaving a ten-meter channel between itself and Nea Kameni. I was in these seas when that phenomenon occurred and I was able to observe its every phase. The islet of Aphroessa was circular in shape, measuring 300 feet in diameter and thirty feet in height. It was made of black, glassy lava mixed with bits of feldspar. Finally, on March 10, a smaller islet called Reka appeared next to Nea Kameni, and since then, these three islets have fused to form one single, selfsame island.”
“What about this channel we’re in right now?” I asked.
“Here it is,” Captain Nemo replied, showing me a chart of the Greek Islands. “You observe that I’ve entered the new islets in their place.”
“But will this channel fill up one day?”
“Very likely, Professor Aronnax, because since 1866 eight little lava islets have surged up in front of the port of St. Nicolas on Palea Kameni. So it’s obvious that Nea and Palea will join in days to come. In the middle of the Pacific, tiny infusoria build continents, but here they’re built by volcanic phenomena. Look, sir! Look at the construction work going on under these waves.”
I returned to the window. The Nautilus was no longer moving. The heat had become unbearable. From the white it had recently been, the sea was turning red, a coloration caused by the presence of iron salts. Although the lounge was hermetically sealed, it was filling with an intolerable stink of sulfur, and I could see scarlet flames of such brightness, they overpowered our electric light.
I was swimming in perspiration, I was stifling, I was about to be cooked. Yes, I felt myself cooking in actual fact!
“We can’t stay any longer in this boiling water,” I told the captain.
“No, it wouldn’t be advisable,” replied Nemo the Emotionless.
He gave an order. The Nautilus tacked about and retreated from this furnace it couldn’t brave with impunity. A quarter of an hour later, we were breathing fresh air on the surface of the waves.
It then occurred to me that if Ned had chosen these waterways for our escape attempt, we wouldn’t have come out alive from this sea of fire.
The next day, February 16, we left this basin, which tallies depths of 3,000 meters between Rhodes and Alexandria, and passing well out from Cerigo Island after doubling Cape Matapan, the Nautilus left the Greek Islands behind.
The Mediterranean in Forty-Eight Hours
THE MEDITERRANEAN, your ideal blue sea: to Greeks simply “the sea,” to Hebrews “the great sea,” to Romans mare
nostrum. [Latin: our sea] Bordered by orange trees, aloes, cactus, and maritime pine trees, perfumed with the scent of myrtle, framed by rugged mountains, saturated with clean, transparent air but continuously under construction by fires in the earth, this sea is a genuine battlefield where Neptune and Pluto still struggle for world domination. Here on these beaches and waters, says the French historian Michelet, a man is revived by one of the most invigorating climates in the world.
But as beautiful as it was, I could get only a quick look at this basin whose surface area comprises 2,000,000 square kilometers. Even Captain Nemo’s personal insights were denied me, because that mystifying individual didn’t appear one single time during our high-speed crossing. I estimate that the Nautilus covered a track of some 600 leagues under the waves of this sea, and this voyage was accomplished in just twenty-four hours times two. Departing from the waterways of Greece on the morning of February 16, we cleared the Strait of Gibraltar by sunrise on the 18th.
It was obvious to me that this Mediterranean, pinned in the middle of those shores he wanted to avoid, gave Captain Nemo no pleasure. Its waves and breezes brought back too many memories, if not too many regrets. Here he no longer had the ease of movement and freedom of maneuver that the oceans allowed him, and his Nautilus felt cramped so close to the coasts of both Africa and Europe.
Accordingly, our speed was twenty-five miles (that is, twelve four-kilometer leagues) per hour. Needless to say, Ned Land had to give up his escape plans, much to his distress. Swept along at the rate of twelve to thirteen meters per second, he could hardly make use of the skiff. Leaving the Nautilus under these conditions would have been like jumping off a train racing at this speed, a rash move if there ever was one. Moreover, to renew our air supply, the submersible rose to the surface of the waves only at night, and relying solely on compass and log, it steered by dead reckoning.
Inside the Mediterranean, then, I could catch no more of its fast-passing scenery than a traveler might see from an express train; in other words, I could view only the distant horizons because the foregrounds flashed by like lightning. But Conseil and I were able to observe those Mediterranean fish whose powerful fins kept pace for a while in the Nautilus’s waters. We stayed on watch before the lounge windows, and our notes enable me to reconstruct, in a few words, the ichthyology of this sea.
Among the various fish inhabiting it, some I viewed, others I glimpsed, and the rest I missed completely because of the Nautilus’s speed. Kindly allow me to sort them out using this whimsical system of classification. It will at least convey the quickness of my observations.
In the midst of the watery mass, brightly lit by our electric beams, there snaked past those one-meter lampreys that are common to nearly every clime. A type of ray from the genus Oxyrhynchus, five feet wide, had a white belly with a spotted, ash-gray back and was carried along by the currents like a huge, wide-open shawl. Other rays passed by so quickly I couldn’t tell if they deserved that name “eagle ray” coined by the ancient Greeks, or those designations of “rat ray,” “bat ray,” and “toad ray” that modern fishermen have inflicted on them. Dogfish known as topes, twelve feet long and especially feared by divers, were racing with each other. Looking like big bluish shadows, thresher sharks went by, eight feet long and gifted with an extremely acute sense of smell. Dorados from the genus Sparus, some measuring up to thirteen decimeters, appeared in silver and azure costumes encircled with ribbons, which contrasted with the dark color of their fins; fish sacred to the goddess Venus, their eyes set in brows of gold; a valuable species that patronizes all waters fresh or salt, equally at home in rivers, lakes, and oceans, living in every clime, tolerating any temperature, their line dating back to prehistoric times on this earth yet preserving all its beauty from those far-off days. Magnificent sturgeons, nine to ten meters long and extremely fast, banged their powerful tails against the glass of our panels, showing bluish backs with small brown spots; they resemble sharks, without equaling their strength, and are encountered in every sea; in the spring they delight in swimming up the great rivers, fighting the currents of the Volga, Danube, Po, Rhine, Loire, and Oder, while feeding on herring, mackerel, salmon, and codfish; although they belong to the class of cartilaginous fish, they rate as a delicacy; they’re eaten fresh, dried, marinated, or salt-preserved, and in olden times they were borne in triumph to the table of the Roman epicure Lucullus.
But whenever the Nautilus drew near the surface, those denizens of the Mediterranean I could observe most productively belonged to the sixty-third genus of bony fish. These were tuna from the genus Scomber, blue-black on top, silver on the belly armor, their dorsal stripes giving off a golden gleam. They are said to follow ships in search of refreshing shade from the hot tropical sun, and they did just that with the Nautilus, as they had once done with the vessels of the Count de La Pérouse. For long hours they competed in speed with our submersible. I couldn’t stop marveling at these animals so perfectly cut out for racing, their heads small, their bodies sleek, spindle-shaped, and in some cases over three meters long, their pectoral fins gifted with remarkable strength, their caudal fins forked. Like certain flocks of birds, whose speed they equal, these tuna swim in triangle formation, which prompted the ancients to say they’d boned up on geometry and military strategy. And yet they can’t escape the Provençal fishermen, who prize them as highly as did the ancient inhabitants of Turkey and Italy; and these valuable animals, as oblivious as if they were deaf and blind, leap right into the Marseilles tuna nets and perish by the thousands.
Just for the record, I’ll mention those Mediterranean fish that Conseil and I barely glimpsed. There were whitish eels of the species Gymnotus fasciatus that passed like elusive wisps of steam, conger eels three to four meters long that were tricked out in green, blue, and yellow, three-foot hake with a liver that makes a dainty morsel, wormfish drifting like thin seaweed, sea robins that poets call lyrefish and seamen pipers and whose snouts have two jagged triangular plates shaped like old Homer’s lyre, swallowfish swimming as fast as the bird they’re named after, redheaded groupers whose dorsal fins are trimmed with filaments, some shad (spotted with black, gray, brown, blue, yellow, and green) that actually respond to tinkling handbells, splendid diamond-shaped turbot that were like aquatic pheasants with yellowish fins stippled in brown and the left topside mostly marbled in brown and yellow, finally schools of wonderful red mullet, real oceanic birds of paradise that ancient Romans bought for as much as 10,000 sesterces apiece, and which they killed at the table, so they could heartlessly watch it change color from cinnabar red when alive to pallid white when dead.
And as for other fish common to the Atlantic and Mediterranean, I was unable to observe miralets, triggerfish, puffers, seahorses, jewelfish, trumpetfish, blennies, gray mullet, wrasse, smelt, flying fish, anchovies, sea bream, porgies, garfish, or any of the chief representatives of the order Pleuronecta, such as sole, flounder, plaice, dab, and brill, simply because of the dizzying speed with which the Nautilus hustled through these opulent waters.
As for marine mammals, on passing by the mouth of the Adriatic Sea, I thought I recognized two or three sperm whales equipped with the single dorsal fin denoting the genus Physeter, some pilot whales from the genus Globicephalus exclusive to the Mediterranean, the forepart of the head striped with small distinct lines, and also a dozen seals with white bellies and black coats, known by the name monk seals and just as solemn as if they were three-meter Dominicans.
For his part, Conseil thought he spotted a turtle six feet wide and adorned with three protruding ridges that ran lengthwise. I was sorry to miss this reptile, because from Conseil’s description, I believe I recognized the leatherback turtle, a pretty rare species. For my part, I noted only some loggerhead turtles with long carapaces.
As for zoophytes, for a few moments I was able to marvel at a wonderful, orange-hued hydra from the genus Galeolaria that clung to the glass of our port panel; it consisted of a long, lean filament that spread out into countless branches and ended in the most delicate lace ever spun by the followers of Arachne. Unfortunately I couldn’t fish up this wonderful specimen, and surely no other
Mediterranean zoophytes would have been offered to my gaze, if, on the evening of the 16th, the Nautilus hadn’t slowed down in an odd fashion. This was the situation.
By then we were passing between Sicily and the coast of Tunisia. In the cramped space between Cape Bon and the Strait of Messina, the sea bottom rises almost all at once. It forms an actual ridge with only seventeen meters of water remaining above it, while the depth on either side is 170 meters. Consequently, the Nautilus had to maneuver with caution so as not to bump into this underwater barrier.
I showed Conseil the position of this long reef on our chart of the Mediterranean.
“But with all due respect to master,” Conseil ventured to observe, “it’s like an actual isthmus connecting Europe to Africa.”
“Yes, my boy,” I replied, “it cuts across the whole Strait of Sicily, and Smith’s soundings prove that in the past, these two continents were genuinely connected between Cape Boeo and Cape Farina.”
“I can easily believe it,” Conseil said.
“I might add,” I went on, “that there’s a similar barrier between Gibraltar and Ceuta, and in prehistoric times it closed off the Mediterranean completely.”
“Gracious!” Conseil put in. “Suppose one day some volcanic upheaval raises these two barriers back above the waves!”
“That’s most unlikely, Conseil.”
“If master will allow me to finish, I mean that if this phenomenon occurs, it might prove distressing to Mr. de Lesseps, who has gone to such pains to cut through his isthmus!”
“Agreed, but I repeat, Conseil: such a phenomenon won’t occur. The intensity of these underground forces continues to diminish. Volcanoes were quite numerous in the world’s early days, but they’re going extinct one by one; the heat inside the earth is growing weaker, the temperature in the globe’s lower strata is cooling appreciably every century, and to our globe’s detriment, because its heat is its life.”
“But the sun—”
“The sun isn’t enough, Conseil. Can it restore heat to a corpse?”
“Not that I’ve heard.”
“Well, my friend, someday the earth will be just such a cold corpse. Like the moon, which long ago lost its vital heat, our globe will become lifeless and unlivable.”
“In how many centuries?” Conseil asked.
“In hundreds of thousands of years, my boy.”
“Then we have ample time to finish our voyage,” Conseil replied, “if Ned Land doesn’t mess things up!”
Thus reassured, Conseil went back to studying the shallows that the Nautilus was skimming at moderate speed.
On the rocky, volcanic seafloor, there bloomed quite a collection of moving flora: sponges, sea cucumbers, jellyfish called sea gooseberries that were adorned with reddish tendrils and gave off a subtle phosphorescence, members of the genus Beroe that are commonly known by the name melon jellyfish and are bathed in the shimmer of the whole solar spectrum, free-swimming crinoids one meter wide that reddened the waters with their crimson hue, treelike basket stars of the greatest beauty, sea fans from the genus Pavonacea with long stems, numerous edible sea urchins of various species, plus green sea anemones with a grayish trunk and a brown disk lost beneath the olive-colored tresses of their tentacles.
Conseil kept especially busy observing mollusks and articulates, and although his catalog is a little dry, I wouldn’t want to wrong the gallant lad by leaving out his personal observations.
From the branch Mollusca, he mentions numerous comb-shaped scallops, hooflike spiny oysters piled on top of each other, triangular coquina, three-pronged glass snails with yellow fins and transparent shells, orange snails from the genus Pleurobranchus that looked like eggs spotted or speckled with greenish dots, members of the genus Aplysia also known by the name sea hares, other sea hares from the genus Dolabella, plump paper-bubble shells, umbrella shells exclusive to the Mediterranean, abalone whose shell produces a mother-of-pearl much in demand, pilgrim scallops, saddle shells that diners in the French province of Languedoc are said to like better than oysters, some of those cockleshells so dear to the citizens of Marseilles, fat white venus shells that are among the clams so abundant off the coasts of North America and eaten in such quantities by New Yorkers, variously colored comb shells with gill covers, burrowing date mussels with a peppery flavor I relish, furrowed heart cockles whose shells have riblike ridges on their arching summits, triton shells pocked with scarlet bumps, carniaira snails with backward-curving tips that make them resemble flimsy gondolas, crowned ferola snails, atlanta snails with spiral shells, gray nudibranchs from the genus Tethys that were spotted with white and covered by fringed mantles, nudibranchs from the suborder Eolidea that looked like small slugs, sea butterflies crawling on their backs, seashells from the genus Auricula including the oval-shaped Auricula myosotis, tan wentletrap snails, common periwinkles, violet snails, cineraira snails, rock borers, ear shells, cabochon snails, pandora shells, etc.
As for the articulates, in his notes Conseil has very appropriately divided them into six classes, three of which belong to the marine world. These classes are the Crustacea, Cirripedia, and Annelida.
Crustaceans are subdivided into nine orders, and the first of these consists of the decapods, in other words, animals whose head and thorax are usually fused, whose cheek-and-mouth mechanism is made up of several pairs of appendages, and whose thorax has four, five, or six pairs of walking legs. Conseil used the methods of our mentor Professor Milne-Edwards, who puts the decapods in three divisions: Brachyura, Macrura, and Anomura. These names may look a tad fierce, but they’re accurate and appropriate. Among the Brachyura, Conseil mentions some amanthia crabs whose fronts were armed with two big diverging tips, those inachus scorpions that—lord knows why—symbolized wisdom to the ancient Greeks, spider crabs of the massena and spinimane varieties that had probably gone astray in these shallows because they usually live in the lower depths, xanthid crabs, pilumna crabs, rhomboid crabs, granular box crabs (easy on the digestion, as Conseil ventured to observe), toothless masked crabs, ebalia crabs, cymopolia crabs, woolly-handed crabs, etc. Among the Macrura (which are subdivided into five families: hardshells, burrowers, crayfish, prawns, and ghost crabs) Conseil mentions some common spiny lobsters whose females supply a meat highly prized, slipper lobsters or common shrimp, waterside gebia shrimp, and all sorts of edible species, but he says nothing of the crayfish subdivision that includes the true lobster, because spiny lobsters are the only type in the Mediterranean. Finally, among the Anomura, he saw common drocina crabs dwelling inside whatever abandoned seashells they could take over, homola crabs with spiny fronts, hermit crabs, hairy porcelain crabs, etc.
There Conseil’s work came to a halt. He didn’t have time to finish off the class Crustacea through an examination of its stomatopods, amphipods, homopods, isopods, trilobites, branchiopods, ostracods, and entomostraceans. And in order to complete his study of marine articulates, he needed to mention the class Cirripedia, which contains water fleas and carp lice, plus the class Annelida, which he would have divided without fail into tubifex worms and dorsibranchian worms. But having gone past the shallows of the Strait of Sicily, the Nautilus resumed its usual deep-water speed. From then on, no more mollusks, no more zoophytes, no more articulates. Just a few large fish sweeping by like shadows.
During the night of February 16-17, we entered the second Mediterranean basin, whose maximum depth we found at 3,000 meters. The Nautilus, driven downward by its propeller and slanting fins, descended to the lowest strata of this sea.
There, in place of natural wonders, the watery mass offered some thrilling and dreadful scenes to my eyes. In essence, we were then crossing that part of the whole Mediterranean so fertile in casualties. From the coast of Algiers to the beaches of Provence, how many ships have wrecked, how many vessels have vanished! Compared to the vast liquid plains of the Pacific, the Mediterranean is a mere lake, but it’s an unpredictable lake with fickle waves, today kindly and affectionate to those frail single-masters drifting between a double ultramarine of sky and water, tomorrow bad-tempered and turbulent, agitated by the winds, demolishing the strongest ships beneath sudden waves that smash down with a headlong wallop.
So, in our swift cruise through these deep strata, how many vessels I saw lying on the seafloor, some already caked with coral, others clad only in a layer of rust, plus anchors, cannons, shells, iron fittings, propeller blades, parts of engines, cracked cylinders, staved-in boilers, then hulls floating in midwater, here upright, there overturned.
Some of these wrecked ships had perished in collisions, others from hitting granite reefs. I saw a few that had sunk straight down, their masting still upright, their rigging stiffened by the water. They looked like they were at anchor by some immense, open, offshore mooring where they were waiting for their departure time. When the Nautilus passed between them, covering them with sheets of electricity, they seemed ready to salute us with their colors and send us their serial numbers! But no, nothing but silence and death filled this field of catastrophes!
I observed that these Mediterranean depths became more and more cluttered with such gruesome wreckage as the Nautilus drew nearer to the Strait of Gibraltar. By then the shores of Africa and Europe were converging, and in this narrow space collisions were commonplace. There I saw numerous iron undersides, the phantasmagoric ruins of steamers, some lying down, others rearing up like fearsome animals. One of these boats made a dreadful first impression: sides torn open, funnel bent, paddle wheels stripped to the mountings, rudder separated from the sternpost and still hanging from an iron chain, the board on its stern eaten away by marine salts! How many lives were dashed in this shipwreck! How many victims were swept under the waves! Had some sailor on board lived to tell the story of this dreadful disaster, or do the waves still keep this casualty a secret? It occurred to me, lord knows why, that this boat buried under the sea might have been the Atlas, lost with all hands some twenty years ago and never heard from again! Oh, what a gruesome tale these Mediterranean depths could tell, this huge boneyard where so much wealth has been lost, where so many victims have met their deaths!
Meanwhile, briskly unconcerned, the Nautilus ran at full propeller through the midst of these ruins. On February 18, near three o’clock in the morning, it hove before the entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar.
There are two currents here: an upper current, long known to exist, that carries the ocean’s waters into the Mediterranean basin; then a lower countercurrent, the only present-day proof of its existence being logic. In essence, the Mediterranean receives a continual influx of water not only from the Atlantic but from rivers emptying into it; since local evaporation isn’t enough to restore the balance, the total amount of added water should make this sea’s level higher every year. Yet this isn’t the case, and we’re naturally forced to believe in the existence of some lower current that carries the Mediterranean’s surplus through the Strait of Gibraltar and into the Atlantic basin.
And so it turned out. The Nautilus took full advantage of this countercurrent. It advanced swiftly through this narrow passageway. For an instant I could glimpse the wonderful ruins of the Temple of Hercules, buried undersea, as Pliny and Avianus have mentioned, together with the flat island they stand on; and a few minutes later, we were floating on the waves of the
CHAPTER 8 -
The Bay of Vigo
THE ATLANTIC! A vast expanse of water whose surface area is 25,000,000 square miles, with a length of 9,000 miles and an average width of 2,700. A major sea nearly unknown to the ancients, except perhaps the Carthaginians, those Dutchmen of antiquity who went along the west coasts of Europe and Africa on their commercial junkets! An ocean whose parallel winding shores form an immense perimeter fed by the world’s greatest rivers: the St. Lawrence, Mississippi, Amazon, Plata, Orinoco, Niger, Senegal, Elbe, Loire, and Rhine, which bring it waters from the most civilized countries as well as the most undeveloped areas! A magnificent plain of waves plowed continuously by ships of every nation, shaded by every flag in the world, and ending in those two dreadful headlands so feared by
navigators, Cape Horn and the Cape of Tempests!
The Nautilus broke these waters with the edge of its spur after doing nearly 10,000 leagues in three and a half months, a track longer than a great circle of the earth. Where were we heading now, and what did the future have in store for us?
Emerging from the Strait of Gibraltar, the Nautilus took to the high seas. It returned to the surface of the waves, so our daily strolls on the platform were restored to us.
I climbed onto it instantly, Ned Land and Conseil along with me. Twelve miles away, Cape St. Vincent was hazily visible, the southwestern tip of the Hispanic peninsula. The wind was blowing a pretty strong gust from the south. The sea was swelling and surging. Its waves made the Nautilus roll and jerk violently. It was nearly impossible to stand up on the platform, which was continuously buffeted by this enormously heavy sea. After inhaling a few breaths of air, we went below once more.
I repaired to my stateroom. Conseil returned to his cabin; but the Canadian, looking rather worried, followed me. Our quick trip through the Mediterranean hadn’t allowed him to put his plans into execution, and he could barely conceal his disappointment.
After the door to my stateroom was closed, he sat and stared at me silently.
“Ned my friend,” I told him, “I know how you feel, but you mustn’t blame yourself. Given the way the Nautilus was navigating, it would have been sheer insanity to think of escaping!”
Ned Land didn’t reply. His pursed lips and frowning brow indicated that he was in the grip of his monomania.
“Look here,” I went on, “as yet there’s no cause for despair. We’re going up the coast of Portugal. France and England aren’t far off, and there we’ll easily find refuge. Oh, I grant you, if the Nautilus had emerged from the Strait of Gibraltar and made for that cape in the south, if it were taking us toward those regions that have no continents, then I’d share your alarm. But we now know that Captain Nemo doesn’t avoid the seas of civilization, and in a few days I think we can safely take action.”
Ned Land stared at me still more intently and finally unpursed his lips:
“We’ll do it this evening,” he said.
I straightened suddenly. I admit that I was less than ready for this announcement. I wanted to reply to the Canadian, but words failed me.
“We agreed to wait for the right circumstances,” Ned Land went on. “Now we’ve got those circumstances. This evening we’ll be just a few miles off the coast of Spain. It’ll be cloudy tonight. The wind’s blowing toward shore. You gave me your promise, Professor Aronnax, and I’m counting on you.”
Since I didn’t say anything, the Canadian stood up and approached me:
“We’ll do it this evening at nine o’clock,” he said. “I’ve alerted Conseil. By that time Captain Nemo will be locked in his room and probably in bed. Neither the mechanics or the crewmen will be able to see us. Conseil and I will go to the central companionway. As for you, Professor Aronnax, you’ll stay in the library two steps away and wait for my signal. The oars, mast, and sail are in the skiff. I’ve even managed to stow some provisions inside. I’ve gotten hold of a monkey wrench to unscrew the nuts bolting the skiff to the Nautilus’s hull. So everything’s ready. I’ll see you this evening.”
“The sea is rough,” I said.
“Admitted,” the Canadian replied, “but we’ve got to risk it. Freedom is worth paying for. Besides, the longboat’s solidly built, and a few miles with the wind behind us is no big deal. By tomorrow, who knows if this ship won’t be 100 leagues out to sea? If circumstances are in our favor, between ten and eleven this evening we’ll be landing on some piece of solid ground, or we’ll be dead. So we’re in God’s hands, and I’ll see you this evening!”
This said, the Canadian withdrew, leaving me close to dumbfounded. I had imagined that if it came to this, I would have time to think about it, to talk it over. My stubborn companion hadn’t granted me this courtesy. But after all, what would I have said to him? Ned Land was right a hundred times over. These were near-ideal circumstances, and he was taking full advantage of them. In my selfish personal interests, could I go back on my word and be responsible for ruining the future lives of my companions? Tomorrow, might not Captain Nemo take us far away from any shore?
Just then a fairly loud hissing told me that the ballast tanks were filling, and the Nautilus sank beneath the waves of the Atlantic.
I stayed in my stateroom. I wanted to avoid the captain, to hide from his eyes the agitation overwhelming me. What an agonizing day I spent, torn between my desire to regain my free will and my regret at abandoning this marvelous Nautilus, leaving my underwater research incomplete! How could I relinquish this ocean—“my own Atlantic,” as I liked to call it—without observing its lower strata, without wresting from it the kinds of secrets that had been revealed to me by the seas of the East Indies and the
Pacific! I was putting down my novel half read, I was waking up as my dream neared its climax! How painfully the hours passed, as I sometimes envisioned myself safe on shore with my companions, or, despite my better judgment, as I sometimes wished that some unforeseen circumstances would prevent Ned Land from carrying out his plans.
Twice I went to the lounge. I wanted to consult the compass. I wanted to see if the Nautilus’s heading was actually taking us closer to the coast or spiriting us farther away. But no. The Nautilus was still in Portuguese waters. Heading north, it was cruising along the ocean’s beaches.
So I had to resign myself to my fate and get ready to escape. My baggage wasn’t heavy. My notes, nothing more.
As for Captain Nemo, I wondered what he would make of our escaping, what concern or perhaps what distress it might cause him, and what he would do in the twofold event of our attempt either failing or being found out! Certainly I had no complaints to register with him, on the contrary. Never was hospitality more wholehearted than his. Yet in leaving him I couldn’t be accused of ingratitude. No solemn promises bound us to him. In order to keep us captive, he had counted only on the force of circumstances and not on our word of honor. But his avowed intention to imprison us forever on his ship justified our every effort.
I hadn’t seen the captain since our visit to the island of Santorini. Would fate bring me into his presence before our departure? I both desired and dreaded it. I listened for footsteps in the stateroom adjoining mine. Not a sound reached my ear. His stateroom had to be deserted.
Then I began to wonder if this eccentric individual was even on board. Since that night when the skiff had left the Nautilus on some mysterious mission, my ideas about him had subtly changed. In spite of everything, I thought that Captain Nemo must have kept up some type of relationship with the shore. Did he himself never leave the Nautilus? Whole weeks had often gone by without my encountering him. What was he doing all the while? During all those times I’d thought he was convalescing in the grip of some misanthropic fit, was he instead far away from the ship, involved in some secret activity whose nature still eluded me?
All these ideas and a thousand others assaulted me at the same time. In these strange circumstances the scope for conjecture was unlimited. I felt an unbearable queasiness. This day of waiting seemed endless. The hours struck too slowly to keep up with my impatience.
As usual, dinner was served me in my stateroom. Full of anxiety, I ate little. I left the table at seven o’clock. 120 minutes—I was keeping track of them—still separated me from the moment I was to rejoin Ned Land. My agitation increased. My pulse was throbbing violently. I couldn’t stand still. I walked up and down, hoping to calm my troubled mind with movement. The possibility of perishing in our reckless undertaking was the least of my worries; my heart was pounding at the thought that our plans might be discovered before we had left the Nautilus, at the thought of being hauled in front of Captain Nemo and finding him angered, or worse, saddened by my deserting him.
I wanted to see the lounge one last time. I went down the gangways and arrived at the museum where I had spent so many pleasant and productive hours. I stared at all its wealth, all its treasures, like a man on the eve of his eternal exile, a man departing to return no more. For so many days now, these natural wonders and artistic masterworks had been central to my life, and I was about to leave them behind forever. I wanted to plunge my eyes through the lounge window and into these Atlantic waters; but the panels were hermetically sealed, and a mantle of sheet iron separated me from this ocean with which I was still unfamiliar.
Crossing through the lounge, I arrived at the door, contrived in one of the canted corners, that opened into the captain’s stateroom. Much to my astonishment, this door was ajar. I instinctively recoiled. If Captain Nemo was in his stateroom, he might see me. But, not hearing any sounds, I approached. The stateroom was deserted. I pushed the door open. I took a few steps inside. Still the same austere, monastic appearance.
Just then my eye was caught by some etchings hanging on the wall, which I hadn’t noticed during my first visit. They were portraits of great men of history who had spent their lives in perpetual devotion to a great human ideal: Thaddeus Kosciusko, the hero whose dying words had been Finis Poloniae;* Markos Botzaris, for modern Greece the reincarnation of Sparta’s King Leonidas; Daniel O’Connell, Ireland’s defender; George Washington, founder of the American Union; Daniele Manin, the Italian patriot; Abraham Lincoln, dead from the bullet of a believer in slavery; and finally, that martyr for the redemption of the black race, John Brown, hanging from his gallows as Victor Hugo’s pencil has so terrifyingly depicted.
*Latin: “Save Poland’s borders.” Ed.
What was the bond between these heroic souls and the soul of Captain Nemo? From this collection of portraits could I finally unravel the mystery of his existence? Was he a fighter for oppressed peoples, a liberator of enslaved races? Had he figured in the recent political or social upheavals of this century? Was he a hero of that dreadful civil war in America, a war lamentable yet forever glorious . . . ?
Suddenly the clock struck eight. The first stroke of its hammer on the chime snapped me out of my musings. I shuddered as if some invisible eye had plunged into my innermost thoughts, and I rushed outside the stateroom.
There my eyes fell on the compass. Our heading was still northerly. The log indicated a moderate speed, the pressure gauge a depth of about sixty feet. So circumstances were in favor of the Canadian’s plans.
I stayed in my stateroom. I dressed warmly: fishing boots, otter cap, coat of fan-mussel fabric lined with sealskin. I was ready. I was waiting. Only the
propeller’s vibrations disturbed the deep silence reigning on board. I cocked an ear and listened. Would a sudden outburst of voices tell me that Ned Land’s escape plans had just been detected? A ghastly uneasiness stole through me. I tried in vain to recover my composure.
A few minutes before nine o’clock, I glued my ear to the captain’s door. Not a sound. I left my stateroom and returned to the lounge, which was deserted and plunged in near darkness.
I opened the door leading to the library. The same inadequate light, the same solitude. I went to man my post near the door opening into the well of the central companionway. I waited for Ned Land’s signal.
At this point the propeller’s vibrations slowed down appreciably, then they died out altogether. Why was the Nautilus stopping? Whether this layover would help or hinder Ned Land’s schemes I couldn’t have said.
The silence was further disturbed only by the pounding of my heart.
Suddenly I felt a mild jolt. I realized the Nautilus had come to rest on the ocean floor. My alarm increased. The Canadian’s signal hadn’t reached me. I longed to rejoin Ned Land and urge him to postpone his attempt. I sensed that we were no longer navigating under normal conditions.
Just then the door to the main lounge opened and Captain Nemo appeared. He saw me, and without further preamble:
“Ah, professor,” he said in an affable tone, “I’ve been looking for you. Do you know your Spanish history?”
Even if he knew it by heart, a man in my disturbed, befuddled condition couldn’t have quoted a syllable of his own country’s history.
“Well?” Captain Nemo went on. “Did you hear my question? Do you know the history of Spain?”
“Very little of it,” I replied.
“The most learned men,” the captain said, “still have much to learn. Have a seat,” he added, “and I’ll tell you about an unusual episode in this body of history.”
The captain stretched out on a couch, and I mechanically took a seat near him, but half in the shadows.
“Professor,” he said, “listen carefully. This piece of history concerns you in one definite respect, because it will answer a question you’ve no doubt been unable to resolve.”
“I’m listening, captain,” I said, not knowing what my partner in this dialogue was driving at, and wondering if this incident related to our escape plans.
“Professor,” Captain Nemo went on, “if you’re amenable, we’ll go back in time to 1702. You’re aware of the fact that in those days your King Louis XIV thought an imperial gesture would suffice to humble the Pyrenees in the dust, so he inflicted his grandson, the Duke of Anjou, on the Spaniards. Reigning more or less poorly under the name King Philip V, this aristocrat had to deal with mighty opponents abroad.
“In essence, the year before, the royal houses of Holland, Austria, and England had signed a treaty of alliance at The Hague, aiming to wrest the Spanish crown from King Philip V and to place it on the head of an archduke whom they prematurely dubbed King Charles III.
“Spain had to withstand these allies. But the country had practically no army or navy. Yet it wasn’t short of money, provided that its galleons, laden with gold and silver from America, could enter its ports. Now then, late in 1702 Spain was expecting a rich convoy, which France ventured to escort with a fleet of twenty-three vessels under the command of Admiral de Chateau-Renault, because by that time the allied navies were roving the Atlantic.
“This convoy was supposed to put into Cadiz, but after learning that the English fleet lay across those waterways, the admiral decided to make for a French port.
“The Spanish commanders in the convoy objected to this decision. They wanted to be taken to a Spanish port, if not to Cadiz, then to the Bay of Vigo, located on Spain’s northwest coast and not blockaded.
“Admiral de Chateau-Renault was so indecisive as to obey this directive, and the galleons entered the Bay of Vigo.
“Unfortunately this bay forms an open, offshore mooring that’s impossible to defend. So it was essential to hurry and empty the galleons before the allied fleets arrived, and there would have been ample time for this unloading, if a wretched question of trade agreements hadn’t suddenly come up.
“Are you clear on the chain of events?” Captain Nemo asked me.
“Perfectly clear,” I said, not yet knowing why I was being given this history lesson.
“Then I’ll continue. Here’s what came to pass. The tradesmen of Cadiz had negotiated a charter whereby they were to receive all merchandise coming from the West Indies. Now then, unloading the ingots from those galleons at the port of Vigo would have been a violation of their rights. So they lodged a complaint in Madrid, and they obtained an order from the indecisive King Philip V: without unloading, the convoy would stay in custody at the offshore mooring of Vigo until the enemy fleets had retreated.
“Now then, just as this decision was being handed down, English vessels arrived in the Bay of Vigo on October 22, 1702. Despite his inferior forces, Admiral de Chateau-Renault fought courageously. But when he saw that the convoy’s wealth was about to fall into enemy hands, he burned and scuttled the galleons, which went to the bottom with their immense treasures.”
Captain Nemo stopped. I admit it: I still couldn’t see how this piece of history concerned me.
“Well?” I asked him.
“Well, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo answered me, “we’re actually in that Bay of Vigo, and all that’s left is for you to probe the mysteries of the place.”
The captain stood up and invited me to follow him. I’d had time to collect myself. I did so. The lounge was dark, but the sea’s waves sparkled through the transparent windows. I stared.
Around the Nautilus for a half-mile radius, the waters seemed saturated with electric light. The sandy bottom was clear and bright. Dressed in diving suits, crewmen were busy clearing away half-rotted barrels and disemboweled trunks in the midst of the dingy hulks of ships. Out of these trunks and kegs spilled ingots of gold and silver, cascades of jewels, pieces of eight. The sand was heaped with them. Then, laden with these valuable spoils, the men returned to the Nautilus, dropped off their burdens inside, and went to resume this inexhaustible fishing for silver and gold.
I understood. This was the setting of that battle on October 22, 1702. Here, in this very place, those galleons carrying treasure to the Spanish government had gone to the bottom. Here, whenever he needed, Captain Nemo came to withdraw these millions to ballast his Nautilus. It was for him, for him alone, that America had yielded up its precious metals. He was the direct, sole heir to these treasures wrested from the Incas and those peoples conquered by Hernando Cortez!
“Did you know, professor,” he asked me with a smile, “that the sea contained such wealth?”
“I know it’s estimated,” I replied, “that there are 2,000,000 metric tons of silver held in suspension in seawater.”
“Surely, but in extracting that silver, your expenses would outweigh your profits. Here, by contrast, I have only to pick up what other men have lost, and not only in this Bay of Vigo but at a thousand other sites where ships have gone down, whose positions are marked on my underwater chart. Do you understand now that I’m rich to the tune of billions?”
“I understand, captain. Nevertheless, allow me to inform you that by harvesting this very Bay of Vigo, you’re simply forestalling the efforts of a rival organization.”
“A company chartered by the Spanish government to search for these sunken galleons. The company’s investors were lured by the bait of enormous gains, because this scuttled treasure is estimated to be worth 500,000,000 francs.”
“It was 500,000,000 francs,” Captain Nemo replied, “but no more!”
“Right,” I said. “Hence a timely warning to those investors would be an act of charity. Yet who knows if it would be well received? Usually what gamblers regret the most isn’t the loss of their money so much as the loss of their insane hopes. But ultimately I feel less sorry for them than for the thousands of unfortunate people who would have benefited from a fair distribution of this wealth, whereas now it will be of no help to them!”
No sooner had I voiced this regret than I felt it must have wounded Captain Nemo.
“No help!” he replied with growing animation. “Sir, what makes you assume this wealth goes to waste when I’m the one amassing it? Do you think I toil to gather this treasure out of selfishness? Who says I don’t put it to good use? Do you think I’m unaware of the suffering beings and oppressed races living on this earth, poor people to comfort, victims to avenge? Don’t you understand . . . ?”
Captain Nemo stopped on these last words, perhaps sorry that he had said too much. But I had guessed. Whatever motives had driven him to seek independence under the seas, he remained a human being before all else! His heart still throbbed for suffering humanity, and his immense philanthropy went out both to downtrodden races and to individuals!
And now I knew where Captain Nemo had delivered those millions, when the Nautilus navigated the waters where Crete was in rebellion against the Ottoman Empire!
A Lost Continent
THE NEXT MORNING, February 19, I beheld the Canadian entering my stateroom. I was expecting this visit. He wore an expression of great disappointment.
“Well, sir?” he said to me.
“Well, Ned, the fates were against us yesterday.”
“Yes! That damned captain had to call a halt just as we were going to escape from his boat.”
“Yes, Ned, he had business with his bankers.”
“Or rather his bank vaults. By which I mean this ocean, where his wealth is safer than in any national treasury.”
I then related the evening’s incidents to the Canadian, secretly hoping he would come around to the idea of not deserting the captain; but my narrative had no result other than Ned’s voicing deep regret that he hadn’t strolled across the Vigo battlefield on his own behalf.
“Anyhow,” he said, “it’s not over yet! My first harpoon missed, that’s all! We’ll succeed the next time, and as soon as this evening, if need be . . .”
“What’s the Nautilus’s heading?” I asked.
“I’ve no idea,” Ned replied.
“All right, at noon we’ll find out what our position is!”
The Canadian returned to Conseil’s side. As soon as I was dressed, I went into the lounge. The compass wasn’t encouraging. The Nautilus’s course was south-southwest. We were turning our backs on Europe.
I could hardly wait until our position was reported on the chart. Near 11:30 the ballast tanks emptied, and the submersible rose to the surface of the ocean. I leaped onto the platform. Ned Land was already there.
No more shore in sight. Nothing but the immenseness of the sea. A few sails were on the horizon, no doubt ships going as far as Cape São Roque to find favorable winds for doubling the Cape of Good Hope. The sky was overcast. A squall was on the way.
Furious, Ned tried to see through the mists on the horizon. He still hoped that behind all that fog there lay those shores he longed for.
At noon the sun made a momentary appearance. Taking advantage of this rift in the clouds, the chief officer took the orb’s altitude. Then the sea grew turbulent, we went below again, and the hatch closed once more.
When I consulted the chart an hour later, I saw that the Nautilus’s position was marked at longitude 16 degrees 17’ and latitude 33 degrees 22’, a good 150 leagues from the nearest coast. It wouldn’t do to even dream of escaping, and I’ll let the reader decide how promptly the Canadian threw a tantrum when I ventured to tell him our situation.
As for me, I wasn’t exactly grief-stricken. I felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted from me, and I was able to resume my regular tasks in a state of comparative calm.
Near eleven o’clock in the evening, I received a most unexpected visit from Captain Nemo. He asked me very graciously if I felt exhausted from our vigil the night before. I said no.
“Then, Professor Aronnax, I propose an unusual excursion.”
“Propose away, captain.”
“So far you’ve visited the ocean depths only by day and under sunlight. Would you like to see these depths on a dark night?”
“I warn you, this will be an exhausting stroll. We’ll need to walk long hours and scale a mountain. The roads aren’t terribly well kept up.”
“Everything you say, captain, just increases my curiosity. I’m ready to go with you.”
“Then come along, professor, and we’ll go put on our diving suits.”
Arriving at the wardrobe, I saw that neither my companions nor any crewmen would be coming with us on this excursion. Captain Nemo hadn’t even suggested my fetching Ned or Conseil.
In a few moments we had put on our equipment. Air tanks, abundantly charged, were placed on our backs, but the electric lamps were not in readiness. I commented on this to the captain.
“They’ll be useless to us,” he replied.
I thought I hadn’t heard him right, but I couldn’t repeat my comment because the captain’s head had already disappeared into its metal covering. I finished harnessing myself, I felt an alpenstock being placed in my hand, and a few minutes later, after the usual procedures, we set foot on the floor of the Atlantic, 300 meters down.
Midnight was approaching. The waters were profoundly dark, but Captain Nemo pointed to a reddish spot in the distance, a sort of wide glow shimmering about two miles from the Nautilus. What this fire was, what substances fed it, how and why it kept burning in the liquid mass, I couldn’t say. Anyhow it lit our way, although hazily, but I soon grew accustomed to this unique gloom, and in these circumstances I understood the uselessness of the Ruhmkorff device.
Side by side, Captain Nemo and I walked directly toward this conspicuous flame. The level seafloor rose imperceptibly. We took long strides, helped by our alpenstocks; but in general our progress was slow, because our feet kept sinking into a kind of slimy mud mixed with seaweed and assorted flat stones.
As we moved forward, I heard a kind of pitter-patter above my head. Sometimes this noise increased and became a continuous crackle. I soon realized the cause. It was a heavy rainfall rattling on the surface of the waves. Instinctively I worried that I might get soaked! By water in the midst of water! I couldn’t help smiling at this outlandish notion. But to tell the truth, wearing these heavy diving suits, you no longer feel the liquid element, you simply think you’re in the midst of air a little denser than air on land, that’s all.
After half an hour of walking, the seafloor grew rocky. Jellyfish, microscopic crustaceans, and sea-pen coral lit it faintly with their phosphorescent glimmers. I glimpsed piles of stones covered by a couple million zoophytes and tangles of algae. My feet often slipped on this viscous seaweed carpet, and without my alpenstock I would have fallen more than once. When I turned around, I could still see the Nautilus’s whitish beacon, which was starting to grow pale in the distance.
Those piles of stones just mentioned were laid out on the ocean floor with a distinct but inexplicable symmetry. I spotted gigantic furrows trailing off into the distant darkness, their length incalculable. There also were other peculiarities I couldn’t make sense of. It seemed to me that my heavy lead soles were crushing a litter of bones that made a dry crackling noise. So what were these vast plains we were now crossing? I wanted to ask the captain, but I still didn’t grasp that sign language that allowed him to chat with his companions when they went with him on his underwater excursions.
Meanwhile the reddish light guiding us had expanded and inflamed the horizon. The presence of this furnace under the waters had me extremely puzzled. Was it some sort of electrical discharge? Was I approaching some natural phenomenon still unknown to scientists on shore? Or, rather (and this thought did cross my mind), had the hand of man intervened in that blaze? Had human beings fanned those flames? In these deep strata would I meet up with more of Captain Nemo’s companions, friends he was about to visit who led lives as strange as his own? Would I find a whole colony of exiles down here, men tired of the world’s woes, men who had sought and found independence in the ocean’s lower depths? All these insane, inadmissible ideas dogged me, and in this frame of mind, continually excited by the series of wonders passing before my eyes, I wouldn’t have been surprised to find on this sea bottom one of those underwater towns Captain Nemo dreamed about!
Our path was getting brighter and brighter. The red glow had turned white and was radiating from a mountain peak about 800 feet high. But what I saw was simply a reflection produced by the crystal waters of these strata. The furnace that was the source of this inexplicable light occupied the far side of the mountain.
In the midst of the stone mazes furrowing this Atlantic seafloor, Captain Nemo moved forward without hesitation. He knew this dark path. No doubt he had often traveled it and was incapable of losing his way. I followed him with unshakeable confidence. He seemed like some Spirit of the Sea, and as he walked ahead of me, I marveled at his tall figure, which stood out in black against the glowing background of the horizon.
It was one o’clock in the morning. We arrived at the mountain’s lower gradients. But in grappling with them, we had to venture up difficult trails through a huge thicket.
Yes, a thicket of dead trees! Trees without leaves, without sap, turned to stone by the action of the waters, and crowned here and there by gigantic pines. It was like a still-erect coalfield, its roots clutching broken soil, its boughs clearly outlined against the ceiling of the waters like thin, black, paper cutouts. Picture a forest clinging to the sides of a peak in the Harz Mountains, but a submerged forest. The trails were cluttered with algae and fucus plants, hosts of crustaceans swarming among them. I plunged on, scaling rocks, straddling fallen tree trunks, snapping marine creepers that swayed from one tree to another, startling the fish that flitted from branch to branch. Carried away, I didn’t feel exhausted any more. I followed a guide who was immune to exhaustion.
What a sight! How can I describe it! How can I portray these woods and rocks in this liquid setting, their lower parts dark and sullen, their upper parts tinted red in this light whose intensity was doubled by the reflecting power of the waters! We scaled rocks that crumbled behind us, collapsing in enormous sections with the hollow rumble of an avalanche. To our right and left there were carved gloomy galleries where the eye lost its way. Huge glades opened up, seemingly cleared by the hand of man, and I sometimes wondered whether some residents of these underwater regions would suddenly appear before me.
But Captain Nemo kept climbing. I didn’t want to fall behind. I followed him boldly. My alpenstock was a great help. One wrong step would have been disastrous on the narrow paths cut into the sides of these chasms, but I walked along with a firm tread and without the slightest feeling of dizziness. Sometimes I leaped over a crevasse whose depth would have made me recoil had I been in the midst of glaciers on shore; sometimes I ventured out on a wobbling tree trunk fallen across a gorge, without looking down, having eyes only for marveling at the wild scenery of this region. There, leaning on erratically cut foundations, monumental rocks seemed to defy the laws of balance. From between their stony knees, trees sprang up like jets under fearsome pressure, supporting other trees that supported them in turn. Next, natural towers with wide, steeply carved battlements leaned at angles that, on dry land, the laws of gravity would never have authorized.
And I too could feel the difference created by the water’s powerful density—despite my heavy clothing, copper headpiece, and metal soles, I climbed the most impossibly steep gradients with all the nimbleness, I swear it, of a chamois or a Pyrenees mountain goat!
As for my account of this excursion under the waters, I’m well aware that it sounds incredible! I’m the chronicler of deeds seemingly impossible and yet incontestably real. This was no fantasy. This was what I saw and felt!
Two hours after leaving the Nautilus, we had cleared the timberline, and 100 feet above our heads stood the mountain peak, forming a dark silhouette against the brilliant glare that came from its far slope. Petrified shrubs rambled here and there in sprawling zigzags. Fish rose in a body at our feet like birds startled in tall grass. The rocky mass was gouged with impenetrable crevices, deep caves, unfathomable holes at whose far ends I could hear fearsome things moving around. My blood would curdle as I watched some enormous antenna bar my path, or saw some frightful pincer snap shut in the shadow of some cavity! A thousand specks of light glittered in the midst of the gloom. They were the eyes of gigantic crustaceans crouching in their lairs, giant lobsters rearing up like spear carriers and moving their claws with a scrap-iron clanking, titanic crabs aiming their bodies like cannons on their carriages, and hideous devilfish intertwining their tentacles like bushes of writhing snakes.
What was this astounding world that I didn’t yet know? In what order did these articulates belong, these creatures for which the rocks provided a second carapace? Where had nature learned the secret of their vegetating existence, and for how many centuries had they lived in the ocean’s lower strata?
But I couldn’t linger. Captain Nemo, on familiar terms with these dreadful animals, no longer minded them. We arrived at a preliminary plateau where still other surprises were waiting for me. There picturesque ruins took shape, betraying the hand of man, not our Creator. They were huge stacks of stones in which you could distinguish the indistinct forms of palaces and temples, now arrayed in hosts of blossoming zoophytes, and over it all, not ivy but a heavy mantle of algae and fucus plants.
But what part of the globe could this be, this land swallowed by cataclysms? Who had set up these rocks and stones like the dolmens of prehistoric times? Where was I, where had Captain Nemo’s fancies taken me?
I wanted to ask him. Unable to, I stopped him. I seized his arm. But he shook his head, pointed to the mountain’s topmost peak, and seemed to tell me:
“Come on! Come with me! Come higher!”
I followed him with one last burst of energy, and in a few minutes I had scaled the peak, which crowned the whole rocky mass by some ten meters.
I looked back down the side we had just cleared. There the mountain rose only 700 to 800 feet above the plains; but on its far slope it crowned the receding bottom of this part of the Atlantic by a height twice that. My eyes scanned the distance and took in a vast area lit by intense flashes of light. In essence, this mountain was a volcano. Fifty feet below its peak, amid a shower of stones and slag, a wide crater vomited torrents of lava that were dispersed in fiery cascades into the heart of the liquid mass. So situated, this volcano was an immense torch that lit up the lower plains all the way to the horizon.
As I said, this underwater crater spewed lava, but not flames. Flames need oxygen from the air and are unable to spread underwater; but a lava flow, which contains in itself the principle of its incandescence, can rise to a white heat, overpower the liquid element, and turn it into steam on contact. Swift currents swept away all this diffuse gas, and torrents of lava slid to the foot of the mountain, like the disgorgings of a Mt. Vesuvius over the city limits of a second Torre del Greco.
In fact, there beneath my eyes was a town in ruins, demolished, overwhelmed, laid low, its roofs caved in, its temples pulled down, its arches dislocated, its columns stretching over the earth; in these ruins you could still detect the solid proportions of a sort of Tuscan architecture; farther off, the remains of a gigantic aqueduct; here, the caked heights of an acropolis along with the fluid forms of a Parthenon; there, the remnants of a wharf, as if some bygone port had long ago harbored merchant vessels and triple-tiered war galleys on the shores of some lost ocean; still farther off, long rows of collapsing walls, deserted thoroughfares, a whole Pompeii buried under the waters, which Captain Nemo had resurrected before my eyes!
Where was I? Where was I? I had to find out at all cost, I wanted to speak, I wanted to rip off the copper sphere imprisoning my head.
But Captain Nemo came over and stopped me with a gesture. Then, picking up a piece of chalky stone, he advanced to a black basaltic rock and scrawled this one word:
What lightning flashed through my mind! Atlantis, that ancient land of Meropis mentioned by the historian Theopompus; Plato’s Atlantis; the continent whose very existence has been denied by such philosophers and scientists as Origen, Porphyry, Iamblichus, d’Anville, Malte-Brun, and Humboldt, who entered its disappearance in the ledger of myths and folk tales; the country whose reality has nevertheless been accepted by such other thinkers as Posidonius, Pliny, Ammianus Marcellinus, Tertullian, Engel, Scherer, Tournefort, Buffon, and d’Avezac; I had this land right under my eyes, furnishing its own unimpeachable evidence of the catastrophe that had overtaken it! So this was the submerged region that had existed outside Europe, Asia, and Libya, beyond the Pillars of Hercules, home of those powerful Atlantean people against whom ancient Greece had waged its earliest wars!
The writer whose narratives record the lofty deeds of those heroic times is Plato himself. His dialogues Timaeus and Critias were drafted with the poet and legislator Solon as their inspiration, as it were.
One day Solon was conversing with some elderly wise men in the Egyptian capital of Sais, a town already 8,000 years of age, as documented by the annals engraved on the sacred walls of its temples. One of these elders related the history of another town 1,000 years older still. This original city of Athens, ninety centuries old, had been invaded and partly destroyed by the Atlanteans. These Atlanteans, he said, resided on an immense continent greater than Africa and
Asia combined, taking in an area that lay between latitude 12 degrees and 40 degrees north. Their dominion extended even to Egypt. They tried to enforce their rule as far as Greece, but they had to retreat before the indomitable resistance of the Hellenic people. Centuries passed. A cataclysm occurred—floods, earthquakes. A single night and day were enough to obliterate this Atlantis, whose highest peaks (Madeira, the Azores, the Canaries, the Cape Verde Islands) still emerge above the waves.
These were the historical memories that Captain Nemo’s scrawl sent rushing through my mind. Thus, led by the strangest of fates, I was treading underfoot one of the mountains of that continent! My hands were touching ruins many thousands of years old, contemporary with prehistoric times! I was walking in the very place where contemporaries of early man had walked! My heavy soles were crushing the skeletons of animals from the age of fable, animals that used to take cover in the shade of these trees now turned to stone!
Oh, why was I so short of time! I would have gone down the steep slopes of this mountain, crossed this entire immense continent, which surely connects Africa with America, and visited its great prehistoric cities. Under my eyes there perhaps lay the warlike town of Makhimos or the pious village of Eusebes, whose gigantic inhabitants lived for whole centuries and had the strength to raise blocks of stone that still withstood the action of the waters. One day perhaps, some volcanic phenomenon will bring these sunken ruins back to the surface of the waves! Numerous underwater volcanoes have been sighted in this part of the ocean, and many ships have felt terrific tremors when passing over these turbulent depths. A few have heard hollow noises that announced some struggle of the elements far below, others have hauled in volcanic ash hurled above the waves. As far as the equator this whole seafloor is still under construction by plutonic forces. And in some remote epoch, built up by volcanic disgorgings and successive layers of lava, who knows whether the peaks of these fire-belching mountains may reappear above the surface of the Atlantic!
As I mused in this way, trying to establish in my memory every detail of this impressive landscape, Captain Nemo was leaning his elbows on a moss-covered monument, motionless as if petrified in some mute trance. Was he dreaming of those lost generations, asking them for the secret of human destiny? Was it here that this strange man came to revive himself, basking in historical memories, reliving that bygone life, he who had no desire for our modern one? I would have given anything to know his thoughts, to share them, understand them!
We stayed in this place an entire hour, contemplating its vast plains in the lava’s glow, which sometimes took on a startling intensity. Inner boilings sent quick shivers running through the mountain’s crust. Noises from deep underneath, clearly transmitted by the liquid medium, reverberated with majestic amplitude.
Just then the moon appeared for an instant through the watery mass, casting a few pale rays over this submerged continent. It was only a fleeting glimmer, but its effect was indescribable. The captain stood up and took one last look at these immense plains; then his hand signaled me to follow him.
We went swiftly down the mountain. Once past the petrified forest, I could see the Nautilus’s beacon twinkling like a star. The captain walked straight toward it, and we were back on board just as the first glimmers of dawn were whitening the surface of the ocean.
The Underwater Coalfields
THE NEXT DAY, February 20, I overslept. I was so exhausted from the night before, I didn’t get up until eleven o’clock. I dressed quickly. I hurried to find out the Nautilus’s heading. The instruments indicated that it was running southward at a speed of twenty miles per hour and a depth of 100 meters.
Conseil entered. I described our nocturnal excursion to him, and since the panels were open, he could still catch a glimpse of this submerged continent.
In fact, the Nautilus was skimming only ten meters over the soil of these Atlantis plains. The ship scudded along like an air balloon borne by the wind over some prairie on land; but it would be more accurate to say that we sat in the lounge as if we were riding in a coach on an express train. As for the foregrounds passing before our eyes, they were fantastically carved rocks, forests of trees that had crossed over from the vegetable kingdom into the mineral kingdom, their motionless silhouettes sprawling beneath the waves. There also were stony masses buried beneath carpets of axidia and sea anemone, bristling with long, vertical water plants, then strangely contoured blocks of lava that testified to all the fury of those plutonic developments.
While this bizarre scenery was glittering under our electric beams, I told Conseil the story of the Atlanteans, who had inspired the old French scientist Jean Bailly to write so many entertaining—albeit utterly fictitious—pages.* I told the lad about the wars of these heroic people. I discussed the question of Atlantis with the fervor of a man who no longer had any doubts. But Conseil was so distracted he barely heard me, and his lack of interest in any commentary on this historical topic was soon explained.
*Bailly believed that Atlantis was located at the North Pole! Ed.
In essence, numerous fish had caught his eye, and when fish pass by, Conseil vanishes into his world of classifying and leaves real life behind. In which case I could only tag along and resume our ichthyological research.
Even so, these Atlantic fish were not noticeably different from those we had observed earlier. There were rays of gigantic size, five meters long and with muscles so powerful they could leap above the waves, sharks of various species including a fifteen-foot glaucous shark with sharp triangular teeth and so transparent it was almost invisible amid the waters, brown lantern sharks, prism-shaped humantin sharks armored with protuberant hides, sturgeons resembling their relatives in the Mediterranean, trumpet-snouted pipefish a foot and a half long, yellowish brown with small gray fins and no teeth or tongue, unreeling like slim, supple snakes.
Among bony fish, Conseil noticed some blackish marlin three meters long with a sharp sword jutting from the upper jaw, bright-colored weevers known in Aristotle’s day as sea dragons and whose dorsal stingers make them quite dangerous to pick up, then dolphinfish with brown backs striped in blue and edged in gold, handsome dorados, moonlike opahs that look like azure disks but which the sun’s rays turn into spots of silver, finally eight-meter swordfish from the genus Xiphias, swimming in schools, sporting yellowish sickle-shaped fins and six-foot broadswords, stalwart animals, plant eaters rather than fish eaters, obeying the tiniest signals from their females like henpecked husbands.
But while observing these different specimens of marine fauna, I didn’t stop examining the long plains of Atlantis. Sometimes an unpredictable irregularity in the seafloor would force the Nautilus to slow down, and then it would glide into the narrow channels between the hills with a cetacean’s dexterity. If the labyrinth became hopelessly tangled, the submersible would rise above it like an airship, and after clearing the obstacle, it would resume its speedy course just a few meters above the ocean floor. It was an enjoyable and impressive way of navigating that did indeed recall the maneuvers of an airship ride, with the major difference that the Nautilus faithfully obeyed the hands of its helmsman.
The terrain consisted mostly of thick slime mixed with petrified branches, but it changed little by little near four o’clock in the afternoon; it grew rockier and seemed to be strewn with pudding stones and a basaltic gravel called “tuff,” together with bits of lava and sulfurous obsidian. I expected these long plains to change into mountain regions, and in fact, as the Nautilus was executing certain turns, I noticed that the southerly horizon was blocked by a high wall that seemed to close off every exit. Its summit obviously poked above the level of the ocean. It had to be a continent or at least an island, either one of the Canaries or one of the Cape Verde Islands. Our bearings hadn’t been marked on the chart—perhaps deliberately—and I had no idea what our position was. In any case this wall seemed to signal the end of Atlantis, of which, all in all, we had crossed only a small part.
Nightfall didn’t interrupt my observations. I was left to myself. Conseil had repaired to his cabin. The Nautilus slowed down, hovering above the muddled masses on the seafloor, sometimes grazing them as if wanting to come to rest, sometimes rising unpredictably to the surface of the waves. Then I glimpsed a few bright constellations through the crystal waters, specifically five or six of those zodiacal stars trailing from the tail end of Orion.
I would have stayed longer at my window, marveling at these beauties of sea and sky, but the panels closed. Just then the Nautilus had arrived at the perpendicular face of that high wall. How the ship would maneuver I hadn’t a guess. I repaired to my stateroom. The Nautilus did not stir. I fell asleep with the firm intention of waking up in just a few hours.
But it was eight o’clock the next day when I returned to the lounge. I stared at the pressure gauge. It told me that the Nautilus was afloat on the surface of the ocean. Furthermore, I heard the sound of footsteps on the platform. Yet there were no rolling movements to indicate the presence of waves undulating above me.
I climbed as far as the hatch. It was open. But instead of the broad daylight I was expecting, I found that I was surrounded by total darkness. Where were we? Had I been mistaken? Was it still night? No! Not one star was twinkling, and nighttime is never so utterly black.
I wasn’t sure what to think, when a voice said to me:
“Is that you, professor?”
“Ah, Captain Nemo!” I replied. “Where are we?”
“Underground!” I exclaimed. “And the Nautilus is still floating?”
“It always floats.”
“But I don’t understand!”
“Wait a little while. Our beacon is about to go on, and if you want some light on the subject, you’ll be satisfied.”
I set foot on the platform and waited. The darkness was so profound I couldn’t see even Captain Nemo. However, looking at the zenith directly overhead, I thought I caught sight of a feeble glimmer, a sort of twilight filtering through a circular hole. Just then the beacon suddenly went on, and its intense brightness made that hazy light vanish.
This stream of electricity dazzled my eyes, and after momentarily shutting them, I looked around. The Nautilus was stationary. It was floating next to an embankment shaped like a wharf. As for the water now buoying the ship, it was a lake completely encircled by an inner wall about two miles in diameter, hence six miles around. Its level—as indicated by the pressure gauge—would be the same as the outside level, because some connection had to exist between this lake and the sea. Slanting inward over their base, these high walls converged to form a vault shaped like an immense upside-down funnel that measured 500 or 600 meters in height. At its summit there gaped the circular opening through which I had detected that faint glimmer, obviously daylight.
Before more carefully examining the interior features of this enormous cavern, and before deciding if it was the work of nature or humankind, I went over to Captain Nemo.
“Where are we?” I said.
“In the very heart of an extinct volcano,” the captain answered me, “a volcano whose interior was invaded by the sea after some convulsion in the earth. While you were sleeping, professor, the Nautilus entered this lagoon through a natural channel that opens ten meters below the surface of the ocean. This is our home port, secure, convenient, secret, and sheltered against winds from any direction! Along the coasts of your continents or islands, show me any offshore mooring that can equal this safe refuge for withstanding the fury of hurricanes.”
“Indeed,” I replied, “here you’re in perfect safety, Captain Nemo. Who could reach you in the heart of a volcano? But don’t I see an opening at its summit?”
“Yes, its crater, a crater formerly filled with lava, steam, and flames, but which now lets in this life-giving air we’re breathing.”
“But which volcanic mountain is this?” I asked.
“It’s one of the many islets with which this sea is strewn. For ships a mere reef, for us an immense cavern. I discovered it by chance, and chance served me well.”
“But couldn’t someone enter through the mouth of its crater?”
“No more than I could exit through it. You can climb about 100 feet up the inner base of this mountain, but then the walls overhang, they lean too far in to be scaled.”
“I can see, captain, that nature is your obedient servant, any time or any place. You’re safe on this lake, and nobody else can visit its waters. But what’s the purpose of this refuge? The Nautilus doesn’t need a harbor.”
“No, professor, but it needs electricity to run, batteries to generate its electricity, sodium to feed its batteries, coal to make its sodium, and coalfields from which to dig its coal. Now then, right at this spot the sea covers entire forests that sank underwater in prehistoric times; today, turned to stone, transformed into carbon fuel, they offer me inexhaustible coal mines.”
“So, captain, your men practice the trade of miners here?”
“Precisely. These mines extend under the waves like the coalfields at Newcastle. Here, dressed in diving suits, pick and mattock in hand, my men go out and dig this carbon fuel for which I don’t need a single mine on land. When I burn this combustible to produce sodium, the smoke escaping from the mountain’s crater gives it the appearance of a still-active volcano.”
“And will we see your companions at work?”
“No, at least not this time, because I’m eager to continue our underwater tour of the world. Accordingly, I’ll rest content with drawing on my reserve stock of sodium. We’ll stay here long enough to load it on board, in other words, a single workday, then we’ll resume our voyage. So, Professor Aronnax, if you’d like to explore this cavern and circle its lagoon, seize the day.”
I thanked the captain and went to look for my two companions, who hadn’t yet left their cabin. I invited them to follow me, not telling them where we were.
They climbed onto the platform. Conseil, whom nothing could startle, saw it as a perfectly natural thing to fall asleep under the waves and wake up under a mountain. But Ned Land had no idea in his head other than to see if this cavern offered some way out.
After breakfast near ten o’clock, we went down onto the embankment.
“So here we are, back on shore,” Conseil said.
“I’d hardly call this shore,” the Canadian replied. “And besides, we aren’t on it but under it.”
A sandy beach unfolded before us, measuring 500 feet at its widest point between the waters of the lake and the foot of the mountain’s walls. Via this strand you could easily circle the lake. But the base of these high walls consisted of broken soil over which there lay picturesque piles of volcanic blocks and enormous pumice stones. All these crumbling masses were covered with an enamel polished by the action of underground fires, and they glistened under the stream of electric light from our beacon. Stirred up by our footsteps, the mica-rich dust on this beach flew into the air like a cloud of sparks.
The ground rose appreciably as it moved away from the sand flats by the waves, and we soon arrived at some long, winding gradients, genuinely steep paths that allowed us to climb little by little; but we had to tread cautiously in the midst of pudding stones that weren’t cemented together, and our feet kept skidding on glassy trachyte, made of feldspar and quartz crystals.
The volcanic nature of this enormous pit was apparent all around us. I ventured to comment on it to my companions.
“Can you picture,” I asked them, “what this funnel must have been like when it was filled with boiling lava, and the level of that incandescent liquid rose right to the mountain’s mouth, like cast iron up the insides of a furnace?”
“I can picture it perfectly,” Conseil replied. “But will master tell me why this huge smelter suspended operations, and how it is that an oven was replaced by the tranquil waters of a lake?”
“In all likelihood, Conseil, because some convulsion created an opening below the surface of the ocean, the opening that serves as a passageway for the Nautilus. Then the waters of the Atlantic rushed inside the mountain. There ensued a dreadful struggle between the elements of fire and water, a struggle ending in King Neptune’s favor. But many centuries have passed since then, and this submerged volcano has changed into a peaceful cavern.”
“That’s fine,” Ned Land answered. “I accept the explanation, but in our personal interests, I’m sorry this opening the professor mentions wasn’t made above sea level.”
“But Ned my friend,” Conseil answered, “if it weren’t an underwater passageway, the Nautilus couldn’t enter it!”
“And I might add, Mr. Land,” I said, “that the waters wouldn’t have rushed under the mountain, and the volcano would still be a volcano. So you have nothing to be sorry about.”
Our climb continued. The gradients got steeper and narrower. Sometimes they were cut across by deep pits that had to be cleared. Masses of overhanging rock had to be gotten around. You slid on your knees, you crept on your belly. But helped by the Canadian’s strength and Conseil’s dexterity, we overcame every obstacle.
At an elevation of about thirty meters, the nature of the terrain changed without becoming any easier. Pudding stones and trachyte gave way to black basaltic rock: here, lying in slabs all swollen with blisters; there, shaped like actual prisms and arranged into a series of columns that supported the springings of this immense vault, a wonderful sample of natural architecture. Then, among this basaltic rock, there snaked long, hardened lava flows inlaid with veins of bituminous coal and in places covered by wide carpets of sulfur. The sunshine coming through the crater had grown stronger, shedding a hazy light over all the volcanic waste forever buried in the heart of this extinct mountain.
But when we had ascended to an elevation of about 250 feet, we were stopped by insurmountable obstacles. The converging inside walls changed into overhangs, and our climb into a circular stroll. At this topmost level the vegetable kingdom began to challenge the mineral kingdom. Shrubs, and even a few trees, emerged from crevices in the walls. I recognized some spurges that let their caustic, purgative sap trickle out. There were heliotropes, very remiss at living up to their sun-worshipping reputations since no sunlight ever reached them; their clusters of flowers drooped sadly, their colors and scents were faded. Here and there chrysanthemums sprouted timidly at the feet of aloes with long, sad, sickly leaves. But between these lava flows I spotted little violets that still gave off a subtle fragrance, and I confess that I inhaled it with delight. The soul of a flower is its scent, and those splendid water plants, flowers of the sea, have no souls!
We had arrived at the foot of a sturdy clump of dragon trees, which were splitting the rocks with exertions of their muscular roots, when Ned Land exclaimed:
“Oh, sir, a hive!”
“A hive?” I answered, with a gesture of utter disbelief.
“Yes, a hive,” the Canadian repeated, “with bees buzzing around!”
I went closer and was forced to recognize the obvious. At the mouth of a hole cut in the trunk of a dragon tree, there swarmed thousands of these ingenious insects so common to all the Canary Islands, where their output is especially prized.
Naturally enough, the Canadian wanted to lay in a supply of honey, and it would have been ill-mannered of me to say no. He mixed sulfur with some dry leaves, set them on fire with a spark from his tinderbox, and proceeded to smoke the bees out. Little by little the buzzing died down and the disemboweled hive yielded several pounds of sweet honey. Ned Land stuffed his haversack with it.
“When I’ve mixed this honey with our breadfruit batter,” he told us, “I’ll be ready to serve you a delectable piece of cake.”
“But of course,” Conseil put in, “it will be gingerbread!”
“I’m all for gingerbread,” I said, “but let’s resume this fascinating stroll.”
At certain turns in the trail we were going along, the lake appeared in its full expanse. The ship’s beacon lit up that whole placid surface, which experienced neither ripples nor undulations. The Nautilus lay perfectly still. On its platform and on the embankment, crewmen were bustling around, black shadows that stood out clearly in the midst of the luminous air.
Just then we went around the highest ridge of these rocky foothills that supported the vault. Then I saw that bees weren’t the animal kingdom’s only representatives inside this volcano. Here and in the shadows, birds of prey soared and whirled, flying away from nests perched on tips of rock. There were sparrow hawks with white bellies, and screeching kestrels. With all the speed their stiltlike legs could muster, fine fat bustards scampered over the slopes. I’ll let the reader decide whether the Canadian’s appetite was aroused by the sight of this tasty game, and whether he regretted having no rifle in his hands. He tried to make stones do the work of bullets, and after several fruitless attempts, he managed to wound one of these magnificent bustards. To say he risked his life twenty times in order to capture this bird is simply the unadulterated truth; but he fared so well, the animal went into his sack to join the honeycombs.
By then we were forced to go back down to the beach because the ridge had become impossible. Above us, the yawning crater looked like the wide mouth of a well. From where we stood, the sky was pretty easy to see, and I watched clouds race by, disheveled by the west wind, letting tatters of mist trail over the mountain’s summit. Proof positive that those clouds kept at a moderate altitude, because this volcano didn’t rise more than 1,800 feet above the level of the ocean.
Half an hour after the Canadian’s latest exploits, we were back on the inner beach. There the local flora was represented by a wide carpet of samphire, a small umbelliferous plant that keeps quite nicely, which also boasts the names glasswort, saxifrage, and sea fennel. Conseil picked a couple bunches. As for the local fauna, it included thousands of crustaceans of every type: lobsters, hermit crabs, prawns, mysid shrimps, daddy longlegs, rock crabs, and a prodigious number of seashells, such as cowries, murex snails, and limpets.
In this locality there gaped the mouth of a magnificent cave. My companions and I took great pleasure in stretching out on its fine-grained sand. Fire had polished the sparkling enamel of its inner walls, sprinkled all over with mica-rich dust. Ned Land tapped these walls and tried to probe their thickness. I couldn’t help smiling. Our conversation then turned to his everlasting escape plans, and without going too far, I felt I could offer him this hope: Captain Nemo had gone down south only to replenish his sodium supplies. So I hoped he would now hug the coasts of Europe and America, which would allow the Canadian to try again with a greater chance of success.
We were stretched out in this delightful cave for an hour. Our conversation, lively at the outset, then languished. A definite drowsiness overcame us. Since I saw no good reason to resist the call of sleep, I fell into a heavy doze. I dreamed—one doesn’t choose his dreams—that my life had been reduced to the vegetating existence of a simple mollusk. It seemed to me that this cave made up my double-valved shell. . . .
Suddenly Conseil’s voice startled me awake.
“Get up! Get up!” shouted the fine lad.
“What is it?” I asked, in a sitting position.
“The water’s coming up to us!”
I got back on my feet. Like a torrent the sea was rushing into our retreat, and since we definitely were not mollusks, we had to clear out.
In a few seconds we were safe on top of the cave.
“What happened?” Conseil asked. “Some new phenomenon?”
“Not quite, my friends!” I replied. “It was the tide, merely the tide, which wellnigh caught us by surprise just as it did Sir Walter Scott’s hero! The ocean outside is rising, and by a perfectly natural law of balance, the level of this lake is also rising. We’ve gotten off with a mild dunking. Let’s go change clothes on the Nautilus.”
Three-quarters of an hour later, we had completed our circular stroll and were back on board. Just then the crewmen finished loading the sodium supplies, and the Nautilus could have departed immediately.
But Captain Nemo gave no orders. Would he wait for nightfall and exit through his underwater passageway in secrecy? Perhaps.
Be that as it may, by the next day the Nautilus had left its home port and was navigating well out from any shore, a few meters beneath the waves of the Atlantic.
CHAPTER 11 -
The Sargasso Sea
THE NAUTILUS didn’t change direction. For the time being, then, we had to set aside any hope of returning to European seas. Captain Nemo kept his prow pointing south. Where was he taking us? I was afraid to guess.
That day the Nautilus crossed an odd part of the Atlantic Ocean. No one is unaware of the existence of that great warm-water current known by name as the Gulf Stream. After emerging from channels off Florida, it heads toward Spitzbergen. But before entering the
Gulf of Mexico near latitude 44 degrees north, this current divides into two arms; its chief arm makes for the shores of Ireland and Norway while the second flexes southward at the level of the Azores; then it hits the coast of Africa, sweeps in a long oval, and returns to the Caribbean Sea.
Now then, this second arm—more accurately, a collar—forms a ring of warm water around a section of cool, tranquil, motionless ocean called the Sargasso Sea. This is an actual lake in the open Atlantic, and the great current’s waters take at least three years to circle it.
Properly speaking, the Sargasso Sea covers every submerged part of Atlantis. Certain authors have even held that the many weeds strewn over this sea were torn loose from the prairies of that ancient continent. But it’s more likely that these grasses, algae, and fucus plants were carried off from the beaches of Europe and America, then taken as far as this zone by the Gulf Stream. This is one of the reasons why Christopher Columbus assumed the existence of a New World. When the ships of that bold investigator arrived in the Sargasso Sea, they had great difficulty navigating in the midst of these weeds, which, much to their crews’ dismay, slowed them down to a halt; and they wasted three long weeks crossing this sector.
Such was the region our Nautilus was visiting just then: a genuine prairie, a tightly woven carpet of algae, gulfweed, and bladder wrack so dense and compact a craft’s stempost couldn’t tear through it without difficulty. Accordingly, not wanting to entangle his propeller in this weed-choked mass, Captain Nemo stayed at a depth some meters below the surface of the waves.
The name Sargasso comes from the Spanish word “sargazo,” meaning gulfweed. This gulfweed, the swimming gulfweed or berry carrier, is the chief substance making up this immense shoal. And here’s why these water plants collect in this placid Atlantic basin, according to the expert on the subject, Commander Maury, author of The Physical Geography of the Sea.
The explanation he gives seems to entail a set of conditions that everybody knows: “Now,” Maury says, “if bits of cork or chaff, or any floating substance, be put into a basin, and a circular motion be given to the water, all the light substances will be found crowding together near the center of the pool, where there is the least motion. Just such a basin is the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf Stream, and the Sargasso Sea is the center of the whirl.”
I share Maury’s view, and I was able to study the phenomenon in this exclusive setting where ships rarely go. Above us, huddled among the brown weeds, there floated objects originating from all over: tree trunks ripped from the Rocky Mountains or the Andes and sent floating down the Amazon or the Mississippi, numerous pieces of wreckage, remnants of keels or undersides, bulwarks staved in and so weighed down with seashells and barnacles, they couldn’t rise to the surface of the ocean. And the passing years will someday bear out Maury’s other view that by collecting in this way over the centuries, these substances will be turned to stone by the action of the waters and will then form inexhaustible coalfields. Valuable reserves prepared by farseeing nature for that time when man will have exhausted his mines on the continents.
In the midst of this hopelessly tangled fabric of weeds and fucus plants, I noted some delightful pink-colored, star-shaped alcyon coral, sea anemone trailing the long tresses of their tentacles, some green, red, and blue
jellyfish, and especially those big rhizostome jellyfish that Cuvier described, whose bluish parasols are trimmed with violet festoons.
We spent the whole day of February 22 in the Sargasso Sea, where fish that dote on marine plants and crustaceans find plenty to eat. The next day the ocean resumed its usual appearance.
From this moment on, for nineteen days from February 23 to March 12, the Nautilus stayed in the middle of the Atlantic, hustling us along at a constant speed of 100 leagues every twenty-four hours. It was obvious that Captain Nemo wanted to carry out his underwater program, and I had no doubt that he intended, after doubling Cape Horn, to return to the Pacific South Seas.
So Ned Land had good reason to worry. In these wide seas empty of islands, it was no longer feasible to jump ship. Nor did we have any way to counter Captain Nemo’s whims. We had no choice but to acquiesce; but if we couldn’t attain our end through force or cunning, I liked to think we might achieve it through persuasion. Once this voyage was over, might not Captain Nemo consent to set us free in return for our promise never to reveal his existence? Our word of honor, which we sincerely would have kept. However, this delicate question would have to be negotiated with the captain. But how would he receive our demands for freedom? At the very outset and in no uncertain terms, hadn’t he declared that the secret of his life required that we be permanently imprisoned on board the Nautilus? Wouldn’t he see my four-month silence as a tacit acceptance of this situation? Would my returning to this subject arouse suspicions that could jeopardize our escape plans, if we had promising circumstances for trying again later on? I weighed all these considerations, turned them over in my mind, submitted them to Conseil, but he was as baffled as I was. In short, although I’m not easily discouraged, I realized that my chances of ever seeing my fellow men again were shrinking by the day, especially at a time when Captain Nemo was recklessly racing toward the south Atlantic!
During those nineteen days just mentioned, no unique incidents distinguished our voyage. I saw little of the captain. He was at work. In the library I often found books he had left open, especially books on natural history. He had thumbed through my work on the great ocean depths, and the margins were covered with his notes, which sometimes contradicted my theories and formulations. But the captain remained content with this method of refining my work, and he rarely discussed it with me. Sometimes I heard melancholy sounds reverberating from the organ, which he played very expressively, but only at night in the midst of the most secretive darkness, while the Nautilus slumbered in the wilderness of the ocean.
During this part of our voyage, we navigated on the surface of the waves for entire days. The sea was nearly deserted. A few sailing ships, laden for the East Indies, were heading toward the Cape of Good Hope. One day we were chased by the longboats of a whaling vessel, which undoubtedly viewed us as some enormous baleen whale of great value. But Captain Nemo didn’t want these gallant gentlemen wasting their time and energy, so he ended the hunt by diving beneath the waters. This incident seemed to fascinate Ned Land intensely. I’m sure the Canadian was sorry that these fishermen couldn’t harpoon our sheet-iron cetacean and mortally wound it.
During this period the fish Conseil and I observed differed little from those we had already studied in other latitudes. Chief among them were specimens of that dreadful cartilaginous genus that’s divided into three subgenera numbering at least thirty-two species: striped sharks five meters long, the head squat and wider than the body, the caudal fin curved, the back with seven big, black, parallel lines running lengthwise; then perlon sharks, ash gray, pierced with seven gill openings, furnished with a single dorsal fin placed almost exactly in the middle of the body.
Some big dogfish also passed by, a voracious species of shark if there ever was one. With some justice, fishermen’s yarns aren’t to be trusted, but here’s what a few of them relate. Inside the corpse of one of these animals there were found a buffalo head and a whole calf; in another, two tuna and a sailor in uniform; in yet another, a soldier with his saber; in another, finally, a horse with its rider. In candor, none of these sounds like divinely inspired truth. But the fact remains that not a single dogfish let itself get caught in the Nautilus’s nets, so I can’t vouch for their voracity.
Schools of elegant, playful dolphin swam alongside for entire days. They went in groups of five or six, hunting in packs like wolves over the countryside; moreover, they’re just as voracious as dogfish, if I can believe a certain Copenhagen professor who says that from one dolphin’s stomach, he removed thirteen porpoises and fifteen seals. True, it was a killer whale, belonging to the biggest known species, whose length sometimes exceeds twenty-four feet. The family Delphinia numbers ten genera, and the dolphins I saw were akin to the genus Delphinorhynchus, remarkable for an extremely narrow muzzle four times as long as the cranium. Measuring three meters, their bodies were black on top, underneath a pinkish white strewn with small, very scattered spots.
From these seas I’ll also mention some unusual specimens of croakers, fish from the order Acanthopterygia, family Scienidea. Some authors—more artistic than scientific—claim that these fish are melodious singers, that their voices in unison put on concerts unmatched by human choristers. I don’t say nay, but to my regret these croakers didn’t serenade us as we passed.
Finally, to conclude, Conseil classified a large number of flying fish. Nothing could have made a more unusual sight than the marvelous timing with which dolphins hunt these fish. Whatever the range of its flight, however evasive its trajectory (even up and over the Nautilus), the hapless flying fish always found a dolphin to welcome it with open mouth. These were either flying gurnards or kitelike sea robins, whose lips glowed in the dark, at night scrawling fiery streaks in the air before plunging into the murky waters like so many shooting stars.
Our navigating continued under these conditions until March 13. That day the Nautilus was put to work in some depth-sounding experiments that fascinated me deeply.
By then we had fared nearly 13,000 leagues from our starting point in the Pacific high seas. Our position fix placed us in latitude 45 degrees 37’ south and longitude 37 degrees 53’ west. These were the same waterways where Captain Denham, aboard the Herald, payed out 14,000 meters of sounding line without finding bottom. It was here too that Lieutenant Parker, aboard the American frigate Congress, was unable to reach the underwater soil at 15,149 meters.
Captain Nemo decided to take his Nautilus down to the lowest depths in order to double-check these different soundings. I got ready to record the results of this experiment. The panels in the lounge opened, and maneuvers began for reaching those strata so prodigiously far removed.
It was apparently considered out of the question to dive by filling the ballast tanks. Perhaps they wouldn’t sufficiently increase the Nautilus’s specific gravity. Moreover, in order to come back up, it would be necessary to expel the excess water, and our pumps might not have been strong enough to overcome the outside pressure.
Captain Nemo decided to make for the ocean floor by submerging on an appropriately gradual diagonal with the help of his side fins, which were set at a 45 degrees angle to the Nautilus’s waterline. Then the propeller was brought to its maximum speed, and its four blades churned the waves with indescribable violence.
Under this powerful thrust the Nautilus’s hull quivered like a resonating chord, and the ship sank steadily under the waters. Stationed in the lounge, the captain and I watched the needle swerving swiftly over the pressure gauge. Soon we had gone below the livable zone where most fish reside. Some of these animals can thrive only at the surface of seas or rivers, but a minority can dwell at fairly great depths. Among the latter I observed a species of dogfish called the cow shark that’s equipped with six respiratory slits, the telescope fish with its enormous eyes, the armored gurnard with gray thoracic fins plus black pectoral fins and a breastplate protected by pale red slabs of bone, then finally the grenadier, living at a depth of 1,200 meters, by that point tolerating a pressure of 120 atmospheres.
I asked Captain Nemo if he had observed any fish at more considerable depths.
“Fish? Rarely!” he answered me. “But given the current state of marine science, who are we to presume, what do we really know of these depths?”
“Just this, captain. In going toward the ocean’s lower strata, we know that vegetable life disappears more quickly than animal life. We know that moving creatures can still be encountered where water plants no longer grow. We know that oysters and pilgrim scallops live in 2,000 meters of water, and that Admiral McClintock, England’s hero of the polar seas, pulled in a live sea star from a depth of 2,500 meters. We know that the crew of the Royal Navy’s Bulldog fished up a starfish from 2,620 fathoms, hence from a depth of more than one vertical league. Would you still say, Captain Nemo, that we really know nothing?”
“No, professor,” the captain replied, “I wouldn’t be so discourteous. Yet I’ll ask you to explain how these creatures can live at such depths?”
“I explain it on two grounds,” I replied. “In the first place, because vertical currents, which are caused by differences in the water’s salinity and density, can produce enough motion to sustain the rudimentary lifestyles of sea lilies and starfish.”
“True,” the captain put in.
“In the second place, because oxygen is the basis of life, and we know that the amount of oxygen dissolved in salt water increases rather than decreases with depth, that the pressure in these lower strata helps to concentrate their oxygen content.”
“Oho! We know that, do we?” Captain Nemo replied in a tone of mild surprise. “Well, professor, we have good reason to know it because it’s the truth. I might add, in fact, that the air bladders of fish contain more nitrogen than oxygen when these animals are caught at the surface of the water, and conversely, more oxygen than nitrogen when they’re pulled up from the lower depths. Which bears out your formulation. But let’s continue our observations.”
My eyes flew back to the pressure gauge. The instrument indicated a depth of 6,000 meters. Our submergence had been going on for an hour. The Nautilus slid downward on its slanting fins, still sinking. These deserted waters were wonderfully clear, with a transparency impossible to convey. An hour later we were at 13,000 meters—about three and a quarter vertical leagues—and the ocean floor was nowhere in sight.
However, at 14,000 meters I saw blackish peaks rising in the midst of the waters. But these summits could have belonged to mountains as high or even higher than the Himalayas or Mt. Blanc, and the extent of these depths remained incalculable.
Despite the powerful pressures it was undergoing, the Nautilus sank still deeper. I could feel its sheet-iron plates trembling down to their riveted joins; metal bars arched; bulkheads groaned; the lounge windows seemed to be warping inward under the water’s pressure. And this whole sturdy mechanism would surely have given way, if, as its captain had said, it weren’t capable of resisting like a solid block.
While grazing these rocky slopes lost under the waters, I still spotted some seashells, tube worms, lively annelid worms from the genus Spirorbis, and certain starfish specimens.
But soon these last representatives of animal life vanished, and three vertical leagues down, the Nautilus passed below the limits of underwater existence just as an air balloon rises above the breathable zones in the sky. We reached a depth of 16,000 meters—four vertical leagues—and by then the Nautilus’s plating was tolerating a pressure of 1,600 atmospheres, in other words, 1,600 kilograms per each square centimeter on its surface!
“What an experience!” I exclaimed. “Traveling these deep regions where no man has ever ventured before! Look, captain! Look at these magnificent rocks, these uninhabited caves, these last global haunts where life is no longer possible! What unheard-of scenery, and why are we reduced to preserving it only as a memory?”
“Would you like,” Captain Nemo asked me, “to bring back more than just a memory?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that nothing could be easier than taking a photograph of this underwater region!”
Before I had time to express the surprise this new proposition caused me, a camera was carried into the lounge at Captain Nemo’s request. The liquid setting, electrically lit, unfolded with perfect clarity through the wide-open panels. No shadows, no blurs, thanks to our artificial light. Not even sunshine could have been better for our purposes. With the thrust of its propeller curbed by the slant of its fins, the Nautilus stood still. The camera was aimed at the scenery on the ocean floor, and in a few seconds we had a perfect negative.
I attach a print of the positive. In it you can view these primordial rocks that have never seen the light of day, this nether granite that forms the powerful foundation of our globe, the deep caves cut into the stony mass, the outlines of incomparable distinctness whose far edges stand out in black as if from the brush of certain Flemish painters. In the distance is a mountainous horizon, a wondrously undulating line that makes up the background of this landscape. The general effect of these smooth rocks is indescribable: black, polished, without moss or other blemish, carved into strange shapes, sitting firmly on a carpet of sand that sparkled beneath our streams of electric light.
Meanwhile, his photographic operations over, Captain Nemo told me:
“Let’s go back up, professor. We mustn’t push our luck and expose the Nautilus too long to these pressures.”
“Let’s go back up!” I replied.
“Hold on tight.”
Before I had time to realize why the captain made this recommendation, I was hurled to the carpet.
Its fins set vertically, its propeller thrown in gear at the captain’s signal, the Nautilus rose with lightning speed, shooting upward like an air balloon into the sky. Vibrating resonantly, it knifed through the watery mass. Not a single detail was visible. In four minutes it had cleared the four vertical leagues separating it from the surface of the ocean, and after emerging like a flying fish, it fell back into the sea, making the waves leap to prodigious heights.
CHAPTER 12 -
Sperm Whales and Baleen Whales
DURING THE NIGHT of March 13-14, the Nautilus resumed its southward heading. Once it was abreast of Cape Horn, I thought it would strike west of the cape, make for Pacific seas, and complete its tour of the world. It did nothing of the sort and kept moving toward the southernmost regions. So where was it bound? The pole? That was insanity. I was beginning to think that the captain’s recklessness more than justified Ned Land’s worst fears.
For a good while the Canadian had said nothing more to me about his escape plans. He had become less sociable, almost sullen. I could see how heavily this protracted imprisonment was weighing on him. I could feel the anger building in him. Whenever he encountered the captain, his eyes would flicker with dark fire, and I was in constant dread that his natural vehemence would cause him to do something rash.
That day, March 14, he and Conseil managed to find me in my stateroom. I asked them the purpose of their visit.
“To put a simple question to you, sir,” the Canadian answered me.
“Go on, Ned.”
“How many men do you think are on board the Nautilus?”
“I’m unable to say, my friend.”
“It seems to me,” Ned Land went on, “that it wouldn’t take much of a crew to run a ship like this one.”
“Correct,” I replied. “Under existing conditions some ten men at the most should be enough to operate it.”
“All right,” the Canadian said, “then why should there be any more than that?”
“Why?” I answered.
I stared at Ned Land, whose motives were easy to guess.
“Because,” I said, “if I can trust my hunches, if I truly understand the captain’s way of life, his Nautilus isn’t simply a ship. It’s meant to be a refuge for people like its commander, people who have severed all ties with the shore.”
“Perhaps,” Conseil said, “but in a nutshell, the Nautilus can hold only a certain number of men, so couldn’t master estimate their maximum?”
“By calculating it. Master is familiar with the ship’s capacity, hence the amount of air it contains; on the other hand, master knows how much air each man consumes in the act of breathing, and he can compare this data with the fact that the Nautilus must rise to the surface every twenty-four hours . . .”
Conseil didn’t finish his sentence, but I could easily see what he was driving at.
“I follow you,” I said. “But while they’re simple to do, such calculations can give only a very uncertain figure.”
“No problem,” the Canadian went on insistently.
“Then here’s how to calculate it,” I replied. “In one hour each man consumes the oxygen contained in 100 liters of air, hence during twenty-four hours the oxygen contained in 2,400 liters. Therefore, we must look for the multiple of 2,400 liters of air that gives us the amount found in the Nautilus.”
“Precisely,” Conseil said.
“Now then,” I went on, “the Nautilus’s capacity is 1,500 metric tons, and that of a ton is 1,000 liters, so the Nautilus holds 1,500,000 liters of air, which, divided by 2,400 . . .”
I did a quick pencil calculation.
“. . . gives us the quotient of 625. Which is tantamount to saying that the air contained in the Nautilus would be exactly enough for 625 men over twenty-four hours.”
“625!” Ned repeated.
“But rest assured,” I added, “that between passengers, seamen, or officers, we don’t total one-tenth of that figure.”
“Which is still too many for three men!” Conseil muttered.
“So, my poor Ned, I can only counsel patience.”
“And,” Conseil replied, “even more than patience, resignation.”
Conseil had said the true word.
“Even so,” he went on, “Captain Nemo can’t go south forever! He’ll surely have to stop, if only at the Ice Bank, and he’ll return to the seas of civilization! Then it will be time to resume Ned Land’s plans.”
The Canadian shook his head, passed his hand over his brow, made no reply, and left us.
“With master’s permission, I’ll make an observation to him,” Conseil then told me. “Our poor Ned broods about all the things he can’t have. He’s haunted by his former life. He seems to miss everything that’s denied us. He’s obsessed by his old memories and it’s breaking his heart. We must understand him. What does he have to occupy him here? Nothing. He isn’t a scientist like master, and he doesn’t share our enthusiasm for the sea’s wonders. He would risk anything just to enter a tavern in his own country!”
To be sure, the monotony of life on board must have seemed unbearable to the Canadian, who was accustomed to freedom and activity. It was a rare event that could excite him. That day, however, a development occurred that reminded him of his happy years as a harpooner.
Near eleven o’clock in the morning, while on the surface of the ocean, the Nautilus fell in with a herd of baleen whales. This encounter didn’t surprise me, because I knew these animals were being hunted so relentlessly that they took refuge in the ocean basins of the high latitudes.
In the maritime world and in the realm of geographic exploration, whales have played a major role. This is the animal that first dragged the Basques in its wake, then Asturian Spaniards, Englishmen, and Dutchmen, emboldening them against the ocean’s perils, and leading them to the ends of the earth. Baleen whales like to frequent the southernmost and northernmost seas. Old legends even claim that these cetaceans led fishermen to within a mere seven leagues of the North Pole. Although this feat is fictitious, it will someday come true, because it’s likely that by hunting whales in the Arctic or Antarctic regions, man will finally reach this unknown spot on the globe.
We were seated on the platform next to a tranquil sea. The month of March, since it’s the equivalent of October in these latitudes, was giving us some fine autumn days. It was the Canadian—on this topic he was never mistaken—who sighted a baleen whale on the eastern horizon. If you looked carefully, you could see its blackish back alternately rise and fall above the waves, five miles from the Nautilus.
“Wow!” Ned Land exclaimed. “If I were on board a whaler, there’s an encounter that would be great fun! That’s one big animal! Look how high its blowholes are spouting all that air and steam! Damnation! Why am I chained to this hunk of sheet iron!”
“Why, Ned!” I replied. “You still aren’t over your old fishing urges?”
“How could a whale fisherman forget his old trade, sir? Who could ever get tired of such exciting hunting?”
“You’ve never fished these seas, Ned?”
“Never, sir. Just the northernmost seas, equally in the Bering Strait and the Davis Strait.”
“So the southern right whale is still unknown to you. Until now it’s the
bowhead whale you’ve hunted, and it won’t risk going past the warm waters of the equator.”
“Oh, professor, what are you feeding me?” the Canadian answered in a tolerably skeptical tone.
“I’m feeding you the facts.”
“By thunder! In ’65, just two and a half years ago, I to whom you speak, I myself stepped onto the carcass of a whale near Greenland, and its flank still carried the marked harpoon of a whaling ship from the Bering Sea. Now I ask you, after it had been wounded west of America, how could this animal be killed in the east, unless it had cleared the equator and doubled Cape Horn or the
Cape of Good
“I agree with our friend Ned,” Conseil said, “and I’m waiting to hear how master will reply to him.”
“Master will reply, my friends, that baleen whales are localized, according to species, within certain seas that they never leave. And if one of these animals went from the Bering Strait to the Davis Strait, it’s quite simply because there’s some passageway from the one sea to the other, either along the coasts of Canada or Siberia.”
“You expect us to fall for that?” the Canadian asked, tipping me a wink.
“If master says so,” Conseil replied.
“Which means,” the Canadian went on, “since I’ve never fished these waterways, I don’t know the whales that frequent them?”
“That’s what I’ve been telling you, Ned.”
“All the more reason to get to know them,” Conseil answered.
“Look! Look!” the Canadian exclaimed, his voice full of excitement. “It’s approaching! It’s coming toward us! It’s thumbing its nose at me! It knows I can’t do a blessed thing to it!”
Ned stamped his foot. Brandishing an imaginary harpoon, his hands positively trembled.
“These cetaceans,” he asked, “are they as big as the ones in the northernmost seas?”
“Pretty nearly, Ned.”
“Because I’ve seen big baleen whales, sir, whales measuring up to 100 feet long! I’ve even heard that those rorqual whales off the Aleutian Islands sometimes get over 150 feet.”
“That strikes me as exaggerated,” I replied. “Those animals are only members of the genus Balaenoptera furnished with dorsal fins, and like sperm whales, they’re generally smaller than the bowhead whale.”
“Oh!” exclaimed the Canadian, whose eyes hadn’t left the ocean. “It’s getting closer, it’s coming into the Nautilus’s waters!”
Then, going on with his conversation:
“You talk about sperm whales,” he said, “as if they were little beasts! But there are stories of gigantic
whales. They’re shrewd cetaceans. I hear that some will cover themselves with algae and fucus plants. People mistake them for islets. They pitch camp on top, make themselves at home, light a fire—”
“Build houses,” Conseil said.
“Yes, funny man,” Ned Land replied. “Then one fine day the animal dives and drags all its occupants down into the depths.”
“Like in the voyages of Sinbad the Sailor,” I answered, laughing. “Oh, Mr. Land, you’re addicted to tall tales! What sperm whales you’re handing us! I hope you don’t really believe in them!”
“Mr. Naturalist,” the Canadian replied in all seriousness, “when it comes to whales, you can believe anything! (Look at that one move! Look at it stealing away!) People claim these animals can circle around the world in just fifteen days.”
“I don’t say nay.”
“But what you undoubtedly don’t know, Professor Aronnax, is that at the beginning of the world, whales traveled even quicker.”
“Oh really, Ned! And why so?”
“Because in those days their tails moved side to side, like those on fish, in other words, their tails were straight up, thrashing the water from left to right, right to left. But spotting that they swam too fast, our Creator twisted their tails, and ever since they’ve been thrashing the waves up and down, at the expense of their speed.”
“Fine, Ned,” I said, then resurrected one of the Canadian’s expressions. “You expect us to fall for that?”
“Not too terribly,” Ned Land replied, “and no more than if I told you there are whales that are 300 feet long and weigh 1,000,000 pounds.”
“That’s indeed considerable,” I said. “But you must admit that certain cetaceans do grow to significant size, since they’re said to supply as much as 120 metric tons of oil.”
“That I’ve seen,” the Canadian said.
“I can easily believe it, Ned, just as I can believe that certain baleen whales equal 100 elephants in bulk. Imagine the impact of such a mass if it were launched at full speed!”
“Is it true,” Conseil asked, “that they can sink ships?”
“Ships? I doubt it,” I replied. “However, they say that in 1820, right in these southern seas, a baleen whale rushed at the Essex and pushed it backward at a speed of four meters per second. Its stern was flooded, and the Essex went down fast.”
Ned looked at me with a bantering expression.
“Speaking for myself,” he said, “I once got walloped by a whale’s tail—in my longboat, needless to say. My companions and I were launched to an altitude of six meters. But next to the professor’s whale, mine was just a baby.”
“Do these animals live a long time?” Conseil asked.
“A thousand years,” the Canadian replied without hesitation.
“And how, Ned,” I asked, “do you know that’s so?”
“Because people say so.”
“And why do people say so?”
“Because people know so.”
“No, Ned! People don’t know so, they suppose so, and here’s the logic with which they back up their beliefs. When fishermen first hunted whales 400 years ago, these animals grew to bigger sizes than they do today. Reasonably enough, it’s assumed that today’s whales are smaller because they haven’t had time to reach their full growth. That’s why the Count de Buffon’s encyclopedia says that cetaceans can live, and even must live, for a thousand years. You understand?”
Ned Land didn’t understand. He no longer even heard me. That baleen whale kept coming closer. His eyes devoured it.
“Oh!” he exclaimed. “It’s not just one whale, it’s ten, twenty, a whole gam! And I can’t do a thing! I’m tied hand and foot!”
“But Ned my friend,” Conseil said, “why not ask Captain Nemo for permission to hunt—”
Before Conseil could finish his sentence, Ned Land scooted down the hatch and ran to look for the captain. A few moments later, the two of them reappeared on the platform.
Captain Nemo observed the herd of cetaceans cavorting on the waters a mile from the Nautilus.
“They’re southern right whales,” he said. “There goes the fortune of a whole whaling fleet.”
“Well, sir,” the Canadian asked, “couldn’t I hunt them, just so I don’t forget my old harpooning trade?”
“Hunt them? What for?” Captain Nemo replied. “Simply to destroy them? We have no use for whale oil on this ship.”
“But, sir,” the Canadian went on, “in the Red Sea you authorized us to chase a dugong!”
“There it was an issue of obtaining fresh meat for my crew. Here it would be killing for the sake of killing. I’m well aware that’s a privilege reserved for mankind, but I don’t allow such murderous pastimes. When your peers, Mr. Land, destroy decent, harmless creatures like the southern right whale or the bowhead whale, they commit a reprehensible offense. Thus they’ve already depopulated all of Baffin Bay, and they’ll wipe out a whole class of useful animals. So leave these poor cetaceans alone. They have quite enough natural enemies, such as sperm whales, swordfish, and sawfish, without you meddling with them.”
I’ll let the reader decide what faces the Canadian made during this lecture on hunting ethics. Furnishing such arguments to a professional harpooner was a waste of words. Ned Land stared at Captain Nemo and obviously missed his meaning. But the captain was right. Thanks to the mindless, barbaric bloodthirstiness of fishermen, the last baleen whale will someday disappear from the ocean.
Ned Land whistled “Yankee Doodle” between his teeth, stuffed his hands in his pockets, and turned his back on us.
Meanwhile Captain Nemo studied the herd of cetaceans, then addressed me:
“I was right to claim that baleen whales have enough natural enemies without counting man. These specimens will soon have to deal with mighty opponents. Eight miles to leeward, Professor Aronnax, can you see those blackish specks moving about?”
“Yes, captain,” I replied.
“Those are sperm whales, dreadful animals that I’ve sometimes encountered in herds of 200 or 300! As for them, they’re cruel, destructive beasts, and they deserve to be exterminated.”
The Canadian turned swiftly at these last words.
“Well, captain,” I said, “on behalf of the baleen whales, there’s still time—”
“It’s pointless to run any risks, professor. The Nautilus will suffice to disperse these sperm whales. It’s armed with a steel spur quite equal to Mr. Land’s harpoon, I imagine.”
The Canadian didn’t even bother shrugging his shoulders. Attacking cetaceans with thrusts from a spur! Who ever heard of such malarkey!
“Wait and see, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo said. “We’ll show you a style of hunting with which you aren’t yet familiar. We’ll take no pity on these ferocious cetaceans. They’re merely mouth and teeth!”
Mouth and teeth! There’s no better way to describe the long-skulled sperm whale, whose length sometimes exceeds twenty-five meters. The enormous head of this cetacean occupies about a third of its body. Better armed than a baleen whale, whose upper jaw is adorned solely with whalebone, the sperm whale is equipped with twenty-five huge teeth that are twenty centimeters high, have cylindrical, conical summits, and weigh two pounds each. In the top part of this enormous head, inside big cavities separated by cartilage, you’ll find 300 to 400 kilograms of that valuable oil called “spermaceti.” The sperm whale is an awkward animal, more tadpole than fish, as Professor Frédol has noted. It’s poorly constructed, being “defective,” so to speak, over the whole left side of its frame, with good eyesight only in its right eye.
Meanwhile that monstrous herd kept coming closer. It had seen the baleen whales and was preparing to attack. You could tell in advance that the sperm whales would be victorious, not only because they were better built for fighting than their harmless adversaries, but also because they could stay longer underwater before returning to breathe at the surface.
There was just time to run to the rescue of the baleen whales. The Nautilus proceeded to midwater. Conseil, Ned, and I sat in front of the lounge windows. Captain Nemo made his way to the helmsman’s side to operate his submersible as an engine of destruction. Soon I felt the beats of our propeller getting faster, and we picked up speed.
The battle between sperm whales and baleen whales had already begun when the Nautilus arrived. It maneuvered to cut into the herd of long-skulled predators. At first the latter showed little concern at the sight of this new monster meddling in the battle. But they soon had to sidestep its thrusts.
What a struggle! Ned Land quickly grew enthusiastic and even ended up applauding. Brandished in its captain’s hands, the Nautilus was simply a fearsome harpoon. He hurled it at those fleshy masses and ran them clean through, leaving behind two squirming animal halves. As for those daunting strokes of the tail hitting our sides, the ship never felt them. No more than the collisions it caused. One sperm whale exterminated, it ran at another, tacked on the spot so as not to miss its prey, went ahead or astern, obeyed its rudder, dived when the cetacean sank to deeper strata, rose with it when it returned to the surface, struck it head-on or slantwise, hacked at it or tore it, and from every direction and at any speed, skewered it with its dreadful spur.
What bloodshed! What a hubbub on the surface of the waves! What sharp hisses and snorts unique to these frightened animals! Their tails churned the normally peaceful strata into actual billows.
This Homeric slaughter dragged on for an hour, and the long-skulled predators couldn’t get away. Several times ten or twelve of them teamed up, trying to crush the Nautilus with their sheer mass. Through the windows you could see their enormous mouths paved with teeth, their fearsome eyes. Losing all self-control, Ned Land hurled threats and insults at them. You could feel them clinging to the submersible like hounds atop a wild boar in the underbrush. But by forcing the pace of its propeller, the Nautilus carried them off, dragged them under, or brought them back to the upper level of the waters, untroubled by their enormous weight or their powerful grip.
Finally this mass of sperm whales thinned out. The waves grew tranquil again. I felt us rising to the surface of the ocean. The hatch opened and we rushed onto the platform.
The sea was covered with mutilated corpses. A fearsome explosion couldn’t have slashed, torn, or shredded these fleshy masses with greater violence. We were floating in the midst of gigantic bodies, bluish on the back, whitish on the belly, and all deformed by enormous protuberances. A few frightened sperm whales were fleeing toward the horizon. The waves were dyed red over an area of several miles, and the Nautilus was floating in the middle of a sea of blood.
Captain Nemo rejoined us.
“Well, Mr. Land?” he said.
“Well, sir,” replied the Canadian, whose enthusiasm had subsided, “it’s a dreadful sight for sure. But I’m a hunter not a butcher, and this is plain butchery.”
“It was a slaughter of destructive animals,” the captain replied, “and the Nautilus is no butcher knife.”
“I prefer my harpoon,” the Canadian answered.
“To each his own,” the captain replied, staring intently at Ned Land.
I was in dread the latter would give way to some violent outburst that might have had deplorable consequences. But his anger was diverted by the sight of a baleen whale that the Nautilus had pulled alongside of just then.
This animal had been unable to escape the teeth of those sperm whales. I recognized the southern right whale, its head squat, its body dark all over. Anatomically, it’s distinguished from the white whale and the black right whale by the fusion of its seven cervical vertebrae, and it numbers two more ribs than its relatives. Floating on its side, its belly riddled with bites, the poor cetacean was dead. Still hanging from the tip of its mutilated fin was a little baby whale that it had been unable to rescue from the slaughter. Its open mouth let water flow through its whalebone like a murmuring surf.
Captain Nemo guided the Nautilus next to the animal’s corpse. Two of his men climbed onto the whale’s flank, and to my astonishment, I saw them draw from its udders all the milk they held, in other words, enough to fill two or three casks.
The captain offered me a cup of this still-warm milk. I couldn’t help showing my distaste for such a beverage. He assured me that this milk was excellent, no different from cow’s milk.
I sampled it and agreed. So this milk was a worthwhile reserve ration for us, because in the form of salt butter or cheese, it would provide a pleasant change of pace from our standard fare.
From that day on, I noted with some uneasiness that Ned Land’s attitudes toward Captain Nemo grew worse and worse, and I decided to keep a close watch on the Canadian’s movements and activities.
CHAPTER 13 -
The Ice Bank
THE NAUTILUS resumed its unruffled southbound heading. It went along the 50th meridian with considerable speed. Would it go to the pole? I didn’t think so, because every previous attempt to reach this spot on the globe had failed. Besides, the season was already quite advanced, since March 13 on Antarctic shores corresponds with September 13 in the northernmost regions, which marks the beginning of the equinoctial period.
On March 14 at latitude 55 degrees, I spotted floating ice, plain pale bits of rubble twenty to twenty-five feet long, which formed reefs over which the sea burst into foam. The Nautilus stayed on the surface of the ocean. Having fished in the Arctic seas, Ned Land was already familiar with the sight of icebergs. Conseil and I were marveling at them for the first time.
In the sky toward the southern horizon, there stretched a dazzling white band. English whalers have given this the name “ice blink.” No matter how heavy the clouds may be, they can’t obscure this phenomenon. It announces the presence of a pack, or shoal, of ice.
Indeed, larger blocks of ice soon appeared, their brilliance varying at the whim of the mists. Some of these masses displayed green veins, as if scrawled with undulating lines of copper sulfate. Others looked like enormous amethysts, letting the light penetrate their insides. The latter reflected the sun’s rays from the thousand facets of their crystals. The former, tinted with a bright limestone sheen, would have supplied enough building material to make a whole marble town.
The farther down south we went, the more these floating islands grew in numbers and prominence. Polar birds nested on them by the thousands. These were petrels, cape pigeons, or puffins, and their calls were deafening. Mistaking the Nautilus for the corpse of a whale, some of them alighted on it and prodded its resonant sheet iron with pecks of their beaks.
During this navigating in the midst of the ice, Captain Nemo often stayed on the platform. He observed these deserted waterways carefully. I saw his calm eyes sometimes perk up. In these polar seas forbidden to man, did he feel right at home, the lord of these unreachable regions? Perhaps. But he didn’t say. He stood still, reviving only when his pilot’s instincts took over. Then, steering his Nautilus with consummate dexterity, he skillfully dodged the masses of ice, some of which measured several miles in length, their heights varying from seventy to eighty meters. Often the horizon seemed completely closed off. Abreast of latitude 60 degrees, every passageway had disappeared. Searching with care, Captain Nemo soon found a narrow opening into which he brazenly slipped, well aware, however, that it would close behind him.
Guided by his skillful hands, the Nautilus passed by all these different masses of ice, which are classified by size and shape with a precision that enraptured Conseil: “icebergs,” or mountains; “ice fields,” or smooth, limitless tracts; “drift ice,” or floating floes; “packs,” or broken tracts, called “patches” when they’re circular and “streams” when they form long strips.
The temperature was fairly low. Exposed to the outside air, the thermometer marked -2 degrees to
-3 degrees centigrade. But we were warmly dressed in furs, for which seals and aquatic bears had paid the price. Evenly heated by all its electric equipment, the Nautilus’s interior defied the most intense cold. Moreover, to find a bearable temperature, the ship had only to sink just a few meters beneath the waves.
Two months earlier we would have enjoyed perpetual daylight in this latitude; but night already fell for three or four hours, and later it would cast six months of shadow over these circumpolar regions.
On March 15 we passed beyond the latitude of the South Shetland and South Orkney Islands. The captain told me that many tribes of seals used to inhabit these shores; but English and American whalers, in a frenzy of destruction, slaughtered all the adults, including pregnant females, and where life and activity once existed, those fishermen left behind only silence and death.
Going along the 55th meridian, the Nautilus cut the Antarctic Circle on March 16 near eight o’clock in the morning. Ice completely surrounded us and closed off the horizon. Nevertheless, Captain Nemo went from passageway to passageway, always proceeding south.
“But where’s he going?” I asked.
“Straight ahead,” Conseil replied. “Ultimately, when he can’t go any farther, he’ll stop.”
“I wouldn’t bet on it!” I replied.
And in all honesty, I confess that this venturesome excursion was far from displeasing to me. I can’t express the intensity of my amazement at the beauties of these new regions. The ice struck superb poses. Here, its general effect suggested an oriental town with countless minarets and mosques. There, a city in ruins, flung to the ground by convulsions in the earth. These views were varied continuously by the sun’s oblique rays, or were completely swallowed up by gray mists in the middle of blizzards. Then explosions, cave-ins, and great iceberg somersaults would occur all around us, altering the scenery like the changing landscape in a diorama.
If the Nautilus was submerged during these losses of balance, we heard the resulting noises spread under the waters with frightful intensity, and the collapse of these masses created daunting eddies down to the ocean’s lower strata. The Nautilus then rolled and pitched like a ship left to the fury of the elements.
Often, no longer seeing any way out, I thought we were imprisoned for good, but Captain Nemo, guided by his instincts, discovered new passageways from the tiniest indications. He was never wrong when he observed slender threads of bluish water streaking through these ice fields. Accordingly, I was sure that he had already risked his Nautilus in the midst of the Antarctic seas.
However, during the day of March 16, these tracts of ice completely barred our path. It wasn’t the Ice Bank as yet, just huge ice fields cemented together by the cold. This obstacle couldn’t stop Captain Nemo, and he launched his ship against the ice fields with hideous violence. The Nautilus went into these brittle masses like a wedge, splitting them with dreadful cracklings. It was an old-fashioned battering ram propelled with infinite power. Hurled aloft, ice rubble fell back around us like hail. Through brute force alone, the submersible carved out a channel for itself. Carried away by its momentum, the ship sometimes mounted on top of these tracts of ice and crushed them with its weight, or at other times, when cooped up beneath the ice fields, it split them with simple pitching movements, creating wide punctures.
Violent squalls assaulted us during the daytime. Thanks to certain heavy mists, we couldn’t see from one end of the platform to the other. The wind shifted abruptly to every point on the compass. The snow was piling up in such packed layers, it had to be chipped loose with blows from picks. Even in a temperature of merely -5 degrees centigrade, every outside part of the Nautilus was covered with ice. A ship’s rigging would have been unusable, because all its tackle would have jammed in the grooves of the pulleys. Only a craft without sails, driven by an electric motor that needed no coal, could face such high latitudes.
Under these conditions the barometer generally stayed quite low. It fell as far as 73.5 centimeters. Our compass indications no longer offered any guarantees. The deranged needles would mark contradictory directions as we approached the southern magnetic pole, which doesn’t coincide with the South Pole proper. In fact, according to the astronomer Hansteen, this magnetic pole is located fairly close to latitude 70 degrees and longitude 130 degrees, or abiding by the observations of Louis-Isidore Duperrey, in longitude 135 degrees and latitude 70 degrees 30’. Hence we had to transport compasses to different parts of the ship, take many readings, and strike an average. Often we could chart our course only by guesswork, a less than satisfactory method in the midst of these winding passageways whose landmarks change continuously.
At last on March 18, after twenty futile assaults, the Nautilus was decisively held in check. No longer was it an ice stream, patch, or field—it was an endless, immovable barrier formed by ice mountains fused to each other.
“The Ice Bank!” the Canadian told me.
For Ned Land, as well as for every navigator before us, I knew that this was the great insurmountable obstacle. When the sun appeared for an instant near noon, Captain Nemo took a reasonably accurate sight that gave our position as longitude 51 degrees 30’ and latitude 67 degrees 39’ south. This was a position already well along in these Antarctic regions.
As for the liquid surface of the sea, there was no longer any semblance of it before our eyes. Before the Nautilus’s spur there lay vast broken plains, a tangle of confused chunks with all the helter-skelter unpredictability typical of a river’s surface a short while before its ice breakup; but in this case the proportions were gigantic. Here and there stood sharp peaks, lean spires that rose as high as 200 feet; farther off, a succession of steeply cut cliffs sporting a grayish tint, huge mirrors that reflected the sparse rays of a sun half drowned in mist. Beyond, a stark silence reigned in this desolate natural setting, a silence barely broken by the flapping wings of petrels or puffins. By this point everything was frozen, even sound.
So the Nautilus had to halt in its venturesome course among these tracts of ice.
“Sir,” Ned Land told me that day, “if your captain goes any farther . . .”
“He’ll be a superman.”
“How so, Ned?”
“Because nobody can clear the Ice Bank. Your captain’s a powerful man, but damnation, he isn’t more powerful than nature. If she draws a boundary line, there you stop, like it or not!”
“Correct, Ned Land, but I still want to know what’s behind this Ice Bank! Behold my greatest source of irritation—a wall!”
“Master is right,” Conseil said. “Walls were invented simply to frustrate scientists. All walls should be banned.”
“Fine!” the Canadian put in. “But we already know what’s behind this Ice Bank.”
“What?” I asked.
“Ice, ice, and more ice.”
“You may be sure of that, Ned,” I answered, “but I’m not. That’s why I want to see for myself.”
“Well, professor,” the Canadian replied, “you can just drop that idea! You’ve made it to the Ice Bank, which is already far enough, but you won’t get any farther, neither your Captain Nemo or his Nautilus. And whether he wants to or not, we’ll head north again, in other words, to the land of sensible people.”
I had to agree that Ned Land was right, and until ships are built to navigate over tracts of ice, they’ll have to stop at the Ice Bank.
Indeed, despite its efforts, despite the powerful methods it used to split this ice, the Nautilus was reduced to immobility. Ordinarily, when someone can’t go any farther, he still has the option of returning in his tracks. But here it was just as impossible to turn back as to go forward, because every passageway had closed behind us, and if our submersible remained even slightly stationary, it would be frozen in without delay. Which is exactly what happened near two o’clock in the afternoon, and fresh ice kept forming over the ship’s sides with astonishing speed. I had to admit that Captain Nemo’s leadership had been most injudicious.
Just then I was on the platform. Observing the situation for some while, the captain said to me:
“Well, professor! What think you?”
“I think we’re trapped, captain.”
“Trapped! What do you mean?”
“I mean we can’t go forward, backward, or sideways. I think that’s the standard definition of ‘trapped,’ at least in the civilized world.”
“So, Professor Aronnax, you think the Nautilus won’t be able to float clear?”
“Only with the greatest difficulty, captain, since the season is already too advanced for you to depend on an ice breakup.”
“Oh, professor,” Captain Nemo replied in an ironic tone, “you never change! You see only impediments and obstacles! I promise you, not only will the Nautilus float clear, it will go farther still!”
“Farther south?” I asked, gaping at the captain.
“Yes, sir, it will go to the pole.”
“To the pole!” I exclaimed, unable to keep back a movement of disbelief.
“Yes,” the captain replied coolly, “the Antarctic pole, that unknown spot crossed by every meridian on the globe. As you know, I do whatever I like with my Nautilus.”
Yes, I did know that! I knew this man was daring to the point of being foolhardy. But to overcome all the obstacles around the South Pole—even more unattainable than the North Pole, which still hadn’t been reached by the boldest navigators—wasn’t this an absolutely insane undertaking, one that could occur only in the brain of a madman?
It then dawned on me to ask Captain Nemo if he had already discovered this pole, which no human being had ever trod underfoot.
“No, sir,” he answered me, “but we’ll discover it together. Where others have failed, I’ll succeed. Never before has my Nautilus cruised so far into these southernmost seas, but I repeat: it will go farther still.”
“I’d like to believe you, captain,” I went on in a tone of some sarcasm. “Oh I do believe you! Let’s forge ahead! There are no obstacles for us! Let’s shatter this Ice Bank! Let’s blow it up, and if it still resists, let’s put wings on the Nautilus and fly over it!”
“Over it, professor?” Captain Nemo replied serenely. “No, not over it, but under it.”
“Under it!” I exclaimed.
A sudden insight into Captain Nemo’s plans had just flashed through my mind. I understood. The marvelous talents of his Nautilus would be put to work once again in this superhuman undertaking!
“I can see we’re starting to understand each other, professor,” Captain Nemo told me with a half smile. “You already glimpse the potential—myself, I’d say the success—of this attempt. Maneuvers that aren’t feasible for an ordinary ship are easy for the Nautilus. If a continent emerges at the pole, we’ll stop at that continent. But on the other hand, if open sea washes the pole, we’ll go to that very place!”
“Right,” I said, carried away by the captain’s logic. “Even though the surface of the sea has solidified into ice, its lower strata are still open, thanks to that divine justice that puts the maximum density of salt water one degree above its freezing point. And if I’m not mistaken, the submerged part of this Ice Bank is in a four-to-one ratio to its emerging part.”
“Very nearly, professor. For each foot of iceberg above the sea, there are three more below. Now then, since these ice mountains don’t exceed a height of 100 meters, they sink only to a depth of 300 meters. And what are 300 meters to the Nautilus?”
“A mere nothing, sir.”
“We could even go to greater depths and find that temperature layer common to all ocean water, and there we’d brave with impunity the -30 degrees or -40 degrees cold on the surface.”
“True, sir, very true,” I replied with growing excitement.
“Our sole difficulty,” Captain Nemo went on, “lies in our staying submerged for several days without renewing our air supply.”
“That’s all?” I answered. “The Nautilus has huge air tanks; we’ll fill them up and they’ll supply all the oxygen we need.”
“Good thinking, Professor Aronnax,” the captain replied with a smile. “But since I don’t want to be accused of foolhardiness, I’m giving you all my objections in advance.”
“You have more?”
“Just one. If a sea exists at the South Pole, it’s possible this sea may be completely frozen over, so we couldn’t come up to the surface!”
“My dear sir, have you forgotten that the Nautilus is armed with a fearsome spur? Couldn’t it be launched diagonally against those tracts of ice, which would break open from the impact?”
“Ah, professor, you’re full of ideas today!”
“Besides, captain,” I added with still greater enthusiasm, “why wouldn’t we find open sea at the South Pole just as at the North Pole? The cold-temperature poles and the geographical poles don’t coincide in either the northern or southern hemispheres, and until proof to the contrary, we can assume these two spots on the earth feature either a continent or an ice-free ocean.”
“I think as you do, Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo replied. “I’ll only point out that after raising so many objections against my plan, you’re now crushing me under arguments in its favor.”
Captain Nemo was right. I was outdoing him in daring! It was I who was sweeping him to the pole. I was leading the way, I was out in front . . . but no, you silly fool! Captain Nemo already knew the pros and cons of this question, and it amused him to see you flying off into impossible fantasies!
Nevertheless, he didn’t waste an instant. At his signal, the chief officer appeared. The two men held a quick exchange in their incomprehensible language, and either the chief officer had been alerted previously or he found the plan feasible, because he showed no surprise.
But as unemotional as he was, he couldn’t have been more impeccably emotionless than Conseil when I told the fine lad our intention of pushing on to the South Pole. He greeted my announcement with the usual “As master wishes,” and I had to be content with that. As for Ned Land, no human shoulders ever executed a higher shrug than the pair belonging to our Canadian.
“Honestly, sir,” he told me. “You and your Captain Nemo, I pity you both!”
“But we will go to the pole, Mr. Land.”
“Maybe, but you won’t come back!”
And Ned Land reentered his cabin, “to keep from doing something desperate,” he said as he left me.
Meanwhile preparations for this daring attempt were getting under way. The Nautilus’s powerful pumps forced air down into the tanks and stored it under high pressure. Near four o’clock Captain Nemo informed me that the platform hatches were about to be closed. I took a last look at the dense Ice Bank we were going to conquer. The weather was fair, the skies reasonably clear, the cold quite brisk, namely -12 degrees centigrade; but after the wind had lulled, this temperature didn’t seem too unbearable.
Equipped with picks, some ten men climbed onto the Nautilus’s sides and cracked loose the ice around the ship’s lower plating, which was soon set free. This operation was swiftly executed because the fresh ice was still thin. We all reentered the interior. The main ballast tanks were filled with the water that hadn’t yet congealed at our line of flotation. The Nautilus submerged without delay.
I took a seat in the lounge with Conseil. Through the open window we stared at the lower strata of this southernmost ocean. The thermometer rose again. The needle on the pressure gauge swerved over its dial.
About 300 meters down, just as Captain Nemo had predicted, we cruised beneath the undulating surface of the Ice Bank. But the Nautilus sank deeper still. It reached a depth of 800 meters. At the surface this water gave a temperature of -12 degrees centigrade, but now it gave no more than -10 degrees. Two degrees had already been gained. Thanks to its heating equipment, the Nautilus’s temperature, needless to say, stayed at a much higher degree. Every maneuver was accomplished with extraordinary precision.
“With all due respect to master,” Conseil told me, “we’ll pass it by.”
“I fully expect to!” I replied in a tone of deep conviction.
Now in open water, the Nautilus took a direct course to the pole without veering from the 52nd meridian. From 67 degrees 30’ to 90 degrees, twenty-two and a half degrees of latitude were left to cross, in other words, slightly more than 500 leagues. The Nautilus adopted an average speed of twenty-six miles per hour, the speed of an express train. If it kept up this pace, forty hours would do it for reaching the pole.
For part of the night, the novelty of our circumstances kept Conseil and me at the lounge window. The sea was lit by our beacon’s electric rays. But the depths were deserted. Fish didn’t linger in these imprisoned waters. Here they found merely a passageway for going from the Antarctic Ocean to open sea at the pole. Our progress was swift. You could feel it in the vibrations of the long steel hull.
Near two o’clock in the morning, I went to snatch a few hours of sleep. Conseil did likewise. I didn’t encounter Captain Nemo while going down the gangways. I assumed that he was keeping to the pilothouse.
The next day, March 19, at five o’clock in the morning, I was back at my post in the lounge. The electric log indicated that the Nautilus had reduced speed. By then it was rising to the surface, but cautiously, while slowly emptying its ballast tanks.
My heart was pounding. Would we emerge into the open and find the polar air again?
No. A jolt told me that the Nautilus had bumped the underbelly of the Ice Bank, still quite thick to judge from the hollowness of the accompanying noise. Indeed, we had “struck bottom,” to use nautical terminology, but in the opposite direction and at a depth of 3,000 feet. That gave us 4,000 feet of ice overhead, of which 1,000 feet emerged above water. So the Ice Bank was higher here than we had found it on the outskirts. A circumstance less than encouraging.
Several times that day, the Nautilus repeated the same experiment and always it bumped against this surface that formed a ceiling above it. At certain moments the ship encountered ice at a depth of 900 meters, denoting a thickness of 1,200 meters, of which 300 meters rose above the level of the ocean. This height had tripled since the moment the Nautilus had dived beneath the waves.
I meticulously noted these different depths, obtaining the underwater profile of this upside-down mountain chain that stretched beneath the sea.
By evening there was still no improvement in our situation. The ice stayed between 400 and 500 meters deep. It was obviously shrinking, but what a barrier still lay between us and the surface of the ocean!
By then it was eight o’clock. The air inside the Nautilus should have been renewed four hours earlier, following daily practice on board. But I didn’t suffer very much, although Captain Nemo hadn’t yet made demands on the supplementary oxygen in his air tanks.
That night my sleep was fitful. Hope and fear besieged me by turns. I got up several times. The Nautilus continued groping. Near three o’clock in the morning, I observed that we encountered the Ice Bank’s underbelly at a depth of only fifty meters. So only 150 feet separated us from the surface of the water. Little by little the Ice Bank was turning into an ice field again. The mountains were changing back into plains.
My eyes didn’t leave the pressure gauge. We kept rising on a diagonal, going along this shiny surface that sparkled beneath our electric rays. Above and below, the Ice Bank was subsiding in long gradients. Mile after mile it was growing thinner.
Finally, at six o’clock in the morning on that memorable day of March 19, the lounge door opened. Captain Nemo appeared.
“Open sea!” he told me.
CHAPTER 14 -
The South Pole
I RUSHED UP onto the platform. Yes, open sea! Barely a few sparse floes, some moving icebergs; a sea stretching into the distance; hosts of birds in the air and myriads of fish under the waters, which varied from intense blue to olive green depending on the depth. The thermometer marked 3 degrees centigrade. It was as if a comparative springtime had been locked up behind that Ice Bank, whose distant masses were outlined on the northern horizon.
“Are we at the pole?” I asked the captain, my heart pounding.
“I’ve no idea,” he answered me. “At noon we’ll fix our position.”
“But will the sun show through this mist?” I said, staring at the grayish sky.
“No matter how faintly it shines, it will be enough for me,” the captain replied.
To the south, ten miles from the Nautilus, a solitary islet rose to a height of 200 meters. We proceeded toward it, but cautiously, because this sea could have been strewn with reefs.
In an hour we had reached the islet. Two hours later we had completed a full circle around it. It measured four to five miles in circumference. A narrow channel separated it from a considerable shore, perhaps a continent whose limits we couldn’t see. The existence of this shore seemed to bear out Commander Maury’s hypotheses. In essence, this ingenious American has noted that between the South Pole and the 60th parallel, the sea is covered with floating ice of dimensions much greater than any found in the north Atlantic. From this fact he drew the conclusion that the Antarctic Circle must contain considerable shores, since icebergs can’t form on the high seas but only along coastlines. According to his calculations, this frozen mass enclosing the southernmost pole forms a vast ice cap whose width must reach 4,000 kilometers.
Meanwhile, to avoid running aground, the Nautilus halted three cable lengths from a strand crowned by superb piles of rocks. The skiff was launched to sea. Two crewmen carrying instruments, the captain, Conseil, and I were on board. It was ten o’clock in the morning. I hadn’t seen Ned Land. No doubt, in the presence of the South Pole, the Canadian hated having to eat his words.
A few strokes of the oar brought the skiff to the sand, where it ran aground. Just as Conseil was about to jump ashore, I held him back.
“Sir,” I told Captain Nemo, “to you belongs the honor of first setting foot on this shore.”
“Yes, sir,” the captain replied, “and if I have no hesitation in treading this polar soil, it’s because no human being until now has left a footprint here.”
So saying, he leaped lightly onto the sand. His heart must have been throbbing with intense excitement. He scaled an overhanging rock that ended in a small promontory and there, mute and motionless, with crossed arms and blazing eyes, he seemed to be laying claim to these southernmost regions. After spending five minutes in this trance, he turned to us.
“Whenever you’re ready, sir,” he called to me.
I got out, Conseil at my heels, leaving the two men in the skiff.
Over an extensive area, the soil consisted of that igneous gravel called “tuff,” reddish in color as if made from crushed bricks. The ground was covered with slag, lava flows, and pumice stones. Its volcanic origin was unmistakable. In certain localities thin smoke holes gave off a sulfurous odor, showing that the inner fires still kept their wide-ranging power. Nevertheless, when I scaled a high escarpment, I could see no volcanoes within a radius of several miles. In these Antarctic districts, as is well known, Sir James Clark Ross had found the craters of Mt. Erebus and Mt. Terror in fully active condition on the 167th meridian at latitude 77 degrees 32’.
The vegetation on this desolate continent struck me as quite limited. A few lichens of the species Usnea melanoxanthra sprawled over the black rocks. The whole meager flora of this region consisted of certain microscopic buds, rudimentary diatoms made up of a type of cell positioned between two quartz-rich shells, plus long purple and crimson fucus plants, buoyed by small air bladders and washed up on the coast by the surf.
The beach was strewn with mollusks: small mussels, limpets, smooth heart-shaped cockles, and especially some sea butterflies with oblong, membrane-filled bodies whose heads are formed from two rounded lobes. I also saw myriads of those northernmost sea butterflies three centimeters long, which a baleen whale can swallow by the thousands in one gulp. The open waters at the shoreline were alive with these delightful pteropods, true butterflies of the sea.
Among other zoophytes present in these shallows, there were a few coral tree forms that, according to Sir James Clark Ross, live in these Antarctic seas at depths as great as 1,000 meters; then small alcyon coral belonging to the species Procellaria pelagica, also a large number of starfish unique to these climes, plus some feather stars spangling the sand.
But it was in the air that life was superabundant. There various species of birds flew and fluttered by the thousands, deafening us with their calls. Crowding the rocks, other fowl watched without fear as we passed and pressed familiarly against our feet. These were auks, as agile and supple in water, where they are sometimes mistaken for fast bonito, as they are clumsy and heavy on land. They uttered outlandish calls and participated in numerous public assemblies that featured much noise but little action.
Among other fowl I noted some sheathbills from the wading-bird family, the size of pigeons, white in color, the beak short and conical, the eyes framed by red circles. Conseil laid in a supply of them, because when they’re properly cooked, these winged creatures make a pleasant dish. In the air there passed sooty albatross with four-meter wingspans, birds aptly dubbed “vultures of the ocean,” also gigantic petrels including several with arching wings, enthusiastic eaters of seal that are known as quebrantahuesos,
[Spanish: ospreys] and cape pigeons, a sort of small duck, the tops of their bodies black and white—in short, a whole series of petrels, some whitish with wings trimmed in brown, others blue and exclusive to these Antarctic seas, the former “so oily,” I told Conseil, “that inhabitants of the Faroe Islands simply fit the bird with a wick, then light it up.”
“With that minor addition,” Conseil replied, “these fowl would make perfect lamps! After this, we should insist that nature equip them with wicks in advance!”
Half a mile farther on, the ground was completely riddled with penguin nests, egg-laying burrows from which numerous birds emerged. Later Captain Nemo had hundreds of them hunted because their black flesh is highly edible. They brayed like donkeys. The size of a goose with slate-colored bodies, white undersides, and lemon-colored neck bands, these animals let themselves be stoned to death without making any effort to get away.
Meanwhile the mists didn’t clear, and by eleven o’clock the sun still hadn’t made an appearance. Its absence disturbed me. Without it, no sights were possible. Then how could we tell whether we had reached the pole?
When I rejoined Captain Nemo, I found him leaning silently against a piece of rock and staring at the sky. He seemed impatient, baffled. But what could we do? This daring and powerful man couldn’t control the sun as he did the sea.
Noon arrived without the orb of day appearing for a single instant. You couldn’t even find its hiding place behind the curtain of mist. And soon this mist began to condense into snow.
“Until tomorrow,” the captain said simply; and we went back to the Nautilus, amid flurries in the air.
During our absence the nets had been spread, and I observed with fascination the fish just hauled on board. The Antarctic seas serve as a refuge for an extremely large number of migratory fish that flee from storms in the subpolar zones, in truth only to slide down the gullets of porpoises and seals. I noted some one-decimeter southern bullhead, a species of whitish cartilaginous fish overrun with bluish gray stripes and armed with stings, then some Antarctic rabbitfish three feet long, the body very slender, the skin a smooth silver white, the head rounded, the topside furnished with three fins, the snout ending in a trunk that curved back toward the mouth. I sampled its flesh but found it tasteless, despite Conseil’s views, which were largely approving.
The blizzard lasted until the next day. It was impossible to stay on the platform. From the lounge, where I was writing up the incidents of this excursion to the polar continent, I could hear the calls of petrel and albatross cavorting in the midst of the turmoil. The Nautilus didn’t stay idle, and cruising along the coast, it advanced some ten miles farther south amid the half light left by the sun as it skimmed the edge of the horizon.
The next day, March 20, it stopped snowing. The cold was a little more brisk. The thermometer marked -2 degrees centigrade. The mist had cleared, and on that day I hoped our noon sights could be accomplished.
Since Captain Nemo hadn’t yet appeared, only Conseil and I were taken ashore by the skiff. The soil’s nature was still the same: volcanic. Traces of lava, slag, and basaltic rock were everywhere, but I couldn’t find the crater that had vomited them up. There as yonder, myriads of birds enlivened this part of the polar continent. But they had to share their dominion with huge herds of marine mammals that looked at us with gentle eyes. These were seals of various species, some stretched out on the ground, others lying on drifting ice floes, several leaving or reentering the sea. Having never dealt with man, they didn’t run off at our approach, and I counted enough of them thereabouts to provision a couple hundred ships.
“Ye gods,” Conseil said, “it’s fortunate that Ned Land didn’t come with us!”
“Why so, Conseil?”
“Because that madcap hunter would kill every animal here.”
“Every animal may be overstating it, but in truth I doubt we could keep our Canadian friend from harpooning some of these magnificent cetaceans. Which would be an affront to Captain Nemo, since he hates to slay harmless beasts needlessly.”
“Certainly, Conseil. But tell me, haven’t you finished classifying these superb specimens of marine fauna?”
“Master is well aware,” Conseil replied, “that I’m not seasoned in practical application. When master has told me these animals’ names . . .”
“They’re seals and walruses.”
“Two genera,” our scholarly Conseil hastened to say, “that belong to the family Pinnipedia, order Carnivora, group Unguiculata, subclass Monodelphia, class Mammalia, branch Vertebrata.”
“Very nice, Conseil,” I replied, “but these two genera of seals and walruses are each divided into species, and if I’m not mistaken, we now have a chance to actually look at them. Let’s.”
It was eight o’clock in the morning. We had four hours to ourselves before the sun could be productively observed. I guided our steps toward a huge bay that made a crescent-shaped incision in the granite cliffs along the beach.
There, all about us, I swear that the shores and ice floes were crowded with marine mammals as far as the eye could see, and I involuntarily looked around for old Proteus, that mythological shepherd who guarded King Neptune’s immense flocks. To be specific, these were seals. They formed distinct male-and-female groups, the father watching over his family, the mother suckling her little ones, the stronger youngsters emancipated a few paces away. When these mammals wanted to relocate, they moved in little jumps made by contracting their bodies, clumsily helped by their imperfectly developed flippers, which, as with their manatee relatives, form actual forearms. In the water, their ideal element, I must say these animals swim wonderfully thanks to their flexible backbones, narrow pelvises, close-cropped hair, and webbed feet. Resting on shore, they assumed extremely graceful positions. Consequently, their gentle features, their sensitive expressions equal to those of the loveliest women, their soft, limpid eyes, their charming poses, led the ancients to glorify them by metamorphosing the males into sea gods and the females into mermaids.
I drew Conseil’s attention to the considerable growth of the cerebral lobes found in these intelligent cetaceans. No mammal except man has more abundant cerebral matter. Accordingly, seals are quite capable of being educated; they make good pets, and together with certain other naturalists, I think these animals can be properly trained to perform yeoman service as hunting dogs for fishermen.
Most of these seals were sleeping on the rocks or the sand. Among those properly termed seals—which have no external ears, unlike sea lions whose ears protrude—I observed several varieties of the species stenorhynchus, three meters long, with white hair, bulldog heads, and armed with ten teeth in each jaw: four incisors in both the upper and lower, plus two big canines shaped like the fleur-de-lis. Among them slithered some sea elephants, a type of seal with a short, flexible trunk; these are the giants of the species, with a circumference of twenty feet and a length of ten meters. They didn’t move as we approached.
“Are these animals dangerous?” Conseil asked me.
“Only if they’re attacked,” I replied. “But when these giant seals defend their little ones, their fury is dreadful, and it isn’t rare for them to smash a fisherman’s longboat to bits.”
“They’re within their rights,” Conseil answered.
“I don’t say nay.”
Two miles farther on, we were stopped by a promontory that screened the bay from southerly winds. It dropped straight down to the sea, and surf foamed against it. From beyond this ridge there came fearsome bellows, such as a herd of cattle might produce.
“Gracious,” Conseil put in, “a choir of bulls?”
“No,” I said, “a choir of walruses.”
“Are they fighting with each other?”
“Either fighting or playing.”
“With all due respect to master, this we must see.”
“Then see it we must, Conseil.”
And there we were, climbing these blackish rocks amid sudden landslides and over stones slippery with ice. More than once I took a tumble at the expense of my backside. Conseil, more cautious or more stable, barely faltered and would help me up, saying:
“If master’s legs would kindly adopt a wider stance, master will keep his balance.”
Arriving at the topmost ridge of this promontory, I could see vast white plains covered with walruses. These animals were playing among themselves. They were howling not in anger but in glee.
Walruses resemble seals in the shape of their bodies and the arrangement of their limbs. But their lower jaws lack canines and incisors, and as for their upper canines, they consist of two tusks eighty centimeters long with a circumference of thirty-three centimeters at the socket. Made of solid ivory, without striations, harder than elephant tusks, and less prone to yellowing, these teeth are in great demand. Accordingly, walruses are the victims of a mindless hunting that soon will destroy them all, since their hunters indiscriminately slaughter pregnant females and youngsters, and over 4,000 individuals are destroyed annually.
Passing near these unusual animals, I could examine them at my leisure since they didn’t stir. Their hides were rough and heavy, a tan color leaning toward a reddish brown; their coats were short and less than abundant. Some were four meters long. More tranquil and less fearful than their northern relatives, they posted no sentinels on guard duty at the approaches to their campsite.
After examining this community of walruses, I decided to return in my tracks. It was eleven o’clock, and if Captain Nemo found conditions favorable for taking his sights, I wanted to be present at the operation. But I held no hopes that the sun would make an appearance that day. It was hidden from our eyes by clouds squeezed together on the horizon. Apparently the jealous orb didn’t want to reveal this inaccessible spot on the globe to any human being.
Yet I decided to return to the Nautilus. We went along a steep, narrow path that ran over the cliff’s summit. By 11:30 we had arrived at our landing place. The beached skiff had brought the captain ashore. I spotted him standing on a chunk of basalt. His instruments were beside him. His eyes were focused on the northern horizon, along which the sun was sweeping in its extended arc.
I found a place near him and waited without speaking. Noon arrived, and just as on the day before, the sun didn’t put in an appearance.
It was sheer bad luck. Our noon sights were still lacking. If we couldn’t obtain them tomorrow, we would finally have to give up any hope of fixing our position.
In essence, it was precisely March 20. Tomorrow, the 21st, was the day of the equinox; the sun would disappear below the horizon for six months not counting refraction, and after its disappearance the long polar night would begin. Following the September equinox, the sun had emerged above the northerly horizon, rising in long spirals until December 21. At that time, the summer solstice of these southernmost districts, the sun had started back down, and tomorrow it would cast its last rays.
I shared my thoughts and fears with Captain Nemo.
“You’re right, Professor Aronnax,” he told me. “If I can’t take the sun’s altitude tomorrow, I won’t be able to try again for another six months. But precisely because sailors’ luck has led me into these seas on March 21, it will be easy to get our bearings if the noonday sun does appear before our eyes.”
“Why easy, captain?”
“Because when the orb of day sweeps in such long spirals, it’s difficult to measure its exact altitude above the horizon, and our instruments are open to committing serious errors.”
“Then what can you do?”
“I use only my chronometer,” Captain Nemo answered me. “At noon tomorrow, March 21, if, after accounting for refraction, the sun’s disk is cut exactly in half by the northern horizon, that will mean I’m at the South Pole.”
“Right,” I said. “Nevertheless, it isn’t mathematically exact proof, because the equinox needn’t fall precisely at noon.”
“No doubt, sir, but the error will be under 100 meters, and that’s close enough for us. Until tomorrow then.”
Captain Nemo went back on board. Conseil and I stayed behind until five o’clock, surveying the beach, observing and studying. The only unusual object I picked up was an auk’s egg of remarkable size, for which a collector would have paid more than 1,000 francs. Its cream-colored tint, plus the streaks and markings that decorated it like so many hieroglyphics, made it a rare trinket. I placed it in Conseil’s hands, and holding it like precious porcelain from China, that cautious, sure-footed lad got it back to the Nautilus in one piece.
There I put this rare egg inside one of the glass cases in the museum. I ate supper, feasting with appetite on an excellent piece of seal liver whose flavor reminded me of pork. Then I went to bed; but not without praying, like a good Hindu, for the favors of the radiant orb.
The next day, March 21, bright and early at five o’clock in the morning, I climbed onto the platform. I found Captain Nemo there.
“The weather is clearing a bit,” he told me. “I have high hopes. After breakfast we’ll make our way ashore and choose an observation post.”
This issue settled, I went to find Ned Land. I wanted to take him with me. The obstinate Canadian refused, and I could clearly see that his tight-lipped mood and his bad temper were growing by the day. Under the circumstances I ultimately wasn’t sorry that he refused. In truth, there were too many seals ashore, and it would never do to expose this impulsive fisherman to such temptations.
Breakfast over, I made my way ashore. The Nautilus had gone a few more miles during the night. It lay well out, a good league from the coast, which was crowned by a sharp peak 400 to 500 meters high. In addition to me, the skiff carried Captain Nemo, two crewmen, and the instruments—in other words, a chronometer, a spyglass, and a barometer.
During our crossing I saw numerous baleen whales belonging to the three species unique to these southernmost seas: the bowhead whale (or “right whale,” according to the English), which has no dorsal fin; the humpback whale from the genus Balaenoptera (in other words, “winged whales”), beasts with wrinkled bellies and huge whitish fins that, genus name regardless, do not yet form wings; and the finback whale, yellowish brown, the swiftest of all cetaceans. This powerful animal is audible from far away when it sends up towering spouts of air and steam that resemble swirls of smoke. Herds of these different mammals were playing about in the tranquil waters, and I could easily see that this Antarctic polar basin now served as a refuge for those cetaceans too relentlessly pursued by hunters.
I also noted long, whitish strings of salps, a type of mollusk found in clusters, and some jellyfish of large size that swayed in the eddies of the billows.
By nine o’clock we had pulled up to shore. The sky was growing brighter. Clouds were fleeing to the south. Mists were rising from the cold surface of the water. Captain Nemo headed toward the peak, which he no doubt planned to make his observatory. It was an arduous climb over sharp lava and pumice stones in the midst of air often reeking with sulfurous fumes from the smoke holes. For a man out of practice at treading land, the captain scaled the steepest slopes with a supple agility I couldn’t equal, and which would have been envied by hunters of Pyrenees mountain goats.
It took us two hours to reach the summit of this half-crystal, half-basalt peak. From there our eyes scanned a vast sea, which scrawled its boundary line firmly against the background of the northern sky. At our feet: dazzling tracts of white. Over our heads: a pale azure, clear of mists. North of us: the sun’s disk, like a ball of fire already cut into by the edge of the horizon. From the heart of the waters: jets of liquid rising like hundreds of magnificent bouquets. Far off, like a sleeping cetacean: the Nautilus. Behind us to the south and east: an immense shore, a chaotic heap of rocks and ice whose limits we couldn’t see.
Arriving at the summit of this peak, Captain Nemo carefully determined its elevation by means of his barometer, since he had to take this factor into account in his noon sights.
At 11:45 the sun, by then seen only by refraction, looked like a golden disk, dispersing its last rays over this deserted continent and down to these seas not yet plowed by the ships of man.
Captain Nemo had brought a spyglass with a reticular eyepiece, which corrected the sun’s refraction by means of a mirror, and he used it to observe the orb sinking little by little along a very extended diagonal that reached below the horizon. I held the chronometer. My heart was pounding mightily. If the lower half of the sun’s disk disappeared just as the chronometer said noon, we were right at the pole.
“Noon!” I called.
“The South Pole!” Captain Nemo replied in a solemn voice, handing me the spyglass, which showed the orb of day cut into two exactly equal parts by the horizon.
I stared at the last rays wreathing this peak, while shadows were gradually climbing its gradients.
Just then, resting his hand on my shoulder, Captain Nemo said to me:
“In 1600, sir, the Dutchman Gheritk was swept by storms and currents, reaching latitude 64 degrees south and discovering the South Shetland Islands. On January 17, 1773, the famous Captain Cook went along the 38th meridian, arriving at latitude 67 degrees 30’; and on January 30, 1774, along the 109th meridian, he reached latitude 71 degrees 15’. In 1819 the Russian Bellinghausen lay on the 69th parallel, and in 1821 on the 66th at longitude 111 degrees west. In 1820 the Englishman Bransfield stopped at 65 degrees. That same year the American Morrel, whose reports are dubious, went along the 42nd meridian, finding open sea at latitude 70 degrees 14’. In 1825 the Englishman Powell was unable to get beyond 62 degrees. That same year a humble seal fisherman, the Englishman Weddell, went as far as latitude 72 degrees 14’ on the 35th meridian, and as far as 74 degrees 15’ on the 36th. In 1829 the Englishman Forster, commander of the Chanticleer, laid claim to the Antarctic continent in latitude 63 degrees 26’ and longitude 66 degrees 26’. On February 1, 1831, the Englishman Biscoe discovered Enderby Land at latitude 68 degrees 50’, Adelaide Land at latitude 67 degrees on February 5, 1832, and Graham Land at latitude 64 degrees 45’ on February 21. In 1838 the Frenchman Dumont d’Urville stopped at the Ice Bank in latitude 62 degrees 57’, sighting the Louis-Philippe Peninsula; on January 21 two years later, at a new southerly position of 66 degrees 30’, he named the Adélie Coast and eight days later, the Clarie Coast at 64 degrees 40’. In 1838 the American Wilkes advanced as far as the 69th parallel on the 100th meridian. In 1839 the Englishman Balleny discovered the Sabrina Coast at the edge of the polar circle. Lastly, on January 12, 1842, with his ships, the Erebus and the Terror, the Englishman Sir James Clark Ross found Victoria Land in latitude 70 degrees 56’ and longitude 171 degrees 7’ east; on the 23rd of that same month, he reached the 74th parallel, a position denoting the Farthest South attained until then; on the 27th he lay at 76 degrees 8’; on the 28th at 77 degrees 32’; on February 2 at 78 degrees 4’; and late in 1842 he returned to 71 degrees but couldn’t get beyond it. Well now! In 1868, on this 21st day of March, I myself, Captain Nemo, have reached the South Pole at 90 degrees, and I hereby claim this entire part of the globe, equal to one-sixth of the known continents.”
“In the name of which sovereign, captain?”
“In my own name, sir!”
So saying, Captain Nemo unfurled a black flag bearing a gold “N” on its quartered bunting. Then, turning toward the orb of day, whose last rays were licking at the sea’s horizon:
“Farewell, O sun!” he called. “Disappear, O radiant orb! Retire beneath this open sea, and let six months of night spread their shadows over my new domains!”
CHAPTER 15 -
Accident or Incident?
THE NEXT DAY, March 22, at six o’clock in the morning, preparations for departure began. The last gleams of twilight were melting into night. The cold was brisk. The constellations were glittering with startling intensity. The wonderful Southern Cross, polar star of the Antarctic regions, twinkled at its zenith.
The thermometer marked -12 degrees centigrade, and a fresh breeze left a sharp nip in the air. Ice floes were increasing over the open water. The sea was starting to congeal everywhere. Numerous blackish patches were spreading over its surface, announcing the imminent formation of fresh ice. Obviously this southernmost basin froze over during its six-month winter and became utterly inaccessible. What happened to the whales during this period? No doubt they went beneath the Ice Bank to find more feasible seas. As for seals and walruses, they were accustomed to living in the harshest climates and stayed on in these icy waterways. These animals know by instinct how to gouge holes in the ice fields and keep them continually open; they go to these holes to breathe. Once the birds have migrated northward to escape the cold, these marine mammals remain as sole lords of the polar continent.
Meanwhile the ballast tanks filled with water and the Nautilus sank slowly. At a depth of 1,000 feet, it stopped. Its propeller churned the waves and it headed due north at a speed of fifteen miles per hour. Near the afternoon it was already cruising under the immense frozen carapace of the Ice Bank.
As a precaution, the panels in the lounge stayed closed, because the Nautilus’s hull could run afoul of some submerged block of ice. So I spent the day putting my notes into final form. My mind was completely wrapped up in my memories of the pole. We had reached that inaccessible spot without facing exhaustion or danger, as if our seagoing passenger carriage had glided there on railroad tracks. And now we had actually started our return journey. Did it still have comparable surprises in store for me? I felt sure it did, so inexhaustible is this series of underwater wonders! As it was, in the five and a half months since fate had brought us on board, we had cleared 14,000 leagues, and over this track longer than the earth’s equator, so many fascinating or frightening incidents had beguiled our voyage: that hunting trip in the Crespo forests, our running aground in the Torres Strait, the coral cemetery, the pearl fisheries of Ceylon, the Arabic tunnel, the fires of Santorini, those millions in the Bay of Vigo, Atlantis, the South Pole! During the night all these memories crossed over from one dream to the next, not giving my brain a moment’s rest.
At three o’clock in the morning, I was awakened by a violent collision. I sat up in bed, listening in the darkness, and then was suddenly hurled into the middle of my stateroom. Apparently the Nautilus had gone aground, then heeled over sharply.
Leaning against the walls, I dragged myself down the gangways to the lounge, whose ceiling lights were on. The furniture had been knocked over. Fortunately the glass cases were solidly secured at the base and had stood fast. Since we were no longer vertical, the starboard pictures were glued to the tapestries, while those to port had their lower edges hanging a foot away from the wall. So the Nautilus was lying on its starboard side, completely stationary to boot.
In its interior I heard the sound of footsteps and muffled voices. But Captain Nemo didn’t appear. Just as I was about to leave the lounge, Ned Land and Conseil entered.
“What happened?” I instantly said to them.
“I came to ask master that,” Conseil replied.
“Damnation!” the Canadian exclaimed. “I know full well what happened! The Nautilus has gone aground, and judging from the way it’s listing, I don’t think it’ll pull through like that first time in the Torres Strait.”
“But,” I asked, “are we at least back on the surface of the sea?”
“We have no idea,” Conseil replied.
“It’s easy to find out,” I answered.
I consulted the pressure gauge. Much to my surprise, it indicated a depth of 360 meters.
“What’s the meaning of this?” I exclaimed.
“We must confer with Captain Nemo,” Conseil said.
“But where do we find him?” Ned Land asked.
“Follow me,” I told my two companions.
We left the lounge. Nobody in the library. Nobody by the central companionway or the crew’s quarters. I assumed that Captain Nemo was stationed in the pilothouse. Best to wait. The three of us returned to the lounge.
I’ll skip over the Canadian’s complaints. He had good grounds for an outburst. I didn’t answer him back, letting him blow off all the steam he wanted.
We had been left to ourselves for twenty minutes, trying to detect the tiniest noises inside the Nautilus, when Captain Nemo entered. He didn’t seem to see us. His facial features, usually so emotionless, revealed a certain uneasiness. He studied the compass and pressure gauge in silence, then went and put his finger on the world map at a spot in the sector depicting the southernmost seas.
I hesitated to interrupt him. But some moments later, when he turned to me, I threw back at him a phrase he had used in the Torres Strait:
“An incident, captain?”
“No, sir,” he replied, “this time an accident.”
“Is there any immediate danger?”
“The Nautilus has run aground?”
“And this accident came about . . . ?”
“Through nature’s unpredictability, not man’s incapacity. No errors were committed in our maneuvers. Nevertheless, we can’t prevent a loss of balance from taking its toll. One may defy human laws, but no one can withstand the laws of nature.”
Captain Nemo had picked an odd time to philosophize. All in all, this reply told me nothing.
“May I learn, sir,” I asked him, “what caused this accident?”
“An enormous block of ice, an entire mountain, has toppled over,” he answered me. “When an iceberg is eroded at the base by warmer waters or by repeated collisions, its center of gravity rises. Then it somersaults, it turns completely upside down. That’s what happened here. When it overturned, one of these blocks hit the Nautilus as it was cruising under the waters. Sliding under our hull, this block then raised us with irresistible power, lifting us into less congested strata where we now lie on our side.”
“But can’t we float the Nautilus clear by emptying its ballast tanks, to regain our balance?”
“That, sir, is being done right now. You can hear the pumps working. Look at the needle on the pressure gauge. It indicates that the Nautilus is rising, but this block of ice is rising with us, and until some obstacle halts its upward movement, our position won’t change.”
Indeed, the Nautilus kept the same heel to starboard. No doubt it would straighten up once the block came to a halt. But before that happened, who knew if we might not hit the underbelly of the Ice Bank and be hideously squeezed between two frozen surfaces?
I mused on all the consequences of this situation. Captain Nemo didn’t stop studying the pressure gauge. Since the toppling of this iceberg, the Nautilus had risen about 150 feet, but it still stayed at the same angle to the perpendicular.
Suddenly a slight movement could be felt over the hull. Obviously the Nautilus was straightening a bit. Objects hanging in the lounge were visibly returning to their normal positions. The walls were approaching the vertical. Nobody said a word. Hearts pounding, we could see and feel the ship righting itself. The floor was becoming horizontal beneath our feet. Ten minutes went by.
“Finally, we’re upright!” I exclaimed.
“Yes,” Captain Nemo said, heading to the lounge door.
“But will we float off?” I asked him.
“Certainly,” he replied, “since the ballast tanks aren’t yet empty, and when they are, the Nautilus must rise to the surface of the sea.”
The captain went out, and soon I saw that at his orders, the Nautilus had halted its upward movement. In fact, it soon would have hit the underbelly of the Ice Bank, but it had stopped in time and was floating in midwater.
“That was a close call!” Conseil then said.
“Yes. We could have been crushed between these masses of ice, or at least imprisoned between them. And then, with no way to renew our air supply. . . . Yes, that was a close call!”
“If it’s over with!” Ned Land muttered.
I was unwilling to get into a pointless argument with the Canadian and didn’t reply. Moreover, the panels opened just then, and the outside light burst through the uncovered windows.
We were fully afloat, as I have said; but on both sides of the Nautilus, about ten meters away, there rose dazzling walls of ice. There also were walls above and below. Above, because the Ice Bank’s underbelly spread over us like an immense ceiling. Below, because the somersaulting block, shifting little by little, had found points of purchase on both side walls and had gotten jammed between them. The Nautilus was imprisoned in a genuine tunnel of ice about twenty meters wide and filled with quiet water. So the ship could easily exit by going either ahead or astern, sinking a few hundred meters deeper, and then taking an open passageway beneath the Ice Bank.
The ceiling lights were off, yet the lounge was still brightly lit. This was due to the reflecting power of the walls of ice, which threw the beams of our beacon right back at us. Words cannot describe the effects produced by our galvanic rays on these huge, whimsically sculpted blocks, whose every angle, ridge, and facet gave off a different glow depending on the nature of the veins running inside the ice. It was a dazzling mine of gems, in particular sapphires and emeralds, whose jets of blue and green crisscrossed. Here and there, opaline hues of infinite subtlety raced among sparks of light that were like so many fiery diamonds, their brilliance more than any eye could stand. The power of our beacon was increased a hundredfold, like a lamp shining through the biconvex lenses of a world-class lighthouse.
“How beautiful!” Conseil exclaimed.
“Yes,” I said, “it’s a wonderful sight! Isn’t it, Ned?”
“Oh damnation, yes!” Ned Land shot back. “It’s superb! I’m furious that I have to admit it. Nobody has ever seen the like. But this sight could cost us dearly. And in all honesty, I think we’re looking at things God never intended for human eyes.”
Ned was right. It was too beautiful. All at once a yell from Conseil made me turn around.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Master must close his eyes! Master mustn’t look!”
With that, Conseil clapped his hands over his eyes.
“But what’s wrong, my boy?”
“I’ve been dazzled, struck blind!”
Involuntarily my eyes flew to the window, but I couldn’t stand the fire devouring it.
I realized what had happened. The Nautilus had just started off at great speed. All the tranquil glimmers of the ice walls had then changed into blazing streaks. The sparkles from these myriads of diamonds were merging with each other. Swept along by its propeller, the Nautilus was traveling through a sheath of flashing light.
Then the panels in the lounge closed. We kept our hands over our eyes, which were utterly saturated with those concentric gleams that swirl before the retina when sunlight strikes it too intensely. It took some time to calm our troubled vision.
Finally we lowered our hands.
“Ye gods, I never would have believed it,” Conseil said.
“And I still don’t believe it!” the Canadian shot back.
“When we return to shore, jaded from all these natural wonders,” Conseil added, “think how we’ll look down on those pitiful land masses, those puny works of man! No, the civilized world won’t be good enough for us!”
Such words from the lips of this emotionless Flemish boy showed that our enthusiasm was near the boiling point. But the Canadian didn’t fail to throw his dram of cold water over us.
“The civilized world!” he said, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, Conseil my friend, we’re never going back to that world!”
By this point it was five o’clock in the morning. Just then there was a collision in the Nautilus’s bow. I realized that its spur had just bumped a block of ice. It must have been a faulty maneuver because this underwater tunnel was obstructed by such blocks and didn’t make for easy navigating. So I had assumed that Captain Nemo, in adjusting his course, would go around each obstacle or would hug the walls and follow the windings of the tunnel. In either case our forward motion wouldn’t receive an absolute check. Nevertheless, contrary to my expectations, the Nautilus definitely began to move backward.
“We’re going astern?” Conseil said.
“Yes,” I replied. “Apparently the tunnel has no way out at this end.”
“And so . . . ?”
“So,” I said, “our maneuvers are quite simple. We’ll return in our tracks and go out the southern opening. That’s all.”
As I spoke, I tried to sound more confident than I really felt. Meanwhile the Nautilus accelerated its backward movement, and running with propeller in reverse, it swept us along at great speed.
“This’ll mean a delay,” Ned said.
“What are a few hours more or less, so long as we get out.”
“Yes,” Ned Land repeated, “so long as we get out!”
I strolled for a little while from the lounge into the library. My companions kept their seats and didn’t move. Soon I threw myself down on a couch and picked up a book, which my eyes skimmed mechanically.
A quarter of an hour later, Conseil approached me, saying:
“Is it deeply fascinating, this volume master is reading?”
“Tremendously fascinating,” I replied.
“I believe it. Master is reading his own book!”
“My own book?”
Indeed, my hands were holding my own work on the great ocean depths. I hadn’t even suspected. I closed the book and resumed my strolling. Ned and Conseil stood up to leave.
“Stay here, my friends,” I said, stopping them. “Let’s stay together until we’re out of this blind alley.”
“As master wishes,” Conseil replied.
The hours passed. I often studied the instruments hanging on the lounge wall. The pressure gauge indicated that the Nautilus stayed at a constant depth of 300 meters, the compass that it kept heading south, the log that it was traveling at a speed of twenty miles per hour, an excessive speed in such a cramped area. But Captain Nemo knew that by this point there was no such thing as too fast, since minutes were now worth centuries.
At 8:25 a second collision took place. This time astern. I grew pale. My companions came over. I clutched Conseil’s hand. Our eyes questioned each other, and more directly than if our thoughts had been translated into words.
Just then the captain entered the lounge. I went to him.
“Our path is barred to the south?” I asked him.
“Yes, sir. When it overturned, that iceberg closed off every exit.”
“We’re boxed in?”
Shortage of Air
CONSEQUENTLY, above, below, and around the Nautilus, there were impenetrable frozen walls. We were the Ice Bank’s prisoners! The Canadian banged a table with his fearsome fist. Conseil kept still. I stared at the captain. His face had resumed its usual emotionlessness. He crossed his arms. He pondered. The Nautilus did not stir.
The captain then broke into speech:
“Gentlemen,” he said in a calm voice, “there are two ways of dying under the conditions in which we’re placed.”
This inexplicable individual acted like a mathematics professor working out a problem for his pupils.
“The first way,” he went on, “is death by crushing. The second is death by asphyxiation. I don’t mention the possibility of death by starvation because the Nautilus’s provisions will certainly last longer than we will. Therefore, let’s concentrate on our chances of being crushed or asphyxiated.”
“As for asphyxiation, captain,” I replied, “that isn’t a cause for alarm, because the air tanks are full.”
“True,” Captain Nemo went on, “but they’ll supply air for only two days. Now then, we’ve been buried beneath the waters for thirty-six hours, and the Nautilus’s heavy atmosphere already needs renewing. In another forty-eight hours, our reserve air will be used up.”
“Well then, captain, let’s free ourselves within forty-eight hours!”
“We’ll try to at least, by cutting through one of these walls surrounding us.”
“Which one?” I asked.
“Borings will tell us that. I’m going to ground the Nautilus on the lower shelf, then my men will put on their diving suits and attack the thinnest of these ice walls.”
“Can the panels in the lounge be left open?”
“Without ill effect. We’re no longer in motion.”
Captain Nemo went out. Hissing sounds soon told me that water was being admitted into the ballast tanks. The Nautilus slowly settled and rested on the icy bottom at a depth of 350 meters, the depth at which the lower shelf of ice lay submerged.
“My friends,” I said, “we’re in a serious predicament, but I’m counting on your courage and energy.”
“Sir,” the Canadian replied, “this is no time to bore you with my complaints. I’m ready to do anything I can for the common good.”
“Excellent, Ned,” I said, extending my hand to the Canadian.
“I might add,” he went on, “that I’m as handy with a pick as a harpoon. If I can be helpful to the captain, he can use me any way he wants.”
“He won’t turn down your assistance. Come along, Ned.”
I led the Canadian to the room where the Nautilus’s men were putting on their diving suits. I informed the captain of Ned’s proposition, which was promptly accepted. The Canadian got into his underwater costume and was ready as soon as his fellow workers. Each of them carried on his back a Rouquayrol device that the air tanks had supplied with a generous allowance of fresh oxygen. A considerable but necessary drain on the Nautilus’s reserves. As for the Ruhmkorff lamps, they were unnecessary in the midst of these brilliant waters saturated with our electric rays.
After Ned was dressed, I reentered the lounge, whose windows had been uncovered; stationed next to Conseil, I examined the strata surrounding and supporting the Nautilus.
Some moments later, we saw a dozen crewmen set foot on the shelf of ice, among them Ned Land, easily recognized by his tall figure. Captain Nemo was with them.
Before digging into the ice, the captain had to obtain borings, to insure working in the best direction. Long bores were driven into the side walls; but after fifteen meters, the instruments were still impeded by the thickness of those walls. It was futile to attack the ceiling since that surface was the Ice Bank itself, more than 400 meters high. Captain Nemo then bored into the lower surface. There we were separated from the sea by a ten-meter barrier. That’s how thick the iceberg was. From this point on, it was an issue of cutting out a piece equal in surface area to the Nautilus’s waterline. This meant detaching about 6,500 cubic meters, to dig a hole through which the ship could descend below this tract of ice.
Work began immediately and was carried on with tireless tenacity. Instead of digging all around the Nautilus, which would have entailed even greater difficulties, Captain Nemo had an immense trench outlined on the ice, eight meters from our port quarter. Then his men simultaneously staked it off at several points around its circumference. Soon their picks were vigorously attacking this compact matter, and huge chunks were loosened from its mass. These chunks weighed less than the water, and by an unusual effect of specific gravity, each chunk took wing, as it were, to the roof of the tunnel, which thickened above by as much as it diminished below. But this hardly mattered so long as the lower surface kept growing thinner.
After two hours of energetic work, Ned Land reentered, exhausted. He and his companions were replaced by new workmen, including Conseil and me. The Nautilus’s chief officer supervised us.
The water struck me as unusually cold, but I warmed up promptly while wielding my pick. My movements were quite free, although they were executed under a pressure of thirty atmospheres.
After two hours of work, reentering to snatch some food and rest, I found a noticeable difference between the clean elastic fluid supplied me by the Rouquayrol device and the Nautilus’s atmosphere, which was already charged with carbon dioxide. The air hadn’t been renewed in forty-eight hours, and its life-giving qualities were considerably weakened. Meanwhile, after twelve hours had gone by, we had removed from the outlined surface area a slice of ice only one meter thick, hence about 600 cubic meters. Assuming the same work would be accomplished every twelve hours, it would still take five nights and four days to see the undertaking through to completion.
“Five nights and four days!” I told my companions. “And we have oxygen in the air tanks for only two days.”
“Without taking into account,” Ned answered, “that once we’re out of this damned prison, we’ll still be cooped up beneath the Ice Bank, without any possible contact with the open air!”
An apt remark. For who could predict the minimum time we would need to free ourselves? Before the Nautilus could return to the surface of the waves, couldn’t we all die of asphyxiation? Were this ship and everyone on board doomed to perish in this tomb of ice? It was a dreadful state of affairs. But we faced it head-on, each one of us determined to do his duty to the end.
During the night, in line with my forecasts, a new one-meter slice was removed from this immense socket. But in the morning, wearing my diving suit, I was crossing through the liquid mass in a temperature of -6 degrees to -7 degrees centigrade, when I noted that little by little the side walls were closing in on each other. The liquid strata farthest from the trench, not warmed by the movements of workmen and tools, were showing a tendency to solidify. In the face of this imminent new danger, what would happen to our chances for salvation, and how could we prevent this liquid medium from solidifying, then cracking the Nautilus’s hull like glass?
I didn’t tell my two companions about this new danger. There was no point in dampening the energy they were putting into our arduous rescue work. But when I returned on board, I mentioned this serious complication to Captain Nemo.
“I know,” he told me in that calm tone the most dreadful outlook couldn’t change. “It’s one more danger, but I don’t know any way of warding it off. Our sole chance for salvation is to work faster than the water solidifies. We’ve got to get there first, that’s all.”
Get there first! By then I should have been used to this type of talk!
For several hours that day, I wielded my pick doggedly. The work kept me going. Besides, working meant leaving the Nautilus, which meant breathing the clean oxygen drawn from the air tanks and supplied by our equipment, which meant leaving the thin, foul air behind.
Near evening one more meter had been dug from the trench. When I returned on board, I was wellnigh asphyxiated by the carbon dioxide saturating the air. Oh, if only we had the chemical methods that would enable us to drive out this noxious gas! There was no lack of oxygen. All this water contained a considerable amount, and after it was decomposed by our powerful batteries, this life-giving elastic fluid could have been restored to us. I had thought it all out, but to no avail because the carbon dioxide produced by our breathing permeated every part of the ship. To absorb it, we would need to fill containers with potassium hydroxide and shake them continually. But this substance was missing on board and nothing else could replace it.
That evening Captain Nemo was forced to open the spigots of his air tanks and shoot a few spouts of fresh oxygen through the Nautilus’s interior. Without this precaution we wouldn’t have awakened the following morning.
The next day, March 26, I returned to my miner’s trade, working to remove the fifth meter. The Ice Bank’s side walls and underbelly had visibly thickened. Obviously they would come together before the Nautilus could break free. For an instant I was gripped by despair. My pick nearly slipped from my hands. What was the point of this digging if I was to die smothered and crushed by this water turning to stone, a torture undreamed of by even the wildest savages! I felt like I was lying in the jaws of a fearsome monster, jaws irresistibly closing.
Supervising our work, working himself, Captain Nemo passed near me just then. I touched him with my hand and pointed to the walls of our prison. The starboard wall had moved forward to a point less than four meters from the Nautilus’s hull.
The captain understood and gave me a signal to follow him. We returned on board. My diving suit removed, I went with him to the lounge.
“Professor Aronnax,” he told me, “this calls for heroic measures, or we’ll be sealed up in this solidified water as if it were cement.”
“Yes!” I said. “But what can we do?”
“Oh,” he exclaimed, “if only my Nautilus were strong enough to stand that much pressure without being crushed!”
“Well?” I asked, not catching the captain’s meaning.
“Don’t you understand,” he went on, “that the congealing of this water could come to our rescue? Don’t you see that by solidifying, it could burst these tracts of ice imprisoning us, just as its freezing can burst the hardest stones? Aren’t you aware that this force could be the instrument of our salvation rather than our destruction?”
“Yes, captain, maybe so. But whatever resistance to crushing the Nautilus may have, it still couldn’t stand such dreadful pressures, and it would be squashed as flat as a piece of sheet iron.”
“I know it, sir. So we can’t rely on nature to rescue us, only our own efforts. We must counteract this solidification. We must hold it in check. Not only are the side walls closing in, but there aren’t ten feet of water ahead or astern of the Nautilus. All around us, this freeze is gaining fast.”
“How long,” I asked, “will the oxygen in the air tanks enable us to breathe on board?”
The captain looked me straight in the eye.
“After tomorrow,” he said, “the air tanks will be empty!”
I broke out in a cold sweat. But why should I have been startled by this reply? On March 22 the Nautilus had dived under the open waters at the pole. It was now the 26th. We had lived off the ship’s stores for five days! And all remaining breathable air had to be saved for the workmen. Even today as I write these lines, my sensations are so intense that an involuntary terror sweeps over me, and my lungs still seem short of air!
Meanwhile, motionless and silent, Captain Nemo stood lost in thought. An idea visibly crossed his mind. But he seemed to brush it aside. He told himself no. At last these words escaped his lips:
“Boiling water!” he muttered.
“Boiling water?” I exclaimed.
“Yes, sir. We’re shut up in a relatively confined area. If the Nautilus’s pumps continually injected streams of boiling water into this space, wouldn’t that raise its temperature and delay its freezing?”
“It’s worth trying!” I said resolutely.
“So let’s try it, professor.”
By then the thermometer gave -7 degrees centigrade outside. Captain Nemo led me to the galley where a huge distilling mechanism was at work, supplying drinking water via evaporation. The mechanism was loaded with water, and the full electric heat of our batteries was thrown into coils awash in liquid. In a few minutes the water reached 100 degrees centigrade. It was sent to the pumps while new water replaced it in the process. The heat generated by our batteries was so intense that after simply going through the mechanism, water drawn cold from the sea arrived boiling hot at the body of the pump.
The steaming water was injected into the icy water outside, and after three hours had passed, the thermometer gave the exterior temperature as -6 degrees centigrade. That was one degree gained. Two hours later the thermometer gave only -4 degrees.
After I monitored the operation’s progress, double-checking it with many inspections, I told the captain, “It’s working.”
“I think so,” he answered me. “We’ve escaped being crushed. Now we have only asphyxiation to fear.”
During the night the water temperature rose to -1 degrees centigrade. The injections couldn’t get it to go a single degree higher. But since salt water freezes only at -2 degrees, I was finally assured that there was no danger of it solidifying.
By the next day, March 27, six meters of ice had been torn from the socket. Only four meters were left to be removed. That still meant forty-eight hours of work. The air couldn’t be renewed in the Nautilus’s interior. Accordingly, that day it kept getting worse.
An unbearable heaviness weighed me down. Near three o’clock in the afternoon, this agonizing sensation affected me to an intense degree. Yawns dislocated my jaws. My lungs were gasping in their quest for that enkindling elastic fluid required for breathing, now growing scarcer and scarcer. My mind was in a daze. I lay outstretched, strength gone, nearly unconscious. My gallant Conseil felt the same symptoms, suffered the same sufferings, yet never left my side. He held my hand, he kept encouraging me, and I even heard him mutter:
“Oh, if only I didn’t have to breathe, to leave more air for master!”
It brought tears to my eyes to hear him say these words.
Since conditions inside were universally unbearable, how eagerly, how happily, we put on our diving suits to take our turns working! Picks rang out on that bed of ice. Arms grew weary, hands were rubbed raw, but who cared about exhaustion, what difference were wounds? Life-sustaining air reached our lungs! We could breathe! We could breathe!
And yet nobody prolonged his underwater work beyond the time allotted him. His shift over, each man surrendered to a gasping companion the air tank that would revive him. Captain Nemo set the example and was foremost in submitting to this strict discipline. When his time was up, he yielded his equipment to another and reentered the foul air on board, always calm, unflinching, and uncomplaining.
That day the usual work was accomplished with even greater energy. Over the whole surface area, only two meters were left to be removed. Only two meters separated us from the open sea. But the ship’s air tanks were nearly empty. The little air that remained had to be saved for the workmen. Not an atom for the Nautilus!
When I returned on board, I felt half suffocated. What a night! I’m unable to depict it. Such sufferings are indescribable. The next day I was short-winded. Headaches and staggering fits of dizziness made me reel like a drunk. My companions were experiencing the same symptoms. Some crewmen were at their last gasp.
That day, the sixth of our imprisonment, Captain Nemo concluded that picks and mattocks were too slow to deal with the ice layer still separating us from open water—and he decided to crush this layer. The man had kept his energy and composure. He had subdued physical pain with moral strength. He could still think, plan, and act.
At his orders the craft was eased off, in other words, it was raised from its icy bed by a change in its specific gravity. When it was afloat, the crew towed it, leading it right above the immense trench outlined to match the ship’s waterline. Next the ballast tanks filled with water, the boat sank, and was fitted into its socket.
Just then the whole crew returned on board, and the double outside door was closed. By this point the Nautilus was resting on a bed of ice only one meter thick and drilled by bores in a thousand places.
The stopcocks of the ballast tanks were then opened wide, and 100 cubic meters of water rushed in, increasing the Nautilus’s weight by 100,000 kilograms.
We waited, we listened, we forgot our sufferings, we hoped once more. We had staked our salvation on this one last gamble.
Despite the buzzing in my head, I soon could hear vibrations under the Nautilus’s hull. We tilted. The ice cracked with an odd ripping sound, like paper tearing, and the Nautilus began settling downward.
“We’re going through!” Conseil muttered in my ear.
I couldn’t answer him. I clutched his hand. I squeezed it in an involuntary convulsion.
All at once, carried away by its frightful excess load, the Nautilus sank into the waters like a cannonball, in other words, dropping as if in a vacuum!
Our full electric power was then put on the pumps, which instantly began to expel water from the ballast tanks. After a few minutes we had checked our fall. The pressure gauge soon indicated an ascending movement. Brought to full speed, the propeller made the sheet-iron hull tremble down to its rivets, and we sped northward.
But how long would it take to navigate under the Ice Bank to the open sea? Another day? I would be dead first!
Half lying on a couch in the library, I was suffocating. My face was purple, my lips blue, my faculties in abeyance. I could no longer see or hear. I had lost all sense of time. My muscles had no power to contract.
I’m unable to estimate the hours that passed in this way. But I was aware that my death throes had begun. I realized that I was about to die . . .
Suddenly I regained consciousness. A few whiffs of air had entered my lungs. Had we risen to the surface of the waves? Had we cleared the Ice Bank?
No! Ned and Conseil, my two gallant friends, were sacrificing themselves to save me. A few atoms of air were still left in the depths of one Rouquayrol device. Instead of breathing it themselves, they had saved it for me, and while they were suffocating, they poured life into me drop by drop! I tried to push the device away. They held my hands, and for a few moments I could breathe luxuriously.
My eyes flew toward the clock. It was eleven in the morning. It had to be March 28. The Nautilus was traveling at the frightful speed of forty miles per hour. It was writhing in the waters.
Where was Captain Nemo? Had he perished? Had his companions died with him?
Just then the pressure gauge indicated we were no more than twenty feet from the surface. Separating us from the open air was a mere tract of ice. Could we break through it?
Perhaps! In any event the Nautilus was going to try. In fact, I could feel it assuming an oblique position, lowering its stern and raising its spur. The admission of additional water was enough to shift its balance. Then, driven by its powerful propeller, it attacked this ice field from below like a fearsome battering ram. It split the barrier little by little, backing up, then putting on full speed against the punctured tract of ice; and finally, carried away by its supreme momentum, it lunged through and onto this frozen surface, crushing the ice beneath its weight.
The hatches were opened—or torn off, if you prefer—and waves of clean air were admitted into every part of the Nautilus.
From Cape Horn to the Amazon
HOW I GOT ONTO the platform I’m unable to say. Perhaps the Canadian transferred me there. But I could breathe, I could inhale the life-giving sea air. Next to me my two companions were getting tipsy on the fresh oxygen particles. Poor souls who have suffered from long starvation mustn’t pounce heedlessly on the first food given them. We, on the other hand, didn’t have to practice such moderation: we could suck the atoms from the air by the lungful, and it was the breeze, the breeze itself, that poured into us this luxurious intoxication!
“Ahhh!” Conseil was putting in. “What fine oxygen! Let master have no fears about breathing. There’s enough for everyone.”
As for Ned Land, he didn’t say a word, but his wide-open jaws would have scared off a shark. And what powerful inhalations! The Canadian “drew” like a furnace going full blast.
Our strength returned promptly, and when I looked around, I saw that we were alone on the platform. No crewmen. Not even Captain Nemo. Those strange seamen on the Nautilus were content with the oxygen circulating inside. Not one of them had come up to enjoy the open air.
The first words I pronounced were words of appreciation and gratitude to my two companions. Ned and Conseil had kept me alive during the final hours of our long death throes. But no expression of thanks could repay them fully for such devotion.
“Good lord, professor,” Ned Land answered me, “don’t mention it! What did we do that’s so praiseworthy? Not a thing. It was a question of simple arithmetic. Your life is worth more than ours. So we had to save it.”
“No, Ned,” I replied, “it isn’t worth more. Nobody could be better than a kind and generous man like yourself!”
“All right, all right!” the Canadian repeated in embarrassment.
“And you, my gallant Conseil, you suffered a great deal.”
“Not too much, to be candid with master. I was lacking a few throatfuls of air, but I would have gotten by. Besides, when I saw master fainting, it left me without the slightest desire to breathe. It took my breath away, in a manner of . . .”
Confounded by this lapse into banality, Conseil left his sentence hanging.
“My friends,” I replied, very moved, “we’re bound to each other forever, and I’m deeply indebted to you—”
“Which I’ll take advantage of,” the Canadian shot back.
“Eh?” Conseil put in.
“Yes,” Ned Land went on. “You can repay your debt by coming with me when I leave this infernal Nautilus.”
“By the way,” Conseil said, “are we going in a favorable direction?”
“Yes,” I replied, “because we’re going in the direction of the sun, and here the sun is due north.”
“Sure,” Ned Land went on, “but it remains to be seen whether we’ll make for the Atlantic or the Pacific, in other words, whether we’ll end up in well-traveled or deserted seas.”
I had no reply to this, and I feared that Captain Nemo wouldn’t take us homeward but rather into that huge ocean washing the shores of both Asia and America. In this way he would complete his underwater tour of the world, going back to those seas where the Nautilus enjoyed the greatest freedom. But if we returned to the Pacific, far from every populated shore, what would happen to Ned Land’s plans?
We would soon settle this important point. The Nautilus traveled swiftly. Soon we had cleared the Antarctic Circle plus the promontory of Cape Horn. We were abreast of the tip of South America by March 31 at seven o’clock in the evening.
By then all our past sufferings were forgotten. The memory of that imprisonment under the ice faded from our minds. We had thoughts only of the future. Captain Nemo no longer appeared, neither in the lounge nor on the platform. The positions reported each day on the world map were put there by the chief officer, and they enabled me to determine the Nautilus’s exact heading. Now then, that evening it became obvious, much to my satisfaction, that we were returning north by the Atlantic route.
I shared the results of my observations with the Canadian and Conseil.
“That’s good news,” the Canadian replied, “but where’s the Nautilus going?”
“I’m unable to say, Ned.”
“After the South Pole, does our captain want to tackle the North Pole, then go back to the Pacific by the notorious Northwest Passage?”
“I wouldn’t double dare him,” Conseil replied.
“Oh well,” the Canadian said, “we’ll give him the slip long before then.”
“In any event,” Conseil added, “he’s a superman, that Captain Nemo, and we’ll never regret having known him.”
“Especially once we’ve left him,” Ned Land shot back.
The next day, April 1, when the Nautilus rose to the surface of the waves a few minutes before noon, we raised land to the west. It was Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire, a name given it by early navigators after they saw numerous curls of smoke rising from the natives’ huts. This Land of Fire forms a huge cluster of islands over thirty leagues long and eighty leagues wide, extending between latitude 53 degrees and 56 degrees south, and between longitude 67 degrees 50’ and 77 degrees 15’ west. Its coastline looked flat, but high mountains rose in the distance. I even thought I glimpsed Mt. Sarmiento, whose elevation is 2,070 meters above sea level: a pyramid-shaped block of shale with a very sharp summit, which, depending on whether it’s clear or veiled in vapor, “predicts fair weather or foul,” as Ned Land told me.
“A first-class barometer, my friend.”
“Yes, sir, a natural barometer that didn’t let me down when I navigated the narrows of the Strait of Magellan.”
Just then its peak appeared before us, standing out distinctly against the background of the skies. This forecast fair weather. And so it proved.
Going back under the waters, the Nautilus drew near the coast, cruising along it for only a few miles. Through the lounge windows I could see long creepers and gigantic fucus plants, bulb-bearing seaweed of which the open sea at the pole had revealed a few specimens; with their smooth, viscous filaments, they measured as much as 300 meters long; genuine cables more than an inch thick and very tough, they’re often used as mooring lines for ships. Another weed, known by the name velp and boasting four-foot leaves, was crammed into the coral concretions and carpeted the ocean floor. It served as both nest and nourishment for myriads of crustaceans and mollusks, for crabs and cuttlefish. Here seals and otters could indulge in a sumptuous meal, mixing meat from fish with vegetables from the sea, like the English with their Irish stews.
The Nautilus passed over these lush, luxuriant depths with tremendous speed. Near evening it approached the Falkland Islands, whose rugged summits I recognized the next day. The sea was of moderate depth. So not without good reason, I assumed that these two islands, plus the many islets surrounding them, used to be part of the Magellan coastline. The Falkland Islands were probably discovered by the famous navigator John Davis, who gave them the name Davis Southern Islands. Later Sir Richard Hawkins called them the Maidenland, after the Blessed Virgin. Subsequently, at the beginning of the 18th century, they were named the Malouines by fishermen from Saint-Malo in Brittany, then finally dubbed the Falklands by the English, to whom they belong today.
In these waterways our nets brought up fine samples of algae, in particular certain fucus plants whose roots were laden with the world’s best mussels. Geese and duck alighted by the dozens on the platform and soon took their places in the ship’s pantry. As for fish, I specifically observed some bony fish belonging to the goby genus, especially some gudgeon two decimeters long, sprinkled with whitish and yellow spots.
I likewise marveled at the numerous medusas, including the most beautiful of their breed, the compass jellyfish, unique to the Falkland seas. Some of these jellyfish were shaped like very smooth, semispheric parasols with russet stripes and fringes of twelve neat festoons. Others looked like upside-down baskets from which wide leaves and long red twigs were gracefully trailing. They swam with quiverings of their four leaflike arms, letting the opulent tresses of their tentacles dangle in the drift. I wanted to preserve a few specimens of these delicate zoophytes, but they were merely clouds, shadows, illusions, melting and evaporating outside their native element.
When the last tips of the Falkland Islands had disappeared below the horizon, the Nautilus submerged to a depth between twenty and twenty-five meters and went along the South American coast. Captain Nemo didn’t put in an appearance.
We didn’t leave these Patagonian waterways until April 3, sometimes cruising under the ocean, sometimes on its surface. The Nautilus passed the wide estuary formed by the mouth of the Rio de la Plata, and on April 4 we lay abreast of Uruguay, albeit fifty miles out. Keeping to its northerly heading, it followed the long windings of South America. By then we had fared 16,000 leagues since coming on board in the seas of Japan.
Near eleven o’clock in the morning, we cut the Tropic of Capricorn on the 37th meridian, passing well out from Cape Frio. Much to Ned Land’s displeasure, Captain Nemo had no liking for the neighborhood of Brazil’s populous shores, because he shot by with dizzying speed. Not even the swiftest fish or birds could keep up with us, and the natural curiosities in these seas completely eluded our observation.
This speed was maintained for several days, and on the evening of April 9, we raised South America’s easternmost tip, Cape São Roque. But then the Nautilus veered away again and went looking for the lowest depths of an underwater valley gouged between this cape and Sierra Leone on the coast of Africa. Abreast of the West Indies, this valley forks into two arms, and to the north it ends in an enormous depression 9,000 meters deep. From this locality to the Lesser Antilles, the ocean’s geologic profile features a steeply cut cliff six kilometers high, and abreast of the Cape Verde Islands, there’s another wall just as imposing; together these two barricades confine the whole submerged continent of Atlantis. The floor of this immense valley is made picturesque by mountains that furnish these underwater depths with scenic views. This description is based mostly on certain hand-drawn charts kept in the Nautilus’s library, charts obviously rendered by Captain Nemo himself from his own personal observations.
For two days we visited these deep and deserted waters by means of our slanting fins. The Nautilus would do long, diagonal dives that took us to every level. But on April 11 it rose suddenly, and the shore reappeared at the mouth of the Amazon River, a huge estuary whose outflow is so considerable, it desalts the sea over an area of several leagues.
We cut the Equator. Twenty miles to the west lay Guiana, French territory where we could easily have taken refuge. But the wind was blowing a strong gust, and the furious billows would not allow us to face them in a mere skiff. No doubt Ned Land understood this because he said nothing to me. For my part, I made no allusion to his escape plans because I didn’t want to push him into an attempt that was certain to misfire.
I was readily compensated for this delay by fascinating research. During those two days of April 11-12, the Nautilus didn’t leave the surface of the sea, and its trawl brought up a simply miraculous catch of zoophytes, fish, and reptiles.
Some zoophytes were dredged up by the chain of our trawl. Most were lovely sea anemone belonging to the family Actinidia, including among other species, the Phyctalis protexta, native to this part of the ocean: a small cylindrical trunk adorned with vertical lines, mottled with red spots, and crowned by a wondrous blossoming of tentacles. As for mollusks, they consisted of exhibits I had already observed: turret snails, olive shells of the “tent olive” species with neatly intersecting lines and russet spots standing out sharply against a flesh-colored background, fanciful spider conchs that looked like petrified scorpions, transparent glass snails, argonauts, some highly edible cuttlefish, and certain species of squid that the naturalists of antiquity classified with the flying fish, which are used chiefly as bait for catching cod.
As for the fish in these waterways, I noted various species that I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to study. Among cartilaginous fish: some brook lamprey, a type of eel fifteen inches long, head greenish, fins violet, back bluish gray, belly a silvery brown strewn with bright spots, iris of the eye encircled in gold, unusual animals that the Amazon’s current must have swept out to sea because their natural habitat is fresh water; sting rays, the snout pointed, the tail long, slender, and armed with an extensive jagged sting; small one-meter sharks with gray and whitish hides, their teeth arranged in several backward-curving rows, fish commonly known by the name carpet shark; batfish, a sort of reddish isosceles triangle half a meter long, whose pectoral fins are attached by fleshy extensions that make these fish look like bats, although an appendage made of horn, located near the nostrils, earns them the nickname of sea unicorns; lastly, a couple species of triggerfish, the cucuyo whose stippled flanks glitter with a sparkling gold color, and the bright purple leatherjacket whose hues glisten like a pigeon’s throat.
I’ll finish up this catalog, a little dry but quite accurate, with the series of bony fish I observed: eels belonging to the genus Apteronotus whose snow-white snout is very blunt, the body painted a handsome black and armed with a very long, slender, fleshy whip; long
sardines from the genus Odontognathus, like three-decimeter pike, shining with a bright silver glow; Guaranian
mackerel furnished with two anal fins; black-tinted rudderfish that you catch by using torches, fish measuring two meters and boasting white, firm, plump meat that, when fresh, tastes like eel, when dried, like smoked
salmon; semired wrasse sporting scales only at the bases of their dorsal and anal fins; grunts on which gold and silver mingle their luster with that of ruby and topaz; yellow-tailed gilthead whose flesh is extremely dainty and whose phosphorescent properties give them away in the midst of the waters; porgies tinted orange, with slender tongues; croakers with gold caudal fins; black surgeonfish; four-eyed fish from Surinam, etc.
This “et cetera” won’t keep me from mentioning one more fish that Conseil, with good reason, will long remember.
One of our nets had hauled up a type of very flat ray that weighed some twenty kilograms; with its tail cut off, it would have formed a perfect disk. It was white underneath and reddish on top, with big round spots of deep blue encircled in black, its hide quite smooth and ending in a double-lobed fin. Laid out on the platform, it kept struggling with convulsive movements, trying to turn over, making such efforts that its final lunge was about to flip it into the sea. But Conseil, being very possessive of his fish, rushed at it, and before I could stop him, he seized it with both hands.
Instantly there he was, thrown on his back, legs in the air, his body half paralyzed, and yelling:
“Oh, sir, sir! Will you help me!”
For once in his life, the poor lad didn’t address me “in the third person.”
The Canadian and I sat him up; we massaged his contracted arms, and when he regained his five senses, that eternal classifier mumbled in a broken voice:
“Class of cartilaginous fish, order Chondropterygia with fixed gills, suborder Selacia, family Rajiiforma, genus electric ray.”
“Yes, my friend,” I answered, “it was an electric ray that put you in this deplorable state.”
“Oh, master can trust me on this,” Conseil shot back. “I’ll be revenged on that animal!”
“I’ll eat it.”
Which he did that same evening, but strictly as retaliation. Because, frankly, it tasted like leather.
Poor Conseil had assaulted an electric ray of the most dangerous species, the cumana. Living in a conducting medium such as water, this bizarre animal can electrocute other fish from several meters away, so great is the power of its electric organ, an organ whose two chief surfaces measure at least twenty-seven square feet.
During the course of the next day, April 12, the Nautilus drew near the coast of Dutch Guiana, by the mouth of the Maroni River. There several groups of sea cows were living in family units. These were manatees, which belong to the order Sirenia, like the dugong and Steller’s sea cow. Harmless and unaggressive, these fine animals were six to seven meters long and must have weighed at least 4,000 kilograms each. I told Ned Land and Conseil that farseeing nature had given these mammals a major role to play. In essence, manatees, like seals, are designed to graze the underwater prairies, destroying the clusters of weeds that obstruct the mouths of tropical rivers.
“And do you know,” I added, “what happened since man has almost completely wiped out these beneficial races? Rotting weeds have poisoned the air, and this poisoned air causes the yellow fever that devastates these wonderful countries. This toxic vegetation has increased beneath the seas of the Torrid Zone, so the disease spreads unchecked from the mouth of the Rio de la Plata to Florida!”
And if Professor Toussenel is correct, this plague is nothing compared to the scourge that will strike our descendants once the seas are depopulated of whales and seals. By then, crowded with jellyfish, squid, and other devilfish, the oceans will have become huge centers of infection, because their waves will no longer possess “these huge stomachs that God has entrusted with scouring the surface of the sea.”
Meanwhile, without scorning these theories, the Nautilus’s crew captured half a dozen manatees. In essence, it was an issue of stocking the larder with excellent red meat, even better than beef or veal. Their hunting was not a fascinating sport. The manatees let themselves be struck down without offering any resistance. Several thousand kilos of meat were hauled below, to be dried and stored.
The same day an odd fishing practice further increased the Nautilus’s stores, so full of game were these seas. Our trawl brought up in its meshes a number of fish whose heads were topped by little oval slabs with fleshy edges. These were suckerfish from the third family of the subbrachian Malacopterygia. These flat disks on their heads consist of crosswise plates of movable cartilage, between which the animals can create a vacuum, enabling them to stick to objects like suction cups.
The remoras I had observed in the Mediterranean were related to this species. But the creature at issue here was an Echeneis osteochara, unique to this sea. Right after catching them, our seamen dropped them in buckets of water.
Its fishing finished, the Nautilus drew nearer to the coast. In this locality a number of sea turtles were sleeping on the surface of the waves. It would have been difficult to capture these valuable reptiles, because they wake up at the slightest sound, and their solid carapaces are harpoon-proof. But our suckerfish would effect their capture with extraordinary certainty and precision. In truth, this animal is a living fishhook, promising wealth and happiness to the greenest fisherman in the business.
The Nautilus’s men attached to each fish’s tail a ring that was big enough not to hamper its movements, and to this ring a long rope whose other end was moored on board.
Thrown into the sea, the suckerfish immediately began to play their roles, going and fastening themselves onto the breastplates of the turtles. Their tenacity was so great, they would rip apart rather than let go. They were hauled in, still sticking to the turtles that came aboard with them.
In this way we caught several loggerheads, reptiles a meter wide and weighing 200 kilos. They’re extremely valuable because of their carapaces, which are covered with big slabs of horn, thin, brown, transparent, with white and yellow markings. Besides, they were excellent from an edible viewpoint, with an exquisite flavor comparable to the green turtle.
This fishing ended our stay in the waterways of the Amazon, and that evening the Nautilus took to the high seas once more.
FOR SOME DAYS the Nautilus kept veering away from the American coast. It obviously didn’t want to frequent the waves of the Gulf of Mexico or the Caribbean Sea. Yet there was no shortage of water under its keel, since the average depth of these seas is 1,800 meters; but these waterways, strewn with islands and plowed by steamers, probably didn’t agree with Captain Nemo.
On April 16 we raised Martinique and Guadalupe from a distance of about thirty miles. For one instant I could see their lofty peaks.
The Canadian was quite disheartened, having counted on putting his plans into execution in the gulf, either by reaching shore or by pulling alongside one of the many boats plying a coastal trade from one island to another. An escape attempt would have been quite feasible, assuming Ned Land managed to seize the skiff without the captain’s knowledge. But in midocean it was unthinkable.
The Canadian, Conseil, and I had a pretty long conversation on this subject. For six months we had been prisoners aboard the Nautilus. We had fared 17,000 leagues, and as Ned Land put it, there was no end in sight. So he made me a proposition I hadn’t anticipated. We were to ask Captain Nemo this question straight out: did the captain mean to keep us on board his vessel permanently?
This measure was distasteful to me. To my mind it would lead nowhere. We could hope for nothing from the Nautilus’s commander but could depend only on ourselves. Besides, for some time now the man had been gloomier, more withdrawn, less sociable. He seemed to be avoiding me. I encountered him only at rare intervals. He used to take pleasure in explaining the underwater wonders to me; now he left me to my research and no longer entered the lounge.
What changes had come over him? From what cause? I had no reason to blame myself. Was our presence on board perhaps a burden to him? Even so, I cherished no hopes that the man would set us free.
So I begged Ned to let me think about it before taking action. If this measure proved fruitless, it could arouse the captain’s suspicions, make our circumstances even more arduous, and jeopardize the Canadian’s plans. I might add that I could hardly use our state of health as an argument. Except for that grueling ordeal under the Ice Bank at the South Pole, we had never felt better, neither Ned, Conseil, nor I. The nutritious food, life-giving air, regular routine, and uniform temperature kept illness at bay; and for a man who didn’t miss his past existence on land, for a Captain Nemo who was at home here, who went where he wished, who took paths mysterious to others if not himself in attaining his ends, I could understand such a life. But we ourselves hadn’t severed all ties with humanity. For my part, I didn’t want my new and unusual research to be buried with my bones. I had now earned the right to pen the definitive book on the sea, and sooner or later I wanted that book to see the light of day.
There once more, through the panels opening into these Caribbean waters ten meters below the surface of the waves, I found so many fascinating exhibits to describe in my daily notes! Among other zoophytes there were Portuguese men-of-war known by the name Physalia pelagica, like big, oblong bladders with a pearly sheen, spreading their membranes to the wind, letting their blue tentacles drift like silken threads; to the eye delightful jellyfish, to the touch actual nettles that ooze a corrosive liquid. Among the articulates there were annelid worms one and a half meters long, furnished with a pink proboscis, equipped with 1,700 organs of locomotion, snaking through the waters, and as they went, throwing off every gleam in the solar spectrum. From the fish branch there were manta rays, enormous cartilaginous fish ten feet long and weighing 600 pounds, their pectoral fin triangular, their midback slightly arched, their eyes attached to the edges of the face at the front of the head; they floated like wreckage from a ship, sometimes fastening onto our windows like opaque shutters. There were American triggerfish for which nature has ground only black and white pigments, feather-shaped gobies that were long and plump with yellow fins and jutting jaws, sixteen-decimeter mackerel with short, sharp teeth, covered with small scales, and related to the albacore species. Next came swarms of red mullet corseted in gold stripes from head to tail, their shining fins all aquiver, genuine masterpieces of jewelry, formerly sacred to the goddess Diana, much in demand by rich Romans, and about which the old saying goes: “He who catches them doesn’t eat them!” Finally, adorned with emerald ribbons and dressed in velvet and silk, golden angelfish passed before our eyes like courtiers in the paintings of Veronese; spurred gilthead stole by with their swift thoracic fins; thread herring fifteen inches long were wrapped in their phosphorescent glimmers; gray mullet thrashed the sea with their big fleshy tails; red salmon seemed to mow the waves with their slicing pectorals; and silver moonfish, worthy of their name, rose on the horizon of the waters like the whitish reflections of many moons.
How many other marvelous new specimens I still could have observed if, little by little, the Nautilus hadn’t settled to the lower strata! Its slanting fins drew it to depths of 2,000 and 3,500 meters. There animal life was represented by nothing more than sea lilies, starfish, delightful crinoids with bell-shaped heads like little chalices on straight stems, top-shell snails, blood-red tooth shells, and fissurella snails, a large species of coastal mollusk.
By April 20 we had risen to an average level of 1,500 meters. The nearest land was the island group of the Bahamas, scattered like a batch of cobblestones over the surface of the water. There high underwater cliffs reared up, straight walls made of craggy chunks arranged like big stone foundations, among which there gaped black caves so deep our electric rays couldn’t light them to the far ends.
These rocks were hung with huge weeds, immense sea tangle, gigantic fucus—a genuine trellis of water plants fit for a world of giants.
In discussing these colossal plants, Conseil, Ned, and I were naturally led into mentioning the sea’s gigantic animals. The former were obviously meant to feed the latter. However, through the windows of our almost motionless Nautilus, I could see nothing among these long filaments other than the chief articulates of the division Brachyura: long-legged spider crabs, violet crabs, and sponge crabs unique to the waters of the Caribbean.
It was about eleven o’clock when Ned Land drew my attention to a fearsome commotion out in this huge seaweed.
“Well,” I said, “these are real devilfish caverns, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see some of those monsters hereabouts.”
“What!” Conseil put in. “Squid, ordinary squid from the class Cephalopoda?”
“No,” I said, “devilfish of large dimensions. But friend Land is no doubt mistaken, because I don’t see a thing.”
“That’s regrettable,” Conseil answered. “I’d like to come face to face with one of those devilfish I’ve heard so much about, which can drag ships down into the depths. Those beasts go by the name of krake—”
“Fake is more like it,” the Canadian replied sarcastically.
“Krakens!” Conseil shot back, finishing his word without wincing at his companion’s witticism.
“Nobody will ever make me believe,” Ned Land said, “that such animals exist.”
“Why not?” Conseil replied. “We sincerely believed in master’s narwhale.”
“We were wrong, Conseil.”
“No doubt, but there are others with no doubts who believe to this day!”
“Probably, Conseil. But as for me, I’m bound and determined not to accept the existence of any such monster till I’ve dissected it with my own two hands.”
“Yet,” Conseil asked me, “doesn’t master believe in gigantic devilfish?”
“Yikes! Who in Hades ever believed in them?” the Canadian exclaimed.
“Many people, Ned my friend,” I said.
“No fishermen. Scientists maybe!”
“Pardon me, Ned. Fishermen and scientists!”
“Why, I to whom you speak,” Conseil said with the world’s straightest face, “I recall perfectly seeing a large boat dragged under the waves by the arms of a cephalopod.”
“You saw that?” the Canadian asked.
“With your own two eyes?”
“With my own two eyes.”
“Where, may I ask?”
“In Saint-Malo,” Conseil returned unflappably.
“In the harbor?” Ned Land said sarcastically.
“No, in a church,” Conseil replied.
“In a church!” the Canadian exclaimed.
“Yes, Ned my friend. It had a picture that portrayed the devilfish in question.”
“Oh good!” Ned Land exclaimed with a burst of laughter. “Mr. Conseil put one over on me!”
“Actually he’s right,” I said. “I’ve heard about that picture. But the subject it portrays is taken from a legend, and you know how to rate legends in matters of natural history! Besides, when it’s an issue of monsters, the human imagination always tends to run wild. People not only claimed these devilfish could drag ships under, but a certain Olaus Magnus tells of a cephalopod a mile long that looked more like an island than an animal. There’s also the story of how the Bishop of Trondheim set up an altar one day on an immense rock. After he finished saying mass, this rock started moving and went back into the sea. The rock was a devilfish.”
“And that’s everything we know?” the Canadian asked.
“No,” I replied, “another bishop, Pontoppidan of Bergen, also tells of a devilfish so large a whole cavalry regiment could maneuver on it.”
“They sure did go on, those oldtime bishops!” Ned Land said.
“Finally, the naturalists of antiquity mention some monsters with mouths as big as a gulf, which were too huge to get through the Strait of Gibraltar.”
“Good work, men!” the Canadian put in.
“But in all these stories, is there any truth?” Conseil asked.
“None at all, my friends, at least in those that go beyond the bounds of credibility and fly off into fable or legend. Yet for the imaginings of these storytellers there had to be, if not a cause, at least an excuse. It can’t be denied that some species of squid and other devilfish are quite large, though still smaller than cetaceans. Aristotle put the dimensions of one squid at five cubits, or 3.1 meters. Our fishermen frequently see specimens over 1.8 meters long. The museums in Trieste and Montpellier have preserved some devilfish carcasses measuring two meters. Besides, according to the calculations of naturalists, one of these animals only six feet long would have tentacles as long as twenty-seven. Which is enough to make a fearsome monster.”
“Does anybody fish for ’em nowadays?” the Canadian asked.
“If they don’t fish for them, sailors at least sight them. A friend of mine, Captain Paul Bos of Le Havre, has often sworn to me that he encountered one of these monsters of colossal size in the seas of the East Indies. But the most astonishing event, which proves that these gigantic animals undeniably exist, took place a few years ago in 1861.”
“What event was that?” Ned Land asked.
“Just this. In 1861, to the northeast of Tenerife and fairly near the latitude where we are right now, the crew of the gunboat Alecto spotted a monstrous squid swimming in their waters. Commander Bouguer approached the animal and attacked it with blows from harpoons and blasts from rifles, but without much success because bullets and harpoons crossed its soft flesh as if it were semiliquid jelly. After several fruitless attempts, the crew managed to slip a noose around the mollusk’s body. This noose slid as far as the caudal fins and came to a halt. Then they tried to haul the monster on board, but its weight was so considerable that when they tugged on the rope, the animal parted company with its tail; and deprived of this adornment, it disappeared beneath the waters.”
“Finally, an actual event,” Ned Land said.
“An indisputable event, my gallant Ned. Accordingly, people have proposed naming this devilfish Bouguer’s Squid.”
“And how long was it?” the Canadian asked.
“Didn’t it measure about six meters?” said Conseil, who was stationed at the window and examining anew the crevices in the cliff.
“Precisely,” I replied.
“Wasn’t its head,” Conseil went on, “crowned by eight tentacles that quivered in the water like a nest of snakes?”
“Weren’t its eyes prominently placed and considerably enlarged?”
“And wasn’t its mouth a real parrot’s beak but of fearsome size?”
“Well, with all due respect to master,” Conseil replied serenely, “if this isn’t Bouguer’s Squid, it’s at least one of his close relatives!”
I stared at Conseil. Ned Land rushed to the window.
“What an awful animal!” he exclaimed.
I stared in my turn and couldn’t keep back a movement of revulsion. Before my eyes there quivered a horrible monster worthy of a place among the most farfetched teratological legends.
It was a squid of colossal dimensions, fully eight meters long. It was traveling backward with tremendous speed in the same direction as the Nautilus. It gazed with enormous, staring eyes that were tinted sea green. Its eight arms (or more accurately, feet) were rooted in its head, which has earned these animals the name cephalopod; its arms stretched a distance twice the length of its body and were writhing like the serpentine hair of the Furies. You could plainly see its 250 suckers, arranged over the inner sides of its tentacles and shaped like semispheric capsules. Sometimes these suckers fastened onto the lounge window by creating vacuums against it. The monster’s mouth—a beak made of horn and shaped like that of a parrot—opened and closed vertically. Its tongue, also of horn substance and armed with several rows of sharp teeth, would flicker out from between these genuine shears. What a freak of nature! A bird’s beak on a mollusk! Its body was spindle-shaped and swollen in the middle, a fleshy mass that must have weighed 20,000 to 25,000 kilograms. Its unstable color would change with tremendous speed as the animal grew irritated, passing successively from bluish gray to reddish brown.
What was irritating this mollusk? No doubt the presence of the Nautilus, even more fearsome than itself, and which it couldn’t grip with its mandibles or the suckers on its arms. And yet what monsters these devilfish are, what vitality our Creator has given them, what vigor in their movements, thanks to their owning a triple heart!
Sheer chance had placed us in the presence of this squid, and I didn’t want to lose this opportunity to meticulously study such a cephalopod specimen. I overcame the horror that its appearance inspired in me, picked up a pencil, and began to sketch it.
“Perhaps this is the same as the Alecto’s,” Conseil said.
“Can’t be,” the Canadian replied, “because this one’s complete while the other one lost its tail!”
“That doesn’t necessarily follow,” I said. “The arms and tails of these animals grow back through regeneration, and in seven years the tail on Bouguer’s Squid has surely had time to sprout again.”
“Anyhow,” Ned shot back, “if it isn’t this fellow, maybe it’s one of those!”
Indeed, other devilfish had appeared at the starboard window. I counted seven of them. They provided the Nautilus with an escort, and I could hear their beaks gnashing on the sheet-iron hull. We couldn’t have asked for a more devoted following.
I continued sketching. These monsters kept pace in our waters with such precision, they seemed to be standing still, and I could have traced their outlines in miniature on the window. But we were moving at a moderate speed.
All at once the Nautilus stopped. A jolt made it tremble through its entire framework.
“Did we strike bottom?” I asked.
“In any event we’re already clear,” the Canadian replied, “because we’re afloat.”
The Nautilus was certainly afloat, but it was no longer in motion. The blades of its propeller weren’t churning the waves. A minute passed. Followed by his chief officer, Captain Nemo entered the lounge.
I hadn’t seen him for a good while. He looked gloomy to me. Without speaking to us, without even seeing us perhaps, he went to the panel, stared at the devilfish, and said a few words to his chief officer.
The latter went out. Soon the panels closed. The ceiling lit up.
I went over to the captain.
“An unusual assortment of devilfish,” I told him, as carefree as a collector in front of an aquarium.
“Correct, Mr. Naturalist,” he answered me, “and we’re going to fight them at close quarters.”
I gaped at the captain. I thought my hearing had gone bad.
“At close quarters?” I repeated.
“Yes, sir. Our propeller is jammed. I think the horn-covered mandibles of one of these squid are entangled in the blades. That’s why we aren’t moving.”
“And what are you going to do?”
“Rise to the surface and slaughter the vermin.”
“A difficult undertaking.”
“Correct. Our electric bullets are ineffective against such soft flesh, where they don’t meet enough resistance to go off. But we’ll attack the beasts with axes.”
“And harpoons, sir,” the Canadian said, “if you don’t turn down my help.”
“I accept it, Mr. Land.”
“We’ll go with you,” I said. And we followed Captain Nemo, heading to the central companionway.
There some ten men were standing by for the assault, armed with boarding axes. Conseil and I picked up two more axes. Ned Land seized a harpoon.
By then the Nautilus had returned to the surface of the waves. Stationed on the top steps, one of the seamen undid the bolts of the hatch. But he had scarcely unscrewed the nuts when the hatch flew up with tremendous violence, obviously pulled open by the suckers on a devilfish’s arm.
Instantly one of those long arms glided like a snake into the opening, and twenty others were quivering above. With a sweep of the ax, Captain Nemo chopped off this fearsome tentacle, which slid writhing down the steps.
Just as we were crowding each other to reach the platform, two more arms lashed the air, swooped on the seaman stationed in front of Captain Nemo, and carried the fellow away with irresistible violence.
Captain Nemo gave a shout and leaped outside. We rushed after him.
What a scene! Seized by the tentacle and glued to its suckers, the unfortunate man was swinging in the air at the mercy of this enormous appendage. He gasped, he choked, he yelled: “Help! Help!” These words, pronounced in French, left me deeply stunned! So I had a fellow countryman on board, perhaps several! I’ll hear his harrowing plea the rest of my life!
The poor fellow was done for. Who could tear him from such a powerful grip? Even so, Captain Nemo rushed at the devilfish and with a sweep of the ax hewed one more of its arms. His chief officer struggled furiously with other monsters crawling up the Nautilus’s sides. The crew battled with flailing axes. The Canadian, Conseil, and I sank our weapons into these fleshy masses. An intense, musky odor filled the air. It was horrible.
For an instant I thought the poor man entwined by the devilfish might be torn loose from its powerful suction. Seven arms out of eight had been chopped off. Brandishing its victim like a feather, one lone tentacle was writhing in the air. But just as Captain Nemo and his chief officer rushed at it, the animal shot off a spout of blackish liquid, secreted by a pouch located in its abdomen. It blinded us. When this cloud had dispersed, the squid was gone, and so was my poor fellow countryman!
What rage then drove us against these monsters! We lost all self-control. Ten or twelve devilfish had overrun the Nautilus’s platform and sides. We piled helter-skelter into the thick of these sawed-off snakes, which darted over the platform amid waves of blood and sepia ink. It seemed as if these viscous tentacles grew back like the many heads of Hydra. At every thrust Ned Land’s harpoon would plunge into a squid’s sea-green eye and burst it. But my daring companion was suddenly toppled by the tentacles of a monster he could not avoid.
Oh, my heart nearly exploded with excitement and horror! The squid’s fearsome beak was wide open over Ned Land. The poor man was about to be cut in half. I ran to his rescue. But Captain Nemo got there first. His ax disappeared between the two enormous mandibles, and the Canadian, miraculously saved, stood and plunged his harpoon all the way into the devilfish’s triple heart.
“Tit for tat,” Captain Nemo told the Canadian. “I owed it to myself!”
Ned bowed without answering him.
This struggle had lasted a quarter of an hour. Defeated, mutilated, battered to death, the monsters finally yielded to us and disappeared beneath the waves.
Red with blood, motionless by the beacon, Captain Nemo stared at the sea that had swallowed one of his companions, and large tears streamed from his eyes.
CHAPTER 19 -
The Gulf Stream
THIS DREADFUL SCENE on April 20 none of us will ever be able to forget. I wrote it up in a state of intense excitement. Later I reviewed my narrative. I read it to Conseil and the Canadian. They found it accurate in detail but deficient in impact. To convey such sights, it would take the pen of our most famous poet, Victor Hugo, author of The Toilers of the Sea.
As I said, Captain Nemo wept while staring at the waves. His grief was immense. This was the second companion he had lost since we had come aboard. And what a way to die! Smashed, strangled, crushed by the fearsome arms of a devilfish, ground between its iron mandibles, this friend would never rest with his companions in the placid waters of their coral cemetery!
As for me, what had harrowed my heart in the thick of this struggle was the despairing yell given by this unfortunate man. Forgetting his regulation language, this poor Frenchman had reverted to speaking his own mother tongue to fling out one supreme plea! Among the Nautilus’s crew, allied body and soul with Captain Nemo and likewise fleeing from human contact, I had found a fellow countryman! Was he the only representative of France in this mysterious alliance, obviously made up of individuals from different nationalities? This was just one more of those insoluble problems that kept welling up in my mind!
Captain Nemo reentered his stateroom, and I saw no more of him for a good while. But how sad, despairing, and irresolute he must have felt, to judge from this ship whose soul he was, which reflected his every mood! The Nautilus no longer kept to a fixed heading. It drifted back and forth, riding with the waves like a corpse. Its propeller had been disentangled but was barely put to use. It was navigating at random. It couldn’t tear itself away from the setting of this last struggle, from this sea that had devoured one of its own!
Ten days went by in this way. It was only on May 1 that the Nautilus openly resumed its northbound course, after raising the Bahamas at the mouth of Old Bahama Channel. We then went with the current of the sea’s greatest river, which has its own banks, fish, and temperature. I mean the Gulf Stream.
It is indeed a river that runs independently through the middle of the Atlantic, its waters never mixing with the ocean’s waters. It’s a salty river, saltier than the sea surrounding it. Its average depth is 3,000 feet, its average width sixty miles. In certain localities its current moves at a speed of four kilometers per hour. The unchanging volume of its waters is greater than that of all the world’s rivers combined.
As discovered by Commander Maury, the true source of the Gulf Stream, its starting point, if you prefer, is located in the Bay of Biscay. There its waters, still weak in temperature and color, begin to form. It goes down south, skirts equatorial Africa, warms its waves in the rays of the Torrid Zone, crosses the Atlantic, reaches Cape São Roque on the coast of Brazil, and forks into two branches, one going to the Caribbean Sea for further saturation with heat particles. Then, entrusted with restoring the balance between hot and cold temperatures and with mixing tropical and northern waters, the Gulf Stream begins to play its stabilizing role. Attaining a white heat in the Gulf of Mexico, it heads north up the American coast, advances as far as Newfoundland, swerves away under the thrust of a cold current from the Davis Strait, and resumes its ocean course by going along a great circle of the earth on a rhumb line; it then divides into two arms near the 43rd parallel; one, helped by the northeast trade winds, returns to the Bay of Biscay and the Azores; the other washes the shores of Ireland and Norway with lukewarm water, goes beyond Spitzbergen, where its temperature falls to 4 degrees centigrade, and fashions the open sea at the pole.
It was on this oceanic river that the Nautilus was then navigating. Leaving Old Bahama Channel, which is fourteen leagues wide by 350 meters deep, the Gulf Stream moves at the rate of eight kilometers per hour. Its speed steadily decreases as it advances northward, and we must pray that this steadiness continues, because, as experts agree, if its speed and direction were to change, the climates of Europe would undergo disturbances whose consequences are incalculable.
Near noon I was on the platform with Conseil. I shared with him the relevant details on the Gulf Stream. When my explanation was over, I invited him to dip his hands into its current.
Conseil did so, and he was quite astonished to experience no sensation of either hot or cold.
“That comes,” I told him, “from the water temperature of the Gulf Stream, which, as it leaves the Gulf of Mexico, is barely different from your blood temperature. This Gulf Stream is a huge heat generator that enables the coasts of Europe to be decked in eternal greenery. And if Commander Maury is correct, were one to harness the full warmth of this current, it would supply enough heat to keep molten a river of iron solder as big as the Amazon or the Missouri.”
Just then the Gulf Stream’s speed was 2.25 meters per second. So distinct is its current from the surrounding sea, its confined waters stand out against the ocean and operate on a different level from the colder waters. Murky as well, and very rich in saline material, their pure indigo contrasts with the green waves surrounding them. Moreover, their line of demarcation is so clear that abreast of the Carolinas, the Nautilus’s spur cut the waves of the Gulf Stream while its propeller was still churning those belonging to the ocean.
This current swept along with it a whole host of moving creatures. Argonauts, so common in the Mediterranean, voyaged here in schools of large numbers. Among cartilaginous fish, the most remarkable were rays whose ultra slender tails made up nearly a third of the body, which was shaped like a huge diamond twenty-five feet long; then little one-meter sharks, the head large, the snout short and rounded, the teeth sharp and arranged in several rows, the body seemingly covered with scales.
Among bony fish, I noted grizzled wrasse unique to these seas, deep-water gilthead whose iris has a fiery gleam, one-meter croakers whose large mouths bristle with small teeth and which let out thin cries, black rudderfish like those I’ve already discussed, blue dorados accented with gold and silver, rainbow-hued parrotfish that can rival the loveliest tropical birds in coloring, banded blennies with triangular heads, bluish flounder without scales, toadfish covered with a crosswise yellow band in the shape of a Greek t, swarms of little freckled gobies stippled with brown spots, lungfish with silver heads and yellow tails, various specimens of salmon, mullet with slim figures and a softly glowing radiance that Lacépède dedicated to the memory of his wife, and finally the American cavalla, a handsome fish decorated by every honorary order, bedizened with their every ribbon, frequenting the shores of this great nation where ribbons and orders are held in such low esteem.
I might add that during the night, the Gulf Stream’s phosphorescent waters rivaled the electric glow of our beacon, especially in the stormy weather that frequently threatened us.
On May 8, while abreast of North Carolina, we were across from Cape Hatteras once more. There the Gulf Stream is seventy-five miles wide and 210 meters deep. The Nautilus continued to wander at random. Seemingly, all supervision had been jettisoned. Under these conditions I admit that we could easily have gotten away. In fact, the populous shores offered ready refuge everywhere. The sea was plowed continuously by the many steamers providing service between the Gulf of Mexico and New York or Boston, and it was crossed night and day by little schooners engaged in coastal trade over various points on the American shore. We could hope to be picked up. So it was a promising opportunity, despite the thirty miles that separated the Nautilus from these Union coasts.
But one distressing circumstance totally thwarted the Canadian’s plans. The weather was thoroughly foul. We were approaching waterways where storms are commonplace, the very homeland of tornadoes and cyclones specifically engendered by the Gulf Stream’s current. To face a frequently raging sea in a frail skiff was a race to certain disaster. Ned Land conceded this himself. So he champed at the bit, in the grip of an intense homesickness that could be cured only by our escape.
“Sir,” he told me that day, “it’s got to stop. I want to get to the bottom of this. Your Nemo’s veering away from shore and heading up north. But believe you me, I had my fill at the South Pole and I’m not going with him to the North Pole.”
“What can we do, Ned, since it isn’t feasible to escape right now?”
“I keep coming back to my idea. We’ve got to talk to the captain. When we were in your own country’s seas, you didn’t say a word. Now that we’re in mine, I intend to speak up. Before a few days are out, I figure the Nautilus will lie abreast of Nova Scotia, and from there to Newfoundland is the mouth of a large gulf, and the St. Lawrence empties into that gulf, and the St. Lawrence is my own river, the river running by Quebec, my hometown—and when I think about all this, my gorge rises and my hair stands on end! Honestly, sir, I’d rather jump overboard! I can’t stay here any longer! I’m suffocating!”
The Canadian was obviously at the end of his patience. His vigorous nature couldn’t adapt to this protracted imprisonment. His facial appearance was changing by the day. His moods grew gloomier and gloomier. I had a sense of what he was suffering because I also was gripped by homesickness. Nearly seven months had gone by without our having any news from shore. Moreover, Captain Nemo’s reclusiveness, his changed disposition, and especially his total silence since the battle with the devilfish all made me see things in a different light. I no longer felt the enthusiasm of our first days on board. You needed to be Flemish like Conseil to accept these circumstances, living in a habitat designed for cetaceans and other denizens of the deep. Truly, if that gallant lad had owned gills instead of lungs, I think he would have made an outstanding fish!
“Well, sir?” Ned Land went on, seeing that I hadn’t replied.
“Well, Ned, you want me to ask Captain Nemo what he intends to do with us?”
“Even though he has already made that clear?”
“Yes. I want it settled once and for all. Speak just for me, strictly on my behalf, if you want.”
“But I rarely encounter him. He positively avoids me.”
“All the more reason you should go look him up.”
“I’ll confer with him, Ned.”
“When?” the Canadian asked insistently.
“When I encounter him.”
“Professor Aronnax, would you like me to go find him myself?”
“No, let me do it. Tomorrow—”
“Today,” Ned Land said.
“So be it. I’ll see him today,” I answered the Canadian, who, if he took action himself, would certainly have ruined everything.
I was left to myself. His request granted, I decided to dispose of it immediately. I like things over and done with.
I reentered my stateroom. From there I could hear movements inside Captain Nemo’s quarters. I couldn’t pass up this chance for an encounter. I knocked on his door. I received no reply. I knocked again, then tried the knob. The door opened.
I entered. The captain was there. He was bending over his worktable and hadn’t heard me. Determined not to leave without questioning him, I drew closer. He looked up sharply, with a frowning brow, and said in a pretty stern tone:
“Oh, it’s you! What do you want?”
“To speak with you, captain.”
“But I’m busy, sir, I’m at work. I give you the freedom to enjoy your privacy, can’t I have the same for myself?”
This reception was less than encouraging. But I was determined to give as good as I got.
“Sir,” I said coolly, “I need to speak with you on a matter that simply can’t wait.”
“Whatever could that be, sir?” he replied sarcastically. “Have you made some discovery that has escaped me? Has the sea yielded up some novel secret to you?”
We were miles apart. But before I could reply, he showed me a manuscript open on the table and told me in a more serious tone:
“Here, Professor Aronnax, is a manuscript written in several languages. It contains a summary of my research under the sea, and God willing, it won’t perish with me. Signed with my name, complete with my life story, this manuscript will be enclosed in a small, unsinkable contrivance. The last surviving man on the Nautilus will throw this contrivance into the sea, and it will go wherever the waves carry it.”
The man’s name! His life story written by himself! So the secret of his existence might someday be unveiled? But just then I saw this announcement only as a lead-in to my topic.
“Captain,” I replied, “I’m all praise for this idea you’re putting into effect. The fruits of your research must not be lost. But the methods you’re using strike me as primitive. Who knows where the winds will take that contrivance, into whose hands it may fall? Can’t you find something better? Can’t you or one of your men—”
“Never, sir,” the captain said, swiftly interrupting me.
“But my companions and I would be willing to safeguard this manuscript, and if you give us back our freedom—”
“Your freedom!” Captain Nemo put in, standing up.
“Yes, sir, and that’s the subject on which I wanted to confer with you. For seven months we’ve been aboard your vessel, and I ask you today, in the name of my companions as well as myself, if you intend to keep us here forever.”
“Professor Aronnax,” Captain Nemo said, “I’ll answer you today just as I did seven months ago: whoever boards the Nautilus must never leave it.”
“What you’re inflicting on us is outright slavery!”
“Call it anything you like.”
“But every slave has the right to recover his freedom! By any worthwhile, available means!”
“Who has denied you that right?” Captain Nemo replied. “Did I ever try to bind you with your word of honor?”
The captain stared at me, crossing his arms.
“Sir,” I told him, “to take up this subject a second time would be distasteful to both of us. So let’s finish what we’ve started. I repeat: it isn’t just for myself that I raise this issue. To me, research is a relief, a potent diversion, an enticement, a passion that can make me forget everything else. Like you, I’m a man neglected and unknown, living in the faint hope that someday I can pass on to future generations the fruits of my labors—figuratively speaking, by means of some contrivance left to the luck of winds and waves. In short, I can admire you and comfortably go with you while playing a role I only partly understand; but I still catch glimpses of other aspects of your life that are surrounded by involvements and secrets that, alone on board, my companions and I can’t share. And even when our hearts could beat with yours, moved by some of your griefs or stirred by your deeds of courage and genius, we’ve had to stifle even the slightest token of that sympathy that arises at the sight of something fine and good, whether it comes from friend or enemy. All right then! It’s this feeling of being alien to your deepest concerns that makes our situation unacceptable, impossible, even impossible for me but especially for Ned Land. Every man, by virtue of his very humanity, deserves fair treatment. Have you considered how a love of freedom and hatred of slavery could lead to plans of vengeance in a temperament like the Canadian’s, what he might think, attempt, endeavor . . . ?”
I fell silent. Captain Nemo stood up.
“Ned Land can think, attempt, or endeavor anything he wants, what difference is it to me? I didn’t go looking for him! I don’t keep him on board for my pleasure! As for you, Professor Aronnax, you’re a man able to understand anything, even silence. I have nothing more to say to you. Let this first time you’ve come to discuss this subject also be the last, because a second time I won’t even listen.”
I withdrew. From that day forward our position was very strained. I reported this conversation to my two companions.
“Now we know,” Ned said, “that we can’t expect a thing from this man. The Nautilus is nearing Long Island. We’ll escape, no matter what the weather.”
But the skies became more and more threatening. There were conspicuous signs of a hurricane on the way. The atmosphere was turning white and milky. Slender sheaves of cirrus clouds were followed on the horizon by layers of nimbocumulus. Other low clouds fled swiftly. The sea grew towering, inflated by long swells. Every bird had disappeared except a few petrels, friends of the storms. The barometer fell significantly, indicating a tremendous tension in the surrounding haze. The mixture in our stormglass decomposed under the influence of the electricity charging the air. A struggle of the elements was approaching.
The storm burst during the daytime of May 13, just as the Nautilus was cruising abreast of Long Island, a few miles from the narrows to Upper New York Bay. I’m able to describe this struggle of the elements because Captain Nemo didn’t flee into the ocean depths; instead, from some inexplicable whim, he decided to brave it out on the surface.
The wind was blowing from the southwest, initially a stiff breeze, in other words, with a speed of fifteen meters per second, which built to twenty-five meters near three o’clock in the afternoon. This is the figure for major storms.
Unshaken by these squalls, Captain Nemo stationed himself on the platform. He was lashed around the waist to withstand the monstrous breakers foaming over the deck. I hoisted and attached myself to the same place, dividing my wonderment between the storm and this incomparable man who faced it head-on.
The raging sea was swept with huge tattered clouds drenched by the waves. I saw no more of the small intervening billows that form in the troughs of the big crests. Just long, soot-colored undulations with crests so compact they didn’t foam. They kept growing taller. They were spurring each other on. The Nautilus, sometimes lying on its side, sometimes standing on end like a mast, rolled and pitched frightfully.
Near five o’clock a torrential rain fell, but it lulled neither wind nor sea. The hurricane was unleashed at a speed of forty-five meters per second, hence almost forty leagues per hour. Under these conditions houses topple, roof tiles puncture doors, iron railings snap in two, and twenty-four-pounder cannons relocate. And yet in the midst of this turmoil, the Nautilus lived up to that saying of an expert engineer: “A well-constructed hull can defy any sea!” This submersible was no resisting rock that waves could demolish; it was a steel spindle, obediently in motion, without rigging or masting, and able to brave their fury with impunity.
Meanwhile I was carefully examining these unleashed breakers. They measured up to fifteen meters in height over a length of 150 to 175 meters, and the speed of their propagation (half that of the wind) was fifteen meters per second. Their volume and power increased with the depth of the waters. I then understood the role played by these waves, which trap air in their flanks and release it in the depths of the sea where its oxygen brings life. Their utmost pressure—it has been calculated—can build to 3,000 kilograms on every square foot of surface they strike. It was such waves in the Hebrides that repositioned a stone block weighing 84,000 pounds. It was their relatives in the tidal wave on December 23, 1854, that toppled part of the Japanese city of Tokyo, then went that same day at 700 kilometers per hour to break on the beaches of America.
After nightfall the storm grew in intensity. As in the 1860 cyclone on Réunion Island, the barometer fell to 710 millimeters. At the close of day, I saw a big ship passing on the horizon, struggling painfully. It lay to at half steam in an effort to hold steady on the waves. It must have been a steamer on one of those lines out of New York to Liverpool or Le Havre. It soon vanished into the shadows.
At ten o’clock in the evening, the skies caught on fire. The air was streaked with violent flashes of lightning. I couldn’t stand this brightness, but Captain Nemo stared straight at it, as if to inhale the spirit of the storm. A dreadful noise filled the air, a complicated noise made up of the roar of crashing breakers, the howl of the wind, claps of thunder. The wind shifted to every point of the horizon, and the cyclone left the east to return there after passing through north, west, and south, moving in the opposite direction of revolving storms in the southern hemisphere.
Oh, that Gulf Stream! It truly lives up to its nickname, the Lord of Storms! All by itself it creates these fearsome cyclones through the difference in temperature between its currents and the superimposed layers of air.
The rain was followed by a downpour of fire. Droplets of water changed into exploding tufts. You would have thought Captain Nemo was courting a death worthy of himself, seeking to be struck by lightning. In one hideous pitching movement, the Nautilus reared its steel spur into the air like a lightning rod, and I saw long sparks shoot down it.
Shattered, at the end of my strength, I slid flat on my belly to the hatch. I opened it and went below to the lounge. By then the storm had reached its maximum intensity. It was impossible to stand upright inside the Nautilus.
Captain Nemo reentered near midnight. I could hear the ballast tanks filling little by little, and the Nautilus sank gently beneath the surface of the waves.
Through the lounge’s open windows, I saw large, frightened fish passing like phantoms in the fiery waters. Some were struck by lightning right before my eyes!
The Nautilus kept descending. I thought it would find calm again at fifteen meters down. No. The upper strata were too violently agitated. It needed to sink to fifty meters, searching for a resting place in the bowels of the sea.
But once there, what tranquility we found, what silence, what peace all around us! Who would have known that a dreadful hurricane was then unleashed on the surface of this ocean?
CHAPTER 20 -
In Latitude 47° 24’ and Longitude 17° 28’
IN THE AFTERMATH of this storm, we were thrown back to the east. Away went any hope of escaping to the landing places of New York or the St. Lawrence. In despair, poor Ned went into seclusion like Captain Nemo. Conseil and I no longer left each other.
As I said, the Nautilus veered to the east. To be more accurate, I should have said to the northeast. Sometimes on the surface of the waves, sometimes beneath them, the ship wandered for days amid these mists so feared by navigators. These are caused chiefly by melting ice, which keeps the air extremely damp. How many ships have perished in these waterways as they tried to get directions from the hazy lights on the coast! How many casualties have been caused by these opaque mists! How many collisions have occurred with these reefs, where the breaking surf is covered by the noise of the wind! How many vessels have rammed each other, despite their running lights, despite the warnings given by their bosun’s pipes and alarm bells!
So the floor of this sea had the appearance of a battlefield where every ship defeated by the ocean still lay, some already old and encrusted, others newer and reflecting our beacon light on their ironwork and copper undersides. Among these vessels, how many went down with all hands, with their crews and hosts of immigrants, at these trouble spots so prominent in the statistics: Cape Race, St. Paul Island, the Strait of Belle Isle, the St. Lawrence estuary! And in only a few years, how many victims have been furnished to the obituary notices by the Royal Mail, Inman, and Montreal lines; by vessels named the Solway, the Isis, the Paramatta, the Hungarian, the Canadian, the Anglo-Saxon, the Humboldt, and the United States, all run aground; by the Arctic and the Lyonnais, sunk in collisions; by the President, the Pacific, and the City of Glasgow, lost for reasons unknown; in the midst of their gloomy rubble, the Nautilus navigated as if passing the dead in review!
By May 15 we were off the southern tip of the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. These banks are the result of marine sedimentation, an extensive accumulation of organic waste brought either from the equator by the Gulf Stream’s current, or from the North Pole by the countercurrent of cold water that skirts the American coast. Here, too, erratically drifting chunks collect from the ice breakup. Here a huge boneyard forms from fish, mollusks, and zoophytes dying over it by the billions.
The sea is of no great depth at the Grand Banks. A few hundred fathoms at best. But to the south there is a deep, suddenly occurring depression, a 3,000-meter pit. Here the Gulf Stream widens. Its waters come to full bloom. It loses its speed and temperature, but it turns into a sea.
Among the fish that the Nautilus startled on its way, I’ll mention a one-meter lumpfish, blackish on top with orange on the belly and rare among its brethren in that it practices monogamy, a good-sized eelpout, a type of emerald moray whose flavor is excellent, wolffish with big eyes in a head somewhat resembling a canine’s, viviparous blennies whose eggs hatch inside their bodies like those of snakes, bloated gobio (or black gudgeon) measuring two decimeters, grenadiers with long tails and gleaming with a silvery glow, speedy fish venturing far from their High Arctic seas.
Our nets also hauled in a bold, daring, vigorous, and muscular fish armed with prickles on its head and stings on its fins, a real scorpion measuring two to three meters, the ruthless enemy of cod, blennies, and salmon; it was the bullhead of the northerly seas, a fish with red fins and a brown body covered with nodules. The Nautilus’s fishermen had some trouble getting a grip on this animal, which, thanks to the formation of its gill covers, can protect its respiratory organs from any parching contact with the air and can live out of water for a good while.
And I’ll mention—for the record—some little banded blennies that follow ships into the northernmost seas, sharp-snouted carp exclusive to the north Atlantic, scorpionfish, and lastly the gadoid family, chiefly the cod species, which I detected in their waters of choice over these inexhaustible Grand Banks.
Because Newfoundland is simply an underwater peak, you could call these cod mountain fish. While the Nautilus was clearing a path through their tight ranks, Conseil couldn’t refrain from making this comment:
“Mercy, look at these cod!” he said. “Why, I thought cod were flat, like dab or sole!”
“Innocent boy!” I exclaimed. “Cod are flat only at the grocery store, where they’re cut open and spread out on display. But in the water they’re like mullet, spindle-shaped and perfectly built for speed.”
“I can easily believe master,” Conseil replied. “But what crowds of them! What swarms!”
“Bah! My friend, there’d be many more without their enemies, scorpionfish and human beings! Do you know how many eggs have been counted in a single female?”
“I’ll go all out,” Conseil replied. “500,000.”
“11,000,000, my friend.”
“11,000,000! I refuse to accept that until I count them myself.”
“So count them, Conseil. But it would be less work to believe me. Besides, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans, Danes, and Norwegians catch these cod by the thousands. They’re eaten in prodigious quantities, and without the astonishing fertility of these fish, the seas would soon be depopulated of them. Accordingly, in England and America alone, 5,000 ships manned by 75,000 seamen go after cod. Each ship brings back an average catch of 4,400 fish, making 22,000,000. Off the coast of Norway, the total is the same.”
“Fine,” Conseil replied, “I’ll take master’s word for it. I won’t count them.”
“Those 11,000,000 eggs. But I’ll make one comment.”
“If all their eggs hatched, just four codfish could feed England, America, and Norway.”
As we skimmed the depths of the Grand Banks, I could see perfectly those long fishing lines, each armed with 200 hooks, that every boat dangled by the dozens. The lower end of each line dragged the bottom by means of a small grappling iron, and at the surface it was secured to the buoy-rope of a cork float. The Nautilus had to maneuver shrewdly in the midst of this underwater spiderweb.
But the ship didn’t stay long in these heavily traveled waterways. It went up to about latitude 42 degrees. This brought it abreast of St. John’s in Newfoundland and Heart’s Content, where the Atlantic Cable reaches its end point.
Instead of continuing north, the Nautilus took an easterly heading, as if to go along this plateau on which the telegraph cable rests, where multiple soundings have given the contours of the terrain with the utmost accuracy.
It was on May 17, about 500 miles from Heart’s Content and 2,800 meters down, that I spotted this cable lying on the seafloor. Conseil, whom I hadn’t alerted, mistook it at first for a gigantic sea snake and was gearing up to classify it in his best manner. But I enlightened the fine lad and let him down gently by giving him various details on the laying of this cable.
The first cable was put down during the years 1857-1858; but after transmitting about 400 telegrams, it went dead. In 1863 engineers built a new cable that measured 3,400 kilometers, weighed 4,500 metric tons, and was shipped aboard the Great Eastern. This attempt also failed.
Now then, on May 25 while submerged to a depth of 3,836 meters, the Nautilus lay in precisely the locality where this second cable suffered the rupture that ruined the undertaking. It happened 638 miles from the coast of Ireland. At around two o’clock in the afternoon, all contact with Europe broke off. The electricians on board decided to cut the cable before fishing it up, and by eleven o’clock that evening they had retrieved the damaged part. They repaired the joint and its splice; then the cable was resubmerged. But a few days later it snapped again and couldn’t be recovered from the ocean depths.
These Americans refused to give up. The daring Cyrus Field, who had risked his whole fortune to promote this undertaking, called for a new bond issue. It sold out immediately. Another cable was put down under better conditions. Its sheaves of conducting wire were insulated within a gutta-percha covering, which was protected by a padding of textile material enclosed in a metal sheath. The Great Eastern put back to sea on July 13, 1866.
The operation proceeded apace. Yet there was one hitch. As they gradually unrolled this third cable, the electricians observed on several occasions that someone had recently driven nails into it, trying to damage its core. Captain Anderson, his officers, and the engineers put their heads together, then posted a warning that if the culprit were detected, he would be thrown overboard without a trial. After that, these villainous attempts were not repeated.
By July 23 the Great Eastern was lying no farther than 800 kilometers from Newfoundland when it received telegraphed news from Ireland of an armistice signed between Prussia and Austria after the Battle of Sadova. Through the mists on the 27th, it sighted the port of Heart’s Content. The undertaking had ended happily, and in its first dispatch, young America addressed old Europe with these wise words so rarely understood: “Glory to God in the highest, and peace on earth to men of good will.”
I didn’t expect to find this electric cable in mint condition, as it looked on leaving its place of manufacture. The long snake was covered with seashell rubble and bristling with foraminifera; a crust of caked gravel protected it from any mollusks that might bore into it. It rested serenely, sheltered from the sea’s motions, under a pressure favorable to the transmission of that electric spark that goes from America to Europe in 32/100 of a second. This cable will no doubt last indefinitely because, as observers note, its gutta-percha casing is improved by a stay in salt water.
Besides, on this well-chosen plateau, the cable never lies at depths that could cause a break. The Nautilus followed it to its lowest reaches, located 4,431 meters down, and even there it rested without any stress or strain. Then we returned to the locality where the 1863 accident had taken place.
There the ocean floor formed a valley 120 kilometers wide, into which you could fit Mt. Blanc without its summit poking above the surface of the waves. This valley is closed off to the east by a sheer wall 2,000 meters high. We arrived there on May 28, and the Nautilus lay no farther than 150 kilometers from Ireland.
Would Captain Nemo head up north and beach us on the British Isles? No. Much to my surprise, he went back down south and returned to European seas. As we swung around the Emerald Isle, I spotted Cape Clear for an instant, plus the lighthouse on Fastnet Rock that guides all those thousands of ships setting out from Glasgow or Liverpool.
An important question then popped into my head. Would the Nautilus dare to tackle the English Channel? Ned Land (who promptly reappeared after we hugged shore) never stopped questioning me. What could I answer him? Captain Nemo remained invisible. After giving the Canadian a glimpse of American shores, was he about to show me the coast of France?
But the Nautilus kept gravitating southward. On May 30, in sight of Land’s End, it passed between the lowermost tip of England and the Scilly Islands, which it left behind to starboard.
If it was going to enter the English Channel, it clearly needed to head east. It did not.
All day long on May 31, the Nautilus swept around the sea in a series of circles that had me deeply puzzled. It seemed to be searching for a locality that it had some trouble finding. At noon Captain Nemo himself came to take our bearings. He didn’t address a word to me. He looked gloomier than ever. What was filling him with such sadness? Was it our proximity to these European shores? Was he reliving his memories of that country he had left behind? If so, what did he feel? Remorse or regret? For a good while these thoughts occupied my mind, and I had a hunch that fate would soon give away the captain’s secrets.
The next day, June 1, the Nautilus kept to the same tack. It was obviously trying to locate some precise spot in the ocean. Just as on the day before, Captain Nemo came to take the altitude of the sun. The sea was smooth, the skies clear. Eight miles to the east, a big steamship was visible on the horizon line. No flag was flapping from the gaff of its fore-and-aft sail, and I couldn’t tell its nationality.
A few minutes before the sun passed its zenith, Captain Nemo raised his sextant and took his sights with the utmost precision. The absolute calm of the waves facilitated this operation. The Nautilus lay motionless, neither rolling nor pitching.
I was on the platform just then. After determining our position, the captain pronounced only these words:
“It’s right here!”
He went down the hatch. Had he seen that vessel change course and seemingly head toward us? I’m unable to say.
I returned to the lounge. The hatch closed, and I heard water hissing in the ballast tanks. The Nautilus began to sink on a vertical line, because its propeller was in check and no longer furnished any forward motion.
Some minutes later it stopped at a depth of 833 meters and came to rest on the seafloor.
The ceiling lights in the lounge then went out, the panels opened, and through the windows I saw, for a half-mile radius, the sea brightly lit by the beacon’s rays.
I looked to port and saw nothing but the immenseness of these tranquil waters.
To starboard, a prominent bulge on the sea bottom caught my attention. You would have thought it was some ruin enshrouded in a crust of whitened seashells, as if under a mantle of snow. Carefully examining this mass, I could identify the swollen outlines of a ship shorn of its masts, which must have sunk bow first. This casualty certainly dated from some far-off time. To be so caked with the limestone of these waters, this wreckage must have spent many a year on the ocean floor.
What ship was this? Why had the Nautilus come to visit its grave? Was it something other than a maritime accident that had dragged this craft under the waters?
I wasn’t sure what to think, but next to me I heard Captain Nemo’s voice slowly say:
“Originally this ship was christened the Marseillais. It carried seventy-four cannons and was launched in 1762. On August 13, 1778, commanded by La Poype-Vertrieux, it fought valiantly against the Preston. On July 4, 1779, as a member of the squadron under Admiral d’Estaing, it assisted in the capture of the island of Grenada. On September 5, 1781, under the Count de Grasse, it took part in the Battle of Chesapeake Bay. In 1794 the new Republic of France changed the name of this ship. On April 16 of that same year, it joined the squadron at Brest under Rear Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse, who was entrusted with escorting a convoy of wheat coming from America under the command of Admiral Van Stabel. In this second year of the French Revolutionary Calendar, on the 11th and 12th days in the Month of Pasture, this squadron fought an encounter with English vessels. Sir, today is June 1, 1868, or the 13th day in the Month of Pasture. Seventy-four years ago to the day, at this very spot in latitude 47 degrees 24’ and longitude 17 degrees 28’, this ship sank after a heroic battle; its three masts gone, water in its hold, a third of its crew out of action, it preferred to go to the bottom with its 356 seamen rather than surrender; and with its flag nailed up on the afterdeck, it disappeared beneath the waves to shouts of ‘Long live the Republic!’”
“This is the Avenger!” I exclaimed.
“Yes, sir! The Avenger! A splendid name!” Captain Nemo murmured, crossing his arms.
CHAPTER 21 -
A Mass Execution
THE WAY HE SAID THIS, the unexpectedness of this scene, first the biography of this patriotic ship, then the excitement with which this eccentric individual pronounced these last words—the name Avenger whose significance could not escape me—all this, taken together, had a profound impact on my mind. My eyes never left the captain. Hands outstretched toward the sea, he contemplated the proud wreck with blazing eyes. Perhaps I would never learn who he was, where he came from or where he was heading, but more and more I could see a distinction between the man and the scientist. It was no ordinary misanthropy that kept Captain Nemo and his companions sequestered inside the Nautilus’s plating, but a hate so monstrous or so sublime that the passing years could never weaken it.
Did this hate also hunger for vengeance? Time would soon tell.
Meanwhile the Nautilus rose slowly to the surface of the sea, and I watched the Avenger’s murky shape disappearing little by little. Soon a gentle rolling told me that we were afloat in the open air.
Just then a hollow explosion was audible. I looked at the captain. The captain did not stir.
“Captain?” I said.
He didn’t reply.
I left him and climbed onto the platform. Conseil and the Canadian were already there.
“What caused that explosion?” I asked.
“A cannon going off,” Ned Land replied.
I stared in the direction of the ship I had spotted. It was heading toward the Nautilus, and you could tell it had put on steam. Six miles separated it from us.
“What sort of craft is it, Ned?”
“From its rigging and its low masts,” the Canadian replied, “I bet it’s a warship. Here’s hoping it pulls up and sinks this damned Nautilus!”
“Ned my friend,” Conseil replied, “what harm could it do the Nautilus? Will it attack us under the waves? Will it cannonade us at the bottom of the sea?”
“Tell me, Ned,” I asked, “can you make out the nationality of that craft?”
Creasing his brow, lowering his lids, and puckering the corners of his eyes, the Canadian focused the full power of his gaze on the ship for a short while.
“No, sir,” he replied. “I can’t make out what nation it’s from. It’s flying no flag. But I’ll swear it’s a warship, because there’s a long pennant streaming from the peak of its mainmast.”
For a quarter of an hour, we continued to watch the craft bearing down on us. But it was inconceivable to me that it had discovered the Nautilus at such a distance, still less that it knew what this underwater machine really was.
Soon the Canadian announced that the craft was a big battleship, a double-decker ironclad complete with ram. Dark, dense smoke burst from its two funnels. Its furled sails merged with the lines of its yardarms. The gaff of its fore-and-aft sail flew no flag. Its distance still kept us from distinguishing the colors of its pennant, which was fluttering like a thin ribbon.
It was coming on fast. If Captain Nemo let it approach, a chance for salvation might be available to us.
“Sir,” Ned Land told me, “if that boat gets within a mile of us, I’m jumping overboard, and I suggest you follow suit.”
I didn’t reply to the Canadian’s proposition but kept watching the ship, which was looming larger on the horizon. Whether it was English, French, American, or Russian, it would surely welcome us aboard if we could just get to it.
“Master may recall,” Conseil then said, “that we have some experience with swimming. He can rely on me to tow him to that vessel, if he’s agreeable to going with our friend Ned.”
Before I could reply, white smoke streamed from the battleship’s bow. Then, a few seconds later, the waters splashed astern of the Nautilus, disturbed by the fall of a heavy object. Soon after, an explosion struck my ears.
“What’s this? They’re firing at us!” I exclaimed.
“Good lads!” the Canadian muttered.
“That means they don’t see us as castaways clinging to some wreckage!”
“With all due respect to master—gracious!” Conseil put in, shaking off the water that had sprayed over him from another shell. “With all due respect to master, they’ve discovered the narwhale and they’re cannonading the same.”
“But it must be clear to them,” I exclaimed, “that they’re dealing with human beings.”
“Maybe that’s why!” Ned Land replied, staring hard at me.
The full truth dawned on me. Undoubtedly people now knew where they stood on the existence of this so-called monster. Undoubtedly the latter’s encounter with the Abraham Lincoln, when the Canadian hit it with his harpoon, had led Commander Farragut to recognize the narwhale as actually an underwater boat, more dangerous than any unearthly cetacean!
Yes, this had to be the case, and undoubtedly they were now chasing this dreadful engine of destruction on every sea!
Dreadful indeed, if, as we could assume, Captain Nemo had been using the Nautilus in works of vengeance! That night in the middle of the Indian Ocean, when he imprisoned us in the cell, hadn’t he attacked some ship? That man now buried in the coral cemetery, wasn’t he the victim of some collision caused by the Nautilus? Yes, I repeat: this had to be the case. One part of Captain Nemo’s secret life had been unveiled. And now, even though his identity was still unknown, at least the nations allied against him knew they were no longer hunting some fairy-tale monster, but a man who had sworn an implacable hate toward them!
This whole fearsome sequence of events appeared in my mind’s eye. Instead of encountering friends on this approaching ship, we would find only pitiless enemies.
Meanwhile shells fell around us in increasing numbers. Some, meeting the liquid surface, would ricochet and vanish into the sea at considerable distances. But none of them reached the Nautilus.
By then the ironclad was no more than three miles off. Despite its violent cannonade, Captain Nemo hadn’t appeared on the platform. And yet if one of those conical shells had scored a routine hit on the Nautilus’s hull, it could have been fatal to him.
The Canadian then told me:
“Sir, we’ve got to do everything we can to get out of this jam! Let’s signal them! Damnation! Maybe they’ll realize we’re decent people!”
Ned Land pulled out his handkerchief to wave it in the air. But he had barely unfolded it when he was felled by an iron fist, and despite his great strength, he tumbled to the deck.
“Scum!” the captain shouted. “Do you want to be nailed to the Nautilus’s spur before it charges that ship?”
Dreadful to hear, Captain Nemo was even more dreadful to see. His face was pale from some spasm of his heart, which must have stopped beating for an instant. His pupils were hideously contracted. His voice was no longer speaking, it was bellowing. Bending from the waist, he shook the Canadian by the shoulders.
Then, dropping Ned and turning to the battleship, whose shells were showering around him:
“O ship of an accursed nation, you know who I am!” he shouted in his powerful voice. “And I don’t need your colors to recognize you! Look! I’ll show you mine!”
And in the bow of the platform, Captain Nemo unfurled a black flag, like the one he had left planted at the South Pole.
Just then a shell hit the Nautilus’s hull obliquely, failed to breach it, ricocheted near the captain, and vanished into the sea.
Captain Nemo shrugged his shoulders. Then, addressing me:
“Go below!” he told me in a curt tone. “You and your companions, go below!”
“Sir,” I exclaimed, “are you going to attack this ship?”
“Sir, I’m going to sink it.”
“I will,” Captain Nemo replied icily. “You’re ill-advised to pass judgment on me, sir. Fate has shown you what you weren’t meant to see. The attack has come. Our reply will be dreadful. Get back inside!”
“From what country is that ship?”
“You don’t know? Fine, so much the better! At least its nationality will remain a secret to you. Go below!”
The Canadian, Conseil, and I could only obey. Some fifteen of the Nautilus’s seamen surrounded their captain and stared with a feeling of implacable hate at the ship bearing down on them. You could feel the same spirit of vengeance enkindling their every soul.
I went below just as another projectile scraped the Nautilus’s hull, and I heard the captain exclaim:
“Shoot, you demented vessel! Shower your futile shells! You won’t escape the Nautilus’s spur! But this isn’t the place where you’ll perish! I don’t want your wreckage mingling with that of the Avenger!”
I repaired to my stateroom. The captain and his chief officer stayed on the platform. The propeller was set in motion. The Nautilus swiftly retreated, putting us outside the range of the vessel’s shells. But the chase continued, and Captain Nemo was content to keep his distance.
Near four o’clock in the afternoon, unable to control the impatience and uneasiness devouring me, I went back to the central companionway. The hatch was open. I ventured onto the platform. The captain was still strolling there, his steps agitated. He stared at the ship, which stayed to his leeward five or six miles off. He was circling it like a wild beast, drawing it eastward, letting it chase after him. Yet he didn’t attack. Was he, perhaps, still undecided?
I tried to intervene one last time. But I had barely queried Captain Nemo when the latter silenced me:
“I’m the law, I’m the tribunal! I’m the oppressed, and there are my oppressors! Thanks to them, I’ve witnessed the destruction of everything I loved, cherished, and venerated—homeland, wife, children, father, and mother! There lies everything I hate! Not another word out of you!”
I took a last look at the battleship, which was putting on steam. Then I rejoined Ned and Conseil.
“We’ll escape!” I exclaimed.
“Good,” Ned put in. “Where’s that ship from?”
“I’ve no idea. But wherever it’s from, it will sink before nightfall. In any event, it’s better to perish with it than be accomplices in some act of revenge whose merits we can’t gauge.”
“That’s my feeling,” Ned Land replied coolly. “Let’s wait for nightfall.”
Night fell. A profound silence reigned on board. The compass indicated that the Nautilus hadn’t changed direction. I could hear the beat of its propeller, churning the waves with steady speed. Staying on the surface of the water, it rolled gently, sometimes to one side, sometimes to the other.
My companions and I had decided to escape as soon as the vessel came close enough for us to be heard—or seen, because the moon would wax full in three days and was shining brightly. Once we were aboard that ship, if we couldn’t ward off the blow that threatened it, at least we could do everything that circumstances permitted. Several times I thought the Nautilus was about to attack. But it was content to let its adversary approach, and then it would quickly resume its retreating ways.
Part of the night passed without incident. We kept watch for an opportunity to take action. We talked little, being too keyed up. Ned Land was all for jumping overboard. I forced him to wait. As I saw it, the Nautilus would attack the double-decker on the surface of the waves, and then it would be not only possible but easy to escape.
At three o’clock in the morning, full of uneasiness, I climbed onto the platform. Captain Nemo hadn’t left it. He stood in the bow next to his flag, which a mild breeze was unfurling above his head. His eyes never left that vessel. The extraordinary intensity of his gaze seemed to attract it, beguile it, and draw it more surely than if he had it in tow!
The moon then passed its zenith. Jupiter was rising in the east. In the midst of this placid natural setting, sky and ocean competed with each other in tranquility, and the sea offered the orb of night the loveliest mirror ever to reflect its image.
And when I compared this deep calm of the elements with all the fury seething inside the plating of this barely perceptible Nautilus, I shivered all over.
The vessel was two miles off. It drew nearer, always moving toward the phosphorescent glow that signaled the Nautilus’s presence. I saw its green and red running lights, plus the white lantern hanging from the large stay of its foremast. Hazy flickerings were reflected on its rigging and indicated that its furnaces were pushed to the limit. Showers of sparks and cinders of flaming coal escaped from its funnels, spangling the air with stars.
I stood there until six o’clock in the morning, Captain Nemo never seeming to notice me. The vessel lay a mile and a half off, and with the first glimmers of daylight, it resumed its cannonade. The time couldn’t be far away when the Nautilus would attack its adversary, and my companions and I would leave forever this man I dared not judge.
I was about to go below to alert them, when the chief officer climbed onto the platform. Several seamen were with him. Captain Nemo didn’t see them, or didn’t want to see them. They carried out certain procedures that, on the Nautilus, you could call “clearing the decks for action.” They were quite simple. The manropes that formed a handrail around the platform were lowered. Likewise the pilothouse and the beacon housing were withdrawn into the hull until they lay exactly flush with it. The surface of this long sheet-iron cigar no longer offered a single protrusion that could hamper its maneuvers.
I returned to the lounge. The Nautilus still emerged above the surface. A few morning gleams infiltrated the liquid strata. Beneath the undulations of the billows, the windows were enlivened by the blushing of the rising sun. That dreadful day of June 2 had dawned.
At seven o’clock the log told me that the Nautilus had reduced speed. I realized that it was letting the warship approach. Moreover, the explosions grew more intensely audible. Shells furrowed the water around us, drilling through it with an odd hissing sound.
“My friends,” I said, “it’s time. Let’s shake hands, and may God be with us!”
Ned Land was determined, Conseil calm, I myself nervous and barely in control.
We went into the library. Just as I pushed open the door leading to the well of the central companionway, I heard the hatch close sharply overhead.
The Canadian leaped up the steps, but I stopped him. A well-known hissing told me that water was entering the ship’s ballast tanks. Indeed, in a few moments the Nautilus had submerged some meters below the surface of the waves.
I understood this maneuver. It was too late to take action. The Nautilus wasn’t going to strike the double-decker where it was clad in impenetrable iron armor, but below its waterline, where the metal carapace no longer protected its planking.
We were prisoners once more, unwilling spectators at the performance of this gruesome drama. But we barely had time to think. Taking refuge in my stateroom, we stared at each other without pronouncing a word. My mind was in a total daze. My mental processes came to a dead stop. I hovered in that painful state that predominates during the period of anticipation before some frightful explosion. I waited, I listened, I lived only through my sense of hearing!
Meanwhile the Nautilus’s speed had increased appreciably. So it was gathering momentum. Its entire hull was vibrating.
Suddenly I let out a yell. There had been a collision, but it was comparatively mild. I could feel the penetrating force of the steel spur. I could hear scratchings and scrapings. Carried away with its driving power, the Nautilus had passed through the vessel’s mass like a sailmaker’s needle through canvas!
I couldn’t hold still. Frantic, going insane, I leaped out of my stateroom and rushed into the lounge.
Captain Nemo was there. Mute, gloomy, implacable, he was staring through the port panel.
An enormous mass was sinking beneath the waters, and the Nautilus, missing none of its death throes, was descending into the depths with it. Ten meters away, I could see its gaping hull, into which water was rushing with a sound of thunder, then its double rows of cannons and railings. Its deck was covered with dark, quivering shadows.
The water was rising. Those poor men leaped up into the shrouds, clung to the masts, writhed beneath the waters. It was a human anthill that an invading sea had caught by surprise!
Paralyzed, rigid with anguish, my hair standing on end, my eyes popping out of my head, short of breath, suffocating, speechless, I stared—I too! I was glued to the window by an irresistible allure!
The enormous vessel settled slowly. Following it down, the Nautilus kept watch on its every movement. Suddenly there was an eruption. The air compressed inside the craft sent its decks flying, as if the powder stores had been ignited. The thrust of the waters was so great, the Nautilus swerved away.
The poor ship then sank more swiftly. Its mastheads appeared, laden with victims, then its crosstrees bending under clusters of men, finally the peak of its mainmast. Then the dark mass disappeared, and with it a crew of corpses dragged under by fearsome eddies. . . .
I turned to Captain Nemo. This dreadful executioner, this true archangel of hate, was still staring. When it was all over, Captain Nemo headed to the door of his stateroom, opened it, and entered. I followed him with my eyes.
On the rear paneling, beneath the portraits of his heroes, I saw the portrait of a still-youthful woman with two little children. Captain Nemo stared at them for a few moments, stretched out his arms to them, sank to his knees, and melted into sobs.
CHAPTER 22 -
The Last Words of Captain Nemo
THE PANELS CLOSED over this frightful view, but the lights didn’t go on in the lounge. Inside the Nautilus all was gloom and silence. It left this place of devastation with prodigious speed, 100 feet beneath the waters. Where was it going? North or south? Where would the man flee after this horrible act of revenge?
I reentered my stateroom, where Ned and Conseil were waiting silently. Captain Nemo filled me with insurmountable horror. Whatever he had once suffered at the hands of humanity, he had no right to mete out such punishment. He had made me, if not an accomplice, at least an eyewitness to his vengeance! Even this was intolerable.
At eleven o’clock the electric lights came back on. I went into the lounge. It was deserted. I consulted the various instruments. The Nautilus was fleeing northward at a speed of twenty-five miles per hour, sometimes on the surface of the sea, sometimes thirty feet beneath it.
After our position had been marked on the chart, I saw that we were passing into the mouth of the English Channel, that our heading would take us to the northernmost seas with incomparable speed.
I could barely glimpse the swift passing of longnose sharks, hammerhead sharks, spotted dogfish that frequent these waters, big eagle rays, swarms of seahorse looking like knights on a chessboard, eels quivering like fireworks serpents, armies of crab that fled obliquely by crossing their pincers over their carapaces, finally schools of porpoise that held contests of speed with the Nautilus. But by this point observing, studying, and classifying were out of the question.
By evening we had cleared 200 leagues up the Atlantic. Shadows gathered and gloom overran the sea until the moon came up.
I repaired to my stateroom. I couldn’t sleep. I was assaulted by nightmares. That horrible scene of destruction kept repeating in my mind’s eye.
From that day forward, who knows where the Nautilus took us in the north Atlantic basin? Always at incalculable speed! Always amid the High Arctic mists! Did it call at the capes of Spitzbergen or the shores of Novaya Zemlya? Did it visit such uncharted seas as the White Sea, the Kara Sea, the Gulf of Ob, the Lyakhov Islands, or those unknown beaches on the Siberian coast? I’m unable to say. I lost track of the passing hours. Time was in abeyance on the ship’s clocks. As happens in the polar regions, it seemed that night and day no longer followed their normal sequence. I felt myself being drawn into that strange domain where the overwrought imagination of Edgar Allan Poe was at home. Like his fabled Arthur Gordon Pym, I expected any moment to see that “shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions than any dweller among men,” thrown across the cataract that protects the outskirts of the pole!
I estimate—but perhaps I’m mistaken—that the Nautilus’s haphazard course continued for fifteen or twenty days, and I’m not sure how long this would have gone on without the catastrophe that ended our voyage. As for Captain Nemo, he was no longer in the picture. As for his chief officer, the same applied. Not one crewman was visible for a single instant. The Nautilus cruised beneath the waters almost continuously. When it rose briefly to the surface to renew our air, the hatches opened and closed as if automated. No more positions were reported on the world map. I didn’t know where we were.
I’ll also mention that the Canadian, at the end of his strength and patience, made no further appearances. Conseil couldn’t coax a single word out of him and feared that, in a fit of delirium while under the sway of a ghastly homesickness, Ned would kill himself. So he kept a devoted watch on his friend every instant.
You can appreciate that under these conditions, our situation had become untenable.
One morning—whose date I’m unable to specify—I was slumbering near the first hours of daylight, a painful, sickly slumber. Waking up, I saw Ned Land leaning over me, and I heard him tell me in a low voice:
“We’re going to escape!”
I sat up.
“When?” I asked.
“Tonight. There doesn’t seem to be any supervision left on the Nautilus. You’d think a total daze was reigning on board. Will you be ready, sir?”
“Yes. Where are we?”
“In sight of land. I saw it through the mists just this morning, twenty miles to the east.”
“What land is it?”
“I’ve no idea, but whatever it is, there we’ll take refuge.”
“Yes, Ned! We’ll escape tonight even if the sea swallows us up!”
“The sea’s rough, the wind’s blowing hard, but a twenty-mile run in the Nautilus’s nimble longboat doesn’t scare me. Unknown to the crew, I’ve stowed some food and flasks of water inside.”
“I’m with you.”
“What’s more,” the Canadian added, “if they catch me, I’ll defend myself, I’ll fight to the death.”
“Then we’ll die together, Ned my friend.”
My mind was made up. The Canadian left me. I went out on the platform, where I could barely stand upright against the jolts of the billows. The skies were threatening, but land lay inside those dense mists, and we had to escape. Not a single day, or even a single hour, could we afford to lose.
I returned to the lounge, dreading yet desiring an encounter with Captain Nemo, wanting yet not wanting to see him. What would I say to him? How could I hide the involuntary horror he inspired in me? No! It was best not to meet him face to face! Best to try and forget him! And yet . . . !
How long that day seemed, the last I would spend aboard the Nautilus! I was left to myself. Ned Land and Conseil avoided speaking to me, afraid they would give themselves away.
At six o’clock I ate supper, but I had no appetite. Despite my revulsion, I forced it down, wanting to keep my strength up.
At 6:30 Ned Land entered my stateroom. He told me:
“We won’t see each other again before we go. At ten o’clock the moon won’t be up yet. We’ll take advantage of the darkness. Come to the skiff. Conseil and I will be inside waiting for you.”
The Canadian left without giving me time to answer him.
I wanted to verify the Nautilus’s heading. I made my way to the lounge. We were racing north-northeast with frightful speed, fifty meters down.
I took one last look at the natural wonders and artistic treasures amassed in the museum, this unrivaled collection doomed to perish someday in the depths of the seas, together with its curator. I wanted to establish one supreme impression in my mind. I stayed there an hour, basking in the aura of the ceiling lights, passing in review the treasures shining in their glass cases. Then I returned to my stateroom.
There I dressed in sturdy seafaring clothes. I gathered my notes and packed them tenderly about my person. My heart was pounding mightily. I couldn’t curb its pulsations. My anxiety and agitation would certainly have given me away if Captain Nemo had seen me.
What was he doing just then? I listened at the door to his stateroom. I heard the sound of footsteps. Captain Nemo was inside. He hadn’t gone to bed. With his every movement I imagined he would appear and ask me why I wanted to escape! I felt in a perpetual state of alarm. My imagination magnified this sensation. The feeling became so acute, I wondered whether it wouldn’t be better to enter the captain’s stateroom, dare him face to face, brave it out with word and deed!
It was an insane idea. Fortunately I controlled myself and stretched out on the bed to soothe my bodily agitation. My nerves calmed a little, but with my brain so aroused, I did a swift review of my whole existence aboard the Nautilus, every pleasant or unpleasant incident that had crossed my path since I went overboard from the Abraham Lincoln: the underwater hunting trip, the Torres Strait, our running aground, the savages of Papua, the coral cemetery, the Suez passageway, the island of Santorini, the Cretan diver, the Bay of Vigo, Atlantis, the Ice Bank, the South Pole, our imprisonment in the ice, the battle with the devilfish, the storm in the Gulf Stream, the Avenger, and that horrible scene of the vessel sinking with its crew . . . ! All these events passed before my eyes like backdrops unrolling upstage in a theater. In this strange setting Captain Nemo then grew fantastically. His features were accentuated, taking on superhuman proportions. He was no longer my equal, he was the Man of the Waters, the Spirit of the Seas.
By then it was 9:30. I held my head in both hands to keep it from bursting. I closed my eyes. I no longer wanted to think. A half hour still to wait! A half hour of nightmares that could drive me insane!
Just then I heard indistinct chords from the organ, melancholy harmonies from some undefinable hymn, actual pleadings from a soul trying to sever its earthly ties. I listened with all my senses at once, barely breathing, immersed like Captain Nemo in this musical trance that was drawing him beyond the bounds of this world.
Then a sudden thought terrified me. Captain Nemo had left his stateroom. He was in the same lounge I had to cross in order to escape. There I would encounter him one last time. He would see me, perhaps speak to me! One gesture from him could obliterate me, a single word shackle me to his vessel!
Even so, ten o’clock was about to strike. It was time to leave my stateroom and rejoin my companions.
I dared not hesitate, even if Captain Nemo stood before me. I opened the door cautiously, but as it swung on its hinges, it seemed to make a frightful noise. This noise existed, perhaps, only in my imagination!
I crept forward through the Nautilus’s dark gangways, pausing after each step to curb the pounding of my heart.
I arrived at the corner door of the lounge. I opened it gently. The lounge was plunged in profound darkness. Chords from the organ were reverberating faintly. Captain Nemo was there. He didn’t see me. Even in broad daylight I doubt that he would have noticed me, so completely was he immersed in his trance.
I inched over the carpet, avoiding the tiniest bump whose noise might give me away. It took me five minutes to reach the door at the far end, which led into the library.
I was about to open it when a gasp from Captain Nemo nailed me to the spot. I realized that he was standing up. I even got a glimpse of him because some rays of light from the library had filtered into the lounge. He was coming toward me, arms crossed, silent, not walking but gliding like a ghost. His chest was heaving, swelling with sobs. And I heard him murmur these words, the last of his to reach my ears:
“O almighty God! Enough! Enough!”
Was it a vow of repentance that had just escaped from this man’s conscience . . . ?
Frantic, I rushed into the library. I climbed the central companionway, and going along the upper gangway, I arrived at the skiff. I went through the opening that had already given access to my two companions.
“Let’s go, let’s go!” I exclaimed.
“Right away!” the Canadian replied.
First, Ned Land closed and bolted the opening cut into the Nautilus’s sheet iron, using the monkey wrench he had with him. After likewise closing the opening in the skiff, the Canadian began to unscrew the nuts still bolting us to the underwater boat.
Suddenly a noise from the ship’s interior became audible. Voices were answering each other hurriedly. What was it? Had they spotted our escape? I felt Ned Land sliding a dagger into my hand.
“Yes,” I muttered, “we know how to die!”
The Canadian paused in his work. But one word twenty times repeated, one dreadful word, told me the reason for the agitation spreading aboard the Nautilus. We weren’t the cause of the crew’s concern.
“Maelstrom! Maelstrom!” they were shouting.
The Maelstrom! Could a more frightening name have rung in our ears under more frightening circumstances? Were we lying in the dangerous waterways off the Norwegian coast? Was the Nautilus being dragged into this whirlpool just as the skiff was about to detach from its plating?
As you know, at the turn of the tide, the waters confined between the Faroe and Lofoten Islands rush out with irresistible violence. They form a vortex from which no ship has ever been able to escape. Monstrous waves race together from every point of the horizon. They form a whirlpool aptly called “the ocean’s navel,” whose attracting power extends a distance of fifteen kilometers. It can suck down not only ships but whales, and even polar bears from the northernmost regions.
This was where the Nautilus had been sent accidentally—or perhaps deliberately—by its captain. It was sweeping around in a spiral whose radius kept growing smaller and smaller. The skiff, still attached to the ship’s plating, was likewise carried around at dizzying speed. I could feel us whirling. I was experiencing that accompanying nausea that follows such continuous spinning motions. We were in dread, in the last stages of sheer horror, our blood frozen in our veins, our nerves numb, drenched in cold sweat as if from the throes of dying! And what a noise around our frail skiff! What roars echoing from several miles away! What crashes from the waters breaking against sharp rocks on the seafloor, where the hardest objects are smashed, where tree trunks are worn down and worked into “a shaggy fur,” as Norwegians express it!
What a predicament! We were rocking frightfully. The Nautilus defended itself like a human being. Its steel muscles were cracking. Sometimes it stood on end, the three of us along with it!
“We’ve got to hold on tight,” Ned said, “and screw the nuts down again! If we can stay attached to the Nautilus, we can still make it . . . !”
He hadn’t finished speaking when a cracking sound occurred. The nuts gave way, and ripped out of its socket, the skiff was hurled like a stone from a sling into the midst of the vortex.
My head struck against an iron timber, and with this violent shock I lost consciousness.
CHAPTER 23 -
WE COME TO the conclusion of this voyage under the seas. What happened that night, how the skiff escaped from the Maelstrom’s fearsome eddies, how Ned Land, Conseil, and I got out of that whirlpool, I’m unable to say. But when I regained consciousness, I was lying in a fisherman’s hut on one of the Lofoten Islands. My two companions, safe and sound, were at my bedside clasping my hands. We embraced each other heartily.
Just now we can’t even dream of returning to France. Travel between upper Norway and the south is limited. So I have to wait for the arrival of a steamboat that provides bimonthly service from North Cape.
So it is here, among these gallant people who have taken us in, that I’m reviewing my narrative of these adventures. It is accurate. Not a fact has been omitted, not a detail has been exaggerated. It’s the faithful record of this inconceivable expedition into an element now beyond human reach, but where progress will someday make great inroads.
Will anyone believe me? I don’t know. Ultimately it’s unimportant. What I can now assert is that I’ve earned the right to speak of these seas, beneath which in less than ten months, I’ve cleared 20,000 leagues in this underwater tour of the world that has shown me so many wonders across the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the southernmost and northernmost seas!
But what happened to the Nautilus? Did it withstand the Maelstrom’s clutches? Is Captain Nemo alive? Is he still under the ocean pursuing his frightful program of revenge, or did he stop after that latest mass execution? Will the waves someday deliver that manuscript that contains his full life story? Will I finally learn the man’s name? Will the nationality of the stricken warship tell us the nationality of Captain Nemo?
I hope so. I likewise hope that his powerful submersible has defeated the sea inside its most dreadful whirlpool, that the Nautilus has survived where so many ships have perished! If this is the case and Captain Nemo still inhabits the ocean—his adopted country—may the hate be appeased in that fierce heart! May the contemplation of so many wonders extinguish the spirit of vengeance in him! May the executioner pass away, and the scientist continue his peaceful exploration of the seas! If his destiny is strange, it’s also sublime. Haven’t I encompassed it myself? Didn’t I lead ten months of this otherworldly existence? Thus to that question asked 6,000 years ago in the Book of Ecclesiastes—“Who can fathom the soundless depths?”—two men out of all humanity have now earned the right to reply. Captain Nemo and I.
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'