20000 Leagues Under the Seas
Part 2 out of 10
"Then what should we do?"
"Stoke up more steam, sir, if you can. As for me, with your
permission I'll go perch on the bobstays under the bowsprit,
and if we can get within a harpoon length, I'll harpoon the brute."
"Go to it, Ned," Commander Farragut replied. "Engineer," he called,
"keep the pressure mounting!"
Ned Land made his way to his post. The furnaces were urged
into greater activity; our propeller did forty-three revolutions
per minute, and steam shot from the valves. Heaving the log,
we verified that the Abraham Lincoln was going at the rate of 18.5
miles per hour.
But that damned animal also did a speed of 18.5.
For the next hour our frigate kept up this pace without gaining a fathom!
This was humiliating for one of the fastest racers in the American navy.
The crew were working up into a blind rage. Sailor after sailor heaved
insults at the monster, which couldn't be bothered with answering back.
Commander Farragut was no longer content simply to twist his goatee;
he chewed on it.
The engineer was summoned once again.
"You're up to maximum pressure?" the commander asked him.
"Aye, sir," the engineer replied.
"And your valves are charged to . . . ?"
"To six and a half atmospheres."
"Charge them to ten atmospheres."
A typical American order if I ever heard one. It would have
sounded just fine during some Mississippi paddle-wheeler race,
to "outstrip the competition!"
"Conseil," I said to my gallant servant, now at my side, "you realize
that we'll probably blow ourselves skyhigh?"
"As master wishes!" Conseil replied.
All right, I admit it: I did wish to run this risk!
The valves were charged. More coal was swallowed by the furnaces.
Ventilators shot torrents of air over the braziers.
The Abraham Lincoln's speed increased. Its masts trembled down
to their blocks, and swirls of smoke could barely squeeze through
the narrow funnels.
We heaved the log a second time.
"Well, helmsman?" Commander Farragut asked.
"19.3 miles per hour, sir."
"Keep stoking the furnaces."
The engineer did so. The pressure gauge marked ten atmospheres.
But no doubt the cetacean itself had "warmed up," because without
the least trouble, it also did 19.3.
What a chase! No, I can't describe the excitement that shook
my very being. Ned Land stayed at his post, harpoon in hand.
Several times the animal let us approach.
"We're overhauling it!" the Canadian would shout.
Then, just as he was about to strike, the cetacean would steal off
with a swiftness I could estimate at no less than thirty miles per hour.
And even at our maximum speed, it took the liberty of thumbing
its nose at the frigate by running a full circle around us!
A howl of fury burst from every throat!
By noon we were no farther along than at eight o'clock in the morning.
Commander Farragut then decided to use more direct methods.
"Bah!" he said. "So that animal is faster than the Abraham Lincoln.
All right, we'll see if it can outrun our conical shells!
Mate, man the gun in the bow!"
Our forecastle cannon was immediately loaded and leveled.
The cannoneer fired a shot, but his shell passed some feet above
the cetacean, which stayed half a mile off.
"Over to somebody with better aim!" the commander shouted.
"And $500.00 to the man who can pierce that infernal beast!"
Calm of eye, cool of feature, an old gray-bearded gunner--
I can see him to this day--approached the cannon, put it in position,
and took aim for a good while. There was a mighty explosion,
mingled with cheers from the crew.
The shell reached its target; it hit the animal, but not in the
usual fashion--it bounced off that rounded surface and vanished
into the sea two miles out.
"Oh drat!" said the old gunner in his anger. "That rascal must
be covered with six-inch armor plate!"
"Curse the beast!" Commander Farragut shouted.
The hunt was on again, and Commander Farragut leaned over to me, saying:
"I'll chase that animal till my frigate explodes!"
"Yes," I replied, "and nobody would blame you!"
We could still hope that the animal would tire out and not be as
insensitive to exhaustion as our steam engines. But no such luck.
Hour after hour went by without it showing the least sign of weariness.
However, to the Abraham Lincoln's credit, it must be said that we
struggled on with tireless persistence. I estimate that we covered
a distance of at least 500 kilometers during this ill-fated day
of November 6. But night fell and wrapped the surging ocean
in its shadows.
By then I thought our expedition had come to an end, that we would
never see this fantastic animal again. I was mistaken.
At 10:50 in the evening, that electric light reappeared three
miles to windward of the frigate, just as clear and intense
as the night before.
The narwhale seemed motionless. Was it asleep perhaps, weary from
its workday, just riding with the waves? This was our chance,
and Commander Farragut was determined to take full advantage of it.
He gave his orders. The Abraham Lincoln stayed at half steam,
advancing cautiously so as not to awaken its adversary.
In midocean it's not unusual to encounter whales so sound asleep
they can successfully be attacked, and Ned Land had harpooned
more than one in its slumber. The Canadian went to resume his post
on the bobstays under the bowsprit.
The frigate approached without making a sound, stopped two cable
lengths from the animal and coasted. Not a soul breathed on board.
A profound silence reigned over the deck. We were not 100 feet
from the blazing core of light, whose glow grew stronger and
dazzled the eyes.
Just then, leaning over the forecastle railing, I saw Ned Land
below me, one hand grasping the martingale, the other brandishing
his dreadful harpoon. Barely twenty feet separated him from
the motionless animal.
All at once his arm shot forward and the harpoon was launched.
I heard the weapon collide resonantly, as if it had hit
some hard substance.
The electric light suddenly went out, and two enormous waterspouts
crashed onto the deck of the frigate, racing like a torrent from
stem to stern, toppling crewmen, breaking spare masts and yardarms
from their lashings.
A hideous collision occurred, and thrown over the rail with no time
to catch hold of it, I was hurled into the sea.
A Whale of Unknown Species
ALTHOUGH I WAS startled by this unexpected descent, I at least
have a very clear recollection of my sensations during it.
At first I was dragged about twenty feet under. I'm a good swimmer,
without claiming to equal such other authors as Byron and Edgar Allan Poe,
who were master divers, and I didn't lose my head on the way down.
With two vigorous kicks of the heel, I came back to the surface
of the sea.
My first concern was to look for the frigate. Had the crew
seen me go overboard? Was the Abraham Lincoln tacking about?
Would Commander Farragut put a longboat to sea? Could I hope
to be rescued?
The gloom was profound. I glimpsed a black mass disappearing eastward,
where its running lights were fading out in the distance.
It was the frigate. I felt I was done for.
"Help! Help!" I shouted, swimming desperately toward the Abraham Lincoln.
My clothes were weighing me down. The water glued them to
my body, they were paralyzing my movements. I was sinking!
I was suffocating . . . !
This was the last shout I gave. My mouth was filling with water.
I struggled against being dragged into the depths. . . .
Suddenly my clothes were seized by energetic hands, I felt myself
pulled abruptly back to the surface of the sea, and yes, I heard
these words pronounced in my ear:
"If master would oblige me by leaning on my shoulder, master will
swim with much greater ease."
With one hand I seized the arm of my loyal Conseil.
"You!" I said. "You!"
"Myself," Conseil replied, "and at master's command."
"That collision threw you overboard along with me?"
"Not at all. But being in master's employ, I followed master."
The fine lad thought this only natural!
"What about the frigate?" I asked.
"The frigate?" Conseil replied, rolling over on his back.
"I think master had best not depend on it to any great extent!"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that just as I jumped overboard, I heard the men at
the helm shout, 'Our propeller and rudder are smashed!' "
"Yes, smashed by the monster's tusk! I believe it's the sole injury
the Abraham Lincoln has sustained. But most inconveniently for us,
the ship can no longer steer."
"Then we're done for!"
"Perhaps," Conseil replied serenely. "However, we still have a few
hours before us, and in a few hours one can do a great many things!"
Conseil's unflappable composure cheered me up. I swam more vigorously,
but hampered by clothes that were as restricting as a cloak made
of lead, I was managing with only the greatest difficulty.
Conseil noticed as much.
"Master will allow me to make an incision," he said.
And he slipped an open clasp knife under my clothes, slitting them
from top to bottom with one swift stroke. Then he briskly undressed
me while I swam for us both.
I then did Conseil the same favor, and we continued to "navigate"
side by side.
But our circumstances were no less dreadful. Perhaps they
hadn't seen us go overboard; and even if they had, the frigate--
being undone by its rudder--couldn't return to leeward after us.
So we could count only on its longboats.
Conseil had coolly reasoned out this hypothesis and laid his
plans accordingly. An amazing character, this boy; in midocean,
this stoic lad seemed right at home!
So, having concluded that our sole chance for salvation
lay in being picked up by the Abraham Lincoln's longboats,
we had to take steps to wait for them as long as possible.
Consequently, I decided to divide our energies so we wouldn't
both be worn out at the same time, and this was the arrangement:
while one of us lay on his back, staying motionless with arms crossed and
legs outstretched, the other would swim and propel his partner forward.
This towing role was to last no longer than ten minutes, and by
relieving each other in this way, we could stay afloat for hours,
perhaps even until daybreak.
Slim chance, but hope springs eternal in the human breast!
Besides, there were two of us. Lastly, I can vouch--as improbable
as it seems--that even if I had wanted to destroy all my illusions,
even if I had been willing to "give in to despair," I could not
have done so!
The cetacean had rammed our frigate at about eleven o'clock
in the evening. I therefore calculated on eight hours of swimming
until sunrise. A strenuous task, but feasible, thanks to our
relieving each other. The sea was pretty smooth and barely tired us.
Sometimes I tried to peer through the dense gloom, which was broken
only by the phosphorescent flickers coming from our movements.
I stared at the luminous ripples breaking over my hands,
shimmering sheets spattered with blotches of bluish gray.
It seemed as if we'd plunged into a pool of quicksilver.
Near one o'clock in the morning, I was overcome with
tremendous exhaustion. My limbs stiffened in the grip of intense cramps.
Conseil had to keep me going, and attending to our self-preservation
became his sole responsibility. I soon heard the poor lad gasping;
his breathing became shallow and quick. I didn't think he could
stand such exertions for much longer.
"Go on! Go on!" I told him.
"Leave master behind?" he replied. "Never! I'll drown before he does!"
Just then, past the fringes of a large cloud that the wind was
driving eastward, the moon appeared. The surface of the sea
glistened under its rays. That kindly light rekindled our strength.
I held up my head again. My eyes darted to every point of the horizon.
I spotted the frigate. It was five miles from us and formed no
more than a dark, barely perceptible mass. But as for longboats,
not a one in sight!
I tried to call out. What was the use at such a distance!
My swollen lips wouldn't let a single sound through. Conseil could
still articulate a few words, and I heard him repeat at intervals:
Ceasing all movement for an instant, we listened. And it may have
been a ringing in my ear, from this organ filling with impeded blood,
but it seemed to me that Conseil's shout had received an answer back.
"Did you hear that?" I muttered.
And Conseil hurled another desperate plea into space.
This time there could be no mistake! A human voice had answered us!
Was it the voice of some poor devil left behind in midocean,
some other victim of that collision suffered by our ship?
Or was it one of the frigate's longboats, hailing us out of the gloom?
Conseil made one final effort, and bracing his hands on my shoulders,
while I offered resistance with one supreme exertion, he raised
himself half out of the water, then fell back exhausted.
"What did you see?"
"I saw . . . ," he muttered, "I saw . . . but we mustn't talk . . .
save our strength . . . !"
What had he seen? Then, lord knows why, the thought of the monster came
into my head for the first time . . . ! But even so, that voice . . . ?
Gone are the days when Jonahs took refuge in the bellies of whales!
Nevertheless, Conseil kept towing me. Sometimes he looked up,
stared straight ahead, and shouted a request for directions,
which was answered by a voice that was getting closer and closer.
I could barely hear it. I was at the end of my strength; my fingers
gave out; my hands were no help to me; my mouth opened convulsively,
filling with brine; its coldness ran through me; I raised my head
one last time, then I collapsed. . . .
Just then something hard banged against me. I clung to it.
Then I felt myself being pulled upward, back to the surface of the water;
my chest caved in, and I fainted. . . .
For certain, I came to quickly, because someone was massaging me
so vigorously it left furrows in my flesh. I half opened my eyes. . . .
"Conseil!" I muttered.
"Did master ring for me?" Conseil replied.
Just then, in the last light of a moon settling on the horizon,
I spotted a face that wasn't Conseil's but which I recognized at once.
"Ned!" I exclaimed.
"In person, sir, and still after his prize!" the Canadian replied.
"You were thrown overboard after the frigate's collision?"
"Yes, professor, but I was luckier than you, and right away I was
able to set foot on this floating islet."
"Or in other words, on our gigantic narwhale."
"Explain yourself, Ned."
"It's just that I soon realized why my harpoon got blunted and couldn't
puncture its hide."
"Why, Ned, why?"
"Because, professor, this beast is made of boilerplate steel!"
At this point in my story, I need to get a grip on myself,
reconstruct exactly what I experienced, and make doubly sure
of everything I write.
The Canadian's last words caused a sudden upheaval in my brain.
I swiftly hoisted myself to the summit of this half-submerged creature
or object that was serving as our refuge. I tested it with my foot.
Obviously it was some hard, impenetrable substance, not the soft
matter that makes up the bodies of our big marine mammals.
But this hard substance could have been a bony carapace, like those
that covered some prehistoric animals, and I might have left it
at that and classified this monster among such amphibious reptiles
as turtles or alligators.
Well, no. The blackish back supporting me was smooth and polished
with no overlapping scales. On impact, it gave off a metallic sonority,
and as incredible as this sounds, it seemed, I swear, to be made
of riveted plates.
No doubts were possible! This animal, this monster, this natural
phenomenon that had puzzled the whole scientific world, that had
muddled and misled the minds of seamen in both hemispheres, was,
there could be no escaping it, an even more astonishing phenomenon--
a phenomenon made by the hand of man.
Even if I had discovered that some fabulous, mythological creature
really existed, it wouldn't have given me such a terrific mental jolt.
It's easy enough to accept that prodigious things can come from
our Creator. But to find, all at once, right before your eyes,
that the impossible had been mysteriously achieved by man himself:
this staggers the mind!
But there was no question now. We were stretched out on the back
of some kind of underwater boat that, as far as I could judge,
boasted the shape of an immense steel fish. Ned Land had clear
views on the issue. Conseil and I could only line up behind him.
"But then," I said, "does this contraption contain some sort
of locomotive mechanism, and a crew to run it?"
"Apparently," the harpooner replied. "And yet for the three hours
I've lived on this floating island, it hasn't shown a sign of life."
"This boat hasn't moved at all?"
"No, Professor Aronnax. It just rides with the waves, but otherwise
it hasn't stirred."
"But we know that it's certainly gifted with great speed.
Now then, since an engine is needed to generate that speed,
and a mechanic to run that engine, I conclude: we're saved."
"Humph!" Ned Land put in, his tone denoting reservations.
Just then, as if to take my side in the argument, a bubbling began
astern of this strange submersible--whose drive mechanism was obviously
a propeller--and the boat started to move. We barely had time to hang
on to its topside, which emerged about eighty centimeters above water.
Fortunately its speed was not excessive.
"So long as it navigates horizontally," Ned Land muttered,
"I've no complaints. But if it gets the urge to dive, I wouldn't
give $2.00 for my hide!"
The Canadian might have quoted a much lower price.
So it was imperative to make contact with whatever beings were
confined inside the plating of this machine. I searched its surface
for an opening or a hatch, a "manhole," to use the official term;
but the lines of rivets had been firmly driven into the sheet-iron
joins and were straight and uniform.
Moreover, the moon then disappeared and left us in profound darkness.
We had to wait for daylight to find some way of getting inside
this underwater boat.
So our salvation lay totally in the hands of the mysterious helmsmen
steering this submersible, and if it made a dive, we were done for!
But aside from this occurring, I didn't doubt the possibility
of our making contact with them. In fact, if they didn't produce
their own air, they inevitably had to make periodic visits
to the surface of the ocean to replenish their oxygen supply.
Hence the need for some opening that put the boat's interior
in contact with the atmosphere.
As for any hope of being rescued by Commander Farragut, that had to be
renounced completely. We were being swept westward, and I estimate
that our comparatively moderate speed reached twelve miles per hour.
The propeller churned the waves with mathematical regularity,
sometimes emerging above the surface and throwing phosphorescent
spray to great heights.
Near four o'clock in the morning, the submersible picked up speed.
We could barely cope with this dizzying rush, and the waves battered
us at close range. Fortunately Ned's hands came across a big
mooring ring fastened to the topside of this sheet-iron back,
and we all held on for dear life.
Finally this long night was over. My imperfect memories won't let me
recall my every impression of it. A single detail comes back to me.
Several times, during various lulls of wind and sea, I thought I
heard indistinct sounds, a sort of elusive harmony produced by
distant musical chords. What was the secret behind this underwater
navigating, whose explanation the whole world had sought in vain?
What beings lived inside this strange boat? What mechanical force
allowed it to move about with such prodigious speed?
Daylight appeared. The morning mists surrounded us, but they
soon broke up. I was about to proceed with a careful examination
of the hull, whose topside formed a sort of horizontal platform,
when I felt it sinking little by little.
"Oh, damnation!" Ned Land shouted, stamping his foot on the resonant
sheet iron. "Open up there, you antisocial navigators!"
But it was difficult to make yourself heard above the deafening beats
of the propeller. Fortunately this submerging movement stopped.
From inside the boat, there suddenly came noises of iron fastenings
pushed roughly aside. One of the steel plates flew up, a man appeared,
gave a bizarre yell, and instantly disappeared.
A few moments later, eight strapping fellows appeared silently,
their faces like masks, and dragged us down into their fearsome machine.
"Mobilis in Mobili"
THIS BRUTALLY EXECUTED capture was carried out with lightning speed.
My companions and I had no time to collect ourselves. I don't
know how they felt about being shoved inside this aquatic prison,
but as for me, I was shivering all over. With whom were we dealing?
Surely with some new breed of pirates, exploiting the sea after
their own fashion.
The narrow hatch had barely closed over me when I was surrounded by
profound darkness. Saturated with the outside light, my eyes couldn't
make out a thing. I felt my naked feet clinging to the steps of an
iron ladder. Forcibly seized, Ned Land and Conseil were behind me.
At the foot of the ladder, a door opened and instantly closed behind
us with a loud clang.
We were alone. Where? I couldn't say, could barely even imagine.
All was darkness, but such utter darkness that after several minutes,
my eyes were still unable to catch a single one of those hazy gleams
that drift through even the blackest nights.
Meanwhile, furious at these goings on, Ned Land gave free rein
to his indignation.
"Damnation!" he exclaimed. "These people are about as hospitable
as the savages of New Caledonia! All that's lacking is for them
to be cannibals! I wouldn't be surprised if they were, but believe
you me, they won't eat me without my kicking up a protest!"
"Calm yourself, Ned my friend," Conseil replied serenely.
"Don't flare up so quickly! We aren't in a kettle yet!"
"In a kettle, no," the Canadian shot back, "but in an oven for sure.
It's dark enough for one. Luckily my Bowie knife hasn't left me,
and I can still see well enough to put it to use.* The first one
of these bandits who lays a hand on me--"
*Author's Note: A Bowie knife is a wide-bladed dagger that Americans
are forever carrying around.
"Don't be so irritable, Ned," I then told the harpooner,
"and don't ruin things for us with pointless violence.
Who knows whether they might be listening to us? Instead, let's try
to find out where we are!"
I started moving, groping my way. After five steps I encountered
an iron wall made of riveted boilerplate. Then, turning around,
I bumped into a wooden table next to which several stools had been set.
The floor of this prison lay hidden beneath thick, hempen matting
that deadened the sound of footsteps. Its naked walls didn't reveal
any trace of a door or window. Going around the opposite way,
Conseil met up with me, and we returned to the middle of this cabin,
which had to be twenty feet long by ten wide. As for its height,
not even Ned Land, with his great stature, was able to determine it.
Half an hour had already gone by without our situation changing,
when our eyes were suddenly spirited from utter darkness into
blinding light. Our prison lit up all at once; in other words,
it filled with luminescent matter so intense that at first I
couldn't stand the brightness of it. From its glare and whiteness,
I recognized the electric glow that had played around this
underwater boat like some magnificent phosphorescent phenomenon.
After involuntarily closing my eyes, I reopened them and saw
that this luminous force came from a frosted half globe curving
out of the cabin's ceiling.
"Finally! It's light enough to see!" Ned Land exclaimed, knife in hand,
staying on the defensive.
"Yes," I replied, then ventured the opposite view. "But as for
our situation, we're still in the dark."
"Master must learn patience," said the emotionless Conseil.
This sudden illumination of our cabin enabled me to examine its
tiniest details. It contained only a table and five stools.
Its invisible door must have been hermetically sealed.
Not a sound reached our ears. Everything seemed dead inside this boat.
Was it in motion, or stationary on the surface of the ocean,
or sinking into the depths? I couldn't tell.
But this luminous globe hadn't been turned on without good reason.
Consequently, I hoped that some crewmen would soon make an appearance.
If you want to consign people to oblivion, you don't light
up their dungeons.
I was not mistaken. Unlocking noises became audible, a door opened,
and two men appeared.
One was short and stocky, powerfully muscled, broad shouldered,
robust of limbs, the head squat, the hair black and luxuriant,
the mustache heavy, the eyes bright and penetrating, and his
whole personality stamped with that southern-blooded zest that,
in France, typifies the people of Provence. The philosopher
Diderot has very aptly claimed that a man's bearing is the clue
to his character, and this stocky little man was certainly
a living proof of this claim. You could sense that his everyday
conversation must have been packed with such vivid figures of
speech as personification, symbolism, and misplaced modifiers.
But I was never in a position to verify this because, around me,
he used only an odd and utterly incomprehensible dialect.
The second stranger deserves a more detailed description.
A disciple of such character-judging anatomists as Gratiolet
or Engel could have read this man's features like an open book.
Without hesitation, I identified his dominant qualities--
self-confidence, since his head reared like a nobleman's above the arc
formed by the lines of his shoulders, and his black eyes gazed
with icy assurance; calmness, since his skin, pale rather than ruddy,
indicated tranquility of blood; energy, shown by the swiftly knitting
muscles of his brow; and finally courage, since his deep breathing
denoted tremendous reserves of vitality.
I might add that this was a man of great pride, that his calm,
firm gaze seemed to reflect thinking on an elevated plane,
and that the harmony of his facial expressions and bodily
movements resulted in an overall effect of unquestionable candor--
according to the findings of physiognomists, those analysts
of facial character.
I felt "involuntarily reassured" in his presence, and this boded
well for our interview.
Whether this individual was thirty-five or fifty years of age,
I could not precisely state. He was tall, his forehead broad,
his nose straight, his mouth clearly etched, his teeth magnificent,
his hands refined, tapered, and to use a word from palmistry,
highly "psychic," in other words, worthy of serving a lofty
and passionate spirit. This man was certainly the most wonderful
physical specimen I had ever encountered. One unusual detail:
his eyes were spaced a little far from each other and could
instantly take in nearly a quarter of the horizon. This ability--
as I later verified--was strengthened by a range of vision even greater
than Ned Land's. When this stranger focused his gaze on an object,
his eyebrow lines gathered into a frown, his heavy eyelids closed
around his pupils to contract his huge field of vision, and he looked!
What a look--as if he could magnify objects shrinking into the distance;
as if he could probe your very soul; as if he could pierce those sheets
of water so opaque to our eyes and scan the deepest seas . . . !
Wearing caps made of sea-otter fur, and shod in sealskin fishing boots,
these two strangers were dressed in clothing made from some unique
fabric that flattered the figure and allowed great freedom of movement.
The taller of the two--apparently the leader on board--examined us
with the greatest care but without pronouncing a word. Then, turning to
his companion, he conversed with him in a language I didn't recognize.
It was a sonorous, harmonious, flexible dialect whose vowels seemed
to undergo a highly varied accentuation.
The other replied with a shake of the head and added two or three
utterly incomprehensible words. Then he seemed to question me
directly with a long stare.
I replied in clear French that I wasn't familiar with his language;
but he didn't seem to understand me, and the situation
grew rather baffling.
"Still, master should tell our story," Conseil said to me.
"Perhaps these gentlemen will grasp a few words of it!"
I tried again, telling the tale of our adventures, clearly articulating
my every syllable, and not leaving out a single detail. I stated
our names and titles; then, in order, I introduced Professor Aronnax,
his manservant Conseil, and Mr. Ned Land, harpooner.
The man with calm, gentle eyes listened to me serenely,
even courteously, and paid remarkable attention. But nothing
in his facial expression indicated that he understood my story.
When I finished, he didn't pronounce a single word.
One resource still left was to speak English. Perhaps they would
be familiar with this nearly universal language. But I only knew it,
as I did the German language, well enough to read it fluently,
not well enough to speak it correctly. Here, however, our overriding
need was to make ourselves understood.
"Come on, it's your turn," I told the harpooner. "Over to you,
Mr. Land. Pull out of your bag of tricks the best English ever spoken
by an Anglo-Saxon, and try for a more favorable result than mine."
Ned needed no persuading and started our story all over again,
most of which I could follow. Its content was the same,
but the form differed. Carried away by his volatile temperament,
the Canadian put great animation into it. He complained
vehemently about being imprisoned in defiance of his civil rights,
asked by virtue of which law he was hereby detained, invoked writs
of habeas corpus, threatened to press charges against anyone holding
him in illegal custody, ranted, gesticulated, shouted, and finally
conveyed by an expressive gesture that we were dying of hunger.
This was perfectly true, but we had nearly forgotten the fact.
Much to his amazement, the harpooner seemed no more intelligible
than I had been. Our visitors didn't bat an eye. Apparently they
were engineers who understood the languages of neither the French
physicist Arago nor the English physicist Faraday.
Thoroughly baffled after vainly exhausting our philological resources,
I no longer knew what tactic to pursue, when Conseil told me:
"If master will authorize me, I'll tell the whole business in German."
"What! You know German?" I exclaimed.
"Like most Flemish people, with all due respect to master."
"On the contrary, my respect is due you. Go to it, my boy."
And Conseil, in his serene voice, described for the third time
the various vicissitudes of our story. But despite our narrator's
fine accent and stylish turns of phrase, the German language met
with no success.
Finally, as a last resort, I hauled out everything I could
remember from my early schooldays, and I tried to narrate our
adventures in Latin. Cicero would have plugged his ears and sent
me to the scullery, but somehow I managed to pull through.
With the same negative result.
This last attempt ultimately misfiring, the two strangers exchanged
a few words in their incomprehensible language and withdrew,
not even favoring us with one of those encouraging gestures that are
used in every country in the world. The door closed again.
"This is outrageous!" Ned Land shouted, exploding for the
twentieth time. "I ask you! We speak French, English, German,
and Latin to these rogues, and neither of them has the decency
to even answer back!"
"Calm down, Ned," I told the seething harpooner. "Anger won't
get us anywhere."
"But professor," our irascible companion went on, "can't you see
that we could die of hunger in this iron cage?"
"Bah!" Conseil put in philosophically. "We can hold out a
good while yet!"
"My friends," I said, "we mustn't despair. We've gotten out of
tighter spots. So please do me the favor of waiting a bit before
you form your views on the commander and crew of this boat."
"My views are fully formed," Ned Land shot back. "They're rogues!"
"Oh good! And from what country?"
"My gallant Ned, as yet that country isn't clearly marked on maps of
the world, but I admit that the nationality of these two strangers is hard
to make out! Neither English, French, nor German, that's all we can say.
But I'm tempted to think that the commander and his chief officer
were born in the low latitudes. There must be southern blood in them.
But as to whether they're Spaniards, Turks, Arabs, or East Indians,
their physical characteristics don't give me enough to go on.
And as for their speech, it's utterly incomprehensible."
"That's the nuisance in not knowing every language," Conseil replied,
"or the drawback in not having one universal language!"
"Which would all go out the window!" Ned Land replied.
"Don't you see, these people have a language all to themselves,
a language they've invented just to cause despair in decent people
who ask for a little dinner! Why, in every country on earth,
when you open your mouth, snap your jaws, smack your lips and teeth,
isn't that the world's most understandable message? From Quebec
to the Tuamotu Islands, from Paris to the Antipodes, doesn't it mean:
I'm hungry, give me a bite to eat!"
"Oh," Conseil put in, "there are some people so unintelligent
by nature . . ."
As he was saying these words, the door opened. A steward
entered.* He brought us some clothes, jackets and sailor's pants,
made out of a fabric whose nature I didn't recognize.
I hurried to change into them, and my companions followed suit.
*Author's Note: A steward is a waiter on board a steamer.
Meanwhile our silent steward, perhaps a deaf-mute, set the table
and laid three place settings.
"There's something serious afoot," Conseil said, "and it bodes well."
"Bah!" replied the rancorous harpooner. "What the devil do you suppose
they eat around here? Turtle livers, loin of shark, dogfish steaks?"
"We'll soon find out!" Conseil said.
Overlaid with silver dish covers, various platters had been
neatly positioned on the table cloth, and we sat down to eat.
Assuredly, we were dealing with civilized people, and if it hadn't
been for this electric light flooding over us, I would have thought
we were in the dining room of the Hotel Adelphi in Liverpool,
or the Grand Hotel in Paris. However, I feel compelled to mention
that bread and wine were totally absent. The water was fresh and clear,
but it was still water--which wasn't what Ned Land had in mind.
Among the foods we were served, I was able to identify various
daintily dressed fish; but I couldn't make up my mind about certain
otherwise excellent dishes, and I couldn't even tell whether
their contents belonged to the vegetable or the animal kingdom.
As for the tableware, it was elegant and in perfect taste.
Each utensil, spoon, fork, knife, and plate, bore on its reverse
a letter encircled by a Latin motto, and here is its exact duplicate:
MOBILIS IN MOBILI
Moving within the moving element! It was a highly appropriate
motto for this underwater machine, so long as the preposition
in is translated as within and not upon. The letter N was no doubt
the initial of the name of that mystifying individual in command
beneath the seas!
Ned and Conseil had no time for such musings. They were wolfing
down their food, and without further ado I did the same.
By now I felt reassured about our fate, and it seemed obvious
that our hosts didn't intend to let us die of starvation.
But all earthly things come to an end, all things must pass,
even the hunger of people who haven't eaten for fifteen hours.
Our appetites appeased, we felt an urgent need for sleep.
A natural reaction after that interminable night of fighting
for our lives.
"Ye gods, I'll sleep soundly," Conseil said.
"Me, I'm out like a light!" Ned Land replied.
My two companions lay down on the cabin's carpeting and were soon
deep in slumber.
As for me, I gave in less readily to this intense need for sleep.
Too many thoughts had piled up in my mind, too many insoluble
questions had arisen, too many images were keeping my eyelids open!
Where were we? What strange power was carrying us along?
I felt--or at least I thought I did--the submersible sinking
toward the sea's lower strata. Intense nightmares besieged me.
In these mysterious marine sanctuaries, I envisioned hosts
of unknown animals, and this underwater boat seemed to be a blood
relation of theirs: living, breathing, just as fearsome . . . !
Then my mind grew calmer, my imagination melted into hazy drowsiness,
and I soon fell into an uneasy slumber.
The Tantrums of Ned Land
I HAVE NO IDEA how long this slumber lasted; but it must have been
a good while, since we were
completely over our exhaustion. I was the first one to wake up.
My companions weren't yet stirring and still lay in their corners
like inanimate objects.
I had barely gotten up from my passably hard mattress when I felt
my mind clear, my brain go on the alert. So I began a careful
reexamination of our cell.
Nothing had changed in its interior arrangements.
The prison was still a prison and its prisoners still prisoners.
But, taking advantage of our slumber, the steward had cleared the table.
Consequently, nothing indicated any forthcoming improvement in
our situation, and I seriously wondered if we were doomed to spend
the rest of our lives in this cage.
This prospect seemed increasingly painful to me because, even though
my brain was clear of its obsessions from the night before,
I was feeling an odd short-windedness in my chest. It was becoming
hard for me to breathe. The heavy air was no longer sufficient
for the full play of my lungs. Although our cell was large,
we obviously had used up most of the oxygen it contained.
In essence, over an hour's time a single human being consumes
all the oxygen found in 100 liters of air, at which point that air
has become charged with a nearly equal amount of carbon dioxide
and is no longer fit for breathing.
So it was now urgent to renew the air in our prison, and no doubt
the air in this whole underwater boat as well.
Here a question popped into my head. How did the commander of this
aquatic residence go about it? Did he obtain air using chemical methods,
releasing the oxygen contained in potassium chlorate by heating it,
meanwhile absorbing the carbon dioxide with potassium hydroxide?
If so, he would have to keep up some kind of relationship with
the shore, to come by the materials needed for such an operation.
Did he simply limit himself to storing the air in high-pressure
tanks and then dispense it according to his crew's needs?
Perhaps. Or, proceeding in a more convenient, more economical,
and consequently more probable fashion, was he satisfied with merely
returning to breathe at the surface of the water like a cetacean,
renewing his oxygen supply every twenty-four hours? In any event,
whatever his method was, it seemed prudent to me that he use this
method without delay.
In fact, I had already resorted to speeding up my inhalations in order
to extract from the cell what little oxygen it contained, when suddenly
I was refreshed by a current of clean air, scented with a salty aroma.
It had to be a sea breeze, life-giving and charged with iodine!
I opened my mouth wide, and my lungs glutted themselves
on the fresh particles. At the same time, I felt a swaying,
a rolling of moderate magnitude but definitely noticeable.
This boat, this sheet-iron monster, had obviously just risen to
the surface of the ocean, there to breathe in good whale fashion.
So the ship's mode of ventilation was finally established.
When I had absorbed a chestful of this clean air, I looked
for the conduit--the "air carrier," if you prefer--that allowed
this beneficial influx to reach us, and I soon found it.
Above the door opened an air vent that let in a fresh current of oxygen,
renewing the thin air in our cell.
I had gotten to this point in my observations when Ned and Conseil
woke up almost simultaneously, under the influence of this reviving
air purification. They rubbed their eyes, stretched their arms,
and sprang to their feet.
"Did master sleep well?" Conseil asked me with his perennial
"Extremely well, my gallant lad," I replied. "And how about you,
Mr. Ned Land?"
"Like a log, professor. But I must be imagining things, because it
seems like I'm breathing a sea breeze!"
A seaman couldn't be wrong on this topic, and I told the Canadian
what had gone on while he slept.
"Good!" he said. "That explains perfectly all that bellowing we heard,
when our so-called narwhale lay in sight of the Abraham Lincoln."
"Perfectly, Mr. Land. It was catching its breath!"
"Only I've no idea what time it is, Professor Aronnax,
unless maybe it's dinnertime?"
"Dinnertime, my fine harpooner? I'd say at least breakfast time,
because we've certainly woken up to a new day."
"Which indicates," Conseil replied, "that we've spent twenty-four
hours in slumber."
"That's my assessment," I replied.
"I won't argue with you," Ned Land answered. "But dinner or breakfast,
that steward will be plenty welcome whether he brings the one
or the other."
"The one and the other," Conseil said.
"Well put," the Canadian replied. "We deserve two meals,
and speaking for myself, I'll do justice to them both."
"All right, Ned, let's wait and see!" I replied. "It's clear
that these strangers don't intend to let us die of hunger,
otherwise last evening's dinner wouldn't make any sense."
"Unless they're fattening us up!" Ned shot back.
"I object," I replied. "We have not fallen into the hands of cannibals."
"Just because they don't make a habit of it," the Canadian replied
in all seriousness, "doesn't mean they don't indulge from time to time.
Who knows? Maybe these people have gone without fresh meat for a
long while, and in that case three healthy, well-built specimens
like the professor, his manservant, and me ---"
"Get rid of those ideas, Mr. Land," I answered the harpooner.
"And above all, don't let them lead you to flare up against our hosts,
which would only make our situation worse."
"Anyhow," the harpooner said, "I'm as hungry as all Hades,
and dinner or breakfast, not one puny meal has arrived!"
"Mr. Land," I answered, "we have to adapt to the schedule on board,
and I imagine our stomachs are running ahead of the chief
cook's dinner bell."
"Well then, we'll adjust our stomachs to the chef's timetable!"
Conseil replied serenely.
"There you go again, Conseil my friend!" the impatient Canadian
shot back. "You never allow yourself any displays of bile or attacks
of nerves! You're everlastingly calm! You'd say your after-meal
grace even if you didn't get any food for your before-meal blessing--
and you'd starve to death rather than complain!"
"What good would it do?" Conseil asked.
"Complaining doesn't have to do good, it just feels good!
And if these pirates--I say pirates out of consideration for the
professor's feelings, since he doesn't want us to call them cannibals--
if these pirates think they're going to smother me in this cage
without hearing what cusswords spice up my outbursts, they've got
another think coming! Look here, Professor Aronnax, speak frankly.
How long do you figure they'll keep us in this iron box?"
"To tell the truth, friend Land, I know little more about it
than you do."
"But in a nutshell, what do you suppose is going on?"
"My supposition is that sheer chance has made us privy to an
important secret. Now then, if the crew of this underwater
boat have a personal interest in keeping that secret,
and if their personal interest is more important than the lives
of three men, I believe that our very existence is in jeopardy.
If such is not the case, then at the first available opportunity,
this monster that has swallowed us will return us to the world
inhabited by our own kind."
"Unless they recruit us to serve on the crew," Conseil said,
"and keep us here--"
"Till the moment," Ned Land answered, "when some frigate that's faster
or smarter than the Abraham Lincoln captures this den of buccaneers,
then hangs all of us by the neck from the tip of a mainmast yardarm!"
"Well thought out, Mr. Land," I replied. "But as yet, I don't believe
we've been tendered any enlistment offers. Consequently, it's pointless
to argue about what tactics we should pursue in such a case.
I repeat: let's wait, let's be guided by events, and let's do nothing,
since right now there's nothing we can do."
"On the contrary, professor," the harpooner replied, not wanting
to give in. "There is something we can do."
"Oh? And what, Mr. Land?"
"Break out of here!"
"Breaking out of a prison on shore is difficult enough, but with
an underwater prison, it strikes me as completely unworkable."
"Come now, Ned my friend," Conseil asked, "how would you answer
master's objection? I refuse to believe that an American is at
the end of his tether."
Visibly baffled, the harpooner said nothing. Under the conditions
in which fate had left us, it was absolutely impossible to escape.
But a Canadian's wit is half French, and Mr. Ned Land made this
clear in his reply.
"So, Professor Aronnax," he went on after thinking for a few moments,
"you haven't figured out what people do when they can't escape
from their prison?"
"No, my friend."
"Easy. They fix things so they stay there."
"Of course!" Conseil put in. "Since we're deep in the ocean,
being inside this boat is vastly preferable to being above it
or below it!"
"But we fix things by kicking out all the jailers, guards, and wardens,"
Ned Land added.
"What's this, Ned?" I asked. "You'd seriously consider taking
over this craft?"
"Very seriously," the Canadian replied.
"And why is that, sir? Some promising opportunity might come up,
and I don't see what could stop us from taking advantage of it.
If there are only about twenty men on board this machine, I don't
think they can stave off two Frenchmen and a Canadian!"
It seemed wiser to accept the harpooner's proposition than to debate it.
Accordingly, I was content to reply:
"Let such circumstances come, Mr. Land, and we'll see. But until then,
I beg you to control your impatience. We need to act shrewdly,
and your flare-ups won't give rise to any promising opportunities.
So swear to me that you'll accept our situation without throwing
a tantrum over it."
"I give you my word, professor," Ned Land replied in an
unenthusiastic tone. "No vehement phrases will leave my mouth,
no vicious gestures will give my feelings away, not even when they
don't feed us on time."
"I have your word, Ned," I answered the Canadian.
Then our conversation petered out, and each of us withdrew
into his own thoughts. For my part, despite the harpooner's
confident talk, I admit that I entertained no illusions.
I had no faith in those promising opportunities that Ned Land mentioned.
To operate with such efficiency, this underwater boat had to have
a sizeable crew, so if it came to a physical contest, we would
be facing an overwhelming opponent. Besides, before we could
do anything, we had to be free, and that we definitely were not.
I didn't see any way out of this sheet-iron, hermetically sealed cell.
And if the strange commander of this boat did have a secret to keep--
which seemed rather likely--he would never give us freedom of movement
aboard his vessel. Now then, would he resort to violence in order
to be rid of us, or would he drop us off one day on some remote coast?
There lay the unknown. All these hypotheses seemed extremely
plausible to me, and to hope for freedom through use of force,
you had to be a harpooner.
I realized, moreover, that Ned Land's brooding was getting
him madder by the minute. Little by little, I heard those
aforesaid cusswords welling up in the depths of his gullet,
and I saw his movements turn threatening again. He stood up,
pacing in circles like a wild beast in a cage, striking the walls
with his foot and fist. Meanwhile the hours passed, our hunger
nagged unmercifully, and this time the steward did not appear.
Which amounted to forgetting our castaway status for much too long,
if they really had good intentions toward us.
Tortured by the growling of his well-built stomach, Ned Land
was getting more and more riled, and despite his word of honor,
I was in real dread of an explosion when he stood in the presence
of one of the men on board.
For two more hours Ned Land's rage increased. The Canadian shouted
and pleaded, but to no avail. The sheet-iron walls were deaf.
I didn't hear a single sound inside this dead-seeming boat.
The vessel hadn't stirred, because I obviously would have felt its hull
vibrating under the influence of the propeller. It had undoubtedly
sunk into the watery deep and no longer belonged to the outside world.
All this dismal silence was terrifying.
As for our neglect, our isolation in the depths of this cell,
I was afraid to guess at how long it might last. Little by little,
hopes I had entertained after our interview with the ship's commander
were fading away. The gentleness of the man's gaze, the generosity
expressed in his facial features, the nobility of his bearing,
all vanished from my memory. I saw this mystifying individual
anew for what he inevitably must be: cruel and merciless.
I viewed him as outside humanity, beyond all feelings of compassion,
the implacable foe of his fellow man, toward whom he must have sworn
an undying hate!
But even so, was the man going to let us die of starvation,
locked up in this cramped prison, exposed to those horrible
temptations to which people are driven by extreme hunger?
This grim possibility took on a dreadful intensity in my mind,
and fired by my imagination, I felt an unreasoning terror run through me.
Conseil stayed calm. Ned Land bellowed.
Just then a noise was audible outside. Footsteps rang on
the metal tiling. The locks were turned, the door opened,
the steward appeared.
Before I could make a single movement to prevent him, the Canadian
rushed at the poor man, threw him down, held him by the throat.
The steward was choking in the grip of those powerful hands.
Conseil was already trying to loosen the harpooner's hands from his
half-suffocated victim, and I had gone to join in the rescue, when I
was abruptly nailed to the spot by these words pronounced in French:
"Calm down, Mr. Land! And you, professor, kindly listen to me!"
The Man of the Waters
IT WAS THE ship's commander who had just spoken.
At these words Ned Land stood up quickly. Nearly strangled,
the steward staggered out at a signal from his superior;
but such was the commander's authority aboard his vessel,
not one gesture gave away the resentment that this man must have
felt toward the Canadian. In silence we waited for the outcome
of this scene; Conseil, in spite of himself, seemed almost fascinated,
I was stunned.
Arms crossed, leaning against a corner of the table, the commander
studied us with great care. Was he reluctant to speak further?
Did he regret those words he had just pronounced in French? You would
have thought so.
After a few moments of silence, which none of us would have
dreamed of interrupting:
"Gentlemen," he said in a calm, penetrating voice,
"I speak French, English, German, and Latin with equal fluency.
Hence I could have answered you as early as our initial interview,
but first I wanted to make your acquaintance and then think things over.
Your four versions of the same narrative, perfectly consistent by
and large, established your personal identities for me. I now know
that sheer chance has placed in my presence Professor Pierre Aronnax,
specialist in natural history at the Paris Museum and entrusted with
a scientific mission abroad, his manservant Conseil, and Ned Land,
a harpooner of Canadian origin aboard the Abraham Lincoln,
a frigate in the national navy of the United States of America."
I bowed in agreement. The commander hadn't put a question to me.
So no answer was called for. This man expressed himself with perfect
ease and without a trace of an accent. His phrasing was clear,
his words well chosen, his facility in elocution remarkable.
And yet, to me, he didn't have "the feel" of a fellow countryman.
He went on with the conversation as follows:
"No doubt, sir, you've felt that I waited rather too long before
paying you this second visit. After discovering your identities,
I wanted to weigh carefully what policy to pursue toward you.
I had great difficulty deciding. Some extremely inconvenient
circumstances have brought you into the presence of a man who
has cut himself off from humanity. Your coming has disrupted
my whole existence."
"Unintentionally," I said.
"Unintentionally?" the stranger replied, raising his voice a little.
"Was it unintentionally that the Abraham Lincoln hunted me on every sea?
Was it unintentionally that you traveled aboard that frigate?
Was it unintentionally that your shells bounced off my ship's hull?
Was it unintentionally that Mr. Ned Land hit me with his harpoon?"
I detected a controlled irritation in these words. But there was
a perfectly natural reply to these charges, and I made it.
"Sir," I said, "you're surely unaware of the discussions that have
taken place in Europe and America with yourself as the subject.
You don't realize that various accidents, caused by collisions with your
underwater machine, have aroused public passions on those two continents.
I'll spare you the innumerable hypotheses with which we've tried
to explain this inexplicable phenomenon, whose secret is yours alone.
But please understand that the Abraham Lincoln chased you over
the Pacific high seas in the belief it was hunting some powerful
marine monster, which had to be purged from the ocean at all cost."
A half smile curled the commander's lips; then, in a calmer tone:
"Professor Aronnax," he replied, "do you dare claim that your frigate
wouldn't have chased and cannonaded an underwater boat as readily
as a monster?"
This question baffled me, since Commander Farragut would certainly
have shown no such hesitation. He would have seen it as his sworn
duty to destroy a contrivance of this kind just as promptly
as a gigantic narwhale.
"So you understand, sir," the stranger went on, "that I have a right
to treat you as my enemy."
I kept quiet, with good reason. What was the use of debating such
a proposition, when superior force can wipe out the best arguments?
"It took me a good while to decide," the commander went on.
"Nothing obliged me to grant you hospitality. If I were to part company
with you, I'd have no personal interest in ever seeing you again.
I could put you back on the platform of this ship that has served
as your refuge. I could sink under the sea, and I could forget
you ever existed. Wouldn't that be my right?"
"Perhaps it would be the right of a savage," I replied.
"But not that of a civilized man."
"Professor," the commander replied swiftly, "I'm not what you
term a civilized man! I've severed all ties with society,
for reasons that I alone have the right to appreciate.
Therefore I obey none of its regulations, and I insist that you
never invoke them in front of me!"
This was plain speaking. A flash of anger and scorn lit up the
stranger's eyes, and I glimpsed a fearsome past in this man's life.
Not only had he placed himself beyond human laws, he had rendered
himself independent, out of all reach, free in the strictest sense
of the word! For who would dare chase him to the depths of the sea
when he thwarted all attacks on the surface? What ship could
withstand a collision with his underwater Monitor? What armor plate,
no matter how heavy, could bear the thrusts of his spur?
No man among men could call him to account for his actions.
God, if he believed in Him, his conscience if he had one--
these were the only judges to whom he was answerable.
These thoughts swiftly crossed my mind while this strange individual
fell silent, like someone completely self-absorbed. I regarded him
with a mixture of fear and fascination, in the same way, no doubt,
that Oedipus regarded the Sphinx.
After a fairly long silence, the commander went on with our conversation.
"So I had difficulty deciding," he said. "But I concluded
that my personal interests could be reconciled with that
natural compassion to which every human being has a right.
Since fate has brought you here, you'll stay aboard my vessel.
You'll be free here, and in exchange for that freedom,
moreover totally related to it, I'll lay on you just one condition.
Your word that you'll submit to it will be sufficient."
"Go on, sir," I replied. "I assume this condition is one an honest
man can accept?"
"Yes, sir. Just this. It's possible that certain unforeseen events
may force me to confine you to your cabins for some hours, or even for
some days as the case may be. Since I prefer never to use violence,
I expect from you in such a case, even more than in any other,
your unquestioning obedience. By acting in this way, I shield you
from complicity, I absolve you of all responsibility, since I myself
make it impossible for you to see what you aren't meant to see.
Do you accept this condition?"
So things happened on board that were quite odd to say the least,
things never to be seen by people not placing themselves beyond
society's laws! Among all the surprises the future had in store
for me, this would not be the mildest.
"We accept," I replied. "Only, I'll ask your permission, sir,
to address a question to you, just one."
"Go ahead, sir."
"You said we'd be free aboard your vessel?"
"Then I would ask what you mean by this freedom."
"Why, the freedom to come, go, see, and even closely observe
everything happening here--except under certain rare circumstances--
in short, the freedom we ourselves enjoy, my companions and I."
It was obvious that we did not understand each other.
"Pardon me, sir," I went on, "but that's merely the freedom
that every prisoner has, the freedom to pace his cell!
That's not enough for us."
"Nevertheless, it will have to do!"
"What! We must give up seeing our homeland, friends, and relatives
"Yes, sir. But giving up that intolerable earthly yoke that some
men call freedom is perhaps less painful than you think!"
"By thunder!" Ned Land shouted. "I'll never promise I won't try
getting out of here!"
"I didn't ask for such a promise, Mr. Land," the commander replied coldly.
"Sir," I replied, flaring up in spite of myself, "you're taking
unfair advantage of us! This is sheer cruelty!"
"No, sir, it's an act of mercy! You're my prisoners of war!
I've cared for you when, with a single word, I could plunge you back
into the ocean depths! You attacked me! You've just stumbled on
a secret no living man must probe, the secret of my entire existence!
Do you think I'll send you back to a world that must know nothing
more of me? Never! By keeping you on board, it isn't you whom I
care for, it's me!"
These words indicated that the commander pursued a policy
impervious to arguments.
"Then, sir," I went on, "you give us, quite simply, a choice between
life and death?"
"My friends," I said, "to a question couched in these terms,
our answer can be taken for granted. But no solemn promises bind
us to the commander of this vessel."
"None, sir," the stranger replied.
Then, in a gentler voice, he went on:
"Now, allow me to finish what I have to tell you. I've heard of you,
Professor Aronnax. You, if not your companions, won't perhaps complain
too much about the stroke of fate that has brought us together.
Among the books that make up my favorite reading, you'll find the work
you've published on the great ocean depths. I've pored over it.
You've taken your studies as far as terrestrial science can go.
But you don't know everything because you haven't seen everything.
Let me tell you, professor, you won't regret the time you spend
aboard my vessel. You're going to voyage through a land of wonders.
Stunned amazement will probably be your habitual state of mind.
It will be a long while before you tire of the sights constantly before
your eyes. I'm going to make another underwater tour of the world--
perhaps my last, who knows?--and I'll review everything I've studied
in the depths of these seas that I've crossed so often, and you
can be my fellow student. Starting this very day, you'll enter
a new element, you'll see what no human being has ever seen before--
since my men and I no longer count--and thanks to me, you're going
to learn the ultimate secrets of our planet."
I can't deny it; the commander's words had a tremendous effect on me.
He had caught me on my weak side, and I momentarily forgot that not
even this sublime experience was worth the loss of my freedom.
Besides, I counted on the future to resolve this important question.
So I was content to reply:
"Sir, even though you've cut yourself off from humanity, I can
see that you haven't disowned all human feeling. We're castaways
whom you've charitably taken aboard, we'll never forget that.
Speaking for myself, I don't rule out that the interests of science
could override even the need for freedom, which promises me that,
in exchange, our encounter will provide great rewards."
I thought the commander would offer me his hand, to seal our agreement.
He did nothing of the sort. I regretted that.
"One last question," I said, just as this inexplicable being seemed
ready to withdraw.
"Ask it, professor."
"By what name am I to call you?"
"Sir," the commander replied, "to you, I'm simply Captain Nemo;* to me,
you and your companions are simply passengers on the Nautilus."
*Latin: nemo means "no one." Ed.
Captain Nemo called out. A steward appeared. The captain gave
him his orders in that strange language I couldn't even identify.
Then, turning to the Canadian and Conseil:
"A meal is waiting for you in your cabin," he told them.
"Kindly follow this man."
"That's an offer I can't refuse!" the harpooner replied.
After being confined for over thirty hours, he and Conseil were
finally out of this cell.
"And now, Professor Aronnax, our own breakfast is ready.
Allow me to lead the way."
"Yours to command, captain."
I followed Captain Nemo, and as soon as I passed through the doorway,
I went down a kind of electrically lit passageway that resembled
a gangway on a ship. After a stretch of some ten meters, a second
door opened before me.
I then entered a dining room, decorated and furnished in austere
good taste. Inlaid with ebony trim, tall oaken sideboards stood at
both ends of this room, and sparkling on their shelves were staggered
rows of earthenware, porcelain, and glass of incalculable value.
There silver-plated dinnerware gleamed under rays pouring from light
fixtures in the ceiling, whose glare was softened and tempered
by delicately painted designs.
In the center of this room stood a table, richly spread.
Captain Nemo indicated the place I was to occupy.
"Be seated," he told me, "and eat like the famished man you must be."
Our breakfast consisted of several dishes whose contents
were all supplied by the sea, and some foods whose nature
and derivation were unknown to me. They were good, I admit,
but with a peculiar flavor to which I would soon grow accustomed.
These various food items seemed to be rich in phosphorous, and I
thought that they, too, must have been of marine origin.
Captain Nemo stared at me. I had asked him nothing, but he read
my thoughts, and on his own he answered the questions I was itching
to address him.
"Most of these dishes are new to you," he told me. "But you can
consume them without fear. They're healthy and nourishing.
I renounced terrestrial foods long ago, and I'm none the worse for it.
My crew are strong and full of energy, and they eat what I eat."
"So," I said, "all these foods are products of the sea?"
"Yes, professor, the sea supplies all my needs. Sometimes I cast my nets
in our wake, and I pull them up ready to burst. Sometimes I go hunting
right in the midst of this element that has long seemed so far out of
man's reach, and I corner the game that dwells in my underwater forests.
Like the flocks of old Proteus, King Neptune's shepherd,
my herds graze without fear on the ocean's immense prairies.
There I own vast properties that I harvest myself, and which are
forever sown by the hand of the Creator of All Things."
I stared at Captain Nemo in definite astonishment, and I answered him:
"Sir, I understand perfectly how your nets can furnish excellent
fish for your table; I understand less how you can chase aquatic
game in your underwater forests; but how a piece of red meat,
no matter how small, can figure in your menu, that I don't
understand at all."
"Nor I, sir," Captain Nemo answered me. "I never touch the flesh
of land animals."
"Nevertheless, this . . . ," I went on, pointing to a dish where
some slices of loin were still left.
"What you believe to be red meat, professor, is nothing other than loin
of sea turtle. Similarly, here are some dolphin livers you might mistake
for stewed pork. My chef is a skillful food processor who excels
at pickling and preserving these various exhibits from the ocean.
Feel free to sample all of these foods. Here are some preserves
of sea cucumber that a Malaysian would declare to be unrivaled
in the entire world, here's cream from milk furnished by the udders
of cetaceans, and sugar from the huge fucus plants in the North Sea;
and finally, allow me to offer you some marmalade of sea anemone,
equal to that from the tastiest fruits."
So I sampled away, more as a curiosity seeker than an epicure,
while Captain Nemo delighted me with his incredible anecdotes.
"But this sea, Professor Aronnax," he told me, "this prodigious,
inexhaustible wet nurse of a sea not only feeds me, she dresses
me as well. That fabric covering you was woven from the masses
of filaments that anchor certain seashells; as the ancients
were wont to do, it was dyed with purple ink from the murex snail
and shaded with violet tints that I extract from a marine slug,
the Mediterranean sea hare. The perfumes you'll find on the washstand
in your cabin were produced from the oozings of marine plants.
Your mattress was made from the ocean's softest eelgrass.
Your quill pen will be whalebone, your ink a juice secreted
by cuttlefish or squid. Everything comes to me from the sea,
just as someday everything will return to it!"
"You love the sea, captain."
"Yes, I love it! The sea is the be all and end all! It covers
seven-tenths of the planet earth. Its breath is clean and healthy.
It's an immense wilderness where a man is never lonely, because he
feels life astir on every side. The sea is simply the vehicle
for a prodigious, unearthly mode of existence; it's simply movement
and love; it's living infinity, as one of your poets put it.
And in essence, professor, nature is here made manifest
by all three of her kingdoms, mineral, vegetable, and animal.
The last of these is amply represented by the four zoophyte groups,
three classes of articulates, five classes of mollusks, and three
vertebrate classes: mammals, reptiles, and those countless
legions of fish, an infinite order of animals totaling more than
13,000 species, of which only one-tenth belong to fresh water.
The sea is a vast pool of nature. Our globe began with the sea,
so to speak, and who can say we won't end with it!
Here lies supreme tranquility. The sea doesn't belong to tyrants.
On its surface they can still exercise their iniquitous claims,
battle each other, devour each other, haul every earthly horror.
But thirty feet below sea level, their dominion ceases,
their influence fades, their power vanishes! Ah, sir, live!
Live in the heart of the seas! Here alone lies independence!
Here I recognize no superiors! Here I'm free!"
Captain Nemo suddenly fell silent in the midst of this
enthusiastic outpouring. Had he let himself get carried away,
past the bounds of his habitual reserve? Had he said too much?
For a few moments he strolled up and down, all aquiver.
Then his nerves grew calmer, his facial features recovered their
usual icy composure, and turning to me:
"Now, professor," he said, "if you'd like to inspect the Nautilus, I'm
yours to command."
CAPTAIN NEMO stood up. I followed him. Contrived at the rear
of the dining room, a double door opened, and I entered a room
whose dimensions equaled the one I had just left.
It was a library. Tall, black-rosewood bookcases, inlaid with copperwork,
held on their wide shelves a large number of uniformly bound books.
These furnishings followed the contours of the room, their lower
parts leading to huge couches upholstered in maroon leather
and curved for maximum comfort. Light, movable reading stands,
which could be pushed away or pulled near as desired,
allowed books to be positioned on them for easy study.
In the center stood a huge table covered with pamphlets,
among which some newspapers, long out of date, were visible.
Electric light flooded this whole harmonious totality, falling from
four frosted half globes set in the scrollwork of the ceiling.
I stared in genuine wonderment at this room so ingeniously laid out,
and I couldn't believe my eyes.
"Captain Nemo," I told my host, who had just stretched out on
a couch, "this is a library that would do credit to more than one
continental palace, and I truly marvel to think it can go with you
into the deepest seas."
"Where could one find greater silence or solitude, professor?"
Captain Nemo replied. "Did your study at the museum afford you
such a perfect retreat?"
"No, sir, and I might add that it's quite a humble one next to yours.
You own 6,000 or 7,000 volumes here . . ."
"12,000, Professor Aronnax. They're my sole remaining ties
with dry land. But I was done with the shore the day my Nautilus
submerged for the first time under the waters. That day I purchased
my last volumes, my last pamphlets, my last newspapers, and ever
since I've chosen to believe that humanity no longer thinks or writes.
In any event, professor, these books are at your disposal, and you
may use them freely."
I thanked Captain Nemo and approached the shelves of this library.
Written in every language, books on science, ethics, and literature
were there in abundance, but I didn't see a single work on economics--
they seemed to be strictly banned on board. One odd detail:
all these books were shelved indiscriminately without regard
to the language in which they were written, and this jumble proved
that the Nautilus's captain could read fluently whatever volumes
he chanced to pick up.
Among these books I noted masterpieces by the greats of ancient
and modern times, in other words, all of humanity's finest
achievements in history, poetry, fiction, and science,
from Homer to Victor Hugo, from Xenophon to Michelet,
from Rabelais to Madame George Sand. But science, in particular,
represented the major investment of this library: books on mechanics,
ballistics, hydrography, meteorology, geography, geology, etc., held
a place there no less important than works on natural history,
and I realized that they made up the captain's chief reading.
There I saw the complete works of Humboldt, the complete Arago,
as well as works by Foucault, Henri Sainte-Claire Deville, Chasles,
Milne-Edwards, Quatrefages, John Tyndall, Faraday, Berthelot,
Father Secchi, Petermann, Commander Maury, Louis Agassiz,
etc., plus the transactions of France's Academy of Sciences,
bulletins from the various geographical societies, etc., and in
a prime location, those two volumes on the great ocean depths
that had perhaps earned me this comparatively charitable welcome
from Captain Nemo. Among the works of Joseph Bertrand, his book
entitled The Founders of Astronomy even gave me a definite date;
and since I knew it had appeared in the course of 1865, I concluded
that the fitting out of the Nautilus hadn't taken place before then.
Accordingly, three years ago at the most, Captain Nemo had begun
his underwater existence. Moreover, I hoped some books even
more recent would permit me to pinpoint the date precisely;
but I had plenty of time to look for them, and I didn't want to put
off any longer our stroll through the wonders of the Nautilus.
"Sir," I told the captain, "thank you for placing this library
at my disposal. There are scientific treasures here, and I'll take
advantage of them."
"This room isn't only a library," Captain Nemo said, "it's also
a smoking room."
"A smoking room?" I exclaimed. "Then one may smoke on board?"
"In that case, sir, I'm forced to believe that you've kept up
relations with Havana."
"None whatever," the captain replied. "Try this cigar,
Professor Aronnax, and even though it doesn't come from Havana,
it will satisfy you if you're a connoisseur."
I took the cigar offered me, whose shape recalled those from Cuba;
but it seemed to be made of gold leaf. I lit it at a small brazier
supported by an elegant bronze stand, and I inhaled my first whiffs
with the relish of a smoker who hasn't had a puff in days.
"It's excellent," I said, "but it's not from the tobacco plant."
"Right," the captain replied, "this tobacco comes from neither
Havana nor the Orient. It's a kind of nicotine-rich seaweed
that the ocean supplies me, albeit sparingly. Do you still miss
your Cubans, sir?"
"Captain, I scorn them from this day forward."
"Then smoke these cigars whenever you like, without debating
their origin. They bear no government seal of approval, but I
imagine they're none the worse for it."
"On the contrary."
Just then Captain Nemo opened a door facing the one by which I had entered
the library, and I passed into an immense, splendidly lit lounge.
It was a huge quadrilateral with canted corners, ten meters long,
six wide, five high. A luminous ceiling, decorated with
delicate arabesques, distributed a soft, clear daylight over all
the wonders gathered in this museum. For a museum it truly was,
in which clever hands had spared no expense to amass every natural
and artistic treasure, displaying them with the helter-skelter
picturesqueness that distinguishes a painter's studio.
Some thirty pictures by the masters, uniformly framed and separated
by gleaming panoplies of arms, adorned walls on which were stretched
tapestries of austere design. There I saw canvases of the highest value,
the likes of which I had marveled at in private European collections
and art exhibitions. The various schools of the old masters
were represented by a Raphael Madonna, a Virgin by Leonardo
da Vinci, a nymph by Correggio, a woman by Titian, an adoration
of the Magi by Veronese, an assumption of the Virgin by Murillo,
a Holbein portrait, a monk by Velazquez, a martyr by Ribera,
a village fair by Rubens, two Flemish landscapes by Teniers,
three little genre paintings by Gerard Dow, Metsu, and Paul Potter,
two canvases by Gericault and Prud'hon, plus seascapes by Backhuysen
and Vernet. Among the works of modern art were pictures signed
by Delacroix, Ingres, Decamps, Troyon, Meissonier, Daubigny,
etc., and some wonderful miniature statues in marble or bronze,
modeled after antiquity's finest originals, stood on their pedestals
in the corners of this magnificent museum. As the Nautilus's
commander had predicted, my mind was already starting to fall
into that promised state of stunned amazement.
"Professor," this strange man then said, "you must excuse
the informality with which I receive you, and the disorder reigning
in this lounge."
"Sir," I replied, "without prying into who you are, might I venture
to identify you as an artist?"
"A collector, sir, nothing more. Formerly I loved acquiring
these beautiful works created by the hand of man.
I sought them greedily, ferreted them out tirelessly,
and I've been able to gather some objects of great value.
They're my last mementos of those shores that are now dead for me.
In my eyes, your modern artists are already as old as the ancients.
They've existed for 2,000 or 3,000 years, and I mix them up in my mind.
The masters are ageless."
"What about these composers?" I said, pointing to sheet music
by Weber, Rossini, Mozart, Beethoven, Haydn, Meyerbeer, Hérold, Wagner,
Auber, Gounod, Victor Massé, and a number of others scattered
over a full size piano-organ, which occupied one of the wall panels
in this lounge.
"These composers," Captain Nemo answered me, "are the contemporaries
of Orpheus, because in the annals of the dead, all chronological
differences fade; and I'm dead, professor, quite as dead as those
friends of yours sleeping six feet under!"
Captain Nemo fell silent and seemed lost in reverie. I regarded him with
intense excitement, silently analyzing his strange facial expression.
Leaning his elbow on the corner of a valuable mosaic table,
he no longer saw me, he had forgotten my very presence.
I didn't disturb his meditations but continued to pass in review
the curiosities that enriched this lounge.
After the works of art, natural rarities predominated.
They consisted chiefly of plants, shells, and other exhibits from
the ocean that must have been Captain Nemo's own personal finds.
In the middle of the lounge, a jet of water, electrically lit,
fell back into a basin made from a single giant clam. The delicately
festooned rim of this shell, supplied by the biggest mollusk
in the class Acephala, measured about six meters in circumference;
so it was even bigger than those fine giant clams given to King François I
by the Republic of Venice, and which the Church of Saint-Sulpice
in Paris has made into two gigantic holy-water fonts.
Around this basin, inside elegant glass cases fastened with
copper bands, there were classified and labeled the most valuable
marine exhibits ever put before the eyes of a naturalist.
My professorial glee may easily be imagined.
The zoophyte branch offered some very unusual specimens from its
two groups, the polyps and the echinoderms. In the first group:
organ-pipe coral, gorgonian coral arranged into fan shapes,
soft sponges from Syria, isis coral from the Molucca Islands,
sea-pen coral, wonderful coral of the genus Virgularia from
the waters of Norway, various coral of the genus Umbellularia,
alcyonarian coral, then a whole series of those madrepores that my mentor
Professor Milne-Edwards has so shrewdly classified into divisions
and among which I noted the wonderful genus Flabellina as well as
the genus Oculina from Réunion Island, plus a "Neptune's chariot"
from the Caribbean Sea--every superb variety of coral, and in short,
every species of these unusual polyparies that congregate
to form entire islands that will one day turn into continents.
Among the echinoderms, notable for being covered with spines:
starfish, feather stars, sea lilies, free-swimming crinoids,
brittle stars, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, etc., represented
a complete collection of the individuals in this group.
An excitable conchologist would surely have fainted dead away
before other, more numerous glass cases in which were classified
specimens from the mollusk branch. There I saw a collection
of incalculable value that I haven't time to describe completely.
Among these exhibits I'll mention, just for the record:
an elegant royal hammer shell from the Indian Ocean, whose evenly
spaced white spots stood out sharply against a base of red and brown;
an imperial spiny oyster, brightly colored, bristling with thorns,
a specimen rare to European museums, whose value I estimated at
20,000 francs; a common hammer shell from the seas near Queensland,
very hard to come by; exotic cockles from Senegal, fragile white
bivalve shells that a single breath could pop like a soap bubble;
several varieties of watering-pot shell from Java, a sort of limestone
tube fringed with leafy folds and much fought over by collectors;
a whole series of top-shell snails--greenish yellow ones fished up
from American seas, others colored reddish brown that patronize
the waters off Queensland, the former coming from the Gulf
of Mexico and notable for their overlapping shells, the latter
some sun-carrier shells found in the southernmost seas, finally and
rarest of all, the magnificent spurred-star shell from New Zealand;
then some wonderful peppery-furrow shells; several valuable species
of cythera clams and venus clams; the trellis wentletrap snail from
Tranquebar on India's eastern shore; a marbled turban snail gleaming
with mother-of-pearl; green parrot shells from the seas of China;
the virtually unknown cone snail from the genus Coenodullus;
every variety of cowry used as money in India and Africa;
a "glory-of-the-seas," the most valuable shell in the East Indies;
finally, common periwinkles, delphinula snails, turret snails,
violet snails, European cowries, volute snails, olive shells,
miter shells, helmet shells, murex snails, whelks, harp shells,
spiky periwinkles, triton snails, horn shells, spindle shells,
conch shells, spider conchs, limpets, glass snails, sea butterflies--
every kind of delicate, fragile seashell that science has baptized
with its most delightful names.
Aside and in special compartments, strings of supremely beautiful
pearls were spread out, the electric light flecking them with
little fiery sparks: pink pearls pulled from saltwater fan
shells in the Red Sea; green pearls from the rainbow abalone;
yellow, blue, and black pearls, the unusual handiwork of various
mollusks from every ocean and of certain mussels from rivers up north;
in short, several specimens of incalculable worth that had been
oozed by the rarest of shellfish. Some of these pearls were
bigger than a pigeon egg; they more than equaled the one that
the explorer Tavernier sold the Shah of Persia for 3,000,000 francs,
and they surpassed that other pearl owned by the Imam of Muscat,
which I had believed to be unrivaled in the entire world.
Consequently, to calculate the value of this collection was,
I should say, impossible. Captain Nemo must have spent millions
in acquiring these different specimens, and I was wondering what
financial resources he tapped to satisfy his collector's fancies,
when these words interrupted me:
"You're examining my shells, professor? They're indeed able
to fascinate a naturalist; but for me they have an added charm,
since I've collected every one of them with my own two hands,
and not a sea on the globe has escaped my investigations."
"I understand, captain, I understand your delight at strolling
in the midst of this wealth. You're a man who gathers his
treasure in person. No museum in Europe owns such a collection
of exhibits from the ocean. But if I exhaust all my wonderment
on them, I'll have nothing left for the ship that carries them!
I have absolutely no wish to probe those secrets of yours!
But I confess that my curiosity is aroused to the limit by this Nautilus,
the motor power it contains, the equipment enabling it to operate,
the ultra powerful force that brings it to life. I see some instruments
hanging on the walls of this lounge whose purposes are unknown to me.
May I learn--"
"Professor Aronnax," Captain Nemo answered me, "I've said you'd be free
aboard my vessel, so no part of the Nautilus is off-limits to you.
You may inspect it in detail, and I'll be delighted to act
as your guide."
"I don't know how to thank you, sir, but I won't abuse your good nature.
I would only ask you about the uses intended for these instruments
of physical measure--"
"Professor, these same instruments are found in my stateroom,
where I'll have the pleasure of explaining their functions to you.
But beforehand, come inspect the cabin set aside for you.
You need to learn how you'll be lodged aboard the Nautilus."
I followed Captain Nemo, who, via one of the doors cut into
the lounge's canted corners, led me back down the ship's gangways.
He took me to the bow, and there I found not just a cabin but an elegant
stateroom with a bed, a washstand, and various other furnishings.
I could only thank my host.
"Your stateroom adjoins mine," he told me, opening a door,
"and mine leads into that lounge we've just left."
I entered the captain's stateroom. It had an austere,
almost monastic appearance. An iron bedstead, a worktable,
some washstand fixtures. Subdued lighting. No luxuries.
Just the bare necessities.
Captain Nemo showed me to a bench.
"Kindly be seated," he told me.
I sat, and he began speaking as follows:
Everything through Electricity
"SIR," CAPTAIN NEMO SAID, showing me the instruments hanging on
the walls of his stateroom,
"these are the devices needed to navigate the Nautilus. Here, as in
the lounge, I always have them before my eyes, and they indicate
my position and exact heading in the midst of the ocean.
You're familiar with some of them, such as the thermometer,
which gives the temperature inside the Nautilus; the barometer,
which measures the heaviness of the outside air and forecasts changes
in the weather; the humidistat, which indicates the degree of dryness
in the atmosphere; the storm glass, whose mixture decomposes to
foretell the arrival of tempests; the compass, which steers my course;
the sextant, which takes the sun's altitude and tells me my latitude;
chronometers, which allow me to calculate my longitude; and finally,
spyglasses for both day and night, enabling me to scrutinize every
point of the horizon once the Nautilus has risen to the surface
of the waves."
"These are the normal navigational instruments," I replied,
"and I'm familiar with their uses. But no doubt these others answer
pressing needs unique to the Nautilus. That dial I see there,
with the needle moving across it--isn't it a pressure gauge?"
"It is indeed a pressure gauge. It's placed in contact with the water,
and it indicates the outside pressure on our hull, which in turn
gives me the depth at which my submersible is sitting."
"And these are some new breed of sounding line?"
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