20000 Leagues Under the Seas
Part 7 out of 10
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.* 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.
*Latin: "our sea." Ed.
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 Atlantic.
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,
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.
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,
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