Part 9 out of 10
"We must confer with Captain Nemo," Conseil said.
"But where do we find him?" Ned Land asked.
"Follow me," I told my two companions.
We left the lounge. Nobody in the library. Nobody by the central
companionway or the crew's quarters. I assumed that Captain Nemo
was stationed in the pilothouse. Best to wait. The three of us
returned to the lounge.
I'll skip over the Canadian's complaints. He had good grounds
for an outburst. I didn't answer him back, letting him blow off
all the steam he wanted.
We had been left to ourselves for twenty minutes, trying to detect
the tiniest noises inside the Nautilus, when Captain Nemo entered.
He didn't seem to see us. His facial features, usually so emotionless,
revealed a certain uneasiness. He studied the compass and pressure
gauge in silence, then went and put his finger on the world map
at a spot in the sector depicting the southernmost seas.
I hesitated to interrupt him. But some moments later, when he turned
to me, I threw back at him a phrase he had used in the Torres Strait:
"An incident, captain?"
"No, sir," he replied, "this time an accident."
"Is there any immediate danger?"
"The Nautilus has run aground?"
"And this accident came about . . . ?"
"Through nature's unpredictability not man's incapacity.
No errors were committed in our maneuvers. Nevertheless, we can't
prevent a loss of balance from taking its toll. One may defy
human laws, but no one can withstand the laws of nature."
Captain Nemo had picked an odd time to philosophize. All in all,
this reply told me nothing.
"May I learn, sir," I asked him, "what caused this accident?"
"An enormous block of ice, an entire mountain, has toppled over,"
he answered me. "When an iceberg is eroded at the base by warmer
waters or by repeated collisions, its center of gravity rises.
Then it somersaults, it turns completely upside down.
That's what happened here. When it overturned, one of these
blocks hit the Nautilus as it was cruising under the waters.
Sliding under our hull, this block then raised us with irresistible power,
lifting us into less congested strata where we now lie on our side."
"But can't we float the Nautilus clear by emptying its ballast tanks,
to regain our balance?"
"That, sir, is being done right now. You can hear the pumps working.
Look at the needle on the pressure gauge. It indicates that the Nautilus
is rising, but this block of ice is rising with us, and until some
obstacle halts its upward movement, our position won't change."
Indeed, the Nautilus kept the same heel to starboard.
No doubt it would straighten up once the block came to a halt.
But before that happened, who knew if we might not hit the underbelly
of the Ice Bank and be hideously squeezed between two frozen surfaces?
I mused on all the consequences of this situation. Captain Nemo
didn't stop studying the pressure gauge. Since the toppling
of this iceberg, the Nautilus had risen about 150 feet, but it
still stayed at the same angle to the perpendicular.
Suddenly a slight movement could be felt over the hull.
Obviously the Nautilus was straightening a bit. Objects hanging
in the lounge were visibly returning to their normal positions.
The walls were approaching the vertical. Nobody said a word.
Hearts pounding, we could see and feel the ship righting itself.
The floor was becoming horizontal beneath our feet.
Ten minutes went by.
"Finally, we're upright!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," Captain Nemo said, heading to the lounge door.
"But will we float off?" I asked him.
"Certainly," he replied, "since the ballast tanks aren't yet empty,
and when they are, the Nautilus must rise to the surface of the sea."
The captain went out, and soon I saw that at his orders, the Nautilus
had halted its upward movement. In fact, it soon would have hit
the underbelly of the Ice Bank, but it had stopped in time and was
floating in midwater.
"That was a close call!" Conseil then said.
"Yes. We could have been crushed between these masses of ice,
or at least imprisoned between them. And then, with no way to renew
our air supply. . . . Yes, that was a close call!"
"If it's over with!" Ned Land muttered.
I was unwilling to get into a pointless argument with the Canadian
and didn't reply. Moreover, the panels opened just then,
and the outside light burst through the uncovered windows.
We were fully afloat, as I have said; but on both sides of the Nautilus,
about ten meters away, there rose dazzling walls of ice.
There also were walls above and below. Above, because the
Ice Bank's underbelly spread over us like an immense ceiling.
Below, because the somersaulting block, shifting little by little,
had found points of purchase on both side walls and had gotten
jammed between them. The Nautilus was imprisoned in a genuine
tunnel of ice about twenty meters wide and filled with quiet water.
So the ship could easily exit by going either ahead or astern,
sinking a few hundred meters deeper, and then taking an open
passageway beneath the Ice Bank.
The ceiling lights were off, yet the lounge was still brightly lit.
This was due to the reflecting power of the walls of ice,
which threw the beams of our beacon right back at us. Words cannot
describe the effects produced by our galvanic rays on these huge,
whimsically sculpted blocks, whose every angle, ridge, and facet gave
off a different glow depending on the nature of the veins running
inside the ice. It was a dazzling mine of gems, in particular
sapphires and emeralds, whose jets of blue and green crisscrossed.
Here and there, opaline hues of infinite subtlety raced among sparks
of light that were like so many fiery diamonds, their brilliance
more than any eye could stand. The power of our beacon was increased
a hundredfold, like a lamp shining through the biconvex lenses
of a world-class lighthouse.
"How beautiful!" Conseil exclaimed.
"Yes," I said, "it's a wonderful sight! Isn't it, Ned?"
"Oh damnation, yes!" Ned Land shot back. "It's superb!
I'm furious that I have to admit it. Nobody has ever seen the like.
But this sight could cost us dearly. And in all honesty, I think
we're looking at things God never intended for human eyes."
Ned was right. It was too beautiful. All at once a yell from
Conseil made me turn around.
"What is it?" I asked.
"Master must close his eyes! Master mustn't look!"
With that, Conseil clapped his hands over his eyes.
"But what's wrong, my boy?"
"I've been dazzled, struck blind!"
Involuntarily my eyes flew to the window, but I couldn't stand
the fire devouring it.
I realized what had happened. The Nautilus had just started off
at great speed. All the tranquil glimmers of the ice walls had then
changed into blazing streaks. The sparkles from these myriads of
diamonds were merging with each other. Swept along by its propeller,
the Nautilus was traveling through a sheath of flashing light.
Then the panels in the lounge closed. We kept our hands over our eyes,
which were utterly saturated with those concentric gleams that
swirl before the retina when sunlight strikes it too intensely.
It took some time to calm our troubled vision.
Finally we lowered our hands.
"Ye gods, I never would have believed it," Conseil said.
"And I still don't believe it!" the Canadian shot back.
"When we return to shore, jaded from all these natural wonders,"
Conseil added, "think how we'll look down on those pitiful land masses,
those puny works of man! No, the civilized world won't be good
enough for us!"
Such words from the lips of this emotionless Flemish boy showed
that our enthusiasm was near the boiling point. But the Canadian
didn't fail to throw his dram of cold water over us.
"The civilized world!" he said, shaking his head. "Don't worry,
Conseil my friend, we're never going back to that world!"
By this point it was five o'clock in the morning.
Just then there was a collision in the Nautilus's bow.
I realized that its spur had just bumped a block of ice.
It must have been a faulty maneuver because this underwater tunnel
was obstructed by such blocks and didn't make for easy navigating.
So I had assumed that Captain Nemo, in adjusting his course, would go
around each obstacle or would hug the walls and follow the windings
of the tunnel. In either case our forward motion wouldn't receive
an absolute check. Nevertheless, contrary to my expectations,
the Nautilus definitely began to move backward.
"We're going astern?" Conseil said.
"Yes," I replied. "Apparently the tunnel has no way out at this end."
"And so . . . ?"
"So," I said, "our maneuvers are quite simple. We'll return in our
tracks and go out the southern opening. That's all."
As I spoke, I tried to sound more confident than I really felt.
Meanwhile the Nautilus accelerated its backward movement, and running
with propeller in reverse, it swept us along at great speed.
"This'll mean a delay," Ned said.
"What are a few hours more or less, so long as we get out."
"Yes," Ned Land repeated, "so long as we get out!"
I strolled for a little while from the lounge into the library.
My companions kept their seats and didn't move. Soon I threw myself
down on a couch and picked up a book, which my eyes skimmed mechanically.
A quarter of an hour later, Conseil approached me, saying:
"Is it deeply fascinating, this volume master is reading?"
"Tremendously fascinating," I replied.
"I believe it. Master is reading his own book!"
"My own book?"
Indeed, my hands were holding my own work on the great ocean depths.
I hadn't even suspected. I closed the book and resumed my strolling.
Ned and Conseil stood up to leave.
"Stay here, my friends," I said, stopping them. "Let's stay together
until we're out of this blind alley."
"As master wishes," Conseil replied.
The hours passed. I often studied the instruments hanging on
the lounge wall. The pressure gauge indicated that the Nautilus
stayed at a constant depth of 300 meters, the compass that it kept
heading south, the log that it was traveling at a speed of twenty
miles per hour, an excessive speed in such a cramped area.
But Captain Nemo knew that by this point there was no such thing
as too fast, since minutes were now worth centuries.
At 8:25 a second collision took place. This time astern.
I grew pale. My companions came over. I clutched Conseil's hand.
Our eyes questioned each other, and more directly than if our thoughts
had been translated into words.
Just then the captain entered the lounge. I went to him.
"Our path is barred to the south?" I asked him.
"Yes, sir. When it overturned, that iceberg closed off every exit."
"We're boxed in?"
Shortage of Air
CONSEQUENTLY, above, below, and around the Nautilus, there were
impenetrable frozen walls. We were the Ice Bank's prisoners!
The Canadian banged a table with his fearsome fist. Conseil kept still.
I stared at the captain. His face had resumed its usual emotionlessness.
He crossed his arms. He pondered. The Nautilus did not stir.
The captain then broke into speech:
"Gentlemen," he said in a calm voice, "there are two ways of dying
under the conditions in which we're placed."
This inexplicable individual acted like a mathematics professor
working out a problem for his pupils.
"The first way," he went on, "is death by crushing. The second
is death by asphyxiation. I don't mention the possibility of death
by starvation because the Nautilus's provisions will certainly last
longer than we will. Therefore, let's concentrate on our chances
of being crushed or asphyxiated."
"As for asphyxiation, captain," I replied, "that isn't a cause
for alarm, because the air tanks are full."
"True," Captain Nemo went on, "but they'll supply air for only two days.
Now then, we've been buried beneath the waters for thirty-six hours,
and the Nautilus's heavy atmosphere already needs renewing.
In another forty-eight hours, our reserve air will be used up."
"Well then, captain, let's free ourselves within forty-eight hours!"
"We'll try to at least, by cutting through one of these
walls surrounding us."
"Which one?" I asked.
"Borings will tell us that. I'm going to ground the Nautilus
on the lower shelf, then my men will put on their diving suits
and attack the thinnest of these ice walls."
"Can the panels in the lounge be left open?"
"Without ill effect. We're no longer in motion."
Captain Nemo went out. Hissing sounds soon told me that water
was being admitted into the ballast tanks. The Nautilus slowly
settled and rested on the icy bottom at a depth of 350 meters,
the depth at which the lower shelf of ice lay submerged.
"My friends," I said, "we're in a serious predicament, but I'm
counting on your courage and energy."
"Sir," the Canadian replied, "this is no time to bore you with
my complaints. I'm ready to do anything I can for the common good."
"Excellent, Ned," I said, extending my hand to the Canadian.
"I might add," he went on, "that I'm as handy with a pick as a harpoon.
If I can be helpful to the captain, he can use me any way he wants."
"He won't turn down your assistance. Come along, Ned."
I led the Canadian to the room where the Nautilus's men were putting
on their diving suits. I informed the captain of Ned's proposition,
which was promptly accepted. The Canadian got into his
underwater costume and was ready as soon as his fellow workers.
Each of them carried on his back a Rouquayrol device that the air
tanks had supplied with a generous allowance of fresh oxygen.
A considerable but necessary drain on the Nautilus's reserves.
As for the Ruhmkorff lamps, they were unnecessary in the midst
of these brilliant waters saturated with our electric rays.
After Ned was dressed, I reentered the lounge, whose windows had
been uncovered; stationed next to Conseil, I examined the strata
surrounding and supporting the Nautilus.
Some moments later, we saw a dozen crewmen set foot on the shelf
of ice, among them Ned Land, easily recognized by his tall figure.
Captain Nemo was with them.
Before digging into the ice, the captain had to obtain borings,
to insure working in the best direction. Long bores were driven into
the side walls; but after fifteen meters, the instruments were still
impeded by the thickness of those walls. It was futile to attack
the ceiling since that surface was the Ice Bank itself, more than
400 meters high. Captain Nemo then bored into the lower surface.
There we were separated from the sea by a ten-meter barrier.
That's how thick the iceberg was. From this point on, it was an issue
of cutting out a piece equal in surface area to the Nautilus's waterline.
This meant detaching about 6,500 cubic meters, to dig a hole through
which the ship could descend below this tract of ice.
Work began immediately and was carried on with tireless tenacity.
Instead of digging all around the Nautilus, which would have
entailed even greater difficulties, Captain Nemo had an immense
trench outlined on the ice, eight meters from our port quarter.
Then his men simultaneously staked it off at several points around
its circumference. Soon their picks were vigorously attacking
this compact matter, and huge chunks were loosened from its mass.
These chunks weighed less than the water, and by an unusual
effect of specific gravity, each chunk took wing, as it were,
to the roof of the tunnel, which thickened above by as much as it
diminished below. But this hardly mattered so long as the lower
surface kept growing thinner.
After two hours of energetic work, Ned Land reentered, exhausted.
He and his companions were replaced by new workmen, including Conseil
and me. The Nautilus's chief officer supervised us.
The water struck me as unusually cold, but I warmed up promptly
while wielding my pick. My movements were quite free, although they
were executed under a pressure of thirty atmospheres.
After two hours of work, reentering to snatch some food and rest,
I found a noticeable difference between the clean elastic fluid
supplied me by the Rouquayrol device and the Nautilus's atmosphere,
which was already charged with carbon dioxide. The air hadn't
been renewed in forty-eight hours, and its life-giving qualities
were considerably weakened. Meanwhile, after twelve hours had
gone by, we had removed from the outlined surface area a slice
of ice only one meter thick, hence about 600 cubic meters.
Assuming the same work would be accomplished every twelve hours,
it would still take five nights and four days to see the undertaking
through to completion.
"Five nights and four days!" I told my companions. "And we have
oxygen in the air tanks for only two days."
"Without taking into account," Ned answered, "that once we're out
of this damned prison, we'll still be cooped up beneath the Ice Bank,
without any possible contact with the open air!"
An apt remark. For who could predict the minimum time we would need
to free ourselves? Before the Nautilus could return to the surface
of the waves, couldn't we all die of asphyxiation? Were this
ship and everyone on board doomed to perish in this tomb of ice?
It was a dreadful state of affairs. But we faced it head-on,
each one of us determined to do his duty to the end.
During the night, in line with my forecasts, a new one-meter
slice was removed from this immense socket. But in the morning,
wearing my diving suit, I was crossing through the liquid mass
in a temperature of -6 degrees to -7 degrees centigrade, when I noted
that little by little the side walls were closing in on each other.
The liquid strata farthest from the trench, not warmed by the movements
of workmen and tools, were showing a tendency to solidify.
In the face of this imminent new danger, what would happen to our
chances for salvation, and how could we prevent this liquid medium
from solidifying, then cracking the Nautilus's hull like glass?
I didn't tell my two companions about this new danger.
There was no point in dampening the energy they were putting
into our arduous rescue work. But when I returned on board,
I mentioned this serious complication to Captain Nemo.
"I know," he told me in that calm tone the most dreadful outlook
couldn't change. "It's one more danger, but I don't know any way
of warding it off. Our sole chance for salvation is to work faster
than the water solidifies. We've got to get there first, that's all."
Get there first! By then I should have been used to this type of talk!
For several hours that day, I wielded my pick doggedly.
The work kept me going. Besides, working meant leaving the Nautilus,
which meant breathing the clean oxygen drawn from the air tanks
and supplied by our equipment, which meant leaving the thin,
foul air behind.
Near evening one more meter had been dug from the trench.
When I returned on board, I was wellnigh asphyxiated by the carbon
dioxide saturating the air. Oh, if only we had the chemical
methods that would enable us to drive out this noxious gas!
There was no lack of oxygen. All this water contained a considerable
amount, and after it was decomposed by our powerful batteries,
this life-giving elastic fluid could have been restored to us.
I had thought it all out, but to no avail because the carbon dioxide
produced by our breathing permeated every part of the ship.
To absorb it, we would need to fill containers with potassium
hydroxide and shake them continually. But this substance was missing
on board and nothing else could replace it.
That evening Captain Nemo was forced to open the spigots of his air tanks
and shoot a few spouts of fresh oxygen through the Nautilus's interior.
Without this precaution we wouldn't have awakened the following morning.
The next day, March 26, I returned to my miner's trade, working to
remove the fifth meter. The Ice Bank's side walls and underbelly
had visibly thickened. Obviously they would come together before
the Nautilus could break free. For an instant I was gripped by despair.
My pick nearly slipped from my hands. What was the point of this
digging if I was to die smothered and crushed by this water turning
to stone, a torture undreamed of by even the wildest savages!
I felt like I was lying in the jaws of a fearsome monster,
jaws irresistibly closing.
Supervising our work, working himself, Captain Nemo passed near me
just then. I touched him with my hand and pointed to the walls
of our prison. The starboard wall had moved forward to a point
less than four meters from the Nautilus's hull.
The captain understood and gave me a signal to follow him.
We returned on board. My diving suit removed, I went with him
to the lounge.
"Professor Aronnax," he told me, "this calls for heroic measures,
or we'll be sealed up in this solidified water as if it were cement."
"Yes!" I said. "But what can we do?"
"Oh," he exclaimed, "if only my Nautilus were strong enough to stand
that much pressure without being crushed!"
"Well?" I asked, not catching the captain's meaning.
"Don't you understand," he went on, "that the congealing of this
water could come to our rescue? Don't you see that by solidifying,
it could burst these tracts of ice imprisoning us, just as its freezing
can burst the hardest stones? Aren't you aware that this force could
be the instrument of our salvation rather than our destruction?"
"Yes, captain, maybe so. But whatever resistance to crushing
the Nautilus may have, it still couldn't stand such dreadful pressures,
and it would be squashed as flat as a piece of sheet iron."
"I know it, sir. So we can't rely on nature to rescue us,
only our own efforts. We must counteract this solidification.
We must hold it in check. Not only are the side walls closing in,
but there aren't ten feet of water ahead or astern of the Nautilus.
All around us, this freeze is gaining fast."
"How long," I asked, "will the oxygen in the air tanks enable us
to breathe on board?"
The captain looked me straight in the eye.
"After tomorrow," he said, "the air tanks will be empty!"
I broke out in a cold sweat. But why should I have been
startled by this reply? On March 22 the Nautilus had dived
under the open waters at the pole. It was now the 26th.
We had lived off the ship's stores for five days!
And all remaining breathable air had to be saved for the workmen.
Even today as I write these lines, my sensations are so intense
that an involuntary terror sweeps over me, and my lungs still seem
short of air!
Meanwhile, motionless and silent, Captain Nemo stood lost in thought.
An idea visibly crossed his mind. But he seemed to brush it aside.
He told himself no. At last these words escaped his lips:
"Boiling water!" he muttered.
"Boiling water?" I exclaimed.
"Yes, sir. We're shut up in a relatively confined area.
If the Nautilus's pumps continually injected streams of boiling
water into this space, wouldn't that raise its temperature and
delay its freezing?"
"It's worth trying!" I said resolutely.
"So let's try it, professor."
By then the thermometer gave -7 degrees centigrade outside.
Captain Nemo led me to the galley where a huge distilling
mechanism was at work, supplying drinking water via evaporation.
The mechanism was loaded with water, and the full electric
heat of our batteries was thrown into coils awash in liquid.
In a few minutes the water reached 100 degrees centigrade.
It was sent to the pumps while new water replaced it in the process.
The heat generated by our batteries was so intense that after simply
going through the mechanism, water drawn cold from the sea arrived
boiling hot at the body of the pump.
The steaming water was injected into the icy water outside,
and after three hours had passed, the thermometer gave the exterior
temperature as -6 degrees centigrade. That was one degree gained.
Two hours later the thermometer gave only -4 degrees.
After I monitored the operation's progress, double-checking it
with many inspections, I told the captain, "It's working."
"I think so," he answered me. "We've escaped being crushed.
Now we have only asphyxiation to fear."
During the night the water temperature rose to -1 degrees centigrade.
The injections couldn't get it to go a single degree higher.
But since salt water freezes only at -2 degrees, I was finally
assured that there was no danger of it solidifying.
By the next day, March 27, six meters of ice had been torn
from the socket. Only four meters were left to be removed.
That still meant forty-eight hours of work. The air couldn't
be renewed in the Nautilus's interior. Accordingly, that day it
kept getting worse.
An unbearable heaviness weighed me down. Near three o'clock in
the afternoon, this agonizing sensation affected me to an intense degree.
Yawns dislocated my jaws. My lungs were gasping in their quest
for that enkindling elastic fluid required for breathing,
now growing scarcer and scarcer. My mind was in a daze.
I lay outstretched, strength gone, nearly unconscious.
My gallant Conseil felt the same symptoms, suffered the same sufferings,
yet never left my side. He held my hand, he kept encouraging me,
and I even heard him mutter:
"Oh, if only I didn't have to breathe, to leave more air for master!"
It brought tears to my eyes to hear him say these words.
Since conditions inside were universally unbearable, how eagerly,
how happily, we put on our diving suits to take our turns working!
Picks rang out on that bed of ice. Arms grew weary, hands were
rubbed raw, but who cared about exhaustion, what difference were wounds?
Life-sustaining air reached our lungs! We could breathe!
We could breathe!
And yet nobody prolonged his underwater work beyond the time
allotted him. His shift over, each man surrendered to a gasping
companion the air tank that would revive him. Captain Nemo set
the example and was foremost in submitting to this strict discipline.
When his time was up, he yielded his equipment to another and reentered
the foul air on board, always calm, unflinching, and uncomplaining.
That day the usual work was accomplished with even greater energy.
Over the whole surface area, only two meters were left to be removed.
Only two meters separated us from the open sea. But the ship's air
tanks were nearly empty. The little air that remained had to be
saved for the workmen. Not an atom for the Nautilus!
When I returned on board, I felt half suffocated. What a night!
I'm unable to depict it. Such sufferings are indescribable.
The next day I was short-winded. Headaches and staggering fits of
dizziness made me reel like a drunk. My companions were experiencing
the same symptoms. Some crewmen were at their last gasp.
That day, the sixth of our imprisonment, Captain Nemo concluded
that picks and mattocks were too slow to deal with the ice layer still
separating us from open water--and he decided to crush this layer.
The man had kept his energy and composure. He had subdued physical
pain with moral strength. He could still think, plan, and act.
At his orders the craft was eased off, in other words, it was
raised from its icy bed by a change in its specific gravity.
When it was afloat, the crew towed it, leading it right above
the immense trench outlined to match the ship's waterline.
Next the ballast tanks filled with water, the boat sank, and was
fitted into its socket.
Just then the whole crew returned on board, and the double outside
door was closed. By this point the Nautilus was resting on a bed
of ice only one meter thick and drilled by bores in a thousand places.
The stopcocks of the ballast tanks were then opened wide, and 100
cubic meters of water rushed in, increasing the Nautilus's weight
by 100,000 kilograms.
We waited, we listened, we forgot our sufferings, we hoped once more.
We had staked our salvation on this one last gamble.
Despite the buzzing in my head, I soon could hear vibrations under the
Nautilus's hull. We tilted. The ice cracked with an odd ripping sound,
like paper tearing, and the Nautilus began settling downward.
"We're going through!" Conseil muttered in my ear.
I couldn't answer him. I clutched his hand. I squeezed it
in an involuntary convulsion.
All at once, carried away by its frightful excess load,
the Nautilus sank into the waters like a cannonball, in other words,
dropping as if in a vacuum!
Our full electric power was then put on the pumps,
which instantly began to expel water from the ballast tanks.
After a few minutes we had checked our fall. The pressure gauge
soon indicated an ascending movement. Brought to full speed,
the propeller made the sheet-iron hull tremble down to its rivets,
and we sped northward.
But how long would it take to navigate under the Ice Bank to
the open sea? Another day? I would be dead first!
Half lying on a couch in the library, I was suffocating.
My face was purple, my lips blue, my faculties in abeyance.
I could no longer see or hear. I had lost all sense of time.
My muscles had no power to contract.
I'm unable to estimate the hours that passed in this way.
But I was aware that my death throes had begun. I realized that I
was about to die . . .
Suddenly I regained consciousness. A few whiffs of air had
entered my lungs. Had we risen to the surface of the waves?
Had we cleared the Ice Bank?
No! Ned and Conseil, my two gallant friends, were sacrificing themselves
to save me. A few atoms of air were still left in the depths
of one Rouquayrol device. Instead of breathing it themselves,
they had saved it for me, and while they were suffocating, they poured
life into me drop by drop! I tried to push the device away.
They held my hands, and for a few moments I could breathe luxuriously.
My eyes flew toward the clock. It was eleven in the morning.
It had to be March 28. The Nautilus was traveling at the frightful
speed of forty miles per hour. It was writhing in the waters.
Where was Captain Nemo? Had he perished? Had his companions
died with him?
Just then the pressure gauge indicated we were no more than twenty
feet from the surface. Separating us from the open air was a mere
tract of ice. Could we break through it?
Perhaps! In any event the Nautilus was going to try. In fact,
I could feel it assuming an oblique position, lowering its stern
and raising its spur. The admission of additional water was enough
to shift its balance. Then, driven by its powerful propeller,
it attacked this ice field from below like a fearsome battering ram.
It split the barrier little by little, backing up, then putting
on full speed against the punctured tract of ice; and finally,
carried away by its supreme momentum, it lunged through and onto
this frozen surface, crushing the ice beneath its weight.
The hatches were opened--or torn off, if you prefer--and waves
of clean air were admitted into every part of the Nautilus.
From Cape Horn to the Amazon
HOW I GOT ONTO the platform I'm unable to say.
Perhaps the Canadian transferred me there. But I could breathe,
I could inhale the life-giving sea air. Next to me my two
companions were getting tipsy on the fresh oxygen particles.
Poor souls who have suffered from long starvation mustn't pounce
heedlessly on the first food given them. We, on the other hand,
didn't have to practice such moderation: we could suck the atoms
from the air by the lungful, and it was the breeze, the breeze itself,
that poured into us this luxurious intoxication!
"Ahhh!" Conseil was putting in. "What fine oxygen! Let master
have no fears about breathing. There's enough for everyone."
As for Ned Land, he didn't say a word, but his wide-open jaws
would have scared off a shark. And what powerful inhalations!
The Canadian "drew" like a furnace going full blast.
Our strength returned promptly, and when I looked around,
I saw that we were alone on the platform. No crewmen.
Not even Captain Nemo. Those strange seamen on the Nautilus
were content with the oxygen circulating inside. Not one of them
had come up to enjoy the open air.
The first words I pronounced were words of appreciation
and gratitude to my two companions. Ned and Conseil had kept
me alive during the final hours of our long death throes.
But no expression of thanks could repay them fully for such devotion.
"Good lord, professor," Ned Land answered me, "don't mention it!
What did we do that's so praiseworthy? Not a thing. It was a
question of simple arithmetic. Your life is worth more than ours.
So we had to save it."
"No, Ned," I replied, "it isn't worth more. Nobody could be better
than a kind and generous man like yourself!"
"All right, all right!" the Canadian repeated in embarrassment.
"And you, my gallant Conseil, you suffered a great deal."
"Not too much, to be candid with master. I was lacking a few
throatfuls of air, but I would have gotten by. Besides, when I saw
master fainting, it left me without the slightest desire to breathe.
It took my breath away, in a manner of . . ."
Confounded by this lapse into banality, Conseil left his sentence hanging.
"My friends," I replied, very moved, "we're bound to each other forever,
and I'm deeply indebted to you--"
"Which I'll take advantage of," the Canadian shot back.
"Eh?" Conseil put in.
"Yes," Ned Land went on. "You can repay your debt by coming with me
when I leave this infernal Nautilus."
"By the way," Conseil said, "are we going in a favorable direction?"
"Yes," I replied, "because we're going in the direction of the sun,
and here the sun is due north."
"Sure," Ned Land went on, "but it remains to be seen whether we'll
make for the Atlantic or the Pacific, in other words, whether we'll
end up in well-traveled or deserted seas."
I had no reply to this, and I feared that Captain Nemo wouldn't
take us homeward but rather into that huge ocean washing the shores
of both Asia and America. In this way he would complete his underwater
tour of the world, going back to those seas where the Nautilus
enjoyed the greatest freedom. But if we returned to the Pacific,
far from every populated shore, what would happen to Ned Land's plans?
We would soon settle this important point. The Nautilus
traveled swiftly. Soon we had cleared the Antarctic Circle
plus the promontory of Cape Horn. We were abreast of the tip
of South America by March 31 at seven o'clock in the evening.
By then all our past sufferings were forgotten. The memory
of that imprisonment under the ice faded from our minds.
We had thoughts only of the future. Captain Nemo no longer appeared,
neither in the lounge nor on the platform. The positions reported
each day on the world map were put there by the chief officer,
and they enabled me to determine the Nautilus's exact heading.
Now then, that evening it became obvious, much to my satisfaction,
that we were returning north by the Atlantic route.
I shared the results of my observations with the Canadian and Conseil.
"That's good news," the Canadian replied, "but where's
the Nautilus going?"
"I'm unable to say, Ned."
"After the South Pole, does our captain want to tackle the North Pole,
then go back to the Pacific by the notorious Northwest Passage?"
"I wouldn't double dare him," Conseil replied.
"Oh well," the Canadian said, "we'll give him the slip long before then."
"In any event," Conseil added, "he's a superman, that Captain Nemo,
and we'll never regret having known him."
"Especially once we've left him," Ned Land shot back.
The next day, April 1, when the Nautilus rose to the surface of
the waves a few minutes before noon, we raised land to the west.
It was Tierra del Fuego, the Land of Fire, a name given it
by early navigators after they saw numerous curls of smoke rising
from the natives' huts. This Land of Fire forms a huge cluster
of islands over thirty leagues long and eighty leagues wide,
extending between latitude 53 degrees and 56 degrees south,
and between longitude 67 degrees 50' and 77 degrees 15' west.
Its coastline looked flat, but high mountains rose in the distance.
I even thought I glimpsed Mt. Sarmiento, whose elevation is 2,070
meters above sea level: a pyramid-shaped block of shale with a
very sharp summit, which, depending on whether it's clear or veiled
in vapor, "predicts fair weather or foul," as Ned Land told me.
"A first-class barometer, my friend."
"Yes, sir, a natural barometer that didn't let me down when I
navigated the narrows of the Strait of Magellan."
Just then its peak appeared before us, standing out distinctly
against the background of the skies. This forecast fair weather.
And so it proved.
Going back under the waters, the Nautilus drew near the coast,
cruising along it for only a few miles. Through the lounge
windows I could see long creepers and gigantic fucus plants,
bulb-bearing seaweed of which the open sea at the pole had revealed
a few specimens; with their smooth, viscous filaments, they measured
as much as 300 meters long; genuine cables more than an inch thick
and very tough, they're often used as mooring lines for ships.
Another weed, known by the name velp and boasting four-foot leaves,
was crammed into the coral concretions and carpeted the ocean floor.
It served as both nest and nourishment for myriads of crustaceans
and mollusks, for crabs and cuttlefish. Here seals and otters could
indulge in a sumptuous meal, mixing meat from fish with vegetables
from the sea, like the English with their Irish stews.
The Nautilus passed over these lush, luxuriant depths with
tremendous speed. Near evening it approached the Falkland Islands,
whose rugged summits I recognized the next day. The sea was of
moderate depth. So not without good reason, I assumed that these
two islands, plus the many islets surrounding them, used to be part
of the Magellan coastline. The Falkland Islands were probably
discovered by the famous navigator John Davis, who gave them the name
Davis Southern Islands. Later Sir Richard Hawkins called them
the Maidenland, after the Blessed Virgin. Subsequently, at the beginning
of the 18th century, they were named the Malouines by fishermen
from Saint-Malo in Brittany, then finally dubbed the Falklands
by the English, to whom they belong today.
In these waterways our nets brought up fine samples of algae,
in particular certain fucus plants whose roots were laden with
the world's best mussels. Geese and duck alighted by the dozens
on the platform and soon took their places in the ship's pantry.
As for fish, I specifically observed some bony fish belonging
to the goby genus, especially some gudgeon two decimeters long,
sprinkled with whitish and yellow spots.
I likewise marveled at the numerous medusas, including the most beautiful
of their breed, the compass jellyfish, unique to the Falkland seas.
Some of these jellyfish were shaped like very smooth,
semispheric parasols with russet stripes and fringes of twelve
neat festoons. Others looked like upside-down baskets from
which wide leaves and long red twigs were gracefully trailing.
They swam with quiverings of their four leaflike arms,
letting the opulent tresses of their tentacles dangle in the drift.
I wanted to preserve a few specimens of these delicate zoophytes,
but they were merely clouds, shadows, illusions, melting and evaporating
outside their native element.
When the last tips of the Falkland Islands had disappeared below
the horizon, the Nautilus submerged to a depth between twenty
and twenty-five meters and went along the South American coast.
Captain Nemo didn't put in an appearance.
We didn't leave these Patagonian waterways until April 3,
sometimes cruising under the ocean, sometimes on its surface.
The Nautilus passed the wide estuary formed by the mouth of the Rio
de la Plata, and on April 4 we lay abreast of Uruguay, albeit fifty
miles out. Keeping to its northerly heading, it followed the long
windings of South America. By then we had fared 16,000 leagues
since coming on board in the seas of Japan.
Near eleven o'clock in the morning, we cut the Tropic of Capricorn
on the 37th meridian, passing well out from Cape Frio. Much to
Ned Land's displeasure, Captain Nemo had no liking for the neighborhood
of Brazil's populous shores, because he shot by with dizzying speed.
Not even the swiftest fish or birds could keep up with us, and the
natural curiosities in these seas completely eluded our observation.
This speed was maintained for several days, and on the evening
of April 9, we raised South America's easternmost tip,
Cape S�o Roque. But then the Nautilus veered away again and went
looking for the lowest depths of an underwater valley gouged between
this cape and Sierra Leone on the coast of Africa. Abreast of
the West Indies, this valley forks into two arms, and to
the north it ends in an enormous depression 9,000 meters deep.
From this locality to the Lesser Antilles, the ocean's geologic
profile features a steeply cut cliff six kilometers high, and abreast
of the Cape Verde Islands, there's another wall just as imposing;
together these two barricades confine the whole submerged continent
of Atlantis. The floor of this immense valley is made picturesque
by mountains that furnish these underwater depths with scenic views.
This description is based mostly on certain hand-drawn charts kept
in the Nautilus's library, charts obviously rendered by Captain Nemo
himself from his own personal observations.
For two days we visited these deep and deserted waters by means
of our slanting fins. The Nautilus would do long, diagonal dives
that took us to every level. But on April 11 it rose suddenly,
and the shore reappeared at the mouth of the Amazon River,
a huge estuary whose outflow is so considerable, it desalts the sea
over an area of several leagues.
We cut the Equator. Twenty miles to the west lay Guiana, French
territory where we could easily have taken refuge.
But the wind was blowing a strong gust, and the furious
billows would not allow us to face them in a mere skiff.
No doubt Ned Land understood this because he said nothing to me.
For my part, I made no allusion to his escape plans because I didn't
want to push him into an attempt that was certain to misfire.
I was readily compensated for this delay by fascinating research.
During those two days of April 11-12, the Nautilus didn't leave
the surface of the sea, and its trawl brought up a simply miraculous
catch of zoophytes, fish, and reptiles.
Some zoophytes were dredged up by the chain of our trawl. Most were
lovely sea anemone belonging to the family Actinidia, including among
other species, the Phyctalis protexta, native to this part of the ocean:
a small cylindrical trunk adorned with vertical lines, mottled with
red spots, and crowned by a wondrous blossoming of tentacles.
As for mollusks, they consisted of exhibits I had already observed:
turret snails, olive shells of the "tent olive" species with neatly
intersecting lines and russet spots standing out sharply against
a flesh-colored background, fanciful spider conchs that looked
like petrified scorpions, transparent glass snails, argonauts,
some highly edible cuttlefish, and certain species of squid
that the naturalists of antiquity classified with the flying fish,
which are used chiefly as bait for catching cod.
As for the fish in these waterways, I noted various species that I
hadn't yet had the opportunity to study. Among cartilaginous fish:
some brook lamprey, a type of eel fifteen inches long, head greenish,
fins violet, back bluish gray, belly a silvery brown strewn with
bright spots, iris of the eye encircled in gold, unusual animals
that the Amazon's current must have swept out to sea because their
natural habitat is fresh water; sting rays, the snout pointed,
the tail long, slender, and armed with an extensive jagged sting;
small one-meter sharks with gray and whitish hides, their teeth
arranged in several backward-curving rows, fish commonly known
by the name carpet shark; batfish, a sort of reddish isosceles
triangle half a meter long, whose pectoral fins are attached
by fleshy extensions that make these fish look like bats,
although an appendage made of horn, located near the nostrils,
earns them the nickname of sea unicorns; lastly, a couple species
of triggerfish, the cucuyo whose stippled flanks glitter with a
sparkling gold color, and the bright purple leatherjacket whose
hues glisten like a pigeon's throat.
I'll finish up this catalog, a little dry but quite accurate,
with the series of bony fish I observed: eels belonging to the genus
Apteronotus whose snow-white snout is very blunt, the body painted
a handsome black and armed with a very long, slender, fleshy whip;
long sardines from the genus Odontognathus, like three-decimeter pike,
shining with a bright silver glow; Guaranian mackerel furnished with two
anal fins; black-tinted rudderfish that you catch by using torches,
fish measuring two meters and boasting white, firm, plump meat that,
when fresh, tastes like eel, when dried, like smoked salmon;
semired wrasse sporting scales only at the bases of their dorsal
and anal fins; grunts on which gold and silver mingle their luster
with that of ruby and topaz; yellow-tailed gilthead whose flesh
is extremely dainty and whose phosphorescent properties give
them away in the midst of the waters; porgies tinted orange,
with slender tongues; croakers with gold caudal fins; black surgeonfish;
four-eyed fish from Surinam, etc.
This "et cetera" won't keep me from mentioning one more fish
that Conseil, with good reason, will long remember.
One of our nets had hauled up a type of very flat ray that weighed
some twenty kilograms; with its tail cut off, it would have formed
a perfect disk. It was white underneath and reddish on top, with big
round spots of deep blue encircled in black, its hide quite smooth
and ending in a double-lobed fin. Laid out on the platform, it kept
struggling with convulsive movements, trying to turn over, making such
efforts that its final lunge was about to flip it into the sea.
But Conseil, being very possessive of his fish, rushed at it,
and before I could stop him, he seized it with both hands.
Instantly there he was, thrown on his back, legs in the air,
his body half paralyzed, and yelling:
"Oh, sir, sir! Will you help me!"
For once in his life, the poor lad didn't address me "in
the third person."
The Canadian and I sat him up; we massaged his contracted arms,
and when he regained his five senses, that eternal classifier
mumbled in a broken voice:
"Class of cartilaginous fish, order Chondropterygia with fixed gills,
suborder Selacia, family Rajiiforma, genus electric ray."
"Yes, my friend," I answered, "it was an electric ray that put you
in this deplorable state."
"Oh, master can trust me on this," Conseil shot back.
"I'll be revenged on that animal!"
"I'll eat it."
Which he did that same evening, but strictly as retaliation.
Because, frankly, it tasted like leather.
Poor Conseil had assaulted an electric ray of the most dangerous species,
the cumana. Living in a conducting medium such as water, this bizarre
animal can electrocute other fish from several meters away,
so great is the power of its electric organ, an organ whose two chief
surfaces measure at least twenty-seven square feet.
During the course of the next day, April 12, the Nautilus drew near the
coast of Dutch Guiana, by the mouth of the Maroni River. There several
groups of sea cows were living in family units. These were manatees,
which belong to the order Sirenia, like the dugong and Steller's sea cow.
Harmless and unaggressive, these fine animals were six to seven
meters long and must have weighed at least 4,000 kilograms each.
I told Ned Land and Conseil that farseeing nature had given these
mammals a major role to play. In essence, manatees, like seals,
are designed to graze the underwater prairies, destroying the clusters
of weeds that obstruct the mouths of tropical rivers.
"And do you know," I added, "what happened since man has
almost completely wiped out these beneficial races?
Rotting weeds have poisoned the air, and this poisoned air causes
the yellow fever that devastates these wonderful countries.
This toxic vegetation has increased beneath the seas of the Torrid Zone,
so the disease spreads unchecked from the mouth of the Rio de la
Plata to Florida!"
And if Professor Toussenel is correct, this plague is nothing
compared to the scourge that will strike our descendants
once the seas are depopulated of whales and seals. By then,
crowded with jellyfish, squid, and other devilfish, the oceans
will have become huge centers of infection, because their waves
will no longer possess "these huge stomachs that God has entrusted
with scouring the surface of the sea."
Meanwhile, without scorning these theories, the Nautilus's crew captured
half a dozen manatees. In essence, it was an issue of stocking
the larder with excellent red meat, even better than beef or veal.
Their hunting was not a fascinating sport. The manatees let
themselves be struck down without offering any resistance.
Several thousand kilos of meat were hauled below, to be dried and stored.
The same day an odd fishing practice further increased
the Nautilus's stores, so full of game were these seas.
Our trawl brought up in its meshes a number of fish whose heads were
topped by little oval slabs with fleshy edges. These were suckerfish
from the third family of the subbrachian Malacopterygia. These flat
disks on their heads consist of crosswise plates of movable cartilage,
between which the animals can create a vacuum, enabling them to stick
to objects like suction cups.
The remoras I had observed in the Mediterranean were related to
this species. But the creature at issue here was an Echeneis osteochara,
unique to this sea. Right after catching them, our seamen dropped
them in buckets of water.
Its fishing finished, the Nautilus drew nearer to the coast.
In this locality a number of sea turtles were sleeping on the surface
of the waves. It would have been difficult to capture these
valuable reptiles, because they wake up at the slightest sound,
and their solid carapaces are harpoon-proof. But our suckerfish would
effect their capture with extraordinary certainty and precision.
In truth, this animal is a living fishhook, promising wealth
and happiness to the greenest fisherman in the business.
The Nautilus's men attached to each fish's tail a ring that was big
enough not to hamper its movements, and to this ring a long rope
whose other end was moored on board.
Thrown into the sea, the suckerfish immediately began to play their roles,
going and fastening themselves onto the breastplates of the turtles.
Their tenacity was so great, they would rip apart rather than let go.
They were hauled in, still sticking to the turtles that came
aboard with them.
In this way we caught several loggerheads, reptiles a meter
wide and weighing 200 kilos. They're extremely valuable
because of their carapaces, which are covered with big slabs
of horn, thin, brown, transparent, with white and yellow markings.
Besides, they were excellent from an edible viewpoint, with an
exquisite flavor comparable to the green turtle.
This fishing ended our stay in the waterways of the Amazon,
and that evening the Nautilus took to the high seas once more.
FOR SOME DAYS the Nautilus kept veering away from the American coast.
It obviously didn't want to frequent the waves of the Gulf of Mexico
or the Caribbean Sea. Yet there was no shortage of water under
its keel, since the average depth of these seas is 1,800 meters;
but these waterways, strewn with islands and plowed by steamers,
probably didn't agree with Captain Nemo.
On April 16 we raised Martinique and Guadalupe from a distance of
about thirty miles. For one instant I could see their lofty peaks.
The Canadian was quite disheartened, having counted on putting
his plans into execution in the gulf, either by reaching shore
or by pulling alongside one of the many boats plying a coastal trade
from one island to another. An escape attempt would have been
quite feasible, assuming Ned Land managed to seize the skiff without
the captain's knowledge. But in midocean it was unthinkable.
The Canadian, Conseil, and I had a pretty long conversation on
this subject. For six months we had been prisoners aboard the Nautilus.
We had fared 17,000 leagues, and as Ned Land put it, there was no
end in sight. So he made me a proposition I hadn't anticipated.
We were to ask Captain Nemo this question straight out:
did the captain mean to keep us on board his vessel permanently?
This measure was distasteful to me. To my mind it would lead nowhere.
We could hope for nothing from the Nautilus's commander
but could depend only on ourselves. Besides, for some time
now the man had been gloomier, more withdrawn, less sociable.
He seemed to be avoiding me. I encountered him only at rare intervals.
He used to take pleasure in explaining the underwater wonders to me;
now he left me to my research and no longer entered the lounge.
What changes had come over him? From what cause? I had no reason
to blame myself. Was our presence on board perhaps a burden to him?
Even so, I cherished no hopes that the man would set us free.
So I begged Ned to let me think about it before taking action. If this
measure proved fruitless, it could arouse the captain's suspicions, make
our circumstances even more arduous, and jeopardize the Canadian's plans.
I might add that I could hardly use our state of health as an argument.
Except for that grueling ordeal under the Ice Bank at the South Pole,
we had never felt better, neither Ned, Conseil, nor I. The
nutritious food, life-giving air, regular routine, and uniform
temperature kept illness at bay; and for a man who didn't miss his
past existence on land, for a Captain Nemo who was at home here,
who went where he wished, who took paths mysterious to others if not
himself in attaining his ends, I could understand such a life.
But we ourselves hadn't severed all ties with humanity. For my part,
I didn't want my new and unusual research to be buried with my bones.
I had now earned the right to pen the definitive book on the sea,
and sooner or later I wanted that book to see the light of day.
There once more, through the panels opening into these Caribbean
waters ten meters below the surface of the waves, I found
so many fascinating exhibits to describe in my daily notes!
Among other zoophytes there were Portuguese men-of-war known by the name
Physalia pelagica, like big, oblong bladders with a pearly sheen,
spreading their membranes to the wind, letting their blue tentacles
drift like silken threads; to the eye delightful jellyfish,
to the touch actual nettles that ooze a corrosive liquid.
Among the articulates there were annelid worms one and a half
meters long, furnished with a pink proboscis, equipped with 1,700
organs of locomotion, snaking through the waters, and as they went,
throwing off every gleam in the solar spectrum. From the fish
branch there were manta rays, enormous cartilaginous fish ten
feet long and weighing 600 pounds, their pectoral fin triangular,
their midback slightly arched, their eyes attached to the edges
of the face at the front of the head; they floated like wreckage from
a ship, sometimes fastening onto our windows like opaque shutters.
There were American triggerfish for which nature has ground only black
and white pigments, feather-shaped gobies that were long and plump
with yellow fins and jutting jaws, sixteen-decimeter mackerel
with short, sharp teeth, covered with small scales, and related
to the albacore species. Next came swarms of red mullet corseted
in gold stripes from head to tail, their shining fins all aquiver,
genuine masterpieces of jewelry, formerly sacred to the goddess Diana,
much in demand by rich Romans, and about which the old saying goes:
"He who catches them doesn't eat them!" Finally, adorned with
emerald ribbons and dressed in velvet and silk, golden angelfish
passed before our eyes like courtiers in the paintings of Veronese;
spurred gilthead stole by with their swift thoracic fins; thread herring
fifteen inches long were wrapped in their phosphorescent glimmers;
gray mullet thrashed the sea with their big fleshy tails;
red salmon seemed to mow the waves with their slicing pectorals;
and silver moonfish, worthy of their name, rose on the horizon
of the waters like the whitish reflections of many moons.
How many other marvelous new specimens I still could have observed if,
little by little, the Nautilus hadn't settled to the lower strata!
Its slanting fins drew it to depths of 2,000 and 3,500 meters.
There animal life was represented by nothing more than sea lilies,
starfish, delightful crinoids with bell-shaped heads like little
chalices on straight stems, top-shell snails, blood-red tooth shells,
and fissurella snails, a large species of coastal mollusk.
By April 20 we had risen to an average level of 1,500 meters.
The nearest land was the island group of the Bahamas, scattered
like a batch of cobblestones over the surface of the water.
There high underwater cliffs reared up, straight walls made of craggy
chunks arranged like big stone foundations, among which there
gaped black caves so deep our electric rays couldn't light them
to the far ends.
These rocks were hung with huge weeds, immense sea tangle, gigantic fucus--
a genuine trellis of water plants fit for a world of giants.
In discussing these colossal plants, Conseil, Ned, and I were naturally
led into mentioning the sea's gigantic animals. The former were
obviously meant to feed the latter. However, through the windows
of our almost motionless Nautilus, I could see nothing among these long
filaments other than the chief articulates of the division Brachyura:
long-legged spider crabs, violet crabs, and sponge crabs unique
to the waters of the Caribbean.
It was about eleven o'clock when Ned Land drew my attention to a
fearsome commotion out in this huge seaweed.
"Well," I said, "these are real devilfish caverns, and I wouldn't
be surprised to see some of those monsters hereabouts."
"What!" Conseil put in. "Squid, ordinary squid from
the class Cephalopoda?"
"No," I said, "devilfish of large dimensions. But friend Land
is no doubt mistaken, because I don't see a thing."
"That's regrettable," Conseil answered. "I'd like to come face
to face with one of those devilfish I've heard so much about,
which can drag ships down into the depths. Those beasts go
by the name of krake--"
"Fake is more like it," the Canadian replied sarcastically.
"Krakens!" Conseil shot back, finishing his word without wincing
at his companion's witticism.
"Nobody will ever make me believe," Ned Land said, "that
such animals exist."
"Why not?" Conseil replied. "We sincerely believed
in master's narwhale."
"We were wrong, Conseil."
"No doubt, but there are others with no doubts who believe
to this day!"
"Probably, Conseil. But as for me, I'm bound and determined not
to accept the existence of any such monster till I've dissected it
with my own two hands."
"Yet," Conseil asked me, "doesn't master believe in gigantic devilfish?"
"Yikes! Who in Hades ever believed in them?" the Canadian exclaimed.
"Many people, Ned my friend," I said.
"No fishermen. Scientists maybe!"
"Pardon me, Ned. Fishermen and scientists!"
"Why, I to whom you speak," Conseil said with the world's
straightest face, "I recall perfectly seeing a large boat dragged
under the waves by the arms of a cephalopod."
"You saw that?" the Canadian asked.
"With your own two eyes?"
"With my own two eyes."
"Where, may I ask?"
"In Saint-Malo," Conseil returned unflappably.
"In the harbor?" Ned Land said sarcastically.
"No, in a church," Conseil replied.
"In a church!" the Canadian exclaimed.
"Yes, Ned my friend. It had a picture that portrayed the
devilfish in question."
"Oh good!" Ned Land exclaimed with a burst of laughter.
"Mr. Conseil put one over on me!"
"Actually he's right," I said. "I've heard about that picture.
But the subject it portrays is taken from a legend, and you know
how to rate legends in matters of natural history! Besides, when it's
an issue of monsters, the human imagination always tends to run wild.
People not only claimed these devilfish could drag ships under,
but a certain Olaus Magnus tells of a cephalopod a mile long that looked
more like an island than an animal. There's also the story of how
the Bishop of Trondheim set up an altar one day on an immense rock.
After he finished saying mass, this rock started moving and went
back into the sea. The rock was a devilfish."
"And that's everything we know?" the Canadian asked.
"No," I replied, "another bishop, Pontoppidan of Bergen,
also tells of a devilfish so large a whole cavalry regiment could
maneuver on it."
"They sure did go on, those oldtime bishops!" Ned Land said.
"Finally, the naturalists of antiquity mention some monsters
with mouths as big as a gulf, which were too huge to get through
the Strait of Gibraltar."
"Good work, men!" the Canadian put in.
"But in all these stories, is there any truth?" Conseil asked.
"None at all, my friends, at least in those that go beyond the bounds
of credibility and fly off into fable or legend. Yet for the imaginings
of these storytellers there had to be, if not a cause, at least
an excuse. It can't be denied that some species of squid and other
devilfish are quite large, though still smaller than cetaceans.
Aristotle put the dimensions of one squid at five cubits, or 3.1 meters.
Our fishermen frequently see specimens over 1.8 meters long.
The museums in Trieste and Montpellier have preserved some devilfish
carcasses measuring two meters. Besides, according to the calculations
of naturalists, one of these animals only six feet long would
have tentacles as long as twenty-seven. Which is enough to make
a fearsome monster."
"Does anybody fish for 'em nowadays?" the Canadian asked.
"If they don't fish for them, sailors at least sight them.
A friend of mine, Captain Paul Bos of Le Havre, has often sworn
to me that he encountered one of these monsters of colossal size
in the seas of the East Indies. But the most astonishing event,
which proves that these gigantic animals undeniably exist,
took place a few years ago in 1861."
"What event was that?" Ned Land asked.
"Just this. In 1861, to the northeast of Tenerife and fairly
near the latitude where we are right now, the crew of the gunboat
Alecto spotted a monstrous squid swimming in their waters.
Commander Bouguer approached the animal and attacked it with blows
from harpoons and blasts from rifles, but without much success
because bullets and harpoons crossed its soft flesh as if it
were semiliquid jelly. After several fruitless attempts,
the crew managed to slip a noose around the mollusk's body.
This noose slid as far as the caudal fins and came to a halt.
Then they tried to haul the monster on board, but its weight
was so considerable that when they tugged on the rope, the animal
parted company with its tail; and deprived of this adornment,
it disappeared beneath the waters."
"Finally, an actual event," Ned Land said.
"An indisputable event, my gallant Ned. Accordingly, people have
proposed naming this devilfish Bouguer's Squid."
"And how long was it?" the Canadian asked.
"Didn't it measure about six meters?" said Conseil, who was stationed
at the window and examining anew the crevices in the cliff.
"Precisely," I replied.
"Wasn't its head," Conseil went on, "crowned by eight tentacles
that quivered in the water like a nest of snakes?"
"Weren't its eyes prominently placed and considerably enlarged?"
"And wasn't its mouth a real parrot's beak but of fearsome size?"
"Well, with all due respect to master," Conseil replied serenely,
"if this isn't Bouguer's Squid, it's at least one of his close relatives!"
I stared at Conseil. Ned Land rushed to the window.
"What an awful animal!" he exclaimed.
I stared in my turn and couldn't keep back a movement of revulsion.
Before my eyes there quivered a horrible monster worthy of a place
among the most farfetched teratological legends.
It was a squid of colossal dimensions, fully eight meters long.
It was traveling backward with tremendous speed in the same direction
as the Nautilus. It gazed with enormous, staring eyes that were tinted
sea green. Its eight arms (or more accurately, feet) were rooted
in its head, which has earned these animals the name cephalopod;
its arms stretched a distance twice the length of its body and
were writhing like the serpentine hair of the Furies. You could
plainly see its 250 suckers, arranged over the inner sides
of its tentacles and shaped like semispheric capsules.
Sometimes these suckers fastened onto the lounge window by creating
vacuums against it. The monster's mouth--a beak made of horn
and shaped like that of a parrot--opened and closed vertically.
Its tongue, also of horn substance and armed with several rows
of sharp teeth, would flicker out from between these genuine shears.
What a freak of nature! A bird's beak on a mollusk!
Its body was spindle-shaped and swollen in the middle,
a fleshy mass that must have weighed 20,000 to 25,000 kilograms.
Its unstable color would change with tremendous speed as the animal
grew irritated, passing successively from bluish gray to reddish brown.
What was irritating this mollusk? No doubt the presence
of the Nautilus, even more fearsome than itself, and which it
couldn't grip with its mandibles or the suckers on its arms.
And yet what monsters these devilfish are, what vitality our Creator
has given them, what vigor in their movements, thanks to their owning
a triple heart!
Sheer chance had placed us in the presence of this squid, and I
didn't want to lose this opportunity to meticulously study such
a cephalopod specimen. I overcame the horror that its appearance
inspired in me, picked up a pencil, and began to sketch it.
"Perhaps this is the same as the Alecto's," Conseil said.
"Can't be," the Canadian replied, "because this one's complete
while the other one lost its tail!"
"That doesn't necessarily follow," I said. "The arms and tails
of these animals grow back through regeneration, and in seven years
the tail on Bouguer's Squid has surely had time to sprout again."
"Anyhow," Ned shot back, "if it isn't this fellow, maybe it's
one of those!"
Indeed, other devilfish had appeared at the starboard window.
I counted seven of them. They provided the Nautilus with an escort,
and I could hear their beaks gnashing on the sheet-iron hull.
We couldn't have asked for a more devoted following.
I continued sketching. These monsters kept pace in our waters
with such precision, they seemed to be standing still, and I
could have traced their outlines in miniature on the window.
But we were moving at a moderate speed.
All at once the Nautilus stopped. A jolt made it tremble through
its entire framework.
"Did we strike bottom?" I asked.
"In any event we're already clear," the Canadian replied,
"because we're afloat."
The Nautilus was certainly afloat, but it was no longer in motion.
The blades of its propeller weren't churning the waves. A minute passed.
Followed by his chief officer, Captain Nemo entered the lounge.
I hadn't seen him for a good while. He looked gloomy to me.
Without speaking to us, without even seeing us perhaps, he went
to the panel, stared at the devilfish, and said a few words
to his chief officer.
The latter went out. Soon the panels closed. The ceiling lit up.
I went over to the captain.
"An unusual assortment of devilfish," I told him, as carefree
as a collector in front of an aquarium.
"Correct, Mr. Naturalist," he answered me, "and we're going to fight
them at close quarters."
I gaped at the captain. I thought my hearing had gone bad.
"At close quarters?" I repeated.
"Yes, sir. Our propeller is jammed. I think the horn-covered
mandibles of one of these squid are entangled in the blades.
That's why we aren't moving."
"And what are you going to do?"
"Rise to the surface and slaughter the vermin."
"A difficult undertaking."
"Correct. Our electric bullets are ineffective against such
soft flesh, where they don't meet enough resistance to go off.
But we'll attack the beasts with axes."
"And harpoons, sir," the Canadian said, "if you don't turn
down my help."
"I accept it, Mr. Land."
"We'll go with you," I said. And we followed Captain Nemo,
heading to the central companionway.
There some ten men were standing by for the assault,
armed with boarding axes. Conseil and I picked up two more axes.
Ned Land seized a harpoon.
By then the Nautilus had returned to the surface of the waves.
Stationed on the top steps, one of the seamen undid the bolts
of the hatch. But he had scarcely unscrewed the nuts when the hatch
flew up with tremendous violence, obviously pulled open by the suckers
on a devilfish's arm.
Instantly one of those long arms glided like a snake into the opening,
and twenty others were quivering above. With a sweep of the ax,
Captain Nemo chopped off this fearsome tentacle, which slid writhing
down the steps.
Just as we were crowding each other to reach the platform, two more arms
lashed the air, swooped on the seaman stationed in front of Captain Nemo,
and carried the fellow away with irresistible violence.
Captain Nemo gave a shout and leaped outside. We rushed after him.
What a scene! Seized by the tentacle and glued to its suckers,
the unfortunate man was swinging in the air at the mercy
of this enormous appendage. He gasped, he choked, he yelled:
"Help! Help!" These words, pronounced in French, left me deeply stunned!
So I had a fellow countryman on board, perhaps several!
I'll hear his harrowing plea the rest of my life!
The poor fellow was done for. Who could tear him from such
a powerful grip? Even so, Captain Nemo rushed at the devilfish
and with a sweep of the ax hewed one more of its arms.
His chief officer struggled furiously with other monsters crawling
up the Nautilus's sides. The crew battled with flailing axes.
The Canadian, Conseil, and I sank our weapons into these fleshy masses.
An intense, musky odor filled the air. It was horrible.
For an instant I thought the poor man entwined by the devilfish
might be torn loose from its powerful suction. Seven arms out of
eight had been chopped off. Brandishing its victim like a feather,
one lone tentacle was writhing in the air. But just as Captain Nemo
and his chief officer rushed at it, the animal shot off a spout
of blackish liquid, secreted by a pouch located in its abdomen.
It blinded us. When this cloud had dispersed, the squid was gone,
and so was my poor fellow countryman!
What rage then drove us against these monsters! We lost all self-control.
Ten or twelve devilfish had overrun the Nautilus's platform and sides.
We piled helter-skelter into the thick of these sawed-off snakes,
which darted over the platform amid waves of blood and sepia ink.
It seemed as if these viscous tentacles grew back like the many heads
of Hydra. At every thrust Ned Land's harpoon would plunge into
a squid's sea-green eye and burst it. But my daring companion was
suddenly toppled by the tentacles of a monster he could not avoid.
Oh, my heart nearly exploded with excitement and horror!
The squid's fearsome beak was wide open over Ned Land. The poor
man was about to be cut in half. I ran to his rescue.
But Captain Nemo got there first. His ax disappeared between the two
enormous mandibles, and the Canadian, miraculously saved, stood and
plunged his harpoon all the way into the devilfish's triple heart.
"Tit for tat," Captain Nemo told the Canadian. "I owed it to myself!"
Ned bowed without answering him.
This struggle had lasted a quarter of an hour. Defeated, mutilated,
battered to death, the monsters finally yielded to us and disappeared
beneath the waves.
Red with blood, motionless by the beacon, Captain Nemo stared at
the sea that had swallowed one of his companions, and large tears
streamed from his eyes.
The Gulf Stream
THIS DREADFUL SCENE on April 20 none of us will ever be able to forget.
I wrote it up in a state of intense excitement. Later I reviewed
my narrative. I read it to Conseil and the Canadian. They found it
accurate in detail but deficient in impact. To convey such sights,
it would take the pen of our most famous poet, Victor Hugo,
author of The Toilers of the Sea.
As I said, Captain Nemo wept while staring at the waves.
His grief was immense. This was the second companion he had
lost since we had come aboard. And what a way to die!
Smashed, strangled, crushed by the fearsome arms of a devilfish,
ground between its iron mandibles, this friend would never rest
with his companions in the placid waters of their coral cemetery!
As for me, what had harrowed my heart in the thick of this
struggle was the despairing yell given by this unfortunate man.
Forgetting his regulation language, this poor Frenchman had reverted
to speaking his own mother tongue to fling out one supreme plea!
Among the Nautilus's crew, allied body and soul with Captain Nemo and
likewise fleeing from human contact, I had found a fellow countryman!
Was he the only representative of France in this mysterious alliance,
obviously made up of individuals from different nationalities?
This was just one more of those insoluble problems that kept welling
up in my mind!
Captain Nemo reentered his stateroom, and I saw no more of him
for a good while. But how sad, despairing, and irresolute he must
have felt, to judge from this ship whose soul he was, which reflected
his every mood! The Nautilus no longer kept to a fixed heading.
It drifted back and forth, riding with the waves like a corpse.
Its propeller had been disentangled but was barely put to use.
It was navigating at random. It couldn't tear itself away from
the setting of this last struggle, from this sea that had devoured
one of its own!
Ten days went by in this way. It was only on May 1 that the Nautilus
openly resumed its northbound course, after raising the Bahamas at
the mouth of Old Bahama Channel. We then went with the current of the
sea's greatest river, which has its own banks, fish, and temperature.
I mean the Gulf Stream.
It is indeed a river that runs independently through the middle
of the Atlantic, its waters never mixing with the ocean's waters.
It's a salty river, saltier than the sea surrounding it.
Its average depth is 3,000 feet, its average width sixty miles.
In certain localities its current moves at a speed of four kilometers
per hour. The unchanging volume of its waters is greater than
that of all the world's rivers combined.
As discovered by Commander Maury, the true source of the Gulf Stream,
its starting point, if you prefer, is located in the Bay
of Biscay. There its waters, still weak in temperature and color,
begin to form. It goes down south, skirts equatorial Africa,
warms its waves in the rays of the Torrid Zone, crosses the Atlantic,
reaches Cape S�o Roque on the coast of Brazil, and forks into
two branches, one going to the Caribbean Sea for further saturation
with heat particles. Then, entrusted with restoring the balance
between hot and cold temperatures and with mixing tropical and
northern waters, the Gulf Stream begins to play its stabilizing role.
Attaining a white heat in the Gulf of Mexico, it heads north up
the American coast, advances as far as Newfoundland, swerves away
under the thrust of a cold current from the Davis Strait,
and resumes its ocean course by going along a great circle
of the earth on a rhumb line; it then divides into two arms near
the 43rd parallel; one, helped by the northeast trade winds,
returns to the Bay of Biscay and the Azores; the other washes the shores
of Ireland and Norway with lukewarm water, goes beyond Spitzbergen,
where its temperature falls to 4 degrees centigrade, and fashions
the open sea at the pole.
It was on this oceanic river that the Nautilus was then navigating.
Leaving Old Bahama Channel, which is fourteen leagues wide by 350 meters
deep, the Gulf Stream moves at the rate of eight kilometers per hour.
Its speed steadily decreases as it advances northward, and we must
pray that this steadiness continues, because, as experts agree,
if its speed and direction were to change, the climates of Europe
would undergo disturbances whose consequences are incalculable.
Near noon I was on the platform with Conseil. I shared with him
the relevant details on the Gulf Stream. When my explanation was over,
I invited him to dip his hands into its current.
Conseil did so, and he was quite astonished to experience no sensation
of either hot or cold.
"That comes," I told him, "from the water temperature of the Gulf Stream,
which, as it leaves the Gulf of Mexico, is barely different from
your blood temperature. This Gulf Stream is a huge heat generator
that enables the coasts of Europe to be decked in eternal greenery.
And if Commander Maury is correct, were one to harness the full
warmth of this current, it would supply enough heat to keep molten
a river of iron solder as big as the Amazon or the Missouri."
Just then the Gulf Stream's speed was 2.25 meters per second.
So distinct is its current from the surrounding sea, its confined
waters stand out against the ocean and operate on a different level
from the colder waters. Murky as well, and very rich in saline material,
their pure indigo contrasts with the green waves surrounding them.
Moreover, their line of demarcation is so clear that abreast of
the Carolinas, the Nautilus's spur cut the waves of the Gulf Stream
while its propeller was still churning those belonging to the ocean.
This current swept along with it a whole host of moving creatures.
Argonauts, so common in the Mediterranean, voyaged here in schools
of large numbers. Among cartilaginous fish, the most remarkable were
rays whose ultra slender tails made up nearly a third of the body,
which was shaped like a huge diamond twenty-five feet long;
then little one-meter sharks, the head large, the snout short
and rounded, the teeth sharp and arranged in several rows,
the body seemingly covered with scales.
Among bony fish, I noted grizzled wrasse unique to these seas,
deep-water gilthead whose iris has a fiery gleam, one-meter croakers
whose large mouths bristle with small teeth and which let out
thin cries, black rudderfish like those I've already discussed,
blue dorados accented with gold and silver, rainbow-hued parrotfish
that can rival the loveliest tropical birds in coloring,
banded blennies with triangular heads, bluish flounder without scales,
toadfish covered with a crosswise yellow band in the shape of a Greek t,
swarms of little freckled gobies stippled with brown spots,
lungfish with silver heads and yellow tails, various specimens
of salmon, mullet with slim figures and a softly glowing radiance
that Lac�p�de dedicated to the memory of his wife, and finally
the American cavalla, a handsome fish decorated by every honorary order,
bedizened with their every ribbon, frequenting the shores of this
great nation where ribbons and orders are held in such low esteem.
I might add that during the night, the Gulf Stream's phosphorescent
waters rivaled the electric glow of our beacon, especially in
the stormy weather that frequently threatened us.
On May 8, while abreast of North Carolina, we were across from
Cape Hatteras once more. There the Gulf Stream is seventy-five
miles wide and 210 meters deep. The Nautilus continued to wander
at random. Seemingly, all supervision had been jettisoned.
Under these conditions I admit that we could easily have gotten away.
In fact, the populous shores offered ready refuge everywhere.
The sea was plowed continuously by the many steamers providing
service between the Gulf of Mexico and New York or Boston,
and it was crossed night and day by little schooners engaged
in coastal trade over various points on the American shore.
We could hope to be picked up. So it was a promising opportunity,
despite the thirty miles that separated the Nautilus from
these Union coasts.
But one distressing circumstance totally thwarted the Canadian's plans.
The weather was thoroughly foul. We were approaching waterways
where storms are commonplace, the very homeland of tornadoes
and cyclones specifically engendered by the Gulf Stream's current.
To face a frequently raging sea in a frail skiff was a race
to certain disaster. Ned Land conceded this himself.
So he champed at the bit, in the grip of an intense homesickness
that could be cured only by our escape.
"Sir," he told me that day, "it's got to stop. I want to get to
the bottom of this. Your Nemo's veering away from shore and heading
up north. But believe you me, I had my fill at the South Pole
and I'm not going with him to the North Pole."
"What can we do, Ned, since it isn't feasible to escape right now?"
"I keep coming back to my idea. We've got to talk to the captain.
When we were in your own country's seas, you didn't say a word.
Now that we're in mine, I intend to speak up. Before a few days
are out, I figure the Nautilus will lie abreast of Nova Scotia,
and from there to Newfoundland is the mouth of a large gulf,
and the St. Lawrence empties into that gulf, and the St. Lawrence
is my own river, the river running by Quebec, my hometown--
and when I think about all this, my gorge rises and my hair
stands on end! Honestly, sir, I'd rather jump overboard!
I can't stay here any longer! I'm suffocating!"
The Canadian was obviously at the end of his patience.
His vigorous nature couldn't adapt to this protracted imprisonment.
His facial appearance was changing by the day. His moods grew gloomier
and gloomier. I had a sense of what he was suffering because I also was
gripped by homesickness. Nearly seven months had gone by without our
having any news from shore. Moreover, Captain Nemo's reclusiveness,
his changed disposition, and especially his total silence since the battle
with the devilfish all made me see things in a different light.
I no longer felt the enthusiasm of our first days on board.
You needed to be Flemish like Conseil to accept these circumstances,
living in a habitat designed for cetaceans and other denizens
of the deep. Truly, if that gallant lad had owned gills instead
of lungs, I think he would have made an outstanding fish!
"Well, sir?" Ned Land went on, seeing that I hadn't replied.
"Well, Ned, you want me to ask Captain Nemo what he intends
to do with us?"
"Even though he has already made that clear?"
"Yes. I want it settled once and for all. Speak just for me,
strictly on my behalf, if you want."
"But I rarely encounter him. He positively avoids me."
"All the more reason you should go look him up."
"I'll confer with him, Ned."
"When?" the Canadian asked insistently.
"When I encounter him."
"Professor Aronnax, would you like me to go find him myself?"
"No, let me do it. Tomorrow--"
"Today," Ned Land said.
"So be it. I'll see him today," I answered the Canadian, who,
if he took action himself, would certainly have ruined everything.
I was left to myself. His request granted, I decided to dispose
of it immediately. I like things over and done with.
I reentered my stateroom. From there I could hear movements
inside Captain Nemo's quarters. I couldn't pass up this chance
for an encounter. I knocked on his door. I received no reply.
I knocked again, then tried the knob. The door opened.
I entered. The captain was there. He was bending over his worktable
and hadn't heard me. Determined not to leave without questioning him,
I drew closer. He looked up sharply, with a frowning brow,
and said in a pretty stern tone:
"Oh, it's you! What do you want?"
"To speak with you, captain."
"But I'm busy, sir, I'm at work. I give you the freedom to enjoy
your privacy, can't I have the same for myself?"
This reception was less than encouraging. But I was determined
to give as good as I got.
"Sir," I said coolly, "I need to speak with you on a matter that
simply can't wait."
"Whatever could that be, sir?" he replied sarcastically.
"Have you made some discovery that has escaped me? Has the sea
yielded up some novel secret to you?"
We were miles apart. But before I could reply, he showed me
a manuscript open on the table and told me in a more serious tone:
"Here, Professor Aronnax, is a manuscript written in several languages.
It contains a summary of my research under the sea, and God willing, it
won't perish with me. Signed with my name, complete with my life story,
this manuscript will be enclosed in a small, unsinkable contrivance.
The last surviving man on the Nautilus will throw this contrivance
into the sea, and it will go wherever the waves carry it."
The man's name! His life story written by himself!
So the secret of his existence might someday be unveiled?
But just then I saw this announcement only as a lead-in to my topic.
"Captain," I replied, "I'm all praise for this idea you're putting
into effect. The fruits of your research must not be lost.
But the methods you're using strike me as primitive. Who knows where
the winds will take that contrivance, into whose hands it may fall?
Can't you find something better? Can't you or one of your men--"
"Never, sir," the captain said, swiftly interrupting me.
"But my companions and I would be willing to safeguard this manuscript,
and if you give us back our freedom--"
"Your freedom!" Captain Nemo put in, standing up.
"Yes, sir, and that's the subject on which I wanted to confer with you.
For seven months we've been aboard your vessel, and I ask you today,
in the name of my companions as well as myself, if you intend
to keep us here forever."
"Professor Aronnax," Captain Nemo said, "I'll answer you today
just as I did seven months ago: whoever boards the Nautilus must
never leave it."
"What you're inflicting on us is outright slavery!"
"Call it anything you like."
"But every slave has the right to recover his freedom!
By any worthwhile, available means!"
"Who has denied you that right?" Captain Nemo replied.
"Did I ever try to bind you with your word of honor?"
The captain stared at me, crossing his arms.
"Sir," I told him, "to take up this subject a second time would
be distasteful to both of us. So let's finish what we've started.
I repeat: it isn't just for myself that I raise this issue.
To me, research is a relief, a potent diversion, an enticement,
a passion that can make me forget everything else. Like you, I'm a man
neglected and unknown, living in the faint hope that someday I can pass
on to future generations the fruits of my labors--figuratively speaking,
by means of some contrivance left to the luck of winds and waves.
In short, I can admire you and comfortably go with you while playing
a role I only partly understand; but I still catch glimpses
of other aspects of your life that are surrounded by involvements
and secrets that, alone on board, my companions and I can't share.
And even when our hearts could beat with yours, moved by some of your
griefs or stirred by your deeds of courage and genius, we've had to stifle
even the slightest token of that sympathy that arises at the sight
of something fine and good, whether it comes from friend or enemy.
All right then! It's this feeling of being alien to your deepest
concerns that makes our situation unacceptable, impossible,
even impossible for me but especially for Ned Land. Every man,
by virtue of his very humanity, deserves fair treatment.
Have you considered how a love of freedom and hatred of slavery could
lead to plans of vengeance in a temperament like the Canadian's,
what he might think, attempt, endeavor . . . ?"
I fell silent. Captain Nemo stood up.
"Ned Land can think, attempt, or endeavor anything he wants,
what difference is it to me? I didn't go looking for him!
I don't keep him on board for my pleasure! As for you, Professor Aronnax,
you're a man able to understand anything, even silence.
I have nothing more to say to you. Let this first time you've come
to discuss this subject also be the last, because a second time I
won't even listen."
I withdrew. From that day forward our position was very strained.
I reported this conversation to my two companions.
"Now we know," Ned said, "that we can't expect a thing from this man.
The Nautilus is nearing Long Island. We'll escape, no matter
what the weather."
But the skies became more and more threatening. There were
conspicuous signs of a hurricane on the way. The atmosphere was
turning white and milky. Slender sheaves of cirrus clouds were
followed on the horizon by layers of nimbocumulus. Other low clouds
fled swiftly. The sea grew towering, inflated by long swells.
Every bird had disappeared except a few petrels, friends of the storms.
The barometer fell significantly, indicating a tremendous tension
in the surrounding haze. The mixture in our stormglass decomposed
under the influence of the electricity charging the air.
A struggle of the elements was approaching.
The storm burst during the daytime of May 13, just as the Nautilus
was cruising abreast of Long Island, a few miles from the narrows
to Upper New York Bay. I'm able to describe this struggle of
the elements because Captain Nemo didn't flee into the ocean depths;
instead, from some inexplicable whim, he decided to brave it out
on the surface.
The wind was blowing from the southwest, initially a stiff breeze,
in other words, with a speed of fifteen meters per second,
which built to twenty-five meters near three o'clock in the afternoon.
This is the figure for major storms.
Unshaken by these squalls, Captain Nemo stationed himself
on the platform. He was lashed around the waist to withstand
the monstrous breakers foaming over the deck. I hoisted and attached
myself to the same place, dividing my wonderment between the storm
and this incomparable man who faced it head-on.
The raging sea was swept with huge tattered clouds drenched
by the waves. I saw no more of the small intervening billows
that form in the troughs of the big crests. Just long,
soot-colored undulations with crests so compact they didn't foam.
They kept growing taller. They were spurring each other on.
The Nautilus, sometimes lying on its side, sometimes standing on end
like a mast, rolled and pitched frightfully.
Near five o'clock a torrential rain fell, but it lulled neither