Part 10 out of 10
wind nor sea. The hurricane was unleashed at a speed of forty-five
meters per second, hence almost forty leagues per hour.
Under these conditions houses topple, roof tiles puncture doors,
iron railings snap in two, and twenty-four-pounder cannons relocate.
And yet in the midst of this turmoil, the Nautilus lived up to that saying
of an expert engineer: "A well-constructed hull can defy any sea!"
This submersible was no resisting rock that waves could demolish;
it was a steel spindle, obediently in motion, without rigging
or masting, and able to brave their fury with impunity.
Meanwhile I was carefully examining these unleashed breakers.
They measured up to fifteen meters in height over a length
of 150 to 175 meters, and the speed of their propagation
(half that of the wind) was fifteen meters per second.
Their volume and power increased with the depth of the waters.
I then understood the role played by these waves, which trap air
in their flanks and release it in the depths of the sea where its
oxygen brings life. Their utmost pressure--it has been calculated--
can build to 3,000 kilograms on every square foot of surface they strike.
It was such waves in the Hebrides that repositioned a stone block
weighing 84,000 pounds. It was their relatives in the tidal wave
on December 23, 1854, that toppled part of the Japanese city of Tokyo,
then went that same day at 700 kilometers per hour to break on
the beaches of America.
After nightfall the storm grew in intensity. As in the 1860 cyclone
on R�union Island, the barometer fell to 710 millimeters. At the close
of day, I saw a big ship passing on the horizon, struggling painfully.
It lay to at half steam in an effort to hold steady on the waves.
It must have been a steamer on one of those lines out of New York
to Liverpool or Le Havre. It soon vanished into the shadows.
At ten o'clock in the evening, the skies caught on fire.
The air was streaked with violent flashes of lightning.
I couldn't stand this brightness, but Captain Nemo stared
straight at it, as if to inhale the spirit of the storm.
A dreadful noise filled the air, a complicated noise made up of the roar
of crashing breakers, the howl of the wind, claps of thunder.
The wind shifted to every point of the horizon, and the cyclone
left the east to return there after passing through north, west,
and south, moving in the opposite direction of revolving storms
in the southern hemisphere.
Oh, that Gulf Stream! It truly lives up to its nickname,
the Lord of Storms! All by itself it creates these fearsome
cyclones through the difference in temperature between its currents
and the superimposed layers of air.
The rain was followed by a downpour of fire. Droplets of water
changed into exploding tufts. You would have thought Captain Nemo was
courting a death worthy of himself, seeking to be struck by lightning.
In one hideous pitching movement, the Nautilus reared its steel
spur into the air like a lightning rod, and I saw long sparks
shoot down it.
Shattered, at the end of my strength, I slid flat on my belly
to the hatch. I opened it and went below to the lounge.
By then the storm had reached its maximum intensity.
It was impossible to stand upright inside the Nautilus.
Captain Nemo reentered near midnight. I could hear the ballast
tanks filling little by little, and the Nautilus sank gently beneath
the surface of the waves.
Through the lounge's open windows, I saw large, frightened fish
passing like phantoms in the fiery waters. Some were struck
by lightning right before my eyes!
The Nautilus kept descending. I thought it would find calm again at
fifteen meters down. No. The upper strata were too violently agitated.
It needed to sink to fifty meters, searching for a resting place
in the bowels of the sea.
But once there, what tranquility we found, what silence, what peace
all around us! Who would have known that a dreadful hurricane
was then unleashed on the surface of this ocean?
In Latitude 47 degrees 24' and Longitude 17 degrees 28'
IN THE AFTERMATH of this storm, we were thrown back to the east.
Away went any hope of
escaping to the landing places of New York or the St. Lawrence.
In despair, poor Ned went into seclusion like Captain Nemo. Conseil and
I no longer left each other.
As I said, the Nautilus veered to the east. To be more accurate,
I should have said to the northeast. Sometimes on the surface
of the waves, sometimes beneath them, the ship wandered for days
amid these mists so feared by navigators. These are caused
chiefly by melting ice, which keeps the air extremely damp.
How many ships have perished in these waterways as they
tried to get directions from the hazy lights on the coast!
How many casualties have been caused by these opaque mists!
How many collisions have occurred with these reefs,
where the breaking surf is covered by the noise of the wind!
How many vessels have rammed each other, despite their running lights,
despite the warnings given by their bosun's pipes and alarm bells!
So the floor of this sea had the appearance of a battlefield where every
ship defeated by the ocean still lay, some already old and encrusted,
others newer and reflecting our beacon light on their ironwork
and copper undersides. Among these vessels, how many went down with
all hands, with their crews and hosts of immigrants, at these trouble
spots so prominent in the statistics: Cape Race, St. Paul Island,
the Strait of Belle Isle, the St. Lawrence estuary!
And in only a few years, how many victims have been furnished to
the obituary notices by the Royal Mail, Inman, and Montreal lines;
by vessels named the Solway, the Isis, the Paramatta, the Hungarian,
the Canadian, the Anglo-Saxon, the Humboldt, and the United States,
all run aground; by the Arctic and the Lyonnais, sunk in collisions;
by the President, the Pacific, and the City of Glasgow,
lost for reasons unknown; in the midst of their gloomy rubble,
the Nautilus navigated as if passing the dead in review!
By May 15 we were off the southern tip of the Grand Banks
of Newfoundland. These banks are the result of marine sedimentation,
an extensive accumulation of organic waste brought either from
the equator by the Gulf Stream's current, or from the North Pole
by the countercurrent of cold water that skirts the American coast.
Here, too, erratically drifting chunks collect from the ice breakup.
Here a huge boneyard forms from fish, mollusks, and zoophytes dying
over it by the billions.
The sea is of no great depth at the Grand Banks. A few hundred
fathoms at best. But to the south there is a deep, suddenly occurring
depression, a 3,000-meter pit. Here the Gulf Stream widens.
Its waters come to full bloom. It loses its speed and temperature,
but it turns into a sea.
Among the fish that the Nautilus startled on its way, I'll mention
a one-meter lumpfish, blackish on top with orange on the belly
and rare among its brethren in that it practices monogamy,
a good-sized eelpout, a type of emerald moray whose flavor is excellent,
wolffish with big eyes in a head somewhat resembling a canine's,
viviparous blennies whose eggs hatch inside their bodies like those
of snakes, bloated gobio (or black gudgeon) measuring two decimeters,
grenadiers with long tails and gleaming with a silvery glow,
speedy fish venturing far from their High Arctic seas.
Our nets also hauled in a bold, daring, vigorous, and muscular
fish armed with prickles on its head and stings on its fins,
a real scorpion measuring two to three meters, the ruthless enemy
of cod, blennies, and salmon; it was the bullhead of the northerly seas,
a fish with red fins and a brown body covered with nodules.
The Nautilus's fishermen had some trouble getting a grip on
this animal, which, thanks to the formation of its gill covers,
can protect its respiratory organs from any parching contact
with the air and can live out of water for a good while.
And I'll mention--for the record--some little banded blennies that
follow ships into the northernmost seas, sharp-snouted carp exclusive
to the north Atlantic, scorpionfish, and lastly the gadoid family,
chiefly the cod species, which I detected in their waters of choice
over these inexhaustible Grand Banks.
Because Newfoundland is simply an underwater peak, you could
call these cod mountain fish. While the Nautilus was clearing
a path through their tight ranks, Conseil couldn't refrain from
making this comment:
"Mercy, look at these cod!" he said. "Why, I thought cod were flat,
like dab or sole!"
"Innocent boy!" I exclaimed. "Cod are flat only at the
grocery store, where they're cut open and spread out on display.
But in the water they're like mullet, spindle-shaped and perfectly
built for speed."
"I can easily believe master," Conseil replied. "But what crowds
of them! What swarms!"
"Bah! My friend, there'd be many more without their enemies,
scorpionfish and human beings! Do you know how many eggs have been
counted in a single female?"
"I'll go all out," Conseil replied. "500,000."
"11,000,000, my friend."
"11,000,000! I refuse to accept that until I count them myself."
"So count them, Conseil. But it would be less work to believe me.
Besides, Frenchmen, Englishmen, Americans, Danes, and Norwegians catch
these cod by the thousands. They're eaten in prodigious quantities,
and without the astonishing fertility of these fish, the seas
would soon be depopulated of them. Accordingly, in England and
America alone, 5,000 ships manned by 75,000 seamen go after cod.
Each ship brings back an average catch of 4,400 fish, making 22,000,000.
Off the coast of Norway, the total is the same."
"Fine," Conseil replied, "I'll take master's word for it.
I won't count them."
"Those 11,000,000 eggs. But I'll make one comment."
"If all their eggs hatched, just four codfish could feed
England, America, and Norway."
As we skimmed the depths of the Grand Banks, I could see perfectly
those long fishing lines, each armed with 200 hooks, that every
boat dangled by the dozens. The lower end of each line dragged
the bottom by means of a small grappling iron, and at the surface
it was secured to the buoy-rope of a cork float. The Nautilus had
to maneuver shrewdly in the midst of this underwater spiderweb.
But the ship didn't stay long in these heavily traveled waterways.
It went up to about latitude 42 degrees. This brought it
abreast of St. John's in Newfoundland and Heart's Content,
where the Atlantic Cable reaches its end point.
Instead of continuing north, the Nautilus took an easterly heading,
as if to go along this plateau on which the telegraph cable rests,
where multiple soundings have given the contours of the terrain
with the utmost accuracy.
It was on May 17, about 500 miles from Heart's Content and 2,800
meters down, that I spotted this cable lying on the seafloor.
Conseil, whom I hadn't alerted, mistook it at first for a gigantic
sea snake and was gearing up to classify it in his best manner.
But I enlightened the fine lad and let him down gently by giving
him various details on the laying of this cable.
The first cable was put down during the years 1857-1858;
but after transmitting about 400 telegrams, it went dead.
In 1863 engineers built a new cable that measured 3,400 kilometers,
weighed 4,500 metric tons, and was shipped aboard the Great Eastern.
This attempt also failed.
Now then, on May 25 while submerged to a depth of 3,836 meters,
the Nautilus lay in precisely the locality where this second
cable suffered the rupture that ruined the undertaking.
It happened 638 miles from the coast of Ireland. At around two
o'clock in the afternoon, all contact with Europe broke off.
The electricians on board decided to cut the cable before fishing it up,
and by eleven o'clock that evening they had retrieved the damaged part.
They repaired the joint and its splice; then the cable was resubmerged.
But a few days later it snapped again and couldn't be recovered
from the ocean depths.
These Americans refused to give up. The daring Cyrus Field,
who had risked his whole fortune to promote this undertaking,
called for a new bond issue. It sold out immediately. Another cable
was put down under better conditions. Its sheaves of conducting wire
were insulated within a gutta-percha covering, which was protected
by a padding of textile material enclosed in a metal sheath.
The Great Eastern put back to sea on July 13, 1866.
The operation proceeded apace. Yet there was one hitch.
As they gradually unrolled this third cable, the electricians observed
on several occasions that someone had recently driven nails into it,
trying to damage its core. Captain Anderson, his officers,
and the engineers put their heads together, then posted a warning that if
the culprit were detected, he would be thrown overboard without a trial.
After that, these villainous attempts were not repeated.
By July 23 the Great Eastern was lying no farther than 800
kilometers from Newfoundland when it received telegraphed news from
Ireland of an armistice signed between Prussia and Austria after
the Battle of Sadova. Through the mists on the 27th, it sighted
the port of Heart's Content. The undertaking had ended happily,
and in its first dispatch, young America addressed old Europe with
these wise words so rarely understood: "Glory to God in the highest,
and peace on earth to men of good will."
I didn't expect to find this electric cable in mint condition,
as it looked on leaving its place of manufacture. The long snake
was covered with seashell rubble and bristling with foraminifera;
a crust of caked gravel protected it from any mollusks that might
bore into it. It rested serenely, sheltered from the sea's motions,
under a pressure favorable to the transmission of that electric
spark that goes from America to Europe in 32/100 of a second.
This cable will no doubt last indefinitely because, as observers note,
its gutta-percha casing is improved by a stay in salt water.
Besides, on this well-chosen plateau, the cable never lies at
depths that could cause a break. The Nautilus followed it to its
lowest reaches, located 4,431 meters down, and even there it rested
without any stress or strain. Then we returned to the locality
where the 1863 accident had taken place.
There the ocean floor formed a valley 120 kilometers wide,
into which you could fit Mt. Blanc without its summit poking above
the surface of the waves. This valley is closed off to the east
by a sheer wall 2,000 meters high. We arrived there on May 28,
and the Nautilus lay no farther than 150 kilometers from Ireland.
Would Captain Nemo head up north and beach us on the British Isles?
No. Much to my surprise, he went back down south and returned
to European seas. As we swung around the Emerald Isle, I spotted
Cape Clear for an instant, plus the lighthouse on Fastnet Rock
that guides all those thousands of ships setting out from
Glasgow or Liverpool.
An important question then popped into my head. Would the Nautilus
dare to tackle the English Channel? Ned Land (who promptly
reappeared after we hugged shore) never stopped questioning me.
What could I answer him? Captain Nemo remained invisible.
After giving the Canadian a glimpse of American shores, was he about
to show me the coast of France?
But the Nautilus kept gravitating southward. On May 30, in sight
of Land's End, it passed between the lowermost tip of England
and the Scilly Islands, which it left behind to starboard.
If it was going to enter the English Channel, it clearly needed
to head east. It did not.
All day long on May 31, the Nautilus swept around the sea
in a series of circles that had me deeply puzzled. It seemed
to be searching for a locality that it had some trouble finding.
At noon Captain Nemo himself came to take our bearings.
He didn't address a word to me. He looked gloomier than ever.
What was filling him with such sadness? Was it our proximity to
these European shores? Was he reliving his memories of that country
he had left behind? If so, what did he feel? Remorse or regret?
For a good while these thoughts occupied my mind, and I had a hunch
that fate would soon give away the captain's secrets.
The next day, June 1, the Nautilus kept to the same tack.
It was obviously trying to locate some precise spot in the ocean.
Just as on the day before, Captain Nemo came to take the altitude
of the sun. The sea was smooth, the skies clear. Eight miles
to the east, a big steamship was visible on the horizon line.
No flag was flapping from the gaff of its fore-and-aft sail,
and I couldn't tell its nationality.
A few minutes before the sun passed its zenith, Captain Nemo
raised his sextant and took his sights with the utmost precision.
The absolute calm of the waves facilitated this operation.
The Nautilus lay motionless, neither rolling nor pitching.
I was on the platform just then. After determining our position,
the captain pronounced only these words:
"It's right here!"
He went down the hatch. Had he seen that vessel change course
and seemingly head toward us? I'm unable to say.
I returned to the lounge. The hatch closed, and I heard water hissing
in the ballast tanks. The Nautilus began to sink on a vertical line,
because its propeller was in check and no longer furnished
any forward motion.
Some minutes later it stopped at a depth of 833 meters and came
to rest on the seafloor.
The ceiling lights in the lounge then went out, the panels opened,
and through the windows I saw, for a half-mile radius, the sea
brightly lit by the beacon's rays.
I looked to port and saw nothing but the immenseness of
these tranquil waters.
To starboard, a prominent bulge on the sea bottom caught my attention.
You would have thought it was some ruin enshrouded in a crust
of whitened seashells, as if under a mantle of snow.
Carefully examining this mass, I could identify the swollen outlines
of a ship shorn of its masts, which must have sunk bow first.
This casualty certainly dated from some far-off time.
To be so caked with the limestone of these waters, this wreckage
must have spent many a year on the ocean floor.
What ship was this? Why had the Nautilus come to visit its grave?
Was it something other than a maritime accident that had dragged
this craft under the waters?
I wasn't sure what to think, but next to me I heard Captain Nemo's
voice slowly say:
"Originally this ship was christened the Marseillais. It carried
seventy-four cannons and was launched in 1762. On August 13,
1778, commanded by La Poype-Vertrieux, it fought valiantly
against the Preston. On July 4, 1779, as a member of the squadron
under Admiral d'Estaing, it assisted in the capture of the island
of Grenada. On September 5, 1781, under the Count de Grasse,
it took part in the Battle of Chesapeake Bay. In 1794 the new Republic
of France changed the name of this ship. On April 16 of that same year,
it joined the squadron at Brest under Rear Admiral Villaret de Joyeuse,
who was entrusted with escorting a convoy of wheat coming from
America under the command of Admiral Van Stabel. In this second
year of the French Revolutionary Calendar, on the 11th and 12th
days in the Month of Pasture, this squadron fought an encounter
with English vessels. Sir, today is June 1, 1868, or the 13th
day in the Month of Pasture. Seventy-four years ago to the day,
at this very spot in latitude 47 degrees 24' and longitude 17 degrees
28', this ship sank after a heroic battle; its three masts gone,
water in its hold, a third of its crew out of action, it preferred
to go to the bottom with its 356 seamen rather than surrender;
and with its flag nailed up on the afterdeck, it disappeared beneath
the waves to shouts of 'Long live the Republic!'"
"This is the Avenger!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, sir! The Avenger! A splendid name!" Captain Nemo murmured,
crossing his arms.
A Mass Execution
THE WAY HE SAID THIS, the unexpectedness of this scene, first the
biography of this patriotic ship, then the excitement with which this
eccentric individual pronounced these last words--the name Avenger
whose significance could not escape me--all this, taken together,
had a profound impact on my mind. My eyes never left the captain.
Hands outstretched toward the sea, he contemplated the proud
wreck with blazing eyes. Perhaps I would never learn who he was,
where he came from or where he was heading, but more and more I
could see a distinction between the man and the scientist.
It was no ordinary misanthropy that kept Captain Nemo and his companions
sequestered inside the Nautilus's plating, but a hate so monstrous
or so sublime that the passing years could never weaken it.
Did this hate also hunger for vengeance? Time would soon tell.
Meanwhile the Nautilus rose slowly to the surface of the sea, and I
watched the Avenger's murky shape disappearing little by little.
Soon a gentle rolling told me that we were afloat in the open air.
Just then a hollow explosion was audible. I looked at the captain.
The captain did not stir.
"Captain?" I said.
He didn't reply.
I left him and climbed onto the platform. Conseil and the Canadian
were already there.
"What caused that explosion?" I asked.
"A cannon going off," Ned Land replied.
I stared in the direction of the ship I had spotted. It was heading
toward the Nautilus, and you could tell it had put on steam.
Six miles separated it from us.
"What sort of craft is it, Ned?"
"From its rigging and its low masts," the Canadian replied,
"I bet it's a warship. Here's hoping it pulls up and sinks this
"Ned my friend," Conseil replied, "what harm could it do
the Nautilus? Will it attack us under the waves? Will it cannonade
us at the bottom of the sea?"
"Tell me, Ned," I asked, "can you make out the nationality
of that craft?"
Creasing his brow, lowering his lids, and puckering the corners
of his eyes, the Canadian focused the full power of his gaze on
the ship for a short while.
"No, sir," he replied. "I can't make out what nation it's from.
It's flying no flag. But I'll swear it's a warship, because there's
a long pennant streaming from the peak of its mainmast."
For a quarter of an hour, we continued to watch the craft bearing
down on us. But it was inconceivable to me that it had discovered
the Nautilus at such a distance, still less that it knew what this
underwater machine really was.
Soon the Canadian announced that the craft was a big battleship,
a double-decker ironclad complete with ram. Dark, dense smoke
burst from its two funnels. Its furled sails merged with the lines
of its yardarms. The gaff of its fore-and-aft sail flew no flag.
Its distance still kept us from distinguishing the colors of its pennant,
which was fluttering like a thin ribbon.
It was coming on fast. If Captain Nemo let it approach, a chance
for salvation might be available to us.
"Sir," Ned Land told me, "if that boat gets within a mile of us,
I'm jumping overboard, and I suggest you follow suit."
I didn't reply to the Canadian's proposition but kept watching
the ship, which was looming larger on the horizon. Whether it
was English, French, American, or Russian, it would surely welcome
us aboard if we could just get to it.
"Master may recall," Conseil then said, "that we have some experience
with swimming. He can rely on me to tow him to that vessel,
if he's agreeable to going with our friend Ned."
Before I could reply, white smoke streamed from the battleship's bow.
Then, a few seconds later, the waters splashed astern of the Nautilus,
disturbed by the fall of a heavy object. Soon after, an explosion
struck my ears.
"What's this? They're firing at us!" I exclaimed.
"Good lads!" the Canadian muttered.
"That means they don't see us as castaways clinging to some wreckage!"
"With all due respect to master--gracious!" Conseil put in,
shaking off the water that had sprayed over him from another shell.
"With all due respect to master, they've discovered the narwhale
and they're cannonading the same."
"But it must be clear to them," I exclaimed, "that they're dealing
with human beings."
"Maybe that's why!" Ned Land replied, staring hard at me.
The full truth dawned on me. Undoubtedly people now knew
where they stood on the existence of this so-called monster.
Undoubtedly the latter's encounter with the Abraham Lincoln,
when the Canadian hit it with his harpoon, had led Commander Farragut
to recognize the narwhale as actually an underwater boat,
more dangerous than any unearthly cetacean!
Yes, this had to be the case, and undoubtedly they were now chasing
this dreadful engine of destruction on every sea!
Dreadful indeed, if, as we could assume, Captain Nemo
had been using the Nautilus in works of vengeance!
That night in the middle of the Indian Ocean, when he imprisoned
us in the cell, hadn't he attacked some ship? That man now buried
in the coral cemetery, wasn't he the victim of some collision
caused by the Nautilus? Yes, I repeat: this had to be the case.
One part of Captain Nemo's secret life had been unveiled.
And now, even though his identity was still unknown, at least
the nations allied against him knew they were no longer hunting
some fairy-tale monster, but a man who had sworn an implacable
hate toward them!
This whole fearsome sequence of events appeared in my mind's eye.
Instead of encountering friends on this approaching ship, we would
find only pitiless enemies.
Meanwhile shells fell around us in increasing numbers.
Some, meeting the liquid surface, would ricochet and vanish into the sea
at considerable distances. But none of them reached the Nautilus.
By then the ironclad was no more than three miles off. Despite its
violent cannonade, Captain Nemo hadn't appeared on the platform.
And yet if one of those conical shells had scored a routine hit
on the Nautilus's hull, it could have been fatal to him.
The Canadian then told me:
"Sir, we've got to do everything we can to get out of this jam!
Let's signal them! Damnation! Maybe they'll realize
we're decent people!"
Ned Land pulled out his handkerchief to wave it in the air.
But he had barely unfolded it when he was felled by an iron fist,
and despite his great strength, he tumbled to the deck.
"Scum!" the captain shouted. "Do you want to be nailed to the Nautilus's
spur before it charges that ship?"
Dreadful to hear, Captain Nemo was even more dreadful to see.
His face was pale from some spasm of his heart, which must have stopped
beating for an instant. His pupils were hideously contracted.
His voice was no longer speaking, it was bellowing. Bending from
the waist, he shook the Canadian by the shoulders.
Then, dropping Ned and turning to the battleship, whose shells
were showering around him:
"O ship of an accursed nation, you know who I am!" he shouted
in his powerful voice. "And I don't need your colors to
recognize you! Look! I'll show you mine!"
And in the bow of the platform, Captain Nemo unfurled a black flag,
like the one he had left planted at the South Pole.
Just then a shell hit the Nautilus's hull obliquely, failed to breach it,
ricocheted near the captain, and vanished into the sea.
Captain Nemo shrugged his shoulders. Then, addressing me:
"Go below!" he told me in a curt tone. "You and your companions,
"Sir," I exclaimed, "are you going to attack this ship?"
"Sir, I'm going to sink it."
"I will," Captain Nemo replied icily. "You're ill-advised to pass
judgment on me, sir. Fate has shown you what you weren't meant
to see. The attack has come. Our reply will be dreadful.
Get back inside!"
"From what country is that ship?"
"You don't know? Fine, so much the better! At least its nationality
will remain a secret to you. Go below!"
The Canadian, Conseil, and I could only obey. Some fifteen
of the Nautilus's seamen surrounded their captain and stared with
a feeling of implacable hate at the ship bearing down on them.
You could feel the same spirit of vengeance enkindling their every soul.
I went below just as another projectile scraped the Nautilus's hull,
and I heard the captain exclaim:
"Shoot, you demented vessel! Shower your futile shells! You won't escape
the Nautilus's spur! But this isn't the place where you'll perish!
I don't want your wreckage mingling with that of the Avenger!"
I repaired to my stateroom. The captain and his chief officer
stayed on the platform. The propeller was set in motion.
The Nautilus swiftly retreated, putting us outside the range
of the vessel's shells. But the chase continued, and Captain Nemo
was content to keep his distance.
Near four o'clock in the afternoon, unable to control the impatience
and uneasiness devouring me, I went back to the central companionway.
The hatch was open. I ventured onto the platform. The captain was
still strolling there, his steps agitated. He stared at the ship,
which stayed to his leeward five or six miles off. He was circling it
like a wild beast, drawing it eastward, letting it chase after him.
Yet he didn't attack. Was he, perhaps, still undecided?
I tried to intervene one last time. But I had barely queried
Captain Nemo when the latter silenced me:
"I'm the law, I'm the tribunal! I'm the oppressed, and there
are my oppressors! Thanks to them, I've witnessed the destruction
of everything I loved, cherished, and venerated--homeland, wife,
children, father, and mother! There lies everything I hate!
Not another word out of you!"
I took a last look at the battleship, which was putting on steam.
Then I rejoined Ned and Conseil.
"We'll escape!" I exclaimed.
"Good," Ned put in. "Where's that ship from?"
"I've no idea. But wherever it's from, it will sink before nightfall.
In any event, it's better to perish with it than be accomplices
in some act of revenge whose merits we can't gauge."
"That's my feeling," Ned Land replied coolly. "Let's wait for nightfall."
Night fell. A profound silence reigned on board. The compass
indicated that the Nautilus hadn't changed direction. I could hear
the beat of its propeller, churning the waves with steady speed.
Staying on the surface of the water, it rolled gently, sometimes to
one side, sometimes to the other.
My companions and I had decided to escape as soon as the vessel came
close enough for us to be heard--or seen, because the moon would wax
full in three days and was shining brightly. Once we were aboard
that ship, if we couldn't ward off the blow that threatened it,
at least we could do everything that circumstances permitted.
Several times I thought the Nautilus was about to attack.
But it was content to let its adversary approach, and then it would
quickly resume its retreating ways.
Part of the night passed without incident. We kept watch for an
opportunity to take action. We talked little, being too keyed up.
Ned Land was all for jumping overboard. I forced him to wait.
As I saw it, the Nautilus would attack the double-decker on
the surface of the waves, and then it would be not only possible
but easy to escape.
At three o'clock in the morning, full of uneasiness,
I climbed onto the platform. Captain Nemo hadn't left it.
He stood in the bow next to his flag, which a mild breeze was
unfurling above his head. His eyes never left that vessel.
The extraordinary intensity of his gaze seemed to attract it,
beguile it, and draw it more surely than if he had it in tow!
The moon then passed its zenith. Jupiter was rising in the east.
In the midst of this placid natural setting, sky and ocean competed
with each other in tranquility, and the sea offered the orb of night
the loveliest mirror ever to reflect its image.
And when I compared this deep calm of the elements with all the fury
seething inside the plating of this barely perceptible Nautilus, I
shivered all over.
The vessel was two miles off. It drew nearer, always moving toward
the phosphorescent glow that signaled the Nautilus's presence.
I saw its green and red running lights, plus the white lantern hanging
from the large stay of its foremast. Hazy flickerings were reflected
on its rigging and indicated that its furnaces were pushed to the limit.
Showers of sparks and cinders of flaming coal escaped from its funnels,
spangling the air with stars.
I stood there until six o'clock in the morning, Captain Nemo
never seeming to notice me. The vessel lay a mile and a half off,
and with the first glimmers of daylight, it resumed its cannonade.
The time couldn't be far away when the Nautilus would attack
its adversary, and my companions and I would leave forever this
man I dared not judge.
I was about to go below to alert them, when the chief officer
climbed onto the platform. Several seamen were with him.
Captain Nemo didn't see them, or didn't want to see them.
They carried out certain procedures that, on the Nautilus, you could
call "clearing the decks for action." They were quite simple.
The manropes that formed a handrail around the platform were lowered.
Likewise the pilothouse and the beacon housing were withdrawn
into the hull until they lay exactly flush with it. The surface
of this long sheet-iron cigar no longer offered a single protrusion
that could hamper its maneuvers.
I returned to the lounge. The Nautilus still emerged above
the surface. A few morning gleams infiltrated the liquid strata.
Beneath the undulations of the billows, the windows were enlivened
by the blushing of the rising sun. That dreadful day of June
2 had dawned.
At seven o'clock the log told me that the Nautilus had reduced speed.
I realized that it was letting the warship approach.
Moreover, the explosions grew more intensely audible.
Shells furrowed the water around us, drilling through it with an
odd hissing sound.
"My friends," I said, "it's time. Let's shake hands, and may God
be with us!"
Ned Land was determined, Conseil calm, I myself nervous and
barely in control.
We went into the library. Just as I pushed open the door leading
to the well of the central companionway, I heard the hatch
close sharply overhead.
The Canadian leaped up the steps, but I stopped him. A well-known
hissing told me that water was entering the ship's ballast tanks.
Indeed, in a few moments the Nautilus had submerged some meters
below the surface of the waves.
I understood this maneuver. It was too late to take action.
The Nautilus wasn't going to strike the double-decker where it
was clad in impenetrable iron armor, but below its waterline,
where the metal carapace no longer protected its planking.
We were prisoners once more, unwilling spectators at the performance
of this gruesome drama. But we barely had time to think. Taking refuge
in my stateroom, we stared at each other without pronouncing a word.
My mind was in a total daze. My mental processes came to a dead stop.
I hovered in that painful state that predominates during
the period of anticipation before some frightful explosion.
I waited, I listened, I lived only through my sense of hearing!
Meanwhile the Nautilus's speed had increased appreciably.
So it was gathering momentum. Its entire hull was vibrating.
Suddenly I let out a yell. There had been a collision, but it
was comparatively mild. I could feel the penetrating force
of the steel spur. I could hear scratchings and scrapings.
Carried away with its driving power, the Nautilus had passed through
the vessel's mass like a sailmaker's needle through canvas!
I couldn't hold still. Frantic, going insane, I leaped out of my
stateroom and rushed into the lounge.
Captain Nemo was there. Mute, gloomy, implacable, he was staring
through the port panel.
An enormous mass was sinking beneath the waters, and the Nautilus,
missing none of its death throes, was descending into the depths with it.
Ten meters away, I could see its gaping hull, into which water was rushing
with a sound of thunder, then its double rows of cannons and railings.
Its deck was covered with dark, quivering shadows.
The water was rising. Those poor men leaped up into the shrouds,
clung to the masts, writhed beneath the waters. It was a human
anthill that an invading sea had caught by surprise!
Paralyzed, rigid with anguish, my hair standing on end, my eyes popping
out of my head, short of breath, suffocating, speechless, I stared--
I too! I was glued to the window by an irresistible allure!
The enormous vessel settled slowly. Following it down, the Nautilus
kept watch on its every movement. Suddenly there was an eruption.
The air compressed inside the craft sent its decks flying,
as if the powder stores had been ignited. The thrust of the waters
was so great, the Nautilus swerved away.
The poor ship then sank more swiftly. Its mastheads appeared,
laden with victims, then its crosstrees bending under clusters of men,
finally the peak of its mainmast. Then the dark mass disappeared,
and with it a crew of corpses dragged under by fearsome eddies. . . .
I turned to Captain Nemo. This dreadful executioner, this true
archangel of hate, was still staring. When it was all over,
Captain Nemo headed to the door of his stateroom, opened it, and entered.
I followed him with my eyes.
On the rear paneling, beneath the portraits of his heroes, I saw
the portrait of a still-youthful woman with two little children.
Captain Nemo stared at them for a few moments, stretched out his
arms to them, sank to his knees, and melted into sobs.
The Last Words of Captain Nemo
THE PANELS CLOSED over this frightful view, but the lights didn't go
on in the lounge. Inside the Nautilus all was gloom and silence.
It left this place of devastation with prodigious speed,
100 feet beneath the waters. Where was it going? North or south?
Where would the man flee after this horrible act of revenge?
I reentered my stateroom, where Ned and Conseil were waiting silently.
Captain Nemo filled me with insurmountable horror.
Whatever he had once suffered at the hands of humanity,
he had no right to mete out such punishment. He had made me,
if not an accomplice, at least an eyewitness to his vengeance!
Even this was intolerable.
At eleven o'clock the electric lights came back on. I went into
the lounge. It was deserted. I consulted the various instruments.
The Nautilus was fleeing northward at a speed of twenty-five miles
per hour, sometimes on the surface of the sea, sometimes thirty
feet beneath it.
After our position had been marked on the chart, I saw that we
were passing into the mouth of the English Channel, that our heading
would take us to the northernmost seas with incomparable speed.
I could barely glimpse the swift passing of longnose sharks,
hammerhead sharks, spotted dogfish that frequent these waters,
big eagle rays, swarms of seahorse looking like knights on a chessboard,
eels quivering like fireworks serpents, armies of crab that fled
obliquely by crossing their pincers over their carapaces,
finally schools of porpoise that held contests of speed with
the Nautilus. But by this point observing, studying, and classifying
were out of the question.
By evening we had cleared 200 leagues up the Atlantic. Shadows gathered
and gloom overran the sea until the moon came up.
I repaired to my stateroom. I couldn't sleep. I was assaulted
by nightmares. That horrible scene of destruction kept repeating
in my mind's eye.
From that day forward, who knows where the Nautilus took us
in the north Atlantic basin? Always at incalculable speed!
Always amid the High Arctic mists! Did it call at the capes
of Spitzbergen or the shores of Novaya Zemlya? Did it visit such
uncharted seas as the White Sea, the Kara Sea, the Gulf of Ob,
the Lyakhov Islands, or those unknown beaches on the Siberian coast?
I'm unable to say. I lost track of the passing hours. Time was
in abeyance on the ship's clocks. As happens in the polar regions,
it seemed that night and day no longer followed their normal sequence.
I felt myself being drawn into that strange domain where
the overwrought imagination of Edgar Allan Poe was at home.
Like his fabled Arthur Gordon Pym, I expected any moment to see
that "shrouded human figure, very far larger in its proportions
than any dweller among men," thrown across the cataract that protects
the outskirts of the pole!
I estimate--but perhaps I'm mistaken--that the Nautilus's haphazard
course continued for fifteen or twenty days, and I'm not sure
how long this would have gone on without the catastrophe that ended
our voyage. As for Captain Nemo, he was no longer in the picture.
As for his chief officer, the same applied. Not one crewman
was visible for a single instant. The Nautilus cruised beneath
the waters almost continuously. When it rose briefly to the surface
to renew our air, the hatches opened and closed as if automated.
No more positions were reported on the world map. I didn't know
where we were.
I'll also mention that the Canadian, at the end of his strength
and patience, made no further appearances. Conseil couldn't coax
a single word out of him and feared that, in a fit of delirium while
under the sway of a ghastly homesickness, Ned would kill himself.
So he kept a devoted watch on his friend every instant.
You can appreciate that under these conditions, our situation
had become untenable.
One morning--whose date I'm unable to specify--I was slumbering
near the first hours of daylight, a painful, sickly slumber.
Waking up, I saw Ned Land leaning over me, and I heard him tell me
in a low voice:
"We're going to escape!"
I sat up.
"When?" I asked.
"Tonight. There doesn't seem to be any supervision left on
the Nautilus. You'd think a total daze was reigning on board.
Will you be ready, sir?"
"Yes. Where are we?"
"In sight of land. I saw it through the mists just this morning,
twenty miles to the east."
"What land is it?"
"I've no idea, but whatever it is, there we'll take refuge."
"Yes, Ned! We'll escape tonight even if the sea swallows us up!"
"The sea's rough, the wind's blowing hard, but a twenty-mile
run in the Nautilus's nimble longboat doesn't scare me.
Unknown to the crew, I've stowed some food and flasks of water inside."
"I'm with you."
"What's more," the Canadian added, "if they catch me, I'll defend myself,
I'll fight to the death."
"Then we'll die together, Ned my friend."
My mind was made up. The Canadian left me. I went out on the platform,
where I could barely stand upright against the jolts of the billows.
The skies were threatening, but land lay inside those dense mists,
and we had to escape. Not a single day, or even a single hour,
could we afford to lose.
I returned to the lounge, dreading yet desiring an encounter
with Captain Nemo, wanting yet not wanting to see him.
What would I say to him? How could I hide the involuntary horror
he inspired in me? No! It was best not to meet him face to face!
Best to try and forget him! And yet . . . !
How long that day seemed, the last I would spend aboard
the Nautilus! I was left to myself. Ned Land and Conseil avoided
speaking to me, afraid they would give themselves away.
At six o'clock I ate supper, but I had no appetite. Despite my revulsion,
I forced it down, wanting to keep my strength up.
At 6:30 Ned Land entered my stateroom. He told me:
"We won't see each other again before we go. At ten o'clock
the moon won't be up yet. We'll take advantage of the darkness.
Come to the skiff. Conseil and I will be inside waiting for you."
The Canadian left without giving me time to answer him.
I wanted to verify the Nautilus's heading. I made my way to the lounge.
We were racing north-northeast with frightful speed, fifty meters down.
I took one last look at the natural wonders and artistic treasures
amassed in the museum, this unrivaled collection doomed to perish
someday in the depths of the seas, together with its curator.
I wanted to establish one supreme impression in my mind.
I stayed there an hour, basking in the aura of the ceiling lights,
passing in review the treasures shining in their glass cases.
Then I returned to my stateroom.
There I dressed in sturdy seafaring clothes. I gathered my notes and
packed them tenderly about my person. My heart was pounding mightily.
I couldn't curb its pulsations. My anxiety and agitation would
certainly have given me away if Captain Nemo had seen me.
What was he doing just then? I listened at the door to his stateroom.
I heard the sound of footsteps. Captain Nemo was inside.
He hadn't gone to bed. With his every movement I imagined he would
appear and ask me why I wanted to escape! I felt in a perpetual
state of alarm. My imagination magnified this sensation.
The feeling became so acute, I wondered whether it wouldn't be
better to enter the captain's stateroom, dare him face to face,
brave it out with word and deed!
It was an insane idea. Fortunately I controlled myself
and stretched out on the bed to soothe my bodily agitation.
My nerves calmed a little, but with my brain so aroused,
I did a swift review of my whole existence aboard the Nautilus,
every pleasant or unpleasant incident that had crossed my path since I
went overboard from the Abraham Lincoln: the underwater hunting trip,
the Torres Strait, our running aground, the savages of Papua,
the coral cemetery, the Suez passageway, the island of Santorini,
the Cretan diver, the Bay of Vigo, Atlantis, the Ice Bank, the South Pole,
our imprisonment in the ice, the battle with the devilfish,
the storm in the Gulf Stream, the Avenger, and that horrible scene
of the vessel sinking with its crew . . . ! All these events passed
before my eyes like backdrops unrolling upstage in a theater.
In this strange setting Captain Nemo then grew fantastically.
His features were accentuated, taking on superhuman proportions.
He was no longer my equal, he was the Man of the Waters, the Spirit
of the Seas.
By then it was 9:30. I held my head in both hands to keep it
from bursting. I closed my eyes. I no longer wanted to think.
A half hour still to wait! A half hour of nightmares that could
drive me insane!
Just then I heard indistinct chords from the organ, melancholy harmonies
from some undefinable hymn, actual pleadings from a soul trying
to sever its earthly ties. I listened with all my senses at once,
barely breathing, immersed like Captain Nemo in this musical trance
that was drawing him beyond the bounds of this world.
Then a sudden thought terrified me. Captain Nemo had left his stateroom.
He was in the same lounge I had to cross in order to escape.
There I would encounter him one last time. He would see me,
perhaps speak to me! One gesture from him could obliterate me,
a single word shackle me to his vessel!
Even so, ten o'clock was about to strike. It was time to leave
my stateroom and rejoin my companions.
I dared not hesitate, even if Captain Nemo stood before me.
I opened the door cautiously, but as it swung on its hinges,
it seemed to make a frightful noise. This noise existed, perhaps,
only in my imagination!
I crept forward through the Nautilus's dark gangways, pausing after
each step to curb the pounding of my heart.
I arrived at the corner door of the lounge. I opened it gently.
The lounge was plunged in profound darkness. Chords from the organ
were reverberating faintly. Captain Nemo was there. He didn't see me.
Even in broad daylight I doubt that he would have noticed me,
so completely was he immersed in his trance.
I inched over the carpet, avoiding the tiniest bump whose noise
might give me away. It took me five minutes to reach the door
at the far end, which led into the library.
I was about to open it when a gasp from Captain Nemo nailed
me to the spot. I realized that he was standing up.
I even got a glimpse of him because some rays of light from
the library had filtered into the lounge. He was coming toward me,
arms crossed, silent, not walking but gliding like a ghost.
His chest was heaving, swelling with sobs. And I heard him murmur
these words, the last of his to reach my ears:
"O almighty God! Enough! Enough!"
Was it a vow of repentance that had just escaped from this
man's conscience . . . ?
Frantic, I rushed into the library. I climbed the central companionway,
and going along the upper gangway, I arrived at the skiff.
I went through the opening that had already given access to
my two companions.
"Let's go, let's go!" I exclaimed.
"Right away!" the Canadian replied.
First, Ned Land closed and bolted the opening cut into the
Nautilus's sheet iron, using the monkey wrench he had with him.
After likewise closing the opening in the skiff, the Canadian began
to unscrew the nuts still bolting us to the underwater boat.
Suddenly a noise from the ship's interior became audible.
Voices were answering each other hurriedly. What was it?
Had they spotted our escape? I felt Ned Land sliding a dagger
into my hand.
"Yes," I muttered, "we know how to die!"
The Canadian paused in his work. But one word twenty times repeated,
one dreadful word, told me the reason for the agitation spreading
aboard the Nautilus. We weren't the cause of the crew's concern.
"Maelstrom! Maelstrom!" they were shouting.
The Maelstrom! Could a more frightening name have rung
in our ears under more frightening circumstances?
Were we lying in the dangerous waterways off the Norwegian coast?
Was the Nautilus being dragged into this whirlpool just as the skiff
was about to detach from its plating?
As you know, at the turn of the tide, the waters confined between
the Faroe and Lofoten Islands rush out with irresistible violence.
They form a vortex from which no ship has ever been able to escape.
Monstrous waves race together from every point of the horizon.
They form a whirlpool aptly called "the ocean's navel,"
whose attracting power extends a distance of fifteen kilometers.
It can suck down not only ships but whales, and even polar bears
from the northernmost regions.
This was where the Nautilus had been sent accidentally--
or perhaps deliberately--by its captain. It was sweeping around
in a spiral whose radius kept growing smaller and smaller.
The skiff, still attached to the ship's plating, was likewise
carried around at dizzying speed. I could feel us whirling.
I was experiencing that accompanying nausea that follows such
continuous spinning motions. We were in dread, in the last stages
of sheer horror, our blood frozen in our veins, our nerves numb,
drenched in cold sweat as if from the throes of dying!
And what a noise around our frail skiff! What roars echoing from
several miles away! What crashes from the waters breaking against
sharp rocks on the seafloor, where the hardest objects are smashed,
where tree trunks are worn down and worked into "a shaggy fur,"
as Norwegians express it!
What a predicament! We were rocking frightfully. The Nautilus
defended itself like a human being. Its steel muscles were cracking.
Sometimes it stood on end, the three of us along with it!
"We've got to hold on tight," Ned said, "and screw the nuts down again!
If we can stay attached to the Nautilus, we can still make it . . . !"
He hadn't finished speaking when a cracking sound occurred.
The nuts gave way, and ripped out of its socket, the skiff was hurled
like a stone from a sling into the midst of the vortex.
My head struck against an iron timber, and with this violent shock
I lost consciousness.
WE COME TO the conclusion of this voyage under the seas.
What happened that night, how the skiff escaped from the Maelstrom's
fearsome eddies, how Ned Land, Conseil, and I got out of that whirlpool,
I'm unable to say. But when I regained consciousness, I was lying
in a fisherman's hut on one of the Lofoten Islands. My two companions,
safe and sound, were at my bedside clasping my hands.
We embraced each other heartily.
Just now we can't even dream of returning to France. Travel between upper
Norway and the south is limited. So I have to wait for the arrival
of a steamboat that provides bimonthly service from North Cape.
So it is here, among these gallant people who have taken us in,
that I'm reviewing my narrative of these adventures. It is accurate.
Not a fact has been omitted, not a detail has been exaggerated.
It's the faithful record of this inconceivable expedition into
an element now beyond human reach, but where progress will someday
make great inroads.
Will anyone believe me? I don't know. Ultimately it's unimportant.
What I can now assert is that I've earned the right to speak
of these seas, beneath which in less than ten months, I've cleared
20,000 leagues in this underwater tour of the world that has
shown me so many wonders across the Pacific, the Indian Ocean,
the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, the southernmost
and northernmost seas!
But what happened to the Nautilus? Did it withstand
the Maelstrom's clutches? Is Captain Nemo alive?
Is he still under the ocean pursuing his frightful program
of revenge, or did he stop after that latest mass execution?
Will the waves someday deliver that manuscript that contains
his full life story? Will I finally learn the man's name?
Will the nationality of the stricken warship tell us the nationality
of Captain Nemo?
I hope so. I likewise hope that his powerful submersible
has defeated the sea inside its most dreadful whirlpool,
that the Nautilus has survived where so many ships have perished!
If this is the case and Captain Nemo still inhabits the ocean--
his adopted country--may the hate be appeased in that fierce heart!
May the contemplation of so many wonders extinguish the spirit of
vengeance in him! May the executioner pass away, and the scientist
continue his peaceful exploration of the seas! If his destiny
is strange, it's also sublime. Haven't I encompassed it myself?
Didn't I lead ten months of this otherworldly existence?
Thus to that question asked 6,000 years ago in the Book
of Ecclesiastes--"Who can fathom the soundless depths?"--
two men out of all humanity have now earned the right to reply.
Captain Nemo and I.
END OF THE SECOND PART