Part 6 out of 10
were busy forming.
"Let's think this over," I said to myself, "and let's take our time.
Hunting otters in underwater forests, as we did in the forests
of Crespo Island, is an acceptable activity. But to roam
the bottom of the sea when you're almost certain to meet man-eaters
in the neighborhood, that's another story! I know that in
certain countries, particularly the Andaman Islands, Negroes don't
hesitate to attack sharks, dagger in one hand and noose in the other;
but I also know that many who face those fearsome animals don't come
back alive. Besides, I'm not a Negro, and even if I were a Negro,
in this instance I don't think a little hesitation on my part would
be out of place."
And there I was, fantasizing about sharks, envisioning huge jaws armed
with multiple rows of teeth and capable of cutting a man in half.
I could already feel a definite pain around my pelvic girdle.
And how I resented the offhand manner in which the captain had
extended his deplorable invitation! You would have thought it
was an issue of going into the woods on some harmless fox hunt!
"Thank heavens!" I said to myself. "Conseil will never want to
come along, and that'll be my excuse for not going with the captain."
As for Ned Land, I admit I felt less confident of his wisdom.
Danger, however great, held a perennial attraction for
his aggressive nature.
I went back to reading Sirr's book, but I leafed through it mechanically.
Between the lines I kept seeing fearsome, wide-open jaws.
Just then Conseil and the Canadian entered with a calm, even gleeful air.
Little did they know what was waiting for them.
"Ye gods, sir!" Ned Land told me. "Your Captain Nemo--the devil
take him--has just made us a very pleasant proposition!"
"Oh!" I said "You know about--"
"With all due respect to master," Conseil replied, "the Nautilus's
commander has invited us, together with master, for a visit tomorrow
to Ceylon's magnificent pearl fisheries. He did so in the most
cordial terms and conducted himself like a true gentleman."
"He didn't tell you anything else?"
"Nothing, sir," the Canadian replied. "He said you'd already
discussed this little stroll."
"Indeed," I said. "But didn't he give you any details on--"
"Not a one, Mr. Naturalist. You will be going with us, right?"
"Me? Why yes, certainly, of course! I can see that you like
the idea, Mr. Land."
"Yes! It will be a really unusual experience!"
"And possibly dangerous!" I added in an insinuating tone.
"Dangerous?" Ned Land replied. "A simple trip to an oysterbank?"
Assuredly, Captain Nemo hadn't seen fit to plant the idea of sharks
in the minds of my companions. For my part, I stared at them
with anxious eyes, as if they were already missing a limb or two.
Should I alert them? Yes, surely, but I hardly knew how to go about it.
"Would master," Conseil said to me, "give us some background
on pearl fishing?"
"On the fishing itself?" I asked. "Or on the occupational hazards that--"
"On the fishing," the Canadian replied. "Before we tackle the terrain,
it helps to be familiar with it."
"All right, sit down, my friends, and I'll teach you everything I
myself have just been taught by the Englishman H. C. Sirr!"
Ned and Conseil took seats on a couch, and right off the Canadian
said to me:
"Sir, just what is a pearl exactly?"
"My gallant Ned," I replied, "for poets a pearl is a tear from the sea;
for Orientals it's a drop of solidified dew; for the ladies it's
a jewel they can wear on their fingers, necks, and ears that's
oblong in shape, glassy in luster, and formed from mother-of-pearl;
for chemists it's a mixture of calcium phosphate and calcium
carbonate with a little gelatin protein; and finally, for naturalists
it's a simple festering secretion from the organ that produces
mother-of-pearl in certain bivalves."
"Branch Mollusca," Conseil said, "class Acephala, order Testacea."
"Correct, my scholarly Conseil. Now then, those Testacea capable
of producing pearls include rainbow abalone, turbo snails,
giant clams, and saltwater scallops--briefly, all those that secrete
mother-of-pearl, in other words, that blue, azure, violet, or white
substance lining the insides of their valves."
"Are mussels included too?" the Canadian asked.
"Yes! The mussels of certain streams in Scotland, Wales, Ireland,
Saxony, Bohemia, and France."
"Good!" the Canadian replied. "From now on we'll pay closer
attention to 'em."
"But," I went on, "for secreting pearls, the ideal mollusk is the pearl
oyster Meleagrina margaritifera, that valuable shellfish. Pearls result
simply from mother-of-pearl solidifying into a globular shape.
Either they stick to the oyster's shell, or they become embedded
in the creature's folds. On the valves a pearl sticks fast;
on the flesh it lies loose. But its nucleus is always some small,
hard object, say a sterile egg or a grain of sand, around which
the mother-of-pearl is deposited in thin, concentric layers over
several years in succession."
"Can one find several pearls in the same oyster?" Conseil asked.
"Yes, my boy. There are some shellfish that turn into real
jewel coffers. They even mention one oyster, about which I
remain dubious, that supposedly contained at least 150 sharks."
"150 sharks!" Ned Land yelped.
"Did I say sharks?" I exclaimed hastily. "I meant 150 pearls.
Sharks wouldn't make sense."
"Indeed," Conseil said. "But will master now tell us how one goes
about extracting these pearls?"
"One proceeds in several ways, and often when pearls stick
to the valves, fishermen even pull them loose with pliers.
But usually the shellfish are spread out on mats made from the esparto
grass that covers the beaches. Thus they die in the open air,
and by the end of ten days they've rotted sufficiently. Next they're
immersed in huge tanks of salt water, then they're opened up and washed.
At this point the sorters begin their twofold task. First they
remove the layers of mother-of-pearl, which are known in the industry
by the names legitimate silver, bastard white, or bastard black,
and these are shipped out in cases weighing 125 to 150 kilograms.
Then they remove the oyster's meaty tissue, boil it, and finally
strain it, in order to extract even the smallest pearls."
"Do the prices of these pearls differ depending on their size?"
"Not only on their size," I replied, "but also according to their shape,
their water--in other words, their color--and their orient--
in other words, that dappled, shimmering glow that makes them so
delightful to the eye. The finest pearls are called virgin pearls,
or paragons; they form in isolation within the mollusk's tissue.
They're white, often opaque but sometimes of opalescent transparency,
and usually spherical or pear-shaped. The spherical ones
are made into bracelets; the pear-shaped ones into earrings,
and since they're the most valuable, they're priced individually.
The other pearls that stick to the oyster's shell are more erratically
shaped and are priced by weight. Finally, classed in the lowest order,
the smallest pearls are known by the name seed pearls; they're priced
by the measuring cup and are used mainly in the creation of embroidery
for church vestments."
"But it must be a long, hard job, sorting out these pearls by size,"
the Canadian said.
"No, my friend. That task is performed with eleven strainers,
or sieves, that are pierced with different numbers of holes.
Those pearls staying in the strainers with twenty to eighty holes
are in the first order. Those not slipping through the sieves pierced
with 100 to 800 holes are in the second order. Finally, those pearls
for which one uses strainers pierced with 900 to 1,000 holes make
up the seed pearls."
"How ingenious," Conseil said, "to reduce dividing and classifying
pearls to a mechanical operation. And could master tell us the profits
brought in by harvesting these banks of pearl oysters?"
"According to Sirr's book," I replied, "these Ceylon fisheries
are farmed annually for a total profit of 3,000,000 man-eaters."
"Francs!" Conseil rebuked.
"Yes, francs! 3,000,000 francs!" I went on. "But I don't
think these fisheries bring in the returns they once did.
Similarly, the Central American fisheries used to make an annual
profit of 4,000,000 francs during the reign of King Charles V,
but now they bring in only two-thirds of that amount. All in all,
it's estimated that 9,000,000 francs is the current yearly return
for the whole pearl-harvesting industry."
"But," Conseil asked, "haven't certain famous pearls been quoted
at extremely high prices?"
"Yes, my boy. They say Julius Caesar gave Servilia a pearl worth
120,000 francs in our currency."
"I've even heard stories," the Canadian said, "about some lady
in ancient times who drank pearls in vinegar."
"Cleopatra," Conseil shot back.
"It must have tasted pretty bad," Ned Land added.
"Abominable, Ned my friend," Conseil replied. "But when a little
glass of vinegar is worth 1,500,000 francs, its taste is a small
price to pay."
"I'm sorry I didn't marry the gal," the Canadian said, throwing up
his hands with an air of discouragement.
"Ned Land married to Cleopatra?" Conseil exclaimed.
"But I was all set to tie the knot, Conseil," the Canadian replied in
all seriousness, "and it wasn't my fault the whole business fell through.
I even bought a pearl necklace for my fianc�e, Kate Tender,
but she married somebody else instead. Well, that necklace cost
me only $1.50, but you can absolutely trust me on this, professor,
its pearls were so big, they wouldn't have gone through that strainer
with twenty holes."
"My gallant Ned," I replied, laughing, "those were artificial pearls,
ordinary glass beads whose insides were coated with Essence of Orient."
"Wow!" the Canadian replied. "That Essence of Orient must sell
for quite a large sum."
"As little as zero! It comes from the scales of a European carp,
it's nothing more than a silver substance that collects in the water
and is preserved in ammonia. It's worthless."
"Maybe that's why Kate Tender married somebody else,"
replied Mr. Land philosophically.
"But," I said, "getting back to pearls of great value, I don't
think any sovereign ever possessed one superior to the pearl owned
by Captain Nemo."
"This one?" Conseil said, pointing to a magnificent jewel in
its glass case.
"Exactly. And I'm certainly not far off when I estimate its value
at 2,000,000 . . . uh . . ."
"Francs!" Conseil said quickly.
"Yes," I said, "2,000,000 francs, and no doubt all it cost our
captain was the effort to pick it up."
"Ha!" Ned Land exclaimed. "During our stroll tomorrow, who says
we won't run into one just like it?"
"Bah!" Conseil put in.
"And why not?"
"What good would a pearl worth millions do us here on the Nautilus?"
"Here, no," Ned Land said. "But elsewhere. . . ."
"Oh! Elsewhere!" Conseil put in, shaking his head.
"In fact," I said, "Mr. Land is right. And if we ever brought back
to Europe or America a pearl worth millions, it would make the story
of our adventures more authentic--and much more rewarding."
"That's how I see it," the Canadian said.
"But," said Conseil, who perpetually returned to the didactic side
of things, "is this pearl fishing ever dangerous?"
"No," I replied quickly, "especially if one takes certain precautions."
"What risks would you run in a job like that?" Ned Land said.
"Swallowing a few gulps of salt water?"
"Whatever you say, Ned." Then, trying to imitate Captain Nemo's
carefree tone, I asked, "By the way, gallant Ned, are you
afraid of sharks?"
"Me?" the Canadian replied. "I'm a professional harpooner!
It's my job to make a mockery of them!"
"It isn't an issue," I said, "of fishing for them with a swivel hook,
hoisting them onto the deck of a ship, chopping off the tail
with a sweep of the ax, opening the belly, ripping out the heart,
and tossing it into the sea."
"So it's an issue of . . . ?"
"In the water?"
"In the water."
"Ye gods, just give me a good harpoon! You see, sir, these sharks
are badly designed. They have to roll their bellies over to snap
you up, and in the meantime . . ."
Ned Land had a way of pronouncing the word "snap" that sent chills
down the spine.
"Well, how about you, Conseil? What are your feelings
about these man-eaters?"
"Me?" Conseil said. "I'm afraid I must be frank with master."
Good for you, I thought.
"If master faces these sharks," Conseil said, "I think his loyal
manservant should face them with him!"
A Pearl Worth Ten Million
NIGHT FELL. I went to bed. I slept pretty poorly. Man-eaters played
a major role in my dreams. And I found it more or less appropriate
that the French word for shark, requin, has its linguistic roots
in the word requiem.
The next day at four o'clock in the morning, I was awakened by
the steward whom Captain Nemo had placed expressly at my service.
I got up quickly, dressed, and went into the lounge.
Captain Nemo was waiting for me.
"Professor Aronnax," he said to me, "are you ready to start?"
"Kindly follow me."
"What about my companions, captain?"
"They've been alerted and are waiting for us."
"Aren't we going to put on our diving suits?" I asked.
"Not yet. I haven't let the Nautilus pull too near the coast,
and we're fairly well out from the Mannar oysterbank.
But I have the skiff ready, and it will take us to the exact spot
where we'll disembark, which will save us a pretty long trek.
It's carrying our diving equipment, and we'll suit up just before we
begin our underwater exploring."
Captain Nemo took me to the central companionway whose steps led
to the platform. Ned and Conseil were there, enraptured with
the "pleasure trip" getting under way. Oars in position,
five of the Nautilus's sailors were waiting for us aboard the skiff,
which was moored alongside. The night was still dark.
Layers of clouds cloaked the sky and left only a few stars in view.
My eyes flew to the side where land lay, but I saw only a blurred line
covering three-quarters of the horizon from southwest to northwest.
Going up Ceylon's west coast during the night, the Nautilus lay
west of the bay, or rather that gulf formed by the mainland
and Mannar Island. Under these dark waters there stretched
the bank of shellfish, an inexhaustible field of pearls more than
twenty miles long.
Captain Nemo, Conseil, Ned Land, and I found seats in the stern
of the skiff. The longboat's coxswain took the tiller; his four
companions leaned into their oars; the moorings were cast off
and we pulled clear.
The skiff headed southward. The oarsmen took their time.
I watched their strokes vigorously catch the water, and they
always waited ten seconds before rowing again, following the
practice used in most navies. While the longboat coasted,
drops of liquid flicked from the oars and hit the dark troughs
of the waves, pitter-pattering like splashes of molten lead.
Coming from well out, a mild swell made the skiff roll gently,
and a few cresting billows lapped at its bow.
We were silent. What was Captain Nemo thinking? Perhaps that
this approaching shore was too close for comfort, contrary to
the Canadian's views in which it still seemed too far away.
As for Conseil, he had come along out of simple curiosity.
Near 5:30 the first glimmers of light on the horizon defined
the upper lines of the coast with greater distinctness.
Fairly flat to the east, it swelled a little toward the south.
Five miles still separated it from us, and its beach merged with
the misty waters. Between us and the shore, the sea was deserted.
Not a boat, not a diver. Profound solitude reigned over this
gathering place of pearl fishermen. As Captain Nemo had commented,
we were arriving in these waterways a month too soon.
At six o'clock the day broke suddenly, with that speed unique
to tropical regions, which experience no real dawn or dusk.
The sun's rays pierced the cloud curtain gathered on the easterly horizon,
and the radiant orb rose swiftly.
I could clearly see the shore, which featured a few sparse trees
here and there.
The skiff advanced toward Mannar Island, which curved to the south.
Captain Nemo stood up from his thwart and studied the sea.
At his signal the anchor was lowered, but its chain barely ran
because the bottom lay no more than a meter down, and this locality
was one of the shallowest spots near the bank of shellfish.
Instantly the skiff wheeled around under the ebb tide's outbound thrust.
"Here we are, Professor Aronnax," Captain Nemo then said.
"You observe this confined bay? A month from now in this very place,
the numerous fishing boats of the harvesters will gather,
and these are the waters their divers will ransack so daringly.
This bay is felicitously laid out for their type of fishing.
It's sheltered from the strongest winds, and the sea is never
very turbulent here, highly favorable conditions for diving work.
Now let's put on our underwater suits, and we'll begin our stroll."
I didn't reply, and while staring at these suspicious waves, I began
to put on my heavy aquatic clothes, helped by the longboat's sailors.
Captain Nemo and my two companions suited up as well.
None of the Nautilus's men were to go with us on this new excursion.
Soon we were imprisoned up to the neck in india-rubber clothing,
and straps fastened the air devices onto our backs.
As for the Ruhmkorff device, it didn't seem to be in the picture.
Before inserting my head into its copper capsule, I commented
on this to the captain.
"Our lighting equipment would be useless to us," the captain answered me.
"We won't be going very deep, and the sun's rays will be sufficient
to light our way. Besides, it's unwise to carry electric lanterns
under these waves. Their brightness might unexpectedly attract
certain dangerous occupants of these waterways."
As Captain Nemo pronounced these words, I turned to Conseil and
Ned Land. But my two friends had already encased their craniums
in their metal headgear, and they could neither hear nor reply.
I had one question left to address to Captain Nemo.
"What about our weapons?" I asked him. "Our rifles?"
"Rifles! What for? Don't your mountaineers attack bears dagger in hand?
And isn't steel surer than lead? Here's a sturdy blade.
Slip it under your belt and let's be off."
I stared at my companions. They were armed in the same fashion,
and Ned Land was also brandishing an enormous harpoon he had stowed
in the skiff before leaving the Nautilus.
Then, following the captain's example, I let myself be crowned with my
heavy copper sphere, and our air tanks immediately went into action.
An instant later, the longboat's sailors helped us overboard one after
the other, and we set foot on level sand in a meter and a half of water.
Captain Nemo gave us a hand signal. We followed him down a gentle
slope and disappeared under the waves.
There the obsessive fears in my brain left me. I became surprisingly
calm again. The ease with which I could move increased my confidence,
and the many strange sights captivated my imagination.
The sun was already sending sufficient light under these waves.
The tiniest objects remained visible. After ten minutes of walking,
we were in five meters of water, and the terrain had become almost flat.
Like a covey of snipe over a marsh, there rose underfoot schools
of unusual fish from the genus Monopterus, whose members have no fin
but their tail. I recognized the Javanese eel, a genuine eight-decimeter
serpent with a bluish gray belly, which, without the gold lines
over its flanks, could easily be confused with the conger eel.
From the butterfish genus, whose oval bodies are very flat,
I observed several adorned in brilliant colors and sporting a dorsal
fin like a sickle, edible fish that, when dried and marinated, make an
excellent dish known by the name "karawade"; then some sea poachers,
fish belonging to the genus Aspidophoroides, whose bodies are covered
with scaly armor divided into eight lengthwise sections.
Meanwhile, as the sun got progressively higher, it lit up the watery
mass more and more. The seafloor changed little by little.
Its fine-grained sand was followed by a genuine causeway
of smooth crags covered by a carpet of mollusks and zoophytes.
Among other specimens in these two branches, I noted some windowpane
oysters with thin valves of unequal size, a type of ostracod unique
to the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean, then orange-hued lucina with
circular shells, awl-shaped auger shells, some of those Persian
murex snails that supply the Nautilus with such wonderful dye,
spiky periwinkles fifteen centimeters long that rose under the waves
like hands ready to grab you, turban snails with shells made of horn
and bristling all over with spines, lamp shells, edible duck clams
that feed the Hindu marketplace, subtly luminous jellyfish of the species
Pelagia panopyra, and finally some wonderful Oculina flabelliforma,
magnificent sea fans that fashion one of the most luxuriant tree
forms in this ocean.
In the midst of this moving vegetation, under arbors of water plants,
there raced legions of clumsy articulates, in particular some fanged
frog crabs whose carapaces form a slightly rounded triangle,
robber crabs exclusive to these waterways, and horrible
parthenope crabs whose appearance was repulsive to the eye.
One animal no less hideous, which I encountered several times,
was the enormous crab that Mr. Darwin observed, to which nature
has given the instinct and requisite strength to eat coconuts;
it scrambles up trees on the beach and sends the coconuts tumbling;
they fracture in their fall and are opened by its powerful pincers.
Here, under these clear waves, this crab raced around with
matchless agility, while green turtles from the species frequenting
the Malabar coast moved sluggishly among the crumbling rocks.
Near seven o'clock we finally surveyed the bank of shellfish,
where pearl oysters reproduce by the millions. These valuable
mollusks stick to rocks, where they're strongly attached
by a mass of brown filaments that forbids their moving about.
In this respect oysters are inferior even to mussels, to whom nature
has not denied all talent for locomotion.
The shellfish Meleagrina, that womb for pearls whose valves are
nearly equal in size, has the shape of a round shell with thick
walls and a very rough exterior. Some of these shells were furrowed
with flaky, greenish bands that radiated down from the top.
These were the young oysters. The others had rugged black surfaces,
measured up to fifteen centimeters in width, and were ten or
more years old.
Captain Nemo pointed to this prodigious heap of shellfish, and I
saw that these mines were genuinely inexhaustible, since nature's
creative powers are greater than man's destructive instincts.
True to those instincts, Ned Land greedily stuffed the finest
of these mollusks into a net he carried at his side.
But we couldn't stop. We had to follow the captain,
who headed down trails seemingly known only to himself.
The seafloor rose noticeably, and when I lifted my arms,
sometimes they would pass above the surface of the sea.
Then the level of the oysterbank would lower unpredictably.
Often we went around tall, pointed rocks rising like pyramids.
In their dark crevices huge crustaceans, aiming their long legs
like heavy artillery, watched us with unblinking eyes, while underfoot
there crept millipedes, bloodworms, aricia worms, and annelid worms,
whose antennas and tubular tentacles were incredibly long.
Just then a huge cave opened up in our path, hollowed from a
picturesque pile of rocks whose smooth heights were completely
hung with underwater flora. At first this cave looked pitch-black
to me. Inside, the sun's rays seemed to diminish by degrees.
Their hazy transparency was nothing more than drowned light.
Captain Nemo went in. We followed him. My eyes soon grew accustomed
to this comparative gloom. I distinguished the unpredictably contoured
springings of a vault, supported by natural pillars firmly based on
a granite foundation, like the weighty columns of Tuscan architecture.
Why had our incomprehensible guide taken us into the depths of this
underwater crypt? I would soon find out.
After going down a fairly steep slope, our feet trod the floor
of a sort of circular pit. There Captain Nemo stopped, and his hand
indicated an object that I hadn't yet noticed.
It was an oyster of extraordinary dimensions, a titanic giant clam,
a holy-water font that could have held a whole lake, a basin
more than two meters wide, hence even bigger than the one adorning
the Nautilus's lounge.
I approached this phenomenal mollusk. Its mass of filaments attached
it to a table of granite, and there it grew by itself in the midst
of the cave's calm waters. I estimated the weight of this giant clam
at 300 kilograms. Hence such an oyster held fifteen kilos of meat,
and you'd need the stomach of King Gargantua to eat a couple dozen.
Captain Nemo was obviously familiar with this bivalve's existence.
This wasn't the first time he'd paid it a visit, and I thought
his sole reason for leading us to this locality was to show
us a natural curiosity. I was mistaken. Captain Nemo had an
explicit personal interest in checking on the current condition
of this giant clam.
The mollusk's two valves were partly open. The captain approached
and stuck his dagger vertically between the shells to discourage
any ideas about closing; then with his hands he raised the fringed,
membrane-filled tunic that made up the animal's mantle.
There, between its leaflike folds, I saw a loose pearl as big as
a coconut. Its globular shape, perfect clarity, and wonderful orient
made it a jewel of incalculable value. Carried away by curiosity,
I stretched out my hand to take it, weigh it, fondle it!
But the captain stopped me, signaled no, removed his dagger in one
swift motion, and let the two valves snap shut.
I then understood Captain Nemo's intent. By leaving the pearl buried
beneath the giant clam's mantle, he allowed it to grow imperceptibly.
With each passing year the mollusk's secretions added new
concentric layers. The captain alone was familiar with the cave
where this wonderful fruit of nature was "ripening"; he alone
reared it, so to speak, in order to transfer it one day to his
dearly beloved museum. Perhaps, following the examples of oyster
farmers in China and India, he had even predetermined the creation
of this pearl by sticking under the mollusk's folds some piece
of glass or metal that was gradually covered with mother-of-pearl.
In any case, comparing this pearl to others I already knew about,
and to those shimmering in the captain's collection, I estimated
that it was worth at least 10,000,000 francs. It was a superb
natural curiosity rather than a luxurious piece of jewelry,
because I don't know of any female ear that could handle it.
Our visit to this opulent giant clam came to an end.
Captain Nemo left the cave, and we climbed back up the bank
of shellfish in the midst of these clear waters not yet disturbed
by divers at work.
We walked by ourselves, genuine loiterers stopping or straying
as our fancies dictated. For my part, I was no longer worried
about those dangers my imagination had so ridiculously exaggerated.
The shallows drew noticeably closer to the surface of the sea,
and soon, walking in only a meter of water, my head passed well above
the level of the ocean. Conseil rejoined me, and gluing his huge
copper capsule to mine, his eyes gave me a friendly greeting.
But this lofty plateau measured only a few fathoms, and soon we
reentered Our Element. I think I've now earned the right to
dub it that.
Ten minutes later, Captain Nemo stopped suddenly. I thought he'd
called a halt so that we could turn and start back. No. With a gesture
he ordered us to crouch beside him at the foot of a wide crevice.
His hand motioned toward a spot within the liquid mass,
and I looked carefully.
Five meters away a shadow appeared and dropped to the seafloor.
The alarming idea of sharks crossed my mind. But I was mistaken,
and once again we didn't have to deal with monsters of the deep.
It was a man, a living man, a black Indian fisherman, a poor devil
who no doubt had come to gather what he could before harvest time.
I saw the bottom of his dinghy, moored a few feet above his head.
He would dive and go back up in quick succession. A stone cut
in the shape of a sugar loaf, which he gripped between his feet
while a rope connected it to his boat, served to lower him more
quickly to the ocean floor. This was the extent of his equipment.
Arriving on the seafloor at a depth of about five meters, he fell
to his knees and stuffed his sack with shellfish gathered at random.
Then he went back up, emptied his sack, pulled up his stone, and started
all over again, the whole process lasting only thirty seconds.
This diver didn't see us. A shadow cast by our crag hid us from
his view. And besides, how could this poor Indian ever have guessed
that human beings, creatures like himself, were near him under
the waters, eavesdropping on his movements, not missing a single
detail of his fishing!
So he went up and down several times. He gathered only about
ten shellfish per dive, because he had to tear them from
the banks where each clung with its tough mass of filaments.
And how many of these oysters for which he risked his life would
have no pearl in them!
I observed him with great care. His movements were systematically
executed, and for half an hour no danger seemed to threaten him.
So I had gotten used to the sight of this fascinating fishing
when all at once, just as the Indian was kneeling on the seafloor,
I saw him make a frightened gesture, stand, and gather himself
to spring back to the surface of the waves.
I understood his fear. A gigantic shadow appeared above the poor diver.
It was a shark of huge size, moving in diagonally, eyes ablaze,
jaws wide open!
I was speechless with horror, unable to make a single movement.
With one vigorous stroke of its fins, the voracious animal shot
toward the Indian, who jumped aside and avoided the shark's bite
but not the thrashing of its tail, because that tail struck him
across the chest and stretched him out on the seafloor.
This scene lasted barely a few seconds. The shark returned,
rolled over on its back, and was getting ready to cut the Indian in half,
when Captain Nemo, who was stationed beside me, suddenly stood up.
Then he strode right toward the monster, dagger in hand, ready to
fight it at close quarters.
Just as it was about to snap up the poor fisherman, the man-eater
saw its new adversary, repositioned itself on its belly, and headed
swiftly toward him.
I can see Captain Nemo's bearing to this day. Bracing himself,
he waited for the fearsome man-eater with wonderful composure,
and when the latter rushed at him, the captain leaped aside
with prodigious quickness, avoided a collision, and sank his
dagger into its belly. But that wasn't the end of the story.
A dreadful battle was joined.
The shark bellowed, so to speak. Blood was pouring into the waves
from its wounds. The sea was dyed red, and through this opaque
liquid I could see nothing else.
Nothing else until the moment when, through a rift in the clouds,
I saw the daring captain clinging to one of the animal's fins,
fighting the monster at close quarters, belaboring his
enemy's belly with stabs of the dagger yet unable to deliver
the deciding thrust, in other words, a direct hit to the heart.
In its struggles the man-eater churned the watery mass so furiously,
its eddies threatened to knock me over.
I wanted to run to the captain's rescue. But I was transfixed
with horror, unable to move.
I stared, wild-eyed. I saw the fight enter a new phase.
The captain fell to the seafloor, toppled by the enormous mass
weighing him down. Then the shark's jaws opened astoundingly wide,
like a pair of industrial shears, and that would have been
the finish of Captain Nemo had not Ned Land, quick as thought,
rushed forward with his harpoon and driven its dreadful point
into the shark's underside.
The waves were saturated with masses of blood. The waters
shook with the movements of the man-eater, which thrashed about
with indescribable fury. Ned Land hadn't missed his target.
This was the monster's death rattle. Pierced to the heart,
it was struggling with dreadful spasms whose aftershocks knocked
Conseil off his feet.
Meanwhile Ned Land pulled the captain clear. Uninjured, the latter
stood up, went right to the Indian, quickly cut the rope binding
the man to his stone, took the fellow in his arms, and with a vigorous
kick of the heel, rose to the surface of the sea.
The three of us followed him, and a few moments later, miraculously safe,
we reached the fisherman's longboat.
Captain Nemo's first concern was to revive this unfortunate man.
I wasn't sure he would succeed. I hoped so, since the poor devil
hadn't been under very long. But that stroke from the shark's tail
could have been his deathblow.
Fortunately, after vigorous massaging by Conseil and the captain,
I saw the nearly drowned man regain consciousness little by little.
He opened his eyes. How startled he must have felt, how frightened even,
at seeing four huge, copper craniums leaning over him!
And above all, what must he have thought when Captain Nemo pulled
a bag of pearls from a pocket in his diving suit and placed it
in the fisherman's hands? This magnificent benefaction from
the Man of the Waters to the poor Indian from Ceylon was accepted
by the latter with trembling hands. His bewildered eyes indicated
that he didn't know to what superhuman creatures he owed both his
life and his fortune.
At the captain's signal we returned to the bank of shellfish,
and retracing our steps, we walked for half an hour until we encountered
the anchor connecting the seafloor with the Nautilus's skiff.
Back on board, the sailors helped divest us of our heavy copper carapaces.
Captain Nemo's first words were spoken to the Canadian.
"Thank you, Mr. Land," he told him.
"Tit for tat, captain," Ned Land replied. "I owed it to you."
The ghost of a smile glided across the captain's lips, and that was all.
"To the Nautilus," he said.
The longboat flew over the waves. A few minutes later we encountered
the shark's corpse again, floating.
From the black markings on the tips of its fins, I recognized
the dreadful Squalus melanopterus from the seas of the East Indies,
a variety in the species of sharks proper. It was more than twenty-five
feet long; its enormous mouth occupied a third of its body.
It was an adult, as could be seen from the six rows of teeth forming
an isosceles triangle in its upper jaw.
Conseil looked at it with purely scientific fascination,
and I'm sure he placed it, not without good reason, in the class
of cartilaginous fish, order Chondropterygia with fixed gills,
family Selacia, genus Squalus.
While I was contemplating this inert mass, suddenly a dozen of these
voracious melanoptera appeared around our longboat; but, paying no
attention to us, they pounced on the corpse and quarreled over every
scrap of it.
By 8:30 we were back on board the Nautilus.
There I fell to thinking about the incidents that marked our excursion
over the Mannar oysterbank. Two impressions inevitably stood out.
One concerned Captain Nemo's matchless bravery, the other his devotion
to a human being, a representative of that race from which he had
fled beneath the seas. In spite of everything, this strange man
hadn't yet succeeded in completely stifling his heart.
When I shared these impressions with him, he answered me in a tone
touched with emotion:
"That Indian, professor, lives in the land of the oppressed,
and I am to this day, and will be until my last breath, a native
of that same land!"
The Red Sea
DURING THE DAY of January 29, the island of Ceylon disappeared
below the horizon, and at a speed of twenty miles per hour,
the Nautilus glided into the labyrinthine channels that separate
the Maldive and Laccadive Islands. It likewise hugged Kiltan Island,
a shore of madreporic origin discovered by Vasco da Gama in 1499 and
one of nineteen chief islands in the island group of the Laccadives,
located between latitude 10 degrees and 14 degrees 30' north, and between
longitude 50 degrees 72' and 69 degrees east.
By then we had fared 16,220 miles, or 7,500 leagues, from our starting
point in the seas of Japan.
The next day, January 30, when the Nautilus rose to the surface
of the ocean, there was no more land in sight. Setting its course
to the north-northwest, the ship headed toward the Gulf of Oman,
carved out between Arabia and the Indian peninsula and providing
access to the Persian Gulf.
This was obviously a blind alley with no possible outlet.
So where was Captain Nemo taking us? I was unable to say.
Which didn't satisfy the Canadian, who that day asked me where
we were going.
"We're going, Mr. Ned, where the captain's fancy takes us."
"His fancy," the Canadian replied, "won't take us very far.
The Persian Gulf has no outlet, and if we enter those waters,
it won't be long before we return in our tracks."
"All right, we'll return, Mr. Land, and after the Persian Gulf,
if the Nautilus wants to visit the Red Sea, the Strait of Bab el
Mandeb is still there to let us in!"
"I don't have to tell you, sir," Ned Land replied, "that the Red Sea
is just as landlocked as the gulf, since the Isthmus of Suez hasn't
been cut all the way through yet; and even if it was, a boat
as secretive as ours wouldn't risk a canal intersected with locks.
So the Red Sea won't be our way back to Europe either."
"But I didn't say we'd return to Europe."
"What do you figure, then?"
"I figure that after visiting these unusual waterways of Arabia
and Egypt, the Nautilus will go back down to the Indian Ocean,
perhaps through Mozambique Channel, perhaps off the Mascarene Islands,
and then make for the Cape of Good Hope."
"And once we're at the Cape of Good Hope?" the Canadian asked
with typical persistence.
"Well then, we'll enter that Atlantic Ocean with which we
aren't yet familiar. What's wrong, Ned my friend?
Are you tired of this voyage under the seas? Are you bored
with the constantly changing sight of these underwater wonders?
Speaking for myself, I'll be extremely distressed to see the end
of a voyage so few men will ever have a chance to make."
"But don't you realize, Professor Aronnax," the Canadian replied,
"that soon we'll have been imprisoned for three whole months
aboard this Nautilus?"
"No, Ned, I didn't realize it, I don't want to realize it, and I
don't keep track of every day and every hour."
"But when will it be over?"
"In its appointed time. Meanwhile there's nothing we can do about it,
and our discussions are futile. My gallant Ned, if you come and tell me,
'A chance to escape is available to us,' then I'll discuss it with you.
But that isn't the case, and in all honesty, I don't think Captain Nemo
ever ventures into European seas."
This short dialogue reveals that in my mania for the Nautilus, I was
turning into the spitting image of its commander.
As for Ned Land, he ended our talk in his best speechifying style:
"That's all fine and dandy. But in my humble opinion, a life
in jail is a life without joy."
For four days until February 3, the Nautilus inspected the Gulf of Oman
at various speeds and depths. It seemed to be traveling at random,
as if hesitating over which course to follow, but it never crossed
the Tropic of Cancer.
After leaving this gulf we raised Muscat for an instant,
the most important town in the country of Oman. I marveled at its
strange appearance in the midst of the black rocks surrounding it,
against which the white of its houses and forts stood out sharply.
I spotted the rounded domes of its mosques, the elegant tips
of its minarets, and its fresh, leafy terraces. But it was only
a fleeting vision, and the Nautilus soon sank beneath the dark
waves of these waterways.
Then our ship went along at a distance of six miles from the Arabic
coasts of Mahra and Hadhramaut, their undulating lines of mountains
relieved by a few ancient ruins. On February 5 we finally put
into the Gulf of Aden, a genuine funnel stuck into the neck of Bab
el Mandeb and bottling these Indian waters in the Red Sea.
On February 6 the Nautilus cruised in sight of the city of Aden,
perched on a promontory connected to the continent by a narrow isthmus,
a sort of inaccessible Gibraltar whose fortifications the English
rebuilt after capturing it in 1839. I glimpsed the octagonal
minarets of this town, which used to be one of the wealthiest,
busiest commercial centers along this coast, as the Arab historian
Idrisi tells it.
I was convinced that when Captain Nemo reached this point,
he would back out again; but I was mistaken, and much to my surprise,
he did nothing of the sort.
The next day, February 7, we entered the Strait of Bab el Mandeb,
whose name means "Gate of Tears" in the Arabic language.
Twenty miles wide, it's only fifty-two kilometers long,
and with the Nautilus launched at full speed, clearing it was
the work of barely an hour. But I didn't see a thing, not even
Perim Island where the British government built fortifications
to strengthen Aden's position. There were many English and French
steamers plowing this narrow passageway, liners going from Suez
to Bombay, Calcutta, Melbourne, R�union Island, and Mauritius; far too
much traffic for the Nautilus to make an appearance on the surface.
So it wisely stayed in midwater.
Finally, at noon, we were plowing the waves of the Red Sea.
The Red Sea: that great lake so famous in biblical traditions,
seldom replenished by rains, fed by no important rivers,
continually drained by a high rate of evaporation, its water level
dropping a meter and a half every year! If it were fully landlocked
like a lake, this odd gulf might dry up completely; on this score
it's inferior to its neighbors, the Caspian Sea and the Dead Sea,
whose levels lower only to the point where their evaporation exactly
equals the amounts of water they take to their hearts.
This Red Sea is 2,600 kilometers long with an average width of 240.
In the days of the
Ptolemies and the Roman emperors, it was a great commercial
artery for the world, and when its isthmus has been cut through,
it will completely regain that bygone importance that the Suez
railways have already brought back in part.
I would not even attempt to understand the whim that induced
Captain Nemo to take us into this gulf. But I wholeheartedly
approved of the Nautilus's entering it. It adopted a medium pace,
sometimes staying on the surface, sometimes diving to avoid some ship,
and so I could observe both the inside and topside of this
highly unusual sea.
On February 8, as early as the first hours of daylight,
Mocha appeared before us: a town now in ruins, whose walls
would collapse at the mere sound of a cannon, and which shelters
a few leafy date trees here and there. This once-important city
used to contain six public marketplaces plus twenty-six mosques,
and its walls, protected by fourteen forts, fashioned a three-kilometer
girdle around it.
Then the Nautilus drew near the beaches of Africa, where the sea is
considerably deeper. There, through the open panels and in a midwater
of crystal clarity, our ship enabled us to study wonderful bushes
of shining coral and huge chunks of rock wrapped in splendid green
furs of algae and fucus. What an indescribable sight, and what
a variety of settings and scenery where these reefs and volcanic
islands leveled off by the Libyan coast! But soon the Nautilus hugged
the eastern shore where these tree forms appeared in all their glory.
This was off the coast of Tihama, and there such zoophyte displays
not only flourished below sea level but they also fashioned
picturesque networks that unreeled as high as ten fathoms above it;
the latter were more whimsical but less colorful than the former,
which kept their bloom thanks to the moist vitality of the waters.
How many delightful hours I spent in this way at the lounge window!
How many new specimens of underwater flora and fauna I
marveled at beneath the light of our electric beacon!
Mushroom-shaped fungus coral, some slate-colored sea anemone including
the species Thalassianthus aster among others, organ-pipe coral
arranged like flutes and just begging for a puff from the god Pan,
shells unique to this sea that dwell in madreporic cavities
and whose bases are twisted into squat spirals, and finally
a thousand samples of a polypary I hadn't observed until then:
the common sponge.
First division in the polyp group, the class Spongiaria has been
created by scientists precisely for this unusual exhibit whose
usefulness is beyond dispute. The sponge is definitely not a plant,
as some naturalists still believe, but an animal of the lowest order,
a polypary inferior even to coral. Its animal nature isn't in doubt,
and we can't accept even the views of the ancients, who regarded
it as halfway between plant and animal. But I must say that
naturalists are not in agreement on the structural mode of sponges.
For some it's a polypary, and for others, such as Professor Milne-Edwards,
it's a single, solitary individual.
The class Spongiaria contains about 300 species that are encountered
in a large number of seas and even in certain streams, where they've
been given the name freshwater sponges. But their waters of choice are
the Red Sea and the Mediterranean near the Greek Islands or the coast
of Syria. These waters witness the reproduction and growth of soft,
delicate bath sponges whose prices run as high as 150 francs apiece:
the yellow sponge from Syria, the horn sponge from Barbary, etc.
But since I had no hope of studying these zoophytes in the seaports
of the Levant, from which we were separated by the insuperable Isthmus
of Suez, I had to be content with observing them in the waters
of the Red Sea.
So I called Conseil to my side, while at an average depth of eight
to nine meters, the Nautilus slowly skimmed every beautiful rock
on the easterly coast.
There sponges grew in every shape, globular, stalklike,
leaflike, fingerlike. With reasonable accuracy, they lived up to
their nicknames of basket sponges, chalice sponges, distaff sponges,
elkhorn sponges, lion's paws, peacock's tails, and Neptune's gloves--
designations bestowed on them by fishermen, more poetically inclined
than scientists. A gelatinous, semifluid substance coated the fibrous
tissue of these sponges, and from this tissue there escaped a steady
trickle of water that, after carrying sustenance to each cell,
was being expelled by a contracting movement. This jellylike substance
disappears when the polyp dies, emitting ammonia as it rots.
Finally nothing remains but the fibers, either gelatinous or made
of horn, that constitute your household sponge, which takes on
a russet hue and is used for various tasks depending on its degree
of elasticity, permeability, or resistance to saturation.
These polyparies were sticking to rocks, shells of mollusks, and even
the stalks of water plants. They adorned the smallest crevices,
some sprawling, others standing or hanging like coral outgrowths.
I told Conseil that sponges are fished up in two ways, either by dragnet
or by hand. The latter method calls for the services of a diver,
but it's preferable because it spares the polypary's tissue,
leaving it with a much higher market value.
Other zoophytes swarming near the sponges consisted chiefly of a very
elegant species of jellyfish; mollusks were represented by varieties
of squid that, according to Professor Orbigny, are unique to the Red Sea;
and reptiles by virgata turtles belonging to the genus Chelonia,
which furnished our table with a dainty but wholesome dish.
As for fish, they were numerous and often remarkable. Here are
the ones that the Nautilus's nets most frequently hauled on board:
rays, including spotted rays that were oval in shape and brick
red in color, their bodies strewn with erratic blue speckles and
identifiable by their jagged double stings, silver-backed skates,
common stingrays with stippled tails, butterfly rays that looked
like huge two-meter cloaks flapping at middepth, toothless guitarfish
that were a type of cartilaginous fish closer to the shark,
trunkfish known as dromedaries that were one and a half feet long
and had humps ending in backward-curving stings, serpentine moray
eels with silver tails and bluish backs plus brown pectorals trimmed
in gray piping, a species of butterfish called the fiatola decked
out in thin gold stripes and the three colors of the French flag,
Montague blennies four decimeters long, superb jacks handsomely
embellished by seven black crosswise streaks with blue and yellow
fins plus gold and silver scales, snooks, standard mullet with
yellow heads, parrotfish, wrasse, triggerfish, gobies, etc., plus
a thousand other fish common to the oceans we had already crossed.
On February 9 the Nautilus cruised in the widest part of the Red Sea,
measuring 190 miles straight across from Suakin on the west coast
to Qunfidha on the east coast.
At noon that day after our position fix, Captain Nemo climbed onto
the platform, where I happened to be. I vowed not to let him go
below again without at least sounding him out on his future plans.
As soon as he saw me, he came over, graciously offered me a cigar,
and said to me:
"Well, professor, are you pleased with this Red Sea? Have you seen
enough of its hidden wonders, its fish and zoophytes, its gardens
of sponges and forests of coral? Have you glimpsed the towns built
on its shores?"
"Yes, Captain Nemo," I replied, "and the Nautilus is wonderfully
suited to this whole survey. Ah, it's a clever boat!"
"Yes, sir, clever, daring, and invulnerable! It fears neither
the Red Sea's dreadful storms nor its currents and reefs."
"Indeed," I said, "this sea is mentioned as one of the worst,
and in the days of the ancients, if I'm not mistaken, it had
an abominable reputation."
"Thoroughly abominable, Professor Aronnax. The Greek and Latin
historians can find nothing to say in its favor, and the Greek
geographer Strabo adds that it's especially rough during
the rainy season and the period of summer prevailing winds.
The Arab Idrisi, referring to it by the name Gulf of Colzoum,
relates that ships perished in large numbers on its sandbanks
and that no one risked navigating it by night. This, he claims,
is a sea subject to fearful hurricanes, strewn with inhospitable islands,
and 'with nothing good to offer,' either on its surface or in
its depths. As a matter of fact, the same views can also be found
in Arrian, Agatharchides, and Artemidorus."
"One can easily see," I answered, "that those historians didn't
navigate aboard the Nautilus."
"Indeed," the captain replied with a smile, "and in this respect,
the moderns aren't much farther along than the ancients.
It took many centuries to discover the mechanical power of steam!
Who knows whether we'll see a second Nautilus within the next 100 years!
Progress is slow, Professor Aronnax."
"It's true," I replied. "Your ship is a century ahead of its time,
perhaps several centuries. It would be most unfortunate if such
a secret were to die with its inventor!"
Captain Nemo did not reply. After some minutes of silence:
"We were discussing," he said, "the views of ancient historians
on the dangers of navigating this Red Sea?"
"True," I replied. "But weren't their fears exaggerated?"
"Yes and no, Professor Aronnax," answered Captain Nemo,
who seemed to know "his Red Sea" by heart. "To a modern ship,
well rigged, solidly constructed, and in control of its course
thanks to obedient steam, some conditions are no longer hazardous
that offered all sorts of dangers to the vessels of the ancients.
Picture those early navigators venturing forth in sailboats
built from planks lashed together with palm-tree ropes,
caulked with powdered resin, and coated with dogfish grease.
They didn't even have instruments for taking their bearings,
they went by guesswork in the midst of currents they barely knew.
Under such conditions, shipwrecks had to be numerous.
But nowadays steamers providing service between Suez and the South Seas
have nothing to fear from the fury of this gulf, despite the contrary
winds of its monsoons. Their captains and passengers no longer
prepare for departure with sacrifices to placate the gods,
and after returning, they don't traipse in wreaths and gold ribbons
to say thanks at the local temple."
"Agreed," I said. "And steam seems to have killed off all gratitude
in seamen's hearts. But since you seem to have made a special study
of this sea, captain, can you tell me how it got its name?"
"Many explanations exist on the subject, Professor Aronnax. Would you
like to hear the views of one chronicler in the 14th century?"
"This fanciful fellow claims the sea was given its name after
the crossing of the Israelites, when the Pharaoh perished in those
waves that came together again at Moses' command:
To mark that miraculous sequel, the sea turned a red without equal.
Thus no other course would do but to name it for its hue."
"An artistic explanation, Captain Nemo," I replied, "but I'm unable
to rest content with it. So I'll ask you for your own personal views."
"Here they come. To my thinking, Professor Aronnax, this 'Red Sea'
designation must be regarded as a translation of the Hebrew word
'Edrom,' and if the ancients gave it that name, it was because of
the unique color of its waters."
"Until now, however, I've seen only clear waves, without any unique hue."
"Surely, but as we move ahead to the far end of this gulf,
you'll note its odd appearance. I recall seeing the bay of El Tur
completely red, like a lake of blood."
"And you attribute this color to the presence of microscopic algae?"
"Yes. It's a purplish, mucilaginous substance produced by those tiny
buds known by the name trichodesmia, 40,000 of which are needed
to occupy the space of one square millimeter. Perhaps you'll
encounter them when we reach El Tur."
"Hence, Captain Nemo, this isn't the first time you've gone through
the Red Sea aboard the Nautilus?"
"Then, since you've already mentioned the crossing of the Israelites
and the catastrophe that befell the Egyptians, I would ask if you've ever
discovered any traces under the waters of that great historic event?"
"No, professor, and for an excellent reason."
"It's because that same locality where Moses crossed with all his people
is now so clogged with sand, camels can barely get their legs wet.
You can understand that my Nautilus wouldn't have enough
water for itself."
"And that locality is . . . ?" I asked.
"That locality lies a little above Suez in a sound that used to form
a deep estuary when the Red Sea stretched as far as the Bitter Lakes.
Now, whether or not their crossing was literally miraculous,
the Israelites did cross there in returning to the Promised Land,
and the Pharaoh's army did perish at precisely that locality.
So I think that excavating those sands would bring to light a great
many weapons and tools of Egyptian origin."
"Obviously," I replied. "And for the sake of archaeology, let's hope
that sooner or later such excavations do take place, once new towns
are settled on the isthmus after the Suez Canal has been cut through--
a canal, by the way, of little use to a ship such as the Nautilus!"
"Surely, but of great use to the world at large," Captain Nemo said.
"The ancients well understood the usefulness to commerce of connecting
the Red Sea with the Mediterranean, but they never dreamed of cutting
a canal between the two, and instead they picked the Nile as their link.
If we can trust tradition, it was probably Egypt's King Sesostris
who started digging the canal needed to join the Nile with
the Red Sea. What's certain is that in 615 B.C. King Necho II
was hard at work on a canal that was fed by Nile water and ran
through the Egyptian plains opposite Arabia. This canal could
be traveled in four days, and it was so wide, two triple-tiered
galleys could pass through it abreast. Its construction was
continued by Darius the Great, son of Hystaspes, and probably
completed by King Ptolemy II. Strabo saw it used for shipping;
but the weakness of its slope between its starting point, near Bubastis,
and the Red Sea left it navigable only a few months out of the year.
This canal served commerce until the century of Rome's Antonine emperors;
it was then abandoned and covered with sand, subsequently reinstated
by Arabia's Caliph Omar I, and finally filled in for good in 761
or 762 A.D. by Caliph Al-Mansur, in an effort to prevent supplies
from reaching Mohammed ibn Abdullah, who had rebelled against him.
During his Egyptian campaign, your General Napoleon Bonaparte
discovered traces of this old canal in the Suez desert, and when
the tide caught him by surprise, he wellnigh perished just a few
hours before rejoining his regiment at Hadjaroth, the very place
where Moses had pitched camp 3,300 years before him."
"Well, captain, what the ancients hesitated to undertake, Mr. de
Lesseps is now finishing up; his joining of these two seas will
shorten the route from Cadiz to the East Indies by 9,000 kilometers,
and he'll soon change Africa into an immense island."
"Yes, Professor Aronnax, and you have every right to be proud of your
fellow countryman. Such a man brings a nation more honor than the
greatest commanders! Like so many others, he began with difficulties
and setbacks, but he triumphed because he has the volunteer spirit.
And it's sad to think that this deed, which should have been an
international deed, which would have insured that any administration
went down in history, will succeed only through the efforts of one man.
So all hail to Mr. de Lesseps!"
"Yes, all hail to that great French citizen," I replied,
quite startled by how emphatically Captain Nemo had just spoken.
"Unfortunately," he went on, "I can't take you through that Suez Canal,
but the day after tomorrow, you'll be able to see the long jetties
of Port Said when we're in the Mediterranean."
"In the Mediterranean!" I exclaimed.
"Yes, professor. Does that amaze you?"
"What amazes me is thinking we'll be there the day after tomorrow."
"Yes, captain, although since I've been aboard your vessel,
I should have formed the habit of not being amazed by anything!"
"But what is it that startles you?"
"The thought of how hideously fast the Nautilus will need to go,
if it's to double the Cape of Good Hope, circle around Africa,
and lie in the open Mediterranean by the day after tomorrow."
"And who says it will circle Africa, professor? What's this talk
about doubling the Cape of Good Hope?"
"But unless the Nautilus navigates on dry land and crosses
over the isthmus--"
"Or under it, Professor Aronnax."
"Surely," Captain Nemo replied serenely. "Under that tongue of land,
nature long ago made what man today is making on its surface."
"What! There's a passageway?"
"Yes, an underground passageway that I've named the Arabian Tunnel.
It starts below Suez and leads to the Bay of Pelusium."
"But isn't that isthmus only composed of quicksand?"
"To a certain depth. But at merely fifty meters, one encounters
a firm foundation of rock."
"And it's by luck that you discovered this passageway?"
I asked, more and more startled.
"Luck plus logic, professor, and logic even more than luck."
"Captain, I hear you, but I can't believe my ears."
"Oh, sir! The old saying still holds good: Aures habent et non
audient!* Not only does this passageway exist, but I've taken
advantage of it on several occasions. Without it, I wouldn't
have ventured today into such a blind alley as the Red Sea."
*Latin: "They have ears but hear not." Ed.
"Is it indiscreet to ask how you discovered this tunnel?"
"Sir," the captain answered me, "there can be no secrets between men
who will never leave each other."
I ignored this innuendo and waited for Captain Nemo's explanation.
"Professor," he told me, "the simple logic of the naturalist led
me to discover this passageway, and I alone am familiar with it.
I'd noted that in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean there exist
a number of absolutely identical species of fish: eels, butterfish,
greenfish, bass, jewelfish, flying fish. Certain of this fact,
I wondered if there weren't a connection between the two seas.
If there were, its underground current had to go from the Red Sea
to the Mediterranean simply because of their difference in level.
So I caught a large number of fish in the vicinity of Suez. I slipped
copper rings around their tails and tossed them back into the sea.
A few months later off the coast of Syria, I recaptured a few
specimens of my fish, adorned with their telltale rings.
So this proved to me that some connection existed between the two seas.
I searched for it with my Nautilus, I discovered it, I ventured into it;
and soon, professor, you also will have cleared my Arabic tunnel!"
THE SAME DAY, I reported to Conseil and Ned Land that part of
the foregoing conversation directly concerning them. When I told
them we would be lying in Mediterranean waters within two days,
Conseil clapped his hands, but the Canadian shrugged his shoulders.
"An underwater tunnel!" he exclaimed. "A connection between two seas!
Who ever heard of such malarkey!"
"Ned my friend," Conseil replied, "had you ever heard of
the Nautilus? No, yet here it is! So don't shrug your shoulders
so blithely, and don't discount something with the feeble excuse
that you've never heard of it."
"We'll soon see!" Ned Land shot back, shaking his head.
"After all, I'd like nothing better than to believe in your captain's
little passageway, and may Heaven grant it really does take us
to the Mediterranean."
The same evening, at latitude 21 degrees 30' north, the Nautilus was
afloat on the surface of the sea and drawing nearer to the Arab coast.
I spotted Jidda, an important financial center for Egypt, Syria, Turkey,
and the East Indies. I could distinguish with reasonable clarity
the overall effect of its buildings, the ships made fast along
its wharves, and those bigger vessels whose draft of water
required them to drop anchor at the port's offshore mooring.
The sun, fairly low on the horizon, struck full force on the houses
in this town, accenting their whiteness. Outside the city limits,
some wood or reed huts indicated the quarter where the bedouins lived.
Soon Jidda faded into the shadows of evening, and the Nautilus went
back beneath the mildly phosphorescent waters.
The next day, February 10, several ships appeared, running on our
opposite tack. The Nautilus resumed its underwater navigating;
but at the moment of our noon sights, the sea was deserted and the ship
rose again to its waterline.
With Ned and Conseil, I went to sit on the platform. The coast
to the east looked like a slightly blurred mass in a damp fog.
Leaning against the sides of the skiff, we were chatting of one
thing and another, when Ned Land stretched his hand toward a point
in the water, saying to me:
"See anything out there, professor?"
"No, Ned," I replied, "but you know I don't have your eyes."
"Take a good look," Ned went on. "There, ahead to starboard,
almost level with the beacon! Don't you see a mass that seems
to be moving around?"
"Right," I said after observing carefully, "I can make out something
like a long, blackish object on the surface of the water."
"A second Nautilus?" Conseil said.
"No," the Canadian replied, "unless I'm badly mistaken,
that's some marine animal."
"Are there whales in the Red Sea?" Conseil asked.
"Yes, my boy," I replied, "they're sometimes found here."
"That's no whale," continued Ned Land, whose eyes never strayed
from the object they had sighted. "We're old chums, whales and I,
and I couldn't mistake their little ways."
"Let's wait and see," Conseil said. "The Nautilus is heading
that direction, and we'll soon know what we're in for."
In fact, that blackish object was soon only a mile away from us.
It looked like a huge reef stranded in midocean. What was it?
I still couldn't make up my mind.
"Oh, it's moving off! It's diving!" Ned Land exclaimed.
"Damnation! What can that animal be? It doesn't have a forked
tail like baleen whales or sperm whales, and its fins look
like sawed-off limbs."
"But in that case--" I put in.
"Good lord," the Canadian went on, "it's rolled over on its back,
and it's raising its breasts in the air!"
"It's a siren!" Conseil exclaimed. "With all due respect to master,
it's an actual mermaid!"
That word "siren" put me back on track, and I realized that the animal
belonged to the order Sirenia: marine creatures that legends
have turned into mermaids, half woman, half fish.
"No," I told Conseil, "that's no mermaid, it's an unusual creature
of which only a few specimens are left in the Red Sea. That's a dugong."
"Order Sirenia, group Pisciforma, subclass Monodelphia, class Mammalia,
branch Vertebrata," Conseil replied.
And when Conseil has spoken, there's nothing else to be said.
Meanwhile Ned Land kept staring. His eyes were gleaming with desire
at the sight of that animal. His hands were ready to hurl a harpoon.
You would have thought he was waiting for the right moment to jump
overboard and attack the creature in its own element.
"Oh, sir," he told me in a voice trembling with excitement,
"I've never killed anything like that!"
His whole being was concentrated in this last word.
Just then Captain Nemo appeared on the platform. He spotted the dugong.
He understood the Canadian's frame of mind and addressed him directly:
"If you held a harpoon, Mr. Land, wouldn't your hands be itching
to put it to work?"
"And just for one day, would it displease you to return to your
fisherman's trade and add this cetacean to the list of those you've
already hunted down?"
"It wouldn't displease me one bit."
"All right, you can try your luck!"
"Thank you, sir," Ned Land replied, his eyes ablaze.
"Only," the captain went on, "I urge you to aim carefully at this animal,
in your own personal interest."
"Is the dugong dangerous to attack?" I asked, despite the Canadian's
shrug of the shoulders.
"Yes, sometimes," the captain replied. "These animals have been
known to turn on their assailants and capsize their longboats.
But with Mr. Land that danger isn't to be feared. His eye is sharp,
his arm is sure. If I recommend that he aim carefully at this dugong,
it's because the animal is justly regarded as fine game, and I know
Mr. Land doesn't despise a choice morsel."
"Aha!" the Canadian put in. "This beast offers the added luxury
of being good to eat?"
"Yes, Mr. Land. Its flesh is actual red meat, highly prized,
and set aside throughout Malaysia for the tables of aristocrats.
Accordingly, this excellent animal has been hunted so bloodthirstily that,
like its manatee relatives, it has become more and more scarce."
"In that case, captain," Conseil said in all seriousness,
"on the offchance that this creature might be the last of its line,
wouldn't it be advisable to spare its life, in the interests of science?"
"Maybe," the Canadian answered, "it would be better to hunt it down,
in the interests of mealtime."
"Then proceed, Mr. Land," Captain Nemo replied.
Just then, as mute and emotionless as ever, seven crewmen climbed
onto the platform. One carried a harpoon and line similar
to those used in whale fishing. Its deck paneling opened,
the skiff was wrenched from its socket and launched to sea.
Six rowers sat on the thwarts, and the coxswain took the tiller.
Ned, Conseil, and I found seats in the stern.
"Aren't you coming, captain?" I asked.
"No, sir, but I wish you happy hunting."
The skiff pulled clear, and carried off by its six oars, it headed
swiftly toward the dugong, which by then was floating two miles
from the Nautilus.
Arriving within a few cable lengths of the cetacean, our longboat
slowed down, and the sculls dipped noiselessly into the tranquil waters.
Harpoon in hand, Ned Land went to take his stand in the skiff's bow.
Harpoons used for hunting whales are usually attached to a very long
rope that pays out quickly when the wounded animal drags it with him.
But this rope measured no more than about ten fathoms, and its end
had simply been fastened to a small barrel that, while floating,
would indicate the dugong's movements beneath the waters.
I stood up and could clearly observe the Canadian's adversary.
This dugong--which also boasts the name halicore--closely resembled
a manatee. Its oblong body ended in a very long caudal fin and
its lateral fins in actual fingers. It differs from the manatee
in that its upper jaw is armed with two long, pointed teeth that form
diverging tusks on either side.
This dugong that Ned Land was preparing to attack was of
colossal dimensions, easily exceeding seven meters in length.
It didn't stir and seemed to be sleeping on the surface of the waves,
a circumstance that should have made it easier to capture.
The skiff approached cautiously to within three fathoms of the animal.
The oars hung suspended above their rowlocks. I was crouching.
His body leaning slightly back, Ned Land brandished his harpoon
with expert hands.
Suddenly a hissing sound was audible, and the dugong disappeared.
Although the harpoon had been forcefully hurled, it apparently
had hit only water.
"Damnation!" exclaimed the furious Canadian. "I missed it!"
"No," I said, "the animal's wounded, there's its blood; but your
weapon didn't stick in its body."
"My harpoon! Get my harpoon!" Ned Land exclaimed.
The sailors went back to their sculling, and the coxswain steered
the longboat toward the floating barrel. We fished up the harpoon,
and the skiff started off in pursuit of the animal.
The latter returned from time to time to breathe at the surface
of the sea. Its wound hadn't weakened it because it went with
tremendous speed. Driven by energetic arms, the longboat flew
on its trail. Several times we got within a few fathoms of it,
and the Canadian hovered in readiness to strike; but then the dugong
would steal away with a sudden dive, and it proved impossible
to overtake the beast.
I'll let you assess the degree of anger consuming our impatient
Ned Land. He hurled at the hapless animal the most potent swearwords
in the English language. For my part, I was simply distressed
to see this dugong outwit our every scheme.
We chased it unflaggingly for a full hour, and I'd begun to think it would
prove too difficult to capture, when the animal got the untimely idea
of taking revenge on us, a notion it would soon have cause to regret.
It wheeled on the skiff, to assault us in its turn.
This maneuver did not escape the Canadian.
"Watch out!" he said.
The coxswain pronounced a few words in his bizarre language,
and no doubt he alerted his men to keep on their guard.
Arriving within twenty feet of the skiff, the dugong stopped,
sharply sniffing the air with its huge nostrils, pierced not at
the tip of its muzzle but on its topside. Then it gathered itself
and sprang at us.
The skiff couldn't avoid the collision. Half overturned,
it shipped a ton or two of water that we had to bail out.
But thanks to our skillful coxswain, we were fouled on the bias rather
than broadside, so we didn't capsize. Clinging to the stempost,
Ned Land thrust his harpoon again and again into the gigantic animal,
which imbedded its teeth in our gunwale and lifted the longboat
out of the water as a lion would lift a deer. We were thrown on
top of each other, and I have no idea how the venture would have
ended had not the Canadian, still thirsting for the beast's blood,
finally pierced it to the heart.
I heard its teeth grind on sheet iron, and the dugong disappeared,
taking our harpoon along with it. But the barrel soon popped up
on the surface, and a few moments later the animal's body appeared
and rolled over on its back. Our skiff rejoined it, took it in tow,
and headed to the Nautilus.
It took pulleys of great strength to hoist this dugong onto the platform.
The beast weighed 5,000 kilograms. It was carved up in sight of
the Canadian, who remained to watch every detail of the operation.
At dinner the same day, my steward served me some slices of this flesh,
skillfully dressed by the ship's cook. I found it excellent,
even better than veal if not beef.
The next morning, February 11, the Nautilus's pantry was
enriched by more dainty game. A covey of terns alighted on
the Nautilus. They were a species of Sterna nilotica unique to Egypt:
beak black, head gray and stippled, eyes surrounded by white dots,
back, wings, and tail grayish, belly and throat white, feet red.
Also caught were a couple dozen Nile duck, superior-tasting wildfowl
whose neck and crown of the head are white speckled with black.
By then the Nautilus had reduced speed. It moved ahead at a saunter,
so to speak. I observed that the Red Sea's water was becoming less
salty the closer we got to Suez.
Near five o'clock in the afternoon, we sighted Cape Ras Mohammed
to the north. This cape forms the tip of Arabia Petraea, which lies
between the Gulf of Suez and the Gulf of Aqaba.
The Nautilus entered the Strait of Jubal, which leads to the Gulf
of Suez. I could clearly make out a high mountain crowning Ras Mohammed
between the two gulfs. It was Mt. Horeb, that biblical Mt. Sinai on
whose summit Moses met God face to face, that summit the mind's
eye always pictures as wreathed in lightning.
At six o'clock, sometimes afloat and sometimes submerged, the Nautilus
passed well out from El Tur, which sat at the far end of a bay whose
waters seemed to be dyed red, as Captain Nemo had already mentioned.
Then night fell in the midst of a heavy silence occasionally broken
by the calls of pelicans and nocturnal birds, by the sound of surf
chafing against rocks, or by the distant moan of a steamer churning
the waves of the gulf with noisy blades.
From eight to nine o'clock, the Nautilus stayed a few meters
beneath the waters. According to my calculations, we had
to be quite close to Suez. Through the panels in the lounge,
I spotted rocky bottoms brightly lit by our electric rays.
It seemed to me that the strait was getting narrower and narrower.
At 9:15 when our boat returned to the surface, I climbed onto
the platform. I was quite impatient to clear Captain Nemo's tunnel,
couldn't sit still, and wanted to breathe the fresh night air.
Soon, in the shadows, I spotted a pale signal light glimmering
a mile away, half discolored by mist.
"A floating lighthouse," said someone next to me.
I turned and discovered the captain.
"That's the floating signal light of Suez," he went on.
"It won't be long before we reach the entrance to the tunnel."
"It can't be very easy to enter it."
"No, sir. Accordingly, I'm in the habit of staying in the pilothouse
and directing maneuvers myself. And now if you'll kindly go below,
Professor Aronnax, the Nautilus is about to sink beneath the waves,
and it will only return to the surface after we've cleared
the Arabian Tunnel."
I followed Captain Nemo. The hatch closed, the ballast tanks filled
with water, and the submersible sank some ten meters down.
Just as I was about to repair to my stateroom, the captain stopped me.
"Professor," he said to me, "would you like to go with me
to the wheelhouse?"
"I was afraid to ask," I replied.
"Come along, then. This way, you'll learn the full story about this
combination underwater and underground navigating."
Captain Nemo led me to the central companionway. In midstair
he opened a door, went along the upper gangways, and arrived at
the wheelhouse, which, as you know, stands at one end of the platform.
It was a cabin measuring six feet square and closely resembling
those occupied by the helmsmen of steamboats on the Mississippi
or Hudson rivers. In the center stood an upright wheel
geared to rudder cables running to the Nautilus's stern.
Set in the cabin's walls were four deadlights, windows of biconvex
glass that enabled the man at the helm to see in every direction.
The cabin was dark; but my eyes soon grew accustomed to its darkness
and I saw the pilot, a muscular man whose hands rested on the pegs
of the wheel. Outside, the sea was brightly lit by the beacon
shining behind the cabin at the other end of the platform.
"Now," Captain Nemo said, "let's look for our passageway."
Electric wires linked the pilothouse with the engine room,
and from this cabin the captain could simultaneously signal heading
and speed to his Nautilus. He pressed a metal button and at once
the propeller slowed down significantly.
I stared in silence at the high, sheer wall we were skirting just then,
the firm base of the sandy mountains on the coast. For an hour we
went along it in this fashion, staying only a few meters away.
Captain Nemo never took his eyes off the two concentric circles
of the compass hanging in the cabin. At a mere gesture from him,
the helmsman would instantly change the Nautilus's heading.
Standing by the port deadlight, I spotted magnificent coral substructures,
zoophytes, algae, and crustaceans with enormous quivering claws
that stretched forth from crevices in the rock.
At 10:15 Captain Nemo himself took the helm. Dark and deep, a wide
gallery opened ahead of us. The Nautilus was brazenly swallowed up.
Strange rumblings were audible along our sides. It was the water
of the Red Sea, hurled toward the Mediterranean by the tunnel's slope.
Our engines tried to offer resistance by churning the waves
with propeller in reverse, but the Nautilus went with the torrent,
as swift as an arrow.
Along the narrow walls of this passageway, I saw only brilliant streaks,
hard lines, fiery furrows, all scrawled by our speeding electric light.
With my hand I tried to curb the pounding of my heart.
At 10:35 Captain Nemo left the steering wheel and turned to me:
"The Mediterranean," he told me.
In less than twenty minutes, swept along by the torrent, the Nautilus
had just cleared the Isthmus of Suez.
The Greek Islands
AT SUNRISE the next morning, February 12, the Nautilus rose
to the surface of the waves.
I rushed onto the platform. The hazy silhouette of Pelusium was
outlined three miles to the south. A torrent had carried us from
one sea to the other. But although that tunnel was easy to descend,
going back up must have been impossible.
Near seven o'clock Ned and Conseil joined me. Those two inseparable
companions had slept serenely, utterly unaware of the Nautilus's feat.
"Well, Mr. Naturalist," the Canadian asked in a gently mocking tone,
"and how about that Mediterranean?"
"We're floating on its surface, Ned my friend."
"What!" Conseil put in. "Last night . . . ?"
"Yes, last night, in a matter of minutes, we cleared
that insuperable isthmus."
"I don't believe a word of it," the Canadian replied.
"And you're in the wrong, Mr. Land," I went on. "That flat coastline
curving southward is the coast of Egypt."
"Tell it to the marines, sir," answered the stubborn Canadian.
"But if master says so," Conseil told him, "then so be it."
"What's more, Ned," I said, "Captain Nemo himself did the honors
in his tunnel, and I stood beside him in the pilothouse while
he steered the Nautilus through that narrow passageway."
"You hear, Ned?" Conseil said.
"And you, Ned, who have such good eyes," I added, "you can spot
the jetties of Port Said stretching out to sea."
The Canadian looked carefully.
"Correct," he said. "You're right, professor, and your captain's
a superman. We're in the Mediterranean. Fine. So now let's have
a chat about our little doings, if you please, but in such a way
that nobody overhears."
I could easily see what the Canadian was driving at. In any event,
I thought it best to let him have his chat, and we all three went
to sit next to the beacon, where we were less exposed to the damp
spray from the billows.
"Now, Ned, we're all ears," I said. "What have you to tell us?"
"What I've got to tell you is very simple," the Canadian replied.
"We're in Europe, and before Captain Nemo's whims take us deep into
the polar seas or back to Oceania, I say we should leave this Nautilus."
I confess that such discussions with the Canadian always baffled me.
I didn't want to restrict my companions' freedom in any way,
and yet I had no desire to leave Captain Nemo. Thanks to him
and his submersible, I was finishing my undersea research by
the day, and I was rewriting my book on the great ocean depths
in the midst of its very element. Would I ever again have such
an opportunity to observe the ocean's wonders? Absolutely not!
So I couldn't entertain this idea of leaving the Nautilus before
completing our course of inquiry.
"Ned my friend," I said, "answer me honestly. Are you bored
with this ship? Are you sorry that fate has cast you into
Captain Nemo's hands?"
The Canadian paused for a short while before replying.
Then, crossing his arms:
"Honestly," he said, "I'm not sorry about this voyage under the seas.
I'll be glad to have done it, but in order to have done it,
it has to finish. That's my feeling."
"It will finish, Ned."
"Where and when?"
"Where? I don't know. When? I can't say. Or, rather, I suppose
it will be over when these seas have nothing more to teach us.
Everything that begins in this world must inevitably come to an end."
"I think as master does," Conseil replied, "and it's extremely
possible that after crossing every sea on the globe, Captain Nemo
will bid the three of us a fond farewell."
"Bid us a fond farewell?" the Canadian exclaimed. "You mean beat
us to a fare-thee-well!"
"Let's not exaggerate, Mr. Land," I went on. "We have nothing
to fear from the captain, but neither do I share Conseil's views.
We're privy to the Nautilus's secrets, and I don't expect that
its commander, just to set us free, will meekly stand by while we
spread those secrets all over the world."
"But in that case what do you expect?" the Canadian asked.
"That we'll encounter advantageous conditions for escaping just
as readily in six months as now."
"Great Scott!" Ned Land put in. "And where, if you please,
will we be in six months, Mr. Naturalist?"
"Perhaps here, perhaps in China. You know how quickly the
Nautilus moves. It crosses oceans like swallows cross the air or
express trains continents. It doesn't fear heavily traveled seas.
Who can say it won't hug the coasts of France, England, or America,
where an escape attempt could be carried out just as effectively as here."
"Professor Aronnax," the Canadian replied, "your arguments
are rotten to the core. You talk way off in the future:
'We'll be here, we'll be there!' Me, I'm talking about right now:
we are here, and we must take advantage of it!"
I was hard pressed by Ned Land's common sense, and I felt myself
losing ground. I no longer knew what arguments to put forward
on my behalf.
"Sir," Ned went on, "let's suppose that by some impossibility,
Captain Nemo offered your freedom to you this very day.
Would you accept?"
"I don't know," I replied.
"And suppose he adds that this offer he's making you today won't
ever be repeated, then would you accept?"
I did not reply.
"And what thinks our friend Conseil?" Ned Land asked.
"Your friend Conseil," the fine lad replied serenely, "has nothing to say
for himself. He's a completely disinterested party on this question.
Like his master, like his comrade Ned, he's a bachelor.
Neither wife, parents, nor children are waiting for him back home.
He's in master's employ, he thinks like master, he speaks like master,
and much to his regret, he can't be counted on to form a majority.
Only two persons face each other here: master on one side,
Ned Land on the other. That said, your friend Conseil is listening,
and he's ready to keep score."
I couldn't help smiling as Conseil wiped himself out of existence.
Deep down, the Canadian must have been overjoyed at not having
to contend with him.
"Then, sir," Ned Land said, "since Conseil is no more, we'll have this
discussion between just the two of us. I've talked, you've listened.
What's your reply?"
It was obvious that the matter had to be settled, and evasions
were distasteful to me.
"Ned my friend," I said, "here's my reply. You have right
on your side and my arguments can't stand up to yours.
It will never do to count on Captain Nemo's benevolence.
The most ordinary good sense would forbid him to set us free.
On the other hand, good sense decrees that we take advantage of our
first opportunity to leave the Nautilus."
"Fine, Professor Aronnax, that's wisely said."
"But one proviso," I said, "just one. The opportunity must
be the real thing. Our first attempt to escape must succeed,
because if it misfires, we won't get a second chance, and Captain Nemo
will never forgive us."
"That's also well put," the Canadian replied. "But your proviso applies
to any escape attempt, whether it happens in two years or two days.
So this is still the question: if a promising opportunity comes up,
we have to grab it."
"Agreed. And now, Ned, will you tell me what you mean by
a promising opportunity?"
"One that leads the Nautilus on a cloudy night within a short
distance of some European coast."
"And you'll try to get away by swimming?"
"Yes, if we're close enough to shore and the ship's afloat on
the surface. No, if we're well out and the ship's navigating
under the waters."
"And in that event?"
"In that event I'll try to get hold of the skiff. I know how to
handle it. We'll stick ourselves inside, undo the bolts, and rise
to the surface, without the helmsman in the bow seeing a thing."
"Fine, Ned. Stay on the lookout for such an opportunity,
but don't forget, one slipup will finish us."
"I won't forget, sir."
"And now, Ned, would you like to know my overall thinking on your plan?"
"Gladly, Professor Aronnax."
"Well then, I think--and I don't mean 'I hope'--that your promising
opportunity won't ever arise."
"Because Captain Nemo recognizes that we haven't given up all
hope of recovering our freedom, and he'll keep on his guard,
above all in seas within sight of the coasts of Europe."
"I'm of master's opinion," Conseil said.
"We'll soon see," Ned Land replied, shaking his head with
a determined expression.
"And now, Ned Land," I added, "let's leave it at that. Not another word
on any of this. The day you're ready, alert us and we're with you.
I turn it all over to you."
That's how we ended this conversation, which later was to have
such serious consequences. At first, I must say, events seemed
to confirm my forecasts, much to the Canadian's despair.
Did Captain Nemo view us with distrust in these heavily traveled seas,
or did he simply want to hide from the sight of those ships
of every nation that plowed the Mediterranean? I have no idea,
but usually he stayed in midwater and well out from any coast.
Either the Nautilus surfaced only enough to let its pilothouse emerge,
or it slipped away to the lower depths, although, between the
Greek Islands and Asia Minor, we didn't find bottom even at
2,000 meters down.
Accordingly, I became aware of the isle of Karpathos, one of
the Sporades Islands, only when Captain Nemo placed his finger
over a spot on the world map and quoted me this verse from Virgil:
Est in Carpathio Neptuni gurgite vates
Caeruleus Proteus . . .*
*Latin: "There in King Neptune's domain by Karpathos, his spokesman
/ is azure-hued Proteus . . . " Ed.
It was indeed that bygone abode of Proteus, the old shepherd of
King Neptune's flocks: an island located between Rhodes and Crete,